Monday, July 24, 2006

paris on my mind

what I wouldn't give for:
a madeleine from rue Vavin
a glass of kir with France
a metro ride to tuilleries
a gallette from Marche Raspaille on Sunday morning
a midnight snack with Gino at hotel de chevreuse
a dance at v.i.p. room
a trip to chinatown
a paris raindrop
a moonlit jardin Luxembourg
my blue pantheon, my pont neuf promenade
bus-ride through Odeon, I see galleries, Japanese teapots, my eyes wide open
oh my city, bon vivant!

le Marais - petite histoire

Old Paris as one might remember from idyllic French movies or past excursions can still be found today in Le Marais. Layers of history enliven this culturally eclectic quarter in the 3rd arrondissement with avant-garde style, color, and an ancient wisdom that goes beyond the facades of bright bistros and funky shops. The energy is entrancing and the artful way of life—the small baker where you go every morning for croissant, the shop owner who sells beautiful paper, the petit restaurant down a hidden side street—unforgettable.

Le Marais, meaning “marsh,” has seen countless transformations: from a river swampland to an elite fashionable district for 17th century nobles, to a deteriorated wasteland after the Revolution. The Nineteenth century and first half of the Twentieth century saw industry, immigrants, and wartime hardship. Finally in the 1960s, the beautiful, historical buildings were rebuilt and placed under protection by the city. Today Le Marais is once again a center of culture, fashion, and growing prosperity.

Essential Visits

Place des Vosges –

Oldest square in Paris surrounded by a picturesque arcade and 17th century mansions, including Maison Victor Hugo.

Rue Franc Bourgeois –

Small designers, shoe shops, galleries, home decorating boutiques.

Centre Pompidou, Beaubourg–

Museum of Modern Art, exhibits, cinemas, library, and restaurant with a fabulous panoramic view from the top floor.

Musée Picasso –

Lavish 17th century mansion housing several thousand diverse works: paintings, sculptures, drawings, ceramics, engravings, and manuscripts, with several works by Cézanne and Matisse.

Mariage Frères Tea Salon–

Teatime luxury elevated to an art: fine teas, elegant colonial décor, and waiters all in white.

Temple, Jewish quarter –

Rue des Rosiers: yiddish markets, bakeries, bookstores, menora shops.

Cacao et chocolat –

36, rue Vieille du Temple. More types of chocolate than you knew existed from all over the world, plus hot chocolate and ice cream.

édéa –

47, rue de Turenne: Beautiful wooden décor from Cameroon, produced in an eco-friendly and ethical way.

Le Loir dans la théière –

3, rue de Rosiers. Small tea salon, amazing quiches (tartes salées) and omelettes for brunch. Funky décor and kid-friendly.

Travel Tip- Visit Le Marais on Sundays when many other neighborhoods are closed—but beware of the weekend crowds. If you prefer less people, choose a weekday.

(this article was first published in the fall 2004 issue of April Cornell - The Art of the Everyday)

Friday, July 21, 2006

hankering for haute couture

I recently saw the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" and walked away wondering what is so wrong with fashion anyhow? The beauty of a well-tailored piece seamlessly styled has the power to make any right-minded individual look--and feel--good. And what's so wrong with looking good these days? In the delirious campaign to shine their light of "inner beauty" from the highest of rooftops, we've lost sight of the importance of outer beauty--the art of self-presentation. It's not an issue of personal tastes; it's an issue of laziness. Anne Hathaway's character in the movie displays a sense of excitement and confidence with her new makeover. That confidence allows her a certain level of independence as she's faced with some tough decisions and circumstances. And yet, though she keeps the heeled boots at the end of the movie, she chooses to lose all of the wonderful clothes as though the clothes themselves were a symbol of her wayward path, and I have to ask why? Is this to teach us a lesson in the superficial? In the needless industry of fine threads? That's just one side of the story. With some imagination and resourcefulness, a nice presentation doens't really have to cost anything. And the result can make you feel like a million bucks.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

new summer cocktail

I love happening upon a treasure and the other day was no exception. While shopping at IKEA of all places, I laid my eyes upon a glistening bottle of elderflower concentrate, stuff which I thought was only available back in Europe. My mind brought me back to summers in the English countryside, in my grandmother's garden where we made bucketfuls of the sweet citrusy stuff and saved it in the larder. So I bought the bottle (a Swedish commercial version of that favorite summer cordial) for $4.59. When I got home, however, the taste--even watered down--was so acrid, I almost tossed it, until I arrived at a brilliant idea: what if I used it to make a cocktail?

So I poured over ice 1 part cordial to 1 part white rum, added a splash of sweetened lime juice, a sprig of fresh mint, and topped it off with sparkling water. Voila. And the result was, well, the New Summer Cocktail (n.s.c). My sister will kill me for divulging the secret. But I had to write it down somewhere. Two days later, the cordial was almost gone, so I watered it down with some Grand Marnier and the result was just as sweet and refreshing.

Here's to summer cocktails.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

elderflower cordial

ElderflowerSummer always brings to mind the elderflower, a wonderfully fragrant English blossom that preceeds the berries of the elder tree. The floral citrusy bouquet of a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, often described as grapefruit or leechee, is in my mind very similar to the elderflower. As a child, my sisters and I would make a sweet, syrupy cordial from the blossoms that grew behind my grandmother's garden on The Avenue in Sherborne, Dorset.

Don’t mistake the store-bought cordials or concentrates for the real deal. The only true elderflower cordial is that which you make yourself.

2kg (4½lb) Sugar
1.14lt (2 pints) Boiling Water
20 Elderflower Heads
80g (2¾ oz) Citric Acid
2 Lemons, grated rinds, sliced

to make:
Shake elderflower heads to ensure they are free of insects.
Place the water into a large saucepan and ring to the boil.
Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
Add the grated rind and sliced lemon, plus the citric acid.
Place the elderflower heads in a bowl, pour over the boiling water.
Leave for at least 12 hours covered with plastic wrap.
Sieve the liquid, to remove the solids.
Strain the liquid through muslin or even a coffee filter to clarify.
Dilute and add to sparkling water or Gin and soda.

Recipe couresty of the

made boutique

Speaking of d.i.y. fashion, check out Made Boutique & Gallery.

Monday, July 17, 2006

d.i.y. fashion

This is the slow food of the apparel industry. Slow down and take a look at the stitching, the unique details, and one-of-a-kind textures. Fashion can be art, can't it? If so, it entails thinking through and with the pattern; it entails putting together every garment by hand. It requires a resourceful nature; an imaginative soul; and an appreciation for old and new, for mistakes becoming masterpieces. Learn to make your own blouse, sew on the buttons, stitch a dart here and there, feel the beautiful fabric. Even an old pinstriped shirt can become something entirely different—a pillow sham, for instance. DIY fashion represents a renaissance of the way things used to be, stitched together with an oh-so-modern stance. It stands for indepence and independents. We need more of it—and them—these days.

Designs courtesy of Heinous Shrew

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Just give me a boat, a rod, and a quiet lake, or a meandering river, and I am there. I drink in the sun, close my eyes and feel the warm breeze skirting across the water. Dragging my hands in the crisp liquid, I peer into the depths, where a black narrowing tunnel coils down. It is beyond this, I imagine, where the fish are gazing back up at me dodging in the shadows of our little drifting boat.

I walk, with Father at my side, the entire length of the field behind our house: a paddle propped on my shoulder and a bottle of water in my hand. From there we edge our way down the slope to the beach. Father and I lift the green canoe up from its hiding place among the fir trees and carry it to the edge of Salem Lake. Warm water ripples quiver in the early afternoon sun. The firm boat glides in placidly and I follow it in my flip-flops letting the coolness creep in between my toes and up my bare shins.

“You want the front or back?” Father asks me roughly and then goes on without waiting for a response. “I’ll take the back, it’s kind of hard to steer. The wind’s picking up anyway.” I get in the front and sit down on the stiff cane seat. I loosen my flip-flops: they fall with a sodden thud to the floor. With a last great heave, Father steps onto the narrow boat and into his seat.

“We’ll follow the edge around to the other side, I’m gonna trawl for a minute.” He throws a lure over the back and lets it drag as I slowly row us through the subdued water. He steers us around the edge of the lake with his paddle. I tire easily, but I keep rowing. I love this time with Father. I know he is thinking only of the fish and the boat. He doesn’t even know I’m there. That’s the best time to be around him, because he’s not angry or stressed from work. He’s working the oar, and he’s thinking about the current that runs diagonally where the Clyde River cuts through the middle of the lake, continues lazily through the woods, and sighs into Little Lake Salem on the other side.

We reach the opposite side of the Lake. Looking back, I can see all the summer camps clumped along the shore and in the midst of them stands our house. It sits back on the slope shadowed by the dark pines. Father says, “Ok. Hang on a minute.” He hasn’t caught anything on a lure, and I know that I won’t either. He hands the rod over to me and slowly slides his fly rod out from under the seats. I should be casting, but instead, I set the base of the rod down by my feet, so the tip hangs over the front.

I rest my cheek on my knees and wait and listen. Swoosh, swoosh. The faint whisper of the line sings as my dad throws the rod forward and back. The fly drops to the surface several yards in front of me. It jumps to the right, and then swims toward me a bit, then to the left. I can’t even see it, but I can just make out the ripples that it leaves when it jumps. The fly floats slowly to the edge of the boat and then rises back up and into the air. There it goes again! The rhythmic dance grows in my mind and grows fainter with the darkening sky.

I open my eyes. Father is turning the boat so our house is directly in front of us across the lake. We start paddling back to the beach. I don’t have a watch on. How long have we been out there? Hours? Minutes? Seconds? We have no fish, but I have Father at my back, steering the slow, tired canoe. I’m so sleepy and the trickle of the water that falls from the moving oars hypnotizes me into another dream. I pull my oar in. Father keeps rowing.

“Do you need me?” I ask over a slouched shoulder.

I don’t even wait for the answer. I am sleeping even before he can say to me, “I got it.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

about me

Growing up in a Pentecostal household, one is regularly faced with the question of sacred vs. sacrilege: what promotes good Christian behavior and what is the Devil’s work? One has a mental checklist—horoscopes are bad, as are school dances, New Age music, trick-or-treating, low-cut blouses, lottery tickets—and the gravity of the crime is determined by the size of its punishment. The first time my oldest sister led my middle sister and me in a séance, we were all grounded for a month, but not before my imminent death was proclaimed over a bowl of skinless grape eye-balls. I was sure we were going straight to hell.

Yet here I still am, 26 years old, the youngest of three daughters of a Puerto Rican preacher and a runaway English nanny. My mental list of dos and don’ts looks somewhat different now, as is normal when one grows a mind of one’s own. But despite my constant questioning and revaluing, one thing hasn’t changed. It’s the one thing that holds me together, and at the same time inspires me to break away. The one thing I can point to and say, this is me, this is why I’m here: it is my family.

Perhaps it is the strong tether I have to my family that provides me with the courage, indeed the faith, to stray so far beyond my safety zone. For, if I ever stray too far, if I am lost and begin to question myself, I know to look to my oldest sister with her heart of a thousand mothers, and to my middle sister, with the fearless strength of one hundred presidents, to find myself, the youngest sister with the mind of just one woman. Together we form a triad of Courage, Heart, and Mind—just like the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Soldier—one does not exist without the others.

Ours is a bond, which some have expressed as unusually lucky, and which others have tried to mimic and attain—and some to break—without success. I don’t chock it up to luck. Nor do I believe that being a preacher’s kid makes it any easier to love and forgive. Indeed, others with the same lot in life have ended up quite the opposite. To be sure, the adoration and respect I have for my sisters, and they for me, was not always thus. My sisters and I are as different as they come, forging our identities from our dissimilarities: the eldest, beautiful in her thoughtful dissidence, the middle sister in her brave and bullish nature, and me, in my academic aspirations. Yet, we’ve learned to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, rather than compete with them.

Throughout our childhood, we didn’t have the latest toys or name-brand cereals and we were always moving about to the next church and town. But even in the worst moments, as we wondered where the next meal would come from or where our next house would be, I remember my mother and father always saying that through faith we would be blessed. In time, I learned this to be true.

My faith, however, looks somewhat different from theirs; less the Bible kind, my faith is a confidence formed from courage, heart, and mind. If my sisters and I represent each of these parts, my mother and father represent their entire sum—so strong is their undying devotion and perseverance. Surely, the risks that they’ve taken, the questions they have studied and pondered, the passions and relationships they have formed along the way—all have inspired me to explore this larger world of ours, develop my own passions, and ask those necessary questions.

After graduating from college in 2002, I ventured far from my home to Arles, France to be an Au Pair for a culinary family and their two sons. During my five-month sojourn, I came to behold everyday life raised to an art form—tactile and different, it began with the food and led to beautiful daily rituals and cultural emblems. The mint tea that was served at the Hammam in La Roquet steamed my face sweetly just like the hazy rooms of the public bath there. The gold-leaf and glass mug in which the tisane was served recalled the hand-painted tiles covering the walls and floor. The eddying desert music resounded just like the echoing voices of the Moroccan families who came there to bathe. There was no end to the sensory and intellectual stimulation, and as I searched to ground myself in that foreign land—by embracing the ancient architectural structures, by tasting the food, and by connecting with the individuals there—I kept a journal of my experiences and found my real grounding in the words I created from them.

Arles has remained my muse and I continually resource my writings and recollections from my time there for inspiration and insight in my creative writing for clothing and linens designer, April Cornell. April’s printed fabrics refer with detail to her travels: a benefit concert in India, a candlelit dinner in Portugal, a nature walk in the Boreal Woods of Northern Quebec. Through her writing, April has taught me the power of the eye to see, the mind to travel, and the word to convey.

Recently, I returned to Arles. Perhaps it was the heady Provencal air and the cicada’s summer anthem that sent my mind into a tizzy one night, causing me to sit down before the mysterious Madame Ferrari, Medium and Fortune-Teller, and against all my learned faith, allow her to read my cards. With a quick flip of the tarot and a single calculation on paper, she breathed a clue into my future: I will be a writer. I will write my stories. I will forever be drawn to Arles and its people, and I will always be drawn back home again.

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