Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Charms of Beauty

In Alexandra Stoddard's delightful book, The Decoration of Houses, she talks about the art of making our homes a haven. We can all transform our spaces into a feast for our senses and a well of deep, lasting comfort.

This is how she talks about the fabrics we use in dressing up our spaces: "I have often said, "If your fabrics aren't fading, you should move." I love the way fabrics fade in the light. We should start out with colors as fresh as crayons in a box, and accept the inevitable bleaching over time from the light and warmth of the sun."

And then, she goes on: "No new material is as charming as one that has been loved up by sunshine. The energy from the sun penetrates the textile and, however subtle, is felt. Just as teenagers love faded jeans and even buy them in this condition, so bleached-out fabric, a symbol of hours of sunlight, should be cherished. To live in the dark to protect your textiles is a sad waste of potential vitality."

When she talks about textures, she tells us to look beyond just fabrics, and also think about the textures of natural objects: "Texture exists everywhere in nature; we grasp it through our senses of sight and touch. We see the grain in the wood, and feel its splintered or sanded surface. We see the shiny or dull surface of pebbles, and feel their smooth or rough surface. A seashell, a maple leaf, a wild-flower, grass, a cliff face, moss, soil, bark, sand, sea water - each has a unique texture that deepens our experience of nature."

And then she says something that gleams like a blue pond: "The more authentic the textures in your rooms, the greater your sense of fulfillment and stability."

Bringing the textures that we love inside our houses - the real interplay of rough and soft - help make our homes a sanctuary. There is an emotional comfort in being surrounded by familiar, evocative textures and by those textures that are real. 

Here, in India, I re-encounter textures I haven't experienced for the last two years. There is a different weave to the life lived here - there are hand-woven chattais and dhurries (rugs , clay pottery, block-printed Jaipuri bed-sheets. 

In an incense store, I buy diffuser oils that comfort my soul. One of them is magnolia and it reminds me of the prayers from my childhood, when incense sticks were lit and the perfume wafted deep into the room, and became inextricably linked with feelings of comfort. 

Another is aniseed, and I love how I can almost taste its sweetness in my mouth, and think that when I go back to America, I need to brew some aniseed tea. 

I see with fresh eyes the motifs of the ambi or the mango that are part of many textile designs. I think of shaking mango trees with sticks in my grandparent's homes to eat the raw, tangy mangoes. An image of my great-grandmother's grape vine springs to mind. 

All these colors, patterns, fragrances awaken and create little ripples. I can reach through and inside them to different parts of me at different times. They have tied up in them times of innocence, a time when the world was fresh and new. 

After two years away from India, I feel like consciously inviting them in - the sounds of prayers that are deeper than the rivers, the fragrances that live in joyous trees, the rich weave of life from which so many beautiful arts spring forth. Adding them to my new life would make it deeper, more textured, more complete. It would be a declaration of all my different loves, and the way they nourish and feed my soul.