Saturday, August 15, 2015

I Capture the Castle

The title of this post is from the marvelous book by Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle.  The story is dreamy and funny and shimmers like a crystal bowl in a shaft of sun.  A timelessness clings to the pages but it reads as though it were written yesterday afternoon.  Cassandra Mortimer overcomes poverty and dramatic family secrets to come of age in a decrepit old castle that she does indeed, capture.

I especially love the character of Miss Blossom, the ever-present dress form that resides in Cassandra's ramshackle room and to whom she throws her voice when she and her sister, motherless, are in need of consolation and advice.  (I used to do a Miss Blossom bit for my niece Hillary and she still addresses her letters to me with "Dear Miss Blossom"). These days, Miss Blossom is speaking to me as I begin to fall in love with my house all over again...warts and all.  Her voice is soothing and comforting as she says over and over, "all will be well" and "in due time, my dear".  The feelings of being overwhelmed are slowly dissipating.

Of all things, a simple shower curtain has helped too.  I saw it in a window at a local curtain shop.  It has all the botanical beauty I can stand with trailing vines, wandering wisteria and roses - always roses.  I walked by it three times before ducking in to finger it and then order it.  Lucky me to find an old "Miss Blossom friend" working there, from my favorite once-was Laura Ashley shop.  When Judy told me I should have it, my mind pictured my bathroom and I asked if there was a valance for the window too?  And fabric to make a cafe curtain for my vanity?  Oh yes, yes, and yes, I was told.  And a sale price.  I thought of the dresses the Mortimer girls crafted for the dinner party they were invited to that promised to elevate their status with a marriage proposal.

I left the shop with a fabric swatch large enough to hang over the rod. But the funny thing is, this scrap of fabric had me taking my floral plates off the wall and cleaning them, rearranging my potions and lotions and generally tidying up while I wait for my new things.  When I was done there, I finally opened the door and took a gimlet eye to the bedroom my daughter recently vacated.  What will this space actually be?  With (floral) notebook and pen in hand, I set to work scribbling a list of furnishings and belongings I would move into the room:  style books, my desk, a sleeper love seat, television and cabinet, baskets for files.  The closet will hold off-season clothing and hats.  I had a plan after flailing about for a few weeks and nearly purchasing another place to begin all over with.

But this house has tender memories, creature comforts, and a certain charm I wasn't able to find in the other one.  I have a comfortable and beautiful terrace that abuts a wooded grove with hidden ferny grottoes.  The property lines are encircled by an ancient stone wall most like built by the Native Americans who lived in this spot centuries ago. The sea is over the tree tops from my second story windows.  Yes, there is work to be done including painting which I hate.  But little by little, twig by twig, I will tend to it all.  I am a one-woman show but I will ask for help, hire when necessary, and stick to my plan.  I WILL capture this place.  A wise woman once told me that intention becomes reality.  Now it wasn't Miss Blossom who said that - but it sure could have been.


"I can't dance or sing but I can turn a house into a living, breathing thing".
(Paraphrased quote that I cannot recall the source of, but I love it!)

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Custom of Compacts

I watched a poignant documentary a few weeks ago on public television called Tea Time.  It followed five Chilean women who have been gathering together once a year for tea since graduating from high school over 60 years ago! They take turns hosting the teas which include a delectable number of pastries and sandwiches.  In between takes, the camera captures flowery tea leaves gently unfurling in hot water as we hear the ever-present sound of a ticking clock.  When we first meet the women, they are already quite elderly but very lively with great affection for one another.  At the end of each tea, all the women perform a charming ritual as familiar as the ticking clock:  they take from their handbags small round compacts of powder and tubes of lipstick and freshen up.  It is here that the camera hones in on each lined face for this final act of feminine primping before the women face the world at large again for another year.

Many of my favorite vintage films include scenes where the heroine carefully powders her nose in public.  Even Meg Ryan's character Kathleen Kelly in You've Got Mail, pulls out her compact to pat at her face only to violently snap it shut when she catches sight of her bĂȘte noir Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) in its mirror.  

Just before bed the other night, I was paging through an old 1972 Seventeen magazine when I saw an ad for a familiar petite tortoiseshell compact.  It was divided into two sections, containing a cream blush and a lip gloss in best-friend hues of soft pink and vibrant rose.  I realized I had once owned the same pretty compact in high school.

I remember how clever I thought the idea of having two products in one place was and this beauty aid was especially nice and small enough to carry in the palm of my hand or tuck in the pocket of my jeans.  I never had a need for pressed powder or nose-powdering but I loved the idea of an old-fashioned compact which appealed to my girly sensibility, especially with its mirror, satin smooth shell, and satisfying click upon closing.

A quick internet search did not reveal anything quite like my high school compact but I discovered lots of cream blushers in small artful compacts and I bought a beautiful polished black one with a gorgeous flush-pink rouge inside.  It is just the right size to be reminiscent of my old blush-and-lipstick combo.  I had forgotten how lovely it is to take out a nice compact to freshen up my face and check for spinach.

Soon I will gather with my own high school girlfriends at our annual summer picnic.  After lunch, I'll remember to use my glossy new compact which is deft and discreet enough not cause much attention.  But if someone should notice, they will be told that I am performing a feminine ceremonial that crisscrosses time and place.