I have just returned after a completely invigorating week in the United States, lecturing and doing book signings. New York was looking wonderful in bright wintry sunshine and Fall colours, and I visited St John the Divine, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the stupendous exhibition devoted to the acquisitions made during the tenure of Phillipe de Montebello, the retiring director; I also visit the Frick, and breathe in the heady scent of that opulent taste and look in awe at the astonishing paintings there gathered. Of all the other buildings, while I admire the chutzpah of the great towers and the grids of street, my favourite is probably unfashionably Grand Central Station, although I also make detours to St Patrick’s Cathedral, as well as the Villard Buildings and the Waldorf Astoria.
I stayed with the very successful country-house architect Anne Fairfax of Fairfax and Sammons, their delightful home in the hubbub of Greenwich Village, with a house full of cats and dogs. I also lectured at the clubs in New York and in Cleveland, both times to wonderfully hospitable and interested audiences, both times with a delicious lunch. Everywhere I am looked after so well, and I notice good manners more than anything. In Ohio I am put up in a delightful hunt club, in a picturesque village of white painted houses and a church with that typical spire inspired by Wren’s churches. The delightful Beth Dougherty hosts a book launch for the Vanbrugh book at Potterton Books in the Design and Decoration Building in 3rd Avenue, where I am part of “Brit Week”, with other English authors, such as Oliver Bradbury and Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill. There is a gathering of architects and interior decorators and a fine showing of tweed.
Most surprisingly the hunt club house turns out to have been completely rebuilt in the 1990s, after a major fire which consumed all the contents; but it is now graciously furnished with 18th- and early 19th- century furniture and good copies. The walls are covered in 19th-century sporting prints, and works by Cecil Aldin, as well as portraits of pink-coated masters, and side tables groan with silver sporting trophies. There is a funeral gathering for a local grandee and so I slip out to admire the charm of the village of weather boarded houses. I am charmed by America, and cannot believe it has been so long since my last visit.
For more on my trip see Country Life magazine Dec 3, 2008