It all started with Jill Santopolo inviting me to the launch for her Sparkle Spa Series, and since I usually go to New York at the beginning of the year, it was the perfect reason to go this February. In addition to the glimmering launch, I also had a fabulous lunch with my agent Victoria Wells-Arms at Bryant Park Grill, where we talked life, literature, and publishing; attended the very last production of BAM’s incredible production of King Lear; struggled with New York’s millions in one of this winter’s horrendous storms; spent the day in front of the lens of the genius-photographer Tanya Malott, pretending to be in a John Singer Sargent painting; and basked in catching up and talking books with authors Jill Santopolo, Marianna Baer, Kate Hosford, Maggie Lehrman, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, and Dana Walruth.
The next stop: Klosters, one of Switzerland’s most beautiful mountain villages, which draws skiers from all over the world, but where I sheepishly snowshoed. I bandied about the excuse of a shoulder recovering from a cartwheel-gone-wrong. But the truth is: I’m a horrendous skier and finally admitted last year that this girl from the flatlands will never, ever be comfortable on two small pickets of wood hurtling down a steep, slick mountain.
Next: London, for the launch of the Undiscovered Voices Anthology, an initiative by Working Partners and the British Isle’s chapter of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators to promote unagented and unpublished writers and illustrators. I had helped judge the first-ever entries from Europe’s continental side, so it was a thrill to meet the winners and organizers—and feel the bubbling excitement for books and the new voices being recognized.
And last but not least: Amsterdam, for a celebratory dinner with Job, Olivier, and Mina Witteman, but where I couldn’t resist my usual bookish tourism. We stayed in the Ambassade Hotel, famous as the literati’s lodging of choice and for its library of 3,000 author-signed books. My daughter and I tracked down the sites visited by Hazel and Augustus in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. And best of all, I stopped by the Van Gogh Museum to visit the sister of the fictional painting at the center of my middle grade mystery.
Packing List: Boots, coats, and sweaters for New York’s snow and London’s and Amsterdam’s incessant rain. The warmth and inspiration from my travels definitely didn’t come from the climate.
On-Line Dictionary Search: Spirulina—which was in my New York muffin, along with kale. It’s a blue-green algae, and let me just say—as I have taught my daughter to politely put it—spirulina is not for me.
Flat White—on the list of every coffee house in London, and which was a complete mystery to me. Turns out it is a double espresso topped off with milky microfoam. Think, a small latte with a higher proportion of coffee.
Coffee Shop—after searching high and low in Amsterdam for a take-out coffee and nearly stepping through beaded curtains into a very dark and distinctly smelling room, I learned that Coffee Shop here is one of the world’s greatest euphemisms. Cannabis is the order of the day, not coffee. For coffee, one must head to a bar, as in a coffee bar. Confused? I might still be.
Breakfast Buffet: In New York—Green Juices and Kale Muffins! Since the last time I was there in July, super foods and fresh juices have popped up everywhere. In Klosters—a fresh, spreadable goat cheese discovered by my friend Christina Muller, which is so rich and velvety I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to anything else on my bread. In London—England’s morning spread at its best: scones, orange marmalade, back bacon, kidney beans, blood sausage . . . the works! In Amsterdam—also the works, but with more of an international spin. My favorite new discovery there was little boxes of chocolate and colored sprinkles that we would use to decorate cupcakes, but which they set out to sprinkle over your morning toast!
Mind: While in Amsterdam, I was reminded what an incredible gift the act of creativity is.
After Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear, he admitted himself into an asylum, where he was initially confined to his rooms and painted what he could see through the bars of his window. It was a difficult, torturous time, but he said, I feel happier here with my work than I could be outside. The result: some of the most exquisite landscapes he would ever produce, including Wheatfield with a Reaper, which I saw at the Van Gogh Museum.
Across town, at the warehouse annex where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis during long, stressful months, she wrote, When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived.
T.S. Elliot once said, anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity. Well, Vincent Van Gogh and Anne Frank faced far greater demons than nervousness. But still, Elliot is right. Whatever our personal anxieties or fears, writing and painting—and cooking and singing and drawing and any form of creativity—can liberate us. It was awe-filling to stand in the same room where Anne Frank wrote and then before the same canvas on which Van Gogh painted and be reminded of that.