Summer Visions

This summer I found a strange book at a local discount retailer, Familiar Spirits, by Alison Lurie. A memoir of the life of James Merrill (of Merrill Lynch wealth) and his partner David Jackson, and their exceedingly tedious new-agey poetry, it is well written enough, but ultimately boring. They used a Ouija board to compose verse of biblical proportion, and drugs to get the creative juices flowing. Though forgetable overall, there was one journal entry from Merrill I enjoyed and keep thinking of:

"No effects from the mushrooms. For a moment, there, things seemed to be happening: 'I saw a lilac bush turn into a chandelier!' But nothing more happened. Perhaps it's not the season for visions."

What an arresting image, hydrangea transfigured and lit from within:

When I saw this hydrangea in St. Andrew, New Brunswick, I at once remembered the journal passage and the above chandelier, from the palace of the Swedish royal family in Stockholm.

I mean, I think I can see it. And no, I have not been tripping.


Warren, II: the Larder

My friend and I looked at this house the same day we checked out the house I reported on a few weeks ago. We were told it was already under contract, and thus off limits -- but the door was mysteriously unlocked ...

It was so unassuming, looking on the outside like ersatz colonial, but the interior revealed a different story. The larder had only a dry sink, and incredibly old milk paint on the ceiling ...

The real estate agent told us this was a "tear down," which almost makes me cry. It was built in 1760, and has been lived in continuously since, apparently by people who thought plumbing was a fad that would pass. It's so out of step with the modern world that it doesn't even line up with the grid of the city, and is oriented toward the water, rather than the street it sits on.

Another view of the larder, and yes, that counter and its supports are made of massively thick slabs of slate, with 19th century oil cloth on the walls:

The one concession to modernity, the bath on the second floor was endlessly charming and diminutive. I'm like 5'8" or 9", and I'm certain I would have to stoop if I stood in the tub (which, notice, has glass feet ... fear of electrocution?):

And all the wonderfully faded papers. I'm betting these are older than my grandmother, and she turned 95 on Tuesday:

Do trees grow this big anymore?

My companion that day, who's at least 6,' hated this house. But I loved its scale, which did not mock, but rather embraced my height. Here, a hallway with a regular size radiator that looks like a giant:

The ceiling was about 6,' maybe. Most poignant to me were the shadows on the floor where furniture had been for centuries, but is now missing.

How sad and beautiful ... I want it. This house is not tear down.

"...a new house standing empty, with staring windows and door,
Looks idle, perhaps, and foolish, like a hat on its block in a store.
But there's nothing mournful about it; it cannot be sad and lone
For the lack of something within it that it has never known.
But a house that has done what a house should do, a house that has sheltered life,
That has but its loving wooden arms around a man and his wife,
A house that has echoed a baby's laugh and held up his stumbling feet,
Is the saddest sight, when it's left alone, that ever your eyes could meet."


Quoddy Shoes: I Love Thee

I read about Quoddy shoes for years and loved the style, but never having seen them in person I could never stomach the price. There are few places that carry them in-store, as the majority are made to order, in Quoddy, Maine. Hand sewn, the whole deal. But then I found some beautifully worn boating shoes in my size at a local thrift, and thought I'd give them a go:

And ... they were just ok. Almost a let down: extremely comfy, but maybe not my cup of tea in terms of aesthetics. Maybe my disappointment had something to do with the deerskin laces falling apart and being forced to use some inferior synthetic crap. But then I took them with me to Maine and New Brunswick, and I was sold. They handle completely differently in a rugged setting, and are very clearly ideal at sea. On both the ferry crossing and whale watching they served me to perfection, while fellow passengers were slip-sliding all over the place. And somehow they also looked cooler ... I'm definitely ordering proper replacement laces.

But the ones I really want are these (spied on archivalclothing.com):

Nothing is simple, or at least nothing involving my desires. This particular four-eyelet variant cannot even be ordered from Quoddy directly, but only through Winn Perry of Portland, OR. If anyone is considering a lavish gift, I'm a 9.5 :).


As Good as it Gets

The landscapes everywhere we traveled in Maine and New Brunswick were transcendent, but these were the highlights:

Midway up Mount Cadillac, Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island

The view from the deck of our house on Grand Manan, NB

Rocky cliffs at South East Head, Grand Manan

And sad as it was, even the ferry ride home from Grand Manan was beautiful, with a glassy ocean punctuated by porpoises and whales.


Movie Night, Anyone?

Ah, an old favorite ... what has he got in that suitcase?

Alexander Calder playing with his famous toys.


Knives, Forks & Spoons

I admit it. Alright, yes ... I care a great deal about cutlery. Form, material, distribution of weight, these things matter! Of all the things I collect, it is certainly the most useful, and why not fill a need with something beautiful? Here are a few of my favorite sets. None are particularly precious, just lovely things we like to eat with.

This one is mother of pearl and chased silver, found at a junk store in Chicago. They are rather petite, and we use them for eating fish (an activity we do too rarely, considering how near the sea we are):

These are very thick, and made of bronze. I found them at a flea market in Lisbon called Thieves Alley, and I know absolutely nothing about them. 1960s? In any case, they have a delightful heft, and are fun to use. I like their subdued lustre, esp. compared to silver:

And lastly, what we use every day. This is an ongoing collection, and we pick up examples as we find them. The general rule is that they have to be cheap, in a simple pattern, nice & heavy, and silver plate or coin silver.

These are usually pretty tarnished, which frankly I like. They also hold some secrets. This one is from a prison, and bears the monogram of successive owners in the institution:

We have a bunch of these, from the Italian military (don't ask me what branch), bought from the blanket of a gypsy at Porta Portese in Rome. The back of each handle is hand engraved with the torch emblem of the regiment or battalion. Neat, no?


Seven Days Work

I don't expect interesting architecture while hiking, and was taken entirely by surprise on this hike to a remote beach on Grand Manan, Seven Days Work Beach. Deep in the woods, set on a cliff overlooking the beach stands this high-style A-frame:

I can't help but be reminded one of my first loves in architecture, Gunnar Asplund's Woodland Chapel outside of Stockholm. I love it so much I've visited twice.

I don't know why I so love triangles set into forests ... so appealing. In some ways this Grand Manan shack is better than Asplund's Chapel, in that the rather than overlooking a cememtary, it overlooks this:


Canadian Generic

I'm not a nut for matching, at least not for most things. Usually I find too much of one thing tiresome, but I do enjoy places where all things are of-a-piece, and have some unifying factor. This may be why I got so excited in the grocery store on Grand Manan off the coast of New Brunwick, Canada. All of the generic products had labels in the same color, with the same typeface, in the same size.

It made me want to buy all of them, and line them up together ... I'd love a whole pantry of products like this.

This type of minimal packaging in the US usually indicates $$$, but these were the cheapest products.

Aren't they appealing?

I was recently informed in a roundabout way that "those designs are thirty years old, originally done by Don Watt and Associates. They were so popular when they came out that I once designed a kitchen in that yellow with big letraset helvetica letters on the doors saying what was inside." --thanks, Lloyd Alter. They've really held up well.


Dulse, Lovely Dulse

Grand Manan, an island off the coast of New Brunswick in the Bay of Fundy, was the scene of many new experiences: whale watching, rock hunting, island estate sales, and dulse.

Dulse is a seaweed that is dried and eaten in many places, but the center of production is a quiet harbour on this small island. I can't say it's delicious, or that I've developed the taste for it, but I'm trying ... it's full of goodness: Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, iron, fluoride and potassium. On the island it's everywhere. It's laid out next to the condiments in restaurants:

I couldn't resist, and shipped some to my family in Chicago -- I like the idea of my brother & his friends playing cards and acting all badass while they feast on dulse. I tell you, I'm trying to get into it, though it does remind me of salty cellophane.

Yum! I may end up getting more into dulse flakes, which we also picked up on the island. These are served in soups, in eggs, suffused in butter, and a million other ways.


Movie Night, Anyone?

Ugh, in these dark times I want something stunning! Something spectacular! Where is our generation's Busby Berkeley? Ah well. I guess we'll just have to make do with the real thing, c/o The Gang's All Here :

Disembodied floating head! Fruit, good god we need fruit! Carmen Miranda! Pom poms! Pom poms!

Cue the midgets! Get the neon ready! We need more dots, more dots!

Monkeys! More monkey! And bananas.


Impossible Souvenirs

Steven and I took a vacation on the Maine coast and in NB last week. It was really amazing, in all ways. Natural bounty, and all the junk I could desire. I should have known I was doomed when halfway through the first day we found this:

It was on the way to Mount Desert Island, and literally one tenth of what a good, antique soapstone or slate sink goes for. Massive, just like I've always wanted ... notice how it's actually wider than the shipping pallet it's on? I nearly ripped my hair out. Then came the cast iron urn:

Even worse! Fulfillment of my dreams for an overgrown, Edward Gorey Victorian garden one step closer, in hulking iron form. It weighed about as much as a refrigerator, and I immediately had dreams of a dwarf fig growing in it, surrounded by a mound of moss. And once again, on sale and cheap. Then things took a ludicrous turn:

I can't justify this, but the crown moldings of this house museum in St. Andrew, NB, were begging to be stolen, or flagrantly copied. I've never seen examples so crisp. Look at the egg-and-dart, like a row of tongues! The curator said this was because they had only been painted twice in nearly 200 years. Such high relief. Ugh.

Do you think the Historical Society in Grand Manan would miss this? It's not being used or anything. It just didn't occur to me to rent a truck for this vacation.


P.S. Because Watching Music Videos is Fun

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'"
(thank you, Kerouac)

Marcel Dzama: Good in All Media

I have long liked the work of flavor-of-the-moment-five-years-ago artist Marcel Dzama, from Winnipeg, Canada. I think his work still looks fresh, and I continue to love his perverse, sickly sweet imagery:

I used that image in a proposal for the wall of a bakery, though it was transformed, writ large, into Portuguese blue & white ceramic, or perhaps Delft tile:

I find his art really works in all media quite well. He did a fantastic line of jewels for MZ Wallace (impossible to find images of), and earlier this year released a stellar music video for Department of Eagles at the MoMA:

I had difficulty believing he could pull off movements, let alone in live action moving through space, but geez, there it is. He creates such a complete world, with separate, more delicate rules of physics. I love the swiftly vibrating legs of the lady warriors before battle.


Off to the Islands!

A couple of weeks ago, Steven and I took a trip up the coast of Maine and into New Brunswick. I love road trips: running my hands through the wind, the Maine countryside whipping past ...

And when we reached Grand Manan Island, a lovely house on the sea waiting for us:

The next day, hikes everywhere, each place more perfect and unspoiled than the last:

We could have happily stayed there forever.


Is it Possible This Type of Love is Reciprocal?

Last week I looked at a couple of houses that are for sale in Warren, RI, in an area right off of the waterfront. Warren is pleasantly unfashionable and largely untouched; the neighborhood is a mess of old, with very little postdating 1850. And of course, I fell in love. A few times.
Love #1:

And it's even more ridiculous, because it breaks all my rules! No wooden houses, nothing so close to sea level (all gone, just give it 50 years), really a complete wreck. But forget it -- I'd move in tomorrow. Delicious and 209 years old ...

Cabinets, cabinets, cabinets ... who says old houses have no storage? Think the middle one leads to Narnia? I would have loved this as a kid. Lead paint builds healthy brains!

It's been chopped into 3 apartments, and I'm torn about what would really make the most sense. For a time, I'm sure Steven and I could live in it and rent two, but I don't think I'd spend any real money making it work as a 3 flat. It really wants to be a house, I think. Oh, and the yard is adorable. The garage is actually a school house that was dragged from a couple blocks away, with a beautiful barrel vaulted ceiling. Studio for me, anyone? Too good for a stinking car.


Movie Night, Anyone?

First, a picture of childhood filtered through the lens of Bergman. Unlike many of his works, Fanny and Alexander manages to stay relatively light, even taking into account the death of a parent and child abuse, without tempering the extremes of young emotion:

And a short, dedicated to Henry Deiter Fernandez, a friend and a teacher, and his wife, Caroline Murphy.


Tasteless Exploitation or Tasteful Tribute?

So a few months ago I was reading a great blog, theselby.com, and in their archives I found a piece on the home of one of my favorite French designers, Jacques Grange. His house was both a bit predictable and more exciting than I'd anticipated. Take the mantel still life:

Interesting, certainly, but the passe Damian Hirst splatter painting in the background was disappointing (Really, M. Grange? Best you can come up with? And by the way, it's lost about 40% of its value in the last 6 months), and headgear on statuary has always been a pet peeve of mine. Too self consciously informal ... "Look at me! I can afford this vastly expensive art deco bust, AND I'm just so wacky I'm going to put a headdress on it! or bowler hat! or necktie!" But one item had me completely smitten, and restored all of my faith in M. Grange's esoteric taste:

Now my question is this, do we find this horrible? When I showed it to my brother, he just about punched me in the face, considering the display of such a personal, morbid object as utterly tasteless, the suffering of a person put on show. But I really saw it as more of a tribute, the last object someone great had touched. It reminded me of a test tube I saw once as a child at the Henry Ford Museum that held Thomas Edison's last breath. Or of Cleopatra's mummified asp, the last thing to give her a kiss.


Accidental Collection: Butterflies

There is nothing I love more than stumbling across complete collections of something, whatever that something may be. Of course, it helps if the objects collected are carefully arrayed and beautiful:

Hoarders are an odd sort, and perhaps this is why Steven and I make so much sense.

Who could get mad at a boy who gets boxes of antique butterflies & moths in the mail? And paid something like 5 bucks for each of them?

Now I get to pretend we're Piero Fornasetti and Vladimir Nabokov, two great collectors of pressed colorful bugs.


My LIfe in Color

I have been obsessively looking at these two images for the last few days, and today I realized they are exactly the same color palette, only in different proportion.

I would like to live in either one, but especially the second image, which looks like what I imagine my father's summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, looked like as a kid. The first image is a piece of a Vuillard painting. If suddenly all of the colors in the world were reduced to those in these two pictures, I think I wouldn't mind. It reminds me of something my Great Aunt Bernadine told me once, a lesson from a man she studied under, the colorist Joseph Albers:

That all color is nothing more than proportion, that the relation of things in scale is more important than any single element. I think she told me this when I was twelve, and though I've forgotten whatever stupid math I was studying that year, this more useful lesson has stayed.
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