And I’m a total sucker for a beautifully laid table, as the French call it, l’art de la table.
If you’ve ever been to France or Italy especially, you’ve probably enjoyed some gorgeous table settings, even in inexpensive restaurants, thanks to lovely colors in seating, table-tops, floor tile and thoughtful lighting.
The last thing you want is bright glaring overhead light.
The idea is to set a mood, to eat and drink slowly, to enjoy a leisurely meal.
Creating a pretty table isn’t as difficult, scary or expensive as you might assume but it takes a little planning, some digging around for lovely, affordable items and having the confidence to put them all together.
Details matter: iron textiles. Polish metals. Make sure your glassware is clean, not pitted or cracked.
(Those of you with very small children, especially boys, may snicker and leave at this point!)
I’ve been amassing tableware and linens for decades now, and have a good collection of antique china and porcelain, including brown transferware, a sort of poor man’s china popular in the 19th century, which also comes in pink, purple, red and black.
I use mismatched but heavy silver-plate cutlery, found at flea markets, and keep it well-polished.
New tablecloths aren’t always easy to find, and tend to be expensive, but flea markets and consignment shops have plenty of them.
I sometimes just buy a few yards of nice fabric and hem it myself by hand.
Summer breakfast on our New York balcony
For new things, I like: Mothology, Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, Wisteria, Horchow, Crate & Barrel, Ballard Designs.
But I mostly haunt flea markets in every city and have found some great/affordable/quality old things at antiques fairs, consignment shops and inside group antiques malls.
To create a pretty table, for the holidays — or ongoing — here are some things you might want to collect (or rent):
— linen or cotton napkins
— tall candles aka tapers, maybe mixed with unscented votives
— candlesticks or candle-holders, brass, glass, wood, crystal, silver
— a centerpiece of fruit or flowers or vegetation; (no fragrant flowers or arrangements too tall to see over)
— a couple of handsome serving platters and large serving bowls
— a large fabric tablecloth to soften and add color and texture or a long, wide fabric runner
— clean and well-polished cutlery, (what Americans call flatware)
— matching glassware (one for water, one for wine)
— salt and pepper and butter in their own servers/dishes
— a nice jug for serving cold water
No open containers!
Here are some of my own photos, for inspiration:
Restaurant Alexandre, Montreal. Marble table-top ringed with polished brass and cheerful striped bistro chairs
So sorry I couldn’t get these home safely from Venice!
I found the tablecloth in Prince Edward County, Ontario. The cup and saucer are early 19th century, English
A collection of candlesticks — three from Mexico (pewter) and one silver-plate found at a flea market
A few suggestions for those of you about to become a holiday host:
No nagging, chivvying or political battles
Of all years, this is probably going to be the toughest for many of us. If you and your guests hold opposite political views, staying calm and civil is key. Garden-variety queries all guests dread — “So, why are you still single?” are bad enough!
Whatever it takes, try to avoid big arguments. Not much winning likely.
Even the most social and extroverted among us need time to nap, rest, read, recharge. To just be alone for a while. Don’t feel rejected if someone needs it and don’t be shy about suggesting a few hours’ break from one another, every day.
A cheat sheet
Offer a sheet of paper with basic info: the home’s street address and phone numbers; nearby parks or running trails; an emergency contact; taxi numbers or the nearest gas station; directions to the nearest hospital, pharmacy and drugstore; how to work the coffee-maker and laundry facilities.
Anything guests need to know to stay safe and avoid creating inadvertent chaos.
Thoughtful details: nice bath/shower gel or soap, bottles of cold water at bedside, setting a pretty table with a tablecloth, flowers and cloth napkins, a scented candle bedside, extras they might have forgotten or need (sanitary supplies, razors, diapers.)
Good guests really appreciate these.
A mini flashlight in their room
Especially helpful in a larger home, to navigate one’s way to the bathroom, on stairs or into the kitchen for a midnight snack.
A small basket of treats
Granola bars, crackers, some hard candy, almonds. We all get a bit hungry between meals.
A selection of magazines
Nothing gloomy! Glossy shelter magazines always a safe bet.
Ask about and accommodate serious dietary preferences and allergies
Adding some half-and-half or a loaf of multi-grain bread won’t break the bank. If your guests have long lists of highly specific must-haves, it’s fair to ask them to bring some with them, (if traveling by car.)
If your guests are arriving with multiple ever-ravenous teenagers, maybe discuss splitting the grocery bill; it’s one thing to be a gracious host, but if your normal budget is already tight, don’t just seethe in silence at the need to keep buying more and more and more food.
A frank discussion about what you expect and all hope to accomplish: (lots of nothing? A tightly scheduled day?, and at what speed
Few things are as grim as staying in a home that has vastly differing standards of cleanliness, timing, punctuality, tidiness, organization — even religiosity — than you do.
Some people are up at 5:00 a.m. every day on their Peloton or email while others’ notion of a holiday mean sleeping until noon. Do your best to coordinate schedules, at least for shared meals, then prepare to be easy-going and flexible.
A card in your room with your home’s wi-fi details and password
A true sense of welcome
People know when their presence is really wanted and welcomed — and when it isn’t, (like the dirty cat litter box under my pull-out bed at one “friend’s” home and the empty fridge in another’s.)
If you really can’t bear having others staying in your home with you, (for whatever reason), don’t do it. It can be a difficult conversation and you may have to gin up some solid excuses (bedbug invasion?) but there are few experience as soul-searing (believe me!) as staying with someone — especially if your own home is a long expensive journey away — who doesn’t want you there.
Broadside now offers more than 1,700 published posts, many of them offering helpful tips for fellow writers and travelers.
But today’s journalists, many of us now full-time freelance, are working with the only safety nets possible, our own savings. I’m now co-chair of an all-volunteer 13-member board, an organization that offers grants — up to $4,000 within weeks — to qualified writers in financial crisis. Every penny we collect goes directly to those in need. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund!
Dash & Albert make fantastic and well-priced throw rugs in a wide assortment of colors and styles. I love this wool throw rug in tones of lavender, cream, kiwi fruit and raspberry sorbet. 3×5 size $262.00
A watch? Yes really!
Enough with staring at your phone to tell time! Bring back the pleasure of wearing an elegant watch, complete with black crocodile strap. This one is gorgeous, made in arrangement with the British Museum and sold through the gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. $129.00
Now, of course, you need a lavender glazed teapot — one of 320 (!) china and metal teapot choices (from the shop we buy all our tableware from), William Ashley in Toronto. Yes, they ship domestically and to the U.S. $186.00 ($140.00 U.S.)
I love to sew and mend. Yes, very retro! If you know someone who does, they might appreciate this charming pin/needle holder, a tiny bird with a grey cotton cushion. Mothology is one of my favorite websites; roam around a bit if you like their esthetic. $22.95
These shawls from the Aran Islands of Ireland are a classic, perfect for travel and a lovely winter accessory — knit in baby alpaca and silk — in a range of neutral tones. $209 (186 euros)
These earrings! Bronze and sea-glass. $60 (Check out their entire site. Some of the most interesting jewelry I’ve seen in years.)
One of New York City’s most elegant menswear shops is Paul Stuart, founded in 1938, on the corner of Madison Avenue and 45th. Here are some fun socks, in several colors. I like these bright blue ones, possibly terrific spotted between a pair of dark wash denim and polished black loafers. $44.50
Readers of Broadside know how much I love to entertain and to set a beautiful table. We only use linen or cotton napkins and I have a small collection of colorful tablecloths. This company offers exquisite linen napkins, runners and tablecloths in 16 colors, from a soft red to teal to classic white, oyster and black.
You’ll have to trust me on this one. This soap! Crisp, fragrant, creamy, dreamy. Lasts for ages. $42.00 (for three)
Or a mysterious and lovely historic photo…
Fascinated by the American Civil War? Or pinhole photography? The photos made of Civil War re-enactors by our friend, the talented New York photographer Michael Falco, are truly mysterious. Like this one. Contact him for print prices.
In a world where tedious email and torrents of texts is the norm, few items are as deliciously old-school as personalized stationery, a gift I had made for my husband a few years ago. These letterpress cards, handmade in London, (but shipping worldwide), are simple but charming. $57.92 for 25 flat cards.
Eager to raise your writing or blogging game? Want to write a non-fiction book? Break into freelance writing? Ask your sweetie for an hour of my coaching. One man gave this to his delighted wife for her birthday this year. $225/hour.
Or going solo, no matter the family fallout, avoiding people whose behaviors keep making you miserable — substance abuse, alcoholism, homophobia — maybe a trifecta!
Where is home for you now?
Is it where you grew up, living with your parents?
Or maybe a hotel or apartment on the road, thousands of miles from people who speak your language?
Which holiday, if any, are you celebrating?
Will you attend a Christmas Eve church service?
I know one person spending it on an island deep in the Pacific Ocean, on Tuvalu. (Merry Christmas, Devi!)
Another two women, one from Philadelphia, one from Dublin, are each heading to Chile.
Christmas, with its rush of sentiment, shopping and song, can be a season of great joy, reuniting with people whose love and acceptance raise us up…or a time of intense loneliness.
At a time when people scurry home to their warm, well-lit refuges, some of us are mourning the loss of a partner, a child, a pet.
Some of us are battling serious illness. Some of us are seeking well-paid work and having little luck.
Anyone facing their first holiday season without a dearly loved one, as one recently widowed friend knows, will need the armor of light, (my favorite phrase), to carry them through.
I remember vividly the very first Christmas after my divorce. I’d been with my first husband for seven years and had left Canada, friends, family and career to follow him to the U.S.
I sat for the gorgeous solstice service offered each year by Paul Winter in the enormous New York City cathedral of St. John the Divine, with a dear friend and new beau beside me — loved, valued and deeply grateful not to be alone in a time that so celebrates togetherness.
Even gift-giving can be laden with emotion and anxiety.
I worked part-time in retail for 2.5 years. One man had no notion what his teenage daughter might enjoy while another practically begged me for help: “I need to find a present for a pain in the ass!”
For many years, my family gave me “gifts” that were clearly last-minute afterthoughts or the little free samples that come with cosmetic purchases. Nor were my gifts to them graciously or happily accepted.
The season can so quickly sour!
The first Christmas I introduced my husband Jose to my loud, argumentative family was typical. As usual, we were expounding on politics and economics, each of us thumping the table for emphasis, voices raised and fingers pointed, certainty — as usual — thick in the air. We never discuss emotion or feelings, never simply ask, “How are you?”
He finally slapped the table in exasperation: “Everyone take a turn!”
Like fighting dogs sprayed with a garden hose, we paused for a minute — stunned. Then, on we went.
Welcome to the family!
Christmas Eve is also difficult for me, the night that, when I was 14, my mother had a nervous breakdown in the foreign country where we were living, leaving me and a friend in an unfamiliar city at midnight. Within a few weeks, I had left the country and her care, returning to live with my father and his girlfriend; I barely knew her and I hadn’t lived with him since my parents’ divorce seven years earlier.
I never lived with my mother again. We since spent some crazy Christmases — like the one in Cartagena, Colombia, (where the police stopped our cab and asked us to step out to be frisked), and later got sunstroke.
But in the past four years I haven’t seen or spoken to her.
Nor will I see my father and two half-brothers, spending their Christmas together in Canada; one brother nurses a long-held grudge against me so that’s it for family holidays that include me.
So the words family and home don’t make much sense to me in any traditional “home for the holidays” way.
Instead of focusing on lack, I’m choosing joy.
We’re now in Paris, a city filled with sweet memories for me, a city I lived in at 25 for a year while on a journalism fellowship. It was a year that changed my life and my career, and I’m still in touch with some of my fellow fellows decades later.
Paris for me — a Canadian living in New York — still feels like home for that reason, even after years between visits.
Jose is my family now. He proposed to me at midnight on Christmas Eve after church, standing beneath our church’s lych gate as snow hissed around us. He knew how sad that night had been for me and decided to re-brand it with a happier memory.
I hope — wherever you are and whoever you’re with and whatever you celebrate — you have a calm, loving, happy holiday!
Thank you all for the gift of your attention to Broadside. It means a lot!
It’s the season of invitations — to a summer share, a beach house, a cottage. Maybe you’re finally meeting the parents.
While it’s lovely to be invited into someone’s home, it’s also a potential minefield of hurt feelings and unexpressed emotion. We’ve stayed with friends many times, most of whom live in fairly tight quarters, so being considerate and tidy really make a difference.
“You’re so low maintenance!” said one grateful hostess. We try!
A few ways to leave a good-to-great impression on your hosts:
When they ask about your dietary preferences, remember — it’s not a full-service restaurant
Some people have genuine allergies that are life-threatening and others simply have a realllllly long list of their very strong preferences. If you absolutely must have a specific food or drink, bring it with you. It’s rude to impose your individual will on a larger group of people gathered for a good time; when we stayed with friends who served steak for dinner, but invited a vegetarian friend, he happily joined us and ate only vegetables.
Be a good sport. It’s their home!
One of our hosts insisted we wear slippers (or bare feet) to keep the floors clean. No biggie, as they had a huge basket of nice clean slippers by the door. Everyone has their quirks and habits.
Sex? Keep it fully private and really quiet
No, I’m not a prude. Ask any host about the worst guests they ever had, and the screamers and moaners will likely top the list. It’s great you’re so deeply in love (or lust), but sharing space with people you might not know very well is neither the time nor place to enjoy a noisy sexual marathon.
If you’re bringing your children and/or pets, have a full and frank discussion before arriving about what your hosts need and expect from them, and you
Just because you adore them and find their 300-decibel shrieking/barking normal/charming doesn’t mean it is. People who have chosen to “get away” are hoping to flee their everyday stresses, not add new and fresh hells to their time off.
Buy groceries, pay for them or split food/drink costs with your host
Ditto for taking them out for a few very good meals. Even if one dinner costs you $150, that’s less than a decent hotel room in many spots at high season.
While many of us now spend ours day on social media, time away with friends or relatives means enjoying (or trying to!) actual face to face conversation, in the house, walking through the woods or wandering the beach. Everyone needs and deserves quiet private time, but focus on the people who’ve invited you, not only your technology and distant amusements. And no phones at the table!
Write a thank-you note, on paper, and send it within a week
Sure, you can email and people probably expect nothing more. But choose a pretty card or use your personal stationery and highlight the things you most enjoyed.
No one writes thank-you notes anymore?
Polite people who want to be invited back do.
Help out wherever you can
Wash dishes or cook a meal or walk the dog or baby-sit for a few hours. Maybe you can help mow the lawn or weed the garden. They’ll probably say no, but might well appreciate the offer. It’s a home, not a hotel.
Avoid all public grooming
I once stayed with a younger friend who sat on the sofa watching television with his wife — while both of them flossed their teeth. To me, a more private person, it was just gross. You may walk around your own home clipping, cleaning or polishing your nails or brushing your teeth in transit, but in someone else’s space please keep all of it within the confines of a bathroom with a closed door. No one wants to see or hear the evidence of your later stunning public appearance.
Bring your own beauty, health and grooming supplies
If the place you’re visiting is miles from the nearest store, and you must have some essential item, be sure to buy it and bring it with you. No one wants to ruin their host’s plans with last-minute dashes for basics. Yes, they might have it, but — (tampons, diapers, nursing pads, Neosporin, etc.) — they might not.
No matter how welcome and relaxed you feel, pick up after yourself — coffee cups, dishes, newspapers, towels, sand-filled sneakers, wet bathing suits…
Bring a small flashlight
Perfect for midnight runs to the kitchen or toilet or while navigating unfamiliar stairs or paths. Our trusty headlamp has proven so handy so many times!
Avoid arguments — with your spouse/partner and your host(s)
Seems obvious. Some couples bicker as easily and normally as they breathe which can make less contentious people uncomfortable. Nor is a shared dinner table the best place to argue your views on gun control or other sensitive matters. Relaxation is the order of business, not sharing your deeply felt and hotly argued views on economic policy.
Do you enjoy being a guest?
What other tips would you offer a guest — or host?
For many of us, the holidays are a time of frenzied shopping, wrapping gifts, tearing them open with glee, (and pretending we love those socks, really!) — surrounded by loved ones, deep in the bosom of a welcoming family.
For others, it’s a lonely time of want and exclusion.
My greatest gift, for the past 13 years, has been my husband, Jose, who proposed to me on Christmas Eve, with snow falling around us, after the evening service at our small historic church. He knew that night had many painful memories for me, going back decades, and decided to “re-brand” it with something new and happy.
But we didn’t marry until September 2011, eight years later, in a small wooden church on an island in the harbor of my hometown, Toronto.
Our marriage, which we cherish for this, is hard-won.
We were — and still are — two hot-headed, competitive, stubborn workaholics, both career journalists more accustomed to pouring our best, (our all), into our work, a safe place to win recognition, awards and income. His parents died before he was 30 and we’re not close, emotionally or physically, to our families, no matter how hard we’ve tried. No one from his family attended our wedding, nor did one of my brothers or my mother. We have no children.
So we’re very much one another’s family.
We also married, (the second marriage for both), at what is euphemistically and hopefully called mid-life.
I’m grateful for the daily gift of a good man who loves me deeply.
We laugh loudly, and a lot. We talk for hours. We lean our heads against one another’s shoulders in public. He does the laundry. I do (some!) of the cooking. He’s starting to beat me (damn!) at Bananagrams. He’s the guy who — when I start waving the wooden stick after I’ve finished my ice cream bar — makes the buzzing noise of a light saber.
The furthest apart we’ve (yet) been — I was in Tunis on a solo vacation and he was in San Francisco, judging photos for the “A Day in the Life of America” coffee table book.
In this, our 13th holiday season together, he has shown me, more than anyone in my life so far, that love doesn’t come in a box or bag or sealed-plastic container.
It has no price tag or return policy.
If we’re really lucky, it’s right there in front of us.
Here’s a beautiful post by a young woman, chosen for Freshly Pressed, about how she’s spending the holidays, without the traditional closeness of family:
We were browsing the greeting card aisle at Target the other day, looking for something to send my parents for Thanksgiving. The more I skimmed the contents of each card, the more discouraged I became.
Because it hurts to know millions of people all over the country will be sending cards that say things like, “Holidays are a time to appreciate loved ones…” or even better, “I’m so thankful to be spending this day with you…”
But I didn’t pick a card like that. I was relegated to a small selection of cards that read more along the lines of “Hope your holiday is __________.” Fill in the blank with words like blessed, enjoyable, and joyful. These are the neutral cards meant for acquaintances, distant relatives, or coworkers. All of the formality but none of the tenderness.
I just want to talk about this. I want to speak into the hearts of the people who struggle during the holidays as much as I do. Whether you’re estranged, cut off, or alienated the endless routine of the holiday season can sometimes be too much to bear.
That post cut me to the heart — as I, too, had just searched the card racks in vain for a birthday card for my mother, one without all the glitter and butterflies and saccharine emotion that has no relevance to our relationship.
We no longer even have a relationship.
My mother’s last card to me was several years ago, filled with anger. She now lives in one small room in a nursing home in a city that takes me 7 hours flying time to reach. I’m her only child, and she wants nothing to do with me.
The details are too complicated and grim and personal to get into here, although long-time readers of Broadside read a post that once explained some of it.
If you are fortunate enough to have a family that looks forward to spending time with one another, happy selecting gifts you know will please them, eager to cook festive meals and welcome them to your table — be thankful.
And please include those of us who don’t have a place to go to, as one friend did for me, one brutal Christmas Day some 15 years ago. My mother had come to New York to spend it with me, but Christmas Eve, (which already had some old and very painful memories for us both), had once more turned into a holocaust.
On Christmas Day, alone, I had nowhere to go and no one to be with.
My friend Curt, home from California visiting his parents in Pennsylvania, said: “Come!”
This season is a painful, aching one for many. We may be too shy or too proud to explain why we’re not going “home” for the holidays, the nasty details a thorn in our souls every day as it is.
And some people are grieving, this being their first Christmas without someone they adored — like this blog, written by a talented artist whose wife Leslie died six months ago. This post is heartbreaking, but describes what it feels like to approach Christmas for the first time as a widower.
The first Christmas after my husband left, in 1994, was deeply painful, but I got through it thanks to a dear friend and (yay!) a terrific new beau who reminded me there might actually be life worth living as a divorcee.
Luckily, I’ve spent the past 13 Christmases with my second husband, who thoughtfully chose Christmas Eve, (at midnight, snowing, after church) to propose, so that evening would newly represent a happy choice, not frightening old memories.
Home is where someone who loves you welcomes you with open arms, no matter who opens that door.
Please let your home be that place for someone feeling lost and lonely this year as well.
The day began with gusty wind and torrents of rain — and a fresh hairdo thanks to Ilda, who arrived at her salon at 7:40 a.m. to help me prepare for my BBC television interview.
The BBC studio, a very small room with lots of lights and a camera mounted on a tripod in the corner, is part of their New York City office, which shares a wall (!) with Al Jazeera next door. Both of them, like some sort of journalistic Russian matryoshka doll, are inside the offices of the Associated Press, in a huge building at 450 West 33rd — the same building where I worked in 2005-2006 as a reporter for the New York Daily News.
During the live hour-long show, which was heard worldwide, I perched on a stool with an earpiece in my ear, producers’ tinny voices from London competing with the five other guests, from Arkansas to London to Connecticut. Afterward, I went to the lobby and sat in Starbucks and drank tea and read magazines for an hour just to calm down. It’s thrilling to be part of an international broadcast, but also a little terrifying.
I went to the Post Office to buy five stamps. I stood in line for almost 25 minutes, in a line full of people bitterly grumbling at the only clerk.
I took the subway uptown and northeast and decided to wander the West 50s. (For non New Yorkers, the West side begins at Fifth Avenue.)
The narrow gloomy depths of St. Thomas Episcopal Church offered respite, its white stone altar a mass of carvings, saint upon saint. Enormous Christmas wreaths of pine hang on the bare stone walls. The church is still and calm, an oasis of stillness amid the crowds and noise and light and frenzied spending of money all around it.
Lunch is a lucky find, Tina’s, on 56th, which sells Cuban food. The place is packed with nearby office workers gossiping. For $14, I have pernil (roast pork), spicy black beans, potato salad and a passion fruit batido (milkshake)– across Fifth Avenue at the St. Regis Hotel, a single cocktail would cost more.
I love it: powerful, simple drawings of an almost impossible economy of line. Some of them are raw and graphic, of women with their knees drawn to their chest, legs splayed, naked. They were done 100 years ago, between 1911 and 1918. Schiele and his wife, then six months pregnant, died three days apart in the Spanish flu epidemic that killed an impossible 20 million people.
He was 28, and his final drawing was of his dying wife, Edith. I find everything about his life somewhat heartbreaking. Dead at 28?!
Two small ancient white terriers, one named Muffin, kept bursting out of the gallery office, barking madly.
I loved the pencil drawing of his mother — “Meine Mutter” written on one side, drawn on deep tan paper — with her rimless glasses and dour expression, her hands half-hidden beneath her dress.
His women almost burst from the weathered pages, one woman’s right leg, literally, stepping off the edge of the paper as she lunges towards us. They often wear no make-up or jewelry or furs. Some were said to be prostitutes, his association with them scandalous in bourgeois Vienna.
In our jaded, virtual era of all-pixels-all-the-time, I revel in the physicality of these works on paper, their edges thick and smudged, their cotton fibres crinkled and wrinkled. You can imagine his hands holding them a century ago, his young fingers so confident in their vision, so soon to be stilled.
Some of the works are for sale, for $45,000 to $1 million+; only one has sold, but the young woman at the front desk won’t tell me for how much. Oh, how I long to win the lottery! A Schiele has long been on my most-wanted list.
In the cold, gray dusk, I walked the 15 blocks south to Grand Central Station, down Fifth Avenue, crammed with contradictions. For the fanny-packed and white-sneaker-shod from the heartland, agape and moving waayyyyyyy too slowly for the impatient natives actually trying to get somewhere quickly, there’s Gap and Juicy Couture and Friday’s, all comforting reminders of home.
For the oligarchs, jetting in privately, there’s Harry Winston, a legendary jeweler, whose precious gemstones are the size of my thumbnail. This is not a place to browse. I wonder when, on this list of their outposts, the latter four were added. How times change!
Throngs of tourists are lined up — to get into Hollister, a national clothing chain they can see at home in Iowa or Florida.
At Godiva chocolates, a woman is dipping strawberries.
A huge, glittering snake made of lights encircles (en-squares?) the edges of the corner building holding the luxury jeweler Bulgari.
For a hit of hot carbs, carts sell pretzels and roast chestnuts.
Outside the enormous private University Club, people of power and privilege sitting in its tall windows, a black man sits in a wheelchair holding a plastic cup in which to collect donations. I give him a dollar and, to my surprise, he hands me something in return — a glossy postcard, a close-up of his artificial legs.
“What happened to your legs?” I ask.
“Poor circulation,” he replies. (Diabetes, surely.)
Amid the temples of Mammon — Bulgari, Fendi, Ferragamo, Henri Bendel, Saks, the Gap, Barnes & Noble, Prada
— there are three churches, St. Thomas, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
One might stop to pray.
One might pray to stop.
On Madison in the mid-40s, I pass Paul Stuart, with the necessities of male elegance, like these…
The two bastions of classic male style, Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers, entered my consciousness when I was 22, on one of my first visits to New York — because the offices of magazine publisher Conde Nast (named for the man who founded it), sat right between them at 350 Madison Avenue. It’s now for rent.
Can you imagine my excitement when I stopped by Glamour and Mademoiselle, in the days when I carried a large artists’ portfolio with clips of my published articles, to meet the editors? As a young, insatiably ambitious journalist from Toronto, this was the epicenter of writing success, an address I’d memorized in my early teens.
Glamour liked one of my stories — typed on paper — tucked in the back and not even yet published by the Canadian magazine that had commissioned it. So it ran three months later in Glamour as a resale. Swoon!
Back to Grand Central Station to meet Jose at the entrance to the 5:38, the express train speeding us home, non-stop, in 38 minutes.
Vacation is over and we’re heading home to New York today. I’ve been gone from my home for an entire month, and alone for the past two weeks.
Some things I enjoyed most:
— Watching a minor-league baseball game. My ticket was $8, for one of the best seats in the stadium.
— Attending the 9:30 a.m. service at the local Episcopal church. It was a tiny A-frame, whose screened windows faced the grass of the Champlain exhibition grounds. Seagulls squawked. A man played banjo for Amazing Grace. The peace — the part of the service when everyone greets one another — went on, charmingly, forever.
— Eating at the bar of a dive-y pub a very good cup of home-made corn chowder and a cold local ale. Watching the NBA draft and a baseball game on two TVs at the same time.
— Not turning on the television once in two weeks of house-sitting. Didn’t miss it a bit.
— Reading fiction, which I almost never do. Loved “The Art of Fielding”, a new first novel by Chad Harbach and “Cannery Row”, the 1945 classic by John Steinbeck. Harbach’s book has sold 250,000 copies and he was paid $650,000 for it, after a decade working on it in broke obscurity. I really liked his book, despite the hype.
— A phenomenal blood orange martini and salmon with chive risotto on a splurge night.
— Washing my car with a hose in the driveway, (forbidden at our co-op.)
— Watching two hot-air balloons soaring over my head at dusk, the roaring of the gas flames audible and mysterious. Even the little dog was impressed.
— Meeting someone at a party on a farm in Vermont whose grandparents came from the same small tiny Breton town, Concarneau, where my mentor is buried.
— Having a small, playful, cuddly dog to accompany me on road trips, to hog the bed at night and whose silky ears I will miss terribly. On the car trip home from Montpelier, in the dark, she laid her head on my shoulder.
— Lying in the sunshine reading.
— My first few Zumba classes. Ouch! Now I get why people so enjoy it. Planning to continue them at home.
— Playing endless games of Scrabble on the Ipad.
— Missing the hell out of my husband, with three weeks apart to remember all the things I love and none of the stuff that annoys me.
— Driving up to the ice-cream stand for a huge cup of very good ice cream, for $2.60.
— The Friday farmer’s market, with wood-oven-fired pizza, luscious tomatoes, crusty baguettes and live music.
— The astonishing mist and cloud over the green hills as I drove southeast through rain to an outdoor party.
— Meeting new people who were welcoming and kind and offered amazing barbecue ribs at that party.
— Scoring some great, cheap-o antique finds, like four silver-plate knives for $7 and a lovely transferware cup for $10.
— Snagging some CDs, including the new Patti Smith.
— Introducing myself to local indie book-sellers and asking if they’d stock my book.
— Seeing the Camel’s Hump, a 4,800-foot high mountain southeast of where I stayed, in all sorts of light and weather conditions.
— The river at the end of our street. When I went to its edge, I found a tarp/tent and a very deep large hole dug at the edge of a cornfield. Shriek. Fled…quickly.
— Taking lots of cellphone photos for future visual reference, mostly of anything with patina.
— Going dancing with Jose, shaking my tail feather for 90 minutes, with kids half our age coming up to say “You’re a terrific dancer!” That new left hip works just fine.
I love glam trips to Paris and London, but the past month, doing the rural/small town thing, has been a wonderful and relaxing change. I’ve really enjoyed it.
What are some of the simple pleasures you’ve been enjoying lately?
The most materially fortunate spent today unwrapping their Christmas gifts.
Jose, as is his wont, gave me a lovely mixture of the practical and flattering, from a new workout wardrobe to get me back into the gym in style to a book about the mountains of Antarctica to…a folding telescope!
Not at all what some men might buy a wife for their first married Christmas but I was, and am, totally thrilled. I feel like a pirate woman. The ‘scope is powerful enough that I can tell if someone’s standing on the balcony of the apartment building on the opposite side of the Hudson, a distance of three miles. Essential!
My gifts to him this year included “1493”, a new work of history; a paisley silk pocket square and bright blue tattersall shirt and a road atlas. I like that our gifts to each of us combine a sense of adventure with the tools to enjoy it.
It’s a quiet Christmas for us; my father is in Canada with my two half-brothers and my Mom is in a nursing home far away. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner with our New York family, whose daughter Jose dated some 15 years ago, all of whom have remained dear friends of ours. We went to church this morning, part of a very small group of perhaps 20 others.