31 January 2012

M'Lady, Your Carriage Awaits

Well, as Shirley Temple used to say:  'Oh. My. Goodness!'
Oh, the adventures I would have had and the places I would have gone
had this been mine when I was a little girl.
But this isn't a toy.  Oh no, this incredible piece of magical whimsy is a B-E-D! 

Here is the manufacturer's description:
The wheels of this carriage are solid cherry with white oak inserts that are spring loaded into their seats to form a heart shape. Each wheel features one hundred individual pieces of wood, contributing to the intricate design. The solid cherry quarter panels that define the contours of the pumpkin’s shape are fashioned from ¼” x ¾” rippings. Each piece has been hand tapered, beveled, and bent to create the desired shape and fit tightly together. The finished product has the natural beauty of varnished solid cherry but the delicately thin contoured panels have the durability of a boat hull. 
The carriage is draped with a petal-like canopy made in the likeness of a flower. 
All interior upholstery and drapery are made of 100% silk. 
Shipping charges are based on delivery location, as the artisan will deliver and assemble it himself. 
This item is custom made especically for you upon order and cannot be returned. 
I guess pretending my old blue tricycle was a carriage (or a horse, or a motorcycle, or a sports car) made fiscal sense. In fact, when it comes right down to it, despite being overwhelmed by this carriage's beauty, I really wouldn't change the manner in which my childhood imagination was developed .. not for all the fairy coaches in the world.

(But it would have been fun to climb into it... just once.)

28 January 2012

Wynken, Blynken and Nod

Ever since I was a small child, I have always yearned for a cabinet or "alcove" bed.

 There were certainly alcoves galore in our first home,
and my bed was pushed under one of them, which was very cozy indeed.

But it wasn't the same as having a true cabinet bed.

 The beauty of a bed like that was turning it into a reading nook.

And if it had a window, all the better to watch the moon pass by in the night.

And if it had draws or shelves underneath, what more could you ask for?

As an adult, it would be easy to turn a childhood nook into something more elegant.

And with a fireplace near, how cozy the winter nights would be.

Curtains are good for keeping secrets....

... or for keeping out drafts...

... or feeling like a princess.

27 January 2012

Mrs. Brooks, you're trying to seduce me

I remember how surprised I was when I learned that Anne Bancroft, the tall, sensual, smokey-voiced actress, was married to the short, funny, irreverent Mel Brooks. But looking back on her films, I think she was always full of surprises, somehow managing to defy being categorised in any particular role, but at the same time always bringing the same elegance, passion and strength to whatever character she played.

While nearly everyone always thinks of her role in the ground-breaking film “The Graduate”, the two films that made the biggest impression on me were “The Miracle Worker” and “84 Charing Cross Road”.

I was quite young when I first saw Bancroft in the role of Annie Sullivan, the partially blind and newly graduated student from the Perkins Institution, who managed to illuminate the dark and silent world of her first student: 7 year old Helen Keller. Keller was blind, deaf, mute and entirely undisciplined when Annie first met her. Bancroft's and Duke's scenes together in the film were electric, as their passionate spirits locked against one another in mortal combat. But the wild and unruly Helen was no match for the determined Annie, and when Helen signed her first word—water—you could sense the profound breakthrough of matching language to object, as if it had just happened to you personally. 

“84 Charing Cross Road” was the tender and oftentimes funny recollection of a 20 year long correspondence between Helene Hanf, a well-read and slightly “in your face” woman from NYC who collected rare books, and Frank Doel, a mild-mannered British bookseller in the heart of London, played exquisitely by Anthony Hopkins. Set in an era before cell phones, instant messaging, faxes or email, and when trans-Atlantic telephone calls were cost-prohibitive, the letters that passed over the ocean between Helene and Frank were an endearing record of their cultural differences, their unique personalities, and the historical times they lived through. Although Helene tried on several occasions to visit Frank, something always prevented them from actually meeting and by the time she finally found the resources to journey to England, the deserted Charing Cross store was boarded up and her friend of two decades had passed away.

Both films are based on true stories, and each one allowed Bancroft to plumb the depths of intriguing and sensitive women, doing what I think she did best: moving the viewer to tears as well as laughter.

Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.

26 January 2012

Random Things No. 41

I was thinking yesterday about all the random items in life that I am attracted to, and as the list grew longer and longer in my [alleged] mind, I decided to set it down. No doubt the list will change over time, but that is, after all, how life should be—ever shifting and teetering under the influence of discovery.  For now, these are the random things I like, in no particular order. 

  • wicker laundry baskets
  • old seltzer bottles
  • galvanized buckets, including those french flower buckets
  • clay flower pots
  • clothes pins
  • vintage hankies
  • glass sun catchers in bright windows
  • black and white checkerboard tile floors
  • shawls
  • old leather-bound books
  • paper hand-held fans
  • old wire baskets
  • black and white photographs
  • bowls of fruit
  • old mason jars with wire lid holders
  • pressed glass tumblers
  • flower seed packets 
  • sparrows
  • new pads of paper
  • new pens
  • old skeleton keys
  • paper doilies
  • skeins of yarn
  • bakelite knitting needles
  • red Twizzlers
  • hats
  • letter openers

What random things do you like? What items, when you see them, make you smile inside?  

Over and out.

[see also ENJOY]

25 January 2012

Acquisition No. 731

The cedar spokes are lacquered black on one side and then handpainted and gilded.
The painting continues up the black gauzy fabric and there's gilding along the edges
of the fabric as well as the wooden frame.

I'm not certain of its age ... "quite old" is the best I can do, I'm afraid.

With luck I'll be able to whisper a credible "Oh, Ashley!" by summer.
The batting of eyes, on the other hand, may require more practice...

24 January 2012

Things That Matter, Part II

So here's this week's list of things that truly matter.
  • the anticipatory way the house feels, stripped of Christmas decorations and waiting for Spring
  • getting to see my daughter last weekend
  • the way the snow coated the trellises, gates, fencing and tree branches on Saturday
  • how the firelight felt on my face as snow crystals whirled around the cottage
  • watching sparrows, house wrens and chickadees flock to the feeders each morning
  • watching squirrels and Mourning Doves share in the overflow of seed that falls to the ground
  • the way the rain and mist melted most of the snow away last night
  • how mild and sea-scented the air was at dawn this morning
  • writing letters to far away loved ones and getting letters back 
  • knowing that without words, without even seeing each other that often, friends are always close and caring
Carry on.

23 January 2012

George Sand amuses us and herself

 George Sand (née Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin) 1804-1876

Some aspects of her life and writing by René Doumic

George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin) wrote for nearly half a century. For fifty times three hundred and sixty-five days, she never let a day pass by without covering more pages than other writers did in a month. Her first books shocked people, her early opinions were greeted with storms. From that time forth she rushed head-long into everything new, she welcomed every chimera and passed it on to us with more force and passion in it. Vibrating with every breath, electrified by every storm, she looked up at every cloud behind which she fancied she saw a star shining. The work of another novelist has been called a repertory of human documents. But what a repertory of ideas her work was! She has said what she had to say on nearly every subject; on love, the family, social institutions and on the various forms of government. And with all this she was a woman. Her case is almost unique in the history of letters. It is intensely interesting to study the influence of this woman of genius on the evolution of modern thought.

There was only one marked trait in her character as a child, and that was a great tendency to reverie. For long hours she would remain alone, motionless, gazing into space. People were anxious about her when they saw her looking so "stupid", but her mother invariably said: "Do not be alarmed. She is always ruminating about something."
Following the failure of trip to a convent and then an early marriage, Sand remained an individual instead of harmonizing and blending in a general whole. Her ill-assorted union merely accentuated and strengthened her individualism. She arrived alone in Paris the first week of the year 1831. The woman who was rebellious to marriage was now in a city which had just had a revolution.

The extraordinary effervescence of Paris in 1831 can readily be imagined. There was tempest in the air, and this tempest was bound to break out here or there, either immediately or in the near future, in an insurrection. Every one was feverishly anxious to destroy everything, in order to create all things anew. In everything—art, ideas and even in costume—there was the same explosion of indiscipline, the same triumph of capriciousness. Every day some fresh system of government was born, some new method of philosophy, an infallible receipt for bringing about universal happiness, an unheard-of idea for manufacturing masterpieces, some invention for dressing up and having a perpetual carnival in the streets. The insurrection was permanent and masquerade a normal state. Besides all this, there was a magnificent burst of youth and genius. Victor Hugo, proud of having fought the battle of "Hernani", was then thinking of "Notre-Dame" and climbing up to it. Musset had just given his "Contes d'Espagne el d'Italie". Stendhal had published "Le Rouge et le Noir", and Balzac "La Peau de Chagrin".  The painters of the day were Delacroix and Delaroche. Paganini was about to give his first concert at the Opera. Such was Paris in all its impatience and impertinence, in its confusion and splendour immediately after the Revolution.

The young wife, who had snapped her bonds asunder, breathed voluptuously in this atmosphere. She was like a provincial woman enjoying Paris to the full. She belonged to the romantic school, and was imbued with the principle that an artist must see everything, know everything, and have experienced himself all that he puts into his books. She found a little group of her friends from Berry in Paris, among others Felix Pyat, Charles Duvernet, Alphonse Fleury, Sandeau and de Latouche. This was the band she frequented, young men apprenticed either to literature, the law, or medicine. With them she lived a student's life. In order to facilitate her various evolutions, she adopted masculine dress. In her "Histoire de ma vie" she says: "Fashion helped me in my disguise, for men were wearing long, square frock-coats styled 'a la proprietaire'. They came down to the heels, and fitted the figure so little that I had a 'sentry-box coat' made, of rough grey cloth, with trousers and waistcoat to match. With a grey hat and a huge cravat of woollen material, I looked exactly like a first-year student. . . ."

Dressed in this style, she explored the streets, museums, cathedrals, libraries, painters' studios, clubs and theatres. She heard Frederick Lemaitre one day, and the next day Malibran. One evening it was one of Dumas' pieces, and the next night "Moise" at the Opera. She took her meals at a little restaurant, and she lived in an attic. She was not even sure of being able to pay her tailor, so she had all the joys possible. "Ah, how delightful, to live an artist's life! Our device is liberty!" she wrote. She lived in a perpetual state of delight, and, in February, wrote to her son Maurice as follows: "Every one is at loggerheads, we are crushed to death in the streets, the churches are being destroyed, and we hear the drum being beaten all night." In March she wrote to Charles Duvernet: "Do you know that fine things are happening here? It really is amusing to see. We are living just as gaily among bayonets and riots as if everything were at peace. All this amuses me."

She was amused at everything and she enjoyed everything. With her keen sensitivity, she revelled in the charm of Paris, and she thoroughly appreciated its scenery.
"Paris," she wrote, "with its vaporous evenings, its pink clouds above the roofs, and the beautiful willows of such a delicate green around the bronze statue of our old Henry, and then, too, the dear little slate-coloured pigeons that make their nests in the old masks of the Pont Neuf . . ."  She loved the Paris sky, so strange-looking, so rich in colouring, so variable. She was over-excited with the joy of her newly-found liberty. It was that really which made her so joyful and which intoxicated her. "I do not want society, excitement, theatres, or dress; what I want is freedom," she wrote to her mother. In another letter she said: "I am absolutely independent. I go to La Chatre, to Rome. I start out at ten o'clock or at midnight. I please myself entirely in all this."

It is not enough to say that George Sand was a born writer. She was a born novelist, and she belonged to a certain category of novelists. She had been created by a special decree of Providence to write her own romances, and not others. It is this which makes the history of the far-back origins of her literary vocation so interesting. It is extremely curious to see, from her earliest childhood, the promises of those faculties which were to become the very essence of her talent. When she was only three years old, her mother used to put her between four chairs in order to keep her still. By way of enlivening her captivity, she tells us what she did.

"I used to make up endless stories, which my mother styled my novels. . . . I told these stories aloud, and my mother declared that they were most tiresome on account of their length and of the development I gave to my digressions. . . . There were very few bad people in them, and never any serious troubles. Everything was always arranged satisfactorily, thanks to my lively, optimistic ideas."

She had already commenced, then, by the age of three, and these early stories are the precursors of the novels of her maturity: optimistic, drawn out, and with long digressions. There is evidently a primordial instinct in those who are born story-tellers, urging them on to invent fine stories for amusing themselves.

[Rene Doumic]

[Images #1 and #3: George Sand painted by Charpentier and Delacroix; Image #2: Artist unknown]

13 January 2012

A book is a journey .. but I'm not packed yet

read[reed],  read·ing [ree-ding] noun
(used with object)

1. to look at carefully so as to understand the meaning of (something written, printed, etc.): to read a book

I just realized this morning, as I sorted through a stack of unread back copies of the New York Times Book Review, that I haven't actually picked up a book to read in nearly a month! [Ed. Note: Magazines do not count as reading, unless it happens to be Vanity Fair]

This clearly has to be remedied, pretty much immediately.  After all, there are no longer any Christmas-related impediments holding me back. The knit-fest has ended, the cottage has been stripped of Christmas decorations, I have no immediate plans to bake again (perhaps ever), and the bins of ornaments, lights, and wrapping paper are back in the attic until next year.  No excuse not to resume losing myself in books once more.  Except of course the fatal inertia that always accompanies the heady decision of WHAT TO READ NEXT.  
Now if I've been reading for awhile, uninterruptedly devouring books over a period of months, the decision is always fairly simple as I tend to wander from one book to another staying with either the same era, the same author, or the same topic.  But when my reading comes to a screeching halt, as it did in November, and weeks pass without so much as a paragraph of anything other than "Mix sugar with butter and then add eggs one at a time", the jump-start to pick up a proper book is something of a dithering moment for me. 

Mystery? History? Humor? Non-Fiction? Autobiography?  

I have ample (read: too many) choices in each category, I'm afraid, so stepping back into literary heaven won't be easy.  But it's a step I'm determined to take.  Perhaps this weekend.

A gentle reminder

11 January 2012

Madame DeFarge's Final Reckoning

Well, the Christmas knitting has finally come to a standstill. Although given the Herculean push during the final days, I should probably begin knitting now for next Christmas!  Seriously, I was actually tucking in yarn ends on a few items only moments before they were going to be unwrapped by their recipients. But then I am the crazy woman who once finished hemming a dress I'd made for a friend's wedding as I sat on the bus on my way to said nuptials. Did I mention I was wearing the dress at the time? I think I still have a small scar from the needle when the bus hit a pot-hole. 

Here, then, is what I accomplished.
  • 5 pairs of knee-high bed socks (19th c. pattern)
  • 1 pair of leg warmers (a slight modification of the 19th c. pattern)
  • 3 watch caps (or Tuques as they say in Oh, Canada)
  • 1 pair of spiral ankle socks
  • 2 pair of spiral tube socks
  • 4 fringed fleece blankets
The pair of mittens, the cowl, the pair of muffetees, the crocheted bookmark, and the two scarves I'd hoped to complete never materialized. In fact they were never started. (Insert disappointed sigh here.) It wasn't for lack of trying.  After all I did start knitting in August.  But I am reminded here of what my favorite knitter-writer, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, has to say about that.

“It is a peculiarity of knitters that they chronically underestimate the amount of time it takes to knit something. Birthday on Saturday? No problem. Socks are small. Never mind that the average sock knit out of sock-weight yarn contains about 17,000 stitches. Never mind that you need two of them. (That's 34,000 stitches, for anybody keeping track.) Socks are only physically small. By stitch count, they are immense.”

Truer words. Still, no one was left without some kind of hand made item to open at Christmas, which was all I'd hoped, really. A jolly pile of wool and fleece turned magically into an even merrier pile of practical and colorful gifts to put beneath the tree. Worked by human hands, with love, humor and just a dash of frantic.

10 January 2012

In the bleak mid-winter

What is it about gardeners that makes us reach for the seed catalogues and gardening journals on the first bitterly cold day of mid-winter?  I think it's a way of reminding ourselves that even this icy weather will pass, and it won't be long before the stoney ground will be soft and pliable again.

Even the names of flowers make a bleak and colorless winter day seem sunny and full of promise:  honeysuckle, columbine, evening primrose, morning glory, briar rose, wood violets, lily of the valley.

I stood at the verandah doors last week—it was a brisk 11 degrees—and looked out through the curtains.  How grim the gardens looked! Nothing to remind me of how lush and airy and inviting it is on a summer's day or evening, merely a
maze of stems and sticks poking up from a rock-hard terrain, crumpled leaves and seed pods and lumpy earth where mounds of flowers used to be.  Not a breath of greenery anywhere.  Everything was brown and grey, stark and still.  The tree branches overhead were like bony fingers instead of the usual verdent canopy.  The water in the birdbath was frozen solid and the feeders looked lonely in the cold wind.

I came back into the kitchen and counted on the calendar exactly how many more days there are until spring:  76.  Then I got out my gardening journal to study the pictures from this past season's garden and set down my list of gardening projects for next season.

Hope springs eternal. 

09 January 2012

Garden Sheds

There are the diminutive...

And there are the grand... (i.e., back where I come from, we call this a HOUSE)

And there are the the ones that double as a study, workroom or haven...

And finally, the just plain adorable...

But after several months of thinking I wanted an apple spring green garden shed,
I think I may have decided I really want a white one,
with just a few splashes of color here and there.
Red Windows and a Green Door?  Maybe....

There's no better passtime in January than looking forward
to the world being green again.

04 January 2012

For Auld Lang Syne

It's been several weeks since I've written anything here.  Not for lack of anything to say but because there's been much to do, without the time to write about it. A happy confluence of chores and pastimes and day trips and enjoying Christmas and New Year's Eve.  All those things that seem to pleasantly devour the days and nights each year at this time. And what little time there is to sit down and write is spent on letters to friends or loved ones or setting things down in the little PROJECTS diary I'm starting for the year ahead.

As the new year begins I've made a list of the things I hope to accomplish, season by season. Nothing earth-shattering and all quite manageable... provided I don't let my inherent laziness and procrastination get in the way.  I'm pretty terrible that way.  On any given morning I can have a mental list of tasks that need to be done—simple things like ironing, dusting, and tidying closets, things I actually enjoy doing because I'm such a homebody at heart. But then a book or a colorful pile of yarn will beckon to me, or a wonderful film will be playing on the television, and the next thing I know the day has slipped past and I've had the loveliest time but nothing on my list has been accomplished.  

But this year's list is a good one, a realistic one, and with luck and patience I'll make my way through it, at my own pace.  Books and knitting notwithstanding.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie's a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.