The Dress: Magic times three

My GF C. and I descended on Muriel Dombret's Toronto trunk show last week, riffling happily though her winter collection of boiled-wool jackets, fine wool and matte jersey skirts and tops, velvety-soft fine cord pants.

Then we found The Dress, a simple black column with a slight stand-up semi-bateau neckline, a nearly straight narrow body with shape added by two soft inverted pleats under the bust, and three-quarter sleeves. The fabric, a supple Italian rayon-poly blend, mimics fine wool but is washable.

I zipped on the size 14, and had that sense of 'rightness' when a dress fits and flatters. I looked rather "Mad Men" (Joanie, not Betty): my ample curves settled down and behaved. I wouldn't say I looked thin, but the dress made the noblest effort on my behalf.

C. tried The Dress in a size 8. With her willowy frame, she became Breakfast at Tiffany's chic. The dress courted her. She looked born to wear it, smiling from a Town Car en route to cocktails at the King Cole Bar

C. referred to The Dress as "strict", described in my post (11/08/08) about a European style category. That's right; Muriel is Belgian, and her designs reflect the quality, subtle detail and rigour of this aesthetic.

Then our friend J. showed up. She's about as wide as a credit card, and looks like Patti Smith. She wears spare, neutral, low key/downtown styles. We greeted her, both wearing The Dress, holding glasses of bubbly, and insisted she try the size 6 (a bit large but Muriel can make a smaller size.)

Magic once again, it lent J. a Left Bank insouciance, not messing with her highly individual presence, but adding edge to the background of her
mix. If C. looked like Audrey Hepburn, J. looked like Juliette Greco, a boho goddess.

So, who bought The Dress?

J. didn't, because an upcoming New York wedding was on her mind; she chose a black boiled-wool soft jacket for everyday wear.

C. didn't, though she looked incredible- she thought she'd have limited occasions to wear it, and chose a black jacquard jacket with an interesting folded collar.

Yes! I bought The Dress, which Muriel will cut two inches longer for my height, so it hits
just below the knee, a better length for me.

Muriel brings swatches of fine fabrics; you can order the pieces in various colours or weights, For example, the boiled wool jacket is available in three weights, ranging from the thickness of a fine sweater to outerwear.

The designs are adapted for your body, without extra cost, except postage.
If you find something you love, and want a second colour, you can get it.

Prices are very reasonable for the quality, about $250-$375 for example, for a jacket or dress that will not go out of style, fall apart, or be worn by everyone you see (un
less you all buy The Dress).

What would you call this business model? "Not-quite-couture?" Whatever it is, I'm a devoted customer.

Why don't more designers do this?

Gratitude shortlist

Tagged by Deju Pseu, here are a few things I'm grateful for. I'm not going to list the obvious: a country of freedom and peace; clean air and water, and so on.

1. Family: A fantastically wonderful husband and sons who turned out to be most interesting persons, and who actually like to eat liver.

2. That I, a self-employed person, have work; I often think of composer Jules Stein's answer to the question "Which comes first, the music or the lyric?", He said, "The phone call."

3. For the people who create beauty, grace and well-being for me and others:
  • Muriel Dombret of Clothes, who designs clothes of intelligence, quality and timelessness
  • Sheila Cullen, owner of Seven Seeds, my yoga studio
  • Donnie Ditchburn at Reinhart MacMillan, stellar hairstylist (and many more.)
4. For those who give comfort and support through their work, both to persons and the community: my mother's caregivers from Visiting Angels, nurses, firefighters, teachers, Helene at the bank, the Meals on Wheels volunteers.
"All you need is love."

5. That Thanksgiving in Canada is the second Monday in October; I like having a little more time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Retro treats

Deja Pseu's evocative, touching Thanksgiving memoir reminded me of things I just don't get to eat anymore, because no one I know makes them. Unlike some of my mother's weird casseroles, I genuinely miss these treats, as much for the memory of permissive, nurturing love as for the tastes.

Nuts and Bolts, also known as Chex Mix or Bits and Bites
My mother's version included (but was not limited to) the cereals, pretzel sticks, loads of redskin peanuts (an endangered species in themselves), liberal use of worcestershire sauce, and the irresistible secret ingredient, that, added to the butter for the sauté, lent a smoky, rich basenote: bacon fat.

Divinity Fudge An ethereal, fluffy confection of sugar, egg whites and nuts, the specialty of Mrs. Edith Garvin, whose hair matched the candy. Mom and her bridge club crowd also prized classic fudge, especially penuche and chocolate with black walnuts.

Water chestnuts and pieces of sauteed chicken livers wrapped in bacon, proving bacon is an effective carrier for anything. Considered an exotic hors d'oeuvre, my quota was usually three.

Mixed Nuts, No Peanuts

My father's courtship weapon (the
no peanuts proved he intended to make a certain life for my mother) and a hospitality staple. Mom later learned that the girl behind the nut counter at the drug store where Dad stopped to buy them had a crush on him, so he got the deluxe for the price of the cheaper peanut-studded mix. Every decent drug store had a nut counter, a closed case where the nuts glistened and revolved under a heat lamp, on a segmented tray.

Fountain drinks: malteds, shakes and sodas
My sister to
ok me to real soda fountains, with their siphon bottles and shakes so thick they clogged your straw. You sat on a stool at a bar, legs dangling, watching your batch whirr up. Mine was served in a tall glass with the overflow placed at hand in a stainless steel cup. That lavish proffering of more!

'50s-style replica diners rarely get it right but now and then you find a place that never stopped ma
king them. And a real fountain Coke, made properly, with no chintzing on the mix, tastes so different from a bottle or can, it's simply not the same drink.

I never liked eggnog all that much, but it was the one boozy (adult, glamourous, racy) beverage I could sample from about the age of 14. I certainly would not have been offered a Manhattan, which was the house cocktail for ladies, but when a punchbowl came out, the adults didn't seem to care who dipped in.

I don't remember actually drinking eggnog till at least 18, but the
idea of being allowed was thrilling. Eggnog was an aberration; my Midwestern American parents believed anyone who mixed spirits with a sweet ingredient (ginger ale, Coke, etc.) was depraved, and needed to be protected from himself.

I think they considered eggnog kind of a reverse Metrecal, fortifying and festive to boot.

If offered some of these treats today, I might decline: too rich, too salty, too much. But they conjure such memories of indulgence and gaiety that I'd have to sample just one. And my hand might sneak back for another, as years slip away.

There will be gifts: Saying thanks

When I receive a gift, I reciprocate with an immediate gift in return: my thanks. I never thought I'd post on the etiquette of receiving, it seemed so evident to me: say thanks promptly, and unless there's an exceptionally casual relationship, send a handwritten note.

We once gave my brother a fine pocket knife, bought on a trip to Paris. He recently told me he'd lost it, and requested that we replace it on our recent return. (He even specified the brand.) We chose carefully, an
d in fact gave the project an upgrade.

This morning I received his e-mail: "Thanks for knife for winos." (The knife includes a corkscrew.)

So, brotherino, I am outing you here as an inelegant thanker, which rhymes with wanker. Let's review the basics our mother taught us:

1. Mention the actual object, never refer to it generically, e.g., "your gift" or "my birthday present"
unless you've received money (see #3). If you have a box of Thank You notecards, you can use them, but don't let a printed verse stand in for your own words.

(As for the custom of bridesmaids or friends writing Thank You notes to "help" the bride: indescribably tacky.)

2. Include a word that reflects your positive emotion ("delighted", "thrilled" "pleased", "happy to have"); if you have a negative emotion ("mystified", "appalled", "disappointed"), don't express it. Do not mention a gift's shortcomings; I once received a note that read, "Thank you for the ring but I am allergic to silver."

3. Describe how or when you will use or enjoy the gift: "I'm taking it on my next fishin
g trip" or "I'll be reading 'The White Tiger' lounging before the fire at Vail".

If someone gives you money or a gift card, say how you will use it (or think you will). But if your plans for the money would be abhorrent to the donor, tell a tiny white lie: "Aunt Eloise, your gift is a wonderful contribution to my Bali travel fund", rather than "I have to use the money to pay for a math tutor because I'm flunking calculus, must be the partying."

4. Show the donor he or she has some meaning to you other than as a font of gifts: "Grandmaman, when you visit us I hope we can see the new Art Gallery", "Fred is baking your peanut butter cookie recipe!" or even the minimal, "I'm looking forward to seeing you next time I'm home from school."

Today, sister sulks, feeling unappreciated.
Next time buy your own pocket knife, Denny.

Exercise: An iconoclast weighs in

Most of us swear that exercising makes us thinner; Gary Taubes says, fat chance.

In a provocative article, "The Scientist and The Stairmaster", originally published October 1, 2007 in New York Magazine, Taubes writes, "The American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine published joint guidelines for physical activity and health. They suggest that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week is necessary to "promote and maintain health."

What they
didn't say, though, was that more physical activity will lead us to lose weight. Indeed, the best they could say about the relationship between fat and exercise was this: "It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling."

I wanted to hang myself with my jump rope.

Taubes notes rather curtly that there are
other reasons to exercise: cardio benefits, maybe living longer, feeling better about ourselves (and I'd add, the lovely endorphins).

"But there's no reason to think that we will lose any significant amount of weight, and little reason to think we will prevent ourselves from gaining it."

And "More strenuous exercise doesn't help matters, because it builds up an appetite." So that's why I can eat a stack of pancakes the height of a garage after an hour on a treadmill.

Skeptics are welcome: he provides plenty of data to refute the casual chain between activity and weight reduction and discusses the historical roots of the exercise-to-reduce mind set.

Taubes's article disturbed me so much that when I first read it, I could not show it to a colleague
who had lost almost 80 lbs. in about 8 months. A year later, just as he predicted, she has regained at least 2/3 of the weight, though she still works out rigorously. She does have a genetic predispositon, which he also explores.

I'll keep exercising an hour most days, because the other benefits are so valuable- the endorphins are a life support system for my mood.

But I don't think it's helping my weight much
, and, reading Taubes, I now h
ave an explanation.

Trying to outrun the weight gremlins

My GF V.'s lost 40 lbs this year. The loss was preceded by a fall in which she broke her leg, and while in hospital, she was diagnosed as diabetic. They read her the riot act, and bye bye pastry, béarnaise sauce, champagne. To lose that amount of weight at 60-plus is a monumental task.

V. is not eating anything she remotely enjoys, she's hungry, and says the 15-20 last pounds just refuse to come off.
You might expect a total physical transformation, but not exactly. She does look thinner, but remains a short, roundish, pigeon-breasted little bustler. The essence of V., a bright-eyed chickadee, is that of a vivacious bonne vivante.

I thought of V. when I read Michelle Slatella's article, "I Can't
Outrun My Weight Issues" in the Styles sections of the November 13th New York Times. Aghast at midlife weight gain, she launches into an exercise regime, "two yoga classes and four 45-minute treadmill or elliptical sessions each week" and after a month loses... one pound.

I too am voluptuous witness to the fact that an hour of brisk walking or weight-bearing yoga each day is barely sufficient to stay even, let alone lose weight. Michelle has, for now, decided to ramp up the routine, adding weight work, and says, "I can't tell how much this is helping yet."

V. wonders if now, her blood sugar readings back to normal, her energy renewed and her wardrobe completely replaced, that last 15 will just have to stay.

Once health concerns are addressed, the unending severe diet is not a joyful way to live: deprivation, self-loathing, sporadic results. Sallie Tisdale's essay, "A Weight That Women Carry" is the most articulate article I've ever read about the futility of dieting to meet an unrealistic goal. (Originally published in Harper's, 1993, you can find it here.)

Gifts: A realm beyond retail

Scanning Sunday's New York Times, I felt like one of those computer programs that tracks text for the increased usage of certain words. I'll bet you've noticed the increase in ad copy like Lord and Taylor's "Give Thoughtfully, Spend Wisely, Sleep Soundly". Editorial material abounds in "Luxe for Less"-themed articles.

The premise is, "We know you have
to spend money, but here's how you can trim your bill and not look cheap." Retailers fear that people will simply stop spending, so try to steer us toward lower-priced options.

You have another choice: get off the strictly commercial treadmill. I'm suggesting this as a way to control spending, but even more, to give in a more personal way. Most ideas below involve some cost, from several dollars to maybe $50 or so.

1. Orchestrate an Experience

The Occasional Caterer: A card with the treat you'll prepare and deliver (given reasonable notice): homemade pizzas, a hamper of tapas or an Indian feast. Merle mixes an intense caesar salad, you choose the date and she drops off a garlicky, anchovy-redolent bag with a packet of homemade croutons. Anders brews his "Robbie Burns Odemeal Stout" and delivers a dozen potent pints.

Emotional Rescue: A sleepover invitation for the children of your tired friend, Saturday brunch till Sunday supper is fine, or be a hero and give a full weekend. A friend of mine did this for me for about five years and I have rarely appreciated a gift as much. Cost: food for the kids, a few movies and maybe some Advil and earplugs.

Mystery Tour:

Tell your friend to reserve an afternoon. Pick her up for a surprise outing to somewhere she would enjoy
but is not likely to venture on her own: art show, botanical gardens, poetry reading, bike ride, or, if you live in a city, join the audience of a TV show. Stop for tea.

Yes We Can, Closet Edition:

Come over with bags and help her clean out her overflowing closet, the one she's complained about. Go to Ikea, buy three $5 bundles of wooden hangers, and purge every ghastly wire hanger. If you want to get fancy, buy shoe racks or other storage goodies.

2. Part with a Treasure

Do you have something a friend adores, covets, cannot stop admiring? If you can let i
t go with grace, do so. Because this is not a common social practice (except as part of potlach rituals in some native communities), you might accompany your gift with a comment such as, "I know how much you've always admired this pearl pendant. I'd love you to have it".

This is a gift, not "I-can't fit-into-
these-pants-will-you-take-them"? And no strings. Once given, it's gone. If the recipient passes her pendant to her daughter or auctions it on eBay, you have to be cool with that, or don't do it.

Jewelry, art, and decorative objects lend themselves to this type of heartfelt
giving, but other items work too. Doug had long admired a friend's vintage Martin guitar; when James gave it to Doug, he wept with joy.

3. Absolutely no cost but lots of affection
I've had friend who grew hostas and gave me a selection. One friend washed and detailed another
friend's car for a season. Someone else taught her friend the basics of the guitar.

If the gift involves a promise of future delivery, be sure to schedule it. And of course you wouldn't offer what you can't quite give, like the well-intentioned man who promised his partner he would stop smoking... but so far has not managed it.

Social misfire

We invited friends for dinner last night, and with winter's full-blown early arrival, I asked Le Duc to start a fire in the small Swedish woodstove tucked into the corner of our living room.

He left it to the last minute, and the damn thing wouldn't draw. So he opened the stove door, inviting plumes of dense smoke to roll into the room.
With guests arriving any second, the entire first floor filled with thick woodsmoke that would sting the eyes and seize the lungs of anyone crazy enough to enter.

I was ah, incensed. "Put it OUT!" I shrieked. "NO", he boomed back, and we exchanged a lengthy, highly uncivil set of remarks, each of us graphically asserting the extreme stupidity of the other.
Of course our friends were huddled at the door, which I forgot was opened in my frantic efforts to clear the smoke... listening to every word.

Have you ever revealed your less than charming side, when instead you want to be hospitable and welcoming?

The only thing to do was pour everyone a large drink and flap towels around till the air cleared, in more ways than one.

To make and give: Blissful biscotti

I'm writing away as the radio tells me how much money I've lost today, and I'm thinking also of the holiday season, of all the people I want to thank and delight. A gift made with your own hands transcends the commercial. Seems like a good time to offer my recipe for biscotti, which I make and give to office colleagues, Mirielle, who owns my wonderful vintage store, the neighbours. Past recipients now hint that they hope I won't forget theirs.

The easy recipe makes lots (though I make at least three batches) and the cookies keep very well. You could add a package of great coffee or tea for a special gift.

Almond Hazelnut Biscotti

1 ½ c toasted whole blanched almonds

5 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar

½ cup butter, melted
Zest from 1 ½ lemons
4 cups all purpose flour
½ cup toasted ground hazelnuts

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Pinch salt

In a food processor with metal blade, coarsely chop ½ cup almonds, set aside.

In large bowl, whip eggs till frothy. Stir in sugar, melted butter and zest.

In a separate bowl, stir toget
her flour, hazelnuts, whole almonds, chopped almonds, baking powder and cinnamon, stir into egg mixture until dough is formed.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment. With hands, form dough into 4 logs, 12 inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide. (Two logs per cookie sheet). Smooth top and sides.

Bake in 350 oven for 25 minutes or until firm.

Cool slightly. While still warm, slide logs back onto work surface, cut into 1/2 inch slices. Return to coo
kie sheets, cut side down, bake for another 20 min. or until crisp and browned.

Makes at least 5 dozen cookies. Store in airtight tin. Best aged 2 weeks.

When I give them, I put a dozen or so in a paper bag and tie with ribbon.

There will be gifts, Christmas edition

For those who celebrate Christmas, the holiday can generate gifting anxiety of the highest order. Some friends and family prefer giving to charities, and I'm all for that. But sometimes you might also like to give a hug of a gift.

Magazines group items by recipient ("For Mom", "For the Girlie Girl") or by price. Ever notice how the "Under $25" category looks sad on
ce you've perused the $500 selections? Below, ideas for adult friends and family, not by category, but by attitude: offbeat, unlikely to be duplicated and definitely not a regift.

Each was also chosen for extraordinary value.

Monica Tuent Pearls and Flowers Necklace, $56 (plus shipping). Monica collects vintage charms and beads, and creates charming pieces from her stash. There's something quirky, Spanish and personal in each.

Eddie Bauer Shearling
Flip Flops, $49; free shipping to US
percute, supercozy, shown in Chocolate, also available in Carnation, Pale Aqua and Natural. Who wouldn't snuggle up to these?

Laguiole Knife with Corkscrew in Juniper, about $70, on sale
The arom
atic juniper smells delightful, the knife is the perfect size for the pocket, picnic basket or kitchen "stuff" drawer. Elegant house gift or guy-treasure.

A crate of Cushman Honeybells, $47 plus shipping
A card arrives for Christmas, the fruit is delivered in January, when bleak winter (where I live) feels interminable. Then the cheerful, meaty, healthy Honeybells ("The World's Only Limited-Edition Fruit") arrive! One of the most-appreciated gifts we have ever given. Many other formats available on the site.

Diamond Snowflake pendant, from Orolatina, $1,135

Delight the woman who has everything, or the one who just adores diamonds.

Micro-set diamonds (.50 ct tw) in 14k
gold, 18-inch chain included. The center stone is surrounded by a star of 40 round cut diamonds set in 14 karat white gold. The snowflake has five branches that contain 25 round-cut diamonds per branch. The pendant size is .875 x .875 in.

That's a lot of wintry sparkle!

Calfskin pork pie hat, John Helmer, $48
Hey there, big daddy. When a fella needs to be cool, he
will be. In black and brown, sizes up to 2X.

New fabric for winter ease

Uniqlo, the hip Japanese retailer, is introducing its HeatTech range world-wide this winter. The fabric would allow you to dress lightly yet still be warm, lower your thermostat or just be unusually snuggly without bulk.

Uniqlo says, "Our HeatTech innerwear is woven out of a specially designed hollow fibre thread that captures little pillows of toasty warm air, insulating your body in the same way a heavier wool would and creating a secret weapon against the winter chill. Launched in 2006, HeatTech has already become a winter wardrobe essential in Japan, with 20 million units sold last year alone.

Sheer yet snug and providing added winter warmth when layered comfortably underneath a shirt and sweater or cardigan, the uniquely developed HeatTech fabric includes a rayon mix that actually absorbs the moisture generated by the body and converts it into heat. Milk protein, containing natural amino acids, has been mixed with the fibres to ensure the fabric is smooth and soft to the touch; making it not only a heat retaining item, but also the perfect layering garment.

There's no Uniqlo where I live, but I figure the innovation will eventually be sold online. The London (311 Oxford St.) and NYC flagship stores are giving away HeatTech items on Nov. 20 as part of the HeatTech launch.

Tis the season to wear Blunnies

Well. Passage des perles is supposed to be about elegance. But today, in unrelenting slanty rain, is the first day of the season I've slipped on my Blundstones, and I cannot resist an ode to their funky fabulousness.

They're the Volvo of the shoe world: if you like them, you're a lifer. You appreciate their boxy, up-for-anything, unpretentious and stalwart presence. You even think they're handsome, in a nerdy way.
Like a happy marriage, you start dazzled and progress to deep respect and admiration.

I have two pairs, old and not so old, and I get them mixed up. Blundstones can take abuse: we have snow, sneet, slush and evil fall-inducing ice, all of it laced with corrosive salt, served liberally for the next 4.5 months. Want to know what that does to Italian leather?

My secret weapon for the coldest months: adding snuggly sheepskin insoles.

If I have a formal business meeting, I might capitulate to my fashion boots. Then I peek under the table and see several pairs of Blunnies. In fact, I wore mine to a meeting and my host said, "Are those the Australian boots?" She went out that evening to buy them.

In the settings I've worked in most recently (tech, publishing, retail) they're hip enough for casual work wear, but when I'm in more conservative offices, a pair of shoes tucks in my briefcase.

One of Toronto's more unusual attractions, The Bata Shoe Museum, holds a charity event each fall, and invites 40 artists to customize Blundstones. Above, two of this year's entries by David Kibuuka, top, and Alain Parizeau, bottom.

Style as optimism

Globe & Mail columnist Karen von Hahn provides this observation in her November 15th column Globe & Mail column, "Fashion is abut the clothes, style is about ideas."

"... given everything that is going on out there in the scary world, there is no better time for taking on the task (of finding one's own 'style trademark') than right now. If we can acknowledge that the mindless consumption we have numbly submitted to is over, isn't there a hidden opportunity in being able to take a good hard look at who we really are and what we really want, and start nurturing our own personal style?

Moreover, style is essentially optimistic. As (a recent article in) Psychology Today observed, it "presumes you are a person of interest, and that the world is a place of interest, that life is worth making an effort for."

I wanted to read the Psychology Today article she (barely) references, but got her best stuff from; it's "How to Have Style" by Hara Estroff Marano. Marano, in a short, piquant piece, describes style's inherent verve, originality, intelligence, diversity and another quality she calls 'aristocratic'.

The best tool I've found for uncovering your personal style: Style Statement by Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte; it's a workbook, emphasis on work- but you can approach it in chunks. The analysis of your preferences, dreams, dislikes, inspirations and mistakes yields a style description that will inform your choices for the "stuff" of your life- not only clothes but also friendships, giving and working.

Photo above:
Dorothy Dandridge

Last call in Paris: Two classic bars and one upstart

When in Paris, LeDuc is an impenitent gourmand, so we spent most evenings dining. But on our last day, he had a late-afternoon errand, and suggested we meet for a drink around 6:30. Our rendezvous: The Rosebud (11 rue Delambre), a beloved bar since Hemingway, Sartre and Fitzgerald warmed its stools.

After cocktails,
we planned to eat at Le Dome, the classic Montparnasse brasserie. At 6:30, The Rosebud was shuttered tight, and as I kicked the leaves, I saw, like Excalibur in the mist, Le Scott Bar. Yes, I found my spiritual home.

If The Rosebud is a white dinner jacket (and indeed the bartenders wear them to serve its brancheé barflys) Le Scott is a black lace teddy, slightly louche and up to no good.

Just a skip down the street, but a parallel universe. You may order an apero, digestif, wine, but no complicated cocktails (that is, with a mix other than water or soda), and their business doesn't really pick up till 2 am. (closing, 5 am.)

Commedia del'Arte masks on the wall, deep red walls and banquettes.
Its pedigree goes back to the '60s, one family has owned it since then.

If Le Scott absorbs you, The Rosebud presents you.
LeDuc first visited 30 years ago, and says their Irish coffees are as unctuous as ever, but it's another planet in sensibility: Rosebud plays Billie Holiday, Le Scott, Sharon Jones. At The Rosebud, I was glad to get an honest to god vodka martini; hamburgers and chili nod to its American roots- but the cream in your coffee is creme fermiere, redolent of the barnyard in the best possible way.

Another great bar we passed almost every evening is Le Pantalon, tucked into a tiny street near Le Sorbonne (7 rue Royer-Collard, 5th arr.). This bar attracts every kind of convivial person, speaking every language, and wraps them in a tiny, surreal room. Perhaps the new Hemingway and Fitzgerald are holding forth here, in the neighbourhood called "the brain of Paris".

Prices at Le Dome had risen so ferociously that we decamped to Brasserie Le Dome just across the street. The less ornate room shares the same kitchen, which provided a last feast of splendid oysters, skate wing and St-Jacques with mushroom risotto.

Since our return, Le Duc pines for Paris, so I hope our return is not more than a year or so away.

Video: Taylor Mali, What Teachers Make

Let's take a break from Paris, d'accord? My son Etienne showed me this video and I thought "I have to post it!"

Paris: Unbelievable but true bag story

I went to Paris thinking I'd buy one really good bag. I had been introduced to Mamet bags here, and researched several boutiques that carried the brand in Paris. Each is beautifully handmade from a single piece of leather, and has a quiet unlogoed luxury.

One on rue du Bac, stocked the mother lode, and I entered thinking my only difficulty would be choice. But I got sticker shock- over $1,000 for the models I liked best.
Dispirited, I left the store to think, wondering why in the world I "needed" another bag, let alone a costly one.

Alone in
the apartment, I entered "Mamet" into the eBay search engine on a lark, and there was, to my surprise, one of the models I liked, the Madras (shown here in brown piped in black. The bag listed was the reverse) for about $120 on Buy It Now. In new condition (carried twice) and (cue Twilight Zone music) the vendor was in central Paris.

I hit that that BIN button like a seagull hits a hamburger, and thanks to Le Duc (French is his first language), arranged pick up. Took a short metro ride the next day and voila!

Lucky or what?

Novica sale on clothing and accessories

A post-script to my postings about Paris to alert you to Novica's sale on winter apparel and accessories.

This soft alpaca wool shawl in a sophisticated black honeycomb weave ("Enchanted Ebony" by Jorge Priori) is reduced from $75 to just over $65.

"Plum Temptation", an alpaca crocheted shawl by Marianella Asto is now $98 (reduced from $108).

Not a mega-sale but a most reasonable price for a hand- made sweep of elegance.

French women don't get coiffed

My blogging friends Deja Pseu and Karen have already remarked that when they visit Paris, they notice how womens' hair is frequently styled in a more relaxed manner. Let us pause to parse this.

Many North American women go to Paris and don't stand out because of their hair. But when a woman does, there's a very good chance she's North American, and in her bags has packed the requisite arsenal of appliances and products.

Among French woman, North American women are known for heavy highlights (like the pic at far left, above) or elaborately constructed, fiercely maintained styles.
To be fair, I saw a few iffy colour jobs on Parisienne heads, but often I could play Spot the Tourist with predictable results. Juliette Binoche, near left, is closer to their desired look.

How did North American women drift toward a look so controlled it's as much an identifier as their language? Since we weren't born with hot rollers clutched in our wee hands, I will attempt to find reasons for this acquired affection.

1. You style what you see

Pick up a copy of InStyle or other mid-market womens' mags and you'll see lots of 'dos presented with Photoshop precision. A subconscious message is sent: "Control that hair, no flyaways, nothing poking out!"

2. Clean and neat is a cultural norm
North Americans like clean and new. Our oldest buildings are only several hundred years old; we tear many down to build something modern. The moody decrepitude of crumbling facades is not generally admired. We emulate this bright, shiny effect in our personal facades, too.

3. The tyranny of perfection

The trainer or gym, the diet, the fillers and procedures, the continual societal nagging to "be your best." Whether intrinsic or socially dictated, a woman seeking perfection will extend this imperative
to every hair on her head. Perfection's silent partner is control. The ironed, sprayed and strenuously styled 'do is a high control hallmark.

4. Primp creep
You start at ten or eleven, painting your sister's nails. In adolescence, you begin "doing" your hair. Time passes, you work your way through enough products to fill the Rose Bowl. Momentum just takes you into more stuff, more fussing. Extensions seem like a reasonable next step. Letting go of
some of the gear you've built up over decades feels like letting yourself go.

Whenever I write about critically about over-coiffed hair, at least one woman replies that she must discipline her unruly, difficult hair, that a soigneé look requires an hour and a half of blowing, brush-rolling, serum application and ironing.

Is this
absolutely true? Who would she be if this were not true?

I just ran into my friend C. She worked in the financial district as a sales professional for years. Designer suits, her blonde hair in a side-parted chin length blunt cut that framed her face like elegant parentheses. We thought she looked wonderful. Then she left her profession and changed hairdressers.

New guy gave her a slightly shorter layered cut with bangs. Most significantly, it moved. When C. strides, her bangs shift; when C. laughs, the sides slide forward. Always lovely, C. became alluring. She also looks a decade younger. (Le Duc said "Mon dieu, C. looks fantastic, who is her hairdresser? Go there!") She looked marvelous before, she looked even better after.

Is there no hairdresser in her town like C.'s, who can burnish the natural beauty she was born with? Who aims for healthy shine rather than immobile head-upholstery? If it takes an hour-plus every day on hair alone, that's a lot of life spent fighting what you've got.

The object of the exercise is not to pass for a native in a European city, it is to let ones' self bloom, bien dans sa peau, like Julie Delpy, one of my favourite French talents.

How to follow an animal act: Cirque d'Hiver & Le Clown Bar

I've always loved the circus arts: juggling, high wire, clowning; I also love the animals, especially big cats, these days un-PC. So when Le Duc noticed that the Cirque d'Hiver or "Winter Circus" was running, we jumped at the chance to see both the spectacle and the 1852 indoor ampitheatre.

The building is a jewel box of vibrant marbles, ruby velvet, 150 year-old murals, gilt and glamour- a full bar at a circus, with upholstered banquettes, chandeliers, champagne. Now that's family fun.

Sightlines are unobstructed by a ce
ntral pole, since the dome is small and supported by a 20-sided polygon building. We sat mere yards from the ring, bouncing nets over us. The acts ranged from dignified animal numbers (thank god, no tigers in silly hats) to breathtaking trapeze, all accompanied by a zestful eight piece orchestra, punctuated by the aahhs! of rapt families.

I happened to pack this Hermes "La Magie" scarf, with its art deco circus theme, so of course wore it, receiving compliments and smiles from the staff.

About two-thirds of the kids were dressed in standard jeans and tees; one third in French finery: velvet dresses, skirts and matching sweaters, tiny preppy quilted jackets. Two sisters in pink tulle ballet skirts, and a teenaged g
irl in a tiger-ear headband.

After th
e show, we skipped next door to Le Clown Bar, one of our all time favourite wine bars- just 12 tiny tables and a zinc.

Packed with clown memorabilia (and a few live specimens), it's a tiny, unpretentious treasure, alive with colour and stunning tile work.

Thank god for the hearty and skillful cooking (boudin noir for Le Duc, galettes de morue for me, and a steak tartare for Jules) that provided ballast against rafts of VDP de la Vallee du Paradis Langedoc, a wine so seductive that the three family members present indulged in various animal behaviours of our own.

For Anjela, best window in Paris

Easily the most orginal window I saw in Paris was this installation at Moschino. (To see larger view, click on photo or visit the article in the International Herald Tribune.)

The bird atelier, top floor, has dozens of tiny birds working at old-fashioned sewing machines, under the eye of a maestro who conducts their machine-orchestra. (The maestro is the slightly elevated figure at the right of the birds.)

Filaments lead to their chef d'oeuvre, the rakish military-influenced coat at right.
Under them, their dormitory: tiny cots on the second and third floors, a canteen (set with birdie meals) on the first, and jaunty red trucks in two bays on the ground floor.

This graceful, whimsical and perfectly-executed fantasy elevated my opinion of Moschino; I was simultaneously charmed, tempted and awed.

Paris: Getting, spending, eating

Choices from the trip, described below.

1. Shoes
No, Anjela, Rabotin did not have the sparkly flats. Found the same ballerina-with-low-wedge in black patent at Accessoire,
and happily embraced them.
Accessoire Diffusion, 6, rue du Cherche Midi (6th arr.)

2. Shawl
A fine wool from Wolff & Descourtis, supple enough for indoor wear. Their silk and velvet pieces are divine (Nicole Kidman collects them) but too dressy for my current life. Victoria Wolff, designer and granddaughter of the founder, lectured me, "Never the point at the back." Superb quality and design from a small historic house.
Wolff & Descourtis, 18, Galerie Vivienne (2nd arr.); this passage is a treasure.

3. Amber
I've been reveling in the honeyed luminous richness and blissful light weight of the amber bracelet my friend "sjcyogi" and her lovely spouse Brian gave me for my birthday. We stopped by L'Or du Nord to look for earrings for my amber-loving mother-in-law, and, after choosing hers, I found this glamourous pair. (Mine are far more golden than this photo.)
L'Or du Nord, 77 rue du Bac (7th arr.)

4. Black lace bra
by Lise Charmel, from Bon Marché's lingerie heaven. How a woman can visit Paris and not buy lingerie is beyond me!

5. Eric Bompard sweater
I chose the Pull V Noeud Géant in taupe; so wearable, yet so French.
Eric Bompard, see for locations

6. Fragrance

Actually a purchase of Le Duc's; at Maitre Parf
umeur et Gantier, his must-visit, he was captivated by the new La Reine Margot, a stupendous jasmine, amber and musk named for the famous courtesan, Marguerite de Valois.
Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, 84 bis, rue du Grenelle (7th arr.)

A sizeable difference
My comments are mostly about accessories. I can't buy skirts, dresses or pants in Paris; at 5'10", size 14-16 (US) everything is too small and short. Dispirited by only looking, I defaulted to Marina Rinaldi (plus sizes in France start at 10). The only item that moved me was a sharp patent leather trench-styled jacket, but I looked like an accordian case in it.

Best ne
w find
I'm liking resale more than ever. But typically a Paris depot vente carries too many things you'd consider ratty. I was stopped in my tracks by a pristine Hermes Lindy in the window of Les Ginettes; my walk-through confirmed the shop's selectiveness. If you can wear French sizes, a gem. Ample assortment of scarves, objects for interior design and art.
Les Ginettes: 4 rue Sabot (Arr 6) Metro: St Germain des Pres

Sweet dreams are made of these
Of endless windows to lick, one of the dreamiest was Cachemirien, a collection of finest cashmere shawls and clothes, 13, rue du Tournon (6th arr.) Textile arts at the swoon level.

The most beautiful clothes in Paris?

The complete Dries Van Noten collection at Bon Marché. If I were younger, thinner, and debt didn't terrify me, this is all I'd wear.
Balenciaga, standing out in the design firament for enduring elegance and precision.

I won't catalog the meals, as that's a small book, and foodie bloggers abound. Three standout places we loved:

Les Papilles:

Tiny, rowdy; a
specialty food store with a restaurant in back. The menu is set (only one entreé, main course and dessert each day), the wine's bought up front with a 10E surcharge (for all bottles) to drink there. We brought a Parisianne friend and all of us were thrilled. Fantastic value.
Full review here.
Les Papilles, 30, rue Gay-Lassac, 5th arr.
RER: Luxembourg Tél: 01 43 25 20 79


Young chef Christophe Philippe is already renowned for dishes like his grilled duck breast with duck-stuffed ravioli and delicious lemon-cream millefeuille dessert.
The three of us agree, best meals of the trip. Le Duc actually cried over his dessert. Our young guest, my son's friend, said he had never eaten so well in his life. You will hear a great deal of English here, thanks to press from people like the NY Times' Mark Bittman, who are all over this find.
Full review here.
Christophe, 8 rue Descartes, 5th arr., Metro: Cardinal-Lemoine

Au Moulin a Vent (AKA "Chez Henri")
Classic French bistro done right (you actually can get bad cooking in a bistro, but not here). A
shrine for meat lovers. The deep satisfaction of beautifully-cooked and joyously-served bourgeois fare. Gorgeous wines. Small, warm, sympatico, beloved by Parisians for over 60 years. Short review here.
Au Moulin a Vent, 20, rue des Fossés-St-Bernard, 5th arr.

PS. Packing list

Worked so well could have done a carry-on outbound: I automated my wardrobe.
Bottom, black: two new pairs of INC techno pants (genius! lots of stretch, hardly wrinkled), two pairs of matte jersey palazzo-ish pants for evening (Talbots, ssssh), one matte jersey knee length skirt (from local designer).

Tops: cashmere tees for day, low Vs for evening. Black nylon lightly padded blazer-cut jacket. (Talbots again, the place I love to hate... but when they get it right, dadgummit, it works.) Scarves, cashmere shawl for plane.
Shoes: Paraboot patent slip-ons for day, Taryn Rose ballerinas for evening, spare pair in case I didn't buy any. A few silk/wool camis for extra warmth. Le Duc said I looked like a 5th arr. local but I think I was just a suitably-dressed tourist.