26 April 2010


Hertz Rental Car, Venice Airport, Italy

"The two rearview mirrors are broken, but they work."
(from agent to customer)

24 April 2010

Service as Design

Gora-Kadan Ryokan, Kanagawa, Japan

If there are few experiences in my life that I'd like to put in a time capsule, one would be the single night spent at the traditional Japanese ryokan (inn), Gora-Kadan, in the mountains outside of Tokyo.

I never thought that seated on a wooden stool, in a communal bath house, scrubbing down with soap in a row with six other nude women would ever constitute as one of my life's spiritual moments. But it did. The very grandeur of the bath house with its soaring ceilings, dim lighting, individual vanities at the shower stations with mirror, soaps and sponges and the hushing sound of slowly running water in the indoor onsen (natural hot springs bath) transports one to another worldly state of being. There was a mother at the end of the vanities, washing the hair of her young daughter. There was something so intimate and loving, regardless of being amongst strangers. To add, there was also a stone, outdoor bath with waterfall surrounded by trees and bamboo. The changing room was warm to the bare feet with its fine wooden floors and carefully designed built-in shelves for water and tea dispensers, baskets for each guest's personal effects and neatly folded, multi-sized towels for various uses left no needs to address.

After soaking in the onsen, guests were escorted to a relaxation room with a breathtaking view of the mountains and valley. While sipping iced green tea, massage chairs were turned on to relax. Yes, more of that. A stroll around the property was brief, but the calm that the structure projected was in play. Blocked mobile phone service sent some guests into withdrawal while others were in a trance from over-relaxation. An exquisitely prepared ten-course dinner, famous in ryokans, was then served in each guest room. What we know as room service is put to shame here, especially with our butler bowing to the floor, every time he left our room serving a course. Serving breakfast the following morning was as attentive. In fact, he never left our sides during our stay.

I could go on about our room, futon beds, the shiatsu massage in my bed after dinner, but I will stop. One surrenders in many forms here. Leaving behind daily routines, a life of running. We were faced with ourselves and the peace within. It took some time to find it, but the tradition of insurmountable ryokan hospitality was designed to heal and restore the spirit. One hasn't experienced Japanese culture at its sensorial glory until surrendering to a traditional ryokan. Some nudity required.

Gora-Kadan Ryokan, 1300 Gora, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa, Japan; www.gorakadan.com

22 April 2010

Michael's Table

My Friend Michael recently went on the record coveting a metal top school table which reminded me of a similar table I had a a great time on last month. Not that kind of a great time, but the pizza I had at Pizza East was up there.

More than ever, we are seeing a convergence of interior design and food that pulls together multi-faceted elements explored before only in fine dining. Today, we can see that good design and good food can be experienced by many more people and at varying strata of cuisine, location, price and service. Pizza East delivers on all accounts with great food, served in by cool kids (who also know their menus and wines), in a cool neighborhood's former warehouse building with a down-home Italian kitchen.

In Levi's jeans and Converse kicks (the originally selected James Perse T-shirts were replaced), waiters and staff were warm and aesthetically matched the interior of the sometime raw and industrial space. It was clear that there was a great deal of planning, coordination and thought that went into the design, but somehow it didn't turn out looking contrived as it could have. I should also note that Pizza East is a recent child of the Soho House group. More reason to respect the differentiation that they've managed to carve out here from their other endeavors. Another interesting design note: the restrooms. Barn doors and all.

This convergence then begs the question, " Did the pizza taste better because of the environment?" Maybe. But the table and concrete walls looked a whole lot better with the lasagna and beet salad.

Pizza East, Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JJ; T: +44 (0)207 729 1888

21 April 2010

Service or Disservice?

Outside the locker rooms, David Lloyd Gym, Amsterdam

20 April 2010

Patrick Roger, Chocolate Artist

Mad artist, more like. Some chocolatiers deliver serious grade chocolates with serious loftiness. Patrick Roger, on the other end of the spectrum, delivers serious grade chocolate with serious yet cunning humor with a great deal of precision.

It was around Easter time that Parisian chocolate shops put their best foot forward with wonderful, creative window displays of the universal treat. Most were sophisticated and conservative compared to what I stumbled upon.

A wolf, chickens and eggs. All made from delectable, fine ingredients. The eggs were magnificent. What I thought were props of chicken eggs in reference to the holiday, they were in fact real egg shells, drained of its contents and replaced with chocolate and praline!

For anyone who makes his way to Paris, don't miss a chance to indulge with what Mr. Roger has given us - a keen, maddening take on what delights the child in each of us. Not only does it taste divine, it prompts me to believe that there are plenty of envelopes worth pushing. Merci, Monsieur Roger, for servicing my sweet tooth.

Patrick Roger, multiple locations, www.patrickroger.com (199 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré
75008 Paris, Tel: +33 01 45 61 11 46)

18 April 2010

Capturing the Passerby

Diesel, San Babila store, Milan

15 April 2010


Emergency Room, VU University Hospital, Amsterdam

"Here is your antibiotic and a prescription for it. Take 1, three times a day, for five days.
Here is the pain killer. Don't buy this at the pharmacy. Buy it at [unrecognizable store names].
They are cheaper there."

(Nurse to the patient, me)

"So you have the prescription for the antibiotic.
And for the pain killers, they are really cheap at other shops so don't buy it at the pharmacy."

(Doctor to the patient, me)

08 April 2010

New Fashion v. Old Fashion

Celine v. a French depot vent

I was recently in Paris with my girlfriend who opened up a whole new world to me: consignment shopping, or rather, depot vente, in French.

Consignment shopping never crossed my mind, simply because: 1) I didn't know the calibre of what these shops stocked and, weren't the items from the next of kin of the deceased?; and 2) there couldn't be more to Paris shopping than rue Saint Honore, Saint Germain and Bon Marche!

Now back up to the first evening in Paris when we snuck into the Celine boutique before closing. Here was a recognizable French brand whose highly-anticipated and well-received collection from their newly-appointed designer was on show, in a temporary location. The range was wearable and modern. Enter the modern brand's modern salesperson: an Asian woman with all the aggressiveness of a noodle hawker. After she asked me if I was Chinese, she spent the rest of the time speaking to me in Taiwanese after I told her that I don't speak her mother tongue. Bringing out clothes from the stockroom to show us exhibits initiative in a competitive marketplace, but calling us multiple times on the following day to confirm if we were returning to make additional purchases is outright stalking. What sent me over the edge was the way she handled our purchases: throwing the clothes onto a side table while she rang us up, thereby leaving a pile of wrinkled rags while we signed our bills. This was sales with the worst of follow-through. Perhaps a side-effect of today's "new" fashion brands' competitiveness?

On the following morning, it was to be my virgin consignment shopping hunt. I was giddy with the prospect of finally procuring a leather wallet I'd been holding out for, for seven years. Letter size paper envelopes for monetary notes, whether at home or traveling abroad, was they way I rolled. But I knew it was time to grow up. My girlfriend was amused, "Marisa, you're going to find more than a leather wallet..."

Not far from the center of Paris was a small shop hidden under scaffolding. In the windows were dustless, carefully displayed handbags, accessories and clothing, all from the top French fashion and accessories houses. It was nothing like I had anticipated. No smell of mothballs, no damaged goods and not a single aggressive salesperson in sight. Instead, these shop ladies were sophisticated and chic, with years of knowledge of their sector of the industry selling both unused and lightly used items with grace. Here was a second-chance world for gifts that weren't used or for things used enough by some.

What I also learned is that a depot vent is a testament to the timelessness that very few luxury brands represent today. An item found from ten years ago is as relevant today as it was then. And, nothing was being marketed to me. In the end, "new" fashion relies on the global marketing and sales mechanisms set in motion by bottom lines. While here, old fashion can remain eternal, unaffected by the currents of trends.

I found my wallet that day, among other things....and no, not all items in consignment shops are from the deceased.