Two flights to Europe in a month –– one to London, one to Rome, plus a weekend in Muskoka –– is forcing me to perfect my packing skills. Jason tends to carry a bag of his own, while I pack myself and the three children into another. Luma’s clothes fold to the size of a wash cloth, and our summer clothes, mostly cotton and rollable, don’t take up much room either. As always, it’s the shoes that pose a challenge, with Iole wanting to bring at least four pairs, and her mother wanting to do the same. We come to a compromise, and pack two pairs each, with one to travel in. If I consider our outfits for the week/weekend ahead, I can even cram us all into a Longchamp. One thing I never do is pack straight into the suitcase. Instead, I make piles on the bed or the floor, and do all my editing there. If I am not absolutely sure about something (that top is tight in Toronto, why would it fit in Tuscany?) I send it back to my cupboard. And here’s the order I pack: shoes first, and washbags –– both packed inside a cloth bag which I use as a laundry bag/diaper bag once we’re away. Accessories come next, then swimwear and underwear in fabric bags. I then pack each child so I can easily access their pile at the other end, and finish with my own things (fold it, roll it) on the top. And while I always travel with my own cosmetics, I’ve had too many sticky explosions to dare to travel with kid’s toothpaste again. So, I tend to pick up a shampoo and sunscreen at a local pharmacy at the other end, and leave it behind when we’re done. Wasteful, but worth it. And I always leave a little room for travelling indulgences. In Italy’s case, I may even bring a spare pliage. Because, how will I resist freshly pressed olive oil, Santa Maria Novella creams and teacups from Ceramiche Toscane the size of la bella luna?
If money was no object, I’d cover my walls in Matisse, Klee, Delaunay and Dufy and catch glimpses of colours I never even knew existed every day. But when such colour kings are out of our price range, we look for other ways to bring texture, tangerine and delight to our walls. Places like the Conran Shop sells baskets like these for a pretty penny, but if you scavenge, I bet you’ll find them elsewhere for cheap as chips. A wall of them, arranged any which way you like, would have all the shapes, colour and contrast of a masterpiece.
At school, swimming caps were mandatory, and we hated them. It didn’t matter how much talc we poured in, they were always such a pain to peel on and off. I heard a similar lament this morning from a woman who grew up in the 60s who said that while her latex cap was pretty to look at (a psychedelic flower print) it was always so painful “especially when my Mom pulled it off my head, pulling my hair out with it.” When men started sporting long hair and ponytails, she said, and still swam without a cap, women decided they could do the same. “If men didn’t have to wear swim caps, neither should we.” Of course these days, they’ve come full circle, with caps making a splash once again. Only this time around, it’s purely aesthetic.
When we were children, my parents had a wonderful Danish cook named Christa. Other than rugbrød, (a sourdough rye bread) which she made from scratch, there was nothing Nordic about her cooking. Instead, she prepared quintessentially English dishes like Shepherd’s Pie and roast beef with all the trimmings. Her Yorkshire puddings were the best I have ever tasted, all soft and pillowy and covered in homemade gravy. And her wafer thin lemony Dover Sole was perfectly crispy along the edges, and served with boiled potatoes smothered in butter and salt. For the lamb, she made her own mint sauce, although we mostly preferred jelly from the jar. Christa’s repertoire was not vast, but whatever she cooked was excellent. At tea time, she prepared fruit cake and coconut squares and shortbread topped with a slither of maraschino cherry. And on birthdays, she made elaborate cakes in the shape of fairy castles and football pitches. I don’t remember Christa smiling much, and she rarely showed us any affection, but she certainly poured love into our food. And to this day, I have yet to eat a traditional British Sunday roast quite like hers.
It takes guts to don a topper. And I’m not talking about baseball caps or floppy fedoras. I mean an objet d’art du tête. On the patio at Terroni yesterday, I met a woman in her late 70s sporting a classic straw cap sent over the edge by a huge black straw pompom. “You look fabulous,” I told her. She wore the hat with such insouciance and confidence, and was genuinely delighted (surprised, even) by my compliment. I think we reach a certain age/stage in our lives when humour and chutzpah trumps trends, and when noshing on tagliatelle with a giant pompom on our heads is the new fabulous norm.
Cairo’s Egyptian Museum is as chaotic, dusty and beautiful as the city it’s built in. With it’s dark, stuffy corridors (there’s no air conditioning) and cavernous rooms stuffed full of ancient coins, papyrus scrolls, antique scarab amulets, coffins, masks and votive statues, it’s an utterly unusual museum experience in that it feels so real and uncurated. It’s like someone’s given you the key to Egypt’s underbelly, opening doors to Pharaonic treasures like you’ve never seen. One day, I’d like to go back to Cairo, spend hours in the museum, and then sail the Nile dressed like Mia Farrow in Poirot.
Yesterday afternoon, as the rain came pouring down, Iole, Antimo and I took cover under Holt Renfrew’s large magenta awnings. Donald Robertson’s whimsical windows were a whack of high voltage colour on a grey day. Unless it’s a collaboration with a big name like Robertson, we rarely know the artists behind window displays. At Harvey Nichols, it’s Janet Wardley who spearheads the store’s wildly creative, head-turning displays. From magical fairy-tales and forests to circuses, air balloons and dinosaurs, standing on the south east corner of the Knightsbridge and Sloane Street always feels like a front row seat at the theatre. The windows at Bergdorf Goodman are equally sensational. I can’t visit New York without going to see what David Hoey has created for the season. The man’s a creative genius. “Opening a window is a bit like a premiere,” he told the Daily Beast. “We try to get people’s attention by putting on a show. You have to do all sorts of things to make a stream of pedestrians into an audience. It’s extremely ephemeral. It’s very of the moment.” Here in Toronto, there’s one window that never fails to stop me in my tracks. I’m not sure if Kalpna Patel is still behind all the displays at Type Books, but I’m a big fan of her eye-popping style. And as Wardley said in a Q & A for Retail Focus, you don’t need a large budget to create effective displays. “The budget at Harvey Nichols is surprisingly small and mostly we work with easily obtainable materials. It is the idea, the skills of the builders and dressers, and keeping true to the idea that makes a scheme work.”
La Parachute is going on holiday. Mermaids love the sea, it’s true, but the closest we’ll be getting to water is the River Thames. And if you love London like I do, there are few rivers lovelier. My mother’s flat is a skip and a hop away from the embankment, inside a mansion block that used to be a theatre in the 1800s. It’s got one of those ancient, ornate lifts, that Iole and Antimo love to ride up and down in. The views from her windows are just lovely –– old Chelsea homes surrounded by green and trees and climbing flowers. Battersea park, with it’s big peace pagoda, farm animals, tennis courts and charming old bandstand, is less than ten minutes away. Even closer than the park, is the beautiful Chelsea Physics Gardens, a secret walled garden of eclectic plants and herbs from all corners of the globe. It’s the best place for children to eat scotch eggs and cake for lunch and run around ’till their little legs turn to jelly. Maybe this time, we’ll be proper tourists and ride the river bus, too.
Anything I know about Eva Perón, I learned from Madonna. It was 1997 when the film came out, and my friend Zelmira and I were living in Florence. We’d found a small cinema, inside a 15th-century palazzo near Piazza della Repubblica that played English films, and that’s where we watched Evita. The seats were upholstered in a gold velvet, not unlike Madonna’s opulent Parisian gowns. Her wardrobe in the film was exquisite. In terms of favourite movie closets, hers (alongside Rachel Mcadams‘ in The Notebook and Cate Blanchett in Cinderella) tops my list. Long after the film credits rolled, Zelmira and I sang the songs –– another suitcase, in another hall –– ad nauseam. The other day, I heard a song playing with a similar melody. And as I walked on, I couldn’t help it, another suitcase in another hall.
Sometimes I imagine buying a pair of shoes exclusively for the indoors. They’d be beautiful, and decadent, and just a little bit ridiculous. I’d wear them around the house, and never, not once, would they step foot outside. They’d be saved the pain of hard pavements, the splatter of rain, and the flecks of dirt, dust and grime, and after twenty-years they’d still look nearly new. It’s such a lovely thought, isn’t it? Beautiful shoes, pristine forever. But what if our faces never saw the sun? And what if Rapunzel never escaped her castle? Yes indeed, indoor shoes are a lovely idea, but shoes are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do.