Diminishing returns…worth continuing?

By Caitlin Kelly

Well, that was depressing!

I finally made time to do an analysis of who visits this site, while WordPress tells me it has 23,193 followers.

I see no evidence of that!

Starting March 2018 — pre-pandemic and mass distraction/anxiety related to COVID — my views have since dropped to double digits per day, from three digits, which isn’t impressive but better than this.

I enjoy blogging but, like you, have no time or energy to waste pumping stuff into silence and invisibility.

I know some readers here — much appreciated!!! — have been reading and commenting since the start, July 1, 2009.

Is this worth continuing?

Are you even making/finding time for other/better/more compelling blogs?

What is this missing or doing so poorly?

A perfect Manhattan afternoon

By Caitlin Kelly

What a luxury it is to live so close to New York City!

I can drive in from our suburban town and (if lucky!) be parked on the street within 30 to 40 minutes.

I seem to have tremendous parking karma — which means, very often, I’ll find a spot on the street where I don’t even have to pay (on Sunday, for example), saving me as much as $50 for garage parking for 3-5 hours in fancier neighborhoods.

So I drove in last Sunday to Lexington and 83d, a neighborhood called the Upper East Side, UES, to meet a young friend for brunch at the Lexington Candy Shop, which is a tiny diner on that corner that opened in 1925.

They’re touchy about guests staying too long and by noon there was a line-up.

Then it’s an easy walk west along 83d to the Metropolitan Museum, which, for now has timed admission you reserve in advance.

If you’ve never yet been to New York or to the Met, the whole experience of the UES is well worth it; even the walk, across Park and Madison leads you past elegant townhouses and uniformed doormen, a guy smoking a stogie leaning on a car, a dog-walker with a huge, shaggy something and two pugs. The people watching is always good, and there are so many lovely architectural details to enjoy — from flower-filled window-boxes to carved gargoyles to the wrought-iron frames of pre-war apartment building entrance doors.

The Met has wide steps that make great seating, and musicians — competing! — settle in to entertain. There are plenty of food trucks — for $14 I got a falafel wrap and a lemonade.

New York state residents can pay as little or as much as we want for the Met’s admission fees — everyone else pays $12 (students), $17 seniors over 65 or the full fare of $25.

It’s tempting to think you have to see everything there if you’re a tourist, but that would be impossible! If you really do pay attention to objects, and read labels and wall signs, you’ll soon feel overloaded.

I find it all so moving — the Roman marble family sculpture from a cemetery; the tiny metal pins in the shape of animals that Roman soldiers wore (!); red and black Greek pottery; exquisite enamels of the 17th c; medieval tapestries —- and that’s just a few main floor galleries!

What amazing things have been produced by so many people. To see them close up is such a joy.

I love to visit a pair of gold earrings I find totally enchanting.

The place is quiet and civilized and there are plenty of benches to rest on. Everyone must be masked.

You can have the oddest moment of looking at something millennia old — and stare out the Fifth Avenue windows at the millionaires’ apartments across the street.

The gift shop is full of gorgeous things, jewelry and scarves, pens and pencils and books and puzzles and posters.

I remember it being full of astounding art and art history books — but not now?

It’s an interesting reminder that, without rich people’s generosity, many museums (certainly in the U.S.), would have a lot less stuff to show us; labels tell you what an item is and how old and maybe what it was used for, but also when it was acquired and using what funds. So the Jayne Wrightsman Galleries, for example, are huge and full of very ornate French material, not my taste at all.

Every room in the Greek and Roman galleries had the name of some wealthy benefactor.

These eyes, which would have been added to Roman or Greek sculptures are creepy — but also amazing.

I have a favorite painting I like to say hello to as well, on the second floor, of Joan of Arc, painted in 1879.

Have you been to the Met?

What are some of your favorite local museums?

Writing personal history

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m no celebrity, obviously, but have been urged for a while to write a memoir.

I’ve always resisted because…really?

How would my life be of interest to strangers?

I’ve enjoyed it, for sure, and had some wild adventures — visiting 41 countries, a two-year marriage, winning some nice writing awards — but is that of larger appeal?

I’ve had a great career: three major newspaper jobs with some fantastic assignments (going to the Arctic, covering Queen Elizabeth), a European fellowship, two books, etc. — so maybe some of that would be interesting to other journalists.

My family, as readers here know, is not a Hallmark card. My late mother and I were estranged for the last decade of her life. I have three half-siblings, one of whom I’m estranged from, one of whom is a self-made millionaire and one I’ve never met and don’t want to.

So, does a any of this add up to a book an agent will rep and a publisher will buy?

To be determined.

Most books are 80,000 words.

So far, I’ve easily and quickly written 20,000 and, to my surprise, am really enjoying it. It’s a mix of personal and professional stories, ranging from my time in Toronto to that in Paris to moving to New York knowing no one and without a job.

I have diaries from my 20s I haven’t even looked at, and a journal from 1998 of my trip to Australia and New Zealand, so I have some material there to work from.

Thanks to Google, I’m constantly fact-checking — like the distance from Montreal to the Arctic, or where the tree line ends in Quebec (the 56th parallel.) I also found a glaring error in my aunt’s Wikipedia entry, so am fortunate my father is still alive and lucid at 93 to do some corrections there; my aunt and uncle, both Canadian but British residents, were very well known in Britain in the 1960s and 70s for their work in TV and radio.

Several people who follow me on social media are most intrigued by my estrangements — how and when they happened and how it has affected me; my recent New York Times story on this topic elicited a stunning 700 comments, so it clearly struck a nerve.

We’ll see if this ends up being commercially useful.

Memoir starts with “me” — but it has to make sense to thousands of strangers.

In the meantime, I’m banging out 1,000 to 1,500 words a day.

What, if anything, would you want to know about me?

The van Gogh immersive show

By Caitlin Kelly

This show is making the global rounds — at least in North America — currently in Manhattan at Pier 36 until September 6.

I recently saw it with a good friend and recommend it.

It is not cheap! Our tickets were $66 each, for an hour of entertainment, although we were able to see the show more than once by just staying in the room.

There are three rooms, the first being long and fairly narrow, the third, the most interior, is enormous — and has a totally different and overwhelming sense of scale; it also has a few benches, otherwise you’re sitting on the floor.

If you know some of his work, you’ll enjoy seeing some old favorites — like the Postman. If you’re new to it, dozens of images will move past you in a hypnotic array.

I have no idea how its creators got permission to use any of the images, or if anyone in the van Gogh family is getting income from this — I sure hope so!

They have somehow managed to make some of the images come to life, through animation — like this windmill.

The show, designed by three Italians, is accompanied by a variety of music, from a Mussorgsky piece to Edith Piaf’s “Je Ne Regrette Rien” and it enhances the experience.

The site design also includes a variety of reflective elements, from bubbles to tall columns to what look like huge rocks — which bounce the images around the room even further.

It’s all very beautiful.

My main issue with it may seem pedantic — there’s nothing said about Vincent van Gogh, who died at 37, and who created this amazing art. The gift shop is, to my mind, overkill — crocheted keychains?!

But I enjoyed it and am glad we went.

Turns out there are many many versions of this idea!

Like this one…

Have you seen this one?

What did you think?

Taking a short break

By Caitlin Kelly

Having been basically mugged on Facebook this week by someone determined to professionally sabotage me, I’m a little sour on social media right now.

It was real shock to me, and has left me sickened by how vicious someone can choose to be.

So with July 1 (Canada Day) and July 4 coming up, I’m laying down tools for now.

See you in a week or so.

Stay cool!

ohhhhh, Canada. Such disappointment

A beloved bistro in Montreal, L’Express

By Caitlin Kelly

As some of you know, I was born in Vancouver and grew up in Toronto and Montreal — moving to the U.S. at 30 to pursue a bigger career.

I carry only a Canadian passport and have long been proud of my country, reveling in adorable videos like this.

Not this week.

Not this month.

Not this year.

A Muslim family was out for a walk in London, Ontario, a regional city. Five went out and one returned — the rest mown down by a racist piece of garbage in his truck, who hated them for being…non-white. Non-Christian.

The sole survivor is a nine-year-old boy, orphaned.

The week prior, the remains of 215 indigenous children, sent away by law to residential school in Kamloops, B.C. were found, re-opening the old wounds of how thousands of these children were torn from their families and made to speak English and deride their native culture.

To become “Canadian” — white and Christian.

See a pattern?

And now a vicious and brutal attack on a gay man in Toronto for daring to be homosexual.

Not sure how I will celebrate Canada Day, July 1, this year.

Not sure I want to right now.

I haven’t been back to Canada since September 2019 because of Covid; the border has been closed ever since unless my travel is “essential” and it’s not.

Canadians so love to congratulate themselves for being polite and civil and compassionate, traditionally welcoming far more refugees and immigrants than the U.S. and many other countries.

Their social policies are generally much more generous than those in the U.S.

And they really enjoy making sure they are so much better than those nasty, violent racist Americans.

Today? I think not.

When I last lived in Toronto, the streetcar I took to the subway was filled with Caribbean Blacks, the bus down Spadina to my newspaper job filled with Vietnamese.

That was just normal life there.

No one noticed. No one sparked violence.

Pay your taxes, get along.

There isn’t a lot useful to say here, really, beyond expressing my horror and deep disappointment in my country of origin. Sadly, I just expect daily racism and violence in the U.S. It’s baked into the DNA here.

Canada is 100 years younger.

It did not have slavery — although its racist policies have destroyed generations of Inuit and indigenous lives.

To see this hatred is deeply deeply disturbing.

I am ashamed for my country.

Ten reasons to love”Billy Elliot”

By Caitlin Kelly

I know, not a new film!

But one I’m so happy to watch over and over again…

Filmed in London, Esrington (Durham) and in studio, it’s the story of a young working-class boy , played by Jamie Bell, who dreams of studying ballet, despite the initial anger and shock of his coal-miner father — broke, scared and out on strike.

“Ballet?!” he shouts (sounding like Bally)

“Boys do things like…football, wrestling!”

The film was made for a small budget of $5 million in only seven weeks, and they could only shoot during weekdays because of the actor’s young age — child labor laws!

It has since earned $109 million.

Bell had to endure seven auditions before finally winning the role — beating out 2,000 others!

A few reasons I love it so much:

  1. If you love ballet and/or have studied it (as I did for years), it shows what discipline it really takes to even get started in this demanding art form as young Billy, then 11, learns turn-out and plies and arabesques.

2. Determination! Billy lives in a working-class neighborhood, surrounded by people whose dreams are usually small and local. It will take a lot of determination to break free, which he does.

3. How much a small boy misses his late mother. She has died young and there’s a lovely scene in the tiny kitchen where she appears to him again.

4. How the local, overwhelmingly macho ethos shapes a young boy — and what if you don’t fit the mold? His friend Michael, gay, is terrified Billy will reject him (set in 1984) and then what?

5. Why sometimes it’s someone far from your family who really sees you for who you are and will fight to make sure you get what you need — Mrs. Wilkinson, his ferocious local dance teacher.

6. The scenes of police chasing down striking coal miners — set to raucous tunes like the Clash’s London Calling — are both poignant and funny.

7. That opening scene with Billy bouncing on his bed!

8. Maybe my favorite scene of all — Billy and Mrs. Wilkinson on a car ferry, The Tees Transporter Bridge, while listening to Swan Lake as she explains the plot to him. The contrast between the industrial surroundings and the ethereal music is perfect!

9. The moment Billy is asked, at his audition for the Royal Ballet School, why he loves ballet…”I just disappear. It’s electricity.”

10. The final image of him soaring above the London stage, his father, brother and Michael there to watch him with pride.

And if you want to watch dancers in rehearsal — getting endless corrections to what already looks physically impossible! — check out the Australian Ballet’s Instagram feed.

Have you seen it?

Do you have a favorite scene?

Six tips for a stylish summer home

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m so much happier finally shedding all the heavy wools and blankets and duvets of winter.

Every spring, usually as the temperature suddenly climbs into the 70s or beyond, I change up our apartment decor, taking away winter’s dark colors and heavy textures — until late fall when the days shorten and the temperature drops and I’ll welcome them all again.

It’s a good time to have your rugs professionally cleaned, maybe your curtains, and get the duvet dry cleaned where (yay!) they store it for us for months as well.

Rugs

While bare floors are easier to clean, if you live in an apartment you may have to keep some quiet. Rugs help.

This rug is dead simple and so elegant — and it’s made of a synthetic so can be used indoors or out — a copy of a classic Moroccan style, from Anthropologie.

Two years ago, I found a completely plain pale gray cotton rug, with no texture, perfect for summer, which is a nice foil for our new silver velvet sofa; our winter rug is this one (bought at an online auction.)

There are so many fantastic options, but a nice cotton flat-weave, aka a dhurrie, is always a good option as it’s easy to clean and can sometimes just be tossed in the washing machine.

One of my favorite go-to’s is this site, Dash and Albert, named for the creator’s two dogs. Also this one, Lulu and Georgia.

We love this diamond sisal rug (the gray version) from Ballard Designs, and it defines our dining area. Very soft on bare feet!

Throw pillows

Our winter ones, in linen, were a huge splurge, from Stockholm’s gorgeous store Svenskt Tenn. For summer I have custom made ones with some designer fabric that was a gift.

These aren’t cheap at $100 apiece — but are 22″ square, linen and such a gorgeous crisp blue (also red and white and beige and white.)

Love this pale dove grey nubby version from West Elm, 24″ square — $25 on sale.

Sun really bleaches the hell out of colored fabrics! Beware.

Three former outdoor pillows (NON outdoor cottons.) The vintage floral fabric was once a very deep blue and very

bright yellow.

My favorite hack? If you can sew by hand, grab two great cotton or linen napkins and use them to make a pillow cover, like these ones — a fab oversize black-and-white check pattern from Pottery Barn; four 20″ square napkins for $32 means $16 per pillow fabric costs.

Lanterns

I’m a big fan of lanterns — whether pierced or slatted ones that throw lovely shadows or classic glass or crystal hurricane lamps.

These hurricanes are an investment at $195 each — but you’ll have them for years.

I bought a Moroccan one cheaply at a flea market and got it cleaned to the metal and painted it (of course! ) a great Farrow & Ball color, a soft red called Blazer.

I’ve bought lanterns in all sorts of places, from a cafe in Minneapolis to this great New York City store, Jamali Garden. These are perfect if you want a Moroccan vibe — without the travel. Their prices are excellent and they have a lot of amazing choices for all sorts of gardening needs as well.

Table linens

I so love a pretty tablecloth, whether a pale lavender or gray or something bolder and fun.

I’ve gotten some wonderful ones — turquoise linen, blue embroidered white linen, blue and white checks, green and white checks — at flea markets.

This new one, an Indian print linen in white, pink and gray, is perfect; $85 on Etsy.

I ordered these linen napkins in navy, and in turquoise for a hostess gift.

Here’s a bright pink tablecloth for $124 U.S., from Aussie’s Pigott’s store.

Love this one, $90, in a crisp red and white block print.

Bed linens

We went away for a week in early March upstate to Woodstock, NY, which has some great shopping.

The second I saw this Indian print bedspread I jumped!

I do love Indian block prints.

Nothing’s better than cool, crisp white sheets, for sure. And I iron everything.

I love this creamy coverlet from The Company Store, $135.

And if you must wake up on time, this aqua bedside clock is gorgeous.

Our balcony in full flower

Outdoor space

This gorgeous John Robshaw pillow, 22″, is made of outdoor fabric, in a rich blue paisley, $85.

Our balcony, on the top floor surrounded by trees, is only 12 feet wide and six feet deep. Not a lot of room! We use a small round metal table, have four vintage metal chairs and a bench six feet wide we cover with throw cushions; lots of hidden storage.

I chose a color scheme of bright green and deep navy blue and choose our flowers accordingly — no reds or pinks, but maybe purples and whites.

Choose a color scheme to make the space cohesive — as one would indoors! Crisp black and white can be a nice choice.

There are so many ways to make an attractive and comfortable outdoor nook, even on a small balcony.

Choose your planters and pots to match one another, whether metal, ceramic or plastic.

Our space is too small, really, for an umbrella but they can add needed shade and color.

An outdoor rug is a great start to cover up a stained or ugly concrete floor; love this one, in navy and white.

If you’re lucky enough to have a large garden, deck or patio — here are 30 ideas from the UK’s House & Garden magazine.

More simple pleasures

photo: Jose R.Lopez

By Caitlin Kelly

A long lazy morning spent lounging in a cozy wool or cashmere bathrobe, preferably one with pockets

Croissants, warm, with raspberry jam

Strong coffee with warm milk

Listening carefully to music — vinyl preferred

More and more birdsong

Daffodils and crocuses and magnolia and forsythia

Longer, brighter days!

Re-watching favorite films over and over, savoring familiar scenes while noticing a new detail almost every time

Going back to sleep

A warm, fluffy duvet

A deep-tissue massage — after a year!

A frigid night studded with stars

A long conversation with someone who knows you very, very well

A new and growing friendship

Mentoring

Gorgeous fresh flowers

I buy a bunch, but break them into separate arrangements. This was $42 at a local florist. Not cheap

but worth it!

The sound of a nearby creek or stream

The clanging of halyards on sailboat masts

The glurg noise of a canoe paddle carving water

A cat purring

Tossing dirty, torn, 20 year old luggage and buying new pieces in anticipation of travel, soon not quite so impossible

Clearing out the garage!

Buying plants for the balcony

The rustling sound of a bicycle coming up behind you

The THOCK of a tennis ball being hit

The THWACK of a well-hit golf ball

Filling the house with hyacinth

Walking along 38th street in Manhattan and suddenly smelling…horses! Visiting the carriage horses’ stable while Duke, a massive specimen, was getting new shoes from the farrier. MAGIC!

Vaccinations!

Six great journalism movies

By Caitlin Kelly

There’s no way past it. If you’re going to read a blog written by a journalist…

The Devil Wears Prada

I’ve seen this 2006 film so many times I know much of the dialogue off by heart and always look forward to my favorite scenes.

It follows the trajectory of Andrea Sachs, a gormless fresh graduate, who is very serious about journalism, stuck in a first job — at a NYC glossy fashion magazine — she neither wants nor respects. It’s a job.

This one always hits me!

It’s set in Manhattan, with key scenes in buildings and locations holding some great memories in my own writing life.

It’s really about what it takes to pay dues, to go along and get along in a rough and unfamiliar environment.

The price of ambition.

There are some lovely scenes in Paris as well.

Lots of arguments about whether her friends are true friends, or people who have no clue what it really takes to get ahead in this brutally competitive industry.

Plus, Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci and acres of gorgeous clothes and accessories.

It was made for $35 million — and has earned almost 10 times that since.

Spotlight

I know of no other film that so abundantly makes clear what it takes to do really slow, really detailed, really deep reporting work, aka investigative journalism. It won Best Picture for 2015 and richly deserved it.

It follows a real team of four reporters at the Boston Globe who dug up a rats’ nest of priest’s abuse. There are scenes that should be required viewing in every journalism class, like the one where Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams) has to coax grim details from a male abuse victim.

No one who hasn’t done this work — and especially those who loathe and insult journalists — can really grasp the emotional intelligence (empathy, compassion, patience) it takes to get victims to share the stories that can, sometimes, create tremendous political and legal change.

I’ve watched this one many times and never tire of it.

It also makes very clear the tremendous pressure often placed on senior newsroom management by powers-that-be eager to shut down some unwanted attention.

And the military chain-of-command that still runs most newsrooms.

And the balls-to-the-wall determination it demands of reporters to keep chasing elusive answers.

Plus, again — Stanley Tucci!

Absence of Malice

This is an older one, from 1981, with Sally Field as a reporter and Paul Newman as the subject of her story.

Nominated for three Academy Awards, and written by a former newspaper editor, it addresses when, how or if a reporter should ever have a romantic relationship with someone they’re writing about it.

It also shows that speaking to “civilians” — regular people who don’t understand how journalism works — can wreak havoc on their lives.

Some of our collection of laminated press credentials….

All The President’s Men

Better known to those who love it as ATPM, this follows the Watergate scandal that brought down former U.S.President Richard Nixon, and the two Washington Post reporters — Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) — who broke the story after many months of reporting and a lot of internal and external doubt whether the story was true and verifiable.

Jason Robards is terrific as the Post’s patrician editor, Ben Bradlee, with his Gucci-clad feet on every desk.

It’s a total boy-fest, with almost no women involved in the editing or reporting, but still so worth watching.

For an entire generation of would-be journalists, Woodward and Bernstein were the ultimate role models.

The Paper

Hilarious!

Michael Keaton and Marisa Tomei — and Glenn Close — star in this send-up of New York City tabloid journalism. Having worked at the NY Daily News, I get it now!

If you want a glimpse of what newspaper tabloid life is like, this is it.

A Private War

This is a recent film, from 2018, about the legendary American foreign correspondent, Marie Colvin, played by the excellent British actress Rosalind Pike.

Colvin had already lost an eye covering the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka but never stopped worked in dangerous places.

She was killed while on assignment in Homs, Syria, Feb. 12, 2012.

And guess who’s in the cast?

Stanley Tucci!