Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mary Berniece Burns Kelley

Mary Berniece Kelley was my mother's youngest sister.  Mary was their mother's name, but she preferred to be called Berniece or Bernie. I thought the name "Red" would have been perfect for her and  yet I see now that it would have lacked the refinement she was going for.

When I was little, my aunt and uncle (Kelley) lived in Buena Park, CA.  Going to see them meant that we got to go to Knott's Berry Farm or Disneyland! Joy! (I am still obsessed to this day with the chicken dinner at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant). Later, visits to  the Laguna Art Festival and the Sawdust Festival were so inspiring to me.  I am grateful for her influence that way-- she was an artist with an ever-examining eye! I saw things differently when I was with her.   Aunt Bernie had flaming red hair, rings on every finger, a year-round tan,  and the latest rhinestone Bernardo Sandals. She was the "perfect" size 4 and loved to wear the latest fashions that showed off all her hard work to stay that way.  That she and my mother came from the same home was a great mystery to me as a child-- they were so different!

My favorite room in the Kelley home was the red room.  It had red leather furniture,  leopard carpets and black lacquer accents.  Their Siamese cat, Ting-a-ling, liked this room too-- it provided the perfect backdrop for her!  I am not much of a cat person but we seemed to bond over the decor.  My uncle was an amazing school teacher in, what I was told, was a rough part of the  Los Angeles school district. He was also a very talented artist and created beautiful tile work and fountains wherever they lived. I think he was a frustrated "want-to-be" architect living with an eccentric artist which, when combined, formed the perfect storm!

My mother and my Aunt were born in Pennsylvania in the early 1900's.  Their father, Mark was a farmer and their mother, Mary Elinda was an accomplished pianist and singer.  She was a millineress with her own shop -- at that time, a rarity for women. My mother can still recall her earliest memories-- her mother playing the piano and the birth of her baby sister Mary Berniece Burns (she was born at home).  Grandmother Mary died with complications from a later childbirth when my mother was about 12 years old.  I can't even imagine this, nor can I imagine how difficult the children's lives (two boys and two girls)  became afterward. Let me just say that all the Burns children became strong, resourceful, talented and kind adults.

Aunt Bernie and I grew closer as the years went by.  I called her often and we talked about art, jewelry (her passion and mine), fashion, travel, food and exercise.  As part of her art education, she studied painting at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, and always had a project going that she liked to talk about. She loved still life and portraits mostly.  I remember posing for hours as a little girl while she painted my portrait in pastels. It made me feel important and antsy all at once!  While we are different people, we shared so many of the same interests and those conversations were always satisfying. With the years, I began to understand how people can be different but complimentary.  She wasn't warm and cozy like my mother, but I knew that she loved me and appreciated our relationship.

We celebrated Christmas together in our various northern Californa homes over the years. She was a nervous flyer so I always had her favorite vodka martini waiting for her upon arrival.  She and  glamour travelled together-- full make-up, big red hair, furs, and lots and lots of jewels. My uncle even managed to look debonair with her many suitcases in tow! I loved that she dressed for the occasion and we dutifully took her back to her hotel for all the outfit changes between events. She told me that they lived for those moments year to year--what a time it was...

Aunt Bernie was one of the most stubborn, determined, strong-willed people I have ever known. She was difficult-- everyone said that not as a criticism but as a fact. It is also true that greatness is more than likely born from difficulty rather than ease.  3 years ago, when she fell ill and became unable to take care of her world, I stepped in.  None of this was planned and it seemed strange to be in charge of someone who had once been so very in charge of everything.  Our last visit with her in September was difficult in that we knew it would be our last. There is much I could say about it, but what I will choose to remember is this:  That lasting moment when she held my face in her unadorned hand and  examined me with that ever-critical eye of hers.  She missed nothing except maybe a detail or two blurred by her tears.  Softness was setting in, preparing her for her next world, her next adventure. Wherever she is, it will be colorful and glamorous. I know that my world holds a bit more color and glamour because of her.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Le Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves --Taking you there with words and images...

The experience of walking a Paris flea market is a cultural revelation, an historical journey and a treasure hunt all in one.  The Vanves market begins quite early on the weekends and I start with my car dropping me at the perfect entrance on the Avenue Georges Lafenestre (a poet and critique of French art in the 1800's).  It is there from a little stand that I have my coffee and chocolate croissant hot from the oven! If I prefer to just get started looking, there are always little ladies who stroll the walkways with a cart full of coffee and baked goodies.  The Vanves still feels like an old-fashioned market because of these ladies, the street pianists and the vendors that set up and take down each day. There are no permanent stands like there are in the larger Cligancourt Puces.  
The market is full of snarly vendors who yell back and forth to each other and who most often object to being photographed. (This guy yelled at me just as I was shooting!) There are nice vendors too but the grumpy ones make it interesting! They bark but they don't bite... 

The dogs, however, are much more friendly!

Everything you could ever imagine and more is for sale here.  I will always be drawn to the old textiles with the hand woven tassels... gorgeous!

 The people watching is wonderful too-- Stars like Catherine Deneuve frequent the market as well as a well-dressed dandy! Parisians don't often fail to give you something to look at!

Even tap shoes make an appearance!

An antique school merit board!

And When I find an amazing portrait or bust, I am in my treasure heaven!  These moments are only for the early risers!  

 The  well-loved book on Louis XV and an antique flag topper came home with me recently...

And books beautifully bound in leather are another joy here. If you are lucky to find some with orginal engravings, you can walk away with a smile and a heavy bag!  Many buyers come with a small cart on wheels or a suitcase just for these occasions.

There is humor to be found here too!  I smiled a good-bye to these "partcipants" as I drove away for the last time this visit.  Rain or shine, this is where you'll find me Saturday mornings during my stay... 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Les Talons Louis XV / The Heels of Louis XV

Do I need another reason to love Paris? Mais non! But Paris, the world's greatest lover, keeps trying to please and please it does! On my walk home from the Right Bank, I spotted this sign in the most elegant of shoe repair shops. Actually, to call it a "repair" shop doesn't do it justice-- more a restoration/artisanal atelier of the highest standards. I stood staring at the beautiful red leather banquette sofas in the showroom, the polished marble floors, the gilded antique mirrors, and the perfectly appointed chandelier lighting. The shoes that had been restored were displayed in the window along with a series of Louis XV heels --their specialty.  How could I help myself from falling in love with Paris a little bit more?

Louis XV reigned from 1715-1774.  He loved heels, especially red ones (it was very expensive to get the leather colored this perfect red)  and only he or those men in good standing with him were allowed to wear them.  He was especially fond of paste buckle ornamentation and embroidery.  The large paste buckles were considered important enough to be sold separately and in beautiful velvet boxes like jewelry.   He insisted on the highest of heels and demanded that everyone else in the court wear heels lower than his.  While men generally abandoned heels around 1730, Louis' shoe style continues to influence us today as seen in the Manolo Blahnik and Marc Jacob shoes below.  

 As a note of personal history, when I married Alain, I chose a beige silk hand-made shoe with a Louis XV heel. When I turned 40, I had a pair of Louis XV leather shoes made in England for Alain for our 18th century party complete with buckle and red heel. When the Marc Jacob's shoe came out (he called it the Pilgrim shoe), I had to own a pair.  And my love for paste buckles, well, that list goes on and on.... Without knowing much about this shoe style early on, I have been drawn to it since I can remember.  Maybe the clairvoyant was right when she told me that in another life I was a popular French politician who was known for strolling the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris to greet his people. If this is true, then everything makes sense!  Merci Louis for the perfect heel and another reason to love Paris!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Le Déjeuner à Paris! Lunch in Paris!

Let me explain the French Lunch the way I see it.
One day I was dining in the Bistro Valois just outside the Palais Royal. It was raining and a motorcycle pulled up underneath this lovely awning. The cycle was a nice one and the driver was dressed beautifully all the way down to his Berlutti shoes with the perfect patina. He reached into his small compartment and pulled out his lunch. While I couldn't see exactly everything he was eating, he took his time enjoying his sandwich and a small side dish of something he brought a fork for. I was intrigued.  Then he brought out a small glass for a splash of wine poured from his flask.  When the rain started coming down harder, he wasn't deterred from continuing his lunch... he simply moved his motorcycle closer to the building. Next came dessert, a tarte au citron (lemon tart)!  Just unbelievable and he made it look so good I had to order one later....  I smiled and said to myself, "Let's just see now if he has his petit café." If so, I will be thoroughly impressed. He stood up after his dessert was finished and put all of his utensils, napkin, and  glassware back in his compartment. Then, much to my delight, out came his small thermos and cup for his coffee!  So impressive!  Finished, he returned his thermos, dusted himself off and drove away.   In that moment, I realized I had just witnessed the live definition of the French lunch!  

What I find interesting for myself is that in California, I rarely have lunch out.  Lunch is more just a moment to refuel to get through the day. But once I am in Paris, a whole different me appears. From the moment I awake, I start to dream about where I want to eat that day, which of my favorite foods I hope will be on the "plat du jour" menu (blanquette de veau, tomate farçi, pâte fraiche.....), and what I  might want for dessert-- that list is endless! Even when I plan to shop in a neighborhood or visit a garden or museum, I think about which restaurants are close by for me to try. When I lunch, I enjoy every bite including dessert without any guilt...ever! And I always have wine... sometimes two glasses!  Daytime drinking is a quiet kind of drinking.. the sun is out and dreams are encouraged.  There is not an ounce of hurry in my body and I know that I will enjoy walking through the rest of my day.  

 For the French, a great lunch is anticipated and expected. For everyone else it is a moment of perfection!

Enjoy these photos of lunchtime moments! Bon Appétite!
 Cauliflower puree-- Cafe Bras
 Stuffed tomato-- Chez Nenesse
 Pizza Margarita-- Tavola di Gio

Steak Frites-- Bistro Les Ambassades
 Ile Flottant or boule de neige-- Cafe Bras
 Tarte Citron and its meringue-- Cafe la Varenne
 Chocolate tart with caramel-- Le Gevaudan
Old fashioned (and the BEST ever) Rice pudding! The whole bowl is placed in front of you and you take as much as you like. Carmel sauce on the side.... Bistro Les Ambassades

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Montparnasse Frame

 Each time I'm in Paris, something different catches my eye and I learn something. Most everthing in France has an historical reference as does the Montparnasse frame.  I first saw a frame like this in the smaller flea market called the Puces de Vanves.  The seller tossed out the name "Montparnasse" like we were sure to know what it was.  I had never heard of this frame and was instantly interested in its history. While I didn't learn much that day about it, I noted that while it was ornate in its carving, it lacked the gold gild of  most of the French frames we are used to seeing. I needed to find out more!
 Today I went to the larger flea market the Puces de St. Ouen (Cligancourt) and to Lucien Pineau's stand in the Marché Serpette.  He specializes in the Montparnasse frame and we had a wonderful conversation about their history and how difficult they are becoming to find.  First of all, the interior part of the frame that is the moulding is called the Marie-Louise.  Marie-Louise was the 2nd wife of Napoleon and I am still trying to discover why it is named after her.  When the moulding is made of wood and is fabric covered, it is referred to as the Marie-Louise. If it is cardboard, it is called the passe-partout (something that passes everywhere).  Evidently, Marie-Louise was not someone who was passed about! These frames are from the 20th century and were supposedly designed by the many Russian painters who had begun to congregate in the Montparnasse area between 1908-1914. Since they were artists with very little means, they carved the frames themselves from modest pine and left them ungilded. The Patinas are all different and quite beautiful with the traditional frames being creme or grey. The carving itself is ornate and in the style of Louis XIV  and Louis XV. They are all beautiful!
Many of the painters from the Ecole de Montparnasse ( Marie Vassillieff's painting above) and the Ecole de Paris, framed their Post-Impressionist and cubist paintings with the Montparnasse frame.  While I wish I could see their paintings in the Montparnasse Museum,  it was closed down this year for reasons unknown.  What I can do since our apartment is so close by, is walk to the Montparnasse area and dine in one of the many legendary cafés that are still fabulous today such as: Le Dôme, La Closerie de Lilas, La Rotunde, Le Select and La Coupole. Painters such as Picasso, Matisse, and Modigliani chose these spots as their hang out  and paid with their paintings when they had no money for food. I can only imagine the colorful conversations that must have gone on amongst them daily.

I have always been fascinated by beautiful frames.. they are the jewel that enhances the work of art!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Study in Kindness

Today marks 1 year since the police chase/car accident that I survived with my friend Nancy -- and I don't use the word survive lightly.  It was a moment to believe and disbelieve all at once.  And it was the first time in my life that I actually knew I had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  
So wrong....

So let's right it .... that's the thought I woke up with this morning.   I have replayed the events in my mind a million times and when my mind takes a break from it, residual pain in my body sends a reminder.  While doctors and friends were concerned that I had broken or torn something, I intuitively knew that the only thing broken was my spirit.   But I have healed -- slowly, surely, gratefully and I am here to say that the greatest component in the get well equation was kindness.

Recently, a study was done at Stanford University that reveals a growing body of scientific evidence  that kindness holds the power to heal.  The study states that kindness should be viewed as an indispensable part of the healing process.  After all, it's been in the Hippocratic Oath for over a century: "I will remember that... warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug."    Kindness then is something we take and something we give and in the process of it all, it becomes the greatest of healers.  Distribute abundantly!

I know that it was not my fault for being down, but I also understand that it was my responsibility to get back up.... "pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again."  Today I thank my dear family and my dear friends for the tireless way you listened to my story especially when it was repeated often,  for holding me while I cried,  and for celebrating me back to life. Thank you for helping me get back up! Especially, I thank Nancy for holding my hand when I asked her to-- in the middle of the darkness and trauma.  I can still feel the electricity of her touch in that moment-- it made us safe I think.  The simple act of holding hands creates a bond and the strength of a bond with another human can take you to places unimaginable.  There is a force in it.  

My idea of "righting" the wrong is to continue on the path I've just recently started to reclaim strength in my body. Slow and sure! I want to work harder at being kind to myself so that I can spread greater kindness to all of you in my life who matter.  And I want to stop looking over my shoulder. Noone knows what's coming,  so look forward, move forward  and live passionately.

Today, hold hands, be kind, and celebrate those you love. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, 
"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late."

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pajama Game

Why am I showing you a photograph of my mother in her pajamas? Read on...

I don't know what it is like to be 95 and I don't know what it is to be one of the last of the "clan" standing. My mother does.
Last week, her long time friend Ruth Dussia passed away.  Ruth's husband Steve and my father worked together and our families socialized for as long as I can remember.  Eventually, with both Steve and my father gone, Ruth and my mother began checking in on each other more frequently and then nightly. I don't know what all was discussed but I know the conversations were long and animated and that sometimes, my mom had to hold the phone at arm's length to make it through all the "excitement" on the other end!  I can tell you that I never got a call in to my mother between 7pm and 9pm and that I learned to remind my mom to tell Ruth when I was in town. If we went out for dinner and missed that call well...  let's just say the police was not the welcome committee we were hoping for!

Although Ruth was younger, it was my mom who took her to her doctor's visits and kept her company during her many trips to the hospital and rehabilitation centers.  My mom took her baked goods, listened to all her complaints and helped her son Brent understand what was going on.  She was the ultimate friend-- there until the end.  An angel...

I had been keeping tabs on Ruth's health for a long while, so when I got the call that she passed away, I was not surprised. My mother put on her brave voice for me until finally it cracked and stopped. It was during those seconds of silence I knew that I would drive home for the weekend to hug her and bring some cheer-- a little surprise.  The day before I left, I got an email that said she had sewn a complete set of pajamas for herself, button holes included. She also added, " My head and fingers still work."  This was her grief therapy and her own little self-test.

I set out for Ventura with the pleasure of knowing that we would soon be seeing each other. When I arrived, the house was dark and I worried that I would scare her if I rang the bell. I decided to call her and say that there was a dinner delivery at her back door.  She had changed into her pajamas and was ready to settle in with a book for the evening. I told her I would stay with her on the phone until she opened the door.  The look on her face was priceless and those pajamas... WOW!
We hugged, cried, ate, talked and finally went to bed.  She said she sleeps so well when there is someone in the house, and I in my childhood bed, sleep like a child.  I am still a child-- her child and I am so grateful for that.

We went to our favorite Lucky's the next night to celebrate Ruth's life and with the clink of our lemon drop and martini, sent our blessings into the night.  The fire place was crackling,  the room was full of life and cheer and we even had a bit of comic relief in the form of Ellen Degeneres at the next table.

When it is time for me to go, she always walks to the end of the driveway to wave goodbye. This time was no different  except that I wasn't as sad as sometimes. Why? Well, seeing her in those pajamas with that big smile... how could I be?  If there was ever a doubt in my mother's mind that she was fading, life came back into full focus that weekend. We had the best time and I left knowing that she is still in the game.  The pajama game!