loves “tchotchkes,” jonathan adler

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled “The Anti-Depressive  Apartment,” about designer Jonathan Adler’s “kaleidoscopic New York digs…” Being an amateur, a “wannabee” decorator, the colored photos stopped me from immediately turning the page. Studying the details in each picture, reading the accompanying captions, and finally viewing each in its entirety, I decided Adler’s design was “over the top,” too much for my taste. I love eclectic furnishings, which he seems to as well. But we definitely differ in what we mix and match. 

A potter, Jonathan Adler’s home is filled with “tchotchkes:” a large, black  rhinoceros sits alongside a coffee table, atop which stands a pair of white ceramic dog sculptures, facing one another. On the other side of the coffee table, is an orange sofa. Resting on matching, white end tables on either side of the sofa, are a pair of lamps whose bases are busts of gold horse heads. A white, ceramic squirrel keeps company with books, on one of two bookcases against the back wall. On the top shelf are a pair of charcoal color, Egyptian-looking goat heads. The other bookcase sports a white, ceramic, duck, simple in its lines.

Decorator pillows complete the kitschy style. Matching, red with black stripe armchairs hold round pillows, one orange, the other teal blue. Both are inscribed with the word “pill.” Across the floor, on the other side of the coffee table is a black, heavy plastic chair with a tall back and plexiglass legs. A red, square pillow, a forearm with closed fist on its front, is outlined in black. On the sofa are two, rectangular, white pillows, trimmed in black with hands, finger pointing, as if toward one another. Between them sits a square, teal blue pillow, a peace sign emblazoned on the front in a dark-grey outline.

Other rooms in the decorator’s home are just as kooky. What’s beguiling is that Jonathan Adler’s career, as a highly sought-after interior designer, was one of happenstance.  

SEVERAL MONTHS AFTER SELLING a cache of striped pots to his first retail account in 1993, Jonathan Adler wondered why he never got paid–until, that is, the buyer informed him that he never sent in an invoice. Mr. Adler’s response: ‘What’s an invoice?’

Now founder and creative director of an eponymous home-decor empire, Mr. Adler, 44 years old, refers to himself as an ‘accidental entrepreneur.’ His privately held company now has 12 boutiques and expects to see a 50% increase in revenue this year. ‘It is all completely unexpected and it took a lot of work,’ he says.

 My take on Adler’s success? “Wha? Wha? Wha?” It boggles my mind how some people “hit it big,” and the rest of us are still trying to turn rocks into pearls, not even diamonds. I’m not even challenging his taste. After all everyone’s entitled, and he’s obviously acquired quite a following, which got him 12 boutiques, and full-page coverage in the WSJ. So who am I to talk? God bless him. No envy here, just wondering. At 61, I don’t have the energy to “hit it big.”

Watching the video below did not convert me to Adler’s decorating “genius.” On the other hand, it did make me a fan of his partner’s style. Simon Doonan, creative director of Barney’s New York, also uses eclecticism in assembling vignettes for the store’s windows. The look, which appeals to me, is edgier. I like edgy, kitschy, not so much.

Adler and Doonan make a great couple. A decade apart in their ages, they’re alike in their serious work ethic, their kooky tastes, and their unpredictability. They abhor “boring beige.” They’re both anal in their attention to detail. Adler indicating that getting the handle perfect on a teapot, can be tortuous; Doonan explaining that he edits and re-edits a column he writes, trying to get it exactly right. Completing their family is an adorable Norwich Terrier named Liberace.

I identify with these gay men, their eccentricities, their zaniness, their “joie de vivre,” their obsession to details, their need to “get it right.” And then there’s Liberace. A pet whose soulful eyes remind me of my Mocha. 

I may not see “eye-to-eye” with Adler as regards to interior design, but I do understand his anger with California’s change of heart in recognizing gay marriages. Doonan, his spouse, is more philosophical saying that they need to “suck it up,” and continue to “fight the fight,” keeping their eye “on the prize,” and maintain their resilience. I’m sure their attitudes reflect many in the gay community. As with couples who are straight, conversation should begin and end with who gays and lesbians are as people, not what they do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

hugs for a couple trying to live their best lives…hugmamma.





preservation of a people

Prominently featured alongside “Google Agonizes on Privacy As Ad World Vaults Ahead,” is another article, “In Alaska, a Frenchman Fights to Revive the Eyak’s Dead Tongue.” It’s undeniable that the internet giant Google is more relevant to millions worldwide. But for me, the struggle to keep a native people from disappearing altogether is of greater significance to humankind. Obviously the editors of the Wall Street Journal feel both Google and the Eyak’s deserve equal attention by deciding to feature both on today’s front page. Kudos to the Journal!

Twenty-one year old, French, college student Guillaume Leduey, proficient in French, English, German, Chinese and Georgian, and able to sing one Lithuanian song, has made it his mission to save the Alaskan Eyak language from extinction. “Mr. Leduey’s Eyak odyssey began at age 12, when he happened on the language while trolling through an online dictionary of languages in his hometown of Le Havre. By searching more online, he discovered Eyak appeared to have only one native speaker, Ms. Jones. ‘I was like, “Wow, one speaker left. I must do something to learn the language,” ‘ Mr. Leduey says. His parents were less than thrilled. ‘They don’t think it’s useful,’ he says.”

An aspiring sculptor, Leduey had never left Europe until June when he made the trip to Alaska to study with 75-year-old Michael Krauss, a linguistics professor at the University of Alaska who knows conversational Eyak. “While as many as 20 native dialects remain in Alaska, Mr. Krauss says Eyak is considered extinct because there are no fluent, native speakers.” Sequestered in a room together for 5 hours each day, they pored over Eyak documents. As a diversion, Leduey sang Eyak songs to the professor’s Norwich Terrier, Scamper.

Immersing himself into the culture, Leduey journeyed to Cordova, “where the Eyaks made their last stand against being swallowed up by civilization.” Rival Tlingits helped white settlers in the takeover of the Eyak territory. Some part-natives took Leduey to visit a demolished village site and Child’s Glacier, a natural attraction. There a harbor seal leapt out of the icy waters to which he exclaimed “Keeltaak,” the Eyak word for the animal. To complement his education, Leduey learned the tradition of cooking salmon in the ground. He dug a shallow pit in the front yard of an Eyak descendant, then tended a crackling fire in which 2 red salmon roasted in giant skunk cabbage leaves. Still raw after 90 minutes, however, the salmon were thrown into the oven to finish cooking.

Several have sought lessons from Leduey, like 50-year-old Mr. Lankard and 53-year-old Ms. Curry.  Her “…mother, Marie Smith Jones, was considered by Alaska historians the last native Eyak speaker when she died in 2008. Her descendants and others didn’t become fluent in the language because of a stigma around speaking anything other than English in Alaska’s native villages.” Curry, eyes brimming with tears, viewed a film in which her mother spoke in the Eyak tongue at a tribal ceremony. To understand the words, however, Curry turned to Leduey to translate. She thanked him saying that it was beautiful. To which he replied “It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you God. ” Curry feels that learning her native language, which had been passed down through storytelling,  is the right thing to do now in spite of the past stigma. “‘This will help keep my mom’s memory and spirit alive.”

The extinction of the Eyak language and potentially its culture, reminds me of my childhood growing up in Maui in the 50’s. My mom was a native who spoke Hawaiian fluently with her family and native friends. She did not, however, speak it with us, her children. Prominent, powerful landowners were lobbying to make Hawaii the 50th state, for obvious business reasons. To support these efforts speaking English and studying  American History were a mandatory part of school curriculums. Our native language and culture were virtually squelched.

As her friends passed away, my mom had fewer and fewer people with whom to speak Hawaiian. Long before she died, she had ceased speaking it, having lost much for lack of use. Not until long after my husband and I graduated from college and moved away from Hawaii, did a movement among the natives slowly bring about a resurgence in an appreciation for the language and the culture. Today they are taught in schools statewide, including at the University of Hawaii. Proud of their culture, islanders are more than happy to share their food, song and dance with new communities, when they relocate to other parts of the country.

While there is a strong comparison between the plight of the Eyaks and that of the Hawaiians, the latter did not face extinction. Westernization did not eradicate their culture. It was ingrained as much in the land, as it was in the people themselves. The gods of the earth, sky and sea would not relinquish their hold, nor would the natives abandon their attachment to the islands without bloodshed. That is the history of the Hawaiians. And it has been preserved through the ages by the monarchy, and following their demise, by natives and others  loyal to their memory. Kamehameha School has long been an institution dedicated to educating children of native descent, not only in the academics but in all aspects of Hawaiian heritage. It remains at the forefront of yielding young adults not only well versed in their own culture, but in the world-at-large.  And they confidently take their place in society, a credit to their native roots.

We should applaud the efforts of Guillaume Leduey for taking on the preservation of a culture almost singlehandedly. It seems when others ask “Why?” Leduey asks “Why not?”

a people depend upon it, that’s why…hugmamma.