Les Anaïs

Brooklyn Bridge is the first track on Anaïs Mitchell’s self-titled 2022 album.

You can listen to it here.

I’ve listened to the song a dozen times today, since it algorithmically showed up in Spotify’s Discover Weekly, sandwiched between In Your Circle (by Aaron Percy and judah mayowa) and Indiana (by Adrianne Lenker).

Somehow, on this day, it scratches what’s itching me. The lyrics aren’t profound — the heart is the phrase “everything I want,” which is sung 36 times — but it builds and dips and hangs together and, well, it’s just delicious.

Be sure to listen to this live recorded version, and this performance at Les Etoiles Paris from late 2022, which is perhaps my favourite.

Speaking of people named Anaïs and Paris (you had to see that coming), I am reminded of the time, I was confounded by (and then redeemed from) the task of setting a line from an Anaïs Nin’s diary:

In Paris, when entering a room, everyone pays attention, seeks to make you feel welcome, to enter into conversation, is curious, responsive. Here it seems everyone is pretending not to see, hear, or look too intently.

What a lovely line that is, that.

Anaïs Nin, like Anais Mitchell, was a polymath.

Mitchell, for example, developed the Broadway show Hadestown, about which she wrote a book.

Nin was a “diarist, essayist, novelist, and writer of short stories and erotica,” but what is often left out of her biography is that she was a letterpress printer. From The Intimate Books of Anaïs Nin – Diarist as Letterpress Printer, by Emily Larned:

What is less known about Nin is that she was a habitual self-publisher. Throughout her life, she would continuously, obsessively republish a text once it had fallen out of print, creating many different books from one text. The poet and printer Alan Loney distinguishes between the words “text” and “book.” Although the terms are often used interchangeably in English, an author’s text (her words) is mutable of form. This slippery, shape-shifting text is contrasted with the particular material specificities of a physical book. It is these nontextual qualities—the paper, the type, the margins, the size and shape—Loney explains, that he found so compelling. Today when a contemporary reader finds a book by Nin, it is often a slim, inexpensive paperback printed on cheap paper, with a glossy, ill-designed cover strewn with garish colors and art deco type. How different this reading experience is from hovering over the dark, hushed, carefully made letterpress editions produced by Nin’s own hands.

From Nin’s own words, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944:

The relationship to handcraft is a beautiful one. You are related bodily to a solid block of metal letters, to the weight of the trays, to the adroitness of spacing, to the tempo and temper of the machine. You acquire some of the weight and solidity of the metal, the strength and power of the machine. Each triumph is a conquest by the body, fingers, muscles. You live with your hands, in acts of physical deftness.

You pit your faculties against concrete problems. The victories are concrete, definable, touchable. A page of perfect printing. You can touch the page you wrote. We exult in what we master and discover. Instead of using one’s energy in a void, against frustrations, in anger against publishers, I use it on the press, type, paper, a source of energy. Solving problems, technical, mechanical problems. Which can be solved.

Oh my that’s it, exactly it.

Anaïs Mitchell was, as you might imagine, named after Anaïs Nin; from SPIN:

Because she is my namesake, I read all the diaries and even the erotica when I was quite young. I just wanted to find out what she was about, and I had very little actual life experience with which to understand what she was writing about. I adore Anaïs Nin’s writing. I find it so delicate and brave and when I think about how extraordinary it was, her commitment to her art and to the life experience she was determined to go out and get (including her many affairs), it’s quite overwhelming. She was so wildly powerful and also so vulnerable.

From the bridge of Brooklyn Bridge:

I wanna be someone
Wanna be one in a million
I wanna be the one you want
I wanna be one of a kind
I wanna be once in a lifetime
Wanna be the one you ride beside

That’s it too.

Al Fresco

After putting out the patio furniture yesterday, this morning was our first opportunity to eat breakfast outside on the deck. It was chilly, and the gathering storm clouds suggested rain, so we moved inside for quiet reading time, but it was delightful nonetheless.

The new Salman Rushdie book was, by some miracle, available at the public library, despite only having been published a month ago.

Birbiglia and Apatow

This conversation between Mike Birbiglia and Judd Apatow is fascinating: I leaned a lot about the creative process, how movies get produced (and what a producer does). and about how much effort creating a compelling movie takes.

”Every script needs a friend,” is a line I will remember.

As is this passage from Apatow about the incurious (which recalls this post from last year):

You know, because we know so many people, they’re so funny and they’re so neurotic, and then you’ll leave them after two hours and realize they never asked me a question, right, and you were just servicing them in some way the entire time right, which I don’t mind cuz some of those people, they’re magic, they’re broken, but they’re magic, and it’s fun, and it’s worth it, but there are times where you go ‘that’s just so interesting that they don’t have any curiosity.’”

Florence Street Numbers

Last week in Florence we went looking for Il Bisonte Foundation, a printmaking school in the neighbourhood we were staying.

We walked to Via San Niccolò 24, and… no printmaking school.

This is how we discovered that in Florence there are two sets of street numbers, black, for residences, and red, for commercial addresses.

We walked up the street a little to 24r and ended up having a lovely conversation and tour with curator Silvia Bellotti.

A sketch explaining the Florence street numbering scheme: red for commercial, black or blue for residential.

Lisa often marvels that about the things I ignore (often large and obvious things) and the things I notice (often small and insignificant things); one of the small things I noticed on the walk to Il Bisonte was a tiny plaque on the Torre San Niccoli:

A plaque on the Torre San Niccolo showing the high water mark from November 1966

The plaque says:

Il 4 Novembre 1966 l’acqua d’Arno arrivo a quest altezza

or, in English:

On 4 November 1966 the Arno water reached this height

The Arno is the river that runs through the heart of Florence and, we learned from Wikipedia, it flooded its banks in 1966, a cataclysmic event in the city:

The 1966 flood of the Arno in Florence killed 101 people and damaged or destroyed millions of masterpieces of art and rare books. It is considered the worst flood in the city’s history since 1557. With the combined effort of Italian and foreign volunteers alike, or angeli del fango (“Mud Angels”), many of these fine works have been restored. New methods in conservation were devised and restoration laboratories established. However, even decades later, much work remains to be done.

Later, during our tour of Il Bisonte with Silvia, I asked her if the Foundation had always been in the space she was showing us at 24r. 

No, she told us, the after being founded elsewhere, the Foundation moved into its current space in… 1966. A few months before the flood. As described on the Foundation website:

The 4th of November 1966 was a turning-point in the history of Il Bisonte, the premises of which had just been moved to the old district of San Niccolò, where they are located still to this day. The premises were submersed by the Arno flood, Guaita saved herself by escaping through a window, and many works were badly damaged or even lost.

Silvia pointed out to us the same plaque on the wall inside their offices, showing the high water mark from November 4, 1966, which illustrated more than anything else how overwhelming the flood must have been:

A plaque on the all of Il Bisonte, showing the high water mark from 1966.

One of the silver linings in the flood of Il Bisonte is that founder, Maria Luigia Guaita, reached out to artists around the world for support, and one who responded was Henry Moore:

Numerous artists offered their help in order to restore the activity of the printing house.   Among them, Henry Moore realised famous etchings around the theme of the human figure. In 1972 Guaita managed to organise the first exhibition of Moore’s sculptures at the Forte Belvedere, and in that same period Il Bisonte hosted an exhibition of his graphic production.

Some of Moore’s work, along with those of many other printmakers, renowned and not, grace the walls of the Il Bisonte library:

The wall of the Il Bisonte library, showing prints from many printmakers

The wall of the Il Bisonte library, showing prints from many printmakers

Remember how I often notice small things and miss the big ones: it’s only now that I realize that, in English, Il Bisonte translates to The Bison. This serves to explain the frequent bison references I saw on the tour, including this one in the workshop:

Poster for "Henry Moore: Bisons" in the Il Bisonte workshop.

Winnie Lim, in a recent post, quotes Oliver Burkeman from You Can’t Hoard Life:

Spending your days trying to get experiences “under your belt”, in an effort to maximise your collection of experiences, or to feel more confident about the future supply of similar experiences, means placing yourself in a position from which you can never enjoy them fully, because there’s a different agenda at play.

When I think about our month in Europe, it’s times like our afternoon at Il Bisonte that I remember most fondly, experiences that simply emerged slowly from wandering and paying attention. We were at our worst when we did what Burkeman describes as clenching — “an attempt to grasp the moment and bring it under my ownership” — relentlessly trying to pursue things (the perfect place to stay, the perfect restaurant, the perfect view, the perfect thing to see in any given city).

We visited Florence. We didn’t visit David. We didn’t tour the Uffizi. We didn’t climb the Duomo.

But we learned about two sets of street numbers, had a lovely tour of a printmaking school, and learned about a singular event in the city’s history. That is how I love to travel.

The Cashless Trip

The first time I went to Europe as an adult, in 1998, I carried my money in travellers cheques, and mostly dealt in cash (after cashing them in, in dribs and drabs, over the trip). I was able to withdraw cash from ATMs along the way too, and sometimes use my Mastercard (although not always: some places only took Visa). I repeated this on a trip, around the same time, to South Korea, to visit my brother Steve, and in that case I actually lost the travellers cheques, as a result of a jet lagged stumble in Seoul, and had them refunded at the Thomas Cook office, which was exactly travellers cheques value proposition (it was as easy and seamless as the TV commercials made it out to be).

A decade later, in the heart of my heavy European travel jag, I’d shifted almost entirely to withdrawing cash from ATMs, paying for things like hotels with my Mastercard. This was still occasionally an issue: I recall the paying for certain things, especially train tickets, in Sweden and Denmark, wasn’t possible with a Canadian credit card.

Now, a quarter century into travel to Europe, our trip to Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Italy, was almost entirely cashless: I used my Mastercard (most often via Apple Pay on my Phone) for almost everything, with just a few exceptions (for things like an off-the-books extension of an Airbnb rental, paying tourism taxes, feeding parking machines). I made two ATM withdraws in 30 days.

One of the side-effects of using the same card for everything is that getting an overview of how much I spent on the trip, and on what, is as easy as downloading a CSV of my Mastercard statement into a spreadsheet and running a pivot table over it, using the automatically-assigned purchase categories:

A pie chart showing my expenses, by category, for our 2024 trip to Europe.

Entering accented characters on a Mac: The Next Generation

I’d long assumed that the only way to enter accented characters on a Mac keyboard was remembering the arcane series of key combinations required for each one. How many times have I typed Malm and then “Option + U, O” to get the ö to make Malmö?

It turns out that, in the modern era, it’s much much easier, as Apple documents here:

In an app on your Mac, press and hold a letter key on the keyboard—for example, a—to display the accent menu.

It works:

Screen shot showing what happens when I press and hold the "o" character on my Mac keyboard: a display of possible accents pops up


Another Coffee in Gubbio

Across the piazza from Bar San Martino is Bar-Pizzeria San Martino. I sat there having a coffee on our last morning in Gubbio, ignoring the ancient church across the way and focusing on the lovely post box instead.