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!

E is for…

Think of all the “E” words you know that say lively. For example:

Eager – strongly wanting to do or to have

Energetic – showing or involving great energy

Electric – very exciting

Effervescent – lively and enthusiastic

Then there’s’ “elderly.” For me that’s the cruelest of the senior labels. True, I cringed when my first issue of AARP magazine arrived and thought it a bummer when I realized that even 55+ meant I was toeing into seniorhood. Moi? Couldn’t be.

The other day, as we bounced onto our bikes post yoga, I was feeling pretty perky…until our encounter with a younger yogini: “Can I take your picture” she says, waving an iPhone at us. “I want to show my parents elderly people on bikes.” Oh, how deflating! Call me sensitive, but the comment stopped me dead on my two wheeler. Desperate to provide some credentials to my youthfulness, I wanted to shout: “Look, an orthopedist said I had the spine of a 50-year-old, just last year. And today, my dermatologist said I had great skin.” At close range, with ravines cutting into my cheeks I find that debatable. Still…

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“Who you callin’ elderly?,” she asked bitterly.

And the night before The Elderly Episode, we took in the Paul Anka concert. See Paul below, then and now. Hold the giggling. Sarasota’s Van Wezel hall was packed with what you’d expect in FL for a late Fifties/early Sixties pop icon. We made our way to our seats dodging those accompanied by canes and walkers and seated in wheel chairs. Surveying the throng, I felt – well – young, even if we hit the average age. I wondered how old the voice was that loomed behind us shouting “I love ya Paul!”

Paul, at 74, is no slouch in the voice department. He belted out all the favorites – “Diana,” “You are My Destiny,” “Puppy Love,” “Put Your Head on My shoulder “ (Jack related to this make-out tune of his youth) and “My Way” written for Frank Sinatra.

But the one melody, penned by Paul in 1975, that hit home for me was “Times of Your Life.” OK, you can call it a schmaltzy advertising jingle.

Good morning, yesterday
You wake up and time has slipped away
And suddenly it’s hard to find
The memories you left behind
Remember, you you remember

Remember the ginormous Kodak color image in Grand Central zeroing in on cozy family moments? And will you ever forget the trailer for the series finale of “Mad Men” showing great scenes from this landmark TV show played to “Times of Your Life?” Talk about perfect lyrics for Don Draper’s trials and successes. The sheer genius of Don’s pitch to Kodak in “The Wheel,” episode 13 in Season 1: He’s loaded a Carousel with slides of his family. We witness photo after photo of the Draper clan.

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Betty and Don in happier times from “The Wheel”

The laughter and the tears
The shadows of misty yesteryears
The good times and the bad you’ve seen
And all the others in between
Remember, do you remember
The times of your life

LOVE YA PAUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

An Ode to the Old

“I was transported recently to a place that is as enchanting to me as any winter wonderland: my local post office.” Really? How so I asked as I read past this opening sentence of an Op-Ed piece. Don’t we all have our grumpy post office stories – the MIA clerks during the busiest times, the lines at all times. Written by a former immigrant from Turkey, the current assistant professor remembers fondly of discovering “the magic of reliable mail…Mail was one of the more enchanting aspects of life in my new country,” he writes. Bravo! We should throw our beleaguered P.O.s an appreciative bone as they demise locations and cut back hours. I’d rather get a personal letter than an email/text any day!

The post office offers a Premium Forwarding service which is totally reliable. Our weighty packages appear every week in FL or CO, having been posted just 3 days earlier in MA. It ain’t cheap, but worth it. Saturdays mean the arrival of  magazines, too many catalogs, bills,  our 2 local papers and if I’m lucky a personal letter or post card.

 

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This week The Dukes County Intelligencer, Journal of History of Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands was included. I lingered over this image of  signatures belonging to “nine leading citizens” endorsing a 1837 petition to Congress. Love that penmanship. The P word is defined as “the art or skill of writing by hand.” Thanks to short-cutting emails and texts, it’s an art we have lost.

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What’s In Store?

Bookstores that is. Before launching into new releases from some of my favorite authors, I want to share a heartening piece in The Wall Street Journal from author Ann Patchett.  Four years ago Patchett and Karen Haynes opened Parnassus Books in Nashville. Patchett now reports that the duo are doubling the size of their store this year and they’ve bought a mobile book van! So, let’s keep frequenting our local bookstores to keep any death notices at bay.

So, what’s new on the shelves…

*”There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks.” That’s how Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton, a mother-daughter story, opens. It’s out this month. Patchett calls it “her best novel yet.” And didn’t we love Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge?

So, I wasn’t surprised to see it reviewed ON THE COVER of today’s NYT Book Review. In her review, Claire Messud, she of The Emperor’s Children you may recall, labels Lucy “powerful and melancholy…an exquisite novel.”

Lucy also took up a lot of ink in The Wall Street Journal‘s Review section Saturday. That piece told us that Lucy  is “not just about trauma and family; it is also about the difficulties of writing about those things.” So Lucy’s a writer. Another plus.

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*Just got word that British author Tessa Hadley’s The Past has arrived at our local bookstore in Sarasota. Hadley tells a tale of siblings returning to the family haunt to decide what its fate will be. Bickering ensues and secrets percolate. I discovered one of Hadley’s short story collections a few years ago at The Boulder Bookstore and have looked for her name ever since. You’ll also find her fiction in The New Yorker.

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Interesting that both Strout and Hadley employ gossip as a kind of distracting balm for their characters.

*Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl appears in June. Inspired by The Taming of the Shrew, it’s part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which current novelists update the bard.

*And here’s a novel approach from the prolific Julian Fellowes, creator and writer of Downton Abbey. According to The Times, the ever-creative Fellowes will serialize his novel, Belgravia, via an app beginning in April on a website or through e-book retailers. With a nod to Dickens and his ilk, there will be 10 weekly digital installments: $1.99 for each chapter; $13.99 for the lot. Or you can purchase the hardback in July.

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But wait, there’s still more! The app will also incorporate an audio version, music, video, character portraits, family trees, images of period fashion and maps of Belgravia. Yikes, dothere’s a lot going on here to distract from the story, no? And what’s that about anyway?

We’re looking at London in the 1840s. Belgravia, perfect for Downton junkies on withdrawal, explores the class divisions between the established aristocracy and newly wealthy families who made their fortunes through the industrial Revolution.

So what think you?  A bit much or bring it on?

A Backward Glance

Since the New Year on my calendar doesn’t start until all holiday vacationing worker bees are back at their respective salt mines tomorrow, there’s still time for my 2015 review.

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Ring and Fitzgerald

When reading the obit pages in The Times I’m drawn to the names that “may have rung few bells,” as the paper put it in its 2015 obit review. One passing  I particularly noted: Frances Kroll Ring. Ring was the last personal secretary to F. Scott Fitzgerald and by all accounts a most devoted one. Her passing touched my nostalgic heart because a look at her life, among others The Times mentioned, had “the pungent effect of evoking an era long concluded.”

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Lara and Zhivago at Varykino

There were many others who left us and brought back memories — Omar Sharif in Dr. Zhivago. OMG, the summer dacha, Varykino transformed into a crystal palace and filmed not in Russia, but just 100 miles northeast of Madrid; Lesley Gore. Can’t forget her lyrics for It’s My Party:

“It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to
Cry if I want to, cry if I want to
You would cry too if it happened to you.”

Well, if you were partnerless at a make-out party assigned to changing 45s on a Victrola (a favorite old word), you’d cry too if that happened to you. I speak from experience.

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A Victrola obviously!

On a perkier note, I took in my 50th high school reunion at the Greenwich Academy which made me want to start kindergarten all over again, or “connecting class” as it was called. Vast and enlightening changes since the days of uniforms with matching bloomers, mimeograph machines and gradeless, hand-written report cards. Here’s to a chorus of “Jerusalem,” William Blake’s poem put to music and sung at every graduation. Still tear up when I hear it, most boisterously at Prince William’s nuptial.

Whatelse…

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*Riveted to The King and I at Lincoln Center with my great pals Donna and Diane.

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Along the Danube

*Cruised down the Danube and biked along its shore. Before boarding our vessel, we took a brief jaunt through Munich. Want to return to that city of fantastic architecture. And why not Berlin on a future itinerary? Or England’s Lake Country?

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Jack and Pammi taking a break from biking in Bavaria

*Had my first MRI after a most painful back saga. Was told by a physical therapist never to cross my legs again while seated – not even your ankles – to stay in alignment. Another edict: No more shoulder bags to weigh down one side. Took that advice and haven’t had a problem since. Word to the wise.
*Took my first online course: The Creative Habit: Cultivating a Daily Writing Practice, an offering from Stanford’s Continuing Studies. Still prefer sitting in a classroom, but better than expected and completed the course.
*Finished The Brothers Karamazov
*Went on my first health retreat in Crested Butte, CO and left with a love of Korean cuisine prepared by our chef and now pal Justine Park.
*Discovered Palm Greens, an organic eatery in Palm Springs, CA tucked away in a nondescript shopping plaza. The spinach nut burger is a must.

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An Organic Find in Palm Springs

*Met with old friends in Healdsburg, CA and paid an unexpected visit to our former doctor Paul Marguglio who facilitated a necessary blood test for Jack. Paul is one for the medical books. Was the best doc and still is!

And looking ahead…
May 2016 be a healthy year for all of us, provide great reading and viewing on the big screen and small. Satisfy your curiosity and make time for play because, according to a Dr. Stuart Brown, “it opens the imagination and invigorates the soul.”

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All About Play from Dr. Brown