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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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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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Make room for multicolor fashions in your closet and your life!

As you already know I’m not that kind of girl. Well most of the time. I’m also not one of those people given to self-aggrandizement when I’m right about something. The phrase I told you so never escapes my lips. I hate hearing it, so I never say it?  Having just heard me say “never,” you know what is about to come next. And I ask you to indulge me just this once, and in return I promise I’ll never say it again.

On my flight from Paris to Istanbul to attend the Paints Istanbul trade show, I picked up a copy of the International Herald Tribune. After slogging through numerous articles about the European monetary crisis and the US election, you can imagine my joy and relief when I got to a Fashion New York Special Report from the New York Times. In it, reporter Suzy Menkes gave her overview on the continuing color revolution that will brighten our closets and make us look and feel good for summer 2013. At last, I thought, something to look forward to.

This color trend actually hit the runway and our wardrobes back in 2010 with the introduction of color blocking – the pairing of two bold colors side by side. Now, according to the Times article, the new trend is a “combination of bright palettes, livid shades and digital patterns.”

Menkes focused on 12 fashion designers, some of them better known than others, and described how they were blending color, fabric and cultures into colorful creations for the catwalk. The photos alone were enough to brighten anyone’s day.

Black will, of course, continue to be a staple of most wardrobes, but at best it will play a supporting role, as will other neutrals such as taupe, beige and of course all those shades of grey.

Which brings me back to the point of my post and how well it ties into not only the title of my book, Any Color but Beige but my own personal philosophy of living life in color. I told you so!

photo: © istockphoto.com/tillisphotography

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I have always prided myself on the fact that, when in a relationship of any kind, I have never sacrificed a friend for a man. I have never cancelled a night out with the girls in favor of a last-minute date. I have never responded to text messages during dinner and interrupted the smooth flow of a conversation. Nor have I ever disappeared for weeks or months at a time to lavish all my time and attention on a man – I am not that kind of girl.

That kind of girl…

Or so I thought…

For several months now, instead of writing this blog, I spent those precious hours in a daily and dedicated correspondence to a long-distance (and distant) lover. A lover who, I might add, also has some literary aspirations. Aspiration is a good word, because I could literally feel his aspirations sucking the creativity and life out of my own writing and observations. As I channeled my time and creative energy over to him I had less to spend on myself. In addition, as his “editor,” I spent a great deal of time propping up his ego. This is essential in a vocation that is riddled with insecurity and angst. Just ask my editor.

So, in a sense, I abandoned both my readers and my muse for him. And having done so, I was afraid I had lost both. I was afraid that my readers, tired of waiting around for a new post, had gone off to read other writers’ blogs and that my muse had gone to whisper words into other writers’ ears.

But after a week of steadily blogging and receiving a warm “welcome back,” I have learned that this is not so. And, as I sit in my hotel room in Paris, I am reading all of your wonderful comments and feeling my muse pacing the floor, pausing every few minutes in search of a perfect word to place on the page.

After such a long absence I was also afraid I had lost my rhythm, my words, and that panicky pleasure I get when I write regularly. The same doubts plague the actor, musician, or athlete who, after a long absence, returns to the public stage and asks herself, Can I do it again? Will I be as good? What if I choke?

Writing is, like most things, a profession you have to practice – a lot – if you want to be good at it. The less I practiced, the farther away I got from writing this blog and the closer I came to shutting it down.

That was, until I had a conversation with my editor, Melva McLean, who reminded me that I was still writing every day, just a different kind of writing but writing none the less. It was to an audience of one – my lover. At the same time I was writing to him I was able to see  the tentative first steps it takes for someone else to tell a story.

I could see myself in him and how I too started with the easy stuff. It was the expository, the superficial, the description and the reportage of daily life. Not bad if you wanted to be a working journalist but dull as dirt if you want to tell a story.

I remember when I started writing Any Color but Beige how I rested on the surface of my experience and feelings. I was afraid to go any deeper to plumb the emotional depths that gave my story its joy and sadness – its life. The thought of sharing that part of me with strangers caused my heart to race. I suppose that’s why it took two years.

Over dinner one night Melva said something about great writing that haunts me. She said, “The best stories break your heart.” And she’s right.

My book was born out of heartbreak. The story broke my heart, and writing it as truthfully as possible, with all of the messy wonderful emotions that went with it, helped to heal that heart.

I tried to explain this concept to my lover. I gave him some examples of great writers who bared their souls and risked opening themselves up to ridicule and judgment in the name of great writing, who paid a price but created great works in the process. But he prefers to go through life skimming the surface.

He certainly skimmed the surface of my life. Our relationship had all of the depth of a puddle. The up side to this is that although he may have nicked my heart he certainly didn’t break it. So I must be getting better at this relationship thing. On the other hand ours was not the kind that breaks your heart. It was more like reportage. And I will leave him to write that, since he’s so good at it.

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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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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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There’s a T-shirt sold here in tourist shops that says:

Good Girls Go to Heaven. Bad Girls Go to Montreal.

Born to Run

I don’t know what it is about this city but it has a way of bringing out the badness in any good girl – and in a very good way, especially during Formula One Race Week.

When I think of bad-a-tude, I think of Sandy Olsen’s transformation in the movie Grease. She went from naïve to naughty over the course of the movie. Pretty tame when you compare her to the celebrities and high flyers who were in town this past weekend to party like it’s 2012 – the year, according to the Mayan calendar that’s due to go out with a bang.

Slipping into bad-a-tude starts the moment you begin to prepare for a night out on the town.

As I started getting my bad-a-tude on to hit a few parties during race weekend, I started my soundtrack in the kitchen where I poured myself a glass of wine and danced around in my lace bra and panties through the toe tapping, head bobbing, hip swaying songs of a generation that prized rebellion and self-expression.

As I listened to them I was once again that bad girl who,

… was “Rosalita,” ignoring her parents’ disapproval and dating that bad boy for a time.

…was a “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” every Saturday night downtown.

…was heedless with her heart and missed all the signs that said “Breakdown” dead ahead.

…who did bad things because they “Hurt So Good.

…and who still listens to that ” Old Time Rock and Roll”  every time she wants to cop a bad-a-tude.

Bad-a-tude is fun, and simple. All it is, is:

•  Wearing your best  little black dress
•  Flashing a your 1000 watt smile
• Admiring the scenery and the way he fills out those designer jeans
• Flirting because you can
• Enjoying a little champagne even if you’re not on the podium
• Staying out a little too late and then catching up with your café girlfriends over an early morning breakfast

Of course bad-a-tude has to be cultivated. Badness and attitude. It’s a frame of mind, it’s way of walking, talking and acting a bit bolder, if only for a few hours.

photo: © istockphoto.com/SV_Sunny

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