White House Decor Then & Now

This is a picture of the Yellow Oval Room in the White House during the all-too-brief Kennedy years. Tradition dictates that the walls stay yellow in this room, and that there be some of those white-legged French Provincial chairs and tables. Here’s how Jackie tricked the place out.


I know she had a great eye and all but I’m really not wild about this look. To my eye the yellow in the wall covering is too coercively cheerful somehow.  To me it looks like a house in Palm Beach circa 1960, maybe that very Kennedy house where Teddy, old enough to know better, wandered around half-dressed, before waking up his two nephews to get them to accompany him back to the bars when they were both in their beds and half asleep. And really couldn’t you almost curse just anticipating how you’d catch your foot on those spindly glass-topped occasional tables?

So that was the Yellow Oval Room as the 34th president and Jackie arranged it.

Now here’s that same room the way the 44th president and Michelle have set it up:

Obama White House As Home

Of course we see it from a different angle with the three windows in view and that makes it more appealing right there. But I so much prefer this buttery yellow, and the particular green of the window treatments and the sofas – and of course the deep sherry colors in the carpeting and velvet chairs. It all makes me want to take a bite, just like when I see a freshly scooped bowl of Mocha Almond ice cream – yum!

I’ll admit I had to smile at one thing though: the sight, flanking that center window, of the two candelabra, each teetering atop a slender pedestal. Weren’t Sasha and Malia just little girls when they moved in here in 2008? When my youngest was barely two, he took his little white baby shoes on walkabout, ending up in our living room where an immense Boston fern perched, regal as the Queen Mother, on a mahogany fern stand. The minute he went in there, we heard a whooshing sound followed by a muffled crash. The whole rest of the family tore into the room – where our baby boy, in his uncertain Diaper-bottomed stance, turned toward us eyebrows in the air and lisped out one of the few phrases he had learned. “Just kidding?” he lisped hopefully. That flouncy old dowager of a fern was never the same.

Now let’s go back in time and see what patrician Jackie told the TV audience when she gave that famous White House tour in 1962.  And if you don’t have time for that, check out Vaughn Meader impersonating JFK at a press conference during which his pretend wife Jackie also raises a questions. You might as well laugh as cry in life, and I hope Vaughn Meader felt that way too, even if his career doing send-ups of the Kennedy family came to a crashing halt on that fateful November day in ’63.



Do What You Can Do

I got up at 5am took a long shower. While washing my hair I decided spur of the moment to use that special conditioner made from sheep placentas or something. God knows who sold it to me. The same people who pitched me those padded underpants probably.

The rain drummed on the sidewalk outside and it seemed pretty clear that even a scant week away from Daylight Savings, actual daylight was by no means guaranteed.

Plus there had been sadness of late, a child of my heart in the hospital 1,000 miles away, three friends battling cancer who were as healthy as ten-year-olds just six months ago.

In times of trouble, focus outward they say – but what if ‘out there’ is where the trouble is? Then I guess you have to to look back inward, the way babies do with their special blankies, curling them around the same fingers which are also using to suck on and pat their cheeks with.

It’s an art, this self-comforting thing.

Comfort comes to me when I slow down – long enough to run a special conditioner through my hair, say, and leave it in for ten minutes.

I blew my hair dry and sure enough the sheep placental worked. I looked just like the Ghost of Decades Past, with hair just like Jackie Kennedy, which is to say smooth with just the smallest sign of telltale frizz at the root.

I always noticed this about her hair: the unconquerable hint of frizz close to the scalp.

Jackie Kennedy hair

If you have curly hair like I do, wavy hair like she did, you know the hair the world sees isn’t ‘your’ hair ever – except in a heavy rain – but rather this carefully curated version of your hair, to use a word that’s all the rage now..

“Cultivate your garden,” advised the great Voltaire at the end of his famous novel Candide by which I think he meant keep it simple. Do what you can do and let the big scary world spin as it wants to spin for a while without trying to change it.

Days like yesterday, with clouds like dirty drop cloths blocking the sun, it did me good to remember that quote.

The memory of those padded underpants helped too. And also comparing myself to Jackie in any way at all, however much of a s-t-r-e-t-c-h the comparison may be.


Nice Doggie

Too many rocks headed my way yesterday in reaction to the post about Obama and Jackie, whoo!

Who said if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen? Harry Truman, wasn’t it? If politics is the art of the possible (which it is) and if much of it relies on tact and diplomacy (which it does) then a second remark comes to mind, this uttered by the great Will Rogers: “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice doggie’  until you can find a rock.

These are snakey times all right; people are mad. It brings to mind what Will Rogers also said: “Every guy just looks in his own pocket and then votes. And the funny part of it is that it’s the last year of an administration that counts. A president can have three bad ones and then wind up with everybody having money in the fourth, and the incumbent will win so far he needn’t even stay up to hear the returns. Conditions win elections, not speeches.” Pretty apt! He also said, ‘Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” Apt again.

So tomorrow I think I’ll get as far away from ‘the kitchen’ as I can and return to Jackie Kennedy Onassis Tempelseman (if we can pretend she married that last guy which she might as well have.) But how can we end without quoting Will one more time?

“We don’t know what we want but we’re ready to bite somebody to get it”.

Hard to believe he spoke 80 years ago, eh?

Barack, Meet Jackie

I just need to say this to my man Obama:

Dear Mr. President,

Don’t take this the wrong way. In my book you’re great. I voted for you in ’08 and I intend to vote for you next year but I think you have to get some serious coaching for your speeches because you sound like such an insufferable  smarty-pants. I’m not sure if it’s the way your voice goes up at the end of certain sentences and down at the end of others but the net effect isn’t good. You sound like a know-it-all, an intellectual, or “pointy-head” which in this country is not the way you want to be perceived. (Look at how they  sneered at Adlai Stevenson. At Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton.)

I’ve been listening over and over to the voice of “our” Jackie, in this audio tape made when she he spoke to Arthur Schlesinger Jr. just four months after the death of the husband Jack whom she so obviously loved despite his rabbity ways. She says,

I was so happy that I could do something that made [Jack] proud of me because I’ll tell you one wonderful about him: I was really… I was never any different once I was in the White House than I was before but the press made you different. Suddenly everything that had been a liability before –  your hair, that you spoke French, that you didn’t just adore to campaign and you didn’t bake bread with flour up your arms…. You know everyone thought I was a snob and hated politics. Well Jack never made me feel that I was a liability to him but I was!

You have to listen to this, Mr. President, even if you did see last night’s Diane Sawyer special.. My point is that here she was, the child of immense privilege and she seems so humble and down to earth. And here’s you, raised by a single mother, visited only once by your grandiose and overbearing father after his abandonment of you as an infant,  moved from one part of the world to another…. Why can’t YOU talk like a regular person if even Jackie could? I think you can. I seem to remember you doing it that long-ago Time Before.      

It took like 500 years of history to get you and your wonderful family into the White House, Mr President. I can’t bear the thought that you might only have only one term there.