Wednesday, February 28, 2007

SO LONG FOR A FEW DAYS…….


It’s time for a short Hiatus. I will miss checking in on my blogger friends, as well as posting, but it’s past time for me to take a break and see how the other half lives.
I’m heading down to Gainesville, Florida, to see my sister and her husband and the three of us will be taking a side trip to visit Terri (of "Writing Away On Cedar Key") and Ray at Cedar Key. I can’t wait to meet another of my fellow bloggers…and especially one that I enjoy reading so much.

By the way, I will be posting every third day from now on. I only have so many stories to relate, after all, and when I’m done I’ll close out my blog...so I decided I could eke it out longer this way. Who knows, however, maybe my memory valve will stay stuck on open and I’ll never quit.

Well, my house sitter is here, my car is packed and I’m taking to the open road. Whoopee. See you next Tuesday.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

“THREE COINS IN A FOUNTAIN”




If you want your “just desserts” go to Rome, and especially to the Piazza della Rotonda. That was where I had my first taste of the classic Italian wonder known as gelato.

The piazza was lined with cafes and had a fountain and an obelisk dating back to the 16th century in it’s center. We had a choice of many “gelato bars” but chose to take the short walk to one of Rome’s oldest...the Giolitti. It was an experience not to be missed. Colorful mounds of gelato were piled high, topped with fresh fruit to indicate their flavors.

Even the waffle cones were displayed as art. They came in three colors and flavors(natural, red and brown), and were stacked upside down so they formed very tall and colorful columns. They were an apt backdrop for the frenetic scooping. The simple act of ordering your gelato was a production in itself. Good humored laughter and many hand gestures were needed to convey your choice and then, in typical Italian style, the final product would be presented as if it were the finest jewel in the crown.

The choice of flavors was astounding...fig and lychee nut, almond and coconut to name just a few. I finally ordered a double dipper and was thrilled to find that the “hype” for gelato was well earned. It was much creamier than ice cream and the flavors were dense and almost tart. I loved it.

I had another Roman thrill on the day that I discovered gelato. We went to the famous Trevi Fountain and I took my cue from Audrey Hepburn as I tossed loose change over my shoulder. I felt just like I was in the movie “Three Coins In a Fountain” and I did make a wish. I know, I know...I’m a far cry from Audrey Hepburn but what do you think wishes are for??

Friday, February 23, 2007

THE WROUGHT IRON GATES of CHARLESTON


Charleston, South Carolina, is affectionately known as the “city set in a garden”. It is a walker’s paradise and the small private gardens, most of them set behind elaborate wrought iron gates, bring an Old World charm to the city.

I have been privileged to visit Charleston twice. Strolling down cobblestone avenues, lined with antique shops and boutiques, is a pleasure but I actually prefer the less traveled side streets. That is where you get glimpses of tidy brick-walled gardens set behind lacy iron gates.

Most of the Charleston gardens are private. They are often of limited space and the owners maximize this by the inclusion of protective walls and the creative use of ornamental plants. Many of these gardens are “hidden” behind heavy gates and it is this decorative ironwork that fascinates me.

I did a bit of research and found that the oldest remaining ironwork in the city dates back to the Revolutionary War period. This was wrought iron which a blacksmith would mold and shape into scrolls, fleur-de-lis, leaf and flower patterns, using a forge, anvil and hammer. These would adorn gates, stair railings, boot scrapes and decorative panels.

During the mid-19th century cast iron was more commonplace in Charleston than wrought iron. This was mass produced by pouring the molten metal into molds and it allowed for more elaborate decorations preferred by Victorian tastes of the time.

Although cast iron is less susceptible to corrosion than wrought iron they both need regular cleaning and painting to avoid rust and general deterioration. This must be a lucrative business for someone in Charleston because almost all the decorative ironwork that I saw was in excellent condition.

The wrought iron gates of Charleston and the “secret” gardens behind them are treasures not to be missed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

1944...I dream of being Esther Williams



63 years later and I still think that Esther Williams is the epitome of what the “all American“ girl should be. No shoulder pads needed here ! She was strong, healthy and beautiful ... not a bit like the scrawny females that seem to be the norm today.

I was 11 years old when I first viewed one of her extraordinary films. This was in Wellesley Hills, Ma., where the movie theater was practically around the corner from our house. I absolutely loved going to the movies and I would have lived there if my parents had allowed it.

In 1944 at our theater they would usually play a newsreel and then the featured movie. There might be a cartoon and a preview of next week’s film; but very little in the way of advertising as there is today. Also, the same movie would be shown over and over. If you missed the beginning it was no big deal...you just sat on and watched it again.

This was my favorite way to spend a Saturday. I would get my ticket in the morning, when it cost just 10 cents, and then stay on for the rest of the day. This was especially satisfying when an Esther Williams film was featured. Her beautiful underwater sequences were breathtaking and I could watch them forever.

I would imagine myself as Esther, leading the rest of the girls in those choreographed ballet moves. The camera would follow us under water and then switch to an overhead shot. The viewer would be enchanted to see a flower appear on the surface of the pool and would then realize that it was eight gorgeous bathing beauties perfectly spaced and moving in sync…their legs and arms intertwined to simulate colorful petals and leaves.

Then Esther would suddenly appear, rising up and out of the water in the center of the group like a bud unfolding. The music would rise to a crescendo and I would be riveted to my seat. She seemed to be suspended in air and I would hold my breath until she took her final graceful dive. It was magnificent and I can remember it like it was yesterday.

Most of the films had weak plots but the water ballet sequences, usually choreographed by Busby Berkeley, have never been surpassed. My dream of being the next Esther Williams wasn't the least diminished by the fact that I could barely dog paddle across a shallow wading pool !

Saturday, February 17, 2007

San Miguel deAllende.......2002



It was a wintry day in February of 2002 when a friend and I left North Carolina and flew to Mexico. We were stuck in Dallas for over 7 hours but we finally made it to the Leon airport. Lo and behold our driver, from the B&B, had waited for us and we were soon on our way to San Miguel De Allende, a two hour drive.

“Casa Murphy” was our destination and we found it tucked behind tall adobe walls lushly over-run with greenery. It is a small, family oriented B&B and we found that we’d made a good choice.

Everything in San Miguel is within walking distance and it’s almost impossible to get lost, since every road eventually leads to the “El Jardin”, the central plaza. This area is surrounded with lovely shops & eatery’s located in buildings that date back to the 1600’s.

San Miguel De Allende was in danger of becoming a ghost town at the turn of the 20th century. The revival began after World War II when the returning GI’s discovered that their education grants stretched further in Mexico at the US-accredited Art Schools. San Miguel soon became a center for American and Canadian expatriates and continues to be a haven for them today.

Actually, although the town is very picturesque and has become renowned as an Art Colony, I found the surrounding towns more to my liking. The fact that San Miguel is practically overrun with non-Mexicans tarnished it a bit for me.

I enjoyed the small town of Delores Hidalgo very much. This is where the famous Talavera ceramic tiles are made. We could actually watch the artisans as they colored the tiles before they were fired. It was Valentine’s day when we were there and we were treated to a special luncheon complete with live music and gifts of paper hearts and roses from the management.

Guanajuato, the birthplace of Diego Rivera, was my favorite spot, however. It was very interesting to visit his home and to see the paintings that he produced as a young boy. They were nothing like the dense and colorful murals that brought him such fame. One room was devoted to the paintings of his tempestuous wife, Frida Kahlo and they actually had a recording of her voice. I could see why she would be a good match for Diego.

Oddly enough, the other person who is revered in Guanajuato is not even real. He is the fictional character Don Quixote. Miguel de Cervantino, the author who created him, was a native of the town and they actually have a museum dedicated to anything and everything that resembles “Don Quixote”. As a matter of fact, we found that most of Mexico considers him a national hero.

All in all it was an exciting trip but the disparity between the “haves” (the expatriates) and the “have-nots” ( the native Mexicans) bothered me a lot. It just seemed to be one more example of exploitation based on greed.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I REMEMBER my MOTHER … 1896 - 1988


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought that I’ll just give my mother a call to ask her opinion on something...or to share some special event...only to realize that she is no longer here. It’s a strange and unsettling feeling. She has been gone for more than 18 years but that doesn’t seem to sink in, somehow.

There are so many aspects of her personality that come to the fore. She was a dignified woman in all ways and yet she had a wonderfully silly side to her, especially when we girls (all 5 of us) were young. Time and again we would start giggling over some little thing and it would become infectious. Then she couldn’t help but join in and the six of us would go into paroxysm’s of laughter, to the dismay of my Dad.

Mother was born and brought up in Brattleboro, Vt. After she finished her schooling she taught art at Skidmore College and then left to marry my Dad. They had a very loving marriage but it wasn’t easy. All 5 of us were born in the depression era and, at one point, Dad had to sell a large stamp collection in order to make ends meet. Mother took in sewing and I remember that she always seemed to have a skirt to hem or a dress to make. It did help to pay the bills and she continued to do this for many years.

We moved from Plainfield, New Jersey, in 1940 and settled in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. By this time we were all in school and our house was a constant beehive of activity. Mother was a great favorite of many of our friends and they would continue to keep up with her long after our friendships had waned, and even after my Dad died in 1961.

Mother was very disciplined and a bit of a perfectionist. It’s funny, though, how I remember Mother giving me great latitude in many areas and yet my oldest sister remembers her as being very inflexible. I think she had probably relaxed a lot when I came along !

She was a great “collector” and her interests were wide and varied. My daughter and her husband have just inherited a very large rock collection of hers. There are stones from all corners of the world and each one is documented and numbered.

Mother did a wonderful thing as she grew older. She honed down her belongings (giving us things over the years) until, by the time she was in her final years she had almost nothing except some treasured photos and keepsakes. She did this on purpose. She didn’t want any contention between the 5 of us when it came to
settling her estate. What a wise woman...and she got in the last word too.

Monday, February 12, 2007

ANTIQUE LAP DESK





Shortly after I started my small business called “Snowflakes, Custom Designs” in 1997 my sister told me she wanted me to paint something for her. She had acquired this lovely antique lap desk and I was very touched that she would want me to design and paint it for her.

The “desk” was approximately 16 x 10 inches and the top was a perfectly plain piece of wood which was begging for something decorative. It was similar to having a blank canvas and I tried hard to find the perfect design. I have a huge library of Folk Art books and I leafed through them looking for an inspiration. I knew I had found my answer when I came across this sweet picture of two sisters in repose.

The picture was painted in 1854 by Mary Ann Smith and is titled “Portrait of the Tow Sisters”. I loved the colors and the stylistic folk art pose. You can see that it was a perfect match for the desk and it conveyed the feeling that my sister and I have always shared. She is just 14 months older than I am and we are very close.

Most of the designs that I create for furnishings are not direct copies, such as this was, but I felt that I was paying homage to the artist. She had conveyed the devotion of the two sisters in a way that I couldn’t resist.

My sister has a home in Gainesville, Florida and in Brewster on Cape Cod...so I’m not sure where the little lap desk is now. I don’t know if she ever actually used it or if it was strictly for show. It did give me an idea, however, and I had a local carpenter make me a dozen lap desks patterned after the original one. They proved to be very popular and I custom designed them as requested.

I hope the little antique lap desk will be a constant reminder to my sister of my love and regard for her for more than 73 years.

Friday, February 09, 2007

1961...I get involved in a shocking IBM “Cover-up”




The handsome man pictured here is Thomas J. Watson, Jr. He succeeded his father in 1952 as President of IBM. You can tell by his pose and demeanor that he was very proper, to say the least, and he insisted that the IBM employees emulate his example. The adorable little boy pictured is my middle child, Matt.

In 1961 Dutchess County, NY, was dominated by IBM which provided 60 percent of its manufacturing jobs. Some of our friends worked there and we had heard them complain about the very strict dress code. That was about all I knew of the company until I visited there on a hot summer day in 1961.

IBM provided quite a few amenities for their workers and one of these was a lovely country-club complete with a large swimming pool and a wading area for the children. My husband and I and three children were still living in Manhattan so it was a treat to escape the heat of the City and meet my friend at the club. As I recall I only had my middle child with me that day and we came toting bathing suits, shovel and pail, towels and lots of sun-tan lotion.

My first inkling of the rigid rules and regulations came when I took my little boy into the big pool with me. The life guard told me in a very stern tone that the wading pool was there for the children and they were not allowed in the main pool. “Oh, well”, I thought, “we’ll just go play in the wading area”.

Matt had his little pail and, although there was no sand, he loved pouring water from the pail and watching it splash. After all, he was just a year old so he was easily entertained. Alas, it was not to be so. I was told again that I was breaking the rules! No pails allowed!

I was getting a little annoyed at this point but I decided to let it ride and to just enjoy the sunshine and the perfect day. I knew that Matt would be more comfortable out of his wet and clammy swim suit so I slipped it off and gave him a good drying with my towel. I was just about to put his little fat legs into a cute pair of shorts when a very loud voice boomed out, saying “THERE IS NO EXPOSING ALLOWED AT THIS CLUB. COVER UP THE BODY IMMEDIATELY OR YOU WILL BE ESCORTED OFF THE PREMISES.”

“Horrors”, I thought, “how could anyone do such a thing at a public swim club?”, and I looked around to see who the awful pervert could be. It took me a minute to realize that the accusation was directed at me !

That did it. With all the dignity I could muster I packed up my few items, including the shovel, the pail and the little shorts that I decided NOT to put on my baby. And to add insult to injury I took his little hand and WALKED him across the length of the pool on our way out...his EXPOSED fanny saying loud and clear what I thought of their rules and regulations.!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The CINQUETERRE, Italy’s Riviera … 2001


My first blog, "Lodging in Italian Monasteries", told of my dream trip to Italy with my good friend Douglas. We were there for a month and the only place where we did not have reservations was in the Cinqueterre. We had read somewhere that all you needed to do was show up and someone would appear with rooms to rent.

We had a long train ride from Venice but finally arrived at the small town of Monterosso al Mare. I felt disappointed at first & it wasn’t until we climbed the stairs and came out onto the street that I gasped in delight. This was the most spectacular vista that I’d ever seen. Douglas decided to test the “rooms to rent” theory and, sure enough, he had barely let it be known that we were in need when a lady on a bike approached him. We were able to rent a wonderful villa for the three days that we were there.

The Cinqueterre, meaning “five lands” is five small villages clinging to the coast of the Italian Riviera. Each town has a different character and they boast sandy beaches, steep paths, vineyards, walkways, harbors, and staggering views. They are connected by the trains that run from tunnel to tunnel.

We knew that the best way to see the area would be on foot. We were staying at the topmost village so we hopped a train the next morning and started at the bottom in Riomaggiore. The trek from there to Manarola was a cakewalk, but it rapidly changed as we made our way to Corniglia and from there to Vernazza it became rugged, steep, and actually dangerous in spots. We hated to give up but we agreed to be sensible and took the train back from the 4th village to Montrose al Mare.

Both Douglas and I had found the food to be excellent in Italy but he was more adventuresome than I. One night I wanted to rest up, wash my hair, write postcards, etc., so he went out alone. He came back wreathed in smiles. He had gone to our favorite spot and told the owner to “just serve me anything”. He said he was treated like a king. He had no idea what he ate but it was “delicious”, as was the gelato that he brought back to me.

My favorite memory of those 3 days was sitting at a small table sipping an espresso and just soaking up the atmosphere. Then Douglas tapped me on the arm and said, “Oh, look at what’s approaching”. I turned and gazed as one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen walked slowly past our table. She wore no makeup and her dress was modest but she was regal enough to be a queen and on top of her head was a huge wicker basket filled with nothing but bright and glistening golden lemons.

Monday, February 05, 2007

FREDERIC E. CHURCH and OLANA



Frederic Church (1826-1900), one of America’s premier landscape painters, made his home on 250 acres of prime land in Columbia County, NY, overlooking the Hudson River. It is a short distance from where my daughter and her husband live and is a favorite place for us to visit when I am with them.

Church was greatly impressed by the Moorish architecture that he saw in Middle Eastern cities like Beirut and Jerusalem and he styled his estate to replicate his Persian fantasy. Even the name of the home, OLANA, is Persian.

Today OLANA is a New York State Historic Site. Luckily, with the help of the Olana Preservation, most of the furnishings have been preserved exactly as they were when Church was alive. The contents are an eclectic gathering of furniture, tapestries, rugs, bronzes, paintings and sculptures. They were collected over a 30 year period and represent his many interests.

The color scheme, the stenciling and the mosaic creations were all designed by Frederic Church. He even had furniture made to his design. His studio is unlike any that I’d seen before. It is very elaborate and even boasted small Turkish Rugs. (I found a replica of one of these rugs in the form of a mouse pad in the Gift Shop and couldn‘t resist it!) From this studio the visitor can still see the vistas recorded in Church’s paintings.

Frederic Church was a student of Thomas Cole, widely regarded as the first exponent of the Hudson River School of painting. He then went on to become one of the best known landscape painters in America. His home at OLANA offers magnificent sweeping vistas of the Catskill Mountains, the Hudson River and the Taconic Hills and he preserved these views in his paintings.

Even when OLANA isn’t open for viewing it is a treat to visit. We’ve done that in all seasons and find that wandering the picturesque grounds is just like being part of a masterpiece as grand as a Frederic Church painting.

Friday, February 02, 2007

1937.……Visiting Grandpa & Grandma and his new CAR



That’s me on the far right...the youngest of 5 girls sitting on Grandpa‘s running board. We had come from Plainfield, New Jersey, to visit my Mother’s parents in West Brattleboro, Vermont.

My Grandpa was one of the first car owners in that small town and he was proud as a peacock to be so. I’ve seen many photographs of him and he always displays a big grin when he is near or in his car. In most other pictures he is dapper and pleasant, but very reserved.

He worked for the Estey Organ Company and would travel all over New England for them. I believe he sold the organs as well as doing repair work on them. I can just imagine him on the open road. He’d be wearing his roadster cap at a jaunty angle and I’ll bet he’d have the windows open wide. At 40 miles per hour you didn’t have to worry too much about the breeze!

My Grandma loved to ride in the car too. She would dress in her Sunday best (complete with hat and gloves) and would always sit in the back seat...even when it was just the two of them! I imagine it would make her feel like she was being squired around town.

I was barely four years old then so I don’t remember being there...but we have many pictures to prove that we were. I wonder if it was all for show...or if we actually got to RIDE in Grandpa’s prized possession? Somehow I doubt it…

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Edward Gorey’s “Elephant House”, Cape Cod, 2005



My only acquaintance with the whimsical works of Edward Gorey were the animations that he produced in 1980 for the PBS series “Mystery”. Who can forget the swooning Victorian lady in the cemetery or the dark figures playing croquet in a rainstorm?

I had these images in mind when my sister and I made a visit last year to “Elephant House”, his place of residence for many years in Yarmouthport, Cape Cod. Since his death in 2000 the home has been converted to a museum celebrating his life’s work.

The rambling house is over 200 yrs. old and seems to derive it’s name from the strange siding. It is wood that is weathered and wrinkled with age, like the skin of an elephant. Gorey was eccentric enough to want to keep it like that and wouldn’t think of having it scraped and repainted.

We were pleased to find that the curators of the museum were his nephews. They conducted tours and happily answered any questions about this fascinating and often macabre individual who had been their uncle.

Edward Gorey was a complex person. He was an illustrator who also wrote...or you could say that he was a writer with an artistic bent. His combination of words and pictures has classified him as a humorist but he was much more than that. He loved the ballet and his cats…and could never get enough of either. Allusions to both show up in his works constantly.

He was an eclectic, and eccentric, creative artist. Many of his works are geared to children but most editors shunned them as being unsuitable because of their dark humor. His “Alphabet Book”, for example, depicts the perils of childhood: (“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs” and “Q is for Quentin who sank in a mire”.) Edward Gorey produced more than 70 books in his lifetime and he never ran out of ideas. He constantly “pushed the envelope”, testing and teasing his readers.

He lived alone but was not a loner. He was often seen on the streets of Yarmouthport in his ankle-length fur coat and he ate both breakfast and lunch in a local café every day. It was said that he happily autographed napkins and any other item that his public presented to him.

After our tour the nephews told us to wander at our leisure and we did. Every nook and cranny was filled with remembrances of Edward Gorey... books, paintings, puppets, stuffed animals and even gravestones out in a garden with the chiseled letters R.I.P. It was a museum unlike any I’ve been to before or since and it was great fun. It truly lived up to it’s name...GOREY.