27 February 2007

My new painting

The Outsider Art Fair has become an annual tradition for me. I love Outsider and Folk Art because it's art in its rawest form -- forms of expression by people that have had no formal training but yet feel compelled to express themselves creatively. (For more on Outsider Art: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outsider_art.)

Some years, I'll come across something that has my name written all over it. The previous year, it was a painting on war. This year, I picked up a small drawing by Alexandra Huber, but what spoke to me was a painting by Jennifer Harrison.

"Eight Yellow Houses" by Jennifer Harrison, 2006. Oil on canvas, 36" x 48"

As you can see, the painting is quite big. The Berenberg Gallery that I purchased the painting from had it delivered by A Street Frames to my apartment. The gallery worked with me and my schedule to set a date for me to take the painting (delivered free of charge), and the delivery person was extremely pleasant and helpful. He even went so far as to carry the painting all the way up four stories to my apartment. Everything went off without a hitch.

This is atypical of my experience with galleries or framing services. Galleries are usually rude and pretentious when dealing with me because 1) I'm not wealthy, and 2) I'm not a "collector." Framing services (even those based in NYC) charge exorbitant fees for delivery, and then will leave the painting with you on the doorstep of your building. They usually will not carry art all the way up to the door of your apartment, especially if you live in a walk-up that involves 8 flights of stairs. I'd definitely do business with both the Berenberg Gallery and A Street Frames again.

18 February 2007

Portland, OR

It's a three-day weekend, and I purposely didn't make any plans. Instead, I've spent most of my weekend running errands and trying to dig myself out of my numerous piles. It's slow moving, but it's moving.

JF and I visited Portland last May. I've been looking to buy a vacation home, hopefully a place my parents can eventually retire to (and I'd like to visit) when they want to return to the US. It may seem strange to consider buying a second home before I even buy my first, but given the cost of real estate in New York City, it makes sense. Anyhoo, Portland was on my list of cities to check out.

I thought the city was beautiful, but at the same time, something was missing. It didn't have the diversity that I take for granted in many of the other places I've lived -- Hong Kong, London, Washington DC, New York. Still, I wouldn't mind living there. While it has a small-town feel to it, it also has the amenities of big city living. The restaurant scene and shopping were on par with some of the cities on the East Coast but noticeably less expensive. My favorite was the City Grill for its late night menu and beautiful views. I had been very excited to dine at The Heathman but was disappointed with the service and not particularly blown away by the food. (I was dining alone that night, so instead of seating me at table as I requested, the staff suggested I sit at the bar even though there were plenty of tables available.)

The two pictures here struck me as just a little amusing. And, there were parts of the city that made me think that the city might not be a bad place to settle some day...when I grows up. If I don't become an astronaut/cowboy/firefighter/acrobat first, that is.

12 February 2007

Back from Bonaire

Got back from Bonaire yesterday, and this is probably the first time you'll hear me say this about coming back from a trip: it's great to be back. I'll explain more later.

Bonaire's an interesting place. I imagine it looks much like Aruba did 10-20 years ago -- a chunk of reef and volcanic rock covered in cactus, desert and mosquitoed marshland, floating just barely within reach of Venezuela. Unlike Aruba, which has been overdeveloped and commercialized to resemble a resort land complete with every fast food chain restaurant known to North America, Bonaire has retained much of its local flavor and natural features due in part to much of the island being either a nature reserve famous for its pink flamingoes and beaches (click on the link to find out why they're pink, since flamingoes are actually born gray), marine park or donkey sanctuary. The island is small enough to be easily driven in a day, and consists of two main towns: the capitol Kralendijk and Rincon. Its primary exports are solar salt and radio, and it's most known for diving and windsurfing.

Part of the Dutch Antilles, locals speak Dutch, Spanish and Papiamentu. Like many Caribbean islands, Bonaire seems to have a disparity between the rich and poor, the dark and light skinned. And, like many Caribbean islands, Bonaire was a pawn on the imperialist world stage throughout the 15th to 19th centuries; it was at various times a British, Dutch or Spanish territory, a penal colony, a refuge for South American fugitives, and a plantation island where African slaves and indigenous workers harvested solar salt by hand. It's still possible to see remnants of its oppressive past scattered throughout the island in the form of salt pans and abandoned stone slave huts. The huts are approximately four feet tall with dirt floors and no doors or windows, so it's hard to imagine anyone sleeping comfortably in them. For more on Bonaire's history, click here.

As for windsurfing, it's hard to imagine a more ideal setting than Lac Bay. The wind and water conditions were almost always perfect and consistent, even on rainy or light wind days. The staff at Jibe City, the shop where I rented my gear, was nice and helpful. Tonky Frans (pictured here and currently ranked 4th in freestyle) was working the week I was there, and his cheery outlook and positive disposition always brightened my day. (Check out this video of his hella cool moves.) I sailed better than I've ever sailed before -- due in part to the conditions at Lac Bay, but also because I went snowboarding in MT two weeks before with Katie G and PW. I hooked in and stayed that way, pivot jibed without getting pulled over, and got more comfortable using bigger sails. As always, the ABK Boardsports crew (Andy, Lu, Ben and Mark) were fantastic.

EH and I took some time to drive around the island, and I've posted both his and my pictures in the albums below.

All Carbon's Bonaire Pictures

EH's Bonaire Pictures

Sleep: The Kon Tiki Beachclub features short-term rentals owned and operated by husband and wife Miriam and Martin van Bekkum. One of the few places to stay on the windward side of the island, the cozy family oriented resort is a convenient 5 minute drive to Lac Bay. Ask, and the van Bekkums can also arrange for car and windsurf rentals as part of your stay. Be sure to request a unit with hot water in advance, as it's common for homes in Bonaire to have only cold water.

Eat: The Mona Lisa Bar and Grill - Hands down the best restaurant on the island. Make reservations in advance, as the restaurant is closed on weekends and almost completely booked the remainder of the week.
It Rains Fishes - Tucked in a residential area overlooking the water, this restaurant is whimsically decorated with paper fishes fluttering from the ceiling and pet parrots perched next to the bar. It's a local favorite.
Wil's Tropical Grill - It's easy to miss this small restaurant, but don't. The food is great, but save room for the best part of the meal: the chocolate lava torte dessert.

Gear: Jibe City - The nice and knowledgeable staff make for a positive experience. Jibe City also features The Hang Out Bar, a nice shady place to take a break from the sun and water to refuel.

Despite the fantastic windsurfing, I am glad to be back home. Windsurfing on the East Coast tends to be a male dominated sport, and the group of regulars that I run into when I sail on weekends here in New York are no different. In fact, we purposely planned to be on the island the same week so we would have some familiar faces around. While it's good to see the guys every other weekend over the course of the summer, I had always assumed that we'd all do our own thing while in Bonaire, and I was looking forward to spending my week unwinding, vegging, exploring, sleeping and getting up early to read, run or do yoga. Instead, I was roped into "group" activities and was oftentimes assigned den mother responsibilities through no action or desire of my own. I wouldn't have minded or noticed except that some members of the group underwent drastic behavorial changes when in predominantly group male settings. For ease of reference, let me just refer to them as "the sub species."

Before I get in trouble for what I just said, let me clarify: Not all men are like this, and not every one of the group of people I regularly sail with are like this. I have spent a lifetime studiously avoiding this particular type of male on both a platonic and romantic level, and I'm probably lucky for it. Here's what I learned about rules of behavior when dealing with this particular type of male:

1. Everything is a contest. This ranges from the obvious (who can windsurf better, or who can drive faster) to the inane. A dirty joke is outdone by someone with an even dirtier joke, and eventually, any conversation with a passing reference to a dirty joke deteriorates into explicitly crude comments about women or sex. Even friendships between various members of the group became a contest. At times, I felt like I was stuck in a bad high school sitcom. It seemed to get to EH as well, as he ended up doing his own thing or hanging out with me towards the end of the week.

2. A member of the sub species must be "the decider" and the center of attention at all times. The sub species is best when operating in herd formation. Non conforming members must be brought to submission by way of criticism, ostracization, or ridicule. And, as I've already mentioned, since friendship is a contest, if other members of the group are friends with each other without including the sub species, they are ridiculed or ostracized for being non-confirmists.

3. The same dirty joke or sexual innuendo is always hilariously funny, especially when it's told by a member of the sub species. Uh, am I missing something? By the end of the week, hearing the same (always unfunny) p*ssy or t*tty joke over and over again at five minute intervals got old, but the sub species continued to be greatly amused. And no, I don't find comments such as, "Her tits are hot, but her face isn't" deeply profound.

While I hated that the sub species was comfortable enough around me to be themselves because they were annoying, I was also relieved because it meant I wasn't the subject of their observations. There were half-hearted comments thrown my way from time to time, but they were usually deflected with sarcasm, a look or someone else in the group telling the sub species to shut up. Ok, I admit I finally lost it at the airport the day we were supposed to fly back to NY, but what can you expect when it's 5am and you've heard the same joke for the 75,000th time and it's still not funny???? The week showed me that I've always suspected: I'd like to meet more women that windsurf.

More from J

The week after I returned from Bonaire, I received this email from J of "He said what?" fame:

are you back? i want to apologize for the last time we talked. i could tell you were annoyed. if you weren't, you maybe should have been. if you were, i didn't mean to offend--you're one of my favorites! and i hope you had the loveliest time surfing the tropics.

The email is both annoying and amusing for the following reasons, which is why I thought I'd share:

1. Why is he writing me? I asked him to get rid of my contact info, and I was serious.

2. While I appreciate being told what I "maybe should have been" feeling, I think I'll be able to figure that out on my own without J's help. Especially without J's help.

3. It's interesting to receive an apology that is promptly reneged in the following sentence. In the email, J's apology only applies if I'm offended, and if I'm not, he disqualifies it. J doesn't sincerely think he's done anything wrong. In my experience, people who actually believe they've done something wrong will apologize irregardless of whether the person they are apologizing to is offended or not. J's half assed apology probably indicates that at some level, he knows he's an asshole, but he can't actually bring himself to admit it. Maybe he has "low self esteem" issues and doesn't want to be "down on himself."

4. I'm "one of his favorites?" Uh, I barely even know the guy. I've only hung out with him maybe 5 or 6 times ever, and in the first two times I met him, he couldn't even remember having met me. I think I'm supposed to feel flattered, but that comment just creeps me out and makes me feel dirty. I'll take my chances not being a fave, thank you very much.

02 February 2007

He said what?

It's the day before I leave for a week long vacation in Bonaire, and I've just switched on my "Out of Office" notice when I receive a phone call. I answer it the way I normally do at work: no frills, no "hello" or "how are you." I state the name of the firm for which I work. Usually, the person that's calling will tell me who he is or assume I can recognize him by voice and launch into a conversation about whatever issue is at hand. In this instance, the person on the other line sounds taken aback by my phone etiquette and hesitantly asks for me by name.

"Speaking," I reply. The caller isn't a client. He's an acquaintance whose social circle occasionally overlaps the peripheries of mine; a friend of a friend. For simplicity's sake, I'll call him "J." J has a question, and I jokingly feign an unwillingness to cooperate, "Question? I don't know... It'll cost ya'." Most people I know (clients included) understand this as an invitation to shoot the breeze. J does not, as he seems somewhat stumped at my response.

Then I remember that this is the same person that once diagnosed me with "low self-esteem" because I sarcastically referred to myself as "a monkey that pushes buttons," reprimanded me for "being down on yourself" when I commented on my poor English after telling of my immigrant beginnings in small-town South Carolina and told me that I must never again utter the word "irregardless" irregardless of the fact that I purposely use it because it is a fake word that many people -- Homer Simpson (yes, I realize he is not a real person), George W Bush, and average joe-schmoe -- do think is a real word.

After having hung out with him a few times, I realized that he couldn't relate to my brand of deadpan sarcasm. Nor would he ever understand that the words "low" and "self-esteem" spoken or written in close proximity have the odd effect of making me want to connect my thumbs together with both index fingers extended into a huge WHATEVER as I roll my eyes and try not to gag. As if. Then again, I'm certain I would never understand or relate to him at that level either, as he once told me that he had, and I quote, "a great sense of humor." Strange, but for as long as I've known him (in all fairness, a few months), there was nothing he said or did that I found close to mildly amusing.

Socially, we related by talking about "deep" and "meaningful" things like political or economic philosophy, his love of trains/ferries/bridges/New York, relationships, our jobs and how much we love or hate them, yada yada. Hey, I can sit around and shoot the I-don't-watch-television-and-only-read-the-New-York-Times-and-New-Yorker intellectual angst (or snobbery depending on your viewpoint) as much as the next new-england-liberal-arts-educated-double-major-in-government-and-economics-with-a-minor-in-international-affairs-and-an-somewhat-academic-focus-on-political-and-economic-theory-slash-philosophy-that-graduated-cum-laude-with-a-bachelor-of-arts-in-bullshit, but I'll admit that I find it boring and exhausting to be "deep." It's hard to explain, but it's the same reason why I decided not to become an English major: too much drama.

I'll even be the first to point out that I'm shallow and superficial. While there's a time and place for everything and it's good to think about big picture issues, I don't always want to sit around thinking and talking about the meaning of life, etc. Things happen and life goes on no matter what. Shit happens to everyone, and most of the time, there isn't a reason why, no greater purpose or deeper meaning. There is nothing to be gained by trying to find meaning where there isn't any or by over thinking or over analyzing a situation. If time is going to be spent talking about those issues, then it's equally important to spend time talking about practical solutions. Otherwise, I'd rather spend my time with friends and family, hearing or telling amusing stories, talking about this week's episode of Heroes or Gray's Anatomy, eating or going drinking. Besides, if I have issues or concerns, I'd share them with my close friends (yeah, you) -- people that understand my sense of humor and sarcasm even if they can't always tell if I'm joking or not.

I prod him to get to the point, "Okay, J. What's the question?"

"Well, I...uh...heard that [insert my firm's name here] and [insert the name of one of my firm's competitors] have come out with...uh...research showing [potentially confidential client information]. We, [the firm where J works], hear that a lot of your clients are mad about this and are pulling their business." I realize that this is not a friendly hope-you-have-a-great-vacation call. J happens to be a reporter for a major news agency.

Um, wow. What the fuck? Then, I do what I always do when I'm mad -- I become extremely polite but distant. I refuse to cooperate. I mean, I understand what J is asking, but if the man is going to ask a question, he should at least have some balls and ask the question, "Gee, doesn't sound like a question at all. Sounds more like a statement to me."

The conversation lapses into an awkward silence for a few seconds. I am very comfortable in uncomfortable silences, especially when I'm pissed. More hemming and hawing before J says, "Well, I guess...uh...I was...um...wondering what your thoughts are on that."

"You should know better than to call me about this." In my line of business, protecting the firm's reputation and client confidentiality is a HUGE deal. And, this isn't just specific to my industry; it's a big deal everywhere in corporate America. The fact that a reporter is calling me for information or a comment about something he views to be controversial could be grounds for my dismal. If anything I say ends up in the news, I would lose my job even if it were said in passing, taken out of context, or merely overheard on the subway.

"Well, I'm a reporter, so I have to do my duty and cover all sources," he responds.

Every reporter knows that my firm has a press office that handles all press inquiries, and none of them should ever call employees outside that office for comments. I say as much,"If you are doing your job as a reporter, you should call the press office."

"Yeah, but they wouldn't have told me anything anyway, so why bother." Oh, the official press office won't comment, so he thinks I will instead. If I had doubts before, I certainly don't now. He's an asshole, and this could cost me my job.

In a saccharine sweet voice, I ask, "Can you do me a favor? Can you please throw away my business card?" B has observed that I never raise my voice. When I am angry or annoyed, my voice becomes cute, soft and dangerously sweet; since I am none of those adjectives, it serves the same purpose as if I were to throw a screaming fit.

"You never gave me your business card." As always, the sarcasm is lost on J, but this time he's just playing dumb.

"Well, how did you get this number?" I ask, voice like molasses.

"I took it off your email signature."

"Oh, then please get rid of all my contact information." He treats my response like a joke, but it isn't, and I tell him as much. What I really want to say, and what I really think is DON'T EVER FUCKING CALL ME AGAIN AT WORK YOU ASSHOLE.

The conversation has deteriorated, and my hostile tone becomes evident to even the most obtuse. J tries to salvage the conversation by turning it into a social call, "So, you're leaving tomorrow for Bonaire? I'll talk to you when you get back." In case I hadn't made it clear before, the guy's an asshole.

"Bye," I say and hang up.

There you have it. Another episode of "He said what?" Can you believe it?!?