It has been a while since I posted, but I write everyday. I like to share only the things that tie together different audiences and different points in time. And as such, it should come as no surprise that I like editing. This is a posting I wrote towards the end of the summer 2008, and the more recent ones are soon to appear here. Let’s just say I was in need of inspiration, and I have truly found it.

All the world is a Tim Burton set. Sorry, Shakespeare. Not a stage where we reckon why be or not to be. The world is a series of stories with lights and shadows, bright colors, music, fantasies, dreams, luxury, magic, losses, epiphanies, contrasts and most of all bittersweet ironies. The scenes move from set to set with clockwork precision, imitating art (story arch and everything) but not always logic to put us, characters, at ease with the shocks to the system.

In London this morning, tourists braved the rain to enjoy their bank holiday in Leicester Square. Rushing off to see a new Oscar winning movie or the exhibit of the modern photographs at the National Portrait Gallery. Asking for directions, shouting into their mobiles, finding indoor entertainment, trying to get to places in spite of the tube’s planned closures on the Circle Line… Floods rending obsolete the few other tube arteries that pump life into London’s offices during days when Canary Wharf moves the world’s capital from pockets to other pockets. Bank holidays are business as usual, just with different kinds of tasks to tick off the to-do list. It all ends in bohemian happiness on evenings in Brick Lane, where every tribe mingles. Everyone is happy on Brick Lane.

This velvet morning was a far cry away from the buzzing tables of the Nobu lounge in Mayfair on Friday night. I had joined three people for dinner: one was leaving to Switzerland the next morning and one who was headed to Russia. The DJ at Nobu was playing house music that would put Nikki beach in Saint Tropez to shame, and the crowd flowing into the room was right out of NYC’s Bungalow Eight five years ago (perfect, polished, unforgiving.) I could not help but imagining, even envying them, going from that room in London to the Audemars Piguet watch factory amidst Swiss plains; or meeting technology moguls somewhere in Eastern Russia… the changes in backdrop and background actors, props and soundtrack in one’s life from one moment to the next. The third person around the swanky round booth was my boss, who had just come from Scotland along with myself…

The week before, in Scotland, some friends and I went horse riding on Turnberry beach. Life paused for a while. Around us, there was ocean, hills, sheep, stables, lakes, swans, archers, golfers, other horse riders and ladies in robes heading to the spa. Was I in the same planet as London and New York??? We got all the way into the water with our horses (Gypsy, Striker and Mojo) and rode towards the world famous lighthouse that towers above the Ailsa golf course.

The Turnberry resort is an hour and a half southwest of Glasgow, and isolated from any city at all. The nearest village, half hour’s drive away, consists of one “everything-shop”, one Scotch shop, one pub and a Post Office. You might need subtitles to understand most of the staff. Everyday, in the late afternoon, a proper Scot roams the entire grounds playing his bagpipes, kilt and everything. The presentation of the Haggis is delivered with pomp and circumstance, a glorious poem that has been read for over a thousand years (in what language, I cannot describe) and a procession around the main dining hall. The haggis leads, lifted up on a silver platter; a man twirling two bottles of Scotch around each other follows, and behind him the bagpipes. Even the magicians are impressed, as they are in the audience during dinner (and those two from Urban Magik are hard to impress). The sun sets over the Firth of Clyde around nine at night, and the sky is still light enough at half eleven, when you can still see the perfect sillouette of Ailsa Craig, the island where the curling stones come from: a perfect Tim Burton set. It made me think of Big Fish.

The people populating the resort for the week were some of the brightest minds in banking. They are so much more approachable and simple than what their jobs imply. It made me think of Bjork’s song Human Behaviour: the stuff that makes us all more similar than different. Some of the most successful people in this lifetime have more in common with you than you would guess. Some of them can’t play golf, even though they’ve tried. Some love taking cardio rebounding classes at the gym. Some did not think JK should have killed Dumbledore after all. They hate flying. They like Sharapova but prefer Nadal over Federer. They are chocaholics. Some love Tim Burton and hate modern art. Some of them have been stuck in trains on the French countryside for many hours just like me.

Just before Scotland I had been in Normandy, France. Around the big house where we were staying, gorgeous rose gardens and an incredible vegetable garden were thriving in the late Spring weather. The colors were like those in The Secret Garden or the house where Edward made his garden sculptures with his scissored hands. The children were running, laughing, playing football and sliding down an improvised toboggan from the edge of the property neighboring this house. We were barbecuing and drinking fine Bordeaux wine, properly aged in this house’s own cave. The hosting couple were pouring Pastis and Absinthe to the guests that kept on arriving… Lorenna, whom I have met when she was only four years of age, was DJing from her bedroom balcony, playing some proper carioca funk music and some French Brazilian forro. Dallilah, from Tunisia, had made tangine and other typical dishes from her hometown in Tunisia to go with the barbecued lamb. Country life like this is what big city people crave. It is a role in a period piece for a character right out of Vanilla Sky.

The Mont Saint Michel is a short drive away from this town of Laval. We headed up there to walk the cobbled streets inside the fortress, feel its history, get lost in its stairs and passageways, to watch the tide rise from up there and turn the fortress into an island again, as it does every day. There was a wishing well half way up, where I tossed a coin and made a wish ten years ago. That wish came true. I made another one this time. They say this place is magical and you ought to be careful what you wish.

Before Normandy I was in Paris, and having been there a few times before, was able to confirm the impressions it had left on me. Paris is still very much the same: poetic, fashionable, gourmand, unique and, at times, deceiving. How so? Well, Paris has hidden joys and hidden ugly truths that one would only find if they know where to look. It’s made of mixed cultures and clashing objectives of its own inhabitants and its floating population of tourists. Since I was showing my mother around, I steered her down the safe routes. Being fluent in French is not a requirement, but it certainly helps understanding what the other people around you are up to, especially in the subway train. The crowds enjoying the sunny day in the Jardin des Tuileries were more pleasant than the crowds that roam certain parts of Montmartre at night. The crowds roaming the Boulevard Saint Germain were some of the same reoccurring characters playing in scenes at the Meatpacking in NY or Trastevere in Rome. Much like directors casts the same actors over and over again, these capricious neighborhoods seem to choose the same faces to adorn its streets. Same sky, different latitudes.

Before Paris I was in Rome. The same Rome of gold, grapes and Gladiators… wealth, war, grand fires, love affairs for Egyptian queens and religious fervor that echoes its message through the planet for the past couple of thousand years. Not really the same Rome though. If I have ever seen dramatic juxtapositions of old and new, happy and sad, elegance and decadence… this epitomized it. This was not HBO’s reconstructed Rome of jewelry and gold-plated palaces, buff men and voluptuous women with deep dark eyes, but it definitely rivaled that version with a large Via of haute couture designer shops that lead to the Spanish steps. Around the corner from Rich Row and Luxury Lane, you can stumble upon a majestic church undergoing renovation, and at its steps a Gypsy-looking young girl, pregnant, maybe of seven or eight months, begging. Many other beggars and pilgrims walk those same streets. The right soundtrack here could be James Blunt’s song that goes: “Many prophets preach on bended knees, many clerics wasted wine… do the bloody sheets on those cobbled streets mean I have wasted time?”

Away from the walls of the Vatican, Trastevere was always buzzing, as it is home to all of Rome’s bohemia. I met up with my fabulous gay friends at Cul de Sac, half way between the Campo di Fiori and the Piazza Navona. Haute couture designers and filmmakers I have known since 1999 in NYC who have moved across the pond walk the art pantheons of brand new old glamour. The next evening I was at their house again for some more Prosecco and fine antipasti.

Rome is colorful, and its palette is unique. It is an irreplaceable experience. One can argue that after a few travels through Europe, the sets start repeating themselves: mountains, beaches, fields, busy cities, more of all of this all over again blah blah blah. But it is not just the language and the food that differentiates all the settings. It’s the history and the texture. The sunset has so many more hues and is somehow better reflected by Rome’s ancient low stone buildings than the glass skyscrapers of Gotham.

Back in Gotham, Central Park is all blooming, bright green and lush, so different than when I had last seen it in the late Fall last year. The people lounging around Sheep Meadows are more than background actors. There is a radiating vibe emanating in all directions. A dear friend of mine is writing a book on how to survive after leaving the City that never sleeps. All actors who ever played on this stage know that they will never play to a crowd so hard to please but so intoxicatingly rewarding all the same.

It has been about seven years since I went to a party that defined Gotham glamour for me. It was a Monday night and Mark Baker was throwing a “British Invasion” at Lotus. To get in you needed to be a celebrity, a model, a fashion designer, or friends with Mark himself. Matt Damon was there, along with half the Willemina high board and a few mere mortals, like me. In hindsight, I know that the only three British things about that night were the Sex Pistols record the DJ played once, a flag, and Mark Baker himself.

Coming back to these NY locations (of all my prequels), I stumble upon the amazing things I took for granted when I called it a “wrap” and hopped across the pond. Walking aimlessly through Greenwich Village, I ran into two amazing characters who are local cultural staples. Certain New Yorkers are like the Chrysler building, they are institutions in their own merit. Like Amy Sacco, Noah Tepperberg, Diane Von Furstenberg and a few of my personal friends whose names you wouldn’t recognize but whose faces you have seen if you’ve lived there.

After a while of not being to New York at all (almost eight months), coming back again is like returning to a soundstage, a back lot in Hollywood. A few restaurants and bars I used to hit up were shut down. Most of the construction sites that were empty when I left were now occupied by towers, where most of the condos were already sold. The frames-per-second rate around here still favors high speed. The quirks and obsessions that plague most Manhattanites are still the same of Woody Allen’s scripts, with a touch of Carrie Bradshaw’s fragrance and fabrics.

When you strip away the props and strike the sets, New York itself is the naked soundstage, where you can build whatever you would like. It is where you clap and it echoes, but with just two actors in the room you can improvise an entire show. Departures are fascinating, so you can gather stories to tell, but arrivals are brilliant, and a tabula rasa can be even better. The End.

Posted by Kaz, filed under Travel. Date: February 24, 2009, 7:04 pm | 2 Comments »

2 Responses

  1. Sophia Ioannidis Says:

    Kaz, this is really cool. Yet too long for me to read at work. I can’t wait to get home and read it over a nice cup of coffee :)

  2. Daniel Says:

    All the world is a Tim Burton set, where logic is a luxury only feasible in retrospective. Regardless of our views on life, either preoccupied by “what’s next”, while mindlessly drifting through the halls of time, or taking an active part in the play… one solid truth remains: “time glides by with constant movement, not unlike a stream, for neither can a stream stay its course, nor can the fleeting hour”.

    Though, if I ever would get the opportunity to have but one wish granted to be “sometime” else for a while, I would have wished I had been at the Turnberry resort with you. Riding horses in the waterfront, listening to the sounds of the bagpipe whispering in the wind over the highland, while enjoying the beauty and tranquility of the Scottish countryside, and not to forget, indulging in the sights, sounds and smells of the Haggis presentation.

    “Break the pattern” is a worthy motto. Not an easy one, but then again, nothing really worth doing should be too easy to accomplish. I’ve never been afraid to seek out the unknown, so I understand the attraction. Contemplating over Stockholm, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Rome and New York, I realize that while everything is connected, nothing is the same. I believe the backdrop, soundtrack and prop in a perfect blend with history, texture, atmosphere and smell, make every place and point in time unique. However, even in this exquisite selection, New York stands out as the City of Cities. A conundrum of humanity, wealth and poverty, the only truly Cosmopolitan city and the blank slate on which you can create whatever your inner eye can perceive. The one and only thing that determines your success, is your own perseverance…

    The place is here and now. The actors are ready. The future is bright.

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