Dress Your Desk

Cynthia Rowley for Staples

I’m not usually a fan of designer lines for chain stores. I remember the Moschino for Target collaboration from a few years ago actually started fights in the parking lot and in the aisles between women hoarding towels and plates and notebooks emblazoned with the brand’s iconic stripes. People lined up around the block for the Balmain event at H&M. As nice as some of the pieces looked, they were still made by H&M, and why would I want to spend money (more money than usual, actually, for H&M) on clothes that would invariably fall apart in three washes?

But as far as diffusion lines go, the new Cynthia Rowley for Staples totally won me over. I’m much more easily distracted by beautiful desk and writing accessories than I ever will be by clothes. Look at all that moody floral goodness! A gold stapler! When was the last time you actually stapled anything? Doesn’t matter, it’s gold, in the cart it goes. I cracked and bought a two-pocket folder to use for my French homework (#nerdalert), which cost me a whopping $1.60 with tax. And I didn’t even have to wait in line for it, because Staples lets you order online and pick up in store 1hr later. Pas mal!

January 20, 2017 / home design / LEAVE A COMMENT / 1

2016 in Books

2016 in books

My year in books:

Book Goal: 30
Books Read: 34
Books Set in/About Paris: 13 (three less than last year)
Books Borrowed from the Library: 11
Favorite Book(s): “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles, “32 Yolks” by Eric Ripert, “Hotel Pastis” by Peter Mayle, and “Read Joan” by Jennie Rooney
Least Favorite(s): Oof, I read some stinkers last year. “Maestra” leads the pack as possibly the worst thing I have ever read, ever. I’ve read ingredients lists that were more well-crafted and intelligent. But there are some other joyless slogs, too: “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (the Lisbeth Salander series needed to die when Stieg Larsson did), “Murder in the Marais” (I actually thought this was a bad translation from French, given how poor the writing was. It was not.), “The Fall Guy” (what saddens me most about this one is that the author, who can’t write, teaches writing at a college level).
Longest Book: “The Greater Journey”, by David McCullough.
Shortest Book: “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles
Funniest: “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris. I was the last person on earth to read this one, I’m sure.
Saddest: “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi
Books from Book of the Month: 3
Prettiest Covers: “The Spy” by Paolo Coelho and “Paris in Winter” by David Coggins (the latter was filled with his illustrations, too)
Most Overrated: “The Woman in Cabin 10” by a mile. A weak copy of “Girl on the Train,” which was a weak copy of “Gone Girl.” And it was written at a sixth grade reading level, max.

You can read all of my reviews for these books over on Goodreads (let’s be friends!). Are you doing a reading challenge in 2017? I’m aiming for 30 this year again. We’re about to enter the most unintelligent administration in this nation’s history, so I consider this year’s challenge a moral imperative. Read, read, read, kiddos.

January 17, 2017 / read / watch / LEAVE A COMMENT

Paris in December, pt. 5: Saint-Germain-en-Laye & Montmartre

Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Picasso à Vélo

Paris in the Distance

Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Saint-Germain-en-Laye

No. 3

That Way to Paris

Old Books

Saint-Germain-en-Laye

View from Sacré-Cœur

Sinking House

Man & Pigeon

Square de la Rue Burq

Photobooth

Dinner for One, Le Cepage Montmartrois

Eiffel Tower from Montmartre

On our last full day before we flew out, I did something that I’ve done only once before, several visits ago: I went outside of Paris. Well, just barely. We took the RER A train from Opera to the end of the line, to the adorable town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. It was a quick half an hour train ride, if that, which is about as far as we could reasonably go if we wanted to be back in the late afternoon. The main attraction in town, and the first thing you spot coming up from the train station, is the imposing château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The sprawling gardens, manicured that surround the castle were a bit soggy the day we were there but the vista at the end of the cliff provided a view straight back into the city, including a teensy Eiffel Tower in the distance. We spent the morning walking around the town, shopped at a Christmas market in the town square, and had two of the most delicious crêpes we’ve ever had at a small, packed restaurant off the main strip. Composer Claude Debussy was born there, and the tiny, two-story Visitors Information office housed in the building where he lived with his wife and daughter doubles as a small museum to his life (think one room, free admission, all of five minutes to visit). If I had to think of a word to describe Saint-Germain-en-Laye, it would be “cute.” It was just so, so cute. Five or six hours is the perfect amount of time to spend there, and it only cost €16 for both of us, round trip, to get there. It was a nice change of pace and while I wouldn’t have planned it on my own, I’m glad Jamal suggested it.

We got back to Paris around 4, and headed straight for Montmartre. Given that it was our last night, we had made reservations at our favorite restaurant in the neighborhood (and, actually, the world), Le Cepage Montmartrois on Rue Caulaincourt. We went to Sacré-Cœur, visited our old haunts, our favorite hidden park on Rue Burq, and stopped into about four seemingly identical pop-up shops with the same aesthetic. (Montmartre is becoming hipsterized at an alarming rate.) I’ve made no secret of my favoritism in the past, but it bears repeating: I love Montmartre. I love it. It was my home briefly, and it’s where I keep coming back to. I’ll always have a soft spot for it, for my favorite boulangerie on Abbesses that makes the best baguette, the traiteur on Rue Lepic with the best rôti, and the cheap crêpe window right at the corner of Lepic and Clichy with the beautiful girl who always gave me an extra dollop of nutella with a wink. Parts of the neighborhood are tacky and overtouristed (helllooo Place du Tertre) but I still love it, warts and all. It was the best place to spend our last night.

And that concludes the Paris photos, kiddos! Thank you for being patient and putting up with all of them, as I’m sure some seem repetitive from trips past. I promise I have other, non-Paris posts scheduled in the coming days & weeks.

But, uh, you’re going to have to deal with this all over again, because I’m going back in 66 days. Ha!

January 13, 2017 / art / photo / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 4

Paris in December, pt. 4

Butte-aux-Cailles

Butte-aux-Cailles

Butte-aux-Cailles

Vintage Car

Musée Jacquemart-André

Musée Jacquemart-André

Service du No. 7

Rue Rembrandt

Café

Pierre Chretien

Antique Books

Tabac St. Philippe Rue La Boétie

Ladurée

Café, Rue des Martyrs

We spent the last half of one waning afternoon in the 13eme, the southeastern arrondissement settled high on a hill. The architecture is different, there are so many charming, non-Haussmann houses lining twisting, cobbled streets, and there’s a feeling there that you’re not even in Paris anymore, that you’ve left the map and the century. Location aside, that sounds a lot like Montmartre, doesn’t it? Or, Montmartre five years ago, anyway. While you’ll never hear me speak ill of mon quartrier, the authentic, non-touristy pockets of the 18eme are harder to eke out these days, as people seem to have gotten the memo that Montmartre is amazing. The 13eme feels distinctly local, given that there are virtually no tourist attractions (no major museums or shops or destinations). People live there. It’s wildly affordable (We know because we stop at every real estate office we pass, regardless of what city we’re in) and after just an afternoon, spent wandering and gazing and stopping for tea, we were settled: next time we’re staying there. (I like to think further ahead, and couldn’t help but daydream about how much apartment I could get for my money, long term).

The next day, my friend John’s urging, we visited the Musée Jacquemart-André. To say it’s beautiful would be an understatement. An old hotel particulier turned museum to We walked over to Ternes and had lunch at an Italian restaurant, before splitting up and heading our separate ways for the afternoon: Jamal back to Martyrs to shop for dinner, and me to Louis Vuitton & Ladurée, two tasks I didn’t mind undertaking on my own. I’ve always been comfortable on my own, but there’s something about this city that encourages it, how the tables upstairs at the Laudrée on Rue Royale are just big enough for two people, but don’t make a solo diner look alone. I got caught in a rainstorm on my way home, and stopped for cover in the two bookstores on Rue de Rivoli before heading to the metro at Concorde. I walked into our apartment in the 9eme to a tiny Parisian kitchen overflowing with scents and steaming pans; Jamal made chicken and shallots, with lentils and roasted potatoes. Not a bad way to end the day.

January 10, 2017 / art / photo / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 8

Paris in December, pt. 3

Rue des Martyrs

Beurre

Metro, Place de la Madeleine

Ladurée Window

Rue Saint-Honoré

Place Vendôme

Woman, Rue Saint-Honoré

Sad Balloon, Rue de Valois

Palais-Royal

Rue de Temple

Falafel, Rue des Rosiers

Chez Marianne, Rue des Hospitalières Saint-Gervais

Rue Saint-Antoine

Sweet Pup

Rue Saint-Paul

Happy New Year! I try not to make resolutions, because I inevitably break them (going through a round of Invisalign last year was finally what stopped me from biting my nails, after 15 years of resolving at midnight on the 1st to do it), but this year I decided to focus on being the Best Version of Me, in whatever form that entailed. It’s kind of vague and open to interpretation, which means I technically can’t fail. Obviously, I am the best version of myself when I am writing, which means I need to blog here more often than the measly once a week (at best!) I was managing before. Four days into the new year (and almost a month since I left for Paris) and I’m just getting around to it. Baby steps!

Another beautifully sunny day spent in Paris. Walking around the Rue des Martyrs Sunday markets, wandering to Madeleine and down the Rue Saint-Honoré, with a stop to circle the Palais-Royal gardens, before heading all the way to E. Dehillerin (closed, as it was Sunday), stopping at Les Halles and marveling over the newly opened gardens and gigantic shopping mall (Jamal had just been to Johannesburg, and was especially excited at Jardin de Nelson Mandela; I lost my mind in the Lego store over the replica of Notre Dame), and eventually making our way to the Marais for falafel and a tour of the Village de Saint-Paul Christmas markets, a winding, hidden maze of connected courtyards south of the Rue Saint-Antoine. Our day didn’t even stop there, as we hopped on the metro at Pont Marie and headed south to an arrondissement neither of us had ever been to previously, but those photos will have to wait for another day. I’m exhausted just recounting the amount of walking we did this day. But with skies like that, what other choice did we have?

January 5, 2017 / art / photo / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT

Paris in December, pt. 2

Sur Les Toits

Eiffel, morning

Where did you go, Iron Lady?

Café

Apartment, Rue des Martyrs

Rue des Martyrs

Fleuriste, Rue des Martyrs

Rue des Martyrs

How much is that doggy int he window?

Librarie, Rue des Martyrs

Somewhere in Paris

Pitstop

Notre Dame, night

Out of the fog, Jardin du Luxembourg

You can see why I’m so in love with this neighborhood, right? The Rue des Martyrs winds its way up (fairly steeply) from the church of Notre Dame de Lorette to Pigalle, crossing the Boulevard de Clichy, and up to Montmartre, just east of the Abbesses metro. Which meant we weren’t too far from our beloved quartier, and so could still spend a lot of time there, too (and we did). There’s such an interesting, quiet authenticity to this neighborhood. Years ago, on the trip when Jamal & I got engaged, we stumbled up to Martyrs to a Sunday brocante where we bought old printing press letters in our initials, and it remains one of the highlights of all of our Paris trips. Staying here this time gave us a new perspective; stopping at the boulangerie on our corner after watching them bake the days’ provisions in their back kitchen window (lurker status: expert), shopping at the bio (organic) market for lentils and shallots, taking our petit dej at the same café every morning, joined by the very lovely cat who lived there.

We also did a lot of walking this trip, even though the public transit system was free the first few days we were there because of the overwhelming smog and pollution. On our second day, we walked from our apartment to the Marais for our macaron class, back to the 7eme to retrieve Jamal’s debit card (an ATM machine had eaten it the night before), over to Odéon, looped around the Jardin du Luxembourg, and finally stopping for dinner at a Tunisian couscous restaurant by Notre Dame. I collapsed into bed each night exhausted, but exhilarated, that classic Paris combination where I’ve run myself ragged but still can’t fall asleep because I don’t want to miss a single second. And if the photos above prove anything, there is a lot that happens at night. We rounded Luxembourg in a thick fog, and saw a lone gentleman in a wool coat and hat walking through the mist in the glow of a streetlamp. Jamal and I both stopped short and said, almost identically, that it was a movie poster or book cover come to life.

December 29, 2016 / art / photo / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 2

Paris in December, pt. 1

Paris in December

Église Saint-François-Xavier

Café, Reading

Eiffel, from my window

Clementines, Rue Cler

Ranunculas, Rue Cler

Terrasse

Somewhere in the 7eme

Seine

Place de La Concorde

Skaters, Christmas Market

Candy Apples, Christmas Market

Waiting for the bus, Avenue Montaigne

Paris Sky

Eiffel, night

Eiffel, night

I know what you’re thinking: with a view like that, how did I ever leave the hotel room? (Short answer: the beckoning scents of warm pastries six floors down.) I landed in Paris before Jamal, and checked into our hotel –the hotel we booked for free using his seemingly limitless supply of points– to find they had upgraded me to their best room, the one at the very top of the building, with a king-size bed, an enormous bathroom with a rainfall shower, and, oh, A MAGNIFICENT VIEW OF THE EIFFEL TOWER. There are no words, just heart-eyes emojis.

When Jamal arrived from South Africa a few hours later, he found me in a puddle of my own drool out on the balcony, my camera in hand with my finger permanently pressed on the shutter button. No joke, I think I took roughly 150 photos of la tour the 24 hours we were in the room, capturing her in all different lights. (I slept with one eye on her, watching her sparkle at 11 and midnight, the fierce jetlag absolutely no match for her beauty.) Jamal managed to drag me out for food & a nice long walk, all the way to the Christmas market along the Champs-Élysées. It was overwhelmingly magical, and I couldn’t get over the size of it; it stretched from Concorde to Avenue Montaigne, on both sides of the wide boulevard, with hidden, smaller villages behind the main vendors. I’ve had plenty of people ask me why I would go to Paris in the winter, and the amount of Christmas cheer, the city all decked out for the holidays, is reason enough (like I need a reason).

The next day, we attended a macaron making class at La Cuisine Paris. I took the same class with my mom in March, and while I felt more confident this time around, the process is still extremely intimidating and nerve-wracking even with Jamal’s calming influence, and I’m more than happy to pay someone else, someone more skilled, $2-$3 ea. instead of making my own. (Guys there are SO MANY STEPS.) We also (sadly) checked out of the hotel and (happily!) moved to an apartment on Rue des Martyrs in the 9eme. We’d both read, “The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs” by Elaine Sciolino, former New York Times Paris bureau chief, earlier this year, and were smitten. It was a new neighborhood for us, just south of Montmartre/Pigalle, but it might be our new favorite. It felt like Montmartre the very first time we visited, with an authentic, local vibe. More photos to come, of course.

December 27, 2016 / art / photo / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 2

Thoughts on Thirty

Double Eiffel

Well, it happened. Despite all of my foot-stomping and protestations, sometime around 4:30am, I left my 20s and crossed into my 30s. I could be dramatic and say I ‘felt’ it happen, but if there has been one reliable constant in my 30 years on this earth, it’s that I sleep hard (well, minus a bout of insomnia in high school and college) and I was blissfully unconscious when I was dragged over the invisible mile-marker that means I am officially a Grown Up. It’s so weird. I still sleep with a stuffed animal, how can I possibly be THIRTY? (Please don’t tell anyone I still sleep with a stuffed animal, it would ruin my Adult Street Cred.) I don’t feel 30, but then, I haven’t truly “felt” any of the ages since 17, which is where I am mentally permanently stuck. Do they let 17 year olds get married and pay bills? Is there a grown-uppier grown up I could talk to about this?

Back when I was actually 17, I used to think 30 sounded so old (I still do), and so important (it still is, to me). I used to think I’d have everything figured out in my life, which is laughable because there are still areas of my life that I need to figure out that I don’t even know about yet. Does that make sense? I don’t know what I don’t know, but I do know that, despite not “having it all together” I am very, very lucky. I have my health, I have my family, I have my incredible friends everywhere from Philadelphia to California to Paris to Capetown, and I have Jamal & Fitz.

A few months ago, I made a short list of goals I wanted to accomplish before this big day. Let’s refresh:

1. Finish my novel
2. Go to Paris
3. Find a job that makes me happy

I have not finished my novel (I know, I know) but I am so, so close. The last half of this year has been wildly productive, and I am proud of my progress despite the fact I can’t yet call it “complete.”

I did go to Paris! Spoiler: it was as incredible as ever. As promised, I have a ton of photos to share you with you, starting with the one above, which was snapped from the baller hotel room we stayed in the first night. (Can 30 year olds use the word “baller”?) The trip was a delicious dream, and I am grateful beyond words that I was able to go last week to celebrate this birthday a little early.

And as for the job, I’ve been a little mum about this over the past few months, but back at the beginning of September I started an internship in the Fine Art Department at the oldest auction house in the country. I applied for mostly selfish reasons (given that my novel is set in an auction house, I figured working in one would be the best hands-on book research, and it absolutely has been!) but very early on I realized that I had finally, finally found a job I enjoyed going to every day. It’s been a dream: I’ve gone to the New York to show two Rembrandt etchings to an expert, proofread catalogues for sales, worked on condition report photos and measurements for countless paintings and lithographs from artists like Delacroix, Miró, Warhol, Roesen, Ensor, Picasso. It has been, honestly, more rewarding than I imagined, and for more than just my novel; this is the first job I’ve ever really loved. The only downside, because no job is perfect, is that, being an internship, it is unpaid. The team I work with has been so encouraging and supportive, and just yesterday the COO of the company pulled me into a conference room to tell me she received a glowing recommendation from the department, and after the New Year, they want to offer me a more permanent, paid position. Talk about timing. Talk about great birthday presents.

Well, kiddos, I’m off to eat macarons for breakfast and write all day, with a pit-stop for French class, too. Not a bad way to turn 30, still basking in the glow of my last Parisian adventure. Happy birthday to me!

December 20, 2016 / life / dog / LEAVE A COMMENT / 8

Presque, Paris

Place de l'École Militaire

I’m flying to Paris today! This is my second trip of the year, which sounds indulgent, and it would be, if I didn’t need Paris the way some people need oxygen. Is that a bad analogy? Hear me out: I have asthma, so I know the sensation of feeling like I can’t breathe, scrambling, panicky, for my inhaler so I can stop the wheezing; when I go too long between trips to Paris, the feeling is the same. Going restores my equilibrium, fills my lungs. And when you’re less than two weeks from turning 30 29 again, a trip to Paris is a necessity.

I’m flying alone, because Jamal is South Africa (of course he is), though he’ll meet me there. It felt wildly cosmopolitan to say goodbye to him last week by saying, “I’ll see you in Paris.” I’m landing on what would have been my dad’s 78th birthday, which was an unintentional but agreeable coincidence, and I can’t think of a better way to honor his day than to spend it in his favorite city. I’m staying at a hotel in the 7th arrondissement (exactly at the intersection where this photo was taken, in fact) for the first night, and then moving to an apartment on the Rue des Martyrs. Not Montmartre, I know, which is an insane deviation for us, but I think we’ll survive.

Billions of photos to come! But first, I have to take Fitz to his beloved dogsitter, then finish packing. (Just kidding, I’m entirely packed.) Au revoir mes amis!

December 8, 2016 / Travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 3

A Playlist

Writing: A Playlist

Because I couldn’t bear to have my heartbroken election post at the top of the page any longer, here is a playlist of songs that have become something of a writing security blanket for me over the last three (!!!) years. My incredibly talented friend Herbie compiles a mix CD for me every year for my birthday, and I’m not ashamed to admit that’s where more than a few of these songs came from. The songs on this playlist either get me in the mood to write, help me stay in that headspace, or are so intrinsically linked to my novel from constant looping on repeat that they have formed an unofficial soundtrack (I want to live inside of that Active Child song; two of my characters already do). I listened to Buzzcut Season by Lorde multiple times a day when I lived in Paris (my neighbors must’ve hated me…), and almost wrote an entire blog post about one line of that song: “And I’ll never go home again.” I came home from Paris, but I didn’t really come home, because those weeks I spent there, writing, became my home. I don’t know, it sounded better in my head, but the song itself still does it for me. I know I threw in a bit of a curveball with that Shostakovich Ballet Suite by the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, but I heard that song on the classical station about eight or nine years ago, and was stopped in my tracks. It is, to this day, one of the most beautiful compositions I’ve ever heard, and I’m not just saying that as a biased former-ballerina.

Happy listening, kiddos! Let me know if you end up streaming or downloading any of these & if they give you as much encouragement as they do me.

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November 16, 2016 / read / watch / LEAVE A COMMENT