Inspirational postcard

Postcard from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

About a year ago, I was in Boston and visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for the first time.  It’s an amazing house museum crammed with stuff that Mrs Gardner collected throughout her life.  The house itself is an impressive replica of a Venetian palace built to Mrs Gardner‘s specifications.  Since her death in the first part of the 20th century, the house has been kept pretty much the way it was when she lived.  I believe she specified in her will, for instance, that much of the artwork on the walls is not to be moved.

I found it a revelation to see this house.  On the one hand, it was something unique to the Gilded Age that could never be replicated.  Mrs Gardner was very wealthy, and she traveled all over the world and had people to buy her the best of everything—all kinds of art, antiques, and furnishings; decorative objects, statuary, religious relics, you name it.

On the other hand, I was most struck by Gardner’s offhand, almost modern sensibility, which was most evident in the spontaneous way the rooms were decorated, as in the blue room above, where various silks are hung in various ways on the walls, and paintings and mirrors hung atop them—not at all willy-nilly, but nonetheless in a distinctive way not often seen now.  In one of the upper rooms of the house were hung many different types of lace window curtains and other examples of fine lace (much prized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries).

The museum prohibits photography, so I bought this postcard, which I keep in my desk to look at when I need to be inspired.

Mrs Gardner went further with her re-purposing.  The house itself incorporates many structural and decorative elements that she found and salvaged in various parts of the world.  The elements of the house are global and include tiles, wrought iron, stone carving, and old wood from many historical epochs and countries.  For a nineteenth-century woman, Isabella Gardner was unusually cosmopolitan and forward-looking,  and much of what she was aiming for in her house is still  cutting-edge now.

Have you ever been to her house?  If so, I would very much like to hear what you thought.  I would visit it very often if I lived nearby.

PS The museum was the scene of an infamous, unsolved 1990 art heist.

Powerful, seductive, deadly

Our lake is so beautiful and appealing that it’s easy to forget how dangerous it is.  Typically, it’s peaceful-like and seldom has dangerous-looking waves.

Yet tragically unnecessary deaths occur on the Lake each year.  Strollers drift off the concrete apron.  Distraught mothers drive off into it on frigid nights.  Inner-city kids looking to get cool plunge into it on hot summer days, never to be seen again.  Boozy sailors, taken off guard by a sudden weather change, find themselves in the drink. . . . The stories are many.

Every year, we see the emergency vehicles gathered on the beach, and we know what it means.

Click the image to enlarge.

Proud house

Proud house, Hyde Park (Credit: Celia Her City)

Hyde Park:  The area around the University has a lot of assertive architecture.  The massive houses along Woodlawn recall the days when Hyde Park was a young, remote, tony suburb, with a newfangled commuter rail connecting it to the Gilded Age city.

Proud house detail (Credit: Celia Her City)

When I see a proud house like this, I’m grateful that ambitious Americans chose to build their homes in the borrowed styles of other periods and countries.  To whomever built this house so long ago: thank you!  We are still enjoying your handiwork now.

Bare ornamental

Bare ornamental

A weeping ornamental does its work in Hyde Park.  The neighborhood is fretted with many such scenes: trees, once covered with the delicate blooms of spring, now dried up and naked; ivy-veined walls, stripped of their bright cloaks of leaves.  Evergreens, newly powerful, smugly come into their own.  Death mats the garden beds.  Stillness grips all.

Thanksgiving wrap

Thanksgiving table (Credit: Celia Her City)

Wednesday: I spent the day setting the table and arranging flowers for Thanksgiving.  My sister arrived from Boston around 5.  We had a friend over for dinner, ordered in from Home Made Pizza Co, ate in a smaller room off the dining room, and had a good time.

Thanksgiving guest (Credit: Celia Her City)

Thursday: My husband and I had agreed on a strict division of labor.  He would make the turkey, stuffing, and gravy; I would make the potatoes, vegetables, and the pies.  Thank goodness my sister was here because she did half the stuff I was supposed to.

I don’t have kids (Mr C has a grown son by his previous marriage), so dinner was for a small circle, which I was thrilled to host.  My husband and I usually spend Thanksgiving at the homes of friends or relatives.  This was the first time we had ever made Thanksgiving dinner together at home.  One of our guests brought Julius, one of the world’s greatest dogs.  Dinner was everything it should be, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

Friday: I went shopping with my sister (mainly to see the lights).  After about 40 minutes of shopping, we went to the Lavazza in the Drake and spent about 2 hours having coffee.  In the evening we went out with my brother’s family to eat Mexican.  I should have taken some pictures for the blog, but I didn’t.  My bad.

The toymaker on Racine (Credit: Celia Her City)

Saturday: My sister left first thing in the morning.  I got up and drove her to O’Hare.  That night Mr C and I went to a friend’s place to see some other friends who were in from Madison.  On our way to catch a cab afterward we walked past this toymaker’s.  (If you click on the link, be sure to click on the doorknob to go in.)

The new Sem Co-op (Credit: Celia Her City)

Sunday: I spent a lot time in the kitchen washing and putting away dishes and trying to wake up.  Around noon I drove to Hyde Park to see one of my closest friends and her family.  We walked over to campus to see the new Sem Co-op bookstore.  It was weird to be there.  Both Jack and Richard looked totally freaked out, but I bet the new store will work out once everyone gets used to how modern it is.  I think I would have liked it more if it weren’t trying so hard to look like the old bookstore.

Neglected journal

Neglected journal (Credit: Celia Her City)

I have kept many journals over the years.  Some I have filled in the space of months.  My current journal dates from 2005.  I write in it sporadically, but the habit has died.

Journal cover (Credit: Celia Her City)

Its front is decorated with a postcard showing an unnatural number of birds crammed onto one tree.  The picture is getting worn from rubbing up against other items in my purse, as I often (pointlessly) carry my journal around with me.

Fortunes (Credit: Celia Her City)

Inside are amusing fortunes from fortune cookies.  I don’t really believe in fortune-telling, but have you noticed that the fortunes you get fall into patterns?  My husband, for instance, gets kinds of fortunes that I never receive–like the ones telling you to forget your troubles and have a good time.

Open book (Credit: Celia Her City)

During the years I lived alone before getting remarried, I relied on my journal for steady-going.  I wrote pages and pages–an amazing record, really.  Our lives are amazingly crammed full and varied, even when outwardly the days are the same.

I wrote pages and pages (Credit: Celia Her City)

I don’t think blogging can take the place of a journal, do you?  It’s art to make a blog that incorporates the self fully.  If a blog mirrors even one part of yourself faithfully, that’s a great achievement.

Blogging is social, and that’s why we do it; but in a journal the self reigns supreme, over a kingdom of one.

My neglected journal (Credit: Celia Her City)

As my written contributions to my journal have dwindled, mementos of an active life have taken their place.  Filling the remaining pages of this volume could take many years.  Perhaps this is even my last journal; who knows?

The Fine Arts gets a face-lift

The Fine Arts Building under Renovation, 2012 (Credit: Celia Her City)

For many months (years, even) work has been underway on the Fine Arts facade.  The elaborate old building was caked with decades and decades of air pollution and dirt.  They clung to every inch of it, turning the whole building a murky black shade.

Fine Arts Facade, 2012 (Credit Celia Her City)

It’s been fascinating to see all the details emerge from the grime.  The building’s face is decorated with many different types of metal and cut stone, with windows of varying sizes and shapes, and an almost dizzying array of columns and pilasters and cornices, all in the service of keeping its (for the time very great) height from being boring.

Delineation of the Fine Arts facade (Credit: Celia Her City)

A project like this makes you appreciate all that goes into maintaining and using an old building of this kind.  The Fine Arts Building, originally known as the Studebaker, was designed by Solon Spencer Beman and first used as a showroom for the carriages that the Studebaker Company manufactured on its upper floors.  That was back in 1884.  By 1898, the building had been remodeled as a habitat for the Fine Arts and rechristened.  Today, it remains home to many painters, musicians, dancers, and other creatives and houses the old Artists Cafè, which I wrote about here.  Its theater, now shuttered, used to be one of the city’s best places for seeing good film.  May the money keep flowing til it’s fully restored.

Click here to see the Studebaker Building in its early days, when it and the old Art Institute occupied the same block.

Late fall

Leaves & stones (Credit: Celia Her City)

The leaves are down, most trees naked.

Dead leaves congregate in every corner (Credit: Celia Her City)

In the country, leaves blanket the forest floors, drift around country houses, congregating in every corner.

Vistas unveiled (Credit: Celia Her City)

In the city, the earth takes on a fresh-scrubbed look, as the leaves take flight.  New shadows appear on the earth, new views emerge.  The sky acquires an unaccustomed openness, a veil lifts, exposing the bones, the skeleton of our surroundings.

Load More