Monday, May 24, 2010

Zurich Indie Shopping

The neighborhood Kreis 4 east of the Sihl River and south of the train tracks in Zurich is supposedly the Red Light district, though we saw no signs of it in the January cold—instead, it looked like a great neighborhood to go on a shopping wander. There was an impressive density of small, indie-designer boutiques, little cafes and yoga centers, and no big-box, big-brand commercialism. I loved it.

Badenerstrasse 123a,
Mid-century modern furniture and lighting.

GrĂ¼ngasse 19
Mid-century modern furniture, cool objects such as vintage children's cars.

Lazer Zone

Backerstrasse 20
Film-buff heaven DVD shop, lots of obscure German stuff, organization by director.

Lyn May
Schrinerstrasse 42
Lingerie: the local equivalent of Kiki De Montparnasse.

Making Things

Grungasse 20
Local fashion designers, crafty accessories.

Ankerstrasse 20
Swiss art-book publisher, lots of cool stuff such as photo book curated by Kim Gordon.

Ooops, I've lost the contact on this one, but if you see it, it has cute clothes, knitwear.

15 Backerstrasse
Import sneakers.

14 Ankerstrasse
Swiss desingers for housewares & hip, modern design.

Secondbag & Stelline
Freyastrasse 21
Girls clothing and local fashion designers.

Street Files Mini Mart
Badenerstrasse 129
Urban stuff, t-shirts.

Grungasse 10
Local fashion design.

Zwei 25
Zweierstrasse 25, +44 241 02 34
My favorite of the women's fashion labels. Colorful, comfy, chic skirts and dresses.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Location Lit: Paolo Bacigalupi's Bangkok masterpiece, The Windup Girl

I love to read novels about a place while visiting it, and I'm always looking for good ones. You can enjoy a book about Bangkok without having a mental picture of Sukhumvit, or knowing what a soi is, but the pleasure is amplified when you do.

Bangkok travelers, or people following the story of the political unrest there, will enjoy, then, the American short-story writer Paolo Bacigalupi's brilliant first novel, The Windup Girl. You could call it science fiction, but really it falls into the new category of smart, speculative literary fiction that's increasingly making un-sense of the category.

As does your first arrival in Bangkok, the novel starts with overwhelming sun, sweat, a cotton-dampening bath of hot, humid air, and teeming, melty-asphalt streets crowded with vendors of every kind of tropical fruit. That's really what it's like today, but in Bacigalupi's world, set unspecified years in the future, the protagonist is a corporate spy from a big agribusiness company, come to Bangkok to discover the secrets to the Thai Kingdom's outlaw-genetic-code foods.

The action is set in a post-oil world, post-global warming, post-"contraction" when globalization fell apart, a world where power, and the computers and phones and cars that depend on them, is something even the rich and the governments have in preciously small quantities. From there, you plunge into Thai politics, the worlds of spys, slums, refugees and genetically engineered Japanese "wind up" people designed as soldiers or sex toys.

Laying out the premises could make the book sound didactic, but the information takes its sweet, disorienting time to come clear. This was a great book on the level of prose, and also for twisted & surprising views on our hot-button topics. It has a very light touch in terms of references to today's Bangkok, which makes the locations the reader recognizes or suspects might be familiar, more psychologically effective. The genius is in how this transformed, futuristic, barely recognizable Bangkok feels just like the real thing. Read it by the pool at the Oriental, while meditating on the joys of ice and air-conditioning.

Also, there's a Bacigalupi short story online at Pyr books, here. And, people who like the Location Lit concept are directed to the Rough Guides, which have great "Context" sections in the back, recommending destination specific books and movies.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hype-o-meter on the Breslin at the Ace Hotel

I went to The Breslin in the Ace Hotel last night and was pleasantly surprised that it was easy to get a table. This is the second walk-in score in a row, since Buttermilk Channel, shockingly, had tables at 8pm on Tuesday. Both of these restaurants are notoriously packed, so either the NYC dining scene has moved on and I haven't found out where yet (a possibility, I admit), or even the rich people are finally running out of money. Ivan says the latter.

Other things that have dribbled out: April Bloomfield and the locavore whole-animal trend. The crowd at the Breslin was square. There were no good-looking girls. If you are a good-looking girl looking for an older guy in a suit, you may have been happy. The decor is the ironic and overwrought version of the old pub, and I like old pubs, so I sort of liked it, but I also felt like I was at T.G.I. Fridays. If the menu had been ok, I could have gone with it. And the menu, at first, looks ok, or wildly creative, or something, until you realize that there's nothing on there people would actually want to eat. It seemed to be composed entirely of things that the Scottish middle-class outgrew in the '50s. Peanuts boiled in lard and thrice-fried chips and scary terrines and Stilton pie. The people sitting next to us both ordered the lamb burger because it was the only user-friendly thing on the list. Ivan and I debated the $125 steak for two, but I decided to test them on their home ground and have the beef tongue and oxtail in broth. Ivan had the vinegared poussin, which he felt was too vinegary. The broth for the tongue & oxtail was truly divine, but the cuts of meat were both suspect. It was a delicious tongue, but cut way too thick... you don't want the tongue bouncing back at you as you chew it, no matter what the flavor. And the oxtail hadn't totally melted out the fat and connective tissue the way I would have liked. Oh, and the "Garden" gin and tonic, their specialty drink, was bitter and unpalatable. I left with the impression that maybe it would have been fun to go there and drink a ton of beer and then eat the unhealthy fried food in a drunken stupor. Which, really, is what a pub is good for, gastro or no.