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Posts Tagged ‘New York’

An early winter’s walk along the Hudson River

In beauty, life, nature, travel, US on December 4, 2013 at 2:59 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The western side of the Hudson; the cliffs reach 800 feet in height.

The western side of the Hudson; the cliffs reach 800 feet in height.

This riverside park, just north of Nyack, N.Y.,  is barely 25 miles north of New York City, barely a 40-minute train or car’s journey from the traffic and noise and crush and crowds of Times Square.

Here is another New York, the one its residents equally treasure.

Here, the world is wild, a rare, refreshing place of silence. It’s an easy 15 minute drive from our apartment on the other side of the river.

I’m looking northwest at these cliffs as I write this post, and they’re our first sight every morning from our bedroom window.

I love living at the edge of a river, watching its moods change with the hours and the seasons. Sometimes you can see a rainstorm moving down the water like a scrim, like this legendary 1857 Japanese woodcut.

In the bitterest of winters, the river freezes, and if you stand at its edge you’ll hear the ice cracking and groaning.

These cliffs are 200 million years old, first described in 1541 by the map-maker Mercator. Today they’re called The Palisades.

The famous “brownstones” of Manhattan and Brooklyn? Quarried here.

The only sounds are a murder of crows squawking high atop the cliffs, waves lapping the stony shore, the scree of a soaring red-tailed hawk, the drone of a passing airplane.

Yet you can glimpse Manhattan — what locals call The City — shimmering 30 miles south, like some faint version of Oz.

On the eastern shore, the train carrying commuters to work in New York City, and all the towns and cities along the way, slides south like a slim, silvery snake.

The Hudson is still commercially highly active, with barges heading north and south every day carrying coal, gravel and other elements. They’re always guided by tug boats, stout little vessels with tremendous power.

I wonder if this brick was former ballast.

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I love seeing what’s washed up on the shores, like this oyster shell. The Hudson has 13 acres (!) of oyster beds in this area, recently moved at a cost of $100,000 from a mile north of the Tappan Zee Bridge (now under re-construction) to further south to protect them from harm during the work.

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The variety of foliage, even in winter, is amazing. I have no idea what this is, but isn’t it amazing? It looks like a messy horse’s tail.

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One of the sights I’ve grown accustomed to here are these vines, entwined. They’re a common sight — yet they never fail to mesmerize me.

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I love bittersweet. It’s one of my favorite sights in the parks and woods here.

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The base of these cliffs is also fascinating — the indentations remind me of the Canyon de Chelly, one of Arizona’s most ancient and mysterious indigenous sites. 20131129145214

This is the path. In the winter, populated only by walkers and their dogs, it’s a pleasant stroll. In the summer, when too many people stride across it, plus whizzing cyclists, I find it less enjoyable and safe.

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Here’s a terrific book about all the ruined and abandoned buildings along the Hudson. There are many, and they’re mysterious and beautiful.

Here’s a useful essay that explains the region’s geology and history.

Do you have a favorite place you like to walk near your home?

What makes someone a New Yorker? Are you one?

In behavior, books, cities, culture, domestic life, family, journalism, life, travel, urban life, US on October 24, 2013 at 1:31 am

By Caitlin Kelly

No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.

  • E.B. White, Here is New York (1949)
New York City

New York City (Photo credit: kaysha)

Few cities continue to have the gravitational pull of New York City.

A new book, a collection of 28 essays, all by women, reflects on when and why they came to New York City — and why some of them later chose to leave.

Here’s an audio interview with them from WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show.

I moved to New York in June 1989, alight with ambition, optimism, high hopes for a stunning career — yadayadayada. Take a number!

English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Gra...

English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Grand Central Terminal Main Concourse in New York City, New York, United States. Taken with a Canon 5D and 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, in conversation with an editor who once sat atop the masthead of a Very Big Magazine, she called me “so talented.” She’s a sweetheart and I may well be talented, but my years here have since toughened me up to well-meaning flattery. It’s lovely, of course, but it doesn’t pay the rent.

“Sweetie, everyone in New York is talented,” I replied.

What does make someone a New Yorker?

Do you have to be born and raised here? Some say yes, but I disagree. Millions of us have arrived here from distant towns, cities and countries, whether to study, take a job, marry a sweetheart, see how we stack up against the toughest competitors in our field.

New Yorker Hotel building from below

New Yorker Hotel building from below (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had worked in my native Canada in journalism for years and was doing well there.

But the thought of 30 more years doing the same thing amidst the same people? Not for me. One Toronto magazine editor, without exaggeration, held the same prestigious, powerful and much-coveted job for more than 20 years. That sort of stasis struck me as really boring. The place was just too small.

It’s an interesting experience trading your Big Fish-ness in a much smaller pond to the guppy-ness of arriving in a place where the greasy pole of fame and fortune looms into the stratosphere.

I admit it — I’ve never lived in the city itself but in a small town 25 miles north, a 38-minute express train ride. The sort of place snotty New Yorkers dismiss, incorrectly, as “upstate.”

I have a great apartment for a much lower cost. Would I live in the city if given an affordable choice? Maybe. Maybe not.

But I’ve seen myself change in some  basic ways since I moved here, as do many who choose to come here…

So, what makes a New Yorker?

— We’re direct

There’s a sort of conversational bluntness here that’s shocking to me, even today. I was at the movies recently and an older woman I don’t know snapped “Make sure no one takes my seat.” How about “Please?” Typical. For better or worse, strangers here often address one another as others rarely do in more formal/polite places, with the familiar tone of old friends — or despised relatives.

— We’re here to make money

Why else choose to stay in/near a city where the costs of living are so crazy-high? Where simply driving to the airport to pick someone up can snatch $13 from your pocket in tolls and parking? Surviving on ramen and free shows gets old after a while.

– We’re street smart

With people getting shoved onto the subway tracks more often than any of us would like, you learn fast to guard your wallet and your personal space and not to stare anyone in the eye. You learn not to engage potential psychos.

— We walk fast

When I visit other cities, everyone is walking sooooooo slowly. Tourists are the bane of our existence, clogging the narrow, crowded sidewalks, sometimes four abreast. Move it, people!

– You can cry in public and no one will notice

That’s possibly a mixed blessing, but I’ve cried in public here a few times and, just as we studiously ignore celebrities, observers will pretend everything is OK.

— We talk fast

If someone else has time to make small talk with the bank clerk or grocery store bagger, we’re tapping our foot and sighing.

— We’re not mean, just in a hurry

Being brusque doesn’t mean we’re cold or unkind, although it can certainly look that way to a newcomer or visitor from a slower-moving, more social place.

— Our bullshit meters are highly sensitive

We’ve heard just about everything in our years here. We watch our local and state politicians being sent off to prison for corruption or sexual crimes on a depressingly regular basis. So if something sounds soooooo amazing, we immediately look for the fine print.

-– We’re driven

People come here to succeed professionally. (You can do much better more quickly in many other places.) That means climbing over the thousands of other smart, ambitious, highly-educated people who also want that job/promotion/grant/fellowship. We know how tough it is. We’ll do whatever it takes to achieve our goals.

— We relish the mix of people here

Rockettes, cops, artists, editors, actors, Wall Streeters, lawyers, NGO types, UN diplomats. They’re all here.

– We put up with the longest commutes in the U.S., some up to two hours each way

The cost of Manhattan being sky-high for rentals or ownership, thousands of “New Yorkers” live far outside the city limits, traveling in every day to work by car, bus, bike, train or ferry. Some, like Mr. Rockefeller (yes, that one, the billionaire whose enormous estate lies 10 minutes drive north of me) come in by helicopter.

– Income Inequality ‘R Us

Indeed. Just stand at the corner of Madison and 42d at rush hour and watch the endless parade of gleaming, spotless, black Escalades taking the 1% crowd home to the Upper East Side. See the Town Cars idling outside the restaurants and shops. Then cross Park Avenue at its northern end and you’ll see a cliffs’ edge plunge from the plutocracy to deep poverty.

— We treasure anonymity

If you want to be left alone to just get on with it, whatever it is, you can do that here without small-town nosiness, gossip or scrutiny.

— We expect open-mindedness

Whatever your religion, (or lack of same), your gender or sexual preferences, (or combination of same), your political views (or lack of same), it’s all good. This is not a place where (most!) people will dismiss you for not attending church every Sunday or voting for a specific party.

-– We know what we want (even if we can’t afford it!)

The costs of living here are punitively high. This tends to focus you quickly on what you want and what you need to do to achieve it.

— We want to be here, no matter the (considerable) costs

Many of us came from smaller, quieter and far less expensive places. We chose New York.

Some of us are massively entitled

This recent New York magazine article about parents cheating in every way possible to boost their kids’ chances of success is sadly instructive.

– We’re (outwardly) confident

This is not a great place for the tongue-tied, shy or self-deprecating. People assume that if you’re successful, you’re telling us about it and we’re read or heard about you. Or we will soon.

— We brought NYC-specific dreams

Mine was to succeed in journalism and to publish a few books with major houses. The bitterly cold winter’s day in 2002 I walked through the halls at Simon & Schuster, with my agent, surrounded by the framed covers of their best-sellers, felt like a dream to me. That afternoon, to celebrate the imminent acquisition of my first book, I went around the corner to “21″, another Manhattan institution, and ate profiteroles. I went to Saks and bought myself a silver ring to commemorate this huge milestone.

— The people we really need to work with are here

Depending on your field or industry, this still remains the place to be. It’s said that “writers can live anywhere” and while that is technically accurate, there are few other cities where you can so quickly and easily meet and work with the people who can kick your career into high(er) gear.

— 9/11 remains very real to us, not some random historical fact

We lost friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and our fantasy of invulnerability. Thousands of us heard the roar of those planes coming in, and the F-15s that followed, and smelled the bitter tang of the fires after the towers fell and saw the smoke filling the sky. I know Richard Drew personally, the photographer who shot the terrifying photo, Falling Man, of a man falling (or jumping)_to his death. I know people here who are forever traumatized by what happened to them that day. It was also the day my husband was to have moved into my suburban apartment. Instead, he turned his Brooklyn apartment into a photo lab, scanning and transmitting film images to the Times’ midtown offices. (They won the Pulitzer that year for those photos.)

Are you a New Yorker?

What makes you one?

Do you wish you were?

Vying for fame — with those who share your name

In behavior, blogging, business, culture, Fashion, journalism, life, Media, urban life, women, work on October 14, 2013 at 1:53 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Those who aspire to fame — hell, visibility! — in their field need talent, hard work, education, connections, good luck, experience, opportunity.

They also need people to recognize and remember their name.

One reason movie stars change their names is to win an indelible place in the public imagination — would you rush as quickly to see a film by Allen Konigsberg (Woody Allen) or one starring Alphonso D’Abruzzo (Alan Alda)?

Your name is your brand.

Especially in an age of social media, when it might be read by (and re-tweeted to) thousands, if not millions of people.

For decades, very few girls or women, at least in my native Toronto and later in New York — and most importantly, in my work as a journalist — shared my first name. I’d never met another Caitlin Kelly.

Two highly-visible others share “my” name in the same elbows-out city — New York.

English: Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan & Ne...

English: Bird’s eye panorama of Manhattan & New York City in 1873. This town ain’t big enough for all three of us! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And one of them is a writer for the New Yorker.

“Congrats! Saw your great piece” emails arrive  in my in-box. For her. (For those of you beyond the U.S, a staff job at the New Yorker is, for many writers, the pinnacle of the profession, the sort of spot many ambitious writers deeply envy.)

My loving friends think I’m talented and know I live in New York so, hey, it must be me!

But it’s not.

Then came the fawning, hand-wringing email from some fangirl who assumed I was the other CK, asking me for career advice.

This Caitlin Kelly is a designer of elegant, upscale swimwear, whose name I began seeing whenever a Google alert sent me to her work, not to mine. She’s also here in New York, much younger than I, as is the other CK.

She called me the other day and we finally learned a bit more about one another. I’d been curious, as her work is lovely.

She sounds like a hard-working talented woman. We — somewhat oddly for strangers sharing a name — spoke at length and fairly personally.

We haven’t met, yet, although it’s possible we will. There may be an interesting story to write about “my” doppelgangers: how often (if at all) are they confused with me? How does that feel for them?

I checked out a few of the 26 (!) other Caitlin Kelly’s in the New York area, ranging from a college librarian (who’s emailed me a few times over the years) to a VP at Chase Morgan.

Twenty-six of us?!

Time for a CK party, I think.

Do you have a name shared with someone (else) who’s well-known?

How has that played out for you?

Just pay them, dammit!

In behavior, business, entertainment, film, journalism, life, Money, movies, news, Style, US, work on June 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

So, imagine you finally get  a shot at the industry/job/company you’ve been dying to work for forever.

Imagine you have even spent the time, energy and hard work to acquire an MBA.

But, hey, sorry, we would love to have you come work for us, but we just don’t have a budget for interns.

As if.

Black Swan (film)

Black Swan (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A court decision made this week, I hope, will strike fear into the greedheads who keep offering work without payment:

A Federal District Court judge in Manhattan ruled on Tuesday that Fox
Searchlight Pictures had violated federal and New York minimum wage laws
by not paying production interns, a case that could upend the long-held
practice of the film industry and other businesses that rely heavily on
unpaid internships.

Should the government get tough to protect unpaid interns, or are internships a win-win?

In the decision, Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that Fox Searchlight
should have paid two interns on the movie “Black Swan,” because they
were essentially regular employees.

The judge noted that these internships did not foster an educational
environment and that the studio received the benefits of the work. The
case could have broad implications. Young people have flocked to
internships, especially against the backdrop of a weak job market.

Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one
million internships a year, an estimated half of which are unpaid,
according to Intern Bridge, a research firm.

Few things piss me off quite as much as people with money who keep insisting to those without it that they’re broke. Sooooooooory!

In my entire career as a photographer and journalist — including high school when I was paid $100 apiece for three magazine cover photos — I’ve very rarely given my skills unpaid to people who still themselves are collecting paychecks and paying to rent office space and keep their lights on –  yet somehow can’t scrape together enough shekels to pay for the hard work of people too young/poor/vulnerable/desperate who are willing or able to work without payment.

The larger issue, equally unfair, is that asking people to work for no money means that only those with money already (parental subsidies, usually) can even afford to take an unpaid internship.

You value their labor or you do not. Every penny you save on their free work is a penny added to your profits.

Fair? Really?

No one else in this economy gives it away! Not my plumber or electrician or physicians or dentist or massage therapist.

My husband was born into a family with very little money; his father was a Baptist preacher in a small city in New Mexico. He attended university on full scholarship and started working — for pay — right out of college as a news photographer. He would not have had the means to afford to work in his desired field without payment.

He has risen to a terrific job, with a pension, and helped The New York Times win a Pulitzer Prize for their 9/11 photos. What if he’d been shut out from the very start?

I have an assistant, part-time, who helps me with my writing — doing research, setting up interviews and meetings, whatever I need. I pay her. I pay the woman who cleans our apartment. I wouldn’t dare insult either of them by suggesting they work for free, because, “Hey, it’s great experience!”

I don’t make a ton of money, either. But if I want someone to work for/with me, I will pay them. The opportunity cost is another burden every intern faces if they give their time away to a cheapskate when they could be making money in those same uncompensated hours.

In a shitty economy where millions are desperate for work, for a job, referral or credential, I think requiring someone to work without payment is obscene.

Have you done an unpaid internship?

Was it worth it?

How was your childhood?

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, parenting on April 19, 2013 at 4:04 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved this recent special issue of New York magazine focused on childhood in New York.

Barbara Walters’ dad ran nightclubs?

Chevy Chase got stabbed in the back by a mugger?

Matthew Broderick in Sweden to promote Ferris ...

Matthew Broderick in Sweden to promote Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matthew Broderick was robbed constantly?

The black and white photos are fantastic, and the memories, of New York and childhood, lovely.

I was born in Vancouver, and lived in London ages two to five, before moving to Toronto where I lived to the age of 30.

My childhood was a mixture of material comfort and emotional chaos. We lived, until my parents split up, in a large, beautiful house in a nice neighborhood. We had a huge backyard, a maid named Ada and I walked to school. But my parents were miserable and I used to hide behind the living room curtains as they shouted at one another. It was a relief when they divorced and my mother and I moved into an apartment in a downtown area much less charming.

I was at boarding school at eight, and summer camp all summer every year ages eight to 15. So I didn’t see that much of my parents. I was then an only child, so grew used to amusing myself with books, toys, art, sports.

I spent my school year awakened by bells: 6:55 wake-up; 7:05 walk around the block, regardless of weather; 7:25 breakfast. And so on. We wore plaid kilts and ties, in the Hunting Stewart tartan, and black oxfords and dark green knee socks. In summer, our camp uniform was yellow and blue, white for Sunday chapel. I spent most of my childhood surrounded by strangers — room-mates, cabin-mates, teachers, housemothers and counselors.

In retrospect, it was a distinctly odd way to grow up.

But it’s what I knew. I got a terrific education, made some wonderful friends at camp and developed my athletic skills. Camp was my happiest time and forever shaped my love of nature and outdoor adventure. I learned how to canoe, water-ski, swim, sail, ride horses. I collected badges and awards and prizes, at school and camp, for my talents, whether athletic or intellectual.

Every summer I would act in a musical, Flower Drum Song or Sound of Music or Hello Dolly!. I usually won the the lead, so knew from an early age I could win and hold an audience. I wrote songs and played them on my guitar, singing before the whole camp, an audience of 300 or so, strangely fearless.

I felt loved and safe at camp, while by Grade Nine I was always in some sort of trouble at school — my bed was messy, I talked too much in class, I sassed teachers and got into radio wars with room-mates. When my neatness scores (!) fell too low, I’d be confined to campus on weekends and had to memorize Bible  verses to atone. (“For God so loved the world…” John 3: 16, kids.)

We were only allowed to watch an hour or so of television on Sunday evenings, although we were taken to the ballet and the Royal Winter Fair to watch horse-jumping. Every Wednesday night, after filling out a permission slip, we could go out for dinner with a friend or relative — the lonely kids left behind were fed a comforting meal of fried chicken with cranberry sauce and corn.

Privacy was an unimaginable luxury when you always shared a room with four or six others. There was nowhere to shut a door and just be alone in silence, to exult or cry. I was sent to my room at school, as punishment, for laughing too loudly. We were constantly told to be “ladylike.” In both places, we ate our meals communally, at large tables, consuming whatever food was served to us whenever it was offered.

Many decades later, I’m still seeing the many ways this has shaped me, for better and for worse.

How was your childhood?

Looking for true love? Make a list

In behavior, culture, domestic life, life, love, men, US, women on March 30, 2013 at 12:23 am
New York City in Winter (NASA, International S...

New York City in Winter (NASA, International Space Station, 01/09/11) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center) I knew he was out there…somewhere!!!

Years ago, a single woman I knew — tall, blond, attractive, intelligent, professionally successful — was getting really sick of being single. She had plenty of dates, but no one she ever wanted to marry.

So she made a list.

When she told me this, I wondered how weird and bossy that was, but she was soon happily married so…how wrong was she to try?

I made a list, too.

It was really, really long. I think it had about 36 things on it.

I didn’t specify anything about looks — height or weight or length of hair — I know what I like. I knew I would only want to marry someone in decent physical shape, who dressed with style. I’d dated a few bald men who were super-attractive beyond their hairiness, so that wasn’t an issue. I’m 5’5″, so didn’t need a guy who’s 6’4″, as some tall women might.

I had to start paring it down, which was a really interesting exercise. What did I most want?

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

A man willing and able to brush/shovel show — score! (This is the Jose I keep talking about.)

Something I couldn’t really put into writing in an on-line ad, which is the only way I was meeting anyone — I really hoped to find a man who was extraordinarily accomplished but extremely modest. Hah! In New York? Anyone who fit the first category would never date me, (I’m not a size 00, have no Ivy degrees nor a huge salary or fancy job) and the latter…it’s deeply un-American, at least where I live, to hide your light beneath a bushel. The skyline is virtually lit with ego and special-snowflake-ness!

But I also knew I wanted someone with clear, consistent ethics and a spiritual life. That, too, sounded way too starchy to put in an ad and I couldn’t figure out how to bring it up in conversation. I was reluctant to describe myself as a church-goer, (occasional), while knowing someone who couldn’t care less about the state of their soul, and the fate of the world, would never be a match for me.

My list was the best move I’ve ever made.

It forced me to really look at my priorities and decide which were the most important. Fun, cute, sexy…sure, in my 20s and 30s. But in my early 40s, by then six years’ divorced with no kids and no wish for any, I also wanted someone with real substance.

To use an old-fashioned word that means a great deal to me — with character. Of good character.

Not just a character!

Cover of "Catch Me If You Can (Full Scree...

Cover via Amazon

Jose, now my second husband, found me through an on-line profile I created while writing a story for Mademoiselle magazine. “Catch Me if You Can”, was my truthful headline.

I didn’t say I was a journalist but he knew right away — “That ego!” he’s told me many times.

(If you’re currently looking for love on-line, check out this story that had professionals tweak re-write two users’ profiles.)

Within a few dates, we both had a pretty good idea this one might take — it’s now been 13 years. He turned out to be a devout Buddhist, with a small room in his Brooklyn apartment with a shrine, Buddha and prayer flags. He took the vows of refuge after covering the end of the war in Bosnia for six weeks, which seared his soul.

Buddha statue from the Gandhara-culture (1st c...

Buddha statue from the Gandhara-culture (1st century, Pakistan) Español: Gandhara, siglo I. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We share: a strong work ethic, a commitment to spiritual growth, a love of great food and wine, a hunger to travel, intellectual curiosity, ease in settings from the White House, (he has photographed three Presidents) to a rural cabin, short fuses and tart tongues. He is crazily accomplished, (a Pulitzer, for 9/11 photo editing), but never tells anyone. (Check that box!) He’s funny, optimistic, affectionate, fiercely loyal.

We’re also very dissimilar in many ways. I live to take risks and am careless about rules and regulations. He’s a PK, a preacher’s kid, cautious about giving offense. I’ve spent much of my career freelance, figuring out my income month by month — he has never not had a job, ever.

When we started dating I had read a book with an interesting list; PEPSI…suggesting you seek a partner with whom you are compatible Professionally, Emotionally, Physically, Spiritually and Intellectually. We fit on four of the five, which seemed enough to me. And the one we didn’t fit on, Intellectually, (he rarely reads non-work material that is not focused on Buddhism), he has changed a lot, and we never run out of things to talk about.

Here’s a recent New York Times wedding announcement about a young woman and her list.

And a wise blog post about defining your values:

For too many years, I played the part of the perfect little southern girl: I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. I dressed properly, including panty hose, slips, and girdles. I didn’t laugh too loudly in public. I did what I was told.

You see, I learned at an early age that I had to do this in order to always be seen as a “good little girl” (and avoid getting punished). I continued the same behavior after I got married, doing what my husband expected of me and keeping up the appearances of a perfect life behind a white picket fence.

I was a mental and emotional chameleon, changing my viewpoints and values to match first those of my parents and then those of my husband. Secretly, inside myself, I had my own dreams and opinions, ideas, and desires. Eventually I realized that in order to be happy, I needed to learn to live outside the box of my upbringing.

Have you ever made a list of what you really want in a partner?

Did it work?

Breathtaking beauty in NYC, ends March 30: Fortuny, go!

In antiques, beauty, culture, design, Style on March 10, 2013 at 12:13 am

Have you ever heard of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo?

Robe de Mariano Fortuny. L'influence des arts ...

Robe de Mariano Fortuny. L’influence des arts de l’Islam (musée des arts décoratifs, Paris) (Photo credit: dalbera)

Likely not.

But oh, his talent! His designs — for lighting, color, textiles and paint — are still innovative, timeless and stunning decades after their creation; he lived from 1871 to 1949. If you are anywhere near New York City before March 30, get to 684 Park Avenue, $15 admission, and savor some of the loveliest clothes you will ever see in your life!

If you’ve been watching (?) the hit television series Downton Abbey, you might have caught a scene with Isabel Crawley wearing a very Fortuny-esque black silver-printed sheath. Fortuny’s timeless designs are a perfect period fit for a quirky, rich, bohemian Edwardian like her.

Fortuny Lamps, Venice, Italy

Fortuny Lamps, Venice, Italy (Photo credit: Andy Ciordia)

He certainly began his artistic life with some major advantages — his father and grandfather were directors of the Prado, the exquisite museum in Madrid. Coming from a wealthy background allowed him the time and means to travel widely and to find and cultivate rich women eager to wear and collect his gowns.

His images and references are from Africa, Morocco, the Middle East and earlier historic periods. His shimmering, softly draped fabrics look embroidered with gold or silver threads — but it is metallic paint pressed into silk velvet or cotton or linen with a carved block.

His secret for tightly pleating silk has often been mimicked, but never exactly duplicated. The hem of his Delphos dresses, simple columns of pleated silk, spill out onto the floor like the open petals of a flower. His attention to detail is exquisite: tiny Venetian beads edge his sleeves, satin cord lines his necklines and he included a pleated silk inset on the inside of a sleeve.

The clothes were considered too daring — uncorseted! — for daytime, outdoor use, but women who began wearing them in public were making the case for being beautiful and comfortable at the same time.

I first saw his work at a museum in Lyons, when I was 23 and traveling Europe alone for four months, and I still treasure a poster I bought there then. On that same trip, I went to Venice to Palazzo Orfei, his studio, whose windows are made of round circles of glass, like the bases of wine bottles. The space is filled with his textiles and in the corner is a small white porcelain sink, its edge stained — decades later — with the dried paint he casually smeared off his brushes. It felt like he’d just gone out for a coffee and might return soon.

Palazzo Orfei

Palazzo Orfei (Photo credit: TracyElaine)

I went to this show in Manhattan with a friend, a woman who is very slim and tall and elegant and who I knew would also appreciate his work. It felt like introducing her to some of my old and dearly beloved friends. What a delight to see them again!

As we were leaving the show, I began wrapping my throat in a cream-colored pleated silk scarf/muffler I bought at Banana Republic about 15 years ago — and realized, with a grateful smile, that I’ve been wearing a simulacrum of Fortuny all these years.

English: Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo

English: Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does it cost you to live these days?

In behavior, cities, culture, domestic life, life, Money, travel, urban life, US on January 29, 2013 at 3:09 am
Apartment buildings in the English Bay area of...

Apartment buildings in the English Bay area of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Beautiful but oh so spendy!!! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recent New York Times article made clear — again — why living in Manhattan is increasingly for the wealthy:

The average Manhattan apartment, at $3,973 a month, costs almost $2,800 more than the average rental nationwide. The average sale price of a home in Manhattan last year was $1.46 million, according to a recent Douglas Elliman report, while the average sale price for a new home in the United States was just under $230,000. The middle class makes up a smaller proportion of the population in New York than elsewhere in the nation. New Yorkers also live in a notably unequal place. Household incomes in Manhattan are about as evenly distributed as they are in Bolivia or Sierra Leone — the wealthiest fifth of Manhattanites make 40 times more than the lowest fifth, according to 2010 census data.

Ask people around the country, “Are you middle-class?” and the answer is likely to be yes. But ask the same question in Manhattan, and people often pause in confusion, unsure exactly what you mean.

What many people outside New York don’t know, necessarily, is that many “New Yorkers”, and I include myself in that bunch, have never lived in The City, as we call Manhattan. It’s too damn expensive!

They live on Staten Island or Queens or the Bronx or Brooklyn or (as we do) in Westchester or New Jersey or Long Island or Connecticut. We waste hours of our lives trading time for money, commuting an hour or more each way.

Since leaving my hometown, Toronto, in 1986 — where real estate is insanely expensive, (only Vancouver is worse), — I’ve lived in Montreal, a small town in New Hampshire and in suburban New York. I’ve seen huge differences of the cost of living firsthand.

In Toronto, rent/mortgage costs are high, almost no matter where you live. In Montreal I rented a stunning apartment — top floor of a 1930s building, with a working fireplace, elegant windows, two bedrooms, dining room, good-sized kitchen — for $600 a month. It was the 1980s, but my then boyfriend was paying $125 a month to share the entire top floor of an apartment building. I didn’t need a car, food and utilities were reasonable, but the taxes! Holy shit. I moved to Montreal with a $10,000 a year raise, and looked forward to extra income. I only kept $200 a month of that, the taxes were so bad. More to the point, I hated the lack of services I got in return — a high crime rate, pot-holed roads, lousy hospitals and libraries. I moved away within 18 months. (Not to mention a winter that lasted from October to May. Non, merci!)

Rural New Hampshire, with the U.S.’s lowest taxes, was cheap enough, but we needed two working vehicles, plus gas, insurance and maintenance, an expense I never needed in Toronto or Montreal.

Moving to suburban New York, where we bought a one-bedroom 1,000 square foot top-floor apartment, with a balcony, pool and tennis court, allowed us a decent monthly payment, thanks to a 30-year mortgage, all we could then afford on one salary, his, a medical resident.

I still live here, now with my second husband, paying $1,800 a month for mortgage and maintenance combined. That may sound like a fortune, but it’s pennies in this part of the world. We could easily spend that for a tiny studio in Manhattan. He pays $250 a month for his train pass to travel a 40-minute trip one-way into Manhattan.

The larger problem?  Our salaries are stagnant, if not falling. I earned more in 2000 freelance than any year since then.

Gas here in New York is just under $4/gallon — it was 89 cents a gallon in 1988 when I came to the U.S. Food is much more expensive than even two years ago, so we spend about $150+ every week for two people. We do eat meat and I work at home, so I often eat three meals a day out of that.

Our cellphone bill is absurdly high and something we need to lower. Electricity is about $75 a month as is the basic land-line bill. We also pay about $100 for a storage locker and $75 a month for our (unheated, unlit, no automatic door opener) garage.

The local YMCA wants $89 a month, (which I think really expensive) for a monthly single membership. One of the worst issues here? Tolls! It costs $4 each way to cross the cheapest bridge to get into the island of Manhattan, and another is $9 each way. Parking, if you choose a garage in the city, is routinely $25-50 for a few hours, while a parking ticket is more than $100.

These smack-in-the-face costs are only bearable, for me, because I’m self-employed as a writer, and can write most of them off as business expenses.

So why stay?

– My husband has a steady, union-protected job with a pension and a decent salary

– He likes his job

– I have ready access to the editors, agents and others in my industry I need to support my writing career. Online is not enough to build profitable relationships, at least for me

– I enjoy New York City a great deal. I love ready access to Broadway, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, fun shops and restaurants and quiet cobble-stoned streets to wander on a fall afternoon

– Where would we go? I have learned (after two deeply disappointing moves to Montreal and New Hampshire) that being happy somewhere is often a complex mix of things: housing (and its cost and quality), access to culture, a liberal (or conservative) environment politically, neighbors who share some of your interests and passions, weather, climate, taxes, government, your job/career/industry.

As several fellow Canadians I know said, “I moved to New York, not the U.S.” I’ve seen a lot of the States, and can appreciate the appeal of many other places here. But almost nowhere has made me feel confident enough to up stakes and start all over again. I was up for a cool job in San Francisco once, but the dotcom collapse ended that. I like L.A. a lot, but Jose refuses. (Next stop? South of France, s’il vous plait!)

– I love the Hudson Valley’s beauty and history

– We have some good friends, finally.

Here’s a fascinating blog post by a Canadian then living in Sardinia, now in the Cayman Islands, about the cost of living there. Many of her followers weighed in, from Hawaii to China.

What are your costs of living these days?

Are you thinking of moving to lower them?

Trick or treaters, sirens and gas shortages

In behavior, business, cities, domestic life, life, nature, news, politics, US, Weather on November 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm
Photo of a Halloween trick-or-treater, Redford...

Photo of a Halloween trick-or-treater, Redford, Michigan, United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this — sitting on a friend’s sofa who has power and wi-fi — I hear two sounds, the wailing of sirens and the calls of little kids out trick or treating in their Hallowe’en costumes.

But I also heard a third lovely sound, the rumble of the commuter train once more heading north.

Life post-Sandy is weird indeed.

I went out today for a business lunch and had a great three-hour meeting with a potentially really interesting and valuable client. The restaurant was full, the lights on, the music playing, the food delicious.

Then it took me 30 minutes to drive back to my town, normally about a 10 minute journey, because the line-ups for the very few gas stations that are open right now stretch for miles.

The New York City marathon got cancelled today, the idea of starting the race on Staten Island — where they are still digging bodies out of the rubble — too offensive for many people to stomach. From CBS News:

The New York City Marathon was canceled Friday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg after mounting criticism that this was not the time for a race while the region is still recovering from superstorm Sandy.

With people in storm-ravaged areas still shivering without electricity and the death toll in New York City at more than 40, many New Yorkers recoiled at the prospect of police officers being assigned to protect a marathon on Sunday.

An estimated 40,000 runners from around the world had been expected to take part in the 26.2-mile event. The race had been scheduled to start in Staten Island, one of the hardest-hit areas by this week’s storm.

“We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it,” the mayor said in a statement. “We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event — even one as meaningful as this — to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track.”

I read friends’ posts on-line and hear horrific tales: exploding cars, homes on Long Island and New Jersey utterly destroyed, people putting up old, ill family members in their tiny apartment, the sudden value of a camper’s headlamp for reading and getting safely around a darkened home. (We have two. Yay!)

The challenges now are:

1) stay warm, dry, bathed, fed, safe, connected; 2) making sure your vehicle has enough gas; 3) not driving to make sure the gas you have lasts; 4) checking up on neighbors to make sure they are OK and offering them whatever help you can that they need, from sharing your fridge to using your power and/or wi-fi.

What’s really interesting is how (we pray, oh, how we pray) this terrible disaster may also affect the Presidential election, which is scheduled for November 6, only a few days away. There is a video clip making the rounds of Mitt Romney saying how immoral FEMA is. Perfect!

FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

You’re right…what were we thinking? Disaster relief is for losers and government-dependent leeches, says dear Mittens.

It’s hard right now know what to focus on — work? friends? groceries? gas?

I’m still doing as much of my work as I can, checking in with clients and sources in Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia, Florida and Toronto. But it feels surreal and annoying to have to do any work at all when we all feel so disrupted and ill at ease.

Yet it’s good to be able to keep the machinery moving, to send an invoice and be able to deposit a check. My friend needs to find a new job and get some freelance work lined up and a week without Internet or power means another week of financial anxiety.

I hear a woman on her cellphone say: “I have no idea what time it is anymore. I feel like a cavewoman.”

I suspect there’s a lot of that right now.

Life in New York after Hurricane Sandy

In behavior, blogging, books, business, cars, cities, culture, journalism, life, Media, news, urban life, US, Weather on November 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm
Satellite imagery demonstrating the core of th...

Satellite imagery demonstrating the core of the New York City Metropolitan Area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Welcome to an 18th century world.

One without electricity.

One in which –– like rural villagers shoving and pushing to reach a communal well for water –- strangers cluster around an extension cord snaking out of someone’s house who does have power. Every open public library is now a refugee camp, open early and open late, with every table and corner jammed with people clicking away on their laptops, notebooks and cell phones in a frenzy of collective, relieved connectivity.

I sit down this morning at the library, whose small parking lot is jammed as soon as it opens,  and the gray-haired bearded guy beside me is the same guy sitting at the other end of the table last night. I move to another spot and see a neighbor, a retired woman on my apartment floor, who has no power. Her neighbor across the hall does. The person below her has none.

It makes no sense.

And Americans are big on individual freedoms, not suddenly enforced intimacy or inter-reliance.

The world has changed and we’re not ready for it.

Today, one-third of the American workforce does not have an office, cubicle, staff job or steady paycheck. Many of us are now – willingly or not – entrepreneurs and freelancers, temps and contract workers. Like many others in today’s shaky economy, without access to power and Wi-Fi, I can’t earn a living.

Most of us, certainly in urban areas, no longer have kerosene or oil lanterns at home or fireplaces on which to cook or gain light and heat. If you do not have a backyard or firepit or grill, and can’t cook outdoors, you’re toast. People who rely on medications that need refrigeration are endangered.

Here, we live in cities and suburbs designed for automobile transportation — crippled without ready access to gasoline, oil and electricity. You can’t gas your car or bus if the gas station has no electric power, so there are now long line-ups at the few stations that are able to stay open.

It was reported yesterday that two children, ages two and four, were swept out of their mother’s arms during the storm, their bodies found in a marsh. Bangladesh? Somewhere in Africa?

 Staten Island, one of New York City’s five boroughs.

A politician wept as she heard the desperate pleas of victims there shouting: “Where is FEMA? Where’s the Red Cross?” The Red Cross has already received $11 million in donations to help Sandy’s victims.

In the 18th century world, you rise when you once again have natural light and it’s safe enough to venture outside. You go to sleep earlier, having dined (if you can) and read by candlelight. Like some earlier ancestor did, I placed tall candles in front of a mirror, to double and reflect their glow.

There is a generator – thankfully very much 21st century – grinding away below my apartment window. It gives our 100-apartment, six-story building enough power to use our elevators, offer heat and illuminate our long hallways. Luckily, our kitchen was one working outlet and we have a gas stove, so we can cook. We also, now, have heat; in former power outages, becoming “normal” here, we fled the freezing temperatures of February for a local hotel. No one repaid us the cost of two nights there.

We paid $80,000 to buy the generator last year, a cost every resident here is sharing.

The storm’s aftermath – scarcity, fear and frustration — naturally, brings out the best and worst in people. There are fist-fights, already, at gas stations because it gas is now a more difficult commodity to obtain and has suddenly jumped again in price as damaged oil refineries shut down. Other people are sharing their homes, food, shelter and kitchens with one another.

A six-outlet power strip is de facto helfpul. (I brought mine to the library.)

One immediately sees the divide between those with electric power – literally, the powerful – and those without. I was able to go to my regular salon and get a manicure this morning and enjoy an important business lunch at a local restaurant, depriving the original spot we’d originally chosen because – right beside the Hudson River –– they’re closed right now.

I’m lucky that my husband, Jose, is a former news photographer who has survived multiple hurricanes for work. He knew what to do. It was he who filled the car with gas (many stations now have no power, creating long lines at the two local ones that have it) and put it into the garage; bought dozens of bottles of water; stocked the fridge and freezer, lined the balcony door with plastic and towels in case it flooded or the glass shattered. (Neither happened.) He’s been in a hotel all week across from his office at The New York Times, working double shifts for colleagues who cannot get to work with most of the subway so badly damaged.

I toured our town yesterday, gasping in dismay at the shattered ancient trees, the smashed wooden and metal fences beneath them. A cabbie tells me the Hudson River rose so high that it has damaged the computers in the police station – which sits a good half-mile from the river’s edge.

 In the town just north of us, Ossining, a 40-foot sailboat sits on the train tracks where the commuter train normally ferries workers into Manhattan.

I was in Minneapolis, giving a speech to retail students and retailers at the University of Minnesota about my book Malled, when the storm hit New York. I never turned on the radio or television – but read Facebook – where my friends in New York and New Jersey posted photos and updates that told me everything I wanted to know.

The number of dead remains fairly low, now at 38, but some of these are tragic – like the person who stepped into water that held a loose electrical cable.

Jose will be home tomorrow, now that the trains are running north to our suburbs again.

Some people are calling Sandy the “storm of the century.”

I doubt it. We’re only 12 years into this century and, given the tremendous violence of weather patterns here in the past few years – drought, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires – I think this is our new normal.

We have no money for it. We have no infrastructure for it. We have no offices or homes or modes of transportation – horses? carts? canoes? – built for it. Doctors no longer make house calls.

We have no idea, or methods for, how to bathe and cook or wash clothes or offer medical care without electricity; Bellevue Hospital, a major downtown Manhattan facility, shut down and had to transfer all its patients.

From The New York Times:

Bellevue Hospital Center, New York City’s flagship public hospital and the premier trauma center in Manhattan, shut down Wednesday after fuel pumps for its backup power generators failed, and it worked into the night to evacuate the 300 patients left in its darkened building. There were 725 patients there when Hurricane Sandy hit.

At a news conference Wednesday night, Alan Aviles, the president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs Bellevue, described third-world conditions, with no hot water, no lab or radiology services and pails of water hauled up the stairs to use for flushing toilets.

After pumping out 17 million gallons of water from the basement, the water is still two and a half feet deep in the cavernous basement where the fuel pumps apparently shorted out and became inoperable — unable to feed the 13th-floor backup generators, Mr. Aviles said.

Welcome to the 18th century.

Care to gavotte?

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