Love in Time of Corona

… between Amsterdam, New York and Milford, PA


Barbi (so NOT India Hicks) does the Bahamas

sunset from my terrace, soon after I arrived

I went harvesting.

Harvesting beach plastic.

Not a bad job. In fact if you had to write yourself the perfect, anything goes, job description wouldn’t it go something like this?

“I’d like to work on a beach. A perfect soft, pink sand beach somewhere in the Caribbean, but Hawaii or Tahiti would be fine too. This would be a quiet beach, one untouched by development. The water would be perfect shades of turquoise, going from pale to dark, and long waves roll in from the reefs a few miles off the coast. They crash at my feet, their sounds become like my heart beat, regular and reassuring. A light wind blows off the water, carrying a salty smell that sticks in my nostrils, still there later when I lie in bed  listening to the frogs singing in the hurricane shutters. I will sleep well, because I’ve been outside all day with the sun on my back, bent over, scanning for material in the sand at the water’s edge, the ridge further up the beach caused by waves from hurricane Igor a few weeks ago, then I look along the dune, and between the dune’s grasses. My professional dress code is a bikini and a hat, even on casual Fridays. Sunscreen is my only mandatory regulation. Occasionally, when I get too warm or just when I feel like it, I wade into a particularily pretty pool and float, the waves rocking me like I was back in my mother’s womb. Curious fish surround me, a barracuda comes at me fast, but then veers away, just letting me know that he’s keeping his eyes on me. I look at the island from the water, the curve of the cove, the palm trees and casuarina’s, the cliffs, the occasional vacation home painted pink or yellow or green. Maybe my office is in one of those cottages….”

A few years ago, when I first walked the beaches of Eleuthera I became mesmerized by the bits of colorful beach plastic along the surf line, scattered and stuck in the sand. I now wonder if, at  that point (I certainly wasn’t thinking job description), fate took my hand and softly whispered, here, look down, these colored bits should not be there, they are pernicious, like poison, but you can do something, this pollution may be a future for you, a place where  all you have learned and who you are can come together with creativity and purpose…

I listened and every day since then I have used towards repurposing more and more beach plastic.

But like in a romantic dream, reality has turned that corner where the above idyllic job description foreshadows a nightmare.

The melancholy I feel when I take my first steps in the sand this time, is not just the melancholy of my memories.

(Why can memories be so melancholy?  A longing for our family time spent here, when the girls were  too young to worry about what they might be missing, like Facebook, friends, and other artificial stimulation?)

It’s not just me, there’s melancholy in the air. I can feel it all over the island. Tourist season doesn’t start for another six weeks and there is hardly a car on the road. The small shops are deserted, their shelves half-empty. The locals ask me about the American economy.

” No jobs man, when America sneezes we catch a cold,” they tell me.

Sneezing as metaphor feels too exuberant to me, what they mean is that when America holds its breath in fear, they suffocate. But I don’t say this. I just nod and tell them I know what they mean. Times are hard everywhere, I say, but don’t tell them that maybe our golden age is gone forever.

club med beach

My melancholy takes a turn towards despair, when I reach my favorite beach. The three mile long curving stretch of pink sand looks raw, windswept, covered in seaweed and caught in this seaweed is garbage. Plastic bottles, toothbrushes, crates, detergent containers, tops, cups, plates, knives, forks, spoons, barrettes, combs, beads, single sneakers, flip-flops and shoes in every size, pots, cones, hinges, signs, and I wonder, while the ancient Greeks, Romans, Incas, Indians, left us musea full of  ancient pottery, jewelry and tools, will this legacy of our plastic culture, ever be displayed and admired in musea of the future?

museum worthy?


mimic nature?

I peel off my backpack, spread my towel and sit down. I’m surrounded by plastic. I pick what I can reach and make a pile. I feel like I’m on the edge, one step away from overwhelmed. Is it too late? Have we lost control? The way I felt when watching the BP oil spilling uncontrolled. I teeter on giving up. Whatever I do, however much of this I pick up, clean up, sort and take home, it won’t make any difference.

Still I get up.

Still I pick up.

Red. Blue. Green. Yellow. White. Black. Grey. Pink. Orange. Funny, there’s never much purple.

Within an hour I have  three bags full. I’m only half way along the beach when I run into Bob and Kathy.

“Not enough plastic here for 900 tees, hey?” Bob jokes.

I’m disoriented, like I came out of deep meditation too fast. What does he mean?

“You should have seen it just after Igor,” he says, “Its all been swept away now!”

“I don’t want to know,” I say. “There’s plenty here.”

Sometimes I find messages in the plastic:

Ironic ones to make me laugh…

if only...

Encouraging ones to keep me going…

One that reminds me to check my messages…

One to make sure I will fly home…

I spent two full eight-hour days on the beaches.

I gathered plenty but I wonder, how much is enough for 900 tees?

When I get back to my house on the cliff I sort it and clean off the sand, seaweed and algae by putting the beach plastic in a colander and using the hose of the outdoor shower.

Then I let it dry in the sun.

I’m alone with my harvest.

It looks pretty all laid out by color.

I’m no longer sad.

I feel at home and I’m happy….

for more of my beach plastic work over the past few years:


Repurposed in Miami

Last year was a transitional year.

I realize now that, for me, last year was still transitional. From  reading my blog you’d probably  already figured this out, but I was oblivious.

I thought the previous year had been transitional and that I was out of transition and in destination. But, just because I’d moved to Miami didn’t mean that I had arrived. I know what you’re thinking, moving to a new city is always a transition, and that is exactly what I would answer, if anyone asked.

But I’d already been in a real full-blown transition since early 2008. And it felt like being stuck. Like I couldn’t go back, and couldn’t move forward. I no longer knew who I was nor who I wanted to be. My identity had always been so wrapped up in what I created and I didn’t want to go back to designing “more stuff “. My last gig had been with Pantone as the Creative Director of every licensed product that carried its logo and name. Plates, stationery, shoes, a home collection, clothes, bags, you name it. A lot of stuff… So I helped Alastair with the design of Spaced Out and started  collecting waste beach plastic. I worked it,  made jewelry from it and educated myself in the causes and effects of plastic pollution. I did a website called Its a Man made World.

And I wrote. I wrote an entire novel about a woman in transition. A woman like me, who from one moment to the next realizes that her perfectly crafted life has fallen apart, and that nothing will ever be what she thought again.

I did both in a bubble. Not a pretty, floating-on-air Californian bubble, but more like a soundproof one-way-mirror bubble, feeling unheard and unseen. Lost even.

Moving to Miami had everything to do with breaking out of whatever it was that I was in. Husband knew it, like he was aware that a change would do me, and us, good.

And it did, almost right away. (SO, for anyone who feels stuck: Move! A different city, a different country, a different job, a new house, a whole new slice of of life to explore).

But then I thought Miami Beach was just playtime, and that’s hard for me because I was brought up with a huge sense of purpose and responsibility, and here I was having lunch on the beach!

Some days it felt like I was doing the same as I did before, writing and recycling beach plastic, only in better weather, in DJ Tiesto’s bachelor pad, away from the knick-knacks of my old life… and maybe I still wasn’t getting anywhere…

The only difference I felt was a sense of patience and maybe this comes with age. Maybe  the ambition endorphins turn into patience endorphins, and for the first time ever I enjoyed the process of what I was doing, instead of being anxious about getting to the pay-off: money, attention, a good review…

I added some beach plastic clothes and called the collection Plastic is Forever. I got a small order for scarves from Base at the Delano, which lead to picking, cutting and drilling the beach plastic and finding the local women who would sew it on silk georgette for me. I enjoyed meeting them, Lucia and her mother, at Normandy on Saturday mornings and buying organic vegetables and flowers at the market afterwards.

I enjoyed doing the Barbi does Miami blog, not only did writing about being here help me redefine who I was , but I also connected to my readers for the first time. I made friends with people I’ll never meet. This, for me, is the joy of writing. Not the sitting alone at a desk for hours on end, losing all sense of time, like passing through CS Lewis’ closet, entire days disappearing into what feels like an hour. I don’t like that aspect of writing. But I love the dialog. The ability to create a connection, a shared experience, a feeling that we’re never alone in what we go through and how it makes us feel…

But this year is different. I’m working manual labor in Miami. I have to produce 900 tee shirts for Barneys New York, using organic blanks from Loomstate. And 900 tees is about 35,000 pieces of  beach plastic, and about 50,000 drilled holes! Its a group of women beaders who need 50 kits every week between now and end january, and I’ll have to provide those. I’ll be working hard and I love it.

In fact. I think that…

I’m a bit like my beach plastic.

All that plastic I collect had purpose in a previous life, be it a bottle top, a crate, toothbrush, hair clip, spoon, detergent container, cup, plate, comb,  or any one of a million other things. Then it was useless. Discarded. It tossed around for a bit. Sand, sea, sun, salt even coral. Then it started to look good again. And now this patina-ed beach plastic has a whole new life as fabulous adornment on Barneys tees that’ll sell to green fashionistas for one hundred and thirty five dollars.


I too feel repurposed and it feels good…

and there will be black and white...


Fashion’s Night Out Miami

photo by Iona Gordon

I finally  dressed up and went out, Miami style.

After being absorbed by getting the kids back into school mode like meeting teachers, signing into after-school programs, seemingly endless driving to and from new friends and  special classes, dealing with Iona’s bi-polar morning-bus driver who is on a pick-up schedule that stretches somewhere between 6.30am and 8am (yes some kids wait 90 minutes at their bus stop),  it has taken me three weeks to get back into being Barbi who does Miami.

If it wasn’t for Fashion’s Night Out, the one-night celebration started by Anna Wintour to make shopping super glamorous and revive the fashion economy, I would still be the anti-social Mommy taxi service.

But, for once thanks to Ms. Wintour, I glammed up and went to Bal Harbour Shops, here in Miami Beach. Husband is back up north, so I took Iona. Iona cleaned up very nicely, adding about three years to her 14 years, and was a hotter date than husband…(sorry Al)

Iona with Celine Model

Fashion’s Night Out in New York could leave one, no, would leave me, completely paranoid, as in the desperate feeling that the best party was most definatley NOT the one I was attending, but had to be one of the other three hundred that were being tweeted at me from far flung corners of the city, like the Vogue show at Lincoln Center or Barneys, Isaac Mizrahi or Ralph Lauren uptown or Alexander Wang in Soho, Scoop in Nolita, Balenciaga in Chelsea… and I would have ended up of the verge of a fashion-stress induced break down. I mean just looking at the schedule of FNO New York events left me aching with I-should-been-there-ness.

Bal Harbour Shops, on the contrary, is a contained tropical retail village and everyone  who is anyone in designer retail is there. From Marc Jacobs, Prada, Pucci and YSL to Gucci, Saks and Neiman’s. They all have gorgeous stores in what must be one of the most pleasant shopping experiences anywhere and Miami fashionistas of all ages partied under the giant Royal Palms by the ponds and waterfalls, walking in and out of stores that offered  free champagne, DJ’s, celebrity chefs, photo-ops and fashion shows. Only Chloe seemed to miss the point and had a hyper PR guy with a clip board culling guests at the door. If you weren’t on the list you weren’t exactly welcome, but no-one cared, and by 9pm the fashion’s-night-out penny had dropped, the doors were flung open and the pr guy was last seen posing for the paparazzi…

so they shopped…

and they drank  champagne…

They danced…

They posed.

They played bocce ball…

It was not New York.

It was so not New York. It was Miami. Glamorous, tanned and toned, wealthy and bling and sexy and showy and nipped and tucked and implanted and perfectly groomed and South American and Russian and Israeli and Middle Eastern. And, in contrast to New York, where everyone is wondering who can afford all the exquisite designer clothes shown on the runways, it appears that almost everyone here can buy just about anything that the designer stores in Bal Harbour have to offer.

My five favorite moments:

1. Stanley Whitman, the 92-year old founder of Bal Harbour Shops, watching the crowd and the bocce court and enjoying his unique retail creation…

2. The attention that was showered on Iona,  whomever wrote Snow White  had no idea how lovely it is to be the proud mother of a budding beauty.

3. The vast mix of (under yet overdressed) ages and nationalities, all happily partying together under the warm night sky.

4. Wearing high heels again.

5. Marc Jacob’s exquisite fall collection, which made me remember and re-appreciate great design, fabric and craftsmanship…


20 – a love story

my dear father, an architect

I was not quite two when my father died

Seven years after he survived a German concentration camp he married my mother. Five years later they had me. My mother told me that my father loved me deeply and that, after the war-years in which he’d lost everything, which had been dear to him, he was  happy and hopeful again. Still it all ended, regardless, as his car hit a solitary tree, waiting for him like the last Nazi, by the side of the highway.

Three years later my mother married my stepfather. Eleven years after that my stepfather left us for  my mother’s best friend.

me, age two, waiting...

So, for the following fifteen years, I had relationship issues. I fell only for men who went away. I had quite a few long distance relationships, passionate when we were together and then heartbreaking when we were apart. It felt like love to me. I loved men who were emotionally unavailable, I loved a famous athlete who was always either competing around the world or in training, I loved one married man, I loved a junkie who loved his needle, I loved a Jew who told me he only could get serious with Jewish girls, I loved a man who always, always stood me up, and all this felt like love because I thought that if I could make these men come back to me then everything would finally be alright again.

When I turned thirty I moved to New York where I met a woman called Midge. Midge saw me. Like really understood all of me. Midge said, “I know just the person you need. A young medicine woman called Ashtiana, she helped me beat cancer….”

For three years I saw Ashtiana, once or twice a week. Ashtiana was psychic, she had trained with an American Indian medicine man, and healed purely from deep instinct, which never failed her. Ashtiana  helped me save myself.

I’d grown up in Amsterdam , which was hardly a mythical place, then moved to London which was hardly spiritual.   I’d never heard of  New Age  so  I went to see Ashtiana without any prejudice. Our first appointment was a traditional psychic “reading”. She didn’t use a crystal ball or palms or tea leaves or cards. We just sat together in her  Greenwich Village fourth floor walk-up  and surrounded by American Indian blankets, drums, flutes, pots, dream catchers and crystals in every color and size it felt like a visit with a new friend.

I did not need to tell her that I made dumb choices in men. The first thing she said to me was, “they always leave you, don’t they?”

So I asked her if I’d ever find true love.

She said, “Yes. Yes, he is very tall and he’s creative and he’s not American.” ( I rolled my eyes, another long distance one?) she said, “no, no he lives here, he’s here and once you meet him he’ll never leave. He’ll never ever leave you, even if you’d want him to, he’ll never leave and he’s not the kind of man who brings you flowers every day (I don’t care, I thought) but he’ll bring you unexpected gifts…”

“When?” I asked. “In three years,” she said.

Three years seemed an eternity, I wanted him tomorrow.” He’s not ready either,” she said. “he’s going through his own changes.” She made it sound like my future man and I were  getting prepped for each other by the universe.

So. I became celibate as if I was trying to erase my patterns, like rebooting or creating a blank slate, whatever, it was not something Ashtiana had told me to do, she only led me to what I needed when I needed it…

Then, when I was ready, open I guess, I went out for dinner with a tall, good looking artist. We connected. We had a great time. I asked him if he was American, but he was too drunk to answer.  I called him the next day and he could not remember me. I was shattered. How could he not remember, we were perfect together! As I sat in a traffic jam on my way to my weekend house in Pennsylvania, I said  out loud:

“I did not make it up. I did not make him up. I did not make him up.” Again and again like a mantra.

And then next to me, in the passenger seat, appeared my father.

“No, you did not make me up,”  he said.  “I am here. I am always here. All you have to do is remember me and remember how much I love you…”

Over the years I had come believe that when he died  I was too young to remember him.  I never realized  that he was a part of me regardless of my mind. That our spirits were bound together no matter how young I’d been. I cried the whole way home. I cried for me and for him, and for all those years that I thought that I’d been  too little to understand.

I had to re-unite with my father before I could love and be loved. Does this make sense, now, to you, as I write this 22 years later?

Of course I told Ashtiana that after my breakthrough I was ready, and could the universe please send my man along a little sooner.

me, thirty-two, still waiting...

But there were more lessons, more memories, more layers of perception and expectation that were laid bare, each one first painful then enlightening…

Twenty years ago, Labor Day weekend 1990, I must’ve  been deemed ready, or maybe my grandmother thought enough already

My Grandmother, Oma in Dutch, died five days before Labor day 1990.  Oma and I were very close.

Odd circumstances conspired so that I could not go to her funeral in Holland and at the time I was devastated. I did not want to be alone in Pennsylvania while the rest of my family mourned her. But then my friends Bern and Ilonka invited me to Easthampton for the weekend.

On Sunday we went to play baseball with their group of friends. And there , on first base, was a man who was tall and not quite American. I was in the outfield. I miraculously made a catch. Next I hit it out of the park and ran my first home run ever. He was waiting for me on home plate  and held up his hands. As we high-tenned the energy shifted. I knew it was him, tall, good looking, funny, smart and Scottish. I’m sure  my Oma’s spirit was there on that diamond behind the Catholic church, helping me along before she passed on to the hereafter…

Twenty years ago today we went on our first “date”, which I refused to call a date, because I’d had so many bad ones and this was my new beginning…

all ready ....

and twenty years later my  “date” wrote me this e-mail (ironically we are apart this week, he in Pennsylvania and me in Miami):

– Good morning on the 20th anniversary of our first “date”
of me getting up and waiting around
to call you, not wanting you to think I was over eager to see you and then
dialing the number you’d written on the orange Post-It
with a little flying heart above the number and saying
shall we go to a restaurant in Montauk for lunch?
and you not wanting to go to a restaurant so
we decided on a beach picnic
and me
coming to that house on 3-mile harbor road
and you not being there and me thinking that I
was getting a high class blow-off, imagining the race car driver having zoomed in before
me with his faster car while I was driving the beat up old pick-up
like a loser,
fueling my insecurity about not being
urban enough for such a
lovely fashionable woman
and making small talk with Ilonka who seemed embarrassed
and sort of restless and thinking
I should probably
and almost walking away when you finally
pulled up with Bern
and then
I remember
my first impression was how
beautiful and tall you were
and then
you rushed up to me and gave me a huge wet kiss
and apologized
and we kissed again
quite passionately
in the bedroom there
and you got ready
and then we drove off in my truck to
Springs and bought some beers and
a single chicken cutlet
and down to
Gerard Drive and found that little quiet spot around the bend
and lay there and chatted and put the beer in the
water and kissed a lot and swam and fell in love
even more.
And then the rest of the day and you
going back
not sure about me being around

and I kissed you and hugged you and told you that
it was crazy but I felt like I was already in love with
you and that I ‘d be there no matter what happened

and you driving back to city…

twelve years later...