Do you remember what it was like to discover the imaginary landscape of books in your childhood? The ones that marked you? To understand that somewhere between the author's words and your imagination, an entire universe could enfold?
I would close my eyes and try to conjure the wisps of snow and taste of Turkish Delight in Narnia or the newsboy cries and horse-hoof clops of Dickens' London. Crouched amidst my dirty clothes in the oak closet of our Victorian house, I knew, I knew that those vistas were the key to a world far bigger than what my little mind with an open heart could fathom. That time travel and possibly even magic just might exist. Perpetually hungry, I would feast on each word until I could picture every detail and not a solitary crumb remained behind.
Fast forward many years and adventures in the real world to this past May. Despite numerous novels consumed, for various reasons, my vision had shrank to almost not knowing...that is until a truly wonderful friend invited me to be a guest in her home.
Those of you who have been reading here for nearly any length of time (for which I thank you with all of my heart) are aware of Elizabeth, aka La Contessa. Some of you might even refer to her as "All Caps Contessa" for her tendency to exclaim rather than calmly state the obvious. She has long since been something of a Fairy Godmother figure for me (this despite that our ages are not so very far apart), having first sent me as a nearly beribboned present to the amazing Ellie O'Connell Decret (who has since become a dear friend) and then tempting me Westward in order that we could finally meet in person after nearly seven years of correspondence. Her timing was impeccable. She knew that she was needed.
And perhaps, she had an inkling of the delight that would wash over me from the very first instant that I stepped inside the home that she shares with the Italian (more about him soon) and a menagerie of animals. The charm spell was immediate and permanently cast. I clapped my hands in delight for the décoration that had been lovingly set over the 22 years after the couple had bought and renovated the house perched over a rose-filled ravine. The Italian set the brick floors by hand to remind La Contessa of one of her favorite castellos in the Italy where they had lived together while their boys were small things. The many years of having her own antique shop, the Hen House, brought about the arrival of myriad objets, such as a sleigh in the center of the living room, which made sense to her as well as to me.
"So, what do you want to do today?" she would ask, as I would stretch sleepily after a night of deep dreaming. Sheepishly I would always reply, "Can we just stay here?" and often she would accommodate my wish, as a good hostess tends to do. For I could and did spend days exploring in the miniature and relaxing in the grandeur. Transformed, I was Alice and had found a Wonderland.
Our mutual friend Ellie was in my thoughts constantly, for I knew that she would be as fascinated as I was. And so I picked up my camera for the first time in months so that I could share this novel landscape with her, far away on the other side of two oceans...and with you too. The allure of such enchantment is irresistible to all but the unwisely hardened, non?
Like Winston, their beloved Corgi, I find myself perched and waiting for a return - mine - to Casa Kirkpatrick. I have a wishing feeling it will happen but until then I can summon it in my mind just as I did while savoring the tales of my youth.
Today is Elizabeth's birthday. I spoke to her this morning as she was setting up a table under the enormous bronze chandelier in the garden for this evening's festivities. She sounded happy and relaxed as she does more often than not. How I wish that I was there to join the celebration...but from a far I raise a glass of virtual Prosecco to you, my beautiful friend.
Félicitations et Joyeux Anniversaire!
I actually also did a post for her birthday last year, she deserves no less.
And she is also the only person who I have ever asked to write a guest post for Lost in Arles.
Lastly, chez elle she currently has up a wonderful story about how she met her Husband - thanks to the House of Gucci - in 1984.
PS. As she is one of the most generous people that I have ever met, I don't think that La Contessa would mind if I add a word on "her" birthday post to thank all of you. So please know that your incredible responses to my previous post touched me deeply and yet did not surprise me in the least. You are a wonderful group of people and I am very fortunate to be able to welcome you here.