Just sent the last Christmas houseguest off to the train station, and am deep into a day of doing chores with a zen attitude, relaxing, taking the time to write letters to far-away friends. As the song goes, What are you doing New Year's Eve? I'll be at home, for dinner and an evening of playing cards with friends, if we get around to it, informal in the sense that I don't mind who stops in while they're out. Planning the menu, I asked my sister what her friend, coming up from Maryland, drinks. "Oh, she's fine with champagne."
I've been reading two books at once over the holiday break: High Financier, a biography of Siegmund Warburg, and More Was Lost, the memoir of Eleanor Perenyi's wartime marriage to an Eastern European minor aristocrat, crumbling manor and all. Warburg is forced to leave his native Germany by the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler, and Perenyi chooses to flee the Kafka-esque scenario unfolding on the edge of the Iron Curtain as it sweeps down. In both books, much correspondence is exchanged on the subject of when to leave. Ancient systems of order and society were undone in a matter of months and years, and modernization hastened the demise of old customs as war annihilated the rest. Reliable information was extremely scarce. Describing a period of exile at the Ritz, Perenyi recalls, "It was a world where a Frenchman said to me, 'There will be no attack till spring. The mistresses of the Ministers have come back to Paris.'"
Perhaps a year or two ago, in a Madison Avenue shop window, I saw a pair of charm bracelets –– that trite characterization hardly does them justice –– that belonged to the English stage actress Gertrude Lawrence, who appeared in the original production of Private Lives with Noel Coward. I've thought about them often since, and am surprised, and also delighted, in a way, that I cannot find a single photograph of them, with the exception of a must-read description that sounds right, found in an homage to jeweler Seaman Schepps: "They are, in a word, spectacular."
Windowlicker is from the French for browsing: faire du lèche-vitrine.
The old, the new, Parker House Rolls, Caol Ila with my brother at the theater before the matinee, the 243rd Candlelight Christmas Eve service at John Street Church, and the very merriest of times.
I had a breakfast party with my sister, my neighbor, and my favorite venture capitalist -– mimosas, cappuccinos (cappuccini?), scrambled eggs with truffle oil, bacon, chocolate chip pancakes, and then went to the market, took a nap, and then to Fort Greene for Sally Cohen's trunk sale at Estate Jewels. I came home with two tweed coats, for when I visit my father in the country, a Philip Treacy hat, a black chiffon dress, and so much jewelry that my champagne-addled brain can only recall my idol tossing a Miriam Haskell brooch into my purse, just missing, and me shrieking as it hit the floor, This is like my house every night! I should be so lucky.
From a lovely note that I received by post today: If I could, I would spend every evening with you, dressed in gowns and sparkling all over... Yes, things do tend in that direction around here. Speaking of which, I'm starting to enjoy correspondence by mail almost as much as I've come to love winter, and for much the same reasons.
Things are slowing down work-wise, although I'll still be on the clock until Wednesday or so, and I'm enjoying the prospect of a few days spent at leisure. My tree is up and continues to be a delight. The decor is, as I noted in Germany (after seeing Nefertiti's bust), "Egyptian Revival, in homage to both the Arab Spring and Lord Carnarvon, funder of the discovery of Tut's tomb and former scion of the house beloved as Downton Abbey."
I'm grateful more than ever for the health and happiness of friends and family this season, and although economic realities have scaled back many of my desires (a return to Mayfair, et al), I have also learned more about the innate elegance of simple pleasures than I might have otherwise. My sentiments in this regard are best expressed by Gore Vidal, in Palimpsest, when he describes Edith Sitwell, "splendid companion" of the 1950s, quoting her: 'We shall have a red lunch. I have no money, you know. It all goes for lunch here.' She would not let me pay. The red lunch was always lobster and strawberries and a bottle apiece of red burgundy.