Transwomen in the women's spa

Over the summer, I had a lively e-mail exchange with a Toronto, Ontario friend, Rachel.

A spa we sometimes visit was embroiled in a dispute; a Toronto transgender woman tweeted that the when her partner called to arrange a surprise visit as a gift, the spa refused to to admit her. (Source: CBC News article, posted here.)

How the matter came up during the attempted booking is not stated. (I cannot help but imagine a Pythonesque moment, when John Cleese says: "Right, then: 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Now, your guest doesn't have a willy, does she?") 

At Body Blitz, a soak in a series of thermal pools at various temperatures is completed as a circuit, and may be done nude or in a swimsuit. The spa cited a no-male-genitals policy (which I do not see on the web site) and said that they "support the LGBT community and recognize that this is a sensitive issue. However, because Body Blitz is a single-sex facility with full-nudity, we are not like other facilities." 

Rachel asserts that a transwoman does not have the same status as a woman assigned female gender at birth, saying: "There is a small part of me that bristles at the idea that a trans woman can assume sisterhood with cisgender women and demand equality at Body Blitz, when for millennia women everywhere have suffered and struggled for the most basic of human rights and continue to do so."

And she most definitely does not want to see male genitals when she has booked into a female-only spa. She fears the sight may affect other patrons because of painful past incidents. 

My view is that if that woman has transitioned (with or without genital reconstruction surgery) and can produce proof of female identification, e.g., a driver's license, she ought to be admitted. Her transition—which is even without surgery, arduous—will not impede or dilute the fight for human rights for any population. 

You might wonder, Why does that woman still have male genitals? I don't know (and it is none of my business), but an increasing number of transwomen are refusing surgery. Jae Alexis Lee has posted a list of  reasons here.

The prospect of seeing male organs disturbs Rachel. (It seems that no matter what, her brain is flashing, Men in here!) I wonder whether—to help patrons like her to accept the physical diversity of this group—a woman who still had male genitalia would wear a swimsuit, which I grant sounds repressive, but may be a temporary middle road. In the last five years, I'd estimate that at least 80% of patrons wear suits, so she'd be in a majority.

Rachel says she would be upset to see such a woman nude, but sometimes times change faster than our comfort level. In Ontario, any resident can now refuse the binary designation for the province's identity documents, designating an X instead of M or F. This tempest in a salt pool is only the beginning.

Of course another solution is to open such facilities to a mixed clientele: male, female and X: everybody in the pool! I've spent plenty of time at hot springs where mixed nude bathing was the custom, but Rachel does not want that, either. I'd be sorry to see that all-women haven go, too; there's a kind of bonding. I'll never forget one woman of about fifty who sat at the edge of the frigid plunge pool for twenty minutes, weeping into the bodice of a cherry-red two-piece, then saying, "I can do this". In she went, and the whole room burst into cheers.

But for now we circle the issue of what is a woman. Maybe there are varieties of women. If we look at other species, some fish turn into another gender; parrotfish have sex organs of both sexes. We humans continue to learn about the range of chromosome complements, hormone balances and phenotypic variations, challenging our ideas about both sex and gender. 

Though I dip into essays about gender theory and feminism, I prefer to think about how we choose to relate to one another as we make our way through life. Even essays written fifteen years ago can sound dated. In 2009, Germaine Greer wrote in "The Whole Woman", "No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if (they) were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight."

I know several transwomen or their families who are not in agreement. And what of those women who were born with a uterus and ovaries, and no longer have them? Just try telling them they lost their real-woman status.

After being confronted by my own startled response in the past, thinking about it, meeting more transwomen, and speaking to friends who work with their communities, I have decided that if a person believes she is a woman, I will accept her as one. Otherwise, I would be one of the persons who relegate her to society's edges, and that is not a world I want to support. 

Where will this all end up? Will people look back in fifty or eighty years look back and find the matter quaint as ladies-and-escorts entrances at taverns?

I am grateful to my friend for her thoughtful e-mails. She may never be comfortable with that woman in the spa, but she is questioning her conditioning. 

We have those moments as we mature; yours may be about something else. I'd learn a great deal if you would like to tell us. 


The purple memorial

Thank you, kind readers, for your condolences. I am back from Oregon, where my brother's memorial was a warm, heartening event.

Time was, mourners wore black or navy, with no excessive detail. Dad, a lifelong bowtie man, had one long tie, strictly for funerals. In these more informal times, a family (or the decreased) may request specific attire. The day before I left, a niece contacted me to say friends and family were asked to wear purple, my brother's favourite colour. (The photo I posted shows him in one of his many purple shirts.)

I had heard of mourners being asked to wear brights, all white, or school colours. I knew someone  who requested that her women friends wear their most lavish hats. But other than Prince, I had not thought about purple as a commemorative gesture.

I unpacked the black dress and belted downtown to see what I could find. Sweaty and anxious, I thought, Couldn't he have loved camel?

Les Montréalaises are not offered much in purple this season; I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt. After two hours I came home empty-handed but remembered with relief that I had purple shoes. (Arche "Drick", below.)

I also have a silk ikat shawl shot through with purple. That would have to do; the shawl went over a heliotrope top and long black skirt from Muriel Dombret. I would have liked a mauve manicure, but there was no time.

St. Mary's was packed with purple. My sister-in-law chose a chic plum twinset with a hint of silver metallic. Her two daughters had purple pashminas, her sons and sons-in-law, ties. Grandchildren bloomed in purple flowered dresses, a sweet lavender shrug, a mulberry turtleneck. Friends wore jackets and dresses in every hue of purple, and, on a black suit, a man had pinned an elegant fresia boutonnière.

Our younger generation were entirely accepting of everyone's choice, but the purple flourishes made them smile on a day when smiles were hard to muster.

His purple speedo (which Denny sometimes wore to cook, his solution to the problem of stained clothes) was mentioned during the eulogy, probably a first for St. Mary's.

After the service, family and close friends gathered at the home for a barbeque. Everyone changed into jeans, but kept their purple on to bring Denny into the heart of the house, as always.

Have you been to such a memorial? When your family and friends gather to remember you, might your loved ones suggest what to wear? 

In anticipation of my inevitable ceremony: my favourite colour is... black. Gray will be fine.

Forty-five years

Stories! Any writer gorges on real-life stories, and I've had a banquet lately. Jeanne has allowed me to tell hers.

The moment I saw Jeanne this summer, I knew something was up. She was widowed two years ago. We met at the end of the first year, when she was mourning, and spoke at length about her husband Will, an ebullient, brilliant and deeply generous man. She was subdued, still hollowed-out from a harrowing last year.

By this summer, she was brimming with life. She had divested nearly everything she and Will owned, sold the big suburban house, found a pied-a-terre in Denver. She was a sought-after partner on the competitive bridge circuit, traveling to tournaments.

Jeanne has a son in Montréal, and another who lives with his family on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, a locale famous for its natural beauty, a sailor's paradise.

While visiting that son, she learned that her first husband, Stewart, whom she'd married at 21 and divorced seven years later, lived there too. At loose ends during the day ("only so much farmers' market I can take"), she decided to look him up, after forty-five years without contact. Stewart was divorced again, and had an adult daughter. At the first coffee meeting, their past bond floated up; they talked for three hours.

After several visits and introductions to one another's children, Jeanne and Stewart dined one evening at the town's one posh restaurant, and afterward, she did not return to her son's home. They resumed what was disrupted nearly a half-century ago.

What happened in the early '70s?  She had a brief affair; they were not at that point able to work through the crisis. "He was always my best friend", she said, "and I felt such guilt that I had hurt him—so I left." They moved apart rapidly, carried by swift currents into others' lives.

When she reconnected, the years seemed to fall away, but now both brought the broader perspectives granted by time, other loves, and the wisdom they lacked in their twenties. After caring for Will for years, Jeanne lives in the present. "Talk to me about Willie any time",  Stewart said, "I want to know him though you."

Her story reminded me of  Stan Rogers' love song to his wife Ariel, "Forty-Five Years", especially the lines,
You say you've been twice a wife and you're through with life
Ah, but honey, what the hell's it for?

Jeanne won't settle permanently in that oceanside town, but will visit soon—Stewart bought a queen-sized bed and is purging stacks of single-guy stuff. She is travelling extensively in the coming year; he will join her at Christmastime. Her children say, "Go for it, Mom."

To my delight, she bought a condo in Montréal for use during the summers; her son will live there the rest of the year. She hopes Stewart will visit; they were newlyweds here, so poor that a night out was a round trip on the métro. I can't wait to meet the man who makes my friend's eyes dance. "Isn't he handsome?" she asked, producing the wedding photo she carries in her wallet:

During her month here, they were in constant touch, connected this time like Venn circles, overlapping, but not fully eclipsing the other. Stewart has lived contentedly in his cabin for many years; Jeanne yearns to be out in the world, from Singapore to New York.

But her heart is home again, in an old, familiar port.

Uneven aging: On the road

When couples or friends travel, uneven aging shows up like a souvenir seller on a beach: an unwelcome intrusion you'll face at some point.

Sometimes the afflicted person, longing for adventure,  stimulation—or just her money's worth—signs on for more activity than she can handle. Other times, a companion plans an ambitious trip without considering the demands on stamina. When the less-fit of the pair (or group) hears the itinerary, she may not speak about her health issues, fearing she'd dampen the fun.

Rachel and her husband cruised to Spain, where they rented a car and drove to Italy and France. What should have been a long-awaited five-week celebration of Noah's retirement turned into misery before the first border was crossed. "Very suddenly, I saw that Noah could not cope with the land part", she said. "I had to do all the driving, which exhausted me. He became extremely anxious; I've never seen him so agitated. Every day, he wanted to know where would we eat. I had booked the hotels, but not restaurants. He kept asking, 'How far do I have to walk?' He wouldn't even carry a bag."

By the time they flew home from Nice, she was drained and resentful. Once back, she regained her compassion. Home life had disguised the extent of Noah's debilitating condition; he could not be open about something even he did not fully realize.

Their next trip, two years later, was cruise only, removing the sources of stress for both. She missed  their footloose flexibility, but Noah was a happy man once he could sleep in the same bed every night and get eggs over easy with turkey bacon for breakfast. Rachel, freed from trying to find acceptable restaurants in strange towns, was a blissful ship spa client.

That's a solution out of many travellers' budgets, but the principle is sound: better to travel less often, and spend on supports such as a private room, more cabs, the rental of assistive devices, or booking a personal tour guide.

There is a psychological side to travel, too. "Uneven aging" means one person is in better shape than the other, and for the less-fit person, that can be embarrassing. Her ego will roar like a wounded lion.

The description of the yoga tour I took to India in my late 50s said classes would be offered for all levels, but everyone else was an advanced yogini and craved challenge, so the teacher went with that. I was full of self-recrimination until I realized that it was not my fault. I told the teacher I'd do what I could, and spent some time during each four-hour class just resting on my mat. Some days, I cut class to walk the beach and enjoy a Kingfisher with lunch—yes! 

But I was lucky; the women on the tour were warm and made no judgment about my limitations. Besides, when we went to the night markets, they depended on me to find the best jewellery. My bruised ego was salved by their gratitude.

Marcelle had no such advantage on an archaeological tour to Turkey. She had long been a confident solo traveller, but on this tour, she thought she'd die of heatstroke trying to keep up. She could either stumble along, sweaty and miserable, or sit alone on a broiling bus; the AC was turned off while the others hiked the ruins. She knew no one else, and the group wasn't friendly. The tour leader curtly pointed out that the trip brochure said there would be extensive walking. "They were kind of like, 'What are you doing here?'", she said.

She threw in the Turkish towel after four sweltering days, and hired a driver to take her ahead to the last stop for a three-night stay in a charming boutique hotel. Though she paid quite a bit for that respite, it turned out to be the high point of the trip. She sent a photo of her dinner on the terrace and said, "Now I know the Turkey that suits me."

A traveller with health issues will need a backup plan should the original itinerary prove unworkable. The abler partner has to keep an eye out; even on an 'easy' trip, the less-vital partner may be dazzled by all on offer, and push too hard.

Another friend, C., will take a family trip to Sedona this winter. His preparation includes a 12-week strength, balance and mobility course at his local hospital. For those without local resources, a number of books and video programs are available on Amazon, from mat to water-based approaches. (Another plug here for the iBook "How to Watch TV and Get Fit", which builds strength at home in efficient three-minute sets.)

A list of tour companies which cater to varying levels of ability is here. Before selecting a tour (or planning a self-led trip), each person should speak openly about the realities of stamina and mobility but also about details such as the requirement for an elevator or the need for a regular nap. Then, choose what's realistic—never mind that you don't see every monument. You might also decide to scale the trip to meet those needs: a shorter flight or crossing fewer time zones can make or break the less-fit partner's experience.

As Rachel found, you have live with your partner or friend long after you've unpacked. "I plan for him to be comfortable on the trip", she said, "and that makes all the difference back home."

Udeman: My brother

My brother, and my only remaining member of my birth family, died last week, suddenly and peacefully, at 84.

I can't say quite why the shock was so profound, I suppose because we had chatted just days before, when he was in hospital for a respiratory problem no one thought was serious.

So, may I introduce you to Denny, a little too late. He was an avid outdoorsman— a licensed river guide and expert fly fisher—a natural athlete who'd win a club golf tournament even when it was the only game he'd played that year.

He was beloved by patients, who got house calls and his home number. The father of nine (two marriages), he possessed unruffled calm, no matter what commotion unruly kids or escaped horses brought. Home was a rambling farmhouse outside Springfield, Oregon, filled with children and usually one of their friends who perched at Denny and Jackie's between jobs or studies.

In his student days, he'd hitch-hike between our home in Northern Michigan and Notre Dame, in Northern Indiana, with a duffel bag and a sign that said, "It's Up to You." And oh, the girls were after him!  Because he was fifteen years older, I have little memory of his youth, but my sister said she had to fend off eager "girlfriends" who only wanted an introduction to her tall, dreamy brother.

He was the kind of person who parks where he likes and pays the ticket. He hated how HMOs constrained physicians' practices, and in protest suspended his surgical practice for a time. (He went back, that's what nine kids does to you.) I was about to call him anti-authoritarian, but more accurately, he was his own authority.

And he was a believer of old-school Irish Catholic persuasion. When I spoke to him last week, I told him that while in New York, I'd stop by St. Patrick's and light a candle for him; he liked that. "The candle" was a joke between us, because when he was 15 and my mother was in labour with me, he went to church to light a candle for my safe arrival. When he found out I was a girl, he returned and blew it out.

At St. Pat's I lit two, cutting Mom in on the deal. As I knelt in the vast cathedral, trying to retrieve the words of the liturgy, I remembered what he said to me about his prayers for our mother during her last weeks: "I prayed for her to get better; then I realized I was praying for the wrong thing, so I asked for her to have what she needed now."

I amended my prayer, invoking the same request. I don't know why, because we weren't worried. And the next day, he was gone in a breath.

I will return next week, after family time in Oregon.

Good stuff! A hodgepodge of resources

Today, the Passage's windows are dressed with items I discovered over the summer.

1. The MedicalID feature on the iPhone

People put emergency contact info on their phones, but what if your phone is locked, and you're not able to access it? Click here for instructions for using the feature with iPhone 8, or a hack for iPhone 7; on another site, iPhone 6 and 7 instructions are here.

I learned about this from our Mac doc, Dave Rahman of TechnoMinds. Check out David's other TechTips; there's other cool iPhone info such as how to decrease data usage (which if you live in Canada is important.)

2. On-demand transit, with service and support for seniors

At the other end of the tech-savvy scale is a service for persons who do not have a smart phone, but want to use Lyft or Uber: GoGo Grandparent. Available in 50 US States and Canada, the service allows seniors or anyone housebound to get around safely, using the ride services with a plain old phone.

Why not just call a cab? GoGo offers more services, such as notifications to GoGo Grandkids or other family members, or the ability to schedule transit for recurring appointments. Up to four other passengers ride (from the same location) at no additional cost.They're adding a grocery delivery feature. My neighbour Toni uses it for her 92-year-old mother and says it makes a world of difference to her autonomy and enjoyment, and she does not have to do nearly as much running around.

A new feature added in Sept. allows riders to use it without entering any info on a phone keypad, which is useful for visually impaired persons.

3. Daily crossword: fun on the fly

The Washington Post's is just right for me, you may prefer harder ones! Play online or print.

4. Chic shoes for problem feet, by post

Jeanne has bunions, and always bemoans the shoe choices on offer, but when we met over the summer, she had divine sandals that fit her two different-sized feet like a dream—and so pretty! Etsy seller KatzandBirds make sandals, oxfords and boots in beautiful colours, and adapt these for various needs. The focus is firmly on flat (but not wafer-thin) or very low heels—shoes you can walk around in all day.

Shoe prices are in the $250-$350 range. The owner, in Tel Aviv, states that there is no duty on US orders under $800 and Canadian orders under $200. I am longing to try a pair!

Any discoveries to add? Please do; we can't use what we don't know about.

New York in black and colour

Back from nearly a week in New York City, in sweltering heat with high humidity. I had hoped to take photos of women there,  but left my iPad in the plane. I got it back, but too late to take photos.

During the week of 32C/90F temperatures, women wore black that hung away from the body: floaty a-line sleeveless dresses, loose-cut pants like Eileen Fisher's, loose linen tees or light white blouses. That's what I took too, and several scarves that were too hot to wear.

But window shopping told another story: colour in the most ardent forms, prices climbing like the thermometer at the exemplary designers'.

I was colour-drunk in Saks' Etro boutique. Fortunately, if you have over $8,000, you can get the same piece (shown below left ) at net-a-porter.  Burberry's crazy-quilt vest has already sold out there, but Saks had it, too, and I thought of knitters like materfamilias, who could take that on.

If you can drop the price of a (used) car on a jacket, and you don't mind who knows it, the Italians are able to supply the dazzling goods. Gucci's floral appliqué jacquard jacket had place of pride in the Fifth Avenue window:

When your eye is enchanted via these houses, you see that these clothes cannot be copied successfully. Mid-range department stores were a downer after such outré opulence: sedate burgundy, endless shift dresses and the basic trousers you wore for your first job.

Poly, even when vividly printed, cannot even hope to match the world's best dyes on plush wools or velvet. I about wept.

If you sew,  you might hunt these magnificent fabrics and trims, then compose and tailor you little heart out. For those of us whose last seat at a Singer was in high school home ec class, a good-sized scarf is a decent cheat.

Lisu Moshi's "Chui Red" chiffon rectangle delivers those exotic colourways, and is light enough to wear indoors. Price, £120 at Wolf and Badger.

The Danish brand Epice make terrific scarves, always with a colour suprise; I love pink with cocoa brown. This detail below is from a wool/silk/cashmere blend shawl that is $330 at Bliss.

Or you might have a lucky strike like one of my Susanfriends, who found a Save the Queen knit jacket at a Sutton, Quebec flea market for $2!

"Don't tell!" advised our mutual friend when we had lunch, but Sue wants the world to know what can happen if you scout with your lucky penny in your purse. (Similar shown, listed on eBay.)

At Etro, I thought, Spectacular, but how do you wear this? Then I remembered a stylist's axiom: " 'Matches nothing' goes with everything".

Such riotous colour is actually more versatile than a bright solid, which can cut all but the longest-bodied woman in half. Artful colour play is magic, moving the eye about and pulling everything together.

Speaking of magic, if you're in New York this fall, I suggest you see Derek Del Gaudio's, "In and Of Itself" which is to the classic magic show what Etro is to fabric: another conceptual level. DelGaudio's theme is identity, and his performance, which includes magic, monologue and memoir, is an entrancing evening.

Trying on life alone

Le Duc was called away for a few days last week on family matter, and I was alone.

My first thought was, Good. I can attack areas of the apartment that a grown man still doesn't notice are grungy, like the mat of dirt that forms where sliding doors meet. I can whistle out of tune and eat dinner when I feel like it—which may be buttered popcorn with a glass of white wine, not as disgusting as it sounds.

Aside from the popcorn, it was no fun.

I learned that should I have years of life alone ahead of me, I will have to find a commune, or at very least, co-housing. Others are not inclined this way; they're wired—or have built the muscle—for solo living.

What I noticed: I resisted calling my children or friends, who would surely extend a lifeline. I know they are there if it's unbearable; the widows who read this are saying, You want to see unbearable? Try years.

I allotted the hours to French homework, the chores that get short shrift, an attention-deficeit Netfilx binge. Alone, I could bail from a so-so movie after ten or fifteen minutes.  I divested a half-dozen pieces of clothing without asking for an opinion, repaired a broken flashlight by myself.

But it felt more illuminating to just be, to absorb the days' shifts of light and the whirr of the apartment when it's empty. I awoke in the night and spent the better part of an hour thinking of my mother's women friends, whom I miss keenly.

I thought, too, of Patti Smith, writing in "M Train" of her late husband, fourteen years after his death: "Just come home, you've been gone too long. I will wash your shirts."

Patti Smith and Fred "Sonic" Smith; retrieved from PurpleClover

I'm in New York now; Patti and their children will perform a concert tonight and tomorrow in his honour. Though I may hear snatches from Central Park, I won't be on the grass; my days of standing for hours are over. But I remember Fred "Sonic" Smith vividly; I saw him many times in my student days, performing with the MC5 in frat house basements or dusty small halls, taciturn, handsome, roiling with talent.

Instead, I shall spend the evening with Le Duc, in an elevated state of appreciation. I can imagine Patti saying, I'd do that too.

When I had days to myself in the past, I was immersed in work, that incomparable energy sponge, and barely noticed how I felt. When he and the children left for a weekend, I worked so intensely I could tell it was evening only because the phone stopped ringing.

Solitude is a calling in early and mid-life, but as we age, it often arrives as an unbidden necessity. The adjustment is trickier and tinged with grief; there's less sense that you chose it.

I have not lived alone for over 31 years. Then, that life was neatly contained by a small house filled with Art Deco and family castoffs; a friend said it looked like the set of "Mommy Dearest" dropped into a dollhouse. When I had company for a weekend, I'd be exhausted; by Sunday brunch, the fizzy mood of Friday evening would devolve into a yearning for peace.

Now, with life less dictated by external demands, solitude seems like a Rubik's Cube, a puzzle to be turned until it falls into place. I know it's possible, but wonder if I could ever reach that satisfying resolution.

Black with something extra

With fall, black returns in seasonal supremacy. Most women have a black dress or two stashed in the closet, often a simple dress-up-or-down style.

When New York Times T Magazine recently ran a black feature; I ogled the dresses, which are not your basic blacks. 

That basic has eminently earned its place; it's the one you can wear for weeks on a trip by changing accessories, or throw on for a meeting, without thinking about it.  But there are times when the simple a-line feels like what retailers call a "dumb dress".  I'd like more verve; I am on the lookout for black with wit.

If I had $3,400 this Gucci is quite the number, probably even more exquisite in person, and note the ecru cuff. 

Today, the windows are dressed in black with something extra. You may not see your dress (and your 'black' may be navy or espresso), but each offers that something extra, well below T Magazine's dizzying price point.

 The Part Two Itessa dress, of cashmere blend knit, is €130. The sleeve detail will look wonderful at a restaurant table, and the bottom hem has matching small slits. The fabric content is confusing; the copy says "cashmere blend" but also "100% viscose". I've long been a fan of Part Two, a Danish company who now have an e-store.

From Edinburgh's Totty Rocks, the sharp black Lux dress in satin and triple crepe. Portrait collar (that's the satin), a lightly padded shoulder, and the wink of a slit neckline neckline at the back: yes! Totty rocks, but she also tailors. Price, £195.

This dress is not black, but it is special. Donna Karan navy silk embroidered dot dress, on sale for $US 375. If you go to the site you'll see it worn with nothing beneath, but we of course are wearing its attached navy cami. Spectacular across-the-table quotient.

When I saw this, I thought, Adele for its elegance and drama. The cream-lined cape dips in back to the waist (top left, below). The dress is poly and elastane, washable on delicate cycle. From Navibi, in (US) plus sizes 10-22; price, about $US 320.

My friend B. just bought two dresses from The Peruvian Connection, whom I had thought of as knitwear designers, but it turns out they have been designing some good dresses, too, including a collection of black. Their Eldridge Dress looks like a tunic over a slim skirt,  but is one piece, and has a sleeve length I like, too. The overlayer is viscose/wool, the underlayer is stretchy rayon; price, $US 259.

Another option is the trouser suit, because some women just don't like dresses. The mantra is "modern, feminine". (I admire the classic le smoking, but it's harder to pull off when one is older. If you don't wear red lipstick with aplomb, it's probably not your look.)

This Tahari jacket, with its velvet-tipped lapel and buttonless closure, is not the man's suit cut; the trousers are cropped. Price: Blazer, $US 428; Odette trousers, $US 278. Mom would say, "Now, don't wear the trousers five times as often as the jacket, or the blacks won't match anymore."

I would wear this with short boots or low block heels—the open sandals look dated, not to mention dangerous.

Left, Nine West Quarren; price, $US 158; right, Clark's Chinaberry Pop; price, about $US 125.

Off I go to pack summer whites and bring back the black. What I have must please for the next six  months—and if not, hello donation bin. Black is too ubiquitous to be just a dark and safe default.  

Etiquette and speaking up

I had the occasion, over the summer, to make some new friends, and to observe myself doing so.  At such moments, I try to present myself more or less unedited. Why spend time together if you can't be yourself with someone?

Conventional etiquette, social rules promoted by my proper Midwestern American mother, dictated avoidance of controversy at the table or other social gatherings—but I wanted to talk about the issues and changes that have jolted us, the storms both political and physical. How can one chat only about light topics (movies, sports, the summer festivals) while our local stadium filled with refugees who cross the Canadian border daily? So I did not.

That's not to say I jumped off the high board, and I do not want to rile my hosts. Sometimes I test the waters, noting, for example, that Bob Dylan, whom we saw in concert in July, chose to croon mostly '40s pop standards until his biting encore, "Blowing in the Wind".

Because I'm a dual US and Canadian citizen, persons I barely know ask me to parse the psyche of the American voter, especially those who ardently support Donald Trump. So I will speak, without expecting agreement.

I find facts an ally. Sometimes I've had to listen more than speak, and have had moments of dislocation. When a friend praised the "refreshing openness" of the US President, I asked this committed environmentalist what he thought of that administration's revoked legislation or reduced enforcement regarding environmental issues.

I find, too, that others want to talk about the difficult, the messy, the incomprehensible. When hosts, signalling they were not afraid of substance, wondered what their guests thought about the removal of a plaque that commemorated Jefferson Davis from a downtown Montréal site, I was grateful.

"Please, Bill," my mother would beg, "don't get into politics tonight." And I do remember some shouting. She was happy to have my father's intelligence (edified by his beloved Chicago Tribune) aimed against certain interests; she just didn't want it to obscure the glories of her roast beef and cherry pie.

My friend Beth, author of the beautifully-written blog the cassandra pages, wrote a post on speaking out, showing up, and replacing handwringing with action. I could not say it better.

Because present-day Nazis and related groups claim their space, stating that they have substantial support from elected officials, I speak. I also try to listen, respect difference, and keep my critical thinking skills sharp. (My antennae go up when I hear, in either official language, "ces gens là"; "those people".)

I have learned how fear, scarcity and insularity affect tolerance. How belief systems implanted early in life may be re-examined, and how much courage it takes for someone to say, "I've changed my mind" or even "I didn't know about that."

Sometimes there's a cost. The fiancée of a family friend decided she'd had enough of biting her tongue during family visits and after years of silence, decided to take her stand. After a rocky visit, she said, "My mother and father are open enough to listen, but my brother won't. I don't hope to change their minds, but I want to be heard."

Pass the peas, and pass the word: the etiquette is abridged, Mom. At the table, I will still eat with my mouth closed, but I will also open it to talk about these times.

Pearls, everyday: Ginger's request

Summer in the city, where across the street from us there's a splash pad and a blind pig within a stone's throw of one another, and a park where you can canoodle, tango or eat chess pie handed to you in a wicker hamper by the restaurant on its border. All summer long, piping kid's voices commingled with tiki bar patrons'; everyone seemed to be having a grand time.

I mostly fought off online life but a few e-mails im-pinged. One was from Ginger, who asked, "Could I see an example of the pearls you wear with jeans? That's what I'm looking for too."

So, as I reluctantly interrupt this golden week of still-mild weather for the keyboard, I thank Ginger for suggesting the traditional re-opening pearl post. Easy; I hauled out the point-and-shoot and spilled over twenty years of gifts and purchases onto my desk.

You can wear any of these with jeans, Ginger, and since that's what I'm in most days, I can prove it.

Left: Baroque fancy-colour Tahitians, from Kojima Company.
Middle: Chinese metallic freshwater tin-cup lariat with 18k chain, from Lucile.
Right: Stick pearls on clear poly thread, from Basia Design, Toronto.

More detail on these, but hardly ballgown style:

Left: South Sea (drums, banded baroques) 20-inch rope shown with custom-made detachable Tahitian pendant; from Kojima Company.
Middle: Handmade silver and 22k beads, Chinese metallic freshwater pearl; from Kokass by Céline Bouré.
Right: Chinese peach-pink pearls, tourmaline, aquamarine and silver beads, from Artwork by Collins & Chandler Gallery, Toronto.

And these: the keshis (upper left and right); below, two strands, black and white.

Top left: Two ropes of metallic CFW keshis, from Kojima Company.
Top right: Small pink CFW keshis (Chinese seller on eBay, defunct), restyled by Manitoba jeweller Rosalind Wolchock.
Bottom left: Dyed CFWs trying to mimic Tahitians, which they do not, but they're wild; from Emily Gill.
Bottom right: Large silver-white South Seas in various shapes from Kojima Company.

All of these were summer road-tested in jeans-friendly joints: parks, pubs, markets, terrasses, concerts and cottages. They survived swats from cats, a little sweat, some rain and a tween with a Super Soaker.  I took them off for the gym.
All have memories attached; this is why pearls feel different than getting, say, a jacket. Many were gifts from those I love.

If I were in your jeans, Ginger, I'd be all over the last day of Kojima's end of summer sale—18% off everything—prices are before sale discount.

Left: "As the Waves Wash Over" necklace; 26 inches; wire-wrapped Tahitian keshis and silver pendant with faceted pink sapphire; price, $594.
Right: 13mm star-shaped super-lustrous CFW coin pearls, 16-inch strand. (Stringing is free; knotting and the clasp will add over an inch to the length.) Price, $135.

Bonne rentrée, everyone! I hope you had some larky late nights, rosy sunrises, and contentment in the hours in between. The world hit some hurdles since the Passage was last open, but summer lifts like a snatch of clarinet melody on soft air; we needed that here.

It will be delightful to hear from you again.

Turning thirty

As I latch the Passage's shutters for the summer, I am looking forward to a milestone, our twin sons' thirtieth birthdays on July 9.

One son said, "I remember when I was seventeen, and a guy at work turned thirty. It seemed so old." In 1978, my thirtieth was similarly  regarded as the definitive departure of youth.

Women friends approached the day either deliberately distracted by some kind of hijinks, or wrapped in a granny-square afghan, weeping into poetry. Joanna stocked her kitchen with beer and pizza, invited forty friends, and then was so distraught she never left her bedroom. One by one, we entered to comfort her.

My birthday party in July, 1978 was here; I lived on the upper floor of this mansion, built in 1875. It was a romantic apartment that had retained its heritage features, with odd little quarter-levels off a centre hall wide as a street. The former tenant had entered a convent, so I'll bet the place had not seen a bash like that for some years.

See that balcony? John dangled from the railing by one hand (probably on a bet), while his wife pleaded with his pals to haul him back up. Fortunately the owner, who occupied the ground floor, was at her cottage.
At thirty

Our friends brought raccoon-themed gifts, because I was fond of the bushy, bandit-eyed coons who lived in the garage, and my then-husband liked theme parties. So I received ears of sweet corn, a silver raccoon stickpin, and of course a vintage Davy Crockett hat.

Robert ignored the theme, gave me a bottle of liqueur—and then drank it himself:

An immoderate amount of Bailey's

Thirty is a gusty age, full of energy but sometimes rudderless. In my circle, it was a time of movement, from job to job, partner to partner. There was no consensus about how take on adult roles; we were divided between the conventional models supplied by parents or mentors and New-Age experimentation.

Everyone turns thirty within a larger historical frame, the warp to your weft. The late '70s were a period of relative economic stability; no one at that party had yet faced chronic unemployment. Pension plans were robust, even if we barely thought of ever needing them. Women were now free to bear children or not, but if one were desired, thirty was considered "time to get on with it".

Though we had been vividly influenced by the '60s, few dressed for that party in "beads and feathers from Salvation Army counters" as Leonard Cohen wrote, except for Lisa, who was a dancer. I wore a brown Danskin leotard and matching wrap skirt. We were building our "work wardrobes", and were a good fifteen years away from anyone even thinking of wearing jeans to the office except on the occasional Casual Friday. Some of us worried about looking old enough!

As I look back on the guests, I realize how much instability roiled below the surface. The majority of those in relationships broke up, partly because of the relatively recent option for no-fault divorce. In less than three years I had moved to another city, taken a new job, and was about to divorce too. Only then, responsible for every aspect of my life, did I feel wholly adult.

The birthday boys

My sons are turning thirty in a different world; in '78, the population was 4.4 billion; today, it's 7.5 billion. Every day, they learn what is happening, anywhere, in real time; receiving and transmitting instantaneous information. (We didn't even have an answering machine in our apartment.)

Before we part for the summer, please tell us about your thirtieth birthday; I'll bet you remember, and I would love to hear that story before we part for two months.

The Passage will reopen on Tuesday, September 5. Thank you for reading and have a glorious, golden summer!

Holiday weekend: The berries!

That was a slang expression Dad used: "It's the berries!" And last weekend, the market was bursting with local strawberries. Their glowing colour seemed to evoke more colourfully-dressed shoppers.

We're nearing the time for the Passage to close for the summer, so let's take a last stroll together on the long weekend here; the Quebec holiday is still called St-Jean-Baptiste Day, but is also known as its more recent name, the National Holiday.

The brights that catch our eye include a woman carrying a woven striped bag, a purple knit top printed with butterflies, and a vivid paisley blouse:

Ethnic fabrics are a passion for me, but it is the incandescent smile of a woman serving a client that we notice first—then, her beautiful head wrap.

A woman strolls by in a blue coat made from Guatemalan fabric:

Plus-sized women are sometimes advised to avoid brights and prints. She's not buying that, and I like both her dots and cherry nails.

We do see women in pastels or white, and also plenty of stripes; two shoppers are wearing classic Montréal touches: on her, the big scarf even in summer, and on the man (background) the marinière:

Of course we buy a flat of strawberries, and also the magnificent radishes. Le Duc will make a soup from the leaves, and I will serve radis-buerre, a favourite summer hors d'oeuvre.  You can prepare them the fancy way, by stuffing hollowed out radishes with herb butter, but the simple way is fine: just apply a little pat of cultured butter to a whole or halved ruby radish on the way to your mouth.

We'll return together in the fall, and I will miss these jaunts, but think of you over July and August. Come back Thursday, for a last post for the season!

Pink peacoat: Good buy or boondoggle?

I bought this cotton twill peacoat, double-deeply on sale and with free shipping at J. Crew. And quite out of character, chose "dark mauve", not the sober navy I have worn in one coat or another most of my life.

When I unboxed it, I thought, "Well that's impractical, back it goes!" But then I realized its benefits: warm in clammy, cool weather—which is about all we had this April and May—washable, and a classic style but in an unusual, cheerful colour, especially against grey hair. (Actual colour is a shade deeper than monitor shows.) 

Even though it was reduced from $CDN 168 to about $55 (plus tax), I am reluctant to buy anything "for later", the gateway attitude to stockpiling. I took a few things to the donation box, then gave it a place in the closet. I hope next spring I'm still happy!

I'd enjoy hearing your experience: did an off-season bargain turn out to be worth it, or just a moment's misjudgement?

Travelling Thrift Shop

Tomorrow I'll be visiting Marina Malvada, an ebullient and striking artist who lives in a small town outside Ottawa. My former neighbour and avid thrifter misses trolling the Montréal friperies, so— thrift comes to her!

So here's a summer business idea that I'll never realize: the Friperie Van brimming with picks from our charity stores. Continuing a long tradition of itinerant merchants, I'd tootle through bucolic small towns, and women would gather. Stock the van with a few rolling racks, set up an art deco folding screen and a good full-length mirror for a change room, voilà!

At sundown I'd serve sangria, and maybe barter for a guestroom, because even in this fantasy I am not a camper. Maybe spend two weeks on the road and a week off to restock. Would it make money? Maybe I'd only cover my expenses, but what a fun way to tour the countryside and connect to communities. After this reverie I read about a woman who does this, taking a truck stocked with vintage and cult cosmetics on the festival circuit and to markets.

In real life, I'm bringing a stack of gifts to my friend, who has a fine eye honed by a job in a vintage boutique in her art school days.

Blouses and jackets! Clockwise from upper left: purple poly print; poppy red Chinese satin; a wild metallic-knit pink bomber; a fitted blue blazer with pink lining and embossed metal buttons.

Two dresses! A Cynthia Rowley stretch knit, and a slip dress or top from the hip French brand Un Après-Midi du Chien.

And the kicker: I'm carrying them in an eggplant textured-leather satchel, lined in hot pink.

The tops were $6-$7, the dresses $8, and the bag $12.  Marina's free to re-gift anything that doesn't please her, or... the stock could go into my imaginary van.

Beach jewellery: To shell and back

"Beachy" jewellery is a category wide as a sandbar, and conjures images of you, fetching in a sarong, wearing a loose, relaxed, cool breeze of a bauble.

I started wearing beach jewellery in my you remember belly chains? I borrowed my girlfriend Jeanne's to dress up my bikini.

Unlike those chains (and I admit, the waist that wore it), a great deal of beach jewellery has staying power, and you can wear a well-designed piece year-round with actual clothes. Just like drinking a glass of rosé in the dead of winter, well-designed beach jewellery will lift your mood no matter the month.

Beach-influenced jewellery often uses organic materials: wood, shell, coral, pearl, glass, pebbles. Leather, linen or beader's thread suits it better than heat-holding metals; the effect is light and often a touch bohemian.

Pascale Monvoisin is one of my favourite contemporary jewellers. She sets cauri (or cowrie) shells with semiprecious stones to make a light and playful pendant. Shown, 11mm x 17mm shell pendant set with 2.5mm round turquoise; price, $295 at Twist.

Wear the Blooming Plumeria necklace as a long rope in summer, and doubled in winter, and be transported to the plumeria-scented air of Maui. Thirty-seven inches of South Sea pearls and lustrous Chinese freshwater keshis insterspered with gold vermeil beads and tourmaline crystals. From Kojima Company; price, $450.

You might recall Chantal's stunning Tahitian keshi pearl bracelet, inspired by a piece of coral she found while diving, and made for her by Janis Kerman. Israeli jeweller Arosha Taglia also makes coral-inspired pieces, set with pearl, sapphire, moonstone and other gems. Shown, a sterling silver "coral" branch holds a12mm silver freshwater button pearl; price, about $205.

How I love the genuine, undyed Italian coral, pink-peach like a flamingo chick—and if you buy vintage, you are not further degrading the marine environment.

Many persons are watching these carved coral 16mm button stud earrings on eBay, so they may be sold, but I want to show them as an example of the charisma of vintage coral in 18k settings. This pair conjures an elegant old hotel on Capri, with the natural wildflowers in the air. BIN price, $475.

Chan Luu combines cowrie shells, tassels, silver beads and bells into a playful necklace that reminds me of balmy islands and steel drums. On braided cotton, it is cool in warm weather, though I would wear this all year— the colours are interesting (imagine this on a camel sweater) and will layer up with chains or other strands. From Twist; price, $62.

Let's watch the sun sink into the waves and finish with a sumptuous, iconic piece. If your beach is Palm, this may be what you wear to dinner. When I began to write this post, I thought, Seaman Schepps, I have to show them. 

Since the 1930s, this house has put clients like Katherine Hepburn and Doris Duke in exquisite, audacious resort jewellery—and Beladora of course have the sublime example, the Triple Turbo Shell brooch with diamond and pearls. Price, $4, 750.

Montréal style: Treasures to take home

My eye and energy are beaming toward this July and August, when I shutter the Passage and take a break to receive friends here for summer holidays.

Travellers pick up souvenirs, for sure, sometimes modest as a St-Ambroise beer coaster pocketed from a bar, occasionally a splurge; a couple recently fell in love with a painting!

I'll show you several big hits with visitors, but you don't need to visit to enjoy them; they  are also available online. All prices are in $CDN.

An entire family of visiting Brits, (grandparents, Mum and Dad, two teenagers) fell hard for trèsnormale t-shirts-screen printed with original, deep-Montréal scenes. Left: the woman's model of Boulevard St-Laurent, part of the Urbanity series. Upper right: the artwork on the tee celebrating the 375th birthday of the city. Bottom right, one of my favourites, the dépanneur (our French for 'convenience store'). Price, about $29.

trèsnormale offer a wide range of sizes, including kid's. Some of the tees are in soft, 100% cotton, others are a cotton-bamboo-poly blend, and all are in muted, interesting colours. A number of designs are available as sturdy tote bags, $16 each.

Bees to honey: Two sisters bought pieces for themselves, and one man bought a gift for his partner. The two operating in US dollars were thrilled by the exchange rate that makes Relaxed Real-level handcrafted items extremely affordable.
Left: Mina splurged on one of Gabrielle Demarais' sculptural necklaces. Shown, the PK5 necklace, two silver discs on black cord—dramatic on its own and also layers well. Price, $95. (Her work is also available at Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h.) I adore Gabrille Demarais' jewellery, so I might have enabled her a tad, but is she happy!

Upper right: Gene chose a pair of Lucie Veilleux Caviar stud earrings for his sweetheart, price, $59 on Lucie's Etsy shop. Lower right: This Ilk make fresh designs that feature vintage materials. Laurie  bought herself the Cheeba necklace, $54, made with vintage ball-trimmed lace and green and black fringe. In Montréal you can find a selection from both artists at the wonderful boutique Articho.

Montréal contains unique architecture that lends itself to arresting images; the best hint at their location rather than shout.

Left: Boutique Onze navy cotton tunic (sizes XS-XXL) printed with a whimsical map of the city; price $59. (Other colours available but some sizes are sold out online.)
Centre: Satin photoprint wallet of Habitat '67 (we're celebrating Expo 67's 50th anniversary), bound to please even the most design-conscious. Only $15 from fotofibre.
Right: Cherry red cellphone case with our iconic spiral staircase, for iPhone 6 or 6s from thelonelypixel; price, $49.

Visitors+women=shoes; you're walking a lot and a new pair somehow makes sense. Fluevog is the edgy Canadian shoe brand, and though you can find it in other cities worldwide (and online), at the St-Denis boutique you would be served by the charming Maxime!

Sarah found a pair of badass boots on sale, but we were also captivated by gorgeously-colored Iris suede pumps. Maxime encouraged us to take all the free buttons we'd like, printed with slogans like "Tu es magnifique", so Sarah scooped a handful for her friends back home.

Having a wonderful time, wish you were here. Oh wait—it's not too late to plan a trip!