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I Will Lose You

One of my favorite-ever poems, by Gregory Orr. Simple, striking, moving, memorable:

The Sweater

I will lose you.
It is written into this poem
the way the fisherman’s wife
knits his death into the sweater.

-Gregory Orr

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It feels sort of weird to actually acknowledge, but disturbing art, literature, film and music has always fascinated me. I loved Marilyn Manson as a middle schooler, not for his noise-goth-punk-rock albums, but for his disturbing persona, which manifest itself through music videos featuring medieval face contortion devices and corseted mad-doctor costumes. Throw in some creepy wooden dolls and some dingy medical paraphernalia and I was glued to MTV, happily scaring myself (aren’t we all masochists?) each day after school. Interestingly, Manson is also a rather gifted painter whose watercolors have a serene, but frightening beauty that is comparable to the works of Marlene Dumas. Both use watercolor (though Dumas, not exclusively) as a way to suggest an image instead of explicitly define it, giving it a ghostly quality. Both also utilize this generally soft, palatable medium to portray harshness, strangeness and at times, un-savoriness (the below painting by Dumas, however, like much of her work, is oil on canvas and was featured in MoMA mid-career survey “Measuring Your Grave” on view last year).

Marilyn Manson via MTV.com

"Hand of Glory" by Marilyn Manson; image: Marilyn Manson via MTV.com

MoMA via nytimes.com

"The Painter" by Marlene Dumas; image: MoMA via nytimes.com

Disturbing imagery isn’t reserved for modern-day artwork. A while back I attended an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled “Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s.” I enjoyed it so much, I came back a second time. And then a third. The German Expressionist works, by artists like Otto Dix and George Grosz, were raw in their depiction of the seediness and decadence of post-WWI Germany: saggy prostitutes, transvestites, disfigured veterans, a man with an upside down ribcage. People were painted to reveal their most grotesque, self-conscious selves. But the colors were vibrant, and the mood striving–one of a people desperate to enjoy life again. Some of the works were are almost a caricature of this mood; the works’ combined magnetism made this one of the best exhibitions I’d ever seen.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s"; image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Film, too, moves me similarly. After I finished watching “Lex Yeux Sans Visage” (Eyes Without a Face), A French horror film from 1960, I was confused; I knew I loved it, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint a reason why. The film was aptly frightening: the slow sequences built up the terror expertly. But it was also strangely heart-wrenching. The plot centered around a father and daughter; the father had caused a car accident that left his daughter disfigured–only eyes where her face used to be. Wrought with guilt, he seeks out similar-looking girls in a desperate, psychotic effort to find one whose face he can transplant onto his daughter’s (he is a surgeon by profession.) The efforts fail, as is expected, and the daughter, who wears a mask to hide her disfigurement, floats around the sets of this film in long white dresses with pirate collars (which I had read somewhere were designed by Givenchy). She is already gone, already a ghost, as the visual allusions seem to suggest. Her loneliness is at once wistful and resigned and the more her father harms others to better her, the deeper she slips into a desperate state. French films are known for this kind of all-sided hopelessness, of course. The film is beautiful, though, in the way a lot of disturbing, otherworldly art seems to be. Its pacing and cinematography are almost poetic and it escapes the horror genre to stand almost peerlessly as a movie that delves into a secret, subverted sector of the human psyche–a place where empathy, disgust and despair can exist simultaneously.

associnetic.free.fr

Les Yeux Sans Visage movie poster; image: associnetic.free.fr

Caviar!

A caviar open-faced sandwich, simple as it may be, has always signified a special occasion in my household. It’s a staple of the Russian holiday table. Making one is simple. Start with fresh white bread, preferably a slice of an Italian loaf, add creamy unsalted butter and top with plump red caviar. The little balls burst in your mouth and coat your tongue with a sea-infused saltiness. So simple, yet so divine! The photo below, from the blog, Moscow Daily Shot, is drool-inducing (and looks way better than my previously-shown lame  photo of a solitary and under-loaded caviar sandwich); this is what a celebration should look like!

caviar

Heaven!; image: moscowdailyshot.blogspot.com

I tried Macaron Café when it first opened last April. I was impressed, but soon forgot about it when I had to take a freelance assignment further uptown and my lunch options dwindled to the vicinity right around Bryant Park. I revisited it the other day and have become certifiably obsessed. Lunch lines usually stretch out the door and there’s absolutely no place to sit and eat, but it’s all so worth it. The French proprietors are always in high spirits and seem very passionate about this venture, even if they do get a bit frazzled at times.

My Two Must-Try Sandwiches:

The Norvegian–smoked salmon, capers, lettuce, lemon juice, cream cheese, scallion, persil and black pepper sauce on pane d’filone

The Siciliano–Breseola “Italian dry beef”, cherry tomatoes, basilic and mozzarella on a baguette

And then there are the macarons…

(I have an obsession, as is evident.)

Fig macaron, left, and Toblerone macaron, right.

Fig macaron, left, and Toblerone macaron, right.

The innards of a Fig macaron

The innards of a Fig macaron

The fig macaron was satisfying, but it didn’t really taste like fig, more like tasty gray stuff. The ganache was smooth and creamy and not at all like the sort that sticks in your teeth. It was great, but I would have appreciated a stronger fig flavor, if only for novelty’s sake.

Toblerone innards

Toblerone innards

I’m not exactly sure what this Toblerone flavor entails; I forgot to ask. I’m guessing it’s like the chocolate bar–honey and nougat. Personally, I thought I tasted a bit of hazelnut and almond. It was REALLY good, though. Light, but decadent enough to satisfy an intense sweets craving.

My favorite macaron of theirs is the lavender and honey (the lovely lady behind the counter recommended it), which I had the other day but sadly, didn’t take a picture of. It was mild like a fruit salad–well, maybe a fruit salad topped with sugar–and tasted exactly like spring.

Listings:

Macaron Café
161 W. 36th St.
New York, NY 10018
Telephone: (646) 573-5048

I’ve been a Beatles fan ever since my father–who, as a boy, used to listen to illegal bootlegged Beatles records in Moscow–played “And I Love Her” on cassette for me. I loved the echo chamber-sound of the song, which, combined with Paul McCartney’s booming vocals and the glorious melody made the tune feel haunting, like it was being sung to its subject from a far flung beyond. A recent discovery, the cover song “A Taste of Honey” (which I’d somehow never heard before) from Please Please Me features the same sparsity and reverberating voices. I can’t stop listening to it.

Beauty products are a weird sort of animal. They make you pretty, but many are gorgeous stand-alones that make your makeup bag look pretty, too. When I venture into Sephora, I immediately bolt for the Fresh counter because, the design, the feel, the aesthetic of the brand is just so wonderfully calming. After mere minutes of sniffing the fig and apricot eau de perfum and testing out the sugar polishes, in their candy color-shaded glory, I am reborn! Yes, that particular scent is terrific, and yes, those glosses are gorgeous (if a tad sticky for my taste), but I just feel prettier holding them–that make any sense?

sephora.com

Freshs fig and apricot eau de parfum; photo: sephora.com

Since I am a major fan and proponent of quality product design, here are a few more beauty brands that, even if they had sub par products (which they don’t) would survive on appearance alone.

Acqua Di Parma

This Italian fragrance brand is understated luxury redefined. It’s perfect for gift-giving; each of one of their bottles would look gorgeous on a bathroom shelf or vanity.

sephora.com

Acqua Di Parma: so pretty to look at; photo: sephora.com

Benefit Cosmetics

With tongue-in-cheek retro packaging and amazingly versatile products, this brand is a go-to for sparkly highlighters and heavy-duty concealers.

sephora.com

Benefit's lovely-tinted Dandelion blush; photo: sephora.com

Stila Cosmetics

Intensely feminine with the largest selection of shimmering yet wearable eye shadow shades, Stila  has been my beauty crush since college.

sephora.com

Great shadow shades from Stila; photo: sephora.com


Diptyque

This is a French perfumery with a simplistic, classic design that also happens to make the best, most show-worthy candles ever.

instyle.com

These look elegant and smell exquisite; photo: instyle.com

Paul & Joe Beaute

From famed clothing designers Paul & Joe, this brand of soft shimmers, lip colors and more is so pretty–think French, feminine and bohemian, that I can’t bear to use a swirling pot of gloss I was given three years back.

handbag.com

Paul & Joe's pretty face color packaging; photo: handbag.com

Molton Brown

This is a bare-bones British brand with a decidedly home-country aesthetic. Their bath products in gorgeous turquoises and pumpkin oranges make me happy. A shimmering lotion I received more than four years ago is still a favorite.

heals.co.uk

A Molton Brown body scrub that looks downright regal; photo: heals.co.uk

I could go on. There are myriads of other brands I admire, Korres, C.O. Bigelow and  Red Flower to name a few. The people who run these companies seem to understand that when we’re forking over way too much money for some of these luxuries, we want them to double as eye candy; sorta like if you were to spend a lot on a fancy chocolate truffle, you’d want it to be beautiful, right? Even if it’s beyond delicious, but looks meh, something is taken away from the experience of eating it.

Mmm, chocolate truffle.

Admittedly, New York City doesn’t have much street cred when it comes to dessert. Old world capitals like Paris, Brussels and even Rome may stick up their noses at this scrappy contender, perhaps citing that its purported piece de resistance happens to be a too-sugary but still tasty (yea, I said it, got a problem with that?) cupcake from a not-to-be-named bakery featured on a shall-go-anonymous primetime television show. I say ptooey! to all that. Those who know its sweet spots know that the city is awash with amazing cafes, patisseries, bakeries and even delicatessens serving up near-perfect iterations of both European and classically American treats.

I didn’t plan on taking a sweets tour around the city yesterday–it was a bone-chilling 20 degrees outside, after all; the whole thing just, well, sorta happened! Really! Here are the results:

First Stop: Bouley Bakery

morewinterstuff-005

Clockwise from left: chestunt macaron, white chocolate macaron, chocolate macaron; all from Bouley Bakery

I’ve become a sort of macaron fiend. There’s something about the combined texture of the crispy cookie and the decadent ganache that I find irresistible. Also, they just feel fancy when you eat them; the components are all so delicate. These Bouley Bakery ones were lovely: the flavors were unique (well, except for just plain chocolate), each macaron had just the right amount of ganache filling and the cookie was fresh, light and airy. Also, the filling wasn’t American-sweet, it was a reserved European sweet. The gold and silver dusting on the chocolate and white chocolate macarons, respectively, added to the regal decadence of these French treats. They seem to be almost as much about the appearance as they are the taste. Staple colors like cotton-candy pink and spring green are meant to make a statement. (Yea, I know, I so got the boring colors.)

Second Stop: Jacques Torres Chocolate

Jacques Torres's yummy hot chocolate

Jacques Torres's yummy hot chocolate

This is seriously one of the best dessert deals in town. The other day, I paid $3 for some dinky hot chocolate at a local-yet-generic Brooklyn cafe. For only 25 cents more, you can purchase a bit of heaven in a cup at Jacques Torres Chocolate on Hudson street. This hot chocolate coats your throat, sort of like cough syrup, but really, not at all. It’s a warmth-all-over sort of coating. I love the classic, but try the caramel, orange or wicked (a chili-flavored version) if you’re feeling at all adventurous.

Third Stop: Russ & Daughters

a must-visit

Russ & Daughters: a must-visit

Russ & Daughters interior

Russ & Daughters interior

Note to guidebook-wielding tourists from Europe: if you are planning a visit to venerable appetizing outpost Russ & Daughters, don’t just look around. Please, I implore you, try something! These kinds of places are meant to be sampled not toured! Russ & Daughters has been around forever and is a go-to place for Kosher-style appetizing like lox, white fish, herring, beet salad, chopped liver and the like. It also just happens to have some of the best desserts in the area. Their chocolate babka is perfection for the carb-and-sugar-obsessed and their rugelach is a richly nuanced combination of bittersweet chocolate, orange marmalade and walnuts.

Listings:

Bouley Market (Bakery is inside)
120 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
Telephone: (212) 791-1722

Jacques Torres Chocolate
350 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014
Telephone: (212) 414-2462

Russ & Daughters
179 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002
Telephone: (212) 475-4880