September Sunday at the Market

Let's meet at the market! What are you making? We have an intoxicating fall bounty of peppers, squash, apples, and pots of mums big as wheelbarrows.

And of course we'll people-watch! The calendar says September 27, but the sun's still hot, 27C/80F. The sun-drenched dimanche brings out everything from small tank tops to jackets.

I shot her not just because she was beautiful, but also to show the lightest end of the continuum. The fall frost is coming, so she's enjoying warm weather while she can!

Others choose prints in darker hues as a harbinger of earlier sunsets, crisp evenings:

Men, women and children wear red as a transitional colour; not too summery, but bright. On father and son:

Below, at left, the season-spanner supreme: a white shirt (worn over cropped khakis) with a knit, striped scarf. (One does not remotely 'need' a scarf today, but here we wear them anyway.) Don't miss the red shoes!

She's in a simple tee and jeans, but her brilliant muffler makes her stand out:

On the other end of the continuum, some women head for black, even black stockings, perhaps to ward off a chill once the golden sun dips. Montréalers will watch the unusual 'red sun' eclipse later this evening.

A crocheted sweater looks so graceful—and a glance at her companion reminds us to pick up fresh baguettes.

 Do you enjoy oysters? So many varieties, to take home...

...or we could share a half-dozen at the bar, like this young couple:

What did we buy? Bottles of local cider, glowing like stained glass:

Wild mushrooms, for a risotto:

Whimsical painted gourds to please a neighbour's  five-year-old:

And apples! I chose Wolf Rivers, which Le Duc prefers for his delicious apple crumble tatin:

Fall shopping means heavy bags! Let's put them down for awhile, to bask in the late-afternoon sun and discuss what else to do with all those apples.   

Jackets: Stalking the elusive washable

Even if your work wardrobe is casual, or you have retired, an indoor-weight jacket belongs in the mix somewhere, for crisp days, for a change, for the polish.

Decades ago, I owned a washable skirt suit (an agnès b. black and white pin-dot poly that looked like heavy silk) and since knowing that such a thing is not only possible but brilliant, I have wondered, Why don't they make more washable jackets? So practical (sleeve edges seem to soil immediately), better for the environment, and terrific for travel.

You'd expect to find some at travel specialists' sites, but I do not look best in unmitigated menswear, such as the blazers sold by TravelSmith. (If you do, check the All-Seasons Blazer.) 

Even fabrics that are usually washable (cotton twill, denim, polys) are labelled Dry Clean Only; while I confidently use the delicate cycle-plus-mesh-bag method for a blouse, jackets often contain interfacing or finishes that won't withstand a bath.

Fall's crop is turning up a few possibilities.

Ponté (a poly/rayon/spandex knit) to the rescue, but not all ponté jackets are washable. Lands' End's ponté jacket comes in black or red, with nautical buttons and striped lining; price, $150:

A good ponté piece travels impeccably, looks fresh and dries overnight; low-quality ponté feels stiff as a bulletproof vest.

Neither is denim necessarily washable! From J. Crew to Victoria Beckham, I found denim jackets that demand dry-cleaning. Really, would you pay over $600 for denim and then want to re-invest? But the Amanda blue denim at Boden is machine washable, with a current cut and degradée effect, at a decent £55 (sale price), in UK sizes 6 to 22.

Denim is cotton, but cotton that traverses winter. So do some heavyweight cotton knits, but again, some will not withstand the machine. ModCloths is a favourite source of my girlfriend Marina, who alternates their pieces with thrift shop finds. She pointed me to the jaunty navy Ahoy Blazer, which has appealing feminine details and can be hand-washed; price, $70. (Also available in cream and red.)

Garnet Hill's heavyweight Colette cotton knit jacket is washable, and comes in stripe or pewter, up to size 18; price, $150.

Even more rare are jackets of washable wool or wool blends. Boden's Emilia biker jacket looks cool over a long top; they say you can hand wash the 30% wool/70% cotton fabric and that's good enough for me. Price, £89.

Eileen Fisher devotées will find this washable wool interlock is worth the $298 price tag; you could spend that much in a year or two, drycleaning its ethereal seasalt colour.  Wool interlock is a needle's breadth away from a knit; maybe I just need a sweater jacket?

I am still looking; why, on a planet awash in every synthetic known, amply-supplied with denim and at least some washable wool, are so many jackets (and other pieces) dry-clean only?

What's your type?

At a summer picnic with our friends Beth and J., we spoke of the death, on July 10, of Omar Sharif. The elegant Egyptian actor was, and is, Beth's type. Sharif cast his spell when, in early adolescence, she saw Dr. Zhivago. Her attraction to Arab men, preferably with beards, was set; in due time, she married J., a dashing example.

We reminisced about those early influences, the charismatic men and women (usually seen on stage and screen) who shaped our attraction to real-life persons. The great beauties (Taylor, Gardner, Bergman) were mentioned, as well as idiosyncratic, bold stunners like Juliette Greco.

Though of course we are not attracted by looks alone, we can't deny that "When you see a stranger, across a crowded room", the enchanted evening debuts with a stirring of desire.

I asked, Who is a man or woman presently your age, who holds that allure? J. and Le Duc contributed examples; J. was mildly piqued that I discounted his admiration of Julie Christie because of her cosmetic surgery.

Helen Mirren did not garner a flicker, but the sample was small. The guys nodded enthusiastically at the mention of Sophia Loren, though I suspect they are recalling a film image rather than the red carpet looks she has essayed recently.

Susan Sarandon

Patti Smith was controversial; Beth and I find her compelling, the men did not. Everybody agreed on Susan Sarandon.

As we age, we ought to maintain a frank admiration for the beauty of the species. We never stop admiring a fine dog or cat, so why not humans, whether the man in line at the grocery or Sam Elliott?

And by "the species", I include every age, not just the toned twenties to polished forties. Jack Nicholson (known as an experienced appreciator) once said that he saw a TV interview with an author who was past eighty, and was surprised to find himself deeply attracted to her beauty and eloquence. On the surface, his remark may be taken as sexist, but I also found it affirming.

Do I have a type? My preference is not as precise as Beth's, but I've always liked men who have a good chin and definite shoulders, wear clothes well (but are not dandyish), and project a palpable worldliness. At its supreme expression, that would be Marcello Mastroianni.

Quello che un bell'uomo!

I am not alone; a local grocery store's proprietor has hung his portrait above her pastry display.

My eighty-five-year-old mother-in-law was recently introduced, via computer, to George Clooney. (How she escaped exposure to his charms for the last two decades is a bit of a mystery, but she is not a regular filmgoer.)  "Il est beau!" she exclaimed, with certainty.

And you? What is your type?


Style at a bend in the road

One of late summer's highlights: an overnight train trip to a small Ontario town three hours' train ride from Montréal, to visit a longtime friend, Susan C.

Mother and daughter

She and her husband moved from Toronto four years ago, same time I did, to Brighton, a town (population about 10,000) near her birthplace, Belleville. They found a bucolic estate so sizeable that she has her own lake, in which we swam with her boxer, Lucy. We joined her legendary 93-year-old mother Kay's regular Monday evening salon ("the men are at Rotary") on the porch of her art-filled family cottage at the edge of Lake Ontario. We hailed a sister and a passel of nieces and nephews; family was a big reason for Susan and Brian's return.

Susan's country life has made her bloom like her rose garden. Admiring her colour sense, I recalled a Passage post about stylish living in the country—but was in for a surprise when she and I did a spot of shopping on Brighton's Main Street.

Now, I live in Montréal, which I consider one of the epicentres for distinctively dressed women. Call me city-centric, but I never expected a Brighton boutique could offer much for me. Ha!

Susan, standing outside one of her favourite resources, The Clan Shoppe (reminding us, Brighton is historically deep Ontario United Empire Loyalist country):

Exuberant colour!
Above, you see her joie de vivre in lemon and azure (worn with white jeans), and platinum blonde hair, which was serendipitously achieved via an application of Color Oops, after disenchantment with medium blonde.

The Clan Shoppe's owner, Louise, is one chic cookie. She and her sales assistant Patricia effortlessly create the mood you hope for in a boutique (but rarely find when staffed by only-my-day-job types): knowledgable but not pushy, forthright yet respectful of your preferences, relaxed yet professional.

Two hours slipped by; we left feeling buoyed, not bedraggled like in city department stores. When you live amid nature's palette, whether verdant forest or cutting garden, an unleavened palette of navy/black/grey enervates, at least till the snow flies.

With a festive fall ahead, Susan is considering this Joseph Ribcoff red asymmetrical top:

I bought a blurry-floral 3/4 sleeve top and the washable modal scarf in Louise's hands, Front Row Society's "Iris Garden" scarf,  with its colours of the "moors and gardens of cold Scottish winter sunsets".  The price was about $US 50, a damn sight better than the $350 tags on some so-hip sites. (Front Row Society promise to have their e-shop up soon; stockists include Nordstrom.)

The Berlin-based company invites artists around the world to submit designs based on specific themes. Anyone can vote via FRS' Facebook page; the winners of each competition have their work produced as scarves. 

Printed cashmere

Some FRS sacrves are modal, others modal/cashmere, and at the pinnacle of purr, cashmere. (Shown above, "Mariposa" 100% cashmere shawl.)

Not a barn jacket!
The boutique does not carry expensive clothes compared to some of Montréal's outré offerings, but they are treated as if they were. Louise balances edgy items—dramatic capes, the faux Mongolian lamb coat above, an interesting long sapphire long dress I'd wear in Paris—with stacks of basics and shapewear. When a merchant has vision, passion and an eye for what customers want, she can beat the jeans off a mass retailer who must show a corporate "program" that looks incoherent.

We wedged many other delights into just over twenty-four hours: homemade scones and tomato soup, reminiscences drawn from our over thirty-year friendship, lively discussion from politics to lipstick;  I don't think I was silent for more than five seconds, except for sleeping!

Susan's closet, built by an extremely organized couple, has several tiers of these jewelry drawers; making do with several rows of recycled chocolate boxes, I was jealous!

Susan's jewelry drawer

I'm looking forward to another visit one day. You have to love a town that has a real barber pole—it's just the way things were left.

Shave and a haircut?

Do you have a friend a short trip away? I heartily recommend an overnight or weekend visit, and then you can receive her, later, in your neighbourhood!

Party dressing: Is that "I do" or "I shoe"?

Thanks for your warm wishes on the wedding post!

I learned several things about dressing for a special occasion, and though I don't anticipate being mother of the groom again any time soon, this post might help you make choices for any event when you're "on" from day though evening.

The family with bride and groom

1. It's all about the shoes!
The shoes in the photo above are not the shoes I wore to the ceremony, even though the original sandal, soft calfskin with a modest heel height, had been chosen for wearability over double-digit hours. Epic fail!

Florence Koojiman sandals

I did wear the pink sandals (the maker calls them prune) around the house for an hour here and there to reacquaint myself with walking in heels, but at the wedding, it wasn't the height but the unpadded sole (no cushioning) and the straps (bit into my feet after the first two hours) that maimed. I may have had a chance if I'd used those gel footbeds but did not think of them, because I had not worn heels for years.

Thierry Rabotin slides

When I limped out of the ceremony, I conceded defeat (yes, pun-ishment) and slipped on leopard-print slides, added to my bag at the last minute: absolute relief! (This was an informal wedding, or I would have been stuck hobbling in misery.) Tuck Leopard Flats in Your Bag is my new mantra.

Mandy's red heels

The bride's sandals

Even the glamourous bride changed her shoe plan, giving her first choice, red patent heels, to her friend Mandy, above, and substituting the white and metallic silver flat gladiator sandals you see peeking from her wedding dress.

My dress

2. Try the dress again, at least a week before!
Between buying my dress (Steilmann) and the wedding, about two months had passed, during which I inadvertently lost 5 lbs or so. The day before—too late for alterations—I tried it on and found it about a half-size too big, roomy in the bust and hip. Nothing to be done, but a precise fit would have made me happier. I also should have sewn bra-strap holders into the shoulders, as way too many reception photos attest.

3. On the bright side: breathable fabric, sentimental accessories
I chose that dress, a shocking pink/black art deco design and leopard print, to say "happy", and in that respect, it was perfect. Also, the dress is cotton, which breathed in the 30C/90F heat. No Spanx, agony in hot weather and no fun even in lower temps, no stockings. Even in cool climates, choose fabric that breathes so after dancing you don't feel like you're wearing a plastic bag.

I accessorized with baroque pearls, my mother's Tiffany bee earrings and gold cuff, and an emerald cocktail ring, all sentimental pieces that brought the memory of loved ones to the occasion.

At six hours' wear
4. Makeup: use long-wear products
I did not have makeup done professionally because every time, I feel caked even if they say it is 'light'. But I stepped up the intensity for eyes and lips and chose long-wearing formulas: water-resistant mascara and eyeliner (Lancome) and two thin coats of my favourite paint-on lipstick brand, CoverGirl Outlast in "Hottie", which stood up to oysters, BBQ ribs and kisses.

I occasionally reapplied the clear balm topcoat. While OutLast does not transfer to glassware or linens, it can lift slightly with oily food, but even after dinner, I didn't need to re-do. If you have a favourite tube lipstick in the same shade family, you could wear it over the top.

Natasha, the mother of the bride, went to MAC, whose staff equipped her with primer and their super-pigmented lipstick to give her very good endurance.

I gained new respect for behind the scenes planning. My tactics were the extra shoes, a pretty handkerchief instead of Kleenex, and a travel atomizer of my perfume—but a friend takes it to another level.

She booked a room at the reception venue (a hotel) where, after the ceremony, a film makeup artist friend created a more 'evening' look and retouched it after dinner. His date even gave her a foot massage, which she said was heaven after standing in a long receiving line. She also stashed a backup dress in the room because, at a step-daughter's wedding a few years ago, a waiter had sloshed red wine down the front of her pale blue silk suit.

When you're dressing for a long event, if you ensure that your feet are up for the hours of action and that everything else requires little tending, your most important accoutrement—the blissed-out smile—will shine throughout the festivities.


Falling under the Pearl Spell, one earring at a time

Welcome back, dear readers! The Passage re-opens with a celebratory pearl post.

Over the summer, I visited Joanie, a wholesale pearl dealer in Montréal. She asked, "How did you develop your interest in pearls?"

Today, a visual version of my answer: the pearl-paved path from infatuation to enduring love, and several new pairs that might appeal to you.

I told her how my beloved friend, Missi, the daughter of a fine jeweler in Honolulu, introduced me to their allure when I was about 35. She loaned me a pair of pearl chandeliers, and I felt a tug handing them back. The hook was set.

For my fortieth birthday, my parents invited me to chose a piece of jewelry. I visited the Toronto jeweler Beni Sung; in his tiny salon, I found a display of at least fifty pearls, displayed on hatpin-like individual stands. My choice was a pair of subtly mismatched South Sea mabé pearls with incredible lustre and iridescence. The price was around $1, 200, so I began at the higher end, an act that was hard to follow on my own dime.

Sung's knowledgeable, patient staff took time to explain the full range of pearl varieties; I barely knew fresh from saltwater.  They also cast a spell, though the next pearls were a few years away.

Le Duc gave me gold and pearl earrings for an anniversary; these are classic 8mm round white Akoyas, showcased by the design by Artworks Gallery, Toronto.

Next, I bought a pair of Tahitian studs on eBay for around $350, but found they were too taupey for me and gave them to a friend. However, eBay 13mm Chinese freshwater baroque studs are among the best-value buys I've ever made—about $35—loads of lustre, smooth surfaces, and flashing pink and green overtones. When I told my jeweler, she about wept. (Sorry to say, the vendor has vanished.)

From Le Duc also, 16mm pink freshwaters, from Antoine Chapoutot:

I love iridescence and colour; pearls do not have to be round and smooth to show their spectacular hues. For example, here are a pair of Japanese Kasumi dangles made by Québec jeweler Celine Bouré of Kokass; the price was around $275.

What I'd buy now
I would avoid the too-safe and generic, and look, rather, for the natural essence of the pearl, in a good grown-woman size; depending on your build, I'd say from 8mm to way way up.
Elegant Tahitians
Adam Neeley "Fiore del Mare" 9.5 mm Tahitian pearls set in 14k; price, $1, 980.

Stunning and special
9.9 mm Sea of Cortez pearls with imperial topaz earrings, set in 14k; Kojima Company; price, $810.

Rare yet simple
Blue South Seas, don't see these often (and they are now sold out, so contact PoJ to request news of resupply): 10-11mm natural-colour blue South Sea baroques set in 14k yellow or white gold; price was $459 at Pearls of Joy.

No-one-the-wiser studs
eBay is still worth a browse, especially if you find a vendor with a return policy. Approach it like a yard sale where you might occasionally score a treasure. I recommend a Chinese seller, pearlunar, who is not the cheapest, but whose pearls are reliably as shown or even better. For example, these 9mm natural colour smoky lavender 'fat button' studs are set in 14k; price $70 with free shipping.  He will also make a pair with larger posts and backs.


Welcome back! The Passage reopens with song and celebration.

Our son Etienne's and his true love Tash's wedding took place over last weekend, a sparkling end to the glorious Montréal summer.

Listening to their vows and and the reminiscences of family and friends at the reception, I recalled the small boy who would nestle against me, only yesterday it seems, in his spaceship-printed pjs, while we read stories and poems. From "Which witch has the itch?" to "I do" seemed to take but moments. It is dailiness—the routines of bath time and school days and supper at 6:00—that comprises a family's indelible memories, two decades built over the dining table and the playground.

Many of his and his twin's friends since primary school were there, in the slightly disconcerting guise of assured adults; the stylish siblings above no longer fight over Ninja Turtles.

The lines of this song came to me, carried by the ethereal voice of Sandy Denny. Suddenly, a boy  becomes a husband, his friends are the adults who design your software or teach your grandchildren. And all of this on Labour Day weekend, when the summer's evanescence was most evident.

"Who knows where the time goes?"

We await another joyful milestone, the birth of their son in late January, so soon I hope to read before bedtime, once again, with another snuggly small boy in his pajamas. 

The Passage traditionally opens with a pearl post, and pearls came to the wedding! The mother of the bride in a rope that includes her mother's pearls:

The mother of the groom en route to city hall, in Kojima Company baroque freshwaters:

I am wrapped in the special happiness of seeing our child so in love, and being loved in return.