Today it is all about the tootsies! I’ve been on a wild stripped sock binge, greedily seeking hose with wide lines, pinstripe lines, vertical lines, lightening fast zig-zag lines, sporty horizontal lines, and more. I’m currently wearing chocolate brown and leaf green socks with multi-width stripes, coupled with short deep brown alligator skin boots with domed bronze metal button fasteners. I’m admiring my dapper choice in footwear, feeling like a debonair rake with a faint touch of French clown. The cats agree, and are eying my buttons with tail-twitching fascination. It is another day of soulful pre-spring dash-titude!
“Now if there’s a smile on my face
It’s only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that’s quite a different subject
But don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
Really I’m sad, oh I’m sadder than sad
You’re gone and I’m hurtin’ so bad
Like a clown I pretend to be glad
Now there’s some sad things known to man
But ain’t too much sadder than
The tears of a clown, when there’s no one around”
(By Motown genius, Smokey Robinson)
We are taking a slow nighttime stroll in the park. The playground slides and jungle-gyms loom in moonlight dabbled spirals and swoops, and the bushes along the walkway are dark and shadowy. We walk arm-in-arm, sharing sticky bits of saffron-infused almond brittle that you’d made the day before, chattering softly, and decide to take a sit on one of the worn and splintery wooden park benches. I fasten the leather buttons of my sienna corduroy jacket to keep out the night’s encroaching chill, and a heard of scraggly street cats circle around our bench begging for tid-bits. You quote the song of mehitabel to them, but they are disdainful.
“i have had my ups and downs
but wotthehell wotthehell
yesterday sceptres and crowns
fried oysters and velvet gowns
and today i herd with bums
but wotthehell wotthehell
i wake the world from sleep
as i caper and sing and leap
when i sing my wild free tune
under the blear eyed moon
i am pelted with cast off shoon
but wotthehell wotthehell”
I am having a serious discussion with Francy and Lulu about chicken adoption. What does a one-eyed ginger cat and a kingly Maine Coon know about feathered fowl? But this is important, so I fiddle with the googly-eyed cat buttons on my black lawn pajamas, take a fortifying swig of candy bar coffee and start over. Surely they will want to welcome a flock of smoky-colored Orpingtons into our home! Francy and Lulu eye me sullenly; my life-long fantasy to toss cracked corn to softly clucking chickens while singing Doris Day hits, has been dashed bitterly.
“Lately when I’m in my room, all by myself
In the solitary gloom, I call to myself
Hey there you with the stars in your eyes
Love never made a fool of you
You use to be too wise
Hey there you on that high flyin’ cloud
Though he won’t throw a crumb to you
You think someday he’ll come to you
Better forget him, him with his nose in the air
He has you dancin’ on a string
Break it and he won’t care
Won’t you take this advice I hand you like a mother
Or are you not seein’ things to clear
Are you too much in love to hear
Is it all goin’ in one ear and out the other”
(R. Adler, J. Ross)
The merest hint of spring is seeping through the cracks, and that tiny breeze is enough impetus for me to start redecorating. I have reupholstered two twin small tufted chairs in soft suede the color of Greek honey, and am preparing to accent the chairs with topstitched detailed leather buttons. I am getting my collection of Persian miniatures depicting Hafiz’s poetry and pastoral scenes re-matted and re-framed, and have sent the carpets out to be cleaned and re-fringed. Although it is excessive, I have bought whispery Italian 1020 count Egyptian cotton sateen bed linens. In the case of sheet thread count, bigger is better.
“I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:
Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.”
(From I Heard God Laughing – Renderings of Hafiz, translated by D. Ladinsky)
I love the crinkle of chocolate wrappers. And I adore the pleated brown waxed cups that chocolates come in, each sweet morsel coddled gently until they are plucked from the box. It is a rainy night, with the water coming down in sheets so thick that the streetlights are only a faint glow in the dark. I am staying home, and in a gentle flutter of débauche am eating an aqua-colored box of Patrick Roger caramel-lime Couleurs and caramel-chocolate covered almonds for dinner. I’m wearing French blue and ocher herringbone cotton pajamas with silvery Czech glass buttons and blue velveteen slippers monogrammed in gilded threads. I lazily then turn the pages of The Affected Provincial’s Almanac by Breaulove Swells Whimsy, pop another sticky sweet into my mouth, and snuggle closer to Francy and Lulu.
“The perils of sportswear, diaphanism, self-defense for sissies, tramp aestheticism, the proper grooming of facial hair, and how to become a bon vivant–all this and much more may be found between the shimmering covers of this sleek and utterly beguiling volume. Take to your breast this artifact of grace and beauty!”
(Description of The Affected Provincial’s Almanac)
It is time for a full-moon ramble. I have packed a midnight snack of Meyer lemon-glazed Madeleines, a steel thermos of soupe à l’oignon gratinée, and chard stuffed with bulgur and feta cheese into my hand-made tin-can tiffin, and have securely fastened my worn leather saddlebags to my scooter. I am headed for the mountains and the ocean; I want to ride on winding cliff-side roads and end my journey with icy salt water at my feet. I’m wearing a three piece olive green corduroy suit lined in fuchsia silk and adorned with gold half-ball buttons, a heavy black ribbed woolen turtleneck, my worn black leather jacket, and black harness boots. As I zoom out of the city, I howling recite Hilda Doolittle into the damp night air.
than the crust
left by the tide,
we are stung by the hurled sand
and the broken shells.
We no longer sleep
in the wind—
we awoke and fled
through the city gate.”
(From The Wind Sleepers and by H.D.)
It is a day of cultural subterfuge; I have packed Lulu and Francy into my largest rucksack for an afternoon at the museum. The exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum is Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey. I’ve been reading the exploits of Curious George every night to the fur monsters for months, and we are all much looking forward to the chance to see these brilliant illustrations in person. For my feline smuggling adventure and artistic foray I’m wearing attire that would make James Bond proud; a plum velveteen three piece Nehru suit with shiny dollar sign silver buttons, a cobalt blue silk skirt, a plum and yolk yellow dotted ascot, and blue suede cowboy boots. Whistling a tune, we leave the apartment for la grande adventure.
“Oh where are you going?’ ‘To Scarbro fair.’
Savoury, sage, rosemary and thyme
‘Remember me to a lass who lives there;
For once she was a true lover of mine.
‘And tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Without a needle or thread or ought else
And then she shall be a true lover of mine.”
(Originally a traditional English ballad)
It is late afternoon on a Sunday. I’m sorting through scraps of flimsy remembrances and ephemera that come from a well-traveled heart, or at least that is what I like to think as I sit cross-legged on my Isfahani carpet surrounded by piles of folded bits of paper and trinkets. Anything pertaining to love is to my left, and anything pertaining to travels is to my right. Near the love pile, there is a magpie assortment of buttons that is topped with a fiery fuchsia rhinestone button, each button is a token of a flurry of kisses, an affaires de cœur, a sudden injudicious jump into uncertainty. As dusk settles in, I arise to fetch a china plate of Carrés de Noix de Pécan à la Vanille and put on the kettle for a rejuvenating pot of black tea. As I settle down with my hot sweet tea The Dubliners are playing, and suddenly everything all seems apropos.
“I met my love by the gas works wall
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
I kissed my girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town
Dirty old town.
Clouds are drifting across the moon
Cats are prowling on their beat
Spring’s a girl from the streets at night
Dirty old town
Dirty old town”
Hearts, cupids, and lovebirds abound. Lulu and Francy are making sweet and longing cat-eyes at the fluttering pigeons outside, the cake-decorator at the corner boulangerie is distractedly piping passionate declarations of love on every pâtisserie, and even I feel a little spring in my step. I’m stepping out for flowers, and am wearing weekend spring finery consisting of a leaf green fine cotton lawn shirt with bronze heart buttons, worn 501s, brown cowboy boots, an earthy brown tweed jacket and a green suede cap.
“She didn’t say yes
She didn’t say no
For heaven was near
She wanted it so
She wanted to act ad libitum
But feared to lose her equilibrium
So what did she do?
I leave it to you
She did just what you’d do too”
(J. Kern, O. Harbach)
I am languishing in a mire of indecision; should I order a slice of dense Gâteau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie with a slide of ever-so-slightly sweetened whipped cream, or a hunk of burnt sugar goodness in the form of a large slice of caramel cake with caramelized butter frosting? Should I order one cake after the other, nibbling forkfuls of chocolate and caramel until a sweet decision is made? I order both gâteaux, and unfasten the last wooden buttons of my ocher suede waistcoat in anticipation. If I cannot be decisive about love, I can be decisive about cake! Stevie Smith spoke eloquently.
“I always remember your beautiful flowers
And the beautiful kimono you wore
When you sat on the couch
With that tigerish crouch
And told me you loved me no more.
What I cannot remember is how I felt when you were unkind
All I know is, if you were unkind now I should not mind.
Ah me, the power to feel exaggerated, angry and sad
The years have taken from me. Softly I go now, pad pad.”
It is mid-evening and I am sewing the spine of my book, sliding my linen thread and needle through the signatures carefully. It is a book of food and love, for what is one without the nourishment of the other? The page with the Roman cheesecake recipe from Valentinians personal chef, Celerius Tuber faces a poem by Katherine Mansfield. Taking the hint from the poem, I fasten the turban’s head knotted brown leather buttons of my oatmeal and brown double-breasted tweed waistcoat, and wander into the kitchen to prepare a hot cup of tea to wind down the night.
“Outside the sky is light with stars;
There’s a hollow roaring from the sea.
And, alas! for the little almond flowers,
The wind is shaking the almond tree.
How little I thought, a year ago,
In the horrible cottage upon the Lee
That he and I should be sitting so
And sipping a cup of chamomile tea.”
Light as feathers the witches fly,
The horn of the moon is plain to see;
By a firefly under a jonquil flower
A goblin toasts a bumble-bee.
We might be fifty, we might be five,
So snug, so compact, so wise are we!
Under the kitchen-table leg
My knee is pressing against his knee.
Our shutters are shut, the fire is low,
The tap is dripping peacefully
The saucepan shadows on the wall
Are black and round and plain to see.” – Katherine Mansfield
I am packing a wee snack in my vintage wicker hamper to eat in Golden Gate Park. There is an accordion-led gypsy band playing near the Arboretum, and I am meeting you by the largest oak tree; I want to stare at clouds, be tickled by new grass and smell spring wind its flowery way into my heart. I toss in three folded pieces of lavash, a hunk of salty Bulgarian feta cheese, a handful fresh mint leaves, a thermos of hot sweet tea, and three kinds of nut cookies…walnut and date, chocolate and pecan, and peppered hazelnut cookies. I throw on my leaf green and violet stripped velveteen jacket with Italian wagon wheel buttons, grab a book of poetry and catch the bus to the park.
“Just a perfect day
Drink sangria in the park
And then later, when it gets dark, we’ll go home
Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It’s such fun
Just a perfect day
You make me forget myself
I thought I was someone else
I am meeting you at the Metropolitan Opera to devour the French opéra comique by Georges Bizet, Carmen. We are meeting by the fountain, and I’ve promised to bring an appropriate tidbit. To this end I’ve spent an afternoon making caramel popcorn, which seems suiting for the rousing wide-eyed high dramatics that Carmen inspires. I fasten the softly iridescent shell buttons of my worn cream linen shirt, put on my wine-colored velveteen pants and wide-lapelled jacket, and my meticulously polished black riding boots. I am ready for Carmen.
“Ah! le mot n’est pas galant!
Mais, qu’importe! Va… tu t’y feras
quand tu verras
comme c’est beau, la vie errante!
Pour pays tout l’univers, et pour loi ta volonté!
Et surtout, la chose enivrante:
la liberté! la liberté!”
Can one be a flâneur anywhere? Am I only a foppish melancholic meandering anonymously, looking for clues without asking a question. It is a dismal early morning, and I need inspiration and exercise. I want my body to fall wearily into a café’s metal chair at the end of my travels, my eyes, imagination and heart full of city sights. Kissing Lulu and Francy’s snoozng heads, I leave my apartment wearing clothing suitable for a sidewalk hike and a tryst with the city; black ankle-high walking boots, brown flannel pants, a vintage wool herringbone Norfolk jacket with beautifully variegated classic horn buttons, a cream pleated front linen shirt adorned with a burnt orange paisley ascot, and a chocolate brown wool newsboy’s cap. And a tailored jacket pocket crammed with a waxed paper bag of chocolate madeleines.
“In the flâneur`s perceptive eyes, what appeared incoherent and meaningless gains focus and visibility. The flâneur brings alive and invests with significance the fleeting, everyday occurrences of the city that ordinary people failed to notice. The unique relationship between the flâneur and the urban environment was invariably characterized by the metaphor of the city as text and the flâneur as reader.”
(The Flâneur and the Aesthetic Appropriation of Urban Culture in Mid-19th century, Paris, Theory, Culture and Society by M. Gluck)
I have stayed up tonight keeping company with my seven towering wooden shelves of books. They are good company, if lacking in organization and visual harmony. I could remedy their slothfulness by any number of ways; I could arrange every book by author within its category, or by color, or by date of publication, or even by height. Then there are spine labels and call numbers and the Dewey Decimal system to contend with. I’m channeling my inner librarian with a bittersweet chocolate brown wool cable-knit cardigan fastened with vintage black wooden buttons, and tortoise-shell reading glasses. Reaching for another saffron-flavored raisin cookie, I ponder a well-worn copy of that classic, The Oxford Book of English Verse (1250 – 1918).
“The chough and crow to roost are gone,
The owl sits on the tree,
The hush’d wind wails with feeble moan,
Like infant charity.
The wild-fire dances on the fen,
The red star sheds its ray;
Uprouse ye then, my merry men!
It is our op’ning day.”
(Joanna Baillie. 1762-1851)
One of the first signs of spring is a lone pale pink petal from a flowering pear tree fluttering on the grey, gritty rain-moistened sidewalk. One delicate petal reminds me of that soon trees will shower their petals into softly blowing pink piles. I am happily strolling in a spring drizzle, my rubber spats tightly snapped, my tweed Inverness overcoat with Italian chocolate brown plastic buttons flapping in the wind, and Hart Crane running through my head.
“High in the noon of May
On cornices of daffodils
The slender violets stray.
Crap-shooting gangs in Bleecker reign,
Peonies with pony manes——
Forget-me-nots at windowpanes:
Out of the way-up nickel-dime tower shine,
shine!——“ – Hart Crane
Lord Tennyson said that in spring ones fancy turns to love, but I find that mine turns to adornment, sweetness and beauty. I have spent the day baking tiny ginger cakes, each pâtisserie a dollop of perfection wrapped in waxed paper and tied with a thin length of leaf green grosgrain ribbon to merrily distribute as springtime gifts. For my house-to-house cake excursion, I’m wearing fitted black leather 501s, harness boots, a cream ribbed turtle sweater, and a black velveteen jeans jacket with wagon wheel shaped, antique gold rhinestone buttons.
“In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast;
In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;
In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish’d dove;
In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
(From Locksley Hall by Lord Tennyson, 1835)
Upon arriving home, I found two chagrined kitties lurking beneath the sleigh bed, both tails swishing dejectedly. In the spirit of Tom Kitten, they had spent the afternoon frolicking in the bread flour container, and were covered from ear-tip to tail-tip in white powder. All they’d need were curls and ringlets, and they’d be mistaken for unctuous French royalty. Gathering one limp cat under each arm, we had a bath time adventure, and were now snuggled in bed together. I am reading a kitty bedtime story to pacify them. They ‘re wearing newly washed and dried fur, and I’m wearing my turquoise blue peacock Liberty pajamas fastened with fancy-pants Tahitian grey mother of pearl shell buttons.
“Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer were a very notorious couple of cats.
As knockabout clown, quick-change comedians, tight-rope walkers and acrobats
They had extensive reputation. They made their home in Victoria Grove–
That was merely their centre of operation, for they were incurably given to rove.
They were very well know in Cornwall Gardens, in Launceston Place and in Kensington Square–
They had really a little more reputation than a couple of cats can very well bear.”
(From Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer by T.S. Eliot )