Zhuzh, cont.: scale, light, texture, color

By Caitlin Kelly

A very quick primer on what makes a room really work, and what can kill even the best-laid plans.

One interior designer, the late legendary Albert Hadley, used to talk about skylines — think about a typical urban one; it has high and low points, spots of light and pools of darkness. It offers inherent drama and a bit of mystery.

The most attractive rooms have one as well.

How?

 

IMG_1788

Our dining room: Custom-made curtains. The wall color is Farrow & Ball Peignoir and the framed image is from a British design magazine.

 

Look around your rooms. Is everything the same size and shape? (i.e. all chunky rectangle or squares?) Does your eye stay only on the same level?

Is all your lighting (noooooo!) coming from an overhead source (noooooo!) without a dimmer to alter the mood? The ideal room is lit with at least four or five different sources, preferably for task work, reading, mood — a single glaring central ceiling fixture is harsh, unflattering and inefficient. Our living room has two matching tall lamps (symmetry helps!) that illuminate the sofa; a small lamp in a corner that lights up a photo on a wall and a lamp on a chest by the front door. No bulb offers less than 100 watts.

Scale is tricky — people often choose pieces that are too small for a space or too large. Or there’s just too much stuff in the space so you always feel a bit out of breath and annoyed but don’t know why.

Smaller pieces — like light, moveable side tables and stools — can be much more versatile and useful than the standard sofa/chairs/coffee table.  We ditched two large club chairs and splurged on two square, low, deep green velvet stools, They offer comfortable and stylish seating without consuming nearly as much space.

 

IMG_20160706_152545621_HDR

Since re-arranged, a glimpse of our living room — looking a bit cluttered! Found the antique mirror in a Quebec antique shop and the small wooden table at a Connecticut consignment shop. Wall color is Gervase Yellow by Farrow & Ball.

 

The most interesting rooms have a range of different textures: suede, leather, chenille, velvet, silk, cotton. Smooth glass and rough stone. Gleaming brass or lucite.

Color can be challenging to get right, and I’ve blogged on this many times before.

Learn which colors work best with one another, and why. For example, a room combining red and green doesn’t have to look like a Christmas stocking if the red is a soft rusty-burgundy and the green a pale sage (the colors of our sofa and trim) — and it works because these colors are opposite on the color wheel.

Design magazines, books and websites offer a lot of great tips and inspiration, from Apartment Therapy to Insta accounts belonging to designers.

Making a home beautiful isn’t always quick, easy or cheap. It can take longer to afford and assemble the look you want most, but it’s worth it. I saved up for years to buy my Tizio lamp — it cost $500 in the 1980s — but I still use it today and still love it.

I’ve never regretted investing in the beauty, efficiency and comfort of our home.

Time to zhuzh! Yes, it’s a word

By Caitlin Kelly

Just try saying it!

As someone who studied interior design and spends far too many hours on Instagram and reading shelter magazines for inspiration, I love nothing more than a good zhuzh  — making something more attractive.

As winter’s short, gray cold days descend on those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, here are some of the recent things we’ve done to feather our nest, a kid-free, pet-free one bedroom apartment of about 1,000 square feet. We’re both full-time freelance now, so this is also a place we do a lot of writing and editing work as well.

Sanding, spackling and painting all cracks in the walls

 

So boring! So annoying! So damn necessary. It’s either us and our own sweat equity or shelling out even more money — again — to a company to do it for us. There will still be some bad ceiling cracks and we’ll pay someone to deal with those. For reasons I do not understand, this 60-year-old building still (!?) settles and creates these damn cracks.

A fresh coat of paint on the dingiest spots

 

The cheapest way to clean and brighten your space. I’m a huge Farrow & Ball fan, and one of the many things I love about them is that they will custom make their discontinued colors, like the yellow-green we used in 2008 for the living room and hallway. Our dining room is painted in Peignoir, and our bedroom in Skimming Stone.

 

Steam-clean major upholstered pieces

 

Seriously! We spent $180 recently to have our seven-foot-long velvet-covered sofa and two cream-colored wing chairs professionally cleaned (in home.) It’s well worth it given how much we use these pieces.

 

Invest in a few good rugs

 

Nothing is cheerier than a few great rugs on a clean, shiny hardwood floor, adding color, warmth and texture. So many great choices out there, from flat-weave dhurries (a favorite) to bright, cheerful cotton ones (like these from Dash & Albert, whose stuff I keep buying.) Avoid harsh, bright colors and crazy wild designs as you’ll soon grow sick of them.

 

Throws for bed and living room lead to much happy napping

 

Is there anything nicer than a snooze under a soft, comforting throw? We have several, in cotton and wool, and they’re very well-used. These, in waffle-weave wool, come in gray and cream. Classic,

 

Are your light bulbs/shades clean and bright?

 

Everything gets dusty!

 

IMG_20140919_170342451_HDR

 

Stock up on flowers, plants and greenery

 

A room without a plant or fresh flowers — especially on gray, cold, rainy days — can feel static and lifeless.

 

Get out the polish!

 

I know, I know — very few people even want to own silver, or silver-plate or brass now, but few things are as lovely as freshly-polished cutlery, (ours is all flea market) or gleaming brass candlesticks.

 

 

IMG_2343

Lots of candles

 

Obviously not a great choice, perhaps, if you have cats or small children, but we have neither. I keep a small votive candle bedside and light it first thing every morning, a softer way to wake up. At dinner we use votives, tapers and a few lanterns; I buy my votives in bulk at Pier One so they’re always handy and within reach. Here’s a candle-maker I follow on Instagram with a great selection.

 

fullsizerender4

 

Treat your home to something pretty, new and useful

 

Could be a score from a consignment shop or thrift store, estate sale or something new. It might be fresh tea towels for the kitchen, a bath sheet for the bathroom, soft new pillowcases, a vase for flowers…Your home should be a welcoming, soothing refuge. Its beauty can and should nurture you.

Two years ago, I splurged on the above-pictured early 19th. century tea set — with cups, saucers, plates, teapot, tea bowl. Every time I use it it makes me happy.

Your favorite films? Some of mine

images-1
A scene from Kubrick’s film 2001; Inside the spaceship — filmed in a British studio

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a recent list of the top 100 foreign language films, according to critics, reported by the BBC; I admit to only having seen nine (!) of them. I loved Children of Paradise, and hope you’ve also seen it. Another of my faves is on the list below.

My father made films for a living, mostly documentaries, and won the Palme D’Or at Cannes for one; here’s his Wikipedia entry. So maybe my addiction to film comes honestly! In a typical week, I watch probably two or three films, whether a classic on TCM,  something on HBO or go to a theater to happily sit in the dark.

My tastes don’t include horror or a lot of comedies. For reasons I can’t explain, I love films about spies and spycraft.

 

Syriana (2005)

An amazing cast — George Clooney and Matt Damon, two favorites — and a twisted tale of government malfeasance in the MidEast. Clooney won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Filmed in Iran, Texas, Switzerland, Lebanon, Spain and D.C. (this kind of multi-national location shooting seems to be a theme of my favorites!) They used 200 locations on four continents. It also feels, right now, terribly timely in light of terrible Saudi behavior — and American complicity in it.

 

Michael Clayton (2007)

Clooney again! This time, corporate malfeasance. (Hmm, I see a theme.) Also in the cast is the phenomenal British actor Tom Wilkinson , playing a corporate executive whose conscience over a highly dangerous and profitable agro-chemical lands him in the wrong hands.  The fantastic British actress Tilda Swinton plays the firm’s smarmy lawyer — the final scene, shot in a midtown Manhattan hotel — is one of my favorites. She won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and it’s well deserved. Clooney, badly shaven and hollow-eyed, plays a “fixer”, a lawyer assigned to clean up the firm’s messy cases.  It made many critics’ list of the year’s top ten films.

 

 

IMG_20150828_200340181_HDR

 

Casablanca (1942)

Of course! If you’ve never seen this classic, a gorgeous black-and-white film with some of the all-time great lines — you must! Ingmar Bergman and Humphrey Bogart star; she as a European refugee fleeing war-torn Europe and he as a tough-talking American bar owner in that Moroccan city.

 

2001 (1968)

I must have watched this Stanley Kubrick film 20 times since I first saw it as a young girl. To my eyes, it hasn’t dated at all — even the subtlest details of what space travel might look and sound like having come to fruition now or some variation of same. The soundtrack, the special effects, the costumes and the ending which still puzzles so many. Its esthetic deeply affected many later films.

 

Unknown
Jason Bourne

The Jason Bourne series

OK, OK. Schlocky, I know. But ohhhh, so much action and so many crazy chase and fight scenes from Berlin to Tangier to Paris and such a lonely hero, played in every version but one by Matt Damon (later Jeremy Renner.) I’ve seen every one of these so many times I know them off by heart but still enjoy them. I also love how he never does anything vaguely normal — like laundry or groceries. There are five in the series.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

If you love magazines and fashion as much as I do — let alone a film (based on a true story about being the assistant to Vogue editor Anna Wintour), about an ambitious New York City female journalist — this is the one for you. I know the dialogue by heart but still enjoy it: the designer clothes, her insanely demanding boss, Miranda Priestly, and a great scene with Stanley Tucci that sums up what it really takes. Made for $35 million, it’s since grossed 10 times that in revenues.

Spotlight (2015)

Another film about journalism,  this one winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. Also based on a true story, this recreates the teamwork it took at the Boston Globe to expose horrific sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic church. I love Rachel McAdams, a fellow Canadian, as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer — it’s one of the few films ever made that really shows what shoe-leather reporting is: all those interviews, all that door-knocking, all those documents to read.

All The President’s Men (1976)

It’s a boys’ club at the Washington Post — but what a club! This re-creation of the reporting on the Watergate scandal that brought down former U.S. President Richard Nixon, stars Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, a dream team in itself. This film, too, shows the persistence and guts it can take to sniff out a major story and get people to share enough to make it publishable.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)

Klaus Kinski as a crazed expedition leader in 16th century Peru. The final scene is extraordinary — a raft floating helplessly downriver, with Aguirre raging, the lone survivor. I love all of Werner Herzog’s films, but this one most of all and it’s considered one of both Herzog’s best films and one of the best films ever made.

The Mission (1986)

An 18th century story about a Jesuit mission deep in the Argentine jungle, starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons. The soundtrack is astoundingly beautiful, by the legendary film composer Ennio Morricone. The opening image is unforgettable — it won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography (and was nominated in six other categories.)

Blade Runner (1982)

Few films have had as much an impact on later work as the esthetic of this one, directed by Ridley Scott, later better known for the Alien films. Everything drips with rain, streets are crowded and gleam with neon. Harrison Ford plays the Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, whose job it is to seek out and destroy replicants, robots who appear human. The eerie soundtrack is by Vangelis, best known for his score of the film Chariots of Fire. I also love the 2017 sequel, Bladerunner 2049, again starring Harrison Ford.

The Good Shepherd (2006)

Another (!) film I love starring Matt Damon, and another focused on spycraft, specifically the beginnings of the CIA. Damon stars, as does Angelina Jolie in a film focused on themes of family loyalty versus that to one’s craft. I’m also partial to this movie since a scene was filmed in the town we live in, Tarrytown, New York.

Dr. Zhivago (1965)

To my mind, admittedly as someone who’s loved this one for decades, one of the most visually compelling films I’ve ever seen, directed by the late great David Lean (who also did Lawrence of Arabia.) Julie Christie is Lara, Omar Sharif as Zhivago and Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya, set at the time of the Russian Revolution. It was filmed in Finland, Spain and Canada.

 

What are some of yours?

 

 

What do you love about them?

Loved this biography of Joni Mitchell

 

IMG_2093

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re a fan of fellow Canadian, legendary musician and songwriter Joni Mitchell, it’s a book well worth your time.

You know how everyone has a song, or an album that indelibly marks a moment in your life and every time you hear it, there you are — catapulted back to being six or 18 or 27 or 43.

For me, living alone in a studio apartment at the back of an alley in a lousy Toronto neighborhood — all I could afford — it was Hejira, Mitchell’s album from 1976.

The word itself means migration, or flight from danger and the songs are all about movement and restlessness.

On it, Neil Young — another Canadian — plays harmonica and the stunningly talented Brazilian bass player Jaco Pastorius makes this distinctively different from her previous work.

It was a tough year for me, my sophomore year at University of Toronto, both of my parents traveling far away, long before cell phones or the Internet, when a long-distance call to Europe or Latin America was really expensive. I was living on very little, freelancing as a writer and photographer while attending the country’s most demanding school full-time.

I dated all the the wrong men, (as Mitchell did, for decades), discarding them as quickly as I found them. Connection was both alluring and exhausting, a theme of that album.

Mitchell also has a home where my mother — also a fiercely independent traveler for many years — lived for a while, the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver.

Here’s the first verse of Refuge of the Roads. (Now, after reading this book, Reckless Daughter, by David Yaffe, I know she’s referring to a Buddhist monk.)

I met a friend of spirit
He drank and womanized
And I sat before his sanity
I was holding back from crying
He saw my complications
And he mirrored me back simplified
And we laughed how our perfection
Would always be denied
“Heart and humor and humility”
He said “Will lighten up your heavy load”
I left him for the refuge of the roads
The book offers a great ride through her life, from her years in small-town Saskatchewan to her initial success in the coffee-houses of Toronto to playing Carnegie Hall and touring with Bob Dylan.
It offers insights into her addictions — to cocaine and to cigarettes — and her deep ambivalence about marriage, which she tried twice.
It’s a compelling portrait of a fiercely independent woman.

Five questions about my 2 books

By Caitlin Kelly

 

This is a regular column that runs in the Arts section of The New York Times. As author of two works of nationally reported non-fiction — the second of which was nominated for the prestigious Hillman Award and published in China — I thought I’d do this here as well.

 

 

BLOWN AWAY COVER
My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsessions

 

 

malled cover LOW

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

I worked at a trade publication in New York City as an editor and was friendly with a colleague there. One evening, having dinner at her apartment — where she had a doorman and a very large dog — I asked her (?!) if she owned a gun. She did, a handgun. I was a bit stunned and wrote an essay about this for The Globe and Mail, my former newspaper in Canada. I went on to attend a three day shooting class and wrote about that for the Wall Street Journal. After writing a much longer feature on it, I realized there had not been a book written about American women and gun use, whether they enjoyed it or feared it used against them or their loved ones. It was clear there was a lot of great material to be gathered and many stories to be told. For Blown Away, I spoke to 104 men, women and teens from 29 states. Here’s a link to the book.

 

For Malled, I was urged from the very start to write about it, but couldn’t see any narrative arc or story line to the menial job of folding, hanging and selling clothing for The North Face. But I worked part-time, at $11/ hour, for 2.5 years — much longer than the average retail sales associate, so I watched the economy plunge into recession (2007 to 2009) from a specific and unusual place. The book is also a story of how the retail industry works, from the inside, so it’s both a memoir and a business book. I was urged to produce the book after a column I wrote in The New York Times prompted a flood of appreciative comments and emails. Here’s a link to the book.

 

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

 

For Blown Away, the regional differences in how Americans view gun use and gun ownership is huge. People really don’t understand it and underestimate its political strength. It isn’t just the NRA’s powerful influence and deep pockets, but also strong cultural and historical attachment to gun use and gun ownership that’s deeply embedded, for millions of people, in the very idea of what it means to be American. But because those in your local area are likely to share your views on gun use — whether pro or con — you usually end up with confirmation bias, unable to envision or understand this.

For Malled, It was really depressing to hear the words “disposable” used over and over again to describe the hard-working, poorly-paid staff that stand for eight hours in all retail stores. The highly paid executives at corporate headquarters of every major retailer spend millions of dollars buying specialized software — designed to reduce the costs of labor. It was so demoralizing to do a job to the best of our ability and realize that no one (in corporate) cared or would ever compensate us accordingly. My “raise” in 2.5 years? Thirty cents an hour.

 

In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

 

They’re both what I wanted them to be — a firsthand and intimate examination of two of the United States’ most intractable political issues: gun ownership and low-wage labor.

 

Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?

 

My parents and late stepmother. My father is a former documentary film-maker and my mother a journalist and my stepmother wrote television series. All worked freelance in challenging and competitive creative industries. I learned early that your own great ideas, presented and sold well, can earn you a living. That was pretty revolutionary, and certainly inspired my own work as a writer.

 

Persuade someone to read “Blown Away” or “Malled” in 50 words or less.

 

Blown Away is the only book of its kind, a nuanced, balanced deep dive into how guns affect women in the United States, whether they use one for sport, work or self-defense, or have been traumatized by the use of one against them or a loved one.

Malled is similarly unique, offering a firsthand examination of low-wage labor in the U.S., and explains in detail what it is like to work for paltry wages in a large and crucial industry and in an economy based on consumer spending.

Four harrowing tales — but worth it

 

IMG_1204

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Whew.

I recently saw a feature film — made by British director Andrew Haigh — called “Lean on Pete”, which is the name of the horse who’s central to the story. It was shot in Portland, Oregon and tells the story of Charley, a young man (played by Charlie Plummer) who’s initially stuck with a deadbeat father, absent mother and MIA aunt.

Here’s the Guardian’s review of it.

It’s a powerful and moving story of how a young man somehow manages to walk, drive and run away from a solo life of misery back to a place of safety and comfort.

I won’t give away all the details, but it’s a searing portrait of what it means to be young, broke, desperate and unconnected to anyone who cares for you. It’s also beautifully filmed and Plummer is fantastic.

There are very few films made today about what it’s like to be poor and alone in the United States — the last one I saw (and I admit, I didn’t enjoy it) was The Florida Project, starring Willem Dafoe as the manager of a Florida motel housing a number of women-led families of very young children.

I found it impossible to like or sympathize with its main female character, while Charlie — maybe being a teenager? maybe being someone doing his best? — was someone I could stick with, even as his trajectory becomes so grim.

LOP cost $8 million to make — and has so far only earned back $222,816 — a terrible return.

I’m not surprised. It’s not a funny, cute, perky escape and box-office catnip.

But it’s a great film and I urge you to see it.

I also just saw First Reformed, which is winning rave reviews for its writer/director Paul Schrader and its lead actor, Ethan Hawke, playing a disillusioned, divorced upstate New York Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) minister.

Like LOP, it’s not an easy film, but also deeply moving and raises essential questions of what we’re doing to the environment.

I recently read Born A Crime, the memoir by South African mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah. Not an easy read and you come away awed by what he survived with grace.

Last summer, traveling alone through Europe with multiple 12-hour train journeys, I dove into another harrowing story, A Little Life, written (!) in 18 months on top of the author’s full-time job at The New York Times.

It won five awards, including being short-listed for the 2015 Man Booker prize.

It, too, is an emotionally tough slog and it’s a doorstop of 814 pages.

The central character is Jude, and his friendships with a small circle of equally educated and accomplished New Yorkers. Jude was abused and injured as a child, and this trauma plays out throughout his life and the novel. (If you’re up on your saints, you know that Jude is the patron saint of desperate and lost causes.)

While it’s a story with much pain, it’s also one with deep and abiding love and sustaining friendships — the kind that those whose families are absent or useless must find if they are to survive this world, let alone thrive in it.

As someone who has turned many times to strangers and friends to replace absent family, these narratives hit a chord in me.

I don’t believe that great art has to make us happy or smile or feel better.

If it touches the deepest part of our heart, it’s done its job.

 

The comfort of home

IMG_1388

Our view of the Hudson River with its newly-opened bridge

 

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s hard for me to believe, but this June will mark the 29th. year I’ve lived in the same apartment, by far the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere.

Born in Vancouver, Canada, I lived in London ages two to five, in Toronto ages five to 30 (in 10 different homes, one for a few months, eight of them rented apartments.) Since then I’ve lived in:

Paris (8 months in student housing)

Montreal (stunning top-floor 2-bedoom rental apartment, 18 months — miss it still!)

New Hampshire (18 months in a farmhouse apartment) and…here.

Home is a suburban New York one-bedroom apartment, a co-op, top-floor (6th) with stunning and unchanged views northwest, atop a high hill, of the Hudson River and lots of trees. It’s about 1,000 square feet, plus a 72 square foot balcony which we can’t wait to use every summer and reluctantly leave in October or so.

 

IMG_20151003_105310683
The ikat fabric covers our bedroom side tables

 

I bought it with my first husband, and it was then a stinking mess, literally — the floors were covered with dirty beige-wall-to-wall carpeting and cat urine had saturated it so badly even the nasty real estate agent stood outside on the balcony while we looked at it.

Nothing a little paint and renovation couldn’t fix!

I blogged here about transforming our kitchen to my design, as I also did with our one tiny (5 by 7 foot) bathroom.

 

Bathtub02
Those little mosaic tiles we bought in Paris and shipped home

 

Staying put in a small-ish space has allowed me, and now Jose, to meet other goals, like saving for retirement and traveling frequently for pleasure. (We have no children.)

The building itself is nothing special, a generic mid-60s red brick thing, but it’s part of a much older former estate, so it’s surrounded by lovely low stone walls, which, when snow-covered look like teeth. The land has many trees, from towering pines to my beloved red Japanese maple.  (And a pool!)

Our narrow, sidewalk-free street is both very hilly and very curvy, so we don’t have racing cars or noisy trucks.

 

20120707123625

Our summer balcony banquette, (the fabric, a bedspread), covers an ugly glass divider; the bench beneath holds our tools and gardening equipment

But we’ve made it a lovely place, and one that welcomes guests — for a night or several, (on our comfy sofa) for meals, for tea — as often as we can afford. Few things make me happier than sharing our space and preparing good food for people we enjoy.

For me, staying so long in this home means many things:

assured physical comfort and safety; a lovely environment beyond our front doors (nature, silence); kind and quiet neighbors (many of them in their 70s and beyond.)

 

IMG_20160706_152545621_HDR

We found this great Mideastern mirror in the antique shop in one of our favorite vacation spots, North Hatley, Quebec. The carved black horse is from an antique store in Port Hope, Ontario and the silver-plate teapot I bought there at auction. The black and white photo in the reflection of a table is an image of former First Lady Betty Ford standing on the Cabinet Room table. Our gallery wall is all photos by us or other photographers.

 

It’s also been a place of comfort and refuge during times of turmoil: a sudden divorce, the loss of several good jobs, friendships that have disappeared, family dramas.

It’s good to have a place you can just rely on.

Since I spent my years ages eight-13 in boarding school and ages eight-16 at summer camp, creating a place to our exact desires is huge for me — years of drab bedspreads and metal beds will do that! Our greatest splurges are often for our home: original art and photos, linens, custom-made pillows and curtains, antiques and pretty tableware.

 

COMBO 02A

 

Our home also reflects our travels: our bed’s teal headboard fabric is from The Cloth Shop, an amazing find on London’s Portobello Road, (which sold many items to the Harry Potter films’ costume designers). Even some of the bathroom tile I found in Paris and had shipped to New York.

 

Where do you live?

Apartment, cabin,  cottage, house?

Rented or owned?

Why there?

What do you like most about it?

Are you a culture vulture too?

 

IMG_0879

By Caitlin Kelly

As someone who grew up with limited access to television, (spending much of my childhood in boarding school and summer camp), my cultural consumption was books, art and music. (Although every dinner at home in my teens began with the theme music to As It Happens, the nightly CBC radio current events show.)

I do enjoy some television, mostly BBC, PBS, Netflix — original series, not the standard stuff of weekly network shows. Favorites include Wallander (Swedish version), Babylon Berlin, Call The Midwife, Victoria.

I confess — I’m also a fan of Lifetime’s Project Runway, now heading into its 17th season.

My favorite media are radio and film.

I listen to radio daily, (NPR, WFUV. WKCR, TSF Jazz from Paris) and typically watch two to three movies a week, either on TV or in the theater. (Not a fan of horror films, which I avoid; writing a book that included gun violence was quite enough!)

Only in later life did I appreciate what beauty I enjoyed in my parents’ homes, filled with Japanese ukiyo-e prints, Inuit sculpture, mirrored Indian textiles and more. That visual feast much shaped my own tastes — whether a Mexican wooden mask or a vintage photograph.

Today, thanks to the Internet, we all have ready and free access to millions of exquisite images, through the British Museum  (37,000 images) and many more. Even if you live very far from a gallery or museum, even just scrolling through Instagram, you can stumble across an incredible array of beauty and history.

I’m not as familiar with, or fond of, contemporary art and design (I try!); I do love the work of Julie Mehretu.

Growing up in Toronto, a large and multi-cultural city with good museums and galleries, also helped me develop my taste. Travel to Paris, Venice, Florence, London, Berlin, Boston, D.C. and San Francisco, (to name a few places),  has showed me more amazing art.

Two of our favorite museums focus on Asian design — the Sackler in Washington, D.C. and the Guimet in Paris.

 

IMG_20170919_141048_625

A very rare event for me — I went to this auction and bought two 1920s French prints (Dufy, Vlaminck)

 

Musically, I feel woefully behind! I haven’t (she says embarassedly) yet tried Spotify, so I need to expand my horizons, although I’m not a fan of rap, hip-hop or country.

Only in the past month have I seen two operas, the first for me in decades, and enjoyed both. I don’t attend as many classical music performances as I could — in New York and environs, there are so many to choose from! — but enjoy it when I do.

As for popular music concerts…sigh. Some of the people I want to see sell out within minutes, generally.

I recently loved Old Stock, a terrific Canadian musical that’s just ended a two-month Manhattan run, and is headed for Bristol, England and Edmonton, Alberta.

I also saw a dark/powerful art show, “Berlin, Before and After”, at New York’s Neue Galerie, one of my favorite (small!) museums.

Living anywhere near New York City costs a fortune: highway and bridge tolls, taxes, commuting costs, crazy-high rent so you have to take advantage of all its various cultural offerings.

A daily list of low to no-cost NYC fun is The Skint; (“skint” is a British word for broke.)

 

L1000708

This amazing image was in the hallway across my room in a boutique hotel in Rovinj, Croatia

 

I do read a lot, but mostly non-fiction, magazines and newspapers. I just finished astronaut Scott Kelly’s memoir, “Endurance” and am now reading “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” from 1929.

I write for a living (as some of you know!) so am always hungry for inspiration.

 

How about you?

 

What has shaped your cultural tastes — friends? family? the internet? TV? YouTube? formal education?

 

Any terrific recommendations to share?

 

Oooh, I love a good flea market!

By Caitlin Kelly

IMG_1541

 

All sorts of oddities await!

 

I make a beeline in almost every city I visit to its local flea market.

When I lived in Paris for eight months in my 20s, I went almost every weekend, and not only to the enormous and overwhelming Puces de Clignancourt, but to Porte de Vanves as well. (Here’s a helpful guide.)

Here’s a great 20-point list of how to best shop flea markets anywhere.

In London last summer, I was up by 6:00 a.m. to visit the Bermondsey Square market, a small, courtyard-contained group of vendors. I bought a great hot breakfast from a guy making eggs and bacon, and sat on the edge of a cart to eat it.

Here’s what I bought, paying 10 pounds for a ceramic shard found on the banks of the Thames by a man who, like many there, is a mudlarker — someone who digs in the riverside muck and pulls out ancient treasures buried there.

 

IMG_1180

I’ve been trying to research it, but so far, no success; guessing 17th century or so.

 

Here’s a great description of mudlarking from The Guardian:

 

Over the years I’ve eased buttons, lace ends, buckles, dress hooks and thimbles from the mud and plucked clay wig curlers, wooden nit combs, needles, beads and bodkins from its surface. I’ve even found a beautifully decorated gold lace end, with possible links to the Tudor court, lying on the mud just waiting to be picked up.

But perhaps the most personal objects are leather shoes. The anaerobic properties of Thames mud means that its treasures are cocooned in an oxygen-free environment, which preserves them as if they had been lost just yesterday. My Tudor shoe is a moment trapped in time, with wear creases across the top and indentations in the sole from the toes and heel of the last person to wear it more than 500 years ago.

 

In Dublin’s monthly flea market, I found a terrific mirrored small handbag from Rajasthan for 10 pounds and a fistful of heavy silver-plate forks for the same price. (All our cutlery is flea market material, heavy silver plate in a variety of early styles.)

I also scored a gorgeous fuchsia hand-crocheted sweater. Even if I decided it wasn’t for me, (and I re-sold it to a consignment shop), it wasn’t a huge investment.

 

IMG_1543

In Toronto recently, I found a tiny 1930s Paris pin, with a dangling Eiffel tower, for $2  — and am still regretting passing up four gorgeous lilac engraved crystal glasses for $20.

Flea markets reward the decisive!

Toronto’s major flea market runs Sundays behind the legendary St. Lawrence Market downtown, held in a large white tent. It has washroom facilities and several very good places to eat, literally next door — including the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted.

 

IMG_1534

 

I really enjoy the banter and wisdom there — vendors are often also collectors, full of  knowledge about the things they’re selling and generally happy to share that intel, even if you don’t buy something. (Um, not so much with some Paris flea market vendors, who have been downright snappish with me, même en français.)

 

Flea markets, the best ones anyway, bear witness to our material past — not only the gilded elegance we see behind museum glass but the daily household objects we once valued

 

or our ancestors did: typewriters, enamel, tin and copper cookware, porcelain and crystal and silver, delicately embroidered and crocheted linens, (old pillowcases and sheets and tablecloths are so soft and lovely!), early editions of books.

 

IMG_1536

There are much beloved/battered old teddy bears and toys, handmade patchwork quilts and homespun blankets, wooden breadboards, buckets and piles of old coins.

You do have to be cool with crowds and being bumped constantly — and they’re best enjoyed without the responsibility of a dog or small children.

 

IMG_1545

 

If you’re really serious about collecting things like silver (is it EPNS or sterling?) and jewelry, bring a loupe (a tiny magnifying glass) with you to read hallmarks.

Never denigrate the goods!

Almost every vendor is willing to be a bit flexible; ask, very nicely, “What’s your best price on this?” Or “Would you take (name a price maybe 10 to 20 percent lower) for this?”

Take cash!

 

Are you a fellow flea market maven?

 

Which ones have you enjoyed — and what did treasures have you found?

 

A night at the Met Opera — wow!

By Caitlin Kelly

IMG_0872

From the moment you enter the building, elegance!

 

Imagine living in New York for decades but never once attending the Met Opera, considered one of the world’s greatest. I’d been to Lincoln Center many times for ballet and theater, but never once for an opera.

Until two friends raved about a production of Parsifal, a performance lasting (!) 5.5 hours (including two intermissions), Wagner’s final opera.

 

Wagner?

 

Five and half hours?

 

IMG_0879

 

I was nervous as hell, but spent $132.50 for my seat (F119) in the first balcony. My view was stupendously good, but I was very glad to have brought my binoculars as well.

 

IMG_0882

 

Even the lighting and handrails look like jewelry

 

 

IMG_0874

 

 

IMG_0873

 

I love these chandeliers — the ones inside the hall dim and rise to the ceiling as the hall darkens…

 

IMG_0875

 

IMG_0877

 

The evening proved to be one of the best of my life, in every way.

Even the usher taking tickets, as the crowds were pushing and shoving, said “Welcome!” when I told him this was my first visit to the Met.

As is typical, many in the audience had dressed up, like the seatmate to my left, a woman slightly older who told me that the surtitles (which are discreetly displayed on the back of the seat in front of you) were being very tightly edited — she speaks German and the opera is in German. (They offer surtitles in several languages.)

The opera itself is complex to explain; best to read this instead!

And here are three brief videos of the production.

It’s in three acts, and the staging, costumes and lighting were all truly extraordinary, with an entire back wall of the stage used as a screen of moving images of clouds, of a moon, of various other shapes and colors, each matched to the mood of the act and the music. It was visually astonishing.

The first and third acts used a stage that was massively raked — i.e. slanted upward away from the audience, creating an illusion of distance, so that some singers entered and exited by walking down at the rear, disappearing as shadows and silhouettes.

The second act is, literally, steeped in (fake, stage) blood, ankle deep. It is astounding — and here’ s a New York Times story explaining how it worked. There were 1,250 gallons of it for every show, kept warm for the barefoot artists.

Keeping things neat and safe with over 1,000 gallons of fake blood sloshing around is not easy. An overflow trough sits behind the pool. Rows of chairs with towels and sandals are placed for the performers coming off the bloody stage, and absorbent mats and brown paper are taped along the path to their dressing rooms. Members of the stage crew are posted beneath the stage to make sure no blood seeps into the Met’s underground storage areas, where sets for operas like “L’Elisir d’Amore” and “Pagliacci” are currently stored.

This work offered so much wealth — gorgeous music, amazing singing, and many stunning visuals of tremendous subtlety (thank heaven I took my binoculars!), like a very early moment when the men’s chorus, attired in gray suits, slowly and gently remove their suits, ties, black shoes and even their watches — to emerge in a sea of white cotton dress shirts.

(The piece also includes two long intermissions, useful for eating a quick dinner and using the bathroom.)

If you think “Ohhh, I hate opera!” this one was a perfect entry point, even at its length.I was never once bored or distracted.

It’s not all cliches of enormous women in breastplates or endless arias, but a somber and meditative work that even Wagner himself didn’t call an opera.

He wrote Parsifal in 1882, in his mid-60s, and it has the feel of a look back.

The next day I tweeted my gratitude to fellow Canadian, the Met’s new conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who liked and re-tweeted it.

As I was leaving the hall quite late, I shared the escalator to the parking garage beneath Lincoln Center with a man who sang a line to me in German — one of the smaller parts he’d just played! His knee was sore, he said, from a month of climbing that steeply raked set. He even offered to walk to me to my car, a gesture of such unexpected kindness from someone who had just left the Met stage.

At its best, that’s such a New York moment.

 

IMG_0886

The underground garage…

What an evening!