Bill Cunningham's Golden Ticket to NYC

Bill Cunningham, the iconic street and social photographer for the New York Times solidified my life in New York City. I was at a MAO fashion show. Heatherette? I can’t recall, but I wore my most coveted Westwood suit, thrift store Pucci (for Saks!) tie and I was marching down the runway looking for my seat holding firm to my tweed man bag, which I had bought at the then new H&M. Of course I was sporting a custom Rod Keenan hat. Or was it borrowed from the studio that morning over coffee? The outfit was complete with my Westwood overcoat thrown over my shoulders. Quite the balancing act keeping all of these accessories in place on the windswept streets of Manhattan, let me tell you.

I saw Bill sitting in the front row and I knew not to look at him. Never look at Bill! I am not sure if someone told me that or I just learned like a cat learns from its clowder. I was so excited I thought confetti would blow through the top of my hat, but after he clicked, and I sashayed by, that was it. Until Sunday.

I got the call on Sunday morning from Patrick McDonald. "Congrats doll you made the Times!” It was exhilarating. I felt like I had finally made it.  So much so that I used it as the closing chapter of a book I was working on about my time in New York and Harlem (since unfinished). I was one of those people I had poured over every morning for years flitting about parties and the concrete runways that make New York so divine. What made it even more special is that I had made it with two dear friends, Patrick and Rod. There we all were, doing it up in Bill's column.

Several weeks later I had gone back to Atlanta to spend time with my family. I pull up to mom and dad’s house and dad is rushing out the front door of the house, waving The Sunday Styles section in his hand shouting, “You made it! You made it!”

While I had indeed thought I had made it, I also assumed that was a one in a million moment to be a part of Bill’s sacred column. Lucky for me I was to grace those paper pages many more times for the next ten years. Most of my photos are from events at the Frick where we would do it up Edwardian style for various balls and Gatsby glory for garden parties. But as I rose in the fashion industry, I got to know Bill. I am not going to fake that we were buddies, or that he knew my name. I know that for a fact because later on when he started shooting me more often he would just hand me his scrappy notepad and worn down pencil always with a smile and a quip such as, “You kids look great!” Then he would read what I wrote down ( I would write down my name as well as whoever else was in the shot), study it, make some notes then give us that big beautiful toothy grin and scramble away to the next shot. 

I always felt like I was honored to get to know Bill more than most because of his close friendships with Patrick McDonald and the Frick’s flapper in residence, Heidi Rosenau. He would come to anything either of them suggested and he always adored being around true eccentrics. So while we never sat down for tea, he would always come up to our little posse to banter back and forth with Patrick and Heidi on their outfits: who made them, what year were they from, how they draped on the body, the color, the texture. Bill adored fashion.

Bill will be missed by many and I can’t imagine there will ever be another photographer in this industry so dedicated to his passion.

You are missed dear man.

 

An Ode to Pop and his Preppiness


It seems odd to me that both my paternal grandmother and maternal (step) grandfather are both still alive yet we have divvied up all of their worldly possessions. I guess it shows the era we are living in, where people just live, live, live and their existence gets smaller and smaller. Or maybe I am just overanalyzing.

Charlotte and Charles on their wedding day
June 29, 1957
Regardless, I wish my YaiYai (Greek for 'grandmother') could see her gorgeous old lace table cloths gracing my dining room table for dinner parties and just for every day enjoyment. We use her turquoise Japanese china for desserts and look at her old pictures with fond memories while she rests in a recliner in hospice in a sad, deteriorating daze.

Aunt Cator, Pop, Biba and Mom

While my grandfather is fading fast, he is hardly sedate. He is 92 and living at my cousin Katie’s farm. He gets up, dresses, calls the bank, calls his family (often dialing 911 instead of the North Carolina area code of 919!) and still shouts at the television. His classic clothes have always inspired me and now I posses many of them. He is part of the reason why I am in fashion, although if he knew that he would give a hearty chuckle. His style is ageless and timeless and I wonder how much he has ever really thought about it.



Growing up, I spent almost every weekend at my mother’s childhood home. My grandmother bought the house in 1940 with her first husband, my grandfather Bill, but when that relationship sadly went south she kept the old house (built in the 20s as a summer home in the now bustling Buckhead) and when she met Charles Crawley he was given no option but to move in. Biba (as we called her) lived on Wieuca Road until the day she was wheeled out of there in 1993 suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.

4378 Wieuca Road

 The big old house was magical. It wasn’t fancy, just old with high ceilings and big rooms. What I wouldn’t do to still have that house around. Pop’s closet always piqued my interest. It was organized like only a military man with OCD can. There were sweaters in every color of the rainbow and they were all neatly stacked and folded. His shoes were brilliantly polished and always had cedar shoetrees inserted. 
Biba and Pop's bedroom with the magic closet in view

Biba's desk in her bedroom where all the world's problems were solved.

Pop was a true Mad Man, an ad exec who lived in New York in the 40s and always had one watch, one tie clip and one pair of cuff links. His pants were always cuffed and while he had them tailored he was constantly yanking them up. It became a running joke in our family. When he got riled up about something his eyes would bulge, his lip would quiver and his hands would reach for his belt and yank and swivel his pants up with brute force as he would shout, “That SOB doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”



Of course his closet was sacred and I would never snoop so I never fully explored, but his outfits were always throwing me for a loop. Not so much his office wear but his weekend and beach looks. Madras for days in the most energetic colors! There were also seersuckers, pastels and they were worn with scrunched down white socks and penny loafers. And if it was a day on the beach or the golf course he pulled out what my grandmother referred to as his ‘Asshole Hat’, a white bucket hat with a blue band. She thought every man who wore one of those looked like a complete A-hole. She was never short of words.

Pop grew up in High Point, North Carolina. His family was middle class and he was a paperboy at a young age. Pop went to Mitchell Academy in Statesville for high school. He took his last two years of high school there because ‘I got in a fight with the principal of the other school. He called me something and I called him an SOB back!”

He went to college at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.



His time in New York seems to be the real highlight of his life, besides of course my grandmother. It was his first success and he always regaled me with stories of living on Central Park South for $50 a month and driving out to the Hamptons and locking a band in a barn for the night so they wouldn’t stop playing for some big party he was attending. I am sure that band was tipped graciously.

I found an envelope full of letters wishing him well on his retirement

While I lived in New York we had two booze riddled nights together. One at La Caravelle getting hammered and another at The Carlyle rolling into Bobby Short's show. Mr. Short met us after the show and I have never seen Pop so pie eyed. He introduced me to Bobby and Bobby looked at me and sang, "Well, hey, hey, aren't you a lucky gent to have this man around!" 

It’s so sad to see him fading. Why can’t we all go with one great heart attack and never suffer? Although if he did go that quickly, we wouldn't have the time with him now, at Katie’s, when we bring him old pictures and he rattles off amusing stories. But it is heart breaking to see him so frail and I know Katie has her wings waiting in heaven for all of the nursing she has had to do for him 24-hours a day.

In early December when Paul and I drove to Lake Lanier for the engagement party mama and her friends threw for us we arrived in my room to storage boxes stacked five high, all of Pop’s clothes he no longer needs. I wasted no time tearing through them. The first box was sweaters, all those colors and textiles from wool to cotton to cashmere. While they aren’t exactly the slim fit I am a fan of, they fit well enough. One beige cashmere sweater from is already my go to for everyday dawdling about.


The second box was shoes. For some reason he has both 8.5 and 9.5. Paul now has several pairs of his 8.5 loafers while I fit into his old Church's brogues. And there are those gorgeous shoetrees; some seemingly carved from virgin forests many moons ago.


The third box was filled with those magical madras shorts. While I am not pleased with my growing waistline, I am thrilled that I can comfortably fit into his size 38s. And they are all high waisted! I can’t wait for my 30s summer seaside outfits, possibly for the honeymoon?! Sadly his pants are just too damn short for me. I don’t do the Thom Browne ‘Pee-Wee Herman’ look so I will have to let those go. All though there is one pair of red and green tartan madras (what? Yes!) that are cuffed and I am praying my tailor can unroll them to my length.


The final box was tennis shoes (pass!), his Master’s visor and the infamous Asshole Hat. I took that one for good measure.

Another task for my tailor is the closet full of suits mother hauled home for me. While the sleeves are too short and I have fortunately not gained a pot-belly, there is a lot of work to do. But I can’t pass up the exciting collection of English tweeds from J. Press. Let us pray Madame Marie can make these my size.



One of the most magical items I pulled out of a box was his red corduroy smoking jacket (from Sears!). That will be getting lots of use around the house (and possibly to a party or three?).



Now you would think I would be calling him up and thanking him for all of these decadent duds? How I wish I could but I am in a bit of a pickle. You see, he promised all of his clothes to a nephew and to his caddie. The nephew doesn't want them and he doesn’t know his caddies name and he hasn’t played golf in years. Alas!

Biba and Pop in Ponte Vedra, Florida

I am proud to have them and am sure I will cherish these garments more than most men would. Please don’t think I have stripped him of his entire wardrobe! He still has closets full at Katie’s and we bought him new argyle socks and a new smaller sweater for him at Brooks Brothers this fall. He’s a thin little rail these days and he has retired the brogues for New Balance. But even today his pink striped shirt with mint green trousers balance off the new kicks to emanate purely preppy Pop.

Cator Woolford's Paris Adventure 1909

I can't recall the first time I opened this divine little leather bound book, but I can tell you it has been in my bedside table at my parents house for years and I have flipped through it's pages after many a cocktail party, dreaming of Belle Epoque Paris.

My great-grandfather, Cator Woolford, is no stranger to these pages, but this book may tell more about him and leave many questions never to be answered. 

Firstly, he didn't marry until 1919 when he was 50 and only then, long enough to have two daughters and then he and my great-grandmother separated. Mr. Cator, as he is known to the family and much of old Atlanta, then moved to his plantation in Darien, Georgia, Altama. My great-grandmother was remarried to, from what I hear, a divine man named Arthur Kitchings, hence why we call her Mama K. 

My grandmother told me of Mr. Cator's bouts with depression and sadly he even had electric shock therapy. Back in the 30s and 40s there were few options out there. 

After I came out of the closet in 1995, my mother started putting puzzle pieces together. A man who loved, flowers, beautiful suits, art, literature and only married briefly. Could Mr. Cator have been gay?

This diary has always been my concrete evidence he was. Written by a nameless friend (A love that dare not speak its name?), this diary chronicles their debaucherous and decadent trip to Paris at the height of its Edwardian grandeur. And boy did they do it up. This gent writes affectionately about Cator and their time together. His vocabulary, penmanship and activities do make me wonder if he could have been a dandy? 



How beautiful is this gentleman's writing?


Note the end pages, the flowers are still faintly gold and glittery.



 This is Mr. Cator in 1910, a year after his trip. From a scrapbook I have from his time in Maryland at a place that was called 'Camp Woolford'.





One thing I have never done until now was to Google all of these places they frequented. While the hotels have changed names and the Can-Can dancers are long gone, one place mystified me. On their first day in Paris they called upon Paris' most famous brothel. It's most celebrated customer was none other than King Edward himself. Now my mind is spinning. What would two gay men do at a brothel? Maybe he wasn't gay at all. 

Regardless, take a moment to read about his trolly ride to Versailles, spending time with Napoleon's guards and poking fun at the plebeian Cooks tourists

I transcribed as best I could. Even his elegant penmanship confused me several times, especially where I swear he writes about email. 

Enjoy. 

1st Day

Tuesday June 29th
We met at the Hotel d’Athenee, Rue Scribe at 10:30am and went for a walk down the Avenue de l’Opera to the Louvre.
At an Italian restaurant we enjoyed a good lunch comprising Maccaroni au gratin!
After lunch rest necessary to gather strength for night.
Six pomeridian, Dinner at Café Riche then to Follies Marigny, the site of the splendid girls there making my friend Cator rather shy!
Notwithstanding he behaves like a hero shutting an eye but using the other with redoubled visiv vigour!
After 11pm, we made a dutiful call at No 12, Rue Chabanne, to inspect the bath of Edouardus Rex and the pragmatic swim in dolce abbraccio, was duly enjoyed.

2nd Day

Wednesday 30th June
Intending to be very good we started out at 9:30 to enquire after letters at Cooks Office and then do our share of artistic visits in Paris, by day to the only too well known Louvre.
First the picture gallery was visited and then the sculpture gallery, where my friend considered the never too much admired Venus of Milo. Simple perfection although without arms.

Three hours of gallery sights made us pleasantly think that it was time to pay a visit to the best Italian Restaurant and accordingly we adjourned to Rue Favart. For variety’s sake we took our Caffe on the lively Terrace of the Caffe Americain on the Boulevard des Cappucines and then decided on an auto taxi drive through the delightful Monceau Parc by the Arc de Triumph down the Champs Elysees, the Rue de Rivoli, Boulevard Henry IV, Place de la Bastille with it’s column, reminding one of the Revolution of 1789 and Place de Republic and it’s statue. The pleasure drive and cheerful company having by this time, stimulated appetite being rather rash with our money at 8:30pm we entered The Grand Caffe, Boulevard des Cappucines. After a tres soigné dinner it was decided to honor with our presence the BalTabarin and see the high kicking and dancing girls.


What a sight! Never to be forgotten through our blushes, we managed to go to the end of the performance, 1:30am.
There were some charming high kick girls who seeing that we were rather shy, encouraged us by honouring us with their company during intervals. Shiness having disappeared, my friend, natural, by indulged in a dance, and I growing rather jealous of his splendid performance and success launched to in the vortex of the dance.

3rd Day
Thursday, 1st July


Up at 10:30 am, feeling as fresh as a radish, we though of redeeming our previous frivolous night at the Ball Tabarin by a visit to Versailles.
We left the Hotel d’Atheneé at 11a.m, strolled down the Place de la Concorde where we took the trolley car to Versailles.
There we were met by Napoleon the thirds Guardsman and coachman. The charming dear old man, offered his services with his cab, which we accepted, considering his past elevated position, although both horses and cab seemed of the Imperial Period.
The ex Imperial coachman proved to be a cheerful and good guide, knowing all the ins and outs of Versailles and I must confess, even better than myself though no newcomer to that historic place.
We visited the large and small Trianon, souvenirs of Louis the XIVth, Napoleon the first, Marie Antoinette and Louis the XVIth. We looked in also at the coach house but there we were rather handicapped by a rather rough crowd of Cook Tourists led by a still rougher Guide!! We cleared out at once.

The Cookey’s so frightened us that we decided to return to Versailles at once and take refuge in the best Restaurant, situated behind the Royal Chapel, sure not to be pursued there as general by such crowds frequent secondary establishments.

We were safe, so we restored ourselves quite Royally. After 2:30p.m. we decided to visit the immense Palace, and as my dear Cator is rather a connoisseur and lover of Art, our visit lasted nearly 3 hours. Our old driver, who had been waiting for us, drove us to the station, wishing us an Imperial fare-well with a mighty
Vive les Americains!

At six p.m, we were once more home. Oh Paris! We will see more of thee by night!

To have a glance at the middle class Parisian, who always enjoys a good dinner we sallied forth and went to dine at Duval. What was next to be done?
Real life in Paris does not begin before 10 p.m. and never finishes before 3 a.m., so to while away the time we went in for a second edition of Marigni’s Café Chaubant, this time, my friend Cator keeping both eyes open.
At 11 p.m. we were off to the Bal Moulin Rouge, where we spent a few hours before proceeding to the Restaurant were after a fine supper we were guided by two Stars to Heavenly regions!
Oh! What a surprise, after the wonderfully good resolutions of but a few hours ago! Man is fragile!
Thus ended our third day in Paris.

4th Day
Friday, 2nd July.

Having had some little business to attend to, I could only meet my dear friend Cator, at 11 a.m. – We decided on Friday to be very good, as seen by our programme of the day.

1st Tour for several house and visit to the Hotel des Invalides, Napoleons Tomb and the Church of St. Louis.

2nd Lawscourts, Gallery of St. Louis and Pas Perdus, Chapel of St. Louis and the Pantheon and the crip with its tombs immortalized by famous men. This last visit was weary and we do not recommend it.

3rd Visit to Notre Dame de Paris and one hour in the Louvre Picture Gallery. Four hours sight seeing, being quite enough, my friend Cator, whose kind thoughts are always with his friends at home, decided on a souvenir shopping expedition.

Back home at 6p.m.
To end our day without breaking our good resolution, we retired early.

5th Day
Saturday 3rd July

We started from Cator’s Hotel about 10 a.m. and went over the other half of the Louvre Picture Gallery not yet seen. We lunched at the well known Restaurant, Leon, just opposite the Louvre. We made a dash for the Goblin Factory, but Alas! We arrived too late! To make up for it we decided to see some of the most interesting parts of the Latin quarter.

We walked through some very dreary spots and often saw sign boards in the shape of casts of horses heads, suspended on butcher’s shops plainly telling that horse and mule flesh is sold there, only. The sign is imposed on them by the French Government, to distinguish equine butchers from others. We returned home Via Pont Neuf about 5pm, and rested our wearing bones for a couple of hours.

Being the eve of the Fourth of July of course, one dines that night at the Restaurant des Ambassadeurs and one listens to open air concerts.

At about eleven we were off again to the Bal Tabarin, as it generally is the finish there, that night of the year as the American fete recurs. Cator wanted his National Anthem played! The band-master complied immediately. At Midnight the cars made their appearance and the sigh was really very grand. The movement in the place resembled that of an enormous lively bee – hive.

Supper in four, at the Taverne du Capitol made the entrée to the already far advanced 4th of July. After adjourning to the Hotel Foubert we went home at 4a.m.!

6th Day
Fourth of July! 

Of course we did not go out before 1130 a.m. and then paid a third visit to the Egyptian Scribe in the Louvre and a few other rooms. Not feeling inclined for lunch, we enjoyed an early Tea at Rumpelmaier in the Rue de Rivioli, we went again to the exhibition of French Costumes and Furniture. As it was raining hard we both retired to our homes for a well deserved rest.

7th Day
5th July

We started at 11:30 and lunched at the Rouillon Charties (?) a place patronized by milliners, dressmakers and midinettes, shop girls, so called, because they have half an hour for lunch at midi. The sight is worth seeing. During that half hour all is gaiety and bustle. After lunch by the taxi cab went to the Gare de Vincenne and by train to Nogent sur Marne and Joinville, on the river Marne. We had a very pleasant row on the river, Cator being a splendid oarsman.

We then refreshed ourselves with tea by that time our number having increased from two to four!
By trolly car, we returned, in the evening, to the Gare Vincennes an from there by the subway to the Tuilleries Station. We had dinner at Pavillion Charties (?) and again our number had doubled into four. We paid a pleasant visit close by to the Grotto of Venus, and ended our seventh day by going home and to rest at 1130 p.m.

8th Day
Tuesday 6th July

I only saw my friend at 11 a.m. and strolled to the ‘White Star Line’ and the agent secured a berth for Cator. From thence we proceeded by the Rue Favart and had a good lunch at the Italian Restaurant.



At about 2 p.m. we left by taxi motorcar and went to see the most interesting Museum Cluny in the picturesque Latin quarter. My friend being a great lover of fine Arts, enjoyed this visit immensely. The Museum contains wonderful collections of wood-carvings, lace, faience and Email (?!) from its earliest origin, besides a unique collection of shoes and boots beginning by the most remote Egyptian Greek and Roman sandals down to our times. Particularly interesting are the Roman baths and amongst the curious are to be seen the medieval chastity belts.

                                                            _._

Thus ended our visit to Paris. The best friends must part, and I had to say goodbye to my dear friend Cator, feeling to have secured in him a true and constant friend, after spending in Paris in his charming company, right of the happiest days of my life.

Finis





The Great Danube Cruise, Final Day - Budapest


Today is the last say of the trip and I am exhausted. I really blew a gasket. While the ride in was truly awe inspiring, a day of touring was not looking exciting. But we did it!





 The morning tour was an overview of Budapest. It is a glorious city and learning the history is such a draw. I loved hearing more about Sisi and how much she loved the city and how she and Franz Joseph helped bring Budapest to the next level in the cultural language of the era. The opera house, the Parliament building, the grand boulevards. 






It truly is the Paris of the East. Sadly, 50 years of Russians and communism has faded it’s glory and it will take many years for some of those decadent buildings to be revived.




 We toured an amazing Art Nouveau Museum:


                                         This is a coffee cup designed for mustaches...

Again we went to lunch on the boat and again we had another tour at 2. It was The Gold and Glory tour and indeed we saw some wonderful buildings, an Art Nouveau museum and a coffee shop that had been restored to its former 1910 glory. The Russians had painted over all the frescos and gilding but it was fully restored only 10 years ago.





After that we toured the Opera house. It was lovely but I had had it. Mom could tell and nudged me to see if that cab outside would accept Euros. It did, I waved goodbye and headed to the place I was waiting to go to all day, Gellert spa!





The Gellert hotel is where Wes Anderson stayed and inspired The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is quite a remarkable building and we were docked across the river from it and every person who has visited Budapest told me it was a must to visit the baths. It was 5pm and it closed at 8 so I knew I didn’t have long. I asked for an all access pass and found a locker, changed and started my tour. I found the outside pool filled with young people and a little broke down sauna box next to it. I stepped in and let the relaxing begin. I spent about 10 minutes in there before daring the copper ice plunge pool. DAMN that was cold, damn it felt good.


I continued to explore. There was room after room of tiled beauty. Oh how I wished for my one-piece bathing suit, a Victrola and all of my friends. The big bathing hall was beautiful with its big dragonheads spewing warm water and the bronze statue of a young naked girl holding a turtle smiled down on the pool. But I really loved the double thermal bath room with matching fountains on either side with grotesques spurting hot, hot sulfur water down into the pools. Their mouths deformed by the thick ripples of the sulfur hardened as it dribbled down. I sat in the pool in total ecstasy, gazing at the tiles and the tall ceilings. Sitting next to me was a cute British couple who were creating stories about everyone in the pool. I just sat and listened. It was hysterical.


Sadly it was time to wrap it up. I had plunged and steamed and plunged and swam for nearly two hours. It was nirvana. But I wanted to be back for the final dinner with the clan. Wet and relaxed I walked back over the Franz Joseph bridge as the sun set over the Danube. 


And as I walked down the gangplank I saw some of our friends, waving me in for dinner. It was the perfect ending of a whirlwind tour of a glorious part of the world. I would love to come back and just be, be in Vienna drinking coffee, hike those mountains and sleep late!

Thank you mama for another magical mystery tour. 






The Great Danube Cruise, Vienna Day Two



After the anticipation of yesterday, today was more relaxed but I still overexerted myself. We started off with a bus tour of the city. 


We stopped on the main shopping drag and I found one of the shops I had heard about, Knize. Sadly, like the reviews I read, it was an impeccable gentleman’s store from the 30s that hasn’t risen to the occasion for today’s customer. There was dust, there were drowsy sales people and too many racks of boring jackets. But I saw it nonetheless!






Mom and I toured the gothic cathedral but I was itching to get to Belvedere Palace. 








Apparently this is how the kids in Asia are taking Selfies now....



Its rooms are apparently amazing and their contemporary art museum houses lots of Klimt and Schiele. So mama bid me farewell as she stayed on the tour and I hopped in a cab and drove out ten minutes to the palace. It didn’t disappoint.





Not as famous as Schoenbrunn and luckily not nearly as crowded, it is a true gem like Catherine the Great’s Oranienbaum, although slightly bigger. It was nice to not be on a tour and not have an earpiece. Just strolling the grounds and admiring the lush gardens. I wished for Paul to be there to tell me the names of all of the flowers and plants.

The Belvedere has an upper and lower building which was a five minute walk down through the lush gardens. The upper was filled with the contemporary art collection on the second floor. It was wonderful to see those pieces in their own country. But downstairs is what was really dazzling. Every room was glorious and what made me happy was that every room had an illustration of what the room looked like in the 18th century. 




I’ve always wanted house museums to do this: to see the changes or not, and to see illustrations of the people who once graced these rooms. One illustration even had a little leopard with a collar hanging out on those marble floors!



Check out the gold room!





Can you find me in the silver art project?


I took a cab back to the boat for lunch and then we all took a bus 20 minutes out of Vienna to see the Schoenbrunn Palace. 


It’s funny that the summer palace is 20 minutes away from the winter palace. But why ask questions?  Sadly this palace was filled to the brim with tourists and we were cattle herded around. The rooms were not as special as the ones at Belvedere but interesting to see all the same. It was wonderful to see a massive painting of the Spanish Riding School with Queen Maria Therese in full form riding around the room in her carriage. And there was some high haired, crimson dressed lady sitting right where mom and I sat just yesterday.  That made me smile. I also enjoyed the portrait of Maria Therese husband, Francis I pointing to the left. Our guide said, “This is the king saying, ask my wife!”










After our tour we were spent. Back to the bus and back to the boat. We had dinner and I passed out. We wanted to get up early the next morning to see the boat arrive in Budapest. The view we see every time we turn on Downton Abbey when the Viking Cruise ad is on air!


The Great Danube Cruise, Vienna Day One

I woke up this morning as excited as a little kid before the circus. We woke up at 7 and caught a cab to the train station in Melk at 8am. As we left the boat the towering abby in Melk loomed grandly and gilded above us. It was almost exciting not to visit it. Like an exquisite unopened present waiting.



The train was effortless and ever so elegant. I was already loving Austria for it’s cleanliness, timeliness and efficiency. We glided through the countryside for an hour and a half until we arrived in Vienna at 10. I was expecting some glorious Belle Époque train station but we arrived to a stark Brutalist station. The former one was bombed during the war. Regardless, we were in Vienna and I was ready to be dazzled.



We took a cab directly to the Spanish Riding School located in the Hofburg Palace.
Instant dazzle. We were driven up to the front of the palace and walked into what I would call a royal porte-cochere. It was under vast arches with massive lanterns and horse and carriages were wizzing through it just as if we had stepped back into the 19th century. We walked into the riding school and the ancienne regime scrim lifted to reveal the modern ticket lines, registers and metal doors that cold have been a check cashing office minus the dvd on a loop of the Lipizzaners in all of their glory. While waiting in line I already started tearing up.



When we walked in for the 11am performance I had forgotten I splurged on good tickets. Second row! Then the lighted dimmed, the chandeliers were hoisted up and we were teased with the younger stallions and their trainers. They were fine, a little nervous and timid but it was exiting to see the ‘next generation’.





After ten minutes the big boys were announced. Their grace, beauty and strength brought tears to my eyes over and over. This was something I have wanted to see since my grandmother would tune in on TV specials and coo, 'Ohhhhh it's the Lipuh-zanuuhs!' In her Southern accent.



After the show we raided the gift shop where I nearly bought one of everything. The. We headed to the Hotel Sacher (pronounced Saker) for lunch in their elegant Belle Époque cafe. I had schnitzel and we split the famous Sacher Tort invented by the hotelier.





Since we we knee deep in horses we decided to head back for the 2pm tour of the riding school. That was another treat to hear more about their training, history and of course to see the famed stables built in the 1600's. They have since been renovated a bit to be even more glorious with brass plaques showing their double barreled names and marble drinking fountains in each stall. While we were not allowed to touch the horses I did spend some quality time with one stallion who was chomping on some hay and just kept an eye on me next to his stall. We had a moment. It was special and I'll never forget his precious pink TK. My movement want as memorable as the Arab girl next to me. She was leaning up against a stall when a stallion lifted it's tale and let out the most elegant fart I've ever heard. She double over laughing as did I. Too much hay apparently!

                                          The stables! See the horses on the bottom floor?




After this second slice of heaven we hot another jackpot. In the same palace is the Sisi Museum. Sisi is the nickname of one of my favorite royals, Empress Elizabeth who was assassinated by a mad Italian with an ice pick through her corset. 

But first we visited the palaces china rooms. 








Now back to Sisi:
She was a bit like Daphne Guinness - she kept to herself but when she was in public she dazzled. She was very modern for the 1800's - she worked out every morning and she was a compulsive dieter to keep her waist at 25 inches. She also would have meat out through a juicer and drink 'meat juice' to loose weigh. And yes, we saw the meat juicer in the royal china collection!
                                                                  Meat Juicer!

It was also exciting to see many of her clothing items on display in a revolutionary new way of showcasing old and delicate pieces through low lighting and acid free mannequins and display cases. Her 25 inch belt was included.






Since we spent nearly all day in one palace we headed to one more- The Imperial Palace, which is now a hotel. And of course they have their own famous torte so we had to have an Imperial Torte. I also had to try a real live Vienna sausage! Since I grew up eating those gross little wieners in congealed goo, this was a much swankier version and well worth the order.

By now it was 5:15 and the boat arrived at 5:30 from Melk. So we hailed a cab and zipped to the dock and met the boat as it was pulling up. How is that for timing?


No rest for the wicked though. We had dinner at 6:15 and then headed back out at 7:45 for a night of Viennese music. We bused over to the concert hall and listened to Mozart, Strauss and others which was more delightful than I expected. But halfway through it was hard to keep my eyes peeled open so I just let the music take me to equestrian fantasy dreams and lulled away the rest if the show in dreamy delight. Tomorrow a morning tour of Vienna and a tour of the Hapsburg country palace.

The Great Danube Cruise, Salzburg

We docked in the idyllic town of Passau where three rivers connect. It's yet another fairy tale town with a majestic castle high on a hill and baroque onion domes church spires reaching up to it from the town below. 

But we would not be seeing any of the pleasures of Passau since we booked an excursion to Salzburg. I have not been there since I was in school in France back in 1996 and my friend from the College of Charleston was living there. I took the train from Paris in the winter and will never forget arriving at dusk to those onion domes dusted with snow in a mysterious bike light. 




On this trip the weather has been rather cold but sunny. In Salzburg, however, the clouds creeped in and the rain came for a visit too. Mother and I didn't mind really. We are both fans of the drama of a mountainous landscape with fog and clouds rumbling through. 

We had a delightful guide names Silvia all kitted out in her Drindle. It was interesting to hear that she wasn't wearing this just to be cheesy as a guide but that she actually enjoys it and that the traditional costume is making a comeback with the young folks. Indeed while we were there I saw guys in my age running about town in their lederhosen and beautifully tailored Loden blazers with deer horn buttons. It made me very happy about my purchase in Regensberg!




After out tour where she showed us some Sound of Music sights (sigh) and explained the architectural significance of some building (huzzah!), we had free time. 




Mama and I dipped into Furst chicks tie where they make Mozart Krugel by hand. Legend has it Mr Furst used to make his workers sing all day. It wasn't for the sound but so he was sure they were not eating the precious chocolate!





We then sallied up to the locals at the farmers market and stood at a stall and ordered sausages and mustard. Divine! And it was the perfect snack on a drizzly day under the baroque cathedral. 


To balance our bourgeoise taste we then went for dessert at Cafe Thomasell where Mozart used to frequent for his hot chocolate. I had a flakey plum torte while mama had coffee. 

Next we strolled through that mammoth old cathedral where Mozart was the organist when he was 16. Do you know every piece of music he wrote down was perfect? Never had a mistake. At least that's what sweet Silvia said. We also saw the massive bronze font where baby Amadeus was christened. It has survived a fire and the bombing of the church in WWII. 


Once it was time to meet back with the group we headed to the bus and drove to the Lake District. I don't think I have ever fallen to sleep so quickly. All these mornings up at 7 are getting to me! And it was an ugly mouth agape, head bouncing, drool filled  nap. 

But how wonderful to wake up gazing at St. Gilgen. This is a tiny town nestled into the mountains facing a large lake that, when it is sunny, has an azure color. It is where Mozart's mother was born and where his sister moved with her husband. I can imagine booking a chalet there in the winter and curling up w a book for weeks on end. 



The next stop was MondSee where a Benedictine Monastery was built centuries ago but 200 years ago the King did away with the monk since they weren't making beer or cheese and now it is a lush hotel! 
The cathedral was one if my favorites. It was gothic but then souped up in the baroque period with massive black wooden carved reliefs with life size angels and saints in all their gilded glory. There is even an old saint sitting above the alter. Well his skeleton is sitting there. He was murdered 1000 years ago and canonized. He was always just a plain ole skeleton until those (are you tired of this word yet?) Baroque's came around an bejeweled all of his bones!! It's rather decadent. 









We were lucky to witness a wedding going on too but sadly that meant I couldn't get a good look at the bedazzled saint. The post card will do. 

Oh and a other reason we stopped here is that this is 'the wedding chapel' in the Sound of Music. We learned some interesting facts about the movie. The family never climbed the mountain to escape the Nazi's. In fact if they had they would have climbed right into Hitlers hands. In the movie you can see a black house in the background when they are climbing. That was Hitler's home, the Eagles Nest. The family actually escaped by taking a train to Italy. Much more civilized. 

And in that note were wrapped it up and bussed back to the boat which was now docked in Linz. We arrived at 530 and had enough time to lay prone until dinner was served at. 7:15. 

Dinner was delightful with our fun group and some of us decided to stroll into town to see the main square after dinner. There was a huge free concert happening and we were excited to hear Austrian music but the lead singer was American! His name was Eric Burdon and when we got back to the boat we googled and he was the lead singer of The Animals in the 60s. I love how these old goats come to Europe in their autumn years and become celebrities all over again. 

We were back on the boat by 10:30 and fast asleep when we motored out at 11pm. 


Tomorrow we arrive in Melk but mom and I won't be seeing much of that town. We are abandoning the group to take the train to Vienna to see the Lipizzaners!!!! A true dream come true. 

The Great Danube Cruise Day Six, Regensburg

Friday we had a lovely day in Regensburg, Germany.



We were on the bus at 830 am to head to the Danube Gorge. There we boarded a boat and cruised down the beautiful gorge for about twenty minutes until we came upon Weltenburg Monastery, the world's oldest monastic brewery!  These monks were smart. When they had to fast for lent they would simply drink beer for six weeks straight and get all the nutrients they needed. 






We sat at the Beirgarten and had a rubbery pretzel and a delicious dark beer made on premises. 

Next we toured the church that I wasn't particularly excited about. But then we walked inside and wow! Baroque madness! We had a wonderful guide who explained how these follies were basically branding for the church. Showing their majesty, wealth and glory. I guess I knew that but hearing him explain it through the lighting, paintings and sculptures, it all made sense. 



 Look up! That is the designer of the church looking down on his proud piece of work.






Finally we met our bus behind the monastery and drove back to the boat for lunch. At 2pm there was a tour of Regensburg. Mom sat that one out and I took in the amazing sights in the UNESCO world heritage town. It is one of the greatest examples of a Medieval town because the town basically went broke after that era so they never 'baroqued' the place and now it is quite special. 




Oh and we saw a wedding and the release of the doves!









While the tour was well done I had money burning a hole in my pocket and found an amazing menswear shop. When I walked in the gentleman snapped at me, 'Can I help you?' 'Do you know the prices of these blazers?' I about turned on my heel and popped him but I just laughed and remembered he is German. Once I started trying on the traditional German coats made from Loden wool with deer horn buttons he relaxed a little. It is the perfect weight for a winter coat in Charleston and it can be a handsome blazer in NYC. I tried on a couple more and then left to think about it. And let that German dick head sit and stew a bit.

I checked out this amazing hat shop. Where is the Rod Keenan? 

Flat Paul seemed to like this ye ole art...


The town was charming and it was nice just to run about and see how the locals live. I found some fun gifts for friends and family - Christmas is on the way! But that damn Tyrolian Loden jacket kept calling my name. So I went back and was thrilled to see a smiling woman behind the desk. She was wonderful, told me all about the mill the wool comes from, the history of the coat and the brand. Sold!



On that note it was time to head back to the boat. Dinner was fun but the real excitement was the German mustached man named 'Hansi' who came on board to entertain us. While he was amusing for the first five minutes, the audience participation got to be a bit much. Of course I was called up to play wooden spoons on my knee. Well it was fine for five minutes but I got bored so decided to do a Bavarian Twirk. That made a HUGE HIT. The next morning at breakfast I got a lot of handshakes...


The Great Danube Cruise, Day Five - Nurnberg

Yay we are on the boat! And it is moving!
And yes, here I am writing whilst cruising...


On Thursday we had a great tour of Nurnberg. We opted out of seeing the former Nazi rally grounds and instead took a walking tour of the quaint town known for gingerbread. Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas.




We toured the old castle and then took a bus to the city center. It was lovely just to walk around and shop and explore. We were told Nurnberg is famous for it's tiny sausages. Apparently back in Medieval times the castle door would lock but people still wanted their sausages so they made them small enough to go into the keyhole. There is mother with that keyhole!



We never found the sausage (weren't looking too hard) but did find an amazing pastry shop where we had a slice of Black Forest Cake. Perfect.










We then boarded the boat and set sail for Regensburg. This is the part of cruising I love and on a river it is so different than on the open seas. We cruised by sheep in the pasture, ducks twirling by and castles peaking out of the distance. The most exciting part was a woman on horseback who cantered by us for over two hours. We aren't sure if she was paid by the boat but she was everyone's highlight of the day!




Here is a link of her greeting us and doing a fancy little step and repeat. As it was August 21, what would have been my grandmother's 92 birthday it was wonderful to think about her and her love of horses and this wonderful woman kept appearing, smiling and confident in her English saddle.

I lulled to sleep while reading the new Arch Digest about Marella Agnelli's villa. Can't get much better than that.

We then got dressed for the most formal night on the boat and had a great dinner with wonderful friends and we all got a little too sauced. We ended up on the dance floor in hysterics. Carl tried to do 'The Gator' but broke a tooth and the rest of us just twisted and turned till our drinks ran dry.

If you are curious about the boat- images below!
















Th Great Danube Cruise, Day Four - Prague

Will we ever get to the God Damn Danube?



Our last day in Prague was lovely and surprising. We took a walking tour from 830-12 around the old city. We crossed the Charles Bridge again but this time we had a guide so we learned about many of the statues, the people who were thrown off (and now Saints!) and other random tales. 


                                                 So that little balcony? It's the ye ole turlet!

The highlight was the Senate which I assumed would be a bore. Turns out it was a palace built in the 17th century in the Mannerist era. It resembled so many buildings I have seen in Italy with amazing gardens, bronze statues with elongated necks, arms and legs and even a grotto! 



For some reason the king decided three massive walls needed to be 'grottoed' so there they are in all their drippy sand glory. He also decided to have a grotto pavilion filled with three hundred singing birds to calm his nerves after a long day on the throne. Today the pavilion houses three massive owls. 




As an added bonus we saw a white peacock in the tree above the carp pond. 



We then said goodbye to this decadent city and cow herded onto busses for a four hour drive to Nuremberg. While I slept a good while, I did hear some pretty amusing conversations and 'pull my finger' jokes. It never gets old!

We arrived at the boat at 4pm and got onboard, organized and champagned. It really is a lovely boat that was just christened in April. The one beef I have with it is the artwork. Awful! They need to work with young artists and sell the work so it rotates. My two cents. 

It's wonderful to be on such a small boat. Only 166 passengers and 40 crew. 

We had to do a mandatory life jacket drill, then straight to a reception then directly to dinner. It's great to get to know some more people on our trip. I grew up with some of these folks but others are new to me. 

As we dined we watched the sun set over the industrial complex where we are docked. We don't sail till Thursday. We were cooing over the colors of the sunset when Meg said, 'Oh that is sky blue pink, my favorite color!' Perfect description. 


And that was it really. Off to bed in a tipsy slumber. Tomorrow we begin!

The Great Danube Crusie, Day Three- Prague

Today was uber busy. Sensory overload!


                                                                  Flat Paul in Melnik!

While mama took the morning off i jumped on a tour of Melnik, a town thirty minutes away. The castle is where widows to the king were sent to live out their days. New queens could ride out there for advice without having them hover. Wise idea. 



The castle still has a Prince and of course he is 55 and his wife is 38 and there are glamour shots of her dotting the castle rooms. We saw the prince at the castle cafe conducting a meeting while rocking his babies stroller. 

We first toured the wine cellar which was built in the 14th century and was massive. The casks were over ten feet tall with regal crests carved into them. Sadly they are all empty. Apparently the Communists drank every drop. No worries. They have made more wine since the 90s and it was quite good. They don't sell it internationally since Czech's are such booze hounds it sells out locally. 




After tasting two whites and a rose we headed upstairs for a castle tour. Some rooms were rather amazing. Very World of Interiors with old royal portraits with holes in them hanging on the walls and old chain mail shirts hanging from the wall. 

                                                           My dream bedroom!




The ultimate highlight for me was the crypt! I really wanted to drive an hour out of Prague to see the Sedlec ossuary where they have made chandeliers and architectural decoration out of human bones. But it was just too far away.  So this was a great surprise to be able to see this crypt which houses 15,000 people from 15-1700s. 



Have you ever been alone in a room with 15,000 people's bones? It was a really profound experience for me. It was beautiful, shocking, amazing and mind boggling. One sign read, "We were once like you and you will one day be like us." How very simple and true. I stayed in there for about 20 minutes, gazing, thinking, day dreaming, running my fingers over the skulls and bones. It was pretty spectacular. Walking out of there I felt transported. So much so that I missed the group meeting time and place and nearly got left! I was found by our guide walking in circles in the town square and got back to the bus with very little harassing by the group.


                                         I'm not sure what MORS means. Still investigating....

                                                      Spot the heart made out of skulls? 

We got back to Prague and I had a quick lunch with mama and then we headed out on the Jewish ghetto tour. We visited three synagogues and one amazing cemetery as well as walked around the area to learn about it's past. I learned more than I can possibly write down here but what I loved is that our guide, who is Jewish, said, "There is so much to know and I'm sorry if I sound rude, but I can't teach you everything in this short time. The Jewish culture has so much to understand!" I was relieve when a Jewish woman on our tour said, "Oh Honey, I can't even remember it all!". 


                                                            Note the clock in Hebrew!









We came back to the hotel for a cat nap before an early dinner at the top of our hotel which was like being at the Boom Boom Room in NYC for the views before we met the bus to go to a Dvorak concert at his summer house, Villa America. This was such a treat one for the music but two for the VILLA!



For two hours we sat in this incredibly frescoed room while listening to some of the best opera singers, pianist and violin players in the Czech Republic. "Oh, Dear Moon in the Deep Sky" was a favorite as were the Gipsy Melodies. And on a high note we glided into our bus and back to the hotel for delicious dreams of water nymph's and arias. 
                                                             Flat Paul at Villa America!





The Great Danube Cruise. Day Two - Prague

This has been a rather rough trip on the jet lag front. 

I woke up at 4am wide awake. Stayed in bed till five then went down to the bar and had a croissant with all the flight crews heading out to work. 

I lobby lounged and wrote this mornings post and finally at 6 the ballroom was open for breakfast! And then at 630 the gym opened and I went swimming since I've been a bit sore after all of this traveling. 

                                                     Flat Paul in the castle gardens!

Mama woke up at 7 and at 830 we were on the bus to head to Prague castle. The tour was ok. The castle interiors are not on view so we just doddled around the exterior. There were some amazing buildings and I love the sgraffito buildings with faux stone carved into the stucco.



 I did learn about King Rudolpho who sounds like a total dandy turning part of the castle into an exotic zoo and owning thousands of horses. 



Sadly, while we were touring the church one of our friends got pick pocketed. I didn't know that still happens! Wallet in front pocket the rest of the trip. 


                                                         Flat Paul and the castle guard!




                                                                    More Sgraffito!


                                                              Flat Paul in Church!



We then drove down to the old town and walked last the Jewish ghetto. We are touring that area tomorrow but walking by I was dazzled by the Art Nouveau villas piled high with peacock ornaments and Jugendstil text. 




We made our way to the famous astronomical clock along with thousands of other people. Gross. But we heard it ding and I liked the skeleton who rang the bell as a statue across from him stared in the mirror refusing to see time pass by. 

Then we experienced our first and hopefully only 'Goddammit' moment of the trip. I heard great things about the Decorative Arts Museum and we asked five people where it was and everyone told us a new way to walk. After an hour of exhaustion we made it to the museum. It was closed. After I let out a massive F bomb we regrouped and found a cab to take us to lunch at Cestr.

Yet another amazing creation by the Ambient team they focus on even more meat. 




We dined on:
  • Shoulder Clod with whipped potatoes (delivered in a copper pot) 
  • Beef Tenderloin with truffle sauce and a side of gorgeous spinach
  • Two big Urquells of course to wash it all down

That really did us in so it was back to the hotel to nap for the rest of the afternoon. 


We booked dinner at La Degustation a Michelin star restaurant with a massive tasting menu. And yes, you got it, it's owned by the Ambient group. 

This was probably one of the most amazing meals I have ever had. While it was over the top there was a coziness to it that made it comfortable. enjoyable and relaxing. Not like a high energy dinner at some hot spot in NYC.

We decided on the six course meal opposed to the eleven course meal. We weren't sure we could stay awake that long. 

We had:

Onion, leek, cauliflower, pumpkin pasta


Tomato sauce, mustard ice cream and carrot shavings



Boletus mushrooms, celery root and cracklins




Catfish, yeast and kohlrabi



Beef tongue, yellow pea puree and apple



Bread ice cream, plum jam and beer kocour



Those are very vague descriptions but it's what's on the menu.
After our hour and a half of taste sensations, we hoped in a car back to the hotel and hit the hay in a big way. Jet lag be gone!

The Great Danube Cruise. Day One - Prague

Oh Captain! My Captain! 

How my mind reeled when I heard these words, half asleep on some pills from Boots and midway across the Atlantic headed to Prague. Over a year ago mama and I signed up for a Danube Cruise on a new boat from Avalon Waterways. Yes, yes, I know- Prague is not on The Danube. We start here and then drive to Nuremberg to meet the boat. 

I decided to lull off to Dead Poets Society but of course I couldn't sleep until it was over and a very melancholic sleep I had thinking of Robin Williams and this elegy written for Lincoln by Walt Whitman. And hell, I'm about to go on a river boat cruise where we will here the word 'Captain' innumerable times during announcements, cheers and dining table exchanges. See, the mind reels on overnight flights.

Vacation. The time for the mind to rest, ponder, stretch and learn. Although I never remember until I am on one of these amazing trips with mama that there is a rare moment to rest. We are constantly on the go seeing the wonders of the world and then cocktailing to slumber in the evenings. But what memories!

We landed in Prague Sunday morning from JFK and many of the boat group where on our flight. This trip was organized by some folks at mom and dad's yacht club so we are delighted to know lots of the people on the little boat that holds 166. 

I'm used to traveling with mother in her spangles, glittery eye shadow and endless wardrobe but it's still a wonderful thing when I see the rest of our group of Southern dames equally bedazzled and hootin' and hollerin' at each other.  It's like traveling with Designing Women and I revel in it. 

When we arrived at the hotel (a mammoth Hilton not directly downtown built for large groups like ours and perfectly nice but not on my must stay list) nothing is ready and the guide encourages us to dine at the snack bar. Honey, I've been snacking for 12 hours. Daddy needs Euro nourishment. And thank Gawd my friend Marion was just here and sent me a list of must visit dining destinations. 

Mother and I hail a cab and off we zizz to Cafe Savoy, a divine coffee shop with interiors from 1893. We order Viennese coffees and an amazing fresh omelette and brioche. The owners of this and several other top notch spots here focus on local vegetables and meat and even mention the variety of pigs they use and the name of the butcher. Bravo! 




Once we finish grazing we still have two hours till our room will be ready so we cab it over to the Charles Bridge started in 1357 by old King Charles himself. Apparently from what I read 'construction began on Charles Bridge at 5:31am on 9 July 1357 with the first stone being laid by Charles IV himself. This exact time was very important to the Holy Roman Emperor because he was a strong believer of numerology and this specific time, which formed a numerical bridge (1357 9, 7 5:31), would imbue Charle's Bridge with additional strength'. Hey, it's still standing! Maybe he was an 11'er. 



While the bridge is chock full of tacky tourists and crap peddlers it's still a wonder to stroll across and admire the old town from its angles. Mother wondered why the gold star bursts weren't twirling in the wind that are places atop this saints head. Let's blame it on the jet lag but I'm really glad that question came out of her mouth.

                                                             Saints with beanies! 

When we reached the end of the bridge we were at the end of our rope of exhaustion. We found a cab and headed back to Chez Hilton where our room was ready and we passed out for four glorious hours.



We rose to attend a 6pm reception in the ballroom to hear more about our time in Prague from our guide and then mama and I headed to another restaurant owned by the Cafe Savoy people called Lokal, a modern beer hall serving more amazing locally sourced traditional Czech food. We had two Kozel dark beers immediately and then we dined on:

  • Sliced pork with whipped horseradish cream
  • Beef cheeks with potato dumplings 
  • Roast beef with bread dumplings and whipped cranberry cream


YES! Everything was perfection and after that light little meal we officially called it a day and took a cab back to pass out for the evening. So far we are definitely Prague-matists.

Restoration of the Rock Garden at Jacqueland

Today I feel beyond grateful to see a project that I started working on with my grandmother back in the 90s, finally come to a finish.

                                              My grandmother posing in the rock garden 1928


The rock garden at Jacqueland, the home my great-grandfather and namesake, Cator Woolford, built in Atlanta, has been overgrown for decades and the fountain hasn't worked in my lifetime.  My grandmother, through my encouragement, paid for a new motor for the fountain back in 1990 but the gentleman who promised to install it moved suddenly, and there it sat for 20 years rusting away. 

Through the amazing diligence of the director of Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House (AHHH), Melissa Connor, the rock garden is once again an oasis at the home. 

Here is a video she just sent me explaining the renovation with an amusing time lapse of the construction. I am so thankful to Cooper Sanchez, head gardener at Oakland Cemetery and Jim Higgenbotham from The Atlanta Botanical Gardens for all of their hard work on this wonderful project. I can't wait to meet you both.






I visited the rock garden on my last trip to Atlanta and it was a moving moment to see something I have loved for so long finally be reborn. I assumed most of the stones that created the paths were new, but Melissa told me that they were just resting under all the dirt and weeds, ready to be tread on again.

The fountain originally sprayed upwards and had colored lights swirling underneath, a very 20s effect I think! My grandmother always told me the story that Mr. Cator never mentioned the lights in the fountain, so the first night it was working she looked out the window and screamed in terror. The gardens were awash in red and orange light and she assumed they were on fire. Mr. Cator laughed and explained his magical addition to the estate.

Today the lights are gone and the grand water spray was replaced with a quiet, calming, gurgling movement, more in keeping with the meditative purpose of the garden.

While this is a huge accomplishment, there is more work to be done to the house and property!
We are striving to raise $1 million to get the elevator working again, restore the wood paneling in the library and get the house all the attention it desperately needs to keep humming. So if you have any loose change, send it their way!

Here is another wonderful piece on the house that aired this week on the Atlanta's Channel 2 News.

Atlanta's best kept secret indeed.






Remembering Mabel

On Wednesday March 12, 2014 I laid my sweet cat Mabel to rest. I had no idea how emotional the experience would be. She has been a part of my life since 2000 but always on the periphery. She was rarely cuddly, always skittish and and every so often, had abhorrent manners. 



But now that she is gone my bedroom doesn’t even seem like mine anymore. I feel like I’m in some unknown hotel room. Mabel made that room. It was her room that I lived in. She was always in it, on the chair, on the window sill and in earlier days when she could jump, on the bed. I never realized how much I talked to her until now. I would talk to her about everything and before she was deaf, she would often respond! She was the meowingest kitty I have ever met. 




Mabel came into my life when Rick and I lived in Soho back in 2000. One of Rick’s co workers had rescued Mabel from the pound so that her cat could have a companion. Well as we know, cats rarely like having a new cat in the mix and they didn’t get along at all. So Rick offered to take Mabel off her hands. I came home from work one day and Rick was there with the big surprise. I was excited too! I had never had a cat before so all of this was very new to me. And of course having a pet in New York made this still new city to me much more homey. I didn’t see Mabel for about three days. She hid under our couch except at night to use the litter box and eat.  She soon became a part of the apartment but was never very friendly. One part of Mabel that everyone commented on were her tiny chopped off paws. Who knows who originally owned her but when they declawed her they just chopped off her digits instead of removing the claws, so she had the tiniest little front paws. It was so sad to look at and wonder about the pain she must have gone through. 

                                                                        Those lil paws!

The day Rick moved back to Atlanta and the apartment was mostly empty and I was left all alone, Mabel was the one who was there for me. It was probably the first time we really bonded, when I sat sobbing uncontrollably not sure what this Harlem move and my life without Rick would be like.

                                            Our first year in Harlem 2002 - Chunky Kitty!

When we were installed in The Castle, after several months Mabel changed. She became more confident, striding around the house, she even would venture outside and sunbathe on the terrace. I think it took another year for her to finally jump into bed with me and paw for cuddles. And for the rest of my time in that bedroom, every morning began with Mabel making biscuits on my head. No matter how hungover I was or how exhausted I was, she was persistent! I had to nearly suffocate under covers in hopes of catching a few more Zzzz’s in order to avoid that paw in my eye.



Since Wednesday I have been reminiscing about Mabel and stories have come in from around the world about her. One of my favorite memories of her was some random night when James was living with us. We were drinking and Mabel came down stairs and announced herself with a loud meow. We started laughing and she continued to just meow every time we said something. It went on for 30 minutes and James and I were on the floor with laughter. Another time when Angela and Colin were visiting from England Mabel became obsessed with Colin’s shoes. Every time he took them off she would run up and stick her paws in them and sit on his shoes. Again, hysterics. Patrick McDonald called with condolences and reminded me Mabel was his boon companion when he evacuated the East Village during Hurricane Sandy and spent a week in my room while I had escaped up to Hudson. And then there is the famous Mabel photo I snapped of her licking herself in the most debaucherous position. When I posted it on Facebook one friend said he spit Coke out on his screen he laughed so hard. Adam Shapiro used it as his profile picture for months. It’s quite a gem. 

                                                                The infamous photo

I’m not sure whether I was a bad daddy or not but I never took Mabel to the vet until this year! She always seemed fine and the thought of taking her in a box in a cab to the vet sounded like disaster and months of cat therapy so there she stayed, in The Castle for 11 years. She never had any issues, minus one pee spree that lasted several weeks ruining duvets, needlepoint pillows and rugs. But I called the vet and they suggested keeping her in the laundry room for several days with the litter box to make sure she knew that’s where she had to go. It worked! It wasn’t until I moved to Charleston last year that the peeing began again. I of course assumed she was mad at me for leaving her. Again, I thought it would make more sense to keep her in a place she loves then move her. My roommate, Justin, was happy to take care of her since he had recently moved in and brought his cat, The Colonel, to The Castle. The past year has been really rough. She peed on everything, multiple times, and whenever I was home I had to take the whole bedroom to the dry cleaner. We ended up rolling up all rugs and covering the entire room in plastic. One guest who stayed in the room for two weeks adored Mabel until she peed in her suitcase on the last day. Another guest who was going to stay for a week left after one day when Mabel peed on her in the middle of the night! 



At this time I figured I needed to finally take her to the vet to see what was wrong. Thankfully she was in fine health but her kidneys were giving her trouble, a typical occurrence in older cats. The solution was to start her on (very expensive!) wet food. Mabel was now in hog heaven and the peeing stopped. But now someone had to feed her stinky wet food every day. When I was in the room she would cry out first thing in the morning for wet food. But through the year she started crying for it in the middle of the night, then not wanting it, then eating half. I spoke to the vet again and it wasn’t good. Mabel was on the decline. We could give her medicine every day but it may not stop her confusion and anxiety. So with the vet's total agreement, we decided to put Mabel down and let her go now, instead of when she is even more uncomfortable. 

                                                                Mabels last photo

I have never watched an animal die. When I as a teenager, took my beloved Ponce to be put down, I don’t remember having the option. I just took her to the vet (driving and absolutely falling apart while playing Björk’s Hyper Ballad) said goodbye and they brought her back in a box for me to bury underneath my bedroom window. But this time I brought Mabel in after our final morning cuddle and I held her as the vet euthanized her. On a light note, the vet sat me down while they were prepping Mabel (putting a tube into her front left leg so they could inject easier) and explained what would happen. She told me that they would first relax her to sleep and then inject her with the lethal dose. She was sure to say, “the first injection is the same drug Michael Jackson took!”

So there we were in this room having a surreal moment together. They gave me some time with Mabel and she was clearly scared and I just held her in my arms and rocked her while her eyes darted all over the room. Then when the vet came back in I held her down as the vet gently took her leg and injected. To my amazement Mabel wasn’t struggling, it was like she knew it was time. She just sat there as I petted her. She took one deep breath and then went limp in my arms. Again, a flood of tears. The vet soothed me, “She is still with us! Just sleeping”.  And then came the next shot. It took about five seconds and she was gone. The vet hugged me and said, “You gave her so much love and such a wonderful life. She was so lucky to have you.” And then she left and I sobbed over her body. Kissing her head and saying my last goodbye. 

For some reason I thought I would be ok enough to run errands afterwards but I just glided down 77th street in a daze, hailed a cab and gave my address. I had to repeat it three times since I was crying so much I couldn’t speak. And then the next surreal moment of the day happened as my cab driver flew past 116th street not knowing that was the street to turn on to get to 122 Street since Marcus Garvey Park blocks the remaining turns. We drove up to 125th and around to home. It was his first day on the job and was still learning the ropes. I patted him on the shoulder, gave him a good tip and wished him luck. He was so sweet and nervous. The surreal part is that around that same time two buildings exploded on 116th street. If we had turned we would have been in the middle of the mayhem amid the death and destruction. No place to be after what I had just gone through. 

Back home I mechanically cleaned up my room, threw out her litter box and rearranged the room to give it a fresh energy, but every night this week I woke up in the middle of the night unable to sleep again. The silence was depressing. Recently her late night meowing was a nightmare, but before that, there was always the patter of her paws or a jump in the bed in the middle of the night. A comforting sound. Now nothing. 

I know I did the right thing but messing with nature is still deeply disturbing to me. She was so happy that morning before I put her in the carrier. But now it is done and she is in a better place. I’m at the airport heading back to Charleston and can’t wait to get my hands on my little Fergus. I know one day his time will come too and I can only pray that it will be many years away.

I love you Mabel!





Pura Vida in Costa Rica Part One


THURSDAY

Left Harlem at 6 am. In a typical NYC moment, Carmel car service called at 6am and said there were no cars available. Really? Even when I booked days ago? So I had to walk outside in 9 degrees and hail a cab. Of course there were no taxis so I took a black cab and of course we got lost and of course he started screaming. But we made it. Even at the airport my ears were still frozen. I don't think I have ever been that cold. Ever. 

So how refreshing to land in San Jose in 90 degrees! I met mom, Happy and the rest of the group outside in the chaos one expects at a Central American airport. We loaded up and headed out on our two hour trip to Arenal where we were are to spend three nights at the Arenal Manoa Resort -looking up at the grand volcano. 

Mom was coming down with a cold, I was delirious ( stayed out a little too late at a new restaurant opening at The Standard East Village!) so we were not much fun at cocktail hour.  We had dinner with Happy and were in bed at 9. Excited to see what this magical country has to offer tomorrow!




FRIDAY

I'm glad we hit the hay so early since I had to be up at 6 to head to breakfast and then to the bus to go zip lining. I'm awful at reading ahead on these trips I take with mom. She books and I mark it in my calendar and that's that. So I assumed I would just be zizzing down one line and that would be that. Well once we arrived at Eco Glide the cute guides informed us that we would  be on 13 zip lines and on something riveting called The Tarzan Swing!



I also must confess I was a little eye rolly about zip lining. But wow was I wrong. After we got kitted out we jumped in a jeep and drove high into the mountains where we saw our first Toucan and poisonous yellow eyelash snake. We then hiked about five minutes to the first platform and took our first zip. How invigorating! Flying through the trees and gazing at the mountains, flora, fauna and clouds was rather ethereal. 
There were a couple of times when my heart was in my throat and it wasn't from zip lining. We  laned on several platforms that were about 400 feet off the ground and held up with wobbly wires. Not my favorite. The last line was 1290 feet long and taking that one was the closest to flying I've ever experienced. It just kept going! The Tarzan Swing was pretty exciting too. The boys walked us out to a platform where they secured us to a rope then opened a gate and we would jump off into a free fall that would then send us swinging into the trees. There was lots of screaming involved. 

All of that happened in a three hour period so we were back at the hotel around 10:30. Mama was just waking up and still feeling poorly but she rallied for some pool time. The heat felt good on all of us ( I was still in NYC 9 degree shock). At the pool we all just gazed at the volcano that seemed to anchor the entire area. Whether  people realized it or not we were all worshipping this grand and glorious mountain. Whenever the clouds parted to reveal the top of the mountain there would be hushed whispers around the pool. Cameras would come out, people would sigh in wonder and just go into a zone.  It's easy to see why ancient tribes held such high respect for these temperamental wonders of nature. 


At 3pm we all gathered for a leisurely trip to the thermal baths and then dinner. But when we all arrived in swimsuits and flip flops the guide wondered why we were so leisurely dressed since he was taking us on a two hour hike before the thermal baths. Ah translations and tour guides! That wasn't explained in our itinerary. So we regrouped and headed to the Arenal National Park. Mama was still exhausted so she stayed in the van while we zipped into rain jackets and headed up and out into the wet and foggy forest.  



Our guide Carlos took us up to a little hill where we could see the volcano and its’ surroundings.  As soon as we arrived the clouds parted and a rainbow appeared briefly. We all spent so much time digging for cameras that by the time we found them it had disappeared. Mother Nature's reminder to live in the moment. 




What captivated me the most was how I could turn 90 degrees and see a completely different landscape.  To the left the lush rolling hills covered in a thick mist reminded me of my deer stalk in the Scottish Highlands. Behind me the low lush vegetation reminded me of the landscape of a Lowcountry plantation. To the right the vast arid -looking field with canopy trees reminded me of the landscape we saw driving through Botswana. But in front of me, there was the mystical Arenal volcano that only Costa Rica can claim. 




About an hour in we arrived at a steep hike so half the group took a break and the rest of us headed up up up. We saw some beautiful orchids, but the most wondrous sites were the panoramic vistas across the park to the lake, shimmering in the distance. After some photos and a moment of meditation in the sun we headed back down, met the others and made our way back to the bus where mamacita was just waking up from a cozy nap. 



From there we drove to a resort built around the thermal springs. It didn't take long for all of us to strip down and dip into the warm waters. It did wonders for mother’s cold and sitting under the waterfall was just what my shoulders needed after all of that travel. The springs were amazing but it was verging on tacky tourist spot. We ate dinner there not looking our finest and then headed back to our hotel. Today was quite the journey so mama and I were in bed by 10. Tomorrow horse back riding!

SATURDAY

I slept in until about 8. Then hit breakfast and once again gazed at that great mountain while eating beans and rice and cafe con leche. I then woke up mama with a bowl of fruit and got right back in bed. My ride wasn't until 1pm and the rest of the group had headed out on a hanging bridge tour. I know some people really get manic when people work while on vacation but there are those if us who enjoy our jobs and it was a pleasure to check email, hear what's happening with my writers and finish up a post for next week. I also started my fashion week calendar since all that happens the week I return. 



After catching up on some reading, mama and I headed to lunch and solved all the world’s problems until it was time to head out to Don Tobias stables. Even though I have been riding for a long time I still get a little nervous before heading out on a riding adventure. First off they are usually fairly boring just loping around a field in the heat without much excitement. Secondly you never know the history of the horse and I've had some pretty ornery ones. You can also get stuck with a real bunch of turd tourists. 

As soon as the handsome Don Tobias (silver fox!)  picked me up I knew this was going to be fun. In the back seat of his truck was a very cute British couple who were all smiles as soon as we met. Then when we arrived at the stables this little spitfire of a girl bounded up and introduced herself as our guide. Andreas is Don's niece and works on the farm as a guide and waitress at the restaurant whenever she is out of school. We all saddled up and she threw herself on her horse with no helmet and slapped the hind of that horse and we were off! No this was not going to be our typical tourist mosey. 



Right out of the gate we headed for the hills and broke into an energetic lope. The Brits had never ridden (wha?!) but we're having a blast. PTL we were on Western saddles for a little grip but our thighs were doing to most work and boy howdy we joked early on how we would feel this tomorrow. We headed down a hill, through a creek and up up up a mountain until we reached a peak where the volcano was holding court in the background. Here we stopped and gazed, laughed, chatted and just had a moment. Andreas decided to try an old trick on her horses that she has been riding since she was eight. She got up on her saddle and slowly balanced herself into a standing position with arms outstretched as if she was ready to be the next sacrifice to our  Arenal. 




We then galloped down and around the mountain until we reached her uncle's house which is also a well known restaurant in the area. There we dismounted and headed in all wobbly legged for some fresh juice and a spectacular view of the villages and resorts below us.  Before arriving Andreas had called ahead to let them know we were arriving and what juice we wanted. Oh yes, she called mid gallop while holding the phone in one hand and the reigns in the other. That's some enviable thigh work muchacha. 




While we rested and imbibed we heard about her time in England and how she hates France. So much in common! Then we washed up and headed back out teetering down a steep hill and passed a glittering waterfall before we were back at the stables. The horses were total troopers as were my companions. This really was the best vacation ride I've ever had. Maybe even better than the one around the pyramids in Egypt! 

I arrived back at the hotel rather high on my horse (har har) and met up with everyone else to hear how their adventures were. Happy and Stacy had a great bridge walk and repelling expedition down waterfalls and mama had a leisurely boat ride down a nearby river where they avoided the monkeys hurling poop at them. Ah if I only had that on video.  

I convinced Mom, Haps and Stacy that we should go back to Benedictus ( Senior Tobias' restaurant) for dinner so the concierge booked us for 7:15 and arranged a cab. The wooden A-frame home was just as charming at night and it was a great pleasure to surprise not just Andreas but my British friends too when we arrived for dinner. We ordered some full bodied organic Chilean red wine and exquisite ceviche. For dinner I had a steak and the girls had lamb, all bred and slaughtered right on the farm. We finished with baked pineapple and plantain with vanilla flambé. Our neighbors had the same thing and sweet Andreas spilled a bit of the flambé onto Dan's hand and  lap and he did a quick little jig to extinguish it. The restaurant only had about eight tables so it was very charming and Don's chocolate Lab added to the ambiance. 




We returned to the hotel around 10pm in a cab that was so low to the ground we could  feel the gravel on our feet. We think it was a friend of a friend who was in college because it smelled just like every car I entered in 1995- socks and cigarettes. 

SUNDAY






Left Arenal around 8am and began our drive to the coast. We stopped at a coffee plantation called Espiritu Santo where we learned every. Single. Thing. About coffee. Our guide, as they all have been, was cute and amusing and really took care to make the tour as fun as possible. 



I had no idea regular coffee is made with two bean seeds and espresso is made with one bean. How riveting! We bought the perfunctory bags of Costa Rican coffee and then continued our drive towards Puerto Caldera.



Boarding a cruise is never fun. We waited for an hour in a dingy hall and then were herded through a line of forms, picture ID's and then buses to tenders to the boat. 

I have been very excited about experiencing this tall ship from the Star Clipper line but when the Wind Star was docked right in front of us it reminded me of the luxury that boat and company offers and what fun I've had on their boats. I took a Wind Star cruise from Nice to Rome with Mom, Dad and Rick weeks before I moved to New York in 1999 ! 



Windstar also got the good seat. Out boat had to drop anchor and we had to tender out to her to board. 

But the Star Flyer is quite grand all in her own right. Built in 1992 as a dream project by a Swedish man, it was the first tall ship built in 130 years but all for luxury and not for hard working sailors. 



Well luxury to a point. This is definitely more of an adventure ship at least on this journey. We only dock once for an easy disembarkment. The rest of the ports are wet landings where we have to tender to the beach and jump off into knee deep water and wade up to our neat and dry tour guides. It reminds me of shipwrecked bedraggled passengers waddling to shore since everyone is dressed for a day in town carrying bags above their heads and holding each other like they are on a tight rope. 




Regardless, that night we had our safety check, then cocktails, a lovely dinner and then the crew raised the sails with that song from the 1492 movie that is played on every boat in every part of the world when it is time to set sail. A little much for me but after bountiful vodka sodas I was swaying and caught up in the moment as Happy and Stacy helped pull the ropes to hoist the sails. Then I realized I was exhausted and pulled an Irish goodnight, excited about our first day at sea. 




One Year in Charleston

Here I am flying back to Charleston from New York after a surprisingly restful Thanksgiving week. 
Fergus has finally settled into the flight and has his little head tucked into my lap and I just finished reading the wonderful, rhythmic epistles of Charleston's most famous female artist, Elizabeth O'Neill Verner. Paul gave me her book, Mellowed by Time and it is a new favorite I shall send to anyone eager to know about my new home town. 

Speaking of - I just realized on the flight that it has been a year and two days since I bought 118 Spring Street! I'll never forget the surreal joy of that first night in the house with Rodrigo helping me clean out the front garden and Claire, Abigail and Marco coming over that night with champagne to celebrate. We popped corks off the piazza, danced around the house and tipsily explored the attic to find a petrified mouse and random empty old boxes. What joy that was. 

The home has come so far in a year. I am so proud of how it has developed both inside and out. The gardens are exploding, even in the fall, and a brick terrace is getting laid in a week. Even the awful grubs that have invaded my grass I so lovingly planted haven't ruined it all. 

The interior is about to experience it's first Christmas and boy is it going to dazzle! It all started with an innocent trip to Michael's to buy a styrofoam wreath and dried Spanish moss to make a wreath Boykin found on Pinterest. Upon arriving I was bowled over by the Christmas decoration already on display. After 15 years in New York I was shocked and amazed to find gold glitter reindeer for $11 and jeweled peacocks for $15. Those would be about $50 at Bergdorfs. (Yes yes I know, why shop at Bergdorfs for decorations? Well it's an annual tradition with my neighbor Lucy to have lunch there and then purchase one ornament. This year it was a shiny horse head in honor of Clyde who passed away this year. 



I digress... The copious and well priced decorations sent me into a fevered frenzy and before I knew it I had a buggy piled high with glittering decor for the house. I had completely forgotten that Fergus was with me (he just glides along wherever I go) until a woman in the long line at check out asked me amusingly, 'Did you do that on purpose to your dog?' I looked down puzzled and realized that Fergus was bedazzled in glitter from snout to tail! He had been treading under all those glorious fake glittery plants and accumulated quite the sparkle. 

The next highlight occurred at check out. The sweet cashier was gingerly wrapping my new festive menagerie in tissue and looked up and said, 'You and your wife are going to have such fun decorating this year!' After my initial shock I rolled with it and said, 'Oh you have NO idea!' 


As soon as I get back to the house today the new garlands I bought from Front Gate are getting hauled out of the attic (where another deceased mouse may be discovered) and will be hung on the piazza tonight to light up Spring street. I bet this home hasn't had garlands in some time and I'm eager to see how they look from across the street as the sun sets and they light up the side of my home. 


Tomorrow I will head out to buy a tree and the decorating will be in full force. I just shipped a big box of family decorations from Harlem to Charleston. I don't know how they got left behind but there was slight pandemonium when I moved last March. 



In the new year the house will undergo phase two of renovations. There shouldn't really be a phase two but since Anthony skipped out on me I have some renovation work to finish. The floors in the master bedroom were never complete so Chuck and John will work on those as well as adding a hearth to the fireplace in the master and completing the guest bathroom. It all is for the best since they take such pride in their work and we do it as a team unlike before where I would come home and the workers would have done things before I had a chance to give input. I'm sure when all that is done there will be new projects we think of but for now this is more than enough to manage and budget. 



As for a year in Charleston, well it has been more amazing than I could ever imagine. I still get misty eyed at certain sunsets, I have met more magical people than I knew existed and I have proudly stood my ground with those I've found tiresome and small minded. It's really been a shock to meet young gay men who are proud of the Confederacy. Would they say that to the black girls they call 'girlfriend' at the bar? When one young man told me, 'but they have MLK day!' I simply got up and left the table. I might remind these young men that they would have most likely been lynched back in 1860 for poking their sword in the wrong end of the cannon.


Regardless, I guess it is to be expected in a small Southern town. But what I did not expect was the number of people I have met who I already consider old, dear friends. It's refreshing to talk about tides instead of trends. How wonderful to have friends who remind me to spend time under the full moon for a moon bath or invite me over to their grand old homes for silly puppy play dates. Roller Disco with the congregation from Grace church was hysterical. To top it off, the DJ is also the minister there (who is now a fun friend as is his gorgeous wife). I love discussing Preservation and ferns and popcorn trees while strolling around this incredible little town. 

I've been known to go to bed at 930 and wake up at 6 to take Fergus to the beach or White Point Gardens on The Battery where he plays ball with Charleston's most pure bred dogs and owners. But there are no Wall Streeters here yelling into their phones or Mommies in Louboutins more concerned with their appearance than their dogs. No, these are people who have money but can roll on the ground with their Boykin or laugh out loud when Fergus flips out over a squirrel. The only difference is that lovely old inherited string of pearls or signet ring glittering off the early morning sun distilled through the tall old palms. 

One quote that has stuck with me from ole Beth Verner's book is one she said to a New York reporter when he was down here ages ago asking how she doesn't go mad over such a slow pace of life. Her response, "What is the use of hurrying when one is where one wants to be?"




The Charleston Journey - Part One



Here I am heading back to New York on Virgin Atlantic flight 45 from Heathrow. I just watched Lincoln (loved it but was fairly confusing at times and apparently filmed by the light of one single candle) and opened my computer to see if there is internet. Magic, there is not! What a blessing. Five more hours of ME time. 

Part of my ME time was to read my monthly Power Path reading. A friend of mine from Brazil suggested the Shamanic site to me and it has been a blessing for many months now. Below are excerpts from the July reading which I found so terribly profound. 

The entire week I was in London I had friends asking me what my life was like now that I am in Charleston and so much of it is in the Power Path pasted below. Charleston is my expansion, a huge discipline and full of magic.

If I were to sum up my Charleston existence so far these would be some highlights:
  • My morning ritual- Wake with Fergus, cuddle with Fergus, stretch with Fergus on the bedroom rug and then lighting incense, turning on Kundalini yoga chants, pouring an iced coffee and enjoying a little morning meditation in the living room as sizzling Southern sunlight beams through the blinds
  • Driving out to the beach with Fergus for a morning walk and noticing the vastly changing landscape of the sand/sea and vegetation
  • Driving to Lowes (which I have done innumerable times) and being transfixed by the great old oaks surrounding its entrance
  • My wonderful walks with Fergus exploring new streets, new plants, new blooms, peeping into unknown historic homes and laughing as the frogs begin their concert every night
  • Watching the sunset over so many dazzling low country landscapes
  • Brushing my teeth on my piazza every night and watching the moons place and size
  • Drunkenly riding bikes up Meeting Street after leaving a Spoleto party in a grand mansion and heading to Dudley’s for a drag show

Charleston has brought me back to a place I haven’t been to in ages. My nature loving side. The part of me who would run barefoot outside until mother called me into dinner. Now that I have a garden I am obsessed with what blooms when, what will work in the sun and shade and what will come back or fade away. 

The Holy City has also let me explore parts of me I didn’t know existed. How wonderful my morning paddle boards have been with Misty. How I adore the yoga, the laughs, the ripple of the water under my paddle and working out in Mother Nature’s finest gymnasium. What fun it has been to get to know a surfer, a water conservationist and a former soldier who calls me ‘bro’. What lessons I’ve learned from working with contractors and learning all about the innards of my home. I will fully admit the move, learning the ropes of trash nights, parking permits, getting a new license and dealing with a contractor who didn’t communicate nearly had me in the mad house. No amount of meditation, yoga or mantras could help. It was absolutely rotten, confusing and stressful. But I pray most of that is in my past now. 

I have met some wonderful people and am so thankful to be back in the same town with some old friends. And I have been saddened to meet a few people with, as Mame would say, “Braces on their brains,” but the time I most cherish is my time alone, at home, with   Fergus. I have been on that glorious, gilded hamster wheel of New York for 14 years now and I admit, much of my non-stop twirling is my own fault. That great and powerful FOMO (Fear of Missing Out!). Hell, even in Charleston for my first three months I was out nearly every night at an event. But I am a curious creature by nature and eager to explore. But I feel like I have an idea of what Charleston holds, and while some of it does fascinate, a night at home with candles lit, a good movie on and Fergus dashing around with his ball is held dear most of all. 

I’ve been meaning to write this for quite some time but besides my brimming dance card with Spoleto and other events, I also had 12 guests in three months. Quite a feat. Each of them was a total treat. What’s a better way to explore a new town than with old friends and family? But it wasn’t until Memorial Day that I had three full weeks alone. It was then that I finally felt at home. That I developed a routine, that I wasn’t stressed with deadlines so I could entertain someone for the weekend. I was just living, loving, admiring and enjoying. 

I’ve started to read more about Southern history, the Civil War, President Lincoln, Mary Boykin Chestnut and Francis Marion. Movies like Django and Lincoln ring more powerful than they may have if I wasn’t living back in the South. I have also began using social media as a way to truly check in on great friends in New York and see what everyone is up to. One thing I have learned is how much I love and miss my New York family. I only recently realized how much we know about each other, how far we have come and how much we understand one another. When Justin had a dinner party in April and invited some of our friends, I went to the bathroom and just hearing all of them explode into laughter (about something idiotic and mundane I’m sure), tears began to stream. These are my always and forevers. They are part of who I am. 

I look forward to the journey in store on Spring Street, in The 118, and around the little town of Charleston. I know I have only scratched the fine porcelain surface of this rich city and I have no doubt it is only going to get better, more inspiring and produce fruits more exotic than one could ever imagine. 


The Power Path Reading for July:

EXPANSION
DISCIPLINE
MAGIC

This month we have a triad of themes all working together to provide an incredible opportunity for accelerated growth, change and evolution.

The themes may seem paradoxical and even contrary to each other but their cooperative alignment will support creativity and manifestation in ways you could never have imagined. This is finally the opportunity we have been waiting for, to break through the limitation of how our belief systems identify what is possible and what is not.

All three themes are equally as important this month and your challenge will be to dance with them in harmony and balance, while staying focused on the limitless potential of what is possible. It is extremely important that you not get lost in other peoples drama, suffering and chaos. And remember you can only help yourself and be the best example you can be.

Expansion always brings the potential for higher centered experiences of truth, love and energy. This includes great beauty, inspiration, and the heightening of all your senses and intuition. In order to tap into and experience the higher centers you will need to be available, which may mean eliminating your distractions and energy leaks. It may be time to break away from people and behaviors that have kept you living small. This is the opportunity for making a bid for power to live BIG if you are ready for it.

You must make time to just BE. Expansion is not action, pushing or effort to build something bigger. It is the process of allowing and receiving. It is opening the pores of your belief systems and energetic patterning. You become more porous in order to receive that which will expand you into the next level of vibration from which place you can create something new and magical. Expansion is the feminine counterpart to the masculine Discipline.

Expect the unexpected and always focus on the positive. Pray for amazing things and experiences and opportunities to show up in your day. Acknowledge the magic that already exists while you watch the colors of a sunset or listen to the song of a bird.
Create practices that allow for magical experiences such as taking time to listen to the message of a tree or a plant or a cloud.

In order for permanent and positive change and evolution to occur, the new expanded container and paradigm needs to be anchored. Magic helps with this. Experiences that seem magical and out of the ordinary will eventually be seen as "normal" as we evolve.

Become aware of your environment. Where is the magic? One way to bring magic in is to sing or talk to everything you come into contact with in your environment. When was the last time you sang a hello to your computer or your car, or your kitchen stove, or your office environment or your garden or your favorite place to walk? Try it and see what happens. This could become one of your disciplines.




Living with Julia at The 118


Yesterday I met a pile of people I have been wanting to discover since December when I bought The 118 in Charleston.

I went to the Tax Assessment office at the grand and handsome 101 Meeting Street to file for legal residence tax. While there I asked where I could find out more about my property. They sent me to the second floor to the R.M.C office (Register Mesne Conveyance) where a Della Reese look alike bellowed a big ole ‘Howdy Do’ and pointed me to the back of the office to find someone to help me. 

                                                                101 Meeting Street

I followed the halls back until I came upon a ‘lovely older woman’ named Nancy. She had the voice of a Mourning Dove: light, lifted but matter of fact. I told her I was interested to learn who has lived in my house and she kindly guided me through the Charleston County website and after several seconds she sweetly chirped, ‘Well here you go!” She had printed out a page with three names, Peter Walsh, Dexter Wilson and Marie Pelzer Fludd, the deed dates ranging from 2004-2005. I nervously looked at her and said, “Oh thank you for this but I mean the whole shebang since 1890.”

I think I must have said the magic word. Miss Nancy’s eyes began to sparkle and she removed her glasses and said, “Well then, we have some work to do.” And with that she took me on a journey through microfiche, piles of papers and finally to the treasure trove, the original Charleston County real estate books from the 19th century. 

It was all a bit of a blur since clearly she has done this for so many other historic home fanatics. As soon as we would adjust the zoom on a microfiche she would read an RMC number from the page, hit print, and move on the the next book. She kept saying, “My, you are lucky all of this is typed out! It makes it so much easier.” But once we got to 1926 it was fill-in-the-blanks and of course by 1892 it was all hand written. At this point she said, “Well this just wont do anymore on microfiche, we need to see the real thing.” And with that she glided through rooms, hallways, security systems until we finally arrived in a freezing room full of those books that just make my eye’s go all spirally. 


There they were, those grand old ancient books filled with quill ink and the answers to my questions, we hoped.  As soon as she opened the book in question (it was so huge I had to carry it with both hands for her) we are accosted by the glare of Vreeland Red psychedelic marbleizing on the front page. Those wild Edwardians! We then carefully peeled back the pages to 169 and there we found them, Julia M. M. Graves.

                                                                   That RED! 

From what we can gather she sold the house in 1892 (it was built in 1890) to a mister John N. Graman who I later discovered was a prominent doctor in Charleston. I find it amusing that they mentioned ‘The Sixth Day of October in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Ninety Two on the One Hundred and Seventeenth Day of the Sovereignty and the Independence of the United States of America.”




If that wasn’t riveting enough, we glanced at the deed above mine and it was to the Countess de Choiseul for property on East Bay Street! The Duke de Choiseul (possibly her grandfather?) helped arrange the marriage of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The Count and Countess mentioned were French consul to Charleston. 

Countess de Choiseul's Document!


Now for the historical run down of my little abode:

Julia M. Graves (possibly widowed and with much more property than what is now included, we gather)- occupied from 1890-1892

Sold for $5,000.00 to

John H. Graman and Alice M. Graman - occupied from 1892- 1926

Sold for $4,000 to

Mary Polhemus - occupied from March 3, 1926- July 29th 1926 

Sold for $2,600.00 to

Gustave J. Knobeloch- occupied from 1926- 1936

Sold for $2,505.00 to

J.N. Peeksen- occupied from  1936-1941

Sold for $1,541.67 to

William F. Peeksen- occupied from 1941-1961

Sold for $7,000.00 to

Edna W. Peeksen- occupied from 1961- 1975

Sold for $13,000.00 to

Marie Pelzer Fludd - occupied from 1975-2004

Sold for $100,000 to

Decatur Wilson II - renovated the home and flipped it 2004-2005

Sold for $420,000 to

Peter Walsh -occupied from 2005 -2012 (bought for his daughter while in college, later rented out to stinky college dudes and girls)

Sold to ME December 1st, 2012

I feel a huge comfort in knowing who has lived here, loved here, planted, cooked, mourned and laughed in these very rooms over the past 123 years. I hope to discover more about each of them (especially Julia!). I have done some quick googling and managed to find some of their graves located not too far from here on upper Meeting Street. 

And one final note on Miss Nancy. When we started this process she said rather sternly, ‘Now you do know each copy is .50 cents?” I did not but was happy to pay. In the end we had printed countless copies and when I was leaving I asked where I went to pay. She slid those glasses back on and whispered, “You don’t owe a thing honey, you just enjoy what we found, ya hear?” I hear, so does Julia and Mary and John and....






Tantric Tulum



I cannot recall the last time my head hit the pillow at 9:30pm. Nothing is more luxurious to me than that. Well, waking up in the middle of the night with a cool breeze sweeping through my room and the crash of waves heard in the distance is equally lucullan, I must admit.

I just spent five gloriously relaxing days in Tulum, Mexico to celebrate Abigail and her bachelorette weekend. I have known Abigail since the halcyon days at the College of Charleston back in 1995 and both she and Claire have championed me into coming back into the fold of the deep South by buying a home in Charleston. I have been looking forward to spending quality time with two of my oldest friends for many months and to get to know the other ladies in the bridal group. I guess I need to address why in the Sam Hell I am a bridesmaid. Well, that’s just what Abby wanted so Chris Millspaugh (another one of her oldest guy friends) and I were asked to be a part and I am honored, and happy to throw a kink in staid wedding traditions.

                                             Nick and Abby welcome us with beer, naturally. 

Now that she is getting married we had to celebrate in a big way and I am very appreciative that she chose Tulum over some wild weekend in some other popular hen party destination. 

Thursday: 

Claire, Abigail and I met at the chaotic Cancun airport where we rented our cars post haste and then bobbled down the 307 on the coast of the Playa de Carmen towards Tulum, about a two hour drive. I have never traveled with these two dames before (amazingly) but I had no doubt all would be fine as we are equally head strong. When the Budget rental chap brought around two cars that were on empty, telling us that is all he had it was if the Indian Goddess Kali erupted from both of them. The agent quickly saw the fire he had conjured up  in both of them and quickly appeared with at least one car with a full tank. I just sat back and watched him fumble against two hot headed and incredible lawyers.

I have been hearing about Tulum for several years now as it is the fashionable new spot for New York’s hippest and earthiest. Sure enough as soon as we arrived in the small, dusty town I started seeing Ray-Ban’s, Ooops – I erased the name of the shoe (?) - check its' spelling. and Tom’s shoes in every direction. But it was a good thing. It is nice to see New Yorkers actually relax. Nobody was an iPhone zombie. 

We arrived at Tita Tulum around 4pm and check-in consisted of some random man giving us a key to cabana 2 (El Jaguar!). We didn’t even look at the room before we had thrown shoes into the sand, yanked off socks and ran to the beach to behold the splendor. And splendor it was - palm trees as far as the eye could see, thatched roof cabanas peeking out here and there and in front of us the pantone perfection of azure blue.





We met up with Abigail’s brother Nick and his hysterical girlfriend Lisa, both living in New York,  grabbed beer, and left unpacking for another time. They had arrived the day before and had kindly booked a table at Zammas  for dinner.


We watched the sunset and then headed by car to the restaurant near the top of the trendy Tulum beach. I have never been anywhere quite like Tulum. Once you turn onto a main road there must be 50-60 hotels next to each other, each with only 8-10 rooms, some tent lodges, some luxury and most just quaint eco lodges. We sat outside and ordered drinks pronto. Abigail was excited to order a whole fish but the waiter said it was too late. “Mañana,” he deadpanned. ‘Mañana’ would be our favorite word during our stay.

After dinner we were all a bit weary after a day of travel so we drove back to Tita and passed out. Vacation mode was in effect.

Friday:



I woke up at 6am, threw on a caftan and stumbled to the beach where I sat on the sand and saluted the sun as it crept up over the ocean. Kids were already out playing and dogs were waking and going on morning expeditions.  My favorite part of the morning was watching a svelte Latino hippy jog past in his shorts and in a trance. All of a sudden he looked to his right and saw the sun rising and stopped and began jumping up in down, hands raised in the air, welcoming Apollo to Tulum. He was truly happy, excited and honored to be a part of such a ceremony and I was equally touched to watch. 


After an hour I decided to get some work done before starting my day so I packed computer and phone and headed to the Tita restaurant (also the lobby, also check in, also hang out) and plugged in and got to work for another hour until Claire joined me for breakfast. The rest of the crew had booked a Scuba adventure that morning so we were on our own. (I tried to book with them but the diver kept asking me for a .24 cent deposit and I was leery, so I decided to see how their’s was before booking).





We then took a long stroll up the beach and checked out some of the other lodges dotting the beach. We fell in love with Shambala with its' all white buildings and giant painting of Ganesh on one wall. Their yoga studio was all glass and looked out over the beach. We would be coming back that evening. When the heat became too much we stopped at Posada Margherita for amazing watermelon, mint and basil fresh juices before heading back on the street side to see the front of the properties and to check out some of the shops.



For lunch we went next door to Coqui Coqui. This is the epicenter of coolness in Tulum, constantly featured in Vogue, Departures and others, we were excited to be located next door to see the action. Claire and I sat outside on a huge divan and watched all the skinny girls and guys smoke cigarettes and sporting their Tom Ford shades while drinking gallons of wine. Yep, chic happens! We had yet another seriously fresh and fantastic meal of ceviche and tacos. It was one of those lunches I will remember forever for it’s beauty, simplicity and our hipster, mulletted, harem pant wearing waiter. 



Once back we chilled on the beach and later went back to Shambala Petit Hotel for a serene yoga class. With all the windows open and palm trees growing through the studio and through the roof we zenned out over the ocean watching little kiddies run around naked in the waves, dogs trail their owners and clouds passing by. That is the way yoga should be done!



After class we met up with the rest of our group and they were a little peeved over their unorganized dive, even though they ended up having a great time. Claire and I spotted a dive sign next to Tita so I went over there and knocked on a hut. A tall and handsome guy came out and said he would be happy to take me cave diving the following day. I left him a deposit and we decided to rendezvous at 11:30am the next morning. His name was Joaquin and I was a happy diver. 

That night Abby and Nick’s cousins Courtney and Brodie arrived and our gang was complete. We headed to a spot called La Zebra for dinner where we had a riotous evening. Once again Abigail tried to order a whole fish and once again she was denied. I finally popped a gasket and calmly told Manuel that, ‘Mañana’ was not an option and a fish was to be delivered to Abby tonight. He sighed explaining it would take 50 whole minutes, we said that is the perfect amount of time for cocktails and ceviche. He relented and cracked a smile. He knew we had him. The rest of the night he was known as, ‘Mañana Manuel’ and he cracked up too many times to count. After getting rather sauced we headed back to Tita and Claire and I passed out at 10pm and the rest of the crew went to Hartwood to book our table for the following night. 



Saturday:

This morning I woke up at 6:30. Slept in! Again I saluted the morning sun, worked a tiny bit (it is the weekend after all) and we all rallied and went to breakfast at another yoga lodge to check out their scene. I love how you can stay at one little lodge and just bounce around all the rest for breakfast, lunch, dinner and yoga. 

At 11:45 Joaquin came to find me on the beach and we headed out on our adventure. He is from Argentina and has been in Tulum for a year and a half with his girlfriend. She runs the front desk at a private yoga retreat and he takes people diving daily. They live in a hut on the beach half the size of my bedroom and are happy as can be. How refreshing. 

                                                                         Joaquin

The entire dive trip seemed straight out of a Wes Anderson movie to me. Joaquin is tall, skinny, monotone and very funny. He looked at me after we got in the van and said, “So we have another guest, he is German.” Then he shrugged, turned on the ignition and barreled out of the parking lot. Sure enough at the dive center there was a very eager looking German waiting for us. I could only imagine how this would pan out. 



We got our dive gear organized and headed to the first cenote (underwater river systems found in this area) near the ocean that is half salt water and half fresh water and located amidst the mangroves. It was surreal. We strapped on our gear and headed in. As soon as we plunged in the German’s mask fogged up. He spit and spit and spit in it and kept complaining how he didn’t have enough spit to defog the mask. At one point Joaquin looked at him and deadpanned, “Man you are going to dry out.” I thought I was going to pop my wet suit I laughed so hard. But the German continued until the mask was a mini spittoon. The dive was beautiful and very therapeutic. Gazing up at the mangrove roots with the sun dancing between them, illuminating small schools of fish  and several big tarpon. I always forget what a joy being underwater can be, just observing, not talking, just hearing your breath and soaking in the surreal surroundings.




Our next dive was at Grand Cenote and it was a serious cave dive. Joaquin mapped out or dive and showed us a map as to where we would be going, Cenote dos Ojos or ‘The Two Eyes’ was the name of the area we would be exploring. It was a hard trek with a tank on your back and very steep steps down to the cave but we made it, plunged in and luckily for us the German had coughed up enough crud to keep his mask fog free. We descended into a truly magical place. I felt as if I had entered Neptune’s palace. Stalactites, stalagmites, ‘soda straws’ as Joaquin called the smaller points hanging from the ceiling were everywhere. We turned on our flashlights to enter the cave and as would only happen to the poor German, his flashlight failed. So I had to follow him to light his way as Joaquin was in front with a super sized light. I bubbled out a sigh and carried on. 

About ten minutes in, Joaquin pointed up and we ascended into what I would soon discover was a bat cave. Once I was oriented I heard hundreds of squeaky balls and had fatherly thoughts of Fergus and his favorite loud toy. Then I saw one bat swan dive down and then I realized there were hundreds. How exciting! I shone my light on one and watched him preen, fidget, squeak and then fly away, righting himself from dangling upside down. 

There was a small hole in the top of the cave where they would dart in and out and we all just floated on our backs and watched in delight as the little darlings would twirl about doing whatever bats do. The German fidgeted with his camera most of the time.

The next opening was the other ‘eye’ of our adventure and it was where all of the snorkelers come to take a gander from above. I thought I had entered Neptune’s disco as all of them were above us twirling their flashlights into the dark trying to catch a glimpse of something extraordinary. I did have to have a moment as I spaced out on one big bootyed girl who I don’t think had ever touched water before. Her entire body was rattling around like a Maraca and witnessing her jiggle was worth paying for. Hooter’s should invest in a water tank!

We made our way back through the mysterious passages back to the first cave where we all floated up in silence and just took everything in. I think even Joaquin finds religion in those cave dives even though he goes there almost daily. I can see why the Mayans were so attracted to them eons ago.

After the second dive we were famished so Joaquin drove us back to the dive shop and we wandered into dusty little Tulum’s city center and ordered quesadilla’s off the street. I had a pollo and a zucchini flower one. Those little Mamacita’s with neon eye shadow took my taste palate to another level. Get it girls!  When I got back to Tita I gave Joaquin a hand shake and a hug and we parted ways. He mentioned he is trying to get to Zanzibar to teach diving there; I wish him the very best of luck.



I regrouped with the crew and didn’t have much time to change before it was time for our big night out. We booked at Hartwood across the street and it is the hippest place to dine. We arrived at 6pm and the place was already poppin. We were seated and the drinks began flowing. Lisa had brought a bag of ‘Pecker Whistles’, something to embarrass the bride to be, and doled them out to all of us. She tried to give one to the hostess but she declined, “Oh I have plenty!” she said with a laugh. 






Tonight’s meal ranks up there as one of the best in memory. Everything is cooked on a wood burning fire that roars nearly 24/7. Abby saw a whole fish on the menu and was hell bent on having another so she ordered that with her cousin Courtney. I ordered slow cooked rabbit empanadas and a lentil salad with mango that was sensational. Every order was special and we took turns fawning over each plate. Claire and I were the only smart ones to order dessert and the coconut ice cream and coconut cake drizzled in Mayan honey will be conjured up in our Charleston kitchens this summer for sure.



After dinner we went back to Tita for drinks in the room before heading to a full moon party at a hippy camp called Esperanza. Claire passed on the ordeal but the rest of us soldiered down the beach, the moon’s silver glow our guide (I have never in my life been anywhere with such a bright moon! Moon shadows? My new favorite thing). We heard drums so approached a small hut. Now to back up, we had been told by several people that the Pirate Party for the full moon was going to be THE party. We saw fliers for it and even Joaquin said he may stop by. Well, we entered the hut to find six half dressed dudes banging on drums and shouting at each other. No welcome, no passing of the bottle, nobody got up. Awkward! We danced around a bit and Nick banged a beer bottle on the table to add to the percussion but nobody moved, so one by one we just trailed off back to the beach in complete hysterics. What just happened we will never know but that wasn’t what we had in mind. 

We laughed all the way to the next bar where we ordered Margaritas (and a Margarita pizza by accident) and recapped our bizarre encounter before heading back to Tita, some of us giving that full moon a run for it’s money, others taking pictures in abandoned boats. After such a big day I retired but the rest of the crew stayed on the beach for a late night cocktail and moon lovers dip. I did rejoin briefly as I found a huge black crab in the shower and promptly escorted him into a water pitcher and took him back to his home on the beach. 

                                                                  Moon Shadows!

Sunday:

It never fails the the day before one leaves a vacation one is most relaxed and in tune with the place.

Today was utter perfection. I really slept in and rolled out of bed at 7am. I glided out to the beach for my now routine sun salutation and watched the kids running up and down the beach. 



The rest of the group rallied and we headed to Casa Banana for breakfast. My fruit plate and bread and jam were delicious but it took quite some time for it to arrive. I never understand wait staff who don’t write things down. There were seven of us and you could tell our waitress couldn’t keep track, especially when we added and subtracted items from our meal (Pineapple Juice!). After about 20 minutes she brought out four plates of food and with a very pleased expression she said, “So are we missing anything?”. Poor thing - “Only a few marbles”, I wanted to say. We all busted out laughing as she missed quite a lot. But it all finally arrived. 



After breakfast we said goodbye to Brodie who was flying back to the States and Claire, Abby and I drove out to the Mayan Ruins. What a treat! Not only were they fascinating to see but the iguanas lounging (and loving!) all over the park were an added bonus. But the real magic was the glittering beach below the ruins. I can’t imagine how it must have been when this was a busy port and mini metropolis. I can think of no better place to spend the day. We came prepared with bathing suits and towels so we trotted down the steep stairs to the beach and ran in the waves with abandon. 



On the drive home we stopped at Anna y Jose for lunch where I ordered my first silly cocktail of the week, a massive bowl of Daiquiri. The girls ordered ceviche and I had gorgeous grouper. 



The rest of the day was a blur on the beach. Another first of the week- I totally passed out, drooling and all - total bliss. I am sure the bowl of booze had something to do with it.

For the last supper we headed to Casa Jaguar where we had some seriously sensual food and drink. Too bad their septic tank needed to be emptied. Peew! And the lack of breeze brought out the bugs so on my very last night after being bug free I got three juicy bites. But it was all worth it to experience that darling little spot on our last night.

Monday:

This morning I had my last sunrise on the beach and Claire and I drove out at 8am. We made a pit stop at Mateo’s for a quick breakfast. Wow! We certainly went out with a bang. They brought a bowl of fruit big enough for the town of Tulum and our egg and bacon burrito wraps were worth missing our plane for. But we didn’t! Our tummys full of happiness, we puttered back to Cancun to catch our flights back to work, back to cold, back to another world.

I was blown away by Tulum, I can see why it is such a hot spot but I am pleased to see that it doesn’t feel that way at all. I had many special moments to myself to reflect, relax and enjoy the love of being with some of my oldest and dearest friends.