I am going to be a bridesmaid soon. And I can’t help thinking – I can only do this one more time!
Actually, I think a lot of other things too – my head is a mashup of pink cars and silver shoes, lilac cocktail dresses and champagne cocktail nerves and absolutely massive diamonds. It’s kind of exhausting, even just from the sidelines. But very very dull to read about so I’ll finish here…
Currently reading: Love’s Civil War, which is the story of Elizabeth Bowen (English writer) & Charles Ritchie (Canadian diplomat) being in love for 30 years, after meeting in middle age, being separated by continents, married to other people. It’s largely told through Elizabeth’s rambly, intimate letters to Charles, with the odd diary entry of his dashed in there for contrast. Am feeling much the same about it as Independent reviewer John Walsh:
“The flow of brittle charm seldom subsides, but there’s an urgency about her protestations of love. You get the impression she kept the affair going by an act of determined will. This feeling is reinforced by the one-sidedness of the correspondence. Ritchie destroyed his letters to Elizabeth after her death. We have no record of his intimacies, insights, promises or undertakings; none of the thousands of ways he beguiled her over 30 years.”
To read a one-sided correspondence is so frustrating. I just about had a fit when I started the book and realised I would never see Elizabeth’s questions’ answered, declarations of love returned. Nonetheless, I’ve been won over and will even read her descriptions of gardens and scenery, which as a rule I can’t help skipping, ever since my LM Montgomery days.
Here’s Elizabeth to Charles, on 12 April 1955:
“Easter morning was pure and dazzling. I longed to kiss you on the forehead and say, ‘Christ is risen.’ They have banked the Spanish Steps with azaleas, mostly white…”*
This passage is what grabbed me in the bookstore. It’s so confusing to me, to talk with one’s married lover so blithely about God and church and Easter. Did she believe the strength of her feelings made their love blessed whatever the circumstances? Or was church more of a tradition and idea, no authority? I’m not really judging, I just can’t help but wonder – did she really feel so joyous, so welcome, there, thinking of him? Elsewhere she speaks so girlishly of her love for the old hymns.
* Last portion only included because I didn’t want three quote marks in a row and didn’t know how else to deal, oh dear.
Monet Refuses the Operation
Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
– by Lisel Mueller
Of course, if you’re really stocking mad, Les Queues De Sardines is paradise.
Gratuitous legwear ahead…
One of these days, I can be as ridiculous as a six year old playing fancy dress…
All through high school, it was scratchy navy opaques – or woollens in winter. That put me off for a few years after. But now, I’m bit by the stocking bug. It’s a mandatory guilty-pleasure stop at any department store. And of all the mid-range labels, noone does it better than Emilio Cavallini.
This is my all-time favourite pair. It’s not OUTRAGEOUS or anything, but I always feel put together & girlish wearing them. And by always, I actually mean that one time – they weren’t cheap and I’m terrified of getting a run! But it was for a fancy date, and that’s the only date I’ve ever had where the gentleman commented on my stockings. So. Win!
And I also own these – the front, pink-lilac-white version. I have worn them a grand total of NONCE. Turns out they look great with the shift dress in the picture, but I’ve yet to introduce them to a suitable match in my wardrobe. I think the Art History student in me couldn’t resist the reference. One of these days I’ll break them in…
Now that I think about it… the stockings that I wear the most are – you guessed it – plain dark opaques, not so different from high school. I should come to a sensible conclusion about just buying more of these, at this point. BUT. The Autumn/Winter 2010 collection is out and, well, see the below. There’s kind of no use fighting it.
I can’t help but think that if I were a dude, I would be asking a girl out tonight. But NOT for Valentines Day. I’d be all “Noone should be alone on Chinese New Year” and arrange to meet up on a hill overlooking the waterfront to watch the fireworks. It would be super smooth. (Girl me would totally fall for it!) I’d totally get some action, but none of the V-day awkward commitment/expectation baggage. (Wow, I would maybe be a douche!)
Seeing as how I’m all female, though, I instead splurged on a beautiful box of dainty pretty things (below) from Elle Macpherson Intimates at Bendon. At only $50, they’re a total steal (and apparently selling out fast), and would be perfect for a hen’s night present. This almost made up for the fact that Bendon are now stocking Stella McCartney’s lingerie line, which I have loved from afar for years, and I am light years away from affording it.
And Elle Macpherson’s new line, Obsidian, is so gorgeous that it makes me want to find a work-from-home job, so I can siphon all money formerly spent on proper clothes into buying up the whole set. Swoon!
I know the whole sleek silhouette & studs, Balmainia, French Vogue rock chic look is well on it’s way out. BUT. Right now all I want is this studded tracksuit by Ashish for Topshop.
“She was 23 years old when her parents took her to Europe with the express purpose of marrying her off. They were worried that their bright, sharp-tongued daughter would never marry. Barely out of the nursery, the inexperienced May sensed her parents’ rising panic; she sensed that somehow by her very existence she was straining the bounds of acceptability.
At a ball in Florence she met an imposing German officer, Henning von Arnim, who was fifteen years older than she was. He asked her to marry him on the third day of their acquaintance, at the top of the Duomo, saying “All girls like love. It’s very agreeable, you will see.” She was alarmed by his embraces, but not by the diamond-and-sapphire ring he produced from his pocket. She liked the importance the engagement conferred on her; she liked the cakes her betrothed bought her when she indicated the slightest interest in a bakery.
When the engagement dragged on for too long, and made her parents unhappy, the resourceful girl concocted a scheme; she told von Arnim that she was going to stay in a cottage by the Thames and would be lightly chaperoned. He came to her, and she lost her virginity to him, with the sound of the river outside her window. Her father then insisted they be married.
A tinge of that earlier desperation, that looming spinsterhood her parents feared for her, may have c lung to her, even in her forties: a lingering sense of marriage as the ultimate goal, even for a woman as remarkable and accomplished as herself.”
Excerpt from Katie Roiphe’s chapter on Elizabeth von Arnim* in Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages in Literary London 1910-1939
I’m glad I spent so long picking the perfect read with my Christmas voucher, as this is the best book I’ve read so far this year. Engaging, smart, and full of intimate, interconnecting stories about some of the most interesting people of the period, I was totally enthralled by both the content and Katie Roiphe’s sharp writing and tight research/selection. I know I’ll read it again and again. There’s lots of scandal in here, sure, but it’s never included for scandal’s sake, this isn’t a historical version of NW!
It’s a genuine exploration of how human nature and society interacts with our expectations of love/marriage/partnership, and some really inventive attempts to do these differently than the prevailing model. I always find it refreshing to be reminded that the complicated relationship s of our times are not so radical and the past was not so prim.
* Extras for experts: Elizabeth von Arnim grew up in NZ as Mary “May” Beauchamp – Katherine Mansfield’s first cousin.