Recommended: 15 Reasons to Live

Not only do I wholeheartedly recommend this documentary film by Alan Zweig, here's a link to TVO's site so you can watch it! (Note: the site's hosting of this film may be temporary.)

It is also for sale on iTunes and GooglePlay.

You will be moved, inspired and delighted, for here, amid mostly everyday events (a car breakdown, a trip to a mall, a boat ride) are stories of human loss and triumph, of birth and death, losses and recoveries. The scale of the film is humble, the wisdom prodigious.

The film, a triumph of storytelling, is based on Ray Robertson's non-fiction book, "Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live".

New pearl course, free for limited time!

Would you like to build comprehensive pearl knowledge, or dive into the pearl varieties that interest you? Would you like to know as much (and sometimes more) as a jeweler or salesperson?

The Cultured Pearl Association of American has just launched a new e-course, "Pearls as One". Pearl guru Jeremy Shepherd of Pearl Paradise was a key developer, and he's offering a coupon code reduces the $600 price to... free! The code, PEARL10951PARADISE, is valid for a limited time, so hop to it and register.

Designed for jewelers and retailers, the course contains ten modules, but if you want to learn about only Tahitians, for example, you can select only that part. Or, take the entire course and exam, and become a Certified Pearl Specialist!

A "Retailer's Guide" section for each pearl variety describes the value factors, with clear examples—invaluable when you shop. (I've seen sublime pearls and average pearls offered for the same price; why not get the great ones?)

This is a characteristically generous and collaborative gesture by Mr. Shepherd, a leader not only in this project, but in uniting a far-flung industry. Thank you, Jeremy Shepherd and team. (Contributors include Sarah Canizzaro of Kojima Company, Kevin Canning of Pearls of Joy, and pearl researcher Caitlin Williams of

And pearl hug to reader Cynthia Newberry for telling me about the coupon!

I know you dropped by to peer in the window, and the Passage today greets autumn with a trio of whimsical pearl mushroom brooches.

These are by Elizabeth Blair Fine Pearls. I met Ms. Blair Kirby recently, and will tell you all about her magical shop soon.

Pols in pearls

I spend far more time looking at photos of women in public life than I do those of celebrities. Women politicians must look professional and polished during 12-hour or longer days, from informal breakfast meetings to state functions, and often while traveling—what a brief!

We have recently welcomed a record number of Canadian women federal government ministers, and a number rely on pearls to polish their hardworking wardrobes—with mixed results. I don't think pearls correlate to performance, but because these women are photographed while they work, it's a good way to see how to wear such a popular piece of jewellery.

The Hon. Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of National Revenue, wears an average-sized classic single strand often.

At left, the pearls look unprepossessing on the substantial turtleneck; a better choice would be a brooch at the shoulder, or earrings with presence. If you want to wear pearls (or any beads) with a high collared knit, go big. And what are those earrings? Probably not the brown rabbit droppings they look like.

Christine Lagarde shows the scale for pearls worn with a high, substantial neckline:

OK, Mme. Lagarde's are ginormous South Seas, but even good costume would be acceptable.

Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, travels to the most remote areas of this vast country, most recently to meet with parents of murdered and missing indigenous women. She wears pearls well, and when she ups the size at neckline of her white blouse, as in the right photo, they're far more striking.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Philpott, is, like Bennett, a physician turned politician. Her pearls are the smallest, and the ones I would most like to replace. They are not up to the demands of life on the podium, a mismatch to her significant role.

At left, a necklace that I suspect was a sentimental gift some time ago, but now too small for a grown woman. The middle one looks sloppy. To replace those, I'd suggest this pretty pearl torsade from Ross Simons, for a most reasonable $125, just what the doctor ordered.

The five-row necklace at right is a better scale for her, but is askew. Every woman can wear pearls, but they should be the adult version, and if you can't be bothered to arrange them, choose a symmetrical piece. 

An upgrade to "fully-feathered professional" doesn't imply a Lagarde-sized investment; I prescribe generously-sized (11-13mm)  freshwater metallics like these from Kojima Company:

I'd also like to see women in the spotlight choose more striking designs than the round whites. Margaret Trudeau, mother of our current Prime Minister, wife of a past one, wears pearls marvelously. She chooses modern pieces, mixing sizes or adding a pendant.

Below, the shot at left shows how smaller pearls can be worn with larger. The pearls on the right are of medium size, but the grey colour, decorative clasp and second delicate piece add visual impact.

If they are well-chosen, pearls add elegance and polish without demanding much attention or thought.  Our Canadian ministers are on the right track, but a few could use a pearl makeover.

Do they need a role model?

One of the most recognized political figures of our time wears pearls frequently, and ventures beyond round whites: grey coins, a fab mother-of-pearl bib, and large whites accented with decorative spacers.

But for the world-stage moments, she chooses important pearls. She wears at least two South Sea strands that she may mix with multicolour Tahitians or a delicate pendant. Their effect is undebatable—so Hillary Clinton wore them to hers.

Who rule the world?

Girls. In pearls.

Thrift, gift and sale: A short jaunt

Recently, I've been thrift-trolling, picking up sweet baby clothes for the snapper (at six months, no one wears out a onesie).

Late last month, I made a short trip to Almonte, Ontario, to visit my girlfriend Marina, and because this retro-bombshell artist is crazy for vintage, I checked out the women's dresses as well as baby items. I found three hip and immaculate dresses, at $7 each!

Marina insisted on wearing one immediately:

Can you see the planet paintings behind her? Those are her work. She has recently moved into a charming cottage which she's decorated in her singular courtesan-on-absinthe style, sharing the space with Mr. Oreo (rabbit), Bhumi (cat), and Bubbles (immense turtle).

Marina and I are deeply fond of Queen Elizabeth, and she had a gift for me, a china box made to commemorate HRH's coronation.

While I was scouting for her, I found this black velvet blazer, in mint condition. At $7, it's hard to think of parting with hundreds for a J. Crew version, but thrifting means you have to grab it in the moment, and there is no "trying the next size".

I left Marina, the animals and Almonte, hopped on a Greyhound and met Le Duc in Ottawa. Before we drove home to Montréal, we stopped at one of my all-time favourite boutiques, Muriel Dombret (Clothes), where I found a black skirt with asymmetrical side detail on the sale rack.  I've had a number of Muriel's black jersey separates over the years and they've never let me down.

Back to black, back to school and back home. Could Frugal Scholar, who visited Montréal this past summer, have left behind a little of her extraordinary thrifting karma?

Or maybe it was first time lucky? Whatever the reason, I've been bitten. All it takes is time, careful inspection and curbing the urge to buy if what you find isn't perfect for you or your friend. Or a six month old.

September at the Market

Welcome back! The Passage opens officially on September 13, after I return from a short trip, but let's fit in a quick trip to the market. 

What do you need? A bushel of peppers for jelly? Sauce tomatoes? And of course, we'll people-watch.

The scarves retreated briefly during weeks of scorching heat, but even now, at 26C, an off-the-shoulder blouse will be accessorized with a white scarf.

A particular charm attends mothers and daughters of all ages. Remember when a box of berries was a treasure?

Hats shield from the still-intense sun. The madame at left in her eyelet newsboy is eighty-one; you can just see the stars on her t-shirt. The other two wear jaunty straws, one patterned, one plain.

Artful prints always draw the eye. I would love those crops! The redhead wore a green cocoon shrug draped off her shoulders and matched to her eyes.

In summer, locals gorge on colour before brisk autumn nudges us into black or navy coats. Magenta with burnt-orange: exuberant and unusual—or fresh white eyelet, with feminine detail:

Did you remember your tote? Women carry everything from chi-chi patent to folkloric print to an inexpensive eco-bag.

Occasionally we admire more than the produce:

Perhaps a gelato before heading home? And do tell us about your summer!

Real people: Black lightens up for summer

After a cool start, June has been an exuberance of fine weather, and on one evening, the necessary mix of sun and shower lit a rainbow over our building. Le Duc (in the hat) chatted with T. as the sky shimmered through the full spectrum.

When we visit the market in summer, the black coats and jeans have vanished, reminding me of a verse of Joni Mitchell's in "Morning Morgantown":
"Ladies in their rainbow fashions,
Coloured stop and go lights flashin',
We'll wink at total strangers passin'
In morning Morgantown."

Oh, there's still black, but as a print, on a shift...

...or on a graphic sundress:

...or a striped scarf:

And if wearing neutrals, women added a wink such as red-ribboned espadrilles:

All around me, I noticed that they used printed canvas totes to add interest to neutrals...

...and carried summer-bright bags, citron, fuchsia, white.

 One of the best accessories, though, was on a bike:

I could not find the pattern for whatever you call that, but if you crochet, here's a free bike u-lock cosy pattern from Toronto's The Knit Café, a winsome gift idea.

In a quote that's gone viral, French writer and Instagram-goddess Sophie Fontanel advised that to dress well, read well and widely, visit museums, surf the net; absorb anything but magazines. (See this Vogue interview, in which she also expresses displeasure with certain Parisienne-chic tropes.)

What she's saying is, build your eye—whether you draw inspiration from Iris or Inès—and wear what you dig.

We can also continue to learn, even after his death, from Bill Cunningham's affectionate photographs of persons of all ages, in all manner of dress. Always amused and engaged, he parsed, as my mother said, "what they are wearing",  but never prescriptively; he encouraged us to find our individual expressions.

So when I'm shopping the market and neighbourhood for Québec strawberries and saucisson, I'm also charmed by Montréalers and visitors alike as they embrace the short, sweet summer—and at times, one another:

Vacation notice

This is the last post for two months; toodles, poodles, till September. I wish you a double dip of seasonal pleasures, and look forward to hearing all about your adventures, very soon.

Minimalism and adornment: A reconcilation

I recently read "Everything that Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists" and occasionally drop by  the author, Joshua Fields Millburn, and Ryan Nicodemus' site. Now, a film, "Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things" spreads the pared-down proposition.

The day after the film's screening, I sat at work surrounded by sapphires and tourmalines, and  wondered, Is jewelry necessary?

The attraction to adornment isn't shared by everyone, but by enough people to support a complex global industry. The baubles also serve other needs: for status, for the marking of ritual occasions, and if you're a believer, to impart the healing essences of various minerals. (Not my thing.)

When Minimalists advise getting rid of "trash and trinkets", I understand their perspective, but doubt I would divest my jewellery and feel better for it. Many minimalist exemplars are men, and I wonder if, because of gender bias, they might be less familiar with the pleasure of jewellery; sure, they have their watches, but relatively few wear earrings. Women cluster four deep around a jeweler's booth at a good art or craft show, while 90% of men sail by.

The Minimalist movement asks an essential question; as Vicki Robin and the late Joe Dominguez wrote a generation earlier in "Your Money or Your Life": Is striving mainly to get more stuff a fair exchange for the precious, limited time you have here? And once you fill the trophy case, then what? Millman quotes Chuck Palahniuk in "The Fight Club": "The things you own end up owning you".

I've felt that way about many possessions, from napkin rings to exercise bikes, but regarding jewellery, I feel like a steward of art.

I also feel connected to loved ones; when I wear a piece my mother wore too, in a way she is with me. The other night I dreamed of her. She was reading in a wing-backed chair I'd forgotten we had, and wearing this clip; I awoke savouring the recovered memory.

Am I going to continue collecting jewelry? Yes, in a judicious, limited way, or at least that's my intention. 

Would I suggest that others do so? Only if the intrinsic beauty of a piece adds to your enjoyment of life, provides an aesthetic or sentimental burnish, and is within your or the giver's means.

As Sara Teasdale wrote in "Barter",
"Life has loveliness to sell
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
Children's faces looking up,
Holding wonder like a cup."

Though in succeeding stanzas Teasdale says we pay for these things by bartering "many an hour of strife"— hence the title—the best things in life are free, but they also require that we stop doing, and pause to appreciate them. 

Jewelry is art which inhabits our everyday lives, becoming almost a part of our bodies.   

That bracelet!
I don't need to own jewelry to be moved by its beauty. When I see friends in their signature pieces— Christine in her vintage jeweled charm bracelet, Marla in her vibrant boulder opal ring—it brings me the same frisson I feel in front of a magical painting.

Brooch, Cai Xuan

My friend Beth and I recently spent an hour at Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h admiring their Taiwanese jewellery exhibit: ethereal acrylic pieces by Cai Xuan, formed like sea anenomes, were among our favourites. The prices for many brooches and necklaces were not prohibitive—similar to a good pair of shoes—but we did not feel acquisitive.

I did, however, feel that art/beauty frisson and its attendant rush of want when we paused to look at a selection of sterling and gem-set cuffs by Matthieu Cheminée.
Photo: Matthieu Cheminée

What does jewellery do for you? And if we couldn't give you, for example, a cuff bracelet, what is your enjoyable addition to life, minimalist or not?