35: Medieval Fashion Revival

 

Mais Il Est Ou Le Soleil raincoat

 

People do crazy things when they live in foreign places, like test out fashions they would never do back at home for fear of getting laughed out of the coffee shop. The fashion craze here is a mix of medieval court jester and peasant attire, which means lots of repeating-triangular hems, puffy skirts on coats and tops, multiple layers, tattered fringes.

Tatters cost extra. This top goes for $129-$160 in our town.

Europeans are slaves to fashion so if the stores sell it, they must wear it, and they do. They make it look good. I don’t, but I still bought a black version of this coat anyway. I wear it when I walk through our town’s medieval quarter.

A new vernacular on boho-chic abounds here as well, but unlike Canada’s bohemian set that goes for sharp colour clashes and funny socks, the Europeans modify the look. Wild on colour? They tilt toward a more conservative cut. Crazy cuts and lots of layers? They go to faded earthy hues so that the structure of the outfit stands out.

Age-stratification isn’t as sharp here either. While the younger set are the more daring in fashion, it is not uncommon to see middle-aged and even elderly women emulating their style.

I don’t try to blend too much with the local look. For one thing it is very expensive. Tattered t-shirts go for $129, when on sale. Ouch.

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100: So long to hats

Hats lined up across the bed

Hats no more to top my head

Red hat, grey hat, white hat, blue

Farewell hats, every one of you.

I’ve never been much of a hat person, and yet I found eight in my closet this week. My non-hattitude is evident in the photo – I find something I like, and then stick with it. Staring at the photo now, I wonder: Whatever made me copycat Ringo Starr circa 1964 in eight different colours? How did this hatten?

“People do really stupid things in foreign countries,” said Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen Kelly in “You’ve Got Mail.” 

Yes, they do, and that includes me. I bought hats as I’ve never bought them before and I can only blame the cultural pressure that comes with living in a country where four-year-old boys know how to knot crinkle-silk scarves around their necks (yes, b o y s) and eight-year-old girls tote chic leather bags on their arms, routinely wear pumps and coordinate their designer skirts to anchor their saffron-coloured double-breasted pea coats. Seriously.

Three hours ago, in a nearby McDonalds restaurant, two mothers drafted in with five children aged two months to 12 years and any one of them was ready to take over the catwalk or at least model for a Gap catalogue. They all looked fabulous. In my day, a mother overseeing that many children on a fast-food excursion wore her husband’s grey sweatpants, a pablum-splattered t-shirt and a ball cap. She felt pretty good about herself if her socks matched. The only catwalk in her future might be the one vacuuming up furballs when she got home.

I can only explain this Euro-fashion-phenomenon on our proximity to Milan and Paris, each only a few hours away. Couture oozes over the borders.

Hats, as it happens, are about as far as I could go towards blending in with the population. I don’t have skilletos, ie. the ability to tread over cobblestone in stilettos, as so many here do, so I gave up early in the game. I’ve reverted back to my Saucony court shoes, yoga pants, jogging jacket, golf visor, and socks that match. At least, most of the time they do.

As for those hats, they’re gone. In celebration of the fact today is the last three-digit number on our countdown to home, all but one of them came to a horrible end. 100 more days to go.

The poor you will always have with you

Jesus’s words about the ever-present poor hover about wherever we go, although each country seems to have its own particular type of impoverished.

This panhandler near the Georges V hotel in Paris remained motionless with her hand and cup outstretched. Completely cloaked, we couldn't be certain of her age, if she was conscious, or even a she. The still prostrate posture was common among Parisian beggars.

In Madrid, we saw them lean, their ragged clothes drifting over their hollow rib-cages, camped in low-lying creek valleys and ditches, living in makeshift box and sheet-metal ghettos invisible to the eye until the passerby almost stumbles in to them.

In Atlanta, a woman and her eight-year old son lingered at a downtown parkade’s exit, looking for some change. Dave drove them to a Burger King. On the way, he offered the child a piece of gum. Instead of chewing it, the boy gobbled it down – a sobering vision of hunger in America.

In Victoria, B.C., the poor lack the hollowed-out visage common to the poor of other countries. On Douglas Street at a poverty protest, a group of “homeless” panhandlers assured me that they had food aplenty. What they really wanted were cigarettes.

And in Paris the poor sometimes lay prostrate on the pavement only a few feet from where people lined up outside designer stores where women’s summer pumps sell for $1,500.

The most well-fed beggar we saw had a corner on the Royal Pereire Cafe near the metro entrance. You can even catch a glimpse of him on Google Maps here.  (the link will not take you directly to him, but if you check the pavement in front of the cafe, you can see him – he’s obviously a fixture).  Locals stopped to chat with him, and except for the upturned cap on the pavement, his calm demeanor would have been just about right had he been seated a few feet away at a cafe table.

Security manages the line at the Louis Vuitton store on Paris's Champs Elysees - the couple at the front stood patiently, their faces befuddled and frustrated while he let other customers walk right in ahead of them. Nevertheless, when he waved them in they were all smiles. I think they're called "marks."

Many beggars in Paris were women dressed in burqas. We don’t know what to make of that. We didn’t see any of the drug-induced lurching and mentally ill erratic manifestations of Victoria’s street population.

Nevertheless, in Paris’s underground, there were signs of possibly drug-related poverty: On the metro, a man appeared in one of the cars, mumbling, his head swaying rhythmically while passengers studiously looked the other way. When he turned to leave, his shoulder blades jutted in sharp profile against his beige sweater that was tucked into loose slacks, revealing his skeletal form.

Out on the broad promenade at the Champs Elysees, people were practically begging to get into the exclusive designer house stores. At Louis Vuitton, two security guards kept the line-up roped in a New York club-style. The line inched slowly along while the occasional “well-heeled” customer walked right up to the security guard and was let in without even so much as a glance at the waiting masses, much to the disgruntled expressions of those  in the queue. It was a statement of class, money and power.

I made my own statement by not trying to get into the store, although I doubt that Louis and his cohorts missed me much.

Those familiar with the title of this post as coming from the New Testament, the seventh verse of the 14th chapter of the Book of Mark might know what comes after – that Jesus goes on to say we  “can help them (the poor) anytime you like.” We can. We’re just not sure how.

Here are more images of Paris’s down-and-out population – and for something a little more upbeat – here’s my not-very-good vid of a Paris busker who was fabulous. His singing starts at the 39-second mark.

A man sleeping the doorway of a commerce building facing the Seine River.

A panhandling woman looks around, seemingly bored with her line of work.

Not technically a beggar, but a street-performer. It was the worst show on earth - for a coin or two, she would nod, then go back to this position. Nevertheless, as a hot-flash-enduring middle-aged woman who cannot keep make-up on my face, I want to know her secret. It was scorching outside, yet her gold patina was flawless.

Another beggar, keeping her face down, kneeling motionless and silent on the Champs Elysees.

One panhandler was nowhere to be seen - must have run off for a cafe' au lait, although he still left his post open for donations.

Amazing that he was comfortable leaving his stuff unattended on Paris streets while nervous tourists clutch onto their bags in fear of robbery (quite rightly).

Sleeping on the job., but with the cup still in full view.

Luscious Lucerne

Saturday we took the 90-minute train ride east to Lucerne, past lush, meticulously kept pastures, rolling hills, quaint farms with cows lolling about, a trip made sweeter because we now have our Swiss Rail resident half-price cards.

It looks like a great deal, bringing the price for  two return tickets down to $78. We were pretty pleased with that until we realized that we were travelling only 48 miles – what the heck? That’s like a $1.50 a mile.

Swiss comedians? Or the Swiss version of a chain gang (ie. not breaking rocks, just colouring on them).

We arrived in Lucerne to discover the city in the throes of an international comedy festival called “Fumetto” – at least, that was the explanation we got for the men in orange suits studiously scratching a chalk path into one of the cobblestone squares, which didn’t look funny at all, but I’m sure something hilarious was about to happen. We had our doubts, because orange suits are prison gear back in the U.S., so we were suspicious this was the Swiss version of a prison-work program.

We checked out a kitchen store where laundry bags sold for $99 and shoe stores, at one of which I found a pair of  loafers priced at $269… others were priced higher, but my brain could not compute such numbers well enough to recall them now.

Lucerne is, after all, Switzerland’s Monaco, and the well-heeled were in ostentatious abundance from stylish couples strolling the lakeside promenade to high-end sports cars inching through narrow cobblestone streets that until their arrival, we thought were pedestrian-only. Maybe the rules are different for those driving Bugattis and Lamborghinis.

Even the McDonalds restaurant was high-end with vintage ceiling tiles, orange cube leather seating and a McCafe pastry bar. Ooo la la! It was a beautiful city. I’ll let the photos speak for it. Click on photos to get a larger version.

At a swank chocolate shop called Merkor - I think it translates into "No chocolate under $40"

About half of the chocolate in Merkor's main showcase, and I do mean "showcase." The word "display" just doesn't quite make it.

Lucerne's waterfront. Not so bad.

The inside of Lucerne's Jesuit Church. Very white. Very bright.

Lucerne. Very pretty.

Lunch for the uber-rich - also, where they are on display for gawkers like us.

 

Many of Lucerne's Old Town buildings sport frescos (murals) - this one depicts the city's Mardi Gras celebrations.

A wall mural depicting the building's former street level cafe-owners in Mardi Gras celebrations.

Lucerne has two homeless men. We found them both. It's noteworthy that this man's wardrobe included a colour (red/orange pepper) that matched many park benches, and that is also favored among the rich (see other photos). Even Lucerne's homeless fall under the dictates of fashion.

The photo quality is not very good, but this stylish 8-10-year-old girl's pic is worth posting - we saw fashion-conscious kiddies everywhere. What is this? France?

A woman parading her control over her husband on Lucerne's Promenade - his attire matches hers right down to his shoes. Somebody help this guy.

View over Lucerne Lake with the Alps in the background. This body of water is also called Vierwaldstattersee. Yes, it is.