Betty Friedan and Chocolate Leaves

Photo by Kraft
Photo by Kraft

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the publishing of “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan’s manifesto which opened the eyes of women all over the world.  Okay, I admit, I’ve never read it, but I was intrigued by the New York Times’ articles.  And as a child of the ’70s, I knew about women who immersed themselves in crazy stuff at home to fill their days and find some meaning.  It was still going on….and in some ways it still is.

The person who comes to mind is the mother of one of my college roommates.  Mrs. B was a home economics major at the University of Tennessee and got a master’s degree in textiles.  She was insanely talented as a seamstress.

Mrs. B made all Susan’s clothes, which were tailored within an inch of her life, and utterly unfashionable for the time.  Susan, to her credit, loved them.  But what 19-year-old girl in the Seventies would wear a gingham dress with a side zipper and smocking?  I borrowed it one time, and my boyfriend referred to it as “the chastity dress” because it was so hard to get off.

Mrs. B kindly volunteered to sew a raincoat for me, and told me to look at the Vogue patterns.  I have it to this day.  I picked out a Dior pattern for a balmacaan with a belt.  I lost the belt at some point, but it is so beautifully made that it is still wearable, and a classic style, of course.

The incident I was thinking of in connection with Betty Friedan, however, involved cooking.  Susan invited me home for the weekend to South Carolina.  Her parents were very fashion-forward for South Carolina if ten years behind the times–Danish modern furniture, uncomfortable plastic in the breakfast nook, Marimekko prints.  Her dad was an engineer and a kind if geeky guy.

I don’t remember what dinner involved, but I remember the dessert distinctly.  Mrs. B made parfaits, which I think involved chocolate Jello pudding and whipped cream.  But what impressed me was that each parfait was garnished with a perfect leaf made of chocolate.  Mrs. B allowed that she had experimented with several different leaves before discovering that ivy leaves worked the best, when placed on the surface of melted chocolate, peeled off, and allowed to harden.  Then she peeled off the actual leaf, and placed a perfect chocolate leaf on each parfait.

No one said, “Wow, Mom, that’s incredible!”  No one gave a single damn.  They just wolfed down their Jello parfait.  I thought my head would explode.

Maybe she was just a crazy perfectionist.  Maybe she would have done it without coming out of the environment she did.  Maybe pigs will fly.  That energy and creativity could have moved mountains.





Getting Through February

Red_Heart___1.2011Unlike T. S. Eliot, I believe February is the cruelest month.  It’s when the snows are the deepest, the winds are the coldest, and even though the days are longer, the winter seems harsh and unending.  I have a bias, too, from my youth.  Growing up in the south, spring came in March, so February was the end of winter.  Here in the north, we have at least another month of snow, wind and cold to go.

February is cruel to me, as well, because my daddy died in this month, decades ago, and my longtime companion Ron died 13 years ago today.  But bad stuff happens in every month, you know?  Good things happen as well.  My niece Judy and my sister Juanita were born in this month, and what would life be without them?

So my goal with February is to cheer myself up as much as possible, enjoy what I can, and move on.  Here are some things I recommend for these cold, dark days, and the warm hearts we all know and love.

  • Have a good cry.  See “Les Miserables” or watch a good old tearjerker on Turner Classic Movies or Netflix.  “You had me at hello.”  Hello?  My favorite:  “Enchanted April.”
  • Chocolate.  The more the better.
  • Go to a warm spot if you can afford it.  If not, take a movie holiday.  Gidget Goes Hawaiian!
  • Don’t be proud.  Call a friend if you need one, and just hang out.  DO NOT think Facebook or Twitter is a substitute for human companionship.  IT IS NOT!
  • Go shopping for something inexpensive.  This is a true story.  When Ron was in law school at Yale, he was friends with Anita Hill, a fellow law student.  I came up from Philadelphia (Wharton) to visit, and we were chatting.  She said to me, “When I want to go shopping, I go buy nail polish, because it’s pretty, and it’s cheap!”  We were all starving students then, but there is still a lesson there.
  • Hug your dog, or your cat, or your rabbit, or your hamster.  They are warm, small, and don’t understand why you are unhappy, but they still love you.
  • Re-read a book you love.
  • Read a book you haven’t read before, especially if it’s unlike anything you’ve read before.
  • Call or write someone and thank them for something nice they did for you.
  • Do something for someone else.  It’s the best way to get outside of your head.

I hope this helps.  Let me know what you think.

Bill Cunningham and the Nature of Happiness

bcny_gallery1[1]I saw a great documentary yesterday, which happens to be nominated for an Academy Award.  Bill Cunningham New York , about the photojournalist, photographer and artist Bill Cunningham.

For those of you who aren’t avid readers of The New York Times Style section, Bill Cunningham has been chronicling the uppper crust social scene with his camera for decades.  At the same time, he has been devoted to street fashion, looking for trends as he scours New York City on his bicycle.

He is now 82 years old, and still photographing the New York scene, and still riding a bike (his 29th, when the movie was filmed, because the preceding 28 had all been stolen.)  At the time the documentary was shot, he was being forced to move out of the artists’ studios over Carnegie Hall.  His could hardly be called a studio–it was more like a closet.  No kitchen, shared bathroom in the hallway.  He slept on a pallet on a board, propped up on plastic milk crates.  The tiny room was lined with filing cabinets filled with his film.  He eats cheap meals at delis ($2.50 for egg on a roll and coffee.)

After viewing the documentary at the Hastings-on-Hudson Library there was a long discussion.  I came to the conclusion (probably premature) that most Hastings residents were artistic, shrinks, or artistic people who had been to shrinks.  There was a lot of discussion of projection, repression, denial, etc.

This came about because Bill lives an ascetic life.  He has almost no possessions.  He has never had a romantic relationship.  He would not discuss his sexuality.  He has never married or had children.  He goes to Mass every Sunday.  The only moment in the documentary when he choked up was when he was asked how he felt about his religion.

He is utterly consumed by photographing the scene in New York.  He seemed to me a supremely happy person–he loves his work, and he is immersed in it, albeit to the expense of all else.  But he is happy, or at least he seemed that way to me.

So we sat on our fat middle-class asses and discussed the nature of his happiness, and some felt he was secretly sad and could not admit it.  And it seemed to me we were all wrong.  The mystery of his life is his.  And he laughs and loves what he is doing.  And he is free to do what he wants, thanks to the New York Times.  The world will be a smaller, darker place when he is gone.

Pet Foster Parents

DSCN0281 lo resI never meant to keep this stupid cat.  Who wants a 17 lb. black tomcat?  I agreed to foster him because he’d been abandoned in an apartment.  The neighbors said his owner went to jail, and the people who cleaned out the apartment left the cat, with food and water for a few days.  One of the neighbors called Forgotten Felines.  I was looking for a young, sweet female cat.  Instead I agreed to foster this thug, because the Forgotten Felines person didn’t have room for him.  And because I am a sap.

And you know what?  After he was neutered, he was still a thug, but less aggressive, which was a plus.  And over time, he learned to vocalize a lot of different things, and purr a lot, and play like a kitten.  And when I was sick, he licked my face.  And when it was cold, he slept on my feet.

So now, he’s my thug.  I admit, he’s up to 22 lbs. now, and on a diet, which he doesn’t seem to mind too much.  If he were a person, he’d have tattoos up his arm.  But I think he’d be like Jason on “My Cat From Hell”–looks fearsome, and is actually a pussycat.

%d bloggers like this: