Sei Shonagon’s Pillowbook – Lyrical Meditations on Nature and Court Life

22 Aug

Sei Shonagon (c. 966-1017/1025) was a Japanese court lady who wrote poems and lyrical observations on court life. This month I read her famous ‘Pillowbook’; a collection of the previously mentioned texts and poems which she wrote purely for her own amusement before going to sleep. Some chapters, such as those discussing politics, were a bit tedious in my opinion, but others were brilliantly poetic and lyrical, often funny as well. The book was written in 990s, and it’s something so poignant in the fact that there was a lady, both witty and intelligent, often cynical, who thought it interesting to write about things happening at court, about the change of seasons, and document her views on many topics, from having a lover to travelling in carriages made of bamboo plants. And now, more than a thousand years later, I have a privilege to read a collection of texts you could rightfully call a diary. Some people even went so far as to say that Shonagon was the first blogger!

Her observations seemed so relatable, even though cultures and time periods divide her life from mine. The book really brings the spirit of the times and I like their way of life; visiting shrines, belief in reincarnation, writing haiku poems and sending elegant letters with tree twigs attached to it, contemplating in beautiful rock (later Zen) gardens, and admiring moonshine, still lakes and gentle plum trees in spring. If I had ten lives, I wouldn’t mind spending one of them living like that. In today’s hectic and instant society such serenity seems unimaginable to me.

I will end my short review by saying that I thoroughly recommend the book, if you still haven’t realised that. Happy reading!

1800s Courtier sleeping, Katsushika Hokusai, 19th centuryCourtier sleeping, Katsushika Hokusai, 19th century

This is how The Pillow Book begins, with Sei Shonagon describing the beauty of four seasons:

In Spring it is the dawn that is most beautiful. As the light creeps over the hills, their outlines are dyed a faint red and wisps of purplish cloud trail over them.

In Summer the nights. Not only when the moon shines, but on dark nights too, as the fireflies flit to and fro, and even when it rains, how beautiful it is!

In Autumn the evenings, when the glittering sun sets close to the edge of the hills and the crows fly back to their nests in threes and fours and twos; more charming still is a file of wild gees, like specks in the distant sky. When the sun has set, one’s heart is moved by the sound of the wind and the hum of the insects.

In Winter the early mornings. it is beautiful indeed when the snow has fallen during the night, but splendid too when the ground is white with frost; or even when there is no snow or frost, but it is simply very cold and the attendants hurry from room to room stirring up the fires and bringing charcoal, how well this fits the season’s mood! But as noon approaches and the cold wears off, no one bothers to keep the braziers alight, and soon nothing remains but piles of white ashes.

1793. Maruyana Okyo, Edo Period, Butterflies

Maruyana Okyo, Edo Period, Butterflies, 1793

*As this is mainly an art blog, I am aware of the fact that Shonagon lived in Heian period and the painting by Hokusai is from Edo period or 19th century, so there’s a discord here. It would be the same as putting a painting of Queen Victoria and a Medieval text, but I really liked this painting by Hokusai and I felt it fits the mood of Shonagon’s book.

Fashion Icons: Pattie Boyd II

18 Aug

Pattie Boyd is my seventh fashion icon in this series. I’ve already written posts about Jane Birkin, Sharon Tate, Britt Ekland, Uschi Obermaier, Anna Karina and Edie Sedgwick.

1960s pattie boyd 12

Pattie Boyd (b. 17 March 1944) was a model in times of Swinging London and a dolly bird who married my favourite Beatle – George Harrison, and later another great rock star – Eric Clapton. After being a model and a muse to two musicians, Pattie went on to become a photographer and an author by writing her autobiography Wonderful Tonight. Pattie holds a very special place in my heart because she was one of the first fashion icons of the 1960s that I fell in love with, and she was loved by George which is quite enough for me. And speaking of George and The Beatles, I have to mention their song Something which was written by George and inspired by Pattie herself! Do listen to it, the lyrics are so beautiful:

Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how
Somewhere in her smile she knows
That I don’t need no other lover
Something in her style that shows me
Don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how
You’re asking me will my love grow
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around now it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know…

Pattie and George were a typical Mod-turned-Hippie couple. So, for her Mod-look think of mini dresses, cute jumpers with knee-length skirts, striped shirts, pointy shoes, black dresses with white collars, and the typical Mod make up. For her hippie phase think of floral dresses, flared paisley trousers, beads and long necklaces, floppy hats and longer, free-flowing dresses. Her hairstyle and make up also changed; for Mod style she wore heavy eye makeup, fringe and hair with flicked ends, and for her hippie phase she ditched the fringe and opted for a bit longer, more natural looking hair. Here you can read about Pattie’s tips on 1960s makeup and long hairstyle.

And now the collages:

Fashion Icons - Pattie Boyd 1 text

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Fashion Icons: Edie Sedgwick

11 Aug

1960s edie sedgwick 5

Edie Sedgwick (1943-1971) was an American socialite mostly famous for being one of Warhol’s superstars at the Factory in the 1960s. With her eccentric behaviour Edie attracted Warhol’s attention and for a while this anorexic beauty from a prominent family was a star in New York City, at the same time when The Velvet Underground and Nico were doing their first light shows. Then she hooked up with Bob Dylan who broke her heart, and after a short marriage to Michael Post she died of barbiturate overdose at the age of 28.

To get this Poor-Little-Rich-Girl look think of large chandelier earrings, massive earrings, geometric prints, black and white combos, Mod A-line dresses, black tights with boots and gold or silver ultra mini dress, leopard print coat… She wore large fake eyelashes and it allegedly took her three hours to apply her make up! Film Factory Girl (2006) starring Sienna Miller as Edie is very good in my opinion and the costumes are really accurate.

Fashion Icons - Edie Sedgwick 4 text

Fashion Icons - Edie Sedgwick 1 text

Fashion Icons - Edie Sedgwick 3 text

Fashion Icons - Edie Sedgwick 2 text

Fashion Icons - Edie Sedgwick 5 text

Although Edie wasn’t the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s song Like a Rolling Stone, the lyrics bring the spirit of her short, glamorous and sad life:

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People call say ‘beware doll, you’re bound to fall’
You thought they were all kidding you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hanging out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging your next meal

How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone

Ahh you’ve gone to the finest schools, alright Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
Nobody’s ever taught you how to live out on the street
And now you’re gonna have to get used to it
You say you never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He’s not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?

How does it feel, how does it feel?…

Book Review: Cardiff Dead by John Williams

9 Aug

As you may have seen in my post My Inspiration for July, John Williams is an author I discovered in July. Being very enthusiastic about his book Cardiff Dead, I decided to read his book Five Pubs, Two Bars and a Night Club, and since I really loved his style in general, I decided he needs a shout out. Also, Williams is an editor and a contributor of a collection of short stories Wales, Half Welsh which I’m currently reading and enjoying it, at least stories he wrote.

Cardiff city centre at night, photo by Maciej Dakowicz

Cardiff city centre at night, photo by Maciej Dakowicz

John Williams (b. 1961) is a Cardiff based writer, and therefore some of his books and stories are set in Cardiff and often feature the same characters, so we could say that he really created a whole new world and aesthetic. I was blown away by his style of writing. I’m not going to lie, he is not the new Jack Kerouac, but is his prose modern, funny, honest, fast paced – yes it is. He’s not really poetic and descriptive, but somehow I instantly get the picture, so whatever he’s doing, it’s working, because his characters and their lives bring you back to 1990s Cardiff, Butetown specifically, and I kind of liked being in that little world for a while. His characters are rock and ska musicians, or ex-rock musicians, prostitutes, thieves, gangsters, ex-revolutionaries, drug dealers – people from the edge of society. Williams doesn’t portray them as malicious and dangerous, but rather as likeable people who are willing to put their past behind and start fresh.

Novel Cardiff Dead takes its title from these lyrics:

I’m Cardiff born and Cardiff bread

And when I dies I’ll be Cardiff dead.‘ (Frank Hennessy)

I was drawn to this novel from the first page. The introduction is nostalgic and strangely poetic. It’s 1999, and the main character, thirty-nine year old Mazz is returning to Cardiff after eighteen years. Williams slowly reveals Mazz’s past, his character and details of his life, at the same time introducing other characters such as Tyra, Charlie, Bobby, Kenny Ibadulla etc. Some chapters are set in 1981 which gives us a view of Mazz’s life when it was all at the beginning. He’s from the Valleys, and moved to Cardiff in summer of 1979 with a bag of clothes and his Fender guitar, and soon formed a ska bend called The Wurriyas. These chapters are very interesting to me because some political events such as Hunger strikes and IRA, miners crisis and death of Bob Marley form the background of their lives.

Thematically, this book is very layered. It deals with Mazz’s return and everything that goes on in Cardiff at the moment such as the building of the Millennium Stadium, but it also deals with many other things – Mazz reflects on the life he lead, search for the missing bend member Emyr (which strangely reminds me of the disappearance of Richey Edwards, and being a rock fan Williams is no doubt aware of that), Mazz and Tyra’s love story, as well as the sad disappearance of old Cardiff and its transformation upon entering the new millennium.

All in all, I truly enjoyed reading this book; it was intriguing, passionate, dynamic, warm and full of hope. I randomly picked it up at the library because I liked the title and I thought I’d enjoy reading a Welsh author and a book set in urban Wales because I love Manic Street Preachers after all.

Fashion Icons: Anna Karina

4 Aug

1960s anna karina in Band a part

Anna Karina is a Danish-French film actress and for a while, in the 1960s, she was the muse of director Jean-Paul Godard. In his films such as Une Femme est Une Femme (1961), Bande a Part (1964), Vivre sa Vie (1962), Pierrot le Fou (1965) and Made in U.S.A. (1966) Anna Karina can be seen wearing beautiful yet simple outfits. Her costumes in Une Femme est Une Femme are especially eye-cathing; she wore red and blue skirts and dresses against the grey backdrop of Paris.

Her style is very chic, tailored and Parisian. If you want to dress like her, be sure to wear some coloured tights, I have them in all colours – blue, red, yellow, green, purple, and all thanks to Anna Karina. Her classic look would include grey knee-length skirt with red tights, cardigan and a trench coat. Whenever I wear something like that, I feel like I’m in one of Godard’s films. Now all you need is Jean-Paul Belmondo or Sami Frey and a book by Camus.

Let my collages speak for themselves.

Fashion Icons - Anna Karina 2 text

Fashion Icons - Anna Karina 1 text

Fashion Icons - Anna Karina 3 text

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Fashion Icons - Anna Karina 8 text

My Inspiration for July III

31 Jul

This month I was inspired by 17th century portraits, colour yellow, painters Anne Redpath and Jan Vermeer, Brighton pier, and some beautiful yellow-blue paintings by van Gogh. I read some interesting books such as Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and discovered some new authors – Norwegian writer Lars Saabye Christensen; I’ve read his book Maskeblomstfamilien which was very interesting, weird, poetic, morbid and most of all intriguing – I read it in two days, and Cardiff-based writer John Williams; I’ve read his book Cardiff Dead and Five pubs, Two Bars and a Night Club; he opened a whole new world for me, a world of modern Cardiff, Butetown specifically, with bars, prostitutes, ska music…

I finally watched two films that a fellow blogger has recommended to me; Love and Friendship (2016) and Tale of Tales (2015): I liked both films, the former has great costumes and the latter brought my attention to 17th century art and fashion, and it was very very imaginative and dark. And I watched Blackadder and Doctor Who again, series 5 and 6 in particular, and it was smashing!

1658. Jan Vermeer van Delft - Girl reading a Letter at an Open Window

Tale of Tales (2015) 5 Tale of Tales (2015) 6

Tale of Tales (2015) 7

Redpath, Anne; Still Life of Flowers and a Teapot; National Trust, Fenton House; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/still-life-of-flowers-and-a-teapot-217649

1950s Anne Redpath - Painting 4

Redpath, Anne; Corsican Village; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/corsican-village-85811

sharon tate1888. Vincent van Gogh, The SowerMake up at DSquared2 Spring 2012 Larme d'Or by Anne Marie Zilberman

1635. Anthony van Dyck - Portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria1899. Max Kurzweil, Dame im gelben Kleid1669-70. The Love Letter (Dutch De liefdesbrief) by Jan Vermeer1636-38. Anthony van Dyck - Princess Henrietta Maria of France, Queen consort of England1640s Queen Henrietta Maria (1609–1669) by John Russell 1669. Anne Julie de Rohan-Chabot, Princesse de Soubise1600s Portrait of Anne Carr by Anthony van Dyck

Rubbish May be Shot Here 1937 by Julian Trevelyan 1910-1988  queenie 2 1888. John William Waterhouse - The Danaides

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me without you 3

Port Talbot, Wales 1

1554-56. Veronese - Juno Showering Gifts on Venetia, 1554-56 detail 121528-30. Decorated Text Page, France, Medium Tempera colors and gold paint on parchment

Brigitte Bardot et Pablo Picasso dans l'atelier de la villa "Californie" a Cannes en 1956 pendant le festival de Cannes Neg:CX24335--- Brigitte Bardot and Pablo Picasso during Cannes festival 1956 in villa "Californie" in Cannes

1899. Summer Evening at Skagen beach. The artist and his wife - Kroyerdoctor who series 5 i

Fashion Icons: Uschi Obermaier

28 Jul

1960s Uschi Obermaier 49

Uschi Obermaier (b. 24 September 1946) is mostly remembered for being a groupie and a sex symbol of the ’68 generation. She really led a ‘wild life’, so it’s very appropriate that they named the film about her Das Wilde Leben or Eight Miles Heigh (2007), and she’s played by Natalia Avelon. I think the film captured the spirit of the times, and her clothes are wonderful. Her life was one big adventure, but it wasn’t always like that. In the early 1960s she was a bored and miserable teenager living in drab suburbs of Munich, just waiting for something fun to occur. She started modelling and for some time she was a member of an art bend/commune called Amon Düül. There she met Rainer Langhans and the rest is history. In 1969 she was already living in a commune in the capitalistic West Berlin with students and ‘rebels’ who praised socialism and sexual freedom.

Uschi and Rainer soon became ‘the star protagonists in a bizarre political experiment involving group cohabitation that was explicitly designed to shock Germany’s corseted conservative establishment to the core. Commune 1, as it was called, was Germany’s answer to San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury, but it had a seriously Teutonic streak. The gang of long-haired, dope smoking Maoist students who started the experiment by occupying a spacious turn-of-the-century apartment in central West Berlin, were out to explode and revolutionise the moribund values of post-war German society.‘ (source)

1960s Uschi Obermaier and Rainer Langhans 1

Uschi Obermaier and Rainer Langhans, c. 1969

After the Kommune 1, Uschi spent some nights together with Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and even Mick Jagger. She went on The Rolling Stones 1975 tour. From 1973-1983 she was in a relationship with Dieter Bockhorn and the two of them travelled in a bus through Asia, where they married in India, then Mexico and U.S. Uschi’s style is very psychedelic and rock chic. In my collages I used some photos from the film as well as pictures of Uschi herself.

You can read more about her here and here. You can watch a short footage of Jimi Henrix and Uschi in Berlin in 1969 here.

Fashion Icons - Uschi 1 text

Fashion Icons - Uschi 2 text

Fashion Icons - Uschi 3 text

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