Bookmarked Place: Francesca Lia Block’s Manhattan

St. John the Divine

Visiting the Upper West Side’s Peace Fountain in 2012

Fiction represents places in ways that resonate or inspire, validating our own experiences or giving us new perspectives on them. For this reason, I’ve been meaning to start a series of blog posts in which I relate books to places. This is my first attempt at such a post.

Francesca Lia Block is best known for her tales of a magical Los Angeles, but her knack for capturing the spirit of a place isn’t limited to her native city. Although a seasoned New Yorker might disapprove of turning to a California author for a representation of the city, as a fellow Californian with a connection to NYC, I relate to Block’s vision of New York.

Block captures a certain fantasy of the city. It’s a distant presence in many of her books, including Weetzie Bat. The iconic Weetzie, a quirky blonde pixie of a protagonist, knows NYC through her New Yorker father, who sends her “postcards with pictures of the Empire State Building or reproductions of paintings from the Metropolitan Museum, Statue of Liberty key chains, and plastic heart jewelry.” In I Was a Teenage Fairy, main-character Barbie (named after a doll she doesn’t want to be like) imagines a symbolic New York woman:

She is always carrying bags of clothes, bouquets of roses, take-out Chinese containers, or bagels. Museum tags fill her pockets and purses, along with perfume samples and invitations to art gallery openings. When she is walking to work, to ward off bums or psychos, her face resembles the Statue of Liberty, but at home in her candlelit, dove-colored apartment, the stony look fades away and she smiles like the sterling roses she has bought for herself to make up for the fact that she is single and her feet are sore.

This image may be romanticized or stereotypical, but it demonstrates Block’s fearlessness in delving into the aesthetics and associations of place and popular culture—all of which draw me to her work.

Although I am far from a naturalized New Yorker, I did live there, once, and that period of residency was about as formative as a stint of less than three years could be. Continue reading

Peplum in Bloom

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I spent yesterday afternoon in picturesque Bath, Maine. The weather was lovely. K and I had a scoop of ginger ice cream at Dot’s Ice Cream Shop. We wandered about the waterfront and downtown shops, and admired the beautiful old homes.

Amidst the springtime bloom, I wore this nautical peplum top:

DSC03164It is the perfect warm-weather New England piece, and I look forward to wearing it on future excursions.

Green Tea Garden

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San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden holds a special place in my heart. However harried I may be upon entrance, its flora-fringed pathways never fail to calm. Dotted with the fluted eaves of pagodas and temple statuary, the landscape of bonsai branches, vibrant foliage, and reflective, koi-filled ponds has a fluid motion. As I reach the carefully-combed pebbles of the Zen Garden, my breathing slows and I begin to appreciate the garden’s artful details.

No trip to this special spot would be complete without refreshment at the open-air Tea House. On my most recent visit, K and I settled into our table-for-two with a pot of Sencha green tea, rice cakes, and edamame. The light-and-chewy rice cakes, in flavors like green tea, strawberry, and lychee, were more akin to sumptuous fruit candy than the crunchy cakes I’m more familiar with.

Located within Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden was originally created in the 1890s and has a bittersweet history. Its symbolism as a place of respite not immune to the unfortunate race relations of World War II culminates, for me, in the graceful arch of the Moon Bridge, the central image of Marcia Savin’s children’s novel.

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From top: The Moon Bridge; the garden where the Moon Bridge meets a foot bridge; the Zen Garden

Village Sips

courtesy of ceiling via flickr

201 Bleecker Street (the storefront closely resembles the St. Marks location), New York, NY by Ceiling, CC-BY-2.0

A small red shop with gold lettering adorning its quaint storefront window drew me inside. “It smells like heaven,” I said to my boyfriend, and pulled him inside with me.

Scents of espresso, hints of cocoa and coconut filled the cozy shop with an alluring aroma. Shelves lined with teas, and bins filled with beans glinted from every corner. I breathed deeply and let the aroma imbue me with a sense of wellbeing.

Moments earlier, I had gleefully dubbed a cup of Mud coffee the “dessert” to my lunch of challah bread-grilled cheese and lentil soup at the venerable B&H diner. Coffee in hand, I couldn’t justify another cup.

Luckily, K bought a portion of fresh-ground Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, a satisfying dark roast which we took home with us. The taste has been described as “wine-like,” and I agree.

After staking out a prime fireside spot at the local Starbucks on Friday, I enjoyed a leisurely read of the New York Times. Leafing through, I came upon an article about the very coffee company I’d stumbled upon at 40 1/2 St. Marks Place (like Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4!) in New York. Grown over generations by an Italian family with deep Lower Manhattan roots, Porto Rico Importing Co. is the stuff of storybook New York. Read about it here.