31 Jan 2011

Beach-Bound and Fancy-Free

Last Friday Tickle and I went down to the local beach. I reckon that last time we were there was a good couple of months ago. Funny how you can take local curios for granted once they're part of your local scene (in our case, slightly over a year!).

It's easy to get stuck in the complacency rut, especially when you live on a narrow peninsula with Blue Yonder stretching across the horizon at your leisure, for your viewing pleasure: you end up not noticing it anymore! That's why I needed to check this beautifully scenic beach again, and reacquaint myself with the fact that I should take advantage of the privilege I have as a resident within close proximity to nature's best.

It's rather ironic because once upon a time back home in Northern France with my parents, we'd make a point of spending a Sunday at the seaside against all odds, driving a 5-hour round trip, getting stuck in traffic and stressed out looking for a parking space, just for a breathless glimpse of the Channel.

Later when I took home in Manchester, a day trip down to the local resorts of Southport, Blackpool or Conwy was an exciting adventure, if only to get out of the car, traipse down the sand for a moment and breathe in that sea air while sharing a bag of chips or cotton candy, or munching on sweets from the candy stalls.

In Manchester, during snatched lunch breaks at my desk, averting my eyes from business parks, motorway underpasses, urban wastelands and never-ending car parks, I'd picture a familiar beach instead, a beach I would walk down footloose and fancy-free... A familiar beach from Calvi (Corsica) to Cayo Coco (Cuba), via Laguna Beach (California), Benalmadena Costa (Costa del Sol), Peroulades (Corfu), Merlimont (Northern France), Kintyre (Scotland)... Or maybe push the daydream to a beach similar to that from the eponymous film/ book...

Posidonia oceanica

To me the beach symbolised not only a holiday and generally an escape from work and ambient greyness, but also fuelled poetic inspiration, regeneration, freedom, liberation. Now that the beach is virtually on my doorstep, handed on a plate to me, I hardly go... So what happened to the day-tripper, seaside lover, beach fanatic, keen swimmer and passionate scuba-diver? Has she lost her mojo?... Is it due to the fact that too much of a good thing is never a good thing: it makes you blasé and unappreciative of your own blessings...

In times like these, I need to remind myself of where I come from and why I'm here, on this island. I know, we've had that discussion before, but for the record one of my original motives was for a higher quality of life, in brighter, sunnier, cleaner, calmer, less populated surroundings. The beach was one big magnetic attraction in my moments of Mancunian despair, when I could take no more of the rain, the fog, the crowds, traffic chaos, road rage, long working hours, ungrateful bosses, never-ending suburban belt, high cost of living, disruptive neighbours, insecurity, pollution, etc. The beach typified an Eldorado of promise, a Vegas of happy ending, a personal and metaphorical solution to all my problems... I was determined I deserved it and would get it some day. And wahey, that day finally came by the way and did I make the most of it?

In passing I have 'since' realised that the beach is no magical problem-solver although it gives you head space. Wherever the future might take me on the next leg of my personal journey, I may - in the meantime - revisit that beach like I would as a visitor: with gratitude and contentment. With the added advantage that since I have become a local resident, the beach has become a privilege within reach, so while I'm here, I'd better make a habit out of it, and acknowledge my luck, if only in matters of panorama enjoyment. Remind myself that a sea view beats that tree-less green-less thrift store view in Levenshulme or that fume-choked one-bus-a-minute gasp in Withington (amongst countless other personal experiences of the sort!).

Now me and Tickle are heading back to the beach. You joining us?

28 Jan 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 29-01 (Humour)

Humour is the best distraction and remedy at all times, but even more so when feeling down in the doldrums; humour works its magic by raising a smile, a laugh or fits of giggles, and therefore works wonders for mind, body and soul!

Sources (top page down):

24 Jan 2011

Fashion Review - Doc Martens

My best shoe purchase of all times is likely to be shunned by fashionistas and shoe-fetish bloggers out there. I would be pleasantly surprised to find out that the fashion pack's all-time favourites include amongst their ultra-feminine Louboutins, sparkling Ginas and sky-high Manolos a pair of hard-wearing, no-nonsense, sensible, masculine flat laced leather shoes by Dr. Martens.

I am a DM convert and believe that everyone - men or women - should own a pair of DMs. Not just for fit and comfort purposes (although that alone would make you an orthopedist's best friend), but also for a certain alternative punkside street-cred and its tame side of rebellion.

I remember my DM purchase like it was yesterday, certainly it left an impression on me like a lifestage moment, an initiation rite almost. I bought my shoes back in 1992, in Manchester, not even from an off-the-beaten track indie shop down Manchester's bohemian Northern Quarter as would be expected, but from a rather sedate middle-of-the-road high-street shoe retail chain called Dolcis. The shop was on Market Street, Manchester city centre's busiest shopping street, albeit not the prettiest nor trendiest, considering that one side of the street is entirely devoted to a 1970s architectural carbuncle called the Arndale Centre.

I bought my DMs for £32.00, an average price at the time. Amazing how I remember such details, but as I mentioned earlier, it was a special moment, the act of purchase had been researched and rehearsed in my head a few times before finalising my decision (this was no random purchase, that's for sure). I could have chosen my shoes in an incognito colour like black, but that wouldn't be the point. In buying DMs, the point is to make a lifestyle statement, and be conspicuous about it. So I chose them in the brash colour purple, and instantly I got noticed, by friends or random strangers commenting on them, always appreciatively.

With my DMs on I broke some fashion rules and Trinny & Susannah or Gok's seal of approval, but did I care? I wore my DMs with a floral dress or a short skirt, with lacy tights, not just with a pair of jeans or combats. I felt feminine wearing them, alluring and in control at the same time.

My DMs went all the way with me: from art college to museum visits, from the working week down to wedding parties; from trekking to travelling, from driving to clubbing, from metal gigs to muddy music festivals, from paint-balling to gardening, from DIYing to dog walking, from formal to the more casual activities, round the year, round the clock, in all weather conditions, and I never even got a blister wearing them, bliss!

I looked after them religiously for years, polishing them, nourishing the leather, wiping the soles and replacing the laces. They were the most hard-wearing shoes I'd ever owned, with that patented fat- and oil-resistant bouncy air-cushioned sole that cushions your feet and admirably shields them from the cold, complemented by that high-quality thick smooth shiny leather, and legendary stitch! They were still proudly manufactured in England when I got mine (most of the production lines have since sadly shifted overseas).

These shoes were regal and I simply can't fault them. They are also a part of me, of my personal history. I have literally walked hundreds of miles since I've had them. Now at 19 years old, they look rather sorry for themselves, like their better days are firmly behind them, and they are entering their decommissioning phase. One of the shoes is no longer waterproof, due to the natural wear and tear, with the natural creasing of the leather over years of foot movement when walking (or running!) giving way to a crack. But come on, we are talking about 19-year-old shoes still in use today, that have been extensively worn, not always in the best conditions (think muddy fields or that frequent Mancunian rain, for instance!). Having said that, the sole is still amazingly preserved.

My Doc Martens embody British craftsmanship at its best. Youth movements, media personalities and rock stars have worn them (or still wear them now), and I'd personally rate them over Converse any time for that iconic status and edgy street-cred. Plus the fact that they do last the distance!

DM Boot Design: click on image for higher res view
I don't think I'll ever part from my DMs. It would feel like throwing a personal diary away. They're one big mnemonic testimony of my life, of the great times and other times from my past 19 years.

The + sides: durability, craftsmanship, classic unisex cut, comfort, price, all backed by a lifetime guarantee
The - sides: only a limited range is still UK-manufactured; some might say that the brand has lost some of its panache, despite innovative initiatives like the DM Boot Design (see above picture).

The 3-eye shoe model I wear is reference 1461 (a 1960 core original). Although no longer available in plain purple (polished finish) in the U.K, its closest colour contender today is either (U.S. only) the 'Purple Smooth' (pictured above, $95.00), or the 'Grey QQ Dot' in purple (still on the spec sheet but no longer available to purchase).

An alternative style contender (U.S. + U.K.) is the 'Cherry Red Smooth' as pictured at the start of this post, retailing at £65.00 from Dr. Martens official online U.K. store (or $95.00 from the official online U.S. store).

22 Jan 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 22-01 (Home)

A shelter, a crash pad, a roof above your head, a family place, a haven: whatever you call it, nothing beats that fuzzy feeling, because if Home Sweet Home is where the heart is, there is nothing like home, so head home and... welcome home!

Sources (top page down):

18 Jan 2011

Mirabelle Design Inspiration

Hello everyone, we have reasons to be cheerful today as we are celebrating the official launch of our sister site Mirabelle and, as its proud editor I warmly invite you to join us in!

Mirabelle is an ode to inspiration, harnessing the power of photography as a vehicle to stimulate and celebrate it. Mirabelle is best described as a scrapbook of inspirational images, not necessarily following a logic or pattern of thought or anchored in the now and the brand-new. Mirabelle's goal is to pay tribute to what looks good - and better than good - the wow factor, the cherry on the cake, that quirky thought-provoking picture too, and the words that string everything together.

Inspiration will focus on our surrounding environment at large, and in particular on design, architecture, fashion, beauty, art, the man-made... and the natural world too! At times, when judged pertinent, Mirabelle will contribute its own pictures from its extensive image bank. Throughout Mirabelle will remain individualistic in its approach, not a portal to the latest design trends or to the Fashion Week diktat, but as a labour of visual love, whatever tickles its fancy... in any case we are not talking about just another design blog. If Mirabelle happens to fall head over heels (wheels!) for a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz rather than for its 2011 equivalent, so be it, that's what inspiration does to you!

Mirabelle loves the Kastehelmi plate by Iittala

By the way, talking of supercars, did you know that Mirabelle has been posting weekly since the start of the New Year, and is quietly working its 'magique' through the deep layer cake of the international lifestyle blogworld, with tempting images of... a supercar, plus a dream home, seductive florals and designer couches so far! Just hop across to Mirabelle to see for yourself what this new kid on the block has in store.

In its test run back in November 2010 (based on one introductory taster post and pared-down functionality and interactivity), Mirabelle had already garnered two followers, a very encouraging start considering the low-key promotion I had initiated: down to a high-visibility link button on La Baguette and a couple of advertising tweets on @baguettemagique.

Classic Swarovski bracelet by Hulquist, available via Notonthehighstreet

The hush-hush behind Mirabelle's launch wasn't necessarily the result of some marketing strategy (*). My primary objective is to develop Mirabelle as pretty much a stand-alone concept, a separate entity to La Baguette (with minimum cross-over between the two), as a visually impactful design inspiration blog that will hopefully in time later this year spawn an online lifestyle business.

Where La Baguette strikes a more personal chord,  with its trademark quirky pertinent opinions delivered through word-rich content, Mirabelle will allow carefully-selected pictures hearted by the editor to do the talking, with only a short text introduction rounded off by explanatory captions at the end, with an element of wit in the general tone of the blog.

If you believe that Mirabelle already looks promising, wait till I reveal some of the big plans I have in store! I ambition to take Mirabelle to the next level that it so rightly deserves by opening the blog to new horizons in order to reach new audiences via social media platforms such as Tumblr, MyDeco Room Planner, Polyvore moodboards and the Artessen community. Mirabelle is indeed going to be part of a thriving inspired community, and you are, dear readers, the first to be put in the picture! And what higher honour would it be for the editor than for La Baguette's friends to extend their loyalty to Mirabelle and join me in supporting this new venture that is incredibly exciting from both a very personal perspective and the blogging community at large.

I am confident that you will find in Mirabelle an instant universal appeal, with content that 'talks' to you, poetically or politically - whatever - Mirabelle is a celebration of online inspiration and to those who work in the shadows to materialise their own inspiration. To all, I promise a Happy Mirabellicious time!

(*) P.S: Dear friends, please be aware that the fruition of Mirabelle's further foray into social media will be dependent upon the editor's broadband internet connection speed (which in my situation has nothing to do with the internet provider). I have yet to overcome technical limitations imposed on this part of the island of Corsica where I live presently, with low electrical voltage that dramatically slows down (if not crashes) my internet connection, incapacitating most times the simplest CMS task into a time-consuming experience. This has sadly been the reality of my online experience since Autumn 2010, and although the local authorities and the electricity board are promising to rectify this low-voltage issue by upgrading the electric power lines, unless I move away, the situation will persist for the best part of the next 6 months, thus somewhat hampering my grand online ambitions for Mirabelle (and for La Baguette too!). Until I am able to secure a viable solution, we'll need to 'keep calm and carry on'.

15 Jan 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 15-01 (Chocolate)

Gentlemen, forget diamond breakfasts at Tiffany's - chocolates are a girl's best friend (even after the Christmas binge and despite New Year's resolutions)!

Sources (top page down):

Dear Car Crash TV (Part 2)

TV shows - or car crash TV, like their detractors call (some of) them - tend to expose the vagaries of the human mind while tackling their core subject in a fly-on-the-wall format, which translate spontaneity into a certain rawness and grit: unplanned, controversial reactions or decisions, eccentricities, inflated egos, character flaws and weaknesses, often a direct result of limited show preparation/ research, time and budget constraints and/ or inappropriate candidates/ subject matter.

Yet car crash TV delivers a clear and simple message: to fill air time with a broad/ mass-appeal approach, accent on images, (wanna-sound) witty comments, a light-hearted tone from the commentators/ protagonists, with contents based more on first impressions than on deep analysis, never pretending to be educational or elevational, although you might glean the odd snippet of useful information relevant to you; whether this be next season's hot fashion trend, the latest anti-ageing injectable, a tip on building that water feature, or how to maximise your semi's kerb appeal: bonus! That's what car crash TV is about: to take you away - on the cheap maybe - from your own boring reality and banality by immersing you into someone else's, and entertain you in the process.

Subliminal? Via TV History. Click image for higher res view.
Back to my own CCTV (car crash TV) experience, what programmes were we talking about? In a no 'name-and-shame' exercise, and without passing judgement (we'll try...), let us quickly mention lifestyle shows in their broadest sense (fashion, beauty, diet, dating, travel, music, consumer issues), home design/ improvement (including the odd MTV Crib), property search, relocation, business recruitment drama series (featuring no less than our very own member of the Establishment, good old Sir Alan), down to the odd (odd being the word!), Miami Ink, motor programmes (from the sublime to the ridiculous), and further down to Ground Zero of zero glamour (Neighbours from Hell, Wife Swap), flirting on a par with reality TV at its simplest unicellular form (Big Brother, I'm a Celebrity etc.).

So you get the picture, and what a great picture you get of yours truly... Attention image management consultants, could you please head this way and salvage what's left of my dented reputation!

Charlie's water features would never compare to this one.
Hand on heart, these weren't programmes I would necessarily choose to watch in the cold light of day but they served their purpose back then, like a good old chocolate therapy session would, when my brain on overload wanted to turn off while I was still too wound up to go off to bed or even consider a more intellectual TV pursuit. Dear car crash TV, I believe that in your own simplistic way you did good to my sanity.

The car crash TV format is convenient too (so to speak) in that its regular advertising slots (every 12 to 15 minutes!) would spur me into action (most times) to put the kettle on, (un)load the washer, raid the cupboards some more, or squeeze a spot of washing-up/ delicates hand-washing/ make-up removal/ nail painting/ bill paying/ birthday card writing (frankly god knows what!).

Phil & Kirstie: two peas in C4's property pod
In conclusion, there was more that met the eye than just crashing in front of car crash TV. It kept me sane and encouraged housekeeping productivity. Yet as it was, car crash TV was no food for the soul, it had nothing to do with brain surgery (does cosmetic blepharoplasty count?) or rocket science, but it never pretended to be in the first place. It was entertaining, demanding nothing in return, was easy on the eye and on the mind, and hollow enough to distract me from my day in the office. Its voyeuristic approach about girl/ guy next door made me feel better about myself, my looks, my house, my prospects, and generally about my own problems. It subconsciously gave me some perspective, a slightly warped social benchmark nonetheless, but we'll leave that to sociologists and psychoanalysts. Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with it!

And in the process of it all, I got punked, pimped, toasted, crimped, preened, cinched and - yes - somewhat pampered by car crash TV!

12 Jan 2011

Dear Car Crash TV (Part 1)

Once upon a time, when I lived in England, in the big smog (not that of London Town, but Manchester up North), I had a pretty hectic lifestyle that involved long commutes to and from work (and generally to anywhere worth its pzzazz as I lived in the deep suburban belt). Those familiar with the major British cities will also be aware of their extended (sprawling) suburbia (of course relatively short and condensed by L.A. standards, but still...).

Early portable television set, available to buy from Vintage Looks
On the job front, I went through a spell of long unsociable hours, with personal time I would have liked to call my own dedicated to the work cause, not necessarily of my own accord but when you work in marketing/ advertising, or for the European headquarters of an American IT company with a pulse resonating right across Silicon Valley, it is kinda taken as the norm.

Anyway those long home-work-home commutes interspersed with overstretched working days and after-work-with-work socialising left little time for free time and meant homelife was doubly precious. And although life out with friends was important too, I went through a several-month spell when all I (sadly - yet -) understandably yearned for was to just get home, slip into my favourite casualwear, raid the cupboards for a quick bite, and then flop in front of the TV (I - of all people - for I was no TV addict, I must confess!).

Fuel for thought!

Sometimes I'd stretch my multi-tasking skills to the computer, catching up with friends on email or MSN, checking the celebrity goss (!), or on the phone for hours on end...

With a keyboard in one hand and a cordless phone in the other, combined to fatigue, a frazzled yet wound-up mind, that end-of-day short attention span, and a brain on the verge of shutting down till morning, I wasn't necessarily enclined to stay put on the couch through a full feature-film, or concentrate on one of those serious intelligent TV (art, history, biology, zoology, criminology, etc.) documentaries that I would only enjoy in a rested state of mind and with time on my hands (no guilt trip!).

Fluffy like cream cakes!

Oh no, what I was after was instant gratification, a background of images and noise, sugar-coated marshmallowy easy-to-follow fly-on-the-wall no-braincells-needed undemanding nonsensical entertainment that was likely to leave me hungry for more substantial TV content after all that sugar rush, but whose lack of substance would somewhat sedate me and help me switch off from my day and for a while take my mind off those phonecalls, meetings, targets, lateral thoughts, time-poor event planning, and any form of stress that they generate. (to be continued)

7 Jan 2011

A Week-End Wonderweb 08-01 (The Vintage Lady)

The lady is no tramp, she is ambling pin-up art in the making, cultivates a Rock'n'Roll (Rockabilly in fact!) attitude while reinterpreting domesticity, a diminutive pie-baking Dita von Teese with technicolor skin graphics - some might see a tart with a heart from the retro comics, bad girl stylee with a vintage penchant, a film noir femme fatale, our Betty Boop/ Bettie Page character is no shrinking violet but can tell her tulle from her tulips, and punch both prejudices and conventional values in the face, with poise and utmost elegance.

Sources (top page down):
More vintage lifestyle... (with less tattoos):
Queens of Vintage; Welcome to Deluxeville; Yesterday Girl; Andi B. Goode; Fleur de Guerre's Diary of a Vintage Girl, and so many more!

    5 Jan 2011

    Smile, There's a New Year Ahead! (Part 2)

    The rest falls off the wayside: the fat-cat bonuses, the hedge-funds, the back-handers, the Swiss savings accounts, the Cayman-registered business ventures, the Ponzi schemes, the extortions, the good deals and the bad deals...

    We are born naked and innocent, we die naked and... resigned, content, disillusioned or twistedly wickedly corrupt. Life's what we make it, and it's up to us how we choose to live it. But at the end of the day, as I said, the ultimate - non-negotiable - deal is that we all die naked, with no material possessions.

    Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Pict source)

    So here's my deal to Mr Moneyman... In order to get used to the idea of nakedness, our Gordon Gecko & Co. should start living by example, scale down their activities and travel light, instead of bleeding the world dry off its wealth and resources for that ultimate kick of the quick buck. Do we need $millions for personal upkeep? And mostly please do find out from the Forbes list if riches equal happy.

    The super-duper rich may pop the Krug and squeeze the last of the beluga caviar grains between their veneered teeth, take in the sweeping views from their penthouse suite windows and powder their noses some more if they are so inclined. As they celebrate the ashes of 2010, greed has never had it so good!

    This yuppie is making a killing: American Psycho (Pict source)

    Yet is it what happens when one civilisation has long reached its intellectual, technological and industrial paradigm, its golden enlightened age, and those obscenely wealthy elements that are influencing its survival are lolling back in one last sway of hedonism as the rest of civilisation, economically bankrupt and morally disorientated, is tottering on the razor's edge in confusion, risking to landslide back into the middle-ages like all great civilisations did, pending a possible but not de-facto renaissance, a few centuries from now?

    Time will tell. Meanwhile, after accomplishing so much as a civilisation, do we want to head down that black hole of oblivion?

    Happy Ponder & Happy New Year everyone!

    Further Resources:

    3 Jan 2011

    Smile, There's a New Year Ahead! (Part 1)

    Ladies & Gentlemen, welcome to 2011! One year older, one year wiser. In the face of adversity past, present and future, let us put things into perspective, remain positive and count our blessings.

    Keep on rocking!

    2010 had its share of human and ecological disasters (Haïti, the BP oil disaster, Iceland volcano, and Pakistan, to name just four). It was also a year of further economic meltdown, exemplified by certain representatives of the Euro Zone (namely Greece, Spain and Ireland).

    2010 was not all about doom and gloom though. Some people's survival was short of a miracle (Chili miners) and consequently this took the focus off the negative to give hope a huge boost. Hope in the future, hope in better things, hope in life, in life itself.

    For most of us, 2010 was just a continuation of previous years, with those personal beliefs yo-yoing up and down the barometer of faith and happiness. On a personal note, 2010 was a mixed affair. In fact, I am one of those tens of thousands of economic casualties directly incumbent to the greed of Yuppie Boy down The City, Wall Street and other market places, playing legoes with our corporate profits and bonuses, spitting his Tiffany dummy out, throwing a wobbly and getting us all laid off in one sneeze.

    The Glass Pavilion, Santa Barbara CA: yours for a cool USD28,500,000

    Money never sleeps and money makes the world go round. The world of finance is finding novel ways to reconstruct, 'merge & acquire', reap all the cash rewards and incentives that it doesn't deserve. Our meagre consolation is that what goes around comes around. Sooner or later, the Madoffs, the Kerviels, the Leesons, the Enrons of this world (their emissaries and those 'faceless' figureheads) will get caught up in the Karma loop one way or another, yet sadly knocking off further innocent lives in their fall from grace.

    If the legal judicial system does not always act in fairness and impartiality, at least we can console ourselves with one equality certainty: as sure as we are born, we sure are mere mortals. And the only wealth we may take with us to the after-world is unmaterialistic: personal knowledge and advancement, and wisdom (or lack thereof...). (to be continued)