Archive of ‘books’ category

victoria finlay: jewels, a secret history

Jewels: A Secret History, by Victoria Finlay, takes us deep into the glittering, scintillating hearts of gemstones, their history, what they are, and where they come from. She tackles ten different stones and arranged the chapters according to Moh’s scale of hardness of minerals.

The hidden wonders of pearls, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires are revealed. Do you recall the story of how Cleopatra was said to have dissolved a pearl in vinegar and drunk it before Caesar to show off her wealth and power? Finlay experimented with a river pearl, and the results are surprising.

I loved the chapters on jet and amber, since they are almost unknown here in the Philippines.

Reading about these precious materials brings to mind a friend I had in UP, Mona Caccam, whose dad was a mining engineer and actually owned, or had shares in, a jade mine. Mona said that the Philippines is rich in mineral wealth, but strict and obstructive laws make it difficult for mining companies to be profitable.

Meanwhile, us ordinary folks will have to content ourselves with gazing into jewelry shop windows and reading books to enjoy the world of gems and minerals.

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amanda mackenzie stuart: consuelo and alva vanderbilt

Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt is Amanda Mackenzie Stuart’s biography of mother and daughter Alva and Consuelo Vanderbilt, of the American railway fortune – where the moral of the story is, riches can’t always make you happy. Only love can.

Stuart takes us into America of the late 1890s, when opulence and decadence were the hallmarks of the lifestyles of the rich, while frightful squalor and poverty afflicted the less fortunate. Fortified by great wealth, ensconced in her grand mansion called Marble House, Alva did not have much to do in her cosseted life save to look after her milionaire husband William Kissam Vanderbilt and their children (Consuelo, William Jr., and Harold Stirling), and to seek dominance in upscale New York and Newport society, dominated at that time by Mrs Astor.

In her quest to become “Queen of Newport” during that fussy, protocol-laden era, the determined and bossy Alva married off Consuelo at 19 to the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Not only was the teenager tall, beautiful, and endowed with swan-like grace and high intelligence, she was also obscenely rich, with a dowry in the millions of dollars.

The Duke, called “Sunny” (from one of his hereditary titles, “Earl of Sunderland”, and not because his nature was particularly bright), only wanted Consuelo’s money to save his family’s aged ruin of an ancestral palace, Blenheim Castle.

Though Consuelo was in love with another man (socialite Winthrop Rutherfurd), Alva railroaded the marriage through. Predictably, the marriage was not happy and did not last, ending later in divorce. Consuelo married again, to Lt. Col. Jacques Balsan, the love of her life, with whom she spent her twilight years.

Aside from being a window into the past, it is a brilliant story that reinforces an idea I’ve formed through the years – that many times, first marriages don’t work out and it’s the second one that brings wedded bliss.

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joseph michelli: the starbucks experience

Starbucks is not only my favorite caffeine delivery system, it is also my ideal global business. Its stock has risen 5,000% since 1992, and has hundreds of stores around the world.

In The Starbucks Experience, Dr. Joseph Michelli gives his take on the reasons for Starbucks’ phenomenal success. He interviewed “partners” (employees) on how they deliver their brand of customer delight that makes people come back for more and more.

My sister-in-law Dr. Mitas Alcasid got me this copy for $14 (regular price was $22) at Walmart (fantastic place for bargains) in Oswego, when we visited them in February 2007.

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joan de jean: the essence of style

Here’s an interesting read I picked up at Fully Booked last May 2007 along with Victoria Finlay’s Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox.

The Essence of Style is by Joan de Jean, who has written seven other books on French literature, history, and culture. She is a professor of French at the University of Pennsylvania, and also holds positions at Princeton and Yale.

De Jean traces the reasons why Paris is the fashionista center of the world, and why Hermes, Vuitton, and Creme de la Mer are must-haves despite their exhorbitant prices.

Apparently it was all Louis XIV’s fault. This maitre of style ruled the French court with his highly original and decorative ideas on dress, etiquette, and urban planning, which to this day have repercussions on the monde of haute couture.

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victoria finlay: colour

Victoria Finlay’s first book Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox explores the origins of color, or where people obtain the paints, pigments, and dyes used throughout history. I loved her second book, Jewels: A Secret History, and this book is just as fascinating.

I had to learn the color wheel and the lingo associated with it for my quilting. As a visual person, I enjoy reading books that are highly descriptive; it makes the story come to life for me. Apart from being a history of paints, it is also a travelogue, with Finlay travelling all over the world to visit the places where paint is made and talk to the people that make them.

From the blurb:

On her quest to uncover the secrets of colour, Victoria Finlay visited remote Central American villages where women still wear skirts dyed with the purple tears of sea snails; learned how George Washington obsessed about his green dining room while he should have been busy with matters of state; and investigated the mystery of Indian yellow paint, said to have been made from the urine of cows force-fed with mango leaves.

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