25 February 2011

Edith Olivier

Edith Olivier, Sigfried Sassoon, Mrs. Sassoon

Recently when I posted about Ashcombe, I was sure that I had previously posted about the delightful Edith Olivier. When I checked, I realized that my planned post about her never got posted. (I think about blogging a lot, but sometimes my thoughts don't actually make it to the blog.) So without further ado...

Edith Olivier (far right) standing next to Ottoline Morell

Edith Olivier was a minor British novelist who first novel was a tale of a neurotic spinster who is haunted by an imaginary child who becomes less and less imaginary. The Love-Child was published in 1927 when Olivier was 55. One of 10 children, Olivier was born in Wilton, Wiltshire. It was this country setting that influenced Olivier's most compelling works of non-fiction. For many years, Olivier served as the mayor of Wilton.

Edith in her mayoral duties

While in her 50's she met and befriended a then a 19-year-old Rex Whistler. She was a confidant and hostess and her house became a refuge for many artists and writers in the 1930's, including Siegfried Sassoon, Osbert Sitwell, and Cecil Beaton.

My favorite Edith Olivier book is Country Moods and Tenses. The book features a lovely Rex Whistler cover (as does Cecil Beaton's Ashcombe.) Olivier takes the five grammatical moods: Infinitive, Imperative, Indicative, Subjunctive and Conditional and uses them as divisions to revel the different aspects of country life. There is a beauty in her innate understanding of the sense of place in which she lives and lived her entire life. There is also a kind of disconnect as her circle of friends are very much products of the city but it is the soil of Wiltshire that is in her blood. The scholarly take of Edith Olivier is one of missed potential. Her early success at Oxford and her privileged upbringing and ambition led many to feel that her late start at writing and relative poverty were signs of failure. I disagree.

Love-Child was reprinted as a Virago Modern Classic with an introduction by Hermione Lee and is well worth a read.

24 February 2011

I Hate Monday Holidays

The rest of the week I am never sure what day of the week it is. Mostly I hate not getting mail. I still do a lot of business by mail and and a day without mail sucks.

This Monday, there was no mail, it was cold and rainy and I am sure that I have seen every NCIS ever filmed.

Then, in a bit of lovely kismet, I saw that AMC in their salute to Oscar was showing Breakfast at Tiffany's in the very middle of an otherwise dreary (no, especially dreary and mailless) Monday.

I felt a certain kismet because just the day before I had finally gotten a copy of Sam Wasson's Fifth Avenue, 5 A. M. While this book sold many copies, it got quite a bit of criticism. Why? Well my theory is the subtitle: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast At Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman. Well if you put it like that! The rather scholarly subtitle made many a reader think it was a pedantic film criticism. Many a feminist reader thought it was a treatise on well, the ""Modern Woman" and it isn't.

What is it? A slightly bitchy look at the making of Breakfast at Tiffany's including not only Hepburn but Mel Ferrer, Truman Capote, Babe Paley, Carol Marcus, Edith Head, Givenchy, Patricia Neal, Roald Dahl, Marilyn Monroe, and a cat, to name a few. No one loves a big old scholarly tome more than I, but despite the lofty subtitle, this is just a sweetly bitchy little behind-the-scenes look at making of the movie.

So I was especially inspired to watch Breakfast at Tiffany's on Monday with a whole new criteria of bitchy fun. But I still have no idea what day it is.

22 February 2011

Ashcombe: Cecil & Madonna

I miss Cottage Living. Not because Madonna was ever featured. Because it featured cottages with an average size of 500 to 1500 square feet. My subscription was replaced with Architectural Digest where the average bathroom was 500 to 1500 square feet. Don't get me wrong, I love big old designer monographs. However, if you can spend 13 million for a house, pay for the upkeep and drop another 5 million to decorate it, then I think it should look pretty good. In fact, I think it should look great.

Which is exactly what Madonna did. And I think, from what I have seen, that it looks pretty good.

Of course now, Guy Richie has it and he is re-decorating again. Still...

But before Madonna, Cecil Beaton took the reins of Ashcombe. He leased Ashcombe in 1930 for £50 a year.
Beaton took it over when there was no electricity, wild brush and disrepair. Beaton transformed the property with the help of his friends, artists and writers like ...

Edith Olivier (above) and Rex Whistler, Oliver Messel, Marchea Casarti, Ruth Gordon, and Ottoline Morrell to name a few. They gardened, painted, set urns on the roof, transformed the stables into studios, bedrooms into circuses, made films and partied with reckless abandon.

Beaton in the circus room

But they didn't spend millions to decorate, they used their imagination (and the imagination of friends) and I am sure hey spent a good bit of money for the time, but still, it was a personal space. A glorious space.

Cecil Beaton failed to heed the words of his father when he was told not to expend time and money on a house he didn't own. Father knows best. After more than a decade at Ashcombe, Cecil Beaton had to leave. He wrote an amazing love letter to the property in his book Ashcombe: The Story of a Fifteen Year Lease. The owners were not amused and were forever sending out the hounds on trespassers who wanted to see Ashcombe.

I wish there was more published about decorating in the spirit but not the size of Ashcombe. I want more small spaces transformed not by money, but by the ingenuity of the owner. Perhaps I just want to picnic with Cecil Beaton. I definitely want Cottage Living back!

16 February 2011

Etiquette Wednesday

While much of the etiquette espoused at the turn of the 20th century was a bit fussy, everyone knows the moment one codifies something like etiquette, there will be detractors. In 1906 a satirical etiquette book was published. Entitled Foolish Etiquette and carrying the byline O. B. Hayve, this book provided instruction on some of life's predicaments that have often fallen through the cracks of say an Emily Post.

The book addresses many unusual an oft under-discussed social situations...

Theatre conduct... at a Bernard Shaw Play

When the lines fairly sizzle don't attempt a shocked expression--the fact that you are there is sufficient for the world to know you're over seven.

One can only imagine the etiquette for a production of Hair.

How about this wedding tip...

Mormon tips for Weddings

To avoid jealousy it is well to marry your wives in alphabetical order.
Something Bill Henderson, on Big Love, might have tried. There was Barb, then Nicolette. Then Margene, who was clearly a troublemaker and then there was an attempt to marry Ana which caused untold problems... so clearly this alphabetical thing shows promise.

My favorite piece of advice is how to behave at a...

Cannibal Reception on a South Sea Island

If the daughter of the chief falls in love with the missionary he should remember that it is better to be a husband than a fricassee.

I can't tell you the times I have uttered those exact words.

A Speculoos Update

In July we blogged about our love of Speculoos. This morning the New York Times food section featured an article that offered insite into the gigantic legal battle over these jars of deliciousness. I am not ready to take sides, I just want to see jars of it on my store shelf. I say the more Speculoos the better.

Let's be friends.

14 February 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

What do we love on Valentine's Day?

We love our fellow bloggers. We apologize for our inability to respond to every post. Or even a post every week, but we are reading... I promise. So here are some favorites.

We Love

what were the skies like, Stephen Orr's much more than gardening blog and we are thrilled that his new book,
Tomorrow's Garden is being published TOMORROW.

We Love

The Downeast Dilettante which is funny (if you don't believe me check out his Valentine's post), scholarly, and because he encourages me to buy books I can't afford but... we only live once!

We Love

little augury who shares many of the same interests we do and who diligently posts the coolest things.

We Love

Deep Fried Kudzu who is seventh generation Alabamian, who has two kids, and a husband, and is on the road continuously, bringing the quirky, crazy, and beautiful from all over the South.

and there are so many more...forgive me if I didn't mention you. Don't you just hate it when blogs you love mention other blogs and never mention you? But that doesn't mean we don't...

Love You

11 February 2011

Hunting Through The Mind

I likes blogs because you need to get to the point. No one loves a weighty, academic tome more than me, but when reading a blog I like my info short and sweet. I also like the Stiwells. Which leads us to Truffle Hunt with Sacheverell Sitwell.

In the 1940's Sitwell wrote short essays for The Sunday Times. They are snippets about whatever Sitwell was thinking or seeing on a particular day be it food, art, music, lore, travel or any other thing that simple crossed his mind. This book is like taking the most interesting person you have ever met and wandering aimlessly through their erudite and eclectic brain.

Ballet In a Circus

At St. Louis, Missouri, they danced Swan Lake in a circus. The huge auditorium consisted of two theatres, back to back, with the same backcloth. I am told that the mixture of Tchaikovsky with dance music was very stimulating, and than the wings were full of midgets and trapeze artists admiring the performance. The little man who was fired twice daily from a cannon was lost in admiration of Odile's thirty-two fouettés.

I, too, love ballet and am forever sorry to have missed the above circus. And what of color?

Roman Scarlet

The scarlet of the Roman cardinals was dyed by generations of the same family in Cologne I do not know if it is still dyed there. A very strong snuff, with percussive effect, is supplied to the prelates of the Vatican from a snuff-mill near Barcelona. I like to think that this is the snuff of Don Bartolo and Don Basilio in The Barber of Seville.

Both Sitwell and I could go on and on...

09 February 2011

Etiquette Wednesday -- We Dine On Linen Damask

Today’s Etiquette Wednesday features a small booklet whose introduction is almost as long as the remaining book. The book, published in 1926 by the Irish & Scottish Linen Damask Guild, has a forward was written by none other than Emily Post. Yes, another "Emily" Post. Clearly, if you are interested in the subject of etiquette, you will find yourself with a vast collection of advice, big and small from Mrs. Post.

I will concede that as she became more and more a, or should I say, “the” voice of 20th century etiquette, she took many opportunities to lend her name to commercial endeavors. However, these projects never came with a scintilla of compromise from Mrs. Post.

Mrs. Post’s essay for the Irish & Scottish Linen Damask Guild provides the title to this small booklet – We Dine On Linen Damask. When one reads the essay it is clear that the title is not just a title but an admonition; a “take no prisoners” call to arms for dining etiquette. Here is just the beginning:

We Dine On Linen Damask
Emily Post

We dine on linen damask. This is merely a statement of fact – if the house in which we are dining be a perfectly appointed one. Furthermore, if our own house be one of dignity, we breakfast on linen damask. The dignity of dinner demands a linen tablecloth, and, if meticulous, it demands is not for the lace encrusted with needlework but for damask without embellishment other than its quality. No other table covering, no matter how fine or elaborate, satisfies our inherent sense of faultless suitability. In proof of which we need but to find ourselves at a table upon which is spread an unbroken expanse of smooth white tablecloth and to unfold across our knees the enveloping width of a real dinner napkin that is wide enough to tuck in easily at either side, to waken suddenly as though from a dream to the fact that we are not just eating another evening meal, but that in truth we are “dining.”

There are another 13 pages of marching orders on ones linens. The tone remains the same: eat bread and water if that is all you can afford but for the love of propriety, eat it on a damask tablecloth.

You will never grab a paper towel again without the profound shame at your lack of “faultless suitability.”

08 February 2011


Yes, it snowed, again, last night. The good news is, this morning, there was some sun.

Still, I am not the only one who is fed up. Kitty Carlisle has been too grumpy to photograph. Recently she packed her stuff into an Amazon box and tried to mail herself to Key West.

Fortunately, without opposable thumbs, she was unable to tape the box shut.

The sun lasted only 20 minutes and the blizzard is on...

Kitty Carlisle sends a big meow out to her fans who have missed her "smiling" face and pleads with them to "pray" for spring... or to send her a ticket to Key West.

06 February 2011

I Am Snover Winter

This year, however, every state in the Union, sans Hawaii, has had snow. But really, I am so over the snow. I have pallor of a frog's underbelly and my skin is so dry that some mornings I look like an extra for the Walking Dead. I have spent a great deal of time sitting under the SAD light. Alas, I do not own an extension cord long enough to wear it as a fashion accessory. So in the midst of this dreariness, I have found solace in one of my favorite things -- colors. Be they pencils or crayons, there is nothing more fun than pulling out a box of colored writing sticks and being happy. So, if you are like me and need a pick-me-up that is neither drug nor caffeine related, I suggest on your next outing picking up a nice fresh box of Crayons.

Winter be gone!

02 February 2011

Wednesday Etiquette

It seems that Emily Post offered her "silverware" etiquette to a silverplate company. If you bought their set of silver, you got detailed instruction from Mrs. Post in the form a booklet with a circle guide for setting the table.

We just love table setting info.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin