Friday, September 20, 2013

Another Anniversary

I can't believe it's been eight years since my father died.  Sometimes, I can't even remember his voice.

He comes to me in different ways now.  I find him in the smell of clothes, in long stretches of Missouri countryside, and in newspaper articles about politics.  While my father later worked in the corporate world, he began his career as the political reporter for the Kansas City Star and the editor of Congressional Quarterly, and some of my most prized possessions are the old newspaper and magazine articles that he wrote.

To be frank, I don't know if my dad would have approved of me leaving my job as a lawyer, so that I could skip off to London to write, to take pictures, and to do God-knows-what.  It's hard for me to think about that.  But then, this is part of being an adult.  Growing up, living my own life.

And then sometimes I think my dad would have understood my decision to move to London.  When I was working for Congressman Ike Skelton, the Democrats received an embarrassingly sound drubbing from the Republicans in the 2004 election cycle -- losing both the Presidency and seats in Congress.  Everyone in Ike's office was dumbstruck.  It was eerily quiet.  

The rest of the day was slow in the office, so I called my dad and vented my frustration about the election.  Mid-way through my venting, my father interrupted, "You should write all of this down."  "Write about it?" "Yes, your thoughts about why it happened, its effect on the country, etcetera."  "You want me to write a paper about all that?" "Well, not a paper.  Maybe something like a newspaper article or a column."  "Okay, but am I going to publish this somewhere?  Who am I writing this for?"  "Who knows. Yourself?"

Thursday, September 19, 2013

In Fine Style

This past week, a dear friend of mine was in London for a few days.  She is an art curator, and I had so much fun hopping around the city seeing it through her eyes.  One of our afternoons was spent at the Buckingham Palace State Rooms and the adjoining Queen's Gallery.  The Queen's Gallery hosts exhibits of art from the Royal Collection.  The Royal Collection consists of art held by the Queen in trust for the nation, instead of being held privately.
This year the Queen's Gallery has an exhibit called "In Fine Style," which charts fashion during the Tudor and Stuart eras.  Many items of clothing were on display, but we were not allowed to take pictures of the garments.  However, the paintings being exhibited were absolutely fantastic!  One of the things I was most taken by was the breadth and incredible pieces the Queen has in her collection.  In the above painting we see an early 17th century fashion of wearing exaggeratedly high hair. Women often wore wired structures beneath their hair to maintain the height of the hair and to secure the adorning jewels.
The lady in the above painting is dressed for a masque (which was a social event meant to be propaganda for the Royal Court).  Her gown and hat are meant to imitate Persian style.  Over her gown, she wears a translucent mantle adorned with the equivalent of sequins (which would have been cut individually from a sheet of metal).  The effect would have been a dress that shimmered in the evening candlelight.
Above is a painting of Queen Anne, King James I of England's wife.  She was Danish royalty and her own lineage was important, even apart from being the wife of the King of England.  Consequently, she always wore jewelry that was a reminder of this fact.  Above the pearls, crosses and letters on her garment are nods to her personal history.
King Charles II is depicted in the above painting.  During his reign, he announced a new mode of male clothing which consisted of a knee length vest worn with a coat.  This outfit replaced the previous male style of wearing a doublet and a cloak.  The King introduced this new look so as to create an "English" style that was not at the mercy of continental fashion whims.  Notably, this new type of outfit was the precursor to the modern male three piece suit.

Queen Elizabeth I is displayed wearing a gown with sleeves made of a cloth of silver tissued with gold, which could be melted down to release the precious metals.  Only royalty was allowed to wear this type of fabric.  But at the time this painting was created, Elizabeth was considered illegitimate.  One of the aspects of the exhibit that I found the Queen's Gallery did exceptionally well was combining the past and the present.  With this particular painting not only did the audio guide provide curator commentary about the history of the painting, the audio guide also provided insights from current fashion designer Gareth Pugh about this garment.  For an institution such as the Royal family that often seems synonymous with tradition and reverence for the past, it was fantastic to see them seamlessly weave in touches of modernism as well.

Above Mary, Princess of Orange, is dressed for a court masquerade likely held in The Hague.  I found this garment absolutely striking.  Observers during that time described her as being very well-dressed.  Feathered cloaks like the one she is wearing were worn by the Tupinambá people of 16th and 17th century Brazil and imported to Europe where they were appreciated for their cultural context and craftsmanship.

Monday, September 16, 2013


"The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion.  But cosmetics are easier to buy."    --Yves Saint Laurent

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Please Do Not Kiss Mr. Darcy!

I couldn't fit all of the wonderfulness of Chatsworth into one post, so today I wanted to give you a peek at some other highlights.  Below are my five favorite things from around the house!

1.  Pride & Prejudice

Not only was the 2005 iteration of Pride & Prejudice filmed at Chatsworth, many observers believe that Jane Austen used Chatsworth as inspiration for the book.  Pemberley and the English countryside described in the book are quite reminiscent of Chatsworth.  Additionally, Mr. Darcy and the 6th Duke of Devonshire had many similarities.  For example, they both fell in love with a woman in much lower social standing, but in the Duke's case, he did not marry her.  Also, both Mr. Darcy and the Duke were raised with another male that their father favored.  However, in the Duke's case, he was quite close to this man.  Below you can see a funny little statue of Mr. Darcy on display at Chatsworth.  Also, you can see the pictures of the statue gallery Keira Knightly wandered through in the movie.

2. Bronze Portrait Busts

Like many great English estates, Chatsworth has incredible gardens.  You can wander around them for hours -- truly -- and still not see everything.  During one afternoon, I found myself going deeper and deeper into the garden until I came across an opening amongst the trees and saw this collection of bronze busts.  They are both beautiful and haunting.  The portrait busts consist of many public figures, many of whom are closely associated with Chatsworth.  The one below is of Deborah Cavendish (née Mitford), the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.

3.  Hand Painted Wallpaper

I pretty much die for hand painted wall paper -- Gracie wallpaper, de Gournay wallpaper, you name it.  But my favorite pattern I have ever seen is the one below featured in one of the bedrooms at Chatsworth.  The 6th Duke of Devonshire had much of this wallpaper installed in the 1790s and there are different iterations throughout the house.  I love the aqua color and the delicate Asian quality of the one below.

4.  Upside Down Forks

If you look at the place setting below, you'll notice that the forks are upside down.  This placement served two purposes.  First, because people wore clothing with long and frilly sleeves, the forks were placed in this manner to prevent clothing from getting snagged.  Second, forks being placed upside down showed whether utensils were in use or not.  Thus, at the end of a meal, if you were finished with a fork, you would place it upside down.

5. Capability Brown

Capability Brown was a British landscape architect that designed and shaped much of England parks and gardens as we know them today.  When Chatsworth's gardens were first created, the original landscape architect (not Capability Brown) wanted everything to be very orderly and precise, which coincided with the prevailing view at the time that nature was something to be harnessed and tamed.  But the 4th Duke of Devonshire hired Capability Brown to redo landscaping, who created a more fluid and natural look and each house window was meant to frame a view of the landscape.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lacing In and Out of Trees

A couple of weeks ago I visited Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, and I enjoyed my tour of the house.  But I wanted to hike around and explore the countryside.  I asked a house employee if that were permitted.  He said, yes, but then apologized for the overcast weather.  I didn't mind, though, because the gray skies punctuated the gorgeous green hills, as there was no bright blue sky with which to compete.  

The day had a Brigadoon quality about it; cold and drizzling, with fog lacing around the hills and in and out of trees.  For an hour or so, I kept walking farther and farther away from the house, surrendering myself more and more to my surroundings and finally finding some quiet in my head.  After awhile I turned around to survey my progress.  I saw what appeared to be an almost endless expanse of trees and meadows that rolled across the hills to the top of the horizon.  William Faulkner often wrote about "the power of the land," and at that moment, the power was apparent.