November 22, 2011

Stuff(ed) and Nonsense: The Dreaded Feast, again.

“We all know that Christmas Thanksgiving is the real culprit here, the true source of the mania, depression, and clinical hysteria.”  
-The Dreaded Feast, Taylor Plimpton

I have always managed to gently fade away and enjoy the holidays in an unconventional way. 
Yes, I get like this-insufferable-every year at this time, and it lasts until, oh, February or so, when the urge to become a Jehovah's Witness slowly dissipates and all traces of holiday mania has evaporated.
This year, however, feels distinctly darker. Twentyeleven has not been a happy year on our little planet, there has been much death, doom, destruction and a host of major life changes that knocked us on our derrières.  As a friend mentioned yesterday, self-discovery is a bastard-it's also expensive, boring, depressing, time-consuming, exhausting and scary. And yet, there are little glimmers of hope and progress here and there, and, on occasion-unadulterated joy.  

Which leads me to Benjamin Disraeli-
“I feel a very unusual sensation-if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.”
Whether you celebrate a quiet Thanksgiving at a table for two or a crazy, hectic family feast... ENJOY your day!

November 20, 2011

Journey of the Magi.

Apropos L’Heure Bleue the perfume not the light-

“What do you think of this?” Ms. Edna asks, jutting her wrist underneath my nose. A new quiz has begun. A pungent blast of fragrance assaults my sinuses. Not necessarily bad, but strong, with a choking flash of alcohol fumes. I nod my head, hoping in vain that this reaction will satisfy her query. “A nod. What does that mean?” she probes. Oh God. I take another whiff, and memories of my grandmother’s bathroom come flooding back to me. Those overpoweringly feminine scents which would thrust my boyhood soul into a state of anti-girl revulsion.

“What does it smell like to you?” This is my friend’s way of trying to be helpful. I want to say “perfume,” but I know that won’t suffice. I use my catch-all description of anything that smells like an old lady’s lavatory.

“It smells powdery.” I reply. Ms. Edna flashes me a disapproving expression. “No, that’s not what powder smells like.” Now I’m confused. I thought the question was interpretive, like ‘how does that piece of music make you feel?’, or ‘what does that cloud look like to you?’ I take another feeble stab. “It smells like soap,” I mutter with a quiver in my voice. The same quiver of uncertainty and shame which accompanied every answer I ever gave to any art teacher in my life.

Predictably, Ms. Edna flashes me the same disapproving expression of every art teacher I ever offered a reply to. “No, it’s orange blossom, with a touch of sandalwood and musk.”

Oh right, that was going to be my next guess.

I always prided myself on having a pretty good sniffer. As a young man, I took a certain joy in identifying an enigmatic ingredient in a dish just by the aroma. I was usually the first one to notice when a pilot light had blown out, or a car’s radiator was about to overheat. And when it came to aftershave, I felt somewhat superior to my friends in that I actually tried different fragrances. Granted, I was still “borrowing” from dad, but I was a discerning borrower.  Then I met Ms. Edna, who has one of the best noses I’ve ever encountered. Within months Ms. Edna had me switch to Roger R. Gallet Jean Marie Farina extra vieille, passing it over my face I immediately felt an agreeable sensation of bracing freshness. I realized there was more to selecting cologne besides borrowing from dad.

Speaking of obsession, Ms. Edna has always been one to cultivate consuming passions for certain topics, people, or interests. We each have interests and are always showing support for the other’s compulsive inclinations. This perfume thing has me stumped however. I just don’t smell all the things that are supposed to be going on in these perfumes. Ms. Edna assures me that I could detect these notes if I trained my nose to understand what they smell like. I’m skeptical. I don’t think this nose has the necessary number of scent receptors to discern the myriad notes in a fragrance. Usually, the scents come to me in general categories: floral, soapy, powdery, musky, sweet, etc. If I’m having a good day, I can detect rose or lavender, but that has to be a really good, pollen-free day. I can detect citrus scents, but Ms. Edna usually points out that I’ve guessed the wrong fruit. Suddenly, I’m back to Dr. Zwick’s art class.

I’m also perplexed by the vast number of perfumes on the market. To me, they all exhibit a certain category of scent: floral, soapy, powdery, musky, sweet, etc. I’m beginning to think the perfume industry could use the same suggestion I would have for the porn industry. Although it’s against our business nature, I believe someone could put together a comprehensive encyclopedia of pornography, featuring people of every possible race, gender, size, and hair color, then cross reference them with every possible act, position, and fetish. The result would be a porn library for everyone, and no other porn films would have to be created ever again. Why not have a comprehensive collection of perfumes, selecting the most popular scents for every known body chemistry? Then there would be a scent for everyone and no other scents need to be created. Of course, our active, independent human brains convince us that, just as there has to be some new sexual activity that’s never before been invented, there has to be a unique new scent that no one has experienced before. All I can say is, if this revolutionary scent be experienced, it won’t register on this pedestrian nose.

Last year Ms. Edna excitedly informed me of a sniff fest going on in New York. I secretly prayed that she would have a friend who would want to go along with her because, otherwise, I would end up the default travel companion. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York, but I couldn’t see myself spending a weekend in the Big Apple trudging through scent stores burning out my olfactory sense. Fortunately, she found Anja who was curious and tagged along. Now Anja is a perfumista-in-training. I guess the affliction can strike anyone…except me.

November 18, 2011

L’heure Bleue in L.A.?

“Blue nights are the span of time following the summer solstice when the twilights turn long and blue… and over the course of an hour or so, this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades…”
-Blue Nights, Joan Didion

The term has many associations. From Guerlain’s L’heure Bleue perfume to human dispositions, as in beating the blues, to a time of innocence, such as that used to describe Paris just prior to World War I, a precise definition of the blue hour is difficult.
That is, until you see it.  Even then it will defy words. Or more accurately, especially then, it will defy words.
I’d heard the term used for the golden hour of photography, was familiar with Roy Orbison’s “When the Blue Hour Comes”, according to Charles in Scotland it’s referred to as gloaming, knew the German term alpenglow used to describe a similar effect (specifically that which occurs on mountains), and had even read (and amazingly recalled) a Victorian era term Belt of Venus used to describe the blue or golden hour.

But could I find that elusive Blue Hour in Los Angeles?   

O yes, I did.  Standing at the Los Angeles River a passerby said “it’s the blue hour. Isn’t it something?”  Yes, it was.

(So impressed was I, some research was in order. The effect appears to be exacerbated in colder climates. But it’s not the temperature, rather the snow on the ground absorbing the red light frequencies that give a more vividly blue appearance.  Light scattering (Rayleigh Scattering) is at work. Films and digital cameras have differing dynamic ranges so it is very difficult to achieve the same dynamic range as the human eye this translates to a more saturated blue capture.)

November 11, 2011

A gleam in the eye

I use a fast shutter speed–Elliott Erwitt (in response to being asked how he manages to find time for personal work)
Although the history of photography has generally balked at allowing humor into its pantheon, Elliott Erwitt steadfastly pursues a wry, off-kilter view of the benign indignity of life. With a gleam in his eye and a twinkle in his lens, he seems to tell us sweetly, sadly, rather resignedly that a little absurdity, a bit of imbalance is about what we should expect from life. "Everything's serious," he says, and promptly adds, "Everything's not serious." Erwitt apparently has the inside track on the way circumstances undermine our efforts to be respectable and to maintain order in the world. He is probably the only man who has ever noticed museum-goers studiously contemplating an empty frame, or a cannon poking its muzzle out over the trees at a bus stop. He also has the distinction of knowing more about the real nature of a dog's life than anyone but cats; he claims that he habitually barks at dogs, which might explain their many vivid responses to his camera. Erwitt's irreverent, raised eyebrow view of the world should make perfectly clear that a sense of humor can be a weighty piece of photographic equipment.

Eliott Erwitt turned 83 in July of this year; he’s been taking photos for over six decades, all around the World, and has published or been included in over 20 books. He’s worked for the US Army, the FSA and Magnum Photos, as well as being a freelance commercial photographer. He has photographed some of the most iconic people and dogs throughout his illustrious career; but he hasn’t retired yet.
 for Mona

November 09, 2011

Fasten your seatbelt

because from here to eternity

is a wild ride.

We think the very least someone deserves for hitting such a fine age, and with such style, are friends elbows-deep in flour, frosting and devotion.

from ALL of us to ALL of you


November 07, 2011

Noel Coward never said…

…don’t let’s be beastly to the Greeks. 

Big mistake, we should have, been beastly to the Greeks.

Once upon a time, before the gold price was quoted in dollars, Dionysus gave King Midas a wish. Unwisely, Midas wished that everything he touched would turn to gold. Since this included food and drink, he began to starve and begged Dionysus to remove the power. The god bade him bathe in the river Pactolus, which, they say, has had gold in its sand ever since.

If this was to serve as a caution it was ineffective, for the modern Greek sybarites lived off EU wealth until they could no longer cook the books.  Even Lenin recognized that in a capitalist society accountability was a necessity.  Though he looked forward to a communist future in which gold would cover the walls and floors of public lavatories Lenin's dream did not come true.   

Whatever happened to accountability?  Whatever happened to calling to responsibility our elected representatives who encouraged such financial shenanigans by flinging billions to irresponsible Greek politicians who bought votes and created state sinecures for political friends with OUR taxes (Greek citizens have an allergy to paying taxes).

But enough already.  Gold went through the roof and you can guess who bought their fair share thanks to your ‘little bro’s’ advise Ms. Edna.  We are on holiday, the weather in Greece is balmy and I am facing my own hurdle this week-the BIG arrgh!


November 06, 2011

An Embarrassment of Riches.

Recent history may seem vulgar, but during the Renaissance, ostentatious displays of wealth were so extreme that they were banned entirely.
Our nation’s ambivalent relationship with conspicuous consumption is nothing new. Admiration and resentment of the nouveaux riches, in particular, have been around as long as the nouveaux riches themselves. If anything, the extravagance of our era's parvenus pales beside that of the Renaissance merchant class-the bourgeoisie that emerged with the rise of European commerce in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and celebrated its burgeoning wealth so ostentatiously that an alarmed nobility enacted sumptuary laws to curb the flamboyant vulgarity.
By the fourteenth century the Italian peninsula, despite its political fragmentation, had emerged as the cultural center of Europe. The Renaissance saw a reawakening of classical art and learning as well as a renewed prosperity not seen since Imperial Rome.  Weddings, pageants, and fetes were the nobles' favored expressions of aristocratic prerogative, and the bourgeoisie was anxious to adopt them. Renaissance artists such as Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, and Leonardo da Vinci achieved their earliest renown as ordonnateurs de fite (party designers), creating events so grandiose they would give Saul Steinberg and Ronald Searle pause.

For one banquet, del Sarto designed a temple using a culinary theme-with colored gelatin as pavement, columns made of sausages supporting capitals carved from Parmesan cheese, and a reading stand made of cold veal featuring a book with lasagna pages and musical notes inscribed in pepper grams.

These displays of wealth prescribed the production of increasingly sumptuous accouterments. Venice became famous for the splendor of its silver and gold utensils (including the fork, which it popularized); gold toothpicks; gold, silver, damascened-copper, and bronze vases, trays, bowls, water pitchers, and wine basins; and white linen tablecloths, which were changed repeatedly during the course of a meal. Practitioners of the prestigious art of napkin folding created elaborate sailboats, fish, otters, griffins, double-headed eagles, and castles complete with parapets and towers (the napkin's complexity corresponding to the social rank of its user). And of course no banquet was complete without an expert majordomo who, while overseeing the table linens, finger bowls, candlesticks, and scented water, also ensured that the serving of the courses didn't interrupt the musical and dramatic interludes.
But perhaps these excesses are best expressed by a pair of statistics: in 1415, one prosperous Florentine merchant spent fifty-four florins on his marriage celebration; a well-paid artisan earned about eighteen florins annually. Still, the lower classes probably didn't mind; one of pageantry's purposes was to impress the peasantry, who like today's tourists gaping were thrilled by their proximity to such splendor.
The vulgar world of commerce sometimes invaded even the realm of the court. The June 1368 marriage festivities of Violante, the daughter of Galeazzo II Visconti (whose family had risen from the ranks of the minor nobility) to Lionel, King Edward Ill's son, served as both a social triumph and an efficient advertising venue for Milanese armor manufacturing and the breeding of warhorses, which were actually dispensed as party favors to the guests.
Such extravagances alarmed the established aristocracy, which considered them needless expenditures at best they preferred the money to remain available for their own purposes-and a threat to society at worst. By the 1400s, sumptuary laws restricting expressions of wealth from fans to funerals had been enacted throughout Europe, as Old Money tried (mostly in vain) to keep New Money in its place.
The sumptuary laws were especially prevalent in Italian communes. As early as the thirteenth century, weddings in Bologna, Florence, Genoa, and Venice were hampered by dictates concerning everything-the number and social rank of guests, the timing of banquets, the number and lavishness of courses, the value of the trousseau, wedding gifts, and the nuptial chest itself. The protocol of funerals fell under similar restrictions.
The exorbitant feasts of the signoria (a city's governing body, which was largely composed of nobles), however, were rarely thwarted by their own edicts. Even laws that theoretically applied to the aristocracy as well as the bourgeoisie were rarely enforced in the case of the high-born. During the reign of England's Edward II (1307-1327), a proclamation was issued against the "outrageous and excessive multitude of meats and dishes," which the great men of England served in their castles. There is little evidence, though, that the great men of England ever moderated their dining habits.  Nor is it likely that Renaissance fashion victims heeded commandments to dress down. Sumptuary laws regulating fashion were even more painstaking-and more dreaded-than party-giving restrictions. The expense and luxury of women's attire in particular worried French and Italian city fathers, who issued draconian ordinances prohibiting sartorial arrogance in the name of the common good.
 some anciens nouveaux riches, as depicted in The Feast, by Abraham Janssens.
Every segment of society - or so the theory held - had a proper role in God's social order, and clothing was its indelible expression. The bourgeoisie's passion for finery, however, swiftly eroded the boundaries between these categories, and regulating every aspect of adornment became necessary to confirm the wearer's God-given status. Laws forbade merchants' wives from possessing multicolored, checked, striped, brocaded, or figured velvet and gold-or silver-embroidered gowns. Florentine officials stopped women on the street to inspect their clothes and raided wardrobes to uncover the incriminating luxuries hanging within. In two days in 1401, 210 gowns were confiscated in the commune of Bologna when a routine inspection turned up numerous violations of the city's dress code, which governed, among other things, jewels, belts, rings, fur, shoes, fringe, dresses, and buttons.
The most severely censured fashion statements of all, though, were the pointed shoes first donned by English knights and dubbed poulaines in France, where after substantial refinement they became the Renaissance equivalent of today's platform shoes. Crafted of gilt leather or velvet embroidered with gold and pearls, poulaines finally became so unwieldy that even when the toes were stuffed to make the points curl up, they had to be tied to the knees (with gold or silver chains, of course) to allow the wearer to walk. The resultant crippling effect produced an effeminate, mincing gait that was denounced from pulpits as decadent and eventually outlawed, as the peasants grew convinced that poulaines were signs of the devil.
Of course, the more style-obsessed citizens found ways to circumvent the laws. Restricted attire could be discreetly worn under other garments; silk or fur sleeve linings were unlikely to be detected. And why, after all, should the bourgeoisie obey regulations the nobles openly flouted? A wedding gown made in 1447 for a noble Florentine heiress to the Strozzi banking fortune was decorated with a garland of two hundred peacock tail feathers, pearls, and shimmering bits of gold, all accented by flowers and gilt leaves. The gown cost 636 livres, equivalent to five hundred days' wages of a skilled laborer. The garment was not confiscated.
Given the recent fervent disapproval of the flamboyant life-styles championed by the nouveaux riches of our ‘Roaring Times', one wonders whether such drastic measures as those implemented during the Renaissance should also be employed in our times.

Actually, we have little need of sumptuary laws today. Confronted by luxury taxes, animal-welfare groups, fear of robbery, and the economic depression, we will be forced to become much more modest on our own.

November 01, 2011


“This is the true joy in life
being used for a purpose recognized by you as a good one.
Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances
complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.  . . .
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I love.
I rejoice in life for its own sake.
Life is no brief candle to me;
it is a sort of splendid torch which I've got a hold of for the moment
and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible
before handing it on to future generations.”

~George Bernard Shaw

My sentiments too