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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Oh baby drive away to Malibu

Tattoo by Emily North

“Not Afraid Anymore” tattoo by Emily North

There are certain places that become a legend before you even get a chance to visit. As a child of the 80s “Malibu” had a strong currency in my mind though I didn’t understand what or where it was. The word conjured “Malibu Barbie,” with her flaxen hair and metallic swimsuit and pink hued beach mansion. In reality, I’m struck by Malibu’s rugged coast, its quiet beaches, and state parks full of cliffs and chaparral and hiking trails.

T-shirt: J Crew; Shorts and belt: Thrifted

T-shirt: J Crew; Shorts and belt: Thrifted

On my recent trip to LA I took a Saturday to drive out with two of my best friends to have brunch in Santa Monica and continue up the coast to El Matador State Park, a windswept beach full of rock formations, sea anemone, surf and beautiful sand for napping, sunning and restoring.

Bathing Suit: Esther Williams; Shorts and belt: Thrifted

Bathing Suit: Esther Williams; Shorts and belt: Thrifted

I also got to show off my new (and first!) tattoo by Emily North – a phrase taken from “Insight,” one of my favorite Joy Division songs that has stuck with me for over a decade. I find that Southern California is the perfect place to wash away fear and embrace possibility with an expansive view over the endless Pacific.

El Matador State Park

El Matador State Park, Malibu, California

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.

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

The Summer So Far

Beach life, Fourth of July edition

Robert Moses State Park, July 4

It’s a cliche to say it, but can you believe how fast the summer goes? All around me I see announcements for “the last (your summertime activity here) of the season!” Already? I’m still sorting through my photos from France and there will be a myriad of posts coming soon, but in the meantime, here’s a little review of my summer activity so far. Enjoy and bon week-end!

Fireworks over manhattan (from Brooklyn)

Fireworks from a Greenpoint roof, July 4

Landing in Iceland with the midnight sun

11:30 pm “sunset” in Iceland, mid-July

Paris et ses nuages vue de haute

Rainy Paris, from le Ciel de Paris, Tour de Montparnasse

Prendre un apéro plus haute que la tour Eiffel... Check!

Cheers! With Byglam in Paris

Reportage direct de Paris: le temps de merde continue

Moody Paris skies, mid-July

Petit dej pour mon dej

Paris may have rain, but also, croissants!

Quiiiiick! Le soleil!!!!

And when Paris is sunny, there’s no where better!

Sète! Quelle belle ville! Merci @clumsy_maria pour la Tournée!

Escape to Sete and the sun in the south of France

Super déjeuner avec les fruits de mer et @clumsy_maria

Seafood feast in Sete with Clumsy Maria

A taste of the sweet life

Pool time in Provence

Beaux couleurs!

Exploring Provence by bike, mid-July

Merci mes amies pour le super soirée!

Back to Paris to wish our friends Au Revoir!

Made it to the farm in time for a beautiful ceremony!

…and directly to upstate New York for a beautiful farm wedding!

Mission of Burma hipster paradise

Mission of Burma, Ted Leo and Wild Flag for free in Prospect Park

It was a lovely beach day!

Back to Robert Moses State Park, early August

Chillin' with @easylovernyc

Corita played a show at Don Pedro’s with Easy Lover (above), Paper Fleet and Space Merchants

Now it's the ladies' turn! Let's go Brooklyn Bombshells!

Brooklyn Bombshells won a rollerderby match at Coney Island!

On a ferris wheel looking out on Coney Island...

… and after Corita rode the Wonder Wheel

Toasting a Brooklyn day well lived!

A toast to a summer well spent!

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?