Scarves: Spring's special textiles, gently priced

A lighter-weight scarf snuggles your neck during a cool, damp spring; now that we have put away the type I call "baby blankets", it's time to check the Passage's windows for beautiful textiles that cost under $100 (minus postage). 

Etsy is a terrific resource, but you still have to sift through a vast virtual pile. The blurry abstract motifs shown on luxury-scarf sites are not as deftly executed on Etsy; there's a lot of earnest handpainting. But some of those high-end pieces on sites like Lilogi will date faster than a timeless ikat or geometric. 

You could also go the jumble sale, consignment or thrift route, but I'm showing scarves that do not depend on serendipity to meet your lovely neck.

Let's window shop in the Passage!

Essence of spring, in silk

Cinne Worthington makes what I call Composed Scarves, mixing different luxe fabrics; shown, a Cavalli print with a botanical. Most of her scarves are narrow and long, 4 in. x 72 in., so can also be worn as belts or a head wrap, which I admired ardently in a photo. This piece is $69. 

Ethereal natural dyes

Hiroko Inuma of Tokyo works with natural dyes; often these pieces are expensive because of the labour in creating the infusions. HiRoKoJapan has made a linen scarf with soft apricot/coral loquat. The balance, the weight— the scarf blisses me out. Price, $82.

Hip photo print

A South Beach surf hut on wafty silk chiffon from London-based artists LifeandLibertyCo; price $69, and big enough (100cmx200cm) to wear as a sarong.

Geometric goodies

A soft cotton scarf travels well, you can crumple-twist or wear it pressed. Handblock prints are among my favourite textiles, and the grey and ochre is fresh and versatile. The "Calvi" scarf is half the price of a similar one I saw in an upscale boutique last weekend and every bit as insouciant. From Etsy seller graymarket; price $45.

A happy striped linen scarf would make a cool gift; price, $28 from DokumaAtelier, a Turkish shop. It would be hard to choose just one!

Claire Gaudion is a UK designer whose palettes draw me in; her colours breathe. The "Pleinmont" is a silk/wool neckerchief, 65cm square, ideal 'tucker' size.  Price, $42.

Not sari

I bought a few of these in India and think they're fantastic buys: light, warm, vibrant and washable (in a lingerie bag.) The recycled sari silk scarf is hand-quilted in "kantha" style, with a straight running stitch in contrast thread. From Delhi, two spring palettes, leaf green and pink. Price, $12 from Handcraftsvilla.

Infinite grace

Japanese fabrics feature breathtaking palettes, and an infinity scarf stays around your neck without tying. Japanese silk vintage kimono scarf from BrauvalStock; price, $60.

Step lightly; listen to the birds singing, don't forget your umbrella and enjoy every scarf in your drawer, new or old. Few items of apparel add so much pleasure for a relatively modest investment.

Rant: Rewriting "Hallelujah" is just wrong

At least five friends and acquaintances have posted a viral video of a priest officiating at a wedding ceremony in Ireland. Father Ray Kelly surprised the couple, Chris and Leah O'Kane, with a version of Leonard Cohen's much-loved (and covered) "Hallelujah".

Father Kelly has a pleasing tenor; the song obviously was a showstopper. But Father sang new words, substituting the most banal lyrics imaginable in place of the keening original.

Cohen's lyrics read, in part:
"Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.."

In only one stanza, Cohen limns anguish, eros and weariness, a hard road both forward and back. 

I went a bit wild when I heard Father Kelly sing, instead:

"We join together here today
To help some people on their way
As Leah and Chris start their life together
And now they've reached their special day
We've come to help them celebrate
And show them how much we all love them to you..."

As my father would say, Christ on a cracker! This is wrong for so many reasons  I have to get my blood pressure down before I can enumerate them.

First, you don't mess with an artist's work, especially one who is still performing, holding the copyright and writing a zillion percent better than one Lucy Pitts-O'Connor, who wrote the lyrics when she was ten, for her godmother's wedding.

If you are going to mess with the lyrics, think twice unless you can bend them into a parodic and/or eccentric mind-eff (think Tim Minchin), which is unlikely if you have spent the last 25 years in a cassock. Otherwise, respect the integrity of the work.

KD Lang did it, Jeff Buckley did it, Matthew Schuyler on "The Voice" did it,  Jon Bon Jovi (surprisingly moving) did it, even freaking Celine Dion represented when she crashed the Canadian Tenor's performance on Oprah.

As several persons who received this rant in person said, But, Father didn't mean any harm! He was just trying to do something nice! And the couple loved it!

I too think he had the best intentions. However, I wonder what would happen if a couple approached their friendly singing pastor and said, "You know "Ave Maria"? Great chord progression, but the lyrics are a buzzkill. We'll make it about the wedding, not Mary. I've put in our names! Waddya say, Father?"

Cohen wrote seventy verses over three years, and distilled two full notebooks into an anthem of anguish and hope. 

He has said,"I feel myself a very minor writer. I've taken a certain territory, and I've tried to maintain it and administrate it with the very best of my capacities. And I will continue to administrate this tiny territory until I'm too weak to do it. But I understand where this territory is." 

Leonard Cohen, performing "Hallelujah" live:

Montréal People: At an exhibition

On a cold, sleety afternoon (snow on April 15!), Marina, Diane and I went to the exhibition of the Scottish painter Peter Doig at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts; if you live in striking range, go to be drenched by colour, moved by mystery and transported by his remarkable vision. You can see more of his work,exclusive articles and notices of upcoming exhibitions at

Peter Doig, Grand Rivière
And, museums are prime people-watching spots, so let's look! We were still in the grip of frigid weather so you will see few spring ensembles, but, typical of the city, plenty of verve.

I was struck by how much red the crowd wore. Below, a big bag and plump scarf lifted all-black:

Red also showed up in a fire-engine hue, which she wore beautifully, with a short classic black blazer and elegant boots:

A black jacket and long paisley scarf: great way to wear a big rectangular piece if you don't need to swaddle your neck:

But one woman courted spring in a light, flower-sprigged skirt below her black jacket, playing with mood and texture. Her friend wore a Montréal uniform, the big wrapped muffler:

Marina in one of her several newsboy caps, which has tiny sparkles woven into the tweed, and a dark-red sweater:

A marinière, ideal transitional piece—and can you see the little ruffled little hem?

I loved the body language of this kilted schoolgirl in her tartan vest and flower-patterned boots:

And also that of the young lovers, always a sweet sight but especially endearing in a museum:


 Diane wore an olive fatigue jacket...

...and if she looks happy here, she was even more so after we introduced her to Shanghai-style soup dumplings after the show!

Girls' Weekend in the mountains

I was honoured to be invited to an all-women's weekend at my son's sweetie's mother and aunt's country home, an airy, embracing year-round home on a mountain-ringed lake a few hours' drive north of Montréal. Here's the magical view from the front deck; this winter, the Laurentians were still abundantly snowy in early April.

Welcome to Girlfriend Heaven: seven convivial women, rafts of prosecco, good food that didn't require more than casual cooking, Audrey Hepburn movies and a Bob Marley-to-Motown soundtrack. 

What do women talk about, relieved of the busy-ness of work and family? Politics of all sorts; philosophy; how much work a movie star can have done before she's unrecognizable; tales of newfound love and longtime ones; the joys and thumps of being on your own past 50.

We toasted milestones: H. is days away from becoming a grandmother; I. is about to publish her tenth book and invited us to choose the cover art: N. is newly empty-nested and designing her own apartment. Another will soon join a new partner in his home, her love for him greater than his for bold wallpaper.

In French and English—but also Italian, Russian, Greek and Pig Latin—women told jokes, described births, mourned parents, shared scandalously funny  stories that I cannot report here, but will only say: Bill Clinton? Just as you always suspected. 

Deep issues were resolved: whether DIY haircolour is Russian Roulette, and whether there is life after death. The former: short hair, no, long hair probably; the latter: debated during the prosecco so still an open question.

Besides a tasty veal lasagna, I contributed a homily from my American roots, which was new to my Canadian friends: "Ain't mama happy, ain't nobody happy": we can neither keep the love flowing to our dearest nor contribute to our work when we neglect our own well-being, never permitting ourselves to take these retreats.

For me, that time is especially restorative when spent with sympatico women, feet up, hair down, chocolates, popcorn and fruit at hand.

Do you enjoy such getaways? Who is there, and what do you do?

I hope, whereever you are, that this upcoming long weekend is a time of renewal and comfort.

Scarves: A sale of spring Hermès

I have several Hermès scarves (35 in./90cm silk twills) that are virtually unworn, and I'm offering them for sale here, for a limited time.

All are authentic and in excellent condition: clean, with plump hems, no spots, snags, or "sale" stamps. The care tags have been removed and the box is not included. More photos are available. 

If interested, send me an e-mail; the price is about half retail, with "La Rosée" more because of its rarity. Payment by PayPal. Shipping via Canada Post insured (about $25 in North America) in padded mailer or, if you wish, UPS at actual rate. There are several countries outside North America to which I regret that I cannot ship.

1. Ombrelles and Parapluies
The perfect jaunty spring scarf in a stunning colourway: vintage umbrellas and parasols in clear red, vibrant blues and greens against crisp white, worn by their charming owners and collected in an antique umbrella stand; by Hubert de Watrigant. Born to wear with navy.

Sold to J.!

2. Les Triplés 
For lovers of  Paris: three tykes (two boys, one girl) frolic amid the landmarks: Le Tour Eiffel, St.-Germain-des-Près, Les Jardins de Luxembourg, Notre Dame and more. In Hermès orange, soft yellow and leaf green, with a touch of grey. Playful, happy and perfect for informal outfits. "Les triplés" is a beloved French illustrated book series by Nicole Lambert, who designed the scarf.

Sold to C.!

3. La Rosée
One of the most sought-after of all Hermès' scarves, designed by Anne Gavarni: soft cream strewn with lush dew-drenched Indian roses in red, coral and yellow; pale taupe border. Romantic and graceful, the piece seems to glow from within.

Sold to K.!

4. Plaza del Toros
Toreadors and a "suit of lights" in the centre; corners of detailed passementerie; colourway is a vibrant ochre yellow with greens, robin's egg blue and touches of red, orange and black. A scarf that could absolutely be nothing but Hermès, it includes both warm and cool colours so is especially versatile. By H. de Watrigant.

Sold to F.!

These scarves are ideal for spring, but also multi-seasonal, so...? 

Precarity: How tenuous employment enables abuse

One of my 26-year old sons, J., has worked in the restaurant industry since leaving high school. 
He gets jobs readily, and receives glowing feedback; he's hard-working, dependable, genial, honest. He takes pride in the success of the enterprise.

He has been:
- hired for a full-time job only to hear after one day to one month that the job is now cut to two or three days per week (happened on five different jobs)
- assessed, without notice, $160 out of his tips for two required deluxe aprons that the place decided all floor staff now had to wear. (Not beer money to him, more like a week's groceries.)
- paid with cheques that bounced, and
- told when reporting for a scheduled shift, "We aren't busy, go home" (with no pay).

The recourse for workers in these positions is to file a formal complaint with a government agency, but J. and his colleagues fear reprisal and say blacklisting is prevalent. As Robert Reich wrote in "Why There's No Outcry", "No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have."

He is but one example of precarity, the employment condition for so many workers. Precarity does not cause exploitation, but it makes abuse that much  easier for employers who want to treat people that way. 

"The politics of precarity", by Nicole Cohen and Greig De Peuter in Briarpatch Magazine describes the rise of this type of work, and the response of Andrew Cash, a Toronto Member of Parliament (NDP, Davenport riding). This is increasingly the world our youth face (despite high levels of education) so I recommend reading the article even if it does not reflect your political stance.

The authors say:
"Commentators use the tag “precariat” to refer to the swelling population of those in precarious work, which has grown amid changing conditions of production, deindustrialization, outsourcing, declining unionization, and a shift from full-time salaried work to flexible arrangements with weak protections. 

While lean businesses feast on a buffet of options beyond costly full-time employees, the consequence is a deepening insecurity for everyone else." 

Outside the notoriously exploitative restaurant industry, I have witnessed unpaid internships, unpaid overtime, and the practice of the "eternal contract", which allows employers to forgo paying employee benefits—not just among small business, but also in some of the world's largest global corporations.

I am sympathetic to the challenges of running a small business. But there is disciplined management and there's abuse, and I've seen far too much abuse, not only with my son. Youth, immigrants and post-50s are especially vulnerable to unfair practices

For several months last year, we paid J.'s rent while the dashing celebrity chef who owned his restaurant  told viewers of his cooking show how much fun they'd have (for about $175 per person) at his chic, popular restaurant, where his staff are dedicated to your good time. 

Meanwhile, a 50-year-old friend wrote that she was recently fired from a factory job for "trying to be Norma Rae". Unions arose for a reason, and though  struggling today, were born of people saying, This is not right. 

J. left the restaurant world to pursue his career in butchery, partly because he always enjoyed that work, and partly as a reaction to what he experienced. While some of his colleagues embrace precarity as a strategy that permits time for other interests, J. isn't that guy; he longs to build skills within a steady job.

Tenuous employment has increased across sectors and nations; the accompanying erosion of employment standards has politicized my sons and their friends, regardless of party affiliation.

They are not alone; as Ross Douthat, writing about the American situation in "Leaving Work Behind", says, "Both 'rugged-individualist' right-wingers and more communitarian conservatives tend to see work as essential to dignity, mobility and social equality, and see its decline as something to be fiercely resisted."

Precarity removes opportunity, but more importantly, it removes the aspects that Studs Terkel described in his 1974 book, "Working":

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”


Helen Mirren's floral frock, three ways

The Daily Mail recently noted that Helen Mirren has been photographed in the same flowered Dolce & Gabbana dress at least five times since 2012. 

I applaud Mirren for not only her abundant talent, but for her realistic approach: if it's a great dress, give it a good run! We can learn from how she's styled it at various times.

The two earlier shots serve as a) a cautionary example, and b) an it-depends.

At left, what seems to be a matching jacket worn with the dress makes her look like a walking wallpaper sample. Her bland hairstyle makes even Dame Helen look like one of those matronly, carefully-coiffed women you see at charity events. The nude heels don't remotely go with the dress.

The pearl rope gives pearls a bad name and explains why some women avoid them: too high on the neck, creating a strangled, tight effect, and at the same time, drooping toward the famous bosom in oddly-arranged strands.

Sidebar: Dame Mirren does know how to rock pearls; here she is at the Geilgud Theatre in an ultra-long rope worn with wit and a marvelous grey-lace dress I would kill for:

On a second occasion (top right), she seems to have put herself in the hands of a stylist who thinks leopard plus floral plus bootie equals hip. The coat desperately attempts a pattern-mix, but the leopard bears no relation to the floral and its length looks haphazard: just shy of long enough, but not short enough to be smart. (Or perhaps the dress was altered to remove the sleeves and create a new neckline?) However achieved, the slight scoop is a more flattering cut and her hair is softer, less staid. The ensemble at least moves into the right decade.


The third time's the charm; finally, as seen above, the dress comes into its own. The cardi frames the print without competing, the box bag is chic, the leg is light, the shoe discreet and though not as edgy as the bootie, suits the retro-print dress. 

The only questionable note here is the necklace, which has a nice vintage feel, but seems to sit low. I think floral print plus flower necklace is a bit repetitive, but if I looked like Dame Mirren, I might try it.

Hair and makeup just superb!

A closer look at the necklace; what do you think?

As contrast, and part of my own internal might-I-wear-print-in-this-lifetime? dialog, I checked out Mirren's recent appearances in solids. Here she is in ecru, at a Women in Film pre-Oscar party (with Melanie Brown):

And in one of my favourite-ever Mirren evening gowns, an enchanting shade of green, at this year's Golden Globes:

She's wearing glamourous emerald earrings, and here's a closer look at her hairstyle, a vast improvement over photo #1, but maybe she was growing it; we've all been there

I'm thinking a solid shade lets the woman wear the dress, not vice-versa. 

Your take? 

PS. Upon receiving her star, placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year, Mirren said, “I couldn’t be prouder and more happy that I’m actually going to finally lie next to Colin Firth, something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time.”

Gifts: Travelers' treasures

Friends came to dinner last week, just back from a trip to Mexico, still immersed in its warmth and colour. They brought us several treats, and after opening the goodies, talk turned to how gift customs have changed.

When I was a kid, the return of a world traveler hauling a bulging suitcase was an event

In 1957, when my sister Jane made a grand tour of Europe after college graduation, she brought me a Swiss dirndl embroidered with edelweiss. (I should be clear, I was eight.) Mom and Dad received a Liberty scarf and Viyella shirt; there were souvenirs from the Vatican, a straw hat from Capri. Such wonders were absolutely unattainable in our small town, and even most American cities.

Jonathan recounted how when he was a child, relatives from the Mideast would visit his New Hampshire home and spread gifts over the the floor. They would invite each family member to choose, as well as give specific gifts to each person. 

But globalization has invaded the souk; nearly everything that spilled out of Jane's trunk could now be bought online or in a local shop. A Toronto shopkeeper I knew kept a stack of pretty French tea towels, a classic travel gift, in stock. She sold them to people who'd returned from Paris short a gift or two.

Still, some travelers seek out the handmade and local, tuck these unique items into a suitcase and share them, along with stories and photos.

In the past two months, I've received three such gifts from friends. Ronni took a business trip to India and once there was bitten by the textiles bug. Always a quick study, she made an intuitive choice on the spot, and surprised me with this luminous wool shawl of red and bronze. 

Christine and another teacher friend accompanied a group of teenaged volunteers to help build a school in Kenya, working though intense heat, then enjoying the respite of a safari. 

The cheerful handmade ceramic rhino she brought back now holds my perfume samples.

Beth and Jonathan returned to Mexico City to indulge in art, architecture and warmth. (You can read Beth's review of the newly-opened Jumex art museum on her blog The Cassandra Pages, here.)

When Beth visited a craft market, she thought these glowing, opalescent glass earrings spoke of me. Si, si! 
Each gift was a surprise and such fun to open! Unwrapping it, the brand-worshiping world receded, the hand of a far-away artisan touched mine. Like a handwritten letter, there is an old-time air to the travel gift, an element of romance. 

We can shop a site like Novica, and that's a boon to both buyer and seller, but when a friend pauses before beauty in a distant place and thinks of you: priceless.

Guilty pleasures

... the phrase that makes me feel naughty even before I have even indulged! 

In order to infuse guilt with pleasure, we have to buy into a "should": a social, religious, cultural or personally-held value that tells us what's right, best, expected. To have no guilty pleasures is to exist outside constraints and norms, lolling in a pure-id bubblebath: "Of two evils, I always pick the one I've never tried before", as Mae West said.

But adherence to certain conventions guarantees the frisson of such pleasure. And, when I do indulge, it's such delicious fun, even more than April Fool's jokes!

When so bad is so good

Tucking into what Dr. Phil calls "a party in your mouth", that orgy of empty but addictive calories: that's probably the #1 guilty pleasure of health-conscious women. 

I could provide a long list of my food contenders, but (after much consideration) present my Top Three, which I can even enjoy together:

Chocolate is not a guilty pleasure ever since my family doctor told me it was good for me in reasonable quantities. (Nothing like an authority figure to strip the guilt from a guilty pleasure.)

So, the third item on the list: movie popcorn, popped in palm oil, slathered in butter, liberally salted. And $7 for a small tub, which would feed an entire family in some parts of the world for a week. 

Man oh man!

This is embarrassing to admit, but I can watch the opening scene of "Magic Mike"— with Matthew McConaughey taunting the house full of women—on a loop.

Don't you already have one of those?

I own enough sweaters, so ordering yet another cashmere v-neck is definitely guilt-inducing, especially in a non-practical colour like Mojito Green, which reminds me of Mojitos, a happy substitute for that Margarita. (Actually Mojtos are not even close to that colour, but what do the French know about Cuban cocktails?)

Endangered guilty pleasure

There is about nothing as enjoyable to me as the bumper car ride, a vanishing amusement like those playground merry-go-rounds that you hung from, your skull skimming the pavement. The sparking wires, the careening acceleration, the sheer joy of delivering a neck-snapping t-bone to a shrieking ten-year-old who was asking for it!

They aren't making any more of these, so, if you like occasionally displacing your aggression into harmlessly wild fun, find the nearest bumper car ride and set yourself free while you still can.

I have asked friends to contribute; some replies were "the cigarette I no longer smoke, except...", "soap operas", and "bacon double cheeseburgers".  

What are yours? I will completely understand if you wish to provide your comment anonymously.