Category Archives: Movies

the great beauty

The SF Chronicle’s  picky movie reviewers are notorious for being tough as nails when awarding their highest rating –  the image of the little man jumping out of his chair and clapping. But today’s review of just-released Italian film, “La Grande Bellezza” – or “The Great Beauty” for the American market –  did just that. The little man is smiling, he’s clapping, he’s jumping and ecstatic. His hat even falls to the floor. I’m ecstatic too and I haven’t even seen the movie yet.


Toni Servillo stars as Jep Gambardelle, turning 65, jaded from early success as a writer and experiencing an “awakening.”

“The Great Beauty” is directed by Paolo Sorrentino and was a big favorite when first previewed at the 2013 Festival de Cannes.

Lovers of Italy can spend more than two hours falling in love (again) with Rome (with all its decadence, beautiful and ugly) while immersing in the language since the movie is in Italian with English subtitles. The reviewer notes that you can’t watch “The Great Beauty” without thinking of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” with Rome as the movie’s focus.

Like “La Dolce Vita”, this movie is going to throw more at you than just a tour of the city’s sights and high society. An excerpt from the SF Chronicle review reads (you can read the review in its entirety here):

“Toni Servillo plays Jep Gambardelle who wrote a masterpiece of a novel in his youth but has been unable to repeat the success. He’s become a journalist and bon vivant, living in an incredible apartment overlooking the Colosseum. He’s popular in his circle but jaded, and, having just turned 65, is starting to look at the big picture. When news arrives of an old girlfriend’s death, he continues to make the rounds of high-end gatherings and nightspots in the Eternal City, but in a “what’s it all mean” frame of mind. He informs us that once he wanted to be the king of Rome’s extravagant night world. But he no longer wholly buys into his cynicism, if he ever did. Delivering acerbic witticisms at over-the-top parties isn’t much of a purpose in life. The plot is…. a running account of what Jep sees and says during his often surreal urban wanderings. “

Something to put on the holiday movie list? You got me at Fellini.


autumn plate

It feels like fall outside. It’s feels like fall online too, inside the community of travel, culture, literature, home and garden bloggers. So I bought a new cashmere sweater today in pale pink, thanks to these tips for fall travel style from This is my Happiness.  And trusty Ciao Domenica has offered this inspiration for delicious recipes including a pumpkin-spice cake with pumpkin cream-cheese frosting.

The start of a season presents an empty plate, ready to be filled with fall’s favorite things, like slipping on a new warm sweater, brewing up tea, settling down to a new book or catching a movie.


For me, that means reading Caleb Crain’s debut novel  “Necessary Errors.” Set in post- Iron Curtain Prague in the early 1990s, after the ’89 Velvet Revolution, the book is described as coming of age for idealistic young expat Americans abroad (for longtime BTH readers, no surprise this book is top of my list!).  I’m looking forward to learning more about Eastern European history and Czech culture. The Slate review writes “it recalls the dreamy pacing of Henry James or Elizabeth Bowan.”


I’m also looking forward to returning to our wonderful local art deco theater this season. I’m still recovering from Woody Allen’s tragic Blue Jasmine and am ready to enjoy a lighter comedy this fall. Enough Said  stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Eva) and James Gandolfini  (Albert) who meet and a romance quickly blossoms, but Eva befriends – and gets an earful from – a woman about her ex. The twist is that she finds out that “the ex “is Albert.

What’s on your autumn plate?




the great fitzgerald

“The Great Gatsby” is out on the big screen and a good time for fans of fellow     ex-expat F. Scott Fitzgerald to focus again on one of his greatest works.

If you are like me and can’t separate the man from his works – where he draws much from his personal life and even has character Daisy quoting his wife Zelda –  you, too, may have held your breath at the movie’s rolling credits waiting for “based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald” to appear. (It appears, although third or fourth down. I’d argue he deserved to be first.)

grgatsbyThe movie, from Baz Luhrmann, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. Movies rarely imitate its novel perfectly and “Gatsby” is no exception. While the modern adaptation to a classic story was entertaining (over-the-top music and performers and lavish party visual effects, for example), I was pleased it mostly followed the novel’s themes – the decline of the American dream, social class differences, and 1920s jazz age. It features symbols like the dock’s green flashing light and Dr. Eckleburg billboard in the Valley of Ashes. On the other hand, Luhrmann’s Daisy I found confusing as deeper and more complex than Fitzgerald’s deliberate one dimensional, superficial character. But a key question remained the same –  what role the past plays in dreams of the future – a sentiment Fitzgerald and his fellow Lost Generation expat friends, like Hemingway and Sara and Gerald Murphy, shared.


Remember, Fitzgerald found fame and fortune early on, he then lived mostly a tragic life, struggling with alcoholism, and struggling in Hollywood writing scripts and short stories to meet the expenses of his wife Zelda’s psychiatric bills and his daughter Scottie’s education. “The Great Gatsby” received mixed reviews and sold poorly. He died believing the book and his career unsuccessful.  His earlier days in New York, Paris and the Riviera were an enchanted past he remembered often and expressed in his correspondence a wish to return to.

Reading or re-reading “The Great Gatsby”  helps you get the most of the movie and fill in the blanks. To dig deeper, I recommend the recently released historical fiction of his wife “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” by Therese Anne Fowler ( NY Times review can be found here ) and “F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Life in Letters”.

Additional Bringing Travel Home posts on the Lost Generation can be found here:

Discovering Expats of the 1920s

Living Well is the Best Revenge

coco before chanel

I just watched the excellent biography film Coco Before Chanel about the early life of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel. Before watching this film, I knew very little about the woman behind this powerful fashion brand.  I have read about her in my favorite books about the 1920s  Lost Generation expats because she was a great friend to influential writers and artists living in France at that time. In fact, it has been written that American expat Gerald Murphy’s resort wear inspired Chanel.  But, above all, I have always liked the understated sophistication, casual elegance and practical design associated with Chanel, even with little knowledge of the incredible history behind the name.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

Coco Before Chanel (2009, French with subtitles) focuses on Coco’s early life and her rise from orphan to seamstress to cabaret singer and ultimately the queen of Parisian haute couture. Audrey Tautou plays the legendary French designer brilliantly.

Audrey Tautou playing Coco Chanel in nautical sailor stripes in Coco Before Chanel

Rags to riches stories always make an impression on me, and Coco Chanel – an orphaned child of a laundrywoman mother who died when she was 12 and street vendor father who gave her away – struggled in her early years but was ambitious, rebellious and ahead of her time. She became an adult in the early part of the 1900s in a male dominated world at a time when women were not expected to work. Instead, girls “like her” – poor and orphaned but pretty – entertained and sang and danced in clubs and met wealthy barons who financed a leisurely life in exchange for mistress or entertainer. Many women gladly settled for this kind of life. While Coco indeed preferred the life and freedom of a mistress than a wife’s life (not an enviable position back then) and she knew without apology that men of status and wealth do not marry girls like her from impoverished backgrounds, she wanted more than to be a mistress. Her wealthy lovers proved to be instrumental in setting her free to pursue her talent in style and fashion.

Audrey Tautou as Chanel and Alessandro Nivola as “Boy” Capel

Women’s fashion of the time left little to be imagined with tight-fitting corsets and over-the-top dresses, dripping with jewelry and heavy, ornate hats. Coco – with a boyish figure – instead wore a tasteful, elegant, undecorated style that allowed for movement and breathing like men’s clothes, and covered more of her body to leave a little to the imagination. A brief career caberet singing in Moulins leads her to meeting Etienne Balsan, a French socialite, heir and horse racer, and she becomes his mistress and eventually lifelong friend. While living with him he introduces her to Paris society, including an actress that loves Coco’s new design of a straw hat for women.  She spreads the word to her rich friends and Coco begins to get noticed. Inspired my men’s clothes, Coco also gains inspiration by rummaging through closets of her lovers. Later she meets and becomes lovers with Arthur “Boy” Capel, another inspiration for her work, who makes a lifelong impact on her by helping her set up a hat-making boutique in Paris. She expands her boutique with deluxe casual clothes for leisure and sports using humble fabric like jersey previously only used for men’s underwear –  the final blow to the corseted, restricted fashion  at that time –  which helps lead her to become a giant fashion designer. (Capel seemed to be her true love, although they would never marry. She said she reimbursed Capel his original investment.)

Chanel today: 2012 advertisement

Whatever she became later in life – with reported wartime controversy and scandal and life among aristocracy – the film Coco Before Chanel portrays Coco in her early years as a gutsy, rebellious woman from a disadvantaged background but with a great sensibility and ahead of her time. A pursuit of expensive simplicity and her many trademarks – the Chanel suit, the little black dress, Chanel No. 5 perfume, and the marinière or sailor blouse – mark her legacy as an important and influential designer in 20th Century fashion that broke old rules of conventional fashion and invented a new way of chic.


“A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.”
– Coco Chanel