You have lived in many places. Where in the world do you feel most at home?
Even after all these years and with a home of my own, it’s still barefoot on Maui, walking through my parent’s garden.
What is it about objects and material culture that speaks to your interest as a historian?
The study of history is an inquiry into human experience and many people have not primarily interacted with their world, received or produced knowledge, or expressed their hopes and fears through text. History is and will always be a text-based discipline, but blurring disciplinary boundaries – in my case, learning to read visual and material culture – has afforded me insights into human experience that I could not have gained otherwise.
You have special expertise in the history of Indian textiles. What fabrics or materials do you love the most?
There are all kinds of textiles that have elicited the kind of cerebral appreciation that comes from knowing a piece’s age and provenance, or the skills and technology that produced it. On a personal level, though, I am always most intrigued by natural materials – linen, silk, hemp, cotton, and wool. I love the inevitable variations in these fibres, especially when they are undyed or naturally dyed. These days, the work of weaver and artist Amy Revier astounds me. She’s blurring the boundaries of art and functional garment in a deeply poetic way.
Describe the most beautiful meal you’ve ever had.
I had just moved back to London after being in Paris for a long time and I was helping out in the kitchen of a small women’s shelter in Hackney, mainly to offset the uncomfortable new solitude of my evenings. I had left a relationship and ten years of regular dinner parties, cooking for a discerning coterie of friends in Paris. I was unsure of most things at that time, including what exactly would come next, but cooking for a crowd was something I felt I could do. I had come to the assistance of an exhausted but enormously kind Israeli cook and the shelter received donations of food from restaurants in the area. I didn’t serve any meals; others helped with that. I just cooked, then sat down to dinner myself and played with children or rocked babies while their mothers ate. I’ve had many beautiful meals, but those have really stayed with me.
How would you define luxury?
A bourbon and stillness.
How do you find balance between your professional and personal life?
Balance isn’t something that can be merely sought, I think. It needs to be fought for and created. Tough as it is, I’m learning to be fiercer about the boundaries between my personal and professional time. A friend in Paris used to answer his phone on weekends with a gruff “C’est qui?!” I loved that. He wanted everyone to know that this time belonged to his family.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
I tend not to think of accomplishments. Everything I value most is a process – motherhood and my relationship with Sebastian, family and close friends, work, intellectual and professional growth, our home and garden, creative expression. Nothing fits neatly into the past tense.
Where is your favourite place to find comfort food in Vancouver?
Vancouver has very wet, coastal winters and when it feels like the chill has entered my bones, I love a warm bowl of tonkotsu ramen at a little place off the north end of Robson Street.
What qualities do you find most beautiful in others?
Intelligence, empathy, integrity, humour, humility, and vulnerability.
Can you share any words that have touched you recently?
“It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender.” Jenny Holzer