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News out that Henri Bendel, that most elegant, nose-in-the-air store on 5th Avenue in Manhattan will, following the lead of its dowdier but still elegant sister, Lord & Taylor, be shutting its doors this week. These venerable palaces of consumption have been on walkers for awhile — though in my last trip to Manhattan Lord & Taylor was still playing the Star-Spangled Banner as it has each morning since the 1980 hostage crisis, before letting the kitten-heeled and Lululemon-clad hordes maraud through its aisles. All things must come to an end, but this has been a particularly slow and mannerly demise. I mourned the death of the department store over ten years ago in these pages:

More… “Bidding Farewell to Henri Bendel”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.

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One day artist Marina Lindemann noticed her neighbor Sunny O.’s mailbox was overflowing with bills, advertising brochures, and personal mail. As far as she knew, the man who was about 40 years old had left his apartment in the Hamburg suburb of Wilhelmsburg without saying goodbye to anyone. She took the contents of the mailbox to keep them for later.

Where had he gone? Did he decide to start a new life somewhere else? Or did something serious happen to him? After half a year the apartment was finally evacuated. The car that had been parked in front of the house was taken away. Marina decided to gather everything that had belonged to her missing neighbor. So she put on a wig and went in disguise to the auction of Sunny’s boxes, buying them for a few euros without having any notion of the contents. Out of practical considerations, she didn’t take the refrigerator and bed. She took the four big boxes home, inventoried the items, measured and weighed them, and prepared them for an exhibition. “I was hoping to come closer to the disappeared person, and to examine the relationship between things and personality,” Marina told me. “How much of a person is there in a thing?,” she asked herself.

More… “Losing Ourselves”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.

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In the same way that America’s fast food purveyors pack their menus with cheap, empty calories, the country’s home builders pack their houses with cheap, empty space. On a cost-per-square-foot basis, the typical McMansion may seem like a good deal — but like a Big Mac, what sort of nourishment does it truly deliver? Gorge yourself on cathedral ceilings, three-car garages, and all the tasteless architectural condiments you can stomach (gables, turrets, etc.) and you’ll only end up as queasy and unsatisfied as the Joneses next door.

 

Like tiny medallions of herb-encrusted, farm-to-table lamb loin at your local fancy restaurant, smaller homes — sustainably grown, artfully assembled, a little bit pricey — represent an obvious alternative to such fare. But how to convince America’s real estate gluttons that this approach can apply equally to dining rooms as well… More…