Here’s a drink to you, 2012

As 2012 draws to a close, I confess, I’m a little sad. It was a good year. Nay, a great year. The kind of year you look back on and think: “Gee, I hope I have another 2012.”

I got my moment to shine, curating my first NYTimes reviewed exhibit
I got my moment to shine, curating my first NYTimes reviewed exhibit

2012 got off to a rickety start. I was frustrated at work and play. I was suffering from typical mid-winter doldrums, the kind that come with a restlessness that makes you start looking at new job postings or considering applying to culinary school. On January 2nd, I had lunch with a guy I had met online and thought would turn into Mr. Right. He didn’t call me back. Humpf. I was uninspired as January began to click down.

By March, I was singing a different tune. Life was off and running. After a few small-scale successes, I was curating my first marquee exhibition for my organization. I’d see a raise, a promotion, and  a full-page spread in the New York times. There would be failed but funny first dates. The guy that didn’t call me back became a trusted friend.

Old friends made their mark as we planned new adventures. Reunions happened on a grand scale. Close friends got engaged or said their “I-dos” with joy and really delicious wedding cake. Love blossomed under a moonlit canopy and carried through the summer into late autumn, when the changing weather brought with it new prespectives. We closed one chapter and began to write another.

Guadi stole our hearts in Spain
Guadi stole our hearts in Spain

My mother and I packed our suitcases and gallivanted across Europe, embarking on the kind of ramble through five countries that can only be summed up as a trip of lifetime.

A hurricane hit. We were left relatively unscathed, but others were less lucky.

Yes, as it turns out, 2012 was one exciting, raucous ramble from beginning to end. There were some rough patches, some catastrophes, some heartbreak, some unpleasantness that will leave their scars, but all in all, 2012 was a year of highlights for me. I’m lucky, and grateful to be so.

My wish for you, and perhaps my hope for me too, is that 2013 is the kind of year where we’ll all look back and say: “Gee, I hope I have another 2013.”

 

 

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Just Call Me “Duckie”

Keep Calm & Carry On.
Keep Calm & Carry On.

My parents are children of the Common Wealth — this means, Keep Calm and Carry On is something of a family motto. Indeed, as I grew out of a student into the professional world, I’ve become characterized by a cool-under-pressure, feathers-never-get-ruffled demeanor.

“The whole building could be burning down and you’d just be chugging along, with a smile on your face, telling everyone everything is going to be fine,” a friend said to after he witnessed the crises of miss-printed labels, wine shortages, hidden-ladders-becoming-unhidden, and the myriad of other assorted exhibition opening night calamities that I quietly wade through.

I think I was flattered at the time, but then I realized, sometimes being known as the girl who keeps calm and carries on can get you into trouble.

When the metaphorical building is burning, you’re always the first sent into battle the blaze.

Alternatively, when all of a sudden you don’t look so calm, the people around you start to panic.

koln 2010 079
Sisyphus and his uphill battle, but one must imagine him happy… he owns that rock.

I confess — as far as my life is concerned, things have gotten crazy busy. Working weekends, travel, exhibition installations, committee meetings, public lectures,  holiday craft markets, exhibition openings, de-installations — all things that need organizing and completing. Indeed, the stretch between now and the end of January is the relentless, burdensome push of a boulder uphill.

Just call me Sisyphus.

Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.

 One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

About two weeks ago, somewhere in the early stages of my stretch of craziness, I walked into work on Monday morning carrying a bouquet of my favorite flowers. My eyes were puffy with fatigue and my skin chalk white and my boss immediately commented on my pallid complexion.

“Why are you so white?”

“Am I? Oh. Well, that’s what I look like without makeup.”

Then she saw the flowers.

“Who are those from!”

“From me! I thought it was a good week to have some flowers at my desk. The Italian exhibition. Gala. Ya know. Lots going on!”

“I was hoping they were from the boy. How is he?”

“We broke up on Saturday.”

“Oh! Really! Why?”

“We’re still friends.”

A few hours later, she called me into her office.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m great!”

Just Call Me Duckie
Just Call Me Duckie

I think I probably started to well up at that moment. It wasn’t that I was upset about the break-up, quite the contrary — there’s no way anyone witnessing the evening would have believed the two people sitting across the table from each other were ending a romantic affair, it was that congenial. No, the tears started to build because, frankly, I felt overwhelmed. And the last thing I needed was to be asked if I was okay. I just needed things to get done.

When I was in high school, my English teacher assigned the class a “quote” personal essay. We had to find a quote that described us and write a personal essay illustrating how. I chose something uttered by the great actor Michael Caine:

“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but paddling like the dickens underneath.”

I walked out of my boss’ office feeling very much like a duck.

“I’m going to get those exhibiting artist emails off now,” I said and walked back to my desk, feet paddling like the dickens to stay afloat.

Lessons I probably should have Learned in College but Didn’t Because I was Too Busy Doing Calculus Homework

Microwaves have been around for decades, and yet I've never been able to make one work.

Microwaves don’t work

In an attempt to be both healthful and economical, sometimes I bring leftover homemade soup to work. Like most offices, we have a kitchenette with a fridge, a dishwasher, and a microwave. The microwave has a variety of settings, none of which anyone in the office knows how to make work. I put my soup in the microwave and set the clock. 3 minutes later, I take my soup out and burn my hands. The bowl is untouchable, but the soup? Still refrigerated.  Expediency fail.

Fun tack doesn’t come off walls.

I’m not sure what it says about my youth, but I never hung a poster on my wall with that blue, sticky putty stuff called “fun tack.”Even my teenage pin-ups of JTT went in frames and were placed on my walls using picture hooks. The long term benefit of this? When it comes to installing an exhibition, I’m probably the fastest hammer in the tri-State. But for my last exhibition, I ran out of Velcro for my wall labels and had to resort to that blue, sticky putty. The blue, sticky putty is still stuck on my gallery walls. There’s nothing fun about Fun Tack.

I just don't have the stamina for all-nighter after all-nighter any more.

Sleep isn’t overrated and life begins before 10:15AM.

Between the ages of 18 and 23, I was built for pulling all-nighters. If I accumulated 12 hours of sleep over 3 days, I figured I was ahead of the game. Plus, if I was clever enough, I didn’t have to be in class before 10AM. And if I moved across campus quickly enough, I could easily grab an hour nap before my afternoon lecture. But in the real world, there’s no nap time to catch up on your zzzz’s. And what about pulling those all nighters? Well, I just don’t have the stamina anymore. Give me 8 hours or I’m a totally unproductive, man-eating zombie.

When a boy asks you to “hang-out,” he doesn’t mean “let’s make grilled cheese sandwiches and sit on the couch platonically to watch the Yankees game.”

In college, this sort of thing was platonic. But apparently, not so much in the real world.

In college, all my friends were guys. We’d play poker or guitar hero, order in BBQ or head out to the Gin Mill for beer and pool, talk politics or sling mud at Jane Austen heroes. In short, when a guy in college asked me to “hang-out” I always assumed it was in the platonic sense, because 9 times out of 10, it was. But as soon as I was outside the bubble of study groups and communal living, I realized “hanging out” is just another vague term for everything from “date” to “hook-up.”

hangovers hurt. I missed that memo.

Hangovers hurt.

I didn’t really drink in college — blame it on equal parts fear of getting caught,  fear of freshman 15, and fear of anything that wasn’t top-shelf. I’m not exactly making up for it now, but I do have a cocktail more frequently than I did in my student years. Sometimes, I have a cocktail too many and wake up with a headache to prove it.

 

Push-Up Bras are false advertising

…and can, therefore, be a real letdown when they come off.

Rewriting “Life’s Little Instruction Book” from the Cusp of a Quarter Life Crisis

In the 8th grade, "Life's Little Instruction Book" was required reading. our teachers felt learning secularized parables would be more beneficial for our intellectual growth

Rather than learn the art of well-crafted sentences through a standard curriculum of books like The Jungle Book, the English department of my sleepy suburban school handed out copies of Life’s Little Instruction Book and Chicken Soup for the Soul to my 8th grade class. The thought must have been that learning secularized parables would be more beneficial for our intellectual growth.

Eventually, we were charged with the assignment of creating our own Life’s Little Instruction Book. We knew nothing of the real world and yet we were going to act as authorities on “how to live a happy and rewarding life.”

I recently found my flamboyantly illustrated attempt and was amused. “Don’t worry if you’re not the prettiest rose. We’re all beautiful in our own light” — my teacher found this little stroke of transcendental wisdom endearing. If I had to rewrite my 8th grade book of advice today, I might include that same instruction, though perhaps rewritten with less sentimentality, and add a few other insights I’ve picked up in the 13 years I’ve traveled since…

Invest in at least 1 Ina Garten cookbook. The orange scones in this one are an ace.

1. Invest in at least one Ina Garten cookbook

2. (Re)read Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style”

3. Learn how to make your favorite cocktail

4. Plant an herb garden

5. Always have a go-to outfit

6. When you’re a broke grad student, never refuse his offer to pay for dinner

7. Become a member of at least one museum and visit often.

8. Keep in touch with your old study groups

9. Get a good tailor

10. Get lost in Italy

11. Have a pet

12. Don’t forget to thank you parents

Find your red lipstick and wear it often. Mine is Laura Mercier's Sexy Lips

13. Find a shade of red lipstick that suits you and wear it often

14. Print calling cards and never leave home without them

15. Learn all the words to “American Pie”

16. Drink lots of green tea

17. Buy a really good yoga mat

18. Write postcards when on vacation and send one to yourself

19. Print out your digital photos

20. Start a blog… and don’t look back.

Happiness is a warm puppy who loves you.

Love Letters Lost

His name was Simone Volpini and we met on a blistering August night in Paris.

The penultimate city of romance - Paris - an Italian architect and the promise of letters exchanged. It was too good to be true

I was dining in an over-sized bistro sandwiched between the tall, blond, brown-eyed Italian Simone and a handsome gay couple who had spent the day at the Musee D’Orsay. The couple and I quickly dove into conversation after one of the men compared my full pink cheeks and white skin to a Renoir — it was the only time I felt compelled to like and discuss Renoir. After they paid their check and bid me bonsoir, Simone asked me if I was American.

Simone was from Rome and was the only son of an Italian architect. He drove a white Vespa and was studying to take over his father’s business. He spoke little French and equally minimal English. I read Latin but spoke no Italian. We giggled through a conversation of muddled pig-romance-languages while we sipped our coffee. He called me his American Beauty and walked me out into the street to help me find a taxi. As I slipped into the car, he handed me a piece of paper.

“You will write me. Your letters will teach me English. I will teach you Italian, and then you will come stay with me in Rome.” A kiss on the cheek and we were both off into the Paris night.

Back home in the states, I wrote Simone a letter. His handwriting was atypical for an architect — messy and non-linear — and I could barely decipher the address. His letter was returned to sender.

Alas, I would not get to play the part of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.

The sole letter I've received from a friend, celebrating our graduation from college 4 years ago. I still have it.

It had been years since I had thought about the love letter exchanges that never were, but then a chat with a guy I’d met early last week reminded me why I found the idea of a pen-pal romance so appealing.

“You’re working very hard to get me to go out with you,” I typed in the text box of gchat after having received a handful of flirty texts and emails over the course of the week.

“There’s nothing hard about sending you a text message or an email. I sent them on my way to lunch.”

Clearly, he wasn’t a smooth operator, but Chad had made a very good point: sending a one-line message while you’re working on other things is not very hard.

In the age of texting and sexting, we’ve come to expect constant and instantaneous messages of love (or lust). On the one hand, there’s something extremely romantic about receiving, at any time of the day, a note that lets you know your beloved is thinking of you. On the other, one wonders if this communication blitz doesn’t lack of bit of sincerity. If it’s so easy to key in an “I think I’m in love w u”  when you’re on the go, then do you really mean it? Texts don’t necessarily demonstrate commitment… sometimes I wonder if they might even be a sign of over-commitment.

Writing letters are hard. They require time and thought. They lack that benefit of instant on-screen editing and spell-check — your flaws are more evident. And it seems that sitting down with pen and paper is something we only do these days when we’re taking notes, that is, if we haven’t forsaken a legal pad in the name of an ipad. It was not so long ago that a letter, composed with pen and ink, was our primary means of communicating from afar.  We’re out of the habit of letter writing.

Call me old-fashioned but “Ever thine, ever mine, ever ours” reads so much better when it’s scrawled on paper.

I kept the letter I wrote to Simone and every time I travel to Rome, I stuff it in my backpack. It wasn’t a love letter, but just in case I run into a tall blond architect riding around the Coliseum on a white Vespa, I’d like him to know I didn’t take the easy way out.

Unwrapping Christmas Presents Past: an Inner-Child Grows-Up, but Only Just a Little

It was a snowy Christmas morning when I was 4 and found myself standing in front of a large, me-sized box wrapped calico-style and adorned with a shiny, red, stick-on bow. I had asked for an Easy Bake Oven and given its size, I was sure this box was not my easy Bake Oven. I was somewhere between being tickled pink with anticipation and overwrought with disappointment.

It wasn't my Easy-Bake Oven. It was a lavender bike with a wicker basket and streamers. And it was snowing outside.

As I tore away the paper, I quickly saw I was right: this was not my Easy-Bake Oven. Instead, Santa had given me a lavender bicycle with streamers and a white wicker basket. I looked at the picture on the box then turned to the window.  The snow on the lawn was blinding white and the ice clean-up trucks chugged noisily down my street spraying salt and sand as they went. I was doubtful that this present would produce any immediate gratification. But I had seen enough Christmas movies and heard enough stories from my friends to understand that a bike for Christmas was a big deal. So I followed convention and starting jumping with joy, encouraging Daddy to put it together ASAP so I could ride it around the living room.

“No. You can’t ride the bike in the house. We just refinished the floors.” My mother didn’t realize what lasting effects this command would have.

I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was 17 and I never mastered turning. Now, the only bike I ride is a stationary spin one. Meanwhile, despite never having got my Easy Bake Oven (I asked for it every Christmas up until I was 11), I’ve become a bake-o-holic. My parents claim that it’s because I never had an Easy Bake that I’ve become such an able-bodied, all-from-scratch cook — I had to learn how to use a real stove, not one powered by a light bulb. One can never argue with a parent’s logic.

So far, my dinner guests have gotten more use out of my guitar than I have. But it's not too late for me to become the next Jewel

Yet while I can now churn out cakes, cookies and pies like nobody’s business, I’ve never gotten over the Easy-Bake Oven. Determined to prevent Santa from once again confusing “bakeware” with “bicycle,” I started writing elaborate Christmas Wish lists, complete with figures, web links, and product numbers. Each list has reflected whatever stage of my life I had entered — from preteen to early adulthood. A remote controlled plane, Backstreet Boys concert tickets, a watercolor box set, a Play-Station 2 with Guitar Hero, a real guitar, books by my professors, Kate Spade flats — for sure, with each item comes a flood of memories from not only that Christmas, but from that year in my life.

But in 2010, I couldn’t be bothered writing a list. Surely, after 25 years my parents knew I was easy enough to please that as long as it wasn’t a bicycle, I would be happy. My mother cursed me as she roamed the mall and racked her brain.

“Look, why don’t you just get me a cookbook or something.”

“You don’t need another cookbook.”

It was nothing short of a miracle that, come Christmas morning, there were presents waiting for me under the tree. My mother handed me an armful of crudely wrapped items with a look of both pride and concern on her face. “I don’t know why I bought you these,” she said. “But I figured we’ll need them later.”

I felt like I was 4 again as I shook the boxes. The sound of liquid sloshing around had me stymied. As I ripped away the paper and bows I was surprised to see a set of martini glasses, a bottle of Tanqueray, a bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice, and a copy of “Vintage Cocktails,” a book featuring recipes from Pegu Club, my favorite cocktail lounge in New York.

“Now, just remember, when you make things out of this recipe book you’ll not only get fat, you’ll get drunk,” Mum said as she cracked open the gin.”Go easy.”

I guess that’s why she neglected to give me a drink shaker.

Unlike the lavender bike, it didn't take me long to put these Christmas presents to use... despite the missing cocktail shaker