Saturday, October 30, 2010

And By Their Halloween Costumes Ye Shall Know Them, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:23am

Halloween was a big deal in my family of origin. My mom went all out on the homemade costumes, her efforts peaking the year we 3 oldest kids were a mailbox, a pencil, and a letter to the Great Pumpkin. That's a lot of poster board and Magic Markers.

One could argue she spent so much time on this because of the 1950s ethos of motherhood. She didn't work outside the house. Or one could reject one's spoilsport tendencies and remember fun. So much fun.

Besides, I carried her spirit into my own parenting. Halloween was a big deal. My best friend and I, her 4 kids, my 2, would meet up at my house for dinner and then run through the sidewalked neighborhood, on into the night. I made little ghosts out of rice. Stood sections of hot dogs on end and told the kids they were "Hallow-weenies." At the end, we'd go back to my house and lay out candy on the floor for a marathon sorting party. My best friend and I would have medaled in Halloween, if parenting were a sport.

I made my kids' costumes too. My daughter was always a heroine. Peter Pan (better than dumb Wendy in her nightgown, right?), Wonder Woman, Diana - Goddess of the Hunt. Or Artemis, if you follow the Greek tradition. My son was always an intellectual construct of some sort. A bug, from the days when he memorized the California Insect Handbook. A potato. Yes, a potato can so be an intellectual construct. If you try to wear one. Or an origami display.

Then one day those little critters looked around and realized that the American culture had other plans in mind. My son made me buy a ninja costume. My daughter went as a witch with 2 other friends. It's as though society seizes pre-adolescents, shakes them by the ears, and says, "If we're talking scary, get thee to your gender stereotype. Get thee there right now!"

There they stayed, for some time.

Now my daughter has returned to super human characters, albeit those that showcase her appeal. Popular culture has come to her aid via the red-headed vampire on True Blood. One might wonder if the rise of the vampire as Good Guy isn't a defining trait of this early century. My son is again sporting quirky costumes that take a minute to figure out. Last year he was Pikaju, the Pokemon character, complete with red cheeks. Pikaju in blue jeans, that is.

I kind of wish my daughter could still be Peter Pan, I admit. Don't listen to this song or you are likely to cry. And my son's costume this year, which I'm going to refrain from describing, had me shaking my head and muttering, "Well, I guess that's comical. But, um, also a little offensive?" He promises me it was great fun.

Your kids dive into popular culture, out of your little twig nest, and emerge wet behind the ears. You stand on the far bank, holding a loving but impractical towel. Diving birds do not need towels you silly mama!

Happy Halloween everyone, and here's to a wonderful weekend. I hope all your little Peter Pans, Ninjas, and Black Cat Fairy Witches get so much candy they can't see over the heap. Or at least that they feel that way, for one night.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Which I Explain

Oh yes. The final, and perhaps most important, High WASP emoticon,

Translation: It's been a heck of a few days. Up next week, the more complete story of a peanut Prada cardigan and other mischief.

Have a wonderful weekend. We're not there yet, but it's coming.

Monday, October 25, 2010

9 Emoticons For The High WASP

A reader wrote and mentioned, in passing, her wonderment at the excessive use of emoticons in Internet parlance today. She asked whether I had an opinion. I do. ;)

Little emotion cartoons are an uncomfortable fit in the High WASP world. We still wish for the days when raised eyebrows sufficed. That said, one might imagine an entire lexicon of High WASP emoticons. If one had to. All of which would indicate, in essence, "I am not sure I should be saying this." We would never use an emoticon to emphasize, only to mitigate. High WASPs live life in the subjunctive, as Tad Friend pointed out in Cheerful Money.

Imagine the following in common use. If you will.

Translation #1: That dress is appalling but I mean no offense. Goodness those yellow smiley faces are undignified.

Translation #2: You have proposed a bad idea. And yes, winking is a little barmaid, but luckily you and I understand irony.

Translation #3: Your child sure does run around a lot. I can't resist big words. I'm not showing off.

Translation #4: I'm not showing off.

Translation #5: I'm really not showing off.

Translation #6: I fear I am not as cool as I am trying to be.

Translation #7: Hmm. Don't worry, I am not about to tell you I love you, or anything else embarrassing.

Translation #8: I have been drinking but feel my best self is now revealed.

Translation #9: I am showing off. Please pretend you don't notice. Please.

And now you understand why High WASPs are not in charge of the West's emotional dialogue. Thank you. You're welcome.

Emoticon key:
Mona Lisa color B&W. But you knew that.
Random Greek symbols
James Dean
Heart behind bars
Pretty much add all those things up and my entire culture will sit at the bottom line.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Goodbye Tomatoes, Hello Cranberries, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:42am

It's turned a little chilly here, and we've even had some rain. Early for Northern California, rain in October. Overnight I've lost my fondness for tomatoes. I feel like, "Well, now that's done. Time for the holidays." Not that summer is a chore, but when it's gone it's gone.

This year everyone comes to me for Thanksgiving. 16 including kids. Erk. I'm thrilled to pieces, if also a little nervous. I love to cram everyone into my small house, muster up extra tables, pull together a hodgepodge of tablecloths, china, glasses, silverware. Buy Brazil nuts, once a year.

But I did use to be a better cook than I am now. My short term memory stumbles. It's harder to look through a recipe and remember it exactly, so I now have a Lucite cookbook stander-upper which allows me to read, do 3 cooking steps, read again, do 3 more.

I'm pretty sure it will be fine in the end. My daughter will be here. My sisters will rally round. My son and his uncle will bake pumpkin pie. My mother will put together her exceptional gravy.

I found myself wondering this morning, as I watched one blue jay peck away at the last green tomatoes, and another perch at the top of my garden stakes, are family holidays held in winter all over the world? And if so, why?

Asia has the Lunar New Year around February, the Autumn Festival in, well, Autumn. I don't know the Muslim and Hindu holiday dates, nor any from Africa.

But here in the US, and in the Northern European countries from which the founders first came, families gather when the weather gets cold. There are practical reasons for this, needless to say. If we all still lived together in an agricultural community, we'd want to get the harvest in, preserve produce, prepare for winter. We'd also get pretty sick of each other, during the months of short days, so a festivity or two is always warranted. I know why the Swedes have Santa Lucia, when the littlest girl wears a candle wreath on her head. Any excuse for light is welcome.

There's another consequence, unintended I suppose, the simple result of being creatures who live and die. We transfer knowledge and traditions at family gatherings. Winter in the background. We notice our offspring, the children of our sisters, our parents, thinking, "Well, look at this." If we can't stir gravy and mash garlic potatoes at the same time, we get a kid to take on tasks. And, should we start to feel too sentimental, too aware of passing seasons, someone will break a fluted pie pan, show up annoyingly late, or pester their parents for yet another helping of ice cream, anchoring us firmly in the day.


Friday, October 22, 2010

5 Reasons To Go Hear Your Idol Speak In Person

Cathy Horyn, Fashion Critic of The New York Times, 10/20/2010

Yesterday, I attended an 'open discussion' with Cathy Horyn. I'm not one for attending speaking events. Yesterday reminded me I'm a dope. These things can be very, very valuable.

1. Revealed details bring the picture to life
. The fashion industry is in upheaval at the moment, the role of a fashion writer changing. In the past, reportage of breaking news from exclusive foreign runways was funded by department store advertising. Then the Internet appeared, in all its image-laden glory. The advertising, well, it disappeared. Fashion writers now have to report either at a more complex and more opinionated level or as celebrity gossip. Horyn is not the fashion reporter any more. She's the Fashion Critic. Critics need some sinew.

2. You will be reminded that the human side has universal import. Horyn told tales. Tales of John Fairchild, editor of Women's Wear Daily, and his luncheon cabal in New York. Bill Blass feeling worried because, "John doesn't seem to be talking to me. " Tales of Tom Ford, who doesn't worry what anyone thinks of him, and Yves St. Laurent, who did. The impact those personalities had on the clothes they made. Giorgio Armani and his inner competition with Miuccia Prada and Gianni Versace. Raf Simons, declaring himself to be innovative, and forever to be judged as such. Tales of Horyn herself, backstage at Chanel, watching Madonna and Lady Gaga together, before Gaga was, well, Gaga.

3. People who are successful usually got that way for a reason. Horyn is articulate, focused, and attractive. Not to be peculiar, with that last descriptor, but in an industry where looks are part of the marketplace one way or another, it seems fair game to comment. Horyn also appears to have set aside fear, or, if she still feels any, puts on a hell of a show. She also thanked me the next day via Twitter, and mentioned my father. Thereby setting off all High WASP indicators that either someone's parents did a very good job, or she figured out the well-behaved thing on her own.

4. You might get to meet the person you admire. This event, held in a smallish conference room turned out to be the intimate coda following a previous lecture and discussion. So 12 people sat around the table listening, with another 5 or so of us on chairs at the edge of the room. Horyn answered our questions. Like a seminar where your professor speaks very well-formed English and wears interesting clothes.

5. If you bring someone close to you, you may broaden your relationship. I asked a question, but first I said to my father in a whisper, "I want to ask a question. Is that OK?" And then Dad asked the final question of the day, comparing sports writing to fashion writing, and Cathy Horyn said she had been told by Grace Mirabella that she wrote like a sportswriter. In fact, she said, "My greatest fear was always that I'd have to write about the clothes." It would have been difficult to plan a more suitable concluding line.

6. Going to hear an expert in your field is good incentive to practice your own skills. In addition to a peanut Prada sweater (I believe Imogen of Inside Out Style would call the color 'rose beige camel') and black Varinas, I wore the Claudia Kussano earrings my brother gave me. Remember, I was trying to look like I wasn't trying. Also the salesperson in the Prada store told me Miuccia is all about the crafty, vintage jewelry look. I decided to trust him. Diamonds would have been wrong, wrong, wrong.

I even paid attention to my makeup. Sponged on Armani foundation #5, then Cle de Peau concealer in Beige on age spots and the reddened areas around my nose. I never use concealer under my eyes, it hurts to apply and Sturdy Gals don't think pristine undereyes are worth pain. I added peach YSL Cream Blush, then MAC Multiple in Riviera over that so as not to be too orange. One never wants to be too orange. I outlined my lips in MAC Spice lip pencil, added NARS lip gloss in Giza, wiped everything off a bit, and added a layer of NARS Lipstick in Cruising on top. For a smudgy, artisanal nude-ish mouth. Or so I told myself.

Whether or not my ministrations mattered, I felt good. In fact, the entire experience made me feel good. A cool day, a university campus, an expert. As my father said, standing outside the Humanities Center in the shade of an oak, "That was a very pleasant event."

*You can find Ms. Horyn on Twitter, @CathyHorynNYT, or here on her blog, On The Runway. The links I've included here provide a glimpse at her writings as well as the impression she's made on her industry.

*Note that I did not take notes, and therefore I may not have reported Ms. Horyn's words completely. I believe the sense is correct.

Image: me


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Do You Wear To Meet Your Idol?

What should one wear to hear Cathy Horyn, fashion reporter for The New York Times, speak at the Stanford University Humanities Center? Because that's where I'm going today.

In standard High WASP tradition, one would rather wither in obscurity than be seen trying. Better to settle for a cultural costume then to attempt Fashion. (One might wonder whether it's not dreadfully tiring to use the pronoun one all the time. Yes. It is.)

In my case, the cultural costume of Northern California High WASPs means Levi's, white tee, new peanut-colored Prada cardigan, Ferragamo Varinas. The Varinas for a certain My-Aunt-Wore-Them je ne sais quoi. Oh, and oone tall, handsome, retired professor of English as power accessory. Dad was the second director of the Humanities Center, back when. Thanks Pops. You're better than Bittar.

I know, of course, that it doesn't matter one whit what I wear. I do not plan to besiege the woman nor, most likely, even to say more than "How do you do?" should the chance arise. But it's kind of fun to run my old sartorial anxiety movie and remember how the theater light flickered, and how the film ran, clickety clack, clickety clack.

With due Bloomian credit to kidchamp's imaginary reading group:

01 What would you wear to this function?
02 Who is your own private Horyn?
03 Extra pencil or use a pen?
04 Compare and contrast the use of accessories in Miuccia Prada's recent show to relevant sources in The Preppy Handbook. Extra credit for reference to True Prep updates.
05 Did you know Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence can be found on Google Books? I did not.

You have 90 minutes. Please bring the blue book to the front of the lecture hall when you're finished. Be sure to sign the honor pledge. Begin.

BTW, you should read Horyn's blog, On The Runway. And follow her, CathyHorynNYT, on Twitter, if you are there. While you are on Prada's website, go to Fashion Shows and watch the video.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Stupas, Tigers, Disco Beats. India, 1982.

An ongoing and occasional series on a 3-month trip I took to India in 1982. I was 25, and traveled by train across the country alone, writing an article on the then-unknown Indian film industry and combating the anxieties of youth and solo travel. Often includes references to what I wore. You can find the previous posts here. Today's post follows on last Thursday's far more immediately than usual because it is so much a part of the same story.

This photo is to prove, only, that I was dressed appropriately for the company picnic. Just by existing I broke other Indian cultural rules but never dress if I could help it.

And here's what happened next.

I missed the 7pm bus to Bhopal. When I got back to the hotel, I discovered that buses might not leave the next day either. A man, who was described as the son of a high priest, or an administrator, took me to the bus stand to inquire. Indeed, no buses were scheduled. He arranged for someone who was described as a traffic policeman to help me in an unspecified way the next day.

We went back to the hotel. I wrote,
"Sitting in the lobby, who do I find but my friend, Mr. K.K. Thali. He tells me that he was devastated to hear that no buses will go tomorrow morning, he has thought only of me, and he has come up with an alternative."
I was to be driven to a town called something like, but not exactly, Brnisa, where I could catch a bus for Jhansi at midnight. However, there were tigers, so we had to be careful. I wrote,
"K.K. Thali rustles up a 'conveyance' belonging to the administrator of Khajuraho. Off we go, me, K.K. Thali, the administrator's son, and the driver."
The conveyance turned out to be a jeep with padded seats, red interior light, and an 8-track cassette deck. If I recall, they played the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever.

It was darker than ever outside. We drove to Brnisa. Mr. K.K. Thali attempted to squeeze me rather a lot. We stopped. We got out. They waited with me by the roadside. After all, there were tigers. At midnight precisely, a bus pulled up. On I got, goodbyes all around.

The conductor asked me if I wanted making the love, using a very recognizable hand gesture. 'No thank you,' I said. He smiled, and shook his head in the Indian nod. I slept. We arrived in Jhansi at 3am. I exited the bus, precipitously, leaving behind my red down vest. I took a tonga to the train station. I found my bunk, and lay down to sleep, wishing I still had my down vest to use as a pillow.

I was reassured by the presence of an elderly gentleman, sitting on the berth below me, reading. I dozed off. I wrote,
"I am awakened by said gentleman asking me a question. I don't understand. I put my head down to sleep again. He caresses my head and I speak out in surprise. He shakes his head, as though I needn't worry. I lie down once more to sleep. Slowly he reaches over and touches my face as though I were insubstantial, transparent. Very gently he rests his hand on my forehead, my cheeks, my shoulder, my head again. He scratches my head, as though I were a child. I think it must be a religious ritual until I feel him raise himself up on the lower berth. I open my eyes to see him bending down to kiss me. 'Please, no,' I say. He nods, and sits back down on the lower berth.
When the train arrived in Sanchi, I hurried through the crowd of people getting off the train. I grabbed hold of three tall Austrian men and made them walk me to where I would be staying the night. I can make no excuse for my cultural bias. They looked familiar, and safe.

I always tell this series of events as a funny story.

The next morning I went to visit Sanchi's Buddhist stupa. It's old and massive. I woke up early and saw the sunrise on my way. I felt I'd been there in a previous life. The sky was blue and so bright I couldn't quite open my eyes. Things that weren't white appeared so anyway.

Then I walked through the town marketplace, where a man gladly sold me several inches of blue glass bangles. Bangle sellers have to squeeze your bones a certain way to get the things on. Pinky knuckle, thumb knuckle, wrist, wrist.

He held my hand and moved my bones just so. I wore the bangles until I had to break them off in business school. Too much jangle for note-taking.

They all expand when clicked


Saturday, October 16, 2010

How You Know Your Children Have Grown, Or, Saturday Morning at 7:50am

My daughter is home. On a business trip.

I remember, one morning when she was about 3 months old, I put her into the car seat. Then I walked around behind the car, got in, put my hands on the wheel, turned round to check, and realized she'd been watching me the whole time. She had very round blue eyes, and they'd been following me while I walked, as though she had finally figured out what mother meant.

Then, at about 11 months, we put her in a small daycare two afternoons a week. I wasn't working then, this was just for my general sanity. I had no house help or babysitting, and sanity was hard to come by. I arrived early for pickup one day, and found her at a low square table, with 6 other kids, all of them sitting on little low chairs. I'd never seen her in a group before, never seen her sit at a table. I realized for the first time that her identity included other belonging than that of her to me.

I don't remember much of anything else in this vein until she learned how to drive. And then I saw her walking out the door, purse over shoulder, car keys in hand. Bye mom.

Now she sits at my kitchen counter in the evening, answering work emails. Another marker.

The significant moments, for me, haven't been the days she started kindergarten, got a first haircut, or graduated from high school. You know, the times we are supposed to find important. My middle sister and I talked about this the other day. It's because those times were always about our daughters, how were they feeling, how could we understand their reactions and support them. No room for significant emotion on the mother's part. We take our time to notice that they are growing up only when the children are otherwise occupied, already engaged in the distancing activity.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ardor, Red Dye, Foreign Girls. India, 1982.

An ongoing and occasional series on a 3-month trip I took to India in 1982. I was 25, and traveled by train across the country alone, writing an article on the then-unknown Indian film industry and combating the anxieties of youth and solo travel. Often includes references to what I wore. You can find the previous posts here.

Politely watching snakes. With high-waisted pants and notebook. Fashion is cyclical, technology, linear.

Having finished with Delhi, and the Taj Mahal, I took a train to Jhansi.

I was headed to Khajuraho, but had to overnight at the Jhansi train station to catch a bus in the morning.

A man went down the stairs.

Another man and his wife went up.

I had heard one could sleep quite well in the railway retiring rooms for women. However, that night the only space was in the dormitory. Where we were to sleep on plank benches that rimmed the large room. Which stank of rats.

I wrote, as I sat, with my luggage next to me on the bench.
"It's very weird to be sitting here, knowing that I'll be spending the night exposed to this extent. It goes against the grain. I take my anxiety out in small worries. Where does the bus to Khajuraho leave from? Who can I ask to find out? Where will I leave my luggage while I ask? How will I avoid talking to the retiring room people I have already annoyed? How will I eat dinner? How will I wake up on time? What if rats bite me?

The sparrows are very loudly singing away the sun."
I must have survived the night. Growing older means surviving so many things and not remembering how. I made my way to Khajuraho on this bus.

Which I also survived. Turns out you don't really need windows when you have canvas shades against the dust.

Arriving at my destination, I settled into the hotel, planning to spend two nights and one day. Got up in the morning, made my way to the temples. Quite ugly from a distance, they were. To a classical Western sensibility, that is. No soaring arches, no flying buttresses. More like 17 castles made of wet, dripped sand. Their setting, however, was beautiful. Green gardens under a blue sky. Apparently British colonial governors hacked inappropriate lawns out of dry brush and overgrowth.

A few of the temples are populated by creatures. Elephants, for example.

But, for the most part, and to their great and enduring fame, the temples at Khajuraho are carved with people making love. Imaginatively and with a keen sense of community. Look at her beautiful foot.

Honeymooners visited Khajuraho as a matter of routine, in 1982. They may still do. As I walked through the gardens, from temple to temple, and carving to carving, I passed more than one couple holding hands. I was particularly aware of myself alone in those moments. Everything smelled of flowers, softly. The sun was hot.

I walked back to my hotel. Past mothers with their children,

men, talking to other men, taking a break from their pedicabs,

and fuchsia signs of the Holi festival. Probably best compared to our Mardi Gras. Characterized by throwing colored water, lifting restrictions, and lighting bonfires. I knew none of this. It would turn out to be important. When I got to the hotel, I found out that Holi was also an occasion to cancel transportation, including the bus I had planned to take back to Jhansi next morning.

What to do with an extra day in Khajuraho? The next morning, I thought I'd write a letter to the newspapers interested in my story about the Indian film industry. I asked at the front desk for a typewriter. They gave me one, but it was too old and I couldn't make it work. The young man I was dealing with, a Mr. K.K. Thali, offered to type for me. And then he invited me to the company holiday picnic.

Well, OK. Picnics. I knew about company picnics. I had nothing else to do and the group of young professionals seemed so familiar. Mistake. I was assured I would be able to catch a bus after the party. Mistake.

The picnic unfolded in almost total darkness. Other women attended the event, mostly wives who talked to each other, leaving me alone with Mr. K.K. Thali and his fellow employees. They all worked for Indian Airlines, so why he had helped me at the hotel is lost in the proverbial sands of time.

We stood around, chatting. Someone lit the bonfire. Mr. K.K. Thali carefully explained his great ambition to kiss a foreign girl. I wrote down his exact words. "Come Miss Lisa, why you have hesitation?"

We walked, with another man and his young wife, down to the river. Mr. K.K. Thali had a mustache.

On the way back up the hill, Mr. K.K. Thali insisted on his kiss. I declined. At which point his boss came down the hill and pushed us together. Gently, humorously, but with a hand on my back. I now understand it was Holi, after all, in Khajuraho. Then I wrote,
"Good lord, it seemed so silly. So I kissed the poor man. I honestly believe that he had never kissed a woman before in his life. Then we ate, and I noticed again that Indians at a party eat in a hurry, with no ceremony, and then everyone goes home right away."
Nothing but a kiss seemed to be required.

We might wonder now why I felt sorry for Mr. K.K. Thali, given that I was the one under duress. Looking back I seemed so completely witless, but maybe I had an awareness of my privileged position, even then. Like most archeologists or historians working with text artifacts, I am never going to know for sure. I don't remember the actual kiss. I do remember that we ate in noticeable darkness, despite the bonfire. Then someone, I don't know who, brought me back to my hotel. Safe, but impatient. Unsurprisingly, I had missed the bus. Apparently another would leave tomorrow. Surely another would leave tomorrow.

me and someone unknown for the snake

*If you are interested in India today, the artist of bigBANG studio is living in the Himalayas for a year and documenting with extraordinary photos.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Finding Work You Love; Blog Awards

I was recently given the awards above, by two bloggers whom I admire. Why? Well they are nice, and authentic, and interesting, but for this purpose because they are working at what they love. The first award was from Delia Lloyd, at Real Delia. Delia writes for a living, at The New York Times and the Huffington Post, among others. Need I say more? My favorite posts are Wednesday Tips For Adulthood, while her Friday Reading links have provided me with some of my more edifying online experiences.

The second was from Belle de Ville at Beverly Hills Branche. Belle, in her life beyond blogging, runs Beladora. If you aren't familiar with Beladora, or Beladora II, they constitute a very nicely put-together estate jewelry business. And her posts occasionally show the pieces when they come out to play. Can you imagine if "inventory" meant this?

I pass these awards on to two more bloggers, also working at what they love. I wish us all such good fortune.

1. Vive la Goos. Rachel Elizabeth graduated from Cornell and now works in San Francisco, in some kind of fashion role, for the Gap. She's a beautiful girl with a sense of humor. She owns bunnies, the Goos, that hop wild in her apartment, but she's preppy and, I infer, conservative. Thank goodness for unpredictable people.
2. Art by Karenna. A painter and an art consultant, she recently commented that she would never retire. This is my favorite of her works.

These awards, it goes without saying, come with questions to answer. The first 10 are from Belle's award, the last from Delia. Rachel Elizabeth and Karenna, feel free to interpret - loosely.

1. Why do you blog?

Because I would have died unhappy otherwise. Had I never tried to write, I mean.

2. What are your best memories?

Memory leaves us as we age. The best therefore are those that stick around and allow us full value for the days we have lived.

3. If you had to change your name, what would it be?

What kind of a question is this? If I had to change my name I would be living in a society where I had more important things to worry about than my name. Probably the question of nomenclature would evolve into a cause requiring symbolic resistance, and I'd want to be called Liberty and Justice For All.

4. Name five things you couldn't live without?

Air, water, gravity, edible plants, a blanket, other people. That's six. And demonstrably true, vs. any hyperbolic statements about cashmere I might make.

5. Four best books that you have read?

What kind of question is this? How can any reasonable person pick 4 books as the best they have read? I must have read at least 10,000 books in my lifetime. They are one of my greatest pleasures. I can pick 1, because 1 is so clearly arbitrary. Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee.

6. Tell us a unique and interesting fact about yourself?

Everything about myself is interesting to me. No, I don't find that embarrassing. It's a fact of most human consciousness. So you are really asking me, what about myself do I think you would find interesting? I'll get back to you on that one. Tomorrow, and the day after that, and probably next Saturday.

7. What do you love best about yourself?

My profound tolerance for fools and gentle, earnest, non-sarcastic tone of voice.

8. What is the best movie ever made?

Who wrote this list? Young lady, we need to have a talk. If you ask people to make absolute statements when they can't possibly have the information on which to base said statements, you are inviting false and pretentious discussion. The world does not need more useless talk.

That said, Groundhog Day. Because the New York Times and various Harvard professors said so. Since we are in the realm of specious reasoning and all.

9. If you had a Freaky Friday experience who would you change places with and why?

The man I love.

10. What is the best part about being a woman?

Biology, and all its implications.

11. If you had the chance to go back and change one thing in your life, would you, and what would it be?

I was invited to a wedding in Rajastan by the train paymaster. I wish I had gone, those many years ago, instead of keeping to my trip schedule.

But I don't think I'd change the big choices, even those I understand differently, in hindsight. Given ignorance I did the best I could. Those big choices brought both the happy and the sad. Whatever you don't choose is lost. Read this post, on A Practical Wedding. The same thought, more fully explored. With a book recommendation to boot. Maybe I will go ask if it's one of the Top 4 Books Ever Written. Just to stir things up a little more.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

The 3rd Rule Of China Place Settings

"Wait!" you might protest, "Wait! What happened to Rules 1 and 2? Is there a Rule Number 4?"

Never fear. Other rules exist. But they require research, time, thought. And some days you just want the frivolous cream, the cotton candy, the butter of life.
Rule #3: There is room in your cupboard for a silly set of something. If it matches, well enough. Or contrasts, well enough, to whatever else you use. If it comes with memories, or sentiment, or humor, all the better.

Extra points for crowns. Or ironic symbol of your choice.



Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Ordinary Privilege, Or, Saturday Morning at 11:29am

I went to my brother's 50th birthday party last night. The group included artists, lawyers, professors, psychoanalysts, harp players, chess players, public health clinical trial experts, and at least one hedge fund guy. Many Burning Man fans in eclectic dress. All there to celebrate. Happy birthday, GMC, known by the family nickname that starts with a P.

My brother took his time growing up, paradoxically arriving at 50 still a very young man. He will marry this year for the first time. Maybe it's more accurate to say he took his time growing into himself, since he hasn't lived an irresponsible, perpetual teenage life. He's unusual. Followed his own proverbial road, step by step by step. My brother lives very honestly, more honestly than most people can sustain. He thinks about everything. Refuses to mistake the expected for the necessary.

Of course, as family does, he's driven me nuts more times than I can count. Life is only exalted now and then. Sturdy Gals get impatient with dreamers. Just show up on time, really, that's all the Buddha wants. But I digress.

Last night, looking around the room and the many midlife people, I found myself thinking not about the passing of our years, not about how how short life is, but about how much time we do have. There's a lot of time, in the ordinary life span. Lives are cut short, I would not in any way ignore the possible tragedies. Not in any way. But an ordinary lifetime is pretty generous.

This morning, it occurred to me that life is more freely generous to men. My brother's unusual life was made possible by his intelligence, and his originality, certainly, but also by his gender. From every angle, it seems to me that women's biological relationship with fertility imposes structure and limits. I mean no political statement, no religious statement, nothing. I regret in no way being female. I begrudge no man his gender. However. Fertility, infertility, unwanted fertility, pregnancy, nursing, choosing not to have children. These things take more space in women's lives. We're given somewhat less time early in life to freely carve out who we are, no matter the scope of our imagination. I'm seeing rock, and the traces of picks.

All of which probably leads to a need to carve ourselves out later, when the ordinary lifespan is an even greater privilege.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

At "Hostess of the Humble Bungalow" Today, Remodeling California Ranch Houses

Today I am at the Hostess of the Humble Bungalow. She has a beautiful, historic bungalow in the Arts and Crafts style. I have opinions about remodeling in my neighborhood. And so are matches made. Please come visit. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your time.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Best Swimming Pool In Napa's Wine Country

Imagine you have little time for a getaway. Let's say, for example, you can spare one day and two nights. Let's say you make your way to the Carneros Inn in Napa, California.

You'd wake up here, to morning light and a newspaper in your mailbox.

Then you'd amble up the hill for breakfast, pausing to watch early sun over the valley.

Eat in the Hilltop Restaurant. When it's not too hot, you can sit outside and keep gazing at the view and the best swimming pool in Napa. On really hot days, however, you'll prefer to eat in here.

Either way, you're going to want a freshly-cooked, home-made, sugar-covered mini-doughnut. Those sugar crystals crack between your teeth, and the doughnut itself is what I can only call bouncy.

Then you can go back to your cottage. Don't bother with the extra charges for Vineyard Cottages. Garden is more than good enough. Or you might have come with friends, or family, and rented a house.

(Click to enlarge. Ask to be in the Knittel, or Crane, or Peck 'neighborhood.' They surround adorable little courtyards, with fountains. Away from the roads, but not too close to that pool and its banging gate. Registration won't promise, but no harm in asking)

Either way, right about now you're probably going to want to suit up and return to the pool.

Where, luckily, you can eat lunch. Nice people will bring you food on white plates. Many guests will also be drinking wine, even though it's only 11:30 in the morning. That's because it's Wine Country.

Luckily, they have pool umbrellas. Under which you may want to nap. Because, again, it's Wine Country.

Then you will want to exercise. Because it's Doughnut AND Wine Country.

Then, as a reward for exercising, you will take a walk. Out past one of the many fountains, down one of the many paths lined by fruit trees, up towards the spa.

Where you will notice, yet again, that everything looks most beautiful standing against the blue of a Northern California late summer sky. But you won't spend too much time pondering the ineffable, since in a few minutes, someone is going to bring you drinks of anti-oxidant tea and pat your jowls into cheerful submission.

After which, you will emerge, soothed, to see that there are still people in the pool at 5:30pm. The friendly pool guy will tell you this is one of the most active times, in the friendly pool. People return from vineyards, and retire to the water, to drink wine and laugh. Because this is Wine Country.

Then to dinner. You can go either to Farm, or to the Boon Fly Cafe. Farm is wonderful, because you can sit outside and eat from the bar menu and drink. But Mondays and Tuesdays Farm is closed for dinner. So you're gonna wind up here. Eating something like fried green tomatoes, or buffalo wings. And drinking something like, well, you know, wine.

And then night will fall.

And you'll wander all the way back to your cottage. The next day, you could go visit some vineyards. Or not. The pool is kind of salty, by the way, so you float with no effort whatsoever.

Note that no compensation has been received for this post. Quite the opposite, in fact.


Monday, October 4, 2010

And Yes, I Did Publish The Perfume Post Prematurely But Now It Is Up Correctly.

Technology. What can I say?

In Which We Discover That High WASPs Approach Perfume The Same Way They Approach Life. Intoxicated.

It turns out, oddly enough, that High WASPs take the same approach to perfume as they do to life. I know, I know, it sounds preposterous. Hear me out, if you would be so kind.

1. We mean well. Which sometimes drags on to the edge of politeness. But eventually we honor our commitments.

A reader of Privilege wrote me back in December of 2009, asking me about High WASPs and perfume. Today, October 4th, 2010, I honor my commitment. A more revealing test of 'better late than never' we cannot imagine. Jessica, if you're still out there, um, sorry. And here goes.

2. When we look back, we realize we have come far from our origins. We also see that American culture has wandered far from the world of dressing tables, signature scents, and Grandmama.

My grandmother, the Artsy Grande Dame that she was, had a signature scent. Diorissimo. Lilies of the valley. Very sweet. My mother wore Miss Dior. My Aunt Priscilla gave me Caleche, when I was in high school, and then Paco Rabanne's Calandre. I wore them constantly, until, one day, I just didn't. For the past 30 years I have assumed that I hated perfume, that I was allergic to it, that it made me feel ill. I have also watched, and wondered, why anyone would want to smell like Britney Spears.

3. We do research, relying on decades of retail experience. Which more often than not brings us to our spiritual home, also known as Saks Fifth Avenue.

When I finally, finally, organized my various and remaining competencies enough to get myself to address perfume, I thought I'd go to Barney's New York, in San Francisco. I drove up our unscenic Highway 101, and parked at Union Square. I stopped by Saks, "just to look."

3. High WASPs succumb to adventure.

I walked by the Saks perfume counter. And paused, a bit. The saleswoman began to talk to me immediately. I could barely hear her, so overwhelmed was I by all the shiny bottles and waiting scents.

High WASP inbreeding has left us unable to think and smell at the same time. A pity, really. Who knows what acts of irresponsibility have been committed in lavender fields and peat bogs?

Once the saleswoman began to dab me with perfume I was lost. Drowning. You might think I'm exaggerating. I wish that were true.

This was a newish perfume line called By Kilian. Kilian is apparently the heir of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy fortune whatsit. One can imagine that amidst all those Ls and Vs he needs to spell out his name like a 6-year old. This does not improve the brand for me but I was far beyond logos and marketing by this point.

She dabbed onto my unsuspecting skin (skin is always unsuspecting, that's part of its tragedy, don't you think?):
  • Prelude To Love
  • Beyond Love
  • Love and Tears
  • Liasons Dangereuses
  • Cruel Intentions
  • A Taste of Heaven
These names offered me no guidance whatsoever.

Did you know that to smell perfumes for purchase you should:
  1. Wave your wrists to dry them off after first spraying?
  2. Use each wrist, each elbow, the back of each arm, and a few fingers for different scents?
  3. Lie your face against your wrist sideways, to breath it in indirectly, not snort it right into your nostrils.
  4. Walk away and come back 20 minutes later for the final version of your scent? This is called the "dry down." But had I walked away I would never have returned, thus failing to honor my commitment. So the dry down had to wait.
One bottle smelled like the good part of bugspray, and gasoline. Mixed with rubber. And in the background, sweetness. A tired sweetness. The saleswoman said it was made of something called, "Oudh." And rose. Rose attar, maybe.

All I knew was that I liked it and I had to get out of there or fall down in public. High WASPs do not like to fall down in public.

5. Our senses call us to experiences we cannot predict.

$400 later I owned a large black bottle of scent. Named "Rose Oudh." Which appears to require its own lacquer box adorned by a gold-colored plate engraved with a fancy "K." Oh, and a key. I am still not sure why to lock a box that one can simply put into one's backpack if one is a robber, but I have told you before and I will tell you again, I am at heart too Sturdy for much high concept retail.

4. We call home for comfort and discover that the old High WASPs had some priorities very straight.

When I finally made it to my car I called my sisters. Only to discover that my sisters don't wear perfume at all. I called my mother.
Me: Mom, what's that perfume you always wore?
Mom: I don't know. I don't wear it any more. I hate it.
Me: Well what did you use to wear?
Mom: I don't know. I used to keep the bottles on my dressing table but I thought they looked trashy so I put them away.
Me: Well, Mom, could you do me a favor and go look and see what they are? I'm trying to write a blog post.
Mom: OK but I have to go back across the house to the bathroom.
Me: That's OK. I will wait.
Mom: Lisa?
Me: Yes Mom?
Mom: I found it. You tell your blog people I had to crawl back into my bathroom cupboard to to get it. (Note. The bathroom cupboard is under her sink.)
Me: OK Mom, I will. What's the perfume?
Mom: It's something called Hermies.
Me: Hermies? *laughter* Mom, it's not Hermies, it's Hermes!
Mom: Well I had to crawl into the bathroom cupboard to get it.
My mother doesn't care one bit for brands. Or labels. I doubt she would understand the phenomenon of young Mr. Kilian.

5. We keep anything that dizzies the senses far away from our reading glasses, our well-flossed teeth, and our pearls.

In the past few weeks I have discovered that I have to wear Rose Oudh behind my knees. Anything closer to my face is too much. Good thing too. Perfume oils are bad for pearls. Everyone knows that.

Everyone knows that perfume was invented to disguise the smells of human life pre-plumbing.

Everyone also knows that perfume is just perfume. But they're wrong. The Three Kings knew what they were doing. All that myrrh and frankincense was the original Trojan Horse.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

My Favorite Way To Transition Seasons, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:18am

Three Indian summer days in Napa. My bones are nicely dry, blood warmed. Ready for autumn.

I find there's nothing quite like a horizon for optimism. Do you know what I mean? That unlimited gaze? I'm hoping the image sticks around.

Here's to a wonderful weekend for everyone.