Micheline and Mary

I met the first woman via Fashion Magazine. Last week I took a fashion mag to bed for one of those mindless reads that marked the end of a grueling work project. After ten minutes, I could barely contain my disgust. The editorial content was devoted to "Ageless Style", yet the advertising exhorted women to "fight", "conquer", "turn back time", and "resist aging from the first signs".

The oldest model in the issue, Carmen Del' Orifice, above, looked suspiciously fresh in the photos, unlike the 76 year old women I know.

The next-oldest is this women, Micheline, who represents the 60s.

Her exact age, the profile says, "is an expertly maintained mystery". (Oddly, the magazine ran profiles of women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 60s, but no 50s.)
I've seen her in the high-end store where she works, and she is an exotic, chic presence.

She said "You have to dress in what makes you feel good,” citing with pride her ability to pull off plunging necklines. “You don’t have to turn 60 and start wearing frumpy things.” I agree with that last statement, though her level of "makes you feel good" is very different from mine.

I'll never attempt the
amount of work required to achieve and maintain this effect. I'd require such serious surgical intervention that I might not survive the procedures. And life is too short to forgo blueberry pancakes.

It's relative, isn't it? One woman's flashy is another's frumpy. And if you feel good, whether you're wearing flats or stilettos, that confidence is evident,

I met the
second woman though her obituary.

Mary McCarthy Gomez Cueto, a Canadian, died in her home in Cuba on April 3 , 2009, at age 108, after a remarkable life. She died in her rundown Havana mansion after failing to get treatment for respiratory problems due to a shortage of cash, according to her godson and heir, Elio Garcia. "She had been suffering the embargo for 50 years," he said.

Her fortune was trapped in a Boston bank by the US trade embargo, and the money her husband left in Cuba was seized when Castro come to power.
McCarthy, born in Newfoundland in 1900, moved to Cuba in 1924 when she married a wealthy Spanish businessman whom she met in Boston.

She became a member of Cuba's high society, co-founding the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra and an orphanage for boys. She was known for her kindness, glamour, and equanimity about the changes in her fortune.

Her husband died in 1951, but she stayed in Cuba.
She was not able to touch the money her husband left her after the US imposed a trade embargo against Cuba in 1962, and lived in near poverty for years. In 2007, after a Canadian diplomat intervened, Washington allowed her to withdraw just $96 a month. Mrs McCarthy had to postpone medical treatment when the US did not transfer extra money allowed for medical purposes in time.

Although confined to a wheelchair after breaking a hip in 2002, she continued to wear a satin dress, silk blouse, chiffon scarf and lipstick for her stream of visitors, just as she had done in the days when she danced at the Havana yacht club. But she was reduced to wearing plastic pearls and earrings instead of the jewellery which, along with three gold rosaries, was in the First National Bank in Boston, and she was keenly aware that the joy had gone out of Havana, even if there was full employment.

Lively and outspoken into extreme old age, Mary McCarthy admitted to conflicting views about Fidel and his revolution. She conceded that the illiteracy and the poverty had ended, and was glad that her money had been put to good use. But she disliked communism, and was adamant that it was wrong to confiscate what belonged to her. "It's my money," she would insist.

Mary McCarthy was perhaps the best welder of the friendship between the people of Cuba and Canada," said the Canadian consul, Mark Burger.

(Sources: Reuters and The Telegraph.)


What an amazing woman was Mary - how inspiring, and it's great that she had style and looked after herself right up to the end. So much more inspiring than those women who've had endless plastic surgery and not eaten a proper meal in years to maintain their figures.
materfamilias said…
I sometimes wish that fashion magazines would let the older women they feature (as tokens of looking good after whatever age) to reveal a bit more -- no matter that they've devoted so much to looking young and/or beautiful(surgery, make-up,hairstyling, diet,etc.), they must have something more interesting to say about juggling that devotion with the rest of life -- the focus of the magazines is so narrowly on looks that we don't hear the experiences and reservations and challenges and wisdoms that almost certainly are also part of these women. While they may not have lives (or faces) as interesting and rich as Mary's, they must have learned something in their 60+ (76?) years, and I'd love to hear a bit of honesty about what it takes to maintain those looks for so long, why it feels so important, what has been sacrificed, etc. I'd love to see what they hope their obituary might say, and how it might compare to Mary's and what they feel about that. And I'd be curious to know what they think about Mary's photo, how they feel to stare the nature look of aging in its face. Interesting post, Duchesse.
Mrs. Jane Doe said…
I must tell you how very glad I am to have come across your blog. You write with such common sense but with a flair of style added to it. What a great mix and you do it so well.

I love this post. I'm not sure I could add any more to what you shared and not just in words. Great job!

la said…
Bravo for posting Mary McCarthy's obit. She truly personifies style - her own, unlike the other women you have on the post. They look plastic, unnatural and seem to be charicatures of younger women. Last week I picked up my daughter's copy of Baazar and quickly threw it down, with much the same reaction you had: why do we need to 'fight age and conquer wrinkles'??? Of course it is natural (to me anyway) to want to look good, but that has little to do with age. I am a francophile and one of the many reasons is their acceptance, nay celebration, of women of a certain age. "You were born an original, don't die a copy" (author unknown).
Anonymous said…
Mary reminds me of my grandmother who just passed away last year at 105.

You MUST go onto YouTube and watch the 'Cougar Channel' videos done by this woman who coaches other women on how to date younger men. It's ridiculous. I want to know what you think!

I hate the mixed messages in magazines like "More." You want to like the editorial, but then the publication prostitutes itself to the advertisers who urge us to "fight it with all we got." It's very confusing and unharmonious as far as editorial vs. advertising.
Frugal Scholar said…
I started coloring my hair about 10 years ago--a student told me I should and actually came to my house to do it!

Now I've noticed that many women in my age group (mid 50s) have far fewer wrinkles than I do--it finally dawned on me that most of these women are hsving face lifts/botox, etc. Sometimes I see them after a while and they look dramatically younger than the previous time, so I know it's not genetics or sun damage!

My question: how do we decide what's OK and what's not? Many years ago, Emily Toth--who writes as Ms. Mentor in the Chronicle of Higher Education--told me that after 50, I would stop caring if my stomach stuck out, etc. So far, that hasn't happened.

No particular point here--just some musing.
greying pixie said…
The older I get the more determined I am to look well groomed and soignee. But in my opinion this has nothing to do with age. I'm not at all worried what age people think I look - I just want to look and feel fit and healthy.

The lady Mary is wonderful not only because she looks as if she cares but also because she looks as if she has a story to tell.

I know Carmen dell'O is beautiful and has lived a charmed life because of her looks. But can you imagine how much upkeep those looks must take now - the massages, the facials, the ongoing surgery, the constant attention to fine details? Life is just too short.

Frugal's comment is interesting. My stomach and neck are the areas I refuse to give up on. In fact I think the stomach and neck are the two areas that are underrated in the pursuit of the soignee state. Forget wrinkles, an untoned stomach and flabby neck can put years on you, and neither needs surgery to keep them firm, just a few daily exercises.
lagatta à montréal said…
I'm glad to see this subject as it gave me a reason to post an article about Dr Rita Levi-Montalcini, still working at 100, after a Nobel Prize, thwarting Nazis, starting up a foundation for the education of women in Africa and many other things!

She certainly doesn't look lifted, but she does have beautiful skin and a lot of style: http://tinyurl.com/Rita-Levi-Montalcini

Buon compleanno Rita!
lagatta à montréal said…
Sorry, my Dr Rita Levi-Montalcini link doesn't seem to work; hope thisdoes http://tinyurl.com/cj2r3u

And you can find much, much more about her by googling. Her birthday is 22 April.

greying pixie, yes, exercise is important but I think there is a lot of genetics in terms of what happens to tummy and neck, and how resilient they are. Would like to find the exercises to cure the bit of "low pot" that follows weight loss. I have very good skin, including neck, but friend who is much slimmer has the wrinkles. We both eat healthy food overall and aren't sun worshippers.

To some extent, that's the way the mop flops.

Or as we say in French, les grosses gardent leur face, les maigres gardent leurs fesses. ;-)

(The above simply refers to body types, not to extremes of obesity or skinniness, which are certainly not conducive to attractive faces, or anything in between)...
Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Well said, thank you! Maybe they have something to say, or like Ava Gardner apparently once said, "Deep down, I'm really superficial?"

Imogen: There's something so compelling abut having lived in great luxury, then not, and never losing one's style.

la: I have the same reaction to all fashion magazines these days: want to hurl them across the room.

mrs Jane: Your kind words help me to keep writing.

Karen: Notice she says not to compete with younger women but is dressed like a 20 year old? Just unreal.

Frugal: That's a challenging question, worth a whole post. My immediate thought is it depends on whether beauty (not just physical beauty) is a quality that sustains one, or not.

GP; Soignee is such a wonderful word and frees us from the goal of looking "young" or "hot". I think each of us knows her gifts (nice ankles, good skin, lush hair, etc) and tries to conserve them as long as possible.

Lagatta: Big thanks for sharing this, and introducing me to this remarkable woman. Body, mind, spirit, all inspiring.
Unknown said…
I have no problem even contemplating surgery, I'm such a whimp. I would probably faint if I saw a needle heading towards my face.

Susan B said…
Wow, Mary was such an amazing woman! Thanks for sharing her story.

I have seen women who are trying so hard to hang onto what they believe are youthful good looks that they cross the line into pathetic territory. I think the most interesting older women don't get hung up on trying to look younger, but rather focus on expressing their own style and leading interesting lives.

And yes, the saggy neck thing is mostly genetic. I had creases and crepe-y skin on my neck when I was twelve years old (also very old looking hands at a young age), and I've noticed it's gotten worse in the last couple of years. I don't like it, but oh well.
greying pixie said…
A propos de saggy necks, I went into great detail once on The Thoughtful Dresser, but here, one last time, is the secret given to me by my 88 year old beauty therapist.

Place a pencil between your teeth lengthwise like a rose and repeat (in French) the letters O X for one minute. Do this every day and I assure you there will be a difference within a week. Keep the pencil with your toothbrush and do it at teeth cleaning time and you won't forget.
Anjela's Day said…
Carmen lost her life savings with Madoff.
"when I arrived at her Upper East Side apartment, Dell’Orefice was ready for me. Still gorgeous at 77, she led me to her bedroom, where she had laid out on her king-size coverlet piles of intimate photographs, canceled checks, and reams of investment statements spelling out her relationship with Madoff. Mary T. Browne was right. She had quite a story to tell.

It began in the fall of 1993. Six years after the death of her fiancé, the legendary television impresario and talk-show host David Susskind, a neighbor introduced Carmen to Norman F. Levy, a giant of mid-century New York City real estate, who, along with such titans as Harry Helmsley and Samuel LeFrak, had helped shape the city by filling its skyscrapers with blue-chip tenants. Then 80 and a widower, Levy had retired to a good life of travel, philanthropy, and passive investing, most notably with his best friend, Bernie Madoff.

On Valentine’s Day 1994, after four months of dating, Levy made what Carmen called his “grandstand play” for her affection. He instructed her to meet him at the office of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, in the Lipstick Building, the oval red-granite monolith at 53rd Street and Third Avenue designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. “Bring your checkbook,” he said.

Carmen arrived early, she remembered. “And there was a little man sitting behind a very big desk. ‘Are you Mr. Madoff?,’ I asked.”

“Yes, and I’m expecting you,” he said, his mouth pursed in what she would soon discover was his trademark smirk.

“In back of me, I hear this booming voice: ‘Did you bring your checkbook?’ I turned around and there was Norman, all six-foot-three, two-hundred-and-something pounds of him. ‘Yes, Norman, I did.’”

“Then write one out for $100,000,” Levy told her. Carmen couldn’t write a check for anywhere near that amount; she was still in arbitration after having lost most of her money in the stock market and having been forced to auction off her early modeling photographs at Sotheby’s the year before.

“Bernie Madoff chuckled and said, ‘Don’t worry, the money is there.’ He added, ‘Mr. Levy put it in your account.’”
Duchesse said…
Anjela: I'm sorry for anyone who got robbed by Madoff. Guess that's how a not especially tony Toronto Fashion mag got Carmen for a shoot. She got about 15 years of high returns before the axe fell, which is probably cold comfort unless she and others withdrew some of the earnings and enjoyed their gain.
Anjela's Day said…
I wouldn't mins some guy whom I had been dating for only three months to deposit hundreds of thousands of $$$$ in my bank account lol
Mary looks so beautiful and did it all by herself....
Duchesse said…
Anjela; Mary's fortune was from her Cuban husband. So few women of her era and even ours achieve wealth through their own work- but there will be more each decade, I have faith.
The Clever Pup said…

I see we both posted about Mary Gomez Cueto. Interesting to see how we both took the raw material (Mcleans?) and came up with a different post.

You must be Canadian - are you? I couldn't find your profile.

Micheline is an amazing looking woman- but she obviously does much, much more than the stretches she is alluding to keep her body in shape. She's more toned than most 25 year olds.

Magazines like Toronto Life FASHION etc. perpetuate the myth that 40 looks like this and 50 looks like that and only women between 25 and 35 have any business looking good. They use us as tokens.

A good-looking woman is a good-looking woman at any age. Most of the mothers of school age children in my neighbourhood are well into their 40s. One of my most despised phrases and I see it on the Sart a lot is "She looks good for her age" ARGH.

I'm creeping up to 50 and I don't intend to change at all. I'll keep on wearing lots of colour, keep my hair at a sexy length.- Individual clothing choices. All important at any age.
Duchesse said…
Clever Pup: Yes, I'm Canadian (and also American) and live in Toronto.

As indicated in the tiny print at bottom of post, sources are Reuters and The Telegraph.

I really don't like TL Fashion for the reasons you list, and that issue especially set me off.

At nearly 61 I am inured to the "looks good for her age" remark, as it is usually uttered by people who are too young to consider that they'll ever get there.

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