Wednesday, October 27, 2010


This past Sunday. The New York Times dedicated an entire section to the challenges of traveling on our subway system.

In it, riders put their two dollars and twenty-five cents in. There were complaints about the subway door blocker, women finishing their toilette, the back packers, etc. There's just one problem, none of the above probably read a word of any of it.

If we wanted to, Yvette and I could blog every week about the lack of etiquette on trains and buses. They're fertile ground for poor, inconsiderate behavior. Yet there is the occasional show of civility. Yesterday, a man offered me a seat on The Times Square-Grand Central Shuttle. "He was a southerner," I pointed out to a colleague, as if being a southerner is a prerequisite for being a gentleman.

But this morning the harsh reality struck again, literally, as a woman's faux snake bag repeatedly hit a man in his stomach as she carried on a conversation with a woman whose Tory Burch was slamming another passenger in the gut. They didn't have a clue because for their own comfort they had relegated their bags to the spaces behind them.

When we're the receiver of someone else's baggage in our stomachs, we just say with a smile, "Excuse me, Miss, but could you move your bag around the other way?" Yvette didn't have such luck with a man with a backpack. When she asked him if he could remove it because the bus was so crowded, he suggested that maybe she needs to lose some weight. She weighs 103 pounds.

Our father is a retired bus driver. We don't like hearing people calling them names. "Asshole," a woman said to her husband. She was referring to the driver who wouldn't let them pay at the end of their ride. Their Metrocards were empty so they wanted to sit down and collect themselves and their monies and pay on their way out of the bus. There's a lot of nerve in transit.

Also, no need to roll your eyes at the bus driver when passengers are piling out of the front door and you're waiting in extreme heat, cold or pouring rains or sitting on the bus that's going nowhere fast. She/he or a recording more than likely advised everyone to exit through the back doors but there's something about getting off in the front even if you're sitting in the back that people prefer. It feels homier? Or maybe  nobody cares because they've arrived at their destination and too bad if you have to wait. (We are not talking about the physically challenged or overloaded mother.)

There is good news. People are asking kindly for cell phone talkers to lower their voices. That one man offered me a seat. A nanny put a toddler on her lap so an elderly person could sit. And a disheveled man said, "Good morning," to me as he scratched his feet. I smiled back. We're getting there.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Staring: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

 “Yvette, don’t be surprised if people stare at you. They don’t mean anything,” I explained when she visited me for the first time in Milan, Italy.

I have to admit, it was weird. People wouldn’t even steal a look; they would just look you in the eyes and up and down.  My black friend with green eyes caught hell. She couldn’t eat in peace, take a walk in peace, it was nuts.  Italian friends would explain that people looked at me because I was different. “They’ve been seeing black models for years.  I know I'm not the first persona di colore they’ve seen,” I would argue. “Growing up, we were taught that staring isn’t nice.”  I wondered if that lesson is cultural, something we share in America.

I shouldn’t have been so annoyed. Yvette and I know that being twins, staring comes with the deal. And it’s not always a good deal. You can hear the comparisons piling up – which one has that, which one has this. Twins are studied like objects in museum.

Stares vary in nature. There are stares of curiosity. There are stares of admiration. There are stares that want to make you say, “May I help you?”  Women, young and old share the "She thinks she's cute," stare which is more like a stare down. And then, sorry guys, there are men who will stare and scare you. They know what they're doing.  Some even stare with the attitude, "I'm looking at you, and therefore you need to look back and me." You can give it back or turn your attention anywhere but to him. Study a piece of lint or the number of lights in a ceiling.
I’ve caught myself staring at a great outfit or a beautiful person and when I’m caught in the act, I pay a well-deserved compliment.
“Recently, I was at a party and felt eyes on me,” a cousin of ours recounted. “In fact, a woman I don't know well was staring as if she were ripping my clothes to shreds. When our eyes met, the woman looked quickly away.”  Did we mention that there are stares that throw daggers?
Children's stares come from innocence. They see something or someone different and they explore by staring. It's part of their learning experience.  But it's up to parents to explain why at a certain point staring isn't appropriate.

What do you do? Do you dare to stare?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Going Public on Personal Matters

Recently, walking in my neighborhood on New York's West Side, I (Yvette) saw and heard something very disturbing. A couple on a busy street was having a full-blown argument as if they were in the privacy of their home.  Their relationship's dirty laundry was flapping in the face of everyone passing by.  This is not what we call good community relations.

Yvonne can tell you about this. "I knew I was wrong," Yvonne admitted about an argument she had outdoors. She thought she was out of earshot. Instead, just like the 24-hour news cycle, bits and pieces of the argument were overheard and reported inaccurately.

In our 'gotta have it now' culture, Yvonne had to have her say right then and there. "It was a dumb situation that got dumber," Yvonne explained.

We wonder if there's a surge of public displays of dissatisfaction because we're used to holding conversations on our cell phones as we walk down the street. In one block you can hear dozens of snippets of conversations from the inane to profane. So, maybe it feels kind of natural to say what you have to say sans cell phone.

If you come across strangers in a heated argument, mind your business. If the argument escalates into violence, call 911 on your trusted cell phone. Don't hesitate; when people go public with their business, it becomes public business.

Adults yell at their children out in the open all the time forgetting what they've taught them about inside and outside voices. A woman was cursing out her three year old in a crowded station because he'd put his little hand in her pocket and she wanted to know why. "Because he loves you," Yvonne yelled out loud.

The woman, shocked,  proceeded to curse out Yvonne. Not wanting to end up on the evening news, Yvonne moved away from the woman.  Yvonne says, "She was verbally abusing the child and I just couldn't stand there and say nothing."

Remember, when it comes to parents and children, be careful how you get involved. How parents choose to reprimand their children is not for you to judge or critique. However, once it becomes physical, call for help or intervene as peacefully as you can. 

The next time you find yourself close to arguing in public, ask yourself, "Do I really want to have a People magazine moment at my ugliest?"

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Art Appreciation 101

Yvonne and I grew up with art in our lives, our mother painted, she even painted a mural on one of our walls, a zebra standing in grass, looking out into the living room, and of course it was a “hands off” wall.

The art season is in full swing; I spend at least two Saturdays a month in galleries all over New York City. I also visit on a regular basis our wonderful museums. It’s not easy looking at art these days with the digital world we live in. It doesn’t seem to be about the art anymore. It’s about getting picture of the art or posing next to the art instead of enjoying it through the naked eye. I seem to be jockeying space to view the art while avoiding being photographed by strangers. Never mind the distracting conversations between chatty visitors talking to each other or their cell phones.

A good friend of mine runs a gallery in New York’s Chelsea district. I asked him about some dos and don’ts concerning gallery hopping from his point of view, from taking a picture of a picture to talking to an artist about art.

“People don’t seem to view art anymore,” he said. “They seem to be more interested in recording the image.” He doesn’t mind visitors taking pictures but the polite thing to do is to ask someone at the gallery desk if it’s all right to take photographs. If you’re planning on using the image for business reasons you must let the gallery know, images will be provided upon request, I do it often because I have an art blog on my company’s site.

Interested in buying?  Feel free to inquire about the price, not all galleries have prices listed on the description sheets. You may ask for a price consideration (discount), but don't push beyond what's offered, it's not a bargaining point, coming across pushy is frowned upon. Never ask the artist the price of his work, ask his representatives, if he has one, that’s what they’re there for.

I enjoy visiting artists in their studios; however, this is only appropriate if a gallery does not represent the artist. Studio visits by private collectors are usually discouraged; my guess is some collectors may treat the visit as if they're going to a sample sale in a showroom or the gallery may feel there may be too much information shared on the artist’s process. Of course professionals such as curators are always allowed, the arrangements are made through the gallery.

Oops, something broke! Don’t assume you have no responsibility even though most galleries are insured. Ask immediately what you can do, which brings me back to touching walls. It’s great to expose children to the visual arts; they love the wide-open spaces and the bright colored paintings. They shouldn’t touch the work nor be allowed to run around as if they’re in a playground. Museums have programs for art appreciation for children; it’s a great place to start teaching children about art.

While Yvonne thinks a glass of wine goes well with a nice piece of art, I don’t believe alcohol and art are a good mix. Remember you’re not at a bar. My gallery friend recalled a story he'd heard about a person complaining that there was no wine. "Hey, I came down here for a glass of wine.”  He was directed to a bar down the street.  Enjoy the wine, just be careful.

Happy gallery hopping wherever you are.