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Monthly Archives: March 2015
Oh, Philly. The real estate market here is experiencing a rather large boom; there are new luxury high rises popping up left and right, the home values in almost every neighborhood are increasing rapidly, and the city itself has received a host of attention recently. We were ranked the #3 city to visit in 2015 by the New York Times and the #2 Best Shopping City by Condé Nast Traveler. This year we’re getting a visit from the Pope, and in 2016 we’ll host the Democratic National Convention. For someone as fiercely proud of my hometown and lifelong chosen residence, this shower of attention and praise is well deserved and long overdue.
In addition to my borderline jingoistic hometown pride, I’m also a bit of a loon when it comes to real estate, both at home and abroad. I am always, much to Jamal’s annoyance, looking at real estate listings, regardless of the fact that we have no plans to move and lack the sort of income that would make all of the wistful prowling I do come to fruition. This mansion is a prime example. There is no way on god’s green earth, at $6m, we will ever be able to afford it, but that tiny detail hasn’t stopped me from checking the listing multiple times a week, just to drool a little bit. There are five bedrooms, seven bathrooms (seven!), a catering kitchen, an elevator, and several galleries of art. Galleries. In the house.
It isn’t even my style! The art is too…er, new? for my taste, and I do feel a sad tug of longing wondering what the house looked like when it was first built, before all that original character was stripped away in favor of the sleek, charmless modernity. But I have a funny personal association with this place; in 2009 I interviewed with the family, in their kitchen, for a full-time nanny position. The parents were exceedingly nice, and, though I obviously didn’t get the job, I’ve since retained a deep fondness for the house. I was a recent college graduate, released into one of the worst job markets in history, and had thrown my resume at every posting I seemed even remotely qualified for, and a bunch of ones I wasn’t. This was one of my first interviews, and I just remembered being awed at the scale of the place and the art, and impressed that people of that level of wealth (I would’ve been given $65k a year, my own apartment, and annual trips to the Hamptons, to tend to two middle-school aged kids) could take the time to sit in their kitchen and talk to me. I didn’t grow up too far from this house, and I live just a few blocks away from it now, but while the mappable distance may be small, I am worlds away from this sort of lifestyle. The mansion is basically a museum, full to the brim of interesting contemporary art. In doing a little digging, I found out this week while readying this post that the owner is an heir to the Tylenol fortune. Ah. It makes sense now, but I never knew the couple’s last name at the time; the interview was arranged by a third party private company who handled my background check and ensured a polite discretion on both ends. I wonder where they’re moving, and why. I’m curious to see what the new owners do to the place, too.
March 26, 2015 / home design /
Friends, I am so excited to finally share this with you: I am now blogging for The Paris Collection, a “hand curated selection of unique and authentic experiences from Paris’ top bloggers”! Jennifer, of the blog Books & Baguettes (two of my most favorite things! how did I not think of that blog name before??), contacted me a few months ago asking if I’d be interested in contributing my own tips and suggestions for the things to do & see in Paris that are off the traditional tourist track. I said ‘oui’ without hesitation.
With so many resources for Paris itineraries floating about on the internet, what makes The Paris Collection different? Our “criteria of authenticity and uniqueness with a dash of Parisian flair” means you won’t find suggestions to visit the Eiffel Tower, or the Louvre, or even Ladurée; “If most people know about this place, it’s going off our list!” We aren’t just giving recommendations, we’re relating our individual experiences, including best days to visit a specific bar or shop, the amount of time and money to budget, as well as personal photos.
(P.S. This was my face when I read “Paris’ top bloggers.”)
March 24, 2015 / Travel /
Two and a half hours is no where near a sufficient amount of time to see enough of the Met, but it turned out to be the perfect amount of time to see the Late 19th & Early 20th Century European Painting Wing, with just enough time left over for a panicked phone call with my credit card company, and a harried cycle around the gift shop (I say this frequently but it bears repeating, as it was one of the best things my dad ever said: Every good cultural experience must end in a retail experience.”). I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to Impressionist paintings, or rather a heat-seeking missile. Get out of my way, arms and armory. Move it, musical instruments. Modern art? Girl bye. I need to visit my old lovers: Claude, Pierre-Auguste, and Vincent. The Met did not disappoint. The last time I visited was over four years ago, and there were so many treasures to discover this time that I practically floated around the galleries, like something out of a dream. When I saw this Monet, I actually burst into tears. I circled the rooms over and over, finding new things to delight over, or swoon over, every time, stopping every so often to scribble something down in my notebook: the dark, beady eyes Manet seemed to favor painting, or how nothing stays still in a van Gogh.
I could’ve spent days there.
How’s this for a humblebrag: I was across the room and noticed a pair of still lifes on an opposite wall, lush flowers in low bowls, dark, near muddy backgrounds, and thought, “Those look like Fantin-Latour.” I walked over to get a closer looks, and they were. My dad would have been so proud of me.
This might be a slightly controversial suggestion, but you shouldn’t pay the recommended $25 admission rate. Now, I consider myself an enthusiastic museum supporter and patron; museums are my happy place. I have a membership to both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Louvre (the latter, it’s worth pointing out, has an annual membership fee of around $15 more than the Met suggests you pay for one visit). The $25 admission fee is a wildly inflated, noncompulsory rate that was actually the subject of a lawsuit back in 2013. An 1893 New York State Law mandates that “the public should be admitted [to the museum] for free at least five days and two evenings per week.” The Met is a non-profit organization, receives free rent from the city, pays no income tax, and has a $2.58 billion (with a ‘B’) investment portfolio. Admission fees only cover 11% of the museum’s operating budget. And still, armed with all of this knowledge yet still happy to pay $10 for my visit, the person working the ticket window threw the most severe shade at me for not ponying up the full, recommended $25. The judge in the 2013 lawsuit ruled that visitors could pay “at least a penny” for entry, snarky sir.
Last Wednesday morning I walked up Madison Avenue from our hotel at 57th and 6th on my way to breakfast and the Met. I knew this route would take me, teasingly, past Ladurée; I wouldn’t be able to stop in until later in the day, as you can’t bring food into the museum. And so I summoned all of my willpower as I approached 70th street to not stop or drool or faire du lèche-vitrines, a French term that translates to “window shopping” but that means, quite literally lick the windows. Being so close to macarons again after so long without being able to rush in immediately and buy any was a fascinating study in self-discipline. Sure, Jamal had brought me a large box back in November or December after a day-trip to New York for a meeting, but I personally haven’t been since Paris, and for all my suffering I deserve some sort of consolation prize. Ergo: macarons aplenty!
I came back after lunch with Lyndsey and, like the nerd that I am, whipped out a list I’d made days before, itemizing the flavors and quantities of macarons I needed (we’re well past the ‘like’ and ‘want’ stage of this game). I went with a box of 15 –including Vanille, Pistache, Rose, Citron (which the lovely girl behind the counter inadvertently confused with Yuzu Ginger, a limited edition flavor in the same bright yellow shade), and Framboise– and a fancier box of six, three each of Caramel au Beurre Salé and the seasonal, delicious Cassis-Violette because (and this would be embarrassing to admit were I not still so punch-drunk from eating 21 macarons in four days that I feel no shame) it would be prettier to photograph. Oy. It really was, though!
Until next time, Ladurée mon amour. I’ll see you in Paris in just a few short weeks.
I felt the same way about Manhattan this trip as I did about my Wednesday morning visit to the Met: I only saw the tiniest piece of it. Our hotel was just a block south of Central Park, and my boundaries for exploration turned out to be 25 blocks north to the palatial museum at 82nd, and as far east as Madison Avenue. A small, narrow pocket, to be sure, but more than enough this time. I had breakfast both mornings at a sweet French café, and spent two and a half hours wandering the 19th & Early 20th Century European Paintings wing in daze, wholly overwhelmed by the volume and quality of the art. My visit was punctuated with an unfortunate phone call from my credit card company, alerting me to fraudulent activity totaling nearly $5k (!!!), news that warranted a last minute dash to the American Wing to track down a Severin Roesen still life just to calm my nerves; art therapy in its most basic form.
My darling friend Lyndsey was in town for work, and we were able to meet for lunch and shopping along Madison Avenue before she had to hop in a cab, leaving me unattended at Ladurée (always a dangerous endeavor). Jamal and I had drinks at our hotel’s rooftop bar before dinner and a late night show at an underground jazz club. I stuck to my plan of eating macarons for breakfast but, because that alone wasn’t indulgent enough, did so in a plush hotel bathrobe in the even plusher hotel bed. Not bad for a Thursday.
Next week: photos from The Met and, of course, Ladurée.
You’ve heard me sing this tune before, but: Jamal travels a lot for work. A lot. Starting in the middle of February through the middle of April, for example, he will be gone an average of three days per week. For a host of reasons (my job, the dog, money) I never travel with him. The locales he visits aren’t always appealing options to spend my accrued vacation leave, either, even if I could plunk down money on a flight to loaf around his hotel room while he works; Cedar Rapids, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Mexico City, Minneapolis, and of course his quarterly trips to India. I’ve said that one of these days I’ll join him in Bangalore, and by “join him” I mean fly halfway with him and get off the plane on his layover somewhere in Europe, and by “somewhere in Europe” I mean Paris, obviously.
But this week he has a trip to New York City, for a lease accounting committee meeting or something (he’s told me a thousand times what it is precisely, but I’ve been so distracted by the proximity to Ladurée that I haven’t actually heard him). For a $7, 2-hour bus ride, I decided it was finally the perfect opportunity to freeload along. “You’re always welcome, you know that, but I don’t want you to be bored while I’m working,” he said. Uh, dude? Drop me anywhere within a reasonably navigable distance to macarons and a museum and we’re all good. My rough itinerary for the next few days looks something like this: macarons for breakfast, wandering the Met for hours, macarons for lunch, power nap, macarons for dinner.
This will also be the first break I’ve had since our honeymoon in early October. I’m beyond excited at the prospect of sleeping past 6:30 on a weekday, and maybe (maybe!) getting a bit of writing done. I’ll be back on Friday with some photos to share with you!
You’ve probably heard of French artist Louis Béroud, though maybe not because of his work; his name isn’t mentioned among the great painters of the late 19th century. His paintings –often of other painters practicing in the Musée du Louvre or of the grand space itself– are certainly beautiful, rich in detail, and an interesting mixture of late Realism with some early Impressionist touches, a direct result of the era in which he painted. Even still, you might not have even been able to identify one of his paintings just by sight, the way you can with, say, a Monet, and his pieces don’t make the headlines if they’re brought to auction. (For fun, I checked Sotheby’s auction results archive. From 1990 to present, only three Bérouds have been sold, either at auction or in private sale, for an average hammer price of $42k. For contrast, a pair of chairs sold for nearly as much at the end of February.)
But if you’ve ever heard of the (entirely true) theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, then you’re familiar with Béroud. For it was Béroud who, on the morning of August 22, 1911, alerted the guard that La Jaconde was missing. Béroud had arrived at the museum with his easel and paintbox, ready to continue work on a study of the Mona Lisa, only to find an empty space on the wall of the Salon Carré where painting should have hung. When he informed a guard, he was told the painting was likely upstairs being photographed or for some light frame preservation. Béroud waited several hours but at 11am, having grown impatient, suggested the guard check upstairs in the photography department himself. It was only then that the museum realized what had happened. It would be two and a half years, with a wild goose chase across France and Italy, fake identities, and forgeries sold and shipping across the Atlantic, before Mona was returned to her rightful place at the Louvre. This book does a far better job of explaining everything than I just attempted, and reads like fiction.
Because of his connection to what is perhaps the most famous heist in history, little focus has been paid to Béroud’s work as a painter over the years, which is a shame. In fact, his one paragraph Wikipedia entry focuses entirely on the Mona Lisa, offering no other biographical details. Several of his paintings currently hang in the Musée Carnavalet and the Louvre, though, and I’ll make it a priority to track them down next time.
March 5, 2015 / art / photo /
When the news broke a few days ago that US Customs had intercepted the delivery of a stolen Picasso in Newark, NJ, my immediate reaction was, “Wait. There was a stolen Picasso I didn’t know about?” On December 18th, a FedEx package arrived stateside from Belgium, bound for a climate-controlled warehouse on Long Island. The shipping label offered few details about the painting’s journey, other than that it was sent by someone listed only as “Robert,” and was described as “art craft/toy” with a declared value of €30. Upon inspection, the painting was seized by Homeland Security Investigations. Last month, French museum officials arrived in New York and, using photographs and historical records, confirmed the painting was indeed a 1911 Picasso, titled “La Coiffeuse” (“The Hairdresser”) which had been reported stolen in 2001.
The 12×18 Cubist painting was bequeathed to the National Museums of France by a former director, and was last on display in Munich in 1998, before being returned to Paris. It was then kept (safely, it was believed) in the storerooms of the Centre Pompidou. It wasn’t until 2001, when a loan request for the painting led to the discovery that the painting was missing. I couldn’t find anything related to the initial theft of “La Coiffeuse” within the National Stolen Art File of the FBI, the Works of Art Database at Interpol, or even the archives of the Centre Pompidou itself. Searches of the archives of the New York Times and Le Monde turned up no results, though the Art Loss Register estimates that there are nearly 1,300 missing Picassos.
The recovery of stolen works of art is certainly cause for celebration, so rarely is there as favorable an outcome when it comes to other art heists; paintings by Picasso, Monet and Matisse stolen from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam in 2013 were burned in an oven in Romania in order to destroy evidence of the theft. James Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries for the Art Loss Register, told the Guardian: “In our experience, we would consider this kind of discovery to be extremely rare. There must be a large number of similar parcels passing through customs every day. For this one to be spotted is either remarkably good luck…or the result of some kind of tip-off or surveillance.” Last week, the US Attorney’s office filed a civil complaint to return the painting to France. Alain Seban, the president of the Centre Pompidou, “said he was moved by ‘this happy ending’ to the saga of the work’s disappearance and expressed “deep gratitude” to the customs services.” The museum hopes to put the painting back on display to the public quickly, perhaps even as soon as the end of May.
You know who else will be in Paris at the end of May? ME. I’m crossing fingers and toes that “La Coiffeuse” will be there, too.
You can read about more art heists here.