Upcoming Reads

I recently rediscovered the magic that is the Free Library. It happened a few weeks ago, on the way back to work from lunch with some friends. The conversation went something like this:

All: I love books! (Me too!) (I love books too!)
Lynn: Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get free books? As many as you wanted?
Me: There is. It’s called…the library.
Herbie & Chris: [lol]
Lynn: Okay, fuck you guys.

I recognize now in the retelling that my response comes off as super sarcastic, but I promise it wasn’t (I am apparently only capable of sounding sarcastic, as anyone who knows me in real life will attest to). Lynn’s inquiry had honestly sparked a realization, though; something so simple and obvious, given my growing book collection and dwindling B&N gift cards, that I can’t believe it took me an unintentionally sassy, Phở-brained comment to remind me: the Free Library is amazing. When I was a kid, my library card got a serious work out, and the joy of visiting the main branch each week and coming home with a stack of new, exciting, hard-backed adventures to dive into –accompanied by the gloriously familiar crinkle of the plastic book covers– remains a highlight of my childhood. Why hadn’t I carried that into adulthood?

Well, I finally did. I renewed my library card and have been singing its praises ever since. And while the intervening years have seen some changes to the way the library operates (I can place holds on any title online, for pick up at my local branch; they don’t use rubber stamps or check-out cards anymore) the overwhelming enchantment hasn’t faded in the slightest.

Herewith, some upcoming reads:

toread414

1 // Ajax Penumbra 1969, Robin Sloan
I was so smitten with Sloan’s “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” that I can’t believe I didn’t know until recently there was a second (prequel?) book in the same story. All I can tell you about the first one, if you haven’t read it  already(why haven’t you read it already??), is that it is set in a bookstore in San Francisco, involves a secret organization of book lovers (where do I pledge my allegiance?), and that the cover glows in the dark. It was one of the best books I’ve ever read, hands down, and I am beyond thrilled there’s another one in the same vein.
2 // The Painted Girls, Cathy Marie Buchanan
I recently checked this out from the library, with the intention of waiting to finish Donna Tartt’s “The Little Friend” first, but there was no way I could restrain myself. I’m already 100 pages into “The Painted Girls,” and it has everything I love: Paris in the 1880s, ballet, Degas, did I mention Paris? The story focuses on three young, impoverished sisters, one of whom becomes a figure model for the famous artist’s series of Danseuses. The narrative flips between the older two sisters, and I am so far loving all of the historical details.
3 // Red Joan, Jennie Rooney
I actually received this book for free from Europa Editions, a wonderful and welcome surprise in my mailbox one afternoon. I’d joined their mailing list and was rewarded with this hefty historical fiction (I’m sensing a pattern), about the KGB’s longest serving British spy, thus making it the first time joining a mailing list has ever benefited anyone, ever. I love Europa Editions, from their selection of authors to the binding and paper choice of their books, and had recently finished their edition of “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” when “Red Joan” showed up. This may be getting ahead of myself, but I’ve been toying with submitting my manuscript to them when the time comes.
4 // Gilded Youth, Kate Cambor
This book had been in my Amazon cart for months, as I’ve been intrigued by the plot since I first came across it: a coming of age story set in the early 20th century of the scions of three of France’s biggest cultural influencers, including writers Victor Hugo and Alphonse Daudet. Cambor’s book captures the “hopes and disillusionments of those who were destined to see the golden world of their childhood disappear.” You know how I feel about late 19th/early 20th century Paris, so this seems like an obvious book to place on my “to-read” shelf.

What are you guys reading these days? Any recommendations?

April 14, 2015 / read / watch / LEAVE A COMMENT / 22

The Nicest Apartment in Paris

An Apartment in Paris

An Apartment in Paris

An Apartment in Paris

An Apartment in Paris

An Apartment in Paris

An Apartment in Paris

An Apartment in Paris

An Apartment in Paris

We can all stop searching, I’ve found the nicest apartment in Paris. Quite the bold statement, I know, but of all the apartments in Paris I’ve posted over the years, this one is by far my favorite. It doesn’t even have views of the Eiffel Tower, or a wrap around balcony overlooking the Seine, and it’s not even located in an arrondissement I’d consider in my top five. But! But out of all of those apartments, this one is the nicest I’ve ever seen. Something about it –the muted tones, the collection of plants, the blue bathroom door, the intentionally peeling wall in the bedroom– just speaks to me on an entirely different register. It feels the most authentically Parisian, despite its lack of classically Parisian views. This apartment is all about the interior, and it is like something out of a dream. I know, I know: there is no geographical cure for unhappiness, but tell me you wouldn’t feel instantly perked waking up in that bed? At a cool €735,000 ($800k), it better come furnished, especially because I don’t think I’d ever be able to decorate it better than the current owners have. Mon dieu.


I want to thank you each so much for your kind words of support on this post, kiddos. You can’t know how much it means to me to have such a rallying group in my corner. Thank you for letting me vent honestly, too; I know blogs are “supposed” to be light and cheery all time, but that would be disingenuous. The fog is starting to thin out a bit for me, and I feel buoyed by your thoughtfulness. Merci beaucoup, mes amies.

April 9, 2015 / home design / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 10

A Little Pick-Me-Up

Roses Costes

What do you do when you’re feeling low? I’m asking for a friend, we’ll call her Merin. Merin has been feeling particularly down recently, really worn out and stifled creatively, ground down from the tedium of her day job, directionless and all around in a funk. Merin has tried all sorts of remedies which previously worked so well: visiting museums, buying fresh flowers, burying herself in books as a distraction, wandering Paris in Google Earth, chopping off all her hair, eating a 9×13 sheet pan of cake by herself, making lists of the most simple tasks so she can feel, just for a second, a satisfying sense of accomplishment. She would normally sit down and write it out, as writing has been Merin’s chief form of therapy since she was a kid, but thanks in large part to the brain-atrophying futility of her daily work, she can’t summon the creative power needed to do something that once came so easily, so joyfully to her. Words don’t come, everything she’s written to this point seems banal, awful, embarrassing, she should just delete all 185 pages. Merin is worried, truly concerned, because she can feel herself turning bitter, hears herself making snappy remarks to her doting, kind husband (we’ll call him Kamal), for things completely unrelated to him, things that are not his fault, nor really within his power to fix. Kamal only wants Merin to be happy, after all. Kamal is kind of a saint and also a major babe and Merin is really, really sorry she has been hounding him about the goddamn dripping kitchen sink, because who cares about the kitchen sink, it’s a sink, it drips, it isn’t Kamal’s fault and it isn’t even about the sink, honestly, it’s about Merin being the grumpiest of grumpy cats and she’s really, truly sorry, Kamal. She’s trying.

So my Merin’s question to you, kiddos, is this: what do you do when you need a not-so-little pick-me-up? What works for you? Short of jetting off to Paris to ameliorate this situation (which is happening in oh, 40 days anyway), do you have any advice?

April 7, 2015 / art / photo / life / dog / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 47

Friday Five

Hello, kiddos! How has your week been? I’m sorry for having been absent; the pesky, time consuming minutae of my day-to-day threw me off balance. It seems plenty of us are struggling with that recently. But! I’m here now and, as it’s Friday, I have five interesting things that caught my attention this week to share with you:

1. Happy 126th Birthday to this beautiful lady!
La Tour Eiffel, Summer Solstice

Earlier this week, my favorite grand dame celebrated a special milestone: the 126th anniversary of her first public opening, all the way back on March 31, 1889 during the Exposition Universelle. I know this is brand new information (ha), but I have a deep, unwavering love of the Eiffel Tower; I’ve read books about its construction and books about fictional murders that occurred on it, and then of course there’s the precious habit I have of bursting into tears whenever I see her. We only have about 50 more days before we head back to Paris (by way of Italy this time!) and aside from deciding how early to start packing so as not to be judged too insane, I’m also getting so, so excited (understatement!) to see my special lady friend.

2. These incredible (and incredibly detailed) custom book jackets:
Juniper Books

Juniper Books sells custom book covers and book collections, and can curate a bespoke library straight out of your dreams. As an unabashed bibliophile myself, it’s thrilling to see companies committed to not just selling books, but selling beautiful books. I first heard of them on CBS Sunday Morning last year, and they popped up again in this month’s Vanity Fair. Thatcher Wine, Juniper Books’ founder, says “the point is to enjoy looking at them as much as you enjoy reading them.” If I had the money (their custom libraries can cost $750 per foot), I’d redo my whole book collection to be a giant photo of Fitz. Obviously.

3. These three basic requirements to avoid gender bias in fiction:
Renoir, the Louvre

Have you guys heard of this? I don’t know what rock I’ve been living under, but I came across this test and had to share. It’s called the Bechdel test, named after cartoonist Alison Behdel, and it asks three simple questions of a work of fiction (movies or books) to avoid being considered sexist. The work must:

  1. Have at least two [named] women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something besides a man

Sounds simple, right? You’d be surprised! The only things I can think of that fulfill these requirements are the movie “Clue” and the book “An Object of Beauty,” which doesn’t surprise me because that book is flawless and could never do anything wrong. Those three little rules have helped me rethink and reshape some of my own novel, and shamed me a little bit in how much I’ve fallen prey to the traditional gender roles so common in fiction.

4. This perfect line from “The Little Friend”:

“…a mysterious longing had possessed her, a desire to travel far and do great things; and though she could not say exactly what it was she wanted to do, she knew that it was something grand and gloomy and extremely difficult.”

Sometimes you read something so perfect, it begs to be remembered. I’m still not a fan of “The Goldfinch,” –I’ve read it twice now– but there’s no denying Tartt possesses a great talent for language. “Grand and gloomy and extremely difficult.” Oof.

5. This visually stunning video of Paris & New York, side by side:

Paris / New York from matel on Vimeo.

I’m not just saying this because I’m obsessed with Paris, but there really is no competition between the two cities. If anything, I’d love to see a comparison video of Paris and Philadelphia, which is a far lovelier city than NYC. In unsurprising news, I was able to identify every single street and landmark on the Paris side of the video, because my brain is basically a Paris Encyclopedia. (I’m also a sucker for a good time-lapse video with delightfully cheery music.) Thanks to my brother for sending me this!

April 3, 2015 / art / photo / Friday Five / read / watch / LEAVE A COMMENT / 9

An Art-Filled Mansion in Philadelphia

1901 Delancey Place

1901 Delancey Place

1901 Delancey Place

1901 Delancey Place

1901 Delancey Place

1901 Delancey Place

1901 Delancey Place

1901 Delancey Place

1901 Delancey Place

1901 Delancey Place

1901 Delancey Place

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 / LEAVE A COMMENT / 7

The Paris Collection

pariscollection1

pariscollection2

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.

There are tons of posts already live on the site. Feel free to take a look around! Be sure to like The Paris Collection on Facebook, too!

(P.S. This was my face when I read “Paris’ top bloggers.”)

March 24, 2015 / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 12

At The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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.

March 19, 2015 / art / photo / At the Museum / LEAVE A COMMENT / 22

Ladurée

Ladurée

Ladurée

Ladurée

Ladurée

Ladurée

Ladurée

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.

March 17, 2015 / eat / drink / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 18

New York City

Central Park

Bel Ami Café

Somewhere near Madison Avenue

6th Avenue

The Viceroy Hotel

57th Street

The Viceroy Hotel

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.

March 13, 2015 / art / photo / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 20

A Little NYC Getaway

NYC Getaway

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!

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March 10, 2015 / art / photo / eat / drink / Paris / travel / LEAVE A COMMENT / 16