This is my grandmother. Glamorous, n'est-ce pas? We think this shot might have been taken to mark her engagement, which would make it 1936 and her about 22. My grandfather was the literal boy-next-door and they were utterly devoted until he was taken by cancer in 1986.
My grandfather was Catholic, gentle, methodical and quiet. My grandmother was Church of England, formidable, articulate and you might have thought she was full of whimsy and spontaneity, but actually she was as methodical and systematic as my grandfather and twice as flinty. The whimsy was part of the glamour, which was both effortless and considered, making it utterly, utterly impenetrable. Or put another way, it was completely real -- she really was like that. She really did have kitten-heeled bedroom slippers with a white feathery puff on the toe. She really did always have perfect nails, gleaming coral. She was the sort of person who could actually address a cab driver as "driver" -- as in, "Driver, Little Collins Street please" -- and make it sound both polite and respectful.
She always wore gloves. She taught me exactly how to angle a hat. She taught me how to get in and out of cars depending on what you're wearing, and my girlhood was peppered with baffling pronouncements like "Don't walk like a Parisian". She could take two white gardenias and a fragment of ivy and put it into the most kitsch miniature horn-shaped bud vase you ever saw and somehow make it the one thing you want beside your bed, every night for the rest of your life. Her taste made rococco look spare. She had a completely matched bedroom suite that was I think walnut veneer with brass beading all the way around the edges. The dressing table was seven feet long (I know this because my mother is now using it as a sideboard in her hall) and had a marble top. Over it was a triptych-style gilt arched mirror as wide as the table and taller than my father which showed you both your profiles as well as the front of you. The table had many tiny drawers, each one delicately beaded and with a tiny brass pull. As she sat on the matching stool (tiny, spindly turned legs with a striped gold cushion on the top) and "put her face on", she would let me look in the drawers.
When I was a child these seemed like an endless sequence of wonders -- because they were. Everything was in a tiny box or soft drawstring bag, many lined with felt or padded with cotton wool. Amber worry beads. A chocolate box from the 1920s containing hundreds of different buttons. Carefully stored boxes of her favourite perfume, brought back from Hong Kong. Tiny shells which my mother had found as a child, inside boxes only a little bigger than their occupants. Embroidered bags from China with loose beads inside. A miniscule, 3" square leather-covered traveler's Italian dictionary with phrases in the back like "Porter, please be careful with the hat-box."
In the kitchen were canisters marked "Tea" and the inexplicable "Sago" and there were silver calling-card trays in soft yellow drawstring bags printed with red ink like a postmark.
Boxes and bags, jars and baskets. They are both magic and reality, safe and adventurous, inhabited by things both found and waiting to be found.