Tuesday, March 15, 2011

cultural pessimism

For a westernized, self-centered individual, spoiled with all imaginable conveniences of civilization, most turmoils in the world come and go without a trace for one's own life. But when Japan faces new horrendous calamities day after day we hold our breath. Since most of us know or is friendly with a person there and worries. And since it makes us ruminate about how vulnerable and questionable the basis of our prosperous lifestyle is.

I felt sick these last days and somehow guilty in enjoying the day. I couldn't follow my Google Reader and keep reading on receipes / home interiors / travels. I avoided facebook where at the same time, there were Japanese refugees uploading pictures of their mass shelter and people discussing passionately the latest shoe purchase of a girl.

How can one's own existence remain so unaffected when the earth is so messy?

And the pressing question coming along with this was how to design a pleasurable day that is not anyhow based on material consumption.
Does that even exist in our culture?
Are non-stop jet-setters still tolerable or should one stop flying so that future generations get a chance to experience one, two flights in life as well? Should gasoline prices boost drastically and cities without mass transportation be reinvented? How can we stop the vicious circle of buying and tossing away gadgets?

The end is clear yet the way how to make a difference as obscure as ever. It is this dilemma that can render the most lighthearted city girl into a deep pessimist.

Photo: The Burghers of Calais in the Met Museum

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

addiction in the city

As widely perceived, this city makes you constantly run, bustle and lavish money until you get dizzy. And if you aren't attentive enough and miss to be faster than others, you will somehow get punished with double the time of delay.

However, if you struggle you will get so much to see in reward, that you end up being more obsessed with rushing. A vicious circle that visitors won't escape until they are back home where clocks run regularly.

9:00 a.m.: going to
Kmart to return empty water bottles and to buy water for the upcoming week. After some trial and error this works out quite well now. What a pleasure. 1 pack Poland Spring Water: 9.8 $.

10:00 a.m.: the E-line doesn't work. Neither does the F nor all other west-east connections that you had in mind... ok, now running from Columbus Circle to Lexington Ave to take the green line is the only way. In this second, it starts raining more vigorously. You just knew it. Vanity expressed through ballerina flats would screw your day.

11:00 a.m.: this is the time when pay-as-you-wish admission starts and before which I planned to stand in the museum line.

11:10 a.m.: I get off the wrong station at 86. st. That would have been perfect for Neue Galerie. Instead, my destination is Frick at 7o. st. So I run back south and blame myself for having taken the subway at all, since now the walking distance got much longer.

11:30 a.m.: The museum is of course full by now, so waiting in line requires half an hour. At least: entrance is almost free.

12:40 p.m.: after ridiculously short half an hour watch I run out to the next ATM and to get something to eat. It rains bloodily and the next destination is at the Hudson. American franchise scone: 2.2 $.

1.30 -4:00 p.m.: an even more ridiculously short time to rush through 300 booths at the
Armory Show. In a flurry of excitement I miss Koenig, Templon, Meile and Galerie Naechst. Entrance fee: 10 $.

4:10 - 4:30 p.m.: together with my companions we err with the exit, the shuttle bus station and the cab line. Since the deluge comes with a storm, we aren't the only people who wants to make headway. Taxi sum on this day: 21 $.

- 4:45 p.m.: After having told her to come later, then to come earlier, we keep the friend with the tightest schedule waiting for us way too long.

4:45 -6 p.m.: favorite coffee and lemon tarte at
Stumptown. 7.5 $.

6-7 p.m.: after strolling around, undecided what to do in an one hour gap, I enter a hairdresser in K-Town. These guys shouldn't let me down. Alas, the haircut is too expensive so I just get the bangs. Meanwhile the lady sitting next to me gets such a smashing hair-do that I change my mind. 58 $.

7-9 p.m.: Korean BBQ, seafood pancake and bibimbap shared by three. 23 $.

At the end of the day you are happily dizzy because in 12 hours, you have seen them all - the Kmart teller, the museum tourist, the gallery owner, the Jamaican taxi driver, the English style barrista, the Korean hairdresser. A Korean-American friend explaining how to make Brazilian cheesebread. German friends getting crazy about Ssam Bab.

You start thinking of next Sunday which, without the rain, should be more efficient... :)

sunshine on the plate

The first outside-meal after an everlasting winter elevates you straight to cloud nine. This came true in Georgetown, DC at the end of February where they served a mighty good Croque Madame at Kafe Leopold. Ham, Cheese, Eggs, Toast had the perfect consistency and was satisfying for a whole day of tourism.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

1 buck per plastic bag

In an ideal world or at least in a far better world, this would be the charge.

So that every customer at the cash desk would think twice if a disposable bag would be really indispensable.

This is not the case at home (where a plastic bag costs 9-15 euro cents) but at least one has to pay there to get a bag in the grocery stores. Which fortunately is enough incentive to opt out. I don't know a territory where reusable bags are more appreciated than in Germany. The adoration for cotton bags goes so far that at art fairs, gallery weekends and fashion weeks in Berlin, in other words at those events with the maximum concentration of designer-wear-people, cotton bags have become the key accessory.

I came to the U.S. for the first time and with the general understanding that conditions here would play tough with ecologically conscious people. But as
an innovative country, this is also the realm of Al Gore's movie, Summer Rayne Oake's style guide, the concept of carbon footprint. After all, N.Y.C. was said not to be like the rest of the U.S. so I hoped for the better.

It proved out as bad as in every current preconception and experiencing the waste problem day after day turned out to be far more frustrating than only hearing about it:

  • when I returned a dozen of beer bottles to the vendor in the assumption that they would be industrially cleaned and reused, the same kind shopkeeper from 24 hours before turned me down with contempt.
  • when you buy 200g ramen for lunch, it is served in a heavy plastic bucket together with a heavy lid, a plastic bowl of kimchi, a plastic lid for that, a plastic spoon, a pair of chopsticks, 4 sheets of napkins and a plastic bag (feels like 1 kg of waste). Although you eat the noodles right away in the deli.
  • indoor rooms are so violently heated that despite of minus degrees, you sleep with open windows. (Regarding the fact that most walls in New York are old and leaky, so that you need more energy to moderately heat a room, you don't want to imagine how much is needed to overheat a room...). I have witnessed several girls with circulation problems because of constantly overheated rooms (though one must admit that beyond the German-speaking world this disease doesn't exist :) ).
  • a complete business buffet can be served in disposables so that afterward remained food and setting likewise can be tossed in a (plastic) trash bag.
  • coffee shops that only serve in paper cups are the reason why I drastically reduced my daily caffeine consumption during the week. During weekends I seek places that serve in porcelain.
  • shared kitchens are completely stocked with disposable dishes and cutlery although there is a dishwasher...
This post might sound snotty, as if there aren't bigger things to worry about. True is that few things upset me more in everyday life than the brainless consumption of resources and the production of waste (throwing away food ranks equally). So that is one of the few things that really drives me nuts here.

Apart from the environmental issue the aesthetic and health aspect are not to be neglected. Eating and drinking out of PVC is not only poor in style but is also harmful for the body (according to public health authorities). Even if you have paid 12 $ for say, some salad leaves, avocado and shrimps, it somehow feels like junk food when it is packed in vinyl.

And let it be pointed out - coffee-to-go in a papercup is so not cool though American mass franchises promote the opposite. Can you imagine a stylish Milanese / an elegant Parisian drinking their espressi out of PVC? If they do it by now, blame this decline in style to the aforementioned franchises.

But since this blog should administer positive thoughts not negative ones, here are my personal tips to resist insane waste consumption:

i) Never take a plastic bag. Keep in mind that you will never be asked in this matter so you must reject ultra-fast.

ii) Always carry a reusable bag with you. If you are like me, you never plan to shop but you end up doing it.

iii) If you miss point ii) still don't take a plastic bag unless it is physically impossible to carry your purchase with both hands away.

iv) If point iii) is not feasible reuse your new plastic bag with care and as long as it is whole (should last at least for a month). If it gets dirty, wash it out.

v) Point iv) can be generalized:
Never throw away things that still serve its purpose or can be fixed. Avoid to buy things for short or temporary use.

vi) After having internalized maxims i)-iv) and having fostered a healthy hatred towards disposables, you will be ready for the most courageous act:
  • get yourself a pretty tumbler and let it be filled in the coffee shop. Though think twice beforehand if you can't afford the luxury to enjoy a coffee to stay.
  • bring your own tupperware when grabbing food outside.
  • carry your own cuttlery when eating out.
  • when dish-washing afterwards don't screw up the eco-balance by wasting too much water.
These points might sound freaky but the efforts will be rewarding. Even if you look nuts when carrying your purchase at hand, bear in mind that some minutes of inconvenience will save a plastic bag that will last on the planet forever. Isn't that tempting??

Finally, don't hesitate to ask for further tips if these aren't helpful in your case! I've reflected much on this regard and we can discuss a solution :)