Friday, July 29, 2011

Staying Home

This week I have been a little under the weather and stayed home most of the time.  I was told to take it easy and that is exactly what I did.  The good news is that I am now feeling so much better.  And the additional good news is my discovery that slowing down is wonderful!

I really enjoyed being home and found so many things to do.  Here are some of the pleasures I discovered in my house.


Having visitors!  On Monday I had the wonderful treat of a visit from one of my favorite bloggers Lisa Borgnes Giramonti of "A Bloomsbury Life."  We have long wanted to get together to share our Bloomsbury interests and we finally did it.  I am hoping one day to hear the lecture she has written on books she has loved and her decorating aesthetic.  I showed her some of the books I've collected over the years and she told me about hers as well.  We talked over coffee in the kitchen and and she brought me this wonderful treasure.   

Cutting flowers from the garden.  It really is bliss to have fresh cut flowers in the house.

Making the ordinary into something beautiful.  I went out into the garden and picked oranges and lemons to  float in a pitcher of water.  First observation about doing this is, I don't ever drink enough water.  Second, now not only am I drinking more but I am putting it in a beautiful pitcher and floating lemon and orange slices in it.  And this is just for me!

Looking at the garden and figuring things out.  We added these new plants to one of the small garden areas.

We also filled in some of the empty spots in the parterres and they look a lot better.

Reading.  I have been immersed in this book.  Gerald and Sara Murphy are fascinating.

Enjoying a solitary lunch.  I cooked a wonderful meal one day that included Greek Panzanella Salad.

Greek Panzanella Salad from Barefoot Contessa

Revisiting a favorite television show.  I rewatched all of "Downton Abbey."  I love it.  Each scene is like a painting.  I am obsessed with the three sisters --  Lady Sybil, Lady Mary and Lady Edith.  And the servants --  Anna, Gwen, and Mr. Bates.  What will happen to them all after World War I is declared?

I have felt so peaceful.  Staying home fostered all kinds of dreams and plans.  I enjoyed listening to the sounds of nature and paying attention to the details in my house.  I need to do this more often!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Books That Take You to a Cozy Place

Recently I was talking to my daughter about books that can change our mood.  There are times when we are not feeling particularly cozy and we need to grab a book to read that will put us back into a comfort zone of happiness and warmth.  She mentioned "Pride and Prejudice."  She pulled it out one  night when she need her spirits lifted and it worked!
I started thinking about the books I pull out to read for a mood boost and I came up with the following ones.


"Emma" by Jane Austen, because no matter how badly behaved she is, we love Emma.  Her heart is in the right place. And we love watching her learn about herself.  As in so many of Austen's books, the characters in "Emma" are all people we know in our own life.  We know a Mrs. Elton, a Miss Bates, and a Harriet.  These are all characters we recognize as being true.  And who can resist the moment when Emma realizes she loves Mr. Knightley!

"Excellent Women" by Barbara Pym, because I love the funny, wise, and good-natured voice of the narrator Mildred Lathbury.  A clergyman's daughter and a spinster in London in the 1950's, her closest friends are the vicar of her church and his sister.  Her peaceful existence is shaken up when an estranged couple move in next door and draw Mildred into their world.

"Howards End" by E.M. Foster, because the Schlegel sisters are two of my favorite literary characters.  One is passionate and impractical, the other is calm and sensible.  I love their women's discussion group and their passion for the music of Beethoven.  This book has many Austen-like qualities -- it is about writing letters, sisters, property, and inheritance. And it is an Anglophile's dream, an homage to England's gorgeous countryside and beloved old homes.

"Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh, because when Charles Ryder falls in love with Sebastian Flyte's family we understand.  We are also prepared for the big let-down.  A fascinating and tragic saga of a great English family struggling with its demons.  But I keep coming back for those luscious scenes of Oxford University and that great English house, as well as the memorable characters, such as the members of Sebastian's family.

"Merry Hall" by Beverley Nichols, because it is more than just a classic of garden literature.  It reads like a novel as it tells the story of Nichols' purchase of the run-down Georgian mansion 'Merry Hall' and his rescue and transformation of its garden into a glorious paradise.  What keeps me coming back is the hilariously funny writing.

"The Pursuit of Love" and" Love in a Cold Climate" by Nancy Mitford, because sometimes we just need to laugh and feed our love of British eccentrics and British wit.

"The Moonstone" and "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins, because nothing beats a good, sprawling Victorian mystery to draw us in.

"The Age of Innocence" by Edith Wharton, because sometimes we just need a good cry.

"Queen Victoria" by Lytton Strachey, because it is a delightful and illuminating biography of Queen Victoria.  Strachey upended the genre of biography with this book and others, as he wrote with irony, wit, and a touch of irreverence, unseen in that genre before.  This book is utterly charming.

I would love to know what books you like to read when you need a little coziness?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Duncan Grant and Bloomsbury

"Bathing" by Duncan Grant, 1911

This painting by British artist Duncan Grant was done in 1911 and now hangs in the Tate Gallery in London. He painted it for the dining room at Borough Polytechnic in South London (now London South Bank University).  He and other artists were commissioned to create art work for the school on the theme "London on Holiday."  Duncan Grant was born in Scotland in 1885, was a first cousin to Lytton Strachey, and became a part of the circle of artists and intellectuals that was known as the Bloomsbury Group.  He lived at Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, England with the artist Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf.

"Self-Portrait in a Mirror" by Duncan Grant, 1920

David Leeds has a wonderful art blog called "Husk of Meaning" and he invited me to write about an artist of my choice. So I chose Duncan Grant.  I had so much fun immersing myself in the world of Bloomsbury, the artists in particular, and spent a lot of time reading about Paris and London in 1910.  Today we can only imagine how exciting it must have been for artists in England, such as Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, to find out what was going on in the art world in Paris in the years before World War I.  Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse and others were revolutionizing art, and things would never be the same.   Modernism was happening and it came to London via Paris.

Please go to "Husk of Meaning" to read the entire piece I wrote on Duncan Grant, one of my favorite artists.  I think you will want to bookmark David Leeds' blog to enjoy his interesting insights on many different cultural topics.  I am always inspired by what I read there!


Bt the way, have any of you been watching "Zen Vendetta" on Masterpiece Mystery on PBS?  It is a stylish Italian detective series that stars the dashing English actor Rufus Sewell.  Wouldn't he make a great Duncan Grant if they ever made a movie about him?  He was in the movie "Carrington," about another Bloomsbury artist, Dora Carrington. He played Mark Gertler, an English artist who had a relationship with Carrington.

 Rufus Sewell

Monday, July 18, 2011

Russian Music Under The Stars

Pianist Lang Lang at the Hollywood Bowl

Music under the stars and dinner alfresco.  Summer is not officially summer here in Los Angeles until we go to the Hollywood Bowl.  This open-air concert venue is a beloved Southern California tradition.  On Thursday night we dined alfresco, eating a delicious meal with our friends.  Afterwards we sat back and basked in the gorgeous music coming from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel.  We anticipated an exciting performance by piano virtuoso Lang Lang.

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel 

The classical program was all Russian.  Lang Lang played Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto and it was electrifying. After a standing ovation, he returned for an encore and played a beautiful piece by Liszt.  In  the second half of the program, the orchestra played "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Mussorgsky which was very beautiful and haunting.

I learned that the impetus for "Pictures" came from the death of Mussorgsky's close friend, the artist Viktor Hartman, who died unexpectedly in the summer of 1873.  A memorial of Hartman's art work was organized and "Pictures" preserves Mussorgsky's visit to the exhibition.  The work presents the pictures connected by a series of "Promenades," during which we hear Mussorgsky walking through the gallery from artwork to artwork.  Amazing!  We were hearing the footsteps of the composer visiting the art exhibition of his dear friend.  I felt transported by the magnificent sounds we were hearing that night at the Hollywood Bowl.

It was a fabulous summer evening under the stars --  delicious food and wine, wonderful friends, and thrilling Russian music. A summertime treat that will be a treasured  memory.  

Photos from The Los Angeles Times

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lady In Red

Chattie Salaman painted by Duncan Grant in 1942 

I love this painting.  (sigh...yes, this is part of my passion for Bloomsbury art)  When I was visiting London about 12 years ago with my family, we went  to a gallery called "The Bloomsbury Workshop."  I thought this was a very promising name.  I had known about the gallery and was thrilled to be able to visit it.  I wasn't sure my teenage daughters would enjoy the experience, although they were familiar and very patient with my love (obsession?) of Bloomsbury.

I nervously asked the gallery owner if he had any paintings by Duncan Grant, a favorite artist of mine who was also a member of the Bloomsbury Group.  He said he didn't think so, but he would check the back.  He walked out with a canvas that was only visible from the back and casually said, "Oh yes, this came in yesterday.  Why don't you take a look?"  As I could barely speak, I stared at this lovely painting of a woman reading, noting that it was a typical Bloomsbury subject -- an informal portrait in an interior, relaxed in mood with a vivid personal presence.  After very little thought, we became the proud owners of this painting.

Who was the subject of this portrait?  The gallery owner told us a little bit.  Her name was Chattie Salaman and she was a friend of Duncan's daughter Angelica.  She often sat for Duncan's paintings, including the murals that he and Vanessa Bell painted for the Berwick Church in Sussex, England.  When I visited Charleston Farmhouse, the home of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell home in Sussex last summer, I was excited to see another portrait of Chattie.  This one was painted by Vanessa Bell and hangs on the wall in one of the bedrooms. 

Chattie Salaman painted by Vanessa Bell in 1940 (image from the Charleston website)

Recently I have been reading about Duncan Grant who was born in Scotland in 1885.  One of the books I have been looking at is "Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury Group" by Douglas Blair Turnbaugh, published in 1987.  It has a forward by Andrew Devonshire, the Duke of Devonshire.  He was the husband of Deborah Mitford, the author of the memoir "Wait for Me" that came out last year.  He and his wife knew Duncan Grant.  This is what Andrew Devonshire wrote about Duncan Grant's paintings:

"They reflect his character, giving warmth to rooms in which they hang.  They portray a world distant from that we live in now, one in which the pace was slower, manners were better, a place more civilized to live in."

Perhaps it was the personal charm of Duncan Grant, for which he was famous, that comes across in his art and makes it so appealing.  I cannot wait to read more about one of my favorite artists.  

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ballet Beauty

Jose Manuel Carreno and Julie Kent

We were in New York a couple of weeks ago and saw the American Ballet Theatre's "Swan Lake" in the beautiful Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.  I love ballet and "Swan Lake" is one of my favorites.  The music, the dancing, the costumes, the sets.  It is breathtaking.  The ultimate classical ballet.  Jose Manuel Carreno, pictured above, danced the role of the Prince.  This was one of his last performances before retiring from the ballet company.  I was thrilled that were able to see him.

Irina Dvorovenko

The leading role of Odile/Odette was danced by the beautiful Irina Dvorovenko, pictured in the two photos above, who was also excellent.  Coincidentally last week's "Sunday Styles" section of the New York Times featured her in its weekly column "What I Wore."  Turns out that she loves fashion and is often seen about town impeccably decked out.

       Ballerina Irina Dvorovenko at home in a Roberto Cavalli gown (photo from NY Times)

In the interview Irina, speaking like a true prima ballerina, talks about her style:

"For me, a ballerina is an ambassador of beauty on and off the stage.  A ballerina should always be extravagant, enticing, and outstanding."

I was so interested to learn about this great ballet dancer and her life off the stage.  She is married to  Maxim Beloserkovsky, a fellow principal dance at the American Ballet Company.  They have a 6-year-old daughter.  She was scheduled to dance the role of Princess Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty" the following week.  She describes her typical days of ballet practice, rehearsals, dinners with her husband, time with her child, and her obvious obsession with fashion.   Read more here about what this 37-year old principal dancer of the American Ballet Theater wears when she is out and about on the streets of New York.  She is certainly a glamorous ballet star.


When I returned to Los Angeles I began to think about the romance and the allure of the ballet.  I remembered that my daughter had given me a fascinating book about the ballet for Christmas and I pulled it off the book shelf. 

In "Apollo's Angels," historian Jennifer Homans writes a cultural history of ballet, apparently the first ever written.  The book received excellent reviews and was judged to be one of the "Ten Best Books" of the year by The New York Times Book Review.  I cannot wait to read it.  Here is a tantalizing tidbit from the dust jacket:

"Ballet is unique:  It has no written texts or standardized notation.  It is a storytelling art passed on from teacher to student.  The steps are never just the steps -- they are a living, breathing document of a culture and a tradition.  And while Ballet's language is shared by dancers everywhere, its artists have developed distinct national styles.  French, Italian, Danish, Russian, English, and American traditions each have their own expression, often formed in response to political and societal upheavals.

From ballet's origins in the Renaissance and the codification of its basic steps and positions under France's Louis XIV (himself an avid dancer), the art wound its way through the courts of Europe, from Paris and Milan to Vienna and St. Petersburg.  It was in Russia that dance developed into the form most familiar to American audiences:  'The Sleeping Beauty,' ' Swan Lake,' and' The Nutcracker' originated at the Imperial court.  In the twentieth century, emigre dancers taught their art to a generation in the United States and Western Europe, setting off a new and radical transformation of dance."

I look forward to reading Jennifer Homans' groundbreaking work.  It should shed some light on the beauty, romance, and history of the ballet.


On a somewhat related note, Saturday night I watched a very moving documentary on Audrey Hepburn on PBS -- "Great Romances of the Twentieth Century" --  and learned so much about her life.  She studied ballet in London (which makes perfect sense because she was built like a ballerina) and wanted to be a ballet dancer.  She received a scholarship to a ballet company but needed to earn additional money and and so acted in theatrical productions in London where she was discovered as an actress.

The part of the story that really moved me, and there were many, was when she was in the South of France and met the great French writer Colette who asked her to star in the stage production of the book she had just written, "Gigi." Hepburn did the play and was asked to star in the movie version of "Gigi," but declined (Leslie Caron took the part) as she had decided to star in the film "Roman Holiday" with Gregory Peck.  Good decision I think, since she won the academy award for her role in "Roman Holiday" and that film made her a major movie star.   Talk about fate.    

 Audrey Hepburn with the write Colette

In my last blog post I mentioned Colette and her book "Gigi."  And last night Colette popped up on this fascinating show about Audrey Hepburn.  Audrey's unique beauty, elegance, and charm must have attracted Colette.  I did not know that Audrey had starred in the stage production of "Gigi"!  Of course she would have been perfect in that role.

Oh, the interconnectedness of life and the joy of always learning something new!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Feeling Very French

When I was in New York recently I discovered a wonderful shop on Madison Avenue near 89th called Keesal & Matthews.  It was filled with fabulous home decor items, including dishes, glassware, and linens.  I bought this small pillow and hung it on the door to my study.  Every time I see it I smile.

In a couple weeks I am hosting my book club meeting and we are reading "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain.  It is about Ernest Hemingway's first wife.  We are also reading "A Moveable Feast" by Hemingway.  I am very excited as I am still basking in the afterglow of  Woody Allen's new film "Midnight in Paris."  I am going to Paris in the fall for my birthday.  So I am in a very French mood!

I bought these beautiful editions of some novels by Colette a while ago, and I'm reminded that I wanted to reread these classics.  She is one of my favorite authors.

This biography of Colette came out a few years ago and I remember loving it.  Colette was a flamboyant personality and a writer of many classics of twentieth-century literature.  She wrote the novel "Gigi" which was turned into an amazing film.  My favorite books by her are "Cheri" and "The Break of Day."

A friend recently gave me this beautiful and useful book on Paris that contains great restaurant, hotel, sights, and shop recommendations.  I can't wait to dip into it as I plan the fall trip to Paris.

I went to this gorgeous art exhibition -- "Paris, Life & Luxury --  at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.  This beautiful book from the exhibition reminds me of what a knock-out this show is.  It consists of period rooms decorated in French colors and ornamentation that are filled with exquisite objects that would have been found in the homes of wealthy Parisians in the 18th- century.  If you have a chance, don't miss this exhibition.

Madeleine Cookies from Dorie Greenspan

I have been thinking about what I will make for lunch for my book club and have decided to do a French-themed menu. I will thumb through Julia Child, Dorie Greenspan, and "Barefoot in Paris" for ideas.  But the one recipe I will definitely include will be madeleine cookies.  I hope that my friends will love this.

Bon week-end!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Outdoor Dining Room

I have been dreaming about eating dinner outside for about a month now.  We finally got some beautifully warm weather that allowed us to dine outside with our friends.  Now that we have our new garden I find myself decorating it for a dinner party the way I would decorate any room in my house.  It's an outdoor room that I want to adorn with flowers.  And because it is a rather compact space, it is easy for flowers to have an impact.  The garden was our background and we had the most glorious night eating outside.

The table set for dinner

I called on one of my favorite florists Holly Flora to make some arrangements for me.  Holly Vesecky came to the house on Saturday and created some beautiful garden moments, inside and out.  She brought some gorgeous peonies and put them in almost every arrangement.   There is something so romantic about these flowers.  They really have a sumptuous beauty!

I moved the begonias to the patio to decorate our eating area

These plants decorated the barbecue area

Another little floral touch

The trumpet vine is finally starting to get established on the pergola above our patio

I also wanted flowers inside the house.  Here are some more arrangements done by Holly, all featuring peonies.  This one is in the entry way.  I always find that  her arrangements remind me of a Dutch still life painting.

Another hallway table

Powder Room vignette

Family room where we had coffee

Family room


Another view of this arrangement

Kitchen table

Now that the dinner party is over I get to enjoy all the flowers outside and inside.  They really set the stage and created the right mood for our alfresco dinner.  My spirits are still high as I enjoy all the scenes of beauty created by Holly Flora.