Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On the Edge of a Fjord

By SUE CHESTER for the
Published: November 25, 2008

ASKER, Norway

Everyone aspires to have a spectacular view. For Jeff and Tina Leopold, who built their dream home next to a fjord, 30 minutes south of Oslo, the vista of water, islands and pine trees provides daily inspiration.

“We are very fortunate to have a property close to the water,” Mr. Leopold said. “It’s extremely special.”

The couple met through mutual Norwegian friends while they both were studying in California. Mrs. Leopold, 37, was born in Denver but has Norwegian parents and was brought up in the Oslo region; Mr. Leopold, 42, is from the San Francisco area. They had a long-distance relationship until Mr. Leopold decided to move to Norway in 1996. They now have two children, ages 6 and 8.

“I felt I would like the challenge to go somewhere else and make a life out of it,” Mr. Leopold said of moving abroad. “I knew the biggest challenge would be establishing a career.”

When he first moved to Norway he worked as an inventory management consultant in the outdoor sporting industry. Now he owns his own company, which imports outdoor clothing. He works from a home office next to the garage, giving him the opportunity to be on hand to help with the children and to enjoy family life.

The house is a large structure of white weatherboard, with an asymmetric tangle of gables, eaves and windows and five large decks at various levels. The front garden leads to the water’s edge and the family’s dock, off which they swim and fish.

“We’re down there all summer,” Mr. Leopold said. “For the kids, it is fantastic. They love to swim. You have a long winter here when you’re inside all the time. We also go out to the islands with our boat and fish from there.”

Achieving their dream home was not easy. They had their eyes on the 800-square-meter (8,610-square-foot) property as early as 1998, but did not manage to buy it until 2003. Planning permission to build a home on the property had already been issued, but as it was waterfront, they knew there would be fierce competition from other perspective buyers. The couple, however, had a distinct advantage. Through a Norwegian property law known called “Family Purchasing Rights,” the couple were automatically given the right to buy the land, as Mrs. Leopold’s great aunt owned the property.

“Typically in the fjord area here at Asker you can’t build a house within 100 meters (330 feet) of the water,” Mr. Leopold said. “So it was unusual to get property so close to the fjord.”

They bought the land in June 2003 for 2.3 million kroner (about $350,000 at the time). Their construction budget, originally 3.7 million kroner ($533,400 now), ended up totaling 8 million kroner ($1.15 million), including the landscaping.

They now have a 300-square-meter (3,229-square-foot) house and garage with an adjoining 36-square-meter (387-square-foot) office.

In October 2007, the property was appraised at 13.5 million kroner ($1.95 million), although Mr. Leopold admitted it may be worth less following the global downturn, which has also affected Norway’s housing market.

His general estimate of the country’s market was confirmed by Odd Nymark, the chief executive of EiendomSmegler 1 Oslo Akershus, a real estate agency. “Selling property in Oslo right now is like driving a car with the handbrake on,” he said. “Turnover is down by 30 to 40 percent and prices dropped by 4.7 percent in October. We expect prices to go down 5 to 10 percent before they bottom out.”

Mr. Leopold said that, despite the downturn, he is confident that the house is still a good investment. “It will always hold its value as it’s prized waterfront, which is almost impossible to find nowadays,” he said.

The 116-square-meter (1,250-square-foot) ground floor has high ceilings and a large kitchen area. There are floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. “We designed it so that you can be looking at the view once you’re in the kitchen,” Mr. Leopold said.

There is an open fireplace and a wood-burning stove, but most of the heat is generated from an electric system under the floor, which, at 250,000 krone ($36,040), was the most expensive part of the building budget. Each room’s heat is controlled by a remote thermostat set according to the size of windows and ceiling height so the temperature is constant throughout the house.

Upstairs there are three bedrooms and two bathrooms; in the basement there is a self-contained 60-square-meter (646-square-foot), one-bedroom apartment that the Leopolds rent out for 10,000 kroner ($1,440) a month. Also on the lower level is a guest room with its own bathroom, a recreation room (with a snooker table and plenty of room for ski gear) and a utility room for the heating controls.

“In Norway, if you have an apartment inside your house, the rental income isn’t taxed,” Mr. Leopold said. “I was quite negative about it, but after seeing the expenses the house generates I realized it was quite a good idea. One 120,000 kroner ($17,300) per year tax free — that’s good finance.”

The Leopolds also decided to have electric heating under the driveway and the path leading to the front door to keep the ground ice free. “This device is particularly useful when my family visit,” Mr. Leopold said. “They’re not used to walking on ice. Their Californian motor skills aren’t quite designed for it.”

Although Norway’s winters are long with short days, the Leopolds believe the Scandinavian summers are one of the region’s best kept secrets.

“They’re beautiful with temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) through the night, and it’s light until midnight,” Mr. Leopold said. “Tina loves the sun so that’s why we have a sun deck on every side of the house. We’re actually quite blown away that we are living here and have a place right in front of the water. ”


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens

By: Rachel Somerstein for

Born in 1949 in Waterbury, Connecticut, Annie Leibovitz enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute intent on studying painting. It was not until she traveled to Japan with her mother the summer after her sophomore year that she discovered her interest in taking photographs. When she returned to San Francisco that fall, she began taking night classes in photography. Time spent on a kibbutz in Israel allowed her to hone her skills further.

In 1970 Leibovitz approached Jann Wenner, founding editor of Rolling Stone, which he’d recently launched and was operating out of San Francisco. Impressed with her portfolio, Wenner gave Leibovitz her first assignment: shoot John Lennon. Leibovitz’s black-and-white portrait of the shaggy-looking Beatle graced the cover of the January 21, 1971 issue. Two years later she was named Rolling Stone chief photographer.

When the magazine began printing in color in 1974, Leibovitz followed suit. “In school, I wasn’t taught anything about lighting, and I was only taught black-and-white,” she told ARTnews in 1992. “So I had to learn color myself.” Among her subjects from that period are Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Patti Smith. Leibovitz also served as the official photographer for the Rolling Stones’ 1975 world tour. While on the road with the band she produced her iconic black-and-white portraits of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, shirtless and gritty.

In 1980 Rolling Stone sent Leibovitz to photograph John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who had recently released their album “Double Fantasy.” For the portrait Leibovitz imagined that the two would pose together nude. Lennon disrobed, but Ono refused to take off her pants. Leibovitz “was kinda disappointed,” according to Rolling Stone, and so she told Ono to leave her clothes on. “We took one Polaroid,” said Leibovitz, “and the three of us knew it was profound right away.” The resulting portrait shows Lennon nude and curled around a fully clothed Ono. Several hours later, Lennon was shot dead in front of his apartment. The photograph ran on the cover of the Rolling Stone Lennon commemorative issue. In 2005 the American Society of Magazine Editors named it the best magazine cover from the past 40 years.

Annie Leibovitz: Photographs, the photographer’s first book, was published in 1983. The same year Leibovitz joined Vanity Fair and was made the magazine’s first contributing photographer. At Vanity Fair she became known for her wildly lit, staged, and provocative portraits of celebrities. Most famous among them are Whoopi Goldberg submerged in a bath of milk and Demi Moore naked and holding her pregnant belly. (The cover showing Moore — which then-editor Tina Brown initially balked at running — was named second best cover from the past 40 years.) Since then Leibovitz has photographed celebrities ranging from Brad Pitt to Mikhail Baryshnikov. She’s shot Ellen DeGeneres, the George W. Bush cabinet, Michael Moore, Madeleine Albright, and Bill Clinton. She’s shot Scarlett Johannson and Keira Knightley nude, with Tom Ford in a suit; Nicole Kidman in ball gown and spotlights; and, recently, the world’s long-awaited first glimpse of Suri Cruise, along with parents Tom and Katie. Her portraits have appeared in Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, and The New Yorker, and in ad campaigns for American Express, the Gap, and the Milk Board.

Among other honors, Leibovitz has been made a Commandeur des Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and has been designated a living legend by the Library of Congress. Her first museum show, Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970-1990, took place in 1991 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and toured internationally for six years. At the time she was only the second living portraitist — and the only woman — to be featured in an exhibition by the institution.

Leibovitz met Susan Sontag in 1989 while photographing the writer for her book AIDS and its Metaphors. “I remember going out to dinner with her and just sweating through my clothes because I thought I couldn’t talk to her,” Leibovitz said in an interview with The New York Times late last year. Sontag told her, “You’re good, but you could be better.” Though the two kept separate apartments, their relationship lasted until Sontag’s death in late 2004.

Sontag’s influence on Leibovitz was profound. In 1993 Leibovitz traveled to Sarajevo during the war in the Balkans, a trip that she admits she would not have taken without Sontag’s input. Among her work from that trip is Sarajevo, Fallen Bicycle of Teenage Boy Just Killed by a Sniper, a black-and-white photo of a bicycle collapsed on blood-smeared pavement. Sontag, who wrote the accompanying essay, also first conceived of Leibovitz’s book Women (1999). The book includes images of famous people along with those not well known. Celebrities like Susan Sarandon and Diane Sawyer share space with miners, soldiers in basic training, and Las Vegas showgirls in and out of costume.

Leibovitz’s most recent book, A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005, includes her trademark celebrity portraits. But it also features personal photographs from Leibovitz’s life: her parents, siblings, children, nieces and nephews, and Sontag. Leibovitz, who has called the collection “a memoir in photographs,” was spurred to assemble it by the deaths of Sontag and her father, only weeks apart. The book even includes photos of Leibovitz herself, like the one that shows her nude and eight months pregnant, à la Demi Moore. That picture was taken in 2001, shortly before Leibovitz gave birth to daughter Sarah. Daughters Susan and Samuelle, named in honor of Susan and Leibovitz’s father, were born to a surrogate in 2005.

Leibovitz composed these personal photographs with materials that she used when she was first starting out in the ’70s: a 35-millimeter camera, black-and-white Tri X film. “I don’t have two lives,” she writes in the book’s introduction. “This is one life, and the personal pictures and the assignment work are all part of it.” Still, she told the Times, this book is the “most intimate, it tells the best story, and I care about it.”


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Carbo-Loading, Hawaiian Style

Photo by Cory Lum for The New York Times

Published: November 12, 2008

AMONG the myriad people and institutions predicted to profit from Barack Obama’s victory, why has no one cited the plate lunch?

This traditional Hawaiian meal — validated as fine fare by the president-elect when he proclaimed his longing for one during a vacation in Oahu last summer — might be poised to enter the consciousness of mainlanders in all of its fatty, greasy deliciousness.

It is probably unrealistic to expect aloha-infused cuisine in the White House kitchen, given Mr. Obama’s clear fixation with staying trim and healthy. But he has made no secret of the fact that when in Hawaii he likes to indulge in the culinary treats of his youth there, including the fast food at Zippy’s, a local chain; shave ice, the ambrosial confection of powdered ice topped with fruit syrups; and the plate lunch.

Drawing on the food ways of the Hawaiian Islands’ many Asian immigrant groups, and chowed down on regularly by everyone from surfers to businessmen to the future occupant of the White House, the plate lunch is simple in form but varied in its elements. Its foundation: two scoops of white rice and a side of macaroni salad, heavy on the mayonnaise.

This carbo load — usually piled into a plastic foam container — is paired with a protein, generally of the pan-Asian variety, often slathered in brown gravy. After a morning of hard work (or hard surf), one might opt for Korean kalbi or meat jun, Chinese char siu roast pork, Philippine pork adobo, Hawaiian kalua pork (a luau favorite), Japanese katsu or salmon teriyaki, Portuguese sausage, American-style beef stew, or loco moco — a hamburger patty and a fried egg.

“The cultural significance of the plate lunch is that it illustrates Hawaii as a special place where all of our mixed cultures share their foods with one another,” said Matthew Gray, who runs Hawaii Food Tours, which ferries tourists to Oahu’s plate lunch outlets and other lesser known haunts. “Instead of referring to Hawaii as a melting pot, I prefer to call us a salad bowl, where we all get to share and showcase the individual flavors, aromas and histories of our food.”

The Hawaiian plate lunch traces its roots to the 1880s, when giant fruit and sugar companies controlled much of the local economy. Among other factors, the decimation of the local population by disease made the companies desperate for plantation workers, and they drew a labor pool from China, Japan, Portugal, the Philippines and other areas.

For workers who toiled under harsh conditions, lunchtime was a respite, with hearty portions of rice matched with whatever meat was left over from dinner the night before.

“The workers would take their bento in these little tins,” said Kaui Philpotts, the former food editor of The Honolulu Advertiser, who has written books about Hawaiian food.

“They didn’t eat sandwiches or things like that,” Ms. Philpotts said, “it was leftover rice and a lot of things like canned meat or teriyaki or cold meat or maybe scrambled eggs or pickles, and almost no salad or vegetable.”

Macaroni, a later addition, seemed to bridge many national tastes and, slick with mayonnaise and a dab of salt and pepper, mixes well with a gravy-covered slab of meat.

After the plantation days ended, the plate lunch lived on. In the 1960s, it moved into lunch wagons, which took meals to workers putting up buildings and conducting other forms of day labor, with little time for lunch.

Enter next the holes in the wall and other stand-alone plate lunch restaurants, followed by chains that eventually expanded into Los Angeles and other cities. More recently, the health-conscious plate lunch has surfaced, in which brown rice replaces white, salads are offered instead of macaroni and misoyaki butterfish is as common as fried pork cutlets.

This summer, I enjoyed the kalua pork with sweet potato salad, and some macaroni salad made with grated onions, carrots and light mayo, at Luke’s Place, a restaurant in a plantation-style building in the tiny town of Hawi on the Big Island. “We are looking to go toward healthier but affordable,” said Mike Prine, the general manager.

Kaka’ako Kitchen, a plate lunch spot in a busy Honolulu shopping center, rounds out brown rice and greens with chicken in honey-lime vinaigrette, calamari with spinach salad or wild salmon with lemon-ginger sauce. “We try to take it a little more upscale,” said Russell Siu, the owner. “We don’t want to be like every other drive-in in town.”

Like, for instance, Rainbow Drive-In in Honolulu, popular among the flip-flop set and a destination on Barack Obama’s must-get-to list last summer. For less than $7 one can fill up on the teriyaki beef plate, which some like to top with chili, or the “mix, all over,” which is a plate of teriyaki beef, breaded mahi-mahi and fried chicken, smothered in brown gravy “all over.”

Indeed it is the standard plate lunch that tends to draw local crowds, for its magical mix of portions (large) and price (cheap). The plate lunch is something that Americans from the mainland “sort of turn their noses up at,” Ms. Philpotts said. “Especially if they are foodies or health conscious. They look at all that cholesterol and white rice, and they just go nuts. But people here grow up eating that.”

It all seems like odd fare for a man as bookmark-thin as Mr. Obama, who seems to treasure his treadmill. “I think it is really funny he still eats plate lunch,” Ms. Philpotts said. “Because he is so healthy.”

But she strongly suggested — at least to my ears — that the plate lunch in part accounts for his strong showing in Hawaii. “I think it is because when he comes back here he is so cool, he just kind of slips back into local ways.”


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Stretching: The Truth

Illustration by Emily Cooper
STRAIGHT-LEG MARCH (for the hamstrings and gluteus muscles)Kick one leg straight out in front of you, with your toes flexed toward the sky. Reach your opposite arm to the upturned toes. Drop the leg and repeat with the opposite limbs. Continue the sequence for at least six or seven repetitions.

Stretching: The Truth

WHEN DUANE KNUDSON, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, Chico, looks around campus at athletes warming up before practice, he sees one dangerous mistake after another. “They’re stretching, touching their toes. . . . ” He sighs. “It’s discouraging.”

If you’re like most of us, you were taught the importance of warm-up exercises back in grade school, and you’ve likely continued with pretty much the same routine ever since. Science, however, has moved on. Researchers now believe that some of the more entrenched elements of many athletes’ warm-up regimens are not only a waste of time but actually bad for you. The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds — known as static stretching — primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them. In a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. Also, stretching one leg’s muscles can reduce strength in the other leg as well, probably because the central nervous system rebels against the movements.

“There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching,” says Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. The straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete wants to begin a workout.

THE RIGHT WARM-UP should do two things: loosen muscles and tendons to increase the range of motion of various joints, and literally warm up the body. When you’re at rest, there’s less blood flow to muscles and tendons, and they stiffen. “You need to make tissues and tendons compliant before beginning exercise,” Knudson says.

Illustration by Emily Cooper
SCORPION (for the lower back, hip flexors and gluteus muscles) Lie on your stomach, with your arms outstretched and your feet flexed so that only your toes are touching the ground. Kick your right foot toward your left arm, then kick your left foot toward your right arm. Since this is an advanced exercise, begin slowly, and repeat up to 12 times.

A well-designed warm-up starts by increasing body heat and blood flow. Warm muscles and dilated blood vessels pull oxygen from the bloodstream more efficiently and use stored muscle fuel more effectively. They also withstand loads better. One significant if gruesome study found that the leg-muscle tissue of laboratory rabbits could be stretched farther before ripping if it had been electronically stimulated — that is, warmed up.

To raise the body’s temperature, a warm-up must begin with aerobic activity, usually light jogging. Most coaches and athletes have known this for years. That’s why tennis players run around the court four or five times before a match and marathoners stride in front of the starting line. But many athletes do this portion of their warm-up too intensely or too early. A 2002 study of collegiate volleyball players found that those who’d warmed up and then sat on the bench for 30 minutes had lower backs that were stiffer than they had been before the warm-up. And a number of recent studies have demonstrated that an overly vigorous aerobic warm-up simply makes you tired. Most experts advise starting your warm-up jog at about 40 percent of your maximum heart rate (a very easy pace) and progressing to about 60 percent. The aerobic warm-up should take only 5 to 10 minutes, with a 5-minute recovery. (Sprinters require longer warm-ups, because the loads exerted on their muscles are so extreme.) Then it’s time for the most important and unorthodox part of a proper warm-up regimen, the Spider-Man and its counterparts.

“TOWARDS THE end of my playing career, in about 2000, I started seeing some of the other guys out on the court doing these strange things before a match and thinking, What in the world is that?” says Mark Merklein, 36, once a highly ranked tennis player and now a national coach for the United States Tennis Association. The players were lunging, kicking and occasionally skittering, spider-like, along the sidelines. They were early adopters of a new approach to stretching.

While static stretching is still almost universally practiced among amateur athletes — watch your child’s soccer team next weekend — it doesn’t improve the muscles’ ability to perform with more power, physiologists now agree. “You may feel as if you’re able to stretch farther after holding a stretch for 30 seconds,” McHugh says, “so you think you’ve increased that muscle’s readiness.” But typically you’ve increased only your mental tolerance for the discomfort of the stretch. The muscle is actually weaker.

Stretching muscles while moving, on the other hand, a technique known as dynamic stretching or dynamic warm-ups, increases power, flexibility and range of motion. Muscles in motion don’t experience that insidious inhibitory response. They instead get what McHugh calls “an excitatory message” to perform.

Dynamic stretching is at its most effective when it’s relatively sports specific. “You need range-of-motion exercises that activate all of the joints and connective tissue that will be needed for the task ahead,” says Terrence Mahon, a coach with Team Running USA, home to the Olympic marathoners Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor. For runners, an ideal warm-up might include squats, lunges and “form drills” like kicking your buttocks with your heels. Athletes who need to move rapidly in different directions, like soccer, tennis or basketball players, should do dynamic stretches that involve many parts of the body. “Spider-Man” is a particularly good drill: drop onto all fours and crawl the width of the court, as if you were climbing a wall. (For other dynamic stretches, see the sidebar below.)

Even golfers, notoriously nonchalant about warming up (a recent survey of 304 recreational golfers found that two-thirds seldom or never bother), would benefit from exerting themselves a bit before teeing off. In one 2004 study, golfers who did dynamic warm- up exercises and practice swings increased their clubhead speed and were projected to have dropped their handicaps by seven strokes over seven weeks.

Illustration by Emily Cooper
HANDWALKS (for the shoulders, core muscles and hamstrings) Stand straight, with your legs together. Bend over until both hands are flat on the ground. ‘‘Walk’’ your hands forward until your back is almost extended. Keeping your legs straight, inch your feet toward your hands, then walk your hands forward again. Repeat five or six times.

Controversy remains about the extent to which dynamic warm-ups prevent injury. But studies have been increasingly clear that static stretching alone before exercise does little or nothing to help. The largest study has been done on military recruits; results showed that an almost equal number of subjects developed lower-limb injuries (shin splints, stress fractures, etc.), regardless of whether they had performed static stretches before training sessions. A major study published earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control, on the other hand, found that knee injuries were cut nearly in half among female collegiate soccer players who followed a warm-up program that included both dynamic warm-up exercises and static stretching. (For a sample routine, visit And in golf, new research by Andrea Fradkin, an assistant professor of exercise science at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, suggests that those who warm up are nine times less likely to be injured.

“It was eye-opening,” says Fradkin, formerly a feckless golfer herself. “I used to not really warm up. I do now.”

You’re Getting Warmer: The Best Dynamic Stretches

These exercises- as taught by the United States Tennis Association’s player-development program – are good for many athletes, even golfers. Do them immediately after your aerobic warm-up and as soon as possible before your workout.


(for the hamstrings and gluteus muscles)

Kick one leg straight out in front of you, with your toes flexed toward the sky. Reach your opposite arm to the upturned toes. Drop the leg and repeat with the opposite limbs. Continue the sequence for at least six or seven repetitions.


(for the lower back, hip flexors and gluteus muscles)

Lie on your stomach, with your arms outstretched and your feet flexed so that only your toes are touching the ground. Kick your right foot toward your left arm, then kick your leftfoot toward your right arm. Since this is an advanced exercise, begin slowly, and repeat up to 12 times.


(for the shoulders, core muscles, and hamstrings)

Stand straight, with your legs together. Bend over until both hands are flat on the ground. “Walk” with your hands forward until your back is almost extended. Keeping your legs straight, inch your feet toward your hands, then walk your hands forward again. Repeat five or six times. G.R.