Over the holidays we visited Berlin. It was cold and dark, but still no less charming than the last time I visited. This time around I spent a lot of time in museums (of Communication, Egyptian art, East Berlin). My favorite, by far, was the Gemäldegalerie, which specializes in my favorite period, 13th through 18th century European art. What a treat to spend hours taking in Vermeer's light, Bruegel's chaos (do you know this painting? It was all I could do not to press my face into the protective glass.), Claesz's stil lifes, the intricate red threads of Hans Holbein, the way Botticelli renders hair. Days, weeks could be spent in this collection. I'm working on some projects around lace and the galleries were chock full of inspiration. The collars and cuffs are so intricate and careful. From top to bottom, the work of Peter Codde, Jan Anthonisz van Ravesteyn, Nicolaes Eliasz Pickenoy, Werner J. van den Valckert and Frans Hals (final two). I am amazed and fascinated by how artists can render such delicate patterns, and all with gradations of white and gray.
I'm terribly behind on posting our adventures around Italy. In September, after Lucca, we drove around the Emilia Romagna region and, not surprisingly, ate. A lot. ER is home to balsamic vinegar, Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I'm most familiar with this area from Lynn Rosetto-Kaspar's cookbook The Splendid Table (there's also a two episode podcast on the area that features a riveting story about eels). We started at Osteria Bohemia not far from Modena. Angelo and Zdenka Lancelloti have a sprawling garden and nearly everything we ate came directly from their plot. They specialize in using herbs and flowers in their food: salad with rosepetals, baccala with nasturtiums. These bright colors and flavors were a refreshing change from the norm. It was a gift to eat their food. We stayed up late into the night chatting and telling stories. The next morning, Angelo gave us a tour of his balsamic vinegar operation in the attic. As you enter the property, you see the sign above, supposedly a Sioux proverb:
Only after the last tree has been cut down,
only after the last river has been poisoned,
only after the last fish has been caught,
only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.
The next day we biked along the River Po and made a pilgrimage to the famed Trattoria La Buca in Zibello where cook and owner Miriam reigns like a queen at her wooden desk. My favorite part of our visit there was the wall-sized case of grappa bottles, each with a hand drawn label by artist Romano Levi. The labels and distllery were his life's work. And then came Verona, which deserves its own post.
So is this a thing in cities all over the world and I've just never been aware of it? That love letters are written randomly on walls and streets? Or is this just the magic of Italy? From top to bottom: "With my heart and soul, an 'I love you forever.' To my only princess", taken on a wall outside of Fiesole; self-explainatory on a wall on Costa San Giorgio; and "Silvia, I love you. I know that these months have been hard but I want to be with you," witten on a small road near Galluzzo. "The two of us forever," wirtten on a path near I Tatti.
Is marbled paper terrible or wonderful? The question is simple and complicated. On the one hand: it is terrible. How many times have we all received some marbled knick knack and thought "it's so...marbled." On the other hand: it is wonderful. There are colors and patterns that you won't find in any other type of paper. Full stop. In Florence, I see marbled paper daily in the studios of artisans who have been making it for centuries. And I've started warming to it. Or maybe not warming to it but beginning to think about how to use it without it reading as HELLO! I AM MARBLED PAPER! So I present lesson number one: moderation.
For these invites to our movie night I tried using a small scrap of this green, gold and white marbeled paper and then overlaying matte gold ribbon. I expect by the end of my year here I will have taken classes and become a convert. Promise you'll still like me if this happens. Because I can sort of see it happening. I'll keep you updated.
Last weekend we went to Lucca, an ancient walled city about an hour away from Florence, with our friends Fabrizio and Flora. Yes, there were churches. Many churches. And also porcini. Incredible grilled porcini at Osteria dal Manzo. But headed back home Flora and I agreed that one of our favorite ways to understand a new place is through their office supply and stationery stores. Which is what I did. I happened upon some locally printed cards and these old Letterfix sheets that, I believe, are no longer made. I have such fond memories of my mother's folders and folders of these. It was hard to choose just a few, including the Greek alphabet and these trees from above. Lucca's famous flea market that winds its way through all of the piazze was taking place and there I found this spectacular embroidered monogram ribbon that was sewn into clothes; telegrams from Belgium with pastoral illustrations; and two letters to the same person, in the same hand, but with different pens.
Did you catch this week's On The Media? The segment on Tony Schwartz produced by the Kitchen Sisters was utterly fabulous. Schwartz was agoraphobic and afraid of travel and so spent much of his life in a single zip code in Manhattan - 10019. He explored the world by soliciting sounds that people sent in to him. He collected over 30,000 recordings. This profile is a perfect, inpsiring start to the week.
Last week, as is our annual tradition, I gathered with some of my favorite people ever: Bryn from Paperfinger, Patricia from Primele/Fawnsburg and Jenna from love*jenna. We decamped in the corner table of Rucola and, over six hours and just as many courses and beverages (we toggle between coffee and cocktails), gabbed about calligraphy, dream projects, our lives, ink, nibs, artist crushes, inspiration. If I were to make a list of the best parts of Neither Snow, forging a friendship -- a little guild -- with these extraordinary talented ladies would be at the very top of my list. Some corners of this industry that are catty, competitive and ungenerous. But our relationship is founded on just the opposite: an overwhelming abundance of kindness, collaboration and generosity. I add to this list my west-coast compatriot, Molly of Plurabelle, who I hope one day will join our table out east. Here's a snapshot of the badassness of each:
Bryn just launched a line of stunning hand-calligraphed and illustrated invitations called Ligature. Check them out here and at Oh So Beautiful Paper.
Jenna's masterpiece is her scrumptious daughter Clementine who we had the good fortune to meet. She's embargoed some beautiful hand-painted work I hope she'll share soon. Until then, take a gander at this ridic set of perfume packages she designed (zoom in!).
Molly is headed to Paris this month (lucky, lucky). I can't wait to follow her adventures on her blog.
Often clients and collaborators are a bit confused by and surprised at how often I travel and still manage to take on work. So I wanted to share my little secret to being portable: libraries (public, at universities or research centers). In the last two months I've taken up residence at the Getty Research Center (literally too beautiful to photograph), and (top to bottom, L - R) Boston Public Library, Cambridge Public Library, Newton Free Library, Weston Public Library, New York Public Library Children's Room (Central Branch), Columbia University's Butler Library and the New York Public Library East Village branch. In New York, if I have an hour or two to spare, I'll locate the closest library and pop in to charge my phone, read a short story and poke around the new releases. In the more distant past, the Oxford University's Duke Humphrey and University of Pennsylvania's Fine Arts Library were refuges.
Often a library is the first place I seek out in any city I pass through, and even the cities I live in. I think there are many reasons why: a feeling that if they aren't used, they'll be closed; the silence; the thoughtful architecture and inspiring small touches (like the quilt in Weston and the miniature figurines and floor plan at Columbia and busts in Newton); the free wireless; vibrancy and the presence of youth and children (in fact the Cambridge branch IS the library for the adjacent Rindge and Latin High School as far as I can tell); opportunity to peruse the shelves; the friendly staff. In some places (Getty) there are organic lunches to be had on the rooftop terrace. In others (Weston) you can reserve an entire private office for yourself. In others still (Boston) it's closer to a museum, with breathtaking Sargent murals. I bring my pen, ink, scanner and even envelopes and settle in for the day. If you are mulling over a road trip or sabbatical but aren't sure of where or how you'll work, it might suddenly seem possible with a local branch nearby.