Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A New Orleans Kind of Christmas

For years now, the holidays have had a little extra special component to add to the excitement.  My daughter Emily's birthday is on Christmas Eve, and I couldn't imagine a better way to start the season! 

New Orleans knows how to celebrate any kind of holiday; it's just one superlative after another. You wonder where they store all of the decorations, given that they don't have any basements! In Emily's neighborhood, you'll find charming shot-guns a block away from jaw-dropping mansions; each and every showcasing the same passion for decoration and delight.

There is the gaudy display of kitsch... 

but the scale of the Santa  and the sense of humor rings the bell!

In New Orleans, elegance and enchantment celebrate the season minus the snow and the cold. Not to say that we didn't have the air conditioning running one day and the heat on the next!  But I  am so grateful that Emily chose Tulane so that I could come to know this great city as my home away from home.  Right now, with a little Sazerac, I'm in that "New Orleans state of mind", so...

Happy Holidaze to one and all!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Dreary Inn

The idea, of spending the holiday season in New Orleans was a new one indeed.  I had never spent it away from St. Louis.  But Emily couldn't come to St. Louis, so the decision was clear:  pack up the car and the dog and head on down to warmer climes, with a stop-off mid-way at a dog-friendly motel.

The landscape from St. Louis to New Orleans changed from hilly to flat.  


A dog's life - who wouldn't like to be conveyed in this style?

The dramatic six story lobby

Ah, the drama of an off-highway ramp hotel!  It was a middle-America adventure to behold, and one that promised not only to pamper your pets, but promised free breakfast and dinner for the patrons.  The mention of three free alcoholic drinks had a certain appeal as well...But true to form, I was late on arrival and the restaurant and bar were closed.  A salad from Appleby's had to suffice. 

Toilet on an angle

I must admit I was a bit taken aback by the luxurious details such as marble and granite baths, and here, a toilet ON AN ANGLE!  I really liked that touch. It was Chewy's first stop for a drink. There was a flat screen TV and a kitchenette; all the accoutrements of home! Though the tub drain required fixing before I could take a bath, the bed was delightfully comfortable, and I was soon drowsy and in dreamland.   

Dreadful food

Only to wake up to a nightmare...Amidst the frills of an indoor pool, jacuzzi, work-out room, fireplace, computer center, friendly and caring staff and so forth...How could the these high standards suddenly plummet when it came to food?  What I thought might be served in a prison was laughable when served in fancy buffet receptacles. Unfortunately, the hungry patron had to wrestle with toy plastic forks and knives on styrofoam plates. Like a barbarian, I was reduced to tearing my rubber waffle apart by hand. The buffet presented one dish after another of tasteless starch, fat, and mystery meat. White and orange were the dominant colors. These were scraps that I wouldn't throw to Chewy!

Well, if you ask me...there needs to be a certain consistency when "luxury" is thrown around. You can't serve slop on granite countertops.  And don't tell me people don't want it or need it. This is the time for standing up and doing what's right - otherwise, you can say it's all gone to the dogs. And I'm sure dogs don't care if their toilet water is served in a granite and marble bathroom!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Howard's Whisker

A few years ago, when my cat Howard’s vet proclaimed that Howard’s whiskers were the longest that she had ever seen, I felt as proud as a parent. For me, this was just one more example of how extraordinary and exceptional a cat that he was.

From that day forward, if I found a whisker that Howard had shed, I taped it to a door as a testament to his talent.  It was a wonderful curiosity that always made me smile.  

Howard came into our lives eleven years ago. While looking to adopt another dog, I got it into my head that it might be nice to have a couple of kittens, too. In order to coordinate with my interior design color scheme,  I wanted a gray cat and a black cat to complement  the two gold colored dogs. 

Emily and her best friend Carolyn were given the honor of name selection.  They decided that the black one would be named Howard, and the gray one would be Simon.  

My mother called Howard “Dennis the Menace”.  He was always getting into mischief of one sort or another.

The years flew by and Emily went off to college at Tulane University in New Orleans.  That was an interesting choice, because her father and I had met when I had an apartment on Tulane Avenue.

Emily missed the animals and telephone conversations with her were frequently about Howard’s latest antics.  When she was home, Howard could always be found in her bed, day or night, and frequently both.

During her junior year at Tulane, Emily chose to study abroad for a semester at University College London.

This was another interesting choice because our home was on Westminster Place in St. Louis.  Who could have foreseen that she would live in the environs of Westminster Abbey one day?  

Emily had been in her London dorm room  for only a few days when she found what was clearly one of Howard’s whiskers.  It was smack-dab in the middle of her bed, on a new white sheet.  Her immediate response was to laugh, and then she taped it to the wall. 

When she told me this story, I marveled at the miracle. She hadn't packed sheets because English bed sizes were different.  Perhaps Howard had slept in her suitcase the night before she left, just as he had slept in her guitar case on occasion. How had the whisker made the transatlantic journey and not been lost? 

Here’s my theory: Howard had never traveled anywhere but to the vet’s office and occasional walks around the neighborhood. Of course, he couldn't accompany Emily on her voyage to London. As the armchair traveler that he probably was in his never-ending naps, he sent one of his whiskers instead.  Cats are known to have a particular sensitivity to the earth’s magnetic field and so are masters of direction. Was Howard trying to help Emily navigate the globe?

Whiskers also help cats determine if their body will fit into tight spaces. It’s as if Howard sent Emily the whisker to help her squeeze into a coach fare seat, 

the small confines of a college dorm room,

 a tight subway,

or crowded street. 

Though Emily had Howard’s whisker, and not Howard himself, I may be stretching things to suggest that she enjoyed the benefits of having an actual cat. But could the whisker represent an old friend and provide companionship? And as cats are known to do, could the whisker help to dispel feelings of loneliness that Emily might experience in her new situation, far from home? 

Emily’s semester abroad was coming to a close.  Her father visited in March, and I visited her in May, when she was done with her coursework and preparing to leave for two weeks in South Africa. 

Just as her father had brought her ski equipment to ski in the Alps, I brought her hiking boots to climb mountains and a wetsuit to surf off the tip of the continent.

Howard’s whisker was not done yet with its duties. It needed to help Emily to navigate to another hemisphere, and then home again.  It did.

Another inscrutable connection occurred a few days after Emily had returned home.  She took a bowl from the kitchen cabinet and exclaimed that it had the logo of University College London! It was a mismatched and random bowl that we’d had for years. Nobody knew where it came from. Most of the time it had been used to feed Howard his dinner  – until I decided he needed an official cat bowl. Then the bowl made its way back into the cabinet.  

Had the bowl predicted Emily’s study-abroad experience years in advance?  How had it traveled from a University College London dining hall to our St. Louis kitchen cabinet? How had Howard’s whisker traveled to a University College London dormitory? The whisker and the UCL bowl!  Are these curious coincidences or magical mysteries only Howard the cat can explain? Perhaps we’ll never know because Howard is always asleep!  But then again, that cannot be – because Howard is Howard and he’s only being himself – always making mischief!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Call Me Color Blind

In defense of defenseless colors worldwide, I am now going to rant about the rampant racism I regularly witness. Who will stand up for these poor colors that have no voice of their own?  How would you feel if you were unfairly maligned simply for the color of your skin? Do you hold prejudice against certain colors, innocent by their very nature and incapable of malice or scorn in return?  In a taupified world such that Restoration Hardware espouses, do you ever speak out for the underdog when you witness discrimination?  This past spring I have been stupefied by the splendid flowers, by the brave little buds that proclaim, for example, "Look at me, I'm magenta!" They put out their chests, hold their heads high, and show off their colors with pride.

                 Please don't hate me because I'm beautiful!                                                          
When a client makes a grand pronouncement of hating one color or another, I am somewhat stymied.  Hate is such a strong word! And how has green come to be a popular color to despise and deride?  It usually has to do with some wretched hospital experience or being forced to eat canned peas as a child.  Well, I say, look around you, the world is largely green, and even then, the green is fast disappearing.  How can you dislike the color of trees and plants?  How can you loathe the color of growth and rejuvenation?  Former English majors sweat out a living coming up with names such as 'Glamorous Green' and 'In The Meadow'.  No need to spray 'Round-Up' everywhere!

 Color Profiling

Once, at the request of the client,  I did an alcove with purple upholstery.  All was well, until at the time of installation, the upholsterer made a stupid comment about it "Looking like Barney". Then the client hated it and wanted it redone.  Such emotional reactions tend to inhibit design solutions. I remember my daughter, Emily, going through a  period when pink and purple were her favorite colors.  One day, with a very serious and concerned look on her face, she asked me, "Do you like brown?" I've had clients dismiss worthy colors  with criticisms such as "Looks like baby poop", when the romanticized name might be 'Cut The Mustard'. Perhaps some of my clients could have another career coming up with paint color names such as 'Victorious Vomit', 'Bileous Bile', or 'One Too Many'.  

Red Man

I love the story of designer William W. Stubbs, who had the assignment to decorate a client's home while the client was out of town.  I'm not sure that Mr. Stubbs mistook his carte blanche for carte rouge, but when the client returned home he found a scheme based on red.  The client called Mr. Stubbs and said, "I hate red! You're fired!"  This story had a happy ending, as the client got to like the red rooms, and Mr. Stubbs was rehired.

Ready, Aim, Fire!

People aren't born hating certain colors.  I believe they were taught to be color racist by their parents and other early childhood influences. Come on now, it's not all black or white in the box and everyone has to get along!

Peach Flesh

Did you know that crayon names could be politically incorrect?  I never questioned the color 'Flesh' growing up in white suburban America, but in 1962, the color was renamed 'Peach' in response to the Civil Rights Movement. 

                                              Orange Man

You might need to select the orange crayon for coloring George.  And be sure to stay in the lines that the plastic surgeon so carefully crafted!  When starting an interior design project, sometimes a good clue as to what colors the client would be most happy living with are contained in their clothes closet. A quick perusal tells the truth. 

Blue Man Group

My favorite color in the Binney & Smith box of 64 crayons was 'Cornflower'.  Speaking of which...there are those who "hate blue". See the sky above you, and the oceans and lakes?   Saying you hate a primary color such as blue is equivalent to wiping out the entire string section of the orchestra. 

Out of an infinite number of colors, we can likely see only 10,000,000. So many choices!  We can expect that certain hues will go in and out of style.  I would like to suggest that though we may have our favorites and overall preferences, that we watch our word choice and no color's feelings will be hurt. Inclusiveness and tolerance will make for perfect harmony!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Good Night, Dear Friend


Winterreise, by Franz Schubert
Gerald Moore, piano
Poem by Wilhelm Muller

1.  Good Night (Gute Nacht) 
As a stranger I arrived
As a stranger I shall leave
I remember a perfect day in May
How bright the flowers, how cool the breeze

The maiden had a friendly smile
The mother had kind words
But now the world is dreary
With a winter path before me

I can’t choose the season
To depart from this place
I won’t delay or ponder
I must begin my journey now

The bright moon lights my path
It will guide me on my road
I see the snow-covered meadow
I see where deer have trod

A voice within says – go now
Why linger and delay?
Leave the dogs to bay at the moon
Before her father’s gate

For love is a thing of changes
God has made it so
Ever-changing from old to new
God has made it so

So love delights in changes
Good night, my love, good night
Love is a thing of changes
Good night, my love, good night

I’ll not disturb your sleep
But I’ll write over your door
A simple farewell message
Good night, my love, good night

These are the last words spoken
Soon I’ll be out of sight
A simple farewell message
Goodnight, my love, good night

It says something of our American culture that the New York Times eulogized the passing of one of the greatest musicians of all time on the front page, as well as an entire page inside.   Lieder lovers, unite, in our sadness with the silencing forever of a truly sublime voice.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Imagine a Mirror!

"No, but I used to like walking backwards", Rosemary said in response to my question if she used to walk around with mirrors held horizontal as a child, so as to imagine walking on the ceiling.  Ah yes, another way to experience sensory perceptions from a time long ago. Both required curiosity and courage. It does allow you to see things differently and gain a better perspective. Nice to see  the artist Anish Kapoor using the medium of mirrors in the lofty realm of fine art.

Sky Mirror
Rockefeller Center NYC 2006 
Anish Kapoor
photo by Brad Patrick at en.Wikipedia

To think that we started with gazing into a bowl of water in prehistoric times, we've come a long way baby.  But can you believe that it has been only 177 years that we've had mirrors as we are used to today? Prior to this, mirrors were enormously rare and expensive, so the populous had to make do with the puddle.  It was the old 1% deal.

6000 BC from Anatolia, Turkey

These polished and burnished slabs of rock may have been wetted to help with the reflection. Copper mirrors were found in 4000 BC Mesopotamia.  

Early Chinese octagon mirror, front and back

Bronze followed suit in China and India c. 2000 BC, which required periodic polishing by the 99%.  

Egyptian,  New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC)

This one could use a little elbow grease, too!

43 x 81 cm
Homage to Carlo Mollino (1937)

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? Have an instant great figure, courtesy of Venus de Milo!  Art and architecture made huge strides in ancient Greece, but a bronze hand-held mirror was likely all that Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty ever owned.

Mirror, Roman

Metal-coated glass was invented in modern-day Lebanon around 100 AD. Later, the Romans made the leap to using molten lead on blown glass. Cleopatra (69-30 BC) likely enjoyed reflecting her renowned beauty with this new technology via Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. 

Mirror, Middle Ages

People muddled with their murky mirrors in the middle ages until the big breakthrough of glass-blowing in the 14th century. Little pieces of broken blown glass were used as convex mirrors, which seemed an improvement over the unevenness of lumpy metal.  They didn't mind, probably because they had to worry about plague rather than obesity as we do nowadays! 

I like the connection those early mirrors have with modern day security mirrors, which I enjoy using in residential interiors. 

Girandole mirror
England/America 1800's
giltwood, mercury, gesso
4'11"h  x  11"d  x  45"w
David Skinner Antiques

Really, wasn't this just a fore-runner of the security mirrors commonplace at convenience markets today? Likely the homeowner was ensuring that the silver wasn't pocketed!

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519) 
Vitruvian Man, 1487
shown with mirror writing

Leonardo was fascinated with mirrors.  He suggested that artists use mirrors to compare their work with the reflection of what they were painting from.  This was a technique that I was taught in art school, and I use it to look at my art or interiors with more objectivity.  It's like flipping your right brain with your left brain.  Leonardo frequently wrote backwards, in what is called 'mirror writing'.  It's easy to read if you hold it up to a mirror, as all schoolchildren know.

Venetian Giltwood Mirror c. 1685
112"h  x 48"h
Richard Shapiro Antiques and Works of Art

In the 16th century, the Italian island of Murano, near Venice, became the most important center of mirror production.  Methods were perfected using an amalgam of tin and mercury over ever larger sheets of glass. It was not until 1835, when Justus von Leibig discovered how to thinly layer silver onto glass, that we came to have the mirrors that we take for granted today! Nowadays less expensive processes and materials allow the mass-production of mirrors to the minions. 

The imperfect reflections of ancient mirrors are amusement for us today - we don't know how hard things were in the old days! These purposely warped mirrors are good to have around to keep your sense of humor intact -  doctors agree that a  good laugh is important to your physical and mental health!

vacuum deposited silver metal surface on polyester sheet
84" x 56"

Here's a cool, inexpensive product (about $170)  just ripe for imaginative minds.

design Marta Laudani - Marco Romanelli
100 x 8 x 100 cm
Hanging mirror in 6mm - thick curved silver-backed glass 
Fiam Italia

This mirror would nicely accommodate someone with multiple personalities.  Or, the planes of glass could suggest a past, present, and a future. The largest central area could be the present, right now on April 16th, 2012. Indeed, walking backwards in time, we can see that we've come a long way since peering into a pool!