February 27, 2009

lions and t-shirts and toys oh my

Today's post contains not one, not two, but three count 'em, three favourite things rolled into one package and tied up with string. Put on your best safari suit, crack open a bottle of Tusker biridi and hit play.

First up is not so much a thing as a place. In my dream biography, there'd be a chapter that reads "I had an acreage in Africa at the foot of the Taita-Rukinga wildlife sanctuary." Has a nice ring to it n'est-ce pas? If you've been dreaming of Kenya but don't know where to get your trip started, here's an offer you can't refuse. The Earthwatch Institute sponsors scientific research projects around the world, including a number in Kenya, that afford the average Joe and Joanne the chance to become (paying) volunteer researchers in the field (tax deductible for US residents).

Back in 2002, we took part in the Lions of Tsavo adventure in Kenya (read my account for the Globe and Mail here.) Two weeks of roaming a private wildlife sanctuary in search of infamous man eating lions, taking in some of the world's most magnificent flora and fauna as you go. Despite their man-eating reputation, what makes these cats so interesting to the researchers is their lack of manes. Tickle your fancy? There's no time to waste because 2009 will be the last year for the project. It's not cheap, but you'll never regret it. Compared with a mini-bus tour .. well .. there is no comparison.

Can't go there? then get a T-shirt. Just next door to the Lions of Tsavo project stomping grounds is Wildlife Works. Situated on the Rukinga wildlife sanctuary, the area is a crucial wildlife corridor for elephants and other kings of the savannah who travel through the reserve which transects the east and west divisions of Tsavo National Park. Using a fantastic model they've dubbed "consumer powered conservation", the founders have established a garment factory on the sanctuary employing (primarily women) from the neighbouring villages. Through the clothing line sold online and in boutiques around the world, Wildlife Works is helping to improve the economic and social conditions of local people which in turn helps protect the area's wild inhabitants. Alternative sources of income = less poaching and charcoal burning which is good for everyone. So get online and order your tshirt today. I have literally a dozen of them that I bought on a visit to the factory a few years ago and from their flagship store in San Francisco.

For those of you with a mini Dr Doolittle at home, or who just like cool toys, the Fisher Price Adventure People safari set is a must have. Comes with a documentary film-making family to boot. Made in the 70's, there are still some sets to be found - I got mine on ebay. They just don't make many toys like this anymore.

There you have it - 3 of my favourite things from and inspired by the wilds of east africa.

February 23, 2009

the sincerest form of theft

I think the first time I heard the expression "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" it was from my mom. I was in 2nd or 3rd grade and someone else had the audacity to show up at recess wearing princess leia buns. Didn't she know that there could be only ONE princess leia at selkirk street school and clearly it was ME? I still get hot under the collar thinking about it all these years later.

Imagine how Thomas Lee must have felt back in the winter of 1903 when he took pity on local carpenter Harry Bunnell by offering up his chair design to help the carpenter earn a few bucks . Lee figured Bunnell could use his design for a summer chair to make a couple of pieces to sell locally in the town of Westport, NY where Lee owned a summer home. Recognizing a good thing when he saw it, Bunnell wasted no time taking the design straight to the nearest patent office and lo and behold the Bunnell Westport Plank Chair --aka the adirondack chair -- was born. The carpenter did quite well for himself, continuing to churn out the chairs for the next few decades. Today, an original Bunnell chair will fetch a tidy sum - just ask Leigh Keno of antiques roadshow fame.

If there are any collectors out there willing to pay a particularly tidy sum for a rocking chair version stamped 1922, please feel free to contact me. As it happens, there's one in my living room - I'd never dream of selling it of course (wink wink) but you can catch a glimpse of it in this polaroid from my "explorations in ennui" series a few years back.

February 22, 2009

stuck between the moon and new york city

This is the time of year when I really rack up the mental travel miles. The snowdrifts continue to climb higher and the mercury shows no signs of rising above -10c so I hit the road and go wandering.

Today I wandered over to the Jen Bekman gallery in NYC and found that she's hosting a solo show for one of my favourite artists, Sarah McKenzie. At the risk of repeating myself, she's still the bees knees in my book.

So, if you're lucky enough to find yourself in new york city this month, check it out and drop me a line c/o my outpost, (they'll know it at the post office as the the last stop to on the way to the moon) and tell me how they looked up close and in person. Until then, off to the next destination.

February 16, 2009

design matters: bringing the mean streets in

Living as I do on the edge of one of the last true wilderness areas on earth, there are days when all the trees and fresh air and birds and four-legged fur bearing visitors gets to be a bit much. In the midst of all this rural charm, one does what one can to keep connected to the concrete jungle.

In Japan's Pull+Push design team, I think I've found real kindred spirits who understand what it means to yearn for cement and rebar and smog and industry. A few of these items carefully placed around your home are sure to quench your inner urban longings.

from their collection of planters: cube, pipe, hei, mansion and haisui.

Incense pots: cottage and factory:

Ashtrays: kiso and foot

I can practically smell the smog. Welcome to my happy place.

February 14, 2009

my funny post-modern valentine

I happen to think Valentine's day is pretty much the cheesiest of all the cheesy born-of-religion-raised in-capitalism holidays. Then again I think red roses, heart shaped pendants and boxes of candy are pretty icky. If you must succumb to the notion of love = buying things, here are a few ideas that are at least a little more original.

Nothing says lovers in a dangerous time quite as much as these items - Tobias Wong's ballistic rose pin will take a bullet for you, while Sam & Jude's 3 gun vase is perfect for the NRA couple who believe that love means never having to say sorry (not even if you were to accidentally shoot each other).

If you are getting tired of hearing your beloved playing this song ad nauseam, the 2 carat cup by Yusuke Fujinuma is sure to get a reaction.

Though don't be surprised if the next song you hear is this one...
For those who are too busy, too important (or just plain too turned off by PDAs) to actually hug their beloved, there's always the hug shirt by cute circuit. This gadget allows users to send and receive simulated human contact via blackberry. Now if that's not love . . .

And last but not least, for those out there who don't happen to have a Plus One on this magical day, there's always the Buddy Throw. Comes in a number of colours to match any decor, but none is more creepy than this chalk-outline version. (although who am I to judge? I suppose even necrophiliacs deserve a little nooky on VDay.)

February 12, 2009

point it.

Forget that stuff your mother told you about how it's rude to point. When it comes to travel, you can't do better than to Point It according to the creator of this handy dandy book:

Should you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to navigate a foreign land filled with foreigners who eat weird foreign food, speak a weird foreign language and who probably don't even go to church, DO NOT PANIC because help is at hand - literally. Just flip to the appropriate page, gesticulate forcefully at the photo that best represents your need and repeat the word loudly in english. (the louder the better.)

I do have a few suggestions for the publishers if they opt for a 2nd edition. The following would have really come in handy on my last trip.

keeping calm

I don't know about the rest of you, but I had high hopes for 2009. Sky high, pie in the sky hopes for 09. Despite, or perhaps because of these high expectations, the fates seem to have gone ahead and made other plans for me. Being that this is a favourite things compendium however, I'll spare you the hundred paper cuts account of the previous 6 weeks.

Instead, I'll reach deep within my DNA wells and summon up my British stiff upper lip (well, Scottish. Sorry Nan) and pull out this little propaganda ditty from world war II. I've seen the design reappearing lately in all sorts of places from interior design shops to restaurants, including the Cascade Room in Vancouver.

If ever a Pimm's cup could qualify as a mean cocktail, theirs surely would.

Chin up old boy. V-Day (aka the world's most pathetic holiday) is just around the corner.

February 8, 2009

feeling the need for thneeds

I love inanimate objects. Beautifully crafted, cleverly conceived, impeccably executed things. I realize that this is at odds with the eco-imperative that I believe should be at the heart of all our lifestyle and consumer choices. I guess I've managed to reconcile my hypocritical nature by adopting (for the most part) a "look but don't buy" approach to pretty things.

The capitalist machine, being the great Darwinian beast it is, recognizes that it needs to adapt to the changing consumer conscience in order to survive. (By survive, I mean to continue to reap billions of dollars in profits.) Hence the explosion of "green" products: earth friendly SUVs, 4000 square foot monster homes built to green standards, eco-friendly decorating shows where the hosts seem to think that all a product needs to be eco-friendly is to be made from a natural material.

Sorting the fair trade organic wheat from the proverbial GMO sweatshop chaff is only made harder by products like this:

These "TransNeomatic" bowls claim to be made by a collective in Vietnam out of recycled scooter tires "Inspired by the scooters that zip through Vietnam's streets at all hours but distressed by the mountains of used tires that end up in the country's landfills, designers Fernando and Humberto Campana created the TransNeomatic bowl. Made from a used scooter tire that's filled with a web of natural wicker, the bowls articulate the tension between modernity and tradition that informs much of the developing world." Sounds good right. We'd all agree that repurposing an existing thneed is generally more earth friendly than creating a brand new thneed. The trouble here is that it appears (from the comments on the treehugger blog anyway) that these cleverly re-purposed bowls may not in fact be fashioned from recycled tires, but from brand new ones.

What's the moral of this story? Beware of thneeds in green clothing. After all, a thneed is a thneed is a thneed no matter how you try to green it up.

February 6, 2009

leah giberson: little boxes

Leah Giberson's mixed media studies of suburban houses and landscapes bring to mind one of my favourite tunes about conformity and the pursuit of progress. Unlike the ticky tacky houses in the song, Giberson's subjects are raised out of their suburban drudgery to become unique and beautiful vignettes tinged with nostalgia and loneliness. I love how she incorporates and embraces what would traditionally be considered awkward or aesthetically unseemly artistic elements such as intrusive shadows and power lines. A few of my favourites from her etsy site.

February 2, 2009

It is happening again

Please, please canada post. Let today be the day.