London: Street art beyond Banksy
The world's most famous graffiti artist since Basquiat, Banksy, launched his first feature film this past weekend. "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is premiering at cinemas throughout London and the U.K. before launching overseas. The artist made his name on the streets of London and his graffiti remain daubed on walls from Camden to Croydon.
But there's far more to London street art than Banksy. Many of London's graffiti crew see the Bristol-born, middle-class artist as an imposter. Along the Regent's Canal in the north London borough of Camden his work has been defaced by another cult graffiti artist Robbo, angry at Banksy artist painting on what he has long regarded as his patch.
London's street art—arising out of an illegal and often destructive hobby—is some of the most creative and vibrant in the world. And whilst some borough councils (a.k.a. local government officials) paint over graffiti almost as soon as it appears, others leave the quality daubs, or even positively encourage their creation. Hotspots include Camden, Hoxton, and Whitechapel. Look out for Banksy's little boy fishing on Regent's Canal in Camden (22 yards east of Camden market, subway Camden Town), and his painter apparently inscribing the name of a rival artist, Robbo, 300 yards east of the market.
In Hoxton (nearest subway, Old Street) take a stroll down Rivington street and around to see the distinctive shop shutter work of graf stalwart Eine, with huge cryptic letters and single words in corporate brand iconography. Hundreds of artists have painted nearby streets, especially Brick Lane in Whitechapel.
Perhaps the most exciting new street artists are the Cut up Collective, who dismantle giant advertising hoardings in whole or part and re-assemble them as mosaic pictures—of hooded teenagers, urban landscapes, alienated children…
You can even find street art indoors. Mainstream galleries throughout London have begun to showcase street artists, most famously the Tate Modern in 2008 , which invited "graffers" the world over to cover its iconic brick walls with their images.
You can catch Banksy's new movie in his own-self created space (for a week only)—a makeshift theater in amongst the street scrawl and under the dripping railway arches in Waterloo. Full details of showings are on banksy.co.uk. Bring a warm coat.
TRAILER FOR THE MOVIE:
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China to build high-speed rail link to Europe
It may be that—other than wanting six-weeks of vacation a year and aspiring to speak more than one language—there's no clearer sign of an un-American sissy than someone who's thrilled by high-speed trains. And if you're as big of a fan of trains as I am, the latest plans for high-speed trains probably make you drool. London to Madrid in 8 hours? Beginning in 2012, the two cities should be linked by high-speed rail. You can already speed between London and Paris in a little more than two hours. This route will be connected to a new high-speed train to Madrid, which will be reachable within five-and-a-half hours. But even more surprising was the news this week that China is in negotiations with 17 countries to build a high-speed rail network to Europe. From London, you could visit Beijing in about two days' time, according to Daily Telegraph. From Beijing, you could connect Singapore or Vietnam via planned high-speed railways. Of course, all that is more than a decade away. But what's pretty astonishing is that the plan seems serious. China sees the rail link as a "New Silk Road," reports China's official news agency. Cargo along with passengers would be carried. But the trains in and of themselves would help China re-brand itself on the world stage as a cutting-edge technological power. Think China isn't up to the technological challenge? Think again. In January, the country opened the world's fastest high-speed rail line between the cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou. The train travels at an average speed of 217 m.p.h. In its first months of service, the cars have been 98 percent full, suggesting that ticket prices may eventually cover the costs of operations. (See a video, here.) Another high-speed link, between Zhengzhou and Xian, home of the Terracotta Warriors, opened in February. So what do you think? Traveling two days between London and Beijing would still be much longer than the current 11 hours of flying time between the two capitals. If it was built by 2025, would you take The Trans-Eurasian Railroad? Or would you prefer to fly?
San Francisco: Gourmet to-go windows
Award-winning chefs at establishments like Fish and Farm and Chez Spencer are now serving lunch out of to-go windows, all for about half the price of what you'd spend in the restaurant. Now that the weather is getting warmer—and the sun is actually coming out—a picnic seems like an idyllic way to spend an afternoon. It's easier than you think with these delicious options at to-go prices. One caveat: These windows draw crowds, so expect lines—but it's well worth the wait. American Box Lunch 'Hood Union Square Grub Sandwiches, salads, and burgers. During lunch hour on weekdays, Fish and Farm, a much-buzzed-about new restaurant serving local seafood and meats, sells boxed lunches just across the street from the restaurant's main entrance. Called the American Box Lunch, the to-go meals are becoming even more popular than the restaurant itself, mostly due to the line-caught, house-made tuna sandwich with heirloom tomatoes and tartar sauce ($9) and a cheeseburger with Niman Ranch beef, house-made pickles, and grilled onions, which local magazine 7X7 named one of the best in the city ($8). Where to sit Take your boxed lunch three blocks over to the park in Union Square, which has benches and tables. Details Cash only, Mon.-Fri. 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 339 Taylor Street. Spencer On the Go 'Hood SOMA Grub French. Instead of the fine-dining experience at Chez Spencer, enjoy French food by the same award-winning chef Laurent Katgely at the restaurant's taco truck, parked in the evenings at the corner of Folsom and 7th Street. The menu features items like caper-braised skate cheeks ($8), Sweetbread with Sherry ($9), and escargot puffs ($2.) Where to sit Pop a squat right there on the sidewalk, or take your food across the street for a glass of wine at Terroir, an organic wine bar that also provides wine for Chez Spencer and welcomes Spencer on the Go patrons. Details Cash only, Wed.-Sat. starting at 6 p.m. Greens to Go 'Hood Fort Mason/Marina Grub Vegetarian Green's is one of the first and most famous vegetarian fine-dining restaurants in the country. Entrees are made with all-organic, local ingredients, some grown at the restaurant's own garden at Marin's Zen Center. While Green's has a $15 minimum during sit-down lunch, the to-go counter features a seasonal menu, along with mainstay items like vegetarian curry ($6.50) and a peanut noodle salad ($ 6.50) at a more reasonable price. Where to sit The Marina Green park, two blocks south of Fort Mason, which overlooks the Bay and has excellent views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Details Mon-Thurs. 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri. 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sat. 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Fort Mason, Building A. The Sentinel 'Hood Financial District Grub Sandwiches and salads. Converted diner Canteen serves a prix-fix menu of organic-fusion food (aka California Cuisine) and is a favorite among locals in the Tenderloin. But, their prices can break the bank. Luckily, chef Dennis Leary has started the Sentinel, a to-go window about eight blocks from the restaurant that serves salads and sandwiches through lunchtime, like the much-coveted corned-beef sandwich with Swiss ($8.75), polenta soup ($5.65), and seasonal specialties like roasted salmon, avocado, and fennel salad, with a rhubarb crisp on the side ($11.65). Where to sit Enjoy your food at the steps on Market and Post Streets with the bike-messenger crowd for prime people watching, or head to Yerba Buena Center for the Art's lawn at Mission between 3rd and 4th Streets, two blocks away. Details Mon-Fri. 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 37 New Montgomery Little Skillet 'Hood SOMA Grub Soul food. Farmer Brown's serves its signature gourmet take on southern comfort food at Little Skillet, a take-out window in a side alley in SOMA. The restaurant, on Mason Street, supports local and African-American farmers and uses sustainably raised foods and even beverages whenever possible. Get two pieces of fried chicken with a waffle ($8) or with a buttermilk biscuit and a side of potato salad or grits ($8.50) and top it off with a red velvet cupcake ($3). Where to sit Most people eat right on the spot at the loading docks (the food is that good), but grassy South Park is two blocks away, and it's got benches and manicured lawns. Details Cash only, Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., 360 Ritch Street at Townsend.
Safe storm-chasing, here I come!
Growing up smack in the middle of Tornado Alley, where many folks' response to storm sirens is to walk out into the yard and see if they can spot the funnel, it's probably not surprising that I'm adding the "Science Storms" exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry to my list of must-sees when I hit the Windy City this summer for the Pitchfork Music Festival. The 26,000-square-foot permanent exhibit opens this Thursday, March 18, and features six blockbuster storm stations. Visitors can manipulate a 16,500-pound, 20-foot avalanche disk, to see all the different ways particles can shift while burying everything in their path; create tsunami waves in a 900-gallon tank of mineral oil (which behaves like water but doesn't evaporate); and summon lightning-like electrical arcs with a 20-foot-diameter Tesla coil—pretty exciting stuff, all around. I know what I'm going to do first, though: Stroll right to the center of what the museum calls a "towering vortex of vapor" in the 40-foot simulated tornado, created by 48 "fog modules" and a bunch of vents and fans. (Bonus: It's got lasers!) Museum entry is $15 for adults and $10 for children under 12, but on opening day it's free, as well as on the following dates: April 19–23; May 3; June 7–10; August 30; Sept. 7–14; Sept. 20, 21, 27, and 28; October 4–6; Nov. 11; and Dec. 6. msichicago.org. And if you're headed to the area this summer, keep your eyes peeled for the Chicago feature story in our May issue, on newsstands April 20!
Rome: Where to eat when you need a pasta break
I had lunch last week with a new press attaché for the American Embassy in Rome, and he asked a question that boggles the mind of most new residents. "Why aren't there any ethnic restaurants in Rome?" In fact, for a city synonymous with good eating, there is an often shocking lack of choice. The reason is a combination of bureaucracy and lack of interest. It's extremely difficult to open a restaurant in Italy, and foreigners have it much harder than Italians. But few Italians have the culinary background to open an authentic ethnic restaurant, and there's no real drive to offer choice. Tourists mostly want to eat Roman cuisine, and the local population isn't what I'd call gastronomically adventurous. It's even difficult to cook ethnic food in Rome. The vegetable market on Piazza Vittorio near Termini station has the largest selection of dried spices and vegetables, but it's almost impossible to get fresh items like snow peas, Thai basil, lemon grass or fresh cilantro with any regularity (or at reasonable prices). Luckily, over years living in Rome, I've uncovered some satisfying ethnic restaurants for times when you just can't eat another noodle. My go-to Indian restaurant is Surya Mahal. The owners are wonderfully friendly (though they have a tendency to lower the heat on the vindaloo), and there's outdoor seating in a garden overlooking Piazza Trilussa. Via di Ponte Sisto, 67, 50; 011-39/06-589-4554. I recently discovered Green Tea near the Pantheon, which has a great ambiance and authentic Chinese dishes. Via del Pie' di Marmo, 28; 011-39/06-679-8628. Zen Sushi is a sceney place for Japanese; the decor may be obnoxious, but the sushi is great. Via degli Scipioni, 243; 011-39/06-321-3420. The best Mediterranean fusion option is the super-swanky Ketumbar, just beyond Trastevere in the nightlife-centric district of Testaccio. Via Galvani 24, 011-39/06-5730-5338. While calling it authentic "tex-mex" would be an exaggeration, The Perfect Bun does serve up a great plate of nachos and spicy wings—right by the Pantheon. Largo del Teatro Valle, 4, 011-39/06-4547-6337. A long-time favorite for Vietnamese food is Thien Kim, which is on a quiet street near Campo dei Fiori. Via Giulia, 201; 011-39/06-6830-7832.