Thursday, February 24, 2011

After a Fashion

Laurie and I recently had a small, uncommon sum arrive which had the lion's share immediately thrown at our ravenous debt.  I appropriated an even smaller amount in which to purchase a few books that I've had my eye on for a while.

The first small set was Wheelock's Latin and accompanying textbooks.  I have made the declaration in the past few days that I am, at long last, going to go through with learning Latin, upping my commitment level by announcing it here as well.  My reasons are many: 1) My friend Christopher suggested it a few months ago and it has appealed to the part of me that 2) considers myself a Classicist, although I don't know Greek or Latin, which makes my Inner Critic murmur "ersatz Classicist" every time I apply that label to myself.  Laurie and I have talked about learning Greek together for about a year now but her current commitments prohibit it at present, which is fine because 3) I am given to understand that Latin is a lot easier than Greek.  4) I have a storehouse of Protestant guilt within me, ready to tap should Method Acting needs arise, over the years worth of atrophy my brain has suffered over the smattering of French and German that I so enthusiastically dived into in my early 20s. 5) Yet another in a seemingly endless line of "I heard a story on NPR" life choices.  The story in question here reported evidence that learning multiple languages could potentially stave off Alzheimer's/dementia, a disease which is one of my key phobias.  And, of course, 6) somewhere in my adult life I developed the strange kink of liking to take on huge, complex, multi-year projects.  Many at once and the headier the better!

The other set of books I ordered deal with the subject of the photo above.  The photo is of fashion icon Isabella Blow.  Some people don't know this about me, because I don't talk about it at nearly the length and detail that I talk of literature and art, but I am absolutely fascinated by the beau monde.  At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, I am of the view that beauty, style, and creativity contain visible echoes of the very fingerprint of God.  I am quite serious.  Sometimes people are taken by surprise that, as Laurie puts it, "he could probably tell you what Karl Lagerfeld had for breakfast this morning."  A slight exaggeration which illustrates my point.

(Half of a grapefruit and a demitasse of Arabic coffee, for the record.  Whenever he internally grumbles over his Spartan breakfast, he thinks of his closets filled with Hedi Slimane designed clothes and perseveres.  You must admire that kind of dedication.)

I should probably take a moment to establish what precisely interests me.  What interests me is, of course, enveloping the human form in art, self expression and bold individual style, as well as the psychological effects of "uniform" if you will.  The latter refers to the effect of one's clothes on a person's attitude and, indeed, their very life.  Which outfit will make me feel most bold: t-shirt and sweats OR pressed suit, Windsor knot tie, shined shoes.  I recall a Wodehouse story where Jeeves, with possible a wink of the satirical, urges a young man to go to a costume ball dressed as Mephistopheles in order to embolden himself to propose to a specific young lady.  Clothes do make the man.

It is entirely possible that I am uncommon in this regard, but I can tell an autobiography of my mind through the progression of my clothing style.  In high school, I had a most likely skewed estimation of what I imagined was Urban Haute Bourgeoisie in a time when I lusted toward that world (and missed the target terribly.  Looking back on photos of me in High School I now think, "bartender at a high end, touristy New Orleans bar or European hairdresser trying too hard to project the image of affluence or student at an elite art school who currently takes himself so seriously that he's destined to become something only tangentially related to the creative.  Like a party planner or something"), followed by punk, goth, hippie, an interlude of sort of Urban Haute Bohemian intending to project a general eccentric artist vibe, followed by what I now aim toward, sort of an intellectual, moderately well dressed proletariat aura more in keeping with "my place."  Usually with the accessory of a hat that, out of context of the rest of my outfit might suggest "golfer", but within the context of the rest of my outfit, if I achieve what I am aiming for, prevents people from being too surprised when I walk around whistling the Internationale.

Which brings me to the very strange side note of uniform.  Uniforms offer the advantage of being uniform (having worked with the severely mentally ill, I can report that a uniform is a very helpful tool.  Also that I find it remarkable how long a brain will still recognize uniformity and its significance) as well as the advantage of not involving one's personal wardrobe in the duties one is called upon to perform in the course of their work.  Of course, there is the disadvantage at times of encountering someone who is convinced that their position in life is elevated above the one in a uniform, however, I have found in those instances that as soon as the initial frustration wears off, one realizes that such behavior is the very model of déclassé and more a commentary on the sort of person the offending party have the misfortune of having chosen to be.

Isabella Blow was much like what I want to be, a beautiful person whose career mainly comprised pointing out beautiful things.  I do not feel the need to go into great detail about her at present as I undoubtedly have forthcoming book reviews on the subject.  But I thought I would highlight a few points about her by way of either introduction (for those unfamiliar) or of pulling this post together (for all of us) culled from the key bits of information that most people who know of her know about her.  I am included in this group, having only a "fly-over" knowledge of her career, just enough of a taste to know that I coveted these books.

If you haven't an accessible visual memory of what I am talking about, I would highly recommend you immediately browse Google Image Search, or possibly a few moments worth of YouTube diversion, on Isabella Blow (her real name, by the way.  She was married to Detmar Blow who, architecture buffs will correctly guess, is a descendent of the architect Detmar Blow), Philip Treacy (sort of the last man standing in this story, if you'll pardon the spoiler), and especially the incomparable genius of modern couture, the tragically beautiful discovery of our tragically beautiful heroine, Alexander McQueen.  Their mixture of the Apollonian and Dionysian sensibility are very much to my taste and, I think, a necessary balance for great art.

If I may indulge my maudlin side ("sure, Paul, why stop now") and employ the metaphor of a rose, the very millinery she was remembered for wearing served as both an expression of beauty and, in her own words, a deterrent from the ubiquitous Continental kiss in the circles she inhabited.  To draw in with the beautiful even while repelling spatially.  Sadly, that also calls to mind her well-known, aggressive and eventually successful suicidal tendencies, terminating in her drinking weed killer.  Reportedly among her last words were "I'm worried I didn't take enough."

Much like Richard Cory (Truman Capote also springs to mind as he was the darling of the "beautiful people" of his day and yet poisoned himself to death over a much longer period of time), one is left to wonder how someone who seemingly had so much, was at the height of her career, an aristocrat, beloved by many, paid for creativity, could get that low.  I imagine what she had was nothing compared to what may have been missing.  Or rather, circumstance is not what really matters in this life and will not save you in the end.  What one does with circumstance, I would imagine, is more the point.  But I don't presume to have a definitive answer to this right now.  I would hazard a guess that it is one of the answers I'm looking for in this reading side-project.


  1. I feel like a creep for not sticking with the Latin. My whole world has rotated 90 degrees or so.

    On the other hand, I hope you use the Latin list I pointed out. Seems quite active and friendly.

    Conjugate your verbs. I'll be sifting through the syntax of the languages of the lesser machine gods.

  2. I did order the exact texts you pointed out. Thank you. And hopefully by way of encouragement, if I might be so bold as to suggest not looking at it as not sticking with the Latin, but rather as shelving that project for another time in your life. I still consider myself working my way through Ron Padgett's Handbook of Poetic Forms even though I haven't done a single entry on that project in at least 7 months. I will again someday and I still plan on someday getting all the way through the project.

    I hope that all is well with you.

  3. Oh, it is something I plan on using "someday." Whenever that day may come. Now that I've got a job, priorities are different -- and I'm fine with that.

    Things are mostly good.

  4. By the way, I do encourage you to join the Latin list at

    The SPQR group just started recently and they do weekly collation assignments so you can see your translations alongside other people's.

  5. Bet you didn't know I took Latin in Junior High - we had to take a language to get into College Prep classes in High School.