My twin daughters Kiki and Leila are reintroducing me to my birthplace. To them, the country I couldn’t leave fast enough at their exact age is everything they want; the Dutch scale feels manageable, people use bikes instead of cars, the weather isn’t extreme (no hurricanes or bomb cyclones), the architecture is either historic or cool, college is affordable, the older generations seem relatively levelheaded and the boys are cute.
I left the Netherlands because life felt too small, too oppressive and too incestuous. My stepfather had just left my mom for one of her best friends –a woman whose kids I’d been babysitting and whose ex-husband suggested that I leave Amsterdam to study fashion design in London.
Every adult I knew had been married to someone I knew and was screwing someone else I knew and it felt like most of my peers were somehow related to me. I wanted to move beyond the sex appeal of a teacher, a neighbor or the lover of my best friend’s mom. I had to see what the rest of the world was doing. I first moved to Paris, then Australia and then London, where I did study fashion and became a fashion designer. After ten years in London I moved to New York and I’ve spent the last nine years in Miami.
Last December, between Christmas and New Year, my mother turned ninety, so we went to Amsterdam for her big birthday bash. There, in the modernist bungalow of my mother’s friend Petra, where I’d spent many hours dreaming about a future beyond the Netherlands while reading her husband’s Playboy magazines, gathered my entire family as well as all my mother’s friends –the free-lovers of the seventies many of whom I hadn’t seen in decades. Iona, Kiki and Leila couldn’t believe that I had real cousins and they had second cousins who were their age — an entire family they didn’t know existed.
In the days that followed, Kiki, Leila and I visited the fashion academies in Antwerp and Arnhem and the design academy in Eindhoven. When we returned to Miami in January, they applied (and were accepted) to Cooper Union, Pratt, Parsons and RISD, but Holland stayed on their mind. In March we returned and Kiki took the Eindhoven Design Academy’s entrance exam and Leila did the Arnhem, ARTEZ Fashion, interview and practical test.
When my daughters were very young we moved full time to our weekend home in Milford (Pennsylvania) because of the nearby Homestead School, an amazing Montessori school run from a family farm on eighty acres that’s powered by solar panels. They took classes in a teepee, a Quonset hut and a geodesic dome, performed plays on a stage in the woods, grew vegetables and made art in a converted barn. In 2009 we moved to Miami and stayed, mainly because of DASH, the Design and Architecture Senior High School, that has rightly gained a reputation for being the best design school in America.
Early April, Leila heard that she had been accepted by Artez Fashion, the alma mater of Iris van Herpen and Viktor and Rolf. Two weeks later Kiki got news from Eindhoven, the best and hardest to get into design school in Europe, that they would love to have her. What started as an unlikely dream was fast becoming reality, and in the months that followed they got Dutch passports and looked for places to live. I recently signed leases on two cute student rooms in Arnhem and Eindhoven. It felt like I was tentatively reattaching an umbilical cord of my own.
But isn’t it poetic that Kiki and Leila will continue their design education in the Netherlands? They don’t know the ghosts and ambitions that made me run away. They have their own individual paths and it seems only natural that their instincts complete a circle that is helping me to accept and even love my past, my choices and the place where I was born.
I find myself annoyed. Am I annoyed with Miami? After eight years of living here?
Much has happened in that time. We lived here during Obama’s his entire presidency. When we arrived there were many unspoken agreements that had shaped the local culture over the twenty preceding years, from the wild-west eighties until the crash of 2009. “As long as we are having fun” was one of them. Being serious was boring. I was called a Debbie Downer at a dinner party, when I talked about water in the streets as a result of climate change (that BTW, had made every guest late for the party). Don’t get me wrong, I like having fun, but my idea of fun is different from dressing in skimpy but expensive designer clothes, drinking outrageous cocktails, clamoring around celebs and music so intense that the only possible interaction is taking selfies with your “friends” (while hoping for one with that star).
Yes guilty, my initial blogs were all about those parties. As an outlet for my culture shock. And, after years of working in NYC and living in Milford, PA with small children, these parties were so alien, so different and took me so far outside myself, that it felt like something I needed, in the way that getting really drunk sometimes feels like a healthy dose of vitamin C. It wore off fast, the so-called glamorous lifestyle, one that I had always walked away from, in Amsterdam, Paris, London and New York. It just isn’t me. I like to drive myself hard and if I don’t accomplish stuff I set out to do, I get depressed. I do not dream of retiring, shopping and sitting by the pool for the rest of my life. I need to be heard and seen and not for gossip and what I wear. So when the party dust settled I got to work on being relevant in Miami, no matter what it took.
It took a lot… I gave it my best… I feel depleted… I can’t say I conquered and I’m kind of over trying (… plus I’m getting shit done in other parts of the world).
And yes, I realize it’s not all about me and I’m not alone. Three months into 2017 and this worn-out feeling is a national depression. Up and down the East and West Coast we aspired to be part of a wave of hope that Obama brought with him. One that I saw as a way to change and save Miami, with talks of rising sea-levels, an ocean full of plastic, recycling and up-cycling, the right for all kids to an inspired public education such as DASH, affordable housing instead of 20% occupancy in condos and private homes worth billions on Miami Beach, air-conditioned year-around.
But if it felt like I was swimming against the stream over the past eight years, I am now swimming into a Tsunami. Will the already lavish parties get even bigger and crazier as the 1% feels empowered, emboldened in their greed and need to flaunt it, with Miami Beach as the perfect stage for competitive one-percenting? Living less than a mile from Sunny Isles, with its six Trump Towers, and the highest concentration of Russian investments in recent years, Russia’s unabashed imperialism is palpable. And after the cuts to environmental protection, the NEA, healthcare, public transportation, education, housing and human and women’s rights, what will happen to the other group, the full-time residents and working class whose statistics show that Miami’s income disparity is one of the largest in the country?
Yet it is all about me. Also. About what I can give and do and how I will spend the next twenty years of my life optimizing who I am, what I have learned and how I can reflect this back on generations to come. In another year the twins will leave for college. I will be free from the school calendar, driving and feeding and other hands-on mothering. I look at them, and how they act and feel, and I remember being seventeen and practically jumping out of my own skin with impatience, anger even at being told what to do by teachers, parents, the system. The nervous restlessness that I now recognize for what it is in my girls – their booster engines filled with ambition for their future and need for autonomy, propelling them forward. As I see this in my daughters I recognize it in myself, four decades older than they are, but the impulse is the same, I am getting ready for another shift.
So I am annoyed at Miami. Or I am just annoyed. I am practically jumping out of my skin with irritation at the status quo, and like a very old teenager I’m going to use this urge to amp it up some and get more shit done…
“Mom, I thought of it first. She’s always copying me. I cut my black jeans into booty shorts first! Its so hard being a twin!”
Sometimes I tell them that its not just identical twins who feel this way. Sometimes I tell them that copying is a form of feeling inspired by someone else. Sometimes I tell them that inventive, creative people like them will always be copied, that many adults feel the same way, that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who lead with creative ideas and those who follow and even copy creative ideas. Sometimes I tell the sister to take off her black booty shorts and wear something completely different. But mostly I tell them to just figure it out and be creative…
A year ago Humans of New York, HONY, a daily blog of the eclectic humans of New York City, as seen through the eye of Brandon Stanton, was brazenly ripped off by DKNY for a window display campaign.
Two weeks ago another unique and popular blog, Around the World in 80 Jobs, was even more audaciously appropriated and trademarked – name, content, goal and all, by Adecco, a large Swiss employment corporation. In both instances indignant supporters and furious followers of these free-spirited young men fueled a huge web movement that ultimately turned against the copycats and showed that the soul of true artists and innovators is appreciated and defenders of “David” will rise in their thousands against the Goliaths of big business.
Neither Brandon nor Turner seems particularly motivated by pop values like money, fame, revenge or even righteousness. The Fans, Friends and Followers were the ones who encouraged law suits, huge settlements, revenge, and full exposure of the culprit corps. All documented in righteous Comments and personal messages sent to the blogs. Turner had such a huge outpour of support and outrage that his REDDIT site crashed under the onslaught of Comments, which also contained valuable, and free, legal advice on copyright, trademark and ownership. Brandon too, benefitted from the professional advice of his outraged followers. He kept his laid-back attitude and stated on his site that he did not want to enter the negative energy of an expensive and lengthy lawsuit. As a result of much public pressure DKNY apologized after offering $15,000 for the use of over a hundred photos. HONY refused the offer but asked them to donate $100,000 to a summer camp program for inner city kids. DKNY donated $25,000 to the fund and Brandon started a Kickstarter campaign and raised another $100,000 from his indignant fans and thus turned a negative into to a tender positive and sent dozens of NYC kids to summer camp.
Brandon continues to touch hearts with his daily posts and tells us stories of New Yorkers – women, men, kids, teenagers, homeless, dandies, lovers, transvestites, elderly couples, homeys, thugs, junkies, etc. each with powerful images and heartbreaking, funny, sweet tag lines that astonish with their honesty and are always uplifting for their stripped-down humanity.
Turner’s public reaction was more emotional. He wrote that his dream job and blog had been stolen from him, the work he had done over the course of 3 years had been taken away from him overnight. He was clearly sideswiped and devastated by the heartless appropriation of his work. But he too, with the help of faithful followers, persisted and eventually Adecco backed down. They admitted that they were wrong, took down their identical (twin) site to Turner’s, renamed their Around the World in 80 Jobs competition, and, as instructed by Turner (and inspired by HONY), paid $50,000 into the Save the Elephants fund.
HONY helped Turner by publicly announcing the plight of Around the World in 80 Jobs to its million+ followers. Both Brandon and Turner figured it out. They somehow intuited their place in the complex virtual world of kindred spirits that have and will never meet, people with original ideas, people with passion, people who discern right from wrong or feel wronged themselves and see an opportunity to speak up and act. They somehow all came together and rallied, prevailed and added to the common good.
Kids and elephants were helped and saved.
But maybe more importantly Brandon and Turner shone a light on possibility and created a positive new paradigm for defending creative ownership.
A Plastic is Forever pop up shop on Friday the 20th of April was the climax of my three week stay in Eleuthera
It was the welcome party for a weekend of Earthday Festivities in Eleuthera and I was the featured guest with a gallery full of Plastic is Forever – earrings, bracelets, necklaces, scarves, tees, kerchiefs, stationary, and even a pair of pants and a “red carpet” dress.
linen “shipwreck” pants hand sewn with orange mono-filament
I took over the Beach House Boutique which belongs to my friend Jude (she had generously donated the space for the day.) Usually the shop is a cornucopia of treasures, a feast for the eyes, a trove of endless fashion goodies- something for everyone, but I had planned to strip it down to a white, bare, breezy gallery space. A place where the colors of a new generation of beach plastic would speak loudly to an audience that came from all over to celebrate Earthday in Eleuthera.
For starters I needed five sheets of plywood, painted white, to cover the walls, and had located them as soon as I’d arrived in Tarpum Bay. They were stored at the fire station, they were already white, and they were mine for the event, but eventually would end up as the ceiling of a community building. Perfect, no waste, they would be recycled….
On Thursday, the day before my installation, I drove past the Governor’s Harbour park where Saturday’s festivities would take place. Stalls for local vendors (food, crafts, drinks and community info) were already built around the perimeter and in the middle stood a small hand-hewn stage prepared for the eight consecutive hours of island music and speakers.
The white backdrop of the stage looked vaguely familiar. It was made from five sheets of roughly painted white plywood.
Of course I panicked.
But no one else did.
I melted down NYC style. Where TF was my plywood?
Don’t worry man… they laughed…
The next morning between 9am and 12 am ten sheets of plywood materialized. And a jar of white paint. And two brushes. Word had gone out that the lady of the plastic needed plywood…
poster in the Sands liquor store
I was disappointed that the dates of my daughters’ FCA tests in Miami made it impossible for my family to get to Eleuthera in time for my event.
I was sent three fashion angels… the A-team of style mavens … they arrived from NYC on Thursday night…
Julie Gilhart, Christine Park and Berrin Noorata had planned to spend Earthday in Eleuthera. To help me! After two weeks of lonely nights in my castle I had a house full of women – four sleepovers – I couldn’t believe my luck and they couldn’t believe where they had landed – paradise – a mere five hour trip from Seventh Avenue (same as a trip in the Hampton Jitney to Montauk on a Friday afternoon in July).
We spent Friday hooshing. I laid out the store after the plywood had gone up. Gallery in the front, One Beach screening room and check-out in the back …
front to back
Julie, Christine and Berrin have worked together for years and easily fell into creating the pop up store.
Together we played shop and it was fun…
Christine hangs the napkin rings
Berrin styles packaging and check out
Julie works pricing
At 3pm a giant inflatable plastic purple foot floated across the deck outside the shop’s window. Barefoot Wine, the sponsor of the One Beach film and the wine sponsor for the event, had arrived for set-up. Erected, right outside my temple against beach plastic pollution, was an inflatable purple plastic palace constructed from enormous Barefoot logo feet.
Those purple bare feet were not walking the One Beach talk. The message about plastic pollution, as in the single-use senseles plastic gifts of purple plastic leis and purple plastic barefoot key rings which were handed-out to our guests, evidently had not trickled-down from Napa Valley to Nassau.
With Miss Bahamas Earth
The welcome party was a hit. Over 200 people attended and we sold a lot of Plastic is Forever pieces.
Wich means that whether we “get Away from it all” or “throw our plastic trash Away”, Away is the same place – the beautiful beaches of Eleuthera – and how we, visitors, come from societies that litter the oceans. I urged the crowd to take responsibility, on behalf of Eleuthera, the place we all claim to love so much, and help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans and on the pristine beaches of Away – Eleuthera, Hawaii, Bali, etc.
Shaun Ingraham introduces the One Eleuthera Foundation. Photo: Azaleta Ishmail Newry
The next day Michelle and Craig Symonette hosted the VIP lunch at their stunning home on Twin Coves. VIP indeed, $600,000 was pledged to One Eleuthera and they were off to a flying start. Shaun was beaming when I handed him my, by comparison, measly check, the % contribution to One Eleuthera from the sales of the previous night. I pledged more to come as a % of Plastic is Forever will continue to benefit One Eleuthera.
table settings with the first ever beach plastic napkin rings
Saturday night was party time in Bayfront Park with reggae, rap and even a Junkanoo…
Sunday morning was very wet as a storm passed over the island overnight but Shelby White who created the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, in memory of her husband, said it was the best gift mother earth could have bestowed on Earthday – rain was what they needed most.
Shelby White, #1 on Eleuthera’s best-dressed list with Craig Symonette #1 fun host
The afternoon picnic at Coco di Mama hosted by the Urgo family was a windy affair.
Most people stayed indoors and drank.
Mark from the Leon Levy preserve at the Coco di Mama party
Coco di Mama is by far the cutest hotel on Eleuthera on the usually calm and turquoise Alabaster Bay . It has been my favorite ever since it opened. With the Urgo family as its current owners it is poised to expand to 42 rooms by January 2014, which is great news for the island.
Coco di Mama seen from the sea
By the end of the day, thanks to three powerful weeks and Sammy’s cocktails, I was giddy and somewhat worse for wear.
And sad that I had to tear myself away from Away….
My family never went to church. My grandparents did not go to church. My great grandparents were the last church-going generation. After the 2nd world war my parents’ generation was alienated by religion. My father was one of thousands who’d spent four years in a concentration camp and not many of the lucky survivors ran to church after most of Amsterdam’s Jews had disappeared because of their religion. In post war Holland being an atheist was part of being modern. Still, every Christmas Eve my mother played the same Carl Orff recording of the Christmas story on our gramophone. I knew the story of Jesus, but for my family that tale had little to do with faith, it was more of a cultural thing.
So whenever I went to church, like for weddings, funerals and the occasional religious holiday with a friend, I felt like I was cheating and everybody knew. Then, at age 34, I fell for a minister’s son and his father married us on the beach in Amagansett. I’d managed to avoid the embarrassment of a church wedding, but not the minister. At first I felt like the imposter in the family but eventually I realized that the reverend Gordon paid little attention to my ignorance of all things theological.
Tarpum Bay Methodist Church congregation on Easter Sunday
Ever since I’ve been coming to Eleuthera I’ve been fascinated by the many different churches in each settlement and when I hear the congregations singing I sense that I might be missing out on a weekly dose of joy.
the junior choir
Today I overcame my fear of being found out and went, by myself, to the Easter service at the Methodist Church of Tarpum Bay. I spent the first twenty minutes fighting back an overwhelming urge to burst into tears. It wasn’t just that seeing the beauty of families all dressed up in Easter-best made me miss my daughters, I was also deeply touched by the congregation’s sense of dignity and love. The joy of singing together made me feel like I’d been holding on to something very tightly and if I let go I would fall apart, maybe even have one of those seizure epiphanies, collapsing in the aisle, eyes rolling back into my head – hallelujah – my experience was that powerful. But eventually my Dutch side prevailed, I got used to the ambience and enjoyed two hours of singing along to a giant projection screen with the hymns (so much better than fumbling for the right page in the psalm book), watching children of all ages recite, sing, dance and I was even brave enough to ask permission to take pictures of the ending.
I am woken up at 6.30 by my fifteen year old daughter. Depending on her teenage mood she either wiggles my toe or mumbles a sullen “wake up Mom”. Sometimes I’m already awake and, waiting for her to open the door, I’ll call “I’m up” before she enters the room. Occasionally she has to search and finds me on the sofa because there are times when a queen is just not big enough for her fretful viking parents.
After sliding my contacts sideways into sleepy eyes I pull an outfit from the closet that could attract the attention of roadside assistance on the Alice Tuttle Parkway. I don’t brush my teeth until after my first cup of tea, two bags of English PG Tips, super strong, lots of sugar and milk, and sipped as I make the next three lunch boxes out of the 4982 lunch boxes made thus far and the 2400 or so left to go. I like making lunch boxes. I refuse to iron, I hate washing pots, I’m not strong at patiently explaining home work but I do get into assembling lunch boxes. First the sandwich and its variations: white bread, whole wheat bread, cesar rolls, ciabatta rolls, bagels and wraps, turkey and cheese, ham and cheese, tuna, cream cheese, egg salad, hummus tomato lettuce, and occasionally for the unexpected and I’m out of everything, peanut butter. An apple or satsuma or grapes or melon. A large chocolate chip cookie from the Fresh Market and finally the salty element; chips or pretzels, crackers or Pirate Booty. Iced tea in the three canteens. Its the first creative act of my day.
By 7.15 Iona and I are in the car. By 7.30 I drop her off at the railroad tracks that run along DASH – her high school. We talk along the way. We catch up. There’s always something. A teacher. A test. A pesky text from an ex-boyfriend demanding back some gift bestowed in the early days of his mad passion. I curse and scream at the Miami drivers, justified in my agro by a recent report that Miami drivers REALLY are the worst in the country. Its not me. It’s been proven and I attest: They don’t move at a green light, they slow down for orange so they can check messages, but do run every red light, they change lanes randomly, pull out of parking spots without looking, never use a blinker, speed in a slow zone and do 25 miles in the outer lane of the highway. They drive around speed humps as if that’s actually an option and mothers make u-turns on the school crossing almost running over the carpool of kids they just unloaded, all while texting.
Once I’ve dropped off Iona I have 12 minutes to make it back home. 7.42. The school bus for the twins arrives around 7.50. They are never ready and always in a wardrobe-induced flap. Amber hops impatiently through the hall, hyper at the knowledge that she’s next on my roster. The three of us run to the light, press the may-pedestrians-cross-soon button, ensure we don’t get run over by a red-light jumper and wait on the opposite corner. Alton Road rush-hour traffic zooms by. The same thousand cars every morning. The same yellow Fiat with the redhead, the same black mini Cooper with the fat woman, the same tan man on his bicycle, the same white Range Rover turning onto Allison Island. I wait with my girls until they get on. Ever since a black Cherokee almost slammed into the back of their school bus I make sure they do not enter until all cars behind have stopped. I wave at the driver, a friendly grey haired woman, the girls hiss back at me “she only speaks Spanish, Mom!” as if I waved in English.
I press the pedestrian light again, check the traffic exiting from our community gates for the black Porsche Cayenne that came so close to hitting me a month ago that I actually screamed FUCK and saw my life flashing while the driver, her face a few feet from mine, remained unimpressed and did not even mouth “sorry”, something I would definitely have done had I almost run her over, just in case I’d meet her by the pool later.
By eight I’m home. I thank God for sparing me and my family yet again, clip the leash on Amber, grab a poopie bag and am dragged around Aqua for the next ten minutes, fresh on the trail of the Airedale terrier – Zoe from Zoe Way (coincidental or intentional one wonders.) Amber, who ignores all dogs, has decided Zoe is da meanest bitch of Miami Beach and needs to be taken out. We pee, we shit, we pick up the shit because cameras are trained everywhere (in the last condo meeting there was even talk of D & A testing un-bagged left-behind turds in order for appropriate fines to be imposed.) Not I. I am proud of my own goodness every time I pick up, and when the security guard passes in his golf cart moments after a shit has been taken I hold up my baggie and call out “I got it” as if he’s driving by just to check on me, which is not altogether unlikely.
studio aka garage
I return a disappointed Amber home and grab my swimsuit that hangs from the doorknob in my studio, also known as the garage. I change, wrap the mandatory Aqua towel around my waist and ride my bike along Indian Creek to our pool. It’s invariably a gorgeous morning. We’ve been in Miami two years and four months and I still notice the luxury of the weather. It is sunny, warm and the air has a hint of salt from the ocean two blocks away. I look for dolphins or manatee in the creek. A heron flies close to me, checking for fish. I admire the tall palm trees on the other side of the water and the mansions with their tropical gardens and jetties with million dollar yachts. There is no one at the pool except for the Aqua grounds keeper preening for the day ahead. I wade into the Olympic sized body of turquoise water and start my thirty laps. The water is warm. Too warm. A ridiculous waste I think every morning as I pull a bunch of bougainvilla flowers from the filter. I start to think as I swim through more fuchsia bougainvilla. The sun is just coming around the tall apartment blocks of Millionaire Row along Collins, the avenue that separates the creek from the beach. I think of the day ahead. I lay it out like the lane I’m lapping up, with each stroke I run my list: Finish taxes, call Blue Cross Blue Shield, balance my check book, mark up the next BHS folder, send e-mail to John about the wine sponsorship, order 200 tee shirts, did the Botanical gardens respond yet? And why not? I think of the BIG list. The list of things to do with the rest of my life. My ambition list. I think of how I felt those first few months I was doing laps here. How I was unsure, insecure and off-kilter. How in the second year so much turned around, how doors opened and how I passed through them. I imagine I am exactly in the middle of my entire life. Its been eventful so far and I look forward to what’s coming. I think of the 120 or so pieces I have to make for my new collection. I anticipate what it will be like when my routine goes upside down and inside out when I’m leaving all this behind for three whole weeks.
I’ll be alone for the first time in 16 years. Alone in a house. No actually, a castle. I shall make dinners just for me and 45 less lunch boxes in the big scheme of things on my to do list.
That uber message we look for in our otherwise boring Inbox.
The one that says:
We have been following your work with beach plastic pollution, we love it, would you be interested in being featured in a movie we are planning?
Looking for a hidden sales message? Like the next line would say: If you take part in this short questionnaire you too can be captured on film.
You bet! I did not trust it. I proceeded with caution.
It was not until I had spoken with all the makers of the film, the creative director Sean, the producer Michael, the director Jason and had signed a non-disclosure with Barefoot Wine (to keep it all hush until the premiere, hence no previous mention here at BDM) that I became excited.
They wanted to shoot in Eleuthera, where I find all my beach plastic, and so I sent them the limited list of places in Governor’s Harbour. Three low-key hotels, Cigatoo, Pineapple Fields and Coco Di Mama, and a handful of rentals that have 5+ bedrooms.
Squires Estate, Toad Hall in foreground, Main Russell House beyond...
I had always wanted to stay there, ever since it had been restored two years ago. Alastair and I even looked at the main house when it was on the market. Its a dream property, on the hill, a 120 year old Victorian House, overlooking Cupid’s Key, walking distance to Club Med Beach – the most beautiful beach I know.
They booked me for four days early June. Two travel and two shooting.
“Bring your tools and your favorite designs, we’ll do the rest.”
If the camera added ten pounds then it was the time for a diet.
I did a two-day fast, a nine-day shake/powder regimen and swam a million lengths of the pool.
I departed, lithe and pre-tanned.
First to arrive, I chose the ground floor bedroom of the main house because it was the most private, like a mini wing, overlooking the pool and the Caribbean sea to the west. Everything was new, done by an Italian designer with exquisite taste, who’d mixed old with high-tech, quirky with traditional.
I got my old red truck from the garage.
I was already happy.
A few hours later the crew arrived. Curt, Sean, Jason, Michael, Scotty and Tyler.
Six surfers from California.
Had I died and gone to heaven?
OK. Yes! I am happily married. I’m a mother of three. I’m not young as such.
But hey, I’m still a woman!
lunch at the Beach House
I had an eery feeling – after years of being a service-driven mother, feeding, cleaning, chauffeuring, organizing and wondering (within the safety of my own head):
What about me?
A dawning sense that maybe someone (who can hear beyond the safety of my own head), had been listening, that somehow I had been good enough, that getting attention was actually allowed when you try your hardest to be a good wife and mother and employee and world citizen…
And I let go.
This was going to be about me (and my obsession with beach plastic) and it was OK.
Those six guys were awesome, I don’t know much about them beyond those four days, but they were easy going, considerate, creative, charming, talented, professional and funny, so funny…
They made it possible for me to be me. To do my work, make my stuff, tell my message without ever making me feel self-conscious or insecure. At least three cameras captured me at work for at least 24 hours. It felt natural. It felt great. I felt beautiful. They helped me believe that what I was doing was worthwhile.
I wanted it to last a bit longer.
Last shot, left to right, Tyler, Jason, Barbi, Curt, Sean, Michael and Scotty
Still, we dispersed. They went on to do the next “innovator”, Tim in Australia, and I was just a tad jealous.
But I mainly felt empowered. Things were falling into place. back home I was asked to apply for the Miami TED talk. I went on my teaching trip around Eleuthera.
Last night I saw I Don’t Know How She Does It with my three daughters. I had read the book at a time when I identified with the author, when I was the overcommitted mother of three little girls who felt she had to do it all, or else…
Leila wanted to know if I had ever felt like Kate did in the film.
You mean, like, I Don’t Know How I Did It?
Kiki and Leila @ 2 years, by barred stairs in Milford.
My daughters are now eleven and fifteen. I asked if they remembered when I was the Mother with a Career in NYC.
They don’t remember that I went to Hong Kong for two weeks over Christmas when they were six months old, nor being in day care at age two because the latest nanny had disappeared without trace while I worked on 7th Avenue three days a week (living in Milford,PA). They don’t remember my equivalent of Kate Reddy’s bake-sale angst amongst the zealous fundraising stay-at-home mothers of the Homestead School.
Its great to find out that it it did not matter. That they are fine. More than fine. That I can forgive myself for those perceived shortcomings, that getting off the fashion merry-go-round to have more time at home with them was a good choice too. That feeling out of it and disconnected and fat and dumb maybe was just a cocoon, a small, limited space, where the next incarnation of me could shape itself.
Of course we always are exactly where we should be.
This is easy to see with the gift of hindsight, like looking at an old photograph and wondering why you did not really enjoy the way you looked back then.
When I first saw One Beach I felt that I was exactly where I should be in the big picture of life.
Thank you all Barefooters for making this possible.
Sean O’Brien for his creative foresight and green spirit that gave birth to the idea of One Beach.
And of course the entire Barefoot Wine team in California and New York that worked so hard to pull it all off in time for the premiere in NYC last week.
We were all there.
In New York.
The team that made One Beach and the people it featured, called The Innovators in the film.
Kevin Cunningham, a surfer from Rhode Island who incorporates beach plastic in making surfboards from recycled materials.
Richard Lang and beautiful Judith Selby Lang, the king and queen of beach plastic, fell in love on their first date while combing Kehoe Beach for plastic debris. They incorporate beach plastic in their art from installations to photography and jewelry.
Left to right: Stephanie Gallo, Kevin Cunningham, Sean O'Brien, Barbara de Vries Jason Baffa, Judith and Richard Lang, Elizabeth and Anne. Lying in foreground is Tyler from Smash.
We watched the first screening together, wept at the end, and were all amazed at the synergy between us, four people who have never met, in three different parts of the US, who collect and work with beach plastic and whose dialog and message has evolved in an eerily similar way without ever speaking to each other.
We also had beach plastic envy as we drooled over pieces in each other’s collection.
The premiere was at the Helen Mills theatre in Chelsea, with a live feed to our own Facebook app where over 5000 people had signed up to watch the film and subsequent Q and A online.
Sitting in the director’s chairs, below ground in NYC, taking questions that Tyler, our MC, received on his Ipad from Facebookers all over, had a surreal sense of opportunity, the feeling that when we all connect we can make a difference.
Below is the One Beach film, which we hope will help raise awareness of beach plastic pollution. Numbers just released estimate that six million tons of what becomes “marine debris” (non organic material that does not break down) enters the oceans every year. One Beach has a positive message, it is upbeat about creativity and possibility, but none of us have the illusion that just selling up-cycled beach plastic into ownership can significantly reduce what washes up on our beaches every day with every tide and every wave. We want to connect to people through beauty, and our message is to for everyone to reduce our plastic foot print (300 pounds per person every year) NOW by saying no to single-use plastics.
Tip: Start with refusing bottled water and plastic shopping bags, relatively easy steps, then pick an alternative material every time there is a choice…
Here are Sean’s pictures of the making of One Beach in Eleuthera: link
To the bachelor pad which is being de-bachelored by turning the “pool” room (as in shooting pool with your mates at 3 am, after getting home from the Wall without scoring) into a third bedroom for the twins so they can do homework, hang out, bicker and sleep behind a wall (instead of the exposed upper mezzanine).
Tiesto mural in pool room will be preserved
Of course this was to be done in the ample two months that we were away and of course it was started on the Friday we returned. So now we neither have an office (pool room) nor a bedroom for the girls since everything from one room is piled in the other.
But thats OK.
They say they will be done by Wednesday.
They said they’d be done by now.
But I’m not bothered. There are bigger problems.
Like school uniforms.
Maybe one has to be genetically programmed to deal with procuring kid’s uniforms. Maybe I’m too hippy-dippy Dutch to even think about universal clothing for creative kids. See I always look to blame myself first (Have you noticed? Do you do that too? I wish I were a bit more Teaparty, and blame everyone else. Like only everyone else all the time.), still I was proud to have gathered, at Woodbury Common (Like/Love), four khaki bottoms that my trendy twins would deign to wear to school, and one pair of black pants that may get them sent home (while the color is right, the fit will be deemed too sexy, which in this city of underdressed exhibitionists is paradoxical but don’t get me started, I already wrote that blog.)
The preppy polo tops have to be bought locally since they are emblazoned with the Miami Arts Charter School logo.
lime, teal, white or black with MAC logo
Another bigger problem was getting an e-mail from TED, shortly after arrival, requesting a full run-through of my talk at 1 pm on Wednesday. This Wednesday? This Wednesday!
TED? But I was still on uniforms. Saturday was uniform day on my “what to do when we get back” list. Which also has finish homework with the girls, unpack, get food in fridge, get 2nd floor toilet and phone fixed , you know the drill.
So while I should be writing and practicing my TED talk, I’m chasing uniforms.
Yes, I’d ordered them online as the school suggested, but got a notice a few days ago that the polo’s would be ready for delivery in 5 weeks!
What are the suggesting? Homeschooling for five weeks? I mean the school is clear:
All students and parents have agreed to abide by the school uniform as described in the parent/student contract signed during registration.
Students not in uniform will be required to contact their parent and sent home.
Ibiley suggests I visit any of their conveniently located Miami stores.
They lied. None of them are conveniently located. All of them are in scary shit neighborhoods that are at least 40 minutes away.
I settled on North Miami and was wise enough to call first, just to make sure they had said polos in stock, but of course got the robot who told me that August is too busy to answer the phone, and tells me to leave a message.
They’re also too busy to answer.
I find out just how busy.
But not till after getting lost in the maze of NE and NW 159th street Drive and Street and Court, at the very place where 95, the turnpike and 539 intersect in a spider-web of flyovers and underpasses and of course the exit ramp that Mapquest told me to use is Closed for Construction.
You are sorry for the inconvenience?
Why not just post some signs up telling how to get the fuck to Ibeley Uniforms in the industrial park (with one entrance) that I can see from the overpass which points towards the Everglades, at 70 miles an hour.
50 minutes later, and isn’t it amazing how proud those moments can make you (forget about a TED talk), I pull up in front of Ibiley.
Pride turns to nausea in a nano second.
Swarming around the huge warehouse, are hundreds of people of many colors (none quite as white as the three of us), several stainless steel quilted food trucks are randomly parked, and something that resembles a long line, made up from entire families (bring the kids, the toddlers, the babies, the grannies, aunts, uncles and don’t forget the neighbors) comes out from the front door into the 95 degree sunshine.
We “politely” battle our way inside only to find many feet of empty shelves and another line that resembles immigration at JFK before Christmas.
Determined (if nothing else) I find 8 tees (4 each), while yelling at the twins to help me. Unfortunately they’re catatonic with the otherness of it all, like in some culture-shock transition from the verdant woods to this urban jungle.
We join the immigration line.
After ten minutes we move close enough to spot a tiny sign over the counter.
We are out of the folowing logo patches. (you buy the tees and pay in line #1, they give you your school’s logo patches, you join line #2, the one outside, and they apply the patches).
Come back on the 28th and we will apply them for free,, it also read. (You’d have to bloody well pay ME to come back!).
There’s no actual list of said missing patches posted. I guess it changes by the minute.
I grab an Ibiley sales girl who looks like she will get really drunk that night.
MAC is not on her list of out-of-stock patches.
I ponder if this is good news. I’m rather praying for an excuse to leave. But it sounds like we will be there for the next few hours. (Could I get into this Cuban/Caribbean/South American block-party atmosphere?).
The girl walks away.
The girl comes back.
“You are at the wrong location”, she says. “MAC uses special embroidery and is only available at our Little Havana store on SW 8th Street.”
We are on NW 167th street.
You have to be from Miami to know what that really means, but imagine flying to London instead of Sydney.
We are fucked.
We leave the line.
We are hungry and buy three sandwiches, and three Cuban drink cans ( sexy looking mixed mango. papaya, passion fruit that taste like water) from the guilted truck.
“Mom, these are the best sandwiches I’ve ever had,” the twins chime, “Yes, at least we got some really good sandwiches out of it.”
They encourage me. (Afraid that I might have a shit-fit meltdown?)
Instead I find 95 South (easy), and head towards Little Havana.
I call husband who is on the porch in PA and tells me its the first nice day in weeks.
He also tells me to give myself a break.
He often tells me this.
I listen. The only breaks I take are the ones he tells me to take.
He’s good to me in that way.
“You did your best,” he says. “Go home, have a swim, enjoy being back.”
He has a point.
I compromise with myself. I settle on Target, which I happen to be passing, buy the last three (a terrible number for twins) white polo’s and HP iron-0n tee shirt transfer paper.
I feel clever.
I shall go home, get the MAC logo online and iron it on.
Which I do.
While arguing with the MAC principal in my mind that this is as good as the real thing from Little Havana and that the Ibiley store was completely out of stock (good chance of that anyway, right? Given the odds so far?)
While the trip to Little Havana still looms, since three tees between twins won’t last me the promised five weeks.
They wont even last two days.
And then there is TED.
TED needs attention.
As soon as the girls are in school TED will be my lover.
But I cant. I just cant be that deliberately controversial only to lure readers into yet another story of a fight with my husband.
We are finally, years after buying a piece of land in Eleuthera, thinking of putting in the driveway, so I met with Mr. Sands (yes, he of making sandy driveways) to discuss topography, mature trees and boundary lines.
But Neville (Sands) is also chatty. He likes to sit in his windowless air-conditioned office and shoot the breeze.
So I told him one of my favorite Eleuthera (there are many) stories. One that involved me directly.
The year before we had rented an old house in the town of Governor’s Harbour over Christmas. Tamarind is a big, stone sea captain’s house with four big bedrooms upstairs, a large wooden central staircase, porches, etc. A little run-down, but perfect for all six of us.
In those days I was already collecting beach plastic like crazy, the yard was full of it, and I used the kitchen table for making my “jewelry”. My tool kit stood open. A small amount of silver and even less gold wire lay amongst the beach debris.
I don’t know if somehow the word got out that I was a “jeweler”.
And we were careful, Eleuthera is very safe, but still we were in town and so we checked doors and windows every night before going to bed.
That night I got up at 3 am to pee.
I never pee in the night.
I go to sleep at night and I wake up in the morning.
I do not pee.
I am also blind.
I am legally blind when my contacts sit in their little blue box in the bathroom and when I shut my eyes its about the same as having them open only darker (I am -7.25 in both eyes for those in the know).
So I get up and walk onto the landing (which is the only way from our bedroom to the upstairs bathroom.)
Running up the stairs, not more than 4 feet from me, is a kid (I can tell) in a black hoodie (pulled up).
So what do I do?
What does he do?
Then he realizes that this is not quite how these situations are supposed to go (I was a little slower and still thinking that if this guy was in my house at 3 in the morning I probably knew him and ought to be polite), he turned and ran.
Raced like Jackass down the stairs and out.
OK. So now am awake, like fully and I think.
SHIT! That was a burglar!
I still have to pee so I pee and I think.
I decide that the last thing I want is husband running through the bushes with a very blunt (rental homes never have sharp knives) kitchen knife after a kid 30 years younger than he (give or take, he was at a disadvantage.)
Next I check on the girls – they are all three fast asleep.
Fate had me at their door like a sentry just in time, and when I realized this I did get shaky.
So I woke husband. Or tried.
“I just saw a burglar on the stairs, honey.”
I considered going back to bed but this would not look good in the morning. Like my story’s credibility would be diminished.
So I woke him up hard and together we found the window in the front parlor that been pried open.
the merry window access
Then we called the police.
Governor’s Harbour has one policeman on duty, at night, and he arrived about ten minutes later, looking sleepy and, well, very relaxed.
He sat down at my kitchen table, I cleared some of my beach plastic to make room for his paper work, and we filed our case.
Was anything stolen?
I hadn’t checked.
So I looked around and found that my wallet had been emptied (about six dollars,I never have cash), and that one of my bling flip-flops was missing.
The chief sent me upstairs to get my passport and when I came down he was playing with my plyers and wearing my super over-magnifying glasses that are made to make tiny detailed work easier . They also make eyes look like this:
how the policeman looked up at me
He asked if I would be able to identify the kid and I said no way. I am blind. I wouldnt even be able to tell you if he was black or white.
He thought this was funny.
Now back to Neville Sands, a year plus later.
I tell him the story. Just like above, only when I get to the bit where I say:
HI! To the burglar.
Neville sits up, slaps his hand on his desk (I jump), and shouts:
“So YOU are the lady that says HI to burglars.”
WTF? I think (one does not say this in Eleuthera.)
“How do you know?” I ask.
“You are famous, man!” He says. (the man-thing one does say to women in Eleuthera). “Like everyone knows.”
“Like that stupid kid tells all his friends that he’s doing this house in town, and this lady sees him on the stairs, and she’s so crazy – she says HI to him, and he’s even more stupid and he says HI back and this makes all his friends laugh and they think its the funniest thing thats happened all year!”
How do you know this? I ask.
“Well, meanwhile the policeman on duty that night is also telling all his friends. They also think its hilarious, so everyone is telling everyone and then the “bad” guys are telling the “good” guys the story, you know the kids name and all, and now they have him cause he’s telling everyone bout you sayin’ Hi and all.”
“So they got him?”
“Yeah man! He went to Juvie for six months, he’d done some other stuff too, so don’t feel bad, it wasn’t really you.”
Then Neville told me the story of another kid who stole a Princeton (bright orange with Princeton logo) sweat shirt during a burglary and decided to wear it right away, around town. What ensued needs no further explanation.
Twenty-five years ago, July 4th weekend 1986, I moved to NYC.
It was Liberty Weekend, the weekend of the 200 year celebration of the restoration and centenary of the Statue of Liberty. I arrived here, in the energy axis, in the exact same place, same loft, same bedroom, as I am now.
Cause for reminiscence I’d say.
I came here alone, a cast-off from the London fashion recession which hit as suddenly as a tsunami and swept me and several other designers out to fashion purgatory, doors to my studio bolted shut by my backers, denying me access to stuff like my life-long button collection which they would sell to some rag trade vulture for a few bob.
All because within six months, the magic fashion calendar in which fortunes changes for reasons ranging from a bad review, a wayward fabric shipment, a biggest customer going bust, a factory forgetting to produce an entire order to a performance anxiety related nervous breakdown ( you are only as good as your last collection and your last collection is never good enough), the exchange rate changed and the pound got stronger, the dollar weaker and all of a sudden those golden American buyers who brought me 50% of my business, decided to “skip” London.
WANTED - my gangsta collection
Suzy Menkes (London Times and Herald Tribune) announced that London designers were out of control, unruly children who needed to be punished until they started treating fashion as a business.
For several years they had loved our (Malcolm Mc Laren led) anarchic style. It made for great window dressing, and those US windows were enough to keep all of us creative maniacs going.
But Suzy decreed we were so passe´, fashion changed into a grown-up place and the new crop of celebrity designers followed.
Never one to sit around in the here and now, I was already in my future (It was not until later that I shed a tear over that lost button collection). I followed the money. I went to NYC where they loved me, and I’d heard that designers could be paid as much as $75.000 a year. I was sick of making do on £12,000 several thousands less than my superstar PR was taking from my business while putting Menkes’ poison in my backers ear.
from a softer collection
NYC welcomed me with a party.
Three-days of festivities, right here at the loft home of my friends Murray and Gail Bruce.
I felt like I’d landed in a castle in the sky, their 13th floor penthouse with its massive deck and windows all around with views of the celebrated Statue of Liberty, the Hudson river filled with flag-flying boats,the Twin Towers and to the north-east the Empire state building and the rest of Manhattan.
Their friends (who soon became mine) came from all over the world arrived and stayed. A dorm with dozens of cots was set up in one of the spaces but not much sleeping took place. It was a hippie-like love fest, a free-for-all celebration so typical of the Bruces’ all-embracing style.
I made friends that first weekend who now, 25 years later, are still among my dearest, like Vicky and Ed, and their daughters, one of whom, Mika, became my twin’s god mother.
I met a crop of potential boyfriends who kept me busy dating (a concept so different from getting to know guys in Europe) till I met my husband four years later. Some dear friends have since passed on. Lenny, Bill, Michelle, Norma and recently Midge Steadman. Midge helped me believe in magic and introduced my practical and industrious Dutch soul to an aspect of itself as yet undiscovered: My spirituality.
Midge gave me crystals, passed me to Ashtiana, her Shaman, who in turn helped me enlighten my life, Midge took me to sweat lodges, witches circles, lend me her New Age books, and taught me the medicine wheel, rebirthing, and how to use a smudge stick to erase bad energy from the past.
It takes what it takes and these were the tools it took for me to become a woman who could finally trust and commit to love, marry, have children and experience the passage of time without fear of its failures.
This Independence Day weekend the loft is quiet.
Now that I’m writing this memoir I think that maybe I should’ve thrown a party celebrating 25 years of Barbi in the US of A.
But I don’t look back much. Not in a speeches and cream kind of way.
I am in awe of these past 25 years however.
How I lie here, same room, same place, and in the next room sleeps my daughter.
A young woman who will turn 15 on Monday, July 4th 2011.
In the last week she has followed in my foot steps like an adolescent aboriginal sent walk-about on her mother’s turf (she was part of a Summer Solstice witches circle on her first night at the loft, posting on her FB status that she is now officially a witch).
Iona is an intern here, with Gail, my American mentor and her two assistants, Carly and Camryn, in the space that was the inspiration for all the houses she grew up in.
Gail, the only one who called me Barbi
It is so natural for her to be here, so predestined, that words like imprinting, heritage, family, evolution and even love do not capture what seems as inevitable as breast feeding, her first steps in the sand of our Amagansett beach, letting go of her little hand as she entered her first class room (she hesitant then, me hesitant now), her first sleep-over, money earned and spent, boy friend, her gradual path to independence.
Last night on our way to dinner, we went down and walked out of the building.
For 25 years I have turned right to walk to Hudson Street but Iona turned left.