Sunday, May 30, 2010

Reggie Distracted

Reggie has been unable to post recently due to being egregiously overscheduled.  What with demanding work travel, an overwrought social calendar, and Darlington full of delightful weekend houseguests, I haven't had a moment's notice to sit and ponder, much less catch my breath.

In the meantime I share this photo of the entry to Darlington House, festooned today with banners hung in honor of the men and women who have given their lives in service to our country, and to those living who selflessly serve it today.  They are true heroes.

Back soon . . .

Monday, May 24, 2010

Touring New Orleans With Nellie Watson

This post is about a tour that we took of the French Quarter in New Orleans, a city where we spent a most enjoyable and absorbing long weekend in mid-April.  I highly encourage my readers to consider a visit to New Orleans, a hauntingly beautiful place with a vibrant authenticity, justifiable pride in its history, stunning architecture, deep-rooted culture, and delicious cuisine.  We visited New Orleans shortly before the BP oil spill began its heinous pollution of the Gulf of Mexico, the environmental and economic consequences of which are too horrific to imagine or comprehend.  Our prayers go out to the citizenry and wildlife of the affected region.

Louisiana State Map, showing New Orleans, 1850
Image courtesy of the Philadelphia Print Shop

Shortly after arriving in New Orleans Reggie carelessly dropped his camera down a flight of stairs (!), thus throwing a wrench into his ability to document the city's architecture and sights.  But there is a silver lining to this cloud, and I found a (more) creative alternate means of illustrating this series: vintage postcards of New Orleans dating from the first half of the 20th century.  Remarkably, much of the city remains virtually unchanged from when the images on these postcards were printed.

Finding A Tour Guide

Because we only had a few days to take in New Orleans, I decided that the best way to do so would be to engage a knowledgeable guide to show us around the city and give us a crash course on its history, material culture, architecture, and neighborhoods.  As I wrote in my "Pursuit of Authenticity" post on April 21st, we are very interested in learning the whys and wherefores of the places we visit, and my goal was to find someone to help us achieve that in the all-too-short time we had available to see the city.  Ideally our guide would be academic and encyclopedic in his or her knowledge, articulate and thoughtful in delivery, able to share wisdom with grace and humor, and do so with the absence of pedantry.  I knew this would be a tall order to fill, but I hoped that I would be successful in finding such a professor.  Imagine my great good fortune that I did!

New Orleans Bird's Eye View, 1851
J. Bachman, artist
Image courtesy of the New York Public Library

A dear friend of ours in the country, who once lived in New Orleans and still visits there regularly, knew of such a person.  And it turned out to be a remarkable lady marvelously named Nellie Watson, with whom we were extremely fortunate to spend the better part of two days touring the city, the experience of which exceeded our wildest dreams.  Not only is Nellie an amazing font of information about New Orleans and its history and architecture, but she is a lovely person, and a very pleasant and amusing companion with whom to explore the city.  An architect by training and experience, Nellie has a business building architectural models for developers and construction firms and is deeply immersed in the architecture, material culture, and history of New Orleans, the city in which she was born and has spent the better part of her life.  On the side, she both teaches courses on the city's architecture and leads tours of it.  For any of my readers who are considering a trip to New Orleans or know someone who is, I highly recommend that you seek out Nellie Watson to show you the town.  She is a great host for New Orleans, a city that she loves and knows intimately.  I am listing her contact information at the end of this post.

The lovely and engaging Nellie Watson, tour guide extraordinaire
photo by Boy Fenwick

Touring the Vieux Carre

Prior to meeting up with Nellie in New Orleans I spoke with her several times on the telephone, discussing our interests and objectives for the tour.  We met her in the morning of our first full day in New Orleans at our Hotel, the Soniat House, on Chartres Street in the French Quarter, where we sat and drank coffee and discussed the day's agenda.  Before we headed out the door to start our tour on foot, Nellie gave us a brief history of the city, starting with its original settlement by the French, subsequent period under Spanish rule, and ultimate acquisition by the American government.  She also explained the different architectural styles favored by builders under each of these successive governments.

The Soniat House Hotel, where we stayed during our visit
photo by Boy Fenwick

The first portion of our tour focused on the French Quarter, or Vieux Carre, the seventeen-by-six-block nucleus of the city colonized by the French in 1722.  Our first stop was across the street from our hotel, where we briefly peeked through the iron fence of the Old Ursuline Convent.  Built in 1752, it is the oldest building in the Mississippi valley and the only building of the original colony still standing.

We then walked by the Beauregard-Keyes House, built in 1826, on the same block.  Named after the Confederate Army General P. G. T. Beauregard (1819-1893), an early occupant, it is open to the public but was closed when we passed it.

We walked by several interesting examples of the Vieux Carre's buildings, covered with amazing iron work.

photo by Boy Fenwick

We were, frankly, bowled over by the Quarter's architecture and iron work.  We learned that much of the iron one sees in New Orleans today was added after the houses were built, and that the more ornate cast iron in many cases replaced earlier wrought iron that once adorned the buildings.

Our first stop was the Gallier House, named after James Gallier, Jr. (1829-1870), the architect who designed and built it as his own house in 1857.  The Gallier House is open to the public, and we took a tour of its high-style, fully restored ante bellum interiors.  If you take a tour, be sure to request Loretta Clark as your docent.  She was marvelous--smart, highly knowledgeable, and charming.

The Gallier House Museum
photo by Boy Fenwick

After leaving the Gallier House we continued our walking tour of the French Quarter, passing more buildings covered with incredible iron work.

We then stood across from one of the city's earliest houses, known as Madame John's Legacy.  Built in 1788, after a fire destroyed the neighborhood, it was constructed in the older French West Indian colonial style, rather than the then prevailing Spanish style.  Owned by the Louisiana State Museum, it was closed that day.

Madame John's Legacy Museum
photo by Boy Fenwick

We then admired one of the Quarter's many houses whose facade is covered with flower boxes and hanging baskets of cascading plants.  Don't be surprised when visiting the Vieux Carre on a sunny day to find yourself dripped on by water from the containers of plants found on many of the balconies.  It's actually rather pleasant.

photo by Boy Fenwick

We stopped and admired a recently restored Greek Revival mansion.  As can be seen from this and other photographs, people use their shutters in New Orleans, just as we do at Darlington House.

photo by Boy Fenwick

We then looked down Madison Street, which was known as Orleans Alley when this postcard was printed.

We then strolled down Royal Street . . .

. . . where we came upon this remarkable cast-iron fence in the form of corn stalks and ears of corn.

And looked into the courtyard of adjoining townhouses known as "the Two Sisters," which is now full of seating and tables for the restaurant that occupies it today.

We then found our way into the Quarter's business district of shops.  The tracks seen in the surface of the street in the postcard shown below are from the defunct streetcar line to Desire, immortalized in Tennessee Williams' play.

Here is another view down Royal Street, taken several decades later.  The cobblestones and streetcar tracks are today paved over with asphalt.

Then on to Jackson Square, the center of the Vieux Carre, and arguably one of the most famous squares in all of America.

We stopped and discussed the famous facade of the much rebuilt St. Louis Cathedral.  Although some portions of the cathedral remain from when the current one was constructed in 1789 (the third house of worship on the site), St. Louis Cathedral today is almost entirely the result of a massive rebuilding in 1850.

We stepped inside and took in the interior of the cathedral.  We didn't think it was all that, um, tasteful.

Beating a hasty retreat, we walked back outside and into Jackson Square.  Also known as Place d'Armes, we learned that its original design was as an open parade ground modeled after the Place des Vosges in Paris.  It was remade in the 1840s into the handsome park that it is today.

In the middle of the square stands the Jackson Monument, a statue of General Andrew Jackson (1824-1863) before he became president.  Erected in 1856, the statue commemorates Jackson's victorious leadership of American forces during the Battle of New Orleans in the final days of the War of 1812.  We learned that New Orleans spent much of the Civil War occupied by the Union Army, which is when "The Union Must And Shall Be Preserved" was carved into the statue's base at the orders of the occupying army's general, much to the fury of the local Confederate-sympathizing citizenry. 

Jackson Square is book-ended on either side by two block-long, four-storey rows of handsome townhouses known as the Pontalba Apartments.  Built in the 1840s by the colorful Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba, a local heiress who married a French Baron with near-disastrous consequences, the buildings have commercial operations on the ground floor and much-coveted apartments above, overlooking the square.

Jackson Square has beautiful iron fencing and gates, which can be seen in the postcard shown above.  Here's a photograph that we took of the same gates.  Check out the tour group wearing helmets and riding on Segways.

photo by Boy Fenwick

Exiting the Square we crossed Decatur Street and headed towards the Mississippi River.  Before we got there, though, I took this photograph of a Lucky Dogs hot dog wagon.  Anyone who has read A Confederacy of Dunces will recall that such a wagon figures prominently in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by John Kennedy O'Toole.

photo by Reggie Darling

Moving on we climbed stairs to what is known as the Moonwalk, named after a former New Orleans mayor, from where we had the perfect vantage point to take in the majesty of the great Mississippi River, which is at its widest and deepest at New Orleans.

For New Orleans is, and always will be, a city defined by its relationship with the mighty Mississippi.  And it is at the river's edge that one comes to appreciate why New Orleans is also known as the "Crescent City".

One also appreciates the vibrancy of New Orleans as this country's second largest port.

For much of its history New Orleans has been a clearing point for a substantial portion of this nation's agricultural output, including the sugar that was the foundation of many fortunes in the area.

But did you know that New Orleans was also the principal entry point to this country for bananas from South America, at least until the advent of air freight?

After leaving the shores of the Mississippi, we got into Nellie's car and drove by the French Market, which is now largely occupied by shops catering to tourists rather than full of the food purveyors that once inhabited it.

The French Market in the 1940s

The French Market in the early 1900s

We drove by the old U.S. Mint.  Built in 1835 and designed by the Philadelphia-based architect William Strickland, the mint was decommissioned in 1911 and is currently a branch of the Louisiana State Museum.

We then crossed through Jackson Square, passing the Presbytere and the Cabildo, formerly cathedral and government buildings, and now museums.

And wended our way along Chartres Street, passing several of the city's elegant antiques stores.

At that point we came across the handsome Louisiana State Court of Appeals building.  Constructed in the first decade of the 20th century in the "City Beautiful" style, it stands in stark contrast to the smaller, older building that surround it.  It was the first major urban renewal project in the Quarter, and an entire block of buildings was razed to make way for it.  Today the Court House is surrounded by beautiful, mature Magnolia trees.

And with that, we concluded our absorbing tour of the Vieux Carre with the delightful, knowledgable, funny, and charming Nellie Watson.

Nellie Watson can be reached to discuss arranging a tour at (504) 669-0080 and also via email at

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Urns of Darlington: Spring

As I wrote in my December essay on "The Urns of Darlington: Winter," I planned on posting pictures of our urns replanted with each season's flora.  Today I show the urns filled with their spring finery.  Gone are the evergreens that survived the cold weather, replaced with masses of deeply inky purple Viola.

To fill our urns we made a trip to Loomis Creek Nursery, a specialty retail nursery in Hudson, New York, owned and run by Andrew Beckman and Bob Hyland, plantsmen extraordinaire.  We are big fans of Loomis Creek, which grows and stocks unusual specimen plants not found in a typical garden center.  And that's not surprising, since Andrew is editorial director for gardening at Martha Stewart Living, and Bob is former vice president of horticulture at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  We often find ourselves visiting Loomis Creek once or twice a weekend during planting season.

We bought three or four flats of Viola Sorbet Series 'Black Delight' from Loomis Creek to fill our urns.  As I wrote in my winter urn story, we plant our urns densely when we fill them with annuals, so that we have a profusion of flowers in the brief season before they are replaced with the next season's plants. 

Here is a photograph of one of our urns, just planted.  It has not yet come into flower.

Here are the urns that stand on either side of the kitchen entry to Darlington, in full flower.

Next is a closeup of the blossoms.  They are actually a deeper, darker purple than the photograph indicates.

This next photograph is of one of the urns leading up to our entry.  It is a more accurate representation of the flowers' color.

We have painted all of the metal garden furnishings at Darlington, including these urns, in Farrow & Ball's "Off-Black," No. 57.  I think they look particularly good in a high-gloss finish.

Here is the urn that stands at the base of the bluestone walkway to our house.  Boy photographed it in the late afternoon with the western sun raking through the Violas.

This concludes my tour of the spring planting of our urns at Darlington.  In only a few short weeks it will be time to replant them with their summer occupants . . . so please stay tuned!

All photographs by Boy Fenwick

Friday, May 21, 2010

An Embarrassment of Riches

Yesterday Reggie was flattered beyond belief when Little Augury, one of the most elegant and interesting lifestyle and design blogs out there, and a daily "must read" for yours truly, bestowed upon Reggie Darling two--that's right, two--blogging awards.  One, in and of itself, would be an honor; two makes me blush with the hot flush of both intense pleasure in such accolades, and an uneasy nervousness that it is all too much too soon for such as I, a relative neophyte in these environs, confusedly stumbling midway along the path of  life much as Dante did years ago.

Little Augury Bestowing Awards on Reggie Darling
(via Queen Elizabeth Knighting Admiral Francis Drake)
source: LIFE Images

The first award Little Augury gave to Reggie was a "Prolific Blogger Award," which she defines as recognizing " . . . one who is intellectually productive, keeping up an active blog with enjoyable content."  The honor of such an award requires the recipient to "pass it forward to seven other deserving bloggers," referred to as "the Magnificent Seven."

Now Reggie is quite pleased to be recognized as "prolific" in his output, for he does toil away at RD almost every waking hour that his day job at the Investment Bank doesn't consume him (or distract him from his more gratifying efforts writing said blog).  However, I do believe certain of my readers would take exception to the word "prolific," and consider-- perhaps--"garrulous" as a more apt description of his excessive blather.  In any event, Reggie is most charmed and honored to receive such an award, and gladly shares with you, Dear Reader, his own Magnificent Seven of daily must-reads that inspire, amuse, educate, and at times confound him.  They are, in alphabetical order:

Little Augury (surprise!)

These are the first blogs that I check into daily, hoping for new postings to luxuriate in reading, examining, and pondering, and I commend them to you to do the same.  Should you, Dear Reader, track back to LA's posted awards ceremony, you should not be surprised to find some repetition of certain names that also appear on her list.  For we are, I posit, fellow travelers, LA and I.  Therefore, those of you identified above that are doing double duty may rest on your laurels and sit back and enjoy the adulation without the need of  passing on the torch--again.  But those of you who are anointed for the first time by yours truly, and you know who you are, are, I am afraid, expected to feed the Prolific Blogger Award beast and pass on the torch to your own Magnificent Seven.  With recognition comes responsibility.

You may ask, but aren't there other names that Reggie reads daily?  Yes there are, many in fact.  And there are several that Reggie would dearly love to include in the above list, should such magnificence be extended to, say, twelve names.  Those would include Architect DesignLindaraxa's Garden, PrivilegeThe House of Beauty and Culture, and The Neo Lifestyle.  There are also several other names that would appear on Reggie's Magnificent Seven list, but who don't because the frequency of their delicious posting is somewhat sporadic, as it is clear their authors have better things to do with their time than post with rabid frequency.  The two that come most immediately to mind in that category are Emily Evans Eerdmans and Frognall Dibdin's Shelves.   And I would be remiss were I not to mention An Aesthete's Lament, the recently departed and greatly missed Zeus of the Lifestyle Bloggers and in front of whom Reggie bows in subservient and glorified worship, yelping admiration. Were Aesthete still posting today he would certainly lead Reggie's list of Magnificent Seven, ahead of all others.

The second award that Little Augury bestowed upon me as one of her Magnificent Seven, which really is a fallout of the first, I suppose, was a "Beautiful Blogger" award for, I suspect, the pretty images that I, from time to time, post on Reggie Darling.  And for that I must acknowledge the contributions of my dear Boy Fenwick, my partner on Reggie Darling and in life.  Boy takes most of the photographs that appear on RD, and is a frequent inspiration for the blog's content.  He also edits Reggie's scribbles to ensure that they are not embarrassingly ungrammatical.  This is, indeed, a collaborative effort.

But there is a catch with this second award, which Reggie also bestows upon his own list of Magnificent Seven (take note!), and that is it requires that one must share seven facts, heretofore unknown, about oneself with one's own Dear Readers.  And so here are Reggie's:
  1. I was a member of the Yale Whiffenpoofs (look here if you don't know what that is);
  2. I once sat next to Princess Grace at a dinner in a villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat;
  3. My great-uncle beat the Duke of Windsor at golf in Bermuda during WWII, and I have the score cards to prove it;
  4. My great-grandfather hosted Elsie de Wolfe and her coterie of Sapphic sisters at a lunch at the U.S. Embassy in Paris during WWI, a fact I only recently learned from reading de Wolfe's autobiography;
  5. Keebler's packaged cheddar cheese sandwich crackers are a guilty pleasure;
  6. I once danced next to Madonna at a club in New York; and
  7. I know all the lyrics to Rodgers and Hammerstein's "I Enjoy Being A Girl".
So, there you have seven heretofore unknown facts about Reggie Darling.  Are you surprised?  I rather doubt it . . .

In closing, I would like to thank my dearest Little Augury for these lovely awards.  I am indeed flattered.  And to my own Magnificent Seven I now say: get to work!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best Thank-You Note

Several weeks ago I decided to surprise Boy one evening by secretly inviting two friends of ours, Lowell and Courtney, to join us at a cooking class held one evening by the inestimable Gail Monaghan here in New York.  Gail, a cookbook author and all around genius in the kitchen, teaches cooking classes out of her art-filled loft in lower Manhattan, and also runs luxurious culinary tours of exotic locales.  I plan on featuring Gail and one of her cooking classes in a future posting. 

I invited Lowell and Courtney to join us as a surprise treat for Boy, since we both enjoy their company, and I thought that they would appreciate meeting Gail and joining us at one of her classes.  We had a lovely time with Lowell and Courtney that evening, and they hit it off with Gail as well, with whom they share a love of cooking and contemporary art. 

Shortly after attending the class we received a thank-you note written by Lowell that stands out, in my mind, as exemplifying the craft of such missives, and which I am sharing with you, Gentle Reader, as an example of that which to aspire to when writing such communiqués.

So what is so noteworthy (pun intended) of this note?
  • It appeared in our mailbox within days of the associated event;
  • It was handwritten on heavy, handsome card stock;
  • It was cleverly written and appropriately flattering to the recipients;
  • It was amusing; and
  • It was short and to the point.
All in all, it is one of the best thank-you notes that I have received in a long time.  Gentle Reader, I commend it to you as an example to aspire to when writing such notes when you have been the happy recipient of a host's hospitality.  Following its format will ensure that its reader will remember your acknowledgement and good manners with pleasure, and will favorably incline them to invite you, again, to future festivities.  It is a gold-star example of such missives and the successful realization of rule number one of Reggie's Rules of Social Reciprocity.

This is not the first time that Lowell and Courtney have been referred to on Reggie Darling; you can read more about them in a post I did here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Amethyst Glass

My May 4th posting of "Green Glass" was a popular one and elicted an exchange among myself and Magnus and Lindaraxa, two of my favorite commenters, in which I learned that we three share a love of amethyst glass and an obsession with the (discontinued) amethyst-colored glass water goblets once made and sold by the talented and prolific designer William Yeoward.   In today's posting I will share images of that goblet, plus others of amethyst glass also in our cupboards at Darlington House.

The William Yeoward goblet

We bought our first set of Yeoward amethyst goblets almost ten years ago at Bergdorf Goodman.  Realizing over time that we could use more of them than we had originally bought, we were disappointed to learn that they were discontinued when we stopped into Bergdorf to buy more several years later.  In scouring the city's carriage trade purveyors of china and crystal we found four of them in stock at Scully & Scully on Park Avenue to add to our stash, but we still wanted more.  Several years later we were fortunate to find an additional four of them in London, when Boy stopped into the Yeoward store on King's Road and was able to buy the last ones in the shop's storeroom, from Mr. Yeoward himself.

Amethyst-colored glass is made when manganese is added to molten colorless glass, and is prized by collectors.  The more manganese that is added to the glass, the darker the color, which can range from pale lavender to almost black, depending on the amount of manganese and other elements that are added.

I splurged on the pale purple 19th-century decanter shown in the above photograph several years ago at James Robinson, a super-swell purveyor of antique china, crystal, silver, and jewelry several doors down from Scully & Scully on Park Avenue.  I gave it to Boy as a Christmas present.  It appears next to several tumblers we found in a junk store in Great Barrington a decade ago, for which I've been on the lookout ever since (unsuccessfully) to add to.  Any suggestions as to where I could find more of them would be greatly appreciated . . .

We ordered a dozen of these pretty amethyst swirl-patterned glasses from the late, lamented Martha By Mail shortly before it went out of business.  The glasses are shown next to a discontinued reproduction silver glazed pitcher from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  We enjoy using these glasses and jug for serving drinks in the summer on our screened porch.

The above photo shows how marvelous the Yeoward goblets look on our dining table, set with period glassware, creamware, and silver.  The goblets look particularly handsome against the snowy white cloth.

These three bulb-forcing vases are shown sitting in a marble sink in our flower arranging room.  We use them for forcing hyacinths.

These two cut-glass bulb-forcing vases are much finer than the three ones shown in the marble sink at Darlington House, and are some of my favorite belongings.  It was only after we got them home from the antiques store where we found them that we realized that they, too, were made for forcing bulbs.

We found this dark amethyst-colored footed bowl at an Antiques Fair in Rhinebeck, New York.

These two amethyst-colored glass vases are shown standing on a Paris porcelain footed plate or stand, the top of which revolves like a "Lazy Susan."  It is a particularly useful aid when arranging vases of cut flowers, since you can spin it around and see all sides of the arrangement.

Here is a view of one of those vases and one of the cut-glass bulb-forcing vases, each full of allium flowers that we bought at our local farmers' market last weekend.  They are shown next to a stack of amethyst-colored glass plates, ready to serve dessert.

I, for one, believe one really can't have too much amethyst-colored glass.  It is handsome and works well in almost any setting, from antique to modern.  And the range of colors possible, from dark purple to rosey amethyst to pale lavender, is exceedingly pleasing to the eye.

All photos by Boy Fenwick
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