“The secret of living is not staying too long. I have learned when to leave the party.” These words are not mine but are attributed to the American designer of today’s scarf, Bill Blass. They give me the excuse to dust off the magic carpet after a couple of weeks’ sadness over illness and a Royal death (Bill left just before his 80th birthday and Philip before his 100th) and fly off to sunny California to land on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
But let me tell you first a little about my scarf and it’s designer. It is vintage silk, soft muted greys, saxe blue and a gentle pink, a geometric striped design with the name BILL BLASS boldly printed in black in one corner of the square. Good hems and folds nicely diagonally to be tied in a knot. So important to check how a patterned scarf will look when folded. And what do we know about the history of the actual man behind its design? Born in the 1920’s with a natural talent for drawing and fashion, as a very young fifteen year old he made evening dresses for a New York manufacturer, earning enough money to put himself through art school to launch himself in his fashion business later in life, after signing up for the army in 1941 during WW2. I like the idea that alongside his fashion business, his colour design was used by the Ford Motor Company for the interior of one of their car models. It seems it was fashionable in these days to use designers like him, Emilio Pucci, Givenchy, Cartier and others to create colour and interior designs for vehicles. Not only was he fashionable but very commercially successful, generously leaving half of his fifty million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on his death. He was a collector of true antiquities, again donating important ancient sculptures to the museum to be enjoyed by others. It makes me smile to think I am also, quite accidentally, a collector of scarves and memories generated by them which maybe through this pandemic have provided an odd modest legacy.
So where will Bill’s scarf take the carpet to today? His quotation indicated he knew when to leave a party. I didn’t!
We will land in Sausalito, nestling on the hill running down to the Bay, overlooking San Francisco. I had lived there from the Seventies with my husband and dog following our time in Hong Kong, and in the Eighties we were joined by a daughter. Sausalito had always been a different kind of place, land of the Miwoks, later a fishing village with a strong Portuguese influence, a discrete yet racy spot for illicit amours in the Twenties, and yet later the ‘in’ place for music in the Flower Power Sixties with Janis Joplin, Mick Jagger and the like all hanging out at The Trident. Artists abounded, bandanas everywhere, not unusual to see the odd pet wolf also sporting a spotted kerchief, the former infamous Sally Stanford, reputably the Queen Madame of San Francisco’s bordellos, now respectably Mayor of Sausalito and owner of a popular restaurant, keeping an eye on the cash till from her antique barber’s chair with pet dog Leland at her feet. Bill Blass left a legacy to the Met; Sally left two drinking fountains by the ferry, one for humans, the other for dogs. The humans’ reads ‘Have a drink on Sally’, the animals’ ‘Have a drink on Leland’. The Sausalito waterfront was abound with restaurants, some in modest shacks, book stores, industrial buildings turned into art studios and workshops, a yacht club and a unique collection of houseboats which was like another village built out onto the Bay. Yes, there were also seals bobbing their heads up to add a playful note midst pelicans, egrets and the like. Surprisingly, the water was cold. We lived in the Banana Belt of Sausalito but the seawater was freezing! A place of exciting contrasts.
So, where was this party I had to leave? It was not actually a party but a restaurant bar on the bay called Zack’s. We had lived in Sausalito for a couple of years a few hundred yards away but had never visited although it was quite world famous....or should I say infamous? To drum up business, the canny owner had introduced turtle racing some years before and once a week this was the highlight. A ring was drawn on the bar floor, these little creatures were placed in the centre of the ring and the first to cross the perimeter was the winner. Our daughter worked at the British Consulate, one of my best friend’s husband was also with the Consulate and my husband ran a property business. All very respectable. We decided we would have a ‘girls’ night out and see what this turtle racing was all about. What innocence! The turtles on that particular night seemed reluctant to move and it was a non event. Little did we know, but Zack’s was a singles bar. A group of men offered us drinks; my daughter was twenty-one, my friend looked like Elizabeth Taylor and I was MUM! We were three Brits and bought our own margaritas, thank you very much! The dance music was loud and the place was filling up. The children had disappeared, the family atmosphere gone and different languages were heard. It was the kind of place where you just got up and danced on your own and I found myself dancing next a Canadian fisherman who spoke only French. They had just moored in the Bay fishing for sardine. He was a piano tuner and this was a summer job. As you know, I love languages and I was having such a nice time practising my A level French and innocently bopping around. Suddenly there was a noise of breaking glass and a fight had broken out. My daughter grabbed me by the arm. “We’re leaving NOW!” “But we have only just arrived and my margarita is on the table....” NOW meant immediately. We ran out and all was explained when we were well up the hill. Our house was nearby and the police sirens were very loud. The first group of local men who had offered us drinks evidently thought the Canadian fishermen were muscling in on their targets and had smashed a glass in the ensuing fight. Little did they know we were merely out to experience the turtle racing. Thank goodness we could run a bit faster than the testudine genus with those protective shells. I am presently older and wiser, decidedly slower, and like to think I now know when to leave a party.
I went back to California many years later and visited the same place for lunch. The name had changed to Margaritaville, with somewhat indifferent food, but it was good to catch up with old friends and I managed to finish my margarita. On yet another visit, it was now trading as Paradise Bay and was very much a family diner. Now my flying carpet has landed and I find the name changed yet again to Sausalito’s Crab House. It must now be serving this crustacean as it’s speciality. I will have to watch out I don’t dribble all over my Bill Blass scarf as my mouth waters in anticipation. That cold water in this part of the world means good crab. Yet I will not tarry long over my crab cakes as I have just taken delivery of new garden furniture in Richmond, and I am anxious to get back to see my garden planted for summer parties. Hopefully, my guests will know when to leave, well fed, watered and upright and my Stuart crystal glasses intact.
Busy Bee, Scarf Face!
Series 2, Blog 42.