Sunday, September 4, 2011
My Own Open Window: The Literary Meets the Culinary
“You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon,” said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn."
Nowhere does our inner sensibility get such an intriguing expression than in the furnishings of our home. It’s a part of human nature that Restoration Hardware, West Elm, and Pottery Barn have codified for the middle class in a multimillion dollar industry.
I needed to update my small, UWS galley kitchen. I had resurfaced the cabinets and countertops 5 years ago, so this was just cosmetic: the wallpaper was peeling, the light fixture was cracked, the floor was yellowed from it original 1984 setting.
Wallpaper is an under-sung tool in the home decorator’s arsenal. By enveloping you with a pattern or a scene, a color or a texture, it has the power to set a tone and a mood. Originated in the ancient rice papers of China in 200 B.C., it grew in Europe alongside the rise of papermaking and woodcuts, with a guild of paperhangers first established in France in 1599.
The variety of today’s wallpapers is dazzling beyond description.
But from the moment I knew I was going to clean up my kitchen, I had a vision of what that wallpaper needed to be: a mural at the end of the galley kitchen to look like French doors opening onto a garden, with a sense of vines on the wall of a conservatory (like in Clue, not Oberlin).
It’s the fantasy that my imagination wanted to see. I don’t have a country house, and am not likely ever to. But I can transform some of the space that I do have to evoke that idea, which is a yearning of my sensibility.
And I know that Saki’s beguiling short story, The Open Window——which made a huge impression on me as a child——helped to inspire this vision.
As the “very self-possessed young lady of fifteen” narrates her little tale about her poor aunt . . .
“Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for their day’s shooting. They never came back.
“In crossing the moor to their favourite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. Their bodies were never recovered. That was the dreadful part of it.”
Here the child’s voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human. ‘Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back some day, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening till it is quite dusk.’
They can walk through my kitchen now any time, as can countless other figments of my imagination.
Saki's story has a wonderful twist that I won't give away. It's very short, I hope you'll read it. The Open Window