September 03, 2011
Eastern Europe Attitudes Shift as Tourism Leads & Corrupts the Way
Life was different and people were present more often than not, so lacking even in a 1980 and 1990-something America.
The wild west didn't have cell phones and we weren't glued to social networks, yet we still weren't as present and as engaged as Europeans were, at least that was my first experience of the place -- on the continent and the UK.
I've been back to Europe dozens of times since I moved back to the states, but more often than not, the goal was less about being committed to a life there and more about networking or sadly, even shopping. Or, a conference. Yawn.
In recent years, at meet-ups and conferences, everyone had their laptops open and cell phones handy so the "chat" was more to it than it was with each other. Yes, even in Europe, largely because the events were within a particular ecosystem, the one I live in inside the bowels of Silicon Valley -- technology.
I went on a walkabout to London (one of the places I lived btw) a few years back and decided to disengage from technology and re-engage with people and my trusty Canon 7D. One result aside from quality time with old South African and English friends in the burbs was a photo book entitled: Faces of London. I probably "shot" 10,000 photos during my time there across at least a dozen neighborhoods and had nothing short of a blast.
Even though I had "alone" time on my European "city" trips (Paris, Munich, Dublin, Rome, etc) in recent years, I didn't have the same kind of deja vu moments I had in Prague and Budapest over the past couple of weeks.
It started in Budapest where I met with a few start-ups and by chance, was lucky to be there for their annual "Independence Day" equivalent. I stayed along the river at a boutique 4 star hotel, one with a fabulous view of Parliament.
While I have done business with western and northern Europe, I haven't directly worked with Eastern Europe. In London, you can do a walkabout and get completely lost in the fabric of the city and no one will quite notice.
In Eastern Europe, even though physically I could blend in with the city's fabric, there are less tourists and the kind of tourists are likely different than what you'd find on the streets near Knightsbridge and the UK's own Parliament. The same applies to Paris.
What I forgot about the east was how structured things were despite the fact that in many ways, their bohemian past makes them rule-breakers rather than conformers. Like the rest of Europe, they seem to be obsessed with privacy so conversations about social media tend to get interesting.
AND, like southern Europe, things move at a snail's pace. If I send an email at 10 pm on a Friday night at home in California, chances are that email is answered by Saturday morning if I'm pinging someone in the states, east OR west coast. If you want to continue a discussion from a Friday meeting that went from 10 to 2 on a Friday, chances are you won't pick up that dialogue until Monday afternoon or Tuesday at the earliest. (not abnormal of course but in the land of technology start-ups, no response for 3 days feels like an eternity, at least to this overly connected baby).
I was hooked up with an iPhone on Tmobile which didn't work more than it did. That said, there were a number of free Internet cafes in both Budapest and Prague so if I really wanted to give the cities amiss, miss out on the history and culture and merely be connected, it wouldn't be too difficult to do so. Hotels still charge a fortune a day for connectivity and it's not always that fast.
Being connected and "staying" connected makes it pretty hard to truly be present with a destination's history, antiquity and human stories, all of which capture 700 year old castles, its walls and ceilings not to mention the nearby cathedral's altars and stained glass windows.
What was interesting about this trip was the polarity of things. On one hand, I was not as inspired to "shoot" as much as I normally am; somehow I anticipated I'd shoot 30,000 photos or more of romantic Prague, pegged the Paris of the east.
Yet, because of the commercialism I couldn't seem to escape from, I found it hard to be connected to my surroundings because in the foreground, there were countless groups of tourists with cameras and brightly colored sneakers and segway tours with loud-mouthed guides shouting at the dozen of so people in its wake.
Even in Paris, one of the most visited city in the world, I can still barter in a market, but in Budapest and Prague, they were less willing to barter and their prices were steep, i.e., $40 for a barrette sold by a street vendor, $70 for a plate of salad, pasta (no meat) and one glass of wine, $200 for pottery, and so on.
While entrepreneurism wasn't at the core of their attitudes, something had shifted and it was much worse in Prague than Budapest which is much less commercial.
In Prague, tour buses zipped in, leaving droves of people in groups who followed those in front of them like sheep not really listening to their tour guide who spent far too long telling the history of a brick statue than anyone should.
"Dribble, dribble, 14th century, dribble dribble," her voice echoed as about a quarter of the audience tried to follow along while others snapped shots of the statue they'll never remember the name of later. Then there were others who were merely starring off into the distance, still trying to recover from jetleg.
I ducked under and above the dribble and the wall of people who stood so close that it was hard for me to find my way to a free space. Alas, freedom. Blue sky. Clouds. Soft wind. Breeze. And then, more of them pile out, clinging to each other for safety and belonging, only later to be found at some Americanized or Anglicized pub where everyone speaks English and all the menus have prices listed in Euros as their primary currency.
In Prague, I found myself in angst by day four, ready to declare Prague the Eastern European Disneyland, a city who sadly sold its soul to the yanks, with its McDonalds and KFC scattered through its old town. Local artists have grown so accustomed to the tour buses and wealthy tourists that small photos were $30 and above on the Charles Bridge and a small regular coffee was about $4 a pop.
Grant you, I began to realize quite awhile ago now that the U.S. was on its way to being a third world country and its currency was going along with that title: Thank You George Bush. It was no more prominent in a place like Prague where prices felt more like Paris than East Europe, some of which was the result of the dollar being in the toilet. 20-something year olds even remarked how they remembered the dollar being at 40 when they were younger (5-8 years ago) and today it stands at about 15-16 to the Czech currency making most purchases a serious consideration more than an impulse buy.
Other aspects of disenchantment and disillusion had to do with the fact that Prague had become so commercialized that it was hard to break free from its Disney-like facade. The only way to avoid it was to jump on a metro or tram, choose a funky neighborhood ten or so stops out, get off and start walking. (away from town).
And, so I did. There was no other choice really. Not wanting to declare Prague a commercial write-off (it's beauty is far too magnificent and its musicians too awe-inspiring), I discovered side-streets and neighborhoods that locals told me.
I requested grit and grunge. I requested working class communities. I requested graffiti. I requested former bomb shelters. I requested local pubs and bars. I requested cafes with local prices and local service. I requested parks and steps, stairs and alleyways. I requested stone walls, weathered and torn. I requested places that didn't have places to serve me at all, but merely buildings, houses and terraces where people lived and life was exactly the same every day.
The discovery process began of course, but like every European city, you really need a few months (a year is better) to really get acquainted with its smell, culture, nuances and quirks. The more I meandered outside the inner walls, the longer I wanted to stay. The more I got stuck in old town and the tourist areas, which seem to spread for miles in Prague, the more I wanted to leave. (even Paris felt less saturated I thought).
I met 26 year old Marek, who told me his life story. I found him on a side street and intrigued by the fact that he was in old-fashioned overalls, I learned about his trips to various countries, all of which were escapes from commitment and a "real job," the primary reason he left Prague in the first place.
He would work for a month or so at high wages, so he'd have enough in his pocket for a few months of travel and then the cycle would repeat itself. (not uncommon for adventure-types in their early twenties, but I got the sense that Marek -- a high school drop-out -- would be doing this two decades from now.
He lived on "weed" and not much else. Connections with interesting people and diversity seemed to be important to him and after awhile (a long while), he admitted to the main thing missing in his life: a woman in his life, just one. Aren't we so much more alike than we are different, despite our demographics, despite our income levels, despite our goals?
Then there was the placid nature of my late twenty year massage therapist in Prague. She didn't seem to know the protocols of more formerly trained therapists yet she listened to what you needed and responded like a robot. I found it hard to find a male masseuse and wondered how much that had to do with protocols and culture than it did interests, norms and trends.
Everyone seemed to be afraid to break the rules, whether that was giving you a cup of tea 15 minutes after the breakfast dining room closed or sampling a taste of ice cream because there were 25 flavors to choose from. (on that front, the ice cream in both Budapest and Prague were so well presented, you thought for sure you must be in Italy not Eastern Europe -- and might I add, ten times more tasty than the U.S.)
My experience of Prague was about as close to my memory of it from the mid-eighties as Disneyland is from central Africa. Because of its intense overly processed structure, I had to move beyond my notion that Prague sold out to the yanks -- from its coffee to its tour buses to its castle tours and postcards to its outlandish prices.
The talent of the local musicians made most of this melt away, not to mention the incredible textures in the bridge walls and other antiquated buildings in the city. Then there was the outstanding art, conversations with local vendors and shop owners and overdoing it daily with chocolate, wine, duck, venison, lamb, foie gras and other such delicacies without feeling guilty for taking it all in.
Certainly a different experience than twenty years ago or even ten. The East has caught up with the west even if its governments have not. Go but go with more research and be sure to get out of the city centers into the neighborhoods and have conversations with people -- young and old -- and hear their stories. After all, isn't that what makes every trip memorable?
August 20, 2011
The Connecting Flight, The One Following the Mad Tearing Run…
The flight is delayed and you have to make that connection….or else.
It seems to happen to me more often these days and I’m not sure if that’s the result of airlines having less planes available resulting in fewer connecting flights or the fact that systems are just breaking down.
Certainly, most of the internal systems are antiquated or ridiculously absurd and don’t have a lot of logic.
For example, recently I was on an Air France flight to Paris and had to catch a connection to Budapest. I saw the connection time on the flight itinerary and in “theory” it seemed fine. After all, it was a connecting flight and for some odd reason despite how much I’ve traveled, I thought there’d be one of those “side lanes” where you could transfer to another flight within Europe. You know, arrive at gate C and just walk down a hallway to Gate D and board your plane. Logical right?
The flight was actually on time (ish) however it took awhile to settle at the gate delaying gate arrival by 15’ish minutes. Again, in theory, I didn’t think I’d have a problem making the connection. After all, I was arriving in Gate C and I was departing out of Gate D (Gate D2 that is) from Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Sure, I knew it was massive but as I was scurrying out, the Air France agent assured me it was close, repeating the C and D twice, which certainly seemed logical to me as well.
I started with a brisk walk but not a sprinting one until I realized that D was nowhere close to C since the signs for it kept reappearing after every corner turn and after yet another walking escalator disappeared behind me, there was another one on the horizon with D2 off in the distance.
We’ve all done a short sprint but this one seemed to never end until I finally stopped to ask an Air France staffer who was lingering in a busy hallway with a clipboard pressed up against her. “Budapest D2” I gasped short of breath. “Pardon,” she replied. “BUDAPEST, DAY-EH DEUX” I said, gasping even more dying for my bottle of water which had fallen from my carry-on backpack by this point.
“Tout de doit and sortie,” she motioned. “Sortie,” I thought, NO, I don’t want Sortie, I have a connecting flight. When I heard Sortie and realized she wanted me to exit, I said to her exasperated, “I have a connecting flight, une connection a Budapest. Je ne reste pas ici a Paris.” She pointed straight ahead and repeated Sortie.
So what does a seasoned traveler do with 15 minutes to go, knowing that their flight “in theory” was supposedly already boarding. She sprints of course.
Now, I’m not a marathon runner and nor am I in the best shape of my life, but having grown up as an athlete, the muscle remains. In other words, it re-emerges when it needs to, in cases of emergency or when you know you’ve spent far too much time in front a PC monitor and your body is desperate for a little oxygen.
I was wearing out and not getting a minute of sleep on my 10 hour flight didn’t help matters. When I saw the long line through passport control, I panicked as my heart raced. “Fuck,” I thought, I really don’t want to miss this flight. It’s not that I mind getting stuck in Paris, but getting stuck at an airport waiting for a small plane heading east after a half day of travel across 4 time zones wasn’t my idea of fun. Besides, Hungary was waiting.
In fact, Hungary was calling in a loud voice, saying, “Renee, you’ve been to Paris hundreds of times, I’ve been waiting for your Gypsy spirit to come taste my wine, come eat my beef medallions and my goose pate.”
I firmly but politely grabbed another Air France rep explaining the urgency, flashing my ticket and pointing to my watch which I had just changed five minutes before the plane landed. She took pity on me and ushered me through an empty line, obviously waiting for loud, late, ill-mannered Americans like me. (after all, aren’t we all?)
Passport control man was in no hurry despite seeing me out of breath and sweating and I knew it didn’t help when I hurriedly said in my pathetic French, “Je ne reste pas ici, Je suis en retard pour mon vol de Budapest.”
Quietly I was cursing, thinking, what the hell are they giving me a stamp for when I’m going to be here for 15 minutes? I also knew that the number of pages and blocks which could be stamped was running out and I still had a few years left on this passport. Slowly and smugly, I got my stamp and flew like a bird running from a cat who hadn’t eaten in days.
Sortie was ahead of me but when I re-entered, I noticed that I was somehow standing in the middle of F. Where the hell did D go I thought? It looked like arrivals and I started to move from exasperated to pissed. What kind of connection was this I thought? 45 minutes to get through Immigration’s long line and find your way half way (no, all the way) across what should be one terminal (C to D)?
Here I could speak the language (enough anyway) and was sprinting like a failed marathon runner but one who had a reason to win, and yet boarding had already begun according to my ticket 20 minutes ago and I had not even gone through a NEW security gate.
Security found me amusing no doubt as I whipped off my belt with fury like I was ready to have quick and passionate sex with a 23 year old lover. My boots came flying off as did my jewelry and I was sweating up a storm, as if the sex was already over and it was the best I ever had.
My hair was tossled, my brow was wet, my light cover up was off which showed that I wasn’t wearing a bra.
FINALLY, a sexy polite French security agent who wasn’t 23 came to my rescue. He smiled as he assured me I would make my flight and that I was in D2. but still had to get to D70 WITHIN D2. But, he added, “it’s just around the corner. I’m trying to help.”
Carry me I thought, that’s how you can help. Show up in one of those airport mini-trucks that shuttle the handicapped and seniors and make the damn thing go faster than you think its capable of going. Whisk me away. Call them and tell them to hold the plane for 30 minutes and let’s do a driveby the Air France First Class Lounge for a Parisian cappuccino & some pate for the road and then drop me off in front of my plane.
I imagined him kissing my hand bidding me Au Revoir after he completely turned my nightmare mad dashing run across the entire Charles de Gaulle airport into a nice sweet travel memory.
Cursing under my breath but remaining focused like a good seasoned traveler always does, I made a hard “gauche” after exiting security where they confiscated my mini-bottle of Merlot from my last flight. I looked up and saw the number 58. Of course I was at 58 and of course, the Budapest flight would be 70, at the EEEENNNNNNDDD of the hall. And, so I sprinted.
Nothing about arriving in Paris felt like Paris but thankfully I had so many positive memories of Paris that it would be easy to give this one amiss.
Even if the plane didn’t screw around at the gate for 15-20 minutes, anyone would be hard pressed to make this connection with the long immigration line, the distance they had to travel, and the likelihood that they didn’t speak French if they got lost on the way…easy to do at Charles de Gaulle and easy to do if you’re not a seasoned travel.
Puffing (and huffing) and puffing, I flicked my passport and ticket at the woman standing behind the gate who was about as calm, collected and type Z as you can get.
It was 12:39 and the flight was supposed to take off (up in the air, take off) by 12:45 pm. Obviously the flight was late, so while I was catching my breathe, I asked how late it was. “It’s not late,” the woman behind her said.
Hmmm, I thought. No one was on the plane yet, I was informed they were still cleaning it, yet 6 minutes before take-off and they didn’t classify it as late. Welcome to Hungary I thought, although both agents were clearly French.
I did one of those circular paces that people do when they need to think for a minute. (clearly that is). I circled around 3 or 4 times and then made a slow-paced walk over to the coffee stand where I learned that a bottle of water with the horrific U.S. dollar exchange rate would cost me $8. Had I ever been to Europe when the U.S. dollar was weaker than the Canadian one? At a time, when there are plays, comedians and talk show hosts talking about China as the new super power and America as a third world country?
I didn’t want to think about the exchange rate or the likely $10 beers and $500 shoes that lay ahead which was unlikely to be the case in Hungary since they weren’t on the Euro and I figured I’d lay low and avoid purchases in Paris to and from until Obama fixed SOMETHING, anything, so I could return and buy those $500 shoes for $200 again.
I opted against the $8 water and flopped down on a bright pink “kitch” plastic couch that wrapped around a plant sitting in a bright pink "kitch" plastic pot. It only then occurred to me that I made my flight and as I was looking for napkins at a nearby café to wipe my sweaty body down, a 15 year old Italian girl came down and sat next to me, bumping into me twice when she did so, despite the fact that there was a ton of space on the other side of her.
As we boarded, I stripped down even more since the mad tearing sprint caught up with me and not only was I sweaty but I was baking.
As I got close to the entrance to the plane, I could see the Paris day through the open crack and feel the August sunshine and feel the warm breeze coming through, hitting my face, blowing my hair back just slightly. AHHH yes, Paris in the summer I thought.
There’s nothing like boarding a plane from a place where the weather is fabulous knowing that you’re going to a place you really want to see and knowing that the weather is fabulous there too. The last time I had been to Budapest was in the mid-eighties. Yes, really.
I flopped in my seat, which had no one next to me and the seats were slightly wider than normal with an actual place to sit two drinks to my left. Recline worked. I was in the front. The Hungarian flight attendant handed me a bottle water when she saw the way I looked and I settled in for my 2+ hour flight on Malev, an airline I had never flown before.
Budapest, I reflected as my heart rate started to finally slow down. Gypsies, artists, dreamers, foodies, lovers of wine, musicians, old souls and historians. I remembered an “old world” dining experience I had with an ex-boyfriend so many years ago, where the violin players circled around us and I thought of how young I was. A kid really. What did I know of violin players and good red wine? Or duck, liver, pork, mousse, goulash and cured ham?
And then I smiled when I remembered I was coming to meet technologists not gypsies. From Silicon Valley to Hungary because there’s a wealth of incredible engineers in Budapest I was told and knew I would soon discover. As for my host?
Look for the bald man he had said. I thought, “would there really only be one bald Hungarian at the airport?” “Some say I’m as wide as I am tall,” he had added. A little more data I thought, certainly more than Air France provided me about my connecting flight.
I drifted off curled in an arch, my last visual memory of blue sky and powdery white clouds through my window, knowing that Germany was below us by that point. Hungary is waiting for me I thought as I drifted off into my thirty minute nap. Hungary is waiting for me.
August 20, 2011 in America The Free, Europe, New England, New York, On Africa, On Australia, On China, On Costa Rica, On East Africa, On France, On Geo-Location, On Guatemala, On India, On Italy, On Japan, On People & Life, On South Africa, On Spain, Reflections, South America, Travel, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
June 23, 2011
NY Times Jennifer Preston Chats With NPR's Andy Carvin About Reporting LifeLast week at the 140Conf in New York, New York Times' Jennifer Preston interviewed NPR's Andy Carvin about his reporting life using social media, video, audio and more and what his aggressive and "fast coverage" means to journalism as we know it and politics as know it. Their conversation below.
June 03, 2011
The Magnificence of Utah's Burr Trail
What’s amazing to me is how little a guide book talked about the breathtaking beauty of Utah’s Burr Trail, which starts only a few miles from the town of Boulder, UT. Perhaps its because there isn’t much there, so without the comforts of home where tourists can flock to hang their hat for the night, it likely keeps away a huge flood of tourists. That said, there is a lodge in the area and a couple of nearby motels within 10 or so miles.
Burr Tail is one of those wonders that continues to delight at every turn and just when you feel as if you saw the most amazing rock formation and structure, another one pops up around the corner. Like most of southern Utah, the colors have so much depth and texture that they change by the minute depending on the angle from your car.
Because we were in a convertible, we were able to take more in and I could stand for part of it with binoculars/zoom lens and see the cracks and etchings from relatively far away. We also got out of the car of course and took in a few walks and spent some time close up with the rock. There were also some unusually colored set of sand dunes at the start of the trail which resembled a combination of Buddha sand monster and a spaceship.
There were also a few scenic view points and immediately after the last one which was 13 or so miles into the drive, you could keep going on dirt road and here the scenery changed yet again. Drama after drama, Utah’s Burr Trail couldn’t and shouldn’t be described as anything other than an exquisite natural earth wonder. Yet a couple of guidebooks merely refer to it as breathtaking. All of Utah is breathtaking – the Burr Trail is remarkable in one of those remarkable ways that you remember for a lifetime.
In some places, you could almost feel as if the rock formations were alive and watching you. In other areas, you experienced this sense of silence we very rarely experience in our lives, the last time for me being the African Karoo at dusk in a jeep.
May 31, 2011
Forget Windy Cold Chicago, Come to San Francisco in the Summer
Even though I’ve lived on the west coast for awhile, I still forget just how cold spring and summer is in San Francisco. Starting in May, it’s the time of year to migrate just in the same way northerners go south from January through April.
I recently went to a weekend festival in the South Bay and was so blown around that I had to resort to tying my hair back with a scarf to see through my hair. Had the scarf not been available, I may have packed it up and called it a day.
The following week, I had to move out to the living room couch since the wind that was tearing up my back garden was so loud, I found it hard to sleep. Bear in mind that I live on one of those traditional San Francisco hills, where you can actually have an outside back garden even if you live on a second or third floor. When the wind comes, the potted trees move, the chimes swirl, the hanging plants crash up against each other, the cats go nuts and it feels as if a tornado is about to come through your windows.
Sometimes I’ll throw on a Bose headset, turn on the meditation music, dim the lights and try to read to see if I can ignore the wild wind “swoons” which clearly want to be noticed in the middle of the night. Just like everything else, I have faith my body will adjust to it over time, in the same way people who live on top of a train station or next to an airport do.
I grew up on a lake in upstate New York and the sound of the boat motors that would often wake newcomers up in the early mornings. For me, it was nothing more than background noise and something I didn’t even notice because it had become part of my routine and my system “knew” and integrated it. I look forward to the time when my system starts to know the wind in the same way.
May 30, 2011
Utah Canyon Shoot: Testing New Graphic Tripod in the Desert Cold
On a recent trip to Utah, I had not yet tried out my new graphite tripod, the one I spent far too much on but did so because it is a full length one and yet it folds down to 12 inches and weighs a mere two pounds. When the sun started setting, a light jacket was no longer enough, but you forget about these things when you’re a photographer on a mission.
There I was with four other photographers who were clearly already “one” with their tripods and experienced with cold evening “waits” for that precise moment when you snap that killer shot. Freezing cold despite my layers, I observed them as much as I did the canyon before me which was changing color by the minute as we neared 8 pm. Since I was told the magic time was between 5 and 7, I didn’t realize I’d be standing out there for nearly four hours until 9 pm turning into ice.
The good news is that my photographer counterparts (Canadian, French, Swedish and a New Yorker) were great companions and even offered me some of their tools to play with, such as a cool blue filter and different lenses. They were two for two (two Nikons and two Canons) and I had my Canon 7D with me and my new 85 (1.2) lens. We all tried various settings and I found myself going through flash card after flash card since I was shooting raw. I seem to go through more cards driving through Utah than my last shoot in Paris somehow.
I found myself cursing how long the sun was taking to deliver the optimal moment given how cold it was, but alas it came and it really didn’t arrive until close to 8:30 pm. Once you’ve committed to waiting, you learn a helluva lot about your camera and about the way other photographers think and work.
What I realized is that I’m not really a wide angle landscape fan even though I always take those shots when the opportunity arises. I really love close ups of rocks, landscapes, fauna and earth; it’s the textures and depth of the land that turns me on rather than the expansive aspect of a horizon.
Perhaps it’s because I like getting my hands dirty; I like being “in” a situation creating from within rather than observing from the outside. Not sure if that makes me a producer, director, artist or just high maintenance or a variation of all three, but although I left completely satisfied, I was thinking on my drive back to my hotel, how much I was looking forward to using the tripod for model shots more so than mountain ones.
March 28, 2011
WOMEX for International Music Scene in Copenhagen
WOMEX is a very cool music event being held in Copenhagen, Denmark this October. The event highlights the most important international professional market of world music of every kind.
Think of it as an international fair, which brings together professionals from the worlds of folk, roots, ethnic and traditional music and also includes concerts, conferences and documentary films. It contributes to networking as an effective means of promoting music and culture of all kinds across frontiers.
Since it started, there have been significant milestones including its current state:
- 2,440 delegates and 1,360 companies from 94 countries.
- 850 concert and festival bookers.
- 600 labels, publishers and distributors.
- 700 managers and 350 producers.
- 350 national and international journalists, incl. 170 radio broadcasters.
- A bustling Trade Fair with 260 stands and 650 exhibiting companies.
- 59 Showcase acts with 300 artists from 38 countries on 6 stages.
- More than 60 speakers in 20 Conference Sessions; a Mentoring programme; a new Matchmaking service for publishers and Country Speed-Dating.
- A festive Opening Concert – The Chaosmos of Korean Music: Heaven, Earth and Human – presenting three of the finest bands on the contemporary Korean music scene.
It will be held from October 26-30, 2011 in Copenhagen although check out information on Virtual WOMEX as well.
February 24, 2011
Swerve Connects People to Great Things To Do
At the LAUNCH Conference in San Francisco this past week, I interviewed Swerve's John Magdziarz about their iPhone app. Swerve connects people to great things to do. Serving up thousands of events in cities across the U.S., Swerve is for anyone who wants to get out and do something – a couple planning a date night, a group of friends looking for a club party, or a businessperson attending a conference or networking event.
Swerve offers listings for Music & Nightlife; Food & Drink; Speakers & Networking; Art & Museums; Get-togethers; Deals; and Facebook public events. Swerve also makes it easy to share event details and gather friends through social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, all while on-the-go from your mobile device. John explains in the video below and shows us a demo on an iPad.
February 24, 2011 in America The Free, Arts & Creative Stuff, Entertainment/Media, Europe, Events, On Mobile & Wireless, Social Media, Travel, Videos, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 14, 2010
Ireland: Things I Forgot, New Things Learned
22 years later, give or take, I recently returned to Ireland, but this time, Dublin was the first and only stop. Unlike the last tour which took in the southern countryside, this adventure centered around Dublin and was jam packed with meetings, coffees, lunches, dinners, and more coffees. And of course, a few pints of Guinness along the way.
Having Irish friends in the states, England or any other country for that matter, doesn't really give you an authentic snapshot of Irish soil, largely because so much about the culture and experience IS the soil.....the soil and the rain, the wind and the air.
Some of my most vivid memories of my first trip to Ireland were of massive breakfasts and the charming albeit cold B&Bs. Twenty years ago, there wasn't a stop off that had central heating and your bones felt every bit of the result.
THINGS I FORGOT:
1. How incredibly witty the Irish are, and not just occasionally, but all the time.
2. The Irish live for a good story - telling one and taking one in. And, there are always interesting historical tidbits and mythical legends thrown in for good measure.
3. How much I resonate with Irish culture because of their zest for life AND their ability to pull something from a hat even when there isn't one.
4. If they don't know an answer, they'll make one up, and even if its wrong, it's almost always interesting.
6. Hospitality. Not only do they understand the word, but they're efficient at it. Ask for something and it'll be waiting for you with a smile, followed by a grin, not necessarily in that order.
7. When they say they're going to do something, they deliver. Their word means something as does the word Honor.
8. For the record, #5 is worth repeating.
9. How much many of the town layouts reminded me of some of the English rural towns, always marked with a pub in the center.
The difference is that the bartenders always seem to be happy, or if they're not when you first sit down, it doesn't take long to get a smile out of them.
10. The Irish are laid back; they left uptight behavior somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean.
11. Guinness is not just an Irish brand, it's an institution. Pubs wear the name on their seats, towels, banners, coasters and glasses and people drink a lot of it. A helluva lot of it.
12. Just how damp the air is, not unlike my memories of England. The dampness not just hugs your bones but it goes through them.
14. History is a big deal. They all know a lot of it and you won't leave without a lesson or two.
15. Abortion is illegal. I forgot that it was and was shocked to learn that it still is.
16. How different the north and south is and how loyal the people are to their county, towns, villages, cities and pubs.
17. How entertaining any pub visit can be regardless of which one you walk into.
18. How gorgeous the pubs are -- inside and out, from the drapes and windows to the old wood, brass and textiles.
NEW THINGS LEARNED:
1. Sadly, American beers like Budweiser and Miller seem to have made a successful entry into Ireland despite the fact that they brew their own beer which is 10x better.
3. There's a growing technology scene in Dublin, Galway and other pockets of the country.....and a lot of innovative ideas and people are emerging.
4. You can find a great selection of boots and shoes and they're on par with what I found in France, Italy and Germany, but in more cases than not, for about the same price as Paris.
5. More people than not thought I was Irish and apparently it wasn't just because of my auburn hair and pale white skin. There's something in a walk I'm told and it looks like I have "it" whatever "it" is.
6. There are enough fabulous restaurants with great food and ambiance that you could eat out every night of the week in Dublin and never get bored or have a bad meal.
7. You can easily meet 5 Paddy's, 5 Connors, and 5 Iains in one afternoon.
8. Wine is heavily taxed, so much so that you can easily pay more for a bottle or glass of wine than you would in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of America's most expensive cities. And, for 6-8 Euros a glass, you may only end up with a mediocre French Bordeaux. It's considered a luxury I'm told whereas beer is not. Moral of the story is: drink beer. There's a ton of it and it's really good.
9. More people still read books, magazines and newspapers in their hard copy form, not on their iPads or laptops - even on a park bench in the rain.
10. People text a lot more than they do in the states.
11. Entrepreneurs I met are more interested in building a business than flipping one.
12. Radio still flies. I ran into one start-up CEO who met his $20K angel investor because of a local radio interview.
13. Google has their European headquarters in Dublin. The rest of Silicon Valley may already know this, but I didn't. I also learned that they're not easily "accessible."
14. Art in Dublin is pricey compared to what I've seen in other European cities. That said, there IS a scene.....from poets, painters, photographers and designers, to illustrators, architects, fiddlers and film producers.
15. The architecture industry is suffering; the decline being hit by a reduction in building because of the economic downturn. That said, there's more "church" architecture gigs than you'd find in the states because of the volume of them. And, projects could easily take a year or more.
17. Pub crawls in Dublin are not just for tourists. What else is cool and may not be well known, is that they have literary and music pub crawls too.
18. Festivals are quite possibly as common as pubs, and....they're scattered throughout the year. And, all of them look interesting and worth attending.
19. People may be having fewer kids but 3 is certainly not uncommon and more the norm than it is the states, particularly in cities.
Lastly, and most of all, the charm and yesteryear culture of Ireland remains. Misty gray skies are part of its unpredictable weather, regardless of the time of year, but with it comes a stronger tolerance for things and a heartier stock of folks who are a joy to meet and get to know.
Passion and creativity also reign as much as they always did, which will be enough of a reason alone to bring me back to Irish shores and valleys again and again.
November 12, 2010
10.5 Hour Flights Cattle Style
In fact, there have been times when a dozen hours have gone by and I've taken not much more than a five minute break to put the tea kettle on.
Flying used to whiz by for me -- just like it does in front of the addictive PC screen. After all, you can "endure" anything for a day. Enduring of course, is a choice, isn't it? You can opt to do two things:
1-change what we perceive as something to endure to a different experience, i.e., an educational journey for example.
2-simply choose to opt out of the experience altogether.Opting out of flying is not really an option when it's an integral part of your life work. Flying for those who have spent a lifetime doing it know it has only gotten worse, not better. Flights are cramped and often overbooked, service is in the toilet and you're charged for every incremental whether it's worth it or not. To top it off, most of the food is processed, overpriced and not worth eating. And, that's just the beginning.
Let's visit international travel today.
1) Three-four hours of research -- flight times, changes, connections, all to avoid 5 am take-offs and two changes along the way.
2) Research various destinations (time varies depending on the trip but it's not an exaggeration to say that this process can exceed 20 hours)
3) Accommodation research. Don't get me started - you want wifi? Even when they say they have it, more often than not, they don't or it doesn't work the "day" you arrive.
4) Seat in advance? You actually want to book your seat in advance?
5) See above. Call airline. On hold. Call drops. On hold again. Agent is following rule book so we go round and round the bureaucracy circle. They don't understand or pretend they don't. Frustration increases. They transfer you. Call drops. Call again. Throw phone across room.
6) Check in online 24 hours in advance. Find that you're stuck in the back of the airplane in a middle seat and can't change it. Call airline. Repeat #5.
7) At airport with online boarding pass yet you still have to stand in line for bag drop off (note, line is longer than check-in line). What's wrong with this picture exactly?
8) Elevated leg room for an extra $50 she says to me without a smile. That buys you 3 inches she says, again without a smile. OR, you can pay $180 more for "premium economy." What does that mean exactly? More leg room she says, without a smile. How much more? She doesn't know. It's the in-person equivalent of #5.
On my latest flight to Heathrow, I learned that they had overbooked the plane, which btw, happens 9 times out of 10 flights in my more recent experiences.
Instead of having a spare seat next to me, the entire row is full as is every row behind and in front of me. Instead of looking for ways to make the travel experience less stressful, more comfortable and relaxing, airlines are creating new stress points to a trip that never existed before.
It's as if the COOs have fired all the CMOs, hired a 22 year old social media director straight out of college to manage their Facebook and Twitter page and think that that'd do the 'ole marketing and customer service trick. WTF?
Airlines look for every conceivable way to milk another dollar out of their customers while decreasing the value of the travel experience. Stewards don't listen to needs, they follow rules. Rather than serve the customer, they serve an operational system that dehumanizes the travel experience. Even Virgin has moved in that direction.
More and more, I feel like I'm one in a herd of cattle getting moved through an operational system so airlines can make more money. The net result is that travel becomes something to 'endure' not enjoy. Despite the fact that quality goes down and customers complain, nothing changes. For the airlines that are active on Twitter and Facebook, you may get a response if you shout loud enough, and while it may make you feel 'heard' for a moment or two, it doesn't change your last or next travel experience.
It's not just the service that continues to decline, it's the products too. If you haven't noticed, the headsets have gotten cheaper - I had two break on me on one flight in the first 30 minutes and another break on a flight two weeks later. (different airlines).
What used to be blankets are now oversized golf towels with a logo on them and let's remember, most now charge you for the terrycloth lap coverage. American recently charged me $8 for a "very" cheap mini bottle of wine and $10 for processed crackers and cheese.
On a London to Florida flight, British Airways charged $24 for a box of food (return flight). WTF?
On another flight across the Atlantic with Virgin recently, the guy to my left was impressed that Virgin didn't charge for food for the transatlantic flight. It's a 10.5 hours flight I said to him in disbelief. WTF? He shouldn't be impressed, he should be outraged that it isn't the norm. He was not, btw, a frequent traveler.
Acceptance of crap means we get crap. Rewind the clocks for those who are old enough to do so. I remember looking forward to flights - the service, the food, the movies, the wine. Hell, when I was a kid, I got crayons and American Airlines cards on every flight. (for FREE and we took them home with us). Imagine.
As I squirmed around in my jammed packed "cattle class" row listening to the crying babies in front of me, and the angry man behind me who kept elbowing my seat in hopes I wouldn't recline my seat, I desperately tried to re-frame my experience and turn "enduring the flight" to something I might be able to learn from.
Sadly, I couldn't think of anything I could learn from repeated airplane discomfort except for perhaps motivation to get more women in senior management in the airline industry so we can put the "human touch" back into travel.
So, I closed my eyes and imagined what I WOULD DO if I were running marketing and operations for a major airline. My goal would be for the airline to own the phrase "airline love" on every platform out there - on and offline. Hire different people. Train them on what customer service really means. Put them through the "cattle experience" and ask them for ways to make the experience better. And, identify other revenue streams so the customer doesn't "feel" like they ARE the revenue stream.
It's time. It's so time.
Cattle call be gone!