Thursday, May 30, 2013

Is It Your Forever House?

I remember my childhood as a series of moving house. My parents were renters, until they retired to a lakeside camp where they owned a home fashioned from combining a collection of odd outbuildings. I remember at least six homes we lived in. I went to a different high school for each of the four years until graduation.

As an adult I had several apartments in New York. I can think of seven of them, and four summer rentals before I bought (and since sold) a summer home. Since I left New York, I have lived in four different homes, the fourth being the present one.

I like to think that this present house is our forever house. But you never know. Of course Mother Nature could take it away (hurricanes). Perhaps hard times would force us to sell. But if nothing drastic happens, this could be our forever house. I often joke that if money were no object, I could own one last great house, maybe a center hall house, or a townhouse (with parking) in the French Quarter.

Recently I did a post about Julia Reed's house being for sale. It seemed like her forever house as she wrote so lovingly about it in her book The House on First Street.  Everyone asks me why she is selling, and really I don't know, and can only hope that is a decision she made in order to move onto something good.

Tricia Guild has been inspiring me lately

I have been on Tricia Guild visual journey for the past few weeks, exploring her body of work through images. In my research I see she is selling her vacation home in Tuscany, a house she has owned for over 20 years. It seemed like a forever house if ever there was one.

For sale in Tuscany - could it be your forever house?

Tricia Guild's living room in Tuscany

The house has gotten plenty of press

Blue bedroom in Tricia Guild's Tuscan home

Another blue bedroom

This photo was in an article about Tricia Guild's Tuscan home, but clearly it is not a room in that house

This is another gorgeous Tricia Guild room

Loving the ombre Tricia Guild did in this room

More press for the villa in a Greek decor magazine

A guest room in the the Tuscan villa of Tricia Guild

The dining room in Tricia Guild's Tuscan villa

A pretty pink sitting room in Tricia Guild's Tuscan Villa

The kitchen in the villa of Tricia Guild

Love the citron

After twenty something years Tricia Guild is leaving her Tuscan villa

For sale HERE

Is the concept of a forever house a thing of the past? There are starter homes. Then there are larger homes to accommodate a larger family. And then there's the senior downsizing. And maybe that can change too if good health goes out the window.

Here in New Orleans, generations of families live in the same house over the years. Kids grow up and move into their own homes, but mom and pops stay put, and the house is often a legacy that goes back to the kids who tend to keep the house in the family. Hurricane Katrina wiped out many of those forever homes.

A sweet townhouse in the French Quarter for sale HERE

So, do you live in your forever house?

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How Do You Feel About Bathing Suits?

Bathing suit season. It's looked forward to and dreaded. Time to try on swimsuits, whether it's an old favorite, or time to buy a new one.

It's swimsuit season - What do you wear?

Me in the 1980s in Jamaica with my friend Brenda Norton

I haven't worn one for years. For my age (60+) I am fit enough. It's not so much a weight issue, but there are things that I don't want to look at, much less have anyone else view. Plus I am not hanging out in the sun much these days just for the sake of a tan.

And for the record, I never wore shorts, even as young woman, except for one outfit I wore to Studio 54 that featured satin gym shorts with a matching baseball jacket. Really. As a dancer I wore leotards and tap pants in class, and on stage. I do not play sports, and  I always thought shorts looked best on the tennis court or for jogging, but not on the street.

1996 - The last time I wore a bathing suit

I love the beach. I spent many years going to New York beaches from Manhattan Beach to the Hamptons, and the beaches in New England from Rhode Island to Cape Cod. I also spent lots of time in Florida and the Caribbean, and even on a few beaches in Europe.

Alberto and me in 1999 on a beach in Rhode Island

I never had a great body by high standards. I'm not fishing for compliments. I like my body. I am a small curvy woman. Like many of us when we are young, I worried a bit about not getting fat, but I was never one to skip a meal ha ha. I was an artists model when I was first in art school. I was modest when appropriate, but didn't have a hard time showing my body for an artist. I favored bikinis for my beach wear, and I also loved a high waist two piece that Norma Kamali designed in the 1980s that had a great retro look.

Norma Kamali updated the retro look of the granny swimsuit and made it sexy - I had the high waist two piece with the halter top in every color

I bought a sad one piece a couple of years ago. Floral ruched top, little black skirty bottom. An old lady suit. I have never worn it. If I go to the beach, it's usually early in the morning, or late in the afternoon. I usually wear Capri leggings and a breezy tunic, with a big straw hat. I remember there was once a fashion of beach pajamas for women, and I think that would be a nice thing to bring back.

Beach Pajamas in the 1930s - I could rock this look

What about swimming? Haven't gone swimming in years. I'm not a very good swimmer, so it's not a hardship. If I am at a private pool, I will skinny dip to swim.

Wearing a bathing suit is a faded memory - This is 1996

I saw this headline on the Internet: "Fatkini" Sells Out. The word Fatkini made me mad and sad. Meant to be cute, but it really is mean. Anyone who needs to lose a few pounds knows it and does not have hear the F word. The idea of cute swimsuits for all body types is fabulous.

Whoever named this cute suit the Fatkini is a moron

On my first trio to Europe (I was 22) I ended up on a beach with youngish large German women wearing the tiniest of bikinis. It liberated me and made me admire their confidence. I also went to my first topless beaches in France, and never looked back. And of course there are the old school grannies that I grew up around, women who swam all their lives, and sported bathing caps and floral one piece suits with a modesty panel. Some of them jiggled, but it never looked out of place, and the F word simply did not apply. They were the women we loved and who loved us, who took us to the beach and played with us for hours.

Alberto and me in Key West a few years ago - A prelude of things to come

So how do you feel about bathing suits? Are you still wearing one? And by the way, men fare worse than women. They seem stuck between Speedos and baggy pants. 

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Frank Janca Modern Day Master

I have a tango student that turned out to be someone from my past. How crazy to meet someone 40 years later in a different city, as a grown-up, and finding out we went to the same art schools. In the tango world, first names suffice. And the dance is really what it's all about. So it takes awhile to find out what people "do".

Frank Janca paints en plein air - En plein air is a French expression which means "in the open air," and is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors - I love this painting of a lavender field

Alberto had mentioned to me that Frank is an artist. I filed it away in the back of my brain, and finally after months of small talk in our classes or at social dances, I began to connect the dots. I asked Frank his last name so I could look him up. It took me a few weeks. I like him so much that I didn't want to know that if he was an artist, was he any good. Not that it would change my regard for him, but you want the people you like to be good at what they say they do.

Another lavender field in France by Frank Janca

I finally went to Frank's web site. We both studied at The Art Students League in New York. This is an art school that trains students in old master techniques. It's about figure drawing, anatomy and perspective classes, copying old master paintings, etc. It was not a place that one went to, if you were gunning to be an abstract expressionist which was all the rage when Frank and I were young art students. The curriculum was hard, and the teachers were serious.

Frank uses the technique of under painting a grayscale and then adding color on top of it - a technique from the 17th century

from Frank's web site: 

"Frank Janca. is a modern—day master in the truest sense. His impressionist canvases display an emulation of the Baroque and Renaissance Masters married with a refined individual style. Janca insists on personal involvement in every aspect of his paintings. Dissatisfied with the quality of paints commercially available to artists, he grinds his pigment by hand and cooks his own oil mediums, similar to the manner of medieval alchemists. His carefully prepared linen canvases are frequently underpainted in grisaille, a centuries-old technique of painting the forms in grayscale before color is used. Janca then paints the final image with rich, jeweled colors. The results of these efforts are luxurious colors now rare in contemporary work and paintings which will remain in the finest condition for generations to come. The length of a typical painting day for Janca is about 14 hours. Such perseverance has brought Janca’s work to a level reflecting the insight and maturity of a master painter who is recognized as such in the United States and abroad."

Plein air painting by Frank Janca

Frank does it all. Plein air landscapes and street scenes painted in France (and all over the world). He also does beautiful still life and portrait paintings. He is originally from Biloxi, Mississippi, and after several years in New York, he returned. Frank works with many interior decorators and designers in the Biloxi area, whose clients are thrilled to have his paintings in their homes.

Frank Janca  uses luxurious colors now rare in contemporary work - His paintings will remain in the finest condition for generations to come

Frank has many beautiful still life paintings in his portfoilo

I love the street life he captures in Paris - This is the Marche du Poulet

Frank Janca did this painting of a boulangerie in Paris

This is one of my favorite Parisian street scenes done by Frank Janca - a misty morning in Saint-Germain-des-Pres

This lovely portrait was done by Frank Janca when he was at The Art Students League in New York

If you don't have the budget for an original you can get a print of Frank Janca's paintings at

Frank Janca has an exhibition coming up in Biloxi at Ohr-O'Keefe Musuem of Art If you are in the area, stop in and say hello while you get to experience his incredible work in person, and tell him the Vamp sends you - or maybe you should say his tango teacher sends you.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Dashing Society Guy

Dashing society guy; designer; government spy; divorced man; eccentric visionary; successful businessman. It’s a list that reads like a description of a character in a steamy novel or a good thriller that gets turned into a movie in the genre of “White Mischief” or “The Letter” or even “Out of Africa.”

The Letter

He was an American businessman who in the 1950s and 1960s was the most famous American living in Asia. “Time” magazine claimed that he "almost single handed saved Thailand's vital silk industry from extinction".

James Harrison Wilson Thompson was born (March 21, 1906) in Greenville, Delaware. He was the youngest of five children of Henry and Mary Thompson. His father was a wealthy textile manufacturer; his mother was the daughter of James Harrison Wilson (1837 - 1925), a noted Union general during the American Civil War.

Dashing society guy; designer; government spy; divorced man; eccentric visionary; successful businessman

Thompson spent his early years of education at St. Paul's boarding school. He graduated from Princeton University in 1928. Post-graduate studies followed at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Architecture, but he did not complete his degree. From 1931 to 1941, he practiced in New York City with Holden, McLaughlin & Associates, designing homes for the East Coast rich and a band shell in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
From The New Yorker in 1934 - "Talk story about ready-made houses, exhibited at the Industrial Arts Exposition, these "prefabricated" dwellings are made at the factory and merely bolted together at the site of the construction. Holden McLaughlin and Associates, who designed and made the one at the exhibit have already sold a number of them."

He led a very active glamorous social life in the 1930s, and sat on the board of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He also became politically active, but his liberal politics alienated him from his conservative family.

Ballet Russe 1938 - Perhaps the exoticism attracted Jim Thompson

In 1941, he quit his design job and enlisted with the Delaware National Guard regiment. He became a commissioned officer shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At the height of the Second World War, Thompson was recruited to serve in the Office of Strategic Services (which in 1947 was disbanded in place of the newly formed Central
Intelligence Agency).

Candidates for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) learn how to set up radio antennae. National Archives and Records Administration photo

His first assignment was with the French resistance forces in North Africa. He was then sent to Europe. After Victory in Europe Day, he was transferred to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He was assigned to contact the pro-Allied Seri Thai or Free Thai Movement, which was planning an uprising against the occupying Japanese Army. In August 1945, Thompson was about to be sent into Thailand, when the Surrender of Japan officially ended World War II. He arrived in Thailand shortly after Victory over Japan Day and organized the Bangkok OSS office. In the spring of 1946, Thompson went to work as military attaché at the United States legation for his former Princeton classmate Charles Yost, the U.S. Minister to Thailand. Thompson used his contacts with the Free Thai and Free Lao groups to gather information and defuse conflicts on Thailand's borders.

Working with him in the Legation was Kenneth Landon, an American missionary
whose wife, Margaret Landon, was the author of “Anna and the King of Siam,” which was the inspiration for the 1946 movie of the same name, and then the original Broadway production of “The King and I” in 1951.

Thai silk weavers in the 1940's

Jim Thompson with a silk worker in Thailand

Thompson left the army in 1946. After his divorce, he devoted himself to revitalizing a cottage industry of hand-woven silk in Thailand. In 1948, he partnered with George Barrie to found the Thai Silk Company. The establishment achieved a coup in 1951 when designer Irene Sharaff made use of Thai silk fabrics for the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I. From then on, the company was on the map and prospered.

Th King and I - The silk from Jim Thompson's company was used

I was reminded of the story of Jim Thompson when I was asked by a textile conservator to source a striped silk fabric for a vanity stool from the 1960s being restored for The Historic New Orleans Collection. The age-destroyed fabric reminded me of the silks Jim Thompson had produced, and I was lucky enough to find a vintage remnant from the 1960s just big enough for recovering the seat.

I was asked to find a silk fabric to replace this

The conservator is dying the fabric to match the original. It is a fascinating process. A new fabric would be acceptable, but somehow using a vintage fabric is more special. The conservator did her own research on Jim Thompson and was amazed by his life story, and sent me some of the tidbits I now share with you. She was so excited and asked if I knew who he was. I did know the broad strokes, but her detailed information made me appreciate the incredible man and his life (and want to turn it into a movie).

Jim Thompson went native in Thailand

Jim Thompson loved Thailand. He went native in many ways. Thompson was unlike any other figure in Southeast Asia. He was an American, an ex-architect, a retired army officer, a one-time spy, a silk merchant and a renowned collector of antiques. Most of his
treasures, if not all, were amassed after he came to Thailand.

In 1958, he began what was to be the pinnacle of his architectural achievement – the construction of a new home to showcase his objets d'art. Using parts of old up-country houses – some as old as a hundred years – he succeeded in constructing a masterpiece by reassembling six Thai dwellings on his estate. In his quest for authenticity, he saw to it that some of the structures were elevated a full floor above the ground. During the construction stage, he added his own touches to the buildings by positioning, for instance, a central staircase indoors rather than having it outside. Along the way, he also reversed the wall panels of his quarters so that it now faced inside. 

Authentically raised off the ground

After he was through with its creation, he filled his home with the many items he had collected over the years. Decorating his rooms were Chinese blue-and-white Ming pieces, Belgian glass, Cambodian carvings, Victorian chandeliers, Benjarong earthenware, Thai stone images, Burmese statues, and a dining table once used by King Rama V of Thailand. It took Thompson almost a year to complete his mansion. It still stands today, now as one of  Bangkok’s most charming museums. It can also be rented for weddings.

Along the way, he also reversed the wall panels of his quarters so that it now faced inside.

Cambodian carvings, Victorian chandeliers, Benjarong earthenware, Thai stone images, Burmese statues

Sadly, so few images are available of Jim Thompson or his home

In 1961 Jim Thompson took an afternoon walk in familiar surroundings near his home in Thailand. He never returned. He disappeared. It is still one of the greatest unsolved and tragic mysteries. To be continued in another post….

Jim Thompson started the Thai Silk Company

What happened to the dashing Jim Thompson?

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