My TBR list


Of all the “best of” lists I’ve read this year, I think I am most persuaded by this one. Short enough to be doable. May make my way down from the top! DISCUSS.

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So much going on, mainly Moravian-related!


It’s that time of year when I am trying to get all my tasks corralled before the holidays: all those health insurance claims (a particular horror where I work, where you pay for everything up front and then tape all those paper receipts onto a piece of paper and copy them and then make a PDF with all kinds of bits and bobs in a certain order–it’s so maddeningly 1950s, with the exception of the Xerox-related aspects–so you can be partly reimbursed in a leisurely fashion); remembering to call the garage for an appointment to get the car inspection done, alas, already late; taking the girls to the vet so they can be solemnly allowed into the USA, after ensuring they are not, after all, ragingly rabid; stumbling across all those mysteriously unpaid bills–my favorite being the garbage pick-up bill, which is not sent to you in advance or on any kind of regular billing cycle, and is not definitely not available by direct debit, OH NO, because just think of the convenience!, and, turning to happier topics, getting ready for Christmas.

Today I hope to put out my crèche, with all my lovely santons. It is one of my favorite French traditions and makes me feel assimilated! Photos to come.

And I’ll be hanging–with luck; need to make sure I’ve got the needed hardware–my big Moravian star and my little Moravian garland, which I was so happy to find last weekend in Dresden. They seem to be still made by hand and in Germany, not China! That makes me feel very Winston-Salem-y and not at all France-assimilated. A serious touch of home.

That brings back memories of lovefeasts past, especially at Wake Forest, with its big and beautiful annual Christmas lovefeast, one of the loveliest services anywhere. And of my great friend Ed Christman, much loved and greatly missed. Just like with my Dad, I often think of things I want to tell him. Oh, the political conversations we could have had over the past year!

Wake Forest University celebrates its 43rd annual Lovefeast ceremony in Wait Chapel on Sunday, December 2, 2007. Chaplain Timothy Auman, right, listens as retired University Chaplain Ed Christman gives the benediction.

I can almost smell that heavy, heavy beeswax scent of those candles. I used to help cut the trim and wrap them for the lovefeast–hundreds, thousands?! of them. Never has a dorm room smelled so delicious.

Speaking of the Moravians, I have always loved many of their beliefs and traditions, but most especially their motto, which deserves especially to be remembered against our current shameful public discourse.

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Happy après Halloween

As long as the current crop of reality-challenged folks is running the USA, there will be no shortage of materials for writers, or indeed, anyone who’s just looking for distraction.

This is a sadly hilarious and clever piece. #languagewarning, as is often the case these days

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Recapturing my creative self

The last couple of weeks have been a long, hard slog. Work took me to Berlin and to Paris, both, of course, glorious locations, though I mainly saw the interiors of our meetings and hotel rooms.

Arrived home Wednesday, limp from fatigue. Soon the workplace was consumed by a self-inflicted wound, which, at this writing, continues. has just been addressed and I hope it is now fixed. But I hope it will resolved tomorrow.. Along with other global anxieties, this has been totally distracting. It is very difficult to get anything done, especially with the nonstop siren call of Twitter.

But I am determined today to nourish my other self, the one that rises above Trump and Brexit and North Korea and work.

So, what has been engaging me recently? I did manage to escape my duties to see two exhibitions in Paris, one on the photographs of Irving Penn, and the other called “Gauguin, the alchemist”.

I had always admired Penn’s photographs, but it was fascinating to see how he worked, putting subjects into tiny, awkward spaces, his usual backdrop an old piece of carpet (my photo below; tried to take a selfie as my Irving Penn portrait, but that didn’t work out 😉 or a curtain.


How he studied the work of great painters to see how they dealt with light. And, of course, he had rather marvelous subjects, like Picasso.

Here’s a close-up detail, which I snapped with my iPhone. I just love the reflection in the artist’s eye.

I’ve also been trying to lose myself in reading, which has been a challenge–see distraction, above–but I managed to finish two very good books, even if I found the subjects overall sad and in some cases, vacuous.

Despite my not finding most of the subjects in these two books admirable, I enjoyed reading about their lives and houses, friends and parties. One can’t help but think all that talent could have been used to better ends.

About to start the biography of Elizabeth Jane Howard, whom I already know was an incredibly complex person with a terribly complicated life. Hmmm, what sort of pattern it this becoming? Watch this space.


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Not so super bugs and a few rather more super bits of randomness

Antibiotic/antimicrobial resistance: It’s what I’m working on now and it’s both fascinating and terrifying. I will be attending this meeting in Berlin this week. Looking forward to hearing about what people around the world are doing to prevent the apocalypse!

Currently reading this. An intriguing book about the rich and dissipated on the French Riviera in the first half of the 20th century. Lots of gossip and cameos by everybody who was anybody, including Churchill. Recommended in a kind of horrifying way. It does make me wonder what the French made of this British invasion.

About to host Sunday lunch for the local crowd. Rick Bayless is on the menu, so to speak.

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Shine on, shine on

Harvest moon 


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Of dolphins, autumn, and the Cazelets

This is seriously cool.

I took my camera out at lunch today to try to capture some of the beauty of our sudden autumn.

And now . . . to the Brig and the Duchy, Hugh, Edward, Rupert, and Rachel, and their many wives and lovers and children and friends and extended family.

Yes, I’m talking about the Cazelets, whose story is told in the 5-volume series of novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

Why Howard is not better known and appreciated, I have no idea. She had a crazy and tumultuous life, about which I know plenty, having read her memoir (and those of her various husbands), but I am now looking forward to reading her biography.

I nominate these novels as among the best written in English in the 20th century. Yes, Proust and Faulkner included. Certainly among the very top of anything set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

The story is complex, and you need the family tree to keep everyone straight at the beginning. But soon you come to know them.

Told from many perspectives and darting back and forth in time, but not too much. I cared about every single one of the characters, even if I didn’t like them much, and yes, I’m looking at you, Edward.

War turns out to be mainly boring! But London and parties beckon, and there is still so much work to do and so many mouths to feed, in a grand country house that is probably not so grand anymore. Memories, and the aftermath, of the First World War, are still extremely vivid, and one can feel the horror of the prospect of all that all over again.

And oh, the entanglements! Wives and mistresses and all the wrong men to fall in love with. Unrequited love and disasters in threesomes and the whole gamut of sexuality and love and experience and loss, loss, loss.

All I can do is urge you to order the entire 5-volume set, and devour it as soon as possible. I will not soon forget the Cazelets. I am sorry I always thought, for no reason whatever, that the books were set in the Middle Ages, and no, I have no plans to try to see the television series made from it. I like to keep them in my imagination.

How on earth did Howard do it? I have no idea. I cannot fathom trying to unpick the structure.

Read what another writer I admire, Hilary Mantel, has to say about Howard here. 

An astonishing achievement. My books of the year.




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After le weekend

Our little community of friends in Segny has been mighty active lately, especially when it comes to socializing! This weekend saw the second in a series of long, leisurely, communal Sunday lunches, only this one happened to be on Saturday.

Friends Priya and Shabby hosted us for a delicious feast of dishes from Persiana.


I posted a few photos on Instagram, but failed to snap one of the dessert, a rosewater and pistachio rice pudding made by one of my resident interns, Freya. We are lucky to be able to find such exotic ingredients as rose petals and barberries at our excellent local Middle Eastern shop, which is known variously as Goodies or Goodtaste.

And then there was a considerable amount of lying around the house, watching Netflix, prepping food for the week ahead, drawing some buildings outdoors (more on this to come), noodling around online, worrying about the Catalan vote, and stopping by the crazy-big vide grenier (“empty attic” in French, much like a yardsale) in Ferney. Where I bought nothing but enjoyed roaming around.

Finally, I finished with the Cazalets. Review coming up. Watch this space.

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News, reading, le weekend

On Saturday mornings, I try to catch up on the news, the Food Network, and otherwise luxuriate in being able to stay in bed in my pajamas.

This is a pretty startling piece of news about India’s overcrowded, under-resourced railways. 

In a few hours, I will be bereft of a large, complicated family with whom I’ve spent several weeks this summer. I will write more about the Cazelets when I’ve finished this magnificent series of novels.

Kudos to whichever one of my friends recommended these books to me, after a long discussion on Facebook. Huge thanks. Watch this space for the review.

Very much looking forward to reading this profile of one of my writing heroes, John McPhee. His latest book, at age 86, is about his creative process, which I know already to be strenuous and detailed in the extreme.

Bon weekend, all!


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Fun things of the moment

Can’t wait to see friend/teacher/mentor Maira Kalman’s mother’s closet at the Met Museum in New York next week!

Have discovered a new passion: audiobooks. Makes the commute something to look forward to. Recently listened to the first Harry Potter book, read by Stephen Fry, which was excellent.

Now on to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. It is sooooo good.

On the political front, this is the best thing to come along since the election (I get the daily newsletter and you should, too). But kudos also to the New York Times and the Washington Post for some seriously excellent investigative journalism in recent weeks.

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