Friday, July 29, 2011

An Iranian Villa and Garden


The Iranian city of Shiraz has a certain well-deserved renown for its gardens. Bagh-e Eram is one of the most charming country houses in Iran and if you have the courage you can visit it today, both inside and out, as it is now a national monument. Its distinctive architecture of hand-painted tiles and mirror-encrusted stalactites is unique. Once a private palace, built during the Qajar Dynasty, the lavish estate was constructed in the nineteenth century and combines typically Persian features with some Western, even Italianate notions of the country manor. In 1953, the Iranian government donated the mansion to the faculty of Law at the Pahlavi University of Iran.

Today it's a museum and impressive botanical garden—Bagh-e Eram means the "Garden of Paradise." The city of Shiraz is known as the city of rose gardens, nightingales and poets. Two of Iran's greatest ancient national poets, Hafez of Shiraz, and Saadi, are buried here. Saadi requested that the following verse be inscribed on his tomb: "From the tomb of Saadi, son of Shiraz - The perfume of love escapes - Thou shalt smell it still one thousand years after his death."

Hand painted tiles for an impressive mural above the villa's central loggia.

I admired the "total white" of the loggia interior.

The curious mix of cultural influences.

The extraordinary maiolica craftsmanship.

The style of black and buff colored stone.

The references to ancient Persepolis.

The corner pilasters.

The Persian canal.

The garden is now managed by the botany department of Shiraz University. Donald Newton Wilbur wrote in Persian Gardens and Pavilions, "The Bagh-i-Eram owes its continuing popularity to its groves of orange trees, its long axis of stately cypresses, and the impressive structure which has been the scene of Qashqai hospitality so freely offered to so many visitors. It is easy to imagine the earlier owners leaving the main pavilion and strolling down the water-lined avenue as far as the lower pavilion, where they rested from their exercise."

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Sculptor Entertains


You might remember seeing my post on Luigi Boccherini, which featured my photographs of the handsome statue of the great composer by sculptor Daphné du Barry. Daphné and her husband Jean-Claude had us in to dinner last night at her splendid atelier in Pietrasanta, just over the hills from Lucca.

While by day the studio is full of light and live models and the joyous energy of the creative process by night it becomes this mysteriously beautiful backdrop for a small dinner party.

Her life-sized pieces are back-lit and under-lit creating this extraordinary ballet in bronze and terracotta.

Her models are local people who take great pride in posing for the master. That man in the background is Prince Rainier of Monaco, a copy of a statue commissioned by Prince Albert as a memorial to his father—the original now stands in the Monaco palace gardens.

It's a bohemian lifestyle where no two chairs match—one of them even broke out from under one of the guests, but he survived.

Her commissions are varied and take her all over the world. Often her subjects are religious figures but the pieces she does for her own collection sometimes involve sport.

They celebrate the human body in movement and in states of ecstasy or exaltation and are imbued with the enormous sense of commitment and love she brings to the discipline. To learn more about Daphné click here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Farm at Villa Massei


I doubt that there was ever much of a scheme in play when the agricultural needs of this estate were addressed, beginnning in the 16th century. They no doubt took into account the sunshine and shadow, and the flatness of fields, but when things were planted, they were simply planted as if the seeds had been dropped from the air by passing birds. Aesthetics were of little importance. And that's the way things are today. Why, for instance, is this little pumpkin patch under that old pear tree at the vineyard's edge?

We've attempted to correct the helter skelter of it all in our newer kitchen garden by building this grape arbor leading to it.

While back in the older vegetable patches there's little obvious planning ...

... in the newer kitchen garden a bit of rigor shows in the form of ordered rows of leeks.

The layout is geometric, and it's mostly respected—but not too much.

What's important is what makes its way to our table, like these beautiful eggplants ready for harvest.

And yet there's still a "behind the scenes" kind of attitude here. That's a quince tree shading a few young cuttings awaiting planting in the ornamental gardens.

It has a central avenue and side streets and a touch of whimsey here and there.

And several varieties of antique table grapes.

It's forever getting renewed, even in mid-summer—in a sunny climate like this we can grow several crops of almost everything in a single season.

Monday, July 18, 2011



On our recent trip to Sardegna this was a last minute airport acquisition, a wonderful, orangey bottarga.

Fresh bottarga caviar is a Mediterranean specialty made from sun-dried salted Mullet roe. In Spain it is called Botarga, in Greece Avgotaraho, in France Boutargue and here in Italy it is Bottarga. Whatever language you may use, you are sure of an exotic taste, a flavorful addition to pasta, fish and salads. Here I am grating it to a light egg yellow dust.

A chopped clove of garlic in olive oil is heated up in a pan.

When the spaghetti's done you throw it in and add the bottarga. Ladle in a bit of the pasta cooking water, toss, and in a moment you have a creamy sauce.

As a finishing touch, dust the spaghetti with a little more grated botarga, a pinch of salt and black pepper.

I pulled a French wine from the Ardeche that a friend gave me for my birthday.

A little chopped fresh parsley, which I grow near the kitchen door all year round. And there you have it. Spaghetti alla bottarga! A wonderful little lunch on a summer's day!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

For Our Guests


We all want our guests to be comfortable. Whether or not they feel at home is a secondary concern. We want them to feel like they're in Lucca, on holiday.

This room faces the front of the villa and has views of the Apuan Alps above the Old Garden. The door above, which leads to the bathroom, once hung in the entry hall, but was removed by Lionel Fielden in the 1950s and reused elsewhere. It's from the period of Louis V—even in Italy these terms apply. The bed is Lucchese style; I saw one like it in a book and had it reinterpreted as a king-size bed. The table in the foreground is French Empire. The vase is an Etruscan reproduction.

The clock is French. The lamps are by Anna Lari. The engraving is Italian neoclassical.

The room had been made into two rooms in the era of Mr Fielden and when we took out the separating wall we discovered the chimney. All we needed to do was add the mantle, a neoclassical one that we found in the Lucca Antiques market.

The armadio and the arm chairs are Lucchese, from the early 1800s.

The bedspread is from Guatamala.

The bath is of "Rosa di Portogallo" marble.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dans son jus


We had the great pleasure of spending this past weekend at the distinguished Savile Club, on Brooke Street in Mayfair, as guests of one of its members. It was a journey back in time into the heart of the extraordinary phenomenon of London's private clubs of old.

This is the ballroom; it's grand entrance is shown in the first picture. It might look like 18th century France, but it's in fact from the 1890s.

French interiors had been popular in London since their introduction to Apsley House in the 1830's but few examples were constructed with the architectural rigour and exquisite craftsmanship which we find here. The 1760's and 70's saw a gradual taming of the florid style which had been popular under Louis XV, and it was to this rich transitional period that Van der Boyer made scholarly reference in his impeccable designs. The interiors which the Savile has enjoyed for so long are perhaps the most extensive and exquisite of their type to survive in London.

While membership remained varied the Club established itself at the heart of literary London having gathered Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Hardy, HG Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Compton Mackenzie, Max Beerbohm and WB Yeats amongst others, around the Club table. Music was represented with equal lustre over the years by Charles Villers Stamford, Arthur Bliss, William Walton and Edward Elgar and our scientist members have included Lord Kelvin, John Cockcroft and Lord Rutherford.

The above two photographs are of the tiny and welcoming club library on the third floor.

Club luncheons are often held in this grand dining room. When electing members the Savile has always been less concerned by what a candidate does, or by who he is, than by what kind of a person he is as a man, and whether he will fit congenially into the “Sodalitas”of the club.

This is the reception hall. The staircase behind it leads to the lavish dining rooms which resound with the banter and laughter of club members.