Saturday, June 28, 2014

On An Ordinary Night

On An Ordinary Night

It was an ordinary night, even the most imaginative of souls could have only described it as such.  There were no extremes of weather; no clattering of rain on the roof; no wild wind to disturb the nests of baby robins asleep in the holly bushes beneath the darkened windows.  The crescent moon, thin as an eyelash, could only muster a watery light that struggled, and failed, to pierce the heavy air.   It was quiet, save for the hooting of the owl in the bottom of the garden, who is such a regular visitor that his calls are hardly to be taken for omens of any portent.  The minutes ticked by in quotidian fashion, as if even  time itself expected nothing unusual to occur on this, a most ordinary of ordinary nights.

The Songwriter was out of town and, as usual, Edward had been more than happy to take his place next to me in bed.  I had drifted off to the sound of the big dog’s steady breathing and was now tucked deep inside a dreamless sleep.  Way past midnight, yet long before dawn, I sensed someone trying to wake me up.  Though inaudible, someone was calling my name as loud as a bell.   Opening my eyes, I found myself nose to nose with Edward.  His big head nudged my side.  Then he pawed at my shoulder.  Then he turned round and round and flopped down on the bed with his head on my tummy.  Then, jumping up, he began to paw at me again, insistent, persistent,  and obviously worried.  

Sitting up in bed, I tried to ascertain what was wrong but nothing I could say or do seemed to calm him.  Then, suddenly, what only can be described as a strong gust of wind blew past me - a warm wind, forceful enough to ruffle my hair. The very second after this happened Edward turned, lay down at the foot of the bed, sighed a contented sigh and went right back to sleep, leaving me sitting up with my mind, quite naturally, awhirl.  There was no window open; nothing that could have logically caused a gust of warm wind.  What had just happened?

Relating this story to several people has been entertaining as I’ve watched their eyes grow wider and wider and heard wildly varying possibilities as to the nature of my experience.    Suffice it to say, all who have heard my account have expressed more that a bit of fright.  But I can honestly say that I felt no fear, indeed I went right back to sleep along with Edward.  

But I do admit to wondering what it could have been,
 and Edward’s not talking.
So, any ideas?

Painting above by Konstantin Kalynovych

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


The Songwriter often complains that I walk too fast.  I suppose he’s right, I do tend to bob and weave through crowds like a racehorse on a Derby track -  but only through crowds.  I think I’m always subconsciously attempting to escape them, so I go faster and faster until I’m nothing more than a pale blur.   Otherwise, I’m decidedly a stroller.   But my stride was lengthening on a morning last week as I made my way through the overstuffed cosmetic department of Bloomingdales on a birthday present expedition.  I had just spotted daylight and was heading for the door when my speed was slowed  by a lady offering a sadly unwanted perfume sample of Acqua di Parma.   Reed thin and bejeweled, she was a woman of an indeterminate age with lips an impossible red and a French accent as thick as bouillabaisse.   I smiled as I passed, gently refusing her gift of a heady spritz and that’s when I heard it:  “Oh, my dear!" she exclaimed.  "You are zo cute!”

Cute?  Cute!  I almost stopped cold, grabbed her by her St. John lapels and demanded she elaborate.  Cute?  One might be grateful for a compliment of “cute” when one is a toddler. One might even welcome it as far up as sixteen. But to be called “cute” at this stage of the game was downright unsettling.  I indulged in a sideways glance at the mirrored wall alongside me.  Black and white espadrilles, wide-legged white linen trousers, long black linen shirt, one lone strand of pearls, big white vintage earrings, hair up.  I had been going for “unstudied elegance” and all I got was “cute”.  In a French accent, no less.

“Cute”, in my definition, is a word dangerously akin to “twee”, an adjective that calls to mind lace doilies, grosgrain ribbon, and kittens.  But apparently, “twee” has become a thing now. Who knew?  There is an entire movement of “twee” happening at the moment; a possible reaction against the “hipsters”, those aficionados of white belts, mismatched plaids and the razor-thin moustache.   It’s rather disconcerting to read a list of things considered to be  twee as quite a few of them veer too closely to my own tastes.

Let’s see now, according to the Chicago Tribune, cats are twee.  (Edward gallantly guarantees I’m safe there.)  So are cupcakes, mittens and scarves.  (As a knitter, those last two are worrisome.  Come to think of it, knitting is probably as twee as it gets.  This is not looking good.)  The state of Connecticut is twee. (What?  The entire state?)  Also, Wes Anderson movies, indie rock, and Paul Simon.  (Uh oh... I adored Wes Anderson’s, Moonrise Kingdom, which is supposedly the twee-est movie out there.)   Otters are twee, bless them.  (Photo above.)  Happily though, after mentally perusing my other favourites, I came up with a highly un-twee list.  Virginia and Vita, Leonard Cohen, Glencoe?   Certainly not twee.  Saint-Saens, Seamus Heaney, Great-Horned Owls?  Hardly.  By the time I got to Alexander MacQueen and Isabella Blow I was feeling much better. So thankfully, it seems in totality my tastes are not quite twee enough to demand my automatic inclusion in that camp.  

Having always shunned categories of any kind, I am naturally reluctant to label myself as either twee or un-twee.  I have to admit, the French perfume lady did cause a momentary wrinkle in an otherwise smooth morning despite the fact that I quickly decided her use of the word “cute” was undoubtedly due to the unfortunate paucity of her American vocabulary. Nevertheless, in response, I did what any normal woman would do.  I bought I pair of shoes.  Black with gold flowers.  Very Elizabethan.  Very elegant.  In no way twee.  In absolutely no way “cute”.   

I wonder.... how would you react to being called “cute”?
Would you happily embrace “twee”?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Friend Indeed

A Friend Indeed

Jury duty is just that, a duty.  If you happen to open your mailbox to find an official looking letter summoning you to a week of jury duty, be aware:  this is not an invitation to be weighed; it is a requirement.  Therefore, when I received such a summons for jury duty back in March, my mood clouded over as I saw my service was set to begin on the one day out of three hundred and sixty five that happened to be the very day I was born.    To spend my birthday on jury duty seemed cruel and unnecessary at best, particularly since I was already booked into my favourite inn at the beach for that week.  So I wrote a  very nice letter, and lo and behold the very nice people at the very nice courthouse postponed my service until June, which was how I found myself up much earlier than usual on a morning last week, stifling a yawn as I waited in the security line for my handbag to be searched.

Having heard there was a lot of waiting around when one serves as a juror, I’d brought along a fat and wordy book as well as the crossword puzzles from the morning papers and a freshly sharpened pencil.  Turns out I didn’t get very far in either diversion, for I was called to a courtroom within the hour of my arrival.  This just might be interesting, I thought, as I followed my fellow potential jurors into the courtroom.   A great opportunity for observation and character study.  My heart fell to my espadrilles, however, when I heard the judge announce that she was beginning jury selection for a criminal trial involving charges that made me shudder just to hear them read.  Forty-two potential jurors had to be interviewed which, much to my amazement, required them to speak at intrusive length about horrors in their own lives.  I had no idea this happened in jury selection and felt the weight of sadness growing heavier as I listened to seemingly ordinary people recount parts of their past that were painful to hear and no doubt excruciating to relate.  Hours passed.  We were finally released at six o’clock and I drove home feeling quite low.
There were dark clouds moving in from the west as I pulled into the drive, indicating the approach of a summer storm.   The house was still.  Obviously the dogs were out in the studio with The Songwriter.  But just then I heard a familiar thump on the back door and it swung open wide as Edward bounded in.  Being of excellent hearing, and having recently mastered the art of opening the screened porch door of the studio to let himself out when needed (something Apple has yet to work out), he came running when he heard my car.  

Too dispirited to manage an effusive greeting, I merely patted him on the head and fell across the bed in a heap.  Thunder rolled in the distance as the first fistfuls of rain began to hit the roof.  The curtains over the window seat blew in and out as the wind whipped up and the room grew dim.  Edward sat watching me; I could feel his brown-eyed stare on the back of my neck.  After a long minute he jumped lightly up on top of the bed.  Snuggling up as close as he could get, he placed his big head on my shoulders and sighed a heavy sigh.  

For those unfortunate enough to have never known the comfort a dog can bring, I can only say it is unsurpassed on the earth.  Words are superfluous; explanations, irrelevant.  I lay there for a good while - listening to the rain pound the garden as the wind blew sweet scents of wet honeysuckle into my room, all the while with Edward never moving from my side, his breathing slow and steady.  One of my favourite quotes is by C. S. Lewis who said, “Man with dog closes a gap in the universe”.  I felt that gap gently close that afternoon as  once again, I felt a measureless gratitude for my good furry friend.  I can only hope I make his life a fraction as sweet as he makes mine.  

Next morning, I was not selected to serve on that jury.  It was probably because the detective is a neighbour of mine, but I didn’t stop to ask questions as I scurried out the door, feeling somewhat guilty over the relief rushing through my veins. I drove home quickly and took Edward for a long, long walk in the sunshine.  I needed it, and goodness knows, he deserved it.  

If you don’t have a dog of your own, go get one! 
 Or as Edward and Apple would suggest, go rescue one!
You will never regret it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Summer Reading 2014

Summer Reading 2014
When I was a child growing up in the South I spent a lot of time in the summer trying to get cool.  Southern summers are hot but like most people on our street my parents considered air-conditioning to be an affectation for the less than hardy Southerner, so our rooms were cooled at night by the stalwart efforts of an oscillating fan placed strategically in the hallway between my bedroom and theirs. This method, while completely fair, was often sadly ineffectual.  How well I remember lying in my bed in the humid heat, listening to the crickets in the woods outside my window as I waited for that fan to finally swivel my way.  

But every summer, as soon as school holidays began, we would visit a building unlike any other I knew; blessedly cool, quiet, and entirely magical.  The main branch of our public library was a colossal grey stone edifice that presided, cathedral-holy, over the busiest street downtown.  Approaching it on a hot June day when steam rose up like an unnatural fog from the blistering streets and everyone wore the damp, listless expressions of the truly miserable as they plowed their way through the heavy air was akin to nearing an oasis in the middle of a inhabitable land; a land that vanished as though it had never existed as soon as I pushed open that library door.  It was not only a place where, amazingly,  you were allowed to take as many books as you wanted home with you but full as it was of fat, comfortable chairs, it was a cool and utterly delightful place to read the afternoon away.  

In summer, where one reads has always been sweetly tied to what one reads.  Hence the description, Beach Book, I suppose.  More than any other season, summer holds out handfuls of tempting places to read: windswept beaches, coastal cottages, fragrant gardens.  In this, my annual Summer Reading list, I decided to pair books with places as beautiful as they are inviting.  Each looks like the most wonderful place to read on a summer's day.  And thanks to the National Trust of Britain, they all can be rented!   Just click on the photograph and you’ll be whisked away for all the details.  Same goes with the books, just click the picture of each to find out more.  Also, a marvelous children’s book closes out each separate list.  

The months of summer are brief, I know that now.  When I was a child, of course, they stretched out before me like an unbroken ribbon of carnival candy creating enough delicious memories to last a lifetime.   I’m glad those memories include books and I hope you’ll make some wonderful new literary memories of your own this summer.  As I was writing this post it occurred to me that it was six years ago this month that I began writing here at From the House of Edward.  I can’t think of a lovelier way to celebrate than with a passel of tempting new books, can you?  Remember now, do leave comments to tell me what you’re planning to read this summer.
  Love to you all,
 Pamela, and Edward too, of course.

Doyden Castle, Cornwall

The Sea House
by Elizabeth Gifford

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier
Helston Lodge, Cornwall

My Brilliant Friend
by Elena Ferrante

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
by Genevieve Valentine

What Are People For 
by Wendell Berry

Three Bears in a Boat
by David Soman

Tan y Bwlch, Wales

This House is Haunted
by John Boyne

All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

The Silkworm
by Robert Galbraith

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes
by Jonathan Auxier
Tintinhull House, Somerset

The Romanov Sisters
by Helen Rappaport

by Vita Sackville-West and Sarah Raven

One Man’s Folly:  The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood
by Julia Reed

The Minpins
by Roald Dahl

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer Pictures

Summer Pictures

It is a small picture album, containing only ten or so images. Each one features the same character - a big white furry dog - and each one is uniquely precious for it was captured at the precise moment that dog turned to grin at me - fur flying, eyes bright - as  we ran together side by side on the edge of the sea.  A moment of unabashed joy, frozen forever in time.  Not one of these images has been altered in the usual ways by age - not a crease nor a wrinkle; the corners still crisp as the day they were made.  As if deprived of its usual tricks, time has instead chosen to create a bit of magic over each, for in some I can clearly hear the surf crashing at our feet as we run; I feel the wind in my face in others.  This album, although worth more to me than gold, is not one I would have to run into a burning house to save, for it exists in my memory alone.  More valuable for being intangible; each image represents a moment fully lived and so, fully remembered.

The beach is one of Edward’s favourite places and we have been fortunate enough to take him there throughout his life.  I can close my eyes and flip through this album of memories and smile as I see him running beside me.  Though I’d love to share a photograph of that experience with you - for it would elicit a guaranteed smile - I cannot.  To have trusted such an experience to the limitations of a camera would have cheapened, if not ruined, the moment entirely.  It is mine alone.  And Edward’s, of course.

These day so many of us seem one step removed from our lives as we hold our cameras aloft in a feeble attempt to document experiences rather than simply stand still and live them.  Everything from the ruins of the Colosseum to the Grand Canyon must be reduced to fit inside a three by four screen.   I have followed along behind people as they walked through the whole of Westminster Abbey looking through their cell phones.  Were they able to see the way the light changed colours as it drifted down through the stained glass?  Did they notice the way the ceiling in the Lady’s Chapel looks so much like lace or feel the cold marble of William Wordsworth’s statue as they perhaps recalled the close of one of his poems...”
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives. 

A couple of weeks ago, just as the sun was setting, I took a bike ride through an paradisiacal corner of the south, through marshland and forest not far from the sea.  No one was about; I could have been the only person on earth.  As I pedaled over a wooden bridge I stopped in amazement to see a tree trembling with apparent white leaves as hundreds of wood storks gathered there for a bit of  evening conversation.  Their sound filled the air and made me feel utterly insignificant.  Like any other modern day numpty I took out my cell phone and snapped a photo, thinking I had preserved the moment to enjoy later.  Then I looked at the result.  Why, I couldn’t even tell what it was.  And I’d wasted precious time in the effort; time that would have been so much better spent watching and listening.   Shaking my head at my foolishness, I pedaled on into the shadowy darkness of the woods.  I hadn’t gone very far before I felt wild eyes watching me.  Slowing to a stop I peered into the trees; straight into the eyes of a deer.  For a long lovely moment we two stood face to face, eye to eye, breathing the same sweetly scented air and I felt inexplicably connected to the magnificent glory of life.  How remarkable it is.  What a gift.  My cell phone stayed in my pocket.

The Vacation
by Wendell Berry
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation.  He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it, 
preserving it forever; the river, the trees, 
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving the vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it.  It would be there.  With a flick
of a switch, there it would be.  But he
would not be in it.  He would never be in it.