My friends, I have spent the past week in la-la land. No, not that La-La Land. This one that my mum used to refer to when I was a girl. As in: “Why haven’t you dusted the livingroom yet? Have you been off in la-la land again?” And usually I was. Off in la-la land, I mean. Dreaming of a book I was reading, or a movie I’d seen, reliving stories in my head, or making up my own. And definitely NOT dusting. Ha.

I think I spent much of my childhood and a good portion of my adulthood in la-la land. Not completely aware of my surroundings because in my mind I’m somewhere else. Wherever the book I’m currently reading has taken me. In this old post from 2014, I first wrote of my love of reading, and what I considered to be the consequences of loving books and stories so much. As Penelope Lively wrote in her wonderful novel Consequences: “books take you out of yourself and put you down somewhere else from whence you never entirely return.”

Steam rises from the patch of open water on the river

So when the thermometer reads twenty-five below zero like today. When the sun shines out of a clear, cold winter sky like above, and it’s too cold to venture out skiing. Or when the snow falls sideways and the streets and sidewalks are treacherous like below. Then one is wise, in my opinion, if one does not have to go anywhere, to curl up in front of the fire with a good book. And limit one’s travel to literary journeys. And that’s what I have been doing lately. Spending most of my time in literary la-la land.

Our village in the throws of a winter storm in 2018

I’ve been stuck in Italy for the most part. Reading and loving a book called Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby. I first heard about travel writer Eric Newby on this episode of the Slightly Foxed Podcast, all about travel writing. If you love books, not necessarily new books, and you haven’t sampled the Slightly Foxed podcasts then you must give them a try. They are very entertaining, and very civilized. I love them.

Love and War in the Apennines is Newby’s memoir of his time in Italy during WWII: of his capture and imprisonment, his escape, and his attempts to evade the fascists by hiding out in the mountains, helped by peasant farmers who hated the fascists as much as he did and who risked their lives to help him. It’s a wonderful book. So full of detail of the places and the people, and laced with good humour despite the deprivations he suffered. As Sam Jordison wrote in The Guardian, Newby’s prose “flows as easily and naturally as a river to the sea.” I’m only halfway through the book because, like so many books I’ve loved, I keep putting it down so I don’t finish it too soon.

When I was looking at articles about the book and about Newby this morning before I began this post, I was delighted to read that the Slovenian girl named Wanda whom he met and fell in love with when he was imprisoned in Italy, and who, along with her family and friends, helped him and other prisoners escape, eventually became his wife. Until this morning, as far as I knew he escaped and never saw her again. Don’t forget I am only partway through the book. But I read this morning that he returned to Italy after the war to find her. How fabulous! “Guess what?” I yelled to Hubby who is also reading the book. “Eric marries Wanda!” Oh, I do love a good happy ending. I don’t mind being in a literary la-la land of war and deprivation if I know there’s a happy ending coming.

When I bought Love and War in the Apennines, I also purchased another Eric Newby book. Something Wholesale is described as his “life and times in the rag trade.” After the war and before he began his writing career, he spent time as a commercial traveller for his family’s garment business. Selling ladies haute couture and, from the sounds of the publishers description, not having fun. I can’t wait to start it. But first I have to get him out of the Apennines.

Eric Newby and his wife Wanda.

And when I’ve not been in the Italian mountains in my head this week, I’ve been on a grand estate in Yorkshire. I’ve been torturing myself by watching Downton Abbey from the beginning. I know, I know. I can’t help it. I’m a sucker for a costume drama. And an even bigger sucker for the costumes in the costume drama. Especially if it’s set in the early twentieth century.

In the evenings, in front of the living room fire, while Hubby watches the hockey game, I’ve been watching old episodes of Downton Abbey on Amazon Prime. On my iPad. And I am loving this series all over again, even though I know what happens.

I am loving watching the evolution of style, the hair, the hemlines. I am developing a new appreciation for Penelope Wilton’s character Mrs. Crawley. And I am savouring all of Maggie Smith’s performances. Especially in those moments I’ve forgotten. Like the scene where she forces the vicar to marry Daisy and William on William’s death bed.

And even though I know the sad moments are coming, I cry all over again when they do.

The other night, as Hubby sat and raged at the Ottawa Senators, I was wielding my kleenex as Matthew asks Mary to dance, even though Lavinia lies upstairs recovering (we all thought) from Spanish flu, and even though he knows he and Mary cannot be together. Well, not until the Christmas episode at the end of season two. “Jeeze, Suz,” Hubby quipped when he saw my tears. “The Sens are not playing THAT poorly.”

Oh, the drama of Downton. And the melodrama. It’s got inside my head. And I know it won’t leave until I finish every last one of the episodes of every last season. Although I may skip the part where Matthew gets killed. I may be in Yorkshire la-la land most evenings. But to relive that episode would be too cruel.

And just to complete my trifecta of la-la land journeys, I went to the movies with a few girlfriends the other night. And we saw Living with Bill Nighy. Set in London in the fifties and written by Kazuo Ishiguro, we were all set to adore this movie about an aging civil servant, Mr. Williams played by Bill Nighy, who feels in his last days that he has never really lived.

We didn’t adore it; it’s too quiet a film to use dramatic words like “adore.” But we did feel transported by it. And over wine and dinner and dessert, we discussed the beautiful cinematography, the amazingly moving overhead shots of work-a-day London of the fifties, the pathos that never turns into melodrama, the anti-climactic climax, and the ending that is not necessarily happy, at least for Mr. Williams, but definitely more hopeful than the other Kazuo Ishiguro movie I’m familiar with, The Remains of the Day.

It was a great night out. We had a laugh, and a really good dinner. We caught up on everyone’s news. Toasted the new school semester starting the next day for my friends who are still teaching. And even more enthusiastically toasted the fact that a couple of us did NOT have to go to work the next day. The next day was the tenth anniversary of my being retired. I find it hard to believe it’s been that long.

The journey home after dinner was a bit fraught. It had been snowing all day and even harder since suppertime. The roads were not great. I had to keep my wits about me. Night driving in heavy snow is not something I have to do much of anymore.

And as I turned into our small street I did sigh with relief. And I smiled at the sight of our neighbour’s brightly lit up hockey rink. Our neighbour has given his grown up kids and his grandkids a wonderful gift in building that rink. Hubby and I love to watch them play on it. And even on that very snowy, cold night I noticed two hardy skaters on the ice. If you listen carefully you can hear the swack as a stick hits the puck. A quintessentially Canadian sound, in my opinion.

I was happy that my night at the movies got me out of my own head. A little anyway. I’ve been spending too much time in la-la land. But the laughs at dinner, the snowy drive home, the sight of those two kids skating in the snow brought me out of the Italian mountains of the forties, out of Yorkshire of the twenties, and even out of London of the fifties. For a while. Except I’m sure there is hockey on television tonight, and I still have most of season three of Downton Abbey to get through.

Maybe I should take a break and watch the hockey with Hubby. Ha. Be serious… will you.

How about you my friends. Have you been catapulted into la-la land lately. Or, like me, do you find that you are a regular visitor and have been all your life?


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From the archives


Ski Chic or Not

For someone who loves clothes and make-up, and who stresses over my hair, I'm strangely not worried about being ski chic, or not.

Paris Etc… What They Wore, What I Wore

I'm reviewing what I wore in Paris. What I packed that worked. And what didn't. Sometimes planning pays off, and sometimes not.

Childless By Choice or By Chance

  At my book club a week or so ago, we discussed the use of the term “childless.” I say “we” but, actually, I started the discussion. Someone used the term innocently, in a comment, and I admit I ranted a little. I hate that word. And the slightly condescending implications it packs. Not that my friend was being condescending. Not at all. Still… use of that particular term to describe a couple who do not have children always rankles.  Hubby and I do not have children, a fact I’m sure you’ve surmised if you’ve read my blog before. I don’t ...

72 thoughts on “My Week in La-La Land.”

  1. I do love a good visit to lala land myself. There are some books that keep me wrapped up there for a couple days after I finish, wishing it did not have to end. Those are the days that I am not ready to start a new book quite yet, no matter how many are in the awaiting pile. You are so right, much better passtime than dusting or chores. I always had a stack of books when I was a young girl at home, of course it helped that my aunt was the local librarian. That was the start of the slippery slope.

  2. My La-La Land is to listen to a great audible book while I knit. Currently, I am listening to The Moonflower Murders narrated by Leslie Manville. When the book is finished, I will be on my way toward a new spring sweater!

    1. I’ve been listening to all of Anthony Horowitz books.. at least the murder mystery ones. We recently enjoyed Lesley Manville in the television production of the first Susan Ryeland mystery Magpie Murders.

    2. You and Sue have me going Kathy. I’ve just queued up Magpie Murders on my phone and added Moonflower Murders to my wish list.
      I like to listen to books while I knit and do housework. It’s good to have a new book lined up.
      I am currently listening to All the Ways We Said Goodbye.

  3. I love visiting la-la land but now’s not the time! We’re in our last weeks of summer so making the most it! But by June I’ll be looking forward to curling up in front of the fire. I just can’t imagine your way below zero temperatures!

  4. I am slowly, slowly reading A Tale of Two Cities, finally picking it up again after working my way through new books; it won’t be a favourite Dickens for me, but it has moments of real beauty. And listening to podcasts on history and politics but TV is full of stuff that has no appeal to me. I did, however, watch Everything Everywhere All At Once on Prime the other night and it was astounding. Barmy, clever, daft, brilliant. And downright peculiar. Just right for this quiet time of year. Up early on a chilly but bright Sunday morning, me, the cat and a cup of tea. We are due a cold snap – minus 3 – which puts your temperatures in a very different category. I may pick up that Eric Newby book because I was musing over it the other day, wondering if I should give it a go. I think I will, on your recommendation. And the one about the rag trade is very good – light and quite frothy, but interesting. Stay snug.

  5. Your snow is beautiful. We have had a snowless winter so far & I miss it but I’m not sure I could cope with months of snow . Fancy having your own ice hockey rink in your garden ! Makes a change from swimming pools . I read some Eric Newby books years ago & still have a couple on the bookshelf , sitting next to Tales of The South China Seas & Plain Tales of The Raj by Charles Allen . I really like good memoirs . My last book was , like Kathy , Moonflower Murders , the follow up to the Magpie Murders . Both good twisty plots . The Bill Nighy film is on my list & I’m waiting for it to hit Netflix or Prime . Meanwhile we are glued to Happy Valley , quite the opposite of Downton which I enjoyed too . My next read will be the latest Peter Grainger which I downloaded yesterday . There seems to be a new word going around – Abibliophobia – the fear of running out of reading material , which might explain my book pile .

    1. That sent me to my bookshelves to seek out Tales from the South China Seas ( Charles Allen) with its world of gin slings, jungles, sarongs, rice paddies, geckos, rubber plantations etc
      It really is a marvellous book.
      Thank you Wendy (and Sue of course).

  6. Love this post! I am almost always in la-la land. One of my favourite activities is simply staring out the window, which is not the same thing but often converges to the same. My mother also used to be frustrated by my inability to get out of my head, particularly after reading a book (although has also always been a reader).

    And thanks for introducing me to the memoir by Eric Newby. Also putting Living on my list to see. I always enjoy Bill Nighy’s performances. I loved him in The Bookshop, even though it wasn’t a great film per se.

    Likewise, when I watched Downton (have only seen it once so far), I was glued to the first couple of seasons for the clothes. I even sketched out details of them that I wanted to use in modern clothing!

    My current “get away” is the series All Creatures Great and Small. I enjoy all of the characters and the rustic knits…and just the “goodness” of it. Maybe my affection stems partly from memories of my dad (who was a veterinarian), but the series on PBS is my little winter getaway.

    1. I’ve been noticing all the knits on All Creatures Great and Small as well. Helen’s in particular. Isn’t it a lovely show? We tape it on Sunday and then make ourselves wait a few days before watching. It is such a treat from beginning to end. I watched an interview with some of the show’s stars and the producer on YouTube. All the work they have put into making it as true to the Herriot books as possible. Not to mention the animal wrangling that has to take place. One of the actors said that the dog who “plays” Trickie-Woo is a master at following the script. That made me laugh.

      1. Ah…thanks for this. I love that comment about Trickle-Woo. It’s a lovely show, with each character well-developed. I watch it on PBS on Sunday nights to relax my mind and spirit before a busy week. The knits are fantastic. In last night’s episode I was liking the patterns on Jenny’s top, but yes – Helen always has terrific knits.

  7. Every day I try to go. Yesterday I was with George III during his final years and today I will be traveling to the Himalayas all while sitting on the sand under an umbrella.

  8. What a wonderful idea and concept,Sue (and a place :)). I used to spend (and still am spending) a lot of time in a la-la land: books,movies and day dreaming(can’t ,can’t wait to watch Bill Nighy’s Living,and Everything Everywhere ………( I was thinking about The Tale of Two Cities the other day Annie,how would I like it now)as well. Actually,I’m going to the cinema today,I’ll be watching The Banshees of Inisherin.
    Midsomer Murders….I could watch it everyday! Dowton Abbey is great,too
    Snow is great,as well as ice hokey ring in the neighbourhood!

    1. That ice hockey rink is quite a structure. I think our neighbour spent a ton of money on it. There is even a change room for the players in the barn. I am looking forward to watching The Banshees of Inisherin.

  9. I have been in hibernation with this cold weather – to chilled to want to do anything – so I rewatched Downton Abbey from the beginning, too. It was like revisiting old friends, and a reminder about how things change and progress. I am drawn to costumes and their evolution, too. I’ve found that my favorite clothing is that of the 40′ and 50’s. And realized that it’s what’s missing from my wardrobe – those cuts that flaunt broad shoulders. collarbones, waistlines, menswear for women. Watching Grantchester now, for the first time, I’m savoring the relationships and beautiful clothes with an eye toward sewing some for myself. La-la-land can lead to inspiration!

  10. I’m deep into the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny and enjoying every book. Your outing with friends gave me an idea. I loved the book A Man Called Ove and the movie A Man Called Otto is playing at our nearby movie theater. I think I’ll get a group of friends together to go see it. I do hope it will do the book justice!

    1. There is an earlier Swedish film of A Man Called Ove – beautiful. I think we watched it on Netflix.

    2. Alas, I am not a fan of the Louise Penny books. Although Hubby and I are enjoying watching Three Pines on Prime. My friend told me that Louise Penny says the producers got the village of Three Pines all wrong.

  11. Love Eric Newby’s books. I’ve read the two you mentioned and also have Round Ireland in Low Gear (he and Wanda cycled everywhere) on my bookshelves. Newby became quite a travel writer after the war.
    Think I am in perpetual la-la land as I am going through, almost, but not quite, a book a day these past few months (I don’t watch TV or do any streaming). A mix of fiction and non-fiction–like Left on Tenth by Delia Ephron. So plenty of dust around here and no regrets about it. 🙂 Will be heading out west the last week of the month to visit in-laws, so need to get into travel mode and figure out how little I can take with me and still be presentable.

  12. La-la land is a great escape this time of year. I particularly enjoy stories that take place out of the US (where I live) and being transported to other times, places, and cultures. The story becomes so much more. Masterpiece (on Public Broadcasting System) where I watched Downton Abby shows many great programs. I travel a lot in my head, no packing or tickets required!

  13. I always enjoy reading comments on books and film. I saw “Living” last week and agree with your sentiment. Bill Nighy is perfect and I found myself wanting to know more about him and understand. This week I saw “Everything, Everywhere All at Once.” Lots to digest with that one. I woke up thinking about it. My favorite movie of 2022–The Fabelmans. Thank you Steven Spielberg. I just finished We are the Light by Matthew Quick and it is worthwhile and timely. Now I am into #13 of the Chet and Bernie series, “Bark to the Future.” It’s like comfort food and fun. Thank you for your blog, a true Sunday treat.

    1. I listened to a discussion on YouTube this morning in which Kazuo Ishiguro said he wrote the script with Bill Night saying the lines in his head. I loved that.

  14. How lovely to see your writing about Eric and Wanda. They were my neighbours for a while when I lived in England. Wonderful fun. They taught me so much about the things that matter. I remember them so fondly.

  15. Yes, this cold has been too much! Restrictions on outdoor time for little people and four legged friends. We ventured to Costco ( Merivale) the parking lot was packed which forced a long freezing march to the store:(
    Have just finished the second of the two book chronicle of the life of Austria’s Empress Elisabeth (aka Sissi) not as entertaining as the Netflix show The Empress but more historically accurate. Now reading Jacqueline in Paris. A fictitious account of JBK’s study year in Paris. Never been a huge fan of hers with the silly whispering voice and vacuous demeanour but if the book is based on any historical research there was a lot more layers to the woman. Apparently there was a reason behind the whispery voice that even she thought made her words (especially in French) sound saccharine. I hope that part is true. Anyway Libby tells me my long awaited copy of The Marriage Portrait is ready for download so I am hoping for the cold to linger…alas it’s not!! ++ temps arrive this week …best wax the boards my friend!!

    1. Always. That’s how long I’ve been a regular visitor to la-la land. I read a hardcover, paperback or on kindle. I’ve tried audio books, but they do not work for me. There was a period of time after a divorce that I could not concentrate enough to read, but that is the only time in my life that I did not have a book nearby and a few more to be read. I can’t tell you the feeling to see a place that you have read about or a painting or a home of an author, even the other La-la land! I can’t imagine life without books.

        1. I started it as well, but wasn’t in the mood. It seems pretty dark. I’ll try it again later in the spring. I so loved her one about Shakespeare.

  16. I also spend time in Lala land. I really enjoy reading what you have to say about your love of books. I’m so glad I’m not alone. Reading is something I have been doing since I was a child. I guess it just stays with us. Funny! I thought I was the only one who would stretch out reading a book I don’t want to end.
    Also thank you for posting the makeup video link. It was helpful.

  17. I am virtually visiting Scandinavia, appropriately enough during our (short) cold spell here in the northeastern US (nothing at all like you have in Ottawa!). I am particularly enjoying Helene Tursten’s Inspector Huss series. Loved her descriptions of the short, dark days and the unending snows. From the library, I grabbed two compact little books of hers ” An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good” and “An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed.” I thought they were about a sweet, Miss Marple type who solves murders, instead, she’s, shall we say, doling out justice in her own way.
    Stay warm – loved your snow pics!

      1. Like Barbara , I’m a fan of Helen Tursten – must go look for her latest . How can people say they can’t find anything to read ??

  18. Margaretanne Clinton

    Sue . Oh yes. LaLa Land.
    My siblings referred to it as “Margaretanne ‘s
    In her Own Little World “ when I was growing up.
    I hadn’t thought of that in years !!
    Your photo is beautiful. Fog over water.
    One great post.

  19. Golly, I do love your writing. I feel like I know you yet we have never met.
    I love to escape into a good book or a good series, like Downton or All Creatures Great and Small. I am just fine with LaLaLand. I will go there gladly anytime. And, I understand your hubby when he says “Jeez, Suz”.
    I will check out the book, I do love a good read and your recommendations always “agree” with me. Thanks again.

  20. I too am a frequent visitor to LaLa Land so I’m glad to hear I will meet so many of you there. A visit to the library might be required this week!
    Don’t think I would cope with that level of cold Sue but I can admire the photos of snow and ice. We have another tropical cyclone heading our way so more rain on already saturated ground. Many suburbs still cleaning up from the one last week which delayed the start of the school year by a week for many.

  21. Hi Sue, I really feel I know you through your lovely blog. Thank you. I love the gorgeous pictures of your snowy countryside. I am the other side of the world in Brighton UK, down from London on the south coast. Lovely sun today ,quite mild for winter, and have just I walked the seafront promenade with my husband. No snow here!
    I love being in La-La land, and have been there most my life since I learnt to read aged 5 and now I,m 83! Mother of five children and grandmother of 14. However busy I was I always had a book tucked away waiting for me. Books have been my companions through good times and bad, mostly good I,m pleased to say. I try to vary them , serious followed by comic, ,history ,science fiction and lovely family stories mixed with murder mysteries,I will read anything good. But have been known to hurl some across the room with a swear word if it doesn’t “gel” after a chapter or so! I mostly buy my books from charity shops so don’t always find my favourite authors but often find an exciting new one. My darling husband buys me an armful of New books for birthdays and Christmas, I don’t tell him what to get , so some are a hilarious surprise ,or shock.! At the moment I,m reading Philippa Gregory,s book “The lady of the Rivers.” She is a wonderful writer of historical novels mostly set in England in the Middle Ages ,lots of great details of clothes and peoples lives, researched brilliantly. I,m sure you would like her books. I also loved Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and anything by lovely Anne Rivers Siddons or Ann Patchett. The list is long! Keep writing your great blog and happy travelling through La-la land. Best wishes from Judy.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Judy. My mum and I read, loved, and traded back and forth all the Philippa Gregory books for years. My favourite was The Constant Princess about Katherine of Aragon. Then for some reason we moved on. Funny how that happens with a writer, isn’t it?

  22. Yep, I’ve been visiting that place since before I could remember. . .
    I’ll have to try one of Eric Newby’s books — I think I’ll start with A Small Place in Italy (we keep dreaming of doing this ourselves but the pandemic interrupted the dreams quite rudely — so a bit of bibliotherapy instead 😉
    I wonder if you might like Julie Blackburn’s Thin Paths — seems to me it might set up some resonance with what you say of Newby’s writing.
    I just checked the weather for Ottawa, and it looks as if you might be able to hit the ski trails again this week. Hope so — that -25 is perfect reading weather, but we don’t want cabin fever setting in 😉 xo

    1. I haven’t read Newby’s Italian book either. Maybe it will be next after the one about his fashion career. 🙂 Stu and I did ski together late last week, but I’ve not been out since. Some days when I have something else scheduled it’s way easier to climb on the exercise bike. What with all the suiting up, getting to the trail, getting back, and unsuiting… takes half a day! Ha.

  23. Sorry for posting so late but I was in La La Land reading Still Life by Sarah Winman which is just a lovely, delightful read in so many ways, I have been a reader and fan of your blog for about a year and am so appreciative of all your views, books and outfits. My to read list is growing, thanks to you! (Also need to give a shout out to Materfamilias whom I found around the same time.)

  24. There’s nothing like an escape into LaLa land. I sobbed through parts of Downton Abbey too. I love the costumes and the set design. You probably know of these, but if you haven’t watched them, I recommend Belgravia and The English Game. I enjoyed them both.

    My husband and I have been watching Call the Midwife and I have cried through some of their episodes. I love the show. The strong feeling of empathy is just what I need these days. I am struck by the overall kindness and concern that the midwives (and some of the other characters) display in each episode.

    I’ve just finished reading Alice Feiring’s memoir, To Fall in Love, Drink This. She is a very good writer and her stories about her relationships are wonderful. She also writes beautifully about wine.

    I’m adding Eric Newby’s book about WW2 to my list of TBR. I’ve also queued up Magpie Murders to listen to. Thanks for the recommendations.

    1. I read and enjoyed Julian Fellowes book Belgravia, but can’t watch it without an extra subscription. Maybe after we have exhausted the choices we like on Prime. We have only recently been able to watch Prime on the television. And, like Netflix, I find there is way more looking for shows that appeal than there is finding them.

      1. I just checked to find out where “Belgravia” is available, Sue, and it’s free on CBC Gem. I haven’t watched it yet, but I’m adding it to my list.

  25. I much prefer La-La- Land to the freezing cold reality outside my window ! Like you I have been this way since I learnt to read, always buried in a book.
    I am just coming to the end of a wonderful book, sent to me from a fellow book-worm, ” A Tale of Love and Darkness ” by Amos Oz, an account of his childhood and more in the Jerusalem of the 1940’s. A very long book but so worth it.
    I really hope I can get to see ” Living”, I do like Bill Nighy.

  26. Oh, I did enjoy this post.
    I wasn’t always the most enthused Downton Abbey fan, but I was so pleased when Poor Edith triumphed in the end. And the clothes, the clothes! All of them beautiful and suited to the person wearing them.
    I have been wanting to read Gilead again. And The Wide Sargasso Sea.
    BBC’s Inspector Lynley series has occupied some of my winter nights. Surprisingly true to the books.

  27. I had a fascination with the French resistance during WW2 but only recently read about the Italian resistance, in a novel by Lisa Scottoline called Eternal. Apart from the ending being a tad unrealistic I loved the story.
    And yes – I can get lost in books and movies too. I can’t really understand people who say things like .. I might read one or two books a year.

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