Tag Archives: life

The Starbucks Dog-Thru

On my first morning in South Beach, I googled Starbucks locations on my iPhone (how anyone lives without one of these is beyond me) and I walked around the block to the nearest venerable institution. If you overlook the palm trees and the sun darting lovely rays on the large patio, it looked just like mine. I ordered my regular venti non fat latte with whole milk foam (a compromise latte of sorts), paid a dollar more than usual  for palm tree maintenance, no doubt, and sat on the terrace among the indigenous population and an unusually large number of dogs .

Not one minute after I deployed my stuff on the table (I never travel light even to Starbucks), a guy sitting nearby introduced himself , his friends, and all their pooches. Two minutes later, he was cracking a mildly tasteless joke – something about “hands-on work” (sigh), 5 minutes later he was informing me that his life revolved around making money and making love, and 15 minutes later, I had a new Starbucks family to come home to every morning. Voila!

sobe2_029Bob, Brian, Rich, and Meryl

I was settling in amidst the new compadres when a young guy walked up to the group and asked:

“Hey, can I borrow one of your dogs?”

Now, I thought that sounded a bit strange… until I saw the guy with the borrowed canine walk to the end of the patio, knock on the window which opened 5 seconds later, and get his drink almost immediately… as well as a cookie for the dog. The man had effectively bypassed a very long line of people waiting inside the store.

In light of the dog-thru, several facts appeared under a brand new prism of perception: the reason why so many people brought their dogs to Starbucks, and also the reason why so many dogs seemed so well fed.

In South Beach, if you like coffee and instant gratification, you must own a dog. Here are a few of these lovely Starbucks accessories:

sobe1_066Bentley (no Mike, this is not a Jack Russell! Or if she is, she must have eaten a copious amount of genetically modified dog food!)

sobe1_077Bob’s pooch, Malibu

sobe3_024Rich’s Zeta

sobe3_021Kenneth’s and Tom’s lovely Doberman Diesel

sobe3_028Branching out… A non-Starbucks dog on a wall

sobe3_032A very touching Basset Hound

sobe3_033The back of said Basset Hound… in precarious equilibrium

sobe2_040Yorkie transportation on Ocean Drive

And to end my Starbucks post which I segwayed into being about South Beach dogs, the Oscar goes to Alvaro and…

sobe2_025Alvaro’s seven Italian Greyhounds.

Even the dogs are Italian around here!

note to Razz: non Monsieur, don’t you dare sermon me about going to Starbucks in the land of Cuban coffee – after an incursion in Little Havanna and seven Cuban coffees later, I was unable to sleep for a very very long time.

Best ways to spend your AIG bonus in South Beach

If spared by the financial crisis or if discreetly spending your AIG bonus money (like incognito), you should enjoy a nice stay at the Delano Hotel in North South Beach (if among the lucky five who received more than $4 million, you may want to try The Setai.) Xuxa and I being lovers of luxury, we could not resist spending a little bit of time in the famous venues.

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The Delano staff seemed particularly hostile towards photographers.

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After taking one photograph of the long Philippe Starck designed lobby, I was asked rather firmly to put the camera away. We proceeded to the outside bar, followed closely by Buzz-kill. I ordered a $13 Mojito which came in a small plastic cup. At this point, I will recommend you save your Mojito money and spend it wisely on the awesome long glass Mojito at Nikki Beach. I don’t mind the price if the cocktail is particularly good but in this case, it was completely average… So I took more photographs.To avenge my wallet.

note to self: at next scheduled introspection, examine boundary issues.

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The photograph is a bit crooked because of taking it fortuitously, lying on a bed across the pool, pretending to be looking at something else. Xuxa and I loved our time at the Delano very very much, but soon the wind blew us towards The Setai…

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But not before snapping one last time: a decadent drunk sleeping in the hotel lobby. Then we really had to make an exit after Xuxa spotted Buzz-Kill, hurrying towards us, not looking very happy. One last thought: the Delano and the Shore Club are both owned by the same company. On their website, the description of the very pleasant SkyBar at Shore Club includes tips on how to get in: “go early, dress to impress, and bring a model.” Is it just me or is this totally nausea inducing?

Moving right along… The Setai. Xuxa sat at the bar, ordered a lychee Martini, and decreed with nonchalant certainty: “I have come home.”

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So, okay, the Martinis are $16 a piece but they compare to none. The bartender becomes your best friend in a matter of minutes. I could easily live there too.

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Xuxa and I got our portrait taken and you may wonder why I was wearing jeans in this temple of sophistication. The answer is very simple: I packed at the last minute and had a glass of wine in the process. That combination… combines not well and resulted in a large suitcase which content included five pairs of jeans, winter boots, numerous sweaters, and no shoes. It must have been a cold night prior to the departure (I’m also a very light weight: one tiny glass of wine suffices to propel me in a totally happy stratosphere where packing the right clothes appears completely secondary to stuffing the suitcase with a maximum of stuff.)

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After sipping on her Martini for a whole ten minutes, Xuxa Cienfuegos expressed her desire for a more muscular drink: a Sazerac. The bartender improvised a little bit and laid on the counter a glass which resembled no cocktail glasses I had seen in South Beach so far (that would be big.)

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It all went downhill from there.

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Just time for Xuxa to smoke one on the very windy patio.

Aside: she came to Miami with her “last five cigarettes EVER” and they lasted her not even one evening. They were not her last five ever either.

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Her demeanor seemed to indicate that it would be a good thing if we took a cab and went back to our hotel – not the Setai – quickly before we got in trouble. So we did just that.

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In the hotel room, Xuxa sat on the floor. She announced there would be no better time to do some work. Sigh.

I tried to reason with her.

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She gave me the Olympic raised fist. Her version anyway. In the end, I threw the towel and let her “work.”

The next morning, neither she nor I functioned at the top of our potential. As Xuxa would say: “It’s the downside of knowing how to live.”

Hi! My name is Nathalie and I am a sport addict

I have never considered myself a sport fan by any means, more a nerd who rides her bicycle a lot. I do not watch games on TV. I do not date sport nuts. I never know which teams play in the  Superbowl. So imagine my surprise when I suddenly discovered my inner jock in South Beach and that through no amount of introspection whatsoever.

I was walking up the Rive Droite of Ocean Drive and sat on a little wall to do some people watching with Xuxa. My gaze rested absently on a bunch of men playing beach volley ball. Oooh the sheer intricacies! The strategery! The magic of the little ball flying over the net! Finally a sport I could follow hours after hours after hours… I am not sure I can adequately convey my new found love for the game but I took a few photographs to help you understand.

asobe1_018My favorite

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I still feel puzzled by my sudden attraction to the game. I self-analyzed all the way back to Dallas and could not come up with any answers… I just know my inner jock is telling me to move close to a beach (preferably in Italy.)

The South Beach Seminar

If I were a seminar organizer, I would pick the most uninteresting and gloomiest town I could find on the map and that’s where my convention would take place. Bentonsport , Iowa , pop: 40 (no offense to the 40 fine folks.) Holding a series of lectures in a place like Miami with so many possibilities of outside diversions completely defeats the purpose. Many attendees. Not so much attendance. Seriously.

My friend D. who for the following series of Miamian posts will bear the more fitting name of Xuxa Cienfuegos invited me to come along to her public affairs conference (not the conference part, the Miami part.) She waited until the last minute to make hotel reservations downtown, and oops since there were no vacancies, she just had to book a room in South Beach. How totally inconvenient!

I met her at the airport. She was sipping a Bloody Mary. It was 7 am.

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By 3 pm, we had traded our Bloody Marys for Mojitos on Nikki beach.

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By 4 pm, we had met Gianni, Raffaele, Marco, and Andrea.

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I estimated Xuxa’s probabilities of attending any professional meetings in the coming days to an absolute zero…

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Have I mentioned lately how much my brother sucks?

So, there I am, in Brussels, minding my own business with a good book in front of the fireplace when Chris arrives with camera bags. “We are going to the Christmas Fair. One Leica for you, one for me. Let’s do it!” A film camera? How very… retro! I have not used one of these since 2001. I can’t even remember off-hand how to load the film! My brother is in fact completely passive aggressive on this one: totally setting me up for failure while giving the appearance of being the good brother who shares his toys.

Not being naturally mechanically inclined, I struggle loading the film while keeping all the parts in my little hand. My brother looks on, acting as if I were the biggest idiot he has ever seen. I may be, but no one has to rub it in.

As we drive to downtown Brussels, I resume the situation in my head. It’s dusk (very little light). We will shoot against the Fair’s lights (exposure compensation guesstimate required.) I’ll be using manual focus on moving targets for the first time in a gazillion years. I also happen to be as blind as a bat. I remediate this small impediment for a photographer by adjusting the diopter on my camera, but here… I’m shooting blind.

If that’s not setting up someone for failure, I don’t know what it is! Have I also mentioned how cold it is? It’s FREEZING out there! Have I mentioned my inner wimpitude? If it’s less than 55 degrees outside, it might as well be Alaska and I stay put in a heated house where humans are supposed to remain if they possess an ounce of common sense (which is obviously not the case for my brother.)

74130001The accordeon is popular in winter because it allows the use of gloves. Guitarists must be starving.

74130002Real cheese cut by an elf!

74130003Yummy! Durum! Turkish Sandwiches. Expensive Turkish sandwiches!

74130004Smoking warm wine and skinhead (either that or planetross took his shears to the poor fellow’s head.)

74130005Two photos of the warm wine because I like the smoke and I was hoping the little girl would get warm wine too and I could get a scandalous photograph. She got a soda. I was sorely disappointed.

74130006My favorite merry-go-round in the whole wide world: le Manege Magique.

74130009A little out of focus but I wanted to show the cool submarine. Chris thinks I’m fixated on getting technically correct images and I need to let loose a little. He calls me a stick in the mud basically.

74130008The pterodactyl seems to be one of the kids’ favorite rides.

74130010Poor kids that ended up in the hot air balloon instead of riding a dinosaur.

74130011After parents fought over the octopus, ungrateful little girl of the winning mother yawns and looks bored. She is not coming back to the fair anytime soon.

74130012The Eminem shirt is ruining my ambiance!

74130013This could have been taken decades ago. No Eminem shirt. No outward signs of modernity.

Then it was time for serious business. Messy business. Smooltebollen. Delicious beignet-like five minutes in your mouth five pounds in your buttocks type of deliciousness covered in powdered sugar. We put the cameras away. “Seven for both of us?” my brother asks. “Try fifteen!” I reply totally offended by his lack of good judgement. After we ate seven Smooltebollen each and fought for the last one, we drove home not feeling very well.

So I completely fell in love with my brother’s Leica and I bought his Hasselblad. I needed a light camera for traveling and ended up with massive studio equipment. That’s what I do. Chris never brought back the Leica. He likes to give me a little taste of something then take it back… So the M6 is on the list, right after the 5D Mark II, right after paying the bills and all the other stuff you have to pay.

A Family Affair

Before the blossoming of home computers, families still took time to make photo albums. I take time to raid the family albums. It’s my family too, after all. If you look up on the menu bar (the one that’s… up, not on the side), you’ll notice a new section called Album de Famille. That’s where my crazy family is tucked away. I’ll update my album with new photographs often so if they amuse you, check again in a few weeks!

my-crazy-auntsMy crazy aunt Tita and My crazy aunt Nanou in the sixties

A pony club sans vodka just ain’t the same

Zbigniev Wierbitszki owned a pony club in the outskirt of Brussels. Zbigniev liked his vodka and many gymkhanas turned into small dramas when he poured with a light hand (at every gymkhanas.) A pat on the back became a shove accompanied with a big hearty laugh (and many Polish words no one could understand) and if his whip caught you by surprise, it was not tender… but all in good fun.

From these formative years spent on tiny Shetlands, I have kept the best memories, which is why, when I got contacted by an area pony club to provide images for its website, I was very happy at the prospect.

btrinity_007b-copyIt was a pony club with sheep, goats, and chickens too

btrinity_036b-copyCaring for a horse teaches kids responsibilities… and problem solving

btrinity_050b-copyPhotoshop allows you to take the person holding the horse out of the photograph

trinity_102In my time, kids wore stylish black helmets but nowadays they dress up like shadow stormtroopers

btrinity_053b-copyPonies get stuck in weird places sometimes

btri2_021b-copyKids generally enjoy a little ride but the little boy was terrorized

tri2_096That little girl was stylin’. I even asked her where she got her boots.

ctri2_119cShe was the perfect model too, smiling as she jumped the fences!

btrinity_123b-copyAfter all the riding, the girls threw a wild tea party

btrinity_143b-copyIn my pony club, we never wore white gloves. We were much too busy ducking the whip to indulge in such civilities.

I danced my first tango in public at the end of a pony club summer camp. I was 8 and leading the poor boy across the arena, dipping him deeply at each end. This earned me 100 points and a ribbon. At the time, I had a HUGE crush on my dance partner, Eric Bockstal, but nothing ever materialized from it. I think I may have somewhat emasculated him.

Leo, seven years later

“So how much am I going to get paid?” Leo asks. A good question indeed… but coming from a seven year old, slightly unexpected.

“How much do I get for being a model?” he insists.

“Well, Leo, you get the glory that comes with appearing on my site.” He eyes me suspiciously as if my sole purpose in life consisted of ripping off little children. “I want money”, he says in a tone reminiscent of Addie Loggins in Papermoon.

I have known his mother, Isa, since the mid-eighties, when we attended school together in Brussels, formed a student union, fomented a revolution, and went our separate ways. My path led to Texas, hers to Thailand but always with a foot in Belgium.

Christmas 2001: I found her with child. I had not expected it. I knew nothing about it. I rang the doorbell and she opened the door with the tiniest wee baby in her arms. The baby wore a strange hat. That was the future negotiator in chief, Leo.

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Luckily, I had my camera with me! It’s not as if I would not have come back to photograph him but you have no idea how difficult it is to park in Brussels when you have completely lost the habit to parallel park in spots as big as pocket handkerchiefs.

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A year later, Leo is up, not yet running but close!

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The baby is adorable and not asking for money yet.

Unfortunately, during the next few years, Isa, Leo, and baby daddy Claude spent all their winters in Thailand, on beaches of white sands and turquoise waters. Can’t say I blame them, especially if you live in gray and rainy Brussels, but in the midst of all this whirlwind of international travels, meeting became difficult… until the munchkin began elementary school last year then the nomads got stuck.  The following photographs were taken this Christmas and you will notice that while Isa still looks exactly the same, Leo has morphed into quite a little man.

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Next year, I think I’ll have to show up with a pile of cash and pots of money. That kid drives a hard bargain.

Still lost in totally no translation

To resume the situation for the folks who are not paying attention, I was in Numata, Japan, unleashed in the town by myself for the first time, and not having too much success communicating with the natives (despite two absolutely grueling Japanese lessons.)

I had made it to the Tenkeiji Temple through a random act of kindness, but, after a bit of fearless exploring, I needed to find my way back to the house of Ross.

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The familiar sight of garden gnomes reassured me a little. A common denominator! Even the Japanese were victims of tasteless decor, how about that?

Soon, I discovered just how cosmopolitan Numata really was…

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I considered having Itarian (sic) food at the Itarian restaurant.

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But then how tempting was the burg at My Burg since 1997!

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I settled on hot Tommy Lee Jones coffee. He was a graduate from St. Mark’s School of Texas where I shoot quite a lot (not when he was there. I must have been not born yet.) Anyway, drinking his coffee made me feel very macho and courageous and hyper for the rest of my journey at the heart of Numata.

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I even found a French boutique! The problem with all this cosmopolitanism is that it all remains very Japanese-speaking. It may be an Itarian restaurant but they do not speak a lick of Itarian. Ditto for My Burg. Ditto for the French. Quick on cashing in my hard-earned yens, but a bit short on lexicon help.

So I kept on walking and walking and having another Tommy Lee Jones coffee and walking and walking…

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I noticed a barber pole. If I may, I will tell you about barber poles. At a time when barbers were also surgeons (bad surgeons but surgeons nonetheless), one of their principal duties was bloodletting. The two spiral ribbons on the pole represent two bandages, one twisted around the arm before the bleeding and the other to bind it afterward.  As I walked by, I peeked, and pretty much, this is what I saw…

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Crocodile Dundee san cutting the extremely blue hair of a man. Fabulous, no? Of course, I had to stop and “ask” them for permission to photograph them.

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He was all embarrassed but the mama san made him do it. She was laughing her head off looking at her husband posing. She showed me a cup and I understood I was invited for coffee. Many things should have prompted a polite refusal. First, I was wired from all the Tommy Lee Jones coffee. Second, what would we be discussing? Third, there was another client waiting and he, too, was wearing a large hat. I had landed at the hairdresser for weird people!

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Well, of course, I stayed. I told them about going to Nikko and Takaragawa while sipping my milkless coffee (another hazard of the language barrier) and in turn they told me stuff too. There was no understanding whatsoever on either side but it was jovial and I ended up spending more than an hour with them, having a jolly good time.

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The arrival of a second client brought great excitement to my hosts. They made me understand that he spoke English. Well, that was one big exaggeration! He spoke English as well as I Japanese. He was totally busted in front of his friends! I felt a bit bad for him.

Eventually all good things come to an end and I still had to make it to the house.

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The mama san and the non-English speaking dude waived goodbye at the door and hop, I was back on the sidewalk.

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I observed many people working in open areas with their back to the street (which is totally bad for photography.) I walked and walked…

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When I came across the familiar site of small rented houses, I knew I was finally on the right track.

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I also recognized the poster of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda who had announced his resignation a few weeks prior to my trip. I was finally nearing my destination.

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Finally, the corner 7/11, rendered famous by Ross’ continuous milk shortage and his understanding of 7/11 food as the ultimate basic food group, came in view. I don’t know about you, but the closest 7/11 from my house does in no way resemble this one.  Mine looks like this:

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Sad, isn’t it?

Anyway, I had made it back to the point of origin and I was ready for some 7/11 lunch. I generally come back from trips all enriched by other people’s visions and life experience, but in Japan, my conversations being limited to sumi masen, sumi masen, I settled for the warmth and the sense of hospitality of absolute strangers. Upon my return to Texas, I also got rid of all the Japanese language CDs. First, they sucked, and second, if I can get around Japan with sumi masen, I am obviously as well-versed as I need to be.

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Afflicted with what could only be described as a camera obsessive compulsive disorder, I shoot anything in sight. Obsessively. Compulsively. Anything. My only saving grace (and perhaps downfall too) is my reluctance to carry around the four pounds of equipment necessary to take a picture… But recently, to my friends’ greatest dismay, I discovered the camera on my iPhone. A few ounces that unleashed the OCD beast in me. I blame it on Steve Jobs.

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The iPhone now accompanies me every day on my bike ride and makes me stop every five minutes to take pictures of ducks (no offense Jason). It totally breaks my cycling momentum.

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It went with me to the Nasher Sculpture Center where I photographed my friends Robby and Greg, very Abbey Roadishy.

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It came out of my pocket at the Dallas Museum of Art, and I did not even get caught. Hee, Hee!

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Greg and Robby had to pose for me under the water because I do not take no for an answer. By solidarity, I stayed under the water too because that’s just the kind of person I am. Kind, that is.

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When my friend Dorin bribed me with a Happy Meal to operate as her bodyguard during a Craig’s list transaction, I downloaded an app called CameraBag and played with it in the car. Incidentally, Dorin asked me to post a good picture to balance this embarrassing selection, so I’m sending you back to a post I had written about her previously, bless her little heart.

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The app is quite fun and allows you to alter your image in the phone: you have a choice of infrared, Helga, fisheye, 1962, etc. The image format is greatly reduced but it’s entertaining.

Dorin berated me for taking photographs instead of being social and making conversation with her. I reminded her I was there as her bodyguard, not as her entertainer, and that she had not provided the promised Happy Meal yet, and why the hell not? I feel pretty sure I cannot  exercise my guarde du corps duties to their full potential on an empty stomach.

I’m leaving you with a picture of my mantel which seems to have taken a turn for the worse lately. I’m going to need a second fireplace soon.

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I think my iPhone addiction is now in its declining phase. I’m planning to reserve its use for car accident, stupid pictures of Monsieur Shinn at Starbucks, and blackmail opportunities. It was iPhun while it lasted, but I’m iPhinished.