Chikashi Miyamoto

philosopher by training, gentleman by accident, pervert by nature, glutton by choice

Category: book review

A Somewhat Counter-intuitive Truth

The Obree Way by Graeme Obree

The Flying Scotsman’s book is very interesting mainly because it reveals a bit about Obree as a person. It is a case study of what is required to push and redefine established boundaries: the personality traits such as dedication, discipline and obsession. If you are seeking specific tips as a cycling enthusiast, you may be disappointed not because there aren’t any. In fact, the book is full of advice and tips, but they are appropriate for those who have specific, ambitious goals. Obree’s recommendations for setting up your bike to optimise fit can be filed under ‘What works for Graeme’ but not repeated as universal truths.

However, there is one bit of Obree’s wisdom that stuck in my mind: a time trial is not about being fast but about not being slow.

I must confess that I initially thought, ‘Dood, dat is an egregious fallacy.’ It does appear to be tautological, doesn’t it?

Until I recalled my performance during a club TT event. What initially appeared to be a bad case of tautology is actually valid.

It also explains why the average speed on a routine ride with a consistent and comfortable tempo can be higher than that with several segments of anaerobic efforts alternating with ‘recovery’ segments.

The truth applies not only to TTs but also to the whole of a Grand Tour. Winning one in the general classification is not about winning all the stages but about achieving the shortest cumulative time. How Contador won this year’s Giro d’Italia without winning a single stage illustrates the point eloquently.

But then again, ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ can be relative. Here’s Andy Birdsall during the City RC Hull Open 10-mile Time Trial. Fast forward to 6:30 to see Wiggo overtaking him as though Birdsall is going at a snail’s pace despite clocking a very respectable 38 mph when Wiggo whizzed by at unknown velocity.

Don’t go slow this Sunday, Wiggo. Show’em who’s Da Boss.

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Let your voice be heard

Let your voice be heard.

Fight not over. Save Rizzoli.

Vornado Realty Destroys Historic 57th Street Façade!

Vornado Realty Destroys Historic 57th Street Façade!.

Scums.

The Rizzoli Building Declared Eligible for National Register!

The Rizzoli Building Declared Eligible for National Register!.

Thank you to all the supporters!

A New York Cultural Institution Under Threat of Demolition

I seldom resort to expressions like this (without a smile), but I think it’s scandalous. An outrage.

At 31 West 57th Street in Manhattan, there is a beautiful 3-storey oasis. It is called Rizzoli Bookstore, and they are about to lose their home. The building is now under threat of demolition because the owners want to replace the 6-storey building with a much taller ‘tower’. It can be saved if the building is designated as a landmark, but it won’t happen on its own. It will require persuading certain parties, and perhaps you can help.

I was just in New York for another 36-hour visit over the weekend. Unlike on most other visits to New York, I had a bit of extra time, so I stepped out into the freezing cold with a view to examining the latest wares at Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys. I took the lift straight up to the top floor of Bergdorfs. After seeing that most of the yellowing silver hollowware inside glass display cases were full of fingerprints and that half the cutlery assortment was lightly tarnished and carelessly tossed into the cases, I worked my way down. As Adam once said after being expelled from Eden, it ain’t what it used to be. (Or, was that my old tobacconist?) Shops never look their best during markdowns, which I forgot that it would still be on, but it is a little depressing to find that at a shop of Bergdorf Goodman’s calibre, half the shop floor staff were playing with their smartphones, heads down and tapping away something undoubtedly urgent. I don’t quite understand why those phones are even allowed on the shop floor. When Chairman Mo used to rule Harrods, if he spotted such a scene during his daily tour through the shop floor, the old bugger would have sacked them on the spot. I am not sure if Ira Neimark would have actually sacked them right there and then but am certain he would have been as cross as Mo would have been. Ira and Mo having something in common, imagine that.

Rather than spending a lot of time examining their excess inventory, I went to the lower ground floor to accomplish the mission of the day, to get a pot of moisturising cream for the Brunette. As I was leaving the building, I spotted a pair of Joan Rivers look-alikes, appearing resplendent with reconstructed faces, radioactive tan and harsh highlights, one in a delicious caramel-coloured sable and the other in an exquisitely trimmed black mink, no doubt cocooning their respective owners’ re-calibrated bodies. Do they all go to the same cosmetic surgeon, or do all cosmetic surgeons use the same template, I wondered. Or, are they all secretly related to Mike Jeffries? The sight of them lifted my spirits a little but not enough to carry me over a few blocks northeast to Barneys or even across the street to Bergdorf Men’s to see even more leftovers. So, I headed west to Rizzoli.

Rizzoli W57 St

Rizzoli is my most favourite shop in the world, bar none. I love the place. I also hate it because I am always tempted to buy their entire stock. It is a calming place. It is also an exciting place, with all the fetching books showcased in a stunning environment. It is an oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle called Manhattan, warm in winter and cool in summer. The helpful and knowledgeable members of staff can usually be found engaged in a suitably bookish conversation rather than texting or posting an update on Facebook or whatever it is that sales people at Bergdorfs do on their iPhones whilst on duty. Rizzoli is the provider of ‘retail therapy’ in its purest, unadulterated form. Heaven.

After having recovered from the visit to Bergdorfs, I met up with a dear friend for dinner. Whilst I was mildly regretting my choice of wine that failed to live up to the delicately flavoured duck breast, he dropped the bomb on me: ‘Rizzoli just lost their lease.’

What?

29 years after they had fled the space behind the facade that now houses Henri Bendel when it was threatened with demolition, Rizzoli are threatened by a wrecking ball once again. The LeFrak family and the Vornado Realty Trust who own 29, 31 and 33 West 57th Street plan to demolish the 3 buildings to make way for a new ‘tower’.

One way to look at Rizzoli is that it’s just a shop, in which case, it can just find another retail space and continue operating from a new address. I would agree with this view if they were selling tissue paper, toothpaste and other things that come in plastic tubes and bottles.

The Rizzoli Bookstore is a New York institution. It is also a cultural institution, housed in an appropriate environment that is virtually impossible to replicate elsewhere. After the demise of Scribner’s Bookstore, I would say that it is the last of its kind remaining in New York. If New Yorkers have any sense of their city being an important cultural centre, then they would designate 31 West 57th Street as a landmark building and allow Rizzoli to continue to serve in its current location.

Stepping away from the Rizzoli question for a moment, it boggles the mind that #29, one of the three adjacent buildings being demolished, does not have a landmark designation either:

29 West 57th Street top

One does not need to be a New Yorker to have a view on the matter. I no longer live in New York, but I think it would be a crying shame to demolish those buildings.

WHAT TO DO:

Regardless of where you live,

1. Sign the petition to landmark our building and ask your friends to do the same.

2. Write to Robert B. Tierney and urge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to schedule a public hearing to vote on the 57th Street buildings. Tell him you feel these beautiful buildings are architecturally and historically significant and protecting buildings like these is the mission of the Commission.

If you live in New York, also speak with your local elected officials and ask for their support.

To contact New York City Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick:

District Office
211 East 43rd Street, Suite 1205
New York, NY 10017 | (212) 818-0580

To contact Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer:

1 Centre Street, 19th Floor
New York, NY 10007 | (212) 669-8300

For more information, visit Saverizzoli.org.

Save Rizzoli.

What Ed Saw on 9/11

Perfect Souls Shine Through by Edward Whitehead

Edward Whitehead was a colleague and a friend. No, not Commander Whitehead, the Schweppes guy; I’m not that old. I tend not to socialise with colleagues because of potential conflicts of interest arising in the future. Of course, there have been exceptions, and Ed was one of them.

Ed was a tall, devastatingly handsome man. He was intelligent and stylish. Above all, he was an interesting man. He was interesting because of what he lacked as well as what he had. He lacked the usual array of insecurities and anxieties; he was a confident man. Not arrogant, but confident, comfortable in his own skin. On the other hand, he was a complex character. He was a tormented soul because of something in the past. I do not know what that is or what exact effect it had on him, but there was a certain dimension to his character, a certain weariness, that told me that something specific in his past informed his current views. To me, that made him interesting.

Ed and I regularly walked the market to see what sorts of products and spaces were attracting customer traffic as well as the apparent customer demographics, sometimes chortling at the sight of 40-somethings swarming around product assortments intended for 20-somethings. Our little tours differed from routine walks because we mixed it up with ‘hot mum’ spotting.

‘Hey, 2 o’clock.’

‘Not bad. 9 o’clock isn’t half bad either.’

‘Oh yeah, she’s hot.’

Demographics is an important, professional consideration.

We certainly didn’t lack our own, respective hot mums. I have the Brunette. Ed had his long term girlfriend Josie, a stunning and very sweet former underwear model who reduced one of our colleagues to an embarrassing, cow-eyed jelly every time she visited our offices; she had a teenage daughter from a previous relationship very early in her life. The hot mum spotting broke up the routine and added a bit of innocent fun: just looking, no chatting or touching. Well, maybe a smile here and there, but nothing more.

I moved on to another company, one of Ed’s former employers. Ed also left soon thereafter, returned to New York and joined a relatively new company. He tried to get me to join the London HQ of his new gig, but it was not to be. Unfortunately, we lost touch soon thereafter.

Last November, I thought of Ed and wondered what he was up to. I searched on Google, only to find out that he died of cancer almost exactly 4 years before in North Carolina, on 2 November 2008, at the age of 52, leaving a young wife and a four year old daughter. The news took me by surprise in many ways. I did not know that he took a wife, that she wasn’t Josie, that he finally became a father, that he had cancer and that he died. It was a bit much to absorb all at one go that afternoon in mid-November.

I knew that he did not stay very long in New York and subsequently joined Galyan’s, a sporting goods retailer, as their chief marketing officer. However, I did not know about the publication of Perfect Souls Shine Through until I came across Ken Honeywell’s blog (containing scans of several pages of Perfect Souls) that same November afternoon. Perfect Souls was Ed’s book, a limited run published by Galyan’s to raise money for the Twin Towers Fund. It featured a selection of photos from 40+ rolls of film that Ed shot a few days before, on and immediately after 9/11.

I searched the web for a copy and found one at a used book dealer as new copies are no longer available. I did not seek out the book because I wanted to see more photos of the tragic event. Rather, I wanted to see what Ed saw, and felt, on the days leading up to it, including a care-free afternoon with friends on the beach at Amagansett, on the fateful day in downtown Manhattan when shock and disbelief swept across the world, and on subsequent days when New Yorkers started to deal with the consequences. It’s one thing to view scenes captured by Weegee, someone I did not know, but quite another to see what a friend captured. I suspect that Weegee did not have much emotional involvement with his subjects even though he knew how to capture his subjects’ emotions through his lenses. In contrast, Ed was emotionally involved even though most of the people captured on film were strangers to him. Through the photos, I could see what Ed was feeling and hear some of the words he must have muttered whilst focussing the lens and depressing the shutter release.

Ed admired Bruce Weber’s work. There was one particular Weber quote that he loved: ‘A house is not a home.’ Being genuine was important to Ed. It was a constant theme when we considered product assortment and presentation, including copywriting, styling and everything else. It’s not too often that one comes across such a disposition amongst marketers. I think this is partly because it is actually a very difficult stance to maintain when you work for someone else and even more difficult when you are dealing with products from a variety of third parties. Perfect Souls is all Ed.

Made in England: The Artisans Behind the Handbuilt Bicycle

Made in England: The Artisans Behind the Handbuilt Bicycle

A copy of Made in England: The Artisans Behind the Handbuilt Bicycle by Matthew Sowter and Ricky Feather arrived last week after I had pre-ordered it some time ago. Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with some of the best artisans in their respective fields (unrelated to bicycles). I love hanging out at workshops, watching them literally create something. The smell of the raw materials, fumes, dust, stale coffee, overflowing ashtrays… the sound of filing, hammering, polishing, waxing, sewing, lighting of the gas torch… the soft light cutting through the workshop from the north facing windows. And, I love steel bikes. When the title was announced, I click-click-clicked to pre-order it straightaway.

Short of visiting the featured artisans’ workshops yourself, Sowter and Feather allow you to get a glimpse of the human beings behind the handbuilt bikes. The emotive photographs shot by Kayti Peschke add colour, texture and mood to the frank words of the builders that reveal a small but important part of their personalities.

Actually, I think Made in England is one of the best branding initiatives that I have seen in a long time.

In almost any product category, at the top end of the market, it is less about transactions and more about relationships. It is about human beings, the personalities and the hands behind the products and the names, and the people that seek them out. No different with bikes.

The authors touch on one notion that provokes a bit of thought. Can a craft be an art? Common rhetoric tends to indicate an assumption that art is a higher form of output than craft. I do not agree with this assumption. It is true that classic disciplines in art, such as fine, decorative, literary, performance and martial arts, require mastery of the relevant crafts, but I am not convinced that one ranks higher than the other. The authors ask the question to be deliberately provocative, playing on the assumption embedded in common parlance.

To get a peek into the minds of some young and old artisanal frame builders working in England today, order your copy today at www.pushprojects.net. It’s worth every penny and then some.

The brand names featured in the book are:

Reynolds, Chickens, Demon, Donhou, Feather, Lee Cooper, Mather, Roberts, Ron Cooper, Rourke, Ted James, Woodrup and Dave Yates


All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.

Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.

In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.

Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean.

Else our lives are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
Stumble as they seek to climb.

Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall to-morrow find its place.

Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.

— The Builders by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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