A Little (still) Life and A Lot of Gifts

“For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain human beings. When I see a tree, I receive an impact as it is were somebody breathing, something speaking. A tree, too, is something human” – Joan Miró.

 

I killed my lemon tree. I had a lemon tree. I had a lemon tree at home in New York. It has been a surreal year– and one in which I have been entirely absent from this blog for reasons I shall delve into shortly — “for if the aim of surrealism was to resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super reality” then that is the best word to describe the past almost 365 days: A 365 days in which life necessitated I take a break from this blog in order to focus on synthesizing my “dream”  life in New York as a writer and artist.

While the dream remains fragmented its pursuit is never not serpentine, it occurs to me as I write this from my bed that it is taking shape in its own amoebic way. I had intended to write a “relaunch” post last week and to share one of my favourite things– a gift guide– threaded together by all the moments where the trials of the year were milked to triumph but alas, I spent a week in bed, body riddled with the flu virus and now here we are…And here I am scribbling these thoughts at a feverish pace.

I have decided to instead present my VERY LAST MINUTE suggestions for gift-giving this holiday season along with some highlights and anecdotes from the past year. As an unabashed lover of things,  I never shy at the opportunity to share. It is precisely because objects, to my mind, a never just objects, that I can fall in love with a thing. I stare at the neck of a hand-carved vase and I see the the breath of an artisan; a bottle of perfume has DNA, the love child of a human brain so complex as to distill desire into a bottle. As it is the season for giving, I urge that we do so thoughtfully and in celebration of the human heart that goes into crafting things.

 

Incandescent Vessel

So where do we begin? The Gregorian 2018 opened for me in Fes, Morocco after having spent the Christmas before in Equatorial Guinea.  I rang it in quietly from the home of a friend, surrounded by strangers and spent the first week of the year traversing the organized madness of the medina, only semi literate in its alleys and corners. I moved on to Marrakech for the third year in row and stayed in two exquisite riads from which I wished to steal everything. I can never think of Morocco without thinking of the bounty of its artisanary. I can never return from Morocco without overweight luggage.  Which is why the discovery of Maison Flâneur, a website that retails some of the gems found in hotels around the world (and specifically for me, riads in Marrakech) has been a highlight.

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This trio of alabaster vases as found at Marrakech’s Jnane Tamsna make a fine gift for anyone who loves fragility. My large one was broken at its exquisite neck by DHL but nothing a little Kintsugi couldn’t elevate.

 

The Case for Suffering

I returned from Marrakech to Long Island, where I’d been staying with my uncle for 10 days turned a year. The drudgery of not being where I wanted to be– my New York dream deferred– was assuaged by opportunities to travel for creative work. Costa Rica happened and then, out of nowhere, an opportunity to visit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that left me conflicted. I returned enriched in knowledge if even still conflicted. But I also returned with one of the best things anyone has given me this year.

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After a visit to Yad Vashe, Isreal’s official memorial to victims of the holocaust and heavy (and nuanced) discussion with the team on the trip, our guide gave us each a copy of holocaust survivor Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a book whose central tenet can be summarized with this quote: “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning”. The nuggets of painfully realized wisdom in this small volume are a gift to all.

 

House Of Wax

Permit me to skip the intricacies and sheer frenzy that was finally finding my own apartment in New York city after I returned from Israel. The process alone was enough to melt a stoic into limpid tears. But permit me to pick up at the point where, as if by a miracle, a modest 4 walls were finally acquired in this city a whole 2 years almost to the date after I first packed up my two suitcases and left Atlanta with one week’s notice.  I finally was able to return to Atlanta to dig up the belongings that lay interred in my friend’s parents’ basement for two years and I got to take the scenic route in doing so. Work took me to Bahia, Brazil, from whence I met a friend in Atlanta, we packed up a rented truck and drove straight to New York, certainly not without our share of mishaps which were only comic in retrospect.

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One of the pure pleasures of having a space entirely my own again is filling it with the aromas I love.  A house-warming gift from a dear friend was my beloved Trudon Ernesto candle, which smells as I imagine heaven as conceptualized by Diana Vreeland would: ecclesiastically spicy.

 

Tower Of Tomes

What took up the most space in the moving truck? Besides pots and pans, you guessed it: books. Those leafy friends of whose pages I had dreamt of breathing in again for the two years from which I had been separated from them are finally in my possession again.  And I was certain that the new-found cesura in my peripatetic life would mean that I could finally deliver the children’s book that has been gestating within me for a year. Alas, my due date remains illusive but determination to share the little universe inside my head has been renewed by the publishing of a very special book indeed.

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A Velocity of Being is a book of letters to young readers– and frankly, to all readers–(edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick) written by an inspiring cast of characters from ranging from  Jane Goodall, to Yo-Yo Ma; from a 98-year old holocaust survivor to Italy’s first woman in space. The very presence of the book is beautiful with its illustration in varying styles. Like Keat’s “...Chapman’s Homer”, the book is a paean to puissance of words especially when the love for them is cultivated young.

 

Copper Kingdom

So here I am, finally in apartment of my own, surrounded by my books, my worlds on a shelf, and the other thing that took up the most space in the moving truck: kitchenware. I’d harboured this dream that the minute I settled down in the city, I’d get back to creating in the kitchen. You guessed it, it has been a little more complicated than that given space constraints that I am still conjuring up a solution for. But I could never let a small thing like the lack of counter space steal away joy of baking an apple pie or making my visiting friend a pot of jollof (even if we had to sit on the floor to eat it for a lack for furniture at the time). One of my dreams has been to rule over a kitchen teeming with copper utensils for the obvious aesthetic reasons but also for superior performance of copper as result of it’s heat conductivity. In fact, I bought my KitchenAid mixer in copper many moons ago with the conviction that I’d one day match it with precious utensils wrought of the stuff I I love watching artisans pounding into submission in Fes’ Place Saffarine.

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When it comes to cookware, and copper cookware at that, french brand Mauviel is the zenith of the lot. Anything…and I mean anything, from the brand, even this tiny cocotte (especially this tiny cocotte) is sure to set any home or professional cook’s heart alight.

 

Scandinavian Delight

So the kitchen is now in chaos, but a chaos gleaming with the earthy red of copper. Yet what is the namjoy of cooking if not to share the products of its chemistry and alchemy. So I am embarked on a fun little project with an interior designer friend, Nina Blair, to experience the sought of thoughtfulness that goes into actually curating a living space with purpose that one is proud and excited to share with friends. After all, as Gaston Bachelard noted, home is the space for dreaming. And for me, for dreaming and working.  Oh the process has been interminable and frustrating and yet beautiful and envigourating: a true exercise in learning that “the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit”. I am learning to love the gardening itself even as the garden takes shape and sharing the process on Instagram has given me a true sense of communion with my followers. One aspect I’ve been fascinated by is how Scandinavian design, often characterized as simple and bare bones, can take on air of decadence.

NATASHA_18-12-07_164Manicure by Paintbox Nails. Ring by Bia Daidone

This Unity Tray from AYTM was one of the designs that Nina brought to my attention. It’s simple lines and interactive fractions of spheres are enriched by colour and variation in material.  With a variety of sizes an hues from which to pick, it is a gift that will make any host blush.

 

Of Oil and Ritual

Rituals are means of codifying beauty, to my mind, and one of the things I am most grateful for in having found a home is the space mentally and physically to re-immerse myself in my rituals. I haven’t had luck in all things: I am still struggling to get back into a workout routine anywhere near the punishing sort of my glory days, for instance, and my somatic yoga practice has been far from consistent (though I can credit the mental practice for getting me through much of the past few years). One practice has been easy to sink right back into though.

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A Sunday is not quite a Sunday if it does not involve slathering myself in Kjaer Weiss’ Body Oil after a hot shower and before sitting down (I finally have chairs!) to read. The stuff is cocktail which your skin will voraciously drink with its organically-grown cold pressed oils and floral citrus nose.

 

The Write Stuff

The other ritual I am determined to return to this year is consistent journaling. My friend, Amelia, recommended the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron to me and I took along a trip to Chile. One of the author’s first recommendations to the artist– any artist, anybody– is to write at least three pages every morning without fail. She believes that the process mystically ties us to the wellspring of our creativity. I cannot disagree, for as Czelaw Misolz put it best, “writing is feeling from the inside out” and all art, any art, if borne of feeling.

NATASHA_18-12-07_190Necklace by Yael Sonja

Putting pen to paper is as much a question of paper and as it is of pen, as it were. For my return to the praxis of journaling, I have turned once more to custom bookbinder Jenni Bick. Jenni Bick’s One of A Kind Journals are bound art and a call to art in and of themselves. This one, The Marseilles, is wrapped in indigo silk ribbon the weight of gossamer, redolent of the colours of southern France. How can the mind on the artist on your gift list help but travel on the wings of such a flight of fancy?

 

Mise En Abyme

This year has been year number 3 in which I have been invited to work in Chile. This year is also the first year in which I did not return to Paris, or to the continent of Europe for that matter. In a sense I imagine Chile is a new ritual being formed and while I harbour no intention of snuffing out the flame Paris burns in my heart, even ritual must capitulate on occasion to the demands life.  On assignment in Chile this year, I returned to Easter Island with a photographer. Being on the most remote island in the world (defined as such by its proximity to mainland) is not where one wishes to face the mishap of a DSLR camera shutter giving up the ghost before the assignment is complete. And that is precisely what happened. On our final day on the island with the most work to go, the photographer’s camera said “no more” and we were left up you know who’s creek without so much as a spatula, let alone a paddle.

NATASHA_18-12-07_227Fragrance: Santal Majuscule by Serge Lutens

Never have I wished more for a phone with a camera that capture the majesty of an island with the precision of professional camera. As soon as I returned home, I quizzed a tech blogger friend, the man behind YouTube sensation Boored At Work, on what the ultimate device would be. His recommendation? Verizon’s Google Pixel 3 XL. This one is a must for your Instagram-loving, continent-hopping friend.

 

Glass Arrow

Chile was my last adventure of 2018 and perhaps fittingly so, though  I’d wished  with all my might to be in Grenada right his minute at a dear friend’s wedding. Back from the South American nation that is beginning itself to hold a sense of home for me, I returned to the home I am piecing together in New York City. Continuing to build idea’s with Nina, I also began to see the garden sprout. Our five months of planning and planning some more, of pairing fabric swatches to paint, and my learning that when measuring a space for furniture one must measure from baseboard to baseboard and not wall to wall or your bookcase which you though was just right for the space will indeed not fit, all suddenly began to actualize into a home. A home that I can’t wait to share with you in the coming year. It certainly does feel like the only way is up, now.

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If I could add one item to my home to remind me of the direction in which I intend to go, it would be this crystal decanter by Baccarat decanter that caught my eye on a recent trip with Nina to design and gift store Jung Lee. Aptly named the Mille Nuits (Thousand Nights) decanter, it is the stuff of from which dreams and tales are spun. The sinuous line the culminates in an arrowhead is ascendant poetry.

I am not really in the business of making lemonade out of life’s lemons. I am more interested in squeezing every once of juice and truth from the lemons, embracing the acerbity and absurdity of this living business and finding a little art in it along the way. Here’s to the lemon tree I couldn’t keep alive and the joy it gave me for a spell and the fact that it had a home, my home, and it inspired dreams.

 

Photography:  Emerald Layne

Prop Stylist: Mariana Marcki-Matos

Art Direction: Natasha Nyanin 

We’d like to thank Paintbox Nails for the Nail Art. A  gift card from them, is a lovely gift to give, both for the finished product and the experience of their unparalleled precision. 

 

I’ll be publishing a follow-up to this post tomorrow with gift suggestions from a few friends who know a thing or two about the business of gift giving. While initially meant to be a part of this gift guide, circumstances have dictated that this be a separate post. I look forward to sharing their guidance with you.

 

 

About Natasha

Word- and dough-smith. Girl in search of "the illumination, that ecstatic flash, from which truth emerges".

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