Monday, July 12, 2010

Threads of Memory

I so remember this picture being taken.
(Me with my brother and sister in Madeira, 1971. I'm on the left.)

We were on holiday in Madeira and had taken a stroll into the town of Funchal to while away the hours before dinner. My mother was on a relentless quest to buy some of the island's famed hand embroidery and my brother, sister and I were dragging our feet about it. Coming into an open square, we passed a man holding a parrot and a baby monkey and stopped to look. Before we knew it, he had thrust the animals upon us. "Don't move!" my father said, whipping out his Leica. "One - two - three - smile!" We did...and waited for what seemed like an eternity while he adjusted and readjusted the camera settings. (Are all fathers the same?) My mother rolled her eyes in exasperation. (There was embroidery to be found!) Even the monkey closed his eyes and slumped forward, grabbing my shoulder for support. At long last, there was a blessed click.

We stayed at Reid's Palace Hotel, a legendary hotel frequented by Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw, perched atop rocky cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Days were spent in our bathing suits and in the evenings we dressed up for dinner downstairs in the enormous white Edwardian dining room. The scene was glamorous (lots of crocheted pantsuits) but the meals felt interminably long to us children, and my parents resorted to playing table games with us to keep us from falling asleep between courses. The waiters came to the rescue too: a napkin would magically transform itself into a dove, utensils became percussive instruments and little wrapped candies would periodically appear in front of us.
(Reid's Palace Hotel, Funchal, Madeira)

Before our trip was over, my mother had found her holy grail of textiles: beautiful sets of linen cocktail napkins embroidered with colorful figures and palm trees.

About five years ago, she gave them all to me, still in pristine condition. "Didn't you ever use them?" I asked. "Not really. Maybe once or twice," she answered. "I always considered them too beautiful."

Well, they are beautiful. For the last 150 years, Madeira hand embroidery has been recognized worldwide as being among the finest in the world. The microscopically precise stitches and elaborate details attest to that. But as I have written about before, to let them languish in a drawer for a lifetime is to fall victim to the tragedy of perfection.

So I use them. For morning coffee, for afternoon tea, for an early evening cocktail, for almost any reason I can dream up. And every time I hold them, I am reminded of a parrot, a monkey and an enchanting family vacation in a legendary cliffside hotel -- once upon a time long, long ago.

33 comments:

columnist said...

How charming, and I'm glad you use them. My mother gave me a gorgeous boxed set of Limoges demitasse cups because I mentioned I had none, and sadly I've only used them twice. But not many people drink coffe after dinner now, so I blame the change in habits!

Laura [What I Like] said...

I've just received a set of silver tea spoons from the generation above, and you've inspired me to get them out for company pronto!

A Country Farmhouse said...

What a beautiful memory. I love having items that are passed down, especially those with such a wonderful history.
Trina

Megan Taylor said...

I see you've held on to the napkins (what a special souvenir) and countless memories (it's how we stay good storytellers) -- but what EVER happened to those matching sweaters??? One - two - three = adorable.

xo, Megan

A Gift Wrapped Life said...

What a charming story (and great pic) and I bet you are very happy that your mother was on a shopping quest that day as well. A beautiful memory and keepsake.

pve design said...

I wished I had never used a quilt (now a memory of threads) that my mother made but I am glad I am using another one she made. I think we have to find happiness in using and finding a balance. I love threads of memories.
pve

katiedid said...

I am so glad you use them. I wonder how many sets of beautiful napkins and linens there are tucked away in drawers around the world never to see the light of day.

Ren- Lady Of The Arts said...

Oh these are lovely- what a great photo as well- we have some beautiful Polish designs that my mother is sending me- I agree things need to be used!

Hannah Stoneham said...

I think that these are rather lovely...

AlwaysMe said...

How beautiful. And how perfect that the embroidered napkins went to an embroidery artist. What a wonderful story.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

A fated holiday that obviously instilled in you a love of embroidery! Look what you do now!

Now, as to monkeys and parrots....

ArchitectDesign™ said...

i love how an old photograph can conjur up memories like that. My grandfather was always clicking away -something we didn't appreciate at the time but it's so nice now to have ALL those pictures.
LOVELY napkins -who could bear to hide them away?!

Vava (aka Virginia) said...

There's something in the air. An old photograph "forced" me to write my last 2 posts. Memories are as good as tangible keepsakes...except for these lovely linens.

C.T. said...

And you've done it again! Lovely story, cute picture and your words / story that just made me sigh. XXX, C.

(I dragged my kids from bookshop to bookshop when we were in the UK last week. I think they enjoyed it...I hope).

Veuve said...

Lovely post! What a great photo-- I especially love your brother's pose with the parrot, he seems so confident and relaxed.

The embroidery is charming. Having beautiful things but never using them makes them just another possession (just my take on it). Enjoy them!

Claire Kiefer said...

What a sweet post, and that is a darling picture. I wish I had more childhood pictures--my mom has them all, and she lives all the way across the country. I'm definitely going to have to make a note to make copies of some of my favorites the next time I visit home. So glad I stumbled upon your blog!

Pimm's and Lemonade said...

I was having a really dreary day and this sweet post really brought big rays of sunshine. Totally adorable photo and to have the charming linens as a momento is fab. Thanks, mate!

Concrete Jungle said...

Aren't memomories and what triggers them such fun...a lovely and charming story.....

Angie Muresan said...

That photo is so precious, Lisa. And I love the fact that you use those napkins every chance you get.

Hels said...

Ohhh you are so correct! Threads of memories can be captured in photos, diaries etc, but they are best shared with other people who were there.

I often say to my parents or brothers "do you remember back in 1953 when we were in...... and doing......?" One person's memories jog other memories from the others who were there and between us, we can build a much richer picture.

Sensible Footwear said...

Very lovely napkins - such great colours - and a delightful story too.

I wanted to ask - would you ever use linens as the 'canvas' for your own embroidery work?

Miss Cavendish said...

Am melting over here. How lovely are your embroideries . . .

Jenny said...

I love your blog and this is my favorite post so far! It's personal, charming, and beautiful! Thank You!

holly aka golly said...

What a an extraordinary holiday. Lovely memories. The embroidery is so charming, so beautiful! I'm so glad that you use your linen. It adds a little touch of elegance and connects the past with the present.

helen tilston said...

You have not changed one bit from the photo. Ok, more mature and more experience! You are so right to use the napkins. My Aunts spoke fondly of Reid's Hotel and the beautiful gerbera daisies which grew profusely on the Island. Thanks for sharing

24 Corners said...

Oh they're wonderful, so glad you use them! They must have played a part somehow in your love of embroidery. To see such exquisite detailing at such a young age clearly made an impact. Little did you know...
I love how the wait-staff at this glorious hotel catered so kindly to you all (I dont' think you three could have been any cuter). what a delightful way to handle wiggly children.

Sweet post! xo J~

wilb said...

Great photo,you guys were so cute.I remember going to Maderia as a little girl with my Mom in the 60's.We had tea at Reid's & rode the toboggan down the mountain..big fun!We've always had lots of the linens in our family,hand towels,napkins,baby pillow cases.It makes me happy every time I use them & reminds me of that beautiful place.Would love to go back again someday.thank you for a wonderful post.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

columnist: Can you use them for espresso in the morning, or put one on the kitchen sill to hold your rings when you wash up?

Laura: Excellent!

Megan Taylor: Those sweaters were good, huh? :)

C.T.: England -- I must check out your blog asap -- are you posting about your trip?

Sensible Footwear: I have embroidered on linens in the past and yes, they may feature in some upcoming projects I'm obsessing about now... :)

wilb: So we have Reid's Hotel in common -- how lovely! It's a special place, isn't it? I would love to take my son back there now...

Tropical Chateau Shop-owner said...

SO LOVELY......and yes, you should use them and enjoy the memories.
I absolutely love and cherish all of my old things that have sentimental value.
And, what a darling photo.....

Vickie H. said...

A beautiful and touching post!!! What lovely memories and exquisite embroidery! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

CashmereLibrarian said...

What beautiful napkins. I'm so glad you use them!

Reid's Palace said...

Dear Lisa,

It was so great to read about your child memories and your perspective about us. We would love to welcome you back to Madeira.
The main dinning room is still on 2 days a week in the winter and once during Summer. We now have fun@reids where children are being look after, with all their activities and special children menus. Times have changed and not every evening you have to put your dinner jacket, but on the nights of the main dining room this is a must (or at least jacket and tie).

If you wish to keep in touch, you can find us both on twitter http://twitter.com/Reids_Palace and Facebook http://www.facebook.com/reidspalace

Thank you for sharing your memories.

Ulisses Marreiros
Reid's Palace Manager

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