28 May 2014

I Love Paris

Every time I look down on this timeless town
Whether blue or gray be her skies.
Whether loud be her cheers or soft be her tears,
More and more do I realize:

I love Paris in the springtime.
I love Paris in the fall.
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles,
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.

I love Paris every moment,
Every moment of the year.
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris?
Because my love is near.—Cole Porter

Lately I've been dreaming of Paris. Perhaps it's due to the fact that most of my reading and viewing material of late has been set in the City of Lights or because New York has got me down at the moment or maybe it's just that I love Paris in the springtime.  Whatever the reason, Paris, I hope to see you soon.

Photo from here.

25 May 2014

Remembering Capa

"For me, Capa wore the dazzling matador's costume, but he never went in for the kill; a great player, he fought generously for himself and for others in a whirlwind. Destiny was determined that he should be struck down at the height of his glory."—Henri Cartier-Bresson

Sixty years ago today on May 25, 1954,the dashing war photographer Robert Capa lost his life when he stepped on a landmine while covering the First Indochina War for Life Magazine in Thai-Binh, Indochina. He was only 40 years old. Rest in peace, Capa.

21 May 2014

A Perfect Present

If anyone feels like buying me a present the above auction items would do nicely: Elliott Erwitt's very first press card, issued to him when he joined Magnum Photos and signed by himself and the agency's founder, Robert Capa, and one of Erwitt's personal cameras, a Leica MP no. 2922644, with his signature engraved on the back. About the press card Erwitt says, "It was a matter of pride to have a 'press card' signed by arguably the most important dashing photojournalist from the most prestigious photo agency of the day. Looking at the card now I have difficulty imagining that anyone would take the person pictured (me) seriously looking about 12 years old."

The items (Lot 77) are part of the "100 Years of Leica" auction taking place this Friday at WestLicht Photographica Auction in Vienna.The starting bid for this lot is €15,000. For more information, visit here.

19 May 2014


One of my favourite words is saudade, a Portuguese word that has no direct translation in English. Saudade describes a longing for a lost person or place, often a past that never existed. Rooted in sadness, it's no surprise that saudade figures heavily in many Fado songs.

There are many words around the world with no equivalent in English and last year New Zealand graphic designer Anjana Iyer started a project, “Found in Translation,” in which she set out to illustrate 100 of these words from various languages (after a temporary halt at word 41, she says she will complete the project this year). 

The results so far are both colourful and informational. There’s ghiqq—Persian for "the sound made by a boiling kettle," iktsuarpok—an Inuit word that describes "the frustration of waiting for someone to turn up,” tsundoku—a very helpful Japanese word that means “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it typically piling it up together with other such unread books,” and the brilliant backpfeifengesicht,  German for “a face badly in need of a fist.” In fact, some of my favourite words in the project turned out to be German (who knew?) like waldeinsamkeit, which describes “the feeling of being alone in the woods.” 

I look forward to seeing more of these and hope that Iyer includes saudade as one of her 100 words. To see the rest of the illustrations, visit here.

15 May 2014


Jacqueline Kennedy reading The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.

It’s time for the latest edition of Bookshelf—a collection of short reviews of the books that I've recently read. You should be warned that my history crush, Robert Capa, pops up in more than one of these books (at some point I'm going to have to get serious and just write a book about him). Let me know your thoughts on any of these titles and what you've been reading.

Ingrid Bergman: My StoryIngrid Bergman and Alan Burgess
With alternating passages by Bergman and Burgess, Ingrid Bergman: My Story tells how a shy young Swedish girl became one of the great stars of the silver screen. At times modest and often candid, Bergman writes about the importance of acting in her life, her famous co-stars, and of her great loves affairs with Robert Capa and Roberto Rossellini. Her relationship with Rossellini and the worldwide scandal it caused understandably takes up a good portion of the book. Reading this will make you want to go back and watch every Bergman film again.

At the turn of the 20th century, Polish-born performer Anna Held met Florenz Ziegfeld who persuaded her to leave the stages of Europe and come to New York. Held’s charming and slightly naughty personality combined with Ziegfeld’s promotional skills turned her into the toast of Broadway (she also became Ziegfeld’s common-law wife). While the passages about her early life seem rushed (I suspect it was from a lack of source material), Golden does a good job clearing up some of the rumours about Held and painting a picture of what New York theatre life was like at the time. 

Founded by Robert Capa and a small group of photojournalists in 1947, Magnum Photos is a photographic cooperative that continues to be one of the preeminent photo agencies in the world with members who have contributed some of the most lasting images of the 20th century. The book discusses Magnum’s history in detail and includes stories about the famous bickering of the members and of the rivalry between the New York and Paris offices. Seemingly always on the brink of collapse, Magnum has managed to survive deaths, money woes, and a changing industry. A must read for people interested in photojournalism.

The ChaperoneLaura Moriarty
In 1922, 15-year old Louise Brooks left Kansas for New York to study with the Denishawn School of Dance in New York City. Accompanying her was an older woman who acted as her chaperone. In this engaging fictional account of that trip, Laura Moriarty renames the chaperone Cora Carlisle and makes her the story’s protagonist. While attempting to look out for her young charge, Cora discovers some answers about her past and finds a new road for her future. I normally do not like fictional accounts of people whom I admire but I was quite taken with this book save for the one very predictable plot line. I just wish I could have heard more from Louise but alas it isn’t really her story. 

Dimanche and Other StoriesIrène Némirovsky
Confession: I have not read Suite Francaise. My first introduction to Irène Némirovsky was a short story, Dimanche, in Persephone Books’ magazine. I loved that story so much that I went out and bought this collection (Dimanche is the first story). I was moved by the beauty of the language in these ten tales that deal with issues of love, relationships, and class differences. Knowing that she died in Auschwitz in 1942 only adds a bittersweet air to these excellent stories. Highly recommended.

A Russian JournalJohn Steinbeck
In this amusing and informative account of a trip that John Steinbeck made to Russia in 1948 with Robert Capa, he writes about their many obstacles from transport issues to finding places to sleep to dealing with censors while trying to document their encounters with the Russian people. Steinbeck reports on the great hospitality they were shown and how the Russian people were not all that different from Americans. Capa, whose powerful photographs lend credence to Steinbeck’s account, provides a lot of the humour in the book (there’s even a passage he contributed defending himself). Very entertaining.

14 May 2014

Animal Selfies

I am appalled at how little I’ve posted in the past few weeks. All I can say is that I’ve been swamped with some projects and promise new posts soon. In the meantime, I came across this brilliant ad campaign and couldn't resist sharing some of the images.

Diomedia, a Brazilian stock photo agency, decided to promote their new National Geographic collection by creating animal selfies with the slogan “There are lots of terrible animal pictures out there. National Geographic Collection. The best nature images are here.” They are cute, witty, and current. 

Diomedia even created some selfies specifically for their Instagram account. This one of a meerkat is one of my favourites.

To see the rest of the ads and learn about the making of them, visit here. To check out more Instagram images, visit their account here.

08 May 2014

Tudor Place

In need of a break, I took the train to Washington, DC last week to visit some dear friends for a few days and relax. There were lots of fun activities including going out to Nationals Park to watch a live broadcast of the Washington National Opera Company's performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Earlier that day, we ventured over to Georgetown to check out Tudor Place, a historic home and garden.

In 1805, merchant Thomas Peter purchased 8½ acres of land in Georgetown Heights for $8,000, money that his wife, Martha Parke Custis Peter, a granddaughter of Martha Washington, had inherited from George Washington. Dr. William Thornton was chosen to design a home for the Peters and their children that would befit a family of their status. Utilizing some existing buildings on the property as wings for a larger house, Thornton created a grand building that mixed Federal and neoclassical design and included a marble-floored Temple Portico. Finished in 1816 and named Tudor Place, it would be home to six generations of the Peter family.

While I normally like visiting historic houses, we were interested in the garden. When originally designed, the garden would have been used mainly to grow food and herbs for the family. Today, it’s purely ornamental with stone paths, a bowling green, small dell, and the most wonderful sloping south lawn. I could only imagine how delightful it would be for a child to live here, able to play adventurer in the dell or roll down the lawn. 

There were some flowers in bloom but not as many as I would have wished to have seen (a lone tulip told me I had missed my chance by a few weeks). Nonetheless, there were some pretty little roses to be found as well as massive peonies, hydrangeas, and bright pink azaleas. 

The garden is broken up into different sections, which gives you the feeling of stepping from one land into another. While the dell is overgrown and filled with old growth trees (on one of which we spotted a black squirrel) other parts of the garden are very structured like the Flower Knot, in the center of which stands a sundial from Crossbasket Castle in Scotland, the Peter family's ancestral home. Speaking of the dell, there is a brick semicircular seat above it that's a great place to sit for a spell. Look closely at its wrought iron back, and you'll find the intertwined initials of the last owner of Tudor Place, Armistead Peter III, and his wife, Caroline.

One of the nicest surprises wasn't garden related at all. Rather it was Armistead Peter III's beloved 1919 Pierce Arrow roadster in the garage. Costing more than the original price of the property, it immediately conjured up images of flappers and Gatsby.

Sitting on a bench behind the house, listening to the birds in the trees, it was easy to see why Tudor Place stayed in the Peter family as long as it did. It's absolutely lovely.  

Tudor Place is located on a street filled with loads of historic homes and so after the garden we went for a stroll. We walked by Dumbarton Oaks, which I've visited before to see their beautiful garden (this time we just stopped to admire their lush lilac hanging over a wall and the shiny "1920" lettering on the gate).

There were so many nice houses to see, some with small gardens of their own and others with interesting signage (delivery and service entrance this way) and even a friendly neighbourhood cat. It was a perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon in Washington, DC.

For more information about Tudor Place, visit here

All photos by Michele.

06 May 2014

American Cool

Jazz saxophonist Lester Young is credited with popularizing the word “cool” back in the 1940s. Since then it’s become a label that often leads to hotly contested debates over exactly who deserves the moniker. Friday I headed down to Washington, DC and checked out what the National Portrait Gallery thought about the subject with their photo exhibit “American Cool.”

Gathering together images of 100 “cool” Americans, the curators used the following criteria to decide who should make their list (candidates had to fit at least three of the four): “an original artistic vision carried off with a signature style; cultural rebellion or transgression for a given generation; iconic power or instant visual recognition; and a recognized cultural legacy.” Apparently, it was so hard to choose that a "100-Alt list" was created of those who didn't make the cut (it's included at the beginning of the gallery). 

"Bessie Smith" Carl Van Vechten (1936)

"Louise Brooks" Nickolas Muray (circa 1924)

The exhibit is broken up into four sections: “The Roots of Cool: Before 1940,” “The Birth of Cool: 1940-59,” “Cool and the Counterculture: 1960-79,” and “The Legacies of Cool: 1980-Present.” Beginning with Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglass it moves through the 20th century and ends up in the present with Missy Elliott and Johnny Depp.

I was immediately drawn to “The Roots of Cool” section where I found some old friends hanging out—Louise Brooks, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway (shot by Robert Capa), and Buster Keaton among others. I agreed with their inclusion but thought Clara “It Girl” Bow should have been there as well (she's on the “100-Alt list”).

And so it went, room after room of mostly actors and musicians sparking either a nod of the head (Charlie Parker? Of course. Steve McQueen? So cool.) or a frown (Elvis Presley? He fits the criteria but cool? John Wayne. Um.) And here lies the problem when using the word “cool.” Regardless of the criteria, it’s almost impossible to find a general consensus because it is so personal; everyone has their own idea of who they think is cool.

"Patti Smith" Lynn Goldsmith (1976)

"Bob Dylan, Singer, New York City" Richard Avedon (1965)

What can be agreed upon is that the images in the exhibit were taken by an amazing group of photographers. In addition to the Capa image of Hemingway, there’s James Brown by Diane Arbus, Jon Stewart by Richard Avedon, Malcolm X by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lauren Bacall by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Great Garbo by Arnold Genthe, Audrey Hepburn by Philippe Halsman, Johnny Depp by Annie Leibovitz, Deborah Harry by Robert Mapplethorpe, H. L. Mencken by Edward Jean Steichen (Mencken, seriously? Mencken was never cool), Georgia O’Keefe by Paul Strand, and James Cagney by Edward Henry Weston.

The day I went there was a lot of discussion going on in the gallery about the people in the photos: who they were, what they had achieved, and who should have been included (or not). The exhibit had sparked a dialogue among the visitors and that's cool. 

“American Cool” is on display at the National Portrait Gallery through September 7, 2014. For more information and a list of the official 100 cool people, visit here.

01 May 2014

May Day

Dorothy Zimmerman, as Spring, crowning Irma Sweeney as the May Queen at the May Day festival
 at the Neighborhood House, Washington, DC, 1925. Photo: Library of Congress.

It's May Day, the day on which you are suppose to either cavort or revolt (or maybe a bit of both). If you're not in the mood to do either, I suggest taking a walk and checking your local blooms. Even after the torrential rains of yesterday, the cherry blossoms in my neighbourhood were still looking glorious this morning. 
After a dismal April, I've got my fingers crossed that May turns out to be a better month so here's to sunnier dispositions all around. 


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