gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

The importance of the space around us

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This might not be true for everyone, but I have noticed that the space around me has a direct correlation to my mood, general attitude, perception, and approach to life. This has been true ever since I was little, and my earliest recollection of having an interest in the space around me is from when I was in grade school. A friend and I carpooled a couple times a week after school, spending one afternoon at my house and one afternoon at hers, and our favorite past time was rearranging each other’s rooms. I loved exploring the various possibilities of the use of our space not only for functionality by moving the bed here or the dresser there, but also for the feel and charm of different ways things could be decorated and arranged. I remember our parents getting mad that we were moving such heavy furniture at a young age, and perhaps someday in the future I’ll pay for those childhood play dates, but I reflect back on them with fondness.

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My bedroom in Massachusetts in the house that I renovated

It’s important for me to create a space for myself that I can truly feel inspired in. And what I mean by feel inspired in is just that feeling of home and of yourself – I think our space is an extension of ourselves and when it clearly and cohesively reflects who we are, it is most comfortable. This can be achieved in the smallest details that when put together result in an amalgamation of all the little moments and pieces and feelings that make up who we are. These can be things like small plants on the windowsill, your favorite blanket on your bed that you like to curl up in and read a book or watch Netflix, a light fixture that creates the perfect ambience, your most influential books stacked on your desk, pictures of your favorite memories in your bookcase, that childhood stuffed animal that you can’t bear to part with sitting on your nightstand, your most-worn necklaces draped on your dresser, etc. I mean the list could go on, and you can always rearrange and replace things as they no longer do anything for you.

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My desk area in the apartment I lived in during graduate school

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My current apartment

I have loved decorating and redecorating my childhood bedroom at home, the numerous dorm rooms I’ve lived in, and the various houses and apartments I’ve lived in since college. It’s a continual process for me that’s never complete, and it’s also something I look forward to working on in my spare time; whether it’s going to cute boutiques on the hunt for the perfect pillows to finish off a space, or going to tile and granite stores to pick out samples for larger projects, it’s my favorite past time that never ceases to inspire me.

“One Kiss”

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The Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago was running a European Union Film Festival for the month of March and I took full advantage. I went to see eight movies and I was sad that I didn’t make it to more, but I beyond enjoyed the ones I did see. I loved many of them, but there was one that stuck out to me for its existential authenticity and realistic portrayal of what it is to grow up during your teenage years and navigate the nightmare that is high school. It was an Italian movie called One Kiss directed by Ivan Controneo.

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The protagonist, Blu, played by Valentina Romani, who is relatively new to the acting world, did a marvelous job of taking on a difficult role filled with teenage frustration, as she has to learn to maneuver around the limitations placed on us by others during those high school years that can be so challenging for people to overcome. What helps her overcome this is a friendship she forms with a new kid at school, who happens to be gay, and waltzes in like he owns the place in dramatic fashion. They then take on a shy, quiet guy under their wing and the three of them have adventures akin to those of Jules, Jim, and Catherine in Truffaut‘s Jules et Jim, and Matthew, Theo, and Isabelle in The Dreamers. These parallels are quite obvious, as the three of them dance several choreographed pieces recalling the famous dance in the cafe in Jules et Jim, and run through their high school hallways like Matthew, Theo, and Isabelle run through the Louvre in Paris, in The Dreamers, which is in itself a parody to Jules, Jim, and Catherine running through the Louvre in Jules et Jim.

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Their adventures remind you of everything you ever wanted to do in high school but were too embarrassed to do because you were afraid of what others might think of you. But Blu and her two partners in crime just don’t give a f**k and prove how much fun you can have if you liberate yourself enough carry out your wildest dreams. The soundtrack is stellar which only intensifies the freedom they exert, as well as the freedom you feel while watching them and living vicariously through them, even if only for a couple hours for the duration of the film.

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The three of them don’t live in such a free, happy state all the time though. These moments of bliss are definitely interspersed with the hardships they face, which are truly painful. And at the end of the movie there is a shocking finale that had much of the audience jump in their seats and gasp a sigh of terror. Despite this, it is a beautiful movie about what it is to grow up and it will surely become an Italian classic for a younger generation.

The sweetest voice

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I went to see a Mexican/American movie recently, Everybody Loves Somebody, and this song was playing at the end during the credits and I just couldn’t get over the sweetness of her voice. I wish I knew what she was saying, but nevertheless, I am loving this song 🙂

When you host a naked party, but you’re the only one who’s naked…

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This was the setting of the most bizarre and comical scene in Toni Erdmann, the German film that was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year. It did not win, but the dry humor that prevails throughout definitely makes it a good contender. It’s a very long film, which I wasn’t prepared for, rounding out at about 2 1/2 hours, and its slowness makes it feel even longer. I almost left at one point because it started to drag on, but thank god I didn’t because at about the two hour mark, this scene of humorous hysteria ensued.

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The main character, Ines, hosts a buffet lunch at her apartment for her consulting colleagues in an effort to encourage team-building. The naked component of the luncheon is not exactly planned, but as Ines has trouble adjusting her tight dress right as the first guest rings the doorbell, she impulsively decides to answer the door naked after she struggles to get out of her dress. First a friend arrives, who then leaves because she does not agree to strip down, followed by her boss, assistant, and other colleagues. As they’re awkwardly standing around naked, Ines’s dad, who is the primary source of comedy throughout the movie, shows up in a looming, furry costume. While those at the party are mostly disconcerted by his appearance, it somehow brings Ines and her father closer together after a tumultuous relationship.This whole scene is carried out in a completely serious manner with everyone maintaining straight faces as if colleagues standing around naked at a party is perfectly normal, which is what makes the entire audience LOL!

Lost and Beautiful

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I recently saw a new Italian film, Lost and Beautiful, by Director Pietro Marcello. An ode to Italian neo-realist film, it is a slow-moving film with sparse dialogue and stunning visuals of the Italian countryside. It is told from the perspective of a buffalo calf that we see grow up into an adult buffalo, which is thought to have the power of speech by one of the film’s characters. This power of speech is what saves the buffalo from slaughter early in its life, and what it allows it travel nomadically throughout the Italian countryside.

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A stately abandoned villa is also a central subject of the film, which, in the care of a dedicated groundskeeper, survives total oblivion.  It is not entirely clear where the plot line is headed throughout the film, but the tragic end, at least in my mind because I am so fond of animals, culminates in the beloved buffalo being sent to the slaughterhouse. Though a very sad and melancholic movie, it is worth the watch simply for it’s stretching of time, which affords the opportunity of contemplation while watching something that is visually enriching.

Photographer William Eggleston

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I studied photographer William Eggleston in a Photography class in graduate school, and this line from the New York Times Style Magazine featuring The Greats, including William Eggleston, resonated with me as I was reminded of his work:

Eggleston’s images can trick you if you’re not careful. You have to look at them, then you have to look again and then keep looking until the reason he took the picture kind of clicks in your chest. 

The aesthetic value of the photograph might not be immediately apparent, but after looking at it, taking your eyes off it, and looking again, the photograph may start to move you in some way; and it may move you in different ways each time you look at it.

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Arthur Frommer on the healing power of traveling to Europe

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As often happens in my household, old papers, magazines, and brochures pop up because my mom is constantly going through things in an effort to downsize. I recently came across a travel magazine entitled “Planning Your Trip: Europe ’95.” That’s right, it’s from 1995. In it is an article by travel expert Arthur Frommer on his love for traveling to Europe because of its restorative power. I strongly identify with what he has to say, as I also find traveling to Europe rejuvenating, and just a few lines will give you a sense of why:

Some people take pills to restore their energy. I go to Europe. Some people go out dancing to lift their spirits; I go to Europe. To me, a week or so in the Old World is a restorative more powerful than any regiment of diet, medicine or exercise ever devised. It does me good to turn my back for a time on familiar scenes, and head for the gentler, slower, more traditional life of Europe. 

He goes on to talk about the old world charm, which more than simply being an endearing quality of Europe, actually truly connects us with history in a way that we cannot experience in the U.S. because of its young age compared to Europe – “This communing with the past – so much a part of the European travel experience – provides solace, and a sense of human connection and continuity that awes me.”

Featuring a picture of Café de Flore in Paris, one is reminded of the slowness of life in Europe and the afternoons spent at the café with an impeccable espresso or cappuccino and good conversation.

 

Christmas cheer 2016

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Santa babe

Scandinavian mantel decorations

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What a cute couple

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Slouched in slumber after Christmas dinner (btw, our cats love cuddling with these bears…it’s hilarious!)

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Our Christmas tree decorated with ornaments from all over the world

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Swedish horses skirting the tree

Max Ernst

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I’m not too familiar with artist Max Ernst‘s work, but I recently came across a short article by Curator Robin Reisenfeld published by the Museum of Modern Art in 1997 about his body of work, Fiat Modes. This collection includes his prints and illustrated books. There’s a line at the end of the article that struck me as elusive but terribly provocative – “Ernst wryly comments upon what he believes to be a misguided belief in the infallibility of human progress based upon instruments of reason.” What does this mean? What Reisenfeld is arguing is that Ernst essentially makes fun of this belief that human progress, guided by reason, can’t be wrong. He is driving against the notion that reason is all knowing and all powerful and cautions against placing complete trust in reason to guide human progress. Certainly, the mainstream thought is that reason can and should absolutely guide human progress, but perhaps what Ernst is suggesting is a more fantastical, creative, imaginary, dreamlike approach to progress, as he suggests in his Fiat Modes collection. Perhaps we should all take this method with some seriousness and try it out. There’s nothing wrong with a path that’s a little more fantastical than the one we’re faced with…

Cultural divides

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Over the past several months I’ve been conducting oral history interviews with Latino/a artists for one of my jobs. Some interesting and surprising conflicts have arisen that I definitely wasn’t expecting, and am even a bit bothered by. I consider myself a very open-minded person when it comes a variety of things like race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc., but what I’ve learned recently is that sometimes people can view this open-mindedness and willingness to engage with those who are different from us as a negative thing, and even a hostile thing.

To put things more concretely, I was speaking with a young Latina artist in Pilsen, the Latino neighborhood in Chicago, and she was bothered, insulted almost, by the fact that I wanted to explore the neighborhood, meet the locals, and try to have an authentic experience there. She proceeded to tell me that there was no way I could possibly have an authentic experience because I as was not Latina, I did not speak Spanish, and I did not grow up in the neighborhood. She said that the “authentic” experience I was seeking was clouded by any preconceived notions of what I thought her culture was about. She was frustrated that white people were visiting her neighborhood to see it for themselves and then trying to build it up because it was still affordable to do so. She opposed the gentrification process that was and still is happening in Pilsen, particularly in regards to the artist community. The artist community that Pilsen is now known for does not typically include the artists who have been living in Pilsen for decades. She felt as though these artists who have recently been moving into Pilsen are trying to replace the artists who were already there, and then pretending like they own the place. I can completely sympathize with the frustration with this kind of gentrification, but I do not think that someone who wants to explore a neighborhood and a culture with genuine interest should be lumped into the same category.

I countered all of this by arguing that not everyone who visits the neighborhood wants to replace what’s already there or try to change it. Some people are genuinely curious about other cultures, and not only curious but truly eager to learn more, engage with, and try to experience things with the locals. She was still insulted and offended by this proposition, insisting that there’s no way an outsider could have a genuine experience, precisely because he/she was an outsider.

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I left this encounter feeling so frustrated because I felt like she was prejudice against me, while I was not at all prejudice towards her. I was left feeling like there’s no way that two people who are fundamentally different from one another ethnically, which is out of their control, can come together and learn from one another. It was as if she encouraged segregation between cultures and as if she didn’t want to share her culture with anyone, nor learn about another’s culture. This was very frustrating to me because while I am a white American female, I was born in Europe and grew up there for the first eight years of my life. My mom has taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to people from all over the world for many years, and I myself am now teaching ESL as well. I also volunteer at a non-profit that helps Spanish speakers with a variety of things, where I help with their citizenship classes. I have friends from diverse cultures, and in fact I prefer to surround myself with people who are different from me because I feel that there is so much to learn from them. I definitely have a genuine interest in exposing myself to different cultures and experiencing things as they do the best that I can. So I too was insulted by her for not understanding this genuine interest of mine in wanting to explore her neighborhood and do as the locals do.

Although frustrating, this was interesting perspective to be confronted by, which made me think more about what I was trying to accomplish by surrounding myself or exposing myself to other cultures. Despite her pessimism and unwillingness to accept me into her neighborhood, I’m still all about mixing cultures because there is truly so much learn.