a call to action

with appreciation to Belle of Capitol Hill Style, which I read regularly, loving her take on work, fashion, and the craziness of life in general. And, of course, Belle's blog gives me the opportunity to dip a toe into a puddle of nostalgia for a past life.

The above advice is good for many of life's quagmires, not just a bleak romantic situation. But you knew that.

Quote of the Day: You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there.

Sunday night, and this was the plan for the Night of the Once-in-a-Whatever Great Dramatic Blood Moon: we would have dinner at a little restaurant on the edge of Long Island Sound, and after dinner, we'd either sit at a little outdoor table or we'd step down to the beach, and we'd see the eclipse and its reflections in the calm Sound waters. The restaurant was well situated for moon-watching, it faces the Sound and behind it and around it are marshes. Flat marshes. No tall trees. No streetlights. In past, it has taken us a little under half an hour to get there from Flintstone Manor, because the twists and turns all look alike, and the roads are mostly not lighted. Apparently the county believes that once a white line has been applied to a roadway, light bulbs and electricity are not necessary, and people should stay home after dark anyway. We left plenty of time to get there, wait, be seated, and have dinner before the moon was scheduled to perform.
what we hoped to see

And so we drove. And drove. And drove. It was a very dark night, except for occasional glimpses of the moon (doing nothing) through the trees.
early glimpse 

After enough time had passed that we thought we should be nearing the restaurant, we realized that we had no idea where we were. We couldn't even guess because every little house or shop we passed was dark. On a Sunday night out of season, this is what you get - people have left, people have gone to bed early, stores have closed, bars are only open Friday and Saturday nights...  the moon was still up in the sky where it belonged, but was showing no sign of activity.

We did a quick calculation: if we turned around and backtracked to where we thought we probably should have turned off the unlighted road to a lesser unlighted road, assuming that that even was the correct unlighted road, it might take us to the restaurant, but by then the place might be closed or if still open would probably have given our table away. Not an enticing prospect.

Another quote from the Sage: When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
Or not.

With no better idea, we turned around and headed back east. We discarded (I discarded) a number of possibilities. The pizza place closes early on Sunday out of season. I won't even set foot in Himself's favorite rib & wing place because the one time I did, I'd just had my hair colored and when we left I had to go right home and wash the atmospheric grease out of everything I was wearing and my newly colored hair. Himself swears they've since installed a fan, but I'm not willing to take the chance. Our little Mexican shack on the highway was sold last year and the new owners didn't last long. No food there. On and on like that, and then we remembered that a Beloved Local Institution usually stays open weekends until after Halloween. I convinced Himself that we should call and make sure, and yes, they were open, and yes, there would be a table, and yes, there would be Sunday Gravy

We ate. I stepped out into the street a couple of times to wave my iPhone at the sky and check on the moon. Still no activity. We settled up and went home.

I checked on the moon regularly from our back deck - our little street has too many overhanging trees to get a good look in the front. At about 9.20 the moon developed a rough edge.  A little later there was a reddish tinge to the rough edge.

At about 9:45 I was asleep.

We should have listened to Yogi in the first place, that's all I have to say.

I may not be Inès de la Fressange but I can have her shirt

I realized in mid-July, when word spread that Inès' designs would be "affordable" -whatever that means these days - and at Uniqlo, that if I could get myself 6 inches taller I would not need to lose weight. Visions of a taller, stretched-out Me strode through cobblestone streets like editorial photos... Actually the last time I strode, well, hurried, on cobblestones was in London a few years ago and I was hurrying through Covent Garden on the way to the theatre and the stones were glistening beautifully in the light rain, and because the damn stones were wet and slippery I stumbled and landed heavily on one knee...

Inès is often photographed with fluffy hair and lightweight immaculate but well-worn-in Burberry pushed back by a gentle breeze, or more likely by a well-directed fan in the hand of a hopeful intern.

(pause here while I decide not to complain about how there are all these unworthy people in the heartless and cruel world whose hair behaves and then there is Me)

The lightweight trench might just be possible. At one time I thought that the buttoned-on epaulets of a real trenchcoat were dashing, then I learned that everything on a trenchcoat is there for a purpose and the epaulets are where you put your gloves when you remove them to take aim at some desperate Colonial, having first adjusted your gun flap...

So, anyway, light-weight with the potential to move gently - well, to flap - in breezes, and long enough to be recognized as a coat not a jacket, and did anyone ever wonder whether Inès really is that slender or is the motion of the coat and hair creating an optical illusion? And would that work for me?

Worth trying, although not at Burberry level.

I found this one:

note absence of epaulets
note presence of "wind guard"

skirt is fully cut but does not "balloon"
 hence good flapping potential

It was said to be back-ordered until mid-August. It was also on promo, and we pause for a moment to wonder what kind of merchant puts something on promotion when he doesn't even know if he'll be able to deliver it?

I ordered the thing, knowing full well that it was not going to be useful as a raincoat, or be warm, or maybe even be wearable. It did look like it would be good at flapping in breezes, and therefore potentially evocative of long and lean.

Ten minutes later, I became concerned about flapping potential and ordered it again, a size larger.

The rest of the summer passed without incident, except that the back-order date became more and more prolonged. I decided that if it (or they) arrived after the flapping season, I'd return both and reconsider diet and Pilates for the long and lean business. Fortunately both coats arrived this week.

Result: the larger size is definitely over-flappy. I liked the length. The sleeves were absurdly too long, no sensible way to fix them. The smaller size fits! The "military green" color is not quite the green of the US military, and not any green related to Paris or cobblestones... dyes were no doubt mixed by an inept foreign intelligence agency, which thought inspired me to check the buttons for tiny transmitters. They seem OK, plastic, not overly heavy for their size and thickness.

So both coats are hanging in the "probation area" of the closet. I need to try them on in a few different lights to be sure about the color and the way the back hangs.

Meanwhile, I also ordered a few of the Inès items from the Uniqlo site. I can't go to their Fifth Avenue store, because I become dazed and helpless what with the dramatic multi-levels, creatively deployed escalators, shiny surfaces....
Wool & something jacket, MEH, returned

White cotton lawn shirt, BEST WHITE SHIRT EVAH!
yes I am KEEPING this

Flannel stand collar dress, this might
work as an updated housecoat
but not for me. Returned
Oh, yes, that white shirt really is made of cotton lawn. Thinking of buying a spare. Or not.

bar, wine bar, bistro, bistrot, brasserie... It's all a blur

Here's a hungry cat lurking on a scarf

And these little creatures are confident that
they won't be what's for dinner
so let's think about our dinner:

Once upon a time in Paris, there were extravagant, elegant, formal restaurants. Oops, left out "very expensive." But you knew that.

And there were also these choices:

A bistro - once a comfortable neighborhood place to get a simple meal, good food, nice wine, relaxed atmosphere. The menu would feature French classics: coq au vin, snails in parsley garlic butter, sole meunière, crème caramel... By the way, bistro isn't a French word. It came to Paris with occupying Russian soldiers, following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. I don't think anyone's written anything in praise of the behavior of a Russian occupying force, ever, but these guys came to Paris hungry and were in the habit of charging into any establishment that even smelled of food cooking, and they would holler "Быстро! Быстро!" which means "fast, fast". Finally they left, leaving behind what they said when they entered a place serving food. When it was clear they were gone, the restaurant owners put back the good furniture and the pretty mirrors.

A brasserie - once a large, informal, noisy space featuring a rather elaborate display of beers on tap, often highlighting a relationship with a particular brewery, and a menu rooted in hearty Alsatian classics, sausages, choucroute garni...

A bistrot was a smaller bistro, with a somewhat reduced menu.

A bar was once, well, a bar, featuring "alcohols" and wine, and at midday there could be stacks of sandwiches, ham on long skinny bread...

Then came the wine bar, elaborate wine lists, wine by the glass or by the bottle or by the flight, and food that can range from cheese and cold cuts to rather elaborate cooked specialities.

Over time, the distinctions among the different establishments have been mixed and blurred until -- well, imagine someone who thinks she can speak French trying to design a tee that bears an idiomatic and witty French expression. So the whole thing turned from a list into a mix-and-match multiple choice exercise. All of the above, plus a few places that characterize themselves as "bistro/tapas bar" or "Asian brasserie" or "Japanese bistro" or their food as "French-inflected", sprout and fade in Paris, and in New York, with sad regularity.

And frankly, while this jolly goulash of styles and levels of cooking and service can be confusing, it can also work in your favor. A little preliminary research - like checking the actual menus on your trusty computer - can help with your choice, because the odds are better that the broader the menu, the more likely that  more people will find something they actually like or at least will actually order. I brought a friend to a well-known classic brasserie in Lyon, where he was so entranced by the shiny brass taps and the optics and the jolly glasses of beer, that his French failed him, and he thought he was ordering a classic Choucroute Garnie, which is sauerkraut with a couple kinds of sausage and a pork chop. Unfortunately he ordered the Choucroute Maison, which that day turned out to be Sauerkraut with Fish. The combination was having a moment. As food does. Caveat edax.

Anyway, if you enjoy a mix of cultures and attitudes, you could do a lot worse than to come to New York for food. We have a "range of ranges," meaning everything from fine dining places that have received three - three! - stars from the Michelin people, to retro diners, to places where you want to have someone check the restroom for Michael Corleone's gun, even though the gun was fictional and the restaurant is only 2 or 3 years old. Restaurants that pride themselves on serving authentic Szechuan or Fujianese food, may also boast that gluten-free noodles are available on request. Steakhouses offer vegetarian options.

(grateful appreciation to The New Yorker magazine)
And French, always French at varying levels of sophistication, elegance, cooking. At varying levels, that is to say, of, well, Frenchness. Because the Great Gustatory Blur is also present in Paris, I have to say that the GGB is authentically French. Well, this month it is. Things can move fast in this industry.
Benoit Bistro
Having said all of that, I've enjoyed the food and the atmosphere at Cherche Midi, at DBGB, at Buvette, at Balthasar, at Benoit. All of these can be crowded and noisy and hectic, and you really need to reserve ahead. I had a delightful evening downtown at Les Philosophes (again, reserve!), which is in a fun neighborhood to walk it off if you overindulge. There are uncaptioned pictures of some 40 French philosophers, and when they first opened they promised to comp anyone who could name all 40. I believe too many people ran to wikipedia.fr and took notes.

Pre-theater, pre-concert, well, the food options inside the Lincoln Center buildings keep improving, but our choice is Bar Boulud, not inside the complexe but across the street and owned by Daniel Boulud - the closest to a bistrot cum bar à vins that you'll find in that area. Nearby, M. Boulud also has a "southern French" place, Boulud Sud, which I find overpriced and insipid.
Bar Boulud
Cherche Midi

Artisanal was sold recently, prices went up, quality of service went down. Took a friend to lunch, was embarrassed.

"French-inflected" is a word that turns up in a lot of local restaurant reviews. In this loose category, I like Élan, and have gone back several times.

Two newer places that I think have real possibilities but aren't quite ready for prime time are Auguste and Chevalier. Chevalier opened recently in the new Baccarat Hotel, and as you may imagine, the table settings and the crystal are magnificent. The first time we tried it we just loved the food. However, when we went back, things didn't measure up to our first experience, so we decided to wait and let them settle in before deciding whether to return. Actually, this is another example of Blur, the menu is very dressy, and yet all the PR describes it as a brasserie.

Speaking of the Blur, there's a spot called Match 65, which describes itself as a brasserie. A brasserie is the one thing it's definitely not. It's a tiny place, might pass for a bistrot in dim light, if you don't eat the food. Himself gave it a low B minus and would prefer not to go back.

Auguste, newly opened on Lexington Avenue after it lost its lease on Bleeker Street, is close to being a real bistro, and we thought we'd made a great discovery on our first visit. It didn't withstand a second visit, there was chaos in the kitchen (orders got lost, food arrived cold, that kind of chaos), so again we're letting it settle in some more.

Finally, on East 79th Street, there's a place called Quatorze that lots of people, including Himself, love. I'm not a fan, but this place has a lot of very vocal supporters, so I'm including it. But conscience insists that I disclose that one night I ordered calf's liver and it was adequately prepared, but for the accompanying sauce which was exactly the same as that which accompanied Himself's steak. He advises visitors to stick to the cassoulet and the roast chicken.

where's Jenna? well, for one thing, she went shopping... .

Are you familiar with 1st Dibs? It's a site where antique and vintage dealers can showcase and sell their wares. There's nothing cheap here, although - disclaimer! - I don't really know enough to recognize a bargain. Rather, for me, it's a kind of fantasyland, where you can spend six figures on a table without ever having to actually go and look at it. I can't imagine returning a table for 8 with leaves, and I am a pretty good returner.

From time to time, there's a feature that I have nicknamed "Great Shoppers of History." A well-known guest - a decorator or other tastemaker - picks a bunch of items. And, from time to time, one of these features is republished, and thus we can see which of the picks have been sold since the initial publication of the selection. Here are screenshots of the site, and i hope the 1st Dibs people won't mind me sharing, because their site has given me so much pleasure. In so many ways.

So, without further ado, here are some of Jenna's Picks. From the photo of Jenna, I'd guess that the article first appeared before her haircut.

Dedicated Jenna-watchers can time the haircut better than I, although I do recall thinking at the time that her efforts at high-class antiquing might have been better spent watching the store, as garmentos might say.

I'm not sure that I learned anything from this article. I was, however, struck by the absence of glitter and sequins. This may be a promising sign.
I was planning a scarf post, and then my friend KnitYarns put up a comment on my post about certain expensive costume jewelry just happening to resemble the product of kindergarten crafting using multicolored cereals. KnitYarns' comment was exactly the perfect summing up of what I was blethering on about in the post (yes, I blether. Don't judge me.) What you would spend on a couple of pieces of junk that won't live more than one season, if that, you could tuck away and by the time you've made 2 or 3 shopping trips, you will have the wherewithal to indulge yourself with a piece of real jewelry.

Clearly no matter how long you abstain from the purchase of cereal bits, you won't achieve the purchase of, say, a ring with diamonds that can be seen without a magnifying glass. What you can achieve, however, is a string of real pearls, not plastic. Or a real gold chain, by which I mean 14 Karat or 18 Karat. Accept no substitutes. If the chain is at least 18 inches long, you can add a pendant - or if you want to get cute, an antique charm.

If you collect two or three chains, of whatever length, you can wear them together - like the "layered necklaces" that are popping up all over the internet. Or you can string them one after the other, finally close them into one very large loop, and double the loop around your neck with a "shortener."
Here's a good starting place to look for components. If you don't keep a pair or two of needle-nosed pliers in your desk drawer, a local jeweler can attach things for you. Or you can order a length of chain and the clasp of your choice, which is more fun.

If you like a more antique look, I've found some fascinating things at Nalfie .  Bear in mind that like any dealer in antiques, the stock can vary from day to day. Note that one or two antique watch chains make a nice necklace. Or bracelet.

When I buy estate (jeweler-speak for "used") pieces, I'm careful to check for the metal content and for any hallmarks. 18 carat and 14 carat content are usually stamped into a piece by the maker, in an inconspicuous place. Sometimes the maker's name will be shown as well. On the web, look for detailed pictures.

What about scarves? Well, the first time I traveled to France, I decided not to buy lots of little dust-catchers  souvenirs. I figured when we reached Paris, I'd buy one lovely thing. That turned out to be a scarf, and I was instantly addicted. Same analysis - I didn't buy the junky souvenir poncho, mug, other mug, t-shirt, statue... didn't take cabs...

Volumes have been written about the consistent value of a really fine scarf. You don't need that here. The ones that appreciate most in value are generally the ones you wouldn't part with anyway.