[S]ometimes, on the other hand, the small bedroom with the very high ceiling, hollowed out in the form of a pyramid two storeys high and partly panelled in mahogany, where from the first second I had been mentally poisoned by the unfamiliar odour of the vetiver, convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and the insolent indifference of the clock chattering loudly as though I were not there; where a strange and pitiless quadrangular cheval-glass, barring obliquely one of the corners of the room, carved from deep inside the soft fullness of my usual field of vision a sight for itself which I had not expected; where my mind, struggling for hours to dislodge itself, to stretch upwards so as to take the exact shape of the room and succeed in filling its gigantic funnel to the very top, had suffered many hard nights, while I lay at full length in my bed, my eyes lifted, my ear anxious, my nostril restive, my heart pounding, until habit had changed the colour of the curtains, silenced the clock, taught pity to the cruel oblique mirror, concealed, if not driven out completely, the smell of the vetiver and appreciably diminished the apparent height of the ceiling.
Marcel Proust, The Way by Swann’s trans. Lydia Davis (London: Penguin, 2003) p. 12
A snippet from the one and only Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust. Who to eviscerate a lived-in space better than he?
But I had seen sometimes one, sometimes another, of the bedrooms I had inhabited in my life, and in the end I would recall them all in the reveries that followed my waking: winter bedrooms in which, as soon as you are in bed, you bury your head in a nest that you weave of the most disparate things: a corner of the pillow, the top of the covers, a bit of shawl, the side of the bed and an issue of ‘Debats roses’, that you end up cementing together using the birds’ technique of pressing down on it indefinitely; where in icy whether the pleasure you enjoy is the feeling that you are separated from the outdoors (like the sea swallow which makes its nest deep in an underground passage in the warmth of the earth) and where, since the fire is kept burning all night in the fireplace, you sleep in a great cloak of warm, smoky air, pierced by the glimmers from the logs breaking into flame again, a sort of immaterial alcove, a warm cave hollowed in the heart of the room itself, a zone of heat with moving thermal contours, aerated by draughts that cool your face and come from the corners, from the parts close to the window or far from the hearth, and that have grown cold again; -tbc
Marcel Proust, The Way by Swann’s trans. Lydia Davis (London: Penguin, 2003) p. 11
I picked up a copy of Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space at Shakespeare and Company in Paris this summer. I love this brilliantly quoted fragment of Rilke which, in the words of Bachelard, “offers each one of us a means of becoming aware of our room by strongly synthesizing everything that lives in it, every piece of furniture that wants to be friends”. Read on:
In Lettres a une musicienne, Rilke writes to Benvenuta that in the absence of his cleaning woman, he had been polishing his furniture. “I was, as I said, magnificently alone . . . when suddenly I was seized by my old passion. I should say that this was undoubtedly my greatest childhood passion, as well as my first contact with music, since our little piano fell under my jurisdiction as duster. It was, in fact, one of the few objects that lent itself willingly to this operation and gave no sign of boredom. On the contrary, under my zealous dustcloth, it suddenly started to purr mechanically . . . and its fine, deep black surface became more and more beautiful. When you’ve been through this there’s little that you don’t know! I was quite proud, if only of my indispensable costume, which consisted of a big apron and little washable suede gloves to protect one’s dainty hands. Politeness tinged with mischief was my reaction to the friendliness of these objects, which seemed happy to be so well treated, so meticulously renovated. And even today, I must confess that, while everything about me grew brighter and the immense black surface of my work table, which dominated its surroundings . . . became newly aware, somehow, of the size of the room, reflecting it more and more clearly: pale gray and almost square . . ., well, yes, I felt moved, as though something were happening, something, to tell the truth, which was not purely superficial but immense, and which touched my very soul: I was an emperor washing the feet of the poor, or Saint Bonaventure, washing dishes in his convent.”
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space trans. by Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon, 1994)
My daily commute from South London to Paddington has its advantages. The very best of these is an hour-and-a-half every weekday of (relatively) undisrupted reading time. Lately, I have come to the end of what I have come to think of as Hilary Mantel’s wonderful lump of Tudor brick, Wolf Hall. As with any exceptional novel, the end comes with a small amount of grief-at-passing. So here, by way of a eulogy, is a beautiful quote from the final pages. It is especially apt as, in recent days, my proper job has involved a fair bit of cartography.
There are maps, of a kind; castles stud their fields, their battlements prettily inked, their chases and parks marked by lines of bushy trees, with drawings of harts and bristling boar. It is no wonder Gregory mistook Northumbria for the Indies, for these maps are deficient in all practical respects; they do not, for example, tell you which way is north, it would be useful to know where the bridges are, and to have a note of the distance between them. It would be useful to know how far you are from the sea. But the trouble is, maps are always last year’s. England is always remaking herself, her cliffs eroding, her sandbanks drifting, springs bubbling up in dead ground. They regroup themselves while we sleep, the landscapes through which we move, and even the histories that trail us; the faces of the dead fade into other faces, as a spine of hills into the mist.
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate: London, 2010) p. 648-49.
Since relocating from Auckland to London, my very large appetite for garden design in all its forms has been sated many times over. From the grand topiary at Hampton Court to the fussy floral displays at the Chelsea Flower Show to the brambles on Hampstead Heath, I have had my eyes opened to a plethora of gardens and garden aesthetics. That being said, it is always with delight that I stumble upon some new resource of garden related knowledge. One such wellspring, found by Elizabeth, is this blog. It is brimming with delightful tidbits, like the fact that Edward Steichen (the photographer) was obsessed with Delphiniums, the quote following outlining his predilection for genetic modification(!):
It is now also considered the first intersection between genetic modification and art: Steichen applied colcichine, a chemical mutagen that induces chromosome doubling, to his delphiniums. The normal delphinium of the day was three to four feet tall; Steichen’s could be seven, as seen below in the white behemoth he named for his brother in-law the poet Carl Sandburg. His most popular variety, the Connecticut Yankee, was named as an homage to Mark Twain and is still commercially available.
As I was going back, an exhibit in a barbershop attracted me: “Fancy articles from kitchen odds and ends by Mrs. J. Kowalski, 3538 Pierce Avenue.” And there were laid out mosaic pictures, bits of matchstick on mats of leaf from old cigar butts, ash trays cut from tin cans and shellacked grapefruit rind, a braided cellophane belt, a letter opener inlaid with bits of glass, and two hand-painted religious pictures. In its glass case the striped pole turned smoothly, the lucky tiger watched from a thicket of bottles, the barber read a magazine. Turning with my parcel, I went on and, through the gray pillars and the ungainly door which clanked on the mailboxes, entered the sad cavern of the hall.
Saul Bellow, Dangling Man (Penguin: London,  2007) p. 23.
This week’s Lens focuses on the reactionary and the ephemeral via an excerpt from C & P Fiell’s introduction to their fantastic monograph Plastic Dreams: Synthetic Visions in Design. The photo below links to Pneumatic Design another gem of an article from the Domus magazine archives.
The early 1960s also saw another new design phenomenon related to the increasing availability of plastics: infalatables made of heat-welded polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In 1963, the French artist and designer Bernard Quentin created an installation entitled Le Salon d’Avril de l’An 2104, at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris, which incorporated the Cybule: a blow-up and ‘breathing’ seating sculpture with a molecular inspiration. He subsequently exhibited an inflatable chair at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and in 1966 his first range of inflatable chairs was put into production by Adamoli of Milan. Around this time, numerous other designers – including Verner Panton and Nguyen Manh Khan’h (Quasar Khan) – also caught what the French news magazine, Le Nouvel Observateur, described as ‘le virus de la pneumanie’ (‘the inflatable disease’), and produced an array of designs for inflatable furniture. In Domus magazine Costantino Corsini suggested that, ‘pneumatics are now being applied to furnishing and furniture, as designers are attracted to the possibility of ephemeral solutions that satisfy the negation of lasting meanings.’
Charlotte & Peter Fiell, ‘Introduction: The Plastic Age of Psychedelic Pop’ in Plastic Dreams (London: Fiell, 2009) p. 24