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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

A home away from home: some favorite hotels

In beauty, business, cities, design, life, Style, travel, US, world on June 29, 2013 at 12:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m not the sort of person who insists on staying in a hotel. I’ve camped, stayed in hostels, even slept in my car one night. We often stay with friends when visiting Ontario or D.C.

hOtEL kaRUppASWamY...

hOtEL kaRUppASWamY… (Photo credit: poonomo)

But ooooooh, I do love a lovely hotel, and we often plan a vacation around fab hotel(s); when we spent three weeks touring Mexico in May 2005, we went this route, and found nothing but pleasure.

The very best hotels have a quality that welcomes you, makes you feel like it’s home for a little while and leaves you aching to return. For me, it’s almost never a mass-market chain.

I really prefer places with history, quirk, elegance and/or character. And, when the wallet can stretch that far, some serious luxury.

Hôtel Ritz Paris

Hôtel Ritz Paris. We didn’t stay there but we did have a drink at the bar! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a short list of some worldwide favorites:

Xara Palace, Mdina, Malta

For those of you old enough to know her name, British actress Julie Christie is one of the best and most enduring, whether as Lara in Dr. Zhivago or the dementia-suffering wife in Away From Her. As I signed the guest register in this elegant hotel, a 17th century former palace, her signature was above mine. Swoon! (She was then filming in Malta with Brad Pitt.)

I spent only a few days in Malta, and chose the Xara Palace for its history and location. It was much more affordable than anything at that level might have been in Paris or London or a major city. The views across the dusty plains were terrific and the narrow alleys leading to the hotel romantic and exotic.

Le Germain, Montreal

Oddly, it is housed in the shell of what was once an office building. Steps off the central shopping street, Sherbrooke, the lobby has a huge, glass fireplace — few sights are as alluring on a frigid February evening! Great location.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

The Monte Vista, Flagstaff, Arizona

Tired after a day’s driving in heat and sunlight, I wandered in, simply wanting a drink at their comfortably crowded bar, and immediately loved the historic feel of the place, built in 1926-27. A single room was $81, (summer of 2013), a quick, easy, snap decision.

My room was tiny, with a wrought-iron bed, arched windows and a deep original bathtub.

The bar was a lot of fun, with a local cabbie downing his first Bloody Mary at 6:40 a.m., a perfectly coiffed German woman in her outdoor jacket, and two guys smelling of patchouli. That’s my kind of place.

The Intercontinental, Yorkville, Toronto, Canada

Not cheap! But we’ve stayed here a few times and have never been disappointed. I love the perfect midtown location, across from the Royal Ontario Museum and my alma mater’s handsome campus, University of Toronto. I love the crisp neutrals of the rooms — beige, black, tan, cream and white. I like how small and intimate it is. Best shopping is only a block away, too.

The Reina Victoria, Ronda, Spain

I stayed there in 1980 — and it was renovated in 2012. I still remember the statue of the German poet Rilke in their garden and the spectacular views. I chose to visit Ronda based on the mention of the hotel in the NYT travel section.

Hotel Majestic, Tunis

I have never stayed in so large a room…perhaps 300 square feet — plus a long interior hallway leading to a large bathroom. Room service brought me coffee and rolls every morning, (June 2002) for $28 a night.

Banff Springs Hotel, Banff, Alberta

Go! Just go.

I adored my week here, holed up in a small, pretty room by myself in March 2010. The hotel was built in 1888 to resemble a Scottish castle. It has lobby ambassadors — handsome young men in kilts! — and quiet stone hallways and spiral staircases and stained glass windows and a heated outdoor pool in which you can soak while watching the sun set over the Rockies. What’s not to love?

Hotel Sylvia, Vancouver

This little hotel sits directly opposite English Beach. My paternal grandmother lived there for a while. Ivy-covered, it has terrific views in every direction. Not fancy, but historic, opened in 1912 and named for its creator’s daughter.

The Admiral’s Inn, Antigua

I’ve stayed there twice, once as a very young girl, with my mother and once with a husband. I can’t forget waking up, on my first visit, seeing flames outside our second-floor window, as a patio sofa was burning below us. Built in 1788, it has elegant Georgian proportions in a gorgeous setting.

Las Mariposas, Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico

We loved our casita here, set among 18 acres. Hummingbirds, great good, horseback riding and the town of Patzcuaro nearby.

Manoir Hovey, North Hatley, Quebec

Save up your pennies and go!

We’ve stayed here five times since 2001 — desperate to flee New York a month or so after 9/11 — and have loved every single visit. We have been here in the frigid depths of winter, skittering down the icy driveway from our cabin to the dining room, and in fall when I went canoeing and saw a beaver. The dining room has a huge fireplace and windows overlooking the garden and lake. Once a private home, Hovey Manor is both intimate and upscale without pretension or stuffiness. The food is spectacular, the setting perfect and, if you get bored, Montreal is a 90-minute drive north.

Here are several tree house hotels — from $85 to $1,499 a night.

And — boooooo! — one major midtown New York City hotel has decided to stop offering room service.

Jose and I are addicted to room service. What a luxury to eat in your jammies, or in bed or at your leisure. (Just like home!)

Blissed out, at the Intercontinental Yorkville, Toronto.

caitiroomservice

What are some of the hotels you’ve enjoyed?

My tribe

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, work on April 26, 2013 at 4:51 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I spent yesterday at the annual conference in New York City of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, a 1,400-member group founded in 1947. There were writers there with Pulitzer prizes and best-selling books and HBO series and made-for-TV movies and options and…

A girl could feel mighty small in that crowd!

The New Yorker

The New Yorker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not to mention editors from publications like The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, New Republic and the New Yorker, four of the — arguably — most desirable markets for magazine writers in the U.S. (Only one of whom, from VF, was female.)

Instead, it was a terrific day of fierce hugs and nostalgia and excited shrieks over new books, and books currently being looked at by Major Publishers, and awards and pregnancies and a friend’s daughter accepted to a good (if costly!) college.

English: proportion of MRSA human blood isolat...

English: proportion of MRSA human blood isolates from participating countries in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was Greg, who writes great stuff about nature and the outdoors, and Maryn, whose book Superbug, about MRSA (flesh eating bacteria) is absolutely riveting and terrifying, and Dan, with his new book about endangered wildlife of Vietnam.

In the hallway, I bumped into a woman with a suitcase and recognized Helaine Olen, whose fantastic book about how we’ve all been conned by the financial services industry I gave a rave review a few months ago in The New York Times.

Helaine Olen

Helaine Olen (Photo credit: New America Foundation)

I served on the ASJA board for six years and still volunteer as a trustee of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, which can write a check of up to $4,000 — a grant — to a needy non-fiction writer within a week. (If you can ever spare even $20 for the cause of decent journalism and the freelancers who produce so much of it, I’d be thrilled if you’d donate to WEAF.)

So I know lots of people through that, and have given back some of my time and talents to the industry I’ve been working in since 1978.

I went out for dinner that night with Maryn and three new-to-me women writers, all crazy accomplished and of course the conversation quickly turned to — female serial killers. That’s what happens when you get a bunch of newshounds at the same table; four of us had worked for major dailies and all miss the adrenaline rush of working a Big Story. So we do it now for magazines and books and newspapers and websites.

It was, in the most satisfying and nurturing way, a gathering of the tribe — people who had come from Geneva and Paris and San Diego and Toronto and Atlanta and Minneapolis and Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, all hungry to be in some small, crowded stuffy meeting rooms to talk about what it is we do and how to do it better.

We write. We tell stories. We wake up bursting to share the cool, moving, sad, powerful, holy-shit-can-you-believe-it? richness of the world, all the untold tales that surround us every day, just there, waiting for us to capture, pitch, sell and tell them.

That’s my tribe.

What’s yours?

10 over-rated tourist spots — and 10 much better alternatives

In beauty, cities, culture, life, travel on April 15, 2013 at 12:28 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Having visited 37 countries, and a fair bit of Canada and the U.S., I’ve had that moment when you think — Really?

Some spots get breathless copy, (hello, free trips!), from travel writers who might never have gone there if they’d had to pay, and secretly hated the joint.

Toronto Skyline

Toronto Skyline (Photo credit: Bobolink)

In June 2012, my husband and I visited the Thompson Hotel in Toronto, lured by the fawning copy we’d read everywhere about how amazing it was. Not so much. The famous rooftop pool was closed the four days we were there, the bathroom door was so poorly designed it didn’t even close fully and they’d forgotten to put a handle on the inside of it. Like that…

Here are 10 spots everyone tells you are so amazing but aren’t:

The Paris flea market. Merde! I’ve lived in Paris and been back many times. An avid flea market and antiques shopper, I’ve been to the markets there and most often have come away weary and annoyed: snotty, rude shopkeepers, overpriced merch, items so precious you’re not allowed to even touch them. I’ve scored a few things, but the emotional wear and tear is so not worth it.

Instead: Go to London’s flea markets and Alfie’s on Church Street. I love them all and have many great things I’ve brought home from there, from Victorian pottery jugs to silk scarves.

English: Broadway show billboards at the corne...

English: Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Times Square, New York. Puhleeze. If you want to be shoved constantly by throngs of fellow tourists, their backpacks jamming into your face and their five-across-the-sidewalk amble slowing you down, go for it! It’s a noisy, crowded, billboard-filled temple of commerce, with deeply unoriginal offerings like Sephora or The Hard Rock Cafe. They have nothing to do with New York.

Instead: Washington Square. It’s at the very bottom of Fifth Avenue, and leads you onto the New York University Campus. You can sit in the sunshine and watch the world go by, then walk down MacDougal Street to Cafe Reggio, an 85-year-old institution, for a cappuccino.

MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, New Yor...

MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, between Bleecket Street and West 3rd Street, facing North. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Austin, Texas. I simply don’t get it. I was bored silly.

Instead: Fredericksburg. A small town in Texas hill country, it has antiques, great food, fun shopping and history.

Miami. Meh. Maybe if you’re crazy for dancing and the beach.

Instead: Key West. I’ve been there twice and would happily return many times more: small, quiet, great food and you can bike everywhere. But don’t go during spring break!

Vancouver. I was born there and have been many times. Its setting is spectacular, no question. But I’ve never found it a very interesting place.

Instead: L.A., baby! One of my favorite cities. Yes, you have to do a lot of driving. Deal with it. Great food, great shopping, beaches and Griffith Park, one of the best parks anywhere. I had one of the happiest afternoons of my entire life there — galloping through the park at sunset on a rented horse then dancing to live blues that night at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica. Abbott-Kinney rules.

Santa Fe, N.M. Heresy, since my husband grew up there. Cute, charming, gorgeous — for very rich people!

Instead: Taos or Truth or Consequences. Both are much smaller, funky as hell.

Quebec City: Beautiful to look at, some nice restaurants and an impressive setting on the St. Lawrence.

English: Atwater Market, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

English: Atwater Market, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Instead: Montreal. You can get the same sense of history in the narrow, cobble-stoned streets of Old Montreal, but still enjoy fantastic meals, great shopping and the legendary Atwater Market. Take a caleche up to the top of Mt. Royal then go for brunch at Beauty’s.

Las Vegas. I’ve been there twice, only for work. If you want to shop or gamble, you’ll love it. If you want to do anything else, forget it.

Instead: Stockholm. If you’re planning to blow a ton of cash  anyway, go somewhere truly amazing to do it. The city is beautiful, the light unforgettable, and the Vasa museum one of my favorites anywhere — a ship that sank in the harbor in 1628 on its (!) maiden voyage. I’ve been watching Wallander, a fantastic cop show shot in Ystad, and am now dying to return to this lovely (if spendy) country.

The South of France. I love it and have been several times, but $$$$$!

Instead: Corsica. I wept broken-hearted when I left, after only a week there. People were friendly, food was excellent, the landscape simply spectacular. One of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet; here’s my Wall Street Journal story about it.

Bonus:

Sydney. Call me fussy, but after 20 freaking hours in an airplane that cost a mortgage payment, I expected Heaven On Earth from this Australian city. Yes, it’s attractive. Lots of beaches. The Opera House. But I found the people there bizarrely rough and rude, much more so than anyone I’ve ever faced in New York City. I made a friend on the flight over and we went out for dinner — and were (!?) told to leave the restaurant because we were disturbing the other patrons. This was the oddest and most unpleasant dining experience of my life, especially when all the other diners applauded our exit. I assure you, we were neither drunk nor disorderly.

Melbourne_Flinders_St__Station

Instead: Melbourne. Lovelovelovelove this city! The Yarra River. The ocean. Elegant neighborhoods. Flinders Street Station. All of it. I’ve rarely enjoyed a city as much as this one.

Here’s one list, by a travel writer.

Here’s a list of 31 others, including the Grand Canyon (!), from readers of the Los Angeles Times. (They, like me, think Austin, Texas and Santa Fe, N.M. are totally not worth it.)

Where have you been that left you disappointed?

Where have you been that — shockingly — knocked your socks off?

Looking for true love? Make a list

In behavior, culture, domestic life, life, love, men, US, women on March 30, 2013 at 12:23 am
New York City in Winter (NASA, International S...

New York City in Winter (NASA, International Space Station, 01/09/11) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center) I knew he was out there…somewhere!!!

Years ago, a single woman I knew — tall, blond, attractive, intelligent, professionally successful — was getting really sick of being single. She had plenty of dates, but no one she ever wanted to marry.

So she made a list.

When she told me this, I wondered how weird and bossy that was, but she was soon happily married so…how wrong was she to try?

I made a list, too.

It was really, really long. I think it had about 36 things on it.

I didn’t specify anything about looks — height or weight or length of hair — I know what I like. I knew I would only want to marry someone in decent physical shape, who dressed with style. I’d dated a few bald men who were super-attractive beyond their hairiness, so that wasn’t an issue. I’m 5’5″, so didn’t need a guy who’s 6’4″, as some tall women might.

I had to start paring it down, which was a really interesting exercise. What did I most want?

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

A man willing and able to brush/shovel show — score! (This is the Jose I keep talking about.)

Something I couldn’t really put into writing in an on-line ad, which is the only way I was meeting anyone — I really hoped to find a man who was extraordinarily accomplished but extremely modest. Hah! In New York? Anyone who fit the first category would never date me, (I’m not a size 00, have no Ivy degrees nor a huge salary or fancy job) and the latter…it’s deeply un-American, at least where I live, to hide your light beneath a bushel. The skyline is virtually lit with ego and special-snowflake-ness!

But I also knew I wanted someone with clear, consistent ethics and a spiritual life. That, too, sounded way too starchy to put in an ad and I couldn’t figure out how to bring it up in conversation. I was reluctant to describe myself as a church-goer, (occasional), while knowing someone who couldn’t care less about the state of their soul, and the fate of the world, would never be a match for me.

My list was the best move I’ve ever made.

It forced me to really look at my priorities and decide which were the most important. Fun, cute, sexy…sure, in my 20s and 30s. But in my early 40s, by then six years’ divorced with no kids and no wish for any, I also wanted someone with real substance.

To use an old-fashioned word that means a great deal to me — with character. Of good character.

Not just a character!

Cover of "Catch Me If You Can (Full Scree...

Cover via Amazon

Jose, now my second husband, found me through an on-line profile I created while writing a story for Mademoiselle magazine. “Catch Me if You Can”, was my truthful headline.

I didn’t say I was a journalist but he knew right away — “That ego!” he’s told me many times.

(If you’re currently looking for love on-line, check out this story that had professionals tweak re-write two users’ profiles.)

Within a few dates, we both had a pretty good idea this one might take — it’s now been 13 years. He turned out to be a devout Buddhist, with a small room in his Brooklyn apartment with a shrine, Buddha and prayer flags. He took the vows of refuge after covering the end of the war in Bosnia for six weeks, which seared his soul.

Buddha statue from the Gandhara-culture (1st c...

Buddha statue from the Gandhara-culture (1st century, Pakistan) Español: Gandhara, siglo I. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We share: a strong work ethic, a commitment to spiritual growth, a love of great food and wine, a hunger to travel, intellectual curiosity, ease in settings from the White House, (he has photographed three Presidents) to a rural cabin, short fuses and tart tongues. He is crazily accomplished, (a Pulitzer, for 9/11 photo editing), but never tells anyone. (Check that box!) He’s funny, optimistic, affectionate, fiercely loyal.

We’re also very dissimilar in many ways. I live to take risks and am careless about rules and regulations. He’s a PK, a preacher’s kid, cautious about giving offense. I’ve spent much of my career freelance, figuring out my income month by month — he has never not had a job, ever.

When we started dating I had read a book with an interesting list; PEPSI…suggesting you seek a partner with whom you are compatible Professionally, Emotionally, Physically, Spiritually and Intellectually. We fit on four of the five, which seemed enough to me. And the one we didn’t fit on, Intellectually, (he rarely reads non-work material that is not focused on Buddhism), he has changed a lot, and we never run out of things to talk about.

Here’s a recent New York Times wedding announcement about a young woman and her list.

And a wise blog post about defining your values:

For too many years, I played the part of the perfect little southern girl: I kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. I dressed properly, including panty hose, slips, and girdles. I didn’t laugh too loudly in public. I did what I was told.

You see, I learned at an early age that I had to do this in order to always be seen as a “good little girl” (and avoid getting punished). I continued the same behavior after I got married, doing what my husband expected of me and keeping up the appearances of a perfect life behind a white picket fence.

I was a mental and emotional chameleon, changing my viewpoints and values to match first those of my parents and then those of my husband. Secretly, inside myself, I had my own dreams and opinions, ideas, and desires. Eventually I realized that in order to be happy, I needed to learn to live outside the box of my upbringing.

Have you ever made a list of what you really want in a partner?

Did it work?

A Manhattan stroll, very early spring

In art, beauty, cities, culture, design, life, travel, urban life, US on March 17, 2013 at 2:30 am

Having survived a meeting with one ferocious new-to-me editor (whew!) and enjoying a fun lunch with another, I took the afternoon off recently to just enjoy the city.

It was a bright, clear day and I decided to head downtown, walking down Third Avenue.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Did this bunny die of a broken heart? Wall art…

When people who don’t live here picture Manhattan, they usually think of the Statue of Liberty or Broadway or Times Square, huge, iconic spots thronged by thousands of tourists. Many of my favorite places here are quiet, old, weathered and unlikely to draw even a dozen tourists a week.

I always urge visitors to flee midtown — and all those shoving gaping fellow tourists — and head to the East or West Village, with cobble-stoned streets, 18th. century homes and a sort of intimacy and charm that feels a planet removed from the rest of the city. Dotted with cafes, restaurants, elegant townhouses and indie shops, this is Manhattan for flaneurs.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I walked past Gramercy Park, longing to actually enjoy it for a while, but only those who live on the park are given keys to its black iron gates. There are only two private parks in New York City, but if you stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel, on the northwest corner of the block above it, you can gain access, thanks to their 12 keys.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

The National Arts Club, on the south side of the park, is one of many spectacular buildings facing the park, built in the 1840s. In the 1860s it was a private home, and Samuel Tilden hired Calvert Vaux — one of Central Park’s designers — to add to its exterior. I’ve attended events at the Club, and the interiors are also very beautiful; you can catch a glimpse of them through the windows.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Here’s a doorway on Gramercy Park South, a neighborhood of considerable wealth, history and charm.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

This church, St. Marks’ in the Bowery, is one of my favorites. It’s part of what makes the city human, places to connect where money, status and power — the drivers of success here — matter less than faith, kindness and humility.

I love these pieces of the past and seeing names from history books lying beneath our feet — Peter Stuyvesant, who founded Manhattan, is buried here. The cornerstone was laid in 1795, making it the city’s second-oldest church.

Here’s a description of the community, from their website:

We are a church with a core membership committed to welcoming all kinds of people to be a part of the community.  St. Mark’s has a special interest in supporting emerging artists.  There are many artists in our community.    We have a high energy Sunday morning service.  A recent visitor said “It’s like RENT meets church.”

(Rent was a fantastic, well-beloved and long-running musical here, an adaptation of sorts of La Boheme.)

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I’m eager to attend service there. I’m an Episcopalian and I heard their minister, Winnie Varghese — a Texan of South Asian heritage — speak at a conference recently. I liked her immediately. (For those of you who are not Episcopal, [Anglican], services tend to be quiet and well-behaved. Sometimes a little too snoozy.)

One the most poignant moments, for me, is looking at early gravestones. We’re all here for such a brief blink of time.

Who were these people? What were their hopes and dreams?

Will anyone stand on my stone 208 years from now?

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I stopped in the Sunburst Espresso Bar and treated myself to a bread pudding, ($3.50, lots of chocolate!), and a latte. Everyone had their laptops open, while a few actually just engaged in lively conversation. I sat for an hour, resting my weary feet, staring at the sky.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

I knew that East 9th. Street is a terrific shopping street, filled with antiques and vintage clothing stores. I stopped in at Duo, a four-year-old 600-square-foot women’s clothing store with new and vintage offerings. It used to be a restaurant the last time I saw it but now has a quiet, gentle vibe, thanks to its owner, Wendy, who is from northern Minnesota. (Practically Canadian!)

In the fireplace, thick white candles were lit and glowing. Red berries sat in a vase and, at the very rear of the store, was a tank filled with water — and a female turtle, Monster. Go say hi!

Here’s a photo that really speaks volumes about the density of Manhattan. That row of bumps against the fading sky are vehicles, parked on a rooftop, brought there by elevators. Only in Manhattan do cars get the penthouse view!

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

By 6:00 p.m. after walking from 22nd and Third to 1st and 9th, my feet were killing me. Back to Grand Central to meet my husband and jump on the 7:57 commuter train heading north. Home!

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Breathtaking beauty in NYC, ends March 30: Fortuny, go!

In antiques, beauty, culture, design, Style on March 10, 2013 at 12:13 am

Have you ever heard of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo?

Robe de Mariano Fortuny. L'influence des arts ...

Robe de Mariano Fortuny. L’influence des arts de l’Islam (musée des arts décoratifs, Paris) (Photo credit: dalbera)

Likely not.

But oh, his talent! His designs — for lighting, color, textiles and paint — are still innovative, timeless and stunning decades after their creation; he lived from 1871 to 1949. If you are anywhere near New York City before March 30, get to 684 Park Avenue, $15 admission, and savor some of the loveliest clothes you will ever see in your life!

If you’ve been watching (?) the hit television series Downton Abbey, you might have caught a scene with Isabel Crawley wearing a very Fortuny-esque black silver-printed sheath. Fortuny’s timeless designs are a perfect period fit for a quirky, rich, bohemian Edwardian like her.

Fortuny Lamps, Venice, Italy

Fortuny Lamps, Venice, Italy (Photo credit: Andy Ciordia)

He certainly began his artistic life with some major advantages — his father and grandfather were directors of the Prado, the exquisite museum in Madrid. Coming from a wealthy background allowed him the time and means to travel widely and to find and cultivate rich women eager to wear and collect his gowns.

His images and references are from Africa, Morocco, the Middle East and earlier historic periods. His shimmering, softly draped fabrics look embroidered with gold or silver threads — but it is metallic paint pressed into silk velvet or cotton or linen with a carved block.

His secret for tightly pleating silk has often been mimicked, but never exactly duplicated. The hem of his Delphos dresses, simple columns of pleated silk, spill out onto the floor like the open petals of a flower. His attention to detail is exquisite: tiny Venetian beads edge his sleeves, satin cord lines his necklines and he included a pleated silk inset on the inside of a sleeve.

The clothes were considered too daring — uncorseted! — for daytime, outdoor use, but women who began wearing them in public were making the case for being beautiful and comfortable at the same time.

I first saw his work at a museum in Lyons, when I was 23 and traveling Europe alone for four months, and I still treasure a poster I bought there then. On that same trip, I went to Venice to Palazzo Orfei, his studio, whose windows are made of round circles of glass, like the bases of wine bottles. The space is filled with his textiles and in the corner is a small white porcelain sink, its edge stained — decades later — with the dried paint he casually smeared off his brushes. It felt like he’d just gone out for a coffee and might return soon.

Palazzo Orfei

Palazzo Orfei (Photo credit: TracyElaine)

I went to this show in Manhattan with a friend, a woman who is very slim and tall and elegant and who I knew would also appreciate his work. It felt like introducing her to some of my old and dearly beloved friends. What a delight to see them again!

As we were leaving the show, I began wrapping my throat in a cream-colored pleated silk scarf/muffler I bought at Banana Republic about 15 years ago — and realized, with a grateful smile, that I’ve been wearing a simulacrum of Fortuny all these years.

English: Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo

English: Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Christmas in Manhattan: Santa, Prada and pernil

In art, beauty, behavior, business, cities, culture, life, Style, travel, urban life, US on December 22, 2012 at 2:00 pm
The tree at Rockefeller Center

The tree at Rockefeller Center

The day began with gusty wind and torrents of rain — and a fresh hairdo thanks to Ilda, who arrived at her salon at 7:40 a.m. to help me prepare for my BBC television interview.

The BBC studio, a very small room with lots of lights and a camera mounted on a tripod in the corner, is part of their New York City office, which shares a wall (!) with Al Jazeera next door. Both of them, like some sort of journalistic Russian matryoshka doll, are inside the offices of the Associated Press, in a huge building at 450 West 33rd — the same building where I worked in 2005-2006 as a reporter for the New York Daily News.

During the live hour-long show, which was heard worldwide, I perched on a stool with an earpiece in my ear, producers’ tinny voices from London competing with the five other guests, from Arkansas to London to Connecticut. Afterward, I went to the lobby and sat in Starbucks and drank tea and read magazines for an hour just to calm down. It’s thrilling to be part of an international broadcast, but also a little terrifying.

If you are interested, here is a link to the audio of that show.

I went to the Post Office to buy five stamps. I stood in line for almost 25 minutes, in a line full of people bitterly grumbling at the only clerk.

I took the subway uptown and northeast and decided to wander the West 50s. (For non New Yorkers, the West side begins at Fifth Avenue.)

The narrow gloomy depths of St. Thomas Episcopal Church offered respite, its white stone altar a mass of carvings, saint upon saint. Enormous Christmas wreaths of pine hang on the bare stone walls. The church is still and calm, an oasis of stillness amid the crowds and noise and light and frenzied spending of money all around it.

Lunch is a lucky find, Tina’s, on 56th, which sells Cuban food. The place is packed with nearby office workers gossiping. For $14, I have pernil (roast pork), spicy black beans, potato salad and a passion fruit batido (milkshake)– across Fifth Avenue at the St. Regis Hotel, a single cocktail would cost more.

I walk to a gallery on 57th Street to see a show of works of women — all done by one of my favorite artists, Egon Schiele, closing December 28.

Do you know his work?

I love it: powerful, simple drawings of an almost impossible economy of line. Some of them are raw and graphic, of women with their knees drawn to their chest, legs splayed, naked. They were done 100 years ago, between 1911 and 1918. Schiele and his wife, then six months pregnant, died three days apart in the Spanish flu epidemic that killed an impossible 20 million people.

He was 28, and his final drawing was of his dying wife, Edith. I find everything about his life somewhat heartbreaking. Dead at 28?!

The small gallery, showing 51 works on paper, all pencil drawings or watercolor and gouache, was mobbed, with men and women in their 20s to 70s. Two of the images in this show are here, “Green Stockings” and “Friendship.”

Two small ancient white terriers, one named Muffin, kept bursting out of the gallery office, barking madly.

I loved the pencil drawing of his mother — “Meine Mutter” written on one side, drawn on deep tan paper — with her rimless glasses and dour expression, her hands half-hidden beneath her dress.

His women almost burst from the weathered pages, one woman’s right leg, literally, stepping off the edge of the paper as she lunges towards us. They often wear no make-up or jewelry or furs. Some were said to  be prostitutes, his association with them scandalous in bourgeois Vienna.

In our jaded, virtual era of all-pixels-all-the-time, I revel in the physicality of these works on paper, their edges thick and smudged, their cotton fibres crinkled and wrinkled. You can imagine his hands holding them a century ago, his young fingers so confident in their vision, so soon to be stilled.

Some of the works are for sale, for $45,000 to $1 million+; only one has sold, but the young woman at the front desk won’t tell me for how much. Oh, how I long to win the lottery! A Schiele has long been on my most-wanted list.

In the cold, gray dusk, I walked the 15 blocks south to Grand Central Station, down Fifth Avenue, crammed with contradictions. For the fanny-packed and white-sneaker-shod from the heartland, agape and moving waayyyyyyy too slowly for the impatient natives actually trying to get somewhere quickly, there’s Gap and Juicy Couture and Friday’s, all comforting reminders of home.

For the oligarchs, jetting in privately, there’s Harry Winston, a legendary jeweler, whose precious gemstones are the size of my thumbnail. This is not a place to browse. I wonder when, on this list of their outposts, the latter four were added. How times change!

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Throngs of tourists are lined up — to get into Hollister, a national clothing chain they can see at home in Iowa or Florida.

At Godiva chocolates, a woman is dipping strawberries.

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A huge, glittering snake made of lights encircles (en-squares?) the edges of the corner building holding the luxury jeweler Bulgari.

The diamond-studded watch-bracelets at Bulgari

The diamond-studded watch-bracelets at Bulgari

For a hit of hot carbs, carts sell pretzels and roast chestnuts.

Roast chestnuts are the best! Try them.

Roast chestnuts are the best! Try them.

Outside the enormous private University Club, people of power and privilege sitting in its tall windows, a black man sits in a wheelchair holding a plastic cup in which to collect donations. I give him a dollar and, to my surprise, he hands me something in return — a glossy postcard, a close-up of his artificial legs.

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“What happened to your legs?” I ask.

“Poor circulation,” he replies. (Diabetes, surely.)

Amid the temples of Mammon — Bulgari, Fendi, Ferragamo, Henri Bendel, Saks, the Gap, Barnes & Noble, Prada

This bejeweled coat is in the window at Prada

This bejeweled coat is in the window at Prada

– there are three churches, St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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One might stop to pray.

One might pray to stop.

On Madison in the mid-40s, I pass Paul Stuart, with the necessities of male elegance, like these…

Velvet suspenders. Of course!

Velvet suspenders. Of course!

The two bastions of classic male style, Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers, entered my consciousness when I was 22, on one of my first visits to New York — because the offices of magazine publisher Conde Nast (named for the man who founded it), sat right between them at 350 Madison Avenue. It’s now for rent.

Can you imagine my excitement when I stopped by Glamour and Mademoiselle, in the days when I carried a large artists’ portfolio with clips of my published articles, to meet the editors? As a young, insatiably ambitious journalist from Toronto, this was the epicenter of writing success, an address I’d memorized in my early teens.

Glamour liked one of my stories — typed on paper — tucked in the back and not even yet published by the Canadian magazine that had commissioned it. So it ran three months later in Glamour as a resale. Swoon!

Ahhhhh, memories.

Back to Grand Central Station to meet Jose at the entrance to the 5:38, the express train speeding us home, non-stop, in 38 minutes.

Grand Central Terminal, rush hour. Isn't it gorgeous?

Grand Central Terminal, rush hour. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Weary, happy, sated.

How about Plans C, D and E?

In aging, behavior, books, business, domestic life, family, immigration, journalism, life, love, Media, US, women on December 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm
University College, south side, University of ...

University College, south side, University of Toronto….My alma mater, (Victoria College, actually.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think many of us have a Plan B — or are already living it.

But how many of you have thought far enough ahead about plans C, D and E?

Here’s a recent blog post chosen for Freshly Pressed by a woman who’s 40, in Toronto, the hometown I left in 1986. In it she discusses how it feels to face a life she did not plan for:

Life sure hasn’t gone the way I planned. That’s an understatement. I thought things would be different. As a kid, I used to think that life got easier as you got older. Now here I am pushing 40 and boy was I wrong about that. The older I get, things seem to get more complicated and every decision I have to make feels like the weight of the world.

Being a grown up is hard.

Hell, yes!

I am now at an age that feels absolutely geriatric, 55. Ahead lies a diminishing number of years on this earth, and physical decline. Cool! If I don’t have a few back-up plans (what if I get really sick? what if my husband dies?), I’m toast.

I’m writing this post sitting in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. I came by train from New York on Sunday to compete Monday for a fellowship that, if I win, offers $20,000 for six months to research an issue of interest to me. There are 14 finalists and they’ll pick maybe six.

I have to plan on not winning. Not to be negative, but realistic.

I have so many other ideas I can barely keep track of them all: writing (and I hope selling) two more non-fiction book proposals; three assignments from The New York Times and another which I hope will send me on my next trip; a conference I hope to create next fall; rustling up people to donate their talent for a fund-raiser; planning travel for 2013…

My point is that “planning” your life is truly a fool’s errand, no matter how comforting it appears. You can aim for goals, and likely hit many, if not most. But some you are going to miss.

If you do not grasp this reality, young, you may face a life of tremendous frustration and bitterness.

Some dreams will be snatched out of your grasp. Some people will disappoint you and betray you and lie to you and disappear. Some things are just shitty luck: infertility and/or miscarriage; accidents; disability or chronic illness. You still have to deal!

Here are some of the twists and turns my life took after I chose to leave my hometown of Toronto, age 30:

– Took a newspaper job in Montreal. Hated it! The winter was brutally long, cold and snowy. The crime rate was crazy, and frightening. The paper’s management were…not what I wanted.

– Moved to a small town in New Hampshire to follow the man I planned to marry, an American. I tried harder than I have ever tried in my entire life to make friends, and it proved impossible. He was doing medical training, so he was either gone, exhausted or emotionally withdrawn.

Moved to New York City to make it as a journalist. I was promised a month’s try-out, paid, at Newsweek International. When I called to confirm my start date (after we had moved to NY and bought an apartment and he had changed training programs) they said “Oh, we have an internal candidate. We don’t need you.” I insisted and still did not get the job.

And that’s only the first five years!

My life since 1989 has included a two-year marriage to the doctor; three recessions, four orthopedic surgeries since 2000, losing a few staff jobs, three days in the hospital with pneumonia, dating a convicted criminal…and writing two terrific books, finding a lovely new husband and enjoying my new left hip.

None of this was planned.

Sure, I had some hopes: good journalism jobs (check); get married (check, check); write a book (check, check). So I’m happy with this. But so many things have blown up in my face, metaphorically speaking, along the way as well.

If you are not ready — emotionally, physically and financially — to adapt to whatever life throws at you, you’ll waste a lot of time when things go south in a fog of cognitive dissonance, moaning “What happened?” instead of packing your parachute.

Here’s a great blog post by a young woman writer whose blog I enjoy, about being prepared and knowing she’s not a victim. It is a choice.

How has your life turned out?

As you’d hoped and expected? Or…?

Nov. 14, New York City: Malled event!

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, Media, Technology, work on November 10, 2012 at 12:06 am

The final frontier — Manhattan!

My book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” was published April 2011 in hardcover and July 2012 in paperback, but my first-ever event in New York City is November 14, presenting with three other authors at a mediabistro evening.

I’m glad to finally have a chance to present the book in NYC, as it’s virtually impossible to get a bookstore or other event there unless you’re a Big Celebrity; 100 authors (!) asked to be chosen for this event, so those odds give you some idea what we’re up against!

The Stand

228 Third Avenue, between 19th and 20th.

6:30 to 8:30p.m.

Few Broadside readers live close enough to stop by, but if you do, I hope you’ll come out!

I’ve been doing a lot of public events in the past few months: The Decatur, Georgia Literary Festival; speaking to 200 retail students and retailers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; speaking locally to two women’s clubs.

I love meeting readers and potential readers. We all shop and many of us have worked, or are working, in retail, so it’s a subject we can all easily relate to. Retail and foodservice, part-time jobs with no benefits and very low wages, are the two largest sources of new jobs in the U.S.’s still-struggling economy.

“Malled” offers several important stories:

It’s my own story of losing a well-paid staff job, at the New York Daily News, in July 2006 — returning to freelancing — and watching my income plummet to barely one-quarter of my former salary, like many people in the recession.

It’s the story of what it’s like to, even part-time, shift careers from a respected and intellectually-challenging role as a writer to a low-wage hourly worker whose every move is captured on security cameras.

It’s the story of dozens of retail associates around the country, some earning excellent money on commission to a woman in her 50s, with a shiny new master’s degree, making $7.25/hour at a department store in North Carolina.

It’s also the story of how a global supply chain puts workers’ lives and health at risk, like the 30,000 workers in Shenzhen, China who make electronics for Apple, Nokia, Samsung and others; as I was writing the book, 17 workers at Foxconn committed suicide, so appalling were their pay and working conditions; this link is to Wired magazine.

On Black Friday, 2008, on Long Island, a worker who opened the doors to impatient shoppers was trampled to death. His story is in “Malled” as well.

Here’s a sample of the book.

If you buy a print version and would like me to sign it to you or someone else as a gift, email me and I can share my mailing address; it’s also available as an e-book, of course.

I’d really appreciate it if you’d help spread the word about this the event and the book — blogging, Facebook, Tweets. We also have a Malled FB page with timely, updated retail-related stories.

Thanks!

Huge snowstorm now hitting New York area. Enough already!

In behavior, cities, domestic life, life, nature, news, urban life, US, Weather on November 8, 2012 at 2:16 am

It’s hard to make this up….with tens of thousands

New York City in Winter (NASA, International S...

New York City in Winter (NASA, International Space Station, 01/09/11) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

of New York and New Jersey residents already suffering after Hurricane Sandy without heat, light or even a home, we’re now in the midst of a huge snowstorm with high winds. I just measured five inches of snow on my sixth-floor suburban balcony, so thick and deep I could barely shove the door open against it.

My husband, again, is staying in Manhattan at a hotel (paid for by his employer, The New York Times) but this time sharing a room with his co-worker of four years, whose own wife is now huddling in a small studio apartment with her own daughter because she has no heat or light.

The euphoria (for some of us) of last night’s win by Barack Obama is now tempered by the freezing, windy, snowy reality of a closed railroad on Long Island and a closed highway there as well.

I’m lucky, right now, to have heat and light and a generator for our building. I know and like my neighbors. I made a huge roast chicken and vegetables tonight and baked banana bread and painted bookshelves, oddly grateful to be snowbound….as a native Canadian, I miss snowstorms and their silent aftermath.

I stocked up today with dozens of batteries for the radio; have multiple flashlights and candles and plenty of food and water in the apartment.

But I’m not pregnant or old or frail or ill or caring for small children, as many others are here tonight, some of them huddled in three layers of clothes and four layers of blankets in their dark and cold homes.

Please say a prayer for them!

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