Orchids and royalty in Mrs. Post's front hall
The end of another week, elhamdulileh, and a busy one it's been, too, with some odd and unexpected ups and downs.
One very definite up was yet another visit to Marjorie Merriweather Post's charming little cottage, Hillwood. It's a place, I've decided, that uniquely combines the suburban and the palatial, and as such has a scale that enchants even as its contents startle. Where else could one find such practical refrigerators, for example, or such a cozy corner as the little "Snooze Room" at the top of the stairs, alongside treasures ranging from the diamond wedding crown of Alexandra Feodorovna to (the latest item for I've decided I'd give my eyeteeth) an amethyst brooch consisting of two cabochon stones the size of robin's eggs? The occasion for this visit was a marvelous lecture by Valerie Steele, author and curator at the Fashion Institute in New York, on "Chanel and Her Rivals." The gist of her talk - which rather, I think, dismayed the many Mademoiselle-partisans on hand - was that the old girl was really rather an awful person and a terrible self-aggrandizer, however wonderful her work, and that more attention ought to be paid to a wide range of great female couturières - Schiaparelli, Lanvin, and the like - whose creations were every bit as beautiful and frequently more innovative.
A great side-benefit of these evenings is the opportunity to roam the house and grounds after hours, as well as, for members, to then have a nice glass of wine and something to nibble before the program. It's a tremendous luxury to be all on one's lonesome in the lovely Japanese-style garden, or to have the opportunity really to stare at the bibelots in the icon room without a vast gaggle of i turisti crowding one's elbows (most of Hillwood's visitors, of course, are better behaved than they might be at the sub-mall-crowd-attracting Air and Space Museum, but still).
It was a spirit-lifter, and I confess that yesterday I needed it, for in the morning I got sad and rather shocking news. I rang up the excellent little salon where, since I've been cutting it at all, I've had my recalcitrant hair tidied up. When I asked for an appointment with my beauty operator, a really lovely and witty man about my age, there was a long silence. "Oh, sir," sad the young woman at the other end of the phone, clearly at something of a loss, "...I...it's...well...." I waited for news - as has happened in the past, that Ken had gone off to pastures greener somewhere else in town, perhaps, or even more disastrously, to some other lucky city, but no.
"Ken's dead," she finally, flatly, said. "A massive heart attack last Tuesday."
A few more shared platitudes - the poor girl was as much in shock as I; more so, as she must have to run through this sad exchange multiple times a day, and we hung up. "I'm sorry."
So am I. And really at a loss for words. With my own affliction (and near-miraculous pulling back from the brink) so fresh, it seems impossible that one so hale, lithe, and life-filled as he could just... go. Like that. We all could (and will), I know, but still. It's not right.
I've been finding solace, of a kind, for that and other woes, in reading about the new memoir by, of all people, Elvis Costello. I've long admired the man and his jangling, verbally acrobatic music, although I'd never say he was always in my top ten (his collaboration with the divine Anne Sofie von Otter, For the Stars, though, is one of the very great records of recent decades), but of late he seems to be turning into a remarkably cogent and insightful elder statesman of sorts. I'm looking forward to reading the book, but in the meantime the interviews he's doing to promote it are a consistent delight. I especially like the one in today's Telegraph, which provides this post's title.
Asked if he feels that the turmoil and strife of his earlier life is past him, if he's in any sense triumphed over the darker clouds of his younger days, he says no:
"If you’re asking: am I happier now? No, I’m not happier now, because it’s not a competition. Happy, yes. Grateful, yes. But it’s not a contest between the reality of when I was this age and the way I am now. You can’t have that. You don’t get to do that. You get to live when you are living."
And so do we all. May we all do with some measure of the flair of Mrs. Post and the sharp clarity of Mr. Costello.