Archive of goodness and jam in alphabetical order:
I’ve always liked the story of a girl’s adventures in a curious world filled with Cheshire cats, magic mushrooms, and white rabbits with pocket watches, and the even more bizzare world on the other side of the looking glass. But my serious obsession and fascination with Alice began after watching Tim Burton’s interpretation of Alice slaying the Jabberwocky in shining armour. I’ve been waiting for this type of empowered femininity since childhood, never satisfied with the annoying Disney princesses. In 2009, a year before Burton’s film release, Annie Leibovitz shot a Vogue editorial featuring different scenes from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with different designers contributing their design visions for what Alice wears. In the same vein, in April 2011, Montreal designer Denis Gagnon created a dress interpretation for Alice at the Toronto Luminato Festival.
Alice also features one of my favourite metaphors of contemporary life: In an essay, entitled, “Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today: on procrastination, hiking and… the Spice Girls?,” Mark D. White recounts the Alice story in Through the Looking-Glass, when the White Queen offers Alice a job as her “lady’s maid,” with a compensation package of “twopence a week, and a jam every other day.” Alice protests that she doesn’t care for jam, and in any case doesn’t want any jam today. The Queen clarifies, “You couldn’t have it if you did want it. The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.” White points out what Wonderland’s logic is not as paradoxical as it may seem. We often structure our lives with far-off future goals in mind, often denying ourselves “jam” today in the hope for some “jam” reward tomorrow (or in the near future). This usually results in procrastination. He explains: “When the later or overall good can only be seen at the edges of one’s peripheral vision – in the ways that jam-yesterday-jam-tomorrow goods typically are seen – motivation turns out to be relatively loosely tied to it. So it’s precisely because there is no jam today – and we really want jam today – that we procrastinate when it comes to doing things that only bring jam in the fuzzy, distant future.” The solution to our jam-less existence, White explains, is that in order “to prevent procrastination with respect to jam-yesterday-jam-tomorrow goods, you have to provide some sort of “jam today,” a temporary, short-term goal, to motivate timely action.”
I have been going to Berlin regularly since 2004 and every time I am inspired anew. It’s one of those cities that, like a good storyteller, always has a new story at hand, and makes you want to come back for more. My own writing about Berlin and its many facets, both academic and journalistic, also goes back to 2004. It started with some travel notes from my first visit, then the following year expanded to a Masters Thesis, then several academic articles and conference presentations, then a book on Berlin fashion, a blog, and currently in progress: a dissertation. In all these works, I can’t even begin to sum up why the city is so great that I decided to dedicate this much time and attention to it – you’ll just have to go and discover it for yourself. Let me know what you’ll find!
Brunch with friends
Brunch is a wonderful invention that allows you to sleep in and still get the best of breakfast foods at a leisurely time (usually after noon) and pace (usually most of the day), with the people you care most about and want to catch up with at the end of a work-week. A few years ago my birthday fell on a Sunday and I had my friends over for brunch (which lasted all day, and included waves of snacking in between, as more friends showed up with more food and desserts and wonderful gifts). It was the best birthday, and the all-day brunches chez moi became a popular tradition, so much so that for my following birthday, my friend Maya gave me a book with brunch recipes, which we’ve yet got to use. I also started making lists of good brunch places and restaurants in many of the cities I’ve lived and visited.
On the Canadian West Coast, the cherry blossom season starts at the end of February, announcing the arrival of glorious spring. It’s a truly wonderful thing, unless you happen to move out East, where the ice on the streets does not begin to melt until the end of April. For anyone wondering what the Canadian winters are like, the trouble is not the coldness, it’s the duration that’s difficult to accept. If the best time to be in Montréal is during the festival season in the summer, the best time to be on the West Coast is during cherry blossom season, while the rest of the country is still shovelling snow.
At first I didn’t like her looks, and I fell to my work again. But she, like all women and cats, who won’t come if you call them, and do come if you don’t call them, stopped short in front of me, and spoke to me… To people of her blood, liberty is everything, and they would set a town on fire to save themselves one day in prison. “We were not born to plant cabbages,” she cried. (Prosper Mérimée, Carmen, 1845)
Cocktail dresses / little black dresses
When Coco Chanel invented the little black dress in the 1920s, she defined and set the bar for elegance and understated stylishness for generations of women. Later, in the 1950s and 60s, the cocktail dress became a colourful variation on the little black dress, perfected, ever since, by female characters ranging from Holly Golightly to Carrie Bradshaw. There is something enchanting about putting on a well-tailored dress that has been designed to celebrate the female figure, with all its beauty and imperfections. And I don’t mean enchanting in a princess way, but rather enchanting in the sense that celebrates a long tradition and history of dress-making and dress-wearing, the craft and manual work, the visionary work, the inspirational work of empowering women through femininity and elegance, and allowing them to feel good in their clothes. Merci, mademoiselle Coco!
Coffee shops and Cafés
Vienna and Paris pride themselves on their historic cafés frequented by writers and artists since the mid-19th century, popularized in the collective imagination though books, films, photographs, and paintings. While they have been overrun by tourists, precisely because you can sit and sip a coffee where Hemingway and Simone de Beauvoir wrote their books, or where Freud read his daily newspapers, and even though the quality of food served there may not always reflect the inflated prices, what makes these places special is precisely their cultural history. Along with the tourists, they also attract contemporary writers and artists, thereby perpetuating the mythical legacy of these places. Most Canadian cities are younger than some of these European cafés, but even cities with a rich cultural history like Montréal have not yet learned to capitalize on cultural heritage (except for Schwartz’s deli). What few legendary cafés and diners that once crowned Rue St. Catherine have been bulldozed in the gentrification waves since the 1960s. Even the legendary Forum has been turned into a boxy slab of post-modern architecture that now houses the AMC and Future Shop.
I looked for love, but I found freedom. And the freedom I found changed my way of thinking about the place of love in a woman’s life. I began to see that the proper place for love in a woman’s life was not relational love as the source but love generated in the quest for self-realization. … Feminist women stopped talking about love because we found that love was harder to get than power. … In reality, females of all ages who either learn how to love as children (and consequently are self-loving) or learn how to be self-loving later in life often confront major difficulties, because our culture has not yet been transformed in ways to support and sustain female well-being. (bell hooks, Communion, 2002)
French New Wave
For some reason, the history of cinema, for me, begins in 1959 with Godard’s Breathless (À Bout de Souffle) and the filming of Jean Seberg (accompanied by Jean-Paul Belmondo) walking down avenue Champs-Élysées and calling “New York Herald Tribune!” to the passers by. In a way, everything filmed before that was just warm-up and rehearsal. But Breathless, and the films that followed (Truffaut’s 400 Blows, Jules and Jim, etc.) were not just a revolution in the history of cinema, but the way cinema was intended to be. I realize, I am disregarding a vast and rich history and cinematic cultural heritage prior to 1959 all around the world, but this observation is grounded in subjective identification, or what Christian Keathley calls a personal “cinephiliac archive,” rather than in objective facts. There was a sudden and noticeable freedom of spirit that the characters of the New Wave communicated and symbolized. Unprecedented freedom from social restrictions, obligations, forms, dichotomies, roles, norms; a freedom that even transcended the story-lines and spilled into the form and aesthetics of film-making, creating a new film language.
Rex Rexroth (coming to see a divorce attorney): There’s a lady. A young lady. She let’s me be myself.
Miles: Of course. And your wife is aware and/or has evidence?
Miles: Hah! To cut to the chase, forensically speaking, is there a prenup?
Rex (opens his mouth and closes it again).
Miles: “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves”
How do I describe the kinds of friendships I enjoy with quite a few amazing, gifted, inspiring, generous, loving, caring, heroic people, scattered all over the world. Perhaps by listing the things I’ve learned from them over the years: unconditional love (the kind of love that lets you put another person’s well-being before your own), acceptance (“we don’t judge”), kindness and generosity (the kind that let’s you gladly give away your last piece of gum, or lend the last $100 in your bank account because you know your friends will replenish it twofold), empathy and compassion (ability to relate to, feel, and take on another’s pain), loyalty (ability to be faithful and true to oneself and others, no matter at what cost), equality (ability to give 100% each, not just 50/50 to quote Nina), creativity (“Genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald; Edwin Schlossberg added, “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”), and much more. It’s the kind of friendship that makes you want to be a better person (to quote Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets), every day, and then gives you the skills and opportunities to actually be that. Thank you, darlings! (You know who you are.)
I don’t know what we did before gmail, google calendar, google reader, igoogle home page with different apps and extensions, google maps, google translate, google books, blogger, chrome, android phones and tablets that make all the other services even more accessible and synced, but my life was sure made easier when my friends Justin and Jonas first introduced me to gmail and igoogle. Long before I befriended some of the googlers at the Montréal office, I was already a fan of their work. Last summer in Berlin, I was among the few people fortunate to be invited to a talk by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt at the American Academy in Berlin. I liked his vision of the digital future that allows us to do what we already do more efficiently, faster, with more accessibility, and perhaps even with more creativity. Thanks, guys!
Much like the heroines of the French New Wave films, Holly Golightly was the cinematic embodiment of the free spirit (the female equivalent of the Easy Rider or Sundance Kid), but with more style and unyielding elegance (keeping a perfume bottle in her mailbox), and with an honest vulnerability that her European counterparts never revealed. Drifting through her Manhattan jungle, in which everything is for sale, with little belongings (except for a few cocktail dresses and a cat), always surrounded by people, but at the same time always solitary, she is searching for her real self, among all the fluid identities, dysfunctional relationships, and the alleys and store fronts of New York.
I like this photo (called Lutz & Alex, 1992) by the conceptual photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. In the early 1990s, he photographed friends, clubbers and ravers, often using a snapshot aesthetic. There is an immediacy in this photograph, as if we accidentally walked in on the couple’s private moment, but we can’t look away. It looks exactly the way a hug feels – it conveys what a hug conveys: closeness, warmth, comfort, security, belonging.
Laughter is a flash of recognition; a moment of perfect balance between inner and outer worlds; a fast dip into the unconscious that the whole self revels in. (Gloria Steinem, Revolution from Within, 1992)
If cherry blossoms are nature’s messengers, sent to announce the arrival of spring, lilacs announce the beginning of summer, which is the best message ever. And they make that announcement in such a beautiful and delicious way: in clusters of purple, pink, or white little flowers, that smell sweet and fill the air with summer.
When I first moved to Berlin, my friends and I developed a substantial Jazz addiction, frequenting Berlin’s jazz bars once or twice a week for months, and listening to everything from world-class Big Band Jazz to experimental trios whose music could barely be recognized as music. Karen was dating a Jazz pianist at the time and he often recommended different gigs to us. It was such a great way to discover a new city, through a particular music scene, and Berlin’s was such a diverse and international music scene. During my last visit, past summer, I met a chatty taxi driver who used to be a Jazz musician and music teacher in Moscow, and expressed his dissatisfaction at the mediocrity of the Berlin Jazz scene. He was impressed that I lived in Montréal, whose Jazz scene he hasn’t experienced first hand, and couldn’t judge.
I wrote a whole article about why I think Marc Jacobs stands apart from other fashion designers and why he does it so well. This past summer, he was invited to Berlin Fashion Week to be the honorary patron of the “Designer for Tomorrow Award” to support young designers. The five finalists received personal coaching from Marc Jacobs in Berlin and presented their collections to a select trade audience in July during Fashion Week. Listening to Marc talk about fashion and creativity in numerous interviews during his Berlin visit just confirmed my admiration. He inspires, the moves, he satirizes, and he does it with so much ease, humbleness, sincerity and grace.
From there, after six days and seven nights, you arrive at Zobeide, the white city, well exposed to the moon, with streets wound about themselves as in a skein. They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. They saw a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair, and she was naked. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of them lost her. After the dream they set out in search of that city; they never found it, but they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the dream. In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive’s trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again. This was the city of Zobeide, where they settled, waiting for that scene to be repeated one night. None of them, asleep or awake, ever saw the woman again. The city’s streets were streets where they went to work every day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. Which, for that matter, had long been forgotten. New men arrived from other lands, having had a dream like theirs, and in the city of Zobeide, they recognized something of the streets of the dream, and they changed the positions of arcades and stairways to resemble more closely the path of the pursued woman and so, at the spot where she had vanished, there would remain no avenue of escape. Those who had arrived first could not understand what drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap. (Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972)
How do I love thee, let me count the ways. Or rather, let me list the things that make this city so great: the mountain, the parks, tam-tams, anarchist soccer, Chu Chai, bagels, festivals, French bakeries, dragon sauce at Au Vivre, microbreweries, Café Névé, street fests, bike paths, music scene, apple-picking season, the view of the Olympic stadium from Ave. Mont-Royal, brunch, Olympic swimming pool in Parc Jean-Drapeau, chalets on lakes, Denis Gagnon, Old Port, crêpes in Square St. Louis.
According to Susan Sontag, “all photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability” (On Photography, 1973). What I like about photography is its ability to defy the rules of time. To capture moments that are fleeting and sometimes even unnoticeable. And its ability to allow individual experiences and glimpses to be shared with others. A photograph is never a solitary object or experience. Even a self-portrait involves a doubling, an engagement with otherness, it takes us out of ourselves and connects us with the other.
Roof Tops and Sun Rooms
I’m not sure when my fascination with roof tops started, but one of the first things I do in every new city I visit is scout out accessible roof tops. Unhindered by fear of heights, I find something zen about being high above the streets and the bustle, and the traffic, and even the other roofs. Something peaceful and even comforting, something that lets time cease to matter for a moment and all the worries of the world below seem small and manageable from that high up. But it’s not just the height for the sake of height (I’ve climbed up many domes and buildings, but am not as attracted by towers). Perhaps it’s the urban equivalent of the bond with nature and epiphanies one experiences after climbing a mountain. There is a similar peaceful comfort about sun rooms with loungy chairs, ideal for reading and writing.
Gus (in answer to Lars’ question, what it means to be a man): Well, it’s not like you’re one thing or the other, okay? There’s still a kid inside but you grow up when you decide to do right, okay, and not what’s right for you, what’s right for everybody, even when it hurts.
Lars: Okay, like what?
Gus: Like, you know, like, you don’t jerk people around, you know, and you don’t cheat on your woman, and you take care of your family, you know, and you admit when you’re wrong, or you try to, anyways. That’s all I can think of, you know – it sound like it’s easy and for some reason it’s not. (Lars and the Real Girl, dir. Craig Gillespie, 2007)
Sex and The City (the TV Show)
Carrie voice-over (after finally getting her Manolo Blahnik shoes back from her friend Kyra): The fact is, sometimes it’s hard to walk in a single woman’s shoes. That’s why we need really special ones now and then, to make the walk a little more fun. (Sex and the City, Season 6, Episode 9)
Carrie voice-over (the morning when Big woke up after his heart surgery, feeling like his normal self again): It was a shift imperceptible to anyone but me. But I knew, Big’s heart had closed again. Maybe it would reopen in another five years, maybe it wouldn’t. But I knew myself well enough to know that that’s not enough. For the first time all week, I didn’t feel like crying. Life’s too short. (Sex and the City, Season 6, Episode 11)
Summer, Sun, and Parks
Walking through square St. Louis on a beautiful August afternoon with my friend Erin, enjoying Montréal at its best, I was wondering why it can’t always be this nice. Erin said: “then nobody would get anything done.” Yes, Montréal is Montréal not just because it’s so glorious in the summer, but also because of the 6-months-long winters. In fact, it is precisely so glorious in the summer because of the 6-months-long winter. We often want to detach and distil the good from the bad, fighting and repressing the bad, thinking it shouldn’t be happening to begin with. No one really teaches us to even consider the bad and to look beyond it.
Leo (to Josh after his trauma counselling): This guys walks down the street when he falls into a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, “Hey, Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guys says, “Are you stupid, now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.” (The West Wing, Season 2, Episode 10)