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Archive for June, 2009

An Unexpected Appointment: Bagel Taste Testing

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Not all appointments are planned in advance. This is the second in a series of posts about appointments that made a surprise splash in my schedule.

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The text message buzzes in at 10:30 am on Sunday as I sit in bed with a splayed cookbook plotting the morning’s meal.

“Want to test a bagel?” writes my friend Marc.
“Yes! Where are they?” I reply, my heart racing. “Can I bring a couple home for b-fast?”
“2 now,” I get as a response.
“Where?” I type anxiously.
“Bob’s,” he writes back.

I know the place: “Be there in ten!”

I brush my teeth, throw on a jacket and some gloss (you never who might run into in my hood) and run around the corner to pick up the special package at Bob’s Juice Bar, a neighborhood hot spot owned by my good mate and fellow New Yorker, Marc Grossman.

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For the past few months Marc has been testing bagel recipes for his third cookbook, a highly-anticipated (by me, at least) tome devoted to the rare art of homemade bagels.

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Embroidery Art by Justin Morin

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These days, you don’t have to be an heir to the throne to justify having your portrait done, nor do you don’t need a royal inheritance to pay for one. Why? Because more and more contemporary artists are loosening up classical portraiture, divesting the genre of its stuffy elitism and stratospheric prices.

That’s why I plan on having my face stitched on fabric.

Call me crazy, but when I find the funds to immortalize my mug, I’m going the way of the needle— and I know who’s going to do the stitching!

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For years I’ve admired the work of French artist Justin Morin. Using embroidery as his main medium, Morin makes art out of different types of threads. From chunky macramé sculptures and hand-embroidered stickers to Birkin bags stitched in silk on cotton fabric, he gives a conceptual dimension to handicrafts by modernizing their subjects and settings.

“It all started with the notion of the link; how relationships between people are created, how they cross one another, come together and come apart. The vocabulary used to explain these ideas resonated for me visually in thread,” says the 29-yr-old artist.

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Hammaming it up in Paris at Les Cents Ciels

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Like a trip to the Louvre or stroll around Montmartre, a hammam expedition should be at the top of every Paris to-do list. With close to 80 hammams scattered throughout the city (with larger concentrations, biensûr, in the North African communities) they play a prominent role in Paris’ cultural tapestry.

For the uninitiated, hammams are public bathhouses where people go to steam, scrub, relax, socialize and rejuvenate. Descended from the Romans and modeled after Turkish baths, they consist of interconnected tiled rooms full of steamy air, streaming faucets and half-naked bodies (they’re traditionally single sex, with special co-ed slots at times).

No two hammams are alike. Choose poorly and you could wind up having one of the most harrowing experiences of your life (believe me!); choose wisely, and you’ll be tempted to swear off sunshine forever.

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Catherine Hervé Lifts the Veil on Handmade Lace

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Appointment with: Catherine Hervé, Meilleur Ouvrier de France in duchess lace
When: 2pm, February 17th, 2009
Where: Her weekly lacemaking class at a community center in Paris’ 15th arrondissement.
On the Agenda: Learn the secrets to handmade lace from France’s preeminent expert.
Glossary: Métier (cushion), gatlap (cloth with cut-out center), fuseaux (bobbins), fil (thread), grillé (grill-like pattern), toilé (cross-cross pattern)

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This might come as a shock, but before I discovered the haute handiwork of lace designer Catherine Hervé at a fair devoted to French artisans, the subject of handmade lace had never once flittered through my mind. (Crazy, I know!) Was it like crocheting? Did it require looms? Were there patterns? Easels? For the life of my, I just couldn’t picture how it was done, who was doing it, where they did it and why.

There was only one person I knew could solve this puzzle: the Queen of Lace herself.

In 2004, Hervé became the third person since 1924 to win the Meuilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman of France) title for duchess lace, giving her instant street cred as France’s leading practitioner of this painstaking craft.

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After winning the MOF, Hervé traded in her job as a legal assistant to devote herself full-time to lace. By blending traditional techniques with non-conventional materials (colored threads, rayon, leather, wool, silk) she hopes to give the endangered medium a fresh, modern patina. In addition to creating her own original designs (which include three-dimensional lace sculptures, lace jewels, lace canvases, and lace appliqués for apparel) Hervé teaches the art of this mysterious medium each week to a growing number of devotees. From fashion designers and chatty grannies to summer tourists and this guy from Chartes who likes frog motifs, lace holds a seductive spell over a rather eclectic cast—one that I plan to temporarily join to witness the virtuoso at work.

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