Sunday, March 30, 2014

Watch Your Language, Please!

I've got to get something off my chest, Dear Reader.  I am supremely weary of hearing people drop the F-bomb.  It seems that almost every place I go these days I hear someone using it over and over in casual conversations, in restaurants, at work, in stores, everywhere.

It's almost as prevalent as the mind-numbing use of "like," "uh," and "um" as conversation filler.  But it is far worse.  While those three words may be grating to listen to when repeated endlessly in conversation, they are but tedious only.  Flagrant use of the F-word, on the other hand, is rightly frowned upon by people of refinement and banned from broadcast airwaves (at least for now) for a reason: it is intensely and vividly vulgar.  I believe its use should be reserved for situations and circumstances that are either private or where the speaker has been provoked to the point of explosion. And it most certainly shouldn't be used within earshot of children.

Don't get me wrong, Dear Reader, Reggie is not a prude.  He has been known to use the F-word himself, along with other pithy Anglo Saxon expletives.  He acknowledges that doing so can at times be very satisfying, indeed.  However, he believes the use of the F-bomb in general conversation today has become so prevalent and gratuitous as to have lost its potency, at least in the minds of those he overhears using it repeatedly and unblinkingly in public.

If they stopped to actually listen to themselves, as Reggie is often forced to against his wishes, he believes they might be surprised to hear how crude and unattractive they sound.  And how unimaginative—can't they think of any other words to use?

Maybe not.  At least that's what he concludes when he casts a gimlet eye on many of those he overhears using it in public.

But that's not always the case, Dear Reader.  Reggie is often surprised when he turns to examine who is speaking so fouly to find that it is a person who should know better.  They have fallen into the habit of using the F-word unthinkingly, with no comprehension that it does not reflect well upon themselves (to say the least), nor do they have any consideration that others might find it unpleasant—if not offensive—to listen to.

When I am out in public, Dear Reader, I do not like hearing other people repeatedly use the F-bomb or other rude expletives, particularly strangers at other tables in restaurants, in lines at stores, in places of entertainment, or while walking about the streets of the city in which I live.  I find it ugly and intrusive.

So I make every effort not to drop the F-bomb or use other obscenities in public.  Sometimes I slip up, though, because I am far from perfect.  But I try to be sensitive to the fact that there are people within listening distance who may find such language offensive, and so I refrain from using it in public whenever possible.

I think the world would be a better place if more of us did the same, too.

Tell me, Dear Reader, what do you think?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

More Barrels of Darlington

Several years ago I wrote a post about my affection for barrel-shaped objects.  I'm drawn to them, Dear Reader, and have collected them for as long as I can remember.  I find objects made in the shape of old-fashioned barrels pleasing, both to look at and as sweet reminders of pre-industrial times.

All sorts of barrel-shaped vessels are to be found if one keeps one's eyes open for such things.  Most that I come across date from before the 1950s, when plastic containers became ubiquitous and, well, ruined everything.

We recently came across an assortment of little barrel-shaped vessels for sale at White Whale Limited, one of our favorite antiques shops in Hudson, New York.  Owned and operated by two generations of the Ribar family, White Whale is a required destination of ours in Hudson and a place where we have had great good luck finding wonderful things for Darlington House, ranging from vintage Christmas ornaments to early neoclassical Staffordshire figures.  We rarely come away from a visit to White Whale with nothing in hand.

Among the numerous little barrels for sale we chose the three small ones shown in this post.  Two are made of glazed earthenware and one is made of mixed metals.  The green and yellow barrels stand about three inches tall; the larger metal one is approximately five inches tall.  All three were made to squirrel away coins.  They were fortunate to avoid the fate of many a child's piggy bank: smashed to shards to cash in the treasure within.  I believe our little barrels date from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century.

Aren't they charming?

White Whale Limited
410 Warren Street
Hudson, New York 12534
Monday - Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
T: (518) 755-6441

Photographs by Boy Fenwick

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Old Gray Barn Is Getting a Facelift

One of the joys (and responsibilities) of Darlington is that it has a number of buildings on the property.  Four, to be specific. In addition to the brick and clapboard main house there are two wooden barns—one originally designed to hold a carriage, and the other for farm equipment and livestock.  There is also a brick workhouse built for doing laundry and cooking in warmer weather.  All the structures on the property date from the first decades of the nineteenth century and are original.

The old gray barn last July, pre-restoration, festooned with
forty-eight star flags in honor of Independence Day

Since buying Darlington more than fifteen years ago we have done a lot of work to the buildings and grounds.  Not only did we want to, Dear Reader, as we believe it is our responsibility to sensitively care for such treasures, but their deteriorating condition required it.  As I wrote in my introductory post on Darlington, the condition of the house and property was one of benign neglect when we bought it.  The previous owner, Mrs. Proctor, was in her late nineties at the time and had been living in what is euphemistically referred to as "a home" for several years.  Darlington had sat empty for five (or more) years, used only occasionally by relatives when visiting the area.

The barn one month later.  Work has begun.
Note absence of chimney on right hand side of the roof . . .

During their ownership of Darlington, the Proctors, people of means who appreciated the historic significance of the house and property, took good care of it.  However, by the time we bought it from them little had been done to the house or grounds since the 1970s, other than putting up an occasional coat of paint and regularly mowing the lawns.  Darlington had become a sleeping, overgrown beauty, drifting into decay . . .

The barn's west elevation.  The three windows' sashes have been
removed for restoration and reglazing.  The ghost of the roof of a
lean-to that once adjoined this facade can be seen sloping down from
the right.  We are going to open the boarded-up window on the
first floor and replace the sliding door to its right with a matching
window that will restore the facade's original two-over-two
symmetrical window placement

Our first priority was to focus on the main house, which required major and extensive restoration, and also a complete updating of all of its systems.  As the urgency of those repairs subsided, we turned our sights to the other buildings on the property.  Our next project was a ground-up restoration of the carriage barn, which we have repurposed as a gardening barn, filling it with tools and rakes and enough Guy Wolff clay pots to keep a nursery happy for years.  We have also done a substantial amount of restoration to Darlington's work house and hope to have it completed later this year when the fellow who has done the work on it so far frees up from other commitments.

Our restored carriage barn.  We plan on using the same
green paint color on the windows and doors of the large barn

More recently we have turned our attention to what we call the "large barn" at Darlington.  It was built in around 1840 as a working barn and originally held the property's farm machinery and equipment, along with the livestock that was used in managing the 165 acres that Darlington once encompassed.  Today it is where we keep our cars, large clay pots in the winter, stacks of firewood, and our refuse and recycling containers.  In other words, it functions as a large modern-day garage.

The south facade of the barn.  We are removing the unfortunate 1960s
garage door and the inappropriate horizontal window, along with the small
sliding door on the right.  The rusty tin roof, which dates from the
late-nineteenth century, is in good shape, and will be scraped and painted

When we bought Darlington the large barn was packed to the rafters with seventy years' of the Procters' accumulated stuff (they were great pack rats) and infested with insect damage.  A lean-to addition had been cobbled onto it in the 1940s, and the building's Greek Revival integrity had been further undignified by the addition of inappropriate windows and an ugly 1960s-era garage door.  Although we quickly eliminated the lean-to, it took us until last year finally to bite the bullet and begin working on the barn in earnest.  (When I write "we" here I must clarify that it is not Boy and I who are the ones actually doing the work to the barn.  No, we are fortunate to have others who are skillfully doing it on our behalf under the careful supervision of Isaiah Cornini, the consultant we have been working with ever since we bought Darlington.  Mr. Cornini advises us and designs and manages all of the restoration projects we do on the property.)

Another view of the barn, showing both the south and east
elevations.  We are going to paint the siding and cornice
in a period-appropriate mustard/ochre color; sashes and
doors will be painted the green used on the carriage barn

So why did we wait so long to tackle the large barn's restoration, you might ask, Dear Reader?  There were several reasons.  First, the financial crash of 2008 happened, which put the brakes on my interest in taking on such a large project, and second, it took us for ever to decide that we didn't need to do as thorough (and expensive) a restoration to the barn as we have done to the other buildings on the property.  Rather, we decided that it was sufficient (and less financially punishing) to do a careful and thoughtful shoring up of the structure, replace its later, less-than-successful remuddlings, and update the building's systems for modern-day requirements.  When we are finished we will have returned the barn to a close approximation of what it looked like when it was originally built almost 180 years ago.

Another view of the barn's east facade.  We have
already removed an unsightly cinder-block chimney that
was added in the 1940s.  The boarded-up windows on the
second storey are false ones, added for symmetry
when the barn was built.  We will replace the later
horizontal windows with sash windows, restoring the
facade's original two-over-two window symmetry,
similar to the building's west facade

Over the next several months I plan on posting about the barn's ongoing restoration and updating.  I am confident that when the work is completed the barn will, once again, be the handsome and dignified structure it once was and was always meant to be.

A later view of the barn's east facade showing the restoration of the
cornice underway where the cinder-block chimney once interrupted it

Won't you please join me in my journey?

All photographs by Reggie Darling

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Remembrances of Things Past

Have you ever found yourself in a place, far, far away from home, that reminds you, quite vividly, of another time and place in your life?

A chartered plane at one's disposal is a most addicting indulgence, I find
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

It just happened to me, Dear Reader.

Belgians are the only way to fly, don't you think?
Photograph by Boy Fenwick

I have recently returned from a week with dear friends on a tiny sand slip of an island way out in the tropic Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by turquoise waters, pale pink beaches, and nights spent dancing in postage stamp sized clubs to the pounding beat and soaring vocals of deep house music.

The view from the restaurant at the hotel we frequented during our stay
Photograph by Reggie Darling

It took me back many years, to when I was an habitué of the enormous dance clubs that once littered the downtowns of New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco, where I spent many, many nights dancing and carousing to the light fantastic, mind-bending music of the great, internationally acclaimed deejays of the 1980s and 1990s.

The picturesque house we rented in the island's little town
Image courtesy of Hibiscus Hill

I did so then with a close knit group of friends that I no longer see anymore.  After a decade of intense and constant interaction with each other we were blown asunder by the winds of change, shifting priorities, and evolving alliances.

The languorous piazza where we spent much of our time during our stay
Photograph by Reggie Darling

I will always look back on my laughter-filled years with my old gang as honeyed and intensely and insanely fun.  It was a close group of amusing, clever, and game-for-anything friends.  We were young, affluent, and handsome, and the world was ours for the taking.  Out all the time, shaking it, shouting with laughter, we were giddy and glad of it.

I spent many nights at dance parties similar to this one in La Grande Bellezza
Video courtesy of Janus Films

I'm no longer friends with that gang, though, with one or two notable exceptions.  I upset the apple cart when Lady Destiny raised her hand and tossed me the bewitching Boy Fenwick.  One look at him and I was smitten.  There was no going back for me.  After much hand wringing and with my heart racing I flew the coop and found myself deliriously soaring in the oxygenated air of the suddenly new and unexpected, excitedly and nervously anticipating what would come next, my fingers crossed.

Bougainvillea was everywhere on the island
Photograph by Reggie Darling

I ask you, what does one do when confronted by Destiny?  You follow her lead, Dear Reader, because you must.  That's why they call it destiny, after all . . .

I identify in certain ways with the character of Jep Gambardella
in La Grande Bellezza, as seen here in a still from the film
Image courtesy of Janus Films

And that's what I found myself reflecting upon as I danced the night away in the tiny nightclubs of the island I visited.  There I was, all these years later, laughing and dancing with another very special group of sophisticated, world-traveled style people of wit and good will.  My friends.  And each and every one of us was ready for the fun and frolic that was there to be had for the asking.

The view from the window of the plane we chartered to fly us back
to where we came from
Photograph courtesy of James Littlefield

Take it from me, Dear Reader, there is another act.

I'm the living proof of it.
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