Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm Thankful For...You

(My new iMac)

To all of you who have commented on my unfortunate computer situation, I thank you. It's slightly ironic that immediately after revealing my "we shall overcome" knitting story I was faced with another test of character, thanks to the machinations of a corrupted (ruthless? immoral? unscrupulous?) hard drive.

After crying for a day, here's where we stand:

Plan A (a.k.a. "Recovering My Data") is looking quite slim, and in all likelihood, I will probably lose all of my photos from 2009 (around 3,000) as well as countless bookmarked ideas that I was researching for future blog posts (which is an awful lot of homework down the drain). What makes it especially frustrating is that I have been backing my files up on a regular basis, but apparently, I was doing it wrong. (Oh, the sheer lunacy of it all.)

Add to this the O. Henry-ish coincidence that for months I've been longing for a new computer. Now, thanks to this unfortunate real-life plot twist, I have one. My new machine is lovely and sleek and hopefully has only honorable intentions for the relationship we are about to forge together. But it's a slightly hollow victory because, like walking into an empty house, it contains nothing personal in it.

And having said that, I'm ready to move on.

Dramatic beat. A shaft of sunlight enters the room.

So here's Plan B (a.k.a. "The Fresh Start"):

I was thinking as I lay awake last night in bed that since blogging is, in its most satisfying aspects, a shared journey, perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to invite you to help me fill up my computer with ideas.

Sometimes the inspiration for a blog post comes down to a single word, one that is so intensely redolent of a person, place or thing (or period of history or style or even a feeling, for that matter) that it sets into motion a Sherlockian treasure hunt for what lies beneath.

Herewith, my list so far:

Blotting paper.
Country manors.
Dinner parties.
Exotic travels.
Fete champetres.
Gipsy caravans.
Glamorous souls.
Morocco leather.
Vivienne Westwood.

Would you be so kind as to add a word (or words) that you would like to see explored on this blog? Truly, truly, I would be so honored.

Monday, November 23, 2009

And Now A Brief Pause...

(via here)

My computer behaved very badly over the weekend. Very badly. There I was on Saturday morning, composing a lovely post for today and with zero warning, it flatlined. As I type this (on a borrowed computer), it's undergoing diagnostic surgery. So cross your fingers for me and I'll be back as soon as I can. And if I don't return before Thursday, Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tag, I'm It

Victoria at Art House Design has tagged me one of her favorite bloggers (thank you very much, Victoria...I am honored). The rules are to share ten random facts about myself and to nominate seven other bloggers in return.

Here goes...

1. My weakness for marzipan is all-consuming.

2. When I was in my 20's, I spent months knitting a complicated sweater for myself only to have it stolen the day after I finally completed it. After crying for a day, I decided I had a choice: either I could remember this moment for the rest of my life with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach (and thereby give misfortune the upper hand), or I could knit the entire thing again. I knitted it again.

3. I've eaten sheep intestines (Turkey), boiled seal meat (Norway) and deep-fried bull testicles (Colorado) and none of it tasted like chicken.

4. I might read too much.

5. Much to my dismay, once I memorize a phone number, it's there forever. I have completely useless phone numbers from 15 years ago floating around in my head which take up a lot of brain bytes that I could be using to remember where I put the keys.

6. I love cold houses. I would much rather wear a sweater than crank up the heat. My husband is the total opposite. This sets the stage for highly furtive thermostat manoeuvers.

7. I don't drive on freeways.

8. Shortly after entering King Tut's tomb in Luxor, Egypt, my forearm swelled up as though it was smuggling a golf ball. I never found out what bit me, but for the rest of the day, I was convinced I was going to be the next victim of the legendary curse.

9. Colors define me. Right now, they're Farrow and Ball's "Railings", Diana Vreeland red and the vivid teal of a peacock's tail feather.

10. "Will and Grace" trivia: I played Diane, the only woman Will Truman ever slept with, on the 2001 Thanksgiving episode called "Lows in the Mid-80's."
I worked on the show at the time and my friends Max and David (the creators) thought it would be fun for me to make an appearance for posterity. My character reappeared a couple of seasons later, only in true Hollywood fashion I was replaced by Mira Sorvino because we obviously look soo much alike (not).

And now for my nominations:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Birth of a Home

This past weekend, while trying to edit down some of the 20,000 photos on my hard drive (which make my computer zip along at glacial speed), I stumbled across some photos of our house as it looked when we purchased it in 2008, and was slightly startled to see the extent of the transformation that's taken place.

In the predictable fashion of all home renovations, ours inched forward in fits, starts and the occasional halt and although it continued to slowly metamorphosize before our eyes, it wasn't until I compared the "before" and "after" shots that I really was able to see the change in character our house has undergone.
(Kitchen, before)

(Kitchen, after)

It's not so much about the design or the wallpaper or the furnishings we chose, but how the sum of our decisions seem to have brought the house to life.
(Dining room, mid-renovation)

It feels like a living, breathing organism now. It has a definite personality and I like who it's become.
(Dining room, after)

When we moved in, although in tip-top condition, it was suffering from a prolonged case of insecurity. It had wonderful bone structure, but it hadn't dressed up or worn a speck of makeup in years.
(Upstairs hall, before)

(Upstairs hall, after)

There's no reversing the aging process (and who wants to anyway?), but I knew that given a good makeover...
(Front hall, before)

(Front hall, after)

...this Monterey Colonial Revival could become a confident, sexy English Auntie Mame.
(Living room, before, with a startled Piero)

(Living room, after)

I swear it's made a difference to the soul of the house. It's a happy place now. Like an eccentric maiden aunt, it's staunch, dependable and prone to occasional flights of fancy. Best of all, after a year of reparations, we've established a reservoir of mutual trust with each other: in return for our pledge to treat it with love and respect, it has become the protectorate of our hopes and dreams.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fearless Women: Patricia Knop

(Portrait of the artist:
detail, Escape from the Prophesy #2: Wooden Wings)

Once in a rare while, you meet someone who is so passionate about the pursuit of creativity that you are shaken to the very core by their commitment to live a life dedicated to art, imagination and unbridled joy.

For me, that person is Patricia Knop.

I met her at a dinner party in Hollywood a few months ago and was instantly enchanted. She and her husband, director Zalman King, had us all spellbound with their tales of adventure and derring-do and I drove home feeling that I had met some kind of unearthly creature. Painter, sculptor, screenwriter (91/2 Weeks and Siesta, among others), librettist (Andrew Lloyd Webber's Whistle Down the Wind), jewelry designer, decorator and more, Pat has a high-speed connection to her goddess muse and follows it wherever it leads her.

After our dinner, I couldn't stop thinking about her funny stories, her fervent enthusiasm and her wise words, so I called our mutual friend Martha and told her I needed "another dose of Knop." Within hours, Martha called me back and informed me that we had been invited over to her house for tea. I took my camera because I had been forewarned it would be special, but even I had no idea of the marvels that awaited me.

When I walked into her home, the first thing I saw was this massive Victorian ship's head angel. I'm pretty sure I gasped out loud.

According to Pat, "It was bought at auction years ago and I was told it once sailed the Great Lakes. For a long time, we had it mounted on a big dolly and it took up half a room. It dawned on me one day that we could wrap the wings around a couch and therefore sit on the angel's back."
I find the placement especially genius because it symbolically transforms the couch into the prow of a ship.

Pat's home is a virtual art gallery to her many talents. Here, a lifesize sculpture of her husband Zalman reclines in front of an antique religious triptych from Peru.
"I never studied sculpting," Pat says. "One night when I was about 19, I dreamed that I came upon a spiral building with an old man sitting on the steps. All around there were monumental sculptures that I loved. He said, 'If you love them, they're yours.' I began soon after that."

(Celeb tidbit: Peter Sellers, the actor, bought several pieces from Pat in the late '60's and early '70's. One was a huge female figure stradding a base in a state of elation. It was airlifted to London and the Beatles were there to celebrate when it was uncrated.)

In the center of the massive garden pavilion are a collection of carousel animals surrounding a sculpture of Pat in a blue dress. She explains: "At one point, we bought an old carousel and I sculpted bits of my life to ride on it. Our kids were in a chariot, my parents were in a ticket booth, and so on. Ultimately, it proved to be too big an undertaking and we ended up keeping the animals we liked, but had to break down the rest."
("Blue Pat" surrounded by carousel animals)

("Blue Pat" by Patricia Knop)

In another corner of the pavilion is a floor-to-ceiling triptych called Escape from the Prophesy #2: Wooden Wings. It's based on a dream that Pat had in which she found herself riding in the belly of an old WWII plane with a group of paratroopers. A hatch opened and one by one they jumped out until Pat was the only one left. She didn't have a parachute so she found a wooden angel and jumped. The angel's wings broke her fall.

(Fashion tidbit: The black dress in the painting was a one-of-a-kind creation created by Issey Miyake for Pat's friend, French film director Agnes Varda. Pat coveted the dress and wanted Agnes to give it to her and when she didn't, "kept" it by immortalizing it in the painting.)

Everywhere one turns in her house, you are greeted by a colorful assemblage or striking tableau. In the kitchen, she has grouped her pottery by color and then surprises the visitor with a beautifully spotlit painting in the very back of each shelf.

Here, the colors of a ceramic parrot are echoed in a mountain landscape.

Pat also is an inveterate collector of suzanis. She appreciates their bright colors, the fact that they are entirely handmade by women in rural villages in Uzbekhistan and the personal stories that have been woven into each of them.

"To me," says Pat, "the suzanis are prayers made visible because they contain so many symbols of wishes for one's health and happiness."

She had always wanted to design one day, she just started doing it. Her pieces are all one-of-a-kind and fashioned from vintage costume jewelry, Bakelite, coral, even fossil ammonites. They are both sculptural and glamorous and made me think of Tony Duquette meets Marni.
Says Pat, "The jewels are simply minute versions of the larger paintings and sculpture. The compulsion to create them is the same, only they don't take half a dozen men to carry them."

Below is an especially beautiful necklace made of pieces of coral and a vintage jade Buddha head.

There is such an overarching vision to all of Pat's work. When I mentioned this to her, she agreed. "Maybe everything blends together because it's all big and little versions of the same thing...and that is the drive to get pleasure from what we're looking at. There's not a lot of difference between the pavilion and a coral necklace."

When I stepped outside into her garden, I realized she was right. All of her art and possessions vibrate to the same chord. Even the colors and shapes of her Indonesian swing can be seen as an exploded version of her Buddha necklace.
(Outdoor swing)

Off to the side of the main house was a beautiful two-story guest house that doubles as Pat's art studio. I begged for a peek and she kindly allowed me to photograph a few of the dozens of paintings inside.

Pat uses friends and neighbors as her subjects and often incorporates their dreams and longings into her work.
(A Milagro For Jamie)

(on left: I Live I Die I Kill For My Family; on right: Rabbit)

(Hot Winds Blow, Hormones Rage, Laura Dreams of Betty Paige)

(foreground: Sculpture of Diana;
background: Diana Beside Herself With Ostrich Eggs)

Pat, thank you for your graciousness in allowing me to traipse briefly through your life. I feel so honored to be able to present these inspiring images to my readers. It's been a great lesson to meet someone like you. So many times we (myself included) succumb to procrastination or self-doubt when it comes to following our passions, and it's such a mistake, because in doing so, we achieve nothing but a sad little pile of dreams deferred.

No more.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Vegetable House

(My mother and siblings, 1970's.
I'm the one in back on the left.)

When I lived in England as a child, my parents bought a house outside London called "Hutton Mount", which was a perfectly lovely name for a Tudor-ish dwelling except for the fact that it didn't mean anything to our family. It didn't resonate. My parents had just moved to the UK from Stockholm with five young children in tow and they wanted a house name that felt personal and relevant to their new lives. After a bit of deliberation, they decided to rename it "Brussels Sprouts", because my four brothers and sisters and I were all born in Brussels, Belgium and, well, we were all little "sprouts." Well, as you can imagine, this created quite a stir. No sooner had the name gone up than there was a knock at the door: the news had reached some journalists from the London papers and they trooped out with Hasselblads in hand. Within days, various articles appeared in the broadsheets and tabloids. Of course, they had a field day with the headlines: "Americans Name House After Vegetable" and so on. I have the clippings in an album somewhere; if there's any interest, I'll see if I can dig them out and scan them for you.

This little backstory gives you a bit of insight into why when we moved into our new house in 2008, one of the first things I wanted to do was to name it. Piero and I tossed around an endless variety of monikers, but we kept coming back to "The Kenmore Arms." It expressed just what I wanted to convey: that our home would be a modern-day coaching inn where our friends and neighbors would always feel free to stop by for a pint or a cuppa.

I found a little company in Cornwall, England to fashion a slate sign for us and when it arrived in the mail, I felt a pang of panic that it might be too much for our little refuge to live up to, but my fears were short-lived. Whether our house has grown to fit the name or whether the name has changed our perceptions of the house, I don't know. But I can't imagine it being called anything else.

Does your house have a name?
If it doesn't, what would it be? And why?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Revelations in Thread

I shall speak the truth: I don't much like my daughter sewing.

When she reads, she returns all bewildered and with flaming cheeks from the island where the chestful of precious stones is hidden, from the dismal castle where a poor orphan child is persecuted.

If she colors pictures, a semi-articulate song issues from her, increasing as the hum of bees around the privet.

But my daughter is silent when she sews, silent for hours on end, with her mouth firmly closed. She is silent, and she -- why not write down the word that frightens me -- she is thinking.

-- From Colette, "Earthly Paradise: An Autobiography of Colette Drawn From Her Lifetime Writings"

I've been on my hands and knees these last few days. Stitching, stitching stitching. Something very exciting is on the horizon for 2010 which I am not privy to talk about yet but will reveal in good time...and you will all be invited.

But I can tell you this: 1) I will need to be highly disciplined for the next five months, and 2) for the last three days, I have been cross-stitching words like these:

The piece I'm working on now is so large -- three by four feet, so far -- that the only way I can figure out how to sew it is to crouch over it. (Alternative suggestions would be roundly welcomed as my lower back is not amused.)
(My work space)

I have made out a very detailed work schedule for myself based on how much I need to stitch every day (minus weekends and vacations) and if my calculations are right, I am looking at a good 4-6 hours every day between now and April.

That's why there's only been one blog post this week, my darlings. Because I needed to take some time to plan, design, map out, calculate and, of course, count.

I will be back on Monday with a fabulous post about a fearless woman I met recently who I hope will inspire you as much as she has inspired me.

Now I must go. There's a row of hypodermic syringes waiting to be sewn up...

Monday, November 2, 2009

In Praise Of A Cluttered Mind

My brain is like a rambling old wood-panelled library crammed with a life's worth of images, references and words that have seeped in and left their mark on my soul. There's no claim to any principle of organization in this strange room of collections -- the memory of a candlelit party in Brooklyn is firmly lodged next to a favorite passage from George Eliot which, in turn, is stacked on top of a vision of a midsummer's night in Iceland -- but the haphazard arrangement of all these memories is what makes it so delightful.

Random connections proliferate.

Curious relationships form.

And every impression tattooed on my mind's eye gives me an opportunity to glimpse my world through an extra rose-colored layer of meaning.

Thus, the bracing memory of an August afternoon on a Scottish field...
(Outside Stirling, Scotland, 2008)

...inspired me to tell Luca and his friend Ethan, "So what if the badminton net is broken. Who needs a net as a divider when you have a sheep?"
(Summer, Hollywood, 2009)

The vibrant image of a suzani tablecloth paired with green curtains in an old Elle Decor...
(photograph by Simon Upton)

...prompted me to experiment with the same mix of color and pattern outside.
(September, Hollywood, 2009)

The remembrance of a favorite childhood novel in which enchanted brambles were the passageway into another world...
(Original frontispiece, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

...motivated me to create an enchanted forest inside the walls of my house so that my son could feel inspired by the same imagery.
(May, 2009)

Lastly, the haunting image of two young English artists (Mark Gertler and Julian Morrell) "hard at it" in the drawing room of a country house...
'Hard at it' (Mark Gertler; Julian Ottoline Vinogradoff (née Morrell)), by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1923 - NPG Ax141481 - © National Portrait Gallery, London
(Photograph by Ottoline Morrell, 1923, via here)

...made me see the similarities between a quiet weekend in the English countryside and one in urban Hollywood nearly ninety years later.
(October, 2009)


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