Recent Readings…

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Years ago I did a school paper on the 19th century artist Mary Cassatt. I remember the laborious job of researching, hunting down tidbits in the library. Alas, no internet to speed the project along. So, I was taken by New York magazine’s clever interpretation of Cassatt’s “Girl in the Garden,” 1880-82, on the cover of its September 19-October 2 issue (above). This girl is not contemplating the botanical wonders around her, but intently studying her iPhone, EarPods firmly planted to drown out any bird tweets or other natural sounds found in such a setting.

The visual is perfect for illustrating Andrew Sullivan’s story, “I Used to Be a Human Being.” As a pull-out for the story notes: “An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.”

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Inside the magazine, the altered paintings are just as eye-catching. Take Edouard Manet’s “Le déjeuner sur l’Herbe,”1863 (above), where one of the picnic diners takes a photo with his iPhone of the couple he is with; or the depressing portrait depicted in Edward Hopper’s “Hotel Room,” 1931 (below). Here, a lonely woman types out a text.

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Read the story, even if you have to do it on an iPhone.

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Then I came across a book review with quotes from the book describing the person in the book’s title. I found the quotes hauntingly familiar. It sure sounded like the book’s author could be talking about traits found in one of our Presidential candidates.

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For instance, the title character is…
“a rabble-rouser” – regarded by many as a self-obsessed “clown” with a strangely “scattershot, impulsive style.”

“He is often described in the book as an egomaniac who ‘only loved himself.’ “

“His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control even his sanity.”

He is described by someone quoted in the book as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.”

“He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers..and offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order.”

He ” ‘promised to lead (his country) to a new era of national greatness,’ though he was typically vague about his actual plans.”

The recently-published book is by the historian Volker Ullrich and tells the story of “how a ‘most unlikely pretender to high state office’ achieved absolute power in a once democratic country and set it on a course of monstrous horror.”

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A Few Pounds of Flesh…

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With all this talk about Donald Trump calling a former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, “Miss Piggy,” among other unflattering names, it got me wondering: How many pounds is the candidate carrying around?

He usually appears wearing a jacket that camouflages any protruding girth, but here’s a photo where the man looks terribly tubby. His doctor recently reported that Trump weighs 236 lbs, making him overweight and on the verge of obesity for his height, 6′ 3″. He’s just five pounds shy of being labeled obese under the body mass index.

Obviously Trump is not interested in setting any kind of healthy example with a sane diet and wise exercise regime. He likes to boast about his unhealthy eating habits as he demonstrates by wolfing down McDonald’s hamburgers and buckets of KFC friend chicken. “I work out on occasion…as little as possible,” he said at a 1997 news conference during which he mocked the weight of reporters.

Yes, there are heavier issues to discuss during this election season, but I couldn’t resist weighing in…

Trump’s Hair-archy

 

OK, call me sexist. But can we talk about this scary trio, particularly their coifs, although I know we could say so much more about these lads than something so insignificant as what swirls on top of their heads. Like what’s inside them!!

Take a look: The Donald and two of his faithful, the unkempt Steve Bannon (top right), CEO of Trump’s campaign; and Trump’s Medicine Man, Jacob B0rnstein. I wonder if he wears a hairnet when examining his patients, like food workers do.

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Vote November 8th!!!!!

 

 

What Can You Say About a Handbag Priced at $432,000?

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The Hermes Himalayan Crocodile Birkin Bag

That it’s a ridiculous price for a handbag or any fashion item?

That you could pay for four years at a top university or a nice roof over your head instead, not to mention more worthwhile items such as charitable contributions?

Recently,  The Bag with its white gold hardware set with diamonds weighing close to 10 carats was auctioned off in Hong Kong in four minutes to a private collector (Would you want your name out there for such a purchase?!) who paid $244,490, apparently setting a record for this type of extravagance. Prices for The Bag obviously vary depending on the source.

We are told on vogue.com that The Bag is made of Nilo crocodile, in a dyed grayish white tone “that is meant to evoke images of the majestic Himalayan mountains.” So get on a plane and check out the Himalayan mountains in the flesh – that trip certainly can be had for less than 400K.

And here we have two other members of the shameful Birkin Brigade – Kris Jenner and Victoria Beckham.

I thought years ago it was made illegal to use crocodile. There is a horrifying video online showing how crocodiles are slaughtered on a Texas farm so their skins can end up in fashion accessories such as handbags, watch straps and belts.

Speaking of Texas, Robert Smith, a hedge fund fellow, and his wife, Hope Dworaczyk, a Playboy Playmate who appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice, requested a handbag dealer in FL find 30 Birkins to give away at a staff Christmas party. The dealer, Jeff Berk, was given a budget of $500,000. Oh, I guess no crocodile for the staff. “It took us 30 days (to round up the bags), but we did it,” noted a proud Mr. Berk.

 

A Weighty Subject

Quick! What weighs 5 pounds and is 900 pages? No, not  My Wallflower Years Revisited, the abridged version. But this read is just as riveting. It’s Shakespeare’s First Folio and you may get the chance to see it up close thanks to a traveling exhibition, “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare.” The Folio (below), published in 1623, just seven years after the great bard’s demise, collected 36 of Shakespeare’s plays. The book is on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington. “In a moment where information seems to be everywhere,” noted Michael Witmore, director of the Folger, in an interview, “it’s startling to be reminded that the sole conduit of some of these incredibly influential plays is a physical object made out of rag paper.” Yes!

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To see where you can check it out in your state go to: http://www.folger.edu/first-folio-tour-host-locations-and-dates

You’ve Got Mail!

“A letter posted in London before 10 o’clock could reach its recipient in the country by dinner time the same day.”                                                                       

This nugget of information comes from “Bloomsbury at Home,” a wonderful book chronicling life in the various homes of the impossibly talented Bloomsbury set, circa late 19th century, early 20th, one of those bygone eras of mucho letter writing for sure.  

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I know, I know, today we tweet and text and that prose is delivered in lightening speed that would leave the stunned Dowager Countess of Grantham grasping for her smelling salts. But check this out. Here’s a couple, profiled on a recent  “Sunday Morning” (CBS) segment, who may not be into letter-writing, but they’ve managed to create a digital literary keepsake that harkens back to the good old days, sort of. It’s not exactly a diary of letters –  Patrick Geraghty and Kristie Damell never wrote letters to one another, but a 21st century slant on one. “We had a whole history by text,” Patrick noted. So, this paragon of a husband printed those text messages (from the day they first met through their first anniversary) had them bound in a hardcover album (below) and presented it to Kristie on anniversary No. 1.  Anymore where he came from?

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Now, something for the small fry. How cute is this! The name, the colors. Fab.

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Turtle Mail is a small wooden toy mailbox (above) for kids that prints messages sent via Wi-Fi from its web or desktop app. The idea came when one of the founders, Alysia Finger, noticed that when her daughter turned one-year-old, for gifts she was getting “really flashy electronics that felt like they were built for adults and just wrapped in rubber and plastic and marketed as kids products.” A word to the wise: “What I heard over and over during my interviews with parents and caregivers,” Finger told “Wired” magazine, “is that they were exhausted with screen time, apps, and video games…Many expressed how hard it was to get their kids off of computers and tablets.” Gee, what a surprise…For more about Turtle Mail go to: http://aedreams.com/turtle-mail/.

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Size Matters?

No doubt you’ve been following our hard-to-avoid political theatrics on display at state primaries and caucuses. You’ve listened to campaign trail rants and debate shouting matches. And on the eve of tomorrow’s primary in Florida, you’ve witnessed violence and dust-ups. You’ve noticed a lot of talk – yelling – about bigness, from the gaping mouth of Donald Trump, the candidate with big bucks, super-size ego, tall order insults and alleged anatomical largesse.

Nothing small about the man, except his notion of taste. I was reminded of this character flaw, just one of many, right, when hearing about “The Polish Brigade.” That’s the gang of undocumented workers (from Poland) corralled by the Trump people in 1980 to demolish the old Bonwit Teller building, below, on Fifth Ave. to make way for the architectural clunker known as Trump Tower.

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Just compare the two. Erected in 1929, the BT building was first known as the Stewart & Company store. Designed by the architects Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, traditional Beaux-Arts creators of mansions and clubs, it had an entranceway that was a “stupendously luxurious mix of limestone, bronze, platinum and hammered aluminum,” according to The New York Times. It was called “a sparkling jewel in keeping with the character of the store,” noted American Architect magazine at the time. “At the very top of the facade were limestone relief panels of two early naked (and therefore controversial) women brandishing large scarves, as if dancing,” The Times tells us. Check them out up close, above, during Trump’s demolition derby.

According to the paper, Trump had promised the limestone reliefs of the dancing women to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which wanted them for its sculpture collection. But they never made the trip up Fifth Ave. The workmen jackhammered them to bits. What caring follow through by the business man!

Now take a gander at the dark, soulless Trump Tower. What can you say about it?  That it’s ugly? Check. That it lacks any notable architectural detail or historical import? Double check.

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This whole out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new led me just  a skip up Fifth Ave. where sits another venerable retailer, Bergdorf Goodman which has been at that location since 1928. Now the building is one of the backlogged properties The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission is deciding the fate of. To grant landmark status to or not.

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Talk about historical significance. First off, think what originally stood there: the 1883 Cornelius Vanderbilt II mansion, the modest dwelling below, designed by George B Post and Richard Morris Hunt. Then realize had the city’s landmarks law been passed not a century ago, but just a few decades earlier, the Vanderbilt mansion would almost certainly be with us today.

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Long may BG stand and just a few reasons why it should:

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*Home to those classic lavender boxes with the fashionable ladies striding across the covers which I remember from my grandmother’s closet

*Launching pad for the designer Halston, first known for his millenary. Here, Halston adjusts one of his chapeaus.

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*Set for Barbra Streisand’s 1965 show on CBS, “My Name is Barbra.”Below, Ms. B struts in GB’s fur department. Loved it!!

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BG’s too pricey for me these days, but boy is it fun to window shop and browse its storied aisles.

The Times They Are A Changin’?

Gee, what’s this, Curvy Cover Girls? Well, we have Ashley Graham, left, well exposed on one of three covers offered by this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.”I have cellulite. I have rolls,” Graham proudly tells SI readers. I hear ya Ashley! Then a more sedate Barbie strides across a recent Time cover.

Advertisers, such as Swimsuits for All,  weighted in, too, with a page that sneakily looked editorial in the Swimsuit issue. The company featured 56-year-old Nicola Griffin, below, clad in a reflective gold bikini. “People think you lose your sex appeal as you get older – but that’s a myth,” she said in a statement. “I’ve never felt sexier.”
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But one wonders how many buxom beauties, especially those in the 50-and-above age bracket, we’ll start to see on the covers of the likes of Vogue or being lauded by the media in general.

Barbie’s not talking about her body image, but her handlers at Mattel admit it’s time for a makeover. They’re throwing the old Barbie, originally based on a German doll called Lilli, a prostitute gag gift given out at bachelor parties, a few curves. My, what a wholesome lineage!

Time helpfully gives its readers a Barbie timeline that includes a glance at Ms. B pre and post curves, below. Mattel is also adding a tall and petit Barbie.

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Take a look at one inspiration for the 2016 curvy update, none other than that Poster Gal for Curves: Kim Kardashian…

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Now what comes to mind when you check out the first Barbie off Mattel’s assembly line, below left, in 1956? A Berlin streetwalker maybe? I never had a Barbie, craving Madame Alexander dolls, below right, in all their old-fashioned frills. I recently rendezvoused with a high school friend I hadn’t set eyes on in 50 years. We reminisced and what did she remember? Our Madame Alexander dolls!

As I read about Barbie’s new look, I kept asking myself how many girls are into dolls these days, no matter how modern, culturally correct they appear? Kids with smart phones attached get younger all the time. Will dolls add to history’s pile of disregarded play things?

Back to business as usual. Below right you’ll find a photo from a recent fashion spread in T, The New York Times Style magazine. Note the skin-and-bones motif, not to mention sticker shock. This ridiculous “dress” by Balenciaga goes for $11,300 (not a typo). You choose: look like a fool in Balenciaga or cool in the tunic, left, designed by Ines de la Fressange, the chic Parisian, for Uniqlo. No contest.

That’s What Friends are For…

I often reflect on how meaningful my friends are – how buoyed I am by our times together, the thoughts and giggles we share. What they always manage to do: calm  the waves in any stormy seas I’m weathering. The other day I checked two films out of the library that speak to friendship, especially in difficult times.

Released in 2008, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas had escaped me until my good pal Ramen, a former casting director and film maven, recently recommended it. Our friendship stems from Grade One where we cavorted in pale pea green uniforms with matching bloomers.

Based on the young adult novel by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of an unusual, short-lived friendship between two young boys who live in different worlds. Nine-year-old Bruno, seen happily romping with chums in 1940s Berlin knows privilege and freedom; Shmuel, soiled in tattered striped “pajamas,” lives a life circumscribed by a barbed wire fence and  deprivation. His home is called Auschwitz.

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“You’re my best friend, Shmuel. My best friend for life,” says Bruno as the story comes to its climatic close.

When Bruno’s father, a Nazi commandant on the rise, is sent to oversee this death camp the two boys meet. Bruno is lonely and escapes the confines of his new, austere and remote house to seek playmates. From a high window he has a view over the lush greenery that acts as a visual barrier to the nearby camp. What he sees, mystifies him: 

“…All the people in the camp wore the same clothes, those pajamas and their striped cloth caps too; and all the people who wandered through his house wore uniforms of varying quality and decoration…What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”

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The dark, intimidating “uniform” worn by Lieutenant Kurt Kolter played by a very blond Rupert Friend, aka Peter Quinn of “Homeland.”

Bruno makes his way to the barbed wire fence. On the other side, he finds Shmuel forlornly sitting on a pile of rocks. Questions are asked and so begins a tentative friendship that is tested as Bruno tries to understand just what is going on next door. Explaining more would give too much away. 

I also bought the book, my first “young adult” read.  In the few reviews I’ve read the film and the book were criticized: “To mold the Holocaust into an allegory, as Boyne does here (in the book) with perfectly benign intent, is to step away from its reality,” said The New York Times. Sure, the story which Boyne subtitles a fable on the book’s cover does not delve deeply into the horrors of the Holocaust and ends on a more ambiguous note than the film portrays. But should this story divulge the full and deadly scope of camp life for its intended young audience? I feel the story is  an appropriate starting point for a discussion to learn more. A fable is defined as a short tale to teach a moral lesson.

Boyne includes an Author’s Note at the end of the book which touches on the its objective: “Whatever reaction you have to this story, I hope that the voices of Bruno and Shmuel will continue to resonate with you…” They did for me.

The film Julia, released in 1977,  takes another look at friendship, again starkly positioned  during the dark days of Nazi Germany. I  was just as moved by it almost 40 years after I first saw it.

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Lilly and Julia rendezvous in Berlin. Tucked in Lilli’s jaunty astrakhan chapeau: $50,000

It’s based on a controversial story in Lillian Hellman’s best-selling memoir, Pentimento. Critics have doubted the existence of Julia, claiming she was a composite of various people Hellman knew or knew of.

We first glimpse Lilly Hellman’s friendship with the bolder Julia (Vanessa Redgrave) when the two are children. Lilly (a feisty Jane Fonda) is in awe of Julia’s bravery, her rash moves, that always leave Lilly in her shadow. We see the paths each take: Lilly’s relationship with the writer Dashiell Hammett, (juicily played by Jason Robards), as she struggles to be a playwright; Julia’s rise to a full-fledged anti-Fascist  studying medicine in Vienna when Hitler comes to power. Julia is always on a mission. One senses that, as she doles out friendship crumbs such as giving scant praise to Lilly’s theatrical achievements, for Julia their relationship comes second.

But then, as Julia selfishly uses Lilly (I believe), Lilly does her brave thing. Risking her life, particularly as a Jew, she smuggles $50,000 to Julia in Hitler’s Berlin for one of her humanitarian causes. One review of the film noted: “Friendship is profound and mysterious. It defies close examination. In a movie friendship is anticlimactic.” Not necessarily so. Well, the review was written by a male…I believed in this “friendship” on all its complicated, frustrating levels. And I loved Lilly’s clothes!

“…For good times and bad times

I’ll be on your side forever more

That’s what friends are for…”

                            –Dionne Warwick & Friends 1985

My Kind of Gal

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A distance grows between Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years.”

Recently I spotted the actress Charlotte Rampling on CBS’s Sunday Morning. Just shy of 70, Rampling has been nominated for  a Best Actress Oscar this year for her role in 45 Years. She plays half of a seemingly content older married couple – Tom Courtenay plays her husband – whose calm quotidian existence is upended when a letter arrives with very unexpected news.  

Rampling lives in France and doesn’t court Hollywood, but patiently waits to be sought out: “I don’t know what it is. Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned girl” she says, “and I like to be asked to dance, you know? I know I had something going for me. I thought somebody is going to ask me to dance always.”

Lucky for us she partnered up with Courtenay in this exceptional film. “Older people now are really quite interesting,” says the actress. Too true!