Sunday, December 28, 2008

Riddle Contest Winner!

I greatly enjoyed reading the responses of riddle ideas! It was particularly fun to read extensive explanations and confessions of using an Anglo-Saxon dictionary online to try a first-hand translation for clues.

Overall, there were four people who submitted solutions, and ten solutions overall (Moriah, you get full credit for the most solutions submitted!) but only one could be the winner.

The solution that I found most adequate in answering the riddle and most beautifully expressed also happened to be very close to the official answer, so that made for a pleasant coincidence. The official answer is the Vehicle of the Cross. The winning answer, submitted by Ms. Suzanne Brennan, is an oak tree.

Suzanne's explanation develops the connection between her answer and the canonical answer. Here is the bulk of what she wrote (edited only slightly):

It's talking about the oak tree. They are majestic, beset by gloriously colored flame-leaves in fall, that are sacrificed among the wind but wrapped in pigmented splendor. Storm assembled.. they gather together after a storm/they are arranged in no particular order among the arms of the tree, but messily placed and easily detached. Perishable, they may go up in actual flames, flower in a cool groove with blossoms, or remain as the last evidence of a warm fire.

Now it gets more metaphorical: oak trees often grow together, have long lives, become like companions in their wise old age. The oak trees are personified and become more than just companions [...] what I gather is that the suggestions of "mercy" and "blessedness" refer back to the importance of trees in Anglo-Saxon society [...] It seems that they held trees, especially a "tree of life" reference in high regard. So we get: trees are integral to society, and this is a union of Christian love, majestic like the oak, and giving. The companion nature of their love. Now, "send me after hand" - is their a piece carved from their wood? a cross? that husband and wife kiss? I think this because it is a tradition in the Roman Catholic church to bend down/kneel before a plain wooden cross and kiss it, every year on Good Friday. To acknowledge the Sacrifice. I can't think of an awesome way to resolve this, just that it is talking about a tree - love of companions - love of Christians - the Ultimate Love.

Well done Suzanne! Please email me a reliable post location where I can send your prize.

Thanks again to all the entrants! Once I get fully marinated in Latin, perhaps we can do something similar with a riddle or aphorism.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Riddle 30: What a Conundrum

Constellations are a fascinating idea: take five or so stars, imagine some lines, and then announce that you've discovered the shape of a dipper or a bear in the sky. Sometimes the conclusions are rather unlikely, but charming once you can make them out.

That's how I feel about the Old English riddles in the Exeter Book. They are lovely, of course (if you like Old English), but the solutions sometimes seem a bit of a stretch. The descriptions can be hazy at best, with no clear answer.

When I took a linguistics course and we did a far too short segment on the history of English, we had the option to recite Old English or translate a riddle. I took as my object Riddle 30, translated it very literally, and then smoothed it out for a clearer modern English version.

Here's the kicker. I have no idea what the solution to this riddle is. Once upon a time, I looked up a scholarly opinion, disagreed with it, and promptly forget the official answer. So, I am starting the first ever contest on Marvelous Things. Whoever provides the most amusing and what I deem the most fitting answer to the Riddle will win a fantastic (yet to be determined) prize. Please don't be lame and try to Google the correct answer; be creative and come up with something. I promise it will be well worth your while. The contest will run for one week.

Please note that the formatting on the riddles below is rather odd; the underscoring between each half of the line is to prevent Blogger from absorbing the space between the characters. The autoformatting eats the caesura (the break in the middle) so the underscoring acts as a buffer. Normally, these riddles would have about a tab's worth of space between the two halves.

First of all, the original riddle in Old English, verse Indeterminate Saxon:

Ic eom legbysig, ___ lace mid winde,
bewunden mid wuldre, ___ wedre gesomnad,
fus forðweges, ___ fyre gebysgad,
bearu blowende, ___ byrnende gled.

Ful oft mec gesiþas ___ sendað æfter hondum,
þæt mec weras ond wif ___ wlonce cyssað.
þonne ic mec onhæbbe, ___ ond hi onhnigaþ to me
monige mid miltse, ___ þær ic monnum sceal
ycan upcyme ___ eadignesse.

My translation:

I am beset by flames, ___ sacrifice among wind
wrapped with glory, ___ storm-assembled
eager for departure, ___ fire-troubled
grove-blooming, ___ burning ember.

Very often companions ___ send me after hand
that myself, husband, ___ and splendid wife kiss
then I exalt myself ___ and she bends down to me.
Many with mercy, ___ there I for mankind must
increase up-springing ___ of blessedness.

Mesdames et messieurs, I await your responses.

ETA: I've published a new post about Old English and this Riddle which includes my first, literal translation.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hear That Sound?

Yep, all around the world (or at least schools with semestrial schedules), students are huddling in corners with books, coffee, and fevered expressions.

I'm no exception, though I have the benefit of loose-leaf black tea and a pleasant study space. Still, it's crunch time, so original blog content may not be forthcoming. Even so, inspired as I now am by the discovery of some amazing new blogs, I may be posting a little work that I did last year. We'll see.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


This is why I love English nerds. No, really. You must experience the greatness.

Now back to your regularly scheduled studying.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sprouting Up All Over

When I was in grade school, I once slept over at a friend's house (not an uncommon occurrence among the elementary schoolgirl set). We discussed our plans for our Halloween costumes and she informed me that she was dressing up as a "hippie." I had never heard the term before (in my mind I saw the word spelled as "hippy," for one thing) and assumed it was some sort of medical joke about pelvic dimensions.

Somewhere along the line I learned that hippies were part of a 1960s counter-cultural movement that involved odd clothing, free love, and rampant drug use. Along with their political mobilization and brain-killing ingestion of various substances, they were also in natural living and commune-style arrangements. All this is vastly generalized, of course, but that is the gist.

Now it's trendy to be green, to promote environmentally-friendly policies, to invest in solar panels and hybrid cars. While I'm all for stewardship of the earth, I also enjoy the humour of mocking the hardcore sort of crunchy granola types. I like being barefoot, but I do wear shoes 90% of the time. I like knitting and sewing, but I don't have my own organic cotton fields in my backyard.

So while I do embrace some natural living related ideas, like bringing my own bag to the grocery store and using dishrags instead of paper towels, I consider myself fairly sane when it comes being earth-friendly.

Then I fell prey to a new hobby that is both economical and healthy, but possibly slightly insane.

I've started growing sprouts in my bedroom in a glass jar. I'm growing plants in my room and I like it. I was wary about growing sprouts...wouldn't wet seeds or beans in a jar just grow mold and start smelling nasty? However, after Internet research, I decided it was worth a shot.

Here is my first crop of chickpeas!

first sprout harvest!

They grew for three days and then I stuck them in the fridge. You can eat the sprouts raw or cooked. Raw, they are funkier than normal cooked chickpeas (basically, not as soft), but still tasty.

I've just started a new crop of mung beans. Should be interesting to see how it turns out!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Harry Potter Lives On Forever

NB: This post is dedicated to my younger siblings, who share in my joy for this series. I love you both!

It's not hard to figure out via context clues and my obsessive ramblings, that I adore the Harry Potter books. Not everyone understand this, which I can appreciate. Still, there are many that shared my sadness when the series concluded a little over a year ago.

So, when J.K. Rowling announced the publication of a new book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard (which figured prominently in the last book of the series), I was among those rejoicing. But wait! I'm abroad! How will I ever find this lovely text in this strange and foreign land?

Fear not! A few weeks ago I read in the promotional newsletter for my favourite bookstore, La Boîte à Livres (the box of boxes) that I could expect to see Les Contes de Beedle le Barde very soon! Therefore, I went and obtained my very own copy today. I haven't started reading it yet -- I am going to try to really stretch it out.

Here is the lovely cover:


I adore the design and layout -- old-school is the way to go. J.K. Rowling did the illustrations inside as well, but I am not photographing those because everyone should go find a copy in a local bookstore to enjoy the surprise.

Of course, I am very excited about eventually getting the English version too and comparing the two editions. In reading the original series in French, I pick up on slight translational liberties.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Sewing Haiku


stitch by quiet stitch
the cuffs are made to order
for my princess coat

For pictures of the finished coat and more details, please visit the post at my all-new blog on clothing and costumes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tim Burton + Alice = love

Speaking of coats...check out the blue one Alice is sporting in these new set pics from Tim Burton's upcoming film of Alice in Wonderland (which should be, obviously, spectacular in every sense of the word). And now I wish I had long curly hair...but alas.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Snapshots: a review of Richard III

When I told my family that I was going to see Richard III, my dad remarked that he thought the play would be in French. I was quick to dissuade him of that idea; after all, The Merry Wives of Windsor production that I saw in Belgium four years ago was in English.

Tuesday night, I arrived at the Nouvel Olympia ready to enjoy an evening of beautiful Shakespearian English. An usher handed me a programme and my eyes fell immediately on the words: "traduction Jean-Michel Deprats." In a very un-French moment, I laughed out loud and shook my head. This was the first surprise of the evening, but not the last.

After taking my seat (in almost the last row of the very full audience), I prepared to hear the famous lines "Now is the winter of our discontent..." (but in French, of course). Before the play began, however, I was able to examine the stage layout. It consisted of two elevated floors, one upstage and one downstage, separated by a space of approximately 9 feet. The floors were both higher up in the upper-left-hand corner, and then sloped to a lower elevation at the lower-right-hand corner. A narrow bridge, perhaps five feet wide, connected the two floors near the right-hand wing. In between the floors, in the space underneath, a small area with slats like a cloister could be seen.

At last the lights went down. Soon the sounds of a battle could be heard, and then a grainy video of a battle scene (stylized and animated) flashed onto each of the floors. The introduction before Richard entered served as a good predictor for the rest of the play, as video and music were both frequently used during the production -- often in scene transitions, but sometimes during scenes as well.

After a few minutes of the video, Richard (played by David Ayala) came out on stage, swaggering, flask in hand. He did not have the famous hunchback, but instead various medical accessories like a knee brace, a wrist brace, and ugly scars on his arm. Outfitted in a leather jacket and a sneer, he appeared more motorcycle hoodlum than royal prince. His acting was impeccable thoughout the entire play (three and a half hours, including a brief intermission), matched only by Buckingham (Alex Selmane). Those two schemed, plotted, and slaughterd their way through the play.

While the acting could not have been better, the post-modern use of props, video, and music could be a bit disconcerting at times. Richard used his cell phone to take pictures of his court frequently, and at each execution, his henchmen took photos of the victims. The picture of the victim then flashed across the floors, an image of death. While the idea of Richard and others taking photos provided some much-needed comic relief, it felt over-used by the end, as did the nearly incessant string music. Occasionally it seemed that the use of violin, for example, served a deliberate attempt to increase suspense where suspense and horror already existed.

The sparse set-up of the stage -- which had only one piece of furniture, a reclining chair that served as a throne -- was similar to the costuming, which focused on dark and somber garments. All three female leads wore floor-length dresses, mostly in grey or black (with the exception of Lady Anne and Queen Elizabeth's celebratory dresses). While the female costumes were old-fashioned aesthically, the rest of the cast dressed in fairly modern clothing, including contemporary military uniforms for Richard's armed forces.

The most sensorily overwhelming scene came at the end, right before the final battle (in this production, only two people were on stage during that battle: Richard and the man who killed him). In this second-to-last scene, Richard lay writhing on one of the floors of the stage, clearly thinking of what he had done, while Lady Anne and the two sons of Edward IV came onstage, wearing white garments stained with blood, while a creepy, mournful choir-sung song came over the speakers, as a film montage of Richard's victims drifted over the floors.

As for the translation, it was definitely in modern French, not a French version of Elizabethan English (which was all for the best, I'm sure). I found it fairly easy to understand; it was harder to keep the characters straight as many of them dressed alike and I'd found the synopsis of this play somewhat hard to follow as well.

I'd give this play 4 out of 5 stars, with the star lost for overdone post-modern machinations. Judging from the commentary of the French people sitting around me, they would probably give the play 4.5 out of 5 (no perfect score is possible in France).

Two interesting cultural notes: firstly, no one seemed irritated when I had scooch past them to get to my seat -- no eye-rolling, no sighing, just "Je vous en prie" when I murmured "Pardon, merci." Secondly, while the cast received tumultuous applause (and a "Brava!" from a woman seated behind me) and came forward to bow at least four times, it was not a standing ovation. Standing ovations are de rigeur in the States; if a production, be it a play or symphony, is good, then the patrons generally give the performers a standing ovation. I think here standing ovations are reserved for the truly extraordinary. That is not to say that the play wasn't excellent, or that the audience didn't like it, but rather that a standing ovation is not something that every performance warrants.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Bard and Me

Shakespeare and I have enjoyed a long and happy relationship during my life. Spending much of my primary education at a school that required students to read a play every year guaranteed plenty of exposure to his work, and an obsession with words guaranteed an instant attraction. While reading Julius Casear in seventh grade may have been a bit dull, most of my experiences with Shakespeare have been positive.

I love to read Shakespeare, but I love to see it performed even more. Films can be brilliant and delightful (example: the 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing with Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh) but there's nothing like seeing it live.

Tonight I am going to a local theater to see Richard III, a play I have never read, seen in film, or seen performed. Naturally, I am very excited. I also thought it would be interesting to recount the times that I have seen Shakespeare performed.

The first Shakespeare play I ever saw performed was Romeo and Juliet. As in many, many other high schools, all the freshman at my high school read this and then went to Atlanta's excellent Shakespeare Tavern to see the play. While I'm not much of a fan of Romeo and Juliet these days (too much melodrama), the performance we saw was brilliant. Even setting aside the authentic decor and Cornish pasties, the production astounded me. A particularly notable feature of the production was the formidable Mercutio, who brought the audience to tears of laughter until his untimely death.

When my dad and I took our amazing trip to Chicago, we saw King Lear at the Chicago Shakespeare Tavern on Navy Pier. We were in the balcony, where we could look down and observe all the action (not only the play itself, but also the beggars in period dress wandering the aisles before the play began) and all the horrible betrayal. For those who haven't read it, King Lear is a pretty grim play. Even so, it mesmerized me so much that I cried at the end (and I'm not usually one to cry at plays or movies). This theater was modern, but more peninsula shaped, so the action was surrounded on three sides by the audience. I remember being amazed at the scene when it rained as well, for there was not only rain, but the stage itself re-assembled to form a cliff.

Four years ago from last summer, I was in Belgium staying with family friends. One of the cultural events I enjoyed during those weeks was a performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor held at the grounds of a 13th century castle. Not only was the performance at a castle, but it was also free and held in the round outside. There were scenes set up all around the audience, who sat on the ground or in lawn chairs. At each scene change, we had to re-orientate our seats to face the action again. Unlike King Lear, the Merry Wives is a rollicking comedy, with no eyes being gouged out or hangings, so it was one cheery laugh all around.

The next Shakespeare play I saw was more obscure one, Love's Labours Lost. This performance was also outside, on the lawn of an old house in Roswell. The cast was composed of both actors from a professional troop and high school students, some of whom I already knew. While this play has fallen into relative obscurity, I cannot guess, because it has some of the best witty banter I've ever heard.

One of the (many) things that drew me to Davidson was the residency with the Royal Shakespeare Company. How can I resist the idea of a British acting troupe (and the most prestigious, at that) spending a month on campus and providing brilliant plays? During my freshman year, they came to campus and performed three plays, two of which were from Shakespeare: The Winter's Tale and Pericles. Because the RSC can't leave well enough alone (only joking, as these performances were incredible), both productions were done in promenade, where the audience is also on stage and interacts with the cast. This is slightly terrifying but thrilling at the same time. I prefered The Winter's Tale (not only because of the bear) but because of Kate Fleetwood's brilliant performance as Hermione (she was most recently seen as Lady Macbeth in Patrick Stewart's Macbeth).

Now, after tonight, I will have another review to write for Richard III. But six plays so far isn't too shabby.

Monday, November 10, 2008


When I was growing up, my mom never served eggplant. I always assumed it fell into the category of "too horrible to inflict upon children" which also includes brussel sprouts and lima beans (which were also never served in our house. Perhaps it's fitting that I discovered around the same time that both eggplant and brussel sprouts are delicious. As for lima beans, I am not yet convinced.

One of the main reasons that eggplant fails to inspire as much enthusiasm as chocolate or bread or something equally delectable is its name. Eggplant? That hardly conjures up images of something tasty...instead, some kind of horrible hybrid between an egg and a plant.

I'm convinced that if eggplant was consistenly referred to by its French name, aubergine, then the world would be a better, happier place, filled with more people eating eggplant. It's impossible to not enjoy saying aubergine. Just try it: ohhh--behhhr--geeeennnnnneeee. Such fun!

One of the apppealing parts of an aubergine (no, not the seeds) is its rich, deep colour. I have never really worn purple. It can be a little too abrupt for my tastes, and it brings back memories of tacky dress-up sets (not at our house, naturally, since nearly all our costumes were cut-down versions of formal gowns and real historical costumes). But I find the luscious dark colour of an aubergine to be perfectly lovely.

Perhaps its not surprising, then, what happened to me in Paris during September. I was walking around with a few other girls from the group before our afternoon tea on the Champs-Elysees and we entered a trendy clothing store, Naf Naf. It did not appeal to me right away, as "naf" is British slang for ugly. Then I strolled toward the back of the store and came across a beautiful coat, waiting on the hanger.

Another point about my long-past childhood: I'd always wanted an elegant coat (sometimes refered to as a Samantha coat, a reference to the American Girl doll) but Boston weather required intense snow gear, and fancy coats were not "practical" for Georgia weather. I did receive a very classy peacoat a few years ago for Christmas, but I'd left it at home to conserve space for packing.

Here it was, a princess coat. It had a mandarin collar, a empire waist, pleats at the back, double-breasted button placement, a long skirt, and pockets, so it fulfilled my requirements and then some (a winter coat without pockets is pointless). But I hadn't planned on buying a coat at that point in the semester, so I left it in Naf Naf and went to tea, where I proceeded to talk up the coat. When the others heard how much it cost, they laughed and told me I had to purchase it. So I did. It's been great already, as we've had some very cold days.

Unfortunately, the colour does not show up very well (and my room isn't arranged like a studio, with great lighting, which does not help). But this should give an idea of its overall look.

However, I can't leave well enough alone. As the coat is from a major store, I have seen other girls around town in it as well (I hold no trademark on this coat, alas). So I decided to embellish it a bit, but in a non-permanent way, so that I can change it next year if I like. That ruled out embroidering Russian nesting dolls on the sleeves. Therefore, I found a most delightful little antique shop that had old lace and ribbons where I found some Valenciennes lace and light green silk velvet ribbon. I'm going to add them as cuffs onto the sleeves, just tacking them on for easy removal. Here, I have set the ribbon and the lace against the shoulder, so you can see how the colours all work together.

The main issue with this project is that I have to complete it almost all at one time, since I'm not keen on leaving the house in a coat with pins still in the sleeve (not that I've never done that by accident). But I'm looking forward to making this garment even more like Sara Crewe's second-best coat.

Monday, November 3, 2008

NaNoWriMo...Second time's the charm

The particularly observant among you may notice the new widget on the right-hand sidebar. Yes, it is a badge for NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as "National Novel Writing Month."

Yes, I attempted this last year with no success (no link to that post since it will just be too disheartening). I haven't even dug up that shell of a manuscript since it will probably depress me with its mediocrity.

Happily, I was struck by the Muses during one of my Loire walks with what I think is a pretty nifty idea for a story. It's somewhat fantasy, somewhat gothic fright, which is a good combination in my mind. I'm still in the new beginning excitement of writing, however, so I may need some encouragement and/or additional neurons to actually finish this book.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Flickr Update

Greetings! Just wanted to point out that I've done a massive re-haul of my Flickr organization to make it easier to look at things. Now I've got organized collections on the right-hand side bar, which takes you to various sets. It's pretty self-explanatory, but for example, you can go to "Travels" on the right and then you have the option to go to "France 08-09" where you can see all the photos from this trip.

Hopefully that will make navigation easier. Recent uploads include pics from Arromanches, the debarquement beaches, Pointe du Hoc, Saint Malo, and Mont St. Michel. I've also added some pics of my current (embroidery) project and some pictures from last summer when I had finished sewing the canvas corset.

You can click on the Flickr badge in the right-hand side bar or you can take this direct link to my photostream.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In Which I Submit a Public Apology

Dear Embroidery,

Hey. It's been a while, hasn't it? I mean, I tried to figure out French knots in elementary school and then basically gave up. We never really got along well -- you always required that hoop and that thread which gets tangled so easily. And there was also that time I tried to make an alphabet sampler and left the hoop in too long and then the fabric was distorted. Remember how annoyed I was?

So I ended up abandoning you for a long while. With knitting, crochet, and sewing to keep me company, I thought I didn't need you. You seemed superfluous and vaguely pretentious.

Then on Friday, I saw the Bayeux Tapestry.

I'm sorry, ok? Mea culpa. I was too blind to see how awesome you can be. Maybe it was the multicoloured ships, maybe it was the border of strange birds, maybe it was the battle scene, but something in those 70 metres gripped me. So yes, I visited the gift shop and bought that kit, and yes, it is rather addictive.

Now I'm haunting Sublime Stitching, browsing the little embroidery shop near the house, and deciding whether I can embroider everyone I know pillowcases for Christmas in time.

If I ever doubt you again, then just send me a little flashback to Bayeux, and I'll snap back into shape.

Yours sincerely,


Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Fought the Loire and the Loire Won

There are two rivers in Tours: to the North, the Loire; to the South, the Cher. The Cher is apparently navigable in canoes, as several students in the group made plans to canoe it last weekend. The Loire is another matter. My host family gave me one of the few safety warnings I have received for Tours on its dangers: the Loire has whirlpools, quicksand, and the ghosts of sailors to ensnare unaware travelers. OK, so the last one is maybe not true, but the other two are definitely accurate.

When my host dad told me the ways to escape whirlpools and quicksand, I nodded attentively, thanked him, and filed the information in the “interesting, but will probably never be needed” compartment. I have absolutely no desire to swim in the Loire; the presence of surface scum and various large rocks somewhat diminishes any need to explore it hands-on.

So. I am a proponent of the Long Walk. One of the best parts of the Long Walk is peaceful thinking, with or without musical accompaniment. The contemplation of natural settings is also required. The Loire is an ideal place for a walk for two main reasons:
1. It’s beautiful.
2. You can’t get lost. If you are following a river on your walk, when you are done, you simply turn around and return the way you came. Genius!

Today I was walking east alongside the Loire, enjoying a fine mix from the iPod, when the path stopped being as solid and gravely and started becoming more muddy and indistinct. At this point, there was an optional, higher-up cement sidewalk (atop wall). Did I take that path? Of course not. I am all about being close to nature! I can’t just take the cement path!

As I walked, I saw some people further out on the bank – there was a wide expanse of sand – and I decided to troop out there. I avoided the particularly damp areas and walked onto the sand, where I concluded that it was too unstable to stand on for very long and thus I marched back to the path.

Well. There was a patch of fairly solid looking ground in front of me and I trusted it. I trusted to be solid and not to – very very suddenly, like hitting a wall – stop being solid.

I sank into thick mud up to my knees in less than half a second. Just to clarify, I am not wearing “play in the mud” clothes. I’m wearing my beloved black boots, a black skirt, a nice shirt, and carrying a new purse and another bag. My first reaction (after a brief moment of panic) was determination that I was not going to die stuck in mud. I quickly identified a patch of grass and pulled on it, dragging my legs out of the mud.

I’m covered in mud from my feet to my knees, with several sizeable patches of mud on my skirt, on my hands where I caught my fall, on my new purse, and on my other bag.

The second thought that came after, “I am so glad to no longer be stuck in that patch of mud” was, “Oh man, I have to blog about this.” So I did what any intrepid blogger would do: I stopped and took pictures of myself.

Then I walked back along the path carefully and took the first secure path that I found, whereupon I made my way to a nice little restaurant for lunch.

I must say, walking through Tours covered in mud made for a fascinating cultural study. No one had visibly shocked reactions. There I was, looking like the Creature from the Mud Patch, and the most anyone reacted was allowing a slight, subtle backward glance downward to see whether I really was dripping in mud (I was). The only person who asked what had happened was the man at the kebab restaurant who took my order.

The boots are drying in the garden after their bath. My clothes will probably recover after a nice hot wash. My dignity, while slightly wounded, remains in stable condition.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fashion and Anti-Fashion

Despite my occasional frustrations with the fashion industry, I remain fascinated by clothing both in a historical costuming context and in the everyday wear context. Try as I might, I can't always wear garb to class (blast!), so I have learned to appreciate modern clothes much more than I had previously liked wearing 21st century attire.

One of the aspects I anticipated for this year abroad was the chance to study, nay, scrutinize many a French woman's wardrobe. Aren't we all told that French women have few items of clothing, but all of very high quality, and that they always look chic and put-together? This mythical woman owns one white button blouse, one chic trouser (in the singular, as Stacy London would demand), one LBD, one pair of black pumps, a very good brand of mascara, and a Chanel bag.

Well. Perhaps those women live in Paris, and I was too busy taking pictures of flowers to notice their completely fabulous yet simple style. However, now that my time as a tourist is largely at a close whilst I settle into Tours, I have begun to examine the fashions and trends alive in Tours. I have come to several conclusions, some of which I have found rather surprising.

First, the classy women do exist, and they pull off chic (not trendy) and classy looks -- mostly it seems to be the businesswomen. They'll wear the pointy heels (especially impressive in a city where most people walk or bike) and hose with a well-fitted skirt and that iconic white blouse, all with a tailored trench coat (it's already cold here). Their hair looks tidy, their makeup is immaculate, and they don't look like they woke up half an hour before they had to leave.

As if to counter-attack this picture of elegance, we have another style that currently flourishes in Tours. This style isn't new in the world; in the 90s, it was big in the States. It was called grunge, and it was terrifying for anyone who enjoyed the occasional shower and shampoo. Now, it lives on in its natural habitat in Tours. It's difficult to delineate whether perpetrators of this style are in fact French (whether they are from Tours or elsewhere in France) or foreign students. However, many of foreign students that I have observed (at l'Institut de Touraine and elsewhere) tend to lean toward the classier end of the clothing spectrum. So, I am forced to include that it is mainly French university students wearing grunge.

What does grunge involve? you may ask. Well, it typically involves several of the following elements:
1) A melange of rather grubby clothing items, some of which are more hippie (tunics, harem pants, wrap skirts) and some of which are just old (ancient sweatshirts)
2) Dreadlocks. I have seen more dreadlocked hair here in Tours than I have seen in my entire life to this point.
3) If no dreadlocks are involved, then hair is highly unkempt and may be kept partially obscured by a scarf
4) Piercings in the facial region in addition to ear piercing, a.k.a. eyebrow, nose, lip, and so forth
5) A general air of casual disaffection and lack of grooming

All this may sound judgmental. I am fully aware that is is a perlious post; I can hear the arguments now: "Well, isn't that how you dress?" Dear readers, I do laundry. I take the occasional shower and/or bath. I don't wear sweatshirts from 1983. While I am a propronent of layering and the headscarf, I don't wear grubby clothes.

This post is also serving as an intro to a hoped-for stealthy photo series in which I will document these travesties. It's rather disappointing, perhaps, to read a fashion post without pictures. I do apologize. Snapshots are forthcoming to illustrate the reasons for my particular frustration.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Une Journee Extraordinaire

Here in Paris, our program has pre-scheduled events nearly every day -- museum visits, tours by boat, plays, dinners, etc. This isn't exactly a problem -- it's been excellent to have a guided overview of what Paris has to offer, so when we do get some time to ourselves, we can maximize our time around the city to do what we please.

Yesterday we had a free day and thus I was able to plan and execute some quite exciting adventures!

My day began with a visit to the Musée des Arts et Métiers. This museum doesn't have impressionist art or Greek sculptures or tapestries: what it does have is a wide assortment of historical technology, contraptions, inventions, and (as the French would say) rather strange trucs. One may see a re-creation of Lavoisier's laboratory, a miniature model of a steam-powered engine, astrolabes from hundreds of years ago, very early sewing machines, and modern robotic technology (to name a few).

However, the journey is half the fun. The metro stop on line 11 for the museum, called Arts et Metiers, is decorated like a Jules Verne submarine. Any steampunk worth her salt knows about this metro stop! It is part of the destination itself, and I found it delightfully shiny. I'd read online that it had been largely obscured by graffiti, and so I was pleased to find that was not the case at all.

After locating the museum (it is situated in an old abbey right near the metro stop), I began my exploration. I enjoyed it immensely; it was laid out in a logical, orderly fashion, broken into categories like Navigation and Energy. Most of the displays were in nearly all glass boxes, set in the middle of the corridors so that one could fully circle the objects within.

Here's a flying machine I came across:

Any museum that brilliant has to be followed by a meal somewhere. As I had yet to explore any of my vegetarian restaurant listings, I decided to check out La Victoire Supreme du Coeur. There I enjoyed a lavish lunch: an appetizer of little onion fritters and salad, the Indian plate for my main course, and then the chocolate-orange-cardamom cream for dessert! It was all delicious and I adored having wheat bread instead of the all-fluff-no-substance baguettes that are tasty but not very filling.

I still had some time to spend in the afternoon, so I took the metro to the Centre Pompidou, where I recorded my adventures the old-fashioned way (in my Moleskine) for future reference. Then I headed back to the hostel for some resting (reading, not napping -- napping is something I find very difficult).

But friends! The day is not yet over! A friend from Davidson, the charming Ms. Wood, met me for drinks at Les Furieux. After several minutes of debating whether we ought to order at the bar (apparently we are both rather inept at bar culture and correct mannerisms?) we both ordered glasses of absinthe. Never fear, ye who worry about such things. Today's absinthe bears little resemblance to the absinthe of early bohemians. It lacks the hallucinogenic properties and simply bears a strong licorice flavour. We found it quite appealing.

Here Ms. Wood looks charming with her glass:

And I simply guard my drink from passers-by:

So there you have it! It was one of the best days of the trip thus far. I really enjoyed planning out the day, navigating toute seule, and of course, seeing Ms. Wood.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ca m'a plu beaucoup, merci.

And now for your entertainment, two lists:

a) Things I like about being in Paris

1. The wide availability of carbohydrates on every street corner (hello, baguettes and/or freshly made fries)
2. The strangely compelling teeny servings of coffee
3. One phrase: the brilliant Metro system
4. Visiting a somewhat obscure museum by myself and strolling at my own pace
5. French people who patiently explain everything in French instead of switching to English as soon as I hesitate
6. Waiters who call me "Madame"
7. Sancerre
8. Reading Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers in the park
9. The accordion player that shows up sporadically on the train
10. Finding the world's best falafel stand, and having the woman behind the counter guess my order before I say anything (when it's the fifteenth day that I've been there...)
11. Making friends with random French children in playgrounds during regression-to-youth adventures

b) Things I dislike about being in Paris

1. The occasional motorcyclist who has orders to mow me down when I cross the street
2. The metro station called Montparnasse Bienvenue, aka The Pit of Despair
3. Paying 2.40 euros for a microscopic roll of off-brand tape
4. Occasional sketchy people
5. Pigeons everywhere I turn

[NB: it was much easier to write the first list than the second.]

P.S. So the blogging has been a bit lax. Sorry about that -- it's mainly because wireless likes to do its own thing here in the hostel. However, I have been uploading a few pictures (read: a lot) as wireless permits.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Au Debut

Bonjour a tous! Tout va bien ici et nous sommes en train de nous amuser beaucoup!

Yesterday the group went to the Eiffel Tower and we also went on a boat cruise on the I took more than my fair share of pictures (shout-out to Cameron -- I'm following your directions). Please check them out! I'd love to hear (ok, read) your comments.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I Survived CDG

Greetings from a top-secret, undisclosed location in Paris! After two flights, one bus ride, and a certain number of long queues, the group has arrived. Not much of note has occurred, but I'm looking forward to having our adventures start soon (a.k.a. tomorrow, when people are awake) which will include pictures!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Details, Thoughts, and OAQs

Yes, it has been ages since my last post, and for that, I do apologize. It's been a busy summer!

Anyway, moving on to more exciting times! The vast majority of my audience of 5.3 readers know that I will be leaving shortly for a year abroad in France. I've hoped to study abroad for some years know and it's quite exciting to finally be able to go.

Since there are lots of logistics to think about as I leave and for while I am abroad, I've decided to post a few Occasionally Asked Questions (OAQs) about my plans for everyone's information:

Q: Where are you going?
A: France. More specifically, Paris for all of September and then Tours from October through May inclusive. I will go on excursions around France as well as traveling around Europe.

Q: How will you keep folks updated?
A: You're looking right at it. While some folks send out mass emails when they go abroad, I'm planning on using the pre-existing structure of this blog. I will also post more photos on Flickr than here, but I will provide links in my posts to the new photos.

Q: What if I can't be bothered to type in a URL to follow what's happening?
A: Fortunately, there are several options. You can follow the RSS feed in your preferred reader (I strongly recommend Google Reader) which is the way I like to keep up with blogs. The easiest and most painless option for most people is to subscribe via email, which you can do in the sidebar. You will have to click through the confirmation email, so be sure to keep an eye out for that in your spam folder.

Q: How else will you keep in touch?
A: Email, natch. Also, I have Skype. If you're on Skype and you want my username, just send me an email.

Q: What are you studying?
A: Mostly French itself, but also literature, art, history, international relations, wine tasting, picnic-packing, the fine skill of finding flea market bargains, &c.

Q: Do you want to hear an idea for something to do in France or Europe?
A: Yes please! I'd love to hear suggestions for places to eat, things to do, locations to visit, so please do add them in the comments or shoot me an email if you would like.

That should do it! Additional OAQs? That's what the comments are for!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

St. Brigid Completed At Last

It's finally finished! Yesterday I finished the seams and the affixing (not asphyxiating -- an important distinction) of the collar. Unfortunately, it will be quite a long while before it will be the right weather for a ten-pound wool sweater, but I will try to be patient.

I'm pleased with how it turned out as my first Aran (and my first Starmore design, which are notoriously complicated). There's a certain charm in the fact that it's not a contemporary or even a very flattering design. It's boxy. It does not do anything helpful for my figure -- it's just warm, which is the whole point. It's the kind of sweater I could wear on a ship, immigrating in the 1830s from Ireland. That sort of opportunity does not often present itself, but one must be prepared.

This exercise has also impressed upon me the necessity of upgrading my camera. Besides its delays and temperamental nature, the camera I currently use does not capture colour well at all! The red here is much too tomato-y (at least on my browser) and the cables don't look as delineated as they truly are. Alas. I will rectify this situation this summer.

There will be an update on Ravelry shortly with more pictures.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Onward to the Finish

My epic project for 2008 has been St. Brigid. It's beautiful but complicated, fiddly but fun, and thus it has kept me company through many a viewing of Chocolat and not a few episodes of Bones. I'm excited to say that I'm finally on the homestretch; the front, back, and sleeves are finished. What remains: all the seams (oy vey), the collar, and I'm contemplating cuffs as well. I have really enjoyed knitting this sweater and the colour is so lovely. The picture is not accurate -- it's a deep, deep bloodred.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Excellent NYT Article

My roommate kindly pointed out this fantastic NYT piece about steampunk. Though I think it focuses too myopically on the commercial potential of steampunk, it does mention some mainstays in the community and says positive things about the movement overall.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

New Projects!

Ah, the lack of posting that occurs when the end of the semester rolls tragic, and yet so predictable.

In between epic papers and exams, I have done a bit of knitting. Mostly I've been working on St. Brigid, but I also just finished a little project from some spare yarn. It's an armband/wristband with the Universal Translator symbol from Star Trek. I love doing two-colour Fair Isle knitting and this came together really quickly.

the front

the back

I have more Information on Ravelry...

I've also acquired yarn for a secret project and for some new socks, but they have to lie dormant until the semester has really concluded.

Friday, April 18, 2008

No longer live -- Jason Mraz Concert Part III

Alright, so I didn't post again last night to wrap-up the concert details. In my defense, I was busy doing essential schoolwork-related items (ah, the life of a student: something Jason Mraz alluded to in one of his meditations on life).

That being said, the latter part of the concert was excellent. Jason Mraz was lively and sang several favourites, including "Life is Wonderful," "Curbside Prophet," and "Geek in the Pink." Besides the typical back-up band, he also had a fantastic horn section with a trumpet, trombone, and saxophone that added a jazzy air to the more upbeat tunes.

Next, he went into what he termed the "easy listening portion" of the set with quieter, guitar-driven songs. The kicker came in what appeared to be his finale when he brought the co-ed Acapella group at Davidson, Androgyny, onstage to sing "I'm Yours" with them. It brought the house down. Although Jason and his band then left the stage for about ten minutes but then came back for about five more songs.

Overall, an excellent concert. My only complaints were the rather cheesy magic tricks and the lack of students in attendance (most of the crowd were clearly either out-of-towners, high schoolers, or non-Davidson college students). Belk Arena is a huge space, and to see it only partway filled is fairly disappointing.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

LIVE from the Jason Mraz Concert! Part II

8h46: And the concert is having a ten-minute break, so hence the update!

It's been great so far -- a short but charming set by the Makepeace Bros, who substituted "North Carolina" for "Sweet Caroline" in one of their songs (no, not the Neil Diamond tune); several tricks by Justin Kredible; and a rollicking set from Bushwalla and his band (who he referred to by several names, including Raiders of the Lost Ark).

The Makespeace Bros' music is mostly of the chill/acoustic genre, while Bushwalla covered more territory with a blend of reggae, funk, and rap. His amusing dance moves and occasional moments of juggling bowling pins earned him the crowd's enthusiasm. Also, one of his songs included the line "It's hard to be a gangsta / with a basket on your bike" so what's not to love? He talked about the difficulty of being a gangster in LA, and how it's difficult to maintain your street cred when your vehicle is a bike.

This is a short break and I really ought to socialize, so I'll be back later on tonight with more updates.

LIVE from the Jason Mraz Concert!

7h17: I'm liveblogging here from Belk Arena, where the Music Magic & Makepeace Tour is stopping in T-minus 13 minutes.

Tonight's show will feature the Makepeace Brothers, Bushwalla, a magician called Justin Kredible, and as headliner: Jason Mraz! It should be an excellent show. Whilst the masses waited in line outside, the Makepeace Bros. played a short set outside (three band members -- one plays guitar, one sings and plays guitar, and one sings and plays the ukulele. They attempted witty banter with the crowd, but the difficulty there was that most of their comments were directed to "Davidson College" and most of the at that point was comprised of non-students. Still, their music was enjoyable.

I'm signing off for now (as one of the students in the audience tonight, I have more schoolwork to get done!) but I may be back between acts for updates and reviews.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cemetery Series, Part II

A rather belated post, I'm afraid -- but here is the second part of the cemetery series. These photos are of the cemetery near the senior apartments on campus. Though the graves are not as interesting as the ones in the Cimetière Bellarbre, this cemetery has the advantage of a large tree to lean against when reading poetry or writing a paper.

Approaching the cemetery -- it was overcast the day I took these pictures.

A Most excellent tree

The hazy shade of winter


I love the look of wet leaves.

Despite the spelling, the one on the right seems familiar...

Watching over the dead

Flowers in the damp leaves

From the back of the cemetery

The Two Trees

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes...

A moment of silence, if you will, for my Wildcats and their brilliant season.

On to the knitting content. Hand-knitted socks, as previously extolled on this blog, have many merits; nevertheless, they are not eternal and will eventually wear out:

Alas! One brother from the first pair of socks I ever knit has suffered from grievous damage. From this charming image one may also note how the wool has felted into an almost slipper-like consistency and how there is some slight discolouration from less-than-spotless floors. [I feel like my roommate when she comments on forensic anthropology...] All good things must come to an end, and so I mourn the pleasant, full life that these socks have enjoyed before they go to the Great Yarn Store in the Sky. Naturally, I will keep wearing them until they positively fall off my feet.

Now, for some new socks (I feel like doing some sort of "Circle of Life" rendition now): the Nutkins are chugging along, helped with doses of waiting rooms, Humanities lectures, and basketball games.
As the picture makes clear, I'm knitting them both at once. Contrary to any appearances, the socks are not connected; they are knit completely separately, just on the same needles. It's a lovely process, thought it can be somewhat like wrestling the Hydra at times.

For my little sister, my ballet feet:

Ravelers can see a plethora of photos should they desire!

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Sweet, Sweet, Taste of Victory

So, we are in the Elite Eight!!! It's completely surreal to see the campus transformed by the victory. Basketball has consistently been important to students, but now it's the main focus for the majority of folks. As I am not used to having sports personally impact me, it's a new set of experiences, but it's been such fun so far to watch the team destroy their opponents.

Ann of Mason-Dixon Knitting fame has a lovely post up which I had to link to, mainly because it's not often that legendary knitting blogs discuss college basketball.


There is only one important thing to say today:


Monday, March 24, 2008

Explanation for the Concerned & Weaponry

So. Perhaps I was over-hasty in posting my latest entry with the photos of the cemetery, for two reasons. First, it's important to note that apparently images do not show up in the email feed, so some of y'all may have gotten simply the list of captions. Thus, they would have seen a vaguely emo and scatterbrained poem. The photos are the essential part of the post, folks!

Second, I must be clear. I am not a card-carrying Goth who wears excessive amounts of black eyeliner, maintains a grieved expression, and clutches a Nightwish CD. Though I occasionally indulge in my romantic sensibilities and attempt to walk lightly among oak trees, singing ballads (off-key), and looking for mythic creatures, it's not because I'm mentally imbalanced. Yes, I wrote my share of depressed love poetry in high school (fortunately, that's not longer my métier); however, I am not depressed nor do I immerse myself in macabre settings constantly. The cemetery is a place of quiet, of history, of beauty; I enjoy it for those reasons, not because I long to live out a Poe short story.

Anyway. Over Easter break my brother gave me this fantastic weapon that he re-made for me, completely of his own volition. He's gotten interested in steampunk as well, so he refashioned this nerf gun which will come in handy should I ever really get into cosplay. Thanks bro!

[classy carpet shot]

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cimetière Bellarbre

When it comes to places where I can study, there are several options: the library, the student union, my room, and the computer lab. Sadly, none of these places holds any kind of great aesthetic appeal. Enter the Cimetière Bellarbre, a small cemetery near campus. Of the three local cemeteries, it is my favourite. I must confess that I named it myself, as there seems to be no traditional name given besides "the Main Street cemetery." This cemetery is superior to the other two for several reasons: 1) It is the closest to my room; 2) It has the oldest graves; 3) The trees are charming; and 4) There is a bench on which to spread out.

This morning I had several essays on Renaissance Revenge to read, and so I headed out, this time with my camera to capture the scene. The sky was overcast, on the verge of rain, so conditions were ideal.

Walking into the cemetery, with the bench toward the back

Cracked from old age? Or darker forces at work?

A plaque at the center of the bench's stone courtyard

Note how the lid to this grave is shifted...


One of the older graves, dating to 1888

The back of the bench

The courtyard (with a bonus shot of my boot toe)

The sun broke through the clouds as I sat on the bench

Another view where where I sat

Sun in the trees!

To my left

The curious carving on the arm of the bench

My favourite grave. It is the only one I've ever seen that says "drowned" instead of "died," and I feel that this man has the makings of a story.

The view through the gate, while departing

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Je tricote! Je vous promets! Part II

Socks are ideal little portable projects. I'm sure I've opined at great length about how much I like to knit socks already, so on to the interesting bits:

The pattern is something new: Nutkin, from Beth LaPensee. I found it on Ravelry, and as I'm always up for a basic 16-st pattern to work into my basic sock blueprint, I decided to give it a shot. It's simple enough that I don't need to reference the chart, which is a huge plus.

Both socks on two circulars

A toe -- the colour is more accurate in this shot

I'm knitting this pair on two circs, which I haven't done since Jack's socks. One socks on five double-pointed needles may be a little fiddly, but it is more portable than two socks, two needles, and two skeins of yarn. Also, I like the old-school look of wooden dpns. Nevertheless, I broke out the 24" size 1s for these socks and they aren't aggravating me too badly so far.