Monday, September 30, 2013

We Shall Return

We Shall Return
There are winds that blow round the Isle of Mull.  Exhalations from the ancients, they spiral and corkscrew down through the hills to coalesce with their brethren billowing up from the sea.  At approximately eleven-thirty on the morning of Monday the sixteenth, one of these winds rode the back of a crashing wave to hit the green hills like a reprisal.  It whorled round the turrets of Glengorm Castle, twisting and spinning up one side and down, till it spied an unsuspecting Songwriter standing alone in a patch of green grass down, down, far below.  Homing in like an arrow, this gust of Scottish wind made for the hapless fellow, knocking his cap off and sending it dancing like a taunting laugh down the hill.  Instinctively, The Songwriter made for the chase and in less than a second his world turned on a dime.  His ankle was broken in three places and the game, pardoning the pun, was afoot.....
I was waiting in the rental car for The Songwriter to take a photograph when my mobile phone rang.  Glancing down, I noticed it was him.  Strange.  I looked out of the car window and saw a sight that shall be forever burned into my brain.  Our innkeeper, Tom, was helping The Songwriter, who was white as a ghost and clearly in pain, back up the drive.  A call to the doctor, instructions to meet her at the hospital, and the car keys were placed in my hands.  Never having driven in the UK before, I swallowed hard and took the wheel.  
The hospital on Mull is a small one and, unfortunately, their x-ray machine was broken.  But one glance at the offending ankle told anyone with vision that it was every bit as broken as that machine.  An ambulance was called to take us on the ferry to the next hospital in Oban where x-rays were taken and dispatched to Glasgow.  The answer came back almost immediately.  “This chap needs surgery; get him here posthaste.”  And so.... another two hour ambulance ride later, we found ourselves at the door of the emergency wing of the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland.  It was here that the enormity of our situation began to dawn on me.  Clearly, The Songwriter was to have surgery.  All of our belongings, and our car, were back up on the Isle of Mull, three hours away.  How long would we be here?  Who knew? I am humbled to say that there was a baby in the emergency wing and every time the poor thing would cry, so would I.   I had the presence of mind to phone our doctor back in the states for some information and reassurance, and then my iPhone battery went dead. 
The Songwriter was taken to a ward at four-thirty in the morning.  The nurses then turned to me and said, “Goodbye!”.  “What?!”, I stuttered?  “Where exactly am I supposed to go?”.  As gently as possible, they informed me that, unlike American hospitals, there was nowhere for me to wait; no vacant sofa or chair in the whole of the building where I could stay.  Nothing.  Visualizing myself on the streets of Glasgow with nothing but the clothes on my back must have given my already pale visage a unearthly glow, for they took to the phones in an attempt to locate a hotel room for me.  This proved difficult as there was a conference in town and all available rooms were booked.  Finally, one lone room was unearthed at the Holiday Inn Express by the airport and I squared my shaking shoulders, applied a fresh coat of red lipstick, and climbed into a taxi.  I fell across that Holiday Inn bed, heart thumping, for a scant hour and a half.  (It is here that I reluctantly admit a crime.  I asked the nice man at the desk if he had an iPhone charger.  He gave me one and....well... I stole it.  Sort of like those nuns in The Sound of Music who stole the car parts from the Nazi’s so the Von Trapp's could escape over the mountains?  Not a fair analogy, I know.  But I’ve since mailed it back, so I hope I can be forgiven.  I was fairly desperate, after all.)
I rose at first light, (more lipstick) and called another taxi to take me back to the hospital where I donned the often obnoxious persona of the over-confident American and strode right past those nurses, into the ward, and straight to The Songwriter’s bedside.  I pulled the curtain and waited for the doctor’s visit.  A very impressive surgeon soon appeared, along with his entire team, and gave us both a detailed description of the operation soon to follow.  Words like “pins” and “plates” were bandied about and before I could take a deep breath, it was time for me to leave once again.  There was no room in the Holiday Inn for this night, so I set about trying to find another room on my own.  I did, in a refurbished hotel on the other side of town, one known, supposedly, as an excellent venue for weddings.  As there was no place for me to wait during The Songwriter’s surgery, I left for The Lynnhurst with a heavy heart.  He’d never had any type of surgery before.  What if the anesthesia turned him into a muffin?  
I fell on my back on the overstuffed bed and it was then, as I lay there staring into space, that a maintenance man strode into my room and I realized with a start that my door didn’t lock.  Frankly, I couldn’t have cared less.  The Songwriter texted me when they were taking him down to surgery.  I tossed and twisted for three hours then, (more lipstick), headed back to the hospital.  I arrived at the ward about five minutes after he’d been wheeled back in and found him grinning and laughing with his fellow patients, all of whom had similar injuries.  There was a member of the House of Commons who’d fallen off a sea wall, a golfer who tripped over a stone marker.  There was a fellow who’d fallen hailing a cab, and a carpenter who’d taken the term “hand saw” a bit too literally.  They’d renamed their ward, Stalag 23, and seemed to be having a whale of a time.
The breaks were clean and the surgery had gone well.  He was on crutches and I was told by both doctors, Scotland and stateside, that he should not immediately fly back home.  He needed to rest with his leg elevated for a few days.  So, I went back to The Lynnhurst where I pushed a chair up under the unlockable door, and waited, thinking feverishly, till morning.  Feeling a strong kinship with Frodo Baggins, at first light I went back to the hospital to say farewell to the still smiling Songwriter, made my way to Queen Street Station in Glasgow where I applied more red lipstick and boarded the eight o’clock train to Oban.  Then the ferry to Craignure, back on Mull.  I found where I’d parked the car and, taking a deep breath, drove the hour’s drive back up the island to Glengorm Castle where the innkeepers, Pam and Tom, took incredibly good care of me that night.  A hot bath, a change of clothes, finally.
Providentially, on our first night in Scotland we stayed at a wonderful place called Barcaldine Castle where we met a delightful couple at breakfast.  The four of us bonded over our love of our dogs and the wife gave me her card so we could stay in touch.  As it happened, she runs a highly respected chauffeur tour company in Scotland.  Knowing I wasn’t skilled enough to drive myself back into Glasgow, I had fished that card out of my pocket in the hospital and called her.  To say that she took over is a blessed understatement.  The following morning I packed up our bags, loaded the car and drove back down the island and onto the ferry.  Pulling off in Oban I spied a handsome, avuncular Scot standing there in the rain, holding a sign with my name on it.  He opened my door, took the keys from my hand, and told me to settle in for a backseat nap.  Upon arrival in Glasgow, he carried our luggage up to the ward, shook The Songwriter’s hand, gave me a hug, and returned our car.  Amazing.
As it was imperative his ankle remain elevated, I booked The Songwriter and myself on the Caledonian Sleeper train from Glasgow to London and the hospital provided a taxi to take us there at ten-thirty that night. We settled in like Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint, me in the top bunk and him in the bottom, and slept like logs till we pulled into Euston Station at seven in the morning.  A taxi to our beloved Draycott Hotel where we were tucked into a charming pale blue suite and given breakfast.  The next several days saw The Songwriter partaking of room service and watching BBC movies.  I managed to use our theatre tickets to see Vanessa Redgrave in Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic, as well as wander through St. James Park and spend entirely too much money in the scarf department at Liberty.  We boarded a plane bound for home on Monday morning,The Songwriter in a flat bed seat, and are now recovering under the watchful eyes of Edward and Apple. 
We have much to be grateful for, not the least of which is that The Songwriter did not break something which could not be fixed.  I will be forever grateful for a good friend who was traveling on business in Istanbul when I reached him and who texted and called me hour upon hour, helping me feel much less alone and more confident.  I am grateful for our doctor back in the states whose texts and phone calls were frequent and reassuring.  I am grateful for a husband who is always smiling, always funny, always optimistic.  I am grateful for travel insurance.  I am grateful for landing in the hospital that sees all the fallen hill walkers who come down from the Highlands and that consequently has a fabulous orthopedic surgery. I am grateful for our two dog-sitters who take such wonderful care of Edward and Apple, giving us no cause to worry on that front. And most of all, I am grateful for the Scottish people who were so unfailingly kind, so unbelievably helpful, and who treated me like family at every single turn.   
We shall return to Scotland when the cast is off.
And I hope Cate Blanchett plays me in the movie.

Glengorm Castle
Chauffeur Tour Scotland
The Draycott Hotel
Barcaldine Castle
and last but not least, my favourite red lipstick... Dior Addict #987

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Something Special

Something Special

I have always been fascinated by the marriage of art and domesticity.  Whether we realize it or not, each one of us is in the process of creating a work of art by the way we choose to live.  Colourful or bland, eccentric or traditional - it is up to us and us alone.  The joy in my design work through the years was found in aiding my clients in the translation of their true selves into their surroundings.  I gently urged them whenever I could to adorn their homes in ways that truthfully represented who they were and what they loved thereby creating a dwelling that could become a nest, a sanctuary, a home.

It was a thrill to find the ghosts of kindred spirits inside the charming rooms of Charleston House when I was there in May.  The farmhouse of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in Sussex is well-documented in stacks of art books on the Bloomsbury period, but to wander through it alone on a late Spring afternoon is a delight unparalleled.   Vanessa and Duncan painted every surface, from doors, to floors, to fireplaces.  They designed the china, the fabrics, the lamps.  One feels their presence, even now, in every room and down every hallway.  

Here at The House of Edward, we live in much the same way. There are whimsical and, some would say, eccentric, touches everywhere one looks, all representing various bits and bobs of ourselves.  The result is that we are incredibly happy at home.  The bonus of course, is that our guests seem to be incredibly happy here as well.    In the creation of all this, I do have a secret weapon of sorts.  Whenever I get another brain wave for something I’d like to add to our home, I know to call Kevin.  Kevin Nichols is an artist I met many years ago and who is now like part of the family.  Amazingly talented, he has never once flinched at any of my ideas, happily recreating the painting of James Stewart and his life-sized rabbit from the movie, Harvey, for me ... replacing Stewart’s head with The Songwriter’s.  He had transformed desks and ceilings, claw-foot tubs and door frames.  He has painted my portrait in a green velvet dress.  (In fact, many of you wrote to ask me about the painted doors that could be glimpsed in a posting a few weeks back. You can see that post HERE.  They are a fairly new addition and both The Songwriter and I adore them.  The five doors are old, two-paneled, and they provided the perfect canvas for Kevin to create evocative, pastoral scenes that manage to be both subtle and dramatic at once.  The bottom panels feature places we’ve stayed on our travels and are a sweet reminder of lovely days.  We’re crazy about them.)

Imagine my delight when I received a gift from Kevin a few weeks ago.  Shown above, it is a wonderful painting of Edward and Apple as those intrepid detectives of old, Holmes and Watson.  Knowing my love of all things British, Sherlock among them, as well as my devotion to both my dogs, he fashioned this painting just for me.  Isn’t it the best?  

I’m so happy to let everyone know that Kevin is now doing some of these wonderful animal portraits by commission.  Working from photographs that you send him, he’ll have you fill out a questionnaire of sorts to find out your own personal interests and marry them with the personalities of your pets.  Then he’ll place your dog or cat, or horse or ferret, in a setting most reflective of you both. ( You can read a bit about the process of creating Edward and Apple’s painting at his website, HERE.)  

Visit Kevin for yourself, HERE.
And surround yourself with things you love.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Death of a Poet

The Death of a Poet

Not long awake, I sat my first mug of coffee down and unfolded the still warm newspaper, wincing a little as I turned my eyes to the front page.  I was unsure of what fresh hell would stare up to greet me.  The march to another war?  The raging wildfire?  No.  It was a bittersweet surprise to see the clear eyed gaze of the poet, his photograph significantly large, above the fold, its sheer size regulating all other stories to lesser importance on this day.  Seamus Heaney had died.  

The loss of so monumental a poet is a sad fact indeed.  His absence will leave a hole in the culture few if any can fill.  But strangely, staring down at the paper, I found myself flooded with hope.  In a world so fraught and torn, where every news story seems unrelentingly bleak and art often feels corporately designed for the lowest common denominator, that the death of a poet should be considered the dominant news of the day, was wholly uplifting to me.   I saw it as an affirmation of sorts, a declaration to the world that thoughtful words and the recognition of beauty still deserve our greatest attention.

Here in the states it has been difficult, if not impossible, to have spent the last week unaware of the fracas over the performance of another one of our manufactured pop stars on the stage of a televised awards show.  Apparently hoping to catapult herself to adulthood in the eyes of her fans, the former teen darling attempted a romp of blatant sexuality that unfortunately succeeded in being a cringe-worthy spectacle so repellent and laughable that it managed to convey to the world merely that she’d gone off the rails in spectacular fashion.  Parents were up in arms.  Prayers were requested.  And, as her agents and managers knew full well, the result was that she remained the top story all week long, grabbing both the number two and number three spots for iTunes sales in exchange for her sacrificed dignity.

When one looks at the top of the charts it is easy to slide into cynicism.  Badly written books soar to the stratosphere on the wings of vacuous vampires and half-naked, lamebrained ingenues.  Popular music seems merely a vehicle for ego; films are unoriginal and calculated.   Technology has cluttered modern life in ways unimagined even a few years ago.  Just as the robber points and shouts, “Look Over There!” while he slickly steals our wallet, we are bombarded with meaningless diversions at every turn in the road.  
But wait. Not so fast. There is still hope.  

If we can manage to stop up our ears and pick our way through the detritus of commerce, it is possible to break free to travel a clearer road.   The quest for truth and beauty is still a noble one and when we occasionally uncover a gem that makes our heart sing and our soul lift, the reward is pure joy and, dare I say, a little bit of wisdom.  I was reminded of this the other night as I watched Cate Blanchett’s transcendent performance in the new movie, Blue Jasmine.  She breathes such life into her fictional character that one is able to feel oneself lifted up in understanding and empathy, which is, I suppose, the ultimate purpose of art. 

As The New York Times declared by its coverage of the death of Seamus Heaney, poetry still matters.  Art occasionally still trumps war, politics and even commerce.  It remains the best route to a sapient comprehension of our common humanity; a way to illuminate beauty as well as to better comprehend pain; a path that can lead to the discovery of truth.
 Rest in peace, Mr. Heaney.  God rest your soul. 

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
by Seamus Heaney

Portrait of Seamus Heaney above by Peter Edwards