At Christmas

Alfred Hitchcock and his grandchildren, 1960

 
 

“A man is at his finest towards the finish of the year;
He is almost what he should be when the Christmas season’s here;
Then he’s thinking more of others than he’s thought the months before,
And the laughter of his children is a joy worth toiling for.
He is less a selfish creature than at any other time;
When the Christmas spirit rules him he comes close to the sublime.

When it’s Christmas man is bigger and is better in his part;
He is keener for the service that is prompted by the heart.
All the petty thoughts and narrow seem to vanish for awhile
And the true reward he’s seeking is the glory of a smile.
Then for others he is toiling and somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas he is almost what God wanted him to be.
If I had to paint a picture of a man I think I’d wait
Till he’d fought his selfish battles and had put aside his hate.
I’d not catch him at his labors when his thoughts are all of pelf,
On the long days and the dreary when he’s striving for himself.
I’d not take him when he’s sneering, when he’s scornful or depressed,
But I’d look for him at Christmas when he’s shining at his best.
Man is ever in a struggle and he’s oft misunderstood;
There are days the worst that’s in him is the master of the good,
But at Christmas kindness rules him and he puts himself aside
And his petty hates are vanquished and his heart is opened wide.
Oh, I don’t know how to say it, but somehow it seems to me
That at Christmas man is almost what God sent him here to be.

Edgar Albert Guest

A Christmas Carol

Audrey Hepburn in Switzerland, Christmas day, 1958

 
 

“In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there.
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part, -
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart

Christina Georgina Rossetti

In Drear-Nighted December

Portrait of John Keats by William Hilton

 
 

In drear-nighted December,

Too happy, happy tree,

Thy branches ne’er remember

Their green felicity:

The north cannot undo them

With a sleety whistle through them;

Nor frozen thawings glue them

From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,

Too happy, happy brook,

Thy bubblings ne’er remember

Apollo’s summer look;

But with a sweet forgetting,

They stay their crystal fretting,

Never, never petting

About the frozen time.

Ah! would ’twere so with many

A gentle girl and boy!

But were there ever any

Writhed not at passed joy?

The feel of not to feel it,

When there is none to heal it

Nor numbed sense to steel it,

Was never said in rhyme.

John Keats

 
 
This work was written in December 1817 and first published in the Literary Gazette in 1829.

Pleasure Never Is at Home

FANCY

Ever let the Fancy roam,
Pleasure never is at home:
At a touch sweet Pleasure melteth,
Like to bubbles when rain pelteth;
Then let winged Fancy wander
Through the thought still spread beyond her:
Open wide the mind’s cage-door,
She’ll dart forth, and cloudward soar.
O sweet Fancy! let her loose;
Summer’s joys are spoilt by use,
And the enjoying of the Spring
Fades as does its blossoming;
Autumn’s red-lipp’d fruitage too,
Blushing through the mist and dew,
Cloys with tasting: What do then?
Sit thee by the ingle, when
The sear faggot blazes bright,
Spirit of a winter’s night;
When the soundless earth is muffled,
And the caked snow is shuffled
From the ploughboy’s heavy shoon;
When the Night doth meet the Noon
In a dark conspiracy
To banish Even from her sky.
Sit thee there, and send abroad,
With a mind self-overaw’d,
Fancy, high-commission’d:–send her!
She has vassals to attend her:
She will bring, in spite of frost,
Beauties that the earth hath lost;
She will bring thee, all together,
All delights of summer weather;
All the buds and bells of May,
From dewy sward or thorny spray;
All the heaped Autumn’s wealth,
With a still, mysterious stealth:
She will mix these pleasures up
Like three fit wines in a cup,
And thou shalt quaff it:–thou shalt hear
Distant harvest-carols clear;
Rustle of the reaped corn;
Sweet birds antheming the morn:
And, in the same moment, hark!
‘Tis the early April lark,
Or the rooks, with busy caw,
Foraging for sticks and straw.
Thou shalt, at one glance, behold
The daisy and the marigold;
White-plum’d lillies, and the first
Hedge-grown primrose that hath burst;
Shaded hyacinth, alway
Sapphire queen of the mid-May;
And every leaf, and every flower
Pearled with the self-same shower.
Thou shalt see the field-mouse peep
Meagre from its celled sleep;
And the snake all winter-thin
Cast on sunny bank its skin;
Freckled nest-eggs thou shalt see
Hatching in the hawthorn-tree,
When the hen-bird’s wing doth rest
Quiet on her mossy nest;
Then the hurry and alarm
When the bee-hive casts its swarm;
Acorns ripe down-pattering,
While the autumn breezes sing.

Oh, sweet Fancy! let her loose;
Every thing is spoilt by use:
Where’s the cheek that doth not fade,
Too much gaz’d at? Where’s the maid
Whose lip mature is ever new?
Where’s the eye, however blue,
Doth not weary? Where’s the face
One would meet in every place?
Where’s the voice, however soft,
One would hear so very oft?
At a touch sweet Pleasure melteth
Like to bubbles when rain pelteth.
Let, then, winged Fancy find
Thee a mistress to thy mind:
Dulcet-ey’d as Ceres’ daughter,
Ere the God of Torment taught her
How to frown and how to chide;
With a waist and with a side
White as Hebe’s, when her zone
Slipt its golden clasp, and down
Fell her kirtle to her feet,
While she held the goblet sweet
And Jove grew languid.–Break the mesh
Of the Fancy’s silken leash;
Quickly break her prison-string
And such joys as these she’ll bring.–
Let the winged Fancy roam,
Pleasure never is at home.

John Keats

 
 

The actress Audrey Hepburn photographed with her husband Mel Ferrer in Rome (Italy). Photo by Sanford Roth, March 1958. Audrey was wearing a Givenchy suit (of wool, jacket and skirt, of his collection for the Autumn/Winter 1955/56) and Salvatore Ferragamo shoes.

On The Spanish Steps

Piazza di Spagna in an 18th-century etching by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, seen from south. The street on the left is Via del Babuino, leading to Piazza del Popolo.

 
 

The Spanish Steps or Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti are a set of steps in Rome, Italy, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top.

The monumental stairway of 135 steps (the slightly elevated drainage system is often mistaken for the first step) was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy, and the Trinità dei Monti church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France, both located above — to the Holy See in Palazzo Monaldeschi located below. The stairway was designed by architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi.

 
 

In the piazza, at the corner on the right as one begins to climb the steps, is the house where English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821; it is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English Romantic generation.

 
 

At the top the stairway ramp up the Pincio which is the Pincian Hill. From the top of the steps the Villa Medici can be reached.

During Christmas time a 19th-century crib is displayed on the first landing of the staircase. During May, part of the steps are cover
ed by pots of azaleas. In modern times the Spanish Steps have included a small cut-flower market. The steps are not a place for eating lunch, being forbidden by Roman urban regulations, but they are usually crowded with people.

 
 

 
 

In the Piazza di Spagna at the base is the Early Baroque fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the ugly Boat), built in 1627-29 and often credited to Pietro Bernini, father of a more famous son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who is recently said to have collaborated on the decoration. The elder Bernini had been the pope’s architect for the Acqua Vergine, since 1623. According to a legend, Pope Urban VIII had the fountain installed after he had been impressed by a boat brought here by a flood of the Tiber river.

 
 

The film Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953), starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, made the Spanish Steps famous to an American audience

 
 

The apartment that was the setting for The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (José Quintero, 1961) is halfway up on the right

 
 

The Steps were featured prominently in the film version of The Talented Mr. Ripley(Anthony Minghella, 1999) starring Matt Damon in the title role

 
 

To watch Morten Harket’s Spanish Steps music video, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

Like a Roman Holiday

“I believe in constant pauses
Like a Roman holiday
And I often stop for air
As I climb the Spanish stairs”.

Lee Jackson and Patrick Moraz (Refugee)
Credo (Part I)

 
 

The actress Audrey Hepburn photographed with Mr. Famous in the Spanish Steps. Photographer unknown, April 1958

 
 

Photo by Elio Sorci, March 1961

A Joy for Ever

A THING OF BEAUTY (ENDYMION)

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing…”

John Keats

 
 

Stills from Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953). Enjoying her freedom, on a whim, Anya gets her hair cut short in a barbershop. Joe follows and “accidentally” meets her on the Spanish Steps, Rome (Italy)

A Supposed Lie Detector

Alfred Hitchcock at La Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth) in Rome

 
 

La Bocca della Verità is an image, carved from Pavonazzo marble, of a man-like face, located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy. The sculpture is thought to be part of a first-century ancient Roman fountain, or perhaps a manhole cover, portraying one of several possible pagan gods, probably Oceanus. Most Romans believe that the ‘Bocca’ represents the ancient god of the river Tiber.

The most famous characteristic of the Mouth, however, is its role as a lie detector. Starting from the Middle Ages, it was believed that if one told a lie with one’s hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off. The piece was placed in the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the 17th century. This church is also home to the supposed relics of Saint Valentine.

 
 

Joe (Gregory Peck) shocks his royal friend (Audrey Hepburn), pretending to have lost his hand to the Mouth of Truth

 
 

The Mouth of Truth is known to English-speaking audiences mostly from its appearance in the film Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953). The film also uses the Mouth of Truth as a storytelling device since both Hepburn’s and Peck’s characters are not initially truthful with each other.

 
 

This scene from Roman Holiday was parodied in the film Only You (Norman Jewison, 1994) starring Robert Downey Jr. and Marisa Tomei

When I Have Fears

Alfred Hitchcock photographed by Irving Penn

 
 

“When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;–then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink…”

John Keats

Levels of Suspense

Out of the many prominent motifs Alfred Hitchcock uses in his films, staircases are the key to understanding his view of the world. Coming from a lower-middle class family himself, Hitchcock uses stairs to indicate differences in societal class. In the 1927 film The Lodger, Ivor Novello’s character lives above the family who rents the house out, indicating to the audience that he is of higher societal stature than the rest of the family. The lodger’s class is also indicated when he purchases a very expensive dress Daisy, the landlady’s daughter, models for him. The viewer must pay careful attention to visual clues, like the staircase, which hint at the lodger’s class in Hitchcock’s early silent films.

Then, adding sound, in his 1929 film Blackmail, Hitchcock uses an elaborately created staircase set design to show their important significance. In this film, the stairs to Crewe’s apartment are like venturing into another world, where everything delves into chaos. Hitchcock shows us the long walk up with Alice and Crewe using a side angle, and then Alice’s lone journey back into the real world after she has defended herself against Crewe. Hitchcock gives us a downward view of Alice running down the staircase, an angle which he will be known for in his 1958 film Vertigo.

Overall, in Hitchcock’s films, stairs are a tool to build suspense and dramatic effect, and to symbolize a journey for the characters.

 
 

The Lodger (1927)

 
 

Blackmail (1929)

 
 

The 39 Steps (1935)

 
 

Rebecca (1940)

 
 

Suspicion (1941)

 
 

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

 
 

Spellbound (1945)

 
 

Notorious (1946)

 
 

I Confess (1953)

 
 

Dial M for Murder (1954)

 
 

Rear Window (1954)

 
 

To Catch a Thief (1955)

 
 

Vertigo (1958)

 
 

Psycho (1960)

 
 

Marnie (1964)

 
 

Topaz (1969)

Jacques Fath’s Muse

Geneviève and Jacques Fath. Photos by Nina Leen, 1946

 
 

 Photo by Maurice Jarnoux

 
 

Jacques Fath, who has been described by Italian journalist Bonaventuro Calora as “extremely effeminate” and a former lover of the French film director Léonide Moguy, married, in 1939, Geneviève Boucher de la Bruyère. The bride was a former model from an aristocratic family who had been a secretary to Coco Chanel. They had one son, Philippe (born 1943). According to Fath’s friend Princess Giovanna Pignatelli Aragona Cortés, Geneviève Fath, who directed the business side of her husband’s firm during his lifetime, was a lesbian.

Mrs Jacques Fath travelled the US with a $12, 000 wardrobe — almost $116.000 in today’s currency — all created by her husband, the legendary Jacques Fath. This included 17 hats, 16 pairs of shoes, 10 handbags, four umbrellas, and other accessories, not including 12 trunks full of suits and dresses.

 
 

Life Magazine, April 19, 1948

Fath on Stairs

Jacques Fath Leaning on Stair Railing. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

 
 

Alan Band Photos

 
 

Lisa Fonssagrives photographed by her first husband, Fernand Fonssagrives, c. 1949

 
 

Simone Micheline Bodin, better known as “Bettina”, and Frances McLaughlin-Gill. Photo by Gordon Parks, 1950

 
 

The model Patricia Donald Smith is wearing Jacques Fath. Photo by Walde Huth, 1955

Crystal Stair

Langston Hughes on the steps in front of his house in Harlem. Photo by Robert W. Kelley, June 1958

 
 

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Langston Hughes