October 2016















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:


And this is how it looks today . . .


. . . 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:


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:



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

86 rue de Rennes

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:


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:



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):


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:


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:


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”:


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:


Guess again!


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!


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 . . .


. . . 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 :


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!


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


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:


See it now?


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:



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


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


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:


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


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:


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:






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:


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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Cafe Rouge on Hampstead High Street

Nope. We are not on the Rue Saint-Dominique in the 7th arrondissement.

Look at this next pic carefully, there’s a clue to our where-abouts:



Right! We are on the quaint and old-worldy Hampstead High Street in London :


Hampstead High Street is the main drag of Hampstead Village, in the London Borough of Camden, and is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical, and literary residents (past and present), and for Hampstead Heath,  a large hilly and comparatively wild expanse of parkland. Hampstead Village has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area of the United Kingdom. So we, of course, should feel right at home.

The main commercial road of Hampstead Village (Hampstead High Street) is unspeakably cute:


This (below) is a rare sight in much of inner London but, here in adorable Hampstead Village, these delightful totems of Britain’s glory days abound:

Hampstead High Street red phone box

I know! That’s a real, red, old-fashioned, cultural icon pillar box [mail box]  with a real, red, old-fashioned, cultural icon telephone box behind it, on the quaint and old-worldy Hampstead High Street!

This (below) a screen shot from Google of  The Coffee Cup , which became our favorite place for breakfast on Hampstead High Street. On our last breakfast there, a little girl on skates rolled in and asked if Nicco, her favorite waiter, was working because she wanted hot chocolate without whipped cream the way he made it. She was about 8 years old and already had standards. I approve.

The Coffee Cup in sunlight

This (below) is Gail’s cafe, where we went once for breakfast on a local’s advice. It was OK, but it’s usually crowded and you have to wait and wait for a table because there are regulars who feel entitled to buy one cup of coffee and spend all morning at a table reading the paper. At Gail’s I sat next to a guy who turned out to be a lecturer of philosophy at Oxford who was very interested in talking about China with a young mother at the table next to his. I thought their conversation was insipid. I expect pith and insight from an Oxford don, not observations about what a big country China is and how difficult its language is for foreigners.

If you look at the pic (below), you’ll see that there’s a small white shop under that big tree. It’s called Mary’s Living & Giving Charity (thrift) Shop and it was on my To Do List because, hello: Hoity-toity Hampstead hand-me-downs! (Turns out, it was not all that.)

Gail's, Hampstead
That little passageway is called Oriel Place; Oriel is also the name of the oldest royal college (established 1324) in Oxford. Get it? Like the guy with the really lame small talk at Gail’s?

As my literary hero, Bertie Wooster, would say re:  such unexplainable confluences in life, “Wheels within wheels, Jeeves; wheels within wheels.”

Directly across from Gail’s on Hampstead High Street is a small black building:

Gail's and Paul, Hampstead

That black building is Paul Bakery . And behind those windows that you see on the top floor is our Air BnB on Hampstead High Street:


There is nothing finer, I now believe, than living above a bakery in London.

The entrance to our Air BnB was around the corner from the bakery, on a little alley off the High Street called Flask Walk:


From our corner window we had a fine view of Gail’s and Hampstead High Street:

And yes, I did stand for hours and hours at that window, my camera at the ready, waiting for a London double-decker bus to pass so I could get the perfect souvenir shot.  I love these great London double-decker buses so much that I am now going to take you on a ride with me as we sit in the upper deck, front row, for a hair-raising raise through the back streets of Hampstead village, starting with a London double-decker bus-shaped cut-out of the foliage on Hampstead Heath:


It takes nerves of steel to herd these monsters in and out of these narrow, 18th-century roads:


If you notice, the bus takes up the whole lane, so the motorists on the on-comping lane move over to give it a wide berth.


The next few photos are stills from a movie that I played, over and over in my mind, called HOLY FREAKING SHIT! THAT BUS IS GOING TO SLAM INTO US HEAD ON!


Riding in the front row, upper deck, of a London double-decker bus gives you a renewed and keen interest in not dying. It also gives you some perspective on life, in general, which, as I am not an Oxford don (Philosophy Dept.), I am not going to get into because I have much more important things to enlighten you on, such as this awesome advert I spied from on high in a bus shelter:


I have had a long-standing interest in the British usage of cats in advertising. For example, this is a snapshot I took 40 years ago, in London, in 1976, with my crappy Kodak Instamatic :


Then I moseyed into the countryside and in Hastings I snapped this:


Can you believe that it ever used to cost 43 pence (65 American cents) for 20 cigs? Today’s going rate is £9.40 ($12.22 American). And as of 1993 there are no more Black Cat cigarettes on the market, which is a pity.

BUT WAIT! WHAT IS THIS THAT I HAVE COME UPON in my London double-decker bus??!!


So here I am, tootling through Camden, London, in 2016, and I come across this extraordinary Art Deco building that I recognize instantly! I can’t believe my luck!


This — if you can believe it — is an old cigarette factory in Mornington Crescent . . . this is the famed  “Arcadia Works” where Black Cat cigarettes were manufactured from 1928 to 1959, when the cig-making business moved out of London to cheaper digs in Essex and the building was sold to become office space and re-named Greater London House. For years afterwards, it was just a drab office block, but in 1996 it was restored to its stunning Art Deco glory.

But wait! There’s more!

All along the facade of this wondrous building are rosettes containing the image of the Black Cat himself!


That’s the cat that used to be on every box (I think the Brits say “packet”) of Black Cat cigs!


This is from my 1976 scrapbook — no, I never smoked a Black Cat cig but yes, I saved a magazine ad for Black Cat cigarettes for my 1976 scrapbook because isn’t that the kind of ephemera YOU save from your travels???

So, back on the bus, I am so excited to be seeing this marvelous, amazing, heart-thumpingly-awesome cat that I turn to the kid sitting next to me in the front row, upper deck and I say “LOOK! It’s all cats!!”

He looks scared and says something in Spanish. “Gatos! Gatos!” I say, waving towards the window infant of us; but he seems to think that the only way to handle a crazy lady on a London bus is to look away and play deaf. HIS LOSS.

I was thrilled beyond words that the bus stopped at a red light because I was already running late for a dinner date and could not jump off to get a good look-see, and it was just about to rain anyway, so while the bus idled I could take my time and aerial view to take the whole building in, to grok it with all my heart. Especially these guys:


The building’s design was inspired by the pharaonic tombs (1330s BCE) at Amarna, on the Nile River in Upper Egypt. So, natch, dominating the entrance to the building are eight-feet-tall statues of the ancient (c. 2890 BCE) Egyptian cat-goddess of war, Bastet, from Lower Egypt — don’t look for stylistic continuity here; it’s just supposed to look very pharoh-y and I LOVE IT.


Not my pic — photo credit goes to J. Anna Ludlow, 2011. This shows you the beautiful detail of these cats.

Who knew (not me, I can assure you), that I would, one distant day in the next century, meet my beloved black cats from 1976 in a serendipitous happenstance from the upper deck, front row of a London double-decker bus in 2016?

Wheels within wheels, I say.

Wheels within wheels.

And that’s my philosophy of life.

And travel.

Have a wheely fine weekend, my Wonder Ones, one and all.

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Steve, giving me the stink eye, Oct. 2016.

I’m mad at the internet today.

I spent hours — HOURS — crafting my latest tale of travel and revelations and just when I was 3/4 THERE . . .

. . . I hit some mysterious button and the whole post was wiped out.

I am pissed (and not in the good, Brit, way).

So I am taking the day (Thursday) off so I can fully investigate why the world is against me before I sit my ass down on Friday (or Saturday, if you are so lucky to be in Australia) and re-type the whole shebang.

So check back here around noon Friday Oct. 7 (Eastern Daylight Savings Time) and I will tell you all about a certain suave black cat . . .


. . . that I met in London.

See you soon, my Wonder Ones.

****Hi! It’s me again! And I’m still working on your Oct. 7 or 8 post! Give me until 1 PM Eastern time, ok?****


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