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?

Montreal – Ville de Coeur

Montreal, QC

Francophile that I am, I have somehow ignored the fact that a mere eight hours to the north of me is a city that is seeped in French history, culture and language, but also is a solid part of North America. I am, of course, speaking about Montreal. As you approach Montreal from the highway, whether in a car or on the Greyhound bus, the city rises above the agrarian plain of southern Quebec like a dream. It’s hard to imagine that this far north after traversing the mountains of Vermont and the fields and farms of Quebec, that a city so cosmopolitan and radical is there existing and waiting to welcome those of us weary of the United States.

Bonjour Montréal!

Bonjour Montreal!

While I’ve been to Montreal twice before (and loved it each time), my visit a few weeks ago was the first time I got to immerse myself in a Francophone community thanks to my generous French hosts who were living there for a year from France. I learned quickly that there are three overlapping, yet separate, communities in Montreal: Anglophone, Francophone from France, and Quebecois. Montreal exists at the intersection of these three  groups and fantastic things happen there linguistically. Quebec is a French-speaking Province, but English is a second language in Montreal. By law everyone must utilize French in public until you determine you are both Anglophone and then you switch. This means that everyone speaks some kind of French and no one judges you for your accent. My accent was called “German,” which I found exceedingly charming. Montreal is low-risk French speaking and the French that is spoken is generally tempered with a North American accent. Overall, everyone has a good feeling about Montreal, whether they speak English or French and come from other parts of Canada, the United States, or Europe and Montrealites are very proud of their city.

I count on Montreal for its refreshingly radical politics that always have a sense of humor and artistry

Montreal is a nexus of good eating. I skipped the gourmet options, like Au Pied de Cochon, and went straight for the everyday fare. My favorite by far was Depanneur Le Pick Up. A depanneur (or “Dep” for short) is the Montreal equivalent of bodega, corner store, convenience store, or epicerie, depending where you come from. However, in its magazine rack Le Pick Up carries zines and DIY albums, its coolers are full of natural soda (including a Pine Sol-like tasting Spruce variety), and it includes a lunch counter and outdoor tables and services a killer weekend brunch and huge, tasty sandwiches, including pulled pork in both authentic and vegetarian versions.

Thanks to Aurelie Letizia and Danisha, two lovely blogeuses mode et beaute, I spent a lovely, girly, brunch at l’universal, talking about WordPress, fashion week, and sharing news about other blogueses. The fast friendship and camaraderie reminded me a lot of meeting up with zine pen pals over ten years ago and it is a wonderful feeling to build an international community. The brunch at l’universal is also full of delicious eggs, home fries and comes with a side of fruit salad.

Passage obligatoire / bagel pilgrimage

Bagel breakfast at St. Viateur

Beyond that I couldn’t help but make a stop at St. Viateur Bagles (no one can come to Montreal and miss this!). Montreal bagels are smaller and less chewy then New York-style bagels. They have a lightness to them (for a bagel) that I love. I also had a coffee and sandwich at Le Caigibi, which offers great vegan treats, and sampled Montreal’s response to the cupcake craze at Petits Gateaux.

Petite souvenir douce de Montréal!

Artwork at Petits Gateaux

I also could not miss poutine, which is practically the national dish of Quebec, though somehow I did not eat this Canadian comfort food of fries, gravy and cheese curds the last two times I visited. For a gourmet, Scandinavian twist on traditional poutine we were recommended by one of my Instagram friends to try Cafe Ellefsen.

Poutine Norvégienne! Miam!

Poutine Norvégienne at Cafe Ellefsen

I got a poutine with Swedish meatballs and fresh, local cheese, which made it less heavy than the average poutine and served in a light, airy environment. We also had some lovely drinks at Notre Dame de Quilles, which is either a bar and restaurant that has a few bowling lanes (where you reset the pins yourself and they are candle pins, for all of you northeasterners out there!) or a few bowling lanes with a bar attached, depending how you look at it. “Quilles” is “Bowling Pin” in Quebecois, by the way.

Hmmmm... Bon question Elle Québec! #taco ou #poutine ?

Elle Quebec explores the important questions

Despite promising myself I wouldn’t shop very much, Montreal is a shopping paradise if you like handmade, quirky things and cutting edge fashion. I got my Canada-made fix at General 54 in Mile End, which features all Canadian designers, and has a vintage annex next door. It is owned by Jennifer Glasgow, whose designs I love and whose perfectly on-trend yet timeless shirt I showed off in my last entry. At the very trendy Bubbles Boutique I picked up a fancy vegan wallet by Montreal-based eco-couteuriers Matt & Nat, which I think will serve me well.

Nouveautés de Montréal!

Nouveautés de Montréal! Zines, books, wallet, tote bag and blouse!

While wandering around Le Plateau and Mile End I got my book fix in French and English when I dropped by the Drawn and Quarterly bookstore.  I’ve admired the comics and graphic novels they have put out for years and loved the selection of fiction, theory, graphic novels and cook books they had on offer at the shop. I also went to Librarie Le Port de Tete for art books, mini comics and livres en francais.

Sign for Drawn and Quarterly book store

Mon nouveau coup de cheveux lesbien pour n'importe de qui (j'adore)

Showing off my new “Lesbian Haircut for Anyone”

Montreal is a mashup between languages, people and cultures and because of that it is an extremely open, welcoming place. Identity is strongly asserted, but everyone is welcome to participate. For example, I booked a “Lesbian Hair for Anyone” (or “coup de cheveaux lesbien pour n’importe de qui”) with JJ, who is also a very talented artist and photographer. I also got a haircut from JJ on my last visit to Montreal in 2007 and both of these haircuts have been among my favorites! I also participated in a “Dance Workshop for Anyone” that combined yoga, modern dance technique and improvisation and will culminate in a dance video! Here’s a video of the first workshop and I will be sure to share the resulting video when it’s available.

Kawaii: Don’t the their name fool you, they are punk as f*ck

Finally, I couldn’t talk about Montreal without talking about the vibrant art and music scene there. I had hardly stepped off the Greyhound bus than I found myself at a house party listening to fantastic experimental bands and accidentally insulting a member of Dirty Beaches. There’s also a lot of French from France musicians and artists living in Montreal searching a vibrant artistic community. I was lucky enough to meet Minnie, the talented singer in Eliote & The Ritournelles and see my hosts band Kawaii play (despite their name, they are not cute, they are the punkest music you will ever hear made from toys). Finally, we went to Blue Sunshine, which is a soon to be ending cinema in an apartment building showing everyone from salvaged VHS classics (er, trash?) like “Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies go to College,” or (as we saw the night we went) rare shorts of historical and educational films centered around Montreal. They are closing on May 19, so if you love independent cinema in unconventional settings, go! Now!

I miss Montreal already and can’t wait to back. How did five years pass between my two trips? It hardly seems possible. Also, quick tip for New Yorkers: if you can’t stand eight hours on a Greyhound bus or the prices of flights to Canada try this: fly JetBlue to Burlington, Vermont and then catch the Greyhound to Montreal (it stops at the airport). There’s also an amazing diner, Arcadia, within walking distance of the airport if you have over an hour to wait. They serve real maple syrup with their pancakes at no extra cost. Montreal via Burlington is cheap, fast, and more relaxing.

The Arcadia (formerly Parkway) Diner, Burlington, VT

Breakfast at the Arcadia Diner counter in Burlington, VT

My pictures, sadly, look less than great and I learned an important lesson: even if it takes up a lot of space, if you are leaving home and want to take pictures do not leave without your DSLR!

Culebra Tropical Escape, Part 1

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, PR

New York winter is terrible. It grinds on and whether it snows or not, it feels like it never ends. To survive it you need to plot your escape. Our escape all started with the a flyer for the “Bruisecruise” – an indie rock cruise that features bands, DJ’s and plenty of sun starved hipsters. A. and I seriously considered it for awhile – three days on a boat with rock bands and warmth. We were thiiiis close to buying a ticket when we realized 1. the bands that were playing play in New York frequently and 2. do we really want to be stuck on a cruise ship with half of Williamsburg? and 3. for the money we could create our own tropical getaway.

Swimming at Flamenco beach

First we defined our criteria: direct flight from New York, easy, but not something that was just an all inclusive resort or tourist trap. Not too pricey. We decided on Puerto Rico because we don’t need a passport to go there and would not have to change money. I remembered when SMH and I were doing research for our tropical vacation last year we seriously considered Culebra, a small island to the east of Puerto Rico. It features one gas station, one ATM, and nary an all inclusive resort. Perfect. We mustered the troops: SMH, S., A. and myself and a few weeks of research and a few conferences calls later and we were set.

Waves, Flamenco beach

Here’s why you go to Culebra: you love beautiful beaches with hardly anyone on them, nature, and a slow pace of life. You don’t go there if you want all inclusive packages or jumpin’ nightlife or high fashion.

Beach essentials

Flamenco beach from the air as we approach Culebra

The flight itself is worth it. While there is a ferry from Fajardo, we were advised not to take it and I can see why. It was cancelled two out of the four days we were there. Instead we flew Vieques Air Link (you can also take Air Flamenco) from Isla Grande Airport in San Juan to Culebra – a half an hour flight. Limited to 30 pounds of luggage a piece before we got on the plane we joked that there would be a public shaming ritual where everyone was asked their weight. It turned out to be true! The plane is small enough it needs to be weight balanced and I felt like we were in van that happened to fly. For the landing we flew right over Flamenco beach, one of the world’s best beaches and where were staying. After the beach it looked like we were headed right for the trees! We flew in between two mountains, banked hard to the left and landed. I admit it, I was whimpering. As we were getting out the pilot was laughing and said, “Someone back there was scared!” I sheepishly admitted to it. At the airport we sipped a perfect cafe con leche and waited for our rental jeep to arrive.

Coming in for a landing in paradise

Culebra is a small island, but not so tiny that you can walk everywhere. The roads are narrow and twisty and it’s helpful to have some kind of transportation. After looking into the three car rental options available S. found the perfect one for us: Dick and Cathie’s Jeep Rental, which features the very strange Volkswagen “Thing,” a car that has a cultish following in the US. It’s got 4 gears and feels a little like driving a riding lawn mower, but with speed limits that max out at 35 miles an hour who needs a sleek jeep with frivolous features like windows and a roof? Cruising around in the Thing, top down, made it clear we were on vacation. We adored the Thing and “thinging” became a verb for driving somewhere in our vacation parlance. Dick also showed us where to park in town, where the super markets were, pointed out the vegetable seller that came to the island once a week (score!) and warned us about a pothole so big it tipped over a cement mixer. Dick and Cathie also offer bike rentals. We rented mountain bikes for 2 days, but were so busy with doing nothing, we never used them.

Driving the Thing

Party in the Thing!

Trunk in the front

For lodging we stayed at Culebra Beach Rentals on Flamenco beach, which has been rated one of the top 10 beaches in the world. The rentals featured everything we needed, and have full kitchens, so it was easy to prepare our own food. The highlight of our place was the huge porch with rocking chairs, a hammock, a dining table and grill. We prepared our dinners and ate family style every night, joined by a group of feral cats who seduced us with their sweet ways and were treated to a gourmet diet of chicken, fish and beef while were there.  Of course the best part was that the beach was steps away and we walked out at every hour to soak in the sun, sunset or stars.

The "villas" at Culebra beach rentals - so cute!

Porch friend. The mellowest one-eyed cat ever. I almost brought this one home.

Flamenco beach was wide, vast and even though some grumbled it had been “discovered” at maximum we counted 35 people there. There’s also a cluster of food stalls you can walk down to that feature homemade mofungo, shark kebabs, and from the “Mexican” themed one the best pina colada we had on the island.

Showing off my new Esther Williams suit on Flamenco beach

Thanks to the Thing we also explored some of the island’s other beaches: Zoni beach, which was the locals secret 10 years ago, but is now well known to locals and visitors. These included some nudists, who we were surprised to discover far down the beach.

Zoni beach, Culebra, PR

Enjoying the beach life

We also went to Tamarindo beach, which features a reef full of sea life that is perfect for snorkeling. You have to be sure not to touch anything though – Culebra was used by the US Navy for training exercises and there are still unexplored bombs on the ocean floor! Tamarindo is also one of the few beaches on the island that faces west, making it prime real estate for sunset watching.

Sunset from Tamarindo beach, Culebra, PR

Tamarindo beach, before sunset

Beach chickens

For the inside scoop on beaches and snorkeling we asked at the dive shop on the main street by the ferry dock. They also recommended Captain Sebastian to us for a boating adventure, but I’ll write more about that in part 2.

I’ll leave you with a few more scenes that I hope will transport you out of winter for a moment. I remember my former dubiousness about going to the Caribbean, which I have since shed. I think it’s really about finding the places off the beaten track that are strong on local flavor and pride. It’s about respecting the unique culture of a place and appreciating the rhythm of island life. In addition to the sun, sand and time away I appreciated that we found a place that felt so “us.” For a getaway from winter with some of my best friends I couldn’t ask for more.

Frozen mojito at Mamacita's

Bakery in downtown Culebra. Delicious pastries!

Culebra Dive Shop

Hotel Kokomo, downtown Culebra

Note: This was the inaugural trip for my new digital SLR camera – a Canon Rebel T3i. These photos are mostly taken from this, but the airplane shots are from my trusty Canon PowerShot (and taken by SMH) because I needed something quickly at hand (and he had a better view in the plane).

Note 2: For more information on all things Culebra visit this sweet website.

North by Midwest

Minocqua, Wisconsin

Being from the East Coast I feel that I was raised with a bit of snobbery where the Midwest was concerned. It wasn’t that it wasn’t nice, it was just that there was very little reason for me to go there. Besides airport stopovers in Chicago and Minneapolis when my mom and I would fly west to visit family in California, Wyoming and Colorado as I child, I never spent any time there. That changed in my earlier twenties when, the course of one year, I drove across the country three times. I got to explore Minneapolis, Madison and Chicago and found that hey, these are really nice places with a lot going on! But still, my snobbery remained in a small corner of my heart.

Afternoon walk on the Bearskin State Park trail with bonnet handmade by Donna S. White and Cachemire et Soie sunglasses by Jimmy Fairly

This fall I had the opportunity thanks to work to revisit my beloved Detroit, as well as Chicago and quick stops in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. The highlight of my trip, however, was three days in Minocqua, in the north woods of Wisconsin, about a 5 hour drive from Milwaukee.

Fall in Minocqua, WI

I was there for a day-long gathering of arts service providers, but had some extra time to appreciate the landscape.  I had no idea that the north woods is a huge summer destination for residents of Chicago and Milwaukee. The desk clerk at the hotel told me that the town of Minocqua has a year-round population of 5,000, but that swells to over 70,000 during the summer. I came right between fall foliage and holiday season and the Waters, a large, old time feeling log-cabin resort complete with indoor water park, was nearly deserted. No matter. I enjoyed my in-room fire place and having the hot tub in the water park all to myself.

Lobby at the Waters, Minocqua, WI

When I wasn’t working I found myself with plenty to do. My first night I enjoyed a hearty dinner of sandwiches and locally brewed beer overlooking the lake at Minocqua Brewing Company and the second night specially prepared Bratwurst at Otto’s. Otto’s is filled with treasures that the owners have brought back from all over the world, including beer steins and authentic suits of armor. That is when I remembered, “Oh yeah, this part of the midwest is still very German! That town further south from here named Rhinelander is no coincidence.”

Otto's in downtown Minocqua, WI

The north woods is home to many talented artists who are excited about their communities and dedicated to their work. One place that serves as a gathering place for local, national and international talent is the Campanile Center for the Arts, whose Executive Director also runs Loon Land Trading Company, a store full of north woods goodness.

Trestle bridge on the Bearskin State Park trail

A major highlight was a late afternoon walk on the Hiawatha and Bearskin State Park trail. Located along a disused railway line, it begins in Minocqua and passes over two, beautiful wooden trestle railway bridges. I loved the sun reflecting off the lakes, where I watched fishermen bringing their boats in for the day, and met year-round residents out walking their dogs.

As I looked around me the landscape and the trees reminded me of a place I know very well: Maine. It’s about the same latitude, has the same industries (tourism, logging, farming), and the same kind of vegetation, as well as hard working people who are filled with ingenuity. In fact, playing my Maine card was a smart idea, as my host announced, “She’s a real person, she’s not from New York! She grew up in Maine!”

Also, apparently I’m not the only one who loves this region, because the New York Times just ran an article about the north woods “supper clubs” in last weekend’s travel section!

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 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

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