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

Back to black

I have a closet just for black clothes. I also have another one for all other mainly dark colours and reds but these never feel so true to myself as black does. I can’t remember why I started wearing just black but for a long time it felt like the most stylish and comfortable solution to the morning rush of getting dressed. Chic, sophisticated people tend to wear black,  so I’m told by a million glossy magazines, books and film imagery.  Apparently, I also tend to look smarter dressed in black.  I can always try to project the existentialist intellectual that lives in me since my teenage years. I grew up during the post-punk, Gothic 80s and have never managed to be Goth even though I still nurture a special admiration for the whole commitment that kind of aesthetics entails. Some of my most glorious errors are a nod to this sumptuous dark world.

Albeit all the experimentation and character creations around my “cinematic self”, I have never been truly convinced that my clothes could become the visible form assumed by the way I chose to define my public persona. At least not in the sort of spectacular, larger than life way I envisaged.

As a spectacular sub-culture, Goth provides a unique insight into the experience of extraordinary “self-authorship” because of the dramatic and unconventional nature of the external self-constructions of individual identity through dress and personal grooming. Whether or not you are drawn to the “dark side of the human heart”, it is almost impossible to remain indifferent to the dramatic manipulation of appearance and the fantastic narrative that accompanies Goth fashion as an illustration of the  extraordinary dimension the stories one writes for oneself can attain, allowing space for the creation of a “historic utopia” as far removed as possible from everyday life.

As superficial as it might seem, fashionable self-construction is not only about “the look”.While designing an aspirational self, fashion “props” allow the individual to construct a personal “bricolage” which gives the access to their extraordinary self via their ability to transform, and in some cases contest conventional social categories through their glamorising discourses (Thompson and Haytko, 1997). While this might not be a characteristic of the Goth subculture alone, both its cultural pervasiveness and the recurring concern with the distinction between authenticity and depth on the one hand, and a fascination with surface and performance on the other, make Gothic a postmodern archetype of “stylistic resistance”. An is this very stylistic resistance that perpetuates its fashionable allure.

Late capitalism produces the desire for an aura that is felt to be prior to or beyond commodification, for a lived authenticity to be found in privileged forms of individual expression and collective identification. For as long as goth seems to answer that desire, it will thrive as an undead subculture: forging communities on the margins of cities, suburbs, campuses and cyberspace; defying constraints on gender and sexuality; and imbuing the stuff of everyday life with the allure of stylistic resistance.

Lauren M. E. Goodlad, Michael Bibby

While Goth as a subculture has not faded away, the increasing heterogeneity in styles and fashion and a world that seems to no longer produce a coherent dominant culture or the cultural values against which resistance might be expressed, have transformed subcultural style in an ideologically vacant performance of over substance (David Muggleton, 2000). The incorporation of a subculture in mainstream society through commodification is not exclusive of Goth but its enduring resonance with contemporary fears, desires and anxieties might have exhausted itself: where once Gothic provided a space in which the dark dreams of the Enlightenment could be realized, now it simply exposes the void at the heart of an advanced consumer culture. The seemingly inescapable Gothic now functions as the perfectly protean postmodern commodity

All of the varied elements that once defined street style are now high fashion’s greatest source of inspiration. At Jun Takahashi’s Undercover and John Galliano’s Margiela in particular, they have been incorporated in dazzling and inspiring ways. But sometimes the embrace of street chic comes across as a mere flourish tacked on to spice a bourgeois brand with a bit of danger, to make a woman with a coddled existence feel a bit more in touch. It is an attempt to buy cool.

By taking the style, trends, dress, music etc of the subcultures and popularizing them so that they lose their exclusivity and gradually become mass-produced commodities made available to all, the mainstream cultural industry dilutes or annihilates specific meanings transforming authenticity in “ready to wear” commoditized lifestyles subject to the same cultural logic of “self-help narratives” and consummerism impulses. Being authentic, as La Agrado would say, does not come cheap and  you are all the more authentic the more you resemble what you have dreamed for yourself . And this is a rare gift.


References

P.S. While I am selling my 80s vintage gothic errors, a part of me is still reluctant. But then I am not sure if “Gothic Chic” is authentic in me.

Radical Authenticity

Things I do when procrastinating 

I’m  the worst procrastinator I know. I do write do to lists and visualize results and even tried to follow one or more of the popular productivity methods and tools out there and have read countless articles and posts on how to beat procrastination to no success.

Things linger until the last minute because “performing better under pressure” seems  to be my favourite excuse. Things get done but the end result is seldom as good as it could or should be. My flat mate at university used to say I was a “perfectionist afraid of perfection”. This was, of course, only a polite or kind way of stating the obvious. I was, and still am, a typical procrastinator. I avoid what has to be done. I put off projects and beginnings because the optimal conditions are never present, they will materialize tomorrow. Or Someday,  which, according to me, actually seems to be a weekday.

I am the kind of person that thinks I can do it all even if, at the same time, I am pretty sure that I am incapable of doing anything at all. Reading   James Surowiecki’s  article Later – What does procrastination tell us about ourselves?,  I was thrilled to discover myself in one of the paragraphs:

Lack of confidence, sometimes alternating with unrealistic dreams of heroic success, often leads to procrastination, and many studies suggest that procrastinators are self-handicappers: rather than risk failure, they prefer to create conditions that make success impossible, a reflex that of course creates a vicious cycle.

Just like General McClellan, I excel at planning. Realizing – making those plans  “real” – is not something that I feel confident enough to do. I tend to get lost in the wonder of new knowledge and the beauty of concepts. This was never as evident to me as when when I needed to write my PhD thesis. I had procrastinated ( a lot) during the dreaded writing phase of my master’s dissertation but managed to bring myself to do nothing else for a whole month and finish it. After all, the only “procrastination hack” that really works it’s the “just do it” one.

To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing…

Pablo Picasso

Unfortunately it was not that simple while attempting to write a lengthy, “formal document that argues in defence of a particular thesis”. I kept changing focus and approaches and adding material to my reading list and daydreaming about doing something else. One of my plans at the time was to become a découpage artist instead of continuing up (or down) an academic career path and for a few days I devoted myself to upcycling my Aldo wedge sandals into a pair of shoes that maybe Frida Kahlo would use. I’ve never been happier about the results of my action as inaction approach.

You can check the results of my procrastination or even take them home with you, here.