The Cosulich Line

All is left from the luggage label on my beautiful US Trunk Company of Fall River Massachusetts was enough to find out that it sailed eastbound from New York to Lisbon in May 1921. I bought it at a charity shop and the lady working there was thrilled that she was selling “something as old as the Titanic”. I was overwhelmed by all the imaginary stories going on in my mind. Now it doesn’t go anywhere. I use it as a side table and as storage for vintage dresses.


My grandmother’s wooden chest was the first piece of my small collection. It went to Angola with her in 1951 and came back to Portugal carrying the rests of a life left behind. The small leather suitcase on top was her father’s. My aunt gave it to me because I have a reputation of wanting everything that is old a no one else really wants anymore. The bigger one was bought at a flea market and belonged to someone who used to vacation in Sintra.


My great aunt died when I was traveling in Vietnam. After coming back I helped my mother and her sister with sorting  out all her things. This Falstaff beer tin trunk was hers. The label inside says “Onil, Angola suitcases for the world that travels”.

I had never before realized that other people’s luggage is also part of my emotional baggage.
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Suitcase

Handwritten 

the beauty and nobility, the august mission and destiny, of human handwriting.
George Bernard Shaw

 

Like seeing a photograph of yourself as a child, encountering handwriting that you know was once yours but that now seems only dimly familiar can inspire a confrontation with the mystery of time.
Francine Prose

She may have looked normal on the outside, but once you’d seen her handwriting you knew she was deliciously complicated inside.
Jeffrey Eugenides

Perspectives 

After reading a few posts and articles on the power of uniform dressing, last week I decided to only wear black dresses to experiment with sartorial disappearance.  Apparently, taking the choice away of getting dressed in the morning will make you a more stable, in control, smarter and productive person.  Probably more successful and happier too.

This was, quite obviously, the wrong experience for me. Black is actually not a uniform as far as I am concerned . All its nuances and textures and different associations make it versatile and welcoming and experimental. Just the opposite of a uniform. As much as I like black dresses and have a closet full of them to prove it, I found it extremely boring to put on the same thing everyday. Boring might be efficient and productive but this doesn’t seem to be what I’m interested in becoming.

I do understand the allure of having a streamlined, organized home / closet but I’m not, no matter how hard I try a minimalist. This doesn’t mean that I’m obsessed with fast changing fashion trends or fast fashion fixes. By now, about 70% of my wardrobe is vintage or secondhand because I do love clothes a lot more than I am interested in fashion.  I might be obsessed with my possessions but mainly because I got a lot of them from my grandmother, my great aunt and my mother. They tell, at least partially, the story of who I am.

For some, settling into an everyday uniform means that you have finally understood who you are and what outfit goes with that while becoming incredibly stylish. I do agree with Valerie Steel that the idea that clothes are supposed to express your true identity is  “almost laughably naive, clothes are a mask,a persona you put on. You present an aspect of yourself, not the core. Anyway, what would the core be? It’s a rather horrific thought.”

I need the choice, even if it’s a waste of energy and mental power. I need to be able to decide who I want to be in a given day and I need to be able to have fun with that. The normalizing discourse of uniform dressing/ capsule wardrobe sounds too much like a managerial trend applied to everyday life, transforming it into some kind of efficient unidimensional space and that’s also rather horrific. Foucault argues that through surveillance our bodies are made docile by institutions and become subject to mass standards of behaviour, these standards of behaviour (or ‘discourses’) are then internalized by individuals and govern the ways in which we use and understand our bodies. He also suggests, however, that people can act on their bodies in different ways and resist these normalizing discourses.

References

Valerie Steele

Foucault,M. (1977) Discipline and Punish

 

Things I learned in the midst of frivolous amusements 

I am a frivolous person and I have often felt guilty about it mainly because I fear that most people would understand that as meaning that I am a shallow person. Most of my time seems to be occupied with aesthetic considerations or concerns of some kind. Most of the space I live in is organized accordingly. Every morning I go out hoping that what I have chosen to wear will contribute to make the day a little more beautiful, a little less real (I suppose that’s where the love of vintage clothes comes from). Every evening I want to come back home to the same kind of fantasy. I watch movies and plays looking for the kind of visual and emotional grandeur that can make one forget that there’s some kind of reality out there. I read books to be seduced by the music in words and I like music because it embodies all the beauty I find in movies and books.
Form always seems to overcome purpose and content.

Except when it comes to people. Their content is what sustains their form. And still, I also tend to understand human relationships as an aesthetic ideal in the sense that they should be a pursuit of pleasure and an avoidance of pain.  I like people. I like watching them, I like talking to them and getting to know their stories and I feel mesmerized by the things they know and the lives they lived.

I am terribly shy so I never start conversations with strangers but I do engage in them often and listen.

There was someone from Belgium sitting next to me on a flight to Lisbon and he told me how he hadn’t spoken to his family in over twenty years because he had taken his dad to court over child support money. There was an  elegant lady in the subway in New York who collected ancient tiles and a kid from Spain who talked for over seven hours during a flight between Johannesburg and Madrid and  street artists in London and drag queens in Porto and soccer fans in Zambia and the regal looking lady in Houston during intermission at the ballet. She was a widow and her son was working for an oil company in Nigeria. Maybe we could go to the ballet together the following week. I would not be in Houston anymore. And the Brazilian girl  that had been left at the altar and was trying to forget that she was hurt and afraid of flying while the plane was getting ready to land.

And, if they asked me, I could go on and almost write a book with all the moments some stranger decided to confide in me. Sometimes I talk and understand how liberating it is to be your vulnerable self with someone you know will not cross paths with you ever again. And you go on for hours sitting across a perfect stranger in some Lower East Side bar after checking some independent production of Hamlet and talk about all your unfulfilled dreams and what your fear and how finding Shakespeare has changed your life.

These are the moments of bliss that truly feel they could be enough for a whole lifetime and shield me when the world just seems to hurtful to endure. I am one of those. Deeply hurt by the trivial, the rudeness and mainly by the pain of others, of strangers, by the injustice, by whatever dehumanizing force seems to be operating on any given day.

“Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow for other’s good, and melt at other’s woe.”

And my heart also got used to marvel at others, to shudder, tremble and thrill with the same pleasure and emotion it felt coming face to face with Hopper’s “New York Movie” or driving to Jarrett’s “Köln Concert”.

Works of art,  Martha Nussbaum says,  “give us insight into how other people live and feel, how they strive for happiness, and how conditions of many types affect them. [And] that is crucial for living any sort of decent life.”


References

Marcel Proust

Dinah Washington

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Homer

Martha Nussbaum