RIP, Rizzoli

New York, I love you. But not today.

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I just learned that my favorite bookstore—Rizzoli on 57th Street—is shutting down. The 95-year-old townhouse will be demolished. In its stead will be some shiny, towering skyscraper. And I am pissed.

Here’s the thing: You, as a city, are incredibly irritating and maddening. You drive a girl to drink (overpriced margaritas, usually) with your millions of people and crowded blocks and subways and pollution. But your magic lies in the cozy, charming places that embrace us, that make us feel sheltered and safe and a little less alone.

Rizzoli was one of those places for me. As you know by now, I am a book girl. So when I was a New York newbie, with a boyfriend in grad school and friends far away in different cities, I would escape to Rizzoli’s third floor and peruse the books I couldn’t afford (because of your sky-high rent, of course). After a solo day at the movies and treating myself to lunch, Rizzoli is where I’d end up, flipping through biographies of women I aspired to be like. When I was heading to Paris for the first time, Rizzoli is where I went in search of travel guides. And in that bookstore, beneath its grand chandeliers, is where my Allende obsession continued and my Fitzgerald infatuation began.

Now, I walk by that store every day on my way to work, often with my nose pressed against the window admiring the latest displays. And never mind the fact that we’re losing a historic bookstore: We’re saying farewell to one of your city’s architectural landmarks, a century-old townhouse that got its start as a piano showroom. It literally pains me to imagine that little gem demolished and replaced by scaffolding and yet another West 57th Street glass building.

Tonight, I said goodbye, and tomorrow, I plan to join the rally that will, to put it nicely, give you and your businessmen the middle finger. I know that these things happen, and I never imagined I’d be so attached to a place, but here I am. And here’s hoping I’ll find another great escape just as perfect.

 

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A Spot of Tea

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I recently realized that the older we get, the more most of us wish we had paid a little more attention in school. For some, they wish they could remember more of their math lessons; for others, it’s literature, and for me, it’s history. When textbooks popped open to learn about wars and presidents, my head always went into the clouds. But as an adult, when I pass by major landmarks, I find myself constantly Googling. It makes me wish I could remember some of the trivia that was probably right there in those textbooks.

One of my biggest history fascinations in NYC has been The Plaza Hotel (which, for the record, was built in 1907, took two years and $12 million to build—unprecedented at the time.) So when one of my best friends invited me to a birthday tea party there hosted by her lovely mother, I was excited for weeks, imagining all of us dolled up, soaking in the grandeur like it was the 1920s. And it was grand, indeed. We had a three-hour, Eloise-themed sit-down in the Palm Court, an ode to the six-year-old star of the children’s book series. Of course, there was tea, plus mini-peanut butter and jellies, scones, and tiny cupcakes on three-tiered servers.

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Staring up at the vaulted glass ceilings and looming palm trees, I felt like I could’ve been Zelda Fitzgerald on a tea date with Scott—before tea turned into orange blossoms spiked with gin. But I was glad to be me, in a pretty dress surrounded by other women (in pretty dresses themselves) who uplift and inspire me. (And crack me up. Seriously, we need a reality show.)

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I think tea is now officially, well…my cup of tea. And not just because of the magic of the Plaza and the comforting drink (which had me briefly considering making the switch from coffee before I asked myself Who are you kidding?), but because of the idea of taking a break from your day to sit down with friends to eat, drink, and enjoy one another’s company—no cell phones included. Why can’t we all sit for tea with our girlfriends more often? Frolic in the fountain outside like the Fitzgeralds once (allegedly) did? Wander the hotel’s hallways like the mischievous Eloise?

True to my inner nerd, when I got home (well, after a champagne after-party at my apartment, because what’s tea at the Plaza without a Gatsby-like moment?) I did some research, and discovered the hotel offers a free 45-minute tour of the Renaissance-style chateau. Who’s down to go with me? If you come, I promise we can sit down for tea afterward.

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The Art of Fine Dining

Spinach, goat cheese and herb pizza from ABC Kitchen

Spinach, goat cheese and herb pizza from ABC Kitchen

[WARNING: Do not read on an empty stomach!]

I love food, but I’ve always been a picky eater. Before I moved to New York, my palette was pretty much limited to Latin food, French fries, and cereal. I hated the word foodie and rolled my eyes at photos of plates on social media. But I admit it: The city has opened my eyes to a whole new world of eats (and, therefore, the necessity of the gym).

Restaurant Week was earlier this month, which meant some of the city’s hot spots offered special pre-fixe deals. One night, I attended a “strangers dinner” at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Perry Street restaurant in the West Village. The idea is that the host invites two people, each brings someone the host doesn’t know, and so on. While the conversation and wine were delightful, the food stole the show: roasted squash soup with mushroom and sourdough, onion-and-chili crusted beef short ribs, and banana cake with salted caramel ice cream. Absolutely divine; so fantastic, in fact, it was even more delicious than Drake on Saturday Night Live.

That evening at Perry Street inspired me to reflect on some of my favorite New York dinners— perfect timing, because the next day an out-of-towner asked me for my top three NYC meal recommendations. Here’s what I told her—I hope you can try them out, too. Bon appétit!

Potato gnocchi with sweet corn and summer truffles at Park Avenue (960 Park Avenue, but currently relocating): This restaurant changes its name every season (Park Avenue Spring, Park Avenue Summer, etc.). When I visited two summers ago, I couldn’t even pronounce gnocchi (FYI, sounds like “nyo-key”) but these potato dumplings in a frothy sauce literally blew my mind.

Spinach, goat cheese and herb pizza at ABC Kitchen (35 E. 18th Street): In my prior life, you had to hold me down to get me to eat goat cheese. (I’m big on texture, ok?!) But this dish made me a convert: The cheese and herbs sit atop a perfectly simple, flaky crust that I could demolish just about every day.

White truffle risotto at Marea (240 Central Park South): At my day job, I tried various samples with truffle oil and truffle salt (truffle salt popcorn is my favorite!), but my first foray into freshly sliced white truffles was at Marea, where they were finely shaved onto a creamy, rich risotto. This was the most buttery, sumptuous dish I have ever had—no lie, I shed a tear at the end. Who knew good food could make a girl cry?

 

Let It Snow

Is there anything more magical than New York City covered in freshly fallen snow?

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Growing up in the ’burbs, snow meant sledding down the driveway, followed by hot chocolate in our PJs. Now, it still means hot chocolate in my PJs, but only after trekking home in a North Face and three pairs of leggings, hoping not to get sprayed by slush as a cab speeds past.

I’m lucky enough to be able to walk to and from work every day, but during the winter, I tend to half-jog with my hood up, head down, and hands in pockets, eager to get inside. But tonight, I decided to keep my head up and eyes open.

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Boy, was it worth it. Manhattan at night after a snowfall is eerily quiet; with only the occasional taxi whizzing by, it was like the city had whispered an invitation for me to enter a secret, sparkling world. Instead of getting lost in thoughts about my work to-do list, I noticed a tiny purple mitten lying on cobblestone; a lone couple walking next to Central Park’s ice-covered turtle pond; light glittering off of benches blanketed in white. With no chatter or cars or cell phones in sight, I was struck by the sudden feeling that I could be in any year, whether it was 1920 or 2014. This Fitzgerald quote popped into my head: “New York had all the iridescence of the beginning of the world.”

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Now, I’m back home in my PJs, safely inside and sipping snow-day hot chocolate. Even though I’m cozy and warm, I’m filled with the memory of floating through the city’s poetic, shiny streets, and I can’t help but feel eager to get out there again. My fellow city dwellers will curse me for saying this, but here’s hoping there’s more snow coming soon. Yes, it’s cold, and wet, and inconvenient, but damn, it’s beautiful.

Film Buff in the Making

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In my post-college life (which has been just as long as my college life, now that I think about it…when did that happen?!) I’ve become a bit of a movie junkie. It was a natural progression; I’m a writer and a reader, so I love a good story. And growing up, a regular family activity was browsing through Blockbuster with my dad for an hour to find a good movie to watch on a Saturday night.

So now that I’m a grown-up, I’ve decided to make it a point to eat up all the films I’ve always meant to watch. And it’s been like my own private education in culture, comedy, and history. For instance (like every girl) I loved Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I got to fall in love with her all over again when I discovered Roman Holiday a few years ago. I discovered the brilliance of Woody Allen when I binge-watched his films during Hurricane Sandy, fell in love with the solo date when I took myself to the Paris Theater a la Carrie Bradshaw, and devoured indie cult favorites like An Education, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Once.

The next item on my movie bucket list was to catch an outdoor movie in the city. So I trekked across town to the west side for River Flicks, the weekly outdoor movie screening that goes down every Wednesday during the summer. I caught Rian Johnson’s sci-fi time traveler Looper starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, which began just as the sun was setting over the Hudson. It was lovely lying on the grass in the summer air with my girlfriends, engrossed in a fast-paced, mind-bending film. In the future, however, we’ll probably bring foldable chairs…nobody tells you the lying on the ground for two hours part can get a little uncomfortable.

Now that I’ve checked off one more item, I want to see what the Film Forum has to offer, hit up a screening in Central Park (West Side Story during summer in the city? I’m so there) and catch some French cinema at the Alliance Française. What’s on your movie bucket list?

The View from (beneath) the Eiffel Tower

Yes, I haven’t posted since I’ve returned from Paris. Yes, I’m also in denial that I’m no longer in Paris. I’ve been back in New York for a month now, and I’m still obsessing over the experience. It was so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. I know it sounds dramatic, but I feel like my short time there reshaped my sensibilities in so many ways. From what outfit I put on in the morning to what I watch and read, the city has really impacted me. Basically, all the romance and whimsy that writers, filmmakers and artists have talked about for centuries? I totally get it now.

It seems an impossible task to write about the trip in one short blog post, but I’ll do my best by highlighting my favorite things about Paris:

The Eiffel Tower (duh). A few weeks before I left, I dreamed about seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. When I actually saw it in person—peeking from the trees as we walked toward the Champs de Mars—my heart literally stopped. I was speechless. It was a weird sense of déjà vu from my dream, combined with pure awe. As we walked closer, the light show began. My heart literally started beating a mile a minute and I got teary eyed. (I know, this post is full of over-dramatics. Just roll your eyes and stick with me.) I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that’s taken my breath away like that. And the best part? I thought that nothing could compare to its evening luminescence, but when we saw it a few days later in daylight, I was just as dazzled. Remember when Adriana in Midnight in Paris said to Gil, “I can never decide whether Paris is more beautiful by day or by night”? Word.

The architecture. Ever since I took a river tour of Chicago two years ago, I’ve never looked at cities the same way. I’ve become a bit of an architecture nerd, trying to identify the styles that I recognize wherever I go. From baroque to art nouveau, I was in awe of how constructions from centuries ago are still such a major part of Paris. There’s so much attention to detail—from the Arc de Triomphe to the apartment balconies—and every bit of it embodied the glamour I’d always associated with the city.

Shakespeare & Co. The storied bookstore where some of my favorite authors—also known as “The Lost Generation” (Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot)—used to hang out back in the day. Well, technically, they used to hang out at a bookstore not far from there, but it was shut down during World War II, and the one we visited is its reincarnation. A dusty, dimly lit bookstore full of history, rare books and a reading nook dedicated to Sylvia Beach? I just about fainted. They even stamped the books I purchased with an official S&C stamp! I left there brimming with writing ideas and dying to dive in to the books I’d gotten. (Currently reading “The Paris Wife,” a brilliantly written story from the fictional perspective of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. Love.)

Taste-testing macarons. While it was pure eye-candy just looking at the colorful displays of macarons in bakery windows, my favorite was the plain-old vanilla from Ladurée. Simple, yet decadent. Parfait.

…and taste-testing croissants. Impossibly buttery and soft, they smelled and tasted like absolute heaven. It was the best way to start the day almost every day we were there. I will never eat an American croissant again.

Le histoire! Paris has such a unique and interesting history, and it was great fun paging through our guidebooks before and after each day to learn the story behind the sights we saw. Everything from the Louvre, with its historic artwork and unique story (12th century royal palace turned most-visited museum in the world) to the Notre Dame cathedral was a history lesson, and we learned lots of fun facts along the way. Like, did you know that Napoleon wanted to impress his second bride-to-be so badly, he had a replica of the Arc de Triomphe built for their wedding because the real one wasn’t ready yet? Or that icons like Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel used to sip chocolat chaud l’africain (THE most delicious hot chocolate you will EVER taste) at Angelina, a 110-year-old teashop that we visited? It was all so educational but fun—I haven’t done that much studying since my college days!

Comparing it to New York. The conversation is endless. What’s better, a delicious cupcake or a delightful macaron? Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building? NYC subway or Parisian metro? City street style or Parisian chic? The questions go on and on, and I had fun soaking in one amazing city and comparing it to the other back home.

Leisurely café lunches with the girls. Living in NYC, I often miss two of my besties (one lives in Harrisburg, the other’s in law school in East Lansing). We don’t often get the opportunity to sit around and talk for hours like we used to in college, so it was nice to enjoy lunch together the Parisian way: relaxed, with plenty of wine, food and gossip. And not once did a waiter hover or rush us out. A girl could get used to the Parisian lunch hour—it was a welcome break from scarfing my lunch down at my desk in NYC, that’s for sure.

All in all, 9 days in the City of Lights was long enough for me to fall in love—and realize I need to go back ASAP. I’ve also got a serious case of the European travel bug—I need to get to Rome, Barcelona, and London like, yesterday. I’m already Googling flights!

PS: Please don’t hate me if I mention Paris in every single blog post from now on. Seriously, I am completely, irrevocably, head over heels in love. I mean, can’t I just change my blog name to “The View From The 36th Floor, aka The View From Beneath The Eiffel Tower?” It’s got a ring to it, right?

PPS: Feeling inspired by the Paris trip, my 25th birthday, and a new camera, I’ve been trying my hand at (some very amateur) photography. So, I started a Tumblr page to share some random photos from my life. I dubbed it “La Vie En Rose” after my favorite French song. It’s also a lovely Parisian phrase that translates into “life in pink”—the only way to see things, in my opinion! Check me out.

Island Girl

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“Where do you live?” is usually one of the first questions you get when you meet someone new in New York. When I answer “Roosevelt Island,” I always get a blank stare, followed by one of two responses:

“Where the heck is that?”

Or,

“Is that that place with the tram? People actually live there?”

Most people usually answer the question by rattling off important sounding cross streets, or insisting they love their Brooklyn neighborhood despite the horrific commute. So, the anomaly that is my little island throws New Yorkers for a loop. Allow me to explain: Roosevelt Island is a two-mile, narrow sliver of land that sits between Manhattan and Queens. It’s technically part of the borough of Manhattan, but it has its own name and zip code. I’ve met plenty of native New Yorkers who have lived in the city their whole lives and never even heard of it. Formerly home to both a state penitentiary and an insane asylum, the island’s got quite the history, but these days it’s home to a pretty diverse population of more than 9,000. And because of its small size, there’s pretty much only one of everything: one Duane Reade, one Starbucks, one dry cleaners, one grocery store, etc. And guess what the main street of the island is named? You guessed it: Main Street.

When my New York friends visit me or hear about the lack of typically New York-ish things in my neighborhood, they aren’t shy about questioning my decision to live on the island. Call me a romantic, but its quirkiness is just what I love about it: it’s got a story, it’s got personality, and it can be breathtakingly beautiful. A walk home for me means strolling along the water, getting a break from the city while at the same time taking a step back and appreciating the view of its twinkling lights. The aerial tramway that takes you across the Queensboro Bridge from the island to the city is a really unique way of looking at both NYC and Queens. And—wait for it—at one end of the island, there’s a lighthouse. A lighthouse! Come on, you don’t get much more storybook than that.

But I get why it’s not for everyone. Some people thrive on having New York’s noisy traffic and bars right outside their front door, or being able to have the prestige of a certain address. And don’t get me wrong—there are downsides to living on the island. Like, if the F train is down, the only other option is taking the tram over. And the fact that there is only one grocery store on the island means food shopping can get pricey. But every time I start to get frustrated with those aspects and think that after three years, maybe it is time for me to move, a walk along the water during a summer sunset or sitting with a book down by the lighthouse in the fall reminds me that me and this place were just meant to be together.

And each season, I’m seeing more and more that I’m not the only one enamored with the area. Pier NYC, a new, seasonal food-and-booze joint with cute little tables and umbrellas just opened down on the water this past weekend, and it’s drawing big crowds looking for a summer margarita with a great view. And with the island finally offering food truck permits, some fun foodie bites are coming our way, like the Italian mobile eatery Eddie’s Pizza. But while those are some great additions, I wouldn’t mind leaving the island just as it is. I work in the city and I party in the city—so for now, I’m just fine with leaving the Manhattan bells and whistles behind to come home to a little peace, quiet, and Roosevelt Island charm.