American Workers Finally Protesting En Masse

By Caitlin Kelly

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

We’re seeing history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever just quit a miserable job?

Back to the ballet!

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

By Caitlin Kelly

Ohhh, how I missed watching live ballet.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was just wonderful to be back.

A weekend at the TWA hotel at JFK

All photos by Jose R. Lopez

By Caitlin Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

Of course I brought my binoculars!

Sigh!

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

Next year, dammit!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minor complaints to consider:

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

A lot of kids and screaming kids in the pool

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

Valet parking also very costly at $40 day

It’s our 10th anniversary!

Six weeks into our relationship, Jose — a former White House Press corps member as a
NYT photographer — got us into the Oval Office for a quick peek.

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s been 20 years since I met Jose Rafael Aguilera Lopez — after he spotted my dating profile on (!?) aol.com, placed there because I was writing a magazine story about on-line dating, then still new-ish and declasse.

We hit it off immediately — two hyper-ambitious, driven, mid-career journalists who had come to New York from Santa Fe, NM (him) and Toronto, me.

From our first date at a midtown Manhattan bistro, that was it. His move-in day, from his home in a Brooklyn brownstone to my suburban apartment — 9/11. Yes, really.

So he moved in a week later.

It was…tumultuous at first. Like, for years.

We’re very different sorts of people and it made for quite a shakedown getting used to one another. Jose is a planner and meticulous about details. I’m more spontaneous and risk-taking. He grew up in a small city and I grew up in Canada’s largest one. His father was a Baptist minister with a small parish and my father made newspaper headlines with his provocative films and TV shows.

We were both survivors of brief and unhappy marriages — he in his early 20s, me in my mid-30s. No kids. We had never wanted them and the terrible hours of his staff job in journalism and our distant families would have made even trying difficult and expensive at that late age.

But with time and counseling and patience, we figured it out — and on Sept. 17, 2011 we got married in a small wooden 19th century church in a park on an island in Toronto’s harbor. We arrived by water taxi.

It was a tiny group in a tiny church, maybe 25 of our closest friends, some of whom came from B.C., D.C,. and N.Y.

Why are we laughing so hard at the door to the church? There was a petting zoo nearby

and all I could hear were cows mooing — not the music we chose!

The day was perfect and the service at 5pm, with golden sunlight pouring into the church’s stained glass windows and its wood, sun-warmed all day, smelled deliciously comforting — like all my old camp buildings.


We’re married!

My processional was the song Dona Nobis Pacem — Give Us Peace — the the pre-processional my favorite hymn, Jerusalem. The recessional? Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine of My Life.

It was a lovely place and time and then we all had dinner in a restaurant’s private upstairs room in the city.

Hard to believe a decade has flown by.

Birthday reflections

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m writing this at a friend’s house in Connecticut — a 220 year-old home full of history and memories.

Doves coo outside.

It’s our first visit to a friend’s home in more than a year and a half, since we are all fully vaccinated and our hostess had Covid a few months ago.

I’ve been very lucky to celebrate this day in Venice (once) and Paris three times, the most recent in 2017.

Last night for dinner, my husband Jose made his amazing short ribs and we had a carrot cake and champagne.

It’s the second year of a birthday without my mother being alive, even though we were estranged. To my shock, I found out she had left me some money, so that was a huge gift in itself.

The day of my birthday, June 6, is also one marked by two major world events — D-Day and the death of Robert Kennedy. My American-born mother cried that morning.

It’s been, so far, a good year. We are healthy and solvent and have savings and good work.

We have friends.

For the next year, I just hope for more of the same, with health always the most essential element.

I have great memories of some childhood birthday parties and a funny photo of my 12th. with a cake filled with sparklers. My high school best friend threw me a surprise party for my 16th. That was lovely.

In June 2018, I was found to have DCIS, a very early stage breast cancer. So that was a tougher birthday.

This year, cards have arrived from friends near and far.

Now I’m at an age I think….hmmmm…how many more will I be granted?

My father turns 93 in five days, so I hope for his healthful longevity.

Mostly, this year, I’m just grateful to be here.

Manhattan memories

One of my favorites!

By Caitlin Kelly

Thanks to a generous friend who lent me her Upper East Side studio apartment for three weekends recently, I got to explore the city at leisure.

I grew up in big cities: London, Toronto, Montreal and Paris, so my life in a New York suburb for the past few decades, certainly without the social connection of having children, has been a weird experience.

I would never have chosen to spend my life outside of a city, but we had (still here!) a great apartment with a river view and a pool and I can see the towers of downtown Manhattan, even 25 miles south, from my quiet, tree-lined residential street.

If I were super rich, Manhattan could be fun — a spacious, bright apartment and not being subjected to the stinky summer streets and sweaty subway. But I would never have been able to afford and enjoy the life there I have, so I stayed out here and head in as often as I have time and money for — a round-trip trainfare is $19.

I love the variety and people-watching and walking everywhere (so much healthier than driving!) of city life. So many dogs! Such great eavesdropping.

I had a great time meandering, re-visiting some favorite spots and discovering some new ones, like:

Rockefeller Center

If you’ve never been to NY, it is spectacular, built between 1930 and 1939, 19 commercial buildings in midtown, designed by Raymond Hood. Some of its details are very beautiful, especially those facing Fifth Avenue. One of my favorites — by (!?) Isamu Noguchi — is over the entrance to the Associated Press buildings, a massive metal bas-relief of various sorts of news reporting.

Here’s the famous statue of Atlas, now wearing a mask!

Fifth Avenue

Well, if you’ve ever watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you’ve seen Audrey Hepburn standing before one of its windows on the famous avenue.

It’s a street with so much elegance, starting at 42d Street with the massive NY Public Library and its entrance flanked by two stone lions, Patience and Fortitude, who in winter sport holiday wreaths. Today, the street — which once housed such elegant stores as Takashimaya and Bendel’s — is now much more mass-market and full of tourists buying all the stuff they could by at home in Oklahoma.

But it’s also home to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Thomas.

The Plaza!

After 59th street, heading north, it becomes residential, with palatial buildings overlooking Central Park.

The Lexington Candy Shop

Last renovated in 1948, at the southwest corner of Lex and 83rd. this funky little place is a classic diner. I met a pal there for breakfast and it was great.

Donohue’s Steak House

How I love a classic NYC joint! This spot, in business since 1950, is perfect. I stopped by and had a club sandwich and a beer and rice pudding and it was just what I wanted and not a lot of money, hard to imagine at Lexington and 64th. The waitresses all wear crisp white shirts and black trousers — and in 2015, a regular left two of them each $50,000. That’s the UES, baby!

William-Wayne

One of my favorite shops. This is the place to buy the perfect hostess or wedding gift, from gorgeous lacquer trays to Indian print tablecloths, small throw rugs, picture frames, scented candles, and a tiny selection of vintage glassware. Also at Lex and 64th.

Edith Machinist

I told a much younger stylish friend, NYC born and raised, how I’d just scored there — gorgeous brown suede knee-high boots, a fab 80’s oversize leather satchel and a burgundy cotton jacket — and she laughed. “I’ve been shopping there since high school!”

To stay in business for 19 years in fiercely competitive NYC is a feat in itself! This vintage clothing shop is always full of terrific clothes, bags, footwear and accessories. Prices aren’t stupidly high and none are Big Name Designers, which makes it more fun and affordable. I splurged $180 on a silk 80s Genny dress a long time ago and wore it a LOT and loved it. Rivington is a fun street, and Economy Candy is next door!

In the window of Economy Candy. How could you resist?

Balthazar

Oh, my dears! This place, a classic French bistro, holds one of my most cherished memories, meeting my first agent there for lunch on a scorching spring or summer day in 2001. He was handsome as hell, looking like a younger William Hurt, and, then being a new agent needing clients, was wooing me — which is now not the case for most writers!

The restaurant is one created by Brian McNally, opened in 1997, who is a legendary restaurateur here, a Briton whose venues are both hyper-stylish and skilfully weathered.

The agent ordred Kumamotos — which were…? Tiny oysters I’d never heard of or tried.

It was such a pleasure to return to this stalwart where I ate outside, and lunch came to $87. Yes, I know. It’s a bloody fortune!

But sometimes the experience — the food, the service, the street, the people-watching — is worth every dime.

Why to re-visit somewhere you’ve been

Jose’s hometown

By Caitlin Kelly

Loved this recent blog post with 10 reasons why you should go back to places you’ve already been to, instead of some frenzied checklist or bucket list of all the places you haven’t yet visited.

Georgetown. D.C., November 2017.

A few of these:

You’ve changed

Oh yeah! I spent a year in Paris at 25 on a life-changing journalism fellowship on the Rue du Louvre. Since then I’ve been back many many times, as often as I can afford, and have spent three birthdays there. I’m still me, but my perspective has changed, as it would.

I’ve been to Ireland five times — in the 80s to visit a friend in Dublin, the mid-90s when my father owned a Georgian house near Athenry, Co. Donegal; in the aughts with my father driving around, alone to cover the Lidsoonvarna singles festival and in 2015 with Jose. Happy to go back many more times!

You know what to expect

I love Riana’s detail — of bringing your Old Oyster card (yes!) back to London with you. I keep little bags of euros and Canadian currency for those return trips. I know how long it will take to get around some cities by bus or subway. I learned — in the heat of July — that city blocks in Berlin are massive! I thought New York city blocks were long, but no.

Every first visit will bring surprises (ask my husband about the pre-dawn post-flight bus I said would take us into Paris…but didn’t) but if you go back, you know better now.

Montreal has such a distinct sort of architecture

You can revisit old favorites

Well, post-pandemic I suspect many have closed for good.

But the ones that remain are a lovely comfort, whether a diner or cafe or museum or even a favorite street or park.

Riana is a pistol!

Like me, she’s Canadian and has created some fantastic adventures for herself.

Paris — bien sur!

I hope to be back in Berlin, Paris and London this fall.

And yet, there are also so many places I do want to see the first time, like:

Morocco, Japan, Jordan, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa, Botswana, VietNam, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia…

What are some spots you love to go back to?

A raucous blast of pure joy: American Utopia

By Caitlin Kelly

If you can access Spike Lee’s new film of David Byrne’s former Broadway show, American Utopia, do!

I’ve been rocking out to Byrne and his Talking Heads since their first album came out in 1977 when I was at University of Toronto. Psycho Killer with its chorus of fafafafafafafafafafa…better run, run, run, run, run, run away? No one before had made music quite like it.

The film of the show makes me cry now because it’s full of all the things we can no longer enjoy — and who knows when we’ll be able to do so again — pack into an every-seat-filled theater, hollering out the songs we know and love at top volume, dancing in the aisles, savoring the conga line of musicians snaking through the audience.

The musicians each wear the instrument they play, whether a small drum or large drum or acoustic guitar or cymbals. They swerve and sway and own the stage, joyous and somber in turn.

The musicians come from all over: Toronto, Brazil, France.

Everyone wears a pale gray suit. Everyone is barefoot.

Two are dancers.

At times, they become a deeply moving gospel choir.

The film used 11 cameras, offering us views we would never have enjoyed in the theater.

What a badly needed joy this is right now!

Here’s the 1:10 trailer from HBO.

Two views of Little Women

By Caitlin Kelly

I may be the only person in the U.S., certainly the only woman, who has never read the classic of American literature, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, published in 1868 and 1869.

It’s the story of the March family, living in Massachusetts, and their daughters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.

I won’t synopsize it here, but recently saw two very different filmed versions of it, the film by New York director and actor Greta Gerwig and the BBC made-for-TV 3-part series, written by Heidi Thomas.

No wonder it’s so good — Thomas is the writer of the phenomenally popular BBC series Call The Midwife, another of my favorites.

The Gerwig version stars Irish actor Saoirse Ronan as Jo, whose ambition to be a published author are both emotional and practical — her family needs the income. She’s very high energy, sometimes exhaustingly so. In the BBC version, Maya Hawke — daughter of terrific actor Ethan Hawke — plays Jo, in a very different way. She’s calmer, quieter, driven but more complex.

The BBC version really won my heart, with beautiful cinematography and a cooler affect. It’s fascinating to see how differently two female writers and directors handle the same source material and what a difference casting can make.

Have you seen either version?

Which did you prefer?

21 questions, answered

By Caitlin Kelly

I miss travel the most!

Time for something lighter!

The FT’s glossy magazine How to Spend It runs a 21-question survey of people whose taste and opinions they consider interesting.

Here are my answers to their questions:

My personal style signifier

A scarf or muffler, in silk, cashmere, wool, linen.

The last thing I bought and loved

Two throw pillows from Svenkst Tenn, a Swedish department store.

On my wishlist

Travel! To leave the United States and travel far and wide, slowly.

The best gift I’ve given recently

A copy of this book, to a friend I met online (!)

The best gift I have ever received

The massive Times Atlas of the World, given by my then very broke medical student boyfriend, later first husband

In my fridge, you’ll always find

Cheese, half and half, selzer, lemons and limes

My favorite room in my house

House? House!? I wish! Have never owned a house and haven’t lived in one since 1989, a New Hampshire rental. (Our one apartment bathroom is gorgeous, if tiny. I designed it and delight in it.)

The last album I downloaded

I never download and have long lists of things I want to.

I have a serious collection of

Brown and white transferware 19th century china. Linen napkins.

An object I would never part with

My Canadian passport.

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

A nature sanctuary in Pennsylvania, filled with silence and very tall pine trees. Not another soul.

The best souvenir I ever brought home

A set of metal mixing bowls from my favorite cookware store in Montreal — now out of business.

Recently I’ve been reading

A variety of fiction and essays.

The best book I’ve read in the past year

A recent “find”

Doyle online auctions!

If I could, I would collect

Friends!

I had a memorable meal at

A basic, small-town Italian restaurant in Pennsylvania. Great food. Welcoming staff.

My style icon

Hmmmm. Tough one! Probably Auntie Mame.

My grooming staples

Sunscreen. Many fragrances: L’Eau de l’Artisan by l’Artisan Parfumeur; Chanel Number 5; Terre by Hermes, Prada Iris. Glossier eyebrow liner.

If I weren’t doing what I do, I’d have been

A radio talk show host. Interior designer. Retail store owner. Choreographer.

I can’t wait to get back to

Canada, to see all our friends. Europe, for the same. Travel!