I took Fitz out for a walk after dinner on Tuesday night, and was stopped in my tracks the moment we closed the door behind us. The sky was a bright yellow, with giant tufts of thick clouds in shades of pale pink and orange. Fitz wasn’t as impressed, and kept sassing me whenever I paused to look up at the sky and marvel (apparently peeing was more important). We came back inside and I quickly grabbed my camera and ran back to the corner to snap a few photos. In those short 10 minutes, the colors had changed and brightened and become more saturated and, somehow, more beautiful. I haven’t seen a sky like this since Paris in early summer; I had lunch with my dad’s friend John last week and we both agreed the cloud formations and sunset colors, like virtually everything else, are far more gorgeous in Paris. Well, I think this was Philadelphia’s way of proving us wrong.
I’ve used Clinique for more than half my life. For my 13th birthday, my mom handed me the Clinique 3-Step system and said, “Here, use this.” I didn’t need instructions on the how-to, I’d been watching her to use the set twice a day, every day, for my entire life (she still does, and she doesn’t look even close to her real age). Over the years, I’ve modified the routine to fit my finicky, hypersensitive, pale skin, tweaking the products as needed –my dermatologist recommended Cetaphil cleanser instead of Clinique’s Step 1 face soap, I’ve swapped in an oil-free lotion and added a night cream, and I use an spf20 moisturizer in the mornings, all from Clinique– but the one product that I’ve never wavered on was Step 2: Clarifying Toner. I’ve described it before as being nail polish remover for your pores. It’s a sharp, tingly liquid you soak a cotton ball with and swipe over your face after washing & drying, before using your lotion, and it cleans out pores and removes any traces of residue or leftover makeup or dead skin. I love it. I don’t, however, love the packaging. Purple and green? A little much.
Enter these amber glass apothecary bottles. At $9 for a set of two on Amazon, I figured I could inject a little bit of subdued, French-pharmacy style to my bathroom. And who wouldn’t like to look at one less label while you’re getting ready? They’re a substantial weight but not heavy, and they are easy to hold without feeling like I’ll drop them (I was worried about glass). The amber color protects against UV sun damage, so the liquid inside will stay stable longer. The mouth opening is larger than the Clinique bottle, meaning I get more product on my cotton round in one pass. And they’re pretty.
I realize it’s silly to complain about labels when I store my q-tips in a Diptyque candle jar, but whatever. There are a million empty glass bottles on Amazon in different sizes and colors (cobalt! frosted!) and with different tops. It’s making me want to transfer all of my products over to nicer packaging, even my lip balms.
The Île Saint-Louis, that quaint little jewel box of an island, still retains some of the ancient, original charm of old Paris before Haussmann bulldozed his way through: smaller, shorter stone buildings, narrow streets where there were once fields for grazing cattle (and, of course, Berthillon and Le Saint Régis). Whenever I picture living on this thin strip of land on the Seine, my mind immediately conjures up images of apartments with dark wood beams running across the length of the ceiling, burnt sienna tile floors, rough, cave-like walls leading along the passageways to the tiny courtyards. Entirely lovely, more authentic, even, but different than the classically Parisian Paris apartments, with their herringbone floors and decorative moldings, and large rooms.
So imagine my surprise when I found the listing for this apartment. “But, but, but! That’s simply too big to be an apartment on the Île Saint-Louis!” (The listing agent seems to agree, as they’ve listed the ceiling height as being 55ft. Pretty sure they meant 15?) And indeed, the wood-paneled bedroom, the black & white patterned floor, and the gorgeous stairwell are, to my mind, something out of a grand Haussmann building on the other side of the river, which makes them all the more spectacular here in this apartment. I know that there is no “perfect place” to write, but I have a feeling I would write like the wind at that desk with the view of the Seine out the window.
Do you think I’ll ever have ceilings high enough to warrant such extravagantly long curtains? Oh, but to dream!
Price Upon Request, bien sûr, but based on Sotheby’s search listings it’s somewhere around $3m.
I am so sorry for the continued, lengthy lapses between posts here. Whenever I think about the heyday of this blog (and blogging in general, it seems) a few years ago, I am awe-struck that I was able to somehow churn out 3-5 posts per week while working full-time. How? These days, I am writing like the wind, it just isn’t here. I’m making progress on my novel, every day, but I still feel guilty when I neglect this blog for weeks at a time. I do have things to share with you! I am still reading your blogs, too! I promise to be better at blogging. Maybe not as good as I used to be (seriously, where was I getting all that free time?!), but better. I miss you, kiddos.
I brewed the last of my Rouge Métis tea this morning. That tea I bring home with me from Paris that, with one sip, brings me right back to my terrace on Cité Veron, writing in the mornings. There was just enough in the tin for one last cup, and I stood there at the counter shaking the last of the dregs into a tea filter, trying not to read into the fact that I ran out of my comforting morning ritual on today, of all days.
The death of someone you love is a nightmare, and not just because coping with it or learning to live with it and live without them is scary. Proceeding with life after a death has all the hallmarks of a bad dream: the eerie nonsense where everything seems like real life but is off just slightly, strange lurches of time, impending fear, wanting to run but finding your legs can’t move.
It’s easier for me to write about losing him in the abstract. I cry less this way.
I’ve started and stopped this post countless times this week, barely making it through a single line before the tears would suffocate me and I’d have to retreat into a ball and let the grief run its course. It’s never done though, grief. After ten years, you’d think it would have relented, moved on, faded to a manageable degree, like an old bruise or the last vestiges of a summer tan at the end of September. Instead, my grief has become Grief, a capitalized, all-consuming thing that floats at the periphery of my vision, never letting me forget it’s there. Lurking, waiting until I see an old photo or hear a laugh that’s too similar or get too close to this day or his birthday or mine. Grief acts a lot like a migraine, leaving me feeling as exhausted and drained but with an ache in my chest instead of my head. What else can it want from me, I think, each time I’m swallowed whole by it.
I’ve gotten by okay, for the most part. I can function in society, I can get out of bed, I have a happy marriage, a solid relationships with others. But my dad’s death has seeped into my bones and shaped who I’ve become in last ten years in a way nothing else could or will. It’s also given me a stupidly optimistic outlook on life, in a way: whatever happens, nothing will ever be as bad as losing my dad.
I don’t want this to sound like I am unhappy all of the time. I’m not. But my day-to-day is tinged with an almost manic happiness, as if my brain is saying, “I’m so happy, look how happy I can be, I am fiiiiine.” I’ve always been an introvert, since I was a very small child, preferring my own company to that of anyone else’s, but it’s gotten more extreme in the last 10 years. There’s a line in my novel about one of the more seemingly resilient characters: “Even when he was down he was up.” I am literally the exact opposite. Even when I am up, I am down. Being alone now means I don’t have to be on for anyone. I don’t have to be up.
I am not blaming my dad for any of this. Thanks to a lot (a lot) of therapy, I’ve moved past the feelings of anger and abandonment and blame. If anything, still having this hulking amount of sadness a decade later is comforting. It’s directly proportionate to how much he meant to me, the kind of man he was, how ideal our relationship was. But that just means I will be dealing with this for the rest of my life. Because while it feels simultaneously like it’s only been a week and also twenty years since I last held his hand, saw him thumb his mustache while he was deep in thought, there is no way 10 years is long enough to have shaken this Grief from my system yet.
Today is my last day of work before I become a full-time, stay-at-home writer. I quit two weeks ago because I have been fighting internally for months, maybe even since the day I got back from Paris in 2014, between my urge to have an income and my need to just write. There’s a certain unmissable symbolism in today being my last day, and when my boss and I hammered out the specifics, it took me a moment to realize why August 5th sounded heavy. It never registers immediately.
I cannot wait to finish this novel. I will finish this novel this year if it kills me, and when I am done I will write “For CJG” on the dedication page. Because this one is for him.
I found another, full tin of tea in the back of the cabinet.
I love you, Daddy. I miss you every day.
My “To Read” pile…
(It’s only gotten more out of hand, and every book I’ve read has been replaced by at least two more.)
I’ve never been interested in subscription boxes. Paying $10 or $15 or even $30 per month (or week!) for a few makeup samples, or prepared meals, or clothes, or even treats for Fitz, who has the fun habit of throwing things up on the regular, seemed like a waste of money. My friend Herbie turned me on to Graze snack boxes when we worked together, but I would end up eating all four snack packs the same day the box arrived, thus defeating the very purpose and name of the thing (I have never been one for portion control). My sister-in-law gifted us a week of Blue Apron dinners, which were surprisingly delicious, the pre-portioned ingredients and step-by-step photo instructions appealing to someone with as little kitchen aptitude as I have. But after our free trial I wasn’t about to spend $60 on three dinners every week. I have such sensitive skin and such a carefully honed skincare routine that Birchbox always seemed like too much of a wildcard. But I get the overall appeal of subscription boxes; we live in an increasingly digital world, where it’s easy to have everything delivered, especially surprise boxes of goodies chosen by someone else. Who doesn’t love getting packages in the mail? As someone who does the majority of her shopping online, trust me, I should be a subscription box company’s target audience. But none of them ever made me think, “I have to have that.”
“Is there anything more satisfying than to keep abreast of the best new books of our time as they appear? In reading them, in enjoying them, in talking with others about them, we feel our day taking shape.”
And then I discovered, through a Facebook ad no less, Book of the Month. Originally founded in 1926, the once-upon-a-time mail order subscription service started by a copywriter and a publisher has been modernized and rebranded for the internet age, and includes monthly selections chosen by a panel of judges (other writers, a celebrity guest-judge). Five new choices are released the 1st of every month (today!) and you get a few days to make your selection before the (branded, of course) hardcover of your choice is mailed directly to your door. You can add an additional book for an extra fee, and the subscription length runs either one, three, or 12 months. If none of the titles in a particular month float your boat, you can skip that month.
Even though this is right up my alley, I wouldn’t necessarily have signed up for Book of the Month unless I’d found a coupon code (I literally buy nothing full-price). A three-month subscription is $14.99/mo, but if you use the code READ50 you can save 50%, making it about $7.50 per book. Not a bad deal! I chose my first book this morning; when you sign up you select a few genres that interest you, and BoTM makes a suggested selection for you each month based on those interests. You can always change to another title, and it shows you what percentage of other subscribers choose each title. In my case, the suggested selection, “Siracusa” by Delia Ephron, was spot-on.
I am in the middle of two other books, so hopefully I finish those before my Book of the Month arrives next week. What are you guys reading these days?
This post was not sponsored or paid for in any way. I found the coupon code through a Facebook ad and was not compensated for sharing it here. Book of the Month did not contact me nor ask me to write this post. (Though if they wanted to, I’d take some free books!) All opinions expressed are my own.
You have to write every day. You can’t always write well, and sometimes you can’t write at all, but if you’re not there at your desk trying, then you won’t succeed. Before then, I had thought of writing as something akin to divine inspiration. I would wait for the muse. Turns out you have to be dressed and ready for the muse or she will never come.
Jay McInerney on meeting Raymond Carver, as told to The Paris Review
File this under: Greatest Invention Ever, cross-filed under: Thanks, France! (I’m running out of room in that latter filing cabinet, quelle surprise).
Two French bibliophiles, Quentin Pleplé and Christophe Sibieude, were buying snacks at a vending machine in 2013 when one of them postured (because really, this is literally what I fantasize most French men walk around discussing): “Wouldn’t it be better if these dispensed short stories instead?” A year later the pair had developed a prototype machine that did just that, and by October of 2015 they had their first public installation at the Tourist Information office in Grenoble. They’re called Short Edition, and they call themselves the Distributeur d’histoires courtes — the distributor of short stories. Their website says, “Notre ambition est de voir fleurir des Distributeurs un peu partout pour promouvoir la lecture – et l’écriture – et pour faire connaître nos auteurs.” (“Our ambition is to see blooming Distributors everywhere to promote reading – and writing – and to publicize our authors.”) The machines are tall cylinders with just a few buttons, marked with numbers corresponding to the length of time each story takes to read. If you have only one minute while waiting in line at a teller, press “1”, and a short strip of paper spits out of the machine. If you have a longer lunch break later on in the day, press “5”, and a slightly longer story prints out for you. And the best part is, they’re free.
The stories are randomly selected by the machine when you press a button, but have to have first made the cut and been chosen by readers on their website, though, oddly, the majority of the stories printed by the machines are written by authors who wish to remain anonymous. These have actually been perfect for me to practice my reading comprehension en Français. The best of the stories are published in traditional, physical book form, or as audiobooks, or e-books, and now, in the machines.
Why a machine that distributes literature? A 2013 poll by Institut français d’opinion publique (Ifop), “found that seventeen per cent of [France’s] population had written a manuscript of one kind or another, most of them unpublished.” Short Edition has been a free publishing platform for writers since 2011, and estimates they have 10,000 authors and a readership of around 150,000. In an interview with The New Yorker, Sibieude said:
The written word isn’t dead…Smartphones have blurred the limits between our professional life and our distractions. The paper format provides a break from omnipresent screens. People may not have reacted so strongly to our vending machines six years ago, when smartphones hadn’t become essential to all parts of our lives yet.
Men after my own heart!
I caught a segment on Short Edition on CBS Sunday Morning this weekend my first thought was that this was just too good to be true. My second thought was to figure out how quickly I could get to Grenoble. (My third thought was, “How well can I translate my own novel in French?”)
But maybe I don’t need to go as far as Grenoble after all. Director Francis Ford Copolla recently installed one in his café, Zeotrope, in San Francisco. I’ve never been to the city by the bay, and this might make the perfect excuse! You can rent the machines from Short Edition for €500/mo., which seems like a worthy investment. (I’m looking at you, Starbucks!).
Bibliophile (bib·li·o·phile/ˈbiblēəˌfīl) noun: a person who collects or has a great love of books.
I have fantasies of filling my home to the brim with books. Dusty paperbacks, dog-eared hardcovers, heavy reference books, art books, coffee table books, pocket novels, yellowed edges, annotations in the margins in pencil by someone else’s hand, spines cracked, bookmarks left in place, inscriptions on the cover page. I want so many books I could use stacks of the as furniture. Books piled in the corner, books in my kitchen cabinets, shelves in my library bowing from the sheer weight. And one day, at the old age of 101, I want to reach for a book as I get in bed to read as I fall asleep, and I want to set off a domino-effect avalanche that smothers me and takes me from this world in a crush of the literary greats. (Is that morbid? A touch?) I want to bottle the smell of a well-read book (and luckily someone already has), I want to run a secret bookstore from my home (and someone already does), I want to turn them into works of art (and someone already has), and I want to burn a candle that smells like a leather-bound library (and I already have). I love books. I love their transportive power, the worlds they contain, and, at a time when swiping mindlessly with your thumb and binge-streaming content are the new norm, I love the thrill of literally turning a page to find out what happens next. I love books so much I’m writing my own.
So when I found this home, in South Holland, the Netherlands, I knew the owner was a kindred spirit. A bibliophile’s dream home, this sprawling “city palace,” as the listing calls it. Ten bedrooms, over 11,000 ft2, and more books than my brain could handle without dissolving into jealous mush. Who lived here?? Why are they selling?? Is that library where Disney found inspiration for the Beast’s library in “Beauty and the Beast”?? WHAT DOES THAT LIBRARY SMELL LIKE? When I’ve pictured my dream home, it always had a view of the Eiffel Tower, but after seeing this listing I’m realizing I was a few countries off. I wouldn’t change a thing. Give me rooms full of books, a stack of gilded mirrors leaning against a wall, creaky wood floors, and a staircase I would invariably tumble down because I would spend all of my days with my nose in a book. How does one say, “Gimme” in Dutch?
I’ve never been to the Ritz Paris. I’ve walked by it on Place Vendôme countless times, but as early as my visit in 2012, the hotel has been under varying degrees of construction and renovation. It reopened, finally, in early June of this year, after four years and over €200+ million with newly updated air-conditioning, plumbing, and heating. The hotel originally opened its doors on June 1, 1898, by Swiss hotelier César Ritz, and was the picture of modern luxury even back then: each room had a private bathroom. The Ritz Paris has played host and home to some very famous (and infamous) guests over the course of its 118 year history: Hemingway used it as his base when he covered the war, as did war photographer Robert Capa; Chanel lived there for 34 years; and even Princess Diana and her partner Dodi Fayed stayed there the night before they were killed in a car accident in the Pont de l’Alma (his father, Mohamed al-Fayed, bought the Ritz in 1979). It’s appeared in Hemingway’s, “The Sun Also Rises,” the movie “How to Steal a Million” with Audrey Hepburn & Peter O’Toole (a delightful Parisian art heist, I highly recommend it!), and was the subject of a fascinating biography simply titled, “The Hotel on Place Vendôme.” Christ, even the Luftwaffe, the Nazi air national guard, used the Ritz as their own personal barracks during the occupation (the Gestapo stayed at the Hotel Lutetia in Saint-Germain, which, oddly enough, I stayed at during my very first trip to Paris in 2001, and which is also currently closed for renovations).
Once I heard the Ritz was planning on reopening, it became a bucket list goal to spend a night there. But when the cheapest room starts at €1000/night, I might have to console myself with a drink at the Hemingway Bar instead. Or maybe afternoon tea in their newly opened garden. Because while I may never spend a night in the Fitzgerald suite (so named for, who else, F. Scott himself, who included the Ritz Paris in “Tender is the Night”), Hemingway was certainly right when he said, “When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz.”