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Archive for the ‘San Francisco Book Company’ Category

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 4

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 23, 2013

Consider this an extension to part 3 of this series.

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Before I get to the subject matter proper, let me note something right off the bat about my comparisons between San Francisco and Paris. San Francisco is exactly 231.89 square miles and approximately 825,863 in population as of 2012. Paris is 40.7 square miles, with approximately 2,234,000 people as of 2013. The density of Paris is 54,899/square mile, as compared to 17,620/square mile for San Francisco. Both urban experiences are very different from one to another. Ambling about San Francisco neighborhoods with one, two, at most three story houses which, if Victorian and no matter how quaint, are rarely older than the beginning of the 20th century or mid-19th century earliest, is quite different from strolling comparable Parisian neighborhoods of consistently four, five or six story tall apartment blocks, ranging from the 1600s to the 1800s in age. It’s often said that both San Francisco and Paris are walking cities. Yet the sense to walking each is quite distinct.

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Now, The Castro. There’s no precise geographic definition of “The Castro” as such, given that the concentration of gay people around Castro Street from 19th Street to Market is the focus of a much larger gay community that extends up to Eureka Street, over to at 22nd Street, and down Market Street past Dolores to straddle Church Street. Some contend that the community goes past Guerrero Street into parts of the Mission, over to Noe Valley and Corona Heights, up to Twin Peaks, and across to the Haight-Ashbury, with incursions into the Duboce Triangle and Dolores Heights. With the rather nebulous geography to this designation, I’ll roughly spiral out from its iconic center, The Castro Theatre at 429 Castro Street. The Theatre has been in the neighborhood for over a century, with a Spanish Colonial Baroque façade and massive neon sign, and a luxurious and ornate single screen interior with subtly convex and concave art deco walls and ceiling, plus the dark, capacious balcony. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ rises from the orchestra pit and is played before films and events, as well as nightly just for fun. The Castro Theatre is host to various special events; singalongs, film festivals (most notably, Frameline and the Jewish Film Festival), actor and author speaking engagements and the like. In contrast to Paris, San Francisco is gradually losing its cinema culture. The Castro Theatre is helping to hold the line against this loss.

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Cliff’s Variety Store is right down the street, and has been there for 75 years. This is more than a hardware store. If you can’t find it at Cliff’s, good chance it doesn’t exist. In the Boy Scouts, Tenderfoots were sent out to other campfires to find “left-handed smoke turners,” as a prank. Good chance Cliff’s has those, too. There is nothing like Cliff’s, not even in Paris. This matrix along Castro Street from Market Street to 19th Street, and from Diamond Street to Noe Street, contains at least a dozen full-on bars, making these eight plus blocks one of the most intense party scenes in San Francisco. Which makes the existence of the Hartford Street Zen Center (57 Hartford St) all that more remarkable. Sister center to the San Francisco Zen Center, imagine attending the Friday night Hartford Street Zen Meditation & Recovery Meeting, based on Buddhist and AA principles, in the heart of the Castro, among throngs of alcohol-crazed revelers. A truly extraordinary experience. I mean, drinking is everywhere in Paris. People drink mostly wine and mostly with meals, and less often other types of alcohol at bars. Zen centers and AA groups can also be found in Paris, of course. But there is a frenzy to American alcohol use, and abuse, that is hard to find anywhere in French culture.

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Food is a big part of French culture, and its large on Castro Street as well. I’ll briefly mention my favorite places, the ones I frequent often. Frapez Spa (4092 18th St) is a fruit and vegetable smoothie bar that I hit three times a week, right after gym, for a healthy and filling 20 oz drink. The Anchor Oyster Bar (579 Castro St) has been in the neighborhood for 35+ years, offering fresh oysters, fish, crabs, shrimp, etc. The New England clam chowder and the chappino are particularly good. Buffalo Whole Food & Grain Co (598 Castro St) is a great little organic foods grocery with fresh vegetables inside, fresh fruit outside, and also a wall of supplements. Finally, there’s Spike’s Coffee and Teas (4117 19th St) where I regularly get my green tea. I can set up my laptop and work away (no wifi!) or read the NYT or just people watch. Plus, I have a card where I can pay in advance.

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What’s great about living in a neighborhood in San Francisco or Paris is that you’re in a village where you can meet most of your needs within easy walking distance. Case in point, Pioneer Renewer (4501 18th St), an old school shoe repair shop where I’ve had a half dozen of my shoes stretched to fit. The place is great, from the goofy decorations to the gruff old cobbler who takes care of my shoes. Then there’s Books & Bookshelves (99 Sanchez St) where you can find unfinished wood furniture and shelves of poetry books, perhaps the widest collection of poetry up to and including City Lights in North Beach!

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A couple additions to my “village” are the Immune Enhancement Project (3450 16th St) and Ike’s Place (3489 16th St). The former offers therapeutic massage and acupuncture (both of which I’ve extensively used) and the latter has a monster menu of over 50 sandwiches (many of which I’ve sampled), plus 4 additional locations. The therapies at IEP are common fare in Europe, whereas Ike’s cuisine is quite unique, as attested to by the lines around the block at lunch.

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Church Street is another main commercial drag in the Castro area. Aardvark Books (227 Church St) reminds me of the San Francisco Book Company in the 6th Arrondissement, a store crammed floor to ceiling with used books from cheap paperbacks to collectors editions. There’s also graphic novels, comics, magazines and new books. Like a lot of used bookstores in SF, this place is hanging on by a thread.

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We’re back on the food tip now, with references to Paris. Chow (215 Church St) is a decent enough local restaurant, unremarkable by San Francisco standards, let alone Parisian. It’s part of a San Francisco micro-chain. Thorough Bread and Pastry (248 Church St) rivals a good Paris patisserie/boulangerie, with its selection of sweet and savory baked goods, artisan breads and sandwiches. This place has tables but somewhat limited hours. Further up the street, there’s the completely unique Chile Pies (314 Church St), a sweet and savory pie shop that offers sit down and take out meals based on, what else, pie. There’s ice cream as well. It’s an offshoot of Green Chile Kitchen, so look for the big neon “PIE” sign. Further along still, there’s Samovar Tea Lounge (498 Sanchez Street). Lots of folks on the Eurasian continent love their tea, and as a consequence, make a ceremony out of drinking tea. The Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, British, and lastly, the French, are all keen for tea and ritual tea drinking. I found Parisian thé shops and cafes, while certainly more interesting than their British counterparts, just as limited, with a preference for perfumed teas. Samovar is no great shakes regarding the food it serves, which is small portioned and expensive. What is marvelous here are the teas. A half dozen each of green teas, white teas, black teas, oolongs, pu-ehr teas on a changing menu. Excellent.

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Our final destination is Mission Dolores Park. Unlike the managed and controlled French and British gardens/parks, in which man’s mastery over nature is evident, American gardens and parks are studies in “nature,” with a pretense to “wildness.” Grass is omnipresent, and meant to be walked on, sat on, picnicked on, etc. There are official tennis courts, a basketball court, a soccer area, and an extensive modern playground for the kiddies. There’s also an old clubhouse with restrooms. The unofficial areas of the park include gay beach (for sun bathing), hipster hill (millions of dead hipsters, please!), dog hill (watch out for dog shit), etc. The park’s microclimate is usually sunny and warm, perfect for the regular SF Mime Troupe performances by day, the Symphony performances, and the big screen Opera rebroadcasts in the evening. This is a magnificent resource for not just the neighborhood, but the entire city of San Francisco.

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Posted in Aardvark Books, Anchor Oyster Bar, Bay Area, Books & Bookshelves, Buffalo Whole Food & Grain, Castro Street, Castro Theatre, Chile Pies, Chow Restaurant, City of Light, Cliff's Variety Store, Eureka Valley, Frameline, France, Frapez Spa, gay, Hartford Street Zen Center, Ike's Place, Immune Enhancement Project, independent bookstores, Jewish Film Festival, LGBT, life, Mission Dolores Park, Paris, Paris of the West, Parisian cafes, Pioneer Renewer, Samovar Tea Lounge, San Francisco, San Francisco Book Company, San Francisco Mime Troupe, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Zen Center, series, Spike's Coffee and Teas, The Castro, Thorough Bread and Pastry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

City of Light, part 4

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 19, 2013

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6 + 1, ARRONDISSEMENTS THAT IS

A note. I’m not following a day-by-day plan here in recounting our experiences in Paris this last vacation. Rather, I’m doing it by Arrondissement, starting with the 14th and combining Arrondissements when appropriate, as well as somewhat thematically, so as to provide a slightly different structure to our experiences.

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The French do parks and gardens quite differently from, say, the English or the Americans. I’m not going to do a comparison, just a description, starting with the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th Arrondissement. We visited the Luxembourg Gardens and did what one is intended to do in a French garden; stroll, relax, catch some rays or shade, and enjoy a balmy late French afternoon in late September. Everything is orderly and geometrical. There’s no grass, that is, no grass to walk on, just walking paths, stone, sand and gravel, mostly under rows of mature chestnut trees. Other plants and flowers are in specific beds. Designated areas are set aside for tennis, basketball, stables for ponies used for kiddie rides, a carousel, a puppet theatre and such. Several sculptures are also scattered about. A raised reflecting pool and fountain to the south of the Palais de Luxembourg is the focus for the various garden paths, as well as the main congregating area for most of those relaxing. My wife and I appropriated several chairs where we read our e-readers and newspapers while watching people as the sun edged toward evening.

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We walked a couple of the neighborhoods around the Luxembourg Gardens, and had sweet treats at Bread and Roses (7 rue de Fleurus) and chocolat chaud at Angelina right next to the Musée du Luxembourg. In each of these establishments, it’s possible to add a pound or two simply by breathing in the atmosphere. Both Bread and Roses and Angelina have two locations in Paris. My wife had conceived of a walking and eating regimen for Paris in which she and I walked all day and everywhere, eating whatever we wanted, with the idea that we wouldn’t gain any weight. This diet worked for the two of us both previous times we’d vacationed in Paris. It worked for my wife this time around too, but unfortunately for me, it seems that my metabolism has sufficiently changed in the last few years that I did manage to gain a couple of pounds despite all my walking.

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The neighborhood immediately above the Gardens, and to the east, is a bit hilly, sliced up with small streets, and crammed with shops of all description. On our way to it, we passed the Sénat building, where a minor police operation was in progress. As a small group of gendarmerie opened the gates and prepared for whatever was to go down, and as my wife and I walked by across the street, we passed an individual slouching against the building, a lesson in studied, low key casualness who kept an eye on us through surreptitious glances. Undercover cop, we whispered to each other, from our individual backgrounds in lefty politics. Sure enough his walkie-talkie squawked as we turned the corner. The neighborhood we entered is gay friendly, apparent from the gay and lesbian couples openly holding hands on the street and the posters in shop windows advertising gay events. In addition to the San Francisco Book Company, there is this stylish Euro-chain MUJI at 27 & 30 Rue St. Sulpice, and the aggregate of shops in Marché Saint-Germain-des-Près (14, rue Lobineau). The Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe is also located in this neighborhood (2 Rue Corneille), where we found a gaggle of artists occupying the stairs sketching their surroundings.

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The main part of Saint-Germain-des-Près, where Hemingway and the Lost Generation hung out, is along the Boulevard and centered around the church of the same name. Alas, the Village Voice Bookstore is no more, but the Taschen Bookstore (2, rue de Buci) is prospering. The jumpy young sales clerk was busy keeping watch over all the pervy old men who were pawing and drooling over the publishing company’s softcore porn, but he did have time to talk to us about the efforts Taschen is making to promote Sebastião Salgado‘s new exhibition Genesis, including a massive book nearly as tall as my wife. More about Salgado later. Saint-Germain-des-Près is also home to Les Deux Magots (6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés) and Café de Flore (172 Boulevard Saint-Germain), two of the more famous cafes frequented by members of the Lost Generation. Café de Flore is where we met Terrance Gelenter at the beginning of our stay in Paris, and where he holds regular office hours on Sundays. The streets to the northeast of this main drag, up to the Seine, are full of galleries selling artwork. Every time my wife and I lingered to view a particular gallery, we were approached by freelancers trying to interest us in “really good art, not this crap,” each time a different scam artist.

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Speaking of scam artists, after we walked past the bouguinistes on Quai de Conti and turned onto the Pont des Arts on one occasion to admire the locks placed along the bridge’s length to symbolize the love of so many couples, we encountered a version of three card monte in progress by individuals attempting to bilk passers-by out of their money. After warning my wife not to get roped into this scam, I suddenly felt as if I’d figured out their tricks and just as suddenly jumped into the game. The result: I lost €50 on one bet and momentarily, my pride. Fortunately, I have no gambling addictions and quickly backed away.

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Onward to the 1st Arrondissement. A stroll along the rue de Rivoli which, when it runs across from the Louvre as a covered sidewalk, is an incredible pain in the ass. The shops along the street are way overpriced, the crowds of mainly tourists are a zoo to walk through, and the whole experience is like an obstacle course or a contact sport. The French have this unnerving habit of walking straight at you, bumping into you hard or nearly pushing you into the street. Now imagine mobs of who-knows-what jammed onto narrow sidewalks, all jostling to get past. Fucking crazy. We had visited the Louvre the two times previously we were in Paris and we weren’t going this time. The tourist madness on rue de Rivoli was most discouraging. Not so the concert at Sainte-Chapelle (4 Boulevard du Palais). This Gothic cathedral hosts classical music events that draw more tourists, but fortunately the numbers are limited and the events are under tight control. We enjoyed nine or so versions of Ave Maria, performed by a string quartet and sung by a mezzo soprano at the 7:30 concert. The main hall was being restored, so half of it was covered with scaffolding. The day outside was overcast, so the extraordinarily beautiful stained glass windows were subdued, not featured to their greatest glory. Yet the music was ethereal and, dare I say it, heavenly.

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My final story covers our experience with L’Open Tour. This is the Hop-on, Hop-off Tour Bus that, in Paris, offers four different routes. Originally, we’d intended to take all four routes, and found the Paris Grand Tour the most extensive, and the most serene given that we started at 10 in the morning, after packing a couple of baguette sandwiches. But by the second route, the Montparnasse-Saint Germain tour, we were tired, the day was hot and humid, the bus was crowded, and the passengers were pushy and annoying. We cut the whole experience after the second route and retired to a cafe for some Orangina and a light meal. Halfway through our L’Open Tour day, and three-quarters through the Paris Grand Tour, we got off at the Jardin des Tuileries at Place de la Concorde next to the Louvre. The Tuileries has the same features as other classic French gardens, although we didn’t venture very deep into this garden. Instead, we lounged in the shade next to the reflecting Bassin Octogonal and devoured our lunch. There is nothing like a French baguette. And a baguette sandwich made of sweet butter, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, ham and/or tomatoes? Sublime. This was perhaps our most satisfying meal of our whole vacation.

Posted in 6th Arrondissement, Angelina, bouguinistes, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Bread and Roses, Café de Flore, France, Genesis, Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, L'Open Tour, Les Deux Magots, life, Lost Generation, Marché Saint-Germain-des-Près, MUJI, Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe, Paris, Paris through Expatriate Eyes, Pont des Arts, rue de Rivoli, Saint-Germain-des-Près, Sainte-Chapelle, San Francisco Book Company, Sebastião Salgado, series, Taschen Bookstore, Terrance Gelenter | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 2

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 14, 2013

The-Dinosaur-One
In an alternate evolutionary scenario, the asteroid that slammed into the Earth some 66 million years ago to create the Chicxulub crater, enshroud the planet in a decades long “nuclear winter,” cause the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, and bring about the rise of the mammals never happened. The large dinosaurs grew bigger, more competitive and fewer, leading to the virtual extinction of all their smaller cousins and competing mammals. Then, in a further evolutionary twist, a handful of ultra-dinosaurs developed and all but wiped out the large dinosaurs, leaving only a scattering of small dinosaurs and mammals to survive across a gutted planet.

The somewhat flawed analogy here is to bookstores.

When I was growing up, and aside from paperback book racks in every drugstore and mom-and-pop bookshops, small, medium and large bookstores abounded. Then came the book chains—the Pickwicks, Crown, B Daltons, Borders, and Barnes & Nobles. Following Marx’s inescapable logic of capitalist competition, the bookstore chains grew and competed and killed each other off, until only two monopolies remained; Borders and Barnes & Nobles. In the process, virtually all the smaller bookstores disappeared or were done in. When I last visited NYC, Barnes & Noble was on every other block, and bookstores like Forbidden Planet had been unceremoniously killed off. Then, Amazon, the mega-monopoly, arose. Borders bit the dust, and sickly Barnes & Nobles is holding on by a thread. In the cracks left by this “free market” debacle, there are still small bookstores left, but they are non-existent in some places, and few and far between in other locations.

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So now we’re in the present, both here in San Francisco and in Paris. Paris first. As I posted below, there are three well-known English-language bookstores in Paris, and the San Francisco Book Company has kindly provided this link to a list of some 240 plus bookstores in the 6th Arrondissemont alone. In Paris, France, where the bourgeoisie rose to power and ushered in modern capitalism, chain bookstores are held at bay and independent bookshops of all sizes and shapes are alive and well.

Not so in San Francisco. Borders is gone, and Barnes & Noble has been reduced to four stores scattered in Bay Area cities immediately surrounding San Francisco. In the process of the demise of these two monopolies, a number of other local independent bookstores went belly up; Stacy’s, Clean Well Lighted, Cody’s… Amidst the carnage however, small indie bookstores have survived and some still thrive in the Bay Area. In my three neighborhoods, three bookstores of note pursue differing strategies for survival.

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In the Haight, and aside from the very limited, anarchist specific Bound Together Books, there’s Booksmith. Booksmith is a full-service, full-hour, full-inventory destination bookshop that is a wonder to browse. It’s a stand alone bookstore with book events, author signings, literature readings, etc.

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Phoenix Books in Noe Valley is part of a small, local, one-owner chain of used bookstores that also sells new books. This indie chain includes Alley Cat Books, Badger Books, and Dog-Eared Books. Phoenix survived the death of Cover-to-Cover and the Mystery Bookstore in Noe Valley and was recently sold to a local buyer to keep the rest of the chain solvent. Unfortunately, Zoltar, the gypsy fortune teller, will not be staying.

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Finally, there’s Books, Inc in the Castro/Eureka Valley neighborhood; gay-oriented, but still very much a full-service bookstore that weathered the death of A Different Light bookstore. Books Inc is an example of a mini-chain that is bigger than just San Francisco. Bay Area wide, Books Inc is a regional success story, with stores at SFO, the Ferry Building and surrounding cities, that hasn’t gotten too big for its britches. It also has book events, author readings and signings, and the like.

Books Inc is part of IndieBound, a consortium of independent bookstores which uses Kobo, the ebook reader as an alternative to Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. I own a Kobo, and I’m proud to support local, independent bookstores.

Posted in Barnes & Noble, Bay Area, Books Inc, Booksmith, Borders Books, Bound Together Books, Chicxulub and dinosaur extinction, City of Light, Eureka Valley, Haight-Ashbury, independent bookstores, IndieBound, Kobo, life, Noe Valley, Paris, Paris of the West, Phoenix Books, San Francisco, San Francisco Book Company, series | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

City of Light, part 2

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 12, 2013

lostgeneration

It’s a quick and easy fantasy.

Move to France, become an expatriate, live in Paris. Add some details. Live on the Left Bank, hang out in cafes, drink absinthe, write the great American novel. Being a writer and having recently spent two and a half glorious weeks in Paris, I’m particularly keen on this fantasy. It’s as old as the Lost Generation of American artists (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Eliot, Stein, Duncan, Pierce, Seeger, et al) who exiled themselves to Paris in particular, and France generally, after the First World War. Perhaps older.

But, alas, I get homesick easily. I’ve been to Paris three times now, and after several weeks, I start missing the United States, even while I dislike some aspects of this country intensely. When I spent six months living on kibbutz in Israel with my Jewish girlfriend, I was seriously homesick. So a prolonged life as an expatriate American residing in Paris is truly a flight of fancy for me, one I would never really fulfill.

Nevertheless, there are a few details that might help one live out such an expatriate fantasy in Paris, if one should so desire.

Paris through Expatriate Eyes. My wife and I attended events sponsored by Terrance Gelenter in the US, and then met him while in Paris this last vacation. A raconteur, a flaneur, and a charming man who wears his Brooklyn Jewishness on his sleeve.

WHSmith. One of the biggest English-language bookstores in Paris. Modern, filled with latest books and magazines on every subject, which hosts English-language events.

Shakespeare and Company. One of the oldest English-language bookstores in Paris, proud as a center of English expatriate literary history, full mostly of used books and memories now. It also hosts English-language events, tours, a newsletter, etc.

San Francisco Book Company. Founded by the owner of San Francisco Carroll’s Books, who seems to have moved the bookstore lock, stock and barrel to the 6th Arrondissemont. San Francisco Book Company is part of over 200 bookstores in that Arrondissemont alone.

AngloInfo. A self-proclaimed, global expat network centered in Paris and the Ile-de-Paris, replete with event listings, discussions and blogs, directories of businesses and services, and classifieds.

WICE. Anglophone association providing cultural, educational & social activities to the international community in Paris. They are a membership organization with programs, events, and instruction.

FUSAC. An English-language magazine distributed throughout Paris offering classifieds and other advertising covering a variety of categories that has cohered a community of interest around it.

TimeOut Paris. “Your critical guide to the arts, culture and going out in Paris.”

US Embassy in Paris. And if you’re really serious about becoming an expatriate…

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Posted in American Embassy in Paris, AngloInfo, expatriate, FUSAC, life, Lost Generation, Paris, Paris through Expatriate Eyes, San Francisco Book Company, series, Shakespeare & Co, TimeOut, WHSmith, WICE | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »