29 July 2014


Marilyn Monroe by Richard Avedon (1957)

Oh, Marilyn. I know just how you feel. July has been one exhausting month. I started a new job while finishing up another one (I've now worked 16 days in a row and have three more to go before a break), changed my routine (earlier hours) and commute (I now join the hoard doing the great dance across Grand Central Station five days a week), while trying to work on my writing. The blog, naturally, suffered a lack of attention from me but I promise to have things back up and running with more regular posting. I just need to get some rest and all will be right with the world. In the meantime, please be sure to follow me on twitter and instagram.

17 July 2014

Here's to Elaine

"Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch—Everybody rise."—Stephen Sondheim

Today we lost a legend. An actress and singer who appeared on stage and in film and television for nearly 70 years, Elaine Stritch with her brassy voice and sharp observations was an original who epitomized what it meant to be a New Yorker even though she was born in Detroit, Michigan. Yes, she could be difficult and blunt, never mincing words when it came to her opinion, but she was also a professional who was always toughest on herself. 

Born on February 2, 1925, Stritch was a convent school girl who after graduation moved to New York to study acting at the New School. She ended up staying for 71 years until retiring to Birmingham, Michigan last year. After making her Broadway debut in Loco in 1946, she would go on to be a cast member in multiple Broadway productions throughout her career including Pal Joey, Bus Stop, Sail Away, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?A Little Night Music, and most famously Company. She had roles in a variety of television shows including her last as Alec Baldwin's mother in 30 Rock and starred in numerous films including A Farewell to Arms, September, and Small Time Crooks

She didn't have an easy life; she lost her beloved husband, John Bay, to cancer after ten years of marriage and battled alcoholism with varying degrees of success. In her later years, diabetes and memory loss made performing extra challenging yet she continued on, making public appearances almost until the end. 

Stritch spent her last decade in New York living in room 309 at the Carlyle Hotel where for eight of those years she performed a cabaret show downstairs at the Carlyle Café wearing her signature outfit of white shirt and black tights (no pants). The documentary Shoot Me, which was released in February, centers around her last show at the Carlyle (I highly recommend it).

I greatly regret that I never got to see her perform live. Her passing in many ways is like the end of an era; there will be other stars of the stage but there will never be anyone quite like Elaine Stritch.

14 July 2014

Schiava Turca

"Schiava Turca" Parmigianino (ca. 1531-34)

Saturday I took advantage of a free morning to dart over to the Frick Collection (which was, blissfully, near empty) to see a mysterious Italian woman.

There in the center of the Oval Room was Parmigianino's "Schiava Turca," a masterpiece of Renaissance art. Beautiful with a direct gaze and slight smile on her face, the subject of the painting exudes an air of confidence that only adds to her allure. The mystery is no one knows who she is. Some have said she is a fantasy, the ideal woman as imagined by the painter. Others have ventured to guess that she's Giulia Gonzaga, a young noblewoman. Curator Aimee Ng suggests that she may actually be a poet, perhaps Veronica Gambara, who would have been known to Parmigianino and his circle. Hence the title of the show, "The Poetry of Parmigianino's Schiava Turca." 

What we do know is that she was neither Turkish nor a slave. A cataloguer at the Uffizi in the 18th century wrongly identified her as wearing a turban, which led to her misleading name. The rich fabrics of her gown threaded with gold chains on her sleeve tell us she came from wealth and her headdress is not a turban but a balzo, which was popular with court women in Northern Italy at the time. 

As for the poetry connection, there are clues in the painting that could be read as supporting this claim. In the center of the balzo is a medallion of a winged horse, a Pegasus, often used as a symbol of poetic inspiration. And while she is holding an ostrich feather fan, it could represent a feathered pen. Her pose and attitude could also signal that she's a member of an artist circle, not troubled by social convention. Yet whether she was a poet or not, we will never know.

She is accompanied in the exhibit by portraits of four Renaissance men: another Parmigianino, two Titans (one of whom is the playwright Pietro Aretino), and a Bronzino. The last one, of Lodovico Capponi, comes closest to rivalling "Schiava Turca" in the attitude department yet he is but a court page, certainly no match for a grown woman of the world.

Once owned by Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici, "Schiava Turca" has resided at the Galleria Nazionale di Parma since 1928. This is the first time that she has visited America. She is at the Frick Collection through July 20, 2014, after which she will travel to the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. For more information, visit the Frick's website here.

13 July 2014

Bastille Day

This afternoon Bastille Day was celebrated a day early on the Upper East Side. Hosted by the French Institute Alliance Francaise, three blocks of East 60th Street were taken over by vendors selling food, drinks, and gifts along with various organizations advertising everything French from learning the language to travelling to French-speaking countries. There were also wine tastings for the adults and face painting for the children.

The day was filled with performances including Can-Can dancers, a marching band, and Les Petits Chanteurs de Monaco (school boys who sounded like angels). Everyone seemed to be having a good time even if the humidity made it a tad uncomfortable.

The highlight for me was running into singer/actor Patrick Bruel whose photo I quickly snapped (I felt like a member of the paparazzi). If you're not familiar with his work, you should check him out (he's performing in New York on November 1).

There was a surprise waiting for me when I got home and started to look through my photos. While attempting to photograph the balloon man, I unknowingly took a photo of the legendary Bill Cunningham. At first elated, a second later I realized I probably ruined his shot. So apologies, Mr. Cunningham. If I had been paying more attention, I would have moved out of the way.

Leaving the event, there was one last special treat in store. Across Fifth Avenue, next to the park, was a collection of classic Citroëns, many of which had Quebec plates. It was such a delight to see the various models and all their different colours. Wouldn't it be lovely if everyone drove cars like these?

So Vive La France and Happy Bastille Day!

09 July 2014

Painting Food

What do marmalade, Stilton cheese on a digestive, trifle, and a cup of PG Tips have in common? They're all quintessential British foods, which for some may conjure up images of a faraway homeland or for others simply remind them of what’s in their pantry. Artist Joël Penkman has reproduced these along with many other British food favourites in a series of delightful paintings.

Born and raised in New Zealand and now living in Liverpool, England, Penkman hopes that her paintings will “make people smile.” Some of the works are pretty (summer fruit jelly) while others cause a brief shudder (black pudding—so wrong). All of them are incredibly detailed with some appearing at first glance to be a photograph.

"Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce" Joël Penkman

Have no ties to British cuisine? Not to worry because she also has an American series, which was commissioned for the book A Taste of America by Colman Andrews. Looking at the items representing the 50 states, there were some that I was unfamiliar with—Maytag blue cheese from Iowa, smoked catfish pate from Mississippi, Mayhaw jelly from Georgia, Goetta sausage from Ohio—while others I knew very well—Sriracha hot chili sauce from California, maple candy from Vermont, Kona coffee from Hawaii, a box of baked goods from Two Little Red Hens in New York. The one downside of looking at Penkman's work is it will make you hungry; "Biscuits in a line" made me want to run down to Myers of Keswick and grab a packet of Bourbon biscuits.

Prints as well as some of the original paintings are available for sale so you can hang some fish fingers (sorry they come with ketchup not custard) on your wall or a good old American glazed donut. To see all of Penkman's series, visit her website here.

07 July 2014

Capa Covers the Tour de France

This weekend saw the start of the 101st Tour de France. Covering a total distance of 2,277 miles, this year’s race began in Leeds (UK) and will go through parts of Belgium, France, and Spain before finishing in Paris on July 27. 

While fans today can watch television coverage of the race, in the early days one had to rely on photographs in the newspaper or a magazine to tell the story. In 1939, Paris Match hired Robert Capa to shoot the 33rd Tour de France. Having just returned from covering the Spanish Civil War, it must have been a welcome change for the young photographer. 

With war clouds gathering, Germany, Italy, and Spain all declined to participate that year. Yet even in such tumultuous times, the race went on. Taking place July 10-30, the race covered 2,625 miles through France and Monaco, and was won by Belgian Sylvère Maes. It would be the last Tour de France until 1947.

Capa spent most of the 20 days shooting from the back of his friend, Taci’s, motorcycle, not the safest means of transport. While Capa’s resulting photos appear to focus more on the spectators and the cyclists off their bikes (not to mention his fellow photographers) than on the actual race itself, he still managed to capture the determination and camaraderie of the competitors as well as the genuine enthusiasm of the crowds as witnessed in the delightful photos above (I like to believe they were cheering on Monsieur Pierre Cloarec, whose bicycle shop they are standing in front of, but who can know for sure?). 

To see more of Capa's images of the 33rd Tour de France, visit here

04 July 2014

Happy Fourth!

Clara Bow

It's raining here in New York but the show must go on so it looks like fireworks as usual over the East River this evening. I spent the day with my friend and her twins at the New York Historical Society where we made tricorne hats and read Madeline in the "Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans" exhibit. Afterwards we headed over to the Time Warner Center for lunch at Bouchon Bakery where we had a nice view of rain-drenched Columbus Circle. Have a wonderful weekend and a Happy Fourth of July!


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