On Dandies

As a lion hunter would study his lioness quarry, I have recently been pondering the fascinating creature of the dandy. To my surprise, there are several websites and articles attempting to dissect, discuss and celebrate (with the appropriate distance and dignity requisite of a dandy) this unique form of masculinity.

I thought I’d share some snippets from an article on dandyism.net, the definitive blog on dandies. They have explained and analyzed dandyism to a degree I couldn’t hope to do myself. And so, I give you their abridged definition of the dandy:

We agree with Barbey d’Aurevilly that dandyism is as difficult to describe as to define. We can opine about effortless elegance and sparkling wit, but dandyism is ultimately characterized by the nearly indescribable effect of the dandy’s appearance and demeanor on the spectator. The French call such effect a je ne sais quoi; in Hollywood it’s called having “it.”

The magic of dandyism resides in the interplay between the dandy’s temperament and his appearance. Yet it is not a question of simple harmony, for one dandy may combine severe dress with a jocular demeanor, while another meshes cold aloofness with colorful and audacious dress.

The common characteristics dandyism.net identifies among dandies are the following: physical distinction, elegance, self-mastery, aplomb, independence — ideally financial independence; wit, a skeptical, world-weary, sophisticated, bored or blasé demeanor; self-mocking and endearing egotism; dignity/reserve; discriminating taste; renaissance man; caprice. However they add the following caveat:

Because dandies are an enigma wrapped in a labyrinth, and because dandyism makes its own rules, the final quality is the ability to negate all the others.

For in the end there is not a code of dandyism, as Barbey writes. “If there were, anybody could be a dandy.”

These definitions and criteria certainly put the plume in the hat when it comes to the outward effects and affectations of a dandy, but I found these comments from another article on wikipedia quite interesting as well.

Charles Baudelaire, in the later, “metaphysical” phase of dandyism defined the dandy as one who elevates æsthetics to a living religion that the dandy’s mere existence reproaches the responsible citizen of the middle class: “Dandyism in certain respects comes close to spirituality and to stoicism” and “These beings have no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking …. Contrary to what many thoughtless people seem to believe, dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of his mind.”

What I find so fascinating about this commentary on the dandy is that it elevates dandyism above the material manifestations and ways that the world perceives a dandy and gets straight to the heart of why dandies are the way they are. They love to think, to feel, to pursue their passions — all other manifestations of sophistication are mere reflections of their desire to cultivate their minds and talents.

I’m still marinading about dandies, and would like to continue expounding, but I’m almost too interested in another idea — the definition and inner workings of a female dandy, should she exist.

He swept me off my feet…

Today, while I was in the kitchen, Jeff filled up a bowl with water and without a word took it into my bedroom. Following him in bewilderment, I said, “What are you doing?”

He proceeded to dump out the bowl in several places on my floor, each time loudly yelling “Ah-hooooh! Aw-huh! Agh-uaaaah!” with great flourish.

As I stared at my wet floor, I wondered where I ever found such a weird boyfriend who’s so prone to inconveniencing me.

Then, from the corner of the room, he pulled out a Swiffer he had secretly acquired from a friend who’s moving out of Beijing, and began to sweep it grandly about the room, meanwhile still making his “aha!” noises.

I think he may need more socialization and stimuli.

Embarrassing purchases

I have a feeling that all of my non-Chinese readers are currently looking at this picture thinking, “What the heck is that thing?” Those of you who are China-savvy know that this adorable little contraption is a humidifier, or “steam machine,” as I like to call them. They are pretty much mandatory in Chinese households, so I guess I’m just getting more integrated. You can get non-animal shaped ones if you want, but why would you when you can choose from penguins, lions, frogs, foxes, dogs and pandas that blow steam out their mouths/ears?

“But Caitlin, what are you doing with such a useless item in your home?” you ask.

Well, it all started about a year ago when I started going out with Jeff Lee, who is very particular about the condition of his skin. You see, Jeff has different premium lotions for face, hands, cuticles and body, and special chap stick that he carries on his person at all times. Unfortunately for Jeff, Beijing is currently experiencing a drought and is extremely dry.

Hence, the steam machine.

I guess I’ll let you know how the atmosphere of my apartment changes in the next few days. So far, it has made my comforter colder on the side where it sits. I don’t want to complain too much about it though, or Jeff will take it to his apartment. As useless as I suspect it to be, it’s also sort of growing on me.

There and Back Again

I left for San Francisco on December 20, and just got back to Beijing after what felt like a very short break. Although there was lots to write about while I was away, I wasn’t too motivated to do so, so I’ll just summarize some of my thoughts now that I’m back.

I flew in to San Francisco on an amazingly beautiful, sunny day. As we flew over the California coast I was stunned at the unspoiled beauty of my home — where were all the factories? The towering apartments? The ugly, squat warehouses? We flew in from the north of the city, passing over a magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, and as we passed over the city I was overcome with emotion. I could see all the places I had been missing — schools, parks, Twin Peaks, and finally, I saw the little yellow building that is my home.

As we landed, I was still in shock at how many trees there were near the airport. It’s not just that there are a lot of trees in San Francisco, but they are often taller than the buildings surrounding them. I found myself on many of the first few days home sitting the windows overlooking the city just appreciating the trees.

It’s hard to sum up all of my culture shock at being home. I arrived right before Christmas, when people are frothing over material gifts, so that was a bit weird. I have been going through a mild inclination for asceticism, and it was difficult to not get exasperated with people worrying about Christmas gifts. In the end, it really doesn’t matter how many gifts you give, I think. You could even give nothing at all, and it would be OK.

Even more unsettling was coming back to a place of such economic security. I had been reading so much about the economic meltdown, but in downtown San Francisco I couldn’t see any signs. It felt like there was a storm looming, but nobody saw the thunder clouds. Especially after seeing so much poverty in other parts of the world, I couldn’t help wanting to shake people who were going about their daily routines, worrying about their own isolated struggles, and yell “Don’t you know? Don’t you know something bad is coming?” The rest of the world is in serious trouble, but most of us are still burying our heads in the sand. It seems like only a matter of time before the world comes knocking on America’s door, and it may not be a pretty situation when we have to face the same problems everyone else on the planet faces. It took quite a while to quell my feelings of discomfort and mild paranoia around San Francisco’s seemingly blithe population.

On the whole, it was wonderful to be home. Both my brothers were around over the holidays, and Jeff was at our home for Christmas due to a long layover on his way to see his own family. We had a quiet and nice Christmas with surprisingly little turmoil or hilarity to relate, sad to say.

At any rate, I didn’t have much time to ponder my culture shock, as my break was pretty busy. I went to the dentist a few days after getting back and discovered that my wisdom teeth were in a bad way. I also had some cavities that needed filling, so I was looking at a break riddled with dentist appointments threatening to ruin all my plans.

I had my wisdom teeth removed on New Year’s Eve, because there were openings due the obvious undesirability of that day. I was awake for the operation, since the dentist said that’s “what most people do.” Since then I’ve heard from almost everyone that that is a lie. It was one of the most terrifying and disgusting experiences of my life, which concurrently says something about how awful it is to be conscious during a dental operation and how pampered my life is. I was mildly hysterical by the time the operation was over, so I went home, loaded up on antibiotics and vicodin, and watched animated movies with Kieran.

By the next day I was pretty much fine, and a few days later I drove down to Santa Barbara to spend time with Jeff’s family. Since Jeff’s dad is a dentist, I was able to kill two birds with one stone and have my cavities fixed up while I was there. Unfortunately this meant that Jeff had ample opportunity to laugh as I pathetically tried to drink liquids and smile symmetrically with a numb mouth. Other than that, we did all the usual Santa Barbara things and had a nice visit filled with wonderful food and pleasant relaxation.

Since I have never been to Disneyland, Jeff gave me a trip there as my Christmas present. I can honestly say without embellishment — but with a little embarrassment — that it was one of the happiest days of my life. The weather was sunny but not too hot, and since it was a Tuesday lines were short. Everything there was new and exciting, and Jeff was super awesome the whole day too. I’ve never ridden on roller coasters since I’m afraid of them, and so the Disneyland roller coasters were plenty scary and fun for me.

We rode Indiana Jones, which was my favorite because it wasn’t too scary. Then Jeff forced me to ride Splash Mountain, which was really scary. Fortunately, Jeff had to sit in the front of the ride and got completely soaked, which made up for it being scary because he had to pretend he wasn’t annoyed at being wet since the ride was his idea. We also rode Big Thunder Mountain railroad which Jeff said wasn’t scary (it was). We rode a Buzz Lightyear ride where you shoot targets from your car. Jeff got a score of about 300,000 while I got a score of about 3,000, which was hilarious. I watched “Honey, I Shrank the Audience,” which was my first 3-D film experience. We ate lunch and saw a performance/workshop where Disney actors taught kids how to become Jedi knights. It was super cute and you could tell the kids were really into it. We also went to the Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise, which were awesome in their tackiness and a nice way to relax after the sensory overload of the other rides and attractions. At the end of the day we rode The Matterhorn since it was Jeff’s favorite ride, even though I was totally afraid of it. Pluses: the seats are arranged for snuggling. Minuses: I felt myself lift off the seat at every drop and sudden curve.

All in all, it was a highly successful trip. I’ve decided two things though. One, I won’t take my kids there when they’re young, because all the kids there were crying and the parents were screaming. Two, I’m never going back, because it was the perfect Disneyland experience and I don’t think I could top it.

At then end of the week, Jeff and I packed our things and headed to Davis. I stayed with friends and had a generally great time seeing people I’d been missing for a long time. It’s always great to see friends you haven’t seen in a long time, and to feel like your friendship is just how it always was. We went to the essential Davis bars that I had been hearing so much about throughout college, which seemed quaint after living in the hustle and bustle of Beijing, but I guess it’s the people that matter, not the scene. I also got to visit professors and stress about academic matters.

Before I knew it we were back in San Francisco, shopping for a few items before I hopped on a flight and found myself back in Beijing, feeling a little disoriented. I was feeling melancholy having to say goodbye to my family and home, and more than a little hesitant to come back to Beijing. Being in America was like living in a wonderful, real Disneyland, and now I had to come back to real life. But after stepping off the plane and riding the subway home, I felt like I was also coming home in a strange way. I still don’t feel too settled in, and I spent most of my time here so far in my apartment napping and reading, but I’m curious to see what will unfold in the coming months. It will likely determine where I’ll be living and what I’ll be doing in the next few years. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities, and daunting to think of the great unknown. I’ll try to keep you posted…

The best day!

Saturday I had the best day. Someone I’m turning 21 on Thursday, and since we don’t see eachother too much, and he hates making decisions, Jeff decided we’d start celebrating my birthday on Saturday. For the day, he responded to every question with “whatever you want,” and I felt spoiled silly.

After teaching (which for the record was not “whatever I wanted” to do Saturday morning) we went out to lunch at a Thai restaurant. Lately I’ve been sick of Chinese food, but since non-Chinese means a hefty price tag, I haven’t stepped out too much. The restaurant was really nice — we even saw another customer take a picture of it with his camera-phone. The food was also really good, mainly because it tasted like non-Chinese food.

After lunch, we continued doing whatever I liked and went to Cold Stone — also a hefty price, both for my wallet and my health. I had a Boston Cream Pie, which is vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and cake. It was delicious, and it really did taste like a Boston Cream pie. I also got it in a waffle bowl, since it was my “birthday” after all.

After ice cream, we went window shopping and watched “Heroes.” Then it was time for dinner, which was again, my choice. We had Xinjiang food, which comes from China’s Xinjiang province. You may have heard of Xinjiang from articles about civil unrest there. You see, the people in Xinjiang are not ethnically Han Chinese, and are mostly Muslim. It’s easy to see how the somewhat xenophobic and anti-religion government could be at odds with this group of outsiders. While the government is bent on keeping the rogue province tightly within grip, the culture and the people’s food is often dismissed as “un-Chinese.” But enough of politics — their food is amazing. It’s sort of a wonderful mixture of Middle Eastern, Indian and Chinese food.

The food has a heavy mixture of spices and often is a touch spicy. Many dishes are stews with a sweet tomato sauce base and lots of yummy veggies. Their staples are thick, handmade noodles and fried, seasoned naan, which are both absolutely wonderful. Jeff’s favorite Xinjiang food is meat skewers, which is one of a handful of characters he knows. On Saturday we also discovered that though the most common meat is lamb, I’ve been incorrectly translating it as “goat” for months now. Jeff was a little miffed about that one, but I maintain that it’s not my fault, since it’s all the same character in Chinese, and my brained sort of merged the two animals into one as a result.

Having eaten our fill, we went and got hair cuts. Neither cut was ideal, but we had a great time at the salon. Jeff started screaming for me several times to come over and translate, and all the stylists thought we were hilarious. Jeff looks a lot more Chinese now. My hair cut was just a trim, but I’m not satisfied with the blockiness of my layers. I’m sure everyone cares about that.

Anyway, it was pretty much the best day I’ve had in a while. I think it mostly had to do with Jeff being really sweet, and the amount of tasty food I had. In other news, Thursday is my real birthday, so he’s still not off the hook for celebrating it.

Whining

Today, for the first time in a while I spent a few hours not doing anything. With Jeff in Hong Kong fixing his visa, I find myself feeling like I have a ton of time on my hands. How does that little rhyme go again? Correlation equals causation? Science kids, help me out. Har har.

Anyway, I had some time on my hands, and rather than doing laundry (current status: not quite out of chones, but choosing outfits is a bit difficult), or studying, I decided to stalk Jeff’s blogs of past days. Yes, I’m that pathetic.

But actually, it made me realize that there are a few things I haven’t been able to do in China that I really loved in my Davis life.

1. Bake bread

2. Bake brownies, cookies and chocolatey things to give to friends

3. Cook really tasty dinners

4. Go to farmers market/pick fruit from Impossible Acres

5. Hang out with Davis peeps in Davis

6. Warm country strolls

7. Warm country bikerides

8. Warm country car rides (sorry environment, I just love that stuffy hot car feeling)

9. Dates that don’t involve public transportation or traffic jams

10. Air that smells nice

Looking over the list, most of these things require a country setting, warm weather and an oven. Dang you China! Apparently my life is also a lot more food-centric than I thought, probably due to a certain tape-worm-toting boyfriend. I guess I’d better get that oven I’ve been coveting. [although baking soda, baking powder and yeast are probably the limiting agents in my baking dreams] I’m going to need an oven to comfort me in the coming months of bitter cold, pollution and hours spent riding public transport. It’s currently 4 p.m. and I am sitting in bed, wearing a sweatshirt, fuzzy bathrobe and blankets. Winter is coming…

Jeff is a computer hog

So, I got an email from parents this morning basically wondering if I’m alive and what I’m doing. Obviously Jeff has been doing most of the updating, so while I have the computer, I just wanted to let everyone know I’m fine, and that Jeff is a computer hog. He has food poisoning combined with lactose intolerance, which means he’s feeling miserable enough that I easily got the computer while he went to take a nap. One man’s downfall is another man’s opportunity, I say! Ha ha!