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.

naum2

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.

220px-Joseph_Hodges_Choate,_Vanity_Fair,_1899-09-28.jpg

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.

naum5

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.

naum6

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.

naum

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.

naum7

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.

 

Standard

My Own Muse: Hot Date With Myself, No. 6, “Lilac Time, Montgomery Place in the Spring”

Being dumped by someone who said that they would love you forever sucks. The occurrence makes you rethink the slippery word “forever,” and also the people who aren’t old fashioned romantics, who relish the idea of growing decrepit and old together. Hey, monogamy isn’t for everyone, but don’t waste my time if you’re not captivated by the notion of being euthanized together on a bed of roses when you’re 88! As an integral part of this “don’t waste my time mentality,” I decided to date myself. Dress like a babe, go to all of my favorite places, and just romance the heck out of myself.

IMG_0588 copy 2

After a few successful dates, I decided to enjoy the breathy bough of spring in the lilac perfumed gardens of Montgomery Place, Red Hook, NY (sorry if this date is slightly out of sequence). By late April or early May, the lilacs at Montgomery Place are in full bloom, infusing the balmy air with the sticky-sweet aroma of bursting lilac clusters. As I walked through the lilac bushes, buzzing with bee activity, I was lulled into a hazy state of utter relaxation. It was an olfactory heaven, accompanied by the tune of one hundred honey bees flapping their gossamer wings.

montsrpring5  montspring6

At this point, you can tell that I was really swooning for myself amongst the lilac branches. Imagine that scene from Disney’s Bambi, where the cute forest creatures are being walloped over the head with love in the spring– a phenomenon termed “twitterpated.” Yes, indeed, I was twitterpated, all right! In my state of amorous delirium, I walked over to a small garden, nearest to the Montgomery Place mansion–  the mansion was built as a Federal-style home in 1804 by Janet Livingston Montgomery, and transformed into a Classical Revival mansion between the 1849s and 1869s by Alexander Jackson Davis.
montspring3

montspring2

The small sunken garden paths were lined with early blooming bulbs, giant snowdrops, and unfurling ferns, leading me down to the belly of the garden where a tiny pond exists. A layer of green duck weed skims the surface of the pool, obscuring the black water beneath, and acts as a cloak for the dozens of frogs living there.  As I neared the pond, I was amused by the sight and sound of many fleshy frogs hurling their fat little bodies into the water. Well, with all of these handsome amphibians about, perhaps I’ll find prince charing here!

montspring   montspring4

You’ll be happy to know that I did happen upon a completely alluring frog, who was not only an attractive shade of green, but very friendly. What a hunk!

montspring8

Because I was wearing blue velvet covered shoes with a five-inch heel, I figured I should forget about navigating the wooded trails on the Montgomery Place property– one leading to the Hudson River, the other leading to a waterfall. While I do consider my heels athletic-wear, they were no match for the twisted-root riddled trails. That being said, I hopped, skipped and jumped with my pointed toes to a neighboring garden with darling brick paths and a central sun-dial.

IMG_0588 copy 2

With lilac in the air, and amphibians in my heart, I strolled into the sunset on a perfect hot date with myself. God, if only those frogs could see me now! So, dear readers, if you ever happen to visit Montgomery Place– which is now a part of the Bard College Arboretum– be sure to visit all of the meandering pathways which afford incredible views and garden delights. And don’t forget to say hello to my beloved froggy friends!

 

 

 

Standard

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.

IMG_3359 copy

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!

Standard

My Muses: Thalia and the Mona Lisa

As the Greek muse of comedy, Thalia is among my favorite of the fair affecters. She sparks a willingness to smile, and knows that a perfectly timed practical joke is worth a more than a picture and its thousand words. At least, that’s what my muse of comedy, Mona Lisa, could tell you!

Thalia

On August 21st, of 1911, Mona Lisa was stolen from the Grand Gallery of the Louvre by an Italian handyman named Vincenzo Perugia. Most people recognized this as a tragic blow to the art-world, but has anyone ever entertained the possibility of Mona Lisa just needing a little holiday?? I mean, just consider the famed “Mona Lisa smile.” I know that look all too well. That expression means give me a damn break! I’ve been entertaining crowds in the Louvre since 1804, and before that I had to hang about in Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom in the Tuileries, for da Vinci’s sake! I need to get away!

images

Here’s what I believe happened. The winsome Mona presented to Perugia her most beguiling smile, and eventually (through her considerable charms) coerced him to take her away to see the sights. She decided to summer on the Riviera, and after getting quite a sun burn, insisted that she retreat to the Alps for some tranquil reflection. Her much needed respite ended in 1914, but reliable sources claim that she’s planning on another vacation, soon! Oh, Mona Lisa, you little minx!

d46a66bbf941acc145bada706b3fba9f--lisa-s-mona-lisa

 

Standard

My Muses: Erato and Anais Nin

unknown

Erato. The muse of love poetry. If I were to assign a mortal woman to Erato’s position, I can’t think of any gal more suited to inspire romance than Anais Nin—writer of erotica, memoirist of passion. Born in France to Cuban parents in 1903, Anais began her life amid the peaceful haze of the Belle Epoch (between the tumult of the Franco Prussian War and the First World War), but the modernization of post WWI west would sweep her away into a world of desire and liberation for women.

unknown-2

Anais was not one for conformity. She left school at age sixteen and later became an artist’s model, thumbing her nose at “lady-like” behavior. It was at this time that she also left the Catholic Church in the dust, drawn instead, perhaps, to the temple of love! However, Nin did not cultivate her sense for amore until she happened upon a tantalizing collection of French erotica, belonging to an American man (living in France). While she and her family rented this American man’s apartment for the summer, Nin could pore over steamy sentences of his naughty book collection. The fates had thrown Anais and “smutty” novels together. She would never be the same.

images-1

Beyond reading fiction, Nin cultivated a sense of her own sexuality through her various high-profile romances. She was the lover of Henry Miller, and wrote of her desire for his wife, June, in her diary. Clearly, the scope of passion and love were ever growing in Nin, as was her sense of self-possession. Anais Nin had also been keeping a diary since she was eleven years old, and would continue to keep it for over sixty years. Her penchant for writing came in handy when she was strapped for cash during the 1940’s. It was at this time that Nin, Henry Miller and her band of merry writer friends began writing erotica, for an anonymous collector, at a dollar a page. Decades later, Nin published these lust-filled narratives in two books: Delta of Venus and Little Birds.

 

Here are a few selected excerpts from her erotic novels:

 

“He was in that state of fire that she loved. She wanted to be burnt.” – Delta of Venus

 

“He had not touched me. He did not need to. His presence had affected me in such a way that I felt as if he had caressed me for a long time.” – Delta of Venus

 

“With her eyes alone she could give this response, the absolutely erotic response, as if febrile waves were trembling there, pools of madness…something devouring that could lick a man all over like a flame, annihilate him, with pleasure never before known.” – The Little Birds

 images-2

Significantly, Anais Nin became the first woman to publish true, fleshy, lusty erotica in the west. As a pioneer of boundless female love in fiction, I honor her as my muse of love poetry. She is the perfect flesh and blood well-spring for inspiration in the bedroom and beyond. Causing readers to stir with lust and leave them dripping with wet anticipation, Anais Nin would make Erato proud.

unknown-1

Standard

My Muses: Euterpe and Sappho

images-3

Euterpe is the Greek muse of lyric poetry, and while she’s really great and all, she is made of mythic material. Sappho, on the other hand, was a real flesh and blood (well, now, soil and worms) gal who wrote honest to goodness lyric poems. Sappho was born around 630 BC, on the Isle of Lesbos. She was a Greek lyricist, and one of only a handful of female poets known to the ancient world. Supposedly, Solon (Athenian lawmaker and poet) was so moved by her work that he desired to be taught a song by Sappho “so that I may learn it and then die.” Now, Solon is either prone to emotional outbursts, or Sappho was one sweet lyricist.

images-5

Unfortunately, we may never know which of Sappho’s lyrical poems had whipped Solon into a frenzy of drama, because much of her work has been lost through neglect.  Medieval Byzantium dropped her works from their standard curriculum in the process of modernization, and copies of her poems ceased to be reproduced by scribes. As if her work hadn’t suffered enough, in an act of textual terror, copies of her poetry had been destroyed in the burning of the Library of Alexandria. Gasp!  

unknown-5

Here’s a lovely adaptation of a poem by Sappho, as translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

One Girl
 I 
Like the sweet apple which reddens upon the topmost bough, 
Atop on the topmost twig, — which the pluckers forgot, somehow, — 
Forget it not, nay; but got it not, for none could get it till now. 
    II 
Like the wild hyacinth flower which on the hills is found, 
Which the passing feet of the shepherds for ever tear and wound, 
Until the purple blossom is trodden in the ground.

images-4

In modern times, Sappho is known less for her written work, and more for her image as a symbol of female homosexuality. Her romantic poetry, involving female subjects, has made her the darling of lesbian circles. The English words “sapphic” and “lesbian” both refer to Sappho, thus, preserving her in writing, after all. Her ability to morph herself centuries after her death into words which exist in the English language is almost as astounding as her poetry. Truly, Sappho is one inspiring babe, and she has been operating as a muse for many a year.

unknown-6

Standard

My Muses: Clio and Anna Comnena

unknown-1

I’ve already mentioned that my ability to enjoy relaxation is limited. So, in an attempt to dampen the sunny fun of my vacation, I’ve created a small project for myself. For the nine days that I’m on holiday, I will assign a real-life, honest-to-goodness lady to an appropriate Greek Muse. So far, I’ve managed to feature Bessie Stringfield as a flesh and blood version of Calliope. Today, I will be looking at the life of Anna Comnena, widely recognized as the first female historian. Appropriately, she will serve as my real-life Clio. My muse of history.

images-2

images                             images-1

Anna was “born and bred in the purple,” as she puts it in her historical masterpiece, the Alexiad. She came into the world on December 1st, of 1083, and grew up in the Imperial Palace of Constantinople. Anna’s mention of the luxurious color purple is a nod to her position as a Byzantine princess (her father was emperor Alexios I). In the medieval ages, the color purple was generally reserved for royalty and nobility under sumptuary law. But, even if a poor-old peasant wanted to break the law and don the color purple, the dye-stuff was too expensive and rare for a “commoner” to obtain. The reason: one of the major sources for purple dye at the time were murex snails, which populated the Mediterranean Sea. Divers were required to harvest the sea snail, and then the snail shell had to be cracked open and the hypobranchial gland removed, which secreted the blue tinted chemical, dibromo-indigotin. 10-12,000 murex snails were required to make one gram of Tyrian or royal purple dye, so you can imagine the dye was costly, at the expense of both humans and snails. (Thanks for joining me on this tangent about murex snails!)

unknown-4

Back at the royal palace, Anna was receiving an exemplary education, as she was prepped for rule. She studied astrology, mathematics, philosophy, literature, geography, Greek language, medicine rhetoric and…yes…history. She was a tailor-made royal. She had brains. She had ambition. But, what she didn’t have were balls. You can imagine that she was pretty peeved when her younger brother, John II, was offered the throne. She was preparing to place the royal diadem on her brow and the brow of her husband, Nikephoros Bryennios. And, because she could not tolerate B.S., she formed a conspiracy to murder and overthrow her brother. However, the plot was uncovered and poor Anna was booted out of court.

unknown-3

After her plot to take over the throne was thwarted, and her husband died in 1137, Anna lived out the rest of her days in the seclusion of the convent. This might sound like a grim existence, but any writer knows that living like a hermit in a cloister-like setting is ideal for producing prose. It was during Anna’s time at the convent that she finished the history of her father, Alexios I, known as the Alexiad, which her husband had started before he croaked. Beyond the document’s importance as the first known history written by a woman, the Alexiad contains rare accounts of the First Crusade from the point of view of the Byzantines. Anna’s brilliant mind and brimming ambition could not be suppressed, and the Alexiad is a testament to her glowing talent. Amongst the mortals, she is my Clio. My muse.

Standard