Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Chateau de Servigny

After the success of our Patch vacation to Scotland last year, we decided to expand our horizons.  So we did some online sleuthing and booked a house in Normandy for a week.  It was more than we could have hoped for.
It came with extensive grounds and outbuildings, including a chapel, a small forest, a manor house built on the scale of children and a temple to Neptune.  

As if that wasn't enough, the house itself had genuine bona fide history.  It was the site of several bloody WWII skirmishes.  And on June 26, 1944 the Treaty of Servigny (detailing the ceasefire agreement between France and Germany), also known as the Surrender of Cherbourg, was signed within its walls. 

We went to Omaha Beach, Mont St. Michel and Bayeux, but honestly, we pretty much spent every day like this.  Can you blame us?

(Photo credits:  All taken July 2007 at the Chateau de Servigny in Yvetot-Bocage, Normandy, France)

My big fat French obsessions

There it is in all its glory.  The coolest gum in France.  When we were in Normandy this summer with our great gaggle of friends and their children (from here on to be referred to as "The Patch"), we always had this on hand.  However...having a wad of gum in your mouth when you're in Europe is one of those crass American behaviors you're best off avoiding,  so we kept our chewing confined to the perimeter of the house.  But I love the design.  The pop art colors, the big round container, the comic book-like font.

We had another guilty pleasure (see below).  Our nightly aperitif -- adults only, of course.  And before you pooh-pooh it, may I just say that the salty crunch of the oh-so-sophisticated Chipster mingled with the icy sweetness of a chilly B on ice is not to be sniffed at.  

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Looking for Hobbits

I'm so envious of the joyous abandon that children have when they run.  They race for the pure thrill of it and for no other reason than because they can.  Me?  I can barely muster up the energy to go out for a jog anymore.  When I do, I move at a turtle's pace, anticipating every ache and twinge, my face a grim mask of determination.  I'm so NOT in the moment.  Maybe if I stopped counting the minutes and the calories and just chased my son to the nearest tree, I'd discover it's not too late to enjoy a simple pleasure.  (Then again, maybe not.)

Mental reminder after looking at these pictures:  Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but griminess is definitely the next best thing to heaven.

(Photo credits:  Gargunnock, Scotland, August 2007)

Under the hedge

(Photo credit:  W. Eugene White, "The Walk to Paradise Garden", 1946)

(Photo info:  Gargunnock House gardens, Scotland, 2007)

(Photo info:  Gargunnock House, Scotland, 2007)

The first photo you've seen before.  In college, didn't at least one friend of yours have that poster plastered over their beds?  It was either that or Monet's "Water Lilies at Giverny," right?  Anyway, I've carried that image of those two children in my head ever since.  When we rented a house in Scotland last year, my son Luca and his friend Avery were playing in the kitchen garden and found a gap in the hedge.  It was a bit strange because they'd played there before and not one of us had noticed it until then.  I snapped the two shots above as they entered.  On the other side, completely hidden from adult view, was a Lilliputian greenhouse, complete with a tiny table, chairs and a stack of antique gardening pamphlets.  It immediately became their de facto clubhouse for the duration of our stay.  Of course it was there the whole time...or was it?  Would we have found it without them?  Does childhood get any more magical?

A room of my own

When I lived in New York City at the turn of the last century, I loved to walk home after work  through the West Village, the one neighborhood in Manhattan that has still managed to preserve its bohemian charms.  In that magical hour after sunset as legions of people made their nightly journey back downtown, I loved to watch the gorgeous old brownstones slowly return to life after a dormant day.  Gazing up at the enormous lit windows, I would try to guess what each home was like from the clues I could make out as I walked by:  a piece of artwork on a wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves stuffed with bibelots and books, carved ceiling moldings, even the fabric on a chair.  As much as I longed to go inside, there was something magical about being on the outside looking in.  It was an enchanted domain, and the fact that I would never be invited in made my fantasies all the more potent.  I'd climb the stairs to my studio apartment (decorated in techno-chic, don't ask), settle in on my futon couch and order takeout Chinese, still awash in visions of pre-war splendor.

Even today, the allure still holds.  Just the other night, after we had neighbors over for a glass (or three) of champagne, I grabbed my camera and took this shot of our kitchen from the backyard.  The golden interior light, the remnants of dinner on the table and the blurry outlines of my husband (tidying up) and my son (angling for another Trader Joe's macaroon cookie) gave me the same frisson of longing that I remembered from my NYC days.  The only difference was that this time I could go inside and join the party.  

Do any of you have the same fascination?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Order + Disorder = Charm

My husband just returned from a business trip to London and took this photo of his hotel room at the Kensington Gore.  I love it.  The rumpled cushions, the golden afternoon light, the detritus on the table, it perfectly illustrates my new theory of "order plus disorder equals charm."

Too perfect is beyond boring.  You know how a certain glossy interiors magazine features endless spreads of million dollar rooms, usually bloomless and overlit, where you could swear no bawdy joke has ever reverberated, no mud has ever been tracked across the threshold and (perish the thought) no meal has ever been cooked?  I'm SO over it. Perfection is the most overrated quality in existence.  It's soulless.  Personality comes from quirks.  Houses with charm have scuff marks on the floor, rumpled cushions, unironed napkins and flowers that are just a bit wilty.  They're charming not in spite of their disorder, but because of it.  There's nothing as off-putting as a spotless house to make a guest feel ill at ease.  "Where do I put the drink?  Do I need a coaster?  Where can I sit?" he or she wonders.  Who wants to make someone feel like that?  They'd be much more comfortable scooching a pillow to the side and plopping down on your couch while you trundle off to open a bottle of Prosecco.

Please come in...

Welcome to my blog.  First things first.  Why "A Bloomsbury Life"? 

1.  Because I have an enduring love affair with the Bloomsbury Group, those chic artistic souls who resided at Charleston House in the south of England in the 1920's.  Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Woolf), Clive Bell (Vanessa's husband), and Duncan Grant (Vanessa's lover).  All broke away from the uptight, judgmental mores of Victorian London and strove fill their lives with art, beauty, wit and the emancipated hedonism of rural living.

2.  Because in these uncertain and stress-inducing times, maybe it's time to refocus ourselves on the simpler things in life.  Overspending is as out as the "in" bag.  And while I've admittedly bought my share of designer purses and suffered pangs of jealousy over Rachel Zoe's archival wardrobe, I'm honestly trying to renumber my priorities.  Old habits are hard to break, but slowly and surely, I am beginning to take as much delight in watching the climbing roses grow up and around my balcony as I used to take in being first in line at the warehouse sale at Barneys.  

3.  Because although I live in citified Hollywood, California, I firmly believe that countryside living is a state of mind.  I may not have acres of green grass in my backyard, but my bare feet are just as happy treading on the early morning dew as they would be if I had boundless acreage.  Life is made up of a series of delicious moments strung together.  The more of those I can accumulate, the better.  

4.  Because the Bloomsbury Group were fearless explorers of life.  Like them, my curiosity is  fervent and deep.  I want to learn to paint.  I want to speak French unflinchingly.  I want to learn to compost.  I want to cook with confidence.  I want to know the Latin names of my favorite plants and flowers.  I want to return to India, Cambodia and Tibet.  I want to take a welly walk on a rainy August day in Scotland.  I want to read all of Cecil Beaton's diaries.  I want to do more yoga.  I want to be a better wife and mother.  I want to make my house a beautiful home.  I want to be more grateful.  We have just the merest blip of time on this planet and I want to maximize the journey.  Join me.

(Photo credits, top and bottom:  Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, England, taken by me in August 2007)


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