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.

 

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 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.

Bonjour! I’ve Come to Return the Book I Borrowed!

I’m going to Paris.

(pause for dramatic effect because I can’t believe I just typed that sentence)

Yes, it’s true. My friend Channing, her mom and I are going to visit our friend Serena, who’s studying abroad in the City of Lights. It’s been one of my lifelong bucket list destinations—I studied French language, culture and history for 12 years in school, so it’s hard to imagine that soon (God willing) I’ll actually be in the Louvre. And eating real baguettes. Walking along the Seine, and mingling amongst the endlessly chic Parisiennes.

Naturally, as soon as I booked my trip, I went into Paris overdrive. While I’ve enjoyed watching nothing but the movies Amélie, Funny Face, and Midnight in Paris over and over, one night after work I decided that I also wanted to get a great guide book, pick up some lit from the Lost Generation, and brush up on my Français. This called for a quick trip to the bookstore.

But alas, I work in midtown. A couple of years ago, I could’ve walked right over to Columbus Circle and popped in Border’s, or strolled up a few blocks to the massive Barnes and Noble at Lincoln Center. But both have shuttered (RIP), not leaving me with many options. Of course, I prefer independent bookstores, and I can spend hours in The Strand and Three Lives in the Village, but for a quick after-work trip, I found it hard to believe there aren’t any good spots in midtown.

And then—after a quick Google search—I found the Rizzoli bookstore on 57th Street between 5th and 6th, right by the F train stop I get on after work. As soon as I opened the door, my heartbeat quickened and I actually squealed. I’d died and gone to literary heaven, and I couldn’t believe it’d taken me so long to find it.

photo courtesy of qantas.com

Three floors full of fiction, beautiful coffee table books, travel guides, gorgeous maps, indie movies, international music and foreign language magazines, all lit by stunning chandeliers. Yes, please! I picked up an assortment of all things Paris-inspired:

I’ve gone back a few times since my first visit just to walk around in a daze like the dorky bookworm that I am. Rizzoli is officially my new solo hang out spot.

P.S. Speaking of books and New York City, I can’t believe I missed this video “B*tches in Bookshops,” a literary spoof of Jay-z and Kanye West’s “N*ggas in Paris” when it first popped up in March. It’s pretty much my theme song. “Know how many bookmarks I own?” Classic. And the Belle from Beauty and the Beast reference? (hence, my blog post title)

Get on the Bus

I’ve been neglecting my blog, I know, I know. But, I’ll be honest, in addition to my usual crazy work schedule, it’s been because of summer time: cookouts, pool time, a bachelorette party, weekend trips, and the like. I mean, really, can you blame me?

But I’m not the only one that’s been taking some weekend trips, and in New York—a city where hardly anyone owns a car—when you want to get out of town for a quick weekend, you take the Bolt or Mega Bus. Now, if you’re not familiar with either of these buses, you are probably imagining a bus station somewhere in New York, where buses pull in and out on schedule, and things pretty much work like clockwork. Unfortunately, as I was reminded during a trip back to Maryland for Father’s Day weekend, that’s definitely not the case.

You see, there are definite pros and cons with taking either of these buses. The pros: tickets range from $17-$23 (and these days, that’s definitely a big pro.) More pros: the Bolt Bus has leather seats, and both Bolt and Mega buses have wi-fi, and outlets so you can keep your laptop/iPad/phone charged. All great. The downsides? I have yet to take either bus and have them be on time. Especially on a holiday weekend—buses can be delayed by 2-3 hours. Oh, and they have no bus stations, so waiting for these buses during that 2-3 hour period is truly a madhouse: people are elbowing each other, trying to get on an earlier bus on standby, there’s no type of organized line, and—being that there is no actual station—if it’s raining, snowing, or just plain hot or cold, you’re out of luck.

Unfortunately, being that I live in New York and pay New York rent, New York food prices, and New York taxes, I normally can’t afford to take the Amtrak train for a short weekend trip. So, it’s the bus for me. But I feel I should warn whoever I can to be prepared, because it’s easy to be fooled by these buses when you are coming from another destination into New York (my ride in from Maryland was drama free, minus a carsick kid who was puking in the seat behind me.)  But if you are heading out from NYC, be prepared with snacks for your long wait, the appropriate clothing for weather changes, and your game face for the battle to get on the bus.

(For those of you wondering about the Chinatown bus…don’t even get me started. All I will say is, avoid it at all costs—but that’s another post for another day.)

From Paradise to the City of Dreams

I’ve been gone for a bit, and will openly admit that it’s because I had a romantic fling with one of my earliest loves, the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. I’m sorry, New York. But your gray skies, pollution, and rude inhabitants had a girl about to lose her mind. I needed a serious break. So when my family invited me along for a trip to St. Maarten, a place we visited often when I was young, I didn’t think twice before booking a flight ASAP.

And boy, was it needed. St. Maarten is a unique place in that it is the smallest island in the world to be governed by two nations: France and the Netherlands. So you literally cross over from one half to the other and there’s a different language, currency, and culture. I love all things travel and culture related, so for me, it’s pretty fascinating. And aside from that, the beaches are breathtaking. So after working non-stop since college and feeling a little suffocated by the concrete jungle that is New York City, I welcomed a few days of peace in the Caribbean with wide-open arms.

But I have to say, that saying about needing to step away from something to be able to truly appreciate it is really true. Since I’ve been back in NYC, I’ve been walking through the streets with a little pep in my step, while listening to Britney Spears’ new album (hey, don’t judge me!) on my iPod, feeling good to be back. It always takes being away to forget about the city’s flaws. Now I’m just ready for Spring and Summer to hit—my favorite times in the city!