Heidi Goes Back to School

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The Swiss have always been pioneers in children’s education. In the early 19th century educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi founded several schools throughout Switzerland with the motto “Learning by head, hand and heart”. By 1830 illiteracy in that country was almost completely wiped out.  Today Switzerland is known for its expensive private schools and for “alternative” educational methods, such as holding kindergarten in a pine forest:

http://vimeo.com/32463946

So it’s no wonder Heidi is looking forward to attending fourth grade in contemporary New York City. Here are some essential items she will need to survive.

Humorous cat tee:

Hello Kitty pencil box, because every girl needs a touch of retro whimsy:

A backpack–The North Face makes kids’ sizes; hardy AND pastel:

 

Sherlock Holmes Reviews Magic in the Moonlight

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It was with some trepidation that I ventured out to see the latest Woody Allen film; I don’t enjoy cinema at the best of times and I had the feeling that this movie was going to be more predictable than most. I was right. If the intention was to create a treacly confection, with beautiful scenery, unbelievable sentiments and a paper-thin plot, the director did a remarkable job.

Nor was I impressed by the acting of Miss Stone. I had been told, by Hester Prynne who was most taken with Stone’s portrayal of a beleagured young virgin in something called Easy A, that she is an exceptional actress. Here, she played a tomboyish Daisy Miller-type heroine all too well, without any of the mystery or nuance that would have made the sophisticated hero’s love for her seem realistic.

The one thing that kept me engrossed was Colin Firth. In his depiction of a professional magician who longs in some secret part of himself to believe in miracles, I found, I must confess, some resonance with my own private longings. Like him, I don’t yield easily–to clairvoyants, or redheads, or love. Unlike him I am not sure I wish to; cocaine, my friendship with Watson–which is NOT, I hasten to assure you, a “man crush” as Dorian Gray calls it–and my violin have proved to be enough. It will have to be an exceptional blue moon which changes THAT.

Jane Eyre Grills Cheese

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When the porridge is burnt at Lowood School, kindly teacher Miss Temple gives the girls, including Jane, bread and cheese instead. This prompts the following words from Mr. Brocklehurst,  the evil principal:  “Oh, madam, when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children’s mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!”
Jane isn’t buying it. Once she gets to New York City, it amuses her to find that artisinal grilled cheese has becoming the biggest food trend since gourmet burgers. Her favorite 5 step recipe:

1. Butter two thick slices of good country bread.

2. Set more butter to sizzling in a hot pan. Lay one slice of bread, butter side down, in the pan. Top the bread with sharp cheddar cheese.  Add anything fancy you please, such as sauteed mushrooms, slices of tomato, or even something really exotic like mango.

3. Set the other piece of bread on top of it, and gently, very gently, press it down with a spatula. You don’t want to flatten it too much or else it will become a panini–then what would Mr. Brocklehurst say?

4.  Wait one minute, then flip sandwich over.  Let the other side brown, too.

5. Once your sandwich is a soft toasty gold, finish it by placing it on a baking sheet in a warm oven. 

Jane serves this to Heidi with tomato soup, Campbell’s I’m afraid. Dorian likes his with a good stiff Bloody Mary.  Just remember: don’t eat grilled cheese after midnight. Victorians believed this would bring about dreams of Lucifer.

Written in the Stars: What are the Astrology Signs of Jane Eyre/Madame Bovary?

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Literary characters have birthdays like everybody else. And sun signs. Since specific birthdays are rarely mentioned in print, the trick is to figure out when our favorite protagonists might have born based on their temperments and inclinations.

Here’s my best guess:

VIRGO: JANE EYRE–gentle, with love of duty and heart of gold, studious and accomplished, who comes up from behind; Cinderella was also a Virgo

ARIES: EMMA BOVARY–impetuous, impatient, idealistic; Aries is the sign most likely to get into significant debt and they live for whirlwind romance

SCORPIO: HESTER PRYNNE–intense, smouldering and never lets anything go. Obsessed with birth, death, love, guilt

SAGITTARIOUS: HEIDI–outgoing, loyal, friendly; loves travel and athletic pursuits such as rambling after goats up the Swiss Alps

AQUARIUS: ALICE IN WONDERLAND–free-spirited, offbeat and dreamy, like her creator Lewis Carroll; Aquarian women are known for being the most beautiful of all the zodiac

Now for the guys:

CAPRICORN, SHERLOCK HOLMES–as literary legend would have it, Holmes was born on Jan. 6, 1854. He is definitely saturnine–dark, moody, and he loves a mystery. Male capricorns also have a lot of mother/female issues

CANCER, DAVID COPPERFIELD–we know he was born at midnight, on a Friday, with a caul over his head. He’s also a moon child, with his ready sentimentality and love of water (his first love is a fisherman’s daughter). And he winds up prosperous in the end.

GEMINI, DORIAN GRAY–charming liar with dual personalities and expensive tastes. What else could he be?

 As for MR. DARCY, I am guessing Libra. What do you think?

Hester Prynne Gets a Swimsuit

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Puritans never go swimming. Why should they, when at any moment the powers that be might send a deluge upon the land? Time enough to learn to swim then! But in my novel Jane Eyre Gets Real, Hester Prynne is living in New York City where the heat and the Hamptons combine to make beach attendance almost mandatory.  She doesn’t mind mastering the backstroke but picking a swimsuit is much more daunting. She likes this Gottex number because the lace insets remind her of the embroidery wealthy Puritans got to wear on special occasions, like funerals: On the other hand, it is strapless so a more demure choice might be the one below. The black and white combo makes her think of Reverend Dimmsdale, in his cloak and ruff: If she weren’t still a little afraid of being put in the stocks, she’d definitely go for a monokini. Well, maybe next summer…

All Packed Up & Ready To Go

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Modern suitcases have nothing on Victorian trunks.  When Jane Eyre leaves for Lowood, Bessie bakes her a little cake and helps her pack a trunk, no doubt something simple, oak and sturdy. We imagine Jane uses the same trunk when she goes as governess to Thornfield Hall, and perhaps even when she is about to embark, with misplaced optimism, on her wedding tour.

Emma Bovary, thinking she is going to run away with her lover, the dashing nobleman Rudolphe, orders a brand new trunk–on credit of course!  She makes sure to get some new traveling clothes, too: a blue-grey cloak in a burnoosh style, and a jacket with “pagoda sleeves.” She wishes the trunk to be small but lined; it was no doubt meant to be exquisite:

Considering that Rudolphe never shows up to take Emma away, instead sending his regrets in a large basket of apricots, and that Jane Eyre doesn’t gets her dream honeymoon, either, maybe trunks ARE ill-fated things. We all can learn a lesson from Heidi’s Aunt Dete who, when she takes Heidi up the Alps to her grandfather, puts all the child’s clothes on her back at once, so there is no need to buy a suitcase:

“On a clear sunny morning in June two figures might be seen climbing the narrow mountain path; one, a tall strong-looking girl, the other a child whom she was leading by the hand, and whose little checks were so aglow with heat that the crimson color could be seen even through the dark, sunburnt skin. And this was hardly to be wondered at, for in spite of the hot June sun the child was clothed as if to keep off the bitterest frost. She did not look more than five years old, if as much, but what her natural figure was like, it would have been hard to say, for she had apparently two, if not three dresses, one above the other, and over these a thick red woollen shawl wound round about her, so that the little body presented a shapeless appearance, as, with its small feet shod in thick, nailed mountain-shoes, it slowly and laboriously plodded its way up in the heat.”

 

But if the layered look doesn’t work for you, you can always invest in a vintage Samsonite, or two. Wherever you go, and whatever you pack in to get there, happy travels!

 

Mr. Darcy Reviews “Belle”

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The new movie Belle is based on the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegimate mixed race daughter of an aristocratic British admiral. The film is beautifully produced with solid, elegant performances. Belle could very well be a Jane Austen heroine; the main drama centers around her difficulties in finding a proper husband for, in spite of a sizeable dowry, she encounters equally sizeable prejudice. Her story is contrasted with that of her very blonde cousin who, though she possesses  English rose looks and a demeanor to match, cannot find a fiance because she lacks any money. There is also a third plot in the mix: that of slavery itself. Interestingly, Jane Austen never mentions this institution directly in any of her novels; though in Emma, written in 1814, there are allusions to it. She says: : ‘Miss Hawkins was the youngest of the two daughters of a Bristol—merchant, of course, he must be called.’ This is telling as historically John Hawkins was a major English slave trader. The wealthy Eltons, who figure prominently in the novel, come from Bristol, a seaport second only to Liverpool as a slaving port. Austen, born in 1775, died in 1817. Slavery was not officially abolished in Britain until 1833, though the slave trade itself was declared illegal there as early as 1807. “Belle” is set in 1769, when the trade was still thriving. Austen herself was most probably for abolition, and I myself never kept any slaves at Pemberley. I have been told that a novel has recently been published based on “Pride and Prejudice”,  Jo Baker’s Longbourn, in which the footman at Netherfield turns out to have been a former slave (the assumption here being that Jane Bennet’s beloved Mr. Bingley made his fortune from slave-driven sugar plantations.) Though I have yet to read it, the theme does pique my interest. Meanwhile, I would recommend the movie Belle to anyone who might enjoy a romance with a likeable, lovely heroine (actually two likeable, lovely heroines),  in which a strong social message also features.