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A Wonderful Time with the Women of YPO Quebec

It must have been a few month back when I was in the midst of writing one of my chapters for my upcoming book that I answered the phone. A woman by the name of Marie-Christine had contacted me from Quebec, inviting me to their YPO Chapter there for a talk. We finally decided that I would coordinate my trip around my upcoming visit to New York so my travel time won’t be as long.

Well, I never thought about weather conditions or storms when I booked the speaking engagement, but the week before my scheduled arrival, Quebec had a big storm. Just days before leaving I had checked the weather there and I surprised to see that it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit!

The last time I was in that kind of weather was when I was stuck on a ski lift at age 21!

I will have to say that my flight to Montreal was easy and uneventful. From up above the snow covered landscape was so beautiful that it reminded me of an abstract painting. Marie-Christine was awaiting my arrival at the airport and on our way to the airport we got a chance to talk. I say this with great sincerity, but one of the nicest experiences on all my work travels has been meeting interesting people and learning about their lives and what they do. Quebec did not disappoint. Marie-Christine, Nathalie, Ruby, along with the 60 other YPO spouses who had come for my talk were warm and welcoming. My talk about leadership took an hour but we spent the next three hours chatting, laughing and sharing our experiences. I learned about the great work of so many of these women and how each was striving to do something that was reflective of their character, talents, and interests.

You know you love what you do when you can’t keep track of time. What was supposed to be a two hour event became four hours— the evening ended with laughter and many hugs and embraces. Somehow I hope to revisit Quebec. Who knows maybe for launch of my third book!

La Dama Del Cement: Amalia Fortabat

I just got back from an amazing trip from Argentina, and of course, one of the first things I do while I’m touring around a new country is ask the guides about the local history and the most notable women of the region.

Just imagine that one of the most powerful and successful executives in Argentina was a woman by the name of Amalia Fortabat. She caused quite a stir by divorcing her first husband and marrying a man 27 years her senior, who was the founder of a large and successful cement company. Their romance was the talk of Buenos Aires, where at the time, their relationship was anything but conventional.

It didn’t take long before she was immersed in his business. She was fluent in three languages, French, English and Spanish, and was the daughter of a prominent family (her mother’s family descended from Uraguay’s second president Manuel Oribe).

Following her husband’s death in 1976, she took charge of his business empire taking the company to greater heights, earning her the title “La dama del cement” or “The Cement Lady.” In addition to being a successful executive, Amalia Fortabat had a deep passion for the arts and philanthropy.

In the 70s, she created the Foundation Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, “an institution that donates millions of dollars to charity and provides grants to children’s homes, schools and cultural centres.” And, in 1992 she was appointed president of the National Art Foundation where she continued to contribute her services to the arts and philanthropy to the end of her life.

One of the highlights from my trip was visiting her private art collection.

Here is a photo of the piece Andy Warhol created for her.

The Amazing Massiliano Giono and the 55th Annual Venice Art Biennale

I just got back from the 55th Annual Venice Art Biennale and I have to say that Massiliano Giono, 38 and the youngest curator in the history of the biennale, did such a thoughtful job of linking some of the most fascinating artworks in the central pavilion.

Carl Jung’s “Red Book”

Given that I am a disciple of Carl Jung, I can’t tell you how powerful it was to see his drawing on display in the center pavilion, and his much-coveted Red Book that has not been out of the vaults for decades was on display. Legend has it that when Jung was suffering from a extreme neurosis, he would withdraw to his tower in his estate and spend hours drawing symbols and images that bubbled up to his consciousness.  The work was both beautiful and cathartic.  A gallerist had asked if he wanted to ever sell his works, but he refused, saying that the intent for his art was healing and not commercial.  The stunning works were al in the infamous red, leather-bound book and it serves as some of the most archetypical pictures on the collective human psyche.  The book has been locked in the family vaults for decades, rarely to be seen by anyone.  Here were Carl Jung’s art on full display and the glorious book in a temperature controlled glass case for all to view.

Carl Jung’s “Red Book”

To me the whole question of what is art, who is considered an artist was the most thought provoking. There was a miner who claimed that a voice told him one day to make art. He headed that voice and spent hours making intricate designs that were simply breathtaking. He would often sit 20 hours at a time and claimed that his work was effortless since the hand of God was working through him.  He also never sold those sublime colorful grids but wanted to be “in communion with the vibrations of his color.

Miner’s Art

Other examples of lay people who have taken art seriously was on display:  a social worker who dealt with the restrictions of education and the prison system, blind people, who did not have a sense of space and proportion, a dental hygienist and a woman who through meditation created what looks like the typical drawings of the cosmos and chakras when she was not truly aware of such notions.  How wonderful and liberating it was to celebrate art for arts sake and to celebrate ordinary people who also turned out exquisite pieces of work!

The Russian and British Pavilion in particular were also great. And Ai Weiwei’s installation in the French Pavilion was another showstopper.

Artwork installation by Ai Wei Wei

Of course, Mr. Arnault had the good sense and taste of wrapping the entirety of his Pallazo Grassi, wall to wall, floor to ceiling with Persian tribal carpeting courtesy of Rudolph Stingel.  But really, after going through the 20th room in the palazzo you got tired of the same thing.

Pallazo Grassi carpeting by Rudolph Stingel

The most surreal was Prada Foundation’s exhibition of “When Ideas become Form”—a rather menacing “muahahaha” voice blared throughout the palazzo and then there was this hysterical cry of a baby. (Maybe babies cannot be called hysterical because they have a right to cry)

That is the funny thing about exhibitions; you never know what is real and what is not! Obviously I knew that the Prada-clan doormen would never let in a certified lunatic so the real question was if there was a real baby in the exhibition? That was a recording too.

But joking aside, I came to understand that the seminal 1969 show that re-created tried to show that process of art was as important as the product itself—or perhaps no product at all. A revolutionary thing at the time that filled in the gap between what we are conditioned to appreciate and what the essence and possibilities of art could be

The only funny thing is that just as I left the Palazzo door, there was a screaming baby in the arms of a helpless dad as well.  At that very threshold was the display of life imitating art!


High Atop the Eifel Tower in Paris

This week’s adventures took my husband and me to Paris. We were at the famous Maxim’s Restaurant for the book signing of Pierre Cardin only 3 hours after we landed in this beautiful city.  Needless to say, our week was full of wonderful experiences. Although we had been to Paris on numerous occasions, we had never done the most touristic excursion, which is going to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  The day was clear and I shot many beautiful panoramic scenes of the city.

We managed to see 2 blockbuster exhibitions, one a retrospective of YSL at the Petit Palais and the Lucien Freud Exhibit at the Centre Georges Pompidou. (I hope to write about it in an article in the Huffington Post)

I also wanted to see the “Living Wall” installation of the exterior of the Musee du quai Branly that was designed and planted by Gilles Clement and Patrik Blanc.  To think that the entire facade of the building is planted material!

Of course, my favorite pastime between seeing art and roaming through the streets of Saint Germain des Pres and Le Maire is my hunt for the best hot chocolate.  (Laduree took the prize!)

David and I also had the great fortune of being invited to the American Ambassador’s residence for a music recital. This residence really is magnificent, but it is Mr. and Mrs. Ambassador Rivkin  that truly shine. They are both warm, intelligent, and engaging–we should only be so proud to them represent our country in France.

Here are some pictures of our 4 day get away! And yes, I spotted my book in the Assouline Store in St. Germain. It was such a great feeling.

5 All-Together Bad and Marginally Bizarre days spent in Brazil circa 1990 – DAY FIVE

Off to sea-side town of Angra-dos-reis for few days.

Different vibe all together—semi-wild beaches, rugged, tropical mountains and literally hundred of islands dotting the crystal clear sea.

Bad news: can’t find my passport.  Left my handbag with money and the passport in taxi.

Stay in hotel room to sulk. David goes horseback riding. Comes back and says best that he has ever been on.  Receptionist tells me taxi driver drove back an hour to return bag!

(yea) Cab drivers no longer arch-enemy but  gave him nice tip.

Go on snorkeling excursion in afternoon.  A blast.  Glad to be with David.

(The guy taking us on the boat—very creepy. Keeps rubbing his hands on the wet-suit, smiling.  Keeps telling me to wear one. Think has a Jacques Cousteau perversion/rubber fetish of some sort.)

Evening–go to nearby charming village.  Lots of kids playing football (soccer) in the streets.  Can’t find our seafood restaurant. All numbers on homes and shops hidden.

Finally find the place…lots of kids sitting in front, blocking the entrance.  I shoo them away like pesky flies (am fast learner).  Feels as if stepped into a ripe banana…walls bright-yellow.  Woman on the side ironing shirt.  Middle-aged man, sitting on the coach, with undershirt, clipping toe nails and watching grainy T.V.  Have feeling not in restaurant (woman’s intuition, I guess).  I bolt out of house.  David is bent-over laughing.

5 All-Together Bad and Marginally Bizarre days spent in Brazil circa 1990 – DAY FOUR

Go to eye-opening tour of town.  First to the periphery of Shanty towns. Houses assembled by pieces of plywood and plastic tarp as roof.  Some better ones, with bricks and corrugated metal. Guide said many drug gangs and violence here. (thinking if safe to be going through neighborhood)

Then off to wealthy neighborhoods.  Luxurious apartment buildings and mansions with gates and surveillance cameras and guards.

Hoping vacation will not become like Greek tragedy where things go from bad to worse, ending with character dying or poking eyes out with sharp object or scissors.

5 All-Together Bad and Marginally Bizarre days spent in Brazil circa 1990 – DAY THREE

Drink a lot of fluids.  David rests.  I look at my backside every time I pass the mirror in the room.

Go to indoor mall while David sleeps. Beautiful shoes….no tags since prices change daily because of inflation.

David feels up to going out by nighttime.  (What a good sport!)

Not looking my best tonight.  (look like a train wreck actually—dark circles under my eyes, hair frizzy, so gelled back in ponytail, and wore dress with huge watermark in the back)

Semi-good news: glad that water stain was on the top half of my dress or people would think have bladder problems.

Go to nightclub recommended by Flavio after dinner.  Wow! Décor impeccable. White couches around dance floor. Dance floor lit from underneath (looks like suspended in mid-air).  Better than Paris nightclub scene—young, good-looking crowd with designer clothes. Thumping American music. Some lambada-style  dirty dancing. Hate this! Women look like exotic supermodels. All were like super-glam Amazons.  (Someone should explain to me why these women, who tower at 6 feet, chose to wear 4 inch heals to top things off.  Not fair to those of us who are 5’2 and three-fourths).  Tell David I’m very tired.

Get into taxi with a don’t-mess-with-us-eye-of the-tiger look (when Rocky meets arch- enemy boxer from Russia). Arch-enemy tries to jip us into paying according to rates of their previous currency. (currency had been devalued ten-fold months ago).  We win. (yea!)

5 All-Together Bad and Marginally Bizarre days spent in Brazil circa 1990 – DAY TWO

Go to Ipanema Beach to recuperate. Very hot (people and weather).  People are almost naked at the beach.  Opposite L.A.  Small breasts are the rage and great, anti-gravity buns in thongs.  David very busy watching women, but pretend I don’t see it. (could have done without my clothes in Brazil after all.)

Rest of the day busy, tour to see Corcovado—100 foot statue of Christ on top of  mountain. Can see it from most parts of the city.  Take short train ride through mountainside and hike up some very steep steps to get to the base of statue.  View of city spectacular. Christ statue, made out of soapstone and mosaic, and hands outstretched as if giving a hug–spectacular.  Reminds me of the famous “Touchdown Jesus” in University of Notre Dame. My friend tells me the Notre Dame Stadium is known for the view of “Touchdown Jesus”.  Says mirrors the raised arms of a referee signifying touchdown.  Says University won’t expand the stadium because it’ll spoil the view then.  (Thinking Moses statues seem to be too introverted—his head always in the books or carrying 10 Commandment Tablets. Maybe need to show his more sociable, sporty side.  Maybe appeal to youth if Moses rides on Sparticus-style chariot or uses cane as baseball bat).

Head back on the train to go to base of mountain.  Ten or15 vendors clamor to get our attention.

“Buy this plate with the picture of Corcovado on it.”

“Buy this Christ from me.”

“Buy samba music tape.”

“If you don’t like Christ, I have a fan.”

“I like you. Buy from me.”

Dizzy from vendors clawing at us.  Know old, Iranian art of negotiation—feign disinterest and vendor will drop price.  Problem.  Not “pretending” disinterest, actually don’t want to buy anything.

Ultra-aggressive vendor with optimistic Tony-Robbins, don’t-give-up-attitude, follows us all the way down to parking lot.

“Okay, you don’t want it for 20 Reals, then 18.”

“Don’t worry, you can have it for 16.”

“7 Reals is my last offer, a bargain.”

Still don’t buy.  An American woman beams with pride. “Guess what I got? A samba tape for 16 Reals,” she tells her husband.  Okay. She just paid for vendor’s lunch, dinner and most likely, his daughter’s clothes and party. (Probably have paid for many taxi driver’s expenses also.)

David tired with headache.  Night sweats and shivering. Get doctor to come to hotel room. Heat Stroke!

5 All-Together Bad and Marginally Bizarre days spent in Brazil circa 1990 – DAY ONE

Hate starting with bad news…but bad news. Stand at Varig Airline carousel for an hour. No luggage.  How am I going to spend this 2 week vacation with no clothes?

David and I tag down a taxi and head toward our hotel in Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.

Half hour ride cost $75.

Good news (yeah) Flavio the receptionist says airline found luggage.

Bad News: will take 3 hours to get here and room not ready for check in.

Go to outdoor café next to hotel for late lunch. Place empty except for 2 British, middle-aged, balding men.  Flashback from 70’s—their shirts unbuttoned to their bulging bellies with gold chains.  Hideous sight…getting it on with 2 vavavoom, scantily dressed, under-aged Brazilian girls.

Waiter brings bread basket and menu.  Hard to concentrate on menu when balding men’s eyes glued to under-ageds’ cleavage and lots of leg and chest rubbing.  Three boys between 5-9 years old come and point to our bread basket.  Give them 3 rolls.

Boys giggle and run off.  Come back 5 minutes later with a gang of 10, screaming Portuguese words and pointing to our bread basket.  Waiter runs over and shoos them away as if bunch of noisy pigeons.  Barks at us for giving starving street kids food.

Gasping noise comes from British pot-bellied table. The one with a bad sunburn falls over and foams at the mouth. (very bad news).  I scream.  The under-ageds scream. People scramble.  Unconscious middle-aged is put on gurney and rushed to hospital.  His friend stays behind. Find him to be a bizarre, unethical, back-stabber…stays behind and gets it on with the 2 girls. (Wonder if this will become Brazilian style Fatal Attraction, where the under-ageds will attack him with knife when he rejects them and stops returning their phone calls)  Food arrives, and gang of 10 swarm around us. Too sad. Paid the bill and decided to order room service instead.

Hate being a downer…but more bad news.  Luggage arrive drenching wet. Some clothes had been stolen and someone decided to take a shower with the luggage before giving it back to us. (Now I know how in the film…violated and angry)  But, like Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV we make a come-back.  We decide on going out to dinner.

Flavio, the receptionist, recommended a Churrasso (traditional barbeque meat) joint.

Asked Flavio if we could walk.  Eyes-bulging-out-of-the-socket stunned.  “Oh, no…you don’t want to walk around at night in Rio.  Those mountains behind us? People from shanty towns descend and mug people at night. You always take a taxi.”  Feel like city is under marshal law or some kind of lock down.

David still curious about the $75 cab fare from the airport.  Asked Flavio about it.  Flavio has lame smile…. “Sorry our cab drivers take advantage.  The fare should have been $30 dollars at the most.”  (feel like ………..again)  Did not just pay for the cab fare but the taxi driver’s lunch, family dinner, and his daughter’s clothes!

Flavio tells us to look at chart pasted to the back of the passenger side seat of the taxi. Has rates based on where you go printed.

“Eye of the tiger” Rocky-style attitude. Ready for battle with the taxi cartel.  Cab driver wants to charge us triple.  Feeling smug, point to the printed fare.  He nods and gives us our change back. (yeah)  Churrasso dinner excellent.  Brazil’s answer to all-you-can-eat buffet. (the beef to-die-for)

Notice cab driver didn’t give the right change. (very hard to see in dark plus different currency….Damn!)