Things of the Year: Champagne & Spain, A taco in the back of a car after the Replacements concert, Rock Lobster & a Romanian Bear

LJ: Champagne

In 2015, I literally figured out The Answer. It is: 

If you want your life to be "good," you have to figure out how to strike the exact perfect balance between things being "safe" and things being "interesting." 

If your life is too heavy on the safe, you are probably going to be bored, or depressed in a "regular Joe in secret" kinda way, ex. Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom or pre-Henry Francis Betty Draper. And if your life is interesting but you feel unsafe inside of it, that's very dark. It's like, rock star on a bender/ I'm gonna die young kind of vibe. Over it. 

I think the best way to nail the interesting/safe equilibrium is by mostly just going for safe coziness on a day-to-day basis ("safe coziness" is like "safety" but cuter/less dull. Some recent examples of "safe coziness" from my life include: 1) going to a bookstore & being moderately helpful but also sort of bored and spacey while my friend Matt King picked out Christmas presents for his nieces and nephews; 2) eating two eggs (cooked to somewhere between over-easy and over-medium) & and an English muffin for breakfast every single morning and then one day Sainsbury's started to carry a cheddar & black pepper English muffin variant and I bought it and it was SO GOOD, SO SAFE, SO COZY) but then always having something cool and interesting to look forward to on the horizon (I stole this concept from Dr. Faye on Mad Men btw), such as: the trip to Barcelona I am taking in February, my cool new life plan of moving to Liverpool to "make an honest living"/finish my novel, even something as basic and simple as going out for dinner somewhere good, or eating a Snickers bar later that day. 

I feel like "drink a glass of Champagne" is the most failsafe and attainable "interesting thing on the horizon" I consistently have going for myself, which is what led me to invent my new life motto/semi-Answer

 "There's no light at the end of the tunnel- only champagne"

this year, which is really smart because who even cares about a crappy light? I'm not actually a person trapped inside a tunnel. I'm a regular thirty-year-old woman who loves sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France more than anything except the Beatles, Mad Men, and maybe four or five people, but even that is debatable. 

Drinking champagne is a special thing to do. If you're drinking champagne, it means that you are a classy and special fellow, and that something excellent has recently happened, and you are using your glass of champagne to demarcate that excellence: the entire life and narrative of whatever chill little thing you're "celebrating" is now contained within that glass. The liquid is the thing. You're the thing. You're you drinking champagne. And you always will be again. That's how I keep myself from dying of boredom, or succumbing to darkness. The allure of that

Champagne is the Paul McCartney of wine (because it's consistent). There's not good champagne and bad champagne, there's only excellent champagne (Beatles) and good champagne (Wings), and the only way you can figure out that a good champagne isn't excellent is by taking a sip of excellent champagne directly before tasting it. My personal fav champagne ever is a tie between the mini-sip of 20 yr old Dom Perignon I once tried when I was a sommelier (tasted like if challah doused in truffle oil had a baby with the idea of a brass candelabra) and Pol Roger (NV, though I'm sure if I had an aged bottle I'd like it better than either), just like my homie the infamous classy-ass bitch Winston Churchill. Pol Roger is citric & lean & doesn't make a very big deal out of itself, but is flawless. That's my life advice to everybody: have Pol Roger be your go-to champagne. Tarlant is nice & oxidative but lacks the panache of the Pol Roger brand: it's a good, like, Wednesday champagne. Taittinger is also pretty fly, and I like the idea of Krug, which I've never had, but sounds like what Russian mafia dudes would drink so dig conceptually. Drinking Cristal is unacceptably garish. Moet & Chandon will do in a pinch.  

LJ: My Trip To Spain

I keep trying to explain why my trip to Spain was the best thing that's ever happened to me but the words "It was the best thing that's ever happened to me" do inconveniently little to express what it actually feels like to be the person experiencing the best thing that's ever happened to her as she's experiencing it. But I know that I am capable of explaining what it feels like, I know the words must be there somewhere, hidden and hard and good, really good, really good cool powerful Spain writing from Laura Jane- 

This might not be it. I'm just going to write a bunch of beautiful words down in a sort of stream-of-conscious-y way, like in a weird poem-y way, and I don't know if it's going to be good or not, it's 3:46 PM on Christmas Eve Day & this is just going to be a little chunk of words I write down about Spain before my Dad comes back to his apartment with my mom and her dog in tow, and this is my fun little thing I'm doing while left here alone and up to my own devices...


I flew to Santiago with my co-workers. At the airport cashpoint I decided who we'd all be if we were Beatles & I allowed myself the luxury of being the Ringo. It was freeing, being the Ringo. I'd never been the Ringo before. 

I felt as wowed by Spanish highways at thirty as I did by Disneyworld when I was five. In the cab the landscape reminded me of Ontarian suburbs, big box buildings with logos on the side. There were fir trees like home. There were hills like in Los Angeles. The car radio played that stupid Pharrell song and I thought: California is more of a home to me than England, actually. I missed everything North American desperately- sometimes the thing I miss most is the feeling of standing inside a 7-11- and loved Spain right off the bat, just for not being the place I'm usually missing it from. 

The cab driver dropped us off right smack in the middle of Santiago de Compostela, in the middle of a square. The buildings were four hundred or so years old and ornate and so beautiful I wanted to... I don't know. Not kiss the ground, though I initially had "kiss the ground" written, but I've never wanted to do that. I guess I just wanted to be there with not my co-workers, express myself in a way that comes so weirdly easy when I'm around the right people. I wanted to make the jokes that my best friends would think were funny. 

The air felt humid-cold like the water inside a stone. The sky was super-blue like if you were really going to town on your Instagram saturation filter. I was delighted, and I knew my childlike enthusiasm was coming off as endearing to my co-workers and so I played it up a bit. I spoke in a higher register than usual. I knew I wouldn't be doing a ton of sulking that weekend, which was a relief.

We all wanted to get drunk, especially me, it seemed. We went to the first bar we found, which was perfect, where I drank a mini-bottle of shit cava & connected with a dog. He was wearing a hi-vis vest wrapped around his tummy and under his haunches. He was a rescue dog. I changed into my jean shorts. My legs were pale and my eyes were red. I leaned over the side of my chair and let my hair hang over the dog's head so the dog & I could be alone in a secret world together. 

We went to a coffee place where we all liked the business cards and the leather on the chair. I dumped a thing of brandy into my coffee and we ate medicore churros that left my fingers sticky. I regretted eating them. Oh and the vermouth place! Where we went on a vermouth binge. We called one vermouth "the Christmassy one" & then shortened it to just "Christmas," as a nickname, and the other one was a white vermouth; my boss and I both liked it better. It tasted brackish, like what cleaning supplies would smell like in heaven. I felt like I was rinsing myself out with it: the Laura equivalent of a juice fast. In Spain they feed you for free while you drink: a thing of tinned mussels in paprika-coloured oil, and endless baskets of potato chips. At a different bar, they kept us supplied with endless ramekins of Haribo. Little jelly stars, hearts, shapes. I had a blue one, a star, with the foamy white stuff on the back. That was my favourite Haribo. 

A lovely woman with cute crooked teeth whose name was short for "Immaculate" picked us up in a car and drove us to a hotel by the vineyard. The night felt Californian again, with stars shining like a basic bitch's diamond studs against the mossy cape of a hundred thousand trees. They were on the side of a mountain. This is the part that becomes too beautiful to explain. 

The Hotel By The Vineyard. I guess being there felt like... if someone ripped the chunk of your brain where you keep your own personal vision board of all the things in the world you think are beautiful and then chucked it at a blank canvas and it leaked across the canvas and you stepped into the canvas and then all of a sudden you were vermouth-drunk with your boss, colleague & wine supplier inside of it.

My phone ran out of juice. I couldn't take any pictures of this place, this most beautiful place, which at the time I was happy about. I wanted to keep it pure in my memory and belong only to me, to my best friend the inside of my brain, forever. Those memories were a present to the back of my brain from the front of it. But I wish I could see it again. It's nowhere on the Internet. 

I had the best room, the only one with the balcony. I was the princess of the scrappiest castle and out the back window was a field and a dog and an old man and, in the morning, I realized, a sheep. I asked the lady named Immaculate "What is that tower?" and she said "It's a chimney"- it was so beautiful, I'd thought it was, like, this important piece of architecture- but it was just a shitty chimney! It's the chimney in the picture.

I fell in love with the winemaker. We went to the winery. In my notebook I wrote down tasting notes like Bubblegum! Sand Synthetic Fruit Juicebox Rubber and Candied Lemon Peel Plastic Baby Doll Barbie Doll and I was exactly where I was and I was myself.

That afternoon I ate a croqueta that melted in my mouth in the style of a soft mint sweet made from sugar and milk, I ate a really real crab pate that reminded me of wines you say are "gamey"; I sat next to the winemaker and he showed me an app of the biodynamic calendar on his iPhone & I thought how fantastic it is that you can live in this tiny town in rural Spain where the roads are made of rust-colour dust and when I asked if we could stop into a store there was just... no store- but you still get to have an iPhone. That really sold me on moving to rural Spain. On the app there was a little emoji of a strawberry that meant it was time to pick the fruit and my hair looked like shit because I'd forgotten my hair dryer, my straightening iron, my phone charger, everything except my feet and my Vans and my tongue, now shredded up and ragged from the acid in the probably seventy or a million wines we'd tried. He lifted the nearly-neon pineapple or raspberry liquid from the barrel with his Riedel pipette that he did this weird thing of resting against his cheek and we made a "Is that a Riedel pipette in your pocket" joke about him which was funny. After we tasted the wine he showed us that we should dump the dregs of our glasses right back into the barrels, which we did, dutifully, and then he sealed them up again. So my spit and germs will be inside those wines of his forever. People in countries I've never been to will buy them in a store and they'll drink a piece of me. Like when you go to Liverpool and breathe the Beatles in the air.       

LJ: A Whole Bunch of Other Things (Including But Not Limited To...)

The part in See Me Now by Kanye & Beyonce & Lil Wayne where Kanye raps "He just walked into Nobu like it was Whole Foods; the part in See Me Now where Kanye raps "Pour the champagne; let your watch show"; the part in See Me Now where Lil Wayne raps "Be SUCCESSFUL" and it's basically the most motivating thing in the entire world to me. 

Drawing and amazing Christmas gift by Matt King

I loved Mad Men, clearly, particularly Peggy Olson with her cigarette on Roger Sterling hangover day, and I loved the movie The One I Love starring Peggy Olson and my fake boyfriend Mark Duplass, and I loved my fake boyfriend Mark Duplass' TV show Togetherness, and more than anything I loved the part in Togetherness when Amanda Peet was like "You see this smile? I'm DEAD INSIDE." That was how I felt for most of 2015, a year that I did not live with a particularly impressive amount of honesty or integrity. So, my New Year's Resolution for 2016 is going to be: live my life with honesty and integrity. Right??? I'm also going to start exclusively referring to movies as "flicks."  

I loved all my friends, who I'm not going to bother naming individually because that's boring for other people to read, but if you suspect that you might be one of those people, you definitely are. I also loved The Great British Bake-Off, I loved beautiful perfect Nadiya as much as everyone else because beautiful perfect Nadiya was so, so deserving of my love and everyone's. My favourite Nadiya moment was "Happy, Paul?"God I loved "Happy, Paul?" 

I loved the book May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes, and I loved Purity and the experience of fully coming into my guilt-free own as a Jonathan Franzen-appreciator. I even nicknamed him Franzo, and refer to him exclusively as Franzo. If I ever meet Franzo, I'm going to fucking LOSE IT. I'm going to give him a low-five and be like "Franzooooooooooo" & he'll look at my hand like it's sticky and have a weak handshake I bet- he'll come around to me in the end, though. 

In January I tasted the best wine I've ever tasted. It was a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington State. I drank it in the most unromantic of circumstances: at wine school at two in the afternoon. The light was creepy in the room. My wine teacher looked like Wallace Shawn and he was not cute. Whenever I described wine as tasting like anything other than the most MOR wine descriptors imaginable he'd tell me I should "go write a poetry book" in a really derogatory way. So I kept my mouth shut when I tasted L'Ecole No. 41 and wanted to write like ten epic novels about the way it smelled exactly like the workshop my dad built harpsichords out of in the basement of the house I grew up in, and that in that smell my my entire life lived. (I refuse to make the obvious Proust reference here. Do you understand? I refuse.) 

I also had a great year for Pinot Noirs and Chenin Blancs; I particularly loved the Savennieres I drank with Matt King in Paris (which tasted like The Flavor Of Water, like if you amplified the cool clean rocky flavour of the purest mineral water in the world and then gave it a Chenin Blanc honey-nut twist) and the Savennieres I drank with my Dad at St. John (which was SO AMAZING and SO WEIRD & tasted like mallow root, popcorn, and tomato leaf). Foodwise I am going to have to give the 2015 gold medal to the blueberry Baked Alaska I ate at The Marksman with Laura Goodman & Amanda, and beigels, obvs. SO MANY BEIGELS. Beigels beigels beigels. Beigels 4eva. The perfect food. 

At the beginning of December Nadine came to London and we went to Harrods in the morning & then ate SO MUCH fried fish for lunch & took the bus to Soho and talked really loudly about Blur for our entire bus ride and then drank overpriced orange wine and wrote a subjective/objective list of the Top Ten Best Blur Songs & then went to see the Kinks musical & got drunk at Bradley's Spanish Bar and these two cute brunette chicks were like "Why aren't you hanging out with us?"- they, like, friend-hit on us, which is such a phenomenal concept. Best concept of 2015. 

Blur were my great musical obsession of 2015; the two non-wine-related things I loved doing the most this year were 1) "mopily listening to blur" and 2) "working on my novel"- I really loved writing my nov in 2015. Realistically, I should have given it its own section, but I don't want to talk too much about it now and then ruin the surprise of it for everyone once it drops. You've just got to drop a novel. They're like mixtapes that way. 

"Resigned" by blur was the song I loved and listened to most in 2015; it's one of those songs you can listen to a thousand times in a row and it never stops working, and in fact improves, just like a 20 yr old Dom Perignon that tastes of challah bread. Resigned (which it would mean a lot to me if you listened to) is the exact perfect amount of tragically beautiful that I want all my writing to be: always wistful, never sad. 

LIZ: A taco in the back of a car after the Replacements concert

(a picture I took of a house in Echo Park on April 17)

On April 16 I saw the Replacements at the Hollywood Palladium. It was a Thursday night, and before the show started I got a plastic cup of champagne at the bar in the lobby, which is the last I really remember about the whole thing. Other than that it's this crazy blur - kind of like how, after my first kiss, I couldn't remember what the boy looked like, despite having known him for years. All I could recall was the general outline of him, and his plaid flannel, and the tacky-spray-gel texture of his hair. My memory of him was just pure feeling, and the same is true for Replacements night: I remember the cup of champagne and I remember everything after the lights came back up - but the show itself is lost, except for the feeling of being ecstatically happy for hours, and of every second seeming unreal, like some magic present sent from some other time. The Replacements don't really even exist anymore but I got to see them, and now I'll never see them again and that's so perfect, just like how you only get to have one first kiss.

(a picture of Divine Fits by my friend Danielle Petrosa)

My favorite song this year was "Baby Get Worse" by Divine Fits, which is Britt Daniel and the hot-voiced boy from Wolf Parade. I love Divine Fits because they're so over-the-top romantic, always inventing dramatic scenarios about girls where their own romanticness seems like the point of the whole thing. I'm into that. Being in love with your own romanticness is the way to go, as long as you can make it look good and sound good. To me the best-sounding part of "Baby Get Worse" is the bridge, when it's stripped down to just the drums and throbby synth thing and Britt Daniel takes over the vocals and his voice is all scratched-up on purpose and he sounds so elegantly put-upon. Everything about Divine Fits is so elegantly contrived.

Elegance is a quality that's become more important to me this year; I like how one definition of elegant is "focusing on the essential." As someone who makes her living as a writer and lives in a part of L.A. that's changed so much over the past few years and that keeps getting more and more grossly/boringly expensive, focusing on the essential with grace or whatever feels like a good goal. It's so trite to complain about how these pizza places and hamburger stands and Mexican restaurants you've loved for years are getting pushed out and turned into prissy coffee shops and clever boutiques; it's much better to pay attention to the good stuff that's still there and use it and love it and make what you can of it. I've lived in L.A. for 12 and a half years and it's never stopped being a wonderland to me, and it would be just weak and lame to let anything wreck that.

Lately I've worked for a few musician-kids who keep misusing the word "architecture" to make it about the process of constructing pop songs, which I'm into. Anyone can be an architect of anything. I think my thing is to be an architect of moods or vibes or whatever it is that colors everything when you're walking around in your ridiculous neighborhood. I think it's important to build a cool life for yourself in spite of the encroaching prissiness, and listen to music that brightens you and turn down some street you've never been on before and get your coffee from the bakery with the 35-cent dulce-de-leche empanadas instead of the place with the $7 coffee that doesn't taste as good. Last night on my way back from Christmas I decided my #1 L.A. song is "When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around" by the Police, but really it's David Bowie's version of "Across the Universe." David Bowie is the most capable architect of cool-weird-beautiful vibes. 

Probably the most elegant thing I did this year was eat two tacos de carnitas in the back of a car in the parking lot of a supermarket after the Replacements show at the Hollywood Palladium. On the way home from Hollywood my friends and I stopped at the taco truck outside Vons and got our tacos wrapped in hot tin foil and buried them in salsa and cilantro and radishes from the plastic buckets lined up all along the taco truck door and then we sat in the car and ate them. It was a real focusing-on-the-essential moment. Everything was perfect; there was nothing more I wanted.

The thing that everyone always says about the Replacements and that the Replacements used to say about themselves is they’re so sloppy and fucked-up and shambolic - but the truth is they’re perfect. Their songs are perfect. The melodies are perfect. They are perfect melodists and songmakers. And the perfectness makes the fucked-up-ness something glorious and transcendent and all those words I always use when I'm writing about the rock & roll music that I love more than anything. If the Replacements really were awful, it would be useless. But instead they're the opposite of useless: I love using them, every single day of my life.

The most major Replacements song for me at the end of 2015 is "We're Comin' Out." "One more chance to get it all wrong" is a good line to have in your head at the start of a new year and make it mean something useful and perfect.

Jen's Things of the Year:

1. The song Rock Lobster. This is the #1 best thing of all time.
2. Seeing Sleater-Kinney cover Rock Lobster with Fred Armisen twice.
3. Seeing Sleater-Kinney 3 times this year.
4. Joyce.
5. Books from Kim Gordon, Carrie Brownstein, Patti Smith, Jessa Crispin, Jessica Hopper, Mary Gaitskill and Maggie Nelson all being release this year.
6. Wynne Greenwood's New Museum show and Yoko's Museum of Modern (f)Art retrospective, even though it was too small.
7. I saw this cool 40 year old bear named Betsy in at the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Zarnesti, Romania.

8. Roasted Broccoli.
9. Difficult People, a perfect show.
10. Seeing Hedwig on Broadway three times (twice with John Cameron Mitchell, once with Taye Diggs).
11. The moon.
12. Acupuncture.

13. I ate at Kajitsu, a beautiful and fancy vegan Japanese zen Buddhist cuisine restaurant that I love maybe an excessive amount of times.
14. Mochi.
15.  Scharpling & Wurster’s live show.
16. The Best Show, always.
17. Having my aura photographed regularly.

18. Congee with shiitake mushrooms and ginger.

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