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Hever Castle 2018

T 2 H 2 progressed the verdant Countryside of Kent  

where they stopped to pay a call on Viscount Astor 

T2H2, the two happy husbands, Leo and Iory pose on the vast expanse of velvety green lawn surrounding Haver Castle Edenbridge, Kent, England. We were visiting there on the country leg of our Autumn tour this past October.  

Hever was the ancestral home of the Bullen family (Boleyn) from whence sprang the ill-fated Anne, second and brief wife of Henry VIII. The Castle has a 700-year story of tumultuous history recounting the vicissitudes of unleashed ambition. Poor Anne was but one of a long line of miscreants jockeying for power with all the resources that clan, deportment and physical allure could muster. 

Hever Castle was extensively restored and add to (1903-08) by William Waldorf Astor, a New York millionaire and scion of a family of successful fur traders who eventually parleyed their wealth into Manhattan real-estate. The Astors reached the zenith of success with the creation of the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. But not content with the crass accomplishments of “trade” and infuriated by family squabbles concerning which branch of the Astor family should dominate New York society, William roared across the Pond, eschewed his mercantile past in the colonies and became a British subject. Once regally ensconced in London and his newly acquired stately home Cliveden in Buckinghamshire, he judiciously lavished huge amounts of cash on various charities thereby securing the attention of the crown. Thus, he won recognition and honors in the form of a peerage of the United Kingdom under the title of Baron Astor of Hever Castle and then subsequently elevated to the rank of Viscount. 

Viscount Astor’s restoration of Hever Castle was lavish and extensive and included all the then innovative conveniences of electric light, central heat, running hot water and copious amounts of plumbing, all of which lubricated the ponderous machine of Edwardian extravagant pageantry known as country house parties.  The interiors of the main castle were recreated in an eclectic pastiche referencing various English historic sources and are carried out with exacting detail of high quality in design, craftsmanship and rare materials. All these handsome and historically evocative interiors are very much in the spirit of their day in both England and the United States and are reminiscent of the Rothchild and Vanderbilt styles of grandeur.   

The most extensive component of Viscount Astor’s scheme was an enormous stretch of guest suites consisting of 100 rooms accessed from the Castle by an enclosed bridge across the surrounding mote and designed to evoke a Tudor village. This architectural extravagance is now referred to as the Astor Wing and is run as an hotel of sumptuous luxury. Leo glibly tossed off his intent of staying there when we return to England. I will to hold him to it no matter how many pennies we have to pinch in the meantime because my heart goes pitter-patter just at the sight of the place from the outside. As an overnight guest at Hever Castle one can access the gardens after the high tide of tourists has receded leaving the place to the heavenly peace and calm of English twilight evenings. This is what, of course, enchanted my husband, the Hever gardens, which are scrumptious!    

Along his gilded path of happy destiny, William Astor was appointed by President Chester A. Arthur as the United States as Minister to Italy in 1882. Once installed in Rome Minister Astor immersed himself in the appreciation and study of Italian art and especially sculpture. As any self-respecting gentleman on a grand tour would do, he began to amass a rich collection of antique statuary and architectural artifacts which eventually came to rest in the most romantic setting at the Hever Gardens. The afternoon when we were there, late October, the main display of summer exuberance had withdrawn leaving the structure of green garden lightly sprinkled with late roses against a background of russet colors glowing from the surrounding collection of specimen trees turning with the season. All this was accented here and there in protective niches with urns planted with drooping fuchsias placed beneath sturdy trellises entwined with ripening grapes, jewels of deep amethyst and alexandrite color, kissed by the setting sun.

We were some the first early morning visitors to Hever Castle and enjoyed the peace of the place where a regal swan was parading his glory in company of a scattering of ducks. A little later they all retreated to the clear stream below, disdaining the intrusion of tourists and pretending not to be at all interested in the crumbs and tidbits from the café that a few eager children offered them.    


The pert castle offers a dignified presence softened by Boston Ivy blushing deeply against the honey colored stone. 

The Tudor Village now called the Astor Wing is my idea of heaven. I love all the meandering digressions trailing off into the distance. I can picture a labyrinth of hallways within, leading to remote chambers lit by the wiggly glass of leaded windows screened in diamond patterns. The many gabled tiled roofs create a syncopated rhythm that leads a parade around the surrounding gardens. This is now a hostelry of exceptional charm with suites of rooms and banquet facilities worthy of Henry VIII and his court, although that magnificent prince would be completely astounded by the amenities of the 21st century.    

Just inside the 13th century gate house, crowned by battlements, hangs the ancient and menacing portcullis said to be one of the oldest working defensive gates in England. The Timbered framed Tudor manor house with leaded windows is a later addition to the castle built by the Bullen clan in the early 1500’s.  A spiral staircase accessed through the smaller arched doorway leads up to the guardroom and council chamber with connecting chambers used by the lord of the manor and his family as living quarters and from whence he governed his domains.

A ghostly apparition, greeted us at the front hall door of Hever Castle. Like the fading scarlet ivy leaves above the entrance, this Prince of the Church and his ilk would be torn from their Popish vine by the wintery blasts of Henry VIII’s disfavor when he dissolved the Roman Catholic Church in England in order to marry the daughter of th Hever, Ann Boleyn.  

The Inner Hall of Hever is paneled and appointed with sumptuously carved Italian walnut installed in 1903 by William Waldorf Astor. It provides a solemn background to display a collection of important portraits of the Tudor Monarchs and some of their contemporaries. Here we see Isabella of Portugal, wife of Charles V who was the nephew of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife. The hall also includes a rare collection of 17th and 18th century furniture as seen here providing some comfort to the formal gravitas of the room.  

The drawing room at Hever is a delight of comfort and ease in what could have been a rather formidable display of historic gloom. This happy result is also part of Viscount Astor’s restoration campaign. The inlayed paneling of; oak, bog-oak and holly woods is exceptionally handsome and was patterned after Sizergh Castle, Cumbria   

Here is one jim-dandy dining room which can be engaged for your next blow-out banquet! I should imagine the price tag is a whole bunch of shekels but hey, what price glory?  Two Celebrated royals flank the paneled wall, Henry V, victor of Agincourt fame (1415) and Edward, the Black Prince, whose name derives from the tint of his armor rather than his ruthless conduct at Crecy, Poitiers, Najera and Limoges. In this last campaign Edward massacred 3,000 of the city’s inhabitants. I am not sure if these bellicose warriors are the exact diner companions I would ask for, but Hever is a castle and that does imply might is right.   

On the dining room door is an ancient lock once belonging to Henry VIII. In addition to the copious number of fixtures and furnishings the Tudor court traveled with, Henry, ever leery of assassination, brought his own locksmith to secure his bedchamber against demise. This is one of the myriad of historic details that Viscount Astor included in his restoration of Hever. I am particularly fond of the smiley face above the coat of arms, apparently emojis are nothing new.  

And on that subject, I have come to find out through Google magic that emoji derives from Japanese, from e ‘picture’ + moji ‘letter, character’. Please forgive this non sequitur digression but we are talking details here 

Now, libraries are just my kind of thing, I know these phrases break the mood of my narrative but otherwise you may find my predilections a bit stodgy. So, back to books and their dwelling place, Viscount Astor’s library is knock your sox off fabulous, there you go again Iory – I know but what the hell else is one supposed to do on a pink couch but kick off the shoes, get comfy and read? In this case the books are works of art in their own right with luxurious bindings of Moroccan leather, gilt-tooled with the Astor coat of arms and further elaborate incised decorations. They were privately printed in Paris and New York in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  

The bookcases are patterned after ones in Samuel Pepys library. They are carved in the style of Grinling Gibbons and fashioned from sabicu, a very hard wood that will sink in water.  The ceiling is copied from one at Hampton Court Palace. The evocation of history is ever present at Hever.     

The Tudor Village or Astor wing, as seen from an upstairs leaded window of the Long Gallery.]

Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Bullen (Boleyn) and her family who were some the most powerful aristocrats of the period. Her father was a diplomat sent on numerous missions to the Continent under Henry VII and VIII. Anne was extensively educated at the royal courts of Margaret of Austria in the Netherlands, Mary Tudor and Queen Claude of France where she held positions as maid of honour.  She returned to England and became a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife.  

The unfortunate Anne was also, along with her family, a consummate schemer. She was none the less a tragic character, simultaneously Queen and pawn on a chess board of complex power dynamics that amongst other dramas allowed for the creation of the Church of England as a result of her marrying Henry VIII.  

 Haver Castle houses and displays an important collection of Tudor portraits In the Long Gallery alone there are 18 original portraits hung in dynastic order relating the story of the Tudors starting from Henry VI and ending with Henry VIII. In the inner Hall on the first floor are portraits of Henry VI, VII, VIII as well as Anne and her sister Mary Boleyn. These collections were begun by Viscount Astor and richly enhanced by the current owner, Broadland Properties, John Guthries, founder and chairman.  

I’m never sure if wax mannequins are anything more than creepy. Hever has apparently had extensive displays in the past in the Long Gallery composed of the infamous womanizer King and his entire retinue of ill-fated wives accompanied by a lute playing musician. This musician was Mark Smeaton, who was one of the accused lovers of Anne and was also tortured and executed.  

There is a long history of wax mannequins in England begun by Madame Marie Tussaud who in 1831 after a long slog throughout Europe and the provinces of England brought her famous collection of gruesome relics from the blood drenched guillotine to London. She eventually coming to rest at the Baker Street Bazaar – ironically a famous street with a similar subject matter, heinous crime – thank you Sherlock.  

Here we find Anne Boleyn with down cast gaze looking remarkably real with Henry and Catharine lurking in the shadows – or is it Mary, Anne’s sister who was mistress to the king before her.  Henry’s lascivious and marital convolutions are hard to follow but the result for Mary was a dead end and here she seems to presage that demise with a ghostly and dare I say it, waxen pallor.  

The leaded windows of the Long Gallery are inset with stained glass heraldic achievements featuring at their center escutcheons bearing the arms of, from left to right, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, all former owners of Hever Castle. I find these badges of honour with all their decorative elaborations to be very beautiful and full of arcane and esoteric meaning that like a puzzle are fascinating to decipher. I am particularly delighted by the twisting convolutions of leaf and feather “mantling” that flutter from Henry’s helmet

Half Moon pond presents a controlled formality punctuated by a single spire of water saluting a pristine white marble statue of VenusInnocent of the Goddess’s charms, two boys gaze into the water where elusive goldfish dart and swim.

Within the confines of a circular stone garden temple, a classical bronze urn wearing the green patina of age, captures the images of Gods and Goddesses manipulating the fate of heroes.    

Superb shapes of gargantuan proportions proclaim the arrogance of lordly splendor in the Italian gardens at Hever. Beyond the restraint of clipped hedges an exuberant extravagance of exotic trees sing an alternative tune.

Surprised by the glory of deep encounter, lifeless cold marble is ignited by afternoon sun illuminating a brazen kiss.

Five triumphal arches beckon and command attention, creating a desire to look beyond the green expanse of easy lawn. What royal court there awaits the traveler on an embassy of idle delight? 

The bearded sage wraps his cloak tightly around, insulating him from the impertinent intoxication of a scented scarlet rose. 

Closer to the temple loggia, a parade of chubby putti bear the weight of celebratory garlands as rampant lions roar, warning of the presence of regal dignity. 

A triumph of arching stone holds the view of tranquil waters where beyond, curtains of trees shelter wild places untamed.   

From the cover of twisting and drooping branches can be seen the ancient castle walls standing in the midst of folly, the mistress of men allowing herself to be tamed and shaped in order to delight her lover. Is this wise or foolish?     

Chick the Cardinal and follow him on an extensive tour 

 of Hever castle and gardens  


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Sissinghurst Castle, Cranford, Kent, England

                              Vita’s tower, Sissinghurst Castle, photo by Iory Allison 

Sissinghurst Castle is a place beyond time. A dwelling of private retreat and poetic dreams, built on crumbling foundations of thwarted Elizabethan ambition. Over time it was corrupted by ignorance of its true value from a place of noble hospitality to a fetid dungeon of prison misery. But the ancient Spirits of the Weald, outraged by the ignominy of mankind’s vanity, wove a spell that blanketed the place beneath a profound sleep, guarded over by a jealous tangle of dark forest and briar Rose – fierce protectors of the artist’s muse. 

 Much like Burne Jones’s Sleeping Beauty, the center of the mystery at Sissinghurst is the quest for the perfect lover, the sleeping bulb waiting for the gardener’s caress to awaken the beloved. This was eventually accomplished by a mismatched couple who recognized in each other impossible love and allowed that precious treasure to bloom forth into the light.

Burne Jones, Sleeping Beauty, “The Rose Bower” 1885- 90

Here lies the hoarded love, the key 

To all the treasure that shall be; 

Come fated hand the gift to take 

And smite this sleeping world awake. 

William Morris 

Photo by Iory Allison

Sissinghurst Castle, photo by Iory Allison, the central entrance arch with flanking gables was built in 1530’s 

“A tired swimmer in the waves of time 

I throw my hands up: let the surface close: 

Sink down through centuries to another clime, 

And buried find the castle and the rose. 

Buried in time and sleep, 

So drowsy, overgrown, 

That here the moss is green upon the stone, 

And lichen stains the keep.” 

Vita Sackville-West, “Sissinghurst” 

photo by Iory Allison

The epicenter of Sissinghurst Castle is the tower built in the mid-1500s by Sir Richard Baker as a gatehouse for his vast courtyard palace of which this structure is one of the few surviving components. It also originally served as a viewing platform to follow the progress of the hunts enacted in the 700-acre surrounding deer park. In modern times it was reclaimed by Vita Sackville-West as her private retreat where she spent nights writing some of her 17 novels, 12 collections of poetry, gardening columns for the Observer from 1946 -1961 and endless letters, etc.   

The surrounding garden, composed of a dozen “garden rooms” was conceived and realized by Vita and her husband, Harold Nicolson, beginning in 1930 when they bought Sissinghurst, until their respective deaths in the 1960’s. Harold mapped out the “bones” of the garden with its formal alignments and landscape architecture whilst Vita specialized in the design, selection and planting of the flowers and shrubs. Although the Nicolsons had a staff working with them throughout their long tenure, they were both hands-on gardeners, stooping to pull weeds and plant the “crammed” flower beds and borders that compose this unique garden of earthly delights.  

Harold Nicolson began his career as a diplomat serving the British Empire in Madrid, Istanbul and Persia as well as participating in the Versailles Treaty concluding the First World War. From 1931-1946 he was a member of Parliament. His literary output like Vita’s was prodigious incorporating history, biography, journalism, literary criticism, diarist, etc.  

Vita and Harold had a mystic vision when they recognized the then ruin of Sissinghurst as a place of magic beauty. At first, together with their staff, they attacked the iron grasp of wildness that had a strangle hold on the property and they all labored long to reclaim the lost grandeur of the place. In their struggle an ancient rose, “Rosa Gallica” now known as “Sissinghurst Castle” was found languishing in the bramble. This beauty was perhaps one of the few precious plants dating from Elizabethan times and a symbol of Vita and Harold’s intent to revive an historic property where they could create a garden. There they both could nurture their delicate love of each-other, their two sons and their respective writing careers. They sought to heal the physical and spiritual scars inflicted by a grim period of the Seven Years war with France (1756-63) when the property was used as a prison and then its subsequent century and a half of neglect when the place went into a deep sleep waiting for the questing lovers to find their Eden. 

Harold and Vita lived in an “open” marriage and both of them had affairs and lovers of both sexes, most famously Vita’s passionate love affair with Violet Trefusis as revealed posthumously by her son Nigel in his book, “Portrait of a Marriage.” I was very much aware of the Lesbian and Gay aspects of Vita and Harold’s respective lives. As an “out” Gay man myself in a long term committed relationship of 41 years and now legally married to my husband, Leo, I was gratified by the frank discussion of these subjects at Sissinghurst by the National Trust. Referring to her own Lesbianism Vita is quoted by the Trust, “The psychology of people like myself will be a matter of interest when hypocrisy gives place to a spirit of candor which one hopes will spread with the progress of the world.”

 With a lot of courageous political activism, persistence and just plain common sense that prediction is beginning to come to fruition. A general understanding that same sex love is a natural facet of the human psyche is now gaining ascendancy in world culture. 
   T2H2, The Two Happy Husbands, Leo and Iory  went on a pilgrimage to Sissinghurst last month and with the idea of avoiding the crowds we chose mid-October for our visit. Leo is the gardener of our family and I the writer, so Sissinghurst is a natural place for us.  

Mid-October however was very definitely the tail end of the garden year and while it was quiet of people, the garden was in the last throws of a vigorous season and slowly retreating into the bosom of her mother, that private space of winter where the mystery of regeneration fuels tomorrow’s fecundity. As the leaves of summer turn the subtle colors of faded tapestry and then for a moment dance on autumn’s chilly winds, the structures of bare branches and lichen etched masonry are discovered and we become aware of the “bones” of this garden, where even the whispered memories of passing seasons have a compelling interest – perhaps even more so than the grand trumpeted fanfare of full summer exuberance. 

 There is in England, and Sissinghurst especially, an appreciation for the beauty of extended time and a wise understanding borne from the connoisseur’s eye for the inevitable consequences of that potent force wearing away at the fabric of the material world. The struggle of the artist to preserve and perpetuate her creation is fortified by the knowledge that all layers in the growth of time have profound value and the shimmering imperfection of iridescence is the final revelation to the poet questing for the ideal.  

Photo by Iory Allison 

Vita’s Tower as seen from the rose garden through a turquoise wrought iron gate. The beautiful wrought iron-work of the gate frames this view and also contrasts with the ancient brick walls. Although the tower can be glimpsed from all over the garden and the surrounding fields of the estate, in Harold and Vita’s design it is also concealed from direct view by intentional twists and turns in the overall labyrinth of the garden. Then when we become aware of the tower again it is partially veiled beyond gates or crumbling walls, clipped hedges or strategically placed trees. 

Vita Sackville-West in her twenties, by William Strang, 1918 

This is one of my favorite images of Vita in her characteristic flat brimmed hat. I believe a version of this hat was originally a gondolier’s hat from Venice. In any case the various hats of this kind that Vita adopted over the years have an ambiguous masculine / feminine look that sets her apart. One of the amusing aspects of the English nobility is their frequent pose of eccentricity with its implied assumption of privileged rank, allowing for whim and caprice to partially unbind them from the strict confines of convention. 

Vita’s writing room, photo by Iory Allison  

I took this snapshot of Vita’s inner sanctum through a wrought iron grill that allows only a coy glimpse of this magical space. The portrait on the easel by the fireplace is of Violet Trefusis an early and important lover of Vita’s.

The painting dead center depicting a naked man astride what I suspect is a lion or leopard – not a horse as I originally assumed – is an exasperating mystery that I was not able to identify. It seems an incongruous image to be dominating the private domain of a woman lover of women. But that’s probably my own frustration not knowing why this powerful image is here and what it signifies. Perhaps nothing more than a sensual reference to the strength of man and beast, domination of the rider who mounts the creature and the thrust of his spear impaling a mysterious foe.   

Photo by Iory Allison 

Here is another corner of Vita’s writing room. Perched conspicuously on a book ladder is the famous Gladstone bag that Nigel Nicholson, Vita’s younger son and executor, found in her tower room after her death. The Bag contained the manuscript account of her passionate romance and elopement with Violet Trefusis to Paris in 1920 and forms the central material of Nigel’s book, “Portrait of a Marriage.”    

Original “Hogarth” printing press, photo by Iory Allison  

As Vita’s tower is the center of Sissinghurst so also is this printing press the center of the of the literary history of the place. It now enjoys a place of honor on the second floor of the tower. In 1930 Virginia and Leonard Wolf gave it to Vita and Harold as a house warming present to commemorate their purchase of Sissinghurst. This Minerva Platen printing press is the actual press on which the Wolfs began their publishing career. In the beginning they  hand set and printed a remarkable collection of modernist writers including; T S Eliot’s, “The Waste Land,” Vita’s best-selling novel, “The Edwardians,” Virginia’s novel, “Jacob’s Room,” Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin” and translations of Sigmund Freud to name a few of the 527 titles that compiled the Hogarth Press list  published from 1917 until 1946, the period when the Wolfs were involved in the company.   


Photo by Iory Allison 

The National Trust continues the tradition of bouquets of fresh flowers picked from the Sissinghurst gardens and informally arranged and displayed inside the various buildings. Here is cheery bunch of dahlias in a deep blue glass vase, the sole decoration perched on an old worn table in one of the white washed tower rooms.  

Here is an absolutely charming photo of Vita with her two boys, Benedict and Nigel. Notice that they all have a family resemblance, a distant and wistful expression that hints at private repose like the depths of a mysterious pool only glimpsed beyond surface reflections.   

Photo by Iory Allison 

There are approximately 12 distinctly different “garden rooms” composing the overall design at Sissinghurst. In my photograph, taken from the roof deck of the central tower, I particularly like the semicircular brick wall to the right. It echoes the central feature of the yew hedge (at the far left) and also just because I like curved shapes. From this viewpoint you can see the surrounding country side of Sissinghurst farm with its open pastures surrounded by the Kent weald, or forest.  

Photo by Iory Allison  

This is a closer view of the curved wall that acts like a theatrical backdrop and focal point for a garden bench. From that vantage point one can survey an overabundance of roses encroaching on the regimented grid of flower beds.     

Photo by Iory Allison  

The severely clipped yew hedges forming this central “room” contains a unique space void of flowers, sculptures or other distractions. The imposition of this undecorated geometry is the “rest” or quiet moment in the music that makes the cacophony of exuberant flowers fall into complete harmony.    

In an old photo we see Vita and Harold posing in their garden. Like the ancient brick walls and worn textured doors, the garden bones, they show the signs of age that are the hallmarks of quality. Following that analogy, if the carefully preserved castle ruins are the bones of Sissinghurst and the plants are the flesh on those bones then these two unlikely lovers are the life’s blood of the place

photo by Iory Allison

Scarlet dahlias enliven the autumn garden extending the palette of orangey-pink brick to a full range of fiery tones. To me this chorus of bright blossoms calls out with coloratura bravado, “We are beautiful, this is our time, take note!   

Photo by Iory Allison

As I research this lovely statue of Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruitful abundance, I was surprised to learn that it had been stolen in May of 2013. I cannot for the life of me find any mention of the return of it to  Sissinghurst and now I am more baffled as to the pristine condition of the sculpture. 

 When visiting the garden, I saw its gleaming white marble and assumed that it had been cleaned and I wondered at that because the obvious aesthetic of everything else was of texture and patina. But I know that contemporary art historians have a tendency to scrub everything down to a sterile shine, so I assumed that was the case here and with due respect she does now sparkle with a twinkle in her eye. But I wonder, was a reproduction sculpture created to fill the forlorn absence of Pomona.  

As I admired this divine dancer holding ringing cymbals vibrating with the harmony of abundant life, I thought how appropriate for this alluring Goddess to be a focal point in Vita’s garden. I was further delighted to speak with the gardener assiduously keeping Pomona’s exuberance in order.    

photo by Iory  Allison

I’ll go out on a limb here and identify this gaggle of pink beauties as Naked Ladies or Amaryllis Belladonna. Whatever the accurate name “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” and so do these little darlings, the last glory of the season.  

to see more amazing photos click here

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Provincetown Carnival 2018

Provincetown celebrated 40 years of Carnival celebrations this last Thursday on August 16th. The 2018 theme was “Mardi Gras by the Sea.” The clang and clatter of this colossal Brouhaha shook the shifting sands surrounding the tiny town sending shockwaves that could be felt all the way to the Bourne Bridge which was reported to have swung ever so slightly as a tsunami wave of unleashed frivolity passed through the ether!
I love a parade, especially when an even balance between High Drag and iron pumped muscle is on view with a piquancy of the tastefully salacious. The term, “dressed to kill” comes to mind and some of the revelers rollicking down the roadway certainly set the joint on fire which was appropriate to a sultry afternoon in August.
The pairing of Mardi Gras with Provincetown is natural for a village long revered for its outsider status even if the luxury condominium crowd threaten to homogenize the witches brew that simmers in the cauldron of history there. I am here to tell ya that the waving dance of summer heat mirage, reflecting off the sands of Ptown, can singe the straight and narrow, reshaping an innocent bystander into a Cha Cha Mama of whatever sex or persuasion.

Taffy, Frankie and Todd, all decked out in the traditional colors of Mari Gras, yellow for power, purple for justice and green for faith. These meticulous couturier gowns are designed and created by Rodney Vanderwarker AKA “Frankie” with assistance from his husband Todd Paul. Some of the details include specially designed and printed fabrics, complete color coordination of fabrics, feathers, jewels and even nail polish. It took all winter to make these divine creations, right down to the night before the parade. I wiggled my way into their lair and snapped far too many photos chronicling their metamorphosis from OK Guys into Belles of the Ball. You will see  their magical transformations in my flicker slide show connected at the bottom of this post.


Two handsome Genies looking for their lamp to be rubbed the right way. So, make a wish and see what you get.

These ladies and their escort are all lined up and ensconced comfortably front row center on Commercial Street at the base of McMillian Wharf. I never get to chit chat much with the crowd so I can only speculate on the message intended by their costumes, but they look to me to be into Voodoo considering the skulls and magic mojos, etc. Whatever the intent, their vibe was festive and joyous and yes, a wee bit mischievous.

The couple on the left have a stunning allure, otherwise known as, Sizzling Hot. They towered above the crowd but had no attitude except love and delight. The fellows on the right have a menacing scowl but I’ll bet they’re real pussy cats at heart.

Now, it’s not every day you come across their Imperial Majesties Josie and Nappy but when present, they lend an undisputed élan to the proceedings

I love this bunch a boys with their sexy androgyny. Ah the blush of youth!


Click Rodney’s kisser to see the whole show

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You may remember the first leg of our journey to three of the du Pont estates, in and around Wilmington, started with Longwood gardens. All three of these spectacular estates incorporate extensive gardens and that was the major inspirational motive for T2H2, The Two Happy Husbands Leo and Iory, to traipse off on the North Eastern Regional Amtrak and see for ourselves the wonders of “America’s garden capital.” Come with me and meander the paradise byways of Winterthur a gift to the people and an expression of all that is great about the USA.

Photo by Iory Allison

Winterthur is one of the great du Pont estates of Wilmington, Delaware. This is a view of the Museum that evolved from the original home built in 1839. Over generations a number of renovations beginning in 1880’s continued with major additions throughout the 1920’s and 30’s. These alterations to the house eventually grew to a grand total of 175 rooms. The entire collection is devoted to historic American architectural interiors filled with exquisite American antique furnishings and decorative arts.  In my photo we see the original entrance façade radically transforming the porte cochere into a glass enclosed conservatory.  

Photo by Iory Allison

Henry Francis du Pont developed a life long passion for collecting and displaying his vast collection of American antiques in “historic” room settings that he fashioned from authentic architectural interiors and carefully researched fabrications. In this way he created appropriate settings for the enjoyment of his family and friends, eventually opening the home as a museum to the general public and scholars in 1951. Mr. du Pont was a fanatic for elaborate table settings appropriate to the lavish entertaining of his era.  His other abiding interest was for flowers and gardens and here we see a magnificent display of pink tulips grown on the estate, picked and arranged the morning of our visit. 


Photo by Iory Allison

The Chinese Parlor enjoys a historic wallpaper made in China in the 18th century. The card table in the foreground is set up for Bridge (a favorite game of Henry Francis and his family.) Completing the lived-in look are full cocktail glasses and cigarettes in the ashtrays. In addition to these “homey” touches the room is awash with lovely bouquets of flowers fresh from the greenhouses.

Photo by Iory Allison

And here is the interior of the conservatory we saw in the first photo. The seasonal flower display is being protected by an enormous wooden sculpture of an eagle with wings spread wide (my estimate, about eight feet.)

Photo by Iory Allison

The ever-charming Mr. Leo posing for me in one of the seasonal garden follies that are now decorating the landscape of Winterthur estate until January 5, 2020. This particular neo-classical temple folly is a handsome construction with attractive colors that seem made especially for my hubbie’s costume. 


Photo by Iory Allison

Henry Francis du Pont created extensive gardens all planted in a “natural” style. The Azalea Woods is comprised of eight acres beneath a lofty canopy of trees interspersed with flowering dogwoods. The meandering paths delve into the quiet corners of this charming woodlands.

Photo by Iory Allison

Beneath the towering trees, a carpet of Spanish Bluebells and numerous wildflowers spread out as if preparing for the celebration of a Fairy wedding!

Photo by Iory Allison

And here is where some of those magical spirits live in the Enchanted Woods, a special garden of magic and whimsey.

Photo by Iory Allison

At the edge of Azalea Woods lush green lawns open out with drifts of pink azaleas enticing us to follow along and enter the cool shadows of the Pinetum where a variety of conifers hold majestic place in the undulating landscape – seemingly combing the cloud mountains searching for life giving rain.


Photo by Iory Allison

This is my favorite “folly,” The Ottoman Tent. In the cool protected shade overlooking the calm waters of an idyllic pond I can feel the presence of Suleman Pasha listening to a rambling tune played on a stringed Oud as he idly nibbles sweet dates and sips rose petal tea.


Click the dancing putti and let them take you on a walk through Winterthur

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Longwood Gardens

T2H2 trundled off to Wilmington, Delaware the first week of May to visit three of the great duPont gardens, Longwood, Winterthur and Nemours. Once there, we discovered – as one brochure describes it, “The Brandywine Valley is America’s Garden Capital” I would concur and one up that bravado by declaring the whole area, including the city of Wilmington, is a big slice of heaven.


NC Wyeth, “The Medicine Ship” Scribner’s Magazine illustration 1915, Delaware Museum of Art, Wilmington,  photo by Iory Allison. I know this jolly bunch doesn’t have a hell of a lot to do with my narrative but the general atmosphere plucks my heart strings and what a harp is being played here!

If you have been following the wandering exploits of T2H2 (The Two Happy Husbands, Iory and Leo) you will know that we’ve been dashing around the globe and having one oo-la-la experience after another. But truth in disclosure, the world that I present to you in the Glamour Galore Blog is heavily edited and enhanced, mostly by erasing the hordes of humanity who are charging off in the same direction as our humble selves. The result of all this jostling to get a peak at Mona at the Louvre or Michelangelo’s hefty Sibyls hanging off the Sistine ceiling, is more or less an uncomfortable group hug rather than an exalted experience of divine splendor. Taking this conundrum into account, we’ve been rethinking directions and destinations – not to mention destiny but that is anyone’s guess so let’s not go there. Where we do want to go is some place more convenient not involving interminable security lines, pat downs or shake downs. All of that hoopla leads to being packed into a tin can that only after a life time of delays on the tarmac of this or that airport will haltingly hurl us, at the speed of light, into the ionosphere. In a word, “UGH!” And it doesn’t matter what you pay, class distinctions won’t exclude you from being squeezed into a puny space that any self-respecting sardine would never put up with without protestations of extreme umbrage!

With all of this in mind we have cast our wander-lusting gaze to ports of call closer to home and more to our liking. Gardens loom large in our hearts and minds, especially my husband Leo’s garden. If you haven’t visited his patch of bliss in the Fenway Victory Gardens, Boston – put down that PB&J you are munching and dash over. You’ll find him at A-1, right by the Richardson stone bridge over the Muddy River.  Right now, he has a voluptuous multi-petal pink rose in full bloom that is reminiscent of the blush on an angel’s cheek. And if angel’s cheeks are not your usual experience in life then hop the next train to Wilmington, as we did, and high tail it over to Longwood Gardens where you can glimpse something like my picture below. Whenever you get there the gardens will be in spectacular bloom.


Sunken garden, Longwood gardens, photo by Iory

So, this is where we ended up, but how did we get there? Amtrak’s North East Reginal took us from South Station, Boston to down town Wilmington where we put up at the Double Tree Hotel. What the Double lacks in prestige it more than recompensed by accommodating us in a room that was almost as large as our apartment back home. Two Queen beds prevented any tossing or turning, sending us directly to dream-land as soon as heads hit the plethora of squishy pillows. I had reserved a rent-a-car when I made my arrangements and that too was as easy as pie (you gotta wonder for whom pie manufacture is easy…Enough Iory, get on with it!) Ok, alright already, now where was I, oh yeah…The car rental counters are right there at the very nice train station, and the car pick up is directly across the street. All three of our garden destinations were about a ½ hour drive from downtown Wilmington. The farthest away being Longwood, just over the Delaware border into Pennsylvania. 

Fountain Terrace, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory Allison

The big deal, as you may know, at Longwood is the Fountain Terrace, it has recently, summer of 2017, reopened after a two-year facelift that cost $90 million smakeroos! It’s wonderful what gunpowder and paint will buy (G & P, are sources of the duPont fortune.) The original aquatic   extravaganza was installed by Pierre S. duPont in 1931 and then, as now, the evening displays incorporate light shows of illuminated water in rainbow colors. I read in my research, pyrotechnics too, jets of fire are apparently incorporated in the show – now that’s one oo-la-la spectacle I would definitely go back for.

We visited bright and early on a sparkling weekday morning and were delighted to witness the crisp formality of the terraced water garden, very reminiscent of the Orangery Terrace at Versailles. However, even better than the extravagances of the various Louis back in the old country, Longwood’s fountains dance and weave to music in a stunning ejaculation of show stopping magnificence with some of the 1,719 jets reaching a fantastic erection of 175 feet rocketing in the air! Needless to say, this goes way beyond a mere oo-la-la experience, this is Grand Opera in water and if I’m not mistaken I believe some of the musical accompaniments are just that, grand opera arias.

Conservatory interior, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory Allison

On a quieter, but no less extravagant, note the Conservatory halls stretch in various distant directions on a scale of grandeur that literally takes your breath away. Then, when the initial shock wave of surprise and delight calms, one takes a deep breath saturated by an intoxicating array of floral perfumes that are guaranteed to knock your socks off. In that state of undress and drunken glee the impact of color, texture and seemingly infinite flower forms wash over your senses cleansing away the detritus and grime from the mundane world, rejuvenating one’s spirit to a place of serene peace.

Flower Walk, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory Allison

Outside, along the Flower Walk all abloom with the glories of Spring, I came across the three graces who were all dolled up, determined not to be out done by the fantastic display of white foxgloves punctuating deep beds of tulips, purple globe alliums and clusters of chiming blue bells.

Flower Walk, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory

And speaking of Foxgloves, the heavy abundance of the Goddess makes these beauties dance with shear delight and regal pride!

Flower Walk, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory Allison

And talk about tulips, but no, our voices are completely drowned out by the thundering chorus of chromatic crescendo and contrapuntal rhythms of hue that are the gardeners coloratura design and conceit, Brava, Bellissima!  

Conservatory flowers, Longwood Gardens, photo by Iory Allison

Here is a mini-mountain of extravagance that shouts aloud, “You are my slave!” I eagerly surrendered myself to her irresistible seduction and cry, “Yes, let me plunge into your depths!”

And so, you too can eschew the shackles of ordinary life, dive into my place of Glamour where spells are cast and dreams come true.

Click the urn to indulge in an intoxicating world of astounding beauty at Longwood Gardens

In the weeks to come we will visit Winterthur and then Nemours

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Malaga 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“Fifth Stop Malaga, All Aboard!”

Malaga was a big surprise to me. Leo was intrigued by the city having heard good reports from his parents because of its picturesque location on the Mediterranean surrounded by mountains. The Guadalhorce River that runs through the city divides the Sierra de Mijas mountain range which we see here to the west of the city and the Montes de Málaga to the east. This photo is taken from the summit of mount Gibralfaro where we were staying at Parador de Málaga overlooking the city and its busy port.

This is one wing of Parador de Málaga and our room was at the far left high above the city with the incandescent Mediterranean Sea stretching out beyond the horizon. The Parador hotel chain is the Spanish national system of elegant hostelries scattered across the country designed to promote tourism. All of the Paradors enjoy spectacular locations in historic and or traditional style buildings. Parador de Málaga is nestled into the surrounding pine forest of Mount Gibralfaro and has easy accesses to a system of pedestrian  paths meandering  through the trees and down to the city with charming views of the surrounding landscape and sea.  Directly above the Parador is the Castillo de Gibralfaro originally part of a Phoenician lighthouse.


This is one of the two balconies illuminating our room framed by a tangle of red and purple bougainvillea with orange trumpet vines both in perpetual blossom enlivening the Gibralfaro woods surrounding the Parador

This is a view from our principal balcony overlooking the seaside neighborhood of Plaza de Toros enthusiastically squeezed by modern apartment towers. You can see the shimmering Mediterranean where a cruise ship sails out on its nervous progress to the next port of call.


It is an easy walk from our hotel up to Castillo de Gibralfaro and we enjoyed exploring the picturesque ramparts with their distinctive pyramidal points atop the merlons of the outer walls. The Castillo crowns Mount Gibralfaro giving views in all directions. Here we are looking inland across the city and all the way out towards the Sierra de Mijas Mountains in the distance. 

The castle was built in 929AD by Abd-al-Rahman III, Caliph of Córdoba, on a former Phoenician enclosure and lighthouse, from which its name was derived – gebel-faro (Arabic and Greek, meaning rock of the lighthouse). Yusef 1, Sultan of Granada, enlarged it at the beginning of the 14th century, also adding the double wall down to the Alcazaba.

The castle is famous for suffering a three-month siege by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, which ended only when hunger forced the Malagueños to surrender. Afterwards Ferdinand occupied the site, while his queen took up residence in the town. It was in use as a gunpowder arsenal and military base by the Spanish government until 1925.

One of the permanent residents of Castillo de Gibralfaro, a red squirrel, gracefully leaps over the ramparts on his way home in the towering Cypress standing guard within the ancient fortress.


A studious young visitor to El Castillo consults his map guide, making sure he and his family have not missed any of the exciting sights.

The most important monument of Malaga is the cathedral seen here from the El Castillo de Gibralfaro affectionately nicknamed “La Manquita,” loosely interpreted as “one-armed woman” because only one of its intended two towers was completed.

Quite frankly after trudging around Spain for the better part of three weeks and then landing in the incredibly comfortable and luxurious Parador de Malaga I was hesitant to leave the confines of our hotel. Especially after exploring the Castillo directly next door and enjoying a delightful luncheon at La Terrazita Café comfortably positioned within the Castillo gardens with great views out onto the Mediterranean. I thought I might as well take advantage of the huge bathtub of our room and plunge into the steamy perfumed suds of a bubble bath, hey, our suite was overflowing with all these cool and groovy bathroom amenities, so why not dive in?

However, the next day after an absolutely lux breakfast buffet on the second floor balcony of the formal dining room, yes this is the view from that perch, we decided that we could gather our energies and trundle on down to town on the winding pedestrian path that would take us to the town hall surrounded by gardens that you can see above. 

Along the very pleasant winding path to Malaga center we paused at a mirador where this handsome guitarist was playing selections from Enrique Granados’ “Goyescas,” Los Majos Enamorados one of my favorite pieces of quintessentially Andalusian music.

I am so glad we mustered up the energy for this walk into town because every step was a miracle of tumbling gardens with every imaginable variety of flower tree and vine, many in bloom and all beautiful.

As we approached the rose garden and orangery surrounding the city hall at the bottom of the hill, we came across neighbors walking their dogs and exchanging gossip with animated gestures while the canine contingent patiently awaited their respective masters to pipe down and get on with it. I like the guy’s coat that ingeniously reveals a light gray tweed pattern drifting like a cloud from the background of what looks to me like the soft black cashmere wool. Can I say that the effect echoes his beard and cropped hair?

  Peeking out from lush foliage of Mount Gibralfaro gardens tumbling down the hill side we glimpse Malaga’s stately town hall.


Here we see a view of the The Alcazaba peeking out from the surrounding woods of Mount Gibralfaro as seen from the rose garden at the bottom of the hill. The Alcazaba is a palatial fortification of Málaga originally built by the Hammudid Moorish dynasty in the early 11th century and it was respectively built on the ruins of earlier Phoenician and then Roman fortifications that extend all the way up to the summit and Castillo de Gibralfaro.

 Give Leo a bunch of flowers and he will equal their beauty with the brilliance of his smile. Can you see that he is sporting his cap from the Fenway Garden Society of Boston where he has tenderly cultivated his little piece of paradise for the last 28 years? This particularly vibrant bougainvillea vine has been pruned to blossom in a dense cluster of flowers

Punctuating a traffic round-about at the head of the rose garden by the town hall, this enormous fountain with its surrounding park full of impressive trees creates a pleasant relief to modern Malaga apartment towers crowding the Plaza de Toros neighborhood.

At the center of the rose garden is a lily pool and these tiled wall murals which are actually the backs of built in benches that face the rose beds. This mural includes flora and fauna with a towering cactus at the midpoint and a flutter of colorful butterflies hovering about a scattering of flowers.

“El Biznaguero” is a bronze sculpture by Jaime Fernández  Pimentel (1963) which enjoys pride of place at the center of the Pedro Luis Alonso Gardens next to Malaga town hall. Here we see the tops of orange trees softening the grandeur of the domed towers.

El Biznaguero is a street vendor who sells Biznagas, a traditional bouquet of fragrant jasmine blossoms woven into the dried flower heads of ammi visnaga a kind of wild carrot which I would call Queen Ann’s Lace. These arrangements have become a symbol of Málaga so much so that even the Málaga Spanish Film Festival awards a silver or gold plated Biznagas to the winners.  

I spied this ultra-cute wall mural inside the vestibule of a nineteenth century apartment house in the old city of Malaga

Approaching Málaga Cathedral from the north façade we can see one of the two distinctive towers of the north transept standing to each side of  Puerta de las Cadenas or door of the chains (see lower middle photo, column with chain) this demarks the place of asylum for those individuals seeking protection of the church against civil law. It also serves as the entrance to the transept of the Cathedral.

Beyond this is the one completed monumental bell tower of the west front or main ceremonial entrance to the Cathedral.

The interior of Malaga Cathedral built over two and a half centuries 1528 – 1782 and has a soaring multi-domed ceiling upheld by clusters of Corinthian columns extended by supports holding aloft the beautiful vaults decorated with scallop shells in the corners.

More of the remarkable vaults of Málaga Cathedral surrounded by stained glass windows

If you know me, you’ll probably know that I am a sucker for trumpeting angels and crystal chandeliers.

The choir of Malaga Cathedral (1633-1660) is a great Baroque wonder, carved from Mahogany, cedar and red granadilla woods all from the new world. The animated character of each sculpture pulses with life and exalted emotion depicting, apostles, saints and martyrs and doctors of the church. 

Soaring over the choir stalls are two organs in architectural cases that reach to the limits of the vaulted ceiling.

Before we leave Málaga let’s let Baby Pip-Squeak get the last word, “Green is more than a color, it’s is a philosophy!” And boy ain’t that the truth. I caught B.P.S. in the Málaga Botanical Garden where she was spreading the good news. Rock on Squeak!! 

To see more of Malaga click here


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Sevilla 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“Fourth Stop Sevilla, All Aboard!”

I know, I know you’ve already seen the handsome visage of Sr. Romero, but really, how can I resist this cute pose of my Little Darling? We were checking into The Casa Imperial Hotel in Sevilla and I caught him ready to roll and see that wonderful city literally pulsing with tempting delights. But first a few pictures of our hotel which was a humdinger and once again deserving of the, “Ay Caramba!” exclamation.

The main staircase of Casa Imperial is tiled with a cheerful array of colorful patterns on the steps and running up the walls with figurative panels inset at the middle landing. These designs are typical of the Mudejar style mixing the Moorish and Christian influences that blended after the reconquest of Spain. The early history of Casa Imperial is not documented but structural evidence places the construction date about the mid-17th century, somewhere around 1650.

The four patios that meander back from the surprisingly narrow entrance façade are divided by “screens” of marble pillars and enticing hallways leading to the next open space where delicate fountains fill the quiet with the calming trickle of water. Each courtyard patio has two levels surrounded by suites of rooms that open onto the central spaces. The gardens are filled with neatly trimmed fruit trees and potted flowers. Along the covered walkways surrounding the gardens comfortable seating furniture is grouped and interspersed with antique wooden chests that hold the household linens used in the guestrooms.

On the second floor of the middle patio cloister, a mysterious hallway leads to a narrow set of steps guarded by ancient wrought iron banisters with fancy grillwork. From this passage you can ascend to the roofs of Casa Imperial from whence you can see the surrounding church steeples and roofs of the town.

Sevilla is a city of sumptuous surprises in the form of palace museums. Here we are at the front gate of, “Palacio de las Dueñas” The palace name derives from the monastery of Santa María de las Dueñas, which in 1248 sheltered the nuns and servants of Alfonso X. Today it is the Sevillano residence of the 19th Duque de Alba and before him its most memorable Dueña was his mother the celebrated Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, 18th Duchess of Alba who was the most titled aristocrat of Spain, Europe and the world in her era (1926-2014) and one of the country’s richest individuals.

In the Duchess’s later life she became infamous for her two marriages to younger men, first to a defrocked Jesuit priest who had been her confessor and then after his death to a businessman 24 years her junior. As a result of excessive plastic surgery she presented an alarmingly messed up visage that one would not want to meet inadvertently all upon an afternoon. Despite this loss of face the old broad was beloved by the populace who would call out, “Ole!” in response to her trembling Flamenco dance maneuvers of later years.

In a corner of the main courtyard of Las Dueñas this handsome marble statue of Bacchus is brilliantly lit by the afternoon sun that also casts a clear shadow of a hanging lantern and crenulated arch.

The main courtyard of Las Dueñas is planted with beautiful roses beneath palm and ficus trees with a tiled fountain sounding a trickle of water from a marble bowl.

This is one of a pair of  antique Mudéjar courtyard doors that protects the carved stucco and tiled arch leading to the “Hall of the Gipsy.”


This is the “gypsy” dancer the room is named for. Here we see, “Pinrelitos” a bronze statue by Mariano Benlliure, 1909, of a young “Bailaora” or flamenco dancer from Cádiz. Pinrelitos looks a lot more cheery than most flamenco dancers I have seen who tend toward the impassioned heart rending agony of emotional turmoil that a gypsy “outsider” can express with authenticity- free of the restraints of propriety.

I have read that Mariano Benlliure was a friend to Duchess Cayetana’s father. I do not know when this statue came to be in the collections of Palacio de las Dueñas or who purchased it.  I suspect that several other sculptures of the palace that caught my eye are also by Benlliure because of their mischievous and dynamic revelry. In all of these sculptures there is an iconoclastic “twinkle in the eye” of the bon vivant that reflected or perhaps inspired the character of Duchess Cayetana who was an avid fan of flamenco dancing and bull fights. This is the quality that endeared her to the public as when on the occasion of her third wedding when she was 85 she slipped through the front gates of Las Dueñas where the ceremony took place and entertained the crowd with a brief impromptu flourish of Flamenco dance. Putting aside her venerable age and exalted title of Spanish Grandee, the most daring part of this performance was her completely ravaged face distorted by excessive plastic surgery. But judging by the warm applause of the assembled audience on the street, apparently what everyone saw was the indomitable spirit of a woman way beyond the restrictions of Spanish formality, so phooey on you Philip II and all your dour decorum.

And here is a daring little darling held high on a marble pillar gracing the cloister of the main patio. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that it is also by Mariano Benlliure who included various rascally babies in his oeuvre. More to my point, here I feel the palpable presence of Duchess Cayetana permeating Las Dueñas as expressed in this brazen baby tripping the light fantastic and having a dammed good time in the process!

This is a corner of the library of Las Dueñas with comfortable seating furniture and book cases stuffed with a collection of volumes both antique and contemporary. The palace is very much a lived in home with collections of bibelots decorating all available surfaces, some precious and some simply charming.

This is an intimate view of the private chapel of Las Dueñas. The walls are half covered with Mudejar tiles of lush colors incorporating the coppery iridescent glaze that adds depth to the overall impression.

On a table protected beneath the cloister surrounding the main patio these two sculptures reference both bull fights and Flamenco dancing, two of Duchess Cayetana’s great enthusiasms. The jacket of the Maja on the left is recognizable as a matador’s chaquetilla or short jacket and along with her cap tilted at a rakish angle she presents the saucy attitude of a gypsy dancer with her tambourine and rose pinned to her breast.

Leaving Las Dueñas, we wandered the streets of Sevilla and came across an area of fashionable shops displaying glamourous wedding gowns. Here we see a supremely chic evening ensemble with a variation of the matador’s chaquetilla as an evening jacket, proof of the abiding fascination for Traje de Luces (suit of lights) referring to the sparkling “bling” created by the reflective sequins and gold braid of the traditional matador’s costume.

A little further on, at 8 Cuna Street we came across Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija, a gem of Mudejar Renaissance revival style embellishing an original 16th century palace. Doña Regla Manjón y Margelina, Condessa de Lebrija bought the palace in 1901 three years after the death of her husband and spent 13 years renovating and installing her collections of archeological and architectural artifacts including a large display of ancient Roman floor mosaics which were primarily from the ruins of Italica an ancient Roman town near Sevilla. Condesa Lebrija collected many other ancient artifacts from Rome, Greece, Persia and China that are displayed in handsome cases around the rooms and hallways of the first floor of the Palace.

Doña Regla Manjón was granted the title of Countess of Lebrija in 1912 in recognition of her abundant cultural and charitable work. She was a scholarly person who loved and collected books all her life. She and her husband Federico Sánchez Bedoya, who had been the mayor of Sevilla, amassed a considerable library of over 6,000 volumes including the historical archives of their respective families which The Condesa accommodated in an impressive library at Palacio Lebrija. In 1931, when the Condesa was suffering from failing eyesight she donated the major part of her library to the University of Seville. She and her husband also collected fine and decorative art and those collections are displayed in the sumptuous second floor private apartments also open to the public by guided tour.

I think that it is a telling detail speaking volumes about Condesa de Lebrija that she decorated the front entrance of her palace with an ensemble of tiles that incorporate vignettes of women as artists practicing the fine arts and letters. Above we see an attractive and apparently competent young woman practicing the fine art of “La Escultura” or sculpture. In the four spandrels of the two arches in the vestibule one can see, sculpture, painting, music, poetry. These women are definitely not muses of the arts inspiring male artists but rather they are the artists themselves practicing the noble arts. It is my supposition that Condesa de Lebrija who was an educated and creative person in her own right intended to send a message of her pride in the valuable contribution of women to the cultured world.

This is the mosaic floor of the central patio of Palacio de Lebrija. It was created in the 3rd century BC and is from the ruins of Italica an ancient Roman town near Sevilla. The god Pan is at the center with pictures of the various amorous exploits of Zeus surrounding. It was found in an olive grove close to the Italica forum and reassembled at the Palacio in 1914.

This is a corner of the main patio of Palacio de Lebrija. The elaborate Mudejar carved stucco work decorating the arches is characteristic of Andalusian Spain and provides endless material for close examination to trace the elaborate designs. The equally complex geometric patterns and sumptuous colors of the tiled wainscoting provide lively color to the overall design scheme. An unusual ingredient in the collection are the terracotta wellheads scattered about the periphery of the patio, each one has a unique wrought iron stand.  

Here we see a corner of the main patio showing one of the fanciful doors that contrasts dramatically against a festival of textures, patterns and colors. The detailing on the custom made display cabinets complement and enhance the collections within. I especially appreciated the fragment of a diagonally fluted pillar sitting on top of the cabinet. This is an example of the thoughtful arrangement of the art and artifacts in the Palacio de Lebrija. Even though each component part enjoys its own complexity of design the individual pieces are arranged to exhibit their own importance and intrinsic beauty.

The landing of the grand staircase is lavishly decorated with tiles rescued from a 16th century ruined convent. The proportions of the staircase are immense and also includes a carved renaissance frieze with portrait busts and above that a soaring antique ceiling in Mudejar style. These important architectural elements were from other palaces and incorporated into the Lebrija by La Condesa.


Here is a marble bust of La Condesa de Lebrija with a lineup of antique dignitaries gracing an adjacent cabinet keeping her company. Would it be irreverent for me to say that she reminds me of Gertrude Stein? In my defense they were both imposing women collectors at more or less the same time although of vastly different tastes and interests in art.  

La Condesa de Lebrija as a younger woman in the costume of Cleopatra at a fancy dress ball. Now, my regular readers know that I am a sucker for fanciful pageantry and this portrait is a wonderful example of what to wear at a grand bash. Right on Condesa!

To see more of Sevilla click here

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March For Our Lives Boston 2018

“If I Die In A School Shooting, Lay My Body On The Steps Of Capitol Hill.”

Cry of the students 

On March 24, 2018 I joined the March For Our Lives student protest march in Boston. The march was inspired by student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead. The Boston march was organized by local students and it began at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, wound its way through the neighborhoods and on to the Boston Common.  

This is the third march I’ve gone on since Trump and his nation-less cohorts muscled their way into power. Trump and of his gang of thugs, have already stolen over a trillion dollars with their “Tax Breaks” benefiting the oligarchs. Now they have the lame idea to arm teachers and bring the disease of violence, hate and paranoia deeper into our schools. This abhorrent idiocy was universally rejected by the crowd. My own idea is that there are no “good guys” with guns. Guns are made to kill people in order for the manufacturers and distributors to make money.

But the students of March For Our lives did not invite the adult population to join them on the podium except for a few trusted teachers. They organized, marched and spoke for themselves. I gladly honor their capabilities and invite them to speak through their presence and their signs in my photos that follow. The youth of our nation are the future of civilization and I pray that they, in the wisdom of idealism, will put the brakes on the death machine who only wants to steal all the money and set Mother Earth on fire to cover their tracks.  












A small gaggle of counter-protesters calling themselves “Resist Marxism” grumbled and growled at the crowd after infiltrating the march. I heard one of them screech incoherently about bloody tampons and one of their signs read, “suck my dick ” (see below)  Here they are surrounded by a circle of Boston bicycle cops who were in turn were surrounded by Veterans For Peace. As soon as the Students started their speeches this motley bunch, seething with hate, started shouting trying to disrupt the rally with megaphones and yelling. As a result, the police swiftly escorted them off the Common.

Counter-protesters hiding behind mangled versions of the Second Amendment.

Counter-protesters hiding behind masks, afraid that they will be exposed for who they are

Looking into the eyes of a poisonous snake

Any idiot can destroy and kill. It takes intelligence and the great effort of cooperation to give birth and create!

 Click here to see more photos of the March For Our Lives


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Cordoba 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“Third Stop Cordoba, All Aboard!”

Puerta de San José, one of the nine doors in the eastern wall of the Mezquita Cathedral of Córdoba

This vast structure was begun as a mosque in 784 by Abd al-Rahman, first Emir of Córdoba and underwent four major expansions until 987 when it reached its present outward dimension.

Today the Mosque Cathedral has been extensively cleaned, restored and maintained and Puerta de San José, as seen above, is a fine example of the meticulous work being done. In the bay to the left you can see how the mark of time has deteriorated the original façade.

In 1236, King Ferdinand III of Castille reconquered Córdoba and converted the Mosque to a Roman Catholic Cathedral. In 1523 the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was constructed in the center of the old Mosque. The cathedral was in continuous construction well into the eighteenth century.

Torre del Alminar stands 305 feet high and is the bell tower of the Mosque Cathedral of Córdoba. It is in the same position and replaces the original minaret of the mosque. Here we are looking from the cloister of the eastern wall surrounding the Patio of Ablutions where the Muslin faithful cleansed themselves before entering the mosque for prayer. This is now referred to as the Patio de los Naranjos named for the orchard of orange trees neatly planted in rows.

The original fountains of the Patio of Ablutions were supplied with water from wells dug into the then unpaved courtyard and from cisterns collecting rain water. These were later replaced by aqueducts bringing water from springs in the Sierra Mountains. Here we have the Fountain of the Olive and you can see behind the boy, gazing into the clear water, the silver-gray foliage of an Olive tree.

Patio de los Naranjos as seen from Torre del Alminar or bell tower. I was amazed by the good repair of the vast stretch of tiled roofs covering the cloister and original mosque of which you can only see a small section in the upper right of this photo.

While climbing up the interior stairs of the Alminar tower one can see these horse-shoe shaped arches supported by marble pillars which are remnants of the original minaret. In the foreground iridescent tiles cover a dome over the interior entryway of the Puerta del Perdón which is one of the main entrances to the Patio de los Naranjos.

One of the old bells in the Alminar tower

Inside the ancient mosque of Córdoba a forest of 850 pillars upholds the wooden ceiling. Some of these are reused from the original Roman temple on this sight and others were collected from the Visigothic ruins of Saint Vicente monastery that also stood here. Still other pillars were fabricated of granite, jasper, porphyry and marble for the original mosque and the several expansions over a period of 200 years. All the capitals are of different designs executed with highly refined craftsmanship.

These columns support a unique design said to have been invented here. The design consists of double arches with their distinctive poly-chrome masonry enabling the wooden ceilings to be an elegant 35 feet high.

A closer view of the famous double arches of the Mosque

Poetry in stone tinted by the light of stained glass windows

The most important arch of the Mosque marks the Mihrab, the empty niche that points toward Mecca where the faithful direct their prayers. The floral and vegetal decorations are created by tiny glass tiles backed with gold and colored pigments. They make an awe-inspiring effect of spiritual magnificence.  

This is the ceiling dome of the Macsura, located directly in front of the Mihrab. The Macsura is where the Caliph and his court prayed. It is also covered gold mosaic decorations flowing easily over the complex scallop shapes of the dome. In my photo I was thrilled to be able to capture the “ladders” of light penetrating the stained glass windows creating an ethereal effect.

Some cute kids on school tour horsing around when they caught me photographing them

Saint Juan of Avila despairing of respect from the kids on tour or is he just flummoxed by the task of writing “Audi, filia” an ecclesiastical treatise that took him 42 years. Either way, as a writer myself, I can identify with moments of weary perplexity.

In the center of Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Córdoba Cathedral) is this magnificent Choir, all carved from Antilles mahogany. It was conceived and created by Pedro Duque Cornejo y Roldán, the most prolific sculptor of the 18th century in Spain. Begun in 1748 he worked on it until his death in 1757 when his sons and select pupils completed the work in 1758. It seems like lightning speed to me considering it is composed of 109 stalls with a blowout Bishop’s Cathedra flanked by additional thrones on either side which you can glimpse behind the shining brass eagle pulpit.

Details of the lineup of choir stalls on one part of one half of the Choir of Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. The whole ensemble is of staggering complexity, superb artistry and wild extravagance, just my kind of thing!

Christ in glory, the point of it all. For me this depiction of the final evolution of Jesus is the important message of Christianity, revelation of the divine as radiantly beautiful.

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Toledo Spain 2017

T2H2 Visit Spain November 2017

“Second Stop Toledo, All Aboard!”

We arrived by train in Toledo to find this charming Neo-Mudejar station alive with color from the tall stained glass windows, surrounding tile walls and floor. This spectacular wall of Mashrabija screens (turned wooden spindle screens) backed with colored glass, was the original ticket counter of the station. I am a particular fan of the eclectic and revivalist styles used so effectively in the second half of the nineteenth century and into the first decades of the twentieth. This marvelous concoction was designed by Narciso Claveria de Palacios (don’t you love that name) and completed in 1919. It references the Mudejar style (a combination of Islamic and medieval Christian designs) that is present in all the ancient communities of Castille or Islamic Iberia of which Toledo was an important city in both epochs.

This is a view of Toledo Cathedral from the 4th floor terrace of our hotel, La Posada de Manolo  Do yourself a favor, drop the burger you’re munching, pack a bag and dash to Posada Manolo ASAP!  The hotel is nestled into the center of Toledo right beside the Cathedral and although compact and small it is also warm, cozy, and every inch is a masterpiece of textual grace with lots of custom wrought iron details that incorporate a variety of   dragons. The fourth floor breakfast room has this same view inside and out on the terrace and its proximity to the ancient masonry pinnacles and towers of the cathedral allows for close inspection of that church. In the opposite direction we could see a jumble of tiled roofs, all encrusted with lichens of surprisingly vivid colors. Beyond these I could see the rural and wild country side just beyond the Tagus River surrounding Toledo.

The bell tower of Toledo Cathedral is 301 feet tall and crowned by a triple tiara referencing the Papal crown. This tower is the great landmark of the city made ultimately famous by El Greco in his painting, “Vista de Toledo” (1596.)  The narrow streets of this perched city built on a steep rock formation rising precipitously from the surrounding Tagus River, makes the tower seem impossibly tall in its audacious reach for heaven.

Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo is considered to be the greatest achievement of the Gothic style in all of Spain. Begun in 1226 it was in process of construction until 1493 when the vaults of the central nave that we see here were completed. I am enamored of round architectural shapes in general and when they appear as windows I am particularly enthralled. The vast colored windows known as “Rose Windows” have a strong universal appeal because of their grace of form and explosion of color that refracts light into its constituent parts and thereby reveals the glory of the divine. 

So here they are, Mother and child, Mary and Jesus. They express such a tender love toward each other, especially Jesus’s gesture of his hand caressing the chin of Mary. His tender embrace has elements of mature reciprocation as if the child has presentment of the sorrow his mission must tragically encumber his mother with. To me, mother and child recognize each other over infinite incarnations and by this insight have deep sympathy for the inevitable imperfections each must embody in the quest for resolution in their tumultuous reach for spiritual evolution.

Some you may recognize this photograph as my Christmas card this year. I am deeply gratified to have been able to capture the meaningful alignments that are present in this image. The way Mary and Jesus stand out against the background of the surrounding cathedral has a surreal quality that “pops out” at you and this is fitting for a church that is dedicated to Mary. It is the Mother who brings us the possibility of innocence and the potential of life anew. She is the eternal source of nurture and care, swathed in the strength of generous abundance. She is sure of herself without arrogance knowing that death is the inevitable outcome of her travail. She knows herself to be a window into eternity.

Within a compositional concern, I see the organ pipes horizontally projecting from left to right one direction folding into the other and echoing this construction, in the tradition of contrapposto rhythm, Mary leans her hip to the right, supporting the seemingly easy weight of Jesus. Above them soars the fantastic ambition of the pointed arches of the nave that resolve their tension in the perfect halo of the rose window, embracing the divine pair in an aura of prismatic glory!

I am enormously fond of cloisters and when visiting San Juan de los Reyes, a royal monastery in Toledo originally intended to be the mausoleum for Ferdinand and Isabella. I heard whispered laments of vespers echoing from the shadows of time.

We came across this monastery quite by chance as we wandered the narrow medieval lanes of the city. It was an oasis of quiet in an otherwise tourist invaded world and I sank deep into the peace of the place. Because of its original intention to shelter Spain’s most important monarchs it enjoys a wealth of gothic embellishments that are profoundly beautiful.

Two tiers of cloisters surround the “Paradise Garden” at the heart of San Juan de los Reyes.

The extreme grace of the gothic tracery decorated by a wealth of verdant garlands that are alive with humans and animals both fantastic and real, animate the cloister with a royal celebration of this world and the next.

The picturesque streets of Toledo twist and turn, following the tortured history of Celts, Romans, Visigoths-the original Christians, Moors and then the reconquest by Alfonso VI of Castille on May 25th, 1085. This is, in some ways, only the beginning of the convoluted history of this important Spanish city.

On our way out of town, on a sparkling clear morning, we pause for photos with Toledo Cathedral and the Alcazar in the background.

Here’s looking atcha!

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