Before I had even arrived in Milan, I had read about 10 Corso Como and was dying to go there. Located near Porta Nuova at the address from which it takes its name, it's a stylish art gallery, bookshop, fashion store, cafe, terrace, and boutique hotel all rolled into one.
It's founder, Carla Sozzani, spent the early part of her career working as an editor for various Italian fashion magazines (including Vogue Italia, where her sister Franca is currently Editor in Chief) and American Vogue. Over the years, she worked with famous photographers including Herb Ritts, Bruce Webber, Robert Mapplethorpe, Juergen Teller, and William Wegman, publishing several books and photography catalogs along the way.
But it was in 1990 that Sozzani used her years of editorial experience to create a "living magazine" in a former mechanic's workshop at 10 Corso Como. Beginning with the Galleria Carla Sozzani, the concept space eventually evolved into a multi-level shopping and dining complex selling art, fashion, music, contemporary design objects and more.
The indoor/outdoor cafe on the ground floor is in a quiet courtyard surrounded by plants and flowers:
We sat outside and enjoyed a decadent lunch in between browsing the various floors.
Also on the ground floor is a large retail space featuring an assortment of apparel, jewelry, and accessories from high-end designers:
Heading upstairs, there is a bookstore with an extensive collection of fashion, design, art, photography, travel, and food titles:
Turntables for the DJ:
And 3 hotel suites overlooking the courtyard, each with it's own private entrance and all furnished in homage to mid-20th and 21st century designers so that visitors can live the 10 Corso Como experience.
The top floor houses the original Galleria Carla Sozzani art gallery, which was exhibiting the winners of the 2014 World Press Photos contest, including this haunting image of blind Indian albino boys by Brent Stirton.
Last, but not least, there is a beautiful rooftop terrace, full of brightly tiled furniture, metal and stone sculptures, lush plants, and great views.
For some time now I've wanted to write a memoir. Or something memoirish, based on real life experiences - say, short little vignettes about my travels. Or what it was like to battle Breast Cancer. I love reading memoirs (Wild being the most recent), and every time I do, I think, "I could do this!"
So I enrolled in a 4-week workshop at Grub Street, a nonprofit writing center that welcomes people of all levels. It is, in fact, the second largest independent center for creative writing in the U.S. (The Loft in Minneapolis is the largest), and I first learned of it from my author friends, Crystal and Jane).
The workshop I'm taking, Writing from Real Life, is taught by Judah Leblang, a local teacher, author and storyteller. There are twelve of us in the class, and over the course of four weeks we'll learn how to structure memoirs and personal narratives based on our own experiences (as Judah says, "If you've made it to adulthood, you have lots of material!").
We had our first class this past Sunday night; it was at Grub Street headquarters in the beautiful old Steinert Hall building on Boylston Street (we're up on the 5th floor, but be sure to read about the abandoned music hall in the basement). Judah kicked things off with this quote from author Jean Rhys:
All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. And there are trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don't matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.
To me, Rhys is underscoring the idea that storytelling is central to humanity. That is why so many people choose to write, and so many choose to read. We talked about how it is the small details of life that make us human, and how the power of detail is central to writing memoirs and personal essays. We also discussed the difference between a memoir and a personal essay - the former is often a chronological telling of difficult personal experience that leads to wisdom/meaning, and the latter is a lighter riff on a singular topic.
Lastly, we ran through a few writing exercises where Judah (or fellow classmates) gave us a prompt (a topic or sentence) about which we had to write for 5-20 minutes. And then we had to read our work out loud! Nerve-wracking. But the whole idea is to create a "safe" environment for sharing ideas, getting feedback, and drawing on the energy of the group (it reminds me of yoga practice, in that sense).
Most important is getting into the habit of writing on a regular basis. Our homework assignment for this week is to compose an 850-word piece on leaving (a person or a place). We'll see where that goes...
PS: Today is my parents' 58th wedding anniversary - a remarkable feat and surely a great fodder for a personal essay!
1) If you happen to see my French Bulldog Lulu, wish her a Happy Birthday. She turned 10 today.
2) My friend Alethea Black, an immensely talented author and speaker (I love her her collection of short stories, I Knew You'd Be Lovely) has done it again with this incredibly inspirational story she told at the Moth GrandSLAM (a storyteller's collaborative):
You all know how I love a good meal, and a good bit of Boston history, so I was delighted to find a marriage of the two in George Cuddy's book, Where Hash Rules. It's the story of Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe, a landmark in Boston's South End since 1927.
Simultaneously a rich historical account of a city block, and a love letter to the people who made history there, the book is full of personal anecdotes, newspaper clippings, photos, recipes and blog posts that tell the story of the Manjourides family and their restaurant over the course of 85 years.
In that time, Charlie's has borne witness to a wildly diverse neighborhood that has played host to criminals and celebrities alike. Prostitutes and mobsters, politicians, performers and athletes – everyone from Sammy Davis Jr, Duke Ellington, Joe Lewis and Whitey Bulger, to Tom Brady, Nomar Garciaparra, Robert Urich and Al Gore - have dined at this 32-seat shop. It's cash-only, and offers communal tables, both telling attributes of the no-frills, genial experience you are likely to have there.
In its early days, Charlie's was the only restaurant in town that would serve African Americans. The Pullman Porters - men hired by George Pullman to work on the railroads as porters on sleeping cars - established their Boston headquarters above the restaurant and admitted original owner Charlie Poulos as the only non-black member so he could play cards and shoot pool with them.
In the years since, all sorts of characters have crossed the threshold, including Cookie the bookie, Chapman the peeper, Richard the storyteller, and Biggie the bulldog. They've all contributed to Charlie's vibrant history.
But central to the story are the four beloved proprietors and siblings, Arthur, Marie, Fontaine, and Chris, who have been slinging hash – and stories – for decades. Their immigrant father Christi was Charlie Poulos' first employee, starting out as a line cook and then through some shrewd business dealings becoming a partner in 1946. This family's story, their hard work and dedication to the business as well as their community, has all the tenets of the American Dream.
Though I’ve yet to visit Charlie’s in person (despite living here for nearly 20 years…the shame!), I feel like I know them all. And like the author, I feel slighted that I missed out on so many of the memories.
And what of the food? Charlie's consistently gets rave reviews for its great meals at great prices, and it won the prestigious James Beard Award in 2005. I am dying to try the cranberry pancakes and the raspberry griddle cakes. And of course, the famous turkey hash.
And perhaps I'll see you at one of their communal tables one day soon.
North Beach is sort of an edgy neighborhood sandwiched between Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf. It's home to the city's Little Italy and headquarters to the Beat Generation (Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac) in the 1960s, but today also hosts the red light district. Here are some pictures to give you an idea; the bathtub is from the Beat Museum, which we visited.
That's my parents, circa 1962. I think they were vacationing in Plymouth, MA, judging from the other pictures in the series (of Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower). But that's not important to this post. Here's what is:
- Their names are Helen and Joe
- They dated in the 1950s
- They loved listening to Tommy Dorsey and dancing at the Totem Pole Ballroom (this latter link is a great post about the legendary dance hall at Norumbega Park, by the way)
So, you can imagine my surprise when I started reading Lynne Griffin's novel, Sea Escape, which tells the story of a young couple named Helen and Joseph, who meet and marry in the 1950s, and listen to Tommy Dorsey while dancing at the Totem Pole!
But it wasn't completely random that I picked up this book. You see, a couple of months ago I attended a friend's book reading at Newtonville Books, where Lynne also made an appearnce and shared the real-world events that inspired her story. When her mother died some years ago, she found a large box full of letters that her father had written. Not sure of what they might entail (and not wanting to unwittingly stumble upon any dark family secrets), she and her sister agreed to read through them only until they came to something that they knew their parents wouldn't have wanted them to see. And if that happened, they would put the letters away for good.
But to her delight, the box was full of nothing but beautifully written love letters from her father to her mother. The sentiment of those letters, plus knowledge that her parents had always dreamed of retiring to a home by the sea (which, sadly, they never did), helped shape the story that became Sea Escape. And while it's a fictional piece and the characters and events are not meant to depict Lynne's own family history, she did use some of her father's letters in the book, and of course fulfilled her parents' dream to have their very own sea escape.
I was captivated by this story and set out to read the book, not knowing that I would encounter the similarities to my own parents. But thankfully the parallels ended there, as the fictional Helen & Joseph go on to endure more tragic events and consequences, while their estranged, adult children struggle to deal with a few family secrets and an uncertain future. Sea Escape is primarily a story about mother-daughter relations, and the need for love and acceptance no matter your age. It follows present-day Helen and her grown daughter Laura, but also relays Helen's courtship with and early marriage to Joseph through a series of flashbacks. At times the multiple characters and back-and-forth time periods made it difficult to follow, but it sure was fun to witness the [perceived] innocence of a 1950s love affair through those letters.
I just finished reading this story about an idyllic Summer camp in Maine, and Jane's writing - which I know from her blogging to be engaging and humorous - is so descriptive that you feel like you're there amognst the pines (or maybe I'm just nostalgic for my college years).
But don't let the Summer camp theme fool you. Yes, there's arts & crafts, campfires, and stargazing. There are kids dealing with being away from home and fitting in. But the central themes and issues in the story are decidedly mature, as the main plot focuses on the grown-up children of the original camp founders who struggle with adulthood.
So in an interesting twist, it's the adults in the book who go through a metamorphosis at Summer camp, more so then the children.
I love the Tastemaker Tag Sales available on One Kings Lane. The flash sale site partners with some of the most prominent designers and taste makers in the world, who curate a selection of exquisite goods for sale on the site. There is currently a sale featuring items from chef and slow-food pioneer Alice Waters' personal collection - a variety of serving pieces, cookbooks, and art gathered during her 40 years at the helm of Chez Panisse, her bistro in Berkeley, CA. Proceeds go toward her Edible Schoolyard Project, a model public education program to teach kids about sustainable, healthy eating. Hurry! This particular sale ends tomorrow, August 30th.
So. It's been a long time since I published a truly thoughtful post.
You see, I've become a victim of "snack culture," the modern phenomenon of consuming and transmitting short bursts of information - a Twitter post here, a Facebook update there - instead of composing longer-form, more thoughtful content here on my blog. I've been blogging (micro-blogging), but not writing.
It's not that I don't have the thoughts - I continue to gather thousands of bookmarks and downloads that would inform tons of posts - I just don't seem to make the time to write anymore.
I do, however, continue to consume long-form content. Reading beyond the Tweet, or beyond the headline, is incredibly important to me professionally, and incredibly rewarding to me personally. My Mom taught me to love books at a very young age ("If you have a book, you'll always have a friend") and it is my love of books that brought me back to the notion that I should return to writing. Here's how:
I recently finished reading The Paris Wife, Paula McLain's fantastic novel about Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, and the time they spent together in Europe while he was writing The Sun Also Rises. It is romantic and tragic and I absolutely loved it. The mythic Hemingway, hanging out with pals Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ezra Pound - the Lost Generation riding through Jazz Age Paris on a wave of absinthe and words. It makes you want to grab your Moleskine (traditional or modern) and sneak away to a cafe for the day.
About the same time, I had two friends publish books that are next on my reading list: Jane Roper's Eden Lake and Alethea Black's I Knew You'd Be Lovely. Both did readings at the fabulous Newtonville Books, which I was introduced to thanks to this authors series. What a fabulous independent bookstore - from the books themselves, to the events, and the oh-so-cool autograph wall (Jane and Alethea, plus Gary Schteyngart and Dave Eggers among others). Also new to the wall that night was Lynne Griffin, who shared a moving passage from her novel Sea Escape, based on actual love letters written from her late father to her mother (and also now on my reading list). All very inspiring.
And then I had a wonderful conversation with Alethea, a friend I hadn't seen in years. We talked about her writing, my travels, and our lives in general - in NYC and Boston, respectively. Such interesting stories exist in the day-to-day! Sometimes you don't realize it until you slow down and take time to reflect. Or write.
So I'm back at it. For now anyway. And while I plan to stick to blogging...who knows? Maybe one day you'll see my autograph on the wall at Newtonville Books :)