Wednesday, December 30, 2009

May All Your New Years Be White

Welcome to the guest post of my great friend Jean Rafferty, Paris City Editor of the late -- and greatly regretted -- Metropolitan Home, and regular contributor to Art + Auction, Town & Country and Veranda. I know I've been promising you a visit from her for some time now. . . So as my final gift of the year here follows her wonderful dreamscape of what she imagines would be the perfect setting to step into a new decade of what we all hope will be full of peace and promise.

             By Jean Rafferty

The art of the dinner party? Nobody does it better. French hostesses –and hosts – dress their tables with the same panache as they dress their fashionable selves. And the New Year’s Réveillon liberates decorative imaginations. Some of my most memorable souvenirs of Réveillons Past might offer up ingredients for a Réveillon Present.


Snow and ice with glints of gold and silver: This scenario is inspired by the most exquisite tablecloth I’ve ever dined upon – a white organdy dream by Noêl with a lily and thistle motif picked out in ice blue and gold thread and set over a white linen batiste underskirt. My friend Marie-Charles, a consummate French hostess, owns this jewel along with twelve napkins - almost too beautiful to put your lips to -- that were hand-embroidered by her mother, a zingy vicomtesse. The good news for the needle and thread-challenged (moi-même) is that Noël will custom do it for you in your own choice of pattern and threads.

No such gem in your armoire?  Pas de problème, Gallic resourcefulness comes into play. A beautiful pure white tablecloth, a lovely embroidered vintage linen sheet or a pristine white piqué bedcover that you can mix with blue napkins will do the trick.


We’re in the country where à la mode is not about ice cream on your pie, but leaping ahead like a true locomotive of fast forward French fashion. Today’s tables are all about The Mix.  

What could be better than the Porcelain Manufactory Nymphenburg’s Pearl Symphony Blue, an elegant twelve-sided plate with wide ice blue rim trimmed in tiny white porcelain pearls (and it's dishwasher-proof!).

One can mix it with Mille Nuits midnight blue fluted crystal dessert plates by French designer Mathias for Baccarat.  

As place card holders these tiny silver and blue enamel picture frames from Asprey add another touch of glamor.


Clear crystal St. Remy goblets by Baccarat (or their distant glass cousins from the Conran Shop); Lalique’s crystal flutes with tiny snowball bases; blue and white-striped Murano water tumblers.


Puiforcat’s Art Deco Nantes service is as modern today as when it was designed by Jean Puiforcat himself in the 1930s.


Ambiance, ambiance, ambiance calls for candlelight. Crystal ice block candlesticks by Arik Levy for Baccarat -- they come in one to five stacked crystal cubes -- are perfect, all with white tapers.


Haute couture blooms come from couturier florists.  For my snow scape, I’d choose a bank of Avalanche white roses from Parisian florist Eric Chauvin (a fashion-insider’s favorite) arranged in my low boat-shaped Lalique vase, but a clear glass fishbowl might even be more fun, sprayed in a design of white and silver and nestled into mounds of glistening faux snow. 

(And if you have room, nothing could be more enchanting than a crystal polar bear or two or three gamboling in the neige.)

For more intimate floral touches à la Parisienne, floral star Marianne Robic sets every place with a silver timbale of blue forget-me-nots, mini white roses and snowdrops.

THEN. . . Take a photo (like a friend of mine who has her maid snap her before every grand event) and remove anything that is TOO MUCH.  Less is more.


If you’re brave enough, go for all white food to match the theme. The late Comtesse Hélène de Mortemart who was as charming and fun as she was elegant introduced me to this idea decades ago. Suggestions include translucent oysters (so good for your health, but only if you know your guests are aficionados), risotto with white Alba truffles, Coquilles St. Jacques (scallops), Poulet Chaud-Froid or line-caught grilled Sea Bass for the main dish with a special dessert from my new friend Yann, whose culinary blog You Are What You Eat is a trove of scoop about French restaurants and recipes. Despite its name, he says, “Omelette Norvegienne" is a classical French dish of vanilla ice cream on a sponge cake layer,rounded with Italian meringue. You stick it in the oven for a few minutes, and then flame it with Grand Marnier. “ (For details click above.)


A crisp, white Sancerre goes wonderfully with the fish dishes and Prince Robert of Luxembourg's new Super Premium, Clarendelle Amberwine, blended at his American Dillon family's famed Château Haut-Brion is an intriguing choice with dessert.


Walk from white into the Technicolor world of Lyonnais glass artist Vincent Breed to Champagne toast the New Year with his tipsy and reversible wine glass/vase collection called "Bouquet."

One end is a round goblet; the other a raspberry red, orange, lemon, lime or violet flute. Giving them as guest favors would mark a delightful start to the New Year. 


(Picture of Breed glasses from France Today.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Eve: All Dressed Up With Someplace to Go. . .

It is my great good fortune to have friends who throw dinner parties with dress codes: You get all gussied up or forget about it. Let's face it, how many opportunities in our "let it all hang-out" (literally) sartorial sloppiness do we have to strut our stylish selves? 

Right, not enough.

New Year's Eve is normally the great exception, the day itself commands a grand vestiary performance. Over the years My-Reason-for-Living-In-France and I have been to some sparkling events. At one high atop a gorgeous apartment building on the Rue de Rivoli we stood on a balcony and watched the fireworks in the distance while revelers below waved up at us; on another occasion we were invited to a frightfully chic dinner party in an apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower. It was 1999, we were toasting in the new century, from that balcony we watched the Eiffel Tower burst into twinkling brilliance at midnight. It was magic. 

(On that same evening a woman walked out on the terrace with my Reason-for-Living-in-France and said: "Hello, my name is Caroline, would you like to kiss me now?" He claims he kissed her on each cheek and led her back to her husband so she wouldn't fall overboard.)

Other years it has been the two of us in front of the fire with dogs and champagne. Those were lovely evenings as well. This year it's a dinner party on a horse farm in the country.

Edith and I, in preparation for the transition into a new decade -- can you believe it (?) -- went into dress rehearsal mode, hit our placards and came up with two possibilities. Neither one of us had any intention of buying something new for this one-off annual event. See what you think.

From the top: My Chanel vanilla silk crepe skirt you've seen more times than we can count with my 20-year-old black cashmere Valentino cardigan -- and my gold leather and black satin Chanel shoes, pearl teardrop earrings and Cartier bracelet.  

Edith is wearing a black satin shift dress she cut off and transformed into a tunic over tobacco- colored raw silk straight trousers she had made in India. She then added a cluster of brooches, her bracelets and black velvet ballerinas with pom-poms which she says signal, "I'm ready to dance, dance, dance."

Below: I'm wearing a Louis Féraud ensemble. The skirt is a sharp, knife-pleated chiffon and the unspeakably beautiful blouse is in chiffon with an underlining of nude silk. I've worn them separately much more than together. The blouse goes with everything. Then I added a gold and satin cord and my Chanel shoes again. On top of the bow of the blouse I pinned a multi-colored faux gem Chanel brooch, a gift from you-know-who.

Edith donned her large, "old," black crepe evening trousers, a black and white striped satin shirt, and a soft suede belt on which she transferred her brooches. Again, note ballerinas. 

Now that we're dressed, tomorrow we'll dress the table. . .

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dear Cherie. . .

Cherie has been called back from her vacances to fill-in for her lazy cohort who keeps rambling on about "straightening up" -- unfortunately not in the more challenging and meaningful sense of the expression as in "fly right," but rather dusting, changing the stubs of the remaining candles, gathering wood, plumping cushions, purchasing a new Dyptique candle and so on. 

Speaking of "plumping" she's also carrying on about "diets, regimes and banning alcoholic beverages" for the new year which means Cherie will be high-tailing it out of here right after the first. 

Cherie, as you have most certainly gleaned, is a bonne vivante so she will have to contribute her pearls of prose long distance with a glass of bubbly or whatever else she finds at hand. Not to worry, Cherie will not forsake you in the nouvelle année.

Together then, let us wrap up 2009 with questions, answers, advice and nonsense.

Q: Mme. X: Dearest Cherie, I hope you had a lovely Christmas and received all the things you deserve.

A: Cherie does not see a question hidden in the above, but she'll comment par politesse. Cherie had a calm, lovely Christmas, thank you. She had her annual two tranches of foie gras -- one on the 24th; the other on Noel -- and her quota of champagne of which she does not feel compelled to talk quantity. You know there was quality.

Every so often Cherie, who has almost no character flaws, has little selfish wishes. It's true. She was hoping to be added to the favorites list of six of her favorite blogs and Pere Noel didn't deliver. Cherie is not distraught, she is disappointed. It's somewhat like unrequited love on a lower register.

(Ed. Note: If Pigeon is still out there, I couldn't find you. I thought you were hilarious and then you flew away.)

Q: Mme.R: Dear Cherie, I know without asking you have certainly had so many New Year's Eve invitations that you must have had a difficult time deciding where to go and what to wear. Since it is none of my business where you are going, could you at least tell me/us what you will be wearing?

A: Yes, yes, yes and yes or oui, oui, oui et oui if you prefer. In fact, tomorrow Cherie will show you what she will be wearing on the 31st. She and Edith have hit their armoires again and are debating between two ensembles to wow potential admirers. You can vote if you'd like.

Q: Mme.F: My chere Cherie, What have you been doing since the 25th? I notice no one has been writing on this blog.

A: Hmmm, a question and does Cherie detect a reproach? Never mind. Cherie has been doing something she suspects few others in this day and tech-age have been (doing). She has been writing thank you notes and notes of good wishes for the new year. This is complicated so pay attention: Cherie actually used her engraved note cards and for longer discourses her engraved stationery, a pen, and then she addressed envelopes, placed a stamp on same and dropped these handwritten messages into la poste.  

Cherie's cards are blue with her name engraved in navy; the stationery is beige with her name in Bordeaux, tres chic if she does say so herself. She also has Bordeaux ink, the color not the vin, although there is plenty in the cave.

(When Cherie was a petite fille her mere wouldn't let her go out and play in the snow on the 26th until all her thank-you notes were written.) 

Cherie has been busy trying to keep up a tradition in this season of traditions. Et voila

Q: Mme. G: Cherie, dear, Do you have any more surprises for us before the end of the year?

A: Cherie is so glad you asked. Yes, indeed. Her dear friend Jean Rafferty has set her dream New Year's Eve table for your delectation. Stay tuned. 

(That's a picture of one of Cherie's Baccarat polar bears.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas & Joyeux Noel

These cadeaux are all I wish for you for now and into the New Year. May you have a Christmas filled with joy and love and may all your hopes and dreams come true in 2010.

Thank you for being there. You made my first year in the virtual -- and I'm convinced, real world of friendship, one of the best gifts I have ever received.

You have no idea the confidence you have renewed in me and the happiness you have bestowed upon me. I am humbly grateful.

Merci mille fois,


(Merci, Edith for your perfect execution of mes cadeaux.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

As Promised: Your Christmas Gift

Umm, this is a tricky one. In my introduction today I must appear bright, literate, perhaps even -- dare I say(?) -- scintillating.

You know, like I could, if cornered, make an obscure philosophical or literary allusion in an erudite conversation with a raised brow and a condescending twinkle in my big blue eyes.

But then again, Bob Butler and I have been friends for so long I trust he has low expectations.

Instead of turning to my new Roget's International Thesaurus: Revised & Updated Sixth Edition and pouring over words worthy of his eminent stature, I thought I would simply cut to the chase, take advantage of our friendship and ask him for a Christmas present. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? 

(I'm sure Bob will appreciate the use of two successive cliches on my way to getting to the point in this long-winded -- ah, there we go, that makes three -- preface.)

What I wanted for me -- and for you -- was a gift no one else could possibly imagine. So I asked him if he would please give me a guest post for Noel. 

Without hesitation he said: "Of course" -- in Latin.  No, I'm joking.

Here then is the final cadeau I've been promising for your reading (and shopping) pleasure from the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Robert Olen Butler: 

Christmas Book Buying

Buy Robert Olen Butler (that includes subliminal advertising)

Dear Tish,

The great thing about giving books for Christmas is that you can do with great precision and even subtlety what good gift-givers should always do, tailor the gift to the recipient's mind and heart and sensibility (as you know it). I particularly like to give books to people who don't expect me to give them a gift. The intent: delight and surprise. Or shock and awe, given what you know of and feel about the intended reader.

I never give my own books as Christmas presents. Tacky. You and your readers, dear Tish, have no such constraints. (And I don't care if that solicitation is itself tacky.) Speaking of shock and awe, my most recent novel is entitled Hell and is set entirely in that place, with the main character the TV anchorman for The Evening News from Hell. A perfect thing for the season if you have friends like mine. (I gave them their copies out-of-season.)

Here are a few special books you might consider. Special indeed.

If someone on your list loved Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (and such folks are legion), you should give them Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. Contrary to popular belief, Marquez was not at the advanced edge of what has come to be called "magical realism." Bulgakov wrote this wonderful book decades earlier, working over several drafts from 1928 till his death in 1940. It was, all along the way, suppressed by Stalin and didn't come to light until 1962. I'd strongly recommend either the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation (Peguin) or the Diana Burgin (Vintage). Incidentally, Bulgakov's museum in Moscow was vandalized a few years ago by a religious fanatic who thought the book to be Satanic propaganda.

If you have a writer on your list, particularly a fiction writer, then an ideal book would be the Merriam-Webster's Visual Dictionary or The Oxford-Duden Pictorial English Dictionary. Or both. They each have special things the other does not, but both give many thousand illustrations of the physical objects of our world. Things you can picture, but can't name. 

Yes, that's an aglet at the end of your shoe lace. Yes, that's a bollard they're using to tie-off that boat on the dock. And for those old enough to be sliding into nominal aphasia, that thing you're trying to go out of is a door and those are fingers wiggling there on your hand. (Why do I never forget the noun "nominal aphasia" when it describes the very thing that afflicts me, which should make me never remember the name of it?)

Okay. Anyone who has a sweet tooth for England and appreciates elegant writing and surprisingly apt metaphors and wants to LMAO, as the internet will have it (Google it), anything by P. G. Wodehouse.

And for anyone who likes mysteries, but likes them written with manifest psychological acuity, any of the Maigret mysteries by Georges Simenon. It's quite possible they haven't discovered this splendid and prolific and popserious Frenchman.

And did I mention Hell? Embrace the irony.

My sincere best wishes for a joyful holiday and a splendid new year.


(Ed. Note: That last part -- at the very end, end -- I think it's just for me. . .)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ooh-la-la, It IS Le Dernier Moment: Gifts Part IV

Still looking for an unforgettable last, last, last second cadeau. . .?

My in-box is daily littered with "who's selling my name and how did they get it in the first place?" trash, but one was particularly disturbing today, it read (of course I didn't open it, the intro was scary enough): "Only Hours Left. . ." 

Now I'm feeling guilty about the "Last Minute Gift" series actually being too close to the last minute. (I vacillate. Some days I feel guilty about something, others I'm worried about something. I may combine the two on this occasion.)

OK, enough dithering. Here then is the last in the four part series from two more blogs I love to visit often, which I hope you do or will: My Carolina Kitchen and The Countrypolitan.

Sam in her Carolina kitchen has a way of combining the urbane with the cozy and welcoming. She's that rare melange of worldliness and warmth. She suggested two gifts, which you'll see below. I would like to suggest you click right over to her blog to read through her irresistible recipes and menus. Surely several can be made in one of her gift ideas -- definitely not the other one. (Ed. Note: I'd like the other one, Santa darling.)

Terri invented the perfect name for her blog and translates her superb taste into a Euro-country chic that, in my opinion,  few Americans pull off with panache. She does. Her inspired ideas are the perfect way to end this four-part saga. You can see for yourself. (The mother of pearl opera glasses are her idea. Aren't they divine?) 

Ed. Note: in my final read-over here I thought I was talking about Pearl's mother. . .

I'm sure you will be delighted by the final - tick, tick, tick - cadeau suggestions below.

By Sam 

For the love in your life -- a David Yurman Diamond, black onyx, sterling silver and 18k white gold bracelet. It's a classic design by David Yurman. It's a graceful cable of sterling silver, capped with faceted black onyx, banded in pave diamonds and accented with 18 karat white gold. It's perfect for casual or dressy occasions. 

For the cook in your life -- Le Creuset's four-quart Heritage oval cocotte. Inspired by a drawing in France found in Le Creuset's archives, this classically designed cocotte (casserole) is oval shaped with a close-fitting lid that makes it ideal for cooking everything from a whole braised chicken to a pot-au-feu. Its ribbed handles makes it easy to carry from the oven to the table. It's designed for the oven and stove top and can also be used on induction heat. Made in France of course.


By Terri 

These are a few of the gifts I would love for others to love: The short list. . . 

I think when we give a gift, it is often a reflection of what we ourselves would like to receive and therefore hope the receiver will enjoy as much as we would. There is always at least one person on our list who wants something "practical" or something they "need."  I think those people are especially in need of something intended for the pure joy or indulgence that the gift offers -- practical or not.

A few ideas then:

1.) A bottle of Armand de Brignac champagne ($300 per bottle!)

2.) Pearls: Always classic, always welcome, always appreciated, always perfect -- real or faux.

3.) A Zippo hand warmer -- a great stocking stuffer.

4.) Mother of pearl opera glasses -- new or vintage.

5.) Excellent chocolates John and Kiras for example.

6.) Cuff links -- his or hers.

7.) A black and white photograph.

8.) Monogrammed handkerchiefs.

9.) A leather passport case.

10.) Cashmere anything and always the best you can afford.

11.) A classic men's cardigan from J. Crew.

12.) Something handmade (take a look at Country by Mail for example)

For those REALLY last minute gifts. . .

I prefer to personally hand select gifts; but that can pose a problem when I am selecting gifts at the last minute, especially since not everyone on my list has the same "objets de désirs" as I do, but if you are in need of some really last second gifts -- then the computer may be your best friend.

With the loss of so many of our favorite magazines, I can't think of a more timely investment than a gift subscription to a magazine specially chosen for the recipient's interests. This could help a lot of the remaining magazines make it through until next season. The prices are hard to beat, you can literally give this the very last instant -- all you have to do is buy a magazine, wrap it and explain with a note. Every time a new issue arrives your thoughtfulness will be remembered.

How about something special to look forward to? Tickets to his or her favorite event. Most are easily purchased online and you can usually chose the seat location.

Consider membership to a wine club. You could gift wrap a couple of wine glasses along with the membership certificate and maybe a bottle of wine as well.

For a not so usual way these days to deliver a special Christmas message, how about a telegram? Yes, they still exist. I came across the Telegramstop a while back and saved the information for future use. They deliver nationally and internationally within 48 hours. You have plenty of time. . .

Monday, December 21, 2009

Les Idées du Dernier, Dernier Moment. . . Part III

Among my favorite, favorite places to escape into an ethereal world of exquisitely creative sophistication, elegance and beauty are the blogs Home, A Gift Wrapped Life and Beadboard UpCountry

Jacqueline (Jackie) at Home is a woman I would like to know; no I take that back, I would like to live near her. After she moves to France or we move to England I would then like to ply her with some libation -- her choice, Chartreuse or Champs -- and have her help me decorate for the holidays. I want to know where she finds the things she finds; how she manages to put them all together with such a fairy tale magic touch and if she wanted to re-visit we could go shopping for this and that throughout the year. Every post is more beautiful than the next and then you add her dry, arch wit and well, you have a treasure. Just you wait and see.

Sande at A Gift Wrapped Life makes one realize when slapping on the non-invisible Scotch tape because you weren't paying attention; grabbing some wrinkly old ribbons from Christmases past and scratching out one family member's name to replace it with another because you forgot to buy gift cards that you deserve to have coal in your stocking hung by the fire. She makes the act and the presentation of the cadeau a gift in itself. How lovely is that? You'll see, when you click over to visit her why living a gift wrapped life takes into account that crucial French ethic:  Just the tiniest bit of effort to make something beautiful, makes life more beautiful.

Maryanne, in her deliciously charming shop knows instinctively that last minute giving can be every bit as wonderful as those more organized than some of us (ahem). She proves it with her "I wish I could have one of these 'BloemBoxes' ," which she rightly points out have a huge "wow" factor built into them.  Do take a tour chez elle.

Here three women of refined taste tell us what to buy NOW!

Jacqueline at Home:

A few of my favorite things:

1.) Vintage corkscrews from Re-Found Objects.

2.) A mercury, "the poor man's silver," stem vase from Cox and Cox.

3.) The Princess and The Pea from Not On the High Street.

4.) The Cinderella doll (also from Not On The High Street.)

Maryanne from Beadboard UpCountry:

The BloemBox would be my first choice. I also like Tea Forte and for elegance there are the new glass and ceramic Juliska pieces gift boxed in gray linen with embossed charcoal ribbon and a seal of bisque stoneware -- stunning.

There are three types of BloemBoxes: White Dazzler Amaryllis; the Red Lion Amaryllis and the Paperwhite Narcissus.

I love Isola Luce Dolce candles. They're smokeless and are made from palm oil. The company is careful never to source from an environment detrimental to animal habitats. They come in four fragrances: Tiramisu, Nights in Venice, Romance in Rome and Tuscan Fields.

(Ed. Note: Click on Maryanne's blog for complete info.)

Sande from A Gift Wrapped Life:

My absolute favorite gift to give or receive this year would be the "Paris" ring box from the new Charlotte Moss Muse Collection from Halcyon in England.

Moss has taken her inspiration for this enamel keepsake from Coco Chanel, one of the four women she used as inspiration in designing her line for the Muse collection. She took her cue from Chanel's love of Chinoiserie when creating the box with 24k gold. (I think it would be lovely if a ring were inside as well, though I would be quite happy to have it filled later.)

(Ed. Note: It's not too late to see if you can last minute shop with Sande for other delights. At least I hope not. . .  Extra note, I stole the picture on top, by Sande, to give you an idea of what some lucky gift receivers will be looking at this year before they rip into the surprise beneath.)
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