Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Word coinage: pubic perm

Posted by lea at 12:21 PM 3 comments Links to this post
Here's a fairly well-known tidbit among the Korean circle: Korean women of a certain age (late 40s usually, maybe early 50s) tend to cut and perm their hair in a kind of Asian-Afro 'do. Here's what the blog Stuff Korean Moms Like says about it:

At a certain juncture in a Korean mother's life...she feels the undeniable urge to rock the Little Orphan Annie look. The perm is supposed to enhance fullness in her hair...but usually results in a frizzy halo that ushers in another era in a Korean mother's life (see 'Ahjumah'). This is a rite of passage and cannot be stopped. One will often hear young Korean women saying to each other "I'm never going to get that perm thing", but they all know deep in their hearts they will eventually succumb to the undeniable pull of the Perm. As a Korean mom ages, the perm will never change or deteriorate...although her face might.

Many years ago (around 8-10 years I'd say), I coined the word pubic perm to best describe it. I remember this very clearly, because it sprang to mind shortly after the springing of actual pubic hair through the fabric of a tight skirt of a friend of mine who liked to go commando.

Anyway, that's another story.

So shortly after the commando-pubic-hair incident, I was with some Korean girlfriends and we were talking about ahjumahs and why they inevitably go the way of the frizzy perm (all our mums had the same head of hair). And ding suddenly the phrase came to me: pubic perm.

See, other nationalities will see a shower drain full of short dark curly hair and shrink back in disgust. Koreans see the same hair in our shower drain and think 'mum's just had a shower'.

This is essentially what the pubic perm looks like (when it's still attached to the carrier's head):

This post is mainly for posterity because I'm claiming credit now before the phrase goes into the vernacular. Mwahaha!

Although on second thoughts, I'm not sure that I want my name associated with the pubic perm ...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Now THIS is a fashion show I can appreciate!

Posted by lea at 4:36 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I've never been a freak for fashion - it moves too fast and covers too little.

So imagine my surprise to discover the Salon du Chocolat, a magical celebration of all things chocolate, including a chocolate fashion show. Who woulda thunk it?

Check it out:

I'd gladly strip the models with my bare teeth! That sounds so wrong but feels so right...

See more mouthwatering pics at the Dessert Girl blog.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book art

Posted by lea at 1:42 PM 36 comments Links to this post
I love books. Not just reading books, but books themselves. The weight and smell of the paper, the stitching, the binding... all the details that go into the craft of making a book.

I also love the things people make from books. Check out this book origami by artist Isaac Salazar:

He says:
I see my work as a way to display a meaningful piece of art onto a book that would otherwise sit on a shelf and collect dust; it’s also my way of recycling a book that might otherwise end up in a landfill.  The words or symbols I use are drawn from anything that invokes inspiration or encouragement, such as “Read”, “Dream” and the Recycle symbol.  If my work also makes people look at a book and even art in a new light then the piece has done its job

Awesome, eh?

Over Christmas, I also espied (I don't think I've ever used that word before! What a first) a Christmas tree made from books at one of my favourite stationery stores in Surry Hils, Paper2. I took this photo on my phone:

I don't know why the image is appearing on its side, but just imagine the tree upright.

Can Kindle do any of that? I don't think so.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Three Incestuous Sisters, Audrey Niffeneger

Posted by lea at 3:21 PM 1 comments Links to this post
This offering from Audrey Niffenegger of The Time Traveller's Wife fame is an adult picture book that, unfortunately, is not about a lesbian love affair between sisters. That might have been interesting.

Not to say that this book isn't. It's just... less interesting than the title would have you believe.

The Three Incestuous Sisters (why 'incestuous'? Where are they incestuous? And is my obsession with this unnerving? I just want to know what led her to choose this word, apart from the fact that it's so loaded) is a surreal tale about three orphaned sisters (Bettine, Clothilde and Ophile) who basically bust up over a guy. The writing is sparse and accompanied by Gorey-esque images of mostly grey hues (this is Edward Gorey who wrote and illustrated the tongue-in-cheek The Recently Deflowered Girl. Come to think of it, aren't our tongues always in our cheeks? I don't get this phrase at all).

Niffenegger has called The Three Incestuous Sisters 'the book of my heart, a fourteen-year labor of love' in the afterword, and describes the laborious process of creating the aquatint images. The book was meant to be a work of art, with only 10 limited leather-bound editions including almost 100 hand-coloured, individually printed, aquatint etchings on hand-made paper (a ha! That explains why Claire in The Time Traveller's Wife has that same obsession. Clearly Niffenegger is married to a time traveller!), accompanied by hand-set type.

The library copy simply couldn't live up to the textures and depth the original artwork was created to convey, so what we have left is very sparse prose and haunting images on flat glossy paper. The problem with this is that the book promises too much. The size alone (9½" x 12½") juts out of the shelf, demanding attention, and then the title causes your eyes to pop. 

Then you open it up and in a snapshot, the story is this: The three girls were happy together until the late lighthouse keeper's son, Paris, comes along and falls in love with Bettine, the youngest sister who's a pretty blonde. The eldest, Ophile with the dark blue hair, becomes jealous and mistreats Bettine, forcing Paris and Bettine out of the house. It leads to tragedy, death, regret and reconciliation which I won't go into for fear of spoiling the ending.

The book has fairytale elements: the pretty blonde gets the guy, the ugly older sister acts like a shrew (actually it doesn't say she's ugly - I'm just guessing) with an undercurrent of tragedy, but the story never goes beyond itself to create something really magical. The strength of the book is in the illustrations (do I have to keep calling them 'aquatints'?) that provide the macabre, dark gothic feel that the storytelling seems to lack.

What's interesting is that Niffenegger wrote The Time Traveller's Wife in between creating this book, so essentially it was like her way of procrastinating. Yet the side project eclipsed her main one, and probably also had a lot to do with getting it published too.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Nothing Serious, Justine Lèvy

Posted by lea at 3:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Justine Lèvy was my chosen author L for the Great Library Challenge.

I admit I chose the book based on the cover and the limited options in the library's L section. I had no idea that it was a literary sensation when first published in France in 2004 under the title Rien de Grave. It won the Prix Littéraire Le Vaudeville and overtook The Da Vinci Code in sales.

Having read the book, it's hard to fathom how the work in itself could achieve such a feat. It's a very intimate stream-of-consciousness story told from the point of view of Louise, the author of a well-received novel, daughter of a dizzyingly famous father, and whose husband has recently left her for his father's model girlfriend.

But couple the plot with the background of the author and you understand the sensation. Justine Lèvy's first work, Le Rendezvous, was published in the mid-90s to rave reviews, her father is France's most famous superstar philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, and her husband famously left her for his father's girlfriend, model and singer Carla Bruni (now France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy).

Her real life public scandal has been turned ingeniously into a novel, which at best is beautifully poetic, and at worst is mind-blowingly self-indulgent.

Nothing Serious starts at Louise's grandmother's funeral, where she finds herself in jeans and unable to cry. Both points are significant. She's in jeans because she feels like an 'ex-woman' since her husband's defection and can't bring herself to wear dresses anymore, and she can't cry because she's become incapable of emotion, an 'empty shell'.

The novel interweaves the events of the past (the unravelling of her marriage with Adrien) with her current life (in a relationship with new lover Pablo), revealing slowly the narcissism of her husband and her own severe insecurities. Both are overwhelming, so it's hard not to see the end of the marriage coming a mile away, even if you're as severely myopic as Louise is.

Her myopia acts metaphorically for her inability to see beyond herself, beyond her own state of loss and devastation, choosing to see and be seen as 'fuzzy, without outlines'.

What we see in the novel is the internal processing of loss. She writes most often about, and addresses passages, to Adrien. Some of these are transcendent prose:
He drags frantically on his cigarette, runs his hand through his hair, looks at himself in his watchface, and starts up again better than before, why he hesitates between Marxism and ultra-liberalism, his infallible painful memory, his memories that are poisoning him, his sadness, his melancholy, it's devouring me do you understand, it's consuming me.

At other times, her musings are terribly immature:

I tell myself I'll never love him, whatever he does, whatever he says, because love is atrocious, because love always stops one day and I never want to experience the death of love again.'

In a way, it's a novel about learning how to cope with life - or rather, how not to. Louise loses herself in her love for Adrien, turns to drugs to become the woman she thinks he wants in a desperate bid not to lose him, then dives into relationship after relationship to fill the void after he leaves.


Ultimately, the author's... let's say 'youth' rather than 'immaturity' comes through rather strongly, though it's disguised as wisdom. It's a bit like Blues Clues - the paw prints aren't particularly subtle. She can't wear a dress because she's an ex-woman = at the end, Pablo buys her a dress. She hasn't had her periods in 7 years since the termination of her child with Adrien = in the end  her periods come back. She's myopic and doesn't want to see = in the end she decides to have eye surgery so she can see clearly. Also in the end, there's a sad acceptance that life is about loss, and shouldn't be taken seriously. Ironically, that's exactly what the novel does: it takes itself very seriously indeed.


You know how there's that theory that gay actors shouldn't receive the same accolades for a gay role as straight actors playing a gay role, because they're really playing real-to-life? I kinda feel that way about this novel. On first glance it seems like a searing and raw insight into a woman's post-divorce brokenness, crafted cleverly between the past and present to show her emotional state. But knowing that this was actually the author's own story makes me think it's really more a series of glorified diary entries, milked to create a thin plot.

It's kind of like Jennifer Aniston writing a book about an actress whose famous husband leaves her for another actress who adopts kids from all over the world. Now that would knock The Da Vinci Code and Twilight off the bestseller lists all over America, regardless of her writing talent.

Fortunately for Lèvy, she does have literary talent. However, both her books, for which she's received acclaim, have been bordering on diary-pilfering. I understand that people are best at writing what they know about, but I'd like to see how she goes writing a novel that's not based so closely on her own life.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Happiest Refugee, Anh Do

Posted by lea at 2:47 PM 1 comments Links to this post
I honestly can't remember the last time a book had such an emotional impact on me. The Happiest Refugee constantly had me alternating between laughing out loud and being on the verge of tears.

I almost didn't read it. I'd seen Anh Do on TV occasionally, but never particularly followed his comedy or had any particular interest in him. Also, I don't do memoirs. I tried to read The Long Way Home once upon a time but even the embiggening story of Nelson Mandela couldn't catch my fiction fancy. However, one day I read a positive book review about The Happiest Refugee, so with a Borders gift card in hand, I toddled over and bought it. Little did I know it would be the best $34 I would spend on a book in all of 2010.

It's not exactly a literary tour de force - sometimes there are awkward turns of phrases that highlight the fact that the author is a comedian, not a writer by nature - but it's an absolutely compelling read. Through anecdotes and smaller bite-sized stories of a larger whole, Do tells us about his family's harrowing escape from Vietnam, the struggles of their early arrival in Australia and the career that took him into the loungerooms of families across the country.

When you read the book, you understand the reason for his success. Do is revealed through every word and every page as someone with good sense, keen humour, high intelligence, a lot of determination and even more gratitude. It's an uplifting and positive read that celebrates the richness of life, rather than dwelling on the poor-me aspect that many memoirs tend to do.

Through the funny stories and anecdotes, we're told about the enormity of his love and respect for his mother, his struggles with and ultimate forgiveness for an absent and alcohol-abusive father, and the mark they left on this young Vietnamese boy who would grow up with a never-say-die outlook on the world interpreted through a humorous eye.

Not only is The Happiest Refugee funny and touching, it's also full of (dare I say it) immigrant wisdom. It reminded me of moments when I was growing up, like my dad looking sadly at the vandalism of a public train and telling me, 'Why destroy public properly? It's there for our benefit, so destroying it only destroys ourselves'. I could identify with Do not only in the physical things (both being Asian and growing up in western Sydney), but also in the non-tangibles, like the instilled gratitude towards our adopted country and the desire to give back.

Regardless of whether you can identify with him or not, I guarantee you'll enjoy this book. It's the sort of book I wanted to buy as a gift for everybody I know, but three bookstores I went to had already sold out of them. I'm not surprised. Get your hands on it if you can, however you can. You won't regret it.

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