Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Somewhere in Middle Earth...

In one of my recurring fantasies, I am a retired adventuress living in a colorful gypsy caravan deep in the English countryside. 
I wear Liberty floral skirts and colorful woolen jumpers and live in a pair of green wellies. I grow climbing roses and clematis, voraciously read cookbooks and take long walks across sheep-laden pastures at dusk. I am never without a slice of ginger parkin in my pocket and a tube of Nars Jungle Red lipstick. It's all very Pippi Longstocking meets Tamasin Day-Lewis meets Diana Vreeland.

In reality, I reside two miles from the epicenter of Hollywood and have a tiny space (10' by 10') in the corner of my pool area that I've been obsessing about building something upon. 
It's a shady nook with a lovely roof of bougainvillea over it, courtesy of our neighbors' rampant specimen. We've laid small gravelly pebbles on the ground while we go back and forth about what kind of a teeny shelter we should erect there.

My first choice would be a small caravan like the ones above, but I've researched them and the old ones cost a fortune and the new ones lack distinction. 

But I do love the idea of building something like this.

I don't know if it's a garden shed or a hobbit house, all I know is I love it. It would have to be tiny -- eight feet by eight feet, maximum. Just one little room with a casement window and a dutch door. It could function as playdate headquarters for Luca, a refuge from familial chaos for The Divine Italian and a reading snuggery for me. I would cover it in ivy and climbing vines and paint the trim a lovely color (like above). 

Inside, I'd put a lovely chair, perhaps like this one from Nathan Turner...

...wallpaper the walls in something fabulous...

...throw some rush matting on the floor...

...toss in a couple of pillows with some far-flung history...
...and slowly transform it into a sacred space. 
(Piero Castellini Baldissera's cabinet from Decorating with Antiques


Monday, April 27, 2009

Savage Garden

Last Friday, Luca's friend Jack came over after school. As soon as I opened the front door, their first words to me were, "We're hungry." (Note: There is no appetite as ferocious as that of a little boy. Not even The Divine Italian comes close.) 

I had baked some cardamom banana bread the day before, so I toasted some slices in my trusty Dualit and spread a thin layer of Nutella on them. (There were sliced pears involved, too. I'm not a total reprobate.) They gobbled everything down in a manner which, while not notable for its daintiness, was nevertheless entirely age-appropriate...

...and bolted into the miniature Narnia of our garden.

Moments later, I heard some loud "ribbits" and discovered two frogs engaged in a battle of belches by the pool.

Then the frogs morphed into brave knights and carefully threaded their way along the edge of a steep mountain precipice.

One of them had to negotiate his way over a fiery dragon-filled moat below. He barely made it.

Can you see the dragons? You can't? Me, either. I was told that's because "grownups can never see what's right in front of them." Interesting.

The other knight hung onto the edge of a steep crag by his fingertips for what seemed like hours and barely avoided a terrifying drop of eight inches.

Saturday was sunny and beautiful, so we didn't venture far from The Kenmore Arms. It would be very poetic to say that the drops of water on these plants came from dew...
 but I think it was the sprinklers.

We recently adopted a new gnome (after the tragic demise of our last one) and let him out in the garden so he could acclimate to his new surroundings. Luca thought the goggles would come in handy should he crave a late-night swim. 

Twiglet, our nervous vicar of a cat, retreated into the shade of a hedge and, despite Luca's cajoling, refused to come out until we resolutely ignored him. Then he sidled up next to us like he was Paris Hilton and we were paparazzi.

I had just settled down to read Wilkie Collins' "The Haunted Hotel" (amazing! compulsive! can't put it down!) and was enjoying the peace and quiet when this fearsome bear suddenly appeared.

I kept still as he prowled around my chair, sniffing out his territory. He made pawing motions at me and I gathered that he was attempting to communicate. 
He was. "Mom, I'm hungry."

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Tragedy of Perfection

I am a ex-perfectionist. For years, whenever I bought something, I would examine the entire stock to make sure that my item was the newest, best and brightest. I would dig through stacks of books to find the edition at the bottom that hadn't been touched. Then I would take my things home and wait for that perfect day when I would use them. I had beautiful table linens that had never seen a wine stain, dishes still in bubble wrap and vintage napkins that had never been unfolded. 

Then in 1996 I got married...and things began breaking. Dishes were chipped during post-party washing up sessions and champagne glasses were accidentally shattered out of sheer joy. Tabletops were scratched, wine stains appeared on the couch and scuff marks were a reminder of the night we turned the dining room into a dance floor. Slowly and surely, my precious possessions began to assume the patina of character, something they had never had before. I realized that my quest for perfection had not defined me; instead, it had trapped me.

Character is about second-hand threadbare rugs...

...chipped pieces of pottery that hold butter just as well as they did before...

...and beloved black swans that have been painstakingly glued back together after the cat made an ill-judged leap.
When my son came along in 2001, well, you can only imagine how things degenerated after that.

Today, I firmly embrace flaws of all kinds. Behind every chip and crack is a story. Imperfections are what give our possessions meaning. I look forward to watching my couches become shabby from nights of togetherness, my dishes become increasingly mismatched and my house become a well-worn sanctuary that enfolds one and all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Portraits: You Are What Surrounds You

I am fascinated by photographs of people in their inner sanctums. I find them so revealing, offering as they do a tangible measure of what someone deems to be important, precious and soul-sustaining. 

This one of Dirk Bogarde is a favorite of mine. Although most of the world knew him strictly as an actor, he was also a prolific writer and artist. I love the postcards stuck on the wall and the shelf of well-thumbed books behind him, a palpable reminder that he was so much more than just a celluloid hero.

And here's Truman Capote, lolling in splendor, surrounded by a profusion of tchotchkes and a riotous mess of color and pattern. Fierce.

This photograph is of the poet Anne Sexton. Making a supporting appearance are the essentials in her day-to-day life: coffee, cigarettes, books and the ever-present typewriter.

Some sanctums are outer sanctums. Nancy Lancaster (1897-1994) brought her talents for interior design to the garden as well, advocating that "as long as there is enough green, anything goes with anything."

There's not much to say about this portrait of Colin Firth, except that Mr. Darcy is alive and well and living in a palazzo in Tuscany.

I vote that blogger Patricia Van Essche wins the award for Chicest Profile Picture. She's a consummate artist, mother and all-around Renaissance woman, as is readily apparent from the amazing photo below.

A couple of months ago, I took this portrait of my son when he was gripped by an obsession with Indiana Jones (note television screen). 
He's now switched his attention to Adam Lambert (on "American Idol"). Such are the fleeting passions of seven year old boys.

And there you have it. 

Monday, April 20, 2009

Grey Gardens, B.S. (Before Squalor)

I can't stop thinking about HBO's stunning production of "Grey Gardens" which premiered this past Saturday night. I thought Drew Barrymore perfectly captured Little Edie's heartbreaking naivete and inner pathos, and Jessica Lange was wonderful as the imperious, controlling (yet still charming) mother. But there was another main character in the film I fell in love with: the house as it used to be, at the height of its 1930's splendor.

Blogger Visual Vamp has done several amazing in-depth posts about the production design of the movie and I urge you to head over to her site and read them for yourself. She lived in East Hampton in the 1970's and actually met Little Edie when she rode her bicycle up to Grey Gardens one day. Her first-hand account of their friendship is fascinating.

As a longtime fan of the documentary, I've often wished I could have seen the house before it collapsed into squalor. Through the talents of Kalina Ivanov, the movie's set designer, my dream has been realized. 

Below are a few production photos, again courtesy of Visual Vamp...

Grey Gardens at the height of its splendor:
(The main hall)

(The living room)

(The living room)

(The dining room)

And recreated as it appeared in the 1970's:
(The dining room)

(The living room)

Below is an actual photo of Big Edie amid the decay of the house, with a portrait of her younger self looking on.

This next photo shows Little Edie during her week of cabaret shows in Greenwich Village in late 1978 (following the death of her mother). She was a true original -- defiantly eccentric and relentlessly chic in her own crazy-weird way. I'm so glad she was finally able to achieve her long-held dream of performing, and I hope the audience gave her all the adulation she craved.  

I leave you with this lovely musical montage of Little Edie that I found on YouTube. It brings a little lump to my throat every time I watch it. (The montage starts at about the 1:00 mark.)

P.S. If you're really, really a fan of "Grey Gardens", then you'll want to click here. And here.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Who Lives Here?

Oh, Rug Company! You torment me, you really do. I could feast on your catalog all day. Who takes your photos? Where are all these stunning locations? Every spread is so tantalizing that I can't help but play my favorite game...

Who lives here?
A twenty-something journalist who just returned to Paris after a two year stint in Tokyo, where she ran a weekly podcast about Japanese fashion called "Cherry Blossom Girl."

Who lives here?
A hot young show runner for a top 10 comedy show. This is his home office. He deliberately specified that the curtains pool on the ground at exactly that length. He hates the desk, but it'll do for now. These little details are why he makes the big bucks.

Who lives here?
A newly married couple who just moved into this ancestral home in Cheshire. He plans to turn it into a boutique hotel for London's media elite. She's an ex-model who's currently developing a line of organically sustainable hand cream. This morning as she gathered the flowers for the windowsill, she thought, "I miss my friends."

Who lives here?
A stressed-out fashionista. She just moved into this Milanese apartment after a messy breakup and wants to spiritually declutter her life. She's into spare white spaces now...because her personality is colorful enough.

Who lives here?
The son of an international media kingpin. His father disowned him when he found out he wanted to be a tattoo artist -- thank goodness for that trust fund. He just bought this loft in Boerum Hill and is going through a big Sex Pistols phase.

Who lives here?
A massive rock star whose extracurricular exploits usually end up as headline news. He's currently entertaining a couple of visitors in the next room. Shhh. Let's leave them be.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Study in Brown and Green

A perfect lawn is a pampered lawn; and pampered lawns, like pampered people, are apt to develop a number of tiresome diseases.

Beverley Nichols, "Garden Open Tomorrow", 1968

For months now, I have gazed at a brown landscape in my back garden. Our gardener Bernardo laid down a gorgeous new carpet of grass back in September and then day by day, Piero and I watched it slowly wither away. Who knows what the cause was; I'm a newcomer to horticulture and Bernardo never got beyond scratching his head and mumbling something in Spanish. Perhaps my aforementioned case of thumb noir infected him, too.

In photographs, I've resorted to trickery, avoiding the lawn entirely or waiting until sunlight blows it out of focus...

...or making sure something big and bulky obstructs the view. 

Two weeks ago, however, Bernardo reseeded the back lawn. With mounting palpitations, I have been waiting for a first exuberant glimpse of green.

Well, it's hatching. And I feel quite maternal about it.

I am going to spoil that baby grass, I am going to pamper it, I am going to cosset it, I am going to spoonfeed it. This time, I am making no mistakes. The trees have been trimmed, the sprinklers have been re-adjusted...

..and the toads have been put on high alert.
After all, isn't there so much more potential pleasure to be gained through perseverance, obstinacy and not giving up than to be handed a garden in perfect and constant bloom? 

That's what I tell myself, anyway.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Shiny Happy Things

Yesterday I took Luca to an Easter egg hunt. We arrived a couple of minutes early...and one day late. (I should have looked more closely at the Evite. Bad, bad mommy.) 

Then Piero arranged for us to meet some friends in Griffith Park in the afternoon. But everyone in California must have had the same idea because Hollywood traffic was at a virtual standstill, and that plan was cancelled too.

We returned home to ponder our next move. The Divine Italian suggested that he and Luca watch a movie together, which was his way of saying, "I shall be taking a nap on the couch." 

I felt a need to be productive. Ever since reading TartanScot's glorious post last Friday on the joys of silver, I've been jonesing to get a little tarnish on my hands. And so yesterday afternoon I booked some pieces into the The Kenmore Arms Spa for a little exfoliating scrub and body polish.  (By appointment only.)

The healing benefits were unmistakable.

Seriously, isn't my sugar and creamer set exuding total body confidence?

The pitcher gave off such a boastful shine that the monkey fell prey to a bout of insecurity.

And you have to admit that my tea set is working it. Watch your back, Derek Zoolander.

Did you all have a shiny Sunday?


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