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Once Upon a Dreamboat

Elusive composers, meeting deadlines, librarian love, perfume madness, and more.

Paige Bowers
Paige Bowers
7 min read
Once Upon a Dreamboat
Photo: Disney Films

Once upon a time I took Michelle to the symphony. It was her first time, and I wasn’t sure if she’d like it because she and I have a habit of seeing Duran Duran as much as possible. One year we saw Duran Duran three times, which was amazing. Another year, she and I went to see Madonna and then I started bawling during “Crazy for You.” because it reminded me of a high school dance where I had to suffer through seeing my crush dance with someone who was not me. True story. And so totally wild how those memories of existential angst and heartbreak came out of nowhere more than a decade after the fact.

These things happen, you know.

And Michelle and I still laugh about it, because that moment was the height of dumb.

So...last fall I took Michelle to the symphony for the first time, and much to everyone’s good fortune, the world’s sexiest harp player (Google it. His picture will come up) was the guest musician. When he walked onstage, women and men audibly gasped because he was so beautiful. It was hard to remain calm, cool, and collected in his presence. Apparently, sexy harp guy (SHG) knows he has this effect on people. He once told an interviewer that he didn’t care, as long as people developed an appreciation for harp music after hearing him play.

Done.

So intermission came, and with it, the end of SHG. During that pause, an older woman mentioned something about needing to buy some harp music to help her go to sleep at night because it is just so beautiful.

True to form, Michelle said “Really? Just the music is beautiful?” or something to that effect.

We still laugh about that too.

I had tickets to the ASO’s performance of Tchiakovsky’s Sleeping Beauty this past weekend, and I knew it was one of Michelle’s favorite pieces of classical music. I also knew SHG wouldn’t be there, but I felt like maybe Michelle’s experience was good enough the first time, that she could get past the aesthetics of the previous performance to join me for something so iconic. She said yes (hooray!!), and we got all dressed up for our classy (to a degree) girls’ night out.

The guest instrumentalist was a cellist, who played a piece called “Toute un monde lointain…” (A Whole Distant World…) by Henri Dutilleux. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of this composer. Though he is apparently believed to be one of the most brilliant composers of the 20th century, he had a problem: he didn't do deadlines. The Cleveland Orchestra wanted him to write a piece celebrating their 40th anniversary, which was in 1958. He didn’t finish it until 1964. The piece we heard this past Saturday took him ten years to write. It was stunning and moody and a little bit strange at times, but it was also layered and interesting.  

It got me wondering what his career and level of fame might have been like if he had only turned things in when people wanted him to do it. You know?

Moral to the story: Have fun with your people. Be silly, even. It’s so important. But also? Show up on time and meet those deadlines (unless you have a really good reason why you can’t).


Writing prompt: Is there something you've been putting off? If so, what is it and what is holding you back? What would make it easier for you to take the leap and do that thing?


Regina Anderson's Dream Haven

Photo: African American Registry

A hundred years ago, a Manhattan dinner party brought together talented Black creatives and White culture mavens with the goal of fostering more opportunities for Black culture. That night sparked the Harlem Renaissance, a robust period of Black creative activity, despite the indignities these creators faced due to Jim Crow. One of the little-known, but essential people in this moment, was Regina Anderson, who was one of the few Black librarians in the city. Her apartment was nicknamed the "Dream Haven" because it was where people workshopped their poems, got book recommendations, and could find a place to crash when times were tough. For more on this famous dinner party, and Anderson, check out this fascinating and well-researched piece that ran in the New York Times this week. So many personalities. So much culture. Such interesting history. You can also check out this gem about Anderson from Atlas Obscura.


Mad for scents

Photo: NYT

Would you wear a perfume that smells like a theater dressing room? What about one that smells like the herbs that Italian cows eat? Or how about spritzing yourself with a fragrance that smells like butter and oysters? Reading this fun profile about the so-called mad perfumer Hilde Soliani, reminded me of the time I went perfume shopping with a childhood friend of mine. I spritzed myself with something that was outside of my usual scent wheelhouse, pointed my wrist in her direction, and asked her something along the lines of: "Do you think this is me?" She looked at me and said: "I think the real question here is, do you think you can become it?" Years later, I brought this up with a perfumer at Le Labo in Paris, who told me that if we tried to become every perfume we sampled, we'd be in for real trouble.

Noted. Anyway, this story is about a woman and her chaotic, creative process. Now I'm curious to find and smell her creations. According to her website, you can get a sample set of five scents by emailing her your birthday, your favorite color and food, and your favorite picture. Not sure if that's a fraud risk waiting to happen, or whether to give it a go...


On collecting

Photo: New Yorker

I've always been interested in why people collect things. It doesn't matter what the thing is, but there's always some interesting story about how a person discovered the items that captivate them so, the thrill of chasing those things down and buying them, and what these bits and bobs, gathered over time say about their collector. This week, the New Yorker had this piece about Julien's Celebrity Auctions, the business that helped Kim Kardashian borrow Marilyn Monroe's slinky JFK birthday dress for the Met Gala, and sold Freddie Mercury's mustache comb for $200,000.

Per the story:

"Celebrity is an elusive and unstable form of currency. Reputations can change quickly: Barbara Walters’s estate sale, at Bonhams, netted millions less than the auction house had estimated; at Kirstie Alley’s recent estate auction, many objects didn’t meet their reserve prices. A lot of the objects that Julien’s sells are mass-produced, with little intrinsic value. “We’re more of a marketing company than anything,” Julien told me. By this reasoning, procuring the dress for Kardashian was worth it. It generated headlines, plus it shored up Monroe’s value for potential future bidders. “In a hundred years, the dress isn’t going to be—it’s a mesh, it’s going to be disintegrated,” Julien said. But, he added, of the dress’s appearance at the gala, “it was fun, and it introduced Marilyn to a whole new generation.”"

A question for the crowd: Do you have any collections of stuff? If so, what? How and why did you get started hunting these things down? What is your favorite piece in your collection and why? What do you have your eye on? I'd love to hear your story.


What I'm happy about: Another Atlanta United win over Orlando City. Another Giorgos Giakoumakis goal. Spring weather. Newly planted flowers. A nicely trimmed pixie 'do. And? The City of Little Rock proclaimed that March 28 will be Raye Jean Montague Day.

What I'm thinking about: The jerk chicken, rice and peas, and plantains I ate at Mercedes Benz Stadium on Sunday night. So good. Such a first-half food coma. But man, oh man, it was worth every bite.

What I might book sometime soon: A sleep vacation. According to the AJC, they're the next big travel trend.

Where I hope you'll make a donation this week: Chef Jose Andres' World Central Kitchen (WCK), which provides fresh meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises. WCK has been in Gaza for the past six months, providing desperately needed aid to the citizens there. During the month of Ramadan, a donation of $70 will send a food box of 50 meals to families in need. The goal is to send more than 92,000 boxes. For a limited time, all donations will be matched, which will double the impact of your pledge. So please, if you can, help these food first responders serve plates of hope.


Thank you for allowing me to visit your inbox each Friday with these tidbits. If you know someone who might enjoy this newsletter, please share it with them and encourage them to subscribe for free. Each week(ish), I'll be sharing an eclectic range of stories and so forth. Sometimes I'll throw in a little bit of writing advice, and answer whatever questions you may have. It's a work in progress, rooted in my passion for writing about history, people from all walks of life, and the various things that interest me. Having said that, please don't hesitate to reach out with any feedback or suggestions for other things you'd like to see here. I want this to be a little weekly treat full of things you might find interesting, entertaining, inspiring and maybe even helpful, too!

Womens History Monthatlanta unitedcreativitypunctualityatlanta symphony orchestralittle known peopleperfumewriting prompts

Paige Bowers

Paige Bowers is a journalist and the author of two biographies about bold, barrier-breaking women in history.

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