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.