Quite Continental Charm School: Day 17 – Re-read Your Classics

17/05/2013 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Yes, Charm School marches on!
Because, really, why limit ourselves to one month a year?

Quite Continental Charm School: Day 17 -- Re-read Your ClassicsMarilyn Monroe by Edward Clark for Life Magazine, 1950

Day 17: Re-read Your Classics
While I can understand the allure of e-readers, and experience a slight tinge of device-envy when I see people pull them out on planes or the subway, I will probably always prefer the concreteness of books. Owing to my move cross-country a few years ago, my library today is definitely not as large as it would have been, had I not chosen to travel light. And on the whole, I don’t regret making that decision, but I do have moments where I remember a favorite book and simultaneously realize that I have no idea where it might be. I’m going to prefer to assume that they’re all buried at my parents’ home somewhere, but it is quite possible that they’re gone forever.

Today, I want you to meander over to your bookshelf and revisit some of your old friends. Reread those important, era-defining books that you held in your hand when you were 7 or 17 or 27. I guarantee two things: first, you’ll be instantly transported back to that point in your life. You’ll remember who gave you the book, or why you picked it up in the first place. You’ll remember how it affected you. But second, and perhaps more importantly, you’ll have the luxury of hindsight to reflect on how you’ve changed since your initial reading. You’ll notice new things you might have missed the first time around. Other things will resonate differently.

It is in repeat readings that I discover the living quality of books. I recently revisited To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, after viewing a documentary on the author’s life. As I read, I realized that I really half-assed my way through the book in middle school. Had I left it on the shelf, checked off as “read,” I would have missed the opportunity to more fully appreciate Lee’s work as an adult. Similarly, I frequently re-read The Lover by Marguerite Duras – perhaps partially because of the slimness of the tome, but also because it is such a sparse, beautiful and exotic work. I love the way my mind fills in all that is left unsaid, and the way it makes me feel. It’s different every single time.

What books do you return to?

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

Mini March Reading List

13/03/2013 § 5 Comments

March Reading ListWPA poster dated March 25, 1941, via The Library of Congress

Inspired by the blustery lady in this charming WPA poster, I’ve picked up a few books for March that I have been meaning to read.  No promises on whether I will finish them before the month is out, but I am definitely looking forward to getting acquainted with:

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
by Nathaniel Philbrick

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Have you read any of them?  What’s currently on your nightstand for March?

“You can’t ask why, about love…”

02/07/2012 § 3 Comments


Admission: two summers ago I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and I really had to fight my way to the end.  But yet, I am captivated by this trailer of the new adaptation written by Tom Stoppard and starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law — especially the glimpses of the steeplechase!

Anna Karenina opens November 9, 2012.

The Warlord Ascends

18/01/2012 § Leave a comment

“Verily, among all the benefits which men derive from the favour of the Muses, none other is so great as that softening of the nature which is produced by culture and discipline, the nature being induced by culture to take on moderation and cast off excess. It is perfectly true, however, that in those days Rome held in highest honour that phase of virtue which concerns itself with warlike and military achievements, and evidence of this may be found in the only Latin word for virtue, which signifies really manly valour; they made valour, a specific form of virtue, stand for virtue in general.

And so Marcius, who was by nature exceedingly fond of warlike feats, began at once, from his very boyhood, to handle arms. And since he thought that adventitious weapons were of little avail to such as did not have their natural and native armour developed and prepared for service, he so practised himself in every sort of combat that he was not only nimble of foot, but had also such a weight in grapplings and wrestlings that an enemy found it hard to extricate himself. At any rate, those who from time to time contended with him in feats of courage and valour, laid the blame for their inferiority upon his strength of body, which was inflexible and shrank from no hardship.

He made his first campaign while yet a stripling, when Tarquin, who had been king of Rome, and then had been expelled, after many unsuccessful battles, staked his all, as it were, upon a final throw. Most of the people of Latium and many also of the other peoples of Italy were assisting him and marching with him upon Rome, to reinstate him there, not so much from a desire to gratify him, as because fear and envy led them to try to overthrow the growing power of the Romans.  In the ensuing battle, which long favoured now this side and now that, Marcius, who was fighting sturdily under the eyes of the dictator, saw a Roman soldier struck down near by. He ran to him at once, stood in front of him, defended him, and slew his assailant. Accordingly, after the Roman general had won the day, he crowned Marcius, among the first, with a garland of oak leaves.”

Plutarch, Life of Coriolanus.
The basis of the Tragedy of Coriolanus by William Shakespeare.

Whereto We Are Bound

18/01/2012 § Leave a comment

“…think with thyself
How more unfortunate than all living women
Are we come hither: since that thy sight, which should
Make our eyes flow with joy, hearts dance with comforts,
Constrains them weep and shake with fear and sorrow;
Making the mother, wife and child to see
The son, the husband and the father tearing
His country’s bowels out. And to poor we
Thine enmity’s most capital: thou barr’st us
Our prayers to the gods, which is a comfort
That all but we enjoy; for how can we,
Alas, how can we for our country pray,
Whereto we are bound, together with thy victory,
Whereto we are bound? alack, or we must lose
The country, our dear nurse, or else thy person,
Our comfort in the country.”

Volumnia, mother of Coriolanus,
The Tragedy of Coriolanus by Shakespeare.

Scene illustration by Gavin Hamilton.

Les Histoires de Babar at Les Arts Décoratifs

04/01/2012 § 2 Comments

Can you believe that Babar, the beloved king of the elephants from the popular children’s books written by Jean de Brunhoff and his son Laurent, is turning 80 this year? In his honor, Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris has put together a lovely exhibition of books, sketches, toys and memorabilia, drawing from great museums and private collections around the world, showing Babar’s journey throughout the years.

Growing up, Babar was one of my very favorite stories, and I strongly believe it is the source of my small obsession with elephants.   I especially love the simplicity of the watercolor illustrations by Jean de Brunhoff, from the little pom pom on cousin Arthur’s beret to the wrinkles of the older elephants.  It was even better to find out that Babar was originally a bedtime story told by Cécile de Brunhoff, mother to Laurent (who was five at the time) and wife to Jean, a painter, in 1930.  Jean, at the request of his sons, turned the story into an illustrated album that was then published by his uncle’s publishing house in 1931 as Histoire de Babar, le petit éléphant (Story of Babar), to great acclaim.  Jean went on to write six more Babar books before his untimely death in 1937, with son Laurent continuing the tradition after WWII.  Laurent has since added more than thirty books.

A lovely interview with Laurent about Babar, his family and his own writing.

New York’s own Morgan Library — one of my favorite places in the city — has also contributed to the exhibition in Paris, and for good reason.  In their collection they have the Jean’s original maquette (or first draft) of Histoire de Babar, which you can view online here with commentary and comparison to the published work.

The exhibit runs through September 2012, and I have very high hopes I will be able to make it to Paris in time to catch it.  If you go before I do, please give Babar my regards.

Les Arts Décoratifs
107 rue de Rivoli
75001 Paris

Resolved: 2012

02/01/2012 § 10 Comments

Photo via George Eastman House

“Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account”
Oscar Wilde

In referring to my often-neglected journal to find my resolutions for 2011 and 2010, I saw a few repeats, a few things I achieved, a few things I failed miserably at, and a few things I completely forgot that I had resolved to do.  With this in mind — along with Oscar’s words above — I’ve decided to pare down my list for this year, from its usual ten or eleven item list to six.  Thus, here are the six things I can achieve, and will achieve, this year:

  1. Travel to at least one new country.  I’ve managed to keep my streak alive for the last three years, and I’m definitely committed to continuing this year.  Currently thinking my new country for 2012 will be somewhere in North Africa, Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe, but this is definitely not nailed down yet.  Have any suggestions for me?
  2. Run two half marathons.  I ran the New York Marathon in 2010, and have run plenty of road races of shorter lengths over the past 4 years (view my running posts here).  Admittedly, after the marathon, I suffered from a bit of burnout and my training has been uneven ever since.  This year I resolve to run two half marathons.  I will give myself extra points for sub-2 hour finishes, but I will be more than happy with two uninjured, smiling finishes.  I’ve got a former international competitor as a training partner (eesh!), but she assures me she needs just as much training as I do.  We’ll see about that.  Have any races you’d suggest I look into?  Even better, would you like to run with me?
  3. Cook some things.  My friends frequently point out that I blog about plenty of interesting things, cocktails and whatnot, but I almost never mention food.  Were you to look into my refrigerator, you might understand why.  It currently holds water, condiments, booze and two oranges.  And the oranges are for making Old Fashioneds.  I also cannot honestly remember the last time I used my oven or stove.  So in 2012, I’m resolving to actually buy myself groceries and cook at least once a week.  (Sidenote: Please do understand that “cooking” shall be construed quite liberally.)  Have any ridiculously easy, yet nutritious and delicious recipes for me?
  4. I’m on a horse. This was actually a 2011 resolution that I did not achieve, and so it’s getting carried over.  For as horse crazy as I am, I really have no excuse for not riding anymore.  I grew up taking all different kinds of lessons — even mounted drill team…yes, I am that awesome — and I still feel the need to get on a horse almost daily.  Admittedly, it can be a bit difficult doing so, living in New York City, but this just can’t keep being the reason I don’t ride.  This year, be it lessons, a trail ride, or perhaps even a dude ranch, I will get myself on a horse.  How do you make time for your interests?  Do you ride?
  5. To read twelve books.  I’ve always been a rather voracious consumer of all sorts of information, but I have found that in the last year my reading of books has been a record low.  Not acceptable.  To that end, I resolve to read twelve books — hopefully, one a month — in 2012.  Read any great books lately?  How is this best accomplished?  Do you think I need an e-reader?
  6. To live with purpose.  Rather abstract, I admit, but 2012 will definitely be my year of living with purpose.  Making decisions, choosing actions to make sure I achieve my goals, focusing on the immediate as a way to get to the eventual.  My life is best lived when I grab it by the horns, summon up the courage and blaze my own trail.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have ever lived in Italy by myself, travelled alone in Europe, moved to New York, or gone to law school — and who knows what else.  No sitting on the sidelines this year.  No letting life meander on without making affirmative decisions of my own.  Live like that, and life will pass you by.  How do you put your words into action?  How do you live with purpose?

Lastly, I’m excited to see what 2012 will bring for ye olde blog.  A big thank you to everyone who takes the time to read, email me, comment, Tumbl, Tweet, Pin and otherwise share the rather random stuff I post about.  I’m deeply grateful for your indulgence and I look forward to learning more from you in 2012.

Here’s to having our best year ever.  Cheers!

Beasts, beasts, beasts… {Rabbit Hole: Tudor Bestiary}

20/12/2011 § Leave a comment

I find myself drawn to the beasts in this lovely Tudor bestiary, c.1520.  Made popular in the European middle ages, bestiaries were large, illustrated compendiums of animals that provided the reader with a double dose of natural history and an instruction in Christian morality.  They are highly symbolic and a modern reader requires quite a bit of guidance to uncover the hidden meanings in these gloriously illustrated manuscripts.  Most interesting to me is the frequent, matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic animals.  It’s as if they actually existed…

Fear not, we are of the nature of the lion, and cannot descend
to the destruction of mice and such small beasts.
Elizabeth I

The Unicorn
Shel Silverstein

A long time ago, when the earth was green
and there was more kinds of animals than you’ve ever seen,
and they run around free while the world was bein’ born,
and the lovliest of all was the Unicorn.

There was green alligators and long-neck geese.
There was humpy bumpy camels and chimpanzees.
There was catsandratsandelephants, but sure as you’re born
the lovliest of all was the Unicorn.

But the Lord seen some sinnin’, and it caused him pain.
He says, ‘Stand back, I’m gonna make it rain.’
He says, ‘Hey Brother Noah, I’ll tell ya whatcha do.
Go and build me a floatin’ zoo.

And you take two alligators and a couple of geese,
two humpy bumpy camels and two chimpanzees.
Take two catsandratsandelephants, but sure as you’re born,
Noah, don’t you forget my Unicorn.’

Now Noah was there, he answered the callin’
and he finished up the ark just as the rain was fallin’.
He marched in the animals two by two,
and he called out as they went through,

‘Hey Lord, I got your two alligators and your couple of geese,
your humpy bumpy camels and your chimpanzees.
Got your catsandratsandelephants – but Lord, I’m so forlorn
’cause I just don’t see no Unicorn.’

Ol’ Noah looked out through the drivin’ rain
but the Unicorns were hidin’, playin’ silly games.
They were kickin’ and splashin’ in the misty morn,
oh them silly Unicorn.

The the goat started goatin’, and the snake started snakin’,
the elephant started elephantin’, and the boat started shaking’.
The mouse started squeakin’, and the lion started roarin’,
and everyone’s abourd but the Unicorn.

I mean the green alligators and the long-neck geese,
the humpy bumpy camels and the chimpanzees.
Noah cried, ‘Close the door ’cause the rain is pourin’ –
and we just can’t wait for them Unicorn.’

Then the ark started movin’, and it drifted with the tide,
and the Unicorns looked up from the rock and cried.
And the water come up and sort of floated them away –
that’s why you’ve never seen a Unicorn to this day.

You’ll see a lot of alligators and a whole mess of geese.
You’ll see humpy bumpy camels and lots of chimpanzees.
You’ll see catsandratsandelephants, but sure as you’re born
you’re never gonna see no Unicorn

They very soon came upon a Gryphon, lying fast asleep in the sun (If you don’t know what a Gryphon is, look at the picture.) “Up, lazy thing!” said the Queen, “and take this young lady to see the Mock Turtle, and to hear his history.  I must go back and see after some executions I have ordered;” and she walked off, leaving Alice alone with the Gryphon.  Alice did not quite like the look of the creature, but on the whole she thought it would be quite safe to stay with it as to go after that savage queen: so she waited.

The Gryphon sat up and rubbed its eyes: then it watched the Queen till she was out of sight: then it chuckled. “What fun!” said the Gryphon, half to itself, half to Alice.

“What is the fun?” said Alice.

“Why, she,” said the Gryphon.  “It’s all her fancy, that: they never executes nobody, you know.  Come on!”

“Everybody says ‘come on!’ here,” thought Alice, as she went slowly after it: “I never was so ordered about before, in all my life, never!”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The Panther
Ranier Maria Rilke

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly–. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

For more Tudor beasts, head here.

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