Monday, November 29, 2010

Weighty Matters

Happy post-Thanksgiving Monday, everyone.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who feels like this.
("A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion", James Gillray, 1792)

We spent the holiday in town with friends...

...and had an evening filled with revelry, laughter and succumbing to all and sundry temptations. I wish I could say I showed some restraint when it came to the chestnut stuffing and the pecan pie, but I think I came close to rivaling Fanny Hill in the lack-of-resolve department.

I was soon to discover that Mistress Fate wields a heavy hand.

Getting dressed Sunday morning, everything I put on appeared to have undergone massive shrinkage.

Part of me clung to the slim hope that my cleaning lady had accidentally washed my entire wardrobe on "extra hot." The other part of me knew all too well the reason why .

Long story short, today is the dawn of a new era.

Goodbye, corn pudding. Hello broiled grapefruit, poached chicken and melba toast.

Bonjour, increased heart rate.

It may not be all fun and games.

But come December, there will be so much to look forward to.

Note: All book covers and illustrations via this fabulous website I found this weekend that sent me hurtling down a rabbit hole.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gratefully Yours

Should you be hosting a gathering at your home this Thanksgiving, here are some tips from food writer Laurie Colwin (1944-1992) that always soothe me when I become nervous about having a lot of people over.

1. Unless you're that sort of person, don't drive yourself nuts.

2. People are made happy by delicious food, and you do not have to knock yourself out to be thrilling or original.

3. Never try out something you have never made before on a large (or small, for that matter) number of people.

4. Serve a few delicious things in large quantity.

5. Always buy more lemons than you think you need.

* * * * *

On a personal note, I am thankful to all of you who have visited my blog over the past two years and have made my journey such an exciting and fulfilling one. A blog is a conversation between like-minded friends and I have learned as much from you as (hopefully) you have from me -- the other night, I counted 8 books stacked next to my bed that I bought on recommendations from all of you!

The more I explore the landscape of art, travel and domesticity, the more certain I become that the meaning of life is to be found in every moment of living. "A Bloomsbury Life" is my way of recording all these little beats - a shaft of light illuminating a bunch of peonies, the laughter of friends around a dinner table, the euphoria of the first cup of coffee, the joy of reading on a blanket beneath a tree - that elevate the everyday into something sacred. If, during the final moments of one's life, we really do get to enjoy a personal "highlights" reel, I know it's those things that will flash by me in vivid color, not the job promotions or the corner office I had in New York. The little stuff is the big stuff.

With hugs and gratitude,


Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Book, A Bolster And A Bite

If I ever become proprietor of a small country inn, I will kindly request that all guests provide me in advance with the name of the book they are reading so that I can create a personal literary experience for them. For me - and you too, don't deny it - the very act of reading, while divine, is not enough. To achieve perfect harmony, your physical comfort and your appetite need to be indulged as well.

I have ideas.

* * * * *

Say, for example, you are reading Wuthering Heights:

Catherine's face was just like the landscape -- shadows and sunshine flitting over it in rapid succession; but the shadows rested longer, and the sunshine was more transient...

-Emily Bronte
(Photo by David Sims)

I would make sure you had this pillow nearby to support your lumbar region.
(Sam Taylor Wood "Heathcliff" pillow, The Rug Company, here)

And after checking you were settled, I'd return with something sweet and filling to warm your bones.
(Mincemeat crumble, here)

Or say you've plunged headlong into the sybaritic adventures of Edie, An American Biography:

I preferred the way girls in New York looked -- stranger and more neurotic. A girl always looked more beautiful and fragile when she was about to have a nervous breakdown.

-Andy Warhol
(Vogue, 2006)

I'd make sure you were sprawled out with this fabulous thing.
(Vivienne Westwood "Mouth" cushion, here)

And bring you something to nibble that raised the bar on sybaritic pleasures.
(Hot chocolate pudding, here)

Perhaps you're caught up with the adventures of Lizzie, the Victorian anti-heroine of "The Eustace Diamonds":

To have her meals, and her daily walk, and her fill of novels, and to be left alone, was all that she asked of the gods.

- Anthony Trollope
(Photo by Tim Walker)

I'd tell you to go unfold yourself on that leather Chesterfield in the corner - the one with this pillow on it.
(Suzanne Sharp "Home Sweet Home" cushion, here)

And give you something locally-grown and delicious to quell your stirrings.
(Early autumn apples on hot toast, here)

Or you're lost in the passionate world of Cassandra Mortmain in I Capture The Castle:

What is it about the English countryside - why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?

- Dodie Smith
(Photo by David Sims)

No need to speak. I have just the cushion to prop yourself up on.
(Home cushion by Committee, here)

By the time you turn the page, I'll be back with something fragrant and hot to keep the wild wind at bay.
(Onion soup with Madeira and Gruyere Toasts, here)

For more Rug Company news, click here.
For more Nigel Slater recipes, click here or here.
For more on Stella Tennant, click here.

Editors Note: The Nigel Slater website appears to be temporarily indisposed (it was working fine yesterday). It's an inspiring spot if you've never been there before, so do try again later.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Persistence of Memory

How on earth can a clump of tissue possibly capture and store everything -- poems, emotional reactions, locations of favorite bars, distant childhood scenes? The answer is that brain cells keep one another on biological speed-dial, like a group of people joined in common witness of some striking event. Call on one and word quickly goes out....

~ Benedict Carey, The New York Times

(Pieter Brueghel, "The Fight Between Carnival and Lent," 1559)

* * * * *

When I rounded the corner of the medina and saw the man sitting there, a sensation pierced my brain -- I know this picture. The man, the blue djellaba, the massive slab of flesh -- I have a file in my head already that contains this image.
(Morocco, December 2009)

There was no time to tease out the origin of my long-dormant memory, so I quickly snapped a photo and hurried to follow my husband and son before they disappeared headlong into the narrow alleys of Essaouira.
(Morocco, December 2009)

For the next few days, the image nagged at me. Where had I seen it before? The clues I kept getting from my brain cells were scattershot and confusing: Bohemianism. Loucheness. Smoky pubs. And instead of beef, I kept thinking of bacon. Why were these words so insistently linking themselves with a photograph of a Muslim butcher?

Finally it came to me.
(Francis Bacon)

(Man with Meat, Francis Bacon, 1954)

It was kind of stunning to realize that my brain had been on top of things (so to speak) the entire time, alerting my mental troops to harness any word or image I had ever associated with Francis Bacon. Sure enough, each clue led back to a connection I had made with him at one time or another.

Now whenever my memory is jogged, I think of Mr. Carey's description:

"Brain cells keep one another on biological speed-dial, like a group of people joined in common witness of some striking event."

From now on, I am visualizing my brain cells as villagers in a Brueghel painting, each one the possessor of a specific set of images and memories.
(Brueghel, "Netherlandish Proverbs", 1559)

When the call comes in -- "Alert! Need source image for Moroccan butcher!" -- they rally their neighbors and shout hints from the streets and rooftops, all trying to help the poor forgetful Gargantuan in whose body they reside.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Drool. Three Times.

1. What if The Selby met The Sartorialist?

Artist/photographer Jeana Sohn goes into the homes of some of LA's most creatively dressed women to show you exactly where the magic happens. The "Closet Visit" section of her eponymous blog (look on her sidebar) gives you a lush, revealing glimpse into the personal collections that define each woman's finely honed sense of style. It's fascinating to see them in their personal spaces wearing some of their favorite finds -- they all have a sexy confidence that comes from knowing exactly who they are and what they love to wear. And the colors and textures and patterns...oh my! I could go on, but here's the bottom line: It's gotten to the point where I wait impatiently for each weekly "Closet Visit." I think you will too.

(Deborah Kaplan)

(closet of Heather Taylor)

(Clare Vivier)

(Simone LeBlanc)

(Heather Taylor)

(Joanna Williams)

(Deborah Kaplan)

(closet of Heather Taylor)

2. What if the world of travel met "The World of Interiors"?

Travel editor Meghan McEwan is perpetually planning her next trip and we are all the luckier for it. Her new blog Designtripper sprang to life because in her words, "Having spent an exorbitant amount of time researching interesting, independent places to stay, it seemed like a terrible waste not to share the findings."

Designtripper is Meghan's mouthwatering compendium of places to stay around the globe that fulfill her stringent credo of being authentic, thoughtfully designed and rich in character. From a refurbished village schoolhouse in Belgium to the Scottish lodge where Orwell wrote "1984" or to a houseboat in India, you'll be overwhelmed by the far flung splendor of her discoveries. I want to stay at every place she writes about (actually, I did stay at one -- she profiled my recent stay in Scotland here.)

More Meghan: "People who are passionate about travel tend to have open minds and really good stories. And generally speaking, people are nicer when they're on vacation. I'd like to inspire people to be nicer."

Isn't that a lovely ideology?

3. What if the immaculate love child of Karl Lagerfeld and Tony Duquette met a Goth-Baroque time traveller?

I'm at a loss for adjectives here. If you have ever clicked on Lauren Tennenbaum's brilliant blog Indecorous Taste, you'll know exactly what I mean. If you haven't, well, I'll attempt a description.

Lauren is a pale medieval beauty with the willowy proportions of a Boldini muse. At her seemingly tender age, she is not only an avant-garde shoe and accessories designer (a crystal spine harness, anyone?) but also a decorative painter, interiors stylist and all-around one-woman show. From what I can glimpse from her lushly opulent photos, she lives in some sort of baroque dream palace where she unswervingly devotes herself to pursuing her unique brand of eccentric glamour and living out her "latent Imperialist fantasies." I am admiringly - and heartstoppingly - agog.


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