Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tea at the Plaza with Eloise and Madeline

Autumn in New York means a return to elegance and time-honored traditions; and having tea in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel is one of my most cherished and delicious traditions.


Every autumn, when I was a little girl, my Mother’s Aunt Annie and I would take the train from Philadelphia to Manhattan.

First on the agenda was a stroll through Central Park to admire the beautiful fall colors.

Around every corner was something to delight the eye, while the crunch of fallen leaves under my black mary janes was sweet music to my ears.

But the best was yet to come!!



At 4:00 pm, precisely, we would meet Annie’s Sister, Emily, for tea in the Palm Court of the Plaza Hotel.

Aunt Emily, a tall, elegant woman, considered to be handsome rather than pretty, worked in the men’s fashion industry. She would arrive in a perfectly-tailored, pearl grey suit with a flamboyant scarf anchored to her lapel by a big, jeweled brooch.

Emily chain-smoked, drank Manhattans and had absolutely no tolerance for a man in an ill-fitting suit.

“Look at that man over there,” she’d sniff, waving her cigarette in his direction. “His tailor should be put in front of a firing squad and shot at dawn.”

As I sipped my tea and drank in the beauty of my surroundings, I always expected the elusive Eloise to jump out from behind one of the huge potted palms.


Although she springs entirely from the imaginations of Kay Thompson, who created her, and Hilary Knight, who illustrated her, Eloise is arguably the Plaza’s most famous resident.

Eloise is a six-year-old girl who lives in the “room on the tippy-top floor” of the Plaza Hotel with her Nanny, a pug dog named Weenie, and a turtle named Skipperdee.

The irreverent Eloise taught generations of little girls how to be adorably naughty in oh-so-genteel surroundings and get away with it.





Her portrait hangs in the Palm Court, and the table underneath is the Court’s most coveted table, especially dear to the hearts of well-dressed little girls everywhere, her biggest fans.

While Eloise was my special friend in New York, I, also, had a very special friend in Paris; and I spent hours fantasizing about bringing the two of them together for tea at the Plaza.









Darling, red-haired Madeline, the smallest in her class, lives in a boarding school in Paris run by the nuns.

We had much in common, and I adored her and her dog, Genevieve, who rescued Madeline after she had fallen into the Seine River.


Madeline loves to travel, so I was sure I could persuade her to visit Eloise and me in New York.

After all, there was plenty of room in Eloise’s room at the “tippy-top floor” of the Plaza for Madeline and Genevieve to stay, and everyone would have a grand old time getting to know one another.




Eloise, Madeline and I would sit down together for tea in the Palm Court. I, of course, would act as translator.

What fun we would have!

By the time the last pastries were consumed, I knew Madeline would have invited Eloise and me to join her for hot chocolate and macarons at Angélina’s in Paris.

What adventures we would have!



I couldn’t wait to introduce my Goddaughter, Kyra, to my two special friends, Eloise and Madeline.

To my delight, she was enchanted by them both, particularly Madeline, my very special friend.

When she was six years old, I took Kyra to her first tea at the Plaza, and she insisted on wearing a hat that looked just like Madeline’s.

We sat under Eloise’s portrait.

I find it difficult to believe that my little Kyra will soon be starting law school. I have barely noticed the years slip by.

Last week, I got this e-mail from her: “Dear Aunt M-T, I miss our teas. Could we please have tea at the Plaza soon? Maybe you could ask Eloise and Madeline to join us. What fun we would have!"

Monday, September 17, 2012

Brooching the Subject

In the expanding “everything old is new again” category, last week, as models slumped down the runways of New York, one of my absolute favorite accessories was prominently on display – the brooch.

Think you’re muuuuuch too fashion forward and edgy to wear anything like those little seed pearls that sat demurely on the ample bosom of your prim and proper Grandmother? Think again. This is definitely NOT your Grandmother’s brooch.


This Chanel brooch is a real statement piece.

Even with such an exuberant mix of colors and patterns, this pin, a bejeweled replica of Chanel’s signature Camellia, more than holds its own. Putting a large, round pin on square blocks of color instantly creates graphic interest.

Those of you who know me, know that my eye is always drawn to a great scarf, but………………

Here my eye went straight to this great brooch, although…… I had to get past the eyebrows first!!

This fabulous Dsquared2 brooch is a little bit retro, a little bit rock ‘n roll and a whole lot of statement.

Grandma just might have worn this on her tweed coat.

But, you don’t have to.

Why not pin it on your handbag or, better yet, go totally bold and fasten it to your favorite skinny jeans? Then, let it peak out from under your top. Very cool!


Now, here’s a brooch that you and Granny can both warm up to.

Just pin this Oscar de la Renta beauty onto the starched collar of a classic white blouse, throw on a warm cable knit, and you’re all set to curl up by the fire with a cup of tea and a good book – schoolgirl head band optional.

Oh, and if you’re looking for the perfect reading material to complete the picture, I have a great suggestion.
The fascinating life of one of the world’s most interesting and influential socialites of your Grandmother’s era is the subject of a new biography (Viking Press) due out this November.

Susan Mary Alsop presided over a Washington, D.C., salon to rival any in the most chi chi quartiers of Paris, where she honed her charms and her skills.

Ms. Alsop knew that if you wanted to keep great conversation flowing, you needed to do the same with the champagne.

Hmm, perhaps Grandmother’s generation knew a thing or two about the interesting, well-dressed life.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Opening Night at the Met 2012 - Go Glam or Don't Go !

What I would wear to Opening Night on September 24th if only I were taller, richer and these fabulous shoes actually came in my size (4B).  (sigh)

What do you think, Ladies?  Is it a Hit or a Miss?


Opening Night at the Met - Go Glam or Don't Go !

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Opening Night at the Met – 2012



Matthew Polenzani and Anna Netrebko in Rehearsal
With any luck, and if the opera gods are smiling on us that evening, all the hard work will pay off for this season’s Opening Night at the Metropolitan Opera.

On Monday, September 24th, the Met will open its season with “L’Elisir d’Amore” (“the Elixir of Love”), a delightful, romantic romp with a happy ending.


Netrebko as Adina
A brand new production of this beloved opera, there will be a lot riding on the shoulders of its young stars -- the magnificent Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, as Adina, and the superb American tenor Matthew Polenzani, as Nemorino.

Adina is smart, beautiful and the object of Nemorino’s devotion. Nemorino is a simple, country lad who can neither read nor write.

Dismissive of his attentions at first, through a series of hilarious events involving a magic elixir, Adina ends up falling in love with Nemorino, while the audience falls in love with the glorious music.


Pavarotti as Nemorino
The role of Nemorino, one of the incomparable Luciano Pavarotti’s signature roles, contains one of the most beautiful and difficult arias ever written for tenor, “Una Furtiva Lagrima.”

It is, in fact, the aria everyone waits for. Nemorino has seen a furtive tear (una furtiva lagrima) fall from Adina’s beautiful eyes when she believes that she has lost him forever.

Even though he is off to join the Army, that tiny tear gives Nemorino hope that all is not lost, and he pours his heart, his soul and his love into that aria.

I had the great privilege of seeing Pavarotti perform this role many times, and each time he sang this aria, he brought down the house.


On March 31st of this year, the Nemorino of Peruvian tenor, Juan Diego Florez, made operatic history at the Met. My husband and I were lucky enough to be in the audience.

He walked out slowly to the center of the stage, set down his jacket and battered suitcase and began to sing Nemorino’s aria. Within a very few notes, we all knew something special, something magical was happening, as we leaned forward in our seats hanging on every note. No one dared breathe; no one dared move.

As the final note dissolved into the theater, the audience broke into wild applause, stamping their feet and screaming “BRAVO!! BRAVO!!”

The applause began to die down, Florez threw his jacket over his shoulder, picked up his suitcase and turned to walk off stage. Suddenly a man a few seats to my left yelled out, “ENCORE!!”

Everyone laughed, knowing that the Met has a strict policy against singing encores. I had seen it in Europe, but never at the Met. It was unthinkable. But then, the unthinkable happened. Florez turned, looked at the audience, then at the conductor and put down his jacket and suitcase. The audience went crazy!

“I can’t believe it!!” my husband whispered excitedly in my ear. “I think he’s gonna do it again!!!”

And he did! And this time, he sang it not as Nemorino, the timid suitor, but as Juan Diego Florez, the full-throated tenor giving every ounce of himself to an audience which had shown him the full measure of its love. (To hear the aria and encore as it happened, click here.)

Those are the moments, mes chers amis, that keep opera goers like me coming back again and again and again; they are rare, they are precious, and when they happen they stay with you forever. If you get one or two during an entire season, it’s a great year.

After more than fifty years of sitting in darkened opera theaters all over the world, I still get the same tingle of excitement when the curtain goes up. And each new season holds the promise of magic.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Falling in Love Again


Summer always leaves me cold.

And then, suddenly, I can feel fall on my cheeks, and it feels just like falling in love again.

Hello, September, welcome back. I’ve missed you.

We’ve made some wonderful memories together.



On a sunny afternoon in Philadelphia, thirty-five Septembers ago this weekend, a young woman with high hopes and big dreams married her future to that of a young man with a wonderful laugh.

The following day, we left for Paris. I couldn’t wait to introduce Dan, my new American husband, to my family, my friends and the country I hoped he would come to love as much as I did. 



Le Front Populaire 1936
I knew I was taking a chance. September is a notorious month for les grèves (strikes). It’s a way for Parisians to extend their August vacations and ease themselves into la rentrée.

Still, I was willing to run the risk.

We splurged on a tiny hotel room in the 8th arrondissement with crooked floors, oppressive wall paper and a bathroom so small you had to sit sideways to use the WC; but we found it charmant.

The surly gentleman at Reception was the first person to address me as “Madame.” No longer a mere “mademoiselle,” I had now acquired the rights and privileges of my new social status as a married woman in French society.

According to an old French custom, I was now allowed to rest my elbows lightly on the dinner table and cross my hands to show off my rings. This was an indication of the social position of one’s husband in 19th century France.



What a hideous top I'm wearing !!  What was I thinking?

Most of the next week was spent at someone’s dining table or in their séjour sipping apéritifs.  

It was one enormous, movable feast as we went from place to place visiting family and old friends, many of whom I had known since childhood.

Along the way, we even managed to squeeze in a bit of sightseeing. My husband was captivated by it all, clearly falling in love with everyone and everything Parisian.







And then it was time for a weekend in Normandy with tante Jeanette and ton ton Marcel.



 
   
As we turned onto the rue du château, my husband let out a “WOW!!”

“Is this where they live?” he asked.

“Yes, this is their street,” I replied.

“What the heck is that at the end of the street? It looks like a castle!”

“Yep, it’s the château of the Duc d’Alençon. That’s why they call the street rue du château. Pretty clever, n’est-ce pas?”

“O.K., O.K., make fun of me……… but I’ve never known anyone with a castle at the end of their street.”

“Well, you do now!” I grinned.
Uncle Marcel was anxiously awaiting our arrival.

…..Hugs, kisses and tears of joy all around.

Tomorrow two of my cousins would arrive with their families, but for now, there was more eating and drinking to be done.

Bags safely stowed in our bedroom, we went to the salle à manger (so many delicious memories around that table!) to join tante Jeanette, ton ton Marcel and a few old friends for apéritifs.


tante Jeanette holdingThaïs



And there, in the dining room, I came face to face with a serious rival for my husband’s affections.

Thaïs was my Uncle’s favorite hunting dog.

This little terrier temptress took one look at Dan, fell madly in love, and, by all appearances, it was mutual.  (I knew I shouldn't have worn that hideous smock top!!)



For the rest of our stay, Thaïs never left Dan’s side, either sitting next to him or under the table with her head on his foot as he ate.

At night, she slept outside our bedroom door.

Everyone was amazed by her devotion to my husband. My Aunt was convinced it was his irresistible, all-American charm. She’d seen the same thing happen during the war when American GIs set more than a few French girls’ hearts aflutter. They all seemed to have such beautiful teeth, she remembered.

One of those American GIs was my husband’s father, Dan Sr., who once admitted to me that, during the war, he had spent more than a few nights in the company of some très charmantes mesdemoiselles.


Thaïs would show the same love and devotion to my husband every time we visited.

This picture was taken about a dozen years after their initial coup de foudre.

By then, Thaïs’s hunting days were behind her, but their love affair endured the test of time.

But, I digress.

The rest of that weekend was spent in a heady haze of laughter, good jokes, bad puns (is there any other kind?), exquisite food, champagne, hearty cidre, calvados, the best bottles of Bordeaux from my Uncle’s cave, and my husband’s initiation (instigated by my cousins) into the age-old trou normand ritual (don’t ask!).

When we returned to Paris, the forecast was for bright, sunny skies with no strikes on the horizon. Naturally, our luck didn’t hold. Two days before our departure, the airlines went on strike and the following day the trains went out in a show of solidarity.

We had to rent a car, drive to Boulogne-sur-mer to take the ferry to Dover, then a bus to London and a train to Heathrow Airport, where we caught a flight back to Philadelphia.

I was exhausted, but Dan spent most of the flight back to Philadelphia planning our trip back to Paris. There was so much he still wanted to see and do and experience, that he couldn’t wait to go back.

“So, I guess, the last two days of scrambling to figure out how to get back home because a bunch of overpaid, underworked Frenchmen would rather go on strike than do their jobs didn’t bother you?”

In response, my husband gave me a picture-perfect haussement des épaules (shoulder shrug). No French bureaucrat could have done it better.

“Where did you learn to do that?” I asked in surprise.

“I don’t know, I guess I must have picked it up somewhere.”

How do you like that? I took an all-American boy to France and came back with a Frenchman.
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