Friday, January 23, 2015

The Question: To Plan or Not To Plan

   

         
     Andrea, Ella and I are off to Paris. Drea always has her hair cut by my favorite, brilliant hairstylist.  These days have become mother/daughter traditions with lunch, now Ella will join the party.

          On another subject, I've been working on a post for Women's Voices for Change (I'll link to it when it's up) about the decisions we make throughout our lives and as I write I realiize that I had no grand plan, no direction mapped out. That made me wonder whether my approach -- or lack thereof -- was a generational thing, a woman thing or simply another aspect of my rather sketchy "everything will work out" approach to life.

          Did you/do you have a grand plan for your life -- in as much as we can control outside forces that can change its course? And, most important, did you follow your dreams and did they work out as you had hoped, blips on the way not withstanding?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What One Learns

       
She loved orchids and during one of her former husbands ambassadorial assignments she raised them in her own greenhouse. When she tried to bring some of her favorites back into the United States they were confiscated at the airport.
           Three weeks ago a dear friend of mine died -- quietly, in her bed, alone, except for one of the three rotating caregivers who was always in her huge, gorgeous, beautifully decorated, sad apartment in one of the best East side buildings in New York City.

          She was, by both the English and the French definitions of the word, an exceptionally special woman. A bonafide WASP,  former ambassador's wife, socialite, hostess extraordinaire, philanthropist, a member of one of America's foremost families by marriage, lover of animals, style icon, intellectual and excessively generous friend.

        As a wedding present for Andrea and Will she threw open the cabinets in her pantry and said to me, "Let's see what we can find in here." She pulled out a 12 piece set (including coffee and demitasse cups and every imaginable serving piece) of magnificent French china.  Then she added a silver ice bucket and a collection of linen napkins.

         She spoke perfect French, passable Spanish and I was told she was quite fluid in German. We often spoke French during that sacred moment of the day she announced regally as " it's cocktail hour!" the way my parents once did. Every evening she prepared three hors d'oeuvres to accompany our wine (or sometimes vodka). Her little preparations were presented on one of her many stunning platters and embroidered linen cocktail napkins were always part of the ritual.

         More than two decades older than I, she came from, and refused to relinquish the rituals of  a rarefied existence that she felt helped make the world a civilized place, at least within the confines of her apartment.


          When I worked or visited New York I stayed with her. For a few years I lived with her for  several months.  The last time I saw her was in March. She was bedridden and drifted in-and-out of the past and present. Sometimes she thought her beloved wire-haired fox terrier was with her, at other times she called out to the husband who had left her decades before.

          For old times' sake, I went out and bought delicious delicacies so we could recreate cocktail hour. It was great fun and sad at the same time. That, in fact, was the strange atmospheric melange of her life -- fun by moments with a black cloud ever hovering above.

          She never recovered from a scandalous and excruciatingly painful public divorce from the love of her life followed by her brutal exclusion from the social whirl that they enjoyed together.  Her heart was broken and in many ways she became bitter and reclusive. Occasionally the old sparkle would shine through, but clearly she was living an empty life and she did not have the ability and maybe not the desire to move on. Instead she clung to the past and found strength there with a small handful of friends who made the effort to see her, call her or what she loved most, write to her.


          Reading this, one might be inclined to think "well too bad for her, she had no material worries, she should have/could have picked herself up, dusted herself off and all the rest. . ." Maybe, but profound sadness, I think, is so intimate, so inexplicably personal that each of us must deal with it in our own way, not in the way that others who can never truly understand would like us to behave.

          Her best friend, a woman my age, who became a good friend of mine over the years and was like a daughter to her, is, as one says, "taking care of all the details with her lawyers." But there will be no funeral service, no obituary, no marking of her passing.

           I simply felt that, without revealing specific details of her extremely private life, which she would have hated, I would mark her passing here and say that knowing her changed my life and I will be always grateful that a curious series of circumstances brought us together.    

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Spot On. . .

         

One way to wear spots, this Equipment sweater. 
          French women continue to prove that anything leopard comes under the category of classic.

          Last Sunday my 19-year-old French niece was wearing a long-sleeved leopard t-shirt with her super skinny jeans which were tucked into a pair of Nike high tops. Her hair was carelessly swirled up into a topknot, she wore no makeup and she looked gorgeous.

My five-year-old -- very large -- scarf/shawl from Eric Bompard.
          For those of us who like a dose of the beast there are always ways to find something. At the moment I have a very large cashmere shawl from Eric Bompard, a pair of Tod moccasins and a pair of French sole ballerinas. My dabblings stay in the accessory category although I had a major leopard period in my 20s. Then I moved on for a decades, now I'm drawn back into the mood. It goes so well with all of my black . . .

Very pretty, don't you think? From Yves Saint Laurent.
         Now I'm seeing spots everywhere, on-the-street, in the magazines, on friends and I'm thinking "I really like this midwinter fashion fillip."

Waaaay too much of the beast for many of us. This wool dress is by Phoebe Philo for Céline.  I can imagine it on just the right woman, with just the right attitude. French fashion editors refer to it as an "intello" approach to the subject.
          Do you like leopard? I know my great friend, Une Femme loves it.

          * Speaking of dabbling, my girls arrived from Chicago yesterday so I'll be playing with them and not necessarily writing as early (and maybe not as often this week) as I normally do, but I will be here so please do check in.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

John Kerry Delivered A "Câlin" to France

       
Years ago when I was shopping, as I stood in line at the checkout line I saw a man wearing a pin like the one above. I, of course, remarked about it and told him what a pleasure it was to see him wearing it on his lapel. He immediately took it off and gave it to me, telling me that he loved the United States. I wore it for a very long time until, in similar circumstances, a French woman remarked about the pin expressing the same sentiment. I gave her my pin.
          United States Secretary of State John Kerry came to Paris to offer a "hug" (câlin) to our "great friend and first ally" and physically demonstrate to France that we are all together in the "war" against terrorism.

         As many of you know, the French -- and I'm told some Americans, understandably -- were miffed/angry that the United States did not send a high government official to the million-plus march in Paris last Sunday.

        Because Kerry speaks excellent French he was the perfect envoy to smooth over any misunderstandings.

        Sadness reigns here though. The final funeral in France, that of the editor of Charlie Hebdo, was celebrated this week. The body of the young policewoman who was killed will be sent back to her family in Martinique.

         French president François Hollande daily encourages everyone to fight back by picking up their lives and going about the quotidian with purpose. He even suggested, or at least that's what one television newscast told us, that everyone should go out and hit the soldes.  After the horrific attacks, no one wanted to buy anything or even think about finding some special something on the markdown racks. Sales were down over 20 percent.

          A demain mes très, très, chers amis.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Shopping Les Soldes

       

           It's that time again, the legally mandated six weeks in which the French government allows stores to make their seasonal markdowns, Les Soldes d'Hiver. This year the sales officially debuted at 8 a.m. January 7 and will conclude at closing hours on February 17.  (There will be a repeat for Les Soldes d'Ete beginning June 24 through August 4. I thought I would mention those dates in case you would like to plan a vacation around them.)

          Today my great friend and supremely talented blogger, Pseu of Une Femme and I decided to have a Transatlantic conversation about what we bought and, in both of our cases I think, what we didn't buy this year.

          To tell you the truth, I wasn't in the mood. First of all I don't need anything and second, which is quite uncharacteristic for me, I don't really want anything. I already own everything I either need or desire. I can't help wondering whether this makes me boring or if I'm suffering from some sort of fashion overload malaise. I'm slightly disturbed by my attitude.

Keeping it classic, my new Bompard boyfriend cardigan.
          I see major markdowns as opportunities to fill in my staples, like a navy or black v-neck sweater, for example, but I'm covered in that department. The sales also offer -- in theory -- the possibility to stock-up on my favorite, simple long-sleeve white t-shirts from Uniqlo, but white t-shirts in my experience are never on sale so that's out.

My "replacement" ballerinas in black.
        The other major reason to hit the sales racks is when I've seen a gorgeous coat at a breathtakingly exaggerated price which becomes somewhat reasonable with a steep markdown, but no such object of desire presented itself this winter.

        However, I did go shopping and I did hand over my credit card. I bought a Bordeaux cashmere boyfriend cardigan from Bompard and a replacement pair of black ballerinas from French Sole. Bordeaux was the season's big color and it probably won't be next year, but I don't care. It will be a nice change up/charge up for all the black, navy and grey in my closet. I feel sort of ho-hum about these purchases while at the same time telling myself I'll be pleased with them in the months and years ahead.

        Lest you think I wasn't giddy when I saw signs promising 50 and 70 percent off, let me disabuse you of that notion. I did some serious shopping for my girls.

A cashmere and leather cardigan is a very feminine twist on a motor cycle jacket.
        I found a zip front cashmere and leather cardigan and a gauzy grey wool scarf bordered with navy, grey and Bordeaux stripes for Andrea. (Last year I gave her a grey collarless coat. The scarf will be perfect with it.)
From Monoprix for Ella.
          Then I went a little berserk for Ella: tops, trousers, a hat/mitten set, a cardigan, a pullover and two utterly charming gauzy wool scarves made specifically for toddlers -- think scale. One is a soft brick color with camel coloured ducks frolicking about and the other navy blue with red polka dots.

Also for Ella from Jacadi.
        Et voila, that's my story.  I admit that shopping for mes filles is lots of fun while for the moment shopping for me seems more like a chore. I'm sure I'll recover my enthusiasm.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Going for The Glow

         
Yes you've seen this little wonder here before, but it can be used not only under makeup, but also on top  of it.
         While in Chicago with temperatures flirting with zero and the wind chill factor considerably below, I was suddenly confronted with a problem I never experience in France, very dry skin.

          Of course I glopped on layers of moisturizer every night before bed, did a couple of all nighters with my Avène moisturizing mask and in desperation even slathered on some Vaseline during the day. After a few days, all was well on that front.

          However, the "glow" I usually have after applying my makeup, even on my now normal skin, was missing. What to do?  As you know, I apply Clarins Baume Beauté Eclair over my Eucerin day cream before applying my makeup and my complexion appears plumpy, healthy and yes, "glowy".  This time it didn't work, or, it didn't work to my satisfaction.

Again, yes you've seen this product in this space several times and I've even mentioned its "other" use,  but if you haven't tried it and your skin is feeling dry and drab, please do.
          Then I remembered what one of the skin care experts at Clarins told me during an interview.  "Another way to use the baume is to squirt a pea-size amount in the palm of your hand, rub your hands together and pat, pat, pat the cream on top of your makeup," she said. "I always recommend this method if you plan to be photographed," she added. "The results are gorgeous."

A touch of this stuff on the cheeks guarantees a certain glow and on the lips it's probably better than any lip balm that exists. It didn't occur to me to use it until I found a jar among Ella's baby products.
         I tried the over instead of under and it worked. I got my glow back.      

       

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Something Brilliant (Context)

       
OK, it's not glamorous, but it's the most brilliant product ever.  It covers a multitude of sins. You'll see.
          Let's talk beauty shall we?

          I'm assuming that each of us has at least one pesky makeup "challenge" . . . I just love the way Americans use that word. It seems as if "challenge"  has become the synonym for problem. Never mind, my "issue" is dark circles under my eyes, no matter how much sleep I get.

          When I was working on my book, one of the makeup artists I interviewed refused to fuss over them or give me solutions. He said he liked them, that they made me look as if I had an interesting life. How crazy is that?
The creamy, heavy-duty makeup from Avène recommended for serious  coverage.
          In another interview for the book, Elisabeth Achard-Verdoux, a prominent plastic surgeon in Paris, told me about the very serious makeup she recommends after an intervention. (A friend of mine in New York calls plastic surgery, "freshening up" . . . Don't you just love how the world of cosmetics is discussed in euphemisms?)

          As I was saying, she tells her patients to buy Couvrance correcteurr de teint from Avène. It comes in a well-designed plastic compact with a sponge applicator hidden behind the mirror. We're talking heavy-duty coverage in a cream formula with SPF 30.  I would never use this as my foundation, but I thought it might be just what I was looking for to cover my dark circles.

          It worked better than the purpose made products for my problem, but still it wasn't good enough. Then I discovered that Avène has a corrector stick in the Couvrance line, and it worked (!).

The magic green corrector to cancel redness. This one from Avène is excellent.
         We're talking no-nonsense in this product. To get the proper coverage, under eye concealers should be extended just to the top of the cheekbone and blended carefully of course.

         The Couvrance stick is my little miracle and I've been looking for it for years.      
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