Geneva has always, and I imagine, will always, feel like home. I feel at home in Washington DC, I also feel at home in Louisiana, yet somehow when I land in Geneva I feel like I am in my “first home.” The “special feeling in my stomach when I land” kind of first home.
For as long as I have been coming home from the US, I have stayed with family. First with my parents (during and early after college), sometimes with my grandma’s, and more recently with my sister Rachel (and her husband and daughter).
Earlier this year, because of quarantine requirements, I had for the first time to “find a home in my first home.” As my husband and I decided that a ten-day quarantine would be too painful in a hotel, I looked for an AirBnB in my hometown, which seemed oh so very odd.
The apartment I found looked “corporate” (without anyone’s personal stuff everywhere). The furnishings seemed modern and high end (my favorite). There was a small courtyard (outdoor space seemed essential for sanity during quarantine). The location was the heart of Old Town (where I would dream of living should I ever live in Geneva). Sold! I booked it for our two weeks here in July. And as always, things were meant to be.
Little did I know the amazing community we would be introduced to. The Hamlet is a family-owned business, which ten years ago was a single apartment in an old townhouse that belonged to Tara and Christoph. The couple decided to renovate the rest of this 18th-century townhouse and create a collection of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments. The result is 16 unique homes – The Hamlet.
When you stay in one of The Hamlet apartments, you also have access to a communal space known as The Square, which is comprised of a Library, a Gallery, and an Epicerie. Pretty much all of life’s necessities can be found here – emergency food and drink (think Nespresso coffee, Toblerone, local pasta and sauce); a quiet space to work or conduct meetings (you can even reserve private meeting rooms); and a yoga studio.
I love the attention to detail and amenities (Kartell-Laufen bathrooms, Aesop bath and body products, strong Wifi that can support simultaneous Zoom calls, twice weekly cleaning service). I love the team, in particular Clarence who makes any special request happen, including an outdoor heater during this winter stay. I love how Tara and Christoph support other local Swiss brands, including most recently QWSTION, a Swiss brand of bags sustainably made from plants. (Spoiler alert: beautiful partnership with Forever Institut coming soon!).
We discovered this place over the Summer. We are back staying in “our” apartment (Courtyard One) over the Christmas holiday. And I think it is safe to say we will continue to stay here anytime we come back to Geneva beyond any quarantine mandates. Indeed, this has become “our home.”
(PS – This is not a sponsored blog post – I just love this place that much.)
Months ago, my husband and I made plans to travel to Morro Bay for Thanksgiving, to spend it with my mother-in-law, and brother-in-law and his family. We had planned a big Easter gathering there, and well, that was obviously cancelled. So we would make up for Easter by spending Thanksgiving together, six people, socially-distanced, eating in the garden.
Yesterday, we cancelled that plan. Indeed, it seems Thanksgiving as we know it is altogether cancelled this year. And as James Hamblin says in The Atlantic it should be:
“This year is an opportunity to bond over the moral certainty of the moment. At its core, Thanksgiving is a nebulous day of atoning for the sins of colonialism by eating food and saying thank you. Now families and friends and communities can work together to achieve something meaningful and good: ending the pandemic. All you’re asked to do is eat food at home.”
Yes, I know this is the right decision. And yes, I wallowed in sadness for a moment yesterday. Why? Because I have to spend Thanksgiving in DC (a place I love), with “just” my husband (a man I love). Woe is me.
Today, on my morning run, I made the decision to shift my perspective and think of this as a magical opportunity to do Thanksgiving a completely different way. So here’s what I am planning for the holiday weekend.
Spending time helping others. Food and Friends, an organization I so admire, has amazing volunteering opportunities year-round, including meal delivery service on Thanksgiving Day. If anything can help me remember how lucky I am in my life and how much I have to be grateful for, this will do it.
Sharing a romantic Thanksgiving meal “en tete a tete.” I will make the house sparkle and will set a beautiful table. I will dress up and wear heels and lipstick. I will light candles. And we will enjoy a takeout Thanksgiving dinner. A first, yes, but it’s not any takeout…
Spending time outdoors. I have always wanted to hike Old Rag, and have officially run out of excuses to further delay this. Maybe we’ll even pack a picnic.
And I’ll still do many of the things I love to do during Thanksgiving weekend. Put out holiday decorations. Address holiday cards. Wrap gifts. Watch Christmas movies. And most importantly, I will remember how lucky I am, I will say my gratitudes, and I will call my mother-in-law.
I have always had a love/hate relationship with New York City. It is magical and mean. Exhilarating and exhausting. Gorgeous and gritty.
Right now, however, after four days here, I have a love/love relationship with New York City. I expected a ghost town. I imagined a city as it would be after a hard-fought yet lost battle. I envisioned New York City as a shadow of its former self. I was wrong.
What I have discovered is “New York 2.0.” It feels somewhat like the city in August, when many are taking refuge in fancy Hamptons houses. Yes there are fewer people, but the people who have remained seem softer, kinder. Restaurants and retailers are open, although in a limited fashion.
The waterfront sidewalks are filled with runners enjoying the fall temperatures, all fully masked. The city takes COVID precautions more seriously than even D.C.
All of the outdoor dining and sidewalk patios in Tribeca and SoHo give this concrete jungle an incredibly European feel. People are beautiful, dressed in fancy clothes and stilettos, wearing makeup despite their masks. They are eating, drinking, laughing, even more on display than during “normal” times as this is all happening outdoors.
Midtown feels different. The office buildings are closed, and the streets are empty of the harried, hurried, high-powered executives always rushing. The tourists have also mostly stayed away. What is left are the essential workers, the street cleaners, the delivery men and women, the construction workers, and the marginalized. It certainly feels different, but it does not feel dead.
Uptown… well, I am just heading to the Upper East side for meetings… I imagine I will discover yet another version of New York City in that neighborhood. Indeed, the feelings seem different from one neighborhood to another.
New York City today is not like it was on March 2nd, when I was last here. Because the world is not like it was on March 2nd. But New York is not dead. Maybe it felt like the Apocalypse two months ago, but New York today feels alive. As Mark Twain would say, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” New York may never be the same as “before,” but New York will always be New York.
When your Mom is mentioned in Greek Vogue, you blog about it. Actually, I should have written this blog post a while ago, to share this beautiful project called Sharing Perama, that my mother Barbara Polla ideated and then made a reality on February 20, 2020 (02/20/2020 – an auspicious date). This Vogue article is just an excuse and the timing is perfect.
I owe my love of Greece to my maternal grandparents who moved their family of five to Tinos in the mid 1960s and spent two years discovering the country, absorbing Greek culture and philosophy. During this time, my mother, then a teenager, met Papa Georgios (Father George), a clergyman based in Perama, a working-class suburb of Athens in the district of Pireaus. Papa Georgios took care of the refugees and the poor of his parish. Inspired by him, she volunteered and assisted in his efforts, until his imprisonment and then execution by fascists in 1967. More than 50 years later, she wanted to honor him and his core values of kindness and hope. Thus the project Sharing Perama was born.
Who better to work on this than the British artist Robert Montgomery, whose poetry and conceptual art, often perceived as political, is permeated with hope. “Specifically, he writes poems which he depicts in paintings and installations, with light, flames, wood, watercolors. He believes that art has a place in the streets mainly and not in museums.” (quote from Vogue article).
On February 20, 2020, the Municipality of Perama and Sharing Perama, with the kind support of ΟΛΠ (Pireaus Port Authority S.A.), welcomed and lit the first public sculpture by Robert Montgomery, which is placed permanently at Terma Peramatos where the boats leave for and from Salamis (the busiest ferry terminal of Europe).
The exhibition is running now through 2022. For more information, please click here.
The below is extracted and translated from the interview with Robert Montgomery in the current issue of Vogue Greece, an issue dedicated to hope. This is not the entire interview and the order of the questions has been rearranged.
Tell me now about your new project in Greece.
It is called “We share Perama” (www.sharingperama.com), it started last February and will be active for the next two years With the support of the Greek Ministry of Culture and with the cooperation of the mayor of Perama we create visual, poetic, theatrical works based and inspiration the area. In December, the director Dimitris Babilis will stage at the Municipal Theater of Perama the first play by Dimitris Dimitriadis entitled The Price of Revolt in the Black Market, which I consider important. I am also collaborating with the artist Mario Fournaris – a native of Perama – on an art exhibition on ecology, which will be presented at the Museum of Perama, which is revived through the project. Also, filmmakers Christos Panagos and Charalambos Margaritis are preparing a film entitled Dreaming Perama. Finally, to say that it is a great honor for me that the award-winning Greek poet Krystalli Glyniadaki translates my poems into Greek, as part of the project. In general, there are remarkable Greek artists with whom I collaborate on this project and I am very happy about it.
How did you get involved in this?
The project was inspired by the very important Swiss curator Barbara Polla. The idea was to honor the clergyman George Demitriadis. Father George, from his post in the parish of Perama, took care of the refugees and the poor in the ’60s. He was executed by the fascists in 1967. He is a hero who has not been heard of or glorified. Barbara Polla in her adolescence was a volunteer in his work. Growing up and acquiring an artistic voice, she wanted to honor him, but also with her eyes fixed on the future, she also wanted to make a comment about kindness and hope. He invited me to visit the place and I responded immediately, as I grew up in Glasgow, which is a shipbuilding city, so Perama reminded me of my childhood, I felt a connection. Of course, Perama is more beautiful than Glasgow, because you have the blue sea and this light. It is also built amphitheatrically on the coastline of Attica. It inspired me from the first moment.
The first installation of the project, last February, was a phrase at the port gate: “The Beginning of Hope”. This issue of Vogue Greece is dedicated to hope and I would like to ask you what hope is for you. What thoughts and feelings do you have?
I would say that Perama is a good example of what hope is. It is a friendly neighborhood full of pride, created by a group of refugees. People who worked hard and proudly and built their lives from scratch. For me Perama is a truly beautiful place. Those first refugees who settled there give through their lives the very definition of hope, which has in it strength and momentum for new beginnings.
What are the main issues you are dealing with?
Nature, utopia, society, ecology, love, the pain caused by love, memories, light, color.
How would you describe the language you use?
I think it is romantic. It involves pain and hope.
How would you characterize the aesthetics of your works?
Poetry is captured through light and painting.
You have justified your art form by claiming that people would rather see poems on the streets than soft drink ads. I wonder if you feel alien to the modern world and if you really want to change it in your own way.
Now I feel happy in the world. I have a wonderful wife, my children, I feel blessed. To change or save the world? I do not think artists can do that. If we are to save the world from ecological disaster, for example, we can only do it all together. Recently people all over the world united to fight against the pandemic. Which showed us how we can deal with a crisis when we are all together and that money is not the most important good. We need to show the same unity to protect our planet.
You have said that you love words because they are imbued with a slowness. How is slowness a virtue?
I believe that poetry has a magical ability to slow down the rhythms of the mind and entice you to meditate.
Another phrase that impressed me was this: “The meaning of art is to touch the hearts of strangers, without getting into the trouble of meeting them.” Really, is it a hassle to know a person?
Yes. I’m pretty shy. Many shy people become artists or writers.
You have developed the theory that the people we love become ghosts within us and so we keep them alive. Tell me a little about it.
It is a view I expressed through a work dedicated to the death of artist Sean Watson. He was my best friend from university and is always in my heart.
What role does melancholy play in your work? Is it an important “ingredient”?
I believe that melancholy is a process of the heart. It is the creation of beauty through sadness.
I am a creature of routine and rituals, in everything including skin care. Earlier this summer, I shared with you my morning and evening skin care routines.
I do the same skin care steps every morning, and every evening. Except when I am in my happy place, Tinos, Greece. Here, the sun shines every day, and I spend more of my day outside than inside. The wind blows, and the sea is extra salty – all elements that have an impact on the look and feel of my skin.
While most of my routine remains, some things do change.
Most importantly, I stop using my Advanced retinol serum. I will use it year-round, including during the summer, but not when spending 80% of my waking day outside in the sun (and I don’t mean lying at the beach in the sun – just walking around and eating meals outdoors is enough).
And of course, eye care and a midweight moisturizer. I use my Tightening eye gel morning and evening: its cooling feel and light texture are the best for warmer weather. And my Kantic Calming cream in a daily evening ritual, to heal my skin post sun exposure.
Finally, twice weekly, a deep treatment with my Gentle refining scrub and Kantic Brightening moisture mask. Sun exposure makes my skin thicker, so regular exfoliation is absolutely key (and no, exfoliating will not make your tan go away faster – on the contrary!). And the mask is magical, year-round of course. This time of year, if feels cooling and refreshing, and the antioxidants work to prevent any sun damage that may have occurred despite my obsessive sunscreen use.
Sun care is my theme. La Roche Posay Anthelios XL 50+ oil is my go-to sunscreen. I love the slick feel and the sun protection is the most effective.
In the same oil family, Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse Or is such a treat. Body, hair, even sometimes face – it nourishes and the gold particles create a beautiful discreet glow. And the delicate aroma says summer like nothing else.
Post sun, my Soothing body lotion calms any redness and rehydrates my skin (remember water, chlorine, salt, are all drying ingredients to the skin).
And finally, because I spend my time exclusively in flip flops or (preferably!) barefoot, I apply my Dry skin balm to my feet religiously morning and evening.
How do you tweak your skin and body care rituals when spending time in sunnier, warmer climates?
I have spent the better part of the last four months thinking about the future of retail – and I am not alone. Is this pandemic the end of brick and mortal retail? Will consumers return to stores? Is online forever the path to purchase? Is Amazon really going to take over the world? These are just some of the questions swirling around in my head.
Yesterday, I lived these questions as a consumer, as a shopper. A few things about my shopping and buying patterns to put yesterday’s experience into context. I am not an avid shopper. I buy quality over quantity. I have never liked malls. I am highly loyal to a few stores I love. The last time that I was in a (non grocery) store was March 4th and I can’t remember the last time I went shopping with a girlfriend.
Yesterday, I went shopping with a girlfriend. She took me to her favorite store in Tinos, Karybu. I was so excited about this girlfriend shopping expedition that I dressed up and did my hair. We browsed, chatted with the owner (who happens to be from Basel Switzerland), compared our preferences in earrings, and I bought a (surprise) gift for my husband. We had the best time. Yes we were wearing masks. Yes we social distanced. Yes one of the sales associates was keeping track of the customer count in the boutique. And, it was amazing. It lifted my spirits. It was nothing I could have experienced online.
I had the same feeling as I did a couple of weeks ago, on July 23 rd , which was my first return to a brick and mortar non grocery store since March 4th (albeit by myself). I walked in to Apostrophe in Geneva, Switzerland, my absolutely favorite clothing store, where I have been shopping during each Geneva visit for 15+ years. I did not enter this store with a specific need in mind – it was more of a ritual, and the opportunity to speak with the lovely boutique manager about her pandemic experience. And, I bought a dress. A complete impulse buy. A dress completely opposite to every dress in my closet – patterned and colorful. A dress the manager (who knows me and my black wardrobe) picked for me, promising me that it looked better on than on the hanger and that it was made for me. I decided to trust her – and she was right. I wore it to my sister’s rehearsal dinner and received more compliments than I knew what to do with. It may
be my favorite dress I have ever owned. I never would have purchased this online.
Online shopping will never go away. Neither will brick and mortar shopping. The “in real life” experience matters. The discovery matters. The human connection matters.