Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Recently, when people have asked me about the raison d'etre of this blog, I've explained that it serves three important functions (for me).
- I wanted to have a motivation to begin writing something outside of my corporate writing duties.
- I have a compulsive habit of categorizing related items (look around) and I wanted to find a home for those lists.
- And finally, I'm a relentless evangelizer and promoter of the things that I enjoy and as a result people often ask me for recommendations about a range of needs, e.g., restaurants, films, plays, art, books, shopping resources, etc. This site serves as an archive of those highly personal preferences (see subtitle above).
Over dinner last week, the topic turned to my enjoyment of the city of London and the question of whether or not I had ever considered living there. I stated my belief that London is an "A" city and said that I'd very much like the opportunity to live in other A cities. Which lead naturally to the question of what are the grades and which cities qualify as what grades?Here is the basic framework of my system for all who wish to quarrel about it:
- # of worthwhile museums
- # of major performing institutions (theaters, dance companies, operas)
- volume of excellent culinary experiences
- navigability and public transportation
- historical interest
What is not included in my framework:
- Anything that has to do with TEAM SPORTS. Honestly, I understand why people play them. But I have a serious bias against watching them.
- Outdoor activities in general. "Great hiking" is not on my radar screen.
- Nightlife. I don't drink. I don't go to clubs. I don't venture near loud music.
With that framework as a caveat...here we go:
A cities are inexhaustable. You can never have "seen it all" or done it all. You may have hit some major sites and wiped yourself out. But there's more, more, more to do and it's growing and changing all the time.
- London - A fantastic, sprawling cultural conucopia. Great museums include the V&A, The Tate, The Tate Modern, The National Gallery. Theatre (it's proper spelling there) abounds with major productions going on in the West End, The National Theatre and the RSC and a multitude of smaller shows being produced on the Fringe. History is multi-layered and on display at every footstep. The one possible stumbling block to London's A status has been overcome with a deluge of terrific restaurants across the city. You may spend more than you've ever spent on a meal (as we did at Pied a Terre).
- New York - 24/7, baby. We never sleep. You want art? Met, MOMA, Guggenheim, Frick. You want Opera? Met, City Opera, Amato. Dance? Pick a style, it's here in spades. Theater? Broadway, Off, Off-Off, and Off-Off-Off! Food? We have thousands to choose from, offering every single cuisine you can imagine. And you can order it at any hour and get it in 30 minutes!
- Paris - It's like the Trivial Pursuit of cities. There are so many firsts and foremosts in Paris that it's just not possible to list them all. Pick a category: Art, Architecture, History, or cuisine. They're all represented here in glorious abundance. I'd like to single out the Musee D'Orsay's unparalleled Impressionist collection which includes Caillebotte's breathtaking "The Planers", an unexpectedly modern and naturalistic piece that held me completely breathless for minutes. I could barely stand to leave it.
- Rome - Good god. Do I really have to defend Rome's being on the A list? The history of art is stretched across its countless museums. (If you've not been to the Galleria Borghese, go and gasp at the Bernini's.) The food is terrific. (Best gelato? Hands down goes to San Crispino.) Do not rent a car. Do not get in a cab. Walk everywhere. Discover a mystery around every corner.
These are so close to being an A, but they are smaller in some crucial element of scale. Fewer great cultural institutions, not quite the same vibrancy in culinary offerings, and/or perhaps terribly inclement weather.
- Amsterdam - Why do I love Amsterdam so much? Well, aside from being the home of family and friends like "Mr. Cranberry", the ever iconoclastic AC, innovative Koert & dear, sweet Kecia, Amsterdam abounds with culture, food, shopping and charm. Suggestions for Amsterdam: don't go in the winter; walk everywhere!; rent a bicycle at your own risk; eat Indonesian food; eat frites; see the dollhouses at the Rijksmusem; day trip out to the Kroller Moller.
- Los Angeles - It took me a while to cotton to Los Angeles. But I have. Why is LA an A- city you ask? Because it's so dominated by "the industry" that some of the other cultural elements suffer. There's some theater. There are a few good museums. But nothing like what a city the size of LA could have. But I've come to the conclusion that LA should not be overly penalized just for being LA LA Land. Enough trips there have allowed me to find great food and great culture. What makes LA nearly a B+ city instead of an A- one, however, is its ridiculous dependence on cars.
- Madrid - It's been many years, but to me Madrid is a rambling, langorous city of summer. Home to El Prado, tapas, wide avenues, and the massive and wild Casa de Campo park. I long to return and eat chorizo until I collapse!
These are cities that often earn lots of kudos for "livability" and raising a family. But with the distraction of a family or a university life, you may not be noticing that fewer globally important movements are likely to emanate from this location on a regular basis.
- Boston - The city of many colleges. As far as US cities go, Boston is chockablock with history. And in its plan (or lack thereof), Beantown has something of a European feel. Beyond that, it's pure East Coast Americana. And, it's somewhat culturally limited. One major theatrical company (ART), a small dance scene, and a relatively small number of art museums. It's a great town to be a university student and clearly a very popular place to live. (Have you seen its housing index?? More overpriced than any other city in the US last I checked) .
- San Francisco - It took me a while to get to know and like SF. And I know I'm unusual in this respect. Most people seem to view San Fran as a "city on the hill". I enjoy its abundance of Asian and Asian-influenced food, it's funky topography and its beautiful views. And it does have its own, very special, culture. But SF's paucity of strong art museums (how much is there to laud beyond SF-MOMA?), one-horse town theater scene (ACT), and a generally minor league cultural scene overall make it a B+ for me.
- Other B+ cities include: Brussels, Chicago, Montreal, and Seattle.
Smaller and smaller we go. These are the cities with a single solid performing institution in any one category (e.g., the Guthrie, Trinity Rep), and a single solid museum (e.g., The Walker). They're a lovely visit. A great place for a few years if you're single. But if your inner life is focused on using your environment to grow yourself, there are limitations here.
- Minneapolis - Apparently, the most liveable city in America. That is if you ignore THE FRICKIN' WINTER and the infamous summer MOSQUITOS! Seriously though, Minneapolis is extremely charming. I love taking every opportunity I have to go and learn more about it. Nonetheless, Minneapolis is a city of smaller cultural scope overall.
- Providence - A city I lived in for 2 years. It's not the Providence you remember...if you are thinking pre-1990. Thanks to an economic boom and the stewardship of Mayor Buddy "He's Our Crook" Cianci, Providence is an unexpected jewel in so many ways. The number and diversity of universities & colleges (e.g., Brown, RISD, J&W) means there are a number of students and graduates up to interesting things in the city. Johnson & Wales culinary program means that Providence is always teeming with worthy restaurants to try. RISD insures a steady stream of interesting art and design activities. Providence is a great place to live for a while. (If you're interested, you'd better try it before the housing prices go through the roof.) It must be acknowledged, however, that Providence is essentially a very, very small city. Well worth the trip, but exhaustable in a few days.
- Philidelphia - Ah, Philly. I went to high school outside of Philly. I have cheesesteaks in my bones. Philadelphia has had a lot of ups and downs since the 80's. My friends tell me that it's having an "up" right now and I'm glad to hear it. (See David Ives' hysterical short play, "The Philadelphia" for just how bad Philly - even only as a state of mind - can be.) As ith other cities in this grade, worth the trip and quickly exhaustable.