Imagine the year 1957. You are in Havana Cuba and heading out to the swinging Hotel Riviera to do a little gambling and see an act at the Copa Room. Tonight is the opening night at the club and the featured act is Ginger Rogers.
You arrive in your most glamorous outfit draped in furs and diamonds and pearls. Your date looks sharp in his shark skin suit. There, in the lobby, is the owner, Meyer Lansky greeting his guests as they drive up to the front where the spectacular fountain is lit up in the night.
The historical Hotel Riviera sits on the Malecon ocean front drive in Havana Cuba. It was built in 1957 as a posh resort and was owned by the notorious mobster Meyer Lansky. He spared no expense in his efforts to rival the Hotel Riviera in Las Vegas. Lansky hired two of Cuba’s formative artists, muralist Rolando Lopez Dirube and sculptor Florencio Gelabert.
When I first pulled up in front of The Riviera my heart sank because I had expected so much more, but then, there are a lot of things in Havana that only have a shadow of past glory. Florencio Gelabert designed the white marble sculptures of an intertwined mermaid and swordfish that fronts the entrance and a large sculpture in the lobby , “Cuban Rhythm” that has a male and female dancer. The fountain, long dry ,sits baking in the sun, deteriorating and cracked.
Once inside the main lobby I felt like I stepped onto the set of Mad Men.
Every where I looked there was something else that caught my eye and I appreciate the completely unique creative force that was 1950’s design.
I’ve seen so many reproductions of starburst clocks but this was the real thing.
The original floating staircase was under construction and was off limits so I wasn’t able to see it but I am hopeful that they will be able to restore it to its original coolness.
The 3-D flying cranes art accented a wall leading into the circular bar.
The days of glamorous couples sipping martinis and smoking cigarettes at the lively bar, with the incredible view, is now reduced to curious tourists, like myself, who love architecture and history. If I had my way I’d throw a party there with all of my friends and it would be cocktail dresses and suits that would harken back to a time where the Rat Pack could have strolled past with beautiful girls on each arm.
The breakfast area is light and airy and leads out to the most fantastic pool I have ever seen.
When I walked outside and saw the magnificent three tiered diving platform I felt like I was in a Doris Day/ Rock Hudson movie. I just couldn’t take my eyes off of it and I desperately wanted to climb up and try a swan dive.
It sounds crazy but I got the same feeling when I was staring at the statue of David in Italy. Maybe that makes me a little weird but I was hypnotized by this structure.
The dining room inside the Hotel is equally breath taking in its over the top style. The murals on the walls were painted by the Cuban artist Rolando Lopez Dirube and they are a tropical explosion.
I promised myself that next time I visit Havana I will stay at The Riviera, at least for a couple of nights. I know the rooms are nothing special; a total let down, actually, but I want the experience of swimming, diving, dining in that crazy tropical restaurant, and going to the Copa. It’s still a cabaret with show girls and, not very impressive these days, but the interior is the same as it was when Ginger Rogers twirled her gams for a crowd of mobsters and gamblers.
Even the elevators are cool looking.
If you love history, like I do, you will get a real joy out of seeing all of this original 1950’s cutting edge style. Of all the places I have been, Havana is one of the most interesting. You can’t put your arms around a memory… to quote Johnny Thunders… but you can touch it in Cuba. If you get the opportunity to visit please go. I don’t think you will be disappointed unless your idea of a vacation is 5 star luxury. You won’t find it there but you will find a city steeped in history that has not changed. You will find a people who are open and welcoming. I will always return and I will always love Cuba.
I woke up early the next day and was off in a mini van to the jungles to scout our first location. We picked a spot in Mayabeque Province, just outside of Havana. There were bamboo trees and thick vegetation and the deeper you went in the thicker it got. There was sugar cane that the crew cut and handed around. It looked like a stick and you chewed on it to find the sweetness inside.
In an open field we constructed a thatched hut which we would later burn to the ground. That’s the film business.
Day 1 of shooting and the actors and extras stood around in the blazing heat in vintage suits and we had very little water and no bathroom facilities. It was a nasty first day. Our Walkie Talkies didn’t show up either so the soft spoken Cubans were bombarded by the blasting voice of the Canadian 1st Assistant Director who was screaming for his cast to come to set. They were up on a hill in an old bus that was converted into a costume truck and couldn’t hear him… so he just kept yelling louder. It was culture shock for the mild mannered crew. They were not used to having someone so loud and aggressive.
As the sun fell behind the trees the jungle came alive with sounds and the constant buzzing of mosquitos that all seemed to be saying “we have malaria”. No matter how much mosquito repellent was applied they just kept swarming. The Cubans didn’t seem to take notice but the Canadians were squirming. Someone told me that if you rubbed dryer sheets on your skin and tied them to your waist the mosquitos wouldn’t bite you. I put that theory to the test. I was a mosquito buffet
Get me out of here!
Some of the happiest people I have ever met are Cubans. The crew that I had the pleasure of working with were completely professional. The grips were working with old equipment that was frequently catching things on fire. They would just grab a bucket and douse out the lighting “flags” and we would keep shooting.
The women were organizers of Extras and transportation. They were also our Hair and Makeup department and additional assistant directors.
I spent most of my time in the only proper truck that we had, which was the hair and makeup truck. There were only two dressing rooms for the entire cast. The extras changed in pop up tents and in an old bus. I didn’t have a work space so I sat in the makeup truck as the actors were being processed. That truck also had the only bathroom for the entire crew. It was rank after a day but the smell was covered up by vats of “Final Net” hair spray. I inhaled enough hair spray to torch my breath. I mean… loads of hair spray.
I brought a box of Kashi granola bars to Cuba and one day I took them to the makeup truck. I handed one to the Makeup Artist, Karen and she proceeded to take one bite and pass it on to the next person. I laughed and said, “no no stop! I have one for everyone!” They just looked at me and didn’t understand… they didn’t speak English so well and my Spanish was horrible… but the point being; they share everything. I have never met people who did not have ambitions to do better than the next person or have more than their neighbor. They have been raised to take care of each other and to share, unlike North America where the message is to do better, have more, display your wealth and success. And guess what? They seem so much happier than us.
Once we got out of the jungle I felt like I could handle anything else that came my way. We moved back into Havana and no longer had the long drives to and from work in the morning in over -cramped vans. The roads were horrible and it took forever to maneuver around deep ruts and holes. You also have to be aware that walking the streets in downtown Havana can be a bit treacherous. The sidewalks are paved but will all of a sudden open up into a 3 foot hole or crevice. I stepped into one while I was sight seeing and dropped down up to my hips because I wasn’t paying attention. There are also a lot of dogs on the streets. They aren’t necessarily strays. They could have homes but the owners just let them out all day long to search for food on the streets and let them back in when they return from work. I fed a lot of dogs scraps and sandwiches that I didn’t want. I realized at one point the crew wanted my sandwiches. I ended up giving my unwanted food to the people to take home to their families and scraps to the dogs. One day I had the usual full container of rice and mystery meat, that had been our meal every day for a month, and I could not stomach it anymore so I carefully put it down in front of one of the street dogs. He took one sniff and walked away. Made me a bit nervous.
You don’t go to Cuba for the food. A popular luncheon meat is kind of like bologna and the crew were grateful to have those sandwiches to take home. It made me think about how spoiled we all are when it comes to food and the amount of waste there is on film sets. I couldn’t find a good salad anywhere and I’m not sure how you would survive as a vegetarian in Cuba. Salads consisted of shredded cabbage with nothing on it. Surprisingly someone taught the Cubans how to make good pizza. I had an amazing cheese pizza in a pop up tent restaurant near the Hotel Nacional. It was in a wood fire oven and I could have eaten that every single day. I also had a really good Paella in a restaurant. It was spiced nicely and had shrimp and Logostina in traditional Spanish rice.
Shooting in the downtown area of Havana was a little crazy. Its a busy place and the streets are a bit narrow. You can walk along and someone on a balcony above the street will dump a bucket of dirty water down or worse, they’ve emptied their toilet, so you have to be careful not to get doused with something unpleasant. I dropped my walkie talkie in the gutter once and the girls yelled at me to not pick it up. One of the men came over with a plastic bag and retrieved it for me and sprayed it with disinfectant as the girls pointed at it and said, “poe poe”. Ewwww… I knew what that meant… its pretty universal.
The vintage looks on set were fantastic. The suits and dresses and shoes were all brought in from Canada and the cast looked amazing.
Honestly, once you are surrounded by a cast dressed in 1950’s suits and you are on the streets where all the cars are authentic for the period its hard not to believe you are back in time, until you glance to your left and see someone in lime green shorts and a Nike tee shirt. Fashion in Cuba is very flashy and colourful. The women love to show off their bodies and bright colours are in style. You see a lot of hot pink and oranges and yellows and anything neon. I think there are still a lot of tourists who bring along clothes to give away. I brought linen tops , tee shirts with logos, and silk dresses and gave them away to my friends on the crew. Everyone gave me something in return. I tried to refuse but they were insulted so I accepted the tokens of friendship. One older woman gave me a beautiful vintage shell bracelet. The Art Director gave me a tiny mariachi drum key chain. Someone else gave me a little red heart pendant. They have nothing and yet they insisted on giving me something. Such displays of love and affection were everywhere. I was there for Valentine’s Day and it was more popular than Christmas! It was such an event. All the women had special surprises planned for their boyfriends and husbands. There was not a cynical one in the bunch. It’s that Latin lover thing and it really is true. They take love very seriously. It was touching and charming and I felt a bit of a spoil sport for always rolling my eyes at the cliche celebration that was invented by Hallmark and Laure Secord. See? I can’t help myself.
We filmed at night because it was so quiet. Havana does not have a crazy night life like you would expect. It is definitely not Miami. People go for long dinners and have drinks and then walk along the Malecon, which is the most popular social thing to do in Havana. I compare it to a boardwalk by the ocean where families and friends stroll along and there are musicians and teenagers sitting on the breaker walls entertaining each other. There are no drugs in Cuba but you do see people drinking. They also love to smoke their cigarettes. As the temperature drops and the wind picks up everyone disperses to their homes and it becomes quiet except for the taxis and cars that are still driving tourists back to their hotels. At the Hotel Nacional things are gearing up for a big show with dancers and a band and singers. Everyone will sit outside in wicker chairs and drink cocktails and smoke cigars. When I was there I saw the famous Buena Vista Social Club and it was a thrill for me to get to listen to them.
Once it is dark in the downtown area things wind down and the streets are empty except for our film crew, cast and extras. We lit up the streets and had some occasional curious onlookers but, for the most part, it was deserted.
We were shooting a scene one night where the army and the revolutionaries have a standoff. It was very late and the Extras hadn’t eaten. When a food truck with sandwiches finally arrived, after hours of waiting, they ran to the truck in a stampede. Each of them had weapons and they were not prop guns.. meaning plastic or fake.. these were real Cuban Army rifles and handguns. They just dropped them in the street and ran for that bologna.
When we were ready to film the scene the first line was “People lay down your arms”… instead it became “People lay down your sandwiches.”
There is a nice beach outside of Havana called Plays Santa Maria Del Mar. It is a public beach and has beach chairs and restaurants. There are a couple of hotels and you can have your dinner and drinks served right on the beach. The water was wavy and there was a bit of seaweed but it is a soft sandy, relaxing beach, and its a hot spot for families to cool off on a weekend
My next blog will feature the incredible Hotel Riviera. The famous mob run 1950’s casino and home of the Copa Room.
Now I’m going to make myself a pitcher of Mojitos…. and yes… I said pitcher.
Stepping onto the plane to go and work in Havana on a movie for 5 weeks was exciting and terrifying at the same time. I met a coworker, the Costume Designer, at the airport in Toronto and we boarded our plane. She had three large bags of vintage clothes she was bringing for the film. I had my enormous bag stuffed to the brim because I needed to survive for a month and I knew that snack bars and toiletries were scarce in Cuba. When we landed in Havana we experienced something straight out of “Midnight Express”. We were immediately pulled aside by security, once we snatched our bags off of the carousel. The Cuban guards were yelling at us in Spanish and pointing for us to go into a back area. Neither one of us spoke the language. They started opening our bags and going through everything. They kept saying to my coworker in English. “You cannot bring to gift… you must pay.” We kept saying we were working on a movie and none of the clothes were gifts. Of course we didn’t have our visas yet because we were told by production that we would acquire those once we actually came into the country to start work. It was scary and confusing. After two hours of being held in the back of the small airport I remembered I had printed out the crew list which had contact information for our Cuban Producer and some of the Cuban crew. I pulled it out and gave it to the guards. They looked at it and then snapped their fingers at us to repack and zip up our bags. I was so relieved. As I was zipping my bag, one of the border guards that had been yelling at us approached, with a huge smile on his face, and said quietly to me, “I want to be an actor.” It was so hilarious after our ordeal that I suddenly felt relaxed and had no animosity towards him. I gave him the universal thumbs up and we were allowed to exit. It was not the way I had wanted to be introduced to such an incredibly beautiful and complex city but it is one for the record books. It was night as we exited the building to meet our patient driver who had been waiting now for three hours for us. It was hot and muggy as we sped through the empty streets that had the smell of gasoline mixed with the salt of the sea. I thought maybe it was the old car we were driving in, but later, realized that this is the way Havana smells. There are so many old cars on the road it has created a smell of an automotive seniors center where cars cough and chug along with the help of young, innovative home mechanics, who will use anything to keep their original family cars on the road.
There is something to be said for a country that does not have a single MacDonald’s or Burger King. It’s wonderful. Havana sits in a time warp. Everything sort of stopped in 1959 or more aptly was reborn, depending on who you speak to.
The Cuban revolution, lead by Fidel Castro, began on the 26th day of July 1951. Within the last five years, President Obama famously visited Havana, in his efforts to finally mend relations between the US and Cuba, but since Trump has come to power, it all seems to have gone awry. It makes me sad since the people of Cuba are the happiest and kindest, most generous, people I have ever met and its history is like no other place I have been. Americans are missing so much by not being allowed to visit this complicated country, but then, the selfish side of me doesn’t want to share this amazing place. I do fear that once things open up it will destroy the innocence and beauty. I also know that the people deserve better but do not assume that everyone wants change. Some people are fearlessly loyal to their government and system and are also wary of what could happen if everything opens up. I think the smartest thing they have done in Cuba is to not allow anyone who is not Cuban to own property. If you are a foreigner you can only buy a home or estate in Cuba if you have a Cuban partner and the property has to be in that persons name.
There are signs everywhere signifying the Revolution. The Museum Of the Revolution is fascinating and is in the Palace in Old Havana. There are bullet holes in the marble walls as you go up the steps inside. You will also find many photos and tributes to Che Guevera.
“Ernesto “Che” Guevara was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, activist, guerrilla leader, diplomat and major figure of the Cuban Revolution, his stylized visage has become a ubiquitous countercultural symbol of rebellion and global insignia in popular culture.”
This is a picture of my desk that I used at an old police station where we were shooting for a few days.
I could not believe our luck as we pulled up to the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where Frank Sinatra honeymooned with Ava Gardner. Johnny Weissmuller, who played Tarzan in movies, used to famously dive from his third story room overlooking the Olympic size concrete swimming pool.
The hotel also entertained politicians like Winston Churchill and Jimmy Carter and actors like Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich. In December of 1946 the Hotel also hosted the famous Havana Conference which was a summit of mobsters run by Lucky Luciano and attended by all the notorious mob bosses of the day and was recreated in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather Part II”. This was going to be my home for the next five weeks and it was a dream come true.
The Tropicana, which
is the nightclub at the Nacional, had
performers like Eartha Kit and Nat King Cole, who were not allowed to stay at
the hotel, because they were black, but were hired to sing to sold out audiences. There is a bust honoring Nat King Cole
today outside the Tropicana.
I was thrilled to be in a place that is an Art Director’s dream come true. The 1950’s are preserved in Havana. The cars are meticulously taken care of but if you open the hood you see makeshift parts that have kept them running. Wire coat hangers, spoons, forks or anything metal is used. They have not been able to get new parts for decades because of the sanctions against them from the United States. There are some newer European cars but the majority of people can’t afford them so they have to keep their old American made cars running. You are not guaranteed ,that when you hire a car, it will make it to your destination without breaking down.
The architecture in Havana is in a Baroque style but is also Cuban. Open balcony’s with barred windows and huge rounded columns are common. In the suburbs of Havana you find homes that were built in the 1940’s and 1950’s and are still decorated with original ‘50’s furniture. The mornings are a symphony of roosters greeting the dawn.
The Malecon is along the coast of Havana and stretches for 8km. It began construction in 1901 during temporary U.S. military rule. It is a broad esplanade that has a seawall protecting the roadway from a ,sometimes, tumultuous sea. It is also a social gathering area for people to walk and sit and play music. You can stroll along the sea wall into the area referred to as Old Havana.
Old Havana is Cuba’s capitol and it is filled with vintage cars, enormous museums and cobble stoned, narrow streets ,with shops and open air restaurants.
There is lively music everywhere and some of the best Spanish guitar players you will see playing on a corner. After speaking to many musicians , the one thing I came away with was an intense sadness. Guitar players in Cuba can’t buy strings. Most of the guitars are still using ancient cat gut strings and if they break one then they are out of business as musicians.
I decided that anytime I visit Cuba I will bring along packs of strings. I handed them out to the street musicians and saw grown men cry to get something so essential to their careers. A tiny gesture that makes a huge difference in someones life. Music is a huge part of their culture. The talent you will see from a busker on the street is mind boggling.
Old Havana has a central area called Plaza de la Catredral which is named for the stunning Catredral de San Cristobol. It is an open square in front of this Cuban Baroque cathedral where there are many outdoor cafes and restaurants to sit, have a coffee or a drink and have a bite to eat. The square is also filled with music and colorful locals who are entertaining you or selling you something.
You will also find line ups of retro cars from the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. All of these cars are for hire and some are just taxis. You can get a taxi for 6 Cubanos , which is a Cuban currency that has a floating exchange rate. Its bizarre and it is the luck of the draw if you get a good rate.
The rates seem to correspond with the American Dollar but my Canadian dollar was never factored in and is worthless in Cuba. As a matter of fact you have to buy Cubanos when you land but you can also use your credit card in hotels and most places will take American money.
I went to the old Ernest Hemingway haunt La Florida, which, from the outside does not look that impressive but the interior is dark wood and elegance. A lively band plays at the front while they serve delicious Daiquiris, which was apparently Ernest’s drink of choice at the time.
You can sidle up to the bar beside the bronze statue of Ernest sitting in his favorite seat at the bar.
Cuba also has some of the finest rum in the world. And ,of course, everyone knows that the best cigars in the world are Cuban. One of my favorite drinks is the Mojito. It is rum, lime, soda water and sugar and mint. A delicious and refreshing drink for a hot day. I had my fare share over the month I was in Havana.
The art in Havana is also everywhere. There are original paintings hanging in the streets of Old Havana alongside the outdoor vintage market. You kind find everything from old typewriters, jewellery, cameras and books pre-revolution and post revolution. I think the prices have gone up recently because the Cubans are aware how precious some of these antiques are.
There are also many restaurants called Paladars. The government has allowed people to get a license to serve food in their homes. Some of them are in huge old mansions that are crumbling around you with a fading opulence of another time and place. Families of enormous wealth, at one time, now trying to survive, still living in the ancestral home with cracked Spanish floor tiles as a reminder of how things used to be.
I went to a Paladar in Old Havana and the food was delicious. It was logistina, which is a Caribbean lobster, with fragrant seasoned rice and free Mojitos. The tiny laneway beside the house was decorated with Christmas lights and flowers. It was hidden away and the man who owned it chased my friend and I down and begged us to follow him for a tasty and cheap meal. He just happened to show up at the right time because we were starving and ready to sit and eat. We could see the apron of his wife cooking our meal in the kitchen as we sipped on our Mojitos.
The food was amazing and we thanked them as we left with a full stomach. What I need to warn you about is the danger of having a drink with unpurified ice. We had at least three. This is exactly what happened to us. Hours later I was feeling a bit off. I managed to get back to the Hotel after work but entered to find my friend projectile vomiting across the room. I joined in! Then it was none stop fun for the entire night. I really don’t want to go into the gory details but we also plugged the toilet. I was so dehydrated my hands were cramping. The hotel maids came in the next morning and were horrified at the pasty white grub creatures they found and immediately called the Dr. who rushed over with injections for us both.
I have never been so sick. I would suggest asking your Dr., prior to going somewhere that may have bad drinking water, to give you a prescription in case you accidentally have bad ice like we did. You will be cured in 24 hours instead of going through the three days of torture that I went through. Oh well, live and learn, and the next time I visit I’ll be a little more cautious.
Some of the most beautiful, generous, happy and kind people that I have met in my life are Cubans. They share everything because they have very little. There is no jealousy or ambition to have more than your next door neighbor. I have seen this rarely. You see it everywhere in Havana.
In my next blog I will talk about Havana from a working perspective and the people of Havana. I also will explore one of the more fascinating historical hotels… The Riviera … which was owned by gangster Meyer Lansky and was built in 1957. It is a virtual time capsule of ’50’s design, art, furniture and cool. Stay tuned readers!
There has never been
anything that has instilled such intense fear in me than the time leading up to
my first colonoscopy. I could not wrap
my head around the fact that there was going to be a camera shoved up my arse,
for approximately a mile, while I was only sedated.
It didn’t matter how
many people told me, it was really nothing, and that, I wouldn’t feel it, I was simply overwhelmed with panic.
As the days grew
closer I was thinking of drastic measures to cancel or delay the procedure…
forever… giving way to visions of myself accidently driving the truck off the
road into a ditch on the way to my appointment or seeking out a friend whose
baby was projectile vomiting with the flue because adults always catch that
I knew, however, that
I was not going to get out of it. The
day before, as I was preparing to take the pre-procedure, poison-powder mixture,
for “expelling” anything that might be lingering in the colon, I called the Dr.’s
office to confirm that I would be showing up.
I was greeted by an
odd recorded message.
“The office is closed
and will not reopen at this time.”
I was really
confused. Later that day I watched the
news in complete disbelief to hear that the Dr. who was to perform the dreaded
deed had been found MURDERED!!
Now, this is going to sound horrible, but, I actually felt complete and total relief … followed by a horrible sense of guilt thinking that maybe I’d, unknowingly, made a deal with the devil when I had prayed for something……ANYTHING …. to stop my having to go to the clinic that day, which lead to a pang of fear, thinking I could actually become a suspect in the slaying.
This is how my insane mind works. My usually lazy and dormant ego kicks in when something horrible happens and that voice in my head says, “You made this happen.”
murder, was not enough for me to avoid having my colonoscopy.
My appointment was rescheduled and, this time, instead of a half hour drive to the clinic, I would have a two-hour drive. I decided that, I would no longer use my strong psychic powers to de-rail things, given what happened to the last Dr. When the time arrived, I drank the horrible concoctions the night before and spent a few hours in “my office”. I had thought about driving into the city a day early and staying with friends, so I would be close to the clinic, but who would do that?? I had to be in my own home sweating and pooping.
When we were babies
pooping our pants gave us an immense sense of pleasure. I remember cradling my nephew in my arms and
saying to my sister, “Oh look he’s smiling at me!” And she responded, stone faced, “He’s
As adults we have all had the horrible “shart attack” and it is the most humiliating , embarrassing and awful moment. My friend, Julia, told me her father used to say, “I just squitted.” That made me laugh out loud. The complete surprise at what you have done, combined with the task of hiding the paint ball splatter on your bum, as you dash into the nearest washroom is the worst. Anyway, for me, it has happened in Mexico, Cambodia, Cuba and Greece. The unpurified water is a killer. Maybe I’ve had more incidents than the average person but, what can I say, I like to travel and I’m too trusting.
On my two hour drive
the following day to my appointment I was clenching… the whole time… I had not
anticipated the likely hood of an accident prior to my arrival. It was mortifying.
With the two hour drive, I had to leave earlier than most so it made sense that my body might not be ready.
Next time I will bring
along an emergency change of clothes.
Once I arrived they
whisked me in right away. That was such
a relief because I was starving, , terrified, and a bit cranky.
OK, here is the good
part. I told the nurses to give me the
ultimate dose of sedative and they did.
I have no memory of
anything other than waking up and letting a fart the length of the song “American
Pie” and I am not kidding. I was taken into the recovery area and placed
behind curtains where I proceeded to
have “contests” with the other victims. I
believe I was the winner.
My poor partner
arrived early to pick me up, and was in the waiting room of the unholy stench.
He said he had never
experienced anything like it and next time he will be waiting for me outside in
I realise this post
won’t be for everyone but, honestly, you will all have to experience this at
some point in your life and I’m here to say, it’s really not bad at all.
I know… I know… you
won’t believe me but I have another one coming up and the only thing I’m
dreading is the night before because I won’t lie… that part sucks… but the
actual colonoscopy is a piece of chocolate cake.
I hate diets. I’ve never been good at them. If you know a kid who is being put on a diet or encouraged to diet please do whatever you can to dissuade them. Get them on a healthier lifestyle and not on a die-it.
In the past I tried the “only eat eggs diet”or … as I like to call it… “the continuous fart diet”, and the “only sip olive oil diet”, the fasting with oil, lemon juice and cyan pepper… that one almost killed me…. The Jenny Craig, The Aitkens… the “drink shakes that taste like sawdust diet”, and finally the Keto. I think any “diet” is not going to work if it’s a “diet”. As soon as you are off of it you will gain all your weight back. You must find a healthy way to maintain your sanity and be satisfied with what you are eating. Exercise is the key but sometimes things like Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, and other painful conditions, stop you from getting what you need. I find swimming, yoga and walking are always a pretty good way to get some necessary movement without jarring the body too much.
These days I try to avoid sugar, alcohol and cigarettes. I’m also not eating much pasta or bread. It’s not easy because food has always comforted me in times of stress. Eating a whole carton of Ben ‘N Jerry’s or Baskin Robin ice cream was a given when I was feeling depressed. I still watch my husband eat a whole bag of chocolate chip cookies, in one sitting, but I know I have to refrain. I don’t have a lot of self-discipline where sweets are concerned. It takes a lot of effort for me to pretend that they are poisonous and that he will turn blue and clutch his throat after getting crumbs all over the couch.
My friend Beth told me that Cher never weighs herself because she has kept an old pair of jeans in her closet and , throughout the years, has gauged her body by her ability to still get them on. I find that soul crushing. Trying to squeeze into an old pair of Wranglers… they didn’t have stretch jeans when I was in High School…. Would be akin to a mental anguish torture device. Lying down on my back and, sucking in everything as hard as I could, would still, not achieve beyond ankle level.
Being called “fat” (by my sister) growing up stuck with me. I will always be a fat person inside no matter what my outer appearance is. I work hard nowadays at accepting my body and embracing every roll and every wrinkle and strive to dress to enhance my shape in a positive way. It’s not easy. A mantra of “you are beautiful just the way you are” is easy to say, but to really accept, is almost laughable. Especially if you grew up in my house.
I have never judged other people’s body’s for their
shape or size. I have only admired. I’ve met beautiful women who are a size 20
and beautiful women at a size 0. I
honestly think there is beauty in all of us, however, I have always been super
judgmental of myself. I cannot see
myself through an unemotional eye.
I would love to be 3 or 4 inches taller, but I think I’m shrinking, so it’s not going to happen and, I accept what I have, so the glass is always half full. Especially if it’s a wine glass.
I like to drink wine and have the occasional cocktail. It’s funny that I can’t consume like I did in the old days. I used to be able to down a whole bottle without suffering too horribly the next day… but now … it is a head-achy, pasty, puffy, foul mouthed monster that surfaces after a night of over indulgence. If that happens, I usually give up all consumption for at least 3 or 4 months. Currently I am having the odd night out where I drink but still trying to keep a lid on it. I also drink loads of water.
I have to say giving up sugar has been difficult but I do feel so much better. I feel less anxious and not as run down. It was worth it for me to make the effort. I do have a tiny bit of sugar when I drink white wine but I always buy the lowest sugar content and tend to make spritzers. I don’t drink red wine anymore because it gives me heartburn and bad headaches. Oh my god! I really sound like a geezer now.
I don’t beat myself up if I have the occasional pizza or plate of spaghetti on a night out with friends. If I gain weight, that’s cool, as long as I am not feeling sluggish and tired. That is a signal to me that I have to do something in order to feel good again.
My favorite type of person is the one who is confident. I am in awe of friends who exude happiness and vitality no matter what. They draw people to them. I grew up in a house that was soul crushing so I am still working through all of that in order to become more confident in who I am. Some days are good and some days are bad on this roller coaster of life.
My goal is to age gracefully, and of course , make a statement, and continue to maintain a sense of humor. I have a great example in my mother in law Margaret who is the picture of health and beauty. She eats right and exercises daily. She’s awesome. If I can manage that, the future is going to be OK.
There are some things that should never ever be revisited in my opinion. Some things that make my skin crawl at the memory of “going there.” For example; mom jeans.I cannot believe that fashion designers thought this was a look that deserved to be seen again. I cringed when I saw them reappear in stores in 2016. When they were introduced originally, I’m not sure if it was comfort, or just a sudden need to change things up in the 1980’s , but I have never thought they were flattering to anyone. A rounded, high-waisted, pot belly container with puckered front pockets, encased us and fell to a tapered leg. When they first arrived on the scene, I actually combined those with “Earth Shoes”.. the anti -heeled shoe that encouraged a bizarre duck-walk, (supposedly good for the spine), and thus, a fashion sex repellent was invented.
I also remember wearing, pale violet, high waisted, corduroy “elephant pants”, which were tight up to the bust line and then fell straight to a really wide leg, and at my height of 5’4”, I was a walking drawing of a rectangle. Carefully making my way through the hallways in High School, with a really wide gait, to prevent the legs wrapping around me and depositing me on the ground like a freshly stuffed Burrito. I secretly knew this wasn’t my best fashion moment.
It takes wisdom and a
developed eye to see the whole picture when you look into a mirror. When I was younger I saw the clothes only ,and
not the whole package. In those days we
didn’t have cell phones with instant cameras and, if we owned a Polaroid , the
film was so expensive we took photos of our friends on special occasions. Rarely photos of ourselves.
I don’t want to be
biased here because men were not exempt
from bad fashion ideas either.
I do not miss the “Kiss” boot or platformed high heel shoe for men. The chunky Frankenstein shoe that transformed a man’s gait into that of an Andalusian Dancing horse should have been designated for rock bands on stage only and not boys in Highschool trying to be cool. NO one could be David Bowie except David Bowie. I remember going on a date with a boy who took me to the movies and when he parked the car he changed out of his sneakers and put on a bright red pair of platforms to go into the Theatre. I was horrified. (He, of course, couldn’t drive in them because they were four- inches high. ) When we walked in the building he was greeted by a giant, grand, staircase down to the cinemas. He bravely took the first step, tripped up, and, with his wobbly legs, ran full speed, flailing, completely out of control down the stair case, nailing the landing only by flipping onto his knees and bowing at a passing couple.
Needless to say, that
was the last date because I could not stop laughing. We can be so heartless at that age.
I think I have a much more compassionate outlook these days. I try not to laugh when I see a young man whose pants hang belong bum level with the crotch sweeping the pavement as they shuffle along. It’s not my thing but I get the need to feel cutting edge, especially when you are young, even if it looks like you are carrying a full load in your pants.
There should always be
creativity in fashion and I am definitely drawn to that. I love seeing vintage combined with
futuristic looks. Currently, I love a
classic little black dress, designed by Maggie London, which is form fitting
and has an illusion collar. It’s
beautiful. I love a parachute skirt with
a corset waist combined with a white
blouse, combat boots and a leather jacket.
I love some of the Steampunk and Victorian jackets that you can find in
I love a good pair of
jeans with a rock and roll tee-shirt.
But please burn the mom jeans, elephant pants and Frankenstein boots because they make me want to literally poke my own eyes out.
As an aside, there are some extremely tall, thin, women who look fabulous in an elephant pant. I am super jealous.
It was recently International Women’s Day and so I’ve been thinking about who I admire in terms of style. My fashion icons. Some of my style icons will always stand the test of time. Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe. Audrey for her capris pants and ballet flats and her waif appearance. Grace Kelly for her incredible perfection in a dress, a suit, or slacks, making beauty look effortless and easy. Greta Garbo for her fashion forward sensibility in wearing a man’s tuxedo pant and white shirt. And Marilyn for oozing sex appeal in everything she wore. Those nude backless dresses with tiny crystals covering the naughty bits are incredible. Also, the Marilyn in slacks with a kerchief on her head and sporting a pair of cats eye sunglasses was so cool.
I am also drawn to creative women in rock and roll and the arts. Especially those that are daring, with an ability to defy the sands of time to remain exciting and vibrant at any age.
Deborah Harry has the classic beauty of a Marylin Monroe. I mean, she could wear a paper bag and still look gorgeous. I especially loved her, in her most simple, in jeans and a tee-shirt. I love to wear a good rock and roll tee and some great jeans with a leather jacket. It’s really one of my favorite combinations.
Another icon for me is Poison Ivy from The Cramps. The body suits and leopard patterns and hot pants and high boots. She is a walking, guitar slinging, pin up girl. I love her confidence because I can’t wear the short shorts or bra’s without sending the masses screaming and poking out their own eyes, so I really admire her and love her look.
I love Cindy Lauper for her ability to be a crazy explosion of colour in a crinoline and combat boots or transform into a 1950’s telephone operator with yellow hair.
Lastly the muse of the Rolling Stones the late Anita Pallenberg. She was so interesting. When I think of her, I think of hats, sunglasses, boots, belts and jewellery. She also loved to wear fur. Not politically correct at all but she didn’t seem to give a shit. She embraced change and did not cling to things gone by. She was a strong woman who lived life the way she wanted to. She was beautiful up until the day she died at the age of 75.
OK, I lied. I just thought of the late Edie Sedgwick, the muse of Andy Warhol. With her striped boat neck tee shirt and black tights and her short blonde, pixie hair, dark brows and large earrings, she was the picture of cool. I have embraced that look throughout the years. It’s kind of a classic that never goes out of style.
There are a lot of others that I didn’t mention like the ultimate chameleon Madonna and, of course, the current queen of creative fashion, Lady Ga Ga but I wanted to talk about the icons that I have admired for a long long time. I’m also not twenty.
Whoever you admire and whatever you are wearing I hope it inspires you to get out and have the best day possible.
It’s Academy Awards
weekend and, in honour of that, I decided to do a little old school beauty practice.
There have always been beauty secrets and regimes to keep us looking youthful. My mother never used soap on her face because she said it was too drying and took the essential oils out of her skin. She used Ponds Cold Cream Cleanser. At night she would smear it all over her face and then wipe it off with a wash cloth. I remember her looking shiny, sitting on the couch, watching Ed Sullivan. She used it in the morning as well before applying her makeup. She didn’t use face makeup at all, only eye shadow, mascara and lipstick. She also penciled her eyebrows a little to make them a bit darker.
Joan Crawford was the
original diva in terms of a strict beauty routine.
She also used the Ponds Cold Cream method but she was mostly famous for her ice water splashes.
I have decided for the purposes of this blog to try out her beauty methods for 5 days and see what happens. Hopefully I do not end up removing my protective epidermal layer exposing a pulsing, vein throbbing, mass that used to be my face. It could happen if I’m too heavy handed on the exfoliation with a rough washcloth and a numbed frozen face.
I could also end up
resurrecting my connect-the-dot pimple phase from high school which will leave
me house bound. At least it is winter
and looking outside into the desolate tundra of my farm I think there is no
better time for this experiment.
I awoke and filled a large bowl with freezing water and then added ice cubes. I let that sit for a couple of minutes just to make sure it had achieved its ultimate torture temperature. I then splashed my face with this water 25 times, which is supposedly what Joan Crawford did every time she washed! At the end of my 25 splashes there was water all over my bathroom mirror, counter and floor. The worst part is the fact that I had no feeling in my hands, and a slight brain freeze, like the kind you get when you drink a slushy too fast.
I then applied a vat of Elizabeth Arden’s Perpetual Moisture 24 Cream all over the block of ice that was now my face. I was surprised when it absorbed into my skin. My skin did feel more alive and not just sitting there on my face asleep… like it usually does… so there is that.
After suffering through today with the splashes and creams I’m ready for tomorrow. Oddly, my skin feels kind of dry and tight. It’s not what I expected. I’ve got my sleep mask to put on over, yet another eye cream, and I’ll awake tomorrow with another ice splash. I think she must have been a Sadist.
Beauty is no fun. I have repeated the routine from day 1. I’m wondering if I will get used to this by the end of the week and look forward to it. If this ends up becoming part of my daily routine I will eat my…. dinner. I’m not good at punishing myself. I haven’t really noticed any difference in my skin.
I have to admit I am sort of enjoying the splash today. I like the feeling afterwards. It’s still really horrible on my hands, to submerge them in arctic water, but it is a great way to wake up.
I’m not looking forward to tomorrow because I’m going to do Joan’s hair wash. She also liked to finish off her showers with freezing water. I don’t mind the arctic dip at the Body Blitz Spa because afterwards you can drop into the hot tub, and it feels really great, but I don’t have a hot tub and my shower is on a different floor than my bath and this is getting too complicated. It’s also winter, so the last thing I want to do is douse myself with freezing water. Maybe I should do the snow roll instead? No… a better idea is to pass on this step altogether. My skin is feeling pretty soft today.
Joan liked to rinse her hair with 6 raw eggs, adding some red wine or rum to dilute the eggs a bit. Seems like a waste but I’ll try it. I’ll use the cooking wine. Actually, I’m sober right now, so I will use whatever is collecting dust in the liquor cabinet.. not the Bailey’s though because that would be a sticky mess, and I’d be too tempted to make French Toast. I’m only going to use 2 eggs since I don’t have thick hair like she did. I’m a bit nervous about this one because my hair is currently coloured and needs a lot of moisture. Perhaps it will be nourished with the mayonnaise mask. Ewwwwww! The smell is so horrible. I swear if I apply this mask and start craving egg salad I will barf. My hair is fine and so this could be a big mistake. I think that the oily texture of the mayo will give me a grease cap and probably won’t rinse out. I’ll try it at least once. I have some organic real mayonnaise without preservatives so it is probably exactly what Joan would have used. I’m not sure what order she did this so I’ve chosen to do the mayo mask first… then I’ll wash that out with shampoo and then I’ll apply the egg wash. I feel like I’m making Spanakopita minus the spinach and phyllo.
I was right about the mayo mask smell and I’m forced to put a freezer bag over my head to keep from gagging. I will not post a picture of this because, like Medusa, you will all turn to stone upon the sight of me. Next up, I jumped into the shower and tried to get the goop out of my hair. I did a shampoo twice and then added the slimy cold egg wash. I allowed that to sit for a good five minutes and then rinsed that out. It was horrible. My hair actually still felt dry even when I was submerged under water! How does that happen? I tried to get a comb through it but it was tangled from the egg rinse so I had to use some conditioner. I guess that is cheating but I had no choice. My hair was a “rats nest” as my mother used to say. The conditioner worked, thankfully, and I combed it out. I used “Lottabody Setting Lotion” because my next move was to pin curl my hair into one of Joan’s curly styles when she wore her hair down. In later years she would always have an up-do but I’m going for the more difficult style. If it bombs then I’ll use a turban. I have this crazy attachment for my blow dryer that is a big cap to recreate an old school hair dryer.
Finally ,after several clumsy attempts, I am all pinned up for the reveal tomorrow and sitting under my portable dryer; cooking my head.
It’s Academy Awards
night and I’ve got some work to do.
Joan had a very
distinct makeup application. She was all
about the brows and the lips… and boric acid.
Seriously. She put boric acid,
mixed with water, into her eyes to keep them white and bright. Maybe that was to also keep the hangover
eyeball in check… who knows… but I will not be attempting that. I’ve only got one good eye.
First I need to comb out my pin curls and I’m having a flashback to when my mother gave me a “Toni Home Permanent” and the rollers were too tight. I ended up looking like a dandelion before the wind catches it and it becomes bald.
I’ve combed it out and the result is not horrible but I wouldn’t leave the house like this.
I’ve also applied the exaggerated makeup and, if I’m honest, it’s really scary. I’m not a professional makeup artist so I have done my best to get the essence of Miss Crawford. My lips look a little more “Joker” than Joan.
It would have been hard to be Joan… so obsessed with her appearance. I can’t imagine the difficulty she must have had with aging.
So how did my 5 days pan out?
I will say that there is a possibility I’ll use the Pond’s for a little while longer, partly because it’s not expensive, and partly because it’s been around since the 1950’s, and it doesn’t seem to be causing any breakouts. It also doesn’t seem to be drying my skin like I originally thought. I like the calming effect it gives my skin after I remove my makeup. It is a tad greasy at first but it dissipates.
I also hate to admit that I may continue…at least for a little while.. with the dreaded ice splash because it wakes me up and my skin looks vibrant after.
As far as the hair routine, I will never EVER try that concoction again.
We have great products nowadays that will give you the shiny hair that Joan was so desperate to achieve. I’m picky when it comes to my conditioner and shampoo. I usually have Frederic Fekkai on hand. I’ve tried most of his products and they work for my hair type. Recently my hair salon sold me some Goldwell conditioner that is specifically meant for coloured hair. I have only used it a couple of times but I like the light texture and the results. So, Joan’s home made recipes for the hair should stay in the kitchen where they belong.
Joan Crawford was a movie star and she knew it. She lived each day like she was on the cover of Photoplay Magazine. I doubt that she ever left the house without full hair and makeup. I can’t imagine her running to the grocery store in tights, a sweatshirt and a toque on her head which is one of my routines. She had access to hair and makeup experts but I really think she did a lot of her own maintenance. She worked hard at being beautiful and who knows how much of it was just her great genetics and how much was due to her diligence in using freezing cold water and slathering creams on her face and neck for hours at a time. I give her credit for her absolute commitment but I just can’t spend that much time torturing myself.
Besides, there is one thing that we have and Joan did not …. Botox!
When I turned fifty it was weird. There was a big surprise party and music and friends and family ,and yet, I felt a bit creep’d out. I felt ashamed for being that old all of a sudden and I had a flash of my mother, at 50, as she began her descent into the older woman syndrome. Close cut short permed hair, stretchy pants, an overly embellished sweater and sensible flat shoes. The saggy bum of those shapeless, navy polyester’s, lent the observer to picture a loaded diaper beneath. The gorilla shaped sweater with the huge pieces of reflective mirror, and plastic gems bedazzled all over it, and those black, faux suede, men’s- slipper inspired ladies’ shoes will never be erased from my memory banks. My mother had gone from a fashionable woman who bought expensive crepe and silk dresses from Italy to a Sears bargain hunter. It was the 1970’s. I still have her oldest dresses hanging in my closet. They are gorgeous and timeless …and I can’t fit into a single one. The last time I wore them was at the age of 18 and after that I became “big boned” with “lovely skin”. When I was very young it was important for me to look like my friends and we all shopped at the same stores and bought the same clothes. We went to the same hair dresser and had the same haircuts. Here is the thing though; everyone has a different body type and skin tone and just because hot pink looks good on my best friend does not mean it looks good on me. In fact, it brought out the rosacea that I didn’t even know existed until it was highlighted by a hideous pink neon. As I got older, I realized that freedom of expression and creativity could be blasted out to the world through our appearance. A light bulb went off as I entered my punk phase. Stealing my mom’s red, pointy toed, curling boots; shredding a couple of miniskirts; slapping on fishnet tights and hair spraying myself into a spikey rooster, I’d hit the clubs to pogo the night away. I’d look around the scene with my black coal rimmed eyes and see another 75 carbon copies of myself but I still felt like I was a rebel and doing something different. I was an individual. I then had a chameleon phase in college where I would be whatever the situation called for. If I was going to see The Grateful Dead I would be a hippy. If I was going to see Elvis Costello I was a new wave punk. If I was going to see the B-52’s I had the biggest bee-hive. It allowed me to experiment with different looks and find whatever felt more like me. At some point, I realized that they were all me. Turning fifty. Turning fifty gave me an epiphany. I see that with age comes absolute freedom to express yourself. Some rules do apply though: do not wear something so short that you are exposing your sagging arse and, at some point, you’ve got to cover up that Neanderthal wrinkler cleavage. Getting older sucks but there are ways to celebrate the, “I no longer give a shit” period of our lives. Working in the film business has allowed me to present myself at work in whatever phase I was going through, finally landing where I am today. My philosophy is this. Dress for how you are feeling. Don’t let your best dresses hang in your closet waiting for the right opportunity to wear them. Combine fancy with casual. Experiment because, at your age, you can be eccentric now. With some laughs and fashion ,and loads of makeup, I think I’ll get through this next stage of my life, I hope you enjoy my posts geared for those of us who are in our “golden years”. Barf.