Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Paris in September

Is it possible that I still have an editor's timetable implanted in my brain? Is this why I am veering toward Paris in these sentimental September days? One of my favorite issues of Victoria was A Woman's Private Paris. I knew that many of my readers had never been or would never be able to go to Paris, but I wanted to share the magic of that special place through a woman's eyes. Interestingly, two of my favorite issues happened during the last year I edited Victoria. The other, was In Love with Shakespeare's England. If I had stayed on, I would have lobbied that that issue become the basis for a book.

I loved both of these issues because they had the work and enthusiasm of the editors who worked on them--Trish Foley for England--and Susan George and Eliette Markhbein for Paris. Also, the incomparable Mary Forsell brought her knowledge of literature to the quotes in the Paris issue. I signed Mary up at once to do the quotations I included in my new book, My First Best Friend. Her ear for voices from women's literature is impeccable.

And so, yesterday, after a visit to my dentist, I virtually walked across the street to the Paris Theater. It is a treasure in New York--at the tip of Central Park and across the street from the Plaza Hotel (moan, the Palm Court is now gone). When my long time dentist, Dr. Bill Munton, moved to 61st Street and Fifth Avenue, I knew it was a danger zone. At least my husband felt that way. It is also a hop and skip from Bergdorf Goodman, where I go to look at lovely new and old furnishings on the 7th floor.

The Paris is beautifully maintained and even has a mezzanine which takes me back to my old movie-going days. Showing was Coco Before Chanel with the enchanting Audrey Tautou. The theater was packed with young women eating and drinking their way through a good but not great film. I'll let you all judge for yourselves if your interests take you to a movie house near you or watch it in the future on DVD. What excited me, almost more than the film I was watching, were the previews for The Young Victoria. I shall be first in line for that one. I'll find my aisle seat at the Paris, if I am in New York and not in Ames at the time.

And so during an early autumn day, I was engulfed in Paris, in more ways than one. I even stopped at Bergdorf's and got a spritz of a lovely French perfume on my wrist. Was that the reason I did the impossible--get a cab on Fifth Avenue at the beginning of a good rain? Maybe so. A woman's private Paris day in New York.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shopping Made By Hand in Paris

As promised, here are some of the entries that Pia Jane Bijkerk shares with us in her new book. These caught my eye and interest for a variety of reasons.

Marie Louise De Monterey: Find a hand-stitched 1920's evening slip among the vintage clothes that Maria has assembled in her shop in one of the oldest sections of Paris. French fashion from past decades is the stock and trade of this shop and you just might run into an actress searching for a frock to wear to the Cannes Film Festival. Children's clothes also catch Maria's eye, as they will yours. Pia reports that stock changes seasonally and one of the photos in the book shows shoes lined up below the fashions.

Pep's: I was delighted to follow Pia's reasoning for including an umbrella repair shop amongst her shops. "But this is Paris where repairs, alterations, craftsmanship, and restoration services have never ceased to be appreciated." No tossing broken umbrellas aside. Take the rain protector on life support to Pep's in Paris's oldest arcade. You'll enter through a wooden doorway to discover a "semi-enclosed alleyway, lovingly maintained and clad in overgrown ivy." Do not bother to break an umbrella as the ticket to admission at Pep's, you can purchase a new one from a nice selection. But if your antique parasol is showing signs of wear, you'll find the perfect place for a repair here.

Alexia Hollinger: Fabric handbags from vintage textiles is the stock you'll find in this shop, now 13 years old. When Alexia began, she was bucking the long French tradition of leather handbags. But her creativity and craftsmanship has won converts. A vintage silk scarf will be transformed to an enchanting bag by Alexia. She also creates from new fabrics, chosen with the same eye. I suspect if you visit this shop, you'll leave with a bag that suits you.

La Droguerie: Craft enthusiasts will go wild with the supplies stocked here. And even if you're not looking for beads or ribbons extraordinaire, you'll enjoy the wonderful ambiance of the shop, which was once a butcher's shop. Yarn skeins now hang from the old butcher's hooks. Feathers, twine, and spools of every kind of thread imaginable can be found in profusion.

Le Bonheur Des Dames: Here you'll find one of the biggest embroidery boutiques in France with so many kits, you're sure to find one you can't wait to tear into. The setting is contemporary with sunlight flooding into the shop. Pia says: "The company has been producing its range of products for more than thirty years." The instructions for projects come in English and many other languages. I suspect this is a citadel for embroiderers from all over the world.

Lune: Having a son with a voluminous collection of vintage ties, I was attracted to Lune. Sometimes he thins out his collection and offers orphans up to a friend who crafts from ties. Lune does it in spades with some stunning results. Oh, the belts! You might be inspired to raid a tie rack in your family to try your hand at designing in the manner of Lune. Madame Jendly makes all manner of enticing things from hats to necklaces from old ties that still have beauty. Pia calls the place "a candyland." And it seems from looking at the photos in the book and visiting the web site, she's spot on. And the boutique is not hidden in a closet--rather it's dazzling with an array of chandeliers and fairy lights.

Thanks for shopping with me, and if you'd like to share your choices from Pia's book or your own experience, please do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Feathering My Nest

Last Christmas season I had two delightful guests for tea--Emily Sutton and her friend and fellow artist, Mark Hearld. I first read about Emily's work in World of Interiors. (Oh, the power of magazines.) Having promised myself that the shelves and tabletops in my homes were laden to capacity, I vowed not to add anything else...well, at least for the moment. It was a good resolution, but it didn't last long when I saw Emily's incredible birds of Britain. I was able to purchase the very last one that the gallery had available.

Emily is Anglo-American. Her mom is from New Jersey. She has not been out of art school for very long, but her work literally flies out of the galleries where she has shown. Her latest show, which ended in June, was at Godfrey & Watt in York, near where Emily lives. Inspired by the decoys she saw when on a visit to The American Folk Art Museum in New York, she set to work to create her masterpieces, which are three dimensional and incorporate both painting and stitchery. It was the latter that just blew me away.

After my first purchase, I added an English robin on a branch. It was my luck that Alex at Godfrey & Watt had chosen my robin for the only Christmas card that the gallery produced. I ordered bundles and got to work sending out my robin with good cheer in my heart. As you can see, an English robin is distinctive and not a carbon copy of the ones we see bobbing around in our backyards.

Both Emily and Mark are interested in collections--and so I was thrilled to think that they would visit me when my Christmas tree was up and trimmed to the brim with the ornaments I've collected over the years. Many memories from my Victoria days. All the while I was decorating, which was about a two-day affair, I kept thinking how happy I was to share some favorite things with my visitors from England. But, at about five in the morning on the day of their arrival, the tree decided it had enough of standing in my living room and began to lean forward. I heard a little noise and suspected that resident cat had found an object of her affection. When I investigated, I found a Christmas tree within minutes of hitting the deck. My husband and I worked as fast as we could to save the ornaments. I didn't lose anything very precious.

However, my family prohibited me from trying to redo the tree and trust it's wayward ways. So when Emily and Mark arrived, the promised display had become an array of lights and Emily's two birds perched quite nicely on several strong branches.

It looked quite nice, actually. We had a lovely time. Enjoy Emily's birds online. I can assure you that her work is incomparable.

My love of bird art has also taken me to Screech Owl Design. They make jolly cards. (Did I catch a bit of the Brit from Emily and Mark?) One of my favorites is of a robin perched on a spout. There is another very friendly one of a heron on an elegant chair. When you order from Screech Owl, George sends a personal thank you. Imagine that?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fuddy Duddy?

Just when you thought I was totally immersed in the 19th Century, I offer this: A visit to Mary Rose Young.

Before you get dazzled by her creativity--wonderfully zany at times--I want to explain the title of this entry. Once, now it seems in the long ago, a so-called expert was hired to review Victoria. She came up with this term--it was "fuddy duddy."

I guess you can imagine that while I can now sit back and smile at this judgment, I was baffled and maybe a bit combative at the time. In an attempt to earn her fee, I suspect, this is one of the proofs she presented: A comparison of covers. One that she approved of from a competitor's magazine was of a Victorian basket with a very arranged assembly of flowers--Victoria's cover that month pictured a bicycle basket filled with fresh-cut lilacs. Fuddy duddy? Hmm...

Well, to shake any dust off the drapes, enjoy with me the work of Mary Rose Young. I first found her work at a shop in New York. She loves roses, her own special kind. And I love roses whether on bushes, in gardens, hanging over country picket fences--I just love roses. (I think I will add that to my list of fuddy duddy things I love.) Granted, Mary Rose's pottery is not everyone's taste, even consummate rose fanciers. Dear Ann Levine from our staff gave me one of her giant cup and saucer creations. It's on my table as I write. I've never filled it with any liquid, I must admit, but I drink from it's sheer energy and spirit.

Victoria did feature Mary Rose Young's work and home. Her work is artistic and a bit pricey, but worth every penny. And it doesn't cost a thing to visit her site and enjoy. She sells online as well as in retail stores here and in her native England.

Why should it surprise that an Englishwoman would go wild over roses--truly.

When Chas Glaser left our staff to become a cowboy (really!), we sent him off with a party at The Cowgirl Hall of Fame in New York and gave him a Mary Rose Young teapot with a ceramic rose atop, just so he wouldn't forget us. (By the way, Chas has returned to the East and he spent last Christmas Day at our apartment with his two incredibly handsome and well-mannered sons. He's back at his pre-Victoria profession--actor and model.)

I'm thinking of writing The Fuddy Duddy Handbook. What think?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Faith in the Future

And just when one thinks that this new generation doesn't have a clue about the history and dignity of the past, I meet Elizabeth Call. This young woman greeted me yesterday at the Brooklyn Historical Society. She's a 19th century specialist at the library there who has both a library and history degree. Not your movie script writer's vision of a librarian, but a bright, interested, and energetic young woman with a winning smile and eyes that light up when she thinks she has the research you are searching for. She didn't take any short cuts in giving me and my associate an introduction to the resources the society has available for study. We were not an exception in getting her undivided attention: While we were buried in street maps, trying to pin down an address where my subject lived (of course the street numbers have changed along the course of history--eek!), a young man came in to get help finding the history of the house he had just purchased. Elizabeth was on task within seconds.

This BHS building was originally a men's club and it is truly amazing. The tile floor that leads you to the library is a work of art.Woodwork was installed to last centuries. The men who were the original members set up the society to research and store their own family histories in an age when wealth was being created at astonishing rates. The entire area around the society, Brooklyn Heights, is truly like stepping back in time. It is a short subway ride from Manhattan and has streets lined with row houses about four stories tall and with wide stone steps leading up to often imposing entrances. The iron enclosures that surrounded the courtyards were intricate and here and there being restored to their original patina. On one block, they were semi-circular--stunning.

I have not gone to Brooklyn very often, and in some ways, it was like being a tourist in a foreign land. The preservation of the architecture, the leafy arbor overhead, and hushed street noises allowed me to wander back in time when the subjects of my research walked these streets, climbed the steps, and lived behind the heavy drapes in the elegant bay windows. Pretty shops and places to stop for lunch and tea made this even more of a stranger in a strange land experience.

Elizabeth did lead me to some promising research about Matilda Caroline Morgan, who married the soldier whose letters have inspired my current work. Her father was a Connecticut man who came to Brooklyn at a time of great growth before the Civil War. We believe we have located the mansion where she came as a young girl who had just lost her mother and several little sisters, just months old when they died. One child died just after her mother. This time that we revere for much of its magnificence was also a time of great tragedy in many ways. Matilda's life experiences represent those of so many women at time when childbirth and infancy were often dangerous. But on this day, I was at the time of a new beginning for her and her brothers and sister. And later in the day, I was to walk by the townhouse that was her marriage home. Someone is at work on making it a home again. Faith in the future--in America's surprising Brooklyn, New York

NOTE: A delicious new book for travelers to Paris--an about two-hands-full size paperback--Paris Made by Hand. I take my hat off to The Little Bookroom (don't you love this name?) and author Pia Jane Bijkerk for this darling presentation of places to shop in Paris for handmade and crafted items. The stops are arranged by areas so one might canvas one at a time, if one wished. This treasure has just landed on my desk. It is meant as a gift for a friend who has lived in Paris and makes lots of things by hand--Ciba Vaughan, who worked with me both at Better Homes and Victoria. When Ciba comes to visit, as she did recently, the first thing she asks is if you need any mending, buttons sewed on, whatever her talented fingers can accomplish, which is just about everything. When I get the chance to spend an afternoon with it, I'll send on a couple of the great finds. You may want to add it your own bookshelf and pop it in a suitcase should plans take you to Paris. Bravo. Pia dedicates the book to "Mum and Dad." Heart beat....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Craig's Place

I had the perfect lunch today with a gentleman, and I mean that in every sense of the word, who happens not only to be my friend, but my lawyer as well. He had some papers for me to sign so instead of doing it in a stuffy office, we had lunch at Craig's place.

It is actually The Cosmopolitan Cafe, 95 West Broadway in New York--way downtown for me. Craig has way of creating even a small space into a patch of charm. Victoria readers will remember Anglers and Writers and The Treehouse among Craig's restaurants. My personal favorite was The Treehouse--it had the playfulness that one would create if we had a treehouse of our own. My family spent several Thanksgiving dinners there, entertaining friends.

This current endeavor is in The Cosmopolitan Hotel, a very old and venerable place. Craig discovered it had once been the ladies waiting room. It is so low key, you almost feel like you are at home. There might be apples fresh from an orchard in a bushel outside--or a miniature herb garden. Craig must just be snipping a sprig of this or that for his farm fresh menu. Fresh greens and fruit accompany many dishes. I've never had breakfast at Cosmopolitan, but the offerings make my mouth water. And the dessert case--tucked at the rear of the cafe--makes one want to come back for tea and indulge. Craig's mom used to make all the goodies for his restaurants. That wonderful Wisconsin native knew her way around a cherry pie that's for sure. Craig learned from her how to serve sweets.

We decided not to have dessert, but that just was not to be--as two sundaes topped with fresh peaches and blueberries arrived. Well, they disappeared pretty fast, I might add.

Papers got signed, lunch got savored, sundaes destroyed. Along the way, we discussed what each of us did over the summer. Visiting with Craig about the old days was fun, too. He stays busy, but never to busy to tell a lady she looks swell. Two gents in one day!

If you're in Craig's neighborhood, stop by and step back in time for a an hour or so. And if you encounter a slim chap who moves like lightning, say hi for me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My First Best Friend

Dear Friends,

I have something exciting to share--the cover of my new book. It is sizzling in my fingers. Now I can hardly wait for the book to arrive: They will be in stores March 2010. I am delighted by the representation of the different generations in the book and on the cover.

There were both happy and bittersweet days in doing the research and writing for this book. And I was so surprised when I started on the project that there had never been one like it before. The topic, of course, comes up often. I found that these early friendships are much of the stuff that help make us the women we become. I know that I was thrilled when I reconnected with my first best friend.

For those of you who have read Jenny Walton's Packing for a Woman's Journey, you know that at time of that writing I had not yet reconnected with her; but I have been in touch with Jan for several years now. And just yesterday an email from her made my day. She calls me "Fancy Nancy." I can't possibly understand why. (Although, when my husband gave me a copy of the children's book with that title a few years ago, I did note that at the beginning Nancy is portrayed standing with a magazine under her arm! My son told me to really appreciate the gift, "As Dad stood in line in the rain to get if for you, Mom.")

When I wrote about my first best friend some years ago it was in September. I met her on the way to school--a first day in a new school and at the beginning of a new life. I can't help thinking about it today as pencils are being sharpened in classrooms all over the country--and children are getting to know each other in these very special ways. It happens once in a lifetime.

Hope you like the cover. It's a pleasure to share it with friends. And I have to compliment the folks at Stewart Tabori & Chang, my publisher, who worked with me through several revisions to come up with a cover we all think does justice to the beauty and dignity of the women in the book. Yes, there are giggles and tears, and there are memories that I am sure you will all connect with.

My very best wishes,

Friday, September 4, 2009

Teaching Our Kids

I understand there is currently a controversy going on about letting kids select the books they want to read in school.

I think it's a good idea, if and when assigned reading is undertaken, too. In my varied past, I taught English for several years. (Out there is a good friend who was once a student in my senior English class.) Some common sense for the folks engaged in this controversy: When you read the regular assignment--you get to do a report for extra credit on a book of your choosing. It seems to me that this would be encouraging reading.

Who would want to miss out on reading some of the classics we struggled through? Not me. And as some wise person in the media suggested recently, that by reading the same books, we have a vocabulary of references to communicate with. It's a marvelous point. So much of our language is filled with such colorful chestnuts. (I'll look forward to hearing some of yours.) I found out several years ago that the common saying,"the proof of the pudding is in the eating," is from Cervantes! Think of our language devoid of such touchstones. Unthinkable.

Miss Gallager was my sophomore English teacher in high school. She hauled us through Dickens and George Eliot. Several Christmases ago a friend gave me a very fancy copy of The Mill on the Floss. It brought a tear to my eye thinking of tackling this masterpiece at such a young age. But it has had a lifetime-long impression. My son still smarts from having to read Henry James' Portrait of a Lady. But it was a film not too long ago, so there are still devotees. And I confessed to him, that just before he was born I took on reading the complete works of Henry James. I'm not sure if all the words were taken in or it was a nice excuse to sit in the sun and rest.

For those of us who seem to have found ourselves wandering around in the best of the 19th century, it is frightening indeed to see its literature slipping through our fingers. In the research I am doing for my new book, I sometimes think we are losing collective touch with those times all together. Mind you, there were some not very pleasant aspects of life then--but there are so many valuable lessons for us now. Read about the panics of 1873 and 1876 and think to our current pickle. Could we have avoided them by taking heed of what our forefathers did wrong--and right.

I also lament that many of the good women writers of the 1930's and 1940's are not being read anymore. Perhaps they are quaint. But Jessamyn West will never be to me. The Friendly Persuasion should never be out of print. It is one that I suggest you "read with tea." And there is no better book on dealing with grief than The Woman Said Yes. It was that high school student of mine who brought it to my attention. I guess she took to heart reading good books, assigned and otherwise.

And now to another subject on teaching our kids. I understand that we all want to encourage and delight our kids with things to make their activities fun and colorful. But I had to smile this morning while perusing a catalog and seeing an array of cooking utensils for little girls designed so that they will spend time in the kitchen with mom. I was so happy to sit next to my grandmother as she rolled out a pie; she would give me a little piece of dough to make my own little pie. We didn't have fancy things designed just for me. We had love and attention. Don't misunderstand me: I like these darling things and have bought some myself to give as gifts, but I hope my grandmother's recipe is not forgotten.

Have we started yet another controversy here?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Heartening News

I am not recommending this book, because I have not read it yet, and Alice Munro stories are not everyone's taste. But I am recommending her spirit. Alice Munro has just been suggested for a major literary prize in Canada, her home country, for a book of short stories called, Too Much Happiness. She has declined to be considered because she says she has won several times and she wants younger authors to have their day in the sun...and obviously to get support from the rather generous prize.

Bravo, Alice Munro! It is a gracious gesture, and a very wise one.

When I started this blog, I made a pact with myself that I would not deal in negatives--or try to settle old scores. I hope this recounting doesn't fall into either category. But it just might and I may have to beat myself with a wet noodle. (At Victoria, "the wet noodle award" meant one had done something not-so-hot and maybe this would be an appropriate punishment for a bit of foolishness.) But Alice Munro's recent decision brought to mind the awards given by ASME--the American Society of Magazine Editors.

Victoria put in for awards--and we never won one. Fair enough. However, as a screener for several years, I became disenchanted with the repeat winners. There are wonderful magazines who deserve their awards, that's for sure. But I always thought that magazines such as The New Yorker and National Geographic were in a category by themselves. To no avail, I suggested a Hall of Fame: Magazines who had won many times could be placed there and perhaps ineligible for yearly awards for a period of time. I didn't have this plan well thought out--it was just a suggestion I thought might be considered. Of course, it wasn't. But I did try. Alice Munro brings to mind that maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all. Other magazines, even new and young ones, do win ASME awards, but just maybe a gesture like this, like Alice Munro's, would make way for deserving entries. Enough said. And yes, I think Toshi Otsuki should have won awards for his stories on Colette, toile, and many others. (Look for installment one on Toshi soon...)

And now, Old Souls, sit down. Dame Vera Lynn, in her 90's, is the English vocalist who sang such World War II favorites as, The White Cliffs of Dover has had a re-release of an album of her memorable music called Till We Meet Again. It is a number one hit in Britain, outselling all the top rock bands. It was September 1939 when World War II began in Europe--and the Brits are remembering with the inimitable sounds of Vera Lynn. It is currently sold out on Amazon. (I'm pretty smug because I have had Vera Lynn CD's for some years.) These were songs of love of country, love of one another, and hope. Thanks, Vera Lynn, for edging out the noise even for just a little while. (Not that I'm against rock music...)

Hope you enjoyed my heartening news. Do you have some to share? As always, we'd love to hear about it. And by the way, the best award that Victoria ever received was the devoted support of its readers. You can't put that on the wall or bookshelf, but it fits nicely in the heart.