The “Other Portland” Reconsidered

Dinner view

My early life is a tale of two Portlands. I grew up in and around the city of Portland, Maine. It is a small city of about 60,000 people about two hours north of Boston that features century-old brick buildings, wharves, narrow cobblestone streets, and handsome Victorian houses. Growing up there it had a vibe of being cultured, yet sleepy. There were bohemian feeling cafes, concerts and a good, but small art museum. In the early 1990s I saw “Alternative” bands of the era like Dinosaur Jr. and Belly play at a mid-sized theatre. It was relatively safe and very walkable. All in all, it was a great place to grow up.

Hover, in my mid-teens I fell in love with the “other” Portland (in New England speak), the much larger Portland, Oregon that came into its own in the 1990s as a hotbed of alternative culture and is now the reigning city of hipsterism (besides, perhaps, my current home town of Brooklyn). When I moved to Portland in 2000 I had to explain to people that I was, actually from the “other” Portland (that would be Maine, in Oregon and most everywhere else, speak).  Confusing!

Portland, Maine!

I always felt like Portland, Maine had great potential to be a hotbed for creativity. It’s not terribly expensive to live there, there’s old industrial space that could be available for artists and creative people, there’s an art school and a large public university an a cultural infrastructure in place to support creative people. Did I mention the restaurants are excellent? I always felt vaguely frustrated and let down by Portland, Maine in the 1990s. While places like Olympia, Washington were becoming focal points of DIY culture making Portland seemed to not quite be able to have it together. Bands from Portland rarely toured and when they did seemed to only make it as far as Boston. People barely expressed an interest in touring bands. The local art scene was dominated by cutesy crafts and lighthouse art. Until now.

Back for post-workshop, pre-pizza party cocktails

Cocktails at Eventide Oyster Company

In the early 2000s a few businesses helped usher in what seems to be a new wave for creative people in Portland, Maine. Ferdinand started selling letterpress goods, silkscreen t-shirts and vintage finds. Space Gallery started bringing in shows by cutting edge contemporary artist and hosting emerging and established touring indie rock bands. Geno’s rock club moved up from a scuzzy (but beloved) dive bar to a sprawling new space (it used to be a porn theater back in the day, but hey…), the Nickelodeon Cinema started showing indie as well as second run mainstream films downtown for cheap, and Z Fabrics started selling beautiful, contemporary cool cloth. These places helped breath life into Portland independent culture stalwarts, like Bullmoose Music and helped re-invigorate a tradition like the First Friday Arts Walk.

Serious hipster coffee comes to Portland, Maine

Coffee at Tandem

Returning to Portland on a recent weekend I was surprised at all the new, creative businesses that have opened up and feel like the city is supportive enough of independent, DIY, handcrafted culture to make a go at it. You can now get locally roasted coffee in the Bluebottle tradition from Tandem Coffee Roasters, outfit your inner (or outer) dandy at Portland Dry Goods and David Wood (David Wood has been a leading menswear purveyor in Portland for decades), embrace the prepster aesthetic and support “upcycling” at Seabags, browse hip, vintage, local, and handmade goods at Pinecone + Chickadee, and score amazing vintage deals at Find. Did I mention eating? Try Eventide Oyster Company for craft cocktails and yes, oysters, and Duckfat, which seems to be known the world over, for hearty sandwiches and fries cooked in the restaurant’s namesake (vegetarians beware!).

All of this to say, this past weekend I walked around in a state of quasi-disbelief. What I always hoped for “my” Portland is happening. I’m not quite ready to move back, but I’m looking forward to my next visit. Sitting at dinner at the hippie pizza place Flatbread Company I overheard a member of a bachelor party near us ask in all sincerity, “Are there nitrates in the pepperoni?” To which the waitress immediately replied, “No, of course not, they are homemade.” I had to pinch myself. Which Portland was I in?

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Pants, Pants, Pants, Pants, Everybody!

Spring greens and leopard accents!

Blouse from H&M (forever ago), Old Navy "Rockstar" jeans, Matt Bernson heels, Squasht headband

Apparently fashion’s new bright, spring colors are helping revive the US economy and sales in retail are up. Though I am on a self-imposed shopping diet (it’s not going very well, does anyone know of a Weight Watcher’s like program to curb conspicuous consumption?) I could not help but succumb to the continued rage for color blocking, helped in part by some bright numbers from Old Navy (of all places!).

A little Frenchie, a little Rock

Zara jacket, Ann Taylor shirt (from Beacon's Closet), Brooklyn Industries Pans, Ana Alamedia heels, Leila Rowe necklace

Perhaps it is the transition between seasons, but I’ve also been enjoying new versions of my classic favorites – slim black pants and jeans – and have gotten my new favorite slims from Mavi, a classic pair of straight legs from Built by Wendy and slim black pants (with zippers on the ankles) from Brooklyn Industries. I’ve even wearing pants of all colors to work (gasp, Killerfemme, really?).

Have you succumbed to the bright spring colors? How do your outfits transition from weekdays to weekends?

Bright and bold

J Crew shirt, Old Navy "Rockstar" jeans, Miista boots

Bold for spring! Yellow pants and stripes!

Outfit details

Spring Accents Part II

Zara jacket, Vanilla and Lace shirt, Old Navy "Rockstar" jeans, Jeffrey Campbell shoes, Squasht headband, necklace bought at Cog and Pearl

Spring accents and lunch time record shopping

Details, with vintage LL Bean tote and newly purchased Grimes record

So yesterday after work I did some shopping. Bye bye clothing diet.

Chicago wrecked my shopping diet

Fluo accents + leopard shoes, ça va?

Mirror in Chicago hostel: Built by Wendy jeans, American Apparel shirt, Old Navy cardigan (with matching fluo chair behind me!), Matt Bernson slippers

Today I am in love with my new Built by Wendy jeans

Details of my Built by Wendy jeans

Paris This Time Last Year

It’s feels strange to imagine, but exactly a year ago today I was getting on an Air France flight at JFK airport and leaving cold, damp grey November weather in New York for cold, damp grey November weather in Paris. Even in chilly November Paris sparkles. It’s just getting ready for the holidays and all the glitter that come with them, and late fall sunlight never fails to make even the dampest, greyest sidewalks inspiring.

I try to remind myself that I am lucky to live in New York, but when I look at pictures of Paris, I feel my heart start to soften and melt and nostalgia overwhelms me. This is the city I feel I am truly meant to be in. I feel about Paris in my 20’s and 30’s how I felt about New York City in my teens. There’s a deep attraction and a longing to be in a place that I feel fits all the contours of who I am, or at least who I wish myself to be.

I know it’s irrational. I live in a big city and I understand the frustrations of daily city living. It wears you down. People are rude.  It’s exhausting. But then there are the rooftops, the sky, the open markets, the cafes, the boutiques, the culture, the Seine, the rues, the quartiers, the Canal St. Martin, all the many nuances that make up Paris.

Last year I set myself a Parisian itinerary guided by collections of “bonnes addresses”  from blogs I had been reading and Pia Jane Bijkerk’s book Paris Made by Hand.  I visited my dear sister, ate croissants like there was no tomorrow (the average Parisian croissant is better than the best New York croissant, which should not come as a surprise to you), and learned about the 80’s teen pop sensation Lio.  I spent a lovely afternoon (and several awesome evenings) with my dear friend Leila, running around to indie boutiques like Corner de Createurs and La Cocotte (twice!), and doing silly things I love like going to Monoprix, having tea at Mariage Frères, cooing at beautiful clothes at Antoine et Lili, and buying bras at Princesse Tam Tam. I also just let myself wander until my feet were frozen, rode the metro just because I like it (I never do that in New York), snapped pictures, and soaked it in what I hope was enough Paris to sustain me until I can come back to the city that feels like my rightful home in the world.

Petite Atlier de Paris. Great for handmade gifts!

Near Gare du Nord

Repetto paradise on Rue du Paix

The cozy apartment of my friend Leila. I love how Parisian apartment have the most perfect, tiny balconies.

The only disadvantage being that old Parisian apartments are also walk ups. In this case 7 floors!

Noodle soup lunch at L'Alicheur, just off Rue Oberkamf

My first breakfast in Paris at Pick Clops in the Marais after my overnight flight

Rue Cremieux, stumbled upon close to the Gare du Lyon while I was on my way to catch the train to my sister's house.

Perfect Parisian pierre de taille

The Good Life in Paris in November (and pas cher!)

Paris as seen from the Centre Pompidou

In case I haven’t talked your ear off about it lately, I am taking a trip to Paris (and Gent, Belgium) over Thanksgiving to visit my sister and friends and soak up some European ambiance. I haven’t been to France in over two years and it feels like an eternity (though I did go to lots of other awesome near and far places, so I’m not so sad).  In anticipation of my trip I made the ultimate google map of restaurants, boutiques and quirky museums that I want to check out while I am there. Some of them I’ll be sure not to miss and some are just so I know they are there in case I am in the neighborhood. Some of the boutiques might be pricey (though not by Paris or NYC standards) and many are just for looking. And for buying holiday gifts for friends and family.  Many of these suggestions are poached from the excellent sources of Cachemire et Soie, David Leibovitz, the New York Times Travel Section, and Pia Jane Bjkerk’s book Paris Made by Hand, as well as some of my own obsessions (like Monoprix, okay, guilty).

Enjoy and please let me know if there’s anywhere I should add! This is very heavy on north eastern Paris because that’s where I’ll be staying and those are the neighborhoods I love. But one of the best things about Paris is its walkability and the metro, so I can go anywhere!

View The Good Life in Paris in November in a larger map