31 October 2012

Happy Halloween!

Myrna Loy

Happy Halloween everyone! I'm writing this from a uptown cafe as I'm one of the unfortunate New Yorkers who lives below 31st Street and haven't had power since Monday. The best estimate as of this morning is 3-4 days before the power comes back on. I will admit it's been rough, especially the not being able to take a shower (there's no hot water). So fingers crossed it comes back on earlier than expected. Until then there may not be any new posts.

I also want to mention that it's the birthday of my handsome boy Poe who is 11 today. Love you.

28 October 2012

Stormy Weather

Listening to the incomparable Lena Horne sing the title song from Stormy Weather (1943) as we wait for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy seems appropriate. I've stocked up on water, batteries, and food and have a pile of books and a flashlight in case the power goes out. For all my fellow East Coasters, stay safe.

26 October 2012


"I am Dracula"—Bela Lugosi in Dracula 

Give me vampires over zombies or werewolves any day. I quite enjoy a good vampire film or novel, especially when Dracula makes an appearance. And of all the actors who have portrayed the notorious Count, Bela Lugosi still remains my favourite. Not so long ago I saw the film Dracula (1931) for the first time in years and yes, it's not a great film. It's a bit stagy, a bit wooden, and has a terrible ending but there's Lugosi who makes up for any weaknesses in the film.

The Hungarian-born Lugosi first played Dracula on stage in a 1927 Broadway production along with Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing. Both would later star in the Universal film. Although he longed to play different roles, Dracula typecast Lugosi and he was relegated to mostly B-horror movies, even reprising the role of Dracula in Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), by which time an addiction to morphine (taken to help his sciatica) had started to take its toll. He ended up staring in a couple of Ed Wood's films before dying in 1956. He was buried wearing one of Dracula's capes.

As much as Dracula may have become a curse for him there's no denying that Lugosi helped shape how we perceive Dracula. The dark, slicked-back hair, the piercing eyes, the accent, the aristocratic charm are all elements of the Dracula that is in our collective psyche—he is the Dracula against whom all other Draculas are measured. So if you haven't seen Dracula in a while, check it out this Halloween season. It's currently streaming on Netflix along with The Mummy (1932) and The Wolf Man (1941) so why not have a mini classic horror movie marathon this weekend?

25 October 2012

The Merchant in Mourning

Old houses hold a lot of fascination for me. I love climbing their stairs and peeping into their rooms, imagining the people who lived there before. And so the Merchant’s House Museum in Manhattan is just my type of place—a preserved home from the 1830s that allows visitors a glimpse at what life was like in 19th-century New York.

Built in 1832 in the then fashionable Bond Street area, the Federal-style house was purchased for $18,000 in 1835 by Seabury Tredwell, a well-to-do merchant. His family would live in the home for almost 100 years. Tredwell’s youngest daughter, Gertrude, died there in 1933. Three years later the house was turned into a museum and opened to the public. Today the house, owned by the City of New York and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the only 19th-century family home in New York that's been preserved intact.

The house is decorated like it was circa 1835-1865 and filled with original family furnishings including 12 balloon-back chairs, four-poster beds, and gas chandeliers. The Greek Revival design found in the rooms includes Ionic columns in the double parlours and ceiling medallions. There are four floors to explore including the newly opened servants quarters at the top (ironically, they got more light than the other rooms in the house). 

There is also a back garden, which makes for a peaceful place to stop and read the self-guided tour binder or to simply take in the final lingering colours of the season.

I had been to the house before but went the other weekend for a special exhibit—“Death & Mourning in a Mid-19th Century Home”—that recreates the mourning period following Seabury Tredwell’s death on March 7, 1865.

In the house, the curtains were drawn and the mirrors covered with black cloth. The coffin surrounded by lilies (it helped with the smells in those pre-embalming times) was laid out in the front parlour where visitors would come and pay their respects. And upstairs, Tredwell himself was in his bed (the docents give visitors a warning ahead of time; apparently a woman on a previous visit had screamed when she entered the room). Even with the gas lights burning, the room was incredibly dark with everything covered up. I can only imagine how cold and somber it must have felt at the time.

The exhibit runs through November 5. To really get into the spirit this month, there are candlelight ghost tours and a reenactment of Tredwell's funeral on October 30, which culminates with his coffin being carried to the nearby New York City Marble Cemetery. For more information, check the museum's site here.

Photos by Michele.

24 October 2012


A few days ago I bought these sunflowers from a bodega on my way home. I normally buy peonies or tulips but for some reason these appealed to me. Today I'm home, sick, and it's grey and wet outside. Looking at these flowers with their lovely yellow reminds me of the sunny South of France and suddenly I feel just a little bit better.

Photo by Michele.

23 October 2012

Olde New York

During the first half of the 19th century, the Port of New York was the busiest port in America with a constant stream of ships coming in and out, carrying goods from all over the world. Businesses, counting houses, and hotels sprung up around the port as did Fulton Fish Market in 1822 (it moved to the Bronx in 2005). Today the area, now known as South Street Seaport, is a tourist destination filled with chain shops and restaurants. The sailors and fishmongers are long gone. Yet remnants of old New York can still be found as you walk along the streets, some of which are covered with cobblestones.

Built in 1807, the Jasper Ward House at 45 Peck Slip was one of the area's many counting houses. Notice the address doesn't say street. That's because it used to be an actual slip used to move ships in and out of the water.

These two buildings off Schermerhorn Row once housed sailors and labourers during the port's heyday. Today there's a Heartland Brewery downstairs.

Ships have not completely disappeared from the former port. The South Street Seaport Museum oversees a collection of historic vessels including the cargo ship the Peking and the lightship Ambrose. Unfortunately money problems at the museum have thrown the ships' future into uncertainty, which is a shame. The sight of the masts against a backdrop of high-rise buildings is a perfect mix of the city's past and present.

Walk down to the water and there are fantastic views of Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge. The East River, once crowded with ships, still has vessels sailing by, some of which are reminiscent of the past.

One of the best places to get a feel for the past is at Bowne & Co., Stationers on Water Street, which pays tribute to a mercantile business with the same name that first opened in 1775. With its 19th-century presses, wooden shelving, and stacks of blank books and cards, Bowne & Co., resemble a 1870s print shop.

The shop was in full Halloween mode when I was there with a large black crow atop a display table while skeletons hung out on one of the cases. There were jars of black and orange glass glitter, Victorian masks, sheets of stickers, and streamers with skulls, all of which seemed to fit well with the atmosphere of the shop.

I do wish the area hadn't been turned into such a mall but at least the 19th century is still there. You just need to know where to look.

Photos by Michele.

22 October 2012

Happy Birthday Capa!

Robert Capa in China, 1938.

Today is Robert Capa’s birthday. Born on October 22, 1913 in Budapest, Hungary, he was one of the greatest war photographers of the 20th century. The man who said "if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough," covered five wars and became the archetypal photojournalist, inspiring generations of young photographers and influencing at least one fictional one (James Stewart's role in Rear Window was reportedly based on Capa). He was simply, one of the best, and I count him among my favourite photographers. And if I had to name a history crush it would be Capa. He was talented, charming, fearless, and had the looks of a Gypsy straight out of central casting. What’s not to love? I plan on writing more about him in a later post but didn’t want today to go by without saying Happy Birthday Capa.

20 October 2012

Happy Birthday Ollie!

Happy Birthday Ollie! Born on October 20, 1894, Olive Thomas was one of the bright stars of the stage and screen in the teens and the first actress to portray a flapper in a film. As my readers know, she is one of my favourite actresses (a large portrait of her has a prominent place in my flat) and so there are plans to head up to Woodlawn Cemetery this weekend where she is buried and bring her some flowers. Wonderful Ollie, you will never be forgotten.

19 October 2012

The Wicked Witch

Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.
Photo: Virgil Apger/Fondation John Kobal.

"I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!"—The Wicked Witch of the West.

I have 
witches on the brain this week (see yesterday's post) so naturally I am reminded of perhaps the greatest witch of the silver screen—the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz (1939)Margaret Hamilton was amazing in the role that she truly made her own. Who can ever forget that green face and pointed nose or that cackling laugh?

real life Hamilton was a former kindergarden teacher who adored children and animals. She got asked so many times by little kids why she was mean to Dorothy that she appeared on an episode of Mister Roger's Neighborhood to explain that it was all pretend. I always felt a little bad for the Wicked Witch. But those flying monkeys of hers? Scary.

Have a wonderful weekend my pretties.

18 October 2012

Witch Hosiery

Ipswich, Massachusetts is a town I know well having spent many a summer day at Crane Beach and eating fried clams at the famed Clam Box. So I was delighted to find these vintage 1920s ads for Ipswich Hosiery.

The town has been home to numerous industries throughout the years including lace and stocking making. In 1868 the Ipswich Hosiery Mills was founded and by the turn of the century was the largest stocking mill in the country.

The symbol for the company was a witch (it should be noted that the last witchcraft trial in America was held in Ipswich in 1878). At first the company's witch was portrayed as an old hag but by the 1920s had morphed into a pretty, modern witch.

It's certainly an interesting marketing plan, comparing women to witches. Not sure if it led to the company finally closing in 1929 but there's no denying the ads are awfully attractive. 

For more witch and other Halloween-themed ads check out the Vintage Halloween Treats! tumblr here.

17 October 2012

The Queen's Slippers

A pair of Marie Antoinette’s slippers sold today at a Paris auction for 62,460 euros. The size 36-and-a-half, green and pink silk slippers topped with a bow appear to be in pretty good condition considering they’re more than 200 years old. The Queen of France gave them as a gift to Alexandre-Bernard Ju-Des-Rets, the Advisor to the Parliament of Paris, in 1775. They have been in his family ever since. The slippers were part of an auction that included 350 items belonging to members of the French royal family. Coincidentally, yesterday was the anniversary of Marie Antoinette's execution by guillotine on October 16, 1793.

"Queen Marie Antoinette with her Children in the Park of Trianon" 
Adolf Ulrich Wertmuller (1785). Check out the shoes.

Another pair of shoes that had reportedly belonged to the Queen sold earlier this year for 43,225 euros. Just goes to show everyone loves a good pair of Louis heels.

To see other items from the auction, visit here.

The Power of Words

Mr. Morgan's Library. Photo: Michele.

A few weeks ago I spent an afternoon at a favourite place in the city—The Morgan Library & Museum. First opened to the public in 1924, the Morgan began as the personal library of financier J.P. Morgan who hired the renowned firm of McKim, Mead & White to build the beautiful Italian Renaissance-style building next to his Madison Avenue home in 1902. Among the thousands of items in the Morgan collection today are not one but three Gutenberg Bibles, The Hours of Anne of Cleves prayer book (gorgeous), Beethoven and Mozart manuscripts with handwritten notes, Jane Austen’s letters, concept drawings for Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, and first drafts of Bob Dylan lyrics.

I think my favourite section of the museum is Mr. Morgan’s Library, a wonderful large room with an enormous fireplace and tapestry and shelf after shelf of leather-bound books that rise up to a vividly painting ceiling. Wouldn't it be great to have that place to yourself and just sit and read?

The purpose of this visit was to see a special exhibit, “Churchill: The Power of Words,” which explored the famed prime minister’s masterly use of the English language. Apparently JP Morgan was a friend of Churchill’s mother, the Brooklyn-born Jennie Jerome Churchill, so it only seems fitting that an exhibit of Churchill items rarely seen outside the UK would be at the Morgan. I went the day before it closed and am so happy I didn't miss it.

While most people think of Churchill as a politician, many forget that he was a prolific writer; one of his first jobs was as a journalist, and he wrote numerous books. The exhibit included examples of Churchill’s writings from early letters written as a child to his mother from boarding school to an unpublished manuscript on the art of rhetoric to speeches he gave to the House of Commons to his stirring radio addresses that helped Britain stay the course.

A special focus of the exhibit was on Churchill’s relationship with America, particularly his strong friendship with Franklin D. Roosevelt. The two men liked each other tremendously and appeared to have enjoyed each other’s company, evidenced by their warm banter. Roosevelt once told him “it’s fun being in the same decade as you.”

There were also personal items of note to see—Churchill’s Nobel Prize for Literature, his US passport (he was made an honorary American citizen), a painting he did of Cap d’Antibes, and a noiseless typewriter that Churchill insisted his secretaries use so he would not be distracted by the clacking of keys while giving dictation.

Not all of the words in the exhibit came from Churchill. A very personal letter from King George VI (“My dear Winston,” it begins) after the death of Roosevelt was included as was a hilarious note from his doctor who prescribed alcohol for Churchill after he was hit by a car during a visit to Prohibition New York in 1931. Perhaps my favourite non-Churchill lines were the shortest. When war was declared on September 3, 1939, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and a signal was sent to the fleet that simply said “Winston is back.”

An annotated draft of Churchill's September 11, 1940 speech. Photo: Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge.

Yet with all of the material to read and look at, it was the drafts and final copies of his speeches that remained a highlight of the exhibit. Those stirring words that we have all heard recordings of were there in black and white, some with handwritten notes correcting a word or fact, some appearing like a poem on the page. Final, clean copies showed long spacing between certain words—a reminder to Churchill to pause when speaking.

Recordings of some of his most noted wartime addresses were played in a small portable theatre while images and the words were shown on video screens. The audio may have been scratchy but that unmistakable voice was there, speaking words that still manage to stir up emotions and proving why Churchill was one of the great wordsmiths of his time. Here is just one example:

“Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'”

To find out more about the Morgan Library & Museum, visit their site here. For more on Churchill, visit the Churchill Centre and Museum’s site here.

15 October 2012


The cast of Heartless. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Sam Shepard’s plays often address the subject of family and all their dysfunctions. This is the case with his latest work, Heartless, which I saw last month at the Signature Theatre. 
Aspiring filmmaker Sally, sporting a rather dramatic scar down her front (the result of a heart transplant as a young girl), arrives home in the hills somewhere high above Los Angeles with her latest boyfriend in tow, the decidedly older Roscoe, an expert on Cervantes who has left his wife. There Roscoe meets Sally’s bitter sister, Lucy; her mother’s beautiful mute nurse, Elizabeth; and mother Mabel who is confined to a wheelchair. Roscoe is drawn into the family’s disturbed lives where emotions are laid bare and the truth is often unclear.
In fact, the play is sometimes unclear, leaving unanswered questions like is one of the characters a ghost? Where do the two characters who leave together wind up? And what happens to the dog?  Although at times I wasn't sure what the truth was, I enjoyed Heartless nonetheless.
The cast was strong with Julianne Nicholson displaying an awkward unease as Sally, a woman who has always felt uncomfortable in her own body, and Gary Cole as poor Roscoe appearing more and more bewildered as normal social niceties disintegrate into rants and accusations.

Jenny Bacon was superb as older sister Lucy, bound to the house by a sense of loyalty to her mother. Her deadpan delivery with a halting cadence was both amusing and unnerving while Betty Gilpin was just plain eerie as the mute nurse. In one scene she expressed her feelings with an exhausting, long silent scream. In the next scene she is heard singing, which begs the question, why are we told she's mute? 

And then there was Lois Smith as Mabel. There are many plays filled with great matriarchs (think Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill). Mabel is a force to be reckoned with who spares no feelings. From her wheelchair, hands twisted, she gives forth her opinion on everything from Roy Rogers to her dislike of coffee. Smith was marvellous to watch. Hard and cutting, it was difficult to think that this was the same woman who played the beloved Gran on True Blood.

In one of the final scenes, Mabel explains how she came to be crippled. Apparently when she was younger, she fell out of a tree that she had climbed trying to get a closer look at a film playing at the nearby drive-in. The film was East of Eden, which in real life Smith stared in with James Dean. In an interview Smith said that when Sam Shepard was told about Smith’s connection to the film his response was “spooky.” Perhaps a fitting word to describe some of the characters in the play.

Heartless closed last month but to read more about it, check out the Signature Theatre’s site here.

12 October 2012

Camera in Hand

"Saturate yourself with your subject and the camera will all but take you by the hand."—Margaret Bourke-White.

I plan on spending some time with my camera this weekend shooting one of my favourite subjects—the city (but unlike in this photo, I'll be sticking to the pavement). Enjoy your weekend.

11 October 2012

Halloween & Coffee

Halloween and coffee, two of my favourite things. What better way to enjoy my morning coffee this Halloween season than with this new ghost mug from Emma Bridgewater? I mean, how can I resist ghosts wearing orange Wellies? I'm a big fan of Emma Bridgewater and can't wait to add this mug to my collection (I just ordered it along with a marked down one for the Queen's Jubilee).

And the coffee I will be drinking in my new ghost mug will be made with my new Nespresso Pixie espresso maker! The smallest in the Nespresso line, the Pixie is compact, red, and just so damn cute. I've never been one to own a lot of gadgets and have happily been making coffee for years with either a French press or an Italian moka so this is a big deal for me. I'm sure the thrill of the new will wear off soon (I only got it a few days ago) but for now I'm looking forward to making coffee every morning.

For more on the ghost mug, check out the Emma Bridgewater site here. For more on Nespresso machines, check out their site here.


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