A Strange Encounter In The Seventies

January 13, 2016 § 2 Comments

New York City, October 1974.

Spend a few years living in Manhattan and chances are that you will witness extraordinary and unusual moments that no one seems to notice, or encounter all kinds of odd types.

My husband Peter was born and raised in Manhattan and even though he rarely ventured far from his neighborhood as would be true of many a New Yorker, he has had a fair share of these serendipitous occurrences.

In the past few days he was reminded of one, which makes for an unbelievable anecdote these many years later.

One afternoon in the Fall of 1974, after school, Peter went out to walk Skippy, the family Boston Terrier — Boston Terriers had not been in fashion since the twenties so there were few around in 1974.

Skippy V

Skippy V. New York City, Fall 2015

Peter and Skippy began their customary walk on the sidewalk adjacent to the building in which they lived.

A couple of hundred feet along, two exceptionally tall, gaunt, androgynous people in matching rock suits, red spiky hair, heavy make up and platform shoes approached in the opposite direction.

The relatively more “manly” of the two strange figures said with a proper London accent, “What a strange looking dog!”

Peter respectfully explained that Skippy is a Boston Terrier.

Both man and matching woman proceeded to share polite and gentle small talk with Peter and Skippy.

The tall man bent down to pet Skippy, doing so with some difficulty due to his skin-tight outfit and remarkably high platform shoes.

Then each party returned to its own any other day in the City.

Peter and Skippy thought not much of the strangers until early that evening when Peter recognized one of the oddities as he was featured on the Six O’Clock WCBS TV news broadcast:

David Bowie and his wife Angie Barnett are in the city for a few days to give a concert at Radio City Music Hall as part of The Diamond Dogs World Tour.

David Bowie Life On Mars 70s

David Bowie. (From the Life on Mars  music video by Mick Rock, May 12th 1973)

Sixteen year-old Peter had never heard of them and Skippy didn’t seem to think of himself as a strange looking dog at all.

Advertisements

Dear Correspondence

April 28, 2013 § 4 Comments

Saved...

Saved…

For the past few days I have been thinking about what to write for this post. The month of April is almost over and nothing happened that I did not expect. My long planned trip to Europe to go visit my mother and attend my goddaughter’s wedding went smoothly and was very pleasant.

Yet I keep thinking a lot about those few weeks and if this month had a theme it would be Letters.

Letters are no longer part of our daily life the way they were when I was growing up. Now when I get mail other than bills, catalogs, miscellaneous printed matter, or mass mailings, I get intrigued, surprised and even suspicious. Is it real or just printed with fake handwriting masking an attempt to solicit or sell me something? Is it personal? Is it bringing news from friends or family? I can’t remember the last time I got a real letter, one that I had to open before I got to my house door, one that I didn’t know in advance what it would be about, one that I would want to put in my correspondence drawer and save.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not going to go on ranting about how we lost the art of writing or that we don’t communicate the way we used to. No, I think email is progress. And a great way to write and communicate. So fast and easy that we write often more than once a day to the same person, adding pictures, news clips, even video clips, without thinking about what the weight of the missive might cost in stamps, or having to date it, put the correct address and even use proper correspondence format and language.

And texting too. In fact I am fascinated with the huge creative and artistic potential this new way of expressing carries. Not to mention tweeting to millions of people at once individually, or as a group of millions, live and in the moment.

But Letters, handwritten, hand mailed, carried and delivered pieces of paper telling about their geographical, cultural and historic origin. Letters where the handwriting is as varied as the personalities of their authors, secretly revealing their state of mind or blatantly showing the level of their literacy. Letters as lasting physical objects. For example, the ones a soldier would carry in his coat for comfort, protection, identification, “love-sake,” or too often posthumous message. Letters that could nourish hope or express what could never be said.

So, this April, Letters had unusual and meaningful impacts for me. First, the letters of acceptance or rejection to colleges for my youngest child that finally came after long months of waiting and speculating. Then, Letters my sister and I took from the desk of my father, who died 6 month ago. The ones he wrote to my mother at the beginning of their courtship. The ones he received from us, his children, from summer vacations or when we were  away at school. The Fathers’ Day cards or the seemingly random correspondence from his friends and colleagues. The condolance ones to my mother that my brother kept for me to read, many times revealing a side of my father I never knew from people I have never heard of. And finally the ones I wrote to him as a child, teenager, young wife, mother, as his daughter, ones he had kept in folders for each of his five children to retrieve and reread one day.

I Remember The Costume

February 16, 2013 § 1 Comment

La Commedia dell'Arte

It was, in retrospect, a magnificent costume.

I wore it only once. And yet I remember it vividly, not at all because of its unique quality –  an acquaintance of my mother’s from the Paris Opera costume department had agreed to loan it for a day – but rather because I was truly embarrassed to wear it.

I was about seven years old and it was Mi-Carême in Paris. My mother had received an invitation for me to attend a child’s costume party  from our upstairs neighbors in the building where we lived. I did not know them but I remember that I was fascinated by the mother’s extreme elegance when I would get a glimpse of her in the elevator. (I found out much later that she had been the publisher of the Number One fashion magazine in France.)

I realize now that  my mother must have given much thought to finding an appropriate costume for such an occasion! However, she certainly did not bother to consult me on the matter . . .

I went dressed . . . as a ZOUAVE!!!!

zouave-1888-1(1) vincent van gogh

Yes! A perfect replica of the 19th century soldier’s uniform, in my size, made of velvet, with gold trim and tassels, complete with white silk gaiters and shiny black slippers! Plus a red Fez that I had to keep on my head the whole darn embarrassing time.

I was mortified! I remember my almost paralyzing embarrassment while walking along the street in my neighborhood that afternoon. With my mother holding my hand and dragging me to the tea salon where the party was taking place, I desperately hoped none of my schoolmates would pass by and recognize me.
le petit zouave

It felt like a nightmare, with strangers looking at me, smiling and turning around to watch where we were going. I did not know what a Zouave was, and even less that I was wearing a boy’s costume (though I could pass for one as I was a skinny, lanky child with a bob haircut).

The gender confusion would have become a forgotten detail except that it was what brought on my first “romantic fiasco.” I have no recollection of the party.  Merriment, dazzling costumes, fancy petits fours, nothing comes back to mind except this: there was this dashing boy in a Robin Hood costume and I badly wanted him to notice me. But he was looking at girls only . . .

Pierrot by Jean-Antoine Watteau

A Cake For The Kings

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

In case you had missed my post  published last year on January 6th about the “Galette des Rois”  I am re-posting it today in relation to my brother in law Ralph Gardner Jr ‘s wonderful  article for his column in The Wall Street Journal which was published this morning under the title: ‘A Treat Fit for a King’

Growing up in France, one of my favorite celebrations was on or around January 6th. “Tirer les Rois” or “drawing the kings” is a festival when families, friends, colleagues and anybody who wants to put a paper crown on their king or queen’s head share a cake called Galette Des Rois.

The Drawing of the Kings game goes back to a tradition observed during the Roman Saturnalia celebration symbolizing the return of increasing daylight and of the sun itself. A drawing of either a black or white bean from a special cake would mean one would be King for the Day. The cake itself  is a symbol of the sun.

Christians have made it a holiday to celebrate Epiphany and The Adoration of the Magi since around the tenth century.

The cake tradition has remained throughout these times, surviving banishments as pagan rituals, until today, where in France, it is very much alive.

If you happen to be in Paris around January the 6th you might have to go through much trouble if you do not want to appear in public with a paper crown on your head.

Often it can be an awkward and comical situation, in which you are expected to choose your king or queen among the revelers sharing the delicious galette with you. That is IF you are lucky enough to draw the slice of cake in which a “fève” or bean has been inserted by the baker, and find that fève at the risk of breaking your teeth (I am not aware of anyone suing bakers for this yet). I wonder if someone has ever willingly swallowed it and thus saved face at the price of anonymously causing quite a commotion among the befuddled, angry guests deprived of a fève in their galette.

The odds in successfully skipping this regal affair  would definitely be against you given that such events take place all around France, on average five times a day and for 8 days at least.

Believe me, it can get old after a while. Just think for a minute of doing this among colleagues at the office or with the co-tenants in your building…

I’ve heard that the only sure way to avoid such a “silly chore” is to be invited to stay for the entire time at the Elysée Palace, where the crowning of the galette king is banned, as it is considered anathema to the Republic.

As a child I loved everything about it. The shining crown. The sweet warm cake.  And the “Fève” of course, a talisman of childhood.

I so vividly remember the beautiful tiny painted porcelain figurines: a swaddled baby, an adoring king, a toy or a Fleur de Lys.

Now they are also made of plastic, representing movie stars, cartoon characters, company logos or even, I bet, all kinds of jokes, bawdy allusions or political satires.

I have been keeping the Drawing Of The King tradition alive here at home ever since my children were born.

I make the galette from a traditional northern France recipe and, over the years, have collected paper crowns and Fèves looted during my winter trips to Paris.

My children are now adults or over 16, but the feast has not yet become old or lame. My kids still like the galette. And so does my husband.

I suspect however that for my kids, choosing a queen or a king has become a tad corny. Until, as parents themselves, they remember their childhood…

A Cake For The Kings

January 6, 2012 § 2 Comments

Growing up in France, one of my favorite celebrations was on or around January 6th. “Tirer les Rois” or “drawing the kings” is a festival when families, friends, colleagues and anybody who wants to put a paper crown on their king or queen’s head share a cake called Galette Des Rois.

The Drawing of the Kings game goes back to a tradition observed during the Roman Saturnalia celebration symbolizing the return of increasing daylight and of the sun itself. A drawing of either a black or white bean from a special cake would mean one would be King for the Day. The cake itself  is a symbol of the sun.

Christians have made it a holiday to celebrate Epiphany and The Adoration of the Magi since around the tenth century.

The cake tradition has remained throughout these times, surviving banishments as pagan rituals, until today, where in France, it is very much alive.

If you happen to be in Paris around January the 6th you might have to go through much trouble if you do not want to appear in public with a paper crown on your head.

Often it can be an awkward and comical situation, in which you are expected to choose your king or queen among the revelers sharing the delicious galette with you. That is IF you are lucky enough to draw the slice of cake in which a “fève” or bean has been inserted by the baker, and find that fève at the risk of breaking your teeth (I am not aware of anyone suing bakers for this yet). I wonder if someone has ever willingly swallowed it and thus saved face at the price of anonymously causing quite a commotion among the befuddled, angry guests deprived of a fève in their galette.

The odds in successfully skipping this regal affair  would definitely be against you given that such events take place all around France, on average five times a day and for 8 days at least.

Believe me, it can get old after a while. Just think for a minute of doing this among colleagues at the office or with the co-tenants in your building…

I’ve heard that the only sure way to avoid such a “silly chore” is to be invited to stay for the entire time at the Elysée Palace, where the crowning of the galette king is banned, as it is considered anathema to the Republic.

As a child I loved everything about it. The shining crown. The sweet warm cake.  And the “Fève” of course, a talisman of childhood.

I so vividly remember the beautiful tiny painted porcelain figurines: a swaddled baby, an adoring king, a toy or a Fleur de Lys.

Now they are also made of plastic, representing movie stars, cartoon characters, company logos or even, I bet, all kinds of jokes, bawdy allusions or political satires.

I have been keeping the Drawing Of The King tradition alive here at home ever since my children were born.

I make the galette from a traditional northern France recipe and, over the years, have collected paper crowns and Fèves looted during my winter trips to Paris.

My children are now adults or over 16, but the feast has not yet become old or lame. My kids still like the galette. And so does my husband.

I suspect however that for my kids, choosing a queen or a king has become a tad corny. Until, as parents themselves, they remember their childhood…

The Last Candle

July 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

My most cherished childhood memory.

At 4:oo am french time on july 21 1969.

Our parents woke us up without warning.

To see the first humans walking on the moon.

Live.

Never before

Had I been awakened in the middle of the night for

No children reason.

The slow transmission

Grainy images

The coolest language

In radio voices.

The light of black and white TV

In the moonless night.

My parents’ faces

And their eyes,

no one saying a word,

made it a magical

indelible moment.

Only  a few days later

Lying in a hay field

high up

In the Alps

I looked at the moon.

The Americans were walking there?

Five, Four, Three, Two, One, ..., And Lift Off

An exhilarating feeling of looking at a human

Destination, far, far,

Straight from my eyes to there.

Not in my imagination.

Real.

Ever since that day I was fascinated by the Space Program, watching launches religiously, my heart beating fast, my eyes tearing.  So beautiful, going straight up, away from the world, with awesome fire, smoke, roar and speed. Astronauts where my gods, powerful and beautiful riders, and NASA, a word that made me dream.

Many years forward I went to Cape Canaveral and saw Atlantis launch with my husband and 10 years old son. It was again so real, taking my breath away, just beautiful, beautiful.

On Friday July 8th, I watched the “last launch” on my television.

The last candle on my childhood birthday cake.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the memories category at Marchand de Couleurs.