Thursday, February 25, 2010

In Praise Of Words

The first thing I do when arriving at an acquaintance's house for the first time is look around for the books, the books, where do they keep the books? Once I find them, I can relax a little in the knowledge that our relationship has a future.
(A very few of my books)

I don't care what people read, I just care that they read. It's of vital importance, actually. I don't really trust a person who doesn't read. (Do you?)

I'm not a size queen: I don't care if they have a massive library full of books or one little treasured pile next to their beds. Not everyone likes to hang on to their books as I do; some people prefer to have their way with them and then dispatch them into the wide, wide world to be treasured by someone else. I think that's lovely.

As for me, frequent moves across the Atlantic Ocean have forced me to part with countless treasured volumes, but I keep a list of all the ones I've given away so that, in effect, they are still with me. If I ever have a fire and lose everything, it comforts to me know that at least I can recreate my library.

When my family encamped to the flatlands of the Midwest in the 1970's, books became my all-important passport to a enchanted childhood spent in Europe. Through them, I could still hunt for trolls in the Swedish countryside (Tove Jannsen, The Moomin Books), tuck into a midnight feast at an English boarding school (Enid Blyton, Mallory Towers) or help save Tintin from an encounter with a gorilla in Scotland (Hergé, The Black Island). They were more than just books to me: they were places I knew as intimately as I knew my own neighborhood and visited every chance I could get.

One summer day when I was about nine, I vividly remember my father begging me to at least take my book outside so I could get a little fresh air and sunshine. "Please," he said. "You're so pale." I protested, then conceded. Slamming the screen door behind me, I entered a nightmarish world of blinding sunlight and stifling humidity. Was there no refuge to be found in this strange land? In a burst of inspiration, I climbed a tree and spent the next several hours reading in shaded splendor while below me, my four rough-and-tumble younger siblings, none the wiser, played and argued and laughed and fought.

I still remember what I was reading that day.

Everyone has one book in their life that changed them from being a passive reader into a proselytizer of the written word. This is that book for me.

It perfectly captured my longing to escape from Michigan, spinning a tale of faraway lands and fanciful creatures and magical thinking caps that hit me with such force that I was propelled into sharing author Julie Edwards' (aka Julie Andrews) world with others. I embarked on a feverish campaign to get all my friends to read it. No one did.

But Google "Pax amor et lepos in iocando" ("Peace, love and a sense of fun") and you'll see that I'm not the only Whangdoodle worshipper out there.
(My "Whangdoodle" bookplate)

Tell me, please, what book changed everything for you? I am so curious.

P.S. Have you seen this? My friend Jenny alerted me to it. Available here. I don't even own a laptop and I want to get one.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Who Are These People?

Their arms uplifted, they raise their legs into the air and...what? Did they do a cartwheel? Did they perform a dance? Did they collapse on the grass in helpless laughter? And who are they? Longtime friends? New lovers? I so wish I had the answers.

They live inside one of the four cracked leather albums I bought at a flea market in London years ago. Most of the other photos inside have places and dates written on the back in a curling script, but this one is blank. I am pretty positive it dates from the 1920's-1930's, but the two garden sprites are a mystery.

My hope is to piece the stories together one day because whoever all these people were, they led quite the life. Page after page is filled with fancy dress parties and exotic vacations and airplane rides and ocean liners and beach outings and country estates...
...and much, much more.

There's an Adrien Brody lookalike indulging in some good-natured teasing with a girl in front of a white-washed cottage.

There are four well-dressed friends in the middle of a spirited conversation. Who are they? What are they laughing about? Why is the young man on the right grinning at the photographer as though they share a private joke of their own?

There's an afternoon outing in an automobile with the excitement of the occasion clearly visible on everyone's faces.

There's a tea party in a back garden with a frizzy-haired little girl in a lovely scalloped dress and a self-assured little boy wearing what can only be called "short shorts."

More significantly, there is a certain crop-headed girl who makes enough repeat appearances in all of the albums to make me suspect they must have belonged to her. She appears in a bathing costume at Kingsgate in August of 1924...

...visits Torino in July of 1929...

...reclines on a couch like an Odalisque at an unknown date...

...and wraps herself in blankets with her coworkers after a radiator burst in March of 1931. (That's her, second from right.)

I have a particular fascination with the man in the blanket. Look at the way he's gazing theatrically off into the distance. The other three ladies crouch halfheartedly while he strikes a pose like Greta Garbo at the prow of the ship in "Queen Christina." I wish I had known him, don't you?

In one of the albums I found a faded envelope which reads:

Miss Margaret Briggs
41 Rue D'Auteuil
Paris XVI

On its own, it could mean anything, but going through the photos again today, I stopped to rhapsodize over the geometric Art Deco wallpaper in this room...
...and taking it out, I realized there was writing on the back of the photo:

My room
41 R. D'Auteuil
10' 100 Watts -

The address on the envelope and the address on the photo match. So was the owner of my albums named Margaret Briggs? Somehow it seems too easy to be true. And even if it was, would that even help me after all these years? No doubt the stories and tales and records of the principal characters have been long overwritten by the ceaseless hum of the universe.
(Date unknown)

In a way, it doesn't matter. Perhaps not knowing who they are gives their images a more powerful intensity. Deprived of their identities, I parse the details of their photos not to uncover cold, hard facts but to seek clues into their emotional lives. What kinds of things were important to them? How did they live? How did they love? How did they relax? And how can I bring some of their passion and their fervor and their spirit into my life today?

One thing is certain: Piero and I need to do more cartwheels on the grass.

Friday, February 19, 2010

W Magazine, Part Five

I'd like to express my most sincere gratitude to everyone who's been clicking over to W magazine to read my recent series of posts for them. The all-important editors over there absolutely notice your presence (one of them said their blog traffic really goes up on those days), and so that tiny little movement with your mouse goes a long way. If I haven't said it lately, I really appreciate you all.

This final week's theme is color and how hues that represent your personality can make your rooms more alive, your wardrobe more evocative and your inner spirit more visible. Intrigued? Click HERE (and thank you).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Give me Liberty?

Hmmm. When Target announced they were joining forces with my favorite London store to create a special limited collection, I almost fainted with excitement and made immediate plans to arrive at the West Hollywood store at 7:59am on March 14th.

Then last night during the Olympics I saw the television commercial and felt a bit underwhelmed. It's rife with colorful floral watering cans and comforters and plates and bowls and cups and mugs, but...I don't know.
(via Apartment Therapy)

Am I terrible to think such heretical thoughts?

If you go on Target's website, they give you a little preview of some of the new Liberty of London prints coming out. This bubblegum-pink one must be targeted to a younger consumer because it does nothing for me.
I'll grant you that it's whimsical, but it just doesn't have the same elegance of their Regent Store fabric line. (I know, you're thinking, "Hello, it's Target!" But I'm on the other side thinking, "Hello, it's Liberty!")

I was feeling rather glum when my eyes landed on this next fabric which, while leaving me 97% unmoved, struck a nagging chord of familiarity in me. Where had I seen it before?

I started racking my brains in an effort to recall eccentric women who would have worn Liberty prints, and the goddesses were with me because before too long I found this image of photographer and gardening expert Valerie Finnis. What a shot. I don't know where to look first: at her massive plumed hat, her lordly pug or the potting shed that's clearly escaped from the set of "Grey Gardens."
(Valerie Finnis, 1908-2006; photo by Jan Baldwin,
World of Interiors, April 2009)

But note her shirt. Aside from the colorway, surely it's a variation on the Target design?

Brief aside:
According to lore, Valerie met her husband when one day she heard a voice outside her gardening shed remark, "Goodness, she's got Gillenia trifoliata!" She rushed out and exclaimed, "You're the first person who's ever known that plant!" And presto, two lives became one. Adorable, no?

Anyway, regarding Liberty, maybe things were looking up slightly. On a hunch, I pulled out a book I purchased last year called "Garden People: The Photographs of Valerie Finnis." Perhaps I might find someone else wearing an unmistakable floral?


It was like leafing through a Liberty catalog from the 1940's and '50's. The caption for this photo must be: "Whoever is not wearing an iconic print, please see me after the lecture."
(Photo by Valerie Finnis from Garden People)

This next photo of Dame Miriam Rothschild at her estate in Northamptonshire is interesting not only for the tips we can glean from her on serving tea to the privileged classes (glass domes, heirloom silver, field of daisies), but because her shirtdress...
(Miriam Rothschild, 1908-2005;
Photo by Valerie Finnis from Garden People)

...isn't too far removed from this Target print.

And now let me introduce you to Margery Fish, a name made infinitely more wonderful by the fact that she also answered to "Lady Montagu Douglas Scott" -- have there ever been two more disparate names belonging to the same person? Margery has clearly opted to wear a sensible offering from Liberty while gathering cuttings in her rattan trug basket.
(Margery Fish, 1892-1969;
Photo by Valerie Finnis from Garden People)

Once again, this print from Target mimics the spirit of hers, don't you think?

I guess I'll reserve final judgment until I see the wares in person. As much as I applaud the fresh, innovative thinking and design-for-the-masses ideology that Target embraces, I'm not convinced that this is a perfect fit.

Go ahead, tell me I'm wrong.

Update 2/20/10: This photo, which I just found on the LA Times website, has me much more excited than I was yesterday. The shirts are lovely, lovely, as is the bicycle.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Revelations in Thread, Part Two

President's Day, 6:30 am
Spring has arrived in Hollywood. The recent rainstorms succeeded in stirring dormant roots with memory and desire. Heading downstairs this morning, I noticed our pink magnolia tree is suddenly rife with blossoms. When did that happen?
(2/15/10, Hollywood)

An image stirs to life in my brain as well: an elegiacal Edna St. Vincent Millay in upstate New York communing with another pink magnolia. Is that photo really ninety-seven years old? It could almost be from the latest Anthropologie catalog.
(Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1913)

In the kitchen, Piero and Luca are preparing to go skiing for the day. The Giramonti men are not at their best in the morning. Before fortifications (espresso and cereal, respectively), they find it near impossible to communicate.

After caffeine and calories, however, they become exuberance personified.
Before I know it, they have packed the car and are driving away.

The house is silent and distraction-free.

Quickly, I whip up my new favorite breakfast. Two months ago, I went on a three-week detox cleanse, courtesy of "Clean", the new detox book by Alejandro Junger. I have felt like a superwoman ever since and have continued with one raw meal a day via his morning smoothies. More than their countless health benefits, I drink them because they're just so crazy delicious.
Peach-Almond-Cardamom Smoothie
(courtesy of "Clean" by Alejandro Junger)

1 cup almond milk
1 cup frozen peaches
1 tbsp. raw almond butter
1 tsp. agave syrup
1/2 tsp. cardamom powder
3 ice cubes

Blend well and enjoy every icy drop.

7:15 am
And now, thus fortified, with a massive day of sewing ahead of me, it's time to reveal to you the details about the big project that's been occupying the better part of my life for the past four months.

From May 1st-29th, I am having my first solo art show at the fabulous Acme Gallery in Beverly Hills. It's called "Stitching Up The Noughties" and of course, I would love you all to come.
I will be showing ten of my larger-than-life postmodern samplers (one of them, "Perky Boobies", I've already posted on). Just as traditional samplers of the past gave voice to their creators' innermost thoughts, my pieces provide a highly personal perspective on how I view life today. (Topics include celebrities, tabloids, the recession and plastic surgery and more.) As of this writing, six are completed, which means I haven't quite entered the home stretch yet. Hence, the boys' skiing trip today so that I could have some uninterrupted hours sewing words onto burlap.

I finished this one last night -- can you guess what it's about from this little sneak peek?


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