This past November I took off work to celebrate my birthday.  Birthdays are an opportunity to delight in whatever brings greatest joy—and for me, that’s art, cakes, and silk.

Perfect days are illusory things, slippery even.  There will never be enough hours or enough energy to fully flesh them into three-dimensional reality, but we can surely give it our all in the attempt.

This is the first of what I hope are many Perfect Days that I’ll share with you.  Guided by daydreams, but born of true action, each day will give a glimpse into the delights that are possible when we relax and follow our passions.

Perfect Day NYC #1

This first NYC Perfect Day starts with a long walk through the crisp air of Central Park.  I feel most me when my body is striding along for a couple hours at least.  That can take up a precious amount of time in the mornings, even if waking up pre-dawn, as libations and breakfast must follow.  Still, the time is worth it.  It’s a serene way to commune with oneself and ease into the world.

If all things were possible—meaning, I could bend time and space—I’d have a leisurely breakfast down in the Ladurée Soho salon on my birthday (or any other glorious off-work day, in fact).  But since most of this Perfect Day happens on the Upper East Side, I decide instead to walk up Madison Avenue while it’s still early and stop by the Ladurée there.

Surprisingly (or not, since it’s November), it’s like I’m the first one through the door despite the time.  They’re still putting things out, and a manager I’ve never seen is present.  It’s a very big wig moment, and I feel special as his French accent washes over me.  But coming early has been part of my strategy.  My favorite Ladurée treat are the Palmier cookies—these large heart-shaped affairs of flaky pastry, butter, and sugar.  Often they are sold out, but today I can have as many as I want.  On a regular day, I only eat a half, sharing it with another.  Today—I take TWO.

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After securing my Palmier treats, I continue north on Madison until 80th Street, then turn left to reach the Met.

The Met is my sanctuary any morning, day, or (weekend) evening I need to find breath and inspiration, and maybe part of the reason is that I know I’ll never plumb its secrets.  Even in rooms I’ve visited and revisited, the sense of discovery never diminishes.  I have yet to find all its nooks and crannies, and so I enter the museum and simply take off.  Rather than follow any specific goal, I just move by instinct.  When I find myself once again in the period rooms, it seems right.

On this day, I also found my way to another set of favored rooms: those housing the European porcelains.  During my time in Berlin back in 2002/3, I made feverish study of various German, Russian, and Viennese porcelain manufacturers.  Meissen, however, remained my favorite, no matter the Nymphenburg beauties before me.  The Harlequins, Commedia dell’Arte, and Chinoiserie figurines utterly captivate me.

The Met has a lovely collection, including Meissen flowered candelabras, sconces, and chandeliers—the sort of thing you’d usually see only in Schloss Sanssouci in Potsdam.

The Met is not the only treasure in the Midtown East/Upper East Side area of NYC.  MoMA’s permanent collection, much less the incredible Matisse Cut-Outs exhibit currently on display, is breathtaking.  Whether alone in the galleries early in the morning—or crushed with all the visitors once the doors officially open—seeing the Van Gogh Starry Night or the Monet Waterlilies series always marks a day as perfect.  When pressed for time, I slip in to see just one or two pieces, then dart off to complete my circuit of activities.

After so much exposure to art, I always get hungry.  This is the time when the Ladurée treats show their special worth.

Finding a quiet place in a square—or sinking onto a bench in Central Park—one can nibble on the best of French pastry while watching the stylish residents of the Upper East Side walk by.  This is good preparation for the next stage of the Perfect Day.


Fifth Avenue Midtown and Madison Avenue Upper East Side are both filled with the world’s best addresses for fashion and luxury.  My favorite corner of this slice of luxury is at 62nd St.  One after the other you can find three heritage houses: Georg Jensen for silver, Church’s for British shoes, and Hermès for French artisan crafts.

Today, my interest is in Hermès—though if heirloom silver tempts, I can highly recommend the boutique of Georg Jensen.  This year’s theme at Hermès has been Métamorphoses, and in the FW 2014 season, they released a scarf design that captures both the theme and my attention: Métamorphoses par Hermès, a design by Philippe Dumas, grandson of Hermès founder Emile Dumas.  At once grotesque and beautiful—just like a fairy tale—the scarf is filled with faces that shift and transform based on how we view them.

On this, my 42nd birthday, I find that this theme of transformation—even transfiguration—cuts straight to the heart of what I seek.  Having found the scarf of “my year,” I pick up one, two . . . perhaps more . . .

Perhaps it is my long fascination with Meissen porcelains that makes me enjoy what others find disturbing in the Métamorphoses par Hermès design—the strangeness, even extremeness, of some of the faces.  Faces in the silk can be bloated and distorted—but also captured within are lovers kissing, teddy bears, Cinderella, and a little mouse reading a livre.

. . . Three . . . four . . .

I issue a challenge: Look at the faces, then turn your head sharply another direction.  Do you see other faces leaping out?  It’s incredible, isn’t it?

So is the horse.  With Hermès, there is always a cheval to ride off on . . .

But it seems my birthday has more Philippe Dumas in store for me.

After a morning immersed in the decorative arts at the Met and an afternoon trying on silks, I dart down to Hermès at Wall Street.  After all, it’s my birthday!  There, the manager brings out their newest treasure in the store: a set of “cahiers” (sketchbooks) by Philippe Dumas, just published by Actes Sud (who makes the best art books in Paris—I’ve long been a collector).

These cahiers are special in that they give glimpses into the private Museum of the family Hermès.  A treasure trove of decorative arts, prints, and the arts of riding and transportation, the museum is something few of us will ever see.  And yet, in these rooms are the inspiration for so much that we find in the Hermès boutiques.  These sketchbooks—available individually, nine in all—highlight various collections or subject matter, from the Sea to Horses to Metamorphoses.  All sketched by Dumas himself.

After such an overdose of art in museums, in silks, and in sketches, there’s only one thing to do.

See more art.

The world of Hermès has afforded me something special—the opportunity to meet extraordinary women who also love art.  A new friend-through-Hermès suggested we visit the Frick Museum, located on the Upper East Side.  She, the Glamazon, and I met up on this day and explored the busts, paintings, frescoes, and porcelain of one of the most stunning private collections in the United States.

I have known of the Frick since I was fourteen in my first university art history class (yes, I started college courses that early—it was ART).  Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the splendor of the pieces within the foundation.  I was happy to discover that a year’s subscription is quite reasonable, so I anticipate visiting again many, many times in the near future.

After the luxury of so much beauty, only one last piece of perfection awaited: the best cakes available in New York City.

Housed in the Neue Galerie a little north of the Met, the Saborsky Café offers visitors true Viennese style torten and even classic Viennese fare.  After inaugurating the tradition last year, I’ve declared this as the only place for indulging in birthday celebrations.  Indeed, this is where I go whenever I desire cake.

With two of us in attendance, we ordered three cakes (please note: I was gearing up for four or five—impossible! these are far too rich and sweet and incredible).  Here you see the cherry chocolate cake.  There was also the pistachio and the rum-chocolate of the epynomous confection of the house.

Take care: These are so sublime, I experienced an honest-to-god sugar high as strong as any legal or illicit substance.  I walked out floating in the most extraordinary way . . . A delightful end to a Perfect Day, indeed!