The Power of Gardens; it is full of inspiring ideas. I didn't whip my camera out in the middle of dinner, though it was hard to resist. There were so many moments I wanted to capture, traces of her well-lived life.
Then I went to Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena, southern California's largest and oldest independent bookseller. Happily, much of my tour involves independent bookstores, and it has been a pleasure to see how they have anchored themselves in their towns, engaged with what their readers want, and reached out to make themselves a vital part of the local conversations that weave their way through the community. At Vroman's I met my son Theo's piano teacher, Julie, from Pitzer College; she has been one of the most important people in his life during these years. I also met a lovely friend of Theo's, Terri, who drove over for the event. And I was also reunited with Tom Goff, one of my first--and most generous and helpful--bosses at Esquire. I have been thinking about how much pleasure it gives me to catch up with people from my past, and now I'm thinking how lovely to catch a glimpse of the people in my children's lives.
Gamble House, designed in 1908 (for a member of the family that founded Proctor and Gamble) by the Arts and Crafts architectural team of Greene and Greene. It is a gem; everything, down to the hinges and doorknobs and light fixtures and scrollwork on the headboards, was created by the architects. It must have been like living in a beautiful wooden jewel case. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the house--an annoying, but constantly arising, policy. Luckily, Photo director Lucy Gilmour and I included the house in a book that Assouline will publish in September called Living Architecture: Great Houses of the Twentieth Century. House tours always trigger my decorating fantasies. Sometimes I feel as if I were a sponge, absorbing any visual world I find myself in--and wanting to bathe in it. My tastes are promiscuous. But you can call them eclectic. That sounds more polite.
Hiroshige, an artist in the ukiyo-e tradition. His pictures of a "floating world" captured an impermanent, evanescent beauty, one enjoyed in moments divorced from the responsibilities of the mundane, everyday world. (The photo is from the Huntington visit below, but the tea ceremony is also a ritual of the floating world...) I had just finished reading a very good novel, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, about the life-altering love affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his clients; it ended tragically when a lunatic servant went on a murderous rampage. The novel covers the period during which Wright collected thousands of Japanese woodblock prints; while he was designing the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, he was combing the ateliers of print dealers and artists, finding treasures, and returning with them to the US where he sold them to a Boston dealer. It seems as though he actually made more money selling art, for a while, than he did designing buildings, but the affair had been scandalous, and Wright was shunned by the Oak Park, Illinois community for a while. I had never seen Hiroshige's work in person, only reproduced in books, which cannot catch the rich hues and the details of ink on block.
This garden includes a lake, seven pavilions, a teahouse and tea shop, and five stone bridges, built by more than 60 Suzhou artisans from authentic materials shipped over from China. The garden includes "poetic views".
Water flows through it, coursing over chiseled stone and under cast stone bridges, catching the light and bubbling merrily.
The flooring of the largest pavilion was laid down in a gorgeous pattern that combined rounded stones and lengths of slate; the garden was filled with inspiration to take home. Phase One of the Garden of Flowing Fragrance is complete; eventually, the garden will cover twelve acres. The name alone is seductive. I thought about how, when I was thinking about selling my house in the suburbs, I began to refer to it in conversation with my children as the Museum of My Happiest Moments. Now I realize where I got the idea of these kinds of titles: from reading Chinese poetry. These sorts of names have an incantatory feel. What an exciting treasure the Garden of Flowing Fragrance is, well worth a visit from anywhere in the country.
The Japanese gardens nearby are also extensive; a stroll takes you through a clacking bamboo forest, past a fully furnished Japanese house that the Huntington family had purchased, moved to California, and installed on their grounds in the early 1900s. Quite a souvenir.
Then we tried to sit and gaze at the raked pebbles of a Zen garden, whose patterns represent the movement of water around rocky island outcroppings. But it takes a long time to settle into the beauty of a Zen garden, and we were not able to do it justice, given that we were constantly being warned of the imminent closing time. Drink up, now! Well, to be honest, even if I had had several hours in front of me, I would have found it difficult to lose myself in the Zen garden.
The gardens close at 4:30, way too early, in my humble opinion. I kept thinking about how that made it unavailable, during the week, to people who must work all day--and who might stop during the commute home, to catch the sunset. We retraced our steps through the bamboo forest, admired the litter of leaves on its floor, and returned, refreshed, from global travels a mere car ride away from home.