Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding Dresses

Although my father would be appalled, I did watch the Royal Wedding, or rather youtube highlights, but with my Celebrity Class, not in my living room at 5 am. I actually caught the final moments (the balcony kiss) as I was getting ready for work today. Having seen the dress, I figured the rest was missable (save Posh Spice's outfit, of course) although I watched enough snippets to be relatively well informed in future conversations. I also didn't miss tons of sleep so that was another positive, even though Peeps was doing her best to get me up by 5 am.

Like the Oscars, this wedding seemed to all come down to the clothes, and as most of these were essentially uniforms of one sort or another, (hats/bright colored dresses with matching jackets, hats/suits/military attire), the bride's dress (and that of a former British girl group) were the real red carpet attractions. Posh, as seems to be the case of late, did not disappoint, her pregnant stomach carefully draped in navy blue fabric, her husband's hat hiding her torso, all accessorized with her custom made Louboutins and equally custom made ponytail.

The bride, however, was somewhat dull. Granted, this appears to be part of her image--dull, driven, very upper middle-class girl who will not shake the monarchy apart, reasonably attractive, good figure, nice hair, good breeding stock to add some new blood into the ancien regime. She's certainly no fashion plate although she's not an embarrassing dresser either--just solid Sloaney contemporary, the modern equivalent of too many of the girls I went to University with in the UK. Her dress really said it all. Mildly derivative of Grace Kelly's 1950s affair, it spoke volumes about the expectations attendant upon a wealthy commoner marrying royalty. Unlike her late mother-in-law, she chose a dress that took up little room, suggesting that she would not make waves and would similarly fit herself into her surroundings. Its relatively clean lines also indicated a willingness to subdue any of the extravagances of self, to conform to the system to which she submitted herself, as well as gesturing to the ideas of clean, upper-class taste. Diana was not a fashion plate, although the world pretended she was, but she was someone who was entranced with fads and followed the trends, albeit in their high end forms. The ruffles and lace that became synonymous with her early style had already moved through Vivian Westwood's pirates and Britain's New Romantics long before her wedding dress made its crumpled first appearance out of that carriage. Her choice spoke of a woman perhaps too invested in the world of pop culture, fashion and pop music, a sensibility that foregrounded the self and sentiment, not restraint and acceptance of hierarchies and position. As it filled the aisle and its excessive train billowed out for yards and yards, its very size articulated a different persona from Kate's slim and streamlined gown--that of a young woman who would not renounce self for Queen and Country, but was instead inspired by romantic fictions and fashions.

Kate Middleton, on the other hand, not only stayed true to a style that is essentially recognized for its quiet conformity to upper class social norms, but also evoked her role as consort above all else. No peaks of cleavage, no creases, muted decorations, all of them expressing emblems of her husband's royal heraldry. Besides echoing Grace Kelly's gown, her dress bore some resemblance to Princess Anne's own choice, with both harking back to far older models--Kate's had a pared-down Tudor look to it, especially around the neckline, while Anne's was overtly Renaissance Fair-Medieval. Given Princess Anne's status as the hard working royal, the one most respected by traditionalists and most associated with customary royal ideals, I feel this resemblance also spoke volumes. This was not the muted presence of a bride who acknowledged the recession and public service cuts that have eviscerated British life, but rather a clear announcement of someone who will accept their place and maintain royal tradition, containing self in the process.

As for Posh, I think she gets more fabulous as every year goes by. Best dressed at the wedding by far.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Presidio Motel

While in Santa Barbara, my friend Jenny and I stayed at the Presidio Motel located centrally on State Street. Basically, it's a small (16 room) typically American 1950s motel complex that has been given an artsy makeover. Each room is different, there are free bikes available, internet is weak but free and there is a complimentary continental breakfast with tea, coffee, fruit, hard boiled eggs and yummy sweet breads, muffins and scones. There's also a fridge in each room which is great for people staying longer and not going to wedding-related events. There's also the best gift shop ever (save the Opening Ceremony shop at the Ace Hotel), which I'll blog about later.

We were in room 15 which looks like this (from the motel's website):

Here are some of the photos I took:

And here's the view from our window--there is a little sun deck which we didn't have the time to use--this was an early morning photo before the sun burned through the clouds. As visitors on Eastern Time, we were early risers:

It was great staying somewhere that wasn't part of a chain and had its own charm and style. Plus the guest store sold Rachel Comey, striped t-shirts, letterpress cards and artisan jewelry and leather goods, amongst other items, so it was all pretty much to my taste. I highly recommend the hotel if you are in the area--the owners are great and it is all very reasonably priced for the area. It was nice to call it our temporary home in the area.

California--Flight Saga

My trip was great, framed by unfortunate and frustrating travel interruptions. On the way out, I had to change planes in Dallas and as I had a 90+ minute layover, I'd planned lunch. As a former Texas resident, I knew DFW had decent food, including local eateries. It would take some time to find but even in such a huge airport, I knew I had time to seek out food, eat it, and board my flight. I was actually looking forward to my layover. Such is my work schedule that I rarely have time for a proper lunch (like most people today), so it would be dead time I'd use wisely.

Given my plans for lunch, I nearly skipped getting something to eat at La Guardia. I'd packed organic grapes and crackers, eaten a banana for breakfast, so it seemed like overkill. But then part of me thought better and I bought two (mediocre) eggs on a (terrible, white) roll. It was just as well. Our sold out flight was evidently turned away from DFW due to tornados north of the airport and because La Guardia limits the amount of fuel a plane can carry, we had to divert to Oklahoma City and refuel as we didn't have sufficient fuel to circle at Dallas. So my layover (and carefully planned lunch) time was spent in the middle of the tarmac (we didn't pull into a gate or deplane). We arrived at DFW just in time for me to miss my flight which took off on time as it seemed like our plane was one of the few that day to be delayed. As appears to be typical of the airline industry today, American had fully booked all other planes to LA and Santa Barbara and I had, of course, missed all my connections. I spoke to a rep on the phone for 40 minutes but she wasn't given consent to sign my ticket over to United (to get in about 7 hours after I'd planned). But I did manage to persuade a gate attendant to let me on the next LA flight as soon as a seat emerged. It wouldn't get me to Santa Barbara but I'd deal with that when I arrived.

It turned out all flights for Santa Barbara that day were overbooked so I got the bus instead. I arrived three hours late and none too happy.

On the way back, everything was going well. Santa Barbara flight left on time and I arrived so early at LAX that I tried to get on one of the two NYC flights that left before mine. Alas, everything was overbooked so I ended up on my flight. It left on time. Then it returned to the gate after an hour or so in the air after a technical malfunction 35 minutes into our trip. We had to deplane, wait, reboard, by which time our 12.40 am arrival time (as late as I wanted to get in, indeed a little later than I'd hoped) was history. Sometime after 3 am we landed. I was in bed by 3.45 after finding a kindly cab driver (and spending money I'd hoped to save by using public transit). With teaching the next day, this was not the end to the weekend I'd planned. American did gift passengers with 3,000 miles for the flight interruption on the way back but my anger at the way the first set of flight snafus was handled remains. I learned a lesson though. As my dear friend Chris told me, never fly through Dallas in the spring because of the unpredictable weather.

Pictures and posts from Santa Barbara, the wedding, and the surrounding events will follow.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Back from California

That was some trip in all senses of the word! I will fill in the details and post pictures later but right now I am sleep deprived and rushing off to teach. I had a great time marred only by the worst flying experiences both ways--getting in at 3.30 am this morning rather than the scheduled 12.40. Thank you American Airlines! A rant on this topic will surely follow, along with a complaint to the airline.

Otherwise, the bride was beautiful, the wedding likewise and the time with friends priceless.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cutest Picture of the Week

It's been a long, grey, hard working week. I'm sure we all need a little uplift and here it is--in the form of a Montana firefighter who rescued a little tabby kitten.

I also received an IM from my email and internet phobic friend, Harry, one of the dearest people in my life and the sweetest woman in the world. She's the kind of person who'd rescue kittens too--she has the biggest heart I've ever seen.

Taxes, Rain--and Lions

Yet again, spring eludes us in NYC. A mere two 70+ degree days this year and many more where I'm clutching my coats to my neck or cursing my stupidity in thinking I could go without a sweater, cardigan and some kind of tank top underwear. Today is no different--cold, wet, possibly dangerous winds and a threatening storm.

In addition, it's tax day. After a week with three defenses and paper proposal grading, I managed to get a cold, meaning that while I did get my taxes in today, my state return was nominally a day late. Alas, this was not going to be a year where I got much of a return. Despite buying a new computer (my old one was getting scarily unreliable which isn't good for an academic), traveling nationally and internationally for conferences and research and buying a lot of books and dvds for classroom and research use, I still ended up paying over $400 to the federal govt. I should get a little less than that back from the state but it reminds me to alter my allotments for next year. Had I received a refund big enough, I'd have considered getting the A Detacher Didions I tried on with Caroline on Wednesday in my brief period of (stolen) free time. But I wasn't going to blow all of a refund on one item and it looks like I'm not blowing any cash on anything any time soon now.

So, I have a cold, its wet, windy and chilly outside and I had to pay into my taxes. I'd rather have those three bundled together than deal with them individually so that's all just as well. No pilates or zumba for me today. Much of the day I've slumped around in my J. Crew pajamas.

Now it is time to shower, drink more tea and soon, head off to the Museum of the Moving Image to see Male and Female with Ashley, Ben and Brynn. Tigers ahoy! Then, hopefully, Sripraphai tonight. Nothing I love better than good spicy Thai food at the best of times, but when I have a cold, it's even more necessary.

More Owls

As some of you know, I have a soft spot for owls. Their big round eyes, tendency towards tawny coloring and little beak remind me of my dear little Peeps. I just saw these babies on the internet--abandoned and orphaned owlettes who are about to be released into the wild and couldn't resist sharing their tiny faces.

Even more surprising--or perhaps appropriate--they come from the RSPCA Wildlife Centre in East Winch, right by Mum, Dad, my brother and sister-in-law and where I went to village discos with my friends Sarah and Caroline back when I was 13-14.

Monday, April 11, 2011


I often think that teaching and writing are fundamentally incompatible skill sets--the former demands extrovert socialization with others, the latter demands hermiting and introspection. I can do both but the pressure to do them simultaneously often overwhelms. Not to mention all the real life things that both tend to push to the edge--be it going to the bank, post office, doctors, etc.

So I've been writing quite a bit recently--the panic about wasting my life and potential grabs me every year at this time as it is the end of the academic year. Alas, it's terrible timing as it's also the moment when teaching starts to accelerate into overdrive. I realize the solution is longer days, weeks and weekends, but that's impossible. My plans are to have this book proposal out by Wednesday, three articles out by the end of the academic year (with a fourth to follow in short measure in May) and to have the second book proposal finished by mid-June--along with the conference paper for Glasgow. If I didn't have to teach, I would do it but the yin-yang, back-forth of teaching and writing isn't always compatible with doing a great job with either.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Some Success

Today we've finally had spring-like weather. So far this year, NYC has had one 70 degree day--this time last year, we'd had 9 or 10 and just a year ago yesterday it was in the 90s (we had a 50 degree day). Thanks to NY1 for this information.

So, I decided to try out a few of my spring outfits. The first one was actually too much for the day--black Rag and Bone skinny pants (which seemed a little less skinny--hopefully that's a good sign), iris Mayle Alyosha blouse and black Angelika knit jacket with my high heeled RC ankle boots. So I changed into my Flavia skirt (which I adore), a red polka dot Lyell puffed sleeve blouse from SS 2006, brown cashmere J. Crew cardigan, blue Hansel from Basel ankle socks (why didn't I buy more at $2 a pair?) and my red t-strap No. 6 clogs. The best part about this outfit, aside from its comfort, is that the Lyell blouse didn't fit just a couple of months ago when Cindy was here. It was tight in the sleeves and the buttons pulled when I fastened it up. I love it and was so sad that I'd put on so much weight. I'm not saying I've lost a ton--there is a long way to go. But it is lovely to have this item back in rotation. It feels like shopping, only nicer!

I also returned my too tight size 8 JM dress to Gilt Groupe today and hope it arrives before the 21 day return period is over. It's such a shame it didn't work out--if I'd got the 10 or even the 12 I'd probably have worn it today. But the dress ran ridiculously small and by the time it had arrived, all sizes had sold out.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cutting Back

I've noticed a theme in several of the blogs I read regularly--including mine--is the writer's efforts to cut back on clothes spending. I am sure some of this economizing has to do with the economy as well as the relatively uninspired affordable items on the market, by which I mean that some of the most beautiful items by the likes of Carven, Suno and Isabel Marant do not fit my budget. Sure I look at my favorite e-commerce sites (I've had little to no time to shop in person for what seems like years), but I've either been uninspired or discovered that items I want have stood out for others too and sold out immediately (like that Isabel Marant cardigan that I still couldn't really afford). I also feel that few things out there are as beautiful, inspiring and seemingly transformative as the pieces that have made me hold my breath in the past. This might be a function of aging (Heaven forbid!) or changing priorities, but I'm not so sure. The items that I've fallen for in the past--Mayle dresses, Surface to Air flats, Lyell coats, whatever--have grabbed me in an irrational way where I have felt this compulsion to own them.

Not that I'm complaining. Irrational consumption has led to a surfeit of items that work only at certain temperatures (generally a temperate warmth that now seems to elude NYC for 9-10 months of the year as we continue basking in winter in April). It has also led me to spend on dresses what many people spend on couches, computers, vacations, etc. As my income looks like it will be drastically reduced next year thanks to cutbacks in education spending (here I don't mean by the state but by the decision makers in Higher Ed who want to invest tuition dollars in overseas campuses not instruction), I can't do it. But then I also see the rails of clothing that fills our bedroom and know that each piece was beloved and may still be adored but if I don't wear what I have, those investments are wasted.

But I was bad last month--what with Lulu Frost for J. Crew bracelets going on sale (I bought them, don't ask how many), the Isabel Marant dress I bought on sale from Creatures of Comfort (it was lovely and 70 % off), the JM/Rachel Comey Gilt splurge. I could go on. I shouldn't. I won't.

So why did I do it? The lure of a bargain. The sense that these pieces were interesting and good investments. An irrational need and pleasure in the act of consumption. Plus I bought to alleviate stress, worry and concerns that made me think you can't take it with you. But (significantly I think) I find myself realizing that clothes don't matter that much as I sit in my friends' Sue and Tim's kitchen and talk to them while playing with their adorable children. Or when I'm watching movies, Sandra Lee clips and eating out with Evan, Ben, Brynn, Ashley, et al. I think that says a lot about the relationship between true contentment and the desires clothes instill in me. Of course, I'm not saying I don't still love clothing (I do and as I watch pre-Code movies I gasp at some of the pieces I see). I just don't have to buy everything I like and sometimes I can and should take a breather to enjoy what I have.

In sum, I'm redoubling my efforts not to slip again. And I will tell myself that when I find myself wondering if cheap clothing (Zara, H&M) will somehow fill some gap, or believing in their much altered promotional photos, and telling myself it won't count if I buy something. It will and hopefully I won't. And with some pride I can say I resisted some cashmere bargains at Club Monaco. Small steps maybe, but hopefully I can keep this up. The only things I really need are shoes for this interim period between the never-ending winter and summer. And that is a need, not a want.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Paul Krugman's Cats

I love Paul Krugman. He writes clearly about complex economic issues and his blog is a font of wisdom. If he ran the country, or the world for that matter, it would be a better place for everybody. Which is precisely why I think he would shun the task and carry on teaching Economics at Princeton and writing for the New York Times. Just when I thought I couldn't admire him more, I saw this on his blog:

Yes, he's a cat-owner! And long-haired kitties too! His cats are Doris Lessing (r) and Albert Einstein (ginger in the back).


I took the day off. Given that I wrote for eight hours after teaching and attending Ashley's fabulous MIAP thesis presentation on Friday, I thought I deserved it. I had already made plans in advance and wanted to make the best of this day, and I think I did. It was also a little warmer outside so it felt less like winter and more like a very early, slightly chilly, spring day.

I got up relatively early at 9.30 am, which took some discipline as I was writing until 1.30 am, and went to pilates and then Zumba (as usual). Then after going home and showering, my friend Ben came over for lunch. After walking 20+ blocks to Tacqueria Nixtamal, a place where they grind their own corn for their tamales, tacos and chips, and eating very well for $10 each, we walked off some of our lunch, came home, watched a couple of prize episodes of South Park and then headed back to Manhattan for more deliciousness in the shape of Doughnut Plant doughnuts (Vanilla bean for me, Pistachio for Ben). We then walked a few yards to the garden of a restaurant where we met Angela Landsbury and Robert Osborne. My friend Ashley had won a twitter competition to attend the meet and greet organized by TCM as part of their Road to Hollywood presentations of classic (and not so classic) movies introduced by one of their stars and Robert Osborne. So had our friends Brittan and Taso, who kindly added Ben and I as plus ones.

We then headed to the screening of The Manchurian Candidate at the SVA theater. Angela Lansbury was so lovely and easy to talk to--I was lucky enough to speak to her for about 10 minutes or longer about England, movies and her family (her lineage is illustrious--her grandfather was Labour Party leader George Lansbury, a major advocate of social justice). What a lovely, elegant, kind woman she is--still beautiful and trim at 85. She's also Oliver Postgate's cousin which makes me marvel at the talent, grace and accomplishments of that clan.

After a vegetarian burrito at Chipotle (memories of Cindy), I came home, watched The Ricky Gervais Show and fell asleep--tired and yet reinvigorated at the same time. Evan returned safely from Florida and all was well.