Sunday, January 20, 2013

R. A. Dickey

Sometimes this is a baseball blog. I'm a Bay Area fan and root for the SF Giants, but being months into the offseason I'm longing for some baseball. So my baseball-crazy children's editor sister, Lucia Monfried, suggested we honor the 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner, who pitches on that "other" coast.
R. A. Dickey celebrating a victory

Lucia, recently featured in The New Yorker as R. A. Dickey's editor, Dickey Pitches a Book, wrote this guest post which starts below. It is brought to you from New York City, where there is much celebration at the announcement of this year's winner, R. A. Dickey.

      Dickey is heading to Toronto for the coming season, but he won the award as  a New York Met. George Veesey, a New York Times sportswriter, called him "the coolest athlete I know." And I agree—R.A. you rock! Or should I say, you wobble.

     The pitch that Dickey throws is the maddening knuckleball, a notoriously difficult pitch to hit, and just as hard for a pitcher to master. He is the only major leaguer today whose primary pitch is the knuckleball. And unlike any other knuckleball pitcher, he has two different pitches. There is his mid-70 mph knuckleball that he pitches most of the time, and then there is his power knuckler that creeps into the 80's. This is the first time that the Cy Young has bean bestowed upon a knuckleballer.

     Even though he had the most outstanding numbers at mid season (12-1 with just 32 earned runs allowed), Dickey was not NL manager Tony LaRussa's starter in the All Star game. As hard as this pitch is to hit, it's just as hard to catch. Maybe LaRussa wanted to spare his catcher the embarrassment of trying to corral the elusive floater.

Dickey demonstrates his knuckleball grip
     So this is what you need to know about the knuckleball: it's not the fastball; it's not the high heat, the gas, the hummer, the speed, the heater that whizzes in at 100 mph; it's not Roger Clemens' splitter that breaks at the knees and ends up in the dirt, not the big curve of Barry Zito, not Mariano Rivera's cutter. A knuckleball has no spin—it flutters, wobbles and ties hitters in knots. It makes them look ridiculous. And many hitters looked ridiculous this year when Dickey pitched.

     Despite the overwhelming numbers, I still had my doubts that R.A. could win. America loves the fire-thrower, not the dinker, the soft-thrower. But besides the stats, Dickey also has a great story. A true original, he reinvented himself as a knuckleball pitcher. And it wasn't easy. At age 38, he is old for a ball player, old to be at the top of his game. But I love him because in addition to being a true original, he is literate and thoughtful. He uses words like "acumen," "metamorphosis," and "cogitate." He keeps a journal; he had a library on the top shelf of his locker and distributed books around the Mets' clubhouse. He names his bats after swords in fantasy books and is an admitted Star Wars nerd.
Dickey pointing at Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance
     He climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in an effort to raise awareness of sex trafficking in India. His climb raised over $100,000 for the Bombay Team Challenge.

     He rides his bike to the spring training field in Florida. He believes in reading to children and works to promote literacy.
R.A. reading to one of his four children in his Nashville home
  Dickey is humble—in his comments after the announcement, he said he shared the award with knuckleballers who had gone before him. Speaking of the voters, he said: "They didn't see the knuckleball as a trick pitch. They didn't see it as some kind of illegitimate weapon that you can use that isn't worthy. They saw it as a legitimate weapon. It has one purpose, and that's to get big-league hitters out brings a real degree of legitimacy to the knuckleball fraternity. I'm glad to represent them, and I'm certainly grateful for all of those guys."
R.A. generously signing autographs for kids after a game

   To learn more about the knuckleball, I recommend a new documentary, just out, called Knuckleball. It features R.A., recently retired Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. Also, check out his recently published memoir titled Wherever I Wind Up: My quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball. He also has a deal with Dial Press, a division of Penguin Books, to write three children's books including an adaptation of his memoir for young-adults.

   To honor him for receiving the prestigious Cy Young award on January 19th, let's raise a glass of bubbly to R.A. Dickey and his wobbly, bobbly pitch!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My agnes b.

An iconic agnes b. label

Rummaging through my closet last week, searching for a favorite gray ribbed turtleneck, I spotted the unmistakable "agnes b." label and was immediately transported to a chilly April day in Paris, with its winding streets and elegant storefronts. It was here in 1981, on the Rue du Jour in the first arrondissement, that I stumbled upon a tiny boutique called agnes b. Entering the shop, I discovered  casual French styles ranging from whimsical to eccentric. It was love at first sight— I walked out with fawn-colored leather ankle-wrap sandals and a simple white tee shirt. I wore both items until they were in tatters, and always wished I had bought more.

Original Paris store, established in 1975
Back home in the States I found out agnes b. was born Agnes Troublée in 1941 in Versaille and spent carefree summers at her grandfather's estate in Antibes. She attended the École des Beaux-Arts and was active in the violent Paris riots of 1968 where she developed a political conscience. She married and had twins at 19 and separated at 20. Because she had little money she shopped regularly at Paris flea markets and developed a personal style so unique that she was spotted by a staffer from Elle Magazine  and offered a job as editor. But she preferred designing to editing and soon created her own collecion of simple yet chic women's clothing and opened a store in a former butcher shop in Les Halles. Word of mouth spread and Parisians visited her shop to buy her signature pieces like cardigans with button snaps, striped shirts made from the same sturdy cotton used by rugby teams and leather jackets inspired by a Manet portrait. Many of these pieces are still in her collections.
Agnes as a young woman developing her own personal style

Gradually success allowed her to open her first international store in New York in 1983. She developed "Homme", her men's line and then opened stores in London and Tokyo ( Japanese women adore her clothes).

San Francisco store at 33 Grant Ave---closed in 2009

At some point I discovered the San Francisco store on Grant Ave, near my hairdresser at the time.
I passed it going back to Bart and made a habit of stopping in every time I got my hair cut. Often I would find pieces that struck my fancy, and every time that I stepped into the dressing room with the marvelous Jean Luc Godard poster-collage plastering the wall,  I was  transported again to my nostalgic world of Paris in the early sixties, inhabited by characters like Brigitte Bardot, Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg. I thought the poster was one-of-a-kind but I recently  found out from my sister that you can buy it on agnes b's  website.  agnes b. website featuring the Godard poster.

Collage of Jean Luc Godard films—my favorite dressing room decor

Through the years, I managed to accumulate many beloved articles of clothing at this store, and in the arty spirit of the Sixties, I photographed my favorites in the bathroom mirror (images are reversed).

self portrait with white slacks, pink cardigan, blue pullover (very French)

                 Chartreuse corduroy pants, gray ribbed turtleneck, black cardigan, black leather jacket

striped dress, green blouse, shopping bag with lizard logo

black boat-neck "Fin" shirt with pink turtleneck below
Agnes is a champion of the arts; she collaborates with film makers and rock bands, has her own film production company and an art gallery in Paris and Brooklyn,  Galerie du Jour agnes b.,  and she shows up at international events like the Cannes Film Festival. She has recently opened the flagship store in Hong Kong, modeled after her childhood vacation home in Antibes, and she has  many other Asian ventures.

Agnes at 58th Cannes Film Festival wearing her signature lizard pin

Poster in her Galerie du Jour in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Even though Agnes caters to  rock stars and celebrities like Yoko Ono and Peter Gabriel, I feel tremendous admiration for her because of her free-spirited '60's idealism. Her company demonstrates so many rare and wonderful qualities. For example:  the company does not advertise, because she considers advertising to be immoral. Her clothes are all made in France to avoid using exploited labor, and each shop from New York to London to Tokyo and Hong Kong has a basket of free condoms on the counter. She's sensitive to the fate of the planet as well, and helps subsidize an organization called the Tara Expedition which has been organizing missions aboard the research schooner Tara for the past nine years and whose goal is to learn more about the impact of climate change on ecosystems.The Tara Expedition

Since she closed her store in San Francisco, I'm looking forward someday to revisiting the shop in Paris on the Rue Du Jour, where it  all began. Bon Voyage!