Trying to remember Ithaka

M. bought this dress Monday morning (my time zone) and the rest of my day was spent trying to remember what seemed to have been long forgotten.

I can’t remember the last time I wore this dress, but I am sure I wore it during a chilly evening in the summer of 1997 at a concert in Montemor‘s castle. I remember who was with me and the theory that “villages with medieval castles are always cold” but I could not remember who was playing.

Trying to dig up something that you have forgotten to remember from the pre-internet era is not always easy. I tried to google what I did remember. The same artist was also a photographer who, probably in the same year, had an installation called “I could write a book” at Galeria Zé dos Bois in Lisbon.  Inspired by the famous jazz standard, specifically by Dinah Washington’s rendition of it (1955), the installation featured an unmade bed, photos and diary entries and little notes from the time the author lived, in love, in Tokyo because if someone had asked him, he could have written a book.

If they asked me, I could write a book
About the way you walk, and whisper, and look
I could write a preface
On how we met
So the world would never forget

But I did forget and, as the day progressed I felt more and more irritated at not being able to recall the name. Probably C. went with me to Lisbon so I decided to send an email explaining my quasi existential doubt of the day. He thought it was absurd and called me. He had no recollection whatsoever of such installation he most probably did go but couldn’t remember. We also saw this same guy at Labirintho, I said. Remember that? We went with another friend who got drunk and almost in trouble. Remember that? I even remember where we had parked the car and that we drove away and Cake’s Fashion Nugget was playing. He could not remember anything at all. It seems like we have done really interesting stuff together in the 90s, though.

By 8 pm I could recall some Greek connection and my Google search was “Californian musician, Greek ancestry, living in Lisbon in the 90s”. There it was an article about “the greatest Portuguese talents of the 90s”, about the great “unknown”, groundbreaking talent of Portuguese Pop/Rock and the growing popularity of Dance and Hip-Hop scenes. Finally Darin Pappas, aka Ithaka Darin Pappas aka Korvowrong and the album “Stellafly”, the most powerful and consistent national registry edited in 1997. That might help explain why I seemed to have travelled across the country to hear him even if now it doesn’t really make much sense.

But then again, C.P. Cavafy’s IthaKa is the conclusion that it’s never about getting there but always about the search, as long as you understand what the Ithakas mean.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
 
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
 
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

 

I texted the name and sent it to C. “wtf, who remembers that” was the answer. Right.

Now, the material trigger for all this is on its way to another hemisphere and I hope it will continue to inspire random thoughts, impromptu travels, silly theories and becomes someone else’s story.

Wrapped in butterflies

Pour M. F. 

A symbol of transformation into beauty and grace, butterflies carry a special spiritual meaning in Japanese culture as the carriers of the souls of the dead and, in that sense, as the key to unlocking the mysteries of life.

Also a symbol of womanhood and romance, the butterfly is a common motif in Japanese women’s clothing both modern and traditional such as kimonos and yukata.

Both the white butterfly as a symbol of selfless and eternal love and the black butterfly symbolizing transition, renewal, rebirth, make this faux wrap Hanae Mori silk dress one of the most elegant pieces I have owned.  I found it on eBay and remember I have waited anxiously for it to arrive, not because of the possible symbolism of the print but because of its meaning in Mori’s beautiful and feminine designs and because it evoked my first fictional style icon, Maddie Hayes. I was a big fan of Moonlighting and Maddie’s easy, soft and ethereal elegance. In my mind the beautiful silk butterfly spiral would envelop me in the same classic, womanly silky chic.

Over time you realize what you are not, and I’m not the kind of womanly woman that can carry a wrap dress or silk charmeuse pastel outfits, for that matter.

I hope this dress has reached M.F. already, I hope she was thrilled when she unwrapped it and I hope that putting it on will make her feel beautiful and true to herself.

I am true to my identity; I keep trying to be myself. I am Japanese, in Japan there is this beauty by itself which has been nurtured by tradition—fashion is an international language. What I have been trying to do is to express the wonderful beauty of Japan using international language.

Hanae Mori

Who’s the audience

1.
Peony silks,

in wax-light:

that petal-sheen,

gold or apricot or rose

candled into-

what to call it,

lumina, aurora, aureole?

About gowns,

the Old Masters,

were they ever wrong?

This penitent Magdalen’s

wrapped in a yellow

so voluptuous

she seems to wear

all she’s renounced;

this boy angel

isn’t touching the ground,

but his billow

of yardage refers

not to heaven

but to pleasure’s

textures, the tactile

sheers and voiles

and tulles

which weren’t made

to adorn the soul.

Eternity’s plainly nude;

the naked here and now

longs for a little

dressing up. And though

they seem to prefer

the invisible, every saint

in the gallery

flaunts an improbable

tumble of drapery,

a nearly audible liquidity

(bright brass embroidery,

satin’s violin-sheen)

raveled around the body’s

plain prose; exquisite

(dis?)guises; poetry,

music, clothes.

2.
Nothing needs to be this lavish.

Even the words I’d choose

for these leaves;

intricate, stippled, foxed,

tortoise, mottled, splotched

-jeweled adjectives

for a forest by Fabergé,

all cloisonné and enamel,

a yellow grove golden

in its gleaming couture,

brass buttons

tumbling to the floor.

Who’s it for?

Who’s the audience

for this bravura?

Maybe the world’s

just trompe l’oeil,

appearances laid out

to dazzle the eye;

who could see through this

to any world beyond forms?

Maybe the costume’s

the whole show,

all of revelation

we’ll be offered.

So? Show me what’s not

a world of appearances.

Autumn’s a grand old drag

in torched and tumbled chiffon

striking her weary pose.

Talk about your mellow

fruitfulness! Smoky alto,

thou hast thy music,

too; unforgettable,

those October damasks,

the dazzling kimono

worn, dishabille,

uncountable curtain calls

in these footlights’

dusky, flattering rose.

The world’s made fabulous

by fabulous clothes.
Couture

Mark Doty, 1953

An ill fitting week

I wore this dress on Monday and the whole day I felt as if was in disguise. I thought I looked like a twenty first century flapper when I checked myself in the mirror before leaving the house, but the minute I got to work I looked as if I had borrowed the last available dress left in someone else’s closet. And that someone definitely didn’t  have a lot in common with me. I didn’t buy this dress. It was a gift from my mum who probably never abandoned the hope that, in the right outfit, I would look like a pretty girl. This dress is too pink for me, it’s either too short for me or I’m too tall for it, I am also too old to pull something like this off. Not being a mother myself, I am left with a daughter’s perspective on this strange relationship that sometimes infantilizes me in order to, so it seems, avoid confronting the inevitability of time.

Mondays are never easy and I have a horrible cold and the medication is making me feel like I’m living underwater and the weight of every single thought is too much to even consider taking any kind of action.

TUESDAY

I bought this jacket in Vietnam in November 2014. A text message received while I was in Hanoi let me know that my great aunt had died. I was there for work and alone and while I can’t really say that I have always depended on the kindness of strangers, I have found that sometimes, strangers make the best friends and know exactly what to do and how to help.

Stray people brought together by chance

WEDNESDAY

I have a weak spot for chinoiserie and I absolutely adore these pants. I think I bought them some twenty years ago and they have never made it to the error category.

I felt a lot better today. After work we went to Java, the usual hang out before theater, for dinner. The TV was showing the aftermath of the Westminster attack. The coffee shop was crowded and we are all seating at an uncomfortable closeness. The gentleman next to me is wearing a brown jacket and turns his head often in my direction. Maybe he’s getting irritated at the proximity. No, he starts talking about the news. I try not to engage. I studied political science and I have no idea how to comment on the historical, sociological, or political contexts of what we are staring at. I find it difficult to rationalize barbarity. He’s British. He goes on about foreigners and political correctness. For twelve years he served in the Royal Navy, like his father before him. His eyesight started failing. He’s now a civilian. He was born in Cornwall and grew up in Scotland, now he lives in Manchester because he can’t afford to live in London. He’s been in Portugal for two weeks on vacation, this was his last night. He’s wearing a black t-shirt with some very graphic expression of discontent written in Afrikaans. I’ve never been a big fan of clothes that are too explicit in doing your talking for you. We have to go, the play starts at 9. He says goodbye kissing our hands and thanking us for the company and patience. Whatever was said, I realize I missed that accent and the blue eyed frankness I have lived with for four or so years of my life.

The play is a Portuguese – Belgian co-production spoken in French, Portuguese and Flemish with subtitles in English and Portuguese. I like the set and love the wardrobe when Anna Karenina is the woman inhabiting them and their actions. Still, it’s difficult to focus on anything either than the text. Forty years apart in Lisbon and Antwerp two couples fall out of love, question the normal life people manage to live and read Anna Karenina in French. One of the characters hasn’t read it. He actually thought about reading War and Peace but there were too many pages.

How she dies. It’s not supposed to be about this particular written death but about how literature changes or makes us change our lives. So the author says in a number of interviews.

But she did not take her eyes from the wheels of the second car. And exactly at the moment when the midpoint between the wheels drew level with her, she threw away the red bag, and drawing her head back into her shoulders, fell on her hands under the car, and with a light movement, as though she would rise immediately, dropped on her knees. And at the instant she was terror-stricken at what she was doing. ‘Where am I? What am I doing? What for?’ She tried to get up, to throw herself back; but something huge and merciless struck her on the head and dragged her down on her back

 

THURSDAY

Last week there was a promise of an early Summer that has vanished during this week as temperatures dropped some twenty degrees and the news reported closed schools because of the snow. Not in Porto. I miss my second ballet class of the week and go to a conference on culture and citizenship. Friends and experts come together to pay tribute to the Poet. To Poetry. There’s a painting exhibition in the room. There’s this painting, A homage to Gaugin, it’s called, and there’s this amazing figure of a woman that could also be a man painted in the warm colours that live in Tahiti. It keeps me  from listening to most of what is being said.

FRIDAY

A lavender morning turned into a cold rainy afternoon. I took half the day off to seat at a open rehearsal of Macbeth at the national theater. They only started rehearsals on Monday so this is still the table-work phase of reading and exploring the text and the characters. There’s an English literature professor and expert in Shakespeare who has been invited to talk about the play, and the text, and the differences between the English original and the Portuguese translation. And there he was, academia at it’s very best, rethorical mighty with all its seductive power. And the words go on for five hours and I don’t feel tired or bored. There’s nothing more fascinating than being the witness to personal passions. Not to me, at least. The catastrophe of getting exactly what you want in life. Those who choose to loose everything and those who do. The fantasy of being whole and the prison it creates. And Sartre who could be very pedantic but also very intelligent.

We are left alone, without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does.

In 2012 I did a course on Shakespeare at the University of Oxford. This was how I fell in love with Macbeth. My final essay was on the question of agency. My somewhat lazy conclusion stated that “Macbeth’s hamartia is not his ambition, as this is a character flaw, but his miscalculation of the personal consequences of assassinating Duncan and the inner torment that leads him on a murdering spree in the frantic desire for peace of mind. It is this tragic error that ultimately transforms his life in an empty mockery”. I’m often surprised and ashamed when reading what I have written.

SATURDAY

On Saturday I decided to revisit the rive gauche intellectual in me, ratty cashmere sweater and all.

Saturday is flamenco class day. I decided not to miss this one and take me and my cold for another session of trying to emulate Lola. It is not an easy, if at all possible, task to be a Lola. Either a fictional or a real one.

The rest of my Saturday is spent doing adult stuff, washing, and supermarket shopping, and other uninteresting errands. I sold a white Betty Barclay jacket. It’s going to Boise, Idaho.  At the end of all this I go and see Ana present a book on American cuisine. I’m only there for moral support. Cookbooks are basically useless at my house.

It took five songs of the weird (I like to think about it as eclectic but I suspect it’s just weird) driving playlist on my iPod to drive home:

Everybody knows

The famous blue raincoat

For once in my life

Girl, you’ll be a woman soon

Guilty

wp-1490479384225.jpg

I suspect rive gauche intellectuals didn’t care much for glitter ballet flats. Shoes off. I’m not going out, I decide that watching This Property is Condemned on TV is a much better option.

SUNDAY

Daylight saving time began at 1 AM. Outside it still looks like Winter.
I go to the only cinema we have downtown, one of the two movie theaters that is not a multiplex. Popcorn free zone, what a bliss. The movie is Aquarius with Sonia Braga. Two and half hours lost, gone forever. Such a grand actress deserved a much better movie. Great soundtrack, though.

I get home to this

 My next door neighbour is a sweet Lady.

References

Tolstoy

Tennessee Williams

Aristotle

The Wharton School –  a critical house tour


Pictures representing life and action often grow tiresome when looked at over and over again, day after day.

There are but two ways of dealing with a room which is fundamentally ugly: one is to accept it, and the other is courageously to correct its ugliness.


Where much pattern is used, it must be as monotonous as possible or it will become unbearable.

Plain shelves filled with good editions in good bindings are more truly decorative than ornate bookcases lined with tawdry books.

Not only do mediocre ornaments become tiresome when seen day after day, but the mere crowding of furniture and gimcracks into a small room intended for work and repose will soon be found fatiguing.


The money spent on a china “ornament” in the shape of a yellow leghorn hat with a kitten climbing out of it would probably purchase a good reproduction of one of the Tanagra statuettes or a plaster cast of some French or Italian bust.

That cheap originality which finds expression in putting things to uses for which they were not intended is often confounded with individuality; whereas the latter consists not in an attempt to be different from other people at the cost of comfort, but in the desire to be comfortable in one’s own way, even though it be the way of a monotonously large majority.

It is one of the misfortunes of the present time that the most preposterouly bad things often possess the powerful allurement of being expensive.

Wharton rallied against the “black art” and “dubious eclecticism” that was the house decoration of her day. Thick curtains, dinner tables covered in velvet, bric-a-brac of the era, and “a great deal of gilding” were, in the mind of Wharton, totally out.

I still haven’t found the perfect velvet curtains for the living room.

References

Edith Wharton by Design

Lapham’s Quarterly

Exposure

“No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself.”

In Retrospective, a cinematographic year without the scent of time. I have accomplished nothing. I kept zapping.

References

Haruki Murakami, After the Quake

Byung-Chul Han, The Scent of Time