When I visit Iceland in the winter, my favourite time to stroll the streets of Reykjavík is in the morning, when, until late morning, the city is concealed beneath the long winter night’s cloak and tourists are few and far between.
I left my hotel after nine, while the streets were lit only by lamp posts and shop windows. I wandered through the town all the way to the old harbour, where I waited for the dark to slowly lift and for the sky to turn that ghostly winter blue I love so much.
On my first morning in the Faroe Islands, I woke up to the winter dark. The night before, driving from the airport to Tórshavn, I could only just trace the lines of the mountains; all the houses, meanwhile, aglow, outlined by festive lights.
I set out in the dark morning from my hotel high about the town, the lights of the harbour twinkling in the distance and just a dusting of snow underfoot. In the gradually lifting dark, I followed the blue dot on my phone’s map, making sure to stick to the trail up and over the mountain all the way to the village of Kirkjubøur. Once I set foot on the mountain I had no more use for that blue dot, guided by a series of cairns and a happy dog who’s name tag read Bella. Bella walked with me — bouncing ahead but always returning to me if I fell too far behind — until I safely arrived in Kirkjubøur.
The two-hour walk stretched and was expanded by my compulsive stopping and gawking at the scenery around me; the warm golden glow of the rising sun casting a heavenly glow over the mountainscape. To the right, the islands of Hestur and Koltur rose gracefully from the surprisingly still sea, basking in the soft light that revealed just enough of their forms to arouse curiosity.
The sights of Kirkjubøur are of great historical significance — the ruins of the 14th century Magnus Cathedral, the Faroes’ oldest still functioning church, and the world’s oldest still-inhabited wooden house. But my memories are of untangling the horns of a sheep that got itself stuck in a football net, gently pushing its poor, bleating head as I unwound and unwrapped the net; piles and piles of seaweed washed ashore, thick and sturdy as hockey sticks, the relentless crashing of the waves, and the soft snoring of the bus driver coming from a small room just off the pristine bus shelter where I waited until the designated time for the little red bus to take me back to Tórshavn.
I was recently invited to attend a preview of a new temporary exhibition at Storm King Art Center, an open-air sculpture park in upstate New York.
In the Hudson Valley, about an hour north of New York City, Storm King sits on more than 500 acres of rolling hills, fields, and woodlands, and is home to a collection of more than 100 large-scale sculptures by artists including Alexander Calder, Maya Lin, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, Claes Oldenburg, and Richard Serra, David Smith.
Its two special exhibitions for the summer season are Lynda Benglis: Water Sources and Outlooks: Luke Stettner. With more than a dozen outdoor sculptures, as well as more inside the museum’s building, it is the first exhibition to display a major grouping of Benglis’s large-scale sculptures and fountains, which she has been producing since the early 1980s.
This piece, North, South, East, West, features a crustacean-like piece called Crescendo, which sits atop the very first water fountain she made in 1983-84 for the New Orleans World Fair (it was lost for a long time after the World Fair went bankrupt.)
The surroundings of her early life influence her work. Benglis grew up in Louisiana, always around water and a witness to oil spills in bayous.
This 2014 piece, named Pink Ladies, is inspired by a kite Benglis saw at a kite-flying festival in Ahmedabad, India. Benglis reminds us that pink is a natural colour, though we may not see it as such. The texture, she says, is inspired by the brain coral she sees on her frequent scuba diving trips.
Hills and Clouds, her most recent work, glows after dark. Natural phosphorescence, such as in bioluminescent waters and phosphorescent caves, in another of Benglis’ indfluences. She also cites the glow-in-the-dark displays at funhouses in the South that she visited as a child.
Storm King are offering special evening visits to see this piece glow in the dark. Even without the full effect, in a blazing hot June sun in my case, it is well worth the visit for the rare opportunity to see these pieces.
The One World Trade Center’s new observation deck has recently opened and I visited as part of a Walks of New York tour.
Led by local New Yorkers, these small group tours hone in on specific subject (say, photography) or neighbourhood (eg. the Lower East Side) and go deep, but not too deep–less facts and figures, more personal histories.
The main draw of Walks of New York’s WTC Tour & One World Observatory tour may seem to be the pre-reserved tickets to the observatory, but prior to entering the WTC the guide leads a fascinating two-hour tour of the surrounding area. I rarely visit this area myself, feeling there’s something not quite right about gawking around the disaster sites, but I was very glad to have taken this tour and to have learned a more personal side to the events of that day–and the weeks, months and years afterwards.
The tour began at St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City’s oldest public building, which, amazingly, was not damaged at all during the attacks. Even these 18th-century chandeliers were left intact.
The church soon became a refuge for the rescue workers who couldn’t get home after their 12-hour shifts. Messages of support came in from around the world–including these cranes from Nagasaki and Hiroshima survivors.
This bell was presented to St. Paul’s in solidarity from the Mayor of London.
The new transit hub at Fulton Center has recently been completed.
The mix of old and new architecture in Lower Manhattan is striking. This is the Woolworth building, completed in 1913, parts of which are being developed into luxury apartments.
Speaking of luxury apartments, here is “New York by Gehry,” the tallest residential tower in the Americas.
Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transit Hub is years overdue and millions of dollars over budget. Still, here’s a look at the Oculus in construction.
And the PATH station’s Platform B.
Brookfield Place, when it was called the World Financial Center was terribly damaged on 9/11. The Winter Garden, which had all the windows blown out, has been beautifully restored and has been expanded to hold a variety of great food vendors, including Le District, a kind of French Eataly.
So to the observatory. Super high-speed elevators whisk visitors 102 floors up in about 40 seconds. During that brief time, video screens inside the elevators show a CGI timelapse of New York City history–the landscape of Lower Manhattan from the year 1500 until today. It was one of my favourite parts.
Then, upstairs you are obliged to watch a bit of a kitschy video celebrating NYC before the screen goes up to reveal the skyline to cheers from the crowd.
Thankfully that is the only cringey part of the experience and you are then left alone to wander the observation deck and take in the 360-degree views at your leisure.
Thanks to Walks of New York for hosting me on their tour.
A year ago I was invited to attend LE Miami, the luxury travel show. The event has a partnership with American Excursionist who organise bespoke tours designed by experts and led by local personalities. I went on their Little Havana Cultural Immersion tour, led by a cultural anthropologist, which took me to Calle Ocho to experience el calor Latino.
Our first stop was La casona de la sagüesera, the home of the identical twin Cuban artists, Ronald and Nelson Curras, who work in ceramics and have transformed their house into a living piece of art. La sagüesera, I was told, is Spanglish for “southwest.”
Throughout the home–which may be turned into a museum one day–are images of O’ Shun, the most popular of the orishas (spirits) in santería, the religion that developed in the African slave communities of the Cuba’s sugar plantations by adopting elements of Spanish-imposed Catholicism while maintaining beliefs from Africa, primarily those of Nigeria’s Yoruba tribe.
Incorporated into the murals and mosaics throughout the house are frequent images of sunflowers–the presence of which in Cuban art invoke O’ Shun.
I just loved the energy and colour of La casona de la sagüesera and feel very lucky to have been invited inside.
I’m sitting in what I’m told is a “locals’ bar” in the Middle Keys while a musician sings “Wouldn’t want to be president, that’s too much stress. I just wanna be on an island, maybe just off Key West.” Around me more than one smiling, sunkissed older man is wearing a t-shirt that says “Sell Your Stuff, Keep the Dog, Move to an Island.”Continue reading “Paradise Found in the Florida Keys”→