Saturday, July 10, 2010

Joyeux Anniversaire Marcel Proust!

Valentin Louis Georges Eugene Marcel Proust was born July 10, 1871.  Proust was a French novelist best known for his monumental (7 volumes) A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time; also known as Remembrance of Things Past).  

Early in the novel the narrator who is based on the author himself, dips a madeline into a cup of tea and the resulting memories that come flooding back to him fuel the following 3,000 pages of the novel.  There is some speculation and some scholars believe Remembrance of Things Past was not, in fact, inspired by a madeleine. There is an early version of the scene where  the narrator dips a piece of dry toast in tea. So the original madeleine, some say, was a piece of dry toast, and some scholars say that Proust actually had an epiphany with a piece of dry toast.  Perhaps if things had worked out differently, every Starbuck's on the planet would have packets of dry toast for sale by the till.  

From In Search of Lost Time: Volume 1: Swann's Way: Within a Budding Grove. 

The Cookie

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?
I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, then a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing it magic. It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself. The drink has called it into being, but does not know it, and can only repeat indefinitely, with a progressive diminution of strength, the same message which I cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call it forth again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment. I put down the cup and examine my own mind. It alone can discover the truth. But how: What an abyss of uncertainty, whenever the mind feels overtaken by itself; when it, the seeker, is at the same time the dark region through which it must go seeking and where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not yet exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.

And I begin to ask myself what it could have been, this unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof, but the indisputable evidence, of its felicity, its reality, and in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished. I decide to attempt to make it reappear. I retrace my thoughts to the moment at which I drank the first spoonful of tea. I rediscover the same state, illuminated by no fresh light. I ask my mind to make one further effort, to bring back once more the fleeting sensation. And so that nothing may interrupt it in its course I shut out every obstacle, every extraneous idea, I stop my ears and inhibit all attention against the sound from the next room. And then, feeling that my mind is tiring itself without having any success to report, I compel it for a change to enjoy the distraction which I have just denied it, to think of other things, to rest refresh itself before making a final effort. And then for the second time I clear an empty space in front of it; I place in position before my mind's eye the still recent taste of that first mouthful, and I feel something start within me, something that leaves its resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been embedded like an anchor at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed.

Undoubtedly what is thus palpitating in the depths of my being must be the image, the visual memory which, being linked to that taste, is trying to follow it into my conscious mind. But its struggles are too far off, too confused and chaotic; scarcely can I perceive the neutral glow into which the elusive whirling medley of stirred-up colours is fused, and I cannot distinguish its form, cannot invite it, as the one possible interpreter, to translate for me the evidence of its contemporary, its inseparable paramour, the taste, cannot ask it to inform me what special circumstance is in question, from what period in my past life.
Will it ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment which the magnetism of an identical moment has traveled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up out of the very depths of my being? I cannot tell. Now I feel nothing; it has stopped, has perhaps sunk back into its darkness, from which who can say whether it will ever rise again? Ten times over I must essay the task, must lean down over the abyss. And each time the cowardice that deters us from every difficult task, every important enterprise, has urged me to leave the thing alone, to drink my tea and to think merely of the worries of to-day and my hopes for to-morrow, which can be brooded over painlessly.
And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Portrait of a Muse

Born in 1881 in Milan, Marchesa Luisa Casati was one of the most artistically represented woman in history right after Cleopatra and the Virgin Mary. Sculptures, photographs, sketches and paintings preserve her image and she continues to inspire fashion designers including Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano. The Marchesa line is named in her honor and her gothic, androgynous look reappears on fashion runways every few seasons some 53 years after her death. She posed for Man Ray and Cecil Beaton and her devotees included Erte, Jack Kerouac, Jean Cocteau, Tallulah Bankhead, Tennessee Williams, Ezra Pound, Colette and Coco Chanel. She is quite simply the most intriguing person you've possibly never heard of.

She blended the macabre with the outlandish in her demeanor, surroundings, and dress. She was known for her black eyeliner, arsenic pale skin, bobbed hair and emerald green eyes. She had scandalous love affairs with both men and women and her decadence knew no bounds. She kept pet cheetahs on diamond studded leashes, dabbled in the occult, wore live snakes as jewelry and was partial to evening strolls with nude servants gilded in gold leaf lighting the dark with torches. She collected friends, art, decor, clothes, houses, pets and lovers with an abandon that was delightfully mad. She never lost her sense of style was buried in leopard skin and false eyelashes with her taxidermied Pekinese dog at her feet. Her grave inscribed with a quote from Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra - "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety".

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

There is no D in refrigerator!

But if there were, it would stand for dull.  Most refrigerators are boring!  White and boring, chrome and hard to keep clean and boring, avocado and ugly and boring, you get the picture.  Here are some refrigerators that are anything but dull. 

Meneghini is the Ferrari of refrigerators!  Marvels of Italian craftsmanship, they bridge both antique and modern aesthetics, with brass handles and hinges, glass shelving, and unique details like portholes and clawfoot legs.  Offered in a dizzying 500 satin colour finishes, as well as white for those of you who don't like to rock the boat.
A brightly colored SMEG with it's 1950s styling and modern technology is perfect for a retro look.  And how cool is the Union Jack?  You can still find original 1950's SMEG fridges working in kitchens today. This is a testament to their quality craftsmanship. 
For those of you who can't afford $10,000 to keep your food cold, here are some ideas that are slightly less expensive. How about spray painting your old fridge with chalkboard paint?  Or, if you want to get the deposit back on your apartment, how about magnets?  For $10 you can buy a set of poetry magnets and channel your inner Emily Dickinson. Have fun and happy decorating!

Smeg Union Jack Refrigerator

Meneghini Refrigerators

Chalk Board Refrigerator

My Refrigerator!

Magnetic Poetry

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Are You Eccentric? Take the Quiz.

To paraphrase Tolstoy, normal people are all alike; every eccentric is eccentric in their own way. The book "Eccentrics" by David Weeks classifies the 15 characteristics of eccentric people. Apparently if you have five or more of the following characteristics, you qualify.

1. Nonconforming attitude
2. Creative
3. Strongly motivated by curiosity
4. Idealistic
5. Happy obsession with a hobby or hobbies
6. Knew very early in their childhood they were different from others
7. Usually the eldest or only child
8. Opinionated and outspoken
9. Noncompetitive; not in need of reassurance or reinforcement from society
10. Unusual living or eating habits
11. Not interested in the opinions or company of others
12. Mischievous sense of humor
13. Highly intelligent
14. Not a good speller
15. Usually single

If you could invite 5 famous eccentrics to dinner who would you choose? My list:

Auntie Mame (I know she isn't real but this is my list!)

Diana Vreeland

Edith Sitwell

Oscar Wilde

Salvador Dali

Friday, July 2, 2010

Hey Baby, It's The Fourth of July

I'm obsessed with vintage art deco fireworks posters from the 20's and 30's.  The fireworks are heavily stylized and they have a languid almost floral feeling to them.  The bright sparks captured mid fall work well with art deco's bold geometry and often impersonal aesthetic.  What I especially love about the posters is the moment frozen in time aspect they all share.  These fireworks are never going to bloom and fade, he's never going to kiss that girl and the evening will never end.  Perfection.