Grand finale pearl reno: Leslie's auburns go hip

The last post before the Passage's summer closure goes to Leslie and her rockin' reno.

She bought her choker of Chinese freshwater auburn pearls several years ago, from Kojima Company. The pearls were gorgeous, but over time, she found the length shorter and dressier than she wanted, so returned to Kojima for a reno.

The reveal says it all!

She now has a much looser (in every respect) 37-inch blackened-silver wire-wrapped rope that mixes her auburns with baroque Tahitians, South Sea and Tahitian keshis, Chinese freshwater keshis, two Japanese Kasumis, and the piece de resistance, several large quartz beads cut in irregular, faceted shapes— a graceful, one-of-a-kind composition by Kojima's owner, Sarah Canizzaro.

Here is the project en train; Leslie had input throughout. Though she has beading and wire-work skills (we saw her own earring reno here), she called on the pros for this project.

Three tips for restyling a strand from short to longer:
#1: Work with someone who knows, and has access to, a wide range of pearls.
The box at far right, above, is only a tiny part of  Kojima's stock. Few jewellers have an enormous cache of unusual pearls.

#2: Let the new design suggest the pearl assortment.
Women often want to use all the pearls from the original necklace, but that may throw off the harmony. You can use leftover pearls in another piece, or sell them.

#3: Give the designer some input, but also freedom.
Anyone creating custom work needs to know your preferences; for Leslie, it was a rope casual enough for her jeans and tee.

Do you like wire-wrapped or prefer knotted pearls? Gold or silver? Rounds or the more unusual shapes? Is there a pearl variety you've long admired, and would love to slip in there, like a golden South Sea or two, or some glowing akoya keshis?  Maybe you want to add gemstone accent beads, or an interesting clasp.

If you don't quite know what you want, ask the designer and look at ready-made pieces for ideas.

#4: Set a budget, or a range.

A good designer can work within any reasonable budget. Leslie's project cost well under four figures. There are ways to extend your budget: choose stunning Chinese freshwaters instead of South Seas, and use other materials, like Leslie's sparkling quartz beads. I would not cut corners with findings, whether silver or gold. If you use gold wire, spring for gold, not fill or plate, which look good right out of the box, but not with wear.

Merci, honeybunches!

First, to Leslie, for her generous sharing of photos. Real-life examples inspire us; they're a gift.

A. has a Tahitian choker she feels the same way about; she wore them often in her executive life; now, she's retired and there they sit. Here we are playing with her pearls, over breakfast; I'm wearing her pendant.

We thought about using metal or gem spacer beads, to add about two inches—but it wouldn't change the formality much, and if spacers are used too repetitiously, especially if of uniform size, the piece looks stiff.

Then A. saw Leslie's rope: "This is it!", she told me.  I'll show you her reno in September.

Here's an example of spacers done right, and also an opportunity to show you a rarity, British Columbia natural wild oyster pearls:

Second, to Sarah Canizzaro, Kojima's owner. I have tried to feature other vendors, but there is no one who approaches her variety of fascinating pearls at every price point. She supports sustainable practices, her family's pearl history spans three generations, and she is devoted to clients loving their pearls.

Third, to you, for reading and commenting over the past year. A passage needs its flâneurs!

I wish you all the delights of the season; the next post will be on Tuesday, September 4, when the shutters roll open with a happy clatter.

I wish you reunions

This is the penultimate post before the Passage closes, as usual, for July and August. This hiatus marks ten years and over 1, 200 posts.

That milestone is achieved on the currents of a past life. A few evenings ago, our sons (one is in the photo, at right) and we had a friend, Rob (at left) to our house for dinner. We have known him since daycare days.

Rob, Duchesse, and Jules

I could still see that wind-up-toy of a toddler in his face—and now, the young adult, focused, more serious.

We say, in later life, "the years just fell away", and "it was like we saw one another yesterday". Around our table, I saw the same connection.  Rob and our sons adopted an immediate shorthand, memories engaged at warp speed.

When does this begin? There has to be separation, a sense of movement, or it's just another hangout. And what is sweeter than meeting a friend after years apart and feeling that instant bond?

Rob spoke of another kind of reunion. During his childhood and adolescence, he spent every summer at his church's family camp. He's going back this summer, to lead a month-long canoe trip for a dozen fourteen-year-olds. He spoke of the upcoming trek with pride, both for his invitation and the tradition of the camp.

Reunions are especially satisfying when the family or friends accept both the person they knew and the person she has become. At the same time, boundaries are important. Every woman headed to a family reunion has given herself a lecture before arriving: don't get triggered by Larry's husband's jokes; don't let Anita burn the burgers yet another year; don't say one word about the political slogan on the t-shirt.

Some reunions are small-scale: three sisters triangulate a destination and jump on a discount flight, six university friends gather for a long weekend. All evoke good will. The hot water heater may go on the blink, rain may enforce a Scrabble marathon (often with missing tiles), but everyone gets along (or if not, someone goes for a long walk). I remember one family reunion when my lovesick 16-year-old niece agreed to make a cherry pie with me, and wept into the piecrust as we made those tricky lattices. Oh well, a little extra salt.

Love is the anchor and I have never felt its need more. This summer, may you reunite. We all need it, no matter what our age.

See your people, no matter where life has carried them: a cousin, a cherished colleague, the neighbour who years ago moved to a town you'll be visiting anyway. You may find yourself calling on someone to whom you were not especially close in the past, but you will find, in your shared roots, an affinity beyond words and time.

Laugh, accept, and ride the current. It's time; it's always time.

Older, single and the age difference

(Names have been changed to protect the wrinkly.)

I met Angie for lunch when she visited here recently. She is almost sixty, single, and lives on the west coast of Canada.

Angie wore a bandage that wrapped her forehead, and pressure-sleeves from forearm to armpit. This was her first outing after the latest round of surgery (arm lipo, forehead lift), which she hides from her son and friends by having it far from home, and affords by getting a deal from an old classmate's cosmetic-surgeon husband.

She said, "Men my age want women at least twenty years younger, and I have to compete."

I've been surprised at how many single men around my age are looking for quarter-century age differentials. "Forty looks good, and thirty-five very good", said Rick, sixty-six. My heart sank. I told him, "If I were single, that would make ninety-five year olds and up my dating pool!"

I used to be live-and-let-love about big age differences, and have seen felicitous unions with twenty or more year spreads. Among heterosexual couples I know, men have been the senior partner, but I took exercise classes with a woman who was happily married to a man twenty-eight years younger.

I always said it's the business of the consenting adults, and meant it. So why am I now perturbed by generation-hopping mate-shopping, which I see happening with men I actually know, not Julian Schnabel?

Because of the stats.

As Renee Fisher wrote on HuffPost, 
"At ages 60-64, there are close to 2.3 single women to every single man. By ages 70-74, the ratio is 4 to 1. The last actual sighting of a single man age 75 or above was made in July of 2008, and he was later proven to be an extraterrestrial. Thousands of older women expressed interest in dating him, but, after several unsuccessful dates on, he fled to his home planet."

I know a number of vibrant, single women over fifty-five who hope for a relationship, whether serious or casual-but-connected. Someone to travel with is the most often-expressed wish, but companionship for more quotidien activities would be fine too. Their yearning is kept on the down low, but if I catch them on a bad day, they are distressed. Some have plain given up.

Should they get something going, they are a bit surprised; a friend said of her new sweetheart, "And he actually wants to be with a woman his age!"

They read the young-men-want-older-women articles with bemusement; some have dated men much younger, but as Angie said, "Been there at forty with the Australian surfer dude, not doing that now." She wants plus/minus five or six years.

Rick met Kirsten, thirty-six, on a dating site. When when she returns from Scotland next month, they will go to a concert; in the meantime, they text. I caught the boast in his voice when he broadcast her age. I said, "And what does she want with you?" That was mean, and I apologized. But when he crowed, I didn't like it.

Men who date women younger than their daughters can encounter a disconnect between two life stages. Louis told me about his buddy, Michel, who is sixty-two: "His girlfriend is thirty-four and makes plans for them to hang with her friends at those restaurants that turn into clubs at 10:00, but by that time, he wants to be home, watching a movie."

I asked Louis, who is in his early sixties and single for twelve years, if he dates much younger women. "Never wanted to", he said. "We'd have so little in common." However, some men leverage their worldliness. Linda's sixty-eight year old ex, Paul, is with a woman thirty-three years younger. She says he "enjoys being a 'Professor Henry Higgins'".

And now I post the sentence I've deleted several times: And a terrific woman around his own age sits home alone. 

My sensible neighbour Lou said, "But aren't our friends better off without immature, superficial guys like that?"  The men I'm thinking of didn't seem that type. I'm wondering what's happened. Do women near their age remind them they're getting on?

Meanwhile, Rick's trying to figure out what Kirsten's texts really mean (irony's a bitch, Ricky), and Angie is waiting to get the stitches out before she flies home.

Jordan Peterson: Calling a certain audience to order and mightily annoying the rest

One of my 30-year-old sons sent a Mother's Day e-mail that said,
"I have learned so much from you and I believe the reason why I have such a wonderful partner to raise a family with is due to the many lessons you imparted...I make my bed every day now!"

I was delighted, but also jolted. "Make your bed" is a tenet of the controversial psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson's from his best-selling "12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos", along with "stand up straight with your shoulders back" and "take responsibility".

Had I been a Peterson Mom?

I have been watching Peterson's profile gain traction for a time, via videos and press coverage. I can't look away.

Some of what he tells his audience makes sense. At the same time, he promotes a return to traditional sex roles (in the name of stability and safety), is dismissive of LGBT persons' struggle for inclusion, and has a creepy jones for suffering—but then I think that about certain Buddhist personages, too.

Peterson fills a need. Just like the times get the shoe choices they deserve, every so often the culture seems to require someone new to tell them How to Live. Or, because so many of Peterson's fans are young adults, How to Grow the Eff Up.

He draws fierce criticism and cheap personal shots (a writer slammed his bedspread), a common response to prominent figures who disrupt the status quo and propose unpalatable strategies. And he may be falling into the classic trap of guruhood: believing his (positive) press, letting it fan arrogance.

Peterson delivers not particularly new advice cemented to some retrograde strategies. His approach is fear-based, not a surprise given that his private counselling practice addresses loss, confusion and crisis. In his university class lectures (see YouTube), Peterson addresses issues in psychotherapy with fluency; when he speaks to the public in vintage-looking piped suit, he plays to the attendees' sense of powerlessness, irrelevance, impasse.

He delimits a polarity, Order vs Chaos, a deep, ancient, irreconcilable human condition, the font of myth, art and plenty of monkey business between the sexes. His Jungian roots are always two inches grown out; he introduces archetypes to a mostly young, often male audience.

In Peterson's rat-a-tat delivery, I also hear a good shot of the Stoics, and the Bible, big time.  (For a neat dissection of Dr. Peterson's philosophical chops, see this Psychology Today article by Paul Thagaard. However, Peterson is neither a philosopher nor an ethicist; the lines blur in his presentations.)

Not bad stuff if you are thirty, living in your parent's basement, and sick of a life afflicted with what one of his fans calls "face-sucking nihilism". Persons stuck in that space need someone, and this will not be a gentle, "smile on your brother" figure. A Jordan Peterson will rise.

Over the past fifty years,  I've seen friends grab on to their guides, from the Buddha to Bentham, from Osho to Erhard; seen many go from from devotion to disillusionment. A handful have been scarred to the point of hiding past affiliations.

Others have flourished on their path, finding peace, purpose, community. If still followers after three decades, they are like persons in a long marriage, accepting the ups and downs and staying the course. Not one of the contemporary "gurus" whom I or close friends met at close range was without personal flaws and inconsistencies.

Though I never followed one particular teacher, in my twenties, the work of Dr. Albert Ellis (himself a controversial figure), especially his "Thirteen Irrational Beliefs" was foundational to my emerging adulthood; I guess he was my Peterson. 

What about you? Was there someone whose teachings, whether religious or secular, were formative? Are those still valid for you today?

This year, Peterson holds the stage, drawing fire, selling tickets, stirring it up. We should not ignore the gurus, they are a mirror of our culture. We might remember when we were young and looking for   someone with answers, whether that was a prof or Stevie Nicks.

I wondered, why do young adults need Peterson to tell them to clean their rooms, make their beds? I'm pretty sure their mothers did. Sometimes it takes a fervent preacher in a suit to make the point.

In memory: Anthony Bourdain

We devoured "Kitchen Confidential", especially the son who planned to become a chef. So, when Tony Bourdain came to Toronto in 2007 to promote "No Reservations", we turned up at the bookstore early, eager to get good seats.

We need not have worried; Bourdain had the charisma to command a room four times as large. He was rakish, voluble, irreverent, and on fire about food as culture.

What I remember most is the Q&A. He was asked to name the best and worst meals he had ever eaten. Bourdain said the best was difficult—he had enjoyed so many— but singled out Thomas Keller's cooking at his French Laundry Café.

The worst, he said, was easy: a vegan potluck brunch in San Francisco, "nasty, bitter, joyless food, served by nasty, bitter, joyless people." A gauntlet may have been thrown, because vegan home cooking has leapt so far forward since that Bourdain, who long resisted 'knowing for sure', would have relented.

A young woman stood to bear witness: "I was a vegetarian before I started reading you", she said, "and now I love bar-be-que!" He replied, "My work on this planet is finished, I can go now." That retort, witty at the time, chills me now.

And now, his seat is empty. Our son, who grew up to be a butcher, and considers Bourdain his idol, is bereft.

Bourdain's message, one I have repeated for years, and which he delivered with utter conviction, was, Sit with people and eat their food. That's how you will connect. Forget your likes and dislikes, your habits. Break bread together, talk, laugh, compliment the cook—whether a pro or someone's mom. You can go back to your tofu-ginger scramble or cheeseburger tomorrow.

Even food critics say their tastes were expanded. The reluctant turned to putty: he led Anderson Cooper to tripe, sea urchin, and the martini. Anthony Bourdain made being a picky eater lame: it just wasn't gonna be that night's program. Admit it: could you say no?

In a world of manicured human "brands", he was an enthusiastic bon vivant, a meticulous professional, an empathic traveller. (The "No Reservations" segment shot in Beirut as war erupted is a masterwork.) Not many like him, not enough.

He was an activist in an industry rife with every sort of sleazy practice. Both sons worked in restaurants for years and applauded Bourdain's fight against systemic abuse, his chronicles of the nightly, gut-wrenching stress (and the dangers of after-hours remedies), and his appreciation of the heroes of the kitchen, the line cooks.

We ate at his restaurant, Les Halles, a short time after "Kitchen Confidential" came out. We ordered many bottles of Fiji Water, not realizing our litres of fancy fizz would add up to more than the single bottle of decent Beaujolais we also drank: $90 seventeen years ago. (The price has since come down.)

So, in memory, a Fiji water toast to Tony Bourdain, who had an extraordinary, vivid life, and should still be here. And a martini, because we are not Anderson Cooper.

Pearl sisters

For June, the month of pearls, an especially sweet story.

Janet contacted me to ask about ideas for a gift for her daughter, Lilli, a 22-year-old who would graduate from university in May. What, she asked, would I suggest for this fair-skinned blonde with dark blue eyes? Janet loves pearls, and wanted to celebrate this milestone with a surprise.

There is a belief that "you have to grow into pearls", perhaps perpetuated by women who come to them in later years. But young women look luminous in pearls, when the style suits them. It's all about the right pearl.

Below, young actors in pearls, which they are wearing "in life", beautifully.
Left to right:
Keira Knightly in her massive multicoloured Tahitian baroques; these got pearl envy attention. In this shot, she's wearing them with jeans.
Blake Lively wears pearls often; here, a rope—or two—of rounds punctuated by brilliant accents.
Saoirse Ronan in what looks like a choker of either Kasumis or CFWS.

I thought about Lilli, and my sense was, "Tahitian". But going from the campus to Keira's red-carpet is quite a leap. A Tahitian pendant—not one of those mass-produced styles, but one hand-made and one of a kind—would suit her.

Kojima Company had a sale, so I headed there first, and besides, there's my abiding passion for their pearls. I sent Janet several options to consider.

(In fact, this is advice I give a person of any age who becomes interested in pearls: buy one exceptional pearl as a pendant, or ring, or a pair of earrings. Especially if working with a moderate budget, when you try to find a strand of thirty or more pearls, the results may not thrill. Better to buy one or two magical ones.)

But wait! The family includes a second daughter, Anna, a grey-eyed brunette who, two years ago, graduated and married within two months. In the whirl of those events, they had forgotten about a graduation gift. Janet was now looking for a second surprise.

Below, the choices; both are gem-quality pearls that can hook a woman for life!

Left: Lilli's deep green/black 9mm Tahitian hung on hand-cut blue and golden 2mm tourmaline beads.
Right: Anna's silver 10mm Sea of Cortez drop pearl on tiny freshwater seed pearls, accented with faceted apetite beads.

These are the first pearls each young woman has received and in them, they will glow. It's not just the pearls that make their gifts sing, it's the care taken by Janet to make sure her daughters had the right pieces.

Kojima Company contributed to that precision. They re-strung Anna's necklace to change the accent stones (originally lavender spinel) to apetite, a perfect complement for Anna's colouring, and sent neck shots so that Janet could see the look of the pieces when worn.

Here are the true jewels, those smiles, on sisters celebrating a happy day:

Cue the irresistible Pointer Sisters oldie (written by Sister Sledge), "We Are Family":
"All of the people around us say
'Can they be that close?'
Just let me state for the record
We're giving love in a family dose."

A patchwork of pleasures

My occasional trips to my old home town, Toronto always have a pieced-together quality. I commune with longtime friends, squeeze in a few business appointments, stop by several shops I miss, and grab a few minutes to take in the changing cityscape from the streetcar.

How apt then, that this patchwork of persons and memories led me to the first day of an extraordinary show of contemporary quilts at the Textile Museum of Canada, "Colour Improvisations 2", curated by the renowned quilter and fibre artist Nancy Crow. Well worth a trip (no matter where you live) from now till September 23, to stand before these magnificent compositions.

Shown, "Vibrant Colour Bars" by Ruth Bosshart-Rohrbach, Swizterland.

The curator acknowledges the attributes of the makers:

I also spent time with Kay and Gwen, the founders of the estimable, the online decant store, who support another art form—perfumery—with style and verve. What a pleasure to meet them!

A cocktail and packet of divine decants later, I reluctantly left them to catch the train. So, though the Passage will shutter on June 28 for the habitual July-August vacation, expect more of their deep knowledge here in the fall.

And, I bought a dress! Finding dresses (which I only wear in summer, here) is absolute hell for me, as most are too short, and I don't want a maxi that drags up the métro stairs, either.

Just before meeting Kay and Gwen, I dropped into a local boutique, Damzels (full name, Damzels in This Dress), which embraces a rockabilly/retro vibe, but hey, worth a look. And in ten minutes,  I walked out with this dress (minus the belt), which I'll wear to celebrate my birthday in July: a family dinner capped by a sortie to the tiki bar, Snowbird. Aloooooha!

The trip unrolled delightfully until the taxi home from the train station, when the twenty-something driver and I got gridlocked by a massive street closure due to a bike event. What is usually an under 20-minute ride took an hour and a quarter.

At one point, we were locked into the Plateau neighbourhood, because it was also The Night, that magical first warm evening when the city explodes in a spontaneous, raucous party, and that area is packed with bistros and bars. I suggested we park and join the festivities till the bottleneck broke up.

A Kazakhstani cabbie and a grandmother walk into a bar... sounds like the setup to a joke, but I was wearing my new decant of "Bella Freud" and figured hey, he is probably praying for no more fares like this; it it just might work. But he duly got me home.

This ends a burst of travel; now we'll welcome many summer visitors. The Passage stays open a few more weeks, though, so keep strolling through.


How does your garden grow?

Laura came to Montreal recently to go on a plant-buying mission with a longtime friend. We met for a leisurely lunch. I arrived a few minutes early, so stopped by my favourite boutique for colour and pattern, Katrin Leblond.

Katrin is the antipode of strict, so if you seek the charisma of a glowing violet dress or the wit of a very well-designed original print on a top, she is your woman—and the level of service will make you feel like Grace Kelly received at Chanel.

And who should walk in, but Laura! She spotted one of Katrin’s most charming pieces faster than a botanist spots a rare blue poppy.

Below, she models the black hoodie with a blooming garden strewn across the front and back, both embroidered and appliqued. Even a handmade cattail as the zipper pull! Despite all that handwork, the piece is washable.

Not everyone suits this amount of embellishment and colour; Laura, a fine-featured, fair-skinned medium blonde, not only wore it well, she blossomed. The soft peachy-pink lining of the hood, the delicacy of the flora, and details like soft pleats at the edge of the kangaroo pockets gave her an almost ethereal air. This is an unusual piece (she will doubtless be asked about it) but it did not wear her.

Not a snap decision. We had a leisurely lunch (no wine!) and returned for another look. I like the versatility: wear as a top, a jacket, and indoors in winter when her garden is bare. Katrin’s on-site seamstress altered the sleeves in under a half hour.

While browsing, I saw women of all ages and sizes (xs to xxl) gaily trying and buying. A good two-thirds of the clothing is designed and made there; the styles are feminine, a touch retro, and a welcome relief after the stolid, sexless rectangles I have seen on so many racks.

I especially liked seeing someone try this glorious dress, twirling and smiling as a woman does when she finds something enchanting. (Katrin carries a large selection of Ivko, which fits her aesthetic perfectly). One of the prettiest summer dresses I have seen in years, and in an unusual colour.
Katrin takes her inspiration from masters like Freida Kahlo, then applies her own artwork or collaborates with local printmakers. You can shop the e-store or better yet, come to the boutique. A peek at the e-store below; prices in $US. See the home page to choose other currencies.  

Left: Loose-fit t-shirt with hand-drawn design, Katrin Leblond limited edition; price, $95
Centre: Ivko "Victorian" v-neck; price, $160
Right: Goddess swimsuit, Katrin Leblond; price, $145

Occasionally, I break out of my subdued palette and fall for a Katrin Leblond design. Then, to my surprise, I wear it four times as much as other stuff. The colour goddesses are on to something.

Oh, it is possible to find an elegantly-cut black top there, too, if you look.

Fave frugal fragrances

Sylvia, back in the day, dined on tea and toast for many weeks to re-up her signature fragrance, Guerlain's Liu, ferried to Toronto by a flight attendant girlfriend with a Paris route. She was rescued from extreme deprivation by dinner dates—she accepted every invitation. (The etiquette hints at the era, early '80s.)

I once suggested she shop department-store brands, a nice Lancôme, perhaps. Sylvia looked at me like I'd suggested she wear jeans to work.

Times change; Sylvia has retired, Liu is discontinued. When I recalled her old habit, she plucked a bottle of Origins Ginger Essence from her fridge (where Sylvia always keeps her perfumes), and said, "Fifty bucks."

I'm always hunting for inexpensive but delightful daytime fragrances. Splashing on a satisfying $35 to $70 scent is a particular pleasure. Some women hunt for low-cost dupes of beloved but expensive bottles. That's a mug's game; better to scout for a pleasing scent that stands on its own.

"Where is the Jean Naté of 2018?", I wondered. Still around, a Big Gulp-sized bottle for the price of a takeout lunch—but the scent that permeated my undergrad library so that books smelled of it no longer earns a passing grade. Thanks, Frédéric Malle.

I asked Kay and Gwen of the marvellous online decant store if they knew of any such treasures; Gwen generously sent a list. Some are listed as mens's scents, but you can wear them too. Order decants from, or spring for full bottles at discounters like Amazon, Marshall's and Kohl's.

Bulgari Black, one of Gwen's "desert island picks"; "tea, cedar, amber—and rubber"
Yatagan by Caron : "assetive, swarthy, exotic, powerful"
Dirty English by Juicy Couture: "deep, dark and delicious"
Lolita Lempicka Au Masculin, "a great anise-based fragrance"
Indi by Katy Perry, "soft, intimate, subtle and sexy"

I'd also add 
Quartz for Women, by Molyneux: a classic woody/white flora

Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker;  I stockpile it—a light, graceful bouquet
UPDATE: BUYER BEWARE. I stockpiled 6 bottles, bought online from a reputable discounter and stored them properly for 1-2 years. Not one of these bottles had the slightest scent except alcohol. I opened them  one after another, in disbelief, and had other persons validate my experience.) If you buy "Lovely" anywere, open it right away to check that it is OK. Also the juice should be pale pink, and mine were colourless. (Could be counterfeit.)

My original bottle was from the days when Coty produced the product; the scentless ones were distributed by Lancaster and Lovely Distribution Inc. later licensees.

Sarah Jessica Parker Stash, pricier than Lovely because it's an eau de parfum, and harder to find. "Aromatic, smooth and silky".
(The SJP scents are available in decants from

Gwen noted that many high-end makers now offer 15ml-30ml travel or promotional sizes, which makes access more affordable—unless you fall in love and then face the music for your full bottle of By Kilian Back to Black.

Let's hear your picks!

If you have a punch-above-its-weight favourite that sells for $US 50 ($CDN 65) or less per bottle (I'm not specifying bottle size), please share the name.

Whether it delivers for the rest of us depends greatly on body chemistry and the accords each person likes, but at least we'll know what to try!

Diamonds: A smidgen of sparkle

Marie airily dismissed diamonds for over thirty-five years, from girlfriends' engagement rings to the European-cut brooch she inherited from her mother. She refused my suggestions for restyling, saying she is "not the diamond type".

In April, her longtime partner, Barry, marked her decade birthday with a surprise: a Michael Aram silver and gold Butterly Gingko ring:

And guess who was giddy with delight? She said, "Oh! I never knew diamonds could look like this!" You can't really tell from this photo, but the centre pavé element lifts this ring from crafty to chic.

Diamonds stand up, far more than any other gemstone, to everyday wear, and are priced relatively reasonably in the carat range the trade call melee: faceted diamonds of 1/5ct. (20 points) or less. (See this GIA article for more detail.) When this small, they can fit into the "relaxed real" category of jewellery, and be worn every day, set in silver or gold.

Melee was once used to dress up a large centre stone, or for pavé. It took a generation for designs to place them as the focus; the early efforts, fussy, stiff "right hand rings" marketed in the late '80s, were awkward. We agreed that women didn't need a proposal to wear diamonds, but who wanted the jewellery equivalent of helmet head?

You can now choose small-diamond pieces that range from delicate to badass. Buck the hype of "bigger is better", but choose well-cut diamonds that flash. (Rose-cut or polki diamonds will have less sparkle but are also charismatic in a more minerally way.)

I've put small-diamond designs in the window today, the opposite of the solitaire perched in a prong setting. These are diamonds seductive as that guy in the tequila ads, ready for a good time...with you.

Top row, left to right:
Arik Kastan diamond padlock pendant: 2.5mm rose-cut diamonds, 14k gold; price, $2, 288 at TwistOnline.
Rusty Thought diamond moon ring; tiny 1mm and 2mm diamonds set in blackened silver with rose-gold halo; price, $2, 226 at TwistOnline.
Arc mobile earrings set with 2mm conflict-free diamonds; $410 for version set in 14k gold; from tara447.

Bottom: Anne Sportun large open diamond petal bangle: eight brilliant-cut diamonds set in 14k yellow or white gold; price, $2, 195.

Some of these pieces take serious reckoning with your bank account and possibly your Higher Power.  And I've done some of that, because diamonds last far longer than that chicklet-sized topaz. (Go ahead and wear the big 'paz to a party, but not every day.) Here's an example of their longevity: my ring, below, is twenty years old! Two tiny coloured diamonds, aqua and red, and one white. It's been worn hard, and has never needed repair except for resetting one of the diamonds.

If you have 'forgotten' diamonds, brilliant pointers stuck in a girlish puffed-heart pendant or Mom's  '70s earrings, now is the time to use them.  Jill brought hers, along with unworn gold, and asked a jeweller to make a pendant similar to Sophie Hughes' diamond brick:

She bought a few tiny, new cognac-coloured diamonds to accent the whites; the cost for the new diamonds was under $300.

Old-time twinkle

You will also find small diamonds in the vintage market, and I do love an antique piece worn with jeans and a tee. Antique jewellery will have an older style of diamond cuts, prized when of good quality. Many pieces are bargains; just make sure the stones are not chipped or otherwise damaged.

Modern styles like the earrings at the far right, below, show up on the secondary market, too; waiting for such a piece is a brilliant strategy to stretch your kitty. 

Left: Antique rose gold and diamond earrings, ca. 1900; .30ct tw; price, $1, 100 at Beladora.
Centre: Victorian (ca. 1900-1909) gold buckle ring with seventeen small diamonds; at Luxyferjewellery; price about $545.
Right: Contemporary blackened gold and diamond quatrefoil earrings, the 82 diamonds; total weight, 1.80cts. Price, $1, 950 at Beladora.

Last June, I wrote my first post on small diamonds, and now it's spring again—must be something about sunny days that draws me to these light-loving baubles.


Paris: For the eye

We are often asked why we return to Paris so regularly, instead of expanding our horizons. Paris does, however, exactly that. The eye is built at every turning, facade, bridge, window and gallery.

Come along with me, for a few minutes' tour.

Spring delivered a riot of colour and pattern; shops vyed for the most arresting window:

I e-mailed a few examples to an artist friend who good-naturedly asked for more; I could have spent the entire trip shooting one luscious display after the other. And sister, does this make your grey tee and jeans look uninspired. That's probably why I bought that Uniqulo tee.

While gorgeous young people naturally drew looks (and look terrific in those exuberant styles), I wanted to see women my own age or older, for inspiration. Huguette and I took in the Frantisek Kupka exhibit at the Grand Palais.

Below left, one of the artists' works, "L'archaique", showing that Parisiennes in 1910 were as arresting as now, and at right, two real-life women, both I judged to be seventy or older. Very different types, but both projected an absolute authority, the famous "bien dan sa peau".

Behind the white-haired woman, you can see the back of a twenty-something woman: black athleisure pants, metallic shoes, fedora. How magnificent the elder women look, without following youthful trends, a lesson I summoned when I looked in at a few boutiques.

Though windows brimmed with summer accessories (studded sandals, bolero jackets), Paris is at heart a seat of deep tradition, built since its beginnings as Parisii around the end of the third century B.C.  I was as captivated by the classic beauty as the glossy new.

Left to right: After those tropical cocktail-coloured windows, I first thought strict clothing, a niche occupied by deceptively simple yet feminine clothing in discreet hues (perhaps plum, but not red) was impossible to find anymore. I so longed for that aesthetic that I'd go back to the flat and look at a photo of Annie Leibovitz in her black shirt. But the photo at left shows it alive and assured.

Top right: In Paris, I'm brought to a halt by wedding dresses, because they show tailoring literally married to romance. This short dress by Cymbelline is so nontraditionally chic that I stopped in front of it at least a half-dozen times.

Bottom right: In Repetto's window, a dreamlike, classical tutu that honours the house's history of making ballet shoes.

Paris is far more than its goods: the river, rose windows, the scent of muguets in the markets, the crackle of everyone out on a mild Friday night. We come to to appreciate, learn and grow, to spend time together or take off on our own and report our discoveries.

Years ago, we told our friend Marcelle that we would go to Paris for two weeks. She threw back a tart appraisal: "Too much of a good thing!" I was baffled by her perspective, but stayed silent (an uncharacteristic response).

While enjoying a midafternoon pastry with LeDuc, sitting in the sun at a café, watching street life, I remembered her criticism. Marcelle has been dead for five years, and I thought, Well, old friend, there's your reason: life is short; and so, as Audrey Hepburn said, Paris is always a good idea.


Paris: Shopping with Huguette

Or I should say, watching Huguette shop, a repeat of former outings, when my longtime friend ushers me through hip shops, with great brio. Last year I felt sorrowful, because nothing fit me, an American 12-14; now I ride along for the edification, as if visiting a museum.

Momoni trousers

But if you are a size 6 or 8 with a thin frame and a fat wallet, Momoni, an Italian company with audacious silk prints, would please.

As the aria goes, La Donna è mobile, and none more "mobile" than a clothes-collector Parisienne. Out with former flirtations (Cotelac, Maje, Irie), in with the new. She likes wild pattern mixing and quirky proportions and finds my wardrobe much less daring than when we met. She's right! When I asked if she ever wore jeans, she had to stop and think.

She whisked into NorieM—Japanese clothes and shoes, the exact flats on the model below, which edged over $US 400 and that was with a 'preferred client' card. You can't see the back detail, which offers a little tab like a cat's tongue that rises from the heel, and therefore those in the know see that these are not Clark's. Such cognoscenti codes are the lifeblood of this sensibility.

Shoes here seem expensive to me, but it may be where we were shopping (Carrefour Croix Rouge), and the sturdy pair she bought accommodate her bunions. I'm all for taking the hit on quality shoes that treat your feet kindly.


NorieM clothing is made from plush natural fibers, often hand-dyed, in the modern Japanese style—not simple like Eileen Fisher. It requires a devoted approach: you need to wear the whole look.

Another current favourite is Bellerose, where I admired touches like knit sleeves on the viscose Solong shirt; small details elevate the design.


After our tour, I realized it takes a population of women who understand these clothes and will thus make the investment to support such designers. (All shown have boutiques elsewhere.) I was sorry to see that one I long liked in our neighbourhood, Eunhwa, was gone.

I asked that we stop in when we passed Uniqulo, and now have a new tee from their Marimekko collaboration, of which Huguette approves, and so does my budget— it was under $20.


The next post will be on Tuesday, May 22.

Paris: Strangers in scarves

Because I’m awake, and thinking of scarves...what else, at 6 am., too early to have breakfast?

 My sense of community leads me to grab street shots of locals in Montreal, but feels invasive here.  If I were heedless about privacy, I would shoot the mature, rather than the young, who are beautiful everywhere. Once out of their twenties, most women's scarves are of good quality and even in spring, full sized.

Some of the best are by Inouitoosh, whose boutique I visited with Huguette. You can buy them online! They are fanciful but not juvenile, and the colour combinations are arresting, those 'almost off' shades, in many palettes.

Below, carré "Benoit" in anis nude, in a silk/modal blend. Price, €150.
The fanciful "Gili" (cotton-modal blend) shows summer sea life and is fresh and pretty on a shirt. Price, €70.

I haven't bought one; plenty of time to think it over.

The most audacious yet )relatively) accessible things I saw were by Carven; some of the clothes are classic and quiet but then... this skirt, which of course was in the window.

Paris: Spring means skirts

A quick post to say what you want to know!

A spike up into mid-20C/74F brought out legions of women in light skirts and those skirts, on all shapes and sizes of adult women-old enough to no longer carry schoolbooks- are from just below the knee to lower calf.

I have not seen a kneecap except on youths.

Oddly, dresses are a bit shorter but I do not see the short skirts Mme Macron is known for, at least not around the more relaxed neighbourhoods of the Left Bank.

The skirts of casually-dressed women riding bikes, grocery shopping, meeting a friend for lunch or going to work are soft, gently pleated, subtly gathered, or or a-lined. Gone are the extremes of tight tubes or those Lagenlook voluminous skirts that look like one is dressed in Russian blinds. This Bellerose "Suez" skirt is exactly the effect, down to the sneakers:

Here's s stunner from Sportmax, pricey but you should see it move:

Completely absent is a look that once was everywhere on this cohort: the tunic or short dress over leggings. Though useful for biking, somehow the combo has vanished except on a few tourists, possibly from Quebec, where it is embraced. If there's a tunic, it is worn over slim trousers now.

The Vanishing Legging is not due to weather; in 22C/70F heat, I was surprised to see women in sweaters, heavy coats and big scarves.

The knee-length skirt is worn with flat shoes, usually with laces; sneakers, substantial sandals, derbys. All very sensible yet pretty, in pale spring hues. And no stockings: legs au naturel, whatever the skin colour,  are clearly no problem.

A friendly boutique owner told me French women have definitely become larger in the 15 years she has been in business, so the easy-to-wear skirts may be related to that phenomenon- but I see them even on the classic échalotes. I will also veer into stereotyping again to note that their clothes fit.
A short woman can wear a slightly long skirt when her blouse and skirt fit.

No photos yet, jet lag has hit me terrifically hard this trip. I’ll see what I can do in a few days.

Something's up with buying nothing

A mini-trend has hit, that of buying nothing for a year.  Here I am in Paris, with one window more alluring than the next, and I'm thinking about this, perhaps because of the contrast.

The definition of "nothing" varies from no clothes or accessories and only basic replacements for cosmetics and toiletries, to more rigorous abstention that includes no trips, gifts, takeout coffee; grooming and haircuts strictly DIY.

The approach has been slammed as "poverty tourism", which is unfair, because writers acknowledge that they can pay rent, maintain a car, or take care of emergencies. Cait Flanders' book title reveals the outcome: "The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store."

They report annual savings from $US 18, 000 to $35, 000, which means these women were spending at least $1, 500 per month in non-essentials. That sounds like a lot, but $375 a week slips away fast on $15 cocktails and nail salons. Throw in a shoe sale? Done.

Like subsisting on Jenny Craig's packaged meals, you can't live that way for life. (Some women do mount multi-year marathons; Sal, of the blog oneemptyshelf, extended her run into a second year; Flanders' book covers the first year of two.)

The most relatable writers said, in one way or another, "Find what's worth owning, get rid of the rest." Sal spent to rebuild the library of books and CDs which she had given away without digitizing, but as she said, "No more wardrobe full of generic high heels."

I think it's smarter to learn how to manage money, but for those with a big shopping habit, abstinence is sometimes easier than moderation—and going cold turkey might get you a book contract.

The common elements for a long-term moratorium:
1. Take a fearless spending inventory.
Flanders was amazed how much dribbled away on non-essentials. For many women, that step alone incites change.
2. Go public.
Put your commitment on your blog, Facebook page, or in front of your (non-enabling) friends. Get an accountability buddy. Roommates or friends might make a pact and do it together.
3. Set explicit rules.
Will you buy and accept gifts? What about occasions for which you do not have the appropriate clothes?
4. Purge your inbox of all consumption-related e-mails.
Unsubscribe from vendors, flog-blogs, fashion-oriented Instagram accounts. You can't buy what you don't know about.

Cheats and treats

Unalloyed abstention makes dull reading. Falling-off-the-wagon incidents include visits to thrift stores, and hinting so broadly that she really really needed a new bag that the beleaguered partner bought it as a "gift". Ann Patchett allowed herself supermarket flowers.

One woman agonized about whether choosing replacement cosmetics to get a gift-with-purchase was cheating. (She concluded it was, and gave the gift away.) Someone avoided clothing but tumbled for house decor; another bought her sister a birthday spa day for two, knowing she would be the guest.

The author of one book, published over a decade ago, co-owned two houses (a summer and winter residence) and three cars. Needless to say, readers posted acerbic criticism on Amazon.

Age and stage

Moratorium memoirists are mostly in their thirties to early forties. Their wakeup call came from popular minimalism books like "Everything that Remains" by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, but more often, they were fed up with their credit card bills and decade-old student loans.

By the time we're fifty or older, most women see the folly of overbuying, the flamboyantly fabulous, nearly 97-year old Iris Apfel notwithstanding.

If your parents lived through the Depression, you grew up with the mantra, Borrow, Make, Mend. I've written before about Mom's voice in my head.

Still, our cohort is not immune. At a neighbourhood boutique, a woman around my age was just ahead at the cash, with an impressive stack of clothes that I admired as I fiddled with my three-pack of sneaker socks.

She said as she punched in her Visa card, "You can't take it with you, right?"

I thought, You can't take your clothes, either. But who am I to determine what's right for her? And Iris, who said in her documentary, "More is more, less is a bore", would approve.

What I'll wear in Paris

Today, I'm en route to Paris, where May can skip into 28C/82F heat or sulk down to a damp 7C/45F, from day to day.

I packed black, white, and pale grey—or as I like to think of it, pastel black—spring-ified with pink.

Key items:

There are also Lolë black travel pants (shortened to slightly cropped length for spring), a pair each of black and blue jeans, cotton v-neck tees in white and fuchsia; a black lace tee, and that Piper rain shell.

Scarves in the palette: linen or cotton, several in silk to dress up the tees for evening:

The rain shell will dry quickly, but if shoes get soaked, they're soggy for days. I'm flying in black patent rain slip-ons (Merrell), which have excellent support. In the bag, sneakers (Timberland) for clement-weather walking, metallic silver flats (Ecco) for evening.

We will walk, hang out with friends of over thirty years, shuck oysters. Bookstores, the ballet, markets, and an apèro at an outdoor table. To my consternation, I will miss both materfamilias and Janice Riggs (of The Vivienne Files), as well as two other dear friends, by one day!

Does this outfit make my butt look touristy?

Several of the friends I will see, two Parisiennes, could not be more different. Last time, Huguette took me to a boutique where nothing fit, and the clothes were fantastic. Oof, major pain. This time, the ballet, and if we shop: accessories.

Someone asked if I thought I'd look like a tourist. No, but out with either, I'll look low-maintenance.

Danièle will wear grey jeans, a crisp white shirt, an impeccably-cut blue blazer with an antique lace pocket square, and brown loafers. Huguette will wear a ditsy-floral midi dress, a peach 7/8-length coat, a funny little Japanese knit hat, and mustard ankle boots. They represent the antipodes of French style: BCBG vs. eccentric chic. I can't muster either look (and am not the eccentric type anyway) with a carry-on bag.

Posts for the weeks following this will be sporadic at best or I'll be absent, replacing writing with watching bees dart through spring blooms, communing with art, buying fish we never see here.

I'll awaken next to the oldest music school in Paris; from the common courtyard, song floats through the casement windows. It's as sublime as it sounds.


The solo space

Karen showed me her new home, with a private guest suite on the ground floor; stone walls and wide French doors opened to a terraced garden. Everything in that room, from the bright quilt on the antique metal bed, to the stacks of photopgarphy books, made me sigh with pleasure.

"May I book it?" I asked. "Yes," she said, "but you'll have to get in line! At least five other women have asked." Ah, the allure of the room of one's own!

Nearly every woman I know has a retreat fantasy, and a few have the real thing. Friends and acquaintances who keep such places are of average to average-plus means, but they have made rooms of their own a priority.  Berta says that she would rather rent a studio in Mexico, where she can paint uninterrupted for months at a time, than own a car.

These are not family vacation places—they are solo abodes that might stretch to an occasional guest: a bed, a desk, a small dining table, a basic kitchen and bathroom.

Lucinda owns a tiny "one above, one below" in Dublin, where she has stayed from a few weeks to a full year, for thirty years. The guest bed is the top of the dining room table.

Carole shares her parents' lakeside cabin with her siblings. She spends about two and a half months each year there alone, in two or three chunks.

Alana reserves a room in a rural retreat center that accepts guests even if they are not participants in an event; this is especially convenient because the meals are provided. She books a month in summer, and returns for shorter stays of a week or two through the rest of the year.

Lynne, a writer, seeks colonies where artists may qualify for use of a cottage for up to three months, to do their work in a quiet, supportive setting. She has to keep looking and applying, but when something comes through, she jumps on it. If she does not qualify, she rents a place in Cape Breton, always with a view of the water.

Women in their rooms: what do they do? They create, commune with nature, decompress. Some take time away from relationships that are treasured but taxing. At least three whom I've known cite their deep need for solitude: not to get away from anyone in particular, but to exist, for a period of time, in the absence of distraction.

Two weeks ago, I sat in R.'s apartment high in a heritage building. Family and friends visit occasionally, but it's her place.  Pearly late-winter skies spread beyond  a bay window glazed with the original leaded panes. She has chosen a white-and-cream palette for her few furnishings; the beautifully-proportioned rooms provide all the decoration needed.  She pushed her coursework aside to make room for our glasses of wine. As we watched the light shift over the distant mountains, I thought, What woman would not love to have this?

Readers with partners might think, There is no way I can manage that. But each of the women I've mentioned is with someone. (Several have grown children; two are childless.)

Needless to say, each has a partner who supports such absences, even though they don't need it themselves. Alana said that at first she felt selfish when she left her wife, Estelle, for a season, but Estelle told her the Alana who returned was a definite improvement.

A few couples have taken solo sojourns since they have met, but more and more, I'm hearing about women who seek their own space after decades of vacations spent juggling everyone elses' needs. They speak of the joy of independence, of the blend of freedom and responsibility, of a return to the essential woman who was submerged in other roles.

Trust is the silent partner in such sojourns. Berta's husband, Ted, who, when asked for the first time how he would feel about her taking a solo winter, replied with his characteristic laconic humour, "As long as you're coming back, Bert, you can take your time."

PS. Pearl sale alert: Kojima Company's spring sale starts Sunday, April 29; one-of-a-kind spring-divine pearls will be 18% off, with code PINKMOON.

Someone at that studio loves Nick Drake's languid ballad, which, come to think of it, is perfection listened to in a private space.

If you'd like to listen now, the link below works only in certain locales, but you can click through to YouTube.

Uneven aging: The Brickendens light a path

Photo: The Globe & Mail

Sometimes an obituary grabs your heart. The Brickendens, Shirley and George, were such persons. Remarkable from their first meeting to their joint and chosen medically-assisted death, they illuminate a path some of us are just beginning to discern.

An interview given less than a week before they died, in which they explain their decision, is here.
The couple was a classic case of uneven aging in advanced old age: Shirley, 94, obtained approval for assisted death over a year ago, but for one of the two doctors required to approve the procedure,  George did not meet the criteria. Then, at 95, he caught up.

After nearly 73 years together, they "flew away", as they always put it, holding hands in their own bed.

Their way is not for everyone, but it resonates for me because I saw, during the years when I worked in two large hospitals, that when a patient was in an advanced state of irreversible decline, unbearable suffering ennobled no one.

I am beginning to witness the end of life more frequently, among my own friends and family. Some endings are graceful, some are fraught. One day, I would like to be able to make certain decisions, difficult though they may be, and want my wishes to be compassionately respected. My beliefs allow the possibility of euthanasia, so I am watching as Quebec carefully tests this newly-acquired right. Over three hundred persons were approved for the option in 2017.

The Brickendens left after loving farewells and good champagne. I am grateful to them for publicly describing their poignant, entirely informed, and now legal act.