October 10, 2011

Evenings at The Gwen

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This is a companion to my previous post illustrating how much I am benefiting from having no television. .  It stars that well known personage, Gwen, my neighbor who knows something about just about everything.

Gwen used to be the head designer Opus 204, an exclusive Seattle boutique from 1968 to 2009.  By day she came up with haute couture, and in off hours, she dismantled and rebuilt computers and Volkswagens.  She still does the latter.  And she still looks at all the fashion advertisements in Vanity Fair rather than rip them out so it’s easier to hold the magazine.

Gwen is the person I go to when I think it matters how I am dressed.  Like when I am out of my milieu– weddings and fine dining– and I don’t want to look like I was raised by wolves.  I walk across the street in my black handkerchief dress with black tights– so far so good– and clogs.

She sighs because she knows me so well, and says, “You can’t suck it up for a few hours and wear real shoes?”


“Then wear sandals and go bare-legged.”

Gwen reviewed the jaunty, nautical-looking jacket I bought for my Alaska trip of last summer.

“It looks all right on you.”  Slight, but suspicious emphasis.

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning it’s fine.”

“Meaning you wouldn’t wear it.”


Gwen is only this brutally honest when it comes to clothes. Ordinarily she would rather set herself on fire than say anything even borderline impolite.  She’s from Wisconsin.

Evenings at The Gwen began nearly a year ago, just before I let go of cable-TV. Gwen and I spent a week racing through the three Stieg Larsson books, followed by a fest of the three movies.

We carried on with weekly foreign films. Up until then I hadn’t watched a movie with sub-titles since Babette’s Feast showed up at the Crest in the late 80’s and I saw it three times.  I’ve always liked foreign films.  My mother used to say that unlike in an American movie, when someone gets up from a chair in a foreign film, her clothes are wrinkled. The actors seem like “real” people who just happened to stray in front of the camera.  I get tired of American actors’ gleaming white teeth and movie endings that balk at reality. But after I reached a certain age, it was just too much trouble to read the sub-titles in foreign movies, cue the violins.

There’s something about the set-up at The Gwen that invites one to enjoy a foreign film.  For one thing, there’s the Plaid Room where the flat screen commands two thirds of the wall, and where Lucy, the black and brown tabby with the smudge on her nose, snoozes on her heating pad.  There’s a large ottoman which Gwen generously shares with me and a selection of wool blankets which make it unnecessary for me to wear a parka, Uggs, and wool mittens when I spend the evening.

The Drink’s Tray has been a recent innovation and I don’t know what we did without it.  We keep it stocked with mini bottles of Jameson and Bushmills, and a sampling of bourbon: Crown Royal, Woodford Reserve, George Dickels. Once in a while, I’ll bring my Laphroaig and Gwen will share her Maker’s Mark.  There’s a tiny water pitcher should we need to dilute.  The pitcher is a piece of whimsical Bayreuth porcelain.  Gwen thinks it’s a Pierrot figure.  I think it looks like a roguish Pan presenting.  In any case, you pour the water through the top of his hat.

Our on-going foreign film fest began with the Stieg Larsson trilogy, then a string of ones we had both enjoyed years ago like The King of Hearts and Le Cage Aux Folles.  I was afraid to re-watch Jean de Florette/Manon of the Springs since I saw it in the 80’s and was stunned for days.  But after twenty five years and a few shots of Jamesons I coped with equanimity.

Moving on to new ones, we both loved Så som i himmelen (As It is in Heaven), not the least because it starred the engaging Michael Nyqvist who played Mikael Blomkvist in the Stieg Larsson movies.  We loved Antonia (Antonia’s Line).

Blessures Assasins was a little too grim.  Europa Europa was a little too stark.  Recently we’ve been watching WW II British propaganda films: Cottage to Let and Millions Like Us.  They’re wizard!

It’s great to be able to slouch across the street in my jammies, and enjoy an evening with my wonderful neighbor in the Plaid Room at The Gwen.  When I leave, the street is peaceful except for the insistent little meow of Freud come to meet me (American version) or to demand why I have to spend my time away from him (foreign version).

There’s an old Sylvia cartoon in the “The Devil Talks About Hell” series.  The devil says that some of us will feel like we had never left home.  Then there’s a roll call of people to report to the backyard for violent misunderstandings with their neighbors.  I know what that’s like.  But I never expect to find Gwen there.  She’s from Wisconsin.


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