I bring you my boyfriend, Seth—professor, filmmaker, bicyclist, and all-around mensch—who cobbled together this excellent post for you. I’ll let him take it from here.
I don’t like Port, I thought. Too sweet. Now I love it. Maybe that Kim and I loved Porto, where I gave Port a true try, has something to do with this midlife epiphany. And maybe it has something to do with that Port in Porto started one of our best days in Portugal, in the drab temporary underground quarters of the city’s principal indoor food market; the contents of the stands overcame the mallish antiambiance of their transient surroundings. And a midmorning break at a wine stall’s makeshift bar provided an immersive course about Ports, traveling from white through tawny to ruby, paired with cheeses and eventually chocolate. One of the ones I brought back was a vintage bottle that was unavailable to try, but I trusted the charmingly hamish and kindly authoritative couple who operated this establishment, where regulars steadily stopped by for a morning cup as I drank on. The proprietors recommended this moderately priced, extremely memorable 2007 vintage tawny. Sipping it late at night with the ultrasharp cheeses I love and the lemon toasted almonds (from Apna Bazaar Cash & Carry, here in Jackson Heights) is only a memory, like Porto, now. But I intend to restock. I cannot promise that Vista Alegre will spark in you the feelings it does in me, especially if you have not, yet, perambulated Porto’s hilly streets. But I do think what makes this Port so formidable is that its complicatedly pleasurable flavors live up to its evocative name, whether or not you have, yet, viewed the Douro.
This is not exactly the hat that I own that Kim hates. But it’s close enough to the one I bought at Marks and Spencer before I knew her. When I travel I like not taking something I will need, something ordinary that I want to buy away in an everyday store. Consequently, I took no hat with me on a November work trip through England. In a cold Cambridge rain, I found exactly what I needed, and almost what I wanted; this flat cap did not have the tucked-away, fold-down earflaps I craved but I liked its color and shape. Later on in that journey, I spied in the window of an old fashioned, downtown Manchester hat shop, the kind of hat store that NYC used to have aplenty, the exact topper I had conjured. Thankfully the place was shut, because the price was high, and I definitely would have popped in and grabbed it, and like many expensive things I buy on the fly, I would have lost it on the fly (unconscious guilt punishing me); within a day it would have slipped out of my pocket while changing trains or lifting a pint or something else that I agonizingly would have tried to visualize compulsively as I continued on that great, gray jaunt across England’s north. Meanwhile, I still have and wear the Marks & Sparks one I love, which Kim loathes.
Speaking of England, on a visit to Oxford years earlier, a mentor of mine proved to me what I already knew about him; the flinty scholar knew much more than the history of the Mexican Revolution. This don confirmed my thesis when he took me to a charming country pub and handed me my first pint of Old Speckled Hen. I remain a Guinness man, but that’s in part because it’s not so easy to find a draught of Old Speckled Hen in NYC (especially in my favorite Irish bars through Woodside and Sunnyside). Good news is that, though it is not easy to find, the Old Speckled Hen can be enjoyed as well from (good-looking) cans, ones that demonstrably defend its singularly velvety richness.
Here’s a zippered vest that I picked up at my favorite dry goods store, Pop’s Popular Clothing in Greenpoint, last year. It was love at first sight and has become a cold-weather mainstay. It feels amazing on, protective yet unobtrusive (very comfortable under my leather jacket when I bike in the winter). It’s warm against the elements but nonsuffocating. Its external pockets can hide your hands from the cold, its internal one is extremely useful. Utilitarian to the max, it looks great, I think, for any occasion. Oh, I detest exterior labels, but somehow I do not mind Carhartt’s; at least on this thing, it seems OK. Maybe I’m mellowing.
I own and recommend this Filson Guide Crewneck though it is not the “midweight” zip-neck that I bought years ago in a dark burgundy, and which I intended to tout here. I’m surprised that Filson seems to no longer sell that one (if any company would be keen to maintain a classic, it would seem to be this one). Nonetheless, I endorse this jumper, made from the same weave as my zip-neck, as excellent either underneath or alone, in winter and fall. It’s super sturdy and very comfortable, and if they had made it in this dark blue when I got mine (in a too-pale green), I’d have grabbed it and worn it lots.
As I wrote last year, I love pens. And, like many things one loves, I lose them automatically, which is why it’s important to have options. I offer two that are complementary. At the expensive end, I recently have returned to a fountain pen I had neglected but is now among my last good ones, not lost. I love this Oma because it writes smoothly (even with the fine nib I prefer). Its polygon body prevents it from rolling away, and it is not overly fancy as Omas can be. And though I usually value a heavier pen, I appreciate that the lightness of this cotton resin model allows me to write without stopping for long periods, which the pleasure of a fine pen encourages. And its cap screws closed, which means that it never leaks when off-duty. But what I love most is its enjoyably old-school refilling mechanism (which matches its prewar design). No converter, in fact it’s impossible to unscrew the body; you twist the knob that is the pen’s end to activate its piston, and dip it into your ink (my favorite, by the way, is Noodler’s Blue-Black). This archaic act provokes an existential thrill: never knowing exactly when your ink will run out since you cannot see into the Oma’s reservoir. And unless you are a super-fastidious refiller, you could be caught dry.
For this reason you need to carry a backup. And, in any case, one needs a less-fancy-and-more-practical pen that you can grab and open with one hand to make a note, and that you do not fear losing because of its extreme expense. So while you mindfully maintain your Oma in a leather case in your bag you can keep your Zebra 701 clipped in your jacket pocket to quick-draw recklessly. This button-operated retractable ballpoint is my new everyday fave for a note on the subway or in the museum, or unexpected serious writing. Solidly forged in stainless steel the Zebra has a great weight, looks and feels substantial; it also takes a good cartridge with an ideally sized .7mm point. I never leave my apartment, on purpose, without it (and it’s the one to take on a trip).
To go with my pens I need notebooks of all types for different things, but the one that is always with me, the one at which my Zebra aims almost every day, is this Passport model from Muji. It comes in a deep red cover with blank pages, a dark green outside with gridded leaves, or, my favorite, the navy blue binding that sports lightly microdotted pages, which quietly keeps your writing straight. They are very thin and fit perfectly in your breast pocket, easy to carry and pull out anywhere. This is a tool more than an accessory, but it is also an understated conversation starter: you will be amused by how friends and strangers will ask you why you’re carrying your passport. In fact, these pads are essential for traveling.
Speaking of travel, may I return to where we began? Portugal, not Porto but Lisbon, where Kim and I started our trip and where I began reading some of the greatest short writing I know. António Lobo Antunes crosses between fiction and nonfiction without presenting his passport in the beautiful works that comprise The Fat Man and Infinity and Other Writings, a collection that shows less is more and to do less, well, requires the skills of a watchmaker, or perhaps a pastry chef. Each entry is an exquisitely singed pasteis de nata, to consume individually or as part of a binge. However, Lobo Antunes’s tiny-high-calorie confections often leave a lingeringly bitter, and therefore redolently real, aftertaste that sears their flavor into your soul (and you miss them when they’re gone), whether or not you read them beside Kim France, at the Old World’s Lusitanian edge.
Happy travels and happy holidays.