Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Black Bottom

I'd like life to look like this, even for just a weekend.  A reuniting with the Van Spooners, Saccomanochus, Saint Katherine and little orphan Lulu.  It's not easy everyday, looking out at the ocean, Block Island, Long Island and Fishers Island, to not get envious of those enjoying my homeland.  Ah well, I at least can call it my home.

Black Bottom - Johnny Hamp & his Kentucky Serenaders

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hibernian Heritage

After unearthing this gem of a photograph, I realized I never really talk about the Hibernian side of my family.  It's always the Italians (pronounced as my mother's parents would have said: Aye-talians).  Above is a photograph of my grandmother Mary and her two sisters Helen and Margaret.  The scrapper in the middle is my grandmother, and who I've always been told I take after the most.  She had a somewhat dark sense of humor, an elegant way of swearing and a love for Danish Modern, a table of hers on which I'm writing currently.  I'm guessing this is 1924, as she was born on 1914 and looks about 10? 

She played the violin, but only in secret.  One time my grandfather came home from work early and heard beautiful music coming from the living room.  That was the one time he ever saw her play.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hot Countries

Last week, I eagerly left work in anticipation of the book sale happening at my favorite library.  (We can see how thrilling my life is as of late)  Among the rubble of Danielle Steele, Mary Higgens Clark, &c I fished out a few gems.  Some Elizabeth Bowen, which I've recently read about at Book Snob and more Willie Maugham (yes, we're at that level).

The real diamond in the rough, though, was 'Hot Countries' by Alec Waugh.  Alec Waugh, as in Evelyn's older brother.

'Hot Countries,' published in 1930, is a travel book of his experiences visiting equatorial islands and places in the 1920's -this is where I die.  I've always had a fascination with Alec, often overshadowed by his younger brother, but a writer of a great many books.

And it is filled with stunning woodcuts by Lynd Ward.

Even more astonishing is the fact that I read about 'Hot Countries' not even a  four days before the sale on Admiral Cod's blog.  How could my interest not be picqued by his quote from the book?  Isn't it so odd when coincidental things like that happen? Read exerpt HERE

As you can imagine, I am as pleased as pie and cannot wait to read this whilst conjuring up visions of myself on a steamer from Siam to Ceylon, panama hat resting gently on my leather boots, drinking my gin martini, writing letters back home to my brother Evelyn...I hear his book 'Vile Bodies' is about to be published.  Will it be a success?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

'Jersey Shore' Gone Wilde

I'm not sure if you've seen these yet, but I felt an immediate need to share.  The object of embarassment for America and the thorn in our side: 'The Jersey Shore,' -rehashed in the style of Oscar Wilde. 

The result is brilliant.

I don't know how many times while I was abroad I was asked, 'Are all Americans like the cast of the Jersey Shore?'  I wish I could say no with a little less hesitation...

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Razor's Edge

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Years before Jack Kerouac wrote 'On the Road' or any of the other Beats explored Eastern philosophy, W. Somerset Maugham wrote 'The Razor's Edge,' a complex novel about Larry, a survivor of The Great War searching for some sort of enlightenment in his life.  So complex, in fact, that I feared I wouldn't be able to do it justice.  I know I won't, but I'll do my best.  And to kill two birds with one stone, a comparison to it's critically acclaimed film will be made.

The novel spans twenty years, from post-Great War to the writer's completion in the 1940's.  Maugham casts himself as the narrator, which I found marvelously clever.  He tells us about Larry, a boy changed after a near death experience in the War.  He returns to Isabel, his former love interest, a vain society girl and decides he'd rather travel the world and 'loaf.'  Isabel's Uncle Elliot -an American-born, Parisian social climber- naturally disapproves of it all.  She then marries Gray, a stockbroker making it big on the 1920's American economic boom.  Then finally he tells us the tragic tale of Sophie, an old friend of Isabel, Gray and Larry.

Because of the quantity of characters I shall only go into the few that stuck with me (and stuck with me they did...I read the book when I first got to Italy, months ago).  The story is mostly based around Larry; who he effects and the consequences he causes.  He decides he wants to leave regular life in Chicago and travel the world.  First the Left Bank and the rest of Europe, then on to the Himalayas.  No one knows where he is, but everyone still thinks of him.  While I was reading it, I kept thinking of my friend John White.  He's always known as John White.  Is he living above the cinema in Brooklyn?  Is he in Upstate New York?  Wait, isn't he homelessly living in Paris?  No, I thought he was working at Purple Magazine?  Larry caused the same flutter.  Especially when he miraculously would rise from the ether.  Which is why I really hated Tyrone Power as Larry.  He was too "Gee-Golly"/post-war/optimistic American.  "Garsh, I just can't wait to see the sights o' the world!" his performance said.  They needed someone a bit more pensive, melancholy and gritty.  Thankfully he was the only one poorly cast.

Onto Uncle Elliot.  Vain, shallow, desperate for the approval of those who matter and a terrible snob.  I absolutely loved him.  He was born in the Midwest, but managed to fool (I think) everyone into believing he was someone more than he was.  Later in life he even managed receiving a title from a distant ancestor.  Clifton Webb portrayed him p.e.r.f.e.c.t.l.y.   Maybe because he was so much like Elliot himself. Born in Indiana, gradually making his way up through Vaudeville, Broadway and onto Hollywood stardom, his climb up the ladder of success was parallel to Elliot's.

Sophie, helplessly in love with her husband and child.  They were the perfect family until a tragic accident kills both husband and child.  Sophie is left helpless and her perfect life twists into a dangerous one of addiction and sorrow.  Larry comes in here, but for those of you who haven't read 'A Razor's Edge' I won't go on, for your sake and mine, lest I tear up.  But Anne Baxter surprised me with her Sophie.  I'm moved often with old film, but never do I find myself sobbing.  Her acting was unbelievable, and such a turn from what I've seen her in before.
I hope I did 'A Razor's Edge' justice.  It's my second Maugham, but I loved it so much more then 'Of Human Bondage.'  I recently found 'A Moon and Sixpence' which I'll delve into shortly.  I think I've found yet another author for me to adore.  I think you will too.

Note on image above:  I recently found out about Ida Kar by recommendation of A Pile of Leaves.  I felt her portraits of artists and bohemians of the forties and fifties tied in beautifully with the characters Larry would have bonded with.  Take a look!  Thank you, Nick!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"You just know she wears them"

Illustration by Marjory C. Woodbury

found at NYPL

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Diary of a Provincial Lady

I have been reading on book blogs, for what feels like years, rave reviews for E.M. Delafield's 'The Diary of a Provincial Lady.'  Maybe it was the title or the fact that I always confuse the author with someone else (I am my mother's son), but I never got around to reading it.  Or had an honest interest.  While perusing the newly restored library -a lot can happen in three months to an olde haunt, not sure if I'm positive about it- I stumbled across a lovely edition.  'Oh, here it is!' I unfortunately exclaimed out loud.  Inside were rave reviews: 'You will laugh out loud.' 'Unique.' 'Priceless.'  I was convinced.

I opened it a few days later and laughed my way to it's finish.  We don't know her name, but we know her inner thoughts and feelings of inadequacy.  We know her children that she loves dearly and her husband, whom I personally hope she divorces.  We know her true friends and her friends who she feels she must impress.  She was so relatable... at least to me.  Her life was filled with havoc and innocent mistakes, often with unfortunate results.  I don't want to make it sound slapstick, but the reality of her life and her thoughts on it were hysterical and brilliant.

There were so many highlights but my favorite was when her new neighbor, literary Miss Pankerton pops in (we know how we all despise pop-ins) with her Bloomsbury friend, Jahsper, for a visit:

...Jahsper, still dabbling at injured eye, contributes austere statement to the effect that only the Russians really understand Beauty in Nomenclature.  Am again horrified at hearing myself interject "Ivan Ivanovitch" in entirely detached and irrelevant manner, and really begin to wonder if mental weakness is overtaking me.  Moreover, am certain that I have given Miss P. direct lean in the direction of Dostoeffsky, about whom I do not wish to hear, and am altogether unable to converse.

Entire situation is, however, revolutionised by totally unexpeceted entrance of Robin -staggering beneath my fur coat and last summer's red crinoline straw hat -Henry, draped in blue kimono, several scarves belonging to Mademoiselle, old pair of fur gloves, with scarlet school-cap inappropriately crowning all -and Vicky wearing nothing whatever but small pair of green silk knickerbockers and large and unfamiliar black felt hat put on at rakish angle.

If I ever have kids, I know this will happen to me...it most assuredly happened to my mother.
Was there a plot?  I'm not sure.  But does one's diary have a plot?  What we have here is a glimpse of a woman's life in the interwar, with no silver linings or smoke and mirrors.

I first read about this at Stuck in a Book, and he tells me there are three more to look forward to, which I can't tell you how pleased I am to hear.  If you know how to laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously, this book will appeal to you.  For the rest of you, reading it will probably give you 'an attack.'

Image above: Love's Greatest Mistake, James Flagg.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hanham Court

Do meet us down in the garden.  The table is set and we have much to discuss!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rex Whistler by Howard Coster

© National Portrait Gallery, London
Howard Coster, 1936

I have reason for rejoice!  I just found this photograph taken by Howard Coster of my dear friend, Rex Whistler.  Don't you hate when you are looking for something? Something you know you've seen? Then you start to wonder if you were dreaming you'd ever seen it?  It happens to me all the time.  But I have proof with this photograph that I'm not always imagining things!  Rex Whistler was a wonderful illustrator (and Bright Young Person) who illustrated most of Beverley Nichols books.  Poor thing was killed rather early in the War.  Behold! my favorite of his covers:

Too perfect.