Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Memory, that winged host that flew above me" - Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited is my favorite book. Ever since it was on my summer reading list senior year of high school, I've re-read it about once a year. On every return visit I've changed a little, and so I notice or enjoy new things. The notes my 17 year old self made feverishly in colored pencil seem a little silly today.

I did put BR aside during my year in St. Louis, however. Around this time last year, I raced to see the new film adaptation at the Chase Park Plaza theater. The trip had an air of nostalgic melancholy, like realizing you and an old friend no longer have much in common. I realized I was coming to say goodbye. My days of Oxford Arcadian fantasies were over.

But it wasn't really goodbye, apparently. Like the Flyte family in Charles' life, whole sections of the book keep popping into my mind now that I spend my days at a "museum and country estate."Maybe my old friend and I have found a new way to connect.

"Is the dome by Inigo Jones too? It looks later."
"Oh Charles, don't be such a tourist. What does it matter when it was built, if it's pretty?"

"It's the sort of thing I like to know."

On my first visit to Winterthur, I scoffed at its opulence and seemingly redundant acres of antique furniture. Now, as I'm learning to guide tourists through those Chippendale corridors, I'm also discovering the joy of knowing about style and connoisseurship. The other day, I did some exploring one my own and was genuinely wowed by the beauty of the Blackwell Parlor. The information binder in the corner was very helpful. Historical context is the sort of thing I like to know.

It was an aesthetic education to live within those walls, to wander from room to room, from the Soanesque library to the Chinese drawing-room, adazzle with gilt pagodas and nodding mandarins, painted paper and Chippendale fret-work, from the Pompeian parlor ... to sit, hour after hour, in the pillared shade looking out over the terrace.

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