June 2018

 

On March 31 of this year, Helen Mirren told reporter Sebastian Shakespeare of  The Daily Mail : “I’ll tell you what I had done recently, which I love — I got my eyebrows tattooed.”

“I was fed up of my brows barely being there and when one of my girlfriends got it done, I thought that they looked great.

“They’re very lightly and delicately done — but it means that when I get up in the morning and I have no make-up on, at least I have eyebrows.

“It’s made a huge difference.”

For the record, this (see below) is what La Grande Dame, Her Highness Helen was talking about when she said her eyebrows were “barely there“:

Photo credit: Russell Clisby

Me and Helen, we have the same problem, eyebrow-wise:

Well, we all know how much everyone here in VivianWorld loves, adores, and aspires to be like Helen Mirren, She Who Can Do No Wrong.

So I did it. After two months of dithering, I got my eyebrows tattooed.

It hurt.

I clutched/dig my fingernails into a stress ball and gritted my teeth during the worst of it (about 14 minutes in all, before the topical anesthesia is applied) and I made it through the entire procedure without screaming, which took 2 1/2 hours, which includes the lengthy paperwork (for New York state) and consultation during which I showed my esthetician, Christine, my Helen Mirren photo (same as above) and said, “I want her eyebrows.” Which I can’t have because my brow line is different, so I had to settle for Vivian Swift eyebrows.

Fun fact: Christine told me that human faces are asymmetrical, which is why you really do have a “good” side, and keeping that in mind she tries to make eyebrows that are also slightly asymmetrical to look more natural. She informed me that I, however, have an unusually non-asymmetrical face. So this is what I want on my tombstone:

Here lies Vivian. She was very symmetrical.

Barbra Streisand’s famous GOOD side. She is NEVER photographed from the other side.

You are warned that when you finish your first microblading (that’s eyebrow tattoo-talk) session to to be alarmed. Your brows will look unnaturally dark. Rest assured, the ink will settle and fade into a more natural hue after a few weeks, at which time you will go back for a touch-up to perfect get your final semi-permanent brows. After that, you’ll only need to stop by every year or two to keep the brows looking spiffy.But when I saw my new eyebrows I was horrified. I felt as if I was ready for a starring role in kabuki theater. Like I was wearing Halloween make up. My eyebrows looked ridiculous! I was aghast, but Christine swore to me that the brows looked great and that I would get used to them. I wondered, What on earth have I done to myself???

Later that day I had to drive to the train station to pick up Top Cat and I was still extremely self-conscious about these weird things on my forehead. I put on extra eye make up in order to off-set my jarring appearance in the hopes that when Top Cat saw the New Me, he would not tell me what I already knew: that I had made a terrible, terrible mistake.

So Top Cat gets in the car and he looks at me carefully, searchingly, and at last he says: “I don’t see any difference.”

That is why I love this man. OK, sure, he has stopped looking at me since we first met 15 years ago — that is, has not updated his mental image of me since 2003 — but at this point in life, I am grateful for that.

Of course I am going to show you the new eyebrows:

My hair is not having a good day.

It’s been two weeks now and I have come to love my new eyebrows. And perhaps not coincidentally, a few days ago a new acquaintance guessed that I was in my 40s and we were in a room with fluorescent lighting. It’s the eyebrows. They take 20 years off your face. Also, my hair was having a very good day. And maybe she was extremely bad at guessing people’s age. Still, I love having eyebrows. Thank you, Helen Mirren.

OK, now that the exciting part of this week’s blog is over, let me catch you all up on the used book store news: Remember my rainbow display from last week? (Hint — that’s it, below.)

As I was flummoxed about what books to put on either side of this display, I asked for your help last week and I appreciated your feedback, Dear Readers. The sum of your advise was for me to think more outside of cliche, so I looked all over our shelves for something word-associative to Gay Pride to use but, as Steve said, you have to work with what you have on hand, and we don’t have a lot of poetry or art books:

It’s a small used book store with limited shelf space. Sometimes we have no idea where a book should go to be with its own kind, so I have to get creative with the labels.

Well, it beats “Miscellaneous”.

And then the obvious hit me, and this is now what is on either side of our rainbow stacks of books:

The second-most interesting book donation that came in last week was this:

This book was published in 1988, which would disqualify it even if it wasn’t full of “quizzes” you can take to know whether or not you really love your boyfriend, or how much he respects you, or if you should just be friends with your crush, etc., all of which had already been filled in and scored (you see now that this is the kind of junk we get all the time) but good lord, I just looked it up on Amazon.com and the book is out-of-print and there are only 2 old copies of this book for sale, one for $1,009.00 and the other for $5,930. Can those prices be for real??

Anyhoo, I did not throw it out because I love the ’80s clothing on the cover. It made me hum Bananrama all afternoon. . .

I say it all the time. I miss the ’80s.

. . . and I also did not throw this book away because the cover (and spine) are a shade of green that I desperately needed for one of my rainbow stack of books. So a vintage copy of Girltalk About Guys is sitting on the mantel in the used book store of the William Cullen Bryant Library of Roslyn, NY, if anyone wants to buy it. I’ll sell it for cheap. $200. All proceeds benefit the library.

And before I go, I must say something about Anthony Bourdain.

I say it all the time. I miss Obama.

After he got famous with his book about the underbelly of the restaurant business, Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain could have settled for a TV show on the Food network, to coast on his 15 minutes of fame for the rest of his life. But no, he went in a totally unexpected direction, hitting the road with a camera crew, traveling for 250 days a year to experience life way, way, way off the beaten track, or in some overlooked corner of America that made our own backyard seem like a foreign country. And although I am not all that interested in food, and most of the stuff he ate disgusted me (I don’t think we should eat animals), I always enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s smart and snide and funny and sincere interpretations of the taste, sounds, smells, and feelings of food and drink.

He was also a role model in that he showed me how to stay curious, how to engage with new experiences, and how to stay cool in your 60s. He was always willing to experiment with his own comfort level, and seemed committed to discovering something authentic in every encounter, which is such a high level of engagement with life that constantly inspired me.   I will miss him.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. May you do something completely out of the ordinary, and come back and tell us all about it.

 

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As I announced a while ago, I now have the unbearably glamorous volunteer job of co-managing a used book store here on the north shore of Long Island.

The wall clock stopped telling time about a decade ago, and the fireplace underneath it is used only for its mantel.

100% of our inventory of used books comes from donations…which means that we often get bag-loads of crap dumped on us, from people who think that “donations” is another word for “here, this stuff is now your problem.”

So I wrote up new guidelines:

Please, no college text books, water-damaged Philip Roth novels, spinning wheel repair manuals, baby raccoons, left-over lasagna, or out-of-state library books. Everything else between two covers is gladly and gratefully accepted.

The book store is in the front parlor (I like to think it used to be old Mrs. Valentine’s sitting room where she had tea parties during the Monroe administration) in the historic c. 1820 Valentine House in Roslyn, NY and all the money we make from selling used books goes to the local library.

As the enviously philanthropic volunteer co-manager of the Roslyn library used book store, I wield absolute power when it comes to deciding what to display on the fireplace mantel. Here’s the display I made in celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month:

The vertical rainbows are paperback, and the horizontal rainbows are hard-backs. I had the most trouble finding book covers in the color green. Judging by my inventory, green is the least-used color in book-binding.

We were also lacking inventory in green book covers because I had previously plundered our stock for my  own bookshelves:

The idea came to me on a slow day in the used-book selling world. It was also raining (which doesn’t bring in the punters) and I was hungry.

As you can see, my decor à live combines low and high culture…if indeed such a distinction can be made:

I confess that I am not tempted to read any of the books on display chez moi. I think that reading them would totally ruin them for me, as objets d’art, don’t you think?

I rather like the image of Light on Snow, and it makes me happy to imagine all the possibilities that might be contained in Anita Shreve’s novel. And look! Stacked as they are, they make a poem:

Light on Snow, Winter Study

Jem (and Sam)…

heart of the matter

This relates: The great novelist Vladimir Nabokov (so I’ve heard; I’ve never read any of his books) was teaching literature to undergraduates in Ithaca, New York when he wrote about a meeting he’d had with a student who was failing his class. In his diary, dated March 21, 1951, Nabokov wrote:

“the student explained to me me that when reading a novel (Ulysses, in this case) he likes to skip passages and pages so as to get his own idea, you know, about the book and not be influenced by the author.”

Nobaokov did  not record whether this kid made him laugh, or cry, or both.

There was plenty of space left on our book store mantel on either side of my rainbow display, and I searched for good LGBTQ titles but, this being a used book store, I had to go with what I had on hand.

I went with the most glamorous titles we had, because the New York Gay Pride Parade on June 24 will be amazingly glittery…but I’m still a teeny bit concerned that my intentions will be misinterpreted. Are there better topics other than Hollywood and royalty that I should have considered? Discuss.

And, as long as we are all sitting in a circle and having a chat, let us all congratulate Dear Reader Kirra from The Land of Oz, who is taking up residence in Salzburg, Austria next year. When she dropped that news on us last month, the first thing I thought was, Girl, you need a theme song.

Kirra, I’m talking to you from experience; you need to take a mixed tape with you to Salzburg so that you will play it over and over in your garrett, to become ingrained in your daily life, so that for ever more, when those songs come on the radio, you will be shot back to that special time and place with an intensity and recall that only music can trigger. Which I don’t have to tell you — you’re a music teacher.

You don’t have to decide right now what your theme song is, but you do have to have a play list that you will sing along with and remember home by and console and inspire yourself with, on all those nights and days in that foreign land.

Whenever I hear  Haven’t Got Time For The Pain by Carly Simon, or  The Last Time I Saw Richard by Joni Mitchell, or The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett, I am instantly 22 again, living through one of the coldest Winters on record in Paris. Add a glass or two of wine to the soundtrack and I can re-play the entire year, all the sights and sounds and tastes and feelings. Oh, the misery and oh, the giddiness. Nothing will ever feel so bad and so good at the same time as being 22 years old in Paris, and nothing brings it back more vividly than this bunch of accidental theme songs. I want that for you, Kirra.

Speaking of Paris, the capital of France, I want to take this opportunity to whine about something that has always annoyed me about the book cover that Bloomsbury did for my book about France, called Le Road Trip:

THIS (above) is not what makes me unhappy about the cover. THIS (below) is what I can’t stand:

I pitched a fit when I saw this and I tried to get them to change it, but I was told that it was too late, the covers had already been printed. I absolutely and undyingly loathe the green lettering of the title because it’s an unattractive shade of green and because green makes no fucking sense. What makes it so maddening is that I was in on the editorial meetings when we discussed cover art and I specifiedthat the coloring on the spine should be blue, white, and red for obvious reasons:

Did the art director hand off this assignment to a beginner graphic artist who called in sick the day we sat around a big table in the conference room and discussed what I wanted? Or is the person who chose to go with this stupid green lettering just a terribledesigner? When you are designing something — anything — you have to consider every single itty bitty detail; you have to question every aspect, you have to know the reason for, and be able to justify, each of the countless small and large choice that you make.

Do you think that the great designer Marc Jacobs designs his lace overlay silk jacket and then lets an assistant choose the buttons?

The answer is, “No.”

I never, in a million years, would have chosen puke olive green for the spine lettering on a book about France. Every time I look at those stupid three words in shades of  scum I want to punch somebody. I have very little tolerance for shoddy thinking.

The Chinese and Korean editions of Le Road Trip didn’t go along with the blue, white, and red color palette either …

… but I wasn’t in on the editorial meetings so I’m OK with that.

Next post about my fabulous incarnation as a volunteer co-manager at the used book store will be all about the staff, all retirees, one of which who asked me, “Do we alphabetize our books by author, or by title?”

Or maybe we will discuss How I Never Want To Get Old And Stupid.

My Darling Readers, have a glittery, glitzy, stupidity-free weekend. May all your theme songs make you want to get up and dance, dance, dance!

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Darling Readers, before we get to our usual Friday examination of the fascinating details of our extraordinary life on Earth as we know it  (immediately following), I ask you to take a minute to read this. Because attention must be paid.

The world lost one of its greats this past week:

This is El Nino (in mid-yawn). El Nino was dropped off at a shelter in New Jersey about 15 years ago. He was already an adult male, and he had such a big personality, and demanded so much attention, that the staff there named him after a very troublesome weather system. He was funny, smart, happy, and supremely self-confident. He was greatly loved by all, but he didn’t “show well”, so  he remained unadopted week after week.

My sister Buffy was a volunteer at that shelter. She saved the lives of hundreds of homeless kitties and, long story short, she rescued the hard-to-place Nino, and sent him to me, and I cared for him for two or three (four?) years until our other sister Amy, who was living abroad but long last came “home” and met the inimitable El Nino, and she did her magic and miraculously matched this boy with his perfect, soul-to-soul, new-to-cats forever family because of a fabulous person she met in Ukraine (I know!). She insisted that this family adopt Nino; they met him; it was love at first sight.  They kept his name, El Nino, which I always thought was a hoot, as they are Indian-American.

Nobody ever loved a cat more than this family adored El Nino. They were devoted to him. My sisters and I, all cat ladies to the max, have never seen a family more spiritually and emotionally bonded with a cat than Nino’s people. They even published an annual calendar, 12 months of Nino.

Then Nino got old and his health became fragile, and in the past years, they did whatever it took to ensure his comfort — eventually they had to wake up every few hours in the middle of the night to give him his food and meds.

But last week, in the heart of his dear family and surrounded by their undying love, the mighty spirit that was El Nino was gently gathered to the ancestors. The news, from hundreds of miles away, has hit me and my sisters very hard. I am typing this through tears.  I know the loss of Nino devastates his family.

The message that we got from Nino’s people, which was full of their love and reverence,  ended: Please join us in praying for him, may his soul Rest In Peace.

Amen.

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And now you know why I love him:

Today this is not a boring watercolor blog. Today this is a fascinating philosophical blog in which we ponder new furniture, cats, and the randomness of life.

What got me thinking about new furniture and cats (it’s a twofer) is because, as you read last week, we got two new couches delivered to our house here on the north shore of Long Island, and the cats immediately made themselves comfortable:

Right. The upholstery of these couches (a fashionable tweed in shades of gray with contrasting piping)  will never see the light of day as long as this herd is in residence. We will remove the sheets when we entertain ..wait…I’m laughing too hard … because we “entertain” about three times a year … right: When we entertain, the sheets and the cats will be banished and it will appear, to all who enter, that Top Cat and I live a normal life with furniture fit for grown ups and a not-crazy number of pets. Keeping up appearances, and all that.

So far, the couches are just couches, and not the catalysts for a great change in life like my previous couch experience. That’s OK, I can be patient and let life unspool itself on its own terms but this I know: my choice of couch has put something in motion.

So, with notions of unforeseen consequences swirling in my head, that’s why this old review in the New York Times (I’m catching up on my reading) from May 7, 2017, resonated with me. The cover story is about Penelope Lively:

The British novelist Penelope Lively is fascinated by contingency — the idea that an entire life is shaped by small decisions that seem inconsequential at the time. In 2005, she published a sort of anti-memoir, “Making It Up,” in which she imagined all the different directions her life might have taken. What if she’d become an archaeologist? What if she’d married an American? What if she’d had an illegitimate child? Sitting in an upstairs room at her London house at the end of March, she said she still thought this way. “I have six grandchildren, in their early 20s,” she said, “and I look at them now and think they’re making the sort of decisions that are going to determine the rest of their lives. It’s quite alarming. But mercifully you don’t know that at the time.”

Does this strike a chord with you? Does this make you look back, and review your 20s, and speculate on the small choices that you made back then that had lasting, monumental repercussions? Because it did me. And I already knew the exact point when my life took off on a trajectory that, at the time, I was completely unaware of.

It was in 9th grade, when I decided that I was going to learn French in high school. I was pretty good at it, and then I went to Paris, and traveled in France, and picked up a lot more language, so that by the time I was 30 I was fluent. And my being able to speak French has totally changed my life, not least because back then, when people knew you spoke French, they assumed that you were far better educated, and not the hick that you actually were. I have leveraged my French language skills into life experiences that were far, far beyond my imagination back when I was a 13-year-old picking courses at Upper Moreland Junior High in Willow Grove, PA. All the way to West Africa, Buenos Aries, and Giverny.

I wonder if you, too, Dear Readers, looking back, can pinpoint a moment when you stepped down the road less travelled, chose the prize behind Door # 3, listened to your heart and not your head, or listened to your head and not your heart, and that — as the poet said — has made all the difference.

Today’s musings are dedicated to our Dear Reader Alex, who is at a crossroads. Which is a pretty cool place to be when you are at a time of life when you thought that crossroads were something that only happened when you were too dumb to know that you were at a crossroads.

What’s your story? If it wasn’t taking French I in 1969, what was it?

In the meantime, I was at the gym and this song came up on the huge video/speaker system and I loved it…although I was doing bicep curls at at the time and hating it, and this song gave me the oooopmph to pull through. These guys are new to me — are they new to you?

It also struck me as pertinent to this conversation (except for the contortionists in the video what is up with that?) that, When You Are Looking for A Way, Everything Becomes a Path (Alex, You Are Thunder):

Have a great weekend, everyone. Next week, we will have to discuss Kirra’s sabbatical to study music in Salzburg !!! and Elizabeth decamping to Morocco !!!…all you Dear Readers have such  interesting lives!!!

XXOO

 

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