April 25, 2013

The Trench Coat Kiss

“… If it’s nothing else, I know in my heart that Heaven is the memory of love, which never comes to an end.”   

~Andre Leon Talley, A.L.T.


One of my favorite things; wearing a light trench in spring.
In 1879, a young former draper's assistant, Thomas Burberry, invented gabardine, a comfortable yet durable tightly-woven, water-resistant fabric. This fabric was a stunning success, with orders flooding in, and the first major client being the British Army.
Using his own designs for officers' coats made 13 years earlier for the War Office, Burberry added shoulder straps and metal rings to his gabardine coat, and the trench coat was created. Today the Burberry trench remains one of fashion's most coveted pieces.
Lightweight, weather resistant and eternally chic, the classic trench is as stylish today as it was when Audrey Hepburn wore one in Breakfast At Tiffany's. 

And, do you remember this lone hero?  
A love gone wrong.

Bogart's trench has become one of the most enduring fashion images in cinema.

Add shorelines, 
well worn Wellies (www before Internet?), 
horses, and glorious landscapes.
Unadulterated bliss!
Full stop. 

Smashing weekend.

April 19, 2013

The long way down Knuckle* Hills.

*Ngong in Swahili

Today I thought about Uncle Gus, which made me think of Kenya and Tanzania. That thought led me to stories about Kenya and…to this ramble. So passed a sunny afternoon.

A few years ago I was delighted to accept a kind invitation to go to Kenya and spend a week with Uncle Gus. One of the reasons I was keen to go was that he and I had long shared an obsession with the (officially still unsolved) murder of Josslyn Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll, who had been part of the HappyValley Set in Kenya. Uncle Gus wheeled out heaps of Old Kenya Hands for me to quiz on their first-hand knowledge, memories, and local folklore about all the protagonists in this classically Colonial murder.  All the ingredients are there - sex, booze, money, scandal, screamingly mad eccentrics and an unexpected insight into the Colonial justice system. It's also a fascinating peep into the mindset of those crazy brave souls who took off across the sea to make new lives in strange lands.

I just love those long-ago attitudes - harvest ruined by lack of rain? Buck up!  

Husband given you syphilis? Buck up, plant coffee, adopt a deer and ride for days alone round the perimeter of your lands.

Lost your entire inheritance in a bet? Stiff drink, buck up and shuffle the cards again.

Lover unfaithful? Buck up, follow him to Paris and shoot him (read up on the wonderful Alice de Janze. They simply don't make them like that any more.)

I had a lovely time and spent several happy afternoons drifting about the Muthaiga Club. To this day, cameras are banned in case members are snapped with someone they shouldn't be with. No money changes hands - everything is signed for on a chit and accounts are settled depending on the harvests. I shamelessly eavesdropped on a classic exchange between two old boys in the foyer. One covered in red dust, just driven into town, the other in pressed khaki, grasping a large gin, waiting for him.

"Super to see you. How's the wife?"
"Bloody cancer. Doc's not too hopeful."
"Rotten luck, old chap."

Everyone I met had a pragmatic, almost casual attitude to death. They all had first or second-hand experience of carjacking, shooting, attacks by animals, theft, crazed hippos charging, and rape.  Uncle Gus and I drove his old jeep up to Lake Naivasha one day to visit the Djinn Palace, Josslyn Hay’s old haunt.

On my last day Uncle Gus a guide and I went on a riding safari into the Ngong Hills.  My horse definitely had racehorse blood. Our safari was supposed to take an hour. It lasted four. The guide got lost. Recent rains had caused sudden growth so all the paths had disappeared. My horse jumped a gorge and left my Uncle and guide on the other side as we galloped away, crashing through spiky
undergrowth, caught by trailing thorns. I wasn't even carrying lipgloss, much less a mobile phone. It turned out I was no longer made of the stern frontier-smashing stuff of yesteryear. Somewhere along the way I had become a small girl on a sodding great horse who really, really wanted to go home.  It didn't take that long to find me, covered in scratches and sunburnt.  When I finally dismounted in the yard, my knees buckled with either shock or relief.  Uncle Gus stuck a filthy great sundowner in my hand and they all looked the other way while I bloody well bucked up!  :<>

Smashing weekend.

April 15, 2013

High Tech…

…Three Hundred Years Ago.

In recognition of today’s Google Doodle -

Spectacularly wrong: yesterday's model of the universe. 

Around the comer from the Uffizi, and somewhat in its shadow, stands a smaller, even older house of treasure-Florence'sMuseum of the History of Science (renamed Museo Galileo in 2010). This magnificent collection, refurbished in recent years, has at its thematic heart Galileo's telescope: the gilded wood-and-leather instrument, simple and revolutionary, that shattered the Age of Faith and changed the way the world thought.

Like Michelangelo, that other hero of the Renaissance, Galileo was sponsored by the Medici and censored by the pope. After his death, two Medici grand dukes, both former pupils, founded an academy to carry on the master's legacy of experimental science. Though it lasted just ten years, until 1667, the academy oversaw the design and manufacture of many innovative instruments, which became the property of the Medici; their collection was the nucleus of the present museum.

Representing what could be called Renaissance high tech, the state of the art circa 1650, many items here are treasures in themselves, precocious children of the Renaissance marriage between science and art. Here are optical and navigational instruments of all sorts-the telescopes, astrolabes, and compasses that made possible the charting of the heavens, the voyages of discovery, the mapping of "unmappable" continents and seas. Here are devices combining practicality and whimsy: a variety of "nocturnals," for telling time at night; a compass to be attached to a saddle bow, for navigation on horseback; flawless crystal thermometers in the shape of miniature frogs, which attach to the upper arm with silky gold threads.

The layman recognizes, in a formal way, what these instruments are but experiences still another response: a sense of the weirdness, the eccentricity, the marvelously idiosyncratic nature of these artifacts. Touring the museum's fifteen rooms, the visitor may feel he is wandering down the stranger, though necessary, byways of scientific investigation.

The calculating machine (Ciclografo) of Tito Livio Burattini from 1658 (© Museo Galileo, Firenze)

The craftsmanship is consummate. Every celestial globe, every sundial, every brass sextant, quadrant, and compass, is covered with tiny etchings-heraldic emblems, plumed helmets, decorative flowers. Early microscopes sit on carved-ivory bases. Precision mathematical instruments repose in fitted cases lined with red velvet. A brass odometer is bedecked with a filigreed border. The creators were obviously skilled cabinetmakers, and as much attention was paid to aesthetic appeal as to the engineering of the instruments themselves. One item, with miniature ebony horses prancing around a wooden "floor," suggests a Victorian toy circus, jointly crafted by Escher and Calder.

We also see history's grander mistakes. A sixteenth-century armiliary sphere, bearing a royal seal, depicts Ptolemy's view, the "theologically correct" concept of an Earth-centered universe. At eleven feet in height, nearly large enough to fill the room, it is gorgeous, gilded, and spectacularly wrong.  One gaze at its weighty, opulent authority suggests how much it cost Galileo to say, "I disagree." It reminds us that skepticism and doubt are scientific virtues.

The museum is housed in one of Florence's oldest buildings, the Castellani (1180); and in the renovated cellar we see, in medieval, vaulted rooms, an alchemist's laboratory and, slightly to the left, a laser display. 

Galileo Galilei’s finger  :*)

April 11, 2013

Finally, my very own ‘ivory’ tower! Call me Rapunzel.

“It’s not found on many maps, true places never are.”  ~Hermann Melville

I love an island where you can smell the pungent humidity in the air, seeping into your pores like sunshine. A country where the billowing clouds anchor in the bay of the sky like tallship windjammers, where the sun varnishes the calm sea into an antique hammered copper plate and the view is like Neapolitan ice cream, sand, sea and sky a tri-color of blance, indigo and rouge.

Barbados’ wild East Coast; not many tourists bother coming here. The swimming is dangerous and the tides unpredictable with very fierce currents. There are some beautiful old churches, though, with graveyards full of mossy, skewed stones.  
If you trace the shallow, weathered marks with a finger, you can sometimes still decipher the names and dates; improbable centuries have passed since those souls first tried to eke a living from the barren land they'd been allotted.  These Irish and Scot peasants were indentured servants* shipped out to work on sugar plantations for a set number of years before being granted freedom and land.  The unforgiving sun burned those peely-wally limbs so badly they became known as the Redlegs. The stony, hilly terrain they were allotted was nigh impossible to cultivate and many starved to death. Their descendants peopled this district.  Barbados has many hauntings** because of its long and distraught history. 

I on the other hand had the good fortune to stay at a charming place in the verdant and lush grounds of a plantation house (Scarlett O'Hara swoon), eat a mango seconds after it tumbled from the tree, and laze in a hammock marveling at the unspoiled beauty of Barbados.

*The Chattel house is the Barbadian word meaning 'moveable property'. The type of home came into play when plantation workers decided they wanted to live on the estate and simultaneously own or rent their own house. It was particularly logical to develop the house in a way that it could be transported to another location in case a tenant-landlord dispute erupted. Chattel houses are built of wood and set on blocks of coral, without a foundation so that they can easily move. Many have steep corrugated iron roofs which help protect the houses from heavy rain and high winds that may accompany a hurricane. in addition, they often show remarkable designs of ornate framework, carved wooden banisters and miniature jalousie windows.

**St. Lucy Parish Cemetery has a very strange vault located among the tombstones. This gravestone has inscribed on it, "This vault shall never be opened." It is said among many of the St. Lucy locals that two witches were burned at the stake and their ashes buried in this vault. ;-)=

Wishing everyone a bright and beautiful weekend!

April 07, 2013


I am, the epitome of the elegance of travel last seen in a bygone era, soigné and sophisticated, my butler “Bunter” is tarrying behind as usual, bowed under a ziggurat of  scented  monogrammed  valises made from ostriches hand reared on a diet of Jersey double cream and rose petals.
Dream on woman!

There are some things that don't travel well. Ripe cheese, jars of tadpoles and German zeppelins.  Alas, yours truly was made for travel. 

What has brought this on? Nothing other than the good fortune of an impromptu design meeting.  I love to fly by the seat of my pants, turn on a dime, or take life as it comes.  Although, I would love to have a butler.  Is it too late to put an advert in the LA Times?  Capable experienced butler required as ladies' companion.  Bar tending experience an advantage.
Barbados for three days!
Back soon you know where to send the expired Valium prescriptions and anything else.
Hotel desk if you are reading this, I'll be in the bar at 11 pm for bubbles.
Nature I salute thee.

April 06, 2013

Post(ed) Wisdom

“There is no reason why you should be bored when you can be otherwise. But if you find yourself sitting in the hedgerow with nothing but weeds, there is no reason for shutting your eyes and seeing nothing, instead of finding what beauty you may in the weeds”
~Emily Post

Emily Post was one classy number.  A proponent of appropriate social conduct and manners her book Etiquette rocked the charts in the 1920s.  I am old school, I know, but the o so trendy current lack of politeness drives me nuts! 

The little urban hipsters feel spiteful this week because I have pulled of the shelf, and will be reading, this little number...  

Here’s an uproarious look at being on your best behavior . . . and on your worst!

I would say manners are a lost art, but they should not be an art.  They should just be the way we all strive to relate to each other.  In Ms Edna’s opinion, too-common rudeness is just obnoxious. 

The Gift of Humor

The joy of joys is the person of light but un-malicious humor. If you know any one who is gay, beguiling and amusing, you will, if you are wise, do everything you can to make him prefer your house and your table to any other; for where he is, the successful party is also. What he says is of no matter, it is the twist he gives to it,the intonation, the personality he puts into his quip or retort  or observation that delights his hearers, and in his case the ordinary rules do not apply. Eugene Field could tell a group of people that it had rained to-day and would probably rain tomorrow, and make everyone burst into laughter —or tears if he chose—according to the way it was said. But the ordinary rest of us must, if we would be thought sympathetic, intelligent or agreeable,“go fishing.”
~Emily Post, Etiquette 1922

Rock on Emily.