I’m sure everywhere is more beautiful in the spring. It’s not just the obvious changes, brand new green buds unfurling from their winter hibernation and breaking into clouds of pink and white blossom, or warm rays breaking through clouds and chill. There is a shift, a subliminal change somewhere in the depths of our psyche that radiates happiness from our very core. I expect it’s deeply rooted somewhere in our genes and evolution.
New York in the spring seems to be especially lovely. Perhaps it’s because it’s my first spring. Perhaps it’s because it happened so suddenly (we had a warm spell) and almost overnight, every tree bloomed simultaneously all over the city. Like a magic trick in reverse, now you see it, now you don’t.
I have been unable to stop myself from documenting it and below are a few of my faves:
The view from our bathroom window (not bad if you’re one of those people who take ages on the loo ;-)
Central Park in all her glory.
The gorgeous Prospect Park (and this photo weirdly reminds me of the cover of Big Fish)
I went to Stephen Sondheim’s house last month; he has two gorgeous black poodles and an amazing collection of vintage board games framed on his walls. Later the same day I met a man worth $12 billion; his name was Carl Icahn, and this was the view from the boardroom of his company:
The following week I found myself on the other side of the park, in the penthouse apartment of 15 Central Park West, the building next door to Trump tower. This was the view from the sun deck.
As well as a full time chef and personal assistant/diary manager (wielding both a blackberry and an iPad), the family living there have four full time nannies, for just three children. The entire place is covered in very expensive looking modern art and furniture (such as original Cindy Sherman prints, an artist who has just had a full floor retrospective at the MoMa).
This tour of the lives of New York socialites and philanthropists came about through a producer I know, who had been commissioned to shoot a video of birthday messages for the wife of a wealthy lawyer. Stephen Sondheim just happens to be one of their friends. I always hoped that by living in New York I would see sides of it that tourists cannot, and this experience certainly ticked that box. While Steph and I scratch out an existence in modest little Brooklyn, the 1-percenters in Manhattan live lives of head-spinning excess. These are people who use “summer” as a verb. They’re best friends with the architects who designed their house in the Hamptons. It was only because I met them in a professional context that I managed to refrain from asking them to lend me ten bucks.
This piece of art was hung in one of the reception rooms of the penthouse. It seemed it was the lady of the house who concerned herself with philanthropic matters such as art purchases, so I thought it strange she’d picked this one. Perhaps it struck a personal note.
One of my New York fantasies actually became a reality on Tuesday. I saw Bill Cunningham. On his bike.
It was a beautiful sunny day and I wandered out of the office to get some lunch. As I was crossing Broadway an old man cycled past me on a bike. I wouldn’t have noticed except a girl walking towards me looked at him, smiled and craned her neck as he passed. She was keeping it pretty casual until she ran down the street full pelt after him to get a picture. He meandered along, looking around, taking it all in and occasionally snapping here and there. Totally oblivious to anyone staring and completely focused, observing the world through his viewfinder.
I was right next to him for about a minute. Needless to say I was wearing my most unfashionable outfit, one of Max’s shirts and jeans. Only the day before my outfit was killer. GAHHH! It made me seriously contemplate getting dressed every morning as if I’m was going to bump into him.
For those of you who don’t know, Bill Cunningham is a living legend. He has been documenting NY street style since the 1970’s and has a regular column in the NY Times Sunday Style. But his photographs have become far more than just forecasting trends or documenting current fashions. They have become an incredibly rich archive of the cultural anthropology of New York over the last 40 years.
A fantastic film has been made documenting his amazing life, Bill Cunningham: New York. Catch a sneak peak of the trailer here. In a fateful stroke of good luck, the film opens in the UK this week. Here’s a list of screenings; I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even if you have no interest in fashion, Bill is the most fascinating character, completely devoted to his work and utterly original. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.
Long Live Bill!
Evil, giant monopoly squeezing small stores out of business and not caring about people and planet in the process? Or something along those lines…
This weekend I attended an intensive course at FIT entitled ‘The Sustainable Organisation’. It was all about creating a business model that is aware of our impact on the earth. There was so much info disseminated that I only just feel it is sinking in, but I wanted to share a few of the lessons with you.
One of the exercises we completed was all about our perceptions as human beings and how reliable they are. We watched a really interesting video on the subject (to be posted) and seemingly to demonstrate this phenomenon in action, we completed an exercise: on the subject of Walmart.
A number of scales were drawn on the board (from 1-10). These included;
Respect for the Environment/Respect for Customers/Respect for Suppliers/Respect for Employees/How I feel about Walmart overall.
As you can imagine as each person got up to place their cross on the board, they were all below 5. The ideas and feelings we had about Walmart were so visceral. I say this having never set foot in Walmart. I based my damning report on prejudice, feelings and just a hunch that Walmart is BAD.
Now, by no means are Walmart the most virtuous of companies. But compared to many others, they are doing groundbreaking work into sustainability. In the eco-race, they are winning whilst Tesco and Sainsburys probably languish at the start line. Their three goals are;
1) To be supplied by 100% renewable energy
2) To create zero waste
3) Sell products that sustain people and the environment
You might laugh at this and think you’re being brainwashed, but here’s where big=good.
Only companies this size can put pressure on suppliers, manufacturers, other retailers, non-profits and governments to change their habits. If they decide on their sustainability goals, others have to comply because losing business with Walmart is too valuable.
Once we had used Walmart as a case study for sustainability, everyone in the room changed their opinion somewhat about Walmart. To see how well they’re doing in achieving their goals, click here. You can also find further in-depth debate online.
I’m just saying, often things are not what they seem and whatever you think about Walmart, their commitment to sustainability is ground-breaking for that type of retail organisation. I guess the proof will be in the pudding.
When I say Walmart, you say?
Don’t think too hard, just express whatever comes into your head first.
So, as you may or may not have heard (good news travels fast it seems!) I’ll be heading back to the UK at the end of the month.
People keep asking me how I’m feeling and to be honest I’m not quite sure. I’m sad to be leaving before I’m ready, I feel like I’m just getting into NY and loving it but also looking forward to seeing my lovely family and friends (that’s you loyal readers!). So in summary I’m just being positive about it. A new stage, a(nother!) new start but with a much better idea of where I’m going and what I want to do.
Coming to NY has been the best experience and the plan is to return before too long.
But what about Max I hear you cry?! Well, lucky US citizen that he is, he’s gonna be staying for a little while (at least until we’ve taken our bastard landlord to court-mid May). Plan your visit now :-)
The big question is, what should happen to the blog? I feel like a parent in a joint-custody battle. Should we document our long-distance relationship via a series of letters on the blog?! Should Max continue to write from NY and I’ll write from London? A little cross-cultural offering?! Should we stop writing altogether?
We need your votes. Best idea wins!
Can’t wait to see you all, preferably in the pub x
[while you read this post, listen to this]
Another weekend, another new favourite bar. I’d heard a lot about Sunny’s, mostly in the context of New York’s best dive bars, which are listed regularly in TimeOut, New York Magazine and the like. It’s situated in Red Hook, a wonderful neighbourhood filled with a nice mix of artists and locals, whose impending gentrification is thankfully hindered by it not containing a single subway station. This has slowed the inevitable influx of the young, adventurous and upwardly mobile, such that it retains it’s unique nautical and industrial character. Red Hook used to be the main point of entry to New York for transatlantic cargo ships; in the 1930s it was the busiest freight port in the world, before the advent of containerisation shifted the industry across the Upper New York Bay to New Jersey (thanks Wikipedia!). These days, Red Hook’s main street, Van Brunt, only has a handful of stores of note, but they are of such quality and character that they would stand out on any main street in other busier neighbourhoods of Brooklyn. They are careful to pay homage to local tradition however: a local restaurant Fort Defiance is named after the military outpost placed here by the Dutch during the Battle of Brooklyn, while the local waterways Buttermilk Channel and Erie Basin have inspired the names of a restaurant and vintage jewellery store respectively.
Away from Van Brunt Street, the derelict warehouses have been taken over by such businesses as the Red Hook winery, the Sixpoint brewery, the hulking blue and yellow mass of Ikea, and Brooklyn’s best supermarket: Fairway. Nestled amongst them, holding it’s own on the shore overlooking the Statue Of Liberty and the setting sun beyond, is Sunny’s. The frontage is mostly unassuming, a black awning and a neon sign reading, simply “BAR”; except that parked outside is a rusty blue 1950s pick up with high wheel arches and a prominent hood. The truck is moved once a week to allow for street cleaning, but otherwise acts as a herald and reminder for a simpler time in Brooklyn’s history. Sunny’s has been in the same spot since 1890, catering for the sailors and dockers who spent their lives working these cobbled streets.
The salty wind coming off the New York Bay is brisk, and makes entering Sunny’s warm soft-lit interior that much more enticing. The decor is divey, but in an authentic way. Other bars around Brooklyn try to imitate the fairy lights and neon beer signs aesthetic, but Sunny’s is the original. It’s been in the same family since 1890, and the children of longshoremen and sailors still make this their Friday and Saturday nights. Walking into the back room last Saturday we saw twenty musicians rotating double bass, harmonicas, guitars, mandolins a banjo and singing duty. Here are some of them:
They were surrounded by men and women of all ages, singing along to the Americana and folk where they knew the words, humming and swaying when they didn’t. The goodwill in the room was palapable, particularly when the playing stopped, and everyone in the bar sang an a capella version of the song linked to above. It was spinetingling. For hours they played, swapping and changing around, going to the bar for beer and coming back for more music. There there was nothing like a setlist; just someone leading each song with chord progression and then nodding at various players when they wanted someone to solo. Steph and I sat supping local beers for an hour or two, smiling and nodding as voyeurs to what seemed a very authentic, local experience - something not easily found amongst New York’s transplant population.
(for more info there’s a wonderful NY Times interview with the owner here)
For the largest Chinese community outside China, head to Chinatown in NY. Unlike in London where Chinatown is effectively one piddly little street lined with terrible restaurants boasting awful service, (if y’all know of great places in Chinatown, be sure to recommend!) NY Chinatown feels like you turned a corner and fell into Alice’s Chinese Wonderland.
There are a million different shops seemingly all selling the same produce (i.e. lots of wrinkled brown roots that look like the kind of thing you find at the bottom of the garden but are probably a great culinary delicacy), including the ever pungent Durian, folklore from gap years past.
There are loads of shops that could be selling your elderly relatives for all you know- EVERYTHING from adverts and menus to signs is in Chinese. Temporarily I wish I understood the mystery signs (minus the many hours and inevitable pain of learning such a difficult language).
The wisest-looking, most wrinkly old people seem to reside in Chinatown (I guess those roots are the elixir of life) always accompanied by a relative, happy to walk (very slowly) and talk. Unlike many European countries, reverence towards the elderly and subsequently their care within the family seems ingrained in Chinese culture. This system is impressive, though I understand increasingly difficult to uphold in China, where the combination of an aging population and upwardly mobile younger generation had led to a gap in social care, currently ill-provided for by the government.
There are also, of course, the customary hilarious signs. I have included a few classics below;
Who knows what they’re selling here. Frankly no-one eating there seemed to care…
The annoying bus question that broke the shopkeeper’s back. I think we’ve all been tempted to create similar signs for loved ones, co-workers or irritating children.
Chinatown rubs shoulders with Little Italy which is totally different, much more about aesthetic and romance whereas Chinatown is smelly, raw and real. The way complete opposites co-exist and even attract is one of New York’s greatest successes.
This storage facility has picked up on New York in-jokes in its subway posters. Let me know if you need me to explain any to you.