Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Paris, then and (right) now

The Passage shutters for a few weeks, while we walk, flâneurs in the real passages of Paris.  

Packed: black or ecru on the bottom (all narrow-cut pants), spring colour on top via fine wool and cotton tees, navy/black matlassé jacket, short stack of scarves—and an umbrella.

Plane pjs

Above, ready to fly in the jacket, squashy black and ecru cotton scarf, tee and matte jersey pants (aka "plane pjs"). 

We take one level of attire that spiffs up for a bistro, and forgo dressy occasions. Our French friends, retired or about to be, are in the same mode. 

Our time in that city has changed, over the years. 

From our honeymoon on, Paris with Le Duc was like signing on to a forced march. No downtime whatsoever during the day, treks across the city for massive meals at 9 p.m. The result: deep immersion, from posh Neuilly to funky Belleville, but also inevitable sobbing fits and, on one trip, my request for an escape to the seaside. (Granted.)

Given his encyclopedic knowledge and passion for food and wine, I followed his lead. (The one restaurant I chose on our first visit served borscht that tasted like recycled sewing machine oil.) Because French is Le Duc's home language, Paris opened to me like an exquisite jewel box— a box presented by a guide who ran on espresso and never seemed to need a loo.

Those honeymooners are 66 and 60 now. I've counted five ways in which the years have changed our travel habits.

1. Targeted forays
We used to operate, as one French friend said, "like a monkey in a Christmas tree", with only occasional considerations of efficiency.

Now, we organize errands or outings by neighbourhood, and choose restaurants near friends' apartments, or ours. We're using cabs more, ever since we got into a growlfest that could have been prevented by a €12 ride. 

We visit favourite shops in the first few days, to allow time for thinking or placing orders. We chose the apartment, in the 5th arrondissement, for the ease of operating from a familiar base and proximity to Le Duc's beloved booksellers.

Home base

2. One speed: idle
One major attraction or destination per day, done at a leisurely pace, feels right. We leave ample time for wandering, reading the paper at a zinc, or taking a nap. (I used to think, "You can't nap, you're in Paris!" and then wonder why I was so cranky.) On the list this time, a day at the track at Auteuil and a visit to the hidden gem Musée Nissim de Camondo.

If we find the lines daunting, we return later or ditch; flexibility means the day belongs to us, not the ticket-taker. (At age six, Le Duc's brother Jean made the remark now famous in the family: "I'm tired of having my nose in people's rears.")


3. Splitting up
We have many shared interests, but Le Duc likes to rent a bike and cycle at a good clip, in Paris traffic. I'm a walker, which allows me to stop by a shop, or slip into a courtyard at whim.

I rise first, head out for a few solo hours, then meet him for lunch. In a boutique, I have too often seen the scene where a fidgety, bored partner pressures his or her companion to make a decision; I wonder why they don't negotiate an hour or three apart. 

Also, I have girlfriend time scheduled; Huguette has tickets for the Gaultier exhibit at the Grand Palais.
 
Gaultier retrospective

Occasionally our split-up strategy results in odd experiences, like the time I had my nails done, with magnificent ineptitude, in an establishment that was actually what the Brits call a knocking shop.


Le Clown Bar

4. More lunches out, dinners in
This time we plan to make lunch our main restaurant meal at least half of the time, and cook or carry in simple dinners. Many of Le Duc's favourites, like Le Clown Bar, serve lunch. (I had to check before he agreed to this major concession.) We have several big dinners out scheduled with friends, but no more multi-course extravaganzas every evening.

This mitigates overindulgence, at least in theory, but an evening stroll that ends with a digestif is a pleasure we intend to keep; we'll be steps from the wine bar Le Vin Sobre.


"Happiness is too brief."

5. No work for him, no blogging for me
Though Le Duc packed his laptop, mine stays home with the house sitter. The days of trying to fit in projects (across five time zones), sight-see, and commune with friends till well past midnight are over.

I'm a travel hypocrite; while I enjoy other blogger's daily photos and commentary, I will pass the time like Joni Mitchell wrote in "Free Man in Paris": "...I'd just walk out those doors and wander...from café to cabaret".  

I will be back on April 28. Meanwhile, here's a treat: breathtaking, rare colour photos of Paris taken at the beginning of the 20th century. Do watch as a slideshow!



Meanwhile, skip into spring, and à bientôt!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Feminine effects: Lingerie bags

When I first began regular trips to France, over 30 years go, I was obsessed with noticing differences. My French women acquaintances (who became close friends over the years) would not dream of shoving their tights or lingerie into a drawer. Mais non, they used elegant lingerie bags, flat envelope-type sacs of beautiful fabric.

I use lingerie bags for small scarves and handkerchiefs. I also use them for travel, a more graceful version of "packing bags". A woman could stuff her smalls into a ziploc, but this is so much more pleasing.

A lingerie bag makes a most charming personal gift. Like an eiderdown powder puff, it's an item of discreet sensuality. Those with basic sewing skills and a machine can make one, but, having given my beloved Singer Featherweight to my prospective daughter-in-law, I am placing some made by others in the Passage's windows.

The French understand lingerie bags. The bag is properly about 12"x9" and will therefore hold up to four bras or six pairs of panties. They don't claim to be  "purses" or "shoe bags". Therefore, amid a sea of "lingerie bags", French bags are predictably the genuine item.


French antique embroidered linen; price, $28:




Blue floral Liberty-print, price, $31.76:


Pink fine cotton butterflies, price, $31.76:



A serene white satin bag from lingerie maker Myriam Girard: Price, £15.


Padded silk faille, circa 1910, embroidered with a two-letter monogram, LL. Could there be a more nostalgic accessory? Price, $32.



There is small niche for such refined accoutrements: shoe bags, drawstring pouches, a beautiful shoe horn or comb. Whichever you choose, a feminine grace note that speaks of an era before plastic snap-lids and Tide Sticks lends pleasure to even the plainest drawer.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The colour conundrum

Spring blooms, from hyacninths to tulips, remind me of a post I've wanted to write for awhile about the decline of dye quality.

What happened to refined fabric colour, those hues of piquant vivacity or delicate subtlety? Too often garments lack depth and richness, and what is sadder than a lacklustre red? Even neutrals like grey suffer under forlorn dye; if you do find an ethereal grey, most others suffer by comparison (and you might be holding an Armani blouse.)

Garment colour is a synergy between the fiber and its dye; some fibers take dye beautifully while others seem to resist, but, outside the luxury level, the full splendour of colour is released only occasionally.


The lone luminous example of forget-me-not blue seems to be owned by Lapo Elkann. The Italians (Elkann's tailors, and this is the luxe level) still care, but European heritage mills are closing by the year. 

Generally, dye quality is proportional to price point, but some mid-range merchants, such as Boden, deliver departures from the usual-suspect shades. (The overall garment quality is another story.) 

The subtle greyed lavender of their Chelsea trousers is notable even if one cannot wear it:



Meanwhile the usual suspects like Talbot's and LL Bean see fit to unleash some um, challenging colours on the world. Whatever her colouring, a woman over 50 can look hard in harsh hues. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who can rock Bold Orchid?






I still miss an Issey Miyake cotton tunic I owned years ago, the colour of an oyster shell crossed with a pinch of late-sunset mauve. These days, I have defaulted to the banality of a great deal of navy, black and grey—which on good days feels like I've found 'my uniform' and on bad, seems like I lost my colour wheel. 

Those neutrals, along with the ecru-through-camel range, are reliable base notes, but where is the pink that's inside a sea shell, or the intersection of blue with purple that conjures twilight? 
Even with black, a quality black reads differently than a flat dye job; I would love to turn 70 in this Altuzarra fringed crepe blazer. (I have just over three years to save.)


This spring, the lilt of a sublime, unexpected combination is a scarce songbird, occasionally glimpsed amid piles of navy-and-white. Kisses to Brora simply for making a linen and cotton sweater in salmon and wisteria.

I am not just talking pale colours, sister, but the mid-saturation hues where superior dye struts its stuff.




J. Crew offer some hard-to find-shades every season. They're showing a good deal of metallic gold this spring, but for those who prefer deeper palettes, they propose metallic navy. Don't see that every day!



We are all searching, which is more work as we age.  

Given my budget, I have better luck buying a neutral top and counting on gems, from precious to glass, to add refined colour. The strategy justifies spending, because a magical piece lifts those neutrals year-round. Splurge a bit for gem quality, which, just like fabric dye, dispirits at the low end.


Shown: chiara b atelier aquamarine, morganite and pearl necklace; price, $1,050.


If clothes are an emblem of our identity, colour is the flag. Why is beautiful colour is so hard to find, given the vast marketplace? 

Too often, I end up with generic items in generic colours. I'm more than ready to crawl out of my city security blanket of black. But I want that coloured item to be so heady, so indelibly interesting that I can see it with my eyes closed.

Just after I wrote that last paragraph, the textile expert and photographer Jan Becker, pinged me from Delhi. She sent a dose of thrilling colour via photos of the progress of her mixed silk ikat-and-print scarves, each one designed by Jan, who has a musical touch with colour, if that makes sense.  



I'm bugging her to open an Etsy shop! Since she visits the Passage, maybe you would like to second the idea?








Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jewelry: "Small" treasure, petite price

Pippa Small is many women's dream jeweler, both because of her vibrant yet calm designs and her insistence on ethical sourcing for stones and metals.

I too admire Small's minimalist pieces, though find the prices substantial. (I wouldn't say overpriced. Ethical practices can increase costs and her materials are tippy-top quality, but you are paying for a status jeweler's cachet.)



The piece shown uses two aquamarines and a small amethyst, framed in 18k gold, and four hand-cast gold spacer beads, hung on a gold-coloured braided string. Price, $1,998. 

You can assemble a similar necklace for far less. The semi-precious gems will be framed in gold plate, the spacer beads are not hand-cast. (Also, we do not know the business practices of the vendors.)



Total cost for the Small-inspired elements above: about $275.

I've chosen a more durable 20-inch fine 14k chain; price, about $60, and 24k plated gold spacer beads from Nina Designs, about $30 for five beads.

The bezel-set gems shown (at left above) are framed in plated gold; I wanted the bezel settings to match, so chose an array of opals and amazonite from a single vendor, Etsy's finegemstone. The price per piece: $60.  

Temptations beckon at Vancouver-based I Found Gallery, who sell on Etsy.


The stone cuts are not as unusual as Small's asymmetric surfaces; however, when I browsed their trove of vintage findings, chains and stones, I was enthralled.  

Assembly requires only the materials and needle-nosed pliers, but if you prefer professional help, your bead store can make your piece for reasonable cost, with the photo as a guide. I once made a phenomenally ugly necklace, so I have real respect for pro help.

When choosing real jewelry, always think about two factors: the quality of the materials, and the workmanship. The touch of skilled hands shows in the simplest design, and excellent quality of stones will make a piece sing.

There are many pieces for which you "can't try this trick at home", but these chain (or cord) and bezel-set gem necklaces are not examples of expert bench skills; they involve simple assembly, accessible to anyone with a few hours and basic tools.

You could have a luminous, gemmy treasure, or make one as a gift, for less than the tax on certain designer versions.








Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Modern design: A tray, a Color Box, and a forbidden photo

In the middle of a snow squall trying hard to be a blizzard, I visited a shop full of imaginative designer housewares, looking for a serving tray we needed for a party the next day. 

Sleek options lay on an impeccable table, a tableau of taste. The salesperson was crisply courteous, if uptight, about me touching some of the lacquer-like models with my fingers. (I ask you, who is not going to lift a tray she is thinking of buying?)

A young man and woman entered, drifting, murmuring to one another in admiring, respectful tones, the three of us the only shoppers in the store, and likely the only ones all afternoon.

While the associate assisted me, the young woman aimed her iPhone at a display and began snapping. Suddenly the associate became a stern scold: "THIS", she pronounced, "is PRIVATE space. You cannot take photographs. Stop that NOW." 

The abashed browser apologized, but, I noticed, merely slipped the phone into her pocket.

I wondered what would have happened if the she had first asked permission, as I would if I had wished to contact Le Duc to ask which tray he preferred.

Young people, whose lives twine through three or four social media simultaneously, have little sense of such prohibitions. Can stores can hold their iPhone shots at bay? There must be a hundred change-room selfies taken by the minute.


Anyway, here is a similar tray, in bamboo with a sheer rubber finish (which I can't really feel) that makes it non-skid so that flat-bottomed glasses stay put; price, about $35.
The store carries the functional, serenely satisfying products of Normann-Copenhagen. Shown, the piquant wisk. That little ring smooths it down into a stick; price, $17, and available in a symphony of colours—an ideal hostess gift.

So you know how it is: pop in for a reasonable purchase, and get swept away by a more costly temptation. I did not buy, but I'm fighting hard:



This is N-C's Color Box, a modular stackable, folded-steel storage unit. Catnip to an organizer-freak like me, and to those who mean business about conquering those scattered files or National Geographics. It hangs it on a wall (using your own screws and plugs; this is not Ikea, lady), stacks on the floor, or sits on a shelf. A lone Box looks mysteriously terrific sitting under a chair.

At $100 per, I cannot afford many, which is its own way of simplifying. 

Who but stylists would fill a Box with perfectly coordinated blank books? I'd use inexpensive office-supply folders to hold documents, and stow magazines or books without obsessing about a spine's colour.


 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jewelry reno: Anyone not for tennis?

Once upon a time, in Lucky Girl Land, there were many diamond tennis bracelets given. Once was received by my friend, N., a beautiful, ebullient and stylish blonde who did as many recipients of such bracelets have: after an initial period of wearing, she stowed it in her safety-deposit box.



Here, she's showing us the diamond bracelet, top, as well as (middle) a flexible-link "gold" bracelet, and (bottom) a CZ bracelet she's added for fun. N. is fun!

In person, the diamonds are lively, and because of the clean design, she could definitely wear it as is. Plenty are being sold, but sometimes even if something is still made, it is no longer you. I suggested N. gift or donate the imitation gold x-link bracelet, which reminds me rather too forcefully of the '80s. She said, "I am weeping on my shoulder pads."

If N. wanted a new diamond piece, here are some options. I'm linking to all the pieces used for ideas because not all of us have diamonds we're wondering what to do with!

1. A simple bangle
A timeless solution that she need never take off: the bangle. She could use all or some of the diamonds, to form an open or fully-closed circle. Shown: Simplicity Bangle by Carbon & Hyde; price, $1,265. She could also make a pair of bangles, one of her diamonds and the other of her diamonds mixed with other stones.


2. Ethnic
A graceful arabesque motif in a more decorative cuff would use the stones for a version of these ornamental arches. Shown, Sara Weinstock diamond and gold Taj cuff; price, $5,120.


3. Edgy
Not everyone would wear this, but I know N. could!

Eva Fehren's example is made with blackened gold set with ombré diamonds ranging from white to black. N's version could be yellow gold, (or green gold, yum!); I imagine her diamonds released from their little boxes, rocking a downtown design. (The Fehren bracelet price is $12,250.)

4. Elegant
My inspiration-pulse shot way up for this Irene Neuwirth gold cuff set with a row of diamonds, but I fall hard for slightly retro, clean design. (Price, $16,460.)


5. Linked
If she wants links, here's an example of a more modern effect, bezel-set stones attached to a link bracelet. (Detail from Malcolm Betts' diamond and gold rolo-link bracelet; price, $6,505.


With any reno project, the examples should percolate for awhile, and a good jeweler can advise on many variations. A successful collaboration will give N. a bracelet that never again sees the dark of a bank vault.

But better to receive a good piece that can be so satisfyingly remodeled, than not!


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Women's solo travel: On the road, again and always

On my recent post on uneven aging prompted many responses, including one from Rebecca, who said,
"Uneven aging isn't always physical. I looked forward to traveling after we both retired, but my partner has become a homebody. My married friends would rather travel alone or with another couple. My single friends want to go to Vegas or on a cruise; I'd rather be hiking in nature. Finding a sympatica travel buddy isn't easy."

Rebecca is dealing with two factors: what she prefers to do, and whether she'd like company on the trip. If no one wants to hike, I'd think about a woman's tour such as a hike of the Italian lake district, even if it does not include a stop by George Clooney's villa. Adventurewoman.com offer this enchanting 10-day itinerary for the coming fall. 

The women will likely be sympatica, since all are drawn to the locale and to hiking, but I expect you would have more affinity with some than others, which is the essence of adventure, no?

And since today is St. Patrick's Day, it's only right to mention Joyce's women-only walking tour of Ireland, among the many other hiking-heaven offerings.





Do you know the site Journeywoman? Whether you seek the archeological sites in Turkey or wish to camp within hailing distance of Alaskan grizzlies, Evelyn Hannon knows who and where. That site introduced me to Women Only Worldwide Tours (operated by Indus) who advertise "no single supplement", music to solitude-loving ears.

Road Scholar (founded by Elderhostel) specializes in educational trips, some women-only, such as this hike in the Rockies. Road Scholar trips are designed for mature travelers, a relief if you want to be sure you're not kept awake by 20-somethings doing shooters next door at three a.m., but are hardly slo-mo cruises.

For some trips, RS charge no single supplement, and for others, will assign a roommate if you don't have your own. They also offer inter-generational trips for a loving aunt or grandparent who wants to share more of the world with an eager youth.

Photo courtesy immersethrough
Those who would enjoy a highly-personal, learning-focused trip should check the gifted author Naomi Duguid's immersethrough food tours of Burma and Northern Thailand, which are far from the usual fly-and-fry "cooking schools", and deliver the best of culturally-resonant travel.

Countless other choices are on offer; we're limited only by budget, not imagination. If you have booked tours before, you will know to add costs for medical insurance, and to check refund policies before payment.

I've presented the tour option without having taken one myself, so invite you to share links to operators you think are outstanding. Tours can be costly and you may not want the regimentation; if you prefer to travel solo, you could hire a guide at your destination, from a half-day to the duration of your stay. 

Friends are often good sources for such guides, or try a search on TripAdvisor for "private day tour" plus your destination.

Even if you're a longtime solo traveler, your age will change the way you travel. I still travel alone—just hop a train and explore a city or region—but now appreciate a hand with everything from handling luggage to finding a doctor for an emergency case of pink-eye.

As she matures, the woman with wanderlust may have to find the path on her own, to fulfill those must-see goals. Do some adventuring, even if it's only a day's drive; the view from an old friend's garden can be restorative as that of the Taj Mahal. 

That you return to your everyday life enlivened and grateful for the richness of this world, is purpose aplenty. We may no longer throw on a backpack and crash in any funky hostel with a free bed, but we ought to get out and about while we can.