Monday, August 31, 2009

What to Take to an Island

I mentioned in my Charleston Farmhouse post that this fall my life would be taking some creative turns.  The first one happens tomorrow when we leave for a very special place.  My husband and I will be living on the island for four months while we work on some writing projects. Will I miss teaching this semester?  Actually, yes, I will miss it a teeny bit because I love it, but I have never had such a long stretch of time to focus on my writing.  I'm also looking forward to hiking or biking every morning, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean, and sitting (bundled up as we head into the later months) on the deck with a cup of (decaf) Earl Grey, the salt marsh on one side of me, and the sea on the other.  Today we are just packing, packing, packing, and finishing up last-minute chores.  Oh man, I have that slightly panicked but also happy feeling inside.  You know the one that makes you feel like you need to run to the bathroom every five minutes?  Thank God I quit caffeine!  
What to take?  It's not a desert island.  Lots of people live there year round, and it has a grocery store, a post office, a coffee shop, even a small library.  Still, it's an island, and we won't be taking the car back and forth to Portland on the ferry oodles of times.  Plus, we don't plan to come back to our house here in Massachusetts very often--maybe a couple of times.  My priorities: the cats (of course), a few special food staples, lotions & potions & first aid supplies, clothing, bicycles, and last but not least--books and writing supplies (including laptops, so I've got loads of music, too!).  The binoculars and bird books are in the car.  Cameras go with me everywhere anyway.  If you were going, what would you bring?   
Thanks so much for all your wonderful comments in response to my London posts.  I have only been blogging for six months, so I am still constantly amazed by what an incredibly creative, funny, smart, and supportive community of people I have met in the blog world.  I had no idea when I started just how much writing posts and reading other people's blogs would enrich my life.  Thank you from the bottom of my little blogging heart.

photo found here and then processed slightly by me

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sunlight & Shadows

The Calm Before the Rush on Portobello Road

Morning Sunlight Streaming into Winchester Cathedral

Midday Sun Through the Clerestory Windows at Bath Abbey

Late Afternoon at Regents Park
A special installation called "Treegents Park" included a giant swing, super-sized hammock, and various tree houses and forts for kids of all ages.  We checked it out after paddling around the duck pond.  Positively dreamy.

Sunset at Russell Square
We like to stay in Bloomsbury when we visit London (big surprise), and it's always a relief after emerging from the Tube at the end of the day, a bit grubby and worse for wear, to rest our poor feet at one of the benches around the fountain in Russell Square.  An excellent people-watching spot.

Spider Web on a Grape Arbor at The Real Eating Company in Lewes

Late Afternoon on London's South Bank

Sunset on the South Bank
There are so many stories in this picture.  I'll definitely use this one as a writing prompt for my creative writing students!

I know, I know, we don't think of sunshine and England mixing all that much, but in two and a half weeks, we had about two hours of rain!  Most summer visits to London I end up wearing a jacket and wellies, but this was strictly sandal and sunglasses weather.  Today it is raining where I live, which I like, too, but it's lovely to think back on all that London sun!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Pond & Garden at Charleston Farmhouse

"It will be an odd life, but . . . it ought to be a good one for painting," said Vanessa Bell as she and Duncan Grant settled into Charleston Farmhouse, near the village of Firle in Sussex, England.  They first moved to the house in 1916, and over the next 60 years or so, they, their children, and various friends of theirs in the Bloomsbury Group (like Vanessa's sister, Virginia Woolf, and their friend, the economist Maynard Keynes) crafted lives that were quite unconventional for any era, but that were also deeply grounded in friendship, beauty, and art.

When my husband and I first met nineteen years ago this fall, we talked often about finding ways to make life and the daily living of it an aesthetic and moral process--a way of living consciously, ethically, and creatively.  Can this always be achieved?  Perhaps not every moment of every day, but still we try.  Over the years, we have looked to certain people as models for a creative life.  Among those models are people like Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.  We have long held Charleston in our imaginations as a domestic ideal of the kind of home we wish to create for ourselves.  

On this past trip to England, we were at last able to visit Charleston.  Would it, we wondered, be all that we had imagined?  It is easy to mythologize a place so much that it can never live up to our imaginative weavings and embellishments.  The journey there took on all the weight of a pilgrimage.  This was, I think, especially true for Todd, who is a Bloomsbury scholar and who has devoted much of his professional and personal life to studying the lives and work of these writers, artists, and thinkers. 

We needn't have worried.  Charleston is much more than we had hoped for.  I'm sharing just a few of the images I captured there, but I hope they will give you some sense of the aesthetic integrity of the place.  No photography is allowed inside the farmhouse, but if you'd like to take a peek inside, visit the Charleston Farmhouse website.  You can also read the book about Charleston co-authored by Vanessa's son, Quentin Bell, and her granddaughter, Virginia Nicholson.  It provides you with a detailed look at every room in the house as well as wonderful stories about the family and friends who gathered there over the years. 

The day we were there, preparations were underway for a private party in the barn.  I was tempted to crash it, but I behaved.  Still, I stole a glance or two through the gate at the cheerful decorations.

The grounds surrounding the house include a pond out front where Quentin and his brother used to sail in a little boat and cause all sorts of chaos.  When Quentin grew up, he used mud from the bottom of the pond to craft clay sculptures, lamps, and pots.  He also crafted several statues for the grounds from various materials, including this woman who seems to float above the pond.

Above is another of his sculptures.  Beyond her are pastures where cows graze, and beyond the pastures are the downs.  

Various busts line the top of the garden wall.

The enclosed garden beside the house was designed and cared for over the years by Vanessa and Duncan both.  It is everything that a cottage garden should be--lush, rambling, bursting with color and texture, with long vistas as well as secret, hidden spots.  The whole place smelled of sweet pea  and lavender.  I never wanted to leave.

How lucky that we were there to see the dahlias at their peak.  That large series of windows on the top left side of the house was added by Vanessa when she took over a portion of the attic for her painting studio.  It afforded her a view of the garden as well as prized northern light.  The french doors on the first floor lead to her bedroom, the very room where she died.  If you visit Charleston, and I hope you will, I think you will love this room.  It is filled with light and hung with portraits of her family.  

Pink anemones grow beside the back door of the garden.

There are moments when the garden is a tangle of poppies, sweet pea, lilies, nicotiana, daisies, phlox, and cosmos--these are my favorite spots of chaos kept (barely) in check.

A glimpse of the house through the cosmos.

Virginia Woolf encouraged her sister Vanessa to move to Charleston in the first place.  The home she shared with Leonard Woolf was just a few miles across the downs, and she longed to have her sister nearby.  "It has a charming garden," she wrote to Vanessa, "with a pond, and fruit trees, and vegetables all now rather run wild, but you could make it lovely."  Indeed, she did.   Nothing at Charleston was dictated by trends of the day.  Nothing was conventional, but all was carefully considered and deeply personal, from the painted walls, doors, and furniture, to the exuberant garden and pond.  I left Charleston with a renewed and deepened sense of how to craft the life I choose.  I'll write more about this sense in the days to come, as my life this fall will be taking a few creative turns.  More about this soon . . . 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

To Market, To Market

Hello, friends!  We've returned from England, so I'm back on the blog with too many photos and adventures to share.  I'll sift through and show you just a few highlights in the coming days, I promise.  We travel to the UK every couple of years, so it's a place that feels more and more welcoming, but it never gets old for me.  Each trip I find myself more attached to certain places and more intrigued by new discoveries.  This visit was especially wonderful because we had so much time to explore, plus my mother flew over for part of the trip, and it was a joy to share some time with her in London, Greenwich, and Bath.
Ever the magpie, I thought I'd show you some highlights from a few markets for this post.  Borough and Greenwich remain my favorite markets, partly because they are not overwhelmingly huge and partly because they are just so damn beautiful, but I love the atmosphere of most of London's markets.    

Borough is not only one of my favorite markets, it's one of my favorite places in London.  Period.  It's strictly food and flowers, and the spot--right next to Southwark Cathedral on the South Bank--couldn't be more magical.  There's a wonderful mix of people here, but without the horrendous crush that one sometimes finds at Portobello or Camden or Greenwich.  When your feet get tired, you can pop into Monmouth coffee house for truly great fair trade coffee and fantastic atmosphere.  On a long wooden farm table they plunk down a trencher of fresh bread alongside several kinds of jams and butters.  You can help yourself and pay at the counter.  My kind of place!

The picture above is of Spitalfields at about 10:30--before the real crush of the day begins.  

A lot of young designers sell their wares at Spitalfields.

Elements is the shop of my dreams.  It's one of the permanent stores that edges the market stalls at Spitalfields, and they specialize in items like vintage metals and old industrial and film lighting.  I want almost everything in the store!

These shawls come in every pretty gelato shade you can imagine.

Brick Lane is the most flea-markety of all the markets I've been to in London.  Many young people simply throw a blanket on the ground and spread out anything from old albums to can openers to beat-up sneakers to worn purses.  There are a few great things to be found, but be ready for a lot of junk.  I enjoyed it more for the entertainment and sights.

Lovely soaps.  These are at Covent Garden, but you can find them at Greenwich, too.  Covent is tourist central, but fun.  I like going there on Monday for antiques day.  Most of the antiques vendors bring small items, so it's easy to find a few trinkets to tuck inside your luggage!  

I took this photo at Portobello Road, but I saw these wonderful vendors at Covent Garden, too, later that week.  The crush of people at Portobello is intense on a Saturday.  Arrive before ten if you want to actually see and shop without being crushed.  

The food stalls at Portobello are endless.  Come hungry.

There's a bit of everything here--even pretty handmade undies!

I love this shot!  Here are the famous Portobello row houses, the crushing crowds, and in the middle of it all, this woman on the left appears to be experiencing her own moment of zen.  I wish I could achieve that without the help of a chair and an iced tea in some little cafe, but I admired her ability to not get totally overwhelmed by the crowds!  

More later this week from our trip to Lewes and Charleston Farmhouse, plus a few other beautiful sights.  I can't wait to catch up on everyone's blogs now that I'm back!  xoxo Gigi    

Monday, August 17, 2009

Style Crushes: The Hottest Icons on Two Wheels


Marilyn Monroe photographed by Richard Avedon, 1958

In this photo from the Library of Congress, Elvis signs autographs for fans in Germany.

Brad Pitt photo by Photo Agency

Who can resist Kermit on his bike in The Muppet Movie?  Sometimes style can be adorable.