Monday, December 31, 2012

Hostel Riad Marrakech Rouge

Like a traditional riad, it's open to the air. In August the best place to sleep is the roof. There were always dozens of weirdos up there.

Here are some pictures. Everyone looks tired and sprawled out because it was 110 degrees the whole time I was there.

Top 10 Places I slept in 2012

 This post is inspired by JS Aurelius of

10. My childhood bed in Durham, a tiny twin. It's so quiet here, but all the most important books are within easy reach.

9. Hostel Riad Marrakech Rouge, Marrakesh. I splurged on a private room (about $22 a night, instead of $6) during my stay in Marrakesh. I'd spent the whole summer sharing rooms, and I was ready to do some serious napping. The room was a sweltering inferno and the ceiling plaster kept falling ominously onto my face where it had gotten damp and loosened from the rooftop bathroom directly above. Bruna, my Brazilian friend, said that when the plaster cracked and fell off like that, it meant the entire ceiling could fall down at any moment.
 Hostel Riad Marrakesh Rouge, 2012

8. Friend's house, Turin. It was my jet-lag day so I fell into this bed when bright day had all the fun of night.

7. Tomato Backpackers Hotel, Turin. A spare single room with a private bathroom for 40 euros. After Arpisson it was unimaginable luxury. The bathroom floor, for example, was not covered in cow shit.

6. Azienda Agricola Casa Lanzarotti. I had a single room with velvet curtains and a lot of spiders. Some little animal made a maraca-type noise in the wall. Wwoofers no longer live there because Iris brought in some more permanent workers for the farm--I was the last one.
 Casa Lanzarotti, 2012

5. Friend's house, Milan. A high, tight, white bed that made me feel like there were bugs falling off of me because it was so clean.

4. My cot in the loft above the barn, Azienda Agricola Arpisson. I shared the slanted, attic-type room with Lucas and Allison. The air was full of flies. The view out to the town of Gimillan and the far valley floor was epic. My mattress pad was lumpy and flat as a pancake and I slept so soundly on it. It was nice in the morning (but not that nice) to hear Attilio and Gabriella coming down to start the milking, and know that I could sleep another hour. 
Azienda Agricola Arpisson, Lower Farm, 2012

3. Anastasia's bed in Baltimore. She lives in a row house in such an incredibly picturesque and old-fashioned row that her next-door neighbor's house is being used as a set for an HBO show. She has a high-up bed all creamy-white and lacy. She has always had a subtle and elegant style.

2. Lucy's bed in Eagle Rock. She lives in a little room in the backyard, that's made out of concrete and unheated. Cold air came in the broken door all night, but the bed was a Princess-and-the-Pea-style tower of comforters.

1. My friend's bed in the Cave, at my old co-op. He lived in a windowless single room with a sloping roof that must be about 6'x10'. It was meant to be a closet and his living there was against the fire code. He outfitted it with his desk, a lot of Leftist books, twinkle lights, a lava lamp, and a really nice stereo system, and he kept it spotlessly clean. It was the perfect place for watching the sparks from wintergreen Lifesavers, among other things.
Amsterdam, 2009

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Little Video about Norway

I am very excited to share this little video I made, with footage from the Island of Lygra, and an interview with Ole Mathias of the Lygra Gjestegard.

Angel and Egypt, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Picking out the things you like

 Above: My palette right before I cleaned it for the last time, May 2012

In the fourth Betsy-Tacy book and the last childhood one, Betsy talks about how during the Christmas season they'd go to town and visit the department store (I think) where there was a huge array of Christmas tree ornaments. They'd spend hours admiring every one (in those days, they were all fragile blown glass), and finally, at the end, each girl (Betsy, Tacy and Tib) would pick out just one ornament for herself, and that one object would embody the spirit of the season.

Lucy likes anything with a hand motif. She also likes anything with suns and moons with faces on them (within reason). I find I like anything with an eye motif. I would buy a lime-green thing (my least favorite color to wear) if it had eyes embroidered all over it. In my painting, I never get sick of naked women. I've already discussed my love of sweaters, but in college I went through a phase of being particularly obsessed with taupe cardigans. I own about eight cardigans in shades from dark gray-brown to beige, and sometimes wear them all on top of each other, which is my idea of fun. Because of my habit of wearing three or even four cardigans on top of each other, and because of Harvard's habit of overheating the classrooms in winter, requiring the students to undress and re-dress at every class, I'd always be the last one out the door after the lecture.

Lucy and I went to the Folk Tree in Pasadena and I admired every single brightly-painted mirror and ornament of hammered tin. There were torsos and buttocks, flying skulls, hands with bright-red hearts on them, and dozens of desert animals. I lack the restraint of Betsy-Tacy and bought about eight. Lucy bought a silver ring with a large stone set in the top, and some silver earrings that look like tiny chairs. She is such a good present-giver, and spares no expense on the people who will really appreciate it (mostly her sister). The best presents I have given in my life are to guys who aren't that into me. If I could somehow convince myself that I was writing stories for a guy who wasn't that into me, I would be insanely prolific.

For some reason, creative writing teachers like it when they can read a story and tell it's yours, and painting teachers like it when you develop a palette that you like to use. It is so satisfying seeing classmates develop their own styles. I always felt, by the end of the semester, that if we showed a bunch of unlabeled paintings, we'd be able to figure out whose was whose. Even the wild "recipe" experiments of Non-Observational Painting and Monsters were about building up one's way of painting, not destroying it. In high school I was so unsure of everything, and in college creative courses (taken with mostly upperclassmen) they expect you right away to be sure.

My high school art teacher told us to put as few colors as possible on the palette, so I chose a selection of colors that I found exciting and authentic, and they are still the base of all my paintings: Cadmium reds and yellows, alizarin crimson, cerulean, indigo, pthalo blue, yellow ochre, various siennas and umbers, tons of white, and Payne's gray, never black. You can get a more harmonious black by mixing burnt umber and Payne's gray. The first story I ever wrote as an adult centered around a kid who was so obsessed with his watercolors that he wanted to eat them.

I've been having a huge crisis of confidence and direction recently.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Eggcorns I have known

Style Blog

In Berlin, my friend Sara told me that Stephen Prina, her teacher, always buys a pair of socks in every place he travels.

"But I'd be worried that I'd get all those socks mixed up and forget where I'd bought them," I said. I thought you'd have to buy fancy socks.

"No, he just buys regular socks," she said.

Imagine: A suitcase full of regular white socks bought in every place you've been. (Now that is style.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A photo and a story

We were working on landscape paintings when a heavy rain began. You can actually keep painting in the rain, if you're using oil paint, but to apply the paint to the canvas you have to push hard to get through the film of water.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A photo and a story

We drew those permanent-marker lines around the center of the eggs to remember that they were fertilized and not for eating. Of the nine eggs, seven hatched nicely on exactly the day we expected. One didn't hatch at all--maybe it hadn't been fertilized at all. And one started to hatch in the wrong direction--splitting open along the latitude, not the longitude. We could see the wet chick inside but didn't want to help it along. Iris told us to make sure to gather up the unhatched eggs because they would spread disease to the new chicks, but we lost track of that semi-hatched egg amidst the hay. Two days later, I found it--squashed completely flat, and the little chick inside it just a flat, sticky pancake. I carried it on a board to the trash.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Duc, Age 34, Azienda Agricola Arpisson, Cogne, Italy

So Long, It's Been Good to Know You

The best song ever written is Woody Guthrie's "Dusty Old Dust (So Long, it's Been Good to Know You)." There's a whole category of songs that have tunes so timeless and perfect that, even when you hear them the first time, it seems like you already knew them. My best two examples are "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" by Fleet Foxes, and "King's Crossing" by Elliott Smith. "Dusty Old Dust" is the epitome of that phenomenon, but maybe that's because all Americans have heard it before, somewhere or other.

Maybe we sang it in elementary school, though I doubt it. I would have remembered that sad priest and the people running home and drifting along. I rediscovered it in the dank cheese cellar of Azienda Agricola Arpisson, a small dairy farm in the Italian alps where I spent two months in the summer. The farm was positioned halfway up a giant mountain, higher than any town, but not quite so high as the glaciers. (The glaciers, and the summer pastures, were a two hour's hike straight up.) The sun set behind Mont Blanc every day, which bookended the valley along which we were set. The cheese cellar had a mouthwatering odor. I'd go down there and start breathing so deeply I felt dizzy. It smelled half like rot and half like caramel, in an exquisite combination. It didn't smell at all like cheese. In the corner by the door was a little machine, a neon-light hoop with a fan in front of it, meant to attract flies. Every ten seconds you could hear another one zipping into it and being flung, in small black pieces, around the fan's perimeter. The cellar held maybe $50,000 dollars worth of cheese, from giant flat wheels of fontina to small basket-embossed goat cheeses.

The center shelf held the cheese monsters--the deformed, the ancient, the contaminated, the maggot-riddled or rotten-out. They were bright red or covered with inches of black mold. Some were so soft your fingers sunk into them like milk. If you had to handle them, you would smell bad for days. From time to time, Gabriella would split one open, placing the halves first in front of the chickens, who would peck out the writhing maggots, and then tossing the rest in chunks to the pigs. We watched the young pigs trample each other trying to get to their food, leaving none for their ailing mother, who died a little while after I left.

Once Gabriella salvaged a section from one of the most destroyed-looking cheeses. She cut off all the infested parts, ending up with a small triangle an eighth of the size of the original cheese. It was creamy-yellow and oozy, with a truffle-like flavor. She sold it for extra-high prices at the market in Turin. With its pedigree--raw milk from a 30-cow farm where the low pastures are above most Valdostano alpeggi, one-off from an unknown recipe--I imagined in some contest it could be pronounced the best in the world.

Less delicious was the goat's milk cheese that somehow went wrong and puffed up in the molds like biscuits with too much baking powder. We tried cutting it into little chunks on our pasta, but it had a loose, loamy texture that was hugely off-putting, and then Lucas found some tiny worms on his plate. I have no doubt I ate some of them, but at the time I was living in above a barn and bathing once a week, without access to a functioning toilet or a refrigerator. We kept the milk cold in the water-troughs, or down in the cellar. The rest of Italy was dying of drought, and the Valle d'Aosta was so overflowing with water that they kept the troughs and public fountains running with unrecycled fresh water 24 hours a day. We put our butter in the fragrant cupboard where we kept our cheese and salami. The butter was always meltingly soft, and we'd eat a kilo in several days. It had an icelike flavor and was dark-gold yellow, verging on pale brown.

Anyways, the Arpisson cheeses were high-maintenance because they needed to be washed almost every day in salt-saturated water. Surprisingly, the point of this is to make more mold on the rinds, which bestows upon the cheeses a complicated flavor. As the summer went on, the shelves filled up, and cheese-washing became an eight-hour task. It was a long, lonely time in the cellar. I liked herding the goats and running after them through the meadows of chin-high wildflowers, stirring up masses of flies, blue butterflies, and brown and orange butterflies who liked to suckle my fingers. The cellar meant cold, stinging hands, pickled fingers, all day in a raincoat that got dirtier and dirtier with salty brown water. I listened to Woody Guthrie for hours.

I am almost tragically indifferent to most music. As a character in one of my stories says, I'd prefer if the whole world would just listen to one song until it was entirely used up. I have 6,999 songs in my iTunes. Of the 1630 that I've listened to, I have listened to 700 exactly once. But my very favorite song ("Gemini" by Why?) I have listened to hundreds upon hundreds of times. Come to think of it, I'm not sure these statistics are so unusual. I wonder what the iTunes of a real hard-core music fan looks like. There are, of course, the songs I listen to on the radio all the time (namely "Titanium"). There are the ones I always listen to on Youtube (anything Nine Inch Nails). There are songs I passionately love and never want to listen to again ("Suavemente" on the bus from Cagliari to Nora, with Adriana, the most interesting girl in the world, a true connector who knew all of Cagliari's low-lifes, her black hair flying all over my face as she screamed the song out the windows, or "Chan Chan" by Buena Vista Social Club, at a grill dinner by an abandoned farmhouse in a lonely clearing in the Appenines, someone's dog tied up at a stake and freaking out because of the meat, and someone left their car doors open, engine off, battery on blaring "Chan Chan" as loud as it could go).

I just discovered I have only listened to "Dusty Old Dust" four times, according to iTunes. But what a change it wrought on that summer! It was my anthem, I thought. But it's a soundtrack I edited it in silently and maybe after the fact. I thought I was always listening to Woodie Guthrie, and can hear his voice in dozens of memories, but as it turns out, it was all in my head.

Above: A WWII version, with harmony.
 Nerina, Azienda Agricola Casa Lanzarotti, Borgo Val di Taro

 Guard, Bahia Palace, Marrakesh

Here are some photos from the summer whose merits I didn't notice before. I made a bizarre, untenable deal with myself that I would not post film photos on my blog, because I was trying to get to know my digital camera and because I didn't want to repeat what you've already seen on my Facebook. But I think I have some more readers now than when I first made that deal, so to hell with it. The film photos are better anyway.

Monday, December 10, 2012

One photo for the day

Oslo, August 31

It's a Norwegian film directed by Joachim Trier and starring Anders Danielsen Lie. It's about a former drug addict (Lie) on a trip back to Oslo for a job interview. It was released this summer but I only got around to watching it now--which is kind of a shame, because I don't think I'm going back to Norway anytime soon, so it can't really catch me in the act.

I was satisfied to see that Oslo is not portrayed as a joyful place (to say the least). I don't think I've ever traveled anywhere that seemed quite so impervious to joy, or even skippiness that you can, on solitary walks, augment via iPod with some upbeat indie rock. There were some extraordinary factors against me: my hostel, which Lonely Planet described as "barracks-like," was an actual barracks; at breakfast (my only inexpensive meal), everything that looked like salami was actually fish, in ham-red slices; I could not afford normal meals so ate nothing but 7-11 raisin rolls and plain cream cheese for four days, so hungry that I stopped going out to conserve energy; and right before leaving the US I had had an end-of-days fight with a friend. (What would Oslo have been like if I had limitless funds? I would have maybe eaten more or seen more, but I certainly wouldn't have made any more friends, because I actually don't know how.)

Meanwhile, what Anders in the movie has against him is his years of addiction and tenuous recovery, ruinous debt, nothing to look forward to, and constant temptation. Unlike me, he has old friends (though he confuses every one of them by being too forward and offensive while also being meek and indecisive), memories everywhere, and a good grasp of Norwegian, so that when he sits in a coffee shop he can hear that people all around him are leading normal and possibly joyful lives.

I think many of my suburban cohort grew up with a "The O.C." vision of drugs, violence, depression or whatever, that is to say, a romantic vision where these things lead to extremely interesting high-stakes gossip, love against all odds, people proving themselves and rising above, maturity, knowledge, authenticity. This is awful for two reasons: first, because it's a representation of a secret, not-much-discussed world, so that as a young and blessed person you think there has to be some truth there (though I realy like Intervention for its unflinching counterpoint), and second, because even if your friends start doing terrible things, like those strangling-games and inhalants so popular in suburbia, which seem a world away from the intensity of the O.C., or even the suicide-threats of people like my eighth-grade boyfriend, or the many other terrible things that even the blessed young people manage to experience--you never notice that this is exactly what the O.C. was going on about, and that "authenticity" is a sham. And then you become old and everyone starts getting into real problems or dying and no one even cares because everyone else's people are dying!

"Oslo, August 31" cares about this seriously dying person, but it doesn't ever attempt to prove to you that you should, by making Anders especially sympathetic, moralizing about him, or even giving us a clue about why he keeps acting this way. He comes from a middle-class background; his parents care about him and are changing their lives to pay for his treatment. I think the film's greatest strength is its unpredictability, which conflicts in a friendly way with all my recent worries about creating suspense, a plot, an emotional bond. I recently read some writer's advice that said we should be able to look at the end of the story and think, well, given that character's choices, it could not have worked out any other way--logic and inevitability. "Oslo, August 31" lacks this causality; nothing had to happen the way it did, so it is also engaged with the question of what makes a narrative or character seem credible and whole to us, and how an addled mind can remove credibility while adding the grit of the real.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

One time I was embarrassed

 From the chapter on girls in the "What's Happening to my Body? Book for Boys."

Today I braided my hair with one mirror in front of me and one mirror behind me and still it was ugly.

The day before I graduated I suddenly missed the walk--the walk that is so boring it used to make me grit my teeth--the walk from a Mass Ave gate behind Widener, through that corner of the yard past Lamont, up to the Carpenter Center, on a drizzly spring day. I thought: I have turned the corner towards understanding! This is what I will miss!

In high school a woman came to tell us about the dangers of eating disorders. She told us she developed her disorder in college after she heard two friends commenting on an older girl's weight. "Did you see Katie?" they'd said. "She really put on the freshman 15!" And so, the woman lecturing us told us, in that moment she decided that she would never let anyone say that about her.

Last spring I saw a class of 2011 girl post a bland and pathetic Harvard admissions video on her Facebook wall, with views of the Charles, the Yard, students eating in Annenberg, and so on. "Sigh..." she captioned it. "I miss Harvard so much!" And I was horrified. Is that what graduating college does--turns you into such an undiscriminating emotional mess that even the most canned images seem to bring back something essential about your experience? (Yes.)

Anyway, after I came back to Harvard for one day on my way to Norway, I visited the Signet, where I ran into a friend a year younger than me. We started talking about our summers, and she asked about mine. I told her I'd spent a lot of time this summer thinking about what graduating means, and what college meant, and what Harvard means, and what the campus would mean once I knew no undergraduates, and things like that. And she, just like I would have done last fall, or really at any point, was immediately interested, and wanted to talk all about all of that, and see what conclusions I had come to, and I wanted to hear what she expected it would be like, so we could finally figure out the difference between having one foot out the door and being out the door. But soon more people arrived and we never had a chance. I used to wander around the campus, which is of course precisely manicured and lovely, and think, this is the richest I will ever be.


When I listen to that song "Gemini/Birthday Song," the anthem of 2008-2012, I can't help thinking about one of my more embarrassing moments. It was Halloween and I was heartbroken. My friends brought me to a punk house, where I tried hard to fit in. "This is Molly," my friend introduced me. "Molly's really smart." (She was just trying to give my awkwardness a legitimate frame.) "Oh yeah, super, super smart," I said, giggling insanely, like I was trying to work the eccentric angle or something, or trying to catch everyone off guard. Like jpeggings, those jeggings covered in html and other Internet graphics, arrogant, giggling eccentricity works better in the conceptual stages. We took a tour of this big old bungalow that had been subdivided with curtains of dried flowers and webs of yarn and mismatched windows into bunk beds and tiny spaces. One person's bunk bed had a playpark slide coming out of it. And on one particularly lovely keep of driftwood planks and crude paintings (the kinds of paintings featuring line-drawings of pimply characters with their tongues hanging out), a girl was just waking up, with her hair all on one side, and because in that moment I believed myself to be cool, I aimed up and took a flash photo. Only after I developed the photo did I realize how much she hated me.

Pulling out in the silent, dark bus from Milano Centrale to Malpensa, the midnight bus--I was going to sleep in the airport, on a wire bench, according to, and I did not realize how much they hurt your thighs, even if you think of yourself as having big, insensitive thighs--I saw the most beautiful photograph that I could never take. It was one of those moments that is too perfect for a story and too beautiful for real life. On this hot Milan midnight, in the drought of late August, there was a girl sitting at the base of the huge dry fountain across from the train station. The bus made a slow semi-circle around the fountain so I got to see this girl, knees up to her chest, illuminated by the sulferous street lights, from every angle. I was so positive she was sulking after heartbreak.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


An Italian friend told me that it is particularly American how we always have a compass set up in our minds. "Go north on Duke Street"--"Go west on 15-501"--but how do we always know what direction that might be?

Two math-loving high school acquaintances once got lost in Manhattan because they thought the streets were set up like a normal x-y graph, so walking east they thought they were going west.

I always used to draw numberlines and charts and so forth with the numbers getting bigger from the right side to the left side. I still think of the left side as the side of the future and positive numbers. Maybe that's why I set up my blog with the contents on the left, when so many blogs put them on the right.

On Lygra I never knew the cardinal directions. The sun, rather than starting in the east and setting in the west, started in one corner of the sky and set nearby, never having risen higher than a quarter of the way up.

The Viking sagas reported the use of magical "sunstones" to solve this problem as they navigated the ocean. (As reported in the medieval Icelandic text Rauðúlfs þáttr: "The weather was thick and snowy as Sigurður had predicted. Then the king summoned Sigurður and Dagur (Rauðúlfur's sons) to him. The king made people look out and they could nowhere see a clear sky. Then he asked Sigurður to tell where the sun was at that time. He gave a clear assertion. Then the king made them fetch the solar stone and held it up and saw where light radiated from the stone and thus directly verified Sigurður’s prediction."

After many years of speculation, scientists determined that the sunstones might have been clear crystals like the calcite Iceland spar. The crystals polarize the light as you look through them, changing the light's brightness/color, except in one specific angle where the polarized effect disappears. If you look through that depolarized angle, then move the crystal away, you can see a pinched yellow line (Haidinger's Brush, see link below) that points to the sun, which is similar to how migrating animals and birds are able to navigate during their migrations. You can use this method even when it's overcast or the sun has gone below the horizon. It's not quite clear that you could really use these on the open sea, and they haven't found hard evidence of Iceland spar in Viking artifacts, but this method allows you to find the sun's location with 5 degrees of error or less.

A fun polarization-spotting DIY. Is it as fun as a Comme des Garcons DIY? Only you can decide.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Free advertising for H&M

I'm sorry I keep writing about clothes.

Anyways I somehow missed that Maison Martin Margiela was doing a collaboration with H&M. ("What's that jacket, Margiela?" --Kanye West.)

I can't afford any of these things, and also there's no H&M nearby, but the collection appeals to me in every way.

Things it has:

1. A coat made out of a duvet, and you can actually take off the duvet cover and wear that as a different kind of jacket, and plus the sleeves are removable:

2. A clutch purse made out of metallic faux leather that looks like a giant candy wrapper (and, on the guys' side, a fanny pack as big as a backpack):

3. A purse that you wear upside down (it actually has a zipper on the "bottom"):

4. A dress made out of two different dresses (below). H&M describes this as "half lined," which is the first time I've ever seen that in a clothing description. Also, there is a dress made entirely out of dress lining, and many other pieces made out of incorrectly used materials/materials masquerading as other things--a men's jacket made out of belts, a belt made out of a watch band, jeans sewn inside out, tops made out of scarves, a dress made out of car-seat leather, and skin-colored leggings with a fishnet print on top.

5. Beyond the candy wrapper, a ton of giant things, including this necklace that looks like a huge key chain. There's also a women's peacoat big enough for Mamadou Ndiaye, and a massive turtleneck with "extremely long sleeves," which is the thing I'd most buy for myself.

But the single awesomest thing, that made me write this post and that reminded me of Proust, is this linen tablecloth set, that is printed with a photorealistic image of a tablecloth after a party.

Here is a close up of the napkins:

It is so beautifully executed too--I mean what kind of party was this? It looks like a party with ribbons and confetti that were then covered with a thick layer of ash. No one had time (or everyone was too careful) to spill their wine or drop bits of food.

It's great how a lot of the clothes put on a good show of being multifunctional (that split dress, for example, or the sweater you'll never outgrow), but are actually deeply impractical. I think I particularly like this collection not only for its jokiness or narrative or fairy-tale proportions, but also because it doesn't seem to give a shit about being "body-conscious." Most everything, except for the shirts and leggings that are supposed to resemble skin, would not flatter anyone's figure. I never like those designers who, in Vogue or wherever, talk about their careful study of the feminine form, their strategic darting and pleating to bring out the body, and especially how such garments give women self-confidence. I don't think self-confidence goes that way. How about clothing designed to make invisible and conceal the body--or something that tries to make you lose confidence in yourself and the world around you? (The skirt that looks like you didn't realize it got hitched up in your underwear when you went to the bathroom--the fake-sequin dress that shows that you are clearly a fraud--the tiptoeing person who actually has plexiglass heels?) So you can expose yourself in a different way. But what I like even more is the option to sequester yourself away in these clothes, those huge coats in particular, and hide.

One photo for the day

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012