Thanks for the add! Gros bisous :-)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Becky, crochet, and (maybe) the meaning of life through sitcom set design

Being from France, I have a lot to catch up on TV wise. I used to despise sitcoms, but what do you know, maybe it's true that you mellow with age. Now I love them, but then again I am known for changing my mind about what I like and don't like.

What often makes me change my mind is the fact that friends like certain things that I do not particularly like spontaneously. For example, I did not know that I liked blogging, by my friend Becky advised me to do so. She once blogged about That Girl, and has always raved about The Mary Tyler Moore show, so I was intrigued and started watching these series from scratch, just like I started with a blank canvas for the I Love Lucy show.

Funny I mention canvas.... I can do crochet (another interest revived by Becky's needle work) whilst watching TV (underneath is a prototype of a larger babette blanket that I would like to make, so really it was just to get me stated, I bought a lot of yarns odds and ends, and just went with the flow),

And since this is a rather 1970's project to embark on, as I was watching the mary Tyler Moore show, I was struck by how similarly my taste is with Rhoda's, Mary's sidekick in the show. I much prefer Rhoda's apartment to Mary's.

See, Rhoda's apartment is very cozy, there is the orange bean bag, and coordinated rug, the old Rococo Mary Poppins like lamp, the shocking pink lamp shade, and matching bedspread, the amazing purple and pink and red sort of tartan curtains that bring the whole thing together. Whereas Mary's apartment is much more airy, and elegant, and subtle, and beige and brown... and sedate.

For an extensive article about Mary's apartment, see The Mary and Rhoda Magazine, where you will even find tips on decorating  Mary's style. Take a closer look at the design. I think this  seamless part of sitcoms is fascinating. I remember watching an excellent documentary about how design set evolved in the Frasier series. (Frasier Crane's Apartment is a bonus feature on the Frasier Season 1 DVD set.). But the detail of Mary's apartment is just as fascinating.
This got me thinking about the amazing task that is set design, because it has to consciously recreate the individual psychological processes that go on when we decide to make a space for ourselves, and to top all this for people who do not even exist!

Think about it, your interior reveals so much about you. It reveals the amount of money that you spend on it, which in turns depends on your income, and your job, it reveals your taste which is shaped by the times you live in, and the time and effort you are willing to put in it which reveals more of your personality.

In TV sitcoms, set designers have to try and replicate this process for fictional characters, but there is of course the added dimension that there is an agenda, a rationale behind this which requires they need to frame a story neatly in a way that our  lives are not framed. So for example, Mary's and Rhoda's apartment sets reflect two trends of the 1970's aesthetics and their ideology.

Rhoda's apartment reflects Rhoda's personality - vibrant, slightly anarchic, creative, bohemian, and warm, and the colours reflect her emotional nature which is more exuberant than Mary's.

Mary's apartment on the other hand is much more tame, everything in the right place, all in order, considering that she has to sleep on a pull out couch.  She has books, thus implying a certain degree of ability to reflect on things, etc. The colours are more mute and reflect her elegant dress style.

Overall, the idea behind this show and That Girl was to show that single girls would be able to "make it after all", i.e. make it on their own hence the importance of showing these girls living independently from their parents and/or boyfriend husbands- because "women's lib" was very present in 1960's and 1970's collective thought. Both in That Girl and the Mary Tyler Moore show,  in the first episode we see these girls moving in their apartment which they rent with their own money (although how could a person like Ann Marie who works the odd job afford her place on 78th in NY remains a mystery, but that's just an aside, and NOT the point of the show).

Also set designers consciously made Rhoda's apartment smaller than Mary's because Rhoda is from New York, and apartments are reputedly smaller there than in Minneapolis, look at Ann's 78th Street flat below which is much more cramped than Mary's, and is in fact a mixture of both Rhoda's anarchic nature, and Mary's elegance. It's as if Ann of That Girl had generated these two character's of Mary Tyler Moore Show. Her apartment is both muted, and elegantly messy.
I could really wax lyrical about this topic, and many people have put much more effort in writing about design set, but it is always fun when watching an old fashioned sitcom to say things like, hey i remember this dish, or this cover or cushion style...we used to have one of those back in the day. And really if I were a set designer, and heard this, I would sit down with a sigh of self satisfaction, and would rest on my laurels for the rest of my life, because surely that would mean that life has a meaning after all!

And on these thoughts, boys, and girls, please do not forget to leave your stocking under the tree tonight, as you may have an expected visitor.... ho ho ho :-)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lucille's got balls

It is high time for me to pay tribute to the comic genius of Lucille Ball, from the ultimate all American TV series I Love Lucy.
By the time the show started, in 1951, Lucille was no spring chick, she was already 40. Pre I Love Lucy, she certainly was quite the seductress. Here are a few pre-Lucy pix.

And even though she consistently thereafter had "a lot of  'splaining to do", she remained quite the pin-up.

But Lucy, was not just a silly red head. According to estranged Desi Arnaz, she was not a natural red head, and the jury is still out on whether Lucy was a communist or not. But, in 1953, she was met by a representative of the House Committee on un-American activities for having stated the Communist party in her political affiliations, when she registered to vote for 1936 (fbi files). She did deny all political involvement, as one would do naturally at the time, and let's remember that many actors, and artists became the object of all sorts of accusations by the HCUA at the time, and that you were guilty by association, see A Miller and Marilyn for example. Whether she was "better red than red" being a non issue, let's have a look at her comic genius, and that of the series's scriptwriters. Lucy is funny mostly because she does slapstick, a form of comedy mostly dominated by men, and Lucille Ball worked with the best in the field, and what a brilliant student she was!

Before the show, she worked with Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers,
Harpo even featured in an episode of Lucy. Click here to watch the clip..
 And Buster Keaton
"The jokes, reminiscences, and reenactment of well-loved movie bits that filled the Boors Nest were more than an exercise in nostalgia. For the aging men, they kept the withering muscles of their comedy in shape. For Lucille, they provided informal professional training. .....Up in the Boors Nest, Keaton taught Lucille how to command props and how to throw herself into physical maneuvers without hurting herself. Speedy, rambunctious Lucille learned to slow down and refine action. Keaton drilled her in the mantra that was the foundation of her fabled comic timing: Listen, React, then Act. .....
Miss Grant Takes Richmond, her first film under her new Columbia agreement, showed that Keaton’s belief in her was justified. Lucille played a public-spirited secretary, a character so ditsy that watching her is like standing before a photographer’s developing tray and seeing a photograph of Lucy Ricardo gradually emerge."
Excerpt from Kathleen Brady's The Life of Lucille Ball.

Lucille Ball, in the character of Lucy stands out because she was willing to take personal challenges and push them to the limit. See for example when she impersonates Charlie Chaplin.
She has no issue putting on a man's suit, being that of a tramp or of that of a clown. See The Audition.
Humour by nature is progressive because it makes you look at yourself from outside, hence it transforms you, and your world. It allows you to take a look at the flaws of the world you live in, and here the show does to some extent what Charlie Chaplin did in Modern Times, it says look at this society, it is funny, it is not right and things need to change. In fact there is a direct reference to one of the mosct famous scenes in Modern Times in the candy factory scene.
I could go on about her prowess at slapstick for ever but here are another two clips that are such testimonies to her vast talent at slapstick - The ballet scene
or Lucy's geisha's dance.

There is also a little more to the show than mere slapstick. In I Love Lucy, the traditional family values of American post-war society are prevalent,  however some signs of ambivalence are displayed towards its own values, I wish I could say the show was in someway subversive, but that would be just too far fetched, but it was ambivalent.

The premise of the show relies mostsly on Lucy's frustrations with her status of housewife and her ambitions which makes her dissatisfied with the daily chores no matter how hard she tries. This model is far from the usual “stepford wives” representations of the perfect homemaker of the 1950's. In this way, I Love Lucy echoes many women’s position, frustrations and ambitions to get away from the confines of an apron, and this drives the comedic plotline of the show. 
Watch her and her pal Ethel trying to make bread and butter.
Lucy is forever pursuing new things to do, often at the expense of on-and-off stage husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz). She often dream of making it in the world of television or cinema. Here she is being shot for an Italian movie, acting as though she was Sofia Lauren.
But ultimately, Lucy's grandiose illusions fails and “domestic harmony” returns, Ricky forgives Lucy for her “silly mistakes” and regains the figure of authority in the household.  Lucy was indeed a "bad girl", and scenes of spanking are numerous, in a way that might be even seen as “acceptable” in today's media. The theme of men's (Ricky's) domination is a recurrent one in the series, and not necessarily in a fantasy kind of a way.

In this way, I Love Lucy “simultaneously legitimizes the yearning of women for fuller lives and assured them that they would be better off keeping their dreams in their head
Excerpt from Manning, Robert. “Why Love Lucy?” Honey, I’m Home! New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1992. 62-75.Manning 68-69).

This is the reason why such a show is ambivalent rather than subversive. The comic element of the character shows without the slightest shadow of a doubt the cracks in the American society of the 1950's, whilst on the other hand avoiding any form of radicalism, which would come at a later stage in the media with a series like That Girl, shot with an actress who to this day is willing to take quite radical stances about women's position in society.

Lucille has become my favourite comic after Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, plus she was gorgeous, vulnerable, graceful, awkward, daring, unbearable, demanding, everything a woman should be. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

As we walked through the streets of Dublin...

I am not going to lie to you. I have dithered and dithered about this post, because of its "political" aspect, and it may even switch a few people off, but I swear this will be the only one of its kind. Ten days ago, as we were coming back from a friend's house at about midnight, there was thunder and lightning. Something unheard of in Ireland. Next morning another unusual phenomenon for Ireland was covering all the streets and gardens.... SNOW! Such a rare event on this isle with its mild Atlantic climate!
So when I got to the "LUAS", which is the name of the tramway, the tracks were covered with snow, and you can even see the Dublin mountains in the background.
You see, I was on a mission, and the weather conditions reminded me of Il pleut bergère a French children song of some historical

This song, all about a shepherdess and her sheep dates back to 1780 and is said to have been a herald of the Revolution which was to happen 9 years later. You see, Marie-Antoinette used to play shepherds and shepherdesses in the Little Trianon in Versailles, whilst the majority of her French subjects lived in abject conditions. In this song the Revolution of 1789 is symbolised by the rain and the thunder  from which the "bergère" (the shepherdess) is seeking refuge.

Anyone who follows the news will know that the current situation in Ireland is alarming. After 8 centuries of resistance to England, it took just about 5 days for Ireland to abdicate its soveignty to the draconian conditions imposed by the EU and the IMF for it to repay its debt. But enough of the "leftie" talk, and on with the march.

As I looked at the pictures of Dublin I took during last Saturday's march, I thought they would make an interesting post. Everyone is allowed their political opinions and I have no intention of labouring mine in this post, but this march went through so many sites of historical importance that it would be a shame to keep these pictures to myself I thought.

The march started at Christ Church with its bridge which links this medieval cathedral (on the left here) to the Synod hall.

You now have a view from that bridge and cathedral from the other side.

We marched from Christ Church down to the Liffey turned right at the 4 Courts and left at O'Connell bridge before reaching the General Post Office.

These are supposed to be the hands of oppression I guess. But it is very much in the style of the floats that you can see here at the St Patrick's day Parade.
Underneath is the Four Courts, which is now the centre of legal life in Dublin, but which also a building of crucial importance during the Eater Rising of 1916, and the Irish civil war.
The river Liffey, also known as Anna Livia
And the Ha'penny bridge, a pedestrian cast iron bridge over the Liffey, built in 1816. The board walk promenade that flanks the river is a recent addition.
And then of course O'Connell street, which many kids were taught (wrongly of course) was the widest street in the whole of Europe! At the very start of the street is a statue of Daniel O'Connell, the "Liberator", the man behind Catholic emancipation in Ireland 
William Smith O'Brien, although a protestant, was also a supporter of Daniel O'Connell at the start, and then became one of his rivals.
Sir John Gray, yet another pal of Daniel O'Connell.
There were too many people for me to take a picture of the General Post Office (pic underneath) which In Ireland IS the symbol of the Easter Rising of 1916, and freedom from Britain, as it was the headquarters of the uprising leaders.

In conclusion, a hard snow came in Dublin  10 days or so ago, they are announcing more snow tonight, tomorrow is budget day, and I will be once again going out on the streets of Dublin to protest my disagreement with the current decisions which are being made in the name of the Irish people, and I leave you with one of my favourite songs from Bob Dylan, and next time I will write about my recent stay in Pennsylvania, but sometimes it is also good to look out the window to see what is happening outside.
A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall - Live 1976 - Bob Dylan

Monday, November 29, 2010

Award !

First of all a mega "merci" to Ginger from sailingoveracardboardsea for this totally unexpected award. This was so heart warming. It really was, and I am so proud

What a delight! I want to (sort) of apologize to the guys to whom I am giving this "lovely" blog award, as this may not sound so "macho", but please do accept my award, ya never know when you'll get another one!

As usual, this award comes a few conditions that I am most happy to comply to. They are as follows:

1. Accept the award.
Post it on your blog with the name of the person who awarded it along with a link to their blog.

2. Pay it forward to 15 other bloggers that you have recently discovered.

3. Contact those bloggers and let them know they've been chosen.

With number one already completed, let's move on to the exciting part, the lovely blogs!
I am adding the stipulation that the blogs I choose for the award must have less than 100 followers as I know that these blogs often do not get the recognition they deserve.

My One Lovely Blog Award recipients are, in no particular order:

Mimi from French Kitchen in America, for her beautiful writing intermingling feelings, memory and food!

Becky from Bthrifty, for her stitching talent, and her cats, and her friendly posts. She never hesitates about sharing what she knows about and loves.

La Lilloise for her amazing sense of style, and great taste in music

Cosas, for her incredible knack at illustrating her daily moods with mostly pin up illustrations, and Sponge Bob Square pants. I have no clue what she says most the time, but I use Google translate, and hey presto I get the gist!

Ginger from Sailing across a cardboard sea, well she gave me the award in the first place, but I really would like my friends to visit her stunning blog, and her wide array of topics. Plus she is beautiful.
Vintage Belle, for the amazing effort she puts in finding beautiful pictures to illustrate her blog with.

Annushka for her sense of fashion, and her general good cheer.

Daniel from Kitschmoog for his sense of style, and fun, and his astounding research into the world of kitsch.

Pj from insertdomainname, whom I wish wqould write more often, and inform us on his weord theories about human behaviour.

Leilani from Thriftaholic, because she is such an elegant and creative vintage lady.

Shannon from Gigglytimes for her amazing talent with needle and thread.

Todd, from Apple and Leo/Absurd sentimentalism for his great graphic talent, and sense of the spiritual.

Pam, from Fasterkittykill, blog, blog!, for her good cheer, great video, and she is a babe!

Tom, from motion picture gems, for his in depth analysis of some of the most wonderful movies ever made.

Mademoiselle Antonova, sheer style.

and finally The Vintage Knitter for keep knitting on the map!


Monday, November 1, 2010

"Madeleine", a name, a cake, a song and more...

I always loved the sound of the name “Madeleine”. In French, the succession of warm vowels and soft consonants never fails to evoke “une certaine douceur”, a sweetness of sorts. In my imagination, all Madeleines wear pastel yellow twin sets with pearls.

The most vintage of all Madeleine, has to be Mary of Magdala who of course, Mary Magdalene, who doesnt exactly fit the description I stated above. No sir, she is reputed to have been an adultress whom Jesus cleansed from her demons and to have been the first one to see him resurrected. Some even say that she may have been Jesus's wife, but all this is just historical gossip as we all know. She often is depicted as a penitent, and here by Titian and as quite a stunner.
She is no light weight in religious terms, no sirry! Churches are called after Sainte Madeleine, see La Madeleine, in Paris which was originally a temple built on the remains of a church by Napoleon to pay tribute to his “great army”.
Given all this, it is not surprising that the ultimate cake for penitents should be “madeleines”

The genesis of this cake are uncertain, some say that the recipe dates back to the origins of the Way of St James (St Jacques de Compostelle) when some girl called "Madelaine" baked this lemony sponge cake in a scallop which is a symbol of all pilgrims walking toward Santiago de Compostella.
And here are posh madeleines
Others say that a certain “Madeleine” from Commercy, in the French eastern region of Lorraine, created this recipe for King Stanislaw I of Poland, in the mid 18th century. Who knows, and who gives a damn! BUt here is Julia Child's madeleines de Commercy recipe, and really if you don't have the right molds, just bake them in muffin cases like these.

 But I had my fair share of these when I was a teenager, as my first boyfriend originated from Commercy, and of course each time the parents visited there they would come back with a huge bag of “madeleines de Commercy”. I ate so much of these at that stage that I could not face another madeleine for years after we split up. But dear reader, ler me reassure you, I could once again demolish a plate of these no problem.
I long for these needless to say. Who wouldn't? But of course I also do because it is associated with happy times of my teenage years. This is a very fragrant little cake that also got given its stamp of approval by no less than Marcel Proust himself, one of the most revered authors of 20th century France.
She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place…at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory…
— Remembrance of Things Past, Volume 1: Swann's Way
This passage, which describes what the act of dunking a madeleine in his tea opens up for the narrator, became instantaneously world famous, and is refered to as the “episode of the Madeleine”, because of its literary acknowledgment of the role of involuntary memory in every day life. A recall function we all have, but whcih is not deliberate. This was of course very much in the spirit of a time when Freud and others discovered the many hidden layers of our psychology.

But there is of course another very famous Madeleine in literature. Many of us are familiar with this classic of children literature, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.
If you want to listen to a slighlty altered and darker version of Madeline, please listen to Werner Herzog tell this story.
I leave you today with another very well know Madeleine and a song, Jacques Brel's Madeleine, I even found a version with English subtitles. And forget about what I said about the sweetness of Madeleine in my introductory sentence. No offense to any potential Madeleine readers out there, but this one is a bitch, with a capital B!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Flowers, love and death

I started writing something about Chrysanthemums 3 days ago, and could not. 23rd October was the anniversary of my mom's death. In fact, she is dead 23 years this year. I miss her everyday, and it makes me sad that I can't even go and put some Chysanthemums on her grave on the Day of the Dead which is celebrated on 2nd November in France.

Chrysanthemums are a very special flower to me. First of all they come in an array of warm colours which woven together look like the most wonderfully rich Indian fabrics.
They also come in different shapes. This one looks like a sea anemone.
This one like an octopus
A feast of patterns fit for any chaos theoretician.

We, as humans, have a special affinity with flowers, so much so that some girls even get the priviledge of being named Violette, Marguerite, Rose, Iris, or Capucine. Sadly, to my knowledge, no one gets called Chrysanthemum. Shame really, since the word Chrysanthemum derives from the Greek, and means "golden flower". In countries like China and Japan, this noble flower is a symbol for happiness, longevity and pleasure. And in Europe, this flower was originally introduced as a symbol of beauty and happiness too.

But in France, after the butchery which was the First World War, one year after the war, the Pointcaré government decided that all French soldiers graves should be decorated on 11th November. The Armistice being celebrated on 11th November, the only ornemental flower still in bloom in French gardens were Chrysanthemums, and because of the proximity of the date with 2nd November, it quickly became customary to go and place Chysanthemums (in French Chrysanthèmes, on relatives graves). Thus, in France this flower intrinsically embodies love and death, since for us it is a way of showing the love we hold in our hearts for our dearly departed. And in a sense, as far as gardens are concerned, you could say that Chrysanthemums were the last casualty of WW1, since they are now very rarely used as ornemental plants in French gardens.
A flower shop, just before la Toussaint (All Souls' Day, and by extension 2nd November, which is when the French go en masse to their relatives cemeteries.
But more than anything, for me Chrysanthemums remind me of my grand father and his enchanted garden. My grand dad was a factory worker who supplemented his income by selling the produce he grew from his garden. And what an amazing garden! One day I will write just about this garden which to me has become somewhat of an obsession. He used to grow all sorts, French beans, potatoes, beetroot, lettuces, carrots, peas, in all their name it. He also grew flowers for the house but also to sell. Chrysanthemums were crucial to his income as he could make much more money on flowers than on vegetables (that he sold to the local shops).

So for "La Toussaint", my grand dad would take orders from people, and he would take me with him, we would load the pots on his wheelbarrow. 
And sometimes if there was some space left I would sit amongst the pots on the wheelbarrow and off we went to the cemetery on Château-Chinon, in order to deliver the pot to Madame or Monsieur such and such's grave. That's the service he  provided. This was great for old people who could no longer walk up to the cemetery to put this token of their love and memory on their cherished ones' graves.
And would you look at the view from the cemetery!
He now lies in this cemetery besides his wife and his mom. Sadly, my mom doesn't share their grave. And once again all I can do this year is mentally go and place some virtual Chrysanthemums on their graves.

But they are not forgotten, how could I forget the man who taught me all I know about picking mushroom, and blackberries, the man who brought me swimming in the river even in the rain, who could kill and skin a rabbit in 30 seconds flat, the man who used to read the newspapers aloud from his armchair for all to hear, the man who cooked the "bad" potatoes in a huge pot over the stove for his rabbits, and if I was very good would let me taste them with a bit of butter and some sea salt, before carrying same pot on same wheelbarrow down to the garden.

I prefer not to talk about my mum or grand mother, but my memories of them are just as sweet, but put it this way I now have a working garden in which I grow things, I own my very own wheelbarrow, and believe you me, if you don't own one, you can never know how useful it can be. In my kitchen there is a large bedroom wardrobe where I keep all my kitchenware, like my grand mother did, and these days, I knit a lot just like my mom, and I am finishing a huge tapestry that she gave me for my 18th birthday and that I never had the time or the inclination to do thus far.

So to all my people, if you are reading from above, I know you don't understand English, I would hope that since you are in Heaven you get to understand everything, and I do know that you can read my heart.