Things are tentatively getting back to normal. It is January and the festive season is past. The tumult of smoke from our orange peel kindling and the sweet fumes of fortified wine drift away on the wind. I confess, I’m glad of it; I always find the weeks surrounding Christmas to be, more than any other point in the year, the time for a little self-indulgent melancholy. Spring is all anticipation, expectancy, summer is blowsy and joyous, golden light and English roses, autumn the most ravishing. December, I find, is a time of reflection, memory, nostalgia. It is a strange, causeless melancholy, for I have nothing whatever to be sad about ~ I probably play too much Joni Mitchell ~ but it is when I most notice other people’s sorrow, when the festivities and reveling make all the loneliness in the world, the old age, the empty chairs, only the more stark and jolting. The light dwindles, the night wraps around the afternoons at teatime. One Sunday afternoon I curl up and watch Meet Me in St. Louis; Judy Garland in that twinkling silver headscarf singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; it’s one of my favourite Christmas songs, but perhaps not the most celebratory. Irrationally, the romance of candlelight and choral music makes me homesick for nowhere in particular.
But it is a New Year. 2016. Happy New Year, everyone.
In the studio we have a monumental clear out and start work on mood boards and colour schemes for spring and summer weddings. We make plans for a move to West London later in the spring (more on this anon) and compile incessant lists of bulbs and seeds for planting on the farm in Hampshire (also, more on this anon). I keep finding notes on my iPhone of unfathomable, fragmented words ~ Akebia quinata | Bupleurum longifolium | Stipa capillata; I haven’t learned all the common names yet, which are far less intimidating ~ chocolate vine, long leaved hare’s ear, lace veil. Jesse and Ben clear an inordinate wilderness of briars and brambles and our heirloom roses arrive in every shade of caramel, apricot and shell pink. Our brides are going to be drenched in blushing gossamer petals and heady scents this year and we can hardly wait.
I made an arrangement of frail winter branches, dried flowers and seedheads, and pale anemones with velvety-black centres. I'm gluttonous for them at this time of year. So frail and spectral. I read that in Greek, anemōnē means 'daughter of the wind'; the Metamorphoses of Ovid relates that the plant was created by the goddess Venus when she sprinkled nectar on the blood of her dead lover Adonis. In another myth, anemones sprung where her tears fell. In many religious paintings, anemones can be seen to symbolise the blood that Christ shed on the cross. A symbol of mourning and enduring love. I'm fascinated by the way the stems arch and twist, and how the colour washes out, fades to ashen, as though it is bleached by light.
The photograph above with the blue silk reminds me of a Jean Sprackland poem from her collection Tilt ~
A roll of blue silk
left on the edge of the counter.
Silk. Edge. Under the fluorescent light
that frail equation shimmered. Then
the silk shifted, or the spool relinquished it –
slowly at first, then
spending itself faster
and faster, a torrent
flashing over and pooling beneath –
and dragged the spool thumping to the floor.
The assistant turned, too late.
Halfway through my life I think of it.
That roll of shining stuff.
Its choice to spill.
Early in January we stop by Kenwood House, a beautiful white villa on the summit of Hampstead Heath. I heartily recommend a visit; the art collection, furniture and interiors are all magnificent, and so must the gardens be too later in the year. It is still and quiet, we are almost alone, and I take photographs of the ceiling paintings by the Venetian artist Antonio Zucchi, the shadows in the hallways, the chalky, heritage paint colours; in the library the palest pink and blue meet a framework of delicate white plasterwork ~ magical. Later, we while away the most pleasant afternoon drinking champagne and then coffee, nibbling from little plates of delicious food at Noble Rot in Bloomsbury, watching the rain fall outside. There is nothing finer, on a bleak midwinter day, than spending a morning absorbed in a museum or beautiful house and then an afternoon beside a log fire, talking for hours by flickering candlelight.
Speaking of weather, I’m convinced that winter should not be like this. Grey, yes, but not iceless. The year is disarranged this way, endless warm rainstorms; the apple cart upset, blossom before the snow. When the temperature drops it does so in a thin sort of way, and then rises again. In the mornings I walk out into the countryside from the cottage and even in December there were snowdrops on the garden path and still roses blooming which seems somehow very strange. I do not like the cold; I’ve never understood why someone would voluntarily go skiing in winter, or ever for that matter, and yet the mediocrity of this particular winter has been unsettling and I am craving the colourless desert a blanket of snow brings, while hoping it doesn't come too late, for the sake of our tulips.
I cheer myself up by watching my favourite film twice in as many weeks. Have you seen Little White Lies? French, comedy-drama, set on the hazy Cap Ferret peninsula. The characters are (mostly) needy and disloyal and selfish and I adore them all, but particularly Marion Cotillard who is such a brilliant, unaffected actress. I love her in this movie, unsure, cowardly, sweet, enraged. No-one bellows ‘merde!’ from the bottom of small, angry lungs quite like her. It also has a very wonderful soundtrack ~ Jet, David Bowie, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Janis Joplin, Ben Harper. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, do.