Saturday, February 28, 2009

One always needs soap

Sometime in the last few weeks, I was listening to National Public Radio and heard the tail end of a news story about luxury chocolate. It seems the business of selling high-end chocolate is doing very well, even as the economy is falling apart. You can buy a house in Detroit for the price of box of chocolate these days. If you don't believe me, google "house prices in Detroit" and then go to the Godiva website.

I can't eat chocolate, but I understood the reasoning behind the uptick in upscale treat sales. I learned about the importance of purchasing the occasional luxury soap at an early age from my parents. They both had a great appreciation for beautiful packaging and scent and moaned about the ugly boxes of equally unappealing soap in this country. When my father made a trip to Europe for business, he would come back with many bars of soap.

If you're under 40, you probably don't remember that once it was hard to get a nice bar of soap. Now, you can purchase luxury bath and beauty products in any supermarket.

I remember the lecture my father gave me about soap the first time we visited the large Caswell Massey flagship store in New York City. We must have spent hours in the shop, sniffing everything, just to buy one bar. That one bar of soap cost between three and five dollars. My father told me that good soap was a poor man's luxury. One could splurge on a beautiful fragrant bar of soap but it wouldn't break the bank. And, it would not only bring you pleasure each day, but one needed soap. You could buy a bar of Ivory, but it was far better to scrimp on other things.

I don't remember ever seeing a bar of regular soap in my family's house. When I first left home, Dial, Irish Spring and the rest of the supermarket brands were a new thing for me (and I must admit that I rather liked the scent of both of them).

Now, folks don't have to eat chocolate, but the idea is pretty much the same. Most people like to pamper themselves. I suspect men use another word, but I can't think of what it might be. Nonetheless, when times are tough, the desire to soothe oneself grows. There's a lot of anxiety in the air.

Some people eat chocolate. I put Kiss My Face lavender scented moisterizer on my hands. When we were in Williamsburg, I bought a few small gorgeously packaged soaps and was sorry I didn't buy more the minute we drove out of town. And like my parents before me, I would bet that at least one of those soaps will never be opened. They sit on display in my glass front bathroom cabinet along with an old bar of L'Occitane, which is just too pretty to touch. It did occur to me the other night that I could unwrap the soap very carefully and then put the empty wrapper in the cabinet, but that seems like cheating (or something I can't put my finger on).

I wonder how the sales of luxury soaps and such are doing. I bet they're fine, or at least not as bad as home and car sales (well, that'd be an easy feat).

Now I'm off to shower with a bar of Williamsburg Lavender soap. It most certainly isn't an authentic bar of 18th century soap, but I'm not complaining. Have you ever smelled a bar of soap made with lard and lye? It's appalling. The stuff is strong and probably can clean anything. But if Colonial Williamsburg was selling true reproduction soap, they wouldn't sell much, that's for sure.

Mosaic note: I didn't have time to make my own. Check out Mimi's beautiful mosaics on Flickr.

Awful messages (a continuing series, it seems)

There's much I could write about. I notice that what I'm really thinking is that there's much I should write about. I hesitate to use expressions such as this, but, I tend to believe in the AA aphorism "don't should on yourself."

When we got home, there was a copy of Harper's Bazaar magazine in our stack of mail. It's huge. 408 pages. Two perfume inserts (both awful). Hundreds of pages of ads. Many of the models are downright scary looking. Not because they are so thin, which they are, but they stare at the camera with menacing looks that would put any death metal musician to shame.

I'm enjoying leafing through the magazine. I enjoy fashion. I also enjoy being irked. Seriously. I have come to realize that I enjoy feeling outraged, as long as it is not that serious. Being outraged by anorexia amongst fashion models is not the same as being outraged by genocide. It seems a little ridiculous to bother pointing this out.

I know I'm only supposed to look at the pictures, but I do read the copy. Here's what stuck in my craw: "We've all been there: arriving at some haute soiree positively preening over our pitch-perfect ensemble only to see her. That girl. . .Suddenly, you want to burn a cigarette into your coat. . .and lose 10 pounds in 10 minutes. . ."

Do I even need to comment?

No, I think not.

Image note: Forget about the dress. What does this mean?

Addendum: I am thinking of keeping the subscription so I have something trivial to be irritated by. The television is on right now. I hear ". . .more bad news is expected next week." More about the connection between the above to come.

Addendum II: Victor & Rolf's "Flowerbomb" perfume may actually be nice. It's nowhere near being a bomb of flowers. But, I've always wondered if those fragrance strips are accurate.

Bits and pieces of my trip

1. Dot, Bjorg and Emily 2. My father, 1941 3. Princeton University Why can't I find a picture of my aunt and uncle!? I've thrown out too much e-mail!, 4. Shaking, 5. Molten Glass at Jamestown Glasshouse, 6. Playing the Glass Armonica, 7. 27 Mary Stith House - north side, 8. Across the Potomac, 9. Blizzard

I'm back, sort of

Well. I haven't blogged for almost three weeks. I was away. I assumed there'd be internet access everywhere I went, but that was not so. I was disappointed. I had planned on blogging about my trip.

After a few days I discovered that it was good to take a break from the internet. Now, I've been home since Monday and I haven't felt like blogging. We were away for 11 days (or was it 12?) and I'm still processing everything that happened. I don't remember the last time I was away from home for that long.

This'll be a short entry. I'm bleary this morning, but I figured if I just posted a few words, it might get me back in the habit. I have no intention of abandoning this blog!

That's all for now. Stay tuned!

Painting note: This is earliest known portrait of George Washington, painted in 1772 by Charles Willson Peale. You may be wondering, "What does George Washington have to do with this post?" The only answer I'll give you now is that we visited Colonial Williamsburg and I've got a pile of books about Washington next to my sofa.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hallmark update

Much to my surprise, I received an e-mail from Hallmark today. It's nice to know that occasionally something one does can have a positive affect. But this was beyond any of my expectations:

"My name is Deidre Mize, I work at Hallmark in Public Affairs and Communications.

I noticed your recent blog posting about one of Hallmark’s Valentine’s Day commercials and wanted to respond.

When creating this commercial we wanted to show that love can be expressed in a number of creative, economical and heartfelt ways, including Mom’s voice in a valentine.

As is our normal practice, our marketing team tested this commercial before it aired among consumers, including mothers. These consumers responded favorably, so we appreciate receiving different points of view like the one you shared on your blog.

With this new perspective from you and others we have decided to stop airing the advertisement. Please understand that it will take time to fully remove the commercial from the air but that we have begun the process and are working as expeditiously as possible.

Hallmark is about helping people connect. We are continually learning about the intricacies of these connections, and your perspective will help us to look at this differently in the future.

Thank you for your time and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments. As I mentioned, perspectives like yours are important to us."

Image note: Valentine's Day postcard, circa 1900

Thursday, February 5, 2009

In which I miss my mental energy

Ah, last November. I had a few days of exciting pre-election jitters, a few days of post-election elation, 21 days of novel writing craziness, and enough mental energy left over to post not just one, but sometimes three blog entries a day.

Now, I'm still in need of topic suggestions.

I'm in the middle of reading David Denby's "Snark", which normally I'd be able to read in a short evening at 122 pages. But my lack of mental energy (and clarity) is affecting not only my writing, but my reading. As to "Snark", there's a lot of food for thought in that book, and he addresses an issue that seems to be on my mind often.

That issue would be snark. Is it snarky of me to point that out?

Last time I looked at this book's Amazon page there was just one review. Now there are 41. I'm enjoying the book (slowly), but have found it to be filled with contradictions and confusing. And here I was thinking it was me, since I've been so foggy minded.

This is the first time that looking at Amazon has been a therapeutic experience. The book is muddled, not my mind. Phew.

Reality checks are a wonderful thing.

Nonetheless, I'm still foggy. And I'd like to write about snark. But not tonight. Stay tuned.

Painting note: Gustave Courbet Femme nue couchée, 1862
It's been too cold to recline nude. Then again, and I'm sure this is too much information, when one's breasts start sliding under one's armpits, it's probably time to stop reclining nude. Or is that a societal message that I should ignore?

Addendum: Speaking of snarky, as much as I love reading Margaret and Helen, I've started to find their use of the word "bitch" for women such as Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin distasteful. I've been enjoying the posts about Ann Coulter's new book, but attacking the size of the woman's feet (over and over and over again) is not amusing. I know this is not a debate, but using argumentum ad hominem (attacking a person's character instead of their ideas) may be somewhat fair in the cases of both of Coulter and Palin, but it gets wearisome.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Good and bad messages for Valentine's Day

There's a commercial for Hallmark Valentine's Day cards on TV right now that is truly offensive. I tried to find it online somewhere, but didn't succeed, so here it is:

We see a group of elementary school girls sitting in the cafeteria together. One girl opens her lunch and pulls out an apple with handmade hearts around it. Someone says something, but I'm sorry, but I forget what it is. Then, a second girl pulls out a sandwich, which has been cut into the shape of a heart. Honestly, I wasn't paying that much attention, and the thought that I had was "Oh, that's really sweet. And cute." Again, there's some remark made, but still, since I didn't know what was coming next, and I tune out when the commercials come on, I can't tell you exactly what was said. The third and last girl opens her lunch and finds a card in an envelope. Oh, it's a Hannah Montana card! She opens it and it even plays a tune! The other girls look miserable. They only got handmade things, things that weren't paid for. They only got things that their mothers actually had to put some thought and time into.

This ad sends two truly awful messages. The first is obvious: presents that are bought are superior to hand-made. But the second message is even worse: it's okay to make other kids unhappy and to tease them.

I thought we were done with kind of thing. Schools work very hard these days to stop bullying and teasing, and there's at least some effort put into stopping the clique mentality that comes along with some kids having the "right stuff" while others don't.

So, it comes as a big surprise to me to see this Hallmark ad. Hallmark, a company that's supposed to bring cheer into our lives with lovely messages, is promoting a way of behaving and thinking that I naively thought might become a thing of the past. All I can say is, "Hallmark, shame on you!"

If you're watching TV, keep your eyes open for this ad. I'd be curious to see if any of you find it as offensive as I do.

Image note: From the Martha Stewart website: "This Valentine's Day, encourage kids to show sweet sentiments with tokens of affection that go beyond the store-bought card. . .In no time, they'll have an array of adorable valentines whose messages come straight from the heart." Instructions for making flower and heart lollipops and other Valentine's goodies here.

The beginning of a weekly fashion post? Perhaps.

It was pointed out to me that fashion commentators don't like the way Johnny Depp dresses. I not only like Depp's taste in fashion; I enjoy it. He's playful. Besides, who can possibly trust experts when they call anyone wearing the the following montrosity the "best dressed of the week":

Click on the above link and you'll find page after page of bad fashion and bad judgment. I'm not writing this to be catty - I have no motive for that.

I was under the impression that high fashion had lost its taste years ago. I discovered yesterday, after spending hours perusing the web, that this is not true. There are plenty of extremely talented and creative designers out there. But that's not what the public sees. We are generally bombarded (just by standing in line at the market) with photos of celebrities on the red carpet and the comments about them. Did you know that Angelina Jolie wore a dress backwards last week? Of course, now her stylist is saying that it was intentional. That's fine with me. When I saw the photo, I thought it likely it was thought out (though I like it better with the front in the front), but in my book, anyone who has the balls to play with the designer's clothes deserves some positive credit.

But I'm missing the point of the sport of celebrity style watching entirely! It's to see who looks bad, not good. The sport involves finding the big fashion faux pax, whether it's wearing something backwards or wearing something that shows off a dreaded tummy, wearing an inappropriately revealing outfit when one should be covering up a less-than-perfect body, or covering up a body when one should be revealing it. In spite of all the hours of exercise, stylists, and surgery, finding the flaws in these god-like celebrities is sport for the jealous. And judging from the website that I linked to in the first paragraph, one needs absolutely no taste at all to participate in this sport.

If we take the celebrities out of the style equation, we are left with an abundance of great fashion design. Unfortunately, if we took the celebrities out of the equation, the designers would go out of business. But it's too bad, in my opinion, that these highly talented designers clothes, the cream of the crop, are seen only on the catwalk. Then they get pared down until they are almost devoid of their originality. And in order to satisfy the needs of how celebrities have to dress, the emphasis morphs from artistry to "does it make her look hot?" Celebrities who dare to dress too far out of the norm are setting themselves up for at least an afternoon of sniping.

The latest Dior Haute Couture line is extraordinary. One would expect to find dresses like this on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I doubt we'll see any on the red carpet, but I'm glad I saw them on the runway (online, of course). Here's my favorite, which has no practical use whatsoever:

You should see a side view of this dress! I saw one a few days ago, but even after hours of searching the web, I couldn't find it again. To see the entire collection, go to Vogue's website.

I adore high fashion. When I was in college, I bought Vogue, W, and many European fashion magazines whose names I have no memory of. I've always loved historical costume; why not enjoy haute couture? Yet, this hobby was one that had its pitfalls. I felt lousy about being so short (I'm only five feet tall) and being so poor. But that didn't stop me entirely. I could sew, and I wore many of my own creations. I wondered why I didn't go to Fashion Institute of Technology, instead of regular art school, but I never persued that thought any further, which, in retrospect, was a shame. I much prefer fabric and fiber to paint. But the fashion world nearly repulses me. Any endeavor that depends on the whims of the rich to stay alive is one that I don't want to be a part of.

And that is a thought that deserves a whole post of its own.

Meanwhile, I did find an outfit that I would wear:

It would be a muddy mess by the time I walked from my house to the general store, but if I get an invitation to some major event, I think I'll give John Paul Gaultier a call.

On second thought, that John Galliano for Dior red dress would be great for me. It would hide all my tattoos. It's a good thing I won't have any reason to have to make up my mind.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I couldn't help myself

It seemed outrageous to have a post of celebrity crushes without him, even though I said I wouldn't, since we've all seen his face enough times.

Who am I kidding? One can't see his face enough times! Sorry, kids, no pirate pics. I chose this one because I liked the gray scarf (and I've never seen it before).

Is there anyone who doesn't find this man attractive? If you're out there, and you're not just being argumentative, please leave a comment. I (and millions of other people, of all persuasions)find Mr. Depp knee-weakeningly sexy.

This is something of my response to the last post's comments. Yes, I did use the word "sex" in the last post (and again, in the above paragraph).

Yes, I agree that whom we find attractive can be an important subject. It depends on how one approaches it. If it's just "OMG! OMG!", well, that isn't much of a conversation starter. But, I did bring up some other topics besides "Who does Julie think is cute?"

And I realized, much as I enjoy the guy, Mr. Brand does not substitute for Mr. Depp "in a pinch." Sorry, Russell, but you seem to be play-acting your sexuality (even if you have a "sex addiction"). Johnny Depp sure has fun with his looks, no doubt at about it, but somehow it never seems forced. Ah, maybe, even celebrity crushes are blind.