Vermeer-inspired beauties in Delft, the Netherlands.
I had tears in my eyes when David and I first saw Vermeer's magnificent "Girl with a Pearl Earring" at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. If you visit the Netherlands, don't miss a trip to the Mauritshuis, which has an impressive collection of paintings, including The Goldfinch.
And of course, plan a journey to Delft, where Johannes Vermeer painted all his masterpieces. It is a beautiful university town, just an hour by train from Amsterdam. Next to Amsterdam, it's my favourite Dutch city!
Traditional weights and balances for industrial scales at the cheese market in Edam, the Netherlands.
Nearly six months on from David's death, I have discovered that grief is not for the faint-of-heart. Turns out that grief encompasses a tsunami of emotion so huge and overwhelming, it can be handled only in small increments. Viewing the big picture at once could be enough to crack one's heart wide open; one might be tempted simply to burrow into a corner of the sofa and never get up. So I look at images of moments and events: bring them into the light and examine them, one by one. I search cherished memories for signs, for clues, for benediction, for grace. Then I carefully tuck the photos and recollections away for a brighter day, when - maybe, just maybe - I'll feel less fragile and more adept at handling the onslaught of conflicting emotions.
Meanwhile, I juggle frustrating estate-related bureaucracy in three countries, in turn laughing, crying and cursing at the absurd obstacles hapless bureaucrats place in my path. I remind myself that I am strong and can handle whatever comes - because surely the worst already has happened. My oft-repeated mantra is "just keep going," as I traverse this rocky, uncharted path.
I am buoyed by support and kindness from family, longtime friends and friends I've never met. I am dismayed and incredulous by those who have been guests in our homes in two countries, yet respond to the tragic news with silence. I wonder how such thoughtless people once were welcomed into our circle of friends.
No need for dieting as pounds are shed, along with tears. I reacquaint myself with the late great chef's stove and make miniscule meals. I drink tea with friends. I busy myself with bureaucracy and finance and essentials. Unexpected household demands include a new dishwasher, as well as replacing shattered stones on the front porch. I find myself so distracted by numerous requirements of this abrupt change-of-course, that I do silly things like buy a magazine (that I won't read) that I already have at home.
I avoid listening to music, lest tears flow unbidden. I rearrange furniture and cut flowers from the garden. I try to read or sleep, but a constantly-racing mind proves challenging. So I channel my energies and focus on one thing at a time: a single accomplishment; an object of beauty; a distraction that offers a moment's peace.
"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving."- Alfred Einstein
I sit on the deck and feed the majestic swan, which has lingered past its usual June departure. I watch the birds in the garden and the Great Crested Grebes in the canal. I clear cobwebs from the ceilings and survey dusty floors with alarm. I purge files and papers and books and clothes and fill recycle bins with things no longer needed. I hire a notaris to draw up a new will and power-of-attorney, to meet requirements of changing laws. I try to understand Dutch, while reading official documents and newspapers. I watch Danish television series and French news reports. I drift through days and nights in a dream-like fugue of sadness and acceptance, straining to hear echoes of hope.
I play tour guide for friends visiting from England. I walk paths without destination and venture by train to places I've never been. I plan a memorial service in London. I write obituaries for various publications. I answer email, but can't keep up...
Some days I allow myself brief moments of anticipating the future without him: a long-delayed visit to family in the US; journeys to foreign climes; creative projects. I remember how much David loved me and believed in me and wanted the best for me. But without him, I feel so forlorn - and a little guilty contemplating the prospect of joy - that I set aside those plans for another day.
Even through the veil of sadness, I can see that day will come. After all, I didn't get this far without being an optimist. A brokenhearted and disillusioned optimist, but an optimist, nevertheless. Slowly, I re-learn to rely solely on my own strengths and abilities. Someday I will again stand in the warmth of the sun. And the memory of David's smile will sustain me.
My late husband David's wedding band of 18-kt. gold and platinum: the real value is the sentiment. A London jeweler inscribed an excerpt of an Alice Walker poem: "...The face I turn to you, no one else on earth has ever seen."
Today is our wedding anniversary and I honour my love; my partner; my champion. David was the first man in my adult life that I could count on to be supportive, no matter what. His belief in me was unfailing. With him, I allowed myself to feel safe. It was a revelation not having to be responsible for every single thing; to know that I had a reliable partner, in every sense of the word.
These last few weeks I have been battling the blues. Some days are better than others. Mostly I am coping, but there are moments of overwhelming sadness and tears. A friend reminded me this week that the greater the love, the greater the grief.
I miss David every day. But I try to focus on the happy times we shared, as a strong foundation for the way forward. I am eternally grateful for the time we had together. David's presence in my life changed everything. My brave and brilliant husband - with his ever-present sense of humour - showed me that truly, love bears all things. And love never dies.
Amongst all the big, unanswerable questions of life and death and God; amidst the tears and fears and sorrow...
...despite the ever-present grief, once again I must learn to spread my wings.
A new chapter and a new journey await. So I gather my courage - along with my treasured memories - and slowly venture forth...
No matter the challenges or obstacles, I must navigate this new, bewildering territory. Perhaps I'll have to create my own map. It seems the trick is to keep moving forward.
Truly I am blessed to have a wonderful family and so many good friends. Thank you for your thoughtful and comforting messages, cards, phone calls, flowers and visits. Thank you for keeping the light burning through even the darkest days and nights. Merci bien!
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) i am never without it (anywhere i go you go, my dear and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling) i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true) and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart) - e.e. cummings
My husband David Holmes, born in Plymouth, England; died February 10, 2015 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I am so thankful for 15 amazing years together.
Where it all began - my office alcove (with horrid beige carpet) in our Paris apartment.
Nine years is a long time in the blogosphere. And I should have posted this piece yesterday, on the actual 9th anniversary of Paris Parfait. Instead, I was at the hospital with my husband, his second emergency visit within three days.
Within the past year, my blog has been neglected, with long periods of silence. Obviously, my husband's health has taken priority over everything. Despite my frequent absences, you, my longtime readers and friends, have remained steadfast.
The best thing about starting the blog nine years ago is not the stories or poems or photographs I've posted - it's you, the readers. It's the friendships we've formed and the confidences we've exchanged. It's the meals and conversation and laughter we've shared in Paris, London, Amsterdam and Seville; in New York, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Savannah, Vancouver and Amman. Over the past nine years, I've had the great privilege of meeting about 100 fellow bloggers and readers; all but two of these meetings have been lovely experiences.
I've been especially touched by the messages of support and solidarity received during these challenging months. These messages are like little badges of courage, to carry along the rocky road David and I are gingerly traversing.
Strength in numbers, my friends. Thank you for nine wonderful years. Une mille fois, merci!
In this challenging year ahead, I resolve to be brave and resilient; embrace every moment for the gift it is and keep looking for the light - even as darkness falls. What are your new year's resolutions?
Here's hoping 2015 brings you and yours an abundance of good health, happiness, peace and prosperity!
Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas, filled with love and laughter!
Ornaments on our tree.
Ornaments and an antique Dutch candlestick on a Mexican silver tray from Sevilla, Spain. Antique Liberty of London vase in the background, along with a 19th-century lithograph of La Giralda de Sevilla.
A seasonal centerpiece of mostly natural ingredients.
Georg Jensen candlesticks from Denmark and a Waterford crystal Rock of Cashel vase from Ireland.
Festive flowers from a neighbour.
The beautiful birthday girl! Jordana and I had a lovely day last Friday, with lunch and shopping in Amsterdam's Jordaan neighbourhood.
Jordana's birthday dinner: wild duck and sour cherries (Royal Copenhagen blue fluted porcelain).
A mini "Christmas tree" cross between broccoli and cauliflower - surprisingly good!
A favourite Black Forest bear candleholder in the kitchen.
Birds of Paradise in a mercury glass Dame Jeanne jug.
A beautiful bouquet of tulips and berries that Jordana gave me for her birthday!
Amaryllis, blooming just in time for Christmas (and a 1950s Minerva sofa/daybed (that I'm planning to recover in leather) by Danish designers Peter Hvidt and Orla Molgaard-Nielsen.
Branches of berries and a platter of traditional Christmas crackers from England on a George Nelson bench.
Lights descending in a stairwell for three flights of stairs.
Glad tidings to you and yours. Best wishes for a peaceful and happy new year!
I've never understood how the day that launches the Christmas holiday season should be burdened with the grim moniker "Black Friday."
Yes, I know sales receipts from this one day can determine a company's profit margins for the entire calendar year. But why should dictates of retailers and advertisers interrupt a traditional family holiday? Why can't another day or a series of days be designated for sales? Why do we, as consumers, allow big business to encroach on all-too-rare time alone with family and friends?
Thanksgiving was my favourite holiday, before crass commercialism overtook common sense. As anyone who's ever braved hordes of stressed shoppers can attest, buying gifts in such a fraught environment is not pleasant. It beggars belief that millions of people put themselves through hours of misery, just to save a few dollars. And most stores with an online presence - even in England - bombard our email inboxes offering "Black Friday" bargains. (At least no crowds come with these solicitations).
Holidays are meant to be pleasurable and relaxing, but "Black Friday" suggests the opposite. So I am kicking off the season with a string of celebratory lights and ignoring the endless encouragement to shop. What say you?
All my life I've been fascinated by owls. So it was an unexpected treat this week to encounter an European Eagle Owl at the South Devon Railway, Buckfastleigh, England.
As ever, click photos to view detail.
This owl was born and bred in captivity. Native European Eagle Owls apparently haven't been seen in Great Britain since the 19th-century. Unfortunately, I don't have the name of the organisation in Devon that looks after these rare birds.
La fenêtre de la chambre de Claude Monet, Giverny, France.
So grateful for friends old and new, like flowers all along the path...
As always, click images to view detail.
"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it, whether they want to or not." - Georgia O'Keefe
"All my life I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower, wherever the flower would grow in thought and mind." - Abraham Lincoln
Remember the charming accordion player I photographed at last year's cheese market in Edam, Noord-Holland? Nikki, who is nearly 10 years old, still participates in the local kassmarkt celebrations. She taught herself to play the accordion!
Check back soon for more photos from summer festivities in Edam.
As a journalist, I covered the Arab-Israeli conflict for many years, with friends on both sides of the equation. Some Palestinians I knew personally were assassinated; others were jailed or deported. All these years later, it's dismaying to watch crimes against humanity still being perpetrated daily in Gaza - the world's largest open-air prison, as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy noted in 2008. Both the Israeli and the Hamas-led Palestinian governments apparently haved learned little from their decades of war and mutual suffering.
The poem "A Stone's Throw Away..." that I wrote in 1998 depicts how the endless self-destructive cycle of violence and war impacts future generations and their attitudes. Sadly, the words are just as apt today:
To glance at his face, he appears just a youth But look deep in his eyes: therein lies the truth. Exposure to violence at too tender an age Shaped his thoughts, bent his will, filled him with rage. A life with sparse shelter, intertwined with abuse A life fraught with peril, until he thinks ‘what’s the use?’ It’s only when throwing a stone he feels brave; For a moment, he’s free: neither victim nor slave. Perched high in the hills, boys continue to throw. A stone’s throw to freedom; how far will they go? Their defiance not just for the occupying force, but for pain and despair in a life without choice. Their houses crushed flat,* families rotting in jail, in a fight over land that’s long cast its spell. Thousands have died in this battle of wills provoking world outrage; yet still the blood spills. In Afghanistan, Gaza, the West Bank today, war crimes are brutal; dark forces at play. Human rights unknown in too many places. Unimaginable sorrow etched on tired faces. Who will speak for that child, whose voice is now gone? Will anyone protest, ‘He should have lived long!’ That promise, bright spirit, so quickly snuffed out by a rocket or bomb that police failed to rout. What has this to do with me, you might ask? My friend, we’re connected, we discover at last. What hurts one, harms all in this vast global village, inextricably linked in the plunder and pillage.
But for now, so secure in our comfortable beds we can quickly change channels, when someone’s shot dead. It can seem so remote, so distant, so far; such madness, such violence, that bomb in a car. We are sleeping now, perhaps one day to be jolted wide-awake. When the wolf appears at our front door; not via videotape.
Photo of antique bicorn hat and 18th-century French documents. The hat is late 19th-century from the prestigious École Polytechnique, founded in 1794 during the French Revolution by mathematician Gaspard Monge. In 1804 Napoleon awarded the school military status and a slogan: Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire ('For the nation, the sciences and the glory.)" Students (called 'polytechniciens' in French) still receive and wear a modified version of the famous bicorn in all official ceremonies.
Under supervision of the French Ministry of Defence, Polytechnique is renowned for its undergraduate and post-graduate (Ingénieur Polytechnicien) degree programs in science and engineering. Among the university's famous alumni are two Nobel Prize winners and three French presidents, including Francois Hollande.
Happy Father's Day to my wonderful Dad! I am so thankful for his strength and the invaluable lessons I've learned from him. Wishing my Dad - and all the men who do their best for their children - a day of much-deserved celebration and relaxation!
Long before I was a photographer, I was a writer. Lately I've hesitated to write, as I couldn't report the "truth" you might expect to hear. Consequently, other than the photos, this blog has begun to feel stale and uninteresting to me. Because I'm not the same person I was back in 2006 in Paris, when I began writing Paris Parfait.
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” - Heraclitus
I have lovely and loyal friends of all ages, who at any given moment are going through momentous changes/disruptions in their lives. Many of them are accomplishing amazing feats on a regular basis, while juggling children and a family life. Others are completely on their own, experiencing similar situations and challenges I faced years ago as a single mom.
While I relish each and every story and admire my friends' tremendous style and bravery and emphasize with their struggles, I am at a different place in my life. I have moved on from worrying about what's fashionable to determining what fits. In case you've noticed a lack of blogging here lately: I am trying to honour my creative impulses and produce work to withstand the test of time, rather than that easily discarded with the vagaries of fashion or the next generation of social media platforms.
But I am emotionally and physically exhausted. The last year-and-a-half of my husband's serious health woes have taken their toll. At home I lounge about in the softest cottons, feeling fragile and vulnerable - while perversely trying to project an image of confidence and capability to the outside world.
Standing on my balcony, I see a girl in a rowboat, jumping out and climbing the nearest tall tree, Tom Sawyer-like. And I try to remember what it was like to be nine years old and fearless. Then I remind myself that many, many times in my life I've been fearless and even fierce, out of necessity.
I raised my daughter while living and working as a journalist in the Middle East, amidst cultural differences. When I took my daughter to pre-school, I was the only single mom. Most local women eyed me with a mixture of pity and suspicion: pity for my single status; suspicion that as a "wicked Western woman" I might try to steal their husbands!
For years, I bore responsibility for Every.Single.Thing. It was exhausting then and perhaps even more so now, with my husband's illness coupled with my own adjustments to middle age. As nearly every woman in her '50s can attest, it appears that society ironically conspires to ignore us at a time we actually have more to offer. If stress has resulted in a few grey hairs or extra pounds, we might as well be invisible.
In 2014, if women are not virtually flawless in appearance, any talents or ideas we may offer are considered negligible. The advertising-driven media reinforces this false narrative over and over, until we start to question our own worth.
On an intellectual level, I find these impossible standards and stereotypes appalling. But I am a perfectionist who is so very far from perfect (much to my dismay). And on an emotional level, I struggle with the idea of not living up to others' expectations - even if those expectations are ridiculous! All too often I've viewed each new grey hair; each stress-fueled pound with alarm - as though I've done something dreadful and should be ashamed of myself!
To counter these absurd and self-defeating thoughts, I try to focus on the positive and what I can control. Lately I am obsessed with editing: of ridding my house of unnecessary things that no longer appeal to my tastes or aesthetics. In a similar vein, I've bid farewell to certain self-interested friends, who have been quite happy to take, but never to give.
I am trying to listen more and speak less. The older I get and the more knowledge I gain, the more I realise how little we know for certain. Most of us are just winging it and hoping for the best.
"Maybe what you think is a breakdown is really a breakthrough."-Jen Lemen
Some days I prefer to cocoon and not see another soul. It's not that I'm anti-social; I just don't want my already-busy friends subjected to minutiae of the struggles I'm facing. And we creative types need a lot of time alone, even in the best of circumstances.
But I am tired of pretending everything's fine, when it's not. I'm tired of doctors not listening, when I clearly enunciate my well-researched concerns. I'm tired of being dismissed by hapless bureaucrats, who refuse to consider that their methods are clumsy and outdated.
I'm tired of not being heard; of not being seen. Maybe in the past couple of years, I've relied on photography more than writing, because it allows you to glimpse meaning for which I can't find the words.
I don't know the way forward. I'm trying to follow my mom's (and my friend Di's) advice to "take it one day at a time." But I do know that whatever happens next, this blog will be different. I want to tell the truth in all its raw pain and glory; not simply gloss over hard lessons. I don't want to limit your view to "pretty pictures," (as a couple of incurious readers requested during the last US presidential election).
I hope you'll come along for the journey, no matter how rocky the road.
Photo of artwork by my adventurous friend Christine Mason Miller and antique English ink bottles, vintage marbles and stones collected on my travels. Click to view detail.
Twelve years later and we're still dancing! Today David and I happily celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. A wee bit of champagne may be involved, along with vintage French wine and boeuf bourgignon.
"We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person." - W. Somerset Maugham