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Café Saint-Régis

The Paris Journal, Nichole Robertson, Evan Robertson Back at Café Saint-Régis, the eight chairs and four tables are filling up now. Customers settle in as the wait staff picks up the tempo. The two waiters rush back and forth, in and out of the doors, greeting each guest and passing out menus. Just above the flurry of activity, an apartment window over the café opens and a lanky man leans on the windowsill to smoke a cigarette. He looks down, nods to one of the waiters, then idly stares at the action unfolding at the cafés. He barely smokes. The cigarette is only a timer, and the street is his therapy. From up there, he can see it all - the cafés, the patrons, the pigeons, the food and menus and drinks - for what it is: a ritual. Routines wear you down and dull your senses. But rituals connect. You to yourself, you to everyone else. No one here has grabbed a croissant and coffee to eat on the run. They sit. They linger. And whether they know it or not, they’re a part of something bigger and wonderful. It’s simple, human and holy. A table opens up and I take my seat. I’ll order a coffee and drink it to wake up. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to be here. I’m here to be part of it. To watch the ritual unfold. To take part in doing nothing. And maybe that Crazy Pauline will show. Now that would be something. An excerpt from Chapter 3, The Paris Journal 

Hey Look! A Sneak Peek of The Paris Journal.

TheParisJournal_BookOne_ChapterTwo_PinterestTower 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).

Announcing Our New Book: The Paris Journal

OS_TPJ1_cover 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


books 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. - - - Nichole Robertson Updated for Medium, originally published June 7, 2010.

Reading: The Painted Girls

The Painted Girls Our friend Ann Mah tipped me off that The Painted Girls by Cathy Buchanan hits shelves today. I wasted no time downloading it for weekend reading. I suspect I'll spend as much time peeking at the gorgeous cover as I do reading the text. Set in belle époque Paris, the novel was inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s "Little Dancer Aged 14" and by the era's most famous criminal trials. NPR interviewed Cathy Buchanan on weekend edition. You can listen here. From the publisher: "1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir. Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde. Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other."

The Five-Foot Shelf

At the turn of the century, Harvard President, Dr. Charles Eliot proposed that the elements of a liberal education could be obtained by spending 15 minutes a day reading from a collection of books that would fit on a five-foot shelf. He was challenged to compile the collection, which resulted in a 51-volume anthology entitled The Harvard Classics  published by P.F Collier and Son (1909). It's still possible to purchase the anthologies, but Project Gutenberg assembled links to free digital versions of the texts. In addition, they've compiled links to the The Harvard Classics of Shelf Fiction. Something to fill your reader with perhaps? As evidenced by the above photo of our living room, Evan believes in the pleasing effects of combining several liberal pursuits at once. - Nichole

Give Books Giveaway

  UPDATE! Random.org selected #247, Mandie of Moxie Mandie. Congrats, Mandie! - - - A few weeks ago, my publisher Chronicle Books approached me about participating in their holiday Give Books campaign and giveaway. Since I love books, give books and love the feel and smell of paper (doesn't everyone?), it was a no brainer. Plus I figured one of you would love to win all ten books I selected. Ten? Yes ten! One winner will receive the same ten books I chose to keep or give this holiday season. I have to admit, receiving a huge, heavy box full of books was pretty nice. Here are the giveaway details: THE BOOKS Crepes The Cheesemonger's Kitchen The Country Cooking of France Miette Tartine Chicken and Egg, Ten Beautiful Prints Over and Under the Snow A Long Piece of String Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color Decorate Workshop HOW TO ENTER TO WIN THEM There are three ways to win: 1. Leave a comment on this post for one entry. 2. Click here and share the Little Brown Pen contest post on Facebook for a second entry. 3. Pin the contest on Pinterest (my pin is here) for a third entry. You may enter three times, but be sure to leave a separate comment for each entry. The contest runs from today through Friday, November 3o. A winner will be selected at random, using random.org. BONUS! Now through December 31, enjoy 30% off + free ground shipping on all holiday orders at ChronicleBooks.com. Enter discount code GIVEBOOKS at checkout. And be sure to check out the other participants on the Chronicle Blog. More books and more chances to win. Good luck! -Nichole The Give Books graphic was designed by the talented Julia Rothman.  

Reading: The Blueberry Years

We visit my family in Lancaster, PA at least once a month. While there, I almost always fantasize about leaving the chaos of New York and client work behind and buying a quaint stone cottage with a little farmland. I blame it on the green rolling hills, breezy corn fields and windmills that line Route 222 from Reading to Lancaster. The idyllic scene gets me every time. These idealistic fantasies used to induce a playful eye roll from my husband, but lately, he's entertained them for a bit longer than usual. It's a curious silence. Certainly he can't be thinking about it too. Can he? I should be careful. The last time we aligned on a crazy idea, we ended up moving to Paris. I finished reading Wolf Hall last night, and was cruising my list of "to-reads" on Goodreads. I was about three sentences into a review of Jim Minick's, The Blueberry Years, before downloading it to my iPad. Jim and his wife Sarah bought a 90-acre farm in Virginia with no farming experience. His memoir chronicles their dream of running a pick-your-own blueberry farm and pursuit of a simpler life. I finished a third of the book last night, and I can't decide if it will add fuel to my fantasy fire or slap me in the face with the realities of farm life.

Open Culture

Open Culture compiled a list of over 500 free online courses from top international universities. It's such a wonderful idea, and I can't wait to take a few.

Reading: The Great Gatsby (again!)

I've been alternating one new-ish title with a classic this summer, and this week I'm re-reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I see things so differently as an older adult. It's wild to re-read something that affected me in one way in my late teens and early twenties, and another in my late 30s. Do you re-read books?

Friday Reads: The Imperfectionists

Did you ever have one of those books in the "to read" pile for a so long, then read it and wonder what took you so long? The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman is one of those books. It's set in Rome, and follows the lives of colleagues at a second-tier English language newspaper. Each chapter focuses on one character, and as the story unfolds, we see how they're connected to each other, need each other, want to kill each other and work together at a paper that's fighting to stay afloat. I'm a few pages from the end, and I've really enjoyed hanging out with the characters. They're captivating and likable, despite their misanthropic tendencies and detachment.

Reading: Letters to Sartre

"Of course, it had long been manifest that De Beauvoir's own account of her life had been ruthlessly censored, pruned and sanitized to present the public facade she deemed fitting." - Introduction to Simone De Beauvoir's letters to John-Paul Sartre by Quintin Hoare, 1991 If you've read the letters, you know they are raw, sappy (my dear little being!) and reveal jealousies, passions and insecurities De Beauvoir never intended to be public. What's interesting as I'm re-reading the letters is thinking about our modern correspondence - carefully considered tweets, status updates and instagram photos. When our histories are written, and all our children and grandchildren have are our social media streams, how much of us--the real us--will they reveal? Will they look at our digital words as our public lives (sanitized) or our private lives (raw, honest)? Or some other semi-private, third space?  


I always admired a college friend's choice to hike the Appalachian Trail after graduation. While I considered what I was doing post-graduation in New York as roughing it - broke, crappy roach-infested apartment in Queens, sleeping on a mattress on the floor - he was really roughing it. For over 2000 miles. He didn't blog, or share much of his journey at the time (this was pre-social media for the most part), but when we did reconnect about a year ago, I enjoyed looking through his photos on Facebook. I even thought about hiking the trail in pieces. So when a friend recommended Cheryl Strayed's Wild to me, I knew I would love it. And I did. I read the whole book, which details a young woman's brave Pacific Crest Trail hike, last Saturday at my parents house. And of course, my hiking fantasies are once again fueled. Have you read it?

The Hemingway Papers

The Toronto Star has collected the columns that Ernest Hemingway wrote for them. I haven't read much of his Toronto Star work, so I'm brewing coffee and digging into a few of these today. Check out The Hemingway Papers - there are sure to be a few bullfights or brawls.

Paris in Color at Shakespeare & Company

Most of you know I studied English Literature in college. Six lovely years with my nose in books. Many books. And like many English majors, I romanticized (ah, heck, still do) Paris' cafe and literary culture in the 20s. Shakespeare & Company is ground zero in that literary fantasy, despite its changes since. So you can imagine my delight when Ryan Fox and Kristi Roberts posted a photo on Facebook of it at Shakespeare & Company.  Paris in Color next to Salinger, Shakespeare and Neruda? I know it's silly, but I wanted to jump out of my skin. Thank you Ryan and Kristi!

Paris in Color

So if you follow me on twitter, pinterest or Facebook, this may be old news, but Paris in Color is finally here! It's surreal to see something I worked on for three years come to fruition, and I have all of you to thank for encouraging me, reading the blog and being a part of it. So THANK YOU! Here's where it's currently available online if you are interested: Amazon Anthropologie Chronicle Books It's also available at Pottery Barn, OFR (Paris) and Diesel Books. If you've seen it anywhere else, let me know in the comments. PS. Head over to Chronicle Books to read a bit more about the project and  a chance to win a copy.

Reading: Anna Karenina

“He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.” The quote that inspired a weekend re-reading of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. It's been 15 years since I last read it, and I'm eager to experience it through an older, wiser lens.

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