To Los Angeles with Love

Malibu Sunset

Malibu Sunset

As a way to torture myself a little bit I loaded LA weather on my phone, so the other day when it was twelve degrees in New York City I could console myself with sunnier thoughts, knowing it was in the 70s in Los Angeles. Thankfully, winter can also be a great time to score cheap plane tickets, so when round trip prices from JFK to LAX dipped below $300 snagged one for a long weekend in the city that is my current source of infatuation, just in time for the first annual LA Art Book Fair.

LA early morning from Griffith Park

LA early morning from Griffith Park

I made time to visit my (new) favorite haunts in Silver Lake and Echo Park and to see friends, but also to explore more nooks and crannies of this sprawling metropolis. After a walk at the Baldwin Hills Scene Overlook and coffee to shake off my jetlag on Friday morning I headed downtown for the art book fair, which was being held at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Building. As is the nature of these events I was immediately overwhelmed with bound creations and intriguing exhibitions, but I especially loved the “zine world” section of the fair and hope that one day I too could be considered a “zine master of the universe.”

In "Zine World" at the LA Art Book Fair

In “Zine World” at the LA Art Book Fair

Zine exhibitor at the LA Art Book Fair

Zine exhibitor at the LA Art Book Fair

I also feel like this trip gave me more chance to talk with artists, writers and creative types (outside of the film biz) who are making their lives and work in LA. I was especially excited to meet Mimi of the architectural zine and blog Loud Paper who recently moved from Brooklyn and was working the table for the LA Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, whose dayglo posters with quotes from LA architects and planners drew me from across the room. I also noticed some general trends in art books and zines at the fair: neon as an accent color was hot, everyone had a tote bag for sale, and about half of the zines available had some kind of homoerotic content (mostly male).

The poster on the upper right is now mine!

The poster on the upper right is now mine!

Friday evening coincided with (my) discovery of some of the restaurants and bars of the “Arts district” downtown (which may or may not have any actual artists still living there), with delicious continental beers at Wurstkuche (though I passed on the rattlesnake sausage they had on offer) and a suburbly proportioned, locally sourced dinner at Eat Drink Americano. Later that evening at the Satellite I discovered a new favorite band: the Happy Hollows, who enthusiastic delivery was matched only by the crowd’s enthusiastic reception. After New York’s jaded rock audiences, seeing the Happy Hollows and the warm crowd at the Satellite was a welcome change.

I started my Saturday with a lovely walk in Griffith Park and a pass through the Silver Lake farmer’s market for a coconut, kale and dandelion green smoothie. I later took a wander around West Hollywood, including a glance inside the beautiful new library, and had a wonderful chat all facilitated by Team Gloria, who is my constant source for writing and lifestyle inspiration. After a delicious, lingering brunch conversation about writing, zines and life in LA with Liz at Barbrix in Silver Lake I swung back by the book fair. I was so exhausted by the artistic possibilities I saw I had to take a nap before braving the freeways to Orange County.

Torches at the Constellation Room

Torches at the Constellation Room

As if my LA weekend couldn’t get any dreamier, my friends Torches let me know they were playing a last minute (and sold out!) show in Orange County at the Constellation Room. Despite my culture shock of finding a decent rock club in the middle of a suburban office park, to see Torches on their (sort of) home turn in Southern California was a dream come true. It was really fun to hear their new material, meet their new bassist Braedon, and see a whole group of fans gaze at them adoringly. The newer material rocks a little harder than the songs they played in NYC this fall and their set was full of pop hooks and great vocal harmonies and tremendous drumming by Eric. You can get a taste (and download a new track!) on their Soundcloud page.

I’m also proud to say that thanks to my Orange County jaunt I’ve started to perfect the art of talking like an Angelino and saying things like “Take the 605, to the 405, to the 5, to the 101, to the 110,” when discussing getting around.

IMG_3798

Azad and Braeden from Torches at the Constellation Room

Azad's pedal board

Azad’s pedal board

Sunday was a complete change of pace with a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, through Malibu, to hike down a canyon at Circle X Ranch, an outing carefully orchestrated by my friend Phoebe and accompanied by my gracious host Kabir. After shuffling along NYC’s icy streets, to be out in the desert sun, smelling spring flowers and marveling at the sandstone cliffs felt like an entirely different world and completely freeing.

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

To reward ourselves for our hiking efforts we stopped at Neptune’s Net, a fried seafood shack that is a favorite among the biker crowd. Between perfectly grilled fish tacos, crispy fried shrimp and a glimmering view of the pacific I was completely satisfied. The day was completed by watching the sun sink into the water, followed by a glass of wine and an excellent plate of artisanal cheese at super cute downtown wine bar Mignon.

Along the Pacific Coast Highway

Along the Pacific Coast Highway

Neptune's Net, a seafood shack favored by the biker set

Neptune’s Net, a seafood shack favored by the biker set

Suffice it to say, LA is still casting its spell on me and continues to lure me with all of its charms. I hope I can go back soon.

Downtown LA from Baldwin Hill Scenic Overlook

Downtown LA from Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

Los Angeles You’re (Not Quite) Mine

Griffith Park observatory and downtown LA

Griffith Park observatory and downtown LA

There’s been a lot of debate about New York City versus Los Angeles taking place on the Internet right now. Perhaps I’m having a zeitgeist moment, because I never thought I would visit Los Angeles, but now I am completely smitten with the city. I thought I would add my two cents to the discussion. Growing up on the East Coast I was brought up to believe that LA was smoggy, dangerous, traffic chocked, and void of any interesting culture. When people would ask me where I wanted to travel I would tell them, “Anywhere but LA!” and claimed that my life would be complete if I never visited Los Angeles.

LA afternoon. Just chillin'.

Well, I’m happy to say that I was absolutely wrong. This year I found that I had a concentration of friends living in Los Angeles and in late fall found myself in desperate need of sun and a little perspective. Tickets between NYC and LA are fairly cheap, so in a moment of impulsiveness I booked a long weekend in the City of Angels.

I was excited about rock clubs, taco trucks, beaches, good coffee, walks in parks, juice bars and all the other wonders of LA my friends told me about. Then I read this article started to get nervous… what if all my friends flaked on me? Wasn’t that what I hated about living on the West Coast? What if I got lost and no one would return my calls and I spent all weekend alone on a crowded freeway? In a fit of nerves I even considered canceling my trip.

Hollywood California

I got over myself and booked a room on AirBnB in Silver Lake with a wonderful hostess named Stacie. I rented a car and consulted maps and driving advice (such as never, ever take the 405 freeway). I asked for suggestions of what to do and received a list long enough to last me several months. I packed all black clothes so people would be sure to know I was a New Yorker. I got the first manicure of my life so as not to look unkempt. And suddenly, right before I left all my friends made plans with me and the temperature in New York dropped to a wintery chill, which reinforced my decision to flee for a long weekend.

LA was everything I dreamed it would be, but even better. There were amazing rock clubs, like The Echo and The Satellite, and taco trucks galore (I even ate a burrito stuff with French fries… wow). I loved walking around the Silver Lake reservoir and and taking in the mountains that surround the city. I liked the proximity to nature and the fact that Griffith Park is a huge mountain in the middle of the city full of hiking trails and stunning views.

Griffith Park with Wallace the Lawless

Walking “Wallace the Lawless” in Griffith Park

I spent a lot of time loitering around Silver Lake and Echo Park and had two very capable tour guides in my friends Iris and Azad (joined at various times by Lil, Katie, Kabir and Erynne). Sunset Junction, in Silver Lake, has apparently been voted the hippest corner in the United States and I can see why. It boasts Intelligentsia coffee, one of the most coffee snobbiest cafes I’ve ever encountered (but delicious!), and a host of boutiques and cafes. Along Sunset in Silver Lake I soothed a combination of a hangover and jetlag with a coconut kale smoothie from Naturewell and found a beautiful dress that is going to be perfect for my New Years party at Ragg Mop vintage.  I also nursed a pint of local microbrew at Good and even dared to try LA pizza at Garage Pizza (it was tolerable… but I was also starving).

The Hippest Corner in the US

Rag Mop Vintage

Ragg Mop Vintage in Silver Lake

I did, eventually, venture out of Silver Lake, including a drive down the length of Sunset Boulevard bound for Venice Beach. Driving down Sunset felt like driving through every 80s TV show I’d ever seen. I shrieked as we drove down the strip, then was like “Whoa!” when we entered the leafy and posh Beverly Hills and then blurted out “No way!” when we passed Bel Air. I felt how people must feel when they visit New York City for the first time. To see places you’ve always heard about in popular culture and find they actually exist is a strange and exhilarating feeling.

Skate Park, Venice Becah

The famous skate park in Venice Beach

When we reached Venice Beach I took one look at the expanse of sand and declared Los Angeles to be next on my list of cities to move to. How could people not love it here? There’s so much beach!

Venice Liberty

Shirts at Venice Liberty… I bought the purple one!

I also poked around Pasadena and South Pasadena and got to fulfill a long standing dream of eating at In-N-Out Burger. You might say it doesn’t take much to please me and it’s true. Add a personalized tour of the massive Amoeba Records and some good hangouts at Cha Cha Lounge and the Red Lion (yes, back in Silver Lake) and brunch at Square One snickering at Scientologists across the street at their world headquarters, more brunch in the garden at the Alcove, and a farm to table dinner at A Frame in Culver City and… well, I’m pretty much sold on LA. I barely scratched the surface of all the cultural institutions there, but had a lovely visit to LACMA with my friend Erynne and managed to appease the natural history nerd child in me by taking in the La Brea tar pits (which are right next to LACMA in the middle of the city!).

Me and Kabir, Venice Beach

My friend Kabir and I in Venice Beach

So all of this to say that I haven’t loved a city this much since Paris. The weekend I spent in LA enabled a few big ideas about next steps in life that I have long been mulling over to fall into place. Stay tuned because I have big plans for 2013 and may well make Los Angeles mine.

Venice Beach Sunset Postcard

I’ll leave you with this song by Unrest and more photos on Flickr.

Wyoming Range Life

The view towards the Big Horn mountains

The last time I was in Wyoming I arrived in the middle of the night, having driven straight from Portland, Oregon on a compressed, cross country trip. To get there we drove through the Beartooth Mountains of Montana in August darkness, watching meteors streak down through the clear western air. I’ve joke that I am the penultimate East Coaster – that I walk and talk too fast and am too attached to the ocean to live anywhere else. However, chunks of my childhood summers were spent on the range and in the mountains of Northeastern Wyoming, visiting my Aunt, Uncle and two cousins in near Sheridan. I’d like to think that somehow, in some small way, that experience stays with me.

As a child and early teenager going to Wyoming was a dream come true. It is awash in wide open spaces to explore on horseback and was of pre-dawn mornings helping (however ineffectively) my uncle and aunt with the cattle they raise. Wyoming was freight trains, rattle snakes, sage brush, wild landscapes, and hours with my cousins playing Legos and reading Calving and Hobbes comics.

County roads, Wyarno, Wyoming

My grandmother lives in Wyoming now and so last weekend I caught (just barely) an early flight to Denver and then a propeller plane to Sheridan to visit her and the rest of my family. While the endless barbed wire fences, train tracks, range and sparse population are the polar opposite of where I live now, I felt a rush of familiarity and welcome when I arrived Wyoming. I love that place. I am a total outsider, but I feel a sense of awe and respect for the country there and the people who call it their home.

Coal train headed towards West Dutch depot

Maybe because we’ve just had a huge national election and the idea of what is “America” and who is “American” has been debated and thrown about ad nauseum I couldn’t help but think, “This is what people are talking about when they talk about America.” Here are hard working people who make a living from the land and another job to make ends meet. They drive sturdy American made trucks and cultivate a sense of Western independence. Native American history and contemporary culture is woven into the fabric of this place. This is where stories about the American West were made. And, yet. Wyoming cannot be reduced to a caricature. It is not a rustic idyll or a rural backwater. It’s a place as complex as “America” itself.

Winter Wyoming sunset

Wyoming is where I can have long conversations about the dangers of fracking with my Uncle, who is one of the toughest cowboys I’ve ever met. I remember he told me about what a bad idea it was 10 years ago, before anyone on the East Coast had really begun to talk about it. I wish New York State would take a cue from the experience of people in the west and see the havoc it wreaked on the environment there and how little benefit local people actually derived from it. It’s where I have out and proud gay family members, even though gay rights still has a long way to go there (and everywhere!). It’s where I can go out to lunch with my cousin I haven’t seen in 10 years and we can chat like we just saw each other yesterday. It’s a place I’m proud to know a little bit and proud to hold as part of my past and, hopefully, part of my future.

Western twilight

Sunset behind the Big Horn mountains

Below is a little look into my Wyoming past: wearing shorts, riding bareback on my Aunt’s Welsh pony, with awkwardly cut curly hair and in 12-year-old heaven

Gals Rock Paris!

Table at Gals Rock

Color coordinated rock goods at Gal’s Rock

If you asked me to imagine my dream boutique what would it be? Well, it would have feminist and lady-powered music, zines and independent books, fun accessories, a tight selection of perfect clothes that are both functional and fashionable that could go from the street, to work, to a rock show, as well as serving as a community gathering and event space for music, readings and art. Well, low and behold, my dream boutique exists and it exists in Paris no less.

Cool clothes and rock accessories at Gal’s Rock

Gals Rock is a space dedicated to ladies/women’s/girls/grrrls’ rock music and culture. A petite boutique in the 9eme in Pigalle, just steps away from the tourist crush of Monmatre, its an oasis of feminist creative energy. The front room features clothes, accessories and zines for lady rockers and their allies. I found a perfectly fitted, ladies button down shirt that was created by the Gals Rock crew who were frustrated that they couldn’t find a shift tailored to ladies’ proportions. In addition, I couldn’t resist picking up a silkscreened t-shirt with a hand drawn design featuring the names of all my favorite grrrl bands from the 1990s, including Sleater-Kinney, Excuse 17, and Huggy Bear. I wear that shirt with pride! Gals Rock also features a wide selection of the indie fashion label Kulte.

A wall of lady-powered albums at Gal’s Rock

The back room is dedicated to music, most of it independent, in which girls, grrrls, ladies, and women play a key role. While Gals Rock clearly is focused on rock music and culture, their selection includes electronic and hip-hop music as well and is forward looking and broadly defined. The ladies who run the shop host regular events and concerts, all which sound like the perfect, feminist, music focused soirees. As if I ever needed more reasons to move to Paris.

Gal’s Rock is just a nice place to hang out

Gals Rock, 17 Rue Henry Monnier, 75009 Paris

All Aboard the Spooky Caravan!

Aboard the spooky hayride

Note: My heart goes out to all who have suffered due to Hurricane Sandy. New Jersey was one of the hardest hit and I am wishing everyone there, and everywhere, a speedy recovery.

I love tradition, friends, and adventures close to home. Every fall I look forward to getting an email from my friend Andi inviting me along on the “Spooky Caravan” – a day long adventure through New Jersey or Long Island that properly celebrates the fall season, samples local produce and products, and ends with a haunted house or hay ride.

The pumpkin patch at Stony Hilly Gardens

This year Andi and our friend Stephen went all out. They rented a 15 passenger van, Andi handed out trick or treat bags full of candy, and they plotted a perfectly timed route that took us through rolling farm land into rural New Jersey, which is the kind of pastoral landscape I had no idea existed in that oft-maligned state and less than an hour from New York City.

Foraging for Butternut squash

We were victorious in the corn maze!

The day began with a pick-your-own adventure at Stony Hill Gardens. We took a hayride out into a huge field, oddly situated under high-tension wires, and picked apples, pumpkins, and vegetables. We also conquered that favorite of farm fall traditions: the corn maze.

Corn maze navigation. Photo by Stephen Musgrave

A beautiful horse friend at the Valley Shepherd

After I picked half my weight in apples and we filled up on hot cider and doughnuts we loaded ourselves back into the van and headed to the next stop: The Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, New Jersey. It was the perfect place for lunch on a sunny mid-October Saturday. The farm features a shop where you can buy beautiful cheeses right from the source, and also bread, sausage and other picnic essentials. As we ate our local bounty we sat at a picnic table and watched sheep, llamas and a beautiful draft horse wander around in the pasture in front of us. Did someone say pastoral?

Artisan cheeses and sausage at the source!

Horse and sheet at the Valley Shepherd

We followed up lunch with a quick stop at the Long Valley Pub and Brewery for a tasting flight of their local brews. While it wasn’t on our original itinerary it was right around the corner from the creamery and seemed too perfect to resist sitting out on their large stone patio to take in the waning afternoon.

Tasting flight at Long Valley Pub and Brewery

As the sun began to sink we pressed on through small towns, forests and more rolling farmland to the Beneduce Vinyards. I had no idea New Jersey even had wineries, much less decent ones. Beneduce is a friendly, welcoming affair. We hadn’t been there five minutes when I was invited to stir some vats of freshly made wine. I’ve never had the chance to get hands on with the wine making process at any other vineyard I’ve been to and I really loved it.

Stirring the new wine at Beneduce Vineyards

For the wine tasting we got to sit in our own private green house and sampled 5 of the vineyard’s wines, all for $5. It felt really special and convivial and I hope to go back and take a tour of the vines themselves.

Me and spooky tour organizer Andi at Stony Hill Gardens. Thanks Stephen Musgrave for the photo!

The day concluded with us sitting around a bonfire at a “haunted” farm, roasting marshmallows, looking at the stars through the woodsmoke, and marveling at all the bounty that was so close to home.

Spooky caravan! By Stephen Musgrave

California All the Way

Sunset over the Pacific, Carpinteria

I’m prone to saying, “I don’t know anything about California.” It’s a bit wrong of me. My Aunt and Uncle live there, I’ve visited multiple times, and I’ve read Joan Didion and Rebecca Solnit and all those authors that capture the elusive golden state so eloquently.

Santa Barbara beach

I think it’s not that I don’t know anything about California, but that it is so outside of the realm of the geography and culture that I’m surrounded by that it feels foreign to me. Earlier this fall, while summer was still hanging on, we turned a Labor Day weekend wedding into a chance to explore the California coast. It was also a chance to realize one of my lifelong dreams of driving up the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur.

Santa Barbara beach. Build by Wendy chambray shirt, J Crew shorts, Nolita bag by Les Composantes, Converse sneakers, Jimmy Fairly sunglasses

We flew into Santa Barbara and not one hour after we had landed we were sitting on the beach eating fish tacos and staring at the pacific. It felt completely unreal.

On Santa Barbara beach

My Nolita and sneakers chilling in the Cali sun

California was everything I heard it was: sun and sand, the wild west and wild surf. Wine, oysters, farms, incredible landscapes, and fresh produce that was out of this world. The light, as the name promises, was bold and golden. The pacific was wild, turquoise, vast and cold.

Morning on the beach in Carpinteria

One area that I was glad to discover, which I had absolutely no idea even existed before, was the wine region just a little north and east of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez valley. It’s dry and hilly and fully of quaint small towns and vineyards and good food. It was the perfect place to spend a few days and celebrate our friends’ wedding.

My classic farm wedding wear: Brooklyn Industries dress, Nat et Nin purse, Ellips shoes at Tres Hermanas winery in the Santa Ynez valley

Winery wedding place setting

The morning after the wedding we pulled our heads out of post-celebration fog and drove into the actual fog to take the six hour drive up the coast to San Francisco. I’ve always wanted to drive on the mythic Pacific Coast Highway, which hugs the edge of the American Continent from Los Angeles to Olympia, Washington. I imagined hairpin turns and sweeping pacific views. There were plenty of hairpin turns, but due to the the persistent fog the pacific  resembled a white, endless void to our left as we crept north.

En route on the Pacific Coast Highway

Elephant seals lounging on a beach along the PCH

There’s a perceptible change of culture and geography between southern and northern California. As we drove I saw sandy beaches give way to rocky cliffs and meadows that rolled down to the ocean turn into dense forests full of evergreens. The fog and wind were constants though. We ended up in San Francisco, full of beautiful Victorian architecture, good friends, delicious food and strong drinks. We even waited for two hours to have dinner at the Anchor Oyster Bar, a classic seafood restaurant in the Castro that was worth every minute of those two hours. I felt my life reaching a new stage of completeness after I ate their crab Cesar salad.

Beautiful girls and best friends in San Francisco, Anchor Bar

Oysters at Anchor Oyster Bar

The next day we went even further north on highway 1 to Point Reyes to take in the forests, mountains and beaches. We also wanted to meet some oysters in person and our drive took us on a quest to find Hog Island Oyster Company, which was featured on Eric Ripert’s program Avec Eric.

Oysters fresh from the source at Hog Island Oyster Company

Hog Island Oyster Company is every locavore’s dream. It features an outdoor oyster bar where you can look at the bay where your meal was pulled from that morning, the beautiful view adding to the fresh brininess of the shellfish.

The Hog Island Oyster habitat

From sandy beaches to rocky shores, I feel like I packed a lot of the California coast into a short trip. Though I still can’t quite get my head around the idea of California, I think I can no longer claim to “Know nothing about it.”

Sur les toits de Paris

On top of the 11eme I

Bonjour mes amies! As we settle into fall in New York City I have finally finished looking through and uploading my photos from my summer trip to France. It was a magical two-and-a-half weeks full of friends and family and travels that took all around l’hexagon. The full set of photos is on Flickr, but I’ll be highlighting specific parts of the adventure here over the next few weeks. I’ll share my discoveries, shopping, eating, walking and biking adventures and a few of mes bonnes adresses.

Paris Roofs

Looking east over the 20eme from the 11eme

I love the geography of Paris and the rhythm and cadence of the city’s architecture. The slate grey roofs and round red chimneys inseparable from my mental image of Paris and my friend Leila offered me the opportunity to get a more personal rooftop perspective.

Paris Roofs

Looking west: les invalides, tour de Montparnasse, le tour Eiffel

It had been raining, cold and foggy when I first got to Paris, but after several days there was a break in the clouds and we seized our opportunity to climb a shaky ladder and haul ourselves onto the roof. I’m pretty wimpy when it comes to heights and was seized with a moment of dizzying vertigo when I first climbed out the skylight onto the gently sloping metal roof.  My fear subsided quickly when I saw the how the city unfolded around me.

Leila shows me her roof

My generous host and lovely friend Leila

Paris undulates gentle from west to east and north to south, rising to a crescendo at Monmartre and Belleville, but otherwise flat and gently sloping. I loved the how the rooftops around me unfolded gently, punctuated by those iconic chimneys. Paris doesn’t have to work hard to impress me, but the view from Leila’s roof made me fall in love with the city all over again.

On top of the 11eme II

Simple style: J Crew t-shirt and Mavi slim jeans

Paris Chimenys

Simple French Travel Style

Parisian summer twilight, 2006

Everyone, I am so excited! Today I depart for mon voyage des reves to France for two and a half weeks! My trip is taking me to Paris and Provence, as well as Gent (in Belgium), Metz and Lille. I’m impatient to see new and old friends, eat lots of wonderful food, and spend my time walking around and taking in the sights I love and discovering new places that I will return to in the future. This blog will be pretty quiet during that time, though you can expect another Creative Money Maker and a few other posts. When I’m able to find Wi-fi I will updates Twitter and Instagram, and I will try to post some of those shots here as well.

Those of you who travel know that preparation and anticipation is part of the journey. I spent months planning the outfits that I would take to France. I knew I would need layers, because I’m going to be in both the north and south, and the summer weather there either seems to feel like November or a canicule. I also know I will be walking a lot, so I’ve left all my four inch platforms at home. When I travel I favor clothing made out of basic fibers like cotton with solid, neutral colors over anything too fancy. In addition, I never check a bag, so all of my clothes have to be adaptable and easily washable. Here’s a sneak peek at my travel style:

Pour Paris

Paris from the Tour Eiffel, taken in 2006

J Crew tank top, American Apparel skirt, Sam Edelman sandals (this outfit is being optimistic for summer weather in Paris)

Simple, big city style is what I have in mind. Casual and elegant – a look that can go from morning to evening.

Pour Provence

Roussillon, in Vaucluse region of Provence, taken in 2008

Jennifer Glasgow blouse, American Apparel shorts, Saludos espadrilles

Warm tones, bright sun, old stone houses and the mistral were in mind when I picked out this outfit.

Pour la plage et la piscine

Pool at the Provence vacation rental, 2008

Esther Williams swimwear bathing suits, Nine West sandals

Flattering, retro-styled swimwear to while away the sunny days in style.

Pour l’avion

Departing Keflavik

I’ll be flying Iceland Air and get to pass through a place I want to return!

Mavi slim jeans, J crew shirt, Converse sneakers, and a generic linen scarf

I always freeze on the airplane. I always wonder about those who are able to wear flip-flops while flying – every appendage of mine feels like an ice cub when in the air, so I have to layer up. In addition, this time I have to change planes in Reykjavik, so I know I’ll need to be able to walk quickly, as well as wear an outfit comfortable enough to try to nap.

Pour partout

Rooftops

Photo taken with the Digital Harinezumi

Nola bag by Les Composantes, Moleskine notebook, Muji pen, Plan de Paris par arrondisement, Matt & Nat wallet, Jimmy Fairly sunglasses, Origins “Silkscreen” pressed powder, Benefit “Nice Melons” eye shadow, Dior mascara, Staniac lip stain, digital Harinezumi camera by Power Shovel, Weleda lip blam and my favorite necklace. Not shown: my Canon DSLR, an essential!

I’m bringing very few extras. I only packed two books in English because my favorite activity in France is buying the newspaper, magazines and novels. aI like to keep my makeup and accessories even more minimal than usual when I travel. I’m not packing nail polish or lipstick because I hope to acquire some of the French Essie nail polish while I’m there as well as Bourjois lip and eye makeup. Nothing fancy, just basic French things that I love.

What do you pack when you travel?

DIY White Mountain Writer’s Retreat

View across the valley of Hurricane Mountain

I love my life in New York City. It’s full to bursting with happenings, friends, and new ideas. I love that there is always a corner of the city I have not yet unexplored and new places to check out. However, this year I’ve also made a commitment to focus on my own practice as a writer and to finish a book project by September.

Covered bridge, New England pastoral

With a full-time job and full roster responsibilities and interests, I found that the book project was not getting done. It’s too easy to put off the really important, creative projects and focus on the less important. Watching my time drain away and my deadline approach I decided, “I need an artists residency where I can focus and get this done.”

The white mountains, pine trees, granite: the Mt. Washington valley in a nutshell

Here’s the problem: most artists residencies cost money. I don’t have money to spend on that kind of getaway right now. Many of them also require you apply and have work samples, which I’m still working on developing. So I thought, “What do artists residencies provide? Ah, space, time and a chance to focus.”  Then I realized: the book I am writing is about do-it-yourself culture, so why don’t I take my own advice and create my own residency?

The trail on Mt. Stanton

I took a week off from my day job and friends of my family were nice enough to let me stay in their “chalet” – an A-frame cabin they built in the 1960s in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. When I was younger I went there with my parents, my parents’ friends and their kids. We would all pile in to the house for days of skiing and sledding and spend evenings cooking huge communal meals and playing board games. I loved returning to a place I knew as a child and rediscovering it.

Desk du jour

Embarking on my “self-imposed writer’s retreat” made me nervous at first: could I take my creativity seriously enough to devote my days to it? To allay my fears I needed a plan.

Simple lunch en terrace

I created a menu of healthy, easy to prepare meals so I wouldn’t be tempted to spend hours in the kitchen or only eat junk food.  I made a list of the writing tasks I needed to complete and a schedule for accomplishing them. I know I work best in the morning, so I made sure to get up by 7:30 and be writing by 8. I also know that I get really tired after lunch, so instead of forcing myself to keep working when I’m not going to be productive, I took a two-hour hike up a mountain behind the chalet, and wrote for four more hours when I returned. Finally, in the evenings after dinner I did smaller writing tasks, such as blog entries, correspondence and article drafting.

Morning coffee by the river

At the end of my four days in the mountains I had completed a first draft of my book. I also rediscovered the fact that writing, especially writing well, takes intense concentration and is hard work. It’s about sitting in a chair, focusing your mind and putting one word after another, even if it feels painful. I was proud that I mustered the creative self-discipline to pull this off. I also am pleased to confirm that I can, and want, to write for eight hours a day. Next step: make that possible more often.

Casual chalet summer style: J Crew t-shirt and shorts with espadrilles

I also found this: as a teenager I wanted nothing more than to get away from the woods of the northeast, but I’ve fallen back in love with this environment. I’m incredibly fond of the mountains where I spent childhood weekends and it was hard for me to leave the chalet after only four days.

A little beatnik, a little north woods: USMC jacket (stolen from my father), J Crew t-shirt, generic linen scarf, Mavi jeans, Converse sneakers

I loved my days of solitude, where my only human interaction was with the clerk at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store where I went to buy a bottle of Cotes du Rhone one evening. When I arrived at the chalet I felt emotionally on edge from all my running around New York City and constant engagement with so many different projects.  Waking up to dappled June sunlight, the sound of the river, and feeling like I spent my days in a tree house slowly helped me gain back perspective and I left feeling emotionally grounded and creatively accomplished.

A map of the white mountains at the chalet

I might just make my “self-imposed writer’s retreat” an annual event.

And lest you think I’ve become a monk thanks to four days in New Hampshire, on my way out of North Conway I succumbed to temptation, outlet shopping, and that state’s lack of sales tax and bought my first pair of Minnetonka moccasins since the 1980s.
After being a holdout... I buy my first pair of Minnetonkas since childhood!

One more caveat: after reading this entry are you surprised that my favorite book as a teenager was The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac?

Chicago, Baby Don’t You Wanna Go?

Chicago, early morning

As someone who has adopted New York as my home I will admit that I am a more than I little chauvinistic about other cities in the United States. I mean, if I didn’ t think New York was the best, what would possible justify paying the high cost of living here?

Chicago has a reputation as the United States’ “second city,” which seems unwarranted, because Chicago is very much its own city with a very particular history and very strong city pride. I have had the opportunity to visit Chicago several times over the past year and I found a city that I could easily get into *almost* as much as New York (okay, enough already).

Chicago took me by surprise. Before the fall of 2011, the last time I visited was in 2002 when I drove across the United States in twice in one summer. I loved it then, but that was 10 years ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and Chicago is a sprawling, complicated, segregated city. It is frustrating and fantastic, both familiar (if you enjoy and know how to navigate big cities) and totally strange. In late March I got to spend several days there and found that the city offered me exactly what I needed and didn’t even know I was looking for.

Since Chicago is a big city, I thought I would break down my discovery by neighborhood, though be forewarned, it is very Northside heavy.

Mast Brother’s Hot Chocolate at Cafe Lula

Logan Square

Probably the most “Killerfemme” place in Chicago. Kat Asharya first pointed me towards this neighborhood and she was right on. Hip, mellow, scruffy and a little bit odd. Logan Square is on the edge of the Blue Line fueled gentrification, but  also significantly far from the downtown, so a decidedly chill vibe pervades the place. Highlights include: New Wave Coffee, which is a perfect place to work all day, with plentiful outlets and ice tea and free wi-fi and new wave record covers halfheartedly tacked to the wall. Who doesn’t love a dingy, hipster coffee shop? For those looking for a French treat, next to New Wave Coffee is La Boulangerie, which services sweet and savory crepes and sandwiches.

Breakfast at Cafe Lula

Cafe Lula is mobbed for brunch on the weekends, but serves a stellar breakfast on the weekdays, as well as a beautiful dinner and perfect late night cocktails. I managed to eat every meal here and would happily do so everyday if given the opportunity. Around the corner from Cafe Lula is Wolfbait and B Girls, a perfect boutique selling handmade and vintage clothes, accessories and decor items all made by local Chicago artists and crafters. I found a ring made out of a typewriter key and a charming hand sewn headband.

The window of Wolfbait & B Girls

Diagonal across Logan Square from Cafe Lula is Longman & Eagle, another perfect bar and cafe complete with dark, wood paneled ambiance. Apparently, they are also an inn with rooms to rent. Their menu features seasonal cuisine and more perfect cocktails. And, speaking of cocktails, if that’s really what you are after try The Whistler, which has a hip, “speakeasy” type vibe and hosts live music and DJs to boot, but carries it off with an air of relaxation instead of pretension.

The sign outside Longman & Eagle

Also, it is nowhere near Logan Square, but in far East Chicago you will find Smoque BBQ. You cannot miss this. Tender brisket, perfect pulled pork, ribs galore, beautiful mac and cheese and huge salads. It’s worth the trip and while the atmosphere is nearly “fast food” the BBQ dinner you will have is unforgettable.

Dinner at Smoque

Wicker Park

Densely gentrified and more packed than Bedford avenue on a Sunday afternoon (okay, quit with the NYC references), you can’t visit Chicago without visiting Wicker Park. Quimby’s has been my required Chicago stop for years for the best in zines, independent comics, art books and other small press delights.

Chicago-made zines at Quimby’s

My other Wicker Park classic is Reckless Records, where I picked up an LP of My Bloody Valentine rarities, Wedding Present 7″s and the Rodan record in perfect condition. My favorite part is the employees write record reviews that are stuck to the front of the vinyl to let you know why you must own this particular record. Wormhole Coffee is full of odd 80’s video game references and good coffee drinks, though it is kind of loud, so Dave and I opted for taking our beverages to the actual park in Wicker Park.

Record shopping at Reckless Records

I was also lucky enough to stumble upon The Blue Line, which is literally right under the Blue Line stop, and the answer to one of my needs that weekend: a place to watch the season premiere of Mad Men. Lucky me, not only do they show Mad Men every Sunday (“With sound!” they are pleased to advertise), but also feature Mad Men drink specials, like $6 Manhattans. The Blue Line feels like a streamlined cocktail bar from the 20s, making it the perfect Mad Men environment.

To recover from all my walking and shopping I had dinner at Handlebar, which as spectacular vegan and vegetarian options for dining and a beautiful Bloody Mary on offer.  A vegetarian specific restaurant has to be really good if I am to like it and Handlebar definitely passed the test! Besides, who doesn’t like a bike themed restaurant?

The West Loop

The West Loop, which is directly west of downtown Chicago, features two things I love: art and food. This area is refreshingly uncrowded and still full of meat and food suppliers, which harken back to Chicago’s not-so-distant past as a hub of stockyards and meat processioning plants. There are several fine provision shops which also serve sandwiches, including J.P. Graziano’s. You order your sandwich from a Deli counter,  and then peruse imported Italian specialties, bulk spices and fresh cheeses. When your sandwich is ready a sweet old lady at a cash register behind a window rings you up.

Outside Publican Quality Meats

Also in the neighborhood is Publican Quality Meats, which is a more casual version of the Publican restaurant across the street. They serve deli sandwiches and have great provisions on offer. And if you need caffeine  (which I always do) La Colombe is a light, airy and minimalist cafe with perfect espresso drinks and pastries. There are also galleries like Three Walls, which nurtures emerging artists and has created a great opportunity for both local and national artists, and the member-driven Chicago Artists Coalition.

Coffee and cake at La Colombe

The Loop/The Magnificent Mile

Downtown is not usually my favorite place in any city, as it is often full of tourists, business people and chain stores, and in some ways, Chicago is no exception. However, one really cannot go to  Chicago and not go to the Art Institute of Chicago or Millennium Park to see Anish Kapoor‘s Cloud Gate (nicknamed “The Bean”).

Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate” aka “The Bean”

I also took a wander down the “Magnificent Mile,” which is to Chicago what 5th avenue is to Manhattan or the Champs Elysees is to Paris: historic, beautiful, expensive, crowded, overblown, full of wandering tourists and pricey stores (many of them international brands full of things you can buy anywhere), but unmissable. In my wandering I managed to score some brightly colored slim jeans from Old Navy and a perfect non-leather jacket from Zara.

Found along the “Magnificent Mile”

I spent a few moments at an do-it-yourself gallery in Pilsen, which is fast becoming the neighborhood for artists, but I still haven’t managed to get a real sense of it (next time!).

I came to Chicago fresh off of South by Southwest, a little frayed and frantic, and was steadied by the sense of adventure and comfort the city offered. Hard edged, but welcoming and spacious, proud, boastful, but friendly. I wanted friends, cocktails, a place to work with wi-fi, handmade goods, a bar in which to watch Mad Men, and to meet new people and see old friends.  Chicago offered me all of this.

However, here is one more New York chauvinistic note about Chicago: While the “El” train is good for transportation, if you need to do any serious getting around you will have to take the bus. But fear not! Many of the bus lines enable you to send a text message to find out when the next bus is coming and because I was staying at the Chicago Getaway Hostel (which I highly recommend) in Lincoln Park and going to Logan Square almost every night I got very comfortable with the 74 Fullerton bus, and fairly familiar with the 8 Halsted bus.

Waiting for the 74 Fullerton bus

Also, I could not walk, drive or take the bus around Chicago without thinking of my favorite movie of all time, The Blues Brothers. As cliche as it sounds, I can’t be in Chicago and not sing “She Caught the Katy” or “Sweet Home Chicago” to myself. Finally, the twelve-year-old in me cannot get over the epic car chase scene and who can walk or drive through Chicago and see a sign for “Lower Wacker Drive” and not think of this scene: