10 reasons to love Mame

By Caitlin Kelly

Starting a new occasional series here, dedicated to cultural things I love — and hope to inspire you to check out as well: music, books. films, art and more.

Do you know the book, musical or movie of Mame?

If you’re below 50, probably not!

Written in 1955 by Patrick Dennis, it sold more than two million copies and stayed on The New York Times best-seller list for 112 weeks. Then it became a play, a musical and a film, nominated for six Academy Awards.

The 10 year old boy at its center — also named Patrick — is sent to live with his madcap aunt Mame, who defines fabulous; in the 1958 film, Mame re-decorates her apartment almost every scene.

I adore Mame, and its spirit of joie de vivre.

I know all the songs by heart and love singing along, although “My Best Girl” always makes me weepy.

From Wikipedia:

A June 1958 Los Angeles Examiner article named six different styles: Chinese, 1920s Modern, “Syrie Maugham” a French style named for writer Somerset Maugham’s wife; English, Danish Modern and East Indian. When the Upsons visit Mame, they run afoul of the Danish Modern furniture, which is equipped with lifts[5] The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction (Art Direction: Malcolm Bert; Set Decoration: George James Hopkins).

The costume design for the film, which includes outfits for Mame that coordinate with those sets, was provided by Orry-Kelly,[6] who had worked with Rosalind Russell on a number of films. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther observed: “The lavish décor of Mame’s apartment is changed almost as frequently as are her flashy costumes, and all of them are dazzling, in color and on the modified wide-screen

Ten reasons I adore Mame, and hope you will too!

— Although Patrick lands abruptly in her care after his father suddenly dies, she’s thrilled to now be taking care of him, not resentful.

— Her glamorous Beekman Place apartment is a froth of over-the-top fun and fantasy.

— That cigarette-holder!

— The characters are great, including lock-jawed snob Gloria Upson and gloomy Agnes Gooch.

— Mame can not stand snobbery!

— She reminds me so much of the wealthy, profligate Chicago-born heiress who was my late maternal grandmother, all raw silk turbans and custom-made raw silk muumuus and gold-topped canes and limo’s everywhere.

— Like me, Patrick is sent off to boarding school but treasures his visits with Mame.

— Despite moving in wealthy Manhattan circles, Mame is always urging Patrick to be curious and adventurous: “Open a new window, open a new door, travel a new highway you’ve never tried before…”

— She knows how to cheer everyone up, singing: “Haul out the holly, put up the tree…We need a little Christmas, right this very minute, candles at the window, carols at the spinnet!”

— She’s a figure we can all enjoy in our lives, whether we’re a lost little boy or a happy play, musical or film-goer. She stands the test of time.

32 terrific holiday gifts — 2021 edition!

By Caitlin Kelly

This is my favorite blog post every year — and I hope you enjoy it!

Everything on the list is a gift I think might delight the right person and I’ve worked hard to offer a wide range of prices, styles and vendors — $12 to $637.

(You won’t find — sorry! — gifts for kids, pets or tech.)

I get not one dime for this! So no one has influenced these choices and I get only the pleasure of seeing, every year, which picks you find most appealing.

I’m always most moved by gifts that clearly show the giver has thought carefully about my specific tastes and preferences — generic stuff can feel depressing, even if you think “Well, I got them something!” (I speak from experience here.)

So if you have absolutely no idea what someone would really enjoy, ask their partner or sister or spouse!

Or them.

Anything is better than the banal go-to’s of scented candles and journals, even a gift card to their favorite store or service.

A gift to a charity they admire is also a great option.

Enjoy!

I love this pretty Indian print cotton small wallet, from Simrane, one of my favorite sources for printed Indian goods — also tablecloths, napkins, clothing, bedspreads, wash-bags and more. 30 euros, $34.00

If your gift recipient, like me, spends a lot of time at the gym, they need and really value lots of comfortable bike shorts. I live in these — and very few places offer a more modest 9-inch leg! From my go-to Vancouver-based brand. Aritizia, they also come in 3, 5 and 7-inch — and a delicious array of 13 colors, like this pale lavender. $38

I love having lots of little bowls — for food prep, for butter or jam or mustard, or to hold earrings or rings. These four, ceramic in shades of blue, are $24

How boring is a Henley T-shirt? Not in all these gorgeous colors and with J. Crew quality. I think Henleys are sexy, and I bought several of these last Xmas for my husband. $45

I have a cephalopod obsession I share with a dear pal, so anything with an octopus on it gets our attention. I love these navy blue and white dishtowels, practical, but fun and stylish! $25 for two

Everyone can use a gorgeous platter, for holiday gatherings or our favorite no-cook dinner in the summer — a platter meal of meat, cheese, veggies, hummus, olives. This one, with a lovely blue floral rim, is from a new company, Caskata, with a lot of stylish offerings. $95

I wear jewelry and I travel….I bet you know someone who does as well! Having a nice small jewelry box to tuck into your purse or backpack is a simple and reliable luxury. This one comes in yellow, white or black leather. $115

If I were a very rich lady, I would buy everything from Hermes! Huge fan of their bags and scarves and their delicious fragrances…so I liked this small cord bracelet a lot; in red/orange or dark blue/black or soft pink leather, with an elegant gold-colored knot clasp. Could work for a man or woman. $300

Few daily luxuries are as affordable and pretty and unisex (and a nice gift for people of almost all ages) as a very good soap, like this set from classic American maker Caswell-Massey, $29. Or these, in rose geranium scent, from Floris London, three for $45. I dream of one day visiting the legendary Italian hotel Le Sirenuse, but in the meantime can enjoy their fabulous soaps with their signature scent, three for $55

Let’s just go for comfy and cosy and be done with it! Love these waffle sweatshirts in 11 colors, from one of my go-to brands. Aerie. $32.97

If you have never seen Inuit art (pronounced In-weet, meaning The People in Inuktitut), it’s really special stuff. I was fortunate enough, growing up in Canada, to have Inuit prints and sculptures in our home, and love them. This calendar would make a great introduction to their colorful and very distinctive prints — and a nice and practical gift for any Canadians in your life! $19.95

I love love love this carved stone owl — by a young Inuk, its beauty typical of their carvings’ simplicity and power. $350

OK, so this is kitschy — but also it’s chocolate! A basket of every possible NYC icon (yes, even the Empire State Building) made by Manhattan’s oldest chocolate company, Li-Lac chocolates. $160

We have two of these throw pillows on our sofa and I love them….this gorgeous Swedish store, Svensk Tenn, has a lot of great stuff. It may be the only retailer whose profits also support medical research. $200

How can you resist a small tray with elephants? In green, red, pale pink, black or yellow — also from Svensk Tenn. $44

Travel these days is…not much fun! A soft, stylish, warm cashmere wrap in 10 colors is a great way to cover up on chilly flights or add a hit of color to anything you wear. From Garnet Hill, $189

Do you know someone who’s highly creative — or longs to be(come) more so? This book might be a good fit. $49.95. But also my favorite, a classic by American choreographer Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit; I find it smart and inspirational, written by a tough and talented New York woman still working at 80. $20

I know, this idea is….unusual. But so gorgeous! It’s from one of my favorite vendors anywhere, selling extraordinary wallpaper and fabric, based in England — and this wall mural is amazing. You could build the most extraordinary room around it. $637

From one of my favorite jewelers, Meeka, in Pennsylvania, pierced earrings, small round amethysts in silver, $165. And these, oval white topaz — I really like the prong setting. $560. And this brushed silver ring, with one teeny black diamond, is minimal, cool and low-key, $290

Take a very close look — at binoculars! This page has 30 pair, $109 to $3299 a pair. I got a small, light good pair for my first wedding as a gift and love having them, from using them at the ballet to looking at architectural details while traveling. Not an obvious gift, perhaps, but one anyone can appreciate at any age.

I do love great tableware — and this pensive blue bunny side plate fits the bill. From a fantastic site full of great things, Wolf and Badger, $39

Definitely not for everyone, or budget, but this studded white leather, multi-level jewelry box is spectacular, $605

For the yoga enthusiast, an elegant cream and back travel yoga mat inscribed with symbols. $104

I live in scarves: wool, silk, cashmere, cotton. I love how they accessorize (and add warmth and style.) Love this bold black and cream graphic print one, in cashmere, (the site offers 29 pages of alternatives!) $178

Oh yeah! For the playful power broker in your life who rocks French cuffs, these sterling silver cufflinks — POW! and BAM! $321

And…yes, a shameless plug for my coaching! I’ve been helping other writers of non-fiction and journalism, worldwide, strengthen their skills, whether book or story idea, sharpening pitches, editing essays or long-form pieces. The hour is theirs to use in any way that’s most helpful. Booking now for December 1-20 and into 2022. $250.

This bronze octopus is spectacular as an art object in its own right — but can also hold and display a phone or tablet. $96.75

Who couldn’t enjoy this tiny cast iron bunny on their desk or shelf? Nice stocking stuffer! $12

For the person in your life who sews…a small bird whose cushion holds needles and pins. $34.60

I so love the old-school wit and elegance of British brand, Smythson, makers of gorgeous thick stationery and lovely leather goods and playing cards and this fab bright leather red little notebook, embossed on its cover in gold: “Make It Happen.” (also in pale blue and deep blue) $74.95

I bet you know a LOT of people for whom this would be a lovely gift — a leather notebook, its pages edged in gold, embossed in gold on the cover, in navy, red, black or pale blue, also from Smythson. It says “Super Hero.” $255

And, in an era of all digital, I still love being able to write a more personal physical note — in pen, on good heavy card stock — and slip it into a tissue-lined envelope. Smythson’s navy initial cards are $27 for 10, both simple and stylish. (That page offers all sorts of other styles as well, from a bee to an elephant.) Add a terrific fountain pen, like this one, which I love and use, the German-made Lamy Safari, in orange or green and three widths of nib. $25.99

The Nova Scotia debacle…

By Caitlin Kelly

Note the small lot….a problem for adding a septic in a town of dug wells and septic systems…

Well, kids, it sure wasn’t dull.

The house dream blew up in fairly spectacular fashion Monday morning the 15th.

That was the day we were to commit to purchasing the house or losing our $3,000 deposit if we missed that deadline.

Friday morning — i.e. with two days to spare — I discovered the house is actually illegal, thanks to its antiquated septic system that, like many in that village, empties into the ocean.

Gross!

Also, against Nova Scotia environmental laws.

We needed probably three weeks to seek and win necessary government approval to install a wholly new system ($12,000) but the seller — a wealthy and powerful local businessman — refused us even an extra day.

Busted!

That was that. We bailed.

Then — do not ever mess with a skilled reporter! — I placed three calls that day to the local office of the environment and an official called me right back and is launching an investigation.

Also writing a letter to the top three people of the seller’s realtor to point out how crappy this is: either she lied or the seller lied and this put us in tremendous financial jeopardy if we’d been forced to buy an uninhabitable house.

Lessons learned:

1. The house’s owner, a local grandee accustomed to deference from the little people, isn’t going to suddenly get all ethical and nice for an outsider. Probably the opposite. Our realtor made clear he was furious to have dropped his price and then we dared ask for more time.

2. Never assume that a small town in a largely rural province is de facto any nicer or gentler than the iron-fisted ways of New York City! It’s very clear that panic pandemic buying has massively inflated prices and created a feeding frenzy for realtors and sellers that only leaves any buyer vulnerable.

3. Never stop asking questions!!

4. Take lots and lots and lots of notes; an email paper trail is also useful for reference. Also photos and videos.

5. If something feels off, it is!

6. My love for the physical structure of a charming house was blinding me to local conditions that would have made life there unpleasant and expensive — to reach the town means taking a car ferry and missing it (as I did one day) means losing valuable work time. I was warned that no one would even deliver a sofa that far because of lost waiting time; same for other services like pumping out the septic.

7. Take time to do every possible inspection and made each one a condition of purchase.

8. Getting a larger sense of the community and its culture quickly reduced my enthusiasm — after people lied to me, I had no wish to live there, even part-time.

Waiting for the car ferry; it carries 17 vehicles, and takes about 10 minutes

This was also just emotionally painful for me to let go of all the attendant hopes I had:

— welcoming friends

— getting to know a new community and province

— coming back to Canada

— a chance to use my decorating and design training to make the house lovely

— maybe getting summer rental income from it

— owning a place with no rules (like our co-op apartment)

— finding a property within our budget. Impossible now, really.

A visit to Nova Scotia

By Caitlin Kelly

Back again!

I spent last week visiting a province I had only been to once before, in my 20s, when my father then owned a big old Victorian house in Lunenburg on the South Shore.

This visit included a lot of driving!

There are no direct flights from NY to Halifax, so it becomes an all-day affair with a layover in Toronto (90 minutes north then 2 hours east.) I arrived, of course, sweaty and exhausted after an entire day masked, just in time for sunset — to drive 90 minutes in the dark on unfamiliar roads.

How had I forgotten how tiring and stressful travel can be?! Because I hadn’t been in an airplane since June 2019…

I was staying with my best friend from Toronto high school, who designed and built an off-grid home on a lake in a forest there. I hadn’t seen them in three years, since they left their rural home in Ontario. They were super welcoming and their 27-acre property was so blessedly beautiful and silent.

Morning mist at the lake!

I went up to see a house we are thinking of buying, after years of looking fruitlessly at real estate ads, watching prices literally double in the past year as wealthy people fleeing COVID have snapped up a lot of Nova Scotia real estate, driving up prices and making anything in our budget unattainable.

I finally found a really pretty gray shingled house, 2 bedroom, circa 1906, its interior unchanged for decades and uninhabited. We made an offer which was accepted.

The dining room…the house is full of their stuff.

Every room has wallpaper — I really like this one!

There are 3 calendars in the house — 1938, 1947 and 1953

But only then did the true fun begin….I was now dealing with 10 different individuals (!), including a realtor, lawyer and eight different tradesmen, from septic to wells to two general contractors. One afternoon, I was trying to talk to two of them at once with only an hour to conduct business because the realtor had to leave — and we had all missed the earlier ferry.

Oh yeah, you need to take a five minute ferry to reach the village, (pop. 300), one of three on an island.

The car ferry, which takes five minutes, and holds 17 vehicles — including tanker trucks and schoolbuses

Why do anything EASY?

So it was a week of a lot of learning for a woman whose entire life has been spent in apartments in cities and towns of 10,000 to millions, never in a remote village.

Even at our advanced ages, Jose and I have never owned a house, or even looked at one or made an offer — but a surprise inheritance (!) from my late estranged mother made this possible.

The house is not winterized or insulated so this would only be for summer use. That doesn’t bother me, since I really enjoy my NYC life, with easy access to museums, shows, ballet, opera, shopping and restaurants,

If this goes through — and we have hit yet another unforeseen potential deal-breaker just now — it would also give Jose and I a foothold back in my native Canada. Because if T—p wins again, and it is not looking good right now for the Democrats (trounced in recent elections), I’m not going to live in chronic anxiety for another four nasty years of GOP rule.

Highlights included three-hour drives to the house and back; sitting in morning silence by their lake; visiting a friend in Halifax I hadn’t seen since my wedding in Toronto a decade ago.

I loved the Nova Scotia accent, with its drawn-out vowels, and people were kind and helpful.

Will keep you posted!

A must-read book of 20th century history

By Caitlin Kelly

There are very few book of more than 500 pages anyone wants to tackle!

Let alone one that focuses on an international source of death…

No, not COVID, but AIDS.

I found this book on the shelf at my father’s house on our visit to Ontario in September and had been wanting to read it for many years but hadn’t sought it out.

Then, there, I had time to sit in the fall sunshine and read for hours.

Despite the grim topic and the fact it all happened more than 30 years ago it is a tremendous read — powerful real characters, from death-denying politicians, AIDS activists, researchers in Washington and Paris competing for prestige and power as they sought a vaccine, the individual men and women affected and their families and friends…

It is an astonishing piece of reporting, of history — and so sadly, powerfully prescient of what we’re all enduring with COVID. Of course its author, Randy Shilts, also later died of the disease.

I remember a lot of this because it was also my time.

I was a young and ambitious daily newspaper reporter in the mid 1980s, and so AIDS became part of the work I did for The Globe and Mail and the Montreal Gazette. I lost two dear friends — both gay men — to this disease because, then, it just killed everyone, and they died terrible deaths.

I still remember the names of some of those incredibly dedicated and frustrated doctors doing their best against, then, an implacable enemy.

Dr. Anthony Fauci was one of them.

For millions of closeted gay men, it also meant suddenly coming out to their families — some of whom rejected them, leaving them to die alone in ever-more-crowded hospital wards.

It affected women and children through shared needles, through blood tranfusions, through unprotected sex with men who were infected, whether they knew it or not.

We were horrified by it, scared of it, despairing when someone we loved called to tell us it was now their turn.

I know most of you won’t even consider reading it, and I get it!

But it is an important and powerful testament to all the issues we’re fighting today….still!

Political infighting.

Denial.

Vicious battles between those who recognize(d) the science and those who refused.

Demonization of victims.

Demonization of the health-care workers caring for them.

Fear that caring for AIDS patients could kill someone.

Insufficient funding to help victims.

Insufficient government action — sooner — to mitigate the disease’s spread.

Vacation! 5 Days in DC, 3 at the shore

By Caitlin Kelly

Our first long break since March 2021, which was five days upstate.

We drove south from NY, about 4.5 hours, and treated ourselves to a stay at The Willard, which opened in 1818 — the place where Martin Luther King wrote his “I have a dream” speech and where Julia Ward Howe wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Name anyone powerful in politics here and they’ve stayed or visited — the White House is a few blocks further down Pennsylvania Avenue.

It is classic old-school elegance, and our room was large and quiet.

We arrived in time for Sunday afternoon tea. What a treat! Every table was filled with people, mostly women, dressed up in their best — one table full of women wearing THE BEST HATS.

We are terrible tourists! I am never one to rush around filling my days with seeing all the official sights.

The first day I visited a favorite shop, Goodwood, in business since 1994, an eclectic mix of clothing, accessories, lighting and furniture. A block away is a fun restaurant, Ted’s Bulletin, (the 14th Street location) where I sat at the counter for lunch — repeating both times a pleasure I discovered on my last solo visit there, in March 2020, just as COVID started destroying such simple amusements as travel and eating out.

I was advised to visit the Phillips Collection and whew! It’s now one of my favorite museums anywhere, a collection of art from Renoir and Degas and van Gogh to Rothko, Diebenkorn, Klee, Kandinsky — all set within a huge old mansion. Its courtyard is also very beautiful. The staff are really welcoming and the gift store excellent. I loved the current exhibition of work by Black artist David Driskell, whose work I had never seen.

We had a long great lunch at Le Diplomate with our dear friend and ex NYT photographer Steven Crowley.

We returned — for Jose’s birthday — to one of his old haunts, the jazz club Blues Alley, for the second show. Jose lived in D.C. for eight years as a New York Times photographer, having realized his dream of becoming a member of the White House Press Corps, covering Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

Another day, Jose got his NYT staff pal Doug Mills — too busy to meet for coffee since he covers The President and all his doings — outside the White House for a quick hello. He gave us these M and Ms candies, fresh from Air Force One.

I spent a day antiquing with a very dear friend, one of our rituals, and found a homespun coverlet in pristine condition. It was such a perfect mix of new sights and discoveries, renewing some of our oldest and deepest friendships, enjoying a luxurious hotel. The weather was perfect every day, a bit cool in the evenings and sunny and (not D.C. humid) in the daytime.

We loved our meal at Jaleo, a tapas restaurant.

I was sorry not to have seen more art, as we had planned, but it was just so good to finally see our friends — Jose also caught up with another former NYT colleague.

We then drove 90 minutes east to coastal Maryland and are in Easton for three days, off to a Maritime Museum tomorrow.

It has been a wonderful and badly needed break.

We’re ready to head home and dive back into work, refreshed,

American Workers Finally Protesting En Masse

By Caitlin Kelly

For the first time since 2009, thousands of American workers are on strike or soon to be on strike — from 60,000 members of IATSE who work on TV shows and film to nurses in Massachusetts to the 10,000 John Deere workers in Illinois. Iowa and Kansas. Cereal makers are on strike.

We’re seeing history.

For decades, American workers — many doing dangerous, tedious jobs — have suffered stagnant wages, while their corporate masters earning record profits blew that money on stock buybacks and massive compensation, like 300 times that of their lowest-paid workers. The federal minimum wage is a pathetic $7.25, in a time of such inflation that Social Security just boosted its payments a record 9.5 percent.

Americans workers have, for a variety of reasons, felt — and been — powerless.

Now thousands are quitting, leaving retail, hospitality, medicine and even trucking scrambling to hire new staff.

The country has long had very low union membership, not even 15 percent.

This is a nation with no paid maternity leave, no mandated sick days or vacation days.

A nation of “at will”employment — an abomination that means any employer can fire you any time for NO reason.

Awesome!

I grew up in Canada and spent my 25th year on a journalism fellowship based in Paris, where every newspaper had an alphabet soup of unions to memorize. And French workers have never been shy about showing their force.

The immense power American employers hold over their staff has always shocked me deeply, and the cowed obedience they get in return.

But if your only access to affordable health insurance is by getting and keeping your job, even if you hate it, what choice do you have?

And COVID has now killed 700,000 Americans — a number too large to make sense of really.

So there are simply thousands of fewer workers; basic economics mean when there are fewer people ready to take your job offer, you may have to make it a lot more appealing than you used to.

I watch this powerful and inspiring movement from the sidelines of self-employment, where I and my husband have been for 15 and six years respectively.

There are many challenges to working freelance, from finding well-paying, reliable clients to getting paid quickly to managing our own taxes and costs of health insurance unsubsidized by an employer.

But it offers a very significant source of power, the one — belatedly and long overdue — now being wielded by so many fed-up, exhausted and pissed-off American workers.

We can, and do, withdraw our skilled labor from abusive, cheap clients.

We can, and do, set our own pay rates.

We can, and do, arrange our work schedule to best suit our needs.

We can, and do, take sick days and vacations.

Once you have discovered your own autonomy — not everyone wants to or can hustle this hard! — it’s difficult-to-impossible to imagine re-assuming the absurdities imposed by too many employers and public policy that routinely ignores what workers need and want.

Have you ever just quit a miserable job?

Back to the ballet!

The ceiling of the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, one of my NYC pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

Ohhh, how I missed watching live ballet.

Last week a good friend, a New York Times colleague of my husband and I went to our second New York City Ballet performance; we also attended Sept. 20’s opening night, which opened to rapturous, grateful, relieved applause, every red velvet seat filled.

After 18 months of a dark theater, what an intense joy it was to be with thousands of others as happy and grateful for such beauty and this powerful and emotional shared moment.

The two nights cost me $190 for two tickets…yes, a lot of income for many people, I know! But worth every penny for me and for my friend.

We both cried when the first notes of Tchaikovksy’s Serenade in C began, the music for the 1938 Balanchine ballet, Serenade.

I defy anyone to hear those first few notes and remain unmoved, dammit!


The opening moment of Serenade has the entire female corps de ballet bathed in blue light, standing on an angle, their right arms raised at an an angle, flat hands, wrists cocked — as Balanchine saw them initially trying to block sunlight from their eyes, and retained the gesture.

I love this ballet so much and my friend does as well, which made my pleasure even greater.

The first program also included After the Rain (slow, lovely) and Symphony in C, which he loved and I liked.

The interior of the theater…each balcony is called a Ring, so you sit in Rings 1, 2, 3 or 4

The Sept. 30 evening was Pieces of Glass, choreographed brilliantly by Jerome Robbins (West Side Story’s legendary choreographer), to Philip Glass’ distinctive and unmistakable music and two world premieres, much heralded. I love Nicholas Britell’s music for the HBO series Succession, so I had high hopes for the piece he scored…

I have to admit — agreeing with the Times’ scathing review — that the latter two were…not good. At all. Garish costumes, tedious choreography, OK music. The dancing, of course, strong, but in service of not very much.

This is the true cost (if you buy tickets to any live art form) that you might not actually like or enjoy what you see! It’s a risk. But, and yes this sounds elitist and bourgeois (sorry!) how else can you educate your eye but by through seeing a fair bit of whatever it is you want to better know and understand, and then deciding not only what you most enjoy and why, but also what just doesn’t work, sometimes despite lavish production values.

I studied ballet for many years and did ballet criticism and reviews for The Globe and Mail, so I did get to see a lot of ballet in my 20s, free of charge. Now, my eye sharpened after 18 months without it, I am seeing things quite differently (and analytically.)

But one of the many reliable pleasures, for me, of attending ballet at the Koch Theater is also just how beautiful the theater is, all white marble and lacy gold balcony railings and light fixtures that look like massive jewels. It’s 50 years old but still so perfect, not at all dated. It gives you such a sense of elegance and anticipation.

People dress way, way up! Oh my, the gowns and furs and black tie and stiletto heels.

Then the orchestra is there (masked!) and the maestro finally comes out, to our applause. The waiting is part of the ritual pleasure. Then the performance, and the curtain call, then bouquets for the women principal dancers.

It was just wonderful to be back.

A weekend at the TWA hotel at JFK

All photos by Jose R. Lopez

By Caitlin Kelly

Manhattan has so many old-school uptown elegant hotels — from the Pierre and the St. Regis and the Carlyle — to the glossy hip ones downtown.

But Jose made the best possible choice for our anniversary weekend — the TWA Hotel at JFK, which opened in 2019 on the site of the legendary 1961 TWA terminal designed by Eero Saarinen.

I am a hopeless and total #avgeek, and plane spotting is one of my joys, aided by the extremely cool website Flight Radar 24 which tracks aircraft worldwide.

So we sat in bed facing one of the runways and watched planes arriving from London and Paris and Mexico and Jamaica and Lima watched others leave for Beijing and Casablanca and Milan and Madrid and Tokyo and Istanbul and Dubai and Bogota and Seoul.

We also saw a Turkish miltary aircraft take off (destination hidden); I guessed it might have delivered Afghan refugees originating in Kabul but having been processed in Turkey.

Of course I brought my binoculars!

Sigh!

I so so so miss international travel! When each plane took off for my beloved Paris I cried a bit and waved au revoir — my last international flight was on a 747 home to JFK from London in July 2017.

Next year, dammit!

The hotel is gorgeous: white penny tile floors, sleek metal handrails, high ceilings, walls of freshly cleaned glass, everything curved. The signage is beautifully designed, a marble fountain on one floor quiet and lovely, surrounded by fresh green plants.

Two vintage cars, one inside, one at the entrance, show young visitors what a 60s land yacht — aka a Lincoln Cadillac — looked like.

The lobby music is 50s and 60s, fun for older visitors and likely a surprise for younger ones, let alone (!) the black dial phones in the rooms, which work.

THRILL!!! An A380 — the largest commercial passenger plane in the world.

There’s one formal restaurant with thick carpeting (gray, with the TWA logo in the tufting) which makes the room blessedly quiet. The food is very good although expensive — the only alternative is a food court.

There are several indoor bars and tucked one inside a vintage plane.

I loved the hidden lounges, circular spaces tucked inside and easily missed, and quiet places to sit and read alone in silence on crisp red upholstery. Everything is in TWA colors — cherry red and white.

There is a pool and observation desk ($50 for 90 minutes) and a shop selling every possible iteration of TWA stuff — sneakers ($60) red cotton hoodies, playing cards, metal pins. slippers, caps.

I loved the exhibit of TWA flight attendant uniforms, all the way back to 1944. They changed every three or four years, and the most gorgeous — deep plum and chocolate brown — were of course by Valentino.

The only omission, which I found a bit shocking, was no detailed mention (!?) of Saarinen and his design team. That history is essential, too.

The reviews from the NYT when it opened in May 2019 are very mixed indeed, but we really enjoyed it.

Minor complaints to consider:

Only one restaurant and it’s expensive (like $150+ for appetizer/entree/one drink for two people)

A lot of kids and screaming kids in the pool

The music gets a bit much after two days of it 24/7

Valet parking also very costly at $40 day

The fall zhuzh!

The summer bed coverlet

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s that time again, kids!

Our summer was terrible — the 2nd wettest July on record for New York and if it wasn’t raining, it was horribly hot and humid. Really not a good time.

So we are savoring fall, our favorite season — lots of bright sunshine, cooler temperatures, a chance to finally stop using air conditioners and fans.

Because we also live, work, eat, dine and bathe in a one-bedroom apartment, the place gets a LOT of wear and tear! And that’s without kids or pets.

And I have been in the same place since June 1989, so cosmetic upgrades are ongoing.

To get ready for fall and winter, here’s some of what we’re doing, (and maybe some suggestions for your home?)

— getting our throw rugs cleaned and replacing underpadding as needed

— getting the sofa professionally steam-cleaned

— getting the bathroom shower wall grout repaired

Our living room gallery wall, a mix of our photos, photos we have been given or collected

and a few posters.

— framing a few new pieces of art

— changing the summer cotton coverlet for the duvet; (dry cleaned and stored there all summer)

— fresh duvet cover

— a new pillow and pillow protectors

— having a nice fabric cover custom-made for Jose’s (plywood, homemade) desk

— a new desk chair for Jose

— tossing out as many unread books as I can stand to lose

— wrapping our balcony furniture to protect it after it’s too cold to use it

— doing a clean rinse of the dishwasher

— removing as much indoor clutter as possible

— making sure we have plenty of candles (votives, tapers) for the dinner table as it gets dark so early

Also consider some safety issues easily forgotten like:

— dusting light-bulbs and shades, making sure you have enough light to read easily with shorter darker days ahead

— is your fire extinguisher still working?

— smoke detector?

— carbon monoxide detector?

— shower mat?

— bathtub grab bar(s); love this one that doesn’t demand installation in the wall; a friend has one

Also, replacing things that get a lot of use and maybe it’s time for new ones, like:

— burned oven mitts

— worn wooden spoons

— cookware

— bed linens/towels

— wastebaskets

— napkins/tablecloths

— tired/old/flavorless spices

— shower mat

— shower curtain

— kettle or coffeemaker

Things to make life cosier:

— a lovely teapot and selection of teas

— pretty cloth napkins/tablecloth; love these linen ones at $6 each (on sale) in 12 colors

— a throw rug beside your bed

— fresh shams

— a vintage decanter to fill with bourbon or a smoky scotch

— some new bakeware; a muffin pan, bundt pan, tart tins

— a pair of colorful throw pillows for your sofa

I’m really glad we live in such a lovely home, and it’s the subject of much devoted care to cleaning, maintenance and upgrades.

I spent my childhood in boarding school and summer camp (home for school in Grades 6 and 7), and I have no doubt that so many years in shared spaces not of my own design has helped make me a bit obsessive!

I also studied for a few years at the New York School of Interior Design and learned a lot about how to make a place, even a small-ish one, beautiful, functional and welcoming.

I use a lot of different resources:

For fabrics, basics from Ballard Designs, Calico Corners and amazing stuff (often $$$) from Svensk Tenn in Stockholm and Fabrics and Papers in England. One of my favorite fabric sources is in (!) London, England, The Cloth Shop, who happily mailed me yardage I chose online.

I don’t use Etsy or EBay but there are lots of bargains there, and so many online places from Joss & Main to Perigold to FirstDibs to Wayfair, plus all the big stores. Consignment and thrift shops and antique shops and flea markets can offer some amazing bargains — I recently found a huge, pristine white linen tablecloth for $35.

We love Farrow & Ball paint (yes, expensive but we find it worth the price) and I splurge a few times a year on custom-made linens like curtains, tablecloths and throw pillows, all of which add warmth, silence, comfort and color.