April 30, 2014

Tibial plateau fracture, or: Kate Moss for Topshop and a very badly injured knee

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It’s been a long, long while since I last wrote here. The reason I chose today for returning to this place was the commercial launch of the Kate Moss for Topshop collection. I am, with pride, the owner of the beautiful and chic black striped pajama-like ensemble.

It began when I received, a few days ago, a reminder from Net-a-Porter that they’d be selling the collection on their website. I’m not a wild Kate Moss fan–must say never quite understood the frenzy around her–but I figured, hey, Kate Moss wears maxis. I need maxi dresses and Topshop have them in affordable versions. I’ll check the collection out.

Turns out the maxis were not quite affordable (as in for their price I can get designs in which I’m more interested and that are not made of polyester) but the pajama-pantsuit was, and I fell in love with it. And I need pants, too, because I broke my leg, had two surgical interventions in my knee in the course of one month, and that resulted in three very large scars that are far from healed, as well as in a leg that has severely lost muscular mass due to the lack of walking (required for the bone to heal in the right position).

I don’t want to become self-conscious about my scars, although I am, a little; this is, however, a fight I’m willing to win. At the same time, my leg (left one) is healing and weak, the scars must be protected from the sun in order to become as invisible as possible, and this process of “aesthetic” recovery (which in the case of regaining muscles is even more important in terms of rehabilitating the leg for walking) will take a long time, a time during which I still want to feel comfortable and beautiful and not psyched about my scars being exposed to sunlight.

I even purchased make-up for the scars. There are many options and I chose strong concealers from M.A.C., which the saleslady assured me were used for hiding tattoos. They work well, except the powder they sold me to settle the concealer changes its color, and not wearing powder at all implies into having to retouch the concealer all the time. The concealer solution might be interesting at night, but for daylight, I’ll stick with pants and maxis. And tea-lengths. Those are O.K., too. Anyway, I wear a lot of sunscreen on my scars–fabric doesn’t necessarily block UV rays. There are also some interesting, effective treatments: Medgel smoothens the scars, while Accutape makes them more flexible, also improving their appearance. Anything much different then that should be a decision taken at least 8 months after the surgery. That’s the minimum amount of time required for evaluating how a scar will look when “settled,” so to speak.

I’m also very lucky that sneakers and flats couldn’t be more in season. I’m having to basically rebuild my shoe closet, shamefully packed with the highest possible heels, which I’d use every day to go to work. What was I doing with my back and knees, anyways?

A tibial plateau fracture–TPF for the acquainted–is a very serious injury. It hurts like hell and it must be treated by experts and with extreme caution. If you had one and fell upon my blog while researching the injury, my Schatzker classification was V (a bycondilar fracture–aka almost the worst possible shit that can happen to your knee). I had to do two surgeries because the first one, done in an emergency regimen right in the day of the accident, resulted in the shape of my leg being completely altered. The surgeon convinced us that was the best he could do: there was not enough bone material to keep the leg aligned, he said. The hospital was at the base of a packed-up ski resort and I had absolutely no reason to believe a traumatologist that performed surgeries in broken legs and knees for a living had simply done a poor job.

But he had. And when I got a second opinion about the surgery, the first thing the new orthopedist told me when he saw the shape of my leg was that it was simply absurd. He insisted I’d get a new surgery with a traumatologist he trusted. I hadn’t chosen the doctor who performed my first surgery. He was appointed by the hospital, and I simply trusted the system. As for this new orthopedist and the traumatologist he recommended, I made through research regarding their work, credentials, and satisfaction from their patients. I wanted my leg to be straight again, and the new traumatologist told me he could do it. I figured I had little to lose. And I was lucky to believe in him. He fixed my leg, the cost being the new scars, for he used a method that was different from the one adopted by the first surgeon. So here’s one thing that’s important: you need an excellent surgeon, and if the result of your surgery wasn’t excellent, look for someone else. I talked to the first surgeon about having a second surgery, and although he provided all the information I needed for the second surgery to be performed, he was of the opinion that truly, nothing more could be done for my leg. I’m just glad I didn’t hear him.

Researching TPF, I discovered many things that helped me in my own healing process. The first one was that it’s great to be able to keep up good spirits. Most of the (useful) information available on the net about TPFs is in forums dedicated to the subject, and it’s sad–almost contagious–to see how people get depressed about their injury, even if they’re getting amazing results from physiotherapy. Just don’t be depressed. Really. Focus on enjoying the time you’re taking off your daily routine to meditate, read, and most importantly, work your ass off towards healing. Spend many hours of your day exercising your range of movement while you still not allowed partial weight bearing. Exercise your abdomen, your arms and back as well. Try as much as you can to keep your thigh alive. Move your ankles like there’s no tomorrow. Elongate yourself like a mad person. And bend that knee. Defy your pain within your limits, and BEND THAT KNEE.

My first surgeon–who apparently did everything wrong–also kept my leg practically immobilized, and didn’t place any emphasis in me bending my knee. The second doctor I saw was horrified by the fact that almost a month after the surgery, I still wasn’t bending my knee. After the second surgery, I was bending 90 degrees three days after getting back home, and recovering full range of motion became an obsession. One that was well worth it: in three months I’ve already gotten there, and if you do your research, you’ll know that’s rare even after years have passed by. I’m talking FULL range of motion, heels touching my butt range of motion.

Yoga helps if you’ve been into it for a long time. It helped me a lot. I am now into my second week of weight bearing, and yoga has been helping me regain balance and strength, as well as aspects of flexibility that are not easily worked with physiotherapy. Don’t even think of going there if you have no experience with it.

Start physiotherapy as soon as you can. I had at first the idea that I could recover all by myself, but I hired a physiotherapist anyway to see what he could do differently. IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE IF YOU FIND A GOOD ONE. My physiotherapist was able to massage my scars, ankles, calf and thigh muscles and knee in a way that turned my work towards regaining range of motion far more fruitful. There’s lots of loosening up to do in such a severely injured leg and a pro will help you a lot. Hidrotherapy has been really nice, too, and especially now that I’m weight bearing: there are exercises I can do in the water that I still can’t do outside, and those (such as climbing steps) are very effective towards strengthening the injured leg. Again, finding a great professional matters. And if you’ve hired a therapist that’s not making a difference, look for someone else. Don’t give in. You’ve just not found the right person. But always remember: YOUR work is the most important. Think at least four hours a day dedicated to working out, at least 3 of them focusing on your leg.

You can’t gain weight anymore, so don’t lose it as you stay sitting on your ass at home all day. What I did was a lean protein and vegetable based diet. Dark greens like kale, spinach and broccoli are great sources of things you need when healing bones, and lean protein is, well, lean. This should at least help you with not putting on weight. I wouldn’t be optimistic about being able to lose weight during the first three to four months, though, unless you find the strength to dive into a really strict diet. After that time you’ll slowly be able to exercise normally again, so if you think you need to get rid of some fat, start working more strongly on it when you are a couple of weeks into weight bearing.

It may be that you won’t be able to not work for a period of time as long as 3 to 4 months. If this is true, the first advice I give you is: be extremely cautious about your comings and goings. Don’t put yourself in a position that might lead you to be bumped on, for instance, or lose balance. If possible, rent a wheelchair. The second advice is: don’t leave your healing to time and chance. The most important thing you have to do is recover your body. So if you have to work, you have to exercise your leg too. You MUST do both. If possible, think of ways of doing some exercise at work, like bending the knee as much as you can while sitting on your desk.

There will be a lot of swelling in the beginning, and a physiotherapist may help you with that too. Movement is paramount for stopping the swelling, particularly moving the ankles. Did I say already “move your ankles like there’s no tomorrow?” Do it. It’s good for your whole body. Seriously. The ankles are THAT responsible for your wellbeing.

Finally, accept ALL the help. You may even find ways of not needing it, but it will make your life so much better. It was nice to have help with lunch, house cleaning, showering (you don’t want to slip). It was nice to have massages being offered and family to make sure I had everything I needed, because it is difficult to carry things around when both your hands are in charge of moving your body. And when you wake up at night for whatever reason and you’re dizzy and still familiarizing with the crutches, you just feel safer to have someone by your side.

If you have any questions about TPF, you’re welcome to leave them in the comments box. However, if you’d like to know how I liked my Kate Moss for Topshop ensemble, I’ll let you know in a few days. :)

April 26, 2013

Dress for the part. But what’s the part anyway?

Miu Miu ciré pencil skirt — can it be worn at work?

My favorite fashion shopping website is Net-a-Porter — I think by miles it’s the most functional, appealing and the one with the finest curatorship of clothing among all.

Net-a-Porter used to have a workwear section, dedicated to clothes and looks fit for the office, but that should do no wrong in a fashionista’s eyes. Plenty of Roland Mouret and Victoria Beckham there, a bit of McQueen and Stella — tailored stuff mostly, structured totes and pumps. I looked for the section now, and it’s gone, they only have now vacation and wedding “shop by occasion” sections. But the existence of the section is unimportant; what matters is… what is adequate workwear after all?

Can those McQueen cropped metallic honeycomb-lace pants be taken to the office?

Here’s why I’m saying this: where I work, people dress very badly. If they wear suits — men or women alike — those suits are usually very plain and sometimes, straightforward cheap. Cufflinks for guys are unthinkable — we have meetings with customers or suppliers from different companies and they always come to those wearing what seems to be their finest, while our representatives have the practical simple plastic buttons doing the job of keeping their pulses covered. Should I come to work decked out in VB in such a scenario?

I don’t posess anything designed by Posh Spice, but I do own a burgundy silk pencil skirt by Lanvin that is perfectly office-friendly according to Net-a-Porter’s workwear rules and cost me only a 100 USD (thank you Century 21! I love you!), and I wear it to work like nothing else mattered. And it doesn’t to me, but to my colleagues, it’s like I’m the idiot who really dresses up for work, or at least that’s how I feel. Maybe they’re thinking “oh my good, she looks so chic” as they stare at me. I don’t know.

What is it to look professional, and more: how much of yourself should you compromise in that task? Because it’s not just about the type of fabrics and cuts and shapes that are allowed, there’s a quality issue there and a taste factor that are both very subtle, counterintuitive even — you can’t be really too tasteful at work, you can’t colorblock even if it’s Roksanda Ilincic who’s doing it for you, and God forbid you’ll wear tailored beehive McQueen pants, even though they’re basically black with a dash of gold.  Is it even good to be noticed at work by your impeccable, somewhat sartorial tastes in fashion, and anyway — should you care?

April 8, 2013

A woman’s farewell to the Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher, the most important woman of the 1980′s — I dare say, at least in politics, the most important woman there ever was in the XXth century — has left the building.

Do you have mixed feelings about her (do you even know who she is? I mean, I am young, or at least I think the status should apply to anyone under 30, but apparently people are even younger nowadays)? I do.

On one hand, a woman who knew how to be authoritative without emulating a man; she would often wear a double string of pearls as homage to her twins (a girl and a boy) and work a very nicely done hair and make-up, at least after she became Prime Minister. With a Queen and an Iron Lady, a leading woman by birthright and another by the will of the people, the UK in the 80′s was pure girl power. Right?

The politics of Thatcher was pretty much the politics of the conservative men of her time. Sometimes, it felt like she wanted to be the toughest one in the room — except the room was full of gentlemen and that was still a time in which an analogy between the nuclear arms race and boys measuring up their genitals against each other in the boy’s room felt particularly convincing. As a woman who perhaps had done too much to fight for her place and as far I know, never raised any feminist flags — I believe that actually makes sense if her obsession with liberalism is considered, and that she probably felt that anyone, men or women, should make do with the opportunities presented to them instead of whine about the status quo (not that I agree with that) — Thatcher just played the same game that was being played by everyone else, and everyone else meant the fellas.

A grocer’s daughter who fought for her place in the sun, she felt everyone should fight for their goals instead of having them handed to them by the government. War against Argentina, privatizations, and a fierce defense of capitalism, in its neoliberal form to be more precise, have made Thatcher quite the dubious political figure — if not one of the most important in the XXth century, coming right after some important dudes like her colleague Prime Minister Churchill, FDR and Charles de Gaulle, and also some more well liked and equally relevant guys such as Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. I’m not sure Ronald Reagan was more important than her (although he did engage into some wicked economics who pretty much ruined everyone else’s during that decade, while her thing had a more restrictive damage. Tough medicine, they say). Their symbiotic behavior was, however, quite emblematic of a time to establish Capitalism’s hegemony or kill us all trying.

Can we separate the Iron Lady from the woman who almost as if unaware of her gender disadvantage in her battlefield of choice has come to be a legend of willpower in politics? Can the deeds be admired without agreement with the ideology behind them? Should gender issues be altogether forgotten as women, homosexuals and every cross or multi-gendered individual (and to be quite precise — is it even possible that anyone isn’t in some degree with a foot in each gender anyway) go about their struggles, as apparently they were for  Mrs. Thatcher at each time she passionately fought for every of her beliefs? Is it time for difference to be forgotten, because it is so obvious and at the same time, so repeatedly proven meaningless, or is it still not, and fight still must be fought for us women to gain our places in the sun without having to play the games of the men who are in power?

April 5, 2013

Thoughts about femininity inspired by the Mrs. Carter Tour

I guess the drone has become more important than the Queen B

What Beyoncé is trying to do with her Mrs. Carter Tour is a tricky and noteworthy move: she’s affirming her freedom to place her marriage and her experience of raising and having a family, a child — her man’s name the symbol of such — above her own professional persona. What started with her affirming that if a man liked it, then he should put a ring on it, very cohesively led to this point in which the sexy lady decided to shout to the world, rather loudly, that married life is delightful, delicious, de-lovely.

Generous displays of legs and cleavage aside, Beyoncé demonstrates to have a very, very conservative personality — at least when we’re talking about love. She does it without denying female power, saying that it is us, girls, who run the world; however, that doesn´t stop her from telling men they’ll only have her through marriage. Now, she’s not only married, but making a point out of being known as a particular man’s wife.

I guess I don’t have a problem with a woman who says she wants to get married. Honestly, I do to. It’s fine that this is important to people. I think the not-so-early feminist approach to sexuality as a right to, say, promiscuity, somehow became a bit of a dictatorship — as if wanting to only have sex with a person you truly love was a dishonor to the feminist cause, as if sexual freedom had to mean having a generous amount of partners to account for. I guess the whole point is to be able to choose freely and not be judged for your personal beliefs and interests concerning self-presentation, love and sex, right?

In this sense, I enjoy Beyoncé’s message: to be free means to be free, including the freedom of publicly loving to be in a family and to have your husband and your children. It’s like saying, hey, I’m not eating frozen food for the rest of my life just because cooking was imposed to women before me and now women should prove to men they are not here to cook for them (nor themselves, nor anyone. ANYONE!). I like cooking, I like sewing, I’d love to be able to spend a lot of time raising my kids, which are non-existent at this point but shall be made in a reasonably near future, and I don´t think I´d ever be able to hire a maid to clean my house because I feel like a house is too personal a thing to be cleaned by someone else (would you hire someone to wipe your ass if you had money to do so? that’s how I feel about someone being paid to do my dishes). I also share most housekeeping activities with my roommate-partner who happens to be a man and who happens to be a person I really enjoy pampering when I’m not tired from work or anything else that might tire me, and that goes both ways too. To take that message about yourself to the general public is fine and I think is a valid message about femininity.

However, however, Mrs. Carter, that’s not quite the right message. I think with this move Beyoncé takes a strange step towards confusing family with the male authority over the family. And that move takes the flavor of all other interesting ones for me. No, no, Beyoncé, you’re not Mrs. Carter; you’re Beyoncé, not just a man’s woman, and you love your family and you love motherhood and you love your man.

March 13, 2013

1993: Experimental Jet-Set, Trash and No Star @ the New Museum

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The New Museum is currently showing a collection of works produced in New York City during the year of 1993. For those who do not remember (or eventually did not quite live through) the early 90′s, those were messy times surrounded by a very strange sentiment of war being over and then not quite; of rethinking the concepts of identity and otherness through the lenses of those who braved a new world that became completely western — or not; that unwelcomed entirely any form of dictatorship — with a few exceptions; marked by the massive integration of the European continent and the silently (maybe not that much) unwelcome dependency the American Way of Life developed towards its Latin-American immigrants. It was the times when some of the most beloved idols revealed themselves as homosexuals and died of AIDS (and I honestly admit I think only of Freddie Mercury here, but that man’s voice and presence was worth about 20 of the other icons around by then and represented oh, so many people’s pain at that time); times when being a woman started to mean something different at the office and at home, but not entirely.

This exhibition takes us back to a time when wearing black from head to toe actually made a lot of sense. Many were in grief for loved ones that in their death bed, suffered from some bizarre moral stalking that welcomed disease and death as a fit punishment for defying whatever authoritarianism they called virtue. Many could not be cheerful thanks to the end of the nuclear threat when the sort of immaterial Star Wars that marked the Reagan government in the 1980s was replaced with a very real Desert Storm in the early 1990s by his successor, Mr. Bush, the father (as now he’s come to be referenced). All this pain and questioning is there, clearly exposed in the many floors of the beautiful New Museum, in a very crude and honest way to try to make sense of that strange new world.

Femininity and homosexuality intertwine in a discussion about who has the right to define and possess gender, showing itself in a variety of works that expose the many forms sexuality can take in a challenging, almost aggressive form, as if daring the viewers to look away, testing their ability to defy convention and regard difference as the most normal part of life in society. The early 1990s were more than 20 years ago, friends, and those were vastly more flourishing times for radicals and moralists, people who would throw AIDS in the face of homosexuals and discriminate immigrants as the source of disorder and economic crisis. By then, the faintest hypocrisy was still not needed and such positions could be voiced far, far more openly then it is possible today. The strength of the reply as voiced in the works selected for this exhibition reflects the vicious forms of hate directed to whoever was elected as the other, the minority.

I strongly recommend this exhibition should you be around NYC until the 23 of May. It´s not like Bowery isn’t a nice place to be, anyways, and the New Museum is absolutely gorgeous and has a wonderful terrace with a great view that should not be missed. Be prepared for bad taste — it’s the early 1990′s after all — and matters you will feel are dated, or treated in a somewhat radical way. When you realize you are entertaining that sentiment, remember why you do it — because they did it that way back then so that you wouldn’t have to a few decades later.

March 7, 2013

Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity @ the Met

Impressionism, I believe, is probably the most popular and adored of the art movements. When confronted by works created by masters such as Monet, Manet and Renoir, I believe very few do not experiment a sense of awe and amusement. The special exhibition Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, however, subtly lets us into the backstage of the construction of this powerful unanimity that circles impressionist painting, taking us right back to the trenches from which it emerged: the Parisian high society.

When reading about it, at first, I figured the exhibition would just cater to a certain historical curiosity, allowing us to literally immerse ourselves in the fabric of time and materialize the impressions of textures the artists had delivered. What was waiting for me there was instead a very relevant contribution to the comprehension of the Impressionism movement as a integral part of the French society, an art embedded in the small politics of relevance that we may not fail to spot in the art scene of our days, but we might forget was also present even when the works in question hold, as of present, the status of undeniable masterpieces.

The Impressionist movement relates to modern ideals in that it both denies and affirms the perennial by emphasizing the present, the moment; representation is embraced as such and detaches from the contradictory obsessions for both ideal and reality that permeates art in the days of yore. The ephemerous, the impression, gains immense importance, being, in fact, what is truly worthy to be captured. And portraits cease to function as documents meant for posterity that idealize their objects as great warriors, lords or saints and instead become a statement of their personality and uniqueness: enters style as an immense part of this equation.

The first piece of the show is a very fine green and black striped silk-taffeta dress that was worn by Monet’s wife Camille as she modeled for one of his paintings. Through the subtile curatorship, we are led to understand how the fashion in the pictures would attract curiosity and interest as much as it does now in celebrity pictures and Vogue Magazine. It was the majestic dress that has caught the eye of the viewers in the salon where the painting was first exposed.

A painting then was as powerful a status indicator as being invited to shoot an editorial could be, except the concept here was far broader, extending to intellectual and personal wealth implications in a way that being cover of Harpers’ Bazaar never will. The most fashionable ladies, on the other hand, were also and simultaneously the best sources for great composition — that´s when you realize the colors and the textures and the ruffles and laces were all there, were sewn together by someone and worn by someone else that mattered to a picture because they were in possession of them, and not the opposite — and the finest patrons available for an artist, as they used their influence to get the works in which they had modeled into the finest exhibitions and salons, making sure they would grant their portraits the status of great art.

To be immersed in the particularities of real life instead of the usual larger than life feel I get from the Impressionism movement made me actually feel closer to understanding what it was truly about. Somehow, the ego-trips  inspired by Facebook and Instagram today seem a bit less current when we are confronted with this century old brand of vanity, the same look-at-me-being-tremendously-charming-while-I-take-my-gloves-off-and-by-the-way-this-is-art-OK?-not-just-me-showing-off-my-designer-clothes-and-being-pretty sort of thing made possible by such powerful artists. Who can say to which point they truly subscribed to portraying the mundane, even though they did it so remarkably? It is made clear in the exhibition that the likes of Monet and Renoir clearly understood that, on top of the aesthetic revolution they were proposing and of the truth behind their own brand of modernity, there was good fame and money to be made out of reframing the superfluous routines and interests of the upper classes into art.

(all pictures from the internet due to the fact they were — theoretically — not allowed to be taken)

February 28, 2013

The me trends

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Sneakers and black and white and the nineties are all the rage, but blue fingernails and red polish on your toes are even more so. At least, with me.

It started during American presidential elections so maybe the choice of color was somewhat unconsciously inspired by politics, but the fact is those colors, combined, remind me instead of Superman (which are intentionally the same as the American flag, I know; Superman IS America, both a farm boy who made it in town and a hero, each side of his personality also one of the Great Struggle for Freedom).

Blue nails work beautifully with red hair, so it’s been hard to get over that. Red toe nails are good with every shoe there is. Together, they make me feel like a superhero; how can this sentiment be overcome?

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This is to convey a less superficial point than to simply advise you to follow my personal nail embellishment mania. In fact, I think the me trends are the ones that make our personality surface. There is a lot to be said about the likes of Wintour or Lagerfeld: if anything, they have a signature style, something so rooted in their self images it never gets more than slight alterations. On the other hand, most people do change (see: family album) but those who do it in spite of themselves are the weirdest to watch throughout the years.

I think we always should give in to our personal convictions regarding style, in spite of what is said or seen on the scene. Don’t try anything you feel is ridiculous or do indulge in something you are dying to try even though no one said you should.

On a side note: pink and green have been really da thing for a while now. That is, for me (pink pants, green shoes, red toe nails — put on a white blouse and it will work with the blue on your hands, too!).

February 21, 2013

Midway

This is a beautiful narrative of the sad story of the side effects of the consumption age. We need conscience — of our existence as part of a much larger whole upon which we depend — to start playing an immense part of our daily lives and habits right now, and this movie might just take us a step closer to that place.

I think a key reflection in our times is about the cyclical nature of infinity. I believe the abolishment of ends — of our youths, of our lives, of our love, of our things — has been the basic human obsession since those times when Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra began resounding in our species’ ears.  However, as far as our intellect can reach, the key element to permanence is impermanence — cycles that transform matter into energy into different matter, transformation. The parts must have a finite existence for the whole to continue healthily being. And while the broader spiritual point — to find peace in our short lives by understanding ourselves as temporary forms and consciences, parts of the Universe that were cut in the shape of us for a while — is relevant and should somehow be taken, the case here asks for a specific question: should we continue depending so hardly upon products that have such unnatural degrading cycles?

Let us all go throwing bones up again and see if we can take our history towards different solutions.

February 19, 2013

All the CIA ladies

the human spies are women

Having recently finished my prep for the Academy Awards — I have already watched all of the Best Picture nominees, which covers a lot of other categories as well — I did notice the divide between the two trends of favorites — American slavery versus the CIA. While I did have a hard time deciding between Argo, Django Unchained, Amour, Silver Linings and Zero Dark Thirty, in the end, what I truly hear my heart singing is Argo fuck yourself.

That, however, is just a practically unrelated introduction to the matter of CIA ladies. If teenage vampires and the revamping of Snow White (and as of later, Grimm princesses in general) have been ruling the world of television and cinema for a few years now, the women at the Company have been given their fair share amount of spotlight without me particularly noticing it until now: Homeland, of course, Covert Affairs, Zero Dark Thirty.

I guess there has been no relevant tale of female spies since Mata Hari, who is, by the way, not a fictional character (but perhaps I’m just not knowledgeable on this particular subject, female spies, and it is just I who have not heard of the others). That of course until now that we have Claire Danes, Jessica Chastain and in a lighter mood, Piper Perabo representing for us the true personal hardship that is endured by the good covert people gathering intelligence for America at the Agency.

Argo — like I said, my favorite movie this year (except for Intouchables, which in fact was my favorite movie this year, but it’s just not running for the Oscars) — is a (true, or almost) tale of bravery and patriotism, spiced up with a delicious dose of nonsense and of course, success, and I do love a happy ending. The main character played by Ben Affleck is a flawless man — in fact, his flaws are those of others, such as his wife, who has left him for not being able to cope with the secrecy that came with his job. His thoughts and actions are all mission and country, plus he’s the coolest CIA agent ever, with some amazing Hollywood connections. This, I repeat, is the portrayal of a real man, not a James Bond or a Jack Ryan (though he does remind me of the latter).

The CIA ladies, however, are problematic. Annie Walker from Covert Affairs is the one with the least problems — she falls in love with some very wrong dudes (such as an FSB spy or a rogue ex-CIA agent) and sees her relationship with her sister become a very difficult one from the moment she joins the Agency. Carrie Mathison from Homeland is on the verge of lunacy, having bipolar and borderline personality disorder and falling in love with even more wrong dudes such as an American (cough British) soldier turned by the TV series’ resident Bin Laden. Maya from Zero Dark Thirty has no love life — no personal life at all — and no particular issues with promoting torture. As the years go by and she sees many of her friends die in the hands of Muslim terrorists, the quest for Bin Laden (the real one in this case) becomes a personal matter to her.

What they all have in common is that they have deep personal issues (even if due to the complete absence of a personal life) and that they follow their instincts almost irrationally, or at least that is how their colleagues often perceive their initiatives. Brilliance is eventually conceded to those women, but always at the great cost of being on the verge of losing all credibility. On the other hand, the male spies we have come to know are creatures of distinct rationality and perceived audacity, not lunacy (we should perhaps nod to the construction of the new kind of fucked-up James Bond, who is, however, at least how I understand it, on a carefully crafted path to becoming the good old proper one), who do not have any particular concern about their family and friends that are worthy to be portrayed for longer than five minutes per episode, if that much.

Basically, the women were chosen to portray frailty — an angle rather absent from the espionage thematic until our recent times. The question remains — what lies behind the media choosing the female to represent the human side to anything? Something of which to be aware.

February 7, 2013

Try and travel

I don’t know how much YOU know about this, but planning a trip has become a far more rewarding activity than it was only a couple, maybe three years ago.

You would say, well, we all have online maps in our palms now. Yeah, that helps. I can say with much accurateness that easy wi-fi was not as easy to find outside of the US (and that includes many a big city in Europe) a mere three years ago, in spite of us being well ahead in the iPod revolution. For instance, I’m not sure if I was the idiot (be kind if that is the case) but when I went to Barcelona some years ago, I couldn’t access their free public wireless network, no matter how hard I tried — I was standing right there beside the W signs and nothing, nothing happened. So yes, internet connection and digital guides do help a lot. But I’m talking about more than that. I’m talking about pre-travel, something that is not that dependent on mobility. I’m talking about content.

I think one of the reasons why I like to share my trips with you in this blog is because I have enjoyed so many good experiences that were made possible by kind people who shared them on the web just to help other travelers have a better value for their time and money in a place they are willing to know, but still don’t. It’s very hard to connect with the spirit of cities such as New York or Paris without having someone with whom you share some affinities to help you through the choices, and not many people have close friends in all the right places.

Now… I don’t know. I think it’s somewhat easier. We have Booking.com and TripAdvisor doing an amazing job at uniting and organizing the community of travelers around the globe for the noble cause of helping fellow tourists find and judge his possibilities for themselves, allowing them to understand how their needs and interests will be met at each place. We have bloggers. And I think we have more. We have local magazines online. Anyone who goes to NYC can type “10 best burgers nyc” on Google and find lists crafted by a variety of authors from blogs to Zagat to CBS. Have an idea, search it, you’ll easily know. Or do the opposite: read about an idea, search it, and decide if you’ll do it.

I think over the years I’ve become pretty good at planning trips packed up with details — I’ll tell you about some itineraries and you’ll think I did them in a week when in fact, I compressed them in three or four days (without rushing, of course — it wouldn’t make sense to brag if otherwise). I’ll share my innocent tricks with you, and pardon me if you feel they are obvious — I feel I have many friends who would find this extremely helpful, but maybe they’re just not very smart. ;) These will work for a good bunch of places, especially urban destinations.

keep a Google Maps tab at your service at all times – the other must-have tabs are those relating to public transit information, such as bus schedules and subway maps. This is how you optimize your daily schedule.

if you have NO IDEA of what to do - it was like that for me when I went to Singapore last year — you don’t need to buy city guides anymore. Just type: things to do in [city of choice] on your favored browser and check out what the first ten results have to tell you. This will provide you with a fine beginning, but it is only the beginning.

check tips that come from many different types of sources – don’t limit yourself to advice coming from specialized websites, because you are likely to get mostly the very touristic information — they are still what is predominant on travel-oriented websites because tourists are not locals and therefore usually are more interested (or only have time, or money) to go to the most famous places and landmarks. Look for personal blogs instead of just the travel-oriented ones — see if you connect with the blogger and if you do, try their tips out. Check stuff like the fashion magazine’s culture and travel sections (here’s net-a-porter’s this week), entertainment sections on local news websites or, I don’t know, The Economist. Seriously, the Economist. Or Richard Quest’s Business Traveler on CNN. I also like to check the what to do section on hotels located where I’m going on the Jetsetter — that’s how I found out about the amazing Royce’ Chocolate and their delicious maccha nama chocolate in Singapore (and now I just found out they just opened a store in NYC!! go, New Yorkers, go! It’s fresh news, from less than two months ago. Madison and 53rd).

deciding where to stay - I don’t go any farther than Booking.com, but I always double check on TripAdvisor the guest’s opinions on the hotels I like the most and I ALWAYS check at the hotel’s own homepage if their rates are actually lower than those offered on Booking.com — often they are, so don’t skip this step unless you don’t care about your money.

do stuff you like – don’t just go see buildings and landscape. Do that too, but what else do you normally enjoy doing? Check the entire cultural schedule: the opera, the ballet, the classical and rock concerts, the plays that will be on while you are in town. I caught Simon & Garfunkel in Paris, and got an autograph from Paul afterwards; unforgettable. Think of jazz joints, cheese festivals, film festivals. Think of things you really wanted to buy but are very hard to find at home (if at all possible) such as, I don’t know, lavender honey, or really good and cheap foie gras. Go beyond spirits, chocolate and electronic devices…

if you do want to buy spirits and chocolate – at least while in Europe try to get them at the local supermarkets. It’s much, much cheaper than at the duty free shops.

after figuring out all the places you’d like to visit, do two things – find them on the map and check their websites. You must know their opening hours, closed days and free admissions/pay what you wish days (in NYC and Paris this might save you a fortune if you have the time to juggle your museum days according to their free admissions schedule). Have all this information clear in your head and start planning each day in a way that, if possible, you will not spend more than half an hour in your transportation mode of choice (including your own feet) from one place to another. Standard time spent on medium sized museums should be between two and three hours (see Guggenheim, MoMA, the Pompidou if you’re fast) and there is no limit for places like the Louvre or the Met.

try to insert your sightseeing (like: oh, there’s the Chrysler!) in your transportation schedule – like this: when you do your must-do walk up the 5th Avenue, stop for pictures at the Empire State, stop for pictures at the Chrysler, stop for pictures at St. Patricks Cathedral, etc. etc., arrive at MoMA.

no hesitation, make reservations – for EVERYTHING that is important to you, especially if there are no costs attached.

try to have a plan B for the cases when you miscalculate distances or the time spent on a particular place – see: Louvre. It can take many entire days… don’t give it less than four or five hours. You may have to skip a place on your original schedule and well, it’s nice to be able to still go there anyway at another time.

save the nicer meals for the evening – except if you have good reason for them to occur during lunch. Check the Michelin guide — even if you’re not into spending much — and all the specific local restaurant guides (again, search too in fashion magazines, business and news websites…). Look for your cravings (1o best burgers…). Don’t ignore market places… they are good and joyful choices for lunch.

there is no reason why you will exceed your budget on a trip – prices are sooo available on the internet. Do your research. Send emails. You can even decide what you will eat at most restaurants in large cities and know what the check will look like before even leaving for the airport. Remember: food, drink, gratuities, taxes, hotel, public transportation (calculate your trips per day to see what’s best: a three-day passport or purchasing each ticket at a time), admissions, purchases, plus 10 to 20%. This is what you’ll likely spend if you’re organized.

This is a lot of words, but hopefully an useful bunch of them. So, go plan your trip or something.

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