Monday, August 31, 2009

By The Sea

I sit by the sea. Under a royal blue umbrella, one of twelve in a row worthy of Cannes. It is dusk and through my half closed eyes I am watching a blonde chihuahua. Like the baby in a herd of maternal elephants, he darts in and out through the legs of his companions, three plump and brightly dressed ladies as much like Sleeping Beauty’s good fairies as it is possible to be. The little fellow is happy, splashing through the surf, carrying his tiny tail high like a yellow parenthesis waving behind him, punctuating the salty air with wags of joy. Far out to sea, another storm rages. I see the rain falling, a grey trunk on a tree with black leaves. I watch it as one would watch a play, far removed from the drama in my seat on the shore.
Far removed from the drama.
I doze.
One by one they scattered behind me, small worries, great plans, insignificant trivialities - they flew out the open windows like spent roses loosed from a summertime bouquet, the last paperthin petal floating away on the breeze as I crossed the old bridge to the island. The ancient salt marshes waved down below me, lime coloured puzzle pieces strewn over glass, whispering the way to the sea.
I followed them here with relief.
The old inn is as I remembered, cheerful bedside flowers, curtains reaching their hems out to greet me, blowing into the room, heralds of the roaring sea just outside.
Rushing in, rushing out, cleansing, restoring.
Eternally beckoning.
The afternoon storms depart after painting the skies with the colours of Easter. Sand like a lilac mirror - clouds above, a celestial neighborhood of peach castles. The sea is golden and I am the only soul on the beach. I walk out in the surf until all I see is water. I could be a million miles at sea, on another continent, in another time. All has already happened, all is yet to be. I think of the great lion just now crossing the threshold, his journey completed, his laurels to come. He, too, loved the sea. All that I don’t know, he knows now. All that I can’t see, he sees.
I say goodbye to him. I say goodbye to Summer.
The sea has done its work. I feel cleansed, restored.
I am ready to go home.
Until it beckons again.

The commitment I seek is not to outworn views but to old values that will never wear out. Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue."

Senator Ted Kennedy

Monday, August 24, 2009


When I go down by the sandy shore
I can think of nothing I want more
Than to live by the booming sea
As the seagulls flutter round about me

I can run about--when the tide is out
With the wind and the sand and the sea all about
And the seagulls are swirling and diving for fish
Oh-to live by the sea is my only wish.

This little poem was written by Jacqueline Bouvier when she was ten years old.
I know just how she felt.
I leave for the seaside at daybreak.
Be back soon!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Wonder Remains

When I was little a trip to the beach could be totally wrecked by a storm. We frolicked in palpable dread of grey, gathering clouds, knowing how easily they could signal the awful piercing trill of the lifeguard’s whistle, slicing through the salty winds like a carving knife, cutting all our fun to ribbons. One crack of thunder and we would be herded inside like a pack of sad puppies - our lips red from cherry snow cones, our fingertips wrinkled from seawater - back into our chilled hotel rooms to sit forlornly at the windows and lament the gross unfairness of our fate. The risk of being zapped into oblivion by a lightning strike seemed far preferable to the dismal reality of peeling off of a clingy wet bathing suit in an air-conditioned room, doomed to a beachless afternoon. For a child who had dreamed of the sea for eleven long months, being at the beach, but not on the beach, was hideously hard to endure.

Naturally, adulthood brings many changes. Retreating to bed early is no longer a punishment, vegetables are not the suspicious oddities they once were. Unlike my childhood self, I now appreciate the benefits of sunblock, I do not mind wearing a hat, and I long for a storm at the beach.
Comfortably situated on a wide covered porch with my eyes fixed upon that mysterious line where leaden sky meets turbulent sea, I have so often found a histrionic thunderstorm to be the perfect author of magical thought. Colours sprout and spawn with every crash of a storm-tossed sea, ideas bloom like wildflowers and twine like ivy, all through the hallways of my mind - rainbows swirling, dervishes awhirl - more so with every roaring wave, every howling wind. The sea is a masterpiece when calm, but an astonishment during a storm. It is simple to understand why so many words have been written beside the sea - so many paintings painted, so many souls examined.

Yes, I head to the beach with quite different intentions than I did in my little girl years. I read, I nap, I think, I write, I stare out to sea and dream. The snow cones may be gone, but the wonder remains. I am heading to the beach next week and am putting in my humble request now for a big, fat, thunderstorm!


My mind has thunderstorms,
That brood for heavy hours:
Until they rain me words,

My thoughts are drooping flowers
And sulking, silent birds.

Yet come, dark thunderstorms,
And brood your heavy hours;
For when you rain me words,
My thoughts are dancing flowers
And joyful singing birds.

by William Henry Davies

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bundle Up

If anyone required further proof that I am no stranger to eccentricity, they need but look to the hottest day in August. For I have a little personal tradition that I try to follow on that day each year, and admittedly, some might find it a just wee bit odd. On the hottest day of the hottest month, I go shopping. For coats. The most beautiful of the new coats for next season will just be hitting the stores then and, you see, I have a absolute passion for coats.
Some women adore shoes, some dream at night of jewelry. But for me, it has always been coats. As a little girl, if ever I wandered away from my parents during a shopping excursion, they always knew they could find me in the coat department. Perhaps it is due to my ardent affinity for cold weather, but I have almost never met a winter coat I did not love. Throw in a hood or a cape and I am over the moon with joy.
Of course I do not buy a new coat every single year. And I am not fickle; I wear coats I have had for years. Such as the long black coat with the velvet collar that remains my favourite to wear when I travel. It is the ideal weight; wonderfully warm, but light. Unfortunately, since I prefer to travel in cooler months, in just about every photograph taken of me in the last ten years, just about everywhere, I am wearing that coat. Rather like a character out of Dorian Gray, I am aging, but the coat never does.
There is also the fabulous grey cape I found on sale at Bloomingdale’s a couple of years ago, complete with a scrumptious hood - and the long, black, hooded wonder that looks as though I snitched it straight off the set of Dr. makes me feel a shiver of mystery each time I put it on. There is my Ellen Tracy cashmere coat, puppy fur soft, the colour of a perfectly toasted almond.... and of course, I cannot forget my vintage, traditional camel hair jacket - every blonde should own one.
But the one I love most happens to be a coat that I found at Jenner’s in Edinburgh. I was wandering through that venerable old store one chilly afternoon, thinking more of Christmas presents than of coats, when I rounded the corner and spied it. Hanging quietly by itself, a truly magical creation, obviously designed by a wizard of rare sartorial talent. Long black velvet, with amazing, yet discreet, embroidery all down the back, an extravagant red faux fur collar and shell buttons. My heart almost stopped and well, reader, I bought it! Such joy! I happily lugged it all over Scotland and back home again, and each time I wear it, I feel like a princess.
I look for the hottest day to bubble up this very week, and I cannot wait to see what I find.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on muffs!!

In Edinburgh, moments after purchasing my favourite coat!
It's inside the big bag!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Ennui of Edward

His is a fortunate disposition, for he was born a happy dog.
Despite a precarious and rather lonely start in life, he never lost his joie de vivre, and now, ensconced as he is in the center of love itself, each day is merely another another opportunity for sharing his joy with everyone he sees.
And then comes August.
He tries, he really does, to face it bravely, to stare down his melancholy and force back his dread. But some days, it is just too much. Each morning he bounds to the door, filled with new hope.... oh, for a brisk wind, perhaps a cooler day.... but he is greeted again with the mossy air of late summer that makes his fur feel cumbersome and turns his dancing paws to lead. And so, once again, like a disappointed turtle, he pulls his head back inside the cooler house and stomps off to his fat tartan bed where he waits. And he waits. For Autumn.
But not today.
Invited into the car for an outing, he had to confess that his expectations were low, and when he sensed the car was on the expressway - the dullest road imaginable - he simply fell asleep. Upon awakening a couple of hours later, he noticed all the car windows were down, the sunroof was open, and the air through the windows had been miraculously refreshed into a cool autumnal breeze. Tentatively, he stuck his nose out the window. He could see up above him, across skies the colour of robin’s eggs, big white clouds were gamboling - their lamb-like faces shifting happy expression with every gust of cool wind. The holiday scent of the fir trees told him. He was deep in the mountains!
Who knew his people could travel from Summer to Autumn in two short hours? He did not stop to ponder this new wizardry, but bounded from the car with glee. He hiked to mountain waterfalls, graciously pulling the lady back up the steep trails like a ski rope. He ate lunch by a clear, duck-dotted lake, and ran across still green fields where the grass felt deliciously cool beneath his summer weary paws. He had his picture taken; strangers patted his furry white head. His August ennui was gone.
He slept the way home and now is not quite certain if the day really happened or was simply a dream. But no matter, he can clearly remember how good it felt to be once again in cool weather. He shall think of the day when he naps, his belief now restored.
Autumn shall indeed return to grace the wilted land!

With his sincere apologies to the Bard of Avon, Edward would like to say,
“Now was the summer of my discontent, made glorious autumn by a trip to the mountains”.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Summer Days

They have joyfully scattered their hours like dandelion snow over the landscape of summer - a rosy afternoon here, a sun-dappled morning there - but now they are quietly preparing for their upcoming journey to other hemispheres, other lands - packing up their breezy green minutes a little bit more each day. Already the children are back in school. Already the light is changing.

If you ask them, they will tell you that their time here is as it has always been, but I am doubtful, for the Days of Summer stretched on and on to an invisible end when I was a child. Limitless, meandering days with dreamy picture-book hours, they casually unfurled under cloudless skies and firefly nights. I know they must move at a faster pace today. Or perhaps childhood simply spins atop a different axis, perhaps those days really were longer, those months as a lifetime. Perhaps this is part of the remarkable gift of youth; we are given more time to soak up the wonder of life, drinking in a myriad of magic hours to hold like a heartbeat inside us until we are older and long for the sort of inspiration adulthood cannot provide.

Since my father passed away, I have worn his watch. It is an old Hamilton, with a rectangular face and chocolate leather band, no doubt a bit too big for my wrist. A sweet reminder, this watch speaks to me of days at the beach with Daddy, of all the blessed summer hours from a carefree childhood that now and forever enrich my own well-spring of inspiration. With every slow movement of the second hand, it is as if my father is softly saying....
enjoy it all, enjoy it all.

The Painting above: The Fates - Past, Present and Future
by Egron Sellif Lundgren

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I wonder

It is no secret that the current turbulence in the international economy has bumped and bounced its way into every facet of life. Those of us in interior design have not escaped being jostled along with everyone else. Indeed, with the downturn in the housing market, we are perhaps more seasick than some within this rickety economic boat. Perhaps we were all in need of being pulled up a little - in need of cooling off, slowing down, reassessing our values. I prefer to think that we will all emerge from this fluctuation a kinder people with more emphasis being placed on the things that truly matter. And that can only be good.

All that being said, as I opened the mail last week and saw my invitation to the closing of a venerable furniture showroom, one I had relied upon for my clients for years, my heart sank, and I wondered .... with all the discount and DIY places sprouting up like nettles, what is to become of the true craftsmen, those men and women who spend the time it takes to create true works of art in furniture; pieces of heirloom quality that are destined to be handed down through generations. Will these artists be forced to lay down their rare and considerable talents in search of alternative means of support, thereby depleting this cadre of artisans, bit by bit, until it evaporates completely? And more depressing still, will anyone notice?

I am a consistent champion of individuality and I cheer when someone interprets their own personality within their home, at any price point. But at present, I look around at what seems to me to be rather trivial, disposable design offerings and I wonder if any of these will be around in a hundred years. Or worse, will our eyes become so accustomed to the pedestrian that we will no longer be able to appreciate the extraordinary? Will there still be those who see the value in the handmade over the mass produced? In the future, will anyone remember Fortuny fabrics or George Smith sofas? - a Henredon four-poster or a Zuber papered dining room? Or will all this beauty disappear into the land of once upon a time.
Will cost finally win the battle over worth?
I wonder.

The image above is from the Zuber wallpaper mural,
Mer Glaciale (The Sea of Ice) 1854

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Spider

Is it because of Charlotte that I think she is female? Or is it because she weaves her web with such a delicate hand? Unseen in the sunlight, she appears like a fancy out there in the darkness, sitting alone in the center of her labyrinth every evening; an artist enthroned on her canvas of gossamer. Reaching from Oak tree to Annabelle, this intricate Rorschach of silk, woven in patterns more complex than a snowflake, seems quite impossible. How on earth does she do it? Night after night? I am humbled completely - I who was so chuffed at my newly acquired ability to knit from patterns that were hieroglyphic only months ago. From her diaphanous nighttime villa, has she studied me at the window, as I sat perched on my tuffet of hubris with knitting needles in hand? Has she perhaps stifled a lilting giggle at my myriad of deficiencies and the flimsy curiosities they produce? Or does she simply pity me kindly, secure in her knowledge that, try as I might, I can never hope to attain her eminent stratum of artistry with such meager human tools at my disposal.
Two hands? Only two?
She possesses eight, after all.

My favourite model wears a newly completed cabled scarf, one the spider watched me knit.
Wonderful yarn... Araucania Azapa in Lilac.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dame Agatha

Years ago I had the rather daunting good fortune to meet Sherlock Holmes.
Well actually, to be honest, it was the late British actor, Jeremy Brett, whose portrayal of Mr. Holmes is considered to be both brilliant and definitive. I recall being a bit shocked to discover that Mr. Brett was wearing a turtleneck sweater. What, no houndstooth coat? No deerstalker hat? So completely did he inhabit the great detective, it was a bit jarring to find him to be a regular 20th century person.

I have often wondered how I would feel if I ever had the equal luck of an encounter with David Suchet, the actor who currently defines Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot - he of the egg-shaped head, flamboyantly tended moustache and multitudes of razor sharp “little gray cells”. Would I expect him to be fussy and imperious, nattily attired, with a strong dislike for the country? Like Jeremy Brett before him as Holmes, Mr. Suchet is the quintessential Poirot, and never more so than in the two new versions just out on DVD. I have sorely missed Poirot in recent years and these new, just released interpretations are beautifully done , chock full of wonderful actors....Zoe Wanamaker as mystery writer Ariadne is especially divine....and photographed with painterly detail. Watching them in high definition is truly delicious eye candy. And David Suchet has never been better. His Poirot is never silly, never comic... he is ingenious and eccentric, just as he should be.

And happily, the Christie canon continues with a brand new Miss Marple. Like Brett and Suchet before her, Joan Hickson has always been considered the gold standard Miss Marple, but I always found her a bit chilly. I could never imagine giving up my secrets to someone with such a dour expression. However, Julia McKenzie, as the new Miss Marple, is quite another story altogether. Her Miss Marple is warm, pleasant, and empathetic, all the while maintaining that familiar cat-like focus on the clues others are overlooking. And yes, she knits, she drinks tea and she wears tweed suits.... just like she should.

There are four new Miss Marple stories just out and they are a sure recipe for a wonderfully cozy night in front of the television. Pocketful of Rye was especially enjoyable, in part because it adheres closer to the book, while the other three retain little more than the names of the original characters. While I enjoyed them as well, I had to wonder at the need for the wholesale alteration of their plot lines. For those Christie purists among us, this can be a bit disconcerting. Rather like having Ratty and Mole poking around Oz. Or perhaps, summoning Othello over to Denmark to advise Hamlet on his grand dilemma. While Dame Agatha may not look down on the literary world from as lofty a perch as Sir William, one still has to be amazed at the cheek it takes to cuisinart her plotlines so thoroughly. I had to chuckle when Mrs. Marple made her appearance in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, a book from which she is totally absent, but then I thought, ah well, perhaps she just wandered over from her cottage in St. Mary Mead or from her holiday at Bertram’s Hotel. Rather like the characters in the paintings that hang on the wall at Hogwarts, perhaps the Christie characters visit each other occasionally. Although I must say, given that Mrs. Christie is the best selling mystery writer in history, one could reasonably assume the plots of her stories would be quite satisfactory on their own, so these indiscriminate changes seem unnecessary at best, hubristic at worst.

But a little Christie is better than no Christie at all, and these productions are ones I know I shall watch again and again, for they have all the essential elements for a perfect night.... old English country houses, murders in the conservatory, mysterious characters, deliciously lavish sets and copious amounts of tea and knitting.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

It Is August

The sun melts. In rays of pure honey, it slips and slides down over the trees, dripping molten gold onto green clover and slowly spreading out over the sleepy garden - a hypnotic, blonde veil. It oozes underneath the cottage door, pooling up by the windows where just outside, a robin sits in the rose bush longing for a bath. She hops to the stone edge and gazes down at her sherbet-hued twin staring back from inside the clear water. Her tiny toe dips up and down, testing the coolness in careful anticipation. The big white dog watches from the windowseat, eyes half mast, lost in the memory and the dream of a day in autumn. Breezes like cauldron steam seethe and swirl round the cottage; torpid jailers, holding the big dog hostage within the shaded walls where gentle music plays - cellos, flutes and chimes - ancient tunes that know their way through lassitude. Like a misty haze, the heat muddles the mind, gradually erasing every idea but those fleeting rose-hued notions of seasides, iced drinks, and bare feet.
On the colour wheel of months, bright yellow has rolled into view -
it is the high noon of the year.
It is hot.
We are lazy.
It is August.