Sunday, August 17, 2008

Because the story is everything

I love a good story.
And like anything else the delight is in the details.
It's never just a man in a room, it's man in bespoke three-piece linen suit, edges slightly frayed from wear, sitting with a little more elegance for the cut, in a room filled with souvenirs of a life fully lived.

I never fill a room with "stuff," I fill it to tell a story.
Those stories vary - some tell an honest history of me, some tell of the life I wish I had lived, and some point to the life I plan on living... when I get around to it.

Most of my themes revolve around the train of thought that certain experiences indicate a particular strength of character.

I'm partial to stories of ex-pats, especially early 20th century women who go from genteel society to pioneer. Delicate flowers who leave the superficial debutante scene to keep house at the mercy of an untamed land. Osa Johnson, Grace Crile, Beryl Markham, Karen Blitzen and Elspeth Huxley are the keepers of some of my favorite stories.

So, little surprise that when I was introduced to the J. Peterman catalogue circa 1994, I was entranced. To me, it was so much more than the ridiculous narratives that accompanied the vague sketches, it was the inherent lack of concern that the whole thing had for the opinions of anyone else.

The clothes were from the closet of someone who eschewed the look of the moment and wore a hand-made suit handed down from her mother, or the caftan she wore on weekends of her three-month safari - it was the closet of the sincere eccentric I was in training to become.

Years passed, Seinfeld made it the butt of so, so many jokes - and Peterman eventually went bankrupt. But I started watching his website.. and first he continued to sell his cologne and the duster... and slowly, kept adding merchandise over the years.

I'm happy to share that it seems to be back, and as romantic as ever...

Between the years 1906 and 1939, a trickle, then a light rainfall, then a downpour, of Englishmen, Germans, Scots, and some remarkable women, began to fall upon the immense gorgeous plateau of East Africa.
Some came for a year, and stayed a lifetime. Some came to farm; or make a fortune; or to put something awful far behind. Don’t ask what.
All came to start life over again. Fresh.
Discovered they hadn’t been expelled from a Garden of Eden after all, but were just now entering one.
That first night they lay awake listening, hearing Africa, hearing for the first time how to hear.
And how to read a flattened blade of grass: who or what had passed through here; and exactly how long ago.
It was paradise. It lasted three decades. Days of laughing, dancing, talking all night; ostrich omelettes the morning after; walking thirty miles to see an ocean of oryx, a river of hippos; flying low over a sea of wildebeest; driving among elephants in a maharajah’s 3-axle Buick; great luxury; great simplicity.
We couldn’t bring back the era, but here are some of the clothes, judiciously updated for today’s Karen Blixen.

I'm not quite as smitten with it as I was 14 years ago, but I still very, very much appreciate the ideal of the people he intends to sell to - who we are, where we've been and what we can eventually become.

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