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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Between love and lost

If you’ve been following the Chronicles for the last three weeks you’ll know that I’ve been posting a free chapter a week for four weeks as part of an ongoing promotional campaign for my book  Any Color but Beige.

Over the last year, readership and subscriptions have increased dramatically. And I hope that by giving my new readers a preview of the book I can entice them to buy it, read it, and recommend it to their friends.

The book is closely linked to my career as an international color marketing expert, so I structured the book according to my life’s personal color spectrum. The four colorful sections that make up the book are Primary Colors, Color Blind, True Colors, and Exotic Colors.

Exotic Colors is this week’s section, from which I selected the chapter called Chapter 24 It deals with heartbreak and healing. And it was from this painful experience that my book Any Color but Beige came to be. My editor likes to say the best stories break your heart. And she’s right.

photo: © istockphoto.com/VladLo

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What a way to spend the afternoon

I don’t nap. It’s not a habit I’ve been able to acquire, despite all of the health-related benefits. No siestas, snoozes, catnaps, nor forty winks. For me, it has always been a long day’s journey into night.

This trip has been one of many firsts. First, I found out that I was that kind of girl. And I’ve said “I told you so: not once but twice. And now, I have to confess that, on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Joburg visiting friends, I fell asleep for an hour and fifteen minutes in the noonday sun. And I felt the better for it.

It’s spring in S. Africa and still a bit chilly but my southeast facing bedroom was all warm and cozy from the sun. So I found a sunny spot on my bed, fluffed my pillows, and grabbed a book. A light breeze played hide and seek with the curtains. The water gurgled in the little fountain just outside my window. It was a spring day as it was meant to be − happy.

I thought, this is how a lioness must feel at the end of a long, hard week of fetching and carrying – a soft spot under a Syringa tree far from the maddening crowd – her intent also the same as mine, to renew herself, body and soul, and carve out a bit of alone time, in my case, with a good book.

I wondered, if she were human, what would she would be reading – The Life of Pi, Charlotte’s Web or maybe The Tiniest Tiger?

I opened my book of poetry and chanced upon Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 27” and read the first two lines :

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;

That’s me, I thought, before sleep stole upon me and lightly brushed her hand upon my half closed eyelids.

Upon waking, book still in hand, I finished it.

But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d:
For then my thoughts—from far where I abide—
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself no quiet find.

However, unlike Shakespeare, I did myself some quiet find in that unexpected nap. And I spent the rest of afternoon just like that lioness lazing about under the South African sun.

photo: © istockphoto.com/pai toon

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Rooftop Garden in Instanbul

Rooftop Garden in Istanbul

There are also sorts of words associated with magic – incantations, spells – call them what you will — said in an effort to produce a desired outcome.

“Open says me” or is it “Open sesame”? As a kid I was never really sure. In any case it always worked for Aladdin.

There’s also the well-known “abracadabra” and the tried and true, “presto change-o”. Or the two words most popular words in any language, “I wish.”

I have my own set of magic words that I meditate upon when faced with a particularly onerous task, a tough negotiation or a difficult period in my life. It’s a short-term solution for a short-term problem but in saying it, it buys me a moment of calm so that I can think clearly and carry on.

Allow me to give you an example. After three weeks on the road I had settled for a short period of time in Istanbul where I could finally unpack a few things rather than rummage through my suitcase in search of the ever-missing mate to a pair of knee-highs.

I had come from the increasingly cold climate of Europe to sunny Turkey for a trade show, Paints Istanbul. I was staying at an airport hotel near the Exhibition Center but far enough outside Istanbul to make it too tiring to trek into the city for dinner and a change of scenery. However, the hotel had a lovely outdoor terrace located on a quiet and well-manicured mezzanine rooftop. I was often the only one there, and if it hadn’t been for the roar of jet engines from the airport or the call to prayer by the mullah at a nearby Mosque, it could have been my own little English cottage garden – if I had one.

That rooftop garden quickly became a refuge I was reluctant to leave. On my last afternoon, as I enjoyed a lovely lunch, I kept glancing at my watch. In two hours, I thought, I will be battling a crush of people at the airport, queuing up for passport control, queuing up again for security, and then beginning the countdown for the three-hour flight back to Germany where I would repeat the process of passport control and security in preparation for the ten-hour economy flight from Frankfurt to S. Africa.

I didn’t want to go. “What if,” I thought? What if I stayed? What if I found a little job in a nearby resort – shades of Shirley Valentine. But I dropped that line of thinking immediately. Like a good lawyer, I never like to ask a question, I don’t already know the answer to. And, sometimes what you want and what you have to do don’t always align.

Instead, I did what I always do to get me through a difficult or unpleasant situation. I looked at my watch, which read 2:00 p.m. and pushed the thought of air travel out of my mind in favor of time travel. I projected myself, or tried to see myself, in the future and said the three little words that get me through most of life’s little travails: “This time tomorrow…” and pictured a completed task, a lovely place, or hard feelings forgotten.

I know that by meditating on these words: this time tomorrow, or next week or next year means that whatever difficulties lie in front of me will eventually be behind me. They will magically disappear, like all things, with the passage of time.

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Pick a color, any color!

Yes, I think there is. Paint Industry Research has confirmed what we, as consumers, already knew. We are overwhelmed by too many color choices.

We always think we want choice, and yet when presented with a myriad of options we either can’t make a choice and walk away with nothing or we make a choice and berate ourselves all the way home thinking we made the wrong choice – the wrong color, the wrong bedspread, the wrong dress, the wrong man.

I recently experienced this phenomena myself while at a trade show in Istanbul. Having finished my sales calls I found myself with enough time on my hands to make a quick trip into the city. My customers made all kinds of wonderful recommendations, and I ended up visiting the Blue Mosque, the Haggia Sofia and the Grand Bazaar.

I explained to one colleague that I was a little reluctant to visit the Grand Bazaar because I had been there before and had found it an exhausting and exhaustive place to shop. With so much to see, my senses had been overwhelmed and I’d even gotten lost in its maze of passageways when a crush of people moved me in a direction I’d no intention of taking.

Sensing my angst, my colleague asked me what I liked. I told her scarves so she wrote down the name of a shop that specialized in beautiful scarves.

It’s called Bedesten, and it’s located in the old part of the Grand Bazaar. The shop is like a large walk-in closet with floor to ceiling cubbyholes of every kind of scarf in every color and texture imaginable. As I turned around slowly I felt like I was in a life-size Kaleidoscope. I felt dizzy from the effect of all of the color and giddy with anticipation.

The young proprietor walked me through the types of scarfs on offer – from expensive and sumptuous silk to pashmina, wool and, of course, cheaper synthetics. After I had a glass of customary (apple) tea (the Turkish people are the epitome of hospitality) the selling process began. The proprietor pulled scarf after scarf off the shelf and draped them across the Middle Eastern-style coffee table.

“Stop! Stop!” I put up my hands.

He gave me a puzzled look – didn’t I like the scarves?

Like the scarves! I told him I loved them, but if he continued in this manner, it would be impossible for me to choose a single scarf. I told him that we would have to limit the choices; otherwise I was afraid I would leave empty handed.

He did, and I decided to buy five scarves – one for myself, and four more as gifts – that were all a combination of silk and pashmina, I asked him to show me just two scarves in color families that I knew would be complimentary to my friends and me. Faced with a choice of only two scarves in blue, green, purple, red and orange, I found it easy to pick the perfect ones.

After a bit of bargaining we fixed a price and I went away happy, having acquired a beautiful selection of scarves and first-hand knowledge that corroborated what research tells us – sometimes there is such a thing as too much color.

photo: © istockphoto.com/PaulVinten

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When I travel I like to look for practical things that I can use at home. Souvenirs that are not really dust collectors but serve a purpose, like CDs featuring local music, articles of clothing, jewelry and household items.

During my most recent trip to Istanbul, in addition to some very fine silk and pashmina scarves, I acquired a few things that surprised even me.

A flirtatious cab driver fascinated by my hair and eye color offered to be my guide of the city for free. And while I thanked him for his generous offer, I said my negotiated taxi fare to the Blue Mosque would be more than enough.

As the traffic lagged we fell into a conversation that quickly turned personal. I didn’t especially like the direction it was taking but I decided to turn the conversation to my advantage.

I talked freely and elaborately about my three children and my schoolteacher husband.

“Three children!”

I just smiled back. It was fun to imagine having three kids (two boys and a girl) and of course a perfect husband. The mental picture I had drawn was right out of an LL Bean catalogue – it was too good to be true. Perhaps somewhere in a parallel universe, I thought, it was true.

But for now, in this universe, I had to leave them in Turkey.

photo: © istockphoto.com/skynesher

Instant Family!

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Temptation is on every street corner in Paris.

The smell of freshly baked, buttery croissants greets me every morning as I walk past the boulangerie on my way to early morning meetings. Aaah, you can’t start the day without breakfast, I think. And where better to have croissants than in …

The colorful macaroons of the patisserie catch my eye after lunch. Oooh, but they’re small, I think. Maybe…

The temptation to order a glass of wine with lunch. Everyone drinks wine in …

In Paris, it’s very easy for the pounds to sneak up on you if you’re not careful. But I forego all of this and not because of my extraordinary willpower. It’s because in the midst of all of this sweet seduction lives an even sweeter one – a lingerie boutique called Etam.

For some women, it’s shoes. For others, it’s chocolate or the latest fashions hot off the runway. For me, it’s always been two things: lingerie and hats. It seems I can’t pass a boutique without buying a little something of one or the other. And if it’s lingerie, it’s always a “little” something.

And so, the incentive to be careful with calories is built into just about every trip. It’s a lot easier with hats though – especially berets – they look good on everyone, and it doesn’t matter what size your head is.

Skimpy underthings, even if I’m the only one who sees them, still have to look good. And believe me, when it comes to things that look good on me, I’m not a perfectionist. It just has to look good enough to make me feel good.

What does good enough constitute? The right cut, the right color and the right fit. Et voila!

Real women have curves, and I happen to like my curves, even if they’re sometimes a bit rebellious. I’ve made peace with my pooch years ago.

Today, I purchased a navy blue body-hugging nightie with a lace panel bra. Not only was the dark color slimming, it was also very flattering. Navy is a color that most people can wear well. It’s neutral and gives you a break from all that black.

The cut and the lycra of this one made it cling in all of the right places. When I put it on, it felt clingy but oh so comfortable.

A lace bra and panty set in the same navy color and with the same relaxed fit, made me feel so sexy that I bought it and another one in hot pink. Color can enhance as well as distract. It’s the overall picture, the sum of my parts that I see and not little defects. And I just feel pretty in pink.

Slip into something comfortable

Today’s purchases made me remember my friend Angela. She said that whenever she had an important meeting with big clients she always wore her “power underwear,” which consisted of a red bra and panties. Only Angela knew she was wearing them. Together they constituted a secret weapon that made her feel powerful.

Thinking of her makes me think of all of my female friends who keep their sexy lingerie in a drawer, tucked away waiting for some special occasion, usually linked to the nascent days of a new relationship, until cold winters and habit sets in. In the end, they forget their treasure troves of satin and lace trimmings that could make them feel good underneath it all, whether with some one or alone.

I think of them and catch a glimpse of myself and my new lingerie in the mirror, and I think. “Not bad. Not bad at all.”

And that’s why I do it. That’s why we should all do it.

Let’s face it. While it’s nice to dress or undress for a man, they really don’t care what you have on as long as it’s easy to take it off. Many is the time that I’ve barely made an entrance in a stunning something before it’s in a puddle of satin folds on the floor. “But my…” I stammer in amazed confusion. To which he responds in words made famous by Joe Cocker, “Baby, you can leave your hat on.

Hat be damned!

*Original illustration by Helen Samson for Cafe Girl Books. http://www.samson-design.ca

 

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Did I mention that I am in Paris? Even though I come here often on business I somehow think I’m going to wake up, six years old, back in my bed in Cleveland, Ohio having dreamt the whole thing.

That’s why today, on the taxi ride into the city, I kept saying to myself, “I’m in Paris. I’m in Paris.” And I did a little seated “happy dance” in the back of the car.

Paris is like a lover in that you never want to take it for granted. So, to keep my relationship with it fresh and exciting, on this trip I changed both my hotel and my district. This time, I have hung my hat at the Hotel Residence Europe in Clichy, a northwest suburb of Paris. The room rate is about half the price I paid when I was stayed in the 15th arrondisement near the Eiffel Tower.

Lest you think I’m out in the boonies somewhere, I’m actually next to the swish 17th arrondissement, which is only 4 miles from the city center and six Métro stops to the Champs-Élysées. From there, Paris is at your feet.

The hotel is also within walking distance of a lovely park, the Place de la République François Mitterrand, and lots of neighborhood restaurants.

Changing hotels has taken me out of my comfort zone. Life on the road has made me a creature of habit. It’s nice to have something familiar when visiting a strange place, i.e. a place that isn’t “home”. In my case it’s usually the same hotel, a favorite restaurant or, if I’m lucky, time spent with friends.

In this case it’s “my friend” Julia Roberts, whose familiar face is on transit posters all over Paris. She’s promoting Lancôme’s new fragrance, La Vie Est Belle. The tag line being: Life is beautiful. Live it your way.” Gee, that sounds familiar.

Life is Beautiful

“So Julia, what brings you to Paris?” I ask no one in particular, until I notice an elderly Frenchwoman standing next to the bus shelter. She just smiles at me indulgently – I know what she’s thinking: another crazy tourist.

As I continue my walk around the neighborhood, I decide to add a soundtrack. This trip I brought my IPod and wouldn’t you know it, the first song on the shuffle was Céline Dion’s “Taking Chances.”

If I believed in signs (like billboard posters and songs), I’d think that the universe was trying to tell me something. And maybe it is. From the moment I took a taxi to the Montreal airport on Sunday, I had this electric feeling of expectancy what the French refer to as a frisson, a feeling of emotional excitement.

It started with a handsomely chic Belgian who kept me company in at the Air Canada counter check-in line. His dark hair was flecked with a touch a grey at the sides, and when he smiled, he had wonderful laugh lines around his eyes. There was a rogue piece of hair that kept falling forward onto his tanned forehead, and I was tempted to push it back, like Barbra Streisand did to Robert Redford in The Way We Were.

Meanwhile back in Paris, I find a little restaurant and decide to have an omelette aux fines herbes and a green salad for lunch. It’s delicious. And the waiter is charming. He has a big smile that reaches all the way to his turquoise-colored eyes and he is very solicitous. He even invites me to change to a table where I am more comfortable.

We chat amicably in French and English throughout the meal. He explains that when he isn’t waiting tables, he studies architecture. That leads to a conversation about the beauty that is the living museum called Paris.

And that leads to invitation to a movie or an evening stroll around the city.

“Que dirais-tu?” What do you say? He asks.

I’m sure there so many reasons to say “no” but I can’t think of any.  In fact, I feel my comfort zone start to expand even more.

He asks again.

“I say yes.”

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Last week I was the guest speaker at the Montreal Chroma-Zone meeting of the Color Marketing Group. My topic was how to create a personal color palette. I noted, and rightly so, that as color marketing professionals we’re so busy adding color to other peoples’ lives we sometimes forget to add color to our own. A short survey of the room proved me right.

My talk focused on the metaphorical use of color in your life or, to put it another way, how to decorate your soul. The best way to do this is to get out of your comfort zone, to shift out of your safe neutral, “beige” existence and take some chances.

Of course if you give a speech like this, you have to show your audience that you practice what you preach. And, so, I told them about three things I did this summer.

The first thing I did was to get my “glam” on. I treated myself to a photography session to experience the glamour of Hollywood’s Golden Era when stars like Hayworth, Gardner, Garbo and Dietrich ruled the red carpet.

Get your glam on…

It’s amazing what good lighting and a little makeup can do for a girl. I did this for me but I am happy to share a photo with you. Notice the purple gown and the red lips.  This is one combination I would never have put together myself, but it has become one of my favorite go-to color combinations for special occasions. Now, whenever I need a little pick me up, I look at one of the pictures and then get dressed, i.e., get my glam on and go out with the girls. It works wonders.

My next colorful summer adventure was in the kitchen. I treated a friend to a lesson at a wonderful little cooking school in Old Montreal called Ateliers et Saveurs. Check out this colorful salad composé of corn, red pepper and cucumber dressed with a spicy Tabasco dressing. The only thing more colorful than the salad is my dress – a lively mixed pattern of salmon, rose, red and black swirls. Both the dish and me were hot stuff.

I rounded out my tales of my summer color by confessing to a dalliance with a much younger man which, while it was all too brief, was rendered unforgettable with a melody he composed just for me. One friend who heard the melody said that it captured me perfectly. Whenever I listen to it, I see the pastel colors of a Parisian sunset, all soft and pretty. And I wonder if that was how he saw me? And if, when he wrote it, he was thinking about last spring and Paris and our long walks by the Seine. I wonder if that melody colors his memories the way it colors mine.

Katja’s (Cat’s) Melody

And now we’re coming into one of the most colorful seasons of all – at least in my neck of the woods – fall.  For those of you lucky enough to experience a change of seasons, now would be the perfect time to kick back with a cup of coffee and contemplate the colors you can add to your own personal palette. And for those of you located in a more consistent climate, remember you don’t need a change of seasons to inspire your own personal color palette. All you need is a change of mind. It doesn’t matter whether your personal palette is bright and bold, or pastel and pretty, because color is a choice. And if you don’t like it, you can always change it.

In the meantime, own it, wear it, live it!

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Solo travel is wonderful in so many ways. It forces me out of my comfort zone. And it gives me an opportunity to see, do or try new things. It’s as freeing as it is terrifying.

The downside to solo travel is the occasional bout of loneliness tinged with a hint of melancholy, especially when returning to some of those places that are haunted ghosts of lovers past. This is sometimes unavoidable when many of these places coincide with business – and the catch-as-catch-can of trysts in transit.

Room service on the 18th floor of the Hyatt in Chicago with the sun breaking over Navy Pier – coffee, croissants and intense conversation – now gives way to a mocha latte grande gulped down in the back of a taxi careering down Michigan Avenue. Champagne toasts to a bejeweled Paris at midnight are, these days, all too easily satisfied with a handful of almonds and a diet soda. And the magic of Athenian nights are transformed into mundane evenings of emails as usual.

No matter how many years pass, nostalgia creeps up on me just when I think I’ve made peace with my past. I was the kind of kid who liked to pick at scabs, so it doesn’t surprise me when I overindulge myself in a little bit of romantic reverie. Try as I might, it seems I can run but I can’t hide. Sometimes I don’t want to run or hide – such is the perverse nature of bittersweet memories.

This time, it all started innocently enough with a recent stop in the duty free. I love the smell of duty free. Have you ever noticed how they all smell the same the world over? They should bottle that scent. To me it represents freedom and a world of adventure just beyond the next boarding gate. You never know what to expect.

And so it was at the duty free that I came face to face with Ewen McGregor on a poster promoting the Davidoff fragrance – Adventure. It brought back the scent of a certain Swede – the Swede of the Chicago breakfast. And you know what they say about scent and memory…

Blue Paris

The second close encounter with sentimentality came in Paris when I decided to trade in my soda for a little bottle of white wine from the mini-bar. It was ’round midnight, when I turned on some Paris easy listening and was greeted by the sexy and sultry voice of Luther singing “If Only for One Night” just for me. I had pulled open the curtains to look at the impressive array of buildings dotting the skyline of La Defense. As I stared at my reflection in the giant window I knew I wanted just one more night with a certain jazz musician across town who was probably seducing someone else with the dulcet tones from his trumpet…playing just for her as he once did for me.

With spring showers and lightning strikes on the horizon, I’m reminded of a certain summer night in Athens. It was here that I learned lightning can indeed strike twice – especially if you test the gods. As lightning danced on the hills surrounding the Acropolis, I had challenged Aphrodite and paid for my insouciance. Okay I said, “This is your town, show me what you got.”

Ha! The words were barely out of my mouth when she did just that. I can imagine the laugh she shared with Ares as they looked down on me struggling with my feelings for not one but two men who appeared almost magically out of nowhere in the garden of a local restaurant called Balthazar.

Girlfriends would later ask half seriously: why not both? While the thought briefly crossed my mind I knew it was impossible, each one beautifully rendered like temple statues – today everywhere I look in Greece I see them – Castor and Pollux, each one so different than the other. One would feed my body and the other would feed my mind. To choose one over the other would be to drive a wedge between friendships old and new.

And so, like the proverbial starving donkey that had to choose between two bales of hay, each one appearing more appetizing than the other, I went hungry. Once flesh and blood, they have now turned to stone.

Stray memories and Greek gods aside, when it comes to love, I think Shakespeare’s Puck said it best in A Midsummer’s Night Dream: “Lord what fools these mortals be.” I guess when it comes to love I am and will forever be a fool for love.

photo: © istockphoto.com/matthewleesdixon

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Party of Four

While browsing through the iStockphoto offerings, I happened upon a photo of a famous West End restaurant, one that brought back memories of a previous trip to London. The Ivy is a restaurant popular with the theatre-going crowd, audience and actors alike.

The circumstances of my first visit were so perfect, it could have been a plotline right out of a West End play: two women strike up a conversation one morning over breakfast at a hotel. The older woman was at the hotel recovering from surgery, and I was there for a color conference with several clients. The woman reminded me of my grandmother. She had the kind of class you can’t acquire – you have to be born with it. We talk for an hour about this and that. Alone, with no family, she was happy to have the company.

While she and I talked, one of my clients stopped by the table to say hello, she looked a little dejected and when I asked what was wrong, she told us how she and two of her colleagues had wanted to dine at The Ivy that night but were unable to get a table. The first available reservation was weeks away.

I didn’t think I could help her. Earlier in the week I had bribed a few doormen at some of London’s more posh clubs. But my sense of it was that only an act of God or a recommendation from Sir Anthony Hopkins himself would be able to get my clients into The Ivy.

I looked at my dining companion and she smiled a slow indulgent smile. She picked up her cell phone, speed dialed and said a few words to the person on the other end of the line. Then she looked at me and asked, “What is your name, my dear?”

I told her. She nodded and concluded the call with my name and the words “party of four.”

She then smiled and told us we had a dinner reservation at 11:00 p.m. and told us whom to ask for. In the parlance of British slang, my client and I were gobsmacked.

I thanked our benefactor and asked her name. She politely sidestepped the question, rose and left the table like some regal grand dame.  And that’s exactly what she was.

photo: © istockphoto.com/onebluelight

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