Friday, May 28, 2010

Finding the Light

Oh, it was restful, my blog-free week.
(Griffith Park, Hollywood, 5/30/10)

1. I slept.

2. I ate consciously and healthily (thanks to superb cooking by the Divine Italian).
(I'm extending my "Clean" cleanse for another 14 days because I am finally starting to feel like myself again. It's not rough at all: two home-made fruit smoothies or vegetable soups a day and one midday meal laden with protein -- turkey, chicken or fish -- and lots of greens. Easy-peasy.)

3. I took spiritual guidance from a very wise teacher who has mastered living in the moment.

4. I saw "SATC2" with Ivarene Farmer and "Shrek 4 Ever After" with the goggle-headed kid below.

5. I read and lounged in the comfort of my new Nathan Turner "Flores" chair and John Robshaw pillow. In a perfectly timed stroke of serendipity, they both arrived last week when I needed them most.

FYI: The John Robshaw pillow was only $39.97 on HSN, down from $168.00 (a few other styles are available too.) One caveat: It arrives with a stiff polyester insert pillow which you will want to replace immediately with a down one, as I did here.

6. I hiked with my family in the hills behind our house. Boy, did we hike. Do you see Luca rounding the bend?

So many people think that life in Los Angeles is entirely urban. But as you can see, it's not.

Reaching the top of our neighborhood peak, we were rewarded with a glimpse of the majestic San Gabriel Mountains.

Turning back toward Hollywood, the famed Griffith Park Observatory pointed us in the right direction.

There were trompe l'oeil forests...

...and countless beautiful specimens of a life well lived.

Afterwards, gratitude predominated (although it may have been just because the hike was over.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pardon My Zen Moment

If you are in the moment, you are in the infinite.

(View from the top of Potala Palace, Llhasa, Tibet,
former home of the Dalai Llama. Photo taken April 2007.)

My dears,

I'm feeling the need for a bit of time away from the computer to recharge, revitalize and reinvigorate my body and soul. A seven day fast from technology, so to speak. I've decided to combine this with an annual spring cleaning, courtesy of Alejandro Junger's "Clean" regime -- no caffeine, red meat, dairy, sugar, processed foods, wheat, gluten or soy. Some old habits need to be broken and new ones set in place.

I will make the most of the time I am gone and return next Monday eager to share, listen and catch up with everyone.


Friday, May 21, 2010

The Hearth of the Matter

In every home, there should be one room dedicated to seeing clearly, regardless of the view.

This happens to be mine.

To the outside world, it goes by the name of "upstairs office." But I know it by another name: The Lisa Borgnes Giramonti Center for Cognitive Realignment.

This room was created for physical indolence and spirited mental wanderings. Here, I set my grey cells loose to make new connections, stumble upon the unexpected, and -- if I'm lucky -- to topple down a wormhole and come up with a breakthrough.

It's a intimate form of elopement, really. "Come on, darling," I say to my brain. "At long last, it's just you and me. Let's go off together and not tell anyone."

Some days, I am filled with inspiration. I lose myself in a book or a blogpost and suddenly, it's time to pick up Luca from school. I love those days.

Other days, I feel totally stuck. In those situations, I relax, surrender to the moment and focus my attention outward. Insight usually follows.

Just outside my Center for Cognitive Realigment there is a little balcony that offers a particularly pastoral method of healing. The active ingredients are sunlight, breeze and birdsong.

Do you have a room of your own where you can be who you are?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Soles with Soul

I've been challenged by the lovely Helena Halme over at her eponymous blog to show off seven pairs of my favorite shoes. After much deliberation, I've made my picks. Here they are, along with the reasons why I love them so:

I bought these sequinned leather shoes in Jaipur, India a couple of years ago from a little boy who relentlessly followed me down the street. "Shoes for three hundred rupees!" he cried (about six dollars). "Here, here, I show you!" The guide we were with pursed his lips in disapproval, but I stopped anyway. The boy untied an enormous cotton bag and revealed a bottomless trove of colorful shoes like these. "My father, he made them." All were beautiful and precious and exotic...and this pair fit me with a Cinderella-like perfection.

If you ever see me dashing around town on errands, I'll probably be wearing these platform wedges from Kork-Ease. (This is actually my second pair, the first pair having passed on after enjoying a rich life in 2009.) Can you say "crazy comfortable?" They come in various colors and styles, but I like the nude cork best. They go with everything, have an organic simplicity that I love and never fail to imbue my psyche with a relaxed, "whatever goes" 1970's hippie attitude (perfect for being stuck in traffic on the carpool run).

Oh, the geisha shoes. I bought them on sale at a hip boutique here in Los Angeles years ago. I think they were maybe $20. I love them because they have a little bell on the bottom of the sole that clicks when you step on it. I wore them to work at "Will and Grace" one day and caused considerable consternation among the sound crew whenever I walked onto the set. Later, someone told me they were training shoes for geishas to learn to walk noiselessly (touching the bell is a no-no). The only way to manage this is to take very little steps and adopt a submissive shuffle. Needless to say, when I wear them, you can hear me coming.

There are countless hiking trails in the Hollywood Hills and my new cross training shoes from Nike are coming with me every step of the way. My last pair of cross trainers was blah-bitty-blah brown, and I love these because they have a slightly glamorous (or, as my husband says, "disco ball") edge to them which makes them as suitable for urban browsing in Paris, Rome or London as they are for a dawn trek up the local neighborhood peak.

Although I love me a good pair of designer shoes, I'm not a brand snob. So when I spotted these boots at Nine West about four years ago, I knew instantly they were the perfect accompaniment I'd long been searching for to go with my Marc Jacobs Couture patent leather 3/4 coat. I love the two-tone color and the nod to classic 19th century spats. It's all about the high-low mix.

This sexy shoe-boot from Michael Kors is my go-to pair for when I am craving a few extra inches in height (umm, which would be always). Lately, I've been wearing them with jeans and my new Irving and Fine Lamu coat with hand embroidered raffia and wooden beads. The built-up platform on the front part of the shoe means your foot doesn't slope down at a painful angle. I wore these at my recent art opening (where I was on my feet all night) and not one tendon or toe filed a complaint.

My friend Suze, fashion editor of Glamour Magazine, made me buy these Jack Rogers sandals the last time I was in New York. "You'll wear them with everything from jeans to dresses." She was right. I've worn them to lunch at the Columbe d'Or in the south of France, to the beach in Malibu and even around my kitchen accessorized with this Tony Duquette-inspired kaftan and a 5pm cocktail.

Bonus pair: I couldn't not include my latest love, this fabulous pair of mid-calf boots from Tory Burch. I only bought them last month, after I spied them at a friend's house and nearly fainted with passion. "Whaa? Hwa?" I sputtered. "Yesterday. Tory Burch. 50% off." I sped over to the store on Robertson and the gods were smiling because there was one pair left in size 7. My heart still races thinking about it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Slipstream of Style

It's a cliché you've heard a million times, but that doesn't make it any less true: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Come, I'll show you what I mean.

On Friday, I finished this spellbinding memoir by English writer Sybille Bedford (1911-2006).
(available here)

It's not a conventional biography, but then Sybille didn't live a conventional life (morphine-addicted mother, eccentric upbringing, love affairs with men and women). Absorbing and quixotic, "Quicksands" reads like a poetic dreamscape of memories from a rich life. She starts in the middle, skips forward, then wades decades backward, alights on certain places and returns to them, again and again.

The village of Sanary-sur-Mer on the French Riviera is one such enchanted place.
(Sanary-sur-Mer, France)

Sybille lived there in the '20's and '30's when it was a secret haven for emigré artists and writers like Aldous and Maria Huxley, Berthold Brecht, Thomas Mann and Jean Cocteau, among others. (Even Edith Wharton, "rotund, corseted, flushed and beautifully dressed", was a Sanary habitué.) I've travelled through the South of France many times; how is it that I have never stopped here?

* * *
From the early 1920's on, here and there on that Mediterranean coast, one would find a handful of people who had chosen to live in places of benevolent climate and great natural beauty ...where one could play and work in the belief that History can have a stop.
~ Sybille Bedford, "Quicksand"

* * *

(photo via here)

Now it's Monday, but try as I might, everything keeps circling back to Sanary. Case in point: I was sent a special digital preview of June's Elle Decor (it's amazing, by the way) and clicking through it today, this beautiful photo of a Connecticut garden sent me speeding back to Sybille's chapter about life at Villa Huxley in the 1930's:
(Elle Decor, June 2010. Photo: Miguel Flores-Vianna)

"Here all is exquisitely lovely," Aldous wrote to Juliette, his sister-in-law...."There is the eucalyptus tree and the stumpy palms from which the hammocks swing. [It is] silence, leaves, the sky."

That description fits Miguel Flores-Vianna's photo beautifully, don't you think?

But it gets better than this. There are no photos in Bedford's book, so I did a Google search for "Sanary" and after some tunnelling, found this image buried deep inside a website. Look familiar? Grove of trees, table on the left, hammock on the right.
(Aldous, Maria and Matthew Huxley,
Sanary-sur-Mer, 1930's. Photo via here)

It's an eerie döppelganger of Miguel Flores-Vianna's wonderful photo, taken from an eighty year vantage point on time.

The more I leafed through the June issue, the more Sybille's memories burrowed insistently into the present:

"At dinner there was a sense of release, of being lightly en fête."
(Elle Decor, June 2010. Photo: Miguel Flores-Vianna)

"The house ran with a civilized simplicity. Breakfast about ten o'clock and everybody came down for it...Aldous still a bit groggy with sleep was comfortably silent. The jam, homemade, was mostly rose or quince."
(Elle Decor, June 2010. Photo: William Waldron)

"Maria [Huxley] would have been up for hours: looking after her artichoke bushes and scented tuberoses in the garden."
(Elle Decor, June 2010. Photo: William Waldron)

There is but a slender membrane that separates us from the past.

* * *

Note: For further Sybille Bedford exploration, "Jigsaw" (shortlisted for the Booker Prize) is a wonderful novelization of her youth which covers Sanary in perhaps even more detail. All the characters in "Quicksands" are there, although the names are disguised. I can recommend it highly.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jarvis Does The National Trust

Meet the newest heartthrob for the cardigan and wellies set.
(Photo via here)

Former Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker has teamed up with Britain's venerable National Trust to produce a free album of miniature soundscapes recorded on thirteen historic properties across England, Ireland and Wales.

Let me say that again: it's free. And you can download it HERE.
I've been listening to it since yesterday and I swear my blood pressure is now lower than a Tibetan monk's during morning gongyo.

There's no music to speak of, just the glorious pastoral sounds of crunching gravel, chirping birds, murmuring children, striking clocks and more.

It took Jarvis three months to record all the sounds and he describes it as "a holiday for the ears. It's not really meant to be listened to intently, like a piece of music, but more as something to have on in the background to aid relaxation or contemplation. Plus, you get to visit thirteen National Trust properties in the space of 30 minutes."

There's a creaking staircase from Chartwell House, former home of Winston Churchill, which made me envision all the late nights during WWII when he must have dragged himself up to bed with a heavy heart.
(Chartwell House, via here)

There's morning birdsong mixed with crunching footsteps on gravel from Belton House, a 17th century Restoration-era estate in Lincolnshire. (I must mention that this house was featured in the Colin Firth version "Pride and Prejudice", so of course it's impossible to listen to it without imagining Mr. Darcy striding up the path.)
(Belton House, photo: Peter Searle)

There's the lulling sound of waves lapping against the shore on Brownsea Island in Dorset -- I swear I thought I was dozing in a beach chair with a blanket tucked around my legs.
(Brownsea Island via here)

Birds capering in a Georgian water garden at Fountains Abbey, a World Heritage site with neoclassical statues and a medieval deer park, had me convinced that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere and wound up in one of Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels.
(Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden. Photo: Tim Stewart)

There's an eerie track recorded at Ham House, a 400-year-old estate near the River Thames. Apparently, Jarvis perfectly captured the supposedly haunted character of the place. According to Victoria Bradley, house manager, "You can hear the sound of the big front door being unlocked by a key and the sound of crisp footsteps going through a basement and then into the distance."
(Photo via here)

According to The Independent newspaper, the indie musicians's appeal is so great that the National Trust website has been struggling to manage the vast numbers of people going online to download the album. (I did encounter a bit of trouble when I tried on Thursday, but by Friday it was no problem.)

I love that this album means that indie alt-rock lovers and the "Country Life" crowd are crossing into the same subset, don't you? Talk about two worlds colliding in the most delightful way:

"Pardon me, dear, but isn't that Jarvis Cocker's rendition of Chartwell House on your iPod? Yes, I thought so. And, by the way, I adore that lip piercing you're sporting."


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Way They Wore

Do you ever look at the relaxed yet oh-so-chic styles of yesteryear and wish that you could find the same types of clothing today?

No need to answer.
Of course you do.
(You and I know each other quite well by now, don't we?)

I have always admired this photo of Duncan Grant in his slouchy linen jacket. It's so effortless, so breezy, so perfect for an idle summer afternoon. What else do you wear perched on a table in the garden waiting for your bohemian friends and lovers to arrive?
(Duncan Grant at Charleston House, 1930's, via here)

Thanks to my friend Megan over at Ancient Industries, I have discovered a company called Old Town that recreates vintage clothing for 21st century people with antique sensibilities.

Check out this jacket they make called "The Marshalsea." (Dickens aficionados will remember the Marshalsea as being the Victorian debtor's prison that featured heavily in "Little Dorrit"; hence, I assume, the jacket's shabby-chic vibe.) It comes in twill, linen, canvas, denim and something very intriguing called "cavalry drill."
(Grey stout twill, via here)

Isn't it so D.H. Lawrence/Thomas Hardy meets Spitalfields/the Lower East Side?
(Navy irish linen, via here)

It's perfect for wearing to dinner at Freeman's restaurant in the Bowery.
(photo via here)

And what about this smart 3/4 length coat? I find it to be both sensible and alluring, with its very 1940's, very WWII-ish, very "I'm just off to Bletchley Park to help Alan Turing crack the Enigma code" vibe.
(Ladies Cow coat, available here)

Wear it and if you're very lucky, you might even be mistaken for a Persephone Books heroine.
("Good Evening, Mrs. Craven", available here)

This smock dress will probably draw either gasps of envy or hoots of derision, and that's fine. I realize the shape is not overtly sexy (okay, it's not even remotely sexy) but to me, it's just heaving with understated style. And it has possibly the best fabric name ever.
(Jaywick dress, "Bermondsey in Bloom" fabric, available here)

Look for me wearing it on Saturday morning when Piero's on a bike ride, Luca's on a play date and I'm making a batch of scones while pretending I'm under imminent threat of an air raid.

Once again, the cover art of this Persephone book illustrates the authenticity of both the dress and its fabric palette.
("Kitchen Essays" by Gertrude Jekyll, available here)

If the dress doesn't speak to you, perhaps the smock top does.
(available here)

Golden boy writer F. Scott Fitzgerald always dressed with a certain sartorial elegance. Isn't the suit he wears in this photo with Zelda...
(Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1921, via Time Life Pictures)

...almost a dead ringer for Old Town's "Fitzrovia"? It comes in corduroy/moleskin, wool serge, flannel or Harris Tweed. No poly-rayon here, no siree.
(Fitzrovia, available here)

Lastly, I was taken with this lovely A-line skirt and had a nagging feeling that I had a photo of one like it somewhere.
(Skirt in Harris Tweed fabric)

Sure enough, a quick look through my vintage photo albums (the ones I purchased years ago at a London flea market; for the story, click here) revealed these young women on the lawn of a grand country house. The skirt second from left looks quite similar, don't you think?
In one of those strange twists of serendipity that makes me think there are no coincidences, click HERE for the name of it.
(Skirt in navy Irish linen fabric)


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