FreshAir: Murder in Amsterdam

Was listening to Terry Gross interviewing Ian Buruma, who authored Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance.

When asked about difference between the US and Europe regarding absorbing immigrant populations, Buruma made an interesting point. He said that ironically enough, one of the reasons that Europe is now falling short in their effectiveness of absorbing immigrants comparing to the US might be: EU being such a welfare state while the US is not. When the US is not a welfare state, the new immigrants are forced to work. By working they had to interact with the US culture/language/people, and as a result become part of it. While in Europe, all the immigrants need to deal with are mainly government officials who distribute the welfare check, it left a humiliation mark on their face, makes them more angry. At the same time they have no need to interact with the host country’s culture/language/people. They stay apart as a result.

That’s the first time I realized the benefit of having such lousy welfare system. Interesting.

Manolo Blahnik

If you are like me, you would have heard of the phrase “Manolo Blahnik” for the first time from Sex and the City.

When Carrie Bradshaw, the shoe-loving central character of the HBO TV series Sex And The City, took a wrong turn after lunch in SoHo she found herself on one of New York’s grungier side streets and face-to-face with a mugger. “Please sir,” she pleaded. “You can take my Fendi baguette, you can take my ring and my watch, but don’t take my Manolo Blahniks.” Unfortunately for Carrie, the mugger did just that and ran off with her favourite pair of strappy sandals.
Manolo Blahnik/Show Designer

Later Carrie calculated her annual shoe spending and came to the realization that the amount of money she spent on shoes would have been enough for a downpayment in NYC.

Actually, I didn’t even remeber the designer’s name. Just some ridiculously expensive shoes. Crazy women. For $400 a pair, i didn’t have any need to know the name of the shoe. Later when my friend J mentioned the name “Manolo,” I felt a minor shock. You mean, people actually do know the name of this shoe designer? And people actually BUY them? Outside of a TV series set in NYC? WOW!

But i never bothered to look them up when i do go shopping. Partly because I, again, forget the spelling of the last name.

Then when we were in Vegas, we saw these $3500 Manolos. I was amuzed but hardly impressed. Another marketing scheme aimed for those brand-name-crazed women, I thought. Shrugged it off.

Low and behold, Gui sent me this link from National Geographic today, and I was hooked.

Politically correct or not, there is an irresistible urge to pet this shoe; put it on a leash; take it to bed. It is a Manolo Blahnik high heel, and for more than 30 years, Blahnik has designed shoes that are the accessory to a fairy tale: Shoes made of rhinestones, feathers, sequins, buttons, bows, beads, grommets, rings, chains, ribbons, silk brocade, bits of coral, lace, fur (from farm-raised animals, he adds), alligator, ostrich—everything, perhaps, but woven unicorn forelock.

I got curious and started doing a little research. Next thing i knew, I fell in love with Manolo Blahnik’s original sketch of his shoes. Stilletos are not my thing. I know I would never ever wear a pair of Manolo. But looking at the illustration he did for his creation, how could anyone not feel attracted to them? They are, truely, modern art.

I even start to understand why Madona has compared Manolo Blahnik’s shoes to sex. Take a look at this, doesn’t it look sensual to you?



Here are some of these illustrations I could find from the internet.

Even better, there is already a collection of all of his drawings up to 2003 in a book!
manolo blahnik drawings.

In Retrospective

Reading all my journals starting from college years. I’m now somewhere in 1998. Came across a quote i noted down after reading “The Heart of the Matter” by Graham Greene.

…the rare occasion when one takes such interests in a stranger’s life. The youth often mistaken it for ‘love.'”

What makes it ironic is that when i noted this done, i was doing just that, “mistaken my own sudden interests in an almost stranger’s life for ‘love.'” How blind could I be? And Why did I note it down and then promptly ignore it?

It was like the rational side of me screamed out, “read this! You are making a mistake!” The irrational part of me took one look at it and kept on walking down its merry way. Unfortunately the irrational part seemed to be winning for the most parts.

But I eventually landed on my feet. Oh Well. Youth must do what youth must do. 🙂

Sin City

I’ve been indulging my fascination with Sin City – “Las Vegas” – ever since my weekend trip.

It probably all started with a casual comment from my friend B while we were leaving Wynn. She was wondering when will the gardeners of Wynn have a chance to care/move/replace flowers/plants in the botanic garden at Wynn. Because during the day, it was full of tourists, at night it was full of gamblers/drinkers/party-goers. She concluded that it must be around dawn. As she reached her conculsion, we reached the front door and the door man opened the door for us. So i thought, these are the people who really know the stories of the city. All the behind the scene gossip about casino owners, celebrities and in general the real life behind this non-stop show that we see.

So I’ve been googling like mad since my return. First on blackjack rules, the statistics, the basic strategy. Then on designers/owners/developers of the casino/hotels that i liked: The Venetian, Bellagio, Wynn.

I want to know who made these places and which kind of people they are. I want to know who work and live here, and which kind of people they are. I wasn’t disappointed. Came across a couple of good residents view of Vegas, one in Chinese, one in English.

Turned out that Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio and Wynn are all designed/build by the same guy: Steve Wynn. He seemed to have an obsession with water.
The Venetian owner is a different guy: Sheldon Adelson, who happened to be the number 3 on the richest American list on Forbes.com.

It is truly an intersting place, that’s full of colorful characters.

Here Comes the Tapas!

Two more cafes opened on campus this week. One of them is a tapas place! I was estatic when i learned that. Here is the description of the tapas cafe.

Pintxo – Pronounced PIN’-cho, which is a pinch “en Espanol”. Here you will find an adventurous concept as we tackle the tapas, small plate’s concept, and incorporate small portions from around the world. We of course will start with exploring the Catalonian region of Espana and will take you beyond heights ever experienced! Your taste buds are in for a ride…are you ready? One strategy recently discussed; come with a few of your friends, split up, skip the lines, grab a few different dishes and meet at your pre-determined table. Then, share your dishes “family style” and enjoy!

So the first day was Catalonian region, second day Corsica region, third day South and Southwest of France.

I managed to remember bringing my camera on the third day, so i can share with you some of those lovely sights in my tray:


Chilled Pepper Soup with Softshell Crab
The Basque country close to Spain flavors its food with spicy Piment d’ espelette, which is used for this soup, with
A side of Parmesan Reggiano Crispy Soft Shell Crab,
Strauss Creamery Lemon Yogurt, Sumac,
Yellow Tomato Concasse, Basil infusion.
Loved the crab, not too sure about the soup though.


Cold Tapas
Fried Taro chips, couscous, sauteed green beans,
Foie Gras Pate,
Smoked Trout on a salad of fennel, Braeburn Green apples, and pistachio with preserved lemon yogurt.
The smoked trout was especially tasty.


Premium Gold Angus Beef Hangar Steak
Bordeaux Sauce with crispy shallots
Desert on the side:
Rose Water Marshmallows
Macerated Blackberries and Nectarine.
Steak was tender, and the sauce gave it a surprisingly fruity flavor. Every bite was a pleasant surprise. It was like a dry red wine managed to leave a fruity aftertaste in your mouth, entirely unexpected and very lovely.


Seared Tuna with Lemon Zest
toasted pinenuts, Yuzu Infused Oil.
Loved this one, the crest on the edge of the tuna is SPICY, Yum!


Petaluma Farms Chicken Truffle Mousse Canneloni
Trumphet Mushroom Beurre Blanc
Even though this plate looked less attractive than the rest, I was very glad i didn’t pass it off. The mushroom sauce was rich and delicious, and the chicken mousse combined with the canneloni flour wrap provided an enjoyable, almost cake like texture.

Ah, what a satisfying meal! It looked like a piece of art, too!

See larger photos here.

Vegas!

Vegas was never my type of town. I avoid it by all means.

Before this weekend, summer of 1998 was the last time i was in Vegas, for a conference. It was before this new wave of new hotels being built (both Bellagio and Venetian opened in the fall of 1998). I remembered i spent most of my spare time sitting in my hotel room watching History Channel, at the time there was a series on Alexander the Great. I loved the show. Hated the endless rows of slot machines I must navigate from the front door to the elevator. The interior of a casino was so depressing. People sitting in front of slot machines, their faces expressionless, their movement mechanical. It felt like death. Everything looked dark, gloomy, and cheesy.

The only highlight that i enjoyed from that trip (other than Alexander the Great) was a night i spent with my fellow co-workers in a bar at New York New York, it was a blues bar, quiet, with a older black man singing the blues at the piano. We drank martini and smoked cigar. Maybe i liked it cuz it was not cheesy or loud, like everywhere else in Vegas. Maybe I liked it cuz it didn’t look like vegas.

That was my second trip to Vegas. The first time i went when i was still in college. Vegas’ night dazzled me. I disliked the gloom of the casinos at first sight. But i was amazed at all the light and spectacles one could see from the street and in the shops. I liked ceasers palace’s painted sky. But that section was rather short.

I didn’t have much expectation about vegas this weekend. I figured there would be now enough new hotels and attractions for me to check out during the day, and there will be plenty of alcohol and good food to keep me happy at night. I can handle one weekend in Vegas.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Because Vegas has grown up. The cheesy vegas built with the old money was slowly fading away. Vegas now is being built with the new money from the 90’s, lots lots of money. Came along with the money is a classier taste, a more creative design, and endless ambitions. The newly rich of the US has been yuppified. Maybe money does age well, like a good wine.

The new hotels are beautiful, grand, and fantastic. Even the casinos are not so hateful looking in these new hotels. Especially in Bellagio and Venetian. The casino is less gloomy, lighting is more closely resembling one’s own living room. It is comfy and cozy. Chandeliers in the casinos are tastefully done. In Venetian, the ceiling is as usual painted with gorgeous renaissance images.

There is a new theme, too. Americanized Europe.

Europe has its over a thousand year’s history and deep routed culture heritage. The United States has money, lots of it. So Europe has Venice, and Paris. The US can capture each city in its finest moment — Venice in the early morning, and Paris in a early spring evening–freeze it, built it from ground up in the center of a desert. What’s more, it is new, clean, not smelly, perfectly air conditioned, no need to deal with troublesome foreign language, and they are 10 minutes walk apart from each other.

Looking at Venetian’s gorgeously painted ceilings and exquisite details of each element of its interior (from lamp to door knob), one realized that the US really has nothing to feel inferior about herself comparing to Europe. Everything here is just as grand, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing as any European palace, and these are newer, more elaborate, brighter, with certain sense of creative repackaging in a modern sense. It is as if Europe the old man one day wake up and was 500 years younger and dressed in Armani instead of medieval knight armor.

The ultimate representation of capitalism.

I also just realized that with most of American cities been built to its capacity back in the 1950’s, Vegas is the only place left where one could see all the newly created wealth at work in physical forms. Each wave of development represents a new generation of wealthy tycoons, the theme represents the current aesthetic inclination. i.e. Greek Parthenon versus Roman Coliseum.

Rushdie has long ago claimed that today’s celebrities are the new gods. We worship them and we crucify them. They behave just like the ancient Greek gods, full of genius, talent, and humane weakness. If that’s the case, then today’s Vegas is our Athene. We built temples (hotels) to worship our god (money).

Itinarery:
-Flew in Friday evening

-Check in The Venetian, we ended up in Venezia tower, the nicer/newer part of the hotel

-Had buffet dinner at Rio (not as good as many of us remembered, but enough to fill us up and get ready for a night on the town)

-Went to Shadow Lounge at Ceasers Palace, where PURE lounge is the main sensation, the line of people trying to get into PURE was out of control, supposedly people wait till 2am in the morning to reach the door! The attraction of Shadow lounge are these two walls flooded with pink lighting, and projected on it are video clips of human sized shadow of dancing women. Similar to those ipod billboard one sees everywhere. Except these women was shown as if they were naked, cuz you get to see their nipples when they dance side ways. The lighting and the projection was cleverly done. It created the illusion that the women were dancing on a hidden stage in real time behind a screen, right behind the bar. It was sexy, classy, and simple to operate. Turned out Friday was Mexico’s Independence day. We had a few guys and gals waving Mexican flag and dancing on the table from time to time. The ambient was lively and happening. I liked it here.

Saturday woke up early, checked out Venetian’s Grand Canal Shoppes, Wynn, Fashion Show Mall, Bellagio (had the most expensive bowl of noodle for lunch in Bellagio), Paris. Wynn’s interior used simple lines, and dark wood framing against white. It is like a supersized Crate and Barrel, only prettier with the Barcelona style mosaic tiled walkway, and nicely maintained botanic gardens. Bellagio is elegant, Dale Chihuly‘s hand-blow glassworks were seen throughout the vincinity, airy and light, too pretty to be true. The music fountain took my breath away. The Chinese restaurant in Bellagio, Jasmin, provids the VIP view of the fountain. The menu indicated a bowl of tofu costs $30. After we watched the fountain dance by the lake, seeing how great a location Jasmin has on the lake, my friend sighned, “of course, that’s why a bowl of tofu costs 30 dollars. You are eating the view.”

– Saturday evening, Dinner at AquaKnox, Party at Tao nightclub. Both places were excellent. Everything we had at Aquaknox was excellent, from appetizer to desert. Truly an amazing feast. When i was in beijing earlier this year, friends were showing me various clubs and bars. I was under the impression that Bejing has surpassed the US in their club creation capability. But seeing Tao, I realized that Beijing still has a long way to catch up. But i must admit i felt a little disturbed seeing all these stone budda statues surrounding this three story space, which was filled with overflowed desire and lust. Maybe i worry too much. Budda can find serenity from within.

More Photos:
The Venetian
Wynn, Bellagio, and Paris.

More Dale Chihuly’s work here.