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Surprisingly, dear readers and Damn France Book followers (as far as you have been hanging in here on this blog with me during the composition of my damn France book) we seem to have like-minded amigos in the land of the tsars.

The Russians have bought the rights to my book!  Le Road Trip is going to be published in Moscow!

The National Geographic Traveler magazine has a mention of Le Road Trip in its current issue:

Vivian Swift’s Le Road Trip is both the true story of an idyllic French honeymoon that winds from Paris through Normandy, Brittany, Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, and Chartres, and an illustrated road-trip handbook on topics ranging from “How to Vagabond” to “What to Wear in Paris.”

The good people at France Magazine have a lot more to say:

Veteran globetrotter Swift set out to chronicle her French honeymoon but ended up penning a quirky love letter to travel filled with cultural, historical and literary references. Delightful watercolors illustrate this wide-ranging field guide, which offers hilarious travel survival tips for every clime as well as ruminations on subjects as varied as Parisian windows, Breton sailor-stripe shirts, and lettuce (not to mention a highly idiosyncratic A-to-Z on vagabonding in the Bordeaux region).

Nerves.

If you had the idea that I’m basking in such kind words and good news about my book…you could not be more wrong. I’m all nerves, trying to keep the flop sweats at bay. Pub date is next week…this could be the end of my career.

This habit of snatching depression from the jaws of glad tidings feels so natural, so familiar. So RUSSIAN. My people!

Well, it wouldn’t be so bad to keep  Moscow time (eight hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Savings Time), counting down the hours until I see Le Road Trip printed in cyrillic. Chjome to think of it, in Moscow, it’s already Friday night. Friday night!

I have some crying in my vodka to catch up with!

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Actual scene, actually seen by me. A pink-icinged donut, waiting by the side of a mail box.

When the world gets too weird, I go to the place where everything makes sense.

I go to Ikea.

Specifically, I go to the Ikea House, the 600-square-foot fake home that my local Ikea has installed on its main floor as an example of the pristine Ikea lifestyle.

It’s like walking into a vision of domestic perfection where there’s a place for everything and, most importantly, everything is in its place.

Clean lines, blond woods, small-scale sense of what it takes to be complete.

This (above) would be my work room. I would thrive in such simplicity. I can see me having only one thought at a time here, no room for conflicting or competing ideas, no debris from non-sensical or overly-complicated notions about life, art, self, or DoG. I could be pure in this room.

I find great comfort in imagining my life in the Ikea House, limiting my intellectual and emotional baggage to just what I could stash into Scandinavian closet space.

Ahhhh…the only thing better than a 600-square-foot Ikea House would be this: 

The 315-square-foot Ikea Apartment.

If you here tell of a someone taking up residence in the showroom of the Hicksville Ikea on Long Island, that will be me.

 

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Things around here were getting so boring. So I had to go thrift shopping.

I do loves me a good Salvation Army Thrift Store.

Especially when there are so many thought-provoking objects on display.

Are these chairs supposed to be faux-pony or faux-Holstein?

Better yet, they swivel, too. Oh, dear faux-pony/Holstein chairs, why were you forsaken unto the Salvation Army thrift Shop? Did the lady of the house change the decor from hipster-faux-hipster to wretchedly-sincere? And wouldn’t you have made the transition just fine if given half a chance? Oh, dear faux-pony/Holstein chairs, the world was not meant for ones as beautiful as youse.

And if ever there was a couch whose upholstry referenced Paul Klee, it’s this one:

Get it, Get it, Get it, the hamsters in my brain are shouting at me. Not to sit on. It doesn’t look as if providing a comfy seat is one of the priorities of this piece of furniture. Just for looking at, and admiring my taste for acquiring it.

This was hard for me to pass up this…

…given my love of vintage Paint by Number art. But the mountains did not hint enough of Scotland, and there wasn’t a horse behind the fence, and the season wasn’t Fall. So I talked myself out of buying it.

It was also hard to not grab these immediately:

The season is right (Fall)…

…and the landmarks are iconic (Sacre Coeur)…

…and the weird geography is wondrously dreamlike (The Arc de Triomphe does not have a sidewalk full of cafes running anywhere near it).

But the set was over priced at $23.00 and I can not, can not, can not start collecting ironic French stuff becauseI’m trying to live a de-cluttered life . So I paid no attention to the hamsters in my brain, paid no attention to the hamsters in my brain, etc.

Except when the hamsters went go crazy for this:

Somebody loved this little dog statue very, very much. It’s  eight inches tall, and made of ceramic from a company called Tilso (the label on the base also says “Handpainted – Japan”).

I know that this little object was beloved because for one, it was spotlessly clean. Usuallywhen a piece as old as this turns up at a thrift shop it’s coated in a film of grease and grime from having been overlooked in an old person’s house for decades. But no, this little dog had been cleaned regularly, so someone loved it very much.

Also, there was nary a chip of the most vulnerable bits — the flower petal and the ear tips were in tact, another indication that someone cared deeply about this object and protected it. Probably gave it the place of honor somewhere in the living room, or boudoir.

I don’t find this dog particularly cute but I could not bear to see it languish in the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, where it might get brushed off its perch by a passer-by or shoved against the old lamp next to it, shipped or cracked or smashed, an ignoble end after all those years it spent as an object of desire.

So for $6.00 I rescued this little dog, and until I can find an obsessive collector of Tilso knick-knackery, it will have a good home with Top Cat and me.

I also brought home another piece de resistance.

No, not the groovy vintage floor-length Summer frock:

I found a hand-sewn fully reversible jacket, made of a pomegranate-toned batik material on one side:

And a very 1980s patchwork purple corduroy on the other:

 

You can’t tell from these photos, but this jacket is beautifully made. Someone went to a lot of trouble to sew this.

Oh, dear wearable art project of unknown provenance, why were you forsaken unto the Salvation Army thrift Shop? Did someone not wear you to the big Duran Duran concert after all?  Did you get pushed to the back of the closet when grunge became all the rage? Or was your exuberant sense of style too embarrassing when your owner went goth?

If only corduroy could talk.

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The snow started after dark, in the wee hours of Saturday morning. So by the time we woke up we had FINALLY a blanket of Winter White to celebrate.

Our bird feeder has small perches and low feeding windows, so it’s best suited for small birds like these.

FINALLY one smart Jay figured out how to FINALLY swing it so that he could fit his huge butt onto this itty bitty feeder for small birdies:

I LOVE this guy, hanging from his toes to dip into the feed bag here. I was laughing as I took these pictures from the other side of the picture window in the den, and I’m sure that the Jay heard me. Because he gave me the hairy eyeball:

Well, he must have taken offense because he then turned his back on me.

Heart.      Be.      Still.

This is usually called The Money Shot.

I call the Blue Jay Map, because here are all the feathers that I lust after. Here, on the bird, are the heart-breakingly gorgeous tail feathers and the stunningly beautiful flight feathers that I collect and treasure.

Here is your own Blue Jay Map:

But this delicious Winter Day wasn’t all about birds.  We had plenty of other critters hanging out in the backyard on this fine snowy day.

Miss Candy was out and about, pawing her delicate way around the new fallen snow.

While her boy, Taffy, was leaping and hopping, frisking after snowflakes and jumping into small drifts.

He tried to get Dudley to share in the fun, but Duds wasn’t having it.

Although it looked to me that Duds was certainly enjoying the snowfall in his own contemplative, birdie-wishing way.

But enough with the birds and the felines!

I know what you’re all really interested in on this first and perhaps only Snow Day of Winter 2012.

You want to get to the Champagne-O-Meter.

It looked like this  at 8 o’clock in the AM.

By 10 o’clock another half inch of snow had fallen, but the weather was just about to change to wind-driven sleet.

Conditions remained cold, but wet, throughout the rest of the day.

Shortly before dusk, I took one last measurement and determinded that the snow had ended and the Champagne-O-Meter could be put to better  use.

And then it was time to add the last ingredient to my recipe for a perfect Winter day:

Take your Champagne-O-Meter, add one Top Cat (or the True Love of your choice).

Add roaring fire and a Frank Sinatra CD playing in the background.

Perfect end to a perfect Winter day.

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Yo. Taffy and Lickety.

I know youse guys. The only reason you two stare like that is when there’s a big scary bug in the kitchen. Or a big scary bug in the livingroom. But you’re out on the back patio, for christ sake.  What on earth can you two nimrods be so engrossed with?

Oh. Wait. You’re staring at the hole in the wall that Top Cat made as your Winter Access to all those warm kitty beds and three squares in the basement. Oh jeeze. don’t tell me….

 

Right. It’s not a bug. Definitely not a bug.

Yo. Taffy and Lickety: that poor opossum will never come out of the basement if you two geniuses are perched to pounce. Get in the house immediately. Don’t pretend you don’t hear me! Don’t pretend you don’t know what your names are! GET IN HERE!

OK. Here’s some of your favorite Friskies. Here kitty kitty, he….oh! You’re here!  That was fast!

Now let’s just let Possy come out in his own sweet time.

OK, guys. It’s safe to let you outside. But listen to me. I want you two back here for dinner, you got that? Taffy? Lickety? Your’e listening, right? I’m letting you out again but you have ha…oh! You’re gone!  That was fast!

THREE HOURS LATER

YO! Taffy! Lickety! Get in here! It’s time for dinner and it’s getting cold! 

Hey! Listen to me: I don’t care if your Mama cat doesn’t want to come near me because she’s never really warmed up to me even after four years,  I’ll put her dinner out on the front patio like I always do, but you know how I like to have my Baby Hobos inside when it gets dark, right? So you’ll come in, right?

Guys? Guys? Are you listening? Or are you going to keep giving your Mama cat kisses even though I’m standing RIGHT HERE and I’m begging you two to come in the house?

Well, this was my plan all along, that you two would give me that sweet kitty look and I would end up serving you all  dinner on a silver [aluminum] platter so ha ha; joke’s on you.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

It’s not like my whole life revolves around cats, or that I bust holes in perfectly good walls to make cat doors, or put up with the occasional ‘possum because of you, or spend my days watching or catering or blogging about cats.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

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Solstice Day dawned clear and dry here on the shores of the Long Island Sound. A good day to make our annual pilgrimmage to the south shore of the Sound, and say our thanks to the great DoG for this wonderful Season of Light.

We drove to our favorite spot on the North Shore of Long Island and on the way, we passed this bit of graffiti. Note to self: Find Out What’s Up With That.

( I did call the guy who owns this building, a marble import buisness on a busy main road here on the North Shore of Long Island. I asked him “Do you know what that means?” His exact words were, “I haven’t gotten to the bottom of that yet”.)

Back to the pilgrimage to Praise the Solstice.

We arrived on our sweet Solstice beach around 3:45 PM. Top Cat opened a bottle of champagne, and I tossed bits of pretzel into the air for the sea gulls.

 

Our Long Island gulls seemed pensive, basking in the rosy glow of the fading daylight. 

They also seemed to enjoy spreading their wings to gather up the heavy golden motes of light that were glowing everywhere.

I know the feeling.

I know the feeling.

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I’m writing this on Thursday, Dec. 22, the first day of Winter. So you know what that means:

Welcome to the Halcyon Days!

What’s the Halcyon Days, you ask?

Halcyon is a name for a bird of Greek legend which is commonly associated with the kingfisher. The phrase comes from the ancient belief that fourteen days of calm weather were to be expected around the winter solstice—as that was when the halcyon calmed the surface of the sea in order to brood her eggs on a floating nest.

OK. Maybe it’s too much to expect whole days of Halcyon this holiday season. Well then, how about a moment of Halcyon, here and there?

And that was the idea behind my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card this year, which I call:

All is calm. All is bright.

 

There was another component to my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card this year, a message that I put on the inside to remind you all to Go Easy in 2012:

Some of you may recognize this is my little joke on the very famous poster from WWII England:

What is ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’?

Right. Pay attention at the back, and no slouching.

Keep Calm and Carry On was the third in a series of World War II posters drawn up by the UK Ministry of Information in order to boost the morale of the British people by passing on a message from King George VI. The posters were a stark white text on a red background, with the only image on the poster being the royal crown of George VI.

The first two posters, “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory” and “Freedom is in Peril” were widely printed and distributed. However, the third poster, which carried the simple message “Keep Calm and Carry On” although printed, was never distributed, as it was intended only if invasion was imminent.

At the end of the war, the posters were collected up and pulped. It is believed that only two original posters out of a print run of over a million survive to this day.

The story would have ended there were it not for Stuart and Mary Manley, who run a bookshop called Barter Booksin Northumberland. (Yay bookstores!) Whilst sorting through a box of old books, they found one of the few surviving original copies of the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster. They liked it so much that they had the poster framed and placed near the till in their shop.

They soon found that customers were very keen on the poster – even to the point of asking if they could buy it! So, Stuart and Mary started selling and printing facsimilie copies of the poster. The rest, as they say, is history…

In the nine years since 2000 the poster has become world famous, having been mentioned in news articles, on TV and having been seen in many disparate places from country pubs to the Houses of Parliament.

The preceding text was brought to you courtesy of a website, where I also got my “Shine On” poster:

http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/

Have a great Holiday, everyone. Go dance by the light of your ChrisHanuKwanSolstice dream.

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It only cost $30 to get a ticket (time-stamped) to see Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels on display at Christie’s auction house in Manhattan. That’s a lot of money for an entrance fee, and for a nanosecond I hesitated. Then my common sense kicked in and I happily shelled out the smackers for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see some legendary bijoux.

The place was mobbed. Lines were out the door. This never happens in an ordinary sale.

I skipped the handbags and the shoes on display, and I moseyed through the dresses on view (they were wonderful), but I came for the jewels.

I came for this:

The  brooch that Ms. Taylor bought in 1987 from the estate of the Duchess of Windsor. It’s the three plumes of the Prince of Wales, and of course since Richard Burton was Welsh well, you know, Ms. Liz had to have it. She paid $565,000 for it, and it’s now estimated at $400-$600,000. It will go for at least twice that. By the way, it looks HUGE in person.

Mike Todd gave her this tiara:

From what I overheard, most of the ladies only wanted to see stuff that Richard Burton had given Ms. Liz, like this Bulgari emerald necklace:

And the 33-carat diamond ring, which used to be called the Krupp Diamond but is now the Taylor-Burton diamond. In person, this stone doesn’t look all that huge. It’s BIG, but not paper-weight sized. They must have got a small hand-model for this shot:

‘I wanted to see the Taj Mahal Diamond that Burton gave Ms. Liz just after she became a grandmother at age 40:

But the thing I MOST wanted to see was the Peregrina Pearl, the natural pearl found in the 16th century in Panamanian waters by Spanish conquistadors:

That’s a Cartier necklace that Ms. Liz commissioned in  the 1980s — it’s ugly, but does not diminish the presence of The Pearl — which is HUGE in person (much biggger  than I expected it to be):

The very first piece of writing that I ever got published was an article about the history of the Peregrina that I wrote for a fine little antique jewelry magazine in 1993. So the Peregrina looms large in my legend, and I’ve waited lo these many years to SEE it.

I’ve known it only from photographs:

And from paintings of its original  owner:

Mary Tudor .

The pearl was put  up for auction by an aristocratic English family in 1969 in New York, where Richard Burton bought it for $37,000 amidst much controversy. Some titled Spanish lady claimed that she had  the Peregrina, which she didn’t; and when her ruse was revealed there was some clamour that a Hollywood tart shouldn’t be able to own a Spanish crown jewel.

In my opinion, Ms. Liz had much more class than all the Spanish queens put together, who were for the most part a rough bunch.

The Peregrina is estimated to go for $2-3 million. I will bet right now that it goes for closer to 5, and I hope against hope that it stays in sight in the Western world, and doesn’t disappear into the Middle East.

**** The Peregrina sold for $11,842,500, the highest price ever paid for a pearl at auction. It was the top lot of the entire sale; no word on the identity of its new owner.

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Ah, the color of memories.

Remember the warm rosy glow of those lingering Summer twilights?

Well, there’s a new ray of light in town.

Last weekend I bundled up and bustled out to the local stately mansion (the deserted old manor house of the renowned American man of lettres, William Cullen  Bryant) to catch the very last gasp of Autumn.

Instead of a warm rosey glow, there was only a wan pearly greyness. The color that flooded the eyes didn’t come from the light:

I need this infusion o fjoie to my vivre. I’ve had one of those weeks. The kind of week when you have a small package that you need to take to the post office on Monday, and it takes you until Thursday to get there.

It’s been one of those  weeks when the news is even more depressing than usual. The cops raided Occupy Wall Street in the middle off the night and trashed the whole enterprise, including the OWS Library. What a dick move, NYPD.

It’s been the week that I noticed that the Japanese Dogwood tree in the backyard was hitting its peak Fall leafage.

And then, the next day, it rained, the kind of November rain that wipes out the peak Fall leafage all around the world, and our dogwood tree looked like this:

Good-bye, Fall of 2011.

 

 

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It began in the middle of Saturday morning. A heavy, cold, fat rain pelting down with bits of snow-slush stuff that began to accumulate on the ground. That’s what the freak Northeastern snow storm of October 29 looked like here on the north shore of Long Island.

Yes. Snow. And most of our trees haven’t even started to turn color yet. It still looks like late Summer out there. 

It was an ignoble end to my brave and courageous cosmos.

I had a late morning dentist appointment in Sea Cliff (for those who are keeping score, this was two Saturdays in a row) and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go visit the Sea Cliff Library.

The library is smack in the middle of town, in the old Methodist, or Presbyterian church. I ave already forgotten which. But it was Protestant.

This was my first visit here, and I couldn’t help but let out a little “Ooooo” of appreciation upon seeing the churchie details still intact.

I pulled out my camera and started to take photos. The librarian looked at me and said one word : “Architect?”

I replied with one word, in an apologetic tone: “Illustrator.”

I want to live here, in this church-windowed corner.

While I roamed, I overheard a grown woman ask the librarian:”Are all novels fiction?”

“Yes,” she was told

“But aren’t there true-life novels?” she asked. “No,” the librarian said: “That’s narrative non-fiction.”

The woman persisted: “But not all short stories are fiction, right?” she asked, “Because aren’t some true books written as short stories?”

“No,” the librarian said. “If a non-fiction book is written in short chapters or in a series of essays, that’s an episodic devise of the narrative. But it’s still non-fiction.”

“Oh,” she said. “OK.”  But she didn’t sound convinced.

That hole in the ceiling is from the lengthy investigation going on in the 100-year old Sea Cliff Library to find out where the rook leaks. They’ve been looking for the source of the leak for about three months.

I know government work when I see it.

Now I’m wondering about the life of a librarian. I used to be envious —  they work with books! In a workplace with no non-stop background music! And with very few other people1

Now, I kind of feel sorry for them.

 

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