This is a short and (for me) experimental piece, mixing fiction and non-fiction. I haven’t written much creatively in a long while, and this baby just wanted out, so here … Continue reading Variations on the Theme of Sadness
Ah, here it comes then, finally, a proper blog post. Many of you will probably recognise that title quotation as lifted whole out of one of the most famous books in the world, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That’s when Alice, frustrated and confused by so many (rather brusque) changes in height, and puzzled by the anthropomorphic White Rabbit who stubbornly refuses to acknowledge her in his haste , begins to doubt her own identity. And that’s one of the things that have always stuck with me – the mystery of this little girl’s identity: who is she, actually, and what makes her who she is, and, more importantly, why is that important at all? And since these are all questions which I should be addressing, like, right now, in a thesis chapter that seems to be infinitely writing itself in my mind (though sadly not on paper), I have, of course, decided to procrastinate by way of a timely blog post.
As I just said, the – often – inscrutable Alice and her ‘muchness’ have obsessed me since time immemorial. No, actually, only since the age of 7, when I stumbled upon a gorgeously illustrated Romanian edition of Alice in Wonderland at the house of a relative. Naturally, I first fell in love with the attractive cover and the beautiful illustrations I then discovered within. (Love for the text itself soon followed cue, but that’s another story.) In fact, I loved the book so much, that the two of us became inseparable and the relative in question – in whose library I found the book – eventually let me have it as a present. (All of this much to my mother’s horror, who found Alice ‘utterly absurd’ and couldn’t understand my sudden fixation.) Well, I have no idea where that particular book ended up (I’m sure it’s still back home,
somewhere), but I could never forget the spell its soft-coloured illustrations cast on me. For a long time I thought they were drawn either by a Romanian or a Russian illustrator (seeing how old that edition was, I found it rather probable that it might have been illustrated by an artist from the Soviet Bloc). However, just today, as I was perusing this Flavorwire article on the evolution of Alice in Wonderland cover designs over time, I found that actually, the beautiful illustrations I knew and loved were all drawn by Mabel Lucie Attwell (1879-1964), who made them for a 1910 British edition of the book. (You can admire them all, in all their cute/uncanny glory, here.) This late realisation made me look up some actual Romanian illustrations for the Alice book from back in the day; I was really curious to see how these compared to Western representations of Alice. I managed to dig out two sets, one from a 1976 edition illustrated by Angi Petrescu-Tipărescu, and the other from a 1987 edition illustrated by Vasile Olac. In fact, I even own a copy of the former, and I previously photographed and posted the illustrations on this very blog (that post is long since gone, because the website that used to host the images has ‘left the web’). So here they are; I’m sharing them all with you. I hope that one day, someone will build a great online archive of all the Alice illustrations ever made all over the world. (The Romanian ones that I promised are under the cut. Caution for everyone with a slow connection: this will be VERY image-heavy!)
This post is, in a way, a continuation of this review I wrote some time ago about the social screensaver The Endless Forest and the art of purposeless gaming. I won’t go into all the details of how the TALE of TALES project is all kinds of marvellous and then some, but I will go on to sing the praise of “pointless games”, so to speak. Of course, you could argue that all games are, in one way or another, pointless and a great way to waste your time, gloriously managing to fail doing anything productive by the end of the day. But there are those games that perfect the art of time-wasting and bring it to a philosophical, almost religious, I might say, epitome. Those games with no or very few rules, dead-end outcomes, and where there is no way to win or to lose. There is only the play, endless, bereft of apparent motives and goals. I find those games hypnotic and perfect.
And since now is the time for smartphone apps and, consequently, wasting money on illusions (read: “smartphone games”), I present to you the one illusion I would spend money on. There is an online version of it, as well, and that one is free to play. Otherwise, you may download it onto your smartphone of choice for $2.99 only. It was released in 2010 AD (dei gratia) and it is called, tellingly enough, Vanitas.
The game features a small wooden box, populated with three random objects. Some of the objects you might chance upon at any given time include: a feather, a die, a nail, a bird skull, a stick, a tiny (literally) bound tome, a soap bubble, a ripe cherry, an acorn, a ladybird (which will fly around sedately for a while and then drop dead), a snail, an egg, a key. In short, it is reminiscent of a child’s secret “treasure box”, where you might find anything, from a decayed milk tooth to a fragile insectile corpse (I should know, I used to a have a mighty collection of random stuff). You may interact with these object, but they will never affect one another and it is only seldom that your interaction with them will produce a visible change. Sometimes, you may get melancholy background sounds, which are mildly startling when they do happen. The game instructions encourage you to “Pause for a moment. Reflect.” Or sometimes, if you should happen to find “three identical objects” in the box and as a consequence you are awarded “a gold star on the lid of the box“, you are encouraged to “consider how lucky you are“.
The official info page for Vanitas boasts:
A memento mori for your digital hands.
To lift you up when you’re feeling down. And drag you down when you’re up too high.
Oscar Wilde would have been proud of this app. Hell, he would have given up on writing The Portrait of Dorian Gray just to play this game. All day long, every day. Actually, I would go so far as to claim that, had Wilde been in possession of a smartphone equipped with this exquisite piece of artistry, it might even have saved him from prison.
Yes, I believe I might invest in an app, just this once.
Gothic Lolita. I’ve been chewing on this for a while, wondering if I should or shouldn’t venture to write something about it. This usually happens when a certain topic is very dear to me, and I don’t want to cause it any kind of injustice. But this time, in particular, I’ve had several serious doubts. For one, I know there are many dedicated lolita bloggers out there, who have long been part of the fashion and the lifestyle, and they’ve surely written everything about lolita that anyone may wish to know. There are forums, groups, video blogs and oh so many other online outlets gathering information and sparking discussion about lolita. I have never taken part in any of them. So what could I say that has never been said before? Nothing, I’m sure. And yet, I feel there are a couple of points that need, and I stress, need to be reiterated, for the good of the “lolita community” (and here, I mean “community” on a purely abstract level, as a sort of all-encompassing lolita sorority, stretching far and wide through the power of Internet).
But first of all, for the sake of those of you reading this who may only be familiar with Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” – this is not what I will be talking about in this blog post. (Actually, I might touch upon that too, but let it be understood from the get-go that in this case, the nymphettes and the lolitas are not precisely synonymous, though they are both ultimately just as contentious.) So, what is lolita and where does it originate? Again, I will not pretend to be any kind of authority on this, but I still believe that my ongoing – shall I call it – obsession with the topic, allows me some pretty solid insight into the matter. Lolita, then, is a Japanese street fashion evolved into a full-fledged subculture. Originally, it is supposed to have been inspired by depictions, in popular manga and anime, of female characters, childish in appearance, wearing decorative frilly dresses and sometimes large head bows or headdresses, largely reminiscent of the styling of antique porcelain dolls and children of the Rococo and/or Victorian era. These characters were termed “lolita”, which is itself what the Japanese call a “gairaigo”, i.e. a word borrowed from a foreign language (in this case, English) through transliteration. (It is probably important, at this point, to keep in mind that not all terms adopted through transliteration keep their original meaning, as Japanese has a tendency to import words in a haphazard fashion, often modifying their initial sense unscrupulously.)
This first inspired the emergence of Visual Kei/Visual rock on the Japanese
rock scene, i.e. rock singers dressed to impress; and although this may appear to be a very similar feat to Western “Goth rock” displays, in many ways it is not. Yes, Visual Kei does have numerous Goth elements, but in many cases (especially true of early j-rock bands) it has the added element of “porcelain doll”-ness or childishness, looking more like undead Alices in Underland than anything else. This, of course, was ultimately copied by the fans, and so lolita, slowly but surely, became a Japanese street fashion. Many things ensued: a nefarious quarterly mook (combination between a book and magazine), the Gothic & Lolita Bible, popularising the fashion; pop culture and fashion icons, like the mysterious Mana-sama (of Malice Mizer, and lately of Moi dix Mois), gender-bending rock star who started his own gothic and lolita clothing brand (Moi-même-Moitié); and, of course many many more clothing brands specialising in lolita were born in the Japanese fashion market (metamorphose temps de fille, Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, h.NAOTO, Mary Magdalene to name some of the most important).
Unsurprisingly perhaps, this Japanese trend soon spread out, not only to other Asian countries (like Hong Kong and South Korea), but most prominently, perhaps to other continents, especially Europe, North America and Australia (don’t quote me on this, though). As a result of this expansion, gothic lolita (or, to give its full correct title, Elegant Gothic Lolita) surpassed the condition of “street fashion” and was claimed by many as a viable lifestyle and mentality (escapism is largely invoked), and was elevated to the rank of subculture. Alternative fashion and culture blogger La Carmina describes lolita as essentially a mix of “kawaii” (Japanse for “cute”) and “kowai” (Japanese for “scary”), thus both liking it to Western Goth style and differentiating it from Western subcultures, though some Internet culture Goth icons (such as Jillian Venters , better knows as the Lady of the Manners of Gothic Charm School) tend to claim lolita as an integral part of the current Goth scene. This view is largely controversial, especially because the style, as it grew, also developed several branches, differentiated through their particular colour schemes. Thus, we have:
- gothic lolita (black and white clothing, sometimes only black – kuro loli, or only white – shiro loli);
- sweet lolita (pink, baby blue, yellow, and generally bright colours and girlish prints, featuring cupcakes, lollipops, carousels etc);
- classic lolita (closer to gothic through its sobriety, it is very elegant and perhaps closest to Victorian-style dresses; it plays with darker colours, like maroon, garnet and navy blue, or dusty pastels, like beige, off-white, and pastel violet);
- casual lolita (a more toned down version, not as dressy as the other styles and more easily adaptable to every-day needs);
- erotic lolita or ero-loli (a more fetishistic version, playing on the alluring display of corsets, petticoats and stockings and eliminating the modest and conservative elements of the style);
- wa lolita (incorporating kimono and yukata elements);
- qi lolita (incorporating cheongsam elements);
- and, finally, kodona (the male version of lolita, using traditionally “boyish” garments, such as trousers and vests).
And this is lolita in a nutshell. Now, all of the above may seem like too much detail to some of you, and a waste of space, but, I assure, it is entirely relevant to what I am going to say. Firstly, because through its variety of styles and its gender-bending permissiveness, lolita appears as an attractive channel for more outside-the-norm, mainstream-challenging creativity. “Creativity” is the key-word for me there, so please bear it in mind. Secondly, because the very “labeling” of styles within the larger theme of lolita can be, in fact, destructive and stultifying. I’ll return to that in a second. But before I do that – I feel I need to elaborate a bit on the criticism aimed at lolita. Sometimes, lolita is seen as being too feminine, and reinforcing traditional, constrictive elements of style (corsets or dress shirring imitating corsets, petticoats, girdles, even the dresses themselves), and thus essentially anti-feminist despite itself – see Moye Ishimoto’s spoof article, “Actual Great Moments in De-evolution: Gothic Lolitas”. This, of course, triggered the “feminine is not anti-feminist” response from the lolitas:
Response which is, in fact, sustainable, since lolita, through its anachronistic aesthetics, aims, allegedly, to challenge mainstream fashion and, implicitly, mainstream labeling of women and men alike, thereby undermining “the establishment”. The other prominent criticism of lolita was inspired, in fact, by its association with Nabokov’s novel and also with the Japanese concept “lolita complex” or “lolicon”, determining a person (usually male) with an unnatural fixation on young girls and/or boys. This view implies that lolita (which has attracted acolytes of both sexes, from teenagers to people in their ’30s or ’40s) is a largely fetishistic display, encouraging, through its childlike, costumey-innocent aesthetics, dangerous paedophilic tendencies. Members of the lolita community have reacted defensively to these implications (one example here, extensive discussion on the LiveJournal Lolita Community here), repeatedly stating that the aesthetics of the lolita subculture and the implications of Nabokov’s “Lolita” have absolutely nothing in common. As an aficionado both of Nabokov and of Japanese lolita, however, I often find myself asking: “is that really so?”. And with the risk of offending some lolitas, I do have to point out that there is actually no other possible source for the term “lolita” than Nabokov’s much discussed novel. That is not to say, of course, that endowing the lolita style means to encourage sexual abuse of any kind; to the contrary. Nonetheless, I can’t help but observe that the aesthetics itself is inherently fetishistc. In an academic article on the lolita subculture – “Undressing and Dressing Loli: A Search for the Identity of the Japanese Lolita” – professor Theresa Winge (specialised in topics like cosplay and subcultures), notes that:
By exploring the relationship between Lolita and kawaii, it is possible to understand aspects of Lolita that go beyond the Nabokov character, living doll, sexual fetish, or transnational object.
Lolitas out there, don’t take me wrong, but lolita is fetishistic. Nabokov or not, and letting alone the “flirty young girl” attitude, the artificial display of innocence and the “I’m actually a living porcelain doll, don’t touch me” attitude imply a fetishistic (though in no way mainstream) approach to fashion and a – because escapist – “Peter Pan complex”– defined outlook on life. (To which, to make matters clear, I hereby subscribe.) I don’t see why this view should be rejected so virulently. It is, ultimately, an “I don’t care about your rules” attitude. Subcultures are all about that.
But, believe it or not, I digress. My ultimate purpose, in writing this post, is
this: to challenge the existent lolita community. When I first discovered lolita – which, I stress, was pretty late, I was about 15 or 16, in 2004-2005 – I saw it as the most subversive and creative possible means to express myself. With the exception of this lone page, there was pretty much nothing about lolita, and although I loved the style, I had to apply all my creativity in order to adapt it to my daily shenanigans. By comparison with the “online scene” today, there was none of that commercial elitism: “the lace on your dress has got to be antique”, “your skirts must come from Japanese brands only”. Lolita was still, I believe, more of a frame of mind and a general aesthetics than a “hermetic society” conditioned, quite frankly, by how much money you manage to spend on the clothes. I suppose that is, after all, the trouble with all subcultures. They start as statements and devolve into fashion fads.
I have never participated in a lolita forum or online group. The reason why is because, although lolita has gone a long way in just a few years, it has become elitist from the wrong – and by “wrong” I mean “commercial” – point of view. Sure, it’s nice to save money for all the pretty dresses, but it should not just be about that. It should not mainly be about that.Lolita, the way I see it, should be about encouraging personal creativity, and not how much money you earn. And a too extensive labeling of lolita – see above – ultimately means that you are not allowing for diversity, and you are keen on assigning each lolita in part a tiny, restricted place in the “community”. That is not as it should be. Welcome originality. Welcome creative effort. (This sounds like an ad, but nevertheless…) I feel like I cannot stress enough how much I deplore seeing a premise with such wonderful potential go to waste.
Signed: A Lonesome Lolita
When I was about 4 or 5 years of age, I stumbled upon a cassette tape in my dad’s vast collection. I don’t actually remember how it happened, or why it was that that particular cassette piqued my interest – after all, there was nothing especially attractive about it at first sight. Except, maybe, the small picture of a long-haired man picking wildly at his guitar. It may have been that, or it may have been something entirely different which I can no longer remember. Be
that as it may, I had learned how to use my parents’ huge cassette deck – they still have it, but I have successfully managed to break it in the meanwhile – so I decided to play that tape. On max volume. (I’ve always had a “thing” for blasting my music out loud – it just doesn’t feel the same if the volume’s turned low.) I loved it. From the very first, I absolutely loved it and that cassette tape became my favourite – and it stayed like that for many years. The songs were all in English – it didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand the language at the time, to me it was as though I were listening to magical chants. My theory is that my early love for the songs on that tape tipped the balance and gently helped me become who I am today, because most of the songs on it stayed with me even though I wasn’t aware of it. The cassette had the cheesiest title ever – Super Rock ’85 (produced by Atlantic Records and “made in Singapore”) – and it was a compilation of allegedly some of the best rock songs of said year. Who decided which songs to include and based on what criteria is completely beyond me. Anyway the choice of songs and bands now seems pretty limited and perhaps not as brilliant as it could have been… The track list was as follows:
1. Teacher Teacher – 38 Special
2. Had A Dream – Roger Hodgson
3. Hammer To Fall – Queen
4. We’re Not Gonna Take It – Twisted Sister
5. Ruby Tuesday – Nazareth
6. Heaven’s On Fire – Kiss
7. Don’t Let It Go To Your Head – Xavion
8. Hell Is On The Run – Jakata
1. Morning Dew – Blackfoot
2. One Man Mission Of Love – Jim Capaldi
3. On The Dark Side – John Cafferty
4. I Can’t Hold Back – Survivor
5. Ten American Girls – Bolland
6. Don‘t Wait For Heroes – Dennis De Young
7. Girls With Guns – Tommy Shaw
8. Foolin’ Around – Freddie Mercury
Regardless, back then I loved the mix, and I still do right now. I had forgotten about the tape for a loooong time, but a few months ago I stumbled upon it again. Nostalgia ensued. I proceeded to look up all of the songs on online, and although I initially couldn’t find them all, listening to as many of them as possible together made feel as happy and carefree as when I was 4. I looked up and downloaded as many of the songs as I could. Between then and now I lost some of them. I enlisted more capable help, and finally managed to gather them all. I just wanted to share the original compilation, because I’m sure many of those bands/singers have now fallen prey to oblivion, and I find that heartbreaking. I’ll admit I like some songs more than others – Teacher Teacher, Nazareth’s fantastic cover of Ruby Tuesday, I Can’t Hold Back – but I do believe that all of them are worth a listen.
I’ve embedded my playlist below, and here I go, sending it off into the world!
I was unlucky in my quest for vintage photographs for a while – the local market has been yielding nothing but black and white photographs of cats and dogs and some tacky birthday cards. But my luck turned just as soon as I paid a visit to Camden Market, London. Have I ever mentioned how much I love Camden Market?
I believe I would be capable to walk around that place aimlessly for hours (actually, that’s probably what I usually do anyway), just enjoying the atmosphere: the music – reggae, blending into death metal, blending into rap, blending into synthpop, and so on, seamlessly and exquisitely; the smells – of all the various wayside cuisines, from Japanese to Turkish to Ethiopian to Dutch; and most of all, the people – gaping tourists clicking hurried photos, guileless schoolgirls in uniforms, intimidated and always sticking together, the amalgam of stall owners and customers, each of them parading their own style unabashedly. Anyway, I love it all.
So yes, Camden Market is probably my favourite place in all of London, that city just wouldn’t be the same without it. And it was there, a few days ago, that I stumbled upon a small store selling old odds and ends (I’m sorry I didn’t think of taking a photo of it; maybe next time round), where the shopkeeper kindly ignored me for about half an hour, as I was nosily rummaging through ALL the tin boxes and even between the shelves and under tables and coffers. Also, I believe I may have browsed through her assortment of vintage photos and postcards for more than good manners would have allowed (I probably went through the same stack at lest three times, trying to decide). Finally, I settled for only two photographs, which I found particularly appealing (and the shopkeeper even gave me a small discount for them, in spite of the fact that I’d bought so little and that it took me so long).
The first one is a carte de visite type photograph, which I, in my blissful amateurishness, would tend to date around the late 1800s. It depicts a young girl in a gorgeous checkered dress, wearing what looks like a discreet crucifix on a necklace around her neck. Here is the photo, front and back:
Sadly, I haven’t been able to find out anything about P.H. Bau’s studio, but Christiansfeld is a town in Denmark, apparently “founded in 1773 by the Moravian Church“. How it made its way to the UK I again have no idea, but I presume it must either have been sent to some relative, or brought over into an immigrant’s bag of precious memories. The only thing the shopkeeper intimated when she took a peek at this particular photo was: “Oh, isn’t this so beautiful!” and “That dress is gorgeous, almost like a Lolita dress, isn’t it?” I, of course, nodded and smiled in assent to both her remarks. I really wish I had more info about this photo, so if there’s anything anyone can add about it – probable date, identity of the person depicted, more details about the studio – please do leave a comment.
Late edit (11/11/2012): After some more wandering about vintage photo websites, I am now pretty sure that this particular photo must be from the late 1860’s (the wavy, intricate signature stamp on the back, the girl’s posture – standing, leaning on a table, faux classy studio backdrop). If that is correct, then the girl must have been between 12 and 14 years of age when this was taken, since, according to this diagram from Harper’s Bazaar 1868, she is wearing the appropriate hem size dress for a young adolescent lady.
The second photograph is this one:
This photo, as you can see, was pasted onto a carbdoard frame; there is no inscription on either side of it, so I suppose there is no telling the date and place for sure. My opinion is that it is a turn-of-the-century view of an alley in Istanbul, Turkey. There are a few (quite frail) reasons why I identified the place as Istanbul. Although the scan I’ve posted is of pretty bad quality, in the original photo it seems as though the men are wearing fezzes; one of the signs hanging on the buildings, although the writing on it is pretty faded, seems to me to say “VIEWS OF THE BOSPHORUS” (although of course, it is not legible enough for me to be quite sure); and finally, the landscape, narrow cobbled streets and architecture, as well as the use of donkeys as beasts of burden indicate a Mediterranean country, such as Turkey. Does this seem plausible enough? Do you agree with my assumptions? Once more, please do leave your opinions in a comment, they would be very much appreciated.
It doesn’t often happen to me to feel the need to slice open my heart on a public surgery table, but since this little space is (arguably) as much of a private affair as it is an “all welcome” things, then I allow myself, every once in a while, to rant and rave. The issue at stake here? Something that’s always on my mind, in one way or another: homes. As a foreign student learning and living in a country other than that which I was born in, I often get to ask myself, in-between one flight and another, where, exactly, is my home?
The conclusion being: neither here nor there. This might strike many as a sad thing to say and even sadder thing to believe, but to me it is neither sad nor disconcerting. To me, home is not and cannot be a place, not even when that place contains people and things you love. To me, home is necessarily a frame of mind, a combination of circumstances leading to the feeling of home. This feeling, this frame of mind, happens to me randomly, in various places and at various times. Not being one who – despite the obligatory tos and fros between my native country and the country where I study – travels overmuch, I still consider myself, in many ways, a nomad. A spiritual nomad if you will, a mindset nomad, maybe, but nonetheless a traveller, always on the run, never troubling to settle down – simply because settling down is impossible.
Can’t come home,/ No one wants you once you’ve gone – I once, when feeling rather melancholy and unsettled, used these lyrics from Woodpigeon’s “Home as a Romanticized Concept (Where Everyone Loves You Always and Forever)” in a status. A well-meaning friend immediately jumped to the conclusion that I must have had an argument with my parents over Skype and that they probably told me to never come back home or some such nonsense. Of course, nothing was further from the truth. I felt slightly guilty then, but I still couldn’t help but believe in the truth contained in those two lines. You see, it isn’t that people will up and tell you to your face – “You’ve left this country, you’ve left all of us behind, we don’t want you back” – no, they probably won’t even think something like that, ever. Still, there are the changes and the subtle rifts. Once you leave, contact is lost, even in spite of daily video sessions or whathaveyou. People change, they move on, you yourself change, evolve, start thinking differently. And in the end, even though you still love everyone and everyone still loves you, there are gaps in your relationships which cannot be filled in and which become permanent. That is why home is, to me, necessarily a frame of mind which appears randomly: because those splits and changes are forever; even the spaces you love (or you once used to love) change and grow without you. You become a stranger.
And all of those are reasons why I am perfectly happy moving back and forth, between one place and another, physically as well as mentally. Since time cannot be arrested, it is much easier to make a home out of a flow of experiences, of hellos and goodbyes said to old and new acquaintances, of fears and challenges and shifting beliefs. Because a home built that way cannot topple and fall, it can only grow and grow some more. I wonder if all nomads feel the same.