Film Friday: Mail Order Bride

MailOrderBride2B

Nice promo shot, but the movie has no mail bags.

Made for the Hallmark Channel, this TV western is not the best movie imaginable about letters, brides or the West, but it is ABOUT letters, brides and the West, so if you really need a postal fix… The film opens on handsome cowboy Beau Canfield (Cameron Bancroft), reading a letter on horseback. Dear Beau, As for all those questions of yours: Yes, I can swim; yes, I can bait a hook. Did I tell you I can toss a blueberry in the air and catch it in my mouth? And yes, I will be your bride… Alas, his correspondent, Jenn, is dying of tuberculosis, so when her con artist friend Diana (Daphne Zuniga) needs to get out of town fast, Jenn hands Diana the letters and says, “Take these and go; be my second chance.” Diana hightails it to Beau’s small ranch in Wyoming, and a somewhat predictable plot of bad guys, range wars and redemption follows. But the lush high country scenery is breathtaking, and Diana does catch blueberries in her mouth while pretending to be Jenn. Film Friday: If you see it, let us know what you think of Mail Order Bride.

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Ladies with Letters: By the Sea

Alexander Mark Rossi 1894When I visit the beach, I am almost as covered up as these three ladies in their Victorian gowns. Long gone are my childhood days of scrabbling over mussel-encrusted boulders, the wind whipping my hair against my face. Older and maybe an inch wiser, I sit under an umbrella, a skirt protecting pale legs, my toes burrowing into the sand.

In my bag of water, grapes, hardboiled eggs and sunblock is a book. It’s always there, but I seldom read more than a page or two.

The waves hypnotize me, roaring with the collapse of a billion bubbles. What do you call that shade of green in the deep hollow of the curl, or that shimmering translucence right before it breaks? And yet the distant water is blue, blue and bluer still until the horizon melts into the sky.

I watch seagulls steal chips from the young mother snapping photos of her child and search for the flash of dolphins, which sometimes arc through the surf just offshore. Pelicans fly overhead in a V formation, their shadows gliding across the sand like bombers in WWII news reels.

The glare and salt and whoosh make me drowsy beyond measure, but I don’t close my eyes. I look at everything…except the pages of my book.

That’s why, as much as I enjoy this 1894 painting by Alexander Mark Rossi, I can’t picture myself as one of the three women ignoring the sea behind them.

The painting is (inevitably) entitled “The Love Letter,” so they must be sisters rather than a mother and her daughters. With her hair pinned up, the middle woman is clearly older than the girls whose hair streams down their backs. An envelope lies on the rock, and a little sailboat floats forgotten in a puddle—perhaps a comment on leaving behind childish things for more “grown-up” pursuits like romance.

In the background a barefoot woman with a basket on her back appears to be looking for something, clams perhaps or seaweed? And on the horizon, a ship trails smoke as it steams away from port.

Rossi was born in Corfu in 1840, the son of an Italian judge, and emigrated to London in the 1870s. Over the next 30 years he exhibited 66 works at the Royal Academy, often painting children and young adults, many modeled on his own family members.

Cards and other products featuring this painting are available in the Post Whistle Shop on Zazzle.

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British Blue

_MG_7633oAs iconically English as double-decker buses, red pillar boxes have been repositories for British mail since 1852, a mere dozen years after the country introduced the penny post with penny stamps. Usually round, but sometimes octagonal or squared, many original post boxes are still in use across the British Isles. And strangely, some of them are blue.

That’s right: blue!

The advent of air travel in the early 20th century meant not only people could be transported faster, but also the mail (see my review of the film Only Angels Have Wings). But flying the post was more expensive than transporting sacks of mail by train or ship, so customers paid a premium price for the service.

Pillar_Boxes_WindsorTo separate the “high flying” letters from the more grounded masses, the British government began installing a new set of pillar boxes painted Royal Air Force blue in 1930. These collected letters until the outbreak of World War II suspended air mail. After the war, UK citizens could post their air mail letters anywhere, with the postage amount and blue stickers distinguishing air from surface mail.

A few blue pillar boxes still survive as remnants from an age when air travel seemed more special even for letters.

Best Doodles Ever

MirabellesI wish my ancestors had hung out with the bohemian crowd. Perhaps then our family papers would sport artistic doodles as well as pickle recipes.

Wouldn’t you love to discover an illustrated letter from Edouard Manet? He wrote this to Eugène Henri Maus in 1880.

Using my computer’s translation software and my remaining shreds of high school French, I’ve cobbled together a rough translation below. But if you’d like to read a transcription in the original French, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.

The piece is called “A Letter to Eugene Maus, Decorated with Two Apples.” However, the more detailed description on the same website says the painting is of yellow-green plums called mirabelles. Take a look at the photo below of mirabelles and decide for yourself: apples or plums?

“My dear Maus,

MirabellesIt was imprudent to tire you by a long voyage. But finally since you are again in good health, there was little harm done. I am sure that you will be tip top to the top without delay, and I don’t doubt completely healthy. I continue to be content with my stay at Bellevue. I also have high and low points, but it’s fine and I intend to remain here until sometime between the end of October or November 15. I work little or not at all; it’s constantly raining or windy. I hope when the weather is sunny that I will work feverishly and make up for lost time.

I sent to Ghent a painting for the exhibition at Father Lathuile’s. I do not count on success, all I ask is that it be sold to help cover expenses. I remember the amount you quoted to me a long time ago; it must belong to a merchant. Let me know what’s new with you and your friends from time to time.

Ed. Manet

As for a seaside resort where you will find showers, doctors, etc, I recommend you to Berck-on-Mer.”

Film Friday: Dueling Miss Marples

Miss Marple 1

Miss Marple 1, Joan Hickson

Miss Marple 2

Miss Marple 2, Geraldine McEwan

For mystery buffs, what’s better than watching Miss Marple solve a poison pen case in Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger? Watching TWO Miss Marples solve the same mystery, duking it out for the title of supreme sleuth in the most genteel style imaginable! PBS Mystery aired two series, two decades apart, based on Christie’s books about the elderly detective, who sips tea, knits sweaters and unravels the darkest secrets hidden beneath the surface of idyllic English country life. Joan Hickson played the title character in the 1980s and Geraldine McEwan did so 20 years later.

overhead teaWhile each version of The Moving Finger adhered to the same plot of vicious anonymous letters and murder, stylistically, they differ. Miss Marple #1 is more tweedy and precise. Sharp as a tack, she tilts her head in a birdlike manner to ponder matters, and approaches life and death in a no nonsense fashion.

Miss Marple #2 is far more chipper and sprightly. She wears dresses in pastel shades and smiles frequently, her eyes twinkling while making the shrewdest observations.

poison penThe supporting casts and sets differ as well. Each episode was shot in a country village, but the 1984 setting appears more natural, the 2006 version more bandbox perfect. Camera work in the earlier series is relatively straightforward, sunny village streets, peopled by men and women in sensible clothing. The later series heightens tension by interspersing darker scenes with the views of half-timbered cottages and ups the body count by one. Costumes are also flashier in round two. While one young woman is described as “painted” in the first version, her character is practically neon by the second.

Set in the 1950s, women wear dresses and hats, doctors make house calls, and people expect their mail to be delivered twice a day.

when typing was distinct“Another of those awful letters just arrived, second post,” explains one character to the police.

Even clues reflect another era, such as examining the typewriters of the village to see which matches the crooked keystrokes on the envelopes.

Unlike The Moving Finger, I didn’t arrive at a definitive conclusion. I liked both versions of the tale and both Miss Marples, each on her own merits.

The Moving Finger is episode 4 of Season 1 in the 1984 Joan Hickson version; Episode 3 of Season 2 in the 2006 airing with Geraldine McEwan.

village overviewFilm Friday: Do you give either version of The Moving Finger your stamp of approval?

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No Privacy for Jackie O

jackie-kennedy-leonardLong before she married JFK or became Jackie O, a vibrant college coed named Jacqueline Bouvier began writing warm, personal letters to Father Joseph Leonard, a Catholic priest she met in Ireland. Despite an age difference of more than 50 years, the two meshed as kindred spirits. She described Father Leonard as “someone who loves everything I love — who you can have FUN with…” and she once signed a letter to him with “bushels, barrels, carts & lorry loads of love to you.”

While Father Leonard respected her privacy and guarded the hopes and fears she revealed to him, he died 50 years ago, and now someone (Sheppard’s Irish Auction House won’t say who) is selling the letters to the highest bidder on June 10th.

Breaking news: As of today, May 22, the seller — All Hallows College in Dublin — has withdrawn the letters from auction.

Jackie, aged 21, met Father Leonard, 73, in 1950 as an exchange student in Ireland. Their correspondence began soon afterwards.

Jackie-KennedyIt’s hard to picture the poised fashion icon that was Jackie Kennedy as a lively, occasionally giddy, young woman, who peppered early letters with tidbits from home: “Nothing very much has been happening here. It is dreary winter weather and we all have colds. Yusha [her stepbrother, Hugh Auchincloss] graduated from Yale and is home trying to get into the Marines but having a lot of trouble because of the most pathetic ailment  —  Varicose Veins!”

She gushed about her engagement to a young stockbroker named John Husted, then confided about their break-up. “I know it’s grown me up and it’s about time!” She was sure that the next time she said yes to a young man it would be “ALL RIGHT and have a happy ending!”

Jackie-kennedy-jfkOf course, the next time was to a young man named Jack Kennedy, but Jacqueline had no illusions about her future husband. “He’s like my father in a way — loves the chase and is bored with the conquest — and once married needs proof he’s still attractive, so flirts with other women and resents you. I saw how that nearly killed Mummy.”

Still, she loved Jack, deeply, and in a heartbreaking letter sent after his assassination, wrote, “I think God must have taken Jack to show the world how lost we would be without him — but that is a strange way of thinking to me. God will have a bit of explaining to do to me if I ever see him…I have to think there is a God — or I have no hope of finding Jack again.”

jackie-kennedy-letters-auctionThe collection of letters numbers more than 130 pages on her stationery along with that of her father-in-law and White House letterhead.

Organizers estimate they may fetch $1.6 million dollars, so it’s not surprising that someone would sell this valuable personal archive. It feels a little odd reading the letters, like breeching the rules of the confessional (even though I’m not a Catholic), but I still read the bits that have been made public.

A spokesman for the auction house said he had not heard from anyone related to either the Kennedys or Father Leonard.

Read more about her letters in this CNN.com article.

The archive containing Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s correspondence with Father Joseph Leonard will be sold at Sheppard’s Irish Auction House in Laois, Ireland on June 10.

Brown Paper Packages

Sri Lanka envelope“Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things…”

Do you remember a time when packages really were tied up up with string, or more often, twine—rough, hempen and slightly hairy? The U.S. Postal Service banned tying string or twine around parcels years ago (15, 20?) because it could jam the machines that sorted mail.

This package from Sri Lanka was already an anachronism when I received it. I can’t remember now if string was yet on the forbidden list in America, but I definitely had never seen a package where the string was anchored in wax. Charmed by the look of a bygone era, I carefully removed the contents and saved the wrapping in a file folder, like pressing a flower in a book.

I don’t begrudge the smooth, uniformity of packages today if it means we receive them faster and more reliably, but one day I need to send someone a brown paper package tied up with string, and wax, to pass on the visceral pleasure. I’ll just pop it all into a machine-safe box before I mail it.

Ladies with Letters: The Mending

Eugen_von_Blaas_-_The_Love_Letter_1904The heaped basket says there’s work to be done, but who can think of mending when spring is in the air and someone has a love letter to share. That’s right, it’s another piece entitled The Love Letter, this one painted by Eugene von Blaas in 1904. An Italian painter born to Austrian parents, von Blaas made his home in Venice.

Unlike the wealthier subjects of most paintings that pose ladies with letters, these young women appear to be servants or members of a more modest household. I love how each woman reacts differently to the letter. The one on the left looks as if caught mid question—”So who is he, Maria? Has he kissed you yet?” The dark haired beauty in the yellow kerchief appears to hang on every word. Her companion raises one hand to her chin, eyes shyly downcast. Is the letter too steamy for her modest ears?

As for the young woman reading aloud, her red stockings and cheeky half smile depict a lively and engaging personality. Behind them, trees blossom in a cloud of pink and white.

Centuries may pass, but talking over boys with the girls never changes.

Cards with this image are available at the Post Whistle Shop on Zazzle.

Visit the Ladies with Letters pin board on Pinterest.

Hide in Plain Sight

The_Purloined_LetterThis year marks the 170th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Purloined Letter.” His tale of ratiocination (as he called it) helped pave the way for the mystery genre, just as his sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin, was a forerunner of that stock figure in whodunits—the brilliant amateur detective who solves cases that baffle the police.

“The Purloined Letter” was the third detective story by Poe, following Dupin’s earlier cases in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.” The prefect of police informs Dupin that a compromising letter has been stolen from the boudoir of an unnamed female. While the police know the identity of the thief blackmailing the woman, an exhaustive search of his room (that included examining the joints of the furniture and probing cushions with long needles) has turned up nothing.

Enter Dupin, able to match wits with the brightest. Dupin understood that the clever blackmailer anticipated police searching his room for every possible hiding place, so instead “to conceal this letter, the Minister had resorted to the comprehensive and sagacious expedient of not attempting to conceal it.”

In other words, the thief hid it in plain sight. Could this story be where the idea behind that phrase originated?

As a long time fan of mysteries, I’d like to thank Poe for Dupin and his powers of ratiocination. However, I wonder if he could have written the same tale today when an actual letter is uncommon enough to attract the very attention blackmailers wish to avoid.

You can read the full text of The Purloined Letter online.

Film Friday: Only Angels Have Wings

only4If I say Cary Grant, you say suave, debonair, maybe even funny. To see him as a hardnosed, tough-as-nails aviator, watch Only Angels Have Wings about the rough and tumble lives of pilots flying the mail in 1930s South America.

Starring opposte Jean Arthur and a young Rita Hayworth, Grant plays Geoff Carter, pilot and manager of a small cargo service. Despite loss of pilots and dangerous conditions, the men fearlessly hop into puddle jumpers to fly from the tropical coast over the Andes.

Arthur, as Bonnie Lee, steps off a banana boat to stretch her legs in quaint Barranca, and ends up staying when she falls hard for Carter, who swaggers about in a white (maybe bleached khaki) outfit and panama hat with a holster on his hip—as I said, Cary Grant as you’ve never seen him before.

No matter what happens or who dies, Carter always says, “Get the mail,” lugged in and out of planes in big canvas sacks. Having seen the size of the town, I have to wonder who’s writing all those letters?

“I don’t know how you can act like this when that poor kid, he’s … dead!” demands Lee after a crash. “And he’s been dead about 20 minutes, and all the weeping and wailing in the world won’t make him any deader 20 years from now. If you feel like bawling, how do you think we feel?” replies Carter, who then joins the men in the bar for some eat, drink and be merry bravado.

Only_Angels“Romance soaring above the Andes! Drama thundering across a continent!” trumpets the movie poster. The film offers both, especially some thrilling flying sequences by what we’d now call vintage planes. Of course, the Pilgrim Model 100-B and Ford Trimotor were the type of aircraft small cargo outfits actually used at that time, as were the handheld radio mics, oxygen hoses and spotlights for the air field. I’m not so sure about the donkey sharing the mountain lookout hut with spotter Tex.

Grant_OnlyAngels002Only Angels Have Wings was the third highest grossing film in 1939, and that’s saying something in a year that also saw the release of The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

One last publicity still to share of Cary Grant looking oh-so-dashing… Enjoy it here, because he doesn’t look like that in the movie.

Film Friday: Do you give Only Angels Have Wings your stamp of approval?

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