Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Better living...

...through good design. Repeat with me: it is possible; it is possible; it is possible...

{image from the Design History Mashup}


Saturday, August 21, 2010


I made the mistake of today of heading down to SoHo for a bit of sale shopping. (A while back, I had written about this ultimate, New York summer sport.)

Well, truth be told, the mistake began on Thursday when I headed for the legendary (but perhaps overrated?) Barney's Warehouse Sale. There used to be queues around the block for this. I took a friend with me for support and some tag-team shopping, and so as it turned out we were heading to both the men's and women's sections. The atmosphere inside is brisk and practical, but not aggressive. No two-people-grab-one-item thing going on. But lots of excuse-me's as people slide a little too close behind you.

And no need for false modesty here. Everyone has come with their sculpted abs and well-toned legs, so if you're a man and need to try on a shirt and happen not to be the t-shirt wearing type (and by large, most men here weren't), then you unpack your 6-pack and get on with the task. Women were a little more modest and far-sighted. Some had worn tight fitting outfits (like leggings and t-shirt) that allowed you to try on outfits on top. Some were far-sighted in another sense - wearing underwear that could withstand public scrutiny (shorts were a popular choice). But even the trial room (note, singular) was just a section cordoned off with a curtain that was fluttering open altogether too often.

Not to pretend I was shocked, or even discomfitted. It's just that no matter how much I am used to these things I'm from India -- there was no way I was going to be trying on any clothes here! (As with many such things, the story about when I updated my sense of fitting room etiquette is from Paris. I was at a sample sale of women's stuff, actually at the Place des Vosges. There were enough men wandering around, shopping with or for a woman. But women seem unperturbed trying on tops and bottoms. Let's just say it was a "I'm not in India anymore" moment.)

Getting back to today's blunder, I was wandering SoHo at a few designers I like. Why I chose Saturday when I could have gone mid-week, I don't know. And why I stepped into Topshop with its pounding music I truly don't know. But I realized that I seemed to be drawn to things some version of which I already had. Not surprising -- we like what we like. But what I really mean is that I seemed to be looking for staples: the kind of item that is stylish and well construct and can last you a decade or two at least, because it evokes exactly that kind of style that will never be out of style, even though it may only periodically be truly in. And this reminded me of my other quixotic quest: to have a uniform. An outfit that is so perfect for me that I can own 10 of everything and wear it day after day. An outfit so precisely me, that people will know it's me without knowing who I am.

Actually, it turns out for a few of my student and early work years, I had almost achieved this. A friend would mention me to another friend, and somehow they would be sure they had seen me wandering around. I can't really fess up to the outfit, but I will say that it wasn't bizarre, although a little unusual. They key was uniformity. I would somehow end up wearing some variation of the outfit five days a week, and I did have about 10 of everything. Of course, in those days, I also used to eat the same dinner every night for six months in a row. It's fair to say that post-student life has made (a little) more normal!



Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cool cat

{from the summer archive / my image, please do not use without permission}

The term cool cat probably brings to mind a jazz performer stalking the stage of a dim café. Though I had to look twice, there was doubt that I had encountered one cool cat in the middle of 36+ degree Rajasthan.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Paris in the summertime

Perhaps, like me, you've visited Paris in all the wrong seasons. True, there is never a wrong season to visit any great city, but then there are certainly the right seasons to visit: the periods when all the people in the know suddenly descend like a flock of birds, peck at the seeds for a few days, before dispersing again (odd image that I plucked from my head... but the right people tend to have the right look, hence they tend I'm sure to peck at bird seeds whilst in Paris).

August is certainly one of those wrong seasons. Stylish Parisians and their friends are all sunning themselves in the south. Some (many?) of the more elegant spots not feeling the need to cater to hungry tourists board up for the month. But the one thing that keeps going, as I was reminded in this article by Tony Scott in the NY Times, are the little pocket cinemas where on any given day you have any kind of retrospective you might want: from silent Westerns of the 1920s to a 16 hour Rocky marathon.

"Love, sophistication, eroticism, danger, class struggle, violence, tenderness, political intrigue — any effect, theme or motif you can contemplate is likely to have a Paris address. You can recognize these local habitations even if you have never visited the city. When you do visit, you often have the uncanny feeling of walking through a movie..."

"The actual Louvre, imposing as it may be, comes alive when encountered in the sprint through its galleries undertaken by Arthur, Franz and Odile in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Band of Outsiders.”"

And every walk by every riverside in Paris is filled with cinematic possibilities...

If you'll pardon a bit of overreaching here. there was a book (Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human) by the critic Harold Bloom which argued that Shakespeare not only reflects that gamut of human emotions, but creates them. In the same way, Scott seems to argue, the cinema makes Paris Paris, and the Paris we see through our eyes is through the filmmakers lens.



Tuesday, August 3, 2010

New and old New York

I have this image in my mind of Woody Allen zooming around in a car, I'm thinking driven by Diane Keaton in Manhattan. I'm not sure, and Google is really letting me down on this one. Why do I mention it? Well, living in New York, and seeing the romanticized version of Manhattan, you immediately come face to face with some key facts. Most people I know cannot afford the kinds of apartments that the characters live in. And the people I do know who live in such apartments tend not to be working in the kinds of jobs Woody Allen's characters tend to favor. No matter, for me romanticized is good. Shot in gorgeous black and white, Woody Allen makes New York seem as romantic as Paris (and of course that means bittersweet heartbreak as well, a key to Parisian romance, no?) I love watching on a big screen where I am submerged in the image, and even the generic New York street backgrounds come alive with magic and, yes, seem so romantic...

Cut to colour, and me driving in my Mini around Manhattan. It's not only the stuff of cinema. I've been parking the car here for the summer, and so when the other day the Aged P was in town, I decided to pick him up at the airport. So there I was doing the crosstown on 125th and over the Triborough (now Robert Kennedy) bridge. And the journey back! Crossing the bridge, the skyline, and above all just driving along the street like a tracking shot (filmmakers, correct me here please!), except that you're not watching a screen, nor craning your neck from the backseat of a taxi, but watching the city unfold from the drivers seat. Delis, nail salons, pharmacies, hotels. apartment building marquees, glimmer and garbage each finding their place.

Yes, I might as well confess it...

[cue the Gershwin]
I adore New York City. 
Idolize it all out of proportion. "

Uh, no. Make that "Romanticize it
all out of proportion. "

"To me,
no matter what the season was,

this is still a town
that exists in black and white

and pulsates to the great tunes
of George Gershwin. "

Uh... no. Let me start this over.

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