July 10, 2014

Lately...


These days, I seem to be on a World War II kick. Maybe it's my dad's influence, but the 1940s have always intrigued me: the history, the fashion, the music. My dad always played Big Band and Swing music in the garage; he taught me how to dance, and told stories of his WWII service in the Navy. Somewhat unintentionally, my recent reading and viewing selections seem to focus on that era, inspiring further choices in music and cocktails. I also like to inject a little 40s into my fashion, favoring modern interpretations of classics while avoiding campy, rockabilly trends. Lately, I've been...

...reading (One of the greatest benefits of an educator's summer change of place and pace is the luxury of reading for pleasure. I try to do this throughout the school year, but I find myself buried in professional journals, EdTech blogs, and educational philosophy):
  • Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, the riveting biography of Louis Zamperini -- juvenile delinquent; college track star; 1936 Olympian who shook hands with Hitler; WWII Air Force captain; survivor of a plane crash and forty-seven days drifting over 2000 miles on a raft in middle of the Pacific Ocean; tortured prisoner of war for two and a half years in several Japanese POW camps; recovered alcoholic and PTSD sufferer; inspirational speaker, coach, and philanthropist. As I read, I continually reminded myself that Zamperini was going to make it through all of these harrowing trials, knowing that, at 97 year old, he consulted with Angelina Jolie in the making of the Unbroken film (due for release on Christmas Day 2014). Sadly Louis Zamperini died last week.
  • The Hotel on the Place Vendôme by Tilar J. Mazzeo, a history of the Paris Ritz told through the stories of the people who lived, worked, loved, partied, and debated there. The book begins with the Belle Époque opening of the hotel in 1898. Occurring during the notorious Dreyfus Affair that pitted French aristocrats against artists and intellectuals, the Ritz's opening inspired A la recherche du temps perduMarcel Proust's literary opus. Although the narrative continues through Princess Diana's final meal and the current two-year renovation of the hotel, the book focuses on the Ritz's social and political importance during the WWII era when aristocrats, philosophers, fashion designers, journalists, artists, authors, spies, Nazis, and members of the French Resistance all mingled at the Ritz. The cast of characters includes Ernest Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Coco Chanel, Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Hermann Goering, Jean Cocteau, Marlena Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman and many more 20th century notables. This book only reinforces one of my bucket list goals of enjoying a cocktail in the Ritz's Hemingway Bar (perhaps after shopping at 31 rue Cambon). If only I could afford to spend the night! The Ritz reopens later this year.
...watching (Although primetime programs are on hiatus and television is definitely not a priority, I do enjoy discovering and binging on Netflix series):
  • Bomb Girls: A Canadian series about a group of women working in a Toronto munitions factory. The ladies build bombs for the Allied forces fighting on the European front. Although the stories reflect the social status, race issues, and morals of the era, the real (albeit rather shallow) attraction for me was the fashion and music. I can't resist a big band, a high-waisted trouser or a ladylike dress, a peep-toe sling-back or T-strap pump, victory rolls or finger waves, and a great red lipstick! I was disappointed that there were only 18 episodes and that second season ended without tying up several loose ends. However, I recently discovered a two-hour TV movie to end the series that aired in Canada last March. Now, I just have to wait for Netflix...
  • Land Girls: A BBC drama following the lives and loves of the women serving in England's Women's Land Army (3 seasons, only 15 episodes). The attraction of this series was the relationships between the landed gentry and the girls working the land, between the soldiers and the men at home, between the women and the men, between the Americans and the Brits (yikes!), and among the ladies themselves. Fashion was hardly an issue since most of the time the men were in military uniform and the women were in their work clothes, but there was an occasional party to highlight their finery along with a Glenn Miller tune. Both Bomb Girls and Land Girls also provided intriguing alternative, non-American views of the war.
  • The Winds of War: Having completed Bomb Girls and Land Girls, season two of Orange is the New Black seemed too incongruous, so we searched for more WWII-era drama. I remember my parents watching this 1983 miniseries, but, at the time, I was much more interested in the Brat Pack. Last night we watched the first of seven two-hour episodes. The history, politics, and social issues of a world on the brink of the Second World War are compelling, but I can't help being distracted by Jan Michael Vincent's feathered hair, by olives magically popping in and out of martinis with each sip, by Ali MacGraw's one-note acting (I keep waiting for her to say, "Love means never having to say you're sorry!"), in fact, by the casting in general -- actors who are too old for their roles or who seem to have stepped of the decks of The Love Boat. We still have twelve hours remaining to redeem my initial opinion.
...listening to Glenn Miller: In the Digital Mood, the perfectly nostalgic soundtrack for cocktails and fireworks on the deck.

...enjoying my favorite classic summer cocktail, a gin and tonic. My recipe: Two ounces of gin (I prefer Tanqueray), four ounces of tonic water over ice with two wedges of lime (yes, two!) When looking for the classic recipe, I learned two interesting things: 1.) Most recipes call for a tablespoon of lime juice (maybe my two limes make up for this); 2.) Freezing tonic in ice cube trays will keep your drink from getting too watered down on hot days. Why didn't I think of this? Cheers to the '40s!

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