Sunday, October 26, 2014

Flights of Fancy

Have you been stopped at a red light in a November dusk and watched the eerie dance of the starlings?  They fly en masse from wire to wire with the precise unison of synchronized swimmers.  I love watching them - first two birds courageously make a flying leap, and then suddenly all swoop and land onto the nearest wire in mere seconds.  I wonder how they managed their strange flitting before electrical wires.  Why they do it is a mystery (any readers know?) but it is one of my private pleasures during airy and heartrending November.

The year's 11th month is the most atmospheric.  In the Northeast, early darkness is forced upon us with the return to standard time.  A peek outside a sunny window at 4:00 pm turns stark and foreboding fifteen minutes later, when bare branches turn the sky into a cover of an English Lit paperback of Edgar Allen Poe stories.  Time stands still for a week or two, even as the holidays bear down.  We are gifted a reprieve with nothing much to do except make holiday lists and dreamy plans.  Before Thanksgiving, it is time to slow down, surrender and let the darkness have its way.

The storied birds may be seen as an icon of time's fragility but I welcome them as a reminder of my favorite holidays and my ever-increasing desire to make each moment count, especially now when the world is so brittle and tenuous.  The starlings won't stay much beyond November - but the fancies borne of my overarching lists may bring long-remembered comfort and joy to those I love so deeply.  As I plan and quietly watch, I keep this in mind.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Paperdoll Worlds

I loved paperdolls as a child.  I thought they were the most precious things.  My mother tore out Betsy McCall's page from her monthly McCall’s magazine for me and I spent many afternoons on the braided rug in the living room, legs folded under, painstakingly clipping Betsy's dainty dresses with the fastening tabs.  Later, I graduated to Barbie paperdolls and then bride paperdolls that were so romantic and pretty, the dresses so exquisite and lacey - all the stuff of  little girls' dreams.  

I kept my dolls in a dented and chipped round metal cookie tin - a big cheery jumble of paper dresses, sweaters and skirts, coats, knee sox and patent leather shoes.  After I dressed my dolls, I made up conversations between them and trotted them off to make-believe parties and weddings where they would live happily ever after...forevermore...amen.  My plans for my dolls were as expansive as my fantasies.  I never had a friend who loved paperdolls with the same fervor until I met Kay, 40 years later.  Not that Kay and I actually played with paperdolls as grown single mothers - but we rejoiced the day we discovered we were both mad for them as girls.
Not only did Kay play with paperdolls but she drew her own.  She vividly remembers drawing a bride paper doll and a groom.  She was playing with them on a dock at her aunt and uncle’s cottage on Chesapeake Bay when a wind blew them into the water. Her uncle saved the day by fishing them out with a crab net, so beloved were they to her.
I read recently that empty nesters should ask themselves who they were when they were ten years old.  The theory is to recapture childhood passions and use them as a launch pad to discover what one should do when intense parenting is over.  I won't be clipping paperdolls from magazines anytime soon but I have been thinking a lot about what things will sustain me and feed my soul in the future.  Lately, I've been re-reading some classic childhood storybooks such as The Little Princess and Little Women.  I already know that books will always have a place in my life and after revisiting old favorites as an grown-up, I've observed that the very best children's books can be appreciated at any age.  But reading will not be enough.
Kay is a gifted image consultant and states that her clients are like grown-up paperdolls to her - she loves dressing and accessorizing them.  Perhaps her gift was born of all those happy hours spent on a braided rug at her house - or on a wooden dock.  As for me, I would love to have a peek inside that old beat-up cookie tin again.  Even better, find some new passions...but only ones that are as engrossing and thrilling as a paperdoll world.  
Come back when you grow up, girl
You've still got a lotta time left in the world
You'll some day be a woman ready to love
Come back, baby, when you grow up
Come back when you grow up, girl
You're still livin' in a paper-doll world
Livin' ain't easy, lovin's twice as tough
So come back, baby, when you grow up
~Bobby Vee


Monday, October 6, 2014

Exposed Lingerie and Dance & Fashion

I visited the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City for two wonderful exhibits last week.  Exposed A History of Lingerie traced intimate apparel from the eighteenth century to the present.  It was a well-curated collection of lovely undergarments beginning with a corset and ending with an astonishing sapphire blue bra and panty set from La Perla.  The range of the collection shows that lingerie can run the gambit from completely functional to impossibly alluring and frivolous.  I've always believed that lingerie is the last bastion of pure femininity and the last place where a woman's wardrobe still includes ribbons, laces and fripperies.  The fact that lingerie was an important component of a bride's trousseau was touchingly highlighted with a beautiful nightgown created by a bride's mother.  Its embellished satin bows remind the viewer that this is actually a seductive gown for a wedding night ...but lovingly festooned by Mother.  The bride entered her marriage with both a beautiful garment and her mother's blessings.

The second exhibit Dance & Fashion was larger and explored the remarkable synergy between dance and modern fashion.  As a lover of ballet, I was thrilled to view the pointe shoes worn by Margot Fonteyn. The exhibit clearly established the connection it intended with dance-inspired fashion displayed alongside intricately made costumes.  I also learned the origin of the ubiquitous ballet flat, a shoe designed during WWII to wear with designer Claire McCardell's dresses as heeled shoes were being severely rationed.

On the way home, I brainstormed ways to add more romantic balletic touches to my own wardrobe with surplice tops, wrap sweaters and black leggings.  I also thought it would be a good time to re-read my old favorite childhood book on ballet called To Dance To Dream. 

You may wonder what good exhibits like this does for a modern woman who exists at the speed of light.  Well, the unbridled beauty feeds the soul and fills a well that is often low on pleasure.  It causes me to slow down and simply look for the sheer wonder of what the human hand can create.  The exhibit halls were a cooled hushed oasis filled with mystery and shadows.  And like any good exhibit, it was a mini-trip through a looking glass to the past where I often meet someone I know but