En vacances

From Oct. 22 through Nov. 7. I'll be posting very occasionally, if at all. Or maybe more.

I'll doubtless be walking the very streets Karen and Deja Pseu trod recently, flaneurs all.

Thinking of you fondly and will capture a few impressions, if not images; à bientot!

Childe Hassam, Street Scene in Paris, Autumn, 1889

Rickys in croc and linen

Remember this monumentally chic Milanesa with her Ricky?

A little research led me to the Canadian firm, Crocolux, who offer this Italian-made cognac alligator Ricky for $2,090, or about $12,999 less than the branded model.

Crocodile is the luxury bag,
carried strictly for day. I remember Mom wearing hers to luncheons, with matching shoes, and a linen dress.

I have a vintage lemon yellow alligator framed handbag that I bought at auction for about $250; she's a touch worn but when I'm in the mood for a Palm Beach bridge club look, she winks from my shelf, ready for drinks with umbrellas in them.

I sense an exotic skin in my future; after all, isn't this an older woman's luxury? A cashmere tee, well-cut black pants and the Ricky... now that's a Croc I'll wear!

La Milanesa's linen and leather Ricky is listed on eBay, a preowned model from seller dnmenterprises, for a starting bid of $750; auction ends today, Oct. 21.

Shopping "trips"

Before every major trip, I have a moment of self-talk that goes, now don't buy stupidly. I re-live mistakes of trips past.

My errors fall into these categories

1. An item so trendy or idiosyncratic to the place I've visited that when I returned home, it was unwearable except to a costume party. Many apply the Would I Wear This in Paris? rule, but one should also apply the Will I Wear This at Home? corollary.
Shopping Slip: Heavy, neck-numbing crystal shoulder-duster earrings suitable only for 80s disco party

2. Something a traveling co
mpanion loved, and urged on me, to which, in a moment of girlfriend solidarity, I succombed. Or vice-versa: It suited her so well, I wanted one too.
Shopping Slip: Agnes b. tees, too skimpy on me.

3. Purchase made after too much wine for lunch.

Shopping Slip (or should I say Sip?): A vendeuse in a lingerie boutique sold me an exquisite lace bra so out of my size range that I wonder how I even tried it on. Or maybe she wrapped the wrong size, or whashhh happened?

4. Oh no, I'm leaving!
I mentally re
view the purchases I made last fall in Paris and assess their wisdom. Only one clunker: a Monoprix tote that looked funky in Paris and now, just cheap. I bought it on my last day, which is a dangerous shopping zone. You're thinking of the bills arriving, you're bereft leaving Paris. Beware "Just one more tiny thing".

Of course my pockets are never as deep as I'd wish, but even a one-euro art postcard gives pleasure, and the caw of a raven waking me, in this apartment in the Quartier Latin, is an abiding joy.

Pure no longer

Like a squirrel laying in nuts for a long winter, I'm checking my cashmere supply.

Left, my first order from the Pure site, a new style; what sold it was this copy: "...gentle gathers to enhance the flatter-chested and flatter the larger-chested, three-quarter length sleeves and deep ribbed hem and cuffs".

The "larger-chested" would be me and hmm, I'd be leaving that belt off.
When it arrived, the sweater was oddly larger across the back than front. (Right, I know about breasts- but even allowing for the differential, it gapped in back, rippling between my shoulder blades.)

The colour was a calm bay green, as shown, a quiet, classic pretty enough colour, but not appealing to me. It looks dull against black; and I rarely wear brown on
the bottom. Can't say if it's pill-prone, but it was well-finished.

Pure is
cheaper than Eric Bompard, whose current catalog ignites impure thoughts that I entertain daily. Some of you have scolded me for this link, but if you love cashmere, here is your goat wool nirvana.

I'd rather pay more for the lush EB sweater coat top, since I'll be wearing it for years.

Notice anything new, dear?

When I was small, I had an imaginary friend, a teddy bear who marched behind me to school. Teddy lent promise and comfort, he had my back. Around the fourth grade, Teddy fell back to simply being a bear, a beloved bear who still lives in my house.

Now, I like to concoct imaginary outfits, and daydream that I might wear them. I don't feel covetous, just appreciative.

My fantasy outfits always start with the jewelery, like this exquisite pair of Cathy Waterman green tourmaline earrings. The drops, nearly 2 inches long, are set with rose cut and pear stones (13.51ct tw) in 22K gold, $4,750.

Which I will wear with the Alexander McQueen Chevron dress, $1670 from Bergdorf Goodman.

In my dream, I can always wear heels,
so I'll choose these Prada peep-toe pumps, $650 from Neiman Marcus. The mix of gray and chocolate is so Italian.

There, all dressed!

Sirens and cents

This photo, posted on The Sartorialist, drew ardent compliments, mainly for the Milanese subject's legs. Some persons said she gave them hope, was a marvelous vision of aging, etc.

Do you admire her?

I'd kill to have legs this sensationally shapely. I like how her scarf's tied on her bag, and how her black dress just skims her body. (The
bag, a Ralph Lauren Ricky, drew gasps.)

As we age, good accessories are essential, but chances are if you're reading this post (instead of, say, consulting with your personal chef or being chauffeured to your Gulfstream), you're mindful of the staggering cost of beautiful bags, shoes and jewelry.

What to do? Cruise consignment shops, bite the bullet to buy an impeccable bag you'll carry for a decade or more, or hope for a spectacular gift. (Fifteen years ago, my Parisienne GF Daniele was given a black calf Kelly by her late husband. She jokes that Roland, a canny financier, looks from heaven in approval, for the bag's still going strong.

are la donna with the Ricky (let's call her Woman A) to this shot from the Advanced Style blog that Deja Pseu featured on a recent post. Both women caught a photographer's glance; both were admired on their respective sites for flying their signature style flag.

My aspiration is resoundingly toward Woman A, but there are days, in a comfy sweater and flats, that my inner Woman B peeks out. It's all in the aesthetics, which in turn determine the choices, the palette, the grooming.

With styling, Woman B with her orange tote
could swap places with Woman A. In a kind of reverse-schlumpadinka-with a half-twist, Woman A could drop her Prada shopping bag, kick off her stilettos, adopt the colour-happy ensemble of Woman B and look less elegant, more hamische.

Woman A wears obviously costly accessories. Sometimes I think, I too could look beyond fabulous if money were no object. But then I realize that's an easy excuse. I need to hone my eye, experiment, seek occasional professional help, and not deny myself a decent handbag. (Go Pseu, in Paris!) That doesn't mean a Ricky, you little enablers.

And no socks with sandals.

The pleasures of feminine congregation

Book club, Hadassah chapter, quilting circle, bridge club, running buddies, inner-city volunteers, softball team, knitters' group, investment club.

What groups do you belong to, a
nd why?

My Texas Hold 'Em group has met monthly for four years, and I've missed maybe two g
ames. We play for quarter bets, $2 limit, and being a bunch of women, feel bad if someone loses $20. We bring brownies, chicken wings, banana bread, samosas, Nanaimo bars, the occasional vegetable platter, and our favourite drinks.

Gay and straight, working and retired, single and attached, most of us had not met before our founder Bon tacked up a sign on a phone pole: "WANTED: WOMEN TO JOIN NOT TERRIBLY COMPETITIVE POKER GROUP".

There's something freeing in enjoying the company of women you likely would not have met in your own routine rounds. Everyone adds something: funny stories, life lessons, poker instruction, dating advice, oddball jokes. Jane works for 3M and brings everyone tape.

We always laugh, eat without guilt, laugh, win or lose a few bucks and leave with lighter hearts. I hope to eternally belong to a some kind of group of women of good will, gathered for a common interest.

Moules au Pernod

At our house, a big bowl of mussels is an instant party. Here's Le Duc's simple, expandable recipe, which Karen requested.

Moules au Pernod

2 bags of fresh mussels (about 1.5 lbs per bag)
1½ onion

4 cloves of garlic

1 small fennel bulb

2 medium carrots

1/3 to ½ bottle white wine

2 ounces Pernod

2 ounces 35% cream

1 Tbs herbes de Provence (rosemary/thyme/oregano)

1) Pulse onion and garlic in food processor until fine. Empty into large stainless cooking pot.

2) Repeat with fennel and then carrots.

3) Add wine, Pernod, cream and herbs. Mix well.

4) Bring to a boil for a few minutes. Add mussels, mix and cover.
5) Cook 5-7 minutes.

6) Shake or mix again and pour in large serving dish.

Serve with bread, butter, good potato chips, a green salad, and rosé.
Serves 4-5.

Bon appetit!

Near-misses with Paris in sight

When I know I'll be visiting Paris, I always end up shopping twice: first locally. My size, a French 46, isn't easy to find, so I cannot depend on running out to pick up something I need. The second shop is there, mostly for accessories, though a glance at the exchange rate is sobering.

Things I was tempted to buy
this past weekend:

1. Black cashmere short-sleeved sweater coat, (shown in olive, left) Eileen Fisher, $475
Looked great on, but I walked into Holt Renfrew (for those non-Canadians, that's our Saks)
wearing a honeycomb-weave black cashmere shawl (an Eric Bompard purchase a decade ago), and what's wrong with that? I have a reflexive aversion to EF, though this was not recognizably hers.
Second thoughts: Dents Paris budget and nearly same use as shawl. This is pricey for me these days, but swept off my feet, I'd do it.
Update: On Monday I visited a department store and found a Jones New York Luxe black cashmere sweater coat in a much more interesting shape- quite Japanese- for far less, on Thanksgiving Day Sale, $120. The cashmere is not quite as thick, but that's fine. Sold!

But I'm pining for the Eric Bompard boutique, ever since the new catalog arrived. (Includes a CD, so you can see the pieces on dancers, and breathtaking shots of Paris... marvelous!

2. Black tabard-poncho-cardi-thing, an Eskandar knock-off, $400
Pretty cool
. Buttons like a cardigan but is cut in a huge square. Odd, funky, useful as a light layer.
Second thoughts: Le Duc doesn't like me in big boxy clothes and I'm not drawn to the Eskandar look, which here is mostly worn by mature, rather severe-looking women, the kind Simon Doonan dubs Existentialists. Not sure it would hold its allure.

3. Arche ballet flats, black leather with
charcoal gray detail, $300
Still crushing on the Rabotin sequined flats, and going to Paris in one week. Can find Arche there, if I can't get the R
abotins. Or something.
Second thoughts:

4. Jo Malone Vintage Gardenia cologne, $60
I enj
oy the heady burst of gardenia and tuberose, and since the sole perfume boutique that carried it locally losed, I've no source for my favourite version, Fracas. But no discernible scent lingered 20 minutes after applying tester. There oughta be a law!
Second thoughts: Maybe I didn't apply enough? Maybe I just can't smell it on myself?

What I bought: This LBD by Rundholz, in a soft yet substantial stretch cotton jersey. Perfect for Paris trip, day or evening, $175 on sale. And I can wash it!

Thanksgiving mussels

At five minutes to six this evening, one of my sons appeared with two friends in tow. I've known these kids since daycare, though had not seen Coco for 3-4 years, and Robin recently returned from two years in Halifax.

A half-hour before dinner, which is moules mariniere (with a sauce of fennel, tomatoes, onions, pernod, white wine, a dash of butter), bread to soak up the sauce, and a salad we greeted a couple of extras, and my heart rose. I deeply enjoy dining with these young people, all of whom love food.

(One of my fond memories is when I spotted them, in early high school years, clustered at a table at the French café where two of them now work, spending their modest al
lowances on pain au chocolat.

Robin brought two exquisite tarts, one mixed fruits, one pumpkin, from that café, where he's just started waiting, provided by the generous owner who'd mistakenly predicted holiday sales.

His shy p
leasure in presenting them is the real gift.

Le Duc
, a man with a plan, rolls his eyes for a split second and gets over it. The table is laid, he dashes out for another fougasse.

I plug in my iPod with a 20-something friendly playlist, open bottles of rosé.

During the high school years we had frequent impromptu dinner guests, so routine that we regularly cooked for an extra. We pick up where we left off, with vital, funny young adults. Robin simply can't stop eating.

This feels like Thanksgiving (which, here in Canada, is tomorrow). I'm so grateful to see these children, relaxed and affectionate in their friendship, so rooted without quite realizing it, happy and cared for by us, and their families.

Tagged: Ten things

Tagged! by Deja Pseu, and enjoy playing along:

My favourite:

1. Clothes Shop: Two Toronto treasures, Thrill of the Find for movie-set items, and Alexia von Beck for floaty linens and wools.
Eric Bompard, Paris.

2. F
urniture Shop: Palazetti

3. Sweet: Ice cream, especially Green Tea

4. City: Toronto, my home, the most multicultural city on earth, otherwise, cities of three million or more

5. Drink: Green Kombucha lime tea; vodka martini extra dry

6. Music: Chill electronica; world music; classic Motown

7. TV Series: Mad Men; The Wire

8. Film: The Lives of Others; anything with Tommy Lee Jones, the films of Mike Leigh

9. Workout: Yoga 4x/week, penance on a treadmill, 2 days/week (see below)

10. Pastries: Sticky buns; pecan rolls. Baklava, pain au chocolat and apple fritters. Somebody stop me.

11. Coffe
e: A bowl of café au lait for breakfast

I am tagging:
1. Sjcyogi
2. Anyone who'd enjoy posting in Comments, especially new friends who think, "Oh... me???" Come on and let us meet you!

Safe or sexy?

What would you choose to wear if someone asked you to dip into your closet and be photographed in two outfits, one sexy and one safe?

How would you feel in each outfit?

Photojournalist Sarah Hughes travelled across Canada, and asked women to choose, and comment on their two images. Her photo essay, "Safe and Sexy" was published in 2006 in The Walrus, and is available

The results evoke "before and after" magazine features and archives Hughes studied when she worked at The Smithsonian. Women of varying ages and backgrounds explore their self-images and willingness to conform or challenge the way the world looks at them.

The issue of womens' dressing to attract, or dressing to deflect the gaze of others pertains to issues of violence, sexism and ageism. When we select an item of clothing, we make a second decision about who we are and what we show the world.

Thank you, Sarah Huges, for your thoughtful and provocative work.

What is the sound of one belt tightening?

Whew, I'm getting poorer every day.

As banks fall and investments erode, I've set a goal of more careful spending, a sweet spot between mindless consumption and parsimony.

With 'semi-semi-retirement' planned for '09, I'm mindful of broadcaster Peter Trueman's remark that "it's easier and less stressful to learn to live on less than it is to drive hard to earn more."

I've practiced small economies in the last year:

- Switching to Aveda Institute's $25 hair colours
- Paying for unlimited classes yoga classes by the year, which not only reduces my per class cost by nearly 66%, but gets me there more often
- Skipping the Starbucks unless Deb's set on
her grande soy half-caf latte
- Bookmarking my favourite staples (bras, lipstick) on eBay and waiting for a deal
- A more watchful eye out for sales
- Manicures: I can do a respectable manicure, unless it's a deep-red job. My cuticles love the vacation from aggressive cutting. Hooked on the salon for feet.

Considering for '09:
- I understand there is this place c
alled a library? Bye-bye Amazon habit.
- Coupons: no more direct to recycle bin. Let's see what's on offer.
- Not not not opening thos
e J Crew free shipping e-mails!
- Gym: Maybe. I only use it for the treadmill and could replace with walks. A toughie.
- The car!
I lived in the center of this big city for many years without one and loved it. We live on a major streetcar line, and there are AutoShare and ZipCar sites 5 minutes away. All amenities are a 5-7 min. walk. We are seriously considering going car free, but want to get though the winter first.

But there are some corners I won't cut till I'm hoeing turnips in my back yard:
- Hairstylist (though expect tippy top service)

- Lingerie: ratty scanties feel sad and the cheap stuff falls apart
- Perfume: though I may make a bottle last longer; have not found a bargain scent I like
- Gifts: This doesn't mean hurling money (see my p
osts on Gifts), but if something's right, girlfriend gets it. For C. a luminous amethyst pen, for R.'s new home, a Lampe Berger (that burns intriguing Absinthe-scented oil).

Do not speak to me like that, young man

Last Friday evening, I took a GF out for a belated birthday celebration. She chose Marben, a first visit for me, a return for her. When I entered at around 8 pm., the place was nearly empty, with a half-dozen suits clustered at the bar and one table of diners.

Though I had reserved, the host led me to the worst table by far, a two-top butted into the wait station. "We're a little jammed tonight", he said, "is this all right?" I said firmly, "I don't want to be here", and was then offered a choice banquette.

She arrived late, burst into tears (stress- a move and reno from hell), polished off a glass of red, and we settled in for a companionable evening. Good food, proficient service. At my rejected table, a young couple made first-date conversation.

I suspect the Table of Doom is given to non-regulars, or those so "over-served" during cocktail hour that that they can ignore their perch on top of the dish bins.

As we were leaving, the host, chatting with his mates near the door, asked, "Have a happy birthday, dear?" So here's the deal, so-hip Marben: If I catch even a whiff of condescension, in any establishment, I am never coming back. Your form of address, coupled with your seating strategy ensures that "dear" dines elsewhere.

Big white hair

The debate among my friends i
s: to cover or not?

I asked a hairdressser how I would look like if I let whatever's under my red show up. "Practical", he said.

But look at these white and grey-haired beauties: 1. Carmen del'Orifice, model; 2. Cindy Joseph, model; 3. Emmylou Harris, singer/songwriter

And here's that famous Dove ad. Of course these women have beautiful bone structure, enviable styling and flattering photography. The debate continues. 95% of my women friends colour their hair. The simple reason: they don't want to look older, and grey, they think, also drains them.

Here's Time Magazine's altered photo of Condoleeza Rice with her presen
t hair colour and as a grey-haired woman.
They grey isn't very flattering,and looks fake. (I wonder what Condi thought.)

The problem is getting to that Carmen meringue-white; no dye can do it.

Below is a photo I grabbed from flickr, of a woman whose tag is Philosopher Queen; she posted this to show her mom her gray hair. I'd like to meet her, there's such life and intelligence in her face.

Wonder if she's kept her gray.

Rona Maynard, a local magazine editor and writer, described her journey from medium-brown to her natural mixed-brown-with-gray, possibly the drabbest colour you can have. Some months later she reverted.

I figure I'd have to shave my head and sign on for an Amazon raft trip for two months.

How in the world do you make the transition?
Not that I'm quite ready.

Bagging bargains in my back yard

I spent the better part of Saturday shopping for a smallish, lightweight black shoulder bag. This is 60: no longer able to sling on a huge, stuffed leather tote and trek for hours.

Mindful of Deja Pseu's ardent endorsement of Cole Haan, I stopped in. Their sole possibility was well-designed, but a touch dressy. Prada of course had various nylon bags, but at $1200 or more, I had to fall hard, and didn't.

My day: repeat sequence at department stores and boutiques; quick Indian lunch, drive home empty-handed and cross.

On Sunday afternoon, I stopped by my neighbourhood treasure, Thrill of the Find, to check what Mireille had.

I've mentioned Thrill before; Mireille and her son Joseph are connected to the film business and have impeccable sources in Europe, so the items are neither vintage (though there may be one or two pieces) nor consignment. They're just... thrills.

She showed me two shoulder bags: a degriffé vintage woven Bottega Veneta classic (in excellent condition), and a French nylon with leather trim and strap (new), perfect for day touring: $110 for both. Whee!

Dean Harris: Dream jeweler within reach

When I heard that one of my dream jewelers, Dean Harris, had designed a collection for Target, I checked it out.

First, just so you know the talent he brings to this project, here's high-end Harris, the Shoji Screen earring, with brilliant and briolette diamonds, set in platinum, $9,750. The detail on this photo isn't great, but click on his site to drool.

Below, three standout Target pieces:
A sterling silver and quartz 36" necklace, 18k gold plate (over sterling); pearl earrings, 18K plate over sterling; dot-pierced hoops, also 18K over sterling. For forty dollars an item, a style coup.

Available online, with shipping to US only, which pretty much breaks my heart.

Patently smart: Totes

Investment bankers' alert: sometimes downscaling can be subtle. Each of these black patent leather totes is about 17x18 inches, big enough for a paper, your extra sweater and the lunch you are now carrying to work.

Left to right:
Jil Sander large tote,
$1445 from Barney's .
Charles David "Provence" tote, 18x 17 inches, $385 from Nordstrom.
Iman Global City tote, $125 from HSN.

Waltzing into winter

This hand-knit 6-ply Scottish cashmere Waltz Jacket is my longed-for winter companion.

Cardis can be stodgy, but this one has details: the pockets wrap from the sides to the back, the moss-stitch collar and shoulder add interest without fussiness. It's available in intense colours: Beetroot, Kelp, Othello (the moodiest blue) and neutrals. The yarn's spun by Todd & Duncan and knit by Hillary Rohde's team of artisans.

£490 (about $900); 8% of the net profit benefits the National Museum of Scotland. Order by October 15 for Christmas delivery.

Just one of many mouthwatering choices from Thistle & Broom, a Scottish luxury-goods company which produces all
products within Scotland, maintains the highest quality, assures fair trade to its craftspeople, and offers a selection as breathtaking and evocative as the Scottish countryside.

The online store offers stunning Fair Isle knits from the Fair Isle Knitting Project. These gloves, which represent the colour and complexity of the patterns.