Sunday, September 25, 2011

London Design Festival & Serpentine Gallery

This is a bit of a retrospective post on the London Design Festival. I have a kind of a love-hate relationship with LDF; as I work in the design/branding/marketing field, this should be the zenith, the penultimate week of my professional diary, jampacked with talks, openings, receptions, mingling, networking, and inspiration. And it is... and it isn't. For a few reasons, LDF doesn't quite live up to my expectations:

1. "Design" doesn't mean graphic or communication design in this situation; while there are events that incorporate print and corporate design applications, the vast majority of the events are around product, furniture, and interiors design.

2. Most of the events are pay-in, or small gallery events. For the record, despite being a cheapskate, I don't mind paying in to events if I feel that I will get something out of them. But I attended Tent London last year specifically for Tent Digital and I was vastly disappointed. There were only 2 digital exhibits, both lacking in content and explantation. The £15 I paid to be inspired was wasted. As for the gallery events, I've found that most are small galleries with only a few items on display and I personally feel awkward walking in, examining a £2,000 chair, thanking the gallery owner and departing. Over and over and over again.

3. I find London Design Festival to be ironically difficult to navigate. There are so MANY events that it's hard to figure out when the ones you want to see are on, find out when speaker events are taking place (and more importantly, when the tickets go on sale!), and generally plan your week. So I missed out on a lot, especially the Google Design Lectures and Perspectives at St Pauls Cathedral. 

Thus, every year I run around town trying to lap up whatever I can with short notice. I know I should just put it in my diary for early September next year and plan it properly, but a festival by it's nature shouldn't require tons of forward planning. Anyway, rant over.

Today I strolled down to The Illy Galleria, a pop-up installation, gallery and coffee shop that started in New York and has since traveled to Milan, Trieste, Istanbul and Berlin. It's located in a design showroom on Roseberry Avenue, EC1 (near Farringdon tube station) and unfortunately, it was closed (you know, that old "nothing is open on Sunday" chestnut). Luckily the Galleria remains in situ until 16 October so there is still time to check it out. I had a peak in the window and I must say it looks really cool.

Then I headed over to the V&A. The V&A was the LDF Hub, as evidenced by this fabulous wood spiral sculpture at the museum's main entrance.

Inside there were mostly events for kids and families, though there were a few workshops on learning how to design. The final Google Design Lecture was also underway, focused on digital design, and there was a digital design workshop as well. Again, most events had pre-registration so you couldn't just jump in, but the museum did have mini-exhibits scattered throughout the building. I stumbled upon the Outset display after viewing the Jameel Prize, and was pleased to find some really provocative furniture. But again, I would have loved to see/attend some of the lectures on IP, design's impact on economic recovery and the overview of London Underground signage.

Anyway. I was pleased as always to visit my favorite London museum and to at least see some of the fabulous events taking place. But since the lines for the new exhibit "Power of Making" were out of control and I didn't have the intellectual energy for Postmodernism, I decided to trot up to Hyde Park to visit the Serpentine Pavilion.

I've wanted to see the Pavilion for the last 3 years and clearly never got my butt over there to experience them, so I'm very proud of myself for not missing it for the fourth year in a row. The Serpentine Pavilion is a temporary modern architectural installation that is erected each summer for a few months. This year's structure is by Peter Zumthor and features a cloister-like garden.

So I spent a leisurely hour reading, enjoying the flowers with a cappucino in the open air, away from the busy Knightsbridge streets. Despite not having ingested quite as much "design" as I wanted, I think in the end I had a very fulfilling and inspirational Sunday.

PS: If you, like me, are gutted that you missed out, the Perspectives installation in St Paul's Cathedral is up through the end of the year – unfortunately, you have to pay in to see it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Moonlighting at Betsy Transatlantically

Image from Flickr courtesy of Hellojenuine

While I nurse my shins and my ego, pop over to Betsy Transatlantically to read my guest post on one of my favorite joys in life: solo traveling.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Physio followup

I tried to find a decent picture of physio exercises but they were all either obscene or strange. My physio is neither, but I do have some odd stretches to do.

Friday night I rocked up to physio and was like, dude. Fix me. And he did - sorta. After listening to my painful tale of woe, he told me to put some shorts on and proceeded to rotate my ankles, legs, and feet in various ways. Then I ran on the treadmill for a bit and he pronounced me as having legs that inwardly pronate too much and something to the effect of having not enough rotation in the hips. I know this from yoga (I'm flexible but not in the hip flexors) but I had no idea that it could impact my running! But it is, as my internal rotation issues are causing strain on my to the tune of very bad shin splints.

To make a long story short, I will run the marathon (woot) but I have to do a lot of stretches and exercises to build up the muscles in my calves and thighs (to offset the weakness of my hips) and also to increase the flexibility in my hips. I also need to simulate running as much as possible, which means like 30 mins at least per day on the elliptical (called "the cross trainer" here in the UK). So I have now taken to spending over an hour in the gym per day. Groan.

I apparently get to start running this weekend if all goes well. I had to buy orthotics (!) to put in my runners for more support, and Physio Chris tells me my training plan is bollocks (how dare he say such things about Hal Higdon). But if he gets me running and I can do the marathon without seriously injuring myself, then he will be my knight in shining Theraband armor.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I'm injured

Photo courtesy of Flickr by Trevor Haldenby

I haven't blogged since it happened. I'm trying to ignore it, ostrich-style, head in the sand.

Training was going really well. I did 15 miles the Saturday before last and it felt good - hard, but good. I was ready to stop at the end but if someone told me I had to keep going, I could have. I had a massive blister at the front of my left heel, but considered it a badge of honor. I was ready to go!

I skipped my Tuesday run because of an evening event (only 3 miles, no biggie) and did just shy of 7 on Wednesday. It was hard, and I could feel it, but I figured I was rusty after not moving for a few days. I had some shin splints but I get them fairly regularly so I wasn't overly concerned. And my blister hurt but, whatever. I was more concerned that it felt like I was running on the seam of my shoe, and that was what caused my blister rather than anything else.

Thursday I went out with The Irishman for 4 miles and it was really painful. I did the 4 miles but the blister, the calves, the shins, they all hurt - especially my left leg. It made me doubtful for the first time in my training that I was going okay. I rested Friday and skipped 16 miles on Saturday, opting for swimming at the gym instead (btw, swimming is hard work!).

I went to Niketown with my runners and discussed what was happening: they had me try a few shoes and run on the treadmill to diagnose my stride. Turns out, to make a long story short, I'm a neutral runner (not needing any correction) in a very firm and tough stability shoe - therefore overcorrecting my stride that doesn't need any correction and possibly forcing me to run differently. They wanted me to buy another pair of shoes but my left calf hurt so much running on the treadmill that I couldn't focus on the bloody shoes.

So I rested Sunday and Monday, and will rest for the rest of the week. I have been icing my calf and doing a lot of web research, tentatively self-diagnosing myself with a strained calf. I have a few suspicious black and blues turning green around my calf and ankle which I think have to do with the stretched muscle bleeding and pooling at pressure points. Great.

Clearly I am overreacting at this point. I've been alternating between despair and making pacts to sell unborn children for my calf to recover. A friend recommended a physio who herself is a marathon runner, so I'm going to gingerly do a few miles Thursday or Friday and then book into see her. I have 7 weeks to get back to fighting form on my calf and I'm not quite desparate, but at this point I've invested so much into this race that if I DON'T get better and can't run I'm not quite sure I'll be able to console myself.

Do any of you runner readers out there have any tips beyond the RICE technique?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The McQueen exhibit is COMING!!!

If you've been to Bloody Brilliant lately (not just read the feed), you'll have seen a widget asking you to vote to have the Alexander McQueen retrospective brought to London. I'm a bit late in updating you all but it seems as though those in the fashion world who have been championing the cause of bringing McQueen "home" have gained some measure of success. They're not sure exactly where the exhibit will be held but hopefully it will have a grand location for such a triumphant homecoming. Based on the success of the exhibit at The Met in New York, I think I might stake out my spot in line now! Hurrah!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Celebrate British Wool Week

If you've been out and about in town recently, you may have seen shopfronts declaring their support for the second annual Wool Week. The celebration of our favorite textile is a project of The Campaign for Wool, sponsored by HRM Prince Charles, with the objective of promoting and championing British grown wool through British commerce. It seems that the highlight of this year's event is an exhibition on Pall Mall called Wool Modern showcasing innovative ways of using wool in the 21st century, and big shops like Liberty and Jaeger are also getting in on the fun.

I first found out about Wool Week through fashion mags (of course) as big British fashion names like Vivienne Westwood (swoon) are supporting the cause with one-off items that Harvey Nichols will auction on eBay to raise money. I am SO in for that tartan bag!!!!

But Liberty also informed me, through their crafts e-newsletter Sew Liberty, that Rowan Yarns are also in on the action for the second year with a special line of knitting wool made from British sheep breeds – and specially designed free British patterns. If The Irishman will let me, I really want to knit the unionjack cushion cover.

So crafty expats out there, embrace the start of the UK winter with some British yarn and fashion. You can sign up to support the Campaign for Wool here.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bank Holiday in Brittany, France's Emerald Coast

One of the saddest things about being an expat is missing out on sharing in milestones with those dearest to you, often due to sheer cost. But the upside is when those people are ALSO expats, and you get to share in their big days BECAUSE you are dearest and nearest. Such was the wedding of my buddies Jon et Alix. Jon and I went to Syracuse University together, where I relied heavily upon his Mac nerding skills to reformat my hard drive and rescue all of my design work at 4am when my computer crashed. He relied heavily on me for homecooked food. Bargains all around.

When I left New York, he was just embarking on a transatlantic romance with une jeune fille s'appelle Alix who he asked out on a date three days before she left New York after an internship at his company. Three years later, he had quit his job, moved to Paris, studied French to fluency, earned a MA in Sustainable stuff at Europe's most elite business school, and generally was in that sickening sort of perfect love everyone loves to hate. I for one revel in them, their general adorableness, and joie de vivre.

So when they announced their marriage in the seaside town in Brittany where Alix's family has vacationed for years, The Irishman and I jumped at the chance to celebrate with them and explore a part of France new to both of us. The wedding celebrations were held in a sleepy village called Saint Briac sur Mer, close to Saint Malo and Dinard on Brittany's "Emerald Coast."

Jon et Alix were officially married here on the Thursday, which we missed due to Ryanair having only 1 flight per day to Dinard, the closest airport. But the mairie, or town hall, is absolutely evocative of Saint Briac sur Mer overall: stone buildings, beautifully planted gardens and flower boxes, and epic, changeable skies. The church wedding took place in the town's stone church on Friday, with the reception in an old manor house a few miles away.

Little did I know that French weddings are epic events; we left at 1am when the dancing was just starting due to tummy upset on my part ( I think I had too much paté) and the groom informed us the next morning that they didn't really make it home until 6am. Sheesh. But the reception itself was amazing; much more personal than an American or British wedding. They have a tradition of interventions when friends and relatives make little skits and entertainment about the couple. So we had a few songs, a few photo montages, a video, all about Jon et Alix and their relationship (this was also why we didn't eat until 8pm and didn't start dancing until 1am). But it made for a really wonderful celebration of them and their love.

Hangovers were remedied the next day at a brunch hosted by Alix's parents where I ate the most amazing olive & ham "cake" which was possibly the most exciting thing I've ever eaten. This recipe here seems close to replicating it but I think I need Alix to teach me the secret French way.

One of the other wonderful things about this wedding, besides the oyster bar at the reception, was reuniting with several friends that I hadn't seen in several years. After the drinking and dancing and general merriment of the wedding, we spent the next afternoon exploring the seaside port of Saint Malo together. There is nothing quite like reminiscing over ice cream on the seafront.

Sunday we said goodbye to all of my friends and headed off on sightseeing adventures of our own, specifically to Mont Saint Michel.

Visiting Mont Saint Michel has been a childhood dream, ever since reading ancient textbooks in French class recounting how it was built and how it has become a symbol of France. So I was actually a little bit disappointed when we arrived and the five mile drive to the fortified island was a strip of tourist trap restaurants and "articles authentiques." I was under the impression that you still had to plan your trip according to the tides and that it was still a working monastery and that the whole thing would be a pristine wonder of the world.

Once you made it past the choke of touristy shops and snack bars, the monastery was beautiful. Looking out into the tidal pools through arrow-slit windows made me dream of being a Lady in medieval France, hiding away during sieges and battles. Mont Saint Michel survived the constant onslaughts from the English during the 100 Years war without being taken, and I can't imagine how life must have been hunkered down on that island.


Despite my disappointment at the reality of Mont Saint Michel, I was very glad to have visited. And even happier when later on that night we visited one of the best crepe restaurants in the region, L'Hermine, for farewell galettes and boules de cidre

We spent our final day in Brittany saying goodbye to the happy couple, who were jetting off to Corsica for a few days break, and touring the tiny medieval walled village of Dinan (notice a trend?). Yet another cute touristy village built around showing tourists "authentic" Breton culture and cuisine while trading on the vast history of the region, it is a charming little town to spend a few hours strolling. Which we did with gusto. Somehow our holidays always end up with us climbing fortifications and then walking back down.

And then we flew home from the very cute Dinard airport, that does not have a boarding lounge – only a << Café irlandais >> before security on the top floor of the airport where you can watch your plane land before you board it. 

The best part of the weekend, besides seeing my very lovely friends get married in a very lovely ceremony with all of my friends around, was the fact that 4.5 days of vacation felt like a week off and I returned to London restored and relaxed. I never thought of Brittany as a "must-do" vacation spot, but I can see how staying on the coast for 1-2 weeks, reading, sailing, swimming, and lounging would do anyone a world of good. And if that doesn't float your boat, well the food definitely will!

If you go:

Ryanair flies once a day between Stansted to Dinard, flight time of 45 minutes. There is some public transport around but you'll see more and get around more easily if you rent a car. There are many B&Bs and rooms to rent (chambres des hotes) around; we stayed about 1km out of Saint Briac sur Mer at Le Clos Josephine which was beautiful with a really lovely pool and amazing breakfast. There aren't that many restaurants in the town, but several around the region that are worth the trip, so renting a house/apartment where one can cook is a smart and budget option.