Bookmarked

I have a slight reputation for foisting my interests on others…though always with the best intentions. Basically, if I’ve talked about a new book/movie/TV series with you, count on watching it the next time you come over for dinner. Case in point: a friend of mine came over this afternoon to pick up a t-shirt and ended up staying for dinner (with the bonus of seeing my attempt a new recipe) and watching endless YouTube clips and talking about David Sedaris. Again, with the best of intentions. But it occurs to me that with this blog, I can much more easily foist my interests on you – all while we’re in the comfort of our respective homes!

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is one of those writers I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Back in high school a friend of mine’s dad recommended Me Talk Pretty One Day to us, but while I was milling around The Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle I picked up Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls on a whim. It was so good I finished it by the time my flight landed in Raleigh the next day (which, coincidently, is Sedaris’s hometown).

Here’s a little excerpt:

“I don’t know how these couples do it, spend hours each night tucking their kids in, reading them books about misguided kittens or seals who wear uniforms, and then reread them if the child so orders. In my house, our parents put us to bed with two simple words: “Shut up.” That was always the last thing we heard before our lights were turned off. Our artwork did not hang on the refrigerator or anywhere near it, because our parents recognized it for what it was: crap. They did not live in a child’s house, we lived in theirs.”

and

“In the beginning, I was put off by the harshness of German. Someone would order a piece of cake, and it sounded as if it were an actual order, like, ‘Cut the cake and lie facedown in that ditch between the cobbler and the little girl’.”

 

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Is This Love?

Snarky, irreverent, and always absurd.

 

“To My Favorite Seventeen-Year-Old High School Girl” by Billy Collins

A hilarious work by a former U.S. Poet Laureate (whom I’ve met, thank you very much). This is probably the funniest of all his poems and by far my favorite.

 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

A play based on the book of the same name by Mark Haddon. I saw this play in London over the summer just after it won the Tony for Best New Play. The story and acting were incredible, but I think the best part was the stage design, which you can get a sense of in the clips below. Here’s hoping they announce a national tour soon (though it’s probably easier to get tickets to this on Broadway than Hamilton…)

 

“You Can Do Anything!” from Saturday Night Live

I don’t think one needs much of an introduction other than to say that I think it pairs nicely with Collins’s poem.

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Let Them Eat Macarons

 

A Food I Don’t Know How to Cook 

This weekend I attempted one of my first baking experiments of the new year – specifically, macarons which I loved eating in Paris but always figured that a mere American mortal such as myself could not make the same pastry. And I wasn’t entirely wrong.

Ever the type-A student, I had to thoroughly research macrons (because I am also super cool) and turned to the ever-wise queen of cooking/entertaining/folding a fitted sheet: Martha Stewart. Her website has a basic macron recipe with a pretty helpful video which you can find here.

Macarons are a gluten-free (but don’t worry- there’s a ton of sugar in them!) sandwich cookie that actually originated in Italy in Catherine de’Medici’s court, but are now most associated with France. Basically, they involve sifting powdered sugar and almond meal and then eventually mixing that with a meringue and baking them. Then pair up the cookies by size and sandwich them with a filling (that’s usually included with the recipe).
The first time I made these, I used the Martha Stewart recipe, and it did not go super well. In the video, she talks about removing the air bubbles from the meringue – a suggestion I took very seriously and over-whipped the mixture right before piping it onto cookie sheets and the individual cookies eventually spread together. I baked them anyway, but they definitely were not a success so I threw them away and started again.

The second time I made macarons, I decided to go with this chocolate recipe that I highly recommend. This time the mixture thickened properly, and they came out pretty (and delicious)!

my food photography skills

A Book I Meant to Read

This summer I spent the Fourth of July at Absolute Monarchy HQ: Versailles (which you can read about here). Some of the people traveling in Paris with me had already been there and were not impressed so I decided to go on my own and had an amazing day! (Seriously, don’t miss it if you’re ever in Paris.) I went because I had re-watched Marie Antoinette and was curious about the French queen’s life at the palace which led to my buying Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever…and then letting it gather dust on my bookshelf once I got back to the States.


Earlier this year I finally finished the biography, and it was so good! I don’t think I really need to go over the story so I’ll say instead that Lever really captures the arc of Marie Antoinette’s life: being a young bride to an over-spending French queen to a prisoner during the French Revolution.

My favorite story is about how she built a fake peasant village on the grounds of Versailles so she could pretend to be a milkmaid…while the French people were struggling to put bread on the table.


But, seriously, Marie Antoinette is such an fascinating person, so check this biography if you’re interested…

Or, You Could:

Check out Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006). I didn’t love this movie the first time I saw it years ago, but I watched it again last March and really enjoyed it. So much so that I wrote an English lit research paper on it.
Unlike Lever, Coppola isn’t as interested in meticulously examining the queen’s life. Instead she tries to impress to the viewer how extravagantly the French monarchy lived while still making Marie and Louis XVI sympathetic figures.

P.S.

Macarons were not as difficult to make as I assumed, but they were not super easy either.

Some recipes say you can use ground almonds instead of almond meal, but having tried it both ways, the almond meal is so much better because it’s easier to sift.

Follow the time suggestions on the recipe – they really help.

Pass the Mars Bar

I suddenly find myself with a lot of time on my hands. From about November 20 to December 11, every minute of time was regulated, most often in the service of homework and research. And then I walked across a stage and someone handed me a piece of paper (not my actual diploma, mind you, but that’s a different story), and suddenly I had a college degree. Which is weird because I thought I’d feel more adult-y by this time. But more to the point, I’m now done with school…at least for a little while. And following my Godbrother’s advice, I now get to figure out how exactly I want to spend my time without an educational institution weighing in with its thoughts. One of the many things I learned this summer is that I actually enjoy writing. And more specifically, enjoy writing this blog. So I’ve decided to keep writing it, even though this was originally conceived as a travel blog and I have no trips officially on the books now. But having nothing noteworthy going on has never stopped anyone in my generation talking about themselves so why should stop me? And enough people have told me they enjoyed reading it and thought I had a flair for it for me to continue on with the blind self-confidence that I think everyone has a little bit of at 21. I think as I move forward, it will mostly become a platform for me to write about smaller adventures I take and let me shamelessly push on you any piece of pop culture I think everyone should be reading/watching/listening to. It occurred to me that this blog is called “Jane Austen Drank Here” so I might as well make use of the novelty cocktail books I’ve startedcollecting lately and share some recipes here, too. But now to the present:

I think I’ve already mentioned somewhere before that I am a huge fan of Billy Collins– former U.S. Poet Laureate. His work is excellent to read, but I highly recommend finding one of his readings on YouTube because his delivery makes his work even more hilarious than it is on the page. About a month ago when I should have been paying attention in class, I dug through the Internet to find that he was doing a reading in Atlanta a week after graduation. That information fell by the wayside once I was in the hurricane of final exams and papers, but once the storm cleared, we (my mom and I) took a weekend trip to Atlanta for the reading. 

The Atlanta Writers Club hosted the event which was surprisingly small considering his notoriety. (We guessed that they just didn’t advertise too much because I wasn’t kidding when I said I was digging through the Internet to find the information.) My uncle went too which was nice because he first introduced me to Collins’ work when I was 17 which I continued reading throughout college. 

The reading was excellent. He read a bunch of my favorites and a few new ones from his book “The Rain in Portugal” that’s due next October. A perfect graduation gift to myself. And we got to meet him after as he signed books so I now have a signed copy of “Aimless Love” and a picture of him and me with a goofy English-major-meets-famous-poet grin on my face. 

The next day we went to the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market to poke around, but we mostly just bought a lot of cheese. The place is a massive international grocery store where you can get pretty much anything including live eels. (Spoiler: We don’t buy live eels.) Anglophile that I am, I wandered over to the British food section where they sold Mars Bars. I got pretty addicted to Mars Bars this summer because they sold them in the refectory at the university we stayed at in London. For some reason they always seemed quintessentially British to me, and now always remind me of the summer I spent in London. So basically I decided to get one at the Farmer’s Market the other day even though I’m pretty sure you can get them at Publix. But whatever. Cheers to the “exotic,”right?

Today back at home, I decided to revisit Collins’ 2008 Commencement Address to Colorado College, and damn is it lot more insightful than whatever was said at my graduation. I’m not going to regurgitate the whole thing here, but suffice it to say that he spends the speech discussing time, the past, and the future like you’re supposed to do. Toward the beginning he says, “Robert Louis Stevenson, representing the Pessimistic view [of the future] once said concerning the Future that ‘everybody sooner or later will sit down to a banquet of consequences,’ to which I can only add ‘Pass the butter.'” Reading this speech again (and for the first time since graduating), I don’t think I’m so much sitting down at the banquet of consequences as I am sitting down at the banquet of possibilities. Which is both thrilling and utterly terrifying. I suddenly have this long stretch of time to figure out what it is I want to do before maybe (but most likely) going to graduate school. And as someone who is often susceptible to binge-watching NBC sitcoms on Netflix (If you’ve never watched 30 Rock, you really should.), having this much free time is dangerous and daunting. But thank goodness I have decided to revive this blog to track in the (here’s hoping) wittiest way possible what I’ll get up to. So as I sit down at the Banquet of Possibilities, I turn to a drinking Jane Austen and say, “Pass the Mars Bar.”

  
Billy Collins Commencement Address– Full 
Decided to share only one of Collins’ poems because otherwise I’d copy and paste them all. Instead, here’s a link to his reading “Consolation” which I find particularly relevant as a traveller who isn’t traveling. 

Consolation

Exit Through the Gift Shop 

So this is going to be my last post for this trip. I know, I know. You’re heartbroken. But I’m planning on keeping this up when I travel because 1) my daily life is not interesting enough to warrant blogging and 2) this world really needs more snarky, unqualified opinions. And I’m happy to fill the void.

About the name: Someone asked me about the “Jane Austen Drank Here” name in Paris so I thought I’d wait until the last post to explain it. Amy Sherman-Palladino who created “Gilmore Girls” had a production company called “Dorothy Parker Drank Here.” Since I basically worship Amy Sherman-Palladino (she’s usually on my fantasy dinner party invite list), I decided to steal her idea and modify it for my own personal use. I liked using Jane Austen as the subject since I like her work and because you don’t generally associate her with drinking like you do Dorothy Parker. I honestly have no idea where or what Jane Austen drank, but the name seemed fun.

This particular post is called “Exit Through the Giftshop” in reference to the Banksy documentary and because whenever you leave a tourist-y place, there’s always a gift shop. I would know since I’ve been in most of them at this point. Seriously, I bought way too much junk on this trip.

I’d also like to thank all of you who have been reading this over the last two months. Even though the work is its own reward blah blah blah it’s still nice to know that there are people out there reading this. So thank you.

I’d also like to thank my mom for letting have this trip. And for giving birth to me. A shout out on my blog will, of course, not make us even. But many thanks and much love to you, Mama, all the same.

So goodbye/cheers/au revoir/ciao from Europe. See you when Jane Austen goes drinking again.

BFB

Catholicism HQ 

I made it my personal goal to not wait in any lines at the Vatican. Which I basically succeeded at apart from the cafeteria at lunch. Which doesn’t count. Any life moment that includes tuna and pasta in one dish should not count.  

The regular tickets were sold out by the time I was looking on Friday. I weaseled around that by booking a 45 minute bus tour of the gardens which then leads right into the a tour of the museums. But not by bus since that would weird. But kind of nice too — if there’s one thing the Vatican is missing, it’s more seating. Apparently the only chair here belongs to Saint Peter (#CatholicHumor). The Vatican also seemed like the perfect finale to this trip. And if I’m being honest, I was kind of hoping Pope Francis would be back from South America by this point so I could say that at least I was in the same general area as him. It didn’t work out. So I got the Pope Francis postcard pack (say that 3x fast) and called it a day. 

So anyway. We skipped the line and onto out bus tour. The gardens are pretty fab. They’re only open to the public through tours which is kind of nice because you get an unspoiled view. I guess it’s also easier that way to kick everyone out when the Pope wants to go for a stroll. 

After our comfortable bus tour, we were thrown back into the hoi polloi to tour the Vatican Museum. Which was nice, apart from the crowds. And the children. Loud, poorly-behaved children. But I figured if there was anywhere in the world where it’s considered rude to trip 10 year-olds, it’s probably the Sistine Chapel. 

And they totally know the only reason you’re there is to see the Sistine Chapel. They put up these signs that say SISTINE CHAPEL in big letters with an arrow so you miss the other rooms listed in smaller print on the sign that are between you and the main attraction. The chapel (once we got there) did not disappoint at all. I wish I had photos but they don’t allow pictures in there. Probably for the best. The view of the ceiling is more beautiful without selfie sticks in the way. 

We left the museum and went to (where else?) the gift shop. I collect postcards of major works of art that I see when I travel, and then make a mini gallery out of my bulletin board at my apartment. This trip I’ve really outdone myself so I think the entire wall will be covered. And we had to buy rosaries. They sell so many rosaries. But no bishop mitres or nun costumes like they sell tiaras at Versailles. I mean, they keep complaining about how the vocations are low…

We found out from the guards that to go the Basilica from the museum entrance, we either had to go outside and around to the main entrance to wait in line OR go back through the entire museum and exit a different way from the Sistine Chapel. 

I’ll just say that the museum is just as good the second time through.

Once we made it to the Basilica (and all but swore a blood oath to get an audio guide. Are stolen audio guides a big problem here? We couldn’t just do a second collection to replace them from time to time?), we basically just wandered and took pictures since the crowds were less sardine-like. I wrote a paper on some of the memorials for my Baroque art class two years so it was nice seeing some of things in person. It’s like meeting a pen pal in person.  But where you get really excited and your pen pal is just there. Because it’s a stone sculpture. Ever happened to anyone else?

No? Just me? Okay, that’s cool. 

So in addition to skipping lines today, I also think the Vatican should take my country count up to 5 since it’s technically it’s own city-state. Even though we didn’t stay overnight. Because it’s “inappropriate” to try to nap on a funerary monument. Whatever, Mr. Swiss Guard. I tithe which is basically just Catholic taxes. 

And my mother (who did not want to be mentioned in this blog post but was there the whole time) wanted me to mention that it was really hot today. Like, “hot as hell.” 
   
    
    
   

Let Them Drink Water

“Versailles was built by Louis XIV, enjoyed by Louis XV, and paid for by Louis XVI.” -architecture professor I had as a sophomore

I took a class on 17th century art last year, and we read this article that compared Versailles to Disney Land. I enjoyed the article but thought the comparison was a bit of a stretch. Versailles and Disney Land? Please.

I was so wrong.
I booked my ticket early with the website promising me that I could just jump into Line A and go straight to the entrance. So I’m thinking “I’ll just skip right into palace, laughing at those fools who didn’t book ahead.” Nope. Everyone else followed the website’s advice. So we all waited in that twisting line together for about an hour. I decided to read since my book was finally getting good. And I was glad I didn’t bring my book on the French Revolution which was my original plan. That just seemed a little rude. At least at Disney Land they have that story about the ride you’re getting on, you know?

Once I got an audio guide (which I got mainly out of peer pressure since everyone else got one and I didn’t want to miss out), I had to go through the history of the palace that is accompanied by paintings of its former occupants. I skipped past most of this since I’d spent the past two weeks in French museums and was a little sick of paintings with French wall text. And it was hot. So hot and unairconditioned. And sticky and gross. Basically Alabama in the ’60s before A/C was a thing. I went through a lot of water bottles that day. But better to be hot at Versailles than bored back at the hotel.

These guys did not half-ass absolute monarchy. There’s gold everywhere. Louis XIV also fashioned himself as “The Sun King” so there’s Apollo imagery everywhere, too. All gold plated. His bedroom is also in the east wing of the palace so he literally rose with the sun. The man knew marketing.  As I went through his apartments, all I could think was “Let’s get to the real star of the show: Marie Antoinette.”

I would argue that Marie Antoinette is probably more notorious in the history of Versailles than Louis XIV. But I think that’s just because I like that Sofia Coppola movie. Anyway, her bedroom is part of the tour and the audio guide points out the door through which she fled during the revolution. Unfortunately any emotional tension you might feel because of that is totally destroyed by the couple standing behind you with a selfie stick.

The state departments were packed the whole way through. After I saw Marie Antoinette’s room, I was ready for the next big attraction: the Hall of Mirrors. Now here is when I become an absolute jerk: the Hall of Mirrors was a bit of a let down. Maybe it’s just because  it was crowed and hot, but it wasn’t the spectacular space I’d always imagined. I mean, the mirrors were a little grimy. But no matter how many selfie sticks blocked my view, it’s obvious that the room is all about the money.  Espcially  considering how insanely expensive mirrors were at the time. Let down or not, I got a postcard anyway.

Then, to the gardens. Those fabulous gardens. According to the Versailles/Disney article we read, Louis XIV went to a party at his minister of finance’s palace (anyone who’s anyone has a palace after all) and saw the new gardens which were based around a central axis design. Apparently he stole the architect from the minister and started renovating his father’s hunting lodge the next day. The whole point of the article was that Disney’s Main Street USA has a similar layout. Which is true. But you see more Disney-ness in the gift shops (you know I love a good gift shop). They have books on palace, postcards, t-shirts, Marie Antoinette buttons, and on and on. They also have kids section with knight and princess toys and costumes. Which seems like a weird message to give a little girl considering French history, “Here little Suzy, be a princess! Until you overtax the peasants to fund your extravagent lifestyle and they eventually revolt and your find yourself at the guillotine! But enjoy that tiara until then!”

Back to the gardens. They were stunning. And I know nothing about plants so this is just based on how pretty the colors were but whatever. I was about to get in line for the tram to go to Marie Antoinette’s village (yep) until I remembered that I’m an able-bodied 21 year old so I could just walk. It was hot. But worth it since I listened to the soundtrack to that Sofia Coppala movie. There’s nothing like listening to “I Want Candy” while strolling past some manicured trees.

Marie Antoinette built this tiny village where she could play peasant when she got bored with court life. Talk about insulting. But today it’s this really cool little village with these cute gardens. You almost expect Snow White and the dwarves to show up it’s so well maintained. But they don’t.

I spent the rest of the day around the gardens and then took the RER home. Which might as well have been the Monorail.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  

Notre Dame and Other Lovely Places

I’m sitting on a train somewhere near Brussels as I write this. We’re on our way to Amsterdam this weekend which is both thrilling and terrifying considering that I know far less Dutch than I do French, which is to say I don’t speak it all. I think I decided to go to Amsterdam this weekend because I studied the Netherlands in second grade as part of “Around the World Day” our school did every year, and one of my life goals is to visit all those countries we studied in elementary school. So the Netherlands is first. I lost track of how many trains I’ve taken in Europe so far. How odd that when I get back I’ll have to drive in my car to go anywhere instead of comfortably reading while someone else does the work. Still, I’m excited to go home and be reminded of what personal space is like. Speaking of personal space (or rather, the lack of it), we’ve had an interesting few days in Paris. 

We spent most of Tuesday walking around Paris on a tour. After making sure our feet had not fallen off somewhere near Notre Dame, we had a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. Interestingly, it’s been the only proper French meal I’ve had here (apart from all that bread I’ve been eating). 

Wednesday was one of those days that makes you so grateful to be in a new place. We (as a class) spent most of the day at the Lourve. I’m not going to list all the paintings and sculptures we saw because there were so many and there’s definitely one that was the most important: Mona Lisa. 

There’s so much to say about this painting. But instead of just re-typing my notes on it from my Italian Renaissance class, let me tell you about seeing it person. Because seeing other people see Mona Lisa is so much fun. They keep her in a room with some other paintings that I don’t think anyone really looks at. They could probably wallpaper the room with money, and no one would notice. Mona hangs on a partition toward the back of the room behind bullet-proof glass. If that’s not enough, the viewers stand behind a rope three feet back. And by “viewers,” I mean small mob. Seriously, I’ve never been in New Orleans during Mardi Gras but someone once told me that if you faint on Bourbon Street, you won’t hit the ground because it’s so crowed. The same is probably true in the Mona Lisa Mob Zone. But what the hell? I’m at the Lourve in Paris. What’s a little claustrophobia? Do I really have to have Beyoncé and Jay-Z kind of money to see this thing without the crowd?  We did eventually make it to the front and took the appropriate photos. Totally worth it. (Fun fact: the Lourve refuses to restore Mona Lisa. That’s why it’s so dark- no one wants to be the person that *explative* up Mona Lisa. ) 

After going all over the Lourve (and getting lost, of course) we went to Notre Dame. I know Notre Dame from photos, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know most of the interior decoration from the Disney film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Mass was happening in the nave, and it kind of weird to be more concerned with snapping photos of the rose windows than what was happening. But I’m planning to go back to Mass sometime next week. Because of Catholic guilt and art history geekiness. 

There is no way that I’ll be able to describe how beautiful this cathedral is or how much fun it was being there (looking ahead to grad school, my research will probably be in gothic cathedrals) so I’ll let these photos speak for themselves. 

After that we went to Shakespeare & Co. across the way which is the famous bookstore where people like Hemingway used to hang out. Upstairs they have a few cots which seemed weird until I read on Pinterest that night that you can stay overnight there in exchange for 2 hours work at the store and a page-long autobiography. Yes, please. The store was really cool, but while I was browsing, I suddenly felt someone drape their arms over my shoulders. I figured it was one of my friends being funny. Until I looked and realized it was just some random stranger with his head one my shoulders. I pulled away, and when he saw my face, he looked mortified. “I’m so sorry, I thought you were someone I knew,” he sputtered out and backed away. His dad (I’m assuming) gave him  a look like “What the hell are you doing?” I thought it was funny until I realized my shirt smelled like his sweat. 

That night (having rested our smelly, sore feet) we bought some champagne at little grocery store and watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle at 11. Absolutely incredible. We drank the champagne from plastic cups to reinforce the collective European opinion about how classy Americans are. But we didn’t care. 

The next day the museum we’d plan to visit was on strike so we went back to the Eiffel Tower instead. This time we actually went up and toured both the middle and top platforms. Then it was just a long, hot metro ride to Saint-Denis to see that cathedral. (This cathedral trip was actually not my idea. But I didn’t, like, protest it or anything.) We couldn’t go into the nave since an orchestra was rehearsing for the music festival, but we did get to see the apse and th crypt. Apart from being the birthplace of the Gothic style led by Abbot Suger, Saint-Denis is also the burial place of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. They also have prayer sculptures in the nave which are probably based on the representations of them during their lifetimes, but I kept picturing them as Kirsten Dunst and Jason Swartzman who played them in the Sofia Coppola movie. Because apparently that’s the best I can do after 3 years of art history. 

I have no idea where this train is now. My excellent sense of directions strikes again! After five days in Paris, I’m exhausted. Which is wonderful since it’s proof of the marathon of things we’ve seen this week. I think next week, I’ll spend my free time tracking down locations from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. (Is anyone else starting to notice the movie theme happening on this trip?) But for now, on to Amsterdam.