Monday, November 23, 2009

Random New York Moments

The view out of Writing Room B at the New York Society Library.
I love this place!

Decorations at the Holiday Fair at the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf School

The bags of bread just dropped off at EAT on Madison. Where I buy my croissants.

Anna and I found this spot today. Only in NY.

The rows of buttons....

Here are a few random New York moments from the past few days. I'm in heaven. Between the chocolate from Vosges, the conversations with Lee with wine and good food and sometimes just coffee, writing in Writing Room B at the New York Society Library, working / shopping for clients with Anna today, and the croissants from is sometimes just so good, I cannot quite contain all my happiness. Only the mice that inhabit my apartment are a problem.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Genius Loci: Freeman's Alley - Lower East Side

My dates for the evening in silhouette. In Freeman's Alley.
Lee, Andrew, Tom, and Rob.

Freeman's Alley. Lower East Side.

Freeman's Alley.

We went to the Lower East Side for dinner to meet Tom Gunkelman, Andrew Flesher and his partner, Rob Pietronuto. We adore them all, they make us laugh and their recommendation for a Taqueria (Los Feliz) sounded spot on! We arrived as they were setting up for dinner - a little after 6:30. The poor waiter came in with his jacket on! (We're pretty sure he thought we were early because we were old, but really we were early because there are no reservations and we didn't want a 2-hour wait.) So, we had fantastic margaritas and very good food in a sexy underground perfectly moody.

After dinner, Lee and I decided we would take the train home, but not quite sure where the nearest train was from the restaurant, Andrew said they would walk with us a bit and show us the way. On the tour to the train, he stopped by a very LA kind of hotel - The Rivington and a wonderful, secretive, back-alley place called Freeman's Alley, which I show you here. It really is at the dead end of an alley, all decked out with barbed wire and graffiti, just the kind of place New Yorkers would love. We walked in and it was jam-packed and totally happening! Happening way beyond me.

We'll go back, but I'll not wear my Upper East side jacket and boots next time. Something more pierced and studded, I'm thinking.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Homage to Alexander and Isabelle (aka Zan and Izzy)

I'm an empty nester. Alexander left for college in Aug 2004 - coincidental to my husband moving to LA -WITHOUT ME! No buried emotional trauma there.

Isabelle left for Madison in August of 2007. Hmmm....I happen to recall yet another mental and physical breakdown at that time - or was that just menopause?

Anyway, I've gotten over most of that - my husband not living with me, choosing LA over me, then NY, my children leaving home and the emotional / hormonal nightmare delusionally called "the change." (That is something like the Southerners who call the Civil War "the late unpleasantness.")

I digress.

Anyway, I am puttering today - trying to make something nice out of the way too few pieces of furniture I have in Minneapolis. It is a game of chess and I mostly have pawns. No kings, no queens. Not even a knight. A lot of Room and Board outlet store, yard sale finds - ho hum. But, I pick up this crazy piece of pottery Isabelle made in 12th grade in a pottery class which I always thought looked like something Picasso would have done (that's a mother for you) and stuck an evergreen in the hole in the head. I love this piece. And put it on an odd little table I have under a photo that Alexander took when he was studying in Paris. I love this photo. It is of a beautiful young woman walking the streets of Paris - naturally chic and fresh and the little cars that are so common to Europe whirling about in the streets. Zan took it in black and white and gave it to me.

So here is my little homage to my children, who, on this night in November, I rather miss. Isabelle is studying in Madrid, Spain (well, mostly socializing and traveling, I fear) for a year. Alexander is now in Houston (that would be Texas) teaching 6th grade math for Teach for America - it is the hardest thing he has ever done, he says. But he also seems to have a rather buoyant social life with the other TFA kids. I last saw him in July.

When there is still a lot of suffering in the world and 20-somethings are off fighting wars, this simple alter to them is helpful. I am so happy they are alive and healthy and kind and smart and fearless. I want to be like them when I grow up.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Genius Loci: David Coggins' Studio - Minneapolis

All photos by John Reed Forsman (

A couple of years ago, Lee and I met and befriended David and Wendy Coggins. I wish I could say we have spent more time with them - they are smart, charming and interesting and have the most wonderful dog! We spent a memorable weekend with them at their cabin in Wisconsin; it was almost sensory overload - the visuals, the food, the wine, the conversation. It was merely fabulous. They both have the most artistic, generous spirits. They live well, eat well, and entertain well. Alas, our ships seem to keep passing in the night. When Lee is in Minneapolis (summer) they are at their cabin hanging out with the dragonflys and their old wooden motor boat.

After seeing David's studio in an old warehouse near the river in Minneapolis, which is an amalgam of both their influences, I thought to myself, this may be the most beautiful place I have seen in Minneapolis. Especially at night when Wendy has waved her magic wand and the place is shimmering in candlelight, filled with exotic flowers and tables of food. By day, it is filled with David's art - both completed and works in progress - beautiful nature drawings and photo collages from his travels, upon which he paints.

It is not "done" or even livable, really. There is no kitchen or bathroom (except down the hall.) There is probably a place to curl up for the night on a sofa. But, it was certainly the most personal and authentic place I have seen here and, if not the most beautiful, then the most enchanting. I called my friend, photographer John Reed Forsman, about it. I knew he would appreciate it. We noodled on the idea of shooting it and sending it to World of Interiors and thought, even if it never made to print, we would enjoy spending a day in the space, capturing the spirit of the place. So we did. Here are a few of John's inspired images. (It was the first photo shoot I have done without a contract, for no pay - for the art without an art director breathing down our necks - and it was really fun to just use our eyes instead of a shot list!) And it was a peek into some future - this is the kind of place I want to spend my time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Genius Loci: Spirit of Place - Minneapolis | November

Genius Loci: Spirit of Place - Iowa

My grandfather farmed this exact piece of land in the 1930's and 40's - Colo, Iowa.
My father grew up here as a boy.

Photo by Alecia Stevens, Nov 2009

A fitting place to open this blog, I grew up here, or just north of here, and the changing colors of the Iowa ground is deeply rooted in me. Or, perhaps, I am deeply rooted in it. It is my
terroir. I might pretend to be a fancy city girl now, but my base is the prairie, wide skies and changing earth. I see greens that others can't see. Like the Eskimo has 100 names for snow, I see 100 shades of green.

I was there last weekend and this dry autumn landscape just grabbed me - as if my life were a set of flip cards, whirring through my fingers, and the first ten years of it hold images of this place with the rotation of planting and harvesting, planting and harvesting, a rhythm that whispers to me when I return. It no longer shouts, but is always the background din.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Grandma Fern's 99th Birthday in Des Moines..."and no more war."

Making her wish. Grandma Fern, Brother Kelly, Tom Clemens
These are three people in the "Light of my life club."

Grandma Fern - 99 years "old." She is the happiest person I have ever known.

(Full disclosure: I am an Iowan by birth, so I assume some right to these observations.)

I don't know where to start. For the last 24 hours, I have been sailing the high seas of familial emotional drama. I have lived through the obsession with food dramas and the living history tour of Colfax, Iowa, my father's childhood home, and the "Italian" dinner at Noah's Ark. As well, I drank the hottest coffee of my life.

I overstate. Which of course my brother Kelly points out to me when he says, "Why is everything in the superlative for you?"

Okay. It included laughing to tears as my brother Rob, who develops products for Target, etc, described his idea for an adult diaper for sports fans who simply won't get out of their seats to go to the bathroom. He would have the six-pack size and the "Super-sized" for the twelve-pack beer drinker. Then there was the horror of recognizing that Iowa women over 65 might as well just wear "the Iowa wig" because EVERY single woman in Iowa over 65 has exactly the same hair. Gray, short, and permed, and something that mimics a helmet, slightly. It is never, ever, pulled behind the ears. It is never, ever long. And there must not have ever been born a curly-headed Iowan, because I did not see one single woman with naturally curly or wavy hair - it was all permed. It goes on. How do I say this? There is a lot of denim and worn on top in Iowa. Denim on the bottom is not so concerning. But anyone over 22 should consider turning in their denim tops. And if it isn't denim in Iowa it is whatever sweat pants are made of. Fleece, right? At restaurants. And a lot of baggy fleecy clothes in general. Like loose tops to cover the years of onion rings. I diverge.

We took my grandmother to the "Italian" restaurant that my father and mother selected - Noah's Ark. It is very confusing. First, what does "Noah's Ark" have to do with Italians? I could see some nice Middle Eastern food, maybe, but Italian?

We start by ordering a round of heavily battered and fried onion rings. To make it seem more Italian, we added heavily buttered (or something oily) garlic bread. (I did not see bruschetta or prosciutto anywhere on the menu.) Suddenly, it was a little bit Italian with garlic in a dish. My mother and I ordered Insalata Romana. It was iceberg lettuce with 3 olives - without pits. I ordered - and I own my mistake - crab cakes. There just really was nothing else on the menu I wanted. Not the fried chicken, which of course is so obviously Italian, but I was in the mood for seafood - in the middle of the country. I asked if it was fresh (it was listed as one of the "specials" so I thought it might be!) and the waiter, who probably doesn't get requests for the crab cakes often, answered honestly. "No, it is frozen." Well, I'm thinking...better frozen in Des Moines, anyway. They came looking like fried hockey pucks with the same dense breading as the onion rings and served with a sauce that was yellow and sweet which I couldn't identify if my life depended on it. I asked for cocktail sauce. I ate one of them and ordered another red wine. At least that seems Italian.

Despite the confusing edibles, we had a marvelous time - I sat next to Grandma Fern and she had at least two memorable lines of the evening. The first was, "Oh, I just can't believe what a wonderful life I have had!" This, from a 99-year old woman who never owned a house or a car in her life, who worked at Dahl's grocery and restaurants, who left her marriage (or was abandoned by her husband) at age 22 with a 2-year old daughter in 1931 and never remarried, but has plenty of good stories.

The next line was when the waiter brought her an ice cream sundae with a candle in it and she stared to dig in with the candle lit. We all yelled, "Grandma Fern, you have to blow the candle out before you start eating it." And as she started to blow, I said, "No, you have to make a wish first."

"I wish for the good health of everyone at this table....and no more war."

I could have cried. What did she know that we don't? She said several times, "Well, you can't believe the changes I've seen?" She is right about that. Then, when she asked about my daughter, Isabelle, who is living in Spain this year, "Is it modern there? Do they have elevators and trolleys?"

"Yes, Grandma Fern, they have elevators and subways. But they also have beautiful old castles and cathedrals and parks that have been there for centuries," I said.

"Oh, my," was all she could say.

After the Italian dinner I would never have found in Florence, only in Des Moines, we returned to her home - a multi-unit home for the elderly - where she still lives alone in her own apartment. I walked into the building with Grandma Fern's dear friend, Ginny, who is probably in her '70's and has adopted Grandma Fern. She takes her to the doctor, the grocery, church, etc. Ginny had dinner with us so that we might thank her for all she does for Grandma Fern. She couldn't stop talking about her. "She does her devotions twice a day. She has not complained once in the twelve years I have known her - not once. She does her exercises twice a day. (I teased Grandma Fern about having a "trainer.") She goes to Bible Study and Memory class where they all share their memories and hers are the ones everyone loves to hear." Ginny ended by saying, "When I grow up, I want to be like her."

We had cake and coffee in a little sitting area on her floor. As I said good night, she thanked us for coming to share her birthday. I said, "Thank you, Grandma Fern, for living so long that we could do it."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

And the answer is...

Sailing on the Hudson.

Lee taking in the setting.

The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson

The lovely site that I posted a few days ago - the monastery - is The Cloisters. Located at the northernmost part of Manhattan, it sits on a bluff overlooking the romantic Hudson River. It is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of Medieval Architecture, painting, furnishings, pottery, religious art, tapestries and more. The architecture is mostly (perhaps all) from monasteries in Europe from the Middle Ages, brought to this site and rebuilt. It especially celebrates the Cloister, a covered walkway surrounding an open air courtyard or garden and with water in the center - a fountain, a pool, etc. A cloister was part of a monastery - and for the private use of the monks only. (Or nuns.) It comes from Latin claustrum meaning "barrier."

Here are some images of the setting. We took the A Train all the way to 206th street, then a cab a short way because we were lost. Coming home, we boarded the bus outside the front door of the museum and rode it home, through the neighborhoods of Manhattan for 1 hour and 15 minutes. It was quite an education - through Washington Heights, Spanish Harlem, the Columbia / Barnard neighborhood, the Upper West Side, across the north end of the park to 5th Avenue and home. It felt like we had been transported from one world to another. And all without a car or boarding a plane!

Monday, November 2, 2009

The magic of New York's Design District

There is a kind of opulence here. Luxurious finishes only possible with age.
Amy Perlin in the Interior Design Building on East 61st.

The top of the Italian walnut table.

Today I headed to the Design District with a specific list. One of the things I was looking for is an old table for a client - like a farm table. But, I always keep in mind my other clients while I shop for one, in particular. First stop? Amy Perlin Antiques on East 61st Street. She had just received a container from Europe according to the email I got this morning. So I walk in and see a beautiful marquetry table - just yummy, the finish. I need a center table for another client, so I snap a shot.

Only after I uploaded it tonight did I realize what a beautiful shot this is of the collections that you find at Amy Perlin.