Julia Reed

About Julia Reed

Julia Reed is a columnist at Garden & Gun magazine and a contributing editor at Elle Décor. She also contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and The New York Times, and makes frequent appearances on MSNBC. She is the author of five books, including But Mama Always Put Vodka in the Sangria, Adventures in Eating, Drinking and Making Merry and One Man’s Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood.

On the Beach

Julia Reed May 10th, 2011 — by:

This week’s Fetch, with all that gorgeous deep blue turquoise and Richard Sexton’s Seaside photograph—not to mention the Mr & Mrs Smith post on Miami’s sexy Soho Beach House hotel—has got me thinking a lot about the water and Florida and how much I’m dying to be there. Florida is the land of both high and low culture and I’ve taken both kinds of vacations. As a child, I went with my parents to Destin every summer to the long gone Frangista Motel (with adjacent trailer park). We ate peanut butter and jelly for lunch and went crabbing at night, and a big evening out was to the nearby Sandflea for stuffed Pompano or deep fried anything.  With my slightly more high maintenance grandmother, I went with my cousin Frances and our mothers to Palm Beach. We’d stay at the Breakers or the La Coquille Club, where towel boys would fix up our lounge chairs and waiters brought us club sandwiches on silver trays. At night, we’d put on our matching Florence Eiseman dresses and go out to really fancy dinners where the waiters brought Frances and me lemonade “cocktails” in Collins glasses garnished with plastic monkeys which I still have.

It is the high kind of trip that I currently have in mind. I especially like the sound of the 40s Havana-style bar at the Soho Beach House (maybe they have those same plastic monkeys that hang from glasses by long curly tails) and the wait staff both on the beach and at the endlessly long pool with dozens of upholstered lounge chairs. My good friend André Leon Talley and I once stayed at the Colony in Palm Beach where we’d been dispatched to do a piece for Vogue on Estee Lauder.  The shoot was especially tedious, and when we weren’t spending every possible minute at Café L’Europa where we gorged ourselves on expense account caviar and vodka (it was a vastly different magazine world in those days), we were enjoying cocktails and people-watching by the pool. Our favorite person to watch was an extremely thin and very well-preserved woman of a certain age who came down every morning in an enormous sunhat, a well-cut black maillot, and perfectly manicured deep coral fingernails and toes. On the way to the pool, she invariably stopped at the hotel’s safe to pick up the most enormous diamond ring we’d ever seen, and then she chose her chair and stayed there for the rest of the day. We were totally dazzled by the performance and finally Andre started chatting her up, but all I remember is that she was from Macon, Georgia and her husband had brought her to Palm Beach to buy the ring for their anniversary (perhaps, now that I think about it, at my friend Dudley Richter’s jewelry store).

On another Vogue assignment—to do an interview with the now almost forgotten Joseph Fiennes (star of “Shakespeare in Love” and brother of  Ralph)—I visited Nan Bush and the photographer Bruce Weber. Now, Nan and Bruce have the best taste of any two people I know, and their house, a bouganvillea covered bungalow right on the ocean in Golden Beach just a few miles past Miami Beach, is the one of the most perfect beach houses I’ve ever seen. It is also the site of some mighty fine lunches. I remember one, in particular, where masses of stone crabs had been brought in from the legendary Joe’s and the still glamorous C.Z. Guest was making bullshots. (The trick, she taught me, is to be sure and strain the beef bouillon through cheesecloth so there is absolutely no fat, and add some grated horseradish—fresh, if possible.)

Alas, I will likely not make it to Miami this month. But I can head to Seaside to my mother’s house, which, in a totally different way is as swell as Bruce and Nan’s, and for which I am eternally grateful. The beach there has lots of lounge chairs, but I’ll be toting my own towels and cooler. I’ll also be looking at some of the most beautiful sand and water in the world, so I can hardly complain. The former is whiter and more powdery than in Miami and the latter is such a transparent blue green you can see your toes. Instead of a bullshot, I’ll likely be drinking at least one Margarita. May 15 is the 25th anniversary of Bud & Alley’s, a rightfully beloved Seaside institution where sunset margaritas at the rooftop bar are a nightly tradition. It’s the perfect combination of Florida high and low, and I can’t wait to get there.


All That Jazz

Julia Reed May 3rd, 2011 — by:

It was at Jazz Fest twenty years ago that I made a series of (not entirely conscious) decisions that led to my becoming the full-time New Orleans resident that I am today. By Jazz Fest, I mean of course the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, a ten-day cultural feast that begins each year on the last Friday of April and stretches through the first Sunday of May. The highlights are always the two weekends (Friday through Sunday on the first weekend, and Thursday through Sunday on the second), when different musical acts play—simultaneously, all day long—in 12 tents or stages spread across the city’s fairgrounds. And then there are the extraordinary food stands (41 purveyors in all, who sell items ranging from Cajun duck po-boys to spicy crawfish sushi rolls) and very tasty frozen margaritas.

Every year on that first day, I’m reminded of my initial seduction, and I don’t have a single regret. This year was no different.  Tornadoes were ravaging my friends and neighbors across the South, but New Orleans, for a change, was spared nature’s wrath. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky or a single drop of humidity. My friend Keith Meacham and I arrived in time to check out the opening tunes of guitar genius Jeff Beck, moved on to the far funkier grooves of Ivan Neville’s Dumstaphunk, and finished the afternoon with three astonishing younger acts: Mumford & Sons, Justin Townes Earle, and The Avett Brothers. I was familiar with all three due to my almost constant car listening to The Loft on Sirius XM. But live, they were a revelation. All three bands, as it happened, had banjos, old-fashioned stand-up basses, and, in the case of the talented Avetts from North Carolina, a rocking cello, But none these guys were playing re-tooled bluegrass and they were anything but possessed of a cloying nostalgia.

I’ll let them all speak for themselves with the abbreviated playlist below. And I’ll keep you posted on the coming weekend’s highlights.


Jeff Beck

People Get Ready (with Rod Stewart), Flash

Nessun Dorma, Emotion and Commotion

I’ve been listening to Jeff Beck ever since his Yardbirds days and I never tire of his inventive licks and unbelievable tone. On “People Get Ready,” listed above, Rod Stewart sings the vocals, but at the Fest on Friday, no vocals were required—the notes did the singing. Last year, when Beck closed his set with Puccini’s great tenor aria Nessun Dorma. I guarantee that half the crowd had no idea what they were listening to. But they got it all the same. I’ve heard Pavarotti do it live at the Met, and this version was equally moving.


Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk, Everybody Wants Some, Live at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Yesterday, I had lunch with Mac McAnally, a musician’s musician who is a terrific singer/songwriter, session player and producer, who’s in town to play the Fest with Jimmy Buffett’s band. We’d both been at a ceremony in Mississippi earlier in the spring at which both Mac and Pinetop Perkins were honored with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. When Mac’s lovely 21-year-old daughter introduced herself to the 97-year-old Perkins (who passed away shortly afterwards, on March 21), he took one look at her and said, “I wants me some of you.” This song is kind of like that.


Mumford & Sons

Sigh No More, Sign No More

Little Lion Man, Sigh No More

Timshel, Sigh No More

Mumford & Sons, The Cave, Sigh No More

This band from West London opened their show with a fiery “Sigh No More” and closed out with “The Cave,” and there was not a moment in between that cooled. These guys write some great ironic love songs but even their more inward lyrics had only the broadest resonance.


Justin Townes Earle

Christchurch Woman, Harlem River Blues

Mama’s Eyes, Midnight at the Movies

Ain’t Waitin, Harlem River Blues

Earle is the son of Steve Earle and was named for legendary songwriter Townes Van Zandt, which is some serious musical baggage he not only lives up to, but transcends. He can do it all—“Christchurch Woman” is a moving love song reminiscent of his dad, but then he had me dancing along with the infectious “Ain’t Waitin.’”


The Avett Brothers

I And Love And You, I And Love And You

Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise, I And Love And You

I could have listed almost every song The Avetts played, but these are good starters. The trick though is to see them live—it’s worth it for the two brothers, of course, but also to watch cellist Joe Kwon in action. By the end of the show his bow was clearly shredded.




The Nuptial Season

Julia Reed April 26th, 2011 — by:

If the rich are different than you and I, then the British royals definitely are.  Queen Elizabeth is not only the Head of State of the United Kingdom and 15 other Commonwealth realms, she has a personal net worth estimated at $500 million, she gets an annual stipend of $12.5 million, and has the use of real estate valued at $15 billion. You would think, then, that this week’s royal wedding would be an extravaganza far, far different than the nuptial events of us mere mortals. But based on my close and frequent perusal of the official royal wedding website, it appears as thought it’s going to be sort of, well, normal. To borrow yet another overused literary reference, I’ve decided that like all happy families, most weddings—and the dilemmas they present—are very much alike.

First, let’s examine the guest list. The royal family, like most families with a divorce or two in the mix (which would include a huge majority of American families, since more than 50 percent of everyone who gets married also gets divorced), is saddled with some former in-laws with whom there is some serious bad blood. In this case, the pesky in-laws are the family of Princess Diana, who would normally be seated on the groom’s side. But in a brilliant move that we should all use henceforth as a model, they are safely being seated across the vast Westminster Abbey aisle with the family of the bride. Then, there are the required invitees. Among the many who cannot be snubbed are the governors general who represent the Queen in Commonwealth realms outside the U.K., a group that includes the Right Honorable Sir Anand Satyanand of New Zealand, for example, but not President Obama. Other must-have guests are members or various religious organizations, representatives of William’s charities and members of the diplomatic corps—a situation not all that dissimilar to my friend Elizabeth’s wedding to which she was forced to invite every single customer of the Bank of Leland (Mississippi), where her father served as president. Likewise, just before I cancelled my own wedding of 1000-plus guests, invitations had already been addressed to the entire congregation of the local First Presbyterian Church, most of my father’s political and business colleagues, and all of the bridesmaids and groomsmen from my parents’ own wedding. Considering that the Windsors have a few more responsibilities, their guest list of a mere 1800 seems comparatively modest.

Despite the huge number, Elizabeth’s nighttime event was really beautiful and a whole, whole lot of fun, featuring a lavish cocktail supper and a great dance band. Unfortunately for her, she missed most of it—by the time she and her husband finished greeting the masses in the receiving line, it was almost 10 PM and time to head off to the airport and their honeymoon. Again, I have to say that the royals have come up with an ingenious solution. Since the wedding is in the morning, they’ve planned a noontime reception featuring champagne and canapés. Not only is this elegant combination one of my favorites—when I finally did get married, the champagne was Churchill’s favorite, Pol Roger, and the canapés included cucumber and watercress sandwiches and crabmeat on toast—it allows the new couple to get all the official greeting and hobnobbing out of the way before a more intimate dinner dance with real friends and family on the same evening.

After the dinner dance, Prince Harry is said to be taking over some rooms at Buckingham Palace for a late night disco party. In this, again, I am reminded of Elizabeth’s reception, which, despite the departure of the bride and groom, continued with great gusto into the not-so-wee hours of the following morning and cranked up again at lunch, which in turn stretched into the evening. By that time, we’d run out of food and Elizabeth’s sister McGee and I were dispatched to the Wendy’s drive-through to pick up a few hundred dollars worth of burgers and baked potatoes for the grateful hangers on, who were in need of restorative doses of grease and potassium, respectively. I don’t know what Harry is thinking of putting on the menu, but ours was not a bad combo to emulate. In fact, Elizabeth took it up a notch when she served late night hamburger sliders and cones of fries at her eldest daughter’s deb party.

Other similarities between the royals and commoners abound. There will, of course, be an ornately decorated, traditional tiered wedding cake, but William has also requested his favorite chocolate biscuit cake, which sounds a lot like our typical chocolate grooms’ cakes (though it’s unlikely that it will be in the shape of an armadillo, a particularly obnoxious Southern custom my friend Bobby Harling immortalized in his movie Steel Magnolias). The one thing that will be different are the gifts. The royals, after all, have plenty of stuff already, so they’ve asked that in lieu of presents, donations be made to a list of charities found on the official site. In this, they are different that even very rich regular people. I am thinking in particular of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones who sold the exclusive rights to the photographs of their splashy Plaza Hotel wedding to OK! Magazine for more than a million dollars and kept every penny.

The rest of us actually need loot—I was very happy with the dozens of monogrammed cocktail napkins I received, as well as the odd pieces of silver (including a beautiful covered Sheffield covered vegetable dish from Hollyhock), and gorgeous Herend platters and serving dishes in the Rothschild bird pattern from Corzine & Co. If you are a guest during this nuptial season, a charitable contribution in the couple’s name is always very thoughtful, but you’d best be sending along a proper package tied with white satin ribbon as well. To help in this endeavor, Fetch offers up six terrific wedding present choices this week in Royal Registry. There’s also a recipe for a Pimm’s Royale. Mix one up and pour over the taped festivities—you might get some really good ideas.

The Naturals

Julia Reed April 19th, 2011 — by:

One of my many chores that happens to be a privilege is that I am board chair of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art here in New Orleans. On Thursday (April 21), we open a show that I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited about. It’s called “One World, Two Artists: John Alexander and Walter Anderson,” and the world in question is America’s Gulf Coast. In one of the essays in the book that accompanies the show, fellow artist Bill Dunlap points out that the territory of both men’s youths was still  “an idyllic Eden.” Anderson came from Ocean Springs, Mississippi and spent much of his time on Horn Island, a mostly untouched island ten miles off the coast, while Alexander spent his youth in Beaumont, Texas, a town on the Neches River that is linked by a channel to both the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway. The close proximity to—and intense fascination with—nature profoundly affected the work of both men in often very different ways, a fact that’s in lush and impressive evidence on the walls of the Ogden.

I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, several hours north of Ocean Springs, on the river and not the Gulf, in slightly less swampy terrain but surrounded by a lot of the same critters. Our yard was teeming with all manner of winged creatures, along with squirrels and rabbits, possums and coons, turtles and even, alas, the odd rattlesnake. (The latter is what comes of inhabiting a place that was an unpopulated flooded canebrake until several years into the 19th century.)

Like Anderson and Alexander, I too grew up fascinated by all things feathered and furry, but when I was 16 I couldn’t wait to head off to the decidedly more tame environs of Washington, D.C. and, later, New York. In my twenties, I fell in love with the first man I almost married, when he was Newsweek’s London bureau chief with an office in a very swanky building in Mayfair. He taught me a lot about his favorite urban pursuits and we spent a lot of time in some of the world’s great restaurants, museums, and jazz clubs. But in the letter in which he told me he loved me, he said he thought our real connection stemmed from a totally different sort of environment. He’d grown up in the Australian countryside, smuggling baby rabbits home inside his shirt. I once saved a baby rabbit from a neighbor’s dog that had just killed the mother bunny. It was so tiny it covered only half the palm of my then-small hand, but I saved it thanks to the infinite knowledge of another neighbor, Mrs. Yarbrough. The rabbit thrived and as soon as soon as it was big enough to make it on his own, we took him to a wooded area near a lake and let him loose.

Mrs. Yarbrough had six children and at least four times as many animals in her house and yard, including a longhorn steer and two Shetland ponies she’d saved from a rendering plant trailer and nursed back to health. These days, I think her menagerie is limited to dogs and cats, but a gorgeous family of red foxes has taken up residence in my parents’ yard just down the road, and there are so many birds (and bird feeders) that my father accuses my mother of throwing off the natural order of things by feeding them so well and so constantly. Both parents still rather touchingly rejoice over the return of a tree frog who takes up residence for a few months a year in a basket of ferns by the back door.

Though I am very happy with my life in New Orleans (where the only resident animal is our precious beagle Henry), I still miss the wilder climes of my youth. I think that’s why I’ve always been such an avid collector of nests and feathers, shell and horn—all bits of things that look as though they could have come from the paintings of Anderson and Alexander. I have a lot of the latter’s work, including a huge mad oil in my dining room that features crabs and catfish and even a buzzard, but among my very favorites are a delicate pencil drawing of a cardinal’s head and a watercolor of a dead finch.

The good news is that via the museum’s show we can all reconnect with the part of ourselves that might have stuffed bunnies in our shirts when we were children, or collected shells and clandestinely fed the squirrels and coons. There is, in fact, a great bunny in the show, Anderson’s wall hanging of a Buck Rabbit, and a great many other creatures from oysters and alligators to pelicans and ducks and even the odd monkey. But the art is about more than that, of course—it’s about a rawness and a wildness that we are sadly losing, as well as both men’s passion for it.


In the Garden

Julia Reed April 12th, 2011 — by:

Last week, the Garden Conservancy’s Society of Fellows held its annual meeting in New Orleans and the members, men and women from all over the country, visited some of the area’s most impressive gardens. I was among the hosts—but for dinner, thank goodness, not an official tour, and they mostly viewed my garden in the dark. Still, it was a tad nerve-wracking to have those august arbiters of gardens around the globe on the premises, and enough to send me outside for weeks ahead of time pruning, potting, and planting.

Actually, I was grateful to have the excuse to get my hands on some clippers. The first garden I had that was not a fire escape or a balcony was a lush double courtyard in New Orleans’s French Quarter. (It was so lush, in fact, that when a Francois Halard, the great French photographer, arrived to photograph the slave quarters I lived in for Vogue, the first words he uttered—after an sharp intake of breath—were “Mon Dieu.”  But not because he was so impressed. He was worried about how to take a picture of a house so obstructed by the branches of citrus and jasmine I’d gone crazy planting and the Rose of Montana vine that crisscrossed the place. In the end, he shot it with all the lights on, at night.)

Anyway, that garden was a total balm to me, as well as a release. Until, then, whenever I wrote on deadline, I either smoked like a fiend, or made like a goat and chewed up whole sheets of paper, an appalling habit I’d picked up in grade school. But on Bourbon Street, all I had to do to clear my head and get a new gust of inspiration was to wander out the French doors of my office and pluck all the yellow leaves off the gardenia. When things got really fraught, I’d chop down huge armloads of the bamboo that always threatened to overtake the back patio.

When I moved to the aptly named Garden District, I got a bit more therapeutic outdoor space than I bargained for, so I enlisted the help of my friend, the brilliant landscape architect Ben Page. Ben came down to take a look at our long-neglected new yard and told me what I’d already feared: that we’d have to gut everything but the 300-year-old live oak and start over. I knew Ben was my guy when he spent the first hour of his visit inside—looking out every window to get a feel for the views. Gardens, after all, can be among the best works of interior art. Five years into it, I love what I see outside each window, but of course, almost every vista also drives me crazy.  My eye inevitably goes straight to the dead blossoms that need pinching, the cross vine going way too crazy on the dining pergola (one of my favorite of Ben’s many innovations), the spiny caterpillars chomping on my passion flower. The good news is that I always have an outlet for my frustrations. In fact, I think it’s time I go deadhead the day lilies and limb up the pittosporum.