Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Into The Past

Into The Past

Imagine you are walking on a crooked little street deep in the heart of Paris. There are puddles floating on the cobblestones like lily pads - they linger from an afternoon shower, reflecting the glow from the street lamps that line your pavement path. Weary of your romantic sensibilities being patronized and misunderstood by your more literal companions, you have finally taken your leave and are now, quiet blissfully, alone. Pausing by some ancient stone stairs, you listen as somewhere a clock strikes midnight. You start at the the sound of a car making its way round the corner and turn to see a yellow Peugeot Landaulet pulling to a stop at your feet. The automobile door opens and you are invited inside. You peek into the lavish, upholstered interior. You gaze in at faces from long, long ago, faces belonging to your idols of the past - Ernest, Zelda, F. Scott. You hesitate, but only for an instant, before climbing aboard this transport to another age.
This is a scene from the wonderful escape of movie, Midnight in Paris, and it actually made me ache with envy. Oh, just imagine! It is a hot summer afternoon and I have just left the library to begin the walk back home, when a car such as that pulls up to the curb, the door swings open, and I bend to look inside. Just what would I see? Which past era holds for me such fascination, such longing, that I would happily jump right inside? Whose are the faces that would peer back into mine?
As a child I was enthralled by Elizabethan England, and how I would love to sit down for a chat with that most formidable lady. To stroll along the Nile in conversation with Cleopatra. To take tea at Haworth parsonage with Charlotte, Emily and Anne. To sit talking with Churchill as he painted by the river in Marrakesh or to follow Edith Wharton round her garden in France. Imagine arguing over lunch at Charleston at the height of the Bloomsbury days, or strolling the Ringstrasse in 1880’s Vienna in a silk lilac dress. I could play in the dusty streets of 1930‘s Monroeville, Alabama with Harper Lee and Truman Capote or perhaps sit silently in the corner of Oxford’s Eagle and Child pub on a Tuesday morning, listening to members of The Inklings discuss their latest works. I could witness a performance of Henry V in the original Globe Theatre before the Puritans torn it down. Or perhaps visit The Cavern in Liverpool to listen to four local boys perform their new songs.
So many choices, just where would I go?
Like so many romantics, for most of my life I have been utterly convinced I was meant for another time. A time more gracious, less crowded. An era in which nature far overshadowed steel and concrete and the popular music of the day was Mozart, Gershwin or Bach. The movie, Midnight In Paris, understands how universal and constant is this longing for a golden age, for in the movie, even those from the past seem to long for the past.
As L. P. Hartley so famously wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.
Differently yes, but better, I don’t know. Would I trade my world of air-conditioning and antibiotics, indoor plumbing and iPods for one in which I could easily die from both a visit to the dentist and the plague, where I had to wash my clothes on a rock and couldn’t keep my favourite coffee ice cream in my kitchen freezer? Probably not. But that is exactly what makes the life of the romantic such a happy one. We can always dream. We can close our eyes any time we like and step inside a totally different, completely golden, era. Perhaps we would not choose to stay, but a visit would be lovely.
So, if that big yellow Peugeot pulls up beside you tomorrow, just who would you see sitting inside?
Just where would you wish to go?
Etching above by C.F. Barry

Thursday, June 23, 2011



No soothsayer came to warn me, no brightly coloured oracle perched upon my windowsill two weeks ago to apprise me of my fate. There was no alteration in the skies floating far above my cottage roof, no ominous clouds to obscure my perpetually rose-tinted view. I suppose it is doubtful I would have properly believed such a warning had I heard it clear. If I had been told I would soon be ill and confined to my bed for two weeks, I would have pictured myself propped up comfortably on crisp linen sheets, clad in soft cotton pajamas, a stack of captivating new books at my elbow and a consistently hot pot of Darjeeling beside me at all times. There might have even been chocolate involved. I would have imagined myself talking on the phone to friends far and near, watching old movies, dozing occasionally and perhaps coughing delicately into a daisy embroidered hankie every now and then.
How could I have possibly imagined the repellent malady that crashed through my door and attached itself to that vision of ladylike illness like a iniquitous barnacle, refusing to budge over the whole of two weeks. For what began as a irritating summer cold turned into acute bronchitis, an infirmity I have never had before and do not wish to ever have again.

On the ninth day, I finally got myself to the doctor and received several big red pills along with come oddly coloured cough medicine, a concoction that brought me as close to hard drugs as I shall ever come in my entire life, I am sure, but one that does work.  And finally, just today, I feel more like myself.
I have to thank you all so much for your get well wishes and fabulous tips! I have written them all down to save! Mentholatum on the bottoms of the feet?? Who knew? Actually, the suggestion from Angus was my favourite and I can assume it failed only because I used Talisker instead of Macallan. At any rate, as I said, today I feel much better and, while I do not pretend this experience was anything other than unpleasant, there were a few notes of interest I discovered along the way....

1. Edward Loves Honeydew Melon.
As he spent most of every day and night in bed alongside me, and as honeydew melon is one thing that feels so good to someone with a sore throat, naturally Edward got to try some.
He actually grinned.
So from then on, it was... “one for me, one for you”.

2. Technicolour Dreams
I’ve always known I dreamt in colour, but this week was unbelievable.
Bright, almost neon, dreams. And so intricately detailed.
Could it be that cough syrup, do you think?

3. A Migraine Just Makes Everything Worse

4. Summer Not Such A Bad Time
It is common wisdom that summer is the absolute worst season to have a cold. But honestly, I think that’s only true if you have to get outside. If you have the luxury of staying indoors in the air-conditioning, you can be completely comfortable and besides, who wants to be out in this sulky heat anyway?
If I were missing a gorgeous Autumn day, or a bright pink Spring morning, or a bracing Winter afternoon, then I’d really be upset.

5. Things Go On Just Fine
Even though I couldn’t possible ask for a better nurse than The Songwriter, for the first few days I was sick, I still attempted to direct things in my normal fashion.... “This needs to be done by then, They need to be called then”.... “Don’t forget this!... Oh remember this!”. After a couple of days though, I began to just not care as much. Truth is, The Songwriter is more than capable of handling whatever comes his way.
So from my spot curled up in bed, I could hear the jingle of dog leads and car keys and I knew life was continuing on just as it should. Bills got paid, dinners got cooked. The garden got watered, birthday cards got sent.
It’s really quite a relief to occasionally realize you are not so completely indispensible.

6. Media Vacuum
Watery eyes and a foggy brain made reading less than enjoyable whilst I was sick, and I did hate that.
But being media illiterate for a couple of weeks actually felt rather nice.
I mean, I missed the entire Anthony Weiner debacle.
Almost, almost.... worth getting sick for.

Like most girls who read Little Women, I always identified with Jo. Fiercely intelligent, feisty, independent - she was the March sister we all wanted to be. But after these past two weeks, I have found much more for sympathy for Beth.  Languishing in her upstairs bedroom, weak as a kitten, whilst everyone else bounced all around her. Poor dear, it’s not all that much fun. Pitiful Camille, tragic Mimi, little Nell. For two dreadful weeks of bronchitis... these were my people!
But now I am tired of the consumptive Keats and Bronte.
I can feel the stirrings of new energy bubbling up between my bare toes like ocean foam.
I want to go see some new movies!
I want to catch up on my favourite blogs!
I want to cook! I want to eat!
I want to buy a new lipstick!
And I must get Edward some more honeydew melon!
I am finally out of bed!!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

In Bed

In Bed

Someone tossed me a vile summer cold
and unfortunately, I caught it.
“Three days till you’re better”, was the old, tired-out line
and unfortunately, I bought it.
Now eight days have past
and I’m still here in bed.
Kleenex on my night table
Cool cloth on my head.
Trying to read,
the words swim on the page.
Trying to sleep,
my cough starts to rage.
Edward stays faithful -
at my side night and day
Not even a walk in the park after dark
could successfully tempt him away.
Soon ideas and bright colour
will return to my head,
but for now, please excuse me.
I've gone back to bed.

Do send me your favourite remedies for the dreaded common cold.
Anything short of rubbing duck fat on my chest, I just might try.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summer Reading 2011

Summer Reading

It was Sunday morning and I’d just finished an interesting article about Bunny Mellon when I spied it, lying crisp and unread in the center of the travel section. The N.Y. Times Book Review. Always intriguing, but this time fatter than usual and bearing those two delicious words that are pure catnip to any avid reader: Summer Reading. My heart skipped a beat. Snatching it up like a treasure map, I poured myself another cup of coffee and hurriedly made my way back to bed to appropriately savour this once a year treat.
I suppose if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you’ll know that I consider every season of the year the perfect time for reading. A winter night spent curled up by the fire, with a hot mug of tea at the ready and Edward settled companionably at my feet while the winds blow round the cottage like a tempest.
Autumn, when often the best place to read is outdoors under a crimson tree, snuggled inside a cozy sweater newly released from the wardrobe, with soft sunlight falling down through crisp air, scattering gemstone -coloured shadows all over the grass.
And what could be better than foxglove and tulips trying to read over your shoulder as you read in a garden on a splendid spring day?

Yes, every season is the perfect season for reading. But I have to admit, there is just something about summer books that sets them apart in my mind. Maybe this is a result of my childhood journeys to our big downtown library to choose books for my summer holiday from school. I’d stand there in that cool, cavernous place, utterly awestruck by the sheer volume of choices available to me. Leaving with my arms full of my bounty, I’d discipline myself not to peek inside any till I returned home. Then I would carefully consider the covers of each before choosing the one to read first. I’d tuck that well-chosen book under my arm and make my way to my favourite reading spot - a tall leafy sweetgum tree in the backyard - and summer reading would commence.
That excitement over summer books has continued unabated throughout all my years, and I still search for, not only the perfect book, but the perfect spot to read it, just as I did years ago.
Here are some books I’m dying to read this summer, paired with the places I’d most like to read them. As always when I write about books, I’d absolutely love to hear what you’re planning to read during your summer reading months, so do share!


Chaise Lounge Books
Beside my bed is a chaise lounge that Edward and I often share. It’s a cozy place to read and it's where I retreat with book in hand. Frequently, when dinner is cooking, I’ll settle there for just a quick chapter or two.
These are the books I’ll take there this summer, books easy to dip into and out of on a busy afternoon.


Cafe Books
We are fortunate to have a charming cafe within walking distance. When the weather is pleasant, I often stroll up there with Edward and a fat book. I sit outdoors under the hanging baskets of red flowers, nursing a cool drink, nibbling on a salmon salad and reading the afternoon away.
Edward people watches.
I cannot think of a better locale to read these next three books. Even if my cafe is not on the left bank.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: After finishing McCullough’s book, I know I’ll have to reread this one!
Paris: Made By Hand by Pia Jane Bijkerk


Southern Books
The low country of the south is an enigmatic place in the summertime. It beckons you close with its beauty - greenly waving marshes, live oaks wearing dresses of grey Spanish moss - while at the same time warning you off with its smothering heat and brain-addling humidity. My favourite city in the low country is Beaufort, South Carolina. Beaufort nestles between Savannah and Charleston and abounds with both the gothic mystery of the first and the gracious gentility of the latter. The Songwriter and I have been known to escape to a gem of an inn there even during the most sultry of summers. In this lovely establishment there is a room painted the colour of granny smith apples. In the summertime, when white linen slipcovers replace the brown velvet of winter, ivory orchids catch the light and the air smells of lemons.
Here is where I’d like to be to read these fanciful stories which promise to reflect the otherworldliness of the summertime south.

Swamplandia by Karen Russell
Raney by Clyde Edgerton - A reread, but so southern and so much fun.


Spooky Books
There is an inn of the coast of Scotland that faces the Irish Sea. Surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides, it is stunning place any time of year with a parlor that just happens to be one of the best spots for reading I’ve found. This room would be the ideal place to read spooky stories during a angry summer storm, preferably around midnight, when a flash of August lightning illuminates the waves crashing over the jagged rocks in the cove.
Here are the books I’d reach for on a Scottish summer night like that.

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson
The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins
Sister by Rosamund Lupton


British Inspiration
When I was in London in February, I met the lovely Jeanne from Collage of Life for breakfast. (I wrote about that visit here) She was kind enough to share with me one of her favourite places to visit in London. “You simply must go”, she said. “And have lunch there! It’s beautiful.”. Fortunately, I took Jeanne’s advice and around lunchtime, I grabbed a cab to the heart of the West End where I had the most delightful lunch in the glass topped cafe of the Wallace Collection.
A true treat, and the perfect place to read these books.


Books To Get Lost Inside
I often escape to an inn on the beach and many, many wonderful books have been read there on its big wooden porch by the sea. This is the view that I have when I chance to lift my eyes from the page.
This setting calls for engrossing stories - sagas, epics and page turners.
Here are the ones I’ll take this year.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - This one is always by my bed. Time to reread it, again.
A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles: I’ve heard great things about this book. Sayles directed one of my favourite films, The Secret of Roan Inish, and I’m curious to read his work.
Night Waking by Sarah Moss: A writer sequestered in the Hebrides, trying to find time to work. Right up my street.

And finally,
Once again I plan to take down My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - it's an every summer read!

Remember now, do please share yours!!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Bird's Advice

The Bird’s Advice

I suppose it is foolish to stand in this doorway.
After all, I have seen the photographs of nature’s recent fury, destruction hateful and horrible to behold. I can imagine the well-coiffed local weatherman in my mind’s eye, his scowl an indication of his extreme disappointment in the disregard I am paying to his warnings of late. “Stay inside, away from windows and doors”, I hear him chant, over and over again.
Meaning him no disrespect, I have chosen to take my advice from the birds who are, even now, flitting and frolicking in the face of a wind that whips through the garden like a toreador’s cape. Clearly unafraid, they ride on great gusts that are swelling and swirling down through the maples and up from the blue salvia beds, a whirlpool of wind that sounds like a major key symphony from nature herself.
A few fat raindrops hit the ground beneath the lamppost. Like fresh fallen eggs, they plop and they splatter, one here, one there, heralds of the legion soon to follow.
Then the storm takes a deep breath, a pause before the water falls white from the skies. The birds play in earnest now, robins splashing through puddles, crows dancing with needles blown free from the pines.
Suddenly, the wind finds me in my place at the door. It ruffles my collar and grabs hold of my hair. It brings me the fragrance of clean laundry, of beach sand, of cedar. Thirsty for its wildness, I close my eyes and drink it in.
It occurs to me then, I am just like my father. He who never heeded the bad weather warnings, making his way instead, in haste, to the nearest open window, the closest way outside, to stand awestruck in the face of a storm. Did he, like his daughter, sometimes long to shed the quotidian cloak of domesticity and become one with the unanswerable freedom flying fast past his door?
Did he occasionally take advice from the birds?

painting above: Arthur Rackham