Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving traditions


Last Thanksgiving, I was excited to cook my first turkey in our new house. Deciding whether the time had come to use my grandmother’s china,what side dishes to prepare (sweet potatoes vs. carrots or both), which tablecloth, what time guests should arrive – all of these things had the potential to become part of a new tradition.

I was especially conscious that morning of how traditions are formed and sustained, knowing this Victorian kitchen, with its enormous vintage Vulcan range that came with the sale, clearly had been the heart of the home for the previous owners and their big family for more than half a century.

I wondered what they ate, if they fired all six burners and both ovens, who sat where, and how many people typically came.

As I was running around in my apron and hoping that the oven still had an accurate temperature reading, the doorbell rang at the back of the house. We weren't expecting anyone – yet. It was about 10 a.m. And we rarely used that entrance.

We opened the door to find a stranger in a baseball cap. He seemed to be in his mid-60s. He was holding a bottle of Greek liquor – Metaxa – and seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see him.

He also seemed a little sad, and a little embarrassed.

The man said he suspected that the home’s previous matriarch, who was in her 90s, had died recently, triggering the sale of the house. But he had to come one last time – just to make sure that all of his high school buddies weren’t gathering in the basement after the Brookline-Newton North football game (itself a century-old tradition) as they had done every year since they were teenagers. And perhaps as our boys will someday do).

We knew his story was true -- our neighbors had told us about this huge annual event that filled the backyard and the cellar for the last 50 years, explaining why our basement had been outfitted as a man cave  with a bar, mounted television and a pool table.

Please come in, we said.

He was the grog maker of the group and sheepishly held up his bottle toward the steaming stove top. We half jokingly told him to feel free to make the brew. He laughed.

We offered to give him a tour beyond the kitchen. He made it as far as the dining room, where the table was already set, and then he demurred to see more, knowing that the house had changed enough.
But we wouldn’t let him leave. We had questions.

Tell us about your friends -- the four brothers who grew up here. What had become of them? He told us what they did, where they lived, what they were like.

We imagined them, once upon a time, bounding up and down the stairs, as our three sons do now.

The stranger told us about the patriarch, a restaurateur who had died years before, whose name is still painted on the window of the greenhouse.

The mother, he said, had worked at her son’s sneaker company later in life. And, he said as his eyes saw a past that we could not, they all loved the post-Thanksgiving game tradition.

He warmly obliged us for about 15 minutes before saying he should go; he had some friends to call and a long drive home ahead of him.

As he went out the back, we said goodbye, and closed the door behind him, feeling a rush of cold air.

Walking back to the stove, I appreciated it a little more, and wondered if our new traditions would last as long as the grog maker’s.

This Thanksgiving, I don’t expect the backdoor bell to ring again, but would be happy if it did.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Jackie O's wedding anniversary

Yesterday marked what would have been the 43th wedding anniversary of Jackie O and Aristotle Onassis.  Jacqueline Kennedy stunned so many by marrying Onassis, who was the opposite of her first husband in appearance, age and approach to many aspects of life. He was mercurial, could be crude, and was old fashioned about many things, especially his treatment of women. He flaunted his affair with Maria Callas, before and after he married Jackie.

Indeed, Onassis was an incongruous mate for America’s queen: 29 years older than Jackie, two inches shorter at just five-foot-five, fatter, rougher than the horsy-artsy-intellectual crowd with which she was imbedded. He was a divorcee and world-class womanizer. She was the good Catholic who had learned to turn the other cheek in her first marriage. He loved bouzouki music and smashed pottery in Greek tavernas, once running up a bill as high as $1,000 for all the dishware that he threw one night. She loved the theater. He didn’t. He was a night person, typically waking when she was eating lunch. Onassis often wore a dark suit and tie, even in the summer. Jackie, by contrast, was always impeccably dressed according to season and occasion, and a regular at Valentino – who had made the off-white knee-length skirt and lace-covered sweater she wore for the Greek wedding.

Whatever reasons she may have had for marrying Onassis – love, money, security – even her admirers were perplexed by her choice.

When her friend Truman Capote asked her why, she said, “I can’t very well marry a dentist from New Jersey!”

Other friends told her she was going to fall off her pedestal if she married Onassis.

“That’s better than freezing there,” she scoffed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Jacqueline Kennedy's White House Renovation

Last night, at a forum at the JFK Library, Caroline Kennedy talked about how her mother had reacted to the "hideous surroundings" of the White House that Jackie and the president-elect were inheriting from the Eisenhowers in 1960. Jackie first saw the White House when she was 11 on an Easter trip with her mother. Her impression did not improve when she returned as an official guest when JFK was a senator and they attended receptions and lunches there together. But Jackie was truly horrified when she walked through the space shortly before the inauguration, guided by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower (who liked pink and ate dinner on a tray in front of the TV!); she saw that the mansion was filled with uninspiring and institutional B. Altman furniture.

Jackie hired her favorite decorator, Sister Parish, and soon after, Stephane Boudin of Jansen in Paris, who had renovated part of Versailles and had agreed to do the White House work for free.

The Blue Room, post-renovation.
Caroline's  renovated room.

"It was controversial and carried political risk," Caroline said of the White House project.

While I was researching Jackie’s interest in historic preservation for my book, I enjoyed reading White House memos that were written during the renovation -- letters revealing the painful details of the project. I especially appreciated this one below – a memo from the Kennedy family office (which paid Jackie's bills) to Sister Parish, who also worked on Jackie's other homes.
Dear Mrs. Parish…Mrs. Kennedy was horrified to see that she was being charged fifty  dollars a piece for two waste baskets and thirty-five dollars a piece for two tissue boxes. She never requested hand-painted designs to be applied to these; what she asked for were ordinary department store scrap baskets and Kleenex boxes to be covered with wallpaper used in the room, as she had done here in Washington, at Miriam Crocker’s, before her approximately $7.50 for the waste basket and $5.00 for the tissue box. Mrs. Kennedy would like to know if you could do the same for the same amounts as Miriam Crocker, taking the present ones back.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Lee, Parisienne

I just found this fantastic recent picture of Jackie's younger sister, Lee, taken on the streets of Paris by the talented Sartorialist. Lee lives in Paris. And every year around this time -- and in late winter -- when the fashion shows are running, I get a twinge for the city I used to visit twice annually for the sole purpose of looking at and writing about clothes.

Anyway, Jackie introduced Lee to Paris as a high school graduation gift in 1951. The travelogue from that trip, which began aboard the Queen Elizabeth, became a book that Lee published in 1974 called "One Special Summer." I have an original copy of it, from my father, and I love reading the handwritten notes, poems and sketches that the sisters jotted down. Jackie was a talented writer and artist, even then. Lee, always beautiful, even now.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hey, that's my book

I was shopping on Amazon and stumbled upon my own book - to be published next March. Gee, that was a fun surprise. Makes it feel real.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jacqueline Kennedy vs. Jackie O

I found myself recoiling a little bit from Jacqueline Kennedy's oral history taped in 1964 and revealed today for the first time.

To wit: She said her marriage to JFK might have been "rather terribly Victorian or Asiatic," but she was determined to provide a "climate of affection, comfort and detente."

She also claimed she got all of her opinions from her husband. And finally, she said: I think women should never be in politics. We're just not suited to it."

Puhleese...It's difficult to imagine she believed what she was saying. But if she did, Jackie evolved significantly over the next decade into the confident Jackie O: a widow for the second time, a preservation activist saving Grand Central Terminal from being destroyed, and a book editor. A person unafraid to admit she had opinions or plant them in others. I like that version better.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jacqueline Kennedy's Still-Sorta-Secret Service Man

Clint Hill (yes, that's me below with him) is a legend in his own right: the man the Zapruder film will forever show as the Secret Service agent who climbed on the back of the limo as the assassination unfolded in Dallas. For four years -- three during the presidency and one after Jacqueline Kennedy and the kids left the White House -- Hill spent 80 percent of his time, including holidays away from his wife and two sons, protecting the former First Lady, and her children Caroline and John.

Tonight at the JFK Library, in a rare conversation, the tight-lipped "Mr. Hill," as Jackie called him, said he thought he'd be attending teas during his details with her. But that was not the case.

"She didn't go to teas," he said. "But we did go to two fashion shows -- one in Lahore and one in Karachi."

Hill said it was difficult protecting a woman who was adventurous; she loved to ride horses and water ski, neither of which he knew how to do. At her urging, Hill, from North Dakota, did take water ski lessons from the Navy man who drove Kennedy's boat. Hill wasn't very good at it and Jackie soon gave up asking him to ski along beside her.

He was also her (not so good) tennis partner. "For a very, very short time."

When he wasn't sporting, Hill did much of the advance work for her travel and stayed with her when she was abroad, including her time on Aristotle Onassis's yacht, the Christina, when Jackie went to recover after the loss of a preterm baby in the summer of 1963.

"Every day a sea plane would deliver the newspapers," Hill recalled of the their time on the yacht off Greece. "It was rather lavish."

A few weeks after that trip, Hill was surprised to hear that Jackie would take part in her first reelection campaign stop -- in Dallas. After the assassination, Mrs. Kennedy turned to him and said: "What's going to happen to you now, Mr. Hill?"

He stayed in the Secret Service until 1975 and had "a difficult time for a number of a years" processing the events of Nov. 22, 1963. In 1990, he returned to Dealey Plaza, looked down from the window of the school book depository and realized there was nothing he could have done to stop JFK's murder. "It was," he said, "completely out of my control."

Hill was reticent to talk about many things, but divulged some no-so-secret agent information:
1. Jackie was a closet smoker. "I was her enabler. I was the guy with the cigarette and the lighter. You can blame me."
2. The Kennedys never carried any money. "Going to Mass, when the plate came around, he [the President] would show his hand."
3. "She loved to read the scandal sheets -- especially about her. But she didn't want anyone to know, so I bought them for her."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A fashion week like no other

This piece in the Times today brought it all back.

I was wearing stilettos with a Velcro ankle strap -- which would be an important detail as the morning unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001. Dressed for a long day of covering fashion shows in NYC, I was sipping a cappuccino before my 9 a.m. start, marveling at the bright blue sky with fluffy clouds and replaying the previous night in my mind: Marc Jacobs had thrown a fashion show and after-party of Biblical proportions. Bowls of sugared fruit, celebrities, music, perfumed air. A call to my cell phone halted the memory. It was my mother telling me about the first plane.  I hung up and, as a journalist, instinctively headed to the World Trade Center. Without changing my shoes or my skinny Helmut Lang pants, I jumped in a cab, which drove me a short distance south but then refused go further saying we were "under attack" and he was leaving town. I got on the subway, at that moment still operational, emerged from the station and ran toward what had since become two burning towers. Standing in front of City Hall, waiting for traffic to pass so I could keep going, a police officer pushed me and told me to run -- the other way. A needed dose of reality. At that moment, the first collapse had begun and the all-encompassing smoke and rubble filled the air. I thought the tower was taking everything down with it -- like dominoes. So I tried to run down the middle of the street, as far as possible from any other structure. But I was unable to pause to undo the ankle strap in the stampede. I had a moment of black humor. They can put "fashion victim" on my tombstone.

I ran 14 blocks without stopping. I filled my notebook with interviews of people who had escaped death by one floor. And then I ran back for more. Half way there, the second tower fell. Adrenaline wearing off, insanity setting in, I turned on my heels once more to flee. For good.

The next day, on the very spot where Marc Jacobs held a party that would seem uncouth any time after 9/11, rescuers had transformed the space into a morgue.

I threw away the shoes, caked in grief. The classic pants still fit (thankfully), but I wear them infrequently due to the negative connotations. Any morning with a bright blue sky, low humidity and fluffy white clouds is, and always will be for me, a Sept. 11 morning -- the morning before all the bad stuff happened.

Monday, September 5, 2011

What a doll

My mother surprised me with a little gag gift -- a Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy action figure, still in the box!  The doll, dressed in an ensemble that Jackie wore to India, talks when you press a button on her back. She has a 19-phrase repertoire, saying such brilliant things as, "I am Mrs. Jack Kennedy" and "Well, I must say, I don't think there's very much time for socializing."

There are a few other chestnuts: "When I was first married our life was almost as hectic as it is now, and I found it rather hard to adjust. But now I think politics is one of the most rewarding lives a woman can have -- to be married to a politician."

She also says a few words in Spanish, having campaigned for her husband in that language a few times. The voice sounds like an authentic recordings of hers, but, alas, her stockings are baggy and her bouffant bob is plastic.

Thanks, Mom!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An unforgettable lunch with Jackie O

The array of vacation reading on the coffee table made me chuckle this morning. Next to Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story is Jason Epstein's book Eating: A Memoir. That about sums up the week. My husband brought both titles along, as I read them long ago. In fact, Epstein signed the copy for me when I interviewed him in his SoHo apartment's kitchen in January of 2010 as part of the research for my book on Jacqueline Onassis.

In 1975, Jackie asked Epstein, then editorial director at Random House, to lunch at Lutece; they ordered shad roe (the recipe for which is included in Eating).

"She asked if there was a job for her at Random House," Epstein recalled. "She wanted to be an editor."

I'll save the rest of the story for my book, but tonight I should try the bouillabaisse recipe that Epstein also includes, inspired by the Alice Waters cookbooks Epstein published.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What's inside Jackie's head?

Vacationing on Cape Cod, home to the Kennedys, means stumbling upon lots of related relics at antique stores: campaign posters, maps with the president's face superimposed near the site of the Hyannisport compound, and this -- a head vase of Jackie in funeral attire. If you squint, you can see the $900 price tag.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An architectural legacy

We are staying in Barnstable, a historic village in the crease of Cape Cod's elbow, at what was once a shack on a cliff. But the house, built in the 19th Century, was transformed decades ago by the late Cambridge architect Ben Thompson, whose magic hand also redesigned Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace, New York's South Street Market and Miami's Bayside. In addition to being a visionary architect who promoted walkability, he founded Design Research in 1953 and its flagship store in Harvard Square, in the late 1960s. The design shop, the prescursor to Crate & Barrel, imported Marimekko (still on the beds and pillows here) and clean-lined housewares (whites dishes, cups and bowls on the open shelves in this kitchen that their friend and neighbor Julia Child cooked in), as well as modern furniture by the likes of Alvar Aalto (chairs in the living room from which to view Sandy Neck through an enormous window). Ben's legacy, chronicled in a gorgeous book his wife, Jane, released earlier this year, is evident to the thousands of people who pass through his public buildings every day. We feel lucky to understand and experience his design choices on a residential level. Like any good preservationist -- Jacqueline Onassis included -- he understood that the past is worth keeping, and making relevant. And that good architecture promotes joy and social life. Certainly the hallmarks of a good vacation.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Jackie's simple beauty product?

I'm on vacation in Vermont and between reading chapters of Cleopatra -- I take issue with the book's claim that she was THE most intriguing woman in the world -- we headed over to the Vermont Country Store, where I was preoccupied with the Bozo the Clown punching bag as retail therapy. So I missed seeing this beauty product -- claiming to be "Jackie Kennedy's almond oil" -- until I got back to the house and perused the catalog. Perhaps I'll get some of this skin treatment today in the name of research.

Sweet Almond Oil: Jackie Kennedy's Secret to Silky-Soft Skin, Clear Complexion

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Jackie's Halston dress

A few months ago, when I was mostly done with my manuscript, I was in Washington, D.C. on an unrelated work trip. In my spare time, I walked Jackie's old stomping grounds -- the White House, Lafayette Square and Georgetown, where she and Jack had lived on N Street.  I got sucked into a boutique; it happens quite easily, actually. I realized this was the first time that I had time to shop -- outside the grocery store -- in what might have been two years. One of the first things I saw on the rack was a pale salmon-colored silk shirt dress. The color grabbed me. The fabric seduced me. When I pulled it off the rack to have a closer look, the saleswoman mentioned that it was Halston Heritage, a reprise line that Sarah Jessica Parker was working on. This was a dress SJP had worn in one of the Sex and the City films. What the clerk did not say -- but what I was fairly certain about -- was that this was the same dress, in a different fabric, that Jackie had worn to a press conference to save Grand Central Terminal in New York in 1975.

Of course I bought it.

Yesterday, I was reading this month's issue of Vogue and saw that SJP is no longer working on the Halston Heritage line. It was fun while it lasted.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jackie

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born 83 years ago today. Thanks to @AssoulinePub for reminding me of these pictures (via @LIFE). I bet she'd still be gorgeous. Her sister Lee, four years younger than Jackie, certainly still is in this photo taken earlier this month.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Our Barbie Ourselves

Architect Barbie has arrived. I want one. Or maybe I secretly want to be one architect, that is.
Jackie O was also a design and archtiecture afficionado, working with John Warnecke to design federal buildings in D.C.'s Lafayette Square, as well as JFK's simple, modern grave at Arlington; and then I.M. Pei to design the JFK Library.
That's Jackie and Warnecke looking at a model for Lafayette Square, which she saved from the wrecking ball. She was a preservationist to the core. Yes, that is the same famous pink Chanel suit she wore in Dallas.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Walking in her shoes

I wore these Jackie flip flops to the beach today. They were a birthday gift from colleagues. What I like about them is that no one knows what the image underfoot is -- except me -- when I am wearing them. Discreet, as Jackie would have liked it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Meeting Middle Mojo

For years I occupied a little corner in the Living/Arts Department at the Boston Globe, covering fashion. I sat next to Joan Anderman, a rock critic who could interview Madonna like nobody's business. I always admired her ear for music, sense of people and ability to write -- and look cool in the process. She was also just fun to be around. We've both left the paper but it was great to catch up with Joan today over lunch about her new project: Middle Mojo, her quest to write songs, and understand the creative process at midlife. She and Jackie O, who turned a lifelong love of reading and writing into a profession at midlife, would have had a lot to talk about. Follow Joan @middlemojo.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Meaningful work

I thought this story in the Wall Street Journal about Amanda Burden was really interesting. Here's a woman who certainly can afford not to work but, at 67, is at the top of her profession as New York's director of city planning. She knew Jackie, too.

My book cover?

This could change, but here is the book jacket we are leaning toward. What do you think? #JackieO #ThirdAct

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jackie's televised tour of the White House

I frequently watched this 1962 TV special of Jackie giving a tour of the White House renovation and redecoration, and thought about how seriously she took historic preservation. She brought the same experience and passion for preservation and design to the 1975 fight to save Grand Central Terminal from being redeveloped.

You can't tell from the black and white images, but her boucle suit was burgundy.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A little inspiration during the writing process...

I listened to this song from Human Sexual Response alot. Of course, it's called "I want to be Jackie Onassis."