Retreats both physical and mental release rare moments of splendor and experiences to cherish
BY LAUREN CERAND
As I gingerly navigated the cobblestones of the inner courtyard, an older woman approached me, and gesturing up to the second floor apartment I always stay at in Paris, asked, in French, if I was staying in “the hermitage.” “Oui, le hermitage,” I replied, with a small smile. It was the second half of January, and that’s absolutely what it was.
Any space can become a refuge, which in my mind is a quiet, cozy place for retreat and reflection, absent the constant barrage of the external world. I am writing this in New York, nestled in my Dutch blue four-poster bed under a linen comforter of the same color. Elsewhere in the room, candles flicker and glow, and the scent of honey and vanilla incense is barely detectable somewhere just past the silver tea tray at my feet.
Many spaces that deal with luxury, so much of which is a sophisticated combination of craftsmanship and the sales experience, seek to create a similar atmosphere. Certainly, when I was invited to Van Cleef & Arpels for a private look at the archive a few years ago, the sense memory of watching slender fingers zip the diamond zipper commissioned by the Duchess of Windsor (after her friend Elsa Schiaparelli suggested it would augment a black dress) up, down, up, impressed upon my soul in a way only physicality in that space, at that moment, could. The lobby of any grand hotel, or department store, is explicitly intended to seduce with the feeling that someone has thought of everything, and yes, darling, this is all for you. I remember a long weekend at the Carlyle a couple of years ago when my Lower Manhattan waterfront neighborhood fell in the zone under an evacuation order. I packed a suitcase with no idea for how long I’d be gone, and set out uptown, where I checked in and hung up my gowns, and was stunned, hours later, to find that the door I’d assumed led to a closet revealed a well-stocked kitchen. At the height of the storm, I was in the famed Bemelman’s bar, glittering darkly and slowly drinking a Dark & Stormy while the cabaret singer sang what was likely the most mournful and stirring rendition of “Moon River” that I’ll hear in this life. I spent the next day in bed watching My Man Godfrey and eating vichyssoise from the deli down the street, and, when I eventually checked out, made sure to allow myself a quiet breakfast in the room first.
From my window at home, I can see many of the Art Deco and Beaux Arts skyscrapers that cinematically comprise the Financial District. Far from the slick glass towers of later design movements, these buildings often emulate great buildings and styles of the past, complete with little aeries and parapets that lend them an uncommonly human scale. One is even said to be crowned with a replica of the temple of the Oracle at Delphi. Still others are fashioned after elements of Renaissance palazzos.
When I was in Rome, I spent most of a day in the Barberini Palace, near the Piazza to which it lent its name. The stairwells alone mesmerized me, with their vast, winding stone steps, spiraling like an upturned snail shell towards the heavens. Each day I was in town for the film festival, I made sure to visit the Pantheon each day, and gaze up through its simple, stunning open crown to the sky overhead, a notion of transcendent natural beauty brilliantly evoked by the artist James Turrell in his “skyspace” works, one of which, Meeting (1986) I was fortunate enough to see myself at P.S. 1, where it is permanently on-view.
In one of my abiding fantasies, I live in the country and take archery lessons, long walks through the woods, and spend more time with a half-dozen deerhounds than people (I would like a husband, and a cook, of course). The notion of the forest has symbolized both safe harbor and unknown dangers since the dawn of time, and among the many things I love about being human, our notion of wearing amulets and adornment for protection and attraction is chief and foremost. When my brother and I visited the Swedish island of Birka, notable among thousands in the archipelago for being the first site of settlement, I bought a couple of extraordinary necklaces fashioned after the Viking style of the period, when trade was conducted mostly in glass beads and furs. I later passed them on to a friend who has her own fledgling jewelry line, because I have no trouble releasing things that may no longer suit me if seeing them at liberty is best. The most poetic thing about Birka? Everything was built with wood, and has been gone for centuries.
Speaking of letting things go, it’s been an extraordinarily frenetic week, from the black tie benefit I attended in a snowstorm (if you find yourself in similar straits, be advised that the bar at the Hotel Plaza Athenee can provide solace, if not inexpensively), to gatherings at the Lotos Club and India House, a brilliant lunch at Le Philosophe, a stellar evening dining in with two literary critics in Brooklyn, just for starters –– and now, dinner this evening with an Australian diplomat who spent Christmas at my place and a jewelry dealer whom I met when I dropped the most expensive thing he had for sale. I bought it, he fixed it, and so began our story. We haven’t decided where to dine yet, so I’ve suggested we meet at Estate Jewels’ showroom where we can mull our desires over a little champagne. It’s kind of my refuge, you know.
Lauren Cerand publishes notes on living at luxlotus.com.
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