Fresh roses, rue des Archives, Paris, after the March snowstorm
Palais Garnier, Paris, was designed in the late 1800s by the young, unknown, competition-winning architect, Charles Garnier. Because of the Palais Garnier’s wicked – and entirely appropriate – design drama I’d take this opera house (1875) any day over the tech-hygienic Bastille Opera House (1989), designed by another unknown, Canadian Carlos Ott. At Palais Garnier, the painted-canvas house curtain is a lush interpretation of a draped curtain, complete with gold braid and pompoms. The horseshoe-shaped auditorium has 1,900 red velvet seats on the orchestra floor, balcony and arranged in the private ‘loge’.
My favourite ticket: 1ere loge, Palais Garnier. Red velvet chairs that the Marquis de Sade would have thoroughly enjoyed.
1ere loge, anti-chamber. Framed behind red drapery, this private, intimate room comes with a mirror, a fold away table and a red velvet couch. If I could, I’d make my pied-a-terre apartment here as writer-in-residence.
Wall upholstery – dedication to the textures of red that the Metropolitan Opera in NYC only begins to explore.
Istanbul is like an open book, an ancient tome, still waiting to be cracked open. And the flourishing design culture is standing up even to the Hagia Sophia. From the star-spangled runners to the fake eyelashes, an Istanbul hipster at the design cafe next to the 14th-century Galata Tower in Istanbul.
Country breakfast at a sweet spot, Pell’s Cafe, owned by a financial young whiz turned cafe stylista. Located on the steep street of Bogazkesen Cad. No:68 in Beyoğlu, İstanbul. A neighbourhood changing, slowly, from conservative ethos to one allowing designer chic boutiques and even the occasional liquor license.
somebody’s version of garbage in Istanbul, and total treasure in my mind – even the cat is an aesthetic object. Santa, if you’re listening, I’ll take one of each!
6 AM. Floating on the Ganges River, Varanasi, India, where the current runs strong but time has stayed still. A boy in a light wooden craft selling handmade wishing candles skims along the Ganges, considered by Hindus to be the sacred ‘mother’.
At sunrise, pilgrims descend the ‘ghat’ staircases to wash themselves vigorously at the edge of the holy river.
6:30 AM. At the main ‘burning’ ghat, some 300 bodies are turned to ash on open funeral pyres every day. Masses of logs are brought to the famous Dashashwamedh ghat and hauled by men up the steep slope to the burning sites. The burning stench lies heavy in the air. According to ancient dictate, those diseased with chicken pox, leprosy, holy men, children and pregnant women are not burned but lowered into the Ganges with the weight of stones.
Women bathe, immersing themselves fully in the river while wearing their saris. Vendors put out their jewellery beneath the “chhatris”, timeworn parasols made of thatched bamboo and clad in patchwork.
Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, is renown for its ancient design of saris. But try choosing one in the heat, when the vendor keeps pulling more and more exotic colour combinations from the boxes on the shelves. When I was there, a ‘sacred’ cow wandered down the laneway and stuck his enormous head inside the shop.
A river of silk – part of the hallucinogenic spell India casts on visitors.
“OH my! I ditched my paddle when I needed it most! What was I thinking???”
Red Light District
Dancing barefoot on the wrong side of the tracks
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Ok, this horse did not participate.
These fantasies constructed within the cave of my pumpkin when Hurricane Sandy swept up the Eastern Seaboard and I sat by the fire listening to the wind. Happy scary Hallowe’en!
Jammed next to the Atlantic Ocean, on that thin wisp of land called the Outer Banks, North Carolina, there’s a roadside stand flaunting retro-modern stripes and the promise of fried bologna sandwiches.
Across the beach road in Nags Head, a series of shingled black ghosts built during the 19th century; wood weary and structurally forgiving, set next to the surf, daring the hurricanes to come and get them.
Remarkably, the “Unpainted Aristocracy” houses (some of them constructed of wood reclaimed from shipwrecks) have withstood the onslaught of weather and water. Look how they’re raised on stilts to allow the sweep of water underneath, while guests visiting from the plantations sprawled on the wraparound porches.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest in the USA, wears a modern black and white daymark on its brick tower.
The distillation of colours mimic the black shells and feathers on the vast Hatteras beach.
Inside, the tightly-wound spiral staircase is an honest interpretation of nature…
with a complex geometry that has inspired countless stair designs, from the one uncoiled in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia basilica to the one spiralling through the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.
Address: the southern tip of Outer Banks, where the lighthouse keeper once reported that he and his wife and their multiple children never felt lonely.