Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lions and Supermodels

Like the bright golden ring on a carousel, fame is a most attractive thing to a lot of people; they stretch out their arms, grasping for it if ever it comes round their way. They never seem to consider that this elusive goal, once attained, can never be returned. For myself, immense fame has always seemed like a nightmare of sickening proportions; the worst sort of situation in which to be stuck. I feel this way for many reasons, the chief of which is that fame would snatch away one of the more delightful activities I know of: the observation of other humans. For when you are the one constantly being watched, it is impossible to indulge in the study of others.

While sitting with a mug of tea at a sidewalk cafe, peering over a magazine in a crowded airport lounge, or from behind dark glasses on a north-bound train, I am often happily fascinated just considering the people around me. There are few more interesting ways to past the time than contemplating the behaviour of one’s fellow humans when they are unaware they are being watched. I imagine them standing in their closets deciding on the clothes they are wearing, I mark the books they are reading, I study the way they interact with one another. It is so entertaining to conjure up their fictional backstories in my head, often populating entire Agatha Christie novels with the unsuspecting souls around me.

Sometimes, after an afternoon of this sort of observation, I begin to think that being human in this day and age just seems like so much work, especially when compared with those creatures residing in the animal kingdom. Let’s face it, forget the latest cellphone or laptop, disregard the hairstyle or the shoes - whether fat or thin, short or tall, no one is ever going to be as impressive as a Lion no matter what one does. A Polar Bear will always trump a supermodel for sheer beauty and magnificence. Animals just are. They have no need of embroidered clothing or bejeweled stilettos, they require no make-up, wish for no ornament - they could care less about twittering, and no amount of air-brushing or photoshop could ever improve on the purity of their splendid, individual beauty.
Perhaps animals are on earth for more that the whims of man.
Perhaps they have much to teach us.

I must go now and attempt to pretty myself for the day.
Edward, of course, woke up pretty.

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will teach you: or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind."
Job 12: 7-10

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Reading

Whenever I find a cartoon particularly funny, it is usually because I recognize a bit of myself within it. For instance, I have always loved an old New Yorker magazine cartoon of a fellow reading at the beach. Clad in the requisite attire of shorts and flip-flops, he is squinting up at a stern policeman standing over him who says, “I’m sorry, sir, but Dostoyevsky is not considered summer reading. I’ll have to ask you to come with me.” This in turn reminds me of the afternoon I was approached by an overly gregarious chap as I myself sat seaside, reading Edith Wharton. “Whatcha readin’?”, he inquired, displaying a rather alarmingly white smile aimed in my direction. “The House of Mirth”, I replied. With a crestfallen change in expression he said, “Oh. A real book”.

Both of these examples, one imaginary and one quite real, pretty much sum up my difficulty with what is often called,“summer reading”. Time spent with those books generally considered to sit squarely in that category is, to me, rather like being stranded in the shallow end of the pool, with no waves and no challenges. Pleasant enough, but rather uninspiring.

Books are like people in a way. You spend time with them - sometimes an afternoon, sometimes a week - and some even accompany you on your summer holiday. Occasionally, some books become so beloved, they are invited to reside in your library or on your bedside table, never far from reach, a veritable part of the family. Not unlike people, books have definite personalities. Some are secretive, as if reluctant to reveal their deeper meanings until one gets to know them a bit better - some are witty, some are strange, some whisk the reader away to another country, another world. Some change your mood. Some change your mind.

Every year, I greedily await the summer reading suggestions published in newspapers and magazines. I listen eagerly for every summertime book review broadcast on NPR. While I may not be reading textbooks in summertime, I still long to be dazzled by unique imaginations and to occasionally paddle around in the deep end of the pool. From under my sun hat, I still look for stimulating conversations with the books I chose to read, even if those conversations take place in a hammock in the garden, or on a beach chair with the sound of the surf in my ears.

Here is my list, a baker’s dozen of my favourite summer books, each one read during the summertime of a year past and each one more than worthy to be tucked in with the Vogues and Verandas on the way to the beach.
Oh, and don’t be shy....please share one of yours!!

My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
How To Make An American Quilt by Whitney Otto
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Harry Potter by JK Rowling
.... every summer, by tradition, I would leave for the beach on the very day the latest HP was released, just to sit by the sea and escape all alone to Hogwarts. I do so miss those new Potter books!
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffennegger
The Prince Of Tides by Pat Conroy
13. And, I am currently reading
Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson.
How about you?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Another Summer

Darkness came late last night, as though the entire hemisphere was too excited to sleep. The skies stayed awake in celebration of another infant summer, with its happy row of terracotta days stretched out as far as the eye could see. Morning’s pink and glistening dawns, lemonade dew shimmering on the garden floor and towhees splashing in the warm stone baths. Noontimes of warm breezes, long hours spent beside an open window with a beguiling book, hopelessly lost in the words on the page. Chinese lantern evenings, honeydew melons on tuberose tables and strains of Gilberto on the honeysuckle air. And the beach. Forever the beach, with its tropical zephyrs known to whisk away all serious thought leaving only the sweet repetition of wave after wave of smiling joy.
May we all make it to the beach this summer.

Beach Sand
by Raymond A. Foss

Maybe it is the memories
the change of pace that brings us there
the sense of vacation
maybe the smell of the place
the sights of the gulls, the dunes, the grasses
but oh it is the feel of it,
the crunch and slide of it
the feeling of beach sand
so different from dirt, soil, loam
no, not earthy, moist, rich,
but oh so granular and gritty
even when wet,
moveable paper spreading under toes
sliding beneath the soles
smoothing my skin
clearing my mind
unburdening me of the rest
drawing me to the tactile, the feel
of beach sand

Painting at top, The Beach by Peder Severin Kroyer

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Influence of Gardenias

They are the creamy conjurers of memory, summoning lazy walks in white linen dresses beneath trees hung heavy with moss. They call forth the night gardens of childhood, all dark velvet and sprinkled with the winking orange of fireflies. They lead back to the sound of cicadas, nature’s discordant orchestra, on hot evenings in June. Their fragrance, sweeter than the other flowers, so sweet it is almost gothic, fills the room, floods the senses and brings with it the extravagance of dreams. They are imbued with mystery, they are beautiful, they are the most enchanting of all the summer flowers.
They are Gardenias.
I have kept bowls of Gardenias on my bedside table all this week and my dreams have echoed the influence of their sorcery.

If you wish to escape to air castles far above the clouds or visit empyrean forests made of moonbeams and sand, then sleep with Gardenias beside your bed. If you desire to remember who you once were or to observe your future self, clad in feathers and white roses in a weathered cottage by the sea, then sleep with Gardenias beside your bed. If you have ever wondered how it would feel to follow a silver bear down a pathway of emeralds, or converse with a impeccably dressed tiger on a rooftop in Greece; if you want to know where the butterflies go when the wind is high...then by all means, sleep with Gardenias beside your bed.

Cut Gardenias only last a couple of days so their effect will be limited, which is probably best.
If they lasted any longer one might be tempted to live in one’s dreams.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Edward ... Inside On A Hot Afternoon

Toadlike, almost sinister, the hot day squatted atop the ivy-covered cottage, claiming the afternoon for its own and bringing with it a muggy June air thick enough to grab up by the fistfuls. The blue flowers bowed their heads low, in prayer for a cooler hour. The old trees napped. Like the singing steam from a tea kettle, the sultry heat pressed in against the windowpanes and inprisioned the big white dog in the coolness of the sleepy shady rooms of the house.

All during the many crisp delights of the other seasons, the big dog knew this day would come. Summer days like this one made his fur feel heavy. He glanced over at his people, still placidly reading in their favourite chairs. He sighed, louder this time, but all he got in return was a smile. Well after all, he thought, what could they do?

Turning back to the window, the dog noticed the long-fingered shadow of the fir tree in the garden had now disappeared. Looking up, he saw charcoal skies beginning to gather overhead, advancing from the west, as though a cavalry of windgusts had been sent from on high to blow this still unpleasantness to the sweltering hinterlands. He listened. Yes, he could just hear it, far off in the distance - the booming sound of their hoofbeats of thunder. It was time to take cover. He hopped up next to the lady, circled a few times and lay down with a satisfied plop. She patted his head absentmindedly. The rain began to fall, weighty wet drops that hit the ground with a sizzle, slowly at first, then in a torrent of silver streamers that washed away even the memory of the oppressive afternoon.

The big white dog laid his head on the lady’s knee.
He was happy now.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rydal Mount

Come with me.....

It is an enthusiastic Virginia Creeper that encircles the house like a necklace of fire, its royal gemstones of flaming leaves set aglow by the crystal clear September sun. Though inside all is still, and hushed, one can yet sense the vivacity of ideas that once played through these rooms. Was it not just yesterday? It seems as though the great poet himself has only just retreated to the garden, jealous of his privacy.

Shadows waltz at the peak of the house, where his study shimmers in the gold of the afternoon. A gathering of bluebottles convenes on the wide windowsill, arranging and rearranging themselves like floating calligraphy; mere ghosts of the letters he once captured to paint his exalted stanzas of light. They beat against the glass in their desire to be released - to fly past the garden, over the lake and out into the world once more.

Peace floats on the very breeze that wends its way through his garden - one follows it down shaded pathways, past romantic vistas of green and blue, to the tiny stone Summer House where an ever open window frames an unequaled view of Eden. One can only imagine the courage it took to create verses of beauty in the presence of such abounding competition from Nature herself. Artists both, perhaps they chose to work in tandem, Nature’s splendour inspiring the words that served to describe Nature’s splendour, each one magnifying the magnificence of the other, each one enriching the bounty of the known world.

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings:
it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility”

William Wordsworth

My late afternoon view from the Summer House window
at Rydal Mount, Cumbria

Home of poet William Wordsworth

Painting above: View From Rydal Park, by Francis Towne

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Umbrellas and Bumbershoots

To walk down the street, under an umbrella, in the rain, is a decidedly pleasant activity for a human being. There are few more satisfying sounds than the pop and the patter of raindrops on a sheltering umbrella. Of course the choice of umbrella is vital to the enjoyment of a such a walk. No puny popup thing will do. A capacious, old-fashioned creation is required for the ultimate experience and I am indeed fortunate to have the most perfect one imaginable. A gift from the Songwriter years ago, it is big, black and British-crafted, with a carved wooden rabbit head for a handle. Mary Poppins’ talking parrot umbrella would be my sole competition. The only trouble is, I nearly always leave it at home, sedentary and dry, in the umbrella stand in my entry hall. For much like Marianne Dashwood, I always think it won’t rain, and then it always does.

So as usual, I left the house one day last week without my rabbit head umbrella. And, as usual, it rained. All day. Not a deluge, but a soft and constant shower, warm wet silky drops that seemed to melt into the pavement with nary a splatter. It was actually quite refreshing and on more than one occasion as I made my way to and from various shop doors, I lifted my face to the grey sky above just to feel a touch of the falling elixir on my skin.

It is always amusing to watch Americans in the rain, and that day was no exception. There they were, huddled in ovine fashion under store awnings, peering up with furrowed brows, anxious for any sign that this wicked substance descending from the unfriendly sky was subsiding. Women held their handbags over their heads and ran squealing for their cars, while men simply hunched their shoulders, lowered their heads and quick-marched along with a martyred air. One would think battery acid was falling from the sky instead of innocent droplets of water.

One of the many reasons I love to travel in Scotland is the mercurial nature of the weather. While a sunny day is lovely, I do not in the least mind the rain, and I adore the wind, which is ideal because in Scotland one often experiences all of these conditions in the short span of an afternoon. I once sat in my car on Portree square taking in the scene around me as a gentle rain began to fall. There was a fellow perched on a nearby bench reading the newspaper. Hatless, and with no umbrella or raincoat, he calmly continued to read as the rain gathered strength, the wind blew and the skies darkened . Only when his newspaper became so wet that the pages began to shred did he fold it up under his arm and saunter off at a casual pace through the storm.

Of course I once visited Glenfinnan during rain that was akin to being shot full in the face with a fire hose. I was laughing so hard at my predicament that I wasn’t able to run properly for shelter, and of course I had left my umbrella, once again, at home. Which was just as well, for no umbrella would have been up to the task that day.
Perhaps a bumbershoot??

Thursday, June 4, 2009

One Whole Year!

I can hardly believe it, but the calendar does not lie. Today is the one year anniversary
From the House of Edward! Amazing. I actually planned this blog to focus more on my design work, but instead found it to be a welcome diversion from my design work. So much so in fact, that I have come to relish my writing here on an equal level. Life is certainly not a straight line. It curves and spirals and surprises.
I send my most sincere thanks to all of you who visit here. I am constantly grateful for your sweet comments and e-mails of encouragement. You are most generous and I am tickled beyond measure to know you enjoy your little holidays here.

So, I invite you to join Edward and I in our celebration of one whole year! Raise a glass or pick up a favourite book, eat some ice cream or fill a vase with flowers, listen to - or sing - your favourite song. Or just give a dog a hug!
And Happy Anniversary!!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Fifth Element

It was a linen shirt, long sleeved and whisper pink, and I stood in Macy’s considering it on a quiet Thursday afternoon. Gradually, almost unconsciously, I became aware that I was swaying ever so slightly to music. Then I heard, pouring from the store speakers like rivulets of honey, the familiar strains of Aretha Franklin’s, Baby I Love You. I looked around me and observed the delightful spell being cast from this marvelous sound. A flawlessly coiffed elderly lady in a St. John suit was strolling through the handbag department, her steps in perfect time with the song. The young woman behind the counter was casually bobbing her head back and forth to the rhythm, while a delivery man entered from outside and immediately fell into leisurely step with the seductive beat as he made his way up the store aisle. It was incredibly entertaining to watch, as everyone in sight was reacting to this infectious old classic without even being aware of it. Such is the power of music.

Music is as much a part of our lives as breathing, even though we hardly know it most of the time. Every one of us has a personal soundtrack that has accompanied our days; a musical fingerprint of our lives, unique and specific. Like magic, whenever I hear Dionne Warwick’s,
Do You Know The Way To San Jose, I am once again in the back seat of my family’s leaf green Pontiac during a sunny morning on my way to school. Joni Mitchell’s, Carey, always sends me to the beach and I am a little girl desirous of my very own Mary Quant lipstick every time I hear Donovan sing Jennifer, Juniper. Coldplay’s, Speed of Sound, whisks me off to Regent Street in London. Astrid Gilberto means summer and, of course, Christmas just doesn’t exist without Perry Como or Nat King Cole. For me, James Taylor is high school afternoons and Leonard Cohen’s, Sisters of Mercy, is newlywed bliss. And incidentally, if you ever wished to know what a childhood summer felt like in the southern United States, then pour a glass of sweet tea and listen to the soundtrack of To Kill A Mockingbird by Elmer Bernstein. You couldn’t get closer with a time machine.

There can be no denying the remarkable ability of music to communicate more profoundly, and often with more clarity, than words could ever hope to do. Music seems divinely capable of reaching that inarticulate part of the soul where only the deepest feelings and most heartfelt memories are found. The unscaleable majesty in Saint-Saens
Organ Symphony #3, or the near visible beauty of Debussy’s Clair de Lune. The visceral grief in Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings or the sheer happiness of The Beatles I Wanna Hold Your Hand.
It is almost as if God himself intended music to be the fifth element, -surely as basic as air or water, fire or earth- for after all, did the angels not announce the birth of Christ with song?

Monday, June 1, 2009

June Is Bustin’ Out All Over

March went out like a lion
Awakin' up the water in the bay;
Then April cried and stepped aside,
And along came pretty little May!
May was full of promises
But she didn't keep 'em quick enough for some.
And the crowd of doubtin' Thomases
Was predictin' that the summer'd never come

But it's comin' by dawn,
We can feel it come,
You can feel it in your heart
You can see it in the ground
You can see it in the trees
You can smell it in the breeze
Look around! Look around! Look around!

Lyric by Oscar Hammerstein

“I love my life!”

Sentiment by Edward