The Passage closes for a long summer walk

As usual, the Passage closes for July and August, re-opening September 3.

I'll be moving more and spending less time at a keyboard, a choice I find ever more important for all dimensions of health. 

When I read Susan Orlean's "The Walking Alive" in The New Yorker, I coveted her treadmill desk, but how do you get the notoriously finicky machinery repaired? (Shown, the TrekDesk, sold on Amazon for $479.)

While not required to pound out material or take notes for long stretches like Orlean, I can easily enter a seated trance, immobile for two or three hours– not good.

So I'm off for July and August to walk among birds, small children in ice-cream facepaint, tourists stalking poutine, tottering day campers and hand-holding summer students. Friends will visit, we'll walk up Mount Royal and down to Clock Tower Beach in the Old Port. Drop in to watch our son shucking oysters at Le Bremner.

Clock Tower Beach

For all that rambling, I found a terrific pair of shoes, the Timberland Discovery Point sandal. If I were Oprah, you'd all get a pair!

They have adjustable fasteners, great if your feel are not quite the same size, or swell in heat. They breathe (I wear them with cotton footlets), and have excellent shock absorption and support but don't look overtly orthopedic. All that for around $80 (and sometimes on sale for as low as $60 on Timberland's and Sears' sites.)


I'm wearing them with denim, linen pants and even casual dresses, like Montréal designer MycoAnna's "Fifties Dress". (Mine's on the left, there's a patch with a palm tree on it!)

Reversing the of the fall-through-spring routine, there'll be no computer screen; sunscreen. No mouse; my son's cat. No space bar; wine bar.

I'll be thinking of you as I walk, especially those who have made significant life passages in the last while. We have lost parents, partners. Decided to marry again, taken new jobs, started businesses, moved cities, welcomed grandchildren: the wheel turns, and I bow before its richness and inevitability.

I feel as if I know you, and appreciate each comment and post. 

Have a delicious summer and enjoy every raspberry; I'll be eager to see you in the Passage in September. 

The best way to return is to follow!

I've added Google Friend Connect and Follow by e-mail widgets (see right sidebar) or, if you prefer, move all blogs you follow to bloglovin' by clicking on this link.

Once there, you'll see the screen below; click on the blue button and you're done.

Montréal People: A penultimate perambulation

Penultimate is defined as "the next to the last" and today's is the next-to-last post for the summer, for which the Passage traditionally shutters.

Since you like to people-watch and requested more shots of women past 50, here's an assortment taken yesterday, on a cool, sunny morning at the Market.

An older woman in a pink jacket with a lace skirt– now that should inspire! Note that she has kept her stockings on, but they are sheer, to suit the airiness of the skirt.

Look at that gorgeous, thick grey-pearl hair! She looked so fresh in her pink skirt, sandals and toes set off by her striking inlaid bracelet.

I told her that her hair gave me hope; she said she's kept it blue for 30 years, does it herself with vegetable colour. Today will be re-colouring day, but I could still see that vibrant royal-blue swath. "C'est votre griffe" ("It's your signature") I suggested; she smiled in agreement.

On a redhead, I admired a bronze and cream palette; a pink printed scarf tied to her bag breaks up the matchiness and reminds me how much I like pink and cocoa.

Flowers on her blouse, and a hat that reminds me of '60s London: a distinctive ensemble. Who is she? I wondered, as I so often do.

Rounding towards home, I stopped at Joe la Croute, makers of breads that ensure I'll never, ever go no-carb! All bakers save Joe are women; one admitted she can eat a small loaf between the bakery and home.

I'll collect more shots over the summer and show them to you in September. Till then, happy people-watching of your own!

Elderhood: Preparing from the head and the heart

I have friends counting the months till retirement, and others who cringe at the word. The former group have lists of projects put off till this day, the latter love what they do so want to keep at it, or need to augment or replace savings.

Others were laid off and are now involuntarily retired as jobs remain few for the post-60 woman.

A post by the theologian and writer Matthew Fox explores the opportunity that comes at this point in life; playing with changing "retirement" to "refirement". The full post is here. Though aimed at retirees, many of his questions are also relevant for those in late career.
Fox's questions address contribution and engagement.  Some I could answer readily, others I'm sitting with.

1.  What is getting you angry and stirring you up? Is it education?  Ecology? Homelessness? Low voter turnout? Organize or join others in the struggle.

2.  What do you most cherish in life? How can you get another generation excited about that and involved?

3.  What fire do you sense in the young people you know? How can you join forces and contribute to their passion and concern?

4.  What books do you read or speakers do you listen to who stir some fire inside you? How can you share that fire with others?

5.  Some fire is cool (blue) and some fire is hot (orange, red). What are the cool fires burning in you?  How can you stoke them to a fuller heat and involve others in your interest?

6.  Creativity is a fire. How are you being creative? What art forms are you expressing yourself through these days?

7.  What are your talents and what is your experience in life that might be
valuable to others, especially the young?  How can you take this to them and
join them in their journey of self discovery and community building?

8.  In what ways are you an elder and not just a ‘retired person’?

9.  Have you found a young person (or persons) to mentor lately?  Go for it!

The wedding photo of my in-laws, who just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at a buoyant family party, reminds me of Fox's list.

They have been models of giving to their family and to the town in which they've spent all those years: the uncountable hours of volunteer work, the devoted attention to family (including a family friend who was an "adopted daughter"), a home filled with art and good cooking, books and late-night talks. Now in their 80s, they can look back on a life of service, love and prudent decisions, and plenty of fun.

They also represent a life many now say is a closed chapter: a hardworking father and stay-at-home mother, a rock-solid, defined government pension after decades of service with one employer.  

The new reality is outlined in a straight-shooting article by Jeff Sommer in the New York Times; he advises those with a million bucks in savings that they might want to keep working, because they could well outlive that nest egg. 

To anyone except the firmly well-off, Sommers delivers crisp advice: save as much as you can, prepare to work longer, and question how much you really need. I'd add, since the two biggest expense categories for seniors are housing and transportation, put those in your sights and resolve to get down to one or no car and a smaller space to maintain.

Fox is speaking to the heart, Sommers to the head. We need to heed both, as individuals and in community.  

What I'd like want to see most for my American family members is universal health insurance, and for me, living in Québec, the passage of the end-of-life bill.


La collectionneuse

Recent posts here and there remind me how many of us collect whatever: vintage film posters, good-luck Japanese cats, bakelite, old tools.

I've had my collector moments. Around age 25, I indulged in a raccoon fetish, and received many items emblazoned with the little bandits, from silver stickpin to tote bag. In my 30s, I began to acquire Clarice Cliff ceramics. One night a raucous party decimated my collection and I could never afford to restore it.   

Now, I wonder about the purpose of amassing a collection. (A collection differs from just a whole lot of it by nature of unified theme, period, material or maker.)

There is the completist's challenge, a stereotypically male preoccupation, though I know a woman who hunts objects from The Sands, a defunct Las Vegas casino. 

There's also the pleasure of abundance: a different vintage hankie for every day, a banquet's bounty  of place settings assembled from '20s plates.

A second reason is the building of value. A friend of my parents' funded his retirement via his rare book collection. If you are an astute collector of stamps, coins, fine pens, art or other objets, you can make money, though some collectors become welded to their prize, and what was begun as an investment becomes part of an identity.

For those with less lofty ambition, collecting becomes an excuse for consuming. Many women in their fifties and above suddenly look at their three dozen Krazy Kat clocks or a sagging cupboard stuffed with majolica and think, This was fun, but no longer. 

When you're in the collectionneuse mindset, you must have every shape of cookie cutter made (that's one of mine; I just remembered); therefore, any purchase is automatically valid. Just look on eBay and see how often something is touted using the words "rare" or "collectible".

Cookie cutters don't break the bank, but my friend Lois collected costume jewelery that typically cost $400-$1200 per item. One day she realized she had $25,000 worth of heavy pieces she never wore. Lois sold nearly everything to a dealer. Content with the proceeds, she says she's even happier to have four free dresser drawers.

Haydée Politoff in "La collectionneuse"
The title of this post comes from the arch 1967 Eric Rohmer film, La collectionneuse, in which a fey young woman collects lovers without any particular regard for value, but considerable attention to her pleasure. 

The fourth film in Rohmer's series of "Six Moral Tales", it profiles the amoral collector and her prey, as she pursues her full set in the Riviera sunshine.
Another terrific film, Utz (1992), adapted from a Bruce Chatwin story, has been called "the greatest film about collecting ever made". If you haven't seen it, you must... and I will only say that the film illustrates how, when serious collecting tips into obsession, it engenders greed, deception and blindness to any other pursuit.

Do you collect anything? What does your collection do for you?
Have you stopped collecting something? 

Looking private jet, flying economy

T, The New York Times Style Magazine, incites a bizarre, unslakable lust for an unknown stratosphere of luxury, at least for a couple of minutes. I try to use the content as inspiration rather than being only frustrated with the crazy prices. Sometimes I even succeed.

Aboard the Gulfstream

The "Time Traveler's Wardrobe" features the essentials in a jet-setter's weekend carry-on, but even my 1%er girlfriend Iris would think hard before dropping $23,000 on a Paul Morelli diamondback bracelet, stunning though it is.

The striped tee by Marimekko, $95: not as dizzingly pricey, but is the revered Finnish brand the only option for an ubiquitous style?

That top is worn with legging ankle jeans, price $168. The woman is not spending her dividends on meals, that's for sure.

Rebecca Minkoff enamel earrings are my taste, crisp and versatile–and at $46 feel practically given away.

Tod's are indeed luscious shoes; the tasseled coral flat exemplifies their offhandedly ritzy vibe. Price, $445.

The bag is Michael Kor's serene Miranda tote; price, $1,195.

Back on earth

While washing my windows, jets roaring overhead every few minutes, I thought about how I'd afford-ify this look to ride a city bus, and pondered, Are there some things you just can't find in a less costly version?

1. A striped tee from your favourite department store. This one is BCBG, on sale for $45 and I've seen decent ones for much less.

2. White jeans: You know where to get them; on sale by the end of the month; a mid-range pair might be $50-$60. Why pay $168 to squash the inevitable blob of blueberry on them?

3. The shoe: tart pomegranate ballet flats $145 at J. Crew. You can find cheap ballet flats but, if you love your feet, you're looking for a better-made model.

4. Now the hard part, that bracelet. The Morelli piece is just not knocked off successfully, so let's rock the resin. Alex Bittar's Durban Gunmetal Salamander bracelet has charisma too; there's something about salamanders and summer. But you could enjoy it in deep winter also, which means the price, $225, is less of a bite.

Still too steep? Some of you are fearless with the costume, and you I'm sending to the online trove Bauble Bar, where $30 gets you a hematite Zigzag Bangle.

5. The earrings: I'd buy the Minkoffs or these mini-pavé cone studs ($24, at BaubleBar.)
6. The bag: another tricky item to substitute. Like a broken heart, a subpar bag seems to follow you around way longer than you ever wanted.

I wouldn't expect to find the Miranda's fine Vachetta leather in a low-cost bag; I'd scout for another pale, summery material, raffia or straw with rich leather trim, like this vintage woven leather market tote, on Etsy for about $45 from GirlLeastLikely (last time I looked).

If you prefer leather, the Italian leather tote from Etsy seller farragobags2 is handmade from supple vegetable-tanned caramel leather (and available in other colours) for an eighth of the Miranda's tag, $150.

That particular T feature appealed to me more than their spreads of ballgowns or outré outfits; it's a look I relate to (minus the toothpick jeans)... but not at that price. 

Iris can buy those high-end items and still donate generously to causes, but most women are in my shoes, with saving and giving top of the list, and very few jet-set purchases in the equation.

There are even lower-cost strategies: consignment or thrifts, borrowing or fractional ownership. (Ellen shares a statement necklace bought with two sisters, four months each per year. She says it's a great solution.)

Do you adapt luxe looks to your budget? How do you do it?

Mabés: Shimmer on the half-shell

June is pearl month on the birthstone calendar, and also time for special-occasion gifts such as graduations and weddings, so I'm back with a bonus pearl post about a specific variety, the mabé pearl.

Mabés make a good gem buy for the price, given some discernment.  How much of a buy? The ring shown, from Ross-Simon, features a 15mm mabé set in silver, on sale for $75.

Mabés are made, like all cultured pearls, by introducing at least one nucleus (shell, plastic or other material) into the oyster, in this case, between the shell and the mantle, the part of the oyster that produces nacre. 

The mabé grows on the shell, rather than within the tissue, so it ends up attached there. Not any old shell, though; the mabé oyster is the Pterian penguin or penguin wing. The perfection of their pearly gifts began to hit the market in the '70s, when they began to be farmed in saltwater-pearl producing regions like Mexico, Tahiti, Thailand, China and Japan (Abalone shells can grow mabés too, but let's save those for another post.)

The term blister or half pearl is also used for mabés. The photo above shows that one shell can yield several mabés.

Months to years after implanting, the producer harvests the oyster, cuts away the blister, trims it, fills the hollow dome of the pearl with an epoxy resin, and applies a mother-of pearl back. The finished pearl looks like a plump, nacre-covered pillow. (The technique is also used to create fancy shapes like hearts, Xs, Buddhas, stars.)

The nacre of that oyster variety creates intense rainbow overtones and wild iridescence in the best examples. I've seen mabés that look almost back-lit with swirling greens and blues, or intense rose overtones shimmering with green-gold flashes. Some producers dye mabés (usually blue) or enhance colour by placing a deeply-coloured material under the blister; such treatment should be disclosed.

Because producers don't have to create spheres, mabés are far cheaper than round pearls, but the spectacular, undyed examples can get up there. The mabé is a kind of composite pearl; the gemstone equivalent is the doublet, in which a thinner layer of material such as ruby is applied to a base of less-costly stone like quartz. (Some pearl experts, like Sara Canizzaro of Kojima Company, do not consider mabés to be genuine pearls. They are more like 'cultured pearl byproducts'.)

They will be set to cover the back, in a bezel or recessed setting. Mabés are popular for pendants, where a flat back is often preferred. The gold and silver mabé ring above, designed by Steve Crawford, is offered by Australian jeweler Panda Pearls; price, $245 (AUS).

A Balinese silver cocktail ring with a blue square mabé, a big splash of cocktail in your glass for $99.99 from Novica artist Diah Ayu.

Ah, vintage, ahhhh, Beladora!  Their mabé and diamond ring's both subtle and a knockout at once, an Ingrid Bergman pearl. (And who is her equal today?) Though radiating mid-century glamour, it's tailored enough to not require full evening clobber. (Price, $1,850.)

If you have your own design ideas, one of the reputable dealers who sell loose mabés is Carolyn Ehret, who maintains an eBay store, Ehret Design Gallery. Here's an example, wildly glowing Sea of Cortez mabé, 15 x 17mm, BIN price $89.

Keep a lookout for richly-hued mabés. Dull or cheaply-made pieces have, in the past, tarred then with a head-shop rep, but in good hands, a mabé delivers pearly pleasure for far less than other varieties. Mabé's affordability is a secret among fine jewelers.

Now you know, too!

Slow train to the fast city

When we traveled to New York several weeks ago, we took the Amtrak Adirondack, heralded as one of the world's ten most beautiful train rides.

The 500km trip takes...eleven hours. Seventy-five to ninety minutes are spent parked at the border while customs inspectors board to check passports. Nearly all the rest is spent rolling through spectacular scenery, from Lake Champlain through the Adirondack Mountains to the dramatic Hudson River Valley. The train travels so close to lakes and rivers that I felt I'd be splashed if the windows opened.

I loved the leg room, the views, time to read, nap or chat. Always a fan of rail travel, the slow roll scratched my train itch; the only thing I disliked was the food choice in the café car, so we picknicked on the way home. The fare, $120/person return, was a quarter of a plane ticket.

(It's one of my regrets that I never made the trip on the now-discontinued overnight train; apparently it was a wild party, a congenial salon, a romantic romp, or sometimes all three.) 

Boarding at about 9:30 am. in Montréal, we arrived in Penn Station around 8:30 pm., just in time for dinner. (The NYC-Montréal leg departs and arrives about an hour earlier.) 

In transit, I could pick out every Montréaler by their long scarves, wrapped at the neck. 

Once in New York, I tried to winnow tourists from locals and parse differences. The teeming streets enable looking without overt ogling. When the population of a small town is standing at a traffic light, there's lots to consider.

In the five years since my last visit, I noticed a few changes:

1. Way more cyclists, which leads to...
2. More women wearing pants, outnumbering skirts by about 3:1. Pants are mostly bike-friendly dark.
3. Sticker shock for "artisanal" or handcrafted items, from cookies to pendants, perhaps due to insanely high rents.
4. Where tourists go, brands follow, which is why Chanel and St. Laurent are in Soho. Brand saturation drains the lifeblood from a neighbourhood's character.

Clothes haven't changed much in years: pencil skirts, narrow pants, blazers. There is more East Coast conservatism in NYC than in Montréal. Many are still switching into sneakers for the trek home.

Looking fresh: cropped jeans or pants and heels with a tailored shirt and great belt, often studded or embossed. At Rag and Bone, this orange double-buckle stood out; price is about $215; also available at Sak's.

Coloured denim downtown, indigo uptown. White denim micro-shorts on young, trim women and a few who are not, but go for it anyway.

I didn't see a single female in a hat (a hazard in the subway), perhaps because I was there during the work week. Many women are carrying totes in addition to their handbags, one bag per shoulder, which makes them look like bikes with loaded panniers. "Little dresses"–the shirtdress or shift–are charming on young Peggy Olsens; impeccable skirted suits still inhabit Wall St. 

A woman in a classic suit, but made of coral-striped seersucker embroidered with tiny mint-green dots on the jacket only, and accented with jade-green low heels, made me smile, and she knew why. 

4. Big chunky bracelets and necklaces in resin or plastic: metal has taken summer vacation!

I dropped by any number of indy jewelry boutiques in Greenwich Village, Soho and Gramercy Park, but found much overpriced and overdesigned, compared to cool and casual items like this $35 lucite spike bracelet by Adia Kibur:

At breakfast one morning, I admired my neighbour's elegant, modern watch, which I noticed as she leafed through the paper, waiting to start a business meeting. She told me it was by Balenciaga, the Acier, in gold-tone mesh. (Good. I wouldn't walk around any large city in an eye-catching gold watch.) 
Balenciaga "Acier" in gold tone

Sizing up the boutiques, the scene largely sorted into two camps: either preppy-punchy retro Tory (Burch) or super-skinny hip Isabel (Marant). 

C. Wonder sleeveless shirtdress, $128 at

The glut of disposible fashion (Uniqulo, C. Wonder, Zara, Club Monaco) melted  into a jangly bright blur. I stayed away from those as well as the temples of luxury (Bergdorf's, Hermès, etc.) which would no doubt deliver strict, beautiful clothes. 

This was not a shopping trip, but one boutique, Maraym Nassir Zadeh, pulled me in magnetically when I saw Carven's skirt, quirky and surprisingly wearable. Too short, and at $490, not an impulse purchase! I was happy to learn the shop has an online option.

There is a third genre in NYC, found on mainly 50+ women: the flowy Eileen Fisher/Japanesey look, some of it appealing and a good deal, dull. What reads serene and refined in the store, where all the assistants looked like yoga teachers and addressed me with gentle good will, does not translate perfectly to the street. 

This ensemble by Nu (at Yaso, in Soho) could work... or not. I saw a woman trying things; she wasn't distinguishing between loose and too big. The sales staff proffered vague smiles and that infuriating question, "What do you think?" Where is Stacey London when you need her?

It takes a good eye for proportion, plus some jewelry, to pull this off without looking like you were recently expelled from a monastery. 

Home again, we found that chère Christine, taking her own holiday with a friend, had left our apartment in better condition than she found it (what a perfect guest!); the only thing missing was the chance to see her.

What to wear to a wedding when a little dress won't do

Lorrie is attending a wedding in Chicago next month. She's longtime friend of the bride's mother, two daughters, and their stepfather.

"I went to their youngest's wedding last September", she said, "but I hated what I wore. All the other women had those little narrow dresses, the above-the-knee kind–and I wore a calf-length full skirt. I felt dowdy." 

She topped it with a rather boxy short jacket in one of the colours of the floral skirt. It was a cobbled-together misstep, because she left planning the outfit till practically the day of the flight. I've been there too: dithering, avoiding shopping, finally making do with something

The other women's dresses were pastel or summer-bright sheaths, the afternoon-wedding staple, familiar and popular as the Wedding March.

Dress, Tahari,

So why was Lorrie in that skirt? She doesn't want to show her legs, which she deems her worst feature, citing varicose veins topped by what she calls "Knish Knees". She also has problem feet and can't wear heels.

I thought of several solutions for the upcoming 'resort elegant' afternoon garden wedding and evening reception.

A narrow ankle pant with a special dress/tunic or floaty jacket over it gives coverage where she wants it.

She could choose a soft jacket that doesn't read I-just-came-from-the-office, in a non-neutral shade. Eileen Fisher's ombré silk jacket and ivory silk pant is a contender, and she'd get a lot of wear from each piece.

Shown as a dress, there's no reason this knee-length Marina Rinaldi tunic wouldn't waft over the ivory pants, and the hydrangea is fresh.

An embellished long jacket, the kantha stitch coat by East UK, pops the champagne with boho brio. (Again, worn with the ivory pant and a shell.)

If Lorrie really wants to wear a skirt, I'd look for an ensemble with a fitted top.  The colours aren't perfect for a wedding, but something like Caroline Charles' design avoids a mumsy line. It would also show off her trim waist and defined shoulders.

Or a dress

Her dress is a matter of finding the right cut. She could go long, just not too evening-y, to get the coverage she so wants. This silk Samovar print from East UK has it nailed: graceful silk fabric, showing just enough (in this case, arms, a slight scoop back and ceremony-appropriate décolleté) but it's not too  formal. (It would also be fine for an informal evening wedding.) Available in sizes 8 to 20.

I also showed her J. Peterman's  French toile dress, which she'd accessorize with a light wrap and her wide-brimmed white straw hat. She liked it so much she ordered it and says she will keep it even if she chooses something else for the wedding.

Weddings are happy affairs, sentimental and significant. For such moments, we need joyful clothes (unless it's like my first one, when my mother wore black and cried nonstop.) But I digress. 

Lorrie says this time she's finding her graceful piece and kicking up her heels, along with the guests in little dresses.