Brighton Beach Memoirs

I want to feel the sand beneath my feet

June is always a fickle month. It’s not quite summer, but I’m already itching to go to the beach, to feel the sand between my toes, the sun on my back, and to spend long lazy days by the ocean or on the board walk, letting my cares drift away.

Down on the boardwalk

For a June birthday celebration we wove a nautical theme into a Saturday afternoon with clams at Randazzo’s Clam Bar in Sheepshead Bay (offering fried seafood that is, reportedly “the pride of Sheepshead Bay”), a walk along the board walk at Brighton Beach and a stop at Ruby’s Bar in Coney Island. In honor of all things sea worthy I pulled out my old favorite LL Bean tote bag and paired it with a very matching Built by Wendy dress.

This was the perfect outfit to show off my new Ellips shoes from designer Priscille Demanche’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection. She had a 4 day sale on my birthday and when I emailed her and said that I was offering myself a pair of her sandals as a gift she gave me free shipping all the way from France! What a darling! And hurry, she has organized a sale to benefit a charity of your choice on her past season collections just until Friday the 15th. Up to 60% off and a donation to a good cause! Shop your shoes at the Ellips site here (don’t hesitate to email Priscille if you are ordering from outside of France) and vote on which association should benefit here.

See you on the beach and the boardwalk this summer!

Thanks to my friend Heather Donahue for the lovely photographs!

The Way Life Should Be in Summer

It’s early October, but summer is still hanging on by a desperate thread. Every day that I put on my open toed shoes I wonder if it will be the last until next season. But this little bit of summer in fall got me thinking about to the height of summer and the time I spent in Maine then. It already seems so far away, but I wanted to share some summertime memories with all of you.

My home state of Maine has had some pretty silly slogans over the past few years. I think there was a collective eye roll when “Vactionland” was the phrase that was placed on Mainers license plates. Our other catch phrase is the slightly less insulting “The Way Life Should Be.” Well, the way life should be if you like six months of winter, a sluggish economy, and being cut off from the rest of the United States (but being significantly closer to Canada, which is a benefit in my opinion).

Downeast fashion: Preloved t-shirt, Gap skirt (my "on the road" work uniform)

Relaxing on the farm: Built by Wendy t-shirt, J Crew shorts, Espadrilles from Les Toiles du Soleil

Esther Williams bathing suit. Best bathing suit ever. On Bates and Ministerial islands, Casco Bay, Maine. My favorite islands ever.

For a few short weeks in summer Maine lives up to its slogan. Days are sunny, long and not too hot. The ocean is refreshing, but swimmable. There is ample fresh lobster and seafood to eat. Farm fresh produce is abundant. The bugs of late spring have retreated a little bit. There are opportunities for hikes, beautiful drives along the craggy coastline, and boat rides to islands that can be privately yours for the afternoon.

Sunflower. Hiking in the background by SMH.

Day Lilies. Late summer Maine special.

Causeway. Deer Isle, Maine.

Because I was in Maine for work, as well as hosting a getaway weekend for my friends, I got to drive all through the state. I took highways and byways I hadn’t driven on since I was a small child. I was able to revel in the beauty of the state and see it through the eyes of an outsider.  With a place this beautiful it’s no wonder someone thought it was a good idea to call it “Vactionland.”

Eggemongen Reach, Maine

The Art of the Novella

Lunchtime literary shopping

Chock it up to good marketing. Before I even knew about the independent publisher Melville House I admired my friend SG’s “I would prefer not to” tote bag. Black, white, literary, emblazoned with the iconic line from Herman Melville’s novella Bartleby the Scrivener. When I started working in DUMBO, Brooklyn I rounded the corner of my building and saw those same totes hanging in the window of a light, airy bookstore. Intrigued, I went in.

Melville House puts out a range of books that are necessary, even if major publishers don’t think that they are. They publish books in translation that are best sellers in other countries, but that most Americans have never heard of.  They publish cultural criticism that’s too political for major publishers. The tote bag advertises a series called the “Art of the Novella,” which strives to bring attention to this often neglected and maligned form of literature.

This August a reader and novella fan proposed a challenge: he would try to read all 42 books in Art of the Novella series in August. In another smart marketing move Melville House invited other readers to do the same (I believe three novellas was the minimum for participation) and to tweet and blog about it.

Excited to participate I walked around the corner from work and picked up some attractive little volumes, all nicely bound with a solid color on the front in matte stock (the contemporary novellas have glossy stock) and nice “french folds” on the inside. You feel classy just carrying one in your bag! I also liked the project because it gave me a chance to try out some classic authors that I’ve heard about, and should have read, but have some how managed to avoid over the course of my reading history. I pictured myself stretched out on the beach, reading a novella, and being literary. Of course, it didn’t work out this way and I had a very busy August with less reading than planned.

August reading #artofthenovella

Here’s what I did read:

A Simple Heart Gustave Flaubert—the story of a simple country maid in search of love who finds companionship (and religious obsession) in a parrot. It’s seen as an early example of Flaubert’s realism. I thought it both empathized with and created a caricature of the hardworking, but ignorant because of her circumstances, rural peasant. Its commentary on the class divide in 19th century France is clear. I understand how ground breaking it may have been on the time to feature such “common people” in literature, but it does come off as a little trite.

The Lemoine Affair Marcel Proust—this novella was originally published serially in a newspaper and the last few sections were published posthumously. In it Proust immitates the styles of different prominent French writers to descibe the political innerworkings, intrigue and fallout caused by a minor scandal where a merchant claimed he could make diamonds out of coal. I suppose if I knew 19th century French literature better I would have found it more amusing.

The Lifted Veil George Eliot—My favorite of the classics that I picked. While I think Eliot’s characterizing the main woman character as shallow and heartless behind an intriguing exterior is a little tired, I like the psychological nature of this story. It really kept me on eggshells and I think it was the only one of my classic selections where I wanted to keep reading to the end, instead of just being motivated to finish because the novella was, well, short.

Lucinella Lore Segal—I don’t know if I was cheating with this one because it’s from the Contemporary Art of the Novella series, but this was by far my favorite. Released in the 1970’s this slim volume lampoons the New York literary scene (and the artist colony Yaddo) with rollicking wit. It is told by a poet and social climber, who may also be talented and is certainly obsessive in the way writers can be, Lucinella.  The tone and voice of this novella reminds me a lot of one of my other favorite narrators: Sally J. Gorce in The Dud Avocado. It also is a reminder of how difficult it was, and remains, to be a sassy, weirdo woman artist or writer in the 60’s and 70’s. And 80’s, and 90’s and today. The book takes a turn towards the weirdly sublime in the end, which would not be how I would write the ending, but I stayed along for the ride and it was fun.

So what’s my takeaway from my month of reading not as many novellas as planned? Mostly that my reading tastes are thoroughly rooted in the “modern” and “post-modern”—basically 1920 and forward. There are plenty of novellas from Melville House’s series in this category, such as The Awakening, Jacob’s Room, and Country of the Pointed Firs (lovely book about Maine!), but I’d already read them! This is not a hard and fast rule, but generally the pre-modern literature (which laid the ground work, I know, I know) of the 19th century feels so stuffy to me, and so staid compared with what came next. It’s kind of like comparing the Barbizon school with Cubism in art history, you know? Oh, did I just loose half my readership with that pretentious reference? Dude, whatever, reading is cool and I can’t wait to check out Melville House’s other releases! And bro, hey, I got a rad tote bag.

Portland Revisited and Seattle Discovered

The house in Portland, Oregon where I lived in in the summer of 2002 and 2003

In the fall of 2000 I packed my life into boxes, shipped them across the country, and began a five year love affair with Portland, Oregon. I lived in a house that housed a record label, regularly hosted indie pop shows, and sheltered a somewhat revolving cast of characters who were indie rock musicians or appreciators of the genre. After a year of zine making, playing in bands, biking and making intense friendships (the kind you kindle when you are 19 and you are linked by common interests, far fetched ideas and, often, a lot of drama) I moved to NYC to go college. That was right in time for September 11th, but that’s another story.

Sign outside the Independent Publishing Resource Center

While I was in college I returned to Portland as often as I could and lived there in the summers and helped organize the Portland Zine Symposium until 2004. I deeply associate Portland, its relaxed lifestyle, political commitment and particular aesthetic with my early 20’s, with finding and revising my identity and informing the person I decided to become.

Crepe cart at Cartopia on Hawthorne in Portland

Portland has changed a lot in the past 10 years. By changes I mean it has intensely gentrified and every year another street seems to be taken over by a host of art galleries, wine bars, eco-friendly, artisan produced goods, and food truck pods. I often wonder what the underlying economy is that drives this relentless development. It’s also become somewhat of a national joke thanks to the (very funny) TV show Portlandia. Sometimes it really does feel like the dream of the 90’s is alive in Portland.

Brunch at Junior's, one of my favorite PDX breakfast spots then and now

However, I’m also happy that many of my friends have grown up and been able to buy houses at relatively cheap prices and been able to build their adult lives in Portland. I visited my favorite place, the Independent Publishing Resource Center, which is growing and flourishing. I even attended the Portland Zine Symposium, which is still going strong after 10 years. The choice of zines and dedication to independent media and radical ideas about and society was just as strong as they were when we began it 10 years ago.

Pony Boy Press' Table at the Portland Zine Symposium

Playing in the park with my former housemate's daughter

After Portland I headed further up I-5 to Seattle. Despite my long standing, long-distance fascination with Portland I had hardly spent any time in Seattle. SMH went to college there and despite growing up in Central Washington, his family now all live in the Seattle area.

Puget Sound, Seattle

We jumped in to some touristic activities. This included visiting the Crab Pot, a seafood restaurant on one of the downtown piers that give you a pot of steamed seafood, a mallet, a board and a bib. Coming from Maine I know that lobster crackers would be much more effective than a mallet, but with no shame I donned my bib (I had to go to work after lunch and was wearing work clothes) and dug in.

Seafood Lunch at the Crab Pot

Donning my bib with no shame at the Crab Pot

I also got to enjoy some delicious coffee on Capital Hill, and an astronomically large, grease soaked breakfast (in the middle of the afternoon) at Beth’s Cafe in Green Lake.

Breakfast at Beth's. The hasbrowns and coffee are unlimited. The portoin sizes are legendary.

I really wanted to love Seattle. At first I thought that it would combine my need for a big, cosmopolitan city with the nature, greenery and relaxed lifestyle I love the Pacific Northwest for. But here was a problem I did not anticipate: the traffic. Seattle has terrible urban planning and only adequate public transportation. This is surprising to me, given that Portland, Oregon, has made a major commitment to improving its public transit infrastructure over the past 20 years or so. Seattle’s current mayor is a major bike supporter, but I don’t see a lot of infrastructure being created to encourage cycling. And parking. In addition to traffic and whether I-5 will be totally backed up, that’s all everyone talks about. Where to find it. How to pay for it. I do not want this to be my life. So for now, Seattle is off my “I’ll move there one day when I get sick of New York City” list.

Outside of Trading Musician in Seattle

Hot times, summer in the city

Structured, architectural Friday outfit

XO Shirt, BCBG Skirt (from Housing Works!), Dolce Vita shoes. Shirt bought at Alter in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Could not resist another coffee and outfit pic!It is stating the obvious to say it gets hot in New York City in the summer. Of course it does and it’s really not that interesting to talk about it. However, when I was in college I used to avoid the city in the summer for exactly this reason. I would pack up my bags, sublet my room, and decamp to Portland, Oregon for the summer. As a result I missed the worst of the summer heat and refused to wear, or understand why anyone would wear, sandals or opened toed shoes of any kind in the city. I told my friend L.J., “That’s gross, your feet turn black, no thank you.” A lifelong New Yorker she looked at me incredulously and said, “Have you ever been on a subway platform in August?”

Now that I don’t have the luxury of extensive time off during the summer I’ve learned to embrace NYC’s sweaty pleasures like free outdoor movies and concerts, as well as good, strong air conditioning in most stores and my place of employment. Here’s a few workaday outfits, and one for weekend fun, enjoy!

etite Bateau tank top, Brooklyn Industries skirt, Dolce Vita shoes, silk scarf from Cambodia, Melville House tote

Back at work, back for coffee!

BB Dakota dress, Vintage LL Bean leather tote, Cole Haan shoes (so nautical, no?). Taken with Instagram.

Coffee of the day, look of the day

H & M tank, A. Cheng skirt, Espdrilles from Paris, Les Compasantes bag. All 2006 or before, except the bag! Taken with Instagram.

Rainy day backyard party

Scarf: Brooklyn Industries, t-shirt:J Crew, Jeans: Madewell, Shoes: Vans, Belt: vintage. And a Ricard, bien sur!

I bought this cute floral belt on the way to the rainy pre-fourth of July backyard party I was headed to. I found it at one of my favorite vintage shops, actually probably the only vintage shop I bother to go into, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It’s called Seven Wonders Vintage, it’s run by a lovely young lady and you should visit.

Greetings from Asbury Park (Well, Ocean Grove)

Asbury Park boardwalk at dusk

Ocean Grove at sunset

For the past few days I have been close to home, but faraway. I rented a small apartment with two of my good friends “down the shore” in New Jersey, a tranquil, two-hour train ride from Penn Station, but only a block’s walk from the beach and long from the crush of daily city life. I recently switched jobs and found out that I had to use up three days of vacation before the end of June. I called my friend L.J., who I have gone on adventures to Central Europe and Iceland with. Did she want to go somewhere for five days? Somewhere cheap and last minute? Yes! We dreamed of getting a super steal of a deal in the Caribbean, of jetting off to a quiet island for $300 apiece like the advertisements in the back of the New York Times travel section promise. However, after much research on every travel site we could find we found the deals to be far beyond our price range. We were depressed for a few instants, but then turned our sights to something closer. What did we want? Sun, sand and easy living that won’t strain our wallets. Why not the beaches of Long Island or New Jersey? We visit these beaches regularly on summer-weekend day trips and there’s no lack of cute towns. A little more research and we found our rental, in a historic community called Ocean Grove, right next to the storied Asbury Park.

Ocean Grove street at dusk

Nagle's, Main Ave, Ocean Grove

Ocean Grove is incredibly charming and full of historic, multi-colored, well-maintained Victorian summer homes. On Main Avenue is Nagle’s, a pharmacy and classic soda fountain turned restaurant where we had a burger our first night and a daily ice cream. The beach is popular without being swarmed and the boardwalk is well maintained. This is a long way from the hair gel, fist pumps and sleaze that has popularized by a certain television show. However, one thing we neglected to find out about Ocean Grove, is that it is owned by the evangelical Church. There’s regular worship services on the boardwalk, there’s a posting about daily scripture, you can’t go onto the beach before 12:30 on Sundays because you are supposed to be in church, and forget about buying alcohol. The advantage of this is the town is quiet and peaceful, the disadvantage that if you are made uncomfortable by rules, religiosity, and the sexism, homophobia and hypocrisy of the church (which we are) it feels a little… creepy.

Junot Diaz quote on the Asbury Park boardwalk

Marinere: American Apparel, Levi's shorts ("Mom shorts" found at Tucson Goodwill and cut off to be chique), Bensimon sneakers

Fortunately, not a 10 minute down the boardwalk is “sinful” Asbury Park, home of the Boss, Bruce Springstein, and the Stone Pony, the club where he got his start. The boardwalk pulses with life and on Saturday night you can hear the latest dance pop hits booming out over the water from the recently restored pier. There’s restaurants, bars, mini golf, ice cream stands, and The Silverball Museum, a pinball arcade full of vintage pinball machines where you pay by the hour! There’s also Asbury Lanes, a punk rock club that is also a bowling ally where $22 gets you unlimited bowling and admission to that evening’s show (a little steep for us, but a good deal for bowlers and music lovers).

Shirt: J Crew "Artist" T, Skirt: Brooklyn Industries, Worishofer Sandals, Sunglasses from in God We Trust (hah hah) in Brooklyn

The streets are bikeable and on a morning ride I relished taking deep breaths of the sea air and felt transported by the mixture of  of salt, sunscreen, sand and honeysuckle carried on the breeze. No makeup, no fancy clothes, no plans, just jean shorts, bathing suits, and sunscreen. These days have been like a gift—because they were unexpected there’s no obligation and no expectations put on this time. It’s just mine to read, relax, enjoy my friends, eat simple food and relish a sliver of the good life close to home.

Beach and boardwalk cruiser (not mine, I brought my road bike from Brooklyn)

Strawhat and shorts (cut off by me!) both found in Arizona, Esther Williams bathing suit (love!)

Short Shorts Story

Shorts style

Built by Wendy blouse, old Gap shorts, Campers sandals

Normally I really don’t like shorts. I think there was a stretch between age 18 and age 25 where I almost avoided wearing them entirely, though I’ll have to verify by looking at old photos. I usually skip over shorts for skirts and dresses, but when the thermometer rises above 80 degrees sometimes putting on the slightest sundress seems like the biggest effort. I crave simplicity and an outfit I don’t have to pause to consider, plus something that’s cool and functional. Enter shorts. I really hesitated to wear shorts to work, but decided I could dress them up with some heels or classy oxfords and a structural blouse or a white, slouchy, eyelet blazer. This blazer was my one concession to the summer trends, and I ordered it online from Built by Wendy. On sale, naturally. One thing that guarantees dressing up a simple summer outfit is red lipstick. J. (who graciously took these iPhone photos at work) said, “Hey, it’s cool, you’re not casual, you’re wearing lipstick.”

Shorts Style II

Short Story

Built by Wendy slouchy eyelet blazer, Brooklyn Industries shorts, Vintage Eitenne Aigner oxfords

Where I really feel self conscious about shorts, however, is short shorts. When you have curves short shorts can be less than flattering. Sometimes they just make me look a whole lot wider. No one needs to see that part of my body like that, okay? But you know what, it was hot last Sunday and I was biking to Williamsburg for my weekly writing date so I thought I’d take a chance on these blue striped shorts I got from Built by Wendy (also on sale, see a pattern?). You know, it worked. Would I wear these to work? No, but I’ll feel comfortable rocking them at the cafe, the beach, the barbeque and in the park for the rest of the summer.

Sunglasses shopping coup de couer!

Petit Bateau t-shirt, Built by Wendy shorts, Sunglasses purchased and photo taken at In God We Trust in Greenpoint, Brooklyn using Instagram