Safe or Smokin': The spark of yellows and oranges

Like many women in the Passage, I rely on super-safe everyday neutrals. Then I see someone in an audacious mix, such as teal trousers and a fuchsia coat, I think, What happened to me?

Two colours, pungent yellow and juicy orange, are especially current. Grown women rightly fear looking like a walking fire hydrant, but these hues are smokin' from the first glance, especially when you add a second or third intense colour.

Today's windows are an advanced class in fearlessly working yellow and orange. If you prefer a smolder to smoke, they also spark your favourite neutrals; I can't believe how sharp mustard looks with any grey.

Key piece: Six-ply Cashmere slouchy polo; Brora; price, £595
Expensive! The bad news: The yellows look ghastly in average yarns.

Co-stars: A duet of intense colours to stand up to that swipe of mustard:
Forest green velvet pants; Boden, $120
Shoes: Etta red-orange ankle boot; Boden, $120

Key piece:
Turquoise washed velvet jean, Pure Collection, $145

Co-stars: Yes, you do need to treat that shoe with TLC! The sweater will also revive neutrals.
Citron suede day heel; Everlane, $145. If you can't wear yellow near your face, put it on your foot!
Blackforest wool Imogen sweater;  Boden, $130.

Key piece: Tangerine poly a-line skirt with frills; COS, $115
Normally I avoid frills anywhere, but this is—if such a thing exists—a strict frill.

Co-stars: The classic sweater in a novel shade; a scarf in an enchanting colourway. See it close-up!
Cashmere short-sleeved pullover in Fiesta Purple; Eric Bompard, €100 (sale price to Nov. 26)
Silk "Ophelia" scarf'; Liberty, £195

You can shift the colour wheel to blues or greens if you don't like yellow or orange—as long as they're not too pale to register a pulse.

How you wear an audacious key piece depends on your colour capacity, and there is no "right". If you don't usually pile on intense hues, try at least one piece in the current citron-to-signal-orange and you will immediately feel its energy and exuberance.

Are you daring or sparing, when it comes to the most vibrant tones on the color wheel? Are you cozying up to more colour, or committed to the neutral playbook? Have your colour choices changed with time?

Uneven aging: Duty

There are few qualities as loaded as duty, the concept of moral or legal obligation. Duty is associated with role: one's duty as a partner, citizen, parent, or employee. The concept is embedded within culture, faith, family norms, and our internal moral compass.

In modern wedding or civil union ceremonies, the rights and obligations of both parties are stated explicitly. In the Québec secular ceremony, the officiant says, "The spouses have the same rights and obligations in marriage. They owe each other respect, fidelity, succor and assistance." 

If you made similar vows, duty comes with the territory, but many make such a promise without it, and friends' devotion can put that of some marriages to shame.  In uneven aging, one partner's "succor and assistance" becomes more active and overt than the other's.

Duty is a rather retro value, given the present-day emphasis on "me time" and individual fulfillment. Duty lives firmly in the realm of "them time": the Sunday phone call to Dad, the extra hours spent with a friend who is blue, attendance at a neighbour's party when you'd rather be home watching "Star Trek".

Duty thrives when given freely, without demand. Should it becomes an onerous, bleak requirement, resentment enters. When a person says, "I don't want to be a burden", this is exactly what she dreads.

In uneven aging, duty, which may have lain tucked away like a wedding-gift chafing dish, comes to the fore. The needs of one person alter the more-vital person's life. Special diets, a careful eye on medication schedules, or regular doctor's visits disrupt routine. One person may now do all the driving or suddenly find she is in charge of financial details.

The afflicted mate needs equanimity to receive the care, because it makes limits explicit. "Let me get that door", my neighbour Eliane says to her infirm husband, and for an instant he looks vexed, but accedes. He is grateful, but so wishes he could do it himself.

When friends praise her constancy, she replies, "He'd do it for me". Eliane knows that duty needs renewal, so takes an annual three-week holiday with longtime women friends.

Lola's partner had a severe depression and was unable to leave the house for two years. Friends praised her devotion, but because they were told Karl was getting better (even when that was only a hope) they left her on her own. She finally realized that her chipper attitude masked burnout, and began to say, "Would you like to do something for Karl?" Lola requested "duties", helpful tasks like getting the snow tires on the car by the deadline.

In years past, duty may have arisen only in terms of parents, children or friends. But duty can enter the couple's life in a matter of hours. Last year, one of my dear Susanfriends suffered a cerebral accident that required emergency surgery and intensive rehabilitation.

Her husband, the kind of guy whose shirt buttons might not be done up in line, instantly stepped in as caregiver, advocate and blogger. On a Caring Bridge site, he posted subtle, profound love poems, wry observations about dry shampoo (which he hadn't known existed) and every morsel of progress.

The poetry surprised me, but his devotion did not, for, as he said, "This is the moment we have been preparing for all our lives." They had long given themselves to service to others, as part of their  spiritual path. Service as a moral imperative is central to their lives, and now their practice had come home.

From Susan, I have learned that duty need not be one-sided. She connects with friends, offering counsel and stories, even while she manages her energy. She recently sent photos of the mint-condition Hermès scarf she found for $5 at a yard sale, then followed up a few weeks later with a second scooped from a thrift store for $1! So maybe there is a karmic reciprocity operating here.

Susan participated in plans for her mother's birthday party, and is about to return to teaching meditation, though she's a little nervous. When the cared-for can in turn care for others, duty moves ever closer to love, the pivotal point of our short existence.

Thrifting and gifting

While my dislike of re-gifting is intense, I view thrift-gifts entirely differently. (Does that make sense? Maybe not.)

Many appealing objects end up in thrifts because of moves or  purges; the wiliest thrifters keep their eyes open all year long, because thrifts do get heavily picked in the fall. Increasingly, families who use the "Secret Santa" approach specify that the gift be secondhand, a welcome shift from brand-mania. And there's always an additional "gift": the thrift-gift keeps stuff out of landfills.

I've dressed the windows today in thrift-store finds destined as gifts... and gifts-to-me.

For family and friends

Left to right:
1. For our little grandson: Babar and Babar ABCs book; total, $3. One of my favourite thrift finds ever; Babar is a huge favourite of mine, despite the criticism of his colonial autocratic rule.
2. Etched crystal candy dish with pinecone motif, $2.50
3. Paperback edition of "To the Lighthouse", new condition, $1.50
4. Pair of kitty trinket dishes, $1.50

Gifts to me

By applying the same rules we use for shopping sales (Would I buy this full price? Does it work with my wardrobe? Is it in perfect condition?) I found a few things for winter:

Left: Moss green cotton velveteen Lady Hathaway jacket, $6
Centre: Luisa Cerano (a Berlin-based brand) marinière, $5
Right: Mohair scarf, made in France, $2

While riffling the rails, I chatted with a young woman who told me she buys only at thrifts, but recycles everything after several months. "I like to change up my clothes", she said, "have something different. So I wear it awhile and then bring it back!" That's a consumption style I'd never considered, but it beats retail fast fashion.

Here comes the season when we're enjoined to buy, either for Christmas, or via the hype of Black Friday. I am not immune to deals and dazzle, but am ever more drawn to what can be found by dedicating a few hours to considering others' castoffs.

Should  the item I've chosen not delight a family member, he can re-donate, or give it to his twin brother. (Looking at you, Etienne.) But I have a good enough hit rate, from bathtub toys to toques, to keep picking up things for those I love.

Do you thrift-gift? How do you find your treasures? Or do you prefer to shop retail?

Interludes on foreign shores

Jan returned from a spa vacation in Mexico, glowing, floating, and flashing a new, ornate silver bangle.

That glow was not from the hot springs; she had met Ricardo, the grounds manager. What began with a chat about the gardens progressed to a holiday affair. "I spent an entire Saturday afternoon watching him work on his tractor", she said, "and I loved every minute."

The spa was expensive; she had drained her vacation budget, but was already planning her return in four or five months. Jan is single, in her late 50s, and because she had not had a romance for years, this was a bombshell. We were out to dinner with several other women; scanning the table, I could see an array of reactions: titillation, envy, disapproval, and from Becky, rueful reminiscence.

Becky said, gently, "And who paid for the bangle?" Because Becky had her own story.

Thirty years ago, it was Mike, the snorkelling instructor, whom Becky met when she and two girlfriends went on an all-inclusive two-week to Varadero. She said, "He was friendly but not aggressive. He could talk about everything from marine biology to art. Of course, he was handsome! Really, it was as much me as him. By Thursday of the first week, I began to ask my roommates when the room would be empty. Everything I told myself should not happen, did."

"I promised I'd return within several months. My boyfriend back in Montréal was okay, but couldn't compare. There was more passion in one dance with Mike than in a night with my boyfriend. I even started researching immigration requirements for him."

All winter, she scrimped to afford another booking, this time with a private room. One Saturday, three weeks before she was to return, she saw Mike strolling down Rue de la Montagne with another woman, a woman who could afford to fly him to Montréal. "Maybe it's a relative", she thought, until she saw the kiss as they paused for the traffic light.

Thereafter, when anyone returned from a vacation with tales of romance with a local man, Becky rang the alarm. "While you are there, you will be the only woman who exists", she tells her. "He will look at no one else, and you will go to heaven—but then hell when you have to leave. And when the next plane lands, there will be someone new."

Becky has abundant empathy when she hears the stories. She still remembers the dancing, how Mike brought her lunch by the pool, the little shell anklet he tied on while admiring her legs—grace notes the boyfriend did not supply.

All these years later, she said that trying to assess Mike's sincerity was useless. At worst, he was out for a few extras in a country where enough food was a challenge; at best, they had been two consenting adults having a fling and she had been carried away—but she also had been awakened to a political aspect.

"There is a type of sexual tourism that operates that way", she told me later. "You would be amazed how many women have told me about their 'romance' and they don't even see what it was, because they have not paid for sex. It's more subtle: there is no demand for money, but the fancy dinners are signed to your account. Maybe there's a day trip to the special place he wants to show you—for which you hire a driver who happens to be a friend; or his sister needs money for school books.

I bought Mike a guitar—not an expensive one, but he definitely could not have had it otherwise. When I got home, I shipped him a pair of sneakers I knew he coveted."

I said, "For me the question is, Would the affair have happened without the goodies?"

"Possibly", Becky conceded, "but the more I talked to women who had taken these vacations, the more I think not. Word gets around; some women go to these destinations exactly for that. Even if you aren't interested, you can spot the men: the tennis pro's buddies who are always hanging around."

"Who paid for the bangle?" Becky asked Jan again. Jan replied that she had, but "Ric had spotted it!" And she bought him a matching one.

Her worry, Becky told me when we were alone, is that older women are more vulnerable. I immediately thought of a woman I knew whom I shall call "Anita", whose 25-year marriage was nearly detonated by such a situation. She went to a popular island destination with a girlfriend, and met a musician.

Anita returned at least eight times over the next three years, under the cover of humanitarian volunteer work (which she actually did) and language studies, to see him. On each trip she would bring a suitcase stuffed with guitar strings and sheet music, among other scarce items. She became an investor in a music school he was starting. Among other things, she told me that her lover adored her in the stretchy, lacy blouse that her husband said was "too young."

Two years in, she turned to her girlfriend and said, "I'm gonna go home and divorce Scott." Her friend told her to give it another six or eight months. By year three, Anita realized that the man would not leave his usual life (which included a wife in another town), and she returned to her marriage, which far as I know continues.

Becky and I talked about the most famous example: the real-life romance with a man known in Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love," known as "Felipe"— that one lasted twelve years.

"That book probably did more to cloud women's judgement than ten thousand Mikes", Becky said. "I have an open mind, a fling doesn't shock me. I just don't want Jan to spend a small fortune on something totally unrealistic.

You know all those packing lists you see on blogs? A woman who might welcome that kind of connection should pack her common sense along with her sunblock."

Pearls, three price points: Sarah and Duchesse's picks

The time changes this weekend. Daylight wanes by 5 p.m.: a woman can feel a little blue. You need a lift. Anita heads for hot chocolate, Jane says another rerun of "Love, Actually" is always smart; Dr. H. knits wildly-striped socks. I say, pearls—they stay luminous no matter how sere the landscape, and feel gently warm against your skin.

But which pearls? Most of us have a budget, and tastes vary, but when it's gusty and grey you will be happy you invested in genuine pearls, no matter the price point. I asked my gracious mentor Sarah Canizzaro, owner of Kojima Company (and just back from a pearl-heaven trip to Asia), to help me dress the windows today.

Splurge: $1400-$1600 
For milestone celebrations, the heart-stopper you adore the moment you see it—or perhaps because this is the price point where you hang out. (And you can spend way, way more... but that's another post.)

Left: My pick is this Tahitian keshi pearl necklace; price, $1, 530. A magnificent array of natural-colour keshis and a scintillating 13mm sky-blue Tahitian pendant, on 14k gold chain. The colour of these pearls blew me away. Sarah says, "It takes me quite a time to come up with enough fancy colour Tahitian keshis to put these necklaces together... the colours of these particular ones represent the ends of the rainbow that is 'black' pearls."

Right: Italian coral necklace with Tahitian pearl pendant; price, $1, 395. Sarah's pick: natural-colour Italian coral, a 13.6mm silvery-blue Tahitian drop, and a rich, very cool 22k bead cap on the Tahitian! She says, "Looks fantastic peeking out from under a blouse, layered with other gold chains, and can be worn in any season. A very 'warming' piece."

One of a kind and perfect necklace for the woman who adores colour.

Treat: $400-$600
For a gift to yourself, or perhaps a discreet hint to someone who wonders, What in the world would she like? At this price point, you can have your pick of many unusual pearls and even luxury varieties, if you buy them as earrings.

Left: I chose the Doublet pearl necklace; price, $405, drawn to how the pearls make an informal, graceful piece. And look at the lustre! Sarah comments that these unusual pearls are (from the farmer's point of view) 'mistakes' in culturing that yield two attached pearls, and allow this layered, slightly chunky design. The size of each doublet ranges from 16mm to 20mm; the necklace is adjustable from 17 to 20 inches.

Right: Tiny Tahitian and diamond stud earrings; price, $603. At 8.4mm, these are tiny only for Tahitians. Set in 14k, the pearls have silver/peacock overtones. Sarah: "Easy to wear in a corporate setting; the tiny diamonds make them unique. They don't blend in with the crowd."

I agree: Eminently versatile with that touch of stealth luxe.

Who can resist? About $100 or less
When so many pieces can be bought for the (over)price of much "fashion" jewellery, why not wear a genuine pearl? I get excited when scouting at this price point, because so many think pearls equal a serious spend, and I enjoy showing the possibilities.

But this is also the price point of a zillion shoddy (and lying) vendors, so don't expect to find these pearls on certain Asian vendors' eBay sites. Kojima Company deliver very appealing pearls that are exactly as represented.

Sarah suggests the stick pearl flower cluster brooch; price, $108. White, pale pink, pale peach and lavender stick pearls hand-made into a lustrous zinna-esque bloom, just over 2 inches in diameter.

The charming brooch comes with a story. Sarah told me, "These are handmade by a woman in Hong Kong whom I have known for decades. We don't speak the same language but we share so much love. Her daughters taught me that in her village as a young woman, she was famous for the beauty of the flowers she stitched. She married a pearl dealer and these brooches are the evolution of her creative gifts."

I chose the mystical champagne pearl ring; price; $90. That's one generous Chinese baroque pearl (13.8mm) that you're toasting with!  Five-millimetre sterling band. Sarah said, "It will pull your eye in and work with any skin tone."

Both of these pieces are real-for-a-steal and would also make superb gifts.

While nutty socks and the cocoa and the heart-tugging movie are useful strategies, we also need beauty, when the natural world (at least where I live) slumbers for months. Pearls beneath our bare branches, pearls under wooly caps, pearls when you can see your breath!

A return to pot?

Here it comes, or if you live in my large city, it just passed by on the street. I cannot walk down St-Laurent without a solid weed sillage, and not just from young ones.

I'll get my pot politics out of the way: I'm in favour of legalization, given the government's still-to-be specified oversight.

My first job in Canada, in 1971, was with a government agency which researched and treated addiction; we closely followed the four successive reports of the Le Dain Commission, a federal government-mandated inquiry into the non-medical use of drugs. 

In late '72, I heard the summation, delivered at a staff conference, by Commission member Dr. Ralph Miller: after extensive study and debate, they recommended to either decriminalize or legalize (the members were split) adults' use of marijuana. That idea has taken 45 years to achieve political traction. (A 2013 interview with Dr. Miller in which he tells anecdotes about the four years of the Commission is here.)

I'm eager to see what happens in my age cohort when legal pot hits town, probably by mid-2018. My friends range from my-body-is-my-temple types who will not ingest caffeine, let alone pot, to those who have toked daily for almost 50 years.

A 2016 SFGate article reports that, according to a CBS News finding, the fastest-growing demographic for pot use in the US is persons over 55. Increasingly, they turn to cannabis for  medicinal properties: for pain associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and sciatica; to decrease the muscle spasms of multiple sclerosis; to mitigate nausea brought on by chemo. (Current Canadian law permits medical use for registered legal patients.)

And there are other benefits. Paula says she feels more relaxed and confident in bed: "I leave the lights on, all the lights on."

In university,  I was the share-joint-at-party type, but after graduation, dropped pot because I'd never liked to smoke anything, and my then-husband was struggling with kicking cigarettes. (Tobacco, it turns out, is the physically-addicting smoke.) But it's hardly like I haven't been around it.

Six years ago, after decades of abstinence, I ate a homemade pot cookie given as a birthday present and had an adverse reaction. When I posted that, a commenter asked if "it was really necessary" to share the experience.

It was, Anonymous. Edibles—from jerky to pralines—will not be available to Canadians until the products can be approved, so those interested may make their own. The potency will vary—so my encounter might be instructive.

Whether edibles are sold at a dispensary (or whatever we're getting) or not, those unused to THC should proceed cautiously, especially if you are already taking medication. Cannabis is biologically complex; reactions vary depending on strain, route of ingestion and the user's mind set.  I was unprepared to the tsunami of anxiety and paranoia that little cookie delivered.

After the incident, I thought, So much for that! But now, my post-50 friends have aches and pains; many are curious, or already know that cannabis products work for them. Ought I re-up?

When I was in Oregon last month, I was startled to see a huge NEED WEED? billboard near my hotel, and wanted to know more.

Several family members demurred, but Jennie, a retired public administrator, would talk. When Oregon passed the amendment in late 2016, Jennie, who was over 65, checked out the local dispensary. On an early foray, she bought a packet of squibs: gummies infused with THC.

She drove to her downtown bridge club, parked, chewed a portion of a squib (following package directions), and joined her fellow players for lunch. About 45 minutes into her first game she realized that she felt different: "The low back pain I always get from sitting so long was gone."

"So, how was your game?" I asked her.

"Average", she said, "but after, at four o'clock, I walked over to the House of Pancakes and ate a short stack with scrambled eggs, and a sundae!"

"Did you drive?" I asked her. "Didn't think I should", she said, "I called Paul (her son) and asked him to drive me home. Takes an hour for him to get there, so I ordered the Bananas Foster French toast."

I figure we have a self-regulatory mechanism, because not many women past 50 are willing to onboard the caloric load of an Olympic shot-putter all that often.

Jennie has learned the difference between the two primary active phytochemical ingredients (THC and CBD).

She does not smoke. Besides the edibles, she sometimes uses a transdermal patch, which has allowed her to go off the super-iboprophen that upset her stomach. She has learned how she responds to various products; new ones appear on the Oregon market nearly monthly. Her local store gives good advice.

"So, you choose the ones that help your back but don't make you 'happy'?" I asked. Jennie laughed an "oh, child" laugh and said, "Little bit of both, sometimes."

I have an image of the Book Club making a foray to the pot shop, the helpful young associate helping the grandmother decide whether to try Glass Slipper or Bubble Gum; I'm sure the day the doors open, a novice my age will post her iPhone video.

I might tag along, and admit I'm not curious solely for medical reasons. There is also the effect that witnesses for the 1969–1972 inquiry mentioned, and which the Commission reported in one succinct and very Canadian paragraph:

"A major factor appears to be the simple pleasure of the experience. Time after time, witnesses have said to us in effect: We do it for fun. Do not try to find a complicated explanation for it. We do it for pleasure." 6

Sounds almost like chocolate.

Agnès Varda and JR: "Faces Places"

To say I recommend "Faces Places" (French title, "Visages, Villages") is like saying I recommend art. Just see it any way you can. It is not high art, but it is profound, funny, moving and arresting.

Varda, one of my personal heroes, teams with the photographer and muralist JR, whose circle of faces around the Pantheon's dome literally stopped me in my tracks when I came upon it in Paris.

Photo: JR,
What JR does is not so much original as beautifully-observed; he is the Avedon of street photography.

Together, they take a road trip through French villages, where JR and his team photograph ordinary people, living and dead, and post the huge images on local walls, very soon after taking the shots.  This woman, who lives in the house where she was born, began the project impassive and stolid, and ended claiming not only her roots but her individuality:

In between those meetings, which Varda supports through her remarkable rapport and warmth, the two explore her aging. JR is a compassionate but never condescending witness, a friend who does not fawn, an artist who holds his own in concert with the renowned director.

Many readers will see this with English subtitles, which I hope capture the tart, unsparing dialogue between the two, and the obvious affection Varda has for both her protegé and sweets.

If you don't think you'll ever access the film, you can read an excellent review here, but it includes  every spoiler going, so don't peek if you think there's a chance you'll see it.

What do you wear in your late 80s? Varda has always been an exuberant dresser, she wears 'costumes' both on and off camera, the expression of nine decades of creative energy.

Her signature two-tone hair seems to be achieved, I saw during the film, by colouring fully, then growing out so there's a band of auburn against the pure white crown, though it does look like the red rim is refreshed. She says, "I hated myself totally white, so now I cheat. It's my white hair, and I put colour there. My grandson says I'm punk."

They photograph the working person: waitress, farmer, postal worker; a dockworker's wife who drives a truck. Schoolteachers and children pose and picnic together, then stand before JR's monumental mural. It is a story of friendships both abiding and fragile, of the comforts of a cup of tea, the charm of a train ride, and the sheer fun of singing to the radio on a road trip.

Varda, who is 88, says this may well be her last film; she is losing her vision, which is another subject  of "Faces Places". I am grateful she made it, because she still sees more than nearly everyone else around her.

As Scott Tafoya wrote, when he interviewed her for this film, "We're lucky to have Varda, whose images have always been joy bathed in light. "

Pearl reno: Leslie's earrings

I'm thrilled when a reader sends me jewellery reno photos, especially those involving pearls, but really, any reno. It's my reward for writing a non-monetized blog, and others' experiences educate me. Thanks to Leslie, an especially edifying reno is in the window today.

Leslie's original earrings, handmade by a Seattle-area artisan, had a small dyed purple pearl dangling from braided silver wirework  (centre, below.) A versatile earring, but the scale of the pearl is bitsy for a grown woman and they have little presence.

To be fair, the small pearls probably cost the maker a couple of dollars, but when you upgrade the pearl, the whole piece changes.

Leslie found 14mm Chinese freshwater baroques that flash mauve and copper on sale at Kojima Company, and bought the pair for about $80. Notice the difference in lustre!

This was a DIY reno. Leslie, a beader, has wire-work skills, but even with a literal grasp of what she wanted to do, still made several attempts. The headpins have to be secured neatly and evenly. The finished pair, left, and on her, right:

This isn't a huge reno, but it's not a job you'd want to blow. Just like buying Ikea stuff, if you don't enjoy assembly, hire a pro. I'd think of Kojima Company, or your local jeweller. (Some are more open to working on another artist's work than others.)

Personally, if I never see another Allen key again, I'll be happy. But when it comes to jewellery, I just love that Leslie  restyled her earrings herself!

If you're deep into Passage reno posts, you know my bias for unusual pearls, so I have to show you these. The pearls are around 9mm, so not really that big, but the colour and lustre are just... mesmerizing. They are from Carolyn Ehret, whose eBay store, Ehret Design Gallery, sell fine pearls and gemstone beads. (Unlike many, many eBay vendors, you can absolutely trust her.)

Anyway, look at these Burmese South Sea cream-green pearls made into earrings (BIN price, $US 119.) The Myanmar pearl industry hit the skids in the '60s, but is coming back; the best of the limited production now available are magical. 

Photo courtesy Ehret Design Gallery

A Frenchwoman shops Montréal

One of my Parisienne friends was in Montréal for several weeks this past summer, all the better to chat, dine, walk... and shop.

You may remember Huguette, the vivacious, semi-retired, fashion-lover who favours offbeat colour combos such as the yellow/navy/mulberry skirt in the photo; her neutrals are grey and camel.

This visit, Huguette had a date with a man she sees at home, but who happened to be here at the same time. You would think she would have something in her suitcase, which was big enough to hold a tuba, but a date calls for a rethink, so we went to ça va de soi, where she bought a pale grey linen summer cardigan, the Patty.

She saw many other things she liked, such as this stretchy MaxMara viscose jersey pencil skirt, right, to wear at home as the temperature cools:

Just before she left, she bought a second, similar cardi in pastel Egyptian cotton (apricot). I wasn't sure that it offered much change from the grey, but she said mais oui, apricot is completely different.

Huguette is always hunting for comfortable, stylish shoes. She did not know the brand Beautifeel, and liked the Broadway open oxford:

She adds colour with a bag, and is a big fan of Fossil. She was drawn to the chevron of the Rachel satchel, left, but wanted to replace her big leather Fossil tote, which she was carrying. (The thing weighs as much as a jumbo watermelon; how does she do it?) So, the Maya large hobo, right, is another contender.

Between stops, I had a question. "Is it really true—because we are told ad infinitum— that French women have very small, perfectly-edited wardrobes?" "Total myth", she replied. "I did once have a friend like that, twenty-six things on the rail, only brown, grey and white. Everything went with everything else. The clothes were very expensive."

She said that French women, like any, have moods: one day, it's stripes, the next, an abstract floral. In the past they bought less, but today, she said, "H&M, Zara, all that kind of thing is on every corner; their closets explode, especially the young ones."

She refuses fast fashion because of disappointment with fabric. "I am having the same conversation with all my friends", she said. "We cannot believe how much good clothes cost now! And we have a very hard time finding quality. Even if we will pay for it, we can't find it."

She panned COS's fabric (for the price), but praised Uniqulo for cotton tees and lightweight down outerwear. In Paris, she often shops at a small boutique which receives ends of couture fabrics and fashions then into simple skirts or tops.

So French women do shop—and sometimes mightily. She said with a laugh that something about travel unleashes even more delight in finding new treasures. But her next trip is a cruise to Antarctica, where there won't be many boutiques!

Weinstein and his ilk

The whole Harvey Weinstein incident has rattled me. First, I am relieved that after decades of harassment the man was exposed and has been disinvited from various professional organizations (but not criminally charged as of this post). Second, I keep thinking, after decades? Why was this man (among others) able to operate this way, over and over?

Of course I know why, and therefore appreciated Sarah Polley's New York Times essay, "The Men You Meet Making Movies". She calls Weinstein "just one festering pustule in a diseased industry", and also says, "...while I've met quite a few humane, kind, sensitive male directors and producers...sadly they are the exception and not the rule."

I was harassed recently, at, of all places, my brother's wake. Late in the evening, I was talking to Phil, a longtime family friend; his wife, Peggy, stood several paces away, in conversation with someone else. He admired my long scarf, put his hands on the fabric, and slid one underneath: a definite grope. I froze, absolutely aghast at what had happened. He continued chatting amiably, though I had stopped speaking.

I stepped away, sought a niece, and asked her if he had a reputation for touching women. "Oh, Phil, she said dismissively, "Yeah, when he's drinking." Dismayed by her attitude, I next spoke to my sister-in-law, but did not mention the incident initially; I was going to work up to that.

She told me with deep feeling that Phil, who had made a fortune in real estate investment, had many ideas for marketing their farm, and was going to provide valuable assistance to her agent. Since my brother had died mired in financial problems, she saw Phil's help as a godsend.

In that moment, faced with her need, I could not bring it to her. As Polley says, "In your own time, on your own terms is a notion I cling to, when it comes to talking about experiences of powerlessness."

When I said to a friend, "And in a house full of grieving people!", she replied, "He knew he could get away with it precisely because of the situation. A certain kind of man will take any opportunity, and it really does not matter who the target is."

At a usual party, I would have said, "Stop that!" in stentorian tones. And, so that everyone nearby could hear, "Harvey Weinstein clone, Phil?"

But I only glared and stepped away.

I also thought, It just never ends for women. Some say that those harassed by Weinstein "should just have left the room".  In a way, I'my grateful for my experience—less invasive than that of those who encountered Weinstein and certainly Bill Cosby— because I saw with instantaneous clarity what warps the agency we believe we have. The setting, for one, and assumptions about what is appropriate social behaviour.

The main difference between my encounter and a young actor's in Weinstein's suite is that there was no power differential, no promise that going along would bring a role. Phil was, however, as brazenly misogynistic as the creep on the bus who "accidentally" brushes too close.  There are levels;  none is acceptable.

Caught by surprise, I didn't think about alternatives. Why, I asked myself later, didn't I invite him outside and speak to him out of earshot? Even if he were hostile, he'd be on notice. (Even imagining what I wish I'd done, I would not have involved my family.)

Instead, my thoughts were, I can't do anything now, not with everyone shattered. I can't introduce more pain into this house.

I only hope when he tries it again, somebody takes him on. And I promised myself that I will do the same, because when a woman confronts a harasser, she is very likely acting not only for herself, but for any number of women (and sometimes men) who did not.

Transwomen in the women's spa

Over the summer, I had a lively e-mail exchange with a Toronto, Ontario friend, Rachel.

A spa we sometimes visit was embroiled in a dispute; a Toronto transgender woman tweeted that the when her partner called to arrange a surprise visit as a gift, the spa refused to to admit her. (Source: CBC News article, posted here.)

How the matter came up during the attempted booking is not stated. (I cannot help but imagine a Pythonesque moment, when John Cleese says: "Right, then: 2 p.m. on Wednesday. Now, your guest doesn't have a willy, does she?") 

At Body Blitz, a soak in a series of thermal pools at various temperatures is completed as a circuit, and may be done nude or in a swimsuit. The spa cited a no-male-genitals policy (which I do not see on the web site) and said that they "support the LGBT community and recognize that this is a sensitive issue. However, because Body Blitz is a single-sex facility with full-nudity, we are not like other facilities." 

Rachel asserts that a transwoman does not have the same status as a woman assigned female gender at birth, saying: "There is a small part of me that bristles at the idea that a trans woman can assume sisterhood with cisgender women and demand equality at Body Blitz, when for millennia women everywhere have suffered and struggled for the most basic of human rights and continue to do so."

And she most definitely does not want to see male genitals when she has booked into a female-only spa. She fears the sight may affect other patrons because of painful past incidents. 

My view is that if that woman has transitioned (with or without genital reconstruction surgery) and can produce proof of female identification, e.g., a driver's license, she ought to be admitted. Her transition—which is even without surgery, arduous—will not impede or dilute the fight for human rights for any population. 

You might wonder, Why does that woman still have male genitals? I don't know (and it is none of my business), but an increasing number of transwomen are refusing surgery. Jae Alexis Lee has posted a list of  reasons here.

The prospect of seeing male organs disturbs Rachel. (It seems that no matter what, her brain is flashing, Men in here!) I wonder whether—to help patrons like her to accept the physical diversity of this group—a woman who still had male genitalia would wear a swimsuit, which I grant sounds repressive, but may be a temporary middle road. In the last five years, I'd estimate that at least 80% of patrons wear suits, so she'd be in a majority.

Rachel says she would be upset to see such a woman nude, but sometimes times change faster than our comfort level. In Ontario, any resident can now refuse the binary designation for the province's identity documents, designating an X instead of M or F. This tempest in a salt pool is only the beginning.

Of course another solution is to open such facilities to a mixed clientele: male, female and X: everybody in the pool! I've spent plenty of time at hot springs where mixed nude bathing was the custom, but Rachel does not want that, either. I'd be sorry to see that all-women haven go, too; there's a kind of bonding. I'll never forget one woman of about fifty who sat at the edge of the frigid plunge pool for twenty minutes, weeping into the bodice of a cherry-red two-piece, then saying, "I can do this". In she went, and the whole room burst into cheers.

But for now we circle the issue of what is a woman. Maybe there are varieties of women. If we look at other species, some fish turn into another gender; parrotfish have sex organs of both sexes. We humans continue to learn about the range of chromosome complements, hormone balances and phenotypic variations, challenging our ideas about both sex and gender. 

Though I dip into essays about gender theory and feminism, I prefer to think about how we choose to relate to one another as we make our way through life. Even essays written fifteen years ago can sound dated. In 2009, Germaine Greer wrote in "The Whole Woman", "No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if (they) were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight."

I know several transwomen or their families who are not in agreement. And what of those women who were born with a uterus and ovaries, and no longer have them? Just try telling them they lost their real-woman status.

After being confronted by my own startled response in the past, thinking about it, meeting more transwomen, and speaking to friends who work with their communities, I have decided that if a person believes she is a woman, I will accept her as one. Otherwise, I would be one of the persons who relegate her to society's edges, and that is not a world I want to support. 

Where will this all end up? Will people look back in fifty or eighty years look back and find the matter quaint as ladies-and-escorts entrances at taverns?

I am grateful to my friend for her thoughtful e-mails. She may never be comfortable with that woman in the spa, but she is questioning her conditioning. 

We have those moments as we mature; yours may be about something else. I'd learn a great deal if you would like to tell us. 


The purple memorial

Thank you, kind readers, for your condolences. I am back from Oregon, where my brother's memorial was a warm, heartening event.

Time was, mourners wore black or navy, with no excessive detail. Dad, a lifelong bowtie man, had one long tie, strictly for funerals. In these more informal times, a family (or the decreased) may request specific attire. The day before I left, a niece contacted me to say friends and family were asked to wear purple, my brother's favourite colour. (The photo I posted shows him in one of his many purple shirts.)

I had heard of mourners being asked to wear brights, all white, or school colours. I knew someone  who requested that her women friends wear their most lavish hats. But other than Prince, I had not thought about purple as a commemorative gesture.

I unpacked the black dress and belted downtown to see what I could find. Sweaty and anxious, I thought, Couldn't he have loved camel?

Les Montréalaises are not offered much in purple this season; I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt. After two hours I came home empty-handed but remembered with relief that I had purple shoes. (Arche "Drick", below.)

I also have a silk ikat shawl shot through with purple. That would have to do; the shawl went over a heliotrope top and long black skirt from Muriel Dombret. I would have liked a mauve manicure, but there was no time.

St. Mary's was packed with purple. My sister-in-law chose a chic plum twinset with a hint of silver metallic. Her two daughters had purple pashminas, her sons and sons-in-law, ties. Grandchildren bloomed in purple flowered dresses, a sweet lavender shrug, a mulberry turtleneck. Friends wore jackets and dresses in every hue of purple, and, on a black suit, a man had pinned an elegant fresia boutonnière.

Our younger generation were entirely accepting of everyone's choice, but the purple flourishes made them smile on a day when smiles were hard to muster.

His purple speedo (which Denny sometimes wore to cook, his solution to the problem of stained clothes) was mentioned during the eulogy, probably a first for St. Mary's.

After the service, family and close friends gathered at the home for a barbeque. Everyone changed into jeans, but kept their purple on to bring Denny into the heart of the house, as always.

Have you been to such a memorial? When your family and friends gather to remember you, might your loved ones suggest what to wear? 

In anticipation of my inevitable ceremony: my favourite colour is... black. Gray will be fine.

Forty-five years

Stories! Any writer gorges on real-life stories, and I've had a banquet lately. Jeanne has allowed me to tell hers.

The moment I saw Jeanne this summer, I knew something was up. She was widowed two years ago. We met at the end of the first year, when she was mourning, and spoke at length about her husband Will, an ebullient, brilliant and deeply generous man. She was subdued, still hollowed-out from a harrowing last year.

By this summer, she was brimming with life. She had divested nearly everything she and Will owned, sold the big suburban house, found a pied-a-terre in Denver. She was a sought-after partner on the competitive bridge circuit, traveling to tournaments.

Jeanne has a son in Montréal, and another who lives with his family on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, a locale famous for its natural beauty, a sailor's paradise.

While visiting that son, she learned that her first husband, Stewart, whom she'd married at 21 and divorced seven years later, lived there too. At loose ends during the day ("only so much farmers' market I can take"), she decided to look him up, after forty-five years without contact. Stewart was divorced again, and had an adult daughter. At the first coffee meeting, their past bond floated up; they talked for three hours.

After several visits and introductions to one another's children, Jeanne and Stewart dined one evening at the town's one posh restaurant, and afterward, she did not return to her son's home. They resumed what was disrupted nearly a half-century ago.

What happened in the early '70s?  She had a brief affair; they were not at that point able to work through the crisis. "He was always my best friend", she said, "and I felt such guilt that I had hurt him—so I left." They moved apart rapidly, carried by swift currents into others' lives.

When she reconnected, the years seemed to fall away, but now both brought the broader perspectives granted by time, other loves, and the wisdom they lacked in their twenties. After caring for Will for years, Jeanne lives in the present. "Talk to me about Willie any time",  Stewart said, "I want to know him though you."

Her story reminded me of  Stan Rogers' love song to his wife Ariel, "Forty-Five Years", especially the lines,
You say you've been twice a wife and you're through with life
Ah, but honey, what the hell's it for?

Jeanne won't settle permanently in that oceanside town, but will visit soon—Stewart bought a queen-sized bed and is purging stacks of single-guy stuff. She is travelling extensively in the coming year; he will join her at Christmastime. Her children say, "Go for it, Mom."

To my delight, she bought a condo in Montréal for use during the summers; her son will live there the rest of the year. She hopes Stewart will visit; they were newlyweds here, so poor that a night out was a round trip on the métro. I can't wait to meet the man who makes my friend's eyes dance. "Isn't he handsome?" she asked, producing the wedding photo she carries in her wallet:

During her month here, they were in constant touch, connected this time like Venn circles, overlapping, but not fully eclipsing the other. Stewart has lived contentedly in his cabin for many years; Jeanne yearns to be out in the world, from Singapore to New York.

But her heart is home again, in an old, familiar port.

Uneven aging: On the road

When couples or friends travel, uneven aging shows up like a souvenir seller on a beach: an unwelcome intrusion you'll face at some point.

Sometimes the afflicted person, longing for adventure,  stimulation—or just her money's worth—signs on for more activity than she can handle. Other times, a companion plans an ambitious trip without considering the demands on stamina. When the less-fit of the pair (or group) hears the itinerary, she may not speak about her health issues, fearing she'd dampen the fun.

Rachel and her husband cruised to Spain, where they rented a car and drove to Italy and France. What should have been a long-awaited five-week celebration of Noah's retirement turned into misery before the first border was crossed. "Very suddenly, I saw that Noah could not cope with the land part", she said. "I had to do all the driving, which exhausted me. He became extremely anxious; I've never seen him so agitated. Every day, he wanted to know where would we eat. I had booked the hotels, but not restaurants. He kept asking, 'How far do I have to walk?' He wouldn't even carry a bag."

By the time they flew home from Nice, she was drained and resentful. Once back, she regained her compassion. Home life had disguised the extent of Noah's debilitating condition; he could not be open about something even he did not fully realize.

Their next trip, two years later, was cruise only, removing the sources of stress for both. She missed  their footloose flexibility, but Noah was a happy man once he could sleep in the same bed every night and get eggs over easy with turkey bacon for breakfast. Rachel, freed from trying to find acceptable restaurants in strange towns, was a blissful ship spa client.

That's a solution out of many travellers' budgets, but the principle is sound: better to travel less often, and spend on supports such as a private room, more cabs, the rental of assistive devices, or booking a personal tour guide.

There is a psychological side to travel, too. "Uneven aging" means one person is in better shape than the other, and for the less-fit person, that can be embarrassing. Her ego will roar like a wounded lion.

The description of the yoga tour I took to India in my late 50s said classes would be offered for all levels, but everyone else was an advanced yogini and craved challenge, so the teacher went with that. I was full of self-recrimination until I realized that it was not my fault. I told the teacher I'd do what I could, and spent some time during each four-hour class just resting on my mat. Some days, I cut class to walk the beach and enjoy a Kingfisher with lunch—yes! 

But I was lucky; the women on the tour were warm and made no judgment about my limitations. Besides, when we went to the night markets, they depended on me to find the best jewellery. My bruised ego was salved by their gratitude.

Marcelle had no such advantage on an archaeological tour to Turkey. She had long been a confident solo traveller, but on this tour, she thought she'd die of heatstroke trying to keep up. She could either stumble along, sweaty and miserable, or sit alone on a broiling bus; the AC was turned off while the others hiked the ruins. She knew no one else, and the group wasn't friendly. The tour leader curtly pointed out that the trip brochure said there would be extensive walking. "They were kind of like, 'What are you doing here?'", she said.

She threw in the Turkish towel after four sweltering days, and hired a driver to take her ahead to the last stop for a three-night stay in a charming boutique hotel. Though she paid quite a bit for that respite, it turned out to be the high point of the trip. She sent a photo of her dinner on the terrace and said, "Now I know the Turkey that suits me."

A traveller with health issues will need a backup plan should the original itinerary prove unworkable. The abler partner has to keep an eye out; even on an 'easy' trip, the less-vital partner may be dazzled by all on offer, and push too hard.

Another friend, C., will take a family trip to Sedona this winter. His preparation includes a 12-week strength, balance and mobility course at his local hospital. For those without local resources, a number of books and video programs are available on Amazon, from mat to water-based approaches. (Another plug here for the iBook "How to Watch TV and Get Fit", which builds strength at home in efficient three-minute sets.)

A list of tour companies which cater to varying levels of ability is here. Before selecting a tour (or planning a self-led trip), each person should speak openly about the realities of stamina and mobility but also about details such as the requirement for an elevator or the need for a regular nap. Then, choose what's realistic—never mind that you don't see every monument. You might also decide to scale the trip to meet those needs: a shorter flight or crossing fewer time zones can make or break the less-fit partner's experience.

As Rachel found, you have live with your partner or friend long after you've unpacked. "I plan for him to be comfortable on the trip", she said, "and that makes all the difference back home."

Udeman: My brother

My brother, and my only remaining member of my birth family, died last week, suddenly and peacefully, at 84.

I can't say quite why the shock was so profound, I suppose because we had chatted just days before, when he was in hospital for a respiratory problem no one thought was serious.

So, may I introduce you to Denny, a little too late. He was an avid outdoorsman— a licensed river guide and expert fly fisher—a natural athlete who'd win a club golf tournament even when it was the only game he'd played that year.

He was beloved by patients, who got house calls and his home number. The father of nine (two marriages), he possessed unruffled calm, no matter what commotion unruly kids or escaped horses brought. Home was a rambling farmhouse outside Springfield, Oregon, filled with children and usually one of their friends who perched at Denny and Jackie's between jobs or studies.

In his student days, he'd hitch-hike between our home in Northern Michigan and Notre Dame, in Northern Indiana, with a duffel bag and a sign that said, "It's Up to You." And oh, the girls were after him!  Because he was fifteen years older, I have little memory of his youth, but my sister said she had to fend off eager "girlfriends" who only wanted an introduction to her tall, dreamy brother.

He was the kind of person who parks where he likes and pays the ticket. He hated how HMOs constrained physicians' practices, and in protest suspended his surgical practice for a time. (He went back, that's what nine kids does to you.) I was about to call him anti-authoritarian, but more accurately, he was his own authority.

And he was a believer of old-school Irish Catholic persuasion. When I spoke to him last week, I told him that while in New York, I'd stop by St. Patrick's and light a candle for him; he liked that. "The candle" was a joke between us, because when he was 15 and my mother was in labour with me, he went to church to light a candle for my safe arrival. When he found out I was a girl, he returned and blew it out.

At St. Pat's I lit two, cutting Mom in on the deal. As I knelt in the vast cathedral, trying to retrieve the words of the liturgy, I remembered what he said to me about his prayers for our mother during her last weeks: "I prayed for her to get better; then I realized I was praying for the wrong thing, so I asked for her to have what she needed now."

I amended my prayer, invoking the same request. I don't know why, because we weren't worried. And the next day, he was gone in a breath.

I will return next week, after family time in Oregon.

Good stuff! A hodgepodge of resources

Today, the Passage's windows are dressed with items I discovered over the summer.

1. The MedicalID feature on the iPhone

People put emergency contact info on their phones, but what if your phone is locked, and you're not able to access it? Click here for instructions for using the feature with iPhone 8, or a hack for iPhone 7; on another site, iPhone 6 and 7 instructions are here.

I learned about this from our Mac doc, Dave Rahman of TechnoMinds. Check out David's other TechTips; there's other cool iPhone info such as how to decrease data usage (which if you live in Canada is important.)

2. On-demand transit, with service and support for seniors

At the other end of the tech-savvy scale is a service for persons who do not have a smart phone, but want to use Lyft or Uber: GoGo Grandparent. Available in 50 US States and Canada, the service allows seniors or anyone housebound to get around safely, using the ride services with a plain old phone.

Why not just call a cab? GoGo offers more services, such as notifications to GoGo Grandkids or other family members, or the ability to schedule transit for recurring appointments. Up to four other passengers ride (from the same location) at no additional cost.They're adding a grocery delivery feature. My neighbour Toni uses it for her 92-year-old mother and says it makes a world of difference to her autonomy and enjoyment, and she does not have to do nearly as much running around.

A new feature added in Sept. allows riders to use it without entering any info on a phone keypad, which is useful for visually impaired persons.

3. Daily crossword: fun on the fly

The Washington Post's is just right for me, you may prefer harder ones! Play online or print.

4. Chic shoes for problem feet, by post

Jeanne has bunions, and always bemoans the shoe choices on offer, but when we met over the summer, she had divine sandals that fit her two different-sized feet like a dream—and so pretty! Etsy seller KatzandBirds make sandals, oxfords and boots in beautiful colours, and adapt these for various needs. The focus is firmly on flat (but not wafer-thin) or very low heels—shoes you can walk around in all day.

Shoe prices are in the $250-$350 range. The owner, in Tel Aviv, states that there is no duty on US orders under $800 and Canadian orders under $200. I am longing to try a pair!

Any discoveries to add? Please do; we can't use what we don't know about.

New York in black and colour

Back from nearly a week in New York City, in sweltering heat with high humidity. I had hoped to take photos of women there,  but left my iPad in the plane. I got it back, but too late to take photos.

During the week of 32C/90F temperatures, women wore black that hung away from the body: floaty a-line sleeveless dresses, loose-cut pants like Eileen Fisher's, loose linen tees or light white blouses. That's what I took too, and several scarves that were too hot to wear.

But window shopping told another story: colour in the most ardent forms, prices climbing like the thermometer at the exemplary designers'.

I was colour-drunk in Saks' Etro boutique. Fortunately, if you have over $8,000, you can get the same piece (shown below left ) at net-a-porter.  Burberry's crazy-quilt vest has already sold out there, but Saks had it, too, and I thought of knitters like materfamilias, who could take that on.

If you can drop the price of a (used) car on a jacket, and you don't mind who knows it, the Italians are able to supply the dazzling goods. Gucci's floral appliqué jacquard jacket had place of pride in the Fifth Avenue window:

When your eye is enchanted via these houses, you see that these clothes cannot be copied successfully. Mid-range department stores were a downer after such outré opulence: sedate burgundy, endless shift dresses and the basic trousers you wore for your first job.

Poly, even when vividly printed, cannot even hope to match the world's best dyes on plush wools or velvet. I about wept.

If you sew,  you might hunt these magnificent fabrics and trims, then compose and tailor you little heart out. For those of us whose last seat at a Singer was in high school home ec class, a good-sized scarf is a decent cheat.

Lisu Moshi's "Chui Red" chiffon rectangle delivers those exotic colourways, and is light enough to wear indoors. Price, £120 at Wolf and Badger.

The Danish brand Epice make terrific scarves, always with a colour suprise; I love pink with cocoa brown. This detail below is from a wool/silk/cashmere blend shawl that is $330 at Bliss.

Or you might have a lucky strike like one of my Susanfriends, who found a Save the Queen knit jacket at a Sutton, Quebec flea market for $2!

"Don't tell!" advised our mutual friend when we had lunch, but Sue wants the world to know what can happen if you scout with your lucky penny in your purse. (Similar shown, listed on eBay.)

At Etro, I thought, Spectacular, but how do you wear this? Then I remembered a stylist's axiom: " 'Matches nothing' goes with everything".

Such riotous colour is actually more versatile than a bright solid, which can cut all but the longest-bodied woman in half. Artful colour play is magic, moving the eye about and pulling everything together.

Speaking of magic, if you're in New York this fall, I suggest you see Derek Del Gaudio's, "In and Of Itself" which is to the classic magic show what Etro is to fabric: another conceptual level. DelGaudio's theme is identity, and his performance, which includes magic, monologue and memoir, is an entrancing evening.

Trying on life alone

Le Duc was called away for a few days last week on family matter, and I was alone.

My first thought was, Good. I can attack areas of the apartment that a grown man still doesn't notice are grungy, like the mat of dirt that forms where sliding doors meet. I can whistle out of tune and eat dinner when I feel like it—which may be buttered popcorn with a glass of white wine, not as disgusting as it sounds.

Aside from the popcorn, it was no fun.

I learned that should I have years of life alone ahead of me, I will have to find a commune, or at very least, co-housing. Others are not inclined this way; they're wired—or have built the muscle—for solo living.

What I noticed: I resisted calling my children or friends, who would surely extend a lifeline. I know they are there if it's unbearable; the widows who read this are saying, You want to see unbearable? Try years.

I allotted the hours to French homework, the chores that get short shrift, an attention-deficeit Netfilx binge. Alone, I could bail from a so-so movie after ten or fifteen minutes.  I divested a half-dozen pieces of clothing without asking for an opinion, repaired a broken flashlight by myself.

But it felt more illuminating to just be, to absorb the days' shifts of light and the whirr of the apartment when it's empty. I awoke in the night and spent the better part of an hour thinking of my mother's women friends, whom I miss keenly.

I thought, too, of Patti Smith, writing in "M Train" of her late husband, fourteen years after his death: "Just come home, you've been gone too long. I will wash your shirts."

Patti Smith and Fred "Sonic" Smith; retrieved from PurpleClover

I'm in New York now; Patti and their children will perform a concert tonight and tomorrow in his honour. Though I may hear snatches from Central Park, I won't be on the grass; my days of standing for hours are over. But I remember Fred "Sonic" Smith vividly; I saw him many times in my student days, performing with the MC5 in frat house basements or dusty small halls, taciturn, handsome, roiling with talent.

Instead, I shall spend the evening with Le Duc, in an elevated state of appreciation. I can imagine Patti saying, I'd do that too.

When I had days to myself in the past, I was immersed in work, that incomparable energy sponge, and barely noticed how I felt. When he and the children left for a weekend, I worked so intensely I could tell it was evening only because the phone stopped ringing.

Solitude is a calling in early and mid-life, but as we age, it often arrives as an unbidden necessity. The adjustment is trickier and tinged with grief; there's less sense that you chose it.

I have not lived alone for over 31 years. Then, that life was neatly contained by a small house filled with Art Deco and family castoffs; a friend said it looked like the set of "Mommy Dearest" dropped into a dollhouse. When I had company for a weekend, I'd be exhausted; by Sunday brunch, the fizzy mood of Friday evening would devolve into a yearning for peace.

Now, with life less dictated by external demands, solitude seems like a Rubik's Cube, a puzzle to be turned until it falls into place. I know it's possible, but wonder if I could ever reach that satisfying resolution.

Black with something extra

With fall, black returns in seasonal supremacy. Most women have a black dress or two stashed in the closet, often a simple dress-up-or-down style.

When New York Times T Magazine recently ran a black feature; I ogled the dresses, which are not your basic blacks. 

That basic has eminently earned its place; it's the one you can wear for weeks on a trip by changing accessories, or throw on for a meeting, without thinking about it.  But there are times when the simple a-line feels like what retailers call a "dumb dress".  I'd like more verve; I am on the lookout for black with wit.

If I had $3,400 this Gucci is quite the number, probably even more exquisite in person, and note the ecru cuff. 

Today, the windows are dressed in black with something extra. You may not see your dress (and your 'black' may be navy or espresso), but each offers that something extra, well below T Magazine's dizzying price point.

 The Part Two Itessa dress, of cashmere blend knit, is €130. The sleeve detail will look wonderful at a restaurant table, and the bottom hem has matching small slits. The fabric content is confusing; the copy says "cashmere blend" but also "100% viscose". I've long been a fan of Part Two, a Danish company who now have an e-store.

From Edinburgh's Totty Rocks, the sharp black Lux dress in satin and triple crepe. Portrait collar (that's the satin), a lightly padded shoulder, and the wink of a slit neckline neckline at the back: yes! Totty rocks, but she also tailors. Price, £195.

This dress is not black, but it is special. Donna Karan navy silk embroidered dot dress, on sale for $US 375. If you go to the site you'll see it worn with nothing beneath, but we of course are wearing its attached navy cami. Spectacular across-the-table quotient.

When I saw this, I thought, Adele for its elegance and drama. The cream-lined cape dips in back to the waist (top left, below). The dress is poly and elastane, washable on delicate cycle. From Navibi, in (US) plus sizes 10-22; price, about $US 320.

My friend B. just bought two dresses from The Peruvian Connection, whom I had thought of as knitwear designers, but it turns out they have been designing some good dresses, too, including a collection of black. Their Eldridge Dress looks like a tunic over a slim skirt,  but is one piece, and has a sleeve length I like, too. The overlayer is viscose/wool, the underlayer is stretchy rayon; price, $US 259.

Another option is the trouser suit, because some women just don't like dresses. The mantra is "modern, feminine". (I admire the classic le smoking, but it's harder to pull off when one is older. If you don't wear red lipstick with aplomb, it's probably not your look.)

This Tahari jacket, with its velvet-tipped lapel and buttonless closure, is not the man's suit cut; the trousers are cropped. Price: Blazer, $US 428; Odette trousers, $US 278. Mom would say, "Now, don't wear the trousers five times as often as the jacket, or the blacks won't match anymore."

I would wear this with short boots or low block heels—the open sandals look dated, not to mention dangerous.

Left, Nine West Quarren; price, $US 158; right, Clark's Chinaberry Pop; price, about $US 125.

Off I go to pack summer whites and bring back the black. What I have must please for the next six  months—and if not, hello donation bin. Black is too ubiquitous to be just a dark and safe default.