Warts are in, at least on pumpkins. So are lumps, bumps, wrinkles and diverse colors. These compelling and unique “Super Freaks,” seen on a day trip to Daisi Hill Farm in Millerton, New York, wore their weirdness proudly. Back in the city, I was bored by the smooth-skinned orange pumpkins sold street-side at corner groceries. Now I wanted a Jack O’ Lantern with some serious battle scars. Looking in the mirror, I felt more tolerant of my own. Imperfection is organic. It is honest. And, at heart, it can signify rebellion.
I don’t want a Maserati, I want a flying car. Ever since reading Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I’ve dreamed of a vehicle I could drive over gridlock, through rivers and under mountains. Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved these ingenious outdoor car parks. I like to imagine that the cars have swooped into their individual resting spaces like swallows into nests. I love seeing big metal machines stacked tidily like spice or wine bottles, two-ton weight be damned. At the push of the button they come carefully down, though there may be a wait if you’re the guy at the top. Even if cars can’t fly yet, they can still always pile up, up, up.
Like its ambitious citizens, the Manhattan skyline is always reinventing itself with an eye to the competition. The newest super tall skyscrapers—some still with cranes—look like fishing lines to the stratosphere. Are they trying to catch birds, helicopters, clouds? Here are views for billionaires (and maybe global criminals) who need to show they are on top of the world. Not just the one-percent, but the one-upper percent—the “my treehouse is higher than yours” club. Like NBA basketball players or super models, the towers look down imperiously on older buildings. The formerly imposing now looks short and squat. But reflected in the dimpled water of the Central Park Reservoir, the Super Talls shrink like Legos and belong to everyone. Nature brings them down to size, and wins.
A crazy thicket of scaffolds is turning New Yorkers into moles. The other day I walked two long dark and dingy scaffolded blocks in a row, turned a scaffolded corner and walked yet another without seeing open sky. I wasn't just a mole. I was a mole in a maze.
City laws promote the erection of scaffolds, but don't legally limit how long they can stay up (for details, read here). As a result, they're out of control. Something must be done. An obvious step is to regulate how long they can stay up. But there's an easier idea.
When I walked under this Hanging Garden of Scaffold outside Cafe Lalo (the Upper West Side destination pastry shop where a scene in You've Got Mail was shot), I realized exactly what was needed. Uplifting interior design.
I propose The 2018 Scaffold Law of Aesthetic Uplift to stop the blight. Imagine the possibilities. Tiki Scaffold, Fiesta Scaffold, Disco Scaffold? Big Apple Orchard, King Kongland, Lady Liberty Lot? Think of blocks of lights at Christmas! Consider the stage sets outside Broadway! Tourists would come from all over to visit The Big Scaffold. Twinkling light and fake flower businesses would boom. People would actually mourn when the tunnels left.
Goodbye, mole people. Hello, party in the streets! What do you think?
Summer travel is so cumbersome. I'd like to fly around the world—bagless, weightless and on bird wings. Because I can't, airplanes are a necessary evil. But they have their consolations. I do like looking out their windows and the way my head is in the clouds for real. I also love coming in for landings, particularly returning to New York. For once, I'm the master builder. Big city grids align, massive buildings shrink, and noisy traffic melts away. Here, the Throgs Neck Bridge by Othmar Hermann Amman gets the toy-size treatment as I come into LaGuardia one afternoon. For a moment, I had my wings.
Urban Irony #353: you can shop for growing things while underground yourself. With the onset of Memorial Day weekend, my spring flower craving deepens. The subway florist Botany Bar, buried down in the Turnstyle Underground Market at Columbus Circle, serves up singular orchid "spritzers" on a silver platter. The whimsical shop also concocts air plant "shots," succulent "flights," and a "six-pack" sampler "for your next BYOP event."
I don't just like to BYOP, I also love to seasonally BYOB. Since I can't plant violets on Memorial Day (I've got a park, but no backyard), I drink them. A fragrant bottle of Creme de Violette inspires botanical violet gimlets and brings flower power to my apartment while green thumbs are out in their backyard tilling soil.
I may not have a bed of dirt to run my fingers through, but I can work with metaphors. Here's another: You don't have to have a backyard patio to make your life a garden party.
I love blank space. To me, it speaks of luxury and potential rather than the absence of things. But is it possible that inside every minimalist there's a hidden maximalist? The trendy gallery wall (above) at the special exhibition, "Forever Young: Selections from the Joe Baio Collection of Photography," certainly called to mine.
The Joe Baio Collection was one of three special collections (also "A Time for Reflection" curated by Elton John and "All Power: Visual Legacies of the Black Panther Party" curated by Michelle Dunn Marsh) at The Photography Show presented by Aipad (April 5-8) held annually at Pier 94 in New York City. The premiere photo show featured fine art galleries, book dealers, publishers and photography organizations from all over the world in mostly spare and chic grey booths.
Joe Baio, however, opted to create the feeling of a luxe Manhattan townhouse inside the vast pier space. The collectors brought in large oriental rugs, plush sofas, and antique tables and painted display walls in dense red, cobalt and light blue hues. More than 200 photos of children and adolescents ranging from the 1850s to the present were hung in intricate and beautifully executed arrangements.
Passionate maximalism ruled. People came, sat and stayed. Here, the fine art of hanging lead to the even finer art of hanging out.
Women's shoe choices often give mixed messages. At the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, actresses wore #TimesUp black gowns with precarious stilettos. High shoes lend power but are destabilizing. It's so much easier to protest in flats.
Not all flats are created equal. I stumbled across a high-end shoe sale and wondered if, as with social media, shoe designers had to shout to be heard. The parade of wallflower racks held the inane, the insane, and the downright hilarious. There were leftover platformed Timberlands with a stainless steel retainer tip, a burgundy brogue with a pink feather and rhinestone side buckle, and gold-dipped booties tied up with a dainty bow. You had to smile. The ultimate punch line was a zipped fake foot in a red stiletto heel that made me think of the creepy 1971 movie, Klute.
Maybe outrageous times call for outrageous footwear. But the Golden Globes showed that when it comes to silhouette, some shoes are just too beautiful to #resist.
A friend of mine once looked out her window in deepest night and saw a parade of elephants underneath. She described it to me so vividly that I almost stole it as my own memory. It turned out she wasn't dreaming. The only way to get the Ringling Bros. elephants to Madison Square Garden each year was to walk them across Manhattan when the streets were empty. Her vision of pachyderms on Park was real.
That circus folded in May, 2017, but our collective fantasy of seeing elements of the greatest show on earth lives on. This year's Bloomingdale's New York celebrates it with windows themed to the new P. T. Barnum movie, "The Greatest Showman." You can step right up to view the bearded lady (above), the snake charmer, the fortune teller and the trapeze artist all captured at work and play. The store's message is of fabulous individuality, inclusion, and, of course, shop until you drop. No elephants required.
You'd have to be very jaded or a retail atheist not to get excited by the visual artistry in New York City's holiday windows. Each year Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue create bedazzling sidewalk displays that in my mind outperform the towering spectacle of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Bergdorf's theatrical stage sets—perhaps due to the architectural scale of the actual window frames and the bottomless talent of visual director David Hoey—are usually my favorite. This year's BG masterpiece windows (slideshow here) are no exception. Fanciful, elaborate and technically superb, they celebrate the city's great cultural institutions like The New York Philharmonic, above.
In the window, a cascade of neon instruments light up in sequence and crescendo visually to full blast. Prismatic perspective shows how symphonic music pours out, around, and over you. A flamboyant and flame-haired conductor ignites the scene with back turned and arms raised. My secret fantasy is that as she conducts, she shatters something—not the window—but the notorious gendered glass ceiling of most of the world's great symphony orchestras.
What's that sound you hear? It's a #metoo army of stiletto heels grinding glass shards into grains of sand. Applause, please.
Design that speaks out can whisper or shout. I see more people wearing their values on their sleeve (or caps, jackets, sweatshirts and backpacks) with slogans and small buttons that promote love, equality and resistance. I also notice the proliferations of anti-hate posters and flags on the doors of independent stores, on sides of churches, and here, on the glass-front entrance wall of a Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. The sheer size and profundity of this sign, along with the invisible burden carried by a stooped passerby, left me speechless—but not for long.
The person (or people) who created this got to say with pride: "Today I made love on the beach!" I stumbled across it on a long walk and could say, "I found love on the beach." And then I realized that the only way to make this love everlasting was to shoot it.
Smart cars are so adorable you just want to pick them up and put them in your pocket. Whenever I see one, I hope these extremely efficient and small-is-beautiful Mercedes are counterbalancing the horrendous number of gas-guzzling black SUV's picking up in the city. The jelly bean-sized cars are so well-designed for the Rush Hour maze that even the NYPD bought a fleet.
Some owners can't resist gloating. When I saw this blue subcompact backing up into a luggage-sized space, I thought, what a real New York car. It wasn't just Smart, it was also Smart-ass.
These eggs called out loudly to my inner narcissist. Reading my name in the unlikeliest place— the bright neon of a refrigerated shelf— made me laugh. Fresh foods was giving me a shout out?
Which made me think. What if our future In Real Retail Life (IRRL) interactions were hyper-customized just like current online "Amazon/Netflix recommends"? What if we saw things just for us everywhere? In a boutique, Carol’s jeans, Carol’s dress. At the hardware shop, Carol’s light bulb, Carol’s nail. Even on stickered fruit: Carol's banana. We'd all be trapped in a claustrophobic echo chamber of our own historic tastes (and yes, it's already happened with politics). Your name here, everywhere.
On the other hand, who could resist a small cute box of humane heirloom blue eggs? Thanks, Carol, whoever you are.
My first thoughts were of Dorothy when I came across this sunflower yellow Quaker-style house askew in the Rose Kennedy Greenway in downtown Boston. Was there a dead Brahmin stuck underneath? Actually, all Oz allusions were accidental, according to Brooklyn artist Mark Reigelman. He created this art piece, "The Meeting House," from traditional building materials like Eastern white cedar and birch plywood to reference both the residential disruption caused by highway infrastructure projects and the healing qualities of communal civic structures.
As work and chores migrate to the web, I think places where people can gather and talk face to face and make progress as a community become even more appreciated. I've noticed that inviting lounges and shared worktables are super trendy, not just in expected places like hotel lobbies and coffee shops, but also in museums and even gyms. MoMA's new renovation, for example, adds 25-percent more public space, including a stunning second floor cafe and first floor lobby lounge. The stylish entrance space of my newly madeover Equinox gym fuses hotel lobby with high-tech workspace. Gym members give fingers and minds a workout while sitting at long shared work tables with electric outlets, rows of marble cafe tables or on stylish black upholstered chaise lounges. You could spend all day at the gym without breaking a sweat.
The irony is that people using these public work spaces often line up next to each other staring at glowing screens like toddlers in parallel play, communing without communicating. I call it public isolation. Perhaps if a large Meeting House landed in their midst they would put down their screens and talk to each other, which is why I think some people secretly love disasters. When you contrast Reigelman's colorful small house with the large impersonal glass skyscrapers in the distance, which one would you rather play in?
I've always had a bemused appreciation of carved radishes, pumpkins, watermelons and other spectacular examples of the celebrated Asian and European art of fruit carving. I mean, really, who doesn't love a watermelon turned into a samurai head? However, it's not often you run across a carved banana, and this abstract fruit art from Henrietta's Table in Cambridge, Massachusetts was my first encounter. First, I saw a deboned fish. Next, I saw a caterpillar. The longer I stared, the more it became a Rorschach banana with infinite possibilities. A dinosaur backbone? A slightly gooey snake? An intricate wooden block toy puzzle? What do you see? And, more radically, the next time you pick up a knife to cut your summer fruit, what could you make?
The minute you enter the vast dark space of "Hansel and Gretel" at the Park Avenue Armory, you have that creepy back-of-your-neck feeling that somebody or something is watching you. Indeed, somebody is. You are being surveilled by overhead night vision cameras and flying drones, and your image is being live-streamed not only to an exhibition room at the front of the Armory, but also to the Internet public here. Above, I'm taking a photo of myself surveilled taking a photo. My image is being captured from above in total darkness and projected in ghostly white onto the armory's floor.
The unsettling installation was conceived and designed by artist/activist Ai Weiwei and starchitects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron to raise questions about the amount of surveillance used not only in war, but in our public spaces. I saw the exhibit the morning after I saw a theater version of George Orwell's "1984" at the Hudson Theater. It was a double helping of art-induced paranoia, courtesy of Big Brother.
It made me wonder who else is watching us, and where? Alexa? Your iPhone? The hobbyist's drone outside your apartment window (yes, this really happened to a friend of mine). The bugged guest room of your host's art-filled glass house (in Elizabeth Strout's new novel, Anything is Possible)? Can we have dignity without privacy? Does spying erode empathy? Let's ask and answer these essential questions before anything becomes possible.
I'm always looking for ideas to change up my life in little ways. You never know when that one small change will have a domino effect that leads to the big Eureka! This clear globe of colorful mixed salad totally amused me. It was served at breakfast in our small Italian hotel. It reminded me of the little forest terrariums I used to create as a kid and also of those enticing gum ball-style machines with plastic balls containing surprise toys. Imagine if a ball with fresh greens had rolled out of the metal chute! This ingenious presentation made me stop, look and admire. Suddenly, breakfast salad seemed like a perfectly compelling idea. And it has ever since.
I was waffling on whether or not to make and wear a pink #Pussyhat to tomorrow's March NYC (the knit hats are meant to create a striking united visual statement and defiantly reclaim the term "pussy"). But who could resist the opportunity to learn a new craft, bond with fellow female artisans, and express solidarity one stitch at a time? I resolved my conflict over pink by finding this gorgeous ombré yarn, whose color is literally named "Dirty Hippie," and I learned how to crochet from a kind stranger in the store that sold me the yarn. Later today I ran across an ancient male musician in the natural foods store wearing a lavender knit cap that looked suspiciously like a pussyhat, ears and all. "My God," I thought, "is he in a pussyhat?" He was the first guy I'd seen in one, though I'd seen several young women in pink ones on the streets. My question was answered when I overheard him talking to the guys behind the corner. "I'm wearing a pussyhat!" he said proudly. "It's for women." The young guys behind the corner were simultaneously hysterical and skeptical. "He's telling the truth," I said, "and I've got mine in my purse!" I pulled it out and waved it at them. They were dumbstruck. "Thank you," said the lavender hat wearer, "as they just know me as a crazy musician who makes up crazy stories." I'd love to know where he got his and whether he might have knit it himself. If I ever see him again I'll be sure to ask.
Shelves beg a million questions. On bookshelves, for example, better to arrange by height and width, by category, or even alphabetical? And what about bar shelves? Designers of the most beautiful hand-milled bars often leave the view of the shelves behind the bar to the whims of the bartender.
At Agern, a 110-seat Scandinavian restaurant tucked away inside a new (and beautifully) renovated space inside Grand Central Terminal, the thoughtful arrangement of glasses and bottles on backlit bar shelves masters this design dilemma. Though the restaurant is completely internal, the stunning jewel-like design creates a rectangular light "window" with chevron-patterned glass panes behind the bar that opens up the space. The inviting array of artisan shapes and arty labels bring to mind a magical alchemist's shop. And while the general arrangement doesn't show a slavish devotion to height or width, it captivates precisely because the bottles are not uniform or mass-manufactured and the liquids inside them glow.
Also behind the bar are two of the most professional and friendly young bartenders working anywhere. Cheers to them! You can't help but admire how they work to maintain the view.