Tuesday, April 15, 2014

the power of small

Persephone Books, London 

Travelling alone makes me aware of time, space, limits. You can do more with less, in less. But you can also become overwhelmed more easily – no companion to break the long hours, figure out directions, conquer a menu.

On this trip, small felt made me feel more comfortable – and I was looking for comfortable. I wanted to recharge. Small was good.

Some of the “small” things on my trip I appreciated, in no particular order:

The Escher Museum in The Hague
It was a lovely interlude between work commitments. Like many good small museums, it was a concise introduction to Escher’s works and his mark on the art world. I left feeling like I learned something. In contrast, when I went to the British Museum in London to see its new exhibition on Vikings, I left feeling drained. The exhibit itself was great but I felt overwhelmed by the temptation of other shows on offer: something on Baselitz, a new section on Chinese jade, the feeling that I should check out the sections I hadn’t seen before.

Restaurants with small menus
When you dine alone you don’t want to feel like there are these amazing things on the menu that you won’t get to try because you don’t have four stomachs. So I enjoying going to places that specialised – burger places with perhaps 4, 5 options to choose from; cafes offering simple breakfasts meant to let you start the day without thinking too much.

Small boutiques/shops
My favourite shopping experiences of the whole trip were at Margaret Howell, Carven and Vanessa Bruno, because they reminded me that it can be a pleasure shopping a designer’s vision of a collection, rather than an edited selection at a department store or a multi-brand boutique or an online store. You see more of a singular vision. You notice the less showy items that hasn’t been seen everywhere. I also love seeing the shop staff wear the label’s clothes – you see how things really work on a person, in motion. At Margaret Howell, this was really cool because the staff wear her clothes so well, and it isn’t easy to pull off some of those silhouettes.

And there was Persephone Books, which publishes out-of-print books by mostly women writers. The selection is a small, which allows you to go through every title on the shelf. How often can you accomplish that in any book store?

(And Lamb Conduit Street is a really nice street to walk through.)

I enjoyed having a park near my hotel to run in - as opposed to dodging pedestrians on the street - but for a bit of greenery and a short walk to stretch my legs, gardens - often found in squares - are perfect in scale. Russell Square is a nice respite from the British Museum, and I came across a couple of nice ones in Mayfair - one near Mount Street, which really feels like a private garden, and Grosvenor Square.

A small hotel room
Perhaps for a longer stay I would appreciate a bigger room but for two nights, the Ampersand's tiniest room was perfect. It was a small room with a generously-sized bed from heaven and a spacious bathroom - I like small rooms but hate small bathrooms. There's no desk, no armchair, and only a sliver of wardrobe space but it feels cozy when you're just after 8 to 10 hours of sleep + lying in with a book - yes I was that lazy. And there is something comfortable about having everything within sight and reach.

Special thanks to:
Marlene, for the company and showing me to some of the delights of Marylebone, like this and this 
Hannah-Rose, for her awesome list of recommendations on what to eat, see, do in London (like Persephone Books) - I didn't have time to check out everything but wished I did! 
Amanda and Dead Fleurette for weighing on accommodation options

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

the in-betweens

North Beach, The Hague, March 2014

A rich, smooth cup of coffee at 6.30pm, my first proper cup of the day. Reading a long story on the NYT on my phone, trading witticisms (I think of them as witticisms) with my friends (sisters, really) back home, Googling cheese shops with potential, scribbling down their addresses. "Sweater Weather" playing in the background. The best kind of multi-tasking.

Waking up at 4am, unable to sleep. Curling up with a good novel, until a sliver of cold morning light seeped around the curtains. Sliding back under the covers and sleeping for a good hour.

That hour when the sun is low in the sky and the world diffuses into whirls of colour - at the beach it was  shades of pale blues, melting into a delicate pink, lit by creamy yellows and a pale orange. Sky, sand, water straight out of a Monet painting. A girl cycling past in a wetsuit carrying a surf board. The waiter teaching me how to say "Noorderstrand".

Walking towards what I hope is a tram stop, refusing to check a map because the day is too beautiful to stare at my phone worrying about directions. Tall, narrow facades of brick, glass, iron frames. Glimpses of high ceilings, crammed bookshelves, potted plants perched on windowsills. A duck landing in the canal. Policemen in their neon yellow parkas, stern yet smiling. I'm hungry and hoping to find a sandwich shop to grab lunch.

An 8am run outside because I didn't want to pay 12.50 euros to use the gym. Curse myself because I feel like my head might freeze to death, caught in a vise of cold. Feeling better when I hit a forested park - later I found out it is called the Haagse Bos. Bare trees, the sky turning bluer by the minute, dazzling, occasional spears of sunlight, the smell of damp wood and dirt.

Winding a long grey scarf around my neck. Slipping an oversized navy wool cardigan over my grey sweater. Pulling on my trench, a tug on the collar to snap everything into place. Savouring the layers I never get to pile on back home.

Goodbye, Den Haag, it was fun.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

here i come

London, October 2011

I'm headed to Europe for a work assignment at the end of the month, and happily, the assignment ends in London, which means I can extend my stay by a few nights to spend some time in one of my favourite cities. I haven't planned anything except to revisit old favourites and check out what's new, and it's just nice to have a couple of days on my own, enjoying a change of scenery.

It's a bit of a relief style-wise, too. Travelling to a colder place means I can tweak how I dress a bit and layer a little more, and wear things like jackets and coats and scarves. No doubt you guys living in the northern hemisphere are thoroughly fed up with cold weather by now, but to tropical folk like me living in 30-degrees celsius weather year-round, a coat seems positively exotic and exciting.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

notes for march

Ilhara Valley, Turkey, July 2013

I took the last week of February off, and these are some of the things I got up to:
  • Getting my rescue diver certification. Towing an unconscious person on the water while stopping every five seconds to give the person mouth-to-mouth is hard! It's also been scary listening to the instructor's horror stories of diving emergencies. I may pass the test but whether I'll lose my wits in an actual emergency is another matter.
  • Reading. I finished "Bring Up The Bodies" by Hillary Mantel. I think it's even better than "Wolf Hall". 
  • Watching movies old and new - "Her", "The Lego Movie", "My Week with Marilyn", "Dallas Buyers Club", "This is the End". I recommend the first three more than the last two. 
  • Eating and sleeping. 
A few things I should have done more of:
  • Exercise! I spent so much time catching up with friends and lying around reading that I missed most of my usually yoga classe, while my sore knee has been making running a pain. Hopefully I can kickstart a new swimming regime and get back on track with yoga this month.
  • Crossing off the boring errands: buying odds and ends needed for diving, repairing the scratched lens cover on my phone, etc.
  • Baking/Cooking: I had a super yummy egg frittata last week and I think it's one of those simple dishes I won't regret mastering. Does anyone have a good recipe to share? 
Some other things I have been loving:
  • A much reduced shoe collection: I got rid of my most worn-out shoes and now rotate between five pairs for work - my two pairs of Dieppa Restrepo lace-ups, a pair of three-year-old Massimo Dutti loafers, the new-ish APC ankle boots, and my TOMS. I like sticking my feet into any random pair and knowing they almost always go with whatever I have on. 
  • Korean strawberries are in season, and I'm on a sugar high stuffing my face with them
  • An old pair of black (now grey-ish) skinny jeans from Mango from my university days (I bought them in 2005? 2006?). They were my "starter" skinny jeans because I wasn't sure if I would wear trousers that tight on a regular basis. Turns out, I do, and I'm surprised how well these ones have aged. 
  • Two cotton short-sleeved boxy tops I bought in 2012 and last year - perfect now that the weather is heating up.
I can't believe it's March. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

well said

"Notions like taste and practical chic are way too complex to sell today, when much of the world’s population is consumed with either acquisition or basic survival. For that reason it’s tough to talk about comfort and a moral economy of style without sounding grim or like one is trying to promote a car with three wheels (hey, but it drives!). On the other hand, this idea is not so far from something Coco Chanel offered when she arrived in New York, in March 1931. Asked by a reporter to define the fashionable woman, Chanel said, “She dresses well but not remarkably. . . . She disobeys fashion.” Then, perhaps thinking of her rival Elsa Schiaparelli, Chanel added, “But she is not eccentric. I hate eccentricity.” So she was extolling understatement and ease, yes, but also suggesting these choices reflected virtues like self-control and seriousness."

Much ink has been spilt over the departure of Cathy Horyn from NYT, but I think, ultimately, her writing speaks for itself. Her piece on the T Magazine blog on Feb 6, as always, is a succinct, wisely-observed piece about the state of fashion, and I don't think anyone has put it quite as well why, to some of us, the "unremarkable" is magic. Her resignation (to spend more time with her partner, who passed away last week) is journalism's loss.

What items of "practical chic" have you loved lately?

Monday, February 10, 2014

always good


Lately, I’ve been going back to on what inspires me when I get dressed, what images from the magazines I devoured as a teen have stuck with me decades on. Poring through the tear-outs from magazines I’ve kept, it’s surprising how many I admire but I don’t connect with emotionally, in terms of how I would personally dress.

One image that does connect and I think will always connect is this one of Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.

The super clean, chic gloss of CBK’s evening looks are something I’m in awe of but will never consider channelling because they're just not me. But her easy day looks are something else, and this simple outfit of a sleeveless black top and jeans is one that I adopt often. I like the look of a little kick flare but they look awful on me so I’m happy with my straight-cuts. It's a very adaptable look and excellent for the hot weather here – with sneakers it’s a sporty look; with chic sandals and a nice purse I’m happy to walk into a nice bar for drinks, with loafers or oxfords it’s acceptable for work, especially with a blazer for back-up.

We can quibble over whether there is such a thing as “timeless” –the Cartier Tank watch, for example, has gone through several iterations over the years. Square-toe pumps, kitten heels, the type of make-up, these are all things that can make a look feel dated. But I’ve always felt that if one steers clear of exaggerated details, some things can transcend time.

Image via

Friday, January 10, 2014

broken in - dieppa restrepo cali oxfords


I've documented what I buy on the blog but l rarely follow up on how they’ve weathered the days since. Last month, when I was about to send my Dieppa Restrepos to the cobbler to replace the rubber heel cap, I thought I might as well capture how they’ve fared over 11+ months of wear.

Until I bought a second pair in October, I was wearing these at least 3 times a week, often more, because they really do go with just about everything. Also, around the same time, I had given up on several pairs of old shoes so these came in for extra rotation. I didn’t get any sole protectors for these, and neither did I spray the leather to water-proof them. I was lazy.

As you can, they are fairly scuffed, more so on one foot (the side pictured). I always wear out the same corners of the heel, and I always get the toe of the left shoe extra scuffed because for some reason this is the foot that gets always caught on things like stairs and scraped by escalators. I’ve stepped in many puddles and gotten caught in the rain a few times, and so far there is one clear water-mark. Rainwater always stains alarmingly but most of the marks vanish after.

I don't use a pedometer so I have no idea exactly much walking I've done in these, but I commute to work by bus or subway and I walk in between to run errands, go on work assignments, etc. Generally, I’m happy with how the shoes have fared. These aren’t true Oxfords with heavy duty construction, so given the thickness of the leather soles to begin with, I find their current state pretty acceptable and the rest of the shoe continues to feel nice and sturdy. I wonder if attaching a thin Vibram sole when they were relatively new would have helped. In any case, I did get Vibram soles for my second pair, so we'll see.