Kir Royale – ah happy thought! And this is the first entry here for a long time. It had begun with a wish to start a daily meditation on what interests me at the time. Some how this was to replace the daily pages that I’ve got out of the habit of writing. So, I wanted to find an image that summed up what was in my head right then.
I started a search on “Proustian bubbles,” of all things. It was an expression used by a friend on drinking a glass of Kir Royale a very long time ago. It had led led to a discussion of Proust and set me off on the mammoth task of reading À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) as a challenge. There had been a time when I would have tried reading it in French. But that time had long passed.
Anyway, my search led not to picture of the lovely drink, but to a review of Le Grand Hotel Cabourg and a picture of the room used by Marcel Proust. Marcel often stayed in room 414 on the fourth floor. He invokes the place in À la recherche with Cabourg dressed up as Balbec.
After my own warm memory I suppose now I should provide you with a recipe for Kir Royale. It is the simplest of cocktails but really quite delicious.
1 to 2 Tablespoons crème de cassis (currant liqueur) or cranberry liqueur
4 to 6 ounces champagne or sparkling wine – Prosecco works well
How to Make It
For each cocktail, pour the crème de cassis into a champagne flute or coupe . Those with a sweet tooth add two table spoon of crème de cassis or more to their taste. Top up with champagne or sparkling wine.
Kir Royale is named after Félix Kir, a one-time mayor of Dijon in Burgundy, who helped popularize the white-wine version of the drink. Crème de cassis is made from blackcurrants that are crushed and soaked in alcohol, with sugar then added. It is a specialty of Burgundy, but also made in Anjou, England, Luxembourg, Alberta, Quebec and, oddly for me,Tasmania. It is claimed to be the favourite drink of Hercule Poirot
Dog days – July is the seventh month of the year and traditionally the beginning of the dog day season.
The month was named for Julius Caesar; it was the month of his birth. Before that it was called Quintilis. Quintilis is Latin for fifth – it was the fifth month in the earliest Roman calendar. That began with March – named for Mars, god of war. Quintilis was under the guardianship of the Romans’ supreme deity Jupiter. Nothing related to Jupiter was likely to be sweet and gentle. For them he was the god of the sky and thunder, as well as being king of the gods.
July is on average the warmest month in most of the Northern Hemisphere and the coldest month in much of the Southern. And in the Northern Hemisphere, dog days are considered to begin in early July. The dog days are usually hot and sultry.
A star, a goddess and a tale
Historically the period follows the heliacal rising of the star Sirius, the Dog Star. Heliacal rising is when a star first becomes visible above the eastern horizon for a moment just before sunrise. The most important of such risings in the past was that of Sirius. It was particularly important for the Egyptians but also for the Greeks and Romans.
In Greek and Roman astrology, the dog days were connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. The heliacal rising of Sirius marked the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt.
The brightest star in the night, the Dog Star’s heliacal rising is remarkably regular compared to other stars. The annual flood of the Nile was incredibly important to the Egyptians. If the flood failed, so did the fertility of their crops. But the flood was irregular and the return of Sirius was not. So the they worshiped the star as the goddess Sopdet, guarantor of the fertility of their land.
Oh, that unlovely lethargy!
The Romans blamed Sirius for the heat of the season and attendant lethargy and diseases.Vergil notes vintners’ efforts to protect their work during the time “when the Dog-star cleaves the thirsty Ground”. Seneca’s Oedipus complains of “the scorching dog-star’s fires”. Pliny’s Natural History notes an increase in attacks by dogs during July and August and advises feeding them chicken manure to curb the tendency.
Dog days continued to feature in Western medicine. In 1564, the English, Hope of Health, counselled that purging (bloodletting and induced vomiting) should be avoided during the “Dogge daies” of summer because “the Sunne is in Leo” and “then is nature burnt vp & made weake” In the 1813 Clavis Calendria, the dog days are a time wherein “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies”. In North America, it became proverbial among farmers that a dry growing season through the dog days was preferable to the trouble of a wet one:
Dog days bright and clear
Indicate a good year;
But when accompanied by rain,
We hope for better times in vain.
T’is the season of the dog
Views on when the dog days start and finish have varied; anywhere from 3 July to 15 August and lasting for anywhere from 30 to 61 days. More recently they have been regarded as the days between July 3 and August 11, ending rather than beginning with the reappearance of Sirius to the night sky.
When I was researching this piece, the quote I found that I liked most comes from the Greek poet Hesiod and written more than two thousand years ago;
“But when the artichoke flowers, and the chirping grass-hopper sits in a tree and pours down his shrill song continually from under his wings in the season of wearisome heat,  then goats are plumpest and wine sweetest; women are most wanton, but men are feeblest, because Sirius parches head and knees and the skin is dry through heat. But at that time let me have a shady rock and wine of Biblis,  a clot of curds and milk of drained goats with the flesh of a heifer fed in the woods, that has never calved, and of firstling kids; then also let me drink bright wine, sitting in the shade, when my heart is satisfied with food, and so, turning my head to face the fresh Zephyr,  from the ever flowing spring which pours down unfouled, thrice pour an offering of water, but make a fourth libation of wine.” From <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0132%3Acard%3D571>
Wendy Smith writes articles, poetry and books. You can find all her books on Amazon at this link.In addition she offers life and career coaching. If you would like to contact Wendy email firstname.lastname@example.org
A Very Posh Umbrella, A Hat And A Little Bit Of Leather
This morning I stumbled across How it’s Made; a documentary program showing how common, everyday, items such as kitchen equipment or accessories are manufactured. And they show the alchemy of everything from surfboards to alligator handbags. This morning they were talking about umbrellas. It was my husband who spotted the name on the umbrella’s label. So, it was Brigg.
Now, I knew nothing about Brigg umbrellas. Therefore we looked them up. As well as finding out how special and very expensive they are, I hit on two other names I recognized. The first was the name of a very special store; Swaine Adeney Brigg – they sell the Brig umbrellas. And then the name of that most romantic of hatters; Herbert Johnson.
My life in leather
Too many moons ago, my first job was found for me by a frustrated mother. She was determined that even as a student, I should contribute to my keep. The husband of a friend of hers found the solution. He was MD of Fine English Leatherware in my home town of Walsall. They made the most luxurious of wallets, handbags, document and folio cases and, even, leather-coated jewelry boxes and jewel rolls. These goods were produced in exotic of leathers, alligator and snake skin being considered quite mundane. The factory supplied shops like Harrods, Aspreys and, of course, Swaine Adeney Brigg.
I didn’t enjoy my part-time job in the warehouse. I was never very good at packing parcels. And, I had a tendency to drop the valuable gold corners when I dispensed them to the leather craftsmen.
Those craftsmen and craftswomen were very special – mainly they came from families steeped in the leather trade. They spoke in a broad Black Country dialect that often I didn’t understand. They were mesmerizing to watch at work. But, the saddest thing was to see the effect of the seesaw economy of 1967 that led eventually to devaluation of the pound. The craftsmen were on piece work rates (paid for each piece of work) and the demand for luxury goods just slumped. I was very grateful when the boss explained to my mum that they couldn’t afford to keep me on.
And the hat?
And so to Herbert Johnson, who are now part of the Swaine Adeney Brigg empire. Well, by the mid-seventies I was swanning around London wearing a Christmas present given me by a chum who happened to work at Herbert Johnson. It was a voluptuous and romantic black fedora known as the poet hat. Mine was similar to that warn by Nureyev in the film Valentino. The poet hat has quite a history in film. It was modified for the character Indiana Jones in a number of ways and made in sable brown. Personally I prefer the black.
Wendy Smith is a Life and Career Coach and a writer. You can find at more about her writing elsewhere on this site.
Life as a Writer – I have always loved writing. I can remember how much I enjoyed essays at school, though perhaps my early efforts were a bit too florid for the times. I was told at the age of nine that my writing was too passionate – which now seems quite bizarre.
In my teens I wanted to be a lyricist. I suppose everyone wanted to write pop songs in the sixties! I still enjoy writing to a beat.
Slowly my song writing morphed into writing poetry.
I knew that I wanted to be a professional writer. I was dissuaded from launching out as a journalist which is now one of my few regrets in life. Instead, eventually I fetched up working as a Civil Servant where the ability to put pen to paper was clearly useful.
My creative gift, such as it was lay dormant for a long time.
I wrote poems sometimes, which were published in obscure journals, but that was about all! The most successful of my work at that time was on the subject of slavery, Middle Passage Remembrance, which was published in 1990.
I did try writing short stories but they never really appealed. Somehow, they were not as satisfying to write as poetry, nor did I feel driven to create them in the same way.
I had settled for being a poet, albeit, of a fairly modest kind!
Things changed. When I left the Civil service and launched out as a blogger.
To blog successfully means building up your readership and that happens when you blog frequently. So I got into the habit of writing 300 to 500 words (the length of an average blog post) five days a week. It was great training. Then in the middle of 2012 a little occurred; the plot of the my first novel, The Wolf Project, started to come into my mind. You can find out about that and what happened next at this link.
The Wolf Project – I’m really excited to tell you that my novel is available on Amazon. It is really thrilling for me to be able to share this story with you. Those who have read it so far have really enjoyed it. Here is a short summary.
“Liz Morris had been a successful TV writer. Then her marriage broke up and she lost both her money and her confidence. Now, she has been asked by the formidable Annabel Meadows to help her husband, retiring American General, George “Jet” Meadows, write his autobiography. Liz doesn’t want the work but she does need the money. What she doesn’t know is that this project and meeting General Meadows will change her life forever.”
Wendy Mason is a Career and Life Coach and Writer and she is passionate about helping people find happiness at work and at home! She lives in London, England with partner, Owen. As a coach, Wendy helps people reach their goals and aspirations, without sacrificing their home and personal life. This is her first novel.
North to Alaska is on TV again and once more there is the lovely Capucine. For me, when I was growing up, she the epitomized all that was French and all that one aspired to be in terms of looks and grace.
Capucine was a Golden Globe-nominated French actress and fashion model best known for her role as Simone Clouseau in the 1963 comedy The Pink Panther and as Michelle “Angel” in North to Alaska.
Born Germaine Lefebvre in Saint-Raphaël, in the South of France, Cpucine soon exhibited an independent, non-conformist personality.
She attended school in France and received a B.A. in foreign languages. At 17, while riding in a carriage in Paris, a commercial photographer noticed her. Her elegance and sophistication soon brought her to the attention of modeling agencies where she became a regular fashion model for such fashion houses as Givenchy.
Capucine was great friends with Audrey Hepburn, the two having met while modelling in the 40s. They shared an apartment together at the time and Capucine was later a witness to the 1969 wedding of Hepburn to Dr.Andrea Dotti in Lausanne, Switzerland.
A manic-depressive, Capucine’s life had on several occasions been saved by Hepburn (both women lived at the time in Switzerland) after repeated suicide attempts.
In 1949, Capucine made her film debut in the French film Rendez-vous de Juillet. On the set of Rendez-vous, she met Pierre Trabaud. The two married the following year. The marriage lasted only six months, and Capucine would never marry again. In 1957, film producer Charles K. Feldman spotted Capucine while modeling in New York City. Feldman brought her to Hollywood to learn English and to study acting under Gregory Ratoff. She was signed to a contract with Columbia Pictures in 1958 and landed her first English-speaking role in the filmSong Without End (1960) Starring opposite Dirk Bogarde. For the next few years, Capucine would go on to make six more major motion pictures before moving to Switzerland in 1962. She continued making films in Europe until her death.
Her best known films include: Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), Red Sun (1971), Fellini Satyricon (1969), What’s New, Pussycat (1965), The 7th Dawn, (1964), The Pink Panther,(1963), The Lion,(1962), Walk on the Wild Side (1962), North to Alaska (1960) with John Wayne.
She also appeared on American television in the 80s in episodes of “Murder, She Wrote” and alongside old friend Robert Wagner in “Hart to Hart”.
Capucine suffered from bipolar disorder throughout her life and sadly in 1990 she finally succeeded by jumping to her death from her eighth-floor apartment in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Born 6 January 1931, Saumur, Loire,( or Toulon,) France
Died 17 March 1990, Lausanne, Switzerland
I fell in love with Edith Piaf a very long time ago.
I was fourteen and crazy for all things French.
At that time in our lives most of us fantasize about finding the great love. Girls did it when I was young and I hope they do it still.
We try to imagine what it will be like. Most of my ideas about love came from reading Françoise Sagan ; “a charming little monster”. Then I discovered Piaf and love on a completely different level; love in the bones and soul as well in the heart and the flesh.
Piaff’s voice wreaks of pain, as my breath must have wreaked of the forbidden Gauloises Disque Bleu cigarettes.
I can’t remember how I came to own a recording of La Vie En Rose. But I can remember the days leading up to my 15th birthday very well. In the twilight, not wanting to switch the light on to spoil the mood and dreaming to the sound of her voice singing this over and over again;
“When he takes me in his arms and speaks softly to me, I see life in rosy hues. He tells me words of love, words of every day. And in them I become something. He has entered my heart”
This is her signature tune. She co-wrote it with Marguerite Monnot, the composer. According to the story, it was published under someone else’s name only because he was licensed to publish and Piaf was not.
For me, this the most perfect love song and it is ageless.
It was the most popular of her songs by far, until she sang Non Je Ne Regrette Rien, but that is another story.
If you would like to see, as well as hear, her sing the song go to this link.
If you just want to listen to what I heard all those years ago then here you are.
In the darkness
Drums are beating
Telling of a ancient wrong
Do you hear them
Oh my Sister?
Can you sing
Old sorrow’s song?
Did your Mother
Tell the story
As you sat beside her hearth?
Did your Father
Tell your Brother
As they trod the forest path?
Song of sorrow
Song of history
Like a birthmark on the skin
Only love can heal the wound now!
Only love forgive the sin
Love sung out
Let the heart song