24 January 2011

Parla Italiano

"American Girl in Italy" Ruth Orkin (1951)

Tomorrow night I'm starting an Italian class, and I'm feeling a bit nervous. I lived in Italy 20 years ago and although I've retained certain words and phrases (not surprising many of them are curse words) I haven't conjugated a verb for quite some time. I had to take a placement test and was told to skip the beginning course, which is only adding to my nervousness. So we'll see how it goes. Fingers crossed I can keep up with the others.

22 January 2011

Speakeasy Revisited

Faux speakeasies have been a trend in New York in recent years. Although I have often scoffed at the idea (hello, prohibition is over) tonight some friends and I decided to try one out—the Back Room—on the Lower East Side.

To find the place, we had to look for a sign that read “East Side Toy Company.” We then went down a set of metal stairs and through an alley to get to the unmarked door for the Back Room. Filled with red velvet sofas, large portraits of Victorian-era women, and a glowing fireplace, the place is surprisingly large and intimate at the same time. It even has a hidden back room that only friends of the owner can hang out in. We sat at the bar, and I ordered a Rob Roy, which was served in a white teacup. One of my friends had a beer that was served in a coffee mug. I have to admit I felt a bit like Dorothy Parker while I sipped my scotch. Of course, one can never really know what drinking at a real speakeasy felt like but it was pretty fun nonetheless. 

Photos from chow.com.

21 January 2011

The Inventions of George Méliès

I trekked out to Queens last weekend for a screening of George Méliès shorts at the newly reopened Museum of the Moving Image. The French filmmaking pioneer—a former magician and toymaker—created some of the earliest "special effects" in film. His most famous film is probably A Trip to the Moon (1902) in which a space shuttle lands smack dab in the eye of the man in the moon. What was surprising in rewatching the film was how some of Méliès' concepts seemed to foresee modern space travel, from the shape of the capsule to the landing in the ocean on the return to Earth (but the insect-like creatures they encounter on the moon, not so much). 

Of the four films shown that afternoon, my favourite was The Conjurer (1899). Running just shy of a minute, the film presents a magician performing some tricks with the help of his assistant. It's wonderfully whimsical and fun. It also shows a keen understanding by Méliès of how to manipulate film in order to present illusion. The films were accompanied by Sxip Shirey who provided live music.

A wall of stars. Photo: Michele.

This was my first visit to the museum, which has been closed for the past two years for renovations. The older part of the museum is housed in what was originally a Paramount studio. I stopped for a moment to think about the fact that Valentino had made movies where I stood and then got on with viewing the permanent exhibit "Behind the Screen." While not particularly large, it does a decent job of explaining basic aspects of film making to the lay person as well as showing off articles from film history, including costumes, wigs, and fake noses. I especially liked the wall of stars that greets you as you enter (Louise Brooks' portrait is near the bottom) and the collection of silent film memorabilia on display (of course). 

The museum has some great film screenings planned for the coming months so if you're in the area you should check their calendar. In the meantime, if you haven't watched any of Méliès' films, many can be found online or on DVD. 

14 January 2011

Lipstick Obsessed

"Observatory Time: The Lovers" Man Ray (1936). Otherwise known as Lee Miller's lips.

Mrs. Parker loves her lipstick. In fact, I feel awkward if I leave the house without it (add referring to myself in the third person as making me feel awkward as well). This obsession, if you will, means that I have a large collection of lipsticks and glosses in a variety of colors. Sometimes, when I’ve fallen in love with one, I’ve bought multiplies in case the color is discontinued (note to MAC, please bring back Marrakesh). Trips to the UK used to involve the purchasing of large quantities of Boots No 7 lipsticks until they became available in the States. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that I consider myself to be a bit of a lipstick expert. And if pressed to name my favourite lipstick brand, I would answer Lipstick Queen.

Created by the brilliant Poppy King, Lipstick Queen is simply one of the best lipstick brands I have ever worn (perhaps even the best). From its perfect colours to its cool packaging, Lipstick Queen is my go to for lipstick. The ten main shades come in two choices, Saint or Sinner. Saint is all about shimmer and shine while Sinner is dark and matte. Of all the colours, Rust Sinner is my favourite. When I got a chance to meet Poppy at an event last year I gushed so much to her about my love of Rust Sinner I'm afraid she must have thought me a bit mad.

A sort of brownish red, Rust Sinner's rich pigment gives me perfect bee-stung lips while complimenting my complexion like no other lipstick does. Its thick texture is probably as close as I'll ever come to knowing what lipstick felt like in the 1920s and always makes me feel like I'm wearing a bit of flapper glam. When I recently had to take new passport photos, I made sure that I was wearing my favourite colour (after all, custom agents and I will have to look at that same photo for the next ten years). 

So do go out and try Lipstick Queen. I'm sure there's a perfect colour waiting for you. And if any of you dear readers have a favourite lipstick I'd love to hear all about it.

13 January 2011

Maps of Manhattan

The Martime Hotel in Chelsea is noted for its porthole windows and nautical design. But my favourite thing about the hotel décor has nothing to do with the sea. It’s the fabric they use to cover the chairs and sofas in the lounge. Originally designed by Josef Frank in the 1940s, the "Manhattan" fabric features maps of the city and has a wonderful retro look that seems so perfectly New York.

The fabric can be purchased at Just Scandinavian in Tribeca. It's expensive but would make a unique statement in any room.

The lounge at the Maritime Hotel.

If you'd like to see the fabric in action, stop by the Martime for a drink sometime and enjoy the seating and the atmosphere.

Photos by Michele.

12 January 2011

Do Over

After last month's blizzard practically crippled parts of New York, the city got a chance for a do over with last night's storm. Granted there wasn't as much snow this time round but the snow removal was handled quickly and efficiently, and as you can see from the picture above, the streets were cleared by this morning making the trip to work fairly simple. Now just have to deal with those pesky pools of water that lie in wait for you when you step off the sidewalk.

Photo by Michele.

11 January 2011

Keeping It Green

One of the best spots in Soho to grab a quick bite is Birdbath, a green bakery housed on the premises of the former Vesuvio Bakery.

 Some of Birdbath's delicious, organic offerings.

Opened in 1920 by the Dapolito family, Vesuvio served Italian bread and biscotti to generations of New Yorkers until it shut its doors a few years ago. With Vesuvio's closing, many neighbors feared that its famed green façade—a fixture in Soho—would be destroyed. Luckily Birdbath’s owner, Maury Rubin, decided to do the green thing and keep the storefront, signage and all, along with many of the bakery's other original features like its exposed brick walls.

A coffee and scone.

Today there are no loaves of bread to take home (although the original ovens still reside in the basement). Instead the countertop is covered with organic sandwiches and salads along with stacks of lovely cookies and other baked goods. Everything they have is delicious; this morning I went with a mixed berry scone and coffee. They also have a chicken cilantro sandwich with a side green salad that makes for a perfect lunch. So the next time you're in Soho stop by. Just look for the green storefront.

Photos by

10 January 2011

Downton Abbey

Just when I thought there was nothing to watch on television this month along comes Downton Abbey on MasterpieceWritten by Julian Fellowes of Gosford Park fame, this opulent new drama follows the lives of the Crawley family and their servants in Edwardian England.

Episode one opens on April 15, 1912 with news of the sinking of the Titanic. Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, learns that among the dead are James and Patrick Crawley, his cousins and male heirs. This poses an enormous complication for him and his family as Patrick had been engaged to Grantham's eldest daughter, Mary. Now the family's future is uncertain as the estate is entailed and girls cannot inherit. Grantham invites his new heir, a distant relation whom he barely knows, to move onto the estate and get to know the lay of the land. But Matthew Crawley is not your typical heir. For starters, he’s a practicing lawyer and appears to be opposed to the customs of the upper class. Marriage between Matthew and Mary would solve the family’s problems. But can the two overcome their differences and fall in love? 

 The three Crawley daughters.

The show is simply gorgeous, from the wonderful sets to the lovely costumes. The opening scene—a tracking shot that follows various servants through the house—allows the viewers to get a close look at the real star of the show, Downton Abbey itself. Filmed at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, the house represents the English upper class and their beliefs, which will soon go the way of the dodo bird with the coming of World War I.

The cast is excellent. The always-solid Hugh Bonneville plays the Earl of Grantham and the surprisingly good Elizabeth McGovern is his American heiress wife, Cora. The servants are portrayed by many stellar actors including Jim Carter as Carson the butler, Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes the housekeeper, and Brendan Coyle as the crippled new valet John Bates. But it is Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess who steals every scene she’s in. Has any other actress perfected the glowering glare or the cutting putdown delivered with a smile better than Smith?

There are three more episodes left to air, and a second season has already been commissioned by ITV. I can’t wait to watch the rest of the series and highly recommend that you do the same.

08 January 2011

Purple Loveliness

Longchamp, the French leather goods company, knows marketing. Their store window in Soho normally features just a handful of bags, each strategically hung with lights hitting them just so. A few seasons ago there was a yellow bag in the window that acted like a beacon. Every time I walked by, I would stop and stare before thoughts of the price tag would cause me to move wistfully on.

For some time I have wanted a purple bag. So imagine my delight the other day when I received an email stating that Longchamp was having a sale. I reacted like any sane girl would—I immediately bolted out of the office and ran over to the store. There I purchased a small, stylish bag in raisin (read: purple) from their Roseau collection. Mission accomplished. I can now start flourishing said bag around town. Now if I could only find something similar in orange...

07 January 2011

Black Swan

The other evening I saw a screening of Black Swan (It actually sold out—proof that people still go to the cinema instead of watching everything at home). In the film, Natalie Portman plays Nina, a ballerina who is chosen to perform the dual roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan in a production of Swan Lake. Nina appears to be ideal for the part of the White Swan but a new rival, the free-spirited Lily (Mila Kunis), seems to be a better fit for the Black Swan. With a rival on board, Nina delves into her dark side and loses her sanity in the process.

I didn’t love Black Swan nor did I dislike it. Parts of it were difficult to watch (I had to close my eyes a few times) while others were quite compelling.  Something that did bother me was how obviously messed up this girl was and yet no one seemed to notice. Maybe the demanding director (played by the always great Vincent Cassel) chose to ignore the warning signs in order to get a perfect performance from his dancer but no one else thought to say anything? 

Ballerina on the edge.

Yet I don’t think that the director, Darren Aronofsky, intended the film to be an indictment on the world of dance per se. Rather, I think the film represents the high cost that is paid by anyone driven to try and achieve utter perfection (Nina comments repeatedly on how she’s just trying to be perfect). That said, if you want to watch a brilliant film about a ballerina driven mad, get The Red Shoes by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (1948). Now that's a ballet film (and one of my all time favourites).

Regardless of my mixed feelings, you should see Black Swan. If nothing else, you'll know what Portman is being awarded for when she takes home the Oscar next month.

06 January 2011

Chaos and Classicism

 "Woman in White" Pablo Picasso (1923)

New Year’s day was spent walking round and round the Guggenheim, taking in the exhibit “Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936.”

The exhibit focuses on European artists who, traumatized by World War I, rejected avant-garde movements and turned to classicism for order and an idealized past. Their need to portray bodies as whole (a reaction to the maiming seen in the war) and to draw more traditional lines like those found in Greek and Roman art did bring about more structure but everything turned ugly in the end when fascism appropriated the ideology for its own nefarious agenda.

 "On the Balcony" Georg Schrimpf (1929)

Few of the works are great yet there are some standouts—the handful of Picassos (I’ve always loved “The Woman in White”) are lovely as is the calming “Women on the Balcony” by Georg Schrimpf. I also enjoyed watching a clip from Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet in which photographer Lee Miller is cast as a statue. Toward the end of the exhibit are a handful of Mussolini busts—a chilling reminder of what the period finished with—dictators and more death.

A still from The Blood of a Poet (1930)

“Chaos and Classicism” closes January 9. If you can't make the exhibit, you should still visit the Guggenheim. It's not often that one gets to walk around in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

05 January 2011

These Boots Were Made for Rain

I've always loved Hunter boots but as one who is short in stature, their traditional Wellies are just too tall for me. That's where their Brixten boot comes in. They are just tall enough to keep your feet and ankles dry while short enough so that they don't overpower your legs. And when you add a pair of thick socks your feet stay warm as well. They also come with a Royal Warrant from the Queen (not important, I know, but thought I would share). I just got my first pair, and I've been strolling down the street happily stepping in puddles and marveling at their comfort. Although they come in different colors I went with basic black. I might just have to get a second pair in green though. Love these boots.

04 January 2011

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Last night I watch the DVD of The Girl Who Played with Fire. As with the first film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I found Lisbeth Salander (played by the brilliant Noomi Rapace) compelling and complex. Her intelligence and daring are to be admired while her flaws help to make her not perfect and therefore an engaging character. As someone who spends a lot of time doing research, I also like how she’s known for being a top researcher, able to uncover dirt on anyone. Although both films were filled with enough plot lines and details to remain interesting and the supporting cast gave subtle, suitable performances, what I loved the most about the second film is Lisbeth’s new flat.

Lisbeth assembling one of her Ikea purchases.

Located on the top floor of a building with stunning views, Lisabeth lives here under the name V. Kulla (a reference to Villa Villekulla, Pippi Longstocking’s house). The flat is full of beautiful moldings, hardwood floors, and window seats (unfortunately, the photos here don't do it justice). Although there is tons of space she only bothers to furnish a few rooms, minimally, with items she gets from Ikea. It is the type of place that New Yorkers dream about (Actually, most of us dream about having a place that’s the size of her living room let alone the whole flat).

I look forward to watching the third film and seeing if the same flat makes a reappearance. By the way, I haven’t read the books and refuse to do so until the rest of New York has finished reading them. Seriously, last year it was the only book you ever saw on the subway.

Photos by Knut Koivisto/Music Box Films.

03 January 2011

Cloudy and Grey

The skies over Manhattan may be cloudy and grey but the snow is gone and things seem to be back to normal. Last week was a tough one but looking up and seeing sights such as this reminders us that no matter how stressful this city can be it's still a pretty cool place to call home.

Photo by Michele.

02 January 2011

La Bête

I spent an enjoyable evening the other night at a performance of David Hirson’s La Bête. Set in a 17th-century French court and written in iambic pentameter, La Bête is the tale of two playwrights—the dignified and priggish Elomire and the bombastic and buffoonish Valere—whose futures are controlled by the Princess whose patronize they both seek. Elomire, who is ensconced comfortably at court, is horrified when the Princess insists that the street performer Valere, whom she finds entertaining, join Elomire and his troupe. The ensuing arguments lead to victory for one and banishment for the other.

The three leads are marvelous in their roles. As the Princess, the striking Joanna Lumley mixes a regal composure with childish stubbornness. And her entrance, heralded by a cloud of gold glitter, is absolutely fabulous. David Hyde Pierce, so perfect at projecting silent burning rage, delivers Elomire’s words eloquently but is at his funniest when expressing a wealth of emotions without uttering a word. Yet as good as these two are, it is Mark Rylance as Valere who steals the show. He enters at the beginning of the play, a wreck with foppish hat and oversized teeth, spitting out words and food (in Elomire’s face) and doesn’t stop talking for a good half hour. During his monologue he prances, belches, shouts, confesses childhood secrets, mispronounces Latin, and even defecates while never seeming to stop for a breath. It’s a standout performance and one that can’t help but overshadow the other characters. It’s also one of the funniest performances I’ve seen on stage in a long time.

Unfortunately, the rest of the play never seems to live up to that opening monologue. The age-old argument about high versus low art seems one-sided and the dramatic exit into the mist by one of the leads at the end seems overly dramatic. Nonetheless, the excellence of the performances, especially Rylance’s antics, are worth seeing.

Like most plays that opened this fall on Broadway, La Bête is closing soon (January 9). Until then you can catch it at the Music Box Theatre.

01 January 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my dear readers! I spent the night celebrating in Brooklyn (yes, Brooklyn) with some friends and am now off to look at some art (must stay cultured in 2011). Thank you to everyone who took the time to stop and read this blog. I look forward to sharing more tales with you this coming year and wish you all the best of luck and good health in 2011.


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