BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Chappell Roan’s Stunning Debut EP ‘School Nights’

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Image by Catie Laffoon


When you’re from Willard, Missouri, there’s not much chance that a famous music producer is just going to appear suddenly at one of your gigs – no matter you much you believe in what you’re doing. But Chappell Roan is that rarest of Cinderella stories, the small town high school choir girl who happened to post a performance to YouTube that ultimately changed her life.

It didn’t hurt her chances that she has a voice which seems to come from some supernatural or celestial place. And her new EP School Nights, which BlackBook premieres here, is as stunning a debut as we’ve heard in all of 2017. Musically sophisticated yet strikingly vulnerable, tracks like “Meantime” and “Die Young” have an almost hymn-like quality, the latter marked by its soaring strings and stark confessions of emotional uncertainty: “I keep my doubts in the back of my mind.” And “Sugar High” – a haunted, noir-like lament that has an almost David Lynchian essence – proves the range of her songwriting perspicacity.

But it’s perhaps the soulful lead single “Good Hurt” which is most affecting, with its mournful, visceral piano and tormented declarations of, “I should know better.” Indeed, it leaves little doubt of her future greatness. (Though we’ll hold the “next Lorde” proclamations for now.)

“These very personal songs have been tucked away for so long,” she confides. “They’re like my little babies.”


You’re just 19 and from a small town in Missouri. How exactly were you “discovered?”

It was pretty much a long shot. I performed locally at coffee shops and tiny venues and posted my performances on YouTube. Another artist, Troye Sivan, saw one of my videos and tweeted about it…and that got me some buzz and attention from a few record labels. Now here I am, still awestruck that this is even happening.

You have a singularly unique singing style. Who are some of your vocal influences?

I love Stevie Nicks and Karen Carpenter, those are my main  influences. I used to try to mimic their voices exactly when I was younger. Stylistically, Lana Del Rey and Lorde inspire so much of my writing and how I move my voice.

There’s certainly a dark thread running through your music. Are the songs a way of working those things out for you?

I write exactly what I feel. When I was writing this EP, I was in a very dark place at the time, and it definitely helped to write and release what I was feeling. Sometimes it’s hard to listen to the songs and realize how sad or crazy or alone I used to feel. I am in such a happier place now.

There’s also a bit of a cinematic quality to your songs. Are you influenced by film?

I just recently got into film. I really love film scores and how they’re such an important part of telling a story. I try to write my songs in a way you can visualize the story in your head – I incorporate specific details so you can really see and feel the same things that I do.

Is the School Nights EP a collective reflection of you leading up to this moment? Or is it pointing the way forward?

I feel like The School Nights is a reflection of so many different sides of me. Some parts of it are things that I still have to work on, but others I have let go of and have grown out of. It has taken me a long time to write all of these songs, so I was at various stages in my life. I just hope that it can make someone feel like they’re not crazy for feeling the way they do, and that it’s okay to feel sad or happy, or both at the same time.

How do you feel about it now that it is finished and ready to be released?

To be honest, I’m nervous…but so excited at the same time. I feel pretty vulnerable with [these songs] being released; but I’m so proud, and I know this is just the beginning of what I have been working so hard for. This all feels like such a dream.

(N.B.  She launches an extensive North American tour with Foy Vance in Vancouver on September 27.)


The Coolest European Cities You Don’t Know, Part I

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We’ve been plenty busy in 2017, museum-hopping in Paris, flirting in Rome and clubbing in the Berlin Kreuzberg underground. But cultivated Europhiles that we are, we’re always feeling the call of some of our less-trodden, yet still favorite cities on the Continent.

Nothing beckons us to Europa quite like the turning of autumn, with its exhilaratingly crisp evenings, stylishly scarfed locals, and those transcendently evocative fragrances that fill the air of each city (the latter a particular treat for those forced to breath the noxious fumes of New York and LA every day).

Part I of our sojourn takes us to fashionable Antwerp (Belgium) and sophisticated Maastricht (The Netherlands). Take note, if you’ve yet to fall for the charms of the Benelux, a couple of days in each city will cure you of that straight away.



Clockwise from top left, The Jane Restaurant; Antwerp architecture; Hotel Julien; MoMu


If fashion has held a central place in your life and you haven’t yet been to Antwerp, you should readily acknowledge a slight tinge of embarrassment. From the Antwerp Six on to today’s new guard of Belgian design, the exalted Royal Academy of Fine Arts continues to turn out some of the most astonishing talent, whose creations can be found in the vanguard boutiques in and around Nationalestraat – where you’ll also stumble upon the hallowed flagships of the likes of Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester. Nearby, as well, is the MoMu, the city’s incomparable fashion museum, which as of December 10 will host Olivier Theyskens, She Walks in Beauty. (Between boutiques, stop in for a de rigueur lunch at Verso Cafe, within the concept shop of the same name.)

Antwerp is also a place of staggering physical beauty, with its gothic-looking Flemish Renaissance cityscape and majestic harbor. The latter is now home to industrial-chic restaurants like Het Pomphuis (in a grandiose former pump house) and the sleek, Michelin-starred ‘t Zilte, on the top floor of the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom).

And speaking of vanguard, the thought-provoking M HKA museum, and independent galleries such as Valerie Traan, Stella Lohaus and Annie Gentils are central to Antwerp’s thriving contemporary art scene. If it’s architecture that sets you atingle, plan a leisurely stroll along the Cogels Osylei, a street in the Zurenborg district where art nouveau, neo-Renaissance, neo-gothic and Tudor-revival styles (amongst others) all come together in a strange but elegant sort of harmony.

Antwerp nightlife, it must be said, is totally bonkers. Start with a glamorous dinner at The Jane, fitted into a stunning 19th Century former chapel; the 13-course prix-fixe menu is €140, but the upstairs bar has much more agreeable prices, and seats you closer to God. Continue on to the extravagant scenes at over-the-top dance clubs like Red & Blue, Publik and Cafe D’Anvers. Expect a significant degree of mind-altering.


Hotel Julien is a smart, mostly-minimalist guesthouse with an intimate subterranean spa; Hotel Banks is a stylish sleep amidst the best fashion shopping; De Witte Lelie is the joining of three 17th Century townhouses into a place of utterly ethereal beauty (and favored by notable fashion designers).



Clockwise from top left, Kruisherenhotel; River Meuse; Stijl boutique; Maastricht streets


Famous as the place where in 1992 the modern European Union and the euro were born (the anti-Brexit, if you will), Maastricht is actually a seductive mix of international college town and exquisitely cosmopolitan city. And seriously, nearly everyone seems to have a bloody great sense of style here. With its right and left banks straddling the majestic Meuse River, the ethereal setting might easily have you thinking it can’t possibly all be real.

Wedged almost covertly between Belgium and Germany (Cologne is just 70 km away), history and modernity play very well together in this comely Southern Dutch town. Roman cathedrals bookend narrow 17th Century streets, which are abuzz with urbane cafes, indie fashion boutiques and intimate contemporary art galleries. And to be sure, one of the vigorously recommended activities is just…walking around.

Remarkably, for a relatively small city, Maastricht packs in rather a lot of Michelin stars. Tout a Fait, Beluga loves you, Toine Hermsen, Au Coin des Bons Enfants and the glorious Chateau Neercanne, just outside the center, all boast at least one – and chefs can be wildly experimental. But there are also more bars per capita than even Amsterdam – so a jenever (gin) soaked night on the tiles requires little planning. Still, make sure to hit The Lab for perception-altering cocktails, and Complex for bleeding-edge dance music.

Culture vultures should make time for the architecture and design gallery Bureau Europa, as well as the Bonnefantenmuseum, with its fascinating mix of Italian and Flemish Renaissance and baroque works, and brilliantly curated – Richard Serra, Sol Lewitt, Neo Rauch, Gilbert & George – contemporary collection.


The Kruisherenhotel (a member of Design Hotels) might literally be the most spectacular hotel in the known universe, fitted as it is into an awe-inspiring, 15th Century former monastery and cathedral; the Beaumont, right on the buzzy Stationsstraat, has minimalist rooms and the chic Harry’s restaurant; Hotel Dis is an artistic 7-room guesthouse with its own gallery.






BlackBook Interview: The Horrors’ Tom Furse on Japanese Aesthetics and ‘Blade Runner’ Record Shops

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Upon seeing The Horrors for the first time in New York City in 2007, a journalist friend remarked, “They won’t last. It’s not like they’re a real band.”

The point, which ultimately proved ridiculously wide of the mark, was that they had burst onto the London scene in a blaze of black capes, majestic horror coifs and high stylization (cue: Addams Family organ riffs and Bad Seeds bombast) – surely the stuff of ephemerality. But it turns out they actually had an arsenal of influences just waiting to, erm, creep into their considerable songwriting abilities. And indeed, their latest album, the cryptically titled V (out September 22, and produced by Paul Epworth), shows them to have evolved into one of the more multifarious musical entities to have come out of post-punk’s second wave.

To be sure, from the metallic-glam castigations of first single “Machine,” to the ominous synth-pop of “Hologram,” to the haunted melancholy of the exquisite “Weighed Down” (with Faris Badwan crooning ever so longingly), The Horrors have made the album they’ve surely always meant to make. One with the emotional complexity to match their sonic splendor.

In advance of the band’s two-night-stand at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade (September 18 + 19), we caught up for a chat with keyboard virtuoso and eminent songsmith Tom Furse.


The Horrors have outlived most of your peers. Did you ever expect to come this far?

No, I think I said we’d do three albums…and we’ve done five now. And initially, twelve years ago, we thought we’d just put out one seven inch. That was the height of our ambition.

And now it’s your whole life.

Yes, it’s been my entire adult life. All my experiences and my relationships have revolved around this band.

Right, you’re the guy from The Horrors.

Yeah! No matter what else I do.

The new album is as complex and far-ranging as anything you’ve ever done. Did Paul Epworth have an influence on that? Or were the songs already there?

Given the breadth of our influences, between the five of us, I think our range of music has always been there – it’s probably just more apparent on this album. Paul had a real influence on the process. But ultimately when people ask what we sound like, I never really know what to say.

There are definitely some new sonic avenues…

There was a big dub influence on this album, yes – there’s a real dubby feel to the drums. Which is a million ways away from what people expect of us.


“Hologram” kind of reminds me of Gary Numan.

I thought you might bring that one up. I actually sketched that song out and brought it in to the guys, and they pointed out that it sounded like Gary Numan – and I didn’t know that! I had certainly listened to him a lot. It’s funny how these things echo through time.

It lives in your subconscious.

Well even with “Machine,” when people compared it to Marliyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails…I thought it was actually more like The Stooges!

There’s also something of The Jesus & Mary Chain in it.

The world judges you on the surface level of it, but for me it’s so much more complex. There’s so much more going on – even for a song that’s kind of quite brutal and simple.

The Horrors, as I would call it, have become an “excellent taste” band.

Record collector rock?

Oh no, not at all – because record collectors are only concerned with what everyone else thinks of their so-called taste. More like, that ability to take the best bits of your very well-chosen influences and make them your own.

Well, I have a radio show, and that’s a good indication of what I’m into at the moment. But I’ve always thought conscious influence is really dangerous; you have to let influences in through your subconscious. Though there certainly is a kind of harmonic sensibility, where you hear it and say, “Oh, that is a Horrors track.”



Songs like “It’s a Good Life,” “Gathering,” “Point of No Reply” all exhibit a sort of open-hearted profundity and elegance that leads me to believe what I had long suspected: The Horrors are really kind of romantics at heart.

Yeah, I think so! I would definitely agree with that.

But you wouldn’t be The Horrors without controversy. There was something about the album artwork?

Yes, an artist accused us of both cultural appropriation and stealing from other artists. It got a bit out of hand, so I wrote to him asking where did we go wrong – and he wrote back quite a long apology, in that he didn’t mean it to get that out of hand.

 As things tend to do in these days of digital communication. 

I don’t think anyone really had a leg to stand on. The people that were accusing us, were people who were also accused of ripping off other artists. Finally everyone decided not to go any further with the conversation, because it wasn’t making anyone look very original.

Don’t we kind of live in a world of cultural pastiche?

I don’t think so. I think “pastiche” implies something negative, just picking and choosing from different places.

The “cultural appropriation” accusation is one that is certainly let fly a little too capriciously.

With the artwork, I came up with this concept of what it would be like to walk into a record store in a Blade Runner universe, and pick up a record – what would that look like? And there was a big Japanese influence, because we’ve spent so much time in Japan – and you can’t help but be taken in by the cultural aesthetic. All our records get put out with this obi strip of Japanese text. And we thought, “Why can’t we just do something like that?” And then we got accused of cultural appropriation. When It’s just about conveying ideas.


The Horrors in Tokyo

When you think of say, Factory Records, the overall aesthetic was as important as the music itself. 

For sure, everything we do has to genuinely represent us in some way.

Faris has become quite a formidable vocalist, hasn’t he?

I think he’s really come into his own on this record. Paul was able to help him to really get the most out of his voice. I mean, Faris comes off as this character – but he’s very serious about the music.

You’re returning to America at a really weird time.

Yeah, but there’s all kinds of weird shit going on here too – Trump there, Brexit here. It’s actually kind of interesting to be living through such turbulent times; I think it’s one of those periods of necessary evil. We have to go through this to learn about ourselves. Ultimately we have to ask, what is it that we all really want?

It’s certainly a time for moral self-examination. And I’m sure we’ll be talking about it for a very long time.

But we can’t be complacent anymore. I think it’s been proven that our values aren’t necessarily a given – that they can dissipate very quickly.

Ultimately, what does this album say about The Horrors?

Hmm…I don’t know. I hope it says that we are a band that hasn’t settled for being complacent. There’s certainly still a lot of ground to cover.


Au Revoir, Saint Germain! Four Days in Paris’ Trendy East

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Image by Amelie Laurin


New York City’s hackneyed boast of being the city that never sleeps is a trope so outdated by now as to be comical. Seriously, we’ve had more late nights in Nashville lately.

But much even to our own surprise, we recently discovered that Paris comes surprisingly close to the top of our late night list; and while our friends in Berlin and Barcelona may challenge that, a recent whirlwind of a trip through the City of Light had us very willingly staying up way past our typical NYC bedtime.

After a relatively quick and uncomplicated voyage – thanks to a lovely Air France redeye, and some well-chosen medicinals – we came to rest on the far east side of town, a place where, if a view of the Eiffel Tower or Montmartre is absolutely necessary, requires quite  a lot of squinting and neck craning. But with the perpetually hip Mama Shelter hotel as our home base, we spent the next several days discovering a multitude of new streets to stumble down, whilst steering exceedingly clear of those pesky tourist throngs.


Image by Amelie Laurin 


The snail-shell-like map of Paris’ arrondissements locates the 20th, 12th and 13th on the eastern edge of the city. We made Pere Lachaise Cemetery – final resting place of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison – our central landmark, and ventured forth to traverse the neighborhoods of Menilmontant, Bastille, Belleville and Bercy, areas more akin to where we typically roam at home in Greenpoint and Bushwick. Potentially intimidating waiters at white-cloth-tabled bistros were replaced by hip millennials offering cheap wine and organic veggies. And late nights on a floating dance club that stayed open for 50 hours straight were fueled by numerous imbibables.

Here’s how it all played out.


Air France offers the best in US/FR flights, for our money. Our overnight from JFK kicked off with complimentary champers in the airport lounge – what better start could one ask for?

The aforementioned Mama Shelter, the Philippe Starck designed boutique hotel that we made home, featured a cheery staff and a perpetually energized restaurant/bar off the lobby…that transformed into a lively scene come sundown each evening.


Mama Shelter 


First stop was the charming open-air market Marche Aligre in the Bastille, where we sampled delicacies from local restaurants Miss Lunch, Maguey, Marcelle and others as part of a city wide restaurant tour.

For us, Paris is even more of a walking city than New York – to be sure, we’re always excited to plant our feet on those ancient cobblestones. We found a wonderful street art walking tour that had us cruising the rues of the 13th, and turned us on to what’s happening beyond the pricey galleries of Saint Germain.



We know there’s no end of hallowed art museums in Paris; but we were intrigued to come across the Art Ludique, which featured an amazing DC Comics exhibit – including authentic Batman memorabilia – and got us in the mood for Paris Comic Con In October. It’s located in the modern Cite de la Mode at du Design, the roof of which hosts not one but three bars, and jaw-dropping views of the Seine.

As we were on the river, we stayed for dinner at one of many water-adjacent establishments… specifically Petit Bain, which was great for laid-back fish and chips and cocktails – sustenance we’d need for the planned late night ahead.


Image by Amelie Laurin


After being reminded that it was considered one of the greatest nightclubs in the world, we felt just a tad intimidated braving the line at Rex Club. We needn’t have, the place was the epitome of dance club chapel, with no attitude, awesome sound, and nonstop cocktails; a very late night return to Mama Shelter resulted in us missing breakfast, and lunch, the following day.

We did manage to grab an afternoon snack of pumpernickel toast with avocado, radish, red onions and deviled eggs at the hip Grand Central Restaurant and to check out the cool open space it is adjacent to, CENTQUATRE PARIS. The latter is used by budding dancers and performance artists to test their routines; it’s like the Fame school with baguettes.

We always love the Paris Metro for shuttling around between musees and bistrotheques; but when we were introduced to the option of a motorcycle sidecar tour, how could we say no? Their charming, and Gallic-sort-of-macho drivers had us yelling “tally ho Jeeves”…but in French, of course. The cycles dropped us off at one of the city sponsored creative hubs, Les Ateliers de Paris, where budding design houses are given yearly studio space in which to develop their aesthetic. We discovered stylish sneaker manufacturer Garconne & Cherubin and leatherwear designer AMPLR, whose chic backpacks would soon be slung over our shoulders.



Then it was off to Rosa sur Seine, where we met up with the director of the Paris nightlife council Frederic Hocquard. His business card reads Charge de la Nuit, and his main mission is to regulate the city’s nocturnal activities, including its 150 discos and clubs, thirteen thousand bars and venues, and six-hundred thousand nighttime workers. Sounds like fun, but we guessed he was probably pretty tired a lot of the time.

As were we on the edge – okay in the middle – of the decidedly more bourgeoisie 7th, we made a quick side trip through Invalides to visit with an artist friend at the gloriously Parisian classic bistro Le Tourville, before heading back to the 12th for a lovely dinner of salade de quinoa, et légumes du soleil, crevettes à l’ail (grilled shrimp over quinoa) at the exceedingly hip La Bellevilloise, a multi-room cultural center that includes a live music venue, restaurant, nightclub and outdoor surf bar. Director/founder Renaud Barillet has devoted years to developing the venue, and is also involved with numerous other public cultural spaces.



Our subsequent late night at Concrete could have been a lot more decadent, as the venerated riverfront club is open continuously from 8pm on Friday until Monday morning – and hosts the crème de la crème of international dance music DJs…techno/house being the vibe the night we were there. We didn’t encounter anyone planning to stay for the entire weekend, but we were pretty sure they were there.

Our final morning in Paris had us visiting the charming suburban commune of Saint Ouen, just north of the city’s boundary; it’s home to Paris’ enormous flea market, and the highest concentration of antique dealers in the world. We made a stop at the singularly cool MOB Hotel for a lunch of leek and avocado salad and squash soup, then spent time lounging around the hotel’s stylish and comfy lobby, before heading back to the Air France terminal at Charles de Gaulle…and what we hoped would be another couple of rounds of pre-flight bubbly.


BlackBook Exclusive: Star Chef Scott Conant Pasta + Risotto Recipes From His New Fusco Restaurant

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Autumn is nigh upon us – and with it comes the changing of our eating habits from avocado salads to heartier, more, shall we say, rustic fare. Frankly, it cannot come quickly enough for us.

One place you’ll be likely to find us regularly pulling up a chair is  Scott Conant’s classy new Flatiron Italian Fusco. The marquee New York chef, as you may well know, made a splash in 2002 with his NY Times 3-star-awarded L’Impero. He then became a bonafide hit with the Chelsea hotspot Scarpetta (for the record, he’s no longer involved). But 2017 is surely his year, as he also opened The Ponte in Los Angeles and Mora Italian in Phoenix.

But while Fusco, with its leather banquettes, glittering chandeliers and orchid-adorned bar, is a decidedly elegant affair, it’s vibe is palpably more laidback (to be sure, Conant’s Italian grandmother was the inspiration). It’s reflected in the menu, which is strong on both traditional (al pomodoro) and more surprising, creative pasta dishes – but all unpretentious and approachable.

Before scarf weather hits, we asked Chef Conant to give us a peek into what exactly goes into all that deliciousness of two of his most inventive dishes.


Tajarin Aglio e Olio, Clams & Bonito Flakes



Serves 4-6
1 pound fresh tajarin (or substitute dried tagliolini pasta)
Cooked clams (recipe below)
2 cups clam cooking liquid (recipe below)
Garlic & chili oil (recipe below)
Chopped parsley, as needed
Bonito flakes, as needed
  • Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package instructions.
  • While pasta is cooking, heat garlic & chili oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.
  • Add clam cooking liquid to the sauté pan and deglaze.
  • When the pasta is just al dente, strain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water, and add both the pasta and the water to the sauté pan. Stir constantly to emulsify the oil and starch, about 3-4 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt.
  • Once emulsified, add the clams, stir to warm through–being careful not to overcook–toss in parsley, top with bonito flakes and serve immediately.
Garlic Chili Oil Base
10 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • Slice garlic paper thin on Japanese mandolin.
  • Place garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes in 1-quart sauce pot.
  • Place sauce pot on low heat and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until garlic is sweet and tender and not bitter. Reserve.
Manila clams
5 lbs. clams (or cockles), washed
4 garlic cloves, smashed
2 shallots, sliced thin
1 cup dry white wine
1 sprig thyme
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
  • Place olive oil in a large rondeau or oven and set over medium heat.
  • Add garlic and shallots. Sweat for 8 minutes, stirring and not allowing the garlic or shallots to burn or take on too much color.
  • Add thyme, crushed red pepper and clams.
  • Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then deglaze with white wine.
  • Cover and steam until the clams open, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Strain and reserve liquid. You should have about 2 cups.
  • Remove the clams with their shells and reserve in olive oil until ready to use.


Black Truffle Risotto With Egg & Parmigiano


Serves 4 to 6
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (enough to coat the pan)
3 tbsp. shallots, small dice
1 ½ tsp. garlic, small dice
Crushed red pepper flakes, as needed
Kosher salt, as needed
2 ½ tbsp. butter, unsalted
1 ½ cups vialone nana rice
½ cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken stock
1 ½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
½ cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Preserved black truffles (from Jaloon Specialty Foods), as needed
Fresh truffles for shaving, as needed
  • In a 4-quart saucepan, heat about 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-heat. Add the shallot, garlic, crushed red pepper and a pinch kosher salt and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute (Take the pan off the heat if the garlic starts to brown). Add 1 tablespoon of the butter, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallot is very tender, 5 minutes.
  • Add the rice, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute to toast it lightly. Increase the heat to medium, add the wine, and cook until most of the wine is gone. Add 1 cup of the chicken stock and cook, stirring, until the liquid has been absorbed and evaporated. Add another 1 cup of stock and increase the heat so that there are a fair amount of bubbles on the surface (this agitation helps release the starch as the rice cooks).
  • Add another 1 cup or so of stock and continue to cook, stirring, adding more stock as needed and stirring. To see if it’s time to add more liquid, drag the spoon through the rice; if the liquid doesn’t immediately fill in the space, it’s time to add more. With the third addition of broth, add the thyme. Continue cooking, adding broth as necessary, until the risotto looks creamy but the rice is still al dente, about 18 minutes.
  • Take the risotto off the heat. Add the remaining 1½  tablespoons butter, the cheese and the truffles and stir well. Stir in the egg yolks until well combined.
  • Divide risotto among plates, top with freshly shaved truffles, serve.  




Third Wave Coffee, Psychedelic Cathedrals + Jean-Paul Gaultier: Montreal Turns 375

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The news at home is perpetually unsettling, the conversation endlessly divisive. So what better time to hop the quick flight over the border to one of BlackBook‘s most beloved destinations than during Montreal’s dazzling, year-long 375th birthday celebration? Canada’s grooviest city has divided the events into four seasonal themes – with part of summer and autumn still to go, obviously.

On our most recent trip, we immersed ourselves in the celebratory cultural offerings, while also taking time to stroll the beautiful McGill campus and the city’s many green parks, imbibe a few fizzy champagne cocktails at the Ritz Carlton, and indulge in the city’s exceptional designer and vintage shopping.

Here were some of our faves…

Divine Lighting

Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica is hosting AURA, a radical new show of music and illumination. Revealing the Basilica’s exquisite collection of statuary, Moment Factory (the same design and production studio that is artfully lighting up the Jacques-Cartier Bridge nightly) has designed an immersive experience that both sonically and visually captivates – enlivening the grandness of the cathedral interior with a psychedelic multimedia spectacle, featuring august orchestral sounds and a dramatic light spectacle. You’ll never look at being in church the same way again.


The Daily Grind

Montreal’s perpetual buzz might partially be due to its residents’ obsession with coffee. And not just any coffee, but ‘third wave’ coffee, where sourcing and production, origin and output all get equal attention. This artisanal focus is being championed by numerous local purveyors, which is why scheduling a cafe crawl with Thom Seivewright, the founder of Living Like a Local, is the best way to experience some of the city’s best offerings in the grooviest spots. These include Dispatch, where the sleek, minimalist interiors and packaging design rival the handpicked, farm-to-counter coffee selection. Some other must-sips are Cafe Osmo, in the Notman House, Le Moineau Masque in The Plat (one of the city’s hippest ‘hoods), and Crew Collective & Cafe, which is also a members-only co-working space and basement nightclub, located in the utterly spectacular former Royal Bank building in Old Montreal.


Crew Collective & Cafe

Avant-Garde Circus Folk

Cirque du Soleil was actually birthed in Montreal. And the experimental circus troupe’s latest show, VOLTA, is a spellbinding story about the freedom to choose and blazing your own trail – albeit in flamboyant costumes and roller skates. As you might expect, the transformational sets, lighting, original music and general choreographed mayhem assault the senses from all sides. VOLTA even features a full on BMX park, mounted on stage, where riders drop in to deliver breathtaking stunts.

Plugged In, Well-Fed

We were particularly privileged to spend time at the Society for Arts and Technologies. Set up in an abandoned public market in Montreal’s former Red Light District, the 20-year-old SAT bills itself as an incubator of talent, and center for research in emerging technologies. Inviting “visionary artists, techno-poets, enlightened artisans, atypical engineers and unconventional thinkers” to connect and create original work, it boasts over 30,000 members. The non-profit is also community-minded, even lobbying successfully to legalize skateboarding in the adjacent Peace Park.
Dining at Foodlab, atop SAT, is as adventurous as the centre’s programming. We were served a locavore-driven, eclectic menu (no poutine here), complemented by a renowned wine selection. Exchanges between chefs, sommeliers, mixologists and “audacious foodies” are also hosted regularly here. Post-dinner we were ushered into a Buckminster Fuller-esque dome, where we laid our well-fed bodies on giant beanbags and tripped out in the semi-dark over a cosmic show of mesmerizing light and sound.



Curated History Lessons

You may wonder (as did we) what those captivating projections on the buildings are as you traverse Old Montreal by night. Created by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, Cite Memoire invites viewers to meet a cast of notable historical characters involved in the evolution of the city. More than 20 poetic tableaux are brought to life through image, words and music, emerging from the walls and the ground, infused with just the right dose of whimsy. You can download the free app for maximum effect.
The newly opened Fort Ville-Marie pavilion at the Montreal Archaeology and History Complex, Point-a-Calliere, has dusted the former musty fustiness off the site of the city’s birthplace. The museum itself is built atop a restored sewer tunnel, which now features a walk-through light installation by the aforementioned Moment Factory. Props to the museum’s passionate curatorial team, who created a uniquely engaging experience – where visitors can view the actual archaeological dig site through a reinforced glass floor (the only one like it in the world, we were told), allowing the opportunity to connect with the very origins of the city.


Room With a Dazzling View

Au Sommet Place Ville Marie rightfully boasts the most beautiful view of Montreal. The 360 degree observation deck also currently hosts the #MTLGO exhibit, an interactive video portrait series of 55 notable Montrealers. We playfully clicked our way through the various personalities and perspectives, getting to know Olympic athletes like Jennifer Abel and Caroline Ouellette, choreographer Marie Chouinard, comedian Sugar Sammy, conductor Kent Nagano, DJ Ghislain Poirier, circus troop Les 7 Doigts de la Main, and restaurateur Martin Picard. (Alas, no Arcade Fire pics.)
From hockey to gastronomy, performance art, language (of course, everyone here speaks fluent English and French) and neighborhoods like the Plateau Mont-Royal and Vieux Montreal, we loved tagging points of interest on iPads as we moved along the exhibition’s perimeter, enjoying the panoramic view. As a nice little touch, everyone receives a printout of their customized journey to pursue at leisure.
Our hunger for knowledge turned to actual hunger – so we dined at the observatory’s spectacular restaurant, Les Enfants Terribles. Serving a mix of old and new Quebec cuisine (paired with a glass of one of their refreshing roses), the only thing we enjoyed more than the frites was the jaw-dropping view.


Au Sommet Place Ville Marie

Puppeteers and Fashion Shows

After a mouthwatering morning croissant – Montreal, by the way, has seen a boom in boulangeries and patisseries all across the city in the last few years – we set out for an arts-focused final day.
A Nous la Rue brings together 60 street theatre companies from six countries (France, Spain, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and, of course, Canada), taking over Montreal’s streets every day in July with over 800 performances. We were particularly enchanted by the Big Little Girl, who brazenly squatted to pee as part of her performance; the dog who ‘panted’ as he trotted close behind her; and the enormous Deep Sea Diver. The “giants” enacted a touching story of Montreal via pulleys and strings controlled by dozens of energetic, red velvet-clad puppeteers.
Being as we are so sartorially obsessed, we also made a point of visiting the McCord Museum’s “Fashioning Expo 67” and Jean Paul Gaultier’s landmark show “Love is Love” at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – both up through October, and not to be missed.
(N.B. We’re planning to return for “A Crack In Everything,” a paean to the recently deceased and deeply lamented Leonard Cohen, coming to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal  (MAC) in November.)


Jean Paul Gaultier at the Museum of Fine Arts


Soul Purification, Good Tequila and Creative De-Stressing in Cabo San Lucas

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It goes without saying that one would rather be staring out into Mexico’s calm, beautiful blue Gulf of California than watching the endless American political tsunamis raging across our television sets every day. So when Cabo San Lucas came calling, we couldn’t pack our bags fast enough.

But our destination was not one of Cabo’s overamped celebrity resorts. Rather, we dropped our bags at the gorgeous, family-owned Hacienda Encantada Resort & Residences – perfect for those more discerning travelers (like us) seeking something a little more creative and personal.

Perched high above the stunning Sea of Cortez, overlooking rugged coastline, Hacienda’s unique appeal extends further than it’s dramatic topography. With a uniquely curated lineup of amenities and activities, an exceptional collection of local artworks, and a staff so friendly as to feel familiar, we wanted for nothing – and left Cabo already planning our return. 



“The essence of our family is to serve and try our best to be a great host,” said the resort’s gracious Gabriel Ibarra. “So I think what makes us special is that we try to pass this idea along to all of our employees through a very common saying: “Mi casa es tu casa. Our guests don’t feel that they are in a traditional hotel or resort at Hacienda Encantada.”

And we couldn’t agree more. There’s no one-vibe-fits-all here. Every staff member we encountered wasn’t just solicitous, but warmly welcomed us into their “home” with helpful suggestions based on our individual moods and interests. 

Here’s what we did.


Soul Cleansing

Aside from an exhaustive array of restorative treatments, therapeutic massages and fabulous facials on the menu, the opportunity to experience the ancient Mexican tradition of Temazcal was not to be missed. Temazcal means “house of steam,” from the native Nahuatl language, and is promoted as a “purification for the body and the soul.” Once inside the small, round chamber, hot stones are splashed with medicinal herb-infused water during the 90-minute session, for the ultimate in healing relaxation. Just a note, this native ritual cleanse requires four guests.



One if by . . . horse!

We loved the romantic allure of taking a horseback riding tour along the property, where panoramic views of Cabo San Lucas bay and the land’s end were just a gallop away. Make sure to book in advance though, as this equine option is only available on Fridays at the resort.


Staged on the outdoor terrace of the resort’s Barolo Restaurant, our tasting flight was led by the resort’s resident “sommelier.” Little did we know – or really care by the end – that tequila can only be called such if it is produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco (and in some select municipalities). Much like French Champagne, this agave-based distilled spirit is unique to the region and is known as “mezcal” anywhere else. Our favorite, after tasting six distinct varieties, was Blanco, or silver tequila. This popular ‘unaged’ tequila never touches wood, thereby delivering the purest notes of agave. Yes, we’ll take another shot please.



Mexican Flavors

Who better than the resort’s expert chefs to teach guests how to create one of the signature dishes of Mexico? During our al fresco cooking class, we watched – and then tasted – as our teacher expertly chopped onions and cilantro – the trick to the latter being, just bunch it up, stems and all, and dice finely. Combined in a traditional, volcanic stone molcajete (a mortar and pestle), pieces of gorgeous, ripe avocado met the freshest jalapeño, and was then topped off with lemon juice and sea salt. Can you say melt in your mouth? It did!

Sister Act

Taking a break from the sedate environs of Hacienda Encantada, we visited the resort’s sister property in downtown Cabo. Marina Fiesta boasted a lively poolside bar, La Palapa (it’s covered by a giant thatched roof) and four restaurants, all located along the bustling main drag. We dined at Los Deseos and were treated to a table side demonstration of the house speciality, heated Mexican cheese infused with tequila. Our gracious server was a good sport, taking our requests for more – and more – in amiable stride as he worked two spoons to serve us the deliciously gooey concoction.



Set Sail

No trip would be complete without seeing the Arch of Cabo San Lucas. And the best way is by boat, sailing by this distinctive rock formation at the southernmost tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Suffering from erosion in recent years, it now looks like a dinosaur drinking water. Accessing ‘El Arco’ on foot is best done in October when sea levels fall and you can walk under the arch. However, stopping off nearby at Amor (Lover’s) or Divorcio beaches (depending on your state of heart) can be done any time of year by boat. 

“Home” Cooking

To say we ate well at Hacienda Encatada is a significant understatement. There’s eight (yes, eight) venues, and we recommend trying them all during your stay. There’s of course ‘a la carte’ tacos every night at El Eden, ancestral Mexican cuisine at classy La Trajinera (reservations required and there’s a dress code), and ceviche and sushi at El Patio. The breakfast buffet (both American and Mexican) at Las Marias will have you dining on a balcony cliffside. Be sure to order the ‘off-the-menu’ Mexican coffee, a spicy and sweet elixir (a tip from Gabriel).
There’s even good pizza if you’re feeling homesick, at Il Forno. But the standout is Los Riscos. With its mesquite grill, and ethereal views, it was genuinely our favorite.




Art Everywhere

Seriously, everywhere. The lobby, public areas and restaurants were all decorated with original paintings by notable artists including José María Velasco, Jesus Helguera and Diego Rivera. Talavera vases from Puebla, hand-painted pottery and handmade lamps from Tonala, Jalisco, and ceramic sculptures by artist Rodo Padilla, are an eye-catching mix of art and craft.
You’ll notice the beautifully carved wooden furniture (a colorfully painted bench on every floor of the building we stayed in, the newest on the property), made by local Mexican carpenters. There were also several ornate iron pieces wrought by indigenous artisans. The entire resort is a celebration of Mexican architecture and design – with the exception of the rugs and the ‘gobelino’ located in the lobby, which we were told were imported from Europe.
The resort’s luxurious suites and spacious villas also include ceramic tableware made in the state of Jalisco, and mirrors with copper frames constructed in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. Additionally, handmade wool carpets adorn the floors, woven in Oaxaca. Even the ceramic bath accessories are brought directly from Dolores Hidalgo Guanajuato. (We also liked the eco-friendly products themselves.) And as might be expected, the image of the lizard and iguana figure prominently throughout the resort – emblematic in numerous handmade sculptures and decorations. Though if you get the chance, try to make friends with a real one.



BLACKBOOK INTERVIEW + PREMIERE: New Jaymes Young Video For ‘We Won’t’

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Image by Lexus Gallegos

Jaymes Young burst into the public consciousness with his 2014 EP Habits of My Heart, and a guest appearance on David Guetta’s “I’ll Keep Loving You” shortly after. In the ensuing three years, the weighty, starkly confessional Seattle singer-songwriter has built a particularly devoted following, many of whom have seen their own lives reflected in his poignant, strikingly honest lyrics. Indeed, the video for 2015 single “I’ll Be Good” has been viewed more than 20 million times.

Next Friday, June 23, Young’s enthusiastically anticipated debut album will at last see release (on Atlantic). Fittingly titled Feel Something, it finds him in his best soul-baring form, from the emotionally courageous “Stone” (“Give me all your shame / Put all your weight on me”) to the affecting but infectious reggae-soul of “Black Magic” to the impassioned plea for meaningful connections (“Make me feel something / Show me that you’re human”) that is the title track.

Musically, it’s all lush arrangements, majestic synths, exotic rhythms and irresistible melodies – setting him exceedingly apart from his quotidian pop contemporaries.

But perhaps the album’s most compelling moment is Young’s duet with Phoebe Ryan, “We Won’t,” a stirring recitation of shattered dreams, replete with all manner of vivid imagery (“We burn faster than a cigarette in my mouth”). One imagines it will be the soundtrack to many a summertime broken romance.

BlackBook premieres the video for the song today.

Young will also launch a 17-date North American tour at the Constellation at the Observatory in Santa Ana on July 10. But in the lead up to the album release date, we caught up for a chat with him to talk love, inspiration and making that ever important connection with his fans.



Your first full album is finally being released. What are you feeling right now? Nervous? Excited?

I spent a long time on this album. All the music I’ve released in the past and future just all blends into one timeline for me. That being said, I’m very excited – but am very focused on continuing to write and discover new sounds.

What were the biggest inspirations, musically and lyrically?

My inspirations are all over the place, it’s really a mess, but I’m okay with it. I’m big on trying to write lyrics that are honest and come from a real place, and most of my biggest musical and lyrical inspirations do that very, very well.

“I’ll Be Good” is the lead single – but it’s already a fan favorite, isn’t it?

That song snuck up on me. I didn’t realize that it was going to have any success when I first put it out, so it’s strange thinking of it as a single years later. I’m just excited for the album to live that long as well, and to see what comes of that.

What are some of the highlights of the record for you? 

There’s quite a few songs on the album that mean a lot to me: “Stone,” “Sugar Burn,” “Naked,” and “Feel Something.” Those songs all came from a very real place inside my head, and are based on personal experiences.

“Don’t You Know” and “Sugar Burn” and almost like synth-disco-pop. Have you been listening to anything in particular that is inspiring that direction? 

“Don’t You Know” was like an overnight song, happened super fast and was just in the moment, both on the production and writing side. “Sugar Burn” however has been in the works for a few years. I can’t say I drew specific inspiration from any one or two places for the creation of those songs. I think I was searching for sounds and they just turned out that way.

In “Don’t You Know” you declare, “I would fight in a war for you.” Then on  “Stoned on You” you go even further: “I’ll take a bullet for you right now.” Any reason you associate violent imagery with love?

Love to me, real love that is, is a submission of self oriented desires; and in good relationships I believe that sacrifice is a big deal too. Actions speak so much louder than words – I think I just wanted to express to what limits I would go for that kind of love. And what better way for me to do that than to say I would face such evils for another person?

In “Stone” you seem to be trying to save someone from their own darkness. Do you tend to be attracted to broken people? 

I don’t know if I have control over the type of person I am attracted to; I either am or am not attracted. But I’ve met a lot of people in my life whose struggles and hardships really inspired me to write “Stone” – and there are plenty of people who have been that strong kind of person for me as well.

Image by Lexus Gallegos

Your music is unapologetically visceral and confessional. Do you hear from fans who have made very emotional connections with the lyrics especially?

I do hear things from people sometimes about how a song made them feel or what it means to them, and I really appreciate those moments. I think it’s a good reminder of what music and art is really meant for. I don’t expect to change the world, but if one single person is affected in a positive way then I’m going to keep writing those songs and those lyrics. That stuff matters to me, probably more than most people know.

On “Feel Something” you insist, “I’m too young to feel so numb.” You seem to have a fairly cynical point of view on human relationships. Or is it that you’re just working it all out in your lyrics?

I try to be realistic about human relationships, but let’s face it, nobody is out there listening to a song about how great the singer’s relationship with the muse is – and is saying, “oh man, this really gets to my core and hits me hard right on the nose.” It’s the songs with pain in them that usually do that for people. But in retrospect, I think I was speaking on a different aspect of relationships in the modern age, as a younger person. I think what I was really trying to get at was the idea that as a young person, lots of romantic relationships will come and go with the seasons, and it’s easy to burn out on those highs if you’re just moving from one lover to another. That’s what I mean by “touch me someone” – after awhile you can be immune to something that would have felt pretty great. I feel like it’s even better to suffer a little bit sometimes instead of just feeling pretty bland about it all. It’s so easy to lose your point of reference.

You duet with Phoebe Ryan on “We Won’t.” She seems like a little firebrand – what was she like to work with? 

Phoebe is awesome, I loved working with her and will again in the future. She’s the only other voice on my record and I couldn’t say enough good things about her.

Are there any dream collaborations you’d love to see happen?

I won’t be able to predict what a dream collab would look like and who it would be with. I’ll let you know as soon as I figure that one out though – haha.

What are you looking forward to most about playing these songs live?

I’m just excited to get back out onto the road. Touring for me is really a feeling of energy and being alive. I’m starting to really miss that feeling, and the connection I get to make with fans.

Image by Lexus Gallegos



Read This Deeply Personal Excerpt From The New Novel ‘When My Ship Comes In’

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Photo Courtesy of the Author

Kristina Holstad’s debut novel, When My Ship Comes In, tells the true story of a young girl in the Midwest navigating a home of, among other things, abuse, death, and racehorses. It’s a wild, entirely unpredictable story of overcoming great physical and emotional obstacles through sheer strength of spirit. When My Ship Comes In offers a raw, heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious account of what it really means to struggle with mental health, and explores dealing with suicide, both firsthand and as a witness of someone else’s, with an unfettered, at times unsettlingly authentic approach.

Today, we’re pleased to offer a BlackBook exclusive excerpt from Holstad’s memoir, a glimpse into the sharply twisting story contained within the pages of the novel.

“This chapter was special to me because it summed up so many of the elements of my childhood in one story. I had a lot of excitement and adventure, but it always seemed to be tinged with anxiety and fear,” she explained to us. “My mother was an amazing woman and I loved her fiercely, but at the same time I was exasperated by her choices and actions. This chapter captured a lot of those paradoxes for me.”

In the following excerpt, an 8-year-old girl goes to a waterpark, but also watches her mother get physically abused, helps an Arkansas marijuana ring assemble its products, and escape danger in a midnight getaway. Without further ado: here’s an excerpt from When My Ship Comes In:

Arkansas in the summer is sweltering. I had never experienced heat like that before. But I didn’t care. We were on a family vacation. At least that’s what Mart called it. I had never been on a family vacation before, but my friends had. They were always coming back from school vacations talking about Disney World, the Bahamas, and cruises. I didn’t know much about those places. This trip made me feel like we had a real family and that we were normal because that’s what normal families did. Tim told me we weren’t normal because our dad killed himself last fall but I wasn’t going to think about that. We were going on a vacation.

We had piled into Mart’s new hatchback car the night before and Mart drove through the night while we slept. We folded the back seat down and laid our blankets and pillows out to make a bed. It was a huge adventure and even Tim started to warm up to the idea. Wally was only three so he didn’t care about anything except sucking his two fingers and his ratty blanket. Mart played the Bee Gees 8 track tape on her new car stereo and sang along all the way until we eventually fell asleep. She had the most beautiful voice so it was like a lullaby. A feeling of happiness washed over me. We were going to be alright, I just knew it. Mart was happy now and we were safe. We had a new car and were on a family vacation. Leny wasn’t around to hurt us anymore. And we had money.

When we arrived in Arkansas Tim and I were surprised when Mart pulled the hatchback into a driveway in a small neighborhood.

“This isn’t the Holiday Inn.” Tim commented in a sarcastic tone.

“Oh, I know honey. There has been a change of plans. We are going to visit a friend of mine. His name is Bruce. You will really like him.” Mart’s singsong voice was an attempt to make it seem like everything was normal and people visited friends on family vacations all the time. Tim and I glanced at each other but didn’t say anything. We didn’t need to.

“Let’s go in and say good morning,” chirped Mart. Reluctantly we exited the car and slowly walked up the driveway. I felt self-conscious in my shabby nightgown as I approached this stranger’s house. Where were we? The house was small and white with dead bushes and no garage. The grass needed to be cut. I didn’t see any flowers. It was what you might call ‘run down’. I knew what this meant because I had heard my neighbors at home whispering things like this about our house. I was across the street at April Fenn’s house recently and I overheard her mom talking to her friend about me in a hushed tone.

“That little girl is Tina Holstad. She lives across the street in that run down house. But you can’t really be surprised that no one is taking care of the house. The mother is never home and the father committed suicide last year.” The last part was always spoken softly as the one adult leaned in to the other and cupped her hands around her mouth. I pretended not to hear even though the anger was rising up in my throat. They would go on and on about my house, my dad’s suicide (I also knew what that meant now) and my mom and her boyfriends.

As we approached the front door a man emerged. He was tall with long hair and a beard. He wore cutoff jeans and no shirt or socks. I thought he could use a shower and a haircut, but I didn’t say anything. Lately I had been getting into arguments with Mart about what she called ‘differences of opinions’. She and I disagreed on many things.

“Bommie, she would say, “ just because you are smart doesn’t mean you are always right. You are right most of the time, but don’t be so bossy.”

“Mart, I don’t think you should date that man. I think he’s a loser. Does he have a job?” I would often say when she brought a man home to meet us. It was usually how the conversation began after she asked me what I thought. The problem was in the end I was always right. I couldn’t talk about it with anyone because no one understood. None of my friends had single moms who were young and beautiful. All of their moms were married to their dads and were old and fat. They also didn’t ride horses and stay out late drinking and play the guitar and sing Beatles songs like Mart did. Tim was the only one who understood but he didn’t want to talk much anymore. I always tried to cheer him up with stories of how great things were going to be now but it didn’t work. It was like he knew something that I didn’t and he would tell me. He just went to his room to be alone.

“This is Bruce. Say hi, kids.”

“Hello,” Tim and I murmured. Wally had wandered off so Tim quickly ran to fetch him so as to get away from the need for any further conversation with Bruce.

“Less go inside,’ he said as he opened the tattered screen door. We followed him inside. I thought about saying, “aren’t you supposed to hold the door open for ladies?” Grandpa Walt always told Tim to do that for me. But I knew Mart would get mad and I was still holding out hope for this family vacation. The front door opened to the living room. There was no air conditioning so it was hot in the house. The only relief appeared to be a box fan in the corner of the room. It was chugging along the best it could considering one side of it was held together with duct tape. I felt a kinship with that sad fan. There was a mattress on the floor and a low table next to it. Other than that the room was empty. We entered the kitchen next. Bruce put a box of Cheerios and a jug of milk on the table. I looked around at the dirty yellow linoleum and was silently thankful that I didn’t see any bugs. There was an old, worn formica table complete with 2 matching chairs, each of which looked to be missing a leg and some screws.

“Feed yourselves. I need to show your mom something in the bedroom.” With that they left. Tim and Wally had come in by then so I told them it was time for breakfast. I searched the kitchen and found some bowls and spoons. They looked dirty so I found some soap and washed them, just to be safe. I proceeded to pour us all some cereal. I knew that Bruce thought I was stupid because I was only eight years old, but he was wrong. I knew exactly what he was going to show my mom in the bedroom, his penis. He wanted to have sex with her. That’s what all the boyfriends wanted from Mart. But I am pretty sure he didn’t know I knew. I didn’t say anything to my brothers, I just fed them breakfast. As we sat in the kitchen and chatted I heard men’s voices coming from somewhere in the house. Tim and I exchanged a look.

“I will go investigate. You stay here with Wally.” Tim nodded in agreement. I tiptoed through the living room and down the small hallway. There were three doors, all closed. There was no way I was going to knock on or open any of them for fear of walking in on Mart and Bruce, so I pressed my ear against the first door to eavesdrop on the conversation. I established that there were two men in the room. I leaned a little harder because I couldn’t quite hear what they were saying, but as I pressed against the door it opened. I stumbled into  a small bedroom complete with some sleeping bags and a bunch of boxes and bags full of clothes and junk. The two men looked at me standing there in my nightgown and one of them said, “Well what do we have here?”

I backed away nervously as I said, “Hi, my name is Kristina. I am here visiting with my mom and my brothers. Sorry to interrupt. I was looking for the bathroom.” They both laughed.

“Well I am Tommy, and this here’s Joe.” He pointed an elbow at Joe as he took a swig from a beer can. “Guess we’s roommates now, eh girl?”

“Not really. I am just visiting. We aren’t going to live here.” A feeling of fear was forming in the pit of my stomach. I had learned to trust this feeling as it had warned me of trouble ahead many times. What were we doing here? Was Mart trying this out under the guise of family vacation but really planning to move here so we could live with some hippie strangers and no furniture? We lived outside of Chicago – where the heck had she found this guy in Arkansas? I started to worry intensely because I really had no idea what Mart was thinking – I never did.

“Well we been hearing that y’alls moving in. You a pretty little thing. You can sleep in here with us. How’s that sound?” Tommy and Joe howled with laughter at my horrified expression. “I’m just messin’ with ya, lil girl. I’m sure you and your brothers will be just fine sleeping out in the livin’ room. Didn’t mean to scare ya.”

“I gotta go,” I mumbled as I backed out of the room.

Later that day Mart and Bruce took us to a waterslide. I had never even heard of one before. It turned out to be one of the most fun days we had that summer. Even Tim was hooked. We ran up those stairs so many times I lost count. The water was cold and the day was roasting and sunny – over 100 degrees. It never got that warm back in New Lenox. When we took breaks we bought peach sodas out of the vending machine and we each got our own. “No sharing on vacation,” Mart said. It was delicious and made me feel so fancy because with Leny we never got to have our own soda.  Even contemplating my own soda made my cheek sting with the memory of Leny slapping me hard across the face when I complained about sharing with Tim. The best part of the waterslide was at the very end when the force of the water thrust you into the pool. I would take a big breath and then plunge to the bottom of the pool. All of a sudden water filled my ears and everything was quiet. In that instant I had to focus on getting to the surface, and all of my worries evaporated. Sometimes in that moment I thought about how easy it would be just to breathe in and fill my lungs with water and just stay in the quiet forever.

The days passed in a similar manner. We would either go to the waterslide or the beach at a nearby lake during the day, then Mart and Bruce would go out at night and we would stay home, usually with Tommy and Joe. They had grown on me. I mean after you live with people for days or weeks, you get to know them. Tommy had his own business and Joe was his helper. Tommy would go meet a guy named Rocky every Monday and pick up a big plastic bag full of plants. They looked like a combination of moss that grew on the tree next to the creek in our backyard and dandelions without the yellow heads. I always asked if I could come along but Tommy said no, he needed me to stay and keep an eye on Joe. I knew that was an important job because Joe didn’t seem too smart. Joe and I would go to Kmart on some of the Mondays to buy ziploc bags, waxed paper, tissue paper, and sometimes tools like exacto knives or razor blades. Those lasted a while so you didn’t need to buy them every week. When Tommy returned Joe and I would cover the table with waxed paper. Then we would take the plants (well they called it pot) out of the bag and look through it to remove any twigs or bugs or things like that. They told me I was good at that part because my hands were small. Once it was cleaned Tommy would take a handful or so and make a little pile. Then he’d say, “Tina, how many piles can you make that are exactly the same size as mine?”

The first time he said that I responded by saying, “None. It would be impossible for my piles to be exactly the same as yours without having a scale to measure them. They may look the same but they wouldn’t be exact.”  Tommy looked at me with a puzzled expression and retorted,” Girl, who tole you that? Just make me some piles same size as mine. Sometimes I don’t know what you talkin’ bout. And make sure ole Joe doesn’t pocket any for hisself,” he smiled at me and winked while he was laughing. I smiled back and laughed too.

“OK, deal. I will make piles that look just like yours,” I replied. And I went to work.

We made the piles and packaged them up in the ziplocks. We reserved the best piles for ourselves. Later in the evenings we would take our piles out and sprinkle some of them into small squares of tissue paper. Then we’d roll the paper into a little tube which was basically a homemade cigarette. Tommy and Joe called them joints. You had to lick the paper at the end to make it sticky and then glue it to itself so it didn’t unroll. Tommy and Joe would smoke the joints while Tim and I read stories to Wally and cuddled him. Sometimes I did the reading by myself because Tim went off to read his own books. Tommy and Joe told me I could smoke some too but I didn’t. I thought that might lead to trouble. Besides, I was too young to smoke. Eventually Tim, Wally and I would fall asleep on the living room mattress. It was like camping I guessed because we slept on the floor, but better because we didn’t have to go to the bathroom outside.

On Tuesdays we had to handle distribution. The phone rang constantly and people were always stopping by to see us. It never really interfered with the waterslide routine because none of the people called or stopped over until mid-afternoon and we were already back by then for Wally’s nap. Sometimes when Tommy was avoiding someone he would have me answer the door and collect the money. “No one’s gonna give a lil girl the shakedown,” he said. I didn’t mind because when I did a special job like that I got an extra fifty cents. I had already made over $8 on this trip! I was saving it so I could be rich someday. Mart told me I would need money for college or for all of the nice things I always was begging her to buy.

“Save your money, Bommie. You will need it until your ship comes in.”

I still hadn’t had the chance to tell her about the money I was making, but it could wait. I knew her mind was on other things.  Mart and Bruce argued a lot. I could hear them fighting late at night when they were in Bruce’s room and everyone else was asleep. I was usually awake, lying on the mattress in the living room, either reading or thinking about how I could have a business like Tommy’s. I had tried something similar with popsicles but I couldn’t get enough customers before they melted. Tommy’s customers came to him looking for the pot. It seemed like more of a sure thing than popsicles. I was laying there one night late in the summer when Mart ran into the living room crying. Her nose was bleeding.

“Martie, what’s wrong?” I jumped up to hug her and wipe the blood away with my sleeve.

“Bruce is an asshole. We are leaving.”

“Right now? It’s night time.”

“That’s ok, Bommie. We can do this. Gather up the boys and your stuff. I want to get out of here before he gets out of the shower. Hurry!” she glanced around, nervously.

“OK. I’ll get the stuff. You get yours and fold the seats down in the car,” I whispered as I jumped up and got started. We didn’t have that much stuff and what we did have was still in suitcases that we used as dressers so it was a quick job.

“Are you sure you don’t want to say goodbye?” I asked.

“No! He told me don’t even think about leaving or he will hurt you kids!” she whimpered. I didn’t answer, I just went to into crisis mode. One thing I knew for sure was that angry adults are unpredictable and scary. We had to get out and fast. I threw our little suitcases in the car. Then I came back in, shook Tim awake and said, “We need to leave now. Bruce has gone crazy. Get in the car.”

Tim nodded and was up and out in one second. I grabbed Wally and tried not to wake him, but once I heard the shower water turn off I didn’t hesitate. Wally jostled in my arms and woke, but miraculously didn’t make a sound. I grabbed his blankie, took one last look around and ran for the car. We all hunkered down in the backseat and as we drove away I could hear him screaming, “Martha, you bitch! Get back here!”

We sped away like a scene from Rockford Files. It was scary and fun at the same

time. My heart was beating so fast I thought I would have a heart attack.

“Do you think he will follow us?” I asked.

“Nope. His car is broken so he can’t. That’s why he was mad. He wanted me to give him $5,000 for a new car and I wouldn’t.”

“Good for you! $5,000 is a lot of money and I am sure we need it for something else. I’m glad you didn’t give it to him.” Thank goodness, I thought to myself as I glanced over at Tim and he rolled his eyes at me. I nodded in silent agreement. With a sense of relief and exhaustion I laid down on our makeshift car/bed and began to doze off. I thought about my business ideas, my sweet baby brother and getting away from scary Bruce. I was a little sad that I didn’t get to say goodbye to Tommy and Joe, especially Tommy, but I was sure they wouldn’t miss us too much. As we drove along the dark deserted back roads of Arkansas, Mart hummed softly. I gazed up through the sunroof and watched the stars twinkle. I listened to Mart and the soft snoring sound that Wally made as he slept with his two fingers in his mouth. Everything was going to be OK. We were going home now and we wouldn’t be moving to Arkansas. Mart had made the right choice on leaving Bruce. We were safe was my final thought as I drifted off to sleep.

When I woke the next morning to bright sunshine, I looked around and was confused when I saw our car parked in Bruce’s driveway. I sighed and closed my eyes for a few seconds. The feeling of anger and rage that I felt at that moment consumed me. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs but instead I crawled over my brothers to get out of the car and ran into the house. Mart and Bruce were in the kitchen talking. He was holding a check.

“What are you doing? Why are we back here?” I screamed at her. “He only wants your money! He threatened to hurt us! He hurt you! Haven’t you had enough? What is wrong with you?” I was crying now. This could not be happening. I felt a hand on my leg and turned around to see little Wally standing  there.

“Tina, I hungry,” he said.

“Go take care of him and mind your own fucking business you little shit! You ain’t in charge here. I am.” Bruce shouted at me in his half-drunk stipor. He gave me a cold stare that enhanced his point. I turned, took Wally in my arms, and left the kitchen. I was smart enough to know that he was stronger than me. Now we just needed to survive.

After that night things were strained for everyone. Bruce and I had an understanding that we hated each other. Tim and Wally stayed outside most of the time so they could be out of Bruce’s path. Mart and Bruce continued to fight. Bruce showed up with a brand new car. Even though Mart had funded the new car purchase, it was the last straw. I overheard the argument that night as I eavesdropped on them through the bathroom vent.

“Martha, you and your lazy kids been freeloadin’ off me for long enough. Hell that gil ‘o your probly been stealin’ weed to keep for herself and sell. Regular delinquent, that one. Time you started payin’ rent. ‘Sides, I need money,” he slurred. I could tell they had been drinking by the pile of beer cans on the floor in the kitchen. Plus I had been ordered, “Tina, get me a beer. NOW,” about 20 times.

“You invited me here to visit to see if I liked it, for a vacation, not to pay rent,” she said in a quiet voice.

“Yeah well I didn’t realize that the lot of ya was a whiny bunch a spoiled know it alls!” His voice was beginning to escalate.

“Well I guess you are out of luck because I don’t have anymore money!” she choked out through a sob.

“Oh, honey, I think you do. I seems to recall you tellin’ me ‘bout that life insurance settlement from yur dead husband. Member that?” There was no response except the sound of muffled sobs.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Tomorrow you and me’s makin’ a trip to the bank. That’s what we gone do. Wouldn’t want nothin’ to happen to those kids now do ya?”

I slipped quietly down off of the bathroom sink where I had been standing to reach the vent. I tiptoed out to the living room and explained what I had heard to Tim.

“I think we need to get out of here tonight, before he forces her to go get money,” I whispered.

Tim nodded and replied, “we have no other option. We have to talk to mom. Besides, I am sick of it here, aren’t you?”

“Yes I am. I hate Bruce. I was sick of it the day we arrived! But how are we going to talk to her now?”

Then all of a sudden we heard the bedroom door open and the sound of Mart’s small footsteps padding into the bathroom. We looked at each other with relief.

“You start getting our stuff and Wall in the car. I’ll get Mart,” I whispered quickly.

Tim nodded and I snuck off to wait outside the bathroom door. Mart appeared a couple seconds later. Before she made a sound I put my finger to my lips, grabbed her hand and pulled her into the living room.

“I heard what he said. We need to get out of here for good before tomorrow. You know that right?” I pleaded.

“I know,” she whispered as tears welled up in her eyes.

“It’s OK, Martie, don’t cry. Tim and I will help.”

“I’m sorry, Bommie. He said he would take care of you kids,” she whimpered.

“We don’t need him. We can take care of ourselves,” I said in my happiest cheerleader voice. “Now here’s the plan. Tim and I will get everything in the car. You go back in there and wait until he’s asleep or passed out. Then make a run for the car and we’ll get the hell outa here!”

She hugged me tight. “OK, Bommie, you’re right. Be quiet and careful.”

“YOU be careful,” I replied as I squeezed her back. She turned and tiptoed back into the bedroom.

Tim and I loaded everything in the hatchback, closed the doors as quietly as you can close a car door and waited for what seemed like hours. We were whispering about how lucky it was that Tommy and Joe weren’t home that night to witness our second escape when Mart appeared out of the darkness. It took all of my self control not to scream as she had startled me. I guess we were all a little nervous. Mart slid into the driver’s seat and tossed her sandals on the passenger seat.

“Here we go,” she whispered, “and this time we won’t be back.” Tim and I looked at each other thinking, “we better not be back,” as Mart backed the car out of the driveway with the lights off. She drove with the lights off until we reached the two lane highway, and then we sped off into the night and never looked back. Well, almost never.