Today’s a big day. Tax day. Hopefully you’re on the good end of that stick.
It’s also a good day here at Obvious State. We just sent our mailing list subscribers the first three chapters of The Paris Journal, Book One.
We pretty certain it’s a lot more fun than W2s and 1099s.
If you didn’t get the email, click HERE to join the list and read.
We’d love to hear what you think, and invite you to share your thoughts in the comments. One commenter will receive a signed copy of The Paris Journal. We’ll pick a winner on Monday morning.
- Evan and Nichole
THE PARIS JOURNAL EBOOK LAUNCHES ON APRIL 29. STAY TUNED FOR DETAILS.
PRE-ORDER A SIGNED COPY OF THE PRINT BOOK HERE (AVAILABLE IN 4 WEEKS).
We’re excited to announce the launch of The Paris Journal.
The Paris Journal has been a multi-year labor of love. There have been a few twists and turns along the way, but we’re thrilled with where it has finally taken us.
When we launched the app last year (all photos and video), we watched how people engaged with it. More often than not, they’d quickly flip through the photos and miss the auto-play videos entirely. We had created a linear, visual story from morning to night, but people didn’t interact with it in a linear fashion. They scrolled around haphazardly like they would on Instagram or Pinterest. They enjoyed the photos, but missed the story. And since the story was the whole point of the project, we went back to the drawing board.
We realized that to control the pace, we needed a narrative. We didn’t want prescriptive text or guide book-style entries, so we ultimately settled on a journal, which was more immersive and a hell of a lot of fun. Given that both Nichole and I are writers, it’s a little embarrassing that it took us so long to figure this out. But hindsight is 20/20 and sometimes you have to experiment.
All that said, we love the book, and know you’ll have a lot of fun reading it. It includes a few photos from the original app, a ton of new photos, and a 12,000 word narrative.The book will be available as an ebook and print book, and we’ll have signed copies available in the shop soon.
Stay tuned for more details, and sign up for our newsletter to receive the first two chapters for free on Tuesday!
THE PARIS JOURNAL, LAUNCHING APRIL 29
“Cheese shops are like adult video stores. Row after row of subtle spins on the same intoxicating subject. In this case, you know, cheese. The options make my heart race: Bloomy, washed, sweet, creamy, tangy, shapely.
The cheesemonger grins. He knows.
He knows I’m a sad, twisted cheese junky. I stand absolutely still to hide my desire. But if I had a tail it would be wagging. Then I spot a perfect pyramide cendrée perched on a stack of crottins. The King of the Hill and his little soldiers, too. Oh, your majesty…”
Escape to the streets of Paris for a day-long romp. Through a series of humorous journal entries and photos, an American traveler chronicles a day on the islands in the center of Paris – the Île Saint-Louis and Ile de la Cité. She narrowly escapes dropping 50 Euro at the flower market for a potted plant she can’t take on a plane, debates public make out sessions with the King of France, pulls a Jean Valjean and swipes a basket of bread, and witnesses a love-at-first-sight moment between two dogs.
The Paris Journal brings the city, its people and apparently its former Kings to life.
Written by Evan Robertson and Nichole Robertson
Photography by Nichole Robertson
You know that moment when you discover your crush likes the same band as you? The same ice cream flavor? The same precocious, irreverent 19th century boy-poet?
You know, the little things.
On our second date, midway through a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream, Evan and I bonded over a mutual affinity for Rimbaud, especially the opening lines of “A Season in Hell”:
Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.
One evening I seated Beauty on my knees. And I found her bitter. And I cursed her.
I armed myself against justice.
I fled. O Witches, Misery, Hate, to you has my treasure been entrusted!
I contrived to purge my mind of all human hope. On all joy, to strangle it, I pounced with the stealth of a wild beast.
I called to the executioners while dying to let me gnaw the butt-ends of their guns. I called to the plagues to smother me in blood, in sand. Misfortune was my God. I laid myself down in the mud. I dried myself in the air of crime. I played sly tricks on madness.
And spring brought me the idiots frightful laughter.
You know, your standard, garden variety romantic puff piece. Who needs “roses are red” when you can play sly tricks on madness while gnawing off the end of a gun?
Only people of a certain disposition would find romantic kinship in a piece of writing like this. Evan and I were of that disposition.
And apparently we’re not alone.
Last week, I was caught off guard when I rounded the corner onto Rue Ferou and discovered Rimbaud’s equally dark poem, “The Drunken Boat,” meticulously hand-lettered on a wall. A clear labor of love. The 100-line poem takes up almost an entire city block, the grand scale mirroring the grand themes he explored in the work.
It was overwhelming not only because I love the poem, but because I felt an immediate bond with the artist or artists who rendered it. It’s fun to think about how Rimbaud would have reacted to someone romanticizing his anti-romantic work.
One last thing about romance. Two years ago, I teased Evan about having not made me a Rimbaud print yet. A few days later, he surprised me with this:
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – Lewis Carroll.
People in Paris lounge, and they lounge well. They remove shoes and socks, shed cares and settle in. In New York, people often have one foot off the grass and back in the office. That momentary respite on a bench in Bryant Park or on a blanket in Central Park feels temporary – phones remain in hands, eyes wide open and settled on screens.
In Paris, people close their eyes, fall asleep and make out. A lot.
I hate to admit it, but as much as I want to adopt a Parisian lounge attitude, I can’t. It’s not because I haven’t tried. I’ve often shop-hopped and bought cheese and bread for an imagined half day picnic – determined to enjoy hours of unstructured time. But an hour later, I’m restless, and this vague sense of “let’s go” pulls me to my feet. It’s absurd, because I want to sit, yet feel compelled to go.
It’s the opposite of Waiting for Godot. It’s Rushing to Godot:
“Yes. Let’s sit”
Are there any professional loungers out there? What’s your secret?
Yesterday, my friend Amy and I battled blinding wind and rain on our way to La Cuisine Paris for a macaron class. Our umbrellas were all but useless, even when positioned as a shield. By the time we arrived at 80 Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, I could no longer see out of my glasses, and my pockets had collected rain. Nice.
Soaked and traumatized was not how I imagined meeting Jane, the owner. We connected through mutual friends years ago, and I’ve wanted to take a few classes. My tight schedule in Paris doesn’t often allow for socializing or leisure, but I was eager to meet Jane and learn to make macarons.
After peeling off our soggy jackets, we climbed the stairs to the beautiful kitchen which overlooked the Seine. Better.
There were eight of us in the class, hailing from America, Chile, England and Australia. From the beginning our instructor Diane had us laughing and chatting like old friends. First we learned to make four fillings: chocolate ganache, pineapple rum, vanilla pastry cream and coffee buttercream. Amy and I made the coffee buttercream, though I also tuned in to Diane’s pastry cream tips. I’m determined to master French pastry cream so I can make my favorite French dessert, the Raspberry Tart.
After completion of the fillings, we let those chill out in the fridge while we tackled the macaron shells. We learned both the French and the Italian method. The Italian method, though a bit more difficult due to the sugar syrup process, was my favorite because I preferred the texture. The French method, Diane explained, was easier on the front end with fewer steps, but was more temperamental. I think I’ll experiment with both at home.
Amy and I, both professed neat freaks, exchanged looks of horror after the suggestion of mixing batter colors. I had envisioned perfect shells in one glossy color, and the thought of a misshapen blob of pink on top of green, or messy marbled shells sent chills up my spine. Everyone else seemed into the idea, so we had to defend our pristine batter. In the end, we lost and did end up with a rather motley assortment of colors. But you know what? They tasted great, and I learned that I’m definitely a purist (boring?) and don’t think I’ll be experimenting with blending shades in the future.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris, I recommend taking a class. I tackled macaron making, something until yesterday I thought I should leave up to the experts.
La Cuisine Paris
80 Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville
Nichole and I are working on text for an upcoming book today, and some of my sentences were getting complicated. It was clear I was applying the proverbial lipstick to a pig – dressing up an uninspiring thought. So I scrapped it.
I started playing with an idea for a simple matrix that would keep my ass in line. I mean, I know what I should do (keep it simple, stupid!), but am human and stray.
I liked it enough to take it from notebook to illustrator and printed one for our studio. If you’re tempted to gild the lily when you’re writing, you can download a copy HERE.
Raising my glass to clear ideas!
The half-baked version …
Oops, I’ve done it. I typed a dangerous keyword. I assume the NSA supercomputers in Utah (is that you, WOPR?) are monitoring this blog post.
I should have written Éd\/\/ård $nø\/\/dén. Or would that escalate suspicion? Can supercomputers identify irony?
I read Kafka’s The Trial in high school, and it only seemed relevant in an “over there” kind of way. Totalitarian control, spying, kangaroo courts and insurmountable bureaucracy were Soviet issues, not American ones. As such, my reading of the book then, and in college, always felt a bit casual. Not so anymore.
With the public debate about state surveillance now an American issue, Kafka’s work seems more relevant than ever. It’s a cautionary tale about standing on the sidelines.
For this design, I took two lines from the story: “Was he alone? Was it everyone?” They sum up Joseph K’s paranoia and capture the contradictions explored in the book – life without privacy, yet completely isolating.
The design is a pattern of doors. Behind them, endless hallways and agent offices – the machinery of man. Is there a human behind them who may help? Another conspirator?
Light floods through an open door. An exit? The light reveals the shadow cast by a surveillance camera, or perhaps all the doors are surveillance cameras, and the only way out is the final, permanent exit.
Fun times. It’s almost enough to make you nostalgic for the eighties.
Unlike New York and the internet, Paris sleeps. And because I’m often jet-lagged and up all night when I’m there, I get to experience the city when it’s dark and quiet.
I appreciate the silence and shadows, and those late nights are a cherished respite. A respite from the instagram-ification of everything. From staged shots of breakfasts, shoes and homes. From polished online personas. From being connected to everyone, yet feeling disconnected. From fearing that we are no more than the sum of our clicks and likes. From technology.
Paris at night – with its quiet, intimate streets and dramatic light – is my favorite place to disconnect and think. There is a wonderful weight to the stillness of the city at rest. It sharpens my senses and clears my head. I spent a lot of time over the last year walking those streets in the wee hours, and the solitude is intoxicating.
Today, I’m sharing the first images from a new ongoing series. Paris Noir reflects a retreat into the shadows. I want to spend time as a voyeur at backstage dramas rather than be an audience member at paid online performances.
I draw aesthetic and thematic inspiration from Film Noir. I love the sense of mystery invoked by dark shadows, high contrast lighting and solitary figures. I’m exploring themes of social malaise and fragmented identity to pose a bigger question: What happens when we step out of the spotlight?
I remember the day Evan and I packed up our books.
We were recently married, moving to the New York City suburbs, and in the middle of a purge-induced adrenaline rush. We parted ways with dollar store kitchen utensils, tossed all 90s fashion, and left our yellowed white couch on the sidewalk for bulk trash. We saved the books for last, because there were hundreds, and needed to clear the floors to make space for the task.
It took longer than expected, because what began as packing with the occasional pause to reminisce about a favorite author, evolved into frantic searches for favorite passages and lengthy readings. I’d recite something from Philip K. Dick’s Valis, and Evan would offer something from Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. From there it escalated into some kind of Shakespearian Jeopardy:
“I’ll take ‘Princes Who Dodged the Bullet’ for $1000, Alex.”
Of course, Evan kicked my ass. While I had merely read Shakespeare in college, he had spent a lot of time playing princes at Juilliard. But though his knowledge and handle on the text was greater than mine, we were an equal match when it came to the passion we felt for literature.
It was midnight when we hoisted the last box onto the moving truck, and we still had to drive 30 minutes to Montclair, unpack, and return our crummy U-Haul by 8am. When we arrived, essentials were taken to the appropriate rooms, and non-essentials, like books, were stacked in storage.
We intended to purchase shelves and turn our guest room (oh yes! a guest room!), into a library. But before that happened, a baby happened, and the guest room became a nursery. And once our son arrived, I had no time to think about 17th century literature or shelves.
A few years later while packing for a move to Paris, we shuffled the books from our basement to a rented storage space. As we stood surveying the 10×10 room that would safeguard everything we still owned while we moved overseas, we laughed. The books we hadn’t seen in years took up more than half of the room. We had spent weeks ruthlessly editing our possessions, yet here were these 20 boxes of books. They were like one big middle finger to feng shui.
One year later, we moved the books again. We were back from Paris and settling in to our new home in Glen Ridge. For another year they collected dust in a closet on our top floor. During breakfast one day, I tried to recall a line from Matthew Arnold’s Sweetness and Light, and decided it was time to stop depriving myself of my favorite Norton Anthology. While Google is always good for a quick, cheap fix, I wanted more. I wanted my notes in the margins, I wanted all of my favorite words together in a beautifully bound book, I wanted to reconnect with the people who connected me to the person I wanted to be back then.
I went upstairs and edged my way into the back of our storage closet where we stored the books. What began as a focused expedition to find my Norton Anthology turned into a lengthy reunion and a great unpacking. I called Evan upstairs and we spent the afternoon reconnecting with favorite authors. We were shocked that it had been six years, that we had two kids, that we had built careers and started a business in the time we had last held those books in our hands. But what struck me more was that I had spent six years filling my thoughts with the banal logistics of daily life, preachy advice in parenting tomes, obtuse investing how-tos or social media noise. In figuring out and living my adult life, I had had little time to question what Simone de Beauvoir saw in Jean Paul Sartre or why Wordsworth was able to so eloquently convey the flapping of a bird’s wings.
While we unpacked our books, our two sons played in the adjacent room. I overheard bits and pieces of conversations about Egyptian kings, dinosaurs and a magic tree house. I had the sudden urge to go back downstairs and collect the parenting books. I tossed them all into a box, sealed it shut, walked back upstairs and put it in the back of the closet to collect dust.
We ended the day with fourteen piles of books divided by genre or period. We agreed our favorite pile was the books we planned to someday read with our kids.
- – -
Updated for Medium, originally published June 7, 2010.
Cemeteries by their nature aren’t happy places, but I’m always happy to visit the them in Paris. They’re packed with beautiful sculpture, architecture and a melange of memorabilia ranging from sweet (a thick book stuffed with photos in a plastic, weather-proof case) to strange (a fishbowl).
It rained early this morning, and the cold mist and leaves left no room for debate whether autumn had arrived. I could smell change in the air, and that feeling of no turning back – the end of a season – set the tone for the walk. The entire cemetery seemed to be mourning that loss, shutting down until spring, saying goodbye.
About halfway through, I spotted a large orange cat sitting in a bowl. Most of the resident cats in the cemetery bolt when they see you, but not this guy. He jumped down and followed me around for fifteen minutes. He seemed to be waiting for me to toss him a treat, so it’s clear the neighbors take good care of him. In fact, all of the cats are giant, indicating either an abundance of rodents or friendly cat lovers nearby.
Another highlight was finding a spiderweb that seemed to be either spun with or held up by a pair of stone hands.
The leaves are brown and the light is gold.
I’m on a solo trip to Paris this week. Evan and I usually travel together, but I’m here working on a new project for Chronicle Books (more on that later).
I’m staying in my friend Erica’s studio apartment in Montmartre. It’s the most charming place, and each day as I come and go, I’m greeted by this sweet fella who resides inside the gate. If you follow me on instagram, it’s no secret I’m a crazy cat lady, and this tuxedo cutie won me over the first time I stepped past him. He didn’t flinch or bolt into his house, he just stayed put and watched me as I walked by. I don’t speak cat, but it’s poorly translated as “I own this place.”
It was a busy summer, and we are a bit behind schedule, but the latest volume of the Paris Journal is live.
Volume Two takes you to the twin islands at the heart of the city, the Île St. Louis and Île de la Cité. The day begins moments before dawn at the Cité train station, followed by a long, leisurely stroll along the banks of the Seine – a story of light, shadow and water.
We hope you enjoy it!
We’re winding down production on The Paris Journal Volume Two, and hope to be able to release it while we’re in Paris next week. The two photos above are a bit of a sneak peek, and we’re adding more prints to the shop.
Summer is flying (doesn’t it always?), and we’ve had little time for this space, but hope to be back to sharing more of our work, inspiration and more here on the blog.
Hope your summer is full of fun and sun.
Many of us celebrate father’s day, but what about Bloomsday–the day James Joyce fans celebrate Ulysses?
My ode to Joyce is above, and was inspired by a portion of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in the book.
For anyone who believes that James Joyce wrote Ulysses as an intellectual exercise designed to torture English majors, I appeal to you to re-read the last lines of this incredible story, which in my illustration form the wings of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The additional details of the illustration (the body, hindwings and the cocoon below) are formed from the dominant word in the monologue, “yes.”
“I was a flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”