Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Sum of Our Days

Hi everyone,

I didn't know about The Sum of Our Days but found it when my dad and I stopped in the World Bank's bookstore, Infoshop, on our way to lunch. Who knew that the World Bank had such a great bookstore in the middle of D.C. and that inside on sale was a sequel to Isabel Allende's amazing book Paula?

I've read most of Isabel Allende's books. Paula, her 1995 memoir about dealing with her daughter's illness and death, is among my favorites. Of course, whenever I tell someone that, they ask, "Why would you want to read that?" Since The Sum of Our Days continues the story of Isabel's journey, you may ask the same question. But I still highly recommend both books!

Paula Frias Allende suffered from porphyria, a hereditary disease that attacks the nervous system and skin. When she fell into a coma, Isabel started writing her a letter about what she was missing so that she could easily catch up when she awoke. She died in 1992 at age 28.

Obviously, parts of this book are really sad. But, overall, its a moving celebration of Paula's life and her family and their strength in getting through an unimaginable experience. By the time you finish reading, you'll know Paula, her family and friends, and all the lives she touched. They are an entertaining bunch, described by an amazing storyteller. She will make you laugh, no matter how dark this topic sounds. Paula doesn't die until the end. That's when you'll cry.

In The Sum of Our Days, Isabel continues her letter to her daughter 15 or so years later, bringing her up to speed on all that's happened since she left them. Among other interesting stories, I learned all about Isabel's husband Willie, their marriage, and his side of the family. This time, his daughter--who battled drug addiction--made me cry. But, it's okay because plenty of other moments in this story made me laugh too.

In this book, you'll catch up with the members of the Allende family who were introduced in Paula, including Paula's husband Ernesto and her brother Nicolas. You'll also meet new friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, and even surprise relatives. While Paula's memory is a constant presence throughout this book, it's uplifting to read how the family has grown to live without her physically there. They rely on each other now more than ever before and work at strengthening their bonds. It was another kind of joyful celebration, one of inner-strength and the importance of love and family.

Once again, I was sad when this book ended: there were no more pages to read. Isabel Allende is surrounded by her family, who all live in the San Francisco Bay area. By the time I finished reading, I wanted to live there too! It's no wonder she's such a prolific writer, surrounded every day by such a vibrant cast of characters. Don't you want to meet them? Go get these books!


P.S. Check it out: Isabel Allende is going to be at National Geographic, here in D.C., on May 1st!
Buy yourself a ticket ($22) for this entertaining evening, and I'll see you there!

Friday, February 22, 2013


I almost skipped this week's Illustration Friday topic because I wasn't sure why any of The Kitties would need some wool. But, then, the word reminded me of one of my favorite Pepe Le Pew cartoons, in which a little dog was in need of a more luxurious fur coat. (Yes, this is how my mind works.) You can watch it here:

  "Scent-imental Over You" (1947) © Warner Brothers

She just wants to fit in, as Simon does so well here:

Wool (February 21, 2013)
(Illustration Friday: February 15, 2013)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Beautiful Voices!

Hi everyone,

Last Tuesday, I headed down to 930 club to catch Rufus Wainwright on his "Solo" tour. I'd never seen him in concert before, though I have a couple of his covers on my iPod. Intrigued that he'd be playing alone, I didn't know what to expect. I hardly ever go to concerts on a hunch, but I had a good feeling about this one. Rufus has got talent.

I held off buying a ticket until the day of the show. I read a few days beforehand that another Wainwright would serve as the opening act and knew I'd regret not going to what was bound to be a special concert. Maybe sings with his musical family all the time and I just don't know it. In any case, you can't beat seeing someone cool in the intimacy of 930 club's tiny venue.

I arrived after work, feeling lucky and perplexed that the show was not yet sold out. About 20 other early birds and I waited in line for only a few minutes before being escorted into the club early through a side door I didn't know existed. I could get used to this V.I.P. treatment, but letting us in the room before the later arrivals must just be a new crowd-control strategy.

I typically like to be front and center for 930 club concerts so I can see the performers up close, but I headed up to the balcony for this one because I think the sound is better up there. Since I had no knowledge or expectations of what I'd be hearing, I wanted to hear it in the best spot.

© Lucy Wainwright Roche

I made a good choice because The Wainwrights are fantastic! The
opening act was Rufus Wainwright's little sister Lucy, who played a few of her own songs on acoustic guitar. Not only does she have a great voice and lovely sad songs set to happy tunes, she was also really chatty, friendly, and funny. She greeted us with, "So, you guys don't care about the State of the Union, huh?" After the first couple of songs, she asked, "Does anyone have any comments or questions so far?" People yelled out from the audience and, in her effort to help us get us to know her better, she actually answered most of the questions--everything from her favorite color to the kind of car she drives. (Actually, she didn't answer that one, saying, "It's a long story....It's on its last legs.") Some people in the audience knew her from her Science Channel show, Stuff You Should Know, which she discussed excitedly when asked about it. Someone near me commented, "She's delightful," which is a perfect description of Lucy Wainwright Roche. Her new album will be released in May.

When she mentioned that her half-hour set was coming to a close, people obligingly groaned with disappointment. "Oh, you're sweet," she said. "Don't be sad because Rufus is going to come out here, and he's going to blow your minds."

It was no lie. Her brother was amazing! The room filled up more and the crowd screamed louder for Rufus Wainwright. "Forget the Union, let's have some anarchy!" he suggested. "That's what you guys sound like...and I like it!"

© Rufus Wainwright
The only songs I knew were "The Maker Makes," which I recognized from Brokeback Mountain, and "Hallelujah," which everyone knows. But it didn't matter because all of the songs were great. They included "Martha," about his older sister, "Going to Town," which he dedicated to the House of Representatives, and "Memphis Skyline," which he wrote as tribute to Jeff Buckley. His sister showed up again to duet on a few songs too.

What impressed me most about this concert was hearing the bare bones of the music. He sang, playing on either a grand piano or Lucy's acoustic guitar, until one of its strings broke and the 930 club's sound guy came to the rescue with a spare instrument. "This is what happens when you don't sell enough records; you can't afford roadies," he said while waiting for the sound guy to get back to his spot.

I love these kinds of little mishaps that make a show intimate and one-of-a-kind. During a fantastic song, called "Vibrate," he missed a note and called out his mistake (which I didn't notice). While covering his mother's song, "The Walking Song," he thought he didn't play a piano section well enough. "That was no good. I have to do that again. It was the sandwich," he said, referring to his pre-show "vegetarian hoagie" dinner. Without interruption, he repeated that refrain to get it right. (It sounded fine to me both times.) We all laughed along when these things happened, as if we were joking around in his living room, but then snapped back immediately transfixed by each song.

I've always seen noisy bands at 930 club, great ones blasting electric guitars, drums, and booming bass lines, who get us jumping and singing along to every note. I've never been there in this atmosphere, with an audience so calmly attentive. The acoustics were perfect and all-encompassing. Rufus Wainwright's voice really commands a room! I expected that but also discovered he's an amazing musician. It was as if he were playing intricate classical music on that grand piano, layering it with a unique melody and well-written lyrics. All of the songs grabbed my attention and made me, for the most part, forget everything going on around me. That's a performer!

Here's a sampling, thanks to YouTube. He sang this song, "Montauk"--from his latest CD, Out of the Game--as part of the encore. This song made me want to run home and buy all of his albums. (You should too so that he can afford a roadie.)

© Studio Q

Don't miss Rufus Wainwright when he comes to your town or back here to D.C. He'll leave you inspired.

In the meantime, you can catch Lucy Wainwright Roche at The Kennedy Center as part of Millennium Stage's Songwriters Series on March 24th.  She mentioned it during her set and was disappointed that we didn't whip out our smart phones to mark our calendars. I prefer my mental calendar and plan to attend. Join me! She's delightful.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Special Delivery for Johnny's Angels

Hi everyone,

As if Johnny Depp's appearance at the Grammys last week weren't enough, Johnny's Angels: Depp Fans for Charity received something extra from him a few days before.

Since 2007, Johnny's Angels has worked steadfastly to raise funds for one of Johnny's favorite organizations, Children's Hospice and Palliative Care Coalition (CHPCC), located in Los Angeles, California. While not affiliated with Johnny, Johnny's Angels was granted permission to use his name for the cause and, to date, more than $50,000 has been raised in his honor. (You can add to this impressive total by donating here or buying merchandise through the Johnny's Angels website, all proceeds of which go to the cause.) 

Aside from its year-round fundraising efforts, Johnny's Angels conducts extra-special semiannual fundraisers for CHPCC -- one in June in honor of Johnny's birthday and one in December for the holiday season. On these occasions, fans are given the opportunity to send messages to Johnny himself! 

In December, we were asked to briefly explain why we are proud to partake in Johnny's Angels' mission by completing the sentence, "I am an Angel because...." All of our comments (with a small image, if desired) were compiled onto a poster and sent to Johnny for Christmas. Can you find The Mother Kitty and Gordon in the mix? 

I spent so long figuring out what to say and making sure everything was perfectly placed that I forgot to sign my name. Thankfully, Christine (our wonderful Johnny's Angels founder) snapped me out of it and pointed out what was missing before she added it to the poster. Our holiday efforts raised $2,500 and Johnny, being Johnny, wrote us a heartfelt thank you! Holy buckets, check it out!!!!! 

Giving to CHPCC is rewarding enough. These letters are dazzling surprises! (The signature's the best part, isn't it? Johnny and Jack Lew should have contests!) 

More thanks are due to Christine for organizing these fun projects that not only lift our spirits by supporting such a worthy cause but also give us fans the chance to reach out to our inspiration!  Congratulations to her and all of Johnny's Angels for achieving another successful fundraiser!


Saturday, February 09, 2013

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #29--....And They Lived Happily Ever After (2004)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Love, Marriage, and All the Rest of It
...And They Lived Happily Ever After (known in France as Ils se marierent et eurent beaucoup d'enfants) explores the complexities of relationships between men and women. Focused on three buddies, the story introduces several characters--some happily married, some not so much, some who cheat, and some who spend all day screaming at each other but are still in love at the end of it. Writer/Director Yvan Attal stars with his wife Charlotte Gainsbourg as Vincent and Gabrielle, a seemingly happy couple with a young son (Ben Attal). While their friends consider their union golden, no one is immune to problems or temptation. Vincent is torn between two lives, while Gabrielle fantasizes about living a different life with a stranger. The Hollywood endings I grew up on don't really exist, do they?

Where's Johnny?
Johnny Depp makes a "special appearance" in this movie, but it's really a two-scene cameo during which he barely says anything. Despite Johnny's involvement, I couldn't find this movie right away! I had to wait for the DVD, which I think was released in the U.S. a few years after it was made. When I finally saw the film, I didn't like it much: Almost everyone is in a sad situation, arguing, suspecting, accusing, and cheating on each other. 

But then Johnny brings in some sunshine. He is Gabrielle's mysterious stranger. 

Yvan Attal sent his script for ...And They Lived Happily Ever After to Johnny, asking him to be in it. "I wanted to write more because I really like him as an actor," he says. "I felt ridiculous to give him these two ridiculous scenes." It being his first film, the director was shocked that Johnny invited him to his home in France for dinner to discuss the role. They bonded within 10 minutes and spent the night talking about all sorts things well beyond movies. 

I was really excited that Charlotte Gainsbourg was in this movie. At the time, she had just impressed me in The Science of Sleep. I also knew that her father, legendary French artist Serge Gainsbourg, collaborated on an album with Johnny's partner Vanessa Paradis in 1990, and he meant a lot to both of them.

Emmanuel Seigner, who costarred with Johnny in The Ninth Gate, is also in this movie. (Yeah, the flying demon lady with mismatched socks!) Funnily, I didn't recognize her the first time I watched this film. Clearly, I was only focused on looking for the American back then.  

Wait, what's this about? 
While watching this movie again for Johnny Kitties, I found it really fascinating! Yvan Attal was inspired to write this film after walking his son to school and realizing that most of the other parents were divorced. "A few years ago, they swear their love for each other, and then they made a child. Then, suddenly, bang! Two years after, so many parents were divorced," he describes. "I started to think about that, and that's the way this project arrived in my mind." 

This movie depicts relationships so realistically. It cleverly catches all stages and perspectives: You could be madly in love. Or, you may have a huge end-of-the-world fight one morning but fall back into your routines by nighttime. You might feel bored with your partner right now but suddenly be reminded in a moment of the great love you once felt for each other. You could be in love with two people at the same time for different reasons. Or, maybe you've been married for so long and are so comfortable that most communication can be left unsaid. "It's always difficult to live with somebody," Yvan Attal explains. "It's not, 'everything is great and happily ever after.'" While many people found this view to be pessimistic and sad, I loved that this film showed the good and the bad. It's real, refreshing, and makes you think. 

I can relate. 
Of Johnny's two scenes in this movie, the first one is the best. One afternoon, Gabrielle (Lily, who has the perfect eyes for this role) browses in a Virgin Megastore. While tuned into "Creep" by Radiohead at one of the store's listening stations, Johnny--walking up behind her--comes into focus. Like her, he slips on headphones and listens to the song. And, with this fantastic tune blasting in their ears, these strangers are awkwardly polite and friendly, making quick eye contact and unsure of where else to look. But, Gabrielle catches a moment when he's not paying attention and takes full advantage to stare.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #29--...And They Lived Happily Ever After (2004) [October 16, 2012]

When I first saw this moment, the look on her face made me laugh out loud because that's what I would do in that situation! (Of course, Charlotte Gainsbourg is much calmer and more serene here than I ever could be.) When he leaves, she watches till he disappears into the crowd, panics, and even gets clumsy too. I mean, that's me up there! 

I'd tell you the rest of it, but why ruin a special appearance? Rent ...And They Lived Happily Ever After and enjoy some Frenchness with an excellent soundtrack. 

What's Next? 
Johnny portrays Scottish writer J.M. Barrie, as he creates his beloved story and everlasting character "Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up" in Finding Neverland.

All film images © Pathe; Kino International Corporation, et. al.; Melissa's Kitties illustration © Melissa Connolly