Bouffants and Big Speeches
I was going to start off this whole thing by saying that I rarely recommend coffee table books (because they are so often just vanity projects that make moving house even more of an expensive pain), but— then I remembered how many I have and love and why I endure that pain again and again. So forget it, I’m a pack rat building an impossibly heavy library that I do enjoy and sit with and page through for inspiration (or would, if 90% of them weren’t still on the east coast in storage). Forget all the throat clearing. I just received—and devoured—Deeda Blair’s new entry into the genre (via Rizzoli), Food, Flowers, and Fantasy, and as anyone with any glancing awareness of the iconic bouffanted and Balenciaga-ed lady in question might suspect, it is both discerning and excellent. Or as the introduction states:
The word “elegant” is in regular use in both fashion and science; it can describe a certain understated self-assurance manifest in a choice of clothing, an arrangement of furniture, or the setting of a table — and, equally, the underlying structures of the universe, or the routine transcription of RNA. It perfectly describes Deeda Blair.
(The RNA bit makes more sense in context; Blair has spent a lot of time and energy heavily involved with and fundraising for AIDS research, cancer treatment, and other important medical advances.) Later in the same introduction:
Pretension lies in striving to be who you are not; Deeda tries, rather, to be even more of who she is. And who she is outstrips what she says or does; her gentle way of insisting on peoples best selves enables their accomplishments.
What praise! What a maybe-unattainable-but-wouldn’t it-be-nice-to-read-about-yourself (especially in the intro to your coffee table book) level of perfection! It’s too bad most of us expect that we have to be dead to be spoken of so well. It makes me think, for some reason, about this speech from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, a speech which, for some reason, I think about all the time. Often at inopportune times. I don’t know why Act V, Scene ii, when Cleopatra is describing her recently deceased Anthony to a servant, is always rattling around up there in the creaky old caverns of my mind with other important facts like who is currently failing to live up to expectations on Love Is Blind (everyone but Tiffany and Brett, who are wonderful), and not, say, the fact that it’s time to pay my taxes, but that’s where it is! So now I’ll put it here for you:
His legs bestrid the ocean. His reared arm
Crested the world. His voice was propertied
As all the tunèd spheres, and that to friends.
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty,
There was no winter in ’t, an autumn ’twas
That grew the more by reaping. His delights
Were dolphinlike; they showed his back above
The element they lived in. In his livery
Walked crowns and crownets. Realms and islands were
As plates dropped from his pocket.
“His delights were dolphinlike; they showed his back above the element they lived in.” I don’t know why I love that so much, but I do. It’s the way we’d all like to be described, I guess. A giant among men, a formidable world-shaker, but generous in joy. Not that it ended well for either of them. But would we be talking about it if it did?
Anyways! To get back to Deeda for a moment, this whole entrée into her perfect “like being inside a pearl” pared back New York pied-a-terre began for me when my friend and former Departures colleague Dan Rubinstein sat down with her for his excellent podcast, the Grand Tourist back in March. It’s a lovely episode, and not just because I love to listen to Dan dig in to anything aesthetic. An intimate conversation with one of the last great doyennes of American society? With personal stories about Hubert de Givenchy and Billy Baldwin? A caviar soufflé recipe??????!!!!!! That honeyed tone of voice? Come on. At the very least you have to admire someone who commits to a single hairstyle early and never wavers (or, indeed, ever seems to place even a toe out of line in any real area of public concern). Give it a listen.
Or pick up the book! It made me want to have a tablecloth made and then a dinner party, immediately. It would probably make a lovely mother’s day present, especially if your mother likes cold soups and impeccable interiors. (Whose doesn’t!) It certainly made me wonder if I could pull off serving a green grape gelatin mold. I’d probably skip the custard sauce…
On with the show!
Perhaps your Easter basket left something to be desired? Allow me to recommend gifting yourself something delightful: Deux Cranes’ matcha chocolate. It’s heaven. If you’re not into matcha there are other flavors, too, but to me this one is it. The company also offers little candy filled “bento boxes” and new spring bonbon sets, which I have already ordered as gifts for beloved friends who are often too far away. As far as I’m concerned there is not a soul alive who doesn’t like getting something sweet in the mail. Even if they just turn around and regift it. Gestures matter! And speaking of…
Here’s a perfect springtime hostess present: Loria Stern’s impeccably pretty and unreasonably delicious pressed flower shortbread cookies. I ordered these to be delivered to my mother in advance of my arrival Easter weekend, in both the traditional rounds and new butterfly shapes. If pressed (ha), I’d go for the traditional rounds for more impact, I think, though the two sets look great laid out on a plate together. Loria also has a new book out, Eat Your Flowers about how to cook with pressed flowers, should you want to replicate the magic at home. If you don’t want to do the whole forage and pressing deal yourself, she also sells dried blooms on her site. I’m quite happy to let the experts do their thing and do my thing, which is gifting and eating. And…talking about it.
Random piece of good advice: I keep reminding myself of this thing the author Min Jin Lee said in a recent issue of How to Spend it, “Always choose the important over the urgent.” In a moment where I’ve been very busy with work, I’m trying to take that to heart! Not for nothing but I would also like to live in her study, as photographed in that issue.
A very good addition to the pantry: Fly by Jing Mala spice. I have discussed their chili crisp before, I think, as it is very good and lives with the five other chili crisps i have in my fridge at all times. The Mala spice is new to me and has saved several bland lunches I recently almost flopped. It makes nearly everything better in the most umami way. (And not an aggressive amount of heat to it, if that’s an issue for you.) 10/10, very good idea to have on hand when cooking/ marinating/ grilling…you get it.
I have been clamoring for a fun and easy and delightful romantic comedy to watch, and finally, here one is: Rye Lane (on Hulu). Well and richly shot, warm, real-feeling characters (even the second and third tier ones), actually cool parts of London. The leads are David Jonsson (who is also excellent on HBO’s Industry) and Vivian Oparah and I love their chemistry and their look(s) and the whole thing. And yes there’s a svene where someone runs dramatically, as there certainly must be to earn a spot in this genre. Next time you’re thinking about watching Notting Hill or Love Actually for the billionth time give this a go instead. For variety! (Colin Firth—my Mr Darcy, sorry Tom Wambsgans—agrees with me, to the degree of having a surprise cameo.) Here’s a good review of Rye Lane in the Atlantic, if you don’t trust me. (Though if you don’t, I’m shocked you made it this far.)
Speaking of Notting Hill, I’m obsessed all over again with how delightfully cranky Hugh Grant is. Apparently he’s good in Dungeons and Dragons(?), a movie that I have not and likely may never see. Anyways here he is talking shit with Graham Norton, who by the way, is such a gift. Why don’t we have a Graham Norton? We have all these lame thigh slappers safely yukking it up or worse, doing bad parlor games instead. Sigh.
A transporting roasted vegetable salad: Speaking of gifts, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen is just the best. (But you knew that.) Last week I had a beautiful bunch of carrots and an avocado and so I made this wonderful sheet pan thing which transported me to ABC Kitchen in the mid 2000s. Will make again!
I found this interview—with Dr. Roland Griffiths, the founding director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research—in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine to be gripping, moving, soothing. Like facing your mortality without fear, or a tight bear hug rolling down a hill. As the magazine put it:
Griffiths has been a pioneer in investigating the ways in which psychedelics can help treat depression, addiction and, in patients with a life-threatening cancer diagnosis, psychological distress. He has also looked at how the use of psychedelics can produce transformative and long-lasting feelings of human interconnectedness and unity. One could surely classify his achievements using various medical and scientific terms, but I’ll just put it like this: Griffiths has expanded the knowledge of how we might better learn to live. Now he is learning to die. Griffiths, who is 76, has been diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic colon cancer. It’s a diagnosis, in all likelihood terminal, that for him has brought forth transcendently positive feelings about existence and what he calls the great mystery of consciousness. “We all know that we’re terminal,” says Griffiths, who since being diagnosed has established an endowment at Johns Hopkins to study psychedelics and their potential for increasing human flourishing. “So I believe that in principle we shouldn’t need this Stage 4 cancer diagnosis to awaken. I’m excited to communicate, to shake the bars and tell people, ‘Come on, let’s wake up!’”
Speaking of big life stuff, after seeing this book on at least 4 different friends’ instagram posts and coffee tables, I caved and bought it too. (I told you about me and the hardcovers!) I have not read it yet though. Read into that however you like.
Some more good advice, courtesy of my TikTok algorithim! (And Maya Angelou.)
Need a spring in your step? Me too, it’s weirdly foggy here this week. I recently added a new pair of velvet furlane Mary Jane slippers to my ever-growing collection. This pair is by Sant M, in a deeply pretty petal pink. They are so comfortable, and look so good with a white tee shirt and a pair of cuffed dark-rinse blue jeans, or a cute cropped cardigan and my new favorite army-colored pants. Mostly they just make me happy to wear and look at, so that’s really enough.
And finally, let’s tie a bow on this whole thing via an excellent hair accessory that I am currently adding to cart, from the deeply chic and very great Mexico City based Chava studio. I am down for anything that aids in my ongoing pursuit of looking like one of Karyn Lyons’ paintings. (I suppose I will also need some better belts. Don’t we all!)
Speaking of CDMX, I loved this story about the history of their jacaranda trees.
Okay, back to work. More next time. Is there anything in particular you want to hear about? Let me know. I’m all ears/ eyes (/ feelings about that last episode of Succession, oof). Thanks for being here, as always. I love you.
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