Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Currently Reading...

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art
by Don Thompson


Why would a very smart New York investment banker pay twelve million dollars for the decaying, stuffed carcass of a shark? By what sorcery does Jackson Pollock's drip painting No.5 1948 sell for $140 million? And why does a leather jacket with silver chain attached, tossed in a corner and titled 'No One Ever Leaves', bring $690,000 at a 2007 Sotheby's auction?

The Twelve Million Dollar Stuffed Shark is the first book to look at the economics of the modern art world and the marketing strategies which power the market to produce such astronomical prices. Don Thompson talks to auction houses, dealers, and collectors to find out the source of Charles Saatchi's Midas touch, and how far a gallery like White Cube has contributed to Damien Hirst becoming the highest-earning artist in the world. He unravels the sale procedures by which the top auction houses maintain both premium prices for what they sell and their own preminence, but also shows us a market whose most spectacular excesses are driven just as often by far simpler human urges like lust and self-aggrandizement. It is a world in which brand is all-important, and which in many ways has most in common with the branded world of luxury fashion. The result is a fascinating, shrewd and highly readable insight into a modern-day phenomenon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Le Tour de France

Norway's Thor Hushovd wearing the best sprinter's green jersey.

Spain's Alberto Contador wearing the Maillot Jaune

Representative of California

Well today I got to watch nearly two hundred lycra-clad men tear-ass through our little town to begin the 18th stage of the Tour de France – Salies de Bearn to Bordeaux, a 198km flat stage.

The Tour de France is easily one of this nation's biggest events. The grueling 23-day, 21-stage race circles the country, and hits major cities and small villages, climbs the Alps and the Pyrenees, and climaxes on Paris' Champs Elysees.

The streets of our town had all been more or less blocked and barracaded off the night before. I awoke this morning to blarring music and voices of people heading down to the center of town to claim their spot along the street to watch the colourful cyclists go by. By the time I made my way down, there were helicopters overhead and people and police everywhere. The mood was fantastic, as everyone was very festive and excited. I can't remember seeing Lance, but I did see the maillot jaune wiz by, worn by Spain's Alberto Contador, as well as Andy Schleck - currently in second place and wearing the best young rider's white jersey, and Thor Hushovd of Norway wearing the best sprinter's green jersey.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Saddle Up

I happened to stumble across these little beauties when I was walking in Biarritz today. I was on my way for an afternoon cafe creme, when all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I saw them: tall, dark, sleek, and really really ridiculously good looking. They are from Prada's Fall 2010 Collection, and lets just say I'm in love. I have been searching for the perfect riding boot for the past 2 years and haven't found anything I liked, until now. Classic, sexy and timeless, these are exactly the sort of boots that never go out of style (akin to the Burberry trench). It's all about the vertical with these black beauties and the right boot is so perfect for fall and winter. A must with leggins or skinny jeans and a boyfriend blazer or sweater jacket. I do have a birthday coming up.....

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Soule Valley and Iraty Forest Hike

En Route.

So Green. The Drive Up.

The Drive Up.

The Car is Surrounded!

The Cows!

At the Top.

At the Top.

So Handsome.

Having a Rest.

Rypien's swimming hole - where we stopped on our way down from our hike.


I had passed a sign on my way to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port yesterday indicating that there was a skiing area near by. So when I got home from my little day trip I decided to google it. Turns out the Iraty ski area is open all year round and offers hiking in the summertime. So this morning I packed up some water and dried apricots and told Rypien (yes I talk to my dog) that we were going on a little adventure to the Soule Valley and Iraty Forest.

The sun was shining which made for a beautiful drive, we passed lots of great little towns, corn fields, farms/pastures, and many signs for farm fresh cheese. After passing Larrau, the last town before the Iraty ski area, it was nothing but rolling green mountain pastures. The road up to the ski area was narrow and very windy, but offered some stunning views of the valleys below. Just as we came around a hair-pin turn was a giant herd of cows, all with bells and all standing right in the middle of the road! There was a car stopped in front of me who was surrounded by cows – I don't know how long he'd been waiting there for. I had to wait 15 minutes before the cows decided to edge over just enough for me to squeak by on the shoulder.

The cows worried me for several reasons:
1.The cows have horns and I did not want our nice new rental car torn in to pieces.
2.The cows are bigger than the rental car – we drive a small Volkswagen Polo. I think the cows must have known they were much bigger than us and figured we were no threat to them so why move for us.
3.I had Rypien in the car with all the windows down. He was very alert and interested in the giant cows, the ears were pricked, head out the window and nose working overtime. I immediately closed the windows (thank goodness for power/automatic windows) incase he decided he was feeling brave and wanted to jump out of the car to say hello to the nice cows.
4.I tried giving the cows a little honk but had absolutely no luck. And there was absolutely no way I was getting out of the car to attempt a “Crocodile Dundee” maneuver.

Anyways, we finally made it to the ski area and it was beautiful!. There was a restaurant and a host of chalets scattered throughout the area that were available for rent all year long. There was also hundreds of kilometers of marked trails to choose from, many of which are day hikes and scenic assents, such as the Pic d'Orthy and the Pic des Escaliers. Since I had never been there before I just decided to wing it. We picked a direction and started walking, it was great. A beautiful day with some spectacular views of a diverse landscape of rolling hills, stunning gorges, green pastures and forests. It would no doubt be a spectacular site in winter, as it provides 44km of picturesque cross country skiing between 1200m and 2500m in altitude.

On the drive down we saw lots of people pulled off to the side of the road in park-like areas next to the river enjoying picnicks. It was Sunday, all the shops close Sunday, so everyone must have decided it was picknick day. As we continued on down the mountain we came to a small lake/pond surrounded by green pastures, a herd of horses (also with bells), more cows, and a big white tent full of picknickers and a band playing french folk music. A great spot. We stopped and wondered for a while, Rypien had a couple swims, then we headed for home and food.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


View from the Citadel

View from the Citadel

The Citadel

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, whose name literally means “Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass” in French.

The town has traditionally been an important point on the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (it is the pilgrims' last stop before the arduous mountain crossing). This would explain the loads of people I saw walking around town in full hiking garb and packs.

The medieval town lies on the Nive river and is situated close to the Spanish border, only 8km away. As a result , it was heavily fortified with imposing stone walls. A citadel, built in 1628, overlooks the town and dominates the valley below. The heavy town walls run the hill to join with the corners of the citadel. The views from the citadel and the town are spectacular, and I would definitely recommend a visit.

An abundant assortment of great cafes, restaurants and French Basque country shops, (Basque linen shope in particular) could be found throughout the town. There was also an amazing spice store which I completely fell in love with - they had an amazing selection of different spice marinades and mixtures, the smells were fantastic!

I also got the chance to try some of the local cheese. Saint Jean Pied de Port specializes in cheese made from sheeps's milk, specifically Brebis de Pyrenees and Ossau-Iraty.

Brebis de Pyrenees – A hard, dry cheese of medium strength with a thick yellow/orange rind. I was told this cheese is best in the spring when the cheese was produced from floral fall milk and given half a year to deepen in flavour: sweet, almost caramelly, with grassy nutty undertones. Would work well with a full bodied dry white or full bodied red with some spice.

Ossau-Iraty – A delicious, nutty and robust cheese that is both smooth and sweet. The exterior resembles that of large rusty stepping stones while the interior is light and straw coloured. Would pair well with some yummy dried fruit and a bottle of Bordeaux!