Dreaming of a house…

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1926, Maurice Vlaminck, lithograph; acquired at auction and now in our bedroom

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Blame it on journalism, an insecure business that lays people off every day and pays poorly.

Blame it on my insistence on living close to a major city, which spikes real estate prices; I lived for 18 months, (albeit pre-Internet and pretty broke), in a small rural town in 1988. It was a very poor fit, making me wary of being so far out again.

Blame it on a lifelong love for travel, blowing bucks on a trip to Paris instead of scrimping for a larger down-payment.

And, I admit, my aesthetic preferences for homes 100+ years old and my lack of carpentry/electrical skills also in play…

But I’ve never owned a house.

I re-arranged the artwork in our bedroom recently and noticed a subconscious pattern — a French lithograph from the 1920s; an anonymous oil found at a flea market and a watercolor bought at an antiques fair.

Each shows a house, surrounded by forest or land or near a river.

Not in a suburb.

Not in a city.

But a discrete dwelling with no immediate neighbors or nearby visual impediments.

A few other factors have made home ownership feel difficult-to-impossible — working freelance with a variable income makes mortgage lenders jumpy.

The serious responsibility of costly repairs — like a roof or boiler — is intimidating.

And, with no children, no real justifiable need for extra space, like multiple bedrooms or bathrooms.

There’s also no “Canadian dream” of home ownership and — unlike the U.S. whose policies make mortgage interest a tax deduction, making home ownership more appealing — Canadian banks usually insist upon a 30 percent down payment, not the 1 percent “liar loans” that got so many American home-buyers into terrible trouble in 2008.

And houses aren’t cheap!

The ones that are would require so much time, energy and renovation my heart sinks at the prospect — and we go off on vacation instead.

I lived in a house at 19, at home with my father and his girlfriend, later wife. It was white brick, two story, probably built in the 1920s or 30s, on a busy Toronto corner and facing a park.

I lived in a house in downtown Toronto, the top floor of a narrow Victorian home, then in a sorority house for a summer and then, my last Toronto home, rented the top two floors of a small house even as I lived alone.

But since then, I’ve shared hallways and a laundry room and adjacent walls — through which I can hear our neighbors’ laughter and conversations — in a six-story co-op (owned) apartment building in a suburb of New York City.

I like our life here — there’s a pool and Hudson River views and nice landscaping and I don’t have to shovel snow or clear gutters or mow a lawn.

But I long, deeply, for a private place where I can crank up my music really loud.

Where there isn’t a long tedious list of “house rules” and restrictions on everything from bird-feeders (verboten) to grilling outdoors.

Where we could easily host multiple friends, finally able to reciprocate their house-owning hospitality to us.

Which we could rent out and leave if we want to.

We’re thinking of a road trip to Nova Scotia — and found this, a 3 bedroom with 2 acres and ocean view, built in 1815.

And went a little mad with desire until I read that it’s the rainiest place in Canada except for the very rainy B.C. coast.

My father has owned many houses — including a great Georgian pile near Galway City in Ireland, built in 1789; a massive Victorian in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia and an elegant early Victorian in a small town in Ontario.

He just bought his latest, built in 1810, in another small Ontario town.

 

Do you live in a house?

Do you own it?

What’s it like?

NY Daily News halves staff; an ex-reporter, some of my memories

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One of my notebooks, complete with coffee stains! That funny thing in the middle is a stylized early camera, and the News’ logo, as it was once the city’s picture paper…

By Caitlin Kelly

It was, when I worked there in 2005 and 2006, the sixth-largest newspaper in the United States, with 600,000 readers, a real source of pride. Today it’s down to 200,000.

This week its owners Tronc (ugh, what a name) fired half of the Daily News staff — including almost every photographer and sports reporter– insisting their latest gambit will be a focus on breaking news.

Oh yeah, that thing that Twitter already owns…

Some details:

 

Media conglomerate Tronc bought The Daily News in September, adding it to a stable of other newspaper and magazines that includes The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun.

The Daily News, once the country’s largest-circulation newspaper, has been among the most aggressive New York City publications in its coverage of President Donald Trump, with the newspaper’s cover often needling Trump about recent scandals or missteps.

The paper has received 11 Pulitzer Prizes including one in 2017 in conjunction with nonprofit investigative organization ProPublica for coverage of evictions based on obscure laws that pushed business owners and residents from their property.

My year at the News was the weirdest, most stressful and eye-opening of my career in journalism — and I’d already worked for the Toronto Globe & Mail and the Montreal Gazette, both broadsheets, a name that denotes the physical size of a newspaper as much as its more sombre approach to news.

The News is a tabloid, a whole new world.

I hadn’t worked in a newsroom in 20 years when I was hired there, thanks to a manager I’d known and worked with in Montreal who came to New York from Chicago to run the paper.

For him, and for me, it was a poor match; he’s British and Canadian and didn’t know the five boroughs of New York City intimately, tribal lore for anyone working at the News. Neither did I.

The paper used to inhabit a gorgeous Art Deco building on 42d Street; I arrived to their offices on the very western end of 33rd Street, sharing a building with the Associated Press.

The newsroom didn’t even have cubicles, just a huge bullpen stretching a full city block, sunlight straggling in through clerestory windows.

I stepped into a 1940s movie, full of guys in suspenders and gold chains who liked to yell at one another and saw two co-workers edge up to a fist-fight over a noisy cellphone.

As my manager-to-be greeted me for my job interview, he eyed my outfit, (no blazer or jacket): “You packing?” My first book was about women and guns.

Never dull!

As a reporter there, I quickly discovered a city I hadn’t known before — the News’ reader’s median household income was $44,000 — maybe a healthy salary elsewhere but not much in New York City.

I drove alone to Harlem and the Bronx and Queens, getting to know its lower-income neighborhoods and residents. (I once got into such an altercation in the Bronx over a street parking spot I had to call the cops in fear of attack.)

I did a stake-out in Midtown in sweltering summer heat and humidity, which meant sitting on the sidewalk for hours — surrounded by all the competing press — waiting to nab an interview with a Quebec tourist who’d been attacked. (I got the assignment after the city editor hollered into the newsroom: “Who speaks French?!”)

I kept sneaking into the hotel to find her, only to be caught and thrown out by a furious security guard. This, after a New York Times reporter followed me into the elevator, guessing I knew where I was going and trying to match it.

I ducked into the ladies’ restroom to ditch him.

I interviewed an African-American family who showed me a blanket with images woven into it of their slain son.

I spoke with legal aid attorneys in the Bronx.

I interviewed the father of a soldier whose helicopter had fallen off a mountaintop in Afghanistan and women soldiers suffering from PTSD.

I broke a national story about how many crimes occur on cruise ships that, for many reasons, go unreported and unaddressed.

We spent a brutal afternoon listening to 911 calls from the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Digital advertising has stripped away newspapers’ primary income stream, and newsgathering — even with crappy salaries — isn’t cheap.

It’s a tough time now to be a staff newspaper reporter.

I’m glad I had the chance.

 

 

 

Are you a culture vulture too?

 

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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.

 

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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.)

 

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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

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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?

 

Desperate, furious, American teachers walk out

By Caitlin Kelly

 

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Watch this 3 minute CNN video and marvel at the travesty of American “education.”

In it, teachers in Oklahoma — with master’s degrees and 20 years’ experience — mow lawns, wait tables, cater weddings and drive for Uber to make ends meet.

One needs to use a food bank to eat.

If you’ve been following American news lately, you’ve seen reports of teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma fighting for higher pay and better conditions in which to teach — like textbooks that aren’t 20 years old and literally falling apart.

From CNN:

Education funding has dropped by 28% over the past decade, the state teachers’ union said. Oklahoma is among the bottom three states in terms of teachers’ salaries.
Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that gives an average of $6,100 raises for teachers, $1,250 raises for support staff, and adds $50 million in education funding.
From The Atlantic:

Thousands of teachers returned to the picket lines on Tuesday in their effort to secure more education funding from state legislators, forcing the cancellation of classes for public-school students in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The picketing marked the continuation of a strike that kicked off on Monday, when tens of thousands of educators in about a third of Oklahoma’s school districts walked out, affecting 300,000 of the state’s 500,000 students.

The Oklahoma legislature last week passed a bill raising teacher salaries by $6,000 on average and restoring education funding by $50 million, but educators say it’s not enough given the cuts they’ve contended with in recent years. They are asking for $10,000 more per teacher over the next several years and $200 million in restored education funding. The legislature had been cutting education spending for years, with the amount of per-student funding dropping by nearly 30 percent (when adjusted for inflation) over the past decade, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Oklahoma leads the nation in inflation-adjusted cuts to education funding since the 2008 recession.

The great American myth is that the nation cares deeply about “family values” — and the American dream is centered on the belief that each generation will do better economically than the one before.
From Business Insider:

“One of the most notable changes in the US economy in recent decades has been the rise in inequality. A key inflection point in inequality appears to be around 1980. It was during the early 1980s that there was a pronounced increase in the 90-10 income gap and a sharp rise in the income share of the 1%.

“With the advent of a more unequal society, concerns about a possible decline in inequality of opportunity have risen to the forefront of policy discussion in the US. To better understand inequality of opportunity, economists and other social scientists have increasingly focused attention on studies of intergenerational mobility. These studies typically estimate the strength of the association between parent income and the income of their offspring as adults.”

In other words, it’s not so much inequality of outcomes that bothers Americans, but inequality of opportunity. And that, unfortunately, appears to still be rising.

Not possible when teachers can’t even earn a living and students sit in dark, dirty classrooms with broken desks and chairs.
The Republican governments of “red” states where teachers are walking out in protest believe in cutting taxes to the bone — while offering generous perks to employers and corporations.
I don’t have children or young relatives in the American school system, but my blood boils at the inequity of this.
On a radio call-in show this week, one New Jersey teacher — annoyed she had lost $12,000 in income — said she earns $90,000. That earned spluttering disbelief from a teacher calling in from another state where he earns half that amount.
I moved to the U.S. years after completing my formal education in Toronto and Montreal, which, thank heaven, was well funded and excellent.
One of the first books I read when I arrived — and I urge anyone who wants to grasp this issue to read as well — is Savage Inequalities, by Jonathan Kozol.
The book came out in 1988, but rings true today; millions of  American students face a kind of educational apartheid if they live in tightfisted states and low-income neighborhoods where school funding comes from local taxes.
It is deeply disturbing and powerful; he examined the wide and brutal disparities in education funding across the nation.
You want to get schooled?
Watch how poorly and unevenly this country handles education.

Have you seen “Babylon Berlin”? Amazing!

By Caitlin Kelly

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It came to me highly recommended and, if you haven’t seen this new German television series, set in Berlin in 1929, check it out!

It follows the path of policeman Gereon Rath and a young would-be police inspector, Charlotte Ritter. They’re both compelling characters, both haunted — Rath with a morphine addiction thanks to shell-shock from fighting in WWI and Ritter, who shares a filthy, squalid apartment with her mother, grandmother, pregnant sister (and her infant), brother-in-law and younger sister. To make ends meet, she works as a prostitute in a high-end club.

Lest this all sound really depressing, it’s not!

Rath is on the hunt for those who are blackmailing a prominent politician and he’s come to big-city Berlin from more provincial Cologne. Ritter is funny, smart and ambitious, eager to become a policeman as well. Together they must negotiate a difficult city, and a time — the Weimar Republic — legendary for its chaos and confusion.

There’s also a cross-dressing blond Russian named Svetlana and a ladies’ maid named Greta and her Communist beau, Fritz…

The show’s production values are tremendous — it’s the most expensive German series ever made, at nearly $40 million — and it shows. With 70 percent of it filmed on location in Berlin, it’s also fun for those of us who’ve been there to spot familiar sights.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the show’s co-creator, Tom Tykwer, spoke about the era; “At the time people did not realize how absolutely unstable this new construction of society which the Weimar Republic represented was. It interested us because the fragility of democracy has been put to the test quite profoundly in recent years… By 1929, new opportunities were arising. Women had more possibilities to take part in society, especially in the labor market as Berlin became crowded with new thinking, new art, theater, music and journalistic writing.” Nonetheless, Tykwer insisted that he and his co-directors were determined not to idealize the Weimar Republic. “People tend to forget that it was also a very rough era in German history. There was a lot of poverty, and people who had survived the war were suffering from a great deal of trauma.”[1]

I read a history of the Weimar Republic a few years ago, which I urge you to do — it really helps to better understand and appreciate what you’ll see on-screen, from old soldiers’ endless romanticizing of the heroes of the Great War — even 11 years later — to the period’s tremendous poverty and social unrest. (One of my favorite films, which I’ve seen many times, is Cabaret, also set in Berlin during that period but BB, with so many episodes, is able to dive deeper. Like Cabaret, it also revolves around a nightclub, Moka Efti, whose dance hall is cavernous and whose basement contains a whorehouse.)

BB is darker, more violent and much more complex than Cabaret — you need to pay close and careful attention to its many characters and plot-lines. But so well worth it!

From its opening sequence, kaleidoscopic and filled with solarized images, to the blaring mass of horns that ends it and starts the show, you know you’re in for suspense and surprise.  If you’re a fan of louche 70s British rocker Bryan Ferry, he, of all people, added songs to the show, (including several Jazz Age versions of his own), and he even appears in one episode singing onstage.

13 questions

By Caitlin Kelly

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Another favorite…

 

My favorite reading of the past few years is the weekend Financial Times, a British daily newspaper focused on global finance, whose weekend edition is so filled with great writing and fun discoveries it often takes us three weeks to get through one copy.

Its oversize glossy magazine — with typical British toff  nonchalance — is called How to Spend It, and since many of its readers make an absolute shit-ton of money, it routinely includes things like a $30,000 watch, a $5,000 silk trench coat and $10,000 gold cufflinks.

But fear not. It’s not all absurdly priced knick-knacks, but also offers — if you love good food, drink and travel as much as I do — ideas and inspiration.

A regular column in the magazine, The Aesthete poses the following 13 questions, with helpful links.

 

Here are my answers:

 

My personal style signifiers

are my ever-growing collection of scarves and mufflers, in every shade, color and fabric, from a thick olive green cashmere muffler to Hermes silk carrés. Summer and winter, they add style and warmth to my mostly neutral, minimal wardrobe. https://www.hermes.com/us/en/scarves-and-silk-accessories/women/#

 

The last thing I bought and loved

A bunch of yellow roses with coral edges, from the local supermarket.

 

And the thing I’m eyeing next

Something sharp and minimal to freshen my spring wardrobe from Cos, the higher-end cousin of Sweden’s H & M.  https://www.cosstores.com

 

The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe

were two stretch dresses, calf-length, in black and mustard, bought in Montreal at Aritzia, a Canadian company based in my birthplace, Vancouver. They also have stores in several major American cities. I love how clean and simple their clothing is, slightly more junior and lower quality than Cos, but versatile and terrific when you get a good piece. https://www.aritzia.com/

 

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An unforgettable place I’ve traveled to in the past year

is Rovinj, Croatia. I discovered it through a travel blogger I met in Berlin and whose rave recommendation (and personal style) were enough to persuade me to book in for a week at a gorgeous/pricey boutique hotel called Angelo D’Oro. Most people head south to Hvar and Dubrovnik, but Istria, to the north, is also very beautiful. Rovinj is called little Venice — and you can easily zip across to Venice itself by hovercraft in a few hours. http://www.angelodoro.com/

 

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And the best souvenir I’ve brought home

is a shard of red, yellow and green pottery, maybe 17th century, found in the muddy banks of the Thames by a “mudlarker” and bought at a London flea market for 10 pounds.

 

A recent “find”

is Shuka, an airy restaurant in downtown Manhattan, at 38 MacDougal Street. It serves Middle eastern food in one of the prettiest rooms I’ve seen in years, lots of decorated tile and a sunny, spacious back room. https://www.shukanewyork.com/

 

The person I rely on for my personal grooming

is Alex, who’s owned Hairhoppers at 50 Grove Street in New York’s West Village for decades. His shop is minuscule, with only three chairs, and his co-ed clientele of all ages is the best mix imaginable — I’ve sat beside. and happily chatted with, Grammy-nominated musicians, museum curators and little old ladies in from Staten Island.  No website!

 

An object I would never part with

is my black and white poster of Paris at dawn by the legendary French artist Sempé. On my first honeymoon in rural France, everything was stolen from our rental car, leaving us with passports, tickets and not much else — the poster survived. It reminds me daily of my favorite city. https://condenaststore.com/collections/jean+jacques+sempe

 

The last meal that truly impressed me

was at a local joint, Scaramella’s, in Dobbs Ferry, NY, in our suburban county, located in a small, nothing-special strip mall. The Italian food is excellent, service to match.  No website.

 

The best gift I’ve given recently

were earrings, tiny gold stars studded with diamonds I had sent to British Columbia for a dear friend’s milestone birthday. I’ve been buying from this Toronto jeweler — named for its founder, a former Varig pilot, Vic Secrett — since I had any money to spend. Prices aren’t all as scary as you’d think! http://www.secrett.ca/

 

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If I had to limit my shopping to one neighborhood in one city, I’d choose

Queen Street West in my hometown of Toronto. Lots of great choices, from ribbons to stationery to clothing to shoes, homewares, furniture and art. You can easily jump around by using the streetcar as the shopping stretches for miles. Check out the Japanese Paper Place, Gaspard (women’s clothing), Lavish & Squalor for men’s and women’s clothing and housewares, and Gravity Pope, for a fantastic selection of men’s and women’s shoes. https://www.gravitypope.com/

 

My favorite website

Swann Galleries, an auction house in New York, which specializes in works on paper. I went in person last fall and splurged, scoring pieces by Raoul Dufy and Maurice Vlaminck, both French works from the 1920s, both of which now hang in our bedroom. https://www.swanngalleries.com/

 

What are some of yours?

Life at the speed of technology

By Caitlin Kelly

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Have you ever noticed how we now spend our lives in thrall not only to technology — but to dozens of its ruthlessly dictated speeds?

I thought of this when I visited The New York Times building, a stunning white-column-covered tower in midtown Manhattan.

First, like many lobbies now, you have to be buzzed through a set of metal gates by their security guards.

Then you choose a dedicated elevator that will tell you which floors it will take you to — but those doors close quickly! You have to pay close attention and move fast.

We do this every day now, accommodating our pace to that of computers, cellphones, (maybe even a landline, still!), escalators and elevators.

Crossing Manhattan’s busy streets means facing a timed light, even if you need to cross six or eight lanes of traffic. If, as I often do, you’re struggling with arthritis or an injury affecting your mobility, those seconds fly by.

Only if you live in a rural area or don’t spend much time in urban settings can you avoid this tyranny by tech.

I won’t romanticize the rural life — where some students are up in darkness to meet the school bus (more life-by-appointment) — or where farmers’ lives are dictated by the needs of their livestock or other animals.

I do often wonder what life was like in the pre-industrial 19th. century and before, before electricity and artificial light and kerosene and gas, when the only illumination was candles, often reflected in as many mirrors as possible.

When the only noise might be the ticking of a grandfather clock.

When our rhythms were primarily dictated by light and darkness, cold and warmth — not the 24/7 demands of a global economy where someone, somewhere can expect us to do something for them right away.

When a long journey consisted of stagecoach or carriage rides, punctuated with real rest stops and fresh horses.

 

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Here’s a recent New York Times Magazine essay musing on the same issue:

Candle Hour has become a soul-level bulwark against so many different kinds of darkness. I feel myself slipping not just out of my day but out of time itself. I shunt aside outrages and anxieties. I find the less conditional, more indomitable version of myself. It’s that version I send into my dreams.

At night, by candlelight, the world feels enduring, ancient and slow. To sit and stare at a candle is to drop through a portal to a time when firelight was the alpha and omega of our days. We are evolved for the task of living by candlelight and maladapted to living the way we live now. Studies have noted the disruptive effects of nighttime exposure to blue-spectrum light — the sort emanated by our devices — on the human circadian rhythm. The screens trick us into thinking we need to stay alert, because our brains register their wavelength as they would the approach of daylight. But light on the red end of the spectrum sends a much weaker signal. In the long era of fire and candlelight, our bodies were unconfused as they began to uncoil.

 

I love the writing of fellow Canadian Carl Honoré, whose career focuses on urging us all to slow down.

If you have time (!), here’s his 2005 TED talk, (19 minutes), on why we all need to move ar a much less frenzied pace.

And here are his three books on the topic.

 

Do you sometimes wish we could all move much more slowly?

A New York City museum of everyday life

By Caitlin Kelly

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If you’ve never been to New York City, you’ve still probably heard of the Met Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Maybe the Guggenheim.

If you’re planning a visit, I urge you to visit one that will forever change your perception of the city, and of the early immigrant experience in the U.S. — the Tenement Museum.

It is simply extraordinary, in telling the true stories of the lives of early immigrants to New York City, who lived in these two narrow buildings on Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side at the start of the 20th century.

It’s also extremely popular, with tickets selling out months in advance. 

I visited it years ago, and never forgot it. This week I was lucky enough to be able to have a quick group tour in the evening and it left me, once more, deeply moved.

I can’t show you any images as photography is not allowed.

You climb steep metal stairs into a brick building, constructed in 1863, and step into a narrow dark hallway with battered metal mailboxes set into the wall on the left-hand side.

The building stood empty from 1935 to 1988, so you’re stepping into a time capsule. The walls are cracked and the front wooden doors to each apartment still have their original panes of glass above them.

Inset into the front hallway walls are large oval paintings and bas-relief curlicues, attempts at elegance.

The steep stairs to the second floor have pressed metal treads and the banister is thick, smooth dark wood. A narrow hallway there offers one tiny public room containing a toilet — shared by all occupants of the floor’s four apartments.

We visited one apartment that had belonged to an Italian family, and which contained some of their personal belongings: a lace dresser scarf, photos, other objects.

It’s a stunning reminder what life was life for these newcomers, who left their hometowns and villages and cities many miles behind them, mostly from Europe.

They might have once enjoyed gorgeous, sweeping sunlit views of woods and farmland and fields and mountains — and now their two front windows faced east over a grimy, noisy, narrow city street lined with brick buildings in an unfamiliar city in a new country.

The apartments are very small: a front room with two windows; a middle room with a deep sink, a minuscule bathtub and a coal stove, with a window between the front room and kitchen to allow light to penetrate, and a small rear room.

The total square footage? Maybe 250 square feet, a space that held, at least, two adults and children, maybe more. (This is the size of my suburban New York living room, for context.)

No closets.

No telephone.

No privacy.

No silence.

No outdoor space beyond the steps — aka the stoop.

Thanks to simple, thin cotton curtains and other objects, the rooms feel as though their occupants have simply stepped out for a while — kitchen cupboards full, a checkers game on the kitchen table with its colored tablecloth, a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on one wall.

It’s also a so different from the exquisite, costly objects on display in most museums, remnants mostly of the wealthiest lives and their rarified tastes. This is a museum of real life, as everyday working New Yorkers lived it.

The flooring is weathered linoleum designed to look like woven textiles and beneath that you can see weathered wooden floorboards.

To stand in that space is to feel intimately and viscerally what it must have been to leave everything behind except your hopes.

A night at the Met Opera — wow!

By Caitlin Kelly

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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?

 

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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.

 

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Even the lighting and handrails look like jewelry

 

 

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

 

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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.

 

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The underground garage…

What an evening!