29 April 2011

Royal Wedding

At 4 am this morning, with my Emma Bridgewater Union Jack mug filled to the brim with strong coffee, I sat glued to the television watching the coverage of the royal wedding. Although I spent the rest of the day wishing I could use toothpicks to hold my eyes open à la Bugs Bunny, I'm glad I watched. I have very fond memories of watching Charles and Diana's wedding when I was a girl, and there was no way I was going to miss their son's wedding. And it didn't disappoint. I loved Kate's dress, the trees in Westminster Abbey, the crazy hats, the carriage ride to Buckingham Palace, and especially the little girl on the left in the photo above. Besides, who can't use a little pomp and circumstance in their life?

Here in New York, everyone seemed to have royal wedding fever. Even the cabs carried ads for the wedding. So congratulations William and Kate. Well done.

Photo of taxi by Mrs. Parker.

28 April 2011

Churchill Square

Winston Churchill Square is a charming little gated garden and sitting area located near a busy intersection in the West Village. Although I usually walk quickly by, today I was drawn inside by the sight of flowers still heavy with raindrops from the recent storm.

The square is named for England's illustrious prime minister (Downing is one of its bordering streets), and I like to think that he would have enjoyed sitting on one of its plentiful benches and enjoying a cigar. 

A ring of flowers and plantings surrounds a mounted armillary in the center. The symmetry of the garden gives an orderliness to the area while a circular path allows visitors to get up close and smell the flowers.

What had caught my eye from the street was the lovely pairing of purple Muscari with white Narcissus that seemed to scream "spring is here." Overhead, pink blossoms (a Redbud tree?) swayed in front of the painted advertisement for the pharmacy next door. 

I only had time to take a couple of quick shots with my phone before running off to Italian class but today's visit to Churchill Square will not be my last.

Photos by Michele.

26 April 2011

Three Small Eggs

Violet and Bobby guarding their eggs. Photo: Christopher James/NYU.

Spring brings showers and blooming flowers. It also brings the arrival of many baby animals and birds. Last year, Red-tailed Hawks Violet and Bobby decided that the ledge outside NYU President John Saxon’s 12th floor office was just as good a place as any to build a nest. While watching hawks in the city is always interesting the appearance last month of three small eggs in the nest upped the curiosity factor. And for the last couple of weeks, courtesy of a small camera placed by the New York Times, people have able to view a live stream of the nest and watch for the arrival of New York’s newest citizens. 

The wait is almost over. News came just this morning that the eggs (or at least one of them) appear to be in the process of hatching. Most of the time the eggs are hidden from view by one of the parents (usually Violet) but it still makes for compelling viewing; when I checked in a few minutes ago there were more than 1,700 people visiting the live stream. Who knew watching a nest could be so fun?

To take a look yourself, visit here.

25 April 2011

Shades of Gold

Saturday after visiting an amazing exhibit (more on that at a later date), I found myself passing by Bryant Park. Although the lawn area was torn up (it's in the process of being re-sodded), I did get to stop and marvel at the surrounding buildings. The most striking was the Bryant Park Hotel. Originally built in 1924 for the American Radiator Company, its black and gold facade was designed to symbolize coal and fire, and at night can look like a glowing radiator.

The black and gold theme works so well that it can be found repeated in the fence around the park.

And even though it was rainy and grey, rows of lovely tulips were reminders that it is indeed spring.

These photos were taken with my iPhone using the Hipstamatic app. I used the Jimmy lens and Kodot XGrizzled film. Even though they don't always look as nice as images taken with a standard camera, sometimes I like to use the Hipstamatic and see what I get. In this case, the washed out, yellowish tint seems appropriate.

Photos by Michele.

24 April 2011

Happy Easter

Happy Easter! I'm spending the morning getting ready to go over to Fifth Avenue and take in all the lovely Easter bonnets in the annual Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival. I've also got the classic musical on (TCM shows it faithfully every year). If you've never seen Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in Easter Parade (1948) please do. It will have you singing all day.

23 April 2011

Lady in Blue

"Comtesse d'Hausonville" Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1845)

One of my favourite things to do on a rainy afternoon is to stroll around a museum. And one of the best places to do this is at the Frick Collection. Housed in the beautiful Fifth Avenue mansion of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, the collection is small enough so as to not overwhelm but impressive enough to make you want to return again and again. I love the garden court with its sunken pool and skylight, the delightful Boucher room, and the wonderful “Mistress and Maid” by Vemeer. But my favourite thing at the Frick is the portrait of a woman in blue—“Comtesse d’Haussonville” by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

Louise de Broglie, the Comtesse d’Haussonville (1818-1882), was the granddaughter of the great salon hostess and writer Madame de Staël and great-granddaughter of Louis XVI's finance minister. The wife of a diplomat, she was an author and wrote biographies on Lord Byron and the Irish patriot Robert Emmet. It was in Rome that she first met Ingres who would begin work on her portrait in Paris in 1842 and finish it three years later.

One of her mother’s friends called her “the girl with eyes like smoldering embers” and indeed there is something mesmerizing about the Comtesse’s gaze. Although she was in her early 20s, there is a wiseness in her eyes. It also makes you wonder, what was she thinking about? Was she contemplating Ingres? Was she dreaming up a story to write? Or could she have simply been bored? Her direct gaze combined with the plump curve of her arms against the blue silk folds of her gown and the pop of a red ribbon in her hair, create a striking portrait that stays with one long after you've left the museum. I always save the portrait for last when I visit so later when I walk down Fifth Avenue and look at the trees in the park, I can think about the Comtesse and imagine her moving around a room, gown dragging lightly across the floor while her dark eyes dart around, taking in her surroundings.

The Frick Collection is always a nice place to visit but if you go on Sunday mornings 11-1 the admission is pay what you wish.

18 April 2011

Moody Monday

Katharine Hepburn by Cecil Beaton (1935)

It has been one of those days, one of those Mondays. You know what I mean. When, usually for reasons unclear, everything seems wrong, you feel blue, and all you want to do is fling yourself onto the nearest sofa and throw a good pout. Although I refrained from sighing loudly and other drama queen actions, I have been a bit de mauvaise humeur all day. I'm hoping that some ice cream and a second viewing of Upstairs, Downstairs will help straighten everything out. What do you dear readers do when the mood hits you? 

16 April 2011


Charles Spencer Chaplin. Born 122 years ago today. The man who with a mustache, bowler hat, cane, and ill-fitted suit launched one of the screen's most indelible characters, was a genius in the true sense of the word. An actor, writer, director, and composer, he created characters and stories that still move audiences today. While making people laugh, he would simultaneously break their hearts. And without saying a word, he managed to give a voice to the working man and bring a dignity to even the most destitute. Happy Birthday Little Tramp.

In honor of Chaplin's birthday, Google created this darling tribute.

11 April 2011

Dance of Light

Loïe Fuller (1862-1928) was an American-born dancer who became a popular entertainer in late 19th-century Paris where she starred regularly in the Folies Bergère. A pioneering choreographer, her modernistic movements paved the way for the likes of Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis. Fuller experimented with the effect of light on her silk ensembles and held various patents for stage lighting and dress design. Today, she may be best remembered for her Serpentine Dance. Captured on film in 1896 by the Lumière Brothers, this short clip illustrates how lovely the dance was (unfortunately, the dancer on screen is not Fuller). Filmed in black and white, each frame was later hand tinted. Beautiful.

Loïe Fuller  by Frederick Glasier (1902)

06 April 2011

Posh King Cole

The King Cole Bar. Photo: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times.

There’s something about hotel bars that I’ve always liked. I enjoy observing the people around me, creating stories about where they're from and why they're in town. I especially like classic hotel bars. So when I was asked to meet someone for drinks at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel, I jumped at the offer. 

The King Cole Bar is named for the Maxfield Parrish mural that dominates the room. The bar itself isn’t all that big—the leather chairs and banquettes in the small, rectangular room fill up quickly—but the wood and low light give the place a cozy, posh feeling that reeks of class and history. You expect to see a tycoon or a movie star (in fact, I saw Annette Bening in the lobby).

In 1934, the St Regis brought over Fernand Petiot from Harry’s Bar in Paris who perfected a tomato-based drink he had been making and dubbed it a Red Snapper. The drink became better known as a Bloody Mary. The bar's menu includes about a dozen different types of Bloody Marys along with other classic cocktails. Settingly into one of the leather chairs, I slowly sipped my drink and enjoyed the assorted snacks served in silver dishes (Macadamia nuts. Green wasabi peas. Yum.), which were handed to me by a tuxedoed waiter. I could have stayed there all night. 

The King Cole Bar is located in The St. Regis Hotel at 2 East 55th Street. If you visit New York or need to feel glamourous for a few hours, drop by and have a drink. Or two.

05 April 2011

Photography Pioneers

"The Flatiron" Edward Steichen (1904)

I love photography, especially early examples. Is there anything more beautiful than a gelatin silver print? So a few weeks ago I headed to the Met to view the exhibit “Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand.” Featuring 115 images from the Met’s collection, the exhibit proved why these three were pioneers in the field of American photography at the turn of the century.

Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Paul Strand helped to further the cause of American photography, creating new camera techniques and elevating photography to an art form. Stieglitz, considered the father of modern photography, founded the influential journal Camera Work in 1903 and both Steichen and Strand’s works were featured heavily in its pages.

 "Georgia O'Keefe—Hands" Alfred Stieglitz (1917)

Of the three, I was most familiar with Stieglitz. I had just seen many of his New York photos a few months before so was keen to see examples of another of his favourite subjects—his wife Georgia O’Keefe. Stieglitz liked to photographer her, a lot (he made more than 300 portraits). Many of the photos are of her parts—face, breasts, feet. He especially liked to photograph her hands, which were, upon inspection, quite beautiful.

 "Blind" Paul Strand (1916)

The work of two of Stieglitz’ protégées round out the exhibit. Strand wanted to capture the movement of the city (he would later go on to work in documentary film) and everyday people. He would often attach a trick lens to his camera in order to get his shots without the subjects looking at the camera. His work exemplifies early street photography, and its immediacy gives many of his photos a modern look.

 "Untitled" Edward Steichen (1904). This woman could be a sitter for John Singer Sargent.

But it was Edward Steichen whose work I enjoyed the most. Steichen had partnered with Stieglitz to open the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (later known as 291), which brought European artists’ work to the attention of Americans. Steichen, who had started out painting, applied his painter’s eye to the lens and many of his photographs have a dream-like quality to them. Probably his most famous photo in the exhibit is of the iconic Flatiron building. Many have photographed the building, including Stieglitz, but Steichen’s photo stands out. Appearing at first to be a painting, the blurriness of the light and silhouetted figure adds a romantic air to the photo (and brings to mind the setting for a Victorian mystery).

The exhibit is only at the Met for a few more days (until April 10). If you can’t make it, there is a wonderful exhibition catalogue that contains reproductions of many of the photographs.

04 April 2011

Jane Eyre

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” So begins one of my favourite novels—Jane Eyre.  In the latest screen version, Jane Eyre opens with a flight through the moors, a scene that occurs more than half-way through the novel. We learn of Jane’s past through flashbacks, from her horrible childhood to her time at Thornfield Hall as the governess to the ward of the brooding Edward Rochester.

This new film is gorgeous. The use of natural lighting (and some computer work) washes the scenes in various shades of gray that help to enhance the mood of the story. There are also some intimate moments, as when Jane is seen alone in the garden of Thornfield, that have the feel of a impressionist painting.

For the most part the cast is spot on, from the always brilliant Judi Dench as the loyal housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax to Sally Hawkins as Jane's evil Aunt Reed. Freya Parks who appears briefly as Jane’s childhood friend, Helen Burns, is a dead ringer for Shirley Temple’s downtrodden friend Becky in The Little Princess (ok, I'm digressing). Yet the most important role, of course, is that of Jane, plain and small. Mia Wasikowska does not disappoint. She has the look and the intelligence of Jane Eyre. She also exhibits Jane's inability to completely suppress her emotions. Michael Fassbender has the daunting task of stepping into the shoes of Rochester. While he makes a dashing Byronic figure he doesn’t seem to have Rochester’s anguish. And quite frankly, he doesn’t seem all that intimidating either.

Which brings us to the reason why at the end I wasn’t in love with this adaptation. The film curiously seems to be lacking passion. There are tense scenes between Jane and Rochester but the overriding passion that runs throughout the book seems almost distant here. Perhaps this has something to do with the script, which has edited a very large novel down to just under two hours. In fact, there were scenes from the book that I missed like the gypsy fortuneteller at the party (actually, the whole visiting party seemed too short). Other omissions including the lack of seeing the important Grace Poole or having Adele’s relationship with Rochester reduced to a comment seem to take away from the story not help it along.

In the end, I felt myself unmoved by this Jane Eyre. If you want to see a great adaptation, get a copy of the 2006 production with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. Now that’s a passionate Jane Eyre.

Photo by Laurie Sparham/Focus Features.

02 April 2011

Farewell to the Queen

Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Giant (1955). Photo by Frank Worth.

I didn't want any more time to go by without mentioning Elizabeth Taylor. On the morning of March 23, when I saw the headlines with her name, I was surprised at how sad I felt. I had always enjoyed her films but never considered her one of my favourite actresses. So it took me a while to figure it out—my sadness stemmed from the idea of her not being here. While other movie stars and celebrities passed away, she was always a constant, like that other Elizabeth in England. She was a stunning beauty, a better actress than many gave her credit for, and just real. Whenever you saw interviews with her she didn't shy away from speaking her mind or letting out that wonderful laugh. She was fiercely loyal to her friends and stood by them through the worst of times. She was a movie legend but never seemed to take herself too seriously. I loved the idea of Elizabeth Taylor in her home like some queen with her jewels and dogs, having done and seen it all (no actress today even comes close to matching her story). So the idea of her no longer being here is going to take a while to get used to. Farewell Elizabeth Taylor. The world is a little duller without you.

01 April 2011

Remembering the Fire

Workers inside the Triangle Waist Company factory.

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in a Greenwich Village factory that claimed the lives of 146 people and changed labour laws forever. Last Friday, on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, hundreds of New Yorkers gathered to remember the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

Firefighters try desperately to put out the fire.

The Triangle Waist Company, which manufactured shirtwaists for women, occupied the top three floors of the Asch Building at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. The company employed mainly female workers, most of whom were Italian and Jewish immigrants. On the afternoon of March 25, 1911, near the end of the work day, a fire broke out on the eighth floor and quickly moved to the rest of the factory. Some workers managed to get out but the main exits were locked and the fire escape outside soon collapsed. The fire department's ladders could only reach to the sixth floor. People on the street below watched in horror as more than 60 people jumped to their deaths. By the end of the day, 146 people were dead, 129 of whom were women.

Some of the victims had picketed for labour changes just the year before.

The fire was the worst industrial accident in New York City history, and it horrified the nation. The tragedy helped to galvanize the labour unions and laws were passed to change poor working conditions.

Newspapers reflected the public's outrage.

On the anniversary of this horrible tragedy people carrying symbolic shirtfronts marched from Union Square Park to the site of the factory. In front of the building, the names of the dead were read out while a single bell tolled, making sure that the victims would not be forgotten.

To find out more about the fire, check out the new HBO documentary Triangle: Remembering the Fire. While some of the images are disturbing to watch (the film includes photos of the bodies), it shouldn't be missed.


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