Udeman: Van Morrison

I haven't written a Udeman homage for some time; longtime readers know the drill: a man over 50 with talent, physical appeal and (the Udeman pinnacle) uncontrived menschiness.

Van the Man has been under consideration for Udeman status for years. My friends who have met him might challenge his elevation, for he is by reports short on criterion #3, reportedly quite difficult, a hairtrigger temper twinned with huge ego. He does not issue adorable quotes about how much he owes to his beloved partner; he's not described as kindly.

What Van has: a
mighty intensity of soul welded to songwriting artistry that still moves me to a nearly altered state. A voice that comes from the sensual/spiritual core. Squat and solid, he stands on stage like a man lashed to a mast, and when he feels like it, delivers a fervent witnessing of life that few feel, let alone summon.

He is usually on people's "Music I Would Take to a Desert Island" lists; if I could not take the actual music, I'd replay it in my head.

Born in Belfast of parents of Scots descent, Morrison has said he has "the spirit of Caledonia"–the ancient Roman name for Scotland and Northern Britain–in his soul.

I've attended Van Morrison concerts without Van in attendance, and others where he barely looked at the audience. But a world without Van would be a few blue hues less splendid. Hundreds of artists cover his music, but few offer more than a respectable shadowing.

"Music is spiritual. The music business is not."

- Van Morrison

Listen to the Van the Man's phrasing on "There'll be Days Like This"

The ascendance of silver

With gold at record-high prices, sterling silver is becoming the favored alloy for both professional jewelry designers and their customers.

I'm wearing more silver, enjoying its relaxed quality and the presence a substantial piece lends without evident glitz.

A few outstanding pieces for your pleasure:

Silver and pearls, grace and grit

An Andrea Piccini sterling and pearl ring shows that silver need not be austere; price,$550 from Luisaviaroma. The ring comes in two finishes, palladium, the white-metal finish that looks like white gold, or ruthenium, which creates a medium-dark gray metal.

These coatings are increasingly used in designer silver jewelry not to disguise the material, but to produce colours other than silver-silver, and to resist tarnish.

Andrea Piccini ring

Deliberately tarnished for texture

Silver oxidizes (or tarnishes) it is exposed to oxygen. You may not like that black stuff on your silverware, but jewelers are deliberately oxidizing sterling to create contrast and depth, as shown by Pamela Love's Triple X cuff, very cool. Price, $1,240 at net-a-porter.

Pamela Love cuff

Not much is made that's chic as than Bottega Veneta's oxidized silver coil bracelet in its famous intrecciatto weave, available in three sizes, at BV or net-a-porter (in small only); price, $2,250.
Bottega Veneta bracelet

If you want to oxidize your own too-shiny silver beads or other pieces, you can do it yourself using an egg! Here's how.

Silver with gold 

Combining silver and gold in a piece takes a keen sense of design and balance. Jeremy Heber shows how in his gold domes ring, a sterling shank tipped with 9ct gold ends. The ring is available in fine and more substantial weights, too. The larger ring is around £85 from Church House Jewellery.

Jeremy Heber ring from Church House Jewellery

Silver and diamond

Another Jeremy Heber design, the Pirouette pendant, shows the appeal of silver and diamonds. You don't want to set a big diamond directly in silver, especially in a ring, where the soft silver would not stand up to knocking around. But a 2 pt. sparkler in a pendant? Simple and smart. Price, £75.

Jeremy Heber Pirouette pendant

Stamps and seals 

Silver and stamping were made for each other; Auroro Lopez-Mejia's concave Spiral Cross-Stamped Pendant is stamped with evocative imperatives: "the biggest risk in life is not risking... infinite" and on the reverse, "heart-the vital part-invincible: that which cannot be conquered-imagine: to paint with the mind-courage-spirit-love-life". 

A large pendant (diameter, 1 1/4 inches) with a substantial message, on a 32-inch leather thong. Price, $440 from Twist.

Aurora Lopez-Meija pendant

Wax seals in the style of Vancouver cult jeweler Pyrrha, whom I've mentioned in a post about amulets, are more affordably rendered by another Canadian designer, Etsy seller beadsss of Edmonton, Alberta. I like the Compass Rose wax seal necklace in antiques (oxidized) finish; comes with a 16 or 18-inch silver chain, $$39 ($2 more for 18-inch chain.) (Pendant is about the size of a nickel.)

A beautiful gift for a friend embarking on a real or metaphorical journey.

Compass Rose pendant by beadsss

Pyrrha's work is especially refined, so I wanted to show their Crown Wax Seal Studs, which symbolize "dignity and accomplishment". An upcoming graduate would treasure these. Price, $206.

Stellar silver: I'll share more finds with you as I find them. And thank you to the many readers who've shared your favourite artisans. That's what the Passage is here for!

Rain shoes, shine shoes

I bought a pair of rain shoes. Can there be a more utilitarian purchase?

The last rain shoes, bought ca. 1990 from Land's End, were so ugly that I wore them maybe three times. But after too many outings with wet, cold feet, I caved.
What I bought

My $80 got me stalwart Bogs Rue in green. I refuse to count these as new shoes, they are only umbrellas for my feet!

I would much, much rather spend my always-too-restricted shoe budget on sunny day shoes for spring.

What I waaaaant

These Marnis stopped me in my tracks passing a local boutique, Specchio, home shoe salon of the elegantly-shod Christine. At $750, I'd have to wear them for a decade (maybe life?) or display and charge for viewing. Those corkscrews of ribbon are a luscious shrimpy colour, an interesting neutral. 

Marni kiltie sandal

I also lust for the pearly blush and black Marni sandals. These are so me; the price tag ($525), not so much.
Plush suede peeptoes

Or... buttery suede to caress my feet; Marni again. Price, $550; these better not get wet, but I do have my rain shoes.

You get what you pay for in the shoe world; a stroll by popular-priced windows did not raise my pulse.

After I bought the damn rain shoes, I met my GF Mar for tea. We sat in front of Ron White's window and eyed these Lip Gloss pumps, $635.

Vavoom pompom pumps

Mar said she'd seen the very shoes on a woman our age the night before at the opera, worn with a close-fitting black knit dress. "She looked fantastic till she had to walk", said Mar, "and then she kind of teetered."

You can get a rain shoe with attitude. Example: Aquatalia's Golden waterproof heeled clog, in lime or black, $225 from Aquatalia or stockists.
Rockin' the rain

Or there's the red patent Grab bootie, $265, in deep ruby. If I could handle heels, I'd get these (but would still want the Marnis).

Grab bootie by Aquatalia

If you see me jumping through April showers in sturdy Bogs, supress a smile. By the time we see May flowers, I'll find a really pretty pair. 

Espadrilles: The sole of summer

Love them, buy them, toss when grungy. Squash down the heels and wear like mules. Choose oddball colours. Have another panachée. Unbutton the extra button, wear hibiscus polish, take a siesta.

Welcome to espadrille time, the attitude for lighthearted leisure or very casual workplaces (though I find them more office friendly than flip-flops.)

Not shoes for all day sightseeing– though they do have more sole than paper-thin ballerinas. If you want to espa-up in your fresh pedicure, pick open-toed ones. They stow well in a bag, live happily on a boat and best of all, you can choose your colours from a variety of vendors.

Boho Bernarda

Bistro dinner: The Bernarda from Espadrillesetc. Just enough height for dresses, and look at that merry stripe! Price, $56 plus s&h.

Mariola in blue

Trip to the market: Mariola, shown in blue denim, comes in a bouquet of hues, with a slight (1 1/2 inch) wedge; price, $32, from Espadrillesetc.

Simple classic denim

Game of bocce: Simple flat espadrilles from Ropey Soles, a UK site. Shown, their simple model in "jeans", price, £11.99. I've had excellent customer service from this company.
Peep-toe pinks

Lawn party: Open-toe two-inch wedge in orchid, from Ropey Soles; price, £24.99.

Tropical turquoise

For the entire family: With sizes up to EU48, another UK firm, Espadrille, puts casual chic on everyone's foot. This classic turquoise pair is £18.

Jazzy jute

Jazz bar: Hand-painted espadrilles produced to your specifications by a Barcelona cartoonist and artist, Kookookookie. Contact Mr. K. for prices and see his site for inspiration. 

Insouciant, inexpensive, eco-friendly: the signature of summer in a little canvas shoe. I like its American cousin, the Converse, too, but espadrilles are definitely more feminine in their flirtier varieties. 

I'm preparing an order, to summon the glorious season just over the horizon of a cold, sleety spring.

Jewelry: Repurposed beauty

Etsy is stuffed with jewelry made from bits and pieces: stray stones, findings, watch parts, found objects. Some if it is awkward, a marriage that should never have happened. But you can find treasures from vendors who display a refined sense of design and solid technique. In their hands, assembled pieces sing.

Though the approach appeals to the recycler, to earn a place in the Passage, assemblages need to be pleasing enough to stand on their own. Here are some that made the cut.

Decoupage clock on brass locket

Vintage '70s brass locket on chain, with a decoupaged clock on the front, sprinkled with soft roses. Whimsy, romance and repurposing, who can resist? Price, $34.50 from PreciousPastimes.

Charms that began life as earrings!

A vintage silver charm bracelet made of charms and vintage earrings. What a great idea: remove the screw back and earring becomes charm. (And if you lose an earring, here's a new home for the remaining one.) On a heavy 8-inch silver bracelet; price, $300 from apurplepalm.

Pearls and a vintage medal

This necklace is called "The Instant Antidepressant" and it certainly made me smile. A triple strand of champagne, brown and taupe freshwater pearls and crystal rondelles, with a vintage sterling and rose gold medal (ca. 1926) for a pendant. Price, $175 from Victory Jewelry Design.

Silver shield watch fob

A sterling silver 26-inch chain with a vintage silver watch fob makes a classic, timeless pendant. Price, $45 from BlackSparrowJewelry.

Sporty vintage knife pendant
MilleniumAssembly make magical marriages of old elements; I especially like this Game On necklace, with nickel-silver chain with red and blue glass inlay and an old enameled pocket knife decorated with sports symbols. Everything is distressed, a story as well as a piece. Price, $145. 

Charm bangle with Black Madonna

A hammered silver bangle-style charm bracelet with antique silver skeleton key, Madonna, Thai silver bead, Indian dancer's bell... and a plumb bob, why not? Price, $114 from deserttalismans.

These pieces are one of a kind, so if it's is sold, don't weep. Something similar is often available, and most designers are happy to receive commissions. You could supply a few of your own fragments to incorporate into the design.

Crafted from odd elements, the pieces carry more character than pristine jewelry-counter purchases. If the designer has the eye and the hands, you've found an idiosyncratic treasure.

Susan Jacoby's "Never Say Die"

We've recently explored how to be cool at 50+ (and whether that's a viable idea).

In the midst of last week's discussion, CBC Radio's Jian Ghomeshi interviewed Susan Jacoby, author of  "Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age".

You can hear the 18-min. segment here, (click the grey box for the pop-up podcast); as they say about old age itself, it's not for sissies.  

She especially knocks boomer-aged "hucksters of longevity" who apply the age defying claim to drugs and cosmetics.

For Jacoby, poverty is a deep concern, especially when 75% of elders over 85 are women. If we can live in pleasant housing, visit our grandkids, buy wholesome food and augment support services, we'll will vastly improve life should we get that far.

Meanwhile, "threshold seniors" aged 55-65 are being sold luxury cruises because "after all these years, you deserve it". If you can fund a decent life into your 90s and perhaps beyond (100+ is the fastest-growing age cohort in North America), bon voyage.

Otherwise, consider a weekend in the country instead.

Susan Jacoby
Jacoby concedes that drugs and surgeries like hip replacements have improved life for the people in their 60s and 70s. She's hardly alone in yearning for breakthrough therapies for Alzheimer's and related disorders, the illness seniors fear more than cancer.

But there are other, less dramatic ways to improve life for elders, action we can take within our communities.  

I'm looking forward to necessity driving changes in housing, such as co-housing, infill "granny flats", vacation housing exchanges, elder camps.

Chair-assisted yoga
Also on my wish list: the return of house calls, washable winter coats, more yoga and meditation classes for seniors (with fees scaled to income) and the removal of teal and dusty rose florals from the colour scheme of any retirement home.

Those $50 PCs invented in India? That and a modem can decrease mental stagnation, loneliness and isolation. I'd love to see these installed and serviced by a squad of volunteer youths. (Resemblance to Albert, the Philly Cream Cheese Angel a bonus.)

Its time to identify and demand what we want now, while we have the ability to influence. What products and services would improve the quality of life in your elder years?

Chic and cool: What's the factor?

A request from an Anonymous commenter: "I would still like to explore the question....what is the chic, cool factor for those of us of a certain age?" She adds, "I know all the basics and practice them" and also says "This much I know is true...shades *sunglasses* are always cool." 

Queen of Rock
All I know today, in the midst of packing and fighting a flu, is that chic and cool are different. A woman in a Lanvin suit and Louboutins is likely chic but not cool.

Yesterday afternoon, I took a break to catch Oprah's "Rock Goddesses" show. Joan Jett: deeply cool, but not chic, unless you pronounce that "chick".

Salt N' Pepa: hootchie hot rather than cool, but I couldn't take my eyes off them. Pat Benetar looked like a high school principal, though, and Stevie Nicks eludes any category other than "the Stevie Nicks look".

Queen of England
You can be chic in one world, but other people think you're not: HRH Queen Elizabeth, for example. They should try to be this chic at 85.

Some women possess the intersection of both qualities: Patti Smith, Jane Birkin, Lauren Hutton.

So, back to Anon's question: What is the chic, cool factor for those of us of a certain age?

Besides shades.

Enamoured of enamel: Part Two, Pieces

Part Two of a two-part post.

Enamel pieces abound at all price points but it's not worth even considering the cute Target bangles, which will chip faster than $2 nail polish. I will show the magnificent Tiffany Schlumberger bracelet to show how superb enamel glows. (Price, $31,200.)

Here are two pieces from
  Beladora; Belle offers such gorgeous vintage choices.

A ca. 1970 bangle, half jade and half enameled silver, with an exotic orchid motif; price, $499. I'm not naming names, but take your $500 to certain jewelers and see what you get. This is from the Beladora2 site.

Belle also has, on Beladora, this soigneé set of woven enamel clip-back earrings and ring (size 5 3/4). Evah so Palm Beachy, at an eminently reasonable $1,250. Jeans, pale blue shirt and these...

I'm showing the detail of the shell on Aurelie Bidermann's pendant; the cyclamen pink pop on an 18 1/2 inch orange cord makes a summer passepartout piece. From Netaporter; price, $79.

The Kate Spade "Idiom" bangle uses epoxy resin (sometimes called "cold enamel".) It's durable, made from the same kind of product you'd use to repair a porcelain sink. This bracelet shows another feature of enamel: you can enjoy a big, graphic piece for a modest cost. Price, $78 from Nordstrom. Mixes well with other bangles, but wear chain bracelets on your other wrist.

Enamel creates a dramatic backdrop for stones. I like these enamel, ruby and diamond hoops, especially the scattered in-and-out setting. On sale for $239 from Buy.com.

I admire elegant old pieces and treasure an enameled dragonfly brooch that was my mother's. 
Here's a similar one, of silver with green, gold and orange enamel. 1 3/4" across. From Argo & Lehne Jewelers, price, $237.

Beladora again, with a piece of particular charm: an Art Nouveau fly bar brooch with emerald eyes. We share a love of Deco and Nouveau birds and bugs. Price, $795.

If you find an enamel piece at a jumble or church sale, snap it up. A bit of crazing (the network of fine cracks) can add to the vintage charm and small chips can be repaired, but stay away from dents and damage to clasps or hinges. (Soldering can wreck enamel.)

Enamel work is under-appreciated by the bling crowd, its aesthetic deeply admired by women who prize artistry over carat weight. Might that be you?

Enamoured of enamel: Part One, The Art

Part One of a two-part post on enamel jewelry.

Not nail enamel, which I like well enough, but enameled jewelry.

Enamel is the way to wear colour, whether in delicate or large pieces. Interest is reviving in this relatively environment-friendly material, but wonderful pieces can be found (especially enamel on silver) in the three-digit range.

Well-applied enamel lasts for generations but should not be worn stacked or against other metals (especially chains) or dropped. As you would expect, earrings, pins and necklaces endure in better shape than rings or bracelets.

Damaged enamel can be repaired by craftsmen; one source is the London jeweler Hirschfeld's.

Enamel has cachet.
It's not a me-too material, more subtle than stones. The designer must apply supreme workmanship to achieve depth and glow. Enamel is made with heat, but it's cool.

Enamel terms

Enameling is the application of finely-ground glass powders to metal.

Cloisonné is the oldest form, made by placing enamel within cells (cloisons), rather like a honeycomb. The polished metal wires of the cloisons form part of the design. The earrings shown were used by King Tutankhamun in his lifetime, and are vibrant today.

Guilloché is an engraving technique on metal, which may then be enameled. A guilloché piece has characteristic depth and movement. The engraving and enamel of Fabergé eggs was the first pairing of the two techniques.

Shown, Ivar Holt vintage Norwegian guilloché enamel pin, about 2 12.2 by 1 1/4 inches; enamel on sterling; price, $165 from Deja Voodo.

Champlevé means "raised plane"; the technique applies recesses in the form of pattern or design to the metal, with enamel packed into these areas.

Arnie Bender's 22k gold initial ring, with
engraved champlevé enamel, shows how enamel enhances gold. (Photo retrieved from Allan Heywood Enamels, a marvelous site for viewing modern enamel work.)

Painted enamel applies enamel on top of the metal, to create a surface "painting"; shown, Hermès "Capitales" bracelet. Some contemporary pieces are still done completely by hand, but many–including Hermès'–are made by a combination of decal and hand work, just like patterns on porcelain.

Plique a jour
is essentially cloisonneé with no backing, so the enamel glows like the stained glass in a window, a refined technique. The backing burns off in the firing, a complicated process. Shown, a scarab brooch with plique a jour wings (and champlevé body) by Bernard Doherty.

What to look for

Regardless of enamel technique, the enamel should be vibrant, with depth and life. The colours should be even, without darker edges from careless firing. A little hairline cracking in antique pieces adds to the charm; hold the piece and examine the surface for glue or fillers, which will dull the finish.

Look at the work of recognized enamelists (like those by the Oslo company David-Andersen, shown) to hone your eye. You can then swoop on enamel; unsigned but lovely pieces turn up in vintage stores and church bazaars. Shown, enamel D-A fish pin from Jennifer Lynn's Timeless Jewelry; price, $250.

Tomorrow: Part Two, Pieces
I'll show you some interesting items at various price points.