Monday, August 30, 2010

So Long, Patricia

When I moved to New York in the winter of 1989 I knew absolutely no one - but I had the phone number of a girl that was willing to let me sleep in the extra bedroom of her apartment on 79th and Amsterdam. After walking up five flights of stairs and meeting Melora - we both knew - almost instantly - that we would be great roommates.
I worked for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Melora worked for Patricia Neal. Every night we would come home and share our stories - mine usually involved tales of getting lost in the museum - trying to find the film department and Melora's usually involved some funny incident Patricia had gotten them into. Eventually Patricia was taking us both out to meals we couldn't afford - but she thought it was important that we got out and dined at restaurants with white tablecloths.
I remember Patricia had a guest book on her entrance hall table and I would always flip through it to see who had stopped by since I had last visited. She kept her academy award in the library and I would run in and hold it for a minute or two - always surprised how heavy it really was. One night she pulled out her jewelry box and told us to each pick out a jewel - I was so overwhelmed with the choices that she finally just picked up a jade flower ring and said - here this is for you - and Melora was given something opal. We spent weekends at her home in Martha's Vineyard - which was the home where Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick. One weekend JZ and I went up alone and lasted only one night - the banging windows and doors had us convinced the house was haunted.
Patricia was an old friend - someone that I hadn't seen in years, but someone who made a mark on me when I was very young. She was honest, direct and didn't put up with incompetence, but she was also gracious, funny and loved life. I will miss her glamour and earthiness - and the way she balanced them both.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Creative Habit

I cannot overstate how much a generous spirit contributes to good luck. Look at the luckiest people around you, the ones you envy, the ones who seem to have destiny falling habitually into their laps. If they're anything like the fortunate people I know, they're prepared, they're always working at their craft, they're alert, they involve their friends in their work, and they tend to make others feel lucky to be around them. (Twyla Tharp)

This summer, at the chateau, we were lucky enough to have Anna Corba join us for a week to teach us a workshop about book binding and beeswax - as well as offer morning yoga to anyone who was so inclined. At one point, before the week was up, Anna and I were talking on the patio and she mentioned how lucky she felt to be a part of the week and to have the opportunity to teach at the chateau. I mentioned my new favorite book, The Creative Habit, (recommended to me by Susan Fuquay who publishes American Quilt Retailer) written by Twyla Tharp. The book emphasizes the work habits that lead to success. Habitually creative people are, in E. B. White's words, "prepared to be lucky." I paraphrased Twyla's quote above to Ana and thought it fit her perfectly. Anna's spirit is always positive, generous and uplifting - she's such a calming presence to be around - and we were so lucky to have her join us for our Chateau Getaway this summer - thanks Anna!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Creative Connection Giveaway

Well - it's that time - time to get back to work! We've had our fun playing in the sun, now it's time to buckle down! First job on my list is to make up all of the kits for the upcoming Creative Connection Event in Minneapolis, September 15-19. This will be a great week of inspiration filled with lots of crafting and women from all over the country - so many talented teachers and panelists coming along - there is something for everyone. Wendy Addison, Marcia Ceppos, Amy Butler, Joanna Figueroa - just to name a few! I heard there are still a handful of spots left in my Petite Coeur Workshop - so just in case you are on the fence about taking the class - I thought I would do a giveaway of one of the kits so you could see what we will be making. First, we'll be stuffing an old velvet heart with lambswool - or lavender - and sewing it closed. Then we'll be making up all sorts of charms and chains with vintage beads, baubles and cabochons, that can be worn together or individually. Gluing, looping and jump ring work will all be taught - including some fun ribbon work with antique Napoleonic brass beads. By the end of the workshop, the hearts should be dripping with jewelry and charms - all pinned on with old pearl pins.
I read that the French gypsies used to make these small stuffed hearts and they would keep all of their trinkets and charms pinned to the hearts while they were traveling. I was also told, by a customer the other day, that when her mother was in convent school in Buenos Aires, the girls were chosen to go to the mother superiors room and pull a thorn out of the purple velvet heart if they had done a good deed. So - somewhere between safekeeping our amulets and doing good deeds, leave me a comment and we'll choose a lucky winner to try out our Petite Coeur Kit. Merci!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Souvenir Shop

There is an old souvenir shop in the parte vieja of San Sebastian that opened in the 1920's, it is still owned and operated by the original family. I stumbled across this old shop on one of our first visits to San Sebastian and return every summer to pick up treasures for French General. For years, I bought out the hand-painted santos, recuerdos and holy water fonts - but the stock has dried up - no more to be found.
This summer I spent almost a whole week negotiating a sale - seven days trying to convince Anna, the owner's granddaughter (who is older than me) to show me the goods. I'm not sure what part was confusing - the fact that I don't speak Basque, the fact that I want to buy more than one of each item, or the fact that I was willing to get dirty in the pursuit of old stuff - whatever it was - it was a long week of haggling and convincing Anna that I actually prefer to dig in old basements - I like the thrill of the hunt. The first day turned up some beautiful old glass pearls - made in Mallorca in the 1920's - in perfect condition. Anna asked if I would like a dozen - yes please - maybe 100 dozen? The next day, I found boxes of mantilla pins - pins used to keep the mantilla lace in place atop one's head. Boxes and boxes of pins attached to original cards - old stock that hadn't seen the light of day for years. Would I like a couple of cards - or maybe a couple of boxes??
All of this was enough to wear me out - but I continued to go back every day - knowing that eventually something would turn up that would totally surprise me. This morning, as Sofia and I went to pay our bill and call it a day, Anna pulled out a box full of 1930's French celluloid bangles - beautiful, simple and exactly what I was looking for! I asked her how many she had, and in her Basque-Spanish-English indicated that she had hundreds - great - I'll take them all! Hundreds turned out to be 50 - which was still fine by me - I've learned I have to take what I can get at this little souvenir shop - beggars can't be choosers! So, off we went - my boxes full of old trinkets that were made for the tourist to take home - a small piece of Basque history.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Back Home in the Basque Country

Almost every year, for the past 22 years, JZ and I have traveled back to his family home in San Sebastian. Located in the north of Spain, on the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastian is a small, elegant seaside town where his family has lived since moving back from London in the late eighties. The Zabala family is large and proud - numbering in at over 100 - there seem to be uncles, aunts, cousins and distant relatives at every corner. Our stay usually begins and ends visiting family - either on the farm or in one of the small villages that line the coast. Both of his parents grew up on farms outside of San Sebastian - so a visit to the place where the grandparents were born is required. All of the farms are still in working order - making everything from cheese to cidre to ma mia - a local yogurt. The Zabala's are also in the coffee business - roasting coffee and serving it up at all of the local cafe's and bars. Although neither Sofia or I speak Basque, we sit for hours listening to the aunts and uncles talk about the old days and laugh about how JZ ran away when he couldn't have a bag of crisps - was he 4 or 14? - no one can really remember.
Summer after summer we return, for Sofia, for Jon and maybe even for myself. Coming home to JZ's roots is a gift that we have given ourselves and now give to Sofia - so she knows where her dad is from and how to appreciate how the family has grown into the 21st century.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Bon Appetit!

I am always interested in food - breakfast, lunch or dinner - I enjoy a good meal. At the chateau this year, we brought in a couple of private chefs who served up wonderful regional home-cooked meals using local, fresh ingredients. Each morning, we would awaken to the smell of fresh croissants baking in the oven, homemade muesli and fresh fruit - as well as eggs cooked to order and french toast or crepes on occasional days. Lunch was served outside on the patio or, if we were lucky, a picnic in a nearby garden. Our evening meals were usually multiple courses including: salad, meat, potatoes and vegetables - and always followed with a homemade dessert. Lizzie, Renee, Charlotte, Sujia and Corey worked hard to make sure no one left the table feeling hungry. From the first "Bon Appetit" to the last, we were treated to the finest culinary talent - something that will be a treat to return to next summer!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The French Type

After digging through countless brocantes, vide greniers and antique shops here in France, I've found plenty of linen sheets, old mother of pearl rosaries and boxes of buttons. I've bought way too many rolls of ribbon, hemp convent nighties and embroidery books from the turn of the century. But still.....we continued to stop at each and every flea market we ran across - never knowing what we would find next. When we arrived in Toulouse this week, I was still in search of the piece de resistance - the one item I didn't even know I was looking for. Something that would bring me inspiration and joy just by the mere sight of it. I think I found it: Lettres Peintres - an old typography book printed in 1902, full color, with 38 plates of different French type. What is it about French type that makes me think the French might have created the art of type? Beautiful, rich colored letters and numbers - filled with artistic swirls and shadows - I can almost see the brasseries signs in Paris painted with these letters.Sofia and I tried to bargain - the dealer wanted 50 euros - we offered 40. He shook his head and said no - you will never see a book like this again. And so I ran to the bank for more euros and happily handed him what he had originally asked for - something I rarely do at the brocantes. I carefully brought the 14x12 book back to the Hotel Albert and studied each sheet of letters. After Molly and I had counted and recounted the plates, and photographed each one, we agreed - we would never see a book like this again. I can leave France happy - I've found it!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Thirteen Shades of Blue

One of my favorite days on our Chateau Getaway has to be Wednesday, because Wednesday is woad day. Each week on Wednesday, Denise Lambert from Bleu de Lectoure comes to the chateau to teach us about the magical allure of the woad plant. Arriving first thing in the morning, Denise goes to work setting up the vats of dye by using the mixture from the mother vat she brings from home. This year Denise made up two different shades of woad - a light blue and a deep, classic blue - both typical shades of woad. After an informative and fascinating lecture, Denise shows us all how to properly place our whites into the vat to achieve a consistent first dye - making sure to get all of the air bubbles out of the clothing is a bit tricky, but is quickly learned by all. Although everyone brings a handful of white pieces to dye - either from home or collected at the flea market on Sunday - most of us were running up to our rooms and digging through our closets to pull out more! White linen pants, blue jeans, t-shirts,scarves and socks were all instantly dyed from yellow to green to blue - thanks to the alchemy of woad. Denise mentioned in her lecture that there were originally thirteen shades of blue that could be obtained through the dye - so I set out to see if I could come close by dying small scraps of hemp.
During lunch the second week, I decided I could no longer hide my enthusiasm for Denise and her knowledge of woad, and asked her if she would ever consider coming to California to teach - and to my great surprise - she said yes! So we have made a plan for next Spring and my mind hasn't stopped thinking about it since. So here I am, still in France and already planning the next big thing!