Archive for August, 2007
A friend of mine and I were having a discussion about God-awful Starbucks and how unlike the Europeans, we are stuck with this or watered-down Sanka at roadside diners. He sent me this rant and I resonated with it so much, I had to post it here.
When I began traveling in Europe in the early nineties, it was Coca-Cola that made me most chagrined about being an American abroad. A corner grocer in Cetinje, Montenegro, had no fresh fruit on offer but stocked ample supplies of Coca-Cola at half the price of the local bottled water.
Starbucks is the current Coca-Cola. WalMart, who we also love to complain about, is too big for Europe. But imagine a WalMart diced into a hundred squares and seeded across all of London, settling on every third corner and stamping each neighborhood with an American seal. That is Starbucks in London and other parts of Europe.
Perhaps you enjoy their coffee. Perhaps you think $4-5 a cup is good value for a coffee chain.
Everything is becoming the same everywhere. Even New York, which – except for 9/11 – was always imperturbable to outside forces, looks in many places like a high-end…
One of the things that gives me so much pleasure about going back to Italy IS in fact sheer pleasure. And if I had to choose a second, it would be design and design in multiple ways, not design the way the traditional west thinks about it.
Italians understand pleasure in a way that other cultures only dream about or maybe that’s the problem — other cultures not only don’t dream about pleasure but avoid it. You might be reading this and thinking, “hey, what about the yanks, that’s a purely pleasure-seeking society,” but no, its not, a purely entertainment-seeking society. Therein lies the difference.
And as for design, even at the smallest of levels, just take a look at a WalMart or CVS bag versus an Italian pharmacy bag, one which has a cursive written logo with flowers and fruit on the front. Luigi Barzini attempts to explain in The Italians why the artistic and the beautiful are so revered but also why both are so individualistic.
Says Barzini, “Italians will tolerate hideously incompetent generals, presidents, tyrants, professors, bureaucrats, journalists, and captains of industry, but will never tolerate incompetent ‘opera singers, conductors, ballerinas, courtesans, actors, film directors,
If you’re planning a trip to London anytime soon, you’ll be thrilled to learn that you can visit the Leg ‘of Mutton Wildlife Reserve on the banks of the Thames.
I recently landed in Italy from London for some R&R and architectural discovery. Okay, and yes a bit of beach sand as well.
The wind along the northern Sardinian coast of Gallura constantly moves, its energy ever apparent. The air is tepid however, the kind that reminds you of a very early June day on Cape Cod, not a late August one in Italy.
In Capo testa, the jagged edges of the rocky cliffs jut out into the breeze-fed waves. Italian and French visitors nestle in sheltered enclaves, all of them committed to their beach umbrellas. Like determined conquerors placing flags on foreign soil, I watch an Italian tourist re-affix his umbrella pole in the stand for the third time and can’t help but think, “he ain’t no Marlboro man,” yet this American icon never had the style of my beach subject who was scantily clad in brightly colored designer swimming gear.
These same men share their female mates’ fascination with jewelry, perfumes, decadent oils, chocolate and fine wine. Leaning in together, shoulders at 90 degree angles, they review with equal interest, the standkeeper’s wares, jointly deciding the best choice.
Ah yes, the lazy but engaging lifestyle of an Italian…
London, the call of the old in so many ways, including my old life. As I walked through Leicester Square, which I have done numerous times since I went to university there, new memories and images emerged. So little changed and yet, so much.
The pizza stand on the corner as you veer to the right heading towards Covent Garden remains unchanged as does the Cork & Bottle
next door, now adjacent to a half-priced theatre stand. Blood Brothers
is still playing in the West End, now in its 20th year. For old times sake, I saw it again, for the 9th time. As good as it ever was, the English dry wit and extraordinary drama are there to remind you that its not an American play with a perfect fairy-tail ending (both main characters die in the end).
One of the two colleges I attended has now been turned into Capital Radio
and the Kensington campus of Richmond University seemed smaller somehow (isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?) Two blocks from the main campus, a new bakery solely focused on cupcakes just opened. Then I proceeded to get lost in…
London’s familiar underground voice speaks up. It’s programmed, automatic and a soft but perfectly articulate British female voice. She tells me that the next stop is Fulham Broadway on the District line. She then tells me to change at Earls Court (my old hood) for the Picadilly Line. It’s a Barking train (baaahking) and I should alight at Victoria for commuter trains or the Gatwick Express.
When I left London, it was one of the strongest memories I had of my daily commute. That and the West End’s footprint of nearly every musical and play I saw over and over again using heavily discounted tickets.
I could have recited every line to Les Miserables, Blood Brothers and the Mousetrap at the time, not to mention book categories on every aisle of the smaller, older, eclectic bookstores between Picadilly and Covent Garden.
Ah yes, the protest marches in Trafalgar Square, drag queen nights at the Hippodrome, outside performers on a drizzly but warm night and the countless hours eating crepes, drinking coffee and bartering at the once grungy Camden Market just outside northern London’s Camden Town.
Somehow, Mind the Gap brought it all back. Again and again.
I ran across this charming poem called Warning
by Jenny Joseph on a poster in a restaurant ladies room in the pacific northwest. While it specifically talks about a woman’s life, it could easily apply to both sexes. Enjoy.
When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me, and I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves and satin sandals and say we have no money for butter
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells, and run my stick along the public railings, and make up for the sobriety of my youth. I shall go out in my slippers in the rain and pick the flowers in other people’s gardens, and learn how to spit
You can wear terrible skits and grow more fat, and eat three pounds of sausages at a go, or only bread and pickles for a week, and hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry and pay our rent and not sweat in the street,
I’m heading to London and while I’ve been back to Europe many times since I moved back to the states, it hasn’t been England, where a quarter of my heart remains. (the other three quarters are divided between the Adirondacks, southern Africa and Maine).
It will be interesting to see how I feel about walking London’s streets again, a hood I used to know almost as well as my hometown. Thereafter, I’m heading south to the islands to take in some unexplored terrain I never trekked in the 80s or 90s.
It’s unlikely I’ll be blogging much during this trip, but will no doubt, recap some of it after the fact as any storyteller lover would, complete with visual aids of sorts. Somehow it just feels more natural to capture my experiences with a pen and old fashioned notebook when I’m in the middle of the wild. Or a variation thereof.
Below when I lived in the U.K. years ago. It’s funny when I now look at this, it feels like seeing a photo of someone else. Ever have that experience? More on this adventure later on.
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