Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The Fan

Ladies born and bred in the South do not perspire.  A falsity oft repeated as fact, this old chestnut falls from the moss-draped trees that once surrounded those grand plantations of yore, where proper Southern girls would arrange themselves on verandas crowned with painted blue ceilings, with a cool glass of lemonade in one hand and a delicate fan in the other.  This misty image still hovers in myth, solidifying in the modern age only upon movie or television screens.

For those few who may still hold up that symbol of the marble-cool Southern lady as an attainable standard, this is shaping up to be a summer of extraordinary challenge.
It is hot.  Stifling, smothering - almost unbearably,  hot.  For the first time in memory, the hydrangeas that encircle my cottage - all 54 of them - have suffered the loss of their extravagant blooms.   Colourful, fat and blowzy were those blooms in May -  sad and brown are they now in July, fried to a crisp in this unusual heat. There will be none for drying; no lovely chartreuse hydrangeas to grace my wreaths this Christmas.   Chic summer ensembles hang ignored in my closet, pushed aside day after day as I reach, once again, for drawstring linen trousers.  Wearing my hair down  is unthinkable.  Make-up?  Please.

And then She arrives.
  Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, spent five and a half of the hottest hours on record in New York City this past week, and spent most of them outside, under a blazing sun that made lesser mortals faint dead away on the pavement.  Clad in a floral suit, matching hat, stockings, pearls and white gloves (gloves!!), she calmly greeted the Mayor of the city and graciously spoke to some of those who had braved the torrid heat to see her, remaining all the while, totally unruffled, cool as the inner seed of a cucumber, not a bead of sweat upon the royal brow. 
 Mind over matter. 
 She puts me to shame.

Not long ago, my Mother gave me an old, old fan that had  belonged to my Scottish great-grandmother St.Clair. Beautifully handpainted, and remarkably well preserved in spite of its hundred year age, I keep it by my favourite chair, within easy reach when I come in, limp, from the garden.  I think of the women who, down through the ages, have cooled themselves off  by the breezes it makes, exactly the same as I am now.  Amazingly, it does that job rather well.  There is an elegant quietude that descends when one uses a personal fan.  Cooling and relaxing all at the same time, it can be nearly meditative.  I can almost, almost, imagine one of those wide Southern verandas, almost feel the cold glass of lemonade in my hot little hand. 

Could it be that Her Majesty has a beautiful fan of her own?  Perhaps one owned by her own Scottish mother?  I do recall seeing portraits of both the first Elizabeth, as well as Queen Victoria holding one in their hand - a cool breeze at the ready, always prepared.
Maybe I have finally figured out what she keeps in that handbag.



It’s all to do with the training:  you can do a lot if you’re properly trained.
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II 


Painting by Marie Spartali Stillman, Self-Portrait

41 comments:

  1. She is marvellous, isn't she? I don't have much time for the Royal family to be honest, but The Queen, (God bless her) is pretty special. I think the fan is a little like the wheel - it needed invented and cannot really be improved on. Hope the weather turns for you soon. (We are finally having a few overcast days after a little heat spell, but nothing like yours, I imagine).

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  2. Beautifully written. If only I could be as cool as The Queen in all this heat.

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  3. The Queen is lovely, indeed, the model of propriety and grace. . .

    . . . and you, the queen of images. So lovely a post.

    A dear friend's daughter was married in an outdoor ceremony at a park with no tent last year. It was August and THE hottest day of the year. A beautiful bride and a beautiful wedding, in spite of the blistering heat. We all sat with our gift of the day - fans my friend made as favors. All were employed that day to keep us cool and a darling reminder of, are your ready?, her daughter Elizabeth's wedding.

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  4. I'm with PG on this...have come over the years to admire the Queen and love my little palm leaf hand fan I use on the sun porch to help the breeze along...

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  5. Sadly, they simply don't make them like that anymore.

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  6. She is quite the marvel! I watched footage of her, here in Canada, and I couldn't believe she wore gloves - bless her. I think you have cracked the mystery of what she carries in her handbag!

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  7. My daughter took an entire class at The Academy of Vocal Arts on the fan. Apparently, there was a whole lovely language in the various movements and positions of the fan, back in the day. Fascinating stuff.

    (I'm ready for woolly socks weather, btw)

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  8. lovely thoughts..
    beautiful post..
    and yes, the Queen herself is pretty special!!!
    and don't we all love fans, front porch swings and rockers..
    and tall glasses of icy cold tea or lemonade.
    warm sandy hugs..
    Loui♥

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  9. I couldn't get over the hats she wore! Amazing things!

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  10. Yes, she is brilliant, isn't she? Considering that she is well over eighty now she keeps going for long hours - and, as you say, in that heat. I think she has trained herself over the years to be like this. I read her schedule for that day in New York - I would have been worn out by mid-afternoon.

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  11. it was amazing wasn't it!?, I thought very similar thoughts as I watched her on TV - your heat does sound a bit on the extreme side - poor Edward

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  12. Your descriptive words are superior, leaving me with a dozen lovely southern pictures. Cerebrally.

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  13. Who is in the picture at the top? I know someone who resembles her greatly.

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  14. How sad to hear this about your hydrangeas. I have many surrounding our home as well and we are rich with leaves and one delightful blue blossom. Every year they have been stunning with hundreds of puffy blooms... this heat is playing tricks all the way around. I hope it cools off shortly for all of us.

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  15. I heard once that the term used in the south was that women 'glow' instead of perspire.

    It's proper for the Queen or anyone else from the upper class to wear gloves and a suit to any function.

    Actually, if one wears a summer weight wool jacket and trousers or skirt they will be much cooler than if exposed to the elements or in lighter garb like linen. It keeps the wall of heat and humidity at bay. I find in the hot humid days in Toronto that eating halepeno peppers daily in sandwiches or salads helps my body to combat the effects of the heat.

    Fans are a must, and I think every lady ought to carry one, even these days.

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  16. I have been using fans for years, first on the hot subway trains in New York, and lately to cool myself off between tangos.
    When I was in Madrid, I was charmed by men in business suits using small neat black fans.
    Loved this post... It's a refreshing as the air wafting from a lady's fan...
    xo xo

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  17. We have great admiration for the Queen and how she maintains such grace and elegance, but more than anything we are so impressed with how she has honoured her commitment to the position she inherited, and through such changing times....!

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  18. I am absolutely certain that she does have a beautifully painted and jeweled fan in her handbag.

    P.S. I was hoping for a photo of your inherited fan, Pamela.

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  19. Fans are vastly under-rated and need to make a comeback. Aren't they wonderful?

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  20. Seated next to my very own father at a December wedding behind a bevy of young things sporting strappy evening dresses, my father whispered, "Do you think they are cold?"
    I replied, no Dad, I think they are young and hot. Therein lies the answer, youth are hot and the elderly are cool as cucumbers. The Queen has has all the proper training to withstand the heat.
    pve

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  21. My Grandmother always said a horse sweats, a man perspires but, a woman glows beautifully. Obviously the Queen is just glowing...... beautifully!!!!!

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  22. It has been an odd summer. Days of low humidity followed by days of high humidity, followed by days of low humidity, etc. The common denominator? Heat. Sigh. Pass me some lemonade and a fan.

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  23. Pamela, it is essential that a porcelain queen such as you are needs her grandmother's 100 year old fan. I expect Elizabeth does not perspire, nor faint, nor - indeed - does she fart.

    Thank you for your visit to my rather somber blog last week. In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It then bursts into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be deeply thankful for those people who rekindle our inner spirit. And I am – so very thankful for the gentle and generous words you wrote for me on my ‘Stormy Weather’ post. Friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine – and almost always because of friends. I’d love to send you a linocut I made to thank you and to celebrate the very special friendships we are able to create around the world via this amazing blogosphere. Please email me with a snail mail addy – I’ll have the picture matted and in the mail just as soon as I hear from you.

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  24. I love where you went with this. I imagine it is even hotter for the Queen, since it rarely gets as hot as Hot-lanta in England.

    Your poor hydrangeas. Ours are doing all right, but it's not as hot here as where you are. They are so gorgeous, fresh or dried. So sad.

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  25. I always carry a fan when I go to a ball, for elegance and for fanning myself between dances (not kidding, Scottish Country Dancing is alive and well!)
    Lovely post.

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  26. living over the pond i have always dreamed of a wrap around veranda...sitting on a swing bench..cool lemonade and watching the world go by....lovely!!!
    we have rain today at last on day that i don't have to water the garden..so sad about your hydrangeas...xx

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  27. Very hot and humid here too! Yep I think the Queen has had special training on how to keep cool and beat the heat, funnily enough natural fibre gloves, hats and dare I say it underwear! are supposed to help keep you cool, this could be one of her secrets.
    XXX

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  28. Pamela such a terrific post. My mother always..always would say just that, 'women don't sweat'. It was her perfect excuse to not participate in any exercise or sport. Being the daughter of a Army Col. she did spend time as a child in the South. Makes sense now. I love how you ended with Queen Elizabeth. I am off to enlist in some fine training! Great Wed. to you ~

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  29. I am a women who does not sweat (or perspire or even glow) because I never expend enough energy to require a cooling off! Nevertheless, the Queen is a product of a long line of monarchs who spend their whole lives practically NEVER showing what they are feeling at any given moment. You can bet that even if she were to faint from the heat, she would do it with grace and dignity!

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  30. My hydrangeas are sharing the same fate, sadly. It is unbearable to be outside unless we are at the pool... where I glisten.

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  31. The old painting is very beautiful and, as always, your writing is great.

    xo
    Anci

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  32. Our queen does have a remarkable ability to retain her cool in all climates and circumstances. She must have a fan.

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  33. Dahling!!!Had you never heard before that ladies NEVER sweat?

    Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire and ladies merely GLOW!

    I subscribe to carrying fans in Summer, I have a whole collection to replace my antique and camphor wood lovelies that succumbed to the fire.

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  34. You have my deepest sympathy with regard to the heat..I don't cope well but fortunately we haven't had to suffer like you. It may seem so from the news as its all very London biased but we Northerners have to endure heat less.I really don't know how HRH does it. Maybe she has supercooled underwear?
    I expect it will be cold next week when I will be in Windermere for a couple of days.

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  35. Thanks for this tribute to HM and the fan, Pamela. Even if those demure Southern Belles are now a figment of the imagination, just conjuring the image will hopefully bring a little of their serene coolness!

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  36. My mother always taught me that 'Women glow, men perspire and horses sweat'. As for the Queen's handbag, she does keep a few pounds in there apparently. Though I'd imagine there's also a bar of soap in there, to wash out her husband's mouth with when he puts his foot in it ;)

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  37. Mrs Queen is quite amazing.

    I was charmed by the gift my teenage son brought me from his recent holiday in Spain - a beautifully carved fan. Unfortunately there's been no call to use it so far this Scottish summer.

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  38. She is an Example To Us All - I am reminded to go and clean the catbox, as both the cat and I are to some extent trained.

    Ah, but will either of be able to play the piano?

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  39. This is where I have to admit that although now a dual citizen (Britain and America), my pride in being British takes center stage. My Queen is one amazing woman who has done her job admirably, and yes that's what it is, a job, and she works very hard at it, from the day her father died and she succeeded to the throne. A few slips here and there, think treatment of Diana both before and after her death, but on the whole strong and unwavering in her position as Queen. GOD SAVE OUR QUEEN! There will never be a future monarch who can live up to her standards that's for certain.

    Lovely post Pamela and, like you, I'm in tears over my hydrangeas and was just mentioning today I will have very few, if any, blooms to dry this Autumn......just about all are brown and fried, a first but hopefully the plants will survive and come back next Spring.

    Today was a killer here - I went 'junking' but had to give up when the temp. in the un-airconditioned shop I was in hit 104 degrees......and I do declare my dear, not a fan to be found!

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  40. she looks amazing and happy. When you think of all she has been through, in the public eye.

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  41. The Queen is a very special lady - who would think that she is 84 years old. Always she is impeccably turned out and always cool, calm and collected. Fans are remarkably effective on a hot day so perhaps she does have one tucked away somewhere:)

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I love to read your comments! Each and every one!