Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Intruder

The chaise lounge that sits in my bedroom is covered in stars.  Woven into the red tapestry, this fanciful constellation calls out to me on a dreary afternoon, beckoning me to “Come, Sit Awhile, Have a Daydream”.  I cannot resist.  With the April sun hiding behind thunderclouds of grey, a brisk wind plays through the chimes that hang round my open window like spring icicles, their sound a bit muffled now that the rose bush is in bloom. I plump up the pillows behind my head and crack open my book.  No new best seller, no trendy tome.  No, this is the perfect day for climbing that winding drive up through the dark wood, past the wall of blood-red rhododendrons, on round the corner where the sea can be heard, crashing on the rocks far down below the garden.
  I am on my way to Manderley again.  
I am rereading Rebecca.

Perhaps he will not appear this time, choosing instead to remain in his place, deep in the shadows of the black and white world to which he so rightfully belongs.  But just as I read of his fated arrival in that dining room in the Monte Carlo hotel, there he is.  I can see him now clearly, sitting just across the room in my tufted leather porter’s chair, with his suede clad feet casually resting on my Indian ottoman, the smoke curling up from his pipe, and a faint furrow of worry etched across his handsome brow, just visible over the top of his newspaper.  Maxim de Winter, as played by Sir Laurence Olivier.  And once again, I am reminded.  Always, always read the book first.

Rebecca was one of my mother’s favourite movies and therefore I saw it with her on television long before I was fortunate enough to read Daphne du Maurier’s atmospheric prose for myself.  So naturally, when I finally got around to opening the book, there he was, Sir Laurence, on every page.  I could not get him out of my mind.  Not that that’s such a bad thing, exactly, for he did play the part extremely well.  But rarely does a film match the unique images one sees in one’s head when reading a book.  Everything about the character, from their pattern of speech, to that mysterious look in their eye, or the way their hair ruffles in the wind - on the very first reading each individuality appears for you and you alone, complete, and never to depart.  Pick up a beloved book years later, open it up, and there they’ll all be, those well-known characters, wandering around in the rooms you remember, where the autumn sunlight falls on the patterned carpet just so, and one lone rose petal drifts down from that vase on the piano, softly hitting a key like the whispered sound of a bell.

But be aware, see a film before a book, and so often, try as you might, you cannot stop the actors from striding onto the stage of your imagination with an arrogant sense of entitlement towards the characters they have portrayed.  Close your eyes, grit your teeth, they remain, and no doubt it is a testament to their prodigious acting skills that they do.

For those of us who saw the movies before we read the books, is it possible to pick up a copy of Gone With The Wind and not see the lovely face of Vivien Leigh?  Can Breakfast At Tiffany’s stand alone, without the irresistible presence of Audrey Hepburn traipsing along through its pages?  So intertwined are these actresses with their literary counterparts they are almost woven into the very fibers of the books from whence they sprung.  Conversely, whenever I reread Wuthering Heights, try as he might, Lord Olivier has no effect on me whatsoever.  Having been fortunate enough to have read the book before I ever saw the film, my Heathcliff remains true to my original vision, his wild face one only I can see.  It matters not how brilliant Olivier was in the film version.  My imagination is untouched.

I’m not saying books should never be turned into film.  Just that books are generally always superior.  Read them first, give your imagination a chance.  Then enjoy the movie.    Of course, I suppose there are worse things that spending an afternoon with Sir Laurence.  
But I swear, if Joan Fontaine shows up, I’m off to do the laundry.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mother Nature

Off in the distance I see them, rising up before me, a wall of sleeping giants wearing garments tailored in Oz.  Like a metallic thread of silver woven through their viridian overcoats, the road winds through these mountains, and I follow it until I eventually vanish deep inside Mother Nature’s masterpiece of peacock and lime.  I turn my phone off.  I turn the music up louder.  Ambrosial air drifts in through my open window and with a gentle hand it brushes my face with the spirit of honeybees, bluebirds and moss.  I am happily hidden inside the verdancy of a mountain Spring.

She rules this kingdom of earth with a mercurial wand, forever amused by our schedules and plans.  Just as I am being led deeper and deeper into a sylvan paradise, others are looking up to the sky where an angry hydra of smoke and ash holds them to the ground with a force as fixed as gravity.  She is both admired and feared, and rightfully so, for the same capricious hand that fans me with picnic breezes and hangs shimmering stars in my midnight sky may also hurl a screaming gale out over the glen, causing rain to fall sideways and trees to bow down in the face of her absolute power. 

But oh, what an artist she is!  With her magical paint box overflowing with infinite colour, her orchestras of birdsong, her lightning bolts, her moonlight, her auroras - she kindles Atlantis on this bouncing blue ball that hangs suspended in the cold astral darkness. And today, as I make my way through her heart-stopping painting of green, I am only too happy to be but one of her insignificant subjects, singing along to the music she plays all around me.


My perfect play list for a long, long drive through Mother Earth’s green mountains of Spring:

*all downloadable on iTunes

Rollin’ Home by Old Blind Dogs
First Train Home by Imogen Heap
Windmills Of Your Mind by Noel Harrison
Mother Nature’s Son by The Beatles
Been To Canaan by Carole King
White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes
Blackbird by The Beatles
Witchcraft by Frank Sinatra
Under The Weather by KT Tunstall
L.O.V.E  by Nat King Cole
Mercy Of The Flame by Pat Terry
Catch The Wind by Donovan
You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger by Beth Rowley
I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love by Petula Clark
The Glow Worm by The Mills Brothers
Saturday Night At The Movies by The Drifters

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Just Don’t Know....

I have never been one to appreciate groups.  I see individuals banding together under banners and signs, tight little clutches of the like-minded, wearing buttons, spouting slogans, and I begin to squirm like my dress is too tight.  Cliques, clubs, and labels?  For me, they represent too small a leap to pigeonholes, boxes and  prisons.    I wrote about this in more detail and with a nod to what might, just perhaps, be the genesis of my awareness of this part of my personality once before, here.
 Visiting some of my favourite blogs recently has cause me to think about this anew.  I find some of them to be so well-organized ... their blogrolls put together with all of the confederated blogs lined up neatly under appropriate headings.  I look over the sections and realize that my little blog really fits nowhere at all.  I sigh.  Although I started this endeavour as an offshoot of my interior design business, I soon found it to be such a delightful escape from that, that I packed my knapsack and began wandering down a multitude of divergent paths.   I soon rediscovered my love of writing, a love ignored for far too long, left to twiddle its rosy thumbs underneath the sketchbooks and fabric swatches atop my cluttered desk, wondering if I would notice it ever again.
So now, even though I sometimes write about interior design, that is certainly not the focus of this blog.  I write about books and the occasional film, but not exclusively.   I write about food and fashion, flowers and birds, Edward and hoot owls and ... crickets.  
But what, pray tell, am I?
Where exactly do I fit?
Does it matter?
Probably not.
If only there was a category for eccentrics.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Hole in the Sand

He was the universal boy, his mirror image easily found at play under the bright blue diadem of sky that stretches over every beach on the planet.  Armed with more than his share of mischief, wheat-coloured hair all tousled, he spent the whole of the afternoon digging holes in the sand, as focused as a mole.  I had watched him from over my knitting, smiling occasionally at his inexhaustible focus upon the task at hand.

Later that evening, as I was running with Edward along the very same plot of warm sand, my ankle found one of those newly dug holes, and I spun through the air like a top.  My friends, it was a spectacular fall, with a landing worthy of a photograph album. Fortunately for my ego, The Songwriter wasn’t quick enough on the camera to formally document my moment of grace so you’ll just have to trust me on the vividness of its theatricality.  

Now I know it’s a cliche, but true nonetheless -  whenever one falls it always feels like slow motion.   It seems to take forever, all those strolling seconds, each one spent in fearful anticipation of the unavoidable landing to come.  But this time was different; this time I was laughing.  You see, Edward is a joy to watch at the seaside - he runs with such happy abandon, knowing not what this strange, windy place called The Beach is really all about, knowing only that he loves it with a passion.  He tosses his head, he jumps in the air, he gambols like a lamb on a hilltop.  It is impossible to canter alongside him with a serious face.  So yes, I was laughing outloud as I fell.  No fear whatsoever.  Just laughs.  Laughing when I fell, laughing during my fall, and all through my inelegant sprawl in the sand.  And it was though I had landed on feathers.  No pain, no soreness - not then, not later.

Afterwards I thought that surely this must be the secret to a happy maneuver through our time here on earth.  If only we could manage to banish fear from our lives, just think what a world we could have.  When one digs through the hard clay of racism or opens the trap door of hate, there lying at the bottom, half hidden, lurks the malignant knot of fear, sending out dark ribbons of anger to bind up our souls and paralyze our minds.  Fear of change, of failure, or of the unknown, fear of illness, of loss, or of death -left unchecked, these can malevolently influence so much of our judgment. Where we live, where we holiday, the person we marry, the person we vote for, our choice of careers, even our faith - all can be so sadly shaped by fear that they reflect nothing of our true selves, and nothing of the truth.

Did my lack of fear throw a blanket beneath me to soften my fall at the beach?  No doubt I was more relaxed without its yoke around my neck as I fell, so maybe it did.  Could the absence of fear make all of life’s falls a bit gentler?  
It may be a lifelong process to banish fear from our lives, but surely it is one worthy of our undertaking.   
Just imagine what we could all do without it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

After The Rain

Though I had sailed too far inside my dreams to notice, it must have rained in the night.  As I step onto the deserted beach this morning, the evidence is clear, each tiny raindrop has left its impression, transforming the carpet of sand underneath my barefeet into a tufted tapestry the colour of buttermilk.
The sun has opened his brilliant eye just above the horizon, sending a million white-robed saints to follow his gaze out over the shimmering water, a glowing triangle of light that causes me to shield my eyes under the palm of my hand.
Mother Nature’s jewelry box lies wide open at my feet, revealing an array of shell-shaped ornaments,  glistening like abalone, opalescent baubles that sing of the sea.  I greedily pocket my favourites.
It is the anniversary of another personal voyage around this shining sun; the birth of my very own new year, and with the crash of each wave, this magnificent setting seems to demand from me serious thought, ruminations on where I have been and where I might wish to go - my plans and hopes for this fresh year that stretches out like an uncharted pathway before me, with no footprints or raindrops yet marking its sand.
 But just now, at this moment, I feel a distraction from these heady thoughts; an insistent stare from a pair of honey brown eyes, a stare that overides all other feelings, a stare intent on conveying to me only one thing. 
Play. With. Me. 
And I realize I can think of no better wish at the dawn of this year than one full of laughter and play. 
Just a four season romp in the sunshine with those whom I love. 
A long carefree morning after the rain.
A happy birth day indeed.

"The Stare"


Thanks so very much to all of you for your sweet birthday wishes.
  They were a treat to find upon my return. 
 I have the most wonderful readers!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

“Break, break, break,
On thy cold grey stones, O sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.”

a quotation by Alfred Lord Tennyson 
a sentiment shared this week by Edward

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Birthday
Edward and I are off to the island this morning for my birthday!
 While we are walking the beach in the moonlight, reading Our Mutual Friend, sleeping late, eating strawberries by the fistfulls, and knitting with the most amazing green wool, please enjoy this wonderful poem by my favourite poet on earth, Mary Oliver.  Her gorgeous words beautifully sum up my view of the world not only on this, the day I was born, but every day of the year. 
Much love to you all!

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less
kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over
in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant -
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

By Mary Oliver

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Cricket

It is a room bedecked with an overgrown canopy of William Morris Chrysanthemums that flourish along its sloped ceilings and gather themselves into flamboyant bouquets inside its quirky corners.  A multicoloured star light sways above a capacious iron bathtub that is painted all over with echoes of Morris blooms, its silver clawed feet resting on checkerboard tiles of limestone and glass.  Though Edward can often be found dozing on the stone tiles during bath time, it is a room that is principally mine.  It is my bathroom and I adore it. 

Lately however, I have been sharing my sanctuary with someone else.  Someone that normally I would find most unwelcome.  A cricket.  Not the adorable sort of fellow that aided Pinocchio in his quest to become a real boy, the one with the lovely voice just made for singing songs about star-wishing.  No, no this is another sort of cricket entirely.   Known for its spooky long limbs and its more than irritating habit of jumping high, high in the air.... onto curtains, into beds (!)... this is a Camel Cricket, a creature so ghastly that not even Walt Disney himself could manage to make it adorable.

Whilst soaking in my bathtub one evening last week, I peered up over a honeycombed mountain of bubbles and spotted him.  A horrid little fellow, sitting placidly on the molding where Morris meets beadboard, gazing innocently over in my direction.  Perhaps he thought eye-contact might serve to save him from the usual fate of his kind; a quick squashing beneath an out of date issue of Vogue.  Indeed, that was my plan, but as I lay there looking at him, looking at me, I decided to just let him be, reasoning that he’d probably hop away to places unseen by the morning.  

But no, when I came in before breakfast, there he was.  On another wall this time, but I knew it was him.  The same insouciant look in his eye, the same flick of his feelers in my general direction.  A wave, perhaps?  So, our relationship began.  He has been greeting me each morning now for a week, watching with interest as I attempt to transform from a sleepy, untamed fright to an acceptable facsimile of charm and grace.  He laughs.  He knows my secrets.  He is no Jiminy Cricket.  But then, I am no Blue Fairy.

But this morning I noticed he has begun to get bigger.  Big enough to jump.  Big enough to jump into my bedroom if he chose.  Big enough to jump into my bed?  I glanced over at the silver magazine rack to see Gwyneth Paltrow smiling serenely, and conveniently, down at me from her place on the cover of an old, old issue of Vogue.   However, after brief consideration, I declined her offer, finding it is difficult to murder someone who has studiously watched you put on mascara for a solid week.
 So, placing a water goblet over my friend, an slipping a tissue under his belly, I gently carried him out to the garden.  
And oh, the stories he has to tell!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Light

There are those who still wait on the hillsides, their weary eyes fixed on the far eastern sky.  They stand with their hopes linked to all of mankind as they watch for signs of the dawn, each of them longing to see, once again, the promise, the holy confirmation, as the darkness disappears in the presence of the light.   Slowly, the aurora emerges along the horizon like the casual opening of a seraphic eye, casting prismatic rays out over the landscape, painting a lanquishing world with the colours of joy. 

Mingling mystery with memory, the light travels through gardens graced with cherry trees weeping in candescent blooms of pink. 
 It blazes through cathedral windows, their picturesque puzzle pieces trembling with the resounding hosannas of song.   
It illuminates the stage sets of my memory with ephemeral beams that shine down on my father as he once again places an Easter gardenia into the palm of my hand. 
It warms with a radiance that remembers the best of our future whilst turning to ashes the worst of our past. 

 Be they twisted and coiled as the back of a serpent, or a continuous ribbon of white flowers and moss, this beacon still shines upon all of our pathways  -  no stone can eclipse this light.  
And we may follow it, singing, up over the hillsides, 
on up through the clouds, 
all the long, long way back,
 into Canaan.

Friday, April 2, 2010

 Chocolate Babka Baking Day

Every holiday carries with it a happy, and highly personalized, assortment of traditions, any one of which, if left by the wayside, would render the holiday simply unacceptable.  It’s amazing how many of these traditions center around food.  If you don’t know what I mean, at your next Christmas dinner, just try putting cornbread stuffing on the plate of someone raised on oyster stuffing and observe as their expression changes from quizzical to disappointed in a flash.  In our family, it wouldn’t exactly be Christmas without my chocolate fudge - I make batches and batches for an ever-lengthening list of lip-smacking souls who are known to complain loudly if they are forgotten.  
Traditions are important.  They tie us to the best of our past, they contribute to our uniqueness, and they can also be expanded as the years go by.  For instance, for the past few Easters, I have been baking Chocolate Babka.  A truly delectable treat, the recipe makes three loaves of the sweetest, most chocolatey, utterly delicious concoction you can possibly imagine.  I keep one loaf for The Songwriter and myself and give the other two to different friends each year.  It’s a treat to share and has, in just a few short years, become an Easter tradition.  

This year, I have been anticipating Babka making more than usual, for I was anxious to try an intriguing ingredient recently given to me by a friend who had brought it home from her trip to Morocco in February.  She bounded into my kitchen one afternoon proudly holding aloft a shimmering green bottle containing a liquid the colour of saffron and gaily informed me that she had discovered this baking elixir in a market near Tangiers.  She declared it to be a truly amazing secret, one used for centuries.  Supposedly, just a few drops added to any yeast dough would create the most heavenly results imaginable.  No, she didn’t know exactly what it was, but she’d already tried it and swore to me it was remarkable.  Although skeptical at first, I had to admit, her enthusiasm was contagious and, as I knew my friend to be an excellent baker herself, I soon found myself looking forward to stirring a few drops into my upcoming Easter Babkas.

Babka baking day dawned warm and breezy, the most sublime weather for such an involved culinary activity.  I opened all the windows, put some Bach on the stereo and began to work, Edward lying on the kitchen rug, as usual.  Once the dough was all mixed up, I pulled out my tiny green bottle and held it up to the light.  I took out the small cork stopper and gave a sniff.  No scent really.  “Oh, what could it hurt to try it”, I asked the dozing Edward.  I tipped it over and watched as one, two, three, fat drops of shiny, sun-coloured liquid plopped silently into the dough.  Giving it a few extra kneads, I placed the babka in a large red bowl to rise.
Soft winds were flowing through the house, Bach was quietly serenading  in the background, and Edward was still dozing... so I decided to curl up in a downy chair with a book.  From there, gradually, I began to smell something odd.  Flowers?  Perfume?  I couldn’t quite work it out.  I walked into the kitchen and peeked at the rising babkas.  Startled, I saw not only that they had already risen double in size, but they also seemed to be a slightly different colour than expected.  Rather pinkish gold.  “This couldn’t be right, could it?”,  I asked Edward who, as usual, did not audibly reply.  Reasoning that I had come too far to stop now, I went ahead and divided the strangely hued dough into three pans and placed it in the oven to bake.  And that’s when the trouble started.  

The babkas had only been baking for five minutes or so when an overwhelming smell began to permeate the entire house, the distinct scent of Casablanca lilies, not at all unpleasant, but most unexpected.  So powerful, it seemed to be emanating from every room at once.  Edward woke up and stared pointedly into my eyes. I padded into the kitchen at stood in front of the stove, wondering.  Through the glass window of the oven, it seemed as though I could see an occasional flash, little sparks of light that appeared to be changing colours.  “Perhaps I’m getting a migraine”, I said to Edward.  But he just stood up and gave me a disapproving look over his left shoulder and trotted out of the house.  As I edged closer to open the oven door there came a sound that caused me to instantly step back.  What was that, voices?  That’s what it sounded like, high-pitched and rather sing-song, but definitely voices.  All of a sudden the Bach that had been playing so softly in the background rose to a deafening volume and...... April Fool!


While yes, this was all a fabrication, the bit about my traditional Christmas fudge and Easter Babka is true.   Babka making is taking place in my kitchen this week and, although the kitchen smells of chocolate and cinnamon instead of lilies, the windows are open, Edward is dozing and Bach is playing in the background. 
For those of you who might wish to make Chocolate Babka yourself this year, HERE is the best recipe I've found, and the one I use each year.
Have fun, and Happy April Fool’s Day!