Have you been to London recently? Did you try to see the famous residence of the United Kingdom’s Prime Mister at the famous London address of No. 10 Downing Street?

This (above) is as close to that famous doorway as you can get these days. That 20-foot tall black steel security fence was erected to block off the entire street of Downing in 1991, in response to IRA terrorist bombings in the capital, now protecting the area from about 20 other brands of terrorists from around the world. Sadly, No. 10 Downing Street is now one of the most heavily guarded buildings in Britain. The front door can no longer be opened from the outside because it has no handle, and no one can enter the building without passing through a scanner and a set of security gates manned by armed, bullet-proof vested, and very uncordial, guards.

Before this time, the public had free access to the entire street and any old geezer could stroll right up to the Prime minister’s doorstep and pose for a photo with the one, lone, shirt-sleeved police guard on duty.

Is it hard for you to believe that there was ever a time when life was so uncomplicated?

Yeah, me too.

But I have proof that there was, once, such a happy once-upon-a-time. Here’s me (below), in 1976, in my bell bottom jeans, back when I still had un-gray hair, standing at the very doorstep at No. 10 Downing Street, back when you could trust the stranger who grabbed your 110 Instamatic camera and urged you to go on, go over there so he could snap a souvenir pic of dorky, solo, 20-year old world traveler you, calling on the PM (who was at that time a forgettable fella named James Callahan):

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I tend to regret the 1970s and the bad hair, bad clothes, bad music, etc. . . . until I remember that it was the decade in which I was able to travel for $10 a day, and did.

1976 was also the year that I journeyed westward from London, out to Stonehenge (Stonehenge being the pile of standing stones that I hope needs no introduction):

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That (above) is a pic of the sandy walkway leading directly into the heavily trampled inner circle which, at the time, was, much like the doorstep of No. 10 Downing Street, surprisingly unguarded and open to one and all. In all, 815,000 people(including me) stomped through this ancient monument  in 1976.

So it’s no wonder that, in 1977, the stones were roped off so people couldn’t climb on them any longer. The crowds are kept at a respectful distance, as they should be.

The grass was allowed to grow back, up between the old stones, and the road way that passed just meters from the heel stone was shut down  to vehicular traffic. It’s now a paved footpath. The stones stand in splendid isolation, the better to contemplate their significance and wonder.

Every 40 yearsI like to get back to Stonehenge so that is where I found myself this past August, standing at almost the same spot as I did in 1976, to take this pic:

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In 1976, any old geezer could mosey up to a 5,000 year-old, 25-ton monolith and, along with the hordes, literally rub shoulders with it:

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These days, the only way to get close to the stones is to book a private tour with one of the three companies that are authorized to breach the outer fences :

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Let the record show that in 2016 I paid the equivalent of 15. 9 days of 1976 travel to take a one-hour sun set tour of Stonehenge and be one of the 25 people allowed to breathe the same air as these mysterious and beautiful sarsens:

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And no, a stranger did not take this pic; my own dear sweet Top Cat did.

My point is: As time goes on, sometimes things get worse, sometimes things get better. Sometimes things get sadder with age, sometimes they don’t.

Maybe 2017 won’t suck as much as 2016.

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone.

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So, the other day I’m reading my agent’s blog, in which she is venting about the weird query letters she’s been getting lately.

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A query letter is the short cover letter you send to a literary agent to give that important gate-keeper of the literary world an idea of what you and your book are about. The purpose of a query letter is to entice that agent into reading the sample chapter you have enclosed, thereby captivating that agent with your skill and charm as a writer, which will lead to either a request for the full manuscript or, as happened in my case, skipping straight to the contract which authorizes your new agent to sell your book proposal to a publisher thereby making you an AUTHOR.

So, you can see that writing a good query letter is a very big deal. It’s not easy, but it’s also not impossible. But some people are either too naive, too egotistic, or too crazy to do it right.

It also helps if you send a query letter regarding your sic-fi thriller to an agent who does not, say, deal exclusively with cook books. DO YOUR RESEARCH, in other words. And never start your query letter with a statement about how your book is the next Eat, Pray, Love. Agents are really tired of that pitch.

So, any way, that’s what my agent, Betsy Lerner, was complaining about.

One of the Commenters to her post responded:

What about those who cannot write a query letter? . . .  what about all the little people/ big writers who can’t? How do we take care of them? How do we take care of our writers?

And that’s when I lost it. I wrote back:

“How do we take care of our writers?” 

WTF?

Who cares about WRITERS??? We — who ever “we” are — need to take care of our doctors, nurses, environmentalists, veterinarians, watchdogs and whistle-blowers, cops, firefighters, EMTs, teachers, physicists, soldiers, scientists, engineers, civil rights lawyers, mechanics, carpenters, farmers, sanitation workers — even the lowest-level topologist is worth more to society than a WRITER.

The only useful thing you can do for society, as a WRITER, is to compose a decent damn query letter so that your value as a relatively pointless luxury item in the culture can be appraised. is that too much to ask?

Yeah, I was so annoyed that I forgot to capitalize the “I” in that last sentence.

A third party who took offense to my Comment wrote back:

Your “relatively pointless luxury item in the culture” has made my life so much more interesting and worthwhile, beginning with those Raggedy Ann and Andy books I taught myself to read at age five. And all of those workers you list would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

Oh, where to begin listing all the things that are wrong with this? I did my best to keep it short:

Jesus. How much more patronizing can you get?

How much you want to bet that the majority of those sad workers with their sad lives don’t even bother to read? They are far too busy with their own stories, the ones they are living and telling each other when they get together for drinks after work. I’m sure they are as happy, or as minimally miserable as the rest of us, without knowing a single writer or giving a crap about The Girl on the Train.

I am not one of those writers who thinks that I possess a gift, or an acute humanity, or the delicate nerve endings of a seer and poet, or a certain specialness for which the world owes me readers and recognition. Or maybe I do, but my Capricorny sense of reality prevents me from ever whining about how the world, and persnickety literary agents, are too mean and snotty to appreciate my self-evident genius.

And, after investing a few hours reading half of Gone Girl before I figured out that I did not want to squander any more time of my one and only life with make-believe people who I really detested, I knew I could live a happy life without ever cracking The Girl on the Train. Fiction sucks.

But you don’t have to be me to see how incredibly pompous it is to claim that all the physicists and firefighters in the world would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

I for one would not want to read anything written by a writer who had that kind of attitude towards her readers. Would you?  Please discuss.

In other news, we here on Long Island got our first snowfall last night (Sunday, Dec. 11) and I have not caught you up on the Fall leaves in my backyard. Here’s a pic of the difference between Taffy (on the left) and our newest backyard boy, Dennis (on the right):

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Top Cat has put away all the patio furniture except for one chair, for obvious reasons:

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Dennis also has full use of the old rabbit hutch that we converted into a kitty condo (down sleeping bags on the walls and floor, straw for extra insulation):
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And our prodigal Candy, who came back after disappearing on a six-week walk-about on Nov. 18, still has not ventured beyond the kitchen but she has let me give her a nice soft baby blanket to make her nap times more cozy:

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P.S. I have not washed the kitchen floor since Candy’s come home because she’s still a bit anxious and flighty and any kind of bustle makes her freak out, and also because I really don’t want to wash to kitchen floor any way.

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If wishes were sailboats I’d be on the Seine River, moored on the Quai de Conti, as seen in this illustration I did for page 12 of Gardens of Awe and Folly:

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Do you see that black house boat, the middle one docked alongside the quai that faces the Pont Neuf, and the fabulous garden in the Square du Vert-Galant(above)? Well, that’s a real boat, really floating on the Seine, and it’s really for sale, having just come on the market, available for immediate move-in:

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This is the Marie Jeanne, built in 1913 — she’s 16 meters long (that’s 53 feet, for those of us who think in the picturesque).

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The interior is mahogany — the living area is open concept, with sky lights and a working fireplace.

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The boat has 2 bedrooms, so its $1.6 million asking price is a bargain, considering that a comparable 2-bedroom apartments in the 6th arrondissement is going for $3 million these days.

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It’s got a full sized tub, too . . . but I’d have to get used to having a skylight right above me when I am soaking away the stresses of the day.

WHAT AM I SAYING???? If I had $1.6 million to buy me a houseboat on the Seine I’m pretty sure I’d have nothing in the world to feel stressed about.

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Ahhhhhhhh, to spend the next four years in my own little world, bobbing cozy and happy on the gentle river of memory and wonder, painting little moments of joy and thankfulness . . .

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Oh, if only wishes were sailboats, I’d christen my bateau The Madame President and sail off into the sunset.

Thank you, my Dear Readers, for all your kind and commiserating Comments these past few weeks. I have been distraught, disbelieving, disgusted, and despondent — and still am — but I’m working on a survival plan that includes not going crazy with fury and loathing which I hope will put me on an even keel for the next four years. I need to paint, and write, and stay here in this space with all you Wonderful Yous, in order to marvel at the small mercies that redeem us, day to day.

And on days when it seems that there is just too much ugliness in the world, there’s always Taffy, doing something appallingly cute:

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The last time we saw Candy, our calico cat who came to us 9 years ago, was when she went on walk-about on September 1.

This is the last photo I took of her, napping with her boy Taffy in their favorite place for nappage (the leather love seat in the den):

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Last Friday, on November 18, Candy showed up on our back doorstep. She’s much thinner, very dirty, and very wary of us and the house. So far, in 7 days, she has not left the kitchen — her favorite spot is by the dining room door, from where she can keep the entire room and its hallyway entrance in sight:

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It took me four days to get her to use this little towel, instead of curling up on the cold hard floor.

Baby steps. We’ll get her back, in baby steps.

I’m making my way back in baby steps. Very angry, very vengeful, very disgusted baby steps. I don’t have many positive thoughts to share lately, which is why I am keeping to myself these days. I am still pretty damn pissed off. And it just gets worse — how did I miss the news that Mike Pence was such a self-righteous pious-mouthed slime-ball ass-hatful-shit-stain?

Tea. I need tea:

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That’s Taffy, posing with my big box 0’P G Tips tea (“240 lovely cups of tea”) and the quart-sized jar of honey we get from a local beekeeper who delivers that stuff to our door.

My best advise to you all, WonderOnes, is to treat yourselves to a good cup of tea as needed.

Taffy also advises, it’s better when you can share it with a friend:

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I’m sorry, Wonder Ones, Dear Readers, and people who searched “One By One The Penguins In My Backyard Are Stealing My Sanity” and ended up here. I have nothing soothing, enlightened, hopeful, or mature to say today. Nope. Can’t even fake it. And I can hardly type this because of the tears in my eyes.

And here’s a warning to the world:

This is not the time to fuck with me. I am full of rage and I don’t mind sharing it up close and personal.

All I got is something that my No. 6 cat (in order of acquisition), Bibs, gave me yesterday:

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You could hear him purring all the way down the hall.

I hope you find your sunbeam today.

 

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Fall, before it’s been Vivianized:

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Fall, after Vivian has made sense of it:

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Not just in my backyard. I take my Capricornian love of order out into the wilds of Long Island, too:

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I did this (below) in Virginia:

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This week should be the height of Fall color here in the American Northeast, and I should be hunting for my sample of Fall Leaf Perfection:

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Because this is the time of year when I paint my annual awesome Fall Leaf Landscape:

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(P.S. The real leaf is always on the right.)

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Group portraits:

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But this year, due to a very dry Summer, the colors of Fall are late blooming. Compare this view (below) of November 4, 2015 . . .

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. . . to the same scene exactly one year later in 2016:

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Compare this photo also from November 4, 2015 . . .

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. . . to what it looks like exactly one year later :

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So, although I have not found my Perfect Fall Leaf of 2016 yet, I did cross off Item #1 from my Winter Prep list:

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Stock Up on Champagne-O-Meters.

So, ’tis the season when your favorite stores start asking for a point-of-purchase donations to their preferred charities (food banks, hospitals, the like).

Being harassed by a cashier at your favorite store for a charity donation: Do you love it or hate it? And can we start a Move On petition to put an end to it forever?

 

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I have to say that curiosity has the opposite effect on me.

Curiosity is what keeps me energized and ornery, in a way that is generally known as “being alive”. It’s the lack of curiosity that I find exhausting.

This is a picture of my desk that I took in June 2015, when I finished my last book, Gardens of Awe and Folly:

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And this is how it looks today . . .

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. . . still waiting for the Goddess of Curiosity to grant me one thing that piques my interest, or even half a thing on which I can elaborate. Or a third of a thing that I can pad with footnotes and one-sentence chapters (for page count).

As of this chilly, dreary, edge-of rainy October morning, nothing in the intervening 16 months has lit the proverbial light bulb, nudged the envelope, out-thought the box, or slapped me upside the head with a transcendental “Doh!“.

There is a hash tag trending in London these days (“hash tags” are how the kids mind meld these days) called #winterprep and I am all for it.

Winter Prep is on my mind today. I’ll be sharing my brilliant #winterprep ideas with you all soon (without the annoying hash tag and with proper capitalization, since we here are not illiterate millennials) but in the mean time, let’s let Taffy, Alpha Cat, take us out, looking forward, on a once-perfect Autumn day:

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Have a perfect weekend, Wonder Ones.

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Patricia, Jeanie, Kirra, Deb, and Magan all voted Yes to that chair last week. So I went back to take another look at it, but (as oft happens in the Home Goods World) it was gone. I am really not too upset about missing the chance to enthrone myself on a chaise a la Montgolfiere because if you look closely, the hot air balloon depicted in the splat was a tiny bit deflated compared to the original at the Musee Carnavalet:

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But Home Goods never disappoints. I came home with this:

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Wine bottle for scale.

It’s  “Wall Art”, a taxonomy that in itself I found thought provoking. When did we start modifying the word “art” with the surface from which it is to be regarded?

I jest. For Home Goods shoppers, “Wall Art” makes a ton of sense. This bit of Wall Art was captioned 86 rue de Rennes.

I was captivated by this hi-res reproduction of a photographed gussied up to look like a painting because I know the Rue de Rennes in Paris:

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The Rue de Rennes is in the heart of the Latin Quarter’s 6th arrondissement.

I had to know: Is there such a place as 86 rue de Rennes???? A quick check of Google Earth confirmed it:

 

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THAT’S THE DOOR!! I don’t know how “they” (whoever produced this piece of Wall Art, who I cannot locate on the inter webs with the info that I got from the Home Goods packaging), as I was saying I don’t know how “they” got away with plastering this image of a private home on a commercial product to be sold in the U.S., if not the world. The French are highly , not to say neurotically touchy about their privacy and I bet there are laws against this (which makes owning it seem even more exciting). I will have to ask my French friends about this.

In my house there is not a wall that is currently available to host this view of 86 rue de Rennes, so its fate it as yet TBA.

And speaking of finding a familiar face in the strangest of places. . .

. . . there I was, last week, sitting at my computer, watching Super Mensch, The Legend of Shep Gordon  on Netflix (because I recently heard him interviewed on NPR):

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Shep Gordon is a music industry legend, beginning when he rocked up to a Los Angeles motel in 1965 and got punched in the eye by Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix told Shep that since he’s Jewish, he should be a manager — a suggestion that put Gordon on his fabulously successful career path. As a manager his clients have included Alice Cooper, Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, Ann Murray, and Emeril Bagasse to name a few. Along the way, Gordon became friends with just about every celebrity you can name. Mike Myers was so bowled over by this man’s life and stories that he put this project together to make his directorial debut.  Supermensch, a love letter of a documentary, that proves Myers’ opinion that Shep Gordon  “is one of the most loved, if not the most loved person in show business I’ve ever met”.

So I’m watching this documentary, wondering how one person could have so many lucky breaks in life and be lucky enough to make utmost use of those lucky breaks (in my experience, luck is nothing unless it’s matched with gumption and a willingness to forgo the self-sabotage), when a black and white photograph flashes on the screen:

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Shep Gordon is the guy in the terrible jacket, on the set of an Alice Cooper music video in New York City in 1974.

And, standing next to him in the glasses wearing a the Keystone Cops uniform and fake mustache, that’s me:

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Boy, was I surprised. I did not know that there was photographic evidence, no matter how fuzzy-focused, of one of the worst hair cuts I’ve ever had. It was supposed to be a very cool, with-it,  rock and roll shag. . .

Susan Saint James, ca.1971. (Photo by Universal Television/Tribune/Getty Images)

Susan Saint James, ca.1971. (Photo by Universal Television/Tribune/Getty Images)

. . . but what I got was a bowl-cut country and western “do”:

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And the short bangs killed me. Good lord, I hated that hair cut. And now, just because I was in an Alice Cooper music video because my aunt was married to the directo, the whole world gets to see my terrible ’70s face for all of the 1 seconds that the image flickers onto the eyeballs of a totally indifferent viewing audience.

I know that we all have our own reasons to be glad our 20s are over. You now know mine.

Have a great and lucky weekend, Wonder Ones.

 

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Sure looks like the Champs-Élysées to me:

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Guess again!

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Right: That’s the Empire State Building as seen from 29th Street in New York City, which I viewed on my walk to the Dutch Reformed church on 29th and Fifth on the evening of Sept. 29. I’m going to see Elizabeth Gilbert!

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Life is so unfair. Liz Gilbert gets to do an author event on a stage such as this (see above) while I, on my first author event EVER, got the children’s department at a Barnes and Nobel store in Yonkers where I had to stand under a poster of Captain Underpants. Obviously, someone there had judged my book by its cover . . .

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. . . and decided it was a children’s book.

Well, that’s what you get for not selling 20 million copies. But I’m not whining. Well, not much. Because I’m going to see Elizabeth Gilbert in person!

Elizabeth Gilbert’s very cool historic church event was ticketed and, OF COURSE, sold out :

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Yes, you found him: that guy in the rainbow serape did get up to ask a question and he was crazy: mostly he wanted to tell Liz that she had called on him before at another event a year ago!!! and then complain how hard it is to make people love you.

Liz handled this guy with gentle humor and decisive kindness (got him to shut up without embarrassing him), which is how she spoke about her own struggle to stay engaged and productive while coping with all the demands of living an aware, open, adventuresome, and truthful life.

If you ever have the chance to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak about putting Big Magic to work in helping you deal with adversity, frustration, sadness, fear, perfectionism, and all those other things that prevent you from breaking free, you must go. Hey! Bainbridge Island! Liz is coming your way in March!

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This evening at the Collegiate Dutch Reformed Church of Manhattan was made possible by the newly released paperback version of Big Magic (the book):

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If you go to Liz’s Facebook page you can find a delightful and insightful video of her talking more about Big Magic . . . and, if you are very eagle-eyed, you will spot something quite  fabulous on her bookshelf:

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See it now?

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Yep. That’s my very own, un-related to Captain Underpants book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

In the past, Liz has said and written very nice things about my books — she even blurbed my second one, Le Road Trip. And when my recent book came out in March, she graciously included it on her Spring Reading list:

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OK, now I think I’ve accomplished everything I set out to achieve when I became a writer.

SPEAKING OF EAGLE EYES:

I was in my “Happy Place” (Home Goods) last week when I spotted this:

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I love, adore, cherish, and covet this chair!

I loved it back in 2013, when I saw it in Paris, on display at the Musee Carnavalet:

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And I loved it back in 2006, when I first saw it in my New Orleans hotel — the St. Louis (in the French Quarter) :

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I loved it so much that I made an illustration of it in 2009 for a book about Adventures in Tea Time that I never did:

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So, if you happen to come across this chair in your “Happy Place” (your local Home Goods), now you will know that it is a Chaise a la Montgolfiere,  so called after the brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, who ushered in the modern era of flight in 1783 when they demonstrated their invention, the hot-air balloon, at Versailles in the presence of King Louis XVI and his court. This successful exhibition before royalty made the Montgolfier brothers national heroes, and started a mania for all things baloony. The term montgolfière was applied to decorative arts, hair fashions, and dresses:

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But getting back to the chair at Home Goods: This is not a cheap chair. It cost $249.99 at Home Goods, which is not in my budget even though it is the only one I’ve seen that comes with arm rests!!!

Vintage 1020s or 1950s reproductions of this chair are even more dear: they go for around 645 Euros ($710.11 American) each.

But I’m not whining. Well, not much. Because as soon as I sell 20 million copies of my books, you all know what I’m forking over an insane amount of money for:

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And so, my Dear Readers, Remember: this blog comes to you free every Friday, so please support my continued presence in this totally gratuitous endeavor by giving everyone  on your Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa list a copy of a V. Swift book. Tell them Liz Gilbert’s bookshelf told you to.

I’m just 19,999, 950 copies away from getting my dream dining room!

 

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