Friday, September 30, 2011

Gotcha

Yesterday was Wendelina Pantherina's "Gotcha Day," the second anniversary of the day we brought her home. I was honored when she voluntarily joined me (unheard of) on the sofa for most of a minute, shortly after watching Possum receive a disgusting amount of petting and praise in that spot. As soon as he left, she took his place, even jumping over me neatly to get there. But when I reached out to pet her, she left. Still, it was a fierce display of courage from Wendy — still settling in, one molecule at a time.

Naturally, I had to reminisce over baby pictures:

Shortly after her arrival.

Wendy is Not Intellectual, but she helped Possum 
pull Janson's History of Art from the shelf.

A favorite hangout, under the candelabra. 

Proud of herself for subduing the curtain ties.
And look at that super-long tail.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Three More Days...

Of free shipping from Anthropologie.com, including sale items if you buy something regular-priced, too. This promotion has been running for a while but ends on September 30, so you might want to browse and see if there's something you can't live without.

I've been living without these serving bowls, although I've admired them for ages: 


They come in lime green as well as sunny orange, and I like them all:


 They are 8" and 9" — versatile sizes — and they're pretty on the inside, too:


I've resisted buying them ($58) because I have a lot of bowls and storage space is tight. On the other hand, my bowls are all either vintage nested mixing bowls or low salad bowls that pinch-hit* when I serve spaghetti or stew — looking obviously like mixing and salad bowls. So, in the interest of living like a grown-up, maybe I shouldn't live without these forever. I examined them in the store months ago, when they still had some in stock, and they are even nicer in reality.

But then I'd have to choose a color. Both would look horrible with our antique china... but we do have a set of simple white plates... three days to decide.

* Sorry — I know baseball metaphors are rather painful just now. But it's not over yet — and don't we Bostonians relish a little drama in September?


UPDATE: Both sets of bowls are back in stock in the Newbury Street store. So I can keep procrastinating.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Will Restoration Get It Right This Time?

The Boston Globe is reporting that Restoration Hardware has leased the so-called LouisBoston building at 234 Berkeley Street — formerly and more illustriously remembered as Bonwit Teller by us old people and as the Boston Museum of Natural History by dead people and history buffs.

People who know my shopping interests keep sending me links to the story, but I was never a huge fan of Restoration. I'm a huge fan of Rejuvenation, a lighting and hardware company based in Portland, Oregon, but that's another story.

The Globe article neglects to mention that Restoration Hardware has been here before. And failed. They had an airy, multi-level space at the corner of Boylston and Exeter for several years, before the current shoe and clothing store took it over.

Restoration was certainly an asset to the neighborhood; you could buy furniture, fixtures, linens — and even some hardware, tools, and paint. It was a great place to browse, especially at Christmas, when they offered a large selection of stocking stuffers to please hard-to-shop-for guys. And if you didn't find the furniture, lighting, or bedding you wanted at Restoration, you could check out Crate & Barrel up the street, and Pottery Barn on Newbury. Those were the days...

I have theory as to why we lost both Restoration and Pottery Barn. I suspect their sales in Back Bay suffered in comparison to their mall stores, which made it seem foolish to lease expensive urban retail space. But we city residents need stores that sell furniture and housewares; all we have now is Crate & Barrel, unless you consider Bed Bath & Beyond a great place to shop. (I do not, except for very basic items, like shower curtain liners.) So what went wrong? Well, for about half the year, each of these stores (and Crate & Barrel, too) are loaded with major patio furniture, grills, and other items for outdoor living. But except for the lucky few Bostonians who have expansive penthouse decks or backyard gardens, we city dwellers can't embrace the patio lifestyle no matter how much we'd like to. I need a patio umbrella like I need a pair of wrought-iron chaise longues, and I'm speaking for the vast majority of my neighbors. Most of us are lucky to have a postage-stamp garden out front, which is too public for lounging and dining al fresco.

So, Bostonians, how's your poolside patio? Yeah, I thought so...

I hope these large chains are wising up and realizing that city people have different summer needs than suburban people. In the summer we need.... um... headphones because we keep our windows open. Large fans. The occasional picnic basket, cooler, or beach towel. Actually, in summer we need the same stuff we need the rest of the year: indoor furniture, linens, kitchen items, and home accessories. In other words, these national chain stores need two different seasonal merchandising programs: one for the suburbs and one tailored for cities.

I will venture to suggest that if you show a typical city dweller a store window full of bright, summery patio furniture, she will feel so deprived and depressed at her own lack of outdoor space that she will avoid entering that store. Rather than wallow in things she can't enjoy, she will head elsewhere to buy cute sandals to console herself. I know this; I've done it.

Even if Restoration doesn't barrage us with barbecue tools and floating lounge chairs for our swimming pools, there's another issue they need to address. Over the years that I visited the Boylston Street store, I watched their furniture get bigger and bigger. They were moving into a sort of "luxury hotel" look for their furniture, bath fixtures, and linens that seemed weirdly anonymous to me, too. But worse, they seemed to be designing for Great Big Americans living in Great Big McMansions. I'd love to know the average size of an apartment in our various Boston neighborhoods, but I'm pretty sure most of us are living in 450 to 1,000 square feet — with our significant others, pets, maybe even a child or two. Many of us also cram at least one home office in our tiny spaces. So we need compact furniture and creative storage solutions. We don't need giant sofas and dining room chairs that make us feel like Edith Ann (geez, whatever happened to Lily?). Which is what you tend to get at Restoration.

Can you fit this sectional in your Boston living room?

Or do you have two massive sofas in your city apartment instead?

On the other hand, Pottery Barn recognizes the city dweller's needs. They sell special, apartment-sized sofas and smaller-scaled furniture for other rooms. Very smart. Phew, I'm glad someone's paying attention to us — not to mention the nationwide Not-So-Big House trend that's happening outside  cities. And how I wish Pottery Barn would reopen a store in Back Bay, too!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Car Candy: Vintage Mercedes

I spotted this mint-condition, racing-green Mercedes parked all by itself on Fairfield Street today. Any contemporary car would be embarrassed to be seen parked next to this beauty, I guess!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Possum is a Patriot

An alert reader (yes, I've got another reader besides you, but only the one) sent me a link to the Wall Street Journal story, below. She knows that that Possum is... um... burly, and the headline gave her the impression that he is playing for the Giants.


While it's a little-known fact that I played strong safety for the Patriots back in the '80s, when they stank, I can assure Possum's friends that he isn't playing professional football. He's only 2 years old; we won't let him put on a helmet until he's at least 6. He is a rabid Pats fan, however, curling up on the bed with my husband and Bertie (and me, although I'm also reading) to watch the game. Football is a complex, strategic game; we feel he has a lot to learn (second-year geometry, calculus, chess, history of modern warfare, composing fugues, semiotics, ballet, and kinesiology, among other things) before he'll be prepared to take the field. And he may decide he prefers badminton. It happens.

Although Possum may not be on their team, I can't confirm or deny that the Giants learned a trick or two from him:

Possum demonstrates unsportsmanlike conduct.

Possum demonstrates "playing possum," — rather elegantly.

Friday, September 23, 2011

No No No

I took a shortcut through Neiman Marcus today to get to the Copley farmer's market and saw this:

On September 23? This is insane.

More Christmas decorating in progress.

Today is the first day of fall, for crying out loud. Since when does the autumnal equinox cue the arrival of Santa Claus? Since today, I suppose. 

I'm not convinced it's even time to  for fall clothing; it's like a sauna outside. But I keep noticing people wearing sweaters — even turtlenecks — plus jackets, scarves, and plenty of jeans and cords tucked into boots. I've seen everything so far except mittens. And there I am, walking down the same streets, roasting in my flip flops and shorts. I found two abandoned wool scarves on the Newbury Street sidewalk the other night as I was taking a stroll. 

I guess if some people can pretend it's Christmas in September, I can pretend it's still August. 

Today's Wendy

She may not be a cuddlepuss like Possum, but Wendy is decorative to say the least. This morning, she allowed me to photograph her as she took shelter in one of her favorite spots, under the candelabrum. She loves that thing, except when she dislodges a candle as she rubs her head against it or swishes her mighty tail. Then she vanishes in a puff of fur, and we won't see her for a while.


I know we're prejudiced in her favor, but we both think she has an uncommonly lovely and expressive calico face. We tell her so all the time, and she ignores us. Otherwise, she'll squeak whenever she's spoken to, which is most endearing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The New Anthropologie, the Old Hess's

I went to the grand opening of the Newbury Street Anthropologie on Wednesday night. I was glad I had replaced my ubiquitous shorts-and-flip-flops uniform with a cute dress and cardigan — everyone was decked out in layers of well-accessorized Anthro. The whole store had a candlelit glow, and there was live music, and flowers, and food.

I guess they won't always have a jazz quartet on the mezzanine.

I made the rounds of both floors a couple of times while downing miniature cupcakes and good cheese. I didn't know a soul, but I chatted with some friendly sales associates while checking out the merch.

I suppose they won't offer mini Kickass cupcakes permanently, either. 
They were surprisingly delicious, considering that I declared them 
best-suited to dogs in one of my first blog posts, just 3 years ago. 
I tried vanilla with chocolate frosting; a pecan-topped spice model,
and a chocolate peanut-butter. All winners. Who evolved: them or me?

The new store is perfectly nice but, honestly, it doesn't compare with the old store. The ceilings are just too low! Apparently, this design detail instantly wrecks the atmosphere for me. I seem to be attracted only to stores with lofty ceilings, like ABC Carpet & Home in Manhattan. Am I the only one with this peculiarity? Are you happier hanging around in soaring spaces, too?

Raw, or barely finished, lumber is the design theme, just as 
it is at the Cambridge store. It was nice to see flowers everywhere.

This pretty, vintage-style tile is also used on the mezzanine and stairs.
There's a separate lingerie section, as you can see, but no shoe section, 
although that was promised. Maybe it will come later.

Typical table display, with lots of greenery.

It's a perfectly appealing, pretty store, but the magic is gone. I used to pop into the Boylston Street store to lift my spirits, the way other people pop into a bar, or a church. I'm going to have to find a replacement, but I don't drink or say Rosaries. Ideally whatever I pick next won't take credit cards. And no, I'm not going to haunt the Capitol One Bank that's moving into that space. Maybe I'll go in there once.

I don't think I got my penchant for high ceilings from spending hours a week sitting in church as a schoolgirl. I suspect I've been influenced by my childhood adventures in the legendary Hess Brothers department store in Allentown, Pennsylvania. That long-gone store already has earned itself a book, a PBS documentary, and a museum exhibition, and the eternal love of many thousands of Pennsylvanians. I'll write a separate post someday soon. But I have to explain here that shopping there was an extraordinary experience — the owner, Max Hess Jr., was a showman who stopped at nothing to excite people: crazy sales, celebrity appearances, the first topless swimsuit.... Manhattan had nothin' on us.

Every floor of the flagship store had dozens of massive crystal chandeliers, so you often wandered around staring upward, blinded by hundreds of candle bulbs and bumping into things, like the life-size reproduction of the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Women's Show Department. (When I finally saw it at the Louvre, I couldn't stop thinking about back-to-school loafers.) The chandeliers were at least twice as large on the main floor, which frequently had enormous floral displays everywhere, plus charming animated tableaux at Christmas. Here's a postcard from those days:


As you can see, an Aladdin type is wandering through a cactus-accented tropical jungle in the Necktie Department. This photo was not taken at Christmas; this is just one wacky, temporary idea of Max Hess's. That was how it was.... you went shopping and found serious entertainment — and very good deals, too. And the ceilings were deliciously high.

So I've been spoiled, it seems. Top that, Anthropologie. You could have at least offered me a decent ceiling! Boy, I'm going to save a lot of money from now on.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Uncross those Fingers

Just last Tuesday I wrote the following about the charming former Anthropologie building:
I wonder what the Boylston Street space will become next. It had better not be wasted on yet another bank — or the city's largest nail salon! Maybe it will house another interesting, irresistible store that I will spend countless happy hours exploring... fingers crossed.
So, fellow shoppers, I have news. I spoke to a workman in overalls today, as he was unlocking the door, and he told me it's going to be a Capital One Bank. Even he rolled his eyes and said, "Just what you want around here. Another bank."

How disappointing. What a waste of an excellent multi-level retail space, on a street that could use more clothing and housewares shops and already has plenty of banks.

I'm about to head out to the grand opening event for the new Anthropologie on Newbury. More on that later, at least if it's a hit.

Current Craving: Cheevers

One of the pleasures of unemployment is having HUGE amounts of time to spend reading. Hours, and hours, and hours.

When I have a writing project, I make it a point to spend maybe an hour a day reading someone else's good writing. I pick an author whose style I like, and immerse myself in the pleasure of her graceful writing — as well as a good story. Then, when it's my turn to write, I hope that some of that clarity and elegance rubs off on my sentences by osmosis. So, this summer, I reread books by Jane Austen, Nancy Mitford, and Laurie Colwin: women with a near-miraculous command of words. I envy their styles, wisdom, insights, perceptions, descriptions, scenes, characters, dialogues, and plots. How do they do it? Don't ask me. I'd like to have just one of those Girl Scout badges on my sash.

Thinking about other writers who kept me riveted for weeks or months, I thought of my teenage summer affair with John Cheever. Looking back, I believe I went straight from Laura Ingalls Wilder and pioneering on the prairie to knocking back martinis with unfulfilled, middle-aged men in Manhattan bars and apartments, Connecticut Colonials, and New England beach houses.

My 30-something, bright-red paperback of The Stories of John Cheever has faded to yellow along the spine and is threatening to disintegrate, so I bought a new edition at a bookstore in Maine. Rereading his stories after all those years, I realize it's the world of Mad Men, often with very similar characters, but deeper and even more disillusioned. I found it depressing as hell, although it was also a satisfying Mad Men fix between seasons. But it's one thing to read about desperately unhappy people in their middle years when you're 15 or 16. It's another thing entirely to encounter those characters when you're at least as old as they are. And when you know the stories are not entirely fiction. But they are brilliantly written — often funny — tales, and they resonate powerfully now that I've crossed a few bridges and lived through a few dramas myself. At 16, Cheever's world was so alien to me that I might as well have been reading Tolkien fantasy tales. Which I was, in those days.

Oh, for the old days of reading two or three books at the same time. I'd keep them in different rooms and move from one to the other if I needed a change. I gave up that habit in college, when reading became a chore — I usually had several hundred pages of material to read every week between sleeping, eating, writing papers and music exercises, arguing with my boyfriend, doing a radio show, and practicing the harpsichord (badly). It was years before reading became fun again. And it's definitely fun to be reading the work of two different Cheevers at the same time.

Thinking about John Cheever, I remembered that I'd gotten his daughter Susan's new biography of Louisa May Alcott for Christmas. So I'm reading it now, too. It's gorgeous; difficult to put down — and I've read  a couple of other biographies of Alcott.

When I'd read her American Bloomsbury a couple of years ago — about Concord's intellectual circle of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott, and others — I had to keep stopping myself from reading the whole thing aloud to my husband. I'm having the same struggle with her Alcott story. She writes so exquisitely that I keep wanting to hear every sentence aloud, because they are as perfectly composed as poetry or music. (It turns out she reads her manuscripts aloud to friends — and it seems to make all the difference.) She's also a mesmerizing storyteller who can make a complicated narrative seem effortlessly entertaining. She has a particularly skillful way of presenting multiple interpretations of a puzzling but critical event: respectfully bringing together the theories of other biographers before quietly making a case for her own theory. I look forward to each of her insights, which tend to be original and thought-provoking. Plus, she brings 19th-century Concord vividly back to life with her descriptions — she spent a lot of time in Concord, absorbing its rhythms and visiting the houses of its authors. Reading about Alcott's frequently starving family, I kept getting hunger pangs.

As you know, I have yet to stay awake through a David McCullough history book (although I plan to persevere), but I can't put down Susan Cheever. If you have any interest in 19th-century literature or history, or if you just loved Little Women, read her books. I think you'll love them, too.

When I'm done with Alcott, I plan to find some of Susan Cheever's other books, beginning with her first, a memoir called Home Before Dark, about growing up with her famous father, written in 1984. I have a yellowed paperback; I was probably too young to read that the first time around, too.

Monday, September 19, 2011

On the Other Hand: Cat Vaccines

While I'm all in favor of vaccinating humans out the wazoo for the flu and other contagious diseases, I feel differently about cats. I first encountered vaccine-associated sarcoma (VAS) in one of my aunt's cats 10 years ago, which made me wary of vaccinating my own. A tiny percentage of cats — and dogs, too — get cancerous tumors at injection sites for reasons unknown. (My aunt's cat survived and lived to be at least 20, even its though its tumor was huge — thanks to a gifted surgeon in a small-town Pennsylvania vet practice.)

The problem is, you can't not vaccinate your indoor cats and keep up any kind of decent relationship with your vet. And we cat people also know how quick-spreading and devastating certain infectious diseases (panleukopenia, the horror) can be. So, in most cases, the risks of those not-so-rare viruses outweigh the immunization risks. The sad thing is that my indoor cats are probably most at risk for contracting contagious diseases when they are at the vet for check-ups, shots, and kidney-function tests.

We are on a three-year vaccine cycle for everyone now, which I'll discuss yet again with my vet when Wendy and Possum turn 3 next year and are due for adult shots. They'd had most of their kitten shots before we adopted them, and we completed the series, knowing they hadn't suffered any of the serious reactions some kittens have after getting a lot of vaccines at once.

I keep wishing my vet used nasal-spray vaccines, which are available as an alternative for certain injections. But she has convictions against them. Still, we discuss it every time. I hesitate every time a cat needs a shot. I have to ask why, and I have to be persuaded and reassured each time. She understands; she's seen VAS, too.

She also knows I'll inevitably agree. I remember how terribly ill Snalbert became from calicivirus two years ago, after Possum arrived with it as a kitten; he got sick, too. I guess I fear most the viruses even more than I fear VAS.

I have my most serious reservations about the rabies shot, which seems unnecessary for indoor cats, although my vet's staff always mention that bats can get into apartments, and so forth. Massachusetts requires cats to have rabies shots so, best-case scenario, a cat gets a three-year vaccine in the leg — because amputating a leg is easier if sarcoma develops than massive surgery in the shoulder area. Seriously. It turns my stomach every time a cat needs a rabies shot; I hate it. Nevertheless, I vaccinate them just enough to stay legal and protect them from the worst viruses for which we have vaccines (if there were a good vaccine for FIP, I'd be first in line with my four). And my vet and I remain on good terms, with relatively clear consciences.

Do We Need a Flu Shot?

I'm puzzled about the flu shot situation this year.

I get a flu shot every year. I have asthma, so I'm in a high-risk group. And I hate being sick. Being slammed by the flu on Christmas night a few years ago (there was a vaccine shortage that year) was a nightmare I don't care to repeat. It was horrible, and it took me weeks to recover. I don't need to see Contagion. I was Contagion.

If it's not one of those miracle years when my doctor has enough vaccine to give to her high-risk patients, I'm happy to wait in line with my fellow citizens in some South End church basement for a free shot. My husband always gets a shot, too.

Shots don't bother me. It doesn't take much common sense to know that vaccines are generally very safe. And they protect not only those who get them; they keep the virus from spreading to others. I believe flu shots are a moral responsibility: besides spreading the virus when you're sick, you can be a carrier without symptoms and infect others without knowing it. Including fragile people who could get sick enough to die.

Of course, you can still get the flu — a milder version, or a different strain — even if you had a shot. My point is, we have to do our best to protect each other and ourselves.

I have zero patience with people who go around bragging, "I don't need a flu shot — I never get the flu." What, were you touched by an angel and declared naturally immune? Show me your guarantee, please. I never got the flu either, until I got the flu. And if you ever happen to be a carrier and infect my 97-year-old dad, or my elderly uncle with COPD, or a baby, an ICU nurse, or a pregnant asthmatic, I'm going to be looking for you in the Afterlife (if there is one), when all things are known (which they'd better be — or what's the point?).

But I digress. Every year, the pathogen professionals at the CDC get together to vote for the three viruses they feel are Most Likely to Be Popular and cause an epidemic. Those three vaccines are combined for the coming year's shot. Usually, each year's shot is a different combination of three vaccines, which is why we need annual shots. (Or so I thought.) But this year is a fluke: the 2011–2012 shot contains the same three vaccine viruses as last year.

I regarded this as sort of a vaccine snow day. We already have the correct antibodies floating around in our bodies, so why would we need to get more? You either have antibodies or you don't — right? We don't need DPT, polio, or MMR shots every year, after all.

But the CDC still wants us to get this year's flu shot, even if we had it last year. Does this mean that flu antibodies vanish after a year? Are flu shots that wimpy? Or is the CDC simply worried that we'll become lazy about getting shots in future years because we were allowed to skip a year and are too dumb to get back in line when the annual vaccine changes again?

After questioning friends who either changed the subject or professed ignorance, I finally consulted the CDC's web site. I found this:
Although influenza vaccine strains for the 2011–12 season are unchanged from those of 2010–11, annual vaccination is recommended even for those who received the vaccine for the previous season. Although in one study of children vaccinated against A/Hong Kong/68 (H3N2) virus, vaccine efficacy remained high against this strain 3 years later, the estimated efficacy of vaccine decreased over the seasons studied (6). Moreover, several studies have demonstrated that postvaccination antibody titers decline over the course of a year (7–10). Thus, annual vaccination is recommended for optimal protection against influenza.
So there we have it: Flu vaccines are wimpy. It appears that we don't build up a collective immunity from all the many shots we've gotten over the years; immunity fades over time. Judging from the titles of the four studies that paragraph cites, it seems that if you have a compromised immune system, your ability to produce flu antibodies is possibly compromised, too. That makes sense to me.

But what a drag.

South End church basement, here we come.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Edward Gorey House

We made a long-awaited pilgrimage to the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port today. I've loved his drawings and stories since I discovered them as a teenager. In my 20s and 30s, when I had a better, slinkier wardrobe, I was periodically told I dressed and behaved like one of his characters. (In those days, I was prone to falling to the floor in a gracefully posed "dead faint" when my boss and I had to deal with some unpleasant problem. She got used to it after the first few times, and we'd continue our discussion as I lay on her tattered oriental. How I loved working for her.)

If you don't know who Edward Gorey is, I hardly know how to begin to tell you. It's too depressing to imagine that you've made it this far without knowing about this brilliant artist and writer, who was truly and completely one-of-a-kind. I feel like flinging myself from a Gothic parapet in sympathy with your misfortune. But it can be remedied: leave this silly blog and start with Wikipedia (and be sure you click on all the links). And then read his illustrated books, and visit his house. You won't be the same after all that, I guarantee.

Gorey's house is just off Route 6A in Yarmouth Port.
It's in a state of exquisite decay, full of his art and possessions...

... and an obese cat named Ombledroom, who was adopted recently. 
Here he is at work, sleeping on a doll version of a dead little boy named George.
"G is for George smothered under a rug." — The Gashlycrumb Tinies 

Gorey loved cats and usually had at least five.

Mr. Gorey was always a hero of mine, and I have very few heroes. I had the good luck to have talked with him on the phone a couple of times in the late '90s, to invite him to do a puppet show of one of his plays at the MFA. Some friends in his theater group came up with the idea, and I got the job of trying to persuade him to agree. (All that fainting and walking around in drippy black skirts paid off.) We scheduled programs far in advance, and he told me with alarm that he'd be much too nervous to perform at the museum, and that the performance dates I was offering him were all so far away (maybe six or eight months) that he fully expected he'd be dead by then. He wasn't feeling well, he said. (He died in 2000.) I used all my powers of gentle persuasion and flattery, but he was adamant, and the last thing I wanted was to annoy or upset him. A few months later, he came to the museum and signed books for the shop. I worshiped from a distance; I was suddenly too shy to approach him. He did look frail.

Mr. Gorey often wore fur coats and tennis shoes 
before he decided that wearing fur was unethical.

"Ogdred Weary" is an anagram he often used as a pseudonym.

Today, I told the tour guide how thrilled I'd been to have Mr. Gorey's phone number in my rolodex — and he told me it had always been listed in the Cape's White Pages. Oh, well.

Scenes from the house:

Display on a windowsill with creepy baby in a pot.

The Doubtful Guest considers the flue.

Still life with bespectacled skull.

"A is for Amy who fell down the stairs." — The Gashlycrumb Tinies

The Doubtful Guest lurking outside and growing ivy.

It was a memorable afternoon. I lingered, petting Ombledroom and chatting with the tour guide. Edward Gorey had 25,000 books! We saw photos of them, stacked on floors and tables as well as filling sagging shelves. We saw his jewelry collection, one of his many fur coats, and a scarf just like the one the Doubtful Guest always wears, which he wore. And, somehow, I managed to prevent myself from buying one of everything in the shop. I satisfied myself with a new book of his posters and a few other little things. (I can always shop online.)

Last winter, the Boston Athenaeum had an exhibition of a large number of Gorey's pen-and-ink drawings; the collection belongs to the Brandywine River Museum, not the Gorey House. The show was marvelous; I went twice. I'd expected the drawings to be larger, but they are about the same small size as they are in his books. He was meticulous with his pen, if rather casual in his housekeeping. As it should be, I think.

Here's a nice coincidence: yesterday's Atlantic has a review of a new book of Gorey's letters to a friend. Even the envelopes were covered with amazing illustrations. Must add that to my Amazon Wish List.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bits & Pieces from the Web

I'm seldom one to lead others around the Internet, but here are a few links that I think are too good not to share:

If you love fat, glossy design magazines — but not the way they pile up in your living room, Lonny (only online) is for you. Check out the September/October issue.  Their archives are a wonderful place to waste time.

If I were better at Photoshop, I would have created a spectacular art historical series like this, starring Possum. He is cranky that someone in Japan has beaten us to it, but he hasn't given up hope that I'll turn him into an Ingres Odalisque or a screaming woman in Guernica. What an optimist.

Imagine Possum in place of Mr. Orange Sumo Tabby.

Speaking of art, here's a sneak peek at the new Linde Family Wing of Contemporary Art at the MFA, courtesy of The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. While this review is rather luke-warm, there are lots of photos. I don't think it should surprise anyone that the MFA doesn't have a superlative, comprehensive contemporary art collection. That was never the MFA's strength. But I say: Just give it time. All that new gallery space will influence collectors and donors, and the collection will grow and improve. In the meantime, keep an open mind and enjoy a wide variety of contemporary works that are just as thought-provoking and fun as the famous ones you see reproduced everywhere. Just because the MFA is not MoMA doesn't mean you won't like it, learn, and be inspired. And there are definitely some killer works in the collection anyhow.

I predict you will love the El Anatsui metal tapestry on the right.

The Linde Wing opens this Sunday with a free Open House (7 am–7 pm) I hope to be there to tour the galleries — more space than the ICA! — and take in some of the festivities. (Although Sunday is also proving to be an epic day for real-estate open houses.) There's the Boston Typewriter orchestra, among other things. I will eventually rent a handheld multimedia guide to hear what I had to say about 23 or so works in the new wing.

Leave it to the French to create perhaps the best commercial ever starring cats exclusively. This is so charming and inventive that it has immediately entered my Cat Commercial Hall of Fame, which formerly housed only one commercial — that SuperBowl favorite for EDS, "Herding Cats."

This is nuthin'! Watch the video.

Perhaps the reason my Cat Commercial Hall of Fame is so sparse is because I never watch TV series or commercials now that Mad Men is on hiatus (confession: I do watch portions of Patriots' games, to spend time with my husband). Hank Stuever wrote an intelligent critique of the new season, "Bunnies, Babies, and Broads: What Is TV Trying to Tell Us about Women?" for The Washington Post. It's an excellent reminder of one of many reasons why I ignore the tube.

Can't you tell Pan Am will be awful on the basis of just this one still? 
I knew Mad Men. Mad Men was my friend. You, sir, are no Mad Men.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Here It Comes... Ready or Not!

The Newbury Street Deluca's, that hoary harbinger of changing seasons, is stocked with sugar pumpkins, mini pumpkins, gourds, squash, and Indian corn. There was even a full cornstalk sitting in a bucket.

Let sweater weather begin.


Did you know those ornamental mini pumpkins are very edible? Here's a site that tells you what to do.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gorgeous Garden in the South End

We saw this private backyard garden at an open house in the South End on Sunday. The condo attached to it was too cramped to hold our books, but the garden was a dream come true.


There were "before" photos showing its progress from a drab patch of dirt and scraggly plants to a formal patio with two circular brick and stone areas surrounded by built-in planters. There's also a hidden stone staircase to the alley and (a deeded parking spot on the other side of the wall). 

Look closely to see the garden's focal point, a tall, cast-iron fountain. The sound of its splashing water was gentle and refreshing. What a truly amazing little space, especially since almost any old South End backyard could be transformed similarly — with enough funds, imagination, and hard work.

In the alley directly behind this garden, there's a community garden. You could grow all the vegetables and flowers you'd want, steps from your back door.

I could imagine our cats sunning themselves on the warm bricks and chasing butterflies, safely surrounded by walls on all sides. It was almost enough to make us jettison our libraries, but not quite. At least we know now that we can build and grow a garden like this ourselves someday.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Goodbye, Anthropologie

The Boylston Street Anthropologie is finally closing, either today or tomorrow. (I didn't have the heart to ask.)



It will reopen in the former Prince School at Newbury and Exeter Streets next week:


I'll be going through a painful withdrawal in the meantime. (At least there's free shipping online through September,)  I find it depressing to shop in most stores, as I've said before, but I think of this space as my mood-lifter — retail therapy that usually doesn't cost me a penny. I've always loved this particular Anthropologie because of its serene, airy, industrial-loft openness, which lent itself to hundreds of whimsical, creative displays over the years. I often admired them more than the merchandise.

Little birds were welcome to come in from the cold; they'd fly around, chirping, for days, adding even more charm to the environment.  For years, I've been stopping by a few times a week to see what's new, usually between errands — often with grocery bags in both hands. Dropping in always lifted my spirits and I didn't have to spend a penny. The stores in Chestnut Hill and Cambridge simply don't have the sprawling, gallery-like personality this store has. Or had. Some of the Manhattan stores come closer, so I guess there's reason to hope.

Here's what the top floor looked like last week:


And this week, emptied out. Farewell, sale room.... much of my wardrobe came from you.


The employees say they are happy about the move. The new store will have a working bathroom for them and the roof won't leak, according to the personal shopper. There will be space to sell shoes. But the space, which I know intimately from its days as a Banana Republic, years ago, lacks grandeur. No soaring ceilings or enormous arched windows. It's pedestrian; I suspect that the charm of the current store will not be recreated on Newbury Street.

Naturally, there's been a moving sale: 25% off items that were already marked down. I was not so distraught that I failed to check that sale area almost daily. I scooped up this big Moroccan lantern at about 70% off, for our future garden:


And this straw fedora with blue-and-white grosgrain ribbon was $15, down from $78:


I wonder what the Boylston Street space will become next. It had better not be wasted on yet another bank — or the city's largest nail salon! Maybe it will house another interesting, irresistible store that I will spend countless happy hours exploring... fingers crossed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tiny Wisdom

I have only a small discovery to report today: If you are so clumsy that your open-faced tomato sandwich goes flying through the air and splatters spectacularly on the floor, counter, fridge, dishwasher, cabinets, and you — it is still a tomato sandwich. At least in theory. At least if no one else was looking. Also: it will still taste like a tomato sandwich if you should recklessly choose to reassemble it.

Don't ask me how I know this. Please assume that it dawned on me in the shower, like most of my deeper thoughts. Please do not assume I was rinsing off stray bits of tomato brains (what else can you call them?) at the time.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

That Day

We all remembered 9/11 today, in our own way. No avoiding it. On that clear, blue-skied, uncannily perfect morning, I walked a few blocks to the gym without a care in the world, and walked home again within the hour, after the world changed forever. I called my husband and begged him to come home.

We didn't think we knew anyone on those planes or in the tower — until we remembered that our friend and upstairs neighbor, an American Airlines flight attendant, regularly flew that LA route. We couldn't get in touch with her for two days, or get any news about her from the airline. She finally called us; she had switched routes a few months earlier. "I have 11 memorial services to go to," she said when we finally saw her and had a chance to hug her and talk.

After a long day watching the news, we sat on our stoop in the late afternoon, worrying about our neighbor and wishing she'd come walking up the street. Our next-door neighbors came out of their house, and without even saying hello, they lit into us about how our yard was neglected and our hedge needed trimming. "It's a disgrace!" they said. We just looked at them. We couldn't believe that was what was bothering them on the evening of 9/11. Looking back — we all became friends later on — I can see that some people might cling to such trivial concerns as the world fell apart around them.

I lost a charming college classmate in one of the towers. I discovered that I worked with his sister-in-law; they have a common last name and I never made the connection. My own sister-in-law worked across the street from the World Trade Center. We didn't know that, either, until afterward. She eventually walked home to her family in Brooklyn. A friend of ours flew to LA that morning and had decided — at Logan, at the last minute — to change her direct flight to one that stopped in Chicago. She would have been on one of the planes. Her son worked at the Pentagon. He was running late that morning, and was in the parking lot when that plane hit. His office was destroyed. We heard all this much later.

We were in a state of shock for quite a while, now that I think about it. We were glued to the news, both on our laptops and the TV. I had never paid much attention to international news; I rarely watched TV and didn't bother much with online international news, either. My husband followed events in the Middle East but I had only vague ideas about potentially explosive situations between the US and different countries. It seemed to have no relationship to my life. Since that day, I've been an online news junkie. I need to know what's going on in the world; I never want to be caught by surprise again.

Logan was closed for days, but planes still flew over our neighborhood. They were military planes, but we couldn't tell that from the sound of their engines. We just assumed they were planes that were forbidden to be in our air space. Every time we heard one we'd scan the skies, flinching, scared. There were small moments of terror every day. Looking back, I see we were all nervous wrecks, always staring upward, staring at the Hancock Tower.

We were supposed to travel to a conference in Prague on September 20. All of the other American participants cancelled; people were afraid to fly. Airlines allowed people to cancel or reschedule flights for a couple of weeks after 9/11. After about a week of chaos, most airlines were back on some sort of schedule and most people who'd been stranded because of 9/11 had gotten home. After some soul-searching, we decided to go. We were afraid to fly, but we were also deeply exhausted from being in Boston; we loved the idea of being anywhere else. On the plane, however, all we did was read and talk obsessively about 9/11. We'd brought that Sunday's New York Times, Newsweek, and The New Yorker — the one with the memorable black cover showing the WTC in shadow. It was a strange way to distract ourselves from being on a plane, and I still don't understand why we did it.

In Prague, we stayed in a small hotel in the old part of town, We had a huge suite with painted ceiling beams from the Renaissance. When people discovered we were Americans, they instantly offered sympathy and were very kind. But whoever cleaned our room stole my birth-control pills, which were sitting on the bathroom sink; they weren't very common there. The pack was nearly empty, so I'd brought an extra one. But I knew I had to be responsible and report the theft to the young woman at the front desk, who expressed disbelief at my story. I told her I didn't care that the pills were gone, but that she should tell anyone who might be interested that birth-control pills don't work unless they're taken on schedule for at least 28 days. I told her that if someone wasn't careful, there'd soon be another Frantisêk or Anna in the world. I still wonder about that.

Prague was glorious and consoling, as I explored it alone that week, often feeling stunned and sad. I walked the streets, ate the Eastern European food of my childhood, visited Museums, sat in gardens and churches, mourned. We both paid close attention to the news, so we knew when our airline went bankrupt and all flights were canceled. It was complicated, but we got home.

And then we resumed our tense new lives, learned more details about everyone and everything we'd lost, and watched the economy go down the drain.

My exercise route takes me on Garden Street, where Sara Low, a young flight attendant on American Airlines flight 11, had an apartment. There are always flowers and candles on her stoop on 9/11. I always think of her when I'm on Garden Street, whether the roses are there or not.

Our cats had a catnip toy in the shape of a frowning male veterinarian in a white coat, known as The Victim Vet. Snalbert looked like a huge beige lion as he'd drag this little doll around by one leg. In the days after 9/11, someone pushed the Victim Vet partway under a tall bookcase; only his legs were sticking out. When my husband saw this, he burst into tears. I didn't figure out what was upsetting him until I looked down and saw those poor legs peeking out, like the Wicked Witch of the East under Dorothy's house. I got it. He didn't remember it when I reminded him today. He didn't remember the candlelight vigil we attended in Copley Square.

But, yeah. That's how it was. We all remember in our own way, and we all know, deep down, that nothing can ever be the same.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Back to the Cape

It began with the memory of last Saturday's foot-long hot dogs at Cobies; we found ourselves heading to the Cape again today. This time we made it all the way to Race Point. We are fascinated by dunes; there aren't many on Mount Desert Island. The landscape is refreshingly different. (We were generally too fascinated to stop and take photos.)

There was less traffic than last Saturday, although there were still plenty of people enjoying the perfect weather.

Race Point. Cold waves; not a soul in the water.

The beach is tranquil in September, even on a Saturday.

On the other hand, Provincetown was a zoo. 
I can just imagine what's it's like during the season.

We like the Cape. I know we're very late to the party, but we'll make up for it, I hope. I think we need to spend a few days there, so I can stop feeling like I'm crashing other people's vacation spot and make it my own. I guess I'm permitted to spread my loyalties beyond Mount Desert Island, and even if I'm not, I plan to anyway. (If only to have more gelato in Provincetown. The flavor: buttercream cake with chocolate frosting. Unforgettable!)