I’ve Been Out Walking (in Jamaica)

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Palm trees in Montego Bay, Jamaica

I passed by many things while walking from my grandmother’s rental apartment in Montego Bay, Jamaica to visit her in a hospital three kilometers down the road. A Hard Rock Café. Five-star hotels with aspirational names like Secrets, Breathless and Sunscape Splash. An old yacht club with abandoned boats sinking into a scum-filled bay. Luxury villas locked like prisoners behind steel bars. A taxi rank with drivers offering rides, drugs or both. A cruise ship terminal with idling jeeps and buses about to whisk vacationers on eco-tours. A police station with a long line of women and girls waiting to see their husbands and fathers who had been arrested in a recent wave of anti-gang raids. A restaurant where I once sat and listened to the pop pop pop of a nearby semi-automatic and tried to pretend it was fireworks. Fragrant gardens. Rank garbage. A gas station. People sitting in the shade of royal palm trees, trying to escape the heat of the day.

Despite all the things I saw, I mainly felt one thing. Fear.

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The Best Places to Snorkel in Grand Cayman

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Spotts Beach, Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman is perhaps best known as a Caribbean tax haven where the world’s rich and infamous stash their zillions. But not all visitors come for banking. For a long time, I’ve been going for the beaching. For good reason. My grandmother used to manage a hotel on the island, but even though she’s long since retired, I keep going back because Cayman has the Caribbean’s best coastline, with miles of bright white sand next to turquoise water.  Under the sea is even better: wildlife — turtles, eels, barracudas and rays — can be seen a short swim offshore, flitting between sea fans, shipwrecks and tons and tons of coral. The best part: I don’t use a pile of Scuba gear to take it all in — just a simple snorkel mask and flippers that I bought in Toronto. Here, my six favourite places to snorkel offshore in Grand Cayman.

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Oh, Heyyy, Felipe Pantone

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Filipe Pantone in his studio in Valencia, Spain

Felipe Pantone, the trendsetting artist from Valencia, Spain, knew that the tattoo on his left forearm was a mistake even before sitting down to have it done. The design, which he got in 2017, features a kneeling lady, naked except for a lightning bolt flashing across her insanely curvaceous body.

“It’s my worst one,” the 33-year-old confesses before noting a design on his right arm that’s much cooler: criss-crossed lines that create a rippling moiré effect.

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Go Here: Reford Gardens

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Le rocher très percé at the International Garden Festival. Photo by Martin Bond

Recently, before I made a 12-hour drive east from Toronto to Grand-Métis, Que., I was warned by several people that cell signal would be scarce. The tiny village – population 237 – sits at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and has many amenities for summer tourists, including clapboard cottages and quaint inns along the coast (the Centre d’art Marcel Gagnon is a nice auberge). But a surfeit of cell towers isn’t one of them.

Rather than being a point of frustration, though, the lack of digital connectivity is something that the area’s main attraction, the enchanting Reford Gardens, seems to be revelling in. There is no WiFi in the park (whose French name is the Jardins de Métis), all the better to appreciate the groves of purple lilacs and fields of blue poppies.

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Go Here: Rotterdam

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There are certain charms that North Americans hope for when visiting a Western European town or city: café-lined squares, gingerbread buildings, cobblestonedstreets that twist and turn in every direction.

Arriving in Rotterdam, then, can be unsatisfying, at least at first. Glass-and-steel skyscrapers shoot up from wide, razor-straight, car-filled boulevards. On the surface, everything looks distressingly familiar.

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Sleep Here: Drake Devonshire

Photo by George Whiteside

Photo by George Whiteside

Outside the Drake Devonshire in Prince Edward County, one of Ontario’s most picturesque agricultural regions, an upright player piano sits halfway between the parking lot and the front entrance, its strings sutured to amplifiers and extended to reach the inn’s parapet. As guests arrive, the exposed strings vibrate in the wind and Chopin fills the air. The gentle greeting, conceived by sound artist Gordon Monahan, sets the tone for this new type of getaway: the country inn as an art-filled, hipster-friendly retreat.

The lodgings are built around the historical Wellington Iron foundry, which dates back to 1860, now with a new campus of barn-like additions surrounding it on all sides. Together, the cluster of buildings amounts to a 1,200-square-metre interior with 11 guest rooms, two suites and a dining room and bar that seat 75. Various other anterooms offer Ping-Pong, canasta or karaoke until dawn, and a covered patio functions as an event space and an extension of the dining room.

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OMA’s Milstein Hall at Cornell University

Milstein Hall at Cornell University. Image from dezeen.com. Photography is by Philippe Ruault

Last week, on my way down to New York City, I stopped at Cornell University to see their new Architecture, Art and Planning building, Milstein Hall. The OMA-designed facility looks like a Mies van der Rohe-style box propped up on a concrete ant hill, floating not incongruously between the kind of Victorian and Georgian structures one imagines at an Ivy League school. Some of the design is quite subtle — part of the exterior is clad in elegantly stripped Turkish marble — while some of it is showy and loud — a giant, 50-foot cantilever reaches over University Ave., almost-but-not-quite touching the 150-year-old Foundry Building across the road. I wasn’t sure if this latter gesture was an act of aggression — like a bully announcing its presence to a meek, helpless victim — or one of kindness, like an outstretched hand between a young spunky kid and an old, fair lady. This ambivalence basically describes my reaction.

What I liked: The building is porous. As people walk or bike by, there are interesting opportunities to look into spaces that are normally much more cloistered in a school: a lecture hall that has windows on three sides, or a submerged auditorium/crit space with large clerestories.  Continue reading