Architecture Art Design Fashion Luxury People

Mary Martin London + Adil Oliver Sharif

The Turn of the Shrewd

On a cold wintry Saturday afternoon a former linen warehouse in Old Street London is all ablaze. Not literally on fire – the sparks flying are the creativity type. Afrobeats are vibrating across the attic floor below the exposed beams and bolts and screws. Something’s afoot. “Rolling, rolling!” orders the Film Director. A strong familiar voice echoes across the vast haunted space, “I love the camera! I can’t say I don’t! It screams at me! We need the drama for the camera! I love fashion! I love art! I love creativity!” Welcome. Maryland is back in town. The American philosopher Marilynne Robinson believes, “No one can anticipate your gifts because they are unique to you.” There will be lots of anticipation but no ambiguity in Mary’s unique first person narrative.

When the distinguished Director Adil Oliver Sharif was introduced to Mary Martin London through a mutual friend, the Lebanese Sierra Leonean model Yasmin Jamaal, he knew he’d struck camera gold. Adil has been filming interesting people over the last year or two. Mary’s his 66th interviewee, taking ‘interesting’ to a whole new level. She’s so interesting that Adil is now collaborating on a feature length film with Mary – and her friends, who include some of the biggest names in arts, culture and entertainment. This former warehouse is his studio and its flaxen heritage could hardly be more apropos as the backdrop to London’s leading black fashion designer sharing her story.

Everyone and everything are in flux as cameras, lights, seating, backdrops are arranged. And rearranged. And rearranged a little more. Adil is the ultimate perfectionist as is his team: assistant Racquel Escobar Rios and Director of Photography Nick Galbusera. “I love going deep,” confides Adil. “I love the complexities of the human skin and what reflects and swims deep within.” Mid afternoon and the set is ready for action. “Are we rolling? After establishing and managing my daughter’s career, I thought what can I do for myself?” muses Mary. “Hey! I’ll put my hand to sewing!”

Celetia Martin’s successful song writing and singing career has included numerous hit singles plus collaborations with the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Janet Jackson and Usher. She spent two years touring America with Groove Armada as the band’s lead vocalist. Celetia now manages rising stars herself. Not content with launching her daughter’s career in the arts, there was no way Mary was going to rest on her Grammys. So it’s not surprising she labelled the start of her career in fashion “a learning curve”.

“A lot of my mistakes were the making of my best dreams,” Mary recalls. “One of my first artistic realisations was the Fairy Tale Collection. It was all these fluffy free dreamers. I was backstage looking down as the dresses came out on the catwalk. All I could think of was am I crazy? But then everybody started clapping like in a Hollywood movie. From thereon it just started. A few years later I would get a degree in fashion and textiles with flying colours!”

“The drive behind the creativity of a show motivates me. And I love creating something from nothing. I never even like to know what I make. I like to surprise myself!” she relates. “My strength comes from God. I’m a great believer in God. I love God. He’s what drives me. That’s why I create. I’m unique. God made us all in His image yet everyone is unique. This gives me a sense of freedom and the ability to do things differently from other people. I’m a very very spiritual person. I do believe in the afterlife. I love being spiritual. I’m in this field walking, walking, walking… so pleasant being spiritual. Spirituality means a lot to me. God is my all in all.” Marilynne Robinson expresses, “I know what I want to do. I know what is mine to do. I know what is not mine to do.” So does Mary.

Her path to freedom and success hasn’t exactly been unsmooth. There would be a silver lining for Mary but in the beginning there was no silver spoon. She keeps going: “I’m from a family of 13 children. I was the seventh child – nobody took any notice of me. That’s why I’m an attention seeker now! A diva! I was born by the River Taff in Wales. It was beautiful. But I faced racism at school so I ran away. I ended up in a children’s home. Actually I was in about 10 to 15 children’s homes. I didn’t learn to read or write. Eventually I went to London to live with my aunty. Are we still rolling?”

Ever her glass more than half full, running over, Mary overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles. “Not being educated meant I had to force myself to do things in life. Not being able to read or write that well even now means my mind is more adjustable to shapes and how to put things together.” It’s the turn of the shrewd. As for the racism, “Don’t hate. Use your energy to find your creative self. Learn the essence of time – use your time well.” Mary volunteers at the youth mentoring Urban Synergy charity, encouraging children to follow her into the fashion industry. “We know nothing about the nature of time,” contends Marilynne Robinson. “Time in some sense exists simultaneously with itself. It’s not sequential in the way we experience it.”

“Fashion is an expression of myself,” Mary argues. “I’ve got a thing about fashion. I love texture – combine scuba with to see the way an outfit can move. Voila! Creative mind flow! That’s what I call it. I’m like a child in a candy shop when I’m in the middle of a fabric store. I could sleep with fabric. Real love. I’m attracted to creative people who are a bit different. I don’t do normal. I don’t do boring. Fame doesn’t mean anything to me. High regard for talent? I get that. I don’t want the fame. I just want God to have all the glory.” Marilynne Robinson suggests, “If there’s a place in heaven for the arts, that will be the hallelujah!”

“The major influence in my life has been myself,” Mary summates. “I challenge myself every day to be better, to change designs, to be the better me. I’m a free spirit! I live my life freely. Every day I wake up I’m happy to be alive. I’m a black woman, a strong black woman. There, I’ve let you into Maryland.” The afternoon closes and beyond the red brick gabled walls of the former linen warehouse, over a sea of grey tiled roofs, the mellowing sun sets over the city. On an attic floor in Old Street London, a Jamesian “cloud of music and affection and success” floats away: it’s a wrap.



Margate Kent +

Trinity Square And More

“If our myths and truths are only another exotic blossoming, the free play of possibility, then they are fully as real and as worthy of respect as anything else.” The Death of Adam, Marilynne Robinson

Margate is a town of firsts. The first Georgian square built at a seaside resort (Cecil Square). The world’s first sea bathing hospital. First for beach donkeys. First for deckchairs. The originality stretches into the naming of its spaces and places. Buenos Ayres is the earliest major terrace (Georgian although much Victorianised) between the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital and Old Town. A meandering dander down Canterbury Road onto Marine Terrace offers up Artisans and Adventurers (décor and jewellery shop); Handsome Freaks (clothes shop); The Happy Dolphin (guest house); The Mechanical Elephant (Wetherspoon pub); Ruskin de la Mer (souvenirs and beachwear); and Sunset Rock Shop (sweetshop).

“It all comes down to the mystery of the relationship between the mind and the cosmos.” The Death of Adam, Marilynne Robinson

Architects Architecture

Margate Winter Gardens + Fort Green Margate Kent

A Tale of One Town

Our dear friend Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors, invented the phrase “shabby chic”. Her flat on Brompton Square epitomised the look. She told us, “’Chic’ is simply style used with an élan that has a social or intellectual overtone.” What about ‘shabby’? “Apart from its obvious aesthetic appeal, shabbiness is the only defence and bastion against ostentation and misspent money. For architecture and interiors to have arrived at a shabby state usually implies that the things were of good quality and built to last back in their heyday. It doesn’t matter a fig if they are scuffed, worn, or out of fashion. It’s the traces of the haphazardness of living that bring things to life and give them reality, and reality is what shabby chic is all about!”

If there’s a town that sums up shabby chic, it’s Margate. Now that we are all working from home, experiencing the return of cottage industries, Margate will likely become more gentrified with an influx of Londoners wanting rooms with views – less shabbiness more chicness. Not necessarily a good thing – there’s a lot of charm in the resort’s peeling paint and overgrown hedgerows. And nowhere more so than the Winter Gardens above Fort Lower Promenade. The Winter Gardens are a bit bonkers, like Min (if in doubt check out Ms Hogg’s mischievous after hours appearance in Rupert Everett’s autobiography!). The Listers praise the Winter Gardens as “an example of a rare seaside entertainment building type. Its form, with a semicircular amphitheatre is unique. It is the only known example of a winter garden constructed within a chalk cliff.”

Built in 1911 to the design of the Borough Surveyor of Margate, Ernest Borg, the roughly shell shaped amphitheatre (later roofed over) is symmetrically hugged on either side by the grassy slopes of Fort Green and overlooked by Fort Crescent and Fort Paragon. The style is Mykonos-on-Sea. Variety and vaudeville, Dame Nellie Melba and Anna Pavlova, the Winter Gardens have had them all. Holidaying in Margate? It was the best of times, then things got even better. It was our season of sunshine, it was our summer of hope. Although Marilynne Robinson does warn in The Death of Adam, “At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment. The present is elusive for the same reasons as is the past.”


Northumberland Hall Margate Kent + Lavender’s Blue

Our Testimony

Beach Lantern Northumberland Hall Margate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Opened in 1904, Northumberland Hall continues the gospel tradition into the 21st century. The Lord’s Day meetings keep going as does the Thursday evening Address. The gable fronted Edwardian brick and plaster façade remains true to the town and street and faith and scripture. Sometimes seeing is more than believing. Marilynne Robinson in The Death of Adam beseeches, “By the standards of my generation, all of my life I have gone to church with a kind of perseverance as I do to this day. Once recently I found myself travelling all night to be home in time for church, and it occurred to me to consider in what spirit or out of need I would need to do such a thing. My tradition does not encourage the idea that God would find any merit in it. I go to church for my own gratification, which is intense, although it had never occurred to me before to describe it to myself.” And that is the story of Calvinist salvation, a longing fulfilled, a desire satisfied, a promise met, not a dramatic Damascene revelation but rather a gradual and rather beautiful opening and awakening of truths.

Cross Northumberland Hall Margate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Zion Place Northumberland Hall Margate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Zion Place Margate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Northumberland Hall Margate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Gable Northumberland Hall Margate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Scriptures Northumberland Hall Margate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architects Architecture Art Design Fashion Luxury People

Mary Martin London + The Return Collection + Foreign + Commonwealth Office London


The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” croons Lisa-Marie Presley. You ain’t. And you won’t. Not yet. For Mary Martin London is busy sewing up a storm for her forthcoming fashion feat: The Return Collection. This comes hot and heavy on the haute heels of her last extravaganza Blood Sweat and Tears. This time it really is all about power dressing. And the corridors of power are about to be torn up by the thrust and throttle no room for boondoggle of a Mary Martin London show. “If our myths and truths are only another exotic blossoming, the free play of possibility,” writes Marilynne Robinson in The Death of Adam, “then they are fully as real and as worthy of respect as anything else.”

Rooftop The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Show. Not merely catwalk, for Mary will as ever be mixing decks in between directing the lighting, sound, photography, choreography, and always, laughter. There is really only one space that can hold its own for her solo show. Enter Durbar Court. “I like that the heads of the East India Company leaders will be looking down on my catwalk!” Mary howls laughing. “History and all that!” The Court was first used in 1867 for a reception of the Sultan of Turkey. King Edward VII threw his Coronation party here in 1902. Ms Robinson again, “At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment.” More recently, President Trump gave a speech here; Victoria Beckham showed last summer; Vivienne Westwood before that; but this is a first: a black female designer holding court in Durbar Court.

Downing Street Sign The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Staircase The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Statue The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Muses' Stair The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Empress Eugenie Muses' Stair The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Durbar Court The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Durbar Court Roof The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Durbar Court Arcades The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Columns The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Chandelier Durbar Court The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is accessed off King Charles Street. It backs onto Downing Street. Numbers 10 and 11 can be glimpsed through muslin drapes. Architect George Gilbert Scott and the India Office’s surveyor Matthew Digby Wyatt were the dream design team. Completed in 1875, really it’s a cluster of buildings: the Foreign Office, India Office, Colonial and Home Offices. George Gilbert Scott supplied the august neoclassical cloak of architecture enveloping the inner sanctum of Matthew Digby Wyatt’s grand interior which reaches a climax in Durbar Court, a marvel in Greek, Sicilian and Belgian marble. Three storeys of columns and piers supporting arches rise to the glazed roof. The ground floor Doric and first floor Ionic columns are red Peterhead granite; the top floor Corinthian columns, grey Aberdeen granite. It’s the atrium of atria, arcades in Arcadia.

Frieze The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

There’s so much art and sculpture and history layered with meaning and misapprehension in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. En processional route to Durbar Court is the Muses’ Stair. An octagonal glass lantern lighting the Portland stone staircase is decorated by Canephorae, Roman goddesses of plenty, floating over cherubs representing Roman virtues. Portraits of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie hang between red Devonshire marble and grey Derbyshire marble Corinthian columns.

2012 Olympic Torch The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Dare to be you!” Reverend Andy Rider preached in his last sermon as Rector of Christ Church Spitalfields. Over 100 years ago Lady Sybil Grant wrote in her self hagiography, “Provided that we are a star we should not trouble about the relative importance of our position in the heavens.” Fastforward a century or so and Mary is confident of her place in the firmament. And daring to be Mary Martin London. The creation of Eve. “We should be thankful that our cinematographic life in London still affords the quality of mystery and unexpectedness,” proclaimed Lady Sybil. Big statement.

Mary Martin London The Foreign and Commonwealth Office London © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Big statement architecture requires big statement fashion. Another interjection from Marilynne Robinson, “It all comes down to the mystery of the relationship between the mind and the cosmos.” First there was The Black Dress: “I see through a dark cloud of black mist.” Then The Red Dress: “The tainted bride is no longer a virgin.” Next came The White Dress: “I dream of memories when I was a Queen.” There’s only one dress left. The Rainbow Dress: “It’s finally coming – the biggest and the best! The Rainbow Dress will open The Return Collection!” the fashion artist declares. “A world champion ballerina will combine Tai quan dao and African dance on the catwalk. I’m bringing it in a bit different! People haven’t been out so I’m going to give them an amazing show. The Return to Africa. I’m out of the box!” Out of the box and into the Court. “Just A Dream” mourns Lisa-Marie Presley. Not for Mary Martin London. She is all about turning dreams into fantasies into realities into myths and truths. An uncommon wealth of talent.

Mary Martin London Men's Jacket © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Art Design People

Museé des Beaux-Arts + Conquête Urbaine Calais

Calaisfornia Dreaming

On a summer’s day. Liberal Christian philosopher Marilynne Robinson speaks: “What is the errand you came to flesh upon? It’s yours, not somebody else’s. Do you know what I mean? And it’s beautiful, and it has much potential as you give it attention and possibility. You are not in competition with anybody else. There’s nobody else who can be you. Your uniqueness is guaranteed so long as you respect it. My deepest feeling on this question is that if you find that something is so interesting to you that you put aside other things that are more practically important to pursue that interest, you’re doing the right thing.” Living art.

Architecture Art Town Houses

Marseille + Marilynne Robinson

A Seraphic Calling 

“We know only what we know, only in the ways that we know it or can know it.” MR. On a morning of utter unimpeachable freshness, it’s time to enjoy a latitudinal view of experience. No curtailment of grace, or majesty, thank you. Efficacious, beautiful, vital, satisfying, glorious. “We wander the terrain of a very remarkable freedom.” You guessed. MR again.

Architecture Art Design Fashion Hotels Luxury Restaurants

Sofitel Vieux Port Hotel Marseille + Paul Cézanne

Unstill Life

“Well, life is full of surprises,” proclaims essayist and novelist Marilynne Robinson. Couldn’t agree more. We’ve just woken up in Marseille. South of France. A night in Provence. There’s more. Breakfast in bed in the Mediterranean city’s best address. Perfection. Nowhere better to enjoy the experiential rhapsodies of reality. So far, so great, Sofitel Vieux Port. The Paul Cézanne inspired five star retreat. Marilynne believes, “Beauty is a strategy of emphasis.” Sofitel mirrors the artist’s strengths, offering a fine balancing between tradition and innovation, suffused with light and imbued with beauty; a distinctive manner of looking, a novel system of application. Pétanque, anyone?

Protestant work ethic gone astray, it’s over to Wallpaper* to extol the delights of Sofitel’s Les Trois Forts restaurant: “The restaurant at the top of the Sofitel Vieux Port doesn’t just have one of the best views in the city – taking in, you guessed it, three forts – it also has one of the greatest chefs in France running the kitchen. Dominique Frerard is a painstaking, ultra meticulous, details guy of the first order and highlight decorated for it.” Meanwhile, Sofitel’s famous feather down pillows (intrinsic to the temporal, a present pleasure) form the perfect companions to considering the mysteries of consciousness. The view’s pretty dreamy, too.

Architects Architecture Design Developers People

La Tourette Marseille + Fernand Pouillon

The Divine Architect

“I am content to place humankind at the centre of Creation. We are complex enough, interesting enough… I find the soul a valuable concept, a statement of the dignity of a human life and of the unutterable gravity of human action and experience.” So says Christian philosopher Marilynne Robinson. Fernand Pouillon was the architect of this influential Postwar housing scheme overlooking Fort St Jean at the tip of Marseille’s Vieux Port. Completed in 1953, it quickly became something of a prototype. How to do modernism. A lesson in proportion. Rising to 21 storeys, precast concrete decks with cross walls in shuttered concrete and external walls faced with stone casing produced a lasting effect. La Tourette continues to offer sleek slices of desirable urban living.

Architecture Luxury Town Houses

Marseille +

Webs of Moment and Meaning and Memory

American writer Marilynne Robinson is enthralled by this “roaring, surging universe”. Witness, the fury of the Mistral. Here’s to zoomorphia: cathedral as zebra.

Architecture Luxury Town Houses

Marseille + Corniche President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Onward to Camelot

A pericope scooped from Marilynne Robinson’s writings: “We came from somewhere, and we are travelling somewhere, and the spectacle is glorious and portentous.”

Architecture Luxury

Marseille + Lavender’s Blue

A Veil Will Be Lifted

After a divagation of a decade or two there was a gorgeous blossoming, first fruit springing forth following a certain attraction to the centre of cosmic reality, a spiritual gravitational pull occurring towards the close of the age. A late vivid sense, a reawakening. “We are heirs to the testimonies of unnumbered generations,” reconciles liberal Christian Marilynne Robinson. She thinks, “Our realism distracts us from reality, that most remarkable phenomenon.” Tacitly, an exploration of ontology would begin.

Architecture Art Design Developers Hotels Luxury People Restaurants

Portonovi + Boka Bay Montenegro

Portonovi + Boka Bay Montenegro

“Just as if I have returned to town from the most beautiful fairytale of my childhood.” Sophia Loren

The great Italian actress is a fan. Roughly the size of Northern Ireland but with less than a third its population, Montenegro is experiencing a long overdue tourism renaissance. This small country clinging to the edge of the Adriatic Sea in southeast Europe is set to enhance its luxury offer. Its tourism may date back to the 14th century when Sjora Roza boasted a tavern and café but it wasn’t until Montenegro regained independence in 2006 that it started securing travel destination status. Like Northern Ireland, you can only travel about 150 kilometres or so before driving into the sea or crossing a border. Unlike Northern Ireland, it averages 250 sunny days a year.

Where nature ends (five National Parks), architecture begins (three cultural Unesco World Heritage Sites). Durmitor National Park alone has 82 kilometres of canyon, 23 peaks over 2,300 metres, 18 glacial lakes and is home to 163 bird types and 1,500 flora species. It may have beaches stretching for nearly 300 kilometres, but Montenegro takes its name from the Italian for “Black Mountain”. Swim in the morning; ski in the afternoon.

Herceg Novi on Boka Bay is known as “The City of the Sun” and “The City of 100,000 Steps”. It’s both. Although “City” is pushing it for somewhere with 30,000 residents, the same population as Ballymena in Northern Ireland. The Nobel Prize Poet Laureate Ivo Andrić went further, describing it as a place of “eternal greenery, sun and promenades”. The setting is impossibly romantic: mimosa cloaked historic buildings cluster at the foot of Mount Orjen where it meets the coast. The walled Old Town, or Stari Grad, is an eclectic mix of architecture. Not surprising, considering Montenegro has belonged to six Empires – Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Venetian, Napoleonic and Austrian – followed by a stint in Yugoslavia before becoming the People’s Republic.

Now, Herceg Novi is set to expand. “Montenegro essence” is the strapline for the new waterside development Portonovi. It aims to capture on 26 hectares all that is great about the country. A destination within a destination. A microcosm of Montenegrin discernment. The site was a military base – 90 buildings from the 20th century were demolished. One very precious building was saved: a 16th chapel with rare 18th century frescoes. It is being carefully restored and returned to its original use. The Government is retaining the freehold of the whole site but went out to international tender for its redevelopment. Ahmet Erentok, Chairman of Azerbaijani company Azmont, who won the contract explains, “Portonovi is our largest investment outside the Azerbaijan.” It will total almost €1 billion (€960 million to be exact) when complete.

General Manager Stevan Milic relates, “Portonovi has two kilometres of coastline and a 238 berth marina. There will be 8,500 square metres retail space and a further 7,500 square metres of multifunctional floorspace. Amenities will include high fashion shops, jewellers, galleries, a gym, health club and Espace Chenot Spa. The first phase opening shortly will deliver 214 homes including 50 rental properties.” The average home is €1.6 million for 157 square metres of accommodation. Prices range from €600,000 for a one bed to €11 million for a six bed villa. The first One + Only Hotel in Europe with 10 branded villas will open next year. Its standard room will be 65 square metres. “Europe’s largest smallest room!” smiles Ahmet. The hotel will include two restaurants: Locatelli Italian and Tapa Saki Japanese. A sandy beach, tennis courts, water features and gardens will bind the built and natural environments together.

Portonovi is typical Mediterranean style with lots of stone, timber pergolas and vivid colours,” Stevan points out. “It looks like it’s been here for ages! Other designs are completely different with lots of glass. But there’s a nice unity. Each group of homes has a pool and all the penthouses have their own rooftop infinity pools. The buildings only go up to a maximum five storeys and the slope of the site allows most properties to have sea views. Portonovi is a very high end resort of the type you can find in France or Italy.” Its Italian contractor and developer, Pizzarotti, are renowned for top end schemes in Monaco and New York. British architects Harper Downie add to the international talent collaboration. The cross border marina and helipad include passport control, customs and police. Tivat airport is just 15 minutes travel by boat. A VIP helicopter summer service from Dubrovnik adds to the luxury transport options.

Serpentine corniches snake round the coastline of Boka Bay. Verige 65 is an arrow shaped restaurant and bar built on a former parking lot at the bay’s narrowest point, 13 kilometres from Portonovi. The views are spectacular and constantly changing with the weather – Montenegro lives up to its “wild beauty” tagline – as the clouds and mountains merge and disentangle at a moment’s glance. Local tour guide Liset Kuhar calls the tiny islands in the middle of the bay in front of Verige 65 “our two little pearls”. She notes, “Our Lady of the Rocks was manmade in the 1400s. St George is a natural island with a Benedictine monastery dating from the 1100s.” Chardonnay served comes from Savina winery in nearby Herceg Novi.

Perast and Kotor are two Unesco World Heritage Sites close to Portonovi. Liset refers to Perast as “a little piece of Venice”. Bujović Palace is one of its many architectural gems. Designed by Venetian Giovanni Battista Fontana in 1694 for Vicko Bujović, Commander of the Town Fleet, the palace is what American philosopher Marilynne Robinson would call “an exploration of a glorious mind” set in stone. Liset continues, “Perast is a gorgeous baroque town built by seafaring noble families. Kotor is like Perast with stone walls and terracotta roofs. The town walls of Kotor date back to the ninth century.”

Over dinner in Porto, a traditional restaurant in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, the Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism Pavle Radulović acknowledges Montenegro isn’t very well known yet. “It’s a challenge; it’s an advantage. We’re trying to spread the tourist season which at present is concentrated from April to September. We’re diversifying the offer. We want the upper class of clientele to come to the Bay of Kotor. In Boka Bay in particular, we’re encouraging high end luxury tourism. We know how to cater for the needs of high net worth individuals. We’re not targeting the mass market in Boka Bay. We’ve different plans for other places. For example, we’re promoting Budva as a party town. DJ David Guetta played there recently. We want to elevate all levels of tourism.”

Pavle is in charge of the largest Government department which covers climate change, spatial planning and the environment in general. Ecology is written into its constitution. His broad remit of sustainable development and tourism is key to increasing national prosperity while keeping the country unspoiled. “We’ve opened over 50 hotels in the last two years,” he adds. “Tourism has grown to two million visitors in 2018 bringing €1 billion to the economy. But we’re very careful with growing our offer. We’re building a product. This is the place to visit; this is the place to live. We have the second deepest canyon in the world and one of the biggest natural reservoirs in Europe.”

Ahmet believes real luxury is “when you feel really comfortable, where you can be yourself in your own zone. Portonovi is a place to escape, to call up your friends and hang out for two or three days or longer. We could’ve invested anywhere but we chose Montenegro for the beauty of the country. The people are very hospitable, very committed, very friendly. Most importantly, I want Portonovi to be the number one project, the best place in Herceg Novi, the best place in Montenegro!” It’s difficult not to wax lyrical about Montenegro in winter, from the glimmering amber sun fading behind the onyx shaded clouds to the emerald green hills dotted with lemon quartz mimosa trees and alabaster alpine resorts reaching down to the golden speckled strands and clear sapphire waters. This country really is a jewel in the crown of the Adriatic Coast. As Marilynne Robinson would say, Montenegro exudes “a ravishing sense of the divine beauty manifest in Creation”. The great English poet was a fan.

“At the birth of our planet, the most beautiful encounter between the land and the sea must have happened at the coast of Montenegro.” Lord Byron

Architecture Art

Calais Grand Theatre + Gustave Malgras Delmas

Gilead’s Calling | The Innate Ordinariness of a Saturday Morning

“This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.” What Are We Doing Here?, Marilynne Robinson

The Grand Theatre, like the Town Hall, was built to belatedly celebrate the 1885 merger of the towns of Calais and Saint-Pierre. The site was once a cemetery. President Emile Loubet laid the foundation stone in 1903. Its architect was Gustave Malgras Delmas. He was no stranger to municipal projects, having designed the Palace of Fervaques in nearby Saint-Quentin where most of his work is concentrated. The building is pure architectural theatre, a palatial performance in stone. First floor statues between the coupled Corinthian columns propping up the façade represent comedy, poetry, dance and music. Second floor busts commemorate the composer Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny (1729 to 1817), the dramatists Alain-René Lesage (1668 to 1747) and Guillaume Pigault-Leburn (1753 to 1835), and author of The Siege of Calais Pierre de Belloy (1727 to 1775). In front of the Grand Theatre is a 1910 statue to Lillois Joseph Jacquard, inventor of an advanced weaving loom which greatly contributed to the success of the Calais lace industry. Gustave’s brother-in-law was the composer Marc Delmas.

“It’s not a man’s working hours that is important, it is how he spends his leisure time.” What Are We Doing Here? Marilynne Robinson


Calais Lighthouse + Lavender’s Blue

This Matrix of Being

In the words of American essayist Marilynne Robinson, “There is something irreducibly thrilling about the universe.”

Town Houses

Richelieu Park Calais + Lavender’s Blue

Get Into the Grove

Marilynne Robinson once more: “We have looked into Melvillean nurseries, and glimpsed the births of stars that came into being many millions of years ago, an odd privilege of our relation to space and time.” The American essayist adds, “Properly speaking, we are the stuff of myth.” Our late afternoon stroll through Richelieu Park proves providential, echoing a strange efficacy, a special instance of cosmic time.


The Opal Coast + Calais Beach

Chartered Waters | French Kits | You’re Not From Here

The past is a foreign country; sometimes so is the present. Golden crowns glisten upon the jasper sea off the Opal Coast. Waves beat in from an infinitude of azure horizons. Crossing the Channel, crossing the Rubicon. What Alexis de Tocqueville called “gifts which heaven shares out by chance”. Igniting unforeseen possibilities, purveying happenstance; renewals of experience apart, we are unacquainted with neo and pseudo. Marilynne Robinson writes in What Are We Doing Here? “And yet the beautiful persists, and so do eloquence and depth of thought, and they belong to all of us because they are the most pregnant evidence we have of what is possible in us.” The Bishop of Stepney nods, “We are all pregnant with our own death. We always carry the knowledge of our ending with us.” Keeping it surreal, precepts acknowledged, spangled heavens approaching, Calais stretches forth in eloquent beauty under an eternal sky, solecisms silenced, postprandial ponderings never ceasing.