Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Collected Stories

I don't know, the headless puppet body, a 1900's maiden stamped on tin ceiling, toy gun parts and a workman's tool belt etc. that I bought in New York last weekend kept teasing with life stories. I was glad to shut them up in a box and ship them back to Detroit. You know I love the stuff, the stories and the people animating history from the beyond, but...there's a few things and a few people in New York to love…good thing I got information bypass (straight to laptop) so the vital needs get met and overload's averted. A blog and a roundtrip ticket to the Midwest are just what the doctor ordered.

I came to look at a collection, one animator, Maria, and 40 years worth of great stuff and stories as fun and creative as she is. Maria's inner artist has explored the sculpture in the classic carvings of Victorian architecture to folk art (dolls, spool furniture, collectibles et al), the painterly aspects of 19th century tole (painted metal) to peely painted furniture, and graphic modernity in primitives to vintage advertising. I scan a collection like I scan an antique show or market; searching for form, material, color and anything especially odd. As they add up in my head, I'm concurrently styling a booth or vignette to tell a story. In the boxes, cupboards and places I search, it is a narrative thread I am looking for. It's in the last place I look where I find the storyline for this collection. Turns out it begins with Maria's occupation..she sells jewelry..and an unusual connection back to me.

It's late in the day and up in the attic is our last stop. There it all is, a glittering tangle of 1960's silver from the southwest piled on a card table. The two of us can't stop ourselves from pawing through the treasure, what fun! The Native American jewelry is like a magnet and a door to my past. When my family moved from Arizona where I was born, my parents (probably my mom) had this groovy idea that we should take the proceeds of our modest bank accounts and buy Indian jewelry. I was 9 years old. I still have my little girl bracelets from the $200 investments I made that day. Southwestern stuff has always been part of my own collection and I love to mix it with antiques.

The story writes itself. Maria's jewelry will pull them into the booth I can now see in my head. It will be displayed in small cases, on rocks and hanging from cut branches, on top of her spool furniture. Architectural fragments will provide solid background to the furnitures' delicate shapes. Larger primitive cabinets with worn paint surfaces will anchor the collection. Rugs, quilts, dolls and other textiles will soften the solid forms and add color. I edit the pieces in my minds eye: this in, that out. The more the story develops, the more it stays the same. I natter over just the right effect like I natter over just the right word. Honing my craft, designing the booth, my store, your place and writing the best story I can so you will want to take it with you and be inspired to add your own to it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kind of Design

I could be going to any number of world class museums in New York today or picking a walking route to look at buildings. Failing that, picking a central median say at 23rd and 6th or is it Broadway? and sitting at the smartly placed chairs where two avenues converge and just looking at the sea of interesting, brilliant, gorgeous and shocking people who pass by. That swimsuit model actually has the formula to harness all this human energy and end our dependence on natural resources. He looks homeless but is keeping your cell phone from dropping calls. That guy that looks like someone famous is. What does that guy have around his neck? Oh it's part of a drapery treatment. Everybody else is lost and can't stay out of the way( I recommend handlers, I have mine, you get your own).

I'm 45 minutes by the metro or car and 5 minutes by private helicopter. I am still in my pj's, writing this and making cookies with what I found in the cupboard. I will head in the opposite direction to see my fourth grade friend Linda and her 4 gymnastic kids in beautiful Lloyd Harbor and make dinner with the contents of her cupboards. In a sea of fantastic food and chefs, nobody has the time to cook and either would I, but I do. I want to contribute and make people happy. It will take me a week to sort out who said what to me this weekend and I'd have to drop everything to read up (with dictionary) to know what it meant. Man, even the people unloading trucks at the Pier Show have PhD's in something, I just wish they had listened to me say, "don't put the heavy boxes on top of the pegboard walls (crack)."

Practical at heart, handy and banking on pleasant in the absence of homework and unread assignments. How good for me to practice listening skills (please, I'm sensitive) and learn what I can about art, photography, comedy improv (on speed), current affairs, defensive driving. It's afforded me the time to study creative design solutions for everything under the sun and hopefully employ it in Detroit. Being kind and interested in other people could only make the solutions to any problem better, we just gotta remember that when we start designing them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Nature of Design

I remind myself when I stall the rusty replacement cargo van with NO creature comforts, that travel is transformative. I got my priorities and a trip to pay for (was that mom van really me? Ok miss upholstery, power windows/locks). I could whine about the rain, ice, snow and the dirty cliffs the plows have carved, but that week on the green mountain, the ocean and the magnificent Gehry Guggenheim museum, were brain food and did I ever need that, and the promise of Spring. I've been working textures and contrasts around in my mind ever since and I find myself looking for them out my own window and in my store.

That shift from the rolling green hills all bucolic and sunny to the sudden draining of warmth and color at the cliff's edge, repeated itself when I stepped out of the airport in Detroit. Shades of gray, dark to white and cold ocean spray greeted my face with a sharp slap. The giant white waves were coming in with force and speed. Like a high-powered hatchet by the looks of those cliffs, that nasty edge menacing like concertina wire, not to mention the near vertical 50' drop. Though in some places it looked brittle as slate, the horizontal layers of shard were solid and I wished I had better climbing shoes. The palette from putty to mustard and dove gray, are the colors of linen, weathered wood and paint that put to mind classic French design. With their border just an hour away, it's clear this timeless landscape is the inspiration.

In some places the stone had the texture of dark bark in vertical striations, the smooth areas like patinated sheet steel. That visual memory resurfaced as I walked through the mammoth Richard Serra sculptures at the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Now that I'm home, I see all these colors and textures on buildings, in the yard, in the studio, in the objects I'm drawn to.

The shores were striking by their differences. One was piled with black boulders, making trance-inducing sound as the waves pushed them on top of each other. You can't help but pick up the smooth small stones, work them in your hand, how it calms your brain. Ha! it's those tumbling stones in barrels at the shop! I watch as people unconsciously grab a handful, feel of them and drop them back, that sound. What a sensuous feeling to walk bare foot on smooth stones. Someday I'll install the tumbling stones in a floor and recall this ancient beach!

On the other side of the you-aren't-welcome cliff that marked this short beach was something else entirely, and breathtaking. I nearly killed myself climbing down a hillside trying to get there. "It doesn't look that far/steep from here (famous last words). I can do it, the dumb sheep do it..I work out!" Helps to have A. 4 legs B. lower center of gravity C. type B or C personality. The lounging chefs had a good laugh when I came home covered in mud and scratches.

I wasn't the first "enthusiast" to hike down, someone fastened a knotted rope to climb all the way down to the ocean, brilliant! What looked like a mass of solid stone with grooves dug by a giant fork from up high, ran below the water's surface with the shards turned 90 degrees or more. Hey! it's a foot hold, wait, no…. Kathunka! it's a diving board. Somewhere sheep are shaking their heads. Think I'll save the swimming for a heated pool, ponder those materials while I'm at it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hamtramck Blow Out

I interrupt my regularly scheduled blog about Spain (beautiful blah blah I went you didn't blah, don't be a hater) to jump up and down about the Hamtramck Blow Out. Hamtramck, the little city within the city of Detroit, is full of great old bars and the Blowout packs them in with bands playing 40 minute sets, one after another, and we're starved for spring and meaningful congregation. It's over 35 degrees, people are overjoyed and I declare everybody looks beautiful and interesting. It's a serious point of pride, the music from Detroit and a spirit of true community in Hamtramck that makes an event like the Blowout successful.

We are out with my sister Alyssa, who I used to bar crawl with in our glory days, her friend Elena and our friends Mark and Michele who live here and co-own the Belmont bar. We wax nostalgic about Lilly's, now the Painted Lady, where Lilly sat at the back door taking money into her 80's. It looks exactly the same; this matters. We catch the Detroit Party Marching Band by chance because we could hear the base drum leaving The New Dodge Bar, I'm excited. They're 15 strong on this night, show up all over town, unannounced and in costume. I'd yet to catch them. They played the stripper theme song. Can you stand it? Tubas and bass drums…righteous! We drive on. It's 10 blocks to Smalls, pouring rain now and this is Detroit. $4 a gallon or no, this is how we roll (did we invent this term?). The truck gets stuck in a snow drift as we try to park. Yeah, no, Michele and I will not be pushing. I take the wheel, men to the rear and with one shout out, 6 guys cross the road and push that F-150 right out of the drift. You gotta a love a town where men are men and hands get dirty.

Smalls is packed, Michele and I are now yawning and taking a dim view of standing, crowding, headliner or no. The Gardens are playing at the Belmont, a solid Detroit rock band made fresh by young skinny guys full of energy with English beat haircuts and all we care about is sitting down. We got privileges here, pizza and beverages at the ready. Mark is the mayor, glad-handing and it's fun to meet the business owners keeping it going in Hamtramck.

Great night, but here's the best story. It's the essence of Detroit grit; the anarchy that makes me feel at home. It's outside Smalls, we hear some broad with serious pipes belting out rock and roll with real feeling. But there's no bar. It's coming from the parking lot across from Smalls. This band didn't make the roster, no tithe no free beer. This band rented a U-haul trailer, parked it in the gas station parking lot and played out the back. It's lit with a single strand of lights, amps and instruments all plugged into someone's electricity. Cold rain and 3 people watching, the show is going on, U-haul's paid for. You can hear her 2 blocks away, by the end of their set, 20 of us are standing there, no umbrellas, on cracked concrete covered in ice and mud. The broad is a 20-something girl. She passed out half a sheet of paper with this on it, "You've been shagged by White Shag…www.whiteshag.com." Love, pure and simple. Gotta give it to get it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A small plate of Spain por favor

It's been one week, time for a reunion of team Spain, time to eat! We meet at Roast in the Book Cadillac for their infamous happy hour. Monday is the day, chefs are off, and it's practically the only day you can get a seat in the bar. I'm early. Really. I'm early because I had to be at school at 4:00 pm to pick up Wyatt if you must know and yes he came with me to the bar. We are being European (and they let me). If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. If you want your kid to be civilized, bring him with you, he's on the team, he loves this, be a good example (it's 4:30-6:00pm, doable). Roast has fantastic small portion bar food for $3 and $4 apiece. It's Detroit's best answer to tapas, small plates, and it's as we were, a week ago in Spain.

We all agree this tapas thing needs more play here. You get to try all sorts of things, which is like eating off other people's plates (my bad, but everybody else's food always looks and tastes better right?). Not unlike sushi in Japanese cuisine, but more bang for the buck. You're hanging at the bar (and behaving remember) It's all very social, which is good when you are community-building, and the whole food-on-the-bar-help-yourself, which is so make-yourself-at-home, so thoroughly delighted our team. Ok, even if the food-safety nazis won't clear eggs and fish sitting out, you adapt, and the beauty of the whole deal is the sharing part. The key is simplicity, affordability and "good produce" as the Spaniards say. If you follow their style of smaller wine and beer portions along with the eating, it's easier to keep yourself in check too(and drive your kid home).

We started our trip in small Spanish towns and a typical bar might have a half-dozen things out to choose from…Until we got to the bigger town of San Sebastian. I came undone when we walked to the historic section of town in this already beautiful old seaside place and into the first tapas bar. The whole long bar surface was covered with like 30 or more different things. We are by the sea, it's seafood fantasyland. The pigs, goats and sheep are just up the mountain, it's sausage fest, cheese wonderment. Dave is hot on those white anchovies and baby eels. I might never have gotten over the visual if not for his zeal (gee those eel babies? they look like worms, white worms).

So here's the best bite: a slice of baguette, a schmear of aioli (olive oil and garlic whipped like mayonnaise), white anchovies, a bit of grilled tuna, pickled pepper slices or better yet, the tiny green ones (both on the mild side) and the baby eels on top. All pulled out of the sea 100 yards away, maybe this morning's catch or yesterdays, and put on these slices of fresh bread with other yummy bits and now looking like mini artists' palettes.

Seems fishy? (bummer for you) Have some sausage, look here's 20. The fattier and more saturated, the better it melts in your mouth. You are walking everywhere, you'll burn it off. Molly loves the croquettes, fritters with creamy centers of chicken, mushroom or seafood. I made everybody try my lightly batter-fried eggplant slice on baguette with pickled peppers atop the aioli with roasted red bell pepper, nirvana. The kabobs, it's a party for your mouth, maybe half a hard-boiled egg, then an olive, a little shrimp, a slice of pepper, yum! pretty! 10 different varieties! Really need familiar? Have a fritatta slice; it's a farmer's omelette. Choose one with mushrooms or ham, sliced potatoes, goat or sheep's milk cheese.

It's all in the "produce" remember? It tastes good not because it's fussed over but because it's fresh and it's fresh because it's from down the street, or just over the mountain. And I just saw the sheep grazing so I don't need to look for the stamp that says "grass fed" and because it's communal, you can bet whomever raised them is on a first-name basis here. That simple omelette tastes like a new invention. Right, fresh eggs, organic for sure, trust me, we know the chicken, she's lives close by, the egg was still warm when she handed it to me on the way over. And another thing, at $3.50 a gallon, do I need to go carbon hoof-print crazy on you? Best thing, these bar-top masterpieces, all fresh and fancy sounding? $4 each tops, many were less, lots were filling. It's for everyone! You can bring your team, bring your kids, fun in every bite. I think we have room for some of that.