La-Z-Boy
Friday, November 14th, 2014

I blame the sweatpants. Yes, J Crew, J’accuse. Spun of buttery cashmere, form-fitting yet billowy in all the right places and strangely soothing. A kind of codeine version of pants. When I bought them, I envisioned them as a kind of Casual-Friday-but-hell-let’s-make-it-every-day-of-the-week-all-year-long-while-we’re-at-it uniform for when I worked at my home office. They arrived and no sooner than you can say missed deadline, I was wearing them. Well, wearing wouldn’t exactly be the accurate verb. More like inhabited. As I inhabited them, I began to tackle a story. Usually writing invigorates me. But I was feeling so relaxed, so “At Home” in my own home, that before long, I had taken them to bed. The deliciousness of wearing them while enveloped in fleece sheets with my dog snoozing at my feet and computer propped on a little faux fur pillow in my lap, was a sensation I would love to describe to you except I have no recollection. Within minutes I had succumbed to an undertow of sleep which morphed from “I’ll just have one of those five minute miracle naps” to “Do I really need to answer that?” to “Wow it’s really getting dark this time of year!” (it was already 4:30.) Suffice to say, deadline, carpool, dinner, was all crammed into what was left of my day: all two hours of it. There is a reason, dear reader, that mother birds do not put La-Z Boy recliners in their nests. Our nests must be comforting and nurturing and buffer us from life’s extremities but they must not do their job so well that we lose our incentive to ever explore it. Sleep is as potent a medecine as exists in helping us live healthy lives. But, like anything, if we summon it too easily, too quickly, then we lose the very thing we need sleep for: living.
The other day my teenage son ran into my room and hugged me. Note: it was before nine am. “What’s wrong!?” I cried.
“I had a dream last night, that I woke from this long coma,” he said. “And I was already thirty. I had missed everything.” Suffice to say, no caffeine was needed that morning. For either of us.



The Lobster Pot in the Basement
Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

I pride myself on our basement. It is orderly and edited and what little stuff that is down there, is needed and used when its turn in the season comes or if a special occasion necessitates it (patio furniture, luggage, Christmas wrapping, party ice bins, etc). Things are clustered together by category. I walk down there and I know what’s exactly there and why.
However yesterday I descended in search of a tool which took me around the bend to my husband’s orderly work bench and along the way I saw it. A lobster pot. Large and unused for years, it was on the floor next to some electrical equipment. I’d clearly ignored it before but no more. This time that lobster pot’s stubborn, dusty existence really bugged me. It embodied everything that drives me nuts about storing stuff. (Don’t get me started about those PODS that exist on people’s back yards holding stuff I’m sure they don’t really need or why have it out there?!) If stuff is important to you: whether because of its function or emotional significance, than make room for it in the house so you can appreciate on a regular basis. Clearly we don’t eat lobster at home with any kind of frequency. We haven’t used that pot in years if at all. But of course the thinking was: “Well what if we suddenly want to have lobster? We might need it.” My point is, if that were to happen— and trust me, it won’t if it hasn’t already— but if it were to happen, then when we embarked on the special errand to buy said lobster, we’d swing into the market and spend a couple of bucks on a lobster pot. Voila. I’m not encouraging you to toss diamonds into the trash of that amazing piece of art your child drew in Kindergarden which you don’t have wall space for.
I know this sounds sort of high and mighty but I’m telling you, get rid of the lobster pot in the basement. Or anything like it that smacks of: “But what if one day…” And while you’re at it, do the same with the rest of your house. Every room. Consider everything and be fearless with questioning its existence. And if you can’t justify it, then release with love.
And if you have a storage unit would you really miss the stuff that’s in there if it were to suddenly vanish? Can you even remember everything that’s in there? If you wouldn’t or can’t, then donate it to someone who might. It’s very freeing. And I promise, you will never miss it.



Shorn
Saturday, September 6th, 2014

I’ll never forget my first really bad haircut. It was at a salon on Boston’s tony Newbury Street, a stylish step up from the barber shop my thirteen-year old head was accustomed to in our country town. As my mother chatted away with the hairdresser, he proceeded to snip away with zestful certainty. I felt powerless, unsure of when to speak up and inquire as to his overall plan. Slow, silent, tears wetted the clumps of hair on the floor below. A summer of swim team in over-chlorinated pools had produced a tangled mess of dead ends in need of “removal” my cutter explained as my mother paid the bill. Too old for a lollipop, I left feeling ashamed and also strangely violated. It made sense what had happened and yet…
When on vacation the other week, I got an email explaining that power was out at our house due to a tree branch that had fallen on the outside electrical wire during tree work. I asked my husband if he had commissioned the task and he said no. Our pet sitter soon after texted me a picture of our driveway that we share with a neighbor: three very large trees (technically on his property line but their majestic, knotty trunks were right in front of our house) had been felled in one swoop. The three power lines were now exposed even more with the tree branches gone and the bare trunks poked up through the ground, raw and gaping in front of our house’s facade like giant’s teeth.
Ironically, I was in New Hampshire surrounded by acres of trees and I kept pulling up the picture, my mouth agape.
My husband explained that the trees were dead and in fact he had pointed this out to the neighbor a few months ago. Dead branches falling on wires or on a car or person would technically be his responsibility. The neighbor had clearly understood the legal implications of this and had made a phone call. Still, the lack of warning or communication, the quick doing of it all while we weren’t these made me cry outraged tears in the dark night outside our cabin, the living trees clustered round, like sympathetic friends.
“But the trees were dead!” my husband reminded me as we pulled into our driveway for the first time and I shuddered. But their great trunks had given a visual texture- not to mention camouflage- to the dirty business of providing our home with energy. I felt we had betrayed their hard work all these years somehow. They had given to us by their very presence and now no longer useful, we had rid the world of them. So yes, now we were safer. But the absence of those decades-old trees- like the dignified old men with battered, kindly faces you see at war memorials- gives the house a modern ugliness I’m not sure it will ever recover from.
There’s the practical business of being a homeowner and then there is the emotional one.
Growing up we was lucky enough to live at the top of a hill, accessible by a long, curving driveway lined with dozens of trees that stretched high into the sky. Ocean and trees at the end of a long driveway lined my grandparents’ house: that familiar crunch of gravel when we pulled in felt both grand and cozy. If my car today passes over a similar sound, that feeling instantly resonates.
The approach ushers you into your retreat from the outside world with stylish comfort. It’s the beginning of your world and how you want to share it with visitors no matter their calling. It’s the way station between what you can’t control, and can. And no matter how much we try to contain its appearance, the world often suddenly steps in to reminds us, this is not always to be. Hair and trees grow back, but at their own timetable. Patience is perhaps as important as any architectural plan.



Temporary Neighbors
Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

When on vacation most people crave solitude, ideally to escape the rush of humanity that clutches them most of the working week. Perhaps a cabin or a hotel suite erected in a location that offers the delicious fantasy that life’s pleasures are a solitary pursuit. But for me, it is the reverse. My regular life operates in a pastoral setting that invites contemplative walks, yoga mats or exploring a lake in some form of peaceful exploration when dry cleaning, bill paying, and roof repair aren’t demanding to be pursued.
But here on vacation in Nantucket, we choose to relax in town. Slicing out a little urban life on this island in the Cape, means eschewing beach locations, but instead renting a little shingled house that is nestled on a tiny side street amongst other like-minded cottages. We love letting the kids bike to movies, the candy store and going in at night as a pack to get ice cream, something we can never do at home. Broken white shells line the grooves of the grassy lane our house shares with others: children run underneath my window in the morning, teenagers bike to the beach by noon and grownups head out at dusk, dressed for cocktails. The cobblestone street it channels into is full of activity much of the day and you weave yourself into its traffic: sandy Jeeps laded with surf boards, dusty pick up trucks with ladders, ladies on bikes, their purses poised in the wicker baskets, couples holding hands exploring the island for the first time. I love the sweet noisy throng of it all. Our house backs the yards of other little yards all bordered by hedges yet open for every kind of interaction: the woman next door who keeps wandering over in search of her old cat, much like a stray herself, the kids selling lemonade and sunflowers at the edge of the lane, the annoying buzz saw when someone’s scheduled a repair pierces the early morning like an alarm clock you didn’t set and the helpless incessant yap of a tiny dog left alone while is owners go out on their nightly excursions. (I have given up trying to figure out- in the maze of houses here- to which house, this yard and hence dog belong to. One night I actually biked out on to the main street in my nightgown, peering into the grand dimmed entries of the ship captains’ homes in hopes that the dog would rush forward from deep back and reveal its location. But no luck.) One night we went for dinner at friends from home, who themselves were renting a home several blocks away from our rental. We sat on their outdoor patio (as we often do back home in the splendid privacy of their garden) and had a view on all sides of other people in their homes doing those little nightly tasks that feel so much more special when done on summer vacation. Over wine, instead of watching the sunset, we watched a lovely woman, her hair pulled back into a messy ponytail, rinse some dishes in a lit window just across the way. Her mouth paused in a half smile- I could tell she was thinking of something wonderful as she worked- she wiped and then carefully placed each dish-no doubt not her own- into the wood dish rack.
My friend herself broke into a smile and poured me more wine and said exactly what I was thinking: “I could watch her for hours.”



Get Out of the House
Thursday, June 26th, 2014

“Mom I need a really great apartment. Actually three.” It wasn’t for a party but a short film my eighteen year old son Oliver wrote and planned to direct over two days of his Spring Break. I had stopped helping him with his math homework back in fourth grade. (Not because I wanted to but because I literally couldn’t.) More and more his articulate, impassioned discussions on everything from the hydrogen bomb to Kate Upton to Stanley Kubrick had me listening so I could learn. If both of us were caught in an unexpected undertow while swimming on vacation, it would be his able, much longer, arms that would rescue me. But finding him some fabulous homes in which to shoot? This I could provide.
The plot of “Get Out of the House” focuses on Gene, a sixteen year old New Yorker, trapped in his own Manhattan apartment when recent construction turns it into a wormhole. Trying to meet the girl of his dreams who awaits him on a park bench just outside, he travels through time and different incarnations of his own home, while desperately trying to exit it. Along the way he encounters a romantic young couple in the sixties and his own parents as newlyweds, scouting the place for the first time (they think Gene is the real estate broker).
Oliver had assembled a great cast, from his high school peers back in Connecticut who cut short their own Spring Breaks to shoot, to securing some New York-based professional actors he had auditioned during his freshman year at college in Colorado, via Skype.
But the apartments were each their own characters. The one Gene is trying to escape in present day, had to be comforting, slightly innocuous yet charming and super pretty. Think Reese Witherspoon.
Another had to explode visually on the screen as Gene runs through its rabbit hole of hallways, stairways and terraces. We needed something sexy and alluring but not too jarring. Think Sofia Vergara.
Finally, we needed an apartment that felt more like a dream, than reality. Fantastical, fearless and romantic. Think Scarlet Johansson.
I showed Oliver, my friend designer Howard Slatkin’s ode to his own apartment in his book, “Fifth Avenue Style” and his eyes lit up as he saw the magical rooms Howard had created that defy description until you are lucky enough to witness them in person. “Are you sure he won’t mind?!” Oliver asked me incredulously, turning page, after page without looking up. “It’ll be six teenagers. We’ll need a couple of hours and we will be so careful. But accidents can happen.”
“He will even serve you amazing sandwiches,” I assured him. “This is the kind of special guy he is.” As sure as I was, I still teared up when Howard responded within minutes of my email asking permission You can never thank your friends enough when they open your doors to you for whatever circumstances. But this was above and beyond special. And even when the cast and crew walked up and down his narrow hallways filled with precious treasures Howard never once wavered. Instead he offered us countless crustless sandwiches on monogrammed china that made us all feel like we had been transported to another time.
Dear friends and owners of the “Reese” apartment had the ideal place on Gramercy Park which would be the heart and soul of the shoot: Gene’s current day apartment. I’m sure the shoot was much less contained and longer than they were envisioning but they never let on and simply carried about their busy days as though it was perfectly normal to have a stranger changing in their bedroom and lighting equipment on their dining room table.
The final apartment (or “Sofia”) was the home of one of the cast members. We arrived dragging boxes of equipment (yes, I was equipment schlepper, driver, crafts table provider and, best of all, playing mother to Gene. By the way, having your son direct you as a mother to a make believe son he’s created is a kind of happiness-giving I only wish I can give back to Oliver one day.) The actor’s adorable eleven-year old sister was sitting watching a cartoon and eating popcorn in the seemingly infinite brownstone, (actually one of two, four-storied buildings separated by a private garden all belonging to the family) and merrily waved us in without looking ruffled for all the world. What was the most fun— aside from seeing my son thriving in his element— was how the cast and crew reacted to each apartment they occupied for those several hours, with equal parts respect, awe and delight and always appreciation. Being able to offer a child an experience of visiting a special home is to me on par with taking them on a unique trip or giving them a copy of a classic book you love.
At the end of the long day, at Howard’s, when the two gorgeous stars had changed into their costumes (him in a tuxedo paired with bare feet and she in a velvet evening gown off set by her waist-length, blond tresses) Oliver set up the shot in front of Howard’s windows that overlook Central Park. Several masterpiece paintings nearby seemed to defer to the new kids in town, who themselves looked like statues as they held an embrace while Oliver pulled the camera into focus. Howard and I watched it all from his velvet banquette beneath a porcelain aviary, dumb struck. It was like we were there, but time was dropping away along with the very walls of the apartment itself. As Oliver called “And…action!” The actors hesitated and asked if they really did have to kiss?… (Each were in a different relationship in real life.) Howard and I whispered: “They better!” almost simultaneously. Oliver gave us the eye and then kindly told the actors they were lovers, one about to head for Vietnam and that they needed to kiss. As they complied, I squeezed Howard’s arm the way you do in all great love scenes to whomever is sitting next to you in the theater. After Oliver called: “Cut!” The actors immediately separated, rushing to change, check iphones and call parents.
I looked at Howard and he was beaming. “You know,” he said. “I never get to enjoy my apartment this way. As a true observer.” All that was missing was the popcorn.
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Tom Cruise, my new neighbor. Not?
Monday, May 26th, 2014

What would it be like if a world-famous celebrity bought the house next-door to your own bucolic abode in a sleepy New England town? (Yes, as I write this I can already see the summer movie trailer.)
I can answer from experience: years ago the boy band New Kids on the Block— who at the time were the star equivalent of One Direction— bought my great grandmother’s former house at the top of the hill where my parents also live.
Understandably the news tested the limits for my gracious mother: that some “kids” in stonewashed jeans and screechy voices were gallivanting around the property where her patrician grandmother had once been driven by carriage to play dates, was a bitter pill to swallow.
I myself greeted the news with a “finally something is happening around here besides a new Dunkin Donuts” jaunty attitude.
Then I went for a visit and saw for myself the frenzy unfolding.
This was in a pre-social media era and it’s mind blowing how quickly the NKOTB (as they are now known- see how I swing with the times?) all-femaile fan base set up shop at the base of our driveway in the woods. No GPS, Gawker or Facebook fan pages to guide them, they still gathered with a trembling fervor seemingly minutes after the deed changed hands. These ladies didn’t have Instagram for god’s sake (James Franco, are you listening?): they had magic markers and cardboard to make signs the likes of which I couldn’t read because as soon as they saw me pull up to the driveway, they were so angry it wasn’t Donnie Wahlberg that they territorally clutched the lusty messages to their bosoms as if it was I who was the trespasser. They were always dressed as though they had just come from a clambake and I’m sorry to say, they also looked like they attended quite a lot of clambakes as well.
I never saw any of the NKOTB, but I didn’t need to read Rolling Stone or Teen Beat to understand that their stars were falling as quickly as they had ascended: the crowds at the bottom of the driveway— even the mother daughter duo who had withstood chilly November in their polysteyer clam diggers— eventually disappeared.
And now we come to the second part of the story and this one involves my current home in Connecticut .
It started with an email at 2 am and then another email. I responded as best I could and thought that would be that. Then the phone—the actual landline!— rang. And kept ringing
If I went to the post office or a cocktail party it didn’t matter. One of my arms could’ve been swinging out of its socket down to my kneecap and people would just want to know one thing about me: is Tom Cruise actually buying the house next door to you? At first I answered as though it had been already asked 500 times before. I shook my head politely and said no. And then I ran home and Googled the hell out of it. There wasn’t much to report. Except people kept asking:
Them: “Is it true Tom Cruise bought the Boulders Inn next door to you?”
Me: No. The nice and incredibly honest guy who occasionally helps us with stuff around the house works full time for the new owners of the inn. He has assured me that the new owner is local, wishes to remain anonymous and it’s not Tom Cruise.
Them: So it’s Tom Cruise.
How did everyone just decide that it’s Tom Cruise if it’s not Tom Cruise? I mean, if we are going to start playing pretend house could we also offer up the option of say, Bradley Cooper or Benedict Cumberbatch? Okay I live with three males so let’s also toss Kate Upton’s name into the hat.
And of all people shouldn’t I know? I’m the one after all, who would be asked to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar. Oh and in return a motorcycle ride around the lake would be lovely. If you have a spare moment.
Tom (assuming he is still single and it is just him) has to walk across our little spit of lake frontage to access to his dock so if it really is him he might just want to check in before the summer really starts to unfold. Listen, I am happy to share. (BTW: How are tickets to the VIP party to Edge of Tomorrow’s world premiere shaping up?) What’s mine is yours, really. Take all the sugar you need.
By the way, it really would be horrible if it was Tom Cruise who moved in next door, even if he only came a few times a year. I can only imagine the throngs of fans coming down our driveway— yes, Tom, we share a driveway— and the paparazzi who would be stalking the land trust hills behind both our houses for shots of Suri?
(By the way, Tom, let Suri know that even though you are not moving to this area, I know the best place for side-by-side pedicures. Happy to take her. I would never document and share those kinds of private moments however if you’re asking me to sign a confidentiality agreement up front, my answer is probably no but let’s talk. Just walk on over. It’s THAT CLOSE.
I’m going to say this a final time: my new neighbor is not Tom cruise but if it is Tom Cruise I just have one question:
Why oh why haven’t you reached out yet? After all, I’m just next door. Or not.



Friend of a Friend
Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Houses of childhood friends are imprinted on our emotional DNA sometimes as much as our own ones.
The other night as I drifted off to sleep, I suddenly took a trip in my mind back to my friend Julia’s house. During our eigth grade year we were inseparable and while she lived only about 15 minutes away from me, it might as well been on the moon.
I grew up in a very country atmosphere: in an old house on a hill surrounded by woods. Julia, on the other hand, lived in a very exotic suburban development. The concept of neighbors, a formal front lawn, and an attached garage were a marvel to me.
I remember entering the laundry room off her garage and the first thing you saw was a giant framed Moulin Rouge poster by Toulouse Lautrec. The sight of the dancers’ upturned skirts seemed sensational in a laundry room and I admired her step mother’s Waspy chutzpah.
The kitchen came next and there were always fresh fashion magazines on the counter waiting to be devoured by us along with cookie dough straight from the package.
Within a stone’s throw was the more formal TV room, where Julia and I watched soap operas while her black lab let fart after fart roll into the air with nary a trace of shame amidst our peals of laughter. I loved how the staircase to upstairs was carpeted in thick pile.
Julia’s room was prettily decorated in daffodil yellow and we tacked our favorite magazine images straight onto her door until no more wood showed through. (God help us had we had access to Pinterest)
At night we’d each lay on one of her twin beds listening to the radio and hoping it played the songs we loved. When they did we ecstatically jumped and danced about, longing to be in the sweaty thick of a Paris night club despite our tennis sneakers ribboned belts. I especially remember the night after the lights were out when I gently asked her about losing her mother- an event that had happened several years before I had met her. That was one of the gifts of not having iPhones in a friendship. As we lay in the dark I listened to her pain unfold as the cotton curtains danced in the spring wind of the opened windows. I don’t believe we’d have ever have had that conversation if we had been busy trolling the Internet side by side.
There was a little bathroom which I remember contained her Clinique soap and cleanser, which I thought was incredibly sophisticated. (We used bars of Dove at home. Julia had purchased these items at Bloomingdales!)
I have a very vague memory one day of men coming and replacing the master bedroom king bed with two separate twin beds such as we slept on. Julia observed this in momentary silence. She who dared to throw eggs on Halloween at anonymous cars or try on a chic mother’s clothes at a babysitting job, looked temporarily scared. And while we shared our deepest secrets with one another I knew better than to comment or inquire.
One thing that particularly impressed me was her stepmother’s recent renovation of the downstairs living room into a more formal entertaining space. Taking a cue from the pages of House Beautiful (which she had tagged and kept open as a reference) she had impressively spiffed up the ordinary suburban space into one that felt martini ready.
And of course I’ll never forget the subterranean rumpus room cocooned in a brown shag rug and where we shamelessly ate Lucky Charms straight out-of-the-box while choreographing crazy gymnastics routines for her younger siblings.
On the wall was a framed photograph of the family on a recent hike in New Hampshire. Julia’s father had written a wonderful quote below about how much his children and nature meant to him. I marveled at the boldness of this: for a parent to speak so overtly about what he cherished for all to see resonated endlessly.
After revisitng this house mentally I wonder if I could still find it in actuality? I could easily locate the outlet but the next series of twists and turns allude my memory. But somehow I feel that the power of the memory will ovetake my sense of direction out of the necessity to be there again. No matter who lives there now or what it looks like, I feel compelled to just get in the car and go.



To Pin or Not to Pin
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

At the end of the day it’s just a blue room with a dog poised amongst its decor and an aerial view of a house in Tuscany. Very charming for sure but given the thousands of images I’ve posted over the years (so much more compelling) why are these two pictures still so popular? Why, despite the fact that its been months since I’ve first pinned them to Pinterest and shared them on Twitter, someone repins or retweeets them on a daily- if not hourly basis? In fact I’m sure someone is doing it whilst I write this. How these images are still finding their way into the world- long since their news feed prime- is as pointless as trying to understand why that very pretty- but not particularly charismatic girl - ended up snagging that incredible bachelor whom no one ever thought would marry. Why her? Why now? It’s not that she’s the prettiest, or the smartest, or the funniest or the most charming. It’s that imperceptible twist of being in the right place at the right time between the beholder and beholdee. I’ve posted other rooms with other sorts of dogs (breeds I actually find cuter) and villas shot much more intimately with decor you can actually see (that would knock your socks off) and still…it doesn’t matter. The heart wants what it wants.Trying to unearth its secret code is like pulling apart a flower: eventually all that remains are shreds of color and stem in your hands. The beauty is in the response to the whole, when the trifecta of eye, heart and head merge and do a little happy dance. Some stop and do this. Others just walk (scroll) past, in the thick of their days, heads down, unmoved. Wait! You want to shout. How can you not LOVE this (me) too?!
A dear friend of mine actually reposted the villa in Tuscany picture on her Pinterest travel board (she has six times the amount of followers as I do) to see what would happen and as of today she has four repins and on my board it has over a thousand. I too have pillaged super popular pins from others’ boards and shared with my followers only to find no takers.
When it comes to inspiring others, you can’t manipulate or over think it. Take a picture and share it as if no one else in the world will see it but you. Because being admired shouldn’t be validation of something (or someone’s) place on this planet. I am shared therefore I am. Numbers should not gage. After all, the celebration is in the very being. Take it. Or leave it.



Queen for a Day
Saturday, March 15th, 2014

Last month I was lucky enough to be a guest in two castles: one in France and the other in Manhattan. The former: is an 18th century, 45,000 square foot affair, boasting 14 guests rooms on 80 manicured acres owned by Los Angeles-based interior design Timothy Corrigan. The latter, is in a basement of a residential building bordering Gramercy Park, where five doormen change and take breaks between shifts in the lobby upstairs.
Timothy welcomed me over the course of two days, where I videotaped the cozy splendor of his renovation along with my colleague and partner in style crime, Stacey Bewkes of the blog, Quintessence. When we weren’t shooting or Instagramming, we were joyously eating, exploring, gossiping and basically ending every sentence with an exclamation point. In New York, I was alone, having dropped off some boxes in a friend’s building who had kindly loaned my son their abode for shooting a short film the following week. While my other son waited in my illegally parked car, the doorman kindly took the boxes filled with equipment and I asked to use the bathroom. He pointed to a small elevator. The rickety box descended and I came into a corridor of whitewashed cement walls leading to a common space filled with mismatched chairs, rugs and floor lamps. Immediately a young man beckoned me to come in as I asked if I could use the facilities. “Someone is changing- hold on! Hey Juan!” The man called behind his ear, encouraging the other doorman to vacate the bathroom. It’s OK, I told him, no rush. It actually was a rush but I was too taken with the décor: every square inch was filled - not in a hoarder-ish way, but thoughtfully- with pictures, plants, antiques and curious bric-a-brac.
In France, Timothy greeted us in blue jeans, offering champagne before our coats were even off. There was nothing show-y about the richness he had created here: you could tell he was as equally dazzled by his good fortune but smart enough to understand how to appreciate and preserve its beauty. Occasionally he rents the place to special groups. When I asked if he wasn’t terrified having people traipse across his beloved floors and past his invaluable tapestries he shook his head with a smile. His chateau was clearly no longer a fortress: it’s a cozy place meant to be shared. Otherwise what on earth’s the point?
In New York down in that subterranean world, I felt equally at home and transported: I wanted to sit in the rocking chair and hear about the men’s daily lives, how they came to turn a place of work into a refuge. As soon as they saw my genuine interest in what they had done, they took turns proudly showing me how pieces of antiques - discarded from prior owners upstairs- had been reincarnated down below. Dozens of pictures had been hung with an expert eye turning the white basement wall into a gallery-like backdrop. One man, Pedro- clearly the space’s design instigator- showed me an old print he had found of the infamous train crash of 1895 at the Paris railway station and how someone in the building visiting Paris sent him a postcard of that same picture. He had carefully tucked the post card into the corner of the framed image, further personalizing it. He had never been to France and most likely never would but his slice of it, contained here to look at every day, clearly brought him much contentment. He showed me other trinkets and mementos: the entire space was layered and edited with as much care as Timothy did in his chateau. (There wasn’t a corner chez Corrigan that didn’t lure you with its artful landscape of craftsmanship, color, whimsy or just plain pedigree.)
I was tempted to run and get my son: I wanted to share Pedro’s visual talent the way I always do when I see great decorating but I feared getting a ticket.
So I asked Pedro if he wouldn’t mind if I took a picture. He nodded with pleasure and pulled back a cumbersome wire that hung in front of an antique mirror so I could get a cleaner shot.
While Stacey and I shared both our video and images to friends and followers alike, our well-anticipated documentation came at the heels of Timothy’s own successful book on the chateau’s transformation. We were taking our takes on an already very taken environment.
In that window-less basement, while the men readied their ties for work, I felt an equal urge to share their nest in my own little way. Had anyone but these men and myself seen what they had done? Did it matter? I stepped back to take it all in. I knew I couldn’t do it justice. But Pedro was holding the wire even higher so I could see the reflection of an oil painting he had just discovered on the street in the mirror’s reflection.
For a moment, my mind flashed back to my black and coral guestroom in France: when I impatiently waited for the sun to rise so I could take a picture of the vast topiary gardens outside my window. I couldn’t wait for people to see what my eyes were lucky enough to witness: beauty, history, and appreciation. Most of all generosity. And here in Gramercy Park was the same feeling.
So I took the picture. In both places. And like the wonderful hosts they are, both Timothy and Pedro made sure to ask: “Did you get what you needed?”



Home Free
Saturday, December 28th, 2013

I discovered a rare video from a 1977 visit to Nelson Mandela’s cell in Cape Town— or rather his only home for 27 years— and remarked on the details he inserted to make it feel a little more his own despite its claustrophobic confines: a large black and white photo of his wife, tidy shelves of cherished books; two rows of ripening green tomatoes, pictures of his children, a small desk (almost proud of itself as if to say: “I will fit in here”), a cot neatly made with a wool blanket.
Order was at work here but the self imposed kind. The outside was brought in to remind Mandela of the world outside and yet, placed within the tiny space in a very careful way. Too much would overwhelm and remind that loss was unfolding minute by minute. But just enough detail could represent hope to return to that life: hope as crucial to survive as oxygen.
I also just watched the riveting and heartbreaking documentary “Blackfish,” about the fate of many killer whales, who, when forced to spend lonely years in captivity at SeaWorld, eventually rebel aggressively. No Orcas have ever been known to hurt a human they’ve encountered in the wild. And yet- torn from their beloved family packs by humans, separated from the children they’ve often been forced to breed, obliged to perform humiliating tricks for tourists, eventually, they break down. It is not unlike torture we give prisoners during war.
As I snuggle into my cozy nest tonight surrounded by my family all tucked into their beds nearby, I can’t help but think of Tilikum, the whale at SeaWorld who was ordered into more solitary confinement after he attacked a trainer. The film makes it clear that after years of boredom and attacks from other equally depressed whales in prison-like tanks, Tilikum eventually lost it.
He’s now alone, not moving for hours at a time, coming out a few times a day to perform. Obviously defeated and still unable to express himself, Mandela found a way to keep an inner peace and equilibrium during his oppression. Sadly we cannot bring in mementos from the outside world to soothe Tilikum. A photo of the ocean we snatched him from?
Thinking of him in his cell, makes me long for his freedom. Mandela thankfully finally found his by walking out of prison back into society. For Tilikum, his release would mean swimming through endless miles of free waters. In other words, home.