Everyone knows that Christmas is a holiday that has been wedded to pagan rituals. Our appreciation for the Christmas tree, the Yule log, the singing of carols and some of the carols themselves, all hark to a non-Christian tradition. As far as I am concerned, it makes for a great holiday with song and revelry and, of course, an appreciation for what we have and what we are.

Adaptation is what we, as a species, are all about. That we robustly defend tradition does not mean that change is not inexorable. This is most certainly true for fashion be it clothes or architecture or anything else, and if it is true there, it is true in all aspects of our lives. Eighteenth century English furniture evolved tremendously between 1700 and 1800, from who it was made for, to the materials it was made of, to how it was made and to who made it. That is just how things change.

The pagan rituals were, I believe, a celebration to mark the end of waning daylight. The longest night, particularly in Northern Europe, makes for a very short day, and without electric light, it must have been extremely depressing. If I had lived then, I would have been ecstatic that the days were getting longer, winter notwithstanding, and I would celebrate the fact heartily. Even now, I have to admit to being glad that the shortest day will soon be over. Time for a New Year.


The trajectory of the Republican debates, none of which I have watched, is towards complete irrelevance. There is good reason for Newt Gingrich’s ascendancy in the polls as Mitt Romney comes across as a complete mercenary. Newt, at least, seems to want to stand up and be counted, whether or not you agree with his position. The debates are a zero sum game for most of us and for those that wish their candidates not to be flawed or to be word perfect, these dances are for them.

Charles James Fox (1747-1806) was a British politician who seriously aggravated George III, calling him an aspiring tyrant and stoutly defending the cause of the American Revolution in Parliament. Fox’s private life was more than a little scandalous with gambling debts and rumored affairs with notable society ladies. His life style was louche, but it mattered not as he remained in politics throughout his life and died in not inconsiderable debt.

The start of the 21st century is no less tumultuous than the end of the 18th. Revolution, to borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan, was in the air. Fox, not unlike Newt, said many things that needed to be said in declamatory fashion, a vein that Newt has mined and one which is often not appreciated by either friend or foe. Having said that, Fox was a notable figure in the British Parliament, a force to be reckoned with, for nearly forty years. History will judge Newt and with luck he might just live up to the Fox.


Years ago, when I was first in England and longing for a tomato sandwich, I was told that if I wanted to peel the tomato skin from the tomato, I should put it into boiling water for twenty to thirty seconds. I was scandalized and decided that it was better to eat the sandwich with the skin on, rather than to partially cook the tomato. My memory of ripe tomatoes, an August delight, where the skins virtually slid off when you touched them with a knife, were gone. England just didn’t have that kind of tomato.

The antiques business is still a surprise to me. At a small sale that I viewed with another dealer, we noted a side board with a top that was refinished so poorly that the piece repulsed rather than attracted interest. There was a second piece in the sale, made of rosewood, whose top was similarly afflicted. Both pieces have intrinsic value, but the bad finishing had destroyed it and the pieces were game for someone who could reclaim the inherent beauty of the wood underneath the muck that some finisher had applied.

There are certainly more ways than one to peel a tomato and some ways will be quicker than others. Some will require more care and those methods should be used when you have higher purpose than just making tomato sauce. In a siimilar vein, antiques need proper looking after. I would say that even pieces that have sentimental value need proper looking after. This is just the right thing to do. For my part, I have decided that I rather like having the skins on when I make a tomato sandwich, so now I just have to find ripe tomatoes. Wait until August, I guess.


I look down on a street of Bradford pear trees and the color of the leaves, scarlet and yellow, is uplifting. The Bradford pear, an Asian species, was thought to be the answer for New York City’s streets as it has beautiful flowers in the spring and great foliage in the fall. Alas, the manner in which new branches form creates weak crotches, so weak that a good wind or snow storm can split off mature branches quite easily. Indeed, the snow storm of Oct. 29 proved just how much damage a mature Bradford limb can do to a parked car as the damage on my street was substantial.

When I talk about English furniture that doesn’t have much quality, I suspect that it is a difficult concept to understand. English furniture, after all, has a reputation for being well made. Quality is not just the craftsmanship of cutting and gluing. Anyone can cut a dovetail or make a mortise and tenon. The skill lies in understanding how timber expands and contracts and, first of all using properly dried timber and secondly, using timber so that the stresses are minimized. Further, a great craftsman uses timbers so that they are never dull. A chest, for example, might have its drawers veneered so that the crotch mahoganies engage and move the eye. Finally, proportion is hugely important, but today, we seem more focused on function than anything else.

John Dos Passos’ trilogy, “U.S.A.”, has snap shots of lives that, for some reason or other, never quite get on track. Virtually every character has some kind of urge to make something of themselves, to go somewhere and to be someone, and they all seem to be waylaid by moment. It is frustrating to see the existentialism play out as the dreams get swept aside and they fall into the predicament of predictability. The promise of something is tanatalizing, but the reality of the moment is a far more powerful force than a dream. Like the Bradford pear or even the best made piece of English furniture, existentialism is inescapable after a certain point. And if there are flaws, you are bound to accept them.