We were back up in Montreal last weekend where I was heartened to see this large street protest — calmly protected by multiple police officers — as students took to to the streets for their Friday school strike.
“Don’t adapt — act” …
They were inspired by a high school student far away across the ocean, Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, recently profiled by Time magazine as their cover story, extraordinary in itself.
Castigating the powerful has become routine for the 16-year-old. In December, she addressed the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Poland; in January she berated billionaires at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Her London speech was the last stop of a tour that included meeting the Pope. (“Continue to work, continue,” he told her, ending with, “Go along, go ahead.” It was an exhortation, not a dismissal.)
Just nine months ago, Thunberg had no such audiences. She was a lone figure sitting outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, carrying a sign emblazoned with Skolstrejk for Klimatet (School Strike for Climate). She was there for a reason that felt primal and personal. While Thunberg was studying climate change in school at the age of 11, she reacted in a surprisingly intense way: she suffered an episode of severe depression. After a time it lifted, only to resurface last spring.
“I felt everything was meaningless and there was no point going to school if there was no future,” Thunberg says. But this time, rather than suffer the pain, she decided to push back at its cause, channeling her sadness into action. “I promised myself I was going to do everything I could do to make a difference,” she says.
I confess to feeling daily despair over a changing climate wreaking havoc worldwide: floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, incredible heatwaves, all of which are damaging agriculture and the oceans, drying up crucial sources of water and causing millions of people living in vulnerable areas to wonder where else they might possibly live safely.
Indians recently fled a cyclone thanks to receiving in advance millions of warning text messages —- while Ottawa, Canada’s capital, recently coped with the worst flooding in 25 years.
No one is safe.
What, if anything, are you doing to deal with climate change?
Montreal’s Habitat, a legendary bit of architecture
By Caitlin Kelly
If you’ve moved around a fair bit — as every child in a military family knows well, like the author of Small Dog Syndrome blog — it’s sometimes challenging to decide where home really is.
I’ve now lived decades in the same one-bedroom apartment in the same building in the same suburban New York town, by far the longest I have ever lived anywhere.
When my adult midlife peers lament the final sale of their beloved childhood home, I think: “Huh.” Not me.
I’ve moved a lot and have lived in five countries. But it’s now been a long, long time since I last changed residences, absolutely worn out after changing my home location six times in seven years.
It takes time to settle in, to get to know a place and its rhythms.
And, sometimes — despite all your highest hopes and best intentions — it’s just a really poor fit.
I did not enjoy living in Montreal, even with the nicest apartment anywhere ever (fireplace, 15 foot ceilings, spacious rooms) — the winter was too cold and long and snowy and the professional possibilities far too limited. Plus incredibly high taxes and, then anyway, a disturbingly high crime rate. Our building was broken into a lot.
Same for my 1.5 years in small-town New Hampshire, before the Internet, with no family/friends/job and an exhausted/absent medical resident for a boyfriend.
Born, lived to age two.
ages two to five, with my parents, while my father made films for the BBC.
The Ex, an annual event in Toronto
Toronto, ages five to 30
— a gorgeous huge house with a big backyard. Parents divorced when I was seven.
— boarding school Grades 4-9 and summer camp (four of them) ages 8-17
— a downtown apartment shared with my mother.
— a second apartment in the same building, shared with my mother.
— an apartment with my father and his girlfriend.
— a house (owned), also living with with them, in a lovely neighborhood, facing a park.
— a ground-floor, back alley studio in a bad neighborhood, until a man tried to pull me out of the bathroom window while I was in the bath. Lived alone.
— a sorority house, for the summer. Shared space, very comforting!
— a top floor studio apartment near campus; alone.
— a top floor apartment in a downtown Victorian house; with boyfriend.
— the top two floors of a (rented) house; with boyfriend, then alone.
— six months with my mother in a rented apartment, age 14
Montreal has some amazing buildings!
— one year, with my mother in a rented apartment in a downtown brownstone, age 12
— 1.5 years on the top floor of a luxury 1930s-era rental building in downtown while a Montreal Gazette reporter; alone.
Now that’s my kind of delivery! The Marais, one morning…
— eight months in a tiny student dorm room in Cite Universitaire while on an EU-funded journalism fellowship.
Lebanon, New Hampshire
— two years in a rented apartment on the main floor of a farmhouse, with boyfriend-later-husband.
Tarrytown, New York
— current residence; married, divorced, solo, now re-married.
I know people here now.
I run into D, the amiable Frenchman who helps choose stock for our local thrift shop and notice he’s still limping, months after he broke his ankle.
I chat with M, a hardware store sales associate I interviewed in 2009 for my retail book, and who works for a man whose great-grandfather started the company.
I say hello to Hassan, who hands me shards of ham and bits of candied pecans at his gourmet shop.
I bump into friends on the street and at the gym and the train station and the grocery store and at church.
When I return to Montreal and Toronto, I’m also delighted to spend time with old friends and to enjoy familiar foods and sights and sounds and all our shared cultural references that none of my American pals will ever get.
So I feel lucky that so many places have been my home. I feel as bien dans ma peau speaking French in Montreal and Paris as I do hablando en Mexico as I do ordering a bagel with a schmear here in New York.
I lay for long lazy hours alone on this beach in July 2017 in Croatia. Heaven!
By Caitlin Kelly
It’s all sort of sad, really.
In this recent New York Times story — putatively touting the benefits of doing absolutely nothing, aka niksen — the whole reason for doing nothing is…to be more productive:
More practically, the idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. The less-enlightened might call such activities “lazy” or “wasteful.” Again: nonsense.
We at Smarter Living have long been fans of taking regular breaks throughout the day, as study after study shows that feeling drowsy, exhausted or otherwise mentally depleted during the workday drastically hinders performance and productivity.
In other words: Whether at home or at work, permission granted to spend the afternoon just hanging out.
Insert my very loud scream right here.
I did something unthinkable to the old me today.
I skipped the second jam-packed day at an annual writers’ conference: missing appointments and new potential clients, not seeing old friends and basically wasting the money I paid for all of it.
Instead, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, I stayed home, alone and quiet.
I didn’t do this to become more productive!
I did it because I was tired.
I really needed to rest.
I did this because my body told me to sleep 9.5 hours last night, which I gratefully did.
I did it because I cried to a friend in a NYC tea room, worn out with anxiety.
We live in a time when millions of us are being forced into economic precarity — aka the “gig economy”, a phrase I loathe. Because this kind of work is always somewhat unpredictable (I lost my two anchor clients overnight), and can be poorly paid, one is very reluctant to turn away income, to slow down, to just….be still.
Which makes it even more important to just do that.
And plenty of it, dammit!
Do you find it hard to slow down, unplug, unwind and just rest?
Mine seems to be shelter magazines, the industry word for magazines focused on interior design. Stacks of them fill baskets, bookshelves and bags around our apartment, and I part with them reluctantly, only because there’s no room.
I grew up, ages 8 to 16, in boarding school and summer camp, which I’m sure has something to do with this. Boarding school meant sharing a room with at least 3 or 4 others, sleeping in a twin metal bed with an institutional chenille or cotton bedspread. Summer camp meant sharing with 3 or 4 others and sleeping in a wooden bunk-bed, its only “decoration” the graffiti of earlier residents on the raw wood.
So beauty, comfort, style and elegance matter a great deal to me.
I’m able to keep my wallet snapped shut and stay off of most on-line shopping sites, but…but…oooohh, I do love a gorgeous fabric and have splurged multiple times ordering fabric-by-the-yard and having it made into custom throw pillows or curtains.
I had our old Crate & Barrel sofa refreshed with new bold piping on the seat cushions and had these throw pillows custom-made. Adding piping or welting always makes it look more finished.
Because Jose and I so enjoy entertaining, it’s nice to open the door and feel completely at ease that our guests will enjoy a pretty, comfortable environment.
I also studied interior design seriously in the mid-1990s at the New York School of Interior Design, planning to ditch journalism and change careers. But my husband bailed and I couldn’t afford to work for $10/hour to start at the bottom. I loved my classes and now really appreciate what training and skill it takes to create a spectacular space.
My parents each had terrific taste, collecting art and antiques. My father had a gorgeous Knole sofa I still remember decades later. My mother brought home lovely mirrored textiles from India and pale mantas from Peru.
And my maternal grandmother inherited a pile of money and hired Toronto’s best interior designer to furnish her apartment and, later, carriage house. I still remember a spectacular orange wallpaper from her powder room.
Our living room curtains, lined, custom-made maybe a decade ago. Lots of colors to work from in here; that pale yellow-green (Farrow & Ball’s Gervase Yellow) is one of them.
So I happily spend hours paging through other people’s homes, whether a villa in Tuscany, a cottage in Muskoka, Ontario or a 17th. century pile in some bit of rural England. I’m not especially drawn to opulence, and much prefer simplicity, like 18th century Swedish designs or the work of Axel Vervoordt.
I love The English Home, as much for its amazing early houses — some 400 or 500 years old — as the distinctly British sense of color and design. All those tall, tall windows, lined chintz curtains and dressing tables.
On my last visit to London, my pal Cadence, author of Small Dog Syndrome blog — who knows my love of textiles — took me to the Cloth Shop, a legendary London store that supplied fabrics and ribbons to the costume-makers of the Harry Potter films. I bought a lovely teal fabric that now covers our bed headboard.
Two Farrow & Ball colors; French Gray and Peignoir (the lavender one). The drawers were custom-built into a former closet and this is the corner of our small dining room.
And, because I am a complete Farrow & Ball fangirl, I traveled 2.5. hours one-way by train and taxi in July 2017 to visit their paint and wallpaper factory in Dorset and meet one of their two heads of color, Charlie Cosby; here’s an interview with her and some explanations of their quirky paint color names, like Dead Salmon, Clunch and Elephant’s Breath.
Here are a few of my favorite go-to design retailers: Wisteria, Ballard Designs, Jayson Home, Anthropologie, Mothology, Dash & Albert, Serena & Lily.
There’s no question that women face unique risks when traveling solo, experts say.
“We have evidence that shows that women face risks that men don’t face in public spaces, at home, wherever they may be,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, an organization that promotes female equality. Increasingly, “wherever they may be” includes alone in foreign countries.
I’ve traveled alone, most recently in the fall of 2018, driving alone for hours through upstate New York on my way to Canada. For many hours, I was out of cellphone range (although comforted by a system in our car that tracks it and had a way to communicate) and far from ready access to police or a hospital.
I drove only in daylight, as is my habit when going solo, whenever possible.
Was I scared? No.
I’ve also traveled alone in rural Sicily, Istanbul, rural Portugal, Thailand, Mexico and other places where bad things can happen and where “decent” women are generally accompanied by one of three people — their mother/father, their husband or their child(ren) and thus left unhassled.
Yet the worst things that have happened to me have always happened at home — in Toronto, Montreal and suburban small-town New York.
All were robberies, none assault or worse.
Also alone, albeit in my hometown, a place filled with friends
I plan to spend some time alone again this summer, albeit in the cities of a Western European country, more worried about an act of terrorism now than personal attack.
I really love being outdoors and wish I could just go camping alone, but I don’t. I hate that I’m afraid of others, but I think it’s prudent. Last time I did it was about four years ago in a crowded campground at the Grand Canyon.
My mother traveled solo for years, an attractive woman in places where women don’t really go out alone, and was fine. She also taught me how put a chair beneath the door handle of my hotel room to prevent someone opening it and to dress modestly and remain hyper-aware of my surroundings and culture.
I’ve only gotten drunk once while traveling alone (in San Francisco, a few blocks from my hotel) and I don’t take drugs nor dress provocatively. I don’t walk around wearing headphones or staring into a phone or wearing expensive jewelry.
I try to be extremely aware of local customs and dress and behave accordingly.
I think it’s one of the best things a woman can do — to travel alone and know how to trust her instincts. It has, so far, given me tremendous self-confidence and brought me new friendships.
Venice — alone, July 2017
But one of the challenges of solo female travel is knowing that we’re often being closely observed and — yes — sometimes considered vulnerable prey by the wicked. That’s frightening and I know of no very practical solution for it.
Here’s part of a wise comment (722 of them!) on the Times story by a woman in Montana:
solo travel teaches intense situational awareness, reliance on gut instincts, and a willingness to run rather than trying not to offend, as women often do to our detriment.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Dessert at 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.
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
One of the outdoor pools, by night
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.
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.
How gorgeous is this? Note the two enormous memorial walls listing all the soldiers working for the bank killed in WWI
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!
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.
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!
When it’s bitterly cold for long weeks, it’s easy to stop going out for a walk. But then cabin fever sets in…
These are woods near our home, in a town 25 miles north of New York City, with a paved trail a mile long that runs beside a reservoir, whose landmarks — officially, watermarks, I guess — can include several white swans, enormous flocks of geese who rest on the ice mid-migration, and, in the summer, multiple small black turtles and a cormorant who stands on a rock to dry out his wings.
In the winter, though, the woods are silent. I can only hear planes overhead and traffic circling the reservoir and the gurgling of a stream. No scurrying squirrels or chipmunks or birdsong.
It’s a more austere world, the remaining leaves bleached, bare branches etched against the sky, thick fungi crowding a log.
This was the Fireside Conference, three days in northern Ontario, with the most fun, smart, eclectic group I’ve ever met. I miss that!
By Caitlin Kelly
Many people opine now about how lonely we are, staring into our screens alone at home instead of bowling with friends or joining a choir or a knitting club or…
I grew up in a Toronto boarding school, ages eight to 13, which was, technically, a community in one respect but I rarely felt welcomed and was often in trouble and shunned accordingly. Finally in Grade Nine, I was told not to return.
Ages 8 to 16, I attended three summer camps, the last one being perhaps the closest to my ideal community, combining a lot of personal freedom to explore, to test my athletic and artistic limits (and thrive in both), to make deep friendships, some of them still strong today, and to feel completely valued even though I was a quirky little thing.
The nostalgic scent of sun-dried pine needles, the typical smell of camp, to this day soothes me deeply.
Today, finding mid-life face-to-face community feels elusive. I attended little formal education in the U.S. (a few years part-time at design school) so I have no alumni networks. We have no kids.
My right knee is now bone-on-bone, so I’ve been forbidden to jump or run, (foregoing my coed softball team of 15 years.)
I can’t read music so unable to join a choir. (Yes, I could learn.)
My passions are specific and nerdy — like antique textiles — so other than online, where to find fellow enthusiasts? I am completely enjoying my Instagram feed, where I follow textile designers, collectors and dealers, learning a great deal from each of them.
I belong to at least a dozen online writers’ groups, but none offer what I deeply crave — really smart high-level discussions of craft, great ideas, inspiration. It’s often a moan-fest/brag-fest, and too many are just too young and inexperienced.
Church? Not really. I love the physical space (our church was built in 1853), but I’m not a good fit within a wealthy, clique-y crowd.
Politics? Journalists are professionally expected to stay out of politics.
Neighbors? We live in an apartment building where (I counted!) I know almost half of our residents, by face or name (there are 100 apartments) but socially…No. Most are in their 70s, 80s and 90s, many quite ill and frail.
The rest, as is everyone here, obsessed with work and family.
I’m very grateful for a husband who is excellent company, but he’s not my everything, nor should he be!
So it’s a challenge…
Oddly, or not, the closest I’ve got is my three-times-week spin class, where I’ve made a good friend and know I am welcome and known. I like our town very much, and I “know” many locals by sight, (and vice versa), certainly independent businesses like the third-generation-owned hardware store and a few local restaurants. But to me, that’s not the same.
Where do you find true, lively, inspiring community?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.