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Archive for September, 2011

My father agreed with the painter Eduard Manet‘s pronouncement that “black is not a color,” except when worn by a blonde.  I took his comment to heart and made sure that when I wore black, I wore it well.  Enfin, I was a blonde charged with bringing black to life.

Rozsa’ weekly book excerpt

From Paris Adieu (2011) by Rozsa Gaston

Strolling in the Tuileries gardens on a late March day, Jean-Michel alerted me to a woman who had just passed.

C’est une jolie laide.” — It’s a pretty-ugly one.

Huh?

I turned to catch the back of her henna’d reddish purple hair and bony legs. He motioned to continue walking around the pond until we passed her again.

This time I pretended to look at some children playing behind the smallish woman as we approached. Her sharp, vixenish face had a pleased-with-herself expression on it. Its most prominent feature was a long nose with a definite bump. Her legs were nothing to write home about. No text book from any country would have categorized her as a beauty.

“She is beautiful, no?” Jean-Michel murmured to me, once out of earshot.

“Um, she’s got something going on, for sure,” I replied truthfully, a little envious. What woman with any sense of how crooked and short her legs were, would dress them up in designer tights and stiletto boots? Yet, she’d looked undeniably hot. Apparently Jean-Michel thought so too.

Instead of giving in to my preconceptions, I opened my mind to his. I had so much to learn from him and besides – I was working on becoming comfortable in my own skin these days, wasn’t I? I could at least fake it ‘til I make it, I told myself.

“A jolie laide is a woman who is beautiful even though she is not. She has something that is considered ugly, but on her, it’s not. It’s part of her charm,” he explained.

I was all ears. We circled the pond again, hoping the woman would do the same. She did. This time I pretended to spot something on the ground while I studied the  suede, stiletto-heeled black boots she wore over grey and black striped tights covering slim short, legs with knobby knees. The content wasn’t amazing, but the presentation certainly was. Brava, I silently complimented her as we walked by.

What the heck could a pretty-ugly woman have that a just plain pretty woman didn’t have over her? Apparently, plenty. I searched my mind to think of a jolie laide I might have known somewhere in my past. I’d never contemplated the concept before, but as soon as Jean-Michel explained it to me, I understood. Something niggled at me, reminding me there’d been a woman like that in my own short past.

In a minute, I had it. Voilà.

Joelle. She had been a waitress I’d worked with back in Hartford, Connecticut, the summer before music college at a French restaurant called La Crêpe. It was a chain of restaurants that served crêpes in the style of Brittany, the region next to the Atlantic Coast of France, west of Paris, where Celts had settled in the fifth and sixth centuries — probably because the food was better than back in the British Isles. The waitresses had worn cute blue dirndl skirts with suspenders, white lace blouses and enormous white Breton head-dresses. They’d looked sexy in a sweet sort of way. I’d applied for the job because I knew in an outfit like that I’d meet guys.

Joelle had been short, bony and chic with a bump in her nose, just like the woman we’d passed in the park.  The other waitresses were in awe of her.  Her boyfriend had picked her up every day after work.  During her shift she flirted with any male customer she found interesting, regardless of whether they were in female company or not. She had been in total command of herself and not surprisingly – French.

I’d soaked up every move she made, marveling to myself that she was not even mildly attractive, but her perception of herself announced to the world she was a knockout. The men appeared to buy it. To me it didn’t matter if she was beautiful or not. She was powerful.

Joelle had been a jolie laide.

“I know what you mean,” I whispered back. “Like maybe a bump in a certain woman’s nose isn’t just a bump on her. It’s a beauty feature?”

“Précisément,” Jean-Michel agreed. “It’s precisely the feature about her that a man falls in love with.”

Something clicked in my brain.

From Paris Adieu (2011) by Rozsa Gaston

What wine would you sip while contemplating this quote?

Something in honor of my father, the Transylvanian poet Zoltán Iváni Nagy. Something in honor of Jacqueline de Ribes too, international “it” girl, high fashion priestess and a woman who didn’t let an aquiline nose get in the way of regarding herself as a swan among swans.  She and Cleopatra knew how to wear the jolie-laide mantel. Brava, ladies!   I raise a glass of 2009 Chateau de Costis. With rasberry and strawberry fruits, this soft, smooth and well-balanced Bordeaux is a blend of 40% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, and 35% Cabernet Suavignon. Recommended by wine connoisseur Mary Agoglia, it pairs well with hearty pasta and red meat dishes.  A surprising $10 per bottle.

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Rozsa’s weekly book excerpt

From Lyric (2007) by Rozsa Gaston

She swung the double doors open and walked in. The place was hopping already.

Sure enough, Dawes was at the bar. He spotted her instantly and came over, his face animated.

As he leaned down to take her jacket from her shoulders, the scent of pine trees and saddle soap wafted around her. It smelled similar to an aftershave her father had used in her childhood, warm and embracing, with a hint of the woods. She’d ask him what it was the next time they spoke.

Bungee jumping at Santa Monica Pier, CA

“Glad you could make it,” he said, smiling broadly, a hint of surprise in his voice. His warm brown eyes twinkled in the dim light.

“Hi. I decided to come.” She knew that sounded inane, but it was the truth.

“I’m glad you did,” he repeated, sounding as inane as she had.

For some crazy reason, she couldn’t take her eyes off of him. For once, he wasn’t wearing a plaid shirt. He had on a deep burgundy, crisply ironed, button-down oxford with jeans. He looked like a big, juicy, medium rare steak.

She followed Dawes back to the bar. It was crowded so he led the way, protecting her with his body as they threaded through the throngs.

When they got there, there was one seat left. He grabbed it and offered it to her. She hopped up on it, hoping her cleavage hadn’t flashed as she bent down to drop her handbag on the shelf along the bottom of the bar.

*    *    *

Dawes felt a moment of awe as he watched Lyric seat herself at the bar. It was beyond belief she’d  taken him up on his invitation. He was interested in her for her – well – everything, but it was nice that she had such beauteous assets.  He’d never seen such delicate, pale skin on a woman. Trying not to think too much about what he’d just seen when she’d put down her handbag, he turned away to catch the bartender’s eye.

“What’ll it be, buddy?” the Irishman asked, his eyes flickering back and forth between Lyric and Dawes.  He was probably sizing up the scenario for the first date it was.

“Pitcher of sangria, red.”

“You got it.”

Dawes took in the extra long swig of rum the bartender tossed in the pitcher. He’d tip him well.

Be happy, be here now, Bargemon, France

Lyric snagged a tortilla chip and dipped it in the bowl of salsa. She stuffed it in her mouth, a look of pure delight on her face.  He liked a woman who wasn’t afraid to eat.

The sangria pitcher arrived and he poured out two glasses. He then turned to Lyric, raising his glass.

“Here’s getting to know you, kid.”

“Here’s to finding out where ‘away’ is,” she responded, reminding him that he’d promised to finally tell her where he hailed from.

Dawes sighed. “Away is someplace not that far from here by miles but very far away in mindset.”

“Do you mean you’re from the Bronx?” there was a teasing twinkle in her eyes.

“Good try. No, I’m not. Any other guesses?”

“Are you from New England?”

“Yup. Want to try to zero in on an area?”

“I’m going to zero in on a specific type of place.”

“As in…”

“An island. Are you from an island?”

“Yes.” Dawes was truly astounded. How had she guessed that? Not too many people had ever guessed that he hailed from a small island. ”How did you know?”

“Let’s just say I’m psychic,” she replied.

“Where’s my island located?” he continued.

“That I don’t know. Tell me.”

“I will. Right after you tell me where you come from. Not Bronxville, right?”

“Right.” She took a long sip of her sangria.

“Then where?”

“I’ll tell you on one condition.”

“Which is?”

“That we order some guacamole.”

“Nice idea, Lyric Tree.” He turned to the bartender and put in the order.

*    *    *

Lyric’s insides felt warmed all the way down to the pit of her stomach. She liked the snappiness of Dawes’ conversation.  He was sassy, but still showed good manners.

The guacamole arrived.

“I come from a place where avocados grow.” She stuck her finger in the green mound, then held it out to him.

“You do, huh? I guess that rules out my first guess which was that you’re a New Englander too.”

“My family came from Boston, but left there before I was born.”

“And moved somewhere south.”

“Very far south. Africa.”

“Africa? You’re kidding. Were your parents missionaries?”

“Nope. My father worked for non-profit groups, but mainly as a translator. He’s fluent in Arabic.”

“So you’re talking about North Africa, right?”

“Yes. Morocco. I grew up in a suburb of Tangier.”

“That sure beats my island.”

“Where’s your island located?”

“Far north.”

“North of Boston?”

“Ayuh,” Dawes said in an obvious Maine accent.

“No. You’re from Maine?”

“Ayuh. That would be it.”

Now all those plaid shirts made sense. He was a Downeaster.

“You didn’t go to school on your island, did you?” Lyric knew enough about Maine islanders to know they usually didn’t produce someone like Dawes.

“I did for a spell. Then I went away to school.”

“And that was where?”

“Hotchkiss.”

Lyric nodded, looking thoughtful. Now she knew where the fine manners came from. She liked them. He’d gone to a school that had played team sports against her father’s school, Kent. She wouldn’t let him know that just yet.

From Lyric (2007) by Rozsa Gaston

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Outdoor pool at Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA

Swimming in pools help me to achieve the state of being suggested by the Vietnamese monk, activist and writer Thich Nhat Hanh(b. 1926).  I can’t say  swimming in the ocean does the same for me.  I’m mostly a pool girl.  We visited some stunning beaches this past August in California, but the pools we played in really planted me in the present moment.  William Randolph Hearst thoughtfully maintained an indoor pool as well as an outdoor one for the comfort of his guests in any kind of weather.

The Roman Pool at Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA

The pool at the Getty Villa in Malibu is for reflecting, not swimming.

Pool at Getty Villa, Malibu, CA

I am a fan of functional swimming pools, no matter how humble. As soon as I jump in I’m in the present moment.

What glass of wine would you sip while contemplating this quote?

I would sip something chilled and white poolside while contemplating the miracle of dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive. Perhaps a 2007 Kistler Chardonnay “Les Noisettes.” Fresh and precise. At $56 per bottle, it comes alive on the palate and lingers there.

What good is this pool if I can’t go in it?

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View from Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA

Early twentieth century Swiss abstract painter Paul Klee (1879-1940) also said “He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise.”

I found my style this August vacationing in central California.  Space – vast, luscious space surrounded us as we drove up the coast, the ocean on one side, a vast expanse of mountains and canyons on the other.

Pool at Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, CA

Outside of San Luis Obispo we spent two nights at the Madonna Inn. There we frolicked in the pool and two outdoor hot tubs, enjoying the vast vista of the American West spread out before us.

Both nights we dined on organic beef at the hotel’s steakhouse, named for it’s owner and founder,

Alex Madonna.  We danced to the three-piece band until the end of the evening.  Surrounded by a convivial, ballroom dance-loving crowd, average age perhaps 70, our two children were invited by charming strangers to dance while we cut a rug ourselves.

What wine would I sip while contemplating this quote?

Most certainly I would recommend the 2007 Rombauer Vineyards Carneros Merlot from Napa Valley.  Its richly fruity tones of boysenberry, black cherry, and plum are overlaid with a hint of spice. Delicious and complex. At around $28 a bottle it pairs well with steak.

Getty Museum, Malibu, CA

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