Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hands and Faces

Hands and Faces

Last week, sitting across from a friend at dinner, I found I could not keep from watching her hands.   Waving in the air like exclamation points, they punctuated all her sentences with expression every bit as clear and articulate as speech.  Later that evening, I happened to catch a rerun of the Merchant-Ivory film, Howard’s End,  on television, and once again found my attention ensnared completely by Vanessa Redgrave’s eloquent hands.  In a movie so teeming with beauty and artistry, her hands are two of the most picturesque players on the screen.

Yes, I have always been fascinated by people's hands. So much more than the sum of their parts, with abilities reaching far past their primary occupation as prehensile appendages, they are, to me, the most intrinsic tools of our uniqueness.  For we all possess them, but they perform so differently for each one of us. 
 Put a paintbrush in the hands of Vincent van Gogh and one has a post-impressionist masterpiece.  Put a whisk in the hands of Julia Child and, voila, a feather-light souffle.  Switch those around and one could reasonably surmise that the results might be altered considerably. 
Some hands can build a ship, some can play the cello. Others can knit a sweater or weave a Nantucket basket. There are hands that know how to gently guide a thoroughbred around a dressage course.  And hands that can make the perfect Tinky Winky costume for a memorable Halloween.

In my many observations, so often it seems that the most captivating hands belong to the most intriguing faces.  People's hands are every bit as unique as their faces, (perhaps that is why holding hands is almost as sweet as a kiss) and I usually find they match the faces they belong to so very well.  Look around a bit and see if you don’t agree. 
By way of example, the hands in the photograph above belong to the artist, Georgia O’Keefe.   
We all know what those hands could do with a paintbrush and canvas. 
 To me, they seem to match her face below just perfectly. 
 Don’t you think?

Now, I think I’ll head out for a manicure.
 Don’t forget to enter the giveaway in the post below. 
The drawing is midnight on the 30th!

Photographs of Georgia O'Keefe by Alfred Stieglitz

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Inside The Box Of Summer

Inside The Box Of Summer
(and A Special Summer Giveaway!)

A box full of summer days arrived on my doorstep on the twenty first of June.  Much like Pandora, I lifted up the heavy lid to take a peek inside with nary a thought of what I might release.  And sure enough, blowing past me with an angry gust came the hottest summer in recorded history, heat to fry the fragile flowers and burn up the skeptic’s tome.  Edward and I huddled in the cool shadows of the house as the days grew hotter and the breezes evaporated into the red clay ground.  We banished the box of summer days to a dark place in the garden where disquiet often grows, vowing to ignore its presence as best as we could.  
But then, I wondered... had we been too hasty?  Had we slammed shut the lid on this summer too soon?  Could there perhaps be some pleasures still hidden in the dry, dusty corners of that seasonal box - some colour, some laughter, just waiting to be found?
So I carried it back inside the cool house and gingerly opened it up...and discovered many things still left to enjoy this hot summer season.  So, in spite of the news and the weather, here are some of my favourite things for this summer of record!  And keep reading, there’s a great giveaway at the bottom to cheer us all up on these blistering days!

1.  Masterpiece Theatre

Edward loves to watch Masterpiece Theatre with me every Sunday evening.  He curls up at my feet and adopts his most studious air.  This summer we’ve been enjoying both the new productions of Agatha Christie’s, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.  Beautifully photographed and more faithful to the original stories than in recent years, these have been and continue to be, a complete treat.  This marvelous drawing by Amber Alexander reminded me so much of Edward, absorbed in Murder on the Orient Express.  You can find out more about these productions HERE, and you can see more of Amber Alexander’s wonderful art, HERE.


2.  The Hat

If I had somewhere to wear this, believe me, I would.


3.  Handbag

Handmade by London’s, Susannah Hunter, these handbags are whimsical and divine! 
See more HERE.


4.  Knitting

I’m dying to knit this!  The pattern can be found in the Early Fall issue of Vogue Knitting and it looks fairly easy, believe it or not.
See more HERE.


5.  Fall Clothes!

They will be here soon... and autumn is my favourite season for clothes.  
This ensemble by Ralph Lauren is my first choice!


6.  Movie

When I exited the theatre after seeing the sumptuous movie, I Am Love, I felt as though I had spent two hours inside the colour orange.  With each scene seemingly kissed by fire, each frame luscious as honey dripping off a red, red rose, this sunny colour dominated my senses just as it clothed the main character.  The movie is sublime eye candy, to be sure, but the real jewel of the piece is the remarkable performance by Tilda Swinton.  The change in her character from the first scene till the last is simply phenomenal.


7.  Books

I have been reading like a fiend all summer.  Is there a better activity on a sweltering day?  Here are five I’ve loved:
Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson - witty and so much fun
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - I reread this one for my classics book club. Just magnificent!
Absence of Mind by Marilynne Robinson
The Diaries of Virginia Woolf
What Is Left The Daughter by Howard Norman


8. Song

If The Stars Were Mine by Melody Gardot
Like a warm breeze off the sea - pure summer.


9.  Smiles

One of my favourite scenes on film has always been THIS DANCE by the great comic duo, Laurel and Hardy. So charming and sweet, I could watch it over and over.  The aforementioned actress, Tilda Swinton, must feel the same way because last month in Edinburgh, she led a public performance of this very dance.  This makes me smile and I do so wish I could have taken part.  I love to see humans behaving like this.
 See Ms. Swinton's version, HERE.


10.  Laughter

THIS just makes me laugh.  I can’t help it.


Bonus!  A Giveaway!...

So many of you wrote me following my post on To Kill A Mockingbird in which I mentioned the song I cowrote with The Songwriter.  The song is called “Jump On It” and it was recorded by John Anderson.  It’s also on The Songwriter’s latest CD, so as a special summer giveaway, I’m including, not only this CD, but a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird as well.  The only rule... if you’ve already read the book, you must pass it on to someone who hasn’t!  
Just leave a comment on this post and you’re entered.  
The drawing will be midnight Friday the 30th!
  Good Luck, and Happy Summer to You All!

Congratulations to Michelle May!
She's the winner!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Couture Longing

Couture Longing

Under stylized high ceilings of art deco design, in a city that is not my own, I enter the gallery and see them waiting for me, composed and silent, like a flock of elegant birds with their wings folded - each one lovelier than the last, each one serenely posing for a visitor’s admiration.  As though inhabited by the ghosts of another time, these faceless frocks lined up before me offer shy suggestions of the women they once graced - the Audrey’s, the Jackie’s, the Suzy, the Grace.   Suddenly aware of my wild hair, my paisley jeans, my gladiator sandals, I find myself feeling a bit diffident, sentenced to wander this exhibition like a sartorially backward peasant, but one more than willing to be reprimanded, one starving for a taste of sumptuous inspiration.   And I am in luck, for this stage is set for a feast.  With strains of La Vie en Rose floating on the refrigerated air and Avedon portraits lining the walls, I am transported back, back, to a time of elegance unseen in this current age, back to The Golden Age of Couture.

 It began on February 12, 1947, the very day Christian Dior launched his couture house in Paris, and it lasted until Monsieur Dior’s death in 1957.  
It was almost as though an enchanted wand was waved over London and Paris, conjuring up artists like Dior and Balmain, Balenciaga and Chanel and creating a magical decade unlike all the others, ten years of resplendent fashion, now remembered with longing for their abundance of unparalleled creativity, quality and style.

As I stand before the most superb examples of the artistry of that decade, the hushed voices in the gallery recede into oblivion and I can almost see the women who once spent their days and nights in these creations........  

.........There in the corner wearing the Jacques Fath green tartan dress stands the enigmatic Scottish mystery writer waiting to board the train at Waverley station, on her way to London where she’ll meet her elderly uncle for tea at the Savoy.....

..........And over there I see clearly... a stone terrace on a spring night in 1949, when the air smelled like honeysuckle and orange Chinese lanterns swayed low in the trees, a winsome new bride clad in a Chaumont evening gown of hand-painted organza is nervously hosting her very first dinner party......

........And here to my left, it is a cold December day, and the tall brunette in the Digby Morton tweed suit turns her velvet collar up against the wind as she stands on the corner of Oxford Street, her arms full of Christmas boxes, her thoughts wrapped in tinsel as she waits for the light to change........

Oh, where did these women go?  When did the waspie waist become the low rider jean?  When were the garments created by dressmakers with “doigts de fees” replaced with those mass-produced and disposable?  When did the latest Sports Illustrated model knock Dovima off her throne?  When was elegance and grace regulated to history and fashion begin to strive more to shock than to adorn?  And, while we’re at it, when did plastic bags replace dress boxes?

Sighing, I take my leave of these ladies with reluctance, resolving to cultivate a more elegant appearance in the coming days.  But, stepping outside, I am hit with a blast of bombastic heat and I make my way to my car, all the while twisting my hair up into a knot and rolling up my sleeves, shamefully grateful that I remembered to pack these sandals.
But then,  I don’t know, perhaps Edward and I could take a few lessons from Dovima and Sascha.  
Should we revamp our image?
 What do you think?  

The Golden Age of Couture is ensconced in the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee through September 12th.  Culled from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, it is truly amazing and not to be missed.  See it if you can!

Christian Dior Fashion Illustration above by Rene Gruau
Photograph of Dovima and her dog, Sascha, by Richard Avedon

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Robin

The Robin

There is an old stone birdbath that stands, flower height, in the midst of a bed of pink vinca along my front walk.  In the center of the birdbath sits a small fearsome gargoyle, bravely guarding the feathered bathers from Milo, the neighborhood cat.  Apparently, the rather diminutive size of this scrunched-face stone creature in no way lessens his ability to perform his appointed duties with success, for this particular birdbath is quite popular, the pathway that borders it often wet from the enthusiastic splashes of jewel toned bathers.
One of these bathers is staring at me now, hot and impatient.  

At present, it seems that Mother Nature is too absorbed in the creation of her magnum opus - the hottest year on record - to remember her other obligations, so it has fallen to me to provide refreshment for the flowers that have begun to suffer from lack of rain and, as I stand with my watering can poised over the vinca, I can feel the Robin’s unwavering stare.  I glance at him over my shoulder, and the trees hear me mutter, “Oh, just go ahead and get in the bath.  I won’t bother you, you should know that by now.” 

And instantly, I hear a flutter of wings as the Robin lights softly on the bath at my feet.  Peering up at my face for a second, he proceeds to hop right into the water, gleefully splashing fat droplets all over my linen-clad legs.  Close enough for me to touch, he seems perfectly content in my presence, not unlike a Disney bird with a cartoon Cinderella.
I don’t think I’ve been paid a better compliment in years.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Fan

Ladies born and bred in the South do not perspire.  A falsity oft repeated as fact, this old chestnut falls from the moss-draped trees that once surrounded those grand plantations of yore, where proper Southern girls would arrange themselves on verandas crowned with painted blue ceilings, with a cool glass of lemonade in one hand and a delicate fan in the other.  This misty image still hovers in myth, solidifying in the modern age only upon movie or television screens.

For those few who may still hold up that symbol of the marble-cool Southern lady as an attainable standard, this is shaping up to be a summer of extraordinary challenge.
It is hot.  Stifling, smothering - almost unbearably,  hot.  For the first time in memory, the hydrangeas that encircle my cottage - all 54 of them - have suffered the loss of their extravagant blooms.   Colourful, fat and blowzy were those blooms in May -  sad and brown are they now in July, fried to a crisp in this unusual heat. There will be none for drying; no lovely chartreuse hydrangeas to grace my wreaths this Christmas.   Chic summer ensembles hang ignored in my closet, pushed aside day after day as I reach, once again, for drawstring linen trousers.  Wearing my hair down  is unthinkable.  Make-up?  Please.

And then She arrives.
  Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, spent five and a half of the hottest hours on record in New York City this past week, and spent most of them outside, under a blazing sun that made lesser mortals faint dead away on the pavement.  Clad in a floral suit, matching hat, stockings, pearls and white gloves (gloves!!), she calmly greeted the Mayor of the city and graciously spoke to some of those who had braved the torrid heat to see her, remaining all the while, totally unruffled, cool as the inner seed of a cucumber, not a bead of sweat upon the royal brow. 
 Mind over matter. 
 She puts me to shame.

Not long ago, my Mother gave me an old, old fan that had  belonged to my Scottish great-grandmother St.Clair. Beautifully handpainted, and remarkably well preserved in spite of its hundred year age, I keep it by my favourite chair, within easy reach when I come in, limp, from the garden.  I think of the women who, down through the ages, have cooled themselves off  by the breezes it makes, exactly the same as I am now.  Amazingly, it does that job rather well.  There is an elegant quietude that descends when one uses a personal fan.  Cooling and relaxing all at the same time, it can be nearly meditative.  I can almost, almost, imagine one of those wide Southern verandas, almost feel the cold glass of lemonade in my hot little hand. 

Could it be that Her Majesty has a beautiful fan of her own?  Perhaps one owned by her own Scottish mother?  I do recall seeing portraits of both the first Elizabeth, as well as Queen Victoria holding one in their hand - a cool breeze at the ready, always prepared.
Maybe I have finally figured out what she keeps in that handbag.

It’s all to do with the training:  you can do a lot if you’re properly trained.
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II 

Painting by Marie Spartali Stillman, Self-Portrait

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Mockingbird At Fifty

The  Mockingbird at Fifty

The Songwriter sometimes calls me “The Harper Lee of Country Music”.  He’s kidding, of course.  The reference originates from a song we once wrote together.  I had burst into the front door one autumn afternoon bubbling over from a sight I had seen on the way to my favourite nursery.  Intending to write a short story about the experience, I told him all about it over dinner.  “Story!?”, he said, eyes gleaming.  “That’s a song, not a story!  We have to write that!”.  
And so we did, and I soon discovered during that day long writing session that we work in entirely different ways.  I am always impressed that each morning, rain or shine, he can be found heading out along the stone pathway that winds through our back garden - Apple at his heels, coffee mug in hand - to his studio where he will write the morning away.  For someone like myself, who merrily skips along until the muse conks me over the head, this is a tremendous example of discipline.  Our diverging methods of working crashed into each other like bumper cars as we wrote that song, with the day even including, if I remember correctly, a threat to lock me in the room until we were finished.  I do remember, more than once, gazing longingly at the door.  Songwriting, I discovered, is hard.  A good idea is necessary, but then it all has to rhyme, and be set to music, for goodness sakes.   Although we both loved our finished product, and it was recorded by a bonafide country music legend - a fact The Songwriter considered a bit incredible (“She only wrote one song in her whole life and it got recorded?  I can’t believe it!”) -  I vowed to never write another.
And that is where any comparisons between me and Harper Lee come screeching to a halt.  Harper Lee wrote one book, To Kill A Mockingbird, and that was it.  Only one book and never another.  But oh, what a book it was.  

I should think it is always the chief desire of any good writer to fashion their words into a hieroglyphic net for truth, and to arrange those words on the page in such a way that that truth can never escape, but is destined to remain between those covers forever, clear and undeniable.  This is certainly the accomplishment of  To Kill A Mockingbird - truth on every page, truth so shining it is recognized in over 40 languages, with the book selling over 30 million copies.  This July 11th marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird, with literary celebrations scheduled all over the world.  Articles are being written, old photographs reprinted, the wonderful movie version played again and again on television.  Just don’t ask Harper Lee how she feels about it all.  She won’t tell you.

Many have speculated as to why Ms. Lee never wrote another book.  Notoriously private, she isn’t talking.   Perhaps she is rightfully wary of fame, having observed its ill effects on her good friend, writer Truman Capote.  She doesn’t grant interviews, she’s never been on Oprah.  She has been known, as it’s widely reported, to respond to any request for an interview with a resounding, “Not just no, but Hell No”.  Consequently, we don’t know what she eats for breakfast, who she votes for, or what she thinks about the new Twilight movie.  God Bless Her.  For did she not put everything we need to know between the covers of that book?  Did she not tell us about justice and love, show us the grim results of ignorance and fear?  Did she not give us the template for parenthood, for friendship, for integrity?  Show us the face of hate, and the value of community?  Lord knows, I could go on and on, for it’s all in there.

There is a restaurant here in town that we frequent.  On the wall hangs a framed book cover of To Kill A Mockingbird, with a handwritten note of appreciation from Harper Lee.  I often stand there gazing at it whilst waiting for my table, saying a silent thank you to the lady I shall never meet.
Harper Lee is 84 now.  For fifty years, people have been reading her amazing words. 
 Read the book.
Read it again. 
There will never be another like it.

Painting by Mark Sandlin

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Porcelain Zero

Porcelain Zero

In summer, the so-called “Happiest Place on Earth” becomes the hottest place on Earth as well.  I know this from experience for I have been to Disneyworld in summer.  Now don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy Disneyworld.  For a person like me, habitually keen on controlling  just about every mundane aspect of life, there is something quite seductive in simply handing over my car keys to a cheerful chap dressed like a nineteenth century footman, walking through doors that whoosh open at my approach like something out of Star Wars and entering a comfortably chilled hotel lobby where the air smells like lilies and the sumptuous decor seems straight off the set of  The Music Man.   For the entire length of my stay my sole commission is to enjoy myself and, to that end, I wear only play clothes and am driven around on monorails and boats, blissfully unaware of newspapers or television.  I need no car, I need no purse, I need no money ( at least not until check-out day when I shall need far more money that I ever expected for a three day holiday, but no worries till then).  Everywhere I turn there are characters straight out of my childhood storybooks, nodding at me encouragingly and clapping their fat little orange hands in delight at the simple sight of my approach.  Mary Poppins stops by my breakfast table to give her regards over my freshly squeezed orange juice.  I mean, what’s not to like?  ( Of course, if one were inclined to a cynical view, one might suspect that those life-sized stuffed animals busily clapping their hands and permanently grinning their stitched on grins are, in grim reality, sullen teenagers who have signed on to swelter inside those tortuous polyester suits for the duration of the summer months in order to earn enough money for an iPhone.  One can only imagine the faces they pull inside those outfits each time they pose for yet another picture with a sweaty faced tourist clad in madras shorts and holding a half-eaten turkey leg in one hand.  But, I digress.)  Suspending belief in reality is a specialty of mine, and so I love to go to Disneyworld.
I most decidedly do not, however, love to be hot and therefore, during an afternoon visit to Animal Kingdom some years back, I could be found resting with an out-of-date copy of Vogue inside the deliciously cool establishment known as Baby Care, a Disney designed place for mothers to take red-faced toddlers who are woozy from too much excitement and heat, and a spot I discovered to be just perfect for yours truly when The Songwriter was desirous of a spin on the dinosaur ride.

Truth is, summer is just not my season and it never has been.  I am of Celtic descent and have the almost translucent colouring to prove it.  I do not tan - I do not attempt to tan.   Clad in my usual white linen and sun hat, I might indeed be invisible without lipstick.  If you are inclined to think I exaggerate, I offer this example.  Once, on a Disney monorail, on my way to a massage, I sat down across from a friendly Latino family.  We smiled at each other, the only barrier to conversation being lack of a common language.  As the flying car zipped along over the sun speckled lake, I noticed that the youngest child was staring at me, staring hard.  Finally, he pointed straight at my face, looked up at his mother and said...”Muy blanca!”.  Yes, that’s right.  Very white.  I knew enough high school Spanish for that translation.  Surrounded as the little fellow was by so many fantastical Disney creatures, it gave me pause to think my appearance elicited such awe within him.  But, there you go.

Now I’m told by dermatologists that this is not such a bad thing.  Supposedly, the lack of sun exposure indicated by my pale visage bodes well for my skin’s carefree traipse through the aging process.  We shall see.   I do well remember once approaching the Bobbi Brown make-up counter and being almost blown backwards by the delight of a saleswoman when she clapped eyes on me and called to her co-workers... “Look!  Look!  It’s Porcelain Zero!!"  Thinking at first that maybe I was, as I had always secretly suspected, a superhero, and that this woman had finally realized my true name, I was instead informed that Porcelain Zero was the name of one of Bobbi’s foundation colours, a colour that, up until that very moment, no one had ever been white enough to qualify for. 

Yes, Porcelain Zero.  Not bad.  With a moniker such as that I  think I could give Catwoman a run for her money, don’t you?  Now would someone please turn on the fan and pass the sunscreen?

painting by marie laurencin