Saturday, December 31, 2011

Buddha & Egg

They sat on my mantel for a season, each from a different friend, one still on the planet, the other felled by a brain cancer that kills within eight months. Living nearly four years because doctors operated three times, my friend would return after each ordeal more numinous.

"Keep this for me, Ok?"

"Sure." I said, knowing that it would be forever.

Wrapped like a mummy in a small box, the buddha lived for centuries in a cave in Nepal where monks sat and meditated. The egg also arrived in a small box, lying on a bed of pink paper straw, baby Jesus with a Roman face, ready to rend the veil in two while perched on an 1880's inkwell. I ensconced the buddha on red Victorian velvet within a 1950's Italian frame, while the egg was meant to be opened and gave up its jewel-like treasure. The buddha now graces a bedroom wall and whispers about what does and does not matter on the cusp of this New Year.

A kiss is just a kiss...

Gay Marriage was celebrated in my home state of New York this past year, a matter of great significance, bringing a very Happy New Year to many couples. Time to pop a cork and make a toast to life, love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Venetian Splendor

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the those places that confounds the senses. I was coming back from the bathroom after lunch in the cafeteria downstairs and wandered into the Lehman Wing and found myself standing with my mouth agape by virtue of a painting in an exhibit of the Met's collection of Venetian paintings. Christ! I thought. The colors are incredible! Was it cleaned to death or merely restored to its vibrant self? The tour guide wasn't there so I couldn't ask. 

The angel (is it an angel, no?) is pondering something besides a virgin birth. don't you think?

Greek & Roman Galleries at the Met

Friends visiting from out of town recently meant a welcome trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art last week which was seen through new eyes. On our list of things to see was the Neapolitan Tree as well as the exhibit on Duncan Phyfe. 

We entered through the school group entrance which is located at the Southern end of the building on 5th Avenue. It's never crowded since most people don't know it's even there. You can check your coat and bag without waiting in line and then step into the elevator which takes you straight up to the Greek and Roman galleries.

And my god, what a wonder they are. I never tire of visiting them. They opened to the public in 2007 after a lengthy period of restoration. Before that, the main wing was used as a cafeteria, which, at one time, had been decorated by Dorothy Draper. The same space was originally a pool surrounded by statuary, so you might say the space has come full circle in a hundred years. It's a gorgeous atrium now with inlaid marble floors and resplendent cultural riches. 

I almost called this post 'Men at the Met' since the majority of photographs are of men, but goddesses do make their appearance.

The rare bronze below was once thought to match to a head in a museum in Berlin, but this assertion has been recently disproven. Here you can see the inlaid floor where a pool once was and the open atrium setting above. It's a glorious space. 

Another goddess which somehow seems very deco to my eyes. Of course, it's interesting to know that most of the white marble statuary was polychromed in appearance- a very different aesthetic. 

The inscription on this sarcophagus notes that it was owned by the Duke of Beaufort at Badminton - a country house in Gloucestershire, England. Residing on the Duke's pedestal of slabs of grey and white marble with black marble spheres, it presents death as a very sensuous affair. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Dinner

A Christmas Dinner of Roast Goose with Brandy Cranberry Reduction and Apple Cider Glazed Pearl Onions graced our table courtesy of a recipe by Emeril Lagasse that I found online. I haven't seen the man's show or read any of his books, but can say that his recipe - which I have made three times now - is delicious if followed scrupulously. This means making the stock, seasoning the bird, piercing the lower breast, legs, thighs and back, getting the oven quite hot to start, and rendering the fat with hot water every thirty minutes. The latter aspect is perhaps the important part: you don't want to be biting into fatty meat! As it is, I had a quart of fat in the bottom of the roasting pan at the end. Perfect for roasted potatoes! Yes. It's a lot of work, but not as hard as one might think. The resulting tastes are delectable: the thyme seasoned cranberry reduction gives the dark gamey meat a wonderful flavor and the French beans in butter - my addition - add a welcome crunch to the onions. 

The plates are Tiffany and display a Persian pattern. I found them in Saratoga Springs quite a few summers ago, when City Opera had a summer season there. Alas, they go there no more. But I have four plates to remind me of wonderful people and the Adelphi Hotel, where everyone stayed and had drinks after performances. The drink for this meal was champagne. 

Dessert was traditional Christmas Pudding from Soutine, a wonderful French Bakery just around the corner. Does it count that I steamed it for two hours and whipped the cream by hand? I tried lighting it with a splash of Cointreau before adding the cream, but the flame didn't last very long. It did, however, add a little something to an already luscious flavor. Not heavy at all this cake. It fairly melted in in one's mouth, the taste of currant and orange lingering on the palate. 

The plate is c. 1910 Limoge. One of a set found on Ebay with a teapot which, I am very sad to say, met its demise quite suddenly last year. It is paired with an old Lenox cup and saucer. No tea for this meal however. We had 'Tip of the Andes' coffee from The Sensuous Bean, the rich full flavor complimenting the cake nicely.

The evening's traditional fare was accompanied by Dickens A Christmas Carol on the radio, lit by much candlelight and culminated in the opening of presents. What did Santa bring? Chocolates from Li-lac.

Christmas Past

Vintage pink 1930's ornaments, magnolia leaves, gilt pine cones and lots of patience. That was last year. My sister tells me - comparatively speaking - that I've gone quite austere this year. And I suppose that is true all things considered. Plain or extravagant, each approach has its time and place, and this year didn't lend itself to grand flourishes, though I do have one in store for next year if a huge mirror can be considered the basis of a plan. The current mirror is the wrong scale. Too small. Not enough presence to keep up with the wide mantle and tall bookshelves.

I picked out large moulding at a lumber yard this past summer and sent it off to a carpenter friend (also a very good singer) who returned it just before Thanksgiving glued and joined together. It's huge and now sitting in the basement, awaiting gesso, bole and gilt. The last time I gilded involved the base of a round dining table from 1920's with three leaves. The original idea was to strip off the white paint and blue trim and stain the wood a beautiful walnut. The stain didn't take however, so my genius of a husband casually suggested that I gild it. I did just that, refinishing the top with a mix of mahogany and walnut stain and creating the bole for the base from scratch and giving the gilt an aged patina.

The lamps on the mantle are Aesthetic Period (c. 1875) oil lamps that I electrified. They still have their tanks intact and could brighten the room with a soft glow with the appropriate fittings. Embossed on two sides with different scenes of flying birds, I found them at the 26th Street Flea Market. The shades were found behind the counter at Just Shades.

Whether my head is stuck in the past (I research 19th century vocal pedagogy) or I've simply reflected the date of the building (1885) in its furnishings is something worth pondering. Whatever the reason: I love old things. My father is responsible for that. I'd go antiquing with him as a child and would enter a store with him staying: " Don't touch anything!" 

Christmas Green

The Christmas decorating happened quite suddenly this year. Last year, I went long into the night crafting a garland of magnolia leaves that featured my grandmother's soft pink ornaments from the 1930's and large gold pine cones. It hung on the mantel making a huge swath, thick and rich with color and texture. This year was done on the fly after lunch on Columbus Avenue, the thought entering my head as strong expresso touched my lips.

"Go to the tree stand on the corner by Starbucks and ask for cuttings." A voice said in my head. So I did. I came home with a big armful of Fraser and Spruce cuttings as well a wreath and a small tree that sits in an old Chinese cloisonne pot on the hearth. The cuttings were free and refreshed after a week, large branches gracing the top of a large Belgian armoire (c. 1910) made of burnished walnut. They are still fragrant as I write, with bright and lemony notes filling the air. The baubles can wait another year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

La vie intérieure

Detail of a curtain in a French room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, taken during a visit last week.

I already have quite a bit of green in my NYC apartment: dark green damask silk curtains worthy of the elves in The Lord of the Rings in the living room window that are echoed by green velvet portiere's that flank a kitchen alcove and a green velvet sofa that was found on the street outside a single family Brownstone down the block. The velvet portiere's have a border made out of a gold and green Victorian bell pull that I found at the flea market some years ago. Six inch fringe hangs at the bottom. The curtains draw the eye up to the eleven and half foot ceilings, making the room seem bigger than it is.

I like to think of green as the color of the heart, which is an Eastern idea that is found in the literature of the Yogi's of India. It is a color that is at once both warm and cool, inner and outer, elegant and everywhere.