Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Best Movies of 2014

The Rosendale Theatre, where I saw the movies on my list

This is the first year I’ve created a best-movie-of-the-year list, and I’m likely to change my mind even before I’ve finished. It’s even possible that in years to come I’ll remember some film as my favorite of the year and discover I forgot to put it on the list. In the jumble of my memories, there are movies that stand out over time, movies I can see over and over, all-time favorites that I might not have recognized as such on the first viewing.

That said, these movies strike me today as the best I’ve seen in 2014. Bear in mind there are several outstanding ones made this year that I’ve yet to see.

1.     Birdman—a tour de force for both Michael Keaton and Ed Norton. This was worth seeing for its dark and yet funny look at a mid-life crisis, the magical realism of fantasy, interwoven with madness and overlaid with humor. That sounds complicated, and, yes, the movie was pretty complicated. A simple retelling of the plot doesn’t reach the places in the heart that this film does. Setting it backstage in a Broadway theater was a genius stroke—an actor trying to surpass his greatest success with a truly new creation of his own, as he battles poor actors, great actors, offstage dramas, and his own fragile grip on sanity. Keaton will probably win an Oscar, and in this case I agree. I expect the same for Ed Norton in the Best Supporting Actor category.

2.     The Immigrant was on so long ago I didn’t know if I’d seen it this year or last year, but it turns out it was this year. A beautiful film of the heartbreak of coming to the United States in the early 20th century with all the high hopes and unrealistic dreams of its time and place, riding the great wave of the poor who had every reason to expect better things. Marion Cotilliard shimmers with her unique blend of physical and spiritual beauty, seeking a successful life and exploited by the very men who would rescue her.

3.     Boyhood—This one is on everybody’s list, for its sheer chutzpah of concept. Twelve years in the making, focusing on one family and watching them evolve. I was less moved than I was intrigued by the device of time itself, which in this case was almost enough to put this film in the category of greatness. Certainly it was one of the best of the year.

4.     Anita Hill/ Speaking Truth To Power is a powerful documentary of a situation   within my memory, but about which the truth was not spoken at the time. Miss Hill was portrayed by the media as something totally different from her reality. The movie is factual, enlightening, and Hill comes over in all three dimensions as we watch the truth unfold. If only there had been fair and balanced coverage of events as they happened we might be living in a different country today. A most compelling use of news footage and interviews, this is a must-see documentary.

5.     Life Itself—my second favorite documentary tells the story of Roger Ebert, newspaperman and movie fan. It traces Ebert’s path as a suburban Chicago bright kid reporter through alcoholic, self-indulgent sybarite, all the while excelling in prowess as a movie lover-critic. It ends with his final days in bed with a cancer that will finally take his life. The early part of this movie is free-wheeling and fun, right up through Ebert’s feuds and make-ups with his partner in movie criticism-on-television, Gene Siskel, who reveals how the pair really felt about each other. As it ends we see the bedridden Ebert, unable to talk or eat, still writing reviews, and communicating with the extraordinary woman who loved and married him.

6.     Love Is Strange is a tender, touching story of an aging homosexual couple who are forced to sell their beloved apartment and live apart until they can manage to support each other again. The performances by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina are nothing short of superb. I left the theater knowing two men as if they were beloved old friends of mine whose bittersweet story had been revealed for the first time.

7.     Bicycling With Molière—I loved this pretty French film, with its disagreeable characters, its bicycling sequences and references to Molière. Two older actors decide to work together on a production of Le Misanthrope, but it is indeed a bumpy trip as they vie for the leading role, meet up with a difficult but appealing lady, cross swords and double cross one another--and ultimately end the association all around. It is a movie full of happiness that ends rather sadly, but, along the way introduces some well-wrought characters and situations. I’m surprised it didn’t make more Best Picture lists.

8.     Land Ho! An old-buddy movie, two old guys who take a tour of Iceland together. Well made and picturesque, the film shows two very complicated men getting to know each other on an unlikely road trip and revealing more than meets the eye even when the eyes are dazzled with unknown landscapes. A very likable movie—perhaps not one of the all-time greats, but unforgettable in its mood and pictorial elegance.

I have a few honorable mention movies, but try as I might I couldn’t come up with a list of ten for the best-of-the-year. My runners-up were The Skeleton Twins, Magic in the Moonlight, Words and Pictures, Rosewater, and Elaine Stritch/Shoot Me. The only one on the whole list that I rented rather than seeing at The Rosendale was Words and Pictures, a happy romance that worked for me.

My list is brief, but then I didn’t see all the pictures the real critics did. Still on my list to see of 2014 movies are: Mr. Turner, Whiplash, The Imitation Game, Selma, Foxcatcher, Wild, and The Theory of Everything. I gave The Grand Budapest Hotel a miss but I’m beginning to regret that. For now my list will have to serve.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmases Past

A view from my chair. Lights from the tree reflected to the window glass.
Howard Kissel
Christmas always brings back memories. This morning while my last batch of cookies baked I sat in my living room with NPR in the background playing a beautiful choral version of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and I looked at my little tree. Its lights reflected in the window glass to the left, creating an illusion of another lighted tree--the bare tree outside the window looked to be lit as well. The magic of the moment--music, Christmas, and lights that were not there--transported me to a long past conversation about Christmas with one of the dearest hearts I've ever known, the very Jewish, very knowledgeable-about-everything Howard Kissel.

It was 1996. Howard was in Alabama directing a play for Jubilee Fish Theater--my theater--and I had just received a letter from my stepdaughter in Vermont who complained that her children's school had put a ban on the singing of Christmas carols for the first time that year. Howard and I were shocked and saddened to learn about this. He related how, growing up in a largely Gentile suburb of Milwaukee, he had attended an almost-entirely Gentile grammar school. Christmas was celebrated at school, and he had, as he said, "always been interested in that story," (he had a way of italicizing verbally, without the need for air quotes). Anyway, little Howard sang the carols with his classmates without a second thought. He loved music of all kinds and was very moved by the elegant old carols, particularly the religious ones about the star and the babe in the manger.

"I was in no danger of being converted, or anything of the sort," I remember him saying in that gentle, professorial tone of his. "No one would have thought the Christmas music would be bad for me." He related that recently he had been to a Broadway fund-raiser around Christmastime. It was held in one of the major theaters and the house was full of actors, producers, and high-level theatrical types. "They sang those songs," he said. These were, for the most part, professionals with magnificent voices, but what touched him most was their commitment to the carols themselves. "I realized it was their music, music they had known as children, music that warmed their hearts and meant the best of the Christmas spirit. It was possibly the most moving experience I'd ever had. I loved singing with them."

I sat there this morning, listening to the carol, looking at my magical little tree sharing its light with another tree outside, and thought, not only of how much I miss Howard, who died in 2012, but of how Christmas has power to bring us happiness through the ages. I don't worry about the commercialization of the holiday--that's out of my control anyway. I regret that the beautiful carols are no longer on the public school agenda, for some misguided reason or other. But I have seen so many transformations in the culture in my lifetime that I can only accept the changes as the way of the world. And I am glad to have special Christmas memories of my own and to have vicariously, through one of the most spiritual Jewish men I have ever known, been privileged to experience exalted Christmases in years past. The holiday invites beautiful memories. Today, mine are of a very special friend.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Night in the Freezer

You know how people say, "In an old house, it's just one problem after another..."? I've lived in a lot of them, and I can testify. It's true.  
The old house I grew up in, Montrose, Alabama

 I remember my mama with her winter-long mantra, "This is the coldest old house there ever was..." wandering from room to room with a blanket wrapped around her. Southern homes of a certain age (this one was built in the 19th century) were never properly heated, and picked up drafts through the window frames and various cracks throughout. But I'll say this for that one, it was full of tall windows and the natural cross-ventilation was practically as good as air conditioning in the summer.

I'll wager that house never got as cold as this one in the Northeast was last night when I realized the problem with the boiler was not going to be fixed until morning. Heat and hot water went out early in the day and I called every plumber I knew or knew of but got no help until my ex-son-in-law, a plumber showed up at 8 P.M. He worked for an hour and a half, talking with another plumber on a cell phone as he tried to work out the problem. When he left at 9:30 he advised me that there was probably a faulty part, and not something he could repair. He told me to call a boiler technician and said my oil-supply guy would have one on call.

His last words as he walked out the door were, "This house doesn't know you yet."

I love that. Something about an old house feels like a new friend, someone palpable, someone who one is getting to know and trying to win over as soon as possible. Knowing old houses as I do I understood his remark perfectly.

I called the number of my oil supplier and was referred to the number of a boiler repair expert. He said he could come out immediately for an extra fee of $60 or if I could wait he'd come today. I'm expecting him any minute. The world of oil heat (expensive), boilers, basements, and constant flow of plumbers and men who service equipment is new to me. After all, it's my new life. And I expect it. It's an old house!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Visit from Peter Pan

Betty Bronson as in the 1924 silent film

Okay, there was a bright, musical version of the old J.M. Barrie play Peter Pan on television last week. I didn't watch much of it--missed Christopher Walken's turn as Captain Hook almost altogether. But what I did see had little of the magic I remembered from past productions, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see the silent film version at a matinee Sunday at the Rosendale.

Peter Pan is part of my story, as it is of practically every child born in the English-speaking world since it was first staged in 1904. A childhood memory is of looking at a peanut-butter jar with the name Peter Pan on it and a picture of a grown woman in an elf costume and asking my mother, "How can that be Peter Pan? Wasn't Peter Pan a boy?"

She didn't know the real answer to that, but she did the best she could. She explained that yes, Peter Pan was a boy, but he was usually played on the stage by a woman. Why, she didn't really know. I have the answer to that one now, thanks to a few hours research on the Internet of all thing Barrie and all things Peter Pan. I'll get to it later.

My inordinate recent interest in Peter Pan was stimulated by the awe-inspiring beauty of the early film, in which Barrie himself had a hand. I'd forgotten what an excellent writer Barrie was, once one wades through the treacle and whimsy. His work is so original and mesmerizing, it borders on the profound. With the new technology of cinema, he was able to create magic in ways the stage could not. His children flying must have been unfathomable to audiences young and old in the 1920s--and the spectacle is no less fresh today. I heard many say that they
Maude Adams as Peter Pan.
only stayed with the NBC version last week in hopes something untoward would happen like a rope breaking. In the silent film there was no possibility of that happening. By the time the children flew, we were all flying with them.

Maude Adams made the role of Peter famous in the U.S. in the early 20th century. Producer Charles Frohman, in love with the production he had seen in London, bought it for her and she played it on Broadway and toured the country in the role for over a decade. Her interpretation was apparently unassailable. Mark Twain sent her a fan letter, saying, "It is my belief that Peter Pan is a great and refining and uplifting benefaction to this sordid and money-mad age; and that the next best play on the boards is a long way behind it as long as you play Peter."

Mary Brian, Betty Bronson
The first film of the play stuck closely to the original script. In it, Peter is a stubborn little boy committed to the prospect of being a child forever. He is direct, bossy, an eternal bad-boy of the type who has enormous appeal to the opposite sex. Wendy is enchanted at once, and wants to give him a kiss. This charming scene foreshadows the theme of the play, as Peter doesn't know what a kiss is but is happy to receive a thimble, for which he gives her an acorn in return (which magically saves her life in a later scene). The play has survived criticism, analysis and deconstruction, but the validity of this character transcends time and crosses societal boundaries. He is more than the sum of his parts.
The recurring theme of Peter asking Wendy to be his mother and that of the Lost Boys--and her retorting with a request that the relationship be something more--got downplayed in later productions to be almost non-existent. Peter is all boy, complex and confounding, subject to change only at the whim of succeeding generations.

Of all the incarnations I have seen of Peter Pan, the 1924 silent version affected me most. Barrie himself cast the graceful young Betty Bronson, a bit player at Paramount, and she captures the essence of Peter Pan as well as any female could, in my estimation. She is a wonder to behold in the role.

As to my question as a child to my own mother, Peter Pan is usually played by a woman because in 1904 in London, when the play was first produced, it was illegal for youngsters under the age of 14 to be on the stage. This might not have prevented a 14-year-old lad to play Peter, but the Lost Boys would all have to be younger than he. A young woman, Nina Boucicault, created the role and the boys cast all looked convincingly younger. In the movie the Lost Boys are perfect--they are children.

I hope you get a chance to see this film. I intend to do all I can to ensure it runs again at the Rosendale. It is a work of art. And it's wicked fun.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Streetcar Named Despond

Gillian Anderson as Blanche Dubois
Vivien Leigh as Blanche Dubois

I had high hopes for the National Theatre of London's new production of A Streetcar Named Desire, but that does not mean that I had high expectations. I want to love every film and play I go to, even a production of a play I've seen before and have loved in other productions, or a remake of a favorite movie. That said, there is something sacred about the work of Tennessee Williams, something vivid and haunting in the poetry of the words, the truth of the characters, the inevitability of the stories they tell. Maybe it's just me (but I don't think it is), but I feel the genius of this man was unique, and the voice he gave to the assortment of odd, lost, tragic people bears listening to. Streetcar was his masterpiece.

It is essentially a Southern story, and it is crucial that its setting is steamy New Orleans, where lonely, artistic outsiders seek to find themselves in its raffish, dangerous, dark corners. New Orleans was and is that rare thing, a world-class American city with a European history and a cosmopolitan sophistication--an authentic character that beckons, "I am authentic. You can be authentic here." Young Southerners traditionally moved to New Orleans to find themselves. Streetcar is about New Orleans, old New Orleans, run-down, broken, crummy New Orleans, waiting for salvation or rescue, both of which were to come years after the play takes place. If they have come at all. New Orleans is like a character in the play.

There is not a "small" part in the play. Everybody in it is part of the story. It is the story of Stella, a small-town Mississippi girl who moved to New Orleans to have fun in the city's spirit of revelry and dark adventures. It is the story of Stanley, who sweeps her off her feet and awakens her sexual nature with the irresistible force of his own. It is the story of Blanche, Stella's fragile sister who lives in a fantasy of her own life--a state of denial that is very often a Southern way of life. Blanche is deluded, yes, afraid of losing her youth and beauty, the only currency she has ever had. Raised to be a classic lady, she is in conflict about her sexual nature, and the only way she sees to resolve that conflict is to split herself in two -- the virgin and the whore. The inevitable confrontation with reality in the guise of Stanley Kowalski is too much for her tenuous hold on sanity before the close of the play.

Benedict Andrews, director of the National Theatre's production, missed all this. His New Orleans apartment, rather than a squalid, fringe-of-the-French-quarter in the 1940s, hovel, was more like an overpriced, undersized London flat--all white and minimalist and totally without character. No reason on earth for Blanche to exclaim in revulsion, "Never, never, never in my worst dreams could I picture--only Poe, only Mr. Edgar Allan Poe could do it justice!" She might not like Stella's choice of domicile, but nobody could describe that institutional box of a place in such terms. Either drop the line or have your set designer create an atmosphere as Williams described it. Andrews got that it was about sex, and brought that point home time and again with kettle drums when the characters were going for a romp between the sheets. I got the impression that his Stella, rather than being a healthy normal young woman with an overactive sex drive, was a slave to certain sex acts this Stanley seemed to need. Whenever she gave in to him, Stanley was on his knees in front of her. In Williams' play the couple are bound to each other with a wild, extreme sexuality--and they see nothing wrong with it. I can't quite accept that a man like Stanley would be that eager to give oral sex, but it would not be impossible. It did cast a slightly different light on his relationship with Stella.

When Gillian Anderson as Blanche, made her first entrance, I was confused at what she was wearing. It seemed to be something from the 1960s, and Stella too had a frock from that period--hers was a micro-mini. I wondered why anyone would choose to set this play in the 1960s. After a while I saw that it was meant to be contemporary, 21st century. I don't know why that either. The play is a classic but it certainly belongs in a particular place at at specific time. And Blanche would not have been stylishly or conservatively dressed at any period. She was trying to hold on to her youth--and her clothes would be fussy, frilly, and a bit out of style. She would be wearing something a girl in her 20s might have worn, 20 years earlier. She says over and over that she doesn't want to look old, and it's clear she would not have noticed that dressing young if you're not makes one look older. Anderson played Blanche at top volume and always with top force. She did not put on airs, as Blanche does constantly in the script. She did not soften, simper, or flirt. She demanded. She practically bellowed. Maybe this is more contemporary, but it is not the play I went to see.

Stanley, of course, was not Marlon Brando, but Ben Foster.
Ben Foster as Stanley Kowalski
Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski
He was not the Stanley I knew, not a sexy thug, not an animal out of a cage, capable of unbridled emotions and rampant passions. He was calculated menace, tough, to be sure, but I didn't see a hint of vulnerability and fear, the emotions Stanley is devoted to suppressing if he has to rape somebody to do it.

I'm not saying the roles can only be done by Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando. They were unforgettable, but I like seeing new generations get the chance at a superb play like this. I'm sure there are some valid reasons to ignore the New Orleans setting, to update the costumes and maybe even, as Woody Allen did in Blue Jasmine, downplay Stanley altogether and make it Blanche's story, changing her to a rich and stylish snob. If you're going to do that, at least change the title, change everybody's name--and face the fact that your script isn't up to Williams'.  

To be fair, I'll say that other critics found the National Theatre's production powerful and magnificent. I don't know what they saw in it, but maybe I missed something. I left after the first act. I couldn't bear it any more.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Show of Smiles

John Thayer, singing. Behind him, Rachel Davis.

The show running at The Coach House this weekend took me by surprise. I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, is a piece I was not familiar with (although I had heard the title--who could forget that?), and I'd never seen Kingston's Coach House Players in a musical. I had befriended the multitalented Rachel Davis, and she urged me to see the group's Variety Show fundraiser, but I missed it. I had seen (and reviewed here) two plays done by the group. One was a British farce-mystery and the other an old-fashioned romantic comedy about an aging couple.

I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change is a different animal. A fast-paced musical review, pulled together by the thread of the old man/woman/love/marriage thing, it has much going for it. The Coach House Players squeezed every drop of comedy, charm, and even pathos out of the script and left the audience wanting more. The cast of talented actors and singers was matched perfectly to the material, and director Edward Kleinke kept up the pace and didn't miss a nuance in the script. As Musical Director, Rachel had the difficult job of coordinating and managing many tasks, and her efforts were seamlessly woven into the show.

The show featured interesting songs and excellent singers. There was a funny monologue that just about tore my heart out by Anna Susan Miressi; a beautiful love song quietly rendered by John Thayer, who has kind of a Jimmy Stewart quality onstage, and solid turns by everyone throughout. There were no glitches or missteps that I could see in this tightly crafted production.

I wish I could single out one performance from the show as outstanding, but in an ensemble group like this it would not only be hard to do, it would miss the point of the production in which every player was in top form. I wanted to have a picture to head my write-up, so I found an old one on Rachel's Facebook page (above) of John Thayer--who sings one of the show's best songs--in another production, with her looking on. The photo captures the spirit of the group itself.

Because of similar themes, I guess, but with a more upbeat attitude, I Love You, You're Perfect, put me in mind of another, albeit darker, show from years past that I know well and think of often. I hope I can be forgiven--I found myself singing the score from Company as I drove home.

The show opened Friday before last, and the run will be capped off at 2 P.M. this afternoon. The Coach house is at 12 Augusta Street in Kingston. There is still time to get a seat, but it would be wise to call in advance (845 331-2476) for a reservation because they've been selling out--and the word of mouth on this one is powerful!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Baked Custard

Two left

The other day I spent a lot of time thinking about custard. I love custard, but seldom have it. This day I was fairly yearning for it, and wonder of wonder, I had time, inclination, and ingredients to make it for myself.

When I was a bride I taught myself how to cook, and custards were among my first triumphs. I read about soft, stove top custards (called "Boiled Custard" in the South), baked custard, caramel cup custard (or crème caramel), even crème brulée. I had made them all except crème brulée, which I have yet to do, but shall one day. I've made custard pies and fresh fruit with custard sauce. I've made the packaged "puddings" since I was a child, but there are times when I hanker for plain old custard.

I have the basic recipe for custard in my head--two cups of whole milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, two egg yolks and one whole egg, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. The more I thought about it, the more I found myself mentally making a custard, but all this mental exercise wasn't getting me any creamy dessert. I could make a soft custard in a matter of minutes--but a baked custard would take about an hour in the oven. Never mind, it could be baked in my little glass custard cups and would be neatly portioned out for the future. I would forget about the burnt sugar topping (poured in the bottom of the cups, later inverted) and make the plain delicious stuff.

For company I usually do the caramel, and use some half-and-half in the mixture. But this spartan version would serve just as well for me. I measured the milk into a saucepan and brought it to the "scald" stage while I whisked the egg yolks, egg, and sugar in a bowl. I had to search through my pans for a big enough to hold the four cups plus hot water to keep the custard from overcooking. I added the warm milk to the eggs while water heated up and the oven heated up to 325° Fahrnheit. Baked the custards for an hour while I watched television.

It was a first run-through for the dessert in my new kitchen, and for that, the outcome was perfect. The little custards were nice, plain--and perfect comfort food. I must do them again sometime soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Little By Little

Why do we expect it all to happen at once? Is it human nature? Or is it the decorating shows on television? After all, they have somebody show up in a home that desperately needs work, and in an hour's time--sometimes a half hour--it's "REVEAL" time! The homeowner is brought in, eyes closed to the interior of his/her disaster of a house, and there it is! New furniture, walls painted, pots of silk flowers and little sculptures all about. The old place looks like a model home. And indeed it is.

I've redecorated a number of old houses--six or seven, I think--and know better. But this time I was ready for the private rooms to get finished. And I wanted it to happen all at once. I almost forgot, it doesn't usually happen that way. In the past I've had contractors who had a team of guys, and the work still took weeks and weeks. This time around my main contractor/carpenter has finished his work and my electrician/plumber/handyman and his son the painter are finishing tasks for me as they have time. I still believed I'd have the upstairs bedrooms and the floor of the stairs finished at the end of the weekend.

First stall was when my painter emailed me Saturday morning that he'd missed his bus. He's based in the city now and can only come to me when he has a break. I expected him at ten; he and his father showed up just after noon. That was okay, all he had to do was paint the stairs while his father checked out the washer and dryer in the basement and set them to working again.
The entrance hall was angry.

There was something rather depressing about the color of the balustrade and newell post. It gave the entrance hall an angry look, at least to me. The stairs were the same unimaginative tan. I wanted the stairs steps white and planned to have a beige textured runner installed when the painting was done. Obviously that couldn't happen in a weekend, but I had contacted the flooring store to come by today, Wednesday, to measure and give me a quote.

I chose a creamy beige for the newell post and balustrade, while the spindles and floor would be white. A primer coat had to go on everything. This turned out to be not only tedious for my bright young painter, but also much more time consuming than I expected. In the meantime, his father added some lights to the basement, updated the electrical, and got a new hose for the washing machine. He changed out a cheap looking sconce in the bedroom for the slightly more upscale one I'd picked up. They worked like beavers for the better part of two days, and wound up Sunday night. I went to bed discouraged--or at least disappointed--that I didn't have my bedrooms all shiny and new.

But I woke up to the reality that it takes time. And we've gotten off to a wonderful start! They are both solid workmen, good at what they do. It looks so tasteful, so serene. Ready for a carpet runner and maybe another party to celebrate. When I think of what it's come from, where we have yet to go seems insignificant. The bedrooms will be ready for guests (and I have one coming next week, and two more the following week). And little by little the house is coming to life.
The hall is inviting guests to come.
Now it seems downright happy!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Old Movies

It started simply enough. I was on the fund-raising committee at the Rosendale Theatre Cooperative and we began to hatch plans for a gala event at the Bell Tower, a converted church next to the theatre, now serving as an event venue.

We would have a live band, get local restaurants to contribute refreshments, hold a silent auction, and invite the guests to come in costumes depicting characters from their favorite movies. It was a natural; an upscale party bound to gain traction in the community and maybe become an annual event. The committee was dynamic. Professional, intelligent, committed, and clearly competent to get the job done. I was still a fish out of water, not having any contacts in the area or the get-up-and-go of my youth. Maybe I wouldn't even go to the gala. I'm not much for costumes and don't have one. I sulked. I thought maybe I should just send in a donation.

The event evolved from "come-as-your-favorite-movie-character" to "...or just dress up in your best Hollywood glam..." which intimidated me even more. All my glam had been tossed out years ago in one of my many moves. But I got to thinking about movies that would be simple to emulate in costume. The Bride of Frankenstein? The right wig and a caftan would cover that. The older I get, the more I look like Elsa Lanchester anyway.

I found a great costume shop in Kingston and checked out their Bride of Frankenstein wigs. While I was mulling that over, another movie came to my mind.

La Strada.

Richard Basehart, Guilietta Masina
I never knew a movie could be a masterpiece until I saw La Strada in 1960, as a sheltered 20-year-old with a new husband and a plan for a life in the theatre.  Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, and Richard Basehart showed me what acting really was. At the same time I was transported to a time and place in which one was in the company of destiny—joining three apparent losers on the road of life, without means or even hope. Yet they are in a circus. Zampano is brutish strong man, Gelsomina his assistant, and the acrobat and beguiling clown (Basehart) zigs and zags through the scenes making mischief as he performs his high-wire act. They are jostled against each other, reacting and avoiding, needing and rejecting. The road they face is harsh. The landscape of Italy has been strafed by war; their life is as black and white as the film of it.

First, and central to all, is the girl, Gelsomina. I identified with her totally. Masini’s naïf was the kind of character I had always thought of myself as—like Leslie Caron in Lili and The Glass Slipper, but this film towered above such Hollywood creations. Masina and her mentor, her husband and director of the film Federico Fellini, filled the character of Gelsomina out with a rough authenticity born in poverty and pain. With her clumsy, lost looks, she is the essence of a sweet spirit, impervious yet senstive to the jolts and shocks of her own life. Growing up on a beach somewhere, a sister of hers has been sold off to an itinerant street performer whose act is based on his physical strength. The sister dies—and we never are to learn how. The strong man, Zampano, buys Gelsomina for what we learn is the equivalent of $10, to use her in his act.

We laugh at Gelsomina’s attempts at performing, yet her inherent charm and tenderness win us over as well as the crowds who gather to see Zampano’s rather unpleasant self-aggrandizing turn.
Wherever she is, little children are amused by her and are drawn to her as one of them. She is a grownup who is truly childlike. At the time I first viewed the film I felt I was a child being allowed to play with the grownups.

I was awash with tears throughout the movie the first time I saw it. I saw Gelsomina as me, taken to about the 10th magnitude--an innocent in an untenable life, at the mercy of men who did not understand. The playful “fool” of the movie did not offer Gelsomina escape from Zampano, but he was sensitive enough to suggest a way she could learn to accept her life with the dark strongman. As it turned out, I would ultimately divorce my husband (who was in actuality more like the clown persona than the heartless Zampano), but I never forgot the movie. I was haunted on some subconscious level by its images and the raw grandeur of its theme, story, and message.

And suddenly I thought of my favorite movie role, a costume for the Gala: I came as Gelsomina.  When she performs with Zampano she wears raggedy polo shirts and baggy pants and a clown face that emphasizes her own outlandish features. I found similar articles at the Salvation Army--and a Rod Stewart wig, clown makeup, and a derby at the costume shop. The thought of playing Gelsomina, even for a few hours, was invigorating, rejuvenating, and just plain exciting for me.

I didn't find a trumpet, or a snare drum, but I practiced the makeup for days. The first time I saw the white clown face on myself I was elated. It was magical. I watched the movie three times, listened to what Martin Scorsese said about it, and studied the commentary by a cinema professor. I was able to put La Strada into the context of its time, and of my time. I became a bit of a La Strada expert. And I was glad that I saw more meaning to it with every viewing. I wrote a review of it for IMDb.

When I walked into the gala, I saw that most people had opted for evening wear. Somebody thought I was Charlie Chaplin, but never mind. Some people think Masina was doing a Chaplin turn, but that doesn't come over to me. She is a baggy pants comic and a heartwrenching innocent. She is unique. And I got to be her for an evening.

The party was festive. Most of the costumes were formalwear--evening gowns, glitter, tuxedos. A few assumed I was simply a mime, others recalled the Fellini classic film. I didn't feel a bit out of place, in fact, my inner child was in the forefront. I had a great evening.

And as I process the event in my mind, I'm taken back to the cinema palace where the 20-year-old girl was indoctrinated into the art of the movies. At the moment, La Strada showed me a dark road ahead, called life--but in doing so it revealed the magnificence of the medium of the movies. I was in the presence of greatness. The path of the theatre, acting, directing, and just being in the audience, being moved beyond tears to something near enlightenment, was to last me for at least the next 50 years. And it is something I am proud to love with all my heart.

Me as Gelsomina, 11/1/14

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kingston Halloween

At the Old Dutch Church, Jack-O-Lanterns adorn the graveyard.

I never thought of Halloween as an elegant holiday. Rather, it was a time for little kids to dress up in costumes and go door-to-door asking for candy bars, threatening serious mischief if thwarted in their extortion effort. I grew up in Fairhope, Alabama, in a time when the costumes were homemade and sometimes very inventive and amusing. A husband of mine grew up in a rural town in the Midwest where Halloween was an excuse to turn over outhouses all over the neighborhood.

Then I moved to the Northeast, where real ghosts abide in some measure, and the Hudson Valley, home of the original headless horseman. In historic Kingston, you can feel the presence of spirits just walking through the streets of stone houses and plaques telling of bygone days and heroic deeds. Not all the spirits are evil, but the good ones do not necessarily prevail.

When I lived in Hoboken, an old b-n-r ("born-n-raised" to the uninitiated, a Hoboken phrase for a local) took me to her church on All Hallows Eve. It was a lovely Catholic church, with a charming priest, and his homily was on the meaning of All Hallows Eve. He said that the holiday was a day to pray for the souls in purgatory. Being raised a Protestant, the concept was unknown to me, so his explanation of purgatory itself was a revelation. In all honesty, my friend said she never heard any of that either.

The information made Halloween somewhat more interesting to me, and in Kingston I am seeing an entirely different mode. Fall colors, crisp air, and a decided anticipation of the coming holiday mixes cheer with a certain foreboding. Fall will soon end, and with it, after a feast of turkey, we prepare for the death of one season and the ultimate change from brilliant color to shades of gray and white.

The lawn of a neighborhood house, as those of many others, celebrates the coming death of one season with a smattering of skeletons and gravestones.
It is only one of many such displays in town. Disconcerting at first, but artistically executed and charming in its horror-film kind of way.

I for one tire of the incessant promotion of Halloween on television, from Food Network's wall-to-wall "holiday food" shows with recipes for ghoulish and gruesome presentation, aimed, I suppose, at scaring children or encouraging adults to behave childishly. But I remember my own life as a trick-or-treater, in the distant past when this was as much an adolescent dress-up festival as a celebration of consumption. The movie channels are intent of dredging up all the best and worst horror films of all time, filling air time with incessant and disgusting images of nonsense.
A pumpkin carving at the Old Dutch Church produced a plethora of artistic vegetable sculptures

Yet in Kingston, I wait to see what happens on the night. An air of ghostly intensity pervades the quietude. Parties are slated, friends are preparing their costumes. Even the historic church puts on a festive air and proclaims the coming of a change--the dying of one season to be replaced in a moment by another. Did I say elegant? At least it's benign, and sometimes amusing. A nod to the spirit world from those of us who occupy the humdrum reality of quotidian life.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Back to Shakespeare

In the late 1980s I watched a PBS Frontline program called The Shakespeare Mystery. For centuries it has been debated whether a bland tradesman and sometime poacher of game could actually have written the oeuvre of the greatest poet in the English language. On the face of it, it just isn't logical.

The PBS piece convinced me of what most Shakespeare fans surely suspect. Whoever wrote those plays and poems had to be classically educated, well traveled, at home in court, and an extraordinary, larger than life man who had had numerous adventures--and was friendly with the riff-raff as well as the mighty. This does not seem possible for the little small-time businessman living in the isolated town of Stratford, days away from London. Try as the Stratfordians might to link their man Shakspere [sic] to the works of this Mr. Shakespeare of London, nobody in his lifetime ever commented on the Stratford man's writing talent.

I did some research on this when an article appeared in Harper's Magazine in the 1990s, and presented my talk at my hometown library. It was my aim to lay to rest the old myth that the writer of the plays was Shakspere of Stratford. I all but stated my belief as fact, based on what I had read, that the man known as Shakespeare was actually Edward De Vere, the earl of Oxford. I’ll tell you why.

De Vere’s named was uncovered by a clergyman, J. Thomas Looney, in the 1920s, who was convinced only that the plays had to have been written by someone other than the man Shakspere who was known to be contemporary to the dates when most of the plays were written. Not finding any evidence that the Stratford citizen was known to be a writer, and finding considerable evidence that he could not have known the vast amounts of classical literature, language, geography, philosophy, and even human nature the writer of the plays and poetry knew, he made a list of qualities the writer would have and set out to find better candidates for the actual writer. To his surprise, a nobleman emerged who not only met all the criteria he had but also had life experiences that paralleled many if not most of the plots in the Shakespeare plays.

Edward De Vere lived a life worth reading about. An aristocrat in Elizabethan England, he was a child prodigy, a poet courtier, an adventurer, and an all-around son of a bitch who made a ton of mistakes in his life. He was profligate with money, a great drinker and storyteller, a juror in such trials as that of Mary Queen of Scots, Robert Devereaux, the earl of Essex; and Philip Howard, who was found guilty of treason in plotting the victory of the Spanish Armada against England in 1589.

As a child, De Vere was the ward of William Cecil, principal adviser to Queen Elizabeth. He was tutored by the best educators in England of that day, having the following curriculum:

7-7:30 Dancing
7:30-8 Breakfast
8-9:00 French
9-10 Latin
10-10:30 Writing and Drawing
1-2:00 Cosmography
2-3:00 Latin
3-4:00 French
4-4:30 Exercises with his Pen

A rather impressive course of study for a boy, isn’t it? What is “cosmography,” you might well ask. As a matter of fact it was geography, history, physical science, astronomy, sociology, English, comparative literature, linguistics, and more. Basically it was everything known in the Elizabethan world. And de Vere had the finest teachers in England as his private tutors. On holy days (holidays) he was expected to “read before dinner the Epistle and Gospel in his own tongue and the other tongue [Greek] after dinner. All the rest of the day to be spent in riding, shooting, dancing, walking, and other commendable exercises, saving the time for prayer."

His intense education included the reading of Beowulf and Ovid’s Metamorphoses and detailed study of the Bible, as noted. That he was surrounded by the greatest personal libraries in England was a boon to him all his life, as he was a voracious reader and could write beautiful prose and poetry. He read the law and received a Master of Arts degree from St. John’s College at Cambridge.

De Vere grew up from a prodigy to be a brilliant if contentious and conflicted man. He was expert at squandering the funds and lands he’d inherited, and he was never entirely comfortable with William Cecil, his guardian. Cecil was an eminent Elizabethan favored as a trusted advisor to the Queen herself.

In one of the few missteps of his life, William Cecil arranged a marriage between his daughter Anne and De Vere in 1571. In 1575, De Vere took off for Italy for a year, claiming that his marriage had never been consummated. He spent some time in Venice, Florence, Sienna. On his journey he traveled to Greece, Croatia – then known as Illyria – and back to England to meet his first daughter and reconcile with his wife. Although he accepted the marriage he never really participated in it. He was rumored to have had an affair with Queen Elizabeth, and he fathered a child by his mistress Anna Vavasour. He got into many a scrap, including political ones. He was known as a poet and writer, a dandy, a great drinker and storyteller and a tempestuous poet possessed of a tormented soul.

He had a sister who may have been cut of the same cloth. When she set out to marry she would have none of the suitors William Cecil had chosen for her, preferring the hothead Peregrine Bertie. De Vere despised Peregrine Bertie and did what he could to block the marriage, but after it happened he accepted the couple and even became a good friend to his volatile brother in law. The couple provided quite a display of temperament and the constant drama of power struggles as they settled into married life. I am not the only one to note that their drama may have been the inspiration for The Taming of the Shrew.

This is only a fraction of the story, but even in this brief, partial re-telling, one can see not only the makings of an extraordinary life in one of the most compelling times and places in the history of the world but also quite possibly the seeds of some of the greatest theatrical writing ever to have been produced.

The man from Stratford, however, had at best a grammar school education and a rather ordinary life from what we can tell. Supporters, and particularly the Stratford Trust, say that his genius simply surpassed our comprehension, and some suggest it is snobbish to believe that a common man could have written so well. This is a side issue. The meat of literature is its stories—and Shakespeare’s work is rife with classical allusions, biblical references, the geography of the Elizabethan world--and life itself, none of which would have been known to a provincial shopkeeper. Mr. Shakspere of Stratford, as far as is known, did not own any books.

Quite an industry has grown up around the little city of Stratford. It is a beautifully preserved replica of Elizabethan England, and no doubt that is all because a man named Shakspere once lived there. It is a pleasure to visit and to see the magnificent productions at its huge theater. England is justly proud of its national treasure, and has invested a fortune in keeping Shakespeare’s name alive over the centuries, even if the research on Mr. Shakspere may be dubious. The big question seems to be, if De Vere wrote the plays, why did he not sign his name to them? Those who believe he did cite the reality that people of the theatre were not respected (to say the least) and it would not have befit a man of De Vere's standing to reveal his connection to them, no matter how far above the rabble he stood.

The controversy still rages in spite of the Trust’s considerable efforts to quell it. A group exists called The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, which purports to debate, investigate, and ultimately find the answer. The group does not endorse De Vere or any other of the Shakespeare contenders. It asks only to investigate. The Trust has a great deal at stake and seeks to disqualify this group in order to keep the Stratford flame glowing. 

All the Authorship Coalition wants to do is consider other possibilities, and I’m squarely in their camp. Years ago I signed the group’s Declaration of Reasonable Doubt, which simply states that there are possibly other writers who might have written the works of Shakespeare. To read the document, and sign if you choose, click on the link and you'll receive occasional emails (one a year, I believe) about the latest signers. I received one last week which led me to buy an amusing and engrossing book--Shakespeare in Court, by Alexander Waugh.

The question remains. The traditionalist stick to the old story, denying that there is any question at all. According to William S. Niederkorn in the New York Times in 2002: "Most of the academic world has ignored the authorship question for generations, or belittled it as the obsession of idiosyncratic amateur scholars, while building altars in students' minds to the image the tragedian David Garrick promoted during the 1769 Shakespeare jubilee that created the Stratford tourism business: the man of humble origins who rose to the literary pantheon. The vast majority of academics still subscribe to that belief."

Where many have doubted the possibility that the isolated actor-turned-merchant of remote Stratford could have had the education and the grace to have written the monumental works of Shakespeare, no one has come up with a better candidate for the real author than Edward De Vere. I hope I have piqued your interest!

Saturday, October 18, 2014


The house and I had a party last night.

I wanted everybody I knew to see the renovations, including my electrician/plumber and my contractor and certainly their wives and kids. I wanted to bring together my neighbors and the friends I’d made at the Rosendale Theatre Collective. I wanted my family to meet the cast of characters in my new life so far.

I invited the committee I’m on from the Rosendale two weeks ago Monday. I sent a few emails and buttonholed neighbors as I saw them. I began amassing bottles of wine—bubbly, red, and white, and got the ingredients for ginger lemonade and bottles of water for non-drinkers. I started baking two days before the party and on the day-of had only to clean up, most of which consisted of shoving what I didn’t know what to do with into cartons and shoving the cartons into out of the way closets. I didn’t know if I’d ever remember where anything was.

The announced party hours were 5 P.M.-9 P.M. I’ve given enough parties to know the hours are usually ignored. The times were designed as a guide that it was not going to be a dinner party but I would have a lot of hors d’oeuvre and stuff to drink. It never works out that way, but I gave it a try. I did include crudités, lots of cheeses, crackers, nuts, and house specialties like salmon mousse. It was a meal, but not all that substantial.

At about 5:15 the first guest showed up. He was Howie, the new man on the Rosendale committee. Very nice guy and a good conversationalist, but for 20 minutes he was the only one I had to converse with. Then Gary showed up, one of the men who had just moved from the house next door. His partner didn’t come with him. Too bad--Gary had already seen the renovations to the house and maybe now his husband never would. They live just a few blocks away, but you never know. That’s one reason to give parties.

About six the third guest arrived—my actor friend Doug Motel, who had emailed me that he might do some readings if it seemed appropriate. I was delighted—I love to see him do his thing, and it inspired me to get one of my Dorothy Parker monologues out of mothballs and read it if I felt like it. Wine was beginning to flow and by now a few more people trickled in. This is typical. Note to self: Expect the party to begin an hour after the appointed time. Early arrivals are just gravy.

My grandson Andy showed up with August, his friend and soccer teammate (and the son of my contractor). They had lost the game, and it was a big one, but they were not heartbroken. They circulated, ate some of the candy bacon, and were wonderful guests.

What do you talk about at a party? The theme was ML in a new-old house, so all I had to do was show people around and point out the décor. I’m very pleased with everything done to the house so far—kitchen and upstairs bathroom mostly, but paint was applied to the dining room wainscoting and some of the white trim had been repainted. My beloved stuff is everywhere, and wherever I could I dropped in an anecdote that gave the history of the objects, the artwork, and their connection to me. I was so self-obsessed that I may have left my guests to their own devices for obtaining food and drink. There was a lot left over. I may have to have another party to use it all up.

At the height of the festivities 19 people were in attendance. Doug and I did our party turn and were met with polite applause (I admit Doug’s reception was, understandably, somewhat more enthusiastic than mine, but I don’t think I embarrassed myself. I have to keep a hand in the acting game. My friends must understand this. You never know when there’s an agent present.)

As the size of the crowd dwindled, I prevailed on a few to stick around so I didn’t have to face the enormous silence alone. Then my older grandson, Elias, showed up in a jaunty, talkative mood and kept us going another 45 minutes or so. The last couple left, and Elias decided to leave and hang out with a friend.

We loaded the dishwasher and started it on its journey and I turned in to lie awake processing the successes of the evening. I didn’t go to bed until midnight—very unusual for me these days—and when I got up at six felt I hadn’t slept at all. The party had been a good way to launch into life in Kingston. Those who couldn’t make it have an open invitation to drop in, and those who did got to hear fragments of my life story they might not have known before.

I feel as satisfied as a hostess can feel the day after a long-awaited soiree. Bits of it will come back to me in dreams and memories—that is, if I ever do get back to sleep.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How I Got Square

When I first noticed. Circa 2011.
A few years ago somebody posted the above meme on Facebook and I totally didn't get it. I saw a page full of commas and a picture of some exotic reptile. I don't think I even knew what a meme was. I began railing about how the picture was NOT a chameleon, thinking of the benign little creatures not unlike the Geico gecko, running about on the Alabama front porch of my childhood, changing colors if you touched them, and losing their tails if you grabbed them, scampering off to safety.

The response to my rant was, "Mary Lois, I can't believe you're this square! Don't you recognize the song?"

I didn't. I suppose I heard it but had never paid attention. I still don't know what it means, but I know it was an important milestone in popular music in the early 1980s. There I go again. Thinking there should be meaning to the words of songs. Square. Out of touch. My problem was that bit about it having come to prominence in the 1980s. Where had I been for the last 30 years?

Probably the 1980s was when I got so square--although I'll own up to the fact that I was pretty square before that. My favorite music had been the kind my father had bought on 33 LP's when I was a teenager--big bands like Stan Kenton, old jazz like Duke Ellington. I was not averse to the new stuff like "Tequila" or "Shh-Boom," and I liked Eddie Fisher (but I knew he was just a kid version of Frank Sinatra). In the 60s and 70s I was up to date with folk music and early rock and roll.

In 1978 I married my third husband, who was 17 years my senior and definitely a WWII guy. He had a collection of jazz and big band records. We moved to Switzerland, which was like being on another planet, and lived there for six years. Jazz is big in Europe, and we sought it out. We went to concerts and little out of the way bistros where there were pianists. We bought more records. By the time we got back to the States, it was time to stock up on CD's, but I kept some of the jazz records, and when I moved to Hoboken I transferred most of my music from 33 RPM to my computer. But I kept all the Sinatra LPs, because, after all, it was Hoboken.

My grandsons listen to music that I cannot fathom. Rap is just awful to me; rock music has become just so much noise (whatever happened to "See Ya Later Alligator"?) and something about chameleons is already a classic. It all just goes in one of my ears and out the other. However, I heard it piped into the Muzak in a store at the mall yesterday, prompting this post. I said to myself, "Mary Lois, how did you get so square?"

I don't think the music of the times is relevant to anything but the change in everything. There's a part of me that will always be a bit of a Dungaree Doll, Wishing You Were Here, dancing the jitterbug and waiting for life to happen. I'm square enough to accept that, and hip enough to try to understand at least. It's kind of a compliment to know that I can still surprise people with how square I am.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Time Out for Magic

Emma Stone, Colin Firth

I went to the movies last night. Having been warned by lukewarm reviews that Woody Allen's latest, Magic in the Moonlight, was wan and unsatisfying, I took a chance and found out for myself--that it is quite the opposite. From the beginning it was magical, intriguing, transporting, and ultimately left everybody in the audience delighted. Including me.

Some critics carped that Allen has been over these themes too many times. Faith vs. the lack of it, spirit vs. reason, magic vs. humbug. I say, keep trying, Mr. Allen. and with fare such as this we all may be able to find answers together.

One of the complaints is that Colin Firth and Emma Stone are mismatched for a romantic comedy. Some say he's just too old (I suspect those who wrote that are male), others that the chemistry between the pair is lacking. It may have seemed so because Firth's character is resistant to falling in love, in fact, he doesn't seem to consider its possibility until irrationality takes over his skeptical mind. As always, he is an extremely appealing actor, particularly in his stolid clumsiness. When he actually gets to a proposal of marriage it is reminiscent of the one he bumbled through in his portrayal of Mr. Darcy all those years ago. Is that performance so long in the past that we don't recall his perfection? How he almost singlehandedly creative an avalanche of attention to not only Pride and Prejudice but all of the works of Jane Austen? He does it again here in a thoroughly captivating scene, one that provides some of the few laughs in the film. There are elements of Rex Harrison as Prof. Higgins, wrestling with the irrationality of even considering romance as redemption. He is one of the best actors of his generation.

Emma Stone, I am uneasy saying, reminded me of young Mia Farrow here. She seems frail and waiflike, but as if she is working at it, where with Farrow it was second nature. But she pulls it off and the two of them kept me on edge wondering whether or not, or if.

The scene between Firth and Eileen Atkins, playing his wise and experienced aunt, was a masterpiece of English restraint and playing of the subtext. Like a scene from Oscar Wilde--without the puns and built-in laughs--they talked around a subject until he was led to the unavoidable conclusion that she had never once mentioned. 

The settings, costumes and cinematography must be mentioned. It is on a par with Vicki Cristina Barcelona for capturing the look and color of the place. As always in Allen flicks, a soupçon of sprightly love songs from the period adds atmosphere.

This is escapist fare worth watching, with thoughts to think on love, death, philosophy, and magic. If you're in the Rosendale/New Paltz/Kingston area, it will run at The Rosendale again tonight at 5 and 7:15, Sunday and Monday nights at 7:15. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Adding Stuff

First, I put the stuff I had in the living room.
The time comes when most of your stuff is unpacked and you need a few new things to fill in and make the space come to life. I'm there.

I liked the way my sofa looked even though it filled the living room almost to its edges, but what passed for a coffee table was not quite sufficient. I needed something bigger, but not too big. I also needed a place to hang the water color my husband and I had bought in the 1980s of the cathedral in Geneva when we lived there.

The windows were nice with no covering at all, but at night the room was a fishbowl. Simple curtains had to be found for privacy, and these also did the job of adding a bit of color to the room. Craigslist offered a coffee table of just the right size, made of recycled palettes, polished and designed with an extra shelf for oversized books and undersized objects.
Curtains at the window, a favorite painting, and a new coffee table.

Bit by bit, by adding stuff I had and adding judiciously to it, the place in uptown Kingston is beginning to remind me of my whole life.

In the dining room, with its sea-colored wainscoting, I found a place for both the driftwood table my mother gave me 20 years ago, and a non-objective by the Philadelphia artist Ed Bing Lee that I've owned for some 30 years.

A driftwood table, accessorized.

I've got more corners and crannies to show you, but they will wait. This is the way the house is shaping up--old with new, reused with recycled, all combined in a house that needed love and attention for years. 
Ed Bing Lee's painting graces the dining room.

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Public Rooms

I like to think of a house having public rooms and private rooms, although it doesn't quite work that way these days. From bathrooms, kitchens and bedrooms, every room in a house is on display. But up until the last week nothing in my house was ready to go public.
The dining room had promise. It also had a huge chandelier.

I didn't like the colors, I didn't like the fixtures, but I loved the bones of the place and knew my stuff--for years languishing in closets--would brighten and reflect a new life in the house.

For months most of my bright and beloved pieces remained in boxes and remained in the way. Day by day changes were made, cartons unpacked, new furniture added, and I camped out amid the debris waiting until repairs were done, walls were painted, workmen finished tasks and the future began to peek through.

The living room was first, but I was still camping out upstairs as the bathroom and kitchen were remodeled. It was just last weekend that a paint job obscured the chartreuse wainscoting
and it was replaced with a blue Martha (Stewart) and Candice (Olsen) would approve. A touch of this blue was in so many of the paintings I owned that I was sure it was the color to go for.
It screamed for a new color and a new light fixture. It got both.

I am elated it's going so well all of a sudden. Soon I'll probably forget the difficulty of living in the clutter and chaos. There are other things in life besides interior decoration, but when you're submerged in a move, you do tend to forget that. A trip to the "import store," as they call the decor chains on television, results not only in an armful of colorful accents, but also a high you might not have anticipated. The picture on the right shows the redecoration so far; window treatments (very simple curtains in a color called "mineral") and a few other touches remain
My public rooms are almost ready for viewing by the public. A party is percolating in the back of my mind, to be followed by many more.

Looking from the dining room to the living room, Before.

Looking into the living room, now.