29 August 2011

Jacob's Pillow

I had to cut a trip to the Berkshires short this weekend due to the hurricane (thanks Irene). Luckily, I managed to soak in a bit of the calm and beauty that is this section of Western Massachusetts before having to hoof it back to New York before the impending disaster (it ended up never really getting that bad in the city but better safe than sorry).

I met up with a friend from Cambridge, and we stayed in the town of Lenox where everything is charming from the 19th century library to the free doggie bag despensers. 

Although many things were planned for the trip, the most important was attending Jacob’s Pillow to see the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) perform, which we happily did on Friday evening.

As some of you may know, I simply adore Mark Morris; I think he’s an absolute genius. This year marks the 30th anniversary of his company and so I timed my visit to the Berkshires to coincide with their performance at Jacob’s Pillow, the summer dance festival that draws some of the best dancers and companies from around the globe.

In 1930, famed modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn purchased a farm in Becket, Massachusetts. Named Jacob’s Pillow by its original owners—a large boulder on the grounds resembling a pillow and a ladder-shaped road up to the farm reminded them of the biblical story of Jacob—Shawn planned to turn it into a retreat for his new all male dance company. In the summer of 1933, the company began to give public performances on the grounds and thus the seeds for the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival were planted. 

There is something almost magical about Jacob’s Pillow. Walking around the grounds with its quaint wooden barns and houses that serve as performance spaces, practice studios, and offices, it's hard to imagine a more beautiful or relaxing place to watch dance. Before the performance, we dined at the outdoor Pillow Café and enjoyed our wine while watching the sun set over the trees.

The MMDG performed four pieces that symbolized the company’s history: Resurrection, which was performed to Richard Rodgers' "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" and had the dancers in wonderful star and harlequin pajamas; Ten Suggestions, a solo originally danced by Morris himself and which was ably handled by Amber Star Merkens this time round; Dancing Honeymoon, set to a collection of popular songs from the 1920s and 30s and which involved, among other things, the tossing of folding chairs (no worry, none were dropped); and V, set to the music of Robert Schumann and probably one of the most moving pieces of dance I’ve ever seen (this was my third or fourth time seeing it performed and it never gets old). There are so many things to love about this company—the variety of the dancers (my favourite is Lauren Grant who is short like me and a complete powerhouse), the way Morris weaves humour into the pieces, the perfect melding of music with dance that is so uniquely Morris. 

The biggest disappointment of having to leave early was missing a visit to the Mount, the home of Edith Wharton in Lenox. The restored residence of the great author with its magnificent gardens is a perfect place to spend a day. I hadn’t been in a few years and was looking forward to seeing it again. I guess I will just have to return another time.

Photos by Michele.

25 August 2011

Beauty Springs

Walking down Grand Street in Soho today I noticed that the CP Shades store had closed (not shocking; many shops have gone out of business in the neighbourhood). What was striking though were the large sunflowers bursting out of the empty storefront's window box. Their pop of yellow against the grey blue of the building commanded attention on the street, their sturdy stems unwavering in the wind. Beauty springs in unexpected places. And today, amidst the rain drops and shuttered buildings, it was found in an abandoned window box.

Photo by Michele.

23 August 2011


So we got a bit of a jolt today when an earthquake rolled up the East Coast. Being from California, I had experienced many before and was more surprised than anything else (earthquakes rarely occur in this part of the country). It caused quite a bit of commotion though, and we had to evacuate the building where I work. I had a hair appointment scheduled for later in the day and while I stood on the street with my co-workers, listening to them speculate on whether or not we were going to be allowed back inside (we were), all I could think of was "I hope the salon doesn't cancel my appointment." Priorities dear readers. Priorities. Eventually it was back to business as usual and the salon kept my appointment and now I have shiny locks and bangs short enough so I can see again and everything is right with the world once more.

22 August 2011

Happy Birthday Mrs. Parker

Today is Dorothy Parker's birthday. Last year, I wrote about her life. The woman who has had a huge influence on me did not write loads of poems that necessarily lend themselves to festive occasions so here is one of my favourites of hers that is short and true, just like the woman herself. 

                            If I don’t drive around the park,
                            I’m pretty sure to make my mark.
                            If I’m in bed each night by ten,
                            I may get back my looks again,
                            If I abstain from fun and such,
                            I'll probably amount to much,
                            But I shall stay the way I am,
                            Because I do not give a damn.

21 August 2011

Personal Best

"Paris, France" Elliott Erwitt (1989)

I just spent an enjoyable afternoon at the ICP (International Center of Photography) marvelling at the photos in the "Elliott Erwitt: Personal Best" exhibit. A photographer and filmmaker, Erwitt has captured some of the most iconic people of the 20th Century—Fidel Castro, Richard Nixon, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Marilyn Monroe—while always keeping an eye out for the humorous and absurd. Many of the images I had seen before but seeing them blown up on the walls emphasized the details like the grief written on Jackie's face.

Erwitt, who is still taking photos at the age of 83, normally shoots in black and white, always film, and never manipulates his images. Pretty good rules. Here are just a few of the images from the exhibit.

"Empire State Building, New York City" Elliott Erwitt (1955)

"Provence, France" Elliott Erwitt (1955)

"Jacqueline Kennedy at John F. Kennedy's Funeral, Arlington, Virginia" Elliott Erwitt (1963)

"Dog Legs, New York City" Elliott Erwitt (1974)

The exhibit closes August 28th so if you get a chance to go this week please check it out.

20 August 2011

Plus de Coco

Apparently I'm on a Coco Chanel kick. Here for your enjoyment is a favourite commercial for Coco parfum featuring Vanessa Paradis in a birdcage. Love this.

19 August 2011


A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.—Coco Chanel

Today is Coco Chanel's birthday. I don't think I need say anything more except joyeux anniversaire Mademoiselle.

17 August 2011

The Cloisters

clois·ter   [kloi-ster]  noun
1. a covered walk, especially in a religious institution, having an open arcade or colonnade usually opening onto a courtyard.
2. a courtyard, especially in a religious institution, bordered with such walks.
3. a place of religious seclusion, as a monastery or convent.
4. any quiet, secluded place.
5. life in a monastery or convent.

In Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights lies one of the jewels of New York—the Cloisters. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval European art and architecture, the building and its gardens are a perfect place to escape from the chaos of the city.

The Cloisters is comprised of bricks and architectural details from five different French cloistered abbeys, whi
ch were shipped over to New York and reassembled during the 1930s. The authenticity of the building and its gardens allows you to feel as if you have stepped into the past. And it’s awfully calming to boot.

"The Unicorn in Captivity" (1495-1505)

Medieval art is not my favourite yet it’s hard not to be impressed by some of the works here. My favourite was the Unicorn Tapestries Room in which seven exquisite tapestries tell the story of the hunt and subsequent killing of a unicorn. While the ending is horrible, the tapestries themselves are absolutely stunning.

Other works that caught my eye were from top a statue of my man St. Michael (Spanish, ca. 1530); the double tomb of Don Àlvar Rodrigo de Cabrera, Count of Urgell and his wife Cecília of Foix (Spanish, ca. 1300-1350); and a crucifx (Spanish, ca. 1150-1200).

Cuxa Cloister Garden

Outside in the gardens, the serene beauty was a welcome sight. In the quiet Cuxa Cloister Garden sparrows hopped around as the sun bore down on the plants and visitors below. 

It was extremely hot the day of my visit so ducking under the protection of the covered passageway was a welcome relief.

There weren't a whole lot of flowers in bloom in the garden but there were these lovely white Bellflowers.

Lunch was had at the café in the tiny Trie Cloister Garden where I was able to gaze upon my favourite flower—the Hollyhock.

Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden

 A wattle fence

The Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden with its central wellhead was more crowded but just as lovely. Most of the 250 plants here would have had a use either for cooking or medicinal purposes during Medieval times. 

The smell of lavender and fennel filled the heavy air while I checked out the offerings including giant Cotton Thistles and Fuller's Teasel. So many other plants and flowers to rave about. I can't wait to return in the fall and see how the gardens have changed.

The Cloisters is open year round and although 
it's a bit of a trek, it's well worth the trip.

Image of "The Unicorn in Captivity" from the Met. Photos by Michele.

15 August 2011


Today would have been Julia Child's 99th birthday. She was responsible for teaching Americans about French food and helping to create the cooking show genre with her television program The French Chef. And she was a spy during World War II; how cool is that? She also had a voice that guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. 

Speaking of which, here's a link to an episode of The French Chef in which she makes a cheese souffle (yum). Happy Birthday Julia and bon appétit.

14 August 2011

Rainy Sunday

The weekend ended with thunder and rain. A good day to stay in and read and catch up on episodes of an old television show that I had forgotten was so fun (hint: it involved aliens). Here's to a good and dry Monday.

Image from the New York Public Library.

13 August 2011

At the Library

What do you do when you turn 100? If you’re the New York Public Library you create a special exhibit of more than 250 treasures from your vast collections for all to enjoy. And enjoy you will. From a gigantic first edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America to a tiny (just one inch tall) copy of Harry Crosby’s The Sun to a collection of fancy 19th century dance cards to a group of photographs of political prisoners held in the Mountjoy Prison in Dublin, the items on display are diverse and interesting. While some of the objects are disturbing, like a KKK hood and robe, others are lighthearted and amusing, like a letter from Groucho Marx to Harold Ross. Here are just a few of my favourite items (in addition to the Crosby book). 

e.e. cumming's typewriter (love him). I wonder if he ever used the shift key?

Charlotte Brontë 's writing desk. I tried to imagine her arm resting on the edge of the wood where it meets the deep burgundy velvet as she wrote. And there's even her pencil! Extra bonus.

Both bizarre and fascinating is Charles Dickens' letter opener that he had made from the paw of his dead cat Bob. I know Dickens loved his cat but I think this may just be going a bit too far.

A 15th century map of Italy and Corsica is incredibly beautiful. Look at that blue. It's even more vivid in person.

And check out the colours and details in this illuminated manuscript of St. Augustine’s The City of God. Isn't it stunning? 

Celebrating 100 Years is on view at the main library through December 31, 2011.

Photo of the lion by Michele.
All other images are from the NYPL's website.

10 August 2011

Dance on the Table

This is probably the next print that the "Stay Calm" haters will go after (if they haven't already) but I for one think it's a brilliant idea. Not sure why I keep seeing it marketed for weddings though. One needn't be at a wedding to indulge in a little table top dancing. And drinking champagne? That should be an everyday occasion.

Purchase one for yourself at amazon.

09 August 2011

Dream Bibliothèque

My tiny flat is overflowing with books and so I often dream of one day having a larger place that includes a real library/office. This shot of Nigella Lawson in her home library makes me swoon. All those shelves. All those books. Room for a bloody tree! Oh well. One day.

Photo from House and Garden.

05 August 2011


Louise Brooks

This summer has been so busy work-wise that I seem to have fallen behind on my reading (if the seemingly non-shrinking stack of books next to my bed is anything to judge by). Nonetheless, here's what I have managed to read recently.

The Bolter by Frances Osborne
Lady Idina Sackville was one of those individuals who only the English seem to produce. While not a natural beauty, she stood out in Edwardian England with her exquisite gowns and black Pekingese named Satan by her side. Her later abandonment of husband and children for life with another man in Kenya made her infamous and earned her the nickname “the Bolter” (well known to fans of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate). She would become a member of the notorious Happy Valley set and marry many more times yet this biography, written by her great-granddaughter, shows that Sackville with all her apparent disregard for societal rules really just wanted to be loved.

Cover Her Face by P.D. James
This is the first in a long line of mysteries starring detective Adam Dalgliesh. Set in a small Essex village, the story opens at a dinner party hosted by the Maddox family in their manor house where the conversation at the table turns to Sally, the pretty servant who is an unwed mother. On the day of the church fete, Sally scandalizes everyone by showing up in the same dress as the Maddox daughter and later announcing that the Maddox son has proposed to her. The next day Sally is found murdered in her bed and it is up to the observant Dalgliesh to find the killer. P.D. James is an great writer and it was fun to revisit this mystery, which I first read many years ago. Even if you don’t want to dive into all of the Dalgliesh books, this can be read as a stand alone.

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
Let me start by saying that Kate Atkinson is a brilliant writer. I had read all of her novels when her first mystery, Case Histories, appeared. And this latest tale of semi-retired private investigator Jackson Brodie does not disappoint. One of the best things about an Atkinson novel is the seemingly unconnected characters and story lines that all merge together in one cohesive meeting by the final chapter. This time round Brodie is following up on a request from a woman to help track down information about her birth parents. Brodie winds up stumbling upon a 30-year old cover-up, a kidnapped child, and a dog who becomes his companion and, in one scene, his rescuer.

Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh by Alexander Walker
An in-depth look at Vivien Leigh, the strikingly beautiful actress forever associated with Gone With the Wind. Alexander Walker does a good job telling Vivien’s story from her childhood in India and England to her stage and screen roles, including her memorable depictions of Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois, to her relationships, including her tumultuous marriage to Laurence Olivier. Throughout the book, Walker traces the early signs of and later destruction caused by her manic depression. Yet while some of the book's passages paint a colourful portrait, for example a description of a weekend at the Oliviers’ home Notley Abbey, others fall flat.

04 August 2011

The Day They Invented Champagne


The story goes that today in 1693 a blind monk named Dom Pierre Perignon created champagne.

Unfortunately, this legend isn’t exactly correct. While Perignon and his fellow monks did make wine at the Abbey of Hautvillers, they were actually focused on creating still wines; sparkling wine was a mostly unwanted occurrence. In those days, without adequate temperature control, a second fermentation would often happen in the bottles, creating bubbles and sometimes explosions.

The first person to intentionally make champagne was probably, gasp, an Englishman— scientist Christopher Merret. He wrote a paper in 1662 outlining a process for forcing a second fermentation now known as the méthode champenoise.

Perignon did come up with some ideas that would improve champagne including creating thicker bottles and securing corks with hemp string, a predecessor to the modern-day wire cages.

And by the way, he also wasn’t blind. 

Regardless of what's fact or myth, let’s all take a moment today to give thanks to Dom Pierre Perignon for having one of the finest champagnes named after him and besides, is there ever a reason not to celebrate the bubbly? Alors merci monsieur.

03 August 2011

Hitchcock Found

Betty Compson in The White Shadow

The White Shadow, an early Alfred Hitchcock film long thought lost, has been discovered in a vault at the New Zealand Film Archive.

The missing film, which was made in 1923 and released the following year, is one of the earliest works by the film legend who served as assistant director, art director, and editor on the film as well as writer. Only three of the original six reels were found but in the world of silent film, that's a great find.

Discovered by an archivist from the National Film Preservation Foundation, the film had been mistakenly labeled Twin Sisters. An American exhibition print distributed by Lewis J. Selznick Enterprises, the Selznick logo is visible on some of the intertitles, which probably explains why the British film was with a series of unidentified American films. On dangerously flammable nitrate stock, it is now in the process of being restored and will be screened next month at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences headquarters in Beverly Hills.

The White Shadow stars American actress Betty Compson who plays twin sisters, one good and one not so good, while the lead male role is played by stiff Clive Brooks. Even with Hitchcock's involvement, it was a flop when it was released.

The reels are from the collection of Jack Murtagh, a New Zealand projectionist whose grandson donated the collection to the archive when his grandfather passed away in 1989. Thank God for people like Jack who had the foresight to keep copies of films like these. The majority of films made during the silent era are now lost to us. Let's hope that there are more Jack Murtaghs out there with hidden treasures.


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