Monday, September 29, 2014

Pursuits


I've simplified my home filing system at last.  The floral letter basket on my desk only holds a few folders now:  Ideas for Blogging, Ideas for Content Writing, Money Articles, Spirituality, Literary Notes, and my favorite, Pursuits.  In here, I've collected quite a lot of paper, just as it should be.  Sifting through it I discovered there was not one item I could toss - each is the stuff of daydreams. 

It all began several years ago with a piece from Selvedge Magazine about the sewing life of Fanny Brawne as depicted in Jane Campion's "Bright Star", a haunting film about Fanny and the poet John Keats' doomed love affair.  I was delighted to find this article highlighting the remarkable ingenuity of an early 19th century home-grown seamstress and fashionista.  I knew that I would want to revisit Fanny over and over when searching for creative inspiration in the 21st century.

Later I attended a dear exhibit of little girls' samplers from 1728 to 1835.  These small works of art with distinct regional styles cast a spell on me - more so upon learning that the young creators often led arduous lives.  But some of the needlework motifs depict true joyfulness through Biblical verses and poetry.  The small keepsake pamphlet reminds me how much I want to learn more about this touching art form.

Also included in Pursuits is an article about the beautiful and tragic Empress Sisi who lived a monarch's life filled with transcendent fashion.  Although her ending was never going to be ordinary, I find her sadly compelling like a dazzling butterfly destined to die too soon.  I'm certain there are lessons from her life and one day I hope to pursue her further to see if she earned her prominent spot in my file afterall.

Two articles came to me synchronistically in a rare book dealer's catalog.  One, on collecting vintage fashion plates for the very latest in haute home décor and then two, on the delicate art of fashion illustration.  Since I dream of owning a lovely piece of feminine art for above my bed and knowing I could never afford the real deal, the articles have spawned a quest to find a pretty but affordable fashion sketch in just the right colors.  According to the authors however, I'd better hurry - both genres are fast becoming the collectibles-du-jour.  No matter, the articles have captured my imagination for color and style and have found me spending many happy hours at the local junk shops.

I sure wish I was able to visit Winterthur, Henry Francis du Pont's estate in Delaware for "Uncommon Threads" the travelling costume exhibit of Downton Abbey's most beautiful dresses.  I see it also included other noteworthy garments such as Carson's tailcoat. But for my money, the focus would have been on Lady Mary's tiered garnet gown which she wore on the winter evening Matthew proposed on bended knee outdoors in the snow.  I will smile wistfully whenever my hand lights upon this enchanting flyer.

Pursuits are vital because they give us something to think about beyond ourselves.  They keep us engaged in the world and give us hope.  They teach us there are other ways to live...they inspire us.  Pursuits are our future.

***
 
The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives. ~ Albert Einstein



Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Football Love


That possibly innocent observation by Henry had an instant and cruel effect on Lavinia:  it took her back vividly to Soldiers' Field at Harvard.  Oh! twenty years ago or more.  She had to close her eyes against the vision:  a dazzling New England fall day, a Saturday, the Princeton game.  The sky a cold, electric blue, and the stadium packed with milling crowds, the Crimson band.  And Lavinia:  she could see herself in her wonderful dark red coat, lined in gray kid;  she could see her own lovely pink skin in the marvelous air, could feel the perfection of her skin - and she was with Gordon, so handsome in his ROTC uniform.  Oh, she had loved him so much, so innocently, so happily - as they watched the game, and thought about being together later on, after all the parties, a little drunk and kissing, hours of kisses.  Lavinia inwardly cried out, even then, even twenty years later.  Tears came to her eyes.  "I think North Carolina is a terribly tacky state," she burst out, passionately to Henry.
~
The passage above is from Superior Women, a novel by Alice Adams about the interwoven lives of five college friends. Years ago, I dog-eared the page that carried this text because I felt it truly captured a fleeting fall day when one is young and very happily in love.  I also liked the fashion reference and I imagined the red coat perfectly in a 1943 wartime style, the year the novel began.

Once upon a time, I didn't hate football and if my seventh grade diary is to be believed, I attended a number of games.  This entry from November of 1968 is rather spare but amusing:  "Went to a football game and John Cole threw peanuts at me."   I doubt I was amused at the time but I do recall the thrill of football games in high school, especially when my love was playing in them.

The Friday night games under the lights were my favorites, especially if the atmosphere was newly crisp and fall-like.  I remember taking time to curl my long hair, don a pretty but warm jacket, spritz a little fragrance.  I clustered with my girlfriends in the bleachers, the smell of popcorn and candied apples filling the air.  And above us beyond the bright lights, stars pricked at the velvety sky.  It was magic.  As the game progressed, the crowd became more boisterous as the fans rose from their stone cold seats in unison, shouting and cheering.  It was easy to be caught up in the furor and self-consciousness fell away as I found myself cheering too, all the while scanning the field for my favorite numbered jersey.  And although I was pretty certain HE wasn't searching the stands for ME, I nonetheless felt an electrifying connection filled with anticipation, pride...longing.

When the game was over, the bleachers instantly emptied onto the field and it was then that I would see my love - his eyes seeking until they landed on mine.  My walk to him was slow and deliberate as my view was hampered by the constant masses shooting across our path to each other.  My pace belied the delicious unseen tension I felt knowing I would be in his arms in mere moments, and would get to feel his cold rough cheek brush mine just before he buried his face in my hair.  Whether the team won or lost, his smile was the same and despite the hordes, we were alone under those lights.  My love and I.  And football.



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fatherly Advice

Poetry sometimes throws light into the darker corners of existence.  It offers truths that are based on intuition, keen eyes, and soulful experiences. Just like good advice.  Some days when my thoughts have no safe place to rest, I turn to the words of Andrew Stuart, father to Jane, in Lucy Maud Montgomery's wonderful novel, Jane of Lantern Hill.

When I read Lantern Hill, I hear Mr. Stuart's words spoken by the gravelly voiced Sam Waterston, the actor who played him in the 1990 film of the book.  His voice has a deep resonating element that cheers me, comforts me.  But what I really need is Mr. Stuart's between-the-words wisdom and guidance for good plain living.  And because L.M. Montgomery's stories are so rooted in nature, his advice is spiritual as well as tranquilizing.  Let's see if he can make you feel better too.

"It is the essence of adventure to see the break of a new day, Jane.  What may it not be ushering in?  An empire may fall today...a baby may be born who will discover a cure for cancer...a wonderful poem may be written". 

"When the little moments torture you, Jane, think of the truth and the truth shall make you free...that is the most tremendous saying in the world Jane...because we are all afraid of the truth...and afraid of freedom that the truth will bring you".

"Be sure to have a patch of excitement most every week".

"The most awful and the most beautiful things in the world can be said in three words or less...he is gone...he is come...I love you...it's too late.  Life is illuminated or ruined in words Jane.  And yet, when a poet praises a woman, she becomes immortal".

"Don't let others blow your candles out".

"Watch the stars whenever you are worried Jane.  They will steady you...comfort you...balance you".

"Jane, always remember that death can never fence out love".
~

Father does know best sometimes.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Back-to-School Style.

Here's the great sixties model Colleen Corby in a classic back-to-school outfit from the pages of Seventeen.  My allegoric new year always starts September 1st, a left-over feeling from my own school days.  Mom took us shopping for little wool skirts, matching sweaters, jumpers and tights.  Our shoes were t-strapped skimmers or real loafers - a shiny new penny lodged in each toe.  But alas, the first weeks of school were often too warm for wool no matter how much we longed to don our new clothes.

Currently, I am reading a Rebecca C. Tuite's book "Seven Sisters Style", about America's seven "sister" colleges and their influence on preppy fashion.  Some would argue that true American prep  owes everything to the seven sisters - Radcliffe, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, and Barnard.  It seems that the capable, brainy women who attended these elite institutions challenged fashion's strict status-quo with a casual élan that was often borrowed from the boys.  They wore plaid kilts and pearls to classes but added sneakers and ankle socks which lent a playful air.  Their campus style certainly influenced the way women dressed and may have "birthed" the visions of some of today's designers; namely, Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger.  Tuites' book is really fun to look at especially if you make the parallels to today's American look.

Last year, I attended the John Meyer of Norwich exhibit in Connecticut where preppiness was laid out thickly with pastel Shetland sweaters, cotton Peter Pan blouses and tartan pant suits.  These were the clothes of my beloved Jr. High teachers, one of whom did not attend a seven sisters school but was a very spirited Perdue alum. As for me, I went to a private Catholic college that was barely co-ed, having been all-men until the year I entered.  The first day of classes I couldn't help but notice a pretty brunette in a baby blue Fair Isle sweater over a crisp button-down white shirt.  A slim gold bar pin which looked like it was snatched from Granny's jewel box, kept the collar pinched closed.  The rest of us looked insincere and a little less vivid in our bell-bottom Landlubbers, clogs, and muted t-shirts.

I am not saying that seven sister style is not my cup of tea - I just may be a bit too girlie for its sometimes tomboy flavor.  I do think a wonderful mingling of my personal style and seven sisters' occurred in the film Mona Lisa Smile.  Set at 1950's Wellesley, I found the fashions evocative of my mother's school style and so I was drawn into it easily. But I adored the full skirted silk dresses and matching gloves in the wedding scenes. In her book, Truite emphasizes that the seven sisters never neglected their lush ballgowns and evening wear, even when wearing wool Bermuda shorts and knee socks to class. They just wore Daddy's fur coats over their party dresses!

Below is the cover of the Seven Sisters Style book and below that is a picture of my mother on campus.  I think she made a great preppie in her seven sisters style.