Saturday, February 28, 2009

The True Herald of Spring

He was the legendary harbinger of Springtime. everything a Robin should be, sitting fat and cocky atop my back garden gate, fully aware of his beauty as he turned his perfect head this way and that as if to give God Himself the opportunity to appreciate him in his best light. Impressive, yes.... a handsome creature to be sure, but alas, he could tell me nothing.

I look up, up and notice how the ancient oaks and poplars now appear pale-green, dandelion-fuzzy in the penthouse levels of their skyscraper dizziness. I have seen the smiling saffron faces of the daffodils as they wave to me each morning when I tie back the lace curtains over the windowseat. I have even spied a bunny in the moonlight. But delightful as they are, and try as they might, they have no real news to give.

The Arthur Rackham calendar on my office wall quite confidently declares that Spring will arrive during the month that begins tomorrow, but it is laughable to believe it. For the seasons pay no heed to the calendars of men; give no credence to his schedules or his expectations. They run a celestial relay all their own, handing over armloads of lovely hours to their successors when they alone decide the time is right. It is pure folly to think it will be on the same day each year.

One must watch carefully, must always pay attention, for the true herald of Spring is found in neither flora nor fauna but rather in a certain ephemeral, almost invisible, quality of light. It can appear on the coldest hour of a March afternoon, or as late as an April dawn, but if one is watching closely, one will see. The sharpness of the clean winter light will have melted round the edges, become more watery somehow, more suitable for the quiet illumination of a rose. Then and only then will Spring be here.

I once returned in April from a ten day trip out of the country. As I sat down my bags and walked into the kitchen, I could see it clearly. The light had changed. It was a languid light now that floated through the house like an etude, no longer the crisp light of Winter that had pierced my windowpanes just the week before. Spring had arrived and I had missed it. I resolved to never let that happen again.
So, I am watching.
Are you?

A Light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That silence cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.

It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.

Emily Dickinson

Painting: Spring, 1913
by Eric Harald Macbeth Robertson

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Inventions

Over the past week I have received three emails from friends who have just lost their jobs. Serious jobs, too, jobs that seemed secure. Being self-employed, I suppose I cannot really lose my job - I sort of am my job. But when those who once hired me are now contacting me for leads themselves, I know something troublesome is afoot. While I am truly encouraged to see the way our new president has grasped hold of the reins of this runaway coach, I know it will take a while to pull it up to a comfortable pace for all the rattled passengers inside. Indeed, even when this downhill ride has reached level ground, the economic landscape seen outside the windows might look a bit unfamiliar to us all.

All this has led me to think about reinvention. I was speaking to a friend a couple of weeks ago, a woman full of optimism and industry who thinks this is the perfect time to start a new career, to take a chance on an idea that might have been simmering on the back burner of one’s mind for ages. Her enthusiasm was infectious. It made me think anew of the old adage, “necessity is the mother of invention”. Perhaps, for some of us, this financially fitful time represents the impetus we have waited for. Too many people of my acquaintance work away everyday at jobs they truly despise. They look wistfully at the Songwriter and myself and say if only they could get up every morning and love what they do. Of course, we hasten to tell them that self-employment is quite often far from a bed of roses, but they are difficult to convince. Perhaps this current situation, though worrisome and rocky, may serve as a bit of a reshuffling of ideas and goals, of priorities and dreams. Perhaps, just perhaps, there are people like my friend, who will see this time as the fabled fork in the road they have longed for, a magic moment to reinvent their lives, to create a new venture, to realize a long held dream.

Invention, it must be humbly admitted,
does not consist of creating out of void, but out of chaos”

Mary Shelley

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Alchemist

Watching the Academy Awards is a tradition for me. Popcorn, comfy pajamas, fire in the fireplace....all the necessary accoutrements for a long and entertaining evening. I usually make an attempt to catch most of the nominated films, but this year I fell woefully behind and shall try to catch up over the next couple of weeks. One I did see, however, and found to be amazing, was Doubt. Engrossing, with blistering authenticity and truth, it contained four peerless performances. Of course, I am unabashedly a fan of Meryl Streep.
I well remember being in Paris in 1981, walking down the street past a newsstand and seeing her on the cover of Time magazine. It was a winsome photograph, but I don’t know why it stands out in my memory. Funny, but I can still see the sunlight that dappled the road that day. I have followed her through the years from a farm in Africa, to a hilly seaside town in Greece, from Auschwitz to Oklahoma, Lyme Regis to Madison County, from a courtroom in Australia to an editor’s desk in New York City. She possesses the ability to create another person so completely one would expect even her fingerprints to have changed in the process. She brings people to life in such a transcendent fashion as to give one a real glimpse into the inner workings of other minds, other souls. In doing so, she enables us to understand our collective humanity just a wee bit better.
How does that happen? I am grateful for the mystery. I don’t want to know the secret to how it’s done. I am just grateful Meryl Streep does it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pure Magic

I sat in traffic on a rainy day, absorbed in browsing through my treasured album of mental pictures, searching wistfully for a fair and carefree place, a moment in time or imagination to pluck from my memory and disappear inside, far away from the gloom of the unfolding afternoon. Lost in thought and miles away, I slowly turned to my left and... I saw him. Standing alone in the middle of the asphalt ocean of a bleakly empty car park, like a perfect pearl pendant on a cashmere grey sweater. A Seagull. Hundreds of miles from the sea. As astonishing a sight as a kelpie in the supermarket or a unicorn on Main Street. He calmly held my gaze for a moment or two before stretching out his grey white wings, lifting up in the air and flying away through the mist. I watched him go in open-mouthed amazement. No one else seemed to notice and I wondered for a moment if indeed, only I had seen him, if he had popped through some enchanted portal as a feathered epistle, a reminder to me alone. If so, I am grateful he took the time. For the sight of him was a lovely gesture and served as an admonishment to me to always remember the pure magic that is in floating about in the world for those with eyes to see, that even though a dismal rain may be falling all around, somewhere a warm wind is blowing and sea gulls are calling out to each other over glittering blue- green waters.
How could I have allowed the gloom of the day to overtake me?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Favourite Chair

This photo is on my desk at all times, within an easy gaze of my eye. To me it is a therapeutic talisman. When I am on the phone, or with my head bent over a particularly exacting piece of work, it is such the welcome distraction and certain antidote to any stressful emotion I could possibly conjure forth. I simply stop, put down my work, and stare. Slowly, softly, I begin to remember the smell of the moist, salty air rising up the hill from the sea, on the wind I hear the bleating of the ewes just past the fence and I sit down for a moment in that little chair, tilt back my head and let the sun shine its golden light onto my face while that remarkable wind blows every care I could ever have far, far away. If I have the time, I just might venture inside. Oh, I know the magical interior of this modest stone building isn’t visible in the photograph, but it is there in technicolour in my memory. Like walking inside a fluffy kaleidoscope, I see the wooden shelves, floor to ceiling, stuffed with rainbows and colour wheels of hand-dyed yarns. The sheep outside have a distinct right to sing out loudly, for it is their own wool that helps to supply this wonderland, wool whose colours are dyed from the flowers and herbs that grow along the old wooden fence. I have knitted a scarf or two from these fabulous yarns, but this past autumn I decided to add a few more arrows to my quiver and enrolled in a couple of serious, no fooling around knitting classes. Two of them. It had been one of those annual resolutions that never seemed to get done, until this year, and what a grand time I’ve been having. Who knew knitting was so much fun? I now find myself looking forward to evenings spent by the fire with needles ablaze. So the next time I walk through this magic little door I will be ready for much grander things.
And believe me, I cannot wait for the next time.

Waternish, Isle of Skye

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On A Night Last Week

Was I really supposed to sleep? With a moon like that one dangling up in the sky above my window? A moon that sang out to me in a silver aria from behind a wispy veil of winter cloud that draped across its face like the tissue-thin lampshade of a glowing Chinese lantern. This moon lantern that radiated a cool light, that illuminated every surface of my room as if midday in a ghostly story of old. Was I really supposed to pull the covers up under my chin, fold my hands, close my eyes? Not to get up and sit in the window seat to watch? If so, I should have missed seeing the shadows dance a graceful ballet around the poplar trees. Missed hearing the mockingbird as he eerily sang half a stanza of his favourite tune before realizing he’d been fooled by this trickster of a moon into believing the dawn had come early. I would not have noticed the cavernous quiet that dwelt underneath this abalone moon, an absence of sound found only deep inside the dead of a moonlit night. Oh no, I had to be a witness to this moon this night. Had to sit enraptured beneath his gaze and confide a few tiny secrets to him alone, and eventually to drift away to sleep, grateful he was keeping watch.

In all of spangled space, but I
To stare moon-struck into the sky;
Of billion beings I alone
To praise the Moon as still as stone.

And seal a bond between us two,
Closer than mortal ever knew;
For as mute masses I intone
The Moon is mine and mine alone.

From the poem Moon-Lover by Robert Service

Friday, February 13, 2009

If you have it, you don't need to have anything else.
And if you don't have it, it doesn't matter much what else you have."
J.M. Barrie

"Ain't it the truth!"


Happy Valentine's Day to All!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Designing Thoughts

I have an unabashed love of exuberant rooms; those creative and colourful interiors that speak such engrossing volumes about the individuals who live within them. To me, there is nothing more enticing than a home filled to pop with books, collections, patterns, textures, antiques, paintings, flowers and dogs... rooms artfully arranged - a bit dramatic, and eminently comfortable. The English Country House style, although admittedly fictionalized a bit, has always made my heart sing and it is a style certainly reflected in my own home. This of course does not mean that I cannot appreciate other avenues and other approaches to design. Indeed, one of the more enjoyable challenges of my profession are the projects that require a jump or two outside my personal taste and total immersion in another. I have created many varied interiors for my clients, from all white romantic country to sleek sophisticated urban, but no one could ever call me a minimalist. The straight lines and stark colours of the minimalist style leave me a bit chilled. It appears I have a kindred spirit in the British furniture designer, Mark Wilkinson. Known best for his gorgeous kitchens, Mr. Wilkinson has a rollicking interview in the latest issue of The English Home; an interview that left me nodding and chuckling a bit. Here is his quote on the reason why he is not a fan of minimalism. While I would not express myself quite as stridently as he on the subject - especially in that first sentence - I do think he has a wonderful philosophy on the importance of interior design as the vital art form that I feel it is.

“...Minimalism is a kind of emotional bankruptcy...a refuge for those who do not understand the grammar of ornamentation or the symbolism of colour. I can see and make an argument for design being the most profound and enlightening of art forms. A play or piece of literature by Shakespeare is very effective, a painting by Monet or Van Gogh especially is shudderingly expressive, a piece of music by Rachmaninoff, by Elgar, by John Lee Hooker, whomever, can be very effective, but you don’t live with the piece of music playing in your ear. The voice of design is softer. It doesn’t have the same volume of other artistic mediums but it is all-powerful and all-persuasive by virtue of the fact that it is there subliminally all the time that your eyes are open. If we put people in surroundings of wonder, they express that sense of wonder, of beauty, of joy and that’s what you should be doing with design. Why create an environment that says, “I’m not here to look nice cluttered.” I want to walk into an environment that says, “hello mate, been working hard all day? Take off your shoes, that’s ok...”

The photo above is of the famed Yellow Room of Nancy Lancaster and is often referenced as the definitive example of English Country House Style.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Warm Day

It was a gift unexpected, but a gift to be sure. It arrived on our doorstep unwrapped but so welcome that, to our eyes, it appeared swathed in a gossamer silk, festooned with a garland of pearl. After the four coldest days of the winter, a tiny, sweet gift of Spring. Adorned with a cloudless azure sky , it was warm and still - a hint, a mere glimmer, of May. No matter our plans for the day, it was a gift we could not wait to open, for who knew when it would come again? We threw down the usual and made for the trees, where we spent the afternoon roaming though forests and meadows still deep in their winter sleep, still robed in cloaks of muted grey, for they were wise enough to know this gift was only meant for one day. The winter air which had only yesterday slapped our cheeks with icy fingers, now floated placidly round us as we walked, too tame to trouble even the tiniest leaf left on the tiniest tree. There were no flowers, no green, no fragrance of Spring, and the light that sliced through the bare oaks all around us still bore the sharp slant of a February sun. No matter. For just when we had begun to think that Mother Nature had abandoned colour and warmth for good, she bestowed a gift of a few warm winter hours to let us know that, no, she has not forgotten Spring. Her gift was but a sweet reminder that no matter how frozen the world around us might appear, warm days will soon arrive. So, we ran and we ran, and Edward was difficult to hold back as he tugged at his lead in excitement and pulled me along through the fair afternoon.
It was a delightful gift, and how happy were we to open it.

I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one:
Sing robin, sing:
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.

Christina Rossetti

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Crystal Clear Memories

A client once told me that I had “a photogenic memory”. This declaration was made funnier by the fact that she was totally unaware of her slip of the tongue. I do possess, I suppose, I bit of a photographic memory, which makes me a bit wary of the things I choose to watch or read. For instance, gossipy television shows can be a nightmare. Who wants to remember the hangdog hearthrob some obscure starlet was pining over months, even years, after the fact? Old bank account numbers, old phone numbers, long discontinued fabric patterns and paint colours... these are rooted in my head like English Ivy, despite my fervent wish that they vacate to make room for higher cogitation. But memory is one thing impossible for me to harness with any degree of success. Indeed, I often ponder the crystal clear memories I have of places that do not exist at all. Let me explain.

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of a much longed for holiday is found in the anticipation before the fact. Given my ardent love of houses, where we choose to stay is a seriously vital part of any trip we plan. The time I spend reading and considering the history, the location and decor, of a particular country house or inn is incredibly fun. When I finally light on my choice, and make my reservation, I can “see” the place in my head... down to the last detail of the bouillon fringe on a curtain pelmet or the muted pattern in an inherited Aubusson. I can follow the path of the early morning light as it falls through the diamond patterned windows in my bedroom, see the delicate blush on the loosely arranged garden roses in the blue majolica vase atop the piecrust table - I can hear the tune the wind plays as it breezes through the ancient elms that line the winding drive. The only thing is... these enchanted places do not exist. They are figments, technicolour and photographically detailed to be sure, but pure imaginings created in the paisley patterned maze of my own mind.

Happily, when the anticipation is over and the date of my departure finally rolls around, I arrive at these longed for destinations to find that their realities rarely pale in comparison to my dreamed up versions. I am always quite happy with what I find existing here in the real world. But, funnily enough, my conjured rooms and hallways, my imagined gardens and green-tinged aspects, still remain; vividly so. I can call them to mind at will, even now, like the faces of old friends. This causes me to wonder if, someday, on some other side of a veil, I might, just perhaps, visit one of these places. Perchance, I may one day stroll over a pink-hued hill and gaze down upon a familiar view. It is possible that I may enter through an oft-seen stone archway, climb a well-remembered stair and follow a known hallway into a room I call my very own. And I just might stay awhile. Who knows?

I shut my eyes in order to see.
Paul Gauguin