LIKE / WANT / NEED
Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Yearly Archives: 2016
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?
July 1, 2016 / design /
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.”
June 20th, just a few days ago, was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in this hemisphere. The sun stayed out until after 9:30, and Fitz and I sat on our front stoop watching the sky change from blue to golden to pink to the color of a fading bruise before ducking back inside. When I was younger, my dad and I would pack a picnic and head to the West River Drive, savoring the late light. Fitzgerald said it best, through Daisy in “The Great Gatsby”: “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it.” I didn’t miss it this year.
June 20th was the longest day of the year, and also exactly six months until my 30th birthday. It was hard for me to miss the irony that the last six months of my 20s began on a day after which every subsequent day would be a little bit shorter, a little bit darker. It’s rather poetic, my slow descent into my 30s being marked by a day after which literally everything goes downhill. The countdown to this December 20th seems more menacing than in years past, and in looking for a source on which to pin blame, I uncovered a universal conspiracy designed to drive home the fact that turning 30 is ominous. Because in case I needed further convincing of just how serious and scary 30 is, every day the sun will set earlier and earlier as I inch closer and closer to not-20 until the big day arrives and it is the shortest, darkest day of the year.
Of course, this could all be a coincidence. How likely is it that the sun has a personal stake in assuring I am adequately terrified of my impending birthday? (Answer: very, I’ve done nothing but speak ill of the sun my entire life and have taken great pains to avoid its rays at all costs, and just had my first laser cosmetic procedure last week to remove some hideous freckles, I shit you not). Perhaps I’m being dramatic; it’s been known to happen. It all just seems so conveniently timed, you know? The universe is sending me a message loud and clear, and I GOT IT, I HEAR YOU.
I’ve channeled all this doom & gloom into a bucket list, of sorts. I looked at my life and realized there were things I wanted, things I needed to accomplish before I turn 30, and I’m going to use these last six months to do it. Not because I legitimately believe I’m like Cinderella at the ball and I’m going to turn back into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight on December 20th, but because there are things that I always thought I would have figured out by the time I left my 20s.
Herewith, my top three before thirty:
1. Finish my novel
2. Go to Paris
3. Find a job that makes me happy
I could’ve picked thirty things, for symmetry’s sake, things like “take French classes again,” and “workout twice a week,” and “grow boobs finally,” but I didn’t want my main focuses to be diluted amongst 27 other, less important goals. These three represent the entirety of my hopes and dreams to close out this decade. I want to celebrate this milestone birthday knowing I accomplished writing a novel. And of course, if I have to turn 30, I might as well do it in Paris, non? Finding a job that makes me happy (and that also pays decently) may be a bit of a challenge, but I’m really going to give it my best shot. Because 30 means I’m an adult, and adults have their lives and careers together. Don’t they?
Wish me luck!
June 27, 2016 / life / dog /
I wasn’t born with endorphins.
The exhilarating rush people describe experiencing during or after a work-out, that “natural high” everyone else seems to enjoy from making themselves sweat, from pushing their bodies to the limit, is a completely foreign concept to me. I have never –not once, not ever, not even in high school gym class or all the years I danced ballet and took classes four times a week– felt good after exerting any physical energy. I kept waiting for it, thinking that like so many muscle memories, it was a learned sensation that would come with time, or a different work-out, or something. I’ve tried running, yoga, an hour of cardio followed by a weight machine circuit (four or five times a week, back when I was unemployed right after college), cardio followed by yoga, pilates, pilates before cardio, but have finally just accepted the fact that I am a lazy sack of bones for whom endorphins are just not on the genetic menu. I have never enjoyed working out.
And for most of my life, this wasn’t a problem. Blessed as I was with a magnificent metabolism and two tall and skinny parents, nothing stuck to me for the longest time. When I graduated high school, I was under 100lbs –skinny, yes, but proportionate to my bone structure and a lingering benefit from all that ballet. And then, somewhere around the age of 23, everything started sticking to me, including things I wasn’t even eating; I could smell someone else eating a hamburger and somehow it would manifest on my thighs. Gone were the days where I could eat two breakfasts, down an entire order of wings for dinner followed by a sleeve of oreos, and still somehow fit into a 00 waistband at Delia’s (omg does anyone else remember that store??). A few years ago, I started really watching what I was eating, knowing that since I hated working out and all but refused to break a sweat, I had to find a balance in what I was putting in my body. That worked, for a while.
But did I mention I am lazy? Do I need to say that a sheet cake tastes better than a kale salad? That I’d rather eat a jar of frosting with a spoon for dinner than literally anything else? Old habits die hard, and I inevitably slipped up. For the last year. And underneath all my gluttony, my abject hatred of exercise persisted. I basically thought, and still think, that people who rave about feeling excellent and invigorated after a work-out are huge liars. There is no way anyone leaves the gym feeling good or frankly anything other than like a giant pile of floppy pool noodles that’s been set on fire. Right?!
But, guys, I’m six months away from 30, and if that isn’t enough of a motivator to get into the best shape I can be before it all goes to shit I don’t know what is. If my body doesn’t bounce back from a weekend of binge eating cupcakes and snarfing down nachos at 29 the way it did at 19, what the hell do I expect at 39?
SO. Despite being endorphinally challenged, I dropped a ton of money on exercise leggings and grippy socks and sports bras and sneakers and a membership to Pure Barre, all the while repeating that famous Thoreau line from “Walden”: “Beware of all enterprisest hat requrie new clothes.” I took my first class last Thursday, and it was legitimately precious to picture my confidence before setting foot in the studio. “I danced ballet for 14 years, how hard can this be?” The sweet, gorgeously fit girl who signed me up was also the instructor for my first class, and let me tell you, I liked her a lot less once she donned her headset and was barking instructions at me for 55 sweaty, shaky minutes. I couldn’t do half of the stuff she was asking. Unsurprisingly, I am woefully out of shape! I looked at myself in the mirror at one point, and looked like someone had slathered me in Crisco. “Girls don’t sweat, they glisten,” is a load of bollocks spoken by someone who has never taken a barre class before.
But then, the oddest thing happened. I got home, and managed to clean myself up despite not being able to use any of my limbs, and I wanted to try again. I wanted to go back and do better than I had the first class. I wanted to be able to look back in a month and realize I’d made progress. Don’t misunderstand me, in no way did I feel good. My missing endorphins didn’t make a surprise appearance and make me feel blissful and alive; I felt like death had run me over in a steam roller. But I still wanted to go back! So I’m heading to my second class this morning, and I’m hoping I don’t need help crawling into my house because Jamal left yesterday for a business trip, and Fitz is only interested in licking the sweat off my forehead and shins.
Wish me luck!
June 6, 2016 / life / dog /
Every city has that one neighborhood for me: Paris has Montmartre, Rome has Trastevere, and Barcelona, as we happily discovered, has Gràcia. An authentic, charming, local’s-only neighborhood, nestled above l’Eixample, Gràcia extends as far north as Park Güell, but the pocket we fell in love with is between Avenue Diagonal and Travessera de Dalt. We felt the same way walking around Gràcia as we did the very first time we visited Montmartre years ago: we could absolutely live here. Finding Gràcia was easily one of the highlights of the entire trip for us, more than any of the attractions we bought tickets for, or the restaurants that were highly-rated online. Just walking around and falling in love with the neighborhood, its locals, its shops and restaurants, its slightly shabby architecture, made both of us wish we could move right in and never leave.
But we had to leave, at some point, because
life is super unfair all good things must come to an end. Or something. I don’t like to talk about politics much around here, I do enough of that in real life off-line, but the upcoming presidential election might very well provide an ideal opportunity to get the fuck out of America for a few years. And I know exactly where we’ll land. Mostly because I didn’t get to actually eat any of those magical marzipan creations at La Boqueria, and I need to know if they taste as good as they look.
And thus concludes the vacation photos from our trip to Spain. Thank you so much for tolerating me these last few weeks! Now back to our regularly scheduled, not-Spain content. Boo.
Did I mentioned we loved Barcelona? The weather was glorious, all sunny skies and crisp morning breezes; there was only one afternoon where temperatures rose into the 70s, and it coincided with our visit to Park Güell to see more of Gaudí’s work. We underestimated how much time it would take to get there on the metro, and then we got lost trying to find it, and since the tickets are good only for a specific time slot, we were sort of in a panic. You only need tickets to see the Gaudí structures, and the rest of the massive, sprawling park is free to the public. Families were having picnics, there were men playing guitar, but I was frankly most excited to see the exact spot where Top Model Cycle 7 had their final runway challenge (Jamal did not understand). Park Güell was originally intended to be a private housing development, with shared green space for about 60 Gaudí-designed homes. They only ended up building 2 or 3 before running out of money, and Gaudí lived in the model home. For a man who designed such intricate, visionary buildings, he lived rather modestly; his bedroom contained a single bed, a crucifix, and one small bedside table.
We moved for our last few nights to the Cotton House Hotel on the Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes, which was, without a doubt, the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The hotel is a converted mansion that the original cotton magnate of Barcelona built for his wife, and was just oozing comfortable luxury. We used Jamal’s hotel points, and they surprised us with an upgraded suite with a balcony overlooking the terrace. We even saw Keith Richards in the lobby! At least, we think it was Keith Richards. It may have been a very convincing dopplegänger.
Gran Via was close to the main shopping thoroughfare of Passeig de Gracia, and only a 10-15 minute walk to nearly everything else in the city. We are already dreaming (and scheming) about going back, to that hotel specifically, but Barcelona more generally. Cute puppies, strong cocktails, chocolate-covered croissants, and gorgeous architecture? Can you blame us for wanting to go back?
Oh, Barcelona. By the time we arrived, we’d spent almost a week in Spain, visiting Madrid, San Sebastián, Pamplona, and Zaragoza, and while we loved every city for different reasons, it really did feel like we were saving the best for last. Everyone we knew who’d been to Spain kept telling us before we’d even left, as did everyone we met during our trip. Usually it sounded like, “You’re going to love Spain! All of it is so great. But Barcelona is just…” and they’d trail off, a dreamy look on their faces, unable to find the right words to adequately describe exactly what it is about the Catalan capital that makes everyone fall in love with it. Frankly, I’m having the same problem.
After dropping of our trusty rental car in the middle of town, we checked into our first of two hotels, a furnished apartment near the beach. After spending so much time in smaller, quieter cities and towns, we thought staying just outside of the main downtown area for a few nights would provide a more gentle transition, an easing-in to Barcelona. We stayed at Lugaris Beach, in El Poblenou, a wonderfully local and off-the-beatn track neighborhood north of Barceloneta. It was a five minute walk to the metro, and just a few stops to the main part of the city, but also directly across the street from a beach. The apartment had a full kitchen, which meant Jamal got to cook dinner for us one night, after we went shopping on the Rambla at small grocers. After dinner, we spotted from our window a pop-up amusement park up the beach, and knew we had to check it out. Jamal rode the bumper cars (I literally haven’t laughed so hard in years), won me a bracelet popping balloons with darts, and we shared a mojito at 11pm. The next night, we had the best meal of our lives at El 58 a few minutes from our apartment; the ceviche alone is worth the airfare back.
And of course, we visited the Sagrada Familia. We bought tickets online in advance (the only way to do it; entries are timed, and the wait could stretch up to five hours) which included an audioguide and entry to the Gaudí House Museum in Parc Guell the next day. The church has been under construction for 150 years, and was recently given a completion date of 2026, the 100 year anniversary of the architect’s death. (So we already know the date of our next trip to Barcelona.) It was overwhelming, visually, emotionally, walking into the church and taking in the scale of it. I’m not religious, not by a long shot, but as the daughter of an architect it was hard not to be blown away by the sheer magic of Gaudí’s mind.
We indulged in gelato, had too many glasses of wine, took a trip to Louis Vuitton, a morning stroll along the beach to watch the old men play competitive dominoes, and before we knew it, we had to leave El Poblenou, our lovely local ‘hood, and move downtown.
Barcelona may be all about Gaudí, but Zaragoza is all about Goya.
We stopped in Zaragoza after Pamplona, a quick hour drive to the east, on our way to Barcelona. Excitement by this point had been building for Barcelona; everyone we met at restaurants or bars would invariably ask about our itinerary and rave about the city, swearing to us that wherever we were then was great (Madrid, San Sebastián, Pamplona) but Barcelona was just better, and we were going to love it. As a result, I felt like I mentally rushed through Zaragoza, in my anticipation for Barcelona. Which is a shame, because Zaragoza is beautiful, and by far the least-touristy spot we visited.
We had the entire Goya museum to ourselves. Having seen so much of his work at the Prado in Madrid, we were prepared for how dark he could be. Or so we thought. There is one room of his lithograph etchings, mostly social commentary pieces, all with deeply disturbed, bizarre interpretations. It didn’t help that the entire room was pitch black, and the display cases of his work only lit up if you stood in front of it. Eerie to say the least. The church in the first two photo, Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, was one of the largest and most beautiful we’d seen on the trip so far, and included frescoes by Goya inside (no photography allowed).
We had lunch in the teeny El Tubo neighborhood and then visited the remains of an ancient Roman wall dating back to their occupation in 200 BC. Having been sufficiently stuffed full of tapas and Spanish food and jamon iberico by this point in the trip, and wanting to save our stomachs for whatever Barcelona had to offer, we gave into our base instincts and had Italian for dinner. After, of course, having mojitos outside at (you guessed it) a tapas bar. We stayed at an NH Collection hotel, a quick walk from all the main sights, and just a block from the main shopping boulevard Paseo Independencia, where we grabbed gelato at Amorino after dinner. Hey, I said we were full of cured ham, not dessert.
Twenty four hours felt a little fast, but Zaragoza isn’t a huge town, and we were able to experience most of it. The next morning, we loaded up our rental car and headed off for Barcelona! I’ll probably have two posts of Barcelona photos, but I haven’t even started editing them yet. Have a great weekend, kiddos!
For a Hemingway lover like myself, visiting Pamplona was the literary equivalent of taking a child to Disneyland. Ordering a glass of wine at Café Iruña, on the Plaza del Castillo, and taking a photo with the bronze statue of Papa they have in the back bar, was as thrilling as riding Splash Mountain as an eight year old; I was psyched. It didn’t hurt that Pamplona was also, unsurprisingly, lovely. Charming, quaint, quiet, and endlessly photogenic.
But if you’re going to go, I would only recommend going in the off-season, or any week of the year besides San Fermin, or the running of the bulls. Because, while lovely, Pamplona is really, really small, and there is no conceivable way over one million people could squeeze into the tiny, narrow stone streets without my claustrophobia alarm ringing a death knell. And besides being cramped and overrun (pun intended), everything becomes more expensive in the middle of July because of it. We stayed at the gorgeous Palacio Guendulain hotel, which was the former residence of Queen Isabella II and still has her many carriages on display. Our room was under €130 a night for a one-night stay in late April; in July, the same room costs €989. Per night!
Also, and I had assumed this was a creative liberty Hemingway took in “The Sun Also Rises,” but that whole bit about killing the bulls after they are chased into the stadium? That happens! I’m assuming there is no Spanish PETA.
But really, Pamplona was a dream of a town. We only spent 24 hours there, and we managed to walk the entire thing twice over, including the old fortifications and citadel. Pamplona is one of the greenest cities in Spain, with all of the old military fortifications turned into public green spaces and parks. The citadel was a hugely imposing structure, every level of which had been grassed over, and parts of which were used for outdoor art installations (and dog runs!). The Parque de La Taconera had hundreds of chickens and other wild birds roaming around (we stayed far away from the peacocks). It was a quick stay, admittedly, but we made the most of it.
Arriving in San Sebastián after almost five hours in the car felt like we had entered an entirely different country. The GPS started speaking to us in what felt like Flemish, long strings of unpronounceable vowels unlike anything we had ever heard. Welcome to Basque Country! A zone in the north of Spain along the Pyrenees and across the border into France (France was just half an hour away from where we were staying, which felt like torture! So close and yet so far!) with a distinct culture, history, and yes, language. Just as we had started to feel comfortable with Spanish in Madrid (“comfortable” meaning I shot panicked looks to Jamal whenever someone spoke to me) we were dropped in the heart of Basque Country and left to fend for ourselves. Our proximity to France, though, meant that lots of shops and restaurants spoke at least a little bit of French, but honestly, pointing at things and smiling widely compensates for a lot when you are a clueless tourist.
San Sebastián is incredible. We stayed at the historic Hotel Londres right on the beach, even though it wasn’t warm enough to go swimming. We wandered, we ate, we stopped for a drink, we ate some more, we got lost in the tiny, pedestrian-only alleys in the Old Town. We trekked across the small bridge to the Gros neighborhood, which felt much more local and off the beaten path, to have custom gin cocktails crafted for us at La Gintoneria. Jamal, unfortunately, got a touch of food poisoning after dinner on our first night, which meant that I had a few hours the next morning to kill solo. The city is divided into the quaint and cobblestoned Old Town, and the more upscale and modern Centro neighborhood, with shops like Zara Home and FNAC and Sephora. You can guess where I went.
Jamal felt much better by lunch time, so we ventured to the marina and visited the Aquarium, which was surprisingly large given the tiny size of the town. There were so many colorful and interesting fish; I have enough photos to make a totally separate post about our visit there, which I promise to do. We felt like little kids, it was such a fun afternoon.
After two days, we were off to Pamplona!