Gardens and Glass

If you’re looking for something to plan a short vacation around this year, consider a hop to New York to take in the Chihuly exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden. Get tickets to a Broadway show, make reservations for a couple really nice meals out, and spend a couple days at the garden. (I say this because Chihuly glass lit for evening viewing is very nice. And so is Chihuly glass sparkling in the sunlight.)

I snagged this photo from the NYBG website, so © 2017 NYBG.

And you really could do worse than hanging out in a garden, you know? it’s good for the soul. I really like that NYBG’s stated commitments are:

  • Connecting gardning to the arts and humanities
  • Saving the plants of the world
  • Teaching science to city kids
  • Creating a green urban oasis
  • Anchoring the community

Right now, they’re well into unpacking glass and getting it all set up. The exhibit opens on 22 April 2017.

So consider it! This will be a big exhibit this year, and there will be some special glass created just for NYBG. Let me know how it goes. And take photos!

Quick Trips!

I love these sorts of articles: a long weekend here, an overnight there*… or “36 Hours in Galway, Ireland.” A quick-trip article will always catch my eye.

And so this one did. “Scenic Galway may be Ireland’s most charming city,” says the New York Times. It’s

compact, walkable and filled to the brim with independent shops and restaurants that walk the fine line between cool and kitsch. Cozy, old-fashioned pubs showcase the city’s ever-growing selection of craft beers, chefs serve up west-of-Ireland ingredients in creative new ways, and almost every building housing a modern cafe or new atelier has a centuries-old story behind it. It’s not a city in which to hustle; rather, it’s one in which to enjoy a locally brewed pint, relish the excellent seafood and get your fill of views of the rushing River Corrib as it sweeps out to Galway Bay.

That wasn’t my experience, recently, but still I gobbled up this article, to see what we’d somehow missed. So many of my family and friends just love Galway. I wanted to love it. What’s wrong with me? By the end, I’d come to the conclusion (yet again) that I’d reached before—I think Galway is more of a party town than I am a party girl. 🙂

’S cool. To everything there is a season! And I’m past my Galway season, I’m afraid. But you aren’t! So read this delightful article, and the next time you’re in Ireland, check it out. And report back, please. 🙂

* I’ve even written a couple myself: St. Petersburg and Middle Tennessee.

 

When Is a Super Bowl Television Commercial Un-American?

I was invited to a Super Bowl party at the beginning of February. These were new friends who have a longstanding tradition of throwing a Super Bowl party, and it was fun. A great American tradition, right?

Of course, I’m one of those people who loves the event as much for the rollout of interesting new commercials as for the game. Remember the EDS ad “Cat Herders” from 2000? Oh my goodness. (And I can relate.)

Obligatory cat photo (Bean).

You can’t really catch all the nuances of a long-form commercial at a party, so I came home and looked up some of the commercials—especially when a few of them started to be excoriated on social media. Some people were calling them un-American.

Wait—seriously? Coca-Cola shows folks having fun with a music bed of “American the Beautiful” … Audi depicts a young girl participating in a Pinewood Derby–like event while her father ruminates about the inequality many women still encounter in the twenty-first century … and Budweiser, for heaven’s sake, that bastion of American sentimentality,* gives us the story of their founder’s journey from Germany. From Germany, people! I had German great-greats just six generations ago!

(*Clydesdales, anyone? Clydesdales and puppies? Oh my goodness. They’re all about the tear-jerking, and this commercial was no different.)

Five years ago (nay, a year ago), no one would have been upset by these ads. Maybe some would have shed a tear. They are little slices of Americana. But today? Good grief. Folks are boycotting Budweiser because—well, I’m not sure why. This is a big, smart company with a big marketing department manned by smart, college-educated marketing professionals. They no doubt had hundreds of folks view this ad in focus groups. They liked it, and they went with it. But some people seem determined to perceive trouble, to take offense. Some seem determined to be angry.

Lighten up, y’all.

Travel Tips & Passport, Er, Myths

First I read this article from Reuters: “The European Parliament called on the EU executive on Thursday to force Americans to apply for visas before visiting Europe this summer, stepping up pressure to resolve a long-running transatlantic dispute on the issue.” And then I found this one dated 2 March 2017 from Travel Agent Central, which declared the vote was already a done deal and we’d need visas “by summer.” I read both those articles very carefully and apparently still didn’t understand everything I read.

Oh goodness, I thought. Now we’ll have a tourism slump on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rick Steves set me straight, saying (on 9 March 2017):

A branch of the European Union recently held a symbolic and show-of-hands vote in favor of requiring American visitors to apply for entry visas. This has caused some confusion—especially among those who read headlines instead of details. Let me offer an explanation. And to cut to the chase, there is zero chance that Americans will need visas to travel to EU countries in 2017.

He goes on to point out that the dollar is strong against the euro right now (great for travelers; not great for folks like us trying to move income from Ireland to America), so it’s not likely the EU will rush to keep American travelers out.

So there’s a couple tips for you:

  • You don’t currently need a visa.
  • The dollar–euro exchange rate currently favors American travelers to the EU.

But wait, there’s more. Here’s an article from the New York Times with “Eight Ways to Save on Travel in 2017.” These are all good tips, but note that the Times also mentions the exchange rate—with Britain:

I don’t always feel good about exploiting the weakness of a nation’s currency—but with the United Kingdom (and London in particular), you’ll forgive me for having no such qualms. After Britons voted to leave the European Union, the pound sterling, which was exchanging at over $1.60 just a couple of years ago, plunged to around $1.17 in October, making Britain one of the best travel values in the world right now. Suddenly, that £5 cappuccino on Oxford Street is no longer cause for outright alarm. A quick look at the travel aggregator Trivago shows hundreds of hotel rooms available for under £100 a night for a weekend in mid-April. While London will never truly be a bargain, if you have always wanted to go, this may be as cheap as it’s going to get. As for feeling guilty—an argument can be made that American tourist dollars are exactly what an ailing economy needs.

So there you have it: at least nine tips for traveling in 2017. Just be sure, Yanks, that you can get back in. (We don’t plan to leave the country this year—though we’d certainly love to.)

The Very Rich Are Different From You and Me*

It’s been an interesting season, don’t you think? Because some of our income comes from overseas, we (and by we I mean Gerry) watch the currency market. We watch the stock market in general too. It’s all connected. When the markets are down, we feel some concern.

Unlike, say, the wildly wealthy. (*The actual quote, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “The Rich Boy,” begins with the words “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”)

In a Vanity Fair article I read a few months ago about a famous French interior designer** I found the following passage, which seemed revealing (and a little disconcerting). The journalist is accompanying the designer to a Paris furniture dealer. Here the designer finds a beautiful writing table—a bureau plat—from the twentieth century. The interviewer is shocked to learn the table costs $1 million.

Is it difficult to get a client to spend a million bucks on a bureau plat?, I ask as we speed to the next destination. “No, no, no,” he says offhandedly. “It’s not hard at all. They want the best quality.”

Recent global financial upheaval notwithstanding? “No, no, no,” he repeats. “It hasn’t changed anything.”

It’s something to think about, yes? When you’re saving for a special trip or worried about retirement, say.

I’ve never been particularly driven by money. My parents were working-class folks just one generation removed from the dirt farmers who were their forebears. I never expected to have much—and I didn’t even think of it in those terms. I just wanted to have a life: a husband, children, a home, a pet. I would work, hard, to maintain them. I didn’t expect it to be easy. And I didn’t aspire then or now to wealth. That I have everything I need and pretty much everything I want is a true blessing for which I am grateful every day.

But in these uncertain times, I think about this story, which surprised me in the moment. “No, no, no. [The recession] hasn’t changed anything [for the wealthy].” Whatever happens here in the next months and years, the very rich will not be affected the way you and I will. It’s certainly something for the constituency to think about.

** Me, I like to design my own interior. No million-dollar tables here though. 🙂

 

Gratefulness Is a Habit. Kindness Too. And Love—Don’t Forget Love.

This is a great travel story—a great airport story. I’m one of those people who love the opening credits in the film Love, Actually. I, too, find airports to have a special energy, a festiveness you find nowhere else. The anticipatory excitement about the arrival—both the arrivors and those awaiting the arrivors—adds an undeniable frisson to the airport experience.

Not that I find air travel particularly fun, mind you. But even the we’re-all-in-this-slog-together atmosphere is a thing that unifies travelers, yes? That’s the nature of this lovely travel story from 2007, which was reprinted on the website of A Network for Grateful Living a couple years ago. As they noted then, it seemed decidedly relevant.

A woman, Naomi Shihab Nye, a writer (she is a year older than me), is in the Albuquerque airport (I’ve been there), having just learned that her flight has been delayed, and hears on the loudspeaker a plea for an Arabic speaker. There is an older Palestinian woman in distress, and she speaks no English. Nye speaks Arabic, though she is rusty; she learns the woman is simply worried, and is able to comfort her. By the time their flight arrives,

[the woman] had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar.

I have had those cookies myself, offered to me when I was visiting the local Middle Eastern grocery, baked by the shop proprietor’s wife. (I must stop back in to see him; I haven’t been in a while.)

This is a beautiful story. Nye is a poet, and it shows in these words.

Not everything is lost, y’all.