How much "me time"?

(Thanks to materfamilias for planting the seed of this idea, in her wonderful blog, materfamilias writes.)

How long are you willing to spend (on a normal day) on
grooming (hair, makeup) and exercise, time spent strictly on your appearance and fitness? I'm not asking how long you'd like to spend, or how long you could spend, but what's the reasonable time you budget before that voice in your head says, "That's enough"?

Or is your "allowance" never self-imposed? If I allot more than one hour 15 min. for exercise I start to think (even if I'm having fun), "Better get back to all the other stuff."
Or I think, "Oh god, I am turning into one of those self-absorbed idiots who only care about their figure, and it's too late anyway, so I am pathetic."

If I fuss for over 6-7 minutes on my face, I imagine morphing into an over-painted, brittle mutton-tart.

In my 20s, I knew young women who spent hours preparing to go out. I called them "pretty miserab
le girls". My technique was throw-on-a-dress and out the door, while they hot-rollered and teased, curled their lashes. My laissez-faire approach was its own vanity.

When I worked out in my 30s, the staff at Body Design by Gilda would whisper about women who took two or three aerobics classes in a row daily. "The first class is for your body", one said, "the next one is for your head."

I thought that spending a lot of time (define "lot", I don't know) on myself was narcissistic, neurotic and would not yield spectacular results anyway.

I still think that, more or less, but look forward to occasional
longer walks, or an extended yoga workshop. My GF Susan and I just spent a blissful afternoon at
Body Blitz, the therapeutic water spa, and I had not one shred of guilt.

But I still resist spending serious time in front of a mirror. Maybe I'm just avoiding staring at my wrinkles.

There are days when you just need a lift

Sometimes a splurge lifts your spirits:
Monica Vinader
moonstone ring, $220 from net-a-porter.

Or... sometimes you need uplift:
La Myster
e Dream Lace Tisha bra in burgundy, $74 from Bare Necessities.

I often depend on fragrance to lift my heart:
cas by Robert Piguest set: 2 oz. body lotion and 1 oz. eau de parfum spray, $45 on sale from Sephora.

But nothing lifts me like lifting up someone else:
A goat
for a widow, single mother or abandoned family in a country like Sudan, $98, available through World Vision.

LA area pearl alert!

The wonderful jeweler Zara Scoville of Priceless Imperfections is having a sale!

If only I could be there. All LA-area pearl girls, are you lucky!

Parisian shoe fever dream

My favourite local shoe store carries brands which include Taryn Rose, Joy Chen (fabulous) Mephisto (unfab), Donald Pliner, and... Thierry Rabotin, dream cobbler of shoes that I can stand in all day.

And discovered the divine Rabotin

Technically a ballet flat, the shoe has an arch so one's foot doesn't sag like a four day old fish. The slightly high-cut vamp is covered in a fine chenille-type fabric on which are sewn hundreds and hundreds of irridescent miniature dark grey and black sequins (like half-grains of rice), using specially reinforced elastic thread so they don't rip off with movement, or catch.

See the leather rim near the sole? I could dance through puddles. Really, they thought of everything.

Trying them on, I felt like a Dorothy who'd swapped her red maryjanes, had a few shots of anejo tequila, and lit the hell out from Kansas in an Alfa Romeo.

The price is $695 (Canadian dollars), plus tax, which here is a hefty 12%. Gulp, fan self, leave store.

I asked Le Duc to call TR in Paris (where I will be one month from today) and inquire about price; he reported that the shoes are
half the freight on rue du Dragon. They have a size that might fit me, but will they be there in a month? "Zees size ees verrry larrjh" (I am translating for you), "ees 'ard to find", the vendeuse told him.

I'm annoyed. 100% markup over European price seems like gouging. OK, Manolos cost this much...but I don't buy Manolos.

If I charge to my Visa and have them held for me, I could exchange but last year they did not have
one pair of anything I liked in my breadbox size, 41.

Le sigh. Will just go to Paris and take my oversized chances.

The shifting sense of work

Do you ever perform the work you spent decades refining your skills to do, and think, "I am so done with this?"

Today I taught a workshop in a luxurious venue, to a small group of hard-working, intelligent people. So that's as good as it gets. It left me gutted; my facilitation work always has. Pour myself out, receive them, and crawl into bed by 9 pm.
At 60, my relationship to work has shifted. Work no longer defines me or offers hurdles to clear.

Even this spent, partly wishing I would never do this again, work feels different.

When I was 20 I read a well-known passage from The Prophet,
"Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy."

Then I got all corporate and rolled my eyes at this hippie dippy crap. But I'm back, weirdly, in my 19-year-old head space (remember that idiom?).

I have affection for the people I work with, whether for a day or a year. I'm grateful to contribute. Hmmm, a well-paid contribution, my conscience adds.

This reconnection with the spiritual dimension of work comes late, catches me by surprise... though the stamina to give and give simply isn't there.

The "legacy movement" is pure ego, abhorrent to me- the idea that you must make your indelible mark by leaving something behind. At the same time, I'm capable of giving more, in a connected, personal way, than at 30 or 40- maybe even 50.

I'm losing my thread here, rambling and drained. But while it's soaking into my bones, I wanted to capture some of the odd mixture of exhilaration, exhaustion and sense of completion I feel about this late-career phase.

Ever work at your desk till the end of a business day (in a place with "office hours"), then know you could leave, but choose not to? That strange lifting of anticipation: suddenly it's your choice?

I see the end of in sight, the end of both employment and over another hill, of life. This vista shifts my awareness.

Hairbands: Time to leave behind

Before I began Passage des perles, I'd search for lists of things women thought it was time to give up after 50.

I'm interested in the decisions we make, the moments when we realize it's time to let go of one era and embrace (or at least put up with) the next.

Like the tipsy uncle at an engagement party, some things linger
longer than they should.

Of course it's a matter of taste, and maybe regionally influenced. My #1 pick to deep-six well before 50 is the hairband, in any material. It's too jeune fille, too piano class. A friend wore one to dinner recently, and though she is a delight in every way, I kept wanting to offer her a booster seat.

I enjoy scarves in the hair, especially if you're in a convertible. Banana clips, most barettes, plastic-coated bobby pins, no.

Antique ebony carved hair ornaments, yes.

Photo of hair ornament: Mikimoto

The elusive air

This past weekend Le Duc and I dropped by a rooftop bar to enjoy a charcuterie platter. The doors burst open to admit some kind of fashion industry party, kissing and chatting and smoking.

I spotted a well-known TV and print journalist, and pointed her out to Le Duc: "the one over there, in the gray and black dress."

"Which one?" he wondered, which was a fair question, since all the women were thin, with long, straight hair, in similar short cocktail dresses.

"What do you think?" I asked.

"Jane Birkin", he said, reprovingly. "Jane Birkin."

By which he meant, he wished any one of these women had a Jane Birkin sensibility, instead of lank, blown out hair, tiny dresses that revealed strenuous interventions, a boatload of Botox, and an overall palpable attitude of effort.

It could be the difference between Toronto and Paris- and insecurity breeds conformity- but I doubt that's the sole reason.

There were several women in that bar (not one of them in that party) with an attitude of
bien dans sa peau that Birkin has. Why did they have it, but not the women in the industry that spends its waking hours telling us how to look? My guess is that after years of grueling work, they absorb so many visual 'ideas' that they lose the sense of restraint.

He later remarked that the name of the perfume that Lyn Miller of Miller Harris created for Birkin, "L'air du Rien" means "looks like nothing", or more accurately, "looks like nothing but in fact may be quite the opposite."

Isn't that just it!

Tagged: 25 favourites on my iPod

What I'm listening to.

Tagged by Julianne of Potpourri Promenade... all of these are available by download from iTunes.

1. La realité- Amadou & Miriame
One of the coolest songs ever by the coolest couple ever. On y va! (See them sing it on You Tube.)

2. The Richest Man in Babylon- The Thievery Corporation
Chill lounge reggae; hypnotic

3. Lebanese Blonde- The Thievery Corporation
Addictive electronica

4. Persian Love- Holger Czukay
Nearly 30 later, still thrills me

5. Son of a Preacher Man- Dusty Springfield
A voice that crawls up your pant leg, as my friend Janis' dad said

6. Life on Mars?- Seu Jorge
Can't get this Portuguese version of the Bowie classic out of my head

7. Brand New Leopardskin Pillbox Hat- Bob Dylan
"You know it balances on your head just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine"

8. Roses and Blue Jays- Buck 65
The lyrics, the beats: brilliant song

9. Take the Long Way- Po Girl
Just gorgeous; with hip hop poet CR Avery

10. Glory Box- Portishead
Langorous and retro

11. Fumbling Toward Ecstasy (Remix version)- Sarah McLachlin
Very high in her scene

12. Ai Du- Ali Farka Touré
One of his great numbers

Ma plus belle histoire d'amour- Barbara
The great love song, the great voice- perfection.
(See on You Tube.)

14. Strawberry Fields Forever- Ben Harper
I like his version

15. Una Musical Brutal- Gotan Project
Gorgeous tango

16. Suicidewinder- Ridley Bent
Hilarious story song from a "guitar-slingin' demon"

17. Pink Moon- Nick Drake
Haunting, beautiful, sad, dark

18. Kiss- Prince
The Purple One, always

19. Baby Scratch My Back- Slim Harpo
"You know how to do it, so baby get to it."

20. Adventures in Solitude- The New Pornographers
Lilting Indy Canadian

21. Everybody Knows- Rufus Wainright
Rufus swings Lenny

22. Melt Your Heart- Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
Charm without cloying affectation

Sea of Love- Cat Power
Odd and moving

24. Porcelain- Moby
This is church music for me

25. Nothing Compares 2 U- Sinead O'Connor
Sinead sings Prince, impeccable

Tea and cookies

Invite a friend for tea; sit on your deck or balcony and watch the honeyed late-afternoon autumn light. Reconnect, pause, breathe, commune.

Here is a delicious, easy cookie for your tea; you can make the dough up to two months in advance, wrap it, and store it in the freezer, or store in your fridge for 5 days.

When she arrives, the aroma of fresh butter cookies will wrap her in pleasure.

There will be enough left to delight children coming home from school or anyone else you see afte
r 5:00 pm..

Butter Cookies

(From: Gourmet Magazine, February 1999)
Yield: Makes about 60 small cookies or 30 larger ones

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Optional: orange or lemon zest

Into a bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat butter until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until mixture just forms a dough.

Divide dough between 2 large sheets of wax paper and form each half into a 10- x 1 1/2-inch log, wrapping it in wax paper. Chill logs until firm, at least 4 hours, and up to 5 days. Dough may be frozen, wrapped in foil, 2 months. Let dough soften slightly before cutting.

To bake:
Preheat oven to 375°F. and lightly butter a baking sheet.
Cut dough into 1/8-inch-thick slices and arrange slices about 1/2 inch apart on baking sheet. Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven until golden around edges, 10 to 12 minutes, and transfer with a metal spatula to a rack to cool.

Cookies may be kept in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.

Ah youth!

American Apparel Double U dress, $36; Sergio Rossi slingbacks, $225; the confidence to stop traffic, priceless.

Le Duc mentioned this photo appreciatively... no kidding.
(Click on photo for full va-voom.)

I'm not sure, even in my days as a young thing, I'd have had the courage to go this red, this tight.

Do I ever look remotely like this?

Did you?

I have to cast my mind waaaay back. Plunging necklines, micro skirts, stilettos, I do recall.
I feel wistful. Days gone by!

Did you display your assets, or were you shy, modest... or scolded "Where are you going like that?"

In college, I lived for awhile in a sorority house, and the memory of 40 or so young women preparing to go out, the air filled with perfume, girls flying about, trading clothes, doing hair, that electric intersection of anticipation and excitement, is a fond memory. The casual beauty, the unforced glamour of youth.

I know women who are mired in mourning for their lost effect. What is the point? I'd love to be able to carry off this dress, but know (and most of the time accept) that the natural arc of life has removed that possibility.

Let's have a moment of appreciation for our bodies, whether voluptuous or lean
, smooth or lined, soft or firm. What we were, and on our journey, what we have become.

Photo: The Sartorialist blog

Thinking outside the jewel box: Lucifer Vir Honestus

Whose work would you chose if you got to wave the magic wand and pick one irresistible piece of fine jewelry?

One of my favourite fabulous jewelry designers is Luna Scamuzzi, who designs in partnership with Lino Mandelli under their label, Lucifer Vir Honestus, named for the first Milanese jeweler.

She works with rare minerals like the lilac phosphosiderite shown above, yet creates refined, wearable, undeniably feminine pieces.

A few of her icon
oclastic creations, all from the wonderful jewelry site ylang23:

Diamonds don't have to be big to have presence
Diamond Web ring in rose gold, $4, 350

Earrings don't have
to match
Orange fire opals, one light, one dark, $2, 700

Hoops don't have to be round
Rose gold hoops, $2, 690

The fine and feathered

Fall's time for feathers-the rich, elegant use of feathers. Not the tacky stagette boa, not the Dynasty dripping-feather picture hat, but graceful plumes as adornments.

Worn as earrings, they're light and elegant, especially in bolder pieces.

From Bijoux de fantasie, "Dejay" earrings, a dramatic 5" drop of fuscia and black feathers. From Bali , fair traded.
Price: $40, with freee shipping to US, Canada and Europe.

Fred Flare offers these iridescent peacock feather earrings, 2.5 inches long. For just $14, add drama to the simplest black dress.

At a recent wedding, several guests wore feather hair ornaments instead of hats.

From Feng Junk, the Grande Flower Feathered Hair Pin by Jennifer Behr tucks into a twist or pony, $140. Available in black, burgundy or cognac, with free shipping in the US and internationally.

Moving into hats, what is lusher, more Mad Men than pheasant feather? And look at this! eBay seller blsckcat has this gorgeous Jackwill Original pheasant feather number (with box) listed at a starting bid of $5.99; auction ends today (Sept. 16).

Dimensions are listed on the site. I see this with a camel topper, vintage chic for a song.

I was captivated by the splendid vintage Orbi Yokohama feathered hat (left) listed for $14.99 lined in black satin. From eBay seller retro-jedi; the auction ends today.

Want more feathered va-voom? Black velour with assorted feathers from seller sheriemilt,in excellent vintage condition, listed now for $9.99; auction ends today. Wear with a suit, red lipstick and a wink. Tres coquette!

Tagged, truncated

I was tagged by Julianne of Potpourri Promenade, and I'm going to play meme hookey by responding only to the sections of the meme-list on this very busy day.

mini-meme answers are,

If I had a billion dollars I would...
1. Buy a small, welcoming house, in a real neighbourhood of Paris; I want to hang out with all kinds of people. Maybe here, the Villas des Lilas in Belleville. Le Duc and I will live here part time. (As a writer once said, "Anyone who gets a bit of money f---s off to Paris.")

2. Start a foundation or simply endow one that's doing on-the-ground work where people need food, clean water and health care to live a dignified life. Then my "job" will be working with the foundation. I'll also endow music schools for kids in need, writers' retreats, and other arts-related endeavours.

3. Oh I sound so damn noble! I do love gems. I'll find a string of magically deep glowing pearls and wear them every day... and of course remove them when I get massages any time I please, via house calls.

I'll buy my friends wonderful just-because gifts but sometimes have them delivered anonymously because they're not billionaires too, are they?

Next item: Three Bad Habits:

  • Saying what I think without considering the effect
  • Impatience
  • Losing sight of the impermanence of life
Finally, Snacks I Like:
  • Granola bars (they can ride in my briefcase)
  • Lindt Orange Intense Chocolate bars
  • Vodka martini, extra dry

My boys clean up for the wedding

Marianne and David's magical wedding was Friday night.

Above, the bride and groom's first dance to Charles Azanvour's "La Bohème"; below, (left to right) Jules, Marianne, and Etienne.

They had not owned decent jackets for years, relying on flea market finds an
d loaners from friends.

So last week, Le Duc took them shopping.

The result, utterly classic: navy pinstripe suit for Etienne (right), navy blazer and slacks for Jules, Hermes ties borrowed from Papa. What delighted me was their shy pride: "Maman! Look!" (Le Duc said Jules' first choice was a $900 cashmere blazer- he gets it from someone.)

Le Duc is coping with sticker shock, but as I said, with only sons, we were spared years of party dresses and entreaties for the latest It Bag.

Below, we're sipping champagne before the ceremony. Notice how those ties pop? My new mulberry silk embroidered jacket was perfect for a muggy, late summer night.

And here's Le Duc and Etienne, taken before the samba band began to play and everyone kicked off their shoes to dance, laugh and celebrate love.

Fashion speaks with forked tongue

Wanna read some twaddle? Pretentious both-sides-of mouth BS? Look no further than fashion journalism, which proves itself more specious, intelligence-insulting, and self-adulating than ever.

All examples quoted from Saturday's Toronto Globe and M

From Harry Rosen CEO Larry Rosen
(Harry Rosen is a large, upscale mens' store, recently expanded to 50,000 sq. ft):
"We never had room to go into the fragrance and skincare business", Rosen says. "Men are becoming more eclectic, this is a natural."

Translation: "It's not a fragrance, it's a freaking gold mine."

From Fidelity Denim founder and creative director Jason Trotzuk:
"When I was younger, I resented being in Vancouver. As I got older, though, I realized I might not have had the same drive if I grew up in L.A.... I like that I can look from a distance and take bits of what I like from everywhere."
Translation: "I steal everybody's designs from up here in little old Vancouver!"

Celebrity hairstylist Garren, on cutting Victoria Beckham's pixie style:
"It was clear we had to go short, and create a new look that embraced her beauty, great personality and body."
Translation: "I thought, how the hell can I get Victoria Beckham
more exposure?"

I am saving the best for last.
From Oscar de la Renta, who is old enough to know better, speaking to Jeanne Becker before his fashion show at New York's Fashion Week last Wednesday:
"It's all about women right now. They're finally at a point where they can be who they want to be."
Translation: "Wake me when it's over."

Prepping for shopping in Paris

I'm following Karen of Of A Certain Age and Deja Pseu of Une Femme d'une certain age to Paris (late Oct.), enjoying their packing-for and in-Paris posts. Karen posted a funny entry about her trip to Repetto (to buy their famous soft leather shoes) and her handling-the-goods faux pas.

When I'm there, I shift my expectations.

In France's large cities, the customer is not always right
. The perky north American sales pitch ("We have sweaters at 20% off today!") is undignified to a vendeuse. They would consider it an insult to your intelligence to chirp "Did you find everything you were looking for today?"

I've never experienced rudeness
(or been too thick to notice), but have occasionally encountered indifference or boredom.

I have two weapons: my age, which imbues me with a certain dignity, and Le Duc, who is francophone, discerning, and tolerates no funny business. If he's not with me, I muster a straightforward attitude, and the first thing I say after "Bonjour, madame" is, "Prenez-vous Carte Bleue?" which telegraphs my fervent intention to blast euros at her.

If Parisiens are treated arrogantly, they know how to fight back. My friend Roland went to a luxury haberdasher; when served with indifference, he feigned interest in shirts, had the clerk unpin a dozen or so, then said, "You have too much money, you don't need mine", turned on his heel, and left.

n London, I entered an antique jewelry store in my new red, brushed mohair plaid-lined mac (which was actually French and purchased at vast expense in New York). The bored shopgirl chatted on her cellphone as I browsed and I heard her say, "Well, it's better than barging round in a red plastic mac." My departure was rapid.

That was years before Edina's classic Ab Fab line, "You work in a shop, so you can drop the attitude, you know."

This day, seven years ago

It was here, at my desk at work, that I first heard of what was to be 9/11; one of my colleagues rushed out of her office. Her husband, watching the news at home, had just called her.

The canyons of the financial district emptied; some companies sent people home, thinking this might be the beginning of a global catastrophe. I kept a lunch date with my friend Joan; we talked about what it meant to be Americans, though we now lived in Canada. It was she who shared the grimmest details of people on the towers, and we wept into plates of Indian food.

Now that I look back, we were in shock.
On the street, I ran into a colleague from work who said, "This is inevitable. I'm from a part of the world where terrrorist attacks are not unusual. It's life, you go on." I was stunned, he sounded so blasé while I could barely absorb it.

As the stories of loss emerged, as the NY Times commemorated those who died with short profiles, as thousands of op-ed pieces and blogs examined the event, I kept thinking of his remark.

It is not usual for us, and may it never be.

Bernice Eisenstein's graphic memoir

I attended a gallery opening with my friend Roni this weekend, and said hello to her friend Bernice Eisenstein, a local writer whom I'd like to introduce to you.

I was reminded of how moved I've been by Bernice's bittersweet illustrated memoir, "I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors." The highly evocative book tells the story of her parents, who survived Auschwitz.

It's also about Bernice, who examines her need to know them by entering a part of their life that they resisted describing.

If you share Bernice's family history, are interested in the triumph of the spirit after unimaginable tragedy, or want to pass on this knowledge to a younger generation, Jewish or not, born after some of the most memorable voices have been stilled by age, I recommend this book.

The darkness of her parents' story is tempered by her account of how, resettled in Toronto, they and other family members built a new life. They would gather to feast and toast, L'chaim.

When I saw Bernice read a festival last year (sharing the stage with the sublime graphic novelist Ben Katchor), her aunt rose from the audience during the Q & A and said, "This is a very brave book".

I agree, a brave and beautiful book.

UdeMan: Caetano Veloso

Almodovar used him in a cameo in "Talk to Her" and the film slowed to a lilting langour.

Known as "the Bob Dylan of Brazil", Veloso's also a political activist who spent several months in prison.

He issue
d an English-language albumn in 2004, but my favourites are his soulful, classic Portuguese tropicalia recordings, and current world-rhythm works like the recent Ce.

"There's a wonderful Brazilian poet who was our best, biggest, greatest modernist, Oswald De Andrade. He has o
ne poem, which I think is the shortest poem in the world.

The title is "Amor" and the poem is "humor". Just that. Amor/humor- love/humor combined- is the method of approach for quotations and references. Without that, it doesn't mean anything." - Caetano Veloso

"Doing the Work of the Heart": Jean Vanier interviewed by Ian Brown

Ian Brown wrote a moving interview with Jean Vanier on the occasion of Mr. Vanier's 80th birthday this weekend. The interview moved me deeply; there were many sections where his wisdom leapt off the page.
Your best bet to find it is to search "Jean Vanier Ian Brown" and look for the Globe and Mail's headline. The original article was published on Sept. 06, 2008.

On aging:

"And so the whole point, the reality of my life as a human is to accept myself as I am. At the age I have. So that at the age of 80, I live as 80, and not as if I'm 40. Live and enjoy life and don't spend my time weeping, and saying, 'I don't have any more power, people are not coming to see me.' Don't spend your time regretting. Spend your time living."

On prayer:

Ian Brown writes, "I said: 'I have a language with my handicapped son, who can't speak, where I connect to him by clicking my tongue.' The whole half-assed idea just came blurting out of me. 'And he recognizes it, and sometimes responds. Sometimes that feels like praying to me.'

'That is praying,' Mr. Vanier said. 'You see, praying is not doing. It's a moment when we're clicking. A lot of people don't know that. And because they're not going to church on Sundays, they feel guilty. They don't know they're praying. Through compassion. Through peacefulness and thankfulness for who you are. For the body you have, for the age you have, for the family, for the flowers that you see outside. Gratefulness. Prayer is communion and gratefulness.'

'So prayer,' I said, 'is a way of reminding ourselves -'
'- to be who we are,' he said."

Film Fest: Imported beauty

By beauty I am not a star,
There are others more handsome by far.

My face I don't mind it,

For I am behind it.
It's the people in front that I jar.

My city has been invaded by Beautiful People. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) launched late this week, and we're revved for a glamorama: Clooney, Pitt, Zellweger, McAdams, and that's just last night.

Even the assistant beauty is formidable. Women teeter down Bloor Street past Vuitton, Prada, Gucci and
velvet-rope bars on needle heels, in very short black dresses. Sometimes the only sign someone is not Someone is their clipboard.

Do you remember the Millihelen? This measure of beauty is attributed to Cambridge mathematician W.A.H. Rushton, and refers to the "face that could launch a thousand ships" in Marlowe's The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus.

I'd put Cate Blanchett at 990 Millihelens. Negative Millihelens are possible, but you won't see this on the red carpet. The "helen" refers to females, but let's extend it to men also, as male beauty will be on display too. Millihectors? Ed Harris, 950! (Oh Ed, over here!)

This amount of sheer physical pulchritude is unusual in Toronto. We have the normal bell-curve distribution you'd expect in a country where food is plentiful and cheap, medical care universal, and the standard of living high: plenty of presentable-to-attractive people and of course all toddlers score 1000 mini-millihelens!

But head-swiveling, heart-stopping, etheral beauty? You might see one person on a given day, but not fifty in the lobby bar of the Four Seasons. Not stabbing at a pink cell
phone, leaving Cartier with two bodyguards and a gorgeous assistant, not waving, flushed and excited, from a stage at a premiere.

Stardust, sprinkled over a staid Northern city, makes for fascinating people-watching.

Broke and liking eBay

I awoke poorer today than yesterday, as did you, if you have investments in the equity markets. I'll be giving eBay a closer look for everything from cosmetics to clothes.

I've made a few brilliant clothing and accessory purchases, and since my investments are eroding by the hour, expect to be trolling for more.


- Pants I tried on and liked at Talbot's, now 75% less
- Vintage Georg Jensen bracelet (absolutely authentic), half the price of new one in a Jensen boutique
- Twe
nty spray-samplers of a favourite scent (perfect for gym bag or purse)
- Two bags from Groom Paris at one third retail

- Sheared mink duffle coat ($1200, appraised locally at $7500).

ve I ever been stung? Rarely: A counterfeit Hermes tie for le Duc and a pair of green turquoise earrings that were badly set. I learned from the experience, see Tips below.

Here are mine, and please share your own:

- Check the seller feedback at Toolhaus; you can see reports of the negatives. I rarely buy from someone with over 1 or 2% negatives
- Don't deal with sellers who want to be payed by wire transfer; I choose those who use PayPal, which offers good protection
- Avoid sellers who say "it is unpressed" or "you'll have to dryclean it"; if they sell grotty merch, they don't care much
- Don't buy opened cosmetics or fragrances
- Measure garments you wear and compare to measurement of item listed; sizing can vary even in a brand you know
- Use the search/notification feature that e-mails you about what you're looking for, and if you are working at controlling your impulse spending, don't look at other stuff
- Use your "My eBay" page to track what you bought, and review it to learn what was "fun while it lasted" and what was truly a sound choice
- Think very hard before buying anything flawed. A friend who yearned for an Hermes scarf bought one with a small stain. She has to fold it a certain way every time to hide it. She would have been better off saving to buy a scarf in excellent condition that she can wear without that nagging stain
- I like to pay by bank transfer using PayPal; that way I don't use my credit card. Without a sales slip, it's too easy to forget what I bought till the shriekingly high Visa bill comes
- Change your eBay password every few months; don't use the same password for eBay and your e-mail.

Every time I log on, I stroll though a vast electronic souk, full of reputable merchants, thieves and oddballs. Where else could I find the fantastic, funky and ferocious under one roof, while sitting at home in my bunny slippers?