Restful places–a hired man’s bed from New England, vintage embroidered cushions from tag sales and thrift shops, cream and red Indian cushions from the Dollar Store. Toile from Anatole fabric outlet. Grey Halloween sock is a kitty toy, apparently. Oil painting by Jim Kline.
Restful places. This is my New Dawn rose and blue Chinese wisteria arbor.
Please note plate border and Ivan Bilibin’s work.
The colors red and yellow. Plate is Heinrich’s Gipsy pattern.
Molly Brett’s work.
Picnics. Photo from House Beautiful.
Illustrations by Racey Helps
List making is a time honored diarist’s tool. Around 996 Japanese author Sei Shonagon preceded modern day bloggers with The Pillow Book, which is jam packed with her observations of Heian court life and snippets of her own likes and dislikes. Her list of elegant things, for example, includes,
“A white coat worn with a violet waistcoat. Duck eggs. Shaved ice mixed with liana syrup and put in a new silver bowl. A rosary of rock crystal. Snow on wisteria or plum blossoms. A pretty child eating strawberries.”
My own list of elegant things will keep. After all, the concept of elegance varies from person to person, culture to culture, era to era. Objects such as gored hose, were one considered the essence of chic have fallen into disfavor while time and mores have conspired to legitimize Biedermeier, the style once thought to be fit only for the uncritical bourgeoisie.
Much as the Heian court, the village where I live teems with self-appointed arbiters of elegance. There are the folks who wrinkle their noes and look as if they were sucking a lemon whenever one mentions the greatly popular Mary Englebreit and Harry Potter. These are the folks who fancy themselves as so intellectually pure they cannot bear to contact with anything that please the lumpen proletariat. Whatever. I can be as much of a snob as the next guy when the occasion calls for –luckily that is a rare event–but I am not above feeling affection for much that my superbly intelligent fellow villagers despise. Take, for example, a somewhat sappy book, The Rosary, written in 1910 by Florence Barclay, who was a very High Church English clergyman’s wife. I was all of thirteen when I found it in my boarding school’s library and I loved it for its descriptive passages of an English country life that seemed so utterly civilised to the little savage that I was. English gardens, English formality, butlers, golf, magnolias and tea seemed utterly exotic. There were gardens in my school, but our trees– avocado, jacaranda, flame trees mango and buriti palms–could not compare with the cedars of Overdene, the heroine’s home. Our only roses were mostly pink and French–La France, from Guillot et Fils, Amelia, from the Vibert nurseries, and Cecile Brunner, a Pernet baby–with the red Principe Negro (Black Prince) as the sole British interloper.
My love for beautifully illustrated children’s books preceded my love of European novels. I have no idea of who illustrated my copy of Pedro Malvado, Strumpfelpeter, as terrifying a tale as Grimm Germany could produce. Fortunately what remained on mind was was the pretzel, translated into Portuguese as “a biscuit shaped like the number eight” someone gave Peter and the baker’s shop where our hero’s greed for more pretzels almost led him to being thrown into the oven. I will not digress and talk about the effect of such literature on the impressionable mind of German children. I wil just add being Brazilian descendant of Sephardic Jews, I am constitutionally and morally averse to the idea of baking people.