30 April 2013

Spring in the Park

When I lived in Boston I was a volunteer gardener at a historic, 18th-century garden where I was responsible for the planting of the bulbs. So this time of year always finds me on the lookout for the first tulips, daffodils, and other blooms of the season. Saturday I strolled through Central Park, grinning like an idiot, at the riot of colour that greeted me. From flowers to trees to even lush green grass, the Park was absolutely gorgeous. Here are just a few of the things that I saw.

My post from last Friday is proof that I can't resist a cherry blossom tree, especially one framed by two large neighbours.

Even the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon was covered in colour.

And, of course, more tulips. If only they could last forever.

All photos by Michele.

29 April 2013

Fashion and Impressionism

"Women in the Garden" Claude Monet (1866)

Last month I spent part of my birthday at the Met viewing “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity,” an exhibit that examines the influence of fashion on the work of the Impressionists who sought to reflect in their art the modern world in which they lived, Paris in the late 19th century (the mid-1860s to the mid-1880s to be exact).

The exhibit is spread out across eight galleries, juxtaposing paintings, photographs, and prints (many of which have rarely been seen in America) by artists such as Degas, Manet, Monet, and Renoir with clothes, shoes, and accessories from the time. 

"Camille" Claude Monet (1866)

At the entrance, you are greeted by the sight of a green-striped gown in a glass case. Entering the first gallery you find a large-scale painting, Monet’s “Camille” (1866), in which the model, Monet's mistress and future wife, wears a gown with similar stripes. From then on it's a struggle to know what to look at first, the clothes or the art.

In the same room are a series of cartes-de-visites by Disdéri —eight small exposures on a single glass negative that feature a woman in different poses. I loved these and the so very French names of their models: Valois, Heloise, Olympe, and Eugénie. That would be the Empress 

Each gallery continued on with various themes: from the outdoors, white and black dresses, and changing fashions to menswear, consumerism, and urban life.

Day Dress, 1865-67

It was particularly fascinating to look at the clothes close-up, observing all of the details and in some cases the seemingly endless buttons. I tried imagining what it must have been like to wear these every day and of the corsets (also on display) that helped to create such tiny waists. The all-white dresses appeared to be ridiculously sheer and light, which must have helped during a hot summer while the trend for shawls reminded me of our current day pashminas. It’s also amazing to think that people had the wherewithal to hold on to these, allowing us to view them more than 100 years later.

"In the Conservatory" Albert Bartholomé (ca. 1881) and 
Summer Day Dress Worn by Madame Bartholomé in the Painting "In the Conservatory."

One of the gowns on display, a purple and white number, is the actual gown seen in Albert Bartholomé’s “In the Greenhouse” (1881). The artist preserved it after his wife, the model for the painting, died. The most marked difference is that Bartholomé darkened the gown’s purple for his painting (or perhaps the gown itself has faded over time). Regardless, it was pretty great to see.

What surprised me the most was to learn that the little black dress (OK, big black dress) was alive and well in Paris and considered quite fashionable. I always associate black in the 19th century with mourning (think Queen Victoria) but as Renoir said, “black is the queen of colours,” and my favourite dress in the exhibit (see image above) was indeed a black one. Narrow with a high collar and tiny jet beading and a small train, it was absolutely gorgeous.

"Paris Street; Rainy Day" Gustave Caillebotte (1877)

The final gallery has what I think is one of the best pieces, Gustave Caillebotte's "Paris Street; Rainy Day" (1877), which I had seen before on a trip to Chicago. A perfect combination of fashion and environment, it's incredibly striking and the perfect way to close out the exhibit. 

The exhibit is at the Met through May 27, 2013. For more information, visit here

All images from the Met.

28 April 2013


One of the things on my to do list on my recent trip to California was see the ocean. Although I live on the East Coast and the Atlantic is not so far way, there is something about the Pacific that holds a special place in my heart. So one day we went for a drive down to Monterey.

An important town in early California history, Monterey once had a thriving fishing industry and was home to writers and artists. Today it's better known for its aquarium and marine wildlife, and is the home of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.

Our first stop that day was the touristy Fisherman's Wharf to check out its noisy residents—sea lions who hang out on a floating dock. When I would visit as a child there was an organ grinder with a monkey who we would give a quarter to and a candy shop that sold big boxes of caramel popcorn. The monkey is long gone but the boxes of popcorn are still there.

Monterey is also John Steinbeck country (the author grew up in neighbouring Salinas) and the town's Cannery Row should be familiar to readers of his work. Although the area's sardine canning factories have been replaced with restaurants and shops, you can still find some small reminders of the former thriving industry.

Passing through Cannery Row, we headed out toward Pacific Grove, stopping to take in the beautiful ocean views. It was pupping season for harbour seals, and I immediately spotted a mama seal and her baby on the rocks below. They stayed for a while, gathering some sun, before wiggling back to the water and swimming away.

What I hadn't expected to find were the colours that greeted us. Only certain hardy flowers thrive along a coastline. One of these is the "Pride of Madeira" whose large, blueish-purple flowers shaped like large bottle cleaners can be found all around Monterey. And then there is the ice plant, which I'm used to seeing without blooms. Its pink/purple flowers are nothing special close-up but look at a large swath of them as they snake along the coastline, and they're magnificent.

Isn't it lovely? But the main beauty was the Pacific Ocean. I stood and watched the waves breaking against the rocks while birds dived down. I love the sight of water—it's calming and comforting. I've often been tempted to get a recording of the ocean to listen to when I can't sleep; the ebb and flow of the water is as good as any lullaby.

I could sit there all day. 

Photos by Michele.

26 April 2013

Cherry Blossom Time

I received some bad news the other day, which has put a damper on the week. So to brighten my day (and maybe yours as well), I bring you cherry blossoms. 

While walking to my friend's house in the Castro District of San Francisco last week, I ran across a row of cherry blossom trees on 19th Street that were absolutely beautiful. So I pulled out my camera and started snapping away. So here you go, some cherry blossom loveliness.

Happy weekend everyone. Let's hope next week is better.

Photos by Michele

24 April 2013

A Day in San Francisco

Last week I was in California for a much needed break. I stayed with my parents and got to hang out with them along with my siblings and nephews as well as a few friends. And after the first couple of days, the weather was lovely, reminding me why so many people flee to the West Coast. 

During my trip I spent a day in the Castro and Mission Districts of San Francisco visiting some friends and walking down memory lane. The Castro is the biggest gay neighbourhood in the country and is filled with restaurants, bars, shops, and one of my favourite places, the Castro Theatre. Since 1922 this jewel of a movie palace has entertained generations of San Franciscans. This was the place where I first saw Louise Brooks on the big screen, where I viewed my first silents in fact accompanied by live music courtesy of the mighty Wurlitzer organ (the song "California, Here I Come" would usually be performed right before a movie started with the audience clapping along), and where I sat through countless foreign films and special screenings. Today it is also home to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which I've flown out to attend in the past. The theatre is an absolute beauty and if you're ever in the city, I encourage you to go see whatever is playing. 

Though many of the businesses were different some things, like the iconic Twin Peaks sign, remained the same. And if you're wondering about all the overhead wires, they are used by many of the city's trolleys and buses.

While I was there, I had lunch with a dear friend during which we chatted for a long time over copious amounts of Thai tea. I got to see her darling new apartment, which is filled with original arts and crafts details and decorated just perfectly. Afterwards I took my time walking over to the Mission, admiring the houses along the way. From small Edwardians to the tall iconic Victorians, the colourful houses light up the city and give a neighbourhood character.

It's the little details that truly make the houses special. Sunbeams both large and small, for example, make multiply appearances while others have their own unique detail like a peacock above an entryway. Even the plants and trees add to the houses' appeal like this cherry blossom tree that looks amazing set against the faded pink siding of a house.

Walking down 18th Street, I spotted the Spanish Baroque style tower atop Mission High School, its design a nod to the state's past. The palm trees that line Dolores Street were another symbol of California while its native poppies were confined to ones found at a flower stand.

When I lived in the Mission many years ago it was largely Hispanic with loads of bodegas and tacquerias (Pancho Villa was my go-to place for burritos). While many of those places remain, they are now joined by bistros and bakeries and clothing shops that I wish had been there when I was a resident. One of which is Tartine, a bakery that I had read a lot about. So with time to kill before meeting another friend, I stopped in for an espresso and slice of chocolate tea cake. It was delicious and with a window seat at my disposal, I sat for an hour writing in my notebook and people watching.

Afterwards, it was drinks and small plates of Southern Indian treats at Dosa with another dear friend who I've known since middle school. All in all, a perfect way to spend a day in the city by the bay.

Photos by Michele.


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