The light in the room had gradually softened until every shape and every form had begun to merge into the surroundings. Soon we were sitting in something less than twilight. Celia remained almost as still as a crystal. She spoke in a voice so melodic, so delicate that I felt as if I had been transported into a dusky mist-laden land of enchantment. We had been talking about art and fashion and beauty. Music had been playing – almost unnoticed – in the background: sometimes we could just discern a piano sonata; sometimes a muted symphony; largo, adagio and then adagietto …
In a moment of silence I recalled a song that I had first heard a long long time ago. A singer proposed the line: ‘And you read your Emily Dickinson – and I my Robert Frost.’ I had always imagined the two people, a young man and a young woman, both sitting in the fading grandeur of a high-ceilinged room; a room made for poets; and, both were reading, when each would occasionally look up to remark on something that had occurred to them, each separated by mood, and then, by time. The same singer reflects on their ‘dangling conversation’ before that moment in which he identifies the couple now on ‘the borders of their lives.’
Celia and I were meeting at the borders of our lives – on the border of hers and on the border of mine.
By now the light had been silently taken, spirited-away by the God of night. We were sitting in a deep blue-grey darkness. Celia, the sofa upon which she was sitting, and the room – with all its books and glass ornaments and its bright green curtains – had become one.
I wanted to move across those borders. I wanted to discover, and get to know and sense so much more about the depth and the qualities of this beautiful person.
A month went by. Celia had been ill. She had a great deal of work to do if she were to make up all the lost ground that had befallen her during her course in Fashion and Fashion Design.
At last we were able to meet. I had found a pamphlet featuring an exhibition of Cecil Beaton’s exquisite fashion photographs, photographs of that exclusive elegance once belonging to high society. I was so pleased to be able to give this to Celia. I was sure that she would like the style (and even the opulence) of that world, a world that has gradually disappeared as our cultures have moved into the age of bright and shiny surfaces that now surrounds us all.
In our second conversation, Celia would come to tell me about her life, her identity and why she felt as if the United Kingdom was now becoming her second home. And, in return, I would paint a portrait of her. I would set out to express something that is remarkable about her graceful presence.
Celia is 27 years old and is from Taiwan; even the relentless rain of the last month or so in England has not diminished her appreciation of its culture. In the next conversation Celia would disclose more about herself, her love of fashion, her values and her sensibilities. Soon we would cross the borders of our lives.
Footnote: Celia is studying Fashion and Fashion Design at the University for the Creative Arts. She has a degree in English and, in addition to her first language Chinese, she speaks English, French and Spanish.
The title of the song I recalled is: ‘The Dangling conversation‘ by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. It was released in September 1966 on their album, ‘Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme.’
The photographs above and below show Celia in different contexts. The one below features the setting for our second conversation. The one above could be on a fashion shoot somewhere …