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Dispatches

ILLUSTRATION BY GAVIN POTENZA

 

INDY VS. MONACO

On May 29, two of the biggest auto racing events on the planet, the Indianapolis 500 and the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monaco, will be held. Here’s how they stack up. –ANDREW O’REILLY

MEET THE (BRITISH) VOICE OF THE INDY 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IND.—A smartly dressed Donald Davidson is taking in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from the ninth floor of the Pagoda, the towering structure in the center of the track. He walks along the perimeter of the room and stops at a seat smack-dab in front of the starting line—his seat. The track’s only full-time historian, Davidson is also a well-known raceday radio personality—a post he’s held since the mid-’60s. Which is a li le odd, considering he has a British accent.

“I grew up in Salisbury, in the southern part of England, and was always fascinated with Grand Prix racing,” he says. “I was fascinated by American life, too, and I wanted to check it out.”

In 1964, Davidson flew to Chicago and caught a bus to Indianapolis just in time for the race. Prior to his arrival, he’d been so nervous about securing a good seat that he’d sent numerous letters to the ticket office. So many in fact that he was immediately recognized by the ladies behind the counter—who were also taken by his accent.

“The Beatles had just performed on Ed Sullivan, so everyone was interested in anything British,” he quips. His accent, combined with an encyclopedic knowledge of race facts, endeared him to officials, and he spent his holiday chatting up drivers in racecar garages. The following year, he came back to Indianapolis for good. The rest is history.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the race, and no one is more excited than Davidson. “I can’t wait to see old friends,” he says. “We are inviting every living participant, regardless if they won or lost. It is going to be a big reunion.”

–KATIE MORELL

An Earful of Cheer

Disney does marathons the only way it knows how.

BEFORE THE START OF THE RACE, John Phelan makes a frantic predawn check of the route of the marathon he helps direct, making sure that everything is ready. He passes the water stations, the medical stops and the neatly aligned traffic cones that will channel runners in the right direction. Then his trained eye spots some 11th-hour snags: Winnie the Pooh is on the wrong side of the road. There are pirates in the parking lot. And the accordion players, stilt walkers, high school bands and trampoline artists all look as though they could use some last-minute motivation.

“Lots of energy, guys! Keep it going! Pump these people up!” Phelan shouts from his bicycle as he makes his way along the 26.2-mile course of the Walt Disney World Marathon, just barely ahead of the nearly 17,500 runners who have made this curious combination of entertainment and competition one of the most popular marathons in America. “It’s like pu ing on a big show, except spread out over 26.2 miles,” says Phelan.

Held every January, the marathon runs through all four of the Disney World theme parks and past characters in costume shouting encouragement (Snow White: “I’m so proud of you!”). It’s big business for Disney, filling the parks with 110,000 visitors during an otherwise slow season. There’s a half marathon too, making this the largest combination race weekend in the nation. The success has prompted Disney to add more races, including a Princess Half Marathon for women in February, and half marathons at Disneyland and Disney World each fall. All sell out far in advance, despite comparatively high entry fees. “We literally take over Walt Disney World,” says Michelle Maready, who also helps direct the races. “We overwhelm the property with runners.”—JON MARCUS

BRUSSELS

Swap Meet

Minutes before midnight, BOZAR, Brussels’s fine arts center, is packed to capacity with museum- goers wielding stacks of sticky notes. They scribble messages and place them all around the works of art on display. “Two nights in Marrakech,” the notes read, “baking lessons,” “Eurail pass,” “life insurance,” “a flight to wherever you want.”

Truc Troc, literally “Stuff Swap” in French, is an annual Belgian art happening in which artists trade their paintings, sculptures and photographs for goods and services offered by local art lov- ers. After a three-decade hiatus, the show returned in 2004, and it has become larger and more prestigious with each passing year. For the February 2011 show, a jury selected 160 artists out of more than 500 applicants to participate in the weekendlong event.

Anatoly, a self-professed Japanophile, is bidding 11 bento lunches on a Japanese flag that Christopher Coppers created out of shredded magazines. Adrian offers a guitar and 10 hours of lessons for an ethereal photograph of a tree by Pierre Moreau.

Artist Yuko Nakaya says she isn’t preoccupied with what she might receive in exchange for her zen sculpture of mirror and sand. She decided to participate after going last year because “audiences weren’t passive, but active viewers selecting what they wanted.” Serge Vanderheyden, one of the organizers, agrees. “Bartering is a chance to attract someone who doesn’t know art or have much money to interact with an artist,” he says.

With her mom and aunt in tow, 13-year-old Alice is busy flitting from one piece to another, leaving a pink trail of heart-shaped Post-Its she brought from home. She is offering tennis lessons, mix CDs of her favorite songs and even a diary. Asked why she is bidding on so many pieces, she answers, simply: “I love art.”

—CHANEY KWAK

PARIS • HELLO, GOODBYE

There was an empty space at the Grand Palais where John Lennon’s blue 1965 Ferrari was supposed to be. At auction house Bonhams’ February car auction, the music legend’s first ride was to be the star a raction. But then the anonymous owner got cold feet. “When the day looms, some people think to themselves, ‘Crikey, am I doing the right thing?’” says James Knight, head of Bonhams’ motoring department.

The owner le six Ferraris and four Rolls-Royces in the auction but couldn’t part with the car Lennon bought for around $3,250 after getting his license at age 24. Bonhams had expected it to go for up to $276,000. Instead, it was back in England while about 90 other cars, including a rare 1933 Buga i Type 51 that went for $1.5 million, were gaveled down.

The change of heart wasn’t cheap: Bonhams “withdrawal fee” cost the owner about $36,000.

Rupert Banner, a Bon- hams vice president who has sold about 30 of the owner’s cars over the last 15 years, says the man may have been influenced by the fact that selling the Lennon Ferrari would have com- pletely liquidated his fleet of collectible cars and le him without a single trophy. Banner tried his best to convince the Beatles fan to go through with the sale, but to no avail. “It wasn’t financial,” says Knight. “It was heart- versus-head turmoil.”

—JOSHUA SAUL

Gaga for Lipstick

Lady Gaga debuts her new shade at the Trump Soho.

The scene outside the penthouse on the 44th floor of Soho’s Trump Hotel is surprisingly calm, with sleek, headse ed publicists and fashion writers mingling lazily over cut cucumber sandwiches. When the doors open to reveal Lady Gaga, curled in a plush chair like an alien flower in a custom-made Thierry Mugler latex pantsuit, there’s none of the jockeying that typically accompanies a Gaga sighting. The reporters here have been instructed by her handlers that they’ll get 15 minutes with the star, during which time they are to stick to one topic and one topic only. That topic is lipstick.

“I heard there are a couple of British fashion mag editors here who are going to try to stray off-topic,” says a black-suited woman seriously to the publicist next to her. “We’re going to have to be on our game,” says the other.

Inside, the performer, looking a li le tired from her audacious egg-borne Grammy performance days earlier, quietly talks up the lipstick she designed for Viva Glam, MAC cosmetics’ AIDS relief program. “I wanted to create a nonjudgmental beige,” she says. “A color that a person of any race or any background could wear. My mother is wearing it right now.”

Gaga is serious about AIDS prevention. She’s had a few friends fall victim to the disease, she says. Still, a day of interviews so soon a er a major performance takes its toll. This is the first time she is participating in a Viva Glam campaign on her own—last year she had ’80s icon Cyndi Lauper with her. “We would laugh our pants off the whole time,” Gaga says. “That’s the only thing that’s hard about this year. I don’t get to crack jokes with her during all these interviews.” —JACQUELINE DETWILER

Barbarians at the Plate

Moscow’s rebel chef Anatoly Komm defies the notion that Russian food lacks sophistication. BY JAY CHESHES

MOSCOW CHEF Anatoly Komm is best known for transforming peasant fare into avant-garde cuisine that no self-respecting babushka would recognize. At his flagship restaurant, Varvary, he’s served capsules of borscht, deconstructed pelmeni and black bread that’s so dehydrated it’s got the appearance and texture of dirt. It’s exactly the fare one might expect from a former Soviet geophysicist using cosmonaut cooking equipment. And the tourists who dine there—90 percent of his customers—eat it up. And yet, many of Moscow’s wealthiest local diners don’t quite get what he’s doing. “Russians understand what it means to have a big boat, jewelry, a good car,” he says. “But to understand art, you need more than just money.”

The 43-year-old enjoys being the bad boy of the Moscow dining scene. (He’s turned away a cigar-chomping oligarch and his bodyguards for being too…oligarchish.) The name of his three-year-old restaurant means “barbarian,” and it’s a cheeky acknowledgement, he says, of the way much of the world still views Russian food. To help change those perceptions he’s been hi ing the road, his luggage stuffed with Russian ingredients like black bread, sunflower oil, smoked fish and pickled her- ring. In the last year he’s been to Cannes for a three-day chef conference and done guest chef stints in Switzerland, Austria and New Zealand.

Eventually some of the diners he serves make it to Moscow, where Komm conjures his reservation-only all-night “gastronomy show”—10, 12 or 14 courses of intricately plated new Russian cooking. Though his techniques were first inspired by a visit to El Bulli in Spain— birthplace of so-called molecular gastronomy—his ingredients dog- matically put the motherland first, eschewing imported luxuries favored by the country’s moneyed class. “I know the map of Russian products,” he says. He sources the crawfish in his “Russian carpet” dish from the Don River on the outskirts of Moscow. The crustaceans are served on a bed of smoked salmon and celery gelée with lemon foam and bright green and red “caviar.” “It’s my gastronomic joke,” he says. The bubbles are artificially con- ceived by adding droplets of pureed herbs and Tabasco to a chemical bath, a process known as spherification, once used by Soviet food scientists to transform liquefied fish heads into fake sturgeon caviar.

In fact, many of the high-tech gizmos now deployed around the world in cu ing-edge restaurants had industrial uses back in the U.S.S.R. Komm’s freeze-drying machine is the same sort once used by the cosmonaut program to prepare foods for outer space. It’s just another quirk of the chef whose geophysics career ended when he became a Versace importer at the suggestion of his girlfriend. The career shift opened him to interna- tional travel. In 1991, on a visit to Hong Kong, he decided on a whim to learn Chinese cuisine, convincing a cook with a stall near the seafood market to take him on as an unpaid apprentice. That monthlong stint led to others in Germany, Spain, the Caribbean, Italy— vacations spent slaving in restaurant kitchens for fun.

Eventually a friend convinced him to put all that food knowledge to use, bankrolling Komm’s first Moscow restaurant, the Palazzo di Spaghe i. That led to a grill-house called Green, which finally gave way to Varvary, o en described as the first truly Rus- sian haute cuisine restaurant.

“In Moscow, people are beginning to understand the difference between the good products and the bad,” he says. “But it’s changing slowly. And so I push it.”

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