Ten treasured possessions

By Caitlin Kelly

I was touched, reading a personal essay in the weekend FT by Madison Marriage (what a byline!), that her brother Charlie died at 32 of an epileptic seizure. Marriage, pregnant with her second child, found a handmade origami mobile he left for her baby…now her most treasured possession.

I’ve lived in a one bedroom apartment for decades, so accumulating piles ‘o stuff hasn’t been an option, although candor forces me to admit to a crowded garage with artwork we change up from time to time, old books and magazines and assorted stuff we keep trying to get rid of.

But I have a few things, some unlikely and of little financial value, I treasure:

Mousie

My late mother, from whom I was estranged for the last decade of her life, traveled the world alone for years and lived in New Mexico, Peru, Bath, Massachusetts, Montreal, Toronto, Mexico, British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, then Victoria, B.C., Mousie was always there…a tiny stuffed mouse missing a bit of one ear, his string tail stained with ink. When three large boxes arrived after she died, I was so happy to discover Mousie in one of them, a sweet and happy memory of her and some of our adventures.

A pewter Art Nouveau plate

This belonged to my maternal grandmother and I loved it. My mother had it and left it to me. No idea where they found it.

A very small Stieff bear

I was at boarding school at the age of eight, the youngest. This tiny and portable bear offered such comfort — tucked into the deep pocket of my beige cotton uniform shirt, sitting stop a prayer book in the pews at yet another church service.

My passport

Even though I chose to move to the U.S., I am very grateful for my Canadian citizenship and would never give it up.

My “green card”

Which is more pink, and is my proof of admittance to live and work legally in the U.S., renewed every decade.

A professional photo of me taken during a magazine shoot about kids and cooking

My mother was a national magazine editor in Canada for a while and made sure to sneak me into a few photo stories! I have very few photos of myself as a child and teen, and almost none of me in my 20s and 30s. So I love this one. It’s of me and the daughter of her then best friend — we had been ordered (!) to have a flour fight and we’re absolutely dazed with the joy of sanctioned mayhem.

My National Magazine Award

My first husband, a physician I met when we both lived in Montreal, walked out on the marriage after barely two years. It was humiliating as hell, although not a great surprise as we were unhappy and he was clearly involved with a colleague he shortly married. OUCH. There’s no sweeter revenge than retailing one’s misery for a magazine story…but winning this award, which is very competitive, was an incredible moment for me. I finally framed it and it hangs on our living room wall.

My wedding earrings from Jose

They were a total surprise, and I wear them almost every day, everywhere.

Invitation to meet Queen Elizabeth

What a day! I had spent the prior two weeks racing all over Manitoba. New Brunswick and Ontario as a member of the massive press entourage following a Royal Tour, as a staff reporter for the Globe and Mail, of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. It was by far the toughest assignment of my 20s since, really, there’s no news and little say beyond — today she opened a highway, today she attended a formal dinner. Etc. But we were all invited, at the end, aboard Britannia for drinks and ohhhhh, all the equerries.

An Inuit Polar bear print

In 1961 when this print was made, Inuit art was a very new development in the Canadian art world…and my mother would only have been 27 when she bought it, typical of her fearless and eclectic taste. It’s become one of the most famous of these, and I long admired it on her wall, decade after decade, wherever she lived. Of all her possessions, this was the one item I hoped she might bequeath to me. I adore it — and its teal color exactly (!) echoes our bedroom blind and headboard fabric.

When my profligate and wealthy maternal grandmother died she owed a massive amount of unpaid tax — to Ontario, Canada and the U.S. government, so most of her things were sold to pay those bills; one gorgeous armoire is in a Toronto museum.

So I’d never had the expectation of inheriting “heirlooms” with a deep family connection. I did inherit a massive pastel portrait of her mother, and a small bas-relief of her, which I am glad to have. My father has some lovely things, but also has four adult children and it’s a very deeply divided group — none of us ever lived together and I’ve never even met one and don’t want to.

Our own challenge is deciding who to leave our things to, as we have no children and aren’t close to younger relatives.

What are some of the items you treasure and why?

Women — time to speak up!

By Caitlin Kelly

The editor in chief of the Financial Times, Rouala Khalaf, (probably the most male of the big newspapers — and boy are they male, especially at the very top) — recently implored more women to write to their letters page.

I was thrilled to have my letter published there, verbatim, a few months ago.

I can see why so few women do:

— It’s intimidating! Letters to the FT routinely arrive from Lords and CEOs and deans of elite universities. How dare we add our voices?!

— Fear of looking stupid or uninformed.

— Fear of professional reputational loss (see above!)

— Too busy working/parenting/caregiving

— Modesty…why listen to us?

As you know (cough!) I’m fine expressing my opinions publicly, here and on social media and in classrooms and at conferences and in letters pages, including those of The New York Times and Newsweek.

I was basically raised as a boy, to be smart and competitive, not sweet and submissive as so many girls and women still are, so this never scared me, even if maybe it should.

I am very careful on Twitter not to discuss the most divisive topics — abortion, guns, politics — in any detail. Women are trolled and harassed and get death and rape threats when they do. No thanks!

So, when and where should we speak up?

— Protest marches

— School board meetings

— City council/town hall meetings

— at industry conferences, either as a speaker, moderator or audience member

— your blog, and others’

— social media

— writing and publishing essays and op-eds

— voting

— call-in radio shows

— as a member of an organization or group or community

I know, it can feel scary to invite argument or ridicule or dismissal!

But the more we stay invisible and inaudible, the more we allow this behavior to dominate and silence us.

Now that the landmark abortion law Roe v. Wade is in danger, and so many U.S. states ready to ban abortion, it’s no time to sit back and shrug. Our many bodily rights to autonomy are being erased daily.

Our voices matter.

The managing of money

A tiny annual check I receive as library royalties for my two books — but it all adds up!

By Caitlin Kelly

There’s a whole new crop of young women offering financial advice to their peers, writes The New York Times:

But rather than rallying behind meme stocks or the latest hot crypto trend, she [Tori Dunlap] is part of a growing tribe of largely millennial women aiming to change the narrative around women and money, often by drawing from their own experiences. There’s Berna Anat, a.k.a. Financial Hype Woman; Melissa Jean-Baptiste, the Beyoncé of Personal Finance, also known as Millennial in Debt; Delyanne the Money Coach; and Haley Sacks, founder of Mrs. Dow Jones and Finance Is Cool.

I find this fascinating and encouraging, since so many women earn less than men and often outlive a husband or male partner.

I learned early to handle money because at 19 I was living alone in downtown Toronto on a monthly trust fund, thanks to my maternal grandmother — $350/month. Out of that enormous sum, I paid rent on a studio apartment ($160), food, phone, answering service, subway, clothes, haircuts, dental care.

Oh and tuition and books for University of Toronto.

My father had suddenly and without warning sold the home I lived in and decided to move to Europe. He never offered a dime and he was making enough I doubted I would even qualify for student aid.

So I started writing and selling my photos freelance to supplement my income.

I still remember a can of tuna cost 89 cents then. I guess I ate a lot of it!

At 25, I inherited some money, enough it scared the hell out of me — as I had a good staff newspaper job and didn’t need it. I stuck it in the bank until I was 30 and moved to New York, grateful as hell to have a decent downpayment for the apartment I’ve lived in ever since. I could never have afforded it without that family help.

But no one in my family — and there was plenty of money sloshing around (like a spare $150,000 to pay cash for a house in Ireland) — ever discussed how to save and invest. I learned to be frugal, obviously, and that was a powerful and important lesson; when you’re living on little and have no one to turn to, you have to.

And since my family was far away, there was one to ask for advice or help if something terrible happened. And it did…I was attacked in my $160/month apartment when a man leaned in my ground-floor bathroom window and tried to pull me out (mid-bath.)

I left the next day.

So all I’ve really known about managing money is to make as much of it as possible — and save a lot! Only after maybe a decade of hard saving (like 15% every year) did I feel I’d accumulated anything. The past few years were a godsend because the markets, for my investments, returned tremendous gains, which I needed since freelance writing fees are dropping every year.

I did great for years, alone, freelance in the 1990s, managing to pay for health insurance ($500/month alone) and mortgage and maintenance. I’m fine buying and wearing consignment shop clothing and shoes, and have some pieces I’ve worn for a decade, quality bought affordably. So I’m OK pinching pennies when need be. I tend to keep things for decades.

When I do have more to spend, and look at buying some lovely new clothes or shoes, I often break into a sweat of anxiety. Crazy. Not fun.

Managing money can feel terrifying if you’ve never done it and don’t even know who to trust for solid advice.

I’ve never touched an ETF or index fund, (as many people do) but have several mutual funds and four Canadian bank stocks — Canadian banks are notoriously conservative and consistently profitable; Canada never had a 2008 bank crash as Americans did, (thanks to lending millions to people with no ability to actually pay their mortgages.)

I read a few finance books, but the basics never change — live on less than your income, saving and investing what you have. Rinse and repeat!

I now read the Financial Times daily, even though it’s mostly for institutional investors moving millions. It helps me see where the global economy is going and which companies and sectors are doing well or terribly.

My peak earning years are over, sorry to say, so managing every dime is really essential now.

How are you managing your money?

Where did you learn how to do it?

Are we here for attention or support? Both?

By Caitlin Kelly

I grew up long before social media existed.

If I wanted or needed love, attention, interest — in me or my work — I had to find and nurture the relationships that might provide it. Or not. In the real world, friends can come and go, betray us, be disloyal, say stupid or unkind things — or be incredibly loving for decades.

When conflict arises, which is likely over a long relationship of true intimacy, we have a choice: try and work it out or bail and end the relationship.

We had no “mute” or “block” button as Twitter so conveniently offers.

I spend too much of my time on Twitter, I admit, and now have 6,239 followers there, a few of whom have become close friends. But I would never mistake the majority of these strangers as benign and caring friends, no matter how much anyone “likes” my tweets or retweets me.

True friends show up for us at times of real difficulty, bringing their physical presence whenever possible or sending cards, gifts, flowers, letters. They know how bad things really are, or how hard we may have worked to win something.

I’ve also been very badly burned twice through Facebook, once by a “friend” who sent a screenshot of my (unwise) rant about an editor to that editor — destroying a professional relationship. I now accept almost no new “friends.”

So people on social media “know” only a fraction of who I am, even though I’ve shared quite a lot here, because, even though WordPress says I have 23,000 (!?) followers, a tiny fraction (thank you!) ever comment. I really have no idea if more than 20 or 30 people even read this. Tant pis!

I’m very aware that sharing personal or professional details — here and anywhere on social media — also means leaving myself open to criticism, judgment and cruelty, not just kindness.

I was recently shocked (should I have been?) to see a highly popular artist/writer start hinting on Twitter that she was facing a dire medical diagnosis, which she has now made clear is some form of cancer. She has 38,000 followers, but some have chosen to tweet truly horrific things in reply to her very real fear and grief.

I’ve tweeted and DMed her to suggest she stop sharing any details there immediately and focus solely on true friends and medical care. The added stress is not helpful.

Social media — certainly in an era of (ugh) “influencers” — begs an important question:

Are we doing this for attention (obviously) or (also?) for crucial emotional support?

I see many people now sharing their grief on Twitter (as well as weddings and births and graduations and new Phds) and find this somewhat confounding — but I also spent the first 30 years of my life in Canada and France, countries whose cultures are far more reticent than the “lemme tell you everything right now!” that Americans seem to enjoy.

It’s true many of us are now terribly isolated and lonely, and year after year of avoiding social contact because of COVID, is only making it worse. Social media becomes a default way to connect emotionally and intellectually.

It’s just a double-edged sword.

I was recently dressed down (albeit privately and in a friendly way) by a very senior journalist who admires my work, saying I’m so negative about journalism on Twitter I’m losing editors’ interest in working with me.

At this point in my career, I don’t care. I want newer writers to avoid the many pitfalls I see them tumbling into.

But loneliness is a huge problem for so many…here’s a long, smart NYT article about it:

real remedies to the problem of loneliness, Dr. Murthy stressed, must address not just the lonely people but the culture making them lonely.

“We ask people to exercise and eat a healthy diet and take their medications,” he said. “But if we truly want to be healthy, happy and fulfilled as a society, we have to restructure our lives around people. Right now our lives are centered around work.”

From the surgeon general of the United States, this is a moonshot call, to reverse cultural patterns that are decades in the making and that profit some of the nation’s biggest businesses.

We recently hosted a much beloved younger friend for a few days, visiting NY for the first time in a few years from Oregon. What a joy it was!

We chatted, snoozed, caught up, discovered all sorts of unlikely commonalities — like our addiction to the Bourne movies. Like us, she works freelance, so we have lots in common from a work perspective as well.

It was so sad to say goodbye!

Why do I still blog — now 13 years and 2,000+ posts into it?

I love having a place to muse, to share my travels or images or advice or ideas…many of which can’t be monetized and sold as pieces of journalism. I weary of retailing every thought!

But I also enjoy hearing from you!

So, yes, attention is the goal.

How about you?

Do you blog or tweet or use Reddit or TikTok or YouTube to gain attention or support?

Is it working for you as you hope?

The spring zhuzh

My absolutely favorite sight and smell of spring!

By Caitlin Kelly

I see flowers!

I hear birds!

The days are longer and brighter!

And so….time for the zhuzh! (A word that means to spruce up or make prettier).

The boring (but useful) stuff:

CLEAN all of it!

Weird, easily overlooked things like every light-bulb you can reach (they get dusty)

Every lampshade, whether paper or fabric — they’re big dust-collectors; both of these, left dirty, are diminishing the light you get

Rugs. I used to wash my kilims in the bathtub but now send them out to a professional rug cleaner. Not cheap but worth doing once a year.

Same for every bit of upholstery — a steam-cleaning service can do wonders.

I take a fabric lint-roller and use it on the arms and backs of our two sofas and our fabric headboard. Everything gets dusty!

How about the top of every cabinet, anything framed, bookshelf?

Here’s a smart, comprehensive guide to cleaning your living room from the British design magazine Homes & Gardens.

Then…wash/dry clean all of it!

Duvets and covers

Blankets

Make-up bags and dopp kits, backpacks and cloth bags…anything you use often and take for granted

Polish! (Ok this is my personal obsession, as I keep silver and brass polish and use it a lot on our silver-plate cutlery and tray)

Replace — anything broken, torn, stained, bent. Repair when possible. It’s depressing to see things in poor condition day after day.

Paint touch-ups are also worth considering — all those dings and scuffs.

The fun stuff:

Maybe time for some fresh new linens?

Pillow protectors and new pillowcases

A few new towels?

Fresh tea towels for the kitchen (We love ours from Le Jaquard Francais. Lovely designs and very good quality; here are some on sale.)

(Donate any used towels, blankets, etc. to your local dog shelter. I have. Keep those doggies comfortable!)

Some new throw pillows, for indoors or out (Perigold has 14,000 on offer. I love this one in crisp green and white, and this one, koi fish in blue and white…we own several.)

A picnic basket and blanket for warm days

A new paint color for one of your rooms (or your only room). A color you absolutely love being surrounded by is a guaranteed cheer-up on even the gloomiest days. Our sitting room is this color and, yes it’s strong, but we love it.

A pretty new throw rug; one of favorite sources is Dash and Albert (named for her two dogs, of course.) This one, in cream and brown, is a best-seller.

Some flowering plants

A pretty new set of napkins — love these, in blue and green, six for $32. Or these crisp neutrals, four for $44.

Get those kitchen knives professionally sharpened!

The challenge of making adult friends

By Caitlin Kelly

I learned how to canoe at camp -- useful when we went to Nicaragua
On assignment in Nicaragua for WaterAid — Jen in the bow of a dugout canoe. Probably the most unusual shared experience!

I recently came across this fascinating series of interviews on the website of The Atlantic, The Friendship Files.

Each is a meditation on an aspect of friendship, a subject often overlooked for focus on family, marriage, dating and children.

This one, on the tight bonds between expats, struck me, as some of my closest friends have been expats or have moved to a country (or several) far from their country of origin. I was born in Canada, but have lived in England (ages 2-5), Mexico (14), France (25) and the U.S. (30 to the present), which really makes me an immigrant to the U.S., not an expat (short for ex-patriate, not patriot!)

So while I have met a few fellow Canadians over the years, and am soon having coffee with a film-maker from Calgary, and presenting May 1 at a journalism conference with another ex-Calgary resident who lives here, I don’t have a lot of Canadian friends here. Many of the Canadians in or near NY are wealthy bankers or lawyers or corporate types, so our paths just wouldn’t cross socially or professionally. I’ve attended a few alumni events (very rare for my alma mater, University of Toronto, sorry to say) but have never met anyone I wanted to follow up with.

But some of my friends are people who do live far away from their homelands, like the author of the blog Small Dog Syndrome, an American long happiest in London, my neighbor across the street who spent a year in high schol in New Zealand, my Canadian best friend from university who went to British boarding school and lived for a while in Tanzania and our neighbor across the hall here in New York who has moved permanently to Holland, to marry her British partner. My sister-in-law and her husband, now back in the U.S., lived for many years working in international schools in China, Malaysia, the Netherlands.

So there’s a lot we don’t have to explain to one another, even from the start. That helps a friendship.

For me friendship is a delicate stew of shared interests and experiences, and being an expat or immigrant living far from your home country, culture and language (no matter where) — tends to create very relatable moments, whether a nervous visit to the doctor (fumbling for medical terms) or post office or choosing a word with a dirty meaning by mistake — damn you, baiser!

The French have a great phrase, “coup de foudre“, basically love at first sight, and I tend to be like this with a potential new friend. I tend to feel an attraction — style, intellect, history, cultural interests, sense of humor, the sort of work they do and value — right away.

But there are so many tricky elements to finding and nurturing a new adult friend, and year after year of COVID fear and social avoidance have made this more difficult. You can’t hug someone on Zoom!

I’m happiest with someone who has also traveled widely — and even many of the richest Americans don’t. They work all the time or choose luxury spots not my style or budget. Nor do I have children, a typical glue for many adult friendships. So this is difficult in a country and culture where even taking two weeks off in a row is seen as lazy and weird — I prefer three to six weeks when possible, more European than workaholic American.

But finding a new friend — and continuing and deepening the relationship — takes more than shared interests. It takes time, energy, honesty and vulnerability.

It also means having the strength to work through conflict because it can happen; I lost three women friends who had been very close when I dared to ask them to look at a behavior that was hurting me. They refused and ended the friendship; I mourned one of them for many years. But I don’t regret it, either.

I’ve started to get to know two or three people from my spin class…because I go two or three times a week and show up consistently. It takes time! One was a speechwriter for a former NY governor and journalist, and one is a lawyer with a major local firm who does a lot of coaching and mentoring. Both are super-smart but also friendly.

My two closest friends in New York came through journalism and a church we attended for a long time. I’ve recently seen two women at the gym who seem cool, so I may ask them for coffee.

The pandemic has really changed — and ended — many friendships, as we’ve faced different challenges (we have been very very lucky to not have COVID or lose a loved one to it, for example) and the basic proximity of meeting for a coffee has become a risk for so many.

We’re super excited to welcome a younger pal visiting next week from Oregon and, the following week, a friend I knew at boarding school when I was 12…and haven’t seen since!

How are your friendships these days?

Have you been able to find and make new friends as an adult — how?

Cognitive overload!

By Caitlin Kelly

I bet you’re hitting it as well.

Right now, I’m juggling:

Dealing with administrative/tedious tasks to access services at two Canadian government websites

Same with a navigator for healthcare who needs a lot of detail from me (like how can I possibly know in advance which hospitals and doctors I want?!)

Worried about a younger half-brother recently diagnosed with cancer; it looks treatable but he has already had major surgery and face a lot of aggressive chemo

Worried about two very over-burdened friends, one with an elderly mother and one whose job is from hell

Trying to find an editor to make a commitment — sight unseen –– to a series of stories I want to produce to win one of two highly competitive fellowships. This obstacle is extremely unfair to any freelancer, forcing us to force editors into commitments months in advance, and both of the places I plan to apply insist upon it.

Polishing the fellowship application.

The war in Ukraine

More COVID spreading with the latest variant

Climate change, as this New York magazine story reminds us:

Yes, there is a war going on, not to mention an ongoing pandemic, an inflation and energy crisis, and plenty of other, more quotidian concerns besides. But many of the same figures calling, screamingly, for attention in 2018 are doing the same this time around. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has ushered the new report into the world with familiar fire-and-brimstone rhetoric. “Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone — now,” he said. “Many ecosystems are at the point of no return — now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction — now.” The report itself concluded with a similar flourish: “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.” In his introductory remarks, Guterres underscored the point: “Delay means death.”

More simple pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

These days, who isn’t stressed?!

So here’s the latest version of my ongoing series, the one in which I look around my daily life — and maybe inspire you to do the same — to slow down, stop and really appreciate the small, simple moments that can, if we notice them, make our lives joyful.

As my very wise French friend Guillemette told me, when I was an ambitious, impatient 25 year old (OK, little has changed!) that it’s life small moments that matter most…we will, if fortunate, enjoy many more of these than those Big Life-Changing wins and triumphs.

A bowl of tangerines

Strong coffee

A pot of fragrant tea on a cold, gray, windy afternoon

A nap

Second sleep — waking up, deciding you could use a bit more of it and going back into a deep sleep until you wake up fully refreshed

A cashmere scarf, gloves and/or sweater (available through consignment shops!), so light, soft and warm

A long phone call with an old friend who knows you well

A wave or smile from a passing baby

Sending a lovely card on paper

Receiving one!

Watching “comfort” movies whose dialogue you know by heart and are happy to see for the 1000th time

Making serious progress in spin class — hitting 113 rpm (how fast one can spin) and being able to sustain 100 for more than 20 seconds. Yay!

A clear dental check-up

Fresh flowers in every room

A scented candle, bedside, to start and end every day

A book you love so much you can’t wait to dive back in

An armload of library books

My annual Public Lending Rights check, royalties for Canadian library use of my two books

Income, even a small amount, from re-selling clothes, shoes or other objects you no longer want or use

A hug, given or received

A sky full of amazing cloud formations

Getting the answers right while watching Jeopardy

The New York Times Spelling Bee

Wordle

Worldle

A gleamingly clean bathroom and kitchen

Tickets to a concert, show or museum exhibition

I think, if the past few years have taught us, it’s how to appreciate what’s within reach, sometimes within the same room, as we try to stay safe from COVID.

Life, mid-pandemic

By Caitlin Kelly

Nope, we are not “post” pandemic!

I now keep masks in my purses and the car and almost every pocket. I do not like wearing a mask, especially going 100 rpm in spin class, where it’s mandatory.

I wonder when (if!) we will ever be free of them.

But I also think we’re going to keep getting hit with variants for years and we will need to keep getting vaccinated and paying attention.

We are lucky and grateful to not have gotten this disease.

So, here’s how life is for me and Jose these days:

— I’ve booked flights and hotels for a month’s stay in California in June. I cannot sit here one more minute dreaming of all the travel I’ve missed for the past two years! I’ll be celebrating my birthday with friends, then doing a solo driving trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, meeting up in each place with friends who live there.

Work has been a variety of things: coaching other writers, doing three Zoom webinars with a younger friend in Tennessee (we each made decent money when 35-47 people showed up at $25/head), sold my first story to the Financial Times, and blogging for two design websites.

Entertaining! I have so so so missed having people over, so I had two colleagues up from New York for tea. It was a perfect afternoon, with little sandwiches and treats and two kinds of tea all served from my 19th c tea set. We’re seeing friends in the city next week at their new apartment as well.

Culture! I’ve seen two plays recently and two concerts. The weather is less punishing and, as mandates ease up, it just feels safer.

Inflation. So fun. This week’s groceries (including non- food items like cleaning products, paper products and a bunch of roses) $290. For two people. Gas has jumped to $4.49 gallon where we live, up to $6 a gallon elsewhere. Nothing to be done but deal with it.

Fear. Fear of, oh you know, nuclear annihilation. Where are our passports? Is there anywhere safe while Putin remains in power?

Grief. Ukraine.

Social life starts again. Sort of.

Professional events. We’re attending an industry dinner soon (dressing up!) and I’m speaking May 1 at an annual journalism conference.

Of course, we know dozens of people who have gotten COVID, thankfully none who died.

I lost my beloved breast surgeon to long COVID as she got it before the vaccines were even available.

I fear, seriously, for the millions who are now suffering from long COVID and whose lives are radically changed and worsened, from brain fog and crippling fatigue to heart issues and more. No government seems to have realized its impact, and I see people being denied disability benefits they need to survive when they can’t prove the problem.

Between war and climate change and inflation and COVID — how are you doing?

Three movies I love

By Caitlin Kelly

As followers here know, I watch a lot of movies!

I don’t watch horror or animation or kids’ stuff, but probably watch five or more a week, mostly because I dislike most network TV and have seen most of Netflix’s offerings. We live a 20 minute drive south of an excellent indie art house, so I’m there sometimes two or three times a week to see something in the theater.

I’m going to rave today about three of my favorites:

McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The English Patient and Days of Heaven.

Maybe not surprisingly, given my age, two of them are from the 1970s, a period I think produced some terrific films.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

It’s not your usual Western — filmed in Vancouver and Squamish, B.C.

The snow scenes are real.

It includes three Leonard Cohen songs, The Stranger Song, Sisters of Mercy and Winter Lady.

It took longer to edit — nine months — than to shoot.

From Wikipedia:

The film has received critical acclaim in the years since its release and earned an Oscar nomination for Christie in the Best Actress category. The film was deemed the 8th greatest Western of all time by the American Film Institute in its AFI’s 10 Top 10 list in 2008 and, in 2010, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.

Why does it resonate for me?

Visually, it really replicates the mud and squalor of a late 19th century frontier town and its rough and tumble economy.

Julie Christie is excellent as the lead, madam Mrs. Miller, and Warren Beatty as McCabe, trying to carve his fortune from the wilderness.

The final scene, for me, is also visually and emotionally unforgettable but also feels very much of the period…the 1970s and women’s emerging consciousness and economic power.

The English Patient (1996)

I happily re-watch it whenever it appears, bewitched by its locations (Tunisia, Italy), the gorgeous music, the passionate affair between Kristin Scott-Thomas (as Katherine Clifton, a bored/married Englishwoman) and Ralph Fiennes as Count Almasy.

It won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress Juliette Binoche, who plays a French-Canadian nurse, Hana. If you’re a fan of the TV series Lost, it also stars Naveen Andrews as Kip, a Sikh soldier Hana falls in love with while nursing Almasy, the title character, burned badly in a plane crash, in an abandoned Italian monastery.

It has, for me, some of the most beautiful images ever captured on film: Almasy and Katherine flying over the desert in a biplane; their passionate affair conducted to haunting Hungarian choral music; the desert sky at night and, the best, Kip’s unlikely way to show Hana the frescoes in a nearby church — hoisting her high into the air holding a signal flare. She sways, awed and delighted. How romantic is that?!

I love its mix of love and horror, truth and deception, the unlikely connections between a Hungarian count and a Canadian nurse and a British wife and a Canadian spy, their lives thrown together in an unfamiliar time — World War II — and places.

There’s nothing about this film I don’t love.

Days of Heaven (1978)

Every frame of this film is a painting, thanks to astonishing cinematography by Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler and their unusual use of low light, natural light, firelight. Almendros, speaking to a a trade magazine about his craft, said he had to unlight every scene when arriving on location to shoot, since his Hollywood-trained crew assumed he wanted a lot more light than he did.

The music is by two of my favorites — legendary film composer Ennico Morricone and guitarist Leo Kottke.

It barely made money beyond its $3 million budget.

Yet, from Wikipedia:

Days of Heaven has since become one of the most acclaimed films of its decade,[11] particularly for its cinematography. In 2007, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.[12][13] It continues to appear in polls of the best films ever made, and appeared at #49 on a BBC poll of the greatest American films.[14]

It stars a young and ggggggorgeous Richard Gere as a worker fleeing a murder he committed in Chicago who flees with his partner, Abby, played by Brooke Adams, and his younger sister, to the plains of Texas (shot in Alberta.)

They arrive to work as farmhands for a wealthy owner, played by Sam Shephard, whose health is failing — they plan to grift him by having Abby marry and survive him.

Plot twist!

Have you seen any of these?

Did you enjoy them?