There’s a woman who spends her summers at a house in a small town on an island off the coast of Maine. The old ferry goes there twice a day. It’s a simple house that’s been in her family for decades. She fixed it up and painted the interior a very specific shade of matte white. When it wasn’t exactly right, she painted it again. Outside is her old Mercedes convertible, but the top doesn’t work; sometimes it won’t go back up. If it’s raining and she has to go somewhere, she drives under an umbrella. The rest of the time she rides her bike around the island.
There’s an old hotel on the bay where she sits and watches the fishing boats come into the harbor. When she was young she would go down to the docks and stand next to the lobstermen unloading their boats. Sometimes she takes her drink out of the hotel bar and plays the piano in the lobby—nobody seems to mind. Sometimes no one is even there.
She collects fabrics from around the world. They’re everywhere in her house. They cover chairs, beds, furniture, and hang on the specifically white walls: Kente cloths from Ghana, indigo fabrics from Kyoto, mirrored rugs from Jaipur. They’re stacked every which way you turn. She buys them when she travels and ships them back in large trunks.
She went to an obscure monastery in Mongolia for a month. Well, she was supposed to stay a month. She didn't want to be silent the entire time and left after a few weeks. She spent the rest of the time on the beach in Goa, making small watercolors of the sea.
Her father, a French chef, tried to teach her to cook. She doesn’t cook much but can secretly make the best roast chicken you’ve ever had. After dinner she goes outside and smokes a single cigarette.
She spends part of every year in a house in Tangier. It’s a 55-minute flight from Madrid. The gardens are beautiful, and it’s not as hot in the summer as you’d think, she says.
Her New York apartment is in an old building. She says Marlon Brando lived there when he moved to the city, but I’m not sure I believe that. There’s a portrait of her on the wall painted by a well-known artist. He’s a friend of her grandmother and has known her all his life.
If she recommends something, it’s always good: a café in the 11th in Paris, a market in Fez, a smart place for flowers in Amsterdam, an art book store in Tokyo.
A woman of details, good design interests her. Never having been one for trends, she spends no time obsessing over them. She’s a surprising expert about unexpected things, like wooden country houses in Finland and Italian bicycle racing.
Her father sends her a tin of caviar for her birthday, and she invites her oldest friend over and they eat it right out of the container. They toast with a small, very cold glass of vodka and then slightly over-serve themselves champagne.
She’s fashionable but wears worn well. In the morning she reads the paper casually in a cotton robe she got from the Hotel Okura. She has an old military watch that belonged to her grandfather.
She has a drawer full of gifts from men. Some are opulent; some are tender; some are ludicrous.
At night she wears a big overcoat to parties. She usually doesn’t take it off. It always looks like she might leave at any moment, that she has somewhere else to be. Sometimes she decides not to go to a gala at the last minute. She might go to a diner instead.
You always want to know her next stop. But she never tells. She may not even know herself.
POINT OF DEPARTURE