Ladies of the Grand Tour, by Katie Hickman
Nonfiction is not normally my go-to genre, but I am starting to develop a niche with the epistolary novel (based on real letters) shared last week and now this amazing discovery, a true exquisite find from one of my charity store trips a few weeks ago.
Ladies of the Grand Tour is largely based on the correspondence of some of the fascinating women who saw travelling to the continent as a way to enlightenment in the late 18th century. These were among the first women to leave England in the pursuit of knowledge, culture and art when only men were allowed and encouraged to do so. They also saw travelling as a way to escape unhappy or abusive marriages and complicated family affairs, or, on the contrary, as a way to complicate their family affairs by taking up lovers, delivering babies not belonging to their husbands and the like.
Source – Carl Spitzweg – English Tourists in the ‘Campagna’ c. 1835
Whatever the reason, though, travelling was providing much-needed freedom, ‘liberty’ as it was then called. Moreover, they returned with a broader view of life and society, with more aspirations and a desire to better other women’s views and circumstances as well, becoming writers or influential cultural figures.
This book is honestly so rich in information and lessons on a topic very close to my heart, that I find it very difficult to summarize it. I simply think it’s probably my best random book discovery so far, an inspiring read about women, without being a feminist book.
Origins of the Word Spa
Source – The Belgian Town of Spa
We’re all familiar with and probably have a sweet spot for the word spa. After all, it stands for relaxation and pampering, beauty treatments and plush bathrobes. But do you know where it comes from? I didn’t, so I felt like I had a revelation reading about the Belgian town of Spa, a favourite destination among the grand tourists of the 18th century, renowned for its mineral spring waters known and appreciated since Roman times.
Although it might seem like a modern times invention, there is a fascinating and long history behind spa therapies and there are many different types that you could indulge in today. I realised how little I take advantage of my hometown being a real spa town, with natural spring waters, hot springs and all sorts of other treatments. Next time I travel home, I must book some time at one of the many spa resorts we have!
Cabinet of Curiosities
Mentioned in the book above, among the main forms of entertainment – touring art galleries and museums, visiting grand mansions, taking small trips outside the big cities to see the sights, villages and nature – was the interest in cultivating collections of all sorts, to be displayed back home in Cabinets of Curiosities.
I’ve always loved this concept and I consider Miss Onion’s Exquisite Finds my (digital) cabinet of curiosities because it is a space I fill with notable things and ideas that contribute both to my pleasure and my lifelong learning – from books, culture and art, to style, nature, objects and products to buy or DIY.
In the past, the focus was on natural history (sometimes faked), geology, ethnography, archaeology, religious or historical relics, works of art and antiquities.
Apparently, there were two main types of cabinets, the princely cabinet, dominated by aesthetic concerns and a marked predilection for the exotic, and the more modest collection of the humanist scholar or virtuoso, which served more practical and scientific purposes.
I think we all know what kind mine would be, but I find it remarkable that some cabinets of curiosities, probably of the latter kind, formed collections that were precursors to museums, like the British Museum in London or Deyrolle in Paris.
Pardon my French
I used to speak French, even studying and taking exams in French for one semester during University, while visiting Lyon with an Erasmus scholarship. But that was ten years ago, I can’t believe it even while I am writing this now.
In recent years, whenever I happen to hear someone speaking in French I get nostalgic and wish I could cultivate this skill again. This time, while reading about all these amazing women travelling for enlightenment, learning, educating themselves and picking up French or Italian, I realised the world is one click away for me and I should put that to good use.
Looking up ways to retain a language, among the ones that seemed most accessible to me at the moment are to read (more) in French – books, newsletters, newspapers and magazines, to listen to audiobooks, podcasts and even music in French and to watch movies or series, activating the French subtitle as well, I would add. You can also try to find a practice buddy or even book a few refresher classes.
I am open to recommendations for all of the above!
Inventing New Cheese
Sometime last year I wrote about how cheese can go extinct and now I am sharing an article about two new types of French cheese that were invented in 2020. I have come full circle. I am a lover of cheese, although not a connaisseuse in any way, and I find cheese making fascinating. From the world of bacteria that truly are responsible for ‘producing’ it, to all the fine details that play a big role in obtaining amazingly different results.
I encourage you to read both articles if you haven’t already, it’s simply like stepping into a parallel universe!
I had no idea how many types of marble there are out there, but I found this guide very informative and I fell in love with some varieties I hadn’t even heard of before, like the luxurious Guatemala Green and the Portoro – the most expensive black marble in the world, but also the classic Carrara, used by Michelangelo for his sculpture of David.
I find marble an exquisite decor detail or accent, but to my taste it should be used in small doses, warming up the space with other materials, textures, colours etc. The image above is perfect! If overdone, I think it can create a cold atmosphere, particularly in that type of minimalist bathrooms, with marble on the walls and the floor, all white, no sign of personality or at least a pop of colour.
I also love all sorts of objects made out of marble, like ashtrays, beautiful cheese boards, lamps and vases and even side tables. I’ve just started a dedicated board on Pinterest for inspiration. Do you have any marble accents in your home?
Small Ditch – Mixed Media Collages
Source – All images via Small Ditch on Instagram
It occurred to me that I haven’t shared in a while any of the Instagram accounts that inspire me every time I have the chance to spend a few minutes scrolling. Martha Haversham’s account – Small Ditch does just that through her collages of mixed media and her use of unexpected ‘materials’ – from flowers to cigarette buts and garbage she stumbles upon.
With over 1,000 posts shared already, I dare you to have a look and find your favourite. I found it extremely difficult to stop browsing and just select a few to feature here.
Art is everywhere if we care to look, so let your creative juices flow this weekend!
If this letter has offered you a moment of inspiration, kindly forward it to others who might enjoy it too. And if you have been forwarded it, indulge in all previous Miss Onion’s Exquisite Finds and subscribe to the weekly letter.