Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Most Optimistic of Hobbies

Ah, oenophelia. 

My brother has recently - gradually, over the past two years, say - become an oenophile. That's right, you heard me. It sounds like I'm calling him a bad name, but, truth be told, as I've watched his passion emerge and grow, I have become increasingly impressed by the perfervid faith with which he has embraced this new hobby.

He pursues it with almost numinous fervour, and watching that passion grow has caused me, recently, to pause and consider what it means. 

Collecting wine - and I mean serious collecting, not buying bottles for consumption within the next half hour as statisticians inform us the vast majority of us do - collecting wine is a seriously optimistic business. All of my hobbies involve immediate gratification. Even writing, even when it is geared towards publication, sometime, somewhere down the track, provides me with an immediate sense of peace, of fulfillment. Once it is written, it is written - ok, and then re-written and re-written, but nevertheless, I have something concrete to look at and read and recognise as my own.

But oenophiles collect wine for consumption some 10, 15, even twenty years from now.

Think about it: this is a hobby requiring enthusiasts to believe, truly, that they will not only be alive in twenty years, but alive and sitting down somewhere to a marvelous dinner party at which vintage wine of the highest quality will be drunk, probably in the company of loved ones.

When I go shopping, I buy because I want that thing, now. When I go running, it is because I want that running buzz, now. And because I want to be a dress size smaller, yesterday. All of it is about looking good, feeling good, performing well, right this moment, or at least in the near and foreseeable future.

Wine collectors must be the most optimistic, glass half-full people I know. I guess that's the point. They always want their glass to be half full, or more.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Relativity of Cool

Everywhere I have lived, cool people think they have a monopoly on cool. They believe they own it, it never occurs to them that cool might be cultural, cool might be relative.

But it is.

How else to explain the fact that, in the early 90s, it was cool to like Billy Joel in Munich but not in New Jersey. The fact that David Hasselhoff is still cool in Germany but the height of uncool everywhere else. Birkenstocks are ho hum, run-of-the-mill in Europe but all the rage still in North America.

In the year 2000, when I moved to Sydney, it was cool to like Shania Twain in Canada but oh so uncool to like her in Australia. Hard core techno will always be cool in Berlin but it is vulgar in Australia. Tiny skirts, fake tan and stilettos so high you can hardly walk in them are so cool right now in Sydney - and, I imagine, in LA - but so not cool in Melbourne and Northern Europe.

When I arrived at University in Canada in 1993 wearing tailored skirts I was suddenly uncool, although I was wearing the de rigeur clothing of the European chique. Traveling in France in the late 90s it was uncool to be unfamiliar with the pre-choreographed group dances that were all the rage in French clubs, but choreographed dancing in North America or Australia was decidedly uncool - except in Alberta, or Texas, where line-dancing will always be cool.

In 2008, young people wearing Lederhosen and Dirndls to Oktoberfest were cool in Germany but kitsch outside of Europe. In 2009 cynicism is cool in Australia but enthusiasm is lauded in Canada.

In order to be cool in a traditional way one must stay still, in a single cultural environment, and embrace the temporal markers of cool relevant to that place. It is always cool, in any place, to diss those who do not embrace those markers.

But for me the true mark of cool is the ability to move in and out of cultures without caring too much for trends.

That is why I wear hats. They will always be cool to me, other people be damned.

ps. Ok, maybe Hasselhoff is not truly cool in a traditional sense, even in Germany. But he has become a unique phenomenon of cool - he's so uncool that panning him is now cool everywhere.

Mars & Venus

He will not reach out to her, not properly.

He loves her, adores her, worships her, almost. Only so far as he is able to, and that is not enough for her.

She does not want worship, she wants soulmate.

Each morning he will fold her into his body so that the hairs on his chest tickle her nose, she breathes in his scent as he kisses the top of her head.

He draws a bath for her when she is tired and sad.

But days go by when she does not hear from him at all. The variety of his moods, the distance of his passion are inexplicable to her. She does not understand him, not truly, and he will not assist by explaining.

She probably needs too much from him. It is heavy upon her, this need to be loved.

A wonder, really, that men and women survive together at all.

Adam & Jessie: Chapter 3

Dinner was over all too soon. Later she couldn't recall precisely what they had talked about. Food, travel. Hopes, dreams. It almost didn't matter, they spoke as though they had known one another forever. He seemed to know her intimately, he looked into her and considered her in a way none of her other admirers had done. He entered her through her eyes and took up residency within her before she had time to consider refusing him.

He was the kind of man who broke up fights before they could start. The man in the pub who could start a conversation with anyone, without putting them offside. The man who talked sincerely to the homeless man on the street and left him laughing. He had a presence, a glow, he lit up all the dark spaces inside of her.
Her loneliness started to lift.

So that it seemed perfectly natural when, after the meal had finished, he turned to her and said:

"What did you want to do tonight?"

Any other date would have ended then, but theirs was just beginning.

They danced together and instead of knocking his hand away when he reached for her the way she was wont to do with other men, she grabbed hold and allowed herself to be swung this way and that, reeling out and circling back into his arms, dipping and gliding, and then pulling close, coming up for air only to gaze into his eyes.

My Favourite Books of 2009

In no particular order. For a variety of reasons.
  1. Paul Auster - The Brooklyn Follies
  2. Chris Cleave - The Other Hand (also published as Little Bee)
  3. Kim Echlin - The Disappeared
  4. Ian McEwan - The Comfort of Strangers (warning: highly disturbing)
  5. John Fowles - The Collector
  6. Mary Ann Shaffer - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
  7. Christos Tsolkias - The Slap
  8. Juno Diaz - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  9. Aravind Adiga - White Tiger
  10. Jhumpa Lahiri - Interpreter of Maladies

Some of the books I can't wait to read in 2010:

  1. Anything and everything by Paul Auster
  2. A. S. Byatt - The Children‘s Book
  3. Margaret Atwood - The Year of the Flood
  4. Stieg Larsson - The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
  5. Chris Cleave - Incendiary
  6. Kazuo Ishiguro - anything
  7. Haruki Murakami - anything