Uncategorized

Off to Spain!

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

I’m heading to Spain for 10 days and thrilled about that!

I’m feeling a bit burnt, and in need of a vacation. (Could you tell from my last post?) I don’t get a ton of time off, and I haven’t taken many days, yet, this year. And I’m feeling the effects! Life can seem so hectic while juggling work, passion projects, time with friends and family.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about what really makes me happy—and how I can do more of those things in the time that I have.

One area I’ve been reevaluating is this blog. Over the past few months, I’ve been posting more frequently. But in doing so, I’ve also been posting more about things I’ve found (usually online) and enjoyed, rather than things I’ve done. And I’d really like to refocus on the latter—more pieces about places I’ve been to, or experiences I’ve had, with people I love.

I’m excited about some new ideas I have for this space. I’m going to spend some time thinking through them during my time away.

But don’t worry—I won’t be working the whole time. A week and a half in Basque Country awaits. Along with all the txakoli, pintxos, old towns, vineyards, mountains and beaches that go along with it.

¡Hasta pronto!

(Image of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe by Patrick Dobeson)

Advertisements

How Three Australian Ballet Dancers Prep Their Pointe Shoes

Pointe shoe prep

The other day I watched this video that’s been making its way around social: how dancers from the Australian Ballet prepare their pointe shoes.

Maybe it’s because I’m one myself, but I’m always curious about other dancers’ pointe shoes. I wonder what brands they use, how they break them in, and any other rituals they have to make the shoes feel natural on their feet. It’s such a personal thing.

So I appreciated seeing what these three pros do. Take a look:

(As someone learning pointe as an adult, trying to make up for lost time, I don’t have too much of my own pointe shoe prep process, yet. I sew my ribbons and elastics a specific way—from the base of the shoe—stomp on the box, and water the sides the first wearing or two, for flexibility.)

Other dancers: How do you prep your pointe shoes? Or if you do another sport or activity, what’s your ritual?

Dinner in NY: Intimate Portraits of New Yorkers Eating

When you’re eating dinner, what’s your usual set-up? Do you eat alone or with your partner? Are there kids in the picture? Do you sit at a kitchen table or a couch? Do you watch TV or check your phone or surf the web while you eat?

Your dinner habits, in a way, reflect who you are. Photographer Miho Aikawa explores that in her Dinner in NY project. According to Aikawa:

Having dinner isn’t just about eating food, or even about nutrition. It reveals so many aspects of our lives, much more than lunch or even breakfast would. And because dinnertime is usually private, it uniquely reveals a part of a person’s lifestyle.

Aikawa’s intimate photos also demonstrate how much technology has changed the ways people people enjoy supper. Many diners are eating in front of a TV or laptop.

A few of my favorite shots:

Garro Heedae, a musician, has dinner late at night after intensive drum rehearsal sessions. Age: 28. Time: 1:20 a.m. Location: Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn.

Garro Heedae, a musician, has dinner late at night after intensive drum rehearsal sessions. Age: 28. Time: 1:20 a.m. Location: Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn.

Zheng Yun lives with her daughter and son, but usually eats dinner alone while watching TV. Age: 52. Time: 8:54 p.m.  Location: Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn.

Zheng Yun lives with her daughter and son, but usually eats dinner alone while watching TV. Age: 52. Time: 8:54 p.m. Location: Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn.

Jessie Zinke, a designer, has leftover for dinner on her bed while watching her favorite TV show. Age: 27. Time: 6:54 p.m. Location: Chelsea, New York.

Jessie Zinke, a designer, has leftover for dinner on her bed while watching her favorite TV show. Age: 27. Time: 6:54 p.m. Location: Chelsea, New York.

U Pa Mok Kha is a monk from Myanmar who cannot eat after noon. Local people bring him food and after he is done, he shares the rest of the food with them. Age: 55. Time: 11:17 a.m. Location: Jackson Heights, Queens.

U Pa Mok Kha is a monk from Myanmar who cannot eat after noon. Local people bring him food and after he is done, he shares the rest of the food with them. Age: 55. Time: 11:17 a.m. Location: Jackson Heights, Queens.

Chelsea Olson, a model, concentrates on her food while reviewing her busy day. Age: 20. Time: 8:13 p.m. Location: Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn.

Chelsea Olson, a model, concentrates on her food while reviewing her busy day. Age: 20. Time: 8:13 p.m. Location: Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn.

See even more photos—and stories—on Aikawa’s site.

I’m such a creature of habit, that I know exactly how my dinner photo would look: Each night, around 10-10:30, after ballet, I sit on my living room floor, on a big cushion, and eat at my coffee table. My meal usually involves veggies and eggs (poached eggs in a spinach soup, huevos rancheros, scrambled eggs with a side of sauteed greens). The room is dark, with one dim lamp on, and I’m watching Top Chef or So You Think You Can Dance? on DVR. My hair is pulled back in a bun, and I’m wearing a tank top and shorts.

How would your dinner photo look?

(Images by Miho Aikawa; found via Fast Co. Design)

Casa SaltShaker

When I was researching what to do in Buenos Aires, puerta cerradas kept coming up. These “closed door” restaurants are basically supper clubs where a local cooks and serves a multi-course meal in his home to a small group of guests.

I loved this idea. I’m not a tour person and I’m not good at befriending strangers while traveling. But this sounded like the perfect way to meet people. Plus, I’d be able to get locals’ recommendations about what to do—and eat a ton of delicious food.

Once I started researching, I found so many puerta cerradas I wanted to try, that I booked one for almost every night I was in BA. I only opted for ones that had a communal table, though.

The first one I visited: Casa SaltShaker, just a few hours after my arrival in the city.

Casa SaltShaker is one of the older puertas cerradas in BA. For nearly nine years, Dan Pearlman, an American ex-pat and chef, and his partner, Henry, have been serving dinners out of their Recoleta home. (That’s actually the reason I selected it for my first night—it was in walking distance from my apartment.)

The evening felt very much like a dinner party. After Dan and Henry welcomed us into their home, we guests had cocktails on their outdoor patio. My dinner companions were an eclectic bunch: a British couple celebrating their 25 wedding anniversary, an American couple and their two friends, and three men (Canadian, French and Belgian) who were installing a flight simulator at the BA airport.

Dinner that night had an Amazonian theme, inspired by Dan and Henry’s travels in the region. Each dish came paired with wine.

casa saltshaker menu

Our first course was a salad of tomato, avocado and hearts of palm…

salad

…followed by a hearty soup of perjerry, cilntro and pureed chickpeas. This was easily my favorite dish of the night—I’d happily eat it every day.

soup

Next came a baked pasta stuffed with cream cheese, soppressata and leek, over a pea puree…

IMG_0743

…and a main dish of pollack and a sweet potato/quinoa cake.

fish and qunioa cake

The dessert was delicious: a huge slice of chocolate cheesecake topped with chocolate honeycomb. I had no trouble polishing it off!

cheesecake

My dinner companions were awesome—throughout the whole meal, everyone was talking and joking like old friends. (I was especially fascinated to learn about the simulator team’s work: The Canadian was part of the team that built the simulator, the Belgian was a veteran KLM pilot who was testing the simulator, and the French guy was the one who fixed the problems they came across.)

I was also impressed at how well paced the evening was. I was afraid that it might be long and drawn out (since I’d just arrived earlier on a red eye). But everything was timed perfectly, with enough opportunity to chat after one course but not so long that you wondered how long it would take the next to come out.

Dan and Henry were nice and polite, though they have the air of veterans who’ve been doing this for a long time. I was expecting them to be a little warmer, but they were a bit businesslike—though that’s what their puerta cerrada is: a business.

Still, I had a ton of fun eating, drinking and sharing stories with the other guests—and it was a great way to kick off all the eating I’d end up doing in BA.

Ballet Monsters

I have to thank New York City Ballet’s Facebook page for introducing me to “Ballet Monsters,” an incredible illustrations series by Taipei artist Keith Lin.

His line drawings are simple, yet they capture ballet so well. Lin’s lithe figures not only have perfect technique; they also convey grace, passion and elegance—despite being virtually faceless.

As Lin told Pointe magazine:

I rely on ballet positions to express feeling. Dancers speak with their bodies onstage, and to me the closed eyes show how they are enjoying the moment. Sometimes I feel like I’m choreographing on paper.

I love how Lin’s figures also cheekily—and accurately!—illustrate the mindset of us ballet addicts. Lin’s closest friends are dancers and he draws his inspiration from them.

A few drawings that I particularly loved (and related to):

ballet monsters 4

ballet monsters 2

ballet monsters 3

 

ballet monsters 1

Check them all out on the two “Ballet Monsters” pages here and here!

(“Ballet Monsters” illustrations by Keith Lin, found via New York City Ballet)

Why Natalie Portman’s Black Swan Performance Was Oscar-Worthy–From a Ballet Perspective

Natalie PortmanAfter seeing Black Swan, my initial reaction was that Natalie Portman’s performance didn’t deserve such rave reviews. She looked like a scared rabbit for half the movie. And as for her much-hyped dancing, I thought a lot remained to be seen, literally. Most dance scenes showed her from the chest up, probably because her footwork wasn’t up to snuff. In scenes featuring head-to-toe shots of Portman’s actual dancing–as opposed to ABT’s Sarah Lane, who stood in for complicated sequences–she was good, but not at the level she’d need to be a principal, or even a corps member, of a prestigious company. Her telltale flaw: she lacked the effortless fluidity, grace and ease of movement that comes with experience. Just compare her swan arms to those of her supporting dancers, who were Pennsylvania Ballet pros.

But Portman isn’t a professional dancer. And once I stopped evaluating her performance from that perspective, the more I appreciated it. Ballet isn’t something you perfect in weeks, months, a year (the length of time Portman trained for this role) or even many years. Each step requires incredible precision. One minutely incorrect arm, head or even finger placement can distinguish an amateur from a pro; being a millimeter off your weight can turn a breathtaking pirouette or attitude wretched. Even walking and standing still takes more practice and skill than you would ever imagine. Part of ballet’s beauty comes from how weightless and natural dancers appear while performing. The audience doesn’t see the thousands of hours–not to mention tears, sweat, skinned feet and broken toenails–that go into each step.

You can train for years without getting near the level it takes to reach the big leagues–or even small companies. I speak from experience. I’ve studied ballet most of my life, but no one would mistake me for a pro. I leave every class with a mental laundry list of mistakes I made, corrections to remember. This endless quest for perfection is what I love and hate about ballet: I enjoy the challenge, but know I’ll never be flawless. (And, realistically, I’m a tad old to consider a dance career.)

Mila Kunis, Portman’s Black Swan costar, could surely attest to ballet’s difficulty, too. She told W magazine, “I trained for four months, seven days a week, five hours a day. I had one day off on my birthday. I lost 20 pounds. I tore a ligament. I dislocated my shoulder. I have two scars on my back. And it was worth every minute.” Despite her rigorous training, I didn’t see evidence of it in the film. Black Swan lost me in the scene where Vincent Cassel, as the director, lauds her talent. No company head would ever praise dancing like that. Kunis’ ballet was laughable; she looked like a gawky beginner. Her performance proved what all dancers know: You don’t become one overnight. And it’s impossible to fake good technique, no matter how talented an actress you are.

Portman, on the other hand, was far more believable. Her port de bras were graceful and her focus was accurate. I was impressed she could dance en pointe–not to mention fouette (not in the end scene, of course, but when she cracks her toenail)–with just a year’s training. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe she was a trained amateur dancer in real life–and a good one, too. Portman played the role so convincingly that I, and countless other ballet lovers who saw the film, got lost in Black Swan without being jarred out of it every time a dance scene came up. And that’s a pretty Oscar-worthy feat.