One long-tail aftereffect of the death of writer Joan Didion last month, at the age of 87, has been the recirculation of some of the most internet-friendly Didion images and quotes. Among these is a 1972 photo, first published in Vogue magazine, of the kitchen counter in Didion’s (and her husband, John Gregory Dunne’s) house in California. The earth-toned image, by Henry Clarke, accompanies an article with the headline “Writers’ Roost,” and this somewhat inscrutable dek, summarizing Didion’s and Dunne’s descriptions of their house’s style: “He calls it ‘Post-War Malibu,’ she calls it ‘Latent Caberet’—but it works for their work.”
“Latent Caberet” or not, is this overflowing counter beautiful, befitting the life of a writer who embodied California chic—or horrifying, in need of an immediate dose of the January Cure? Slate’s food-dedicated Slack channel recently lost itself in an intimate analysis …
Rebecca Onion: Everyone’s all OOOO over this and I don’t get it!
How is that second row of baskets even affixed to the wall?
Plants???? Waste of counter space!
Cookbooks crowded back there and collecting dust.
Not a fan.
Rachelle Hampton: I love this.
Seth Maxon: The plants are herbs! I know, it’s counter space, but i don’t think having them where you chop stuff is too nuts!
Rachelle Hampton: It’s giving Nancy Meyers. Who needs functionality when you have aesthetic!
Daniel Schroeder: Love the aesthetic, would never cook those vegetables cause they’d be too hard to reach. And would hate restocking.
Rebecca Onion: No man, put your herb pots somewhere else in the kitchen. I would never cook those vegetables! And it’s a dust trap. Or not even a DUST trap! A “tiny little crumbs and pieces of chopped broccoli” trap, which is what these things become in the kitchen.
Rachelle Hampton: See, y’all are assuming that the vegetables are to cook with. They are there for looks only, and will be replaced once they go bad.
Seth Maxon: One issue I have is taxonomy. The potatoes should be directly above the onions and garlic. The red apples and golden apples should be side by side, as should the oranges and lemons.
Daniel Schroeder: IDK, I think the haphazardness is part of the charm!
Rachelle Hampton: Why are y’all trying to make sense of this! It’s vibes!
Derreck Johnson: ALSO THE PHOTO IS BACKWARDS. Now what do you think?
Daniel Schroeder: Ok well now it sucks!
Rebecca Onion: LMAO my brain just twisted!
Rachelle Hampton: Ugh still gorgeous. Derreck how did you know it was backwards??
Daniel Schroeder: He’s been to Joan’s home.
Derreck Johnson: Look at the book spines in the OG photo!
Shivani Ishwar: Whoever flipped this image was making the sensible aesthetic choice. It looks way better with books on the left. It would absolutely break my brain to try to work with this setup either way, but…
Nadira Goffe: Wait. Is this a picture of a kitchen, or is this a laundry room? Is that a top-loading washer/dryer underneath the plate?? Because that is unhinged!
Derreck Johnson: OMG NADIRA W/ THE EAGLE EYE! IT’S NOT A KITCHEN!
Sofie Werthan: Most of the books on the counter are gardening books—could it be a counter by the backyard?
Nadira Goffe: I assume this is a small space that’s close to a back entrance. Oh, jinx, Sofie!
Rebecca Onion: OMFG. Okay, let me re-situate myself. She…kept…plants…on…her…washer. CHAOTIC.
Nadira Goffe: If it’s by a back entrance, it makes sense that it would be where you put your gardening books and your produce from said garden, but also where people would install a washer/dryer. With all that being said, I hate this now!
Rebecca Onion: This is clearly a setup for a photo, which makes me more annoyed. OR it’s not a setup for a photo, and Joan Didion just never washed clothing at her house! Could be!
Holly Allen: I was looking for a more zoomed-out photo of the kitchen and it turns out you can buy this photo—the reversed one. I think Derreck is the first person in the history of ever to notice it was flipped! And Nadira probably the first to notice the washing machine!
Sofie Werthan: It’s also for sale on the Conde Nast website! Also backwards! We need to find a copy of the Oct. 1, 1972 issue of Vogue and see what’s what.
Rebecca Onion: I bet I could access that using my library credentials…hold on, hold on…
HERE IS THE PDF. And here is the caption for the photo in question: “French wire saladiers holding fruits and vegetables, Mexican posts of fresh-growing herbs, gardening and cookery books give this corner of the kitchen a classic still-life quality—that’s never still long.”
So this IS in the kitchen!!!
Derreck Johnson: I don’t trust the media now!
Rebecca Onion: “French wire saladiers,” and here I was just thinking it was baskets. Like a fool!
Derreck Johnson: “Cookery books” is sending me!
Rebecca Onion: Me, a rube: “I have cookbooks”….Joan Didion, herself: “I have cookery books.”
Shasha Leonard: “Saladier”??? Your salad would just fall out! Those are hanging baskets, shut up!
Rebecca Onion: I guess technically the stuff in there could become a salad—is that why?
Shasha Leonard: You can’t just frenchify shit like that! A saladier is a dedicated bowl for serving salad in. It’s ok to call things what they are, and those are wire hanging baskets.
Derreck Johnson: What if the washing machine is…a salad spinner?