Tag Archives: pretty

Her Neck

It is a small picture, full of small incidents:  fragrant of pastel and powder; a vessel of delicacy and uselessness.  Chaotic yet elegant, secretive yet coyly voyeuristic it is a view into a lady’s room as she prepares to spend her day as decoration and distraction.   Part salon, part dressing room, part breakfast room, part bedroom, it is where she concocts her toilette:  and indeed, that is the name of the painting, ‘La Toilette’.

la toilette

Painted by Francois Boucher – no stranger to illustrating the foibles of pretty ladies – in 1742, it is a reflection of French society within the warmth of a lady’s aristocratic home.  It was a time of Louis XV and Pompadour, Lyons silk and red heels, Voltaire and Versailles:  a time of languid enlightenment and sleepy elegance.  Clocks, fountains and fireplaces were carved into masses of baroque coils that seemed to writhe and curl despite their foundations of wood and stone.  And the dainty chaos of a lady’s dressing room was a fit subject for an artist’s roving eye.

‘La Toilette’ lets us view this aristocratic anarchy.  Everything here is of the finest quality:  pink silk ribbons, china tea settings, velvet chairs, a carved and gilded fireplace, a painted screen.  But all is in disarray:  the ribbons are tangled, tea is ignored, chairs are covered by fur-lined cloaks, the fire is smoking and the painted eyes of a saucy youth peer over the screen.

There is a charming disorder to the lady herself:  she has not yet finished tying the garter around her knee; her skirts surround her in a blue labyrinth, her bodice is unlaced – referencing perhaps to the unused ribbon tantalizingly draped across the fireplace.  Her flawlessly painted face, accented by the patch tickling the corner of her eye (in the language of 18th century fashion, a patch placed thus indicates the wearer’s status as ‘mistress’), turns to her maid to inspect a cap she has brought her.

Yet amidst the indolence and confusion, there is a still center within this feminine storm.  And to discover it we too look to the maidservant, but it is not to pass judgement on a scrap of linen and its garland of silk.  She provides us with the painting’s saving grace:  its lonely composure.  Like any condemned prisoner, she gives us her neck.

From her slender shoulders, it rises like an ivory column in a slow, gentle curve.  Poised and serene, its motion is quieter by far than the maniacal rococo decorations that fill the room.  It is a stance out of ballet – echoed by the placement of her dainty feet, making her mistress look almost slovenly.

Her lightly powdered hair is pulled up; extending the delicate sweep that began with the tiny, fluttering muscles of shoulders and neck.   Curls that have escaped the comb lie along the neck’s subtle twist, further highlighting its sculptural movement.

We don’t see her face – only a tantalizing glimpse of a rouged cheek, the drapery of her Robe à la française and the curved neck that brings the dizzying room to a standstill.  As dainty as a minuet, it is the oblique step between the straight line of the shoulders and the coy tilt of the head.   With the serene bend of her neck, it is the lady’s maid who brings refinement to the noise and lavish temptation of La Toilette:  its quiet, silken focus – its genteel heart.

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Forever Amber

Throughout the temperate climates there are trees that hold on to their spring and summer greens throughout the later, demanding months.  They wear them as stubbornly and foolishly as one who wears a favorite coat in July or refuses to take an umbrella into the rain.  They live their evergreen lives eternally, proud of their verdant blood and the succulent life that will not blink in the face of the shifting seasons.

But there are some trees that pay attention:  to the altering temperatures, to the shadows that lengthen before noon, to the greedy night – Nature’s subtle hints that it is time to change.   Their leaves become melting prisms, with colors that undulate and flow:  creating microcosms of sunsets within a dying morphology.  Garnet, ginger, bronze and scarlet, they are as pure and fluid as the stained colors in cathedral glass.  The tints of Chartres, Notre Dame, Cologne are reflected in their autumnal DNA.   The air is bright with their departure; the earth and streets are crisp with the trees’ brittle sacrifices.

In the mid-17th century, Spanish naturalists stumbling through the Americas took note of a pretty tree with leafs shaped like clipped stars and a clear, perfumed gum that looked like liquid amber.

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350 years later their happy discovery is alive still, in backyards and cities, celebrating the cyclical weather, the migratory temperatures.

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Liquidambar styraciflua is known for its fluid colors and fragrant liquor.  It bleeds a clear or tinted resin reminiscent of the musky scent of burning amber.  This aromatic hemorrhage is what gives the tree its name.

The Amber’s round seed pods create sheet-music when superimposed against telephone lines.  Its roots are discreet.  Sidewalks do not buckle or erupt into mountain ranges that wait for pedestrians to stumble over, like unsuspecting gods.

It is used for decoration; above succulents and firs, cedar, oak and spruce its colors wink with whimsical flamboyance.  During the summer its canopy is lush with green youth.  By year’s end breezes rustle the crisp leaves like a mother running her fingers through her child’s tousled hair.

It drinks from the subterranean rivers that tumble through the earth in a web of fertile tributaries.  The green elixir permeates the body of the tree, creating an ornament that glories in the year and celebrates the four changing quarters.  It is a reminder of the comfort of change; the knowledge that beauty does not end but renews itself in perpetual rebirths:  that it lasts forever.

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Behave

There exists a tiny book of lessons – pages of delicate instructions that could be held in your hand.  They are filled with drawings so light, that the lines seem to whisper with words that have been pulled from the air:  like an atmospheric embroidery.  They barely have shape; each one sighs with a pretty thought and then is gone.

The book is called “Whimlets” and was published in 1902. 

Whimlets

Directed chiefly at women, it teaches them to behave, just as their clothing – pulled from the ribs of whales – taught their bodies how to behave:

Know When To Quit

The ladies are pretty, exasperating, shallow and charming.  And they need a good talking down.  They are tall and willowy; trapped in Edwardian curves and overcome with eyelashes and dark, unraveling hair that dripped onto delicate shoulders. 

Mirror, Mirror

The ladies are foolish, of course, but the men are content that they stay so and are willing to only scold them with a dainty rhyme.

An Expensive Ring

This book is a light tap on feminine fingers, a loving frown, when the ladies are being too delightful.  Pouting and frivolous, silken and stupid – they must not wander outside their fairy circle of rules and destinies.

This book has survived many decades, many changes – but inside its pages, the delicate little laws remain.  They still live, condescending to this world from one that has long vanished.

Christmas Fruit

I preferred to think that the tree had not been touched by human hands.  Instead, I wanted to imagine a type of botanical, seasonal transition:  that the green blood had crystallized into silver, gold and scarlet.  And when the joy could no longer be hidden, the blossoms appeared in delicate explosions.  Their thin metallic skins would shine with a clear complexion -  in colors that were pure and inspirational.

It would be impossible not to pluck this Christmas fruit from the tree that dared to bloom in the late autumn, with winter peering over the Advent horizon like a mischievous child.

They would be irresistible.  They would have a scent like an expectant kitchen, full of spices that had traveled through history from the misunderstood continents, the lands of Western fear, of medieval confusion.  They would taste like snow falling from the festive clouds:  a profusion of crystals blowing through the white air in blissful geometry.

And inside of each one would lie a seed, a tiny window looking into the heart of the fruit.  The pulp would be flavored with these sweet prisms – with the alluring light that turned the orchards of this holiday crop into a starry countryside.

And now this tree was heavy with their radiance.  But I decided not to pick the glittering baubles from their branches.  I chose a different harvest.  I left the tree and its glittering yield behind, knowing that I would be enjoying its shining feast whenever I closed my eyes.

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Condemned To The Ground

Today it is little more than the remains of a decorative pretension, a thin fabric caught on time's sharp edges.  The stitching has come undone, exposing the soft underside like a delicate wound.  Still, the unknown artist's work retains its allure, even as it continues its charming decline.  And the memories still live within the shadow of its whimsical architecture.

Over 300 years ago this dainty shoe, with a shape as unnatural and modish as the most expensive of ladies, was a dainty and expensive treasure.  The colors were so light, they dared to evaporate into the living air, and merge into the perfumed, witty atmosphere of 17th century Paris.  The slope of leather was decorated with an avalanche of ice blue ruching and lace.  The decorations tumbled and grappled until the landscape was littered with their delightful meddling.

But despite all its elegant weightlessness and refined geography, it was condemned to the ground: living its useless and beautiful life on unswept, polished acres.

And for all its potential for mischief, the shoe was only seen rarely:  winking saucily from behind oceans of embroidered hems, then receding as the frothy tides returned.  Or there could be a thrilling but brief exposure as the lady was being handed down from her carriage.  Perhaps they held a message:  in the turn of the heel or the feline arch of the toe during an otherwise sedate curtsy.

There was once a hidden language in the small things – a fan, a calling card, a flower, a patch, a shoe; in the excitement of subtle daring.  And there was once a time when Beauty was a formidable predator; when it waited patiently and secretly.

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Meet The Tree

This year, my Christmas tree is very splendid.  A botanical beauty, a fine fir, an enviable bevy of needles.  it is lush and shapely, green and bonny.

I first viewed this year's Christmas crop one morning early this month when I was with Boyfriend, shopping at OSH - our chosen after-breakfast shopping spot.  Love those drill bits.  Anyway, I was particularly taken by a precious specimen, barely five feet tall:  perfect for the Aubrey Apartment.  But it was far too early in the month to buy.  So I asked Boyfriend if he could purchase a tree there in a couple of weeks.  He'd bring it over, and we'd set it up.

So, fast forward two weeks later, and Boyfriend arrives with my tree.  But it wasn't my diminutive friend.  Instead, he had hefted over his shoulder a seven foot representitve from Tan 'n Baum, Inc.  It was massive.  It was joyous.  And when it was affixed in its stand it quite took over my living room.

Now, decorating the tree is a personal thing, a totally selfish ceremony.  I buy at least one ornament a year, and I have also inherited several others.  So my collection ranges from vintage baubles of colored glass and glitter…

…to blue-eyed crescent moons…

 …to crimson, sputnik-shaped stars…

…to kissable green fish…

…to silver pinecones encased in silver netting, like tiny petticoats…

…to a bronze leaf dotted with melted gold…

…to a sparkling sea shell dangling by a trail of pearls…

…to a trio of stars in perfect alignment…

…to many others:  peacocks, painted wooden bells, orange chandeliers, angels, deer, pink taffeta Christmas trees, jeeps, raccoons, goldfish and bunches of grapes.

And when every ornament has found its place, and when the tree is suitably weighed down with symbols and memories, I can look on it and think that the holidays are a very fine thing indeed.

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