Montreal: Plateau, Parc, Musee

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ALLÔ, MONTRÉAL! I’m in this hip, sophisticated city for a few days, ensconced with a friend on a leafy block in an Air BnB apartment, below, that’s big enough for six people, taking in some of the major sights and lurching from meal to meal.

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A Canadian friend steered us to the charming and convenient Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood, made up mostly of small late Victorian townhouses, many with balconies and exterior staircases (for reasons, we learned, having to do with taxes, not having to heat stairwells, and saving interior space).

Yesterday I weaved in and out of the area’s narrow alleys en route to my first Montreal coffee and best-ever cheese croissant at Le Moineau Masqué, enjoying the century-old domestic architecture with its quirky paint jobs and front gardens, some tidy, others desperately in need of weeding.

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I had to see the modest home of Leonard Cohen, one of my musical heroes, which he owned for many decades and re-visited throughout his life. It’s a three-story gray stone townhouse, below, on the small vest-pocket Parc du Portugal, where we sat and absorbed the atmosphere, looking across at the bagel place he was known to pad over to in his bedroom slippers many mornings.

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In 36 hours, we’ve shopped and window-shopped on Rue St.-Denis (Tibetan jewelry, housewares, arty made-in-Canada clothing); drove up to a viewing spot in the city’s green heart, the central mountain (Mont-Royal) that gives Montreal its name; enjoyed the sounds of French heard everywhere, though English is almost universally spoken as well; dined at bustling neighborhood eateries in Plateau (L’Gros Luxe — that’s their tuna tartare, below and Café le Cherrier) and had an elegant grown-up lunch — grilled sardines for me — at Ferreira, a landmark Portuguese restaurant downtown.

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Below, typical of Plateau: corner cafés with mural decoration.

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Why have a boring garage door? Two of many, below.

IMG_0014IMG_0018We revisited our youths at “Revolution,” the current exhibition on 1960s culture at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, enjoying the psychedelic art, hippie fashions and vast room given over to multiple enormous video screens showing performances from Woodstock, with cushions on the floor for lying and taking in Hendrix and the Who, towering overhead.

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And we’ve proudly mastered the arcane parking rules, which are no more or less complicated than New York’s, except, like everything, in French.

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Hot Town, Summer in the City

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IT’S NOT OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER, but as soon as you start seeing ads for back to school shopping, you know it can’t be long before the Halloween decorations come out.

The knowledge that it will soon be September has always cast a pall over August. Growing up, I waited eagerly for the big fat back-to-school issue of Seventeen magazine to show up on my local newsstand August 1st. I was so bored I devoured its 600 pages of wool skirts and cable-knit sweaters immediately. Though it was still high summer, I was painfully conscious that its appearance signaled the beginning of the end.

Later this week, I’m off to Montreal and Quebec City for a few days and will be blogging my ass off while there, no doubt, so there’s that to look forward to. In the meantime, the days count down on summer in the city. With frequent forays out of town, y’know, it hasn’t been half bad.

July began with a day trip to Kykuit, below, the Rockefeller estate in Westchester County, a century-old Italianate-style ivy-covered pile, romantic on the outside, boring within. Chief joy and surprise: Nelson Rockefeller’s collection of modern art, relegated to a basement space, world-class though it is, and wonderful outdoor sculptures (like the Elie Nadelman figures below), perfectly placed.

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I abandoned Brooklyn again to ferry over to Governor’s Island, where my daughter is now working, and what a surprise. In the past couple of years, they’ve (almost) completed a park called The Hills, as close to unspoiled nature as you can get in New York City, with a skyline view at every turn.

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For culture, I joined a friend at the Whitney Museum in Chelsea to see Alexander Calder’s mid-century mobiles, below, so simple and yet so brilliant. The views from the outdoor terraces there are always stunning.

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Then there was a two-day road trip to Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Mass., cultivated over a period of decades, exclusively with plants native to the region. We found accommodation nearby at the oldest continuously operating lodging in the U.S., the pre-Revolutionary Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Mass., below. (It burned nearly to the ground and was painstakingly rebuilt in the 1950s, so it’s hard to say what’s original and what’s not, but the illusion is impeccable.)

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I tried a few new-to-me Brooklyn restaurants, including L’Antagoniste in Bed-Stuy, a tad precious and a tad pricey, and the French-Senegalese Cafe Rue Dix in Crown Heights.

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Even treading city sidewalks in summer is made pleasanter by overflowing window boxes and creatively planted tree pits.

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Follow me on Instagram, where I’m having some fun… @caramia447

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Posted in BROOKLYN, LONG ISLAND, MANHATTAN, NORTH FORK, ROAD TRIPS | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Yugen – A Japanese Garden Where You Least Expect It

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THE ADDRESS OF YŪGEN is a closely guarded secret. I didn’t even know of its existence in the backwoods of East Hampton, N.Y., until it appeared in the 2017 catalogue of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, open for just two hours on a Sunday morning at the end of July.

Yūgen is a privately owned garden of 20 acres, heavily inspired by Far Eastern garden tradition. The property’s anonymous owner, who manages global public health crises, has been working on it for a quarter century. He began as a collector of Japanese suiseki –– small, naturally-formed stones that suggest larger landscapes. This, according to the catalogue, led to more stones in the garden, many on a massive scale, and then to a passion for horticulture.

With advance reservations, my sister and I gained two of the limited places and found ourselves wandering nearly alone through expanses of mossy-banked pine woods, an artificial dune scape, a re-created section of primeval forest whimsically called Jurassic Park, rocks and rills and waterfalls, gravel patches and sculpture gardens (all surrounding a rather more conventional house).

The word yūgen means something like “subtle, profound, mysterious beauty.” It suits.

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Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LANDSCAPING, LONG ISLAND | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Done! Philadelphia Attic Duplex Reno

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IN CASE ANYONE HAS BEEN WONDERING, the Philadelphia renovation in a c.1810 row house that commanded much of my attention and most of my resources last winter was finally finished in May. I’m very pleased with how it turned out. In fact, the result was so satisfying I’m starting a new renovation in the same three-unit building next month, in the second-floor apartment below.

Joke! I am starting a new reno in the same building next month, but not because the first one was satisfying. It’s because there was a watery disaster in that second-floor apartment about a month ago: a burst hot water heater that let loose all 40 gallons of its contents, ruining the carpeted floor and finding its way through to the ceiling of the apartment on the ground floor below, causing extensive damage there as well.

The ceiling damage downstairs has been repaired, but I’ve asked the tenant in the second-floor apartment to vacate in late August. It’s the last un-renovated apartment of the three, and was sorely in need of upgrading anyway. I’m excited about the opportunity to fix a major design flaw in that space (there’s no proper living room to speak of).

But before we get to that in months to come, I want to share, for the record, photos of the completed duplex, which combined an existing one-bedroom apartment on the building’s third floor with previously unused attic space, to create a bi-level apartment with two bedrooms and an additional open loft.

At the center of it all is a new handcrafted staircase, which I consider very successful in both design and execution.

The pine floors are new; the bathroom is brand new; the kitchen cabinets received a cosmetic upgrade. There was no electricity on the upper level; now there is. The original wood floors upstairs were painted white.

Downstairs, the door to the bedroom was moved to allow a longer sight line through the apartment. Add to that new windows, new moldings, bumped-up electrical service, new HVAC units and a paint job. All in all, a major accomplishment <blowing on fingernails and buffing them against shoulder>.

Most telling of all: the apartment rented very quickly, to the first people who looked at it.

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Posted in PHILADELPHIA, RENOVATION | Tagged | 8 Comments

Ninth Year in East Hampton: Same Old is Damn Good

Follow me on Instagram @caramia447 where I post quirky one-off images of, among other things, tiny houses, retro storefronts, street art and the occasional sunset

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I’M BACK IN EAST HAMPTON for my ninth season and I don’t even care that it’s raining for the third straight day. I’m just glad to be here.

My show-stopping 15-foot-tall rhododendrons have already faded and are rapidly falling apart. Hours of tedious petal clean-up and deadheading await. Is it worth it, in exchange for the week or two of blossom explosion my friend characterized as “like an LSD trip”? You bet.

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The irises, too, are having their moment. It takes time, I’m learning, for irises to come into their own after planting, maybe three years. It’s a bumper crop and here I am, just taking them for granted.

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The garden has a thick new blanket of mulch, whose spreading I hired out this year, leaving me to wander my tidy-looking half-acre with an odd, displaced feeling of nothing to do.

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I’m here for just a few weeks, determined to make the most of June before renters arrive July 1 and stay through Labor Day.

May was cold in my unheated house, so fires in the fireplace, sweaters and scarves were the order of the day, and hot water bottles the order of the night.

Below, the golden hour: May at Maidstone Beach

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Memorial Day weekend brought friends to my deck for the first al fresco meal of the season, the traditional (round these parts) salad Niçoise, free-flowing rosé and a fire in the fire pit.

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A week into June and the house is still 54 degrees, fire crackling away, space heater turned up full blast, soup on the stove.

Arriving last Saturday evening, after a couple of days attending to business in the city, I couldn’t waste time in transition. I dropped my bags and ran down to the beach to catch the sunset, not knowing these were the last rays to be had for at least 72 hours.

It was close to a religious experience — fat clouds limned in gold against postcard blue, the bay shimmering, seagulls bobbing, sand glinting, horizon satisfyingly distant but not so far off as to be intimidating, evening air soft on my face. I picked up shells and driftwood and a gull feather and walked along the water as darkness fell, smiling goofily at people with dogs and fishing poles.

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I’m grateful to be out of the city, to be where nature can work its magic on my mood.

And now I can say it, loud and proud: I love East Hampton. Nine years ago, when I first moved here, I was embarrassed to tell people I had bought a house in “the Hamptons” (albeit the cheapest house on the South Fork).

All I really knew of East Hampton before I bought that first cottage (I’ve since sold it  and bought a different house nearby), were snooty, overpriced designer stores and the hassle of finding parking in high season.

Now I cherish the fabulous institutions with which the town is blessed, like the hushed, rambling mock-Tudor library with its Long Island research collection, a room devoted solely to garden books and brand new children’s wing; and Guild Hall, an art museum and theatre, with a circus-striped auditorium featuring ambitious programming all year long,

I’ve discovered exquisite local gardens like LongHouse Reserve and Madoo, and smaller gems like the beautifully tended kitchen garden at Mulford Farm, a cedar-shingled saltbox pre-dating the American Revolution by a long shot. Even the 200 ancient elms that line Main Street are a national treasure (and possibly endangered).

My time here will be truncated, so I’ve got to squeeze it all in: gardening, swimming in the bay, farmer’s markets, picnics at Louse Point, walks on Gerard Drive, sunsets at the jetty, art exhibitions, garden tours, yard sales.

Knowing I’ll soon have to tear myself away makes me appreciate all the more what my Hampton, prettiest of them all, has going for it.

Posted in GARDENS & GARDENING, HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Tough Life: A Week in the Yucatan

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LAST MONTH, I SNUCK IN ANOTHER VACATION, this one a weeklong mother-daughter event. Destination: Tulum, Mexico, on the Caribbean edge of the Yucatan peninsula, a place I’d first heard of years ago when it was a laid-back beach town known for yoga retreats and lack of electricity. It’s no longer quite as laid back, with development proceeding apace, and I had the feeling we got there in the nick of time.

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We flew into Cancun and taxi’d south, spending the first two nights in Akumal, about half an hour north of Tulum. There, we could afford a hotel right on the calm, crescent- shaped Bay of Akumal, top, above and below, known as a sea turtle habitat and very popular for snorkeling (to the detriment of the turtles).

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We stayed in a stone bungalow, below, at the Hotel Akumal Caribe, a circa 1970 all-inclusive resort that was the first-ever in the area.

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Now, the sole highway between Cancun and Tulum is lined with much glitzier hotels, but we loved the funkiness of the Akumal Caribe, and the convenience.

For two days, we found all we needed on the hotel property, including a yoga studio, below, and good food in several on-site restaurants of varying degrees of casual, all with views of the water.

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There’s a scuba dive center on the hotel grounds, and my daughter, Zoë, a scuba pro, went out to the coral reefs one day; another day, she dove at Dos Ojos, a nearby cenote, or cavern, of interest mainly for its geology. See her spectacular photos, below.

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On Day 3, we decamped for Tulum, a $20 taxi ride due south, and settled in for the next few nights at Posada Luna del Sur. We loved our studio apartment with its own lush garden, and the breakfast served on the hotel’s rooftop each morning.

The charms and limitations of Tulum immediately became evident. The seven-mile-long strip of beachfront, justifiably renowned for its beauty, is lined with low-rise resorts, architecturally modest and nearly hidden in jungle foliage, but with prices commensurate with their waterfront location ($400-500/night).

Like many visitors, we stayed instead in the pueblo, or town, where the real folks live, about three miles inland. The pueblo definitely has its own appeal and a slew of inviting open-air bars and restaurants. The main drawback is that one is beholden to taxis. They’re plentiful enough, and the drivers are polite and trustworthy (the hotel provided a helpful list of official prices). But the beach is just too far away to walk.

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Tulum is known, too, for its superb Mayan ruins, below, 800-year-old remnants of indigenous culture right at the water’s edge. Once painted bright colors, with fires atop the main structure to signal passing boats, the buildings are now weathered and populated mainly by iguanas. It’s a must-do in Tulum, and we did, on the first morning.

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We spent much of our remaining time at the beach clubs lining the sandy rim of the sea. All the beaches are public; each hotel has its arrangement of chaises and palapas (thatched umbrellas).

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You can settle in at any one of the beach clubs for the day, ordering from young waitstaff who run hither and thither to bring you towels, drinks, snacks. For lunch, we’d go to one of the many more or less interchangeable beachfront restaurants, to gaze out over the water while consuming our cocktails and shrimp fajitas.

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Had we not had our swimming and snorkeling time in the tranquil Bay of Akumal, we might have been more disappointed that the waters were too rough and the days too windy for us to swim in Tulum.

We got a lot of reading done and walked on the beach and along the boutique- and cafe-filled beach road, below.

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Our most special meal was at a restaurant called Kitchen Table, below, on the jungle side of the beach road.

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We left relaxed, satisfied, fulfilled. Yay for the Yucatan. Yay for vacations.

Posted in Mexico, TRAVEL | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Live the Beachy Life This Summer…Rent My Rustic-Modern East Hampton Retreat!

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UPDATE: The house has been rented for the full 2017 summer season.

IT’S HIGH TIME to square away plans for renting a place at the beach for July and August, or part thereof.

I can help you with that. My rustic-modern retreat in Springs (East Hampton), Long Island, a 5-minute walk from stunning Maidstone Beach — is available for rent in July and/or August.

It’s pretty idyllic.

Built in the 1940s as a fishing bungalow, with a later addition and a separate guest cottage, the house is 1,400 square feet on a private, landscaped half-acre, with a great big wood deck for lounging and dining, and a glorious outdoor shower right out the back door.

Share the place if you want — it can work for two couples with a total of two or maybe three kids.

The house sleeps 6, officially — there’s a master bedroom with comfortable queen bed; a second bedroom with two twins; as well as a separate 14’x17′ guest cabin with double bed and space for additional cot or crib (bathroom is in the main house).

There are two showers, one indoors and one out, and plenty of room to spread out — there’s a dining/sitting room with fireplace, in addition to a great room with two comfy sofas, and a home office with a partner desk, if you must work.

Live like Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner (whose home and studio is a mile away) in the 1940s… no air-conditioning, no dishwasher.. but good Wi-Fi and fans in each room. (*TV and DVD player on request)

Picture it:

  • Swim, kayak, paddleboard at unspoiled, never-crowded Maidstone Beach on a miles-long crescent of sand just down the road
  • Walk the scenic ‘loop’ through Maidstone Park, or along nearby Gerard Drive with Gardiner’s Bay on one side and Accabonac Harbor on the other
  • See egrets, ospreys, wild turkeys (no deer on my property, though — it’s fenced!)
  • Nap or read on the deck, watch the sun set over the jetty, picnic at Louse Point, make bonfires on the beach (legal!) or in my fire pit, shower outdoors, grill on the brick patio, hang out on the porch at the local landmark Springs General Store
  • Surf or swim in the ocean at Amagansett (10 minutes by car) or Montauk (25 mins.)
  • Shop for local produce at farm stands and weekly greenmarkets
  • Check out the always-promising yard sales and thrift stores. Designer shopping too.
  • Art shows and galleries, live performance at Guild Hall, music at Stephen Talkhouse, historic house tours
  • Garden tours + garden visits at LongHouse Reserve, Madoo, Bridge Gardens
  • Restaurants and bars galore
  • Explore nearby Sag Harbor (20 minutes), Shelter Island (30), North Fork, Block Island (day trip)

Sound good? It is good! I’m opening the house for the season in the next couple of weeks. Let me show you around.

Contact me for more info, including rental rate: caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com

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This is what awaits at the end of the day, at the end of the street:

img_1799Contact me for more info: caramia447 [at] gmail [dot] com

Posted in HAMPTONS, LONG ISLAND, PROPERTIES FOR RENT | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments