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.

Veggie Burgers

Yesterday while on our way to see Sherlock Holmes — Jude Law + Robert Downey Jr. FTW!! — Jeff spotted this mushroom that looks identical to a hamburger bun. I loll’d.

Short skirts

Those who know me well know that one of my absolute favorite activities is scoping out the ladies — yes, seriously. And the other day while people watching I saw the most amazing, nature-defying spectacle.

There was this girl wearing a really short dress, which was impressive for several reasons. The first was that the girl was what artists like to call rotund, and I mean really rotund. Secondly, judging from the length of leg showing, the hem of the dress could logically only extend an inch past her bottom, at most. But, though I watched her at length, the bottom never came out of the dress. It. was. a-mazing. Statistically speaking, it seems like if you have a large amount of butt waiting to be exposed, and a very small amount of fabric preventing that exposure, it’s sure to happen. I was sort of holding my breath, not because I really wanted to see her chones — it was like the thrill of watching the Jenga tower teeter after someone else pulled out their Jenga piece. But the dress never came up, even when she demonstrated a booty dance for her friends — no small miracle that I never saw the goods.

It really got me thinking, at any rate, about the universe’s mysterious tricks. It’s like a million possible and even likely calamities are waiting to happen, but sometimes, they just don’t.

Zen we went to ze park!

We got up early and went to the Golden Temple, in northwest Kyoto. The temple grounds were actually quite small, but it’s still notable since the temple is plated in gold.

We only spent about twenty minutes at the temple, and then went in search of an ATM and a zen garden. We found the zen garden, but not an ATM, so were without the funds necessary to enter the garden. Rebuffed and hungry, we got on a free bus and rode to Nijo Castle, where we found both an ATM and much-needed elevensies at 7-11. Elevensies, a meal between breakfast and lunch, has proved to be the most important meal of the day for us. Without elevensies there are bouts of pouting, flopping onto park benches, diminished problem-solving skills and inability to make logical decisions.

Refueled, we stormed Nijo Castle. This is a corner tower of the castle wall, which was surrounded by a moat.

There was a cormorant fishing the moat, and unlike in China, we could take pictures of the cormorant fishing for free!

Nijo Castle was built in 1603 by a shogun (from my understanding a sort of general-king). The floors were specially designed to be squeaky and he had hidden compartments for guards so that nobody could whack him. Talk about paranoid. The castle’s interiors are open to visitors — minus shoes, umbrella and cameras — and made for a lovely, shaded tour. Every room in the castle is covered in murals of scenes from nature, and many even have gold plating.

The castle grounds are quite large and have many gardens. At one point, we broke out our auxiliary elevensies, Kit Kat bars. Unfortunately, it was probably in the 90s at the very least, and they were liquid. So we trekked onward.

Short people, big walls:

Having had a successful castle visit, we had burgers for lunch and journeyed to the western outskirts of town where there are many parks and temples. When we got off the subway train, Jeff noticed a large building that said “piano museum” on the side, so despite it not being in the guide book or agenda, we went in. The lobby was actually a ticket office for some kind of special train ride called the “romance train.” The romance train was actually just a rickety wooden train, but I guess one man’s rickety wooden compartment of death is another’s rose petal-strewn, candle-lit French restaurant.

Once we finally found the museum, we discovered that it was one room with two grand pianos, a few old train engines, some chandeliers and one display case of small, crystal figurines. I guess it should be called “random stuff that fancy white people like,” not “piano museum.”On the up side, one the pianos was a Bösendorfer, and Jeff reached across the velvet rope and touched the leg, which made him happy.

Outside, Jeff worked it for the camera at the Hummer that was also displayed at the “piano museum.”

After that we window shopped and walked around the neighborhood, which was strewn with gardens and temples. There’s also a monkey park, but we decided against paying for monkeys when you can get them for free in other parts of Japan.

We crossed the big river that runs through the city and walked along the shore.

After a long walk, we went to our first zen garden. See? There’s lines in pebbles and everything!

Some moss that looks like tiny pine trees:

Relaxed from our zen experience, we headed home. On the way, we saw this weird fruit:

Ten points to anyone who can tell me what this is!

Eclipsing the tourist destinations

Once in Jiangxi province we traveled around for a few days by bus to small towns, but nothing truly notable happened. We visited Jingdezhen, which I’ve posted on previously here.

As it just so happens, the longest complete solar eclipse during the next 130 years was taking place during our vacation, not two hours away from Jingdezhen. So, after shopping for porcelain to our hearts’ content, we hopped on a bus and went to Anqing, Anhui. Though it involved some considerable hassle, it was totally worth it.

We got up early and went out to a park for the eclipse. It was cloudy and threatening rain, so we were afraid we wouldn’t see anything.

Slowly it started getting darker, and every now and then the clouds would move and we could see the eclipse.

Right before the total eclipse, the clouds moved, and we had the full five minutes of eclipse un-obscured! It was 9:25 a.m.

Photo taken through eclipse glasses:

Getting lighter…

The total eclipse lasted about five minutes, and it really was mystical to see. We had amazing luck, with being in the area and the weather cooperating. The clouds even gave just enough cover to negate the need for eclipse glasses, a real savior since we had two pairs for eight people!

Jiangxi, Day 2

After spending a night in the village, we hopped on the bus early the second day and headed three hours out to Sanqing Mountain.

Sanqing Mountain is one of the important Taoist mountains in China, although today it’s more of a non-religious tourist spot and nature preserve.

In the interest of time, we rode a tram up part of the mountain. Sadly, it was really foggy, so we couldn’t see the view. It was foggy enough that you really couldn’t see much more than 50-100 feet away. After our tram ride, we continued hiking up to the summit, where we ate lunch.

The hiking trail was actually a concrete walkway attached to the side of the mountain, which was prety mind-boggling because there are no roads and the mountain is incredibly steep and densely wooded. I can’t figure out for the life of me how they got gigantic concrete slabs up there to build it. Even today, all the food and supplies at the top of the mountain are brought in on the backs of poor laborers.

We hiked all the way to the bottom of the mountain, which was gorgeous. My legs and feet were pretty displeased though, since the entire hike was pretty much steep, old, uneven stone stairs, not hiking trails. Thousands of stairs make feet and muscles very unhappy — I’ve been walking like a robot all week!

The mountain was really beautiful, with lots of trees, bamboo, flowers, moss and small waterfalls all around the trail. There were very few tourists on the mountain as well, creating a rare and peaceful atmosphere.

This is part of a small guesthouse on the mountain, where some of the people who work there live.

After we had hiked down to the bottom it was already past 6 p.m., so we all got on the bus for another long ride, off to our next destination and a good meal and clean sheets.

The Unappealing truth

I have three vegetable peelers:

The first veggie peeler came with a knife set. The set included three knives, a peeler and a small cutting board for 35 kuai, so I wasn’t expecting much from it. It at least took off skins plus chunks of flesh, but more because of blunt force on my part than it’s own merit.

Needless to say, I thought I could trade up, so I went to the market and bought the most expensive peeler there (about 8 kuai). Since there aren’t any recognizable brand names — miss those Oxo Good Grips kitchen utensils! — when in doubt, pay more. If possible, this peeler was even worse than the first one. The pivoting head made it impossible to aim, and it wiggled all over my vegetables, hardly removing any skin at all.

But it’s number three that finally made me crack. I bought number three at HEC, the restaurant supply store. Figuring all their peelers would be decent since they supply the pros, I got the second-most expensive peeler. It was about 4 kuai, and the most expensive one was over 30 kuai. When I got home, I was barely able to contain my anticipation of using it to easily peel several pounds of potato for potato leek soup. I took up my first potato, and slide the peeler along the skin — and nothing came off. I mean, the peeler didn’t even make a little slice in the skin. It grazed off of it as as if I was attempting to peel the potato with a kitten. Frustrated, I pushed harder, angling the blade more — still nothing. Finally, close to rage, I dug the peeler in and liberated a chunk of skin plus a large hunk of potato.

Disgusted, I threw the disgraced peeler in the trash, and moved on to my tried and true method of peeling veggies:

About a minute later, I pulled it out of the trash, penitent, took a picture, and promised myself to blog about my wayward peelers.

That’s one thing about China — you really can’t take shortcuts we take for granted in the States, and the weirdest things give you a new perspective on life. It’s actually kind of liberating to realize you don’t really need all those fancy tools and premixed foods; all you need is patience and elbow greese. It surprises me how many recipes call for premade ingredients that I just can’t get — premade doughs, cake mixes, spice mixes, bread crumbs… the list goes on and on. But it’s been really fun experimenting with the abundance of fresh ingredients I can get. I’ve made homemade apple sauce, bread, pasta sauces, whipped stiff egg whites without a mixer (admittedly poor Jeff did the heavy lifting on that), made my own chilis and curries — and it’s all been a really fun adventure. I don’t even mind peeling my veggies with a knife, with the exception of apples, whose round shape is the devil’s work.

State of the plant nation

Well, all was going relatively well with my new best friends, my Valentine’s plants for a few days. And then all hell broke loose.

Jeff helped me hang my favorite plant, some kind of fuschia I think, and it looked lovely. Then, a few days later, it suddenly pretty much died. I think this is because it was hanging somewhat over the radiator, and it got fried. I’m still trying to nurse it back to life with frequent waterings, but it seems like it may be time to give up. I’m now trying to decide what the best course of action is. Should I clip all the dead vines off? Leave it be? Water it? Give it coffee?

My mint plant also seems pretty sad, but in slightly better shape. The lower stalks have all gotten black and shriveled, but it’s still growing new leaves on the tops of the taller stalks, so that’s a good sign I think.

Anyway, I feel really guilty about killing my plants — I just feel so irresponsible. I guess I just don’t know much about taking care of sickly little plant-things, so they may not have much chance. It’s weird that I can raise all the animals I want, but I seem to have a knack for killing plants. Suggestions/condolences welcome.

Caitlinpedia Brown and the case of….

In this thrilling second installment of Caitlinpedia Brown and the Case of the Apparating Bugs, Caitlinpedia Brown gets to the bottom of the mysterious flies and dead cockroach — but will the answer to her bug riddle come too late?

It had been over a month since Caitlinpedia Brown first opened the case over a dead cockroach on her floor, and clues had been few and far between. She had left the cockroach body on the bathroom floor, carefully avoiding sweeping it up so that nothing would appear disturbed. Every day she pondered its fate, and her own, during her morning routine. Where had it come from? How did it get there? What did it mean?

Midterms came, and the cockroach became little more than a passing afterthought. There were more important games afoot.

While she had been distracted by tests and papers, a far more sinister yet seemingly innocuous threat had gained the upper hand in Caitlinpedia Brown’s apartment. In a bout of business, dishes had piled in the sink. After days, Caitlinpedia Brown put down the books and set to washing the dishes. It was then, that she solved part of the mystery that had plagued her all month. Those little fly suckers were breeding in the sink drain.

Annoyed but not disgusted, Caitlinpedia Brown grabbed her bleach and kitchen spray cleaner, and set to drowning the small colony of flies. She thought back to her earlier act of kindness toward the flies on her bathroom sink, and decided that their backstabbing breeding deserved the cruelty of chemical warfare. Then, she dumped bleach, cleaner and boiling water down the drain. For the rest of the week, she kept the dishes clean, and kept a watchful eye on the sink drain.

By the next week, however, the flies were back. This time, she scrubbed out the drain as best she could, added more bleach, and vigorously dumped chemicals down the drain for 15 minutes. It smelled lovely, and she was satisfied they wouldn’t be back.

Another week passed, and hardly any food crumbs were put in the sink. But the flies had returned. Now she wondered if she had been too late in declaring war on the fly population. There were little dead flies in her clean cups, little dead flies in the sink, little flies in the drain, and they just wouldn’t leave.

Defeated, she went to the bathroom and sat down.

The cockroach — it was gone! She hadn’t swept, and she hadn’t moved it. It had been there earlier in the day, now it was gone. She got down on her knees and searched the bathroom floor, but the little roach body was gone without a trace.

Suddenly, she felt a keen sense of loss, confusion and paranoia. Had someone moved the little cockroach, who against all odds had become a comforting friend and source of stability during the duress of midterms? Had the flies colluded to distract her with their breeding? What was the meaning of this? Where had the body been taken, and for what purpose. She was plagued with doubt.

Days passed, without a sign from her cockroach. She checked the bathroom floor every day, eagerly hoping it had just been pushed by a gust of wind, and she hadn’t noticed it. But it wasn’t there.

Then, like the sun bursting forth over the rocky mountains at dawn, she found her dead cockroach’s body behind her shower slipper, at the foot of the bathroom step. She still didn’t know how it had gotten there, but she carefully preserved the roach’s new resting place and decided not to move it lest she miss some important clue.

Midterms finally ended, and in a sudden burst of clarity, Caitlinpedia Brown solved her mystery—

The cockroach had died, because that’s just what bugs do. The flies had bred, because that’s just what flies do. They had all colluded to annoy her, because that’s their purpose on Earth. And, as for why the cockroach body had moved, she decided she’d likely never know. But what was more important was why she had become so dependent on a dead insect not moving as a source of comfort and stability. Resolving to lessen her eccentricity and become less pathetic, Caitlinpedia Brown swept up the cockroach, threw it out, and with no small pang of sadness, vigorously cleaned the floor where it had laid for so long.

Having solved her biggest case yet, Caitlinpedia Brown wondered whether, despite the pain it had brought her, solving the case had allowed her to grow. Perhaps, just maybe, her next case would take outside her own apartment, and into the dizzying and overwhelming confusion of the bustling city below. Stay tuned…