John Derian

Today I made my pilgrimage to the 3 sweet shops on East 2 St @ 2nd Ave and Bowery that comprise the John Derian Collection. I’ve know, admired, and envied John’s eye and art since 1994 when I opened Found Objects and sold his work.

Initially decoupage plates, then vase, then paperweights and so on. Now there’s linen and furniture, cards and ephemera, china and antique French sleep shirts,  oddities and whimseys. A world that entices and delights. Really more than my sensibilities can encompass in several hours of careful scrutiny. 

Today I held myself in check and bought just two issues of Gather. The love child of Michele Outland and Fiorella Valdesolo. If you don’t know it. Get it!

Atlantic

Atlantic is a main drag here. One corner is anchored by the largest Trader Joe’s I’ve ever seen. But there are also lots of  small  businesses and cafes and pizza joints. 

There’s also a cat cafe 


This is a non profit  that rescues kittens (Katie, are you listening?) and houses them until they are adopted. The window was just full of lounging in the warm afternoon sun happy cats. 

I popped into a British pub which featured about 100 beers you’ve never heard of–at least speaking for myself. I usually drink about 2 beers a year but what the heck when in Rome etc. so I ordered an Irish stout. O’Hara’s. It was good. Had a unique espresso after taste. Went well with the cod and chips. Watched the last 30″ of a FIFA game Chile vs Germany 1-1. 

Then I wandered around shooting interesting buildings and went home–hot tired and, yes, sweaty. I started the day with yoga and walked 7K steps this afternoon. So back to my British police procedural and a relax as they say.   Ta!!

Five Senses

The notion of satisfying each of our senses in any given day is something I aspire to experience.  So how did I do today?

TASTE

I slept in a little and ate a really good breakfast Burrito.  But wait, there’s more in the taste department.  I wandered down Montague St. and took a seat at Pain Quotidian and ordered a Very large capuchino. Quite good. But the best thing of all was the late lunch I had at B Good.  A freshly prepared salad of quinoa, kale fresh veggies barely sautéed sprinkled with toasted garbanzos and pumpkin seeds. Really a feast. 

HEARING

Not so good. A cacaphonous medley of sirens, car alarms, fire engines’ horns bleating, emergency vehicles braying and the usual human contributions to crowded streets. 

SIGHT

This was a stellar day. I heading to Pierpont St to the Brooklyn Historic Society. The beautiful 4- story brick Queen Anne style building was constructed in 1881. Thankfully it has survived. 

  • The second floor contains the Othmer Library. The collection is focused on materials pertinent to Brooklyn.   You can go there to do research utilizing the archives. 
  • The exhibit that most interested me were the photographs of David Attie. Mr Attie was sent on assignment to photograph a memoir Truman Capote was writing about the years he lived in Brooklyn Heights. They became friends just as the talented writer was on the cusp of celebrity. Capote lived in Brooklyn Heights–not far from where I’m staying. Attie went on to have a successful career as well. 

SMELL

Coffee beans roasting, fresh bakery goods just out of the oven.  The mouthwatering aromas of Nathan’s hotdogs from a sidewalk vendor’s cart. Exhaust. 

TOUCH

Thus is my favorite sense. Today it was satisfied by a pedicure and a chair massage by a talented and energetic young woman–Jessie–at the Dashing Diva at 130 Montague St. 

When Michangelo Buonarroti painted God and Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel they were striving to touch finger to finger. Adam is yearning to make contact with the divine. We all do. However, we are earth bound and must take our pleasure in human touch as it is offered. 

Wishing you a wealth of joy in every sense!

DUMBO

OK. let me first say I’m writing with my thumbs. The other 8 digits are holding the phone. I bravely (stupidly) decided to leave the heavy Toshiba home so there you go!

I walked a lot today. I did more than five miles.   Leaving the Promenade behind I headed down to DUMBO under the Brooklyn Bridge and explored some nice shops such as the new Shinola shop. Very nice.  Go Detroit!

The area has done a great job pf restoring and repurposing old buildings like the one pictured which was once a warehouse.

Another find was the outpost of the Brooklyn Historic Society which has a brilliant photography exhibit of the changes in the waterfront from Red Hook to the the area under both bridges .

The main collection is on Pierpont St in Brooklyn Heights which I plan to visit tomorrow

At 3:30 I decided to call it a day  I got back to the condo hot and sticky.  Sweaty.    “Yes, Daddy, I know girls don’t sweat. Horses sweat, girls perspire!”    Well,  I was sweaty!  

I pulled off my shoes socks tee shirt shorts and bra and was grateful for the lovely breeze pouring through the window.  


Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn Heights Day 1

Got up early and went out for a much needed walk. Too many hours sitting at SeaTac and on a plane. The comfortable condo perches on the heights looking at the spires  of a lovely old church. The nearby Promenade offers Lady Liberty the B Bridge and lower Manhattan all swept like confetti into your visual pathway. 

New Yorkers are so friendly and helpful. And the men flirt. Especially the ethnic Carribeans. Example:  “Adonde viene?”  One of the staff asked me in the little cafe where I ate breakfast on Montague Street. This place is filled with locals all talking loudly about the news the death of the young man tortured by the North Koreans and Trump’s latest shanigans. Clearly I was new to the neighborhood. 

“Seattle Washington. ” I replied.  ( I don’tknow how he knew I spoke Spanish. )

“Me lleva?” he responded. 

“Ahorita, no, pero mañana, quizás ” I said.  

Big smile and “Hasta mañana!”

So a great way to start a girl’s day. 

My Leonard Cohen

I was living in California when Suzanne became popular.  I remember listening to it over and over trying to puzzle out what the song was about “She feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China.”  Beautiful imagery and a haunting melody.  Sweeter and sexier than Dylan’s music, Cohen made me yearn for a lover who’d be like Suzanne’s.  “…you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.” A man who saw that my body was perfect and who could touch my mind.  Touch my mind–always the most important thing.  But at the time I was musing on such things,  I was a mother of two young boys and married.

“The sun pours down like honey.”

“There are heroes in the seaweed.”

Then came “Bird on a Wire.”   I like Leonard’s version and Tim Hardin’s best, but probably owned and listened to Judy Collins’ version first since I bought almost all her albums.  The drunk, the prostitute “Why not ask for more?”

“I have tried in my way to be free.”

It was only after I saw The Master–the movie about the Scientology movement–that I finally understood  “Famous Blue Raincoat.”

“Yes, and Jane came by with a lock of your hair, she said that you gave it to her that night that you planned to go clear.

Did you ever go clear?”

And then Chelsea Hotel and Janis Joplin and Leonard’s evocation of all that I had ever imagined Janis might be.

“I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel.  You were talking so brave and so sweet.  Giving me head on the unmade bed while the limosines wait in the street.”

The last line which always breaks my heart.

“That’s all, I don’t even think of you that often.”

And you know that he does.

Now that I’m much, much older I’ve grown to love “Dance Me to the End of Love.”  The imagery of a wedding night, the breathless and anxious moments when you’re first alone in the bedroom. The lines that describe being inside your lover.  As I move to that melody, the swaying beat, the thrumming heat, I dream that I might melt into the arms of a angel.

“Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin.  Dance me through the panic til I’m gathered safely in.  Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove.  Dance me to the end of love.”

I Remember Where I was Fifty Years Ago

I do remember where I was. It was my twenty-second birthday. I remember that day clearly. I was sitting in my office on the UC Berkeley campus when someone turned their radio up so we could all hear the stunning news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. We sat in numbed silence as the campanile bells began to toll in regular cadence. Staff and students walked out of the buildings and scattered across the silent campus. I don’t remember anyone telling us we could leave; we just did.

My husband and I rendezvoused at our car and as people often do when in shock, we did the usual and mundane: we stopped for some groceries. We made our way home to the little community of Pinole north of Berkeley where we lived. We stopped to get Peter, our 13 month old son, from his day care center. His care giver was ashen-faced–I suppose we all were. We wondered if our country was under attack. We wondered how this could happen. We were afraid.

My grandparents were staying with us to celebrate Thanksgiving and my birthday. I don’t remember either of those events. I remember watching and listening to the small black and white TV in our living room that long terrible day and those that followed. I don’t remember going to work or doing anything besides watching and listening except to care for Peter.

I remember Walter Cronkite’s choking voice announcing that the president was dead. I remember weeping and being unable to sleep. I remember my grandparents’ shocked disbelief.

I remember when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby.

The two terrible deaths yet to come–Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Junior–are forever linked in my mind to the president’s death. Those three deaths marked and frame the astounding changes in our country that followed. So, yes, I do remember what happened fifty years ago.

Some of my Favorite Places In Rome

Il Ritrovo del Gusto on via Coronari
Il Ritrovo del Gusto on via Coronari

Shops

Sotto L’Arco

via del Pellegrino

Wonderful artisan-made jewelry.  Great design, stones and prices

Studio 9

vicolo della Moretta, 9

just off Banci Vecchi

local artists–very well curated paintings, ceramics jewelry

Lo Studio d’Arte

via del Pellegrino 44

photographs by Cristiano the owner that are augmented with paint and other materials

Pandora della Malva
wonderful scarves, hand bags, jewelry

Pza. S. Giovanni della Malva 3

In Trastevere

Sinopia Galleria

Raffaella Lupi, prop.

via di banchi nuovi

contemporary art of highest quality

Pietro Simonelli

Scultore

via dei Banchi Vecchi 125

Alain

decorative accessories, lighting, modern antiques

via del Pellegrino,  171

Restaurants

Barnum Café

via del Pellegrino, 87

Ristorante Vecchia Roma

pza. Campitelli )near Ghetto)

Ristorante Matricianella

via del Leone, 4 (near Spanish Embassy)

Il Ritrovo del Gusto

via dei Coronari, 30

Loving Rome

On our way home we spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of Heathrow.  In the cattle call breakfast room the next morning I looked around and knew for sure that I was not in Rome.  These folks were not Italian and the breakfast certainly was not!  Eggs–hadn’t seen them for two months!  Coffee–undrinkable.  Where was my chocolate cornetti? I missed my baristo at Barnum’s and his delicious cappuccino?  The freshly squeezed orange juice. The brilliant Raphael-blue sky. This was not Rome.

Rome is a mystery. One day you hate it and the next day you love it. It is annoying and then delightful. You are repulsed by the crowds, and then, in the process of avoiding the crowds, you stumble on a new street and an unseen treasure appears. This is exactly how our two weeks in Rome went. Sometimes my feelings about Rome changed from hour to hour, but finally, in the end, I succumbed to the beauty of the place and the charm of the people, and yes, the food!

We spent two warm and sunny weeks visiting one splendid, wrecked site after another. We spent whole days strolling through marvelous, decrepid old palaces full of spectacular treasures.  We walked endlessly on dirty cobble-stoned streets carpeted with cigarette butts and garbage only to arrive at a restaurant with such delicious food I salivate at the memory.

Then there were the annoying aspects of Rome. Arriving at the post office laden with packages, waiting an hour and a half, finally reaching the head of the line, smiling and trying to please a surly mandarin at the desk and at the end, being told all the forms must be completed in Italian and the charges must be paid in cash–lot’s of cash. We definitely felt we were being held hostage but didn’t really know what our crime was. I think it was wanting to mail three boxes out of the country. Lot’s of extra work for the clerk.

Yes, it’s very annoying when the stores all close from 1-4. Very annoying! Yes, it’s a capitol city and it should adopt the efficiencies of modern business practices such as ours. But Italy hasn’t and probably won’t.

Yes, you should be able to eat dinner at 6 p.m. But you can’t. You can have a sandwich or a pizza anytime, but you can’t have dinner until 7:30 or even later.

more lunch in Rome
more lunch in Rome

Yes, I know children need 8 hours of sleep but Italian children eat dinner with their families and stay up late and somehow get to school the next day. They may nap all afternoon–perhaps they even nap at their schools, I don’t know, but no one seems to go to bed at 7 p.m., that’s when they eat dinner.

High flyer at Barnum's
High flyer at Barnum’s

At Barnum’s, our favorite coffee bar, we are greeted warmly by the baristo.  We sit and savor our cornetti and cappucino.  “Bonjour!”  It’s our friend, Alain, the antique store owner we like so much.  He introduces us to his daughter; calling us his  “amichi,” his friends.

Barnum's coffee bar on via Peligrino
Barnum’s coffee bar on via Peligrino

Heart warming.  You cannot imagine how good it feels to be recognized and warmly greeted after being gone from home for three months.  Alain is French. He married a Roman; they are raising two daughters in the center of Roma.   He and Ken developed a friendship of shared interests and sensibilities.  We hope to see Alain again.  A man who speaks English, French and Italian.  (His daughter speaks only Italian!)  He is a talented man and an interesting person who is eager to share his thoughts and feelings. It is unusual when a native shares his observations and concerns with “tourists.”

I realize that the a secret to enjoying a place is to stay there long enough to know your way around and be comfortable moving about without a map in your hand.  The other is to make some friends–even if you never see those friends again. It is important to reach out, warm up, do your best to speak their language, enjoy their way of doing things.

I read a few lines about Romans in one of Rick Steves’ books.  He says there is no word for privacy in Italian. He was commenting on the close, overly emeshed lives Italian families lead. Each morning as we walked to Barnum’s we passed a very elegant antique store and each morning a well groomed, very petite, and neatly dressed woman in her 80’s walked slowly down the street, leaning on a cane and the arm of a handsome man in his 40’s. Her thick gray hair was coifed in a perfect bob. It was so perfect it might have been a wig! Her pants suit was well cut for her tiny frame. She and her escort did not speak. They made their way to the store nearly every morning just as we were on our way to Barnum’s. There she was at the end of the day standing in the doorway waiting for her escort to walk her home!

One morning getting a later start, we glanced into the antique shop and saw the man with his shirt sleeves rolled up. He was busy re-merchandising the store. Hot and hard work. I’ve done it many times! The lady was facing him speaking to him. Suddenly he advanced swiftly toward her with his arm out in front of him, finger pointing at her. His face betrayed frustration if not barely controlled anger. We heard him say in a loud voice “Mama!” The rest was lost to us. We walked on. The stories you’ve heard about Italian men and their mothers and their lives together is real. When will her son leave home? Hard to say.

Now I’m home writing and reflecting on our remarkable journey: from Shakespeare to Hadrian; from cave men to the Etruscans; from mosaics to painted villas. We saw the treasure and history of centuries of human endeavor. For me, the single most important aspect of these three months abroad is the realization that seeing new things and learning about them is what I most enjoy. The visual stimulation, especially in Rome, is what thrills me.

Basilica San Vitale Ravenna Italy
Basilica San Vitale Ravenna Italy

Two gasp-inducing places, Basilica San Vitale a 5th C church emblazoned with mosaics and marble in Ravenna, and Villa Farnesina in the Trastevere in Rome built in the 15th C where every wall and ceiling is hand painted are my touchstones. They are so visually spectacular–each in its own way–that I will never forget the moment I stepped over their thresholds and lost myself in wonder. Seeing the work of artists and crafts people who lived hundreds of years ago whose work can stop you in your tracks–bring you to your knees–will always remain with me.

The Perspective Room Villa Farnesina Trastevere Rome
The Perspective Room
Villa Farnesina
Trastevere Rome

Living in Rome

Like all big cities, Rome is hard to learn especially the old central part of the city.  It is a jumbled puzzle box full of odd shaped pieces made up of short, narrow, winding, cobbled streets which change names erratically.

via dei Cappellari
via dei Cappellari

We are presently living on via Cappellari  which is more or less parallel to via Giulia and the Tiber.  Via dei Cappellari–the street of the hat makers–runs for several blocks under that name and then passes through the Campo and becomes Via dei Giubonari crosses Via Arenula and heads into the Ghetto as Via di Portico d’Octavia.  It’s important to know how this works because you might be on the “right” street–the one you are searching for–just haven’t gone far enough–or too far.

Another thing you might not recognize as valuable information are rione numbers.  Just as Paris has its arondissements, Rome has rione.  A street sign might say via Cappellari rione vi.  To a Roman this tells them where you are in the same way zip codes do in the U.S.  That said, Romans refer to landmarks, this piazza or that church, to give directions.  All this has to do with getting lost because you will: all the time, night and day, and you either allow time for being lost or you hire taxis or you exhaust yourself and have no energy for viewing the monument you wanted to see.  Getting lost isn’t bad really, unless you’re tired, need to use a toilet, or are late to a dinner date.

Reservations for dinner are important if you’re going to a good place.  By good, I do not mean expensive.  Last night we ate at Matricianella on via del Leone near San Lorenzo in Lucina.  It’s small and very popular.  The food is delicious.  I had carciofa giudia and tagliatino tartufo.  I love truffles and this dish was topped with shaved black truffle over barely sauced perfect pasta.  A green salad and sorbetto shared with Ken who had a buffalo mozzarella with prosciutto, and lasagna completed our menu.  I had a glass of prosecco and we each ordered a glass of a local red–rich and dark.  This with a litre of sparkling water and bread came to 70E or $87.

Many tourists fall under the spell of sitting at a café just outside a famous monument.  Your decision will cost you more, and probably will be inferior to, the small café off the tourist path. The cost of a café–one shot of espresso–standing at the bar will be 1E.  When you have table service it will be double that or more depending on your location.

We have a favorite little coffee bar we visit every morning for cappucino and cornetto. They also make fresh orange juice in a tall glass. Two cappucino, two cornetti and one OJ cost 8E.

Selecting a place to live–in our case for two weeks–can be very difficult. All the on-line booking sites that show pages and pages of pictures are not always what they seem. We found the pictures deceptive in some cases and the availability calendars frequently inaccurate. I’ve come to the conclusion the requests we sent in were used to get us to take places we hadn’t inquired about but that were available.

We eventually took two places; one for 8 days, the other for 6. The first one was a huge disappointment. The old building was gorgeous from the floor landings and it was quiet, but the apartment had no views and was in need of maintenance and cleaning from top to bottom. Deposits aren’t refundable so you’re stuck if you’re unhappy.
Rome Trastevere 2013-10-17 001

 

 

The second place is lovely. It’s only drawback is street noise; few cars but motos, late night diners, and general street noise would keep us up all night. Luckily the owner wisely installed new sound proof windows and a modern AC unit in the bedroom so we sleep soundly. The rest of the place is lovely. Light is a premium and this apartment has two windows in the bedroom and a big window in the living/dining room.

rome 2013-10-26 004

rome 2013-10-26 001

rome 2013-10-26 009

We’ve had many interesting discussions with Italians–usually artists whose studios we visit. They often speak good English and are eager to talk about politics and economics. They are universally worried about Italy and what lies ahead for them. I would describe them as depressed and very concerned. One artist who is married (his wife is also an artist) with a five year old pays 1,000E for studio rent and 1,000E for his apartment per month. He said he is having a very hard time making the rents. If Italy goes down, he’ll move to Philadelphia where he has family. His story–in one way or another–was repeated over and over again.

This despair and concern is mixed with anger over the ever increasing taxes the government is applying. Speaking with a FedEx employee about the cost to ship a package, we were told an additional tax of 22% will be applied to the cost of shipping as a result of recent new regulations.

Of course, this inclines us to use the Post Office which we have been doing. There is no tracking system which is alarming. Sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever see our things again. We had real pause for concern at the Rome PO the other day when we paid over 200E to send two boxes–the entire amount had to be paid in cash. They do NOT use credit cards. We were scratching our head over a postal system in the capital city not set up to use credit cards. How could that be!

Despite these differences from our tidy lives at home, Rome remains a beautiful and interesting city.  So many amazing and richly soul-rewarding experiences.  I spent four hours yesterday at the Etruscan museum viewing rooms full of ornaments, furniture, household goods and statuary.  At one point, I stood before a life-sized Etruscan couple lounging together on a couch.  I knew they had lived many hundreds of years ago however I was profoundly moved by their smiles, their outstretched arms and beautifully modeled hands beckoning me to join them at a banquet in their home high on some Tuscan hilltop.  My guess is the evening would have included musicians, dancers and witty conversation.  For a moment I was there.