I wrapped up my trip to London with a visit to the Soane Museum. Back in my days at architecture school, this was the gold standard, a pilgrimage destination. You did modern buildings for money and then, if you were really lucky, you went home to something like this. Oh yeah.
They don’t let you take photos, which is why I’m sharing this postcard, with a reproduction of a Joseph Gandy painting behind. Look at that room! All the primary colors! No surface left undecorated! Not nearly enough light! It has it all, in a way that only Soane could carry off.
I actually lived in a tiny house that was filled with bits and pieces of artifacts from our travels: miniature buildings, tons of books, cool old stuff everywhere you looked. It even had a little room in the back with dark walls — in my case, forest green. In the divorce I got the house — hey, it was mine to begin with — and he got most of the contents. You know what? I never missed a bit of it. Valuable lesson.
Now here I am with my own big house. True, it lacks the squirrelly floor plan. I probably won’t ask Stuart to add any column – free arches. But still, big, and more or less contemporaneous with Soane’s house. Now that I can have them, do I want red, blue and yellow, filling up my very own living room? No way.
It was a funny feeling, standing in the shop of a house I once wanted to move into, flipping through a book by an old friend and a video where they interviewed people I used to take classes from and work with. There was a time when this was all really important to me. And today? I just wanted to get away from all but the friend. Interesting stuff, but not for my house. Another valuable lesson.
I thought I’d run over to the V&A, the museum for the decorative arts, though it is actually a bit more of a grab bag than that. I am looking everywhere for ideas for the house and that seemed like an obvious source. I wandered into the exhibition of photographs by Horst and stumbled out, dazed, about three hours later.
What wonderful work he did. I learned a lot about dramatic lighting. I was reminded that I care nothing about fashion, though I love the guy’s photographs. I was relieved to see that his travel photos were only average. His photos of interiors reminded me not to overdo it; the one place with white walls was a huge relief. So in an odd way, I think I found quite a bit of inspiration.
What else, what else? At Covent Garden I saw Placido Domingo in a Verdi opera, I Due Foscari, a tragedy that put my little headaches into perspective. Basically the central character loses three of his sons to the plague only to lose the fourth to political chicanery. The music was beautiful and the cast superb but I don’t see rushing out to catch it again.
So I am no closer to resolving anything but I feel more balanced and there are now a lot more ideas in the hopper. That in itself is good.
I took myself to lunch at the National Portrait Gallery. Roughly $30 for two apps and a small bottle of water, ouch, but as a dear, departed friend used to say, what you are really paying for is the real estate. This was the view from my table. Nelson’s column, Big Ben, not bad.
What a great reminder that a space isn’t all about the paint color or the floor finish. Sometimes it’s about what drew you up there in the first place.
There they are, coming at you, Christmas decorations! And to think it’s not even Halloween.
I’m in London, staying at an apartment near Covent Garden, where this photo was taken. Covent Garden was a bit of a pit for a while, just the lowest form of tourist tat. Half of it, the half you see here, still is. However the other half is positioned opposite a huge Apple store. The managers must have used that to upgrade the tenant base. We don’t need another Dior outlet — we don’t! Stop whining! — but it is nice to see a cafe run by Jamie Oliver and other upscale local purveyors of whatever. I might head back there for lunch tomorrow.
I stopped in here today on my way to Neal’s Yard for some bread and cheese. Yesterday I had the great good fortune to join friends for dinner at Frenchie, possibly the hippest restaurant in Paris. Today I started to wonder whether I could define what distinguishes terrific French food from terrific English food. It was Frenchie and Grand Vefour vs. Neal’s Yard and Rules, I guess. So far I am testing the hypothesis that French food is more about subtlety, transformation and balance. English food is more about a more assertive use of a principal ingredient, building a dish around it and enhancing it. Further exploration will be necessary. Fellow explorers welcome.
This house, it’s a whole different thing than I am used to seeing, a whole different sensibility. My Victorian was only five years newer than this house, yet I instantly understood how it was organized and how to make it happy. This house, I don’t know.
So maybe the house itself nudged me to dig through my California boxes and open the one marked DVDs. Inside that box, at the top of the pile, was not a DVD but a translation of a French book written in about 1800: The Genius of Architecture; the Analogy of that Art with our Sensations.” Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières is about to explain the theory behind the design of my house. He does not shy from commenting on its decoration, oh no. Room by room, he spells it out.
I will never have a Workroom for Confectionary or the Ninth Room, for the Under Pantryman. But I will never again have to wonder what this room is doing in that place. Gravel floor or no, I believe I now have solid theoretical ground beneath my feet. I believe I am, in 21st century terms, good to go.
New friends Herb and Kathy are in town. They are just the excuse I needed to return to the Chateau Goujonnerie. Honestly, Hassan, who did the interiors there, is brilliant. I wouldn’t do everything just the way he did it, but I would do enough that I am hoping to get him to my house for maybe a half-day brain dump: color consulting, shopping tips, that kind of thing.
Mostly I am looking for some idea Please of how to handle the proportions and scale of this house. I thought I was ready. I used to live in a Victorian, after all. So far, though, I’m feeling flummoxed. It will work out. It will probably be fine, with or without Hassan’s wisdom. Maybe it’s just that floor full of gravel that is getting me worked up.
No, this is not a tank, though it looks a bit like a repurposed one. This machine digs the bore holes. To put it a little more Magritte-ly, this is a photo of a bore hole digger. It is part of my piddling anti-war protest. So, rant alert: get ready or move along, nothing to see here. I’ll cheer up tomorrow.
Last night at Cité de la Musique I heard Jordi Savall and his musicians perform the first in a series of concerts on the theme of War and Peace. Maybe the series should have been named the Art of War, Sun Tzu’s title perhaps more closely than Tolstoy’s describing the purpose. Savall performed a series of Baroque-era pieces, often excerpts from longer works, written as military music or to commemorate the beginning or end of a battle or war. He wove them together as if movements in a symphony, each prefaced by a narrator who gave a date and the purpose of the music. The overall effect was of endless war. Indeed, there were dozens of wars in Europe during the Baroque era.
The music was unfamiliar to me and mostly Spanish or Turkish in origin. Many, especially the earlier pieces, were written by the losers, as part of memorial services for the many who died during sieges. Others, such as the Janissary marches, were performed with the heroic emphasis downplayed. In keeping with this frankly sombre mood, Savall’s final piece commemorated the killing going on right now in Syria.
The other day I saw a news report on the IS push in Syria, along the Turkish border. I watched film of men who had herded their livestock to the border — IS was killing everything, so it was their only hope — only to have the Turkish army hold them there, with IS moving in from behind. I read that these men are Kurdish; I hope another story I read is not true, that Turkish officials hate the Kurds so much that they would love for someone else to kill them off, so they don’t have to deal with them. I hope the report is incorrect that many of the IS are simply mercenaries, happy to kill children and destroy farms and cities, anything for a little money.
So, to get to the point, where is that money coming from? It comes from the sale of oil, which is to say it comes from us. This endless war in the Middle East is motivated by greed and the desire for power, same as it ever was, but it can only be paid for if someone outside the conflict will buy what the warring parties sell. In this case, that’s oil and we’re buying.
I’m buying, too; what do you think fuels that bore hole digger? Even if I drove an electric car, which I don’t, somewhere in the supply chain would be a petroleum-based generator. But I am desperate to use less. So, while I talk about payback periods and building for the next century and all, the real reason for all this ecofriendliness is, I don’t like the sight of blood on my hands. Even though I know if I use less I just make it a little cheaper for the next guy to use more — thus netting zero effect on the environment and military budgets — I have to do this.
In one of my meditations I think about the earth supporting me. It has to do with relaxing, nothing more, but in this endeavor, the earth is literally supporting me. It’s all I have to work with. I am fortunate to have the land in the first place; here in Paris, this project would be possible only if the government decided to put a system into the Seine. That’s an idea for another post — or maybe a different blog.
So, this is my entry hall, where you will go into the living room. Someone said she’d like heated floors. The contractors replied, “We love doing those,” and got to it. At the moment the living room has no floor at all. When the shutters are open, you look from the floor of the basement right to the ceiling. In this photo of course you just see a dark spot that eats money. The finish floor of the entry is long gone, along with about a foot of subfloor. On the wall, out of range of the camera, is a construction detail; paper is so easy to lose, after all. The detail shows layers and layers of waterproofing, insulation, heating coils, concrete subfloor and, finally, the finish floor. When the guys are done, expect to see pretty limestone tiles with little black cabuchon insets. Once the finish trim is in and the walls are painted, the entry should look very 19th century, as if we did nothing. However even on the coldest day, you will feel nice and toasty warm.
Speaking of dark spots that eat money, we drilled a hole behind the house, the better to estimate the amount of water available for the geothermal system. It turns out that there is plenty of water, much more than we need, even now, in the dryest part of the year. This means we can go ahead with the geothermal refurbishment — we don’t have to build one from scratch. At last we have identified a way to save some money.
No, I didn’t buy it, but only because I have my eye on something better.
I’m back in Paris. Today I went to look at some furniture, lovely modern designer stuff, that will be auctioned off tomorrow. The auctioneer’s showroom was in the haut Marais, a neighborhood of narrow streets and medieval buildings that is quickly filling with galleries and fancy restaurants. Well, I have no problem with gentrification and the more time I spend in the Marais, the better I like it. So, why not, I looked through the furniture, registered for the auction and went for a stroll.
Some 20 minutes later, I hit the jackpot: a brocante in the Village Saint Paul area. The area is well known for its antique shops. They were all open and the courtyards were filled with temporary dealer setups.
I was surprised by how little interest I had in the very decent items on display. Back in my San Francisco life I loved the Hillsborough show. The only downside to moving in with Robert was giving up my Victorian flat for a midcentury modern house. After all, why would anyone want anything made after WW2? Now that I’m here in the land of great old stuff, I just want Tom Dixon and Arne Jacobsen.
In terms of furnishing my house, it remains to be seen how things will play out. In terms of my life, if my little house in the Marais Poitevin is eventually bookended by an apartment in the Marais de Paris, haut or otherwise, don’t be surprised.