Monthly Archives: November 2010

Giving Thanks for Modernity

It’s lovely to imagine oneself living in the 18th century. It would not be lovely to actually live in it.  Number one reason?  Sanitation comes to mind, but what about the convenience of daily living?  The rights of man?  The freedom for females to move without fainting?  Hell, what about fresh, exotic fruit?  Fish that doesn’t knock you out with one whiff?

On that note, I am thankful for all the beautiful technologies we modern gals have yet to romanticize. Here’s my top 5.

1.  The water closet–what we now know as the flush toilet–was first used in 26th century b.c. in the Indus Valley Civilization.  For 18th century purposes though, we’ll credit J.F. Brondel, whose ingenious 1738 valve-type flush invention would eventually catapult the western world past the chamber pot (used in most households until the 19th century.  yikes!).

Illustration by David G. Eveleigh; Bogs, Baths and Basins: The Story of Domestic Sanitation.

2.  A life without fitness would be a life without living.  I cannot imagine being unable to sprint, fully bend, let alone breathe in like a yogi.  What the corset did to the female anatomy was frightening, sort of like being pregnant where the baby drives the mother’s organs upward.  Yet, in 18th century ladies, the corset drove the organs inward.  Ouch!

Source: Costumer’s Manifesto

3.  Ever been to India?  I have.  I’m sure it’s like any other 3rd world country in terms of filth, but regarding the delicate western stomach, it’s a sty.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love India.  It’s beautiful–culturally, architecturally, botanically, spiritually–but if you want to walk through streets dirtier than the worst carnie fest, go there.  Or the 18th century.

Hogarth’s Harlot

4.  Laundry!  I can barely manage tossing my whites in the machine and pulling them out before they get smelly or wrinkled.  If I had to work them down a washing board, use lard, and rub, forget clean clothes.  And forget whites.  Prisitine whites were for the privileged and even then, the lawnshirts and chemises had to be newish.

The Last Shift, Carrington Bowles, London

5.  Birth Control!

Empress Maria Theresa and family, Meytens, 1751

I hope everyone can find something to be happy for today!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oh, where art thou from Watteau?

Ever wondered where watteau style gowns got their name from? 

This cheeky fellow . . .

Or at least we’ll imagine he’s cheeky.  He looks more depressed to me but since he did die from tuberculosis laryngitis within the year this portrait was painted, I imagine he had good reason to be dour.  He was only 36.

The short of it is,  Antoine Watteau had a thing for sack back gowns, those über-fahsionable loose dresses worn over a tight bodice with vertical pleats extending from shoulder to hem.  You may know them better as the robe à la française as they were commonly worn throughout 1715 to 1775 by french ladies. 

So what was special about Monsieur Watteau?  Throughout his career, he was the man with the plan to create scenes of fêtes galantes, essentially what you would spend your time doing if you were rich, idle, and oh-so-fabulous.  Afternoon parties among pastures, courting and dancing, you say?  Ha, I think not.  But, if we are to take Watteau’s paintings with any literal merit, instead of say, metaphorical, we shall have to surmise otherwise.  I say, court on!

What’s interesting about Watteau is that his work was never commissioned by an aristocrat.  Although his paintings showcased more than a handful of lords and ladies and he did create the fête galante genre, he was an artiste to the bourgeois.  As such,  his paintings bear a certain melancholy, an underlining dissipation that refuses to be dispelled by worldly charms. 

But I digress. 

I told you I would show you watteau gowns showcased by Watteau and I will.   One particular detail to note is how often we see the posterior of sack back gowns rather than the anterior. 

 from Rendez-vous de chasse (hunting party), Watteau, 1720

Gersaint’s Shop Sign, Watteau, 1721

Winter on the Russian Steppes

A few things I’m feeling in anticipation of reading works by dead russian writers

Anthropologie Andrick Coat, Plenty by Tracy Reese

Kiev Caroler Ornament, Natasha 

If I had a kindle, I’d have to buy this from Britgaldesigns.  So cute!

Church on Spilled Blood Print by AlenovPhotography

I’ve seen a lot of churches but nothing this fairy tale!

The Snow Queen, a quintessential Russian cartoon (1 of 7)

Thursday’s Obsession – Eugene Atget

A 19th century French photographer with an eye for the secret, mist driven Paris, Atget was a master of brume and shadow.  His photographs are evocative of an older, decaying Paris, a lost city somewhere between night and dawn, a city of light and yet without. 

Parc de Sceau

Notre Dame


More, more, more of ethereal Paris, you say?

Support dead artists: buy the book.

Ladies-in-Waiting Plates

I adore these whimsical dinner plates.  They appear inspired by Marie Antoinette with the pouf, including the Belle-Poule ship.   A little pricey at $24 a pop, they are nonetheless put me in the mood for cake!  Shop Anthopologie.

Ode to Bad Romance

During my friend Abby’s last visit, we were sitting around flipping through some romance novels, looking all serious and contemplative as though we were reading Dostoyevsky, until all of a sudden, I couldn’t stop cackling. I had been thrust into the “the love scene.”

Don’t get me wrong. These passionate interludes can be erotic and scintillating (and oftentimes are) but they can also induce clutching-your-stomach-while-crying hysterics. I’ve never stopped reading a book in objection to a love scene or amusement over what it entailed, but I have found myself randomly texting to share the latest and greatest.  Electric bolts of quivering sheaths and twitching members come to mind, but lucky for you, there’s already a site ribbing romance novels with bad (subjectively bad!) sex quotes.

I stumbled across Uncle Walter’s Bad Romance Novel Quotes yesterday and I know, I know, from the cheesy covers to the sometimes dubious plots, the genre endures enough brow raises, but this collection of quotes is hilarious. And hey, even writers of romance need to heckle themselves once in a while.