Turning thirty

As I latch the Passage's shutters for the summer, I am looking forward to a milestone, our twin sons' thirtieth birthdays on July 9.

One son said, "I remember when I was seventeen, and a guy at work turned thirty. It seemed so old." In 1978, my thirtieth was similarly  regarded as the definitive departure of youth.

Women friends approached the day either deliberately distracted by some kind of hijinks, or wrapped in a granny-square afghan, weeping into poetry. Joanna stocked her kitchen with beer and pizza, invited forty friends, and then was so distraught she never left her bedroom. One by one, we entered to comfort her.

My birthday party in July, 1978 was here; I lived on the upper floor of this mansion, built in 1875. It was a romantic apartment that had retained its heritage features, with odd little quarter-levels off a centre hall wide as a street. The former tenant had entered a convent, so I'll bet the place had not seen a bash like that for some years.

See that balcony? John dangled from the railing by one hand (probably on a bet), while his wife pleaded with his pals to haul him back up. Fortunately the owner, who occupied the ground floor, was at her cottage.
At thirty

Our friends brought raccoon-themed gifts, because I was fond of the bushy, bandit-eyed coons who lived in the garage, and my then-husband liked theme parties. So I received ears of sweet corn, a silver raccoon stickpin, and of course a vintage Davy Crockett hat.

Robert ignored the theme, gave me a bottle of liqueur—and then drank it himself:

An immoderate amount of Bailey's

Thirty is a gusty age, full of energy but sometimes rudderless. In my circle, it was a time of movement, from job to job, partner to partner. There was no consensus about how take on adult roles; we were divided between the conventional models supplied by parents or mentors and New-Age experimentation.

Everyone turns thirty within a larger historical frame, the warp to your weft. The late '70s were a period of relative economic stability; no one at that party had yet faced chronic unemployment. Pension plans were robust, even if we barely thought of ever needing them. Women were now free to bear children or not, but if one were desired, thirty was considered "time to get on with it".

Though we had been vividly influenced by the '60s, few dressed for that party in "beads and feathers from Salvation Army counters" as Leonard Cohen wrote, except for Lisa, who was a dancer. I wore a brown Danskin leotard and matching wrap skirt. We were building our "work wardrobes", and were a good fifteen years away from anyone even thinking of wearing jeans to the office except on the occasional Casual Friday. Some of us worried about looking old enough!

As I look back on the guests, I realize how much instability roiled below the surface. The majority of those in relationships broke up, partly because of the relatively recent option for no-fault divorce. In less than three years I had moved to another city, taken a new job, and was about to divorce too. Only then, responsible for every aspect of my life, did I feel wholly adult.

The birthday boys

My sons are turning thirty in a different world; in '78, the population was 4.4 billion; today, it's 7.5 billion. Every day, they learn what is happening, anywhere, in real time; receiving and transmitting instantaneous information. (We didn't even have an answering machine in our apartment.)

Before we part for the summer, please tell us about your thirtieth birthday; I'll bet you remember, and I would love to hear that story before we part for two months.

The Passage will reopen on Tuesday, September 5. Thank you for reading and have a glorious, golden summer!

Holiday weekend: The berries!

That was a slang expression Dad used: "It's the berries!" And last weekend, the market was bursting with local strawberries. Their glowing colour seemed to evoke more colourfully-dressed shoppers.

We're nearing the time for the Passage to close for the summer, so let's take a last stroll together on the long weekend here; the Quebec holiday is still called St-Jean-Baptiste Day, but is also known as its more recent name, the National Holiday.

The brights that catch our eye include a woman carrying a woven striped bag, a purple knit top printed with butterflies, and a vivid paisley blouse:

Ethnic fabrics are a passion for me, but it is the incandescent smile of a woman serving a client that we notice first—then, her beautiful head wrap.

A woman strolls by in a blue coat made from Guatemalan fabric:

Plus-sized women are sometimes advised to avoid brights and prints. She's not buying that, and I like both her dots and cherry nails.

We do see women in pastels or white, and also plenty of stripes; two shoppers are wearing classic Montréal touches: on her, the big scarf even in summer, and on the man (background) the marinière:

Of course we buy a flat of strawberries, and also the magnificent radishes. Le Duc will make a soup from the leaves, and I will serve radis-buerre, a favourite summer hors d'oeuvre.  You can prepare them the fancy way, by stuffing hollowed out radishes with herb butter, but the simple way is fine: just apply a little pat of cultured butter to a whole or halved ruby radish on the way to your mouth.

We'll return together in the fall, and I will miss these jaunts, but think of you over July and August. Come back Thursday, for a last post for the season!

Pink peacoat: Good buy or boondoggle?

I bought this cotton twill peacoat, double-deeply on sale and with free shipping at J. Crew. And quite out of character, chose "dark mauve", not the sober navy I have worn in one coat or another most of my life.

When I unboxed it, I thought, "Well that's impractical, back it goes!" But then I realized its benefits: warm in clammy, cool weather—which is about all we had this April and May—washable, and a classic style but in an unusual, cheerful colour, especially against grey hair. (Actual colour is a shade deeper than monitor shows.) 

Even though it was reduced from $CDN 168 to about $55 (plus tax), I am reluctant to buy anything "for later", the gateway attitude to stockpiling. I took a few things to the donation box, then gave it a place in the closet. I hope next spring I'm still happy!

I'd enjoy hearing your experience: did an off-season bargain turn out to be worth it, or just a moment's misjudgement?

Travelling Thrift Shop

Tomorrow I'll be visiting Marina Malvada, an ebullient and striking artist who lives in a small town outside Ottawa. My former neighbour and avid thrifter misses trolling the Montréal friperies, so— thrift comes to her!

So here's a summer business idea that I'll never realize: the Friperie Van brimming with picks from our charity stores. Continuing a long tradition of itinerant merchants, I'd tootle through bucolic small towns, and women would gather. Stock the van with a few rolling racks, set up an art deco folding screen and a good full-length mirror for a change room, voilà!

At sundown I'd serve sangria, and maybe barter for a guestroom, because even in this fantasy I am not a camper. Maybe spend two weeks on the road and a week off to restock. Would it make money? Maybe I'd only cover my expenses, but what a fun way to tour the countryside and connect to communities. After this reverie I read about a woman who does this, taking a truck stocked with vintage and cult cosmetics on the festival circuit and to markets.

In real life, I'm bringing a stack of gifts to my friend, who has a fine eye honed by a job in a vintage boutique in her art school days.

Blouses and jackets! Clockwise from upper left: purple poly print; poppy red Chinese satin; a wild metallic-knit pink bomber; a fitted blue blazer with pink lining and embossed metal buttons.

Two dresses! A Cynthia Rowley stretch knit, and a slip dress or top from the hip French brand Un Après-Midi du Chien.

And the kicker: I'm carrying them in an eggplant textured-leather satchel, lined in hot pink.

The tops were $6-$7, the dresses $8, and the bag $12.  Marina's free to re-gift anything that doesn't please her, or... the stock could go into my imaginary van.

Beach jewellery: To shell and back

"Beachy" jewellery is a category wide as a sandbar, and conjures images of you, fetching in a sarong, wearing a loose, relaxed, cool breeze of a bauble.

I started wearing beach jewellery in my twenties...do you remember belly chains? I borrowed my girlfriend Jeanne's to dress up my bikini.

Unlike those chains (and I admit, the waist that wore it), a great deal of beach jewellery has staying power, and you can wear a well-designed piece year-round with actual clothes. Just like drinking a glass of rosé in the dead of winter, well-designed beach jewellery will lift your mood no matter the month.

Beach-influenced jewellery often uses organic materials: wood, shell, coral, pearl, glass, pebbles. Leather, linen or beader's thread suits it better than heat-holding metals; the effect is light and often a touch bohemian.

Pascale Monvoisin is one of my favourite contemporary jewellers. She sets cauri (or cowrie) shells with semiprecious stones to make a light and playful pendant. Shown, 11mm x 17mm shell pendant set with 2.5mm round turquoise; price, $295 at Twist.

Wear the Blooming Plumeria necklace as a long rope in summer, and doubled in winter, and be transported to the plumeria-scented air of Maui. Thirty-seven inches of South Sea pearls and lustrous Chinese freshwater keshis insterspered with gold vermeil beads and tourmaline crystals. From Kojima Company; price, $450.

You might recall Chantal's stunning Tahitian keshi pearl bracelet, inspired by a piece of coral she found while diving, and made for her by Janis Kerman. Israeli jeweller Arosha Taglia also makes coral-inspired pieces, set with pearl, sapphire, moonstone and other gems. Shown, a sterling silver "coral" branch holds a12mm silver freshwater button pearl; price, about $205.

How I love the genuine, undyed Italian coral, pink-peach like a flamingo chick—and if you buy vintage, you are not further degrading the marine environment.

Many persons are watching these carved coral 16mm button stud earrings on eBay, so they may be sold, but I want to show them as an example of the charisma of vintage coral in 18k settings. This pair conjures an elegant old hotel on Capri, with the natural wildflowers in the air. BIN price, $475.

Chan Luu combines cowrie shells, tassels, silver beads and bells into a playful necklace that reminds me of balmy islands and steel drums. On braided cotton, it is cool in warm weather, though I would wear this all year— the colours are interesting (imagine this on a camel sweater) and will layer up with chains or other strands. From Twist; price, $62.

Let's watch the sun sink into the waves and finish with a sumptuous, iconic piece. If your beach is Palm, this may be what you wear to dinner. When I began to write this post, I thought, Seaman Schepps, I have to show them. 

Since the 1930s, this house has put clients like Katherine Hepburn and Doris Duke in exquisite, audacious resort jewellery—and Beladora of course have the sublime example, the Triple Turbo Shell brooch with diamond and pearls. Price, $4, 750.

Montréal style: Treasures to take home

My eye and energy are beaming toward this July and August, when I shutter the Passage and take a break to receive friends here for summer holidays.

Travellers pick up souvenirs, for sure, sometimes modest as a St-Ambroise beer coaster pocketed from a bar, occasionally a splurge; a couple recently fell in love with a painting!

I'll show you several big hits with visitors, but you don't need to visit to enjoy them; they  are also available online. All prices are in $CDN.

An entire family of visiting Brits, (grandparents, Mum and Dad, two teenagers) fell hard for trèsnormale t-shirts-screen printed with original, deep-Montréal scenes. Left: the woman's model of Boulevard St-Laurent, part of the Urbanity series. Upper right: the artwork on the tee celebrating the 375th birthday of the city. Bottom right, one of my favourites, the dépanneur (our French for 'convenience store'). Price, about $29.

trèsnormale offer a wide range of sizes, including kid's. Some of the tees are in soft, 100% cotton, others are a cotton-bamboo-poly blend, and all are in muted, interesting colours. A number of designs are available as sturdy tote bags, $16 each.

Bees to honey: Two sisters bought pieces for themselves, and one man bought a gift for his partner. The two operating in US dollars were thrilled by the exchange rate that makes Relaxed Real-level handcrafted items extremely affordable.
Left: Mina splurged on one of Gabrielle Demarais' sculptural necklaces. Shown, the PK5 necklace, two silver discs on black cord—dramatic on its own and also layers well. Price, $95. (Her work is also available at Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h.) I adore Gabrille Demarais' jewellery, so I might have enabled her a tad, but is she happy!

Upper right: Gene chose a pair of Lucie Veilleux Caviar stud earrings for his sweetheart, price, $59 on Lucie's Etsy shop. Lower right: This Ilk make fresh designs that feature vintage materials. Laurie  bought herself the Cheeba necklace, $54, made with vintage ball-trimmed lace and green and black fringe. In Montréal you can find a selection from both artists at the wonderful boutique Articho.

Montréal contains unique architecture that lends itself to arresting images; the best hint at their location rather than shout.

Left: Boutique Onze navy cotton tunic (sizes XS-XXL) printed with a whimsical map of the city; price $59. (Other colours available but some sizes are sold out online.)
Centre: Satin photoprint wallet of Habitat '67 (we're celebrating Expo 67's 50th anniversary), bound to please even the most design-conscious. Only $15 from fotofibre.
Right: Cherry red cellphone case with our iconic spiral staircase, for iPhone 6 or 6s from thelonelypixel; price, $49.

Visitors+women=shoes; you're walking a lot and a new pair somehow makes sense. Fluevog is the edgy Canadian shoe brand, and though you can find it in other cities worldwide (and online), at the St-Denis boutique you would be served by the charming Maxime!

Sarah found a pair of badass boots on sale, but we were also captivated by gorgeously-colored Iris suede pumps. Maxime encouraged us to take all the free buttons we'd like, printed with slogans like "Tu es magnifique", so Sarah scooped a handful for her friends back home.

Having a wonderful time, wish you were here. Oh wait—it's not too late to plan a trip!

Jewellery: The smallest diamonds

In retail stores, sales of large (over 1ct) diamonds are down; jewellers are not replenishing their stock of rocks, but giving more space to small-diamond pieces. Why? The young generation are wary of the big ERs, because of the priority they place on experiences instead of objects, concerns about conflict diamonds, and (my opinion) wising up to the controlled pricing of the diamond industry.

With behaviour changing among that cohort, jewellers are better serving another segment: the "midult", the woman past forty who can buy her own jewellery. Why, they ask rather plaintively, will she order a $1, 500 designer bag online, but not a pair of earrings?

What does this mean for you? Many outstanding designers are creating interesting, informal and well-priced pieces using very small diamonds. Diamond is still my favourite of the gem minerals, for its versatility, durability and the frisson of a little sparkle. Like a macaron, even a small one can delight.

Today, the Passage's windows are dressed with such jewellery, priced under $1, 500. At this price point, the diamonds will be no larger than 1 to 2.5 mm, and sometimes set in silver.

Irit Design diamond hoops; price, $950 at Beladora. Set in silver, these earrings have 2 ct total weight in diamonds, and they are not demure. If you'd like diamonds you can wear with jeans, this is the pair!

Jenny Kwon's Diamond Wrap Ring:14k gold with1mm diamonds that add elegance to a sculptural ring. Price, $920.

The Japanese designers Rusty Thought are among my favourite contemporary jewellers. Example: their diamond bar necklace  combines a gold chain with an oxidized silver bar set with six 1mm diamonds. Enough presence to wear alone, but also perfect layered; I'd not take it off. Price, $630.

A friend has these Anne Sportun Flow Hoop earrings, which she bought to commemorate a decade birthday. (The drop is 13.5mm or just over a half-inch). She wears them with everything; diamonds near the face, like pearls, lend a glow. Anne Sportun uses beautiful stones; I have seen these in her showroom. Price, $CDN 1, 135.

An evocative mix of 14k yellow and white gold, with tiny diamonds set on the centre vein; Gold Ruffle earrings by Shelly Gaffe. (Detail shown.) Price, $CDN 1, 450 at L.M. Pai Gallery.

You need not obsess about the intricacies of diamond grading (and many pieces made with small stones will not provide it anyway); look at the gems in natural light and see if they flash. If you own a good diamond, use it as a comparator.

I own jewellery with diamonds only 1.5mm and you can see them flash fire; I have other pieces in which diamonds several times the size are noticeably less brilliant.

If ordering online, chat with the vendor and ask if those little pointers are lively.  (In some vintage jewellery, the diamonds may dulled due to wear.)

And then, if it lifts your heart, take such a piece into your everyday life. I know I'm biased, but in ten years, how will that bag hold up?

Late life therapy

There's nothing like a wake to invite reminiscence, and my mother-in-law's touching, bittersweet memorial was that. Of a family of six, an ailing brother and the eldest, her healthy and alert 93-year old sister, whom here I shall call Claire, remain.

My doctor once told me that mean people live the longest; if so, Claire was a candidate for eternal life. Those family members willing to visit prepared as if entering an active minefield.

Despite an abrasive personality, she was a remarkable woman. Claire had a long career as an army nurse and then nursing teacher; she had never married nor had children, but could recount loves both great and fleeting. At a time when women in her world were bound to the village, she traveled the world, bought her own furs, and told me of the days when "we brushed our teeth in champagne".

At about ninety, Claire changed entirely. She became diplomatic, warm, and relaxed. When the word spread among the family, more distant members could not believe it, but each returned from her small town to say, It's true.

Claire has not—at least among the family gathered last month—spoken of her motivation, but the methods are known: therapy and a return to her religion. In other words, she sought counsel in both this world and, according to her beliefs, beyond.

Claire's story is not unique. One of my Susanfriends told me of a friend who, when well past eighty, asked her pastor why no one ever visited. Her pastor gave her frank, factual feedback. The woman sought counselling, which included development of an image of how she wanted to be remembered.

These stories share a common element: each woman had the mental acuity to engage in the therapeutic and spiritual work, and wished to do so.

There are other paths besides therapy or a return to religion for late-life growth, but a person will need skilled guidance to revise old patterns. Religion will be completely off the table for some; however, at its best, a faith community can provide constant support.

My generation is far more accultured to therapy than Claire's; at one point just about everyone I knew was "getting help", from vision quests to groups for divorced parents. We amassed enough books to stock a mobile library; some helped, others were dusty doorstops.

But by later life, many figure we're fully-formed; change seems like a nice idea, but not really practical: I am who I am. While there is wisdom in accepting one's flaws, if they are contributing to estrangement and loneliness, maybe we could cut ourselves a little less slack.

Even if a woman had "meh" experiences in past decades—the therapeutic equivalent of Earth Shoes—perhaps it wasn't them, it was us. Now is the time to be honest, and find a qualified pro who can take you into the hard areas. Last year, facing an issue that seemed like an ethical Catch-22, I had a series of Skype sessions with a remarkable therapist whom I known as a teacher. It was expensive, but worth it.

The purpose of late-life personal growth is to connect, before it's too late, with those close to you; to give and receive love unfettered by old stories; and to live the last stretch in peace rather than bitterness. A better use of money than botox!

As we said goodbye to my mother-in-law,  I caressed the box of ashes and heard John Lennon's lyric in my head:

And in the end
The love you take
is equal to the love you make.

Pearls: Vivienne Jones bracelet

I bought a handful of undrilled Tahitian keshis last winter, from a private seller. For a good while I just admired them in a bowl:

There weren't enough for a strand, though I could have mixed the keshis with other varieties. When my friend B. suggested I use them for a bracelet, I realized that's something I don't have, and that I had various bits and pieces that might work with them.

Who could make this? I thought of a jeweller whose work I've admired and enjoyed for many years and whose designs suit my current life: Vivienne Jones, based in Toronto. Here's a selection of her work, from her web site:

Le Duc gave me one of her bangles on my birthday about twenty-two years ago:

The first bracelet

I sent an e-mail. (We had never met when I lived in Toronto.) She answered my inquiry to say that she would be in Montréal in early February for a family visit, and could meet me. (I would have worked via mail or Skype just as confidently. )

At that meeting, she questioned me in her soft Welsh accent while she sketched. She brought shots of other bracelets, and I showed her my bangle, as a reference point: "Like this, but bigger".  She showed me a spiral design whose scale I liked; it had presence but also lightness.

I brought the keshis, some other loose pearls, a few charms, and a pair of gold earrings set with small diamonds, which Le Duc had given me on our 10th wedding anniversary.

Two hours flew by; she was so generous with her time, but that's important.  If both parties are clear before the jeweller begins to work, she will save design time at the beginning and rework later. She also inquired about a budget and assured me that mine fit this project.

A month later, Vivienne sent many views of the spiral with some of the pearls set, and examples of other elements. This intermediate stage is crucial. The client has to "speak now or hold her peace". Revisions are possible, but may affect cost and delivery time.

It is also the time of the "while we're at it, why don't we just add..." tendency, which anyone who has ever reno'd a kitchen will relate to. (Oops, just spent the entire appliance budget on spalted maple burl.)

And I almost did that. As I studied the partially-made piece, I thought, "Maybe I should add a few small stones before it's too late". One morning I was online at 6 a.m. looking at 3mm sapphires and other alluring gems, until I got a grip. One of the reasons I am so taken with her work is Vivienne's restraint. There was a very good chance that, in my enthusiasm, I would over-egg the omelette.

I simply told her it looked perfect, and to continue.

Another six weeks, and it was ready! The bracelet has abundant details, in both fixed and stationary components. I can even wear my old and new bracelets together.

Custom design means you can repurpose materials that are sentimental and mix in some new to create a piece that delights every day. The cost was comparable to that of a major brand's silver cable bracelet, but worlds above in terms of workmanship.

Vivienne Jones' work is available in Montréal at Galerie Noel Guyomarc'h, and in Ottawa at L.A. Pai Gallery. See this list for other galleries. You may also contact her directly via her web site.