Mobile Gardens

Bus-top gardens, the planting of gardens on the elevated flat space of urban bus tops, is a nice subversion of how we usually think of gardens.

Namely, we think of gardening as a place-specific activity. Rooted in place, not to put too fine a point on it. So why drive gardens around on the daily commute?

A Phyto Kinetic prototype bus in Girona, Spain. Photo: Phyto Kinetic

A Phyto Kinetic prototype bus in Girona, Spain.
Photo: Phyto Kinetic

Because in an urban setting the size of New York City, for example, landscaping on top of buses could mean 35 more acres of green space.

Marc Granan has started a new project, Phyto Kinetic, in Spain. Taking notes and learning from an earlier project in the US (Bus Roots), he utlized thin sheets of hydroponic foam reduce the overall weight of the traveling garden. Irrigation takes place using water from the vehicle’s air-conditioning system. Granan argues that bus gardens could be just the beginning – why not plant garden fleets atop city vehicles?

A Phyto Kinetic green van. Photo: Phyto Kinetic

A Phyto Kinetic green van.
Photo: Phyto Kinetic

Bus Roots founder Marco Castro hoped to “reclaim forgotten space, increase quality of life and grow the amount of green spaces.”

Bus-top gardens might be, for the moment, a starry-eyed vision that falls into the category of ‘doing something is better than doing nothing’. But if maintenance and weight challenges can be overcome, it might help offset greenhouse-gas emissions at a key urban source, provide a bit of green magic and inspiration to city streets, and also open a whole new sector for jobs in urban gardening.


Visit Bus Roots here.

Visit Phyto Kinetic here.

HuffingtonPost article on Phyto Kinetic – Rooftop Gardens On Buses Makes Total Sense, And Here’s Why by Salvatore Cardoni

2010 Gizmag article on the Bus Roots project – Living garden on bus rooftop to add some rolling green to city streets by Darren Quick

Where do the trees go?

Trees on Fifth Avenue

Trees on Fifth Avenue

While in NYC this week I saw countless discarded Christmas trees lining the curbsides of various burroughs. After all, it was the week after New Year and the holiday season was officially over. I wondered what the life path of local Christmas trees for the New York City region might be. From what I can tell, the trees come from a wide region – from North Carolina to Quebec to Vermont. When I was in the city in early December, many vendors were selling trees starting at $50, so I’m assuming that anyone who came in from North Carolina or Vermont must be selling premium goods of some kind to make the long trip worth their while. I’ve seen articles in local newspapers stating that the ‘right’ tree can sell for as much as $900.

After completing their service as holiday decorations, the trees are discarded. New York City started a recycling program some time ago that allows for curbside pick-up (assuming the trees have been stripped of decorations and aren’t in plastic sacks), and also sponsors a MulchFest which invites city residents to bring their trees to designated park areas for mulching into compost to be used in city parks. Thus, the trees of Quebec, Vermont, upstate New York, even North Carolina, can be found at the base of new plants in Central Park and elsewhere. Residents are also invited to cut the branches from their trees and use them to cover the roots of the trees that line the city streets. This explains all the little sidewalk squares of earth throughout the city that are festively covered in branches – which I suppose are picked up as trash once winter has ended.

As for us, we live in the French countryside. No MulchFest or curbside pick-up – if you want to get rid of a tree here, you either take it down to the local déchetterie (recycling lot, usually no more than 10 minutes away from any village), or you do what we do: Set the tree upright in a back corner of the garden, wait a few months, and then chop it up and use it for heat.

Trees in Lower Manhattan.Unfortunately, most of these trees are headed for the dump because they are wrapped in plastic

Trees in Lower Manhattan.
Unfortunately, most of these trees are headed for the dump because they are wrapped in plastic

Unrealized Fortuity

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23yr

Pappy Van Winkle
Family Reserve 23yr

A couple of days ago in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, I was introduced to a whisky bar and restaurant called Char. The place has nice warm lighting that makes me feel mellow, like I’m already a couple of glasses into the evening, even if I’m not. It was my last night Stateside, and even though I hadn’t had my customary celebrity sighting in NYC, it had been a stellar visit.

I was with the same friend with whom I had shared an amazing meal earlier in the week – and at that meal, we’d been invited to try Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. The waiter made quite a fuss about having it, but unfortunately, we were not yet aware how rare the treat could have been ours and we ordered up something else instead.

When we got to Char, however, we decided to ask whether they had this Pappy Van Winkle stuff. We’d been told it was pretty good. “I only have a glass or two of the 23-year stuff left,” the barkeep told us. “32 dollars a glass.” And a meagre glass it turned out to be at the price.  Still, we found ourselves deeply impressed. I don’t know much about American bourbons, but I know I like Pappy 23. Perfumed and complex, smooth, rich, honeyed and a hint of caramel, a wee bit smoky – good stuff that only got better as we let it open up in the glass!

We determined that a bottle of this wouldn’t be a bad addition to any shelf. The other stuff we ordered didn’t stand a chance by comparison.

So, not having time to do any shopping for Pappy Van Winkle while on the road, and arriving too late at the airport to see if it was available in duty-free, I checked it out once I got home to France. And now I feel so very fortunate and trendy! Most reviews are ecstatic, calling this bourbon a masterpiece. Articles abound on the elusive 23-year-old Pappy, eBay auctions abound, it’s $250/bottle – if you can get the stuff in a store or online. Enterprising sellers even auction the empty bottles on eBay (so people can fill them with other stuff and have on the shelf?). The production amount is tiny, which makes the hunt all the more voracious and energetic. Avid seekers carry out long forum discussions on various bourbon web sites.

Not only was bourbon great, but clearly, this counts as a real celebrity sighting of the bourbon variety. As it was, it was more like the time my daughter and I found ourselves standing next to Catherine Deneuve in SoHo a couple of years ago. I was quietly thrilled with this NYC sighting, my daughter had no idea we were shoulder-to-shoulder with one of cinema’s greats.

If I’d only known, I would have let out a victory yelp under the amber lights of Char.



The Causality of Lost

Seeing cities by running them has become a bit of an obsession for me over the past ten years. Provided the area is safe for a single female runner, I like to try and get out for early morning runs – I see the city from a different perspective and it fights jet lag.

A study was released late last year by Cardiff University which looked at how we experience time. As lead researcher Dr. Marc Buehner said, “Here we can show that perceptions are subject to systematic distortions depending on people’s causal beliefs – if people believe that they, or someone or something else, are in charge, time appears to pass faster. In contrast, just knowing when something will happen, in the absence of causality, did not change time perception.”

From anecdotal evidence on this topic, gathered during my weekend in New York City, I would tend to concur.

I went on a run early Sunday morning, just after dawn. Central Park was too far from my hotel, so I decided to try out a run I found online. It was supposed to look like this:

From: Melissa at

From: Melissa at

But then I got lost and ended up far afield of my planned trajectory, nearer to Wall Street. My only thought, as I shared the sidewalks with the people who live there or clean them, was that at some point I would hit the end of the island and then find my way back. The one fellow I asked for directions was very helpful, but I think he was a bit hard of hearing because instead of sending me to Fourth Street, he sent in the opposite direction to Worth Street, which is how I ended up in the Financial District instead of looping around Washington Square Park.
I knew I would make it back to my hotel at some point. But I did not know when, or whether my own inner compass was of any use. Thus, because I did not feel in charge, time seemed really slow, no matter how fast I ran. Once I finally found Washington Square Park, however, and the causality of orientation + running speed was factored into my perception, time sped up, and the trip back home seemed to just fly by.

Tunnel of Local Food Love

Smoked sturgeon under glass

Smoked sturgeon under glass

One aspect of travel important to me, regardless of destination or the reason for the trip, is to find something that is utterly local to try. In particular, I like finding food that is completely of a given place. In France, we live in a relatively rural area that prides itself on local production, in particular of dairy products and poultry, and what’s on the plate carries with it a deep sense of place and home. Across France during a week in October, an annual Semaine du Gout highlights and promotes the history, value and context of food and dining, with a focus on teaching the value of good food to children in primary school. The mayor of our small town, a professional chef himself, used to invite the entire local school to the local community center for a day of cooking good, locally produced food and eating together as a part of their primary education.

Visiting friends in New York this weekend, a place where you can get pretty much anything, from anywhere, at almost any time of the day, I was happy to see the same devotion to local food and traditions. From the market on Union Square selling produce from the immediate surrounding region – all winter crops, a rainbow of potatoes, parsnips, carrots and a couple of stands with apples – to the restaurant I was fortunate to experience, Eleven Madison Square.

The sturgeon revealed

The sturgeon revealed

The meal at Eleven Madison Square took the words ‘local’ and ‘historical’ to new heights. Most of the produce and food was from within two hours of the city, and each one of the 15 (!) courses celebrated some aspect of the city itself. There were miniature egg creams, a variation on the American milkshake made of syrup, milk and soda water that is a hallmark of Brooklyn. There was smoked sturgeon served on a crumble of an Everything Bagel (a bagel with “everything”, something as ubiquitous in NYC as the croissant is in France,  and also serves as a self-congratulatory superlative).

Sure, it was over-the-top, an extreme menu that left us gasping, but a sense of being overwhelmed is as much a part of the city as the egg creams and bagels.

Smoked sturgeon sabayon with chive oil, served in a precision-cut egg shell

Smoked sturgeon sabayon with chive oil, served in a precision-cut egg shell

If dinner as theater is not your egg cup of creamed fish foam, this is not the place for you. But from the duck-fat enriched butter to the little chocolates hidden in a secret compartment beneath our final dessert course, we thought it was such a treat!


Fresh carrot ‘tartar’ with an doll’s dish array of possible flavor additions

So thanks, Corwin, who was our waiter, for walking us through each course, thanks to my friends who were kind enough to take me with along with them through an extreme dining Tunnel of Love, and thanks to the restaurant for creating a real altar to the Local.

Note on the photos: The restaurant permits photography, but only without a flash. The place is not dimly lit, and the food is not universally tinged with amber shadows.