The closet: Taking classics to current

I stand, nearing year-end, with a beady eye on my closet. Everything is, as my mother would say, "perfectly good", but is it current?

Sisters, I was served a wake up call, thanks to a stranger.  I was in a shop last week when a woman about my age walked in in a 1980s fur coat, matching fur hat, and patchwork cardigan. She looked very well dressed...for 1990. That was "classic", once, and now it's old-timey as a lorgnette. If she feels good in it still, that's her business, but I don't wish to follow suit.

To consider how to work with what I have, I looked for classic pieces like those I own, worn by women who have a decidedly modern vibe. No weird or unwieldy proportions, nothing short, tight and "cute": adult clothes, skirts at the knee, shoes to walk in.

Photos left, right: The Sartorialist
Left: Turquoise coat over black tank and an at-the-knee knit skirt with appliqué detail; white sneakers. A coat in an unusual colour is an outstanding update; Mom again: "Your coat is the first and last thing people see." White sneakers keep the whole thing casual, you can walk in them, and they're cool. I have the coat for next spring.

Centre: Judi! Ecru! I can't wear beiges but never mind, I wanted a reminder that neutral, tonal palettes always look smart, and admired Dame Judi's supple bag with no visible logo, charms or clunky hardware. (To get around the ever-climbing cost of quality leather goods, try consignments.)

But since I saw the locally-made Casgrain leather bag, which converts from tote to backpack, displayed at Lowell, I am coveting its clean chic:

Right: Classic black/white plaid reefer over black denim and a basic black turtleneck, and then... the red boots. Option: swap in any solid bright, and choose a lower heel, but that coat is much livelier than all-black, my city's default. That's Yasmin Sewell, whom I always find inspiring.
Shown: Vince Camuto Chelsea bootie:

When classic hits the wall

I've written about the generational marker of coordination, and which is still seen in certain sartorial circles. So sometimes I collect What Not to Wear images. All of these shots feature a classic trouser or skirted suit, and the rigorous coordination takes the lead in making them look passé:

Bright coordinates persist in department stores, sold by the same vendors that wonder why they have lost Millenials' business. The jewel tones are harsh, yet often chosen for the camera—they make it hard to look away. For women in public life, that might be the goal—but it's not modern.

Clinton is dressing differently in her post-election life. Now that every outfit is not chosen to telegraph some kind of message, she can wear more sober tones, as she did for an appearance in Montréal this fall:

She wil probably still coordinate her trousers and tops, because the unbroken column elongates her petite figure, but the grey jacquard is far more current than the mans' suit in electric hues.

That hypercoordination gets little play beyond those roles and some mother-of-the-bride outfits, and not by women under middle age. Drop by a pub or coffee shop where young adults gather, and you'll see black-and-white houndstooth with citron yellow; sky blue with taupe and a shot of coral; red with a green-and-pink floral.

You may notice combinations you never thought of, and be warned off any incipient matchiness except for all-black—they do wear that.

Accessories don't save everything... but close

On The Sartorialist, Scott Schuman shoots eccentric colour mixes and pattern, usually on lithe young persons, but also shares his deep knowledge of fabrics, tailoring and fit. Frequent reading has warned me off some mistakes, and fanned my longing for reincarnation as a Milanesa.

"Modern" means neither the shortest or tightest piece you can get away with, nor the trendiest. (Schuman has never photographed a cold-shoulder sweater.)

Below, classic pieces, but each sparked by current, high-quality accessories.

All photos: The Sartorialist

Left: Classic trench in gray plaid with metallic boots and shiny charcoal bag: playing with a tonal palette, but also texture: a master class in detail.

Centre: Menswear checks tweaked by a bold graphic muffler, good sunglasses—and the 'accessory' of a great hair cut. I'm eyeing this should it go on sale:

Right: You might be thinking, What accessories? Look closely and you'll see her big ring, and two bracelets (one, woven cord on her right, the other, a thin bangle). You could wear a mid-scale earring, or even a necklace, if you prefer nothing on your hand or wrist. of All-navy needs a little tarting up, makeup-wise—she has red lipstick—but poppy or a deep wine would work too.
Most women have more than enough clothes. As Janice of The Vivienne Files once said, "We tire of our clothes before they tire of us." We slip into a rut concerning how we wear them, so a single investment accessory can punch up any number of old favourites.

And, as I consider Fur Coat Lady, I realize that some "classics" have a dated cut that no accessory can modernize. Her sweeping fur could be renovated into a short jacket or vest.

The best, for last

Most of the women on my idea board are smiling, even Theresa May, suffering a grip-and-grin with Vladimir Putin. The open, natural smile is a free, magnificent accessory, so hang on to yours! It will lift and polish anything you choose to wear, and make you feel better, too.

"You don't need a thing", I tell myself, "except for a pair of metallic shoes—but it wouldn't hurt to smile more."


Jewellery Reno: Mum's emerald had a secret

Miriam inherited her mother's ca. 1940 three-stone diamond and emerald engagement ring. She wanted to reset the emerald as a modern ring she could wear everyday and one day pass it on to her youngest daughter.

Miriam lives several hours from Toronto, so visited a jeweller I recommended, Pam Chandler of Artwork Gallery. Miriam liked their clean, modern pieces, and asked Pam for ideas.
Tip #1: Someone may recommend a jeweller, but it's essential that you like what you see when you visit, which reflects the artist's sensibility. Jewellers design within their style range; avoid one who says he can "make anything".

Two wax models

The jeweller made waxes of a three-stone modern band. This is the process for a cast metal setting, and gives the client and idea of scale and shape.

Left: The first model was an oval, slightly bombé band with rounded edges. Miriam thought this was not exactly it.
Right: Miriam chose the second version, a uniform, knife-edged band, designed to use all the original stones and recycle the 14k yellow gold. (That sapphire and diamond band is an Artwork ring they looked at as an example.)
Tip #2: If the first try is not your ideal ring, ask for more options. You'll want to be entirely happy and this is the stage to get the shape and scale right.

Trouble in paradise!

Though some jewellers set their own stones, often a setter handles this work. And at this stage, Miriam got a shock. When he examined the emerald, the setter found it was a doublet, which is a thin layer of emerald glued to another, far less costly substance, in this case, glass. Emeralds, opals, and other gemstones are sometimes made into doublets in order to lower the cost.

The process is not considered deceptive if the practice is disclosed. These are not fakes (such as glass or other material sold as an emerald); they are assembled gems. Triplets also exist; in this case an additional clear layer is added to the top of the gem, usually glass or clear quartz.

Did Dad know the ring he chose was a doublet? Did Mum? It was treasured—and whether anyone knew is lost to time.

The setter would not reset the doublet because of the risk of shattering. Setting an emerald, always an included stone, takes nerves of steel, and a doublet is even more finicky because the emerald layer is  thin. Miriam had a choice: take the risk (probably with a different setter), or replace the stone.

Pam suggested a green tourmaline, and sent Miriam a shot of it sitting loose in the setting, which was partially completed. Miriam liked this stone.

Tourmaline is fairly tough, but under a microscope this one showed many inclusions; therefore, the setter thought it might not withstand the force of the hammer. (A claw setting is much more accommodating.)
Tip #3: If you are willing to buy another stone, you might take a chance, but I have always respected an expert setter's judgement. There's an axiom that "Any stone can be set; it just depends how", but in this case the setting dictated the stone.

On the hunt for glowing green 

Back to gem shopping! Fortunately, Miriam was in the hands of a jeweller with very high standards and superb taste in stones.

Pam sourced a 5mm chrome diopside, a rich green gem that's slightly softer than tourmaline, but in this protected setting, and with Miriam's loving care, it will be fine. When well-cut, chrome diopside is an exceptionally vivid stone and the colour is natural, never enhanced.

A new and whole stone

Left: Pam sent Miriam a photo of the finished ring; Miriam had one more trip to make into the city!
Right: On Miriam's hand, a beautiful blend of old and new. The ring fits perfectly; the back of the band is slightly flattened to minimize shifting. As Miriam says, her daughter will have the new gem to connect her to her mother, and the diamonds to connect her to her grandmother.

Tip #4: Jewellery restyling is both art and science. If the science doesn't line up—the gem isn't what you supposed, or it is weakened by wear or internal flaws—be prepared to look at replacements. Fortunately, in sizes under about 6mm, there are many bewitching coloured gems at very reasonable prices.

Miriam was delighted not only with her new ring, but with the process, and that's a credit to her equanimity. She learned a good deal about gemstones with this project, and took her time to consider her options. Miriam's doublet could still have another life—it's very pretty—as a clasp, pendant or ring that accommodates its true composition.

Had she preferred the vintage setting, she may never have known its secret. Now she does, and has a story to tell, as well as a new ring to enjoy.

Gifts: Stranger things

I was invited to a birthday party for a woman whom I had once, briefly. Because she was leaving soon for India, I gave her a travel journal. She said, warmly, "Imagine! I got a wonderful present from someone I don't even know!"

I can easily remember some lovely gifts I've been given by near-strangers, and each shows the giver had the grace to go beyond the generic, though I'd always appreciate a box of Baci.

In the window today, gifts for acquaintances, but they may also delight those whom you know well.  This is not the realm of the splashy present, so I have chosen examples under $US 30. (Note: Some items may now be sold, but you can find similar if you scout around.)

I like gifts that are useful and don't take up much space, but also provide pleasure—otherwise everyone would get Tupperware. If you can be briefed ahead on interests, that helps.

Below, two things a woman would likely enjoy unless she a) never makes mistakes, or b) doesn't sleep.

Left: Scented pencil erasers, $7 each by Aster de Vilette at LuckyScent. Maybe not essential, but are they not delightful?
Right: Breathable bamboo sleep mask, about $12 from Lucy & Mabs on Etsy. (The breathable ones make all the difference.) Handy for travel; planes or hotel rooms are often not as dark as a home bedroom.

A small china ring dish holds rings, earrings, keys; I look for handmade pieces that echo the recipient's style.

Left: The Queen Bee ring dish by California ceramic artist Manuela Marina is about $30; I love the motif and luxurious 22k detail.
Right: A vintage deep cobalt ring dish was made in Bavaria; price, about $20 from Etsy seller ClockWorkZoo, based in Vancouver.

Show me a woman past fifty and I will show you a nose that drips more often. Are we not beyond shredded tissues? Find a pure cotton or linen hankie that will look good peeking from a jacket pocket, or pulled out on the street. (Note: Shipping can cost more than the item, or can be reasonable—so your local vintage store is worth a look.)

It's especially thoughtful to give a hankie that fits the season, so she can carry it right away.

Clockwise from top left:
Winter: Pink shellfish! Perfect for those for whom winter means sunny destinations. A witty Swiss cotton hankie; price, $15.
Spring: Circus acrobats balance chairs and umbrellas; a hankie with the sticker still on, by the renowned textile artist Tammis Keefe; price, $20.
Summer: Demure pink with white daisies; price, $10.
Autumn: Vintage fall leaves and acorns in unusual colourway; price, $13.
For vintage pieces, check the condition in the listing.

Homemade gifts 

A delicious treat is always appealing. Though I'm passionate about chocolate, unless I know the recipient adores it too (and what sort), I go to fruit.

One of the very best gifts was given to me many years ago by Marion Kane, the Food Sleuth, whom I knew through my good friends Bob and Merle. She came to my party and said in her British accent: "It is gooooooseberry season!", proffering an exquisite tart that I can taste to this day.

Your gift need not be fancy; Marion has posted a recipe for an easy, excellent yogurt cake.

Gardeners, even casual ones, might make a kokedama, the fashionable Japanese moss ball, which elevates even humble plants like African violet or philodendron to an ornamental arrangement for tabletop or hanging.

I would absolutely adore one of those, in any size.

One last idea, respectful of budgets often stretched this time of year. DIY Pink Salt Foot Scrub uses reasonably-priced ingredients, looks pretty, and soothes winter feet jammed into boots.

Just don't buy that pink salt in a tiny, pretty box at the grocer's; order the big bag from Amazon or a bulk grocer's. (I buy YuPik, by the kilo.) What you don't use for the scrub, use in the kitchen.

The biggest investment is the essential oil but it's not necessary to buy several; just one is fine. If you buy lavender, you can dab the leftover oil on cotton balls to stow amid your woolens, to discourage moths.

If you have gifts that have delighted acquaintances, please tell us! We can use your ideas now and all year round.


Retirement: The Honey Trap

One of  last summer's isitors, Cindy, talked about her 2018 retirement, and how much income she will need. Coincidentally, LauraH sent a link to useful material for Canadians (including a Wealth Target Calculator), here. (Note: The material is not a sales pitch for financial products, and does promote a book.)

Unless money is no object, those facing retirement should pay close attention to both income and expenses.  The Canadian journalist Peter Trueman once remarked, "We learned it is healthier and easier to live on less than it is to try to earn more."  

Expense reduction is like exercise: you have to find something you like so you'll stick with it. I love to read others' strategies, but I can't do all of them: couponing, thrifting, allottment gardens, bartering, DIY haircuts or colour, renting out a spare room, and more. Only the hardcore frugality bloggers do everything on the list.

Having watched myself and friends for a decade, I realize many expenses are just habits, either of behaviour or of attitude.

The behavioural habits include not attending to home energy use (I dislike equalized payments because they make it too easy to ignore our behaviour), buying too much food (giveaway: a slimy cucumber is a part of the fridgescape), or letting "three-month free" trial offers roll into monthly charges, without really noticing.

The attitudinal habits are tied to identity or ego: the status hairdresser who is like a best friend; the costly destination wedding; the fancy restaurant or pricey concert your friend picks. If you are on a budget and friends are still pulling in dough, you can get caught up in their world.

A particularly fraught corner of that territory is the Honey Wants It trap. Honey (chosen to be gender inclusive) wants his own car, he is "used to his freedom". Honey does not want to downsize the home, or drop her six subscriptions to decor magazines. Honey is still ordering hundreds of dollars worth of wine, (or dietary supplements, fishing gear, cosmetics) even as they accumulate. Honey cherishes the annual trip to Puerto Vallarta on the anniversary of the day you met.

I've had more than one smart and sensible woman tell me, Yes I know how to reduce expenses, but Honey Wants It, and I love Honey. And, Honey can dive-bomb your retirement budget.

Of course you do not want to remove the joy from Honey's life, so pick your battles. Do the numbers and show Honey how the expenses affect the stewardship of limited resources. I say this as someone who convinced her Honey to give up car ownership. It took at least a year of facts, figures and (I hope) gentle pressure, but now you could not give Le Duc a car. (He has a nice bike, though.)

If you don't want to raise the matter with Honey, and you use a financial planner, ask the pro to deliver the news—but you will still have to advocate. Cindy and Sue's advisor showed Sue that rent for their big storage locker would pay for the Puerto Vallarta trip every year. (What was in the locker? Nothing they ever used.) Sue is a mortgage broker, which shows how even someone who works with money can benefit from good advice.

When Honey is a"junker", like my delightful retired neighbour, Rick, the suggestion of cutting back is a hard sell: "I mean, it cost nothing!" But even if the cost per item is low, it adds up when you factor in the fine antique sideboard Rick just bought to hold his scores.

If there's no Honey in the picture, a woman can still be influenced by voices past. Tricia held on to a big house because her late partner Alan was in a way still there with her. One night she realized, He is in my heart, not this house.

Pat struggled to keep her boat, because she treasures her sailing community—her club were her Honeys. When she would talk about selling, they cried, "Oh no; you are the best Commodore we ever had!" She sold when she finished her current term, and now has more invitations to crew than she can accept. She says it is such a joy to have the fun but not the upkeep.

If you hold investments, the cost of their management is another expense. Securities courses are filling to overflow as more women decide to take control of their own portfolios. You need knowledge and a certain temperament to do this and still sleep at night, and I'll be interested in seeing the results among several friends who have embarked on this path.

I also recommend a lighthearted exploration of how, as somebody's Honey, you Trap. I am, of course, Le Duc's, and time was I could Honey Trap him at warp speed; he hated to even ask questions about something I "had to have", let alone say no.

We agreed that significant purchases will be discussed first and we know one another's Achille's Tendon. We're now more mindful of the habitual nature of consumption than when we began retired and semi-retired life.

Honey is sweet, but peace of mind, delicious.

Pearl reno from the heart

When Kojima Company's owner, Sarah Canizzaro, visited Montréal last spring, I gave her my most sentimental strand, which LeDuc was hoping to renovate for my birthday in mid-July. Today, American Thanksgiving, is an apt day to tell the story.

These were the first good pearls I bought, 10mm off-round Chinese freshwaters found twenty years ago for me by a dear friend, Missi, whose expert knowledge came via her Honolulu jeweller father. (They were featured on this post.)

Like Sarah, Missi had interests beyond flawless rounds; she said, "I don't mind seeing where the oyster burped". She'd wear long chandeliers with hiking shorts, but then, this six-foot goddess could pull off anything.

1994, Mt. Shasta, California

As the years passed, I lost my heart to the earthier keshis and baroques. And by the early '00s, I also lost Missi. She adopted a reclusive life, and left behind friends and lovers world-wide. I wore that necklace often, for it was as close as I could come to embracing her.

Before Sarah returned to San Rafael, she asked if I preferred pearls or coloured stones. I chose pearls and requested a rope.

The 60-inch rope arrived on my birthday; I was thrilled! Sarah had added many tiny-to-small akoyas and three large golden baroques. She matched my champagne-toned pearls perfectly, and somehow made them look glowier. The variation among the sections—none is like another—is harmonious; the little akoyas keep the piece light and drapey. LeDuc said he "fabulously loved" it.

Left, knotted (and worn with tin-cup baroque CFWs); top left: the pearls; bottom left, tripled.

Sarah used the original gold clasp; clasps are a make-or-break detail to me— but if you'd wear the piece only as a long rope, not necessary. This one was made by a jeweller pal of Missi's; she said, "Steven gives good toggle."

If your old (but still in good condition) pearls are deeply sentimental, but the style is no longer 'you', you can have a perfect new piece for a modest investment unless you enter the land of (new) precious gemstones.

I love Kojima for both their pearls (every variety, size, colour; many unusual) and dedication to their clients' delight, but you may also have a local jeweller who can do a knockout reno—and if so, you're lucky, because pearls are a world unto themselves.

Do you believe in synchronicity?

Kojima's studio is in Marin Country, near where Missi lived when I first knew her. In the early '80s we sat on a dock at Point Reyes Oyster Company, I in her pearls and she in my turquoise-and-silver bracelets— between visits, we liked to swap jewellery. Missi said, "You should wear pearls; why don't I look for some for you?"

A decade later, she called from a gem show to say, "I found them, but we have to pay by tomorrow. Wire me the money!" When I heard her certainty, I bought them sight unseen. Several months later, she flew to Toronto with the pearls in her pocket.

Now, they have returned from their second trip to Marin County, transformed by a talented artist. Even if that connection is coincidental, they feel wrapped in love.

P.S. to the pearl-lovers: Kojima's annual holiday stale starts early—today, with 18% off and free shipping to customers in the US (and reasonable rates to those beyond its borders.)

Talbot's goes girly: What is this?

When the latest Talbot's catalog arrived, though I only buy their jeans, I flipped through. I had the strangest reaction: grief rose in my chest, tears came, and I felt the intense and particular melancholy that infuses me when I recall lost loved ones.

The layout had carried me back to our family kitchen, in the evening in 1958, this time of year. I saw my sister, Jane, drying dishes. Her back is toward me, and she is wearing these clothes:

These exact pieces are in the catalog, nearly sixty years after she wore them. Though Talbots shows the trousers with block heels, Jane would only have worn Bass Weejuns.  She has been dead for over forty years now, but her wardrobe tumbled from the pages: cardigans, circle pins, flannel full-length trousers.

I saw, on nearly every page, the clothes of women I've lost—my sister, mother, aunts.

The catalog featured so many scalloped hems (skirts, dresses, jackets) that there must have been a design decision to dress grown women like Tricia Nixon in her White House years. Prints feature motifs like penguins, toy soldiers, wreaths, and none of it looks modern whatsoever.

Many women buy Talbot's classics because they can get useful pieces like tees with three-quarter sleeves or pencil skirts that are not too short, and they appreciate the size range. Their jeans stayed high-waisted enough during the years when everything was scarily low-rise; I buy multiples on sale.

But their current fascination with ultra-girly puzzles me. There does not seem to be a garment this season that Talbot's did not ruffle, embroider or gather. The blouse at bottom left is entirely printed with...bows.

I don't mind a small touch of femmy detail (though I don't wear it), but when damn near every piece of outwear from a down vest to a denim jacket is ruffled, what's going on?

Even the more tailored clothes are styled to look time-warped. This sweater is shown with scatter pins:

Could we attribute these clothes to the mood of a country dealing with both interior and exterior troubles, and a growing disparity between rich and poor? France has that too, and I don't see their designers sticking bows on every possible item.

Other American companies have veered toward this sweet stuff.  The Ann Taylor windows I walked by in New York last fall looked like the Swarthmore parent's weekend circa 1964. Are these brands trying to channel a past when post-war prosperity buoyed the garment industry? (Isaac Mizrahi tried the same retro look when he briefly designed for Jones New York, a line that failed spectacularly.)

To be fair, if you wade through the girly gear, you can find a black cashmere v-neck from Talbot's that's austere as Everlane's (but not cut the same).

Opening their catalog was like opening my sister's old Love Pat compact: a whiff, powdery and cloying, of certain feminine image now a half-century old.

I wonder if the Talbot's customer, long told she can count on them for classics, will want to take such a frou-frou trip to the past.

Safe or Smokin': The spark of yellows and oranges

Like many women in the Passage, I rely on super-safe everyday neutrals. Then I see someone in an audacious mix, such as teal trousers and a fuchsia coat, I think, What happened to me?

Two colours, pungent yellow and juicy orange, are especially current. Grown women rightly fear looking like a walking fire hydrant, but these hues are smokin' from the first glance, especially when you add a second or third intense colour.

Today's windows are an advanced class in fearlessly working yellow and orange. If you prefer a smolder to smoke, they also spark your favourite neutrals; I can't believe how sharp mustard looks with any grey.

Key piece: Six-ply Cashmere slouchy polo; Brora; price, £595
Expensive! The bad news: The yellows look ghastly in average yarns.

Co-stars: A duet of intense colours to stand up to that swipe of mustard:
Forest green velvet pants; Boden, $120
Shoes: Etta red-orange ankle boot; Boden, $120

Key piece:
Turquoise washed velvet jean, Pure Collection, $145

Co-stars: Yes, you do need to treat that shoe with TLC! The sweater will also revive neutrals.
Citron suede day heel; Everlane, $145. If you can't wear yellow near your face, put it on your foot!
Blackforest wool Imogen sweater;  Boden, $130.

Key piece: Tangerine poly a-line skirt with frills; COS, $115
Normally I avoid frills anywhere, but this is—if such a thing exists—a strict frill.

Co-stars: The classic sweater in a novel shade; a scarf in an enchanting colourway. See it close-up!
Cashmere short-sleeved pullover in Fiesta Purple; Eric Bompard, €100 (sale price to Nov. 26)
Silk "Ophelia" scarf'; Liberty, £195

You can shift the colour wheel to blues or greens if you don't like yellow or orange—as long as they're not too pale to register a pulse.

How you wear an audacious key piece depends on your colour capacity, and there is no "right". If you don't usually pile on intense hues, try at least one piece in the current citron-to-signal-orange and you will immediately feel its energy and exuberance.

Are you daring or sparing, when it comes to the most vibrant tones on the color wheel? Are you cozying up to more colour, or committed to the neutral playbook? Have your colour choices changed with time?

Uneven aging: Duty

There are few qualities as loaded as duty, the concept of moral or legal obligation. Duty is associated with role: one's duty as a partner, citizen, parent, or employee. The concept is embedded within culture, faith, family norms, and our internal moral compass.

In modern wedding or civil union ceremonies, the rights and obligations of both parties are stated explicitly. In the Québec secular ceremony, the officiant says, "The spouses have the same rights and obligations in marriage. They owe each other respect, fidelity, succor and assistance." 

If you made similar vows, duty comes with the territory, but many make such a promise without it, and friends' devotion can put that of some marriages to shame.  In uneven aging, one partner's "succor and assistance" becomes more active and overt than the other's.

Duty is a rather retro value, given the present-day emphasis on "me time" and individual fulfillment. Duty lives firmly in the realm of "them time": the Sunday phone call to Dad, the extra hours spent with a friend who is blue, attendance at a neighbour's party when you'd rather be home watching "Star Trek".

Duty thrives when given freely, without demand. Should it becomes an onerous, bleak requirement, resentment enters. When a person says, "I don't want to be a burden", this is exactly what she dreads.

In uneven aging, duty, which may have lain tucked away like a wedding-gift chafing dish, comes to the fore. The needs of one person alter the more-vital person's life. Special diets, a careful eye on medication schedules, or regular doctor's visits disrupt routine. One person may now do all the driving or suddenly find she is in charge of financial details.

The afflicted mate needs equanimity to receive the care, because it makes limits explicit. "Let me get that door", my neighbour Eliane says to her infirm husband, and for an instant he looks vexed, but accedes. He is grateful, but so wishes he could do it himself.

When friends praise her constancy, she replies, "He'd do it for me". Eliane knows that duty needs renewal, so takes an annual three-week holiday with longtime women friends.

Lola's partner had a severe depression and was unable to leave the house for two years. Friends praised her devotion, but because they were told Karl was getting better (even when that was only a hope) they left her on her own. She finally realized that her chipper attitude masked burnout, and began to say, "Would you like to do something for Karl?" Lola requested "duties", helpful tasks like getting the snow tires on the car by the deadline.

In years past, duty may have arisen only in terms of parents, children or friends. But duty can enter the couple's life in a matter of hours. Last year, one of my dear Susanfriends suffered a cerebral accident that required emergency surgery and intensive rehabilitation.

Her husband, the kind of guy whose shirt buttons might not be done up in line, instantly stepped in as caregiver, advocate and blogger. On a Caring Bridge site, he posted subtle, profound love poems, wry observations about dry shampoo (which he hadn't known existed) and every morsel of progress.

The poetry surprised me, but his devotion did not, for, as he said, "This is the moment we have been preparing for all our lives." They had long given themselves to service to others, as part of their  spiritual path. Service as a moral imperative is central to their lives, and now their practice had come home.

From Susan, I have learned that duty need not be one-sided. She connects with friends, offering counsel and stories, even while she manages her energy. She recently sent photos of the mint-condition Hermès scarf she found for $5 at a yard sale, then followed up a few weeks later with a second scooped from a thrift store for $1! So maybe there is a karmic reciprocity operating here.

Susan participated in plans for her mother's birthday party, and is about to return to teaching meditation, though she's a little nervous. When the cared-for can in turn care for others, duty moves ever closer to love, the pivotal point of our short existence.

Thrifting and gifting

While my dislike of re-gifting is intense, I view thrift-gifts entirely differently. (Does that make sense? Maybe not.)

Many appealing objects end up in thrifts because of moves or  purges; the wiliest thrifters keep their eyes open all year long, because thrifts do get heavily picked in the fall. Increasingly, families who use the "Secret Santa" approach specify that the gift be secondhand, a welcome shift from brand-mania. And there's always an additional "gift": the thrift-gift keeps stuff out of landfills.

I've dressed the windows today in thrift-store finds destined as gifts... and gifts-to-me.

For family and friends

Left to right:
1. For our little grandson: Babar and Babar ABCs book; total, $3. One of my favourite thrift finds ever; Babar is a huge favourite of mine, despite the criticism of his colonial autocratic rule.
2. Etched crystal candy dish with pinecone motif, $2.50
3. Paperback edition of "To the Lighthouse", new condition, $1.50
4. Pair of kitty trinket dishes, $1.50

Gifts to me

By applying the same rules we use for shopping sales (Would I buy this full price? Does it work with my wardrobe? Is it in perfect condition?) I found a few things for winter:

Left: Moss green cotton velveteen Lady Hathaway jacket, $6
Centre: Luisa Cerano (a Berlin-based brand) marinière, $5
Right: Mohair scarf, made in France, $2

While riffling the rails, I chatted with a young woman who told me she buys only at thrifts, but recycles everything after several months. "I like to change up my clothes", she said, "have something different. So I wear it awhile and then bring it back!" That's a consumption style I'd never considered, but it beats retail fast fashion.

Here comes the season when we're enjoined to buy, either for Christmas, or via the hype of Black Friday. I am not immune to deals and dazzle, but am ever more drawn to what can be found by dedicating a few hours to considering others' castoffs.

Should  the item I've chosen not delight a family member, he can re-donate, or give it to his twin brother. (Looking at you, Etienne.) But I have a good enough hit rate, from bathtub toys to toques, to keep picking up things for those I love.

Do you thrift-gift? How do you find your treasures? Or do you prefer to shop retail?

Interludes on foreign shores

Jan returned from a spa vacation in Mexico, glowing, floating, and flashing a new, ornate silver bangle.

That glow was not from the hot springs; she had met Ricardo, the grounds manager. What began with a chat about the gardens progressed to a holiday affair. "I spent an entire Saturday afternoon watching him work on his tractor", she said, "and I loved every minute."

The spa was expensive; she had drained her vacation budget, but was already planning her return in four or five months. Jan is single, in her late 50s, and because she had not had a romance for years, this was a bombshell. We were out to dinner with several other women; scanning the table, I could see an array of reactions: titillation, envy, disapproval, and from Becky, rueful reminiscence.

Becky said, gently, "And who paid for the bangle?" Because Becky had her own story.

Thirty years ago, it was Mike, the snorkelling instructor, whom Becky met when she and two girlfriends went on an all-inclusive two-week to Varadero. She said, "He was friendly but not aggressive. He could talk about everything from marine biology to art. Of course, he was handsome! Really, it was as much me as him. By Thursday of the first week, I began to ask my roommates when the room would be empty. Everything I told myself should not happen, did."

"I promised I'd return within several months. My boyfriend back in Montréal was okay, but couldn't compare. There was more passion in one dance with Mike than in a night with my boyfriend. I even started researching immigration requirements for him."

All winter, she scrimped to afford another booking, this time with a private room. One Saturday, three weeks before she was to return, she saw Mike strolling down Rue de la Montagne with another woman, a woman who could afford to fly him to Montréal. "Maybe it's a relative", she thought, until she saw the kiss as they paused for the traffic light.

Thereafter, when anyone returned from a vacation with tales of romance with a local man, Becky rang the alarm. "While you are there, you will be the only woman who exists", she tells her. "He will look at no one else, and you will go to heaven—but then hell when you have to leave. And when the next plane lands, there will be someone new."

Becky has abundant empathy when she hears the stories. She still remembers the dancing, how Mike brought her lunch by the pool, the little shell anklet he tied on while admiring her legs—grace notes the boyfriend did not supply.

All these years later, she said that trying to assess Mike's sincerity was useless. At worst, he was out for a few extras in a country where enough food was a challenge; at best, they had been two consenting adults having a fling and she had been carried away—but she also had been awakened to a political aspect.

"There is a type of sexual tourism that operates that way", she told me later. "You would be amazed how many women have told me about their 'romance' and they don't even see what it was, because they have not paid for sex. It's more subtle: there is no demand for money, but the fancy dinners are signed to your account. Maybe there's a day trip to the special place he wants to show you—for which you hire a driver who happens to be a friend; or his sister needs money for school books.

I bought Mike a guitar—not an expensive one, but he definitely could not have had it otherwise. When I got home, I shipped him a pair of sneakers I knew he coveted."

I said, "For me the question is, Would the affair have happened without the goodies?"

"Possibly", Becky conceded, "but the more I talked to women who had taken these vacations, the more I think not. Word gets around; some women go to these destinations exactly for that. Even if you aren't interested, you can spot the men: the tennis pro's buddies who are always hanging around."

"Who paid for the bangle?" Becky asked Jan again. Jan replied that she had, but "Ric had spotted it!" And she bought him a matching one.

Her worry, Becky told me when we were alone, is that older women are more vulnerable. I immediately thought of a woman I knew whom I shall call "Anita", whose 25-year marriage was nearly detonated by such a situation. She went to a popular island destination with a girlfriend, and met a musician.

Anita returned at least eight times over the next three years, under the cover of humanitarian volunteer work (which she actually did) and language studies, to see him. On each trip she would bring a suitcase stuffed with guitar strings and sheet music, among other scarce items. She became an investor in a music school he was starting. Among other things, she told me that her lover adored her in the stretchy, lacy blouse that her husband said was "too young."

Two years in, she turned to her girlfriend and said, "I'm gonna go home and divorce Scott." Her friend told her to give it another six or eight months. By year three, Anita realized that the man would not leave his usual life (which included a wife in another town), and she returned to her marriage, which far as I know continues.

Becky and I talked about the most famous example: the real-life romance with a man known in Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love," known as "Felipe"— that one lasted twelve years.

"That book probably did more to cloud women's judgement than ten thousand Mikes", Becky said. "I have an open mind, a fling doesn't shock me. I just don't want Jan to spend a small fortune on something totally unrealistic.

You know all those packing lists you see on blogs? A woman who might welcome that kind of connection should pack her common sense along with her sunblock."

Pearls, three price points: Sarah and Duchesse's picks

The time changes this weekend. Daylight wanes by 5 p.m.: a woman can feel a little blue. You need a lift. Anita heads for hot chocolate, Jane says another rerun of "Love, Actually" is always smart; Dr. H. knits wildly-striped socks. I say, pearls—they stay luminous no matter how sere the landscape, and feel gently warm against your skin.

But which pearls? Most of us have a budget, and tastes vary, but when it's gusty and grey you will be happy you invested in genuine pearls, no matter the price point. I asked my gracious mentor Sarah Canizzaro, owner of Kojima Company (and just back from a pearl-heaven trip to Asia), to help me dress the windows today.

Splurge: $1400-$1600 
For milestone celebrations, the heart-stopper you adore the moment you see it—or perhaps because this is the price point where you hang out. (And you can spend way, way more... but that's another post.)

Left: My pick is this Tahitian keshi pearl necklace; price, $1, 530. A magnificent array of natural-colour keshis and a scintillating 13mm sky-blue Tahitian pendant, on 14k gold chain. The colour of these pearls blew me away. Sarah says, "It takes me quite a time to come up with enough fancy colour Tahitian keshis to put these necklaces together... the colours of these particular ones represent the ends of the rainbow that is 'black' pearls."

Right: Italian coral necklace with Tahitian pearl pendant; price, $1, 395. Sarah's pick: natural-colour Italian coral, a 13.6mm silvery-blue Tahitian drop, and a rich, very cool 22k bead cap on the Tahitian! She says, "Looks fantastic peeking out from under a blouse, layered with other gold chains, and can be worn in any season. A very 'warming' piece."

One of a kind and perfect necklace for the woman who adores colour.

Treat: $400-$600
For a gift to yourself, or perhaps a discreet hint to someone who wonders, What in the world would she like? At this price point, you can have your pick of many unusual pearls and even luxury varieties, if you buy them as earrings.

Left: I chose the Doublet pearl necklace; price, $405, drawn to how the pearls make an informal, graceful piece. And look at the lustre! Sarah comments that these unusual pearls are (from the farmer's point of view) 'mistakes' in culturing that yield two attached pearls, and allow this layered, slightly chunky design. The size of each doublet ranges from 16mm to 20mm; the necklace is adjustable from 17 to 20 inches.

Right: Tiny Tahitian and diamond stud earrings; price, $603. At 8.4mm, these are tiny only for Tahitians. Set in 14k, the pearls have silver/peacock overtones. Sarah: "Easy to wear in a corporate setting; the tiny diamonds make them unique. They don't blend in with the crowd."

I agree: Eminently versatile with that touch of stealth luxe.

Who can resist? About $100 or less
When so many pieces can be bought for the (over)price of much "fashion" jewellery, why not wear a genuine pearl? I get excited when scouting at this price point, because so many think pearls equal a serious spend, and I enjoy showing the possibilities.

But this is also the price point of a zillion shoddy (and lying) vendors, so don't expect to find these pearls on certain Asian vendors' eBay sites. Kojima Company deliver very appealing pearls that are exactly as represented.

Sarah suggests the stick pearl flower cluster brooch; price, $108. White, pale pink, pale peach and lavender stick pearls hand-made into a lustrous zinna-esque bloom, just over 2 inches in diameter.

The charming brooch comes with a story. Sarah told me, "These are handmade by a woman in Hong Kong whom I have known for decades. We don't speak the same language but we share so much love. Her daughters taught me that in her village as a young woman, she was famous for the beauty of the flowers she stitched. She married a pearl dealer and these brooches are the evolution of her creative gifts."

I chose the mystical champagne pearl ring; price; $90. That's one generous Chinese baroque pearl (13.8mm) that you're toasting with!  Five-millimetre sterling band. Sarah said, "It will pull your eye in and work with any skin tone."

Both of these pieces are real-for-a-steal and would also make superb gifts.

While nutty socks and the cocoa and the heart-tugging movie are useful strategies, we also need beauty, when the natural world (at least where I live) slumbers for months. Pearls beneath our bare branches, pearls under wooly caps, pearls when you can see your breath!

A return to pot?

Here it comes, or if you live in my large city, it just passed by on the street. I cannot walk down St-Laurent without a solid weed sillage, and not just from young ones.

I'll get my pot politics out of the way: I'm in favour of legalization, given the government's still-to-be specified oversight.

My first job in Canada, in 1971, was with a government agency which researched and treated addiction; we closely followed the four successive reports of the Le Dain Commission, a federal government-mandated inquiry into the non-medical use of drugs. 

In late '72, I heard the summation, delivered at a staff conference, by Commission member Dr. Ralph Miller: after extensive study and debate, they recommended to either decriminalize or legalize (the members were split) adults' use of marijuana. That idea has taken 45 years to achieve political traction. (A 2013 interview with Dr. Miller in which he tells anecdotes about the four years of the Commission is here.)

I'm eager to see what happens in my age cohort when legal pot hits town, probably by mid-2018. My friends range from my-body-is-my-temple types who will not ingest caffeine, let alone pot, to those who have toked daily for almost 50 years.

A 2016 SFGate article reports that, according to a CBS News finding, the fastest-growing demographic for pot use in the US is persons over 55. Increasingly, they turn to cannabis for  medicinal properties: for pain associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and sciatica; to decrease the muscle spasms of multiple sclerosis; to mitigate nausea brought on by chemo. (Current Canadian law permits medical use for registered legal patients.)

And there are other benefits. Paula says she feels more relaxed and confident in bed: "I leave the lights on, all the lights on."

In university,  I was the share-joint-at-party type, but after graduation, dropped pot because I'd never liked to smoke anything, and my then-husband was struggling with kicking cigarettes. (Tobacco, it turns out, is the physically-addicting smoke.) But it's hardly like I haven't been around it.

Six years ago, after decades of abstinence, I ate a homemade pot cookie given as a birthday present and had an adverse reaction. When I posted that, a commenter asked if "it was really necessary" to share the experience.

It was, Anonymous. Edibles—from jerky to pralines—will not be available to Canadians until the products can be approved, so those interested may make their own. The potency will vary—so my encounter might be instructive.

Whether edibles are sold at a dispensary (or whatever we're getting) or not, those unused to THC should proceed cautiously, especially if you are already taking medication. Cannabis is biologically complex; reactions vary depending on strain, route of ingestion and the user's mind set.  I was unprepared to the tsunami of anxiety and paranoia that little cookie delivered.

After the incident, I thought, So much for that! But now, my post-50 friends have aches and pains; many are curious, or already know that cannabis products work for them. Ought I re-up?

When I was in Oregon last month, I was startled to see a huge NEED WEED? billboard near my hotel, and wanted to know more.

Several family members demurred, but Jennie, a retired public administrator, would talk. When Oregon passed the amendment in late 2016, Jennie, who was over 65, checked out the local dispensary. On an early foray, she bought a packet of squibs: gummies infused with THC.

She drove to her downtown bridge club, parked, chewed a portion of a squib (following package directions), and joined her fellow players for lunch. About 45 minutes into her first game she realized that she felt different: "The low back pain I always get from sitting so long was gone."

"So, how was your game?" I asked her.

"Average", she said, "but after, at four o'clock, I walked over to the House of Pancakes and ate a short stack with scrambled eggs, and a sundae!"

"Did you drive?" I asked her. "Didn't think I should", she said, "I called Paul (her son) and asked him to drive me home. Takes an hour for him to get there, so I ordered the Bananas Foster French toast."

I figure we have a self-regulatory mechanism, because not many women past 50 are willing to onboard the caloric load of an Olympic shot-putter all that often.

Jennie has learned the difference between the two primary active phytochemical ingredients (THC and CBD).

She does not smoke. Besides the edibles, she sometimes uses a transdermal patch, which has allowed her to go off the super-iboprophen that upset her stomach. She has learned how she responds to various products; new ones appear on the Oregon market nearly monthly. Her local store gives good advice.

"So, you choose the ones that help your back but don't make you 'happy'?" I asked. Jennie laughed an "oh, child" laugh and said, "Little bit of both, sometimes."

I have an image of the Book Club making a foray to the pot shop, the helpful young associate helping the grandmother decide whether to try Glass Slipper or Bubble Gum; I'm sure the day the doors open, a novice my age will post her iPhone video.

I might tag along, and admit I'm not curious solely for medical reasons. There is also the effect that witnesses for the 1969–1972 inquiry mentioned, and which the Commission reported in one succinct and very Canadian paragraph:

"A major factor appears to be the simple pleasure of the experience. Time after time, witnesses have said to us in effect: We do it for fun. Do not try to find a complicated explanation for it. We do it for pleasure." 6

Sounds almost like chocolate.

Agnès Varda and JR: "Faces Places"

To say I recommend "Faces Places" (French title, "Visages, Villages") is like saying I recommend art. Just see it any way you can. It is not high art, but it is profound, funny, moving and arresting.

Varda, one of my personal heroes, teams with the photographer and muralist JR, whose circle of faces around the Pantheon's dome literally stopped me in my tracks when I came upon it in Paris.

Photo: JR,
What JR does is not so much original as beautifully-observed; he is the Avedon of street photography.

Together, they take a road trip through French villages, where JR and his team photograph ordinary people, living and dead, and post the huge images on local walls, very soon after taking the shots.  This woman, who lives in the house where she was born, began the project impassive and stolid, and ended claiming not only her roots but her individuality:

In between those meetings, which Varda supports through her remarkable rapport and warmth, the two explore her aging. JR is a compassionate but never condescending witness, a friend who does not fawn, an artist who holds his own in concert with the renowned director.

Many readers will see this with English subtitles, which I hope capture the tart, unsparing dialogue between the two, and the obvious affection Varda has for both her protegé and sweets.

If you don't think you'll ever access the film, you can read an excellent review here, but it includes  every spoiler going, so don't peek if you think there's a chance you'll see it.

What do you wear in your late 80s? Varda has always been an exuberant dresser, she wears 'costumes' both on and off camera, the expression of nine decades of creative energy.

Her signature two-tone hair seems to be achieved, I saw during the film, by colouring fully, then growing out so there's a band of auburn against the pure white crown, though it does look like the red rim is refreshed. She says, "I hated myself totally white, so now I cheat. It's my white hair, and I put colour there. My grandson says I'm punk."

They photograph the working person: waitress, farmer, postal worker; a dockworker's wife who drives a truck. Schoolteachers and children pose and picnic together, then stand before JR's monumental mural. It is a story of friendships both abiding and fragile, of the comforts of a cup of tea, the charm of a train ride, and the sheer fun of singing to the radio on a road trip.

Varda, who is 88, says this may well be her last film; she is losing her vision, which is another subject  of "Faces Places". I am grateful she made it, because she still sees more than nearly everyone else around her.

As Scott Tafoya wrote, when he interviewed her for this film, "We're lucky to have Varda, whose images have always been joy bathed in light. "

Pearl reno: Leslie's earrings

I'm thrilled when a reader sends me jewellery reno photos, especially those involving pearls, but really, any reno. It's my reward for writing a non-monetized blog, and others' experiences educate me. Thanks to Leslie, an especially edifying reno is in the window today.

Leslie's original earrings, handmade by a Seattle-area artisan, had a small dyed purple pearl dangling from braided silver wirework  (centre, below.) A versatile earring, but the scale of the pearl is bitsy for a grown woman and they have little presence.

To be fair, the small pearls probably cost the maker a couple of dollars, but when you upgrade the pearl, the whole piece changes.

Leslie found 14mm Chinese freshwater baroques that flash mauve and copper on sale at Kojima Company, and bought the pair for about $80. Notice the difference in lustre!

This was a DIY reno. Leslie, a beader, has wire-work skills, but even with a literal grasp of what she wanted to do, still made several attempts. The headpins have to be secured neatly and evenly. The finished pair, left, and on her, right:

This isn't a huge reno, but it's not a job you'd want to blow. Just like buying Ikea stuff, if you don't enjoy assembly, hire a pro. I'd think of Kojima Company, or your local jeweller. (Some are more open to working on another artist's work than others.)

Personally, if I never see another Allen key again, I'll be happy. But when it comes to jewellery, I just love that Leslie  restyled her earrings herself!

If you're deep into Passage reno posts, you know my bias for unusual pearls, so I have to show you these. The pearls are around 9mm, so not really that big, but the colour and lustre are just... mesmerizing. They are from Carolyn Ehret, whose eBay store, Ehret Design Gallery, sell fine pearls and gemstone beads. (Unlike many, many eBay vendors, you can absolutely trust her.)

Anyway, look at these Burmese South Sea cream-green pearls made into earrings (BIN price, $US 119.) The Myanmar pearl industry hit the skids in the '60s, but is coming back; the best of the limited production now available are magical. 

Photo courtesy Ehret Design Gallery

A Frenchwoman shops Montréal

One of my Parisienne friends was in Montréal for several weeks this past summer, all the better to chat, dine, walk... and shop.

You may remember Huguette, the vivacious, semi-retired, fashion-lover who favours offbeat colour combos such as the yellow/navy/mulberry skirt in the photo; her neutrals are grey and camel.

This visit, Huguette had a date with a man she sees at home, but who happened to be here at the same time. You would think she would have something in her suitcase, which was big enough to hold a tuba, but a date calls for a rethink, so we went to ça va de soi, where she bought a pale grey linen summer cardigan, the Patty.

She saw many other things she liked, such as this stretchy MaxMara viscose jersey pencil skirt, right, to wear at home as the temperature cools:

Just before she left, she bought a second, similar cardi in pastel Egyptian cotton (apricot). I wasn't sure that it offered much change from the grey, but she said mais oui, apricot is completely different.

Huguette is always hunting for comfortable, stylish shoes. She did not know the brand Beautifeel, and liked the Broadway open oxford:

She adds colour with a bag, and is a big fan of Fossil. She was drawn to the chevron of the Rachel satchel, left, but wanted to replace her big leather Fossil tote, which she was carrying. (The thing weighs as much as a jumbo watermelon; how does she do it?) So, the Maya large hobo, right, is another contender.

Between stops, I had a question. "Is it really true—because we are told ad infinitum— that French women have very small, perfectly-edited wardrobes?" "Total myth", she replied. "I did once have a friend like that, twenty-six things on the rail, only brown, grey and white. Everything went with everything else. The clothes were very expensive."

She said that French women, like any, have moods: one day, it's stripes, the next, an abstract floral. In the past they bought less, but today, she said, "H&M, Zara, all that kind of thing is on every corner; their closets explode, especially the young ones."

She refuses fast fashion because of disappointment with fabric. "I am having the same conversation with all my friends", she said. "We cannot believe how much good clothes cost now! And we have a very hard time finding quality. Even if we will pay for it, we can't find it."

She panned COS's fabric (for the price), but praised Uniqulo for cotton tees and lightweight down outerwear. In Paris, she often shops at a small boutique which receives ends of couture fabrics and fashions then into simple skirts or tops.

So French women do shop—and sometimes mightily. She said with a laugh that something about travel unleashes even more delight in finding new treasures. But her next trip is a cruise to Antarctica, where there won't be many boutiques!

Weinstein and his ilk

The whole Harvey Weinstein incident has rattled me. First, I am relieved that after decades of harassment the man was exposed and has been disinvited from various professional organizations (but not criminally charged as of this post). Second, I keep thinking, after decades? Why was this man (among others) able to operate this way, over and over?

Of course I know why, and therefore appreciated Sarah Polley's New York Times essay, "The Men You Meet Making Movies". She calls Weinstein "just one festering pustule in a diseased industry", and also says, "...while I've met quite a few humane, kind, sensitive male directors and producers...sadly they are the exception and not the rule."

I was harassed recently, at, of all places, my brother's wake. Late in the evening, I was talking to Phil, a longtime family friend; his wife, Peggy, stood several paces away, in conversation with someone else. He admired my long scarf, put his hands on the fabric, and slid one underneath: a definite grope. I froze, absolutely aghast at what had happened. He continued chatting amiably, though I had stopped speaking.

I stepped away, sought a niece, and asked her if he had a reputation for touching women. "Oh, Phil, she said dismissively, "Yeah, when he's drinking." Dismayed by her attitude, I next spoke to my sister-in-law, but did not mention the incident initially; I was going to work up to that.

She told me with deep feeling that Phil, who had made a fortune in real estate investment, had many ideas for marketing their farm, and was going to provide valuable assistance to her agent. Since my brother had died mired in financial problems, she saw Phil's help as a godsend.

In that moment, faced with her need, I could not bring it to her. As Polley says, "In your own time, on your own terms is a notion I cling to, when it comes to talking about experiences of powerlessness."

When I said to a friend, "And in a house full of grieving people!", she replied, "He knew he could get away with it precisely because of the situation. A certain kind of man will take any opportunity, and it really does not matter who the target is."

At a usual party, I would have said, "Stop that!" in stentorian tones. And, so that everyone nearby could hear, "Harvey Weinstein clone, Phil?"

But I only glared and stepped away.

I also thought, It just never ends for women. Some say that those harassed by Weinstein "should just have left the room".  In a way, I'my grateful for my experience—less invasive than that of those who encountered Weinstein and certainly Bill Cosby— because I saw with instantaneous clarity what warps the agency we believe we have. The setting, for one, and assumptions about what is appropriate social behaviour.

The main difference between my encounter and a young actor's in Weinstein's suite is that there was no power differential, no promise that going along would bring a role. Phil was, however, as brazenly misogynistic as the creep on the bus who "accidentally" brushes too close.  There are levels;  none is acceptable.

Caught by surprise, I didn't think about alternatives. Why, I asked myself later, didn't I invite him outside and speak to him out of earshot? Even if he were hostile, he'd be on notice. (Even imagining what I wish I'd done, I would not have involved my family.)

Instead, my thoughts were, I can't do anything now, not with everyone shattered. I can't introduce more pain into this house.

I only hope when he tries it again, somebody takes him on. And I promised myself that I will do the same, because when a woman confronts a harasser, she is very likely acting not only for herself, but for any number of women (and sometimes men) who did not.