If character is a collection of distinct qualities, Austin has character in spades. And one of the qualities we particularly loved in our recent visit to this vibrant Texas city was its embarrassing wealth of art. While there were incredible museums and parks, we are firm believers that some of the most important art can be found in public spaces. The pieces are often in unexpected locations: back alleys and vacant lots, across the walls of abandoned and neglected buildings or commissioned by neighborhood businesses. It’s the kind of art that viscerally reflects the rich histories and diversity of cultures of the communities in which they are located.
Did you go camping when you were a kid? I did. Do you have fond memories of sleeping in a tent and fishing in a lake? I don’t. Camping taught me one valuable lesson: that I hate camping. Part of it probably has to do with the fact that camping in Malaysia often involves thick jungle, humid air, mosquitoes, leeches, and ghost stories. And sorry, but Asian ghosts are TERRIFYING.
“May we borrow a cup of sugar?” I know, it’s a tad idyllic. And it’s certainly an anachronism in today’s introverted, disconnected world. But once upon a time, perhaps more recently than you can imagine, this concept was commonplace. You might recall recently hearing about Chris Salvatore and Norma Cook, a 31-year old actor and his 89-year old neighbor who were in the news when they became unlikely roommates (RIP, Norma). But there was a time when this wouldn’t have made headlines. We regularly reached out to those in our communities, shared provisions, broke bread together, attended to the elderly, and shouldered the burden of raising children. We knew our long-standing neighbors, welcomed newcomers and even stayed in touch with those who moved away.
I was pondering this recently, somewhat abstractly, while watching a movie on Netflix. It’s called Today’s Special, and I happened upon it during one of those all-too-frequent occurrences when I simply couldn’t find anything that struck my fancy. And I’ll admit, I juuuust about scrolled past it.
Today’s Special didn’t win any major awards. There were no flashy actors (though there were some incredible veteran players in the ensemble cast). It’s a simple, somewhat cliché story. But it embodies some beautiful ideals. It’s a New York story. It’s an immigrant story. It’s a story about cuisine, family, identity and love. And it’s a story that resonates with me, particularly in light of recent events.
When I was a college student in Cleveland, one of the events my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed was the annual Chalk Festival held at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The festival is an homage to the old Renaissance street art tradition, and participants pay a small fee for a square around the museum’s garden, a box of chalk, and a sponge for blending. Our first year we sat around doodling, then afterwards we walked around the garden checking out everyone else’s work. There was a scatter of seascapes, comic book drawings and personal messages. Then we came across an exact replica of Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night. In chalk.
Four years and twenty-six days ago, I lost my cat Felix. Everyone thinks their cat is special, but calling Felix “special” would be doing him a huge disservice. He was uncannily shrewd. He figured out how to open doors and drawers. He manipulated timed feeders into futility. And he orchestrated cover-ups: he’d once gained access to a large bag of food in the pantry, but continued to pretend he was hungry at feeding times so we wouldn’t get suspicious. Felix gave me fourteen years of laughter, frustration, pride, annoyance, and lots and lots of love.
I’ve never shied away from the “cat lady” moniker, but it turns out maybe I should have. The term is often used in a derisive manner, with images of unattractive women destined for eternal singlehood attached. So Fresh Step set out to dispel the negative connotations with its first ever Fresh Step Feline Fashion Lounge and Adoption Event during New York Fashion Week. In a space located just off the High Line, Fresh Step and actress Katie Cassidy (of Arrow, Gossip Girl and Melrose Place fame) played host to a Hot to Adopt event, where models walked the runway in fabulous fashions and the hottest accessory in town: a cat.