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I love the scene in Moonstruck when Cher comes home from her makeover, and sits down in front of the fire with a glass of red wine, her purchases arrayed around her.
It’s the best part of our American national pastime—the bags, the relishing, the post-purchase glow. Like most sports, I hate that fiercest of sports especially: shopping, with all its schlepping, and its changing rooms, the putting off/on of shoes, requisite banter with the shopkeep, the alarming deflation of sizes, and inflation of prices.
It really isn’t the money thing—I mean, yes, I once bought my entire summer wardrobe at a lesbian garage sale and never felt so cocky and devil-may-care, but they were friends, cleaning out the house in preparation for a long-awaited adopted baby, and I wanted to do my part. (“How’s the……baby hunt?” I once yelled across the street to them early on in their process, demonstrating my typical tact.)
“I don’t WEAR fur, darling—I AM fur.”
Obviously I don’t hate money, but we haven’t always been close. Early on, I decided to leave an awkward fit in financial services for interior design, and pursued that thankless dream far longer than I should have.
In the San Francisco-Bay Area, as everywhere, there are Haves (in the tech industry) and Have-nots (everyone else.) Certainly, a few lottery winners in every field become very successful, but when the President of the ASIDadmits to your face that most designers would be destitute if not for their husbands, you have an a-ha moment about your prospects. The more our winner-take-all global economy rewards those already born ahead, the more the rest of us must find
Moving to Europe was one of those boho solutions to the madness of Bay Area prices and the American Scream. In Spain, we have tipped the scales toward a life which feels richer and more balanced, though not without adjustments. We have no cars, and don’t miss driving at all. We don’t live in a single-family home, but our apartment is actually bigger than our quaint 2-bed/1-bath Oakland bungalow. We take more trips, but they are shorter—one doesn’t fly a whole day each way from California for a three-day jaunt to Bilbao. And though it wasn’t originally the plan for me to focus on writing (and house-husbandry) full-time, we have been able to accomplish that too.
Long story short…
My husband has just been laid off from his job, and we found ourselves with a bunch of euros on an expense card which could either be spent tax-free on anything he wished, or received as taxable cash at the end.
Long story short, we’re not TOO worried about a (hopefully brief) stint of unemployment, and decided to go on a slight spree.
We ended up with some things we might not normally have indulged in.
Coco Cubana and Tulips
No doubt you’ve seen these lately en vogue statuettes, classical busts turned into vases with flowers or ivy growing out of their heads, pale white things mostly, plaster Davids in need of a pruning. I’ve recoiled from them as a rule, but then with our inadvertent “gift” card burning a hole in our marital pocket, we decided to finally visit a little shop in town called Milano Mio which, no joke, has a red velvet rope across its entrance, as though by appointment only.
We laughed when we first encountered it during Covid, imagining that masked customers must gaze at the wares inside, presumably through opera glasses, pointing from the doorway at anything they would like to inspect more closely. But no: the velvet rope was still there last month when we returned. The owner, a delightfully opinionated Italian, explained as he let us pass inside—like the most exclusive disco in town—that his shop has some rather expensive things arranged somewhat precariously, and hordes of tourists blundering about his precious displays give him nightmares.
And there are some gorgeous little bits, for sure—he admitted he has no self-control and just keeps buying more delicious gewgaws. Exquisite artificial flowers and plants, especially, are front and center—they are really well done, and I could not help myself with the tulips. (Spaniards are not a flower-giving people, and the florists charge larcenous prices for second-rate weeds.) I bought several bunches of these strikingly realistic beauties.
At the front of the shop, Lorenzo (probably) had a bunch of those absurd flower-headed busts, and we fell in love with these ones—the “Gypsy” line, it’s called, with painted damsels from Peru, Venezuela, Brazil. In the end, we decided on Miss Cuba, and did not even realize until we got her home that, like some medium in a trance, she has her eyes closed. Coco Cubana (we’ve named her) is perpetually in the Beyond, her artificial fern for hair like antennae to the Mystic Realms. Her actual pierced ears are a nice touch, and her jewelry can/will be swapped out seasonally. She’s like your sister’s Beauty Center Barbie—you know the one—the disembodied head with attached make-up tray that you never dared play with in front of your parents.
I have been nursing some ratty prescription Ray-Bans I bought over 10 years ago, so scratched and worn I wear them in the pool. I don’t wear proper sunglasses often, because my regular prescription have Transitions lenses that darken in sunlight and are good for goings in and out of doors as the fit takes me. But for full-on Days in the Sun, a good stylish new pair of shades was in order.
I am picky about glasses—the only Hell Yes in the shop was again a pair of Ray Bans, this time with translucent blue frames. I gulped at the price with prescription and mirrored finish, and recalled how, when I’d bought the considerably less expensive last pair, I’d blurted out to the shop boy that I had been “saving up all year for these,” and how perfectly gracious he had been at my unintentional admission of modest means.
It has not escaped my notice that the new pair is virtually identical to the first pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers I purchased (*shudder*) 37 years ago.
I have a fairly long list of TBRsand since my birthday is also just around the corner and I was encouraged to add some things to the Amazon cart, I went through my list and found a dozen titles that either can’t be downloaded to Kindle, or are better to have in hand.
Eyeless in Gaza is supposed to be Huxley’s best work. James Cahill’s debut Tiepolo Blue might have been one of the comps for my first novel, except I couldn’t download it, and I had a long list of other possibilities. I still have hope someone might unlock James Joyce’s maddening allure, and thought the 100 short essays of Multiple Joyce could either be enlightening, preposterous, or both.
I’ve read a few of these already and have some brief notes.
Among the Bohemians / Virginia Nicholson (2005)
I’m something of a Bloomsbury nut, and keep my eyes peeled for titles in which the Bloomsberries appear. Among the Bohemians popped up on somebody’s list, and I was pretty sure I had heard the name Virginia Nicholson before. And so I had.
Early in my design misadventures, I spent a summer in London to attend Central St. Martins, and was invited to a BBQ at the home of Cressida Bell, renowned textile designer and decorator, granddaughter and great-niece to those most key figures, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf respectively, and sister to the writer herself, Virginia Nicholson. Cressida very kindly took an interest, and invited me for lunch and a visit to her studio, just the two of us. I believe her aura of kindness and creativity may have ignited my ongoing love affair with all things Bloomsbury.
Invisible Cities / Italo Calvino (1972)
This is one of those books fans believe holds the secrets of the universe, but which, like a lot of poetry, leaves me cool. There is charm to the idea of Kublai Khan and Marco Polo lounging around on silk cushions and discussing far-flung locales; even more in a time-traveling Polo conjuring airports, roller coasters, super-highways, and a “Brave New World” to the 13th century Emperor of China. Unfortunately, it feels to me like a whole lot of web and no spider—pretty but bloodless.
One interesting detail, however, involves the city of Zora (all the cities have women’s names) and a description, in 1972, of what is essentially a memory palace, an ancient Greco-Roman memorization technique which was revived from esoteric obscurity in the late 1960s, and features in one of my absolute favorite books of all time—Little, Big by John Crowley (1981)—a cult classic and masterpiece of “low fantasy” described by Ursula K. Le Guin as “a book that all by itself requires a redefinition of fantasy.” Now THERE’S a book I CAN wholeheartedly recommend.
William Blake vs the World / John Higgs (2021)
I’ve always had a fascination for Billy Blake, and this is a broad and interesting survey of his life and ideas. Very amusingly, while discussing Blake’s views on the Enlightenment and Isaac Newton, Higgs mentions a statue of Newton, based on a Blake monotype, of which I had unknowingly taken a picture when I visited the British Library on my Bloomsbury pilgrimage last September—what a coincidink!
American Society of Interior Designers
To Be Reads