Posts from the “People” Category

Napoleon III and Other Stories

Posted on May 22, 2013

napoleon_iiiSee this guy and his well-waxed mustache? This is Napoleon III, emperor of the French Second Empire and I devoted a couple of years of my life to learning all about him, his era and a wild-haired architect whose life had a rags-to-riches narrative arc. You may find that wildly impractical, but to me, it made and continues to make good sense. Having spent so much time reading about this particular Napoleon, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he got a shout-out in “Mad Men” two weeks ago, when the creative team was brainstorming ideas for a new margarine account. I am probably one of the few people on the planet to realize that the shout-out was not quite right. In the show, Peggy said that margarine was invented by Napoleon III, who wanted to create a butter substitute for his army that wouldn’t spoil. What actually happened is that the price of butter skyrocketed and in 1869 Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could create a more affordable butter substitute.  A chemist by the name of Hippolyte Mege-Mouries created a process for churning beef tallow with milk to create what became known as oleomargarine. Although Mege-Mouries won the emperor’s prize, the French never took to the product and so in 1871, the inventor worked with a Dutch firm that bolstered the product’s appeal by dyeing it yellow. The rest, as they say, is history.

But I still prefer butter.


I moved across town recently and am slowly (but gratefully) digging out and trying to get a reliable wifi signal. I christened the new kitchen the other night by cooking a tasty, improvised (and fairly easy) tilapia dish. I don’t have pictures, but I can give you a rough idea of the recipe and promise you that it is good. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking dish with olive oil and put four tilapia pieces in it. Season both sides with salt, freshly ground black pepper and parsley. Then, squirt the juice of one lemon over the fish and then pepper it with capers. Bake for 15 minutes and serve with a green salad. Next recipe I post will have pictures and specific steps and all the other things that make blog posts worth a damn. For now, just take my word on this, try it, and let me know what you think.


Two blogs I enjoy right now:

* Amy Haimerl’s The Detroit House: Amy is a business journalist. Her husband is a jazz pianist. They bought a big old house with a great history and are trying to renovate it without killing each other. She’s writing about the experience with great humor and transparency, all against the backdrop of a city that is undergoing a renovation of its own. Great story here. You should check it out.

* Katherine McCoy’s Paleo Living in the Crescent City: Katherine is a marketing professional in New Orleans and a former swimmer for Tulane. Part of the fun of her blog is watching how she tries to pursue this healthy, paleo lifestyle in a city where indulgence is always just around the corner. Her discipline is amazing and her dog Pearl is super-cute.


I’ll leave you with this view from my new backyard:


Georges Melies

Posted on October 25, 2012

Last night I finally got around to watching “Hugo”, the Martin Scorsese film based on the Brian Selznick novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.” Hugo is a 12-year-old orphan boy who lives in the Montparnasse train station, where he keeps all its clocks running smoothly. In the urchin’s spare time, he repairs a broken wind-up man that his father found. Stealing odds and ends that could mend this mechanical person, Hugo is nabbed by a toy store owner in the train station who asks him to empty his pockets and hand over the contents. Outside of the wheels and gears and springs Hugo has collected, there is a notebook that used to belong to his father. In the notebook are sketches of the wind-up man and ideas on how to fix him. The toy store owner leafs through the pages and becomes disturbed by what he sees, taking the notebook and threatening to burn it.

Why the fuss? Turns out the toy store owner is the real-life filmmaker Georges Melies, who had been forgotten by the French by the time this movie takes place. Melies, the son of a shoemaker, was known as an innovator in his prime, using special effects, hand-colored frames and dream-like sequences in his work. But as his works got more ambitious, the French got preoccupied with other things — like World War I — and so he went bankrupt and faded into obscurity. Hugo’s efforts to fix the wind-up man heal Melies too and the film ends with a moving retrospective of his work.

Filmed in 3D and gorgeous, the movie won 5 Academy Awards. Here’s a scene from the film:

The Alliance Francaise d’Atlanta is honoring Melies with a showing of some of his films. For more information, or to donate, please visit Power To Give for a more detailed description of this very special project.

Tiny Beautiful Things

Posted on October 22, 2012

dearsugarFor the past couple of years, all I’ve heard is “Cheryl Strayed, Cheryl Strayed, Cheryl Strayed. You, of all people, should read Cheryl Strayed.” I haven’t been able to read Cheryl Strayed, because I’ve been busy reading David Pinkney, Theodore Zeldin, Eugen Weber and (insert other French historians’ names here).

Now that I’m not reading these French historical titans at such a breakneck pace, I read Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar over the weekend and would like to take this moment to bow down to a master.

(Bows down).

For those who have been either under a rock or laboring through graduate school (ahem), Strayed is the New York Times-bestselling author of Wild, her memoir of a life-changing hike she took after her mother’s death  (Ed note: I’m reading that next). Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of the once-anonymous “Dear Sugar” advice columns she wrote for the online magazine The Rumpus. The columns, noted for their out-of-this-world literary flair (each reply is a gorgeous short story in and of itself), hard-earned wisdom, humor and tell-it-to-me-straight advice gained a cult following. After spending the past few days transfixed by them (even reading some of them aloud to my husband) it’s little wonder why they did.

Yes, I laughed. I cried. The columns became a part of me.

I even studied their structure.

Less than a decade after Elizabeth Gilbert ate, prayed and loved her way around the world (thanks in no small part to a publisher’s advance), Strayed is telling people not to run away from their problems in search of an ever-elusive truth, but to face down their troubles and deal with them like big girls and boys. She is at turns tender, tough and hilarious, offering her readers a

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In The Pleasure Groove

Posted on October 18, 2012

itpg Nigel John Taylor grew up as a shy only child in working class Birmingham, England. It was the 1960s. His father harbored deep, dark secrets from World War II and poured his heart into working on his car. His mother, who couldn’t drive at all, walked her bespectacled lad to church five days a week. That self-same lad was not a jock, not cool and not sure about what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Then the seventies came. When Nigel saw British pop band Roxy Music on television, it was his moon landing. By the end of that decade, he had a best friend named Nick Bates (later Nick Rhodes) who shared his love of music and dream of starting a band. Together they would form Duran Duran, a pop-funk-new wave quintet named after the villain in the futuristic 1968 film “Barbarella.” The band — consisting of keyboardist Rhodes, frontman Simon Le Bon, drummer Roger Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor and bassist Nigel (who was going by the more rock-n-roll “John” by then) — became the biggest band of the 1980s. Their music was catchy, their videos were decadent, their looks were pin-up boy fabulous.

They made a lot of teenaged girls scream.

I was one of those girls.

Taylor’s much-anticipated memoir In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death and Duran Duran came out this Tuesday and I finished it in less than a day. The story, co-written with freelance writer Tom Sykes, is an engaging look at Taylor’s extraordinarily blessed life, which was rooted in the Catholic Church, then the pop music and new wave fashion of the 1970s before rock-n-roll superstardom took him on a wild ride around the globe. In some respects, the story is a conventional “nothing could have prepared me for this” tale, one full of screaming teens rifling through his trash, lines of coke snorted through rolled-up $100 bills, more apartments than he could afford and eventual disillusionment with the business aspects of the band that made him a such a fixture on MTV in the early 1980s. But in other respects, it’s a wonderful look at Taylor’s life, the musical and fashion influences that shaped Duran Duran, the creative opportunities that unfolded because of Duran’s success (i.e. the Bond theme “A View To A Kill,” side projects such as Arcadia and Power Station and involvement in Bob Geldof’s Live Aid), and Taylor’s rocky journey away from addiction. His is a redemptive story, which ends with a stronger and better Duran Duran and a healthier, more grounded Taylor who is able to balance the demands of fame and family life.

“The music never sounded better,” he writes.

And Taylor’s book couldn’t have been a better read.

To close, here’s Duran Duran’s Hyde Park performance from the London Olympics. What better way to show off J.T.’s bass magic than “Rio”:

Eugene Atget

Posted on October 17, 2012

atgeteclipseEugene Atget was a late 19th and early 20th century photographer in Paris. He’s interesting to me because he captured scenes of the old city (winding cobblestone streets, small tradesmen, basic daily living) at a time when it was slowly being demolished and replaced with something new (grand boulevards, colossal department stores and the like). For all the reading I’ve done about that time period, these pictures bring the City of Light to life for me in an entirely different way, giving it a slower, sweeter pace than I’d find in an account of Haussmann’s reconstruction, a tale of the bloody Commune, or a glitzy recap about opening night at the Palais Garnier.


Atget’s technique was interesting to artists such as Man Ray, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, all of whom championed his work.  He took his pictures with a long exposure, which gave his snapshots an unusual depth. So in the shop window pictured above, you not only get the suits and the mannequins, but the reflection from the trees and buildings outside and a feel for the big new avenues that sliced through the city. organgrinderThe old was still there, if you looked for it. Atget looked for it, and preserved what he could. And as a nostalgia dork, I can appreciate that he tried to capture as much of the city’s vintage charms before they faded away.

Herbert Lom Dies

Posted on September 27, 2012

Herbert Lom, the Czechoslovakian actor known for playing Inspector Clouseau’s twitchy boss in the “Pink Panther” movies, died today in London at age 95. Although Lom also played Napoleon Bonaparte and the Phantom of the Opera, and wrote two historical novels, he is best known for his role as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who was driven crazy by Clouseau. Above is a collection of some of his finest Dreyfus moments, among them, his twitch, his maniacal giggle, and his respective run-ins with a guillotine cigar cutter and letter opener. “Give me ten men like Clouseau and I could destroy the world,” Lom once said. Give us Lom in seven “Pink Panther” movies and we’ll have no shortage of laughs.

Some articles about Herbert Lom and links to his books:

The New York Times: Herbert Lom, Frustrated Boss of Inspector Clouseau, Dies at 95

TIME: “Pink Panther” Actor Herbert Lom Dead at 95 Dr. Guillotine: The Eccentric Exploits of an Early Scientist; Enter A Spy: The Double Life of Christopher Marlowe


Posted on April 19, 2012


I have to hand it to Instagram. Their camera function is pretty good, so good that I can see I need to weed this spot where my bean plants are beginning to sprout. Peas are sprouting too. So are two different varieties of cucumbers. Tomatoes are bursting on the vine. Bell peppers are beginning to emerge. Things are starting to get interesting in my backyard plot.

Knock wood.

Five years ago, I had the power to destroy any seed I planted. These are different times. When you take the time to tend to something, to really love it and nurture it, it grows and flourishes.

I’m not necessarily talking about beans, either…


Posted on April 15, 2012


Once upon a time, a friend of mine made a small fortune off selling Titanic-related shirts that said something like “It sank. Get Over It.” As evidenced by recent news coverage, television retrospectives and James Cameron’s re-release of “Titanic” in 3D, few people have gotten over the fact that the Titanic sank 100 years ago today. It’s a story that involves mind-boggling sums of money and human interest and tragedy (and so many other little kaleidoscopic shards). If you can disassociate the tale from the maddening Celine Dion tune that will be forever linked with it (and good luck with that, by the way), it is likely that you will find at least one of the many threads in this story fascinating.

When I began graduate school two years ago, I had a first semester project that involved reading at least two British newspapers from a specific month and year and crafting a story from the reports and ads that I saw. My assignment was April 1912. It did not take long for me to see the goldmine that resided in that particular month and year.

Per my paper, the story begins like this:

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Farm to Table

Posted on October 28, 2011

There is farm to table.

And then there is farm to a table at which I was not seated.

I say that in jest, of course. I am always happy to write for Palm Beach Illustrated when they’ll have me, especially because they gave me one of my first big breaks as a freelance writer. Besides, the article below was a nice, light detour from my graduate studies.

The assignment: Write about a July 4th party in the ultra-chic Hamptons for November publication without actually attending the to-do. This feat is not unlike writing about a 19th century architect I’ve never met (my thesis topic), all the while explaining the social, political, economic and cultural factors that I didn’t experience, but which contributed to the man’s rise.

It can be done. Fortunately for me, jewelry designer Michelle Farmer hosted the party and graciously consented to pre- and post-party interviews. Farmer not only answered my nit-picky questions in detail, but forwarded me pictures and menus, responded to my neurotic follow-up emails and put me in touch with additional people (among them, God-like party planner Jeff Fowler) who could talk about how wonderful the evening was.

I don’t know if my words do the night justice, but the pictures seem to indicate that it was a dreamy affair.

See for yourself here: Gaga_Evening