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Archive for the ‘romance’ 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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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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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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As you read in the previous post, sometimes I  want to shake off those good girl shackles and be “bad,” if only for a little while. And the perfect opportunity seems to present itself once a year in the form a handsome Brazilian pilot who shows up at my door during  the Montreal Formula One Grand Prix.

It’s the 21st century version of the play/movie Same Time Next Year but without the same emotional intimacy experienced by the principal characters, George and Doris, who meet every year for 24 years, sharing the ups and downs of their lives in a brief but intense weekend. Over time, you see how they grow individually and as a “couple.”

For the past seven years the pilot and I have passed through a smattering of weekends of mostly style and no substance and very little sharing. We as a couple seem to be stuck in a moment – the moment we first met.

Shallow you think? Absolutely. On the other hand there is no danger of drowning in something more profound, in a sea of those roiling emotions that framed our first summer together as friends and lovers. Now it’s safer for us to tread water in the shallow end of the sea of love. It’s less scary for him (he can’t swim) and less frustrating for me (forever throwing a lifeline to a drowning man).

But it’s the capacity to accept our relationship limitations that keeps us friends. We have an unspoken agreement that lets us honor the past without burdening the future with expectations. That agreement keeps us in contact throughout the year and enables us to share travel schedules in the hopes that someday our paths would cross on a bit more regular basis. But they never do. When I’m in Paris he’s in Palm Springs, when I’m in Beijing he’s in Barcelona – even with all that international travel our paths only cross here, in Montreal.

I don’t think it coincidental at all that Michael Buble’s song “Home” hit the top of the charts the year the pilot and I met. It defined us then and it defines us now.  It’s the stay/go paradox we both share.  And I know that when he turns up at my door with a box of dark chocolate covered strawberries and good Grand Cru like he did last weekend he finally feels at home and so do I…if only for a little while.

photo: © istockphoto.com/Yuri_Acurs

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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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