Thursday, December 31, 2009

Times Square at New Year

Aaah, soooo beautiful… Exactly a week after Christmas, and just in time to herald in 2010, we awoke this morning to a white world, snowflakes swirling past the window like masses of tiny weightless butterflies.

I walked, with teeny ice clusters landing on my nose and eyelashes (just like in The Sound of Music…) and accumulating on the black fur collar of my coat. I could smell the sugared whiff of roasted chestnuts as my boots crunched across icy snow-strewn pavements. Cars and buildings and Central Park’s equestrian statues were all crowned with the prettiest white frosting. And the park’s skeletal trees, only the upper half of their branches outlined in snow, created an otherworldly chiaroscuro landscape of black and white. It was all pure fantasy.

And so, tonight, the Times Square ball will shoot down its spire to fireworks and the cheering of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, out-of-towners and tourists who will pack themselves like filleted sardines onto Broadway at One Times Square.

Here are a few things you might not know about the 2009 ball.

It has a diameter of 12ft (3½m) and weighs 11 875 lb (5385kg)

It’s encrusted with 2688 triangular Waterford crystals

Each crystal is inscribed with a winged angel or a starburst

The ball has 32 256 LEDs that create a kaleidoscope effect using 16 million colours (!!!)

It’s worth $2 million

The ball drops 77ft (23½m) in 60 seconds

It used to be released by 6 men with ropes but is now computerised

After New Year, the ball remains on the spire for visitors to ogle throughout the rest of the year

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

a white Christmas

My friend Andre's roving camera captured in a few clicks the magic of one night's snow whiteout. . .

Friday, December 11, 2009

visit from an american kestrel

The woman in the elevator - so muffled up in coat, hat and scarf you could hardly see her face - looked at me in amazement and said, 'You're going out like THAT?!' Well, I was quite dressed up myself . . . leggings, gloves, two thermal vests and a hoodie to protect my head and ears for my run in Central Park. But when I stepped outside, the icy blade of 20ºF . . . that's -7 degrees, guys!!! . . . sliced through to my bones. And when the frigid wind hit, it was decidedly frostier than -7. So frosty, in fact, that the puddles lining the Park ring-road were solid ice. Which is why Parks staff members were sprinkling salt all over them so people didn't slip and crack a coccyx.

Although the Park is a little stark and leafless, you can now see the statues once hidden by foliage, and the memorable buildings lining the greenbelt  - The Dakota where John Lennon once lived, the sheer glass slabs of Time Warner Center, the snow-white rotunda of the Guggenheim, the granite-looking block of Mt Sinai Medical Center.

And when I stopped to catch my breath - issuing from my mouth in filmy white clouds - I looked up to see, oh, wonder!, the black-outlined, white underwings of a red-tailed hawk planing above me. Still around in such snappy-cold air. . .

But that moment was capped by the visit - RIGHT NOW,  as I'm tapping away on my laptop - of an American kestrel, which swooped in and perched on the window ledge A FOOT AWAY from my PC! I've just been sitting here, in rapt wonderment, as it turned its black-and-white striped head and gave me a piercing gaze out of yellow-rimmed eyes, the wind ruffling its black-spotted chestnut feathers. Pausing briefly to check out its environs, it then glided off to find a new building pinnacle.

And as I sign off, the shadow of yet another raptor wafts past my windows. As I rush to get a better look, its spiky-feathered wing tips tilt into a wheeling manoeuvre for me before spiralling ever upward.

The day can't get better. . .

[Image: National Geographic]

Sunday, December 6, 2009

the dentist

Okay … so I’ve FINALLY succumbed. I found a dentist.

And even though I thoroughly did my research (read: many, many personal recommendations) to find the kindest, most compassionate dentist this side of the Hudson River, I never knew he’d gently lead me down the Road to Armageddon. I write this with stitches in my gums, a jaw fat as a chipmunk’s cheek, and a wad of dressings that feel like my mouth’s stuffed with cotton wool.

Soup for a week, that’s my kindly fate …

So there I sat, captive as a lab rat on my dentist’s ascetic, clinically scrubbed reclining chair, ready to be dissected with a nasty array of shiny, honed, mean-looking instruments – and not even the million-dollar view could distract me. (I seem to have a knack for homing in on practitioners with the swankiest addresses – read choke-worthy fees … first, a homeopath sharing retail space with Broadway theatres, and now a dentist located on Fifth Avenue in no less than the Rockefeller Center.) My chair was so placed that it directly faced, through giant window panes, the Empire State building, rising geometrically perfect between two tall skyscrapers. If you stepped up to the 18th floor window and looked down, you had a pigeon’s perspective over the Rockefeller skating rink, where tiny carefree figures whirled and pirouetted on the ice.

But back to my dentist.

You’ve got to give it to them in this country. The professionalism, the intense thoroughness with which they approach everything, the carefully phrased questions, the meticulous recording of the answers, the clear unambiguous explanations of their planned procedures. Litigation, or the threat of being sued, hangs like the sword of Damocles over every aspect of daily life here in the US.

It feels like an age ago that I first sat in that chair. Six or so visits later (first checkup … second … third … Then time for the next procedure in a long line of procedures …) I’m wiser to my fate but no less fearful – you see, I lose consciousness at seeing a pinprick of blood on my own finger. I’m way beyond that first day when my dentist kindly took me on a gross guided tour of the inner workings of my mouth. Wielding a mirror that magnified every hair and pore on my face, I had to confront the dye on my teeth lighting up all my failings in luminescent Barbie pink.

Then there were the subsequent visits, the whining, whirring and whizzing of an array of instruments that belonged more with astronauts in a space shuttle ready to be catapulted into the outer realm.
And the smell of singed hair and the eternal whooshing of my spittle (and blood) being siphoned away… Mouth deadened by multiple deadly stabs of the needle (and eyes sealed tightly shut), all I was aware of was the scraping, tugging, kneading, pushing and pulling of an entity that was strangely not a part of me.

Stuck to my chair, helpless as a butterfly snagged by a lepidopterist's pin, once I dared open my eyes three masked figures swam above my face. Horrors! I was in some mysterious operating theatre! The transparent tinted window blind, cutting out the sun’s glare, gave the Empire State blurred edges so that it resembled the pointed Thailandi head-dress of a Far East buddha. And the significance of what was being done to me only became evident when I was asked to pry open my eyes and gargle… Blood-stained dentist’s gloves, a blood-spattered bib about my neck, rose-coloured gargle.

I survived, albeit with stitches, dressings and an exquisitely tender mouth. And in terms of becoming a fully fledged New Yorker, I have one more arrow to add to my quiver. A dentist.

street news

Having immersed myself for nine months now in the daily writings of NY-based magazine and newspaper journalists, I’ve developed a healthy respect for the city’s professional writers. They really are very good… Would that I could deftly spin my words and wittily toss out metaphors with the ease so many of them do. (Sigh)

And so, in my eternal attempts to define the magnetism of this city and the many subtle elements combining to make New York City unique, I find that these writers at times do it better than I can.

Shopfront steel roller-doors … an element that is such a defining characteristic of NYC’s streetscape. The City Council recently decided to phase these out (don’t hold your breath, 2026 is the cutoff date), thus allowing for a friendlier street face and decidedly more inviting views into night-time shopfront windows. And I just loved how journalist Manny Fernandez of the New York Times described the city’s storefront gates:

"… the unnoticed wallpaper of New York at night … those security gates that resemble old-fashioned auto garage doors, with narrow horizontal slats that rise up like a steely curtain.
They have been battered by vandals and defaced by graffiti taggers. They have secured diamonds, handmade tortellini and other valuable commodities.
They have provided the clattering soundtrack of dawn and dusk, the street canvas of struggling artists, the most compelling evidence that the city does, indeed, sleep."

New York, I ♥ you!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

jon bon jovi at rockefeller

The fall landscape is fast segueing into winter - the coloured foliage has all long dropped to the earth, leaving bare branches and skeletal trees outlined against mournful grey skies. I can't get used to the blanket of darkness blotting out the sky at 4:30pm. As a last lingering farewell to fall, here is a photo from our kitchen window looking down onto Broadway. Alas, those leaves are now fallen too!

So, to have some fun, my Dutch friend Yvonne and I met at the mightily young hour of 7:15am (well, that's VERY early for me. . .) and caught the subway down to 50th Street, then walked to Fifth Avenue and the Rockefeller Center to see Jon Bon Jovi performing outside the NBC TV studios. I absolutely love Rockefeller for its Art Deco architectural features, decorative plaster sculptures and ginormous statue of Atlas, facing the Gothic St Patrick's Cathedral. The ice has been laid on the open-air skating rink, the Christmas tree with its spangly Swarovski crystal star has been lit and skaters loop and twirl beneath it to music booming out from the loudspeakers.

Well . . . we didn't count on the thousands of other meschuggenah New Yorkers who didn't find 7:00am too early to catch a glimpse of Jon Bon Jovi. The streets were jammed with excited chattering people, all giving the multitude of police officers a major headache as they cajoled us to move along, please, move along . . . no standing in the streets or blocking the sidewalks! (So, as Leo Sayer sang, we moved along all day. . .) We managed to sneak behind a barrier where people had been coralled since 6:00am to get a good view, and even caught side glimpses of Bon Jovi as he leapt onto the stage and sang . . . one song . . . (to great cheering and swooning of lovestruck housewives waving 'We Love You' placards). Then he disappeared for an age (giving interviews for NBC, we assumed) and returned to sing a few more songs. At that point, although we loved the atmosphere and the brittle cold and the shivers of excitement in the air, a Starbucks double-espresso cappucino felt far more important than an ageing rock star . . . and Starbucks won.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

micro-bubbles of life in the city

*  The mournful notes of a saxophone wafting up on the evening air, from a busker who stands below our windows each night - it's like our personal serenade.

*  A red-tailed hawk seeking shelter from the frigid winds and driving rain on the topmost corner of a high-rise apartment across the way.

*  A very pregnant woman travelling on the subway wearing a surgical mask as a protective measure against swine flu (known here as H1N1).

* Colours of Central Park: smouldering-ember red (Japanese maples), Hot English mustard (beech), cinnamon (oaks), lemon-peel yellow (ginkgo). The ginkgo trees are my favourite, littering the paths with masses of delicate Egyptian-fan-shaped leaves. They are also known as maidenhair trees because of the way the leaves cluster along the stem, resembling maidenhair ferns.

chrysanthemums and japanese tako drums

Last weekend I dragged a mildly protesting H. to the New York Botanical Garden, all the way in The Bronx (actually, just 25 minutes by subway) to see the Kiku display (that’s ‘chrysanthemum’ in Japanese). Once we were there, he was as entranced as I was, wielding his camera with each footfall (witness the pictures). You would never have believed chrysanthemums came in so many colours and varieties – curly, spiky, whorls, pinwheels, dopy mop-heads.

Specially trained and trailed with the same meticulous attention that the Japanese apply to bonsai trees, there were waist-high single stems with giant heads, single stems that splayed out into a dome-shaped mass of over a hundred blooms, and flowing waterfall cascades of flower-heads. Most enchanting were the names given to the single-head flowers, whimsical poetic allusions to snow, wind, mist and rain (I can’t for the life of me put my finger on a single one right now).

Best of all, though, was the tako drum performance by an endearing bunch of Japanese schoolkids in traditional costume, the girls with chrysanthemums pinned to their hair. There were ancient gongs, massive tako drums, little drums and steel percussive instruments. Led by a handful of teachers and with great solemnity, but also with great gusto, the pint-sized pupils worked their way through an array of traditional Japanese drumming rhythms. One girl, in particular, stole our hearts with her pigtails and defiant hands-on-her-hip attitude. I couldn’t help but marvel at how these kids were engaging in an ancient ritual infused with such significance that it had endured for centuries. There was something in the deep booming resonance of those drums that captured the soul.

Friday, November 20, 2009

OMG! Linus Roache!


(As in, Oh … My … God … mouthed by giddy teenagers like Lindsay Lohan and any of the Gossip Girls in NYC’s snippy TV show.) The other evening I was introduced to and SHOOK HANDS WITH the yummy Linus Roache… I couldn’t sleep that night I was so over-awed. I don’t know if anyone remembers the 1994 movie Priest, in which he played the dishiest gay priest ever to walk this earth. I’ve had a crush on him ever since. (He’s not gay, just in case you're wondering.)

This momentous occasion took place at a Barnes & Noble store, where a well-known American couple (Ed and Debbie Shapiro) was marketing their latest in a multitude of books on meditation. They’d managed to gather around them an illustrious line-up of actors, spiritual writers and meditation gurus – among them, Robert Thurman, Andrew Cohen, the actress Ellen Burstyn … and Linus Roache.

A NY friend of mine (and Linus!) are pupils of Andrew Cohen, who heads up a spiritual organisation on evolutionary consciousness called EnlightenNext, and it was she who invited me to the talk (I’m forever grateful).

After being personally introduced by my friend to Linus (hyperventilate) and, later, Andrew Cohen, we managed to commandeer front row seats and sat a foot away from the stars, all of whom spoke independently, then bantered with each other in a wonderfully informal way … while we looked on as breathless voyeurs.

One woman stood up, looked at Linus, and said, "I came here tonight to see a star, but now I also want to learn to meditate." Which just goes to show what pulling power NY's leading lights wield.
Recently Linus joined the cast of Law & Order as an assistant district attorney, after the cable channel decided it needed to create a little extra frisson in the show.
Guess who’s going to be tuned in every Friday night…

New York Marathon in technicolour

The euphoria is slowly subsiding, the giant gold medal is hanging in H's office and the $6650.00
H. personally raised (well done, H!) has gone towards the Multiple Myeloma Fund. But we can't let the event go without some inspiring colour pics, so here they are!

Friday, November 6, 2009

new york marathon 2009!

It’s five days down, and we’re just getting over the euphoria (both from a runner’s and a non-runner’s perspective) of the New York Marathon. What a buzz! It was as if the entire city had been mobilised for the event – barricades and flags and luxury buses and police cars and uniformed officers everywhere you looked. I didn’t sleep a single minute the night before out of sympathy nerves for H. I’ve never seen him so hyped before a race, never mind that he already had three marathons under his belt. It was quite an emotional experience mingling with thousands of runners at the Jacob Javits Center the day before to get H’s number. So many foreign languages floating in the air; you could cut the charged atmosphere and nervous energy with a knife.

H. had to get up at five a.m. to catch a bus to the start at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (when it was built in 1964 it was the world’s longest suspension span), which connects Staten Island with Brooklyn. He only ran at 10 a.m.! Not that it’s deterred him; he’s already entered for next year’s race… Meschuggah.

The route takes in the five boroughs that make up New York City: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Manhattan. Together with some friends, we cheered the runners on at First Avenue and then Fifth Avenue, where I screamed my lungs out at every South African who ran by – clearly identifiable by their flag vests or running shorts. They all looked mightily surprised to hear a South African bystander holler them on.

42,000 runners, 100 bands and 2 million supporters … what a party atmosphere.
H. looked amazingly strong – and hugely pleased to see us – both times we caught up with him. So strong that he crossed the finishing line within 2 minutes of his goal time: 4 hrs 17 min. Go Hershey! All he could mouth was, Where’s the closest cold beer? so we had to rustle him off in his space blanket to the nearest pub. Where there was much noise and celebration and high fives with crowds of other runners, after which many champagne corks apologetically coughed.

The great black-and-white images are courtesy of our Dutch photography-studying friend Yvonne, thank you! Colour pics still to come.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

halloween II

I was walking home after taking the C train back from Harlem, along Central Park West (I'm just bragging about how sassy my travels across the city have become, in spite of H's quip that my utter lack of a sense of direction prevents me from finding my way round our own house). Anyway . . . on my adventurous travels I chanced upon this really cool building facade. Well, it's kinda creepy, actually, as the spider is all hairy and furry and the bats' bared teeth are as honed and filed as those of a wild man from Papua New Guinea. But as I say, people take Halloween pretty seriously.

So seriously, in fact, that a dummy slumped over patio furniture on a man's balcony in

Los Angeles made for a particularly cunning Halloween display. It remained undisturbed and undiscovered for five days until guys from the sheriff's office paid a visit. They found the real body of a man who'd been shot through the head. Some people go to great lengths, it seems. . .

Saturday, October 24, 2009

celebrity spotting

I've just been getting into the new TV series, The Good Wife, with Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth (Sex and the City) - about a state attorney's wife who faces public humiliation when her husband is caught on tape with a hooker and at the same time is arrested for misuse of public funds. Interestingly, the script was written before the likes of Bernie Madoff and various prominent US politicians were caught and loudly lambasted in the media for various comparable transgressions, so someone had their finger on the pulse. . .

To cut a long story short, I was jogging a couple of circuits through luminous lemon-yellow foliage round the Reservoir yesterday when I came face to face with Matt Czuchry (one newspaper reporter compared him to a young James Spader, which is spot-on), who plays a baby-faced lawyer on the TV show. South Africans may know him from The Gilmore Girls and Friday Night Lights.

Matt was ambling along the path with a few friends and they'd stopped to take a photograph. As I passed him, we made direct eye contact. I'm getting quite good at this celebrity thang, methinks. . .
Photo: Mark Liddell/The CW

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

of ghouls and skulls, black cats and witches

Halloween is a serious business here. Deadly serious … as in giant images of skulls on shop entrance doors while skeletons, black cats and toothless witches leer from storefront windows. Everywhere spiderwebs are strung from ceilings and draped across doorways. There are puppets, maquettes, stickers and decals, and ghoulish fancy-dress costumes and masks piled up in drugstores (strange source for Halloween paraphernalia, but then drugstores here are more Spar and Shoprite than pharmacy). Inside the stores, entire shelves are taken up by electric-orange candy and chocolates, positively glowing for the opportunity to be Tricked or Treated. Even the TV crime dramas are tangled up in Halloween-style murders and mysteries that have to be carefully unravelled.

Yes, it’s the downward spiral … After Halloween is Thanksgiving and then it’s Christmas. I’m spooked. (Which is what I’m meant to be at this time of year, but anyway…)

Fall has whirled in on an updraft of spiralling autumn leaves … way too fast. When I hang out of our kitchen window to gaze down onto Broadway, I see leaves of cinnamon, mustard and burnt sienna. The trees of the rooftop gardens are yellowing and thinning, many are leafless, their slight pliable stems bending in the icy wind. Today I ran across a multicoloured carpet of leaves in autumn hues, past clustered branches of flaming orange and red berries. Not long ago, these branches staggered under the weight of spring blossoms. This morning it was a bracing 8ºC! Cold enough for leggings, gloves and a thermal jacket on the run.

We have almost come full circle on our new arrival in this big city.

Monday, October 12, 2009

new york's subtleties

I’m just loving how the subtler nuances of living in New York are getting under my skin … giving me a chance to peek through the glam, pacy, brash exterior to a more real, life-centred core.
For example, we have mosquitoes in New York. And tiny little jumping spiders. There are ladybirds … lots of them. We have a minor infestation here on the 15th floor – tiny russet-yellow bodies hurtling through our windows and crawling all over our ceiling.

I see the moon in Manhattan. I’ve watched a giant melon moon hang pendulously over lofty penthouses. Yesterday a gibbous moon tilted itself perfectly, mid-pane, through our lounge window. Another day, it rose ahead of us, plump and full, between a pair of skyscrapers.

Then there’s the northern mockingbird that warbles, coos and twitters melodiously as it sits atop a water tower outside our dining nook window. That same perch is often taken up by an American kestrel, which balances on the pinnacle of the tower, stretching out one clawed foot in a balletic manoeuvre while splaying the feathers of streaked and spotted wings.

One morning a red-tailed hawk was harassed in mid-air by a crow – right in front of our apartment windows! The birds dipped, arched and swooped in circles before me while I watched slack-jawed at the spectacle amidst concrete, steel and glass.

Finally, through powerful binoculars I’ve watched a pair of peregrine falcons nesting on the top of a glass-faceted tower that rears into the sky a little way up Broadway. They sit on the railings surveying their world from heights that only helicopters scale, sometimes dark and shadowy outlines, sometimes blinding white as the light reflects off their pale chests. I marvel at the juxtaposition of images: airbuses climbing into the sky beyond the skyscraper from La Guardia airport, the roof watertower – iconic image of NY, a giant crane/hoist, a satellite dish. And a pair of peregrine falcons sitting on the railing.
[Photo: Getty in NY Times]

my new 4x4 book!

I’m happy … and I’m sad…
Happy, because finally, after twelve months of travelling and writing, and six months of editing, designing and printing, my new 4x4 book has been published. (For any American readers I may be lucky to have ensnared with my blogging machinations, please read: SUV!)

Sad, because H. and our very good travelling friend K. took such beautiful, luminous, colour-saturated photographs … and my designer-associate T. did such a MARVELLOUS, classy job of the layout … but in the end the actual photographic reproduction has left much to be desired. I’m not going to go on about it, the pictures are back with the repro house being “fixed” in time for the first reprint (they must be confident it’s going to need another run off the presses!).
And the reviews so far are reassuring (… “we don’t want to be responsible for your becoming addicted … you’re going to become addicted…”; “Is it worth buying? Definitely.”).

So … the irony of our little traveller threesome driving the length and breadth (not quite but almost) of South Africa and Namibia in two Freelanders, in the span of only a year, before hot-footing it to New York (without knowing that that was what we were going to do…) is too much of a jab in the ribs to be shrugged off.

We got to sleep beneath star-encrusted skies, breathe in the unsullied air of giant desert and rock-scapes, mingle with the wildest of wildlife and see large-winged raptors planing metres away. (And all with a hot shower, flushing loo and frosty beer or glass of chardonnay at the end of each day!) Those were the criteria … read the book …

And now the memories are all captured and printed and bound in something we can hold in our hands and endlessly riffle through. So I can stand in my New York glass cage suspended over Broadway and its sirens and taxis and flashing blue lights, and dream of Africa …

P.S. If you’re quick enough, is offering a once-off special.
No pressure.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

celebrity spotting

It's such a rush being in New York! Today I got onto the bus right behind Broadway and movie actress Joan Allen. Wearing skinny jeans and not a scrap of makeup, it was her high angular cheekbones that gave her away (to me, anyway). She plonked herself down in the seat right in front of me, so I got to stare at the back of her streaked blonde hair all the way across Central Park. And I know it really was her after a woman came up to Joan before stepping off the bus to congratulate her on some performance of hers, which Joan graciously acknowledged.

It's amazing how cool most New Yorkers are when they spot someone famous. They try very hard not to act like breathless, silly teenagers (unless they're the paparazzi, of course. . .). In a way, it's a nice appreciation of someone else's space.

South Africans will know her mainly from the Bourne Ultimatum and Bourne Supremacy movies, as well as the Ice Storm. But she also gave the most amazing performance as an embittered, unforgiving mother in a movie I can't for the life of me remember the name of.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Saturn's rings!

Every 15 years, Saturn's beautiful evanescent rings tilt edge-on to the sun - and that's exactly what they did this week! These amazing pictures (a mosaic of images stitched together) were taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The dark line near the centre of the pic above is the shadow cast by Mimas, one of Saturn's moons.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I ♥ ♥ ♥ my Uggs!

I have succumbed …

You may not believe it but this Australian company’s goofy, slouchy, sheep-skin-dominated footwear is a hot commodity in this city of style, fashion and models. And since the cooler clime is heralding in a very swift changing of the seasons, I have to prepare myself for the frigid snap of winter air – and snow! (I can’t believe we’re coming full circle on our momentous move to the Big Apple.)

Gotcha, Queens Half!

Okay … so Queens’ meandering streets did hear the pitter-patter of my winged feet… H managed to haul me, kicking and screaming, onto the old-fashioned, egg-yolk yellow school bus to grind our way across the Robert F Kennedy bridge to Queens. That’s after a 3:30am wake-up call, mind you. And you know what? I had a good time. :)

It was a beautiful, cool, temperate day (except for the bitterly cold waves of air rising off the East River as we huddled darkly, together with a posse of other mad runners, in a park waiting for the sun to rise!).

Our route twisted and turned through the Queens borough’s neighbourhoods (and some grotty industrial pockets) – lots of red-brick and slatestone façades graduating to loftier, fussy double-storey homes with columns, porticoes and Spanish-style balustrades. An image that stays in my head is the haphazard muddle of telephone wires looped drunkenly from house to house.

A sleepy tousle-haired man hung (shirtless) out of an upstairs window wielding a camera; a little girl snuggled into her pyjamas and slippers on a chair outside her house, waving shyly as our feet drummed past. A stooping Chinese man with a lined face and, later, an ostentatious home with two Chinese lions guarding the front stairway hinted at the character of one particular street.

I remember hills. There were lots of hills, but nicely undulating. And after each rise was a relieving dip (tell that to my screaming quads today). The downside of running here is that a mile feels soooo much longer than a kay. So when the heart-warming 3-mile sign looms large, it takes a second to compute that to my 5km neighbourhood run … and the race feels looong all over again.
One mile to go just ain’t that Ikm last-minute push of old to the finish.

Oh, well, my time was a very pleasant surprise (I’m not telling, but it was a major improvement on my NY Half). So bring on fall, and that lovely crisp air.
Energy-sapping summer is so over.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The September Issue

I’ve developed a fascination for Anna Wintour, living as I do in the same city as the high priestess of Vogue. So it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me to the movies for a voyeur’s peek into the behind-the-scenes action of Vogue’s hallowed offices. In The September Issue (about the making of the largest fall issue ever, in 2007), you get to see quite a bit of Anna in her inevitable dark sunglasses, sporting her severe blunt-cut bob and ruler-straight bangs (uh . . . that’s a fringe) – yet you never really get to know her.

She loves Starbucks coffee. She wears real fur and doesn’t apologise for it. And her thin-lipped smile doesn’t reach her eyes. She's also fragile and thin in the dessicated manner of those who breathe the refined air of upper class New York. It’s clear, though, that Anna is constantly aware of the intrusive camera tracking her every move, so you don’t get to see her being nuclear, frigid, an ice queen or a sacred monster – all words that have been used to describe her. (A staff member likened her to the Pope.) Okay, so she’s quick to diss a $50 000 shoot because it doesn’t move her. But she says more with her laser looks and tightened mouth than with her tightly controlled actions. And her curt, finite ‘Thank you’ is as brutally dismissive as Miranda Priestley’s ‘That’s all’ in The Devil Wears Prada. . .

It’s Vogue’s creative director Grace Coddington with her flyaway pre-Raphaelite red hair (she’s 68), who steals the show, as New York magazine so rightly says. Grace, in contrast to Anna, uses the ever present camera as a confidante, not afraid to express her irritation, disappointment or anger when some of her stunningly styled fashion spreads are pulled by the Vogue editor. Grace is human, and real. She even persuades the cameraman to leap in the air with his camera on his shoulder for a fashion shoot, and the picture, boep and all, is photoshopped together with a leaping model. When Anna instructs the protruding stomach to be ‘fixed’, Grace is emphatic about keeping it in.

For me, too, it was exciting to watch Italian photographer Mario Testino in action. I remember, years ago at Struik New Holland, we were planning a Vogueish tome on fashion across the decades, and Mario absolutely refused to negotiate on his sky-high rates for the use of his photographs. Watching the master at work, I now understand…