Old stars in Venice

Venice ended my longest ever relationship. Well, that and a sinus infection. The trip to Italy had been his idea and against my better judgement, I decided to go. It was November, I was already feeling ill and the cracks were showing in our relationship. He was a tax lawyer who loved mountains and spending as little money as possible while I had grown tired of the great outdoors and loved buying dresses and going to the cinema every afternoon. We were supposed to have only one day in Venice to go to the Biennale and would camp close to Vicenza the day before. Whether it was real or psychosomatic, I really don’t know, but a terrible nausea overcame me and I decided not to do anything as ridiculous as camping in winter and checked myself into a four star hotel in Venice where he refused to accompany me.

I have never forgotten the magic of those first impressions or the love I felt for the city. In a way, Venice spoiled me by showing that I didn’t have to do things I no longer enjoyed, that I was much better off alone appreciating its beauty. So when we met the following morning, I told him we were through and began the long train journey back to Berlin, feeling sadder than I had thought I would be and still really ill. I missed the last train to Berlin and spent a miserable few hours in a waiting room at Leipzig station among the drunks and homeless because I was too broke to get another hotel room, trying and failing to sleep a little with my head on my suitcase before waking up bleary eyed and confused to get a train at 4am. I have never forgotten the relief at finally getting into my bed in Charlottenburg and the long sleep which brought me some relief.

In a couple of weeks, I’m heading to Venice again and I can’t tell you how excited I feel about returning there (though hopefully with less dramatic circumstances). Of course, one of things I’m most looking forward to is going for walks through those labyrinthine streets, particularly early in the morning, and taking photos. Before the tourists arrive, it’s wonderful seeing the locals getting off the boats and going for an espresso before starting work.

I’ll be staying at the same apartment as last time, close to the Rialto and the market where I went each day to buy fish, fruit and vegetables. I go to Caffè Florian on St. Mark’s Square as often as possible, get an ice cream from Grom or from Rosa Salva opposite the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (although ice cream in Venice seems to be good everywhere) and love to walk along Fondamente Nove before taking the boat across to Isola San Michele. Last time I was in Venice, I even got the chance to go to the Film Festival on the Lido to see Terence Malick’s beautiful but baffling ‘To the Wonder’. Thinking about it made me want to revisit some old photos with great stars which is probably the next best thing if you can’t come with me.

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Maria Callas at the festival in 1957


Alain Delon getting some close-ups of pigeons

Monica Vitti stands with Michelangelo Antonioni in Venice in 1964.:

Michaelangelo Antonioni and Monica Vitti in 1964

American actor Warren Beatty pictured outside the Excelsior Hotel  in 1965. The hotel was ...:

Warren Beatty and girlfriend in front of the Excelsior Hotel in 1965

Legendary American actor Paul Newman, wearing a tuxedo and a bow tie during a trip on a water taxi with St. Mark Square in the background, Venice 1963

Paul Newman, 1963

Later, donning a hat,  Gene Tierney tries her hand at rowing a gondola. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Ellen Berent Harland in Leave Her to Heaven

Gene Tierney having a go at rowing a gondola in 1951

Taken around 1960, Elizabeth Taylor and her then husband, singer Eddie Fisher, on holiday on Burano Island in the lagoon at Venice

Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher on Burano

Toshiro Mifune is 2 times named best actor at the Venice Film Festival for "Yojimbo" (1961) and "Barbarossa" (1965):

Toshiro Mifune on St. Mark’s with a few feathered friends

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Marcello Mastroianni with Anna Karina in 1967

Sophia Loren attends the Venice Film Festival, 1955.:

Sophia Loren at the Festival in 1955


Claire Bloom and Rod Steiger in 1963

Cocteau and Orson Welles 1948 Venice:

Orson Welles and Jean Cocteau in 1948


Vintage train travel


This post is pure nostalgia for a time I never knew but somehow love of railways is in my blood. My maternal grandfather was a railway signalman for L.N.E.R, my mum talks affectionately about taking the train to go on family holidays to the seaside as a child and a local company in the town I grew up in did the ironwork for the magnificent St. Pancras station in London. Even though I frequently lament the sad state of railways and sky high ticket prices in the UK, taking the train is still something I really enjoy doing. Here’s a selection of some of great pictures I’ve found connected with the golden age of rail travel, including the one of Kim Novak, above, from 1955. Bon voyage!

The great hall at Euston Station

A Victorian masterpiece, built in 1846 and sadly demolished to make way for the current monstrosity in 1962. Here it is just two years before with the statue of George Stephenson and a staircase leading to a gallery and a room for shareholders. At least the statue survives. Photo by Ben Brooksbank, 1960.

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TGrand Central Terminal, shown here around 1930, is one of New York's most iconic landmarks

Grand Central Terminal, New York, 1930

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The old Gare d’Orsay, now the museum, in Paris


Vintage posters




Restaurant dining cars


Classic scene from Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’


The Southern Pacific’s All-Pullman Lark between Los Angeles and San Francisco

The Venice-Simplon Orient Express – few things represent the idea of luxurious travel so well – here are some shots from the 1950s

A woman passenger in a fur coat aboard the Simplon-Orient Express gazes wistfully out at the train tracks in this shot from 1950

Pictured just before the Simplon-Orient Express began its journey from London to Istanbul via Venice and Paris

Eugene Monnier, head waiter was famous for his ability to choose wine. In the Simplon-Orient Express of 1950, six kinds of bourgogne, five of bourdeaux, and six types of champagne could be purchased

Eugène Monnier, the legendary head waiter in the 1950s, renowned for his excellent wine recommendations

Famous travellers

Before limos and aeroplanes took over, many legendary stars travelled by train.


Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh taking the train to Denmark in 1937


Marlene Dietrich leaving the Gare St. Lazare in Paris in 1939 to return to Hollywood

Hollywood stars Clara Bow, pictured left with singer Harry Richman, and Jean Harlow, pictured right, are shown arriving at Grand Central Station in the 1930s

Hollywood stars Clara Bow, pictured left with singer Harry Richman


Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall about to board the Santa Fe in Los Angeles, 1945, to travel to Mansfield, Ohio for their wedding.

Mistress America


Even cinephiles make mistakes. After seeing the trailer for ‘Mistress America’, I decided it just looked plain irritating and not to bother seeing it. But to my surprise, after finally watching it yesterday, I absolutely loved it and it has even surpassed ‘The Squid the the Whale’ as my favourite Noah Baumbach film.


18 year old Tracy (Lola Kirke) is having a hard time making friends and settling into her creative writing course at a New York college. Her mother, who is about to get married again, suggests calling Brooke (Greta Gerwig), her future stepdaughter and thirtysomething New York hipster who is also impossibly cool. She lives on Times Square, knows all the best people and places, tutors, coaches, works as a spinning instructor and is about to open a restaurant. Tracy is smitten with her new friend while Brooke is thrilled to have a younger follower who idolises her, but soon Tracy comes to realise Brooke doesn’t quite have it together like she first thought and begins to have doubts about her ever succeeding. Brooke does, however, provide her with great material for a new story she’s writing, entitled ‘Mistress America’ after one of her many failed business ventures.


Although billed as a screwball comedy, I found much in it that was also painful and honest. Tracy is younger but seems to be the more mature one. Brooke is in some ways a continuation of Frances Ha in Baumbach’s earlier film but here she’s also bullying, self-obsessed and ruthless, although she’s still the type of person you’d give your eye teeth to know. Everything culminates in a brilliant sequence of events where Brooke, Tracy and two of her college acquaintances take a trip out to the suburbs to get the funds necessary for the restaurant from Brooke’s ex-boyfriend, Dylan, and his scheming wife, Mamie-Claire, who has made a fortune from Brooke’s T-shirt idea and also stolen her cats.


For me, the film really reflects how it feels to be friends with someone older, to be jealous of their self-assurance and success and also how it feels to be friends with younger people, knowing that your own youth is slipping by and feeling anxious about the future in a way you didn’t use to. It’s refreshing to see such an erudite and witty film which is ultimately about friendship between two women. Of course, I have to mention the excellent central performances  of Greta Gerwig who shows herself to be the great comic actress of her generation and a throwback to the likes of Carole Lombard and Claudette Colbert, and Lola Kirke, younger sister of Girls’ regular Jemima Kirke, who lights up the screen and shows she’s just as brilliant at delivering sharp dialogue. To be honest, it wasn’t love at first sight for me with ‘Frances Ha’. I almost felt like I had to love it before I’d even seen it because it was a hommage to Truffaut’s films and Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’ which are great favourites of mine. But with repeated viewings, I’ve learned to appreciate it on its own terms and feel great affection for it. But ‘Mistress America’ is a film that captivated me from the beginning and seems especially good for autumn with its mixture of humour and more poignant scenes. I can’t wait to come back to it.


Writers with cats


So, this is neither new, nor original but I find these pictures charming and hope that dog lovers everywhere won’t feel too offended either. Photo above of Ernest Hemingway with his cat Cristobal.

Georges Perec


Patricia Highsmith


Mark Twain




Françoise Sagan


T.S Eliot


Edward Gorey

For Jan, author of the beautiful Clovis Sangrail blog, who introduced me to his work  – thank you!


Ray Bradbury


Elizabeth Jane Howard and Kingsley Amis


Raymond Chandler


Joseph Brodsky


Jean Cocteau


Hermann Hesse


I’m sorry if I’ve missed any of your favourite writers!

Red in films


Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love red so it’s not really surprising that I’m always fascinated by its use in films. Red can stand for many things – fraternity, passion, warmth, strength, sensuality, but on the flip side, it can also represent danger, aggression, blood and can appear glossy, superficial and claustrophobic.

Here are some of my favourite films in which it’s used, including Vertigo, above.

Trois Couleurs Rouge




The Grand Budapest Hotel

The scene with the liftboy also reminds me of Clovis Sangrail’s blogpost.


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Jean-Luc Godard

Love him or loathe him, it’s hard to deny that Godard is a master of colour and like me, he also favours the primary ones, particularly red.



Anna Karina in Une Femme est une Femme


Pierrot le fou



Anna Karina, wearing one of the most beautiful dresses

La Chinoise


The Red Shoes

At one time, their Powell and Pressburger films were the only British ones acceptable to like. Thanks to Jack Cardiff’s magnificent photography, they also remain some of the most visually stunning too, particularly The Red Shoes.




Cries and Whispers



Funny Face

Audrey Hepburn in the ultimate red dress, designed by Givenchy


In the Mood for Love


American Beauty


Red Desert


Elio Petri

Elio Petri is one of the most interesting Italian directors but remains largely forgotten today which is a great pity. I have only seen a handful of his films but find them fascinating because of their stylishness and cultural references to the ’60s and ’70s which contrast with the social critique of their story lines. Born in 1929 and a committed member of the Communist Party, he made his directorial debut in 1961 with L’Assassino which also starred Marcello Mastroianni at the height of his fame. Perhaps it was because his film offended the censors or perhaps it was the fact that it came out the same year as Antonioni’s La Notte and Pasolini’s debut, Accattone, but this amazing film sank without trace until its re-release on DVD a couple of years ago.

At first glance, it has all the hallmarks of a thriller – a cool soundtrack, beautiful and stylishly dressed stars, crisp black and white photography and a murder to be solved. Yet look again and we can see that it’s more an examination of social and political values. Like Kafka’s Josef K. and Camus’ Mersault, Mastroiani’s Alfredo Martelli is brought in by police and questioned because of his lifestyle and values. He represents the new middle class, a dandyish antiques dealer happy to use women to advance his career and social position. When his former lover Adalgisa, a rich, older woman played by Micheline Presle, is murdered, suspicion falls on Alfredo who finds himself caught up in a nightmarish trap under the scrutiny of a corrupt society with links to the Catholic Church and fascism. And for all its coolness, the film shows us a different side of Rome, a rather bleak and empty city with run down areas. Adalgisa is murdered in the ridiculously named Shangri-La hotel in the middle of a wasteland. Few films make a stronger impression on the viewer.

Petri’s most famous film is probably his 1970 feature, Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion, starring the left-wing and socially committed Gian Maria Volontè, about a police commissioner who murders his lover and covers up the crime, believing that his position of authority will protect him and that he can pin the murder on the woman’s gay husband or a radical student acquaintance. Once again, it’s a super stylish film with music by Morricone and quite a lot of black humour and swipes at the establishment. I can’t think of another film like it. It’s both of its time and yet a biting statement on corruption and the abuse of power.

The Tenth Victim is not nearly as well-known as the films which it influenced, The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Hunger Games series. I can only describe it as a sci-fi action film which is almost the essence of the Sixties. The plot centres around an entertainment programme called The Hunt with its ten rounds which participants must survive, five of them as hunters and then five as victims. The winner then retires rich and famous. Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress) is on the lookout for her tenth victim, Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni) whom she wishes to kill on camera after securing sponsorship from Ming Tea, but things become complicated when they fall in love. It’s a great satire on entertainment, particularly today in light of the number of so-called reality TV programmes, and also a lot of fun to watch with super cool music, costumes and photography.


I hope you’ll get a chance to see some of his films!

Things I like right now

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I feel this post is necessary as this time of year can feel a little awkward, even a touch melancholy. Officially, it’s the transition into autumn, the end of the school holidays when the leaves have not yet started to turn but every sunny day feels like an unexpected bonus to be taken advantage of. So here are some of the things I love most about September at the moment:


OK, I always enjoy reading but there is something rather wonderful about opening a new book at this time of year, especially if it’s a long novel which will accompany you as the evenings start to draw in. Summer is best suited to shorter books which you can take out with you, even short stories but September feels just right for something longer. I have a few books lined up – War and Peace which I’ve wanted to read for ages, Dictator, the last part of Robert Harris’ magnificent Cicero trilogy, along with other favourites which I’m dying to read again. It’s always a conflict between discovering something new and returning to books I already love dearly. English literature in particular seems to lend itself especially well to this season – Brideshead Revisited, or in fact any of Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant novels, Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, anything by Graham Greene.

It’s also the best time of year to read blogs. My favourite one is https://clovissangrail.com/, a beautiful and erudite look at fashion and exquisite taste. I really could spend hours on there.

Red eyes and dark lips


Left to right – Bobbi Brown Lip Luxe in Your Majesty, Maybelline Matte lipstick in Divine Wine, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution lipstick in Glastonberry, the Charlotte Tilbury Vintage Vamp palette, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution lipstick in Love Liberty and Nars Audacious lipstick in Vera

These are THE trends for autumn which makes me happy as both of them go well with my super pale skin and I absolutely love the 1920s. They may sound scary but they are in fact much more wearable than they look at first sight. Chanel’s brilliant creative director of makeup, Lucia Pica has created a stunning collection centred around red with their first completely matte eyeshadow palette, red liner, nail polish and beautiful lipsticks. My favourite palette is still Charlotte Tilbury’s The Vintage Vamp which I’ve been devoted to for a couple of years. Think Clara Bow, rather than conjunctivitis sufferer. In terms of dark lips, some shades tend to be hit and miss but my choices would be Nars Audacious lipstick in Vera or Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution lipstick in Love Liberty which are beautiful berry colours, Bobbi Brown Lip Luxe in Your Majesty, or Maybelline Color Sensational lipstick in Divine Wine which are gorgeous bordeaux shades and for the darkest ones, Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Train Bleu, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revoltion lipstick in Glastonberry or Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Black Cherry. You can always start out applying these as a stain before progressing to full dramatic lip if you’re not confident enough.


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To tell you the truth, summer isn’t really my favourite season for travel because many places abroad can be hot and crowded, while in the UK, it’s hard to hide your disappointment at washed out weekends and grey days which are the norm. But I love travelling in September and October, especially to Venice where I’ve booked to go next month. The days should still be long enough to go everywhere I want to and I’m looking forward to seeing some beautiful sunsets again.

New skincare


My skin likes this time of year. Not too hot so the makeup slides off by midday but still far away from the misery of winter which other rosacea sufferers will relate to. I must adit that I have zero brand loyalty when it comes to skincare and will happily ditch other products if I find something I like better, even if it happens to be midway through a pot of expensive face cream. I ordered Kate Somerville’s Goat Cream especially from the U.S. and it made a huge difference  to my dehydrated, difficult skin with acne…and then Sali Hughes recommended Sunday Riley’s Tidal Cream and I put the Goat Cream to the back of the bathroom cabinet. It’s like no other cream I’ve tried and works miracles on my dull, dehydrated skin. Another Sunday product is the Luna Sleeping Oil with retinol. Her range is really expensive but I will say that I can see an immediate difference in my skin whenever I’ve try her stuff which isn’t at all the case with many products. I use 2-3 this times a week after cleansing and acid toning if you do that, but before serum and moisturiser and it really brightens skin and annihilates pores, even if you’ve had a rotten night’s sleep. May Lindstrom’s Blue Cocoon was recommended by the brilliant Caroline Hirons. Also containing blue tansy, it’s designed to soothe, calm and moisturise sensitive or stressed skin and will definitely be one of my essentials as we head into the colder months. Expensive, but you only need the teeniest amount so a pot will last for years. And finally, my favourite Vichy Aqualia serum which is the best for dehydrated skin and amazingly good value. How nice all these products are blue as well.

Long walks and tea

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These surely need no explanation.

Let me know what you particularly like about this time of year.