13.12.10

Late For My Own Party---The Dilettante is One.

Once again, I'm late for my own party.  Certain friends,--You Know Who You Are---have never let me forget that I was very late for my own 40th birthday party---Seventeen Years Ago.  In my defense, I do want to say that I thought the party was at six, not five, and that it was my busiest time of year, and that I was away on a buying trip to...oh, wait, you don't really think I'm going to give away my secret trade sources on here, do you?  Anyway, I thought I was going to be only 10 or 15 minutes late...

But once again, I digress.  The Down East Dilettante turned ONE on Friday, but much too busy was I with other tasks and chores, so only now do I have time to sit down and do anything about it.

After discovering that blogs were actually interesting and fun, and not just for conspiracy theorists anymore, I  found Peak of Chic while trying to find the answer to a pressing design history question, and was transfixed.  From Peak of Chic I discovered ArchitectDesign.  From ArchitectDesign I discovered JCB, and damned if JCB didn't turn out to be someone I know in real life.  This was a new hybrid of journalism and creativity, and I was hooked.  After many emails with JCB, who shares a passion for 18th & 19th century architecture, barraging her with questions about blogging, she graciously announced my debut in her blog.  A few hours later, Blue Remembered Hills kindly noted my arrival in his blog, Soodie Beasley left my first comment, and the rest is history, and the list too long to repeat here. (For that first post, Click HERE).  Since then, it has taken me surprising places, and I see more around the corner.

I had intended originally to blog in rotation about interiors, landscape, antiques,  Maine miscellanea and early New England architecture.  Among my goals was to improve my lazy writing skills and syntax (oops), and to try to force myself to tell a tale with greater brevity and concision (oops and oops again), but found that I just really never knew what was going to come out when I sit down at the keyboard, and so be it.

Several times some of my favorite bloggers have nominated me for blogger awards.  Part of the exercise is  to tell seven things about oneself that readers might not know.  I had already done a list a few months before, and preferring to blog about houses and rooms and gardens more than about myself, I never got around to publishing the list.   Today, in honor of my one year and three day anniversary, here it is.  Gluttons for punishment will find the first list by clicking HERE, for a total of 14.

Without Further Ado, Seven Things My Readers May Not Know About Me:

1. A Royal Letdown

 When I was about ten, it became known that my grandparent's next door neighbors had a very special house guest, a German granddaughter of Queen Victoria, whom they had met in Baden-Baden.  Seriously: Baden-Baden.  Who knew people even still went there in the second half of the 20th century?  As my favorite View Master Slide set was of Queen Elizabeth's coronation (yes, I was that sort of child, so stop snickering), I naturally wanted to meet this princess, the Queen's grandfather's cousin---I think her title was Princess of Reuss, but I honestly don't remember---and was not entirely accepting of the fact that the very nice neighbors were not likely to put a ten year old at the top of their cocktail party list.   So I did the only thing I could:  I set up a surveillance station on my favorite double back Adirondack settee in my grandparent's garden, surviving on only lemonade and cookies, with an excellent view of the neighbor's house, determined to have my audience with a princess, or at least a sighting, and polished my best British accent for the hoped for occasion.  Finally I saw her leaving the house, and it may have been the most disappointing moment of my life, for she was only an old lady, dressed in sensible shoes, tweed skirt and a twin set, just like my grandmother and any other ladies of a certain vintage around town.  Some Princess. No ermine robe.  No crown.  Not even a tiara.

Here I segue to tell you that Princess Louise's hostess was the owner of the most fascinating twin sets ever seen.  Purchased at trunk shows at the local country club, she had them in every color, with appliqued 3-D birds and animals on them...pheasants, deer, you name it.  They were riveting.  I once knew the name of the Main Line Philadelphia (of course) designer who applied these jaw dropping bits of soft sculpture to unsuspecting cashmere, but the name is lost in the mists of time.  Were they attractive?  No, but sometimes, that is just beside the point.  Wearing them, Sophronia, for such was her name, became performance art.

As for the double backed Adirondack settee with its wonderfully wide arms, when we divided my grandparent's possessions, it was my first choice in the first round of draws, ahead of finer things, but the set proved too rotten under its coats of sky blue paint to be saved after 60 summers on the lawn.  Rosebud...

2. My Career as Screenwriter Slash Indie Film Star
I was one of the writers & stars of a groundbreaking science fiction movie.  In eighth grade.  In 1966.  Our teacher had just gotten a new 16mm.  movie camera and had the idea that we should make a movie.  Left up to me, it would have been something based on a Somerset Maugham short story, but it was a hard sell to my fellow eighth graders.  Sadly for the young Dilettante, science fiction won the popular vote. Other than the usual little bits of Ursula LeGuin and Ray Bradbury later in High School, Sci Fi has never been a genre that grabbed the Dilettante.  However I got chosen for the writing staff, and hence was able to write myself a starring role.

We looked just like this---NOT

All the writers managed to get their favorite bits in---A horse loving girl wrote in a planet with horses--with a starring role for her own steed, a couple of the gun crazy boys (we have lots of those in rural Maine) got their share of intergalactic battles and ray guns, the pretty girl wrote herself in as a princess (who could ride the horse), and as for me, house crazy even then, I managed to work in a palace, for the princess , and I, I was the professor.  The school athletic field, a place I had hitherto  managed to avoid for years, stood in for the planet.  And so we went on our merry way, venturing where no man had ventured before in our cardboard and aluminum foil space ship. 

3. My Comeback
Thirty-odd years later a trio of students from MIT appeared at my store. They were producing a documentary about amateur science fiction movies in popular culture.  God knows how, but they had discovered our middle school effort and had sought us out.   After  telling me how great I was in the film and how much they loved my accent in the role (yes, I am a sucker for flattery), they asked me to read a few lines, from the original script after  first briefly recounting the making of the film.  Unfortunately, it was my real accent, the only one I have.  My manner of speech has been unkindly described by a friend as the love child of Thurston Howell III and Poindexter),    It went very well, spontaneous, lots of laughter, apparently I managed to be relatively amusing.  Then the guy running the microphone discovered he had done something wrong---his MIT education really paid off----and we had to do a second take. Have you ever tried to re-capture spontaneity?  Not so amusing the second time.  Hollywood still hasn't called.

 Ready for My Closeup, Mr. Dilettante

4. Irrational Guilt
On a late winter day 20 years ago, a friend and I were in Boston for the day, and went to the Gardner Museum for a lift from the drab chill outside.  A few minutes before closing time, sated, we were headed for the coat check when I announced to Paul that I had forgotten to look at the Vermeer and sorry, I'd be back in a couple minutes.  I rushed up the stairs to the Dutch Room, gave it a long look, rejoined Paul, and we left.  The next morning, the phone rang early, and it was Paul, asking if I'd seen the news yet.  The Vermeer, and a number of other artworks, had been stolen in the night from the Gardner.  The hair stood up on the back of my neck.  I felt almost as if my impulsive last look had somehow triggered the theft. Of course it hadn't, but it does seem reasonable to believe that I was the last member of the public to see it that last day, as the museum was closing as we left.

Vermeer, The Concert, Stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, March 18, 1990

5. Hello, I'm Dilettante, and I'll Be Your Waiter This Evening, So You'd Better Behave
 Years ago, to assuage a life crisis, I was visiting a friend in  Palm Beach, and decided that I'd like to stay on the gilded isle for the rest of the winter.  Ever the ambitious sort, and low on funds, I thought it would be a hoot to be a waiter for the winter .  I would make zillions in tips every night (only years too late did anyone tell me a hedge fund was a better way,) and have the days free to perfect my tan.  At least that was the plan. I lasted just slightly under five weeks as a waitroid.  One evening I'd just had it with the amazing things that people think they can do when dining out.

 It started out rather like this...

I brought a duck out to a particularly tiresome patron and suddenly, inspired, I just tipped the tray I held aloft and let the roast duckling slide onto his lap.  I strode out through the kitchen, to the cheers of my fellow inmates, got into my car (a block long white 65 Mercury convertible that I'd picked up at a car auction in Miami.  Rosebud...), lowered the top, and drove off into the sunset (well, actually, the sunset was to my left, but damn, it felt good anyway).  Allow me to warn you.  Should I ever be out with you and catch you behaving badly to some poor waitperson, you will be very sorry.  I went from being a spoiled brat with pretensions to real person in those few weeks.  Waiting table should be a mandatory part of the growing up process.

6. The Dilettante Learns to Cook on the Job
 A couple of weeks later, Still in Palm Beach, again running low on lolly, I was dining with an old  friend at her place in Manalapan, and confessed my plight.  She perkily replied that she'd been lunching at the La Coquille Club the day before and had stopped at a Cooking Store and School  on the way home and noticed that they needed an assistant.  Having only the very vaguest sense of how to even scramble an egg, I replied something to the effect of  "Yeah, right, me in a cooking school".  To which she replied "Darling, I've seen you order in restaurants, that's all you need to know about food".   That and my dazzling smile got the job.

 Dazzling Smile, tan.

The socialite owner, a ringer for Myrna Loy, had attended Le Cordon Bleu as part of her 'finishing' in the forties.  She had opened the place after her publisher husband had lost his fortune.   I loved the people I worked with, even if I did have less time for the beach.  The great bonus of the job was a Thursday night cooking series (cook's night out, darlings), where in return for minimal assistance, I was able to participate in classes taught by guest chefs, some of the greats of the day---Perla Meyers, Madeline Kamman, the newly famous Jean-Paul Prud'homme (who, as did James Beard, traveled with his own double stool), and others.  It would be nice to report that I became a world class cook.  But I didn't.

7. Fifteen Minutes
That experience accidentally led to a very different gig the next couple of winters.   A former Andy Warhol star had opened what she hoped to be a chain of chic gelato parlors, with the first store in a little via she owned on Worth Avenue (the headline in People read "Once Queen of Pop Culture, She Now Tries to Claim an Ice Cream Throne").  I didn't apply for the job.  I just happened to be in front of her after she'd fired her fourth or seventh manager in as many months. One loses count. And actually, in fairness, she didn't fire all of them.  Some of them quit. Said demi-celebrity, rich with her father's Florida parking lot fortune, was otherwise most famous for things like defaulting on mortgages.  Spoiled, self absorbed to the point of art form (the only person ever with whom I've had a 15 minute conversation about whether her highlights were absolutely right), she was also imperious, impatient, not aging gracefully, and without a grain of common sense.   I won't mention names, but to this day, I get a severe facial tic whenever the words Baby, Jane, or Holzer are combined in a sentence.   Madonna had just come on the scene, her music and fashion were everywhere, and my staff of mostly blond young daughters of local gallery owners all dressed like the Material Girl. It was a lark, Every morning we'd scrawl the day's menu on the mirrored walls with red lipstick, and it was fun to be young.
Thank you, every one, for stopping by for the one year and three day anniversary of The Down East Dilettante.  I've your loved all your visits these and comments these past months, and appreciate all your many kindnesses. 

      23 comments:

      The Devoted Classicist said...

      This re-cap is a delight! I was also introduced to the world of blogs through The Peak of Chic, searching for a fact-check on Emilio Terry. Thanks to yours and a few others I faithfully read, I have been inspired to start a blog of my own. It still needs some development of features and graphic tweaking, but it is up. Best wishes __ John J Tackett

      My Notting Hill said...

      Happy blog birthday!! For some reason, it feels as though you have been blogging for more than a year.
      Some of my worst and best experiences of humanity have been as a waitress. When my husband and I were in grad school and very low in cash, we worked the weekend 11pm - 6 am shift at the American City Diner in DC. My husband would always wait on a homeless man nicknamed Stinky by the other wait staff. He would come in at 4 am, when the fewest patrons were. This homeless man always left a tip and on Dan's last night at the diner he gave my husband $20. My husband tried to give it back but then accepted it - a gesture of dignity between the customer and waiter.

      Raina Cox said...

      Only a year? Seems like you've been enlightening us with your brilliant treaties on architecture and interiors for ages.

      Congratulations and I hope TDED is around for many many more years to come!

      Blue said...

      Happy One Year and Three Days anniversary! Yours is one of the most welcome voices to have been heard this year and I for one am very glad of it. You are always worth reading, Dilettante - never a dull moment.

      The Peak of Chic said...

      Happy Birthday! So glad you decided to start blogging. You're a natural!

      That took guts to drop the duck in the customer's lap.

      home before dark said...

      Again, a happy anniversary. Always love your view of the world, from you neck of the world: the Maine man.

      Reggie Darling said...

      Sheer, antic brilliance, DED! Happy anniversary, and may there be many more. Your grateful friend, Reggie

      The Sidekick said...

      And by the way there were approximately 35 people at DED's 40th birthday. After the party started, the guests arriving, drinks being poured, the phone rings -- guess who? The dilettante calling from a place one hour and 30 minutes away!
      Of course everyone there knew DED's scheduling issues, and he is sooo very charming, so it quickly became an oft told and defining anecdote.
      We won't even talk about Key West, will we, DED?
      Thanks for the blog -- so fun to read and instructive, too.

      balsamfir said...

      Its hard to believe its only been a year. I thought you'd been blogging much longer when I stumbled across you(via Aesthetes Lament I think). The personal history of near fame is very funny. Thanks for a great year, and hope this one is even better(no car events, for example).

      The Ancient said...

      TDED --

      So, just how much of your furniture do I have to buy to induce you to post that video of your teenage self in sci-fi land?

      P.S. You may feel old, but I promise you, as I did Blue a while back, that it only gets worse. (Blog years are like dog years.)

      P.P.S. Cheers, etc.

      Flo said...

      ..."and I, I was the professor."

      Aha! Just as I've suspected all along, dilletante schmillifont. I bow to you on your first anniversary, professor.

      Daniel-Halifax said...

      BRAVO! I can't believe you've only been around a year, you seem an old friend now! I can't remember how I found you, but I'm sure glad I did. I loved reading these stories, you have such a way. May you have many many many many more years to come!

      Michele from Boston said...

      Happy B-day DED! Between you and Reggie D. I think I could listen to your wonderful stories all day while curled up by the fire. Maybe one time you could do a Skirted ANTIQUE Table type of interview like the ladies of the Skirted Round Table? And broadcast an audio link? Too good to be true, I know. All I can say is keep 'em comin'! You have an admiring audience out here in the ether. M. P.S. Ever think of featuring some of your antique stock on your blog (for purchase)?

      ArchitectDesign™ said...

      It's a thrill just to be nominated..or mentioned :-)
      Loved these stories, charming to a fault. Although I have never worked as a waiter I so agree with you; you can tell everything you need to know about a person by how they treat waitstaff: useful on first dates!

      ArchitectDesign™ said...

      BTW -when do we get to hear this famous voice of yours?

      Janet said...

      Wow, a year. Time flies when you are having fun! And, God, that story about the Vermeer is surreal.

      Reggie Darling said...

      DED,
      We are blessed to have your witty, wacky, wonderful presence in the blogosohere, where you have carved out an identity unlike any other. You are one of my "must reads" as I know I will always learn something interesting, arcane, and off-the-reservation by you, and it will be deliciously written with such clever humor that I can count on wiping tears of laughter from my eyes. Congratulations on your one year birthday, and remember Mr. Smarty Pants no matter how old you are Reggie will always be one day older than you!
      xox, RD

      Toby Worthington said...

      The anniversary post~a feast nearly too rich to be
      digested at one sitting! Many thanks for the wonderful
      tales and all the laughter along the way.

      smilla4blogs said...

      I agree with Janet, the Vermeer story is positively eerie and I love the Ancient's observation that blog years are like dog years! I would love to ramble on about the Dilettante's fresh and original voice, but it is so like the personality I know from Jonathan Fisher House, or even the the Post Office parking lot! There is always wonderful research and information...all garnished with your delightful stories and anecdotes. Life is richer with the DED blogging. Happy Anniversary and thank you!

      columnist said...

      Happy Birthday! And thank you for this very funny run of annecdotes. Keep inspiring us, and be inspired by the amusement you give to your readership!

      Rose C'est La Vie said...

      I am a late fan come to your birthday, DED! I have just revisited your first delightful post and you have not failed to educate and amuse me along the way. Always impressed by your research and knowledge and glad that I've been an armchair traveller to Maine - a fabled place in my imagination. Oh and thank you for visiting my blog. Friends like that are what keeps me going.
      Rosie xx

      Anonymous said...

      Really enjoyable..and when you said not to mention Baby or Jane or etc in the same breath it brought back a childhood memory of my mother's absolute disdain of her as their paths crossed socially due to some architectural project of my father's. My mother had little use for most women but she had a special contempt for BJ! Anyway I have been loving your posts and eye for detail!

      Anonymous said...

      You will probably never see this, but it was lovely to remember Babe and Peter Corson. Thank you.