Saturday, January 10, 2009

City Views, Country Dreams

Good evening from New York.

It's snowing lightly tonight, continuing to build a gentle covering that began this afternoon. There is something very strange about trying to sell folks beautiful early spring clothes in this sort of weather. In theory, we are selling the resort collection in the shop. In the current financial atmosphere, I don't how many folks are able to waft off to a warm resort.

I was glad to have my warm, down-filled coat, cashmere-lined gloves and snug woolen beret when I left the shop to walk over to the subway station to go home, an hour after sundown. As I walked past the lovely architectural iconic Flatiron Building, I could not help but look up and see the Empire State Building and the superbly art deco Chrysler Building shining brightly through their veil of snow. Magic. It is these sorts of sights that make me so happy to live in this city. Millions have seen these same sights through many decades, and enjoyed them just as much as I did tonight.

We know that spring will arrive within a few months, and my little antique china plates and saucers show images inspired by long ago springs. English springs, not New York springs, but it is the same sun, after all.

This Minton plate is so pretty, and I have had the nerve to let a cheap tin green bird rest on its shoulder.

This plate is very old, not sure quite how old. I show it, remembering the lady from whom I bought it in the Portobello market years ago. She was a retired teacher who loved old china even more than I, and certainly was more knowledgeable than I will ever be.

Whenever I would visit London, I would make a point of checking in with her and catching up with a long chat. We would always exchange Christmas cards and letters. Sadly, she died before last Christmas, and it makes me quite sad knowing that we won't again have any of those catch ups. She was someone whom I initially met by pure chance, yet got to know well over the years. I have always treasured the opportunities that life tosses us every day.

Here is another odd little spring like Minton motif on an odd saucer. The colors are so lovely. I do not have the cup, never saw it.
Let me now return to that wintry New York subway system, where many commuters, who would otherwise never meet each other, mingle every day.
Yesterday, on an errand trip downtown, I stepped into a train car, and then saw two men enter, carrying two folding chairs and three large drums. My spirit rose immediately. I had not seen these fellows in months. They are amazing musicians and full of joy that they easily spread to all who hear them play.
We exchanged smiles, they quickly unfolded their chairs and sat, one man began an easy beat on his drum to start their conversation. Then the other man began to charm intricate rhythms from his two drums. All the fellow travelers watched, smiled, some did a little dance to the beat, as the train rushed along to its next stop.
The musicians knew just how to time their performance, ending it just before the train made its final brake, when the passengers for that stop needed to make their moves toward the doors. I said Happy New Year, and great to see you, to these gents, and they returned the greetings, also having recognized me. As they passed their caps around for any money that their audience might offer, they made a point of saying that they really did play for joy! Joy that they give and joy that they receive. I am very sure that they also play "real" gigs and that this subway bit is just a way to have some fun, try some new routines.
Just like glimpsing those architectural beauties in tonight's snowfall, hearing that duo play yesterday and seeing how their music created a three-minute community proves to me how wonderful this city can be. Yes, it can be a harsh place, and crime and tragedies abound, but as this year gets off to its beginning, how I appreciate being reminded of its splendor and unpredictable fun.
Sweet dreams to all.


  1. Hello Frances - It's still early evening on this side of the continent but must be getting late over on your side. I loved this post, with the images of the big city that we all know so well - even those of us who may never have visited! I also enjoyed looking at the pretty china and reading about your sweet friendship with the seller. I, too, love old china and can't resist those odd little pieces that look as though they might be part of a very interesting story.

  2. It sounds like you are fit and well again!

    I always enjoy your posts as they transport me to Manhattan, I can picture those buildings and the unique light that surrounds them. I can also picture the scene on the subway and hear those drumbeats, sheer joy.We share a love of old china, I live close to the site of the old Minton, Spode,Royal Doulton factories. It is sad to think of their demise but heartwarming to know that their work is still treasured. Your story about your friendship with the antique dealer reminds me once again of Helene Hanff.

  3. Hello Frances. I love your china collection and am a collector myself, though never intentionally seeking it out. I have a beautiful Minton plate very like the one at the top of your blog, very similar in colour and pattern too. So pretty, though it is the second one I really love, that soft blue against the blue-white - just perfect. xx

  4. Hello Frances,
    You paint the most wonderful vignettes with your words. I am visiting my parents in Connecticut and have experienced the same snow but in the suburbs of Hartford. I always find the falling snow so magical wherever it may be!
    Thanks for your wonderful post.

  5. Lovely, lovely, lovely! May your shop be filled with buyers and here's to more snapshots of your life. Thank you.

  6. Oh Frances what a lovely poignant blog. So sad that the lady who sold the plates has passed on - you have lost a special link there - but still have treasures to remember her by. What a beautiful and special collection.

    Love the sound of the musicians - sorry bad pun there.

    total snow envy of course.

  7. A delightful blog Francis. Thankyou for sharing your little bit of New york.

  8. I would love to have been on the train with you, what fun! It reminds me of the jazz band that used to play in Oxford Street way back in the 50s (showing age now).
    your china is beautiful, keep it safely. With all our old established names disappearing in England we shant see the lovely designs again.

  9. Hey Frances....I am finding my way back to blogland and wanted to start someplace warm and comforting.... Love your plates...I am a bit of a philistine when it comes to china but your paintings are making me come to appreciate it..
    Ah snow.....just deep cold here.

  10. I do love your tales of New York, Frances. I have never seen it in snow, but it must be something, magical, beautiful. The harsh sounds of the city muffled; all the twinkling lights reflected; the urgent hurry of New Yorkers, momentarily stilled. Snow is for some reason is holy.

    I remember the musicians who played on the subway too - but I have been too much struck by the Pelham 123 film ever to feel completely relaxed on the New York subway, though I believe that it is safer than London's now.

  11. Oh Frances, that was so enjoyable from beginning to end. I'm a bit of a china collector, too - I have a small collection of 18th & 19th century cups and saucers, so I know the joy to be had from a wonderful old piece. I've never had anything quite as exquisite as the divine cream plate with the blue bird on it, though - that is really special. How lovely that you forged a friendship built on pretty china with someone so far away. I can see where you get the inspiration for some of your lovely paintings from, now.

    It's really lovely, too, to be able to appreciate where you live and draw pleasure from majestic sights that you must see every day.

    A very happy New Year to you. xx

  12. I am getting very excited about my trip to NYC! This post has just escalated my excitement to fever pitch...

    Thanks for the news of the Bonnard exhibition, that is a real definite to see.

    Love your plates too :-)

  13. Hello Frances, lovely blog. Seems sring is on the way, snowdrops peeping through in the garden.
    Loved hearing about the musicians and how they added some fun and brighten up your journey.
    Keep warm. Millyx

  14. Just love your plates Frances. You would love the Summer Fetes I go to. I have collected some really pretty pieces over the years. They give me so much joy. I also have a passion for silver spoons.

  15. Ah! Minton.
    I also like Mason's Ironstone.
    And what a tragedy about Wedgwood.........
    Your first plate is so delicious.

  16. Gorgeous picture you've painted of those twinkling buildings seen through snow. And I love the Joy of the drummers.

  17. This was so beautiful Frances, not just your words, as they always are but also the photos of your plates. I have some old plates too, I adore them.

  18. I just love your blogs, Frances - such a delighfully thoughtful, measured counterpoint to modern life's random twittering. Love the plates, too - I inherited a cup and saucer from my grandmother that I adore, but have no idea what they are. Maybe I should send you a picture...

  19. another china fanatic here! Lovely description of the city Frances.

  20. Years ago, I found a little book, a collection of stories about her New York, by Helene Hanff. I loved those vignettes, observations of a keen eye, written with panache and wit. If my mind does not betray me, these little gems were originally written for the BBC. They were like a window into her neighborhood. Sadly, I lost the book somewhere between Washington and Vienna. Your New York stories reminded me of Helen Hanff's, I greatly enjoy every single one. Thank you for sharing them with us!

  21. What a lovely glimpse into your life again Frances, thank you for leaving those very wise words on my blog, know what you mean about seams, never mind a hem unravelling !!

  22. Good evening, Frances,
    I hope your February is a lovely one so far! Hugs from V.,

  23. Dear Frances,

    I can't believe I missed this.! Really lovely post Frances, and I absolutely adore china. The photo's to the china you have posted are so very pretty, love them all.

    I have lots of different pieces of china collected over the years, one of them is a Minton Candlestick Holder, Ivory with a pale Green leaf design.

    I love hearing about your life in NYC, a place I have never visited but am thankful for your wonderful writings about it.

    So sorry to hear about your friend Frances, friendship is like a hand that touches one's heart, it leaves a huge void when they are no longer with us.

    I remember Portobello Road in the sixties, indeed a lady who used to have an antique stall there did eventually come to reside in our very own village and set up shop here.

    Thank you for sharing with us Frances, and thank you for your kind comments to my blog.


  24. I always found the London Underground such a repressive place that I think there is a huge group sigh of relief if anything happens to allow the passengers to feel human and make a connection! I must say I don't miss the city at all, but moments like this - well, they are such fun! Great plates too (I think the tin bird looks very at home!) t.x