Birthday dance

It’s my birthday! Midweek birthdays tend to be prosaic, so for fun I thought I’d share the tango clip from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (one of that movie’s redeeming scenes) and a piece I wrote years ago on salsa dancing. No, salsa is not tango, but for me as a wallflower, Pelagia’s tango captures the same exuberance I’ve loved about salsa.

What does it mean to Be Sexy?

Sexiness, to me, has always been about feeling comfortable in my own skin—about taking risks, and doing what both thrills and scares me. I’ve always admired people with passion for what they do, no matter what it is, because the joy they radiate in doing it is contagious. Their enthusiasm fuels my curiosity and inspires me to pursue what fascinates me.

Salsa has intrigued me ever since I took a Latin American music course at UCLA, but I’d never considered myself much of a dancer, mostly because I’d long felt too shy and embarrassed to try it. Self-consciousness would freeze me, and I’d cringe at the mere mention of parties and clubs. Eventually I got into the habit of saying I just wasn’t into dancing, but secretly, some part of me longed to feel the same ease and abandon I’d witnessed in great dancers. That part of me wanted to lose myself in the music and just dance for sheer joy, and somehow the rhythms of salsa crashed through those walls of reserve and fed right into that longing. I vowed then that someday I’d take salsa dance lessons.

I didn’t feel quite ready—and, in fact, didn’t have the chance—to realize that goal, though, until I found a job and moved to the Bay Area last summer. Several months before that, I’d returned from a two-year stint teaching English as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, an experience which, among other things, tested me dearly but also taught me a lot about myself. I found myself overcoming challenges that made me think, “If I can do that, maybe I can do this,” and with those experiences I think I acquired the strength and confidence that have allowed me to explore facets of life I’d previously thought I couldn’t handle. So when I read about the salsa classes Vera was giving at the College of San Mateo and Redwood Shores this fall, I signed up right away.

Vera’s salsa classes were the first I’d ever taken, as well as the first dance instruction I’d ever had. I came away from the first class exhilarated, and though I’m not a great dancer by any means, still I’ve enjoyed those moments when I can relax in my partner’s arms and follow the rhythm without worrying about every step. And I love the searing joy I feel at watching skilled salsa dancers who love the art form and just look like they’re having a great time. To me, the music and the dance seem infused with all the exuberance I feel for what makes life worth living, and I find that incredibly alluring. Nothing is sexier than the passion, the confidence and pure joy so rife in salsa.

(first published at

This reminds me of one of Letters of Note’s most popular posts: Tom Hanks (who’s a keen typewriter collector) responding to an interview request on a 1934 Smith Corona, which was actually sent to him as a bribe to do the interview.

Story goes he once bought a $5 typewriter in Australia that cost him $85 to ship home. And he’ll pull up a cafe table in front of, say, the Eiffel Tower, then whip out a typewriter and a glass of wine and start clacking away.

I had no idea he was into this, but it just makes me love ‘im even more. :) It’s just such a cool, classy hobby…old-school. Especially in light of his prolific social media output, which leads me to believe he is fully hooked up with smartphone, tablet, etc. I mean, it’s not as if he’s a total Luddite. The typewriter is just a different, more tactile medium of expression.

More on his hobby, and for the love of electric typewriters:
• How to Bribe Tom Hanks with a Vintage Typewriter (Messy Nessy Chic)
The Quiet Cult of the Olympia Report DeLuxe Electric Typewriter (Gizmodo): “Compared to using a word processor on a PC, using the ORD was an earthy process: Hands-on ribbon changes, the smell of ink, and cranking the platen to see what you just typed,” says writer Steven Levy. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s the ORD that gets so much play (from Greg Kinnear’s character) in You’ve Got Mail.

(photos via The Film Street JournalGawker, and Messy Nessy Chic)

Subject Obscura

With one click of the mouse, I became a collector. I bought a second typewriter.

I bought my first typewriter in October 2011.  Goodwill opened a store in the area, which my partner and I promptly checked out. It turned out to be a well-planned visit as I found a Smith-Corona Classic 12 in fine condition sitting on the shelves, waiting to be snagged by the first analog-enthusiast to cross its path. I didn’t know it yet, but I was one such enthusiast.

Over the months that followed, I would learn how to properly clean it, fix some of the keys that were stuck, and that, while the office supply store does not carry the ribbons I needed, e-commerce would make finding such things possible. Every step of the way, I was excited. I was engaging with a technology that had supposedly become outdated and loving it.

Not least of…

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Un Amour de Jeunesse

For the past couple of days I’ve been listening endlessly to “The Water” by Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling. There’s something so nostalgic about Johnny’s harmony and the tune itself being folk that fits Mia Hansen-Løve’s film Un Amour de Jeunesse (Goodbye First Love) so well.

The song plays at the end of the trailer, which is heartbreaking in itself.

I first read about the movie on A Cup of Jo, and since then it’s picked up positive reviews from The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times,, and more. It made limited release in L.A. and New York in late April, but I’m hoping it makes it to Bay Area big screens soon too, especially as it garners more press. Even from the brief clips of the preview—like the quiet rustle of a warm breeze in tall grass as you while away a lazy summer afternoon together—and songs like “The Water” and Violeta Parra’s “Gracias a La Vida” are so evocative. I’m pretty sure I love the film already, and I haven’t even seen it yet.
Actually, the impetuosity of Camille’s character reminds me of Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (and Ang Lee’s 1995 film version of that book is one of my all-time favorite movies as well). There’s the utter abandon, the tumbling headlong into first love, thinking romantically that you’d pay whatever price there is for what you perceive is the ecstasy of being with that person. And then there’s the more tempered, measured type of relationship that comes with maturity, common interests, and mutual respect (interesting that both Camille and Marianne later end up with older men).
Part of what makes the premise of Un Amour de Jeunesse so appealing is that Hansen-Løve seems to portray Camille’s earnestness without retrospective chagrin or condescension—which is how we might otherwise view our younger selves in love. The experience just is what it is: a part of what’s made a person into who she is today, not to be forgotten, but not dwelled on morosely, either.
(bottom photo via Listal)

Amélie and Francie on touch

I paged through one of my copies of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the first time in months yesterday, and it struck me that Francie Nolan is not unlike Amélie Poulain (which is probably why I identify with the two of them). They’re both introverts with rich imaginations and a love of solitude, and they both savor simple pleasures, whether it’s Saturday-afternoon reading on a fire escape hidden by a treetop, or relishing the first crack of a crème brûlée’s burnt-sugar top.

There’s Amélie, who likes dipping her hand into sacks of grain—I love the way this feels, all cool and smooth and pebbly—and then there’s Francie, who likes to head to her local five-and-dime on just another Saturday to enjoy the sensory appeal of running her hands over different surfaces and textures of things in the shop. To me, pleasures like these slow down time. Amélie and Francie are sometimes described as lonely girls, but to me they’re more often simply alone, quietly and composedly inhabiting their solitude. Plus I like how they capture the essence of their days this way.

“Arriving at the store, she walked up and down the aisles handling any object her fancy favored. What a wonderful feeling to pick something up, hold it for a moment, feel its contour, run her hand over its surface and then replace it carefully. … After an orgy of touching things, she made her planned purchase—five cents’ worth of pink-and-white peppermint wafers.”

The ultimate egg primer

I can hardly wait to try this out, because it’s just what a novice like me needs: a primer of cooking techniques on “The Incredible Egg,” courtesy of Bon Appétit. It’s got the basics plus the superlatives, like “The Softest Scramble” by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, “The Perfect Poach” by Thomas Keller, and “The Silkiest Carbonara” adapted from what I’m almost positive is the popular version at Perilli (not Pirelli, as the original text says—which, as far as I can tell, refers only to the tire manufacturer) in Rome.

It’s so lovely, the way a well-poached egg oozes golden yolk over eggs Benedict when you slice into it…that “lava-like flow of yolk” to which Per Se chef de cuisine Eli Kaimeh refers in the Bon App primer.

The thoroughness of the instructions reminds me of that one scene in Sabrina (the 1954 version) when Audrey Hepburn’s strict cooking-school instructor is commencing their course in Paris.

“Bonjour, mesdames et monsieurs. Yesterday we have learned the correct way how to boil water. Today we will learn the correct way how to crack an egg. Voilà! An egg. Now, an egg is not a stone; it is not made of wood, it is a living thing. It has a heart. So when we crack it, we must not torment it. We must be merciful and execute it quickly, like with the guillotine. CHAK!”

That scene always makes me laugh.

(Top photo: Peden + Munk for Bon Appétit; bottom photo via Fanpop)

Update: Amanda Hesser guides you through “The Control-Freak Method” of egg poaching in this Food52 video.