From the Office and Backyard to the Road, Boat, or Plane–Backstories and
Side Stories While on Assignment. Updates on Personal Projects, Too.

Archive for the ‘Art, Craft’ Category

lapin, tart

Carafes of Bordeaux and water on the table, then the escargot in a hot ceramic croc with its handle missing; a basket of bread that we’d tear into pieces to push into the little snail cups to soak up the beurre and garlic after the snails were gone.  All was warm and vin-blurred in the upstairs room of tables at Chez Paul with its white tableclothes, portrait paintings, windows open to the Rue de Charrone. The large worn pages of the menu were handwritten en francais, the restaurant open since the 1920s in Paris.  There were models – gaunt, cold-looking beauties from the Paris Fashion Week – at the downstairs bar of wooden walls, café tables and coat racks. We’d walked up the narrow staircase behind the bar, following Ian, our young waiter who I’d already noticed was almost always moving, gliding quickly to tables, brown hair brushing low to his eyes. After the escargot there was a mound of steak tartare for Peter Frank avec pommes frites, and I put knife and fork to lapin avec carrotte et epinard – a saute of de-boned rabbit in another wine-soaked sauce so delicious we asked for more bread. For dessert, it was tart tatin avec crème fraiche, with cognac and coffee to help us through the Metro transit of three train changes to return to our hotel in Montparnasse.

Another night we took the Metro to the Temple stop (love to come up the stairs at that one… already seeing the statue of Place de Republique in the distance) to Chez Omar on Rue de Bretagne in Le Marais.  The idea was to get some good comfort food, both for me, who was sad about having to leave mon Paris the next day, and for Peter Frank who’d just finished another long day of shooting for Virtuoso Life magazine.  (His assignment was what had brought us to Paris… for shots of Chloé fashion, Baccarat crystal, Thierry Mugler parfum, French antiques, etc.)  We ordered couscous, which meant that our tiny square table would soon fill with steaming plates of couscous, and of whole chick peas, carrots and zucchini in a light tomato-y broth.  Then there were plates of crispy pan-broiled chicken (about 1/3 bird) and a shank of lamb that was oven-roasted to the color of burgundy wine (also our wine that night, drunk again from le pichet), and a small croc of spicy red harissa to smear on the meats, stir into the sauce. Tout était parfait.
Temple stop/Metro, Eiffel

Besides Chez Paul and Chez Omar, we ate big bowls of mussels in curry broth at the tourist-magnet Leon de Bruxelles (our Parisian photo assistant suggested it would be more fun than gourmet, and it was), and we made a couple of meals of bread, wine, cheese from the corner markets.  One of the nearest Metro stops to our hotel was the Edgar Quinet.  That’s a creperie district, where I stopped twice for crepes topped with crème de marron, getting to watch the crepe maker pour the batter on the round griddle, steam rising, smear it with the brown chestnut paste, then hand the folded crepe to me in white waxed paper.  (Chestnuts were just then ripening all over Paris, falling on the park lawns.  We never did get any roasted ones.)  Also in Edgar Quinet, there is an artist market on Sundays.  I walked through the stalls in the wind and rain (there is tenting) and found and bought a tiny painting of man sleeping on the Metro.  It was painted on an oatmeal-colored canvas by Jacqueline Chesta, who told me she’ll be in NYC next month to show her work there.  Will you be there?  She asked.  “Oui. C’est possible.”

Somehow, I want to keep this Parisian sentiment going, the romantic blur of food, art, discovery.  I keep thinking of what Hemingway wrote, that “there is never any end to Paris.”

– October 2008, Sandy Lang


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Art, Craft, Food, Travel, Wine



Fishing the Inlet

oyster sign, An

We just spent a couple days and nights along the road just inside the creeks of Murrells Inlet, SC where no less than 30 seafood restaurants are set in with houses and a few other businesses like hair salons, boat yards and bait shops.  The air smells like pluff mud and salt, and at night, of hushpuppies frying.  For me, memories are locked into that scenery, that air.  I grew up a few miles up the coast, and on prom night we’d all go out for seafood first in Murrells Inlet, already wearing our tuxedos, gowns and corsages.  In college we’d drive down to the boat landing and sit on car hoods, watching the marsh and moonlight.  (Is that what we were doing?)

It was good to get back, always is.  A curiosity and attraction of the Inlet is the longtime restaurants.  In a world where so much changes, it’s a comfort to see there’s still a Lee’s Inlet Kitchen (in the same family since 1948), and that the best bar is owned by a Vereen, one of the oldest families in Murrells Inlet.  That bar (also a restaurant) is Russell’s, and Russell Vereen is a fellow Socastee High graduate, a guy with a thousand stories.  No, more than that, and always changing.  He likes to buy up old signs from the Inlet, or save them from certain trash… pointed at one on the wall of the barn behind his restaurant that had been cracked into several pieces by a runaway car.  Russell salvaged that “Welcome to Murrells Inlet S.C. Seafood Capital” sign – put the planks back together – and says he often finds people sitting in the rocking chairs below the wall of signs, getting their picture taken.

We met Sean English and Denny Springs over at Harrelson’s Seafood, a fresh fish counter where they also have a kitchen and are trying to be the very best at making a fried grouper sandwich.  With every order they cut a nice-sized hunk of fresh grouper and fry it just right.  And if you order the fish tacos with tuna, the big, meaty chunks of fresh tuna are blackened on the outside and still perfectly pink inside.  Denny’s another Socastee grad and his grandfather’s wife, An Mathis Springs, is one of the most amazing women in Murrells Inlet.  Born in Vietnam, she came to Murrells Inlet in the early 1970s and starting catching and selling minnows for bait, walking on the mud flats with minnow traps on her back.  She later turned to catching blue crabs, and still, at 70 years old, she goes out several times a week to set and pull up her traps, then makes fat crab cakes and delicate crab egg rolls to sell.

We also hung out with Gaston “Buddy” Locklear, an old friend who used to paint designs on Perfection surfboards for Village Surf Shoppe, which is still open, a legend in Garden City.  He now paints on canvas and wood, is one of the most prolific artists I’ve ever seen… sometimes covering his finished paintings in a coat of epoxy, just like with surfboards. He’s part of this very cool co-op gallery in Murrells Inlet called the Ebb & Flow. And that day, he showed us a just-finished painting of the marsh island in Murrells Inlet where Drunken Jack’s restaurant has been letting goats roam since the mid-1980s… to keep the brush down for better inlet views.

Buddy at the Ebb & Flow Inlet Crab House

With so many restaurants in Murrells Inlet (and some of them changing names and owners practically with the seasons), there’s certainly some mediocre food being served.  But if you want a perfectly fried softshell crab (and a nice Bloody Mary too) there’s the tiny pink-roofed restaurant on the north end, the Inlet Crab House & Raw Bar.  I’ve been there in winter too, for the oyster roasts and beer… just right with its wooden tables and booths, worn concrete floor and framed pictures of old fishing trips.

More about Murrells Inlet soon…

 – September 2008, Sandy Lang

Aaron on the Suwannee

In late June I drove to Florida to meet Aaron Wells, who lives near the Suwannee River; the sinkholes, shoals and springs of North Florida.

Clouds in the shape of fists and baseball mitts towered in the sky, matched by distant thunder and beams of an odd, clear-orange sunlight that angled across fields of cows and the egrets that follow them. And down a long sand lane of pines and oaks, Aaron Wells was at the far end of a farmhouse yard, working in his open-air barn. When I drove in, he looked up from the floating sawdust, the shelves of acetone and teak oil. A Neil Young song was ending, then something by Feist kicked in, and Aaron wiped his hands on his Carhartts, his green-eyed gaze earnest and steady. We talked a while as the summer sky rumbled, and he told me he’d just finished cutting some one hundred or so, 10-foot long strips of cypress, each an inch wide and 3/16 inch thick.

The 26-year-old from Live Oak is a boat builder, bending the thin wood strips into the lean shapes of kayaks and canoes. Where this idea came from, this watercraft pursuit, isn’t exactly clear. “Around here it’s cattle, pine, peanuts and corn,” Aaron said. He doesn’t know any other wooden boat makers nearby, and his parents were farmers and teachers, so it’s not a trade he learned by tradition. The best he can explain it is this… while at Suwannee High School and as a student at Florida State, Aaron started reading how to make a strip boat, finding photographs and plans online and in books. (He also said he spent a fair amount of time during those years “creek jumping,” because besides sports, there wasn’t much to do in Live Oak, not even a movie theater. “My friends and I would follow a creek for a while into the woods, jumping from side to side.”)

He got to know the rivers and creeks well, can show you the best spots on the Withlacoochee, the places on the Suwannee to watch out for jumping sturgeon. Then, while he officially studied geography and environmental science at FSU, Aaron couldn’t shake the strip boat idea, even when he was hired after graduation to map wetlands up near White Springs. He eventually left that “pretty good job” to start building boats full time, under the name Cypress Kayaks. Ever since, he has learned by cutting and sanding, ciphering and shaping – his hands-on training in fiberglass and epoxy, hand saws and power tools. He has considered renting warehouse space in Jacksonville, but for now, he does all of his work in the barn behind the house where he was raised.

Aaron sanding the canoeAaron and Isabella

Images by Peter Frank Edwards. My full story is to appear in an upcoming issue of Garden & Gun.

– Sandy Lang, July 2008

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Art, Craft, People

Over a couple of days this winter, I had an interesting collaboration with April Lamm, a Berlin-based writer who’s been a great friend since we both worked at a South Carolina surf shop during high school/college. When I got her latest call, she was in Germany in the thick of finishing a piece for Sleek, an art and fashion magazine that prints articles both in German and English.

Sleek Spring 2008 cover

My contribution was to remind April what I knew of the “House of the Future” from the 1991 Spoleto Festival, a tiny treasure which, thankfully, still stands on Charleston’s East Side. There’s so much to wonder about every time I see the arms’ width house, which I’d say is largely forgotten to most in Charleston. (But not to the neighborhood that protects it, or to Albert Allston, who built the “Site Specific” art piece for a project of the visiting artist David Hammons.) I photographed the very narrow single house, and my image ended up as a full-page picture with April’s story in the Spring 2008 issue. Wunderbar.

Sleek in print, Lamm article

– Sandy Lang, April 2008

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Art, Craft, In print/published

From a recent visit to Sideshow Press…


In the rear corner of a dusty warehouse on upper Meeting Street, a woman in blue jeans grabs the iron flywheel and pushes it, hard. Another woman flips a switch, and a third watches with a wrench in hand – just in case an adjustment is needed – as the 80-year-old machine begins to whir and clack. Cogs turn and plates press together in a locomotive rhythm. Then the massive contraption spits it out… an impression of an intricate line drawing of a dress pattern, or the tiniest possible font size of a line of type.



The women are pretty and their work is gritty. (Actually, more ink spots and machine oil than grit, but you know what I mean.) Peter Frank shot these images and we put together a photo essay for the May 2007 Charleston Magazine. Sideshow Press owners are Amy Pastre, Courtney Rowson (founder of Gunter Design), and Virginia Page.

– Sandy Lang, May 2007


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