a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘shoes’

croze-hermitage for the price of a beer!

It’s hard not to love Paris.  Of course, it helps when it feels like home 🙂  When the out of commission billet machine at Arts & Metiers station is no problem because you still have a ticket from your last visit eight months ago…

You pull out the map briefly to check if it is left or right from the hotel and in less than five minutes you

Paris sans instagram!!!

Paris sans instagram!!!

are on the incredible Paris métro.  You discovered last year the hotel is conveniently on the metro line direct to Printemps and one stop away from Galèries Lafayette.

In the past I have always shunned Galèries Lafayette and still think Le Bon Marché is more charming but, if you are into shoes, Paris is your city and the basement of Galèries Lafayette the perfect gateway drug…

Being famous for my shoes, I have shopped for shoes all over the world – how I discovered Paris was the best city.  And what is cool about Galèries Lafayette is that it represents what I love about shoe shopping in Paris.  There are famous brands with dizzying prices to match the killer heels around the periphery but there are also lots of creative, well-crafted, more reasonably priced options in the middle of the 21st shoe temple.

I have just arrived in Paris so this was a scouting mission.  Too many objects to lust over on just a brief visit but luckily I need to haul my suitcase through a few more train stations and airports before I leave Europe so some restraint needs to be exercised!

I am not yet sure in which order I will post my scribblings but I have two visits to both Paris and Amsterdam on the clock, neither of which has been fully reported.

Sadly I saw some cool exhibitions in Paris last year, which I meant to promote in the moment to encourage further visitation but the time has now passed so no taunting allowed.  One of the cool things I did last September CAN be repeated – and I am doing it so the endorsement is notable.

If you read my ramblings on a regular basis, you will note that I am very fickle 🙂  In life I am the opposite and have friendships spanning decades to prove my commitment.  But I love cities and interesting hotels.  So I am always trying to mix it up.  A new neighborhood.  A new design.  A new concept.

A hotel has to be pretty awesome to warrant a second visit 🙂  But last year I ran through Paris, primarily on Sunday and Monday.  I do not recommend it.

not a typical hotel

not a typical hotel

Jules and Jim is in the Marais, a neighborhood I have flirted with but never fully explored.  And the hotel is one of most memorable I have visited.  When you rock up at the impromptu front desk and the cute boy says in his charming English, “you must be Marla”, you wonder “is this the hipster Claridges?”


Pretty much.  The rooms are petite but perfectly designed.  You get Molton Brown products and free wi-fi.  I know from last year you can hang out at the bar with a serious budding mixologist who is thrilled to ply you with his innovative (and excellent) cocktail creations.  (His name is Antoine).

There is wall art in the form of shrubbery – and art installations worthy of the Pompidou.  It is a hotel where the hotel is part of your Parisian experience.  George V service at a fraction of the cost 😉

I am writing this in one of those ubiquitous Parisian brasseries.  The food was decent.  The atmosphere is historic (in a good way – retro ceiling fixtures, advertisements from the art nouveau period plastered to the walls and menus on chalkboards).

But the real treat is the wine.  There were options.  Normally I peruse the wine list with a discerning eye and maybe even a Wine Spectator vintage chart…

But what is so amazing in Paris is that generally there is no “vin rouge” but nor is there a specific wine producer, let alone a vineyard or vintage.

You order a Croze-Hermitage and see what happens.  A little magic it appears.  It came in a plain bottle.  I have no idea what it is – besides Croze-Hermitage.

But it’s delicious – and the same price as a beer in Amsterdam.  Paris, je t’aime 😉


how the alphabet has changed!

Technically I am home now but I have a series of posts that developed in my head while I was in New York City so we will continue the travelogue for the next few posts…

Almost twenty years ago I made my first visit to Alphabet City.  Alphabet City refers to the avenues in the Lower East Side named by alphabet (i.e. Avenue A, B, C…).  Not that many years before I had seen a movie (Mixed Blood) about the rampant drug dealing in Alphabet City and how they used underage kids because they couldn’t be prosecuted.  But, by the mid 90s, Alphabet City was being gentrified and it was the latest cool place to hang out.

I wouldn’t have been brave enough to venture down there on my own with the images in my head of packages of drugs being lowered on ropes out of tenement windows but I was hanging out with my friend David from Australia who was fearless.  We connected with my friend Despina and then met up with her sister on Avenue B.  Her sister lived in the neighbourhood so knew what was OK for tourists.

It was still pretty edgy at that time, though, and gave me a little bit of street cred.  Or so I thought, possibly delusionally 🙂   It definitely inspired me to continue further exploration in that part of the city.

nyc 192Each time I come to New York I try to stay somewhere different.  I started doing this years ago because it just seemed the right approach to the city.  I go to Paris to escape into the past and explore history.  I go to New York to see what all the rest of us will be doing next 😉

A couple of visits ago I decided to up the ante a little and not just stay in a new hotel but also start staying in new neighbourhoods so that I could expand my knowledge and experience of the city.  My friend Sarah has recently moved to New York and is living in the Lower East Side. I had already thought I would likely stay there on my next visit so that sealed the deal.

I stayed at the Thompson LES and would definitely give it a thumbs up.  The price was really reasonable for New York, I wasn’t looking into a wall, a parking lot or someone else’s room, and there were some great amenities inside and right outside the hotel.


The trip started off on a great note.  I got some sage advice from Daniel and got a drink and some excellent food at the Stanton Social Club.  My server was wonderful – and remembered me when I took Sarah back there the next night.


I was planning to just go back to the hotel and get some sleep after that but I was intrigued by a venue right next to the hotel where a live band was playing to an enthusiastic crowd.  The bouncer seemed not so enthusiastic but consented to let me in.  The band on stage was really good and I was disappointed to learn that they had almost finished their set.

Because I had only caught a couple of songs, I went up to the lead singer and asked if I could buy a CD.  I figured I could at least listen to their music even if it wasn’t the same as a live show.  He didn’t have any change so I got 2 CDs – and an invitation to join them for a drink in the backstage lounge.

He had a whole entourage so I wasn’t expecting him to remember me but I know it’s always fun to have a little adventure when one travels… He was a really gracious guy so I met some members of the band, some of his friends, his girlfriend… and the chance to say I hung out with the band after the show 🙂

Just in case anyone is coming to New York, the venue is called the Rockwood Music Hall.  I ended up there every night for a short while after my friends had gone home.  There was an eclectic line up of musical talent but universally talented musicians.  And I didn’t even need to take a coat with me!


You might also want to check out the Jamie McLean Band.  He is apparently from Connecticut but spent lots of time in New Orleans so his accent and his music have a definite southern flair.  And we agreed – as a musician, it just sounds better if you come from New Orleans…


The neighbourhood offered lots of opportunities for distraction 🙂   Saturday night I also hit the nightclub on the 7th floor of the hotel and proved I could actually dance in my new 5 inch heels!  You definitely want to stay pretty sober though when you are walking in shoes like that.  But 60% off at the temple to shoes that is the Saks Fifth Avenue shoe department is pretty hard to resist… it is so large it has its own zipcode!  And the shoes are Nicolas Kirkwood red sequined platform heels so I am sure I will get lots of Wizard of Oz references from strangers…



The coolest part of buying the shoes was the chat Sarah and I had with the shoe salesman.  I am of course a little shoe obsessed so chatting with shoes salesmen about how Nicolas Kirkwood shoes are better designed than Jimmy Choos… and how Christain Louboutins used to better… and my addiction to Rodolphe Menudier…  it’s just natural but it started a lovely conversation about the effects of Hurricane Sandy, some restaurant recommendations for my friend Sarah… He said we’d made his day.  He certainly made ours.  I am always energized by random conversations with strangers in this impersonal, wireless world of ours.

Another note-worthy adventure – which also involved talking to a lot of random strangers – was our dinner at WD-50.  I told Sarah I wanted to take her out for a special dinner and she wanted to support the neighbourhood, which had been through a lot of rough days thanks to Sandy.  I had always wanted to go to WD-50 so it wasn’t hard to convince me 🙂


We drank a bottle of fabulous champagne and worked our way through the giant tasting menu.  As part of their tenth’s anniversary, the chef changed the menu and it is now two tasting menus – a giant one full of mad scientist culinary creations dreamed up by Wylie or a smaller one that is comprised of some of the greatest hits from the restaurant’s last ten years.

This isn’t really an official foodie blog and I wasn’t taking notes while we dined because I wanted to catch up with Sarah so I would recommend you go yourself to really understand the experience.  But how can you not love a meal that involves three desserts? 🙂  And includes pine needles that they made in the kitchen.  Like the potato that looks like bone marrow.  I didn’t hear the description properly so left it on my plate as I don’t typically chew on bones… but the servers are as fantastic as the food so he wondered why I wasn’t eating my potato… which looked exactly like the bone in bone marrow…

Those of you who know me are familiar with my issues with funghi.  So you will understand how wowed I was that they didn’t just leave the mushrooms off my steak; they made me an entirely different – funghi free – dish!  As you can tell, I am saying that you should definitely check it out on your next trip to NYC 🙂

Another place to check out is Torrisi Italian Specialities.  No molecular gastronomy but the kind of vibe that I think WD-50 had when it first opened.  If I have the story straight, it started more as a deli-great-sandwich kind of place (called Parm and now next door) but it was so popular they now have a teeny tiny wonderfully unique experience restaurant.


If you book on-line and have a party under 4, they say they may seat you at the counter.  But, since I was booking long distance, I figured I would take the chance.  And, having done it, Despina and I would say you might want to sit at the counter!  We got to watch the chef and entourage working the magic.

Like WD-50, it’s a very limited menu.  It’s written on a chalkboard so I think it changes every day with the whims of the chef and the fresh produce available.  You get four compulsory appetizers.  Then you get to choose from two pastas and two mains.  Since nothing involved mushrooms, we decided to do everything on the menu and divide the two choices down the middle.

It was a fantastic meal!  Everything was fresh and wonderfully prepared.  The mad scientist element was quite subdued but it was inventive Italian cuisine… not your grandmother’s spaghetti 🙂   And at the end they gave us a box of treats to take home!  All wildly delicious.  I was really impressed because they actually gave us a second box since we were going to different homes in different countries.  The most exotic was a rainbow cake.  I’m not even sure how they got all the colours but I am sure no toxic red dye was involved.

I also spent a small amount of time wandering the streets near the hotel and popping into a few shops.  They have a Maje and Sandro, faves from Europe.  And Sigerson Morrison is still alive and kicking, in a slightly different location.  The aesthetic looks the same though and the shoes look like they would be comfortable (I had already bought too many at Saks).  When Sigerson Morrison was brand new, I actually got photographed as part of a journalist report on the new brand so have been following them since the beginning…

While the Lower East Side is likely not as squeaky Disney clean as the cleaned up Times Square, I had no problems and saw no heroin being lowered in a basket from a window.  It feels fresh and exciting and I would encourage everyone to check it out.  I know I will be back for further exploration…

I read on the plane that there is a Standard Hotel Lower East Side in the works… on the site of the old CBGB.  As one of the disciples of David Byrne and the Talking Heads, when my friend David excitedly told me his favourite band from Sydney was playing at our first night in New York, there was no question that we would go!  And they were awesome.  I bought the CD and promoted The Cruel Sea in Canada.  One of the tracks even made it onto my iconic 50th birthday soundtrack…

And I had a lot of adventures when I stayed at the Standard in the Meatpacking District.  You may well hear about them at some point… but right now we are trying to get you to check out the Lower East Side – and witness the transformation of New York City for yourself…

finding your personal style :)

I spent the weekend organizing my closet and trying to finally get rid of some of the stuff in it.  I did manage to drag a few things out and even got them to a charity for resale.  But my closet still looks way too full!

Things were easier back in the old days when my mom tried to get me to quit wearing the same brown sweatpants and oversize T-shirt every day.  When I tell people I was painfully shy when I was 15, they roll their eyes and laugh.  It’s true!  It’s also true that I had absolutely zero sense of style and owned maybe three pairs of shoes…

The first wakeup call was when my friend Yvonne told me I looked smart…  I’m not quite sure what she meant but I was 18 and finally waking up to the concept that maybe boys could be more than buddies – and that might involve donning a skirt.

It all still seemed pretty dumb to me and I figured my intellect would get me a date 🙂  And it can.  It depends who you want to date.  And I wanted to date smart boys.  So my style remained a black hole for many years after the first fleeting thought that maybe it should be something I should consider.

In the end it was fate that was the tipping point, not great planning.  Given all the shoes stuffed into miscellaneous corners of my apartment as I type this, it’s hard to envision but back in 1992 I was freshly arrived from my sojourn in Australia and looking for a new pair of black loafers.  When I had arrived in Vancouver in 1985 the shoe store landscape had been bleak so I had become an enormous fan of Stephane de Raucourt as soon as it opened.  In its first incarnation sensible pumps in a myriad of colours along with some boring, sensible loafers were pretty much its entire offering.  It fit to my personal non-style perfectly 😉

But when I went to the newly located store a few years later I was shocked to discover that the business concept had changed and they were now doing knock-off designer shoes.  Not a boring Weejun style loafer to be found.  But I hate shopping so was open to seeing if I could get out of the store with something and not have to go elsewhere.  The salesclerk convinced me a black suede loafer with a heel and Gucci-copy buckle would be just as comfortable as my boring ones.  It was true!  But what was life-changing was that people actually noticed my shoes.

And it all went downhill… uphill?  from there.  It was a slow process and it took me at least a decade to realize there had been a transformation.  Somehow I had developed a personal style.  And become the kind of person who has random men tell me how much they like my shoes!  I have had women run up to me looking intense – only to have them ask where I got my shoes.

My shoes are the most famous part of my style.  Because I learned my lesson.  You can wear the same boring, comfortable clothes year after year – just change your shoes!  Somewhere in there I also learned how to dress my body, how to choose good fabrics, how a great tailor can make men swoon at your feet…

So, now I have a closet full of incredible clothing and shoes that would make any fashionista proud (almost all bought on sale like a good Scottish girl 😉  I regularly get positive feedback on my personal style.  And men flirt with me on every continent.  I am still the smart girl who doesn’t always get it – but the power of a dress and a pair of heels to rock your world… if only I’d figured it out when I was 16 😉

turning european…

In the 80s, turning Japanese seemed a popular theme.  But somewhere the last decade or two, I turned European.

I don’t always get it right.  The cheek kissing is always fraught with awkwardness and I am constantly confused as to how many cheeks to kiss – and if I should be leaving lipstick marks or just air kissing.

But – as the bartender on my last night in Paris noted – and confirmed by his behaviour – one of the big attributes of Europeans is hospitality.  And I would also add – charm.  A big part of hospitality.  Without European hospitality, I would never have married a European man.  But that is a whole other story…

In a world where I increasingly worry about the loss of manners and civility, the Europeans are there trying to prove charm is still alive and well.  That sometimes you need to take time to perform a task properly, not just efficiently.  I have seen it across three countries in the very recent past.  The French are likely the most charming, performing tasks with both reserve and aplomb, but I have been impressed by all the Europeans I have encountered on my trip.

My final cultural adventures were two-fold.

First, I stood in the bitter cold waiting to buy a ticket to the Helmut Newton exhibition.  But I was at the Grand Palais so that provided some wonderful photographic opportunities and Helmut Newton is worth freezing off your fingers.  What is more gratifying was to see how packed it is!  I wasn’t quite sure what the four year olds were making of the shots of women wearing saddles but this is how they grow up to be European with a sophisticated world view and an ability to discuss art as readily as sport.

The second cultural adventure was more unique.  I wanted to mail a birthday present purchased in Paris before I left France.  How often do you walk past the Louvre to find the post office?  Seulement en Paris!  A beautiful, fascinating city that I would encourage everyone to visit.  No matter where you stay or what you do, Paris is certain to weave its magic.

One of my favourite Paris adventures was done on a budget.  To even out our restaurant spending, we decided to go to Monoprix and buy bread, cheese, some of those transcendent cold cuts, a mini bottle of champagne and some red wine.  It was a beautiful summer evening so we would indulge in all our treats on the breakfast terrace of our small hotel near the Eiffel Tower (we had a picnic on the lawn there one night as well).  We couldn’t find our corkscrew.  Things looked complicated.  But we were in Paris – so not only was a corkscrew produced, they opened our wine for us!  And then we had that “only in Paris” moment.   It was hot so the windows were open in the building opposite us.  And someone was practicing her cello.  So our dinner was accompanied by live classical music.

Leaving Paris is hard.   Having a memorable experience in Paris is a piece of cake.  Just ask my mom.  She told me she didn’t need to go to Paris.  It wasn’t on her bucket list.  Just by accident she turned 65 on the plane.  So this trip I suggested we should return for 75 as an anniversary celebration.  She said she’d make sure she had good walking shoes.  I’m a little worried that once she has the macarons at Pierre Hermé, I may not be able to convince her to leave…

Speaking of great walking shoes, I need to extend a shout out to Browns.  Just before I embarked on this adventure, I bought a pair of black patent driving moccasins.  Possibly one of the world’s most perfect travel shoes!  The Browns version are insanely comfortable.  I have  been wearing them every day as I trundle over the cobblestones.  By the time I get home, I will have already gotten my money’s worth 🙂  I would highly recommend a pair of Brown’s loafers.  Even though my friends all seem to think that I spend all my time in showstopping 4 inch heels, the real truth is that a large majority of my life is spent wearing Browns loafers – because they combine such a great mix of style, comfort and value.  And they are now on-line… check them out 🙂


le perfect mixte

For those of you not familiar with France, un sandwich mixte is just a ham and cheese sandwich.  But, like most things in Paris, “just” is not part of the vocabulary.  Having at least one proper sandwich mixte is always my goal in Paris.  The bread needs to have that perfect combination of crunch and softness.  The cheese needs to be sliced at just the right thickness with the perfect depth of flavour. And I don’t know what they do with the pigs in France but ham never tastes the same in other places.

This time it took three tries.  But when it finally arrives… on a sunny day, in an outdoor café, accompanied by a great glass of St Emilion, you say “oo la la” under your breath 🙂

I did try to squeeze a little culture in between the adventures in merchandising.  I had noted in the hotel’s tourist info that the Palais de Tokyo was reopening and doing some kind of 48 hour culturathon apparently.  The Palais de Tokyo is not for everyone but if you appreciate modern art, it is worth the trip to the 16th arrondissement.

The first time I went I was sick in Paris so only managed to drag myself there late in the afternoon.  Too late for the Musée d’Art Moderne but early enough for the young, hip open into the evening Palais de Tokyo.  Sometimes I look at really modern art and think, “OK, the artist is just making fun of us.  Or he was VERY high when he thought this was a good idea…”  But sometimes it’s provocative, inventive or just pretty.  My favourite piece this time was a little of each.  I’m not quite sure what it means but it was fascinating to look at – and very pretty.  I took a photo so you can decide for yourself.

The Musée d’Art Moderne was a bit more conventional but also included an

an installation that mostly just looked wild and crazy.  But maybe that is all art needs to be…  I would recommend a visit to both – and then a stop at the surprisingly great café right next to the métro.  If you are lucky, the sun will be shining, the light will descend on all that elaborate seventeenth century architecture and you will know there is nowhere else you could be but Paris.

And when it is time for dessert – or a snack – or breakfast 🙂  I have had them at all three times this trip.  My newest Paris obsession – macarons at Pierre Hermé.

It all started in 2003 when Sean requested macarons from Ladurée as “payment” for our free accommodation in London.  A sweet price to pay 🙂   At that stage in my life, I had some passing knowledge of a macaron but had never had one in Paris and knew nothing about Ladurée.  It wasn’t exactly knowledge one acquired in small town Manitoba.

For several years I thought Ladurée macarons were “la bombe” but then I read about some upstart called Pierre Hermé in a magazine.  And I started dissing Ladurée.  Not a very French thing to do…

It’s not that Ladurée macarons are bad.  It’s just that Pierre Hermé is that little slice of heaven on earth that is Paris at its finest.  I managed to sample almost all the flavours over my five days in Paris.  (Luckily you walk a lot in Paris.  The Paris métro is a cardio workout without having to put your gym gear on.)  The most dangerous part – and one of the reasons he has become so famous – is that the flavours are seasonable and always changing – so it becomes a classically existential totally Parisian question – can one ever try all the flavours of Pierre Hermé macarons?  Certainly not on one brief visit.

Conveniently (dangerously???) you can buy them at a number of different outlets 🙂  They even have an outlet on the shoe floor (yes, an entire floor!) at Galeries Lafayette – it’s almost a little too much pleasure to handle in such a small space 🙂

My favourite is the Infinement Vanille – vanilla taken to a level of perfection only attainable on French soil.  This trip I didn’t spend much time on food except for les sandwiches mixtes and macarons but on my final night I had a sublime meal at the Murano Urban Resort that reinforced all the stereotypes about French food and wine that I hold so dear.  Wildly it was the first time I ever had a well-done steak sent from the kitchen!  Normally you have to order it a little more ‘done’ than you would in North America and the risk is blood, not char.  Obviously, some miscommunication had occurred but I just had to show a piece to my French server and it was whisked away and returned in a perfect, slightly bloody form.  No self-respecting French person would have eaten it  🙂

I can still remember introducing my mom and my niece to the concept of crème brulée in Paris.  They were hooked from the first bite.  Paris does that to you.  Take a few bites in the right places and you will be hooked for life.  Paris will ruin you.  It will be like a youthful love affair you never quite recover from.  But never regret.  The things that change your life.  Make you a bit of a snob.  But allow you to experience life on levels you never even knew were there before some French speaking guy named Paul seduced you – and made you try his paté…  I’ve loved paté ever since…

money for mouse shoes

Money gets a bad rap.  Being poor is honourable – especially if you aren’t poor 🙂  Being rich is vulgar.  But being sort of financially secure is just boring.  The lot of accountants and financial planners.  But some of those boring people know how to use money as a bullet to happiness rather than despair.

That is my goal in life.  Yesterday I used my ability to buy a pair of designer shoes to great effect.  While there is certainly virtue to knowing how to save money, the real hidden secrets of life are in learning how to spend it!

We’ve done a lot of talking about my dad lately but I learned some good stuff from my mom as well.  My mom is likely a little too generous.  But it’s one of those faults that is tough to find fault with.  There are certainly worse negative traits 🙂

No matter how many times I tell her ONE present is enough, I know it will never happen.  Something else will catch her eye that you just have to have.  Long ago she gave up trying to cram all the goodies into conventional Christmas stockings so we all know the plastic bag with our name on it sitting under the tree IS a Christmas stocking – you just need to use your imagination 😉

But the most memorable gift I ever saw her purchase was on a Christmas Eve many years ago.  The store was almost closing down around us but we had to get some more toys.  She was quite insistent about it.  I thought, “oh my god, she has gone bonkers.  There is NO way we don’t already have so many gifts you can barely see the tree!”  But this was not part of the usual Christmas bounty.  Instead we pulled up at some mysterious address and left the toys on the doorstep like some anonymous Santa a little off his schedule.  As we drove away, she explained.  The family was going through tough times and the kids might not have any toys for Christmas.  But it was a small town where everybody knows everybody’s business and people have a lot of pride so we had to make it look like Santa was just a wee bit early.

My mom has always taken great pleasure in doing nice things for other people.  She doesn’t do it for the thanks or the adoration but just because it gives her pleasure.  It’s one of my greatest life lessons.  And it’s really heart-warming to see my niece taking up the torch.

Ask not what the world can do for you but, rather, what you can do for the world.  Give it a whirl.  You may be surprised how great it feels to do something nice for someone else.  And the best news.  You can spend less than $5!  The price is totally NOT the point.  It’s how much thought you put into finding just the right thing to do.

What really turns people on is being noticed.  I used to send my friend Yvonne chocolate covered peanut butter eggs every Easter – cause it was our thing and you could only get them at Easter.

So… the mouse shoes.  I have already mentioned Morgan earlier – she is the teenage daughter of one of my best friends.  She (and her mom) share my obsession for shoes so we spent a lot of time over my birthday weekend+ talking shoes… and anyone who cares about shoes knows about Marc Jacobs mouse shoes.  I think I saw the first version in Paris (the best city in the world to shop for shoes!) back when there was only one.  Over the course of the weekend, we talked mouse shoes a number of times and I learned her shoe size.  As I noted in the previous post, she has emerged into this wonderful young woman doing all the right things despite the fact that she is a teenager.  So I decided she deserved some mouse shoes…

Through the beauty of the internet I confirmed her mailing address, send the invoice to her mom in case she needed to do an exchange and organized for Fedex to deliver a pair of size 8 1/2 gold glitter Marc Jacobs mouse shoes to her front door in Toronto via the Brown’s Shoes website.  I could track the whole process via my computer in Vancouver so sent her a note yesterday afternoon to look for a package when she got home.  And then I got the email.  The shoes had been safely delivered…  Some of the best money I have ever spent!

So, Morgan, I was wowed by your effusive thanks.  But you should also thank my mom.  Without her wonderful example, there would have been no mouse shoes for you 🙂  Given her obsession with everything Disney and the concept that Mickey is more or less one of her children, what could be a more perfect tribute than mouse shoes…

lessons in consumption

Today is the anniversary of my father’s death.  It’s the fourth now so it doesn’t come with the same shock and trauma that the first did.  I was born prior to birth control being a common phenomenon (why are you trying to send us back there, American Republicans???!) so my parents weren’t even legal to drink in the USA when I was born.  I figured that would work in my favour in that I would be REALLY old before I had to experience the death of a parent.

My mother is cooperating!  And my father did wait long enough that I had a number of friends who had already been through it so I had some reference points.  As one of my friends said when I saw him shortly after the funeral, “welcome to the club no one wants to belong to.”  But we discovered we were both wearing our father’s watches and it added one of those bizarre additional chunks of cement to our friendship.

From him – and others – I had learned that the toughest days were usually anniversaries – the anniversary of the day the person died, the parent’s birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, whatever family holidays where you expected the person to show up and wondered what was keeping them.  The first year the Christmas presents were unwrapped and my dad wasn’t sitting in his chair was tough for everyone in the room.  I think if we’d been a little smarter – and had better arts & crafts skills – we would have made a life size cardboard cut-out of one of his photos and propped it in the chair.

People will tell you consumerism is bad and objects are meaningless.  Consumerism IS bad.  And too many objects distract you and make you forget how important objects can be when purchased in the right way.  The right way, people, is to think poor.  Only a half century ago, even in the developed world, we didn’t have cheap labour in China (and Vietnam, Turkey, etc, etc).  Goods cost a lot more – and local people made them.  So people didn’t have a lot of objects.  And when they chose them, they often saved up for years and bought something that would last for a long time.

My father came from that time – and taught me how to buy things.  And the chair to which I am referring was one of those things.  I don’t know if my father had a leather recliner when I was a very small child.  I think he didn’t because he couldn’t afford it.  My father spent his life doing jobs that required a lot of physical labour so when he came home, he wanted to sit in a comfy chair and read, watch some carefully chosen television, or talk to the rest of us.  At some age that I was too young to recall clearly, that chair became a leather recliner.

In the fall of 2007, my mother noticed that my father’s recliner was on its last legs so she decided she wanted to get him a new one as a Christmas present. We wanted to get him something of the proper quality and it was going to be expensive so I said I would go together with her on the present.  I wasn’t there to witness its arrival or see my dad sitting in his new chair but when he died, I immediately thought of it and said, “at least he had a few months to sit in his new chair.”  I know he would have loved that new chair.  A well-crafted leather recliner was one of his things…

When he died, I collected two of the expensive watches I gave him when I got old enough to afford such luxuries (he and I shared an obsession for quality when it came to watches and pens), a wool sweater I had bought him in Scotland on my first trip to Europe (still going strong 20 years later) and my favourite of the many caps I had given him.  It was from my trip to Botswana – I put it on after I made my speech at his funeral introducing My Way – “if Ray was here today, this is what he would tell you”.  The cap was one of my dad’s signatures – standing there wearing it while Frank sang as though he had known the inner workings of my dad’s mind was as close as I could come to reincarnating him for his adoring crowd.

So don’t believe it when people say objects have no value.  Just don’t do all your shopping at Walmart or H&M.  Find your objects.  Develop a point of view.  My father had caps, watches, a leather recliner.  I have cashmere cardigans, show-stopping shoes and enormous leopard print throw pillows.  My father taught me well… and I hope there will be purple balloons at my funeral… one for every year I made it through… a mix of helium and air… to distract people and cheer them up… that’s what we did for the hundreds who attended my dad’s funeral… but that’s a whole ‘nother story 🙂

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