Sometimes, It’s Work

Nearly 2 years ago, I read about a movie called “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” in the New Yorker magazine. A remake based on a James Thurber short story from three-quarters of a century ago, the film was in production for years. It’s directed by and stars Ben Stiller, who has proclaimed it a passion project. The movie came out a few months ago, and though I haven’t seen it, it’s advertised as a parable about embracing adventure and not leading a normal, dormant life.

Walter works a boring job at the soon-to-be defunct Life magazine. A final assignment sends him on a trip around the world, and he finally gets to realize the adventures he’s daydreamed about for years.

What struck me is that Walter works in New York City, in midtown Manhattan to be precise. New York City is a place that people from all of the world fantasize about seeing, even if only once. It is the dream they daydream about. I remember the awe of a Paris taxi driver when my husband and I mentioned we had come from NYC. “I dream of going there one day,” he said. “But you live in PARIS!,” I wanted to respond.

Which is kind of the point. Everywhere else seems like the cure to our sometimes boring, stale lives, which can often feel like Walter’s. And though I love to travel–absolutely love it–there’s something to be said for appreciating where you are, especially when that place is NYC. Chasing the newest, best, most exciting cultural experiences can ultimately feel unfulfilling.

And at a time like this, when everyone is so completely worn out from this horrid winter, keeping the spark alive between you and your city is, well, work. It means getting out even for a few hours, even when you don’t really feel like it. It means appreciating the frigid beauty of a long winter in the city, snow-covered parks and all (pictured below). It means feeling grateful that you get to interact with people from all walks of life every single day, even if on a crowded subway.

Plus, spring is just around the corner. I can feel it.

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NYC Oddities: Lenin Statue

If you’re walking east on Houston Street and happen to look up, you might see an unexpected sight. Perched high above the neighborhood on the roof of the Red Square Apartments is a large statue of Vladimir Lenin, his arm stretched out in his signature pose, a personification of the Communist slogan, “Onward toward a brighter tomorrow!”

The statue sits atop one of the first luxury apartment towers in the area, a somewhat ironic home for the father of the worker’s revolution. Red Square Apartments were built in 1989 by a radical sociology professor-turned-real estate developer, and the 18-foot-tall statue was added in 1994.  According to the New York Times, the statue was made by Russian artist Yuri Gerasimov and commissioned by the Soviet government. Since the USSR collapsed soon after, the statue was never publicly displayed. It was found by the developer’s art dealer associates at a dacha outside of Moscow and brought to NYC.

Lenin holds court over an area that has experienced unprecedented levels of economic urban renewal (or, aggressive gentrification, depending on whom you ask), with luxury hotels, fine dining establishments and cocktails bars filling the crumbling buildings once occupied by artists and squatters more than 30 years ago. Though it’s retained a bit of grit, the neighborhood has been and continues to be a place governed by market forces and the growing wealth of the city’s inhabitants. Not sure Comrade Lenin would be too pleased with his adopted home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Image via wfyurasko, Flickr.com; made available under Creative Commons license)

Creating Traditions

Big city living can take a toll on friendships. I sometimes go weeks or even months without seeing certain friends. It’s not something I’m proud of. The reasons are varied: people (including me) get busy with work.; we travel; we don’t want to deal with a long commute home, especially on weekdays; we feel sluggish, especially in this weather.

A good friend and I have come up with a solution. We’ve adopted traditions–events for which we have a standing date, spread out over the course of the year. And we keep adding events to the list. We see each other more often than a few times a year, but we both love knowing that if it’s February, we have a guaranteed date at the Lower East Side’s Clinton Street Baking Company for flavored pancakes as part of their annual pancake month. (This year we chose raspberry pancakes with almond brittle and vanilla bean whipped cream, pictured below, mid-devour.) We even have a favorite bar with 2-for-1 sangrias where we sit out the wait.

If it’s fall or spring, we’re at a New York City Ballet performance.

If it’s summer, we’re indulging in limited-time-only individual ice cream cakes at Quality Meats in Midtown.

If it’s late September/early October, we’re probably going to New York City Center’s Fall for Dance, a multi-day festival showcasing a variety of the most prestigious companies dancing in a range of styles, from flamenco to modern.

(Our friendship seems to have a bit of a dancing-and-desserts theme.)

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Tip: 10 Ways to Bring Art into Your Home

Filling your home with art is one of the easiest ways to make it feel lived in and personal, especially when you’re living in a cramped NYC apartment. Some people are intimidated, thinking they have to be art aficionados to do it right, so they give up and buy a bunch of generic prints at the home decor store. The truth is, you don’t need any expertise. It’s about finding something that speaks to you–whether from a purely aesthetic standpoint or because it invokes special memories–and knowing where to find it. The below tips can get you started.

1. Museum Prints: This is one of the easiest ways to bring a piece of art that you identify with into your home. It’s pretty simple. Go to a museum, either to see the permanent collection or a special exhibit. Pick out a print that moves you. Even if you’re not an art person, you can find something, based purely on color and composition, that makes you feel excited or conversely, soothed. This print will be a reminder of your outing and–let’s hope–the good, art-appreciating memories it generated. Try to buy a standard size print so you can frame it yourself without having to go the custom route.

2. Postcards: No, I’m not talking about the cheesy sunset images sold at the local gas station. Instead, pick up unique postcards at a historic landmark (the National Parks Service has amazing vintage poster-inspired postcards), an aesthetically-minded restaurant (some will give you a card at the end of a meal) or from an antiques mall (there’s one somewhere near you, I bet), which is bound to have striking vintage postcards of the local area. These can be hung, either in glass or a proper frame, and displayed in a narrow space or as part of a gallery wall.

3. Mementos: Almost anything with a flat backing can be hung, whether in a frame or not, including mementos from nearby excursions or faraway travels. Display interesting menus, decorative plates, beautiful greeting cards, book pages and drawings. A few years ago, Domino magazine featured someone who framed an elementary school punishment where she had to write out an “I will not…” phrase on lined notebook paper.

4. Vacation Photographs: Yes, go ahead and frame that striking picture you took of Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong. But even if you haven’t traveled extensively, or you have but only retained badly lit, blurry photographs from the trip(s), you can still fill your home with images of your favorite places. Etsy is a great place to start, whether you’re looking for images of Washington D.C. or Waimea Caynon. There are thousands of photographers selling prints showcasing every conceivable destination. You needn’t have taken the actual photo for it to mean something.

5. Posters: Nothing turns an apartment into a dorm room quicker than a poster hung with sticky putty. But this doesn’t mean that posters should be entirely off limits. A framed concert poster from a show you recently attended or an old movie poster can look really modern. If you really really want to showcase your love for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, how about ditching the student union-purchased poster for the framed vinyl album cover?

6. Something with a Sense of History: I love walking into a home and seeing old family photographs decorating walls, bookcases and mantels. Something with history, including vintage photos, old maps and historic prints can ground a space and make it feel more lived in.

7. Original Paintings: Say you’ve moved up to the big leagues and want to fill your home with actual art that an artist, working in a studio, with brushes and paint and everything, produced from scratch. Picking just the right piece can be daunting, but this list from Apartment Therapy of 10 websites that feature original work can help narrow down the search. No, these aren’t cheap, but some would argue that original artwork is most definitely worth the price of that nightstand you just bought. If you’re buying the work of an unknown artist, chances are your painting probably won’t appreciate in value all that much, but there is something to be said for simply owning a tangible piece of art, especially if it’s a piece that speaks to you personally and that you can admire and enjoy for years to come.

8. Play with Variety: This may just be personal preference as opposed to a design tenant, but I most enjoy a room filled with a hodgepodge of artwork, both in terms of genre (abstract paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, portraits) frame styles (gold, black, metal, glass, thin, thick, beveled, flat), shape and color. I especially find that doses of unexpected color, like peony pink or a shimmery aqua, when paired with black-and-white and soothing pastels, can make a room come alive. Mixing up the way you display is also important. Unless pictures are part of a series, if they’re all surrounded by white matting a room begins to look monotone, and you engage less with the actual pieces of art. Try hanging some works without matting or without a frame altogether (metallic push pins work well).

9. Play with Scale: For the same reason an all-black-and-white print wall can look flat, so can a room filled entirely with similarly proportioned pieces. It can create a staged effect, as though the area is a showroom and everything was bought the same day at the same place. People tend to be wary of oversize pieces, but they can function as the anchor of a room when paired with smaller works of various sizes.

10. Sculpture: Art is more than a painting or a photograph. It can also be something three-dimensional and tactile. Bookends, paperweights and vases are great sculptural additions. Random quirky objects like this starburst statue can also add an element of unexpectedness.

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A few examples from around my and my husband’s apartment. Clockwise from top left, the lead image from 2011-2012’s Brooklyn Museum exhibit, “Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties.” A postcard of Grand Army Plaza, purchased from Whiting’s Old Paper in Richmond, VA. An oversize original watercolor abstract painting hanging above our sofa; made by a good friend. The menu from Hemingway Bar at The Ritz in Paris.

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