Saturday, May 30, 2015

Spring Miscellany


Last month I saw the film The Woman in Gold with my daughter.  I was not expecting to be so swept away by the plight of Maria Altmann as she attempts to recover a Gustav Klimt painting of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.  The beautiful portrait was stolen from Altmann's family by the Nazi's just prior to WWII in Austria and never returned.  A small piece of written legalese kept the portrait in Vienna after the war.

The movie is really about love of family and what it means to belong and the talismans that tie us to those we've lost, (although having a famous painting is quite a special talisman).  Soon after I saw the film, I read the book, The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, and became even more immersed in Altmann's story.  I decided that I wanted to travel to the Neue Gallery in New York City to see the Klimt myself.

The Neue Gallery is a hushed and intimate museum and while Adele Bloch-Bauer's portrait commanded the room it hung in, the collections are small and personal.  In the museum shop, I purchased a keepsake box of the portrait which contained two beautiful lipsticks reminiscent of Bloch-Bauer's gold dress and the fairy rose tint of her lips.  I thought it was a fitting souvenir for a style writer but I also wanted something to remind me of the beautiful story of triumph and the long-reaching ties of familial bonds.  I highly recommend the film.

Right now, any spare time I have is spent voraciously reading about Edwardian British socialite Heather Firbank.  The new book about her lovely wardrobe, London Society Fashion...The Wardrobe of Heather Firbank, is a gorgeous tome of all the Downton-esque clothes your heart can stand.  Firbank stayed ahead of each trend and bought clothes lavishly from the best couturiers of her time.  Every item in the book represents a happy memory of her life - from flirtatious dances to the thrilling weddings of all her friends.  She lovingly saved every opulent dress and accessory by tucking them away in trunks.  Until her death, the wardrobe stood for all her dreams, most of which were tragically unrealized.  But fortunately for us, she could not relinquish her things and they were eventually donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The book catalogues them in all their glory.

Recently, I read an article about aging written by Dominicque Browning.  Browning was the long-time editor in chief of House and Garden who was fired suddenly a few years ago.  In the article she talks about the difficulty of finding a job after being terminated and all the attending insecurities that one would naturally feel.  An older and wiser editor advised Browning to "Go where the love is", after she suffered further rejections in her employment search.  The phrase reminded me that sometimes we have to step back and really think about the places we spend our time and effort.  Do we feel welcomed in those places?  Are they places that appreciate our passions?  Sometimes we are lucky enough to work somewhere like that or perhaps we attend an exercise class that always makes us feel more of who we are, or we attend churches where we are accepted and wanted.  "Go where the love is" really came home for me after I read the Browning piece.  I suddenly decided I will no longer frequent our local library no matter how many fine books are there.  Over the years, I have found the staff to be cold and impersonal - they look right through me.  The special events I have attended often make me feel less than.  There are people who have entrenched relationships with the library and don't seem to want to make room for others. 

As well, I was asked to attend a PR event for a business I occasionally highlight in my columns.  I brought along a pal for fun but soon discovered I had only been invited to help see that the room was filled to impress other media.  The PR director, who often emails me to ask if I will include one of her clients in my work, was dismissive and snobby and after a few minutes, I felt painfully awkward.  My friend, an accomplished teacher, said she was uncomfortable too, because the other women wouldn't make eye contact or greet her.  It wasn't where the love is and I will carefully choose where I show up and spend my precious time in the future. These days I am finding love at a friendly yoga class on Saturday mornings.  I even found it in my gynecologists' office by the always-happy-to-see-me staff.  Ditto new work events I've been attending.  Go where the love is...

And finally, I am having a renewed affair with the lowly bar of soap.  There is something so soothing about slipping into a tepid bath after a hot day with a fragrant fresh bar of soap.  My favorites are made in Italy but I recently found a perfect French apricot bar at TJ Maxx - it will be lovely for cooling soaks on summer's most sultry nights.  Many soaps claim to be "triple-milled", which research tells me simply means they rinse off easily.  Still, I'm amazed at how the delicate scent of soap lingers on the skin.  There is also something really nice about taking baths in clear unadulterated water again...for now, I'm eschewing filmy body washes and overly-fruity bubble baths for a delicious change of pace.  Amazon sells lots of Italian soaps in the prettiest floral boxes.  Soap is truly an unexpected as well as inexpensive simple pleasure.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Seven Daffodils

Today I left my handbag in a grocery cart at the market.  I remember pushing the cart into a train of other carts and then driving home.  I didn't notice for several hours that my purse was gone until I went searching for my cell phone which is always waiting in my bag.  I remained very calm.  I drove back to the store and asked the manager at the courtesy desk if anyone had turned in a purse.  After several long minutes, it was handed back to me.  The manager told me that a woman had found it in the cart and said she almost took it home because it was so pretty.

It is a pretty little bag and I just bought it.  It's coral with a nice outside envelope for my phone.  Everything was intact and I'm glad the woman who found it, didn't take it home after all.  Things could have been very complicated had it been stolen.  The strange calmness I felt earlier was replaced with overwhelming gratitude and my mind wandered on the way home as to what I would have done had it turned out differently.  Where would I start?  With the cell phone or credit cards?  What about the check I had tucked away in my wallet?  How many zeroes could be written on that check?  Enough to wipe me out?  I shuddered.

A few weeks ago I went to a Jonathan Edwards concert.  It was a beautiful spring evening and the small theater, an old brick courthouse, was filled with a nice group of fans.  A warm scented breeze drifted through the transoms on top of the old windows which were propped open with short sticks of wood.  Edwards was barefoot and convivial.  He sang a few favorites and then a song I never heard before.  I'm not sure how I missed Seven Daffodils during my folksong-loving days but I was captivated with the poignant melody and the lyrics. 

It's a quietly pleasing piece about a lover without a fortune of his own who cannot give his beloved pretty things.  He tells her that what he can provide are moonbeam necklaces and rings, crusts of bread, and seven golden daffodils. 

Now I've heard that love won't pay the rent and the rumor is that marrying for it the second time around is pure folly.  But I know from personal experience that money can't hold your hand as you await CT results in the ER at midnight.  And I never turn down bread, with or without slabs of butter and really  - doesn't moonbeam jewelry sound positively enchanting?  As for daffodils, they make me feel as grateful as I felt tonight when my lost handbag was at last dropped into my waiting hands.


 I would rather Meg marry for love and be a poor man's wife than marry for riches and lose her self-respect. ~ Marmee (Little Women)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

At Home with Madam Chic

This is the perfect picture for Mother's Day.  And it charmingly touches upon my infatuation with ballet as Mother is wearing toe shoes.  I assume the silky pink footwear illustrates that she is executing arabesques in her daily round which includes washing hose and darning argyle socks.

These days I am not at home much and I miss it terribly.  There is no time right now to plant cheery annuals in containers for the terrace or make blueberry crumble, my favorite springtime dessert.  And not much time for reading either.  When I can dip into a book, it is late at night and only for a few moments.  More often than not, I am reaching for Jennifer L. Scott's book, At Home with Madam Chic.

Although I don't know Jennifer, she did ask me to review the galley of At Home with Madam Chic before the book was published last fall but I wasn't able to pick it up in earnest until now.  It is providing me with soothing inspirational bedtime reading - like a comforting lullaby.  Jennifer is much younger than I, but she writes with a refreshing wisdom beyond her years - I like her very much.  I am guessing that when she isn't giving TED talks and conducting book signings, she lives a quiet life that includes homecaring in the tradition of the French family she resided with during her Paris study years - the ones with Madam Chic at the helm.  I love the tips in her book about meal planning and firing up the slow cooker, her recipes, and accompanying music recommendations.  It all makes being at home seem so tranquil to me as I run hither and yon and beyond. 

Jennifer's solution for troubles is to find inner peace in the inner sanctum of home doing a myriad of ordinary daily tasks - like washing windows and organizing drawers and cupboards.  She urges us to create a pause in the middle of our at-home-days to include a warming cup of tea and she tells us that orchids are really elegant flowers to cultivate for the house.

I wish I had time for plants and cookery but to every time there is a season and this is my season to be busy outside the house.  But it doesn't mean I don't long to be like Madam Chic, and have fresh flowers, symphonic music, and an organized junk drawer.  For now, I will look for contentment in Jennifer's gentle guidance and advice about living a chic and happy life at home.