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Posts Tagged ‘You’ve Got Mail’

upper west side view

Of all the late-nineties rom-coms featuring plucky heroines, adorable New York apartments and lives full of utter charm, You’ve Got Mail might be my favorite.

I saw it in the theater as a teenager, and have watched it countless times since – with my family, my girlfriends, by myself. I remember the days of dial-up AOL and the magic of finding new friends online before social media, though I am about 15 years younger than Kathleen Kelly. I once spent a weekend on the Upper West Side visiting some of the movie’s iconic locations: Cafe Lalo, Zabar’s, Gray’s Papaya, the 91st Street Garden in Riverside Park. (I did not see Joe and Brinkley, but you can bet I looked.) I still have the soundtrack on CD, and New York in the fall definitely makes me want to buy school supplies.

You’ve Got Mail continues to charm me for so many reasons: the witty, perfectly timed dialogue; the cozy bookshop packed with beloved children’s classics and kind employees; the epistolary love story (though I have thoughts, these days, about Joe Fox and his personal ethics). But the more time I spend with it, the more clearly I see what my friend Kari noted years ago: in addition to a classic romantic comedy, it is (in Kari’s words) “a moving portrait of a woman who is going through a crisis of vocation.”

Kathleen has always known she’d run The Shop Around the Corner; she started helping her mother there after school at age six, and never left. We don’t even know if she went to college, or entertained other dreams for her life. She has grown up shaped by this bookstore and this neighborhood, and she would happily go on selling children’s books there forever. But she is not given that choice: Fox Books moves in across the way, and its big-box appeal (coupled, no doubt, with rising rents and the lurking shadow of Amazon) forces Kathleen to make a decision she never foresaw: “Close. We’re going to close.”

I’ve thought about Kathleen a lot this past year, as the pandemic has upended so many of the jobs most of us believed would bring us stability and security. I was furloughed from my higher ed job last May, then finally laid off in January after months of waiting. This wasn’t the first time, though: my last few years in higher ed have been marked by uncertainty and change, including two previous layoffs and a few temp gigs. The thing I have been chasing – meaningful work that provided a steady paycheck and health insurance in an industry I thought was stable – has turned out not to be so reliable after all.

“What are you going to do now?” a customer asks Kathleen as she rings up books (and stuffs in a box of Kleenex) at the closing sale. She gives a vague but honest answer: she’s going to take some time. We see her doing just that in the last third of the movie: reading a thick novel at a coffee shop, buying plants and produce with Joe Fox, heating up a bowl of soup and sitting on the floor in her apartment to eat it and bask in the sunshine. I suspect she also must have done some grieving. She must have wondered – what now? Earlier in the film, she had wondered in an email if her life’s smallness meant it didn’t have value, or that she lacked courage. Now, that life is no longer available to her, and she has to figure out the next step on a road she never saw coming.

We don’t get a tidy resolution of Kathleen’s career story; we don’t get to see her take her next professional step, though she hints that she’s working on a children’s book. I hope that whatever she does next, it is rich and satisfying and allows her to use all that experience from decades of working at the store. I hope her previous life leads, in both good and surprising ways, to her next one. I hope she realizes how brave she truly is – as Birdie tells her, “You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life.” I hope she’s happy with Joe, of course, but more than that I hope she is fulfilled in her own skin and satisfied with the way she gets to spend her days.

My hopes for Kathleen, of course, are also my hopes for myself. (Isn’t that what we do with our heroines – see ourselves in them, and then project our own hopes onto them?) In the wake of an extremely difficult year, I am hoping – and searching – for a steady paycheck, for sure. But I am also hoping for work that gives me a rich, satisfying, joyful way to spend my days. I think Kathleen would approve.

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I’m not much of a shopper normally, though I can rarely (if ever) resist a bookstore. But I love getting mail and supporting small businesses, and in these still-strange days, I’ll take my joys where I can find them.

So lately, I’ve been indulging in a little retail therapy: mostly online, but a little bit in person, when I can. I thought I’d share a few recent finds, just for fun.

I fell deeply in love with the magic of Newport Folk Fest last summer, and was so sad it couldn’t happen in person this year. But I jumped at the chance to order a bit of merch (above) from their online shop, and am proudly sporting my new neck gaiter on my morning runs.

It’s no secret I love New York in the fall and everything else about You’ve Got Mail, so I swooned over The Bookshelf Thomasville’s gorgeous new stationery collection featuring Kathleen Kelly. You bet I pre-ordered a couple of those goodies.

Just as everything shut down here in Boston in March, I went to Bob Slate in Cambridge and bought a stack of journals. That stack is all gone now, so I was thrilled to find a few lovely new notebooks for half price at the Booksmith recently (above), along with a couple of used books.

Several of my girlfriends have had birthdays recently, so I’ve ordered them stickers, stationery and other fun things from small vendors like Kwohtations and Carrot Top Paper Shop. And since we’re going to be wearing masks for a while, apparently, I picked up two beautiful ones from DIOP, Detroit-based and Black-owned.

I’m trying not to go overboard: I’m still furloughed and I still have to buy groceries and pay rent. But these bits of joy for myself and others are helping me get through. And I get a thrill when the fun packages arrive in the mail.

Are you indulging in any fun retail therapy recently? Do share, if you are.

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72nd broadway nyc

Recently, I took off to New York City for three days by myself. My husband was headed to a conference in Texas, and I needed a change of scenery – which New York always provides.

I’ve been to New York several times before, to visit Allison when she lived in Queens or for long weekends with J. But I’d never taken an entirely solo trip there, and I had never stayed in Manhattan. So I took advantage of this trip to rent an apartment on the Upper West Side, and spend three days pretending I was Kathleen Kelly.

silver flats striped skirt

I have a longstanding love affair with You’ve Got Mail – my favorite Nora Ephron film, and one of my favorite movies ever. I love everything about it: the witty dialogue, the gorgeous neighborhood, the whimsical soundtrack, the charming Shop Around the Corner. I love the minor characters: sweet Christina, clueless George, quippy Kevin, wise Birdie. Most of all I love Kathleen Kelly herself: brave, quirky, thoughtful, utterly human.

Although I’d visited a few You’ve Got Mail spots on previous trips to New York, I took the time to visit them all – and linger – this time around. On my first afternoon in the city, I walked down to Riverside Park.

riverside park benches

“There’s a place in Riverside Park at 91st Street where the path curves and there’s a garden,” Joe writes to Kathleen in his last email. “Brinkley and I will be waiting.”

91 street garden riverside park nyc

The 91st Street Garden is lush with late-summer flowers right now, and though I didn’t see Brinkley and Joe, I saw plenty of dogs and their owners (as well as runners, cyclists and nannies with strollers).

91st street garden fence nyc

Cafe Lalo, scene of the famous book-and-a-rose encounter in the movie, is on West 83rd Street, just a few blocks from where I was staying. I’d been there for dessert once before, but on this trip I went for breakfast every morning.

cafe lalo table berries teacup

Delicious pastries (croissants and pain au chocolat), fresh berries, cheery yellow mugs. There’s a whole wall of French windows, and fresh flowers on all the tables. Every time I walked up, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking of Joe Fox: “She had to be! She had to be!”

Zabar’s, the famous deli, also appears in the movie, and I popped in to browse the displays of gourmet treats and buy some Earl Grey. I also grabbed a hot dog at Gray’s Papaya, and spotted a eucalyptus candle at a housewares shop on Broadway. (As George knows, they make an apartment smell “mossy.”)

eucalyptus candle

I didn’t find the Shop Around the Corner, of course, but I did stumble onto Book Culture‘s newest location. The children’s section, in the basement, is a wonderland, and the entire store is enchanting.

book culture childrens department

Mostly, I spent hours wandering the West Side, stopping often to snap photos of beautiful brownstones and light through the trees.

upper west side brownstones nyc

On my last morning in the city, I bought a chai latte and wandered back to Riverside Park, under a bold blue sky. I could almost hear the Cranberries playing as I walked down West 86th, toward the park.

upper west side view

(Then I slipped and fell on some stairs and spilled my chai everywhere, proving that my life is not a romantic comedy after all. But at least it makes for a good story.)

I relish the love story in You’ve Got Mail, of course, but more and more I also appreciate its other main plot thread: an unexpected career turn and what happens afterward. That storyline doesn’t resolve neatly, but that, too, rings true – many careers are not a straight line, and most of us have a few bumps we didn’t choose along the way. I like to imagine that Kathleen found happiness in another book-related career, even as she found personal happiness with Joe Fox.

I had other adventures in New York – including visits to several (more) bookstores, of which more soon. But for now, I’ll leave with you with a few daisies from Central Park – because, after all, they are the friendliest flower.

central park yellow flowers nyc

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central park rowboats nyc

Ah, New York in the fall. It makes me want to buy school supplies. (And send bouquets of newly sharpened pencils to charming Internet friends.)

Seriously – the hubs and I hopped down to NYC in mid-October for a long weekend, and it was, as always, delightful.

We arrived Friday night and settled into our apartment – a charming retreat (found via Airbnb) in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

living room brooklyn apartment

Our hostess recommended Chavela’s, promising that the Mexican dishes there would meet even our Texan-snob standards. She was right.

chavelas brooklyn interior

Guacamole + sangria + enchiladas = mucho delicioso.

enchiladas chavelas brooklyn

On our way home, we stopped in at Forte, a brand-new cafe (they’d been open three days!) for apple cider and pumpkin cheesecake. Delicious.

katie forte pumpkin cheesecake

Saturday morning found us checking out the Brooklyn Flea – sadly under-attended due to chilly rain. But J did make a new friend.

jer pink elephant brooklyn flea

We dropped in at the Greenlight Bookstore, a favorite discovery on our last trip to Brooklyn, and popped in to see the Greene Grape’s new digs. (And to split a zucchini-cranberry-chocolate-chip muffin. Wow.)

greenlight bookstore brooklyn

We headed to the West Village later, enjoying chai and a lemon scone at Ciao for Now, then wandered the tangled streets for a while. We ended up, not surprisingly, at a bookstore – Three Lives & Co.

three lives and co bookstore nyc

Its cozy space is chock full of fascinating books. I could have browsed for hours.

We then caught the subway up to Lincoln Center, because the on-site library branch had an exhibit I had to see.

count von count sesame street nypl

Blueprints from the original Sesame Street set, sheet music for “Rubber Duckie” and “Bein’ Green”…

rubber duckie sesame street sheet music

…all kinds of cool Henson/Sesame Workshop trivia, and half a dozen of our favorite Muppets (including Super Grover, in the clouds!).

 

super grover sesame street nypl

We left with smiles on our faces (noting on the way out that the exhibit is “brought to you by the letters N, Y, P and L”).

jer cookie monster

After a bit of shopping and wandering in the neighborhood, we walked up to the Upper West Side for dinner at a sidewalk cafe.

piccolo cafe nyc upper west side

I’m still not sure if the maitre’d’s Italian accent was real, but the pasta and wine were delicious.

katie wine piccolo cafe nyc

After dinner, we headed up to West 83rd Street, to a place I’d walked by but never entered.

cafe lalo exterior nyc

For the uninitiated, Cafe Lalo is the setting for an important scene in You’ve Got Mail – when Kathleen Kelly arranges to meet her Internet admirer and is shocked to see her nemesis Joe Fox instead. (The railings outside are the scene of Fox’s mini-freakout before he walks in: “She had to be! She had to be!”)

Our experience wasn’t that dramatic (thank goodness), but the desserts are out of this world.

raspberry delight cafe lalo

Sated and satisfied, we headed back to Brooklyn for a cozy night in.

More New York photos and stories to come.

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Dear Friend,

I like to start my notes to you as if we’re already in the middle of a conversation. I pretend we’re the oldest and dearest friends, instead of what we actually are: an essayist-novelist-screenwriter-director who became a cultural icon, and one of her many adoring fans.

I remember the day we met: I was 15, and I went to see You’ve Got Mail with my sister, her boyfriend, and my (male) best friend. My sister’s boyfriend, predictably, rolled his eyes, but the rest of us were instantly smitten – with Kathleen Kelly, the Shop Around the Corner, and New York in the fall (and the spring). When I finally visited New York as a twentysomething, I made a pilgrimage to Cafe Lalo, and pictured you and Kathleen walking beside me as I wandered streets overhung with blossoming trees.

cafe lalo new york city

My family has watched You’ve Got Mail so many times that its phrases – and its wisdom – are part of our vernacular. We all know that eucalyptus candles make an apartment smell mossy, that newly sharpened pencils are the perfect bouquet to celebrate fall, and that when you read a book as a child, it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does. (Actually, we already knew that, but you gave us the words to express it.) And you pointed out what should have been perfectly obvious all along: daisies are the friendliest flower.

Thank you for making movies that made us believe in the sparkling potential of ordinary days. Thank you for giving us characters who have become friends, lines we can repeat back to ourselves and to our loved ones, stories we can crawl into when life gets a little drab or ho-hum or cruel. Thank you for your wit, your class, your charm, your refusal to take yourself – or anyone – too seriously. But most of all, thank you for the stories you gave us, which affirm the worth of our small but valuable lives, and help make them bigger and richer and more lovely.

With much love, and lots of daisies,
Katie

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The little girls of Avonlea school always pooled their lunches, and to eat three raspberry tarts all alone or even to share them only with one’s best chum would have forever and ever branded as “awful mean” the girl who did it. And yet, when the tarts were divided among ten girls you just got enough to tantalize you.

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

I didn’t eat raspberry tarts last weekend, but this quote sums up how I feel about my three days in New York. It is, of course, impossible to see all the things I want to see in one weekend – and Allison did her level best to make sure I saw as much as I could. But I just got enough of so many things to tantalize me. I only had a couple of hours at the Met (enough to get about half of a quick overview – the place is HUGE); an all-too-brief browsing stop at the Strand (partly because I knew I could have stayed all day); a short (if leisurely) stroll through Central Park; a tour of the Upper West Side cut short by heavy rain (though we braved it as long as we could).

Don’t mistake me – I enjoyed every moment, and tried my best to soak it all up. I loved seeing the knights at the Met:

And visiting Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park (as well as the other stops on my children’s literature tour):

I loved wandering through Manhattan, admiring the beautiful brownstones and wondering about the stories held in each one:

And, of course, I had to visit Cafe Lalo, site of the rose-and-a-book, he-knows-something-she-doesn’t-know scene in You’ve Got Mail:

There were so many other lovely moments: eating pie with my friend Beth on a bench in Brooklyn; a brief solo stroll around Prospect Park; hanging out in Bryant Park as I waited to meet Allison after work; watching Ramona and Beezus in Allison’s cute little Queens apartment and talking for hours; munching apple cider doughnuts at the Union Square farmers’ market. But all these moments only served to underline my already firm conviction:

I have to go back. And soon. (And bring Jeremiah with me this time.)

Because, really, who wouldn’t want more time in this beautiful city, with this lovely tour guide?

Thanks for a fabulous weekend, Allison. I’ll be back before too long.

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Noel Streatfeild wrote Ballet Shoes and Skating Shoes and Theatre Shoes and Dancing Shoes. I’d start with Ballet Shoes first; it’s my favorite. Although Skating Shoes is completely wonderful—but it’s out of print.

—Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail

I’d never heard of Streatfeild or the Shoe Books before I saw You’ve Got Mail (and watched poor Kathleen Kelly struggle to control her tears as she helped a bookseller at Fox Books find the right book for a customer). It was several years before I picked up a used copy of Ballet Shoes in Oxford, and of course I loved it. (Then I saw the BBC film adaptation with Emma Watson, and loved it too.)

I found a copy of Dancing Shoes, under its original title of Wintle’s Wonders, for $1 at Brattle last fall, but had somehow never got around to reading it. Then, recently, I found a vintage edition of Theater Shoes on Etsy, and started reading it the day after it came in the mail. I loved it so much I raced down to Borders to buy Skating Shoes (which is, fortunately, no longer out of print). And I’ve spent a large part of the past week immersed in these stories of dance, family and dreams.

My eclectic (and growing) Streatfeild collection

I love the quiet bravery of Streatfeild’s characters – not only the children who must go on the stage or learn to dance, but their older relatives and guardians who must make do with very little in wartime. I love the glimpses into backstage life, the sweet (but not saccharine) family dynamics, the descriptions of pretty clothes (which catch the eye all the more in times of poverty). Most of all I love the hope that permeates these stories. The hope that poor, often orphaned children, who have come from nothing, can learn to act or dance or sing and really make something of themselves.

Kathleen Kelly was right – these books are completely wonderful. And how fitting that, as a fictional bookseller, she introduced thousands of new readers to a beloved series.

Have you ever learned about a book through a movie? (And have you read the Shoe Books?)

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