30 July 2010

A Tub Full of Joy

Claudette Colbert in The Sign of the Cross.

One of the great joys of life is taking a long bath that leaves you feeling relaxed and smelling lovely. And so I'm always on the lookout for that perfect bath product. Earlier this year, while shopping at Space NK, I stumbled upon the British brand Lubatti and quickly fell in love with their Tuberose and Mimosa bath oil. 

I adore the smell of Tuberose (my favourite perfume is Robert Piguet's Fracas) and the combination of Tuberose with Mimosa is absolutely heavenly. After my first purchase, I read up on the company and learned that the products are based on recipes from the 1920s (no wonder I like it so much).

I'll admit to being overly generous with my use of bath products and go through bottles quickly. So you can imagine my dismay dear readers when I walked into Space NK last week only to find the shelves empty of any Lubatti products. The reason? They are no longer going to carry the brand (at least here in the States). I was completely gutted until one of the sales women told me that all of their remaining Lubatti was going to be available the following week at their private sale at a marked down price. So guess where I was early yesterday morning? At the shop, buying up the last bottles. I'm sure someone in New York will end up carrying Lubatti eventually. But in the meantime, I will try to be a bit more conservative with my bath oil although I can't make any promises.

26 July 2010

The Little Tramp

All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl.—Charles Chaplin

New York’s Film Forum is in the midst of a Charles Chaplin Festival and if you have never seen one of his films on the big screen, you don’t know what you’re missing. I was fortunate enough on a recent evening to catch two of his silents—The Idle Class (1921) and The Circus (1928). 

A scene from The Idle Class.

In The Idle Class, Chaplin plays two parts: the Tramp and the Husband. After sneaking onto a private course to play a round of golf, the Tramp winds up at a costume ball where the Neglected Wife, played by Chaplin regular Edna Purviance, mistakes him for her husband and general hilarity ensues. While the film may be short (30 minutes), it’s full of comedic moments. The scene where the husband enters the hotel lobby without his pants on is worth viewing for itself alone.

Those darn monkeys.

The Circus opens with a song, Swing Little Girl, sung by the man himself. Chaplin composed the song and a new score for the film’s 1969 re-release and the poignant strains of the elder Chaplin’s voice urging the girl on the screen to “never look down” make this version of the film a special treat.

While visiting a traveling circus, the Tramp is mistaken for a pickpocket and leads the police on a merry chase, including a brilliant turn in a hall of mirrors, before stumbling into the big top. The chaos he creates is thought to be part of the act by the crowd, and the Tramp is offered a job by the Ring Master. The Tramp soon falls in love with a circus rider, played beautifully by newcomer Merna Kennedy. When she declares her feelings for Rex, a tightrope walker, the Tramp takes to the high wire to prove his love.

Once again, the myriad comic scenes are too numerous to mention though I will admit that most of my favourites involve the Tramp interacting with animals, from the running joke of the donkey who always chases him to getting trapped in the lion’s cage to the trunk full of mischievous monkeys who wreak havoc on his balance (shouldn’t every film have a trunk full of monkeys?). 

The festival runs through August 5 and other Chaplin festivals are slated for Boston and Washington, DC. If you can get to the cinema, please do. There’s nothing like sharing in the trials and joys of the little Tramp with an audience of film lovers. 

20 July 2010

Straight on Till Morning

Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens.

I’ve rarely sat down to read a book after the film (like most people I watch films and complain how the book was better). But this weekend, I did just that. I read Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie. Although Peter Pan was my favorite Disney film as a child, I had never read the stories until now. 

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, a novella of sorts, tells the story of the baby Peter who lives in the gardens with the birds and the fairies. For those of you who have visited the place, you’ll love the description of the gardens as seen through the eyes of a small child.

As for Peter and Wendy, in which the boy Peter brings the Darling children to fabled Neverland so Wendy can be a mother to the lost boys, it was comforting to discover so much familiar territory. But the underlying sadness that runs throughout the stories came as a bit of a shock. I knew that Peter and the lost boys had been forgotten by their mothers but on the pages the aching sense of loss is more profound than anything in the screen versions. I’m actually glad I didn’t read this as a child.

The descriptions of Neverland and its inhabitants—Captain Hook, Smee, Tiger Lily, the crocodile—are delightful but none so much, for me, as the description of Tinkerbell, a girl close to my heart. (In the second grade I dressed up like Tinkerbell for Halloween and it remains one of my favourite costumes, ever). In the stories, Tink is just as sassy and vain as she is on screen only here her jealousy and meanness is more pronounced (she is a fairy after all). The description of her boudoir though is pure bliss:

But there was one recess in the wall, no larger than a bird-cage, which was the private apartment of Tinker Bell. It could be shut off from the rest of the house by a tiny curtain, which Tink, who was most fastidious, always kept drawn when dressing or undressing. No woman, however large, could have had a more exquisite boudoir and bed-chamber combined. The couch, as she always called it, was a genuine Queen Mab, with club legs; and she varied the bedspreads according to what fruit-blossom was in season. Her mirror was a Puss-in-Boots, of which there are now only three, unchipped, known to fairy dealers; the washstand was Pie-crust and reversible, the chest of drawers an authentic Charming the Sixth, and the carpet and rugs the best (the early) period of Margery and Robin. There was a chandelier from Tiddlywinks for the look of the thing, but of course she lit the residence herself.”

I'd like to read more about J.M. Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys who were forever tied to the stories but right now I'm off to my own exquisite bed-chamber. Good night dear readers.

11 July 2010

American Woman

"Lucile Brokaw, Piping Rock Beach, Long Island" Martin Munkacsi (1933)

I recently spent a Saturday morning touring the "American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity" exhibit at the Met. It is absolutely breathtaking, showcasing amazing costumes (in pristine condition) from 1890 to 1940. Each room is dedicated to a different decade and the archetype of the American woman who dominated the fashion scene of the day. As you proceed through the rooms and history, you witness not only the changing fashions but the liberation women gained with each passing decade. You also realize how sloppy most women dress today (after this, you'll want to don a pair of white gloves and a hat the next time you leave your home).

The Heiresses. Photo: Mrs. Parker.

The first room, with a backdrop based on the ballroom from the Astors' Beechwood Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, is fittingly enough called "The Heiress." The mannequins dressed in gowns from the House of Worth bring to mind images of Lily Bart in The House of Mirth (one of my favourite heroines) and reminds us that the corseted heiresses of the time, while wealthy, had little freedom of their own. (I snapped the image above by the way with my iPhone before a guard proceeded to tell me there was no photography allowed. I told her I wasn't using a flash, but no go).

Mrs. Parker and some friends. Photo: Jason Kempin.

The rooms continue: "The Gibson Girl" features sporting women in adorable sailor bathing suits and bicycle outfits; "The Bohemian" includes loose gowns with no need of a corset and a display of dainty shoes by Pietro Yantorny decorated with silk satin and Venetian lace; "The Patriot and the Suffragist" displays uniforms donned during the war and film footage of suffragists marching for the right to vote; and "The Flapper," with a backdrop inspired by Tamara de Lempicka, showcases drop waist gowns, cloche hats, and hairstyles that look suspiciously familiar. 

Anna May Wong in the dragon dress from Limehouse Blues.

It is the final decade though, "The Screen Siren" in the 1930s, that is probably the most impressive. With slinky gowns given names like La Sirene, Athena, and Helen of Troy, and the dragon gown worn by Anna May Wong in Limehouse Blues, the room is the epitome of sophistication. Projected on the surrounding walls are clips of some of the greatest screen stars of the 1930s. Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight, Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, and Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express, among others, show us how these gowns are to be worn and define the word "glamour."

The exhibit ends with a video display of American woman from the past to the present. I understand that the juxtaposition of icons (Josephine Baker dances next to Beyonce) is meant to show the influence of the past on the present but the bright lights and Lenny Kravitz belting out American Woman seemed a bit jarring after the dimly lit rooms of costumes. The montage does feature a brief clip of Louise Brooks so I had to stay and watch the display, twice.

The small gift shop, located at the end of the exhibit, has some lovely items, including a pin that spells out "heiress" in rhinestones. The exhibit runs through August 15th so if you're in New York, please find the time to check it out. You won't be disappointed.

05 July 2010

To Market, To Market

"Give me books, fruit, French wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors, played by someone I do not know." —John Keats

My tiny flat is filled to the rafters with books, and always has a couple of bottles of wine stored in its postage stamp of a kitchen. Although I could do nothing about the weather (New York is in the middle of a heat wave), I knew one place where I could find fruit and music on this holiday Monday. So I ventured out into the blistering sun and headed for the Union Square Greenmarket, where farmers from all over the state (and New Jersey) set up stalls to sell their produce. At the first stall, I was greeted by a beautiful display of cherries of all sorts—Bing, Ranier, and even sour ones, which I discovered are bright red.

At the end of one table, a wooden crate held a multitude of tiny red and yellow plums.

At another stall, small tubs of glorious peaches filled the air with their sweetness, beckoning for someone to pick them up.

Produce is not the only thing for sell at the market. You can also find breads, jams and honeys, fresh eggs, cheeses, and beautiful flowers, like these glorious sunflowers.

Having purchased an enormous amount of cherries and some golden peaches, I looked around for some musicians but none were to be found, probably because of the oppressive heat. So I cranked up some Cab Calloway on my iPod as I headed up 18th Street and stopped off at Books of Wonder, an incredible children's bookstore, which had this very intriguing window display built by Cynthia von Buhler to promote her new book But Who Will Bell the Cats? (it includes sets that appear in the book.) I must confess, I can never ignore a bookstore. The pull of all the vast possibilities that lie within are too great. Besides, I like to support the few local booksellers who are still in the city. Which is why I left the store with a reissued copy of the original 1930 edition of The Secret of the Old Clock, the first book in the Nancy Drew series.

Before they were rewritten and condensed in 1959, Nancy had a blonde bob and drove a blue roadster, and exhibited all the fearlessness of a baby flapper. I'm looking forward to revisiting this book from my childhood while enjoying the other spoils of the day.

Photos by Michele.

04 July 2010

Happy Fourth of July

Jean Harlow

I hope all of you dear readers have a happy Fourth of July and get to relax a little by the pool today. After I've recovered from the celebrations, I promise to be back soon with some new stories.


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