2014 in Books

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My year in books:

Book Goal: 30
Books Read: 39 (well, 38, but I’m on track to finish my 39th, Gary Shteyngart’s memoir “Little Failure” by Wednesday)
Books Set in/About Paris: 15
Favorite Book(s): “Einstein’s Dreams” by Alan Lightman, and “An Object of Beauty” by Steve Martin (read for the second time).
Least Favorite(s): “An Extraordinary Theory of Objects” by Stephanie La Cava. Utter drivel that never made any sort of narrative sense. Thankfully it was short. “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. Conscious style choice or not, the book read like a 5th grader wrote it.
Longest Book: “Paris” by Edward Rutherfurd, 832 pages. Runner up: “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt, 784 pages.
Shortest Book: “Babylon Revisted, And Other Stories” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 94 pages
Funniest: “In a Sunburned Country” by Bill Bryson, and “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain
Saddest: “The Paris Architect” by Charles Belfoure (fiction). A French architect in Nazi-occupied Paris during WWII builds hiding places for Jews. Achingly sad.
Books That Belonged to My Dad: 3 (“Down and Out in Paris and London”, “The Sun Also Rises”, and “Einstein’s Dreams”)
Books Bought in European bookshops: 6 (Paris: “Babylon Revisited”, “Pride and Prejudice”, “The Innocent Libertine” by Colette, “The Haunted Bookshop” by Christopher Morley, “The Secret Diary of Adrien Mole, Aged 13 3/4”, bought for me by this lovely lady. From Greece: “The Da Vinci Code”)
Prettiest Covers: (Oh, don’t judge. You know this matters to you, too.) “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter, and “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan, because the latter GLOWS IN THE DARK (!!)
Most Overrated: “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, “The Goldfinch”, and “White Teeth”

I already have a long “To Read” list for 2015, though I don’t think I’ll participate in a challenge on Goodreads again next year. It sapped some of the fun from reading, knowing I had to chug through a book (or books) that I otherwise would have shelved without guilt, just to add to my goal. If I can average two books a month, I’ll be happy.

What did you read this year of note?

Joyeux Noël!

Joyeux Noel

A very merry Fitz-mas to you all! May Santa bring you everything you wanted, may you spend lots of time with your families (with only minimal yelling and emotional scarring), and may you fill up on caloric baked goods to the point where your Christmas jammies don’t fit. I’m signing off for the week to enjoy the holiday and gorge myself on cookies.

Joyeux Noël, mes amis!

The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons

Masonic Temple, Philadelphia

Masonic Temple, Philadelphia

Masonic Temple, Philadelphia

Masonic Temple, Philadelphia

Masonic Temple, Philadelphia

Masonic Temple, Philadelphia

Masonic Temple, Philadelphia

It might seem like a strange request, wanting to take a tour of the Masonic Temple (sorry, the “The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons”) on my birthday, but you haven’t seen this building in person. It takes up a full street corner next to City Hall, and is enormous and imposing and, let’s admit it, more than a little mysterious. I’ve always been curious about the Free Masons. What is it that they do? Why do they need a giant building right in the middle of the city? What goes on inside this giant lodge? For $10, we took an hour-long guided tour of seven of the Temple’s meeting rooms and learned about the architecture and famous Masons in history (including at least six former Presidents). It felt like being in a Dan Brown novel. I contemplated going rogue and breaking off from the tour group once every five minutes; what’s behind that door? Why can’t we go down that hallway? But then Jamal astutely pointed out that maybe my best course of action wasn’t to attempt to infiltrate a secret society, lest I conveniently disappear. The tour was great, and I’d highly recommend it as an off-the-beaten-tourist-track activity if you’re ever in Philadelphia, but I still have no idea what Free Masons do or why they need such an ornate, four-story gothic temple to do it in, or even why they need seven different meeting rooms (at least! Those are just the ones we were allowed to visit).

Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, 1 North Broad Street, Philadelphia / Tours: Tuesday – Friday: 10, 11, 1, 2, and 3PM / Saturday: 10AM, 11AM, & 12 Noon

28 Candles

Quai de Bourbon

There was a time in my blogging history here when I was posting five times a week, a feat that seems crazy and impossible to me now. I thought I’d reached a comfortable balance by posting MWF there for a while, but recently I can barely knock out two posts a week without feeling like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel for content. Is anyone else feeling that way? I’ve noticed an overall slowing down in the blog circles I move in, and I wonder if it’s just a holiday thing (this time of year is notorious for taking a breather) or a symptom of a greater shift in blogging. Regardless, I am not as on my game as I once was, and I’ve been neglecting this space.

But I went to my eye doctor this week, and she confirmed what I’ve been feeling recently: my eyes are overworked. The feeling I have at the end of a nine hour day staring at two computer screens at work (a mix of eye strain and computer burn-out) has kept me away from my laptop when I get home. Ergo, less blogging. My eye doctor suggested I keep it up, and limit my screen time wherever possible. So I could just as easily blame my negligence on “Doctor’s orders!” but also, there has been so much going on offline that I have had less and less time for online. Holiday parties, Newsroom marathons, Monday Night Dinner Clubs, and, oh yeah, turning 28!

Tomorrow is my birthday! In recent years, or rather, every year up until age 25, I treated my birthday like a national holiday, deserving of all the fanfare and fireworks and attention as, say, Christmas, that holiday just five days after the glorious day of my birth that is always stealing my thunder and overshadowing my day and guaranteeing I end up with birthday presents wrapped in Santa-covered wrapping paper. Weirdly, everyone in my life agreed to my demands for years and years, and you can’t imagine how that shaped my perception of birthdays. Not just mine, but everyone’s. Birthdays are my favorite, and I’ll loudly follow someone around saying, “IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY TODAY?? HAPPY BIRTHDAY! GUYS, WE HAVE A BIRTHDAY BOY.” (See: my friend Herbie, on his birthday last month).

And then I had to go and get old and suddenly the joy was just sucked out of the entire affair. Give me cake, give me presents, give me anti-wrinkle cream, but just don’t ask me how old I am. (I’m being hyperbolic, I know, considering I’m still in my 20s and people are going to give me flak for complaining.) My birthday doesn’t feel like quite the same BIG DEAL at 28 as it did at 18 (oh sweet Jesus that was 10 years ago), but I’m still going to celebrate. We’re going to Parc tomorrow and getting together with family. But it’s happening offline, and maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with my advanced age, but I’m realizing that offline is important. My fear of, “If I don’t blog about it, how will people know it happened??” has evaporated right along with my youth.

Let’s live offline, too. My eye doctor might have been on to something.

Cookie Day!

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It would be an understatement to say I look forward to Cookie Day every year the way some people do the Super Bowl. My Mommom, my aunt, and I spend a day together, baking hundreds of cookies in various Christmas-y shapes. From my post two years ago: “This is my favorite family tradition, and I look forward to her green cookies every year. My mom-mom is probably my favorite person on earth. She’s so sassy.” Nothing about that statement has changed!

Growing up, these cookies appeared at Christmas for me to devour, without an understanding of how much work goes into making them. And then a few years ago, I started helping. My Mommom makes the dough a day or two in advance of Cookie Day, and then the three of us spend a day baking them. Tradition dictates that we first have a big diner breakfast, to fortify ourselves for the long day of standing at an assembly line like little elves: someone stamps the cookies onto the baking sheets (using a cookie press), someone decorates, and someone monitors the oven, rotating sheets and putting the cookies on a cooling rack. We listen to Christmas music while we stamp out little green Christmas trees and little red wreaths.

Oh, did I mention we’re Jewish?

We love Christmas, but more specifically, we love cookies. Even more specifically, I love these green cookies. Sure, nothing about them is remotely healthy (I like to picture my insides turning green when I eat them, which is a likely consequence considering your tongue actually does if you eat enough in one sitting) but since when are the holidays about moderation?

Christmas Butter Cookies (or Mommom’s Green Trees)

1/2 lb. softened butter
3oz. cream cheese
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. sifted flour
Food coloring

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat butter until whipped. Add cream cheese and beat until smooth. Mix while adding sugar. Blend egg and vanilla.
3. Add food coloring if desired (pretty much mandatory).
4. Slowly add flour, with mixer on lower speed.
5. Use cookie press and decorate.
6. Bake 10 min, until bottoms are light brown.

Enjoy, kiddos!

A Birthday

Pont du Carrousel, nuit

I.

I bought a men’s sweater at Uniqlo over the weekend, an unfussy, slightly shapeless black wool button down number. I’ve been searching for one for a while now, for a go-to, grandpa sweater I could wear daily and actually keep warm in, as opposed to the sparkly, open-weave, ‘fashion sweaters’ women’s stores seem to be pushing these days. My favorite sweater is one of my dad’s, a dark green pull-over that somehow still retains the warm, musky smell of him. I try not to wear it too often, because I don’t want the smell to disappear, to wear off. It’s a comforting olfactory thing.

Today would have been his 76th birthday.

There are things you lose after eight years –the specific hum of his voice, the way he’d mindlessly stroke his mustache with his thumb and middle finger– and things you give up voluntarily; I can’t listen to more than the opening chords of Charlie Haden’s “American Dreams” without dissolving into tears, like some instantaneous chemical reaction. But there are things I’m fighting to keep, too, like the smell of his sweater, his love of Paris, and the solace of knowing that I am half of him.

II.

The year I was eight, he was 56, and that number popped up everywhere for us. On street signs, on register receipts, and, once, as the name of a production company on the opening credits of a Riverdance VHS tape I had specifically asked for at Christmas (let’s not talk about that). We were laying on the sofa together, the VCR remote in his hand, and “A 56th Street Production” appeared on the screen, on top of a swirl of coral and blue tones.

“Oh look,” he said. “There’s my number again.”

That was 20 years ago, and it feels as vivid as if it were just two.

III.

I’m wearing a black turtleneck, my new black sweater, and my dad’s watch, today, and having lunch with my brother. And I’m debating booking an impromptu trip to Paris in February, because I know my dad would have encouraged it.

Happy, happy birthday, daddy.

Letterpress de Paris

Letterpress de Paris

Letterpress de Paris

Letterpress de Paris

How cute are these letterpressed cards from French letterpress printing shop Letterpress de Paris? In a world where everything has gone digital, where regular printing is constantly being threatened by new technology, it’s so refreshing to see a small business make such a commitment to quality, traditional printing. I’m such a tactile creature; a big reason I’ll never be able to switch to an e-reader is that I relish the feeling of paper between my fingers. I imagine these printed cards feel as good as they look.

Here’s a beautiful video from Letterpress de Paris, showing the production of one of their greeting cards, on a Heidelberg press. “The card is printed in two colors, first in letterpress and hot foil stamping. The film shows the entire process: paper cutting, color preparation, calibrations, printing, foil stamping, creasing.” No small task, but the results are so beautiful.

They also print a variety of other paper goods, including wedding invitations and business cards. Now all I need is a career or job title worthy of such a luxurious carte de visite.

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You can find them at Colette in Paris, or online. They ship to the US!