This was a good holiday season. I went to my Mum & step-dad’s place, Edgewood, for a Mendocino Christmas Eve/Christmas and then slipped across to Sonoma where my dad & step-mom had rented a big house for a second round of holiday time.
Edgewood was wonderful as it always is. Great company, great food. Mostly just sitting around having conversations, watching the plethora of birds out the windows and reading. A bookish, birdish household and very healing.
The other gathering was more rambunctious and lots of fun. The house was a little odd though. Here’s the letter I wrote to Peter:
Here I am in a rental house, more a mansion really, laden with a mix of cool and aggressively ugly items. My room, regrettably, tends towards the ugly.
On my right an object to which you might think I would be endeared, a black container with a round red lid containing, according to the label, ‘Joy – perfumed body creme’. It has something of it of cheap Japanese styling and also a strong aura of ‘The Big Red Shiny Candy-like Button’ which must not be touched. If it were the only decorative object in the room, it might be tolerable.
Alas, it is not and thus clashes horribly. There is a gold non-descript lamp also on the nightstand. And a box of Kleenex with a box pattern depicting a quilt. And there is a small assortment of perfume bottles on a little plate painted in a naive, early 70’s style as a fish. The pink quilt, the red top of the “body creme” container and the orange-blue-green-yellow-&-red fish all clash violently.
Beside the nightstand is a dark wicker hamper. There is an oriental rug on the floor below the brass bed with its flowered sheets and plethora of pillows. The oriental rug is predominantly pink and the main carpet is grey. To contrast with the nightstands (of which there are four in the room) which are styled like old oak iceboxes, there is a modern (well, modern in 1980) white dresser with a slight oriental air about it.
Atop this dresser are four bizarre objects. The first is a pottery jar with a greenish-blue glaze with a plain clay gecko (or some sort of lizard) crawling on the side. This lizard is the size of a rat. The other three items are carved wooden animals over a foot in length. They are painted very bright colors, well two of them are. There is a huge one and a half foot tall coyote-like thing with a blue body, a white face and enormous pink and teal ears. Its expression was so disturbing I turned it to face away from me, so it wouldn’t be the first thing I saw in the morning, at which point its tail fell off. There is something I am hard-pressed to identify. I think it is an elephant, but the carver was clearly on some sort of hallucinogens because its overall shape is more piglike except for its long brush of a tail, pink spots on its blue body, enormous diamond-shaped pink & teal ears and huge drooping tusks that give it the appearance of having been caught midway through consumption of two albino anacondas. The fourth item is actually quite naturally colored and shaped and is a rather appealling zebra. Except for the small problem that the only piece of it present is its head. Most disconcerting.
Above this ensemble is a large 2′ x 4′ print labeled ‘Contemporary Art – The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’ which shows a still life of a pretty party table of excessively bright colored objects. Pink & yellow are the dominant colors. Above that, crossing the plain white wall, is a solid natural dark wooden beam about a foot high. And then then white vault of the ceiling and an off-center ceiling fan with rattan decor in the blades.
Bad enough so far, wouldn’t you say? Ah but we’re only a third of the way around the room! Next to one of the ubiquitous nightstands is a completely unnecessary delicate little Victorian table, round, short, barely large enough for a doily and a saucer of tea.
There is a tiny little stereo sitting on a sort of bench-cum-bookcase across from the foot of the bed. The bench seems to have a somewhat churchy air about it (vaguely medieval, vaguely Roman) and is full of gardening books. Apart from the stereo the top is bare except for a dry branch mounted in a stand (the branch is not unlike the one the Grinch tied to Max’s head midway through the sawing-off-bits process) and a large purple glass apple. Above this is a mirror in a cheap wood frame with stained glass around the edges – white and a green which miraculously fails to find an echo anywhere else in the room.
There is a television atop the third nightstand-icebox thing. And a bentwood magazine rack. And a bamboo chest of quasi-Mongolian style. This chest is flanked by two enormous, um, well, uh, urns, I suppose. Big pottery objects.They are covered with Southwestern motifs and do not match except in that they are both bigass semi-spheres which would probably cause about 18 Zuni apiece to spin in their graves. There is a bright red telescope sitting on the chest which I almost forgot to mention.
Almost back around to the bed again, we encounter a fake ficus-ish tree in a brown wicker basket. Above it is a picture depicting, in a naive folk art style, a French cityscape of about 1900. Beside the bed’s left-hand nightstand is a brass lampstand rising from the floor to curlicued top and supporting, via a broken crosspiece, a lacey glass shade with a pink border. Partway up this otherwise Victorian object is a ball of marble with a natural earthy appearance. Inexplicable.
On the nightstand are two pale-green pottery pieces sporting pale green crawling lizards. And a little lidded dish in the shape of a rabbit. The bedspread is applicued in a design indicative of bunches of grapes & leaves, but the presence on the bed when I entered of three stuffed bunnies (one brown and teddybear-like, the other two wearing flowered jumpsuits and pink bows) lends a somewhat different interpretation to a field of small round lumps.
All in all, I would be hard-pressed to render this room any less harmonious or soothing to the eye. I trust it shall improve considerably when I turn out the light.
Here was my day: wake at 9am, shower, run out of hot water, rinse off shampoo with lukewarm water and towel off vigorously to recover from chill. Eat a banana and a couple pieces of cranberry bread and a half a cup of coffee. Get in the car and be driven to a gourmet food store. Sample mustards, olive oils and other dips. Pour back into car, nibbling bittersweet chocolate and proceed to the Culinary Institute of America for lunch. Appetizers: excellent bread and olive oil, stuffed calimari, grilled shrimp, dolmas, mini-pizza with carmelized onions and goat cheese, mini-falafel in pita, filled potato tortilla thing, olives, almonds. With this meal I enjoyed a Sidecar (classic cocktail) and a half glass of Dehlinger Pinot Noir, both very good. After the appetizer came a phenomenal wild mushroom soup with onions and cheese-sprinkled croutons – like an astounding french onion soup, toned down and infused with mushroomy goodness. Then my steak arrived with garlic mashed potatoes and dripping with delicious pan juices. Dessert really wasn’t an option.
After dinner we went down to the CIA store and I spent my Xmas mad-money (courtesy of my stepmom, Lindy) on some nice kitchen things including a cheese knife and an ice-cracking bag & mallet for making cocktails. We returned to the house, stopping at the gourmet market to pick up the goodies we’d picked for dinner. Most of the party went to Ravenswood winery, so the house was quiet and I chose that time for a lovely solitary soak in the hot tub. First it was birdwatching, then sunset watching, then as the first stars came out I extracted my pink self from the steaming water and went inside for a refreshing shower – with enough hot water this time.
While I had been soaking and daydreaming, the others had returned and by the time I was dressed, preparations for dinner were underway. We had a small buffet of exotic cheeses, excellent bread, tapinade, pate, olives, intriguing mustards, fuji apples and a nice bottle of Merlot from Ravenswood. After we’d been nibbling on all this and socializing in the living room, my stepbrother Michael and his sweetie Deanna came downstairs with a sublime feast: scallops in curry cream sauce. To die for! I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening except wandering around in a food-enduced bliss.”