My shoes that used to look like this and that cost a pretty penny now have decided to crumble into a thick black powder, leaving their residue everywhere, and looking more like this:
… leaving this in their wake:
The saddest part about this is the memories these dearly beloved shoes evoke. What have been lovingly referred to as my “bus driver shoes” by some, ahem, are actually the most lavish things I’ve ever regularly put on my feet (I’m notoriously bad at shoes). I bought them on the Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré in Paris, in the fall of 2000. I had just arrived for my Junior year abroad, and the dollar was incredibly strong. In September of 2000, my dollar bought me 1.126 Euros (though the EUR wasn’t in circulation yet, for the sake of comparison I’ll use it), whereas when I spent the summer in Avignon 8 years later, my dollar only bought me .630 of a Euro. That’s a 50% CHANGE. IN 8 YEARS. AND, AND! If you take the Franc to Euro inflation into account, you can add a few more percentage points.
Obviously I would only do math to make a very strong point: life was pretty much free back then. And take advantage of our spending power we most certainly did.
Never having lived in a big city before, the miles and miles of both exploratory and necessity walking during the first days of Paris life was literally tearing my feet apart. In fact, we were lost when we discovered the Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, having surely wandered off-course from some Tuileries or Louvre guided tour or another. I remember it being strangely empty in the streets, despite our proximity to the Champs Elysées. But it was probably the last few days of August, the month when Parisiens notoriously flee the city for the beaches.
Anyway, we felt like we had been wandering for hours when suddenly we found ourselves on one of the most extraordinary streets in the world. At the tender age of 19 and having grown up in a very middle class suburb with a hippy mom and a dad who was at that time shirking life’s material pleasures, I hadn’t even heard of most designers. I knew of Versace because he had been murdered a few years earlier. And I knew of Gucci because the African-American girls in my grade school were very fashion-forward. And I knew of Chanel because my mom wore Chanel Nº5. But really, the buck stopped there. So it was with a feeling of privileged gratitude that I took assiduous mental notes as Karin, my roommate (and still bff today), pointed out one big name after another, as I nodded with feigned acknowledgement. Karin’s shrieks of excitement at every discovery suggested what I would later definitively learn: the Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré is truly the holy grail of prêt-à-porter.
But I felt more like a country bumpkin than ever. I’ll never forget seeing the flagship Hermès boutique loom before me for the first time, all orange and silver and creamy white and brown leathers. At that moment, I lived the fin-de-siècle Paris of Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames. Like his provincial Denise, I was a worshipper at the foot of this alter of consumption, awed by its frivolity and, above all, luxe. This was mecca and I was a simple pilgrim, my journey of nineteen years and thousands of miles finally completed. This was the center of the world.
And I had to become initiated. So when Karin’s excitement reached a fever pitch outside of the Tod’s boutique, I went in. Using my aching feet as a premise, and for half of the price I would pay now for these things, I bought myself a pair of size 39 winter loafers from Tod’s. My first shoe in a European size. (Not counting some amazing Ferragamo boots my dad once found at Nordstrom’s Rack when I was in high school, and which he returned because I found them too ostentatious to wear. I still regret that decision.) My first shoe that came with its own little camel-colored protective cotton sack. My first designer purchase. And so began the transformation from English/Poli-Sci major to French major, from French student to French speaker, from brunette to blonde, from Laurel Center Mall to Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré.
The Tod’s were supposed to save me from a year of blisters and discomfort…which they did, but, as it turned out, only after a period of even greater discomfort as I broke them in. The lovely camel-colored leather on the inside of the heel still bears the bloody testament, a permanent reminder of my transformation. There is no way I can throw these shoes away.
What happens when your dad is kind of obsessed with waging the war on bed bugs and you’ve just moved back home? You find your humorous bed bug-themed New Yorker magazine lying in front of your bedroom with the following little note:
Put your backpack in the tub till we fumigate it.
Living at home is a freaking trip.
I have been noticing an interesting trend lately: Facebook status updates that address an absent party or entity, an inanimate object, or a personification. They seem to often take the form of a letter, eg “Dear XYZ…” The rhetorical device, as you probably know, is apostrophe. The people who did it right were John Donne (Death, Be Not Proud) and Walt Whitman (O Captain, My Captain) and lots of other people who kept it heady and poetic.
But in the annals of Facebook lie countless instances of its degradation. A stranger on the street, a boss, a job, a television show, a hot dog (a freaking hot dog??) or the all-time favorite, “life”— nothing seems safe from the pointed reproach of the Self-Satisfied Facebook User.
Here are a few (fictional) examples:
“Dear Jesus: I know you don’t normally do this sort of thing, but please come down from heaven and smite Ann Coulter. Amen.”
“Dear Grey’s Anatomy, time to step your game up, dawg.”
“Dear cute boy on the F train: thanks for not laughing too hard when I tried to smile at you and instead had a really gross coughing fit. I appreciated it.”
“Dear Life: I didn’t order lemons! I want lemonade, damnit.”
“Dear Life, thanks for constantly reminding me that the only thing harder than finding an apartment in NYC is finding a boyfriend. Love, Me.”
“Dear Facebook, You call it social networking, however looking at the amount of stuff that is not getting done at work, I will now deem it social NOTworking.”
(That last one is directly taken from a teeeeeerrible website I found called dearfacebook.)
Sooo what’s this all about? And why does it annoy me so much?! Well I guess first of all, it seems the end goal in using apostrophe in the micro-blogging realm is to complain. It is almost always invoked in order to somehow deflect that negativity, though. So, instead of saying
“I ate cupcakes for dinner,”
the “ironic” facebook translation becomes:
“Dear Magnolia Bakery, if you keep this up, I will never fit into my skinny jeans again. Thanks a whole lot. That is all.”
Usually accompanied with a certain vague smugness (“That is all.”), the status “hilariously” makes the speaker into an ironic victim of Magnolia’s delicious, delicious cupcakes. So now, not only has the speaker (a) eaten cupcakes for dinner (not really a problem, in my book), (b) felt BAD about eating the cupcakes for dinner (more of a problem), but then in a final, supremely annoying stroke, (c) has made him/herself into a victim of the cupcake instead of owning the (a) eating of the cupcakes or the (b) feeling bad about it.
Much like the whole FML thing, the use of apostrophe in mini-updates can be, and often is entertaining. But both can also quickly become very thinly-veiled, self-serving self-pity. Or in the case of FML, not even veiled at all. Veil free. If public self-pity formulas were Muslim women, FML would totally be a Jordanian chick.
So, here I sit at the West Haven Best Western “Executive Hotel”, in town for the illustrious 36th Annual Nineteenth Century French Studies Colloquium, being held at Yale this year.
And this is what happens when you remember at midnight that despite a bubble bath and a slow-paced Netflix screening of The Age of Innocence (Ooooh, so good), you cannot sleep because all you have eaten today is a half a sub at 1 pm and you are now starving.
So you grab your ice bucket, put on flip-flops and wander out into the 56 degree rain and hope for the best. Lo and behold (and not surprisingly, given we are in New England), Dunkin’ Donuts is open. At midnight. And packed. Despite the inherent appeal of donuts for dinner, hark! What light from yonder window breaks? It is the convenience store, and… Dunkin’ Donuts is the sun? I guess? Anyway, convenience store is open. And they have Cup O’Noodles. And that is fantastic.
So I head back into the hotel, thanking my lucky stars that I am not being attacked in the truck stop/abandoned warehouse lot that surrounds my oasis. The bar is still open and a few AARP members (I mean like three) are gathered round the warm glow of its warming glow. I peek in and ask if they take cards, because I just spent my last $1.25 on dinner. Sadly, no. But then a kindly elderly gentleman offers to buy my drink. I get a red wine—Frontera, bien sûr—gladly taking my new BFF Joseph up on the offer. I stick around for about 45 seconds and, go back up to my room, forgetting to refill my ice bucket, the necessity of so doing being the cited reason for my urgent departure.
I remember I have Lindt chocolate in my bag, which pretty much makes up for the fact that I have to eat my microwaved beef-flavored de/rehydrated noodles with two hotel pens acting as chopsticks because I forgot to grab a plastic fork at the convenience store.
But it’s all. Right.
And to quote my new favorite line from a movie (Age of Innocence, uttered by Daniel Day Lewis in the role of Newland Archer to his paramour the Countess Olenska, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, at the occasion of their reunion following a prolonged absence): “You know I hardly remembered you. Each time it’s the same… you happen to me all over again.”
You happen to me all over again. What a beautiful way to describe it; that power that someone you love (or Lindt chocolate and red wine) has over you, the one that will never go away. Distance may weaken it, but if it’s real, it will happen all over again. And again, and again.
Ah, clearly the Frontera is going to my head and acting quickly on my empty stomach. Time for a feast. Happy weekend!
I haven’t had this much shiny happy joy sitting on my desk since 2004, aka, the last time I got a new Apple computer.
Now I have no more excuses— let the games (and my new life) begin!!
Here is the dramatic arc of every single “documentary” on the History Channel.
Intro: Voiceover “[The Mayas, the Incas, UFOs, Atlantis, Ancient Greece, Dinosaurs, Ancient Weapons, the Bible, Nostradamus, Big Foot]: Its/Their influence has been felt since the dawn of man (dramatic music and 19th century paintings and drawings of whatever is being talked about).
But what REALLY happened? Recent findings suggest that everything you ever knew about X…. may be a lie! (even more dramatic music and tortured twisted faces from late Renaissance paintings). Join us as we embark on a journey…through….TIIIIME, to discover the truth about X.”
The first 35 minutes will set up a series of ridiculous hypothetical situations, skimming the cream of the stupidity crop of urban legends, heresay, “eyewitness testimony,” and the two cents of self-titled experts. Example: Some say these tales are legends. But Christopher Jenkins, author of “The Truth Behind the Holy Grail: What’s at Stake for the Catholic Church,” thinks otherwise.
Christopher Jenkins: ”There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Mayan aliens from Atlantis dressed in bigfoot costumes drank human blood out of the Holy Grail because they were vampires.”
Voiceover: COULD it BE that this startling discovery holds the answers to the REAL mystery behind the Da Vinci Code?
-Cut to Commercial (3 minute infomercial about 3D never-before-seen footage of Nazis available in a DVD box set for
$69.99 just $39.99)
Last 5 Minutes: Voiceover (After rehashing previous 35 minutes): “Some remain skeptical, however.” Aaaaand then there are about 2 minutes where scientists and scholars from Harvard, Oxbridge, NASA, and other “real” research institutions will completely and entirely debunk the entire premise of the show, showing very coolly that no, this startling discovery holds no answers to any real mysteries.
That’s not to say all TV is bad these days. In fact, SO much of it is AMAZING that I hate to see so-called educational channels making such a crappy product over and over again. While their visuals have vastly improved over the last few years, it’s high time the basic cable TV documentary caught up to the likes of their dramatic and comedic competitors. 30 Rock, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, South Park— they may follow formulas, but they keep it so fresh and hilarious that you don’t even notice. Most importantly, they don’t dumb it down. They write for a savvy, sophisticated audience (who has google at their fingertips just in case they’re not that savvy). Why can’t the “serious” shows follow suite?
So I’m walking into my mom’s condo in Annapolis, MD, yesterday, sporting my favorite alma mater gear, a beloved Vassar College sweatshirt. Now, as anyone who went to a “Seven Sister” or “Little Ivy” school knows, one thing that really rubs us the wrong way is when someone stares blankly at the name of your school and asks “Is that a community college?” No. no it is not. No, I didn’t get into Yale, and no I didn’t break 1400 on my SATs but WHY DON’T YOU KNOW HOW ELITE I AM??? GRADE ME, RATE ME, PRAISE MEEEE!!!! Ahem. Hem.
So anyway, someone’s moving into the building and the moving guys are getting some things out of the U-Haul. One of them tips his hat as I walk by and then breaks into a big smile before asking:
“Who’s your driver?”
Perplexed, I ask, “Sorry? Oh, I just walked…,” thinking he somehow thought I had been chauffeured (see aforementioned elitism).
“Oooh, Vassar!” He interjects. ”Shoot, I thought your shirt said NASCAR.”
Well now I’ve just heard it all.
Oh, and here’s a classy picture of the famous sweatshirt, and me doing the Vassar name proud.