Saturday, November 27, 2010

Masterpiece of the Week: “A Scene From Goethe’s Faust,” by Edward Corbould, 1852

Scene from Goethe's Faust
Edward Corbould, 1852
The Royal Collection
In 1852, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert went to see a production of the Goethe play, Faust, and immensely enjoyed the play. Queen Victoria was particularly impressed by the appearance of Mephistopheles whom she described in her diary as being, “quite horrid to look at.”

So struck by the performance were the queen and prince, that Victoria commissioned celebrated painter Edward Corbould to create a painting which captured the very moment that the Devil appeared to Faust in his laboratory. She gave the painting to Prince Albert as a souvenir of a wonderful evening shared at the theater.

Toys of the Belle Époque: A Pedal Car, 1920

Toy Pedal Car
England, 1920
Lines Brothers, Ltd.
The Museum of Childhood
Victoria & Albert Museum
As the world began to embrace the reality of the automobile and cars were being mass-produced and sold by The Ford Motor Company, toy makers—as they do now—looked to current social trends to create their toys. Pedal cars such as this one were produced for children as faithful reproductions of the real thing. With working headlights, a folding rear passenger seat, starter crank, moveable windshield and working horn, this car was meant to be a miniature version of the cars children were beginning to see appear with great frequency on their roads.

This is a toy that was not inexpensive. Only the wealthiest families (who no doubt owned real motorcars) could have afforded a toy of this kind of detail. While probably not the safest thing for your child to play with, it was probably quite a lot of fun.

At the Music Hall: "Sonny Boy," 1928

When there are grey skies I don't mind the grey skies.
You make them blue, Sonny Boy.
Friends may forsake me, let them all forsake me.
You pull me thru, Sonny Boy.
You're sent from heaven and I know your worth.
You made a heaven for me right here on the earth.
When I'm old and grey, dear, promise you won't stray, dear,
for I love you, Sonny Boy.

Written by Ray Henderson, Bud DeSylva and Lew Brown in 1928, Sonny Boy has long been a sentimental favorite known to bring tears to the eyes of even the toughest bloke. This was a popular song in both pubs and music halls—especially the former since the introduction of alcohol often makes for a love of sentiment. The song was popularized in the U.S. after being featured in the 1928 talking picture, The Singing Fool as sung by Al Jolson. Jolson’s recording of the song was the most popular record of the year for twelve weeks—earning over one million dollars. That was quite impressive in 1928. Today, the song is still part of our popular culture, and still, just as much of a tear-jerker as ever.

Saturday Sparkle: Queen Victoria’s Wedding Brooch, 1840

Queen Victoria's Wedding Brooch, 1840
Given by Prince Albert on the day before
their marriage.
The Royal Collection
The day before she wed Prince Albert, Queen Victoria wrote in her journal of a gift given by, “Dearest Albert” of a “splendid brooch—a large sapphire set round with diamonds, which is really quite beautiful.” She wore the brooch on her wedding day with her Turkish Diamonds, and continued to wear the brooch on a regular basis until 1861. During her long period of mourning, Queen Victoria rarely wore diamond jewelry.

We’re unsure from where Prince Albert purchased the brooch. Before their union and during the early years of his marriage, he spent a significant amount of money on jewelry for Victoria. His financial records show purchases from notable London jewelers as well as items purchased from dealers abroad. Historians suspect that this gold, diamond and sapphire brooch might have come from Asia.

This brooch is significant in that it set the style for jewelry in the early part of the Victorian era. Pieces which featured a simple setting of a large colored gem surrounded by diamonds became quite the fashion and remained popular for many years. The simplicity of design was meant to give the piece weight and importance—letting the stones speak for themselves. We can see the influence of this piece in later English jewelry designs reaching well into the 1920’s with the fashion of geometric-patterned jewelry in contrasting sapphires and diamonds.

All eyes looked to the royals for fashion cues. Not much has changed in that regard. As the world awaits the wedding of Prince William of Wales and Kate Middleton, many people are eagerly imitating the future princess’ elegant style.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 107

The Royal Street mansion was quiet. Cecil and Adrienne had long gone to sleep. Fuller slumbered peacefully in his borrowed crib. In the servant’s hall at the back of the house, Naasir slept fitfully in the room Meridian had given him—dreaming vividly about his mother and the stories she had told him when he was a child in Africa.

Upstairs in the house, Robert lay awake in his bed. Across the hall, Mr. Punch sat in the chair by the fireplace and watched as Toby snored gentle dog-snores in the bed, curled up next to the puppet which Punch had tucked under the covers long before.

“Nothin’ to play with.” Mr. Punch muttered as he watched the firelight flicker. He grumbled to himself. “Gonna dress me lady chum up like that monster. Can’t be a good thing, it can’t. Still,” he thought, “Can’t see as Robert and Cecil would put her in danger. They must know what they’re doin’. They must.”

Mr. Punch rose and began to pace the floor until his attention was caught by the costume that Adrienne and Gamilla had sewed for him. Draped across the back of the desk chair, the costume looked inviting to Punch—lying there with its bright red sleeves and shockingly white ruffles. The slouching curve of the hat which sat on the desk beckoned to him and he walked slowly to the desk. He put the hat on Julian’s head and studied himself in the wardrobe mirror—grinning at his own reflection in the dim firelight.

“Can you see this, Master?” Julian asked aloud. “Can you see what I’m seein’ through your eyes or are you asleep, too?”

Mr. Punch listened. He was used to hearing the other voices which kept him company in Julian’s body. None of them were speaking to him at that moment.

“All’s quiet,”’ Punch muttered as he took off the hat and returned it to the desk. He walked over to the bed and petted Toby’s warm furry body—gently, so as not to awaken the sleeping terrier.

“That’s good.” Punch whispered. “You sleep. Can’t think of why you wouldn’t. Ain’t got no troubles to keep you awake. Just as long as you got food and a warm place to sleep, you’re happy. And, you should be, you should. What must it be like to be a dog? Wonder if you’re dreamin’ o’ things. Dog things like what you see when your eyes are open. I dream, I do. Sometimes, I wonder if all o’ this is just some kind of dream and that when I wake up I’ll still be a puppet in a cabinet with wooden hands and a smile that don’t ever frown.”

Punch looked around the room again. “But, no, this is real. I can smell it and feel it, and I know in me heart—me master’s heart—that somethin’ terrible is waitin’ for us outside of this house. I know that this must be the thing that me master feels each and every moment. What’s he call it? His dread. Yes, his dread. Now, I know what it means to dread. Somethin’ awful, it is.”

Punch jumped when he heard a knock at the door.

“Enter,” he said softly.

Robert came into the room. “I had a feeling you’d be awake.”

“I am.” Mr. Punch nodded. “You should be sleepin’ though. What’s it you’re always sayin’ ‘bout needin’ sleep?”

“You need to sleep, too.” Robert said quietly.

“I’m used to not sleepin’. Me master never sleeps. I’m just doin’ what he does.”

“You know that Cecil and I will make sure that nothing happens to Adrienne. Don’t you?”

“Think you’ll try.” Mr. Punch said. “But, I don’t think you can make sure nothin’ happens. You don’t know what them women will do. They’re no good those three. The Duchess, The Ogress and that wicked Ulrika. Let’s not forget his sister. Barbara Allen don’t call herself that cuz of her kindness, she don’t. Hers is not a story that will end in the ‘red rose and the briar.’ Hers is a story that will go on for a long, long time. And, Arthur… And, the nanny…Agnes.”

“Let’s not forget what strength we do have. Isn’t the power of our strength greater than theirs?”

“Is it?” Mr. Punch asked.

“You’re the one that always beats the devil. Don’t forget.” Robert smiled.

“One devil.” Mr. Punch said. “One at a time. Not a whole army o’ ‘em at once.”

“Now isn’t the time for doubt.” Robert replied.

“’Spose not. But, now’s as good a time as any to think about the truth o’ things.” Mr. Punch grumbled.

“We must trust in our own abilities.”

“Trust?” Mr. Punch shook his head. “I understand what the word means, but…”

“Dear Punch, don’t you know that I’d give my life before I let anything happen to any of you?”

“That’s what scares me the most.”

Meanwhile, the Duchess of Fallbridge was complaining loudly to Iolanthe Evangeline. “If you think I’m going to stay here—in this…this…house of ill-repute…”

“You don’t have a choice, Your Grace.” Iolanthe said firmly. “Would you prefer to stay in a hotel where your presence would immediately be known?”

“But, this…” The Duchess moaned.

“Being here doesn’t make you a whore.” Iolanthe laughed.

The Duchess’ cheeks turned bright red.

“Shocked?” Iolanthe continued to laugh.

“How dare you speak to me that way?” The Duchess asked.

“You’re just the same as me, honey. I don’t want you thinkin’ that you’re not. This bed is just as good as any other.”

“But, my maid. She’ll talk.”

“Your maid seems quite happy here. Maybe I’ll keep her. I think she’d bring in quite a lot of business.”

“You’re wicked.” The Duchess spat.

“You’re lookin’ in a mirror, Your Grace. You’re lookin’ in a mirror…”

Mala burst into the room without knocking. The Duchess gasped at the sight of the homely woman with her stooped back and expression of crooked cruelty.

“How many times have I told you to knock?” Iolanthe growled.

“Sorry, Miss Iolanthe.” Mala nodded. “But, you gotta come downstairs. There’s someone here for to see ya.”

“I’m not receiving guests tonight. Give him to one of the girls.” Iolanthe said sharply.

“Ain’t a man.” Mala smiled. “It’s Miss Allen.”

“Well, well…” Iolanthe grinned. “She’s finally come back.” She turned to the Duchess. “Are you ready for a family reunion, Your Grace?”

“What does this Miss Allen have to do with me?” The duchess hissed. “I don’t want to see one of your…girls.”

“You’ll want to see this one.” Iolanthe chuckled. “She’s your daughter.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-106? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, November 29, for Chapter 107 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Take Your Time

Very often, we impose deadlines on ourselves which are just unrealistic. Whether it’s in our work or our home-lives, we decide that something must be completed “now.” But, think about it. How often is it necessary that something has to happen immediately? Unless you’re doing something that is a matter of life and death or you’re trying to complete a task that if left incomplete will threaten your well-being, most things aren’t really all that urgent. It’s important, of course, to have goals and it’s necessary to set deadlines for those goals. However, we should try to be realistic when deciding when a task needs to be completed. Weigh the importance of everything you do against the really necessary things.

This weekend, many of you are out shopping for Christmas and other holidays. It’s not necessary to harm yourself in order to do this. Take your time. The people for whom we’re buying gifts will be a lot happier knowing that you’re safe and comfortable than they will if you’ve risked life and limb to get them something on sale. If they’re not, then they don’t deserve a gift anyway.

We’re in control of what we do and when. So, give yourself a break and be comfortable. Unless you’re delivering a cooler of kidneys to a hospital, there’s very little that requires such a hurry.

Object of the Day: An Antique Sessions Clock

In the early Twentieth Century in America, only a few clock makers dominated the market. One of the most prolific was the Sessions Clock Company of Connecticut. Sessions began in 1903 and produced clocks until the 1950’s. However, by the end of their run, they had begun to create electric clocks and timers for television sets.

This Sessions clock (notable for the large “S” on the pendulum) comes from 1905-1910. Constructed of marbleized wood, the case features brass mounts and green Corinthian pilasters to form the popular “Temple” style of mantel clocks which were dominant during this time period. The clock chimes (quite loudly) on the hour and “dings” on the half hour by means of small bell. This is the only American clock in my collection. I have to say that it’s the loudest clock of the lot. I find that American clocks are louder than French clocks—they ring louder, they tick louder. I suspect a lot of it has to do with the fact that this clock has a wooden case. The French clocks have slate and/or alabaster cases which absorb the sound better.

For the longest time, this clock was on the mantel in my bedroom, but I found it distracting due to its inherent loudness. I replaced it with a much quieter marble French clock and moved it to my study where it cheerfully keeps me on task. Despite its insistent noise, it’s an attractive clock and testament to the masterful work of the Sessions Clock Company.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Fun: An Early Twentieth Century German Animation

This silent animation comes from Germany in the early Twentieth Century and depicts a traditional Punch & Judy scene (in Germany, they’re known as “Kasperl" and "Gretl").  Mr. Punch and his wife are having one of their patented spats.  The film is crafted so that it forms an endless loop.  It’s quite interesting.  That's the way to do it!

Antique Image of the Day: The English Fleet at Cherbourg

The English Fleet at Cherbourg, 1858
Gustave Le Gray
The Royal Collection
Yesterday, we watched the stunning French film, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (which I heartily recommend—even with subtitles).  So, I was pleased to find this antique photograph from the collection of Queen Victoria.  Taken on August 5, 1858 by Gustave Le Gray, this photo shows the English fleet in the harbor at Cherbourg.  On August 4, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert sailed in their yacht, The Victoria and Albert, to France to meet Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie.  The English fleet awaited their arrival and gave them a roaring gun salute when the yacht came into the harbor.  This is that moment.  Lovely!
Here's another clip from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg just because...

Mr. Punch in the Arts: Mr. Punch Meets Mr. Dickens

Charles Dickens is the first name many people think of when recalling Victorian England. Of course, that makes sense. Dickens was one of the most prolific writers of the era. As Punch & Judy shows were one of the major forms of entertainment available to everyone, Dickens would have encountered the fabulous Mr. Punch many a time. It only stands to reason that among Dickens’ colorful cast of characters would be some Punch & Judy men. In The Old Curiosity shop, Little Nell and her grandfather stumble across a couple of Punch & Judy men during their journey. Here, in this lovely illustration from the original printing of The Old Curiosity Shop, we see this encounter as rendered by Dickens’ long-time friend and illustrator, Daniel Maclise. Maclise also provided the illustrations for Nicholas Nickleby and several of Dickens’ Christmas-themed stories.

I love this image. It truly captures a moment in time. I think it’s grand that Mr. Punch is draped over a tombstone as the men inventory their tools. You can see Judy still in the suitcase. Mr. Punch has had a significant influence on all forms of art. Here’s hoping that he continues to do so for centuries to come.

Living the Belle Époque: A Dinner to Remember

Every year, my mother and father work for days to create the perfect Thanksgiving for our family. Between the cooking, baking, cleaning and arranging, it amount to hours of work which are then gone as fast as we can eat it. This year, I thought I should chronicle the event so that a record would remain of their monumental achievements long after the food was gone.

We began the day with a lovely breakfast—complete with a homemade cornbread. Cornbread, as you’ll see, is one of the main components of my mother’s famous dressing.

While the turkey was roasting, my mother worked her magic, pausing briefly to bake two extra kinds of cookies, just in case the two pies weren’t enough.

The first course consisted of a lovely home-made soup of butternut squash and pear adorned with roasted nuts and sour cream infused with citrus rind. Even Bertie had some. He felt left out.

As always, the turkey was a work of art with a beautiful mahogany skin. Roasted and basted to perfection, the key to achieving this lovely color is to coat the bird in cheesecloth while it’s in the oven. The dressing was sheer beauty—cornbread, white bread, herbs, sausage, and onions. Absolutely stunning! With a side of haricots vertes topped with a balsamic reduction and toasted sesame seeds, whipped potatoes and parsnips, a lovely cranberry and apricot compote and a sublime home-made gravy, the dinner was complete. Placed on their lovely table—perfectly set, we lifted flutes of champagne to toast the day and each other.

Of course, dessert was phenomenal. My mother bakes a beautiful pumpkin pie every year. Sadly, I’ve never taken a shine to pumpkin pie. So, each year my mother also makes me a Derby Pie of pecans, chocolate and bourbon. The crust of each was home-made, adorned with hand-cut leaves and exquisitely baked. In addition, we had Cinnamon Pinwheel cookies and Pillows of chocolate chips and nuts. A nice stiffly whipped cream unified everything.

So, my many thanks to my family for another lovely holiday. It was the ideal reminder of all the beauty that the world still has. I hope that all of you had similarly grand days.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 106

The Duchess of Fallbridge raised her well-trimmed eyebrows and arched her back. “How dare you ask me such a question, Miss Magdalena? If that is your name.”

Iolanthe Evangeline grinned. “Is it not true that you were responsible for the murder of your husband, Sir Colin Molliner?”

“Of course it’s not true!” The Duchess growled. “How could you ask me such a thing?”

“I know people.” Iolanthe smirked. “I know many people. I receive a good deal of correspondence from Paris. You were clever, Your Grace, but not nearly as clever as you think. People’s loyalties change quickly—especially the kind of people who you employed to kill your husband. I don’t want you thinking that those very same people aren’t known to me and that they aren’t quite willing to share their knowledge for a price.”

“Who are you really?” The Duchess asked, her cheeks turning bright red.

“I call myself Iolanthe Evangeline though others have different names for me.”

“Why have you brought me here? Why did you summon me from across the ocean? You say you know the whereabouts of my son and daughter. But, that’s not the reason, is it?” Her Grace asked.

“Not entirely.” Iolanthe laughed. “I think we could be very helpful to one another.”

“In what way?”

“You could help me in my business, and I in yours.”

“What is your business?”

“I have many an enterprise.” Iolanthe winked. “Let’s say that I am in the business of making fantasy a reality. For a fee, I can make anything happen. For the right fee, I can perform miracles.”

“You seem to think very highly of yourself,” The Duchess hissed. “You seem to think you’re triumphant. No one triumphs over me! No one controls me. I am Pauline, Duchess of Fallbridge. Don’t forget that!”

“To me, you’re just the same as I am. You’re a strong woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Even murder.”

“I did not murder my husband.”

“Not with your own pearl-white, delicate hands. No.”

“Not with anyone’s hands. I had nothing to do with it.”

“Of course not.” Iolanthe smiled. “Nor have I had any hand in the death of many a man. However, there are documents stating the contrary—about both of us.”

“Show me.” The Duchess said softly.

“In time, perhaps.” Iolanthe chuckled. “But, not until you give me what I want.”

“Which is?” Her Grace asked.

“Your loyalty.” Iolanthe narrowed her eyes. “No matter how fleeting.”

Meanwhile on Royal Street, Mr. Punch sat by the fire in Julian’s dressing gown. His wet hair felt cold against his warm forehead, and his cheeks were flushed from the hot bath he had just taken.

Robert knocked on the door and entered without waiting for a response. “Do you feel better?”

“Not ‘specially.” Mr. Punch sighed. “Me heart feels like it’s gonna pound right out of me chest.”

“Let me see your hands,” Robert said, standing in front of Mr. Punch.

Punch offered Julian’s hands to Robert who inspected them.

“Healing nicely.” Robert said. “I don’t think you’ll need the bandages anymore. However, you’ll still need to be careful with them.”

Mr. Punch nodded.

Robert knelt down and looked at Julian’s legs. “The burns here are also healing. Do they hurt?”

“No, but they itch.”

“That’s a good sign.” Robert grinned. He rose from his knees and settled into the chair across from Mr. Punch. “So, tell me. Why do you think Julian’s mother is close at hand?”

“Just a feelin’.” Mr. Punch shrugged.

Toby trotted over and jumped onto the chair, making himself comfortable on Julian’s lap.

“I think Toby senses something, too.” Robert smiled. “He’s protecting you. Just as I am.”

“Ain’t no way to protect us from Pauline.” Mr. Punch grunted.

“She’s just a human woman.” Robert said. “She can do us no harm.”

“You’ve never met the Duchess.” Mr. Punch shivered, patting the dog. “She’s terrible bad.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“I’ve met her many a time though me master don’t remember it. All them times when she’s been ‘specially rotten to him, I came out to take her abuse, I did.”

“Did she ever strike you?” Robert asked. “Or Julian?”

“Hittin’ ain’t the worst o’ what she done.” Mr. Punch sighed. “Sometimes other things hurt worse than hands. Everyone’s afraid of her. She’s got a way ‘bout her what’s just pure wickedness. Even that awful nanny is scared of her. ‘The Duchess must never know.’” He muttered.

“Perhaps if you were to talk about it…” Robert said. “You can tell me anything.”

“I know.” Mr. Punch said. “But, sayin’ it only makes it real.”

“It was real.” Robert said softly.

“But, it don’t have to stay that way.” Mr. Punch grunted.

Someone knocked softly on the door.

“Who is it?” Robert asked.

“It is I,” Adrienne said. “May I come in?”

“Bien sur.” Robert replied.

As Adrienne entered, Robert remembered that Mr. Punch wasn’t fully dressed.

“Oh, pardon me,” Adrienne said. In her hands she carried a suit of clothes.

“Just had a bath, I did.” Mr. Punch smiled. “Don’t worry, I got this thing on. Can’t see nothin’.”

Adrienne chuckled. “Even if I did, it wouldn’t…” She paused. “Well, I’ve come up here to tell you that I’ve finished this.”

“What is it?” Mr. Punch asked eagerly.

“It’s your costume for the Fancy Dress ball, Mr. Punch.” Adrienne held the suit up for him to see. It was an exact replica of the fine little clothes she’d made for the puppet.

“Coo!” Mr. Punch whooped.

“You approve, then?” Adrienne smiled.

“I should say!” Mr. Punch cooed.

“I’m so pleased.” Adrienne smiled, laying the costume on the bed. “You can try it on later and if there are any alterations needed, I will make them before the ball.” She looked at Robert. “I’ve almost finished yours. I’d hoped to be done with this before we came to New Orleans, but when Cecil insisted we leave early, I had Gamilla pack all of it up so I could complete them here. She’s been helping me. She’s a much better seamstress than she gives herself credit for. The fabric all came from Marjani. She dyed it herself. She’s quite good. Perhaps one day if she’s ever a free woman, she can make a fine living at it.”

“I hope she has a chance to do so.” Robert said seriously.

“Robert, I am only missing one piece from my costume.” Adrienne said.

“Anything I can help with?” Robert asked.

“Not unless you know a good wigmaker.” Adrienne laughed. “I’ll find one in the city. I’m sure Meridian must know someone.”

“What’s your costume gonna be?” Mr. Punch asked. “Are you gonna be ‘Judy’?”

“No.” Adrienne giggled. “That would mean that Cecil would have to be Mr. Punch and, happily, that part is already taken.”

“So, what’re gonna be then?”

Robert shifted in his seat uncomfortably.

“Shall I tell him?” Adrienne asked Robert.

“You might as well.” Robert nodded. “He’ll find out eventually.”

“I’m going as Iolanthe Evangeline.” Adrienne responded.

“What?” Mr. Punch’s eyes widened. “Whatever for?”

“It seems my husband and his wise brother have something of a scheme planned.” Adrienne smiled weakly.

“No.” Mr. Punch shook Julian’s head. “I won’t let you do it.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-105? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Relish Your Leftovers

The majority of people in the United States enjoyed a great feast yesterday.  Most of us ate until we were bursting and almost all of us have a refrigerator full of leftovers.  On the day where we’re meant to celebrate and remember the good things in our life, we should remember that those things for which we’re grateful remain throughout the year.  As you enjoy your leftovers, remember that the turkey, dressing and potatoes aren’t the only things that remain the next day.  All of the things we celebrated yesterday remain today and will continue to remain.  Those are the greatest leftovers of all. 

Object of the Day: An Antique Rhinestone Comb

Image an elegant dinner party in 1880. Everyone is dressed in their finest clothes. The gentleman are proudly wearing glittering diamond stickpins in the brightly-colored cravats. The ladies have donned their best gown—diamonds sparkle from the wrists, necks and ears and shimmer in the gaslight. The flicker of fans, the contrast of white gloves against deep velvet, everyone is on their best behavior and the evening is ebbing with excitement. The women wear their hair in elaborate upswept coiffures, secured by myriad pins and anchored by beautiful combs which catch the light. They seem almost ethereal, almost angelic.

A comb such as this one would have seen many a grand affair. This comb, dating from about 1880, is English in origin. It’s crafted of celluloid designed to look like tortoise shell. The crown of the comb is an elaborate skeleton of wires which hold brilliant-cut white and citrine-colored rhinestones. Delicately placed at the back of a lady’s head, this comb would have been the finishing touch to her ensemble.

Like the other combs in my collection, this one has been mounted in a custom-built, velvet-lined shadow box to preserve its beauty. So many of these intimate pieces have been lost. It’s a further reminder to protect the things that we use each day. Even the most commonplace of items has an intrinsic beauty and value all its own.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Regular updates to Stalking the Belle Époque will resume tomorrow, Friday, November 26, 2010.  Here’s wishing everyone a joyful Thanksgiving!

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Thanksgiving Edition

"What is this?  Is this potatoes?  Don't  you Pilgrims believe in butter?"

Image: The First Thanksgiving by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris, 1863-1930

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Building of the Week: The White House

Hoban's original design.
Sitting proudly at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the District of Columbia, the White House has long been the official residence of the President of the United States and his family. Built between 1792 and 1800, the original structure was designed by James Hoban, an architect of Irish descent.

In 1792, when George Washington was first elected president, he maintained two residences in New York. While plans to build the District of Columbia were being carried out, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was named the temporary national capital and Washington moved into a house which had been rented for his official use. Meanwhile, Pennsylvanians were busily building a grand presidential mansion in an unsuccessful bid to have Philadelphia remain the capital of the United States. That structure was ultimately purchased by the University of Pennsylvania.

Pierre Charles L’Enfant, who had designed the federal city, had envisioned a magnificent presidential palace for the location on Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1792, a competition was held to select an architect for the executive mansion. Nine people (including an anonymous Thomas Jefferson) submitted plans. Washington selected the design by James Hoban though he wanted many changes to Hoban’s plan. Washington thought Hoban’s design was too small and that the structure was lacking ornamentation and formal reception spaces.

According to Washington’s instructions, Hoban enlarged the planned structure by thirty percent and amended the design of the façade. Some believe that Hoban based his design on Leinster House in Dublin, Ireland. Washington also oversaw the addition of a formal reception room akin to the space he preferred at Mount Vernon and the “bow window” reception area at his Pennsylvania mansion.

After the Fire of 1814
George Munger
Construction of the presidential mansion took eight years. The house was constructed in a Neoclassical Style with Palladian overtones. Built of Aquia sandstone over brick, the mansion and its ornate pediments (both pointed and segmented) and high relief ornamentation were whitewashed with a compound of glue, lead and lime to protect the porous sandstone from the elements. Despite popular thinking, the house was always white and was intended to be white. Some erroneously believe that the mansion was whitewashed after being burned in 1814. However, this is not the case. Originally called, “The President’s Palace,” “The Presidential Mansion” or “The President’s House,” the first written naming of the structure as “The White House” didn’t come until 1811 . Until Theodore Roosevelt took office, the house was officially called “The Executive Mansion.” Teddy Roosevelt changed the official name of the building to “The White House.”

The South Portico in 1846
Over the next two centuries, as America changed, so did the White House. Due to limitations in labor and materials, the original house was only two stories tall. Now, it’s six stories, though it appears to still only be two. On November 1, 1800, John Adams became the first president to take residence in the house being succeeded by Thomas Jefferson who added the two colonnades which now connect the main house to the East and West wings.

In 1814, during the War of 1812, British troops burned much of Washington, D.C., including the White House. After the fire, only the exterior of the building remained. President James Madison resided at The Octagon House while Hoban and another architect, Benjamin LaTrobe, worked on rebuilding the Executive Mansion from 1815-1817. The South Portico with its famously bowed façade was added during the presidency of James Munroe in 1824. The iconic pedimented North Portico (which is the official image of the White House) was added in 1830.

Throughout this time, the mansion was deemed too small and unsuitable for its purpose and many tried to lobby for the erection of a new Presidential Mansion. By the time Lincoln was residing in the White House, the president and his staff had more than outgrown the structure. Yet, the seat of the presidency remained there. Under Chester A. Arthur in the 1880’s, the house was completely remodeled on the inside with designs by Louis Comfort Tiffany. In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt hired celebrated architects McKim, Mead and White to build an expansive addition to the west side of the mansion, connected by Jefferson’s west colonnade. The new section has always been referred to as “The West Wing” and houses the “oval office.”

The central interior during
the Truman Restoration
The Oval Office hasn’t always been in the same location. After a fire in 1929, Franklin D. Roosevelt had the Oval Office moved closer to the rose garden so that he could enter and exit more privately in his wheelchair.

By 1948, the White House was declared structurally unsound. Too many interior changes and the addition of a level in the attic had rendered the mansion in a state of near collapse. Harry S. Truman declared that the White House be gutted. The entire interior was torn out and rebuilt with a steel-framed structure between 1949 and 1951. During this time, two sub-basements were added to increase useable space.

The next major renovation happened during John F. Kennedy’s term. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was in charge of the renovation and spent many weeks researching the history of the mansion so that she could restore it with a sense of historical accuracy. You can see Mrs. Kennedy giving a tour of the White House for CBS news in the archival footage below.

Since then, each first family has made some kind of changes to the White House, but the structure has remained fairly much the same. Though some would disagree, it’s a house that’s well-suited to the office of the President of the Unites States. While Classically grand, it’s not too ostentatious and speaks of a solid, persevering, utilitarian mindset. It’s not the rambling palace that L’Enfant had envisioned when he designed the District of Columbia, nor should it be. It’s the perfect symbol of America.

Precious Time: Queen Victoria’s Sèvres Clock, 1837

Sevres Manufactory
Created in 1837
Presented to Queen Victoria, 1844
Porcelain, Ormolu, Marble
The Royal Collection
Originally made for France's King Louis-Philippe in 1837, this magnificent polychrome porcelain, ormolu and marble clock shows images of famous horologists (clockmakers) and depicts the history of clock-making.  This clock is actually a copy of one that was also made by Sèvres in 1826 for King Charles X.  When King Louis-Philippe visited Windsor in 1844, he brought this clock as a gift for Queen Victoria.  The queen was said to have adored the clock which she displayed proudly at Windsor Castle.

Unusual Artifacts: George Washington’s Teeth

George Washington's Lower Dentures
The National Museum of Dentistry, Baltimore
The first United States president was plagued by dental problems. By the time he was twenty-two, he had already lost his first adult tooth. Washington’s early tooth-lose owes much to the lack of antibiotics. During his early life, he was troubled by many common illnesses of the time—the treatments for which tended to deteriorate the integrity of a person’s teeth. When he was elected president, Washington only had one tooth in his head.

Washington wore dentures and had several sets made through the years. His favorite dentist was John Greenwood. However, contrary to popular belief, none of his dentures were made of wood. George’s teeth were constructs of gold, ivory, human bone, animal bones and teeth and teeth extracted from cadavers. I think, perhaps, wood might have been more pleasant.

The first president always had problems with his dentures. They broke frequently and he’d have to send them through the mail to Greenwood for repair. Ultimately, he began repairing them himself, having requested the proper tools to do so. He didn’t do a very good job of it. His short speeches and famous brevity were due more to oral pain than succinctness.

The National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore—an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute—houses several sets of Washington’s teeth and explains how the differences in his dentures changed the look of his face. We can see these changes throughout the various portraits painted of Washington. In some, he even stuffed his mouth with cotton during the sittings so that he would appear healthier.

So, no, his teeth weren’t wooden, but the fact that so many sets of the first president’s teeth remain, is, by itself, quite unusual.

Painting of the Day: “The Washington Family,” by Edward Savage 1789-1796

The Washington Family
Edward Savage, 1789-96
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
The National Gallery of Art, U.S.
American painter Edward Savage was known for his historical paintings and, sadly, the fact that his ambition outshone his talents. His paintings are often stiff and anatomically awkward due to his lack of formal training and natural artistic instincts. He did, however, manage to secure several well-known sitters, most notably George Washington and his family.

Washington, his wife Martha, and her children from her first marriage (she was widowed) sat for Savage in 1789-90 so that he could produce a series of sketches of the group. In 1790, Savage traveled to London where he sketched and was meant to study. He spent most of his time in England drawing and making a name for himself as a collector of art. Savage’s greatest achievement perhaps, is that of a curator more so than an artist. When he returned to New York, he opened the Columbian Gallery and is considered one of the first American museum proprietors.

In 1794, Savage began the actual painting of this nine-foot wide portrait of the Washington Family—four years after the initial sketches. Ever the master showman, he advertised this fact quite broadly and invited visitors (for a fee) to see a “life-sized” image of the first “first family.” In fact, Savage became quite wealthy from this painting—not only from the many engravings that he sold of the finished work, but by charging people to see it.

The portrait is meant to be set at Mount Vernon. However, Savage had never seen Mount Vernon and had no idea what it looked like. The background shows marble columns and a liveried footman in the English manner that Savage had learned to copy while abroad. The composition is rigid, flat and awkward, showing the artist’s lack of skill. He relied heavily on his assistants to do much of his painting for him.

Savage was quite pleased with himself for the “symbolism” of this work. He fancied that he had imbued the figure of Washington with a sense of military and presidential dignity by costuming him in his uniform and putting papers in his hand. Martha Custis Washington holds a map of the unfinished District of Columbia—pointing with her fan to what is now Pennsylvania Avenue.

It’s a curious painting indeed, but an important one as it is, as Savage would have been the first to tell you, one of the few looks we’ll ever get at the entire assembled Washington family.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 105

Mr. Punch paced the floor, followed closely behind by Toby whose little paws tapped on the wood floor. Punch mumbled as he paced, glancing periodically at his puppet who stared back at him from a chair in the corner.

“What’s he doing?” Cecil whispered to Adrienne who sat nearby—with Fuller on her lap—in the drawing room of the Royal Street mansion.

“He’s thinking,” Adrienne said softly. “Let him be.”

Cecil looked quickly at Robert who was sitting by the fireplace. They made eye contact. Robert shrugged.

After awhile, Mr. Punch stopped pacing and muttering and sat down on the floor in the exact place where he’d been standing. Toby flopped over onto his side and tapped Julian’s knee with his paw. Punch absent-mindedly scratched the dogs stomach.

“Everything all right with you, dear Punch?” Robert asked.

“I ‘spose.” Mr. Punch grumbled. He paused and looked at the dog. “Here, this dog’s got four feet.”

“That’s the required number for a dog,” Adrienne smiled.

“How many toes does it got?” Mr. Punch asked, gently taking one of the dog’s paws in Julian’s hand and examining it. “One, two, three, four…and this thing in the back. Is that a toe?”

“I’m not sure if you could call any of those toes, per se.” Cecil answered.

“Don’t know if you got toes or not,” Mr. Punch whispered to the dog. “Here, what about this?” He pointed to the joint in Toby’s front leg. “Is that his elbow or his knee?”

“I don’t really know.” Cecil smiled. “I’m not well-versed in the proper language of canine anatomy. I don’t think that the names for human body parts necessarily apply to animals.”

“Got a head, don’t he?” Mr. Punch muttered.

“Yes,” Cecil nodded.

“Got a stomach, too.” Mr. Punch continued. “Those are two things what people got.”

“He also has a tail.” Cecil replied. “None of us has a tail.”

“No.” Mr. Punch shook Julian’s head. “Though it’d be interestin’, wouldn’t it?”

“Rather cumbersome, I think,” Adrienne chuckled.

Mr. Punch sighed. “For as much as we know, we just don’t know nothin’. We don’t know nothin’.” He rose and started pacing again. Toby sprung up and followed Punch back and forth.

“Mr. Punch, why don’t you entertain us with a puppet show?” Adrienne asked quickly. “I know that Fuller would enjoy it.”

“Really?” Mr. Punch paused, one foot still off the ground.

“I’m sure he would.” Adrienne nodded.

“Ain’t gonna be a proper show. Ain’t got a swazzle. It’ll have to be me own voice.”

“What better?” Adrienne said. “Mr. Punch voiced by Mr. Punch himself.”

“I’m just a Mr. Punch, I’m not the only one.” Punch sighed.

“You’re the only one with a beating heart and an intelligent mind.” Robert said affectionately. “While there are, no doubt, dozens of puppet Mr. Punches, you’re the only one that’s a man.”

“I ‘spose that’s true.” Punch said, retrieving his puppet from the chair and sitting next to Adrienne and Fuller.

He gently put his hand into the puppet’s glove-body and made the figure stand tall in front of the baby.

“Dum-de-dum,” Punch hummed as he made the puppet dance.

Fuller clapped his hands and squealed.

“What ho?” Punch said in a theatrical voice. “What’s this, then? A baby, is it? Funny thing ‘bout babies. They’re just little blokes what drool a lot.”

“Not unlike the men in your club, Cecil.” Adrienne smiled.

“I say,” Cecil grimaced.

“I think this baby is a fine man.” Mr. Punch continued. “Would this fine man like to help ol’ Mr. Punch?”

The child cooed.

“Mr. Punch has to defeat the devil!” Punch continued. “In a battle of fire and ice…” His voice trailed off.

“Here,” Mr. Punch said after a moment. “I don’t want to disappoint the little man, but I feel cold, I do. Maybe we could play another time.”

“Of course, Punch.” Adrienne nodded, showing her concern. “Why don’t you go sit by the fire with Toby.

“Better still,” Robert stood up. “How about you and I go upstairs? I’ll have Naasir prepare a nice warm bath for you.”

“Wouldn’t mind a bath.” Mr. Punch said. “That’s one good thing ‘bout bein’ a people. Can’t take a bath when you’re made of wood and paper.”

“Come along, then, bring your puppet.” Robert said, gently placing his hand on Mr. Punch’s shoulder. He looked to Adrienne and Cecil. “We’ll say good night now.”

“We’ll play more tomorrow,” Punch said. “I promise.”

“Of course we will,” Adrienne smiled understandingly. “Good night, dear Mr. Punch.”

“Yes, good night, old chap.” Cecil nodded.

Robert led Mr. Punch to the stairs. “Now, then, you go up to your room. I’ll fetch Naasir and will join you momentarily.”

Punch stopped in front of the stairs and moaned. He put Julian’s arms around Robert and whispered in his ear. “She’s here. I feel it.”

“You’re shaking,” Robert said, hugging the man.

“I’m cold, I am.” Mr. Punch said softly.

“Who’s here?” Robert said, releasing Punch and looking him square in the eyes.

“His mother…” Punch said. “I can feel her.”

At that very moment, the Duchess of Fallbridge sat across from Iolanthe Evangeline at a dimly lit table at a restaurant.

“Tell me, Miss Magdalena,” the Duchess said, referring to Iolanthe by the name she’d been using with the Duchess, “now that I’ve responded to your letter and traveled all the way here, where is my son? In your missive, you stated clearly that you knew where he was.”

“I’ll take you there very soon, Your Grace.” Iolanthe smiled.

“Miss Magdalena, I’ve not come all this way to sit in this fetid place and eat this vile food. I’ve come to secure my dimwitted son who seems to have failed in the one simple task I’ve given him. Now, tell me where he is.”

“You need to keep up your strength,” Iolanthe said. “Such a beautiful woman must be strong.”

The Duchess smiled. “Do you think you can charm me? I am impervious to charm. I am also impervious to lies. Will you, then, tell me who you really are? In your letter, you describe yourself as a concerned gentlewoman. You’re no gentlewoman. The lines of your throat tell me otherwise. Who and what are you? And, what do you know of my son and daughter?”

“So many questions, Your Grace.” Iolanthe laughed.

“I recommend that you begin to answer them.” The duchess growled.

“First, Your Grace, answer a question for me.” Iolanthe winked. “Why did you order the murder of your husband?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-104? If so, you can read them here. Tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, Punch’s Cousin will not be posted. Come back on Friday, November 26, 2010 for Chapter 106.

Goal for the Day: Be Thankful

We all have a great deal for which to be thankful. Even at the worst of times, we can still find things in our lives which symbolize good fortune. No matter what struggles we’re enduring, we must always look to the positive things that surround us. Perhaps you’re blessed with strong family and friends. Maybe you have a beloved pet. Sometimes, it’s enough to be thankful for the clothes on our backs and the food on our plates.

Regardless of any circumstances, you can always be thankful for yourself. You are a remarkable creature with talents and thoughts. We should never discount our abilities to think, to feel, to learn, and to observe. Those qualities alone are worth being thankful for.

So, what does being thankful get for you? Peace of mind, to begin with. When we mourn and want, all we’re doing is tearing ourselves apart. By learning to enjoy the scraps, any future feast will taste that much better.

Object of the Day: An Antique Transferware Plate

Created by German china-makers Villeroy and Boch this late Nineteenth Century black transferware plate depicts an English hunting scene. Transferware gets its name from a precise description of how this china is decorated. Scenes such as this one were engraved on copper plates, then printed on tissue paper. The tissue paper—still wet with ink—is applied to the unfired china which is then fired to secure the pattern in place.

Plates such as this one were produced in large quantities for import to England where they were used both for decorative purposes and as actual dinnerware. The hunting scene is meant to show an idyllic English lifestyle—the sort that Prince Albert would have enjoyed.

Antique transferware china can be found at any good antique shop. Prices depend on color, condition and age.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Brushing Time

"When is it my turn?"
Image:  Combing the Hair (“La Coiffure”) by Edgar Degas, 1896, The National Gallery, Britain

Film of the Week: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 1964

Let me begin by saying that I adore this film. In my opinion it is one of the most breathtaking color films ever made. Visually, it is a symphony of color. Adding the haunting music of Michel Legrand only makes the experience more powerful.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg was directed by the talented Jacques Demy. Technically an operetta, all of the dialogue is sung—set to music by the brilliant Legrand. Famous songs such as “I Will Wait Forever,” and “Watch What Happens”—staples of the Legrand portfolio—received their start in this gorgeous production.

The film is actually the second in what Jacques Demy considered to be a romantic trilogy. The first was 1961’s Lola and the third was 1967’s Les Desmoiselles de Rochefort. While each film stands up as an individual piece, viewing all three enriches the experience as all of the threads form a dazzling tapestry.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg stars Catherine Deneuve as a young woman, Genevieve, who is in love. She finds herself sneaking out of her modest home above her mother’s umbrella shop to meet her beloved, Guy, played by Nino Castelnuovo. When Guy finds himself deployed to the Algerian War, Genevieve realizes that she is pregnant. Her mother, though supportive, is also in a terrible situation financially and seeks to make a better life for her daughter. What follows is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

I think I’ll let the film speak for itself. Here is a brief clip of the film’s opening credits and the song, “I Will Wait Forever.” The moving performances, exceptional music and amazing color imagery make Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and unforgettable film.  Its recent restoration has returned the film's original clarity and vibrancy, so, fortunately, many more generations will be able to fall in love with it. 

Humanitarian of the Week: Catherine Deneuve

Known for her stunning beauty as well as her enormous talent, Catherine Deneuve has been dazzling audiences worldwide for decades. Launched into stardom in 1964 by her starring role in Jacques Demy’s gorgeous candy-colored Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, Deneuve went on to lend her talents to such notable films as The April Fools, Hustle, Les Desmoiselles de Rochefort, The Hunger and many others. Her work as a spokesperson for cosmetic companies and high-end designers has also kept her in the public eye.

However, Deneuve is more than just a pretty face. In 1994, she was appointed UNESCO Ambassador for the Safeguarding of Film Heritage. Very often, Catherine Deneuve requests that the salary she should be paid for her work is, instead, donated to charity. In 1989, when Deneuve served as the model for “Marianne”—the national symbol of France—she asked that her fee be donated to Amnesty International. She has also devoted her time, efforts and funds to The Climate Project, Children of Africa, Children Action and Pain without Borders. Similarly, she has crusaded to help put an end to AIDS and cancer.

Catherine Deneuve is the epitome of beauty and elegance—not because of her timeless looks, but because of her timeless efforts. For this reason, she is this week’s “Humanitarian of the Week.”

This is your last week to submit your nominations forHumanitarian of the Year.” Voting will begin in December.


Her Majesty’s Furniture: Prince Albert’s Stag Horn Sofa

Stag Horn Sofa, 1845
Presented to Prince Albert
The Royal Collection
An avid sportsman and hunter, Prince Albert had a taste for all things natural and liked to be surrounded by objects which reminded him of his outdoorsy passions. He also had a penchant for objects made from the very animals he hunted.

This taste is not too peculiar given Albert’s roots. Many Central European craftsmen incorporated natural horn into furnishings. In 1845, when Albert visited Coburg with Queen Victoria for the first time, he purchased several pieces of stag horn furniture and had them sent to England. This sofa was actually not purchased, but rather presented to Prince Albert as a gift. Constructed of stag horn and hoof, oak, pine and wool, this sofa once belonged to the Prince’s brother, Ernest.

The Queen didn’t mind her husband’s stylistic choices, but she preferred not to have them around all the time. I can see why, this sofa doesn’t look terribly comfortable. At Queen Victoria’s request, this piece and its companions were kept at Osborne House.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 104

Ulrika,” Carling Rittenhouse said in a warning tone, “Don’t test my patience.”

“Don’t test mine, Mother.” Ulrika growled. “You’ll force me to do something that I don’t wish to do.”

“Such as?” Carling raised her eyebrows.

“Do you really want me to visit with Corliss Cage when I arrive in New Orleans and tell her all that I’ve seen?” Ulrika grinned.

“What could you possibly mean by that?” Carling blanched.

“Where do you go when Father is traveling to inspect the garnet mines?” Ulrika asked. “You’re not in the house. You’re nowhere to be found while your husband’s poor relation tends to your younger children. Isn’t it peculiar how Afton was born so prematurely? Yes, peculiar indeed. Considering that Father was abroad for months until six months before her birth. Perhaps it was God who fathered Afton. Is that it, Mother?”

“How dare you?” Carling hissed.

“Mother, I’ve seen you walk across the fields like some love-sick slave. I’ve seen where you’ve gone on humid summer nights.” Ulrika smirked.

“Get out of my sight!” Carling spat.

“That’s what I aim to do, Mother.” Ulrika said, opening the door to the carriage. “I’ll see you at the ball. Do tell Rowan that his sister will miss him.”

Carling turned and walked toward the house as Ulrika climbed into the carriage.

“We’re ready!” She shouted to the driver. “Go.” As the carriage clattered off, Ulrika grinned broadly and whispered. “Stay hidden, you two…until we reach the edge of town.”

As the carriage rolled down La Colline Cramoisie, past the plantation of Manuel Fontanals, Ulrika had no idea that for all the pain she had just caused her mother, another mother was suffering more terribly.

Marjani walked stiffly from the shack into the daylight and squinted. The previous few days had added years to her body—lines and creases began to cut across her once-smooth face and her thick black hair had begun to go white.

She drew in a deep breath as she walked toward the row of modest cabins at the rear of the land.

The slaves who sat outside the cabins looked up at her as she walked. She didn’t dare to come too close to them for she knew she had the seeds of Yellow Fever on her clothes and in her hair.

“Gilbert is dead.” She said softly, but loud enough for them to hear. “I need someone to dig a grave. No proper cemetery will take him. We’ll need to put him here in the land and hope that the Holy Mother done sees fit to let him lay in peace there.”

“What ‘bout Nontle, honey?” A woman called out sympathetically.

“She lives.” Marjani shook her head. “For now…” She fell to her knees in the dust. “Bring me some water so I may wash myself. Then, make Columbia ready so I can talk to her, for to tell her that her daddy…”—she glanced behind her at the gleaming plantation house—“…that the man she calls her daddy is dead.”

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Naasir shivered as he unpacked Lord Julian’s trunks. He shut his eyes. “Ah,” he whispered to himself. “Poor soul. Would that I were there to help her.” He sniffed the air, “It’s happening sooner than I expected. She’s arrived. Sad…one mother loses a child, another comes to find her own.” His hands shook. “Ice…”

Downstairs, Mr. Punch, Robert, Adrienne and Cecil had gathered in the dining room of that fine mansion on Royal Street. Meridian beamed with pride as her staff—in their finest suits—served them the most opulent meal she could prepare.

“Doesn’t this all look lovely?” Adrienne grinned at Meridian. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

“Ain’t nothin’, Ma’am.” Meridian said humbly.

“Now, I know that his Lordship likes sausages, so I got some right fine special sausages from the French Market. These are not like anything you done had in England, I can tell you that for sure.”

Mr. Punch’s eyes widened with delight. “Coo!”

“Steady on, dear boy.” Robert winked at Mr. Punch.

“Now, your Lordship, I done taken the liberty of lettin’ your pup eat in the kitchen. I got him a fine meal, too.”

“I’m sure he’s grateful.” Mr. Punch said, partly in his own voice, but trying to be “proper” as he thought Julian might.

“Will you be wantin’ anything else? For that…” Meridian said, squinting at the puppet that Mr. Punch had seated at the dining table in the chair opposite him.

“Do I need to set a place for it…him?” Meridian asked politely.

Adrienne chuckled and looked down at her plate as Cecil snorted.

“No,” Mr. Punch answered happily. “See, he’s a puppet and he don’t eat. Just thought he might like to join us.”

“Folk sure do things different in England, don’t they?” Meridian smiled sincerely. “Long as everyone’s got what they need, I’m happy. I’ll leave you to your supper. You just let one o’ these fellas know if you need me.”

“Thank you, Meridian.” Robert said.

“I say, this is a fine meal.” Cecil said, eating with gusto. “This gumbo is quite lovely. We must have Gamilla talk with Meridian about how she does it.”

“I’ll suggest that,” Adrienne said.

Mr. Punch put his fork down and stared across the table at his puppet.

“Is something wrong, dear Punch?” Robert asked.

“Here, you know how you was sayin’ in there that you had a feelin’? A feelin’ like somethin’ ain’t right?”

“Yes.” Robert nodded.

“I got the strangest feelin’ just now.” Mr. Punch answered. “A chill-like. Like when the wind would howl through Fallbridge Hall and me master would hide under his quilts at night… Like those nights when the Duchess was in a fouler humor than usual. How he’d shiver on those nights. Got a chill like that.”

“There must be a draft in here.” Cecil said, looking at the windows.

“Must be.” Mr. Punch nodded.

At that very moment, Iolanthe Evangeline—dressed in her most elegant gown—strode brazenly across the docks and bowed her head at the regal woman who was disembarking a ship.

“Your Grace,” Iolanthe said, raising her head. “Welcome to New Orleans.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-103? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Get Ready for the Holidays

Many of you have already started decorating your homes for Christmas and the winter holidays. I personally can’t even begin to think about Christmas until after Thanksgiving no matter how many stores are playing Christmas carols immediately after Halloween.

Decorating your home for Christmas can be a bit overwhelming. Suddenly, the same house that you work hard all year to maintain is filled with dusty boxes of artificial shrubbery and ornaments. You’ve got to move things around to fit it all in. So, it can be a bit of a daunting task.

However, if you have a plan before you attack the project, the task will seem like less of a chore and more of the joy that it’s supposed to be. Instead of just dragging boxes of decorations down from the attic with no blueprint, think about how you’re going to start. Pace yourself. Plan on setting up the tree first, then the lights, then the garlands, then the ornaments. Once that’s finished, tackle any other decorations you want to add like mantels and windows, etc. Create a staging area for yourself in a little used part of the house. You can make that your “central command.” That way you won’t be weaving and stumbling around boxes as you try to finish your projects.

Holiday decorating should be fun. By approaching it methodically, it will be. Otherwise, all you’ve got is dusty labor.

Object of the Day: An Antique Tsavorite Stickpin

During Queen Victoria’s reign, in England, the garnet reached the height of its popularity as a gem stone. Jewelry designers looked for new and exciting ways to include garnets in their art. Aside from the traditional deep red garnet, green garnet (called Tsavorite) was frequently used—especially in jewelry for gentlemen.

Set in the British standard (of the time) of 15 karat gold, this stickpin features a large Tsavorite surrounded by a wreath of silvery seed pearls. With its understated elegance and cool, emerald-like sparkle, this stickpin would have been worn during the day to hold a gentleman’s cravat as he went about his daily business.

I do believe I’m going to start a campaign to reintroduce cravats and neck scarves into men’s wardrobes. European men wear scarves. I don’t see any reason why American men can’t, too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Painting of the Day: Leopold I, King of the Belgians, 1840

Leopold I, King of the Belgians
Magdalena Dalton, 1840
The Royal Collection
Queen Victoria described Belgian King Leopold I as, “That dearest of uncles who has always been to me like a father.” Leopold was actually her uncle as well as Prince Albert’s uncle and was one of the people most responsible for their marriage. Albert was the son of Leopold’s brother, Victoria was the daughter of his sister. He knew that theirs would be a fitting marriage and he worked to arrange the union. Both before and after Victoria’s ascension to the throne, King Leopold acted as her advisor and had a tremendous influence on her decisions, especially early in her reign.

This miniature on ivory was painted in 1840 by Miss Magdalena Dalton (née Ross) in London. Miss Dalton was Queen Victoria’s personal miniature painter and created a series of similar watercolor paintings on ivory of people that the queen dearly cherished.

Sculpture of the Week: Prince Albert by Emil Wolff, 1839

Marble Bust of
Prince Albert, 1839
Emil Wolff
The Royal Collection
This exquisite marble bust of an eighteen-year-old Prince Albert was sculpted by Emil Wolff in 1839. Albert sat for the sculpture while on five-month student tour of Italy. The figure perfectly captures Albert’s youthful countenance with an expression that is at once carefree and wise. Wolff was known for his Classically-inspired sculptures and portrait busts. His work graces many a museum and fine home.

A favorite of Queen Victoria’s, she kept this handsome bust next to her desk in Buckingham Palace and always found delight in gazing at her beloved husband’s young face.