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Posts Tagged ‘Nora Ephron’

cafe lalo table berries teacup

It’s no secret I love a good romantic comedy, and there are a handful from the ’90s and early 2000s that are particularly close to my heart. Nora Ephron’s films did more than anything else to shape my early visions of New York City. (I once spent an entire solo weekend on the Upper West Side pretending to be Kathleen Kelly.)

During the pandemic, I’ve revisited a few of my favorites, and here’s the thing: I find myself less interested in the love stories these days than in the other elements of these women’s lives.

Part of it is simple familiarity: I’ve seen You’ve Got Mail dozens of times. I can pinpoint the exact moments when sparks fly between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Runaway Bride. I know just how Miles, that sweet film composer played by Jack Black, charms Iris (Kate Winslet) without even meaning to in The Holiday. And my entire family can quote the “leaning” scene (along with the hilarious family dinner dialogue) from While You Were Sleeping.

I don’t have to wonder whether or how these characters are going to fall in love. (Though I have to admit my 2021 self cringes a little bit at the sheer arrogance of a few male romantic leads.) But I am interested, now more than ever, in these women as real people: not only in their romantic adventures, but the struggles they face in the rest of their lives.

I want to know what Kathleen Kelly ended up doing after she had to close The Shop Around the Corner. I want to see photos from Lucy and Jack’s honeymoon in Florence, but then I want to know about their life together: future family holidays, the next step in Lucy’s career. I wonder if Maggie Carpenter was content running the family hardware store for the rest of her life, or if the edgy lamps she sold in NYC – and her love affair with a New York writer – catapulted her into a different career. And I hope – so much – that Iris, buoyed by Miles’ love and Arthur’s friendship and the gumption of a thousand Old Hollywood heroines, never let any man dim her brilliance ever again.

It’s a new month, and I need a new blog series, so for the next few Mondays, I’ll be diving into some of the films I adore, and musing on the other parts of these heroines’ stories: work and career, family and identity. I hope you’ll join me. It’s going to be fun.

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kathleen-kelly-at-desk

(Image from Hooked on Houses)

I have this fantasy of a life in New York or Paris, where I live in a walk-up apartment filled with light, which holds all my possessions but somehow does not feel crammed (except, of course, for the overflowing bookshelves). I dream of doing all my food shopping at greenmarkets, swinging a tote bag over my shoulder, or at impossibly chic, overpriced corner markets filled with exotic cheeses, meats and wines. I dream of living my life in one city neighborhood, like so many New Yorkers do, without a car or a basement or a long commute, able to find everything I need within a few square blocks. (Including green space, because woman cannot live on concrete alone.)

In my daydream, which is clearly a result of having watched a handful of Nora Ephron films many times over, I manage to jettison the boxes of extra things-I-might-need-someday, the odd items of clothing, kitchenware or nostalgia that clutter the cabinets and drawers and spare room in my current apartment. (As it happens, I live in a second-floor walk-up, filled with light and also with overflowing bookshelves.)

In this dream, I finally get a handle on buying and keeping only what I need; I do not spend hours on public transportation every day; and the places where I live and work are within walking distance of one another. And life is manageable, because it has shrunk to a radius described by the path my feet can take on a given day.

But of course that’s not how my life really is.

I was raised in a sprawling, midsize town in a part of the country where people do not take public transportation unless they cannot afford to drive, and where no one lives in adorable little apartments or shops at chic city markets for the simple reason that there are none. (The one exception to the first rule: my tiny, adorable garage apartment during my first year out of college.)

I grew up with an attic and a walk-in closet and several big-box stores within easy driving distance, and that is (mostly) how I lived in the first years of my marriage, when my husband and I rented a three-bedroom house in a town similar to (and only a few hours away from) my hometown. We drove everywhere and we shopped at Target and we had, as my mother never failed to remind us, way more furniture and household goods than she and my dad had when they started out as newlyweds.

When we moved to the Boston area in 2010, we struck a compromise: an apartment in the first ring of suburbs, splitting the distance between the city itself (where we couldn’t have afforded the rent anyway) and his new job 25 miles south of Boston. As a result, we – especially I – live a sort of split-personality, urban-suburban life.

I park my car on the street next to our house. I do laundry in our basement. I store Christmas decorations and boxes of oddments down there. I drive to the grocery store and the library weekly, to the hair salon and Target every couple of months, and we drive to church on Sundays. Most of my best friends live farther out in the suburbs than we do.

But every weekday morning, I walk two blocks and then take the subway to Cambridge, where I walk to work and to lunch, to the post office and the bank, sometimes to the overpriced deli/market, and (soon, I hope) to the farmer’s market. It was this way when I worked in downtown Boston, too: I had a beat, a neighborhood, a series of paths, a set of places I went to shop and eat and do business. It was limited in distance, and it felt – it still feels – manageable, somewhat close to that New York fantasy. And yet every day I commute home, and the contradictions – space, logistics, mindset – surface again.

Most of the time, I am grateful for my glimpses of both worlds: the glamour, culture and walkability of a city, combined with the lower rent, relative spaciousness and affordable parking of the suburbs. But sometimes I wish I could live wholly in one place or the other, instead of always having one foot in each. I think it might be easier, or at least simpler, and less exhausting.

What do you think? Do you live in the city, the suburbs, a small town? Or do you live a life in between, like me? Do you like the situation you have, or do you wish you could trade it for something else?

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Dear Friend,

I like to start my notes to you as if we’re already in the middle of a conversation. I pretend we’re the oldest and dearest friends, instead of what we actually are: an essayist-novelist-screenwriter-director who became a cultural icon, and one of her many adoring fans.

I remember the day we met: I was 15, and I went to see You’ve Got Mail with my sister, her boyfriend, and my (male) best friend. My sister’s boyfriend, predictably, rolled his eyes, but the rest of us were instantly smitten – with Kathleen Kelly, the Shop Around the Corner, and New York in the fall (and the spring). When I finally visited New York as a twentysomething, I made a pilgrimage to Cafe Lalo, and pictured you and Kathleen walking beside me as I wandered streets overhung with blossoming trees.

cafe lalo new york city

My family has watched You’ve Got Mail so many times that its phrases – and its wisdom – are part of our vernacular. We all know that eucalyptus candles make an apartment smell mossy, that newly sharpened pencils are the perfect bouquet to celebrate fall, and that when you read a book as a child, it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does. (Actually, we already knew that, but you gave us the words to express it.) And you pointed out what should have been perfectly obvious all along: daisies are the friendliest flower.

Thank you for making movies that made us believe in the sparkling potential of ordinary days. Thank you for giving us characters who have become friends, lines we can repeat back to ourselves and to our loved ones, stories we can crawl into when life gets a little drab or ho-hum or cruel. Thank you for your wit, your class, your charm, your refusal to take yourself – or anyone – too seriously. But most of all, thank you for the stories you gave us, which affirm the worth of our small but valuable lives, and help make them bigger and richer and more lovely.

With much love, and lots of daisies,
Katie

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