The problem with these sorts of things is that once you see it, it’s almost impossible to unsee it.
The problem with these sorts of things is that once you see it, it’s almost impossible to unsee it.
I don’t usually wear prescription glasses unless I’m driving at night. If you walk by several metres away from me, for example, across the road, and I do not greet you, it’s because I don’t recognise your face in a blur, not because I am ignoring you.
When I put on eyewear and am not driving, it’s usually a pair of non-prescription sunglasses. Therefore, I automatically assume that whenever there is something resting on my nose, my eyes are masked by a pair of coloured lenses, enabling me to observe others with some level of discretion.
So, I forget that, on the rare occasion that I’m wearing colourless lenses, other people can see exactly what my eyeballs are doing.
Like staring straight at them.
Only to realise that I’m not wearing sunglasses because they are staring right back at me.
Oh, feck. I’m so busted…
Of course, whenever I’m wearing proper glasses, I see more of the world, more details with depth of field, so I notice more things… More things that tempt me to stare. So I get busted again.
Somehow, I never learn.
You would think that every adult has seen this classic film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring a spectacularly famous actress. OK, maybe not, but if one is remotely interested in the jewellers Tiffany & Co., then you would think that one may have at least seen the film out of curiosity even if one is not much of a film fan or care about one of the greatest beauties that ever lived. (Or, have read Truman Capote’s book of the same title…)
You would be wrong. Very wrong.
When I was based in New York in the 1990s, every day there was at least one visitor to 727 Fifth Avenue that asked where the restaurant is. Every day, a member of staff politely answered THAT question. They tend not to be visitors from abroad even though there are many international tourists that shop at Tiffany. I am guessing that the situation has not changed after all these years.
I think a reasonable hypothesis is that those who set foot in Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue home in the hopes of eating something have heard of the film title but have never actually seen the film.
If you are one of them, here’s a pro tip: Tiffany does not have a restaurant. And, I’ll save you the trouble of seeing the rather wonderful film. Here’s the spoiler: Holly Golightly, the character played by Audrey Hepburn in the film, has a pastry and coffee OUTSIDE the store, on the sidewalk, as she gazes at the jewellery displayed in the exterior display windows very early in the morning as she makes her way back to her apartment from a night of parties. If you like, you can do that too, dressed in an Hubert de Givenchy dress. However, remember to consume your food and beverage outside the store, not in the store.
I once overheard a visitor posing THAT question to one of the security officers, and upon hearing the reply, she said:
‘Oh… Are you sure?‘
I had to turn away in the hopes that she would not see me shaking violently in a futile effort to suppress my laughter.
Please spread the word. You might be doing someone a favour, particularly since many will be visiting New York between Thanksgiving and Christmas to shop.
I had a flatmate at university who was a year above me. A very nice chap. A superb mathematician with a heart of gold. In other words, I have no idea how he ended up being our flatmate. After completing his undergraduate degree, he moved from our rather sheltered environment atop College Hill in Providence to Manhattan in pursuit of a doctorate.
He found himself an apartment in the Lower East Side, in Alphabet City. The area has become rather fashionable in recent years, but in the 80s, it was still a pretty rough neighbourhood. Heading into, and returning from, the neighbourhood to go clubbing at places like Cave Canem in the small hours was taking a calculated risk (or done drunk, high or most likely both). We were all a bit bemused that a bookish guy with a relatively limited exposure to the grittier, seedier side of life moved into a neighbourhood like that. A couple of months after the move, we asked him how he was finding his new ‘hood, and he told us that he felt very safe because there was an NYPD cruiser patrolling his block about once every half hour. It was the most adorable reply anyone could have given, but we explained to him the likely reason for the high police visibility. Nonetheless, he felt safe.
My current office is located on a street where a car bomb killed 3 people and injured 106 people in 1981. It has since been under 24-hour police protection, with countless surveillance cameras and elevated pillars blocking cars from entering the area. The police, armed with automatic weapon, are stationed at the end of the street, housed inside a bullet-proof enclosure. Cars are not allowed to enter without a permit which is granted only through a strict diligence process. Courier vans, such as DHL and FedEx, are not allowed in; they must park their vans outside the protected area and carry the parcels in or out by foot. Until recently, the waste bins on the street were of Israeli design that could withstand a detonation of a bundle of dynamite, the idea being that if a bomb were to be found, one can toss the bomb in the bin and let it detonate with minimal casualties. In other words, it’s the sort of environment that can make the outrage about the US National Security Agency’s indiscretions seem a bit quaint.
Then, since the start of this year, security in the area was stepped up a few notches, with the Belgian government making the highly unusual move of deploying the military within her own borders. Para-commandos armed with automatic weapons on foot patrol became part of the landscape.
It was supposed to be a temporary measure lasting only a month, but 11 months on they are still on patrol duty. The upgrading of the security risk level back in January has obviously not been reversed.
And, then the Paris attacks happened with key involvement of those based in Brussels.
As has been mentioned in the media recently, Brussels is a black hole when it comes to law enforcement, intelligence gathering and administrative co-ordination. If something were to come this way from Brussels, it seems reasonable to expect that any information coming from Brussels will be too late to be of any value for Antwerp. I should think that the soldiers will be here for a little while longer.
Do I feel safer? Perhaps it’s the wrong question.
One fine day, I decided that leaving one or two buttons undone on the cuff of a jacket looked degagé, something to subtly unhinge the formal air that a mere city suit imparts in an increasingly casual world. A studied nonchalance of sorts, a bit more restrained than foregoing a necktie. In other words, I thought it was useful in introducing an imperfection without having to think, unlike doing it with colours, patterns and textures. Not something to make the look, but to break it.
Here’s a photo of me from 12 years ago with buttons undone whilst trying to dress someone with the help of a third hand. I’m concentrating on my task, and truth be told, I was a bit stressed that evening. More importantly, whatever nonchalance I may have wished to project is simply not there. Of course, once you understand the difference between being dressed and being clothed, you also understand that intangible qualities like nonchalance must come from within, not something you wear.
But that’s a bit of prudence gained by hindsight at best. I fastened all my sleeve buttons, and left them fastened, several years ago for a related but more pedestrian reason. I noticed that almost all others, men and women, who left their sleeve button unfastened were wearing factory-made jackets, with machine-sewn buttonholes. It was extremely rare to see it on a tailor-made jacket with hand-worked buttonholes. In fact, people wearing tailor-made jackets tend to have all the sleeve buttons fastened. I started to see the practice not as that of studied nonchalance but of overt affectation. Once I took up that view, I stopped. I just thought, how naff. I now cringe at the thought of ever having practised it.
Of course, like anything else, there are exceptions. Manolo Blahnik is a perfect example. Leaving aside the question of whether one likes Andersen & Sheppard’s cut, I think it’s fair to say that some wearers can pull it off whilst others most definitely cannot for a variety of reasons. Manolo is the former. He wears his A&S pieces, instead of the A&S pieces wearing him. In other words, there is a certain compatibility of personality, and Manolo is clearly the boss in the relationship. It’s even difficult to imagine Manolo being dressed by other tailors who do not practise the Frederick Scholte method. And, somehow, those unfastened sleeve buttons seem natural. I don’t think it’s successfully executed nonchalance or any isolated reason in particular. Rather, it’s just Manolo being Manolo, and that’s why it works. He’s an exception.
I returned to Gaiole in Chianti earlier this month for my third Eroica jaunt. It was a wet one, but like the previous outings, it was delightful on so many levels. On the other hand, it is always a humbling experience. The strade bianche are not for the sensitive cyclist. To ride it on a century-old fixed gear rig takes things to an entirely different level. It’s hardly the same sport.
I said ‘Ciao, Luciano!’ to Luciano Berruti, the Eroica poster boy, as we overtook him on one of the hills. He was riding the same event, but I know that the 72-year old on a rusty, ancient rig wasn’t actually riding the same route as me riding an 80s Eddy Merckx equipped with a 5-speed transmission the size of a luncheon plate. To him, the distance and the gradients meant something completely different.
Today, we ride lightweight bikes equipped with a freewheeling 11-speed transmission. And, we continuously fuss about this stiffness, that stiffness, rotational weight, power output, aerodynamics, etc, etc. Also, outside of the velodromes, we have come to associate fixed gear bikes with a certain urban subculture. Outside of English-speaking countries, all single speed road bikes tend to be called fixies regardless of actually being equipped with a fixed gear or a single speed freewheel. ‘Fixie’ has a certain perception attached to it.
It’s an image that is so far apart from the hard men of decades past, racing through white roads in the Tuscan hills or through the Alps, the Pyrenees and other mountain ranges across Europe. No smooth tarmac. No shifters. No freewheeling. Just one gear.
The men and women who earn their living as bike couriers in San Francisco… I don’t know how they do it on fixed gear every day. Seeing them going up to Telegraph Hill made me doubt my own eyes. It’s even more difficult to imagine how they descend a 31.5% gradient without brakes on the way back…
Thierry Saint-Léger did Evian-Nice in June on a fixed gear bike, assisted but non-stop. He actually used 2 bikes with different gearing: one for climbing and another for descending, but both fixed. 57-year old. A hard man.
It’s humbling to see these hard men and women. They put things in perspective.
I received an email a couple of weeks ago, announcing a closed road criterium in central Paris. Initially, I thought, ‘That could be fun, and a nice way to spend a Sunday morning and close out the season.’
The highlight for me is the chance to ride through the cobbled Place de la Concorde without worrying about being bumped by a motorist. So, I’ve been mulling a weekend trip to the City of Light. Then, the details of the event just sunk in.
Up to 3000 participants on a 65 km route. That’s plenty of people, if they fill all the spots, but that’s not a problem per se. If it were an A-to-B or a simple loop, then I think it’s fine. However, it’s 5 laps of 13 km. I appreciate the commercial imperative of the organisers, but I think that’s an unreasonable number of diverse participants doing laps.
The parcours is not technical and goes through wide roads, but there are a couple of choke points near Pont d’Iéna where it’s easy to imagine a pile-up with a bunch of limbs flying in various directions. With the whole thing being 65 km, I can imagine plenty of participants going full gas for the most part, if not from start to finish.
As for the start, I wonder if it’s going to be a mass start or a staggered one. A mass start for a timed event involving 3000 participants seems like asking for trouble. If it’s going to be staggered, I should think that it will be done by age group because there is no qualification process. The merits (or lack thereof) of age classification aside, I am guessing that by the time the last group rolls off, the faster lot from the first couple of groups will come bombing back to the start area already, given that the lap is only 13 km long. A disaster waiting to happen?
I hope that my concerns are completely unfounded and that everyone will enjoy themselves without getting hurt. A Parisian crit is a lovely concept and a wonderful initiative, but I think I’ll pass on this one.