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A little more than a year ago, I wrote a post about how little traveling I do. It was difficult to write because it’s always been something I’m a bit ashamed of, but (as is often the case with the posts I hesitate to write) I felt braver and stronger once it was done. A few weeks later I traveled to London and had a wonderful time. This past June I went to my friends Lisa and Clay’s beautiful wedding in San Francisco, last month I went to Palm Springs for Camp Mighty and yesterday I got back from a long weekend in New Orleans! Look at me: Anna Dorfman, occasional traveler. Who could have predicted?

A very good friend of mine moved from Brooklyn to New Orleans about six years ago, and I’d been talking about the possibility of making a visit for a while. Our birthdays are a couple of days apart (I turned 38 right before Halloween — hello, 38!), and just by chance it turned out that The Cure were scheduled to play on the last night of Voodoo Fest. K and I met because of our love for The Cure and it’d been years since we’d gone to a show together…so really, how could I not go? Everything just seemed to fall into place perfectly. This was my first visit to New Orleans, and I loved it. What a magical place!

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K and her husband and son live in an incredible 1875 house in the Bywater neighborhood. She has always had the best sense of style when it comes to interiors, and unsurprisingly her home is amazingly beautiful inside and out. I slept in a bedroom painted black from the bottom up, save for a white beadboard ceiling. So perfect and cave-like. (And no, sorry, she doesn’t have a blog, haha. Believe me, it was all I could do to not take a million pictures!)

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Like all grown-up former (?) goths, we made sure to visit a cemetery. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest in New Orleans, all crumbly and beautiful and densely packed. (I also just learned that a New Kids on the Block video was filmed there, so, um, a slight reduction in goth points.)

GOATS!!! This guy was just walking around a residential neighborhood with a couple of goats on leashes. They were super soft.

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Top to bottom, left to right:
(1) I have a new appreciation for shutters now, especially when they’re floor-to-ceiling (2) Pretty outdoor lights at Pizza Delicious (the vegan campanelle was very good) (3) Living room mantle, fancy fancy (4) Belated vegan peanut butter birthday cake from Shake Sugary (5) Me, all moody right before the Cure concert (6) Matching manicures (Saints colors totally unintentional) with my waiter at Booty’s

Here’s a silly little video I made of a lenticular photo stuck to a door in the French Quarter. Love!

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Top to bottom, left to right:
(1) Drinks at Cane & Table — I had the Valeira Gorge: Portal Tawny Port, Banks 7 Year Rum, lime, fresh coconut water, vanilla and Angostura bitters (2) Skulls grow on agave plants in New Orleans, FACT (3) Dinner from the Fat Falafel truck (4) Freret Street (5) LIZARD!!! I saw a lizard in the wild for the first time, very exciting (6) Perfect tofu scrambles and coffees at Satsuma

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This is Willie. He was just a little kid when he lived in Brooklyn, and now he’s an old man. I love French bulldogs and all of their grunty croissant-marshmallow-bodiedness. He’s such a sweet guy, and a very patient model.

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THE CURE!!! Yayyyyyyyy. I’ve never succeeded in taking good photos at a Cure concert, and this time was no exception (here are some MUCH better ones!). No matter, though, because the show was great as usual. The Cure will for always and ever be my most favorite band, and the best way to experience them (I mean other than locked in your dark bedroom with headphones on, age 15) is LIVE. Their festival shows are shorter by default, but 2+ hours is still nothing to sneeze at. Plus, I got to hear “Burn” played live for the first time ever, and it sounded like a whole new song — like it came off of Pornography instead of The Crow soundtrack! So great.

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Some classic Robert Smith dance moves…

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My lovely friend Roger doing his thing up on on stage. Toss that hair, shake that tambourine! What a fun night. It’s been two years since the last time I saw The Cure, which is far too long to go between shows. I’m so glad I made this trip!

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Full setlist:
Shake Dog Shake / Fascination Street / From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea / The End of the World / Lovesong / Just Like Heaven / Burn / Pictures of You / Lullaby / High / Hot Hot Hot!!! / The Caterpillar / The Walk / Stop Dead / Push / Inbetween Days / Friday I’m in Love / Doing the Unstuck / Bananafishbones / Want / The Hungry Ghost / Wrong Number / One Hundred Years / Give Me It // (encore) The Love Cats / Close to Me / Let’s Go to Bed / Why Can’t I Be You? / Boys Don’t Cry

Thank you so, so much to K (+ family) for being such wonderful hosts and for having me stay in your beautiful home. I had the most amazing time. And thank you Roger for everything I can possibly thank a person for.

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Yes, another concert photo post! I go to a lot of concerts, but I don’t usually blog about them because it’s just much too much. In the past couple of months alone I’ve gone to see Adam Ant, Janelle Monáe, Depeche Mode, Public Enemy/LL Cool J/Ice Cube…and I have The Cure and Johnny Marr coming up right around the corner. There are few things in life that make me happier than going to concerts (I even wrote a list of concert-going tips), and in recent years I’ve been making a concerted effort to go see bands/artists I’ve liked for years but haven’t taken the initiative to experience live.

And so: Pet Shop Boys. I went to see them for the very first time Monday night at Beacon Theatre, and it was really an incredible night. I don’t have any local friends who are fans (or at least I don’t think I do!), so I managed to score a really good single ticket that was remaining between grouped blocks — 2nd row! As soon as the show started, I was able to just stand next to the stage, essentially making it a front-row kinda night (albeit more to the side of the stage than is ideal, but I’m not complaining). I’ve said it before, but it really does matter to me to be up close. I like to be fully immersed. When my friend Jenna and I went to see Depeche Mode a few weeks ago at the enormous Barclays Center in Brooklyn, we were so far up in the nosebleeds that we might as well have been watching in TV…but I degress.

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I was completely and totally unprepared for what this concert turned out to be. It was performance art — scene after scene, with costume changes and dancers and a narrative thread running through the entire thing. It’s funny, Pet Shop Boys were HUGELY popular when I was in junior high (the reissue of “West End Girls” was a massive hit in the US around the time I was making friendship bracelets nonstop), but I didn’t really grow into becoming a fan until quite a few years later. Very (with its Pentagram-designed nubby-dotted orange cover) was released the same month I started college, and I fell into a crowd of British electronic dance-pop fans. It’s a phenomenal album, I’d argue it’s their best. Pet Shop Boys had always seemed much lighter to me than, say, New Order, but once I started listening to the lyrics — always frank to a fault; romantic and funny and sad but hopeful — and growing attached to Neil Tennant’s voice, my appreciation for their music was solidified.

Anyway, now that I’ve seen them live, I’m ashamed that I never let that appreciation develop into the kind of full-blown fandom that would’ve led me to buy tickets to a show a long time ago! It really was a spectacular performance. Seeing this show right on the heels of Depeche Mode makes me feel happy about all of the great new music that’s still being put out by the old school of electronic music.

Here’s a very short, badly-cut Instagram video:

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WOWZA. I’m told by friends who have seen Pet Shop Boys many times in the past that this tour is nowhere near as visually extravagant their previous, which doubly fills me with regret for waiting so long. (Not that I felt disappointed, mind you!) As much as music is about, well, the music, it’s also about aesthetics for me, and I care about album packaging and presentation and all of that kind of thing. Seeing visual continuity between record sleeves, music videos, costuming and live performance is very exciting! I can only describe the whole thing as a kind of lush minimalism, if that’s possible, avant-garde without pretension (again, if that’s possible).

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Pet Shop Boys are currently on tour in support of their latest album, Electric (produced by Stuart Price, who opened the show with a DJ set as his Jacques Lu Cont persona). If you have the inclination and the opportunity, GO. Even though I went to the show alone, I walked out really wishing that I’d had certain friends with me just because I know they would have loved the visuals and the ecstatic atmosphere…and the music too, of course.

Full setlist:
Axis / One More Chance + Face Like That / Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money) / Memory of the Future / Fugitive / Integral / I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing / Suburbia / I’m Not Scared / Fluorescent / West End Girls / Somewhere / Leaving / Thursday / Love Etc. / I Get Excited (You Get Excited Too) / Rent / Miracles / It’s a Sin / Domino Dancing / Always on My Mind // (Encore) Go West / Vocal

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About three and a half years ago, Janelle Monáe came into my life. I fell hard for her right when she was just starting to get widespread attention, and it’s been amazing to see everything that’s happened with her career since then. I was lucky enough to see her perform live in 2011 when she toured with Bruno Mars, and since then I’ve been waiting (im)patiently for a new album and another chance to see her come alive on stage. I was crushed when her tour dates were finally announced and I realized I’d be out of town when she’s at the Apollo Theater in October.

BUT THEN…I was poking around on Facebook on Saturday morning, and I saw something on her official page about sending an email for a chance to see her perform on Monday night in NYC at a private launch party for her new double album, The Electric Lady. I figured there was no chance, but I send the email anyway and got on with my day. Eleven hours later, I got a reply to my email letting me know I was on the list for the event — location to be disclosed Monday afternoon! WOO-HOO + YAY!!!

The party (sponsored by Target, who are clearly very invested in JM, having floated a pirate ship around the Hudson all day while broadcasting the album over the airwaves) was held at Pier 84, in pretty much ideal weather for outdoor concert-going. The stage was T-shaped with no barrier whatsoever, and because the event was so small compared to a full venue show, I was able to stand all the way up in front in the best possible spot. I kind of couldn’t believe it was happening even before she came on stage.

Here is where I think photos should take over for a bit…

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I don’t know how else to say it: Janelle Monáe is PHENOMENAL on stage. So full of energy and passion and true artistry — and that goes for the rest of her band, too. She OWNS the stage. Everyone at the show was having the most amazing time; singing, dancing, yelling, clapping and pounding the stage. It was one big huge party! I know it’s a cliche to say that someone’s energy is infectious, but Janelle’s really is. I defy anyone to watch her perform and not want to dance like a little old earthquake. She is IT. There is no one else in popular music right now who is doing anything like this — she’s like a futuristic hybrid of James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince and Judy Garland. UN. REAL.

A few hours before the show, she recorded a performance to air later that night on David Letterman’s show. Let’s take a look, yes?

YES. YES. YES. The audience loved her, Dave loved her, that desk loved her. Why the whole world isn’t talking about this performance (or, for that matter, why we don’t see Janelle on shows like MTV’s VMAs) is really beyond me. We should all be hanging flags out of our windows professing our love for The Electric Lady.

Speaking of The Electric Lady, you’ve gotta get this album. It was officially released yesterday, and I doubt I’ll be listening to anything else for quite a while. It is SO GOOD. There aren’t enough superlatives — it’s the best new album I’ve heard in years. Like Metropolis and The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady follows the story of android Cindi Mayweather in a continuation of a 7-part concept series. Beyond being a incredible listen, it’s also smart and deep. (Also: PRINCE.)

Let’s look at some more pictures…

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Yes, that’s Diddy, whose Bad Boy label has played a huge role in allowing Janelle to get the exposure she deserves while still maintaining full control over her career and musical output. In his introduction before she came out on stage, Diddy (like Letterman) gave a nod to James Brown by referring to Janelle as “The Hardest Working Woman in Show Business” — and I can’t disagree with that title. She is giving it ALL.

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Big Boi was there too — he sang the praises of his little sister and performed “Tightrope” and “Come Alive,” which as usual turned into a huge party to close out the night. The Wondaland family, the entire band, backstage celebrities and a pack of android-alikes danced like crazy on stage while Janelle crowd-surfed. So good.

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(Just in case you needed more convincing…)

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As of this morning, I think I need to add a new question to my FAQ: “Have you seen this Smiths/Peanuts tumblr?” I’ve received close to 40 emails (!!!) and about a dozen tweets since yesterday about it, leading me to believe that I have indeed accomplished my primary mission in life, which of course is to be someone who comes to mind when subjects involving Morrissey and/or Charlie Brown arise. They’re two of my most favorite guys, forever and always.

The answer, obviously, is YES, I have seen it — I first saw it on the NPR Music blog, courtesy of Jen’s husband. Thanks, Jim! Never before has so much self-awareness and sensitivity been presented in such a heartwarming way. I think the Peppermint Patty & Marcie ones are my favorites. Sheila take a bow, indeed!

For the three remaining people on the planet have not yet seen this brilliant combination of Peanuts comic strips and Smiths lyrics, I hope you enjoy This Charming Charlie as much as I do. Lauren LoPrete is obviously a genius, and I’m truly sorry that I’m not the one who thought to do this. Thank you for making it happen, Lauren! You really made my day/week/life.

And also: Thank you, Charles Schulz. Thank you, Morrissey.

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It has been a LONG time since I posted a mixtape! I’ve had this one in the works for a while now as a follow-up to 2011’s original Summertime Jams mix, but between the too-hot-to-think weather we had in July and all movies I’ve been going to see, I just hadn’t been feeling it. Something happened last week, though — we started having the best summer weather here in New York, the kind you fantasize about during the winter. Cool breezes in the evenings, great sunsets, people out and about at night, hanging out on their stoops and eating late dinners at sidewalk cafés…perfect.

Anyway, I’m in love with this mix, and I hope you like it too. If the Bar-Kays alone don’t make you feel like summertime, then your funky might be broken. Enjoy!! And if you need more music…
Here are all of my previous music mixes!

I guess it’s a little silly to make a weekend to-do list on a Saturday afternoon, but I’m feeling a bit panicked at the moment about not getting done everything that needs to get done. We have guests coming to stay at our house for a long visit, and I want to make sure everything is comfortable for them. Hail the productivity a good to-do list can inspire!

Do this stuff before tomorrow afternoon:
Laundry, including hand-washables
Clean bathrooms
Vacuum
Fresh linens in guest bedroom
✚ Set up closet in guest bedroom; empty drawers/install hanging rack
Clean exterior dryer lint trap
✚ Move stuff in the basement so the plumber doesn’t hate us
Bring excess recyclables to Mommy’s house
Make list of local restaurants/shops for guests
WEED FRONT GARDEN, trim plants
Finish installing butcherblock in kitchen
Oil treatments for butcherblock x3
Make iced coffee

I’m cutting myself off there. I can think of a dozen other things I wish I could get done this weekend, but this is what absolutely HAS to happen.

p.s. GOOD NEWS: We finally got a quote from plumber #3 for removing and re-piping/moving our kitchen radiators at the house. Now we just have to schedule him in here for a day, and then I can FINALLY finish tiling the last two kitchen walls…and we can rip up the carpenter-ant-ravaged subfloor and see what’s going on underneath. I am very anxious to get back to work on the kitchen, so YAYYYY.

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Two movie posts in a row?! I’m pretty sure that’s never happened before. It’s Saturday morning and I can’t stop thinking about the movie I saw last night, Blue Jasmine. Woody Allen makes a lot of movies — this is his 41st as writer/director. I go to see them all because I believe they’re all worth seeing at least once. If I don’t think one of them is great, I probably won’t see it again and I’ll just forget about it. The ones that are great, though, I will watch over and over and over again, year after year. It doesn’t bother me that Woody Allen’s movies are “uneven” in terms of their success, and if you’ve seen the excellent American Masters documentary about him, you know that doesn’t bother Woody, either. He’s already on to the next project by then, anyway. (If you’re a Woody fan, you need to see that documentary. PBS has it online.)

The laziest reviews of Woody Allen’s movies usually contain a sentence that starts out with, “In what may perhaps be Allen’s best film since _________,” but I think it’s a mistake to review one of his movies by comparing it to another. It’s not possible to rank his movies in that way. How can you quantify the greatness of movies like Annie Hall and Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors (I could continue, but I’ll stop there)? He’s doing very different things in each of those movies. He didn’t set out to accomplish the same thing in each one, and forcing them to compete with each other is pointless.

But anyway, back to Blue Jasmine. In what may perhaps be Allen’s best film since…just kidding. I’m a lazy reviewer, but at least I know I’m lazy. Here’s a quick punch-list of general notes:

▶ It’s set primarily in San Francisco, with flashbacks that take place in New York City.
▶ CATE BLANCHETT. She plays what must have been a very, very difficult role, and she is phenomenal in it. I cannot stop thinking about her performance.
▶ Who else writes roles like this for women? (There was a great article in the Times last week about Woody Allen’s female protagonists. All hail Diane Keaton for showing Woody the way.)
▶ Andrew Dice Clay? Seriously? Yeah, and he was great, proving once again that Woody gets the best performances out of every actor he works with.
▶ There’s a creepy dentist in the movie named Dr. Flicker, a nod to the smoking pediatrician in Annie Hall. I had a deep Woody-nerd moment in the theater last night over that one.
▶ I love Bobby Cannavale. (Third Watch fans unite.)
▶ Yes, this really is the best movie Woody Allen has made in a long time.

Here’s the plot synopsis: “After everything in her life falls to pieces, including her marriage to wealthy businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), elegant New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves into her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) modest apartment in San Francisco to try to pull herself back together again.” I have to laugh at the word “modest” describing Ginger’s apartment because I know San Francisco ain’t cheap, but it’s functioning as a stand-in for Brooklyn, where Jasmine had previously stooped to living (that got a big laugh in the theater!) after losing her Manhattan life of luxury and excess. The point is that Jasmine used to be very, very, very wealthy, and Ginger is an average woman leading an average life. There are allusions to A Streetcar Named Desire, yes, but it’s not a retelling of that story — nor is it Ruth Madoff’s story, those are just the references you have going into the theater. By the time you’re done with it, though, all of that seems incidental. This is Jasmine’s story, or at least part of it, and it doesn’t have an end. I left the theater feeling pretty raw. I also felt like I wanted to go back to my seat and watch the late showing, too. You’re seeing everything through Jasmine’s hyper-judgmental, snobbish eyes while also watching her have a true mental breakdown, and the effect is incredibly disturbing. Woody Allen is of course the master of introducing just enough lightness and comedic into very dark, emotionally heavy moments, and he does it perfectly in this movie. In that way (and only in that way) I was reminded of Hannah and Her Sisters — another “serious” Woody movie with a lot of hilarious moments.

GO SEE IT!! If you’re in Brooklyn, it’s showing at the BAM Harvey Theater on the enormous new Steinberg screen. I saw The Godfather there last week, too, and it’s a pretty majestic space. I love seeing movies in theaters that feel special.

My first apartment — rented when I moved off-campus after my sophomore year of college — was not in New York City. It was in Yonkers, a city often (wrongly) assumed to be part of NYC, probably because of Neil Simon. It is true that if I walked out of my apartment on McLean Avenue and crossed the street, I’d officially be in the Bronx, but my heart knew I was technically in Westchester County. It wasn’t until I finished school a couple of years later that I finally got myself to Brooklyn. My dad, who lived on the Upper East Side and on Staten Island when I was a kid, had moved back to Manhattan by then. Aside from Coney Island, Brooklyn was still mostly uncharted territory for me. A couple of my brothers were living in Cobble Hill, and I’d visited each of their apartments exactly once before deciding I wanted to live in the same neighborhood. If I’m being honest, there was one particular thing about the house on Henry Street I wound up moving into that really got me excited: It was a block and a half away from Cammareri Bros., the bakery for which Nicolas Cage and Danny Aiello’s characters in Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck (Ronny and Johnny Cammareri, of course) are named and in the basement oven-room of which Cher first meets her “wolf without a foot.”

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(“Now” photo via Google Earth)

Yes, Cammareri Bros. was a real bakery! It closed down soon after I moved to the neighborhood and later reopened in a different location, and the space (along with its next door neighbor, formerly the Little Chatter Box Beauty Salon) has since been occupied by a series of cafés, currently Maybelle’s, who, it’s worth mentioning, make a mean tofu scramble and an even meaner iced coffee. Both the interior and exterior are still pretty much the same as in the Cammareri days, and a portion of the old bakery sign is displayed inside. If you go, make sure you look at the floor when you first walk in — an inlay of the letters “NC” (for Nicolo Cammareri, who opened the bakery in 1921) remain in the old terrazzo floor.

EDIT: While checking on the spelling of his name, I came across Nicolo Cammareri’s 1940 US Census record. Pretty neat, right? 206 Sackett is the address of the side entrance, which leads to the apartments above. Also interesting that he had a daughter named Grace — there was an elderly Italian woman on my block named Grace. She used to sign for packages for me when I was at work, and she had a Frank Sinatra shrine in her apartment. She passed away around 2000. If she was born in 1915 like the census record indicates, that would have put her in her mid-80s when I lived there. I wonder if she was Nicolo Cammareri’s daughter! Further investigation needed…

The first time I saw Moonstruck was 25 years ago, with my mother, in a movie theater in Kingston. I was 12 years old. I remember loving it, naturally, but I mostly remember the specifics of the night because my mother’s car got a flat tire when we were driving back to Rhinebeck after the movie. Another thing that sticks in my mind from that first viewing is the breakfast Olympia Dukakis prepared:

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I had never seen anything like that before, but it looked so delicious. I asked my mother to recreate the dish at home, and up until I stopped eating eggs a few years ago, it remained a breakfast favorite for me. For all these years I’d assumed it was an Italian dish, but Googling tells me it’s usually either called “eggs in a hole” or “eggs in a basket,” and everyone everywhere knows what it is — except for Swedes and Jews, apparently, because I’m quite sure it would never have been a part of my life without that scene in Moonstruck. (As an aside, I see that V.K.Rees has come up with a recipe for vegan-friendly eggless eggs in a basket, which I will definitely have to try out ASAP.)

In the years since that first viewing, I’d guess I’ve seen Moonstruck at least 30 times in part or full. Beyond its Brooklyn-ness, it’s just a fantastic movie. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of that, though, because pretty much every human alive has seen it. (And if for some crazy reason you haven’t, it’s on HBO GO right now. You can also rent it from Amazon Instant. It’s not on Netflix, of course, because nothing you want to watch is ever on Netflix.) Aside from Cher’s old face and Nicolas Cage’s old hairline, I’ve always had this fixation with the kitchen in the Castorini family house — which, if you ever want to take a Moonstruck walking tour, is located at 19 Cranberry Street in Brooklyn Heights, about a mile from formerly-Cammareri’s. For years I’ve carried around a mental picture of its soft green hues, vintage subway tiles and the overall feeling of a family gathering place. Today I decided to watch the movie again specifically for the kitchen, and to finally take some screen captures.

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Two things I noticed for the first time when I was taking the screen captures were the painted-over cabinet hardware and the laminate countertops, neither of which are hallmarks of gorgeous vintage kitchens, but are indicative of the fact that this movie was filmed in an actual family home, and not on a set built for a movie. The same goes for that flocked vinyl tablecloth on the kitchen table. I guess I just overlooked that stuff the first 29 times I watched the movie! Regardless, the kitchen is beautiful, and it’s full of life. And that tile!! Ahhh, the tile. It doesn’t come through in the captures, but it’s covered with cracks and crazing. 19 Cranberry was built in 1829 so it’s not original to the house (tiled kitchens didn’t become standard until the Victorian era), but it’s clearly very old. The house sold in 2008 for nearly $4 million, and thankfully the listing photos don’t show the kitchen — I don’t think I could bear to find out if it had been gutted.

(Or you know, to discover the whole thing was actually shot on a soundstage in Toronto. Shhhhhh.)

Meanwhile, back at Cammareri Bros.…

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In the movie, Ronny’s apartment is above the bakery. The entrance was on the Sackett Street side of the building, to the right of the stairs that led to the basement ovens. I’m almost positive that’s where the apartment interior was actually filmed. I have a distant memory of a friend who used to live in the neighborhood telling me so. Judging by the position of the windows and the color of the façades visible across the street, I’m guessing it’s on the second floor of the building, with the living room facing Henry Street. In any case, this is pretty much exactly what a classic pre-war Brooklyn apartment has always looked like in my mind. Ironically, the closest I’ve ever come to finding a rental apartment in this kind of vintage condition was my first place in Yonkers! I love the beadboard, the pressed-tin in the kitchen and the moldings on the walls. And that old refrigerator with its non-safety handle, just waiting to trap small children inside when it gets put out for trash…sigh. Also, I don’t know if this is intentional, but I love that the color of the Vespa (used for storing books!) is the same as the cabinets in the Castorini kitchen.

I wonder who lives in this apartment now, and if it still looks like this. I hope so. Yesterday I stood outside the entrance for a little while, waiting to see if anyone would come out. Not that I would’ve said anything to them, but you know…just to see. Now that I live in the neighborhood again, I can do all the Moonstruck-stalking I want.

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I’ve been following Barb Blair and her South Carolina furniture rehab shop, Knack Studios, online forever — first on Flickr (Remember when everyone hung out on Flickr? Poor Flickr…), and then on her blog and Instagram. A couple of years ago Barb and I met in person, and she was everything I imagined — warm, funny and smart. I’m a huge fan of Barb the person and of Barb’s work, so when Chronicle Books asked if I’d like to review her new book, Furniture Makeovers, as part of a blog tour, I said YES. Of course!

Barb’s motto is “live with what you love,” a belief I feel very personally aligned with. In an era of publicly sharing the contents of our personal spaces, there’s a tendency to make decisions about what we surround ourselves with based on an expectation of how our living spaces will be perceived by others, often complete strangers. It’s pretty much impossible to paint a piece of wood furniture (or wood trim, or wood floors, or wood teeth) without a hundred people saying you’ve “ruined” it — there’s a preciousness associated with unpainted wood that, in my opinion, is pretty ridiculous. As the owner of a formerly-dilapidated historic home that I’ve been un-dilapidating for the better part of a decade, I think I have a good sense of how to exist as a modernist in an old home: Modernism at its core is about respecting and learning from the past while making improvements and alterations to better accommodate living in the present (and future). Sometimes, that means taking a step into past traditions — what initially drew me to Barb’s work was how reminiscent it is of 18th-century Gustavian-style Swedish furniture with its soft-looking painted finishes.

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All photos by J. Aaron Greene

If there’s anything I can say about Barb, it’s that the woman does not take shortcuts when it comes to furniture. She doesn’t just grab a can of old wall paint and slap a couple of coats on a table. She knows how to prepare surfaces properly, and what materials to use to obtain finishes that look like they belong to the piece — and that’s really the key to a successful makeover. You want to see the sum of the parts in the end, not evidence of the process. The great thing about Furniture Makeovers is that you not only get before-and-after shots of a bunch of Barb’s pieces, you also get very detailed information about the tools and materials she uses and recommends — as well as exhaustive descriptions and photos demonstrating how to properly use those tools and materials. From strippers to chalk paint to spray paint to Danish oil to finishing wax, Barb covers just about everything, and in a friendly, you-can-actually-do-this way. This is a real how-to book, not just a trove of inspirational photos.

Here’s a great video (shot by Carlon Riffel) that takes you through a tour of the Knack shop, the contents of the book and, most fun of all, a time-lapse of Barb doing her magic on a dresser from start to finish:

Yup, now I feel like overhauling a piece of old furniture! In fact, I’m now determined to apply Barb’s techniques (in my own Anna-style, of course) to an antique dresser that’s been sitting, empty and without purpose, in a corner of my bedroom for…oh, six years now. I bought it at a flea market for about $15, and it’s a mess. The original hardware is missing, the wood veneer is peeling, it has water stains all over the top and the shellac finish is badly blistered. I love it, though, and it meets all of Barb’s criteria for a makeover-ready piece: It has personality, it’s solid wood with a wood veneer and it’s structurally sound and functional. I am READY. As soon as it’s not 100°F out (this heatwave is killing my productivity), Operation Dresser Makeover will be in full effect.

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But WAIT, there’s MORE! Would you like your very own copy of Barb Blair’s Furniture Makeovers? Well, it’s your lucky day — I have a signed copy to give away, and it comes with one of Barb’s “live with what you love” Knack tote bags! Nice, yes? If you’d like to enter to win, just leave a comment on this post letting me know about a furniture makeover you’d like to embark on, whether it’s a piece you already own, or something you’re on the lookout for. In a week, I’ll draw a winner at random.

UPDATE: The winner of the Furniture Makeovers giveaway is Alicia! Congratulations, Alicia.

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(Thanks so much to Barb and to Chronicle Books for making this giveaway possible! I wish you much success with this book.)

Side note: Aside from the review copy I was sent of the book, I was not compensated in any way to write this post. Normally I wouldn’t even bother saying that because I have a 100% transparency policy about that kind of stuff, but someone asked, so there you go. This is just a post about a book I love and wholeheartedly recommend.

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I just came across illustrator and graphic designer Butcher Billy’s “Post-Punk + New Wave Super Friends” series, and I’m not going to be able to resist ordering at least a couple of prints for my walls. Butcher Billy has applied the concept of a superhero to his heroes — the pop culture icons who influenced him as a kid. As he explains it…

As a child of the ’80s I was heavily influenced by everything from Saturday morning cartoons on TV to the music coming from the radio. Ian Curtis or Johnny Rotten are as iconic to me as Superman or Batman. Real people or imaginary characters, the incorruptible ideals of perfect superheroes or the human flaws and desires sometimes so desperately depicted in song lyrics — all of those influences affect us to the point of defining our character and personality, career paths and life choices.

Well, shoot. That just about says it, right? I totally agree, and it looks like Billy and I have a lot of the same heroes.

You can order any of Butcher Billy’s Post-Punk and New Wave Super Friends designs as prints or on t-shirts, iPhone cases and other items through his shop at Society6. View the entire series of posters at Behance.

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All images © Butcher Billy / Available for sale through Society6 / Found via Slicing Up Eyeballs

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On Tuesday night I went to see Peter Murphy at Webster Hall. It’s maybe the 7th or 8th time I’ve seen him live, with Bauhaus and solo. He’s an incredible performer, and while last night’s show isn’t going to take top ranking in my personal list (that honor will always go to the Bauhaus reunion show at Hammerstein in 1998 — have fun spotting me in the front row with my little black bob and a big grin on my face), I’m always happy to have another opportunity to see one of my favorite artists live.

Peter (hello there, first-name basis) is currently touring in celebration of “35 years of Bauhaus” with all-Bauhaus sets, which I guess is kind of gimmicky since he’s never had any aversion to playing Bauhaus songs live in his solo shows, but hey — it sells tickets, and everyone gets to have a good time. It’s amazing to me how many complaints I’ve seen on music blogs about how this is all just a “money grab,” blah, blah, blah. PLEASE. He was the front man of one of the greatest rock bands ever, and his solo career is nothing to sneeze at either — how do those naysayers want him to make money? Bauhaus have already had three reunions since their initial disbanding in 1983, and none of them stuck.

If you have any sense of my taste in music, then you know that most of what I listen to was either recorded between the mid-’70s and early ’90s or is a contemporary recording by an artist who began a career during that era — in other words, between when I was born and when I ceased being a teenager. That’s not because I don’t think there’s great music being recorded now, it’s because those are the years when I was receptive to forming that kind of emotional attachment to songs and the people who write them. I never got to see a lot of my favorite bands live because I was born a few years too late (or in the wrong country). I’ll take any chance I can get to make up for it! Considering I was only 8 years old at the end of Bauhaus’s first run, I feel very, very lucky to been able to see them perform as a full band not only in 1998 but again in 2005…and every time Peter Murphy is in NYC, I’m there.

Here are some photos I took of Peter Murphy; after that, a few tips for a successful concert-going experience.

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Concert-going, Anna-style.

✚ Know what’s going on. I follow my favorite artists on Facebook and Twitter when possible, I subscribe to alert emails from the major ticket vendors, and I read blogs like Slicing Up Eyeballs and Brooklyn Vegan. As soon as a tour or specific show I’m interested in is announced, I add it to my calendar. If an on-sale time for tickets is available, I create an alert on my iPhone to remind me the morning of and 5 minutes before. I don’t trust my brain to remind me.

✚ Buy tickets right away. As in the minute they go on sale. Especially if you’re in a “destination” city like New York, since you’re competing for tickets not only with residents, but with people from all over the world. Really. In the old days this meant waiting on line for hours (or days — I slept on the sidewalk for two nights for Morrissey tickets in 1994), but now it just means making sure you can remember your Ticketmaster password. Yes, Ticketmaster is horrible, but it’s reality.

✚ General admission will always trump assigned seating, at least in my world. Yeah, I complain about my back hurting and stuff like that, but the truth is I don’t really enjoy myself much at concerts if I’m not standing up and dancing like a fool (“like a fool” = casually bobbing my head and occasionally hopping a bit), preferably within the first few rows. I realize that this isn’t really possible when it comes to bigger artists since they tend to play seated venues, but good ol’ GA will always be my calling.

✚ Get to the venue early. The number one comment I get when people see my concert photos is, “Wow, you’re so close!” Yes. I am so close. That’s not because I shove people out of the way or because I have some kind of special hookup, it’s because I understand that if the doors open at 7pm, I had better be waiting on line in front of the venue at LEAST an hour before that — several hours before if it’s someone with ultra-rabid fans (like Morrissey). It doesn’t matter if there are two awful opening bands and the headliner isn’t going on until 10pm, you still have to get there before the doors open if you want to be up in front. And for Pete’s sake, once you have your spot, DON’T MOVE. Prepare your bladder accordingly.

✚ Don’t bring a big bag. Aside from being annoying to carry all night, it’s also going to annoy everyone around you. I have a little pouch-type thing that I got from MUJI specifically for going to shows. I can either wear it cross-body or like a hip-pack, and it’s just big enough to hold my ticket, ID, a little cash, a MetroCard, lipstick and, of course, a comb. The comb is essential because my bangs always get sweaty during shows and I want to tidy them up afterwards.

✚ DON’T WATCH THE SHOW THROUGH YOUR PHONE. This is a huuuuuuuge pet peeve of mine. It drives me crazy to look around and see a quarter of the audience holding up their phones continuously. Yes, I usually take 2 or 3 iPhone photos during shows, but I’m quick about it — and I don’t post them to Instagram until after the show is over. Holding your phone up and watching through its monitor is so disrespectful to the artist (and to the people around you). It’s also just plain LAME. Why pay for a ticket to see someone perform if you’re going to spend the whole night focused on something else? You might as well just watch YouTube videos instead if you don’t really care about the live experience.

✚ And speaking of photos… Most venues allow non-professional cameras with fixed lenses these days. I use an ultra-compact Leica D-Lux 5 at concerts. It does really well in low light, I can hang it around my neck, and it’s non-intrusive. I leave the settings on auto, and I’m very quick about my shooting. Up, focus, snap, down, off…and I never use the flash. Again, think about the artist’s perspective! When you’re up in front there are a lot of opportunities to make direct eye (and hand) contact, and those can be really special moments. The more an artist is engaged with the audience and can sense positive reaction, the better a show they’re going to put on. They don’t want to look down into a sea of faces covered by cameras and iPhones, believe me.

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Full setlist:
King Volcano / Kingdom’s Coming / Double Dare / In the Flat Field / God in an Alcove / Boys / Silent Hedges / Kick in the Eye / Adrenalin / Three Shadows Pt 2 / Who Killed Mr. Moonlight / All We Ever Wanted Was Everything / Bela Lugosi’s Dead / The Passion of Lovers / She’s in Parties / Stigmata Martyr / Dark Entries / Severance / Burning From the Inside / Telegram Sam / Ziggy Stardust