Saturday, April 30, 2011

Blog Intermission (entr’acte) no. 10 - May Happiness

From the time I was a child until I left for the USA I would received some Lily of the Valley on the 1st of May. My father would give “un brin de muguet” a sprig of lily of the valley, to my mother and me and all the women who happened to be nearby.

This was always “good luck” for the rest of the year. On that day florists sell lily of the valley in their shops and it is also sold in kiosks everywhere. It is sold on the 1st of May in the streets in Paris. If my grandfather would visit us that day, he would bring us some lily of the valley too.

I was surprised that this was not a custom in this country and a little sad as the little white bells are so delicate, fragrant and the meaning is sweet.

I tried to find when this French custom started and this is what I found: the Celts believed that the lily of the valley flower was lucky. During the middle Ages the month of May was the month of betrothal and lily of the valley was placed on the door of the loved one. Then back in 1561 on May 1st to be exact King Charles IX of France was presented with a bunch of lily of the valley flowers as a token of luck and prosperity for the coming year. We do not know who gave him these flowers but the King thought this was a “capital” idea and gave some of the lily of the valley to the ladies of his court. Then he repeated it every May 1st. The tradition was born.

Charles IX of France(1550-1574) by François Clouet in 1566 au musée du Louvre

In and around 1900 it became a custom in France for men to present a bouquet or a sprig of lily of the valley to their sweethearts or female loved ones to show their affection and for good luck. If the men were not near their loved ones they would send postcards of lily of the valley.

French Vintage postcard Porte Bonheur (Good Luck)

This custom has survived and men still give lily of the valley in France to their family members and close friends to wish them good luck and happiness for the year ahead.

I read that for a long time balls were organized and called “bals du muguet” (lily of the valley dances.) It was a dance where parents were not allowed. Ladies would wear white and young men wore a lily of the valley on their lapels.

I think lily of the valley is a charming and dainty flower. I also like the fragrance and have several bottles of perfume scented with lily of the valley.

Lily of the Valley painting by Vedeshina Zinaida, Russian, Contemporary

In addition to paintings, I also like it when lily of the valley is used as a decoration.

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) comes from Asia – I think Japan. It has been used for medicinal purposes - to strengthen memory and restore speech. Even though they look so pretty and innocent, all parts of the plant are considered poisonous.

Painting by Edouard Panov, Russian, contemporary

In the language of flowers the lily of the valley means a return of happiness and sweetness.

In France selling lily of the valley on the 1st of May is big business and millions of the flowers are sold.

Another vintage postcard from my collection. This one is from Germany.

I lived near a large forest and knew where to find wild lily of the valley. I would go there on the eve of May 1st and would gather some bouquets – usually for my mother since she loved the plant. She was born in May and adored the “muguet."

I took this picture at the Swan House Gardens in Buckhead, Atlanta.

There is an old French song that is about the lily of the valley on a Russian melody.

Le Temps du Muguet

Il est revenu, le temps du muguet
Comme un vieil ami retrouvé
Il est revenu flâner le long des quais
Jusqu'au banc où je t'attendais
Et j'ai vu refleurir
L'éclat de ton sourire
Aujourd'hui plus beau que jamais
Le temps du muguet ne dure jamais
Plus longtemps que le mois de mai
Quand tous ses bouquets déjà seront fanés
Pour nous deux rien n'aura changé
Aussi belle qu'avant
Notre chanson d'amour
Chantera comme au premier jour
Il s'en est allé, le temps du muguet
Comme un vieil ami fatigué
Pour toute une année, pour se faire oublier
En partant il nous a laissé
Un peu de son printemps
Un peu de ses vingt ans
Pour s'aimer, pour s'aimer longtemps
- Francis Lemarque french singer 1917-2002

Painting by Yuri Grachev, Russian, contemporary

Here is the 1959 song by Francis Lemarque -


Lily of the Valley Time

It came back, the time of the “Muguet” (lily of the valley)
As an old friend found again
It came strolling along the docks
To the bench where I waited for you
And I saw re-bloom
The brightness of your smile
Today more beautiful than ever
Muguet time does not last
Any longer than the month of May
When all the bouquets will have faded
For us nothing will have changed
As beautiful as ever
Our love song
Will sing like on the first day
It is gone muguet time
Like a tired old friend
For a whole year, to be forgotten
But when he left he gave us
A bit of spring
A bit of its youth
So we can love
We can love for a long time.

I am sending this vintage lily of the valley postcard, virtually, to all my blogging friends, to bring you happiness and good luck for the rest of the year.


Note: Blogger Break - Post pre-programmed –

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring in Atlanta

About two weeks ago we met some family visiting from out of state at a local restaurant in the wealthy uptown Atlanta area known as “Buckhead” - read also high rent district…. The restaurant is called the “OK Café.” It is an informal Southern cuisine restaurant and moderate in price.

Click on collage then on each picture to enlarge

I had been there several years ago and saw that it had been enlarged quite a bit. The entrance has many fun graphics of employees.

A framed plaque shows why this restaurant was so named: "The OK Café was named in honor of the OK Café in ‘to Kill a Mockingbird.” Next to it is an autographed note from Harper Lee, the author. I had the “vegetable plate” - turnip greens, squash casserole, black eyed peas and Waldorf salad with a corn muffin. It was quite good.

I can stay a couple of days at home or more, work on my computer and read, but when I am out I like to see as much as possible. When we left the restaurant we decided not to take I-75 the freeway going back home but instead to take a convoluted way through the pretty neighborhood and look at all the spring flowers. Here is a house I used to drive by on my way to work when I worked in Buckhead.

There were quite a few houses for sale – really a lot more than I would have imagined. Behind this bench is another pretty house with a small stream (the house is for sale too.)

But as we drove past this house we had to turn around as some trees were down. There are often heavy rains and even tornadoes here and many aged trees come down unfortunately. (As I am writing this we are under a “tornado watch”.) Atlanta is called the “city in a forest” because there is such an abundance of trees, which is quite unique for a city of this size. Trees cover 36% of the city, the highest percentage out of all major US cities (the national average is about 25%.) The main Atlanta road is named after a tree: “Peachtree.” All these trees make for lovely drives. Most of the houses are shaded by trees and have well manicured lawns.

The houses in the collage below are for sale in case anybody is interested.

Below is another one. I looked up the listing, just to have an idea of how much such a house would cost.

The listing says this house sits on four magnificent acres with spectacular mature gardens and a lake which can be seen from the iron balcony. It has seven bedrooms with seven baths, 3 half baths, a library, a wine cellar and a grotto. Sotheby’s, the real estate company, shows more pictures which I’ll place below – these are the agency’s photos – $4,900.000 and it will be yours (3,500,000 Euros.)

Well I guess we won’t buy it today. I’d rather have a small house and be free to go on many trips. I’d like to go and have a cup of tea maybe in one of these houses, but that’s about it. Luckily I’ve never had delusions of grandeur. In a way I prefer to look at pretty flowers than showy interiors.

The house below does not have the “southern” look. Trying to look like an Italian villa perhaps? Well, their landscaping firm has worked hard in the garden, but for my taste the house is too ornate and a tad pretentious. It does make a nice picture though.

Now we’ll drive away from the affluent West Paces Ferry area toward the Chattahoochee River – and that will be for another post.

Georgia’s Chattahoochee River

Friday, April 15, 2011

Old Lady of the Hills, Naomi Caryl (Part two)

In my last post I shared our visit with Naomi, our blogging friend, who lives high in the Hollywood hills. From her windows, in any direction, the view is superlative. This view is always changing too depending on the position of the clouds or the sun or even when the sun sets or is missing totally. As you can see in my picture below it was warm and hazy at the time.

Naomi’s blog “Here in the Hills” shows many nuances of the same stunning landscape.

Click on collage then on any picture to enlarge it

As I stopped my post last week I was telling that Naomi had moved to Los Angeles in 1961 and rented an apartment in Hollywood. She returned to her original theatrical dreams by producing a play called “Call me by my rightful Name” at the Coronet Theatre. She also started singing again at the Piano Bar/Cabaret/Dinner place there. It seemed that everything was falling into place for her. She joined “Theatre West” a Professional Actors Workshop. In one of her posts Naomi says in passing that Jack Nicholson was also one of the young actors there.

I asked Naomi: What was your favorite role? – Naomi – It was my role in “Spoon River Anthology” by Edgar Lee Masters. This show had started at the Theatre Workshop in Los Angeles (Theatre West) in January of 1963, then it played for six weeks at The Theatre Group at UCLA in May, and because it was so successful by September it was on Broadway at the Booth Theatre.

This was a dream come true for Naomi. She had grown up in the golden age of Broadway, started in the business by being an “extra” in “Mister Music” a Bing Crosby picture and here she was on Broadway at 32 years of age because of her singing and composing.

Picture of Naomi with the guitar singing in Spoon River with Hal Lynch
I read the review of Spoon River Anthology, it said “…It is nothing less than 90 minutes of magic. An equal of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass ….. Combining the folksiness of Thornton Wilder's Our Town and the unearthliness of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, the stage adaptation of Spoon River has the ability to move an audience to tears as well as drive them to laughter. In the hands of skilled actors, this oft-neglected classic is a powerhouse. “

Picture of newspaper clipping in the Sunday Times
The above picture appeared in the New York Times Magazine section. Naomi is playing the violin (she played the violin and the viola in High School.) All the newspaper reviews were enthusiastic. Columbia Records recorded “Spoon River” as a 33 long playing record (which was rare for them to record a play with music.) A few years later Naomi performed again in Spoon River when it became a CBS “special.” She was nominated for an Emmy for the music she had written for the show.

It was so enjoyable listening to Naomi reminisce, then later learning more in her blog. She had many positions: as stage manager, composer, producer, writer, nightclub singer, television actress among others. She worked with Ed Asner on a “Police Story“and three “Lou Grant” episodes. She also was on a Mary Tyler Moore Show, playing a receptionist.

Naomi officiated many weddings over a 17 year period. Below is a picture of one of these weddings.

Picture of Naomi at Michael and Audrey Franks’ wedding 1991
We certainly could have talked for hours. We finished our snack and moved to the main living room.

The walls were covered with beautiful artwork, painting and sketches that Naomi has been collecting for years. Naomi is a painter herself as she started painting as a child. She works in acrylic and has painted many pieces. Below are examples of Naomi’s art .

Naomi’s art above is part of the Hirshhorn Museum Collection in Washington, DC.

She has had fifteen plus one woman shows over the years in several cities and has sold 300 of her paintings to art collectors.

She painted several hundred pieces in this non-objective style, but also many pieces showing hearts and other subjects as shown below.

It could be that the reason Naomi is so fond of art is because she grew up with a father who was an art connoisseur and collector. Actually one year her father, who she affectionately called Daddy Joe, invited her to spend 3 weeks at his Antibes home, on the French Riviera.

Portrait of Naomi's father, Joseph H. Hirshhorn 1957 by Henri Lachièze-Rey, French 1927-1974
Her father had many friends in the art world like Marc Chagall (who she met on that trip in France) Willem de Kooning, Henry Moore and Georgia O’Keefe. Another time in Palm Springs, California, she went to a lunch party at Truman Capote’s House. But the event which gave her the most joy (and would have given anyone much joy I think) was to meet Pablo Picasso.

She met Picasso twice while in Antibes.

In her blog Naomi said “Daddy Joe actually ended up living out The American Dream........” You can read about his life on Wikipedia here. In short, Joseph Hirshhorn was a self-made man who emigrated from Latvia at 6 years old and became a Wall Street office boy at the age of 14. By the time he was 17 he had made $168,000 in the market on a $255 investment. He was a man of money, adventure and a very shrewd mining entrepreneur in gold, uranium and oil. Apart from being a financier he became a well-known collector of modern art and a philanthropist. He gave the nation 6,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings and mixed media pieces like those below (it was quite hard for me to choose which to select between so many outstanding pieces) -

From top left: Young Girl Reading by Mary Cassatt, American 1844-1926, In the Sunlight by Childe Hassam, American 1859-1935, Untitled 1964 by Willem de Kooning, Dutch American 1904-1997, Indian Community House by Emily Carr, Canadian 1871-1945, Skull of Zurbaran by Salvador Dali, Spanish 1904-1989, Naked Water by Yves Tanguy, French 1900-1955.

and more below:

From top left: The Lobster Car by Andrew Wyeth, American 1917-2009, Night Club by Guy Pène du Bois, American 1884-1958, Luncheon on Grass after Manet by Pablo Picasso, Spanish 1881-1973, Chilmark Landscape by Thomas Hart Benton, American 1889-1975, Song by Ben Shahn, Lithunian born American 1898-1969, French Money II by Larry Rivers, American 1923-2002.

These were placed in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the National Mall in Washington, DC. and open to the public in 1974. In addition he bequeathed another 6,000 pieces which were added to the Museum upon his death in 1981 (this was an enormous amount of art, if not the largest amount ever of art given by an individual to the United States) like the sculptures below:

From top left: Rocking Chair No.2 by Henry Moore, English 1898-1986, Danseuse Putting on Stockings by Edgar Degas, French 1834-1917, Head by Amedeo Mogdiliani, Italian 1884-1920, The Old Gaul by Andre Derain, French 1880-1954, Marguerite by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French 1841-1919, Little Owl by Pablo Picasso, Spanish 1881-1973, Walking Man II by Alberto Giacometti, Italian 1901-1966

Naomi shows a picture in her blog of one of the sculptures her father gave to the museum – a Rodin called “Les Bourgeois de Calais” (Burghers of Calais.) She took this photo in 1974 at the museum. She also shows on her blog a picture of the sculpture as it stood in her father’s home in Greenwich.

photo of Rodin sculpture in J. Hirshhorn’s Greenwich home

and as the sculpture stands now in the museum.

The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, French 1840-1917, at the Hirshhorn Museum
From my reading of Naomi’s blog I found that Naomi loved her father dearly but the relationship had not been an easy one. Below is a lovely photo of Naomi and Daddy Joe.

Naomi with father Joseph H. Hirshhorn
Unfortunately when Naomi was 9 years old she had undiagnosed pneumonia and then a series of pneumonia and bronchitis which eventually culminated in later years as bronchiectasis. It is an irreversible disease of the lungs with no immunity against infections. (Her lungs have no hair in them – no cillia – so she does not have the cleansing system that most people have.) This resulted in her having to stay at home. It has not been easy since she is a gregarious person. She never married and has no children. She had a very full life and still has many loyal and good friends. Her best friend of fifty years, Betty Garrett, the well-known actress and comedienne, passed away on February 12th, 2011, just three days before we visited Naomi. This has grieved Naomi terribly of course and we were very grateful that she still invited us to visit her. Below is a picture of Betty and Naomi at Betty’s 80th birthday.

Betty Garrett and Naomi
Because of having to stay at home Naomi revels in her blog and all her blogging friends tremendously. She is involved in many things that keep her interested in life and the world around her. She enjoys the beautiful view from her balcony, looking and taking pictures of her cacti, spying on different birds and wildlife (like beavers, coyotes, and even a California bobcat). She was co-chairing for over twenty years (with the late Betty Garrett) the annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event S.T.A.G.E which is a fund raising for HIV/AIDS organizations in Los Angeles. So all this keeps her busy.

I took a look out of her floor to ceiling windows. The sky was getting darker and a storm might be approaching. We had enjoyed listening to Naomi and her remembrances.

Little Sweetie came back closer to us and I took his picture from a distance.

I did not take close-ups of Sweetie so as not to scare him. I did find some lovely pictures of him on Naomi’s blog though and I made a collage of them.

I’ll end by quoting a phrase Naomi wrote on one of her posts: “Well, I think as we get older we treasure all those wonderful memories of times gone by and people gone by, too, even more....” She is right and our happiness is also a product of our philosophy of life. It takes practice and time to develop subtle thinking. With maturity we value our family, friends and experiences at a deeper and richer level. I would like to thank Naomi for her generous hospitality by offering her, virtually, the Cherokee rose (Rosa laevigata.) Since 1916 it has been named the Georgia state floral emblem. The name “Cherokee Rose” is a local designation derived from the Cherokee Indians who widely distributed the plant. It blooms in early spring and is delicate and beautiful.

Cherokee Roses in a Glass, Martin Johnson Heade, American, 1819-1904

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