Friday, May 8, 2009

Art for your Mamma

Mother's day is less than 48 hours away and you haven't bought a card yet. ooops. Just like I did for Valentine's Day, I have scanned the collections of major museums and print makers and rustled up a handful of artworks worthy of a home-made mother's day card.

Mary Cassatt was famous for her images of mother and her child. Of Cassatt's painted portraits, these tend to be my least favorite. But none the less, their tenderness and the atmospheric effect of Cassatt's brushwork makes these heart warming Hallmark worthy scenes. My favorite is the Banjo Lesson. Mother is a teacher and the daughter leans over her shoulder eager to lean. Give this one to a mom who's taught you everything you know.

If this Cassatt doesn't do it for you, google her and you'll find dozens of prints and paintings that depict mother and child (her most famous center around bath time).

Adam Shattuck's
1850 painting, The Shattuck Family, Mother, Grandmother and Baby William is a beautiful image of ideal 19th century femininity but also of the timelessness of motherhood. Corsets may go in and out of style, but motherhood is always in. I think this is a great one to give to both your mother and her mother. (The actual painting is in the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum -- a place worth taking your mum if you have the day)

Blessed art thou among Women is a beautiful photograph from the turn of the century. A mother's tender kiss, the doorway and image of the annunciation on the wall referencing the western world's ideal mother (a Virgin named Mary), the soft glow around the subjects -- it's just beautiful. The photograph lives at the Met and is the work of an American Photographer, Gertrude Käsebier.

When Edward Curtis traveled across the US photographing Native Americans in the first quarter of the 20th century, he captured several dual portraits of mothers with their infants. Assiniboin mother and child ranks as my favorite -- beautiful natural light, the forest blurring in the background. For Curtis, this was an image of the next, and most likely last, generation of a disappearing race. For today's viewer, it's a warm vintage photograph of a new born and its loving parent.

For the mother to be? How about Demi Moore's famous cover shot for Vanity Fair? Her stomach is huge (she looks like she's about to pop at any second) but she's still as sexy as can be -- and you know your favorite pregnant friend is feeling pretty far from sexy right now as she watches her butt expand.

The last is my favorite -- a New Yorker cover by Danny Shanahan published in 1992 for mothers day. It's cute and reminds us that motherhood is universal among earth's creatures (as should be an appreciation of mothers!). This is going on my card.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I wish more people would wear feathers

I have a crush on Craig Ferguson. I have for a while, actually. I think he's funny, which makes him cute. And he's Scottish, which just makes him cuter. If I were a celebrity, I'd want to appear on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

Tonight, he opened with a brief rant that started with "More people should wear feathers." Women used to wear them in their hair. They used to do dances with feathered fans. etc etc. I agree, the feather needs to make a comeback. Remember Carrie's unconventional veil in the S&TC movie -- it emerged from this fantastic peacock feather hair clip? It was stunning. More hats with feathers. I'm all for it.

He also started talking about Bravo's replacement for Project Runway: The Fashion Show, which debuted tonight.

The Fashion Show is lame. Issac Mizrahi is no Tim Gunn. I want Tim Gunn to be my best friend. I want Issac Mizrahi to go back to Target and stay there. Gunn, as the head of the Parson's design program, is a real-life mentor to developing designers. Mizrahi was in Unzipped. I don't know what that qualifies him to do. There's very little I like about Mizrahi on The Fashion Show (though I do like what he does for Target and what he did with that Newspaper). His attempts at a developing a catch phrase on par with "make it work" or "in fashion, one day you're in, the next day you're out... you're out" are especially lame.

Kelly Roland is also pretty lame. She lacks the fashion credibility of knockout mamma Heidi Klum and her over all manner is too reserved. She's a limp noodle. A pretty noodle, but a limp one none the less.

But at least someone on that show was wearing a feather in his hat.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Scenes in a Cafe, 1

A lot of life happens over a Latte.

I was sitting in Starbucks the other afternoon, waiting for a friend and catching up on some old New Yorkers. It was around 5:30 -- caffeine rush hour, second only to the 8:45AM pre work cappuccino run -- and the rain had finally subsided. A girl was sitting next to me in a white blouse and skirt, hair down and a bit unkempt. She wore solid frye boots over black stockings that lead up to a short skirt. That was her day outfit. As she sipped her ventie iced latte, she pulled her hair up, teasing out a poof and pinning it carefully. Her frye boots were traded in for knee-high black patent stilettos and the top button of her blouse was quickly undone. Her makeupless face now was adorned with rosey blush and glossy pink lipstick. Her crackberry started shaking on the cafe table and she picked it up, threw her oversized purse over her shoulder grabbed her plastic cup and iced beverage and was off. 10 minutes and 8 fl. oz had passed during her transformation. Now that's a new yorker.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Why do I have 3 South Beach Diet Books? Or, Spring Cleaning Discoveries 2009

May 3rd was the kind of rainy spring Sunday that demanded getting stuck in and tackling that annual chore of spring cleaning. I made lots of discoveries... like my missing pink sock, a gallon ziplock bag filled with crayons and my lost red patent loafers. Perhaps the most interesting, if not the most telling discovery was that I have in my house 20 diet books. Yes, 20... that I can find.

The 20 does not include the 5 books hidden behind the 2003 Frommer's Guide to Florida and the 2006 Rick Steve's Guide to Paris that outline exercise programs guaranteed to help you tone-up and trim down in 2 weeks. I feel like I bought at least 2 of those in June 2003... 2 weeks before my senior prom.

Actually, to lose weight for my prom and my prom dress (the same dress I wore 4 years later for my CC senior dinner -- the dress was that good) I went on Atkins. This accounts for the 2 Atkins books on the shelves. Yes, I have Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution and The Complete Dr. Atkins (all three books in one volume for the B&N value price of $9.98 -- how could I pass that up!) I stayed on the diet through my first month in college and then I discovered chocolate covered espresso beans... and chocolate covered raisins...oops.

I have two copies of the South Beach Diet -- a hard edition for the Westchester house and a soft-cover version for the college dorm/graduate apartment. There are post-its sticking out of them and food stains on the pages, which I take as a good sign. And to go with the weathered pair, I have the ever important The South Beach Diet Parties and Holidays Cookbook. Clearly, I was launching headlong into the South Beach way of life just before the holiday food rush and I needed some sort of alternative to the mashed potato (the greatest sacrifice on any low carb diet).

Remember Barry Sears, PhD and his Zone Diet? Probably a fad diet a little before most of our times. But regardless, there are 3 zone books on my bookshelf. There's "Mastering the Zone," which is in pristine condition (the Zone was not mastered clearly... probably never even entered). There's the more recent and slightly longer "The Anti-Inflammation Zone," which gets rid of poultry and other foods that apparently cause inflammation in the joints and arteries. It is likewise in pristine condition. However, A Week in the Zone, the small pocket sized version, is nicely worn in. phew. Diets aren't meant to last more than a week anyway. Ask any runway model... she'll tell you.

There's also the Sonoma Diet, the Cardio-Free Diet, The McDougall Program, Doctor McDougall's Health-Enhancing Recipe Book and Strong Women Eat Well. I liked the Cardio-Free Diet... it told me I didn't have to go to the gym as much. I gained 3 pounds on the Cardio-Free Diet. The Sonoma Diet was probably the best... I lost 5 lbs in the first week. It told me to drink wine.

There was a handful of books advocating one form of fuel intake over the other: The Carbohydrate Addicts Lifespan Program, Protein Power, and The Alpha Lipoic acid Breakthrough. Then there were the ones with gurus on the front promising 30 days or 2 months to a healthier, happier you.

It was kind of amazing. I knew I had been on a diet since I was 13 and had since those first days on weight watchers been through every major fad diet promoted by Joan Hamburg, but I never realized just how many diet books I had acquired. As I stared at the massive pile of books, I thought to myself: Kathleen, you have an unhealthy obsession with your weight. In high school, I wrote a piece in the style of John Steinbeck for my AP English Language class on "a good, effective diet." Am I seeing a trend here?

I blame Dr. Solomon -- about a month ago, after losing 5 lbs, I went in for a vit B shot and the visit proceeded as it has for the last 10 years: "Do you have a boyfriend?" "No yet." "When was your last period?" "A week ago." "You're such a pretty girl, but you really need to stop eating Carbohydrates." "But Dr. Solomon, I'm a vegetarian. What am I supposed to eat." To my mother: "Don't let her in the kitchen."

Luckily, the number of diet books I own is dwarfed by the number of recipe books on my shelves, in my drawers and on my counter top. Keep me out of the kitchen, Dr. Solomon? Yea, not likely.

And Now What?

My thesis is done! Woooooot. 100 pages, 20 illustrations, 60 sources and over two years worth of tears, sweat, barnes and noble bills and overdue library books. I confess -- there are two typos. Bugger. None the less, Columbia's art history department now has in its possession, "A Painter's Print: Ellen Day Hale and the American Lady Painter Etchers" by Kathleen Reckling. I can clear my shelf in Avery and relish the joy in having the freedom that follows a life without deadlines. I graduate on May 20th, yet that inevitable question that chases a pending grad has already reared its ugly head: you have a masters, now what?

You have a bachelors in Economics and a master's in art history from Columbia. What are you doing next?

You've written a thesis on the professionalization of women artists in the 19th century and the revival of the painter-etcher in the 1880s. Whaccha gonna do with that?

It's an economic recessions. What are your options?

You're 23 going on 24. What now?

It's a question that can be phrased in a thousand ways. Often it's coupled with further queries into my personal life, usually "is there a boyfriend?" (I've gotten particularly good at dealing with the second one! "No, not yet it's on my to do list... but they're just so much work and I already have 3 dogs!") The pair of questions are not new to me -- I went through graduating two years ago. Then I was fortunate enough to have the master's program lined up and thus an easy and credible explanation about my future. It's a little different this time round.

When people ask me "now what," I respond honestly but with hesitation: I'm taking the next year or two to write a book. About what? It's an expansion of my thesis -- my advisor wants me to do it. (paraphrased: "You're a wonderful writer," she said over breakfast, "really this [thesis] is just a page turner, and Hale is such a rebel, oh and the circle of women around her! You just have to do it.") It sounds impressive doesn't it? "I'm writing a book." And if I'm wearing my glasses and when I tell you this, it's even more impressive because I look like a legitimate intellectual.

But there are a few other things I could say, and have said that are also equally honest. I'm doing what all the cool people are doing -- being unemployed for a while. That usually elicits a good laugh, and if not a laugh starts a serious conversation about the current state of the job market and looks of wonderment at the idea that a girl with 2 ivy league degrees is still not qualified for anything more than an unpaid internship in the present economic environment. I tell them I need a Rhodes -- that's the masters degree that promises legitimate jobs, PhD program acceptances and big-time book deals. If you have a Rhodes, everyone assumes you're the next Bill Clinton, regardless of what that degree is in. If you have a master's in art history, everyone assumes you're going to be the next star of The Real Housewives of New York...

Which brings me to my other response to all those who ask, "what now."

Trophy Wife.

Two years ago as a weapon against those puzzled faces that appeared when I told people I was doing graduate work in art history, I pulled out the "but it's really a practical degree in Trophy Wifedom and cocktail party conversation." Of course, I wasn't serious. Art History is fantastic as a discipline because it forces you to deal with a broad range of topics and fields as well as with the visual world. So yes, it does make you a fantastic conversationalist at cocktail parties and does lend you an air of sophistication (when required). But I aspire for a career in academia or as a museum curator... wife to a trophy husband or not.

Ya.. well that was before the economic crash. I have a fatal addiction to shoes and DVF dresses, and my little book on Ellen Day Hale ain't going to pay those credit card bills. So, surely there's some financially stable guy out there who's just pining for an art historian wife? Did I mention I can cook too?

Friday, May 1, 2009

My Brand of Optimism, or How I Practically Find the Silver Lining

Blind optimism is sickening. Yes, it is true, it can always be worse... but when you're having a bad day, or a bad month, or a bad year it's hard not to be selfish and think that what you're going through is as bad as it gets. I've had a reasonable does of ups-and-downs in the last few months, events that have been serious blows to my ego and have made me question just about everything I'm doing/have done/intend to do. Onward and upward is an easy mantra to say, but not always the easiest to follow. Yet, despite being kicked around by moody admissions boards, fickle fencing tournaments and a handful of other unpleasant events, I remain generally optimistic. How? No, it's not through some path to enlightenment found through meditation and happy phrases. Instead, I have a far simpler solution for getting over life's hiccups.

I believe nothing helps you get over something like a good laugh -- find a friend, rent a movie, whatever, just get yourself laughing. Then get a cup of tea and a cookie.

If the laugh, tea and cookie don't do it, well then head for the gin and open up a box of Annie's Mac and Cheese and fill up to your heart's content. Fat and alcohol usually make up for what a good laugh and sugar can't do.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dining Out in Portland

The Nines Hotel
525 SW Morrison
There are two restaurants in this super-posh boutique hotel on 4th Ave. On the 8th Floor is Urban Farmer, a modern steak house that does just about everything on its menu superbly. The beet salad is actually comprised of heirloom beets (rather than a heap of packaged lettuce with a few shaved beets on the bottom) and is beautifully dressed. Like many Portland restaurants, the emphasis here is on Local and organic, and the chef knows how to bring out the best in his ingredients. Featuring simple decor, a video art installation (it's kinda cool) and leafy palms, the ambience is cool and hip. Because it's set in the atrium of the Nines hotel, the noise level is a little high, but somehow the tables manage to maintain a sense of privacy. This one is a five starer fo shizzle.

Three weeks ago, the Nines opened Departures -- a trendy, lounge-like, Portland knock-off version of Nobu with a futuristic air-travel themed design. The decor takes advantage of the restaurant's position on the 15th floor of the hotel and large windows overlook the Willamette River. This is where all the pretty people in Portland serve and are served (best look bartenders I've seen anywhere, hands down). Purple, white, silver and black are the colors and the entrance way is like a set from the film Gattaca. Overall, I loved the ambience -- it was bright (though watch out for a few tabled crowded into cubby holes near the bar -- they're hot, dark and cramped), and easy to talk. While the service, sake menu, and decor score a 10, the food leaves a little to be desired. The kitchen is clearly still working out the chinks in the menu. Apparently the executive chef, Bryan Emperor worked under the famous Nobu and he is clearly trying to recreate the immensely successful modern Japanese fare that made the master chef and the restaurants that bear his name so famous. But it does fall a bit short. The menu looks fantastic with things like savory pork buns and calamari tenpura (a reinterpretation of Nobu's super yummy rock-shrimp tenpura) and the idea of a sort of pan-Asian tapas restaurant is very appealing. Everything is well presented but I would be honest in saying that nothing is memorable, except the Liquid Gold Sake which really is just incredible. The prices are more than reasonable, way more modest that Nobu, and I highly recommend stopping in at the bar for a drink, a few appetizer dishes and the view then head down stairs for dinner.

SouthPark Seafood Grill and Wine Bar
SouthPark is a place for an easy dinner. Featuring fresh, local, wild fish and a great selection of wines, it's a good choice for a quality meal without a lot of frills (with good proximity to the theater and museum). I really enjoyed the Local Organic Roasted Beets with Shaved Fennel,Watercress and Pistachio Pesto salad and my rock fish was well cooked with crisp grilled asparagus and a lovely tapendade that was not overpowering. A safe bet but not necessarily a splurge dinner.

Everett Street Bistro
Nestled in the heart of the Pearl district and only a stone's throw from Powell's Books, Everett Street Bistro is a great place to grab lunch between gallery tours and book browsing. It feels tres Parisian and is light and airy. good food and a casual atmosphere (though the sandwiches are a little over sized -- forget about trying to get your mouth around them). The pomme frites are a must.

The Red Star Tavern and Roast House

Attached to the Hotel Monaco this is where I got breakfast most mornings. The Red Star has a great menu and an earthy, Northwest feel with its large wood tables, ruff-n-tumble earthenware table settings and sturdy silverware. The housemade granola is delicious and the vegetable frittata hearty and tastey. There is nothing more dissapointing than bad breakfast potatoes, and the Red Star's homefries are about as good as they get. Being a tea snob, I love the fact my English Breakfast came as loose-leaf in its own pot -- they take their caffiene seriously (the coffee is free trade and smelled delicious). Apparently, they have a great happy hour, which I would believe and they also have a wood-burning brick oven which i would imagine produces some pretty flavourful lunch/dinner dishes.

Portland City Grill
Perched on the 30th floor of a 43 story building on SW 5th Ave, Portland City Grill offers spectacular views of Portland and the surrounding Cascade Mountains, Mount St. Helens and Mt. Hood. The food is average or just above. The kitchen paired wild salmon with a heavy risotto -- a big mistake, since the risotto, in both texture and taste, overwhelmed the fish (which was also slightly over cooked). However the drinks are tasty as are the appetizers -- go here for Happy Hour, watch the sun go down and enjoy a 10 Sage (a drink made with tanqueray 10 and sage).