Monday, November 30, 2009

TOP SEVEN: It's All About Moi. . .(Again)

The adorable Kristi at La Bella Figura gave me this award. The honor is wonderful, but perhaps I am touched most of all by the random act of kindness, appreciation and recognition from a friend I have never met.

I am deeply grateful. The rules are a little complicated. I am to thank Kristi, which I do profusely (and so will you if you visit her blog) and pass this gift along to seven other bloggers I admire. Before doing the latter I am to tell you seven things you do not know about me. 

Here follows then, seven things people who know me well probably don't know:

1.) When I was a senior in high school I was voted Homecoming Queen. (Don't get excited, this is a stranger than fiction story.)

First let me explain the school: It was a Catholic girls "academy," there were maybe 300 hundred or so girls in the entire building. My class numbered about 27. We had no connection whatsoever with a boys' school. I did not know any boys -- I was a late bloomer -- and I didn't know I was running for Homecoming Queen or anything else for that matter. It was a complete and horrifying surprise.

The nuns were frantic and set out to find a date for me, which they finally did. The poor boy who picked me up, corsage in hand, was as miserable as I was.  The two of us spent the worst night of our lives well-chaperoned by parents and nuns. Six months later he joined the seminary.

2.) I loved my ex-mother-in-law almost as much as my own mother.

3.) One early evening entering our apartment building in Detroit, I saw the lobby was filled with police and hysterical residents. No one was allowed to go near the elevators. Minutes later two bodies were wheeled out into the night. We were told later there had been a double murder over a drug deal gone bad. The apartment of the victims, a man and a woman, was two floors up, exactly over ours. All I wanted to do was get out of town.

4.) I knew how to make a dry martini when I was eight-years-old. 

5.) Jack Nicholson invited me to dinner.

6.) Sean Connery asked me in the middle of an interview why I wasn't home where I belonged instead of out working. Michael Caine told him to calm down and stop being rude.

7.) One of the greatest bosses I've ever had, and now a long-lost friend, Kurt Leudke,*gave me this advice when he asked me to write a gossipy/social/fashiony column for the "Detroit Free Press": "Write it exactly the way you talk and don't forget, if you say it; it's true, you're the expert."

He also said: "Remember -- good or bad -- if they're talking about you; you're interesting." This had nothing to do with me. It was merely an observation on the vagaries of life discussed at length over cocktails.

Now for part two of the award deal: Giving back. (I hope I'll have an opportunity to give more, I'm just playing by the rules here.)

At the same time I would like to give my amazing honor from last week, the Sugar Doll Award

from Els at Mon Avis, Mes Amis to the brilliant writer, Big Little Wolf at Daily Plate of Crazy

(**Kurt Leudke was nominated for an Academy Award for his original screen play "Absence of Malice" and won the Oscar for "Out of Africa".)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Week Ahead or La Semaine Prochaine

On The Calendar For This WeeK. . .

Lundi: A Survey (I'm not telling you anymore, because I'm afraid you might not tune in.)

Mardi: If You Could Buy Anything, What Would It Be? Surprising answers from les hommes.

Mercredi: Virtual Shopping: My Way, Her Way (and the road to compromise. . .)

Jeudi: Out & About: On-the-Street

Vendredi: Dear Cherie

Samedi: Surprise (Pour moi aussi.)

Dimanche: Next week's line-up.

**December will be filled with guest posts, playing dress-up for the holidays, surprises, gift ideas and thoughts on giving and receiving. 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Meet Barbara Uzielli. . .

As a special weekend cadeau I thought you might like to take a peek into one of my favorite apartments in all of New York.

It belongs to my friend, interior decorator Barbara Uzielli.

Classically sumptuous, accented with antique treasures, her beloved Aubusson rug in the salon and punctuated with touches of whimsy -- note leopard throw pillows on the chintz sofa in the library -- I always want to return to her chic cocoon. 

Her apartment is the perfect showroom for her talent and taste. When a potential client wishes to see her work, she takes them chez elle. It speaks volumes about her ideas and interpretations of style, comfort and luxury.

The library is a veritable bijou, it glows. It is perhaps my favorite room ever, any place, with its gleaming lacquered walls. "Eleven coats with sanding between each application," Barbara notes. 

We have spent many happy cocktail hours, sipping, nibbling and gossiping within as the gentle lighting bounces off the walls and makes us look positively gorgeous. It is not only a beautiful room, it is a kind room. It induces pleasure and well-being, as does Barbara -- libations notwithstanding. 

From the top: Two shots of the library; the salon with working fireplace; Barbara in her bedroom with clouds floating overhead on the dreamy ceiling; a view of the dining room; the hallway leading to the living room. (All pictures from the "New York Social Diary".)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Country Living: Out & About

Cherie is resting today because she has a BIG dinner party chez un ami tonight -- if it were a BIG dinner party chez Cherie she would be in an intensive care unit someplace with an even better excuse for not writing her column.

But you know Cherie, she wouldn't leave you without entertainment while she rips apart her closets trying to find different black components which are/were more or less in the same dye lot. Since even with the light on, as her Reason-for-Living-in-France has pointed out on many occasions, it's impossible to see anything in there anyway; it's a tricky task indeed.

Above is the news from the countryside. 

An aside: Cherie sidled up to a stunning gray-haired woman shopping in Monoprix this week, spilled her spiel whereupon the woman said: "Moi? Oh, how lovely, I'm so flattered, of course you can take my picture." 

Moments later her 30-something daughter arrived at her side and said: "She's taking pictures for the INTERNET (!) I don't trust the Internet, but do what you like; it's your decision."

Guess how that ended.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Le Jour de Merci Donnant

Decades ago while working at the International Herald Tribune in Paris, the political satirist and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Art Buchwald (1925-2007), wrote one of the funniest, laugh out loud columns I have ever read in an effort to explain Thanksgiving to the French.

Many of you may be familiar with it, but it is worth a read every year. Since we don't observe the quintessential, non-denominational, eat-until-you're-sick holiday here, it's my way of celebrating -- without the fuss and unfortunately, without the family.

So, a changement de programme for this day of giving thanks. Even if you are among those who do not formally give thanks on this holiday, you can celebrate the un-de-mode-able  (I made up the word to throw in a tinge of fashion. . . and broke it into syllables for easy pronunciation.) humor of the grand Monsieur Buchwald. No-calorie happiness is just a click away.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving, whether you celebrate or not.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Virtual Shopping: Her Way, My Way

Despite the unlimited virtual credit we have on our cards allowing us to indulge in the most frivolous follies, this week I opted for one wear-for-the-rest-of-our-lives YSL school uniform pleated skirt (at a one semester at Harvard price tag no doubt) and a low-key frou-frou embellished shell from Miu Miu which has long-term pluck out of the closet for any occasion potential.

You know the game: I choose, Edith either argues or submits, we take the pieces back to our armoires and mix them up with what we already own. Then Edith draws them. If she's in a testy mood she makes me gain weight and herself lose it -- virtually speaking of course, as is the entire exercise. Except we really do own the clothes we use to extend our faux purchases. And as you can see, one of us was on a regime, the other wasn't. Merci beaucoup, Edith. 

On top, Edith put her Miu Miu with a brown felt skirt trimmed in velvet and her boots, which you've seen before. I put mine with my vanilla Chanel skirt, which you have also seen before, a camel cashmere shawl to cover those pesky upper arms and my gold and black Chanel shoes.

Above, and I quote: "I put the YSL skirt with an old jacket which looks like Saint Lauret, but isn't; a gray turtleneck; red tights and my new bottines." My get-up includes: a black cashmere T-shirt; gray boyfriend sweater (Edith forgot the buttons) and another of my new scarves -- one side gray, the other black -- just pretend for the side Edith made into some sort of tan-ish hue instead of gray.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

If You Could Buy Anything: What Would It Be?

As for so many things in this life (or my life), I thought I had everything under control, but you know how it goes, best laid plans and all that. . .

Then I decided, of course, it must be my French, I didn't phrase the question properly. This happens all the time and seemed like a reasonable explanation. Today's interview was to be simple, straight-forward (I thought), based on the question: "If you could have anything in the world you wanted, money no object -- we're in fantasy land -- what would you choose?" 

Obviously I was a material girl before the other one was born (barely, I mean age-wise) so I thought the query was limpid. I was referring to clothes, bright shiny objects. I was proposing a once-in-a-lifetime offer. 

My first call was to Anne-Françoise. Without a moment's hesitation, she replied: "a goat."  

"Non, non, Cherie," said I.  "I'm afraid you didn't quite understand." Whereupon she replied, "Now that I have my three chickens I want a goat." I tried again: "But you can have ANYTHING you want." 

"I want a chevre," she said in a slightly more emphatic tone.

I thought this was so funny I decided to change the rules of my game. Instead of insisting on garments and bijoux I asked two questions:

1. If you could "buy" anything what would it be?

2. If you could "buy" any clothes, accessories, jewels, what would they be?

This is what my subjects told me:

Anne-Françoise: My goat.

And something beautiful from Lanvin.

Edith: I would hire a full-time combination chauffeur/secretary.

Then I would like a rouge Hermès Birkin bag to wear with a three-quarter length Chanel jacket, also in rouge and the Jeager-Lecoultre Reverso watch.

Katy: I would like a house overlooking the water in Corsica and a chalet in Meribelle, both with four bedrooms and four luxurious bathrooms.

On the other side of the question; I'll take a huge emerald cut diamond ring.

Frédérique: A four-bedroom maison in the heart of Paris with a small garden.

Since I love Art Deco, I would like diamond and pearl earrings from the epoch and a matching bracelet.

Aurore: A hotel particulier with a large garden near Paris.

After I've arranged the house, I would like the following: a Hermès Cape Cod watch, a HUGE diamond from Van Cleef, the Chanel 2.55 sac, a Hermès Kelly bag and then I would go shopping at all the grand couturiers to find exactly what fits me perfectly to go with my new accessories.

Ed. Note: Next week the same questions will be answered by -- are you ready (?) -- Les Hommes (!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

TOP 10: Secrets About Moi

Can you still your beating heart? (You have to read the hedline with this sentence, otherwise you'll think I should add "obnoxious" to the Top 10.)

To my surprise and awe I have been given two awards recently from the kind, generous, wonderful, world of virtual friends in the blogosphere. 

The one above is from Els at Mon Avis Mes Amis , the brilliant and when I say brilliant I am not exaggerating creator of beautiful prose. Do take the time to see what real writing is all about. She writes like a dream, her storytelling is like magic and she has a wicked sense of humor. I'm warning you, once you start, there's no turning back. 

You can imagine, once you too are hooked on Els, why I'm so immensely flattered.

The rules, 10 things you definitely don't know about me: 

1.) On my wedding day I received a long distance telephone marriage proposal. 

2.) When we -- daughter, three huge dogs and I -- moved to France, since I didn't speak one word of French I never did all the legal stuff one is supposed to do when one moves to another country. It was all in French after all and how could anyone expect me to deal with that plus a job and all the rest? Even grocery shopping was a challenge.

Furthermore we were living in the countryside, which is normally a good cover for an illegal alien.

Mais non, one afternoon I drove into the driveway of our rented, thatched-roof cottage and waiting for me in a huge van were three gendarmes. I couldn't understand -- obviously -- what they were trying to tell me. My 8-year-old explained they wanted to deport us. 

They kept repeating: "Je suis désolé madame,  je suis désolé madame." I immediately called my then not, but almost Reason-for-Living-in-France to come save us. 

We went to the gendarmerie where he explained, translated, did whatever he did so we weren't sent back to the States on the spot. In the middle of the transaction the gendarme stopped his typing, looked up at him and said: "Wait a minute, you're trilingual? You speak French, English and American?" At which point I looked over at my future Reason-for-Living-in-France and said, "And they're allowed to carry guns?" 

He pointed out it was not the moment to be glib -- or words to that effect.

3. I adored my father.

4. When we lived in Chicago every Saturday I volunteered at the Lincoln Park baby zoo where all the foundlings rejected by their mothers lived. I would bottle feed, lions, leopards, gorillas, chimps -- it was wonderful.

5. I've never made a tarte, a mousse au chocolat or crème brûlée. And I'm not proud to admit it, nor is it too late to remedy.

6. When we lived in the above mentioned cottage in the back garden, fenced off from our garden were two ponies and a horse named Déesse (Goddess), also owned by our landlord. Déesse and I fell in love immediately and I would let her come into our part of the garden. Eventually she came into the kitchen to pick-up her apples and carrots. (Actually half-way in, she was too big for the small space.)

7. I am a magnet for crazy women and sometimes crazy, nasty women. Friends have pointed this out to me and it seems to be true. I always thought everyone had a few nutters in their repertoire of "friends." Guess not.

8. I hate driving anywhere, any time. Always have, always will. If I try driving on a highway for two hours I fall asleep; the white line hypnotizes me.

9. About 10 years ago I lived and worked in Dubai for several months. I was the editor of a  magazine aimed at the wealthy Emirates market of international travelers. One day in the office I asked to see an atlas for a story I was editing. To my shock and horror I saw that Israel was thickly black-markered off of the map by the "censors." I was told that was the case in all reference material in the country.

10. I was once offered a two-bedroom condominium -- as in cadeau -- in a chi-chi area near San Francisco. I refused. It's a long story. 

Ed. Note: Part of the responsibility of taking on this honor is the challenge of passing it along to others. I promise I will do this the minute I get back from the big city. It will also give me time to think. 

(And Kristi, La Bella Figura, who nominated me for the other award in her lovely generosity, thank heavens you only asked for seven "secrets" -- I'm working on it and I do thank you again.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Week Ahead or La Semaine Prochaine

On The Calendar for The Coming Week:

Lundi: A Different Type of TOP 10

Mardi: If You Could Buy Anything, What Would It Be?

Mercredi: Virtual Shopping

Jeudi: Out & About: On-the-Street

Vendredi: Dear Cherie

Samedi: Deco Surprise (!)

Dimanche: Line-up For La Semaine Prochaine

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Betty Lou Phillips Shares Her Decorating Secrets: Part II

Oh, how I regret the end of this mini-series. Perhaps I can think of something else to ask Betty Lou in the future. (Or then again, you could help me. Isn't that a great idea. . .?)

I haven't cleared this with BL, but just in case it's always important to be prepared.

As you will recall, last week I asked her for 10ish reasonably priced suggestions to help a home "brim with culture and charm." The part in quotes are her words. 

This is what she said:

  • An Aubusson throw pillow that started life as a carpet. Although the practice of creating period rooms dripping in brocades and gold leaf is virtually extinct, an Aubusson pillow is an instantly identifiable symbol of style and sophistication.

  • Let light create a romantic mood by layering candles, sconces, picture lights and carefully placed table and floor lamps with low-wattage bulbs. Bright lights can be jarring as well as cast unforgiving shadows on the face.

  • A collection of candlesticks and a candle snuffer. Flood rooms in candlelight.

  • A bit of leopard fabric perhaps? An accent chair, a pouf (hassock) or footstool can add a note of whimsy and chic.

  • Always add sprays of fresh flowers either straight from the garden or from the local market. Monochromatic blooms arranged en masse are the epitome of quiet elegance.

  • Let furniture float rather than stiffly hugging the perimeter of walls. Put a fire in the fireplace, a throw on a chair. . .

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dear Cherie. . .

Cherie's week has been less than stellar -- a little betrayal, a little blah, a little bit baffling. 

Surely you're thinking Cherie has forgotten the alliterative word she is provoking this very second: borrrr-ring. 

Well enough about moi, Cherie is here pour vous, toujours.
Let's see what's on the mode menu for today.

Q: Cherie, dear, do you think we could revisit the gray hair question? For example, could you give us an example? 

A: Why yes indeed. Look at France's stunning Minister of Finance, Christine Lagarde. Her diaphanous gray gown with the gray hair is nothing less than divine. Look at those arms, those legs. . . She was once a champion swimmer.

Q: D.P.: As I stand here eating cold noodles over my kitchen sink after a hard day's work, I'm wondering, Cherie, is this business about French women coming home from work, shopping and then preparing a multi-course meal another one of those myths? 

A: Cherie believes, from her experience, it's true and it's not true. Weekly meals are simple, though they are often three courses, for example: small, simple salad; main course -- fish, meat, veg -- and desert is either a fruit or a yogurt or both. No sauces, no calorie laden deserts, no fuss, but a real sit down with the family repast. Everyday shopping for a working woman is no longer realistic. She may stop for a baguette or a vegetable, but as far as Cherie knows she does not forage for her family every night. (Please jump in if your experience is the contrary, or some nuance thereon.)

Now, here is every Frenchwoman's best friend (Mr.) Picard, the most fab-u-lous frozen food emporium in the whole-wide-world. Though there are prepared meals, most women buy unadorned fish, soups without salt or additives, some meats, raspberries in the winter, vegetables, even bread. 

Q: Don't forget, you have to tell us another item we're supposed to add to our wardrobes to make us even more perfectly French.

A: Cherie may be losing her memory, but she takes notes and has several notebooks scattered throughout her maison. This week it is the inevitable Little Black Dress. Search and you shall find. It's truly the only advice one can give on the subject. Try, try, try until you get it just right. The mystic of the LBD is that it can go anywhere, any time depending upon how it's gussied up.

Haven't had a whiff yet, but the new Guerlain perfume received rave reviews. Cherie will check it out. 

Q: Any purchases this week Cherie?

A: So glad you asked. Instead of buying something to wear, Cherie purchased something so she can wear what she's already bought. (Actually it's on order. When it arrives Cherie will share. Yes, some only children do know how to share.) 

People are dropping kilos like crazy with the help of this tome. As Cherie's doctor says, the first step toward a regime is the decision. Pending.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Country Living: Out & About

No big city visits this week so we're out in the country again.  I'm beginning to think this on-the-street endeavor is turning into a combination of something unexpected. (That's sort of an overriding theme in my life, but never mind.)

Since I continue to re-photograph the same women -- with a few exceptions thrown in, two this week you'll note -- I realize we're seeing their personal style on a day-to-day basis. They are wearing different pieces and outfits, but their style never wavers. Even when their look is flowy, it's never overwhelming. They're not trying to hid in masses of fabric or camouflage their bodies beneath layers of black. When they do wear black, and heaven knows it's one of their favorites on the "color" wheel, it usually caresses their form and is not worn as a shield against their bodies and the world.

French women of all shapes love their neutrals. In a conversation with Babette recently she told me her biggest challenge when buying for her boutiques is finding neutrals with details and embellishments that set them apart from what women already own.

I've also noticed this week I have surpassed myself in managing to pull together a collection of shockingly out-of-focus pictures. I'm thinking maybe I should photograph moi meme. This unfocused business is extremely kind and cheaper than surgery. Maybe photograph myself by candlelight, no flash, standing on the other side of the room, dressed in black (obviously). I'm beginning to really like this idea.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Was I Thinking?

Normally Wednesdays are "Virtual Shopping" days but surprise(!), not this week.

If you're interested in the explanation, please continue reading this paragraph; if you don't give a whit skip to the next which will tell you the ad lib; middle-of-the-night "what am I going to do about Mercredi" hysteria; maybe I could call in sick compromise. The reason we're not going virtual is because Edith spent last weekend -- when we normally work together -- picking thousands of apples destined to be smashed, or whatever the process is, into cider. Since the cider is delicious and we're on her gift list, I had to let her go. Et voila.

What we shall examine today is the shattering of yet another of my illusions -- though this one secretly makes me giddy with delight. Yes, French women do make mistakes, maybe not as many as some of us do, but still. . . They too have never worn, once passionately loved garments gathering dust in their armoires.

Thus the question of the moment: Tell me some of the most egregious shopping errors you've made.

Edith: (I give you my word, this is how the conversation transpired.) "When I make a mistake I usually get rid of it within a year or so. The only things I can think of now are a brown, herringbone pencil skirt I thought was beyond chic when I bought it. Later I decided it was da-dame. One huge miscalculation, though thankfully not expensive because it was on its fourth markdown at Celine, was a pair of red, transparent silk harem pants trimmed in gold. I thought, 'oh, what fun I'll buy them and have an Indian themed dinner party and have everyone dress up appropriately'. I never got around to the party and have never worn the pants.

Btw, what size boots do you wear?" she asked me. "Size 41," I replied. "Zoot." "Why?" I queried. "Because I just bought a pair of black boots one size too large for me so I could wear them with socks in the winter, now they're too big and too small. I wanted to give them to you." 


Françoise: (I know four Françoises. I don't want you to think I'm hitting on the same one for each survey.) "A pair of bottle green velvet pants that were two tight when I bought them and continue to get tighter. I still like them, but I realize I'll never wear them."

Gisele: "Several pairs -- you'd think I would learn -- of pleat front trousers. They make me look huge."

Aurore: "A T-shirt that says, in English, "Shopping Is My Religion" I've passed the age of message T-shirts. I'm right at that point where I'm redefining what is too young and what is da-dame. My other mistakes were a little girl puffy-sleeved blouse and a khaki dress with a ruffle at the bottom, both from Zara and both regrettable. I would like to qualify, when I buy something expensive it is never a compulsive impulse purchase. I think long and hard before I invest."

Alexandra: "Even in the moment when I buy something outside my comfort zone, I know I will never wear it. Unfortunately it hasn't stopped me from 'taking risks' I later regret. This year I bought a plum silk V-neck sleeveless, A-line dress. It's pretty, I wore it once, it's not me. I'll never wear it again. I found a black and white nubby tweed Chanel-like jacket at Zara, brought it home, put it on and decided it made me look frumpy/da-dame. I've never worn it.

My three daughters (23, 21 and 14) and I all wear the same size and they constantly steal my clothes. Not one has gone near any of my mistakes."

Danielle: "I hate to even talk about the worst error I ever made. It's so embarrassing. It was a short, plum, flouncy, lacy, cleavage revealing confection made for an 18-year-old -- I don't know what I was thinking. I gave it to a friend who has an 18-year-old daughter."
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