Friday, July 29, 2011

What to Save

The photos in this post are ones I took more than a year ago, but I've just gotten around to processing them tonight.  They are of peonies and sea thistle on the windowsill of our old loft.  When I look at them now, I vaguely remember the day I photographed these.  It was nearing sunset.  I was sad, so I'd bought myself flowers, and I snapped shot after shot of them as the sun slid down behind the old brick mill across the canal.  

I have blocked much of that spring from my memory, I realize now as I skim through old photographs.  It hasn't been a purposeful forgetting, just a failure to remember, a failure to hold on.  I let whole days fall away, sloughing off the calendar like dead skin.

Memory and time feel different to me now.  I gather up moments, days, and press them to my face like blossoms.  When they finally fall from the stem of my weeks, I scoop them into bowls and jars and drawers to save, letting their scent linger.  

Let the sun slip from the sky.  Let night's heavy lid close over my dreams.  I remember all that I need, all that is good, all that my heart can hold.


Monday, July 25, 2011

London Memories: Pretty in Pink

At Broadwick Silks
Mr. Magpie is a British Literature scholar who focuses on the Modernist Period.  That means many things: he owns a lot of books, he writes a lot of books, he knows a thing or two about the Bloomsbury Group (especially Lytton Strachey), he racks up many hours in archives working on his library tan, and, of course, he's wicked smart.  

At St Luke's in Chelsea
Fortunately for me, it also means he has to travel to England every year or two for research, and I get to tag along.  While he's holed away in the British Library or the BBC archives, diligently transcribing manuscripts, I'm usually off gallivanting about London, soaking up every bit of the city I can, from Bloomsbury to Borough Market and beyond.

Looking up in the rose garden at St Paul's Cathedral
This year, though, we won't be making a trek to London.  We've got too much on our plates already, so the next trip will have to wait another year.  In the meantime I'm missing it something fierce.  

At Spitalfields Market

And so, this past weekend my longing led me to dig back through photos from our last stay.  As I dug, I discovered a plethora of pinks.  I'd never realized just how much pink I'd managed to capture on that trip.  There it was in everything from the pink-netted fabric at Broadwick Silks in Soho (see top photo) to the lush heirloom roses at St Luke's in Chelsea (second photo) and the stunning St Paul's Cathedral in the center of London.  And again I spotted it in the handmade shawls in the stalls at Spitalfields Market on a Sunday morning.

Snog Frozen Yogurt, Soho
Even at night, hot pink shimmered in shop windows on that trip, whether I fancied a Snog . . .  

or a velveteen-flocked chandelier.  Note: I said yes to the snog, but no to the light.  Can't quite picture it in my house!

Portobello Road
And then there's Notting Hill's Portobello Road on a Saturday morning in August.  Even though the shot above isn't entirely pink, something about all those girls shopping for vintage bling screams pink, pink, pinkity-pink to me.

Who can resist the pastel homes in Notting Hill?  My favorite facades are those painted unabashedly Neopolitan-pink.

But always, I come back to the roses.  London has heaps of them in gardens and shops and hidden spots.  Here are a few for sale at Borough Market.  If you've never been to this Market, you must go.  It truly is one of my favorite places on Earth.  Buy yourself some lunch late on a Saturday morning: a loaf of bread, some cheese from Neal's Yard Dairy, some gorgeous fruit, and a cup of incredible coffee from Monmouth Coffee Co.  And don't forget to buy yourself a rose.  Then sit by the Thames with your delicious treasures and your gorgeous pink bloom, watching the river flow.  

I think I'll do just this on my next London visit.  Maybe I'll even coax Mr. Magpie from his dusty archives long enough to join me.  If so, I'll give him a dark pink rose of his very own.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Breakfast and Other Pleasures

Breakfast this morning was a plate of cherries, a bowl of museli and yogurt, and a cup of pomegranate green tea.  I ate the cereal with a big, old silver spoon--too big for my mouth--and relished every bit.  Some mornings are like that; I'm just hungry and happy to be sitting at the table, the cats climbing on counters and in cupboards and all sorts of other places they shouldn't, the seagulls causing a ruckus outside my window, and an electric fan aimed directly at the back of my neck, whizzing merrily away.

I am having the best summer I can remember since I was maybe a little kid.  Nothing is certain, nothing is going particularly smoothly, several things are lousy . . . but there are beaches to walk, greasy slices of pizza to inhale, concerts in the park to enjoy, and friends and family with whom to enjoy them.

At night I dream of a house and hydrangeas and lemonade on a fine, broad porch, but mornings are about the here and now, about breaking a sweat and getting work done. And I relish it all.  

If life isn't a bowl of cherries, then maybe it's a plate of them--a pretty plate, its glaze crazed and worn, but all the more lovely for being useful.  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On Fear, Trust, and What Makes a Home

I turned around today and saw the past year slipping off into the distance.  Last year at this time we had just signed the lease on our apartment in Portland and we were preparing to rent out the loft we own down in Massachusetts so we could move up here.  We were emerging from a very difficult and dark time in our lives and finally making a move that we'd longed for for years.  It wasn't ideal; the current housing market meant we couldn't simply sell and make a clean break.  On the other hand, we were moving to our favorite city.  That was more important than buying a dream home, especially after the battles we'd been fighting in a place that felt very, very unhappy to us.  

Suddenly it's a wonderfully full year later and I feel a little frazzled, a little edgy, a little on the verge, if you know what I mean.  We've just rented out our old loft to new tenants for another year, which means another year of not selling it, which in turn means that we won't be buying another home this year.  As much as I'd like to settle in and put down roots in a permanent home in this city we love so much, I'm trying to tell myself that I'm okay right where I am for the moment.  We're here and we have a roof over our heads, and the city is our oyster.  I'm grateful for all these things, but I will admit that the renting thing is getting a little old.  Renting when I was twenty was great--and even when I was thirty during grad school.  But now that I've owned two homes of my own and I'm nowhere close to thirty, renting doesn't sit so well with me anymore.  

I want to paint my walls any damn color I please again.  I want to design--at last--the kitchen of my dreams.  And most of all, I want to create another garden.  For now I dig around in my mother's gardens and grow herbs on my porch, but I am an obsessive gardener so this never seems to be enough (why am I obsessive about everything I love?  Are you this way, too?).  I can deal with the drunk guys who sleep on our back steps (ah, urban living)--or sometimes even our front steps--but I want to plot and plant and putter among the weeds again.  

Don't get me wrong, this is a rockin' apartment, but it's an apartment, and it's not ours.  

I'm trying to be more positive about the situation.  We have ocean breezes.  We have a huge kitchen and hardwood floors.  We have loads of sunlight and pretty rooms.  Our neighborhood is bursting with book shops, coffee shops, galleries, and restaurants.  Oh, my goodness, I am lucky, lucky, lucky.  

And I will share a marvelous secret about our apartment with you.  If you live near the water here, you have the privilege of witnessing the seagulls raising their babies on the rooftops of Portland.  If you simply look up anywhere on the East End, you'll see mamas, papas, and baby gulls on the rooftops where they nest each summer.

This is our second summer here, and thus we are getting to know our second baby gull.  He spends a lot of time looking in our kitchen window, practicing his squawking (which sounds more like squeaking at this point), and following his mama back and forth across the roof next door.

As sweet as this is to watch, it is not without its terrifying moments.  Baby gulls are not exactly sure of foot, and that roof is quite steep.  There have been many near misses.  Last year we became very attached to the little gull who lived next door, and then he was attacked and killed one hot afternoon by an osprey.  It was a very good day for the osprey, but a terrible day in all other respects.  The gull parents are so attentive and caring, that it was heartbreaking to us.  I keep wondering this summer if these are the same parents back to give it another try on this same rooftop.   

And that's just it I realize.  We lost so much a year ago.  I lost a job and many friends.  I also lost all confidence in myself.  Truly.  All of it.  I felt utterly alone and desolate.  This has been a year of trying again.  And again.  Much good has come of it.  I still feel the losses daily, but I make myself try harder.  It's an old cliche about picking yourself up and dusting yourself off, but cliches are born from truths worth repeating.

This rented apartment has sheltered us while we've reinvented our lives.  In my heart that makes it the best of homes.  And when I feel afraid of failing again, which I do almost daily, I look out the kitchen window.  There's that flightless (for the moment) bird, making its way across the roofline, guided by its mother, but trusting in its own two feet.