Five frosty days in Montreal; travel tips!

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s six hours’ drive from our New York home, door to door.

I lived in YUL for two years in the late 80s when I was a feature writer for the Montreal Gazette; I’ve returned four times in the past two years, twice for work and twice for pleasure. If you’ve yet to visit, it’s well worth your time and money, especially with the Canadian dollar at 75 cents U.S.

Even in winter!

Yes, it’s cold and windy. But if you’ve got warm outerwear, you’re all set. And if you need to buy some, Montreal offers plenty of fantastic and colorful options beyond the default of black nylon, like this red jacket from my fave Canadian brand, Aritzia or this cherry-blossom digital print wool scarf from 31-year-old Montreal brand Mo851.

One of the pleasures of shopping here is finding European brands and styles I can’t find in New York.

NB: City sidewalks can be appallingly, life-threateningly ice-coated — in a nation where lawsuits are rare(r) than the litigious U.S., it’s Yaktrax or bust! Walk like a penguin to be safe; lean forward and take small, slow shuffling steps, with your hands out of your pockets for balance.

Jose and I really enjoyed our break.

A few highlights:

 

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L’Express

 

L’Express

This classic  restaurant on Rue St Denis has been in business since 1980.

I love its simplicity: glossy burgundy walls, those globe lamps, a skylit back room whose walls are covered with beautifully framed images of its staff, a photo taken annually.

Food is classic French, the bread — so many baguettes they arrive in Ikea shopping bags — dense and chewy. I loved my PEI oysters, a glass of Sancerre and cacio and pepe. Jose loved his octopus salad and sea bass.

 

Arthur Quentin

Ooooooh. This store is filled with temptation for anyone with strong domestic urges: linen tablecloths and napkins, lovely china (French brands like Gien), glassware, Emile Henry cookware, spoons, teapots. Even something as basic and essential to making  a great vinaigrette as a small glass bottle with a lid. Also long in business  — since 1985! We splurged, buying everything from a glossy green crackleware teapot to new bowls, spoons and even a saucepan.

 

La Brise Du Sud

This shop offers a fantastic selection of bathing suits for men and women, and cover-ups and some of the prettiest lingerie I’ve ever seen. 3955 rue St. Denis.

 

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Dessert at Leméac

 

Leméac

Another simple room, another long-established locus of chic. This 18-year-old restaurant is on Laurier, in Outremont, an upscale French neighborhood. Delicious French food and great people-watching.

 

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This looks like a scene from Blade Runner! This is one of the views from BotaBota of a legendary piece of Montreal history and architecture, Habitat, built for Expo ’67

 

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One of the outdoor pools, by night

 

Bota Bota

Imagine a former ferryboat made into a spa. In the harbor. This place is amazing. You can go and just enjoy the waters — steam room, hot tub (on the roof watching CN freight trains rumble by and planes soaring into the blue), cold tub, showers, lots of spots to sprawl out and relax in silence. They offer a wide range of services (I treated myself to a hot oil massage and a scrub.) In its restaurant everyone sits in their white terry bathrobes, enjoying a cocktail, snack or a meal.

 

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Love this view, from our hotel room, 16th floor, looking north on Peel Street

 

Hotel Omni Mt. Royal

Have stayed here four times and love the nostalgia of seeing the condos across the street that replaced the brownstone where I lived for a year when I was 12, at 3432 Peel Street. Ask for a high floor (we like the 16th) with a mountain view and you’ll see the enormous cross atop Mt. Royal glowing in the distance. The location is terrific, with lots of shopping two blocks south on Ste. Catherine and plenty of nearby bars and restaurants (and the subway.) Rooms are elegant and spacious. I love the small dining room, which makes it feel much more intimate than a hotel with 299 rooms. Tip: For $15, with your Omni hotel key and ID, you can nip across Peel Street to the fantastic Montreal Athletic Association (admire its classic stained glass windows) and take classes or use their facilities; at 130 years old, it’s Canada’s oldest athletic club. 

 

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How gorgeous is this? Note the two enormous memorial walls listing all the soldiers working for the bank killed in WWI

 

Cafe Crew

This was once a bank. Three years ago it became a co-working space and cafe. With its coffered painted ceiling, inlaid marble floor and enormous chandeliers, its original 1928 elegance, all 12,000 square feet of it, is stunning. My grain bowl was delicious!

 

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Me, lacing up!

 

Skating at Beaver Lake

If I miss one part of my Canadian life, it’s outdoor skating on free rinks. It’s such great exercise and a fantastic way to get some sunshine and fresh air. This rink was so much fun! I brought my own skates (you can rent them) and you can get there by bus without a car. The age range was three to 70, and so civilized to have wide wooden benches to plop onto for a breather.

 

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Looking a little hesitant! I hadn’t skated in a year but I did warm up and speed up.

 

A fantastic guidebook is 300 Reasons to Love Montreal. This is a true treasure, with so many recommendations and so much to learn about this city. I dog-eared dozens of its pages!

 

How much do you buy — and toss?

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I admit it…one of my favorite Toronto stores always gets a visit

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Her name is all the rage, again — the Japanese expert on de-cluttering, Marie Kondo, and her motto: If something you own doesn’t spark joy, toss it!

As someone both frugal and sharing a small-ish apartment with not very many closets, this is an issue of both limited income and limited places to put things. So, typically, we don’t buy a lot of additional stuff and, routinely, take castoffs to local thrift or consignment shops or to Goodwill.

Every time I drop off at Goodwill I’m stunned by the mountains of stuff I see being donated; having lived in Mexico and visited developing countries where even the basics are considered luxuries offers me valuable perspective.

We live in a small town in suburban New York and drive everywhere, including to any store, so most weeks I only buy gas and groceries and a meal out. Maybe a nail polish or a lipstick.

 

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I do look at lots of things on-line, but rarely succumb. I recently bought three — a lot for me! — sweaters on sale from my favorite retailer, a Canadian company called Aritizia. But my shopping sprees are so rare that my credit card company software gets alerted as a result; I use only one credit card, American Express.

I almost never buy “fast fashion”; too cheaply made, not my size or style and, most essential, environmentally ruinous.

In lean times, and even in better ones, I haunt a few favorite consignment shops, both for home goods and clothing and tend to keep things for a long time — still wearing a pair of (designer) Italian monk-straps (then new) bought in 1996.

A classic style, made of top-quality materials well cared for is a great investment as long as it still fits you well; I’m still using a down jacket I scored for $50 in 2004.

And, yes, I love new things and last summer spent (madness!) a mortgage payment on a brand-new, on-sale Tod’s suede handbag. I had just gotten a breast cancer diagnosis and it was my birthday and I said the hell with it! (Our mortgage is not that big.)

I recently read that Americans throw away (!) 81 pounds of clothing a year.

 

This is insane.

So it’s a challenge, especially as I do treasure lovely things and adore fashion and really love to look stylish. I shop like a Frenchwoman, buying only a few items each season, being very thoughtful about each. I stick to neutrals — black, gray, cream, brown, navy — and add fun with my accessories.

For our home, we buy, similarly, the best quality we can find, and keep using it for decades, like our Wedgwood white daily china and the heavy crystal goblets we bought at an antique show.

I confess to two layers of boxes in the garage about six feet high and a small storage locker,  holding a mix of luggage, out-of-season clothing, sports equipment and professional needs like photography lights and books.

To avoid acquiring objects I:

1) buy the most expensive possible, which limits it!

2) regularly toss out anything we’re not using.

3) focus on enjoying experiences — travel, museums, concerts, meals, nature — more than things.

 

Do you buy — and toss out — a lot of stuff?

Have your shopping habits changed?

11 views of New York

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East 70th. between Lexington and Third…

 

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re a fan, as I am, of the Japanese artist Hokusai — whose great wave image is iconic — he made 36 views of Mount Fuji.

Having lived in New York since 1989, (I live in a town 25 miles north of Manhattan, but have worked there at magazines and a major NYC newspaper, and spent much time there), I’ve experienced the city in so many ways that bear no resemblance to the notions most people gather from film, TV or visits. If you live here for any length of time, and travel the five boroughs — Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens — you begin to understand how complicated a place it is and how diverse.

Far too many tourists arrive here, blunder around midtown bumping into more tourists and spending time and money on amusements just as easily found at home in Ohio or Nevada, then leave, persuaded they’ve “seen” this city. Cross the northern end of Park Avenue, and you travel from multi-million-dollar apartments in grand and elegant buildings to witness stunning poverty within a few feet.

Working as a reporter for the New York Daily News for a year also showed me a totally different city — the readers’ median income then $44,000, which is a very tough amount for a single person, let alone a family, here.

 

 

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Lincoln Center

Eleven ways I’ve seen the city:

 

 Aboard the M1 bus driving south down Fifth Avenue. A man in a wheelchair wears the uniform of the poor: thick grey sweatpants, thick grey sweatshirt, a puffer vest for warmth, battered white sneaker. Only one — the bulbous pink stump of his right leg, sticking out of his sweats, remains bare to the wind and cold. The driver patiently attaches wide red straps to four points of the chair to keep him secure. Ten blocks further south, the driver opens the bus’ flat metal ramp for him, and he rolls off and away.

 

 

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Sitting at Swann Galleries on East 25th. Street, waiting to bid on two pieces of art. I arrive, dressed up, excited — to find only a few people sitting in the folding chairs with me. These days, it’s most done by phone and online, so a row of staffers sit awaiting those bids. I buy two pieces, a Dufy engraving and a Vlaminck lithograph, delighted with my score. The highest bid of the day — $100,000 for a Picasso print — comes from a dealer sitting behind me. He might as well have ordered a coffee; for him, just another day at the office.

 

It’s pouring rain and I’m on my way into Brooklyn, not the cool hipster bits but the long narrow streets, each side lined for long blocks only with minivans — bought to ferry very large families. No cars. Large metal balconies protrude from buildings. Men wearing enormous plastic-covered fur hats, a shtreimel, pristine white spats and black patent slippers walk alone. Women wearing headscarves and thick flesh-toned stockings with seams walk with multiple small children. This is the part of Brooklyn populated mostly by Orthodox Hasidic Jews.

 

Her hair piled high into her signature pale blond beehive, she enters the narrow, small Madison Avenue restaurant wearing high heels and a suit. A handsome younger man — his crisp white shirt unbuttoned a little too far — follows her, trim in a costly suit. She’s someone every New Yorker knows by sight, and many by reputation — Ivana Trump, the President’s first wife. She looks tired and sad.

 

 

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The annual orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden

 

The BQE isn’t short for barbeque — it’s the Bronx-Queens Expressway. From it, standing still in traffic, you at least can enjoy great views of Manhattan, of an enormous cemetery, of wheels-down low-flying jets on final approach heading into Laguardia. Along its edges stand 150-year-old tenements and dozens of new apartments, their windows mere yards from ribbons of traffic, so close you can look into their windows and admire their furniture and lighting. After decades of enduring the rusted, crumbling Kosciuszko Bridge, (built in 1939), a new, shiny version now lights up in purple. An enormous billboard suggests, in very tall red letters, EAT REAL FOOD.

 

The African-American family sits together in the living room, telling me what’s it’s like to raise their grandchildren after the shooting deaths of their parents. They bring out a blanket, custom-made with the images of the parents woven into it. This is the older, not-hip part of Harlem, a traditionally African-American enclave. As I get up to leave, a rare Caucasian on the street, the grandmother walks me downstairs and to the bus-stop.

 

 

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Fleet Week

 

 

It’s a cold rainy day and we’re having brunch at a friend’s home in Bed-Stuy, a gentrifying part of Brooklyn. Nine women gather for mimosas and tofu and — always — a heap of fresh bagels and five kinds of cream cheese. The hosts work in television, one a writer for a hit television series, the other, working in the basement of her 1880s brownstone, is a Foley artist, making sounds for a living.

 

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Keen’s Steakhouse, on West 36th. Street, since 1885; my table is number 54

 

A bitterly cold winter’s day, and my agent and I are headed into the midtown headquarters of Simon & Schuster to discuss an editor’s interest in buying my first book, Blown Away: American Women and Guns, already rejected by 25 other publishers, so their interest is a welcome relief. We walk down long hallways lined with framed covers of the many best-sellers they’ve published. Intimidating! We sit around a conference table — five women and one man, (my agent.) After some serious pushback from the editorial director (true? a gambit?) I go alone around the corner to the 21 Club for coffee and profiteroles to celebrate.

 

 

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

 

 

There’s that final scene in The Devil Wears Prada, when Andy spots Miranda across the street — it’s on  Sixth Avenue at 49th. — a spot that for decades held the Canadian consulate and still the headquarters of Simon & Schuster, which owns Pocket Books, now my first publisher. Standing on that sidewalk in 2004, holding my book’s galleys, feels like the best moment of my life.

 

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The Brooklyn Bridge

 

 

Pouring rain. I’m late, lost, annoyed, trying to meet a Bronx DA for an interview. I finally find a parking spot outside the mammoth Bronx Courthouse, and dive in. An elderly woman starts shrieking at me that I’ve stolen her spot. She screams. I scream. Windows start to fling open across the street as she calls for back-up. She gets a tire iron. I can’t leave because her car is blocking my car. I call 911 for help. A cop arrives and speaks to each of us. She leaves, and I finally meet my subject and the photographer, an old friend. They slide into the car, and I burst into tears of relief. The DA takes me to a dive bar for a soothing shot of whisky. It’s not even noon.

 

 

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Charlotte Bronte’s clothing, a show at the Morgan Museum

 

“Who speaks French?” the city editor shouts across the newsroom, the length of a city block. I do, and am sent to the Hotel Edison near Times Square for a stake-out, which means a gaggle of competing reporters and photographers stand or sit in the 90-degree heat for hour after hour after hour awaiting the Quebec tourists — one of whom was stabbed (not badly) — we’re supposed to speak to and photograph. I sneak into the hotel with an intern and the New York Times’ stringer jumps into the elevator with us. He really needs a shower. “Wherever you’re going, I’m going.” We flee to the women’s room. The intern finds the tourists’ room and I sneak upstairs to tuck a note beneath their door. A security guard finds me, shouting that he’ll call the cops, and throws me out.

 

Never a dull moment, kids!

My New York — insider tips

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Lincoln Center

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Few cities are as iconic as New York — maybe Paris, London, Tokyo — its skyline instantly recognizable, whether the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building, my favorite.

I moved here from my native Canada in 1989, thanks to my mother’s American citizenship which allowed me the right to a “green card”, the legal ability to live and work in the U.S.

Why New York?

For an ambitious writer, it seemed obvious — ready access to editors and publishers and agents and fellow writers, to conferences and parties and events where I can, and have, meet them face to face.

But also for the city itself, with its history, architecture, cultural riches and the beauty of the Lower Hudson Valley, where we live — the glittering towers of downtown Manhattan clearly visible even from our town on the river, 25 miles north.

 

Here’s some of what I enjoy…

 

Fleet Week

Once a year, since 1984, the city welcomes thousands of sailors. It’s so cool! You feel like you’re in a Broadway play from the ’30s as sailors in their crisp whites swarm midtown. This amazing collection of caps lined a table at event I attended — I was even piped aboard!

 

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Keen’s…since 1885

 

Old-school bars and restaurants, some dating back 150 years

My favorite lunch spot is Keen’s, founded in 1885, where I even now have a regular table. The room is long, dark, quiet and full of atmosphere. Linen tablecloths, early portraits and handbills and the ceiling, lined with early clay pipes. The food is very good as is the service; it’s on a nothing-special block, 36th, in a noisy and crowded part of Midtown, a perfect refuge. For classic old school charm, I also love Fanelli’s, Old Town Bar, the Ear Inn, Sardi’s, Bemelman’s, The King Cole Bar and the Landmark.

 

What’s left of Greenwich Village

 

It’s changed a lot, thanks to greedy landlords who have raised commercial rents to absurd prices, shoving out most of its funky long-time tenants selling used CDs or Tibetan clothing. But if you look hard enough, some indies survive, usually far east or west. Two of my stand-bys are Porto Rico Coffee & Tea and McNulty’s, each of which feel like time capsules. For afternoon tea, I like Bosie’s and for a splurge meal, Morandi. East 9th is always worth a wander. The bit of Bleecker running between 6th and 7th is still home to great food shops.

 

 

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Lincoln Center

What a gem! The exteriors, clad in gleaming white marble, and its gorgeous central fountain, make you excited just to be there. Plus the luxurious interiors of the Met Opera, the Koch Theatre and David Geffen Hall — opened between 1962 and 1966.   Unlikely but true, I once performed in eight shows of The Sleeping Beauty, with the National Ballet of Canada and with Rudolf Nureyev in the lead (I was an extra) at the Koch Theater, exiting (!) through its stage door. I began enjoying the Met Opera, finally, last year and feel like the richest woman in the world to be able to walk through those doors on any night there’s an empty seat I can afford.

 

Grand Central Terminal

Commuter trains travel from here north to Westchester county and beyond, and northeast to Connecticut. Built between 1903 to 1913, it serves approximately 66 million passengers a year. It’s truly a cathedral, with a brilliant turquoise domed ceiling, lit with stars, enormous hanging period lanterns, marble stairs and floors and its iconic central clock. It also houses very good restaurants, a lovely food hall, a wine store, multiple bakeries and some great shopping — also (very elusive!) free, clean and safe bathrooms.

 

Smaller, quieter museums

Mad for the Secessionists — Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka — I love The Neue Galerie (with its fantastic cafe). I also like small and elegant Japan Society, the Frick and The Morgan. While the big boys (the Met and MOMA) will always win visitors, they can also be noisy and crowded.  If you love airplanes as much as I do, try the Intrepid Museum. Two truly worth a visit are the Tenement Museum — showing how the city’s earliest immigrants lived in such tiny, cramped rooms  — and the Merchant’s House, a time capsule from 1832.

 

The four B’s: Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdales, Barney’s and Bigelow

Oh, go on! Even for a quick peek. Last June, I watched Ivana Trump, (wife number one), blonde beehive intact, meandering the perfume department at Barney’s; (I was there to treat myself to a Byredo fragrance for my birthday.) These three stores are not inexpensive, but worth a visit to get a feel for New York luxury and BG has a gorgeous cafe with great views. Bigelow Chemists on Sixth Avenue, established in 1838, sells an amazing array of beauty and skin products, including their own line. Cool fashionistas like Dover Street Market, Opening Ceremony and Totokaelo. My two standbys are Ina, (a consignment store with multiple locations and great merch) and Aedes de Venustas, with the best selection of fragrance around, now on Orchard Street.

 

Eight of my favorite places

By Caitlin Kelly

Having lived in five countries — my native Canada, France, England, Mexico and the U.S. — I have so many favorite places, a few of which (sob!) are now gone.

I travel as often as time and money allows, and am always torn between re-visiting old favorites and making new discoveries.

 

Île St.-Louis

 

We’ve stayed several times in a rented apartment here, on the aptly-named Rue de Deux Ponts (the street of two bridges). The island sits in the Seine River, setting it physically apart from the bustle and noise of the rest of the city. The streets are narrow and short, and it’s overwhelmingly residential. One of our favorite restaurants, Les Fous de L’Île is on that street, about four doors away from a Parisian legend, the ice cream shop Berthillon, which offers amazing flavors.

I love how compact the island is, complete with its own bars, bakeries, hair salon, ancient church. Yet, within minutes, you’re back on Paris’ Left Bank or Right Bank, ready to roll.

 

Keen’s Steakhouse

 

Tucked away on a side street in un-glamorous midtown sits this terrific bit of Manhattan culinary history. The main dining room is long, dimly-lit, filled with tablecloth-covered tables and framed ephemera. The ceiling is the coolest part — lined with clay pipes wired to the ceiling. In business since 1885, the food is delicious and well worth a splurge. There’s a less-formal small dining room on one side and the bar area is also charming. You feel completely transported out of noisy, busy 2018.

 

 

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Liberty

 

Probably my favorite store in the world, this legend is in London, opened in 1885 and the Regent Street location in 1927; here’s a history. 

I visit every time I get to London, even if I buy nothing.

It’s a store focused on luxury, but a very specific louche-aristo look, eccentric and confident. Even if you just go for a cuppa in their tearoom, check out the mock-Tudor building’s exquisite stained  glass windows and light-filled central atrium.

 

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.
The Grand Canyon — whose profound silence makes your ears ring

 

The Grand Canyon

Ohhhhhh, you must go! No words can really do it justice. My only advice — you must hike down into the Canyon to experience it, and spend a full day if at all possible, watching the light and shadows shift minute by minute.

 

The Toronto Islands

 

What a joy these are! Jose and I got married on one of them, in a tiny wooden church surrounded by public parkland — and accompanied by (!) the mooing of cows from a nearby petting zoo. One of the islands is covered with tiny inhabited cottages, the most coveted real estate in the city — a challenge when, (as happened to me with a boyfriend) — you have a 3 a.m. nosebleed and the Harbor Police have to race across and get you to a hospital.  They’re a great place to walk, bike, swim, relax and enjoy great views of the city at sunset. The ferry ride over is still one of my favorite things to do anywhere, any time.

 

 

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Our wedding church, St. Andrew by The Lake, Centre Island, Toronto

 

Grand Central Terminal

 

It really is a cathedral, and sees more than 750,000 visitors every day — most of them commuters from suburban Westchester (north in New York) or Connecticut (northeast) traveling by train.

Built in 1913, it’s spectacular — a brilliant turquoise ceiling with gold-painted constellations and pin-point lights sparkling as stars; enormous gleaming metal hanging lamps, elegant brass-trimmed ticket booths, wide marble steps and floors.

It also offers many shops, great restaurants and bars, a terrific food market (check out Li-Lac chocolates for a chocolate Statue of Liberty) and the classic Oyster Bar downstairs.

 

GONE!

 

The Coffee Mill

 

This legendary cafe, a fixture in Toronto for more than 50 years, closed in 2014. It opened in 1963, and, as a little girl, I loved sitting on one of its cafe chairs in the sunshine near a fountain. Later, in a nearby location, inside a small shopping center easily overlooked, it continued serving Hungarian specialties — strudel, goulash and the freshest rye bread anywhere. The booths were small and intimate and its owner always immaculate. On every trip back — and I left in 1986 — I stopped in for a coffee or a meal.

 

BamBoo

 

Oh, the 80s! A former laundromat on Toronto’s Queen Street became — from 1983 to 2002 — a fantastic bar and restaurant, with a lively rooftop scene perfect on a steamy summer’s evening. Here’s its history, and an excerpt:

Inviting in every possible way, the BamBoo was relaxed, warm, and far from slick. Random parts hinted at an industrial past, including the outdoor fountain built atop the remnants of the building’s original boiler. A narrow metal stairwell led up to the Treetop, a Jamaican style bar ‘n’ BBQ that opened on the club’s rooftop in summer of 1984, expanding the BamBoo’s legal capacity to 500.

“During the summer heat, there was nowhere you wanted to be other than the Treetop Lounge,” says [Toronto artist Barbara] Klunder. “Think rum drinks and burgers at brightly painted barstools or coffee tables under the night sky and the CN Tower.”

What are some of your favorite places — and why?

Shhhhhhhh! (the quest for silence)

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

Next to attention, it’s becoming a rare and precious resource.

Complete silence.

No phones.

No airplanes or helicopters.

No drones.

No one yelling.

No motorized boats or snowmobiles.

No cars or trucks.

The irony?

I bet people in previous centuries had similar complaints — the clattering of horses’ hooves on cobblestones! The clamor of crowds in narrow urban alleys!

Here’s an interesting piece from The New York Times about one man’s quest for blessed silence in New Hampshire:

Connoisseurs of quiet say it is increasingly difficult, even in the wilderness, to escape the sounds of vehicles, industries, voices. A study published last year in the academic journal Science found that noise pollution was doubling sound levels in much of the nation’s conserved land, like national parks and areas preserved by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Noise that humans create can be annoying but also dangerous to animals who rely on hearing to seek their prey and avoid predators. “We’re really starting to understand the consequences of noise and the importance of natural sound,” said Rachel Buxton, a conservation biologist at Colorado State University who worked on the study.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience total silence — and it is profound and oddly disorienting. I once stood in a place so totally quiet — a friend’s enormous ranch in New Mexico — that I could hear myself digesting.

 

Ironically, there really are some spots in the city of Manhattan where you can enjoy near-silence, while my suburban street echoes almost constantly with birdsong, night-time coyotes (!), leaf-blowers and construction work.

What’s the quietest place you’ve ever been?

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?

How to create a lovely outdoor space

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By Caitlin Kelly

Our balcony is on the top floor — sixth — and it’s 72 square feet of heaven. The minute it’s warm enough, we’re out there from dawn to dusk, savoring birdsong, Hudson River views, stars and cool breezes.

It’s not that difficult to make a small space affordably cheery and welcoming, but it can feel overwhelming when you start. Ours has zero inherent charm — red brick walls and a grey painted concrete floor.

Think of your outdoor space — whether a patio, balcony, terrace, verandah — as another room of your home with the same needs: comfortable seating, lighting, something soft and pretty underfoot — lots of color and texture.

Some tips:

Choose a color scheme and stick to it

Blue and green are perennial favorites, mimicking the colors of nature. If you’re in the city, surrounded by concrete — maybe bright yellow or brilliant fuchsia is more your speed. Ours are a light olive green, cobalt blue, navy blue and white. I chose our plant colors as well to play nicely with our cushions and tablecloths — planting only blue/purple lavender and salvia, deep purple lobelia and lantana — plus bright pops of orange.

 

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Invest in solid, attractive planters, pots and window-boxes

Jose’s my in-house carpenter and has twice designed and made lovely wooden planters, lined with plastic and gravel. Made of simple plywood, we painted them green and added a glossy navy blue trim for contrast.

Over the years, we’ve added some quality pots of varying sizes, (all in blue and green), a growing investment. If terrible weather looms (hail!), bring them indoors when possible and store them away from ice and snow. I found these fantastic navy blue ceramic planters this year at Home Depot.

 

Create a comfortable seating area

It might be a few chairs (please, not flimsy plastic!) —  woven bistro-style or durable powder-coated metal or a wooden bench or a lounger. Years ago, my first husband built a solid six-foot-wide wooden bench that I’m still using 25 years later, albeit with replaced top and bottom. With three wide cushions on top, it becomes a banquette, while also storing all our hardware, painting tools and leftover potting soil.

We’ve collected throw pillows for years, some custom-made from vintage fabrics, some custom-made of new fabric and some store-bought. We lean them against the (sturdy) glass divider separating us from our neighbor and — voila! — dining/seating area.

 

Shade?

If your space offers no natural shade, consider a patio umbrella or, if you own your home, an awning.

 

Table?

How big a table can your space accommodate? Ours is 36 inches wide and perfect for dinner for four. Yours can be made of pretty much anything, (wood, metal, glass), but will need to withstand weather! Ours is a powder-coated model from Crate & Barrel, and has lasted for many years. It’s light enough to move easily and folds flat.

 

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Lighting matters

This can be the most challenging. This year I scored three gorgeous, huge lanterns from one of my favorite sources — Jamali Garden — a Manhattan-based company whose selection of every possible garden-related item is both fantastic and surprisingly affordable. Mine were (!!) only $17 apiece — much less costly than competing offers from Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel. I also bought 12 navy blue votive holders to line our windowsill. You can string Christmas lights, use hurricane lamps, even (if safe enough!) old-time kerosene lanterns.

 

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Rugs!

We have a very large plastic one (blue and white, of course) but this year I added a small blue and white rag rug for under my feet. Much nicer! There are many options now for outdoor rugs and even if it sounds impossibly splurge-y, it’s a great choice: they can be hosed down, stored during the winter and soften and cover nasty stone/concrete/worn-out wood beneath.

 

Plants and flowers

I’m not a great gardener, for sure, but opening our balcony door to a profusion of color and scent is such a treat! The tallest planter this year holds fragrant lavender and rosemary, while the purple salvia is a positive bee-fest. Make sure whatever you choose is suited to the amount of sun, shade and wind of your outdoor space.

There are so many great retail sources for all of these items — but don’t forget your local thrift and consignment shops, estate sales and flea markets, with lots of charm and low prices. Consider re-purposing a bright Indian-print coverlet as a tablecloth…

My favorite (American) retailers for outdoors design and accessories include:

Ballard Designs, Serena & Lily, Fermob, Wisteria, Frontgate, Jamali Garden, Crate & Barrel, Mothology, Anthropologie.

How to choose great home colo(u)rs

By Caitlin Kelly

Few challenges can feel as daunting — and turn out so horribly — as choosing paint colors for your home. Even selecting a white (creamy? icy? blue undertones?) can be tougher then you think.

 

People also forget, or don’t realize, a few basics when choosing colors:

 

What color is the existing floor? If wood, it is pale, orange-y, dark? White tile? Your permanent flooring, unless you plan to change it or renovate, adds a huge chunk of color to your room. Will it go beautifully, or badly, with whatever you put on the walls and baseboards (what Britons call skirting boards)?

What direction(s) does the room face? A north-facing room will have a different kind of light than one facing south.

What views does the room have? If it overlooks leafy green trees, (or a red brick wall), do you really want purple? Don’t forget, each color you choose should relate well to all the colors around and near it, (which is why a huge black sofa doesn’t help much.)

How much division does your space have between rooms? i.e. if it’s mostly open plan with each color immediately adjacent to one another, a stark contrast will look odd and unattractive. The eye should travel easily from one space to the next without jarring interruptions.

— Who’s mostly going to be using that room? A young child? An older person? A teenager? What do they love most?

How do you want to feel in that room? Calm? Energized? Soothed? Color powerfully affects our mood.

Matte finish, semi-gloss, gloss, Venetian plaster finish, faux finish?

What colors are your existing furniture, rugs, curtains and other major accessories?

What color scheme? Our living room is a classic pairing of opposite colors on the color wheel (red and green) — but a soft muted red and a pale yellow-green, not the dark/harsh Christmas combo that mix usually brings to mind.

Here’s a super-helpful explanation of various color schemes and the differences between shade, tone and hue.

House Beautiful magazine also publishes, every month, great colors designers select as some of their favorites.

The colors in our apartment are all from a British company in Dorset, Farrow & Ball, who add to their stunning range every year, currently with 132 colors. They also offer their discontinued colors, (like the Gervase Yellow on our living room and hallway walls.)

I visited their paint and wallpaper factory last July, a 2.5 hour train ride and 30 minute cab ride from London. I met their production director and their head of color consulting, Charlie (Charlotte) Cosby, both of whom were warm and welcoming and took me through their facility.

What I like about F & B colors — apart from their great names, like Elephant’s Breath, Clunch and Dead Salmon — is their subtlety and depth. My husband, who’s done all the painting, loves the paint’s texture, which he compares to melted ice cream.

Gervase Yellow is warm but gentle, and goes very well with our mid-brown wooden floor, wooden furniture and mixed art; that room’s colors include sage green (sofa), deep burgundy (rug) and these striped curtains.

 

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Our bathroom walls are Hay (I think!), a deep mustard; I love their acid-bright Yellowcake and Babouche, (the color of fresh egg yolk), one of the best yellows anywhere.

Our bedroom is (I think!) Hardwick White (might be Skimming Stone), the warm soft gray of cigarette ash.

Our wooden kitchen cabinetry and the drawers shown below are in French Grey with Clunch (a neutral gray-white) on the walls.

 

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The sitting room is Peignoir, a very pale lavender, which picks up a color in the existing curtains and is subtle but warm. It doesn’t so much read purple as…almost a pale gray; it also works really well near Gervase Yellow because purple and yellow are opposites (again!) on the color wheel and because they’re very similar in value, (i.e. there’s no huge contrast between a light color and a darker one.)

 

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Gervase yellow (in shadow) meets Peignoir (in light)

Here are some more, quite technical explanations of color theory.

If you read interior design magazines, you’ll see, lately, a lot of rooms in two of F & B’s saturated and dramatic deep blues, Hague Blue and Stiffkey — and their pale, gorgeous, ethereal blue of Borrowed Light.

The trick, of course, is to paint a big enough sample before painting a whole room; get a piece of foamcore or stiff cardboard as large as you can — and sit with the color for a day or two to see it in daylight, candle-light, whatever illumination that room will be using. (Every light source adds its own color as well, with incandescent light being warmer than halogen or fluorescent.)

 

 

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?