Thursday, April 28, 2016

Garden Roses

What are you up to this weekend? I am still enjoying the flowers from a dinner party we had on Monday night. Cutting roses from the garden and making an arrangement for the table is one of the true pleasures of life. Especially at this time of year! That is exactly what I did the other day when we were having friends over for dinner. This year has been a banner year for our roses. When there are so many blooms available it is easy to put together a beautiful arrangement. I especially like an abundance of one type, massed together in a single container. The pink roses with the blue and white china looked fresh and pretty. It felt like a little celebration of spring!

 Using these Royal Copenhagen dishes that belonged to my mother-in-law always makes me happy since they remind me of her. I love mixing them with other blue and white dishes. The chargers stay on the table between courses so the table always looks beautiful. Placemats and napkins by Heather Taylor Home completed the spring-like setting. 

The garden roses practically arranged themselves. There wasn't much to do other than trim and put them in a vase. These beauties just do their own thing. I kept the arrangement low to allow for free-flowing conversations across the table.

The early morning is my favorite time to pick flowers. I often take my coffee outside and walk in the garden to see what is going on. This time I was happy to see there were plenty of roses to make an arrangement.

Originally when we designed the garden I wanted a palette of pinks, purples and blues, but now I love the addition of strong colors such as red and orange.

These orange roses look so pretty in the dappled sunlight

But the pinks are the stars this year and make the garden look beautifully lush. They would be perfect on the dining room table.

 I hope you get a chance to pick or buy some roses this weekend and make an arrangement for your home. Surrounding yourself with flowers is a reminder of nature, an affirmation of life, and a guaranteed mood lifter. Don't forget to include some extras and give a bouquet to a friend!

Happy Spring!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Favorite Musical -- "She Loves Me"

Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi in She Loves Me

I first saw She Loves Me about thirty years ago in a small theater in Los Angeles and fell in love. It was funny, old-fashioned, and romantic -- a little jewel box of a musical. The music was beautiful with songs that were hard to get out of your head. I bought the CD and listened to it endlessly. I later saw a bigger production at the Music Center in Los Angeles and once again was in heaven. But I have to say that the production I saw in New York City last weekend was rapturous. Joy just emanates from the stage. It's the kind of joy that reminds you of why musicals exist -- to take us away from the irritations of the modern world and transport us to a simpler time. This show is filled with nostalgia. The cast is perfection and features Jane Krakowski as Ilona, one of the employees at a parfumerie shop in 1930's Budapest. She is divine in the role. The set is exquisite, like a box of chocolates. If you are in New York anytime soon and love musicals, be sure to see this one. You won't be disappointed.

You might well ask: what is She Loves Me? It opened on Broadway in 1963 and starred Barbara Cook. That casting makes a lot of sense since the role of Amalia Balash is a dream role for any soprano and Barbara Cook must have been dazzling. Laura Benanti plays the role in the current production and she is excellent. The story is about a pair of feuding co-workers in a Budapest parfumerie who don't realize they have been writing anonymous love letters to each other as part of a Lonely Hearts Society. Endless comedy ensues from this misunderstanding. Each morning George Nowack, Amalia, Ilona Ritter and the other employees who work for Mr. Maraczek at the Parfumerie open the shop and greet their customers. As they go about their work day, their personal stories unfold (in song, of course) and we learn that Ilona is having an affair with the playboy Steven Kodaly, Amalia and George constantly bicker, Mr. Maraczek is unhappy in his marriage and is taking it out on George, and the young delivery boy Arpad wants nothing so badly as to be treated like a grown-up and hired as a salesman. The tension builds as Amalia and George continue to write love letters to each other, unknowingly, and arrange a meeting. The music is by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and the show is considered one of the most charming love stories in Broadway history.

If all this sounds familiar that's because She Loves Me is the third adaptation of the play Parfumerie by the Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo. There was a 1940 James Stewart-Margaret Sullivan movie The Shop Around the Corner and later a 1949 Judy Garland-Van Johnson musical version In the Good Old Summertime. It surfaced again in 1998 as the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan film You've Got Mail. Add some enchanting music, gorgeous costumes, an exquisite old world setting, and humor that will remind you of the old Hollywood screwball comedies and you will get an idea of what this is all about.

If you don't get a chance to see the Broadway musical, buy the music. It has so much charm it will knock your socks off. And you will never think of "vanilla ice cream" the same way again. It is one of the most delightful songs. Watch as Laura Benanti hits that high note!

I would love to know: have you seen She Loves Me and are you a fan?

Monday, April 11, 2016

April Showers, May Flowers

A rainy weekend in Los Angeles is always a good thing since we desperately need the rain. In fact, we get a little giddy about it here in L.A. It rained off and on all day on Friday and Saturday. Which made me very happy as I was in the mood for a cozy weekend at home. There were so many things I wanted to catch up on. Here are a few activities that made the rain far from a nuisance, but instead a lovely accompaniment...

Watching some good television--

 "Outlander" is back. Did you watch it? Season Two began on Saturday night. If you are already a fan, then you know (not giving away spoilers here) from last season that Jamie and Claire are in in France this time. The costumes are gorgeous and of course those two are not so hard on the eyes. This is escapist television at its best.

Catching up on my reading--
I am completely under the spell of these books. The story of two women in a working class neighborhood of Naples whose lifelong friendship endures despite incredible odds has kept me enthralled through two books now. This one deals with the marriage of Lila and the continuing education of Elena and her quest to move beyond the neighborhood she finds so stifling. 

Running outside in between rain showers to take photos of the garden--

I love how it looks on a rainy day. The irises in the fountain are starting to flower!

 The David Austin roses in the front garden are looking so good right now

 These graceful and frilly ones remind me of ballet tutus. It felt good to get back into photography; it  makes you look at the world differently. My goal is to bring my camera with me now wherever I go, not just my iPhone!

Planning our trip to London--

This was a great weekend to pull out my books and notes on London and decide what we want to do this time. I am thrilled to know that Kenneth Branagh's stage production of Romeo and Juliet will be playing at the Garrick Theatre and Swan Lake in the Round at the Royal Albert Hall.  I hope to see them both! There is always something new to do in London...

Learning about this artist--

The New York Review of Books has a great article on the French artist Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun and I want to learn all I can about her before seeing this exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Doing a little research and mulling over a fascinating lecture by Hermione Lee from last week--
I went to a fabulous event last Thursday in Pasadena. It was a lecture by renowned English biographer Dame Hermione Lee. My friends and I got a chance to meet her and say how much we enjoyed her biography of Edith Wharton. She was lovely. She has also written biographies of Virginia Woolf, Penelope Fitzgerald, and Willa Cather. Her topic that evening was "Gardens of the Mind: Writers, Gardens and Biography." Did you know that American writers such as Edith Wharton and Willa Cather featured only European-inspired gardens in their books? This was all the rage at the time. She talked about the "cross-cultural garden moment at the turn of the twentieth-century." I dipped into her Edith Wharton biography this weekend in preparation for my book club's discussion of The House of Mirth later this week. What a treasure trove that book is!

And after the rain--

 Joseph's Coat rose climbing on our porch

The sun is shining today and there is no better way to start the week than in the garden. It was a cozy and productive weekend. The rain was great and so beneficial for our gardens. The peak of the season is right around the corner. Don't forget to get your tickets for the Robinson Gardens Tour on May 14. It's going to be fabulous this year!

April showers really do bring May flowers!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Hello, April!

"...before she had been five minutes within its walls...she quitted it again, stealing away through the winding shrubberies, now just beginning to be in beauty, to gain a distant eminence."
-- Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

It's hard to believe that April is here. Wasn't it just Christmas? Well, spring has truly arrived and it's always an exciting time for gardeners. Inspired by the new month, I made myself a cup of tea and pulled out some of my favorite garden books. I perused In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, a lovely book I bought last time I was in England. This book is about two of my favorite things: gardens and Jane Austen. Both are purveyors of so much pleasure. I should have known that someone would write a book about the two of them. I am happy to say that this book is an utter delight -- beautiful and informative. Here are some of the interesting facts I learned about the connections between Jane Austen and gardens:

Not surprisingly, Jane Austen was a garden lover. But she was also a hands-on gardener. No matter where she was living, she took an avid interest in flower gardening and kitchen gardening alike. 

The Austens grew their own food whenever they could and had flower gardens in most of their homes. In Jane's letters to her sister Cassandra she writes about her ideas for the planting of fruit, flowers, and trees. At Chawton cottage they planted peas, potatoes, gooseberries, currants and strawberries. Their favorite flowers were pinks, sweet Williams, hollyhocks, and columbines. Suitably old-fashioned!

During her life, Jane visited many of the grand gardens of England, including her brother's two estates at Chawton and Godmersham and the manor houses of friends and family. Scholars have speculated that she probably saw the gardens at the great estate of Chatsworth; it was probably the inspiration for Pemberley, Darcy's magnificent estate in Pride and Prejudice.

Gardens play a big role in her novels. Every house that is mentioned includes a garden and many of Jane Austen's characters find themselves there. Gardens are places for walking, talking and scheming. They are places of peace and spiritual refreshment. And they are settings for romance, marriage proposals and weddings. 

The Austen women had moved from house to house after Jane's father died in 1805, but Chawton Cottage finally provided them with a place to call home. Although the Austen family lived modestly, Jane's brother Edward became a rich man when he was adopted by the Knights, a wealthy, distantly related family who were childless and needed a male heir. He took their name, becoming Edward Austen Knight. He was generous to his mother and sisters, offering them a choice of two houses he had inherited through the Knight inheritance. They chose Chawton Cottage. Doesn't this all sound familiar? It reminds me of Emma and Sense and Sensibility. Jane was writing what she knew. 

The Jane Austen House Museum is a beautifully restored interpretation of what Chawton Cottage was like when Jane Austen lived there. It is open to the public. The gardens contain examples of a working kitchen garden, espaliered fruit trees, a shrubbery, a herb garden, a rose garden, and numerous flower borders. All as it would have looked during Jane's lifetime. Inside the cottage there are family pictures, china, and furniture, including the little round table on which she wrote her novels.

After reading about Chawton Cottage, I became curious about its restoration and wondered when it happened and who was responsible. I got some answers from another garden book I love: The Writer's Garden by Jackie Bennett. Naturally there is a chapter on Jane Austen. Here is what I learned about the restoration. It is a fascinating story--

In 1940 two sisters, Dorothy and Beatrix Darnell, established the Jane Austen Society in order to rescue Chawton Cottage. However they did not receive all the money necessary for the restoration. A savior appeared in the form of Mr. T. Edward Carpenter. He bought Chawton Cottage and set up the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, opening the cottage as a museum in 1949. But in 1987 it was in a serious state of neglect. That was when an American entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sandy Lerner, stepped in and came to the rescue. An Austen fan and collector of early women's writing, she bought the lease on the house and set about restoring the house and gardens. She is responsible for its current condition. She also donated her own collection of rare books which, together with the Knight family books, created a library of 11,000 rare volumes. This became the Chawton House Library. The saga of saving the house and the people responsible could be the topic of another book! I would love to know more...   

Isn't it inspiring to learn about the angels who sweep in and save important historic homes and gardens, allowing the rest of us to enjoy them. Their generosity and devotion enable us to learn about the domestic lives of some of our most beloved authors.

If you enjoy garden books, you will love In the Garden with Jane Austen and The Writer's Garden. Both of them are lovely places to escape on a spring day. They will remind you of how important gardens were in so many writers' lives.

Wishing you a lovely first week of April!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Celebrating Shakespeare

"To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
-- William Shakespeare

Did you know that this year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death? It's hard to imagine a world without Shakespeare. He gave us so many riches -- language, poetry, drama, love stories, tragedies, comedies, and countless memorable characters. His plays continue to captivate us. There are celebrations occurring all around the world to mark the anniversary. Here in the states, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. will be the most exciting place to celebrate the Bard. The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare will celebrate Shakespeare and his extraordinary legacy through lectures, exhibitions, special events, and performances throughout the year. The First Folio, which is the book that gave us Shakespeare, is going on the road and will be traveling all around the country. Go here to see the schedule. This precious tome will make an appearance in California in June at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. I hope to make it there! Here are some highlights of what is happening at the Folger:

1) "Shakespeare, The Story of an Icon": Despite the fact that there are no photographs of Shakespeare or recordings of his voice, this exhibition creates a vivid portrait of the man through a stunning array of documents from his own lifetime. Go here to see a fantastic time-lapsed installation of this exhibition.

2) "Shakespeare's Life Stories": a lecture by renowned Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt.

3) "Shakespeare Unlimited": a series of podcasts by scholars exploring why Shakespeare's stories still resonate. They examine how the works, written so long ago, still speak to us today. I have listened to a couple of these and they are fascinating.

Go here to learn more.

And in Britain...

As you can imagine they are going all out in England. Lectures, performances, exhibitions, screenings, you name it. The schedule really is impressive. Go here to learn all that Shakespeare 400 has planned. Some highlights:

1) Exhibitions: "Shakespeare in Ten Acts" at The British Library. This will be a landmark exhibition on the making of an icon, charting Shakespeare's constant reinvention across the centuries.

2) Performances: "Much Ado About Nothing" in London. This production is set in 1945 at the end of World War II.

3) Talks: "The Grace of Plants: Shakespeare and Botany" at the Southwark Cathedral

4) Talks: "Shakespeare on Film." This series of talks will explore the inspirational influence of Shakespeare on filmmakers across the world, featuring films from the silent era, award-winning adaptations and contemporary interpretations of the Bard's work.

Go here to learn more.

Lily James and Richard Madden in the upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet

This summer Kenneth Branagh is directing a production of Romeo and Juliet in London starring Lily James, Richard Madden, and Derek Jacobi. This should be fabulous. Go here to learn more.

Ralph Fiennes in "The Tempest," 2011

I began to think about the memorable live performances of Shakespeare I have seen over the years. Here are a few that were breathtaking:

The Tempest with Ralph Fiennes at Theatre Royal Haymarket in London
A Midsummer Night's Dream with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson at the Mark Taper Theater in Los Angeles  
King Lear at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in Oregon
Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theater in London
Othello at UCLA in Los Angeles

I also adore Prokofiev's ballet of Romeo and Juliet and see it whenever I have a chance.

And there have been so many beautiful film adaptations -- Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet and Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet and Henry V. Kenneth Branagh has given us many great Shakespeare productions, both on film and on the stage. His upcoming stage production of Romeo and Juliet will continue the tradition.

By the way, researching this blog post was a perfect example of falling down the rabbit hole of the Internet. But it turned out to be a good thing. After sitting in awe (and feeling a bit overwhelmed!) as page after page of links on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare came up, I whittled it down to a few that looked fabulous. I then saw one from the Huffington Post which I almost skipped. Thank goodness I clicked that one as it led me to the discovery that right here in Los Angeles there will be a fabulous one night only performance An Evening of Shakespeare: Murder, Lust, & Madness  in honor of the anniversary. If you live in L.A. and love the Bard, be sure to get a ticket before it sells out. This should be amazing!

I hope all this whets your appetite for attending some of these wonderful events in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare. It should be a glorious year-long celebration and a look into why Shakespeare continues to matter. It is sure to remind us of why the Bard still inspires, enlightens and entertains!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Charlotte Bronte Exhbition

"I am no bird and no net ensnares me. I am a free human being with an independent will."
-- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Sometimes I think the National Portrait Gallery in London and I are on the same wave length. Every time I turn around they are mounting an exhibition of one my favorite writers. And because I'm planning a trip to London in the spring my radar is attuned to all that is happening there! I am very excited about a new exhibition that has just opened: "Celebrating Charlotte Bronte: 1816-1855." This year marks the 200th anniversary of her birth and the National Portrait Gallery is celebrating with an historic exhibition. I love the exhibitions put on by the National Gallery. Last year I saw one on Virginia Woolf and it was spectacular. This exhibition on Charlotte Bronte promises to be just as special. As an assistant curator at the National Portrait Gallery said, "We wanted to bring her to life because we are the museum of biographies, the museum of people, and she is one of the most important people in British Literature."

The exhibition will include the author's letters, journals, and drawings as well as a first edition of Jane Eyre. There will be 26 personal items from the Bronte Parsonage Museum, the Bronte sisters' home, on display alongside portraits from the National Portrait Gallery's collection. It is the museum's largest-ever loan, with some of the paintings, drawings, letters and journals previously unseen. Key items in the exhibition include the famous "little books" written by the Bronte sisters as children.

But the centerpiece of the exhibition will be the only surviving group portrait of Charlotte and her sisters painted by their brother Branwell. This haunting painting of the Bronte sisters, which includes Branwell's own ghostly shadow in the middle, resides in the National Portrait Gallery and is a piece I visit whenever I am there. I have been reading the Bronte novels and biographies since my early twenties. The story of their lives is almost as riveting as their novels. They all died young: Anne at 29, Emily at 30, Branwell at 31, and Charlotte at 38, just two months after getting married. And yet she and her sisters wrote classic novels that will live forever.

This portrait is fascinating because it is the only one to show the three sisters together. It seems that Branwell began sketching himself only to change his mind immediately. And it is a painting that was almost lost. It was found folded carelessly on top of a cupboard in 1906 by the second wife of Charlotte's husband Reverend A.B Nicholls. The museum acquired it in 1914.

For this exhibition experts have worked hard to show the most accurate image of what Branwell's picture would have looked like before he painted a solid pillar over his own face and took himself out of the family group. The curators have used the latest technology to show what the original image looked like in its most detail yet and tell the full story of how it came to the public eye. They will explore the intriguing story of its discovery folded on top of a cupboard, subsequent acquisition by the gallery and restoration.

Juliet Barker, former curator of the Bronte Parsonage Museum and Bronte biographer has written, "It is the iconic portrait of the Brontes and anything more we can learn about it is obviously of great interest."

I look forward to learning about the new research on this piece. It will be so interesting to see it in the context of the many personal treasures from the Bronte Parsonage Museum. I have always wanted to visit Haworth and hope to make it there one day. In the meantime, I have been reading a fascinating book on the Brontes: The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects by Deborah Lutz. The author examines the meaningful  objects in the Bronte family home and through them recreates the sisters' daily lives. It will be wonderful to see some of these objects at the National Portrait Gallery. They are sure to illuminate Charlotte Bronte's life. The curators wanted to illustrate her literary career and success but also her home life which is lesser known. I cannot wait to see this exhibition!

The Bronte sisters lived in Yorkshire
Go here to see a beautiful series of photos of this part of England

Since this is the two hundredth anniversary of Charlotte Bronte's birth, I am planning to reread Jane Eyre. Have you read it lately?

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Film Adaptation Lives On

Last week I was reminded of the satisfaction of seeing a truly great film. It was "Sense and Sensibility" on the big screen at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, part of an Alan Rickman retrospective. The Ang Lee film, made in 1995, has stood the test of time. The first time I saw it I thought it was one of the most beautiful films I had ever seen. This time I was equally swept away by its beauty. When I heard that Alan Rickman had passed away, it was the first film that came to mind. How smart of the people at the Aero theater to put together this timely retrospective!

Alan Rickman plays Colonel Brandon, the kind and eligible bachelor who falls in love with Kate Winslet's Marianne Dashwood. Despite her sister Elinor's advice to behave in a more moderate way, Marianne does not try to hide her feelings. She ignores the wonderful Brandon and has eyes only for Willoughby, the handsome and dashing young man who leads her to believe they will marry. Like all Austen's heroines, Marianne eventually comes to her senses and falls in love with the good guy. Her journey to that realization, with all its missteps and life lessons, is a very satisfying story. I adore this Jane Austen book. Alan Rickman plays the role of Brandon with an understated strength and attractiveness. When he and Marianne finally get together in the end, everyone in the audience is weeping. But if truth be told, I was emotional throughout the entire film.

Here are a few reasons this film moved me:

1) First and foremost: Alan Rickman. The screening was a tribute to the late Alan Rickman and everyone in the theater felt his loss. When his name appeared in the credits, the audience cheered. I think we were all cheering with tears in our eyes.

2) The book "Sense and Sensibility." It is classic Austen and one of my favorites. As always, her themes are love and money. Two sisters fall hopelessly in love -- one with a scoundrel and the other with a man who is secretly engaged to another woman. Marianne and Elinor Dashwood are polar opposites in temperament and before they can find happiness, they both need to change. Growing up in one of England's great country houses, they are set adrift when their father dies and leaves them and their mother penniless. The house passes by law to the eldest male heir, a son from Mr. Dashwood's former marriage. John Dashwood promises his dying father to take care of the soon to be impoverished Dashwood women. But by the end of a simple carriage ride with his wife Fanny, she has talked him out of giving them a penny.

A generous cousin Mr. Jennings offers them a cottage on his estate which they rent and begin a new and more modest life. Young women looking for love and finding their way in the world -- this was a topic Jane Austen did so well. It occurs in every one of her books. The film is an exquisite adaptation of this marvelous book. Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay for which she won an Oscar. Ang Lee directed it with incredible sensitivity and skill.  Anyone who loves Austen will love this film.

3) The cast is incredible -- Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet are both excellent. As was the rest of this amazing cast: Hugh Grant, Jemma Jones, Robert Hardy, Hugh Laurie, Harriet Walter and Alan Rickman. But Kate Winslet's portrayal of Marianne was simply breathtaking. She was only twenty years old at the time and this was her second film. She was a natural; she captured all the passion, stubbornness, and vulnerability of Marianne. Both her inner and outer life were there for us to see. She wore her heart on her sleeve, just as the character does in the book. And has any actress shed more believable tears?

4) The love story. When Marianne runs out into the storm (for the second time!) and the Colonel comes to her rescue, it is a poignant moment. He is so in love with her and wants nothing more than to protect her. Now that she has been abandoned by Willoughby, chastened by the ways of the world and in need of help, Brandon is happy to be of service. Slowly she begins to appreciate him and return his love. Unlike the breathless infatuation she had with Willoughby, this will be a more measured romance and one that will undoubtedly bring her much more happiness.

5) The realization that "Sense and Sensibility" is a landmark Austen film. It was one of the first, along with the BBC adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice," in the avalanche of Austen- inspired movies and television productions in the last twenty years. It started a trend that continues to this day.

6) The other memorable characters:  Edward Ferrars, Mrs. Dashwood, Margaret Dashwood, Lucy Steele, the wonderful Sir John Middleton, Mrs. Jennings, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. They all warm my heart and are classic Austen characters.

7) The breathtaking scenery, haunting music, and exquisite cinematography. Not only does every outdoor and interior scene look like a painting, but each character's face is shot in the most gorgeous way.

8) Being reminded that the best books stay with us as do the best films. When the two come together, it is a very happy marriage.

You never know what pleasures you will discover when you revisit a favorite movie!

Are you a fan of Jane Austen's books?
Do you have a favorite Austen film adaptation?