Love Note – Lana Del Rey New-Album-Day

No one:

Me: It’s Friday night. This week has been insane. Let’s get self-indulgent.

In honour of the release of Chemtrails Over the Country Club, the new LP from Lana Del Rey, I’ve created something of an homage to one of my all-time favourite songwriters. There is no doubt that Del Rey is a controversial and, at times, problematic figure (see my previous essays on this here and here). Her relationships with power, race and patriarchy have been generally and radically underdeveloped at times, which is being incredibly generous. Additionally, as her recent interview with Annie Mac attests, for someone who captures emotion and feeling with such succinct eloquence and beauty in song, she is terrible at articulating a verbal and coherent viewpoint to herself and others.  

However, I critique because I love her and always expect better (as we all should with the cultural figures we look up to). Her songs are pure poetry and there is simply no one writing and crafting lyrics and music the way she does and has done since she first released Born To Die in 2012. Call it what you like: sadcore, baroque pop, dream pop. Without Del Rey and, I would argue, Frank Ocean and James Blake, we would not have the contemporary musical landscape we have now: vulnerable, melancholy, introspective and, in many ways, increasingly wise. Furthermore, I think we have been lucky to witness her transform from self-objectifying Lolita figure to a woman who runs with the wolves, bedding into the deepest facets of the Wild Woman archetype, and an advocate for healthy masculinity.

No matter how many people criticise her for having glamorised submission and abuse, there is a reason why her stories and her lyrics resonate with so many, in particular young women. Young women who are barely given the hint of a helpful roadmap to navigate the West’s patriarchal, white supremacist power structures with their spirits and souls still intact. She has given voice to the dark, shadowy feelings, experiences and dynamics that women have luxuriated in, surfed, cursed in themselves, acted upon without knowing way, forsaken or indulged over months, years and lifetimes. No wonder she has made people feel both extremely uncomfortable and seen. Those criticising her penchant for playing with façade and persona may not understand how imagery, persona and glamour are means of survival in a world that simply does not accept you the way that you are, in all of a woman’s emotional ebbs, flows, chaos and glory. With Chemtrails Over The Country Club, it seems we have Del Rey at her most retrospective. Without putting too fine a point on it, there does seem to be an eerie quality of finality to it.  

With all this in mind, I give you a comprehensive run down of my favourite things regarding Lana Del Rey’s music, starting with my personal top ten Lana Del Rey songs (in no particular order):

I’ve taken the liberty of listing my favourite Lana Del Rey lyrics and verses, all of which I typed out myself and, indeed, what joy it gave me to re-type and recall such rich and gorgeous words:

‘The poetry inside of me

Is warm like a gun’

‘Bartender’, Norman Fucking Rockwell

‘It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough

For the future or the things to come

‘Cause I’m young and in love’

– ‘Love’, Lust for Life

‘Give me Hallmark

One dream, one life, one lover,

Paint me happy and blue.

Norman Rockwell

No hype under our covers

It’s just me and you’

– ‘Venice Bitch’, Norman Fucking Rockwell

‘Summertime is nice and hot

And my life is sweet like vanilla is’

– ‘Without You’, Born To Die

‘I had a dream that I was fine,

I wasn’t crazy, I was divine’

– ‘I Can Fly’, Big Eyes Soundtrack

‘I don’t care what they say

Drag racing my little red sports car,

I’m not unhinged or unhappy

I’m just wild’

– ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’, Chemtrails Over The Country Club

‘Will you still love me when I shine

From words but not from beauty?’

– ‘Old Money’, Ultraviolence

‘Nothing gold can stay

Like love or lemonade

Or song or summer’s day

It’s all a game to me, anyway’

– ‘Music To Watch Boys To’, Honeymoon

‘Catch a wave and take in the sweetness

Think about it

The darkness, the deepness

All the things that make me who I am

[…]

Are you ready for it?’

– ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’, Norman Fucking Rockwell

‘Calling out my name

In the summer rain

Ciao amore

Salvatore can wait

Now it’s time to eat

Soft ice cream’

– ‘Salvatore’, Honeymoon

‘It’s fucking hot, hot

Winter in the city

Something ‘bout this weather

Made these kids go crazy.

It’s hot,

Even for February,

Something ‘bout this sun

Made these kids get scary’

– ‘Heroin’, Lust for Life

‘And who I am

Is a big-time believer

That people can change

But you don’t have to leave her.

When everyone’s talking

You can make a stand’

– ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’, Norman Fucking Rockwell

‘Maybe my contribution

Could be as small as hoping

That words would turn to birds

And birds would send my thoughts

Your way’

– ‘Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind’, Lust for Life

‘Think I’ll miss you forever

Like the stars miss the sun in the morning sky

Waiting’s better than never

And even if you’re gone

I’m going to drive’

– ‘Summertime Sadness’, Born To Die

‘You hate the heat, you got the blues

Changing like the weather

Oh, that’s so like you.

The Santa Ana moves you’

– ‘California’, Norman Fucking Rockwell

‘Sometimes it feels like I’ve got

A war in my mind.

I want to get off

But I keep riding that ride.

I never really noticed that I had to decide

To play someone’s game

Or live my own life.

And now I do.

I want to move

Out of the black

And into the blue’

– ‘Get Free’, Lust for Life

‘I can feel it coming in the air tonight

See you walking on that blue Pacific

I can see you bathing in the summer light

Turning tan and you look terrific

You got game boy’

– ‘Guns and Roses’, Ultraviolence

‘I only mention it

Because it was such a scene

And I felt seen’

– ‘White Dress, Chemtrails Over The Country Club

‘I’d be lying if I said

I wasn’t sick of it’

– ‘Heroin’, Lust for Life

If you are still here, I have compiled a list of the best Lana Del Rey bops. I understand that not everyone wants to spend their evening wallowing in the inky waves of melancholy, so, here are some of her most up-beat songs. No less poetic, but a little more frivolous and fun to keep you from feeling too blue:

  • ‘Fuck It I Love You’, Norman Fucking Rockwell
  • ‘Florida Kilos’, Ultraviolence
  • ‘National Anthem’, Born To Die
  • ‘Burning Desire’, Paradise
  • ‘Doin’ Time’, Norman Fucking Rockwell
  • ‘In My Feelings’, Lust for Life
  • ‘High By The Beach’, Honeymoon
  • ‘Fucked My Way Up to the Top’, Ultraviolence
  • ‘Summer Bummer’, Lust for Life
  • ‘Diet Mountain Dew’, Born To Die

Here are my picks for her most underrated songs:

  • ‘West Coast’, Ultraviolence
  • ‘Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind’, Lust for Life
  • ‘Terrance Loves You’, Honeymoon
  • ‘Brooklyn Baby’, Ultraviolence
  • ‘Change’, Lust for Life

And her, perhaps, most overrated songs:

  • ‘Cherry’, Lust for Life
  • ‘Lust for Life’, Lust for Life
  • ‘High By The Beach’, Honeymoon
  • ‘Gods and Monsters’, Paradise
  • ‘Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems’, Lust for Life

And the biggest question of all: which is the best Lana Del Rey album, so far?

I am very hopeful after my first listen of Chemtrails Over The Country Club. So far, I am loving ‘White Dress’, ‘Tulsa Jesus Freak’ and ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’ (any song with a ‘Lord of The Rings’ reference gets a massive thumbs up from me). Ultimately, however, and even in light of the divine Norman Fucking Rockwell, I still think my heart lies with Ultraviolence. I will never get over Del Rey working with Dan Auerbach, and I definitely think it’s her most cohesive and complete work.

I’m curious to know if there are any here with which you agree, disagree or that are missing altogether!  Please feel free to comment or message.

And, because she went there (and in case anyone particularly cares): my moon’s in Taurus, my Cancer is Sun (with Cancer Rising). If you know, you know.

Love Note Year in Review: 2020

Arundhati Roy, in her signature wisdom, wrote in April that ‘the pandemic is a portal’: this year, it is impossible to deny, Covid-19 drew us across a collective threshold, and there is no going back. In a year that the veils were lifted, where our stories and systems, both personal and cultural, were laid bare under a bright, unforgiving light, we were given the gift of 20:20 vision: society cannot function without people who are normally paid the least and are given the least amount of respect; underfunding public services, including healthcare, is a short-sighted, political decision that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands; we continue to fester in the sickness of white supremacy and racism that brutally terrorises and kills; we are approaching a number of one-way doors that will result in climate catastrophe. This pandemic was an apocalypse: a word that comes from the Ancient Greek, meaning ‘an uncovering’, a revelation. In spite of the death, chaos and suffering it has unleashed, I am convinced that we needed it. Death, chaos and suffering were mightily at work beforehand, we just didn’t realise it.

Almost as soon as the pandemic put a stop to our hectic, exhausted lives, it became clear, like all moments of change, great and small, that we have a choice: to bury our heads in the sand and avoid the pandemic; to desperately cling to the familiar shores of neoliberalism, white supremacy and exploitation; or to take the plunge into these unknown waters and to live more consciously, meaningfully and compassionately. Joseph Campbell wrote that ‘the neurotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight’ and whilst at times I caved to cynicism and despair, particularly later on in the year, I have tried to choose acceptance, curiosity and joy over and over again. As Roy attests, this pandemic is an opportunity to shift, reset and revive, and we would be fools to not pay attention to that.

As such, here are some of the things that have expanded my world this year: that gave me hope, helped me to re-frame my biases and reflect upon my own experiences and contributions to the world, and that gave me joy.

‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ with the assistance of Alex Haley

This was by far the most powerful book I read all year, and came courtesy of the amazing ‘Let’s Talk Racism’ book chain on Instagram. X was nothing short of a lightning bolt of a man. His autobiography is incredibly immersive, giving a huge insight into his many turbulent and shifting lives and iterations. There is no doubt that X was one of the most quick-witted, sharpest and, often, humorous critics of white supremacy, re-framing and wiping the floor with his accusers at every turn. He was unfiltered, incendiary and uncompromising, an unrelenting champion of and for Black people. I found the chapter of X describing his days in prison re-teaching himself to read and write particularly moving, as were his trip to perform Hajj in Mecca and subsequent travels across the Middle East and Africa. He was ever-evolving, ever-driven for justice and whilst scathing of many of his contemporaries, he showed capacity for compassion and his own personal evolution. A truly extraordinary man.

Through ‘Let’s Talk Racism’, I also borrowed copies of ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ by Emma Dabiri and ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ by Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, both of which massively expanded my awareness of the insidious workings of white supremacy around women, beauty, the university and pedagogy. I am so grateful for the chain: it has been a key part of the work I have pursued this year to reckon with my own white privilege and racism, whilst introducing me for the first time to Pan-African productions and modes of knowledge, expression, spirituality and culture. In spite of the hard work, I have encountered so much that is truly joyful.

My subscription to British Vogue

The fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters and has been notoriously crap at dealing with the problem. The industry has been so caught up in producing, over-producing, tens of collections every year and conducting the flying circus of fashion weeks around the world, that it has become caught up on its own proverbial hamster wheel. There is, naturally, a human cost to this overproduction and consumption: people in Bangladesh, India and other countries continue to work in horrendous conditions for next to nothing, whilst their rivers and forests are polluted and destroyed (if you haven’t seen documentary ‘The True Cost’, I cannot recommend it enough). Furthermore, designers and creatives have experienced sustained burnout under the unrelenting pressure of an industry and culture that demands more, instantly, and all the time, as memorably recorded by Suzy Menkes in 2015. However, things are beginning to change: Edward Enninful, the Editor-in-Chief at British Vogue has written so beautifully and powerfully this year about the need for reset and change in the industry:

‘But a truth has been exposed by the tumultuous events of 2020: there is no normal to return to. Like many of you who I’ve spoken to or corresponded with over these past months, I share a sense that, actually, ‘normal’ is what got us here in the first place. If we are going to evolve, to a place of greater fairness and safety for our planet and its people, our future cannot look exactly like our past. We are going to need a genuine rethink about our lives. Our attitudes, our priorities, our compassion. What and how we consume. What we stand for and how we voice it […] let’s be honest: normal wasn’t working’. (British Vogue, August 2020).

Along with his excellent advocacy for decolonising fashion and art, Enninful demonstrates keen awareness of the change being demanded of fashion environmentally. Indeed, all of these issues and contexts constantly intersect. It is so incredibly refreshing to hear a fashion editor speak honestly and in no uncertain terms about the hard work and change that is required to live in a more just and less exploitative way. Of course, we want the pandemic to end as quickly as possible, but we cannot return to life before the pandemic. Enninful is aware that this moment is our opportunity to make big decisions about the direction we want to go in, what kind of people want to be, how we want to leave the world for future generations. For an industry that constantly chases the ephemeral newness of capitalist modernity, this is nothing short of revolutionary. It is so incredibly exciting, and comforting, to have such a man in in such a position of influence and authority. With his recent promotion within Condé Nast, he is set to have increasing influence over the role of fashion in the world. Accompanied with his invigorated focus on sustainability, this is extremely hopeful and promising. I have loved getting to know him and his vision of fashion over the year and, given fashion’s huge economic and cultural reach and influence, I am looking forward to him exacting some truly impactful change.

Hay Festival Digital

This was a completely divine couple of weeks of talks, readings and lectures all brought to us online. I am still quite stunned by how smooth-running the festival was considering they had next to no time to get online; equally, I am stunned that I haven’t been to the festival before now. Books? Wales? How had I managed to miss it? Regardless, the Hay Festival brought me so much happiness. I curled up in bed listening to Stephen Fry tell stories of Troy; attended talks on the Welsh language (which I began learning during Lockdown); had my questions answered by Simon Schama and James Shapiro; attended the Schools Programme featuring Onjali Q Rauf and Laura Bates; and immensely enjoyed Rutger Bergman and Michael Wood’s respective talks. One of the best moments of the festival was virtually attending Gloria Steinem’s talk with friends and family, all texting one another in excitement as this feminist queen imparted wisdom about activism and the fuel of being pissed off. I really hope that they continue running the festival online in some capacity going forward: there was such a magic to enjoying talks about books whilst knowing that people were logging in from all over the world. A true gift and moment of solidarity this year.

Online theatre

As a child, going to the theatre was pretty much the highlight of my year. I still think going to see ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ in Stratford-upon-Avon when I was seven years old was one of the best days of my entire life. However, since becoming a worker bee, I have found opportunities for going to the theatre, and requisite non-subsidised ticket prices, become quite a barrier to going. In 2020, I more than made up for years of missed theatre. At one point, myself and a couple of dear friends were virtually going to the theatre together every week, courtesy of the National Theatre. We watched ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Twelfth Night’, ‘Small Island’, ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, sometimes dressing up to suit the occasion, building in our own ice cream breaks and having post-show chats. It was such a rich experience: I still can’t quite believe the access we were all given. I donated to the fund as and when I could and it was a genuine pleasure to do so.

Similarly, I watched more ballet than I ever could afford to see in one year: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ featuring Matthew Ball as, perhaps, the best incarnation of Romeo ever (sorry Leo); ‘The Winter’s Tale’ featuring Edward Watson as a truly devastating King Leontes and Lauren Cuthbertson who makes me weep; ‘The Cellist’ featuring the divine Marcelino Sambé; ‘Anastasia’ with Natalia Osipova, someone who embodies negative capability; ‘Sleeping Beauty’ featuring Fumi Kaneko who has the most graceful arms ever and, my personal favourite, ‘Woolf Works’, a ballet triptych inspired by the life and works of Virginia Woolf. The ‘Orlando’ section in particular was truly astonishing, especially the partnership of the aforementioned Edward Watson and Francesca Hayward. The music, choreography, costuming and staging here created a piece of art that was electric. I quite forgot that they were performing in a grandiose old building, so futuristic and transporting was this section. It was everything that is truly brilliant and exciting about contemporary ballet. I remember watching ‘Danse à Grande Vitesse’ years ago and being enthralled by the limits of ballet and dance that were being pushed here: the same can equally be said for ‘Woolf Works’. Yes, tutus and Tchaikovsky are fun, but these new frontiers of dance and expression are so important and so invigorating. I cannot wait for more.     

Love Note – Marvel Films

Spoilers – please tread carefully!

For many years I shunned the superhero genre. I was, and still am, a huge fan of the Christopher Nolan Batman films but, after the astonishing disappointment that was Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel in 2013, I ignored the glut of superhero films that followed. I still haven’t really forgiven DC for wasting so appallingly the talent and excellence of Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Dry, vacuous, thin writing. Atrocious. Superhero films subsequently defined blockbuster filmmaking in these early decades of the 21st century, and I wanted nothing to do with them.

Enter: Lockdown 2020.

Amongst the numerous personal epiphanies, rediscoveries, explorations and denunciations that this period elicited, one of the most joyful things we did was watch every Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film in order, from Iron Man to Spiderman: Far From Home (disclaimer: The Hulk films aren’t on Disney Plus; we will watch them at some point but I have a hunch that we haven’t missed anything too drastic).

In many ways, I conflated Marvel’s films with the shoddiness of the DC output, and, pre-emptively diagnosed Marvel’s films alongside Nerdwriter’s analysis of the ‘Epidemic of Passable Movies’. Big-budget films that rely so heavily on tropes and cliché that they are tonally unconvincing and annoyingly poor. This isn’t to say that some of Marvel’s films aren’t ‘passable’: Iron Man 2 is crap, Avengers: Age of Ultron is weak and Dr Strange is bland and famously appropriated Eastern traditions and spiritualities for yet another egotistical white man to ‘find himself’. Marvel is also hugely reliant on mythologies of nationhood and capitalism, which underscore every single film. However, there is much to love in this epic serial of films that provided relief from pandemic anxiety. With a plot template that is consistent and hardly deviates from a standard exposition – conflict – climax – resolution structure, these twenty two films and their stories were comforting, relatively thrilling, slightly mindless, and everything that were needed to survive months of quarantine. Like a 21st century reincarnation of Borachio’s Decameron, which, coincidentally, I attempted in Lockdown. I got to the end of the Second Day then promptly gave up: there was only so much wife-stealing, ambiguity around sexual consent and general frustrating buffoonery I could take for one pandemic. I think I’ll just stick to the Pasolini film.

I digress.

Below are some of my thoughts, opinions, loves and obsessions about the twenty-two films we watched:

  1. My favourite Avenger is Black Panther and I am devastated about the loss of Chadwick Boseman

It goes without saying that the tragedy of Boseman’s untimely death far eclipses the sadness we might feel as fans of Black Panther who will not see him in the role again. However, we can also acknowledge that Boseman’s performance is nigh-on legendary as T’Challa, and is a gift to cinema. As a character, Black Panther is one of the most powerful, endearing and incandescent Avengers to watch. Thanks to his vibranium suit and his ability to metaphysically connect with his ancestors and forebears, he is formidable and riveting, whilst also demonstrating deep dedication to his family, ancestral traditions in his advocacy and loyalty for Wakanda. Of course, as Emma Dabiri argues in Don’t Touch My Hair, the Marvel vision of African affluence and abundance is problematically neoliberal; however, the significance of seeing an African country and its peoples thriving technologically and financially is a rebuttal to white supremacist stereotypes and depictions of that continent. Boseman helped to forge a path in the representation and celebration of black life, the importance of which cannot be downplayed. The huge emotional and spiritual void his death leaves in this franchise undoubtedly echoes as a modicum of the one he has left in the lives of his loved ones.

2. My other favourite Avenger is Captain America

I was once unceremoniously dubbed ‘vanilla’ for holding this opinion. I truly don’t care. Whilst Thor and Tony Stark embarked on their redemption arcs, Steve Rodgers was earnest, honest and dignified from Day One. I love to see this in my lead male protagonists once in a while (see my Love Note on Alyosha Karamazov for more). The scene in the lift in Winter Soldier is dramatically excellent and I don’t think any moment in a film has made me so disproportionately excited than when he was able to pick up Thor’s hammer in Endgame. Be in no doubt that I was shrieking ‘I knew it!’ along with Thor. What I love about Captain America is that he is always the first one into a fight and the last to give up on a fight: standing alone, battered and bruised, in front of Thanos in Endgame as the last line of defence for life itself, unwilling to give up, is the perfect encapsulation of who this man is. He never moves from a place of rage, anger or lack: there is no hubris here. Instead, he’s slightly melancholic all the way through, thanks to the loss of love-of-his-life Peggy and his existence as a living anachronism. As a result, he has Frank Ocean sad boy vibes in bucketloads, which I love. Of course, he is by no means perfect: the character’s relationship with American nationalism and militarism is, at times, nauseating. But he is a character who, in spite of this, is endlessly optimistic, never gives in and always tries to do the right thing for as many people as possible. There’s a lot to like there.  

3. One of my future dogs will be called Groot

My favourite tree-esque character since Treebeard (not a tree of course, but an Ent) Groot is everything. I wept bittersweet tears at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy, when he protectively encased his friends in his branches to protect them, whilst suffering fatal damage to himself. Thankfully, his Jesus moment encompasses full resurrection, and we see Groot re-born as a precious and hilarious sapling and an uncannily familiar angsty teen. Always helpful, loving, resolute, and with a particular penchant for aggression when necessary, Groot is a shining star of the supporting cast and I love him, and will name a future puppy dog in his honour. The self-sacrifice ‘We are Groot’ scene at the end of the first Guardians film crystallised for me that this group of characters in this corner of the MCU are in one of my favourite films of the franchise. From the opening strains of Redbone’s ‘Come And Get Your Love’, to when the future Guardians are described as ‘bunch of assholes’, it was obvious that this superhero film was the scrappy, fun, genre-dying franchise sibling that would pave the way for the more experimental likes of Thor: Ragnorok and Tom Holland’s Spiderman.

4. I am conflicted by the up-coming release of Black Widow

It’s taken Marvel far too long to commission films based around the women of the MCU. Captain Marvel is excellent and was a real breath of fresh air after so much machismo and seemingly endless male soul searching throughout these films. There is the indefinitely postponed Black Widow film to watch in some post-pandemic future, but I feel more begrudged by it than completely psyched. Throughout the franchise, Black Widow seems to serve more as a distraction to movie fanboys than to exist as a fully realised character. This isn’t to discredit Black Widow as an idea or Scarlett Johansson’s representation of her: I think she is a poorly written throughout and has not been taken care of properly by the makers of the films. I am frustrated that we will only now get an origins story when we’ve had to witness her endlessly supporting others, her lukewarm love affair with Bruce Banner and the mediocre handling of her death.

5. We need more Nebula and Gamora

Oh, the joy of seeing sisters on screen. These two characters present the highs and lows of sisterhood unlike few I have seen before. Fighting one another to the death when necessary? Relatable. Becoming the ultimate force to be reckoned with when united for the same cause? Absolutely. These two convey the ridiculous, hilarious and fierce love that can exist between sisters, and we need more of it in film. I hope that the producers and financiers at Marvel will give us more of Nebula and Gamora, who are, in my opinion, two of the most important and essential characters of the whole franchise.

    

Love Note – Corona-party

On Tuesday 17th March 2020, I was told at 15:20, after a full day of teaching, that my placement was to be suspended with immediate effect. At this point, I am aware that my course will continue with online learning and seminars, that I have up-coming assignments that I will need to prepare and I have a stack of journal articles to read, but that I will be housebound for the foreseeable future. This has presented me with something of a paradox: being at home is both unnerving and reassuring; liberating from the busy-ness of normal life but may also create a void of emptiness that will leave me climbing the walls. As such, I am doing my best to come up with a daily routine of interesting things to do that will keep me calm. I think that, in spite of all the chaos, this is a really pertinent opportunity for me to dig into some of my interests and hobbies, learn some new things and keep staying curious. At this point, and it is still early days,  I have three books on the go, which I can barely believe myself, I am filling my days with interesting tasks and activities that prevent me from binging on television, and I am keeping positive and cheerful in light of a perfect storm of governmental confusion, media confusion and general upheaval.

‘What Would Boudicca Do?’ by E. Foley and B. Coates

Boudicca

This was a New Year’s gift from a dear friend and is a fun whistle-stop tour of remarkable women from history. I have decided to read a chapter a day over the course of whatever it is that is happening (am I self-isolating, in quarantine, living out a course suspension? Who knows). So far, I have read condensed histories of Boudicca and Mary Wollstonecraft. Tomorrow, Mae West. The book is fun, digestible, full of nuggets of important intersectional feminist history and reading just a chapter a day gives me something to look forward to for tomorrow.

Duolingo

Duolingo

I downloaded and started learning through Duolingo before the corona-party started, and I am now even more committed to keeping at it. Currently, I am refreshing and building up my French and I have started learning Welsh from scratch. I was inspired to start by a friend who is on a 200-day streak and I loved his commitment to the cause. Additionally, I was stunned by the fact that whilst I’ve been chugging away nonchalantly speaking, reading and writing in English alone, over half the world’s population is bilingual. Language learning is going to become more and more essential for Britons, especially in light of our new (sob) relationship with the EU, so I think it’s important that learning new languages and, by proxy, understanding the cultural contexts of different countries and their peoples, becomes more of a priority. French has always been of interest to me (I have delusions of grandeur about moving to Paris) and Welsh is an important part of my own personal heritage. My mum is a native speaker, as is my Grandma on my Dad’s side. Hilariously, they speak different dialects so can’t communicate with one another. Nevertheless, learning Welsh has been an absolute joy. I can just about tell people that I am a vegetarian from memory (dw’in ddim yn bwyta cig) and it is just delightful learning how to speak and write a language that so liberally uses the letters ‘w’ and ‘y’. Duolingo isn’t perfect, but it’s exactly what I need it to be right now: good for my brain, good for my cultural awareness and a diversion from binge-watching TV. Speaking of which…

The Good Place, Netflix *slight spoilers*

The Good Place

Of course a bit of Netflix was going to feature. MW and I are on the final series of this hilarious sitcom that incorporates trashbagism with the central tenets of moral philosophy. The writing is sharp, effortlessly condenses complex philosophical ideas into twenty minutes segments, has truly mind-blowing twists and a range of characters that I absolutely adore. Up there for me is Jason Mendoza, a hapless dimwit from Jacksonville, Florida, who has a heart of gold. Jason is one of the most stupid and naive characters I have ever encounterd but is extraordinarily emotionally intelligent. Whilst head haunch Michael has to scam and manipulate everyone else to get them to do the right thing, Jason is receptive, honest and the most in touch with what he needs. Our time with the show is coming to an end and I am going to miss it enormously.

Going for a walk

The Park Nottingham

MW and I went for a half an hour walk around the Park Estate in Nottingham today. We saw the first of the cherry blossoms coming out; a cute dog with a bandage on its paw who was still tugging its owner along; beautiful Lady-and-the-Tramp Fothergill architecture; my favourite cedar tree; and we talked about everything and nothing. It started trying to rain at one point and we both arrived home with rosy cheeks. Going for a walk was such a nice break from the work of the morning. We felt refreshed by it, we’d had some good exercise, and it helped us to disengage from our screens.

Staying connected

Meme FINAL

I don’t mean this in a mindless, compulsive way: more like checking in with friends and family members on a regular basis, if you can. I have had hilarious and lovely chats with my mum and Grandma today, as well as touching base with a variety of WhatsApp groups where the memes, bad jokes and cute pet photos are flowing. I think it would be quite easy to become very insular and isolated at this time. As much as it is nice to hole up for a while, we need to stay connected and active in a healthy way. Additionally, we need to be mindful of the isolation others may be feeling, particularly older people who are having to self-isolate. Age UK run a befriending service that I volunteered for last year, and I am sure they would appreciate more people signing up at this time. I wrote more about the importance of building relationships with older people here

 Yoga with Adriene, YouTube

Yoga With Adriene

As many of you know from my incessant ramblings, I have sworn by Adriene Mishler’s YouTube channel for years. It is free, full of warmth, wisdom and fantastic yoga practices, and is a go-to for grounding and exercise. Life is always uncertain, but we are experiencing that all the more keenly at this point: yoga is an amazing way to breathe into the uncomfortable feelings, emotions and sensations that may arise, especially if you are prone to anxiety. Her 30 day yoga journey, released in January and prophetically entitled ‘Home’ (where I am spending an awful lot of time at the moment), is one I will be gravitating towards. She also announced today a new yoga playlist that contains videos of practices that pertain to uncertainty and crisis. Just twenty minutes of tuning into my breath and dropping down into my body makes such an incredible difference to my day.

Pema Chodron

Pema

I couple my practice with reading a chapter of Pema Chodron’s ‘The Places That Scare You: a guide to fearlessness’. Chodron is a cornerstone of Buddhist wisdom and guidance, encouraging us to see our fears, anxieties and stuck points as opportunities for growth, self-knowledge and integration. Instead of pushing away or resisting old patterns that no longer serve us, we can get to know them, allow them to pass through, and grow our compassion for ourselves and, as a result, all human beings. We all struggle. We all have our edges that push us to our limits. In this time of collective uncertainty, chaos and fear, we have a real chance to see our lives clearly: we may not like what we see, but that’s OK. It’s better to be conscious of our choices than to live in ignorance or stuck in cycles of self-abandonment.

Music

Music

Over the past couple of days, I have revisited a lot of my musical favourites. I was partially inspired by Daniel Radcliffe’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ which was an absolutely delight. Since then, I have been listening to Father John Misty, Bob Dylan, Sade and Agnes Obel, with a little bit of Andrew Lloyd Webber thrown in (he did a Twitter poll for a song to perform and ‘All I Ask Of You’ from The Phantom of the Opera cam out on top. The whole thing is lovely: check it out). Normally at this time of the year I have my annual Stravinsky Rite of Spring binge due to the impending seasonal transition: it definitely still freaks me out even after all these years, but I wouldn’t be without it. I have started reading Tolstoy’s description of the Russian spring in Anna Karenina as a companion to Stravinsky. The violence and the vibrance of spring, with its renewal and rebirth, is both excruciating and profoundly beautiful.

 

N.B

I genuinely believe that coronavirus is forcing us to re-assess our social structures and our places within them. At no other time has such a compelling case been made for Universal Basic Income; the free childcare labour of grandparents has been shown to be so underappreciated; the undervaluing of the NHS, teaching, and ‘low skill’ jobs such as cleaning and delivery work has been exposed and challenged; rates of pollution dropped in China because of lockdown etc. This is a confusing and uncertain time, but it can be a fascinating time. I think it is giving us the chance to evaluate what most certainly is not working for us and what we can change in the most positive way. Business as usual wasn’t working before coronavirus, it certainly isn’t working now, and we would be fools to let this opportunity to enact progressive, socially aware and compassionate policies post-coronavirus to just slip away. I am not completely fluent in politics, I don’t know what the right answers are; but it is clear that we are in a unique situation where we can move to build a fairer, more just world where everyone is taken care of. I wish that people would stop worrying about market volatility as though it were something that wasn’t invented and perpetuated by humans in the first place. Let’s build something else.

Love Note Year in Review: 2019

Like 2016, 2019 has, in many ways, been a stellar year for me, but has been societally shambolic and difficult to digest. Here, I have written about some of the films, music, TV shows and podcasts that have been my companions along the way. These have all inspired me, taught me new things, expanded my thoughts and given me a richer understanding of the world and the people in it. Enjoy and do let me know what you think.

Book: Crudo by Olivia Laing

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I have read a few books this year that have completely blown me away, including Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  and Circe by Madeline Miller. Here, however, I want to discuss dearest Crudo. I bought this book from Shakespeare and Company whilst in Paris on the recommendation of a great friend with great taste. Crudo is a very short book but it is an absolute gut punch of hilarity, darkness and tenderness. Indeed, it’s hard to really pin down exactly what happens in it because it is such a heady mixture of consciousness, recollection, projection and commentary. For me, this spells perfection: I have always loved character studies and don’t think an exacting plot is always necessary all the time. What I can get to with Crudo is that it centres on Kathy, who is getting married but has all sorts of qualms and skeletons to negotiate with first. Almost every page I declared ‘I LOVE THIS BOOK’ as it twisted and turned unpredictably through the mental chaos of anxiety, exhaustion, eating, friendship, loss, Twitter and drunken chaos in beautiful Italian locations. It is a love letter to anyone who is in despair at recent political turns of events, sardonically laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation whilst also grieving and mourning the rise of hatred, fear and intolerance in the West. I think this book will benefit from many readings, and I cannot wait to sink my teeth into it again.

Film: Apocalypse Now

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I was horrendously late in joining this film’s bandwagon, but was so glad when I did earlier this year. From that first shot of palm trees and the withering notes of The End by The Doors floating in like a breeze before the chaos, I was completely enthralled. This film is one of the greatest examples of a disorientating, arthouse viewing experience blended with the hallmarks of an epic: dramatic helicopter sequences and iconic lines offset with simmering delusion and madness all the way throughout. One such line, ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’, is a case in point: the line is delivered so much more softly than I thought it would be. I imagined that line to be a yelled declaration in the heat of conflict, but it is almost a tender revelation: an insight into how war and nationalism has warped and disfigured these men’s emotional engagement with the world around them. Amongst a host of spectacular performances, and there really isn’t a bad one in the whole film, Dennis Hopper stood out for me. With cameras draped around his neck like beads, Hopper plays a sycophantic, voyeuristic photojournalist, an unnamed self-declared ‘little man’ who has been brainwashed by Colonel Kurtz and is always ready to get a picture. An embodiment of a culture and a media that will transmit horror without reflection, Hopper’s photojournalist is the keenest harbinger of the shit state that is our current retinue of communication and media affairs.

Music: Beware of the Dogs, Stella Donnelly

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Music-wise, this year has been a stunner. With the returns of Lana Del Rey (who I wrote about here), Michael Kiwanuka, fka Twigs and Nick Cave amongst many others, and Billie Eilish’s brilliant debut, this year has felt particularly golden. I want to give my attention here to singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly, whose album Beware of the Dogs is undoubtedly one of my favourites from the brace of brilliance that was 2019. If there were to be any soundtrack to the #MeToo movement, it would be this album. From a sassy , beachy opener that holds a ‘grabbing’ middle-aged man to account, in what I would argue is a direct middle finger up to the likes of Donald Trump, to the searing and devastating ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, Donnelly keenly and devastatingly  confronts rampant toxic masculinity and a patriarchal culture that is riddled with sexual assault and violence. And yet, even with these serious concerns, the album is undeniably fun. With a contents list that features the maddening performativity of relationships, the deconstruction of awkward family dynamics and cake allergies in a register that nods to Noughties Lily Allen and Kate Nash (but with plinky plonky music exchanged for a wilting easy-breezy Australian nonchalance), this album feels assured, mature and endlessly witty. I can’t recommend it enough.

TV: The Politician, Netflix

The Politician

As the Golden Age of Television enters its late period of peak saturation, this year has once again been brilliant, if not slightly exhausting. Shows I loved included Stranger Things, Big Little Lies, The Real Housewives of New York City which, quite frankly, deserves an Emmy (that trip to Miami, in particular the first night, was the trip to end all Bravo trips), The Last Czars, which expertly wove dramatic reconstruction with historical analysis, and His Dark Materials. The Politician, made by the producers behind Glee (which I never much cared for) is an absolutely hilarious, obscene, outrageous drama which follows a group of Californian uber-rich teenagers taking part in a high school election campaign. Whilst this may ring with all the hallmarks of another glossy, predictable teen drama, The Politician is hilarious, piercingly dark and shocking, with some of the biggest knots of twists and turns I have seen on a TV show. We had to take a break after watching the first couple of episodes because it was so intense. Yet, the show’s astute political and social commentary feels absolutely essential in a ravaged post-truth Western world, in particular the stand alone episode ‘The Voter’, which serves as a microcosm of the lives of undecided and politically disaffected members of the electorate. With a soundtrack reminiscent of Western revenge tragedies and dramas, and a wardrobe department to rival seminal teen show Gossip Girl, The Politician is a sensory riot, and one of the most groundless viewing experiences I have had: I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next or which bizarre direction the drama was going to take. This all serves to make it utterly compelling and brilliant television.

Podcasts

I have found it impossible to pick one podcast that has stood out as my favourite this year. Different podcasts serve very different moods and purposes, and there is no singular podcast to be drawn from my list of regulars and favourites.

Reasons

Reasons to Be Cheerful – Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd’s podcast forms the audio backdrop to my Monday mornings. This podcast has introduced me to many exciting concepts and policy ideas that I hope will become a part of the fabric of our politics in the future. Favourite episodes included topics like social care for the elderly, tax on frequent fliers, music and history education, the power of protest, community organisation, architecture and town planning and sustainable fashion. I am also exceedingly proud that my email on green fashion alternatives and tips was read out by Ed himself. #goals

Dressed.jpg

Dressed: The History of Fashion – This podcast fills the gap that glossy magazines have left in my life (I still buy the September issue of Vogue and the December issue of Harper’s Bazaar but that’s just about it). Instead, I have a podcast full of incredible interviews and explorations into the personal and cultural stories of my favourite designers and some of the clothes I wear on a day-to-day basis. I have enjoyed listening to episodes on The Met Gala, fashion and physique (mapping the female body), the history of the penny loafer, the biography of Cristóbal Balenciaga, the history of the French haute couture industry (Worth, Vionnet and Louis Vuitton being some of the most interesting stories) and a compelling conversation with Dr Monica Germanà about Bond girl style, looking at sexual, racial and colonial implications of women’s bodies and women’s dress in the franchise. I have shunned James Bond for many years but this conversation, with its focus on masculine and imperial anxiety, has shifted my perspective entirely.

DIDs

The Desert Island Discs Archive – This year, I discovered the delights of conversations and the musical favourites of some of Western culture’s greats. Tucked away in the archive, I found Powell and Pressburger, Leonide Massine, Tennessee Williams and Lauren Bacall amongst others. Gregory Peck was as dreamy as I hoped he would be and had a great story about the filming of Moby Dick, which coincidentally was shot down the road from where my grandparents lived in Wales; Jessica Mitford was hilarious and sassy; Roald Dahl was a bit of a snob; and P L Travers wasn’t as scary as I thought she’d be and picked a list formed exclusively of recordings of poetry being read aloud. One such recording was of Alec Guinness’s reading ‘Little Gidding’ from T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets, which was a balm I never knew I needed. Utterly transporting listening.

One last thing…

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, Netflix

Joseph Campbell

Originally broadcast in 1988, and which I watched on Netflix this year but has now been removed, this series of six conversations in six episodes between comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers is one of the most fascinating TV shows I have ever seen. Combining conversation, story-telling, animation, archive footage and film clips, this series takes a deep look into the psyche and collective unconscious of human beings. Campbell takes us on a bewildering but utterly brilliant journey through indigenous ritual, Jungian archetypes, the world religions, Western capitalism, the sacred feminine, the interplay of symbols and allegory, the sublime, the liminal passage and many other areas to present a multi-faceted, deep and intriguing portrait of human behaviour, interconnectedness and culture. Every single episode had something profound to learn from it, but the episode that stood out to me the most centred on animal-human relations, including the role of sacrifice, the transcendence of Death and the horror of a world where human beings are divorced from where they get their food, their clothing, almost everything. Additionally, I loved Campbell’s ideas that stemmed from the Buddhist teachings: that the present is all there is, and in the present, when you sit wholly aware, unblinkered and unfettered from trappings of ego (fear, envy, jealousy, anger, boredom etc.) we are witness to and subjects of, what could be called, the divine. I have never thought of myself as a religious person, and I still don’t think I am, but I found immense power in what Campbell had to share. There are iterations of ancient behaviours and beliefs all around us, and Campbell’s myth work is a great source of inspiration and an anchor when the ocean of chaos, anxiety and societal disruption feels too overwhelming. His work prioritises the power of metaphor beyond what is material, and it has enriched my life immensely.

 

Love Note – Yves Saint Laurent photo reel

This week has been, in a word, intense.

I went on the hen weekend to end all hen weekends last week (6 hours sleep in 48 hours); in a related move, I am now hideously ill and was confined to my sickbed all day yesterday sneezing, coughing and croaking my way through seminal teen film ‘Clueless’ and ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell; and I started my PGCE in English on Monday. There are emotions, curricula and pathogens flying all over the place in this house.

As such, and whilst still in the thick of my pity party, I am going to post the photos from my trip to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Paris. We’re in the thick of Fashion Month, with Paris just round the corner, so it feels pretty time-appropriate; plus there is nothing like pretty clothing to raise your spirits when you’re spluttering your way through multiple life transitions.

So here we have it, Yves Saint Laurent, with his epoch-changing Mondrian dresses, elegant evening wear and exquisite accessories. I also managed to get a snap of his reconstructed studio and design notes, which made the whole experience even more magical and intimate. If this doesn’t pick your spirits up on a rainy day, I don’t know what will.

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Love Note – Avocado Carbonara

This recipe is Shrek-green, super tasty, quick and easy to make. It is also ridiculously healthy but doesn’t taste like it should be, which feels like winning.

Enjoy!

Ingredients (enough for 2 servings)

¾ of a packet of wholewheat spaghetti (you can work it out)

Two avocadoes

One big clove of garlic (two clovers if smaller)

2 tbsps of olive oil

2 tbsps of lemon juice

1 tsps of basil

2 tsps of parsley

A generous amount of soy/nut milk

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

4 salad tomatoes

Sundry sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Method

  1. Cook spaghetti. I like it slightly al dente. At the very least, make sure it sticks to your wall.
  2. Plop the garlic, olive oil and lemon juice into a food processor/ Nutribullet
  3. Whizz them up until the liquid is creamy
  4. Add the avocados, basil, parsley, salt and non-dairy milk and whizz until the mixture is creamy
  5. Once the pasta is cooked, drain the water and pour in your green carbonara mixture
  6. Stir and combine so that no pasta is left dry
  7. Dice the tomatoes into tiny pieces and stir into the pasta. Include the tomato juices from cutting: it tastes very fresh and we don’t want waste!
  8. Sprinkle seeds
  9. Serve up
  10. Top with pepper
  11. Eat

Avocado Carbonara

 

Love Note – Paris report

We’ll always have Paris.

I have just returned from seven days in Paris and, predictably and gratefully, had a wonderful time. Prior to the trip, I concocted a three page day-by-day itinerary filled with activities, but also consciously carved out some time for some more spontaneous and impulsive things too (anxious traveller, moi? Absolutement).

Sacre Coeur

August is a famously quiet time in the city because many of the locals go away on holiday. However, we found the first week in August to be a pretty excellent time to visit: our Eurostar tickets (booked in November) were £52 each for a return (less expensive than it is to get from Nottingham to London on the train…); certain museums in the city are free to enter on the first Sunday of the month and, because it was quieter, the queues were short (we managed the Musée de l’Orangerie and the Musée d’Orsay for free, but also available were The Louvre, the Musée National d’Art Moderne at the Centre Pompidou and many others); and going later in the summer meant that even with temperature highs of 29°C, we avoided the sweltering and sticky heats of June and July.

The benefit of spending a whole week in Paris is that we left barely any of the city unexplored. From our AirBnB base near the Place de Clichy in the 18th arrondissement, a delightful intersection of four arrondissements and in close proximity to my all-time favourites Montmartre and Pigalle, the whole city was at our fingertips. I would like to share some of my favourite places and moments from the trip. These may be food for thought if you are or intend to go to Paris at any point in the future, or if you just want to while away an afternoon thinking about those cobbled streets, beautiful buildings and all the amazing food. Like I will be.

Vegan food

Virginia Woolf’s old adage ‘One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well’ is one that I take very personally, seriously and ecstatically live my life by. Therefore, first thing’s first: the food we ate. We did a lot of our own cooking to cut down costs, but we did have some fantastic vegan meals out:

Abattoir végétal

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This is a lovely restaurant in the 18th arrondissement with a neon sign outside, fresh-feeling interiors and lots of hanging plants. They specialise in seasonal dishes, organically sourced food and organic wines by the glass and bottle. We went a couple of times to this restaurant and sampled the Green Augustine Buddha bowl of legumes, raw and cooked vegetables, smoky tofu and fresh leaves in a smoky balsamic glaze; the Funky Burger made with beetroot, vegan cheddar, pickles and sweet potato fries on the side; and the Hot without Dog made with falafel, grated carrot, red cabbage, ketchup, mustard and sweet potato fries. For dessert we had chocolate cake, and drank our way through both meals with a bottle of organic red. I couldn’t deal with it then, I can’t deal with it now. So much yumminess.

SO NAT – Notre Dame de Lorette

SO NAT

If I went into this trip sceptical about the tastiness of Buddha bowls and their capacity to actually fill you up, I stand completely surprised and corrected. The large Buddha bowls at this cute little café in the 9th arrondissement, down from Pigalle and just before Opéra, were delicious, hearty and required no emergency snack afterwards. My Buddha bowl contained breaded aubergine, pomegranate seeds, lentil dahl, all sorts of colourful veggies and leaves, vegan sour cream and red quinoa. It was ridiculous. MW’s had ginger, rice, BBQ tofu and, again, veggies on veggies on veggies. It was all fresh, came in big portions, was so healthy and tasted rich and delicious.

Maoz

One of the many amazing things we encountered on our trip to New Zealand last year was the healthy fast food franchise Pita Pit: a Subway of sorts that features meat but also specialises in falafel. Add to that some humus, pitta bread and multiple veggie accompaniments (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, carrot, sweetcorn, jalapenos, olives etc.) and you have the beginnings of an addiction. We visited roughly 15 over the course of six weeks and have no regrets. We have found nothing to compare in Nottingham, so when we found Maoz, a falafel and pitta shop, in the Latin Quarter, we were stupidly excited. The novel difference here? The assortment of Middle Eastern fillings (pickles, fatoush, salads, onions etc.) was presented as self-service. We had a joyful time stuffing our own pita pockets full to bursting with fresh, perfectly seasoned toppings. Maoz is unmistakeably a delicious, quick vegan lunch option, right next to Notre Dame Cathedral and Shakespeare and Company.

Bike Rental

Holland Bikes

In a city like Paris, tours of all shapes and sizes are prolific. We would have loved to have done a tour: I had high ambitions for some form of a champagne booze cruise. Alas, this did not happen but we were very much content to explore on our own. Holland Bikes are a well-reviewed tour and rental service in the city and around France, so we decided to use the Pick and Go service to rent two Dutch bikes from the Arc de Triomphe depot. Renting a bike is so much fun and you can cover so much ground in a short space of time. Plus, Paris has excellent infrastructure for cyclists and e-scooter riders, so despite the heavy traffic in parts (we categorically avoided the wacky races of Place de la Concorde and Étoile de Charles de Gaulle) it felt very safe getting around. We cycled from the Arc de Triomphe down to and around the Bois de Boulogne, then back up and around to Trocadéro, the Champs de Mars, Invalides and along the Seine. We had so much fun.

Parc Monceau

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There are so many beautiful and shaded places to relax in Paris, which I am sure were absolutely essential during the 40°C+ heats the residents experienced this summer. The Place de Vosges in Le Marais came highly recommended, and we enjoyed the classic Tuileries gardens and Luxembourg gardens on the Left Bank. Whilst walking home on our last afternoon, we headed for the Parc Monceau which is in the 8th arrondissement, just off the Boulevard de Courcelles. Although the park has stylised elements like a little Venetian bridge, a Classical colonnade to emulate ruins and the most charming old carousel, there was something about more primeval about this park, compared to the more clipped and manicured lawns of the big jardins. We sat on a little green bench people-watching for a good long time in this prettyish wilderness.

Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris

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Oh boy. Pour moi, a trip to Paris was never going to be complete without a slice and dice of fashion history. I plan to write a longer post about the YSL Museum, but it’ll summarise it briefly here for now. Yves Saint Laurent never used to be one of my favourite designers; perhaps controversially, I have been more of a fan of the edgier Saint Laurent incarnation of the brand under Hedi Slimane and Anthony Vaccarello. I was, however, aware that he is an inescapable part of fashion history, after being made head of Dior at the age of 26 and for the successful couture house he built in his own right. What became clear to me from the exhibits in the museum was that, like Christian Dior (you can read my analysis here), Saint Laurent’s prime aim in design was to make a woman feel her most confident and beautiful. I find this to be such a validating and comforting thing. Even though fashion is so much to do with comparison, beauty standards, perfectionism, ageism, white and able-washing, what I have noticed is that oftentimes at the centre of a brand is a sensitive, empathic and deeply creative person who just wants to make women feel good. I really appreciate that in Yves Saint Laurent and his contributions to fashion. Furthermore, he was famously one of the first designers to champion the use of non-white models, pioneered the trouser suit and established his Rive Gauche collection to make fashions accessible and affordable to ordinary people.[1]

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The building on the Avenue Marceau is home to his formidable archive, including the epoch-defining Mondrian dresses, the extensive jewellery collection and this absolutely perfect ensemble:

YSL dress

 

I was able to walk through a reconstruction of his study, watch films about his work and his partner Pierre Bergé and soak up the beautifully presented collection pieces. I must also add that the museum is wonderfully air conditioned, was relatively quiet and, all-in-all, a genius way of preserving Saint Laurent’s creative legacy.

Montmartre cemetery

Montmartre Cemetery.jpg

This was a go-to last time we came to Paris and, being so close to our apartment, was definitively on our itinerary again. Cemetery-visiting may seem like quite a morbid activity, but I believe that visiting cemeteries helps to really contextualise a place and the people in it. To really know and understand a city and its different people, to get an insight into what they value, treasure and, ultimately, to understand their approach to living life, a clue can be found in exploring how they treat their dead and the way they design and use their communal and private spaces of remembrance and reflection. Even if we have not visited Paris, many people are aware that it is a city associated most commonly with love, art and revolution. This, I would argue, is reflected in their cemeteries, which are uniquely Gothic and gorgeous. There is a joie de vivre and gravitas evident in the Parisian cemetery, and Montmartre in particular, which makes it a space in which life, family and creativity are celebrated and revered. Of course, I couldn’t help thinking that it is only the wealthy and respectable who could have afforded such exuberant graves. Additionally, in no other cemetery have I felt that the burial of the dead is used to so confirm and validate the people left behind. It is in this capacity that I think gloom seeps into the cemetery: both in the potentiality that the wealthy dead were desperate to be remembered and that the living left behind were so desperate to build something in place of their lost loved ones.

Many famous people are buried in this city, and their resting places are free to visit and open for visitors to pay respects. Whilst Père Lachaise is one of the biggest and most famous- we saw the graves of Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and the Mauthausen Holocaust memorial- Montmartre cemetery is smaller and nestled into the Western corner of the village. Stretching underneath the Rue Caulincourt bridge, it is easily visible from the road and its fantastical rows of grand crypts and family sepulchres look like something from The Phantom of the Opera. We visited specifically to lay a rose at the grave of Vaslav Nijinksy, the lead dancer of the Ballets Russes, choreographer of The Rite of Spring and, I recently found out, a passionate vegetarian. I have mentioned here before that The Rite of Spring has been a very important piece of music and dance to me, and I wanted to show my gratitude to this extraordinary sensitive and surreally gifted man who helped collaborate on and create such an awe-inspiring piece of cultural history.

Nijinsky

 

 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/obituaries/archives/yves-saint-laurent-models-couture [accessed 14:41, 13th August 2019].

Love Note – Chia Breakfast Pots

Whilst I am a huge advocate for Marmite and nutritional yeast on wholegrain toast as a weekday breakfast, multiple barbecues over the past few days and weeks, whilst fun, have left me slightly bloated and ick. I can normally eat bread until kingdom come, but with the current state of things, tummy says no. Coupled with the tropical heat that has descended, I find myself in need of foodstuffs that are and feel as fresh and light as possible. I want to feel full, but I don’t want to be weighed down from the very beginning of my day.

Enter: chia breakfast pots. This easy, yummy breakfast idea was spawned after a conversation with a dear friend who is currently doing a diploma in nutritional therapy, and because I have about a million GU ramekins that need to be put to use.

When I get asked about my health and nutrition by kindly concerned non-vegetarians, a lack of omega-3 and protein are the most common worries. Omega-3 is, of course, most commonly known to be found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. However, chia seeds contain omega-3 in plant form (alpha linolenic acid, or ALA), providing the same kind of anti-inflammatory benefits and nutrients to facilitate a healthy brain and heart as the traditionally meat-derived omega-3.[1] Similarly, chia seeds are full of fibre and protein, and can be used in a number of absorbent ways (including sugar-free jam making, which is another excellent story). Jumbled up with oats, yoghurt, fresh fruit and a hint of almond and vanilla if you’re feeling cheeky, chia seeds are a great food to have in your light, fresh and healthy arsenal, particularly if you are vegetarian, vegan, or want to cut-down on meat.

Important – this is an overnight recipe, so make sure you prepare the night before you plan to eat

Ingredients (enough for six GU ramekins)

70g chia seeds

200g plain porridge oats

500 ml non-dairy milk (I used soy, but you can use oat, almond, rice milk, or cashew milk if you want it really creamy)

A healthy tablespoon-sized blob of yoghurt (I used Alpro almond yoghurt, but you can also use plain, vanilla or coconut)

A punnet of raspberries

Optional sweeteners: almonds, golden syrup or vanilla extract

 

Method

  1. Take a bowl out of your cupboard
  2. Combine chia seeds, oats and milk
  3. Leave to soak for about 5 minutes
  4. Put some raspberries into the bowl and stir
  5. Split mixture between ramekins
  6. Add a blob of yoghurt on top
  7. Add one last raspberry to garnish
  8. Cover up and pop into fridge
  9. Leave over night
  10. Retrieve in the morning
  11. Add a pinch of your optional sweetener
  12. Eat

 

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[1] ‘The health benefits of chia seeds’ https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-chia-seeds [accessed 11:45, 24th July 2019].

Love Note – Beach Books Reviews

Whilst on holiday, I managed to get through three books out of the stack of four that I took with me and, as you can probably imagine, I took great pleasure in spending the majority of my day reading. I was helped along by the books themselves, and what started off as me playing catch up with the most popular contemporary literature from the past few years became an interesting immersion in literary bingeing. Thanks to a combination of formal and linguistic trickery, the novels I read signalled to me that binge-culture has made one giant leap from television to literature. Of course, there have been many page-turners that people have read at record speeds, with many others being described as un-put-downable, I’m thinking Gone Girl, The Da Vinci Code, every murder mystery or thriller ever published. But, there is something to be said for the novels currently trending that have a swept-away-in-one-sitting quality to them that is immensely enjoyable, but also indicates that we are, perhaps, as bad as ever at taking our time to enjoy our media and entertainment, allowing the experience of enjoying them to mature and mellow over the course of days or weeks. This is not a criticism per se, but something I became quite aware of.

Here are my reviews of the novels I managed to read, and I would love to hear your thoughts!

Normal People – Sally Rooney

Normal People

I enjoyed reading this novel more than I actually enjoyed the novel itself. The lack of speech marks is one of the most discussed and obviously experimental aspects of the novel and there are a number of reasons why I think Rooney opted for removing formal punctuation. Primarily, its absence helped to propel the pace along as quickly as possible. Speech, internal dialogue and description in the novel melt into one another seamlessly, and before I knew it I was flying through the novel at electric speed. The subtle mingling among and between Connell and Marianne’s internal and external worlds is compelling, and perhaps goes some way to perform the confusion and fluidity of their romantic entanglements. These were powerful, to an extent: Connell’s struggles with social status, class and privilege combined with Marianne’s abusive family trauma form a murky, disorientating bedrock to their sexual and emotional relationship. Yet, whilst they were immersive, these entanglements began to wear thin for me. Of course, culturally and artistically we are rarely given an insight into healthy, responsible relationships to aspire to, but Connell and Marianne’s story really did begin to feel like a rather prolonged game of kiss chase that could have been resolved with some honesty and proper communication. Whilst I enjoyed the fast pace, the story became increasingly frustrating.

The novel has been revered as a refreshing insight into modern relationships, yet all I saw was prolonged adolescence. The question that arose during my reading of it was: why don’t people talk to one another honestly about what they want, need and expect from a relationship? Of course, many people do not have the answers to these questions themselves, which is why the romantic landscape has always been a mass of tension, confusion and a channel for our own neuroses, precisely because the terrain is so horrifyingly vulnerable. I think I would like to see stories where people grapple more with the deeper core fears that relationships can elicit than indulge in surface-level dabbling. This is because for Connell and Marianne, like with everyone else, there is ample emotional material to explore. For example, it is heavily suggested that Marianne has an eating disorder, but there seemed to be no exploration of this, and I think with such a big, important and truly devastating area of mental health, vague allusions are irresponsible. Normal People is absolutely compelling formally, but the story and characters lacked the maturity and deep excavations of relationship politics that I may have come to the novel expecting.

Daisy Jones and The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones

Just as Sally Rooney fiddled with formal punctuation to create a sweeping, pacey narrative for Normal People, Taylor Jenkins Reid did away with conventional prose altogether to construct the mock-oral history that is Daisy Jones and The Six. The language is presented like a play or a screenplay, rapidly interchanging between characters, their opinions and their contrasting perceptions of how past events unfolded.  This, as with Normal People, makes for an extremely fast-paced and romping read, and I scoured my way through the drug-filled emotional and musical rollercoaster that is the rise and collapse of fictional rock band ‘Daisy Jones and the Six’. It does not surprise me at all that Reese Witherspoon picked this up for production so quickly: the screenplay layout of the novel lends itself to a visual medium so well, and the construction of authenticity and, almost, reality of this fictional band is begging for actors and musicians to literally flesh the whole thing out. Additionally, the novel harks back to the seventies and the loves, losses, betrayals and creative headiness of the Fleetwood Mac era; a band history integral to the fictional machinations and dalliances that we see unfold in the novel. It manages to effectively combine warm nostalgia, with, and rightly so, a thorough dissection of emotional pain, addictions and toxic relationships, and I think it is on the whole successful.

The novel follows Daisy Jones, the child of rich, famous and self-absorbed parents who do not seem to care about their only daughter. She seeks refuge in narcotics, drinking and a rock and roll groupie lifestyle on the Sunset Strip at the age of fourteen. Billy Dunne and his brother Graham hail from small town Pennsylvania; their father leaves them early on in their childhoods, and as teenagers, they found a band that goes on to be called ‘The Six’. Billy develops addictions to alcohol, drugs and sex with groupies, whilst his loyal, passionate and amazing wife Camila waits at home for him. In fact, Camila, for me, was the best character in the novel. Whilst Daisy is super beautiful, glamorous and an emotionally tortured Bambi, Karen Karen is a veritable badass, Graham is a sweetheart and Billy is an endearing and somewhat extremely self-righteous mess, Camila is an unwavering beacon of solidity and support whilst the people around her flail and crash about, high on concoctions of drugs, fame, creativity and self-hatred.

Whilst there are many excellent pearls of wisdom and sassy quips in the novel, exploding bullshit around sexism, music, friendship and love, one of her quotes stands out to me the most: ‘I think you have to have faith in people before they earn it. Otherwise it’s not faith, right?’ She supports and believes wholeheartedly in the best versions of her loved ones when they’re at their absolute worst, even when that has meant she has suffered as a consequence of their actions. There are so many times when she could have chucked in the towel with her relationship with Billy, and some would argue that perhaps she should have. Camila, however, doesn’t tolerate terrible behaviour and she definitely does not stay in a relationship where red flags abound: she sets boundaries, expectations and trusts in her husband’s best self and ultimately propels him on his road to recovery. Sure, her story isn’t a romanticised and drug-addled one, which I think, despite a lot of its efforts, the novel still constructs for the enigma that is Daisy Jones, Camila is strong, knows herself and is the responsible adult we should strive to be. It is for this reason that the ending of the novel is incredibly bittersweet and I would love to discuss it here and with people at some point. Send me your thoughts please!

Circe – Madeline Miller

Circe extract

This was hands-down my favourite out of the three books I read (and the only one I thought to take a holiday snap of!). It was heart-wrenching, magical, modern and yet felt beautifully and brilliantly in-keeping with the ancient framework from which it hailed. The story, whilst a reimagining, felt bedded in Homer’s mythology: all the key ancient rituals and practices were present, for example xenia, or guest-friendship, which is illustrated so beautifully in the novel as a dance of wits, manners, generosity and covert motive-seeking between host and visitor. It enlivened what the original treats as a societal staple, illuminating it with nuance and tension. We also got a crash course in the wars of the Titans, various mythological characters like Daedalus, Medea, Jason and Ariadne, alongside the predictable and anticipated arrival of Odysseus, and the very unpredictable arrival of Penelope and Telemachus (I loved this!). The novel was able to powerfully break apart some of the simplistic tropes that the character of Circe has carried with her for thousands of years. No longer does she carry the motiveless malignity of the original: the scheming nasty witch woman who seduces Odysseus and turns all of his men into pigs. She is sensitive, attuned to the natural world, desperate for approval she never gets, uses violent magic in self-defence, but isn’t immune to the fear and anger-based trappings of ego. Ultimately she becomes the source of her own very particular, self-cultivated power, and it is immensely joyful to read.

I did disagree, however, that Miller presented Circe as some two dimensional empowered ‘superwoman’, as reviewed by The Times.[1] This is a novel where the central protagonist constantly aches: she aches for belonging, she aches from the sweetness and loss of love, whether that’s with a partner, siblings or children, and she aches from the bullying and torture at the hands of her horrible family and the all-powerful, oftentimes selfish, meddling gods. This does not mean to say she is weak, but she is certainly not presented as some all-powerful, sassy superwoman. What strength Circe has is developed from her ability to endure, and what a whole host of trials she is forced to deal with. Whether it’s being confined to an island, acting as a midwife at the birthing of the Minotaur, living under the wrath of Athena, being manipulated by Hermes or being raped by sailors, this woman is put through the absolute wringer. She emerges all the more patient and trusting in herself and her capability of putting up with bullshit, but, again, not a superwoman, whatever that even means.

What I loved about this novel was that Miller actively redistributes the motiveless malignity accusation with which Circe has been cast around the hosts of horrors that is the supporting cast of gods, demigods and men, who act with violence, without fear of repercussion, because they can. She is repeatedly trapped and confined by the whims and desires of others and, of course, fate itself. Over the course of the novel, she learns that in spite of having magic, she is powerless to resist the power of the gods, the desires of the human heart, and the unrelenting changeability that characterises life, whether it’s defined by mortality or immortality. 300 years pass over the course of Circe’s story, making it perhaps one of the most comprehensive coming-of-age stories I have ever read, because it spans enough to time to develop that most important hallmarks of maturity: perspective. Maybe that’s why so many of us never get there.

I really could not have enjoyed this novel more and I am racing to get a copy of Miller’s early novel ‘The Song of Achilles’, which tracks the relationship between Achilles and his lover, Patroclus.

Song of Achilles

 

[1] ‘Circe by Madeline Miller – back as superwoman’, Siobhan Murphy https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/review-circe-by-madeline-miller-back-as-superwoman-37kctxgss [accessed 10th July 2019].