27 November 2010

These Are the Days

The fountain across from the Plaza.

Thanksgiving break is always a luxury—four days during which you’re allowed to overindulge and be a bit of a layabout without anyone pointing fingers. Here is how I've spent my break so far.

On Thursday, after a nice lie-in, I went to the cinema to see the newest Harry Potter. I enjoyed the film although I did miss seeing Hogwarts. Afterwards, there was a leisurely dinner sans the traditional turkey (steak was on the menu this year), which was enjoyed with loads of champagne and adorable pumpkin tarts. 

On Friday, after another lie-in (I could really get used to this), I headed up to the Plaza and then strolled slowly down Fifth Avenue, looking at the Christmas windows. Regardless of the crowds of tourists, there’s something so quintessential New York about gazing at the windows. The stores go all out with their displays with some succeeding better than others.

Tiffany & Co.

I always love the tiny lights that drape the entrance to Tiffany’s and the huge red bow of lights wrapped around Cartier’s is a stand out. Yet I always seem drawn to the same block each year.

Some of the theatre goers in the Van Cleef & Arpels windows.

Van Cleef & Arpels has tiny windows but they pack a wallop. This year, sea-themed theatre sets complete with silhouetted theatre goers in the balconies were the stage for some stunning jewels including a gorgeous ring that made it's debut inside a large oyster shell that opened and closed.

A few of Bergdorf Goodman's stunning "Wish You Were Here" windows.

My favorite windows always end up being Bergdorf Goodman’s and this year’s “Wish You Were Here” theme did not disappoint. Vintage-styled travel scenes with a fantastical bent were stunning (their website includes a short video on the making of the windows). My photos don’t do them justice (shooting windows is always a tricky thing) but I hope these convey a bit of the magic on display.

After much window gazing, I headed to one of my favorite places in the city. Oh Public Library, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I have spent many hours in the main branch (officially the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building), combing through documents and books in some of the special collections, writing in the main reading room, or enjoying a  great exhibit. Part of what makes the library such an enjoyable place to visit is its Beaux Arts design and numerous art works (including a portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft in the reading room, which I always find comforting to read under). And the library is especially lovely when it's decorated for the Holidays.

The tree at the main branch of the NY Public Library.

On this visit, I viewed the exhibit “Recollection: Thirty Years of Photography at the New York Public Library.” The black and white images on display were a wonderful example of the best of 20th century photography. Many were grouped together by theme like dogs, where a joyous image of a man with two dogs, “Chester and His Hounds” by Shelby Lee Adams, was juxtaposed with the more distressing Weegee image titled “"Ritz, the puppy belonging to William Kinsman, was one of the casualties of the two-alarm blaze at 157 W. 74th St. yesterday, February 1, 1944." I, of course, had to research little Ritz and was relieved to find another caption that continued, “Noticing the dog had a broken leg, a fireman wrapped him in a blanket and took him to the street.” Hopefully Ritz survived his ordeal. And an exhibit of some of the greats wouldn't be complete without images of Atget’s prostitutes. Love them. The exhibit runs through January 2 so do try and go.

Enough of my rambling dear readers. I still have two more days to enjoy before returning to work. More later. In the meantime, have a lovely 

Photos by Michele.

24 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

To all my dear readers here in the States, have a lovely and relaxing Thanksgiving (and if you live somewhere else, have a good week as well). At least one turkey can breathe a sigh of relief as turkey is not on the menu this year at Mrs. Parker's. I have loads planned for the next four days so will, hopefully, have some stories to share with you soon.

18 November 2010

Dickinson's Garden

I love this time of year save for the lack of flowers in bloom. So I thought I'd share some images from a special exhibit, “Emily Dickinson’s Garden: The Poetry of Flowers,” which I saw last spring at the New York Botanical Gardens.

Emily Dickinson, the reclusive poet who famously spent her later years sequestered in her bedroom, was a well known gardener in her hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts. Dickinson loved flowers and could often be found in her garden, sometimes even gardening at night with the aid of a lantern. 

For the exhibit, Dickinson's imagined garden (no evidence of the original garden exists) was created inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory with a path running between the recreated facades of the Homestead, the Dickinson home, and the Evergreens, the home of Dickinson's brother Austin. Outside, a poetry walk included 35 of her poems and the museum displayed some of  Dickinson's letters and a reproduction of one of her famed white dresses.  

The creators of the exhibit turned to Dickinson’s writings, which include many references to her beloved flowers, to find flowers and plants to include. The rest of the garden was filled out with flowers that would have commonly been found in Massachusetts in the 19th century. 

Foxgloves and delphiniums, hyacinths and my favourite, hollyhocks, filled the conservatory (one very wise little boy pointed out to his mother that foxgloves can kill you. A future gardener if there ever was one). I could have stood in there all day breathing in their beauty. My only regret is that I missed the tulips and daffodils by a few weeks. The path that wove between the flowers led me to the tiny replica of Dickinson's bedroom where a small desk and chair were placed beneath a window just like the one she would have sat at, able to gaze out at the world.

I don't remember the name of these airy beauties above. Does anyone know what they are? There were so many lovely flowers I wish I had taken more photos to share with you dear readers (I'm afraid I went a little crazy with shooting the Hollyhocks). All and all, a great exhibit filled with enough colours to carry one through some grey months.

Photos of the New York Botanical Gardens by Michele.

14 November 2010

The Girl With the Bob

I wear my hair in a short, dark bob. Some think it’s a nod to my favourite decade, the 1920s. But it’s really because of Louise Brooks. Ever since I saw her in Pandora’s Box when I was a teenager she’s inspired me (see the photo I used in my first post)—not just her hair but her strength and originality.

Today would have been her 104th birthday. Born in 1906 in Cherryvale, Kansas, she would spend most of her 78 years battling something—studios, authority, alcohol, poverty. Louise was a born rebel. She never backed down, always sticking to her guns even when her choices hurt her in the end. The woman who once said, "I have a gift for enraging people, but if I ever bore you, it will be with a knife," may have been hard to like sometimes but her determination is something to be admired.

Members of the Denishawn Dance Company. Louise is second from right.Louise escaped a self-absorbed mother and the Kansas plains when she was just 15, moving to New York to join the famed Denishawn Dance Company. “I wanted to be a great dancer like Martha Graham,” she would say later in life. “That was my ambition.” She would last two years before one of the company’s founders, Ruth St. Denis, dismissed her for wanting “life handed to you on a silver salver.” It was not the last time that her brazen personal life would get her in trouble (she was asked to leave her room at the Algonquin after neighbors complained she was doing exercises on the rooftop in her pajamas) but this slight would continue to sting until the end of her life. She went on to take Broadway by storm, starring in the George White Scandals and Ziegfeld Follies, before one of her numerous beaus, Paramount Pictures producer William Wanger, insisted she do a screen test. She passed and made her screen debut in Street of Forgotten Men (1925).

She photographed gorgeously. In an era where blondeness still dominated the landscape, Louise's “black helmet” of hair and sleek boyish figure stood out and made her a favorite of photographers. As the 1920s progressed, she helped to shape the image of the flapper. She even had the perfect flapper attitude. Whereas “It” girl Clara Bow was privately insecure and fragile, Louise oozed self confidence and disdain. The woman who said “Love is a publicity stunt, and making love, after the first curious rapture, is only another petulant way to pass the time waiting for the studio to call,” was no shrinking violet. She was a true flapper, down to her hair. Colleen Moore is often credited with inventing the bobbed look for flappers, but all one has to do is look at photos of Louise as a child to find the same black bob with stick-straight bangs framing a devilish face. Her hair, combined with her alabaster skin (which in real life was dusted with freckles) and what Christopher Isherwood described as “that fine, imperious neck of hers,” would turn her into an iconic image.

Louise in a scene with Richard Arlen from Beggars of Life.

Typical of Hollywood, they didn’t know what to do with her. So they threw her into a bunch of comedies playing the ingenue. It wasn’t until William Wellman’s Beggars of Life (1928) that she was given a role she could really sink her teeth into. Playing a young girl who disguises herself as a boy and takes to the rails to escape a murder charge, the film was a reality check for American filmgoers about the lives of tramps and hobos. It would be her last good Hollywood role.

Hollywood publicity still.

The arrival of sound in 1927 with The Jazz Singer spelled the end of many careers in Hollywood. Studios, having to incur huge costs to build new sound stages, began using the line “we don’t know how your voice will record,” with their actors, offering renewed contracts without pay raises. Most went along but not Louise. Called into the office of B. P. Shulberg, the West Coast head of Paramount, Louise was told “You can stay on at $750 per week or leave.” She turned him down flat and left Hollywood. Fortunately for film buffs, she had an offer waiting in Berlin.
Louise made three films in Europe—Pandora’s Box (1929), Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), and Prix de beauté (1930)—but it was the first that would earn her a place in film history.
Louise as Lulu in Pandora's Box.
Pandora’s Box was based on two 18th-century plays by Frank Wedekind—Erdgeist (Earth Spirit) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box). The character of Lulu, a young woman whose sexuality causes the destruction of those around her, was infamous in Germany. Director G. W. Pabst had been combing the country looking for his Lulu, something akin to David O. Selznick’s later search for Scarlett O’Hara, when he settled on Louise. When it was announced that he had chosen an American the German people were incensed but they soon got over it.
Louise spoke no German and Pabst little English, but the two hit it off immediately. Pabst knew instinctively how to handle Louise and got the performance of a lifetime out of her. She later wrote “In Hollywood, I was a pretty flibbertigibbet whose charm for the executive department decreased with every increase in her fan mail. In Berlin, I stepped onto the station platform to meet Pabst and became an actress.”
Lulu's triumph backstage.

In Pandora’s Box, Louise is Lulu, a young dancer and prostitute who is having an affair with Dr. Peter Schön (Fritz Kortner), a wealthy, older man whose son, Alwa (Franz Lederer), is also infatuated with her. One evening back stage at the theatre where Lulu is performing in a revue, she and Schön get into an argument. After a struggle in which Louise scissor kicks her dancer’s legs divinely, they kiss only to be interrupted by Alwa and Schön’s fiancée. Schön is devastated but Lulu is triumphant. The slow, sly smirk she aims at the camera screams of victory. Later, Lulu and 
Schön marry but when he discovers Lulu with his son, he tries to get her to commit suicide, only to end up dead himself. Put on trial, Lulu manages to escape and winds up destitute in London with Schigolch (Carl Götz), an old pimp, and a broken Alwa. Left alone, she goes out and brings home a man she meets on the street—Jack the Ripper. As Louise describes Lulu’s death scene that follows, “It is Christmas Eve, and she is about to receive the gift that has been her dream since childhood: death by a sexual maniac.”

What is most striking about Pandora’s Box is how modern it feels for a silent. Much of this is due to Louise's acting style. In an era when the norm was to overreact to compensate for the absence of sound, Louise just reacted. Her approach was so subtle that many critics at the time thought she wasn’t acting. Louise was simply ahead of her time. She later said of her Lulu: “She’s just the same kind of nitwit that I am. Like me, she’d have been an impossible wife, sitting in bed all day reading and drinking gin.”

Louise in a scene from Diary of a Lost Girl.

By the time Louise left Europe sound was king and when she refused to return to Hollywood to dub her role in The Canary Murder Case (1929), which had been shot as silent before she left, she put the last nail in her coffin. If she had gone along with the studio heads, she might have become one of the great stars; her departure for Berlin coincided with the peak of her popularity (the year she left, only three other stars had as many magazine articles written about them). She made a few more films but they were mostly insults to her talent and intellect (but did prove something Louise had known all along, her voice recorded fine). Her career was finished before she was even 25.

She retreated to New York and the bottle, gin becoming her best friend. There she wallowed in a self-imposed exile until some film historians, led by James Card of the George Eastman House, started viewing her films and “rediscovered” Louise Brooks. In her later years she took to writing about the art she had never really cared for at the time, culminating with a collection of essays, Lulu in Hollywood. She died on August 8, 1985, a rebel until the end.

So Happy Birthday Louise. You continue to inspire.

To find out more about Louise Brooks, check out the Louise Brooks Society or read Barry Paris' biography and Louise's Lulu in Hollywood.

(This post is largely taken from an article I wrote about Louise Brooks years ago so my apologies if it sounds familiar to any of you dear readers).

11 November 2010

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day in the States, a holiday that honors all military veterans. But before 1954, it was observed as Armistice Day in memory of the end of World War I (the Armistice was signed by the Germans on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, formally ending major hostilities). 

The “War to End All Wars” did everything but end all wars (many would argue that it led directly to World War II) but instead marked a loss of innocence and the arrival of the modern age. So today, lets not forgot those who originally inspired this holiday and remember the sacrifices they made on the fields of Europe and elsewhere.

07 November 2010

Don't Worry

In a letter to his daughter Scottie dated August 8, 1933, F. Scott Fitzgerald laid out some advice for her to follow. The letter alternates between lighthearted sweetness (he addresses Scottie as both Pie and Halfwit) and genuine concern for her future. It also gives some insight into Fitzgerald’s own character (he confesses to not believing in happiness). Reading the letter today, it’s interesting to note how much of what he says still rings true (Save for the part about insects. There I would have to disagree with him). What do you think dear readers?

Things to worry about:
Worry about courage

Worry about cleanliness

Worry about efficiency

Worry about horsemanship

Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion

Don’t worry about dolls

Don’t worry about the past

Don’t worry about the future

Don’t worry about growing up

Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you

Don’t worry about triumph

Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault

Don’t worry about mosquitoes

Don’t worry about flies

Don’t worry about insects in general 

Don’t worry about parents

Don’t worry about boys

Don’t worry about disappointments

Don’t worry about pleasures

Don’t worry about satisfactions

Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?

How good am I in comparison to my contemporaries in regards to:

(a) Scholarship

(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?

(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

02 November 2010


It's Election Day in America so don't forget to go out and cast your ballot and make your voice heard.

Photo from the Library of Congress.


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