Will letter for lunch.

Totally into the Will Letter for Lunch ethos: “Whatever you want me to write is exactly what you’ll pay.”

It’s a good way to get I’d-never-eat-at-a-restaurant-with-a-menu-set-in-Comic-Sans types like me in the door, for one. For another, I happily support the application of hand-lettering in daily life.

While her work is not stylistically in my zone, I’m especially fond of the layout of “East Coast Oysters” she did for Docklands.

Marjane Satrapi got jokes.

Last night, we attended a talk with Marjane Satrapi at NYPL Live. She said that when she was in San Francisco, she told a dirty joke that shifted into focus the American sense of humor. It went something like this:

A man looks in the mirror and sees he has a button on his forehead. Every day, the button gets longer and longer until finally he sees a doctor. He says to the doctor:
“What’s growing on my forehead?”
“It’s a penis.”
“Is there anything I can do about it?”
“Don’t worry about it. Soon enough, the balls will cover your eyes.”

I learned: she’s got a new film coming out about a serial killer and his cat, has made some beautiful paintings, and seen Seven Samurai at least 400 times.

She also made me feel I should read some Dostoyevsky.

The cognitive dissonance of Richard Francis-Bruce.

Christina and I watched this video about how David Fincher shoots his movies:

And so we got to talking and we looked up who edited SevenRichard Francis-Bruce – and realized that he immediately followed that up with The Rock.

Which means that Richard Francis-Bruce’s editing bay went straight from a Fincher sampler to shots that all look like these:

What cognitive dissonance that must have been.

It boggles my mind that the official title of Seven in IMDB is “Se7en.” If you’re searching IMDB for “Seven,” you will not see a link to the movie Seven in the autosuggest features. Also, it implies the title is pronounced se-seven-en.

Landscapes, nights, and summer feelings.

I’ve been back stateside for ten days after a three-country, six-flight tour of Europe. Christina and I have seen the sun set on rivers in Lisbon and Paris; we’re sated like it’s our birthright.

When I reminisce about the trip, thoughts of Brussels humidity, Roquefort Carles, and ceramic tiles are accompanied as much by a palette of flavors as they are by clear, consistent melodies.

Iceland

Björk – Jóga

We were slated to spend just four hours total in the country of Iceland, so I opted to download Homogenic to my phone while we taxied at JFK. Only Hunter finished downloading before takeoff.

On our way to the gate, quotes from Icelandic writers were printed on circular windows, over views of the runways and hills in the far distance. Next to our gate, Björk. I took a picture of Christina with that window:

Brussels

Kool and the Gang – Ladies Night

We were in Brussels only for Ky Vinh’s wedding, barely enough time to see the Grand Place at night and have a cone of frites from a stand near the tourist quarter (waffles and mussels next time).

At the reception, a table of Ky Vinh’s boorish old friends, matched in red satin ties, punctuated the evening with rowdy chants. Sometimes they cheered the Red Devils. Mostly, they just sang – with pronounced Belgian accents – the end of this song:

Tonight. Is gonna be. Your night! Everything is gonna be. All right!

It stuck in our heads. I kept thinking Heavy D. But he was sampling Kool and the Gang.

The temperature and humidity in Brussels that Saturday both reached the high 80s; the air conditioning in the dining room at Kasteel Gravenhof couldn’t cool the room of 150 guests. The reception capped a day that started at 7:30 am and comprised three ceremonies (Vietnamese, Belgian, and Filipino). I’d had a few drinks.

Christina and I retreated to our air-conditioned room upstairs in the castle after dinner, and we took naps while friends and family of the couple lauded them in French.

The next afternoon at the flat in Brussels – while everyone packed for Lisbon and recovered from the previous night’s revelry – Ky Vinh’s mother put a half-finished magnum of champagne back on ice. When the bottle cooled, she offered it around to us: Christina first. She accepted. I raised an eyebrow.

Lisbon

Getz/Gilberto – Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado)

The wedding was followed by a trip with the newlyweds and two other couples to Lisbon for a “pre-honeymoon.” We shared an architect’s house.

On our first night in Lisbon, we barbecued. The kitchen was bare so we went to Pingo Doce immediately after landing to buy meats, batatas fritas, olive oil, charcoal briquets, red wine, Super Bock, and this unspeakably amazing condiment I’ve taken to calling Portuguese sriracha that apparently should only be used in small doses because it’s really salty but we didn’t heed this advice because we translated this page only after we got back to New York and sought out what the hell it was we bought that night and put several spoonfuls of on all our food.

Anyhow. We bought too much food.

On our last night in Lisbon, we aimed to finish as much of our leftovers as we could. Christina and I wrote our postcards in the living room.

We opened a bottle of red wine and ate large bowls of mango sorbet. I did laundry. Ky Vinh perused the CDs in the living room and found Getz/Gilberto. We played that album three times that night.

Paris

Jonathan Richman – That Summer Feeling

We spent 3 days in Paris. Booked an apartment in Montmartre, found a solid fromagerie and boulangerie on Rue des Abbesses a short walk away.

Compared Pierre Hermé and Ladurée macarons on the Champ du Mars. Bought books at Shakespeare & Company and had them stamped. Visited the catacombs.

On our last night, we made a trip to the Canal Saint-Martin (where Amelie skipped stones). In the neighborhood, we visited Artazart.

Jonathan Richman songs played in the store. “I’m a Little Dinosaur” captured our attention immediately, but “That Summer Feeling” lingered for me.

I looked it up when I got back: James Murphy says it’s one of the saddest songs he’s ever heard. Robert Christgau seems to read it differently.

At the shop, Christina bought me a book on radishes.

Afterwards, we tried to catch the Metro at Republique only to find it closed by the gendarmerie.

Gendarmerie

We wanted to get to Lafayette Gourmet. We walked through the Marais to another Metro station. In the diversion, we passed another half-dozen blocks we wanted to explore further if only we had another day (next time: perhaps a coffee at Slow Galerie, a pastry and caramels at Jacques Genin). With each footfall, we watched near-dusk light reflect on Lutetian limestone façades.

At Lafayette Gourmet, we bought pasalubong and supplies for our last dinner in Paris, a picnic on the Île de la Cité, on the bank of the Seine.

Last meal

I can say with certainty I’ll remember that slice of four-cheese quiche. It was a slice of a quiche that was maybe a couple feet in diameter. We bought it at a counter at Lafayette Gourmet after exchanges of pidgin French and pidgin English and lots of euros.

When it was time to eat, the quiche was lukewarm. Our only utensil was a plastic fork we picked up with lunch at Monoprix earlier, so we took turns eating the quiche.

What I learned that night is that when the French say “four-cheese quiche,” they mean four fucking cheeses. (Also, they probably actually say “quiche aux quatre fromages.”) It’s possible that there were several smaller wheels of cheese in that massive, eggy disc. What chevres and gruyeres and comtés and whateverelses made that quiche their final resting place can take pride in their demise.

The quiche was too rich to finish there, so we took some of it back to New York. It was even better warm.

Through materials to find those for which we have the closest affinity.

Michael Bierut’s remembrance for Massimo Vignelli begins:

I learned how to design at design school. But I learned how to be a designer from Massimo Vignelli.

How to be a designer: what a massive assignation.

As Vignelli tributes (and links to his New York City subway map) clustered in my inbox this week, I’ve thought a lot about how I learned how to be a designer. I sometimes think I know how to be a designer because, like Bierut, I developed a taste for raw meat.

And as I reflect, I’m pretty sure I arrived at my present professional modus operandi through a non-repeatable formula of haphazardly undertaken coursework, a scarce bit of mentorship, and quite a lot of luck in choosing the things I’ve done repeatedly. Among the activities I’d consider directly responsible for my success, I’d include coding, Photoshop, and a lot of time articulating my (often un)solicited opinions about design and typography. Indirectly, I’m pretty sure my hobbies of cooking, looking at urban spaces, and finding dress shirts that fit led me to some of the same conclusions as Bierut about taste and the recognition of my own blind spots.

However much I consciously did not count Vignelli as a design influence (or a personal mentor), I have to acknowledge his stature in the field and credit him for forcing me as a young designer to respond and re-respond to his six-typeface standard. While I still disagree with such an arbitrary limit, my response has evolved over the last 10 years: whereas I was once appalled by its restrictiveness, I am now more appreciative of what it represents as a manifestation of a set of principles.

My hobbies are not unique among professionals in my field. I’d like to think they’ve helped me thrive in my field because of my approach to them, one informed by the six-typeface standard: I’ve learned to prioritize competence over novelty.

Vignelli's six typefaces.

As for Vignelli’s principles: I’d recommend The Vignelli Canon to young designers, outsiders, and humans at-large. It’s written and designed with lots of heart (it’s also a quick read, available as a free PDF).

Its conclusion is also a fitting piece of text to quote this week. Printed on the last page of the book and set in Century Expanded, it feels like a poem:

Throughout our creative lives we have sifted
through everything to select what we thought best.
We sifted through materials to find those for which
we have the closest affinity. We sifted through
colors, textures, typefaces, images, and gradually
we built a vocabulary of materials and experiences
that enable us to express our solutions to given
problems – our interpretations of reality.
It is imperative to develop your own vocabulary of
your own language – a language that attempts to
be as objective as possible, knowing very well that
even objectivity is subjective.
I love systems and despise happenstance.
I love ambiguity because, for me, ambiguity means
plurality of meanings. I love contradiction
because it keeps things moving, preventing them
from assuming a frozen meaning, or becoming a
monument to immobility.
As much as I love things in flux, I love them
within a frame of reference – a consistent
reassurance that at least and at last I am the one
responsible for every detail.

And that is why I love Design.

Verdicts.

In the wake of Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban from the NBA, I’m half-surprised no one in my social media feeds mentioned the L.A. riots. While today’s news certainly doesn’t carry the same import – and have the same effect on people’s lives – as the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King, it still carries enough airtime (and my mindshare, as a long-time L.A.-based basketball fan) to have a symbolic and emotional impact.

Today’s verdict is hardly a salve on a long and bitter history in the sports and entertainment industries, but it’s at least heartening to hear the NBA commissioner speak about the league’s stance on bigotry in a way that a jury could not issue a verdict about police brutality 22 years ago today. As I watched the Q&A that followed the commissioner’s announcement of his verdict, I appreciated his directness and apparent sincerity. It was clear from his tone that this verdict was not merely about maintaining good PR, but that he was personally offended. And that matters for something.

However, while this verdict comes from the NBA, the L.A. Clippers are just one of many of Sterling’s business interests. There are people who pay Sterling for the roofs over their heads, and their present condition is probably that they are possessive of the ability to vote with their feet while bereft of an alternative. I wish that weren’t the case.

Given the serpentine configuration of Sterling’s business, it may take at least a million little cuts to deflate it, and each of those cuts (unfortunately) has to come from a different person who has to live with the consequences of holding a blade. Regardless of how much they agree in principle about not writing checks to a bigot, some people will not choose to cease paying their rent, and it’s more difficult to judge those people for that choice.

While Sterling’s tenants don’t (yet) have a broadsword-wielding champion, Adam Silver – in his position as NBA commissioner – wielded one and decisively cut off one of Sterling’s arms. Today’s verdict may only prevent Sterling from participating in one of his hobbies rather than causing real change in Southern California’s real estate market, but the opportunity to dismember a scourge of institutional racism rarely presents itself, so I find it satisfying when those empowered to deliver such strokes do so without equivocation.

So while it’s a relatively small victory, it’s a noteworthy one. (And it’s actually far from won.) While I long for more opportunities and broadswords and people to wield them, it gives me hope that – at least in the last 22 years – there are now visibly more of the latter.

(Also, apropos nothing: the situation that had to be resolved with this verdict is by far the ugliest storyline in the past two weeks that have otherwise been a great time to be a fan of NBA basketball – the entire Western Conference first round is just unreal this year.)