country weekend

moravola — medieval modernism

While I admit to an unhealthy fascination with hotels in general ( a la distance), and hotel bars in particular (in close proximity), there are very occasionally a few hotels that break through my hazy, pro-hotel glow and beg me to book a flight and a room. Moravola is one of those hotels.

Architect Christopher Chong and his wife, designer Seonaid Mackenzie bought the 9th century Torre di Moravola in 1999 — after it had been abandoned for 50 years.

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Before the restoration

 

The torre is obviously lovingly restored in a sort of  ”medieval modernism”. The website for the hotel has, unexpectedly, a charming  overview of the design process, and shows the work that was required to reconstruct ceilings, add stairs, and smooth walls; an intimate, behind-the-scenes touch that seems to presage an equally intimate stay. It’s only open seasonally, but honestly, did you really want to go to Umbria in February?

Some images to wet your whistle:

2 3 4 5 6 7  9 10 11 12 13  Torre-di-Moravola-03-1-Kind-Design-600x400 Torre-di-Moravola-04-1-Kind-Design-600x400 Torre-di-Moravola-12-1-Kind-Design-600x400 Torre-di-Moravola-26-1-Kind-Design-600x400 Torre-di-Moravola-30-1-Kind-Design-600x369 Torre-di-Moravola-33-1-Kind-Design-600x369

the idea of north

Going North, really, really far North, doesn’t rise to the top of the glam vacation pile for most. It’s understandable, really. On paper, the whole proposition seems like a bad idea. Summer = too much light. Winter = no light at all. In general, the weather can be characterized as really “fucking cold.”  Margaritas are scare. It’s hard to look good in your Instagram pictures if you’re wearing a fur hat, sealskin gloves and all the clothes you’ve brought with you.

North — despite these obvious challenges in attaining status as a stop on the Grand Tour — has always been riveting as a stop in my personal geographic imaginary. It sits there comfortably with my other iconic geographies: France, Buenos Aires, Egypt, Mongolia, the Sahara. I’m drawn to its enormity and sublimity…the gorgeous minimalism of the landscape coupled with its lack of sentimentality and ferocity. “Real beauty is so deep you have to move into darkness to understand it,” argues Barry Lopez, author of the seminal Northern book, Arctic Dreams.

I’ve spent time on Svalbard, an archipelago that is technically part of Norway, but is also shared with coal-mining Russians. It’s not a place where you “relax” in any boozy, beach-front sense of the word. Rather, it forces a very pleasurable, but intense self-interrogation. Dog-sled across a glacier with a bad-ass woman named Berit carrying a shotgun to scare away the polar bears and you’ll begin to understand what I mean. It’s eerily quiet. The sheets of white that seem to stretch to Greenland are impassive. Like looking at the night sky from the desert, or sitting on the edge of a continent and contemplating the ocean, North dispassionately reminds you about human fraility. Human inconsequence.

Canadian pianist Glenn Gould produced a small set of radio shows, one episode of which he titled The Idea of North. There, he plays with an idea he calls “contrapuntal” radio, wherein two speakers are heard simultaneously, much in the same way that two melodies could be heard intertwining in Bach’s work. Says Gould, in 1967 “…I made a few tentative forays into the north and began to make use of it, metaphorically, in my writing. There was a curious kind of literacy fall-out there, as a matter of fact. When I went to the north, I had no intention of writing about it, or of referring to it, even parenthetically, in anything that I wrote. And yet, almost despite myself, I began to draw all sorts of metaphorical allusions based on what was really a very limited knowledge of the country and a very casual exposure to it. I found myself writing musical critiques, for instance, in which the noth – the idea of the north – began to serve as a foil for other ideas and values that seemed to me depressingly urban-oriented and spiritually limited thereby.”

Glenn Gould

My sister and I spent a week dogsledding through Lappland. Hours would pass with the most notable activity being the sounds of the dogs breathing and the feeling of the sledge passing over snow. Our guide, Rune, would smoke cigarettes insistently and impassively as he balanced on one foot on the sledge’s runners, looking vaguely bored as the dogs ran across Finnmark. It was incredible.

Incredible because of our proximity to our own oblivion, really, and as bizarre as that sounds. Incredible because each night we found ourselves at a different hytta, run by the Sami. There, we made whipped cream in a Nalgene bottle to eat with freshly-picked cloudberries, or we sat in a sauna before rolling naked in the snow under the aurora borealis. Incredible, too, because it made visible the usually invisible border between existence and its opposite. It pointed to the absurdity and luxury of being alive.

Norway, 1908

Simon Harsent

Greg White

Greg White

Greg White

 

the night sky

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

— Carl Sagan


the equestrienne

I came to horses more or less as an adult. Two things conspired to get me in the saddle. The first was a familial purchase of a small ranch in Colorado that could house a large number of quarter horses. The second was an unexpected four-year stop in Kentucky…Lexington to be precise. Thoroughbred horse ground zero. Different styles of riding, to be sure, but both left me with a strong love of the smell of hay and the joy of trying to be with a horse. There is a certain restraint and mindfulness required to get an animal as large and sensitive as a horse to have a conversation with you. It’s humbling and exhilirating…and while I don’t do it nearly enough anymore, I still appreciate the skill required to work with a horse.

I also developed a strong attachment to equestrian style. It makes perfect functional sense in the context of trying to coax a thoroughbred over a fence, but it also, frankly, just looks great.

Some of my favorite images that I’ve uncovered via Pinterest:

19th century equestrienne

 

so elegant

 

audrey on horseback

 

true riding

 

 

And some lovely equestrian-inspired things to add to the closet:

 

the most beautiful cognac boot

 

so chic, and at Matches, London.

saddle bag by Cuyana.com

 

My friend Brian Clamp, proprietor at Clamp Art has a new show up illustrating the beauty of the equine form. It’s most certainly worth checking out if you happen to be in New York City!

Jill Greenberg, Horses, Romero 1177

etre heureux en rendant heureux

I remember the second time I saw Axel Vervoordt‘s work because the first time, I simply gravitated toward an image of one of his interiors and carried it around from apartment to apartment, hanging it up in my studio space until it was a shredded piece of glossy paper.

Once I realized who had created the talismanic environment, I began to follow his work in earnest (rather than having it follow me.)

The spaces the Vervoordts create (the company is headed now by Axel’s two sons, and his wife May, contributes expertise in textiles) are a very tight fusion of incredible, and often overlooked, architecture, and an aristocratic mix of contemporary pieces and antiques. But baroque opulence isn’t the goal, instead, these spaces offer a wabi sabi simplicity, reveling in imperfections.

It’s an inspirational combination.

axel vervoordt

it is a truth universally acknowledged…

Weddings are almost always beautiful events, and my sister’s this past weekend was no exception. The bride wore a one-of-a-kind gown made from a vintage top and — wait for it — an 100-year-old tablecloth which was stunning in its execution.  The rest of the celebration, from the grape arbor, to the rustic-chic barn, to the pastries, to the flowers were magazine-worthy.

Here’s a little peek at what I think may have been the prettiest wedding of the year!

bride and groom

photo by miles kerr

beautiful party

In the barn

pastry table

photo by johanna bjork of goodlfer.com

seating chart

seating chart (photo by hallie bulleit)

boutonnieres

boutonnieres made from succulents

mendocino

mendocino county during harvest

flowers

garden at campovida (photo by marissa guggiana)

groom's shoes

groom’s shoes

grapes at campovida

grapes ready for harvest at dooley creek ranch

flower girls' headband
flower girls’ hair wreath

Special thanks to the friends and family who shared their brilliance to make it even more perfect:

franz and maria

franz and maria

Franz Nicolay and Maria Sonevystsky made beautiful music together and they were roundly loved by all in attendance.

elena zhukova

photographer elena zhukova

 Elena Zhukova, along with her husband Aleksey Bochkovsky continue to be chic and talented photographers — thank you both for spending the weekend with us!

corsage

flowers by church st. flowers in san francisco

As it happens, the numero uno florist in San Francisco is also the groom’s cousin. Lucky us, because the flowers were divine!

Finally, a shot by Elena of my sister and I, channeling Downton Abbey.

vanessa and karen

karen and me

 

 

bocce and other lawn sports for the discerning

Could bocce (or its sibling petanque) be any more enjoyable? Everything that is wonderful rolled up into one, lazy experience: light activity, a glass of rosé in hand, lavender bushes nearby, warm sun, and finally, wonderful compatriots with whom one can have lively, but kind of silly, competition. Mostly, though, I love thinking about old, faux-crabby, European men playing this game in public squares. It’s so inspirational.

But lately I’ve been finding myself drawn to other lawn sports, too. Croquet, with its genteel air and insistence of sartorial perfection; badminton, which for some reason I always imagine being played in a skirt; even some good, old-fashioned archery. (Try not to kill my dog, Emma.)

Perhaps gentler sports would encourage a gentler culture? It’s a thought. Pass the bubbly.