Friday, July 30, 2010

Bring on the Rain

Another summer adventure beckons. No bathing suits and sarongs this time. Today I'm packing woolens and weather-resistant jackets.

The destinations are London (briefly), Yorkshire, Scotland and the Shetland Islands.

All are familiar and beloved destinations, except for the last one.

You: Why the Shetland Islands?
Me: I don't know. I guess because it's there.

(Ruined croft, Yell, Shetland Islands, via here)

Some friends and I have booked berths on a ferryboat (it's a 14 hour trip) from the Scottish town of Aberdeen to a teeny island called Yell. It's been inhabited since Neolithic times and it has a population of 957. Ever since I found out the name, I have been slightly obsessed with a particular vision. I want us all to climb a grassy hill, face the North Sea, and as the wind whips through our hair, I want us to...well, yell. Kind of a pagan shout-out to life, to the life-affirming spirit of the universe and to the awareness of living in the moment. Luca is insistent we roll down the hill afterwards, which sounds like an excellent idea. Other than that, the game plan is open.

Back soon.


As an aside, I would like to mention how grateful I am to all of you who read this blog and also those of you who leave comments. I have a connection with all of you. Your tales, insights, tips, and witty observations never fail to inspire me, make me laugh and move me deeply. It is a joy to wake up and see what messages the night has ferried in from around the world.

Blogs are two-way streets and you are the heart and soul of this site as much as I am. If not for you, the pleasures would be greatly, greatly lessened.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Island Time

Last week, Luca and I went to Kauai, and for five glorious days time slowed to a crawl. It's amazing how quickly one can go from being a dedicated planner and appointment-keeper to not knowing (or caring) what day it is.
(View from the house, Kauai, July 2010)

We stayed with some good friends who own an estate called Namahana Plantation just south of Princeville on the north shore. Five acres of lush vegetation surround the property, and the resplendent privacy made me feel like a Hawaiian Isak Dinesen -- instead of "I had a farm in Africa," I would intone in my best Meryl Streep voice, "I had a plantation in Kauai."

Days were deliciously lazy. In the morning, my friend Gabrielle and I would stroll the grounds...

...and fill a pail with ripe offerings from the macadamia nut, lychee, banana, avocado, grapefruit, lemon, lime and starfruit trees that grow so abundantly everywhere.

In a clever horticultural move, there was an awapuhi bush right next to the outdoor shower so that you could palm a little of its sudsy juice for an instant conditioning treatment.

Luca and I had our own guest house tucked away underneath an arbor of tropical vegetation, complete with our own waterfall pond.

The views from the main house extended across lush pastures toward Mount Namahana in the distance.

One day, we gathered up the troops and went on a hike to a secret garden Gabrielle and her husband discovered that isn't located on any map or accessible from any road.
(Gabrielle and children)

After about a mile, we spotted a bamboo hut half-hidden in a clump of trees that signalled to us we were almost there.

Just beyond it was a dirt track leading down to a hidden valley and veritable private wonderland.

We crossed a wooden bridge surrounded by Jurassic-sized blossoms...

...tiptoed respectfully past a Buddha in a blue shawl...

...stepped nimbly along a rock ledge up to a waterfall...

...and over a lush wooden footpath... our own private lagoon. The stillness was spiritual.

The boys found a bamboo fishing pole and immediately set to work.

Turns were taken dragging the pole back and forth to see whose angling style was most effective.

Turns out that pretzel innards are irresistible bait to locals.

And so the days continued....

In the afternoons, there were beaches to explore, each one with its own soothing charms. Even an avowed non-tanner like me couldn't help but succumb to the spell of sun, sand and sea.
(Hanalei Beach, July 2010)

For lunch, there was the Kilauea Fish Market, an unpreposessing shack just off the main highway...

...renowned among locals for the freshness of its just-caught fish and healthy, delicious meals. If you ever go there, order the cajun ahi sashimi salad. You can thank me later.

No night was complete without a local trip to the nearest shave ice stand, Hawaii's gourmet answer to a snow cone. Pineapple, lychee, coconut, li hing mui (plum), dark cherry -- as you can see, the flavors were always thoroughly slurp-worthy.

Therein lies the essential ingredients of our brief Kauaian idyll. Add some shopping, some napping, some reading, and shuffle and repeat.

On our last night, we had dinner on the terrace of the St. Regis Princeville and watched the sun sink slowly over Hanalei Bay. Really, words fail.

For information on renting Namahana Plantation, click here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sustainable Graffiti for the Soul

This is one of those brilliant ideas that looks so absolutely right that you wonder why no one ever thought of it until now.
(All photos via here)

Guerilla gardener Anna Garforth emblazons walls with mossy graffiti in her quest to meld intrigue into the transitory landscape of urban spaces.

My work needs to make an immediate impact given its ephemeral nature. There is a lot of wild in the city. My eye has become attuned to the plant life that pushes and grows its way through all the cracks in the concrete. Once you have noticed it, it's everywhere....

~Anna Garforth

Garforth uses nourishing ingredients to affix the moss to surfaces. "I collect a common moss that grows well on brick walls and glue it to the wall using a mixture of natural (bio active) yoghurt and sugar."

I've spent the last year watching my ivy delightedly clamber over my own brick wall and now I want to pull it all off in favor of an inspiring quote. There's something so elementally profound about it, don't you think?

It's Arcadian poetry transported to the urban jungle.

Listen to the way Anna describes herself on her website...I think you'll agree she lives with passion and purpose:

I am the crazed woman with mud on her face, bristling with moss and screaming against the wind on a bike laden down with foraged materials.

And now for the question of the day: Given the chance to emblazon your own wall, what quote would you put up?

My personal top three picks would be:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.
(Robert Herrick)

There is strong shadow where there is much light.

Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
(Andrew Marvell)


Editors Note: I'm off to Kauai for a brief spell. Back soon. Be good.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Slow Daze

In truth, the banal moments of the day are the most seductive to me. It is in the lighting of a fire on a cold morning, or in the pouring of wine and the pulling up of chairs to read together at the end of an afternoon of errands, that love really exerts its magic.

~ Dominique Browning, "Slow Love"

It's hot here. I've been slightly blog-neglectful and I apologize. After a very un-Hollywood-like May and June (fog, gloom, drizzle), the big fiery Klieg light in the sky is now on overdrive. Scorching days are supplanted by a mohair haze of heat in the evenings. The only thing I feel like doing is retreating into the shadows...and curling up with a book.

Thank God for "Slow Love."

You are all familiar with Dominique Browning as the glamorous editor-in-chief of the late lamented House & Garden magazine. In 2007, the magazine abruptly folded and she found herself suddenly out of a job and with no way to define herself -- after all, who was she without her high-powered career? Her memoir beautifully articulates the bumpy process of discovering a new purpose-driven life for herself. It's poignant, it's funny, it's honest, but most of all, it's inspiring:

Slow living, I have come to understand, opens up the prospect of slow love, the most sustaining sort of love I have ever known -- a love that comes of an unhurried and focused attention to the simplest things, available to all of us, at any time, should we choose to engage: family, friendship, food, music, art, books, our bodies, our minds our souls, and the life that blooms and buzzes all around us.

~ Dominique Browning, "Slow Love"

Last night Luca and I grabbed our books and sat in the cool of the dining room until the sun finally sank behind the trees. I would say that we read in silence, but as he kept bursting out with breathless blow-by-blow accounts of the last 10 pages of his Percy Jackson book, that description would not be quite accurate. I realized with a pang that one day I would miss those interruptions.

Slow love is about knowing what you've got before it's gone.

~ "Slow Love"

I've had huge hero worship for Dominique Browning for years and so when I was invited to her book signing recently in Santa Monica, I was beside myself at the prospect of meeting her. She spoke eloquently and passionately about her transformational journey and her struggles and fears along the way, and she inspired us all with her lessons of rediscovering grace and self-empowerment.

The biggest thrill, though, was that she knew of this blog. You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Lucky for us, she has started her own blog called "Slow Love Life." It's beautiful, elegant and impassioned, just like her. Go ahead, click over there now.


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.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Brilliance, On Sale

Do you know about Daedalus Books? The huge online bookstore that sells erudite books at bargain prices for bibliophiles like you and me?

I've been ordering books from them since way back in the pre-Internet age when they mailed out a monthly catalog. The prices are always fabulous (up to 90% off) and they charge only $5.95 for shipping, regardless of how many books you order.

It's inevitable that when I have a list of errands/projects that need attention absolutely immediately right this minute, I find myself sifting through their spellbinding selection of books in search of future acquisitions. Here are a few I found today when I was supposed to be doing something else:

(University of California Press)

I can never get enough of these two fabulous creatures: Jazz Age socialites and American expats who moved to the South of France in the 1920's, they palled around with Fitzgerald and Picasso, threw legendary parties, virtually created the concept of the "jet set," and oozed their own brand of Riviera style.
List price: $34.95 Sale price: $9.98

*Note: If Gerald and Sara are new to you, two books you'll want to read at once are "Everybody Was So Young" by Amanda Vaill and Calvin Tompkin's "Living Well Is The Best Revenge."

(Thames and Hudson)

Think of it as the styling secrets of a master painter. The book features period photographs that show how Matisse created the mise-en-scénes for his paintings: "perhaps an ornate Venetian chair partners with a wrought-iron table displaying a yellow pitcher and melons." Bonus: It's edited by Marie-France Boyer, Paris editor of World of Interiors magazine.
List price:$24.95 Sale Price: $5.98

(University of Yale Press)

I've had many shadowy encounters with Mary Butts; she's been a Zelig-like figure lurking in the background of countless biographies that I've read. This could be my opportunity to get to know her face-to-face. Writer, nonconformist, free spirit, she was on intimate terms with luminaries such as Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein and many more.
List price: $55.00 Sale price: $6.98

(Assouline Press)

I have picked up this book a number of times in stores; it's beautifully art-directed and filled with gorgeous photographs of her personal art collection. And I'm smitten with that glorious cover portrait of her by Alfred Courmes.
List price: $18.95 Sale price: $5.98

I'm thinking this bio will give me the inside scoop on the Divine Ms. G. An enfant terrible of the art world, she lived brazenly and fearlessly, "a cultural mover and shaker" with "legendary sexual appetites, including lovers Max Ernst, Samuel Beckett, and Marcel Duchamp." You go girl.
List Price: Import Sale price: $5.98

(Penguin Press)

The subtitle for the paperback version of this book says it all, really: "The Tragicomic, Mind-Altering Odyssey of Allen Ginsberg, a Holy Fool, a Lost Muse, a Dharma Bum, and his Prickly Bride in India."
List price: $25.95 Sale price: $5.98

(Atria Press)

From Leopold Bloom's grilled kidney breakfasts to Jay Gatsby's decadent feasts to Charles Dickens high teas to Bertie Wooster's champagne lunches, author Sean Brand details eating scenes from a multitude of favorite classics.
List price: $18.00 Sale price: $1.98

(Atlantic Books)

I've read quite a few of Julian's books over the years, and this one sounds especially funny. From the review: "In these piquant essays, Barnes wonders how big a "lump" is, or is a "slug" is larger than a "gout," and seeks gastronomic precision -- a quest that leaves him seduced by the unpretentious enthusiasm in Jane Grigson's cookbooks, infuriated by Nigel Slater's vague sense of what fits in a fry pan, and reassured by Mrs. Beeton's exacting Victorian values."
List price: Import Sale price: $4.98

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I am Love

I have been waiting with a fervor of impatience to see "I am Love", the new film directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Tilda Swinton, and it's finally arrived at a cinema near me. You can bet that as soon as I drop my son off at camp tomorrow morning, I'm going to check the showtimes and rearrange my day to fit in a screening.

If you haven't heard about "I am Love" yet, here's why you'll want to add it to your list:

1. It stars Tilda Swinton. Her unconventional beauty hypnotizes me. Plus, I love that in real life she is an unapologetic iconoclast who lives life on her own terms.

She looks especially fabulous in this movie, don't you think? (The costumes were designed by Fendi and Jil Sander.)

2. An intriguing glimpse into the world of power and privilege among the Milanese aristocracy. Think "Vanity Fair: The Italian Edition."

3. Enough opulent, painterly interiors to satisfy even the most design-minded aesthete. (Hamish Bowles, do you need some smelling salts?)

4. An abundance of passion and romance, both in the plot (no secrets revealed)...

...and the food scenes, which were supervised by Carlo Cracco, the renowned chef of Ristorante Cracco in Milan. Apparently, some were inspired by the animated film "Ratatouille" (how funny/fabulous is that?)

No less than The New York Times called this seductive dinner scene "prawnography."

5. And of course, everywhere you look, the operatic beauty of Italy.

If you need more convincing, the movie trailer will take you over the edge. See it HERE.


Postscript: I saw it yesterday. What did I think?

Complex, beautiful and haunting....Tilda is possessed with an alien beauty....John Adams' soundtrack is revelatory....The scenes of interior life -- especially the ones with the household staff -- play like a Milanese "Gosford Park".... It's not a perfect film, but one so ambitious and filled with so many lovely lingering moments that the occasional off-notes don't much signify.


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