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Monthly Archives: May 2015
Okay, so perhaps to call this place “an apartment” was being generous; it’s more like a construction site, or a prison dungeon out of an Alexandre Dumas novel or something. But that’s why I said it has potential. The apartment is on the ground floor of a building along the Quai d’Orléans, right along the Seine, on the Île Saint-Louis. The building dates back to 1639, making it one of the oldest buildings in the city. Don’t you love seeing all that old stone, and the original fireplace mantel? Normally at this point I’d highlight its bathroom or number of bedrooms, but, um, aside from the historical details, the main thing this place has going for it is that it’s a blank (and dusty) canvas. Though the view ain’t too bad, either. The listing encourages you to use your imagination, which frankly isn’t all that difficult, given that it’s only 335 ft2, or 33m2.
And because real estate is just ridiculous in Paris, this 335 ft2 empty studio can be yours for the totally reasonable price of €485,000. Zut alors!
Süsk was one of the first bloggers I really connected with back when I started blogging, and she quickly became one of my favorites. On her blog, she shares the adventures of country-hopping with her husband, the adorably nicknamed Banoo, documenting their life in France, then England, then Finland, before landing back in Paris last year. She also has a wicked sense of humor, is a talented designer, and is just all around cool. I had the pleasure of hanging out with them while living in Paris last spring, but two years before that, she wrote this guest-post for me while Jamal and I were on vacation in Belgium. Seeing as we’re on vacation in Italy now, her post seemed only too appropriate to re-share. Enjoy!
As I sit here with a scarf coiled around my head on a windy, grey Monday morning in London, Sicily seems a lifetime away. Hunched over my computer in two dressing gowns (truth!) and going through hundreds of photos on my hard drive of a tanned, glowing me romping in the nature of Italy’s Southern island, I am reminded just how wonderful a holiday can be. Throw in a few near-death experiences and Mafia run-ins, and you’re talking superawesome holiday times.
In 2009 Banoo and I headed to Sicily for our honeymoon. We avoided the tourist-y Northwestern coast and instead opted for a city clinging to the edge of a volcano named Taormina. From here we rented what was possibly the most ill-suited car ever for the 90 degree inclines that scaled the volcanic crag and masqueraded as roads, and headed out to explore this island that tectonic activity had thrust out of the sea thousands of years ago.
Or at least we tried to.
May 19, 2015 / Travel /
We’re off to Italy tomorrow, kiddos! I’ve been packed for weeks, though the same cannot be said for Jamal, who is a seasoned travel pro and also not nearly as anxious as I am and won’t have a heart attack if he packs tomorrow afternoon (though I totally will. I’ll have two, one for each of us). And, for the first time I can remember, I’m not taking my computer with me. I am planning to unplug for two weeks and soak up as much of Italy as possible (though you can guarantee I’ll be Instagramming the whole time). I’ve been practicing Italian with Duolingo for a few weeks and can cobble together some rough phrases, so I’m hoping the Italians are more forgiving than the French when it comes to butchering their language.
I have some posts scheduled for the two weeks (!!) I’ll be away, including some things I’ve dug up from the last four years of my archives that you may have missed. I will be back with the first round of vacation photos on Monday, June 1st, which feels like a lifetime from now. I’m hoping this trip doesn’t fly by. Have a great two weeks, miei amici!
May 15, 2015 / Travel /
I have a litmus test with most everything I publish online, a way to keep me (and my mouth) in check, something seemingly easy to lose hold over in this digital era when instant communication to broadcast even the most mundane of thoughts is right at our fingertips. Before I post anything, I ask myself, “Is this something I’d be okay with Jamal’s mom reading?” If I’m even a little bit in doubt, I don’t post it. (I’ve saved myself from some pretty curse-laden, reactionary tweets about everything from The Real Housewives franchises to people on my morning commute this way.) My own mother’s favorite piece of advice has always been, “When in doubt, don’t.” And while it applies to all manner of things –the suggestion to not do anything until you’re confident in your decision has served me well in relationships, work, finances, etc.– it’s equally as relevant to resisting the urge to post absolutely every unfiltered thought.
This has been a helpful self-imposed rule for my blog/twitter feed/various social media accounts, but the same standard, when applied to writing my book (though with a different relative) has been somewhat…restrictive? I’ll back up a bit. There are two characters in my novel for whom a romantic involvement is an ineluctable outcome. It seems weird to suggest that I have no control over fictional people I’ve created, I know, but I’ve written and re-written different plotlines countless times, reworked things in my head, and the end result is always the same: these two characters have to have a dalliance. You’ve read a bit about them before, about these two walking up the stairs to her apartment, his hand on her shoulder, the door closing behind them. I’ve been on the other side of that door for months, unable to write about what goes on when they stumble into her bed. Because…because what if my brother reads it? My older brother! (That’s obviously not the only thing keeping from writing about sex in my novel, but it doesn’t help the cause any, either.)
So I did some digging, and it turns out, plenty of authors struggle with writing sex into their novels. It’s hard! (That is not a euphemism.) How do you articulate it adequately? What words do you use? Does it seem gratuitous to include it, or a cheap cop-out to have a ‘fade to black’ moment? Here are a bunch of authors on writing about sex:
Lorin Stein, in The Paris Review:
Not all writing about sex is meant to titillate. There are other reasons to describe what people do in bed…It strikes me that fiction and poetry are especially good at dealing with sex—are in some ways designed for handling subjects that are private or shameful or deeply subjective—and that sex is inherently interesting (maybe especially to readers of fiction?)
Alexander Chee, also in The Paris Review:
Too much writing about sex tries to either make it prettier or more serious, sexier or funnier or shocking, or anything, really, except what it is. On its own terms, sex is information…When my teacher told me to read James Salter, what she meant was that this kind of sex writing…describes sex so that it tells you something about the story and the characters and yourself, all at once.
Sex is such a confusing situation that your ability to communicate what you’re thinking and feeling in the moment is severely hampered. If you try to articulate your thoughts and feelings in words, you’re reduced to saying the quickest and easiest epithets you can come up with—porn language, essentially…That’s why, when writers attempt to describe sex accurately, the scenes all tend to sound the same, no matter what the writers’ individual styles may be. I think most writers just want their sex scenes to be realistically sexy.
Adam Thirwell, in an interview in Salon with author Gary Shteyngart:
I think for me it’s always interesting to write about extreme experience, or experience that’s not really meant to be written about, that’s on the edge of the linguistic: where it merges with, I don’t know, brute noise.
Steve Almond, in the Utne Reader, lays out 13 guidelines for writing about sex, and they are wildly funny and insightful. Number 12 is my favorite:
If you don’t feel comfortable writing about sex, then don’t. By this, I mean writing about sex as it actually exists, in the real world, as an ecstatic, terrifying, and, above all, deeply emotional process. Real sex is compelling to read about because the participants are so utterly vulnerable. We are all, when the time comes to get naked, terribly excited and frightened and hopeful and doubtful, usually at the same time. You mustn’t abandon your lovers in their time of need. You mustn’t make of them naked playthings with rubbery parts. You must love them, wholly and without shame, as they go about their human business. Because we’ve already got a name for sex without the emotional content: It’s called pornography.
And finally, author Rachel Kushner, in an interview with the NY Times, being very smug about the whole thing:
I don’t think of sex as any more difficult to write about than any other human behavior. Writers fail or soar at anything. Everyone thinks about sex, engages in it. It’s the secret we all share. Just acknowledging its constant presence in people’s thoughts is a good direction for a novelist.
Fellow fiction writers and readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
A few weeks ago, our wonderful wedding photographer, Inna, reached out to me asking if a local wedding website, Delancey & Penn, could feature our wedding. I said yes without hesitation, and sent her a little write up about the day, which was fun to revisit from the perspective of six+ months out. Their post went live this week, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share some more photos with you from the day that I hadn’t yet. You can read all about it, and see even more photos, here.
Thank you, Delancey & Penn, for featuring us, and thank you Inna, seriously, for being the best photographer we ever could’ve asked for.
More Italy planning! We have one night between Florence and Siena that we’d set aside specifically to stay in the countryside somewhere. Super specific and not vague at all, I know. Imagine the amount of options that gave us, as there are about a thousand tiny towns and Tuscan estates-turned-b&bs in Italy, and each one is more gorgeous and picturesque than the last. Somehow, don’t ask me how, we narrowed down our selection to the commune of Vicchio, about an hour’s drive outside of Florence, and the Villa Campestri, which bills itself as an ‘olive oil resort,’ which really might just be code for ‘heaven on earth.’ Look at it. The have acres of their own olive vineyards, from which they make their own olive oil, and for which I’ve left half my suitcase empty so I can bring home a year’s supply. The resort offers olive oil massages, olive tree planting (and naming!), beekeeping, truffle hunting, olive oil tasting, bike rides through their sprawling grounds, or a cooking class with the chef. They even offer four and eight day painting and drawing tours, led by an artist specialized in fourteenth-century drawing and painting, which would be very Lady Mary of me to do one day. We might not do any of those things on this trip (but the olive oil tasting sounds too good to pass up!) and we are still guaranteed to have perhaps the most memorable experience of the trip. One night seemed like enough time as we were sketching out our itinerary for this trip a few months ago, but after landing on Villa Campestri, we’re realizing the flaw in our logic. We’re already talking about going back and staying for longer, and we haven’t even gotten there yet! Swoon.
May 5, 2015 / Travel /