23 April 2011

This is my bridge

This is the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

It crosses the mouth of Tampa Bay and it separates the Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. The bridge connects St. Petersburg and Terra Ceia, the town immediately across the water from St. Pete.

The entire length of the bridge is five-and-a-half miles and I rely on my many crossings to serve as a kind of mini vacation. Mobile service cuts out about half way up the center span and doesn't kick back in until you cross to the Terra Ceia side. I used to find that to be irritating but these days it's one of my favorite things about that bridge. It's a five minute respite from being available.

It's the tallest thing around here and if memory serves, at 431 feet, it's the tallest bridge in Florida. As tall as it is, it's a singular thrill to be crossing it when a cruise ship squeezes underneath it.

Driving north and home to St. Pete never ceases to inspire me. It feels like I'm landing an airplane on the downside of the hump and no photo I've ever seen or taken has come close to capturing the azure-emerald clarity of the water of the south Bay. "I live in paradise" I say to myself every time I'm making that drive.

It's difficult to live here and be near the water and not see that bridge. It looms over everything and it serves as our visual anchor. No matter where you are on land, air or sea, seeing the Skyway is an automatic location beacon. It's the pivot point around which the entirety of south Pinellas and north Manatee counties rotate.

It frames the sunsets and reminds me of the vast expanse and possibility of the Gulf of Mexico on its west side. The whole world's out there, just waiting.

That steel and concrete can join together to form such sculptural utility gives me hope for humanity. It reminds me time and again that art can be anywhere and that beauty abounds, it's just a matter of taking the time to make it and to appreciate it.

More than just about any other feature of the the part of the country I call home, The Sunshine Skyway feels like it's mine. It feels like my retreat, my point of reference, my personal bridge. No matter what happens, no one can take that away from me.

19 April 2011

I love you Delta Airlines

I've been a fan of Delta Airlines for quite some time but on Sunday they did something for me that I can't imagine any other airline doing.

I fly to New York between three and four times a year and Delta has a flight that leaves Tampa at 7am and lands at LaGuardia at 9:30. It''s like time travel that flight. I wake up in my own bed but can be walking down Fifth Avenue by ten in the morning. I loathe early morning flights as a rule but with that particular flight, I can fly up on a Friday morning, go to meetings all day and then have the weekend to just be in New York.

I have a speaking engagement in New York on April 30th. I'll be sitting in a roundtable discussion at the annual meeting of the American Society of Journalists and Authors at the Roosevelt Hotel (if you're in New York please come!) Sitting at that table with me will be Dominique Browning, former editor of  House and Garden, Michael Cannell from the New York Times House and Home section, David Farley from the New York Times, the Washington Post and National Geographic Traveler and Saxon Henry who's published more work than any of us combined. And oh yeah, then there's little old me, the internet guy from St. Pete. No pressure.

Anyhow, I went to go buy my airline tickets for this conference on Sunday after I paid my taxes. I'm a Delta frequent flyer so I went to their site immediately rather than deal with Expedia. I booked my ticket for a departure on 4/29 and a return on 5/2.

As soon as I approved of the transaction I realized that I have a meeting in New York on 5/2 and that I meant to fly home on 5/3. Crap!

Changing a flight after booking carries a $150 charge and I was already on edge from the fact that my TPA to LGA flight cost $50 more than it usually does.

Three minutes after I booked that flight I called Delta's customer service number and was connected with a human being immediately. On the other end of the line was Hilary, someone who deserves a raise and a commendation. I explained to Hilary that I'd just booked myself on a return flight for the wrong day and that I needed to change a three-minute-old transaction.

She told me not to worry, that she'd take care of everything. She waived the change fee with the wave of her hand and proceeded to cancel my old reservation. She booked me on a new return flight, seated me in the aisle both ways and saved me five dollars in the process.

I was already a fan of Delta Airlines but Hilary made me a raving, rabid fan. I cannot imagine another airline that would forgo a handful of fees to make a customer happy.

Thank you Delta, you saved my long weekend in New York and you've earned the distinction as the official domestic carrier of Kitchen and Residential Design.

Besides, they have a safety video that's actually worth watching:

Pay attention to when she warns the audience about smoking on the airplane. Priceless!

18 April 2011

K+BB and Cosentino are looking for winners

If you're a kitchen and bath designer and you're really good at what you do, K+BB wants to salute you. K+BB is running a design contest and three lucky winners will go to Spain for a week as the guests of Silestone's parent company, Cosentino.

The deadline for entries is June 10th, 2011, so don't put this off. There's no limit to the number of rooms you can enter either. There's no requirement that the designs you enter use Silestone either.

Follow this link and submit your project. Not only will the winners got to Spain, they'll be accompanied by the amazing Alice Liao, the editor of K+BB.

I took a cooking class with Alice in Germany last January and the chance to hang out with her alone should be the impetus anybody needs to enter this contest. As big a draw as Alice is, the country of Spain puts the S in spectacular.

Nowhere else I've been weaves the glory of a storied history in with the inglory of daily life as elegantly as Spain does. Everything in Spain is an occasion and wonders await at every turn. And through all of it, the Spanish people are there to explain  all of it and to humanize the whole experience.

An amazing country peopled with the most accommodating people on the planet awaits the lucky winners of this contest.

So if you've been doing great work, K+BB wants to know about it. Here's the link to the entry form again. Enter! And think about the wonders that await.

17 April 2011

It's a dark day in Philly now too

The Philadelphia Orchestra's Board of Directors voted to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday. It's an effort to reorganize in the face of a five million dollar operating deficit. The current season will continue as scheduled for the time being, but this filing bodes ill for the arts in the United States.

The Philadelphia Orchestra at the US premiere of Mahler's Eighth Symphony in 1916.

The Philadelphia Orchestra is one of world's most renowned and respected arts organizations. Over the course of its 110-year history, names that loom over the world of classical music have assumed its helm. Names like Wolfgang Sawallisch, Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, Riccardo Muti, Charles Dutoit and Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Charles Dutoit

The Philadelphia Orchestra was the first orchestra in the world to start recording its work (in 1917) and was the first to appear regularly on the radio (in 1925). Under the baton of Leopold Stokowski, the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the first-ever multi-track, stereophonic soundtrack for Disney's Fantasia in 1940.

The Philadelphia Orchestra was the world's first symphony to sell recordings of their work via downloads from their website in 2006 and later through iTunes.

The Kimmel Center, Philadelphia

From its original home in Philly's Academy of Music to its spectacular digs in the Kimmel Center today, the Phildelphia Orchestra has been at the forefront of adopting new technologies and appealing to new audiences. It's one of Philadelphia's (and the US's, and the world's) great cultural institutions and now all of that is in peril.

Interior shot of the Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, PA
Symphony orchestras aren't the sole province of the blue-haired and the idly wealthy. Arts organizations like the Philly Orchestra preserve and pass along the best of western civilization. Our very culture is at stake here. Arts organizations in general, and orchestras in particular, are community assets of the highest order. Keeping them alive needs to become a national priority.

This is the result of decades of slashing arts funding in schools, arts funding locally and arts funding nationally. You cannot have a great nation without great art. Repeat that often enough until it sticks.

If you live in an area with an orchestra, please go see a performance. Then keep going back. Make a donation while you're there.

This is Eugene Ormandy at the helm in 1975 as he conducts Gustav Holst's The Planets, Opus 32: Jupiter the bringer of jollity.

15 April 2011

Bring home the Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in the city of Rome. In a city brimming with architectural wonders, the Trevi Fountain stands out.

As massive as the fountain is, the piazza where it's located is relatively small. So small that it's nearly impossible to photograph the entire fountain without a super wide angle lens. My regular wide angle could only capture this much of it as I was standing in front of it.

This shot is from Wikimedia Commons and it's been electronically manipulated to remove the distortion. It's the clearest shot of the fountain I've ever seen.

Though you can definitely see the whole thing, photographing it is another matter all together. It's 85 feet high and 65 feet wide and by any measure, that's a big fountain.

Like everything in Rome, the Trevi Fountain has a story behind it that weaves together threads of Ancient Roman history, the Papacy and Roman identity. There's absolutely nothing subtle about the fountain itself or the story of how it came to be.

In 19 B.C., Roman engineers finished the Aqua Virgo, one of the aqueducts that made life in Ancient Rome possible. The Aqua Virgo terminated where the Trevi Fountain stands now and it supplied Rome with fresh water for 400 years. During the sieges of the Goths in the 500s, the Goths drove Rome to its knees and delivered a death blow when they broke all of the aqueducts in Rome.

Fast forward to the 1450s when Pope Nicholas V repaired the Aqua Virgo (now called the Acqua Vergine) and commissioned a fountain. The original fountain was a pretty basic affair, little more than a basin that collected the water from the aqueduct.

In 1629, Pope Urban VIII found the fountain to be too plain and commissioned no less than Gian Lorenzo Bernini to draw up a new fountain. The pope died before construction could start and the project died with Pope Urban VIII.

In 1730, Pope Clement XII held a contest to see who could design a fountain grand enough to mark the triumph of the repaired aqueduct. Clement XII was a Florentine and he chose the Florentine architect Alessandro Galilei's design over the Roman architect Nicola Salvi. The outcry from the streets of Rome was as instant as it was intense. No Florentine was going to build anything in Rome in the 1700s, thank you very much. Bowing to public pressure, Clement XII awarded the commission to Salvi and the fountain you can see today looks exactly like it did when Salvi designed it.

Knock offs of it at Epcot Center and Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas do it a supreme disservice. The original is a glorious pile of travertine, one well worth the effort it takes to stand in front of. When I heard that Top Knobs had released a new series of cabinet knobs and pulls that paid homage to the Trevi Fountain I was suspicious.

Once I saw them I dropped my suspicions immediately.

Top Knobs Passport series manages to invoke the details of the fountain without going overboard. As soon as I saw that cup pull I went back through my photos of the Trevi Fountain and found this detail shot I took in Rome.

Nice job Top Knobs.

The Trevi Fountain-inspired hardware is but a part of the entire Passport series from Top Knobs. Other collections in the Passport series pay tribute to such iconic locations the Great Wall of China, the Sydney Opera House, the Tower Bridge in London, the ancient temple complex at Luxor and Victoria Falls. I haven't seen any of the rest of collections, but they'll be debuting at KBIS in a few weeks. You can find the rest of Top Knobs' extensive offerings on their website.

14 April 2011

It's a dark day in Syracuse

The Syracuse Symphony is no longer. This was to have been their 50th season.

Along with the Syracuse Symphony goes the 150-member strong Syracuse Symphony Youth Orchestra, an important resource for aspiring musicians. The Syracuse Symphony is just the latest cultural institution to go silent. Symphony orchestras all across the country are reeling and most of them are in serious financial trouble.

It's not just smaller market symphonies either. The 110-year-old Philadelphia Orchestra has been flirting with bankruptcy all year and it's one of the world's most celebrated cultural institutions.

The arts are in trouble in this great land, the symphonic arts in particular. Art and music are vital to a healthy society and as go the arts, so goes everything else.

If you live in an area with a symphony, go. Go and then keep going. Once they're gone they don't come back.

Who's ready for an Onion?

Danish manufacturer Verpan has brought back their 1970s iconic Onion lamp for a new generation.

This time around they've added a table lamp to the collection.

What do we think? Are some things better left in the past or is this a lamp that needs to be seen again?

12 April 2011

If I could stop the world for one day: A Blog Off Post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "If you could stop the world for one day, what would you take the time to do?"


What would I do with the time? I'd take a page from Modern English.

What would I do? That's easy, I'd melt with you.

Hah! As soon as this topic surfaced last week my mind went back to 1982 and that song immediately. Some influences just can't be undone and early '80s British New Wave is definitely an indelible influence.

But back to the topic at hand. What would I do if I could stop the world for a day? I'd probably not stop the world in the first place. If that weren't an option, I'd spend the time looking for a way to start it again.

I may be alone in this, but I enjoy the passage of time. I like getting older (and wiser) and I love being able to look back across a landscape of lessons learned. Further, with those lessons learned, I'm better equipped to enjoy my life as a move forward.

I'm a busy guy. My days are pretty tightly scheduled and if there's something I really want to do I rearrange my priorities and do it. If the thing I want to do isn't important enough for a priority rearrangement then it's probably not very important in the first place.

So if somebody wants to stop the world, please find a way to do so that my world keeps spinning.


Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "If you could stop the world for one day, what would you take the time to do?"

11 April 2011

Want to be a hero every morning?

This is the new Spider shower head from Italian manufacturer Visentin.

It can be ceiling or wall mounted and each the the mini shower heads can be positioned independently. Visentin is not the first manufacturer to play around with this shower configuration. I find them to be interesting but not for the reasons Visentin wants me to.

When I see these shower heads, I see the head of Medusa.

Head of Medusa by Caravaggio, 1595

Medusa was a Gorgon, one of three terrifying sisters who wreaked havoc across the the landscape of classical antiquity.

Medusa started out as a ravishing beauty and a priestess in Athena's temple. She had a lot of luck with gentlemen callers but pressed her luck too far by bedding down Poseidon in the temple itself. This enraged Athena (who wouldn't be enraged?) so Athena turned Medusa into a hag and transformed her glorious hair to snakes.

Enter Perseus. Perseus was a hero-in-the-making and his mother was about to be wed against her wishes to King Polydectes of Seriphos. Polydectes send Perseus to go retrieve Medusa's head because he wanted to give it as a gift. Perseus enlisted the help of Anthena and Hermes who gave him a Cap of Invisibility, a sword, a mirrored shield and a pair of winged sandals; and off to work he went. By using the cap of invisibility and the mirrored shield, Perseus got close enough to Medusa to behead her without ever having to look at her.

Perseus holding the head of Medusa, a photo I took on an archeological dig in Castellamare della Stabia in southern Italy.

Once he had the head, Perseus flew back to Seriphos, showed the head to Polydectes and turned him to stone, thus saving his mother from a marriage she didn't want to go through with. He later gave the head to Athena who attached it to her shield and ended up with the ultimate revenge on the fornicating Medusa.

Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Benvenuto Cellini, 1554. Perseus looks poised to take a shower in this statue or am I just imagining things?

The moral of the story? Take your pick. Never fool around with a god in another god's temple, no matter how good he looks or the kinds of promises he makes. He's going to get away Scot free and you're going to have to deal with some kind of divine wrath. Another good one to remember is to be careful of sending the son of the woman you want to marry against her will on a heroic labor. Overall, just like any classical myth, the overriding lesson is always "behave yourself."

That's a lot of work to go through just to take a shower in the morning. Heaven knows I love Classical Mythology, but sometimes I want to just start my day with a conventional shower that doesn't inspire me to think so much.

What about you? Do these many-serpent-headed showers move you in any particular direction? Would you take a shower with a Gorgon?

10 April 2011

Can we let this one die?

This is our president, Barack Hussein Obama's birth certificate.

The state of Hawaii calls that certificate a "Certification of Live Birth." That it's not labeled a "birth certificate" has given the feeble-minded a hobby for the last three years. As we gear up for the 2012 General Election, I want to know:

Why does this idiot,

or this idiot,

or any other idiot who can't deal with that get a national audience to spread their irrational lunacy?

Is having a black man, an Other, in the Oval Office so frightening that there has to be a conspiracy to explain it? Once again, here's a dismissal of the whole make-believe issue from Snopes and from the Anneneberg Foundation. Even the folks at Fox News have to admit that there's no there there even as they leave the door open for more there.

If you have an issue with the President (and I have more than a few), isn't it enough to present a counter argument? After you present a counter argument, it's incumbent on you to sell that counter argument to your fellow citizens and then to you representatives in congress. Proclaiming your opposition's illegitimacy in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary doesn't make you smart or more involved, it makes you an idiot.

The United States' political system can't work without dissent and if you have a problem with the President then by all means dissent! It's not only your right, it's your responsibility. Dissent doesn't make you a traitor, it makes you a participant. That's true no matter who's in office. Neither side has a lock on political truth and despite what the pundits say, compromise and consensus building are what makes our system work.

However, once your dissent leaves the realm of reason you lose your credibility. As much as I hated the Bush administration, my disagreements remained intellectual. George Bush and his administration represented a vision of the country I disagreed with. Period. End of story. Barack Obama presented an argument that most of the country agreed with and he won the presidency in 2008. Period. End of story. Maybe he'll present another convincing argument in 2012 and maybe a member of the opposition party will. In any case, we'll figure that out next year.

In the meantime though, we have a duly-elected, legitimate President. Deal with it.

 The US is in serious trouble. Making up stuff against the party or politician whose views run counter to yours does nothing more than make that trouble worse.

Get involved, stay rational and by all means vote. And stop paying attention to the idiots.

Support your local orchestra

As I'm wont, I went to see my beloved Florida Orchestra last night at St. Pete's spectacular Mahaffey Theater.

Prior to the performance, the Orchestra played this video on a large screen that rolled down from the ceiling over the stage.

I'm glad to see that the orchestra put together that video but showing it to an audience of your supporters isn't necessarily the best place to show it. I feel like it's my duty to spread it around.

Many times a year, I sit in this theater and get transported for a couple of hours.

I cannot think of an art form that revels in the wonder and joy of what it is to be human as profoundly as orchestral music does. Classical, orchestral music unites an audience in a shared experience and for a couple of hours a couple thousand strangers enjoy something together. The differences that divide people don't matter in a concert hall. In fact, they don't exist.

The Forida Orchestra recently announced its 2011-2012 schedule and there are still single concert seats available for the rest of the current season.

The Mahaffey sits next to the incredible, new Salvador Dali museum in the Progress Center for the Arts along the water downtown. If you're looking for a day of culture and art I can think of no better way to spend it than an afternoon at the Dali and and evening at the Mahaffey.

In a part of the country better known for drink specials and regressive politics, that these kinds of cultural assets exist in the first place is nothing short of miraculous. However, like arts organizations all over the country, their existence is a tenuous one. Public funding for the arts is under attack now like never before and it's up to individuals to keep the arts alive int he United States.

If you live in Greater Tampa, support our Florida Orchestra. While you're at it, the St. Pete Opera Company, the American Stage, the Florimezzo Orchestra, The New American Theater, the Theater @620 and the Palladium cannot make it without your support. We're fortunate to have a host of smaller theater companies, too many to list here and every one of them needs an audience.

The arts contribute to the quality of life in a community like no other asset. I believe that to the very core of my being and dragging my friends to performances is one of my highest callings I'm convinced.

Where ever you are as you sit reading this, arts organizations in your area are screaming for your support too. There is no shortage of artists, but it feels like audiences are getting harder to come by. Make it a priority to see your local symphony and to support your theaters. Don't let these assets go dark.

Benjamin Franklin


If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten,
either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing
(Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac)

08 April 2011

Yet another defense of the residential urinal

Check out the Drop urinal from Hidra.

Hidra developed the Drop specifically for the residential market, they didn't adapt a commercial one for home use. That's how most residential urinals come to be by the way. A manufacturer takes something that's meant for heavy use and scales it back a little bit.

Hidra took another tack though, and the Drop never had an incarnation as a commercial product. To make it easier to fir into existing baths, the Drop has been made slimmer and taller. It's also a pretty attractive piece of porcelain.

For the life of me, I will never understand the widespread rejection of urinals for home use. Having half the population flush 1.6 gallons of fresh, potable water down the drain every time they need to dispose of about a pint of liquid is one of the more absurd practices of modern life. It's a terrible misuse of resources and people continue to do it because of a strange unease around urinals.

Sometimes that unease is warranted but not for the reasons you may think. I was in Spain with my great friend Bob Borson earlier this year and he had encounter with a urinal in Valencia that has to be read to be appreciated.

Anyhow, back to the business of urinals. Think of it this way, if there's a man or men in the house and there's a urinal present, toilet seats can be kept down. That alone would make the divorce rate plummet.

If you're contemplating a bathroom remodel and there are men who will be affected by the renovation, consider installing a urinal in your new bath. The men involved will be thrilled and you'll cut down your water use significantly. At this stage of the game, who wouldn't welcome a lower utility bill?

You can find the Drop and more cool bath stuff on Lazio-based Hidra's website.

07 April 2011

I don't get the skull thing

Skull motifs, which were once the sole province of biker bars and pirate costumes, have gone mainstream. Never mind that they should have stayed in the biker bars.

I can't open a catalog or a magazine without seeing them. It's one thing to see an Ofrenda on the Day of the Dead but the mainstreaming of skull decor has taken on an American-ized scrubbing and the result is a complete break with the actual significance of a skull.

They're a warning sometimes and historically, they were a kick-you-in-the teeth reminder of everyone's  mortality.

The whole thing mystifies me. However, the French design studio Pool is going to release the following plastic chair at the Milan Furniture Fair this month.

At first, I chalked it up to a de-contextualized skull to be used by the unthinking around their barbecues but then I learned its name. The name of this chair is Souviens Toi Que Tu Vas Mourir.

Extra points to whoever translates that name. I want one of these for the name alone!