I IMAGINE MY home as gender neutral—that is, if Sherlock Holmes had wed Madame de Pompadour. A keen mix of books and feathers, mahogany and gilt, leather and velvet. A place where visitors arrive and say . . .
Where the hell am I? Which I take as a positive.
In the summer it skews masculine. Drapes come down, rugs come up, dark wood is haphazardly polished. It would be nice to have a maid. That’s an aside.
The couple who bought the house next door for 14 times what we paid for ours 35 years ago have a team of maids scurrying in several times a week, spending much of the day doing I don’t know what. The neighbors are both out working, and they spend most weekends at their country place. How much of a mess could they make?
That was an elaboration on the aside.
To return to the subject at hand . . . As the year turns and winter approaches, our house becomes more elaborate. Not fussy or frilly (or god forbid cute), but frosted with what I consider a dusting of tarnished glamour.
Drapes go up, rugs go down, the fireplace becomes the center of the room, of our lives, as The Prince and I shiver economically in the 50-degree house, bundled in multiple sweaters, throws and socks, sipping wine and watching genteel British murder mysteries on WETA UK. Come back, Sherlock!
Around the fireplace is, as is often the case, a mantel. Above it is a large mirror layered with a picture of an Incan Indian being tortured, feet to flames, executed largely in tiny feathers and a few judicious daubs of paint. It’s an antique piece that once had a visiting practitioner of feng shui in near swoon. She gazed at it frozen, clutching her pearls in horror at the violence we were perpetrating on Baby, then of tender and impressionable years.
At which I cackled.
Along the mantel, throughout most of the year, are various this’s and thats: a collection of interesting rocks; miniature lanterns that resemble bird cages for Bee Hummingbirds*; a few bronze figurines. Nothing fragile, as we tend to gesture largely.
As the holidays approach, the mantel becomes more decorative. For decades I’ve woven a garland of ivy snipped from the garden walls and mingled with dried hydrangea, glittered branches, ribbon and tiny white lights. A menorah goes in the center for Hanukkah; this is replaced with more glitzy dreck for Christmas. We’re a bi-family.
Allow me to backtrack here for a minute.
In September we met up with Baby and her Personal Prince Pete in New Orleans. He needed to attend a conference; we needed to poke about the French Quarter, which is where we came across something so necessary to my life I just can’t tell you.
There, in a shop whose name and location I can’t recall, was a mantel draped in yards of peacock plumes, a voluminous feathery boa all iridescent greens and blues. As if the entirety of Whistler’s Peacock Room had been condensed into a rope.
Baby, who is brilliantly sensitive to my desires (and also expects to inherit someday, not that I would ever accuse her of avarice), intuited that this garland was a necessity, and so one is mine. Mine. Oh, it’s mine.
Until I polish the menorah, and My Prince hoists himself into the attic for the boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations, the boa is simply threaded with minuscule lights, joy enough. Six feet in length and wonderfully fluffy, the feathers shimmy ever so slightly as one passes by.
I’ll add a little glitter—because what is life without glitter?
I should like to have a peacock one day, I think, and then think again because they are rather foul fowl and unpleasantly loud, the Fran Dresher of birds. Gorgeous to look at, a misery on the ears.
Reduced to a garland of feathers, though, the peacock is the most glorious of birds.
*Per MNN.com: The smallest bird in the world is the bee hummingbird. It is only 2 to 2.4 inches long (barely larger than a bee, hence its name) and weighs a light 0.056 to 0.071 of an ounce.