Variations on a Fashion Theme

Tenue du jour and new shoes!

J Crew shirt, Madewell jeans, vintage belt, Dolce Vita shoes, vintage Coach purse stolen from my mom!

These days have been so busy. Sometimes I am surprised about how many lives I can cram into one day of my life. As I go through my agenda I shift identities – arts professional, policy student, indie rocker, cyclist, friend, writer, cook. I’m juggling a lot and trying to accomplish even more this fall and I’m curious as to where all this running around will take me.

Variations on a fashion theme

Built by Wendy jacket, J Crew t-shirt, Zara red slims, Dolce Vita shoes, Leila Rowe necklace, vintage satchel

It’s during these time that I don’t have time to think about dressing up. I want clothes that will help me get the job done and will support me through all my metaphorical costume changes without necessitating a real one.

Coach bag + Dolce Vita shoes (playing tourist gets expensive!)

Vintage Coach bag and Dolce Vita shoes

I want an outfit that will put a little lift into a long day of appointments. Instead of always falling back on black, I try to pick one unexpected color or pairing. Lately I’ve been relying on my rose and bright pink jeans, different colored bags, and new shoe choices to serve this purpose. How do you dress to support all of your daily identities?

Rainy Day Color Block

Built by Wendy blazer, Zara jeans, Matt Bernson shoes, Vintage satchel, Leila Rowe umbrella.

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Reluctant Reflections Ten Years Later

Heaven's garden (wishing all peace this weekend)

Islamic tile work representing heaven as a garden at the Brooklyn Museum

I’d prefer not to say anything about today. Earlier this week I filled out the New York Time’s interactive map pinpointing where I was on September 11, 2001 (17 Union Square West in my freshman college dorm) and my reflections 10 years on. I chose “unmoved.” I’m not unmoved in that I don’t feel empathy for those who lost friends and loved ones that day. At the most basic, I wish that today didn’t become a big patriotic hullabaloo. I upsets me that it’s just another chance to put our hands over our hearts and say “God Bless America,” and forget about the rest of the world. I’m tired of how this day was turned into an excuse for war, a grab for power, a justification for racism, and a suppression of human rights and civil liberties in the United States and abroad.

Ten years ago I had arrived in New York an idealistic, moody activist  ready for her freshman year at a liberal arts college and ready to fall in love with New York (or at least give the city a chance). September 11th didn’t change that, but it changed my focus. Before the struggle against globalization and the need to undo the injustices of colonialism seemed abstract. September 11th brought them into focus and made me think about the consequences of centuries of oppression. It also made some struggles and concerns pale in comparison.

Lower Manhattan, Early September, 2001

Maybe it’s because I was in Union Square on that morning and I looked downtown and saw the smoke and heard the sirens (and breathed that scorched , chemical laden air for weeks afterwards), and remember the collective gasp that went up when the towers collapsed, but I always felt that September 11th was a tragedy centered in New York.

Ever since that morning I’ve also been both proud of certain responses in this city and ashamed of others. I remember drawing on sidewalks with chalk the night of September 11th 2001, writing, “An eye for an eye makes the world blind.” I remember the huge memorials of candles set up in Union Square. I remember clearly rallies every Saturday at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn (my neighborhood) to demand the release of immigrants detained after 9/11 that were held for months without trial. At the same time, New Yorkers raised huge opposition to bombing Afghanistan and later Iraq.  Most people were speaking out against racism, even while immigration authorities were acting on it. I think the New York Time’s op-ed said it best in the piece What New York Didn’t Loose After 9/11. The larger impulse was towards helping those impacted by the tragedy, not towards revenge, but towards community, openness, and reflection. This is a stalwart city, tough, but one that stands up for its own and (in the best of cases) doesn’t discriminate between who is and who is not a New Yorker.

Lower Manhattan, November, 2001

September 11th made me determined to love this city and stick with it through all of the challenges it posed. Ten years later here I am. Today is not one for ceremonies and listening to those in power, and it looks like I’m not alone in this. Today is time for enjoying the life I’ve built here piece by piece, despite the tragedy, despite eight years of the worst president this country has ever known, and despite my own personal roadblocks and frustrations. One of the comments on the New York Times’ map called the past ten years “a lost decade.” I disagree. This decade has been hugely significant to me personally. I went from a teenager to an adult, I struggled, I built my life, and I spoke up, even with such dreary politics and global realities as a backdrop. Today I’ll have brunch with friends, ride my bike along the waterfront and maybe drink a beer brewed right here in Brooklyn. Here’s to you, New York! To your diversity, acceptance, your resilience, and to the people of this city and the world!

Here is New York After 10 Years

Brownstone Home

Photo in front of my old apartment taken by Leila Bergougnoux in the fall of 2007.

These scrubbed clean, clear blue skies of late summer and early fall remind me that I moved to New York City ten years ago this week. It’s been quite a decade for New York City and for me personally.  I moved here reluctantly to attend college after a dreamy year spent living in Portland, Oregon, working very little and indulging in my creative projects and wallowing in what remained of my teen angst. After growing up in Maine I was dead-set against going to college on a quaint campus and tired of small town life in general. On visits throughout high school to New York City I feel in love. It had it all: art, culture, fashion, food and excitement. It was the polar opposite of where I came from. “Who needs trees?” I said, “The nature in the parks will suit me just fine.”

Rigging and Manhattan

New York has not ceased to amaze and surprise me, but moving here was not an easy transition. I got sick immediately from the polluted air, the noise from the construction outside of my window seemed to bore into my skull, and then September 11th happened. The events of that day and what followed completely reshaped what I expected from the city, academic, activism, and work. I really can’t talk about 10 years in New York without talking about September 11th and all that came after, but this post really isn’t about September 11th. Let’s suffice it to say this morning the public radio station replayed reporting from that morning and I had to sit down and cry.

I didn’t think I would stay in New York very long after graduation. I decided that I would give it two years after I got my diploma, but when I started working in museums and arts organizations I kept pushing that timeline back, until finally I gave up and decided to stay here. I felt like my friendships and the adult life I’ve been able to construct were too hard won to walk away from. I’ve lived in Sunset Park, Brooklyn since 2002 and slowly the borough worked its charms on me and I feel like it’s an important part of my identity. I also discovered another great thing about New York: its proximity to Europe. Flights to Europe from New York are plentiful and can be cheap if you know how to search.

If Paris is France...

But looking back over these past ten years I’ve wrote a lot about New York and I wanted to share a little bit of those thoughts to chart how my relationship to the city has changed and evolved.

“You always choose the most challenging position you can think of!” my mother chided me when I moved to New York City to go to college.  “Of course you picked the biggest, toughest, most of expensive city in the US, you couldn’t imagine less!” she reminded me when I lamented how difficult my new NYC life was.  And it was difficult.

In October of 2002 I wrote, “New York is bad posture and holding my breath. Too many aches and tight, sore shoulders and no one to work them out.”

At the brink of the (still ongoing) war against Iraq in 2003 I wrote, “I need to write something about how it feels to be in New York right now – the subway stations full of national guard, machine guns ready. How is it constricting my thoughts and hopes and playing on my fear?”

But the city still entranced me, “For me the magic of New York isn’t in Manhattan, it’s in the strange faraway feeling places in the outer boroughs that you can still take the subway train to. A collision of urban and beach, crashing waves and a $5 ride on the Wonder Wheel. Vacant lots in gentrified neighborhoods, cracking streets, rusting hunks of abandoned junk, weeds in the middle of poshness. It shows the gaps in the idea of glittery concrete and steel and shows that cities have a force that cannot be regulated.”

Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach

Full of Brooklyn pride, I wrote a love letter to Brooklyn for the last issue of my zine Indulgence, which I put out in 2008. “If Brooklyn were not attached to the rest of New York it would still be among the largest cities in the United States.  I’ve been living here for six years. That doesn’t make me a local, but it means I have grown to appreciate my borough through all my early-to mid-to late twenties ups and downs. Brooklyn is my immediate reality and my basis of comparison. Brooklyn feels at times just as much like a small town, an industrial landscape, and even, suburban.”

NYC Rainbow

NYC Rainbow, Fall 2007

I think it is E.B. White who describes New York best, so I’m going to leave you with his words. My mother gave me Here is New York for Christmas after I’d been living here for 4 years. I was struck by how this little book, written about New York in the Forites, captures the New York I experience every day.

The opening: “There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.”

Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges

And the closing:

“The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now; in the sounds of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest editions.

All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.”

Thank you, Mr. White. And here’s to another ten years.

Celebrating the end of our Brooklyn Museum internship in 2006 in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

C’mon Irene

Here is New York, come hell or high water

Post-Irene skyline view from Sunset Park

So how did I survive New York’s biggest storm in decades? Just fine, thank you. I’m really not one to buy into weather related hype, but I’ll admit as I read the storm reports rolling out on Twitter (yes, this is how I get my up to the minute news these days) I began to get a little jumpy. I spent some time pouring over the map of evacuation zones the Office of Emergency Management put out. I read up on hurricane tips offered by everyone from the mayors office to my electric company. Fortunately, I don’t live in an evacuation zone, but actually on the second highest hill in Brooklyn. My apartment building is a solidly constructed brick building from 1931 that has withstood many a storm. So, I figured, a little rain, a little wind, big deal. In fact, I think the Fucked in Park Slope blog captured my kind of storm prep the best with this entry and chart.

Dancing in the park after the storm

A couple dances in Sunset Park after the storm

Honestly, I think that the NYC government did a pretty decent job of informing everyone. They had a plan, they were organized and they got the word out. I thin they got a little hysterical, sure. I think their move to evacuate all of the Rockaways was a little bit much and that they were making up for their complete lack of planning with this past winter’s big snow storm. But I followed directions, filled up my water bottles and filled the bathtub with water in case we lost electricity and thus water pressure. We never lost electricity. Heck, because my windows are west facing I even kept them open during more of the storm and no rain blew in.

Post storm wind and clouds

Windowblown clouds after the storm

It was really sweet that all of my far-away friends reached out with their support and well-wishes. New York truly is a global city that many hold in their hearts. Since I moved here 10 years ago (to the week!) I’ve experienced September 11th, several huge blizzards, two tornadoes, and an earth quake (which I didn’t feel). I missed the black out of 2003 because I was in Oregon for the summer. I’ve also experienced so many personal trials and tribulations that come with negotiating life in a huge metropolis. New York is a stalwart city and it passes that on to its residents. To live here and not loose your mind I think you need to develop a sense of resolve, calm and willingness to be ready for anything.
Post-Irene Sunset

My review of Gary Indiana’s “Last Seen Entering the Biltmore” on NYFA Current!

Gary Indiana

There was a New York City that I dreamed of when I was growing up. It was a mixture of Greenwich Village during the Beatnik era and the Lower East Side of the 1980’s. It was full of punks, dreamers,  activists and artists. The dangers that might have been lurking there were more aesthetic than real. Poverty and hunger were stylish accouterments. All who were there possessed the ability to transform the urban environment. While obviously this political, arty urban paradise existed only in my imagination some lived it in all its gritty, dangerous, complicated, hungry reality. Patty Smith lucidly captures it in her recent book Just Kids.  Gary Indiana’s new compilation out from MIT Press, Last Seen Entering the Biltmore, collects his poems, prose, short plays and works of art from the late 70’s to the present, chronicling through his artistic production his time in this environment after he made the decision to “not to do anything he didn’t want to do” and to become a writer. Last Seen Entering the Biltmore captures Indiana’s sense of absurd and also his strong artistic integrity. I wrote a full review for NYFA’s online magazine for artists, NYFA Current, and would be honored if you checked it out here.

The Utopia Project Part II: Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild

Why do artists need to get away to create? Does creativity really flow better in a rural idyll where one could shut out the outside world if one so chose?  Does modern life really hamper creativity and the ability to produce as an artist? Over 100 years ago Byrdcliffe was founded in Woodstock, New York to test out these ideas as a utopian Arts and Crafts community. The Arts and Crafts movement believed that industrialization and urbanization was compromising peoples ability to live and create and put a great value on the handmade and the skill of the craftsman.

The Byrdcliffe campus certainly seems the embodiment of the Utopia Project. It is transporting: a series of arts and crafts cabins from the turn of the century connected by dirt roads and trails. A stream runs through it and light filters through the birch trees. After I finished working I spent the afternoon hiking up the nearby Overlook mountain to explore the ruins of an old hotel and to look with awe over the Hudson Valley stretching out below me. I used to think that the golden, soft quality of light in Hudson River School paintings was a whole lot of Romantic bullshit.  However, the more time I spend in the Hudson Valley, the more I see that painters like Asher B. Durand and Thomas Cole were actually capturing the quality of light that they observed.

The view from Overlook mountain

Ruins of the Overlook hotel

I cooked dinner in the communal kitchen the residence where I had given a room for the night and spent the evening eating and talking about art, politics and building a creative life with some of the resident artists. I felt privileged to be able to be able to step into the world of actually living as a resident artist for a night. Byrdcliffe is like an artists summer camp where there are few rules besides respecting the quiet and focus of others. As a child I never liked summer camp, but I found myself reluctant to leave Byrdcliffe. I think that’s because it combines the fun, peace and isolation of camp with the focus and autonomy of adulthood.

One of the residency bedrooms

Lunch at the Byrdcliffe Cafe

Just invoking the name “Woodstock” brings up a whole trope of myths in American culture. To an outsider like me I wondered how the region around Woodstock, which is sleepy and rural and mountainous, was host to such an important cultural event back in the 1960’s. Places like Byrdcliffe help provide an answer. Byrdcliffe was founded in 1902 as an experiment in utopian, artistic, arts and crafts living, supported by a wealthy Englishman. It has grown into a nonprofit arts services organization that now provides acts as a touchstone for artists throughout the Woodstock region offering exhibitions, performances, and many professional development opportunities. In addition to those who participate in the residency program, artists can also rent cabins and studios for the summer.

Screen porch artist studio

Artist studios behind the birch trees

As I become more deeply a New Yorker I savor more wholly the opportunities to get out of the city and to immerse myself in rural experiences. Byrdcliffe provides a place for retreat from the pressing concerns of modern, urban life, which is what the Arts and Crafts Movement focused on. There one can concentrate on creativity and artistic exploration in the midst of small town life and natural beauty. In what I think is becoming a resounding theme of my visits to Northeast artist residencies: I can’t wait to go back.

Mt. Guardian trail

Finding France (and Remembering Summer) in West Chelsea

As I write this I am listening to the winter wind howl through the trees of Sunset Park and summer seems very distant. How sad that I have been meaning to write this entry since then! But to follow-up on my entry about my favorite block of the Flatiron District, I wanted to write about one of my favorite walking routes through West Chelsea. Since I am an irrepressible Francophile, the places that caught my eye focus on France, but there’s so much to be had in this district. And the best part is, so much of it is eye-catching you don’t have to buy it to enjoy it!

Wild Grasses on the Highline in August

The Highline Park is a far west, obvious place to start. Inspired partially by the Promenade Plantee in Paris, this revamped elevated rail line has been celebrated since it’s open a few years ago. It’s a wonderful place to go in any season and I love the combination of art, architecture and native plants.  I love running my hand through the grasses and smelling a meadow in Maine instead of New York City. I particularly loved Valerie Hegarty’s painting on display. The interplay between human creation and nature’s will speaks volumes about city life and American art history.

Valerie Hegarty's painting, city, and wild grasses- a perfect juxtaposition.

If you exit the Highline on 20th street you will soon pass the Episcopal Church’s General Theological Seminary, which looks like you have just stepped into the English countryside (okay, I am also a bit of an Anglophile). You will also walk along a historic block of row houses which were partially conceptualized by Clement C. Moore, who is more often known for writing the Night Before Christmas (I have a family connection to this beloved American poem too, because apparently he composed it while visiting my ancestors at Constable Hall in Upstate New York) .

General Theological Seminary is a sanctuary in the city.

Historic West Chelsea.

On the corner of 9th avenue and 20th street is La Cafetiere, a boutique full of French kitchen and homeware goods including glass and earthen ware, table linens, and decor items. The shop is attractively laid out, the staff friendly and the experience so transporting that I bought my mother a linen chicken that was one sale without twice about how ridiculous I would look in the airport check in.

An inviting, open door to La Cafetiere

If you didn’t find exactly the French decor item or linen you were looking for at La Cafeteire my other favorite shop to drop into and browse is Les Toiles du Soleil, located at 19th street between 7th and 8th avenues (closer to 8th) which specializes in Catalan fabrics from the south of France. They sell fabric by the yard as well as items that are sewn in-house.  I got a pair of Espadrilles here on sale at the end of the summer which have been loath to leave my feet since. I also got fabric to make cushion covers for my living room chairs, a beautifully colored iPad case for my mother, and a chic apron for my father. The owners are two of the nicest French people you will ever meet and if you speak French they will engage you in the kind of friendly banter that is usually only encountered in an un-snobby, out-of-the-way Parisian boutique.

Aprons and Esparilles at Les Toiles du Soleil

Fabric by the yard and handmade items at Les Toiles du Soleil.

To end this wander maybe you are in want of some caffeine? The best place in the neighborhood to go for that is Cafe Grumpy, which is not Parisian, not Londoner, but New York. And wonderful with a menu of artisanal, single origin coffee to select from, individually made drinks, organic milk, and sweet staff members (and hello, they have a Park Slope location since 2009! Well, maybe I don’t have to mourn leaving Chelsea after all!).

One of the talented baristas at Cafe Grumpy.

A perfectly made iced Americano. Summer in a glass.