The Blessing Basket

On Sunday afternoon when I dropped into my local boutique grocery store, Miss Cordelia’s (in Harbor Town, on the Mississippi River in Memphis) I was stopped in my tracks by this beautiful display of colorful hand-woven baskets in the front of the store. They are part of The Blessing Basket project, which helps end poverty in Bangladesh, Ghana, Madagasgar, and Uganda. My basket came from Uganda.

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When I registered my basket on the web site, I “met” my artisan, Nsoh Adogyoo.

 

Here’s how she’s uses her wages from making baskets and other items:

 

 

I have used my Prosperity Wages to provide food for the family and register for national health insurance scheme for the family members to access health care when one falls sick. I have also used my wages to pay admission fees for my daughter who has gained admission to Senior High School this year.

The changes I have seen in the community are that now our children are in school and we can feed them as well. I have also seen that now our children are entering into higher institutions like universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education because of the inception of BBP in the community.

Thank you very much for giving us hope for our future of our children. You buy our baskets and now we are happy with each other. Thank you and May God bless you.

 Blessing Basket w books

 

The web site has a place where you can write a letter to your artisan, so I just sent one to Nsoh. They will read it to her. I told her that I am a writer and that I am using the basket to carry books to deliver to people and to put in the mail. The basket she made is so sturdy—it can easily carry 8-10 hardback books.

 

Blessing Basket If you’re interested in purchasing items (they’re gorgeous) from the Prosperity Shop, just click here.

 

I’m so thankful to have discovered Blessing Baskets. Maybe a good “Christmas in July” idea….

“Slow Art” and the Marriage of Art and Literature

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

This weekend I delved into the book section of the Saturday Wall Street Journal (a favorite activity) and discovered “The Image as Event,” Ann Landi’s review of Arden Reed’s book, Slow Art. Reed’s passion for “slow art” began with his repeated viewing of Edouard Manet’s “Young Lady in 1866” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. He defines “slow art” as “a prolonged encounter between object and observer.” He contrasts this activity with the average time an American museumgoer spends with any work of art—about 6 to 10 seconds.

Reed also writes about “tableaux vivants,” which he describes as “living pictures” in which actors hold theatrical poses for 90 seconds or so, often as recreations of well-known masterpieces like Leonardo’s “Last Supper.” This art form gained popularity around 1760, waned in the 1910s, and seems to have regained steam around 1960.

But before these modern-day examples of slow art presented themselves for viewers seeking (or just needing) an opportunity to slow down and have a serious encounter with art, early Christian icons “demanded slow looking and veneration from viewers.” Later, religious processions with floats featuring tableaux vivants acting out Biblical scenes appeared. Reed ties all these into a genre he calls slow art, taking us from Malevich to Serra, and even into the fiction writing of Don DeLillo.

The-Pen-and-the-Brush-260x381Which brings me to my second “treasure” of the weekend. I started reading the book I purchased at Ernest & Hadley Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when I was there for a reading/signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. And what a treasure—Anka Muhlstein’s wonderful book The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter) explores the relationship between art and literature with specific examples from Balzac, Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust. Muhlstein chose these five authors because “each in his own way truly invented a visual style of writing.”
Balzac referred to himself as a “literary painter” rather than a writer. He enjoyed including Italian Renaissance art and Flemish painters as well as contemporary painting in his writing. He spent a lot of time at the Louvre, and his knowledge of art fed his writing. An example:

Another illustration of this genuine knowledge of paintings appears in The Peasants: as a finishing touch in describing a horrible old woman, “a hideous black parchment, endowed with movement” he adds, “her likeness is found only in David’s painting of the Sabine women,” which does indeed feature a wizened old woman as a second character.

Balzac often gave fictional characters more credibility by using a known painter’s name. Not that I’m in his league, but I chose to do this with my novel Cherry Bomb (which releases in August) by having the well known abstract expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning appear as a major character, although I fictionalized much of her story in the book.

Balzac’s ambitions include one to “paint a Delacroix in words,” and he writes at length about colors and their symbolism, especially in The Girl With the Golden Eyes, in which “Paquita’s room is bathed in red, gold, and white tones which, in Balzac’s mind, suggest inexpressible desire: “the soul has an indefinable connection with white, love is happiest in red, and gold puts passions to their best advantage.”

Muhlstein says that “Opening a Balzac novel is like walking into a museum, but a museum where the artists (and sometimes even their models) often step out of their frames to come into the story. Balzac would not be the powerful novelist he is had he settled for describing paintings and not created his own huge gallery of painters.”

I’m just now getting to the sections on Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust, so this isn’t a complete book review. Just a preview. I can’t wait to see where these next four writers take me in their journey into the art world. I have a feeling I’ll be reading some of their novels soon….

The Afternoon of Life

irene-carr-blog-post21

 

In Monday’s post I wrote about three seasons of life as I saw them in Petula Clark’s song, “Fill the World With Love,”—the morning, noon, and evening. Yesterday I was talking about this with a friend (who is in her eighties) over coffee at her kitchen table and I said, “You know, I think I may be in the afternoon of my life. Surely I am past the noontime and not yet to the evening.” She agreed and encouraged me that the afternoon of our life holds much that is wonderful.

At home later in the day I found an email from her with a quote from Jung, so I Googled the topic and found this article which reflects on Jung’s wisdom about this season, “Enjoying the Afternoon of Life: Jung on Aging.” There is much wisdom in this article, but I especially like this part:

Jung called the elder years—those from c. age 56 to c. 83—the “afternoon of life,” using the analogy of the passage of the Sun through the sky from morning to night. Youth was “morning,” noon corresponded to mid-life, and night was old age, while the sixth and seventh decades see life energy wane, much as the Sun’s warmth declines as it sinks lower in the sky. Just as we need the full cycle of the Sun to support life, so we are meant to live out the full cycle of human existence, and Jung recognized this. More than just living, Jung urged us to enjoy the “afternoon” of life….

So how are we to enjoy these years, where so many of us “Baby Boomers” find ourselves? I see many people trying to stay young—those with money chasing the elusive fountain of youth with personal trainers, expansive wardrobes, makeup routines (and plastic surgery), and behavior which denies aging. While I want to remain active, I don’t want to compete with younger generations. My body won’t let me, and I want to be content, to actually enjoy the afternoon of my life. But the article at the Jungian site describes a lifestyle I’m not ready to completely embrace:

The interval between age 60 and age 80 is the time most people retire from full-time participation in the work world. Generally in this interval children have grown up, gone off to college and set up their own families. This means there is more leisure, fewer family demands, and minimal restrictions in daily life due to the demands of work. Ambitions and desires tend to decrease, and oldsters often feel relief as they “downsize” into smaller homes, condos or collective living arrangements. There may be relief also in the realization of no longer having to keep up with new technologies.

Since I never had a “career” (I was a stay-at-home mom most of my life, other than running an aerobic dance business and doing some freelance writing) I’m not “retiring” at age 65…. I just had two books published and have two more in the works. I’m just getting started! And yet, I’m doing these things without the restraints of a mother with children still at home, and yes, with more leisure. I can choose what to do with my time, which is a great gift for which I try to remember to thank God daily.
I guess my main “complaint” in the afternoon of my life is the limitations placed on me by my body—although those limitations are mostly my own fault for not taking better care of it. The weight gain, the daily aches and pains (many from the car wreck three years ago), the sagging chin and drooping eyelids, all scream at me and make me yearn for my youth. But do I really want it back, with all its anxieties? No!

Today I will move forward, learning to enjoy the afternoon of my life. I will even allow myself to take a nap when I need one, or read a book or watch a movie in the middle of the day. But I also realize that my privileged leisure comes with a responsibility to others. No longer my mother’s caregiver, and with my grandchildren 2000 miles away, it’s easy to become lazy about reaching out to others. And to feel guilty that I’m not doing more volunteer work. I talked with my octogenerarian friend about these things yesterday, and she encouraged me that I have a gift to offer—my writing—and that in order to do my art, I will need to go inward and not spread myself too thin doing multiple “good deeds.” I’m still thinking about that, and trying to consider my writing as a full time job. That and taking care of my body. I’m so lazy when it comes to exercise, which will greatly help the aches and pains and weight management.  So how do I move forward?

Jung felt the older person had the opportunity to re-imagine him or herself. Approaching life with a new sense of freedom and individuality, the oldster can improvise more, with less need for perfection and more boldness in affirming his/her uniqueness. No longer feeling the need to honor the past, no longer needing to honor dysfunctional family patterns, the oldster can even dare to be outrageous, to adopt the persona that feels right, rather than conform to what society expects.

I love what this says about no longer needing to “honor dysfunctional family patterns.” I’ve struggled with issues from the past for 65 years. Many of those issues have fueled my writing, but as I begin a new novel (yes!) I want to move on, to leave those issues in the past, and to “dare to be outrageous,” whatever that might mean for this season of my life. Hopefully I can tell a new story (one that has been percolating for only a few weeks) without those shackles. Here’s to the afternoon of life!

Cover for A Second Blooming is, well, BLOOMING!

ASB CoverI am so excited to share the cover for my second book to be published in 2017—A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, March 2017). This is an anthology I edited, with essays by twenty wonderful authors and a foreword from Anne Lamott. Can’t wait to see it!

Isn’t it beautiful?

 

If it feels like I’m bombing you with book news, just wait until 2017! I can’t help myself… JOY JOY JOY!

And here’s the entry for the Mercer University Press spring/summer catalog. Watch for a listing of events where I’ll be reading/signing next spring. If you can’t make it to an event, please ask your local indie booksellers to order the book for you! (Of course you can get it online if you must.)

ASB MUP catalog page

On the Fourth Day of Christmas…

four-gospels… my true love gave to me: four calling birds! In the Church’s tradition, those birds represent the four gospel writers—the holy apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (seen in these icons). They are “calling” to the world to hear the message of Christ’s incarnation.

So how am I celebrating the fourth day of Christmas? We just got home last night from spending a wonderful Christmas in Denver with two of our kids and all four of our grandchildren. So we are tired but happy. Of course I’m unpacking, doing laundry, and grocery shopping today (and starting back on exercising on the elliptical)… but it’s also a day for Christmas cardsopening more Christmas cards and reading through so many wonderful Christmas letters from friends and family near and far. Sending Christmas cards is one of my favorite traditions, and receiving them is such a treat.

This year I didn’t come up with a creative way to display them, so I just spread them out on our dining room table as they arrived. This morning I captured them in photos, then I took down last year’s photo cards from the bulletin board in the kitchen and replaced them with this year’s. Well, some of them. (They don’t all fit!)

It was fun to group some of them:

children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces, and great nephews

children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces, and great nephews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cards with original artwork (children and adults)

Cards with original artwork (children and adults)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

spiritual/religious cards

spiritual/religious cards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

kitchen bulletin board (with some of our 2016 photo cards) will stay up until next year's cards arrive!

kitchen bulletin board (with some of our 2016 photo cards) will stay up until next year’s cards arrive!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to everyone who was thoughtful enough to send us a card and/or a Christmas letter this year. I hope you are enjoying this tradition as much as we are!

End of Year Book List

2016 has been an industrial year for me, as I finished querying presses and signed 4 book deals. And now here at the end of the year, those 4 books are in various stages of organization, editing, pre-publication, and marketing. As a writer, I feed my creative spirit on the works of other authors. Often I read more than one book at a time, usually a novel and a nonfiction book. I rarely read short stories (although there’s one excellent collection in this list) or mysteries, but I love poetry, memoir, literary novels, books about spirituality and art, books about courageous and interesting women, and some “self-help” books.

woman-reading

 

I read 38 books in 2016. Fifteen are by authors I know personally. I would love to meet the other 22 one day, although a couple of them are no longer living. Here they are in alphabetical order. If you click on the links, you can read my blog posts on any of them you are interested in.

A Charmed Life by Mary McCarthy

A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy

A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor

All the Way to Memphis by Suzanne Hudson

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

American Happiness (poetry) by Jacqueline Allen Trimble

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Delta Rainbow: The Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson by Sally Palmer Thomason

Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith

Dispatches From Pluto by Richard Grant

Drifting Too Far From the Shore by Niles Reddick

Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style, and Substance by Tish Jett

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of  Lent and Easter Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions From Both Sides of the Therapy Couch edited by Sherry Amatenstein

Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir by Martha Stettinius

Journeying Through Grief by Kenneth C. Hauck

Lines Were Drawn: Remembering Court-Ordered Integration at a Mississippi High School edited by Teena F. Horn, Alan Huffman, and John Griffin Jones

Woman_reading_a_book_(3588551767)Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland

Little Wanderer (poetry) by Jennifer Horne

My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg

Not a Place on Any Map by Alexis Paige

Pray and Color by Sybil McBeth

Robert Walker, a novel by Corey Mesler

Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully With Depression by Gillian Marchenko

The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe (winner 2017 Christianity Today Book of the Year Award for Fiction)

The Courage to Grow Old by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell

The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister

The Headmaster’s Darlings by Katherine Clark

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro

The Sanctum by Pamela Cable

Waffle House Rules by Joe Formichella

West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Why We Write About Ourselves edited by Mereditih Maran

Books for 2017What’s in the queue for 2017? (also in alphabetical order) Watch for reviews on my blog next year!

*Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Garden in the East by Angela Carlson

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees

*When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

*On Barnes & Noble’s list of the Top 100 bestselling books of 2016

Happy reading, everyone! I’d love to hear what your favorite books from 2016 were!

Tangles and Plaques COVER ART!!!

Tangles and Plaques cover artWhat a journey this is—working with four publishers at various stages for four different books being published in 2017 and 2018. I’m so thankful for these opportunities, and I’m learning a lot about the business as I continue in the editing phase for some and enter the pre-publishing and marketing phase for others.

Today I received cover art from eLectio Publishing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I love the way the tangled yarn fades from bright colors to almost black and white below the title line… just as memories fade for those suffering this disease. Good job, eLectio!

I appreciate each person involved in this complex process—editors, publishers, graphic designers, and marketing professionals. Although I chose not to work with literary agents (after an unsatisfactory experience) I’m learning my way without them. What that means is that I’m giving up on book deals from the big houses, like Penguin Random House, Harper and Collins, and Simon and Schuster (and big money) but what I’m gaining is more control, and more personal involvement in the process. So, if an agent sees one of my books and wants to take me on, I’ll listen to her pitch. But for now, I’m a happy camper.

 
Watch for more news about Tangles and Plaques in February.

 

Cheers!

The Muralist: Disclaimer and Author’s Note

MuralistMy book pick from Octavia Books while visiting New Orleans last week was B. A. Shapiro’s novel, The Muralist. CLICK HERE to watch the video trailer, which does a great job describing the book. It’s been out for over a year, but somehow I missed it until now. It’s wonderful. It’s the kind of book I’d like to write, and there are similar elements in my novel, Cherry Bomb:

Both books combine fictional and historic characters, scenarios, and dialogue.

Both books focus on the abstract expressionist art movement.

Both books have an element of mystery to them.

This Publisher’s Weekly review has mostly good things to say about The Muralist, but one of its criticisms is something I think lots of authors (myself included) struggle with:

Though compelling, Shapiro’s latest is bogged down in relaying well-researched material about the pre-WWII politics and developments in the art world, ultimately undermining the power of the fictional story.

 

B. A. Shapiro (photo by Lynn Wayne)

B. A. Shapiro (photo by Lynn Wayne)

Shapiro obviously did her homework, and like me, maybe she loves research so much that it’s tempting to leave too much information in the book—information that the author needs to inform the writing, but more than the reader wants to see. In working with an editor in an early revision of my novel, I ended up cutting out one of the three main characters and making her part of the backstory instead. The books works much better this way.

I’ve spent some time researching issues of fictionalizing real people in my book—emailing with two different intellectual rights attorneys for advice. The result of these discussions is that I am not going to change the name of the real person (Elaine de Kooning) in my novel, but I will write a disclaimer in the front of the book, similar to this one, in the front of The Muralist:

The Muralist is a novel in which fictional characters mingle with historical figures. All incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Minor alterations in the timing and placement of persons and events were made as the story dictated, the details of which can be found in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

In her Author’s Note, Shapiro goes into more specifics about the way she fictionalized the historical characters. And then she includes more disclaimer-type statements:

A historical novel is a work of long fiction set in a previous time period. To me, the most important word in this definition is fiction…. This mix of history and invention continues throughout the novel.

This is helpful to me as I consider how to write my disclaimer and Author’s Note for Cherry Bomb. I think I’ll get to work on that soon. But for now, I can’t wait to keep reading The Muralist!

Five Days in NOLA

SuBill Peche

I didn’t blog on Monday because I was having too much fun here in New Orleans. What a great city… especially in mid November when the highs are in the low to mid 70s and the humidity uncharacteristically low. I’m here with my husband, who is speaking at the American Heart Association’s 2016 Scientific Sessions. This is a huge meeting—Scientific Sessions attracts nearly 18,000 professional attendees, with a global presence from more than 100 countries. In addition, 2 million medical professionals participate virtually in lectures and discussions about basic, translational, clinical and population science. Bill has spoken twice during the five-day meeting. But he has found time to join me on an amazing culinary pilgrimage.

Bill, Tom, Ellen and me at Mariza

Bill, Tom, Ellen and me at Mariza

Friday night when we arrived we went to visit our friends Tom and Ellen Prewitt at their Bywater apartment in the Rice Mill Lofts for drinks on the rooftop. Then we went downstairs to Mariza – a wonderful Italian restaurant on the ground floor of their building. Fabulous atmosphere and food, and great to be with our Memphis-NOLA friends. (Tom and Ellen live around the corner from us in Memphis when they’re not at their NOLA location.)

Commanders groupCommander’s Palace is my favorite restaurant/experience in NOLA, hands down. We went for jazz brunch on Saturday with our son, Jonathan, and two of his (and our) friends, Nicole Marquez and Joe Gravier. Commander’s never fails to offer the best service, atmosphere, cocktails, and food. It didn’t hurt that we got a table on the patio and it was 72 degrees and sunny! Nicole was able to get the jazz group to play about six requests—she has that affect on people! Saturday night we ventured to Patois with Dr. Larry Fine, Bill’s friend from Washington, D.C., also in town for the AHA meeting. Another wonderful place, great atmosphere and food!

 

Galatoire’s was also great fun—on Sunday night, again with Jon. First he joined us at our hotel to watch the Saints vs. Broncos game, while Bill worked on his AHA presentations on his laptop. We cheered for the Saints since we were in town with our NOLA son, but when the Broncos won, we knew our Denver kids were celebrating. Galatoire’s was really our only visit to the French Quarter this trip, and Bourbon Street was hopping. The Saints fans didn’t seem to let their loss keep them from having a good time!

 

with Emma at Octavia Books

with Emma at Octavia Books

On Monday I had a great visit with my friend Emma Connolly, who moved to NOLA from Memphis a couple of years ago to open a shop, Uptown Needle and CraftWorks, on Magazine Street. I love Emma and Robert’s house in uptown. Emma is one of the contributors to the anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (coming in March 2017).  We visited Octavia Books to introduce ourselves and leave a press release for the book, hoping to give a reading/signing there in the spring. Wonderful bookstore—and of course I had to buy something. Two things, actually. A Christmas gift that I won’t describe here in case the receiver is reading, and the novel The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro, which I’ve been wanting to read. We had delicious crepes at Toast, just down the street from the bookstore.

Susan w graff outside Ogden

Maude Schuyler Clay at Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Maude Schuyler Clay at Ogden Museum of Southern Art

 

Next I stopped at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art to see my friend Maude Schuyler Clay’s photography exhibit, Mississippi History. I already had Maude’s wonderful book, which included many of the photos on exhibit, but there was something special about seeing the prints in person at the exhibit. She captures the souls of her subjects in such a beautiful, haunting way.

Outside the museum I was happy to discover this wall of graffiti done by NOLA graf writers.

mugAnd then I stopped into the coffee/gift shop at the Contemporary Art Center, just across the street from the Ogden. There is so much art in this city! I treated myself to a new coffee mug as a reminder of my visit

Monday night Jonathan joined us again, this time for dinner at Emeril’s, which is only a block from our hotel. I had never been, and again the atmosphere, service, and food did not disappoint.

"Abstraction" by Will Henry Stevens, ca.1940

“Abstraction” by Will Henry Stevens, ca.1940

 

On Tuesday I ventured out again (it’s pretty easy to drive around New Orleans, by the way) to the Paris Parker Salon on Prytania for a shampoo and blow out (and picked up a few Christmas gifts—it’s an Aveda salon). “Andrea” did my hair when I was here back in June, and it was fun feeling like one of her “regulars.” (She also does the head chef at Comander’s Palace’s hair, which I’ve never seen, but his food is great!)  Next I drove out to City Park to stroll around the lakes and enjoy the breeze and the ducks and geese. NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art) is in the Park, so I spent about an hour there, appreciating their permanent collection but loving their abstract exhibits, with works by Picasso, Modigliani, Miro, and others. I discovered New Orleans abstract artist Will Henry Stevens (1881-1949). Like Kandinsky, Stevens viewed painting as an almost spiritual experience, a way of connecting people to a universal truth.

beignetsI ended my visit to City Park at Morning Call, where I ate all three beignets covered in powdered sugar with my coffee while enjoying a nice breeze on the patio.

Next I found my way back to Magazine Street to drop by Uptown Needle and CraftWorks and browse a few more shops. (Yes, more Christmas gifts, and a couple of happies for myself.)

Streetcar Spritzer on the porch at The Columns Hotel

Streetcar Spritzer on the porch at The Columns Hotel

Then at three o’clock, when the porch opens at The Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, I was there, enjoying a Streetcar Spritzer while reading a book Emma loaned me—Writers on Writing, edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini. I was interested in this book, published twenty-five years ago, because I’m editing a similar collection with exclusively Southern contributors (coming out in 2018). I especially enjoyed the Foreword, and essays by Richard Ford and Gail Godwin. Pack and Parini say, in the Foreword, “… the essays all

at The Columns on St. Charles

at The Columns on St. Charles

reveal an underlying commitment to writing as a craft, something that can be passed on from generation to generation of writers, and to the notion of literature as a place where values are tested, where ideas are bodied forth, where the only limits are those enforced by the limits of a writer’s own imagination: limits that, by the paradox of art, make the production possible.” Reading those words got me excited about writing an introduction for my Southern writers anthology!

Su door PecheTuesday night Bill and I had reservations at Peche, which we always enjoy when we’re in NOLA. (Peche has won at least two James Beard awards.) One of the owner/chefs, Ryan Prewitt, is Tom Prewitt’s son. (We had dinner with Tom and Ellen on Friday, remember?) I love how connected our visit has been. So, we arrive at Peche (a short walk from our hotel) just before 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night in November, and the bar crowd is flowing out into the street and every table is full. We always enjoy the whole fish, but we especially loved the oysters on the hall shell.

Bill oysters pecheWe decided to try six Louisiana oysters and six from Alabama. I liked the ‘Bama oysters the best, but they were all delicious! It was November 15… the 47th anniversary of our engagement! Why November 15? It was the night Ole Miss beat Tennessee 38-0 in Jackson, Mississippi. “Archie Who?” (Romantic, right?)

Today is our last day here. After I finish this post, I’m heading over to the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk (a few blocks from our hotel) to do a little more Christmas shopping. Tonight will be our only evening meal that we didn’t plan ahead of time. Our friends Emma and Robert recommended Mandina’s on Canal Street. They don’t take reservations, so I think we’ll show up and see what happens. Tomorrow we’ll drive home to Memphis, stopping at the cemetery in Jackson to visit Mom and Dad, my brother Mike, and my Goddaughter Mary Allison. I know they aren’t really there—but I always feel closer to them when I visit their graves. This has really been a wonderful vacation, even for Bill, who has mixed business with pleasure in his usual seamless way. Thanks for reading—I hope you enjoyed my little travelogue, and can find your way to some of these great places the next time you visit New Orleans!

Wiggle Those Hips

A Century of FashionI live about 15 minutes from a wonderful place—The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Sometimes I go there alone, to take my time, wandering slowly through the galleries where the permanent collection always reveals something new and the temporary exhibitions are as refreshing as the chef’s special at a favorite restaurant. But yesterday I was invited to go there with a new friend who just moved in across the street from me. Judy had two tickets to the museum’s fundraiser, “A Century of Fashion: Part II.”

BrooksAs we walked in the front door, there wasn’t really time to gaze at any art, as my friend introduced me to her fellow members of the museum’s league. And even as we made our way to the auditorium where the fashion show would be held, there were models wandering around the galleries, like this wonderful young couple, Terel and Chrisla Key, who are from my hometown, Jackson, Mississippi.

As the show progressed, I found myself envying the models (and their figures, including many who are older than me) and thinking back about how I’ve always loved to dress up. From the dresses my grandmother made me for piano recitals and school plays in elementary school, to high school and college formals, and the “flower child” wedding gown and hat I chose for my 1970 wedding. (The bridesmaids wore dotted swiss bell-bottomed pants and tunics. It was a hippie fashion show for sure.) Even now, I enjoy shopping at small boutiques so much ore than chain stores and big department stores, although the larger shops to seem to accommodate my fuller figure these days.

Olivia Lewis (l) and Carolyn Springfield-Harvey (r)

Olivia Lewis (l) and Carolyn Springfield-Harvey (r)

One thing I loved about this show at the Brooks was the way the “women of a certain age” carried themselves in those elegant vintage dresses and high heels. And the furs! Growing up in Mississippi, I was always amazed at how many women (like my father’s mother and my own mother) wore fur in the few weeks of winter when it was cold enough. Two of my neighbors—Olivia Lewis and Carolyn Springfield-Harvey, were among the six or eight fur models at the show, and they truly were elegant.

babbie lovettThe woman who organized and moderated the show, Babbie Lovett, is in her eighties. She wore her gray hair pulled straight back into a long, skinny ponytail, which glistened against her elegant black gown. She hardly looked at a note as she took us on a journey through the history of fashion for the past hundred years, in honor of the museum’s 100th anniversary in 2016. Her passion was evident as she described each decade and the things that informed fashion year by year, and then each outfit with beautiful prose. At times I found myself looking at her instead of the models on stage, wondering what my life would be like in twenty years. Would I still love clothes and enjoy them as part of the beauty of art in our culture? I wanted to be her when I grow up.

Whenever I visit New York City I always look forward to seeing the current exhibit at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Near the end of 2017 MoMa (The Museum of Modern Art), also in NYC, will open a new exhibit titled “Items: Is Fashion Modern.” The exhibit will feature 99 garments and accessories that have had a strong impact on history and society in the 20th and 21st centuries, and even today. I love that these museums consider clothing—whether costumes, haute couture, or ready-to-wear—to be a form of art.

 

Memphian Paul Thomas, curator of the new Orange Mound Art Gallery, helped produce the show. I loved seeing so many volunteers and independent contractors at the Brooks Museum this weekend participate as hostesses, flower arrangers, caterers, organizers, promoters, and models. The spirit was festive, and I left with my mood lifted and my love for all things beautiful rewarded. And yes, maybe I even wiggled my hips a little more as I walked out of the museum, although I was wearing cowboy boots instead of heels (which hurt my injured feet). I found myself holding my shoulders back and my chin up, while checking my posture along with my reflection in the glass when I exited the building. I found myself thinking about Madeleine L’Engle’s words (maybe she was quoting Jean Rhys), “We all feed the lake.”

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