High School English with a Twist

The musings of Susan E dot Cohen

Category: Culture

Her Majesty The Queen

I have written extensively on Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. After all, she was my introduction into the world of royal watching. As I have previously discussed, prior to her engagement to William I was not a royal watcher. I did not take up this position until reading a Newsweek article on the eve of their wedding, and then my interest progressively picked up pace after Catherine walked down the aisle at Westminster Abbey.

Over the last few years, I have engaged with the monarchy on a regular basis. If it is Christmas Day and the royals are at Sandringham, I am tuned in. I know all about the horse racing at Ascot, and how the monarchy uses its position to support charities and conservation work around the globe. In spite of my keen interest in the royals, I have yet to write about The Queen. This royal watcher cannot truly call herself a royal watcher until she does so.

In honor of Queen Elizabeth II surpassing her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria as the longest reigning British monarch, the time has come to write about Her Majesty. Perhaps the timing could not be better. My understanding of the monarchy and its relationship to the world throughout her reign has grown. I possess a greater appreciation for her now than ever before, and if I had written anything sooner I would not have been ready to discuss the Queen with enough depth.

The Queen is a woman to admire. She is intelligent, well read, composed, and from what they say has quite a sense of humor. She has both watched and participated in world history, and has a unique understanding of society. The Queen is driven by service, and has been truly committed to her people and their needs. Regardless of what is happening the world, Her Majesty maintains her sense of duty, which is testament to her character and the tone she has set for the monarchy. Even for those outside of the UK and the Commonwealth, she has been a constant and influential presence.

The Queen is also human. Perfection cannot be expected of anyone, even with the title of Her Majesty. She has made mistakes and learned from these instances, evolving as a person and a monarch. Her evolution has been one where consistency has played a major factor, but novelty has found its way in as well. The future is bright because of the choices she has made during her reign.

While she is not my Queen, I appreciate her service to the world. I wish her a hip hip hooray on this  milestone.

From Broadway to Mount Vernon: The Founders in Their Element

George Washington's home Mount Vernon

George Washington’s home Mount Vernon

Last month, I had the distinct pleasure of spending a bit of time with Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. I must say, it had been quite some time since I last engaged with them. I was glad that July provided the opportunity to be reintroduced to these intelligent, talented, courageous Founding Fathers.

The reintroduction began on Broadway at “Hamilton” and continued the next week at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home and farm in Virginia. Although different, these two experiences complemented each other perfectly. “Hamilton” is simultaneously a chance to step back in time and yet experience something from our time, of the moment so to speak. Mount Vernon offers an immersion experience. The home and property were restored and reflect how they looked at the end of Washington’s life. Together, the show and home allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation of who these men are and how they lived their lives.

While I certainly knew a great deal about Hamilton from my days as a History major, the show provided a whole new means to understand him. It allowed me to see Hamilton’s humanity coupled with his drive for making his mark and leaving a legacy. There was no way Hamilton was ever going to be ordinary. He was aware the destiny of this nation was mixed in with his personal goals. Hamilton was a man who struggled like the rest of us do with questions of honor, morality, and ego. He was brilliant and complex, and the same can be said of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show.

Mount Vernon was my first visit to a president’s home. It offered the chance to see Washington as a homeowner, farmer, and slave owner.  I must mention that I traveled there Founding Father style (aka by boat). Taking a boat from D.C. down the Potomac really added an extra layer to my trip. As the boat approached the property, I caught site of the mansion. Like its owner, the home has a very commanding presence.

The highlight of the day was the tour of the mansion. It was very powerful to walk through the rooms he once lived in. I truly enjoyed seeing how meticulously Washington planned and designed his home. How he used the artwork in his home to reinforce his “brand.” Nothing was on the wall by chance, it was part of a larger statement about Washington. He had amazing taste, and I can understand why his guests stayed as long as they did. They also stayed that long because in the 18th century, it was rude to ask guests to leave. The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center truly rounded out the visit. One highlight was Jean-Antoine Houdon’s bust of Washington, which is renowned for its accuracy. It is considered to be the closest portrayal of what Washington actually looked like.

On Broadway and in Virginia, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington were humanized. They were people with problems and living rooms. I believe interacting with History in this manner changes you. I definitely left both of these experiences not only thinking differently about Hamilton and Washington, but about American History as a whole. For that, I am deeply appreciative to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association for preserving and maintaining Washington’s home, and to those who believed in Miranda’s vision of telling American History through rap and hip hop.

The Upper West Side, Fairway, and Me

The following piece was written before I moved. I am self-publishing it after moving. I did make several change to the piece. However, I do not believe it changes the piece’s integrity. The goal is to share my Upper West Side. If you are wondering about the move, it went well. 

For five years, Fairway has fed me, Columbus Avenue has clothed me, and Lincoln Center and Central Park were right in my backyard. I have been surrounded by culture, beauty, and great groceries. The neighborhood has spoiled me. Who would ever want to leave it? Well, I am leaving the Upper West Side.

The Upper West Side and I had great times together. The neighborhood was an important part of my 20s. In a way, it helped shaped me. The last five years were certainly full of change, but here was the Upper West Side, my constant, always happy to greet me.

The way I feel about the Upper West Side similar to how I feel about Morningside Heights, where I attended Barnard College and lived for four years. If you see a pattern in these two neighborhoods, I have lived on or near Broadway for almost ten years, and spent a lot of time on the 1, 2, and 3 subways.

I wanted to share what I have discovered over the last five years. The best place to start is at the beginning.

Right before I moved to the Upper West Side, I remember being on Columbus. Unlike Broadway, an avenue I knew very well, Columbus was foreign. It took time, but we got to know each other and started spending a lot of time together.

What I quickly discovered is that the blocks on Columbus are shorter, or seem shorter, from the mid 60s until 77th street. By 77th, you are at the Museum of Natural History and you can walk by the back of the building and marvel at it. The first tower on the corner of 77th and Columbus feels a little Harry Potter like.

Now, Columbus had nice stores when I moved in, but it has been become a bit of a trendy avenue. Between the 60s and 70s, there is a Rag and Bone, Theory, Reiss, Intermix, Kate Spade, Olive and Bettes, Vince, and Burberry Brit to name a few. Why go east when you can go to Columbus.

Beyond stores, the Upper West Side has a large post office on the corner of Columbus and 68th street. It is a privilege to say I actually mailed my letters at a post office. It feels good to connect with the postal service on a regular basis. I actually love going to post offices. Maybe it is because I majored in History, but I think it has more to do with the fact that I find the movement of items fascinating. Anyway, my love of the post office is for another day.

Since I just focused on Columbus, I want to quickly mention that I spent plenty of time on Broadway, Amsterdam, and Central Park West. I made the Upper West Side rounds. There were plenty of days I moved numerically across a street going east to west or west to east. 86th street was a popular one for me. I will admit I slacked when it came to West End and Riverside. I can’t do it all.

Over the last five years, the Upper West Side has taken care of a majority of my cultural needs. I went to the New York Philharmonic the way others go to Yankees and Knicks games. The best part is walking home after a wonderful concert with the program still in hand.

When it came to the movies, I did not have to travel far. The Upper West Side has four theaters, three of which are in five-block radius in the west 60s. On occasion, I did go east for a movie. I think that happened twice.

For museums, the New York Historical Society always brought out the History major in me. I always left with a fact I did not know about New York. The Museum of Natural History is well, the Museum of Natural History. It speaks for itself.

Speaking of the Museum of Natural History, I love Central Park West and 81st street. With the Museum on one side and apartment buildings on the other, the light always hits the street just right. The best light is right on the corner at the Beresford.

Since Central Park is across the street, I will say that Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were geniuses to plan a park as they did. It is exactly what one needs to forget they are in the city: fresh air, grass, water, and turtles. The turtles are the best.

Then there is Fairway on 74th and Broadway. I lived in Fairway. In fact, there were days when I went multiple times. I know where everything is in the store, and which aisles are best to cut through. I understand the nuances of the Fairway elevator. By the time everyone is exiting, it is already closing so the first one in has to hold the bottom. It’s Fairway common courtesy.

The store is not meant for wandering. You can discover a product while there, but anyone looking to browse and take his or her time has come to the wrong place. There is a reason Fairway’s catch phrase is “Like No Other Market.” No other market has that many people looking for the same exact foods as you.

When I walk home with a load of Fairway groceries, I get a specific feeling. It just feels right. Although sometimes, it just feels heavy. I always underestimate how much I can carry, but that’s part of the Fairway experience.

I will never be a native New Yorker. I grew up on Long Island. However, I hope in this time I have became an Upper West Sider. Although, I may have needed to spend more time at Zabar’s for that title. Like all things Upper West Side, I will leave that up for debate.

Susan Leaves America

Susan Cohen, World Traveler

Susan Cohen, World Traveler

As the title suggests, this piece is about my first trip abroad. It’s a companion piece to my personal essay, ‘Passport in a Drawer.’ The goal is to share my experience in a light, fun manner. As detailed as it may be, it still lacks detail. When traveling, a great deal of the experience is sensory. Some of that cannot adequately be described. At the same time, some of it should not be described. It’s for me. 

I created a name for my trip, “Susan leaves America.” After all, my name is Susan and I was leaving America. Although humorous, there was a serious undertone in this title. After 27 years in America, I was leaving my nation for the very first time by crossing the Atlantic and traveling to London and Paris. In a way, I was a 21st century explorer just going in the opposite direction of all the European explorers.

A trip like this required a title. It marked a change in me and my understanding of the world. For a very long time, I was missing the understanding that travel requires. I did not understand why people traveled. As naive as it sounds, it was true. This trip signified finally understanding and wanting in on the experience.

My feelings about travel began to change around the Royal wedding of William and Catherine. Watching the anticipation leading up to that big day back in 2011, I was introduced to England. This formal introduction awakened a desire to see it. I was fascinated by the country’s pomp and circumstance, its history, and of course, Catherine Middleton. I must thank the Duchess of Cambridge for my newly developed interest in England.

Her story, which I first read about in Newsweek, drew me in. It was a catalyst so to speak. By the time she walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey, I knew I needed to see London. It would just take almost three more years, but everyone has to have a waity period. This was mine.

London led me to Paris. How could I travel across the Atlantic and only see one country. I wanted Paris for its light. I had long imagined what it might be like. I figured it was something (emphasis on something as I knew it would be 100x that) like the delicate sunlight that hits the Beresford on 81st and Central Park West. Something about that corner reminded me of images and pictures I had seen of Paris.

When I would tell people I had never left the country they were always surprised. “Really?” was a common response. It was usually given with an appropriate accompanying facial expression. I think I baffled a few people with my domesticity (emphasis on domestic and not its usual meaning).

Everyone assumed I had left, which was flattering. It was certainly a testament to how I was raised and the manner I live in New York. I offer an example of how cultured one can be if they have not left the United States, primarily New York, for 27 years.

However, it certainly demonstrated how important those around me view international travel. A few of my acquaintances in New York assume everyone travels or has traveled, and if you have not, some even question whether you are cultured. I could write a dissertation on what makes one cultured, but I will just say there are different kinds of culture. There is the culture I achieved in New York and then there is the culture one can only acquire through travel. I knew I was missing the latter.

The day before my trip, I looked outside from my apartment and thought tomorrow the view will be different. I possessed an idea of what I would see, but I had no idea what the other side of the pond would be like. The one thing I knew was that this was one an important moment for me.

The truth is this trip changed my life. I can pinpoint hundreds of tiny moments of change throughout my week in London and Paris. Two people have inklings on the experience. The first is my travel companion who literally gave me the world by taking me to London and Paris. He watched me experience it, but also participated in the experience. A great deal of it will remain between us. The second person is one of my closest friends, Meghan, who lives in London and spent two evenings with us. She helped make our trip special.

When the Virgin flight attendant said, “darling,” in a British accent as I boarded the plane, I was thrilled. I was one step closer. When the pilot said, “returning” in reference to our destination, Heathrow, while still in the US, I was delighted. If that was how I felt boarding the plane, you have an idea of customs in Heathrow. I was probably the most excited person – on the inside – to ever go through customs.

Traveling from Heathrow, simply sitting in a car that was driving on the other side of the road was a first. As much as this trip was about seeing the sights, I also wanted to experience the culture. Being in a car on the other side of the road definitely met that criteria. It’s comparatively different than in the United States.

Cruise on the Thames with Big Ben and Parliament

London is history mixed with modernity. That’s why I fell in love with the city. Big Ben and Parliament came to life. In Westminster, everywhere I turned was someone who had impacted the world. I stood in a building where coronations take place and the wedding that inspired this trip. A short trip down the Thames, a river with so much history. Tower of London and oh those jewels.  St. Paul’s, honoring all who had fought, and climbing those hundreds of steps for that view. Walking amongst kings and queens and across a bridge that had stood in various manifestations across a river for hundreds of years. Signs all over London for establishments from the 18th century. Visiting a recreation of the Globe and imaging the theatre in its prime.


I had seen Buckingham on television, but standing outside it is different. There is a mundane quality to the palace as cars travel in and out of it. Work must be done and this is a working palace. At the same time, I could see how easily it transformed into the ultimate symbol with balcony at the epicenter of the roaring crowds. The famed National Gallery held Impressionist paintings I had yet to view. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York certainly has a few of my favorites, but it cannot possess them all.  Even the tube was exciting with that tap in/tap out system. In New York, you swipe. Tapping was just so British.

On our second night, Meghan took us to see St. Paul’s at night and across Millenium Bridge. As she said on the bridge facing the church, “this is the money shot.” It certainly was. This was London at night in all its glory.

After those first few days, we were off to Paris for the weekend. The Eurostar was the most exciting train ride I have ever taken. I was traveling within Europe as the Europeans do. Not to sound colloquial, but it was awesome. Arriving at the Paris Nord, was my first introduction to a non-English speaking country. With Paris, it was love at first sight.

Soon we were popping into Hermes, Gucci, Dior, which I certainly have done before in New York, but this was different. This was experiencing these brands in a whole new context, Paris. Everything is different in Paris. Never had I seen a Hermes bag be matched with a scarf. The intricacy and attention to detail as they tried one scarf then the next. Sure, I could have seen this in New York, but in Paris, this just made sense. (Side note: I have no interest in owning one.)

As art appreciators, we lacked the appropriate amount of time to give to the Louvre. Instead, we opted for lots of walking and Notre Dame on Sunday, a day when many establishments are closed in the city.

Notre Dame

I remember viewing slides of 19th century paintings of the boulevards in Art History courses in college and  on walls of museums. I imagined what the light might be like and there it was; shinning brightly with a hint of spring in the air as we strolled along the Seine on a Sunday. The light in Paris was everything I expected and more.

The Light!

The dining was life changing. It’s certainly an experience. Potato and leak soup garnished with chives that I wished was endless followed by lamb that melted in my mouth and a moist, delicate lemon tart for dessert at Noglu, an 100% gluten-free restaurant. Perfectly cut non-greasy fries with an appropriately seasoned jar of ketchup to accompany at my hotel. Ladurée macarons that were delicate and delicious. I feasted on exquisite eclairs, chocolate tarts, and other pastries from Helmut Newcake, an 100% gluten-free café and patisserie.

Lamb at Noglu

 

 

 

 

Lemon Tart at Noglu (Maybe It’s a Cake?)

 

Gluten-Free Pastries at Helmut Newcake

 

 

Happy Customer 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
London felt different after Paris. I now understood how the two cities existed in relation to each other. This is a very important perspective to possess. Our last two days included stops on Piccadilly Road including to Fortnum & Mason. I had heard about this famous department store, but here it was in its glory. Floors of delicacies, sweets, and teas. I wanted to buy every tea cup and saucer.

On our final full day, we headed to the famed British Museum. We started off with the Rosetta Stone and then, at last, we saw the Elgin Marbles. In a freshman art history course, I first learned about them. Finally, I had a visual to see what Lord Elgin brought back. Fulfilling that freshman Art History student’s education at last.

Controversial as they may be, his decision allowed us to see history that might not exist without him and this museum. We viewed other rooms and then scanned the centuries with an afternoon at the Tate Modern moving from Picasso’s to Dali’s to Miro’s and a Turner. What a Turner it is.

On that last night, dining overlooking the Thames with St. Paul’s in front of us with Meghan, I did not want to leave. Soon there was one last tube ride, a walk along Oxford Street, all the while letting London know I would be back. London, I say it again, I will be back.

I was meant to take this trip at this exact moment. Everything up until this point had been preparation. I just had no idea that I was preparing. Now, this 21st century explorer wants to keep exploring.

As Meghan texted when I arrived in London, “Welcome World Traveler.” I certainly earned that title.

 

 

 

 

Addendum to Susan is Behind the Times

After some thought, I am questioning whether “behind the times” is the right phrase to explain my relationship with popular culture. I think in place of this phrase, I shall use the word selective.

I am selective as to how I spend my time and as a result, I am not always going to be in the know. If I choose or do not have time to read certain sections of The TimesNY Mag and other media outlets, I will miss information.  If I do not sit on Facebook or Twitter in the middle of the day, I will miss that information again. If I have limited reading and social media time, I then would need someone to send me the pop cultural news of the day over Gchat or in an email. If no one sends me the information, I miss another opportunity to be enlightened pop culturally.

My so called problem is not a problem at all. The problem I thought I had was really just a matter of how I – and those who would send me the articles – spend time on a given day. Being pop culturally knowledgeable is a time commitment.  For some, this is directly related to their work and therefore, they will be in the know because they are required to.

I would like to think someday my job will require me to be in the know, but for now, the amount of time I spend reading about pop culture is directly tied to how much I know and the speed at which I achieve this status. Simple as that.

So, the next time I feel “behind the times,” I am just going to stop my work and take a pop cultural break.

Susan is Behind the Times

Proud to be ahead of the curve when it comes to Kim.

Proud to be ahead of the curve when it comes to Kim.

As evidenced by a piece I wrote on grammar, it is not unusual for me to be behind the times. If you did not read that piece, I will give a short recap. I did not know that you are contracts to you’re. I used your for both you are and your. I shared this moment of self-grammatical-discovery in a light, humorous manner even though I am still slightly embarrassed for myself. With this background, let me explain my behind the times problem, which extends beyond being centuries behind in grammar.

I am behind the times when it comes to popular culture.

  • I had no clue what Homeland was until the first season was out on DVD and did not start watching until last November.
  • Even though my entire family watches Downton Abbey, I had no idea the show existed for 1.5 season. I have yet to watch it.
  • Instagram was well on its way before I joined.
  • I did not read Vogue cover to cover until four weeks ago.
  • I still do not understand Beyonce’s appeal.
  • I started watching House of Cards before most, but I had no idea that there was so much buzz swirling around this series.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I could name trends, websites, songs, movies, books, and restaurants that I discovered long after people were wearing the jeans, singing the lyrics, and raving about the food.  What makes this so difficult for me to accept is that I consider myself in the know. I have been reading the New York Post since adolescence and attended Barnard. However, in spite of my reading and my education, I remain behind. I am clearly not reading the right sources while procrastinating.

I feel this is something that must be rectified. The question is how? Is the answer reading more of New York Magazine and less New York Times?  Watching more E! News and less national news? Should I be watching Kathie Lee & Hoda? Do I need a high school student to catch me up? All I can say is that at least I am ahead of the curve when it comes to Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Kim Kardashian. That is something I am very proud of and would not trade for perfect syntax, the latest jeans, and the ability to sing Rihanna songs.

Deliciously Vogue – A Letter to Anna Wintour

vogue

Photo by Susan Cohen

Dear Anna Wintour,

I rarely read Vogue. I sometimes read it while getting my hair done or if I am traveling somewhere. During those limited occasions, I generally do not enjoy the magazine. I am not a fan of Vogue’s layout, I do not connect to the articles, and I find the magazine’s text too small. However, for some reason yesterday, I decided to buy the February issue at Penn Station before taking the train out to Long Island.

As soon as I started to flip through the pages, I found myself enjoying Vogue for the first time. I read one interesting article after another. I was enjoying the articles so much that I was devouring them. The issue was just so delicious that I put aside my differences with Vogue. I never thought I would like Vogue let alone call it delicious. I am still enjoying the satisfaction from yesterday’s reading. I feel I must thank you for making Vogue the highlight of my Tuesday.

Thank you for two delicious train rides reading your delicious issue. More importantly, thank you for finally helping me see Vogue as it should be seen. You transformed me into a Vogue reader on what I thought would be an average commute to and from Long Island. I am already looking forward to reading the March issue on the train.

Sincerely Your Newest Reader,

Susan Cohen

The Modern Day Daguerreotype

park

Susan’s First Instagram Photo*

I am prefacing this piece by saying that my time as an Art History minor at Barnard gives me the authority to write about the daguerreotype and art in general. Although that is far from a true authority, I feel that the minor is enough of a credential to create a parallel between the daguerreotype and a modern photographic phenomenon. If my Art History minor is not strong enough then I am invoking my Barnard degree. A liberal arts degree should allow me the authority to create connections throughout the course of history. 

Just as the daguerreotype created the ability to capture images in a new way, our phones are changing the way we capture images once again. No longer do we need to carry around a digital camera when our phones take HD photos. Photos that are so crisp and clear that they look semi-professional. Case in point, this photo of a buffalo burger taken on my phone. The photo looks straight out of Bon Appetit. The photo was not staged, but looks as though it could have been staged. The avocado happened to be present when the photo was taken.

Buffalo Burger

Beyond just equipping us with camera power, photo culture is changing in America thanks to an app on our phones – Instagram. Instagram, as my friend explained to me, is for artsy photos. I am taking the word artsy straight from such friend. This does not mean that artsy photos do not end up on Facebook in vacation albums. However, Facebook is very different from Instagram. Facebook is more concerned with the principle of ‘let me show you what I did today’. If ‘let me show you what I did today’ happens to be artsy then so be it. Facebook encourages stalking and not the creation of art. Instagram is art centric. It encourages the world being viewed as a photographic canvas. A pretty tree becomes a reason to stop and take a photo.

tree

I stopped and took a photo of this tree.* 

Instagram did not create the the world being viewed as art. The world has always been the ultimate source of inspiration for artists. Just look at sublime art where nature is front and center. For the average person, Instagram helps us see the world as art. Look a pretty tree. I should photograph the tree. The tree is now art. Let me share my art.

Once we have captured that art, the app is our chance to show off our best work. A chance for that work to be liked. In a sense, Instagram is our gallery. A gallery for the masses. With this principle a foot, each photo is not just a photo. It is a chance for Instagram fame even if our fame is just from our friends.

Instagram’s future is unclear. It may come and go like the daguerreotype. However, like the daugerreotype, Instagram is leaving its imprint on photography and how humans experience photography.

*I prefer to take photos on my phone’s camera and then upload to Instagram. I felt it was important to be honest on this point.