Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany’s display, Gilli bar, Firenze, spring 2012
Unfortunately, this has been a very difficult week and as a result I have not had time to put into developing a post. That said, I’ve been thinking about many interesting and lovely things, in part to moderate the sadness in my surrounds, and so I thought it worth posting a selection.
I know that Audrey Hepburn was a lovely woman and a modest person and that the focus on her physical beauty fires the ire of many feminists, but even she would have admitted that she loved fashion and to look lovely…I am always cheered by photos of her. I remember reading once that Roland Barthes, the French philosopher (do read Camera Lucida if you have the chance, for a compelling read about photography) said that her face had been “an event.” That expression has remained with me. It’s not her beauty so much as the energy that she emanated in photos and on film that attracts, I think. Not that I pay much attention to celebrities in general, but I have the impression that these days celebrities mostly pose for photos with horrible pouts of their botoxed lips, angling towards the camera to show their figures at only the most slimming angle. Audrey Hepburn even had charmingly crooked teeth.
The ascent to Piazzale Michelangelo, Firenze, May 2012
In fact, when I carry this umbrella à pois, I feel a little bit Audrey and more than a little bit 1950s-60s. It brings a swing into my step. (Note sketchbook sitting on the stone wall. Or maybe that’s my Italian study book…)
More umbrellas; thick flow of foot traffic from the Uffizi:
Superstition has it that rain on one’s wedding day is lucky, no?
Speaking of fashion, for the sewists out there, I was personally drawn into Sarai of Colette’s Wardrobe Architect series over the past weekend. I’ve already sketched out the “capsule collection” that I’m going to sew this summer. Fortunately I have a very well-defined style and tend to be a practical rather than a fun sewist, so it’s more or less business as usual (think Audrey Hepburn in anything, Jean Seberg in Breathless and Audrey Tautou in Delicacy for direct inspiration; that’s all I have posted on my Pinterest Wardrobe Architect page). That said, drawing out what you are going to do makes it all seem real, which means that hopefully my queue of projects will actually shrink over the summer (!?!). Although come to think of it I still have a sketchbook of knitting designs that I haven’t brought to fruition either…
Speaking of which, for the knitters out there, I’ve just discovered that Kim Hargreaves has released a new book: Honey. I love everything about this – from the colour palette to the styling to the fact that she used a relatively voluptuous model (or at least one with hips) who has the most wonderful eyebrows ever (very Audrey Hepburn, wouldn’t you say?). I applaud Kim for employing a model with a shape! Now if only we could start seeing natural-looking women in their forties and fifties in publications (i.e. no hair colouring or cosmetic treatments, etc.) I would be very happy. I do not have much shape myself, especially in the hip department, so I say this in genuine appreciation of a healthy, curvy figure. I do, however, have some grey hair and carry those with pride!
A friend of mine, knowing that I love vintage photos, sent me a couple of very nice links from the Guardian this week, including this one. The photo of 1838 Paris, known as the earliest reliably dated photograph of a person (Blvd du Temple, by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre) has been a favourite of mine for a long time. I desperately want to know who that man was and what he was doing on the street at that time. Why is he so intriguing? I don’t know. I suppose I like the fact that he’s taking a stroll all by himself, unaware that he was being watched by Louis Daguerre. Was it the early morning? There’s something lovely about the public privacy of an early morning stroll before the city awakes.
This second article articulates very clearly why I love to look at vintage photos. It is in the seemingly inconsequential details – the vibration of life captured almost inadvertently, isn’t it?
And if you are not familiar with Edwardian street fashion or the Retronaut site (I wasn’t), you are in for a treat here. I adore the photos of the ladies walking and reading at the same time. It could be…yesterday with people walking down the street staring at their phones rather than at other people…except that these ladies are reading actual books! (Of course they might be reading trashy novels. I forgive them. The alternate possibility that they are reading suffragist tracts is even more fascinating.) My favourite of the ensembles is on the stern girl in the striped blouse in London, on the left in the paired photos about half-way down. I also like the strolling children in Paris.
The Art of Looking:
I read this very long but rewarding piece on Brainpickings the other day and very much want to share it: The Art of Looking. It describes a book by Alexandra Horowitz that documents her travels around a city block with 11 different experts, to learn more about what she was missing by viewing her city block through only her personal and professional lens rather than through other frames of reference and/or sensibilities. It’s a wonderful reminder that there is infinite interest and variety to explore even very close to home!
That said, travelling far afield is also very enjoyable…to stare longingly at shoes in shop windows.
Ballerina flats and ballerinas col piccolo tacco in my favourite (affordable) shoe shop in Florence: Gilardini
Of course there are also shoes available to suit other, ahem, tastes…
Finally, I read an interesting piece by Charles Dickens the other night, chronicling his journey in 1844 from La Spezia in Liguria (northwestern Italy) to Rome (Pictures from Italy, 1846). The description of marble excavation in Carrara is compelling and disturbing to say the least:
But the road, the road down which the marble comes, however immense the blocks! The genius of the country, and the spirit of its institutions, pave the road: repair it, watch it, keep it going! Conceive a channel of water running over a rocky bed, beset with great heaps of stone of all shapes and sizes, winding down the middle of this valley; and that being the road – because it was the road five hundred years ago! Imagine the clumsy carts of five hundred years ago, being used to this hour, and drawn, as they used to be, five hundred years ago, by oxen, whose ancestors were worn to death five hundred years ago, as their unhappy descendants are now, in twelve months, by the suffering and agony of this cruel work!
…When we stood aside, to see one of these carts drawn by only a pair of oxen (for it had but one small block of marble on it), coming down, I hailed, in my heart, the man who sat upon the heavy yoke, to keep it on the neck of the poor beasts – and who faced backwards: not before him – as the very Devil of true despotism.
…Standing in one of the many studii of Carrara, that afternoon – for it is a great workshop, full of beautifully-finished copies in marble, of almost every figure, group, and bust, we know – it seemed, at first, so strange to me that those exquisite shapes, replete with grace, and thought and delicate repose, should grow out of all this toil, and sweat, and torture! But I soon found a parallel to it, and an explanation of it, in every virtue that springs up in miserable ground, and every good thing that has its birth in sorrow and distress. And, looking out of the sculptor’s great window, upon the marble mountains, all red and glowing in the decline of the day, but stern and solemn to the last, I thought, my God! how many quarries of human hearts and souls, capable of far more beautiful results, are left shut up and mouldering away: while pleasure-travellers through life, avert their faces, as they pass, and shudder at the gloom and ruggedness that conceal them!
And finally Pisa (tower at the far right):
The moon was shining when we approached Pisa, and for a long time we could see, behind the wall, the leaning Tower, all awry in the uncertain light; the shadowy original of the old pictures in school books, setting forth “The Wonders of the World.” Like most things connected in their first associations with school-books and school-times, it was too small. I felt it keenly. It was nothing like so high above the wall as I had hoped. It was another of the many deceptions practised by Mr. Harris, Bookseller, at the corner of St. Paul’s Churchyard, London. His tower was a fiction, but this was a reality – and, by comparison, a short reality. Still, it looked very well, and very strange, and was quite as much out of the perpendicular as Harris had represented it to be. The quiet air of Pisa too; the big guard-house at the gate, with only two little soldiers in it; the streets with scarcely any show of people in them; and the Arno, flowing quaintly through the centre of the town; were excellent. So, I bore no malice in my heart against Mr. Harris (remembering his good intentions), but forgave him before dinner, and went out, full of confidence, to see the Tower next morning.
….Nothing can exceed the grace and lightness of the structure; nothing can be more remarkable than its general appearance. In the course of the ascent to the top (which is by an easy staircase), the inclination is not very apparent; but, at the summit, it becomes so, and gives one the sensation of being in a ship that has heeled over, through the action of an ebb-tide. The effect upon the low side, so to speak – looking over from the gallery, and seeing the shaft recede to its base – is very startling; and I saw a nervous traveller hold onto the Tower involuntarily, after glancing down, as if he had some idea of propping it up. The view within, from the ground – looking up, as through a slanted tube – is also very curious. It certainly inclines as much as the most sanguine tourist could desire. The natural impulse of ninety-nine people out of a hundred, who were about to recline on the grass below it, to rest, and to contemplate the adjacent surroundings, would probably be, not to take up their position under the leaning side; it is so very much aslant.
Opposite the Pisa Normale:
On the face of the Pisa Normale:
Cathedral view at sunset
And my shadow standing before the tower:
Happy Easter weekend!