Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dolly and The Good Life

On the topic of sustainable living, I'm inspired today by Dolly Freed and her book 'Possum Living' that she wrote in the 1970's.

The book is due for re-release this year. I found out about it from a feature article written by Paige Williams in which she writes 'She [Dolly] wanted others to know they didn’t have to panic if they lost their jobs, that it’s possible to live on very little money.' which is poignant considering the GFC of last year (more detail about Paige and Radiohead Journalism in my next blog post)

The documentary looks dated now, but none of the ideas are. Bookstores eagerly promote books about de-cluttering, affluenza, recycling, thrift store style, simplifying our lives and returning to the basics of how to access food and the things we need. Dolly says in her book "It’s easier to learn to do without some of the things that money can buy than to earn the money to buy them". In the 1970's the concern may have been around not needing to be financially dependant on a job, but the lessons are still there for today when we're also concerned with the environment, waste and unnecessary stress.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 4 - USA and Mexico

And on the fourth day I was led by the hand of Delores - a 'docent' with the LA Metro. Well-versed in the facts, figures and tales from the underground, Delores took me on a fantastic adventure through the LA subway system for a morning. Each subway station is the collaborative work of the architect and artist. The creative intent was that each station would be an experience in 21st Century branding, where subway riders would recognise each stop by the light, the walls and the art, rather than a sign.

Which might get a little confusing for some. But 750,000 people use the subway each year travelling from Pasadena into 'Downtown' or Hollywood - whisked far below the gridlocked crust of the LA scene.

My favourite part was the lightbox displays in the Hollywood and Highland station. The photos were the work of American-Spanish artist couple Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz who created fantasy or controversial scenes in snowglobes and then photographed them. An excellent interview is here, explaining the thought behind some of the better known pieces.

It's fair to say that I fell in love with these.

After I said goodbye to Delores I traipsed off to Philippe's (pronounced 'Phil-eeps' in the french way). Philippe's is one of the oldest restaurants in Southern California and is home to the french-dipped sandwich. This local delicacy was created one day when Phillippe Mathieu, the original owner, was making a meat-filled baguette sandwich for a customer, and accidentally dropped the bread into a roasting pan with a layer of juices, straight from the oven. The customer said he would take the sandwich anyway. The next day he returned for another 'french-dipped' sandwich, and the day after brought more friends to try the new taste sensation. But on that day in 2009, the cold, grisly sandwich I ate was not so much taste sensation as taste disappointment. I sat amongst families and colleagues and friends all catching up over the wooden tables, in the hectic diner, with sawdust on the floor, and gulped down as much as I could eat of it. An older couple shared the wooden bench with me, and I saw that the lady had chosen potato salad over the french-dipped sandwich which may have been the wiser choice.

After lunch I felt the magnetic pull of Hollywood and used my $8 all-day subway superpass to go back to the Hollywood and Highland intersection - also home to the Ripley's Believe it or not Museum.

Seems there's one of these in almost every major city I have been to in Europe and the US. And I had written them off as being tourist traps. But one tourist's trap is another's temptation and I was happily lost in the kitsch world of Robert Ripley for quite a few hours. He was an explorer of the old-school genre, made popular by characters like Indiana Jones. And while he was more buck-toothed than whip-cracking and debonnair, it was his insatiable curiosity that ignited the public imagination. After the discovery of King Tut's tomb in the 1920's, all wanted to believe only a real adventure stood between them and buried treasure. But it was Ripley that had the desire to share the world's wonders that meant the museums existed. 

When I was little I used to imagine elaborate costumes that the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland would wear - then I saw this:

I liked that he went to Chichen Itza in Mexico, and how pleased he looks in this photo. I was planning to go there in just a few weeks and thought that I would like it just as much - so the fantastic Mr Ripley and I would have that in common. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

An anti- anti-Valentine's rant

Watched Coco Avant Chanel last night for some inspiration. Chanel's declaration 'I intend never to marry anyone' got me thinking. And the fact that I'm half-way through Elizabeth Gilbert's book 'Committed' which is No. 7 on the best seller list (which means others are thinking about this too). Gilbert writes about marriage - what it means, where it came from, the role it plays in society and our own expectations.

There are many women who have made huge accomplishments in their field, but never got married: Elizabeth David, Coco Chanel, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Oprah Winfrey, Katharine Hepburn, Goldie Hawn. Which is not to say that they haven't had partners or been in love (who can think of Goldie Hawn without Kurt Russell, or Oprah without Stedman, or the epic love shared by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy).

But these women, whether through personal choice or practicality (like the fact their lovers were married already and divorce was untenable) have never entered into a marriage contract. And this hasn't hampered their success, or their drive, or creativity. I dare say that not being married has allowed them freedoms more than restrictions. In the 21st century whether a woman chooses to marry is her own business, and no longer that of society's.

Which brings me to my next rant: Cougars. There's been a lot of coverage in the media about this. The TV show Cougar Town just aired last week. A friend's Dad recently accused her of being a cougar. Talking with a married male friend, who is around the same age as me, I said that I despise the idea of cougars and wish that the term had never been invented. He said that he thought it was funny, but could understand where I was coming from. I'm not in the age bracket yet, but I can see the terms of the definition sneaking younger and younger.

What I dislike the most is the illogical equation that 'a single woman of a certain age = inevitably, uncontrollably hunts men 15 years younger'. The definition of 'single' may not even be related to actual fact - a woman may be having an affair with a man 10 years her senior, but chooses to keep that knowledge private, or may be in a relationship she is not ready to share with the world. But she will also be tarred with the same brush as her friend who really does go for younger men.

I suspect that it's a term invented by younger men as a way to feel validated in an age where marriage is not a symbol of their own achievements and their relevance to a woman's success is less well defined than it had been 40 years ago. I find the term derogatory and hope that someone comes up with a similarly unflattering term for the men who keep their partners hanging on for years without ever fully committing to them. Because in the 15 year age-gap between the cougars and their prey are a whole generation of men who are scared to commit (according to the demographers).

I also don't believe in the man-drought. It's not reported in the media lately (it's all about cougars, of course!). Bernard Salt may say I'm in denial, but I think that if a woman is single she either isn't ready or just hasn't been in the right place at the right time to meet her match, rather than writing off all possibility of meeting a match because of a seismic demographic shift which no-one can control.

And while we're on the topic - I love Valentine's Day. I wish today were more like the Victorian era when friends all gave each other Valentines. I've been lucky enough to have been given flowers, perfume, cards, chocolates, dinners the whole shebang - but the best was from a friend at work in Edinburgh who gave myself and two colleagues each a card filled with cliched poems like 'Roses are red, violets are blue.'

I think any bloke who says 'I don't believe in it' so they can avoid spending $15 on a chocolate heart or a red rose is a jerk. It's like taking a girl to a dance where everyone has a corsage, but this girl doesn't, because the boy 'didn't believe in it'. And every other girl at the dance is swirling around with their beautiful corsage on their wrist or dress, but she doesn't because her date didn't believe in it.

OK - enough rant, and I promise that in future my blog will be more about inspiration than lamentation!

Thankyou to you who have commented - please keep commenting! I'd love to know what you think of Cougars, marriage and Valentine's Day.