Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Why Do We Blog...

"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train."
-- Oscar Wilde

Image via here

The other day I was at lunch with some friends and we were talking about blogging. I had hit a writer's block and was telling them about it. We starting analyzing blogs and it quickly became a discussion of "why blog." One of my friends said that a blog is like a record or an autobiography of a person's life. That it's a way of sharing yourself and your interests and offering something to readers that they might find useful. This is true. It is why most of us start blogging. (With the hope that someone out there will like what we say!) The other friend said that she enjoyed my literary blogs best and hoped I would do more. I was happy to hear that since my love of literature is a big part of me and I always meant to share that passion on my blog. The conversation was a starting point for a meditation on why I blog...

Books are not the only thing I have been writing about over the years. I have loved sharing a recipe, what's going on in the garden, or the holiday table setting. My love of England has also been on my mind. When an interesting art exhibition, movie, play or literary event opens, I write about that. The topics have been varied, but the common thread was whatever made my heart skip a beat. My hope was that my readers would feel "at home" here. It's been a place to share those unexpected "moments of being" (as Virginia Woolf called them) that come to us during the most ordinary experiences. Those flashes of illumination that we want to remember, the ones that bathe certain days in a golden light. We have all had them. I started to realize that a blog is a bit like a diary, chronicling the many things in our lives we are most excited about. It is an opportunity to record and communicate the sources of our inspiration.

When I created this blog I set out to write about the the things that inspire me with the hope that they would inspire others. It was a way to share my passions and muses. And to hear about yours! The blog is a personal journal of inspiration. As I look at old entries, I am grateful to be reminded of what I was excited about back then. Blogging has been a place to record special experiences and moments in life. And it's been a lively conversation with my readers. I love hearing about your dreams, muses, passions, favorite books, places to travel and many other things. I have learned so much. A blog is a place to meet kindred spirits. Great ideas, helpful advice and real friendships have come to me from blogging. I am so grateful.

Someone once told me that the happiest people are the enthusiasts. Maybe it's our enthusiasm and curiosity that keep us blogging. Whatever it may be, it seems we all have a desire to share with others our adventures in life. Whether it's a good book, an interesting lecture, a great trip, a delicious meal, a beautiful garden, a special hotel, or an unexpected discovery. We want to pass it on. And if we're lucky, our readers will enjoy our suggestions and we can look back on what we have written and know ourselves a little bit better.


P.S.  For those of you who are art enthusiasts and gardeners, I just read about a fascinating exhibition that is opening soon in London. It is Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse and it will be at the Royal Academy of Arts starting January 29. It has been described as a "ravishing joy" and reveals Monet as "one of art's great humanists." This is an exhibition I would love to see! Go here to read more.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Inspiring Places...The Frick Collection

Lady Hamilton as 'Nature' by George Romney

The Frick Collection in New York city is an oasis of beauty and peace for everyone who visits. Housed in the elegant Gilded Age mansion that once belonged to Henry Clay Frick, this small museum offers a lovely setting to view art as well as a comfortable place to feel in touch with history. Every time I am in New York I visit the Frick and am always happy to return. There are certain paintings that I love and check in with during my visit. In addition to its fabulous permanent collection, the Frick also has fascinating exhibitions.

One of my favorite paintings is the portrait (above) of Emma Hamilton by George Romney. I have been interested in it since I read "The Volcano Lover" by Susan Sontag. That book told the story of Emma Hamilton, Sir William Hamilton and Admiral Nelson. Emma was the muse of George Romney. She started out as the daughter of a blacksmith and went on to marry Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples. She had a scandalous affair with the great naval hero Admiral Nelson. She was an 18th-century superstar and this painting shows her in the early days as a young, unaffected teenager at the outset of her career.

When I went to the Frick's website, I learned some interesting information about this painting. Emma was 17 years old when she posed for this portrait commissioned by her lover the Hon. Charles Greville. She was a beautiful young woman and Greville hoped to make some money by selling Romney's paintings of her. However he eventually grew tired of Emma and asked his 62-year old uncle Sir William Hamilton to take her off his hands. Hamilton did more that that; he married her. He took her to Naples where she became a sensation due to her beauty and talent for assuming "attitudes," romantic posturing achieved with shawls and classical draperies in which she became a living work of art. In Naples Emma met Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson with whom she had a notorious love affair which continued until his death in 1805. Though she inherited money from both her husband and her lover, her extravagance led her into debt and she died in poverty.

"St. Francis in the Desert" by Bellini

I also loved the exhibition a few years ago of Bellini's "St. Francis in the Desert." The exhibition was about the research that the Frick undertook in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum into some the great mysteries surrounding this painting and its meaning. They used infrared technology to create the first complete image of the underdrawing that guided the artist's hand. I was impressed by the level of study and analysis that went into the process. The exhibition reminded me that museums are not just static institutions displaying works of art but vibrant institutions of learning where continual study and research keep the art alive, meaningful and relevant. It was inspiring to learn what goes on behind the scenes of our greatest museums.

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein

Ever since I read Hilary Mantel's books on Thomas Cromwell this painting by Hans Holbein has taken on new life for me. I now check in with it each time I visit the Frick. It sits across the fireplace from a portrait of Cromwell's mortal enemy Thomas More. In fact, they hang face to face. We know from Mantel's book that Cromwell was a ruthless man. This painting shows his intensity in his face as well as his body language. He looks like a successful man, always on the alert and ready for anything. He is prepared to do the business of the king.

"Winter" by Francois Boucher

And for sheer delight and beauty these panels representing the "Four Seasons" by Francois Boucher always knock me out. They are simply stunning. "Winter" is my favorite. From the website I learned that Boucher made the panels for one of the homes of his major patron Madame de Pompadour and that they were probably intended for over door decorations. The subject of each painting is love. "Winter" depicts a snowy scene with a young man dressed in a Russian costume pushing the heroine in an elaborate Rococo sleigh. She wears a billowing fur trimmed gown and a little fur necklace, though her chest is exposed to the elements. She looks out at the viewer with a coy expression on her face. According to the information on the website, this combination of luxury and seduction is typical of Boucher.

On Sunday the NY Times had a fabulous article on an outreach program at the Frick that really excited me. Students at the Ghetto Film School in the South Bronx are participating in a yearlong collaboration with the Frick. The program draws on the museum's collection to inspire the storytelling abilities of young people while simultaneously building fine arts into the school's curriculum. The students go to the museum on Mondays, when it is closed, for discussions with its curator on art by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Fragonard and others. The students then write scripts inspired by the art or the setting. They choose one script to make into a film and do the filming at the Frick. What a dynamic way to get young people involved in the art world and bring art to the schools. Go here to read more. You'll be surprised at the paintings that inspired the winning script. Wouldn't it be wonderful if more museums did this kind of thing? 

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year, Old Book

Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. The week between Christmas and New Year's is always a good one for browsing through books received as gifts. Or those bought as Christmas presents for yourself, which is what happened in the case of my favorite. It is a lovely old English edition of Quentin Bell's biography of Virginia Woolf. The book was published in England in two volumes and this is the second one, covering the years between 1912-1941. It is subtitled "Mrs. Woolf." I bought this biography back in the early seventies when it was first published. I read it from cover to cover and probably owe my passion for Virginia Woolf and her writing to this book. My original copy is pretty tattered from all the reading and underlining and not particularly attractive. I was thrilled when I found this gorgeous edition published in England in 1973 by the Hogarth Press. And that photo is so beautiful and expressive.

Here is a little background on why this book was so important at the time. Shortly before his death Leonard Woolf invited Virginia's nephew Quentin Bell to write her biography and gave him access to all her private documents including the diaries which she kept for most of her life. In addition he had access to important archives, letters, memoirs, and unpublished works of fiction by Virginia Woolf that no one else had seen. Because of all this new material, and of course Quentin Bell's excellent writing, the book was groundbreaking and gave the first realistic portrait of this remarkable woman.

As I looked through the book I was reminded of some of the milestone events in her life. They still take my breath away. Here are a few...

1912 -- The young and beautiful Virginia Stephen gets engaged to and marries Leonard Woolf. Just back from civil service in India, Leonard arrived in London at the age of 32. He was one of Thoby Stephen's closest friends and classmates from Cambridge and a member of the Apostles, the exclusive intellectual club at Cambridge. Bloomsbury friends and family such as Lytton Strachey and Vanessa Bell had long thought Leonard a good match for Virginia and strongly encouraged the engagement. In their opinion, he seemed to be the only person worthy of her as well as the only person equipped to love and care for this brilliant and fragile young woman.

1915 -- The publication of her first book "The Voyage Out." It received good reviews and was called  an original work of genius.

1917 -- She and Leonard buy a printing press and start the Hogarth Press. Their first publication was a book of two stories: "The Mark on the Wall" by Virginia and "Three Jews" by Leonard. Although it began as a hobby to relieve Virginia's stress, the Hogarth Press became a very successful business and published many renowned British authors such as T.S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield and Vita Sackville-West.

1919 -- They buy Monks House in Sussex in order to have a country retreat near Virginia's sister Vanessa. Leonard designed a garden for Virginia and, as she earned more money from her books, they turned Monks House into a comfortable home. Both she and Vanessa hosted some of the most famous writers and artists of the time at their neighboring country retreats.

1922 -- Virginia meets Vita Sackville-West for the first time and is swept off her feet by this larger than life personality. She was fascinated by Vita's aristocratic background and spent time at Vita's ancestral childhood home Knole House. (Imagine Downton Abbey but bigger) This grand country house and estate would provide the inspiration for Virginia's later novel "Orlando." The novel was Virginia's gift to Vita who was unable to inherit Knole because she was a woman. Their friendship/affair had a huge impact on Virginia's life.

1925 - 1928 -- Virginia writes her three famous novels: "Mrs. Dalloway," "To the Lighthouse," and "The Waves." These books are considered her masterpieces. They put her on the map as one of the great modernists and, in many people's opinion, the most innovative writer of the twentieth-century. She became a literary celebrity and took part in the exciting arts and social scene that was happening in London in the twenties. She was even photographed for Vogue magazine.

1928 -- "Orlando" is published and becomes a turning point in Virginia's career as a successful novelist. It sold twice as many copies in the first six months as "To the Lighthouse" sold in its first year. She was finally making money and her brilliance was widely acknowledged. These were probably her happiest and most productive years.

1928 -- Virginia is a celebrity when she goes to Cambridge to read to the women's colleges two papers that will become "A Room of One's Own." This famous feminist book includes the line: "A woman must have money and a room of one's own if she is to write fiction."

Sometimes finding a beautiful copy of an old book can give it new life. This lovely edition made me go back and revisit a biography from long ago and the visit was definitely worthwhile.

By the way, did you watch the first episode of the final season of Downton Abbey last night?
There were Bloomsbury references! Edith shows her London flat to Rosamund and mentions writers she has met there such as Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey. This was the exact year that "Mrs. Dalloway" was published. Love finding these connections!

Wishing you a year of old and new books!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Last Minute Christmas Gifts

If you are looking for a last minute Christmas gift, books are always a great idea. Unwrapping a book on Christmas morning and flipping through it during the day is a treasured tradition in our house. If I'm lucky there will be a few to open and that stack is a beguiling sight in the days to come. Which one will I read first? The quiet weeks after Christmas always allow for some good reading time. And settling in with a good book on a cold winter afternoon or night is one of the best things about this time of the year. Here are some books that have caught my eye recently. I hope this list will give you a few suggestions for last minute Christmas gifts. They are guaranteed to while away a cozy winter night in front of the fireplace.

The Bronte Cabinet by Deborah Lutz

The Bronte sisters are endlessly fascinating and now there is a new book to add to the vast scholarship on the topic. "The Bronte Cabinet" is an intimate portrait of the sisters' lives based on the objects they possessed. This is such a good idea. After visiting many of my favorite writer's houses, I feel that I know them better after seeing their possessions. Victorian scholar Deborah Lutz looks at the complex lives of the Brontes through the things they wore, stitched, wrote on, and inscribed. The first chapter is called "Tiny Books." For the passionate Bronte reader, this would be a wonderful addition to a collection.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

In "The Paris Wife" Paula McClain brought to life not only the tempestuous marriage of Ernest and Hadley Hemingway but also the heady days of Paris in the twenties. Now she is back with another historical novel, "Circling The Sun." It is about Beryl Markham, the record-breaking aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denis Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir "Out of Africa." I've already started this and love it.

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

This historical novel is about the life of the nineteenth-century writer George Sand. She started out as Aurore Dupin but changed her name after leaving her husband and starting her career as a writer. She had a passionate love affair with Frederic Chopin and defied the conventions of the day. Her friends and lovers included Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, and Victor Hugo. Paris in the nineteenth century is vividly evoked in this book as it tells the story of the loves, passions, and fierce struggles of this fascinating woman.

It's hard to imagine how Shakespeare at the age of 42 wrote three iconic masterpieces in one year: "King Lear," "Macbeth," and "Antony and Cleopatra." That kind of creativity is awe-inspiring. James Shapiro takes a close look at the political and social turmoil of Britain in the year 1606 that contributed to the creation of these three incredible plays. I can't wait to read this one!

For many people, Nancy Mitford is the ultimate comic novelist. This collected set of her sparkling, astute and hilarious novels would be the perfect gift for a friend who loves British humor. Mitford pokes fun at British aristocrats and their eccentric ways and evokes a long ago vanished time. These books are lough-out-loud funny. What a treasure to have all the novels together in one collected set.

M Train by Patti Smith

After the success of "Just Kids," Patti Smith has written another book. She describes this one as "a road map to my life." She tells the story of the odyssey of her career through the prism of the cafes and haunts she has worked in around the world. This book is a non-linear meditation on topics that have been important to her over the years: books, art, travel, the artist's craft and artistic creation. For your friends who loved her first book, this would be a wonderful gift.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

"The Story of the Lost Child" is the final installment of the four Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante. I read the first book in the series, "My Brilliant Friend," and was impressed by this powerful story. It tells of a friendship between two women that seems unbreakable despite the most difficult odds. This fascinating tale of growing up in the working class of Naples in the 1950's amidst poverty, danger and violence also deals with the serious challenges of being a woman in that environment. The essence of these books seems to be the mysterious chemistry that holds these two women together as friends. The latest installment to the series has received great reviews.

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford

This book is being called a modern day "House of Mirth." A first novel by Stephanie Clifford, it is about the young and wealthy in New York City. The story follows Evelyn Beegan, a middle class millennial from Maryland, whose great aspiration is to work her way into young Manhattan's elite society. It takes its title from the last line of Stephen Sondheim's song "The Ladies Who Lunch." From everything I've read, this book promises to be a funny and sharply observed story about old money in New York.

At Home in the Garden by Carolyne Roehm

This gorgeous coffee table book by Carolyne Roehm is about the gardens at her historic Connecticut home, Weatherstone. I have seen this one and it is impressive, in size and beauty! All of Roehm's books are filled with inspiration for home decor, entertaining and lifestyle. This would be a great gift for the garden lover in your life.

Garden Inspirations by Charlotte Moss                         

Another book about gardens, this one is by celebrated interior designer Charlotte Moss. She writes about the garden as her inspiration for interiors, entertaining and good living. The garden is her muse and this book shows the many ways it has influenced her life. Another beautiful book for your gardening friends.

Did you know that "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" turned 150 this year? On the occasion of this milestone birthday, Anna Bond of Rifle Paper Company has illustrated a beautiful new edition for Puffin Books. This charming book would be a treasure in anybody's library as well as a wonderful gift for the young person in your life.

A Book a Month from Persephone Books

The endpapers for the Persephone Books edition of "London War Notes" by Mollie Panter-Downes
Image via here

And finally if you really want to give a bountiful gift to a book lover, send them a year's worth of books from Persephone Books. Have you visited their charming bookshop in London? It is filled with lovely gray books whose gorgeous endpapers are derived from the pattern of a textile tied to the year the book was originally published. Persephone Books publishes out-of-print titles mostly by mid-twentieth century women writers. Authors include Katherine Mansfield, Monica Dickens, Julia Strachey, Enid Bagnold, Winifred Holtby, and E.M. Delafield. One of my favorite Persephone books is "Diary of a Provinical Lady" by E.M. Delafield. For your Anglophile friend who can't get enough of British novels set in the early 20th-century, give a year of books from Persephone Books. Go here to learn more.

Wishing you the happiest of holidays and a great year of reading in 2016!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pleasures of the Season

What is it about celebrating with girlfriends at this time of the year that is so comforting? Maybe it's because this is the season to count our blessings. And friendships are one of life's greatest treasures. It's the time of the year when we celebrate our friends. If you're like me you probably belong to a book club, bridge group or other organization with girlfriends. Most women I know love to have a reason to get together on a regular basis. Maybe it's over work, books, art, writing projects, knitting, golf or philanthropic activities. In the best of circumstances, these groups give women an opportunity to talk, listen, support, and encourage each other. Getting together on a regular basis keeps the connections strong. And appreciating each other during the holidays with a festive get-together is a wonderful way to end the year.

Yesterday I hosted a holiday lunch for my bridge group. I see these women each week for bridge and I treasure our regular get-togethers. We always manage to catch up with what's going on in our lives. And each December we make time for a holiday lunch. This year we had a potluck. My job was to make soup and savory scones. My friends brought salad, a gorgeous cheese board and a luscious chocolate cake. It was a cozy lunch on a cold December day here in Los Angeles. The fireplace was lit, spiced apple cider was simmering on the stove, and spirits were high. It's the kind of celebration I love during the holiday season. Sometimes the simplest pleasures are the most meaningful. Spending a cozy afternoon with friends brings a little extra joy to an already wonderful time of year.

Everyone loved the menu and I wanted to share three of the recipes with you:

Mulled Cider with Winter Spices

18 cups apple cider
1/3 cup orange juice
Peel (orange part only) from 1 large orange, cut into strips
1 bay leaf
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 cinnamon sticks
3 whole cloves
3 whole allspice
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 and 1/4 cups applejack brandy (optional)

Mix first 10 ingredients in large saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer mixture 30 minutes to blend flavors. Strain mulled cider into mugs. Serve cider, passing applejack brandy separately, if desired. Garnish each serving with a cinnamon stick. Serves 16.

Sugared Lemon-Rosemary Scones

2 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 and 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed
3/4 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing

In a food processor, pulse the flour with the 1/3 cup of sugar, rosemary, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with some pea-size pieces of butter still visible. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the 3/4 cup of cream until a shaggy dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently knead just until it come together. Gently roll the dough into a 14-inch log, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the log into 8 rounds and transfer to the baking sheet. Brush the scones with cream and sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until the scones are golden. Let cool slightly before serving. Serves 8.

Smoky Split Pea and Root Vegetable Soup (go here for recipe)


Thursday, December 10, 2015

My Reading Life...

Happy December! What have you been reading? As you can see from the stack above, my reading has been eclectic. It's the end of the year and critics have been compiling their favorite book lists. I haven't had time to look back on all the books I read this year, but glancing at the stack on my nightstand gave me a sense of the books I have been reading for the last few months. It's a varied group and I have to confess to jumping from book to book. There are books that felt like homework as well as books chosen for pure pleasure. Happily the categories have occasionally merged and it turns out that some of that homework has been satisfying. Here is a little report on my reading life as it stands right now:

A book I loved and can highly recommend --
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The writing is beautiful and the story is fascinating and unexpected. It looks at a successful marriage from two perspectives, that of the husband and the wife. The first part, "Fates," is told by the husband. The second part, "Furies," is told by the wife. The question the book explores so brilliantly is how well anyone can really know their spouse. It is about the secrets kept in a marriage.

The characters are drawn with tremendous depth and skill. The husband, Lotto, is a much-loved and pampered young man when he first meets his wife, Mathilde, at Vassar. Handsome, rich, and destined to be an actor, he is attracted to the calm and mysterious Mathilde, a beautiful young woman who seems to have no past. Her strong and supportive nature is the foil he needs to balance his tempestuous and all-consuming personality. She will become the caretaker in their marriage. He soon discovers his talent as a playwright and becomes successful, though Mathilde edits and rewrites most of his work. She gives up her career to be his helpmate. Only in the second section do we find out how much she is responsible for his success. There is a dark side to her story. The second part of the book will take your breath away. The book is brilliant and a tour de force. I rank it among the best books written in recent years, one of those books I will hang on to and go back to later. I promise it will sweep you away. And, this is so exciting, President Obama just announced it is his favorite book of the year! Lauren Groff must be in heaven right now.

A book that takes a little time to get into but is well worth it --

The story begins in a small village in Chechnya during the conflicts between the army of post-Soviet Russia and the Chechen guerrillas. It occurs between 1994 and 2004. An 8-year old girl named Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father and burn her house down. Akhmed, a kind neighbor and friend, rescues her from the woods and takes her to the nearby bomb-shattered hospital for safekeeping. He puts her in the care of Sonja, the only doctor left at the hospital. Sonja is war-weary and dejected; she has been searching for her sister Natasha who disappeared during the war. We learn through flashbacks of the horrors this group of people have experienced. Refugees have poured into the little village for ten years and many people have gone missing. Akhmed has painted portraits of the dead and vanished and hung them around the neighborhood. People have become informers after being tortured and turned in their friends. The nightmare of this episode in Chechnya is heartbreaking. As I make my way through the book, I am moved by the tragedy of this war. Somehow I think that the child Havaa holds the key for helping the characters find some kind of peace. A harrowing book but I think well worth reading. Especially now. It is a powerful depiction of the innocent victims of war.

A book that is escapist fun -- 
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon 

My hand keeps reaching for this each night and now that it's finished I will move onto the second book in the series. By now most everyone knows what "Outlander" is about, either from watching the television show or reading the series of books by Diana Gabaldon. But just in case, here is a quick review:

Claire Randall is an English woman who is united with her husband Frank at the end of World War II. They spend a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands where Frank, a historian and former intelligence officer, researches his Scottish ancestry. Claire, who has been a nurse during the war, goes off to collect plant specimens and enters a circle of standing stones. She is pulled toward a strange buzzing noise and faints when she touches one of the stones. She awakens in the middle of a firefight between British soldiers and Scottish rebels. At first she thinks she has stumbled into a movie set. But she quickly realizes that somehow she has ended up in the year 1743. Her husband's ancestor "Black Jack" Randall is about to assault her, when she is whisked away by a group of Highland rebels. Among them is the handsome and brave Jamie Fraser who is injured. She tends to his wounds and in time they fall in love. This turns into one of the great literary romances.

I was a latecomer to the "Outlander" phenomenon and experienced it for the first time on television. When the first season ended I bought the book and devoured it. I loved getting more details about Jamie and Claire as well as what was happening in Scotland at the time. This tale is even better in book form. I continue to be amazed by the imaginative genius of Diana Gabaldon and the entire world she has created. I highly recommend these books.

A book that I have been dipping into for pure pleasure --
Daphne Du Maurier At Home by Hilary Macaskill

This book is about the homes that Daphne Du Maurier, author of "Rebecca," lived in and how they affected her life and work. Especially her homes in Cornwall, a place that became the love of her life. I have been enchanted by everything I have read about her life so far. Here are a few highlights:

Du Maurier grew up in London in a big and bustling well-to-do family. Her father was Sir Gerald Du Maurier, the leading actor-manager of his day. Her home life was Peter Pan-like, led by her imaginative and whimsical father. In fact, the writer J.M. Barrie was a friend of the family. In the first production of "Peter Pan" in 1904, Gerald played the parts of Captain Hook and Mr. Darling. Barrie often visited the Du Maurier house and loved watching the children act out "Peter Pan." It was a household dominated by the theatre. The leading writers and actors of the day were in and out all the time and it wasn't surprising that Daphne began to dream of being a writer. When she was nineteen her family moved to Cornwall where she discovered her muse. Cornwall, its place and people, would inspire all her writing. It was there that she fell in love with her future husband, a dashing young major in the Grenadier Guards. And it was there that she discovered an ancestral home called Menabilly. It would become the inspiration for Manderley in her novel "Rebecca."

This is as far as I have gotten. Having gone to Cornwall last year and fallen in love with it myself, I am getting so much pleasure reading about Du Maurier's life set in this beautiful part of the world. She was a romantic at heart and poured great spirit into her life and her writing. The photos are gorgeous and the story reads like a novel itself.

A book I just purchased and can't wait to read --

Another book about a writer, this one is a memoir by novelist and historian Lady Antonia Fraser. It promises to be about her passion for writing and history and the childhood "wonderland" where it all began. Like Daphne Du Maurier, Antonia Fraser was from a big literary and artistic family. As a young girl she became fascinated with historical figures and read all the biographies she could find of kings, queens, and warriors. She went on to write some pretty famous biographies herself. "Mary Queen of Scots" was her first big success. It became a worldwide bestseller. She wrote her first memoir a few years ago about her romance with the playwright Harold Pinter. I loved that book. Now she has written a memoir of growing up. It is being described as a magical memoir about her journey to becoming a writer and a historian. I am looking forward to this one!

Happy reading!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Saying Good-bye To Fall

How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was very special this year with our granddaughter sitting at the Thanksgiving table for the first time. There was so much to be grateful for. And it was fun to to set the table with a tablecloth from our daughter's home goods and textiles company Heather Taylor Home. The one we used is called "Redwood" and looked very festive, I thought. Go here to see more.

Today is the last day of November and tomorrow we will officially be in countdown mode until Christmas. I am looking forward to the special moments that make this season so magical. But before we move on to the big month, I thought it would be fun to recap some highlights of the fall season so far. I'm a little sad about it coming to an end. So here are my favorite things (in no particular order) about fall this year...

Many of them happened in New York...

1. "Hamilton"

The experience of seeing the Broadway musical "Hamilton" was thrilling. From the moment the show began I felt I was in the presence of something brilliant and original. Lin-Manuel Miranda read a biography of Alexander Hamilton and was inspired to create this electrifying show. If you get a chance to see it, please do. You won't be disappointed. As soon as Aaron Burr opens the show with his fabulous and expository song about Alexander Hamilton, you will be captivated. The music is so good! It may be the best musical I have ever seen.

2. Jennie Simogyi's final performance for the New York City Ballet

It's not often that a ballet performance ends with the kind of curtain call I saw in October after a performance by the New York City Ballet. This was dancer Jennie Simogyi's final performance and when it was over the curtain call went on for at least 20 minutes. She received enough flowers to fill a small flower shop. Her fellow dancers and friends came out one by one with bouquets until the stage was carpeted with blooms. The final touch was confetti and streamers raining down on her from above. It was a wonderful send-off and I felt so lucky to have seen the farewell performance of such a talented and obviously beloved dancer!

3. "Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars" exhibition at the Morgan Library

I have mentioned before how much I love the Morgan Library. There is always something fabulous to see -- the building itself, the gorgeous library filled with rare editions of so many books, and the fascinating exhibitions. This time we were lucky enough to see the Hemingway show. It's up until January 31 and if you are in NYC be sure to see it. Hemingway saved everything and consequently this exhibition is filled with an abundance of photos, books, corrected proof pages and letters. They give us new insight into this literary giant. One of the observations I took away was how much Hemingway revised. It was fascinating to see the many revisions of a book such as "The Sun Also Rises." Even the famous last line. 

And in Litchfield, CT...

4. Sitting in front of the fireplace in the library at the Mayflower Inn

Especially when Los Angeles was in the throes of a major heat wave. The crisp fall weather and cozy fireplaces in New England were exactly what I had in mind when I planned our trip to Connecticut. Fall in New England is a wonderful event!

And back here in Los Angeles...

5. A Garden Book Club

Some friends invited me to be part of a garden book club and we had our first meeting in October. We discussed Vita Sackville-West's Sissinghurst by Sarah Raven and Vita's novel All Passion Spent. It was enlightening to talk about Sissinghurst with so many garden enthusiasts. We talked about the structure of the garden as well as its plants. Everyone agreed that Vita was an inspiring woman and a force to be reckoned with. She created enduring legacies with her garden at Sissinghurst as well as her writing. She led a tumultuous personal life which included a long term marriage with diplomat Harold Nicolson despite having many affairs, including one with Virginia Woolf. Their marriage survived and together they created the beautiful garden at Sissinghurst. The image of Vita striding through her garden wearing long strands of pearls and riding boots is one that will stay with me for a long time. 

6. "The Immortal Beethoven" series at the Disney Hall

In October the beautiful Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles was the setting for "The Immortal Beethoven" series which consisted of performances of all nine Beethoven symphonies. Gustavo Dudamel conducted both the Los Angeles Philarmonic and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela. We heard Beethoven's seventh and eighth symphonies and they were breathtaking.

7. Holiday Calligraphy Workshop at Hollyflora

Soon it will be time to send out holiday cards and since my handwriting seems to get worse with each passing year I thought it was a good idea to sign up for a calligraphy class. I have always admired this type of decorative handwriting. It was taught by Bianca Mascorro at Hollyflora studio. Her class was excellent. She is a very good teacher and the experience was therapeutic. When was the last time you held a pen dipped in ink? It felt delicious. This kind of beautiful writing is a lost art and I think we should bring it back.

8. Baking with pumpkin

Spiced Pumpkin Bundt Cake with Buttermilk Icing is one of my favorite fall desserts. I made it for my family to snack on while we cooked all day on Thanksgiving. The smell alone is reason enough to make this cake. Go here for the recipe.

9. Indian Summers on PBS

I love having a riveting drama to watch on Sunday nights and "Indian Summers" definitely fits the bill. Have you been watching this one?

10. The film Brooklyn

Each year the best films seem to be released in the fall. This year was no exception. My favorite so far is "Brooklyn." What a beautiful film!

Au revoir, November. Gingerbread season is right around the corner...