Fugue State

The Daily Life Text

I took half of Friday to recharge my batteries and see The Met’s annual collaboration with The Costume Institute, called “Impossible Conversations: Schiaparelli and Prada.”

A little background: Elsa Schiaparelli was a designer whose heyday was during the 1930s-60s. She had a playful sensitivity about her that belied fashion’s then-more utilitarian purpose; rather than using fashion as a reflection of the times, she used it to drive aesthetic sensitivity. It all makes sense when you consider that she collaborated multiple times with Salvador Dali, a visual artist who put his views to work for clients as varied as Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney.

Elsa Schiaparelli

Here’s Salvador Dali’s “Eye” painting, 1945

And here’s one of Schiaparelli’s hats, called the “Eyelash,” which is meant to evoke the idea of the whole head as an eye.

Miuccia Prada is one of our contemporary designers, of course. You’ve all seen her logo:

photo via VocialWeb.it

And some of her work:

image via catwalkqueen.tv

Here’s where it gets tricky. The exhibit is called “Impossible Conversations” because clearly it’s impossible for the living, breathing Prada to have a conversation with the long-gone Schiaparelli. But it’s also modeled after a Vanity Fair column that used to run in the 1930s called “Impossible Interviews,” which featured caricatures of unlikely conversationalists (John D. Rockfeller and Joseph Stalin, for instance). The caricatures, painted by Miguel Covarrubias, were accompanied by text by Corey Ford, a regular contributor to the magazine. (For more on the “Impossible Interviews” and a snippet of text, go to the Norman Rockwell Center’s great page on it.)

Okay, that was a lot of background.

It’s an interesting premise, even if the title of the thing–and its invited comparison to the Vanity Fair feature–encourages the underlying belief that Schiaparelli and Prada have deeply conflicting ideas on fashion. (They do, but they’re not as wide in scope as, say, communism and capitalism.) Also, the Vanity Fair column seemed to be entirely tongue-in-cheek, and totally absurdist, whereas this exhibit is entirely earnest.

But it was a disappointment. It starts off with a video of Prada and Schiaparelli sitting at a huge Italianate table having drinks. I thought we’d have recordings of Schiaparelli’s voice with maybe some still photographs at her end of the table (why else is that table so damned long?), but no, it’s Australian actress Judy Davis, giving it her all in an updo and a severe black dress.

Actress Judy Davis (photo via au.ibtimes.com)

Prada, for her part, is just Prada. And it was interesting to hear her talk about what it was like to labeled “minimalist,” and how, as a child, she hid behind things and eventually used fashion as a way to “out” herself. (She doesn’t mean outing as from the closet; she means she found a way to express herself.)

But here’s the thing: it IS possible for even a fine art exhibit to think too much of itself, and I think that’s what happened here. The whole thing is way too meta: Here’s an art exhibit riffing off a magazine column that riffed off of real life. And  snippets of the film play all the way through the exhibit, creating a fugue-like atmosphere that distracted entirely from the beauty of the work. All I could hear was Davis’ Italian-ate accent grinding its way through my brain.

So there you are, trying to see why it is these two designers have been paired together, but the clips play throughout, making it really hard to concentrate on some of the statements that Schiaparelli actually made about her work, which are printed at the foot of some of the items. (The script of the film varies just slightly from the actual text of Schiaparelli’s own commentary, whereas Prada’s commentary seems to be taken verbatim from the script, or vice-versa. The whole thing is just too much.)

So what was missing for me? Schiaparelli did some amazing work. She has her relatively tame lobster dress, which was a gorgeous piece of white organza that had a huge lobster printed on it; and her work was incredibly playful–check out these acrobat buttons:

But the exhibit didn’t have what I think is one of her most interesting works, the skeleton dress:

Skeleton Dress image via pumpkincat2010.wordpress.com

And I’m pretty sure it didn’t even include the lobster dress, but instead included an image of it.

I think the most glaring omission of the exhibit was the express exclusion of any mention of the gorgeous masks, all created in the spirit of surrealism by British hairstylist Guido Palau. Here are a few snaps from StyleRumor.com

I would have loved to have seen an artist’s statement from Palau, at least, on these masks. (I think it’s a testimony to their awesomeness that, by the time I got to the Met mini-shop at the end of the exhibit, they’d sold out of the postcards that featured the masks. And it’s worth mentioning, too, that Palau did the masks for the Met’s exhibit on Alexander McQueen last year.)

In the end, I’m glad I went. But I was left with the impression that, rather than wanting to highlight the importance of these two designers to fashion, The Met went the route of highlighting its own importance to the world of fashion exhibits.

The whole exhibit ends with a snippet of film in which Schiaparelli/Davis questions whether she and Prada would have been friends or foes if they had lived during the same era. Prada laughs and says, “No, Schiap, no!”

In the end, I think it’s perhaps this false familiarity, the use of the diminutive where permission to use it most certainly hasn’t been granted,  that signifies everything that grates about this exhibit. Schiaparelli’s work perhaps deserves an exhibit of its own. She doesn’t need a backdrop for us to appreciate her designs and artistry. She certainly doesn’t need Baz Luhrman (I KNOW!!), Judy Davis, scriptwriters, and trick photos* to enthrall us.

It’s questionable that she even needs Miuccia Prada.

*If you go, take a close look at the black-and-white photos of Schiaparelli’s work. Just stand there awhile. Trust me.

hodge-podge brain dump

The Daily Life Text

1. I just had a brainfart and tried to go to the blogger platform to add this post. As much as I love the flexibility this platform allows me, I think I really miss the user interface of blogger. Hm. Points to ponder. Weirdly, I last used blogger something like years ago–Peter turned me on to Posterous, which I really really loved, and then Ed helped me to move over to this site. I don’t know. Maybe WordPress just needs more orange.

2. Here are some things Sprocket has been compared to:

A piece of licorice

See for yourself:

Hamster butt:

(photo CuteOverload.com)

Witness it!

An ottoman

Those first two comparisons are courtesy of Jen Flowers, by the way.

3. People always ask how long it takes to get over a deployment. That answer is highly individual. Because I am a wuss, I suspect it takes me longer than others. I like to Ponder Implications. I like to explore the things we did, and the way that those things might have affected me.

Today I finally feel some sense of normalcy. I no longer shy away from using tap water, and I don’t feel the urge to force myself to lie on the couch and Not Worry.

Perhaps most telling, I am starting on a new physical project that is very exciting, but I’m not going to tell you about it yet. You will have to be patient.

And the corollary to that, of course, is that I am finally ready to start work again on my thesis, which is being re-written in diary form.

So. It feels as if all gears, mental and physical, are turning. Here is a brief list of the things I do in the weeks after deployment. This is only after five deployments’ worth of experience, so I am curious to see how this list will change as I gain more experience.

  • Mope
  • Drift aimlessly from room to room
  • Eat. Anything. Buckets of popcorn; bushels of fresh fruit and veg; massive luxurious sandwiches. Those are the primary culprits.
  • Hide out. I almost never want to see anyone in the weeks after a deployment.
  • Watch TV. Loads and loads of old movies, or episode after episode of something like Miss Marple, Poirot, Frost, Lewis…(This may be because we almost always deploy with a Brit on the team, since there are more of them than there are of us. I’m probably just missing the accent.)
  • Lie on the couch.
  • Make a mess of the house, which inevitably is a clean slate for my mess, since Jim is nice enough to clean it just before I get home.
  • Stare at art. This goes back to the whole “hide out” thing. If you’re staring at art, people don’t usually approach you.

I think two weeks is about right. Weirdly, I never write about the deployment, and I don’t usually talk about it. And I usually get back on a weekend, so this one was weird in that I got back on a weekday and had to dive headlong into the workweek. I cancelled a trip to Philadelphia almost at the last minute cos I was feeling sick, but I really did think I was going to be Just Fine. What a dweeb.

Anyway. The day beckons. Hope it’s a good Monday for everyone!

The Deployment Diet: Lose Five Pounds! Fast!

The Daily Life Text

You’d think two weeks in a foreign country would be a recipe for diet disaster. No more! I recently found myself in Peru, land of lomo, rich ceviche, and papas fritas morning, noon, and night, and I lost five pounds. Here are my seven steps to coming back from abroad a lean mean machine.

1. Lose your voice.

You heard me! [Or maybe you didn’t.] Losing your voice is a fantastic way to use up all those pesky calories you consumed in french fries. You see, when you lose your voice, you’re forced to communicate How to Set Up a Tent by waving around your arms. When you fall over trying to pull out an erroneously-pegged tent stake and you cannot get up again and you still cannot remove the stake, you have to resort to clicking, clapping, and whistling to get help. All of these things burn calories!

If you can manage it, try to lose your voice twice over two weeks. This will ensure maximum calorie burn.


1a. Cough.

Coughing will kick-start your way back to the six-pack you had in college. Coughing uncontrollably three times a night over ten days should do it. Be smart: maintain good posture while coughing. Otherwise, you may pull your diaphragm muscle, which will sideline your weight loss.

2. Translate!

Your brain burns calories, too. [Why do you think we all fell asleep in algebra class? Exercise is exhausting, that’s why.] So when you are forced to translate everything you say from your native language to your second language and then into the third language that you are inadvertently picking up, guess what? You’re a calorie-burning furnace! Woohoo!

Hiring the right translator (you know, for the fourth language) can help with this. Having to repeat everything five times is a fantastic extension for advanced weight loss. Don’t do this more than once every two-week period. Insanity is not good for weight loss.


2b. If you’ve followed step 1, above, whispering is a great way to firm up your vocal cords and sneak in a few extra calories.

3. Throw things.

Forget kettlebells. Big green boxes the weight of your best friend are the new lifting regime. Fling them until your arms go rubbery. Repeat.

Treat with care, though. They might be weights to you, but they’re lifelines for someone else.

Height and repetition are important here: When swinging the boxes, aim for the truckbed, at chest height. And for God’s sake, get a spotter. Seriously.

4. Let ’em chase you.

When you look around and realize that you’re being followed by a group of schoolchildren, employ this handy workout:

a. Pretend you don’t see them.

b. Gradually lengthen your walking stride.

c. Ignore giggling; any Quechan comparisons to the [Peruvian?] Ministry of Silly Walks.

d. Break into full-on sprint. Cease ignoring giggling. Giggle yourself. [Mustn’t forget abs, obliques.]

e. Return to big stride, so as to let them catch your backpack straps.

f. Drag them a bit.

g. Remember suddenly that you are a swamp-level dwelling city person, while they apparently breathe pure oxygen, since they live at 3200 meters.

COOLDOWN: Never let ’em see you sweat. Grin. Wheeze. [Related to 1b, above.] Giggle some more.

5. What’s a trip to a foreign country without local cuisine? Sample it con gusto. Here’s a brief guide.

a. Sopa a la criolla, or sopa a la minuta

These lovely soups are rich in vitamins. They also all come in soup tureens the size of your head. You will feel full just looking at them! If visual stimulation is not enough, don’t worry: each of these soups comes with a clump of noodles the size of your entire stomach. One meal a day of Sopa might just do it for you.

b. Papas fritas

They show up at every meal, these french fries. Soon you won’t even see them anymore. Therefore you will not eat them.

c. Guinea pig

Two tiny drumsticks will satisfy even the biggest appetite.

d. local cheese

This stuff has the potential to be your downfall. Restrict self.

e. Ceviche

Lovely, fresh seafood in citrus juices. Potentially damaging to diet. Never fear: Travel with someone who hates sushi. That’ll do it.

6. Worry.

Ceaseless worrying will whittle your waistline in no time flat! Normally nothing will come of the worry, and you will have done it for no reason but to slim down. Perfect.

If something does go wrong, though, feel free to dash about like a madwoman to fix it. Bonus calorie burn!

7. Debrief.

By which I mean, talk it up. Every night. With your teammates, dissect the day. When you get home, dissect the weeks. You’ll find yourself sleeping like a baby. When you’re not coughing, anyway.

Hey, a good diet never rests.