Guest post: Gifts for men

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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.

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Comments

46 Thoughts on Guest post: Gifts for men
    Ellie
    15 Dec 2019
    12:12pm

    I feel like the puppers are being woefully neglected by the GOACA community here. What good doggies!!

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    Mamavalveeta03
    16 Dec 2019
    1:04am

    These are really thoughtful ideas, Seth. I’d call it “The Thinking Man’s Guide to Holiday Gifts.”

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    Sarah
    13 Dec 2019
    3:50pm

    What a fantastic writer and SUCH great recommendations. Thank you for sharing!

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      Gilli
      14 Dec 2019
      7:46pm

      Seth is a great writer I love that he has so much to say about “stuff”! Thanks for the Moosejaw recommendation — a new store to me!

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        Heather
        16 Dec 2019
        10:47am

        Just a note, with all respect to Seth (who seems absolutely lovely), Moosejaw was purchased by Walmart a few years ago. Meanwhile, independent outfitters (who do so much more than just sell stuff, including providing needed support to thru-hikers of the AT and other long trails) are really suffering financially. Please do consider seeking out a local outfitter, or find an independent one that does online business.

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          Kim France
          16 Dec 2019
          11:24am

          Heather, neither Seth nor I knew that Moosejaw was owned by Walmart. I created the links for this post, not Seth, and believe me when I tell you that Walmart stands for everything Seth stands against.

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            Heather
            16 Dec 2019
            2:12pm

            I completely understand! A lot of folks (even in the outdoor world) don’t realize that Moosejaw is owned by Walmart. Walmart bought them around the same time they bought a few other previously ‘indie’ retailers ie Modcloth. The overall look of the websites, etc., remained the same, knowing that Walmart would put off a lot of their previous clientele. It was intentionally kept under the radar.

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    Lynn in Tucson
    13 Dec 2019
    8:20pm

    Got to love a man who can use “hamish” in a sentence. Nice catch!

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    Dewey Thompson
    13 Dec 2019
    1:40pm

    I’m waiting for Kim to produce the paper doll of Seth that readers can dress with his recommendations. In the meantime, I’ll be at Pop’s Popular Clothing, exquisitely elevated as a “dry goods store”.

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      Jenny
      13 Dec 2019
      1:46pm

      I was having a terrible day till I read this comment. This is Viajera quality.

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    Liz
    13 Dec 2019
    11:09am

    The sweetest thing about this post is how adoringly he writes of his time spent with Kim. The gifts are nice too.

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    Doyenne
    13 Dec 2019
    11:29am

    Point: Dammit, I do not need more pens and notebooks! Counterpoint: Yes, I do. Always and forever. P.S. This post could be called “Gifts for Men as well as GOACAs.” Such good stuff, Seth!

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    Charla
    13 Dec 2019
    11:55am

    This is by far the best men’s gift guide I have seen this year — great recommendations, glorious writing. Thank you!

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    HickfromStyx
    13 Dec 2019
    12:09pm

    Gifts for the Renaissance man…

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    Ann
    13 Dec 2019
    12:46pm

    Your BF seems awesome, except for that hat! I hate those hats as well. Why do men wear them?? Happy Holidays to the two of you. So happy you found each other.

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      Mamavalveeta03
      16 Dec 2019
      1:07am

      My daughter calls the one my husband wears “Dad’s old man hat” – and yet, she brought him a tweed number from Ireland.

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      Mel
      13 Dec 2019
      1:47pm

      Am I weird that I like those hats? I even still like them even though I strongly associate them with my ex. In fact, I think those and maybe a winter beanie are the only acceptable hats on men.

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      Viajera
      13 Dec 2019
      1:50pm

      I’m with Mel … not only do I like that hat, I might possibly like the ear flap version too (if it’s really bleeping cold out, for instance).

      I am a bit of a skeptic of the whole riding bikes in traffic thing, if I’m being honest … although in Manhattan it may make more sense than, well, where I am … but if one is going to do that, at least be warm.

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        Viajera
        13 Dec 2019
        1:52pm

        Well … do we need a Men’s Hat challenge for Kim?

        However, for a bike reader it would be tricky to pick one. A lot of the best men’s hats are not aerodynamic. Well, I am just raising the issue. Which perhaps I shouldn’t have done, but oopsie.

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          Viajera
          13 Dec 2019
          1:55pm

          Phoooo… i forgot about the helmet. Yeah that’s not going to work. Street hats only then.

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            D.Morgendorffer
            13 Dec 2019
            3:02pm

            Before holiday stuff sweeps me away, I wanted to say: Viajera, you crack me up and you’ve got a good heart.

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              Viajera
              14 Dec 2019
              1:59pm

              Oh shucks, thanks! ; ) It is kind of you-alls to put up with me, I do get cranky…

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    Jen
    13 Dec 2019
    12:47pm

    What exquisite writing. This handsome man could sell me anything.

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    c.w.
    13 Dec 2019
    10:43am

    I forgot to mention this in my earlier post and it has NOTHING to do with any sort of gift giving, BUT I did pass a woman on the street this morning who was of a certain age and was wearing the most flattering non-form-fitting leather (or fake leather) pants/leggings that just blew my whole theory to smithereens which was women of a certain age shouldn’t wear that type of garment. I have no idea (of course) what brand she was wearing, but golly she sure made me want a pair! #wearwhateveryouwant

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      Viajera
      13 Dec 2019
      1:43pm

      Non-formfitting leather pants/leggings? I am intrigued… if you get a chance, can you describe the leg shape and amount of looseness? On the edge of my seat here. I have had half a mind to get me a pair of the faux Spanx … but since it would also require buying long tops or cardis to go with, the idea languishes. Well I kind of switched topics there.

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        Mae
        13 Dec 2019
        5:38pm

        I bought a pair of those faux leather Spanx and I looked like a naugahyde loveseat in them. Back they went.

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          Viajera
          14 Dec 2019
          2:02pm

          Mae … you’re killing me here! ; )

          And also, possibly saving me money…

          I bet you looked nicer than you think though.

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        Mimi
        14 Dec 2019
        11:05am

        There’s a pair of real leather not tight Polo paper bag waist pants on the Ralph Lauren site. They’re 40% off but still pricey. They’re high waisted with a fitted, belted waist, then loose around the tush and thighs. The straight leg tapers to the ankle. That style is sometimes called a carrot trouser and I find them very flattering and chic. And Other Stories has a similar style for less $$$. Happy hunting.

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        Mimi
        14 Dec 2019
        11:14am

        And Other Stories and Ralph Lauren both have paper bag waist leather pants that aren’t tight. The Polo pair are 40% off but still pricey. They have a fitted, belted waist, are loose through the tush and thighs with a straight leg that tapers to the ankle. That style is also called a carrot trouser and I find it very flattering and chic. Happy hunting.

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        c.w.
        14 Dec 2019
        1:44pm

        I should have included that, Viajera! She was wearing a sweater that covered her waist and upper hip area with a quilted vest over that so I couldn’t see the very top of the pants/leggings, but what I could see did not hug her hips tightly. They tapered down toward the ankle and were snug-ish in the calf. She was wearing booties and the pants were tucked in. After thinking about it I wonder if she purchased a larger size and had them tailored. humm…. You can be certain that if I ever see her again I will ask and report back!

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          Viajera
          14 Dec 2019
          2:04pm

          Awesome, thanks! I am interested in this … bc it sounds like it will blow my traditional disdain of tapered legs into smithereens.

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    D.Morgendorffer
    13 Dec 2019
    10:56am

    Wait until I tell my husband about this. This is the ONLY men’s gift guide my husband respects. He still remembers the previous one. We were discussing it yesterday. I said it was like when I saw Dame Judi Dench in a sitcom with her late husband Michael Williams and discovered that, wow, he was a really great actor, too. I was happy as well that Dame Judi was with a man who could appreciate her talent because of his own talent.

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      Kim France
      13 Dec 2019
      11:07am

      Aw, that’s really kind of you to say, D.

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    Mimi
    14 Dec 2019
    11:10am

    You may call me a hopeful (not hopeless) romantic, but I get a large charge from seeing good people find each other. (I’m looking at you, Kim and Seth.) Remember when you were in college and your dumb dorm mates would inquire about someone you were dating and ask, “What kind of car does he drive?” At least mine did. It’s amazing how important qualities like menschiness become as we get older and wiser. Here’s to a happy 2020 for Seth and Kim and the dogs and all the GOACAs.

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    Robyn
    13 Dec 2019
    8:47am

    Oh this is perfectly timed, thank you! That Filson crewneck is perfect, and I will second most anything from Moosejaw. Also hi Seth (blushes and runs away real quick; SO HANDSOME).

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      Bobby
      13 Dec 2019
      11:42am

      Totally handsome and serious mensch vibes. You can tell the dogs love him and he loves them — always a good sign.

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    Judes
    13 Dec 2019
    9:32am

    My husband also has that awful hat. Several of them and he loves them so I shrug. Excellent gift guide—thanks!

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    Mindy
    13 Dec 2019
    8:58am

    Hi Seth, this may cause gasps of dismay with some, but a seam ripper can take care of many exterior labels.

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      Viajera
      13 Dec 2019
      1:46pm

      I heart Mindy. (You do have to check though … could end up with a gouge…)

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      Lore
      13 Dec 2019
      11:49am

      I hope that Seth is still your boyfriend next year and that you will run his recommendations a bit earlier! Holding onto this for Valentines Day. Thx!

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    c.w.
    13 Dec 2019
    9:06am

    Thank you, Seth, for this most excellent post which has solved my yearly “what to get my son” question. The vest and sweater will be heading to Portland shortly. And the passport size notebook will find itself in my beau’s breast pocket for his Hanukkah/Xmas present.

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    Dana D
    13 Dec 2019
    9:10am

    I wasn’t really paying much attention to what Seth was recommending…I was simply luxuriating in his writing…lovely…

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      Kathi
      13 Dec 2019
      1:08pm

      Deep sigh, wholeheartedly agree. What a great post, such lovely prose and like Kim, a detester of labels.

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        Viajera
        13 Dec 2019
        1:48pm

        Yes … they seem to have a lot in common, being good-picky one of them, and thoughtful writers too. We like.

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    Jen
    26 Dec 2019
    6:56pm

    Seth, I just wanted to let you know that I got The Pickiest Person in America (my husband, a graphic designer) the Zebra pen and Muji notebooks and I’ve rarely seen him more pleased. Thank you!

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    Maggie
    15 Dec 2019
    9:13pm

    Win on the M&S cap rec, Seth. But then I’m a Yorkshire lass, and a flat cap is to us what mariner stripes are to Parisians. My old man wears a Tilley with tuck away ear flaps in winter.
    Great guide Kim, and Seth’s the perfect author. Port—and memories of Porto—make the season merrier and brighter.

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About

Kim France

I was born in Houston, Texas in 1964 and have lived in New York City since 1988. I had a long career in magazines, working at Sassy, Elle, New York, and Spin, and in 2000, I founded Lucky magazine, which I edited for ten years.

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