Sunday, January 15, 2017

Nuestra Señora de Begoña

Our Lady of Begoña sits on my mantlepiece, having been brought out for an alumni reunion for Umbrian Serenades, which will decamp to Soria, Spain this coming summer—the later a result of the earthquakes that continue to shake the eastern part of Umbria. 

I've had her since my father died a little more than three years ago, and my mother sold my parent's house, and parting with many things. She's the patron saint of Bilbao, where I lived for about eight months at the age of ten in 1968—my father working in the steel industry. He wrote on the back: "Bought in Bilbao, Vizcaya, Spain, in 1968 by Elmer Shigo while at AHV.

My family lived in Spain twice. The first time in Bilbao, and the second time in Valencia. Not having been back since, I plan on visiting both cities when I return to sing with Umbrian Serenades—a truly wonderful and transformational program. 

While I am not a Catholic (I believe in Musick), I like her Rococo-ish design, which gives every appearance of being a 19th century version of an earlier style. However, she is sterling silver, and needs periodic shining to keep her gleaming. Come to think of it: I am going to need periodic shining too, since—as a liberal democrat—I supported a very different agenda for the next four years.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Time Travel: Thanksgiving 2016

The furniture was moved, and the table was set for eight. I used a vintage brown linen table cloth from the 50's that I found at Housing Works, along with green linen napkins edged with velvet. The wine glasses came from one of two crates housed in storage in the basement—newly acquired, or rather I should say found—on the sidewalk, outside a clothing store that was once a restaurant. Catering stuff, someone had hauled them up from the basement and dumped them on the curb. So, now I have 50 glasses and am ready for a party at the drop of at hat.

This is the second time I have moved the furniture around for a big dinner, and also the second time I have been tempted to leave everything in its new place. But invariably, I move everything back if only because it feels better—all those "pairs" talking to one another, the symmetry involved, as well as the original seating plan which makes for better conversation. 

I started preparing on Monday. Never to soon for that, right? After watching the parade from a friend's fabulous apartment on CPW on Thursday, I came home, threw Jacque Pepin's steamed turkey in the oven with carrots nestled underneath on a bed of butter, serving them later on my great-aunt's china that was painted by hand in the 20's.

Full plate & full heart, and wonderful day with friends & family. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Boys in Spoleto

Part of a beautiful fresco in an rehearsal room and performance space at Sala 17 Settembre, Gian Carlo Menotti Teatro Nuovo, Spoleto, Italy, these artfully covered boys have entertained the eye (there are lovely ladies too) since 1917. 

Sadly, I won't be seeing them this coming summer since the wonderful program that I have sung with for the past 6 seasons—Umbrian Serenades, will be based in Soria, Spain. But hey. I'm not crying. Having lived in Spain as a kid (during the Franco years no less), I am excited about returning there and discovering a hidden part of Europe. 

Find more information at Umbrian Serenades. It is a truly transformative program.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Christmas on the Upper West Side

Months have come and gone, and I haven't written much here, have I? It's been quite the year, I have to say, not because anything bad has happened, but only that I have been busy with life—writing, teaching, traveling and researching—all things I love. Then there is Instagram, which requires little writing, and lots of photo snapping, which I have participated in quite a bit as "saengerman." 

A trip to Paris, which was followed by a subsequent trip to Italy can be found there. Away for a month you say? It's something I experienced for the first time in my life, and hope everyone can experience. The mind sees things differently upon return. Why aren't we more like the Europeans who vacation in this way? Good question. 

So Christmas has come and gone. Here is a snippet of mine, which consisted of intertwining two stands of garland sourced from Lowe's, which has put a long-time hardware/home store out of business. 

I sang quite a bit of music this season—lots of church work, and a slew of Messiahs with the New York Philharmonic, which was as fleet as it was fun. 

A tree went up on Christmas Eve—the last one from a Korean Deli a few blocks away, and only $25 bucks—a steal in this part of the world. I threw it into a brass pot on a Moroccan stand. No lights. Just vintage ornaments, which I later gave to a niece once taken down. Really. This Christmas convinced me: This is not a tree apartment! As much as I love them, garland is more than enough for the space. 

Now the New Year is upon us. But that's another story here in America. 

Wishing you All Good Things. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Kitchen Detail

Crazy nuts with getting ready to trade apartments with a couple who live in Paris, I spent last evening cleaning the kitchen, shining what little silver was on hand, and glueing a chair back together. Slipping the dish drain off the butcher block countertop to snap a photo, I realized again just how much I love wood—which is something I got from my father. And there is a lot of it in this kitchen, from the aforementioned countertop (which I found on the street), to the walnut and gilt 19th century frame that I made into a mirror. I have two of the latter, but only have room for one, its mate biding its time in storage. 

At one point, I had the bright idea of using antique tile as a backsplash, but after consulting with Blue, chose to go with mirror—which was sourced from the back of a closet door and fit perfectly. Yes, I am constantly cleaning it, but so what? I would be doing that anyway, right? The antique shaving mirror tucked under the Ikea cabinets was found at the Antique Garage on 25th Street—which no longer exists, the building having been torn down—along with the antique (and perhaps Italian) green man. He's moved about the apartment, but seems to like his present perch above a 19th century gilt mirror with original glass.

Jewel box kitchen. That's what one friend has called the space. Nice to hear of course. But perhaps the thing I like about this tiny kitchen (in terms of cooking) is the extractor fan over the twenty inches stove that sucks out cooking grease. It was connected to the building's venting system that was installed in the 1930's, and is a god-send. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Chinoiserie Valance

It all started with finding seven odd feet of Chinoiserie 1880's molding at the flea market. I knew I had to have it, even if I didn't know what to do with it. So I brought it home, and displayed it on top of the bookshelves in the living room. Then it occurred to me that there was enough of it to construct two valances for the windows in the bedroom, which a singer/carpenter friend from the opera did for me.

Once in hand, another opera friend who worked in the costume department went fabric shopping with me—both of us being taken with an Italian cotton fabric emblazoned with dragons. When the curtains were made with a third friend in the same costume shop, I decided that passementerie might make the whole thing sing. Right or wrong, I finally finished everything this past week with the installation of new blinds which mask the top of the window, and create a nice long line.

The deco Chinoiserie bedside lamp is from the flea, as is the ebonized Victorian frame and Japanese box. A few more photos may appear when the new carpet is laid in. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

World of Interiors Collection 2001-2015

I can hardly believe that I am doing it, but I've decided to part with my World of Interiors Collection, which spans the years from 2001-2015, and can be found at Ebay. Right now it is offered for Local Pick-Up only, but if a reader is serious about it, I might be persuaded to post it. However, since we talking about six linear feet of shelving, postage is not going to be inexpensive. 

Why the heretical move? Simple really. Living in a modest Manhattan apartment means there is only so much space for books even with two nine-foot book cases. 

I love World of Interiors. It's provided me with a rich visual education that could not have been gained any other way, and would be happy to know that it is going to another student of interior decoration. 

If you, or someone you know, is interested in acquiring this Collection, please drop me a line. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Lunch for 6

A close friend from undergraduate school (we're talking a long time ago) texted me Friday morning before Memorial Day, letting me know he would be in town, and would I like to get together for lunch with mutual friends at a place a couple blocks away? Sure, I said. But why not meet at my place? We'd have a much better time, right?  

So we did. 

I ran out to the market and bought three pounds of salmon, which I poached to perfection with blanched French beans and boiled potatoes—the salmon served with a garlic sauce—courtesy of Mark Bittman. Dessert was an apple tart from a fabulous French bakery around the corner. 

Since we were six, I put out the six salt cellars I hardly ever use, along with six ivory knives from London which I found at the flea here in Manhattan, which, unfortunately, no longer exists—the building having been torn down to make way for a skyscraper. 

The table was set in a flash: I threw on all the antique glass paperweights I could find, along with a gothic candlestick (also from the flea market), and a glass-clawed table leg that was turned into an objet by my father. 

Snap went the picture before a green candle was found, while a guest—unbidden—brought orange tea roses.

There is nothing better than being with wonderful friends. 

Friday, June 10, 2016


After creating Chinoiserie curtains with dragons some years ago, I finally sewed on the passementerie  that had been sitting in a box for the longest time, and ordered new blinds to complete the effect of a long line from valance to window sill. 

Apollo now stands guard in the window ready to take flight, he being a 1950's Italian reproduction made with marble dust that was found at the flea market about a decade ago. 

Can I say that my curtain conception struck me as too fussy at first after being completed? Now it's growing on me after having moved the bed to another wall, better picture placement, and a complete editing of the space and its contents. 

The Feng Shui people talk about having one's feet facing East during sleep, and you know, I swear there is something to it. But don't quote me. I just know the space feels very different, and more comfortable even though the room is rather tall and narrow.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Morning Light

Light fascinates me. Composition too, as well as color. But mostly light.

Here is morning light on the upper west side of Manhattan from a day ago, with a north facing window. Nothing done to the  photo. No enhancement, filter or manipulation. 

Speaking of composition: I recently edited out two small black tables that resided on either side of the hearth (see here). Yes, I know all about having a place to put drinks—which is why I put them there to begin with, but having greater openness feels right—and the tray on the ottoman suffices, does it not? I have a somewhat larger 19th century oval one which is begging to be gilded. Doable, right? Of course, I may put them back—the small tables that is—and can only surmise that my hankering for space is something of a metaphor since I have been working on a literary project. Funny how the mind works. 

Next up is a large mirror, which I have been yakking about forever, but am revving up to do, the frame sitting in the basement. 

But first—love me some light.... 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mr. Buddha

Mr. Buddha has appeared here before, but that was before I was working with him a few feet away, plunked down a tea cup and pot and snapped a photo in my mind. 

I like this guy. There's something about him. The light coming out of his head? Gilt on wood? (I am a sucker for that.) The golden light? All this and more. 

I picked him up at the Toronto flea market in 1999 or 2000—can't remember which now, but do remember that he lived in Rome, New York, for a long while before making the trip. Never says a word this guy. Deep thinker with a half-smile on his face: glowing, glowing, glowing. 

We should all do that.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

Dinner with Friends

Dinner with friends on the upper west side of Manhattan was planned for several weeks even if the preparations were somewhat last minute. One friend helped me set the table in all of ten minutes tops, which included running around the corner and grabbing tulips for a centerpiece; purple, orange and red pulling everything together. 

Poirot would have not been happy since we were 7 and not 8, but that mattered little, everyone quite cozy at a table that seats 10 with added leaves. On this evening 2 out of 3 were put into service—and I ironed the table cloth right on the table with a thick pad underneath. Such a hack that. But a good one. 

Oh my, but the Prosecco flowed! As did a lovely Tabarrini rose. 

It must be spring.