Friday, February 27, 2009

Bright Sunshiny Day

Maybe it's because I have a seven year old son and I want him to grow up to be a good person. Maybe it's because Spring is currently being reborn on little bird feet in my backyard. Maybe it's because we are living in dark times and we need a little more light.

Whatever the reason, I am officially over the haters. Bitchiness is so 20th century.

(Garden in Kensington, 2008)

All those who criticize rather than encourage, who belittle instead of uplift, who gleefully pounce on other's weaknesses...please, can we have a reprieve?  I find it soul-crushing and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

It's the tabloids, it's the shows, it's the media...all brought to you by people desperately in need of an attitude adjustment.

Listen to this quote I found from Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Secret Garden", published in 1911:

"One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts -- just mere thoughts -- are as powerful as electric batteries -- as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison.  To let a bad thought get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body."

(London park, 2008)

I couldn't agree more.  I'm not saying we need to go all "Pollyanna" or anything, but I think most of us could do with a little mental detoxification. I've said before that, to me, life is made up of a series of delicious moments strung together. Shouldn't we do our utmost to help create as many of those as we can in our time here?

(Hedge with gate, London, 2008)

These photos were taken by my husband the last time he was visiting England. (Sweet thing -- he knows how much I love my London greenery.) I posted them specifically so you could absorb them into your retinas and let peace and calm spread throughout your body.  It works for me.

Have a glorious weekend, my dears.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Q&A with "A Bloomsbury Life"

Thank you to Robert for the lovely profile he's posted on his blog, Mr. Peacock. I have huge admiration for his work and am truly honored to be a "Lady with Panache."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stealing Beauty

Last Sunday morning we awoke with the birds, thanks to Bernardo, our gardener, who was tapping gently on our front door to remind us that it was tree-trimming day for our Pittosporum. Despite knowing it had to be done (the grass beneath it was performing the death scene from "Camille"), I had been postponing this moment for weeks as my aesthetic runs more to "overgrown Arcadia" than to the plucked, denuded look that always reminds me of a Brazilian wax job. 

Our beautiful Japanese magnolia, newly in flower, also needed a slight haircut to prevent it from forming too close an attachment to the wires. 

I didn't want one branch more than necessary to be lopped off so I stood vigil outside, sipping my latte and praying that the carnage would end quickly.

As Bernardo gathered the big bunches of foliage in his arms and began to haul them away, I suddenly realized that I had before me an amazing floral design opportunity.  Yes, my backyard Arcadia was a little less robust, but because of that, green anarchy could exist inside the Kenmore Arms today.

Using gesticulations and pidgeon Spanish to inform Bernardo of my plan, I relieved him of his bundle, donned my green wellies and went quickly to work.  I chose the lushest and shapeliest branches, trimmed them with my clippers and set about arranging them into vases. 

There are probably some people who will deem these 'poor man's bouquets', but I am drawn to their unadorned simplicity, their zen modesty and their guilelessness.  

In a way, they're a perfect example of wabi-sabi, the Japanese art of finding beauty in things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. Wabi-sabi embraces the profundity of nature and its inevitable cycle of growth, decay and death.

Bernardo took especial care to hand the magnolia stems to me after snipping them in order to keep the blossoms in one piece.  I think they look quite pretty in the foyer -- they are a poetic echo of the wallpaper.

The table by the window accommodates arrangements nicely and these were no exception. It felt right to honor these branches which had provided our family with shade and flower for the past year.

Afterwards, I returned my wellies to the watchful gaze of our trusty house mole and went inside to enjoy my indoor arboretum.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Embroidery: The Night I Lost My Passport

("The Night I Lost My Passport", 1997, 
embroidery floss on linen, 11 inches by 16 inches)
*click to enlarge*

This is one of my first embroideries.  It is based on a photo taken at the M&R Bar on Elizabeth Street in the Lower East Side.  It was a great local watering hole, and one we used to frequent regularly in those days of singlehood where sleeping until noon the next morning was a de facto given. On this particular night, we wound up there in the wee hours of the morning and found a table in the back room, watched over by a menage of sultry flea market nudes.

It was a divine evening, as every night in NYC was wont to be in those days. That's me in the black cobweb-macrame top and Patricia Field cheerleading skirt.  (I make no excuse for the outfit except to plead that it was the '90's and I was impressionable.)  The Divine Italian is facing the wall, with his back toward the viewer.  He was working at Blue Note Records and I was with Saatchi and Saatchi.  We were young, carefree and fully in the thrall of la dolce vita.

At some point during the evening, I lost my passport.  Having no driver's license at the time (I didn't get one until I turned 30), it was my only proof of identification and travelled everywhere with me. It probably fell out of my purse and got lodged underneath the banquette. At any rate, I never found it and had to endure (quelle horreur!) a three-week period of quiet evenings in before I received my replacement.

This piece took about 3 months to complete.  On a piece layered with so much needlework, I encountered some problems with the fabric stretching and distorting my design. Each stitch exerts a tiny force in a different direction and over time, it's incredibly hard to retain the integrity of a piece.  (Note:  When I began to attach my pieces to a stretcher beforehand, this problem was lessened considerably.)  In order to avoid this, I decided to embroider the paintings, the figure of Piero, and myself with my two friends on separate pieces of fabric. After completing them, I carefully cut them out, tucked under the edges and appliqued them onto the main background piece.  Viewed in person, it gives them a very slight 3-D effect, which I like.

I appreciate this piece even more now than I did when I finished it, because it is a tangible reminder of a certain period of time in New York City -- before Disneyfication, chain store takeovers and endless boutique hotels, back when the Meatpacking District still sold meat, getting past the velvet rope depended not on celebrity, but on attitude and personal style, and when walking down the street in a mesh top and black bra was for one (mercifully brief) moment a fashion "do." 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fearless Women: Amanda Eliasch

I have the good fortune to know one of England's most alluring eccentrics, Amanda Eliasch. We met years ago during my London days, and have kept in touch ever since. It's always fascinating to hear what she's been up to.

Photographer, actor, artist and now poet, she has just released a book entitled "Cloak Dagger and Butterfly: A Journey Through the Madness of Passion via Blackberry."

Composed of actual emails sent to paramours in the throes of long insomnia-filled nights, her word lie provocatively alongside her photographs of burlesque dancers. According to Amanda, the emails proved to be a good way of courting, acting as they did as an old-fashioned form of seduction. "Although some [of the poems] are salacious, they're still just writing, they're not doing," says Amanda.

Passionately curious about everything, she is a glamorous renegade, someone who follows her own inklings, whether they be hiking deep into the hill villages of Chiang Mai or painting her convertible Schiaparelli pink and hiring an ex-gang member to emblazon it with skulls.

In Paris, she lives in a building designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens, who, along with Corbusier, is widely regarded as the most influential French architect in the period between the two World Wars.
(Courtyard entry, Mallet-Stevens building)

(View of front of building)

The apartment comes with quite a provenance, being the former home of another female artist, Tamara de Lempicka, who lived there in the 1920's. "I wouldn't be so arrogant as to compare myself to her," says Amanda, "but I am fascinated by her. She was a free spirit."

Influenced in equal parts by burlesque and Art Deco, the first floor is a stunning space with huge double-height windows and a zig zag staircase.
(Interior of Amanda's apartment, formerly owned by Tamara de Lempicka)

In London, she lives in elegant Chester Square in a house originally designed by Sir Hugh Casson. "It was a massive project and took two years of our life to complete," says Amanda. "I did it up with huge help from my ex-husband, who was a complete star. Nobody really liked the house with its chain metal lights hanging in swags in the dining room, the aviary at the back or the cork walls and purple carpet in my bedroom...however, I did. Needing a lot of love and attention, I kept its craziness and made it mine."

In Los Angeles, she has recently laid down roots atop the Hollywood Hills, in a wonderland of mid-century modernism designed by famed architect Hal Levitt.

Over Christmas, Piero and I had a cozy dinner at her house, furnished in Amanda's cheeky mix of decadence, wit and royalism. Skulls feature prominently, as do tiaras. Her teenaged sons, Charles and Jack, had us spellbound with tales about their proper English boarding schools while her baby greyhounds raced around us in circles.

At one point in the evening Charles, a virtuoso pianist and aspiring opera singer, gave in to our pleas and sat down to play a piece by Handel. Seconds later, Amanda joined him at the piano and their voices rose in strong and stirring harmony. It was a very "Bloomsbury" moment.

On Tuesday night, we attended her book launch at the house. It was divine. Dita Von Teese performed. You can read all about it on her blog, which I am addicted to -- it reads like a mix of British Tatler, Anais Nin and Burke's Peerage all stuffed into one tightly laced corset.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Happy Daze

You know those mornings where it's almost unbearable to even think of leaving your house? From the moment you first open your eyes, you pray that the mere act of getting out of bed is the most Herculean task that awaits you all day.  You desire nothing more than to relax, read, rest and not once open the front door. 

Monday was one of those days.  

And for once, the world conspired with me.  My husband decided to forego his million mile bike ride and instead take a trip to Whole Foods to purchase provisions for an early supper.  He bustled about the kitchen, humming and cooking...

...and whipped up some mussels meuniere, a dish at which he's becoming remarkably adept. I know I've posted about mussels before, but I just can't get enough of them. Thank goodness we were alone. My ladylike graces went straight out the window and I devoured them with the grim intensity of a sumo wrestler preparing for battle.

Peace prevailed in other areas as well.  My son spent most of the afternoon with his nose stuck in a book, instead of as a blurry object racing from room to room.  
I had to keep peeking my head around the kitchen door to make sure I wasn't dreaming. But there he was, motionless, enmeshed in the continuing adventures of "Bone." Ardent bibliophile that I am, I felt I could die happy knowing my passion for reading may possibly continue on in him.  

Lastly, even the creatures great and small in our household behaved themselves.

Fellini, the unrepentant sensualist who has to be front and center of everything, remained front and center.

Twiglet, the cat with the personality of a skittish mouse/anxious vicar/stammering wallflower, stopped long enough to pose before rushing off to the comfort of a dark corner.

And despite my entreaties to partake of the sunshine, Percy the wonder sheep stayed indoors, although I did open the dutch door so he could get some fresh air.  

Monday, February 16, 2009

Toby...or not Toby?

I think I am developing a unhealthy predilection for Toby jugs, those vintage ceramic jugs in the form of a seated person.  I love them.  In the last month, I've bought three and my desire for them shows no sign of abating. 

(Curious as to why they're called "Toby jugs"?  So was I.  Wikipedia states that they're named after Toby, the jovial drunkard from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night.")

It all started shortly after I realized I needed to add a touch of Englishness to my kitchen windowsill.  It held the requisite plants and chic porcelain cachepots, but it still lacked oomph.  What could I find that would be traditional-with-a-twist, satisfy my obsession with "that sceptered isle" and not be totally ubiquitous in a month?

I stumbled upon them during an Ebay search.  I was looking for Winston Churchill mementos, per usuelle, and all of a sudden, there it was.  Or rather, there HE was.  
I love the way he's sitting here, bemused smile on his face, cigar firmly planted in cheek.  I wanted him so badly I didn't even wait for the auction to end. One "Buy it Now" click later and Sir Winnie was all mine.  He arrived ten days later via the Royal Mail and has been beaming contentedly at me ever since.

My next acquisition was Mr. Pickwick, sitting here in his yellow waistcoat, his buttons strained to breaking point after one of his many merry feasts.
Buying him was a no-brainer. "The Pickwick Papers" was the novel that turned me into a raging Dickens-ophile and, even twenty years later, remains one of the funniest books I have read. Upon finishing it, I was so reluctant to part with its brilliance that I filled up a small book with my favorite passages from the novel and proceeded to memorize them one by one.  (I know, I know...can you say N-E-R-D?)

Following shortly on Pickwick's heels came Mr. Pecksniff, the oily moralist and hypocrite extraordinaire from "Martin Chuzzlewit", another one of my favorite Dickens novels.  When I gaze at him, I remind myself that if I do exactly the opposite of everything he would, I will lead a blameless life.

All three of my Toby jugs were produced by Royal Douton and date from around the 1940's-1950's.  I have several friends who collect those vintage doll head vases and to me, Toby jugs are the masculine counterpart of those. Ebay has a great selection of them, but do a thorough check because I found the same jugs listed for various (and hugely disparate) prices. 

As traditional as they are, they feel somewhat edgy and humorous to me. Placed against a stark backdrop, they take on a modern slant and remind me a bit of those porcelain Nymphenberg statuettes they sell at Moss (but for about one-hundredth of the price).  

I say they're ripe for a comeback.  What do you think?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Give Me Liberty

If you've never been to Liberty and Co., the luxury department store in London tailormade for modern-day eccentrics like you and me, call British Airways now.  I just purchased a roundtrip ticket from LA to London in March for the crazy low fare of $499.  At a price like that, I bought one for The Little Prince, too.  Since the Divine Italian's going to be there on business, I figure Luca and I will crash his hotel room and live it up for a couple of days.

I have it all planned out: once onboard, Luca will be granted unlimited use of his Nintendo DS (my restrictions on it ease up during air travel, especially transatlantic legs), thus guaranteeing me near silence for the duration of the flight.  As for me, I'll load up on my favorite podcasts, "The Bowery Boys" and Arun Krishnan's "Learn Hindi from Bollywood Movies", wrap a cashmere travel blanket around my shoulders, pop a Skittle, close my eyes and dream of what awaits me.

Where to begin?  Founded in 1875, Liberty and Co. began by selling an eclectic mix of objets and fabrics from the Far East, but went on to develop its own distinct aesthetic style linked to Art Nouveau.  After they began to produce their own fabrics for clothing and furnishings, their store soon became the most elegant emporium in London, catering to a wealthy and exotic clientele.  It remains so today, and half the fun in going is rubbing shoulders with the outrageous assortment of chic London mummies, dandyish "heirs and spares", and newly-hatched Bright Young Things.

Being inside the Tudor Revival building is like being in a Grade I-listed museum; in fact, its very timbers were taken from two British naval ships, the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan.  The interior is arranged around a huge wooden 5-story atrium, with open balconies at each level, dripping with gorgeous antique rugs.

Feeling peckish?  There is a tea room...

a cafe...

and a Champagne and oyster bar.  (Ooh, yes please.)

Fingers crossed that The Little Prince allows me some shopping time.  The last time we were there, it was a late November afternoon and he was in a black mood.  He demonstrated this by lying prostrate on the ground directly in front of the massive revolving door and refusing to budge, despite my desperate pleas and a tsunami wave of approaching boots.  Ah, the unpredictability of children. Let's just say that although the English are by nature unfailingly polite, my son had them at breaking point.  

Anyway, Liberty is a marvel of a place.  If you've been, you know what I mean. And if you haven't, I promise if you ever have a chance to go, you won't be disappointed.  Usually, by the time I manage to drag myself out of there, night is falling and the store looks prettier than ever.
On the occasions I exit clutching one of their instantly recognizable purple shopping bags, I consider myself a very lucky girl indeed.

Here are a few of my favorite purchases over the last couple of years...

A leather-bound blank book imprinted in Liberty's iconic "Ianthe" pattern, which I haven't been brave enough to write in yet (what could merit such importance?)...

...a velvet peacock feather pillow...

...some assorted pocket handkerchiefs and scented sachets, all in various Liberty prints...

...and my favorite toiletry bag ever, which sadly has been discontinued.

I'm counting down the days.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Art of the Quotidien

Part of my ethos in creating "A Bloomsbury Life" is to find artfulness in the everyday. Some of the most memorable images to me aren't expensive bibelots, million dollar vistas or posed groupings, but the humble details and spontaneous moments of daily life.  There can be beauty and meaning in everything.

Here are a few personal favorites:

A front hall littered with muddy wellies and cast-off clothing from a country walk...

Two tea towels hanging exhaustedly on an Aga after a vigorous Sunday washing up...

An impromptu dinner on a homemade blanket...

A jubilant pot of mussels in Brussels...
A friend who's not afraid to wear a tea cozy on her head...
Lovingly folded washcloths in a orphanage in Tibet...

An approaching train and the sudden exodus of pigeons overhead...
A hedge with well-rounded aspirations of grandeur...

My son's ever-expanding catalogue of monsters...


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