the fabulous life of dolores olmedo

Dolores-OlmedoDolores Olmedo had quite the colorful life. As a young girl from a working class background she caused a scandal when her family discovered that she had posed nude for the painter Diego Rivera. Forbidden to see the artist anymore, it wasn’t until many years later that their paths crossed again, by which time Olmedo had become one of the richest women in Mexico – both a successful businesswoman, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. Rivera was broke, close to dying, and concerned about his legacy. At his urging she went on a buying spree, amassing a major collection of the painter’s canvases in addition to works by Frida Kahlo, Diego’s wife, with whom Olmedo had a tempestuous friendship fraught with jealousy over Rivera’s affections. After Kahlo and Rivera’s deaths she bought a 16th century hacienda in southern Mexico City, which she later converted into a museum and shrine to her life of passionate collecting. Not only does the five-building complex hold her entire store of pre-Hispanic, colonial, folk, modern and contemporary art, but also the largest holdings of Kahlo and Rivera anywhere – and her private chambers, filled with extravagant displays of ivory and porcelain, showcase photos of Olmedo with virtually every famous person in the world.

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larga vida al correo

IMG_2811Mexico City’s Palacio de Correos is – as its name suggests – a postal palace. Built at the very beginning of the 20th century, its design and construction was the most modern of the time, including an eclectic style that mixes several different traditions into a very complex  – and very grand – design. The building has a steel frame and a foundation built on an enormous grid of steel beams, which has allowed it to withstand a number of earthquakes. Built with a very light-colored, almost translucent variety of a stone called “chiluca,” the exterior is covered in decorative details such as iron dragon light fixtures and intricately carved stone around both the windows and the line of the roof. A perfect example of the building’s complicated design is the fact that each of the building’s four floors has windows in a different architectural style. Yet  the palace’s unity is maintained through the clever repetition of arches. The main entrance has a large ironwork canopy which is typical of the Art Nouveau that was fashionable in the early 20th century. Inside, the marble floors and shelves combine with bronze and iron window frames manufactured in Florence. The main stairway features two separate ramps that come together to form a landing, then seem to cross on the second landing above before moving off, each in their own direction. Rather an apt metaphor for the mail, don’t you think? Long may it live.

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sinuous lines

IMG_3154The former TWA Terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport is a significant example of 20th-Century modern architecture and engineering. A masterpiece of sinuous lines actualized out of poured concrete, it was designed by the mid-century modernist Eero Saarinen. Opened in 1962 it was the final terminal built at what was then called New York International Airport, as well as one of Saarinen’s last projects. Revolutionary and influential, it was Saarinen’s intention that the terminal express the excitement of travel and “reveal the terminal as a place of movement and transition.” Fifty years after the fact it remains as exciting and forward-looking as ever. And dare I say it, soignee. When was the last time an airport – or any public building for that matter – made you feel sexy? Saarinen’s building does just that, while sweeping you up in the promise and possibility of a future that, unfortunately, never quite came to pass. After laying dormant for over a decade, it was recently announced that the terminal would be developed into a luxury hotel. Thanks to Open House New York, yesterday was one of those last-chance opportunities to experience the building in full – before getting caught up in the inevitable tide of transition.

TWA terminal

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mickey mouse slept here?

Mickey Mouse

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file under: coolest bridge ever

le viaduc de millauArchitect Norman Foster’s Viaduc de Millau is the tallest bridge in the world, with the summit of its highest mast towering 1,125 ft above the base – making it the tallest structure in all of France. A cable-stayed bridge – meaning cables attached to pylons support the roadway – it spans the valley of the River Tam for one and a half miles along a road deck 900 ft above the ground.  Ranked as one of the great engineering achievements of all time, it’s exhilarating to drive across. And yet the true magnitude of the achievement only becomes clear at a distance: joining two massive geological plateaus together.

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a word from our sponsor

jean paul masIn the interest of putting to rest the rumors that I’ve devolved into a wino, it’s high time I introduce you to the man who’s brought me to the south of France: Jean Claude Mas, owner and winemaker of Domaines Paul Mas, which comprises seven estates spread across the crus of the Languedoc – most of which I’ve by now had the chance to imbibe. Jean Claude is an ambassador of sorts for both his family owned estate and a unique concept called “le luxe rural,” or affordable, everyday luxury. There’s no pretense about him, just as there’s no pretense to his wines. And more importantly, Mas isn’t selling some imagined romantic notion a la Ralph Lauren, but bringing the best facets of the rural way of life center stage; made by hand and built on traditions that stretch back to his grandfather, who first farmed a small vineyard close to the estate.  It’s an intoxicating conceit because it smacks of authenticity, not just marketing savvy. Mas talks the talk, but he also lives the life: utilizing the local farms, promoting local craftsmen, pressing his own olive oil, commissioning local artists, even creating a line of clothing line based on provincial designs and textiles. Wine, it turns out, is but the tip of a far grander ambition: taking the ordinary out of the quotidian. Now that’s a life we all could live.

domaine paul mas

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oops, i did it again

IMG_2279I swear I had the best of intentions, and yet this morning I managed to find myself a flaneur in Les Halles – outside E. Dehillerin (la specialiste du materiel de cuisine, depuis 1820!) like a homing pigeon returned to the roost. Who am I to argue with serendipity? Rest assured my tradition of hauling copper pots across multiple countries remains intact.

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walks along the seine

paris plageThe banks of the River Seine in Paris might be a UNESCO World Heritage site, but that historical marker hasn’t stopped the city from indulging in a little creative adaptation. This summer the city’s ongoing initiative to reclaim the river comes into its own. Les Berges, literally The Banks, is part of Mayor Bertrand Delanoë’s greater plan to reduce car traffic and increase “soft” methods of transportation. (Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Sadik-Kahn, take note.) Transit options like the Velib bicycle share program and the Autolib electric car sharing form one pillar of the plan. Pedestrianization of the banks of the Seine and of Place de la République are another. Cultural programming and spot infrastructure aim to bring people back to the river, while activating sites with new functions: the Georges Pompidou highway, on the right bank, has been transformed into an urban boulevard in an attempt to share the public space between motorists and pedestrians; the Left bank quays, between the Royal Bridge and the Alma Bridge, have been closed to traffic and turned into an 11-acre promenade. What makes the plan unique, aside from the macro strategy involved, is a requirement for flexibility: temporary structures must be capable of being moved, extended if popular, taken down quickly if ineffective. This applies even to large-scale proposals like The Emmarchement, a 600-seat amphitheater which links the Musee D’Orsay to the river and serves as the starting point for an immersive riverside walk. (Flexibility is also useful for environmental reasons. Paris is overdue for its “100-year flood,” which last crippled Paris in 1910.) Some portions of Les Berges will become part of the programming for this year’s Paris Plage, the popular annual beach that takes over the banks of the Seine between July and August. (Originally criticized as an excess of public expenditure, the Plage has become a beloved tradition, expanding to three different areas along the river.) Another part of Les Berges includes a series of floating barges called Archipel, which opened next to the Sewer Museum in late June. The five barges are planned in accordance with the biodiversity map of Paris. The semi-aquatic vegetation between the barges cleans the banks of the Seine while the landscaping offers different opportunities for the public to experience the space. Each island barge – archipelago, get it? – has a different theme with plants native to Paris. According to project’s website: For the lazy, the chairs of the island mists are waiting for you; for the wild, find the open aviary bird island; for the romantic, walk in the tall grass prairie of the island; for those seeking the country, sit in the shade of an apple orchard on the island. And for anyone interested in the future of what an urban experience could entail, walk along the banks of La Seine.

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in the (hyper) loop

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Entrepreneur Elon Musk is about to publish an “alpha design” for Hyperloop, an entirely new form of public transportation that is faster than the bullet train and potentially self-powering. Details are slim, but it’s clear that Musk (as always) has lofty ambitions. In the past he has described it as a “cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table,” although that says little of the underlying technology. In an interview last year, Musk described Hyperloop as the fifth major tent pole for modern transportation, placing it on a pedestal beside planes, trains, boats and automobiles. “This system I have in mind, how would you like something that can never crash, is immune to weather, it goes three or four times faster than the bullet train… it goes an average speed of twice what an aircraft would do,” he said. “You would go from downtown LA to downtown San Francisco in under 30 minutes.” He later added that it was possible for Hyperloop to be self-powered using solar energy; it would therefore generate more power than it consumed in day-to-day use. Hyperloop sounds like a too-good-to-be-true scenario. But Musk’s track record with Tesla and SpaceX shows him perfectly capable of delivering on ideas which many people think are unfeasible. Musk added on Twitter that he would be looking for “critical feedback” and “improvements” for the initial design once it’s released to the world next month. Hyperloop might still shrouded in mystery, but it won’t be much longer before we know a lot more about Musk’s intentions. Planes, trains, automobiles: take notice.

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a revolutionary bolthole

vid-s-terrasy-prezidentskogo-lyuksaHome to both royalty and revolution, Rocco Forte’s Hotel Astoria in St. Petersburg has unveiled an elegant, new Czar’s Suite as part of a multi-million dollar refurbishment timed to celebrate the hotel’s 100th anniversary. At more the 3,500 square feet it’s a far cry from the garret where John Reed penned Ten Days That Shook The World, his eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution. (In the early days of glasnost I had the serendipitous thrill of finding myself in Reed’s room, which more than made up for the cramped quarters; the bloody mob hit in the lobby … well, that’s a story for another time.) With a lounge overlooking St. Isaac’s Square and its glorious cathedral, a library stocked with Russian classics, and a fully equipped kitchen with a 16-seat dining room that doubles as a boardroom it’s not too hard to imagine what the Bolsheviks might make of such opulent surroundings. Antique pieces dating back to 1912, including gold lamps, candelabra, and red and gold striped arm chairs and sofas were returned to the hotel from President Putin’s Konstantinovsky Palace and installed in the suite alongside contemporary classic pieces, such as dramatic black and white prints of the Mariinsky, which – culture mavens take note – is as conveniently located as the nearby Hermitage. All that’s missing is the beluga.

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bush tea

IMG_1774Just as I’m gearing up for a challenging morning, a parcel from Down Under arrives at my desk. Inside: tea towels. Sturdy linen and corny as Kansas in August. (Somebody knows my predilection all too well.) If the week gets too rough and tumble I’ll simply close my eyes and think of a magically kitschy place called Jindabyne, or imagine myself foraging in the bush with an aboriginal food carrying bowl. Like I’ve always said: a good tea towel is more than practical, it’s instructive, too.

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the brown palace

IMG_1617Completed in 1892, The Brown Palace Hotel is a remarkable piece of Victorian architecture built in the Italian Renaissance style. It’s the Mile High City’s sandstone grande dame, and harkens back to a time when Denver found itself at the center of a social and economic boom brought on by the gold (and silver) found in them thar hills. In the lobby, your eyes sweep upwards past six tiers of cast iron balconies to a stained glass skylight. The elegant atrium – clad in Mexican onyx – provides the perfect respite for a spot of afternoon tea. Or if that’s not your style, a pair of ornate silver drinking fountains draw their water from the hotel’s own artesian well. It seems that even in the once wild west a good hotel considered practical comforts of paramount importance.

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This site hasn’t seen a design tweak since I started it some three and a half years ago. Today that changes – and I trust you’ll agree it’s for the better. The result should be cleaner, leaner,  and hopefully more visually arresting. Plus, psychically the time felt right for a serious spring cleaning. While I’m still ironing out the bugs over the next few weeks, feel free to send along any comments or ideas. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

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burning up the ship

Cruise liner, Duke of Lancaster

Three monkeys dressed in suits crouch on bulging sacks of money, striking the pose of “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” At more than 30-feet tall, the giant gangsta chimps are the size of a three-story building and joined on all sides by similarly fantastic and macabre creatures, from skeleton divers to slobbering pigs. Welcome to the Duke of Lancaster, an abandoned ship on the Dee Estuary in north Wales, which has become a canvas for some of the most renowned graffiti artists in Europe, including France’s GOIN and Latvian KIWIE. At a whopping 450-feet long and seven stories tall, the former British passenger ferry – built in the same Belfast shipyard as Titanic – is a haunted, rusted out sight. Graffiti collective DuDug approached the ship’s owners with the clever idea of turning the abandoned vessel into an arts destination. With their approval, artists from across Europe began spray-painting the decrepit ship with surreal artworks of punk geishas and bandit businessmen, using cherry pickers to scale the towering walls. DuDug is now campaigning to have the site opened to the public as the centerpiece of an arts festival. At the least, it would be the largest open-air gallery in the UK. If the organizers don’t manage to get anywhere with the local arts council, perhaps they should give the folks at Carnival a call. An open sea gallery off the coast of Italy might make a fitting end to their Costa Concordia troubles.

Duke of Lancaster grafitti

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