30 November 2012


"What I really resent most about people sticking labels on you is that it cuts off all the other elements of what you are because it can only deal with black and white; the cartoon."—Siouxsie Sioux

I've long been a fan of Siouxsie Sioux and admire her bold originality. Her comment about labels is spot on. And speaking of labels, this history geek plans on seeing Lincoln tomorrow, which I think is going to be right up my alley. Have a great weekend.

29 November 2012

The City on a Hill

Before moving to New York, I lived in Boston for many years and still think of it as a second home. So for Thanksgiving this year I decided to spend the holiday in the land of the pilgrims.

Normally when I'm in Boston I stay with friends but this time round I decided to treat myself and get a hotel room. I stayed at the Nine Zero Hotel where I was upgraded to a top floor room with a view from which I could see the State House’s golden globe and the Boston Common as well as the Charles River and Cambridge in the distance (see view above). My room also had an amazingly comfortable bed, loads of space, and even a Martini bar. I would definitely stay there again (hotel info here). 

Across from the hotel was the Granary Burial Ground, which includes the graves of Paul Revere, John Hancock, and the victims of the Boston Massacre. The gravestones feature a variety of artwork including skull and crossbones and weeping willows that bring to mind Edward Gorey.

Nearby was the State House and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' magnificent Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial.

There were still lovely fall colours to be found in Boston Common along with an early morning Zamboni driver preparing the ice on the Frog Pond for that day's skaters.

One morning before meeting a friend for pancakes at Panificio and shopping on Charles Street, I strolled around the prettiest neighbourhood in the city, Beacon Hill. It's the place that made me fall in love with brick houses (more on Beacon Hill in a later post). 

I met another friend for a day of art in the Fenway. I lived and went to school in that neighbourhood when I first moved to Boston and have fond memories of it, including the numerous ducks and geese that inhabit the waterways. You do have to be careful as they'll come right up to you.

The Courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photo: Gardner Museum.

"El Jaleo" John Singer Sargent (1882)

First up was the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to see the chrysanthemums in the courtyard and the new modern wing. As a grad student, I spent many hours reading in the museum's back garden and as a result always associate Virginia Woolf with the Gardner. This Venetian-style palace is filled with amazing pieces of art, furniture, and manuscripts collected by the unique Isabella Stewart Gardner (When she first opened the museum in 1903, she served her guests donuts and champagne. How great is that?). My favourite things in the museum are John Singer Sergent's magnificent "El Jaleo" and the central courtyard that is simply stunning. 

The Gardner's new modern wing. Photo: Nic Lehoux/Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

Gardner's will stipulated that few alterations could be made to the museum, including placement of paintings, so the new modern wing, a striking contrast in glass and chrome, is a helpful addition that includes a performance space and room for special exhibits. (Info on the Gardner here).

"Stella Tennant, New York 2006" Mario Testino.

Across the way from the Gardner is the Museum of Fine Arts, our second stop of the day. We checked out some of the special exhibits: "Ori Gersht: History Repeating" with some videos that give a twist to classical paintings (watch "Pomegranate" here), "The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection" that included 400 postcards of all types of images from the turn of the last century, and the major exhibit "Mario Testino: In Your Face" with its smaller companion "Mario Testino: British Royal Portraits." There were some pretty images in the exhibit and it was fun seeing some of them blown up but I think the verdict is still out if it constitutes an exhibit for a fine arts museum.

"The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" John Singer Sargent (1882)

The visit finished with a tour of the new American Wing, which I hadn't seen before. It's wonderful, especially the rooms designed to look like a 19th-century salon. We sat for a bit in front of Sargent's "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit," one of my favourite paintings in the MFA's permanent collection (can you tell I like Sargent?), before heading out for dinner. (Info on the MFA here).

On my last day in town I took a quick walk around the Public Garden. The swan boats had already been put away until next year and the air was crisp but the place was still as lovely as ever.

The Garden has some very striking looking trees. I've always been fond of this particular one with the branches bending down to the ground, just calling for you to take the path beneath.

As is my want, I ended up taking a load of photos of squirrels. (Don't ask me why I always do this. I really don't know.) I must say these two were particularly amusing.

And I didn't forget to say hello to the Make Way for Ducklings ducks before heading to the station for the train back to New York. A few days of seeing old friends, eating good food, looking at art, and taking in some sights; a perfect way to spend Thanksgiving. I can't wait for my next visit.

Photos, except where noted, by Michele.

26 November 2012

Back from Boston

Acorn Street in Boston. Photo: Michele.

Hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving. I spent mine in Boston and had a fabulous time visiting friends and old haunts. I have loads of photos to share but first need to catch up on some work and go to the opera (Un Ballo in Maschera tomorrow at the Met). So see you back here in a few days.

22 November 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! What's on your menu this year? I actually don't mind if my Thanksgiving dinner isn't completely traditional as long as there's pumpkin pie. Here's a menu from 1937, which doesn't seem all that different from what a lot of people will be enjoying today save for the plum pudding. Doesn't that seem more Christmassy?

To view other old menus, including Thanksgiving ones, check out this great page from the New York Public Library here. Have a wonderful holiday everyone. 

19 November 2012

American Girl Abroad

"Couple in MG" Ruth Orkin (1951)

Florence, 1951. Ruth Orkin, a young American photographer, was relaxing in the Italian city after finishing an assignment in Israel for Life magazine. At her hotel she met another young American woman, Jinx Allen, who was spending six months touring Europe. The two hit it off and swapped their tales of travelling alone. Orkin thought it would be fun to capture on film what it was like to be a single woman on her own in a foreign country. The result was a series of wonderful black and white photographs with Jinx as the woman traveller.

"American Girl in Italy" Ruth Orkin (1951)

The most famous of the images made that day is “American Girl in Italy,” which has been reproduced as a poster countless times and hung on the wall of many a young woman’s dorm room or flat (I myself had a postcard of it on the front of my dorm room door). There have been various interpretations of the image but as Ninalee Craig (Jinx’s name now) simply says “It’s a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time!”

"Treasure Tours" Ruth Orkin (1951)

"Jinx and Justin Flirting at the Cafe" Ruth Orkin (1951)

"At the American Express Office" Ruth Orkin (1951)

The other images in the series are just as delightful. Jinx goes for a ride, flirts, takes in the sights, shops, gets her mail, all the time looking strikingly beautiful. They capture the glamour of Italy in the 1950s while stirring up memories for other women travellers. For me, the American Express photo is especially meaningful. When I was travelling around Europe decades after Jinx, the American Express office still served as a home away from home for Americans (I can still recall that the Paris office is on the rue Scribe because I went there so often); it was a place where you could get some money, find out about tickets to your next destination, and pick up letters from friends and family back home in those pre-email days. These images also remind us that regardless of the obstacles we may have encountered while traveling alone through Europe or the moments of loneliness we experienced, it was all one hell of a great adventure.

To see all of the images in the series, visit the Ruth Orkin Photo Archive here.

16 November 2012

Forever Young

"I was forced to live far beyond my years when just a child, now I have reversed the order and I intend to remain young indefinitely."—Mary Pickford

And through the magic of film Mary Pickford has done just that, remained the young girl with the curls who won the hearts of the world. I have a couple of her films that I've never seen before that I plan on watching this weekend in-between attending a baby shower in Brooklyn (twins!) and spending some time out and about in the city before the craziness of the holiday season begins. Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Photo from the Library of Congress.

15 November 2012

Marion en Rouge

I'm starting to think Marion Cotillard can do no wrong. Besides being a fabulous actress, she's gorgeous and always looks incredibly chic and cool as these photos from a Surrealist holiday spread by Tim Walker for the December issue of W magazine can attest.

The life sized toy soldier may be a tad creepy but look at those clothes: Chanel, Gaultier, Lanvin, Valentino. And she's sporting red lipstick and a black bob! It doesn't get much better than that. 

For the rest of the photos and the interview, visit W Magazine here.

14 November 2012

Happy Birthday Lulu!

Louise Brooks. Photo: John Springer Collection/CORBIS.

Happy Birthday to my favourite flapper, Louise Brooks. Born on November 14, 1906 in Cherryvale, Kansas, she was a star of both stage and screen. Louise left an indelible mark on film history with her portrayal of Lulu, the beautiful seductress who destroys the men who cross her path in Pandora's Box (1929). She also inspired generations of women to copy her hairstyle, including me. So here's to the woman who was the bee's knees. May her star continue to shine bright.

13 November 2012

A Well-Dressed Flapper

Isn't this outfit gorgeous? I love it, from the adorable chiffon tam to the chic black silk faille coat with matching top and skirt to the rose beige shoes. And having Clara Bow as the model is a bonus. But the total cost, $346.50, makes it sound like an outfit the average flapper would not have been able to afford, especially if everything was purchased all at once. For some perspective, in today's money the outfit would cost $4,530. That's a pretty hefty price tag. But oh how I would love to have every item.

Wonder what other items from the 1920s would cost today? Check out this inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics here

12 November 2012

Veterans Day

World War I officially ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. Today that date is celebrated as Veterans Day in the US (Armistice Day and Remembrance Day elsewhere) and honours veterans of all of the armed services. 

Yesterday I started reading Robert Capa's Slightly Out of Focus, his memoir about his experiences as a war photographer during World War II. Filled with descriptions of the realities of war along with a healthy dose of humour, it's an excellent read that reminds us of some of the sacrifices made by those who serve. Get a copy here.

09 November 2012

At Least There's No Earthquake

“It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"And freezing."
"Is it?"
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, 
"we haven't had an earthquake lately.”—A.A. Milne

This pretty much sums up the attitude around here. We’ve had a major hurricane, massive flooding, and a snowstorm all in less than a two weeks. But we haven’t had an earthquake or a swarm of locusts so things could be worse. 

Manhattan is slowly getting back to normal but there are still areas of New York and New Jersey without power or heat so let’s pray they get it back soon. It’s cold out there.

I plan on seeing the new James Bond film this weekend; what better way to escape for a few hours? Hope everyone has a wonderful and warm weekend.

08 November 2012

Dial M For Murder

When I was a kid my friends and I went to one of the local movie theatres to see Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder (1954) in 3-D. We wore those flimsy paper glasses and gasped when Grace Kelly's hand emerged from the screen, clutching a pair of scissors.

Recently I got to relive that moment by attending a screening at Film Forum of a newly restored version in digital 3-D. This time we wore solid, plastic glasses. The only film Hitchcock ever shot in 3-D, it was great to see it again on the big screen.

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is a former tennis player whose wealthy wife, Margot (Grace Kelly), is having an affair with an American crime writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Tony plots what he believes to be the perfect murder of his wife, the details of which includes pressuring a former schoolmate, Charles Swann (Anthony Dawson), into committing the crime. Tony invites the visiting Mark to attend a stag party with him while Margot stays home. The plan is for Swann to strangle Margot, make it look like a burglary, and leave without a trace. What could go wrong? Apparently, a lot. Margot fights back and winds up killing Swann. With some quick thinking Tony decides to use the situation to his advantage and implies to the police that Swann was blackmailing Margot, thereby giving her a reason for wanting him dead. Margot is accused of murder, and tried and convicted. While she's in jail awaiting execution, Mark takes it upon himself to prove her innocence and finds an unlikely ally in Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams).

Dial M For Murder is not one of Hitchcock’s best films. But it’s still a Hitchcock film, which makes it more enjoyable than most other films. Grace Kelly is her usual sophisticated, beautiful self and Ray Milland plays the charming snake like few can. I’ve never been a big Robert Cummings fan and he didn’t change my mind with this film but Anthony Dawson was born to play a petty thief and John Williams steals every scene he’s in with his humorous delivery.

Set almost entirely in the Wendices’ small flat, Hitchcock shot low, which combined with the crowded, richly coloured flat lends a claustrophobic feel to the film. Based on a popular play by Frederick Knott, at times it feels like you’re watching a filmed play but that doesn’t take away from the moments of suspense or the story itself.

The scene in which Tony invites Swann over to his flat under the pretence of buying a used car from him is important to the story because it establishes their relationship and outlines the murder plan. Yet for the first time I noticed that the scene drags, too long compared to the rest of the film, even though it offers one of Hitchcock’s better screen appearances (he’s seen in a class reunion photo hanging on the wall).

The murder scene though is classic Hitchcock. Tony phones Margot from the club, a ploy to get her out of bed and over to the desk where Swann lies in wait. But everything goes wrong when Margot, who’s being strangled on the desk, grabs a pair of scissors and stabs Swann in the back. The irony is the reason the scissors are out in the first place is that Tony suggested Margot spend the evening pasting clippings of his tennis achievements in a scrapbook. Tony, who is still on the phone, hears the entire thing, never flinching once.

This is where 3-D is used most effectively. I must confess, I’m not a big fan of the medium. The recent films I’ve seen have given me a headache (Alice in Wonderland was a painful experience) but the use in this film is fine if not very dramatic, save for Margot’s clutching hand.

Common objects often play an important part in Hitchcock films. In Dial M For Murder it’s a latchkey (in Notorious there is an important key as well). At first, how Swann got into the Wendice flat is a puzzle to Hubbard as is the fact that the key in Margot’s purse does not fit the door. Later on, he puts two and two together and a key helps to uncover the truth.

If you've never seen Dial M For Murder or it's been a while, I suggest you check it out, whether in 3-D or not.

07 November 2012

Central Park in Fall

Among the many things left destroyed or damaged in the wake of Hurricane Sandy were trees in Central Park. More than 650 in fact, including a 160 year-old pin oak. Just two days before the storm hit I was in the park and took some photos, wanting to capture the last of fall's colours.

Lovely fall reds and yellows and oranges could be found throughout the park and even on the wall of the American Museum of Natural History across the street.

Colour wasn't only to be found in the leaves.  A rainbow of pedicabs was lined up at the entrance of the park, ready to take visitors for a spin.

I haven't been back up to the park yet to see the destruction; it was closed until this weekend and now with a nor'easter depositing snow on the area it's closed again. It's strange to think that some of the trees in these photos may no longer be standing. But even with the recent losses Central Park, an amazingly beautiful oasis in the middle of this great city, won't let a storm, even a perfect one at that, bring it down.

Photos by Michele.


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