The Political Symbol We Need

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On January 21, 2017, hundreds of post-Inauguration Day protests, rallies, and marches took place across the US and around the world. Largely organized by women and around “women’s issues” (which are not really only pertinent to women), the Women’s March on Washington and its related events served a smorgasbord of issues that were probably not all, entirely, to the taste of every participant–which did not keep them from coming out by the millions. Such is the nature of progressive politics in its sweeping gestures toward inclusion and diversity. Even so, the various marches were alike in several factors, including their overwhelming numbers, their overwhelmingly peaceful character, and their overwhelming pinkness. The latter was in part due to many artifacts in the crowds utilizing that color so long associated with all things feminine, but one item rose above the rest: the headwear that many of the participants wore. Simple in shape, the flat, boxy hat, when slipped over the head, reveals pointy “ears” that gives rise to its name: the pussyhat.

Given the success of the marches and ubiquity of the hats within them, the pussyhat may become one of the great examples of political headwear in the history of this sub-sub-sub-set of material culture history, which is a long one. Hats have enjoyed a rather rich association with politics through time, as their meanings might be casually hewn or (as in this case) intentionally sewn. Ancient Greeks recognized different tribes by their chapeaux, especially those who donned a pointy cone later called Phrygian caps, which were later embraced to signify freedom and the pursuit of liberty during various eighteenth-century revolutions: Americans called it them Liberty Caps. In the early twentieth century, hats were intentionally wielded within the strive toward Turkey’s westernization during the establishment of the Republic when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk required men to wear European-style hats in replace of the fez that had been traditional for about a century, thinking that modern hats would modernize their wearers. Meanwhile, Americans popularized straw boaters, usually festooned with bunting and buttons, as the canonical rally and convention hat. Again in the 1960s, activists and revolutionaries countered the decorum of broad-brimmed hats by donning berets to conjure a militarist attitude, famously captured in the Guerrillero Heroico.

Hats have only gained prominence at political rallies–especially televised ones–in the most recent decades, as a way for individuals to draw media attention to themselves (and, of course, their party), and for organizers to indicate solidarity among a crowd. Such was certainly the case during the 2016 presidential election, when the platform of the candidate who ultimately won the Electoral College became closely identified with a red trucker hat bearing an ostensibly, but backwards-looking and nostalgic, patriotic slogan. Reaching a certain portion of the electorate that was clearly feeling left out of global change, its form identifies with traditional masculinity and blue-collar labor, while its color is associated with the American flag but, perhaps more to the point, is also the shade favored by bullfighter to enrage their prey and thus may likely pump up (if not help to flat-out enrage) rally attendees. The factory-made hat (sometimes labeled “made in the USA,” but not necessarily so and not entirely so) was a tremendously successful element of the campaign, yet as ill-fitting and foreign in its candidate’s wearing–one might argue–as are the values it symbolizes within his actual life experience.

How different, then, is the hat we saw amidst the crowds flowing through the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Boston and beyond on January 21: not a device shrewdly chosen and mass-produced to elicit common response among a crowd of followers, but the result of a totally grassroots campaign, like the rallies themselves. While the innocent (or out-of-touch) might see their shape as having some vaguely feline-feminine quality appropriate to a Women’s March, no one was calling these kittyhats; they of course were a direct response to one of the most degrading and disparaging comments to come out of the red-capped candidate’s mouth. In no way is the pussyhat’s hue a washed-out, weaker version of the candidate’s hats; in this context, pink is potentially more biologically referential than generically pretty–although it’s that, too (and, depending on the wearer, ironically so–or not).

hatsAlso unlike the uniformity of the manufactured red hats, the pussyhats reveal a variety of shades and patterns of pink, as diverse in their slightly different shapes, fabrics, and methods of fabrication (some real works of art by skilled knitters and others clearly a person’s first go at a sewing machines). This too is significant, for the making of these hats is as important as their wearing. The real gist is for them to be handmade–so much so, that knittters took pity on their non-needlework-able sisters and passed them around both through small social circles as well as through a well-organized online campaign (no doubt the need also drove some robust Etsy traffic).

The mass creation of hundreds of thousands of pussyhats in a relatively short time frame is a testament to both contemporary social media and age-old needlework technology. The two merge in what may be the biggest global act of Craftivism in history: a pointed use of handicraft for the cause of activism, oftentimes (maybe usually) from a feminist point of view and making use of crafts that have been traditionally associated with the feminine sphere. In the best Craftivist practice, the pussyhats accomplish both goals by merging the advocacy of voice and hand, while also bridging the divide between the personal and the global.

So the pink hat is at once an individual, unique artifact in the making and a communal event in the wearing, much as the marches themselves joined vast swaths of people from broad demographic representations. As a specifically feminist strategy they reclaim and repurpose a word that had been used to belittle and degrade while claiming and proclaiming a color that is a powerful, clashing counterpoint to last summer’s red hat and its regressive attitude. With varying levels of craft expertise, fiber, fabric, pattern and color, they announced diversity within overall unity, perfectly symbolizing the recognition of plurality’s strength within any movement–or society–that hopes to march forward.

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a walk on Brick Lane

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Brick Lane is not unique among the streets of the world in the fact that it bears the evidence of shifting demographics, but it is certainly a fantastically diverse and colorful example of the phenomenon.  Even a short walk along part of this long street, which runs mostly north-south-ish in London’s East End, passes through divergent communities and multiple layers of cultural archaeology.  And while it might be short in distance (say, 1/3 of a mile), this walk is long in experience and deep in delight.

Our walk began at Fournier Street, on the corner of which stands an appropriately bricky eighteenth-century building whose tenant list already reveals part of the history of the district.  The Brick Lane Mosque has been used as such since 1976, but was formerly a synagogue (from 1898), before that a church (used by Methodists since 1819), before that serving for a decade at a time as the headquarters of the “London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews” and a Wesleyan chapel; originally it was built as La Neuve Eglise for French Huguenots in 1743.  To further complicate (and/or enrich) matters, its minaret (which lights up at night) was added in 2010, paid for by the Bishops Square development near Liverpool Street Station.

This section of the street is pretty much free of architectural monuments after the mosque, leaving one tempted to fall back on the old chestnut of describing the 3- and 4-story structures that line Brick Lane as “nondescript buildings.”  Maybe once upon a time these (mostly) 18th- and 19th- century blocks were unremarkable, but by 2014 they have achieved an impressive patina through use by layers of use through the centuries.  Not much reflects the earliest history of this road that is really, really old and gets its name from a brick factory that was built before the first Queen Elizabeth took the throne.  Successive groups of immigrants have moved to this part of the city, oftentimes to take over the silk and weaving shops that were prevalent through the nineteenth century, when the business dried up.  In the 1970s Bangladeshis became the predominant ethnic group in Brick Lane.  Their presence is evident in the street signs written in Bengali and lamp posts painted in the colors of the flag of Bangladesh, as well as the preponderance of curry shops along the street.

Perhaps like pizza being taken over by Americans from its Italian immigrants, curry rose in popularity along with the multiplication of Bangladeshi restaurants in Brick Lane, through the rest of London and wider in the country.  So popular did the immigrant cuisine–admittedly with some alterations–become, in 2001 British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, in a speech to “celebrate Britishness” and its longtime multicultural character, claimed that “Chicken Tikka Massala is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences.”  The acknowledgement of Bangladeshi culture as an integrated part of Britishness was made official by the renaming of the district as “Spitalfields and Banglatown,” also in 2001.

Recently, Brick Lane has continued to show signs of change as its character (and relatively cheap rents) have drawn the attention of artsy types.  Just off the path of our walk, the Rag Factory, a repurposed building housing studios, performance and exhibition spaces, is not far from the intersection of Brick Lane and Fashion Street (originally the Hugeuenot name “Fossan” Street, the word was later corrupted into “Fashion,” and recently became a magnet for designers).  Walking north, such establishments as the Cafe Mumbai, Mango Masala, Eastern Eye Balti, Bengal Village, the Curry Bazaar, and Cafe Bangla cede way to the Vibe Bar, the Laden Showroom, Rockit, Vintage, the Brick Lane Gallery, the venerable Beigel Bake.  What might seem like a rather abrupt transition between the Bangladeshis and the more recent settlers, around Woodseer Street, is visually bridged by a new scrim on many of those old buildings.  The once-plain walls along the path have been turned into a fantastic open-air street art gallery. The big crane by Belgian artist Roa is probably the most notable work in the gallery above, but we are partial to the portrait of local hero Charlie Burns (d. 2012) by Londoner Ben Slow–it’s beautiful, and painted to look like its fading away, along with Charlie’s Brick Lane.

Having started at the church-synagogue-mosque at the intersection with Fournier Street, the walk ends at a rather different, and rather new, cultural icon just below Bethnal Green Road.  Fika, named after the tradition of Swedish coffee break and opened some five or six years ago, is a bar and restaurant that is pretty serious about its Nordicness, featuring kladdkaka and gravadlax on the menu.  We might be just a few blocks north of the mosque, but it feels farther away.  Not as far as Stockholm is from Dhaka, the difference between the ends of this short walk is better measured in messier terms than mere miles.  The self-consciousness of cultural construction to the north is palpable, but maybe that’s been the case whenever a new wave has flowed down Brick Lane, going back to the Huguenots.  Regrettable neighborhood gentrification?  Maybe.  Expected urban evolution?  Undoubtedly.  It’s the natural way in these unnatural things that we call cities and that are, afterall, the artifacts of everyone who passes through them and takes the time to leave part of their story behind.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s shoes

you can’t handle the suit.

New Year’s Eve promises glamour, excitement and magic.  Not that the evening really lives up to its reputation very often, but one can hope for a surprise, and maybe a little glitter that will twinkle on into the new year.  Rather than roll out one of those long lists that chronicle the year that is passed, MoT looks ahead to the promise of 2013, finding our hope in one bright glimmer from ’12 that took the form of Benedict Cumberbatch (and not just his shoes–but back to them momentarily).

Of the little cadre of impressive young British actors who made a great big spiffing splash this year, Benedict Cumberbatch receives the salute from MoT Department of Anglophilia and General Sartorial Coolness.  His peers Michael Faasbender and Tom Hiddleston (below) probably have been told their whole lives that they are rather easy on the eye (in addition to having all that talent). They are people we expect to smoothly transition into positions as masters of their domain, not to mention style icons du jour.  Not so much Benedict.  He is the most unlikely screen star of the batch, awkward and quirky, like his name.  He’s too lean, he’s got that bushy hair, small eyes, and gaunt features in that long horsey mug.  In short, Benedict Cumberbatch is not another pretty face.  And yet through performance after performance somehow has made these motley features tremendously compelling.  Is he more captivating because of his uncharacteristic looks or because we mortals somehow relate to him better because of them, and enjoy the surprise of being so thoroughly pulled into the orbit of his easy but uncomfortable coolness?  It’s like this: you go to the Louvre knowing you’re going to see gorgeous beautiful graceful things that you’ve known your whole life and have been taught to admire; you know how to identify their widely-loved features, are not surprised nor disappointed by Canova or Leonardo or whoever.  You leave and go on to the next expected stop of wonderfulness on your itinerary.  Or you go to some small gallery you only remember vaguely reading about in some dumb blog.  But behold: there’s some artist, let’s say some watercolorist–you didn’t know you even fancied water colors–whose work leaps off the wall, commanding you with its sweeping colors and unexpected brushstrokes.  You stare.  You can’t pull yourself away.  You’re late to work.  You think about it for the rest of the week, you tell all your friends: you’ve got to go see this guy.

Benedict Cumberbatch is, of course, the unexpected surprise, and not just in his film roles.  While other stars are obviously, boringly (if elegantly), styled, we get the sense that Benedict just sort of does what he wants because he doesn’t think anyone is looking, anyway.  And as with his performances, nails it, as you see in the cropped picture above.  Why do we include an image of just the shoes?  Because to take in the whole unlikely charisma of this fellow is to court disaster.  You are advised to look upon a complete ensemble only through a pinhole pricked in a shoebox.  Don’t blame us if you don’t heed our words.  You’ve been warned.

Shouldn’t life just be like that; shouldn’t we all wish our new year to unfold in the same majestic manner with an outlandish and brave use of whatever unpromising–or maybe just non-traditionally promising–material we have?  We wish for ourselves and you, dear reader, a Cumberbatchish year.  Let’s call it the year of the Cumberbatch.  Annus Cumberbilis.  Set off fireworks tonight, but tomorrow, follow the Sign of the Shoe.

perfectly acceptable, predictable hangars for Armani, if you like that sort of thing.

patriotic clothing

the terrorists win.

Exhibiting one’s patriotism is noble when it’s done in good taste.  Activities that reveal one’s dedication to a nation’s principles and ideals and better angels are in really good taste.  This includes engaging in well-informed public discourse, practicing proper etiquette in the presence of the flag and festooning one’s house with bunting on national holidays.

Festooning one’s self with bunting on national holidays, however, is never a good idea.  It may be a habit elsewhere too, but is definitely a problem in the U S of A where, especially on Independence Day, all across the fruited plains, Americans indulge in bizarre costuming in the name of patriotism by mis-appropriating the flag in hideous garments.  America’s national holidays already teeter on the verge of caricature.  It’s not MoT‘s mission to get preachy about national pride, but we will humbly suggest that the triumvirate of Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day ought not to be the days-off-work that define the start, peak, and end of summer, extolled as excuses to have a barbecue.  Of course you ought to have a barbecue–we’ll bring the brownies–, and it would be great if sometime during the day you did something to recognize the intended nature of the day, but it would also be wonderful if you’d not take part in patriotic-dressing-cum-flag-desecration.

It’s not that the American flag is an inviolate symbol, it’s just that its design is really not amenable to attractive clothing.  There’s a reason stars and two-tone striping don’t show up on a lot of your non-holiday-themed garments (unless you wear a certain kind of uniform).  The color combo of red, white and blue is very, very hard to pull off.  So use them wisely.  If you are compelled to decorate yourself like the flag, consider diminutive stars that may be mistaken as polka dots at a distance.  Choose stripes wisely; seersucker is not a bad option.  Flag pins may be required on politicians’ lapels, but giant star earrings are prohibited.  Finally, you can only choose two of the three colors from the flag.  (Alternately, forego the whole walking-flag thing and dress as your favorite Founding Father: this guy and this guy knew how to put together an outfit.)

These are the rules for flag dressing, which has very few exceptions.  You MAY wear flagoriffic clothes if:

1. you’re a little girl

2. you’re a crazy old man

3. you’re an athlete in uniform

4. you’re a superhero

5. you’re a pop star who is basically a cartoon image of a real person

(and then, if you’re going to do it, do it right)

6. we take that back

America is the home of the free and you are free to wear whatever God-awful clothing you like, but please, consider the tender sensibilities of people who have to look at you.  Honor the men and women who have died defending this country and its flag so it can wave proudly from sea to shining sea, not so you can Old Glorify your bottom or star-spangle your bosom.  Those colors may not run, but if we see them at the picnic, we may turn tail, and we’re taking our brownies with us.

Correction: these colors do indeed run, and jump, and also basically look awesome just poised for action.

tastometer 2011

Alfred C. Barnes, when he was alive, and still able to forcibly beat the crap out of anyone who suggested dismantling his collection

Although taste can neither be judged on a perfect continuum (since so often events and objects evince both good and bad taste) nor be comfortable within delimiting factors of a ten-part end-of-year list, the turning of the calendar does seem an appropriate time to take pause, consider the year that has passed, and acknowledge special achievements in Taste: the good, the bad, and otherwise.  MoT‘s Department of Tastemetrics offers the following study of events of 2011, ranging from the Worst of Bad Taste to Tasty of the Tasty, recognizing that bad taste is sometimes enjoyable and good taste can be downright boring.

Rather than apply a simple numeric system to this slippery study, the Department instead adopts a system of word-pictures.  These Taste Indicator Determinant arBited Illustration Types (TIDBITs) have been assigned somewhat like the party election symbols used in India–not that those were judgmental, as MoT‘s are, but they are illustrative little morsels none the less.  Join us as we start at the scuzzy, slimy bottom:

Bunga-bunga?  Buh-bye!

The resignation of Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister of Italy finally took place on 16 November.  There’s nothing redeeming about this story; he was a schmucky guy who took advantage of everything and everyone.  Yuck.  TIDBIT: Flaming Bag of Poo

The celebration of “Architect Barbie” by people who should know better: it was bad enough that this crummy parody of a female professional was unleashed, it’s worse that there has been so much praise and excitement about it from professionals and academics.  Ugh, we’ve been through this enough and have submitted the Barbie Department here at MoT HQ to redundancy downsizing, so just read their now-historic report here.  TIDBIT: Cat Barf

A nut that was cracked wide open in an interview on ABC in February, Charlie Sheen’s simultaneous meltdown and reinvention was sad, overplayed and tedious, but somehow heroic, albeit in a deluded sort of way.  We include it here mostly to emphasize how much we hate Architect Barbie by making her the meat in a crap sandwich with Silvio & Charlie as the bread.  TIDBIT: A Crap Sandwich

one monstrosity OMA hasn’t managed to get built yet

There’s plenty of stupid spectacle architecture out there, both built and proposed (here’s an exemplary late entry), but the La Paille Dans L’Åil Du Voisin is the stupidest (watch the video if you have excess IQ points to spare).  TIDBIT: Whatever Tastes Like The Head of Michelangelo’s David With A Big Beam Rammed Through It

On July 3 the Barnes Foundation closed. What a travesty.  Readers unaware of what a slimy business the art world is (especially in Philadelphia, but not uniquely so), need to read up or see this good documentary.  Glimmer of hope: with this theft, more people will be able to see and enjoy the art at the center of the controversy.  But that’s the same kind of thin excuse that protects a lot art in European museums stolen by marauding armies.  This time the crime was perpetrated by very slick culture vultures, but the result is the same.  TIDBIT: Heirloom Tomato, Rotten and Worm-Eaten

Josh: SHOULDDA

A one-time favorite around HQ, Project Runway concluded season 9 by naming Anya the winner. Inconceivable!  Anya, who can make only one dress, for one climate, but sew no sleeves, and never heard the word “zipper.”  This, especially when the duo of Joshua (left) and Viktor were actual contenders, dripping with loads of talent and versatility and skill.  Although the award raises an interesting point–how essential is design education vs. natural talent?–it revealed the producer’s interest, finally, in favor of sizzle over steak.  TIDBIT: Beadazzled Crap Sandwich

Mixed blessings from England: someone newly hired at Mini somehow missed the memo that “mini” means “small,” and urged the developement of maxi-size minis.  The Mini Cooper “Countryman” (what does that even mean?) is weird, and dumb.  Problem: it was first advertised with this commercial, and the catch phrase cram it in the boot, that we really kind of like.  However, when MoT crams it, we cram it in a properly-scaled mini Mini boot, thank you very much.  A proper Mini is more than adequate for our needs, and we have stretched it to accomode, at one point, two of MoT‘s junior staffers toting backpacks, viola and cello, and a pitbull, for good measure, and did so while maintaining the spirit of Mini as encapsulated in the great commercial that celebrates the “Best Test Drive Ever, Period.”  (However, MoT‘s six-word “Best Test Drive Ever, Period.” would be described thusly: MrDarcy, Quadrilatero’d’Oro, Ringstrasse, Scone, Hogwarts, Siouxsie.)  But that’s just not happening in a Countryman.  TIDBIT: Poofy Scone, Oversized For American Market 

We needed a lie-down, too

MoT staffers have anticipated few movies for their artistic promise alone like they have Lars von Trier’s Melancholia.  What a visual treat it was . . . until we had to run out of the theatre due to severe nausea caused by over-indulgence of the shaky-cam.  Why, Lars, why?  We were ready for the cinematic version of German Romantic paintings, and instead were sickened by camerawork that would be too jerky for a Bourne installation.  TIDBIT: Sad Scone.  A Beautiful, Sad, Nearly-Vomiting Scone. 

There’s good taste, and bad taste, and then there’s excellent bad taste.  Hello, Honey Badger, the short film first posted to YouTube in January.  Nasty indeed, but humor that fresh and funny is something to celebrate.  TIDBIT: Steak ‘n Shake Chili Deluxe With Cheese Fries

the Lake Shore Drive “graveyard” in February

That leads to the mid-point of the Tastometer and the potentially taste-neutral matter of time and weather.  The latter was dealt a wallop near MoT HQ in February, when SnOwMaGeddon swept into the Chicago area.  It’s only weather if you notice it, and it’s only tasty if something cool happens because of it: behold Jim Cantore’s response to thundersnow!  (How this has not been autotuned is beyond our understanding.)  Also, all those abandoned cars on Lake Shore Drive became the subject matter of great Snowpocalypse photography.  TIDBIT: Flaming Baked Alaska

Likewise, dates tend to be  untasty.  But no day for years and years will live up to the graphic simplicity and regularity of 11 11 11; likewise, no date will ever emphasize one of cinema’s most tasty scenes, ever.  TIDBIT: Shark Sandwich.*

Launched in April, the architecture blog Philaphilia wins high marks in a similar vein as the Honey Badger, but for buildings (and so it’s better than studies of “nature”).  Philaphilia is remarkably active and consistent, has a very specific point of view, is historically spot-on and full of sage wisdom (a favorite bon mot: “don’t build buildings out of sidewalks.”)  That’s all we can quote here and keep our PG rating.  If you like your architectural criticism sprinkled with F-bombs, hearken ye to Philaphilia.  TIDBIT: Salty Caramel

The Tastometer begins to pick up now, with the very tasty news that the British Library now offers an e-classics app for the iPad, huzzah!  For a monthly fee (say, the cost of an Aztec cocoa, or two whoopie pies, or half a bottle of Essie nailpolish–all tasty things) one may access tens of thousands of books, scanned from the original, on an iPad.  With this service, Hermione’s beaded bag has nothing on your own Birken, virtually full of 30,000 nineteenth-century tomes.  Actual books are still better than their electronic versions, but since MoT‘s collecting habits in nineteenth-centry books are, alas, somewhat limited, we are grateful to the Brits.  Once again.    TIDBIT: Scone with Clotted Cream

MoT hearts books

With its new director, the Art institute of Chicago seems to be going gangbusters with exhibitions, but many of them have fallen flat.  Not so for our favorite of the year, a very small collection of printed materials arranged in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries in celebration of the citywide “Festival of the Architecture Book,” marking the 500th anniversary of the publication of the first illustrated architecture book.  “Design Inspiration: Nineteenth- Century American Builders’ Manuals and Pattern Books” was a wonderful show.  More, please!  TIDBIT: Chocolate Chip Cookie

A certain big box retailer scored big with another blockbuster designer collaboration with the storied house of Missoni for Target.  Fashionista Bargainistas saw zigzags . . . then saw red (more about that here), as stores were cleaned out and the Target.com website went kaput.  Several months later, very slow boats from China are still struggling to fill open orders.  TIDBIT: Bruschetta di Milano

Trrrooolllllllll!!!

The big and little screen made us happy, from the visually and intellectually stunning Cave of Forgotten Dreams to the local favorite Munger Road, also big Scandinavian “tummar-upp”  (well, that’s what Røger Ebertssen would say) for Trollhunter, which managed to blend aspects of The Blair Witch Project, Jaws, and Scandinavian myths together in an effective way that makes us eager for a sequel and a prequel to learn more about the stoic hero for whom the movie was named.  We applaud two humane shows in the midst of dreck on television: Parks and Recreation features characters who are actually genuinely likeable people, and The Walking Dead mixes up the good and the bad, and makes a person wonder every week which one they are.  TIDBIT: Zombie Waffles, with Lingonberries

Colin Firth, action hero

Was 2011 The Year of Firth? An Oscar, London Film Critics Circle, the European Film Award, and that was after raking in a few dozen similar trophies in the last months of 2010, all for The King’s Speech, which was released on dvd in April, and you bought it immediately, didn’t you?  And in June he was presented at the Queen’s Honours with the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).  (Bryan Ferry was also honored in that program, prompting our consideration that the whole event should have a special award for Tastiness.)  The year closes with the opening of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which also holds the promise of the action figures we most look forward to seeing under our Christmas tree.  TIDBIT: Scone With Clotted Cream *And* Jam.

Speaking of men we love, David McCullough published The Greater Journey, a book that celebrates some of America’s greatest architects, artists, writers, and others who aspired to greatness and pursued it in Paris.  Like all of Mr. McCllough’s books, it is an inspirational and wonderful tale.  We have long admired this fabulous historian who writes history that people actually want to read.  The fact that MoT‘s Chief of Literature Consumption met him at a book signing, where he was marvelously sweet, kind, supportive, personable, gave him the edge over Mr. Darcy.  (No, she still hasn’t washed the hand that he so warmly shook.)  TIDBIT: Boeuf Bourguignon

Always.

A dominant force in the Tastiverse this year was the final installment of the Harry Potter movies, the Deathly Hallows, Part II. Fine film it was, but that’s not why it ranks so high on this list: it’s just that the final installment finally gave a platform to Snape’s long suffering.  At last, Alan Rickman was able to let loose and reveal Snape’s heartbreakingly courageous lonesome lovelorn sacrificial self as a main pivot point for the whole story.  (Too bad the filmmakers crapped up the ending so bad, or this entry would have crept closer to the top of the list.)  TIDBIT: Flourless Chocolate Torte & Port

One of the tastiest events to blow into New York–a city that knows from taste–blew away all previous exhibition records at the Met: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, dominated the summer.  MoT‘s Department of Exhibition Critique worries that museums are not doing their job if a fashion designer can out-draw painters and sculptors who have made a more proven and lasting contrition to civilization, but even so, admit that it was an extraordinary and amazing show. It is a rare treat when an exhibition encapsulates the spirit of its subject without overwhelming it.  TIDBIT: Any Two Or Three of These Cakes

kiss me, Kate

Nearing the top of the list, it’s hard to deny that Britain had the corner on taste in 2011, for no event was more anticipated and drawn out and over-reported and yet still left us somehow unsatiated than the great fabulous Royal Wedding of April 29, for these four reasons: (1) Kate Middleton, (now Her Royal Highness Princess William Arthur Philip Louis, Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn and Baroness Carrickfergus), not only looked great but has acted with admirable demureness through this whole crazy affair; (2) the beautiful sublimity of the gorgeous day was thrown comfortably and realistically off by the crazy hats, especially  Princess Beatrice’s Fascinator (don’t you feel better about what your embarrassing cousin wore to your wedding now?), and the peevishness of Princess Grumpsalot (left);  (3) it inspired one of our favorite websites of the year, Kate Middleton For The Win, and (4) it was a great excuse to get up early, make scones and finally figure out where in town we can source clotted cream.  TIDBIT: Just The Clotted Cream

Finally, what’s tastier than The Taste?  Well it’s the tasty readers of the Taste of course, a readership that has gone berserker in the last weeks of 2011 thanks, as far as MoT‘s  Electronic Media Research Team can tell, from a post from two years ago being circulated like gang busters.  MoT has now been read on at least four continents and translated into Chinese.  For that, 作者 sends a hearty 谢谢 to our new friends at renren.com, and also our friends at Google Translate, who allowed our Department of Poor Language Skills to put the Chinese back into English, to hilarious results.  Plenty of traffic was also prompted by the tweeting of tasty folks at Dwell.com and postings at Archinect.com, but we especially thank Artmagonline.wordpress.com, since they introduced our post on a page with Helena Bonham Carter, so now MoT and HBC are BFFs.  Glad to have you all along for the ride, please introduce yourselves to the faithful who have been around since our launch on Borromini’s birthday in 2009.  TIDBIT: You!  (Or Almond Bark)

Savage Beauty: McQueen, 2005

*that one is for you, MoT CFO

Barbie® dolls of the Dolls of the World® Landmark Collection® collection

demoiselle d’plastique (actually, this one is not horrible)

Midway through the convulsions brought on by Museum Collection Barbie® (see it here if you dare) we came upon this fresher hell: significant cultural landmarks have been channelled through the special aesthetic vision that can only be described as Barbiesque®.  As reported by MoT‘s only news source for all things Barbie®, Barbie Collector, Barbie® commemorates the 30th Anniversary of Dolls of the World® collection with the Landmark Collection®, featuring Barbie® dressed in gowns inspired by famous architecture (no “®”–architects do not enjoy such rights over their creative property as designers of plastic dolls).

The broader framework represented by the World Culture Barbies® is a project that reveals the global reach of Mattel’s objectification of women.  The “ideal” is defined by the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Beauty Queen-Computer Scientist-Racecar Driver-Cheerleader from Malibu.  Mattel allows some variations from this standard to reflect differences of ethnicity (as long as they’re not too ethnic, of course): Barbie® doesn’t have to be blonde (like Diwali Barbie®); she might even have textured hair (like Nigerian Barbie®); occasionally she may have dark skin and dress like a hippie (like Kwanzaa Barbie®).  But most denizens  of the Barbieverse® stick pretty close to the exemplar.  Even the All-Purpose Asian (“Oriental” in Barbie-speak) is not overly-ethnicized.  Still, the greater number of World Cultures deemed worthy of Barbification® leans heavily toward the Eurozone, but in highly caricatured versions.  Barbie française is cancan-ready (in a progressive move, the more recent France Barbie® Doll wears better-fitting shoes and stockings than her thirty-year-old mother, Parisian Barbie®); Scandinavia is represented not by a contemporary Ikea manager with excellent maternal-leave benefits, but instead as Princess of the Vikings.  MoT‘s house ethnographers are rather fond of  Italy Barbie® Doll, mostly for their theory that (1) she is modeled on Giada de Laurentis and (2) could probably take any of the blonde Barbies in a fight.  A curious representative for America almost looks like a progressive political statement, until one realizes that cross-dressing George Washington Barbie® is just a weird and possibly misguided exercise in patriotism.

It is within this rich cultural milieu that Barbie® makes her homage to world architecture through the Landmark Collection® collection, although the results (not surprisingly) don’t really live up to their advertisement.  The dolls wear clothes that are inspired by architectural things, but not exactly architecture–i.e., buildings.  All of their sources are recognizable in a tourist-post-card kind of way, and decent enough examples of what they represent, but they’re not all really the most extraordinary landmarks out there.  Once again, Mattel reaches for the low fruit on the inspiration tree.  Although–or maybe because–drawing fashion inspiration from architecture is not a new idea, the lackluster way these exercises mimic and parody cultural landmarks is kind of a joke.

What did Utzon say about “Blunderland”?  (Google it)

Sydney Opera House Barbie® is the only doll in the collection that is tricked out like a whole real building, although it is a structure with only limited visual interest as a one-note achievement.  The mildly daring and definitely expensive structural shells of the Opera House are translated into paper plates that have blown off a picnic table and stuck to her bodice (we suspect Vegemite).  Her skirt is colored like the harbor over which the opera perches (“ocean blue chiffon,” we are told).

Only two points about her design keeps MoT from falling asleep: (1) the fact that her hair is not just sprayed from here til Tuesday, but is meant to be perpetually windswept, like she’s by the water.  (Get it?  Get it?!)  And then there are the shoes.  MoT is impressed by the shoes.  Do they come in size 8.5, for real people, perchance?

Even with these small items of interest, Sydney Opera House Barbie® is a pretty indifferent interpretation of the only vaguely relevant architecture from this little nation.  Sorry, Australia, we’re just not that into you.

Give me your ugly fabric, your wretched pleats, your dreadful draping yearning to breathe free. . . 

la tour de pouvoir

The closest-to-right Barbie® in this collection is the French offering.  Eiffel Tower Barbie® actually reveals some real inspiration from her monument–along with some significant missteps that sort of ruin it all.  MoT can really do without the cheap earrings and definitely would scrap the oversized charm bracelet that looks like Barbie® could not bring herself to say non, merci to the tschotske hawkers on the Champ de Mars.  And then there’s the print on the dress: sacre bleu, another giant picture to say I AM A MONUMENT (suddenly we are inspired for Robert Venturi Barbie®).  All this is very sad when the profile of the dress already echoes the graceful curve of the building, and the actually clever detail of the fish net sleeves recall the metal latticework of the original monument while still being like clothes.  And although the actual thing is a tired and nasty sort of brown-bronze, they just went black and white here.  As if a designer did this work.

The Dolls of the World® Landmark Collection® Collection is disappointing as a lost opportunity for something fun and interesting and clever to happen with architecture in popular culture.  Although the problem is probably shared between the somewhat lackluster models chosen for inspiration and their interpretation by somewhat lackluster designers, perhaps some blame should be laid at the tiny feet of the doll herself.  It coud not hurt to get a new doll.  Perhaps one should not call in a plastic princess to do an Empress’ job.

Zaha doll (should be an action figure) by Olivia Lee