History

Holidays in the Holy Land…Israel and Jordan in Instagrams

Dome of the Rock Wailing Western Wall

This year we took the dream trip of a lifetime – visiting Israel and Jordan at the holidays. We gazed out at the sites sacred to three of the world’s great religions, from the golden Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third most holy site which happens to directly abut the Western Wall, all that remains of the destroyed Jewish Second Temple. On Christmas Eve we walked the Via Dolorosa to arrive at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just as the priests began their procession to the spot upon which it is believed (by the Catholics at least) that Jesus was crucified.

Church of the holy sepulcher

The Old City of Jerusalem was truly magical, both weighted by its incredible history and bustling and real with residents at the same time. The tightly knit Armenian Quarter yielded up a few treasures, like this massive crystal chandelier spied up a hidden staircase.

Armenian chandelier

Chandeliers were a highlight of this trip – maybe they always are for me and I just hadn’t realized pre-Instagram? Spied this massive Dale Chihuly, a sister to the one I saw at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London this summer, at the Aish HaTorah Center in the Jewish Quarter. From their rooftop I took the “money shot” photo that starts the post. The view was incredible.

Dale chihuly chandelier

In the Arab Quarter we saw this amazing graffiti on the walls around a residential door. It’s a celebration and advertisement that someone in the home had done the Hajj, meaning they had made their pilgrimage to Mecca. Before moving to Doha, I would not have known was it was, but now I do, as here people put out flags and decorations for the same reason.

Hajj return grafitti

We went to Bethlehem for the graffiti as well. Our friends that we travelled with have been following the career of graffiti artist Banksy who has numerous pieces up along the walls in Bethlehem, including this one called Armored Vest Peace Dove.

Banksy armored vest peace dove

But the real reason for going to Bethlehem was obviously the Church of the Nativity, although honestly it was so crowded I found it nowhere near as interesting as the Holy Sepulchre, except of course for the chandeliers…

Church of the holy nativity

… and not to get ahead of myself, but I must mention the amazing lavender Murano glass chandelier I found in the flea markets of Old Jaffa in Tel Aviv. But more about that in my next post.

lavender murano chandelier

We caught the Herod’s Tomb exhibition at the Israel Museum along with the Dead Sea Scrolls and a few other “old” things. Personally I was obsessed with his bathroom!

Herod's bathtub

Tiles and mosaics always grab me and this trip was no different. There were Roman and Byzantine bits to be found all over, some out in the open, protected only by sand. My girls loved playing archaeologist and sweeping to make discoveries. We also worked on a real dig one day and found pottery shards, bones and other detritus of the ancient Edomites.

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The old crusader fortress and UNESCO World Heritage City of Akko (Acre) was fascinating. It is one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the region and felt as impregnable as it looked. Napoleon lay siege to it for two unsuccessful months as did many other potential conquerors. It truly felt like we stepped back in history.

Akko

My favorite takeaway from Akko was these hexagon tiles in the old Turkish Hammam. I’d like to order some for a kitchen backsplash, wouldn’t you?

Tiles in Turkish bath hammam

We hiked up Masada on New Years Day after an extremely tame Eve.

Masada

Our outdoor activities continued into Jordan where we slept (froze!) in a bedouin camp one night in Wadi Rum. My camera wasn’t good enough to photograph the incredible stars and confetti of the Milky Way, but let me tell you I have never seen the likes of it. We awoke in the morning to a red desert and scenery that seemed as if it had been painted by Hollywood. We hiked, we climbed, our guide cooked us lunch from scratch over an open flame and basically we had the entire place to ourselves.

Wadi Rum

From Wadi Rum we went on to the pièce de résistance of the trip – Petra! We had lowered our expectations, thinking to find it crowded and full of hawkers and simply unable to live up to the spectacular emptiness of the previous day. Instead, it was full of surprises and majesty.

Treasury peek at Petra

Coming out from the narrow canyons to the sight of the Treasury was every bit as exciting as we had hoped.

Treasury at Petra

Even more amazing was the huge Monastery, reached after a long hike. The scale and the location left us speechless – be sure to notice how tiny the two people are in comparison to the structure. These two buildings are the highlights of Petra but everywhere you turned there was something to see.

The Monastery at Petra

We had passed all opportunities to take donkeys or horse carriages preferring to walk the whole way. But the youngest amongst us was determined to at least get a camel ride in. It was a pleasure to grant that wish.

Miss P on a camel

Of course the most pressing thing on my mind was where to buy one of those gorgeous camel blankets, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get that answer. Oh well, an excuse to go back!

For more photos from our trip and to keep up with my day to day finds, check out my Instagram feed. And from my family to yours, we wish you all health and happiness in 2014!

Daybed Deal…Travels of a French Iron Campaign Bed

french campaign bed

Since we were recently talking about daybeds I’d love to share one of my own family flea market stories. Years ago, my husband and I started the tradition of visiting Paris for his birthday very early on in our marriage. February was low season and you could always pick up a super cheap air ticket from New York. My motivation for going was yes, to celebrate his birthday, but really to head out to one of my absolute favorite places in the world - Les Puces de Saint-Ouen – the huge multi-shop market at Porte de Clignancourt commonly referred to as The Paris Flea Market. There really is no place to rival it in the world, and although it has become more expensive these days, there are still always treasures to be found. Definitely a bucket list destination for any antiques scavenger.

While I had bought small items in the past, I had never bought furniture there (something that has since changed dramatically) before that visit. Nor had my husband ever been with me – actually, he hadn’t been my husband prior. For some reason he knew that I loved campaign furniture, in particular the small folding iron beds of the mid 19th century and he spied a beautiful one in a cute stall. Our bed wasn’t particularly special, one of probably thousands of Napoleon III era iron beds that were made for officers to be able to live in comfort while on military campaigns. We asked the price and began negotiations. Now remember, we were newly married and fairly poor, so price was a big issue. Perhaps he wanted to show off his newly minted lawyerly skills, but he ended up negotiating for hours (or it least it seemed that way). In the end he got an amazing deal (and has never bargained for me since), but we almost had a last-minute snafu as the shipping agent was an expensive issue. So he actually managed to talk the dealer into packing it in a bicycle shipping box (oh the joys of collapsible traveling furniture) and inexpensively freighting it straight to JFK where we could just pick it up. As we left the stall, the dealer told me that I had “caught a good one!”

I don’t know if he had a premonition in that moment of two daughters or what, but the bed ended up being ideal for small spaces – New York and Tokyo bedrooms fitting that description. Personally, I’ve always imagined that when my daughter outgrew the bed (which so far she is not willing to give up), that I could use it for myself as a place to lounge, read, nap and dream. Since we bought our beach house, I’ve fantasized about having it outside on the porch, all comfy and inviting, like this…

porch with iron bed

…or this.

Kurgan iron daybed wicker porch CL0312pc Max Kim-Bee

Just imagine the joys of pillow options!

Myra Hoefer HB0606

But now that moving to Doha is on my horizon, I am thinking it might be a perfect piece for our garden there. It never rains, so the rust issue is avoided and hopefully we will have some sort of covered patio that we can hang out on.

iron daybed outside via little emma english rose

iton daybed outside via little emma english home

Amelia Handegan iron daybed on porch

Our shipment is going to be a tight fit in the container, so it’s a good thing that the bed frame folds up flat. I wonder if this bed will end up traversing the globe? Paris-New York-Tokyo-Doha and maybe back to New York some day…

Takamakura…A Geisha’s Hard Night Sleep

“…a young apprentice geisha must learn a new way of sleeping after her hair is styled for the first time. She doesn’t use an ordinary pillow any longer, but a taka-makura-which I’ve mentioned before. It’s not so much a pillow as a cradle for the base of the neck. Most are padded with a bag of wheat chaff, but still they’re not much better than putting your neck on a stone.”
Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

It doesn’t sound to me like a very comfortable way to pass the night, but sleeping on a takamakura (tall pillow) was instrumental in preserving the elaborate coiffures worn by geisha.

geisha taking nap on pillow

These days, they make wonderful decorative collectibles, like this one tucked against the books in the side table of a room previously featured in my Provenance column on kasuri over at Cloth & Kind.

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The base is made of lacquered wood that is gently curved, to allow for some rocking movement while in use. A silk or cotton-covered pillow, filled with buckwheat hulls or chaff, crowns it and provides some limited comfort. Dark or orangey-red lacquer is most common and sometimes the pillows are made from interesting textiles, like in this case, covered with asa-no-ha (hemp leaf) pattern. And if you are thinking Kelly Wearstler’s Katana, now you know where she got her inspiration!

takamakura

A similar takamakura rests on the top shelf of a very large collection in a Westchester, NY bedroom. As you can see, most of the geisha pillows are either red or black and the finer ones have detailing in the lacquer. This collection also boasts a few wooden examples as well as some blue & white porcelain ones.

LJ geisha pillows

While many of the lacquer and cloth takamakura date from the 19th century, most of the porcelain ones commonly found are early to mid 20th century. The porcelain ones seem even less comfortable to me, although some are designed with special comfort features, like these two. The top one has small porcelain squares strung together almost like a hammock that allow for movement. The one with the kanji marking on top can accommodate hot water and/or medicines in its hollow cavity and the gaps in the top of the pillow let the steam or aroma rise. I’ve actually seen takamakura with pharmacy labels or stamps.

blue white porcelain geisha pillow

Regardless of their functionality, they are supremely decorative and look great mixed with books in shelves or on their own…

blue white porcelain pillow display

…or combined with other porcelain pieces like these jubako here in a Tokyo entryway…

cate geisha pillows

…or here in a cubbyhole in a girl’s bedroom in San Francisco.

photo

She should be happy they rest on a shelf and that she does not rest on one of them!

N.B. You’ll notice repeats in these photos, but it is not a styling trick. All of these takamakura belong to different people, it’s just that many models were produced on a large-scale. Hand painted ones tend to be older and more individual than the inban, or transferware, versions.

Vintage geisha photo, most probably by T. Enami via Geisha Moments Facebook page.  Thanks to everyone else who provided photos for this post.

LuRu Home…Keeping the Folk Art of Chinese Nankeen Alive And a Giveaway!

With the development of economy and progress of industrialization, more and more machine-made cloth has been taking the place of calico, home-made and hand-imprinted and dyed in the country. Therefore, blue calico, as a work of folk art, has been gradually losing its practical value.

Indigo Textiles: Technique and History, Gosta Sandberg

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What do you see in this photo? Japanese yukata (cotton summer kimono) hanging on a line perhaps? It wouldn’t be an unreasonable guess based on the color and pattern, especially if you were just looking at the rolls of yukata fabric in Amy Katoh’s Blue & White store, like I was the other day. Hand-dying is a dying art everywhere, and we are lucky when people like Amy step up to help keep it alive.

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But the answer to my question above is actually not Japanese at all – it is Chinese nankeen, stencilled and dyed in an indigo bath. Originally, the word nankeen was used to indicate the very dense and unrefined hand-woven cotton fabric itself, but over time has come to be used interchangeably with its patterned and colored counterpart. Often referred to as blue calico, it was the main component of peasant clothing in China for centuries and in its plain form came to be an important export. A staple of British clothing from the late 18th century onwards, any Jane Austen fans among my readers will recognize it as a common fabric used for half boots worn for walking, as well as for mens breeches and pantaloons – the modern-day equivalent of chinos. Even its signature pale yellow color is often mentioned.

Nankeen_Trousersournal des Dames et des Modes, 1814

Ironically, while the upper classes in Europe were wearing nankeen, in China it was the fabric of the rice farmers, who used it for warm padded winter clothing. In Indigo Textiles: Technique and History, Gosta Sandberg writes “The jacket of the Chinese rice-farmer has been coloured with indigo since time immemorial. The reason for this is said to be that cloth dyed with indigo is many times stronger than undyed cloth and that it keeps insects and snakes at a distance, which is a considerable advantage for those working in open fields.” I don’t know if that is actually true, but it is consistent with work clothes in many cultures around the world, including our very own Levi’s.

Enter into our story – and there is nothing I like better than a good old-fashioned expat tale - Claire Russo and Liza Serratore, the founders and designers of LuRu Home, a new-ish textile based home design company working with modern versions of nankeen, based out of Shanghai. Selling pillows, napkins, place mats, tea towels and bags, all made from the custom hand dyed fabric in their versions of traditional Chinese patterns, it is good to see others taking up the banner of preservation, while innovating at the same time.

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Liza and Claire had been friends since high school and kept in touch, planning to go abroad for work in response to the poor economy in the United States. After a few twists and turns, both ended up in Shanghai. One day they came across bits of old blue and white Chinese fabrics that they found in a tiny shop at end of long alley way – one of those magical moments that if we are lucky, we stumble across a version of, sometime in our own lives. The store was jam-packed with textiles, many sun bleached around the edges, and they came home with a few individual meters, recent but vintage.  Their original impetus was to make things for their own apartment, and then for gifts, and from there the demand began to grow. They found they had passion for the fabric and as they investigated the printing process, a desire to rejuvenate the industry and bring patronage back to the artist.

Fabric Hanging in Yard

The technique for making nankeen is a rice paste stencil resist technique almost identical to that of Japanese katazome. Just like the two countries currently arguing over the Senkaku Islands, they also argue over whose technique it was first. Frankly, I think it truly originates elsewhere in Asia, but I am not about to enter the scrum.

 Antique Chinese nankeen…

Antique table cloth patchAntique Nankeen

Does it look familiar? Antique Japanese katazome.

katazome

Both techniques use a paste glue to cover the open patterned area of a stencil, keeping it from absorbing the dye. In Japanese these stencils are called katagami – and I have written about them as decorative devices as well as a functional ones before. The Chinese nankeen artists do all their screen cutting by hand using simple craft paper that has been oiled. I can’t help but hear their Japanese counterparts whispering in my ear “They just use plain craft paper?” and the Chinese reply being “Why do they bother glueing all those layers of washi paper together with persimmon extract? Boy, that is a laborious waste of time!” While the Japanese use rice paste, the Chinese use soybean and lime paste mixed with water.

Paper Screen : Paste on Fabric

The base cotton is no longer hand loomed, but it is still very size limited based on the traditionally sized dying vats. It is also quite difficult to work with screens beyond a certain length so the largest screen possible is 32 inches and the rolls of fabric are 12 meters long. This automatically insures that all LuRu Home’s pieces are small batch made and variations are part and parcel of the product, depending upon the whims of the dyer and even the weather for drying.

Nankeen dye dipping

The fabric is finished by using frosting-style knives to scrape away the paste after printing and then the fabric is put through a wash cycle with no soap and dried.

Scraping the paste post-dye

Their patterns have been inspired by historical patterns in An Overall Collection of China Blue Calico Vein Patterns compiled by Wu Yuan Xi, although not everything in the book is a traditional pattern (zebra anyone?). While Claire and Liza want to starting designing their own prints, the nankeen artisans will have none of it until the women build up more guanxi (relationship currency).

Wu Yuanxin 11cropWu Yuanxin 8crop

They have been extrapolating and changing the old prints and ironically that has helped them build guanxi as it shows their respect and appreciation for the process. A perfect example is the Flower pattern, which was too small and tight as it appeared originally. They enlarged the size and added white space to up its graphic punch. So for now, they are going to continue playing with tradition and plan to introduce a new pattern every season, which is twice a year, by adding one and pulling one, keeping 6-7 prints available at all times.

Flower Prints

Their gorgeous website shows all their products and they also have a lovely lookbook with great styled shots. This outdoor view, also shown above previously, is my favorite.

Table Setting 2

I’m dying for a few of the adorable tea towels, pun untended! They make great gifts too.

DSC_9252

So now for the fun part! Liza ad Claire have generously offered one 13 x 22 lumbar pillow (insert included!) in one of their four most popular patterns On The Fence, Babyteeth, Dot Dot Dot and Flower - the giveaway winner’s choice. All you need to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment below. If you like LuRu Home on Facebook, I will enter you in the giveaway a second time, doubling your chance to win. They can ship to the winner anywhere in the world as they have stock in both the USA and China. The giveaway closes Monday night at 12 EST. I am crushed, of course, that I can’t enter myself!

on the fence pillowbabyteeth pillow

dot dot dot pillowflower pillow

Their pillows look great styled with other indigo and blues, as seen here at Nicky Kehoe

luru at Nicky Kehoe

…as well as with an assortment of other colors, like here at Black & Spiro.

luru at Black & Spiro

Although record prices are being set for fine antique at auctions by wealthy Chinese looking to repatriate lost treasures, the locals LuRu works with are a bit bewildered by the women’s’ fascination with nankeen. Anything folk art based is undesirable these days in China. Louis Vuitton or (even Luois Vitton) is what is hot. But Claire and Liza have stiff competition from other buyers in procuring their fabric. From whom, you may ask? Can you guess?

The Japanese!

Image credits: All images credited to LuRu Home or the publications listed with the exception of #2 (me) and the 19th century fashion plates from Lady’s Repository Museum.

A Tohoku Tale for Girl’s Day

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In my recent post about jubako, I mentioned that there was quite a story to tell about the soft cloth dolls displayed next to the porcelain in the photo above. As the second anniversary of the Great Japan Earthquake approaches and this Sunday, March 3 is Hinamatsuri, Doll’s Festival or Girl’s Day, I think now is the perfect moment to tell it.

Hinamatsuri is a festival that celebrates the healthy and happy growth of girls. Families with daughters everywhere set up very large traditional displays, with the hina-ningyo (dolls) placed along a red felt covered tiered stand with the Emperor and Empress at the top and the other dolls placed progressively lower based on their hierarchy. The dolls wear costumes of the Imperial Court during the Heian period (794-1192). Realistic furniture, lanterns and toy food complete the display and golden byobu (screens) provide a backdrop just like the real Imperial throne of the ancient court.

hinamatsuri

Charming miniature two doll displays are also very common as not everyone has room for a full display. The small peach blossoms are always included as it can also be referred to as Momo no Sekku, or Peach Festival, based on its seasonal calendar date.

tinyhinamatsuri

These huge displays are very expensive to purchase and I am always amazed when I see families buying them new as I come across them at shrine sales all the time. I have to keep myself from buying them as they are so adorable. A little tip – they are great candidates for Western style repurposing as they make really unusual doll house furniture – great gifts for friends back home.

hinamatsuri furniture at shrine sale

Last year around this time – actually a bit later in March – my daughters and I, along with some friends, traveled up to Tohoku in Northern Japan to volunteer with a great grassroots organization called It’s Not Just Mud. Headquartered in a few partially destroyed houses, with little electricity and no heat, it was quite an experience for us as we had never suffered such a level of discomfort before. Just realizing that people had been living like this for over a year was an incredible eye opener.

its not just mud P cold

INJM makes it very easy to come and volunteer and they run a number of service projects that range from heavy labor (rebuilding playgrounds) to lighter but no less important social work.  We were lucky to be involved in the launching of their ‘Tsuna Cafe,’ in which informal tea parties were organized in the communal space of the “temporary” housing complexes (which look more semi-permanent by the day). The parties are a chance for residents to communicate with each other and meet volunteers who bring cheer and friendship.  One of the post-tragedies of the earthquake and tsunami is that village and neighborhood links were lost as residents were assigned to housing units on an ad-hoc basis. No attempts were made to keep communities together and the majority of those unable to rebuild or move elsewhere are quite elderly.

tsuna cafe photos

As this was one of the first times the Tsuna Cafe was being held, the kids went around to all the units and rang door bells and distributed flyers announcing the party. My younger daughter, who was 8 at the time, rang one bell, but as no one was home, she began to walk away. A woman opened the window and beckoned for her to come over. She handed her the flyer and the woman gave her a bag of small bean paste filled donuts and told her that she had very beautiful eyebrows – which happens to be true. She thought no more about it.

We assembled for the tea party, putting out snacks and getting ready to use our best Japanese. My elder daughter had made many friendship bracelets in advance, expecting the children to want them. Ironically, many of the older women were clamoring for them!

friendship bracelets at the Tsuna Cafe

After a while, an elderly woman came in carrying a paper bag and approached my younger daughter. It was the same woman who had complimented her eyebrows! She opened the bag and took out what appeared to be folded cloth. Her Japanese was so colloquial that we couldn’t begin to understand her so one of the very fluent volunteers came to help translate.

hinamatsuri in tohoku

Basically, she told us how after the war, when everything was destroyed and she had nothing, an American soldier gave her an American doll and that changed everything in her life because she had something to play with and love. She never forgot this moment of kindness and sewed these small fabric Hinamatsuri dolls many, many years ago, with a plan in mind to give the Japanese dolls in turn to an American child. She had been waiting and waiting for the right child to come along. As she presented them to my daughter – we were all crying by now – my sweet little one said “Mommy, it’s a miracle!”

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Somehow, in all the excitement and bustle we never got her name. But my daughter will have those dolls and that memory forever.

We are hoping to go up again this spring and perhaps we can find the doll lady. Please remember that the work here in Northern Japan is nowhere near done, even though it has faded from the news. And for a small organization like It’s Just Not Mud, every donation helps.  For more information on volunteering, please click here. For more information on making a donation, please click here.

Related Posts:
The Porcelain is Alright (Kids Too)…My Tale of the Big Japan Earthquake
Hands On Tokyo…A Taste for Volunteering 2012

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