Wednesday, September 30, 2009

By My Bed


I love having roses by my bed - their nonchalant elegance, their delicate scent. I also always keep some Post-its and pens. Atop the latest issues of Vogue, which I haven't had time to pore over yet, lays a copy of Johnn Donne's poetry, next on my reading list. It's an old Penguin Poets volume from the 1970's, as always with age old Penguins, the cover's design is almost as precious as the contents.
Here are a few lines from Donne's divine "Extasie':

Where, like a pillow on a bed,
A pregnant bank swell'd up, to rest
The violet's reclining head,
Sat we two, one another's best.


Isn't it beautiful, "one another's best"?

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Abbot Kinney Fair

On Sunday, the trendy Abbot Kinney boulevard in Venice greeted visitors for its annual fair, a strange and festive event featuring all kinds of food trucks, several live music stages, Venice's usual zoo-like throngs of weirdos (Venice - where Art meets Crime, one sign proclaimed), happy dogs, as well as little stands of all ilk, from sellers of wonderful handmade jewelry and apparel to representatives for all kinds of noble causes, vintage bike displays, a smiling veiled woman giving out Korans, and much more. I loved the posters above.
Valet parking for bicycles was offered - only in Los Angeles!

Follow that truck! A few trendy food trucks drive around Los Angeles, updating their location via Twitter to allow devoted gourmets to track them down for a treat. The Coolhaus is one of those, and it appeals to lovers of ice cream and architecture: their house-shaped ice-cream sandwiches have names such as Mies Vanilla Rohe (Mies is possibly my favorite architect ever), I.M. Pei-nut butter, or Frank Behry... At the Abbot Kinney fair, a long, snaking line of visitors awaited their cool design sweets.

Among the many wonderful items for sale were some children's clothes. Of course, for some mysterious reason, baby apparel is always adorable, eliciting ooooooh's and aaaaaaw's. These colorful little tees were no exception, with their simple and charming images, ranging from the playful (the electric guitar for a teeny rock star) to the poetic (the dandelion in the wind...).
Note to my friends and relatives: please make more babies! I want to have little ones to spoil!

Benjy did not attend the event, but lo and behold! I ran into a little fairy in her stroller with two of Benjy's darling cousins, black dachshunds just like him!
And if you're into adorable pooches camera loves, check out Sam's post about a book I absolutely want, Dogs In Vogue.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

At The Movies

Above: the movie I'm eagerly waiting for.
Below: the movie I saw and loved yesterday.

Like the New York Times's reviewer, I found parallels between Coco Before Chanel and Bright Star - maybe their unhurried lyricism, their sensuous focus on sensations such as the touch of a fabric, and a divine photography.
Sassy, quick-witted and independent, the young Gabrielle is the kind of woman I want to be.
Her taste for strict lines and a severe style blending masculine and feminine elements made me want to go back to some items in my closet such as the old, white linen man's shirt I bought at a flea market in France and wear as a dress.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Champagne - Sometimes


Yes, that's a bottle of champagne in my otherwise sober fridge - can you spot the bottle's slender, golden neck?
I hardly ever drink alcohol but champagne is the one alcoholic beverage I really enjoy. It's one of my luxuries, albeit a very rare one, and something I learned from my parents: they always keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge because you never know when you'll have something to celebrate; and if all we have to celebrate is just being together for a meal, it can also be reason enough to pop that beautiful, fragrant champagne cork.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Green Green Green

When people find out that I try to buy only natural beauty and hygiene products, I often see eyes rolling - after taking over my kitchen, has the green frenzy reached my bathroom too? Well yes. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that our skin absorbs about 60% of the ingredients from cosmetics; also, in 2007, antifreeze was found in Colgate toothpaste manufactured in China and sold around the US - it wasn't clear whether the toothpaste was counterfeit or not, but either way it was sold at your local drugstore as a trusted brand.
That's why I use Tom's of Maine toothpaste and, after what I can only describe as a life-long quest, I have found a body moisturizer that leaves my skin smooth and is free of such harmful ingredients such as parebens - Kiss My Face's Olive Oil & Aloe lotion, recommended to me by my dear friend Adrienne.

There have also been some made-in-China pet food recalls in the past few years, including for such reputable brands as Hills, and pets have died, so I feed Benjy all-American organic dog food. Its name? Party animal.

I am aware that all this is a luxury, a costly one. Filling my kitchen with local farmers' market produce and organic yogurt would be too expensive if I had to feed a family. What a shame.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Learn French With Benjy!

Benjy may have become an accomplished Californian dog, and his mastery of English includes such favorite words as "A treat" and "Fetch!", but let's not forget that he is originally French...
He shares this citizenship with another pooch I adore, the great writer Colette's adorable black Toby-Chien. A passionate lover of nature and animals, Colette always lived with dogs and cats, but it's Toby-Chien who inspired some of her best pages - for instance when she staged him, naive and good-hearted chatting with a wise-cracking cat, Kiki-la-Doucette in Dialogues de Bêtes (Barks And Purrs in English), a book I already mentioned here.
Chiens de Colette, which I'm currently reading, is pretty much an anthology of Colette's writings featuring dogs; it includes many pictures of Colette's precious four-legged companions.

Toby-Chien is a prolix beast whose polished vocabulary reflects Colette's always exquisite, precise and often poignant expression. So beginners should learn a first few words of French with Benjy rather than with Toby. Here is the basis of Benjy's vocab:

La balle The ball
Où est la balle? Where's the ball?
À la maison! (Let's) go home!
À la voiture! (Let's) go to the car!
À la plage! (Let's) go to the beach!
Au lit! (Let's) go to bed!
Non, non, non! No, no, no!
Tais-toi! Be quiet!
Sois sage! Be good!

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Any art is essentially a prayer" (Joseph Brodsky)

I am continuing my exploration of Russia through books... I loved Solomon Volkov's extraordinary Saint-Petersburg: A Cultural History, which brings to life many of my heroes such as Dmitri Shostakovich, the dancers of the Marinsky, and Gogol. Volkov also discusses great authors who are little known in the West, such as Mikhail Zoschenko, whose Galosh And Other Stories, with its graphic Soviet-style cover, is poised between the tragi-comedies of Gogol and Bulgakov; it's one of the funniest, most biting and simply best collection of stories I ever read.
Volkov also focuses on one of my favorite poets and freedom icons, Joseph Brodsky - with whom he discusses Russia, poetry, prison and much more in Conversations With Joseph Brodsky. Humorous, heart-wrenching (Brodsky's prison and mental hospital memories) and scholarly, this book is something of a precious encyclopedia.

This fall, I am awaiting two movies with trepidation, and it so happens both have to do with books. Of course, there is the universally anticipated Where The Wild Things Are (do watch the trailer!), based on Maurice Sendak's masterpiece of children literature. But there's also Bright Star (watch the beautiful trailer here). Directed by Jane Campion, who broke my heart with her early features Sweetie and An Angel At My Table, it tells an episode in the life of Keats. And as AUREA regulars know, I am a poetry lover, a verse muncher, a beast of poems.
Magically, I scored an invitation to a preview screening - held up thanks to my Gaynor Minden magnets, the invitation graces my fridge. Tomorrow is the day.
And until then, let's read a passage from Keats's Last Sonnet, which starts with the words "Bright Star!":

The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors:—

Friday, September 11, 2009

I Love Huckleberry

While I do adore Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain's genius novel, the Huckleberry I want to share with you today is a bakery and café in Santa Monica, brought to my gourmet attention by Joanna, from Lark, a pretty and bookish blogger who's always willing to share tips on the city she knows so well.
I have been on a quest for good bread in Los Angeles - I am half French after all, and this is one of the very few places where I find excellent bread. Though for $4.50, their multigrain baguette better be fabulous!
At Huckleberry, I love the decor (those red chairs!), the menu on a blackboard, the flowers everywhere. The quality of the ingredients is really top-notch - taste for instance from the extraordinary mozzarella di buffala used in sandwiches. I also love their fresh salads and of course... the desserts. Oh the mini cupcakes!
The wholegrain scone is served with whipped cream, and their chocolate pudding (on a pie crust or in a glass) is sheer bliss. Sigh. I promise to try many more treats to report on them truthfully.

And just because I love Huckleberry Finn, too, here are the first lines of the novel:

You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly--Tom's Aunt Polly, she is--and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Thinking Of New Glasses

I started wearing glasses when I was about 9. I can't recall minding much at first, but between my school teacher's first remark upon seeing me ("Oh, you look just like a perfect little secretary!" - would she have said that to a boy, ever?) and my schoolmates' mocking words, I soon came to hate the glassy appendage sitting on my nose. In high school, it's really not a good idea to be bookish, socially clumsy, and wear glasses; I would try to wear them as little as possible and went around squinting, blinking and miserable.
Trust, Hal Hartley's poetic and raw movie, had a lovely girl sulk about her glasses, "They make me look brainy, like... a librarian." "I like librarians," a handsome Martin Donovan shot back before kissing her. Though I now mainly wear contact lenses (the blessing! salvation!), whenever I wear glasses I try to think of that line.
I've been wearing my smallish Guccis, above, for over 7 years and as they are showing sign of serious wear, I am considering a change. I wonder - should I go for one of those barely-there models, such as those in Titanium (but nothing rimless, thank you very much, I don't want to look like Sarah Palin), or should I embrace and go for bold frames?
Please advise.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Baryshnikov!

This is definitely a Baryshnikov weekend. The bliss!

Something of a miracle happened and I landed a ticket to attend an unforgettable, and most sold-out event, at Santa Monica's tiny Broad Stage - Three Solos And A Duet, with supreme dancer Baryshnikov as the star.
It was my first time ever seeing this legendary performer, and though he is now 61, I wasn't disappointed. The clarity, the grace and the strength of his every movement were just dazzling. He is famously short, yet on stage he appeared as tall as can be, and when the choreography froze him in a basic classical ballet step, such as an attitude or merely standing in cinquième, it was the most intense perfection.
A witty piece by Alexei Ratmansky, set to Glinka's most famous waltz, introduced the themes of the evening's works: intimacy, love and how we relate to our own image. The two duos by my dear Mats Ek were true to the choreographer's haunting language; Ana Laguna incarnated the experience of unmediated, raw emotions, reminding me of Ek's Giselle, a masterpiece. With Baryshnikov, she took us through the vagaries of a relationship or a dance stage partnership - its communication failures, its playfulness, physicality, loneliness (Watch passages from the duo here).
As for Benjamin Millepied's Years Later (which he discusses in this must-see video), it confronts footage of a young Baryshnikov, the dancer himself and his shadow; with amusement or frustration, Baryshnikov watches and reacts to his spectacular younger self, to saxophone solos by Phil Glass. Rarely is a piece so brutally honest and personal, yet elegant, infused with the abstract order of ballet; and while intimately focused on Baryshnikov, it is also, more universally, a tribute to dance.

As it was a gala performance, the show was followed by a lavish party where Los Angeles's upper crust nibbled on exquisite treats...

Then, on Saturday morning, a Baryshnikov with a weary but kind smile signed copies of his first publication as a photographer, Merce My Way. This colorful volume pays tribute to the works of Merce Cunningham, a great master of modern dance.
Of course, I got my copy autographed - my heart pounding, my eyes wide open.

Also see this interview from the Los Angeles Times, as well as their own review of the show.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Summer In A Jar


My mum just spent a few weeks with me in Los Angeles and she left me an edible present that is much more than just blueberry preserve - it's also the sweet taste of summer in a tall jar, and a testimony to her impeccable talents in the kitchen. (You can follow her step by step recipe on her blog)
She loves making preserves, pickles and other treats that allow us to hold the tastes of summer in our plates well into the winter, as they used to do back in the days when the seasons dictated what produce was available. Let's just wait for a chilly, damp fall morning to spread some of this precious blueberry preserve on a still-warm slice of toast, with a cup of tea.