2015 Reading Challenge: “A book that became a movie”—The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett

One of my favorite college courses was a film class at Boston University all about the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen like noir — so much, in fact, that I felt the genre’s principles were beaten permanently into all our heads. However, to truly understand noir to the fullest, my professor said one must read Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 novel The Maltese Falcon. So, that’s exactly what I did.

Thanks for the recommendation, Professor Monk. You did me right.

I really loved this book. From page one, I was hooked. My ex, who loves this genre, once described Falcon as the basis of all hard-boiled detective fiction, and I believe he’s right. The private investigator, the femme fatale, the double-crossers, the jargon — it’s all there.

The premise isn’t clear at first. All we know is that Sam Spade (a P.I. living in San Francisco who serves as our protagonist) and his partner Miles Archer have been asked to shadow a man, for a female client. It all spirals out from there, plot twists reminding the reader that nothing is sacred and that things are never as they seem.

Anyone interested in noir has to read this book, and I think anyone looking for a good mystery would enjoy it too.

Fulfilled “A book that became a movie” on my 2015 Reading Challenge checklistm.falcon

217 pages
Alfred A. Knopf
Published: 1929

Up next? I’m still deciding… We shall see.

My top 10 favorite NYC spots: bars, restaurants and shopping, oh my!

Now that it’s officially fall and with sweater weather upon us, I figured it was time to do a quick round-up of 10 of my favorite New York City spots from my crazy summer.

I worked at a bond rating agency this summer in Midtown East and lived in Murray Hill on Park Avenue between 36th and 37th. While I did spend a majority of my time in that part of the city, I also made sure I ventured far and wide — and by that I mean to the West side, to Brooklyn and to Queens – and picked up a lot of favorites all over the city.

In no particular order and with no disrespect to all the wonderful places I stumbled upon this summer that did not make the cut, here is my NYC Top 10:

1. Pommes Frites East Village, Manhattan

Fries, all day, every day, until the wee hours of the night. Upon arriving at Pommes Frites, you might ask yourself, “is this heaven?” Located in Manhattan’s East Village, one of my favorite neighborhoods, Pommes Frites was often a pit stop on our way home from the bars. Wrapped in a paper cone or tossed in a bag to go, this place is a little slice of Belgium with some serious New York flair. The wall boasts the dozens of differently flavored mayo sides you can pair with your fries (with truffle mayo, rosemary garlic mayo and basil pesto mayo being just some of the highlights). You can also get poutine if you’re feeling zany, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re planning on ever eating again (it is delicious but I was full for about three days). While Pommes Frites isn’t technically heaven, I recommend still making it a holy experience by grabbing your frites to go and eating them across the street on the steps of the neighborhood’s church.

2. Murray’s Cheese Bar West Village, Manhattan

A new complement to the tried-and-true Murray’s Cheese, this West Village eatery is simply beautiful. The counter is marble and the rest of the place has a light, airy feel to it despite its dim lighting. The chairs are fire-engine red, giving it a fashionable, playful look. The menu is amazing: the flights are enough to make any cheese fanatic weep with joy, and the wines are enough to sate any sommelier. I had the burrata one night and just about fainted: it was creamy and delicious and one of the best I’ve ever had. In addition to the gorgeous space and the fantastic menu, Murray’s Cheese Bar is fun without being cutesy and sophisticated without seeming pretentious. You could chat with the bartenders for hours and if that’s not your thing, why not pass the time with some tic-tac-toe on their marble playing board? This place is sure to live a long life as an NYC classic.

3. The Market NYC Greenwich Village, Manhattan

The Market, located downtown, is a dream-come-true for people with limited time and a limited budget. Whether you’re in the market (no pun intended) for a new dress for a party Friday night, some new necklaces, new apartment decorations or just in the mood to shop, this is the place for you. Budding designers and artists converge at The Market to put their goods on display on a rotating basis. Some stay for months and months but some just pass through for a quick stint, so be careful when hemming and hawing over something you really like. I got a one-of-a-kind dress at The Market that I’ve received more compliments on than anything else I’ve ever owned and I wear two pieces of jewelery I bought there every single day. The goods range from simple, printed cotton t-shirts to rings made from vintage typewriter keys (my personal favorite accessory ever). Artists charge reasonable prices and are helpful and friendly to customers. What more could you need?

4. 124 Old Rabbit Club Greenwich Village, Manhattan

As I am a huge sucker for a good gimmick, The Old Rabbit Club on MacDougal Street is one of my favorite bars in New York City. To give you a sense of how much I like the place, I went here on the stroke of midnight on my 21st birthday. Even when you factor in its funky decor, its out-of-this-world beer and wine list and its knowledgeable staff, this bar’s main draw is still its exclusivity — you wouldn’t even know it was there if you were just walking down the street. Located behind a plain black door marked simply with “124” across the very top, you have to know what you’re doing to get in. It’s amazing and I’d recommend it to any craft beer lover or anyone who, like me, loves the idea of a speakeasy.

5. Excellent Dumpling House Chinatown, Manhattan

My roommate Emilie is a self-proclaimed Asian food expert and this is her all-time favorite, located just off the Canal Street subway stop in New York City’s famous Chinatown. The dumplings, as the name suggests, are definitely the highlight. I’ve never had better dumplings in my life and don’t expect to — they come out piping hot and, when paired with EDH’s house sauce mixed and a touch of Sriracha, could probably solve all the world’s problems. Their entrees are delicious too and the service is quick (if not slightly down and dirty). Check out the Excellent Dumpling House to really get a feel for how New York City does Chinese food.

6. A Salt & Battery West Village, Manhattan

Suffering from severe London withdrawal after a semester abroad in Britain, I rooted around NYC to find the Big Apple’s best fish and chips. A Salt & Battery, tucked away on Greenwich Avenue in the West Village, did not disappoint. This bare-bones, no fuss eatery served up exactly what I was craving after a sad farewell to all of London’s pubs. The fish was expertly fried (they don’t serve cod, though, due to the owner’s concerns about overfishing) and came paired with delicious, authentic chips. I usually forwent the chips and just got fried haddock that I promptly slathered with malt vinegar and dipped in A Salt & Battery’s homemade tartar sauce. A Salt & Battery is also located next to a British market that was simply adorable and chock-full of English goodies.

7. La Palapa East Village, Manhattan

This place has the frozen margaritas in the city, hands down. In addition to these fantastic, frosty libations, La Palapa — located in the East Village — whips up amazing spicy steak enchiladas and some great queso dishes. I have spent many nights there with friends sitting outside or near their big, open front facade, which is perfect for warm summer nights when all you want is an icy cocktail. It’s an underrated, simple hidden gem in an area teeming with specialty restaurants and bars of all shapes and sizes. Oh, and did I mention the margaritas…?

8. McSorley’s Old Ale House East Village, Manhattan

Also located in the East Village, McSorley’s Old Ale House is a New York City staple. It’s the oldest bar in Manhattan — it opened its doors in 1854. While I am by no means original in my adoration of the place, I still unabashedly think it’s one of the best bars of all time. The floor is covered in sawdust and the walls are covered in old photographs and presidential memorabilia — what’s not to love? The bartenders, quick and efficient, serve only two things: the light and the dark versions of McSorley’s own beer. I’ve tried both and like the dark better (although they’re both very good). This joint isn’t for the faint of heart, though, so be warned — you’ll be pushed, shoved and drunkenly serenaded, but it’s all part of the charm (and when it’s four beers for $11, who really cares?).

9. BZ Grill Astoria, Queens

Hidden in plain sight in Astoria, Queens, this Greek restaurant reminds me of a lot of the restaurants I visited traveling around Greece this summer. The souvlaki was authentic and delicious and came in big portions. The staff was friendly and it was all very cheap. If BZ Grill wasn’t a trek (by New York standards, at least) from my apartment, I know we would have stopped by a lot more. Astoria is known as the Greek capital of America and it lives up to the stereotype in the best way. I’d heard BZ Grill was good, and it totally lived up to the hype. We sat down outside and took in the surrounding neighborhood as we chowed down on some chicken and some unbelievably good felafel.

10. Sheep Meadow, Central Park Upper West Side, Manhattan

No NYC Top 10 post would be complete without some mention of Central Park. I have spent many mornings laying in the shade in Sheep Meadow, relaxing or reading (or even napping) and thus simply had to include it here. It’s a 15-acre grassy meadow on the West side of the park that lays between 66th and 69th streets. It also boasts nice views of nearby skyscrapers and endless (and I mean ENDLESS) people-watching. Bored of your book? No problem. Look to your left and there’s a pack of elderly men practicing taekwon-do for you to watch. Nodding off during that novel? Easy fix. Listen to that up-and-coming artist strum away on his guitar under a nearby tree. The possibilities are infinite in Central Park and well, hey, isn’t that kind of what New York is all about?

Top 10 study abroad photos

After four months abroad, spent traveling all over Europe (and, for a bit, Asia!), I have amassed an unbelievable amount of photos. I’m no photographer, but I got a nice DSLR camera before starting my semester in London and put it to very good use. After painstakingly going through all my pictures (for reference, during my six-day trip to Italy alone, I took 993 photos), I have whittled it down to a “top 10 best study abroad photos.” Not all countries I went to are represented here, but this does show a good snapshot.

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A picture of the port on the island of Hydra, Greece. The water was so clear surrounding the whole island that you could see minnows swimming all the way at the bottom. The boats and the rocky coast add to a beautiful scene.

 

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The famous blue mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. Located on the European side of the Bosphorus River, the mosque is massive and no less impressive on the inside.

 

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This is a shot of our lunch spot one day in Conca dei Marini, Italy, which is part of the Amalfi Coast. Past the table you can see the crystal clear blue water and the boats in the marina.

 

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The Vatican at nighttime is simply breathtaking. This was one of my favorite photos due to its simplicity and the way it somehow managed to capture St. Peter’s Basilica’s beauty.

 

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The Hall of Mirrors, swarmed with tourists, at the famous Palace of Versailles in Versailles, France. I took a day trip here during a weekend in Paris and was in awe of the opulence.

 

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St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, as seen from the city’s historic Fleet Street. Wandering around London, an incredibly beautiful city, never got old.

 

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Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal, as seen from a turret on Palace of Pena. Portugal was my favorite trip from the entire semester and provided us with breathtaking views.

 

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The view of Edinburgh from the mouth of Edinburgh Castle. The city quickly became one of my favorite places I explored while abroad. It is beautiful and has fascinating history.

 

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Portobello Road in Notting Hill, London transforms into a bustling street market each Saturday. Pictured here is a booth selling colorful necklaces and Notting Hill shopping bags that benefit local charities.

 

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A shot of Pope Francis at the Vatican, who rode by us on the “Popemobile” during a papal audience. We snagged a spot by a barricade and were lucky enough to get this close to him. One of my favorites of the trip due to the sheer luck of the shot.

My top 5 study abroad memories

Highlights from a semester in London.

On a whim, I applied to study abroad in Europe through Boston University’s London Internship Program and I am so, so glad I did.

The program, at about 16 weeks long, is based out of London’s gorgeous South Kensington neighborhood and consists of a five-week segment of two courses and a seven-week internship period during which you take just one course (along with a spring break and a long end-of-term break before final exams).

The internship phase was, for me, what made my semester the great academic success I feel it was — I got to work at an extremely successful public relations firm in downtown London that really shaped me professionally and helped direct my career goals. It was also just really fun and a great challenge.

However, my experiences outside the workplace and the classroom were unbelievable and immensely important to me in other ways. Here, I’ll try to outline my top five experiences during my London semester.

5. Understanding a new culture and a new place.

Aside from an unbreakable addiction to English breakfast tea, I gained a lot from my semester abroad. I learned a lot about Brits and British culture both from casual encounters in coffee shops, restaurants and pubs and from my internship. It was interesting to compare my home country and my “abroad home” country and see just how different two countries with the same language could be.

I also learned a lot about London as a city — learning the underground system is no small feat and I’m proud to say I think I mastered it. Commuting to and from work had a lot to do with it, but mainly I learned the tube so I could use it to my advantage. When you’ve got limited time, you learn to cherish anything that increases your efficiency. As they say, time is money. With learning the tube came learning the city, and what a great city it is. Bustling with people from all over, London is truly international and I miss it already. Its uniquely rich history, beautiful architecture and skyline and its ability to seem so old while seeming so current amazed me every day.

4. Working for a great company.

There is something to be said about loving where you work — if nothing else, it makes the whole 9-to-5 bit a whole lot easier (or, in this case, 09:00-17:30!). The people were great, and I made connections with everyone from the CEO to my building’s security staff. I miss my internship, my office and my colleagues — I feel truly lucky to have had such a wonderful abroad internship experience. I know not everyone enjoyed their work placement as much as I enjoyed mine.

It was really interesting to compare my work experiences in the U.S. with my internship experience in the U.K. I wasn’t surprised that there were differences, but I was surprised at the differences themselves. I found that British workplaces are less formal and stiff than American offices, particularly in how senior employees address newer employees. I loved how well I got to know my superiors in just a short amount of time. Also, I learned a lot about public relations — it was my first PR internship after internships (and other experiences) in journalism. I loved it and I can’t wait to start my second PR internship in two weeks.

3. Travel.

One of the best parts about studying abroad in the United Kingdom is the sudden ease with which you can travel in and around Europe. I made a list of places I wanted to see at the beginning of the semester and narrowed it down (until it was slightly feasible) and then made it happen for myself.

In chronological order, I traveled to: Ireland (twice), Scotland, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Wales, France (twice), the Netherlands, Italy (twice), Turkey and Greece. I journeyed to several different cities within a lot of these countries, something I figured would give me a better idea of the place as a whole.

How lucky am I? I scrounged for money and did things on the cheap (most of the time) but my friends and I had an absolute blast doing so. As my mother says, the worst part of traveling is actually traveling — but if you can survive an eight-hour overnight bus ride during a raging storm, you can survive anything.

2. Increased wanderlust.

I’ve always had an urge to travel and see what’s out there — something I thought a semester in Europe would do a lot of good for. I figured spending almost five months abroad would sate me, at least for a little while. Unfortunately for me (more so for my wallet), my London semester achieved just the opposite. What’s next on my “to be traveled” list? Morocco, South Africa, Thailand, New Zealand, Brazil, Chile and many, many more. I’m dying to see more of the United States, too; I’d love my next trip to be a road-trip across the country.

1. The friends I made.

No post about my London experience would be totally complete without mention of the great friends I made and the friendships I strengthened while studying abroad. You really get to know people when you travel with them and I really feel I grew close with my travel buddies. We talk almost every day and even though I just got home yesterday, we already have plans to meet up on Tuesday and the weekend after. I’m also living with two of my closest study abroad buddies next year at BU — I can’t wait to share an apartment with them! I also have loved keeping in touch with colleagues and hope to continue to do so.

On finishing up and moving on, twice

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.

The Henry David Thoreau quote above succinctly sums up my feelings about the past two and a half years of my life. I have always had goals; something to look forward to achieving and to look forward to planning. When I was at Skidmore College my freshman year — and when I decided I no longer wanted to go to school there — I was often distracted by the transferring process despite my commitments to the field hockey team, my friends, my job and my schoolwork. I spent hours researching schools and applying, and then was forced to wait before eventually gaining acceptance to Boston University. Before moving to my new dorm just off Commonwealth Avenue, I joined The Daily Free Press, or what would become my home away from home. I joined, hoping to make a couple new friends and write a few news stories. Little did I know that signing up would catapult me to a whole new world I had never imagined.

Before joining the FreeP, my knowledge of journalism extended only to what I had read in my favorite newspapers. Since signing up, I’ve seen and done things I never thought were possible. I covered the Whitey Bulger trial and I covered the Boston Marathon bombings. I broke one of BU’s largest news stories last year when the FreeP announced BU administrators’ decision to shut down gender-neutral housing. I’ve learned how to take journalistic photos and how to bang out a 500-word news story in 10 minutes or less. I’ve also made amazing connections at my university and am so grateful to have had the chance to meet so many amazing individuals. Over the past year and a half, I’ve developed relationships with some of the smartest, most fascinating people in one of the world’s most amazing cities. I have made friends I’ll never forget. I really can’t get much luckier than that.

During my time at the FreeP, I was a staff writer, the Student Government beat reporter, an associate campus editor and the campus editor. After we put the paper to bed early this morning, though, my exact role became unclear for the first time since September 2012. Today is the first day that, as a BU student, I have not held a position on the paper’s news staff.

I move to London on Jan. 10 to study and intern abroad. It seems crazy that I found out I would be studying abroad on Oct. 9 and now, I’m set to travel in just under a month. Besides a desperate need to pack and little bit of unfinished business at the British Consulate, I’m all set, and I have a state of mind I haven’t in a long time. I have my travel plans nailed down. I have my UK internship set up as well. As soon as I finish my studies in London, I’m traveling and then moving right along, again, to my summer gig. I know everything that’s happening, to some degree, in the immediate future.

For now, I’ve reached all my goals and have transformed as a writer, journalist, editor and person. While sometimes by the end of the evening I was a tad worse for the wear, I always got something out of each night at our little office at 648 Beacon St. I’ve learned a lot about Boston, a lot about AP style and way more than I ever cared to know about higher education.

So, what now? There is nothing to organize. No issues to plan. No stories to edit.

The semester flew by. The next month will too.

I think, for now, I’m just going to sit back and let it all rush by me.

“Have you tried the chicken?”: What the restaurant industry has taught me

I wasn’t quite sure what I’d be getting myself into when I looked at Boston Chef job postings that late, sad November night in Mugar Memorial Library (sad, I should say, because I was up studying). I needed a job, that much was true. I couldn’t work at my internship anymore because my schedule conflicted with the time I needed to spend at my college newspaper. I was sad to leave as I’d worked there since May and had developed great friendships and connections there.

Walking to the South End twice a week had become one of my favorite things to do in the city, so when I saw a hostess job opening at a restaurant near my old internship office, I decided, why not? My mother had raved about their pink peppercorn ice cream (which I came to learn hasn’t been on the menu for about 15 years) and the chef’s famous chicken since I could remember. I sent an email off with my resume and didn’t think about it again.

Two days later, I got a phone call (while at my internship, no less). “Hi, this is Alyson from the bistro. We got your resume.” They asked me to come in and I said I would.

My friend Margel, queen of the restaurant business with experience in waitressing, hostessing and cocktailing, coached me on what to say. “Be as friendly and charming as possible,” she said. “It’s all about politeness and about accommodating guests.”

Lo and behold, she was right, and I got the job. I had left the restaurant feeling good about the interview but unsure I’d get the position as I had no fine dining experience. What could they want out of a girl who had spent half her high school career elbow-deep in Kimball Farm ice cream? But, I was wrong, and thus began my first foray into the world of fine dining.

Since I’ve started working there, I’ve learned a few things about not only the restaurant business, but about life. One, it never hurts to be nice to everyone. Why wouldn’t you be nice? Every time I drop off a dish at the dishwashing station I yell “thank you!” to all the boys behind the drying racks. Confused “you’re welcome…?”s morphed into “you’re welcome sweetheart!”s pretty quickly. Two, it’s easier than you’d think to make connections with people. The owner and I struck up a conversation about journalism and, more specifically, have bonded over the events of the James “Whitey” Bulger trial, as he remembers Boston during Whitey’s reign of terror. Three, you can learn a lot about life by just listening to people. Sure, journalism has taught me that too, but there’s something to be said about bouncing ideas off people you don’t have all that much in common with. I can talk to my father or mother about an idea until I’m blue in the face but sometimes it’s nice to get new perspective from an objective party. Last night, I debated the pros and cons of pursuing a public relations internship instead of a journalism internship next summer with my general manager who gave me some really great advice. Lastly, I’ve learned just how valuable my sense of humor is. If I was unable to find the humor in every situation, I would have wilted months ago: customers can be brutal.

All in all, it’s been a fantastic place to work and I’ve had a pretty great experience so far. If I was 21, I’d toast a nice glass of rosé out on the patio to that.