Every summer, Denise Hale, San Francisco’s legendary arbiter of style and orchestrator of the social scene, throws a party for 20 or so of her best gentlemen friends. That’s not an invitation to be lightly refused and last weekend I found myself at Mrs Hale’s ranch, an 80,000 acre slice of Nirvana in Sonoma County, Northern California (80,000 acres by the way is pretty much everything you can see, as far as you can see it). The ‘H-E’ is a working cattle ranch and its recently acquired organic status has put an extra gleam in our hostess’ eye. The ranch house, a sprawling structure dating from 1950 is imbued with an undeniably European sensibility (Mrs. Hale was born in Belgrade and lived in Rome before arriving in San Francisco, via Beverly Hills). Outside, marble tables from Agra are laid with silver and set among hydrangeas that have been taught to droop gracefully ‘in the Chinese style’. “I’m a mess,” announces Ken Fulk, SF’s go-to interior designer, looking like Jay Gatsby on a Long Island lawn.
Mrs Hale enjoys high-powered company; if it is attentive, attractive and male, so much the better. Today, sporting a bracelet Mike Tyson couldn’t lift unaided – a gift from her late husband – she is in full bloom. After margaritas and champagne, a feast whipped up by master chef Gary Danko lasts until evening. The stars are out, the silence is enveloping. Gregory Lopez is pouring Tequila shots. Only the brave do a lap of the pool, knowing they will share it with at least one of Mrs Hale’s German Shepherds. Shoeless and feeling no pain I find my way back to my guest–house by flash-light, unperturbed by the mountain lion that stakes out the tennis court.
Of course Mrs Hale throws a swell party (she is a veteran of Capote’s black and white ball and every notable gathering you have and haven’t heard of since) but only an alchemist can turn the middle of nowhere into the centre of everything. All hail Mrs Hale!
The Rencontres, the largest international festival of photography in the world is reason enough to visit Arles this summer. If you are feeling adventurous, go during the Feria du Riz (early September) a rambunctious celebration marking the harvesting of the rice crop.