I Heart I Rub New York

14 11 2010

Thursday evening I attended a screening of the film my dear and lovely friend Lauren DeFilippo directed. I Rub New York is a documentary about the eponymous public art project spearheaded by urban artist Carol Caputo. The art is just what it sounds like: Carol goes out into the city and passes out paper and crayons, encouraging passersby to literally rub New York City.

Rub what?? Well, step out onto a New York street or into a New York park. A quick look around will prove that this city has myriad “rubbable” surfaces. Anything with texture goes. That means pavement, brick walls, signs, railings, and all those beautiful buildings with their incredible cornices and columns and adornments.

Why rub?? The answer to this, it seems, is manifold. First, some pretty incredible artwork comes out of New York’s surfaces. Then there’s the fact that crayons are a very happy thing (when was the last time you were angry while coloring? Think about it). More to the point, it’s something everyone can do. Artistic or not, anyone can take a crayon and rub a textured surface. This is what makes the project so liberating: There’s a certain thrill that comes from making something beautiful from those crazy cellar covers (yes, I’m using the technical term) that make so much noise when one walks on them on the street. The simple task of taking pad to paper and literally taking to the streets is liberating, and at the same time it brings people together in a communal project, a communal love of this city.

In short, this project really encapsulates much of what makes New York great. Here we are, millions of people on this crowded, yet lovely, island, living together and working together, playing together and, now, making art together. United in our love for this city. I Rub NY helps to solidify that bond, both with New Yorkers and with New York itself. Caputo notes that there is so much about New York that we miss. We hurry along the streets, all too often ignoring the sights and sounds and smells — and feels — that make this city, and its individual neighborhoods, so unique. This project, brings us back to the nitty gritty (often literally) of New York, allowing us to touch the streets on which we walk daily. It makes art out of the daily objects we’d ordinarily pass right on by, and asks us to notice things we’d otherwise ignore.

What really got me, though, was when after the film Ms. Caputo talked about the layers upon layers of New York that exist, different in each neighborhood based on that ‘hood’s history. I have an obsession with that idea of layering here, of the urban palimpsest. Whether it’s layers of wallpaper in an old, much inhabited apartment of those faded advertisements and signs one sees on the facades of buildings, evidence of this city’s long and storied history are ubiquitous. And what I love about this project is that it invites “ordinary” people to leave one more layer (made from the other layers) upon this incredible, multi-faceted city.

Follow Ms. Caputo’s blog here.

Oh, and here is my rubbing from the School of Visual Arts, lots if brick and railings and even some of the grating. I warn you: Do one rubbing and you’ll find you want to rub all surfaces in the city — in a strictly artistic way, of course.





Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes

14 10 2010

A year and a half ago, I started working at Hearst Digital Media as editor of the holiday gift guides. Summer 2009 was Christmastime all the time, as I raced from event to event researching gifts for the likes of Esquire, The Daily Green, and Cosmopolitan, then writing and editing them for Marie Claire, Redbook, and Good Housekeeping. Our gifts ranged from fancy baubles to “get you laid” to trinkets your teenage relative, and other “difficult people,” will actually love. There were 60-plus guides and hundreds of gifts, making this an exhilarating (and exhausting) adventure — and getting them all done on time was a proud accomplishment.

Since then I’ve continued to work cross-network at Hearst, helping to boost syndication referral numbers, tracking site milestones, and much more. I’ve had a great experience, and I’ve learned so much, but now this chapter is coming to an end. My contract at HDM is up, tomorrow, and I’m feeling energized and excited about whatever may happen next.

Change is always scary, but it’s also exciting, and over the past week I’ve spanned the whole range of emotions. What’s amazed me, though, is the community I’ve got. This past week, wrapping up at Hearst, has been a whirlwind of coffees, emails, offers of support, help, encouragement. I’d call it networking, but in the sense that I usually imagine “networking” it’s something I always dread. This has been heartening, heartwarming, and, well fun.

And so, as I move forward to whatever is next, I say thank you: to friends, colleagues and family who have been so supportive, and to the design of this universe that has provided me with such an incredible (dare I say it?) network.





Biblioburro!

1 03 2010

It’s surprising, really, how happy this makes me. It was passed along the Litquake chain, and it makes me want to visit Colombia. I’m amazed at the creativity and determination people can have, and the little ways they can make a difference. Because it’s already so beautifully stated, I will just quote the story. It comes from Ayoka, which, incidentally, is a pretty incredible organization in itself, a non-profit that’s tasked itself with giving voice to grassroots initiatives like the one that follows:

For the past ten years, Luis Soriano, a teacher in the small town of La Gloria, Colombia, has been following the same ritual. Every week-end, he gathers his donkey in front of his house, straps on the “Biblioburro” pouches to its back, and loads them with a selection of books from the eclectic collection he has acquired over the years. Off on his mobile library, he travels into the hills and through the fields to the villages beyond where children await his visits impatiently. He firmly believes that bringing books to people who don’t have access to them can improve the country and open up possibilities for the future generation of Colombia.

The video is a must see, and the full story tells that this has happened in other places worldwide. It makes me feel lucky, and incredibly inspired.






The Adventures of Flat Olivia

26 01 2010

There is a children’s book called Flat Stanley, which, though more than 40 years old, has become something of a phenomena of late. In recent years, Flat Stanley, the little boy who was flattened by a dresser, has traveled the world as the star of many books, and as such, he’s become a teaching tool to help elementary age children learn geography.

My brother Gregg’s youngest daughter, Olivia, is one of the world’s most charming children. At eight years old, she’s inquisitive, sweet and has a spirit so endearing it’s impossible not to adore her. And, for some inexplicable yet very happy reason, I happen to be her favorite person. When the family is together, Olivia can generally be found by my side, and she relishes in referring to herself as my appendage (yes, she understands what that word means).

Me and My Shadow

When we’re together, Olivia is fond of tea parties and hours of reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and when we have to part there are always tears and promises of letter writing. Wherever I go (with or without the stilettos) Olivia receives a postcard, and when, Olivia’s first grade class created “Flat Me’s” to send to relatives, Flat Olivia arrived in my mailbox. She was dressed in pink, with the hair of a real doll and stickers for earrings.

Per Real Olivia’s request, I was to take Flat Olivia to “the Statue of Liberty and the American Girl Store.” Anyone who’s passed American Girl Place knows it’s relatively hellish, especially if you don’t have someone under the age of 12 along with you, but not wanting to lose my status as favorite person, I went, and Flat Olivia received much fanfare, and even some real clips for her real hair at the Doll Hair Salon (yes, Virgina, there is a hair salon for dolls.

The Flat Olivia returned to Real Olivia, with a pile of postcards portraying Flat Olivia’s adventures in New York (plus a couple of American Girl hats for Real Olivia and her mini-me doll). And now little Olivia (the real one) has a better idea of New York, the big, strange place where her Titi (that’s me) lives.

I’m a little fascinated by this whole Flat Stanley thing. It’s become a major to-do and a pretty amazing one at that. It’s linked students and teachers around he country in a new exciting way. Check out the Flat Stanley Project.





Origins – and Aunty Mame

25 01 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about my origins lately, specifically about Gaga, my maternal grandmother. She passed away the year before I was born so I never knew her personally, and yet I know so much about her that she sometimes seems a real memory. I know, for example, that she threw amazing parties, parties during which she threw glasses into the fireplace, parties that lasted for days. She loved music, always had a purse full of lemon drops and her favorite Christmas song was “Oh Holy Night.”

My siblings−and pretty much everyone else who knew her—speak of Gaga with what can only be described as reverence, and I suppose I tell her stories in much the same manner, perhaps even more so since I have created this vision in my mind of what I imagine her to be.

Nearly a year ago now, back on the island of PSV, I got into a random, very deep conversation (with a total stranger) that somehow made its way around to Gaga. Suddenly there I was telling story after story about this woman I never really knew, stories that may as well amount to folklore given the way I seem to have romanticized him. But my new friend was fascinated, and insisted that I go home and rent the movie Auntie Mame, since Gaga and her parties and their craziness sounded so much like this lovely creature in that movie.

Well, it’s many, many months later, but I’ve finally seen this treasure of a movie, a late 1950s classic starring Rosalind Russel as the eccentric, entertaining aunt who breathes life and amusement into the life of her sheltered nephew when he’s entrusted into her care after being orphaned. Mame is a spirited woman to say the least, a flamboyant flapper type in the 1920s who makes her way through the hardships of the Depression with strength and grace, and who is strong-willed and spirited to say the least.

I don’t know that Gaga was really much like her, but I like to think she was, a fun lady who’s just a little bit crazy in the best of ways, a woman who knows how to live and who is fearless and unflappable. That’s how I envision Gaga, and perhaps why I idolize her so much. It’s certainly, at any rate, the way I’d like to be.





Reasons To Love New York

8 01 2010

Every year, New York Magazine puts out a “Reasons To Love New York” issue. Every year the reasons range from whatever cuisine is en vogue that year (this year it’s pizza) and how New York does it best to the latest and greatest in city street art.

While the stories themselves are fabulous, uplifting and entertaining on their own, their common denominator is perhaps my number one reason for loving this city. That common denominator is the nameless, nebulous quality of living in New York, that something that usually overcomes folks after only a few months in this crazy, exciting and difficult city.

The fact is that many of these reasons to love New York might seem insignificant or even banal to non-New Yorkers. So what if they are still moving forward with the Second Ave. subway? But New Yorkers understand the nuances of these things, the ups and downs surrounding this much-needed subway line in the past, the amazingness of finding a little bit of home in this strange, large potpourri of transplants, and of making new “hometown friends” too.

The number one reason to love New York, then, is just the sense of living in New York, of being a part of something big, something great, something difficult. Half the stories in the piece, especially this year, are about resilience, about making it, about survival. Because in a city where the streets are crazy and the life frenetic and the rents )and everything else) expensive, where rodents and other nastiness are commonplace, we need reminders of why we stay in this rat race, and in how strong we are for surviving it.

Which dovetails into a second common denominator, and second reason to love New York: the people. Many of the reasons to love New York have to do with people, our leaders, our celebrities, our everyday superheroes. New Yorkers, it seems, like to read about themselves. But not because we’re narcissistic.  Because when you live in a city with 9 million other people, there is a bond that can only come from knowing what it’s like to live in a city with 9 million people. We’re strong, adventurous, industrious, and for that, we celebrate each other, and our city.

It’s all of these reasons, and so many more, that (even in this frigid, miserable cold) I love New York





Fun Rushmore Facts, Road Trip Nostalgia and Girlfriend Trips

3 07 2009

Yesterday I received an email titled “Rushmore facts for my fellow visitors” from my friend Kristi. She sent it to me and to Christine, the third part of our road-trip-trio that spent a month one college summer crossing the country in my silver Saturn, the original Squirrel (named, incidentally, on that trip, by Kristi). The email contained a link to an SF Gate article, Mining Mt. Rushmore for trivia, which gave some fun facts about the notable but bizarre South Dakota landmark.

The article itself was fun, but what was more fun was the memory of seeing the mountain in person. Though Rushmore itself pales in comparison to the idea most Americans hold of it (it’s far smaller than one expects), there is something thrilling about the idea of actually having been there. It is, after all, in South Dakota—which means that, while iconic America, it’s not nearly as widely seen as, say, Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty. It seems as though Rushmore is one of those landmarks only visited when one lives close by or, like us, is simply passing through.

Which makes the fact that we’ve seen it even more exciting. One fact in the article was particularly gratifying: “The sculptor…Borglum…had devoted years to a Confederate commemorative carving at Stone Mountain.” Okay, so the fact that said mountain was financed in part by the Ku Klux Klan is somewhat upsetting, but the fact that we saw both huge carvings, Rushmore in South Dakota and Stone Mountain in Georgia—more than 1,000 miles away—in the same trip is pretty gratifying.

The most gratifying of all, however, were the memories that this very short article brought rushing back:  the shoddy campgrounds, the long detours, the rush through strange dark places like Leprechaun, TX (which, it should be noted, does not show up in Google searches, but I am certain we drove through it) and the whole state of Arkansas… And all the laughs and ridiculousness that stemmed from it. These days I don’t get to see those ladies as often as I’d like, and I remember that trip far less than I should, but no matter how far apart we live, or how many girlfriend trips I do, I’ll always cherish Road Trip 2000 as my first foray into girlfriend travel, and extensive travel in general.

It was that trip that instilled in me a love of travel, and showed me what it might mean to (literally) hit the road with your buddies. Not only is it a growing experience in general, but it changes the nature of friendship. We’d known each other some three years by then, but the things we learned and the conversations we had during those long hours in the Squirrel could not have been had anywhere else. And to this day I can’t imagine sharing that experience (or that tiny car) with anyone else either.





Thought-provoking Video

21 06 2009

I recently came upon an article in the Times about a new school controversy. It seems people are actually finding it problematic that a video, The Story of Stuff, is being shown in schools and causing children to think about consumption. This controversy is not surprising to me, but it is shocking. I checked out the video myself, and yes, it is political. But it’s also upbeat and solution forward, and it’s a serious of lovable cartoon characters.

Most of all, though, it’s realistic. It’s the very dose of reality that most people in our society need. When I think of all the stuff I have/need/want, it’s one thing, but when I watch this video and really, truly think about what goes into making that stuff, it changes the whole need/want aspects. I’ll admit I’m not suddenly the anti-consumer (I still love my shoes), but I’m certainly more thoughtful about what I consume. And every little bit helps.

So truly I don’t really see where this could have a negative impact on anyone, especially children, to whom much of comsumer culture is based (gadgets, individually wrapped food and the list goes on…). Anyhow, it’s worth taking the 20 minutes to watch the video. And it’s also worth taking a few additional minutes to check out the website. There is much to be done and it’s one small, but important step.





Tweet on Travel?

21 04 2009

I like to think of myself as rather up on the latest technologies, though I know this is a total fallacy. In fact, though I consider myself “hip to tech,” I instead tend to be nearly the opposite. I don’t have an iPhone (my phone, at that, is a piddly, very old model, my iPod even older), it took me forever to start blogging, though I am on Facebook, I’m rather resistant (have never written a status update, don’t search for people I know there…) and the list goes on. Meaning that basically my tech savvy lies in knowing HTML and using the internet for all things efficient.

Which is why I have yet to join the ranks of the latest technology, which seems to me far from efficient. Yes, I have a Twitter account. I actually signed up long ago, before it was as huge as it is now, which places me on the forefront of the Twitter revolution, right? Wrong, if you consider that I have not tweeted a single thing in the months I’ve been signed up. I do, however, have 25 followers, and counting, none of whom know (at least not from Twitter) when I’m enjoying the sunshine, or in a contemplative mood or, for that matter, filing my nails.

Which brings me to Twitter and travel. The Twitter-obsessed, it seems, Tweet all the time, everywhere. While I recognize that Twitter is fun and that there is definitely value to certain updates, for the most part I feel it also has the tendency of making the mundane ubiquitous, and of being a total time suck.

The other day, when I saw a BootsnAll article about Twitter while traveling, I was intrigued. The article responds to a World Hum advice column piece by Rolf Potts, who answered the question, “Should I update friends and family by Tweeting while traveling?” with a decisive “no,” which was, predictably, followed up by countless responses, comments on Rolf’s own piece. World Hum then placated those tweeting travelers with a response giving tips from travelers who do like to Tweet. The BootsnAll article I came across that dragged me into this fray was essentially ad “live and let live” response to all the responses

I find the whole thing rather fascinating. First, there’s this main, overarching point of technology itself, since here is all this online discussion of the decision to “online discuss.” And here I am adding yet another voice to it all. In some senses, it is heartening, a sense of community in a way. Even though the opinions on the subject differ, it makes for interesting reading and interesting conversation on a topic that is, well, topical right now. It’s yet another means of making opinions and information ubiquitous.

As for the whole, Tweet during travel debate, though, I think I have to agree with Potts. While I do enjoy blogging while traveling, which some might argue is the same thing, I feel like there is a difference. A blog is like a mass communication, like sending a semi-descriptive missive to all those at home who want to know what’s happening with me and what sorts of adventures (or misadventures) I’m experiencing. While in theory Twitter does the same, there isn’t much one can convey in one line of text, so I’d guess it takes away from the experience without adding to much to those not experiencing, while a blog or an email is a way to relive certain aspects of the trip, almost a form of public journaling. And, since Tweeting is more immediate and shorter, I’d guess there is the risk of doing it more often, which means attention is focused on Tweeting about the experience rather than actually experiencing it (while with a blog or email, that time is explicitly focused on said task and on recalling, an experience, rather than relating it while it happens). Potts also mentions my favorite form of communication while traveling: the oft-overlooked postcard, the original travel communication and a memory in itself, which merits its own later post.

Ultimately, I agree that Ms. Spiegel of BootsnAll has a point: there are, in fact, all kinds, and what’s right for me isn’t going to be right for the next person. I travel far differently than my sister does. Likewise, she has 300+ Facebook friends while I have barely 70. It all comes down to what you like and what you do. But for me, I’d go with Potts and advise all those Tweeters out there to strongly consider resting their fingers over the course of their travels to fully immerse themselves into the experience, without the cocern of sending minute by minute updates home. Not that they asked me in the first place…





And Then Again…

17 04 2009

I’m still thinking on this eco-tourism dilemma. Antarctica, yes, it’s a different story, and I agree that regulations should be put in place to protect it. Regulations should be put in place for any area that might be endangered by excessive tourism, for that matter.

On the other hand, such activities as listed by the Berkeley study (hiking, etc.), while they may endanger the areas visited, they also serve to promote awareness. What is nature, that is, if not to be enjoyed. And the more we enjoy it, the more we want to save it, right? So in this way, it seems to me, eco-tourism can actually be a good thing.

The Nature Conservancy, a conservation organization that works to protect ecologically important lands and waters worldwide, seems to believe that we should enjoy the nature we help to save. To that end, the Conservancy has a a feature on its website, Visit a Preserve, an interactive map of the preserves the conservancy helps to protect, which means wherever you are you can visit a preserve. Perhaps said visits will inspire folks to do even more to help. And so, eco-tourism is in fact a good thing, in moderation. (At least that’s my thought for the day.)