Saturday, October 31, 2009

Things I care about recently and right this second also

<--- Pastry humor. Dig it.

In an attempt to start writing again with some sort of routine (or at least semi-regularity), I'm spending the day in front of my laptop. This, of course, is not unusual, but what is rare is that I will decidedly not be refreshing the bookface and Etsy with alternating clicks in four-second intervals.

Instead, I'm blogging nonsense.

I've been out of touch for oh-so long, and I have all of these opinions, you see. I just opine all the live-long day. And they're piling up around here. The opinions. Here goes [a whole lotta] nothing.


The Bay Bridge.
I've been in love with this beastly bastard for years now, but I find that it's even better when I'm not using it. And now no one it using it. It's just sitting there, just this big useless thing. We live right at the base of it and it's hard to explain the oddness of not hearing traffic at all ever. It's like growing up in rural Iowa--when's the last time you fell asleep and could hear the sound of cars if you tried to hear them, if you considered how long it's been since you started ignoring the sound of traffic?

You just sit there and look pretty. The stupid, lazy bridge as seen from the roof.
Still, Bay Bridge, I prefer you to the Golden Gate any day. Most. Overrated. Bridge. Ever.

Movies About Sewing And Other Stuff.
Two excellent excellent films everyone in the world has to see right god damned now.

Bright Star is a movie about sewing that takes place in 1818 [sic]. The movie is also about a hipster poet named John Keats who was basically like the Dan Brown of the 1820s, except that unlike Dan Brown, Keats died before seeing any of his work adapted for the screen. Ok, but really: a lovely little romantic, Romantic biopic. With poetry. And long, slow sewing scenes. Because I'm a geek, I've been obsessively reading up on this romance and a lot of the film's dialogue is taken from the letters Keats wrote to Fanny (though tragically, all of the letters from Fanny to Keats were destroyed after his death, as per his request).

Oh, by the way, things the movie messed up: the word Dandy didn't exist in 1818, am I correct? And the film fails to mention that PERCY 'd-bag' SHELLEY was the one who invited Keats to Italy (where he [spoiler?] died, thanks Percy). I'm so tired of pro-Percy propaganda films, but this one apologizes with pretty dresses and lovely poetry.

Coco Before Chanel is about two of my most favorite pastimes in the world: sewing stuff and smoking cigarettes. I'm not going to go into detail here about all of the political untidiness the filmmakers get out of dealing with by making a film about Coco's early life, but suffice it to say that this film is gorgeous, sultry, meticulous, and agonizing. The heroine's relationships with clothing made me fall in love alongside her and her relationships with men made me want to pluck her from dark bedrooms and bad decisions. And the lines, oh, the perfectly stitched hems and pleats and collars.

I'm not going to attempt to write about perfume because I don't know how and the other member of this household does it much better than I ever could. I did just want to mention, for all the bibliophile geeks I love, that CB I Hate Perfume's In The Library is an extraordinary little thing for your nose's brain to love. Let me clarify: this is the scent of bibliotopia. This perfume captures the scent you imagine old stacks to emanate. "You" here implying anyone who has ever paid thousands of dollars to sit in classrooms and talk about Jane Austen with other like-minded, aspirational youths of all ages. No real library smells charmingly and romantically like aging leather and dusty pages. This smells like you'd imagine an archival basement to smell as you ran a fingertip over a gilded title of a first-edition book that you love. Libraries don't smell like that. In fact, here is a short description of the scents of the three libraries in which I've spent embarrassingly too much time:

The University of Iowa: Twizzlers, Red Bull, last night's Long Island iced teas transfused in the sweat of 19-year olds (tmi?), the sort of sexual energy that gets frat houses kicked off campus, florally supermarket shampoo

St. Mary's College of California: Rockstar Energy drink, shitty coffee, sunscreen, that sort of chemically smell that rises from non-shag carpet in direct sunlight (sort of like artificial static electricity)

The University of Chicago: when's the last time you showered?, Indian food, benzoyl peroxide, burning dust on hot-to-the-touch radiators, dry erase markers, evaporating stipends

Anyhow, buy In The Library if you love books or want to love books or want them to love you or want to be loved by or be lovers with lovers of beloved books. This is not a guarantee, but seriously. Make your library a better-smelling place.

Television's Reminders That You Could Be Failing More Severely But Aren't.
Oh my god, if you haven't watched all of the (available online!) episodes of A&E's reality show Hoarders, go right now and watch the shit out of it! And then come back and read the rest of my blog!

Have you heard the joke about the seven-year-old dyslexic hoarder with attention deficit hyperactive disorder? That's because it's not a joke. It's episode number five!

I'm also way too into watching people fail on Project Runway and Top Chef but who cares. There's a tv show about people who keep way too much useless shit for way too long! Oh my god, it's incredible!

Have we had enough for now? I think we have.

Chicago, early notes revisited

In the spring of 2007, I spent a weekend in Chicago deciding if I could live in the city for a year or more. It just so happened that during that weekend, I was able to catch the Vollard exhibition at the Art Institute. I typically hate Impressionism and Post-Impressionism (I'm a Classical girl, you know, and a bit of a Romantic) but I developed an odd fascination with Cézanne's "View of the Domaine Saint-Joseph" and wrote an essay about (or sort of rather on, at, around, etc.) the painting later that spring.

I won't bore you with all of this, but having lived in San Francisco again for a month and a half, this early description of Chicago seems mildly-to-moderately pertinent. Or maybe not.
(from On Context: Cézanne's 'View of Domaine Saint-Joseph')

It’s so good and so terrible to attack a blank canvas.
- Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

I must tell you about this painting.

You must know first that sometimes in Chicago in April, it is still very cold. Cold is subjective, but sometimes wind can be described as nothing less than cold. Later this day, the sun will come out, and it will rain.

Impressionist painting is very sentimental, don’t you think? With those blotchy brush dabs and imprecise-seeming strokes and no definitive edges on anything? Monet is maudlin, even when his canvas is dark, even when the light shown down on it is subtle but ample, highlighting the blurred starlight, lowlighting the reflections on water. Even when the pair of strangers in front of me is quiet, short, and therefore unobtrusive.

Yes, Impressionism is maudlin, and I dare say a little gaudy, though maybe I’m thinking too much of the mass-produced, blotchy, pastel prints that hung over made-to-match duvets in economy hotel rooms in the 1990s. The beds were too hard, the comforters scratchy like fiberglass insulation, the prints amateur and base. Or maybe I’m thinking simply of reproductions—take, for example, the water lilies, and how they were stuck with Sticky Tak to one wall in the dorm room of almost every girl in college who kept and would eventually marry her boyfriend from high school. Just beneath in the white margin, in a flippant font, the title scrawled for those who didn’t know, though by sophomore year, when the posters moved to apartments, we all knew.

I didn’t keep my boyfriend from high school, but from those years I kept my favorite poem:

Doctor, you say there are no haloes

around the streetlights in Paris

and what I see is an aberration

caused by old age, an affliction.

I tell you it has taken me all my life

to arrive at vision of gas lamps as angels,

to soften and blur and finally banish

the edges you regret I don’t see,

to learn that the line I called the horizon

does not exist and sky and water,

so long apart, are the same state of being.

-From Lisel Mueller’s “Monet Refuses the Operation” (1-11)

Despite my distaste for Monet and his weepy, wet landscapes, I like that Mueller is able to write a logic to him, a system of reasoning. Ah…gas lamps—as angels. There’s a value to the rereading of poetry that is absent in the experience of reproduced art. When I read this poem, at fifteen, I underlined the word aberration, wrote deviation from truth in the white space beside it.

It was sentimentality that drew me to the poem, but it is the articulation of the logic behind indefinite shapes that kept me its reader for all of these years. Paul Cézanne is a Post-Impressionist; he picked up where Monet left off, though in fact, Monet outlived Cézanne by two decades. It might be said that Cézanne was more anxious than sentimental. Most of his work happened at the tail end of the Impressionist era, after 1880, and his most youthful and enlivened painting was done at the tail end of his half-century-spanning career. Here, however, I’m already getting ahead of myself.

For the decorative painter whose main object is the organization of his design upon the surface, this is no difficulty, rather an advantage. But for painters to whom the plastic construction is all-important it becomes serious. For them, the contour becomes at once a fascination and a dread. - Roger Fry, From Cézanne: A Study of His Development

In 1871, for just less than three days, the city of Chicago burned. Four square miles were razed to ash, give or take a few buildings—a pair of churches and a couple of lucky houses—left standing in the sooty mire, with resignation and burdened stoicism.

Chicago was resurrected swiftly and with perfect geometry—with the exception of a fistful of curves to accommodate the river, the city’s streets are straighter than any average Midwest horizon, each intersection a quartet of immaculate right angles. This makes it easy to find your way around, though don’t hesitate to ask directions—the people generally don’t mind.

Downtown the gray-bricks and weary columns resonate with a solemnity I want to call American Gothic because it reminds me simultaneously of Poe’s solitary ravens and The Fountainhead’s Howard Roark, but Chicago School architecture is informed by both the classicists and the modernists. I have to look up to see the whole of the skyline, and remind myself there are no earthquakes here to shake those giants. The order and the precision and calculation and height of it all might lend the city a sort of arrogance—this bravado of pre-apocalyptic perfection, a brick and concrete masterpiece that would look lovely in ruins—but remember this: Chicago has already once been demolished by fire.