R.I.P. Shirley Temple Black (April 23, 1928 – February 10, 2014): ringlet-laden child star, tap dancer, diplomat.
Obits from around the web:
R.I.P. Shirley Temple Black (April 23, 1928 – February 10, 2014): ringlet-laden child star, tap dancer, diplomat.
Obits from around the web:
Pictured above: A framed franc note from 1944. I got it in the mail yesterday from my mother, who sent it to me as a belated birthday present. Now it’s among the really French-y stuff that surrounds me in my office as I write or work on the very first class I’ll teach in a couple of weeks.
Yes: teaching. I’ll be teaching a class called “The French” for LSU Continuing Education. The class begins February 17 and it will explore French history through the lives of the people who shaped it and were shaped by it. As a profile writer, this is an ideal way for me to approach it because each class will have a theme (i.e. Saints and Saviors) and consist of a series of related profiles about prominent French people from all walks of life.
Getting this class down on paper has been one thing. The ideas have been flowing. Things have been fitting together like perfect little puzzle pieces. It’s all making sense and (most importantly) feeling like it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Delivering the class to a crowd may be something else. Last week, I wrote about my need to work on my public speaking skills. I did that, knowing that I would be speaking this morning to a room full of potential students, and, after that, presumably a class full of people I’d convince to listen to me speak for six more weeks. I’ve been getting a little whipped up about this and when I got my first class list earlier this week, I have to say I was a little nervous to see those first names there.
I got some good redirection from people who suggested I view this not as public speaking, but as talking about something I like and being myself when I do it.
So that’s what I did this morning. I behaved like myself, which is a very dangerous thing, indeed. Why? Because after explaining what the class was be about, I told a packed house that there would be no better way to spend Monday mornings than with a weird magazine writer lady who talks about French people behind their backs. A friend of mine quipped: “With lines like that, you could go into marketing.”
By next week, I should have an updated class list that indicates just how effective this more Paige-like approach was. In the meantime, the morning was good fun and for once I felt at ease speaking in front of a large group. Perhaps there’s hope for me yet. We shall see. All I know is that I met some wonderful people this morning and can’t wait to captivate them with stories about a country and people who have so thoroughly captivated me!
Next week is the fiftieth anniversary of President John F. Kennedy Jr’s assassination. Networks are airing retrospectives and publishers are releasing new books that look at this pivotal national event. Today, The New York Times writes about one of the signature artifacts of that day: Jacqueline Kennedy’s Chanel-inspired pink suit.
Having done archival research and having touched everything from letters signed by Napoleon III to journals written by grieving widows eager to preserve their husband’s place in history, I have a sincere appreciation for historical preservation, as it helps future generations gain a better understanding of their past, hopefully so they can enrich their future in some sort of way. Having said that, Jackie’s neatly tailored suit (still caked with her husband’s blood) has been out of view since that fateful day in November 1963 and the Kennedy family wants it to stay that way until 2103.
The pillbox hat and white kid gloves were lost that day and when presidential aides asked Jackie if she wanted to change into something else, she reportedly told them no, “let them see what they’ve done.”
As Cathy Horyn writes: “Curators cannot think of another historical garment imbued with more meaning, and also deemed too sensitive to be shown. Among items of apparel with similar resonance are garments worn in concentration camps and the tatters that remained after the atomic blasts in Japan. But these objects, while deeply affecting, are displayed in museums. Other examples mentioned by curators include Napoleon’s death coat, a shoe dropped by Marie Antoinette on the way to the guillotine and the suit and cloak Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated.”
Displaying Jackie’s suit in a similar fashion would produce “hysteria,” it was believed, so it will sit in a climate-controlled vault for at least another century. In the meantime, pictures and video clips remain.
What does Jackie’s pink suit signify for you? Or, can you think of another historical artifact that has as much resonance? If so, what is it and why do you find it significant? Leave your answers in comments below.
My yoga practice has fallen apart over the past couple of months, in part because of various work projects that have kept me busy, but also because of a back injury that has been flaring up off and on during this time. With the holidays right around the corner, there is no time like now to get back on the mat (once I can move painlessly), because the breathing, twists, turns and stretches have a way of helping anyone (not just me) stay calm and focused when things get hectic.
That’s my Yogalosophy, but in the recent issue of USA Today’s Modern Woman, I talked to celebrity yoga and fitness expert Mandy Ingber about hers. Ingber, a former actress, believes we already have the perfect body. It just may be hiding behind layers of fat, or (in my case) compressed spinal discs. What you have to do is love the body you have in order to get the body you want.
Ingber speaks from experience. After being “all over the map” with her own body, she overcame her own eating disorders and body image issues through the self-love she preaches. “I started making better choices as a result of loving myself,” she told me in an interview. “I used to think that if I did something wrong (like gain weight) that I ruined everything. Now I don’t have that black-and-white thinking about myself anymore.”
Now she’s known as the yoga and fitness guru behind some of Hollywood’s hottest bodies, among them, the actresses Jennifer Aniston and Helen Hunt. Her latest book, Yogalosophy: 28 Days to the Ultimate Mind-Body Makeover provides readers with an easy-to-use wellness overhaul that includes traditional yoga poses, toning and cardio exercises, recipes, music playlists, journal exercises and other action items that support physical and mental wellness throughout the day.
“This is really a ‘Start where you are, take what you like and leave the rest’ type of book,” she says. And it’s one I’ll have to reacquaint myself with very soon.
If you practice yoga, what is your favorite type of class to take and why? Or, if you’ve read Ingber’s book, what did you think of it and what sort of results did you get from following her program? And finally, what sort of fitness or wellness ideas do you have for making it through the holidays? What is your holiday-related health or wellness downfall? Please leave your insights in the comments section below.
This week, a group of San Diego high schoolers filmed a video called “Dear Sea World” where they thanked the tourist attraction for all the memories and stuffed animals, before taking it to task for cheapening those memories by its now well-documented poor treatment of killer whales, as captured in the critically acclaimed Gabriela Cowperthwaite documentary “Blackfish.” For more about the backlash, see this David Kirby article at TakePart.com.
But the film’s impact is being felt beyond a group of camera-savvy youngsters on the West Coast. Sea World went public in April, just three months after “Blackfish” debuted at Sundance and memories of senior trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death in a killer whale attack were still fresh in the public’s minds. After the company’s stock debuted at $27 a share, it has since dipped by 25 percent, according to recent reports, leading some to believe that the eye-opening documentary may be to blame for that. Sea World says poor weather is behind the dip, and has written off the film as mere animal rights propaganda.
“Blackfish” or not, the theme park is facing a lot of “headwinds,” according to MarketWatch columnist Al Lewis. It is heavily leveraged. It is selling expensive tickets (adult single-day tickets are $82, while youth tickets are $74) in a down economy, and it is still facing legal and regulatory problems in the wake of Brancheau’s death. Throw the film into the mix and, as Lewis told The Wall Street Journal, you have a lot of people out there who think “it’s not so cool keeping these whales in a fish tank for their whole life.” Still, Lewis admits that America is a country that could see “Blackfish and be outraged by the treatment of killer whales and still visit Sea World.
I finally saw the movie this week and thought it was well-done overall. But I did have a small issue with how the filmmaker used some of the sources at her disposal. Although she interviewed whale experts, whale behavioral experts and a variety of workers from OSHA, the bulk of the interviews she used were with former Sea World trainers, who admitted you didn’t really have to be a whale expert to get the job. Although I understand the need to turn to people who have first-hand experience with these whales, and first-hand knowledge of the way they were kept and treated at the park, I would have liked more explanation in the film about why they were former Sea World trainers. Were they fired, or did they leave because they realized the ethical problems in capturing these large, sensitive, and highly intelligent creatures? That sort of context was never made clear, and having it in the film would have enhanced what was already a good story.
It will be interesting to see how Sea World continues to deal with the fallout the film and with its own struggles to weather a bad economy as a newly public company. If you’ve seen “Blackfish,” what did you think about it? Please let me know in comments below.
I was at my desk earlier than usual today so that I could interview legendary golfer Greg Norman. A top-ranked player in the 1980s and 1990s, Norman is known by his nickname “The Great White Shark,” in part because of his aggressive style of play, but also because you can find a lot of those toothy predators around his native Australia. Reebok helped him develop the shark logo and brand during his golf heyday and he has since expanded it to include about 20 different businesses, from golf course design, to eyewear and a wine label too.
I always enjoy talking to creative and entrepreneurial people who pursue their passions and (most importantly) execute those pursuits well, no matter what the market, or other people say. I also confess to being a bit mystified by people like Greg Norman, or actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who have been able to sell people a lifestyle or products based on whatever their brand may be. So I got off the phone with Greg Norman this morning and was really, truly inspired by his accomplishments. Then, I had a little brainstorm that I took to my Facebook page. Granted, I was being slightly tongue-in-cheek (maybe), but I asked my Facebook followers to help me develop a brand, logo and lifestyle that I could sell to the people, a la Norman or Gwyneth. The immediate feedback was that whatever it was, it had to have some element of Frenchness to it. But I pointed out that because I’m based in the South physically (only mentally do I drift along the Seine…for now), it needed to have a Southern element.
So I submitted this to them: Deep Fried French.
Deep Fried French was very well-received, so I reserved the domain name. What I’ll do with it is anyone’s good guess, but my Facebook brain trust is guiding me toward ideas that may (or may not) result in a site of some sort, someday (maybe). What I know is that the demand for something Deep Fried and French is there. I also know that I’ve hired some people (sort of) who have developed the Sheryl Sandberg-esque corporate motto of “Jean In” which has a nice ring to it. It says “casual, but purposeful” which is what I try to go for all in endeavors.
Won’t you Jean In with us?
If you have any recommendations about what may or may not be a good idea for this endeavor, please send them my way. Or, if you’d like to share your thoughts on brands and lifestyle ideas that resonate with you, please do share your wisdom in comments.
I profiled Russian-American piano virtuoso Lola Astanova for the November issue of Palm Beach Illustrated. By age 8, Astanova was giving performances alone and with orchestras throughout Europe. By age 13, she was featured in a UNESCO documentary about twentieth-century child prodigies. But her childhood was normal, she says, adding that she even played with friends and Barbie dolls.
Now, Astanova is bringing classical music to a new generation of listeners, thanks in no small part to her penchant for hard work and her social media savvy. She became a YouTube sensation (1.5 million page views and counting) after she infused Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” with a heavy dose of Rachmaninoff-style drama. She has also graced some of the world’s great concert venues, among them Carnegie Hall in New York City. Next week, she’ll perform in Charleston, West Virginia with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
You can find my story about Astanova here, or on newsstands in South Florida. In the meantime, here are a few highlights from our interview:
* Astanova’s mother was a piano teacher and didn’t want her child to pursue a musical career because it was too difficult.
* She studied at the V. Uspensky Specialized School of Music for Gifted Children and enjoyed the competition and rigor that came with learning at such an elite school. To this day, she says “I’m very critical of myself and wish I could change that, but I don’t think I can so it doesn’t make life easier for me.”
* Having said that, it’s worth noting Lola loves reading the philosophical works of Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer wrote that the world was driven by a continually dissatisfied will and was always seeking satisfaction, a belief that must speak to the perfectionist Astanova.
* Astanova moved to Houston in 2000 and studied music at Rice University. But she maintained her ties with her Russian teachers.
* She is a fashionista known for wearing Chanel and Tom Ford. She’s also a self-proclaimed “beauty product junkie.” She justifies her passion for fashion by sharing an anecdote about the time Chopin lamented a pair of fabulous gloves he couldn’t afford. “He was into fashion,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s a sign of respect for the audience.”
Lola Astanova was a really fun interview. I really enjoyed meeting her and learning about how someone has followed their passion successfully and on on their own terms. Definitely catch her in action if she comes to your town. For a taste of what she’s like live, here she is in an exclusive performance for PBI’s YouTube channel:
She also maintains a pretty sassy Twitter feed at @followlola, where she shares her global exploits, hair color changes, fashion adventures and on-stage triumphs with her fans.
In a recent article for USA Today, I interviewed some of the men and women who will be among Virgin Galactic’s first commercial space travelers. Some of them are doing it because they remember the excitement of the 1969 moon landing. Others are doing it because they seek the ultimate bucket list moment, or because they want to set an example for their young daughters. Whatever their reasons, when billionaire business magnate Richard Branson announced his goal to take Average Joes into space as frequently and affordably as the average airline, these people scrambled to pay up to $250,000 for the opportunity to float for five minutes above the Earth.
“When I was growing up, going to space was one of those ineffable experiences you could only conceptualize,” Marcia Fiamengo told me in an interview. “I used to dream about it, about floating in zero gravity. Now I can’t wait to get an all-consuming perspective of Earth and the stars. It will be quite a view.”
By the time my article went to press, there was no set date for Virgin Galactic’s first takeoff. But a recent article said that the company has pushed its first launch off until August, 2014, a delay that could cost the state of New Mexico millions. Delays aside, Branson recently reached a deal with NBC to create a reality series called “Space Race,” which would follow contestants competing to win a flight into space with the nascent carrier. No word yet on when that show might air, or when the winner might fly. Under the circumstances, that winner will join a list of nearly 700 customers (among them pop star Rihanna, socialite Paris Hilton and physicist Stephen Hawking) who are eager to take the next small step into space.
My younger sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis late last year. Shortly after her diagnosis, I signed up for two M.S. fundraising walks, one in Baton Rouge, the other in New Orleans. I was beyond grateful to the people who sponsored me on these walks because I was so sad about what my sister faces on a daily basis. I can’t make her ongoing pain and struggles easier (which is always frustrating for someone as anal and eager to please as I am), but I can walk in her name to raise money so that talented scientists and doctors can work to find a cure.
If you don’t know what M.S. is, here are some facts:
* It’s a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system.
* The disease occurs when the immune system attacks the myelin (or fatty protective tissue) that surrounds nerves, damaging it and the nerves themselves. When the myelin is attacked and scarred, nerve impulses are interrupted or distorted.
* Person to person, symptoms vary and range from numbness in the limbs to paralysis and loss of vision.
* There are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease and help people live satisfying, productive lives. But to date, there is nothing that can wipe it out altogether.
Having said all this and being totally aware of my sister’s struggles, I get up every day and look for reasons to be hopeful. She’s handling her diagnosis with humor (most of the time) and tries to find ways to manage her limits, lessen her stress and ask for help when she needs it. Although I am fully aware that she has bad, debilitating days, and hate that for her, I’m tickled beyond words that she has begun to paint again. Above is one of her works-in-progress, an impressionistic triptych of flowers in a field. She began this piece a few hours ago, after selling two of them last night on Facebook.
Disclaimer: I bought one of those two paintings. I’m a proud big sister. What can I say? Isn’t her work gorgeous?
To close, if you would like to get involved with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, here are ways you can help.
If biking and walking and other physical events are not your cup of tea, please consider making a donation to NMSS, either as a gift to support general research and education, or one to honor my sister, Katherine Warren.
Linda Ronstadt’s “When Will I Be Loved?” makes me think of my mother, who in the late 1970s used to blast this song in her pale blue Volkswagen Beetle. She, my sister and I would sing it at the top of our lungs. For Mom, it was a recent divorcee’s anthem, a hard-rocking lament that allowed her to belt out “I’ve been cheated…been mistreated…when will I be loved?” For my sister and me, it was just an opportunity to be loud in the backseat. We wouldn’t know anything about being cheated or mistreated…until, you know, at least our late teens.Songs like these were the soundtrack of my youth, which is why I downloaded Ronstadt’s new memoir Simple Dreams onto my Kindle last week and began devouring it in the carpool line outside of my daughter’s school. So far, the book has gotten a lot of attention due to Ronstadt’s recent revelation that she “can’t sing a note” because she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. In some circles, the memoir has also been critically panned for the things it did not reveal (i.e. details about drug use, her relationships with high profile men such as California governor Jerry Brown and film director George Lucas and her Parkinson’s diagnosis, which happened after the book went to press). I look at it as one of those bittersweet songs she sang, marked more for its simple beauty than for any bells and whistles an industry focus group may have wanted to inflict on it.
People sing, she writes, “to complain of how grievously they have been wronged, and how to avoid it in the future. They sing to help themselves execute a job of work. They sing so that subsequent generations won’t forget what the current generation endured, or dreamed or delighted in.”
Now that Linda Ronstadt can’t sing, this book is a reminder of the singular voice she had in rock-n-roll and her commitment to pursuing her heart’s desire, even when it didn’t seem to make commercial sense to her record label. For example, who could have known her three-album collaboration with bandleader Nelson Riddle would be the success that it was, or that her album of traditional Mariachi music would be such a global hit?
One of my favorite parts of the book was her admission that she felt Emmylou Harris was a far better singer than she was. Ronstadt writes that if she had allowed herself to become jealous of Harris, “it would be painful to listen to her, and I would deny myself the pleasure of it. If I simply surrendered to loving what she did, I could take my rightful place among the other drooling Emmylou fans, and then maybe, just maybe, I might be able to sing with her.” Ronstadt surrendered and she and Harris not only collaborated on a couple of albums, but became great friends too.
Ronstadt concludes: “People ask me why my career consisted of such rampant eclecticism, and why I didn’t simply stick to one type of music. The answer is that when I admire something tremendously, it is difficult not to try to emulate it . . . The only rule I imposed on myself, consciously or unconsciously, was to not try singing something that I hadn’t heard in the family living room before the age of ten. If I hadn’t heard it by then, I couldn’t attempt it with even a shred of authenticity. At the time, struggling with so many different kinds of music seemed like a complicated fantasty, but from the vantage point of my sixty-seven years, I see it was only a simple dream.”