Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My 'Hot' Booksigning party at Ma(i)sonry

Last Sunday, June 28, we celebrated the publication of my new book, 'Orlando Diaz-Azcuy' (Rizzoli) with a glamorous garden party at Ma(i)sonry, Michael Polenske's superb new design gallery and wine-tasting salon in Yountville in the Napa Valley (just near the French Laundry).

The afternoon was New Delhi hot--and friends who arrived in white linen all reported, 'My car says it is 105 degrees' or 'My car says the exterior temperature is 103 degrees.'

Fortunately, Orlando and I and guests were sitting in the shade--on chairs and at a long table designed by Ron Mann. We signed dozens of books. Friends sipped Blackbird Vineyards wines.

Among hundreds of friends who celebrated with us were Michael Polenske and Kim Miller, Kimberly Bakker with her new baby, Quinn making her society debut, Ron and Louise Mann, Michael Vanderbyl, Greg Stewart, Suzanna Allen, Dorit Egli, Philip and Carol Norfleet, Chiara Mondavi, Grant Gibson, John Capo, Roche + Roche the landscape designers, Robert Whitworth, Adrienne Arieff, Myra Hoefer, Scott Cazet, Dorka Keehn, Joe Rixon, Jean Larette, Marcy Carmack, Jacqueline Probert, Gene Ogden, Wayne David Hand, Andrew Batey, Markus and Bella Miretsky, and many divine and accomplished colleagues who graced the simmering day. Brilliant.

A highlight: As I was leaving with Orlando to have dinner at Ubuntu, the fabulous new vegetarian restaurant in Napa, Michael said, "Thomas Keller left a gift for you" and he gave me Thomas's thoughtful hand-written note and gift, in a royal blue French Laundry carry bag.

Inside was a ribbonned box with Krug Grande Cuvee, gold embossed. Michael had thoughtfully chilled it. Thank you, Thomas. Cheers!

Photo of the garden at Ma(is)sonry courtesy of Scott Cazet.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Style and Grace of the Great Karen Blixen

Danish author Karen Blixen (who confusingly wrote under the nom-de-plume of Isak Dinesen) was the author of ‘Out of Africa’, which inspired the film of the same name. The film’s costume designer, Milena Canonero, was inspired by snapshots of Blixen in gauzy dresses and spirited jackets. For the movie she dressed Meryl Streep in the tea-dipped linens of the period. At home in Denmark, Blixen evolved a natural, unpretentious, and very international décor.

This story begins in Arles, Provence, of all places.

Several years ago I was in Arles, at the legendary Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus hotel in the center of town.

It’s a chic and very insider hotel dating from the thirties, and now owned and maintained superbly by Ann Igue, a photography collector and connoisseur. The hotel has long been associated with Jean Cocteau, Lucien Clergue, Spanish bullfighters, as well as Picasso and Ernest Hemingway and their coteries.

Karen Blixen photographed in
Copenhagen, 1962, by Peter Beard.

Karen Blixen in Nyack-on-Hudson, in 1959, with Arthur Miller, Marilyn
Monroe, and Carson McCullers.

The décor of the lobby and sitting room are very Camargue-meets-Provence—but it was the large-scale black and white photos on the walls that grabbed my attention.

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the North, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up, near the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights ere cold.’
Opening paragraph of ‘Out of Africa’ by Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen)

Looming above the leather club chairs and forged-iron tables was a collection of new works by Peter Beard, long associated with Africa.

Portrait of Karen Blixen taken in 1922 on her African farm. She is
holding lilies from her garden. Photo: Thomas Dinesen.
From the Karen Blixen Museum, Rungsted, Denmark.

Karen Blixen and her brother Thomas Dinesen in Africa, 1922.

Two images in particular stopped me in my tracks. In all their glory on the white plaster walls were a profile and a three-quarter portrait of Karen Blixen, the great novelist and memoirist, who used the nom de plume, Isak Dinesen. The grace, elegant and nobility of her whole being were captured in Peter Beard’s sensitive and revealing works.

Cut forward a few months: I am in Copenhagen and heading north, with a Danish friend, up the coast to Rungsted to visit the Karen Blixen Museet (museum). It is in her former residence.

The Ewald room at the Karen Blixen Museum, photographed by Ole
Woldbye in 1991.

The drawing room of Karen Blixen's house in Rungsted, now the Karen
Blixen Museum, photo Niels Harving, 2002.

Blixen was most famous for her novel, ‘Out of Africa’ and received international acclaim in her long life-time. She died in 1962. (It is said that she died of the lingering effects of syphilis, which she had contracted from her husband, Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke, in 1917. Insiders, however, suggest that her ill-health and suffering (which she never concealed) were in fact caused by metal poisoning from heavy doses of mercury prescribed in those days to treat the disease--or perhaps arsenic used in Africa. This aspect of her glamorous life is a counterpoint to the nobility and creativity of her life in Africa and in Denmark.)

Karen Blixen in a ballgown, 1934, photo Reimert Kehlet.

Karen Blixen in an elegant hat, photographed by Cecile Beaton 1959.
Royal Library Copenhagen.

“At the Samburu station on the line, I got out of the train while the engine was taking in water, and walking with Farah to the platform. From there, to the South-West, I saw the Ngong Hills. The noble wave of the mountain rose above the surrounding flat land, all air-blue. But it was so far away that the four peaks looked trifling, hardly distinguishable, and different from the way they looked from the farm. The outline of the mountain was slowly smooth and leveled out by the hand of distance.”
Final words as Isak Dinesen returned to Denmark, after a life of drama and beauty, love and tragedy, in Africa. ‘Out of Africa’ was originally published by Random House, New York, in 1937. It is available in countless editions.

The residence with its accompanying gardens and meadows, are now part of a preserve, where visitors can wander in tranquility with views of the sea.

The interiors of the residence are always filled with seasonal flowers from the cutting garden hidden among the trees. The rooms are maintained precisely as they were when Blixen lived there, complete with her books, a lifetime collection of African memorabilia, brass-studded chests, delicate antique chairs and her fragile lace curtains.

My friend and I were the only visitors on that day, so spent time in each room as if we were visiting an old friend.

Later we walked through the preserve. Blixen is buried beneath a handsome and sheltering beech tree. Her grave at Rungstedlund is a simple granite marker. My friend and I left white roses there in tribute to the great author and pioneer.

Karen Blixen and flowers from her garden, in the living room of her house, photographed by Steen Eiler Rasmussen, 1960.

"I have had the great good luck in life that when I sleep, I dream, and my dreams are always beautiful. The nightmare, with its squint-eyed combination of claustrophobia and horror vacui, I know from other people's accounts only, and mostly, for the last twenty years, from books and theatre. The gift of dreaming runs in my family, it is highly valued by all of use and makes us feel that we have been favored among other human beings. An old aunt of mine asked to have written on her tombstone: "She saw many a hard day, but her nights were sweet."
From 'Shadows on the Grass' by Isak Dinesen (nom de plume of Karen Blixen) her memoirs of life in Africa, first published in 1960. Blixen had returned to Copenhagen and her glittering life there--and thought only of her life, left behind in Africa.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Exclusive Portraits of John Dickinson

Never-published images of the great designer in his San Francisco firehouse residence/atelier in 1981

I wrote an earlier post about John Dickinson, his style, his irreverent ideas, the book we had planned, and his untimely death.

I had a standing appointment at Dickinson’s San Francisco firehouse every Sunday morning at 9am. Over several years, I taped hours of conversations about his design, where he got ideas, his inspirations, his life, his work, his clients, his opinions on everything from lighting to humor in design, and from pattern (he thought it was a cop-out in décor), to color (he used it sparingly) to clients (indecisive and inattentive clients were a burden).

The color Polaroid below is one I took one afternoon in 1981. I had written a feature on John, and it had just been published. I drove over to the firehouse in Pacific Heights to show it to him. I happened to have a Polaroid camera (yes, a real Polaroid) with me. This image, which has been on my desk all these years, has never been published, never been seen.

Polaroid image of John Dickinson photographed
in 1981 by Diane Dorrans Saeks.

In the blurry picture, John is sitting in a taupe-leather upholstered Victorian chair at his Art Déco table/desk. In the background are his signature lamps, the rolled up blueprints, his drafting table, the elegant amethyst-colored mottled walls (since painted over), and the distinctive light that spilled in from tall shuttered windows.

In this image (it seems like yesterday) he is wearing a navy bespoke Huntsman jacket, made in London, and off-white Gap chino pants.

“Cheap pants, Darlin’, only cheap pants,” he would say, to note his chic dressing style that mixed super-luxe cable cashmere sweaters and custom-crafted Savile Row jackets, with impeccable $20 Gap pants. This high/low combination, chic today, was highly unusual at that time. Like Andree Putman, he loved the mix of cheap and rich, luxury and utility.

Below, the black and white image of John Dickinson was photographed around the same time at the firehouse, by the Italian/Swedish photographer Victor Arimondi (sadly no longer with us).

Black and white photograph of John Dickinson
photographed at his firehouse residence
in San Francisco by Victor Arimondi.

I had introduced Victor to John, and Victor would stop by the firehouse, shooting John at work drafting, or me typing on my portable Olivetti at the table, or elements of style in the skylit rooms.

In this never-published image, signed by Arimondi and given to me as a gift, John is indicating that the brass trim on his signature polished stainless steel fireplace, matches the trim along the wainscot.

Also in the picture: signature plaster tables, a phrenology head, and the accouterments of the John Dickinson style.

I’ve published comments John made during our hours of taping, in my books and in articles published over the years, as John Dickinson became an icon of design.

I taped years of conversations, redacted them at great length (we sometimes went off-topic), and edited the resulting quotes and observations. I sometimes see these published quotes in publications like auction catalogs and design magazine articles—and they are never correctly attributed. It always feels like a kind of theft, of a conversation, a moment, my work, and an idea I shaped and wrote.

Now John Dickinson’s plaster furniture turns up in top designers’ rooms, and in the galleries of top New York dealers like Liz O’Brien and Louis Bofferding, and at auction houses like Bonham’s and Sotheby’s.

When John was at the height of his career, he was never ‘popular’, and was never seen as iconic or collectible or even trend-setting. Some thought his work bizarre or even a bit frightening.Now it’s the mark of an in-the-know designer to have one of his metal skirted tables, a plaster tribal-influenced table, a console, a carved Stonehenge coffee table, or a twig lamp. The beat goes on.

Two photographs of John Dickinson at his 1893 firehouse residence on Washington Street in San Francisco. It may still be viewed today and looks precisely the same.

Photographs were taken by the great
San Francisco photographer,
Fred Lyon, and are used with permission.

Friday, June 19, 2009

MADELEINE CASTAING: Distinctive Paint Colors

Madeline Castaing was known for her idiosyncratic, dramatic, poetic, and haunting paint colors. For Leves, her dreamy Directoire-style Loire Valley country house, she selected an exquisite pale turquoise. In apartment in Paris, she chose pale blue-grey paint as the foil for black lampshades and white voile curtains. In her shop, she painted walls a vivid green-blue now called Castaing green.

The following paint colors match closely the distinctive and quirky tones Madeleine Castaing loved. Farrow & Ball offers subtle colors based on traditional English interiors. Mythic makes non-toxic paint in a broad range of colors.

I asked Houston interior designer J. Randall Powers for his selections of paints that can be used to recreate the Madeleine Castaing look.
  • Leves exterior, turquoise walls: ‘Blue Ground’ by Farrow & Ball, or ‘Aqua Glass’ or ‘Understated’ by Mythic Paint.

  • Castaing’s Paris apartment bedroom walls, pale soft gray accents: ‘Farrow & Ball’s ‘Parma Gray’ or Mythic Paint’s ‘Solferino Lake’ or ‘Calming Thoughts’.

  • Castaing’s Paris shop walls in rich, deep turquoise blue: Farrow & Ball’s ‘Chinese Blue’, or Mythic Paint’s ‘Siberian Sea’ or ‘Medicine River’.

  • Castaing’s distinctive rich red in clients’ studies: ‘Farrow & Ball’s ‘Incarnadine’ or Mythic Paint’s ‘Royal Raquel’.

  • Castaing’s salon green walls: Farrow & Ball’s ‘Arsenic’ or Mythic Paint’s ‘Inch Worm’ or ‘New World’.

  • Castaing’s pale rose pink guest for boudoir walls: Farrow & Ball’s ‘Calamine Pink’ or Mythic Paint’s ‘Pink Wink’.

  • Plaster white accents on walls at Leves and in Paris apartment: Farrow & Ball’s ‘Pointing’ or ‘Great White, or Mythic Paint’s ‘Pale Moon’.

The two photographs below were two shots I took of the interior of Madeleine Castaing just after she died, when Laure de Lombardini, her longtime assistant, continued to sell her wares.

Note the green-upholstered carved chaise longue that appears in my photographs—and in the living room at Leves. It was one of the highlights of the Sotheby’s auction of Castaing’s estate—and was rumored to have been snapped up by Jacques Grange. Well, that’s the rumor.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Eternally Chic

French antiquaire and interior designer Madeleine Castaing is the ultimate design insider. Her quirky style, a cult favorite, is revealed in the new book, French Interiors, recently published by Flammarion.

With her devil-may-care pairing of elegant Directoire styles and flamboyant Orientalism, her fierce disdain of beige, and her idiosyncratic use of bold color, Paris decorator and antiquaire Madeleine Castaing was one of the most compelling design originals of the twentieth century.

Beauty in a room derives from a touch of mysteryMadeleine Castaing

American designers like Mark Hampton and Charlotte Moss and hordes of design devotees made pilgrimages to her Left Bank shop to catch a glimpse of Madame herself, always nestled in an antique chair in a chic Chanel jacket, in a fragrant cloud of Arpege. Her sweetly smiling face sparked with red lipstick, she made no secret of the signature chin-strap that securing her cropped wig.

“Madeleine Castaing reinvented the 19th century, according to Mark Hampton” said New York photographer/ film-maker Christopher Flach, who recently made a documentary on Madeleine Castaing. “I think she turned herself into a work of art.”

I often used to stop in at Castaing’s corner shop over the years of Paris visits. She was usually seated so elegantly in an armchair, almost melting into the scene. I would call out “Bonjour, Madame” as I entered and a whispered “Bonjour’ would be returned.

Sometimes, her Moroccan assistant, Mamadou, would silently come downstairs from her apartment, and appear. I would see the same lamps, paintings, Napoleon III tables and chairs in her shop over the years. It was always rumored that she would not sell them. I always thought that just wandering around in a happy daze was the point. I might chat briefly, but it felt unseemly to ask a price.

“Au revoir, Madame” I would call out, on departing.

Castaing, a trend-setting Paris interior decorator and antiques dealer since she opened her Left Bank antique shop in 1947, died in 1992 at 98. Now her lavishly chic style is getting new attention, thanks to an elegant new book, ‘French Interiors The Art of Elegance’ written by French author Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery and with extraordinary photography by Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe (Flammarion).

‘French Interiors’ features many images of Castaing’s divine country house, and while Givenchy and Saint Laurent are also displayed in the book, it is clear that Castaing was an inspiration for the photographer. The book is dreamy, poetic, and shows France at its most soulful.

Madeleine Castaing’s idiosyncratic design sensibility is now inspiring young designers like Miles Redd in New York, as well as high-profile decorators such as Jacques Grange in Paris and the chic Charlotte Moss, along with Stephen Sills in New York, who choose her ocelot-patterned carpet, Chinoiserie tables, distinctive lamps, Veronese green-splashed color scheme. Young designers channel her eccentric mix of antiques, and spike their rooms with Castaing’s flat-pitched black lamp shades, and the neurasthenic little bamboo chairs and tables she favored.

Fashion designer Christian Lacroix is among her greatest admirers.

“During the French decades of militant modernism, Madeleine Castaing lavished her rooms with fringe, crystal chandeliers, and nostalgia for the style of Napoleon III,” wrote Lacroix in his witty design book, ‘Styles of Today’ (Le Promeneur, 1995). “She lived to see her style admired and uncontested.”

Madeleine Castaing was always irreverent. She brilliantly created pure Napoleaon III, but tweaked it with eccentricity based on her unerring taste. Castaing: a bit textbook but with lots of side notes.
—Houston designer, J. Randall Powers

Castaing, whose iconic shop at the corner of rue Bonaparte and rue Jacob on the Left Bank was a must-see for a coterie of design fans, displayed there her passion for Veronese green, crimson, jade green, turquoise, with shocking pink on walls and as accents. Her shop and her rooms were a nervy combination of French history with an irreverent dash of kitsch.

As she established her career as a decorator, working for clients like Jean Cocteau in the austere post-war forties and fifties, Castaing muscled her way through high-Victorian and Napoleon III styles, as well as richly gilded Russian and Swedish antiques. She was a trend-setter with Orientalism, Charles X and Biedermeier, which were also not at all fashionable in France at the time.

Castaing never did classical French interiors with de rigueur Louis XV and XVI furniture. She loved the confection of elaborate fringes, banana-leaf patterned carpets, colorful majolica ceramics, and eccentric pieces like her Napoleon III-era side chairs with gilded wood frames carved to resemble twisted rope.

And to catch a whiff of Castaing in Paris today there are still several possibilities.
  • The space that once housed her antiques shop was acquired by Laduree, the legendary patisserie and macaroon specialist. Decorator Jacques Garcia and his team painted the walls of the popular macaroon shop in Castaing’s favorite pale turquoise decorated with white plaster bas reliefs. The ground floor and mezzanine tea rooms, with tropical landscape murals and Castaing blue Napoleon III furniture, pay homage to Madeleine and hint at her seductive style.

  • A few door away, at 30 rue Jacob, Madeleine’s grandson, Castaing, an autograph dealer, has decorated his shop with Castaing blue walls and many of the antique lamps, chairs, tables, and decorative pieces from her Leves estate.

  • Ring the door bell and meet the scholarly M. Castaing, and he will reveal his fascinating shop, an homage to the lasting influence and style of Madeleine Castaing.

Photographs of Madeleine Castaing’s country house at Leves are all from ‘French Interiors The Art of Elegance’ (Flammarion). The very talented and inspired photographer is Christina Vervitssiolti-Missoffe. All photographs used with permission from the publisher.

San Francisco photographer and filmmaker and photographer Christopher Flach recently launched his new 34-minute documentary, "Madeleine Castaing," about the antiquaire extraordaire. Flach artfully captures her décor, her color sense, and her enduring charm. The portrait is vivid and wistful. Christopher Flach's DVD by email: chris@chrisflach.com, $26 (including shipping).


This is the first part of a two-part feature
on Madeleine Castaing.
Catch Part Two coming soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Best Bellinis in Venice

To sip a Bellini in Venice in the Spring and early Summer is to taste Heaven.

Henry James or Joseph Brodsky or Ezra Pound—or Harry Cipriani himself—probably said this. I agree!

I was recently in Venice—and I invited my friends Suzanna and Grant, Kathleen, and Sally and Richard to join me at the Gritti Palace Hotel for a Bellini. I am convinced that the Gritti serves the best Bellinis in Venice—and I wanted my California friends to taste them.

Photograph of golden sunrays on a Bellini at
the Gritti terrace by Grant K. Gibson.

We convened at twilight on the Gritti terrace overlooking the Grand Canal and requested Bellinis. Grant and I asked the bartender (a handsome and beautifully groomed man dressed in an elegantly tailored white double-breasted jacket) if we could watch him make the Bellinis.

“Ripe white peaches squeezed by hand, and Prosecco. Nothing extra. The correct proportions are one part fresh peach juice to one part Prosecco,” he said. He said he presses some of the pink skin into the juice to give the pink tinge. White peaches must be fresh, ripe, juicy, and in season. (White peaches are in season in Venice now.)

He set out the chilled glasses on the bar—wine glasses.

He took a freshly prepared small glass pitcher of chilled white peach juice, and poured it into the glasses. Very pretty, pink. Then he poured very chilled Prosecco into a silver pitcher and stirred it for a few seconds with a long-handled silver spoon. This action was to dispel the bubbles, he said, otherwise the drink would fizz and pour over the rim of the glass. (There’s an art to this.)

He then slowly poured the Prosecco into the peach juice and stirred slightly. The finished/finessed concoction is slightly frisky and effervescent, has a little sparkle.

He served the drinks, we sipped. Grant took a photo of the Bellini with his Iphone (that’s his snapshot of the moment, above, with the last rays of the run turning the glass golden).

“Indeed the best” everyone agreed (and more than worth 16 euros, taking into consideration the ultra-private terrace, the discreet service, and the glorious setting on the Grand Canal facing the Punta della Dogana and the Salute.

We returned to the Gritti the following evening to ‘test’ the Bellinis, this time sitting and sipping in the mirrored Longhi Bar, surrounded by Venetian glass sconces, and paintings of eighteenth-century Venetian scenes by Piero Longhi

Photos of two presentations of Bellinis in
handblown Venetian glasses, photographed
at the Gritti Palace Hotel Bar.

Bellinis became our ‘study tour’. We all agreed that the Bellinis at the Hotel Bauer/Il Palazzo terrace (fantastic view, polished service) were virtually our favorites, with a luscious fresh peach flavor.

We tasted the Bellinis at Cip’s Bar on the sunny terrace at the Cipriani (disappointing Bellinis served in a tumbler, not chilled, ivory colored, with no effervescence, no seductive peach flavor).

I hardly drink—but when I went to the Locanda Cipriani on Torcello for Sunday lunch, I requested a Bellini as an aperitif. It was lovely and peachy—and I enjoyed it very much, in a happy daze because it was a bright early summer day, we were seated on the terrace, the roses were in bloom in the garden, and we were surrounded by beautifully dressed Italian families celebrating new babies and birthdays.

Harry’s Bar where Bellinis were said to be invented: I wish I had enjoyed it more. The Bellini did not have the handcrafted style of the Gritti. I think the place cruises on its decades-old reputation and tales of Hemingway. That’s OK, but the Bellini was not thrilling.

Back to the Gritti for a Bellini! Indeed, an evocative sip.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Chasing Palladio

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) has inspired, influenced, transfixed and transfigured Western architecture more than any other architect. One of his villas, the exquisite Villa Cornaro near Padua, is considered one of the ten most important and influential buildings in the world.

I’ve been an admirer of Palladio since my first visit to Venice—and encountering the sight of the shimmering white façade of San Giorgio Maggiore basilica reflected in the waters of the bacino in the late afternoon sun.

Palladio’s transcendent villas and ecclesiastical buildings were constructed during the High Renaissance in his native Veneto. Some were commissioned as summer houses by Venetian nobles, others were contracted as city palazzi by ambitious businessmen. Wealthy landowners in rich agricultural properties around Vicenza and Bassano del Grappa puffed themselves up by siting their villas in positions of honor on their land.

Palladio also designed two of the most ravishing churches in Venice. San Giorgio Maggiore floats in majesty on San Giorgio island. The Redentore on Giudecca was built as an appeasement and offering against the plague that had decimated the Venetian population in 1575.

The balance, harmony, symmetrical proportions and timeless elegance of classical Greek and Roman architecture (his ideals were the Pantheon and the Acropolis, for example) are clearly visible in his most famous villas, La Rotonda, Villa Foscari, Villa Emo, Villa Barbaro, and Villa Cornaro. These villas, in turn influenced Thomas Jefferson and Monticello and the greatest English country houses (Chatsworth, Blenhein Palace).

When in Venice recently, I took a day trip to Piombino Dese to view Villa Cornaro, considered one of Palladio’s masterworks. It is the spring and autumn residence of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Gable of Atlanta, the sixth family to occupy the villa in its 453-year history.

The two-story projecting portico-loggia of the Villa Cornaro.

The first surprise at the Villa Cornaro is that it is in a small town, and is visible just beyond a tall brick fence. Most villas (like Villa Rotunda or Villa Barbaro) stand in a groomed and verdant landscape. Villa Cornaro is a townhouse.

As the Gables generously gave a tour, the history of the villa unfolded. It was constructed in 1552-1554 as a retreat for Giorgio Cornaro, a Venetian noble.

It was at the Villa Cornaro that Palladio first introduced the two-story projecting loggia/portico motif, which signaled a new view of residences for function, interaction with the landscape, and for entertaining and pleasure. This dramatic projecting portico motif was a device that later influenced Georgian, Adam, Soane-ian, and Colonial American architecture (and subsequently banks, office buildings, and villas and mansions around the world.)

Villa Cornaro remained in the Cornaro family for more than 253 years. (Among the family pantheon was Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus.) After passing through the hands of three families, the villa was used as a parochial kindergarten in the fifties and sixties, until it was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Rush of Greenwich, Connecticut. The couple restored the villa over two decades.

The very congenial Gables revel in the beauty of their villa. (Their book on their experiences in the Veneto, Palladian Days, was published in 2005 by Knopf.)

Details of the exterior of the Villa Cornaro,
superbly maintained by the Gable family.

Back in Venice, I made my usual pilgrimage to the Cirpriani for lunch (the sight of super-luxe jeweler Attilio Codognato swimming laps in the hotel pool is one of my favorite Venice sights). Taking the Cipriani launch across the bacino is a timeless experience, but the most remarkable part of the trip soon looms into view.

Palladio's noble San Giorgio Maggiore viewed from the Cipriani launch.

The portico on the façade of San Giorgio Maggiore, unlike the Villa Cornaro, is an illusion, created with a series of graphic pilasters and columns which come into brilliant view as the launch chops across the water, passing the Punta della Dogana and offering views of the Redentore over to the right and the hidden entrance of the Cini Foundation to the left.

Photographs of Villa Cornaro in Piombino Dese, and San Giorgio Maggiore church in Venice, were shot in May 2009, by Diane Dorrans Saeks.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Jet Set Survival

My plan for a perfect landing—with no jet lag

I’ve been a passionate traveler all my life. Living in remote New Zealand meant quickly figuring out a way to fly very long-distances and land with elegance and energy.

I consulted with doctors and frequent-flier friends, and after many flights around the world to India, Russia, Paris, Rio, Athens and Venice, Majorca, and every corner of the globe, I’ve figured out my jet-lag prevention plan.

The concept is to regard a plane (private or commercial) as a sleeping compartment for any flight over four hours. You get on the plane, get calm and comfortable, and you sleep, day or overnight. But there are rules to follow and preparations to make. Regard flight time as prep time for your destination—and you’ll arrive at 7am in Paris or at noon in Venice ready to have a quick shower, perhaps a massage, a delicious breakfast at the Gritti, and then to head straight to the Louvre, to the Palazzo Fortuny, or to Hermes and Lanvin.

When making your reservation—no matter which cabin—reserve a window seat as far forward as possible. Use the seating chart to make a smart decision.

Put together a permanent in-flight kit of a small pillow (mine is by Frette), along with a wool or cashmere throw that will keep you warm from chin to toes (nice, even if the airline provides a duvet). Add warm socks and a soft well-fitting eye-mask. I always save copies of The New Yorker for ideal in-flight reading.

Wear light layers of chic, comfortable clothes that you can sleep in.

Your sleep kit will also include the best earplugs (noise reduction of 33 decibels or more, at drug stores) or Sony or Bose noise-canceling headphones. Consult your doctor about sleeping pills. On long flights they can keep you asleep for up to 8 hours—essential if you are flying San Francisco-Munich-Delhi, or San Francisco-Seattle-Copenhagen-Stockholm, which I often do. But this plan works if you are flying from Sydney to Los Angeles, or from Jaipur back to California.

Dine lightly before departure. Carry with you a sliced apple, unsalted almonds, a Vosges chocolate bar, dried apricots or other treats. You will not be eating on the plane, except your healthy snacks, and a light fruit and protein breakfast just before arrival on an overnight flight.

On Board
Your goal is to be wrapped up, comfortable, and ready to sleep by the time the plane reaches cruising altitude. Quietly prepare for sleep. Put on your headphones or put in your earplugs.

Alert the flight attendant that you will not be dining and not to disturb you. You will be sleeping. You will not be drinking any alcohol (causes dehydration and jet lag.)

You will not watch any videos. A flight is for sleeping—and should not be wasted on B-grade movies.

Quietly, deliberately and calmly put on your amenity kit socks, gather your pillows, and prepare for sleeping. Wrap yourself up in your blanket as well as your cashmere throw, covering your ankles and neck in particular. If you’re cold, it’s hard to sleep. Be sure your fastened seatbelt is visible outside the blanket so that flight attendants know you are buckled up.

As you reach cruising altitude, sip a glass of water and take a sleeping pill for the appropriate duration of flight. Read for a few moments. Sleeping pills may take up to half an hour to have an effect.

Slip your pillow behind your head, and adjust your seat to the best sleeping position. Get into a comfortable position. Slip on your eye mask.

Sweet dreams.

If you should wake, request a glass of water, do some quiet foot flexes and shoulder rotations to relax, adjust your blanket, and go back to sleep.

On an overnight flight, enjoy a light fruit and protein breakfast an hour before arrival.

Land fresh and ready to go.

On arrival
At your hotel, take a shower, and order a healthy and light breakfast or lunch, with bottled water.

If you’ve followed my plan you will feel alert, energized, and ready to walk to the Tate Modern or head for Copacabana Beach.

Spend the day meeting your friends, getting a sense of place. Walk in the sun, breath the fresh air.

You will have an early night. Prepare for bed around 8.30pm. Take a sleeping pill and be in bed by 9pm. Put in your earplugs (unfamiliar sounds will keep you awake), read for a few moments, and plan to sleep until 7 or 8am.

No jet lag. Your body will adjust quickly to the time zone and you’ll feel energetic, and excited to be in your destination.

Repeat the same plan on the way home.

Safe and happy travels!

The beauty that awaits at your destination:

Painting of the Grand Canal, Venice, by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.