Dating My Wardrobe: Space Poetics of Innisfree

I have to admit, I am a space snob. I break-out into a cold sweat if I so much as glance at spotty window panes, with dusty Red Rose tea figurines lining the windowsills (watching me with glazed eyes!), or a muted room with popcorn ceilings, and diabolical fluorescent lights clinging to its pocked surface, shedding an ill-light. I have freaked-out on outings with perfectly lovely friends who are more hardy, and genetically made to withstand harsh lines, and sallow lighting. In the middle of a friendly conversation about suggested books, I will tell you now that I am not listening. If I’m in a disorderly place, my mind will wander, fixed on a point of particular ugliness, and focus on that ugliness until I blurt out,” I’m sorry, what were you saying? I think I have to leave….immediately.”

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marsh mallows, and rock walls of Innisfree

And this is why I visit beautiful places, and choose to be romantically involved with my clothes. Sentient beings just don’t understand me the way that my darling wardrobe does. Maybe it’s because they just don’t have any brains, but I believe it’s because my clothing is the most accommodating companion that I know.

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Moi, pre-heat stroke

To celebrate my long-lasting relationship with my wardrobe, I decide to take my dear 1960s gingham skirt, and yellow silk shell on a romantic romp through one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth– Innisfree Garden in Millbrook, NY; The early twentieth-century country residence of Walter Beck, and wife Marion Burt Beck. This is a romantic poetic space, where my senses are refreshed at every turn.

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cup garden view 

Innisfree Garden is known as a cup garden– a term which Walter Beck coined to describe the intimate garden vignettes which existed within the larger scheme of a more naturalistic garden landscape. During the 1930s, Walter Beck came across scroll paintings of 8th century Chinese artist and garden creator, Wang Wei’s Wangchuan Villa design.

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portion of Wang Wei’s painted scroll of Wanchuan Villa

Utilizing the natural shape of the landscape as the foundation, and creating inward focused and hidden gardens within the overall landscape was a departure from western garden philosophy, which sought to create a uniform and open design scheme. Struck by a concept which encouraged exploration and discovery, and working with the indigenous plants on the property, Beck, along with his gardener wife, Marion, began the fifty some-odd-year development of Innisfree Garden.

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While the theoretical framework, and botanical bones of the garden were in place, it wasn’t until landscape architect Lester Collins came into the picture that the space really began to take shape. The Becks and Collins met in 1938, as Collins was studying English at Harvard University, and traveling with fellow student, John Ormsbee Simonds, to Asia. It was in the balmy breath of spring in 1938 that the fruitful partnership between the Becks and Collins began– a collaborative effort which would produce one of the most profoundly gorgeous spaces on the planet.

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Upon his return from the “Far East,” Lester Collins enrolled in the Master of Landscape Architecture Program of Harvard’s School of Design, receiving his degree in 1942. Here he was met with blossoming ideas of American modernism, which quite naturally complimented “Eastern” design philosophy. However, his career would have to wait, as World War II engulfed whole societies in its growing wake. Collins served in the British Eighth Army from 1942-1945. After which, he returned to America and became a professor of landscape architecture, and later the Dean of Harvard’s School of Design.

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Lester Collin’s quest to expand his breadth of knowledge was a lifelong passion. In 1954, he studied traditional Japanese Garden design and construction methods as a Fulbright Scholar, working with a Japanese scholar to translate the eleventh-century Japanese text Sakuteiki–literally “records of garden making.” This detailed record outlined the styles of gardening in the Heian period, defining gardening as a poetic aesthetic endeavor, in which the designer created from feelings, and responded to the physical characteristics of the site. This ancient methodology was artfully employed by Collins as he worked on the gardens of Innisfree from the 1940s until 1993, responding to the natural character of the terrain with sensitivity and whimsy.

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Innisfree is a space which meets at the intersection between emerging American modernism, ancient Chinese and Japanese aesthetic philosophy, and the Hudson Valley’s inherent natural beauty.  At this point of intersection, I decided to rest a while. The day which I visited in late July boasted 100 degree temperatures, and maximum humidity. The air around me felt like the inside of the moist mouth of a giant dog. Only the cool mist of the modern water fountain, and the shade of a teacup nook could rescue me from this dog-day of summer.

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Despite the air quality, the garden was so beautiful that I wandered from one garden vignette to the next without even noticing that I was massively dehydrated, and overheated. I may be a great lover of my wardrobe, and a fantastic date, but I have never gotten the hang of hydrating. I can drink a cup of coffee or tea, but it never occurs to me to drink water until my cells are shriveling-up, and my tongue feels like an old dried-up piece of hard tack from the Civil War era.

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Heat Stroke, or swooning from passion???

I had to apologize to my dear ’60s ensemble, and sit down in an ivy shrouded nook to rest for a while. I collapsed against the cool stone of an outdoor staircase, my gingham skirt swooning as I reposed. And while I retired like a sweating lump in the most gorgeous garden in the Hudson Valley, I looked out into the verdant landscape, and felt a sense of complete tranquility. Perhaps it was the heat stroke which made me feel as if I was in a lucid dream, but I truly was transported.

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I was a million miles away, in a poetic space, which is never bound by the physical parameters of the land. It is here that I like to dwell, along with my sweetheart wardrobe. This is the space where I stay a while.

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Dating My Wardrobe: Negotiating Space at Naumkeag

As I embark on a sartorial romance, dating my vintage wardrobe, I realize that the clothes on my back are the only real constant in my life. Every seven years, my very own body freakishly exists as collection of completely new regenerated cells, and I certainly have changed my mind over the steady march of time. I lived in various places, as visitor with a lease agreement, but nothing so permanent to call my own. My clothes. My woven companions. These are the only things which cling to my person with any sort of permanence. This negotiation of space, both personal and geographical, always includes a piece of my beloved wardrobe. But enough about me. Let’s talk about Naumkeag, and my date with my vintage 1980s circle skirt and off-the-shoulder shirt.

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Moi in the “Afternoon Garden”

I realize that the places I typically drag my wardrobe along to exist as historical sites, and are generally reserved as a landmark, and preserved for public posterity only after some rich, old white dude from the Gilded Age drops dead, and his descendants of a modern age can no longer afford to upkeep an overgrown, and ostentatious property. This is where a board of trustees, or the government swoops in to care for the property, offering its remarkable beauty to the public (for a nominal fee). This period of historical tourism, for any designated space, is only one chapter in the line of many. As I visited Naumkeag, in the Prospect Hill district of Stockbridge, MA, I do so considering the many different people, structures, purposes and names that the historic spot possessed. Like myself, Naumkeag is a space which has experienced a history of negotiation and reorganization. As I tip-toe through the “Chinese Garden,” perched on a Hill once inhabited by Native Americans, but now exists in an exclusive residential area of New England, only the company of my 1980s tropical motif skirt makes any sense.

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Joseph Hodges Choate, old, rich white dude

While I can’t account for the Stockbridge region during the Mesozoic, Cretaceous, Neolithic eras, historically, Stockbridge was inhabited by Mohican Native Americans. During the 1730s, Stockbridge was founded as a Mission Community, where reading, writing and the Christian doctrine was taught to the Mohicans, and other Native tribes. In the late-19th century, the site on top of Prospect Hill which would become Naumkeag was purchased by prominent New York City lawyer, Joseph Hodges Chaote. Here’s where some name/place negotiation gets tricky. Choate came from the Essex County area of Massachusetts, originally inhabited by the Naumkeag Native American tribe. Before Salem, MA became Salem, it was known as Naumkeag– most likely derived from the Algonkian root “namaas” (fish), and “ki” (place)– or fishing place. Joseph Choate liked the idea of the tranquil fishing hole behind the name Naumkeag, and so he named his Stockbridge area summer home, purchased in 1884, “Naumkeag,” leaving behind his Choate name in the Essex County area, where one can find Choate Hall and Choate Island.

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The Front Entrance to Naumkeag

Ok. Considering the naming, and renaming of all of these places is making my head spin. I’m holding my familiar circle skirt and fanny pack near and dear, and moving on to my date. To begin, I park near some cows in the visitor parking area, put my lipstick on (with the approval of onlooking heifers),  and march-up Prospect Hill. I purchase my ticket, and while I wait to tour the 44-room shingle-style “summer cottage” of Naumkeag, designed by the infamous Stanford White of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White in 1885, I stroll around the thematic gardens of the property. I think about Stanford White’s violent end, while I admire the tranquil Berkshire Mountains from the Tree Peony Terrace. Aside from being a talented architect, Stanford White was a seasoned lover of the ladies. unfortunately choosing to romance celebrated beauty– and wife of millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw– Evelyn Nesbit. In a fit of rage and jealousy, Thaw murders White in what was contemporaneously termed “The Trial of the Century.” Needless to say, White’s career–among other things– ends.

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View from Tree Peony Terrace Where I Contemplate                                                 Murder…That of Stanford White, of Course!

But, I’m not fixated on the house for long. My attention is drawn to the gardens of property, largely developed by the last resident Naumkeag, Mabel Choate. Following the death of her father in 1917, Mabel took the reigns of revamping the gardens, collaborating with the landscape designer Fletcher Steele in 1926 to create the Afternoon Garden, Rose Garden, Tree Peony Terrace, Evergreen Garden, the Chinese Garden, and Steele’s world renown Blue Steps, featuring a graduated series of water fountains with cobalt blue tiles, and flanking staircases.

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Studying the Art of Leisure in the “Chinese Garden”

I move from the Tree Peony Terrace to what is called the “Chinese Garden,” which showcases Mabel Choate’s collection of Asian sculpture, acquired from her travels. Despite my current status as a post graduate student, working two internships, and living with my aunt in a little pink room, I am able to pretend that I am a lady of leisure, in an age dripping with golden opportunity. I sit in a comfortable orange recliner, located in the fantasy Chinese pagoda-style outdoor patio, and admire the geometric and minimalistic water features of the garden. After a bit of lounging, I exit the Chinese Gardens through a lovely circular gateway– an action which is considered good luck.

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The green inhabitants of the Afternoon Garden

The rest of my garden-tour is an ongoing series of walking, stopping, having my breath taken away from a view, sitting, making sure that my skirt stops riding-up my leg, and fanny pack quits its 360 degree revolution around my waist, and walking again. Through this experience, my vintage wardrobe and I grew closer than ever. Negotiating spaces can be confusing. Names change, people change, places change, but clothes remain the same.

 

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Dating My Wardrobe: Interior Desires, Henry Davis Sleeper’s Beauport

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Beauport, Sleeper-McCann House

Sometimes love is forbidden. You have to contain it, house it in an interior world of desire and expectation, where only those who have been invited into the sanctum of the self get to see it. In my humble view, Henry Davis Sleeper’s gorgeous summer home, Beauport, located on the Eastern Point of Gloucester, MA, is a metaphor for his own life. The rich evolution of identity unfolds as you tour each room of the house, but it remains hidden to those who have not have not received access into the space (in this case, you can purchase a ticket from the friendly museum staff, hanging out in a booth on the edge of the property). As one of the very first super-stars of American interior design, Sleeper had a national reputation for taste and decor for which he was widely recognized. However, his life as a gay man during the Edwardian era had to be interred, hidden away. For this reason, when I visited Beauport in June, during Pride month, I decided to take my loudest, proudest 1970s crop top and palazzo pants suit on a date to the National Historic Landmark. Unlike Sleeper, I don’t have to hide my affection for my love: my vintage wardrobe.

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Let me just say, when you take your neon pink and green floral palazzo pants from the 1970s on a date to a historic site, people notice. My conspicuous darling caught the eye of many-a-museum patron as we stood outside of Sleeper’s home, which he purchased as an Arts and Crafts Cottage in 1906, and expanded into a architectural fruit cocktail of Medieval, Gothic and Colonial styles. (Although, in retrospect, I may have just been confused for a clown who lost her circus troupe somewhere in Ipswich). Regardless, my possible identity as an escaped circus performer was soon forgotten once my little tour group and I entered the house. The interior is all consuming. You forget that there is an outer world, a 2018, a cell phone bill to pay just on the other side of the Beauport walls. You hover in that fantasy world designed by Sleeper, which begins somewhere in 1910, and then gets lost in time and space. I like to dwell here.

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Left: Indian Room, housing collection of Antique carved Native Americans

Below: Belfry Chamber, featuring sliced and reconfigured French Decor Chinois wallpaper

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The tour begins in rooms which were inspired by Americana, like the Colonial-esque Pine Kitchen, complete with a dusty rifle hanging on the wall above the hearth. As you move from room to room, Sleeper often leaves a little clue, indicating to the observer which room you’re about to enter next. For example, before you proceed into the functional kitchen of the home, you find a rolling pin, seemingly out of place in the hallway, leading to the kitchen. But, the rolling pin has a purpose– all part of a little tantalizing trail of design breadcrumbs which leads you to a mural of George Washington, commanding a speech over the breakfast table. Good old George pops-up all over the home, functioning as a buck-skin-breeched and powdered Where’s Waldo, of sorts. One of my favorite rooms was the Golden Step Room. A veritable green heaven, with a trestle table set for house guests, and majolica and Wedgewood glassware shining like treasure from a frothy set of seafoam green cabinets.

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The Golden Step Room

As I peered over his lemon yellow and vegetal green table settings, and into Gloucester Harbor, I felt as if Sleeper had prepared for a grand party, and was currently out– getting the oysters and champagne– and would return shortly. A feeling of occupation pervades the house. As I rounded every corner, I half expected to see Sleeper standing in a three-piece suit by the doorway, greeting me as he would have greeted frequent house guest, Isabella Stewart Gardner.

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Overhead view of table settings in the Golden Step Room,

overlooking Gloucester Harbor

In stark contrast to the breezy sea views of the Golden Step Room, the adjoining Octagon Room hungrily soaks light-up into its dark aubergine walls, offsetting the bright red antique toleware and glassware which Sleeper collected on his trip to France. Designing his rooms around curious objects and collections which appealed to him, Sleeper offers the visitor no rhyme or reason, only discovery.

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Octagon Room

For example, an antique Connecticut River Valley Door which Sleeper acquired becomes a showcase for his artfully arranged amber glassware collection. And what is good design without even better lighting? Sleeper seemed to realize this entirely, and cleverly installed a skylight and a mirror behind the amber glass, giving his interior space the dimension of a holy temple. It’s like entering his Spiritual center.

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Amber Glassware, housed in Antique Connecticut River Valley Door

But, just as you think you’re getting to know Sleeper, you’re thrown for a loop by the unexpected: an ordinary looking doorway which opens-up to reveal a full-length mirror, an impossibly small writing nook, secret staircases, and a wall which features butterfly-splayed specimens of books.

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Book Specimens

Another acquisition– hand-painted 18th century wallpaper, featuring varying scenes from China’s landscape– acted as the inspirational backdrop to Sleeper’s China Trade Room. The wallpaper, originally ordered by long-forgotten signer of the Declaration of Independence, Robert Morris, completes the evolution of historical and geographical dreamscapes. The fusion of culturally constructed ideas– East, West, Old-World, New-World–are deconstructed. In the end, it’s all just a blur.

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China Trade Room

 

And that brings me back to the interior life of Henry Davis Sleeper. In 1906, Sleeper discovered the beauty of Eastern Point, in Gloucester, MA through Abram Piatt Andrew, who lived there in his home called “Red Roof.” Soon after, Sleeper purchased a neighboring lot, converting the resident cottage into the amalgam architectural gem that it is today. The blurred definitions of his life, repeated throughout his interior design, are suggested between the lines of 60 extant letters, exchanged between Sleeper and his dashing neighbor, Andrew, and confirmed by the oral histories of friends who knew the couple personally. Other evidence of their romantic relationship remains secreted away. Personal papers, listed in inventories of Beauport’s holdings taken after Sleeper’s death on September 22, 1934, disappeared by the time the historic home was opened to the public in 1942. This was most likely done to protect the reputation of Sleeper during a time when homosexuality was certainly not something that one aired out in the open. That wasn’t safe. Constructing a fantasy world of walls, filled with objects of beauty, was safe. The people invited to cross-over the threshold of that protective fortress, and enter the interior world were lucky. So many decades later, wearing fluorescent florals and a sun hat from the 70s, I consider myself lucky. I get to take a peek into the internalized romances of Sleeper’s life.

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Henry Davis Sleeper

Before I ended my date with my vintage duds, I decided to treat my palazzo pants to a quick dip in the Atlantic Ocean, on Pebble Beach, MA. This view was much different than that of Beauport. Before me, the whole world was open. Unbridled Love, laid out before me like an oyster in there half-shell.

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Hot Date With Myself (or Dating My Wardrobe), No 8. Kaaterskill Falls

Well, if you have been reading my posts thus far, you’ll detect a sickening smidgeon of sadness to my narrative. Apparently, it takes about a year for my brain to process and come to terms with the fact that ANYONE would ever want to dump moi! How could they?! Fast forward to one year later, and I don’t give a damn…in the best possible way. I realized that, after a year of what I supposed was dating myself, was really a long romantic engagement with my vintage wardrobe. I hand selected only the luckiest of my dated threads to accompany me on my journey to historic sites, beaches, waterfalls, you name it! My relationship with my vintage wardrobe has proven to be the most durable and faithful of all past relationships– weathering athletic trips over fences and guardrails, occasional mood swings, and loooong car rides, listening to Iggy pop’s “Passenger” on loop.

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For date number 8 in June, I decided to wash away the old sad-sap Laura. Cleans myself of any residual remorse, or tendency to feel sorry for myself, and rise like a 1970s disco inferno phoenix from the proverbial ash heap which I had become. I decided that a world renown waterfall, and some brightly hued 1970s garb would be the perfect symbolic materials for my rebirth as a slightly cantankerous, but stylish lady of letters. Nestled somewhere in the Catskill mountains of New York existed my salvation!

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Thomas Cole, oil on canvas, “The Falls of Kaaterskill.” 1826

Why did I choose Kaaterskill Falls to wash away my sappy sins? Because it’s an absolutely stunning place (if you can arrive early enough in the morning to avoid the crowds), and there are two tiers of deliciously cold, tumbling white water which spill from a Crescent-shape shelf of rock, as if it were the rim of heaven! Artists, photographers, and writers were drawn to this area, centuries before I showed-up in a 70’s crop top with a psychedelic peacock print. The Hudson River School of the 19th century was particularly fond of Kaaterskill Falls, with the likes of Thomas Cole capturing the falls in his oil painting, “The Falls of Kaaterskill,” 1826.

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In 1836, poet William Cullen Bryant was inspired by the mists of the falls to write the romantic poem, “Catterskill Falls.” It begins quite accurately,

“Midst greens and shades the Catterskill leaps,
From cliffs where the wood-flower clings;
All summer he moistens his verdant steeps
With the sweet light spray of the mountain springs;
And he shakes the woods on the mountain side,
When they drip with the rains of autumn-tide.”

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Bearing the romantic words of Bryant in mind, I ascended the rocky, root-riddled trails– and eventual staircases– of Kaaterskill Falls, making sure to hike-up the lengths of my 1970s vintage maxi skirt. As a word of advice and caution, always hold-up your maxi skirt when you’re hiking-up a steeply graded mountain. You’ll trip, and slip otherwise! So, proceeding in a romantic mood, and with safety, I finally reached the falls. Because I began my trip early in the morning, there were only a hand-full of tourists at the bottom falls. When I reached the rocky pool of the top-tier waterfall, I realized that I had entered into a prime area of passion: the waterfalls were heavy with rain waters, and I was all alone with my lovely vintage crop top and skirt set. Swoon!

 

 

Aside from taking a few photos of me flirting on the shores of the waterfall, I did eventually go for a swim, thus completing my ritual task of cleansing myself of sad Laura. The Laura who called her fiends-up late at night for consolation, after watching Steel Magnolias in her bed. The old Laura who felt foolishly sentimental every time she saw orange juice in the supermarket, because it reminded her of her ex. The old Laura who was getting really exhausted by the full-time job of feeling sorry for herself. Bye, babe! Gone!

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I emerged from those frosty June waters as a newer, wiser, wetter woman. And while the cotton of my vintage dress clung to my newly born form, I went out into the summer of 2018 with a vengeance!

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William Cullen Bryant’s Complete poem:

“Catterkill Falls”

Midst greens and shades the Catterskill leaps,
From cliffs where the wood-flower clings;
All summer he moistens his verdant steeps
With the sweet light spray of the mountain springs;
And he shakes the woods on the mountain side,
When they drip with the rains of autumn-tide.

But when, in the forest bare and old,
The blast of December calls,
He builds, in the starlight clear and cold,
A palace of ice where his torrent falls,
With turret, and arch, and fretwork fair,
And pillars blue as the summer air.

For whom are those glorious chambers wrought,
In the cold and cloudless night?
Is there neither spirit nor motion of thought
In forms so lovely, and hues so bright?
Hear what the gray-haired woodmen tell
Of this wild stream and its rocky dell.

‘Twas hither a youth of dreamy mood,
A hundred winters ago,
Had wandered over the mighty wood,
When the panther’s track was fresh on the snow,
And keen were the winds that came to stir
The long dark boughs of the hemlock fir.

Too gentle of mien he seemed and fair,
For a child of those rugged steeps;
His home lay low in the valley where
The kingly Hudson rolls to the deeps;
But he wore the hunter’s frock that day,
And a slender gun on his shoulder lay.

And here he paused, and against the trunk
Of a tall gray linden leant,
When the broad clear orb of the sun had sunk
From his path in the frosty firmament,
And over the round dark edge of the hill
A cold green light was quivering still.

And the crescent moon, high over the green,
From a sky of crimson shone,
On that icy palace, whose towers were seen
To sparkle as if with stars of their own;
While the water fell with a hollow sound,
‘Twixt the glistening pillars ranged around.

Is that a being of life, that moves
Where the crystal battlements rise?
A maiden watching the moon she loves,
At the twilight hour, with pensive eyes?
Was that a garment which seemed to gleam
Betwixt the eye and the falling stream?

‘Tis only the torrent tumbling o’er,
In the midst of those glassy walls,
Gushing, and plunging, and beating the floor
Of the rocky basin in which it falls.
‘Tis only the torrent–but why that start?
Why gazes the youth with a throbbing heart?

He thinks no more of his home afar,
Where his sire and sister wait.
He heeds no longer how star after star
Looks forth on the night as the hour grows late.
He heeds not the snow-wreaths, lifted and cast
From a thousand boughs, by the rising blast.

His thoughts are alone of those who dwell
In the halls of frost and snow,
Who pass where the crystal domes upswell
From the alabaster floors below,
Where the frost-trees shoot with leaf and spray,
And frost-gems scatter a silvery day.

“And oh that those glorious haunts were mine!”
He speaks, and throughout the glen
Thin shadows swim in the faint moonshine,
And take a ghastly likeness of men,
As if the slain by the wintry storms
Came forth to the air in their earthly forms.

There pass the chasers of seal and whale,
With their weapons quaint and grim,
And bands of warriors in glittering mail,
And herdsmen and hunters huge of limb.
There are naked arms, with bow and spear,
And furry gauntlets the carbine rear.

There are mothers–and oh how sadly their eyes
On their children’s white brows rest!
There are youthful lovers–the maiden lies,
In a seeming sleep, on the chosen breast;
There are fair wan women with moonstruck air,
The snow stars flecking their long loose hair.

They eye him not as they pass along,
But his hair stands up with dread,
When he feels that he moves with that phantom throng,
Till those icy turrets are over his head,
And the torrent’s roar as they enter seems
Like a drowsy murmur heard in dreams.

The glittering threshold is scarcely passed,
When there gathers and wraps him round
A thick white twilight, sullen and vast,
In which there is neither form nor sound;
The phantoms, the glory, vanish all,
With the dying voice of the waterfall.

Slow passes the darkness of that trance,
And the youth now faintly sees
Huge shadows and gushes of light that dance
On a rugged ceiling of unhewn trees,
And walls where the skins of beasts are hung,
And rifles glitter on antlers strung.

On a couch of shaggy skins he lies;
As he strives to raise his head,
Hard-featured woodmen, with kindly eyes,
Come round him and smooth his furry bed
And bid him rest, for the evening star
Is scarcely set and the day is far.

They had found at eve the dreaming one
By the base of that icy steep,
When over his stiffening limbs begun
The deadly slumber of frost to creep,
And they cherished the pale and breathless form,
Till the stagnant blood ran free and warm.

 

 

 

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My Own Muse: Hot Date With Myself, No. 4, Nick Cave’s “Until,” at MASS MoCA

If you’re wondering why I’m having all of these hot dates with myself, I should start at the beginning of my tale, when in June of 2017 I was abruptly dumped by a major dumb-dumd with a wandering eye. While being relegated to the status of chopped liver by my boyfriend initiated my experiment with dating myself, I should emphasize the fact that I have since discovered that it’s much more exciting to take myself on dates than it is to drag an unenthusiastic man-slug about. In fact, I never ever want to stop dating myself. I’m committed to this monogamous love of myself! Swoon!

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Well, in June I didn’t feel so hot. Most of that month was spent getting my bloated, out-of-shape heart back into prime fitness. What I needed was a Richard Simmons-style introduction to love. Encouraging, embracing, sweaty. I began taking myself out to romantic gardens and hikes, easing myself into the idea that there was life after love. But, to truly lose myself in this lifestyle of romantic calisthenics,  I needed a wholly cathartic and cleansing experience, putting my seemingly devastating problems of a trodden-heart into perspective.

To accomplish this, I decided to visit Nick Cave’s immersive, massive and stunningly gorgeous exhibition, titled Until, on display at MASS MoCA during the summer of 2017. Cave created the exhibition to visually confront the problems of racism permeating American society, hinging the controversy of gun violence and race stereotypes from the hanging preposition Until– “Innocent Until proven guilty,” or, in this case, Guilty Until proven innocent.” Cave elaborates in his interview with the New York Times: “I had been thinking about racism and gun violence colliding, and then I wondered: Is there racism in heaven?” This question reverberates throughout the body of Until. 

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Upon entering the football field-sized building No.5 at MASS MoCA, I had in mind the familiar image of Cave’s remarkable Sound Suits, but I was not prepared for the overwhelming density of beauty, intersecting with violence, racism and politics. I mean, I was simply blown away.

 

 

 

At the entrance to the exhibition, I was met with 16,000 wind-spinners, and a meandering path to follow through the whirling, glinting curtains of ornaments. The beauty of the shiny and distracting objects betrayed images of guns and targets. A reminder of proverbial glistering. Emerging from this forest of spinners, I paused in amazement. At the heart of Cave’s installation existed a marvelous floating world, dripping with over ten miles of crystal, and 24 chandeliers, and backed by miles of net made out of shoelaces and millions of pony beads.

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Here, Cave’s idea is posed: “Is there racism in heaven?” To arrive at this question, one must climb-up one of four ladders which support the hovering heaven on earth, and peer into a bric-a-brac utopia made of thousands of ceramic and metal birds, fruits and flowers. Hidden within this Eden-like world are 17 cast-iron Jocko lawn jockeys, their black-face style countenances smiling back at you from behind a spray of faux flowers.

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It’s an uncomfortable feeling to be tickled and amused by fantastical flora and fauna in one moment, and then to suddenly be reminded by Jim Crow-era-style stooping ornaments that racism cannot be ignored or covered up by ornament and material mass. Cave’s Until forced me to consider a deeper wound; a collective mar on the face of society’s psyche. And while my romantic heart did ache, as I balanced on the top of a ladder, staring into a fabricated heaven made of ceramic robins, golden pigs and glass grapes, I knew that my heart-ache was singular, temporary, and would ease with time. Before me lay a bigger heartache– the drawn-out, festering heartache of America: racism. And, as I embrace my quest to love myself, and take myself on 100 hot dates, I am reminded along the way by beautiful places, thoughtful people and provoking art installations of the larger scheme of love, and all of its capacity.

 

 

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My Own Muse: Hot Date with Myself, No. 2, Blithewood Garden, Red Hook, NY.

After climbing out of the metaphorical blackened crevasse of an ugly break-up in June, I decided that it was high time that I surfaced for some sunshine. Don’t get me wrong, living as a troglodyte for one month had its benefits. I finished reading my collection of Regency-era romance novels, and binge-watched Korean dramas for four weeks straight, increasing my boob-tube stamina and romantic acuity. However, by the time July rolled around, I knew what I had to do. I would take myself on 100 hot dates.

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For date number 2, I rounded-up a selection of the finest cheeses (from my comprehensive personal refrigerator collection), and stopped at a local farm-stand for some fruit. My life brimming with cheese, and heart overflowing with cholesterol, I strolled over to the Blithewood Mansion and Garden, on the Bard campus, Red Hook, NY.

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Now, if you’re as much of a romantic as I am, you’ll know that cheese does not inspire sentiments of love and enchantment unless it’s consumed in the proper setting. To achieve this illusion of fromage amour, I traveled with a cheese laden bag to the breathtaking Italian sunken gardens of Blithewood Mansion. The garden was constructed circa 1903 as an extension of the Georgian-style Blithewood mansion, constructed circa 1900 for Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie and his wife Francis. Both the garden and the mansion were designed by Francis L.V. Hoppin, of the Hoppin and Koen Architectural firm, adhering to the conventions of Romanticism which influenced the Gilded Age home.

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At the time that I visited the garden, the rain had just subsided, and the sun began to glisten over the sopping wet flowers and walled structures of the garden. Sitting on a marble (or limestone) bench in the garden, I looked towards a sliver of the Hudson River, visible through a parting in the trees. With a mouth full of St. Agur cheese, I turned to look over my shoulder, and was rewarded with a vision of a double rainbow arcing over Blithwood mansion.

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Perhaps it was the effect of massive amounts of brie and agur entering my body all at once, but at the sight of this, my heart skipped a beat. Love flooded my veins. These are the moments that are best shared alone, on a date with yourself, smelling of fermented dairy and oxytocin. Between the natural beauty of the garden, and my full stomach, I was content that hot date number 2 with myself had been a complete success. I was falling in love!

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A Leopard Must Change its Spots….

I embark upon this new year, wearing plaid pants, a banana brooch, and a big-old leopard-print swing coat. Embedded in the threads of my loud and incongruous get-up are messages of hope, destiny and….what the hell am I doing with myself in 2018?!?! Like the clothes that I wear, this question is rhetorical.

As a Costume Studies grad student at NYU, I know that the clothing that I wear contains conative and subliminal declarations about who I am. I’ve written research papers about all of this. It must be so! But, this notion only makes me uneasy. Is my 1990s punk-revival/granny outfit a sign that I’m looking to the past for comfort, or that my future is likely to be a circus? Perhaps it’s just a flamboyant palette cleanser for a tart 2017. The past year contained moments of glory and growth, but also a few minor disasters. For example, in the midst of grad school, my long-term boyfriend cheated on me, moved to Florida, and left me with a dilemma about finding someone to help me pay the rent, while simultaneously filling the void in my gutted soul (OK. That was a bit dramatic, but I am dressed like a wild-cat!). With deft anger and scrappy resilience, I managed to resolve this problem, but, by-golly, am I left with a bad taste in my mouth! Holding onto my knickers, and finding comfort in loud textile patterns, I go forth.

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In 2018, I have decided to look for a new job, publish my work, rekindle old friendships, and ignite new ones. Most excitingly, I am determined to go on 100 hot dates with myself. No historic site, museum, garden, mountain-top, restaurant or dive-bar will be immune from my romantic inclinations, and desirous heart. Oh, to find myself in a beautiful sunrise, or delicious flan! So, stay-tuned. Prepare to come-along with me through the annals of history, the paths of curiosity, all while wearing clothing of major connotation. In short, I will be my own goddamned muse!

Happy 2018, darlings! Mwah!

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