The Allure Of Change

Manarola While picking up a few extras in Whole Foods I heard Fiona Apple's rendition of “Across the Universe.” In the store all I could understand of the text was John Lennon’s recurring refrain, “Nothing’s gonna change my world.” Hearing this focus on permanence brought to mind Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s contrasting saying, which focuses on change: “You can never step into the same river twice.” And, sure enough, the world soon changed for me in a small, annoying way when I stepped on some gum in the parking lot.

The village shown at left is Manarola, one of five villages that nestle in isolated coves along a small Mediterranean coastal region of Italy called Cinque Terre (Five Lands). The oldest villages date from around the 11th century, and the youngest from the late 12th century. The rocky cliffs rising from the sea are so rugged that the towns were isolated from each other, reachable only by sea or by strenuous treks over rugged terrain. To farm the steep hillsides, the residents built stone terraces, and in the process are said to have moved more tons of stone than were used to build the Great Wall of China. My wife and I hiked some of the coastal hiking trails, and to see the picturesque results of this labor is both humbling and ennobling. (See the photo below.)

 The first modern connection to these towns was a railroad into the village of Vernazza in 1870. During World War II railroad tunnels and cliff-side paths were blasted, creating easy connections between all the villages.

Terraces-cinque-terre Today, for the modern tourist, despite becoming better known since the 1990s, it remains an area of incomparable charm, having been shielded from modern development for centuries.The region has been designated a World Heritage Site to help preserve its beauty. (WHS has some stunning photos.)

Now trains make several daily runs through the villages, and the region’s allure brings in many tourists from the outside world. And the desire to experience something different runs both ways. The allure of the outside world means that many young people from the region now commute to work in the city of Le Spezia. I wonder how many young people will choose the hard life of maintaining and farming the terraced hillsides.

Allure can work on a small scale as well. Once a path had been blasted into the seaside cliff, the former impassable barrier between the villages of Riomaggiore and Manarola became a leisurely twenty-minute walk. The path soon became known as the Via Dell'Amore (Lovers’ Walk). Think about the sense of mystery that having that path available must have created. “Could the man (or woman) of my dreams be waiting for me in the next village?” The locals say that making that short walk changed many lives.

[Photo of Manarola by Flickr user fachxx00. Terraced hillside photo by Flickr user alaina.marie. Both photos used under the Flickr Creative Commons License.]

Silhouettes And Landscapes: The Glamour Of Window Views

Woman@window in west

Taken in the 1930s, this vernacular (i.e., anonymous) photo represents one of the visual motifs particularly effective in creating a sense of glamour: a silhouette of someone contemplating a landscape vista. (In this early DG post, I discussed some condominium ads that used a similar composition.) Mysterious and stylized, the darkened figure invites us to identify with her and the longings she feels as she looks out on the landscape beyond her enclosed surroundings. This particular photo also creates a contrast between the settled world of bent-wood chairs and ashtrays and the wilderness beyond. Its composition glamorizes the possibilities of the distant hills. We could imagine, however, a reversed composition that made the interior seem cozy and inviting.

The juxtaposition of a shadowed foreground and a lighted vista can arouse similar yearnings for escape even without a human subject. This photo, contributed to the DeepGlamour pool by Flickr user Michele Strudwick, contrasts the open possibilities represented by the sea and lighthouse with the constraints of the darkened room from which we view that landscape.

Brant point round window lighthouse view

The shadows are not entirely negative, however. They give the scene its mystery and, by framing the landscape, enhance the vista's grace. They show us just enough of the outside world to make it tantalizing.

[Photo by Flickr user Michele Strudwick used with permission.]

Magical Words And Powerful Voices

Bedtime-reading Anyone who has heard a small child say, “Read it again, read it again,” knows that children love repetition. They love audible patterns of all kinds, as Dr. Seuss realized. The number of sound patterns in the following two lines is fascinating:

“And NOW comes an act of Enormous Enormance!
No former performers performed this performance!”

Such lines were never intended to be read silently, they were intended to be performed by someone reading to a child. If a word like “Enormance” was needed for sound, then Dr. Seuss made it up. Children respond because hearing such patterns performed out loud creates a kind of magic spell.

Children’s love of patterned language is not some temporary madness, it’s part of being human. We retain our ability to enjoy language created for oral presentation all our lives. Such language has its greatest impact when we hear it presented, rather than when we read it silently. And hearing such language performed by a great vocal interpreter remains a magical experience.

Richard-burton I’ll never forget the first time I saw the film version of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood. I felt almost drunk on words as I heard Richard Burton’s glorious voice read Thomas’s resonant lines. Burton, seen at right as a young star, was, of course, also a great actor. The play was first written for radio, and you can hear the beginning here. Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Peter O’Toole, along with many other fine actors, are in the film version. (You can get get a feel for the visual quality of the film here, but only by enduring a hideously over-hyped theatrical trailer.)

Another way to make words audible is to intone them, to sing them. This has long been a way to give special meaning to the words of religious ceremonies. It can also work with the lyrics of popular songs. With some songs, witty rhymes can be a major source of delight, as with these gems from Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” (I’ll quote the female version of the lines, which are used in the video below. Zevon’s original version was from a male perspective):

He really worked me over good,
He was a credit to his gender.
He put me through some changes, Lord,
Sort of like a Waring blender

Well, I met a boy in the Vieux Carré
Down in Yokahama.
He picked me up, and he threw me down:
He said, “Please don't hurt me, Mama.”

These lines are clever on the page, but make a stronger effect when performed by someone with a rich voice like Linda Ronstadt (just as was the case with Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas).

DG recently had a post on pop divas, and in We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The True, Tough Story of Women in Rock Gerri Hirshey called Ronstadt the first “arena-class rock diva.” Reaching that status was an arduous journey for her. Early in her career, as reported in her Rolling Stone bio, when she went onstage “she was often devastatingly timid.” Even as she became a popular concert attraction, she was “still hampered by stage fright.”

397px-LindaRonstadtPerforming But there was nothing timid about her voice: it was a force of nature. Like Richard Burton, her ability to use that voice to magical effect would bring fame, fortune, and glamorous relationships. Burton’s second wife was Elizabeth Taylor, and Ronstadt’s personal life has included relationships with men such as Star Wars creator George Lucas and Jerry Brown when he was governor of California. While singing, Ronstadt could dramatically change the character of her voice (as Burton could do as an actor). She begins “Long Long Time” by singing two phrases in a young-girl’s voice, then suddenly her voice becomes that of a mature, aggrieved woman. Her performance becomes a drama, and her ability to transform her voice allows us to hear different emotional qualities embodied in the sound of her voice itself.

Her appearance could seem just as changeable. She could variously seem vulnerable, sexy, innocent, buoyant, or world-weary. She could seem to be the girl next door dumping her boyfriend (“You’re No Good”), or the personification of loneliness (“Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”). Rolling Stone dubbed her “Rock’s Venus,” and her poster decorated countless dorm room walls. Writer Phillip K. Dick was obsessed with her, and she appears as a persona, “Linda Fox,” in his novel Valis. He wrote elsewhere, “My fantasy number that I run in my head is, I discover Linda Ronstadt, and am remembered as the scout for Capitol who signed her. I would have wanted that on my gravestone.”

While researching this post, I was surprised to learn from a NY Times article that Ronstadt felt her singing had been most influenced by opera star Maria Callas.

Emmylou [Harris] and I are both Maria Callas fans. We listen to that all the time. She's the greatest chick singer ever.

I learn more about bluegrass singing, more about singing Mexican songs, more about singing rock-and­-roll from listening to Maria Callas records than I ever would from listening to pop music for a month of Sundays.

Maria-callas In 2006 Opera News wrote that “Nearly thirty years after her death, [Callas is] still the definition of the diva as artist.” Callas had the same power we have been discussing: an ability to color her voice, to make words audible in an extraordinarily vibrant, emotion-laden way—an ability which allowed listeners to have almost magical experiences. Few people thought Callas was gifted with the most purely “beautiful” operatic voice of the time, but the way she would sometimes shape her voice and performance for dramatic effect could leave audiences stunned. Callas was also a great actress on stage. Here’s a video of her bringing the house to its feet at the Paris Opera in 1958. Even during a thunderous standing ovation that temporarily stops the performance, she continues to act—she never breaks character. 

[Reading before bedtime photograph by Flickr user jeff, the rhino under the Creative Commons license. His photostream is here. The Linda Ronstadt photo is from the Wikimedia Commons.]

Feline Software Glamour


When Amazon sent me a plug for pre-ordering the new Mac OS—and for encouraging DG readers to order it though us to generate a few expense-paying bucks—I was struck by the  the name. Snow Leopard. The combination of the exotic idea of Himalayan snow with the feline grace and power of the leopard seemed the epitome of glamour. I'm only vaguely aware of what a snow leopard is, and the picture in my mind is even more glamorous and exotic than the real cat.

Code names are standard for software under development, and any glamour they may have generally reflects geek culture. (Microsoft uses a lot that sound like superhero monikers.) But Apple has turned these internal references into brand names, and whoever decided to use the names of big cats definitely has an eye for glamour. 

From this site, here's a list of the Mac OS's feline aliases. Jaguar was the first widely used in public.
ReleaseCodenameRelease Date
10.0CheetahMarch 2001
10.1PumaSeptember 2001
10.2JaguarAugust 2002
10.3PantherOctober 2003
10.4TigerApril 2005
10.5LeopardOctober 2007
10.6Snow Leopard
Big cats represent grace, power, and autonomy—not a bad metaphor for an operating system from a company known for the glamour of its products and the "reality distortion field" (a good definition of glamour) of its CEO. As computer pioneer Alan Kay has said, “Steve understands desire.”

Mac users, pre-order Snow Leopard here:

A Marketing Mystery

Perhaps choosing this painting as the album cover was meant as a parody. If so, why not push it further? Remember the erotic scene in The Piano when Harvey Keitel caresses Holly Hunter’s leg through a tiny hole in her stocking as she plays the piano? (See below. I could only find it in Italian.)

SoapIf parody is the aim, then why not parody that scene? Perhaps the image on this Mexican soap (which promises that a woman who uses it will be able to say, “I dominate my man”) could serve as inspiration. (In Mexico you can buy “magic” soaps for almost any purpose.) If she had something to lean on, she could certainly play the violin in this position. If worked into a Romance-novel-style cover, I wonder how many CDs the image of a violin-playing dominatrix might sell?

Was the Durand painting used tongue-in-cheek? Who does their market research? What kind of buyers was this cover aimed at? Do the readers of Romance novels buy lots of classical solo violin albums? Perhaps they do. Perhaps they listen to them as they read. Perhaps the vibrant sound of the violin helps them visualize pure-hearted heroines domesticating the hitherto untamed, wild-haired men of their dreams.

If so, those readers should keep a wary eye on the violinist in Salieri’s Dream. Judging from the look on his/her face and Salieri/Sewell’s face, this dream could be a dark one. There are hints that this vision could turn into a Jack-the-Ripper nightmare rather than a bodice-ripper fantasy.

DG Top 10: Most Glamorous Cars, 1945 - Present

Aston Martin DB5 James Bond

This week's Top 10 list is by our resident car nut Diego Rodriguez, who blogs about design at Metacool and cars at Unabashed Gearhead Gnarlyness, leaving only a little time for DG. He last wrote for DG about fashion in World of Warcraft.--VP

I can only imagine the hate mail this post will generate. Even if you dislike cars, my sense is that you'll have a list of cars you believe are more glamorous than others. And it is very likely that none of your cars are on my list of glamorous cars. For a person like me, who suffers from an abiding love of automobiles, as well as a deep fascination for all the people who've designed, built, and raced them, putting this list together was pure torture. In the span of fifteen minutes I created a list of 47 contenders, and only via much gnashing of teeth and multiple strokes of the delete key was I able to whittle it down to the final ten.

Here they are, the ten most glamorous cars made after 1945 (in order of date of manufacture--any other ranking is just too difficult):

No 27, Lancia Aurelia B20GT, 1953, Driver Chris Gawne Lancia Aurelia B20GT (1950): the archetypal two-door gran turismo, this Lancia is a most elegant expression of Italian design in the postwar period. This is the auto for two people deeply in love to tour the lakes of Lombardy. I fell in love with it after seeing it at speed in the pages of Tintin. Of all the cars on this list, this is my favorite.

Sunbeam Alpine Sport (1955): Grace Kelly took Cary Grant for a ride in one in To Catch a Thief. Not a macho car, nor one of classic proportions, but a memorable shape nonetheless.

Aston Martin DB5 (1963): Goldfinger. Silver. Ejector seat. Tire-slashing wheel spinners. Not so much about James Bond, more about Sean Connery. British glamour at its best, and arguably the high point of Aston Martin design.

Ferrari 400 Superamerica (1963): For those of you who equate the Ferrari brand with gold-chain reruns of Magnum PI, please consider this: in the early sixties, Ferrari made just 47 of these bespoke beauties, each fettled with a hairy V-12 motor up front and exceptionally pure bodywork from Pininfarina. These were fast, glamorous cars built for kings. This was the Ferrari of Rockefellers, the Aga Khan, and Gianni Agnelli.

Mercedes-Benz 600 (1964): When a movie director wants to tell us that a very evil, very powerful, very nasty dictator (albeit one with good taste) is about to arrive, he is likely to choose this car. All joking aside, some truly awful human beings occupied the back seat of this car. Ultra expensive in its day, the 600 is still the ne plus ultra of the Mercedes brand. It's rumored that you can still buy a new one today if you have enough cash...

Lamborghini Miura (1966): One of these came to a tragic end at the start of The Italian Job. I've stayed away from out-and-out sports cars on this list because the experience of driving them is often less than glamorous, but because the Miura captures all that was outrageous about pre-Vietnam '60s culture, it made the cut. If you could afford to buy and run one of these, you had money. And if you were attractive enough not to be shown up by its timeless styling, you certainly qualified as glamorous.

Cadillac Eldorado Brougham (1957): Harley Earl's unique view of the universe is best personifed by this car, with its tailfins, dagmars, brushed stainless steel roof, and intricate metal detailing throughout. It featured suicide rear doors, stainless steel drink tumblers, a cigarette case, and even a perfume dispenser. Open those doors, and you half expect Marilyn Monroe to tumble out in all her platinum glory.

Porsche 911S (1970): I had to put a Porsche on the list. So I chose the one that Steve McQueen drove around the countryside of Le Mans at the start of his movie of the same name. Before the 911 became a testosterone wagon, it was a compact, even lithe vehicle powered by a relatively small motor. An elegant Porsche. As such, I think it's the most glamorous car ever driven by McQueen, who was one glamorous dude.

White-original-range rover Range Rover (1970): the first generation Range Rover was styled by engineers, but like the American Jeep which came thirty years earlier, its design process spawned something of great purity from an aesthetic point of view. As its basic, utilitarian design added layers of luxury and power over the years, it was transformed in to the ur-SUV, a temple of jet-setting glamour and power. If in 1957 the Eldorado would have been your vehicle of choice, in 1987 you wanted to be seen in a Range Rover. The most glamorous ride ever to sport external door hinges.

Toyota Prius (2004): not the dowdy first-generation model, nor the overly angular third gen edition. The second-generation Prius defined "hybrid" as a glamorous technological paradigm. Not only is this the only Japanese car on my list, but the Prius is the only one that Leonardo drove. Like all the other cars on this list, its glamour has its roots in power, but in this case it is about its relative lack thereof. What a difference 50 years makes... given a choice between this and the Sunbeam, I bet Grace Kelly would have driven one, too.

[ 1953 Lancia Aurelia by Bill Martin (Flickr photostream here), used with permission.]

Julia Child: Glamorous Icon

Julia-child-with-rolling-pins Julia Child is an unlikely glamour girl. Over six feet tall, with long arms and legs and a warbling voice famously parodied by Dan Aykroyd, she possessed none of the sultry airs of Marilyn Monroe or the cool confidence of Jackie Kennedy. But glamorous she was thanks to her larger-than-life personality and her role in helping Americans see food itself as something glamorous.

Put her in the kitchen, surrounded by knives, a raw chicken, and a vat of cream, and Julia transformed into something wonderful. Completely in charge of her surroundings, perfectly at home, and most of all, thrilled to be there. A woman happy to be behind a stove and in front of a camera is not a surprising image today, what with our Nigella Lawsons and Barefoot Contessas and even our Rachael Rays. But in 1963, when Julia Child made her debut on a local channel in Boston, the world – both in terms of food and of women – was a very different place.

In the 1920’s and ’30s, women (and it was always women) spent an average of 30 to 42 hours per week cooking for their families – and that’s in addition to other at-home responsibilities. Back then, cooking wasn’t fun. It was a chore.

By the time Julia Child entered the public eye, women’s roles were starting to evolve. They were entering the workforce, allowing less time to slave over the stove back at home. Food manufacturers were quick to notice the trend and capitalize on it, developing easy-to-make semi-prepared foods. Those dishes might not have been as tasty or healthy as the fresh stuff, but they were a whole lot quicker and easier.

If prepared foods never complete displaced cooking from scratch, we have Julia to thank. She helped American women see the value – emotional as well as gustatory – in “real” cooking.

In a recent New York Times article, Michael Pollan points out that Child’s television debut occurred the same year as the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Pollan notes that while it might seem, on the surface, that Julia’s position in the kitchen was at odds with Friedan’s take on feminism, in reality, the two were working in concert. He says:

She tried to show the sort of women who read The Feminine Mystique that, far from oppressing them, the work of cooking approached in the proper spirit offered a kind of fulfillment and deserved an intelligent woman’s attention. (A man’s too.)

Fulfillment, intelligence, confidence – these are the qualities that emanated from Julia Child, the ones she passed on to her audience, and the ones that made her glamorous. Plus, the food she cooked was rich, French and (at times) complicated – the most glamorous sort. Pollan again:

Once upon a time, Julia…showed you how you, too, could cook like someone who could not only prepare but properly pronounce a béarnaise. So-called fancy food has always served as a form of cultural capital, and cooking programs help you acquire it....

On Friday, Julia Child’s glamour and charm will be broadcast once again, via Meryl Streep, with the opening of the movie Julie & Julia . It tells the story of Julia’s culinary awakening in post-war France intertwined with the (also true) story of a New York City blogger named Julie Powell cooking her way through Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking. If the trailer is any indication, it’ll be a fabulous movie.

Nearly 50 years after her first appearance on the small screen, Julia’s character still captivates us with her unflinching joie de vivre. As the movie proves, her spirit connects not only to those women she originally influenced, but to women (and men) of younger generations, as well. Like a true icon, and the glamorous woman that she was.

Santa Fe Opera: Enchanting The Desert Night

Santa-fe-opera Santa Fe Opera performances take place after dark in a beautiful open-air theater that sits like a fantastic sculpture on colorful sandstone hills a few miles north of the city. The glamorous building promises a glamorous experience.

Opera is the most costly and extravagant live performance art, and audience members often attend opera looking their finest. (Attending opera performances were the most glamorous occasions in the films Pretty Woman and Moonstruck.) And even though casual wear is acceptable for summer opera festivals like Santa Fe, most attendees dress for the occasion. For example, to attend one performance, my wife wore blousing, black Yael Orgard pants, a black, asymmetrical Japanese-designed top, and a woven Randy Darwall scarf. Because the nights were cool, she wore the pants again to the second production, this time with a long-sleeved black devoré top by Carter Smith. (She joked that she had almost “forgotten” to bring dress clothes, so that she would “have had to” buy new ones.)

The audience dresses stylishly in part because opera tends to be a refuge for “style” itself. A recent issue of Opera News focuses on the issue of style, and in one article Philip Kennicott expresses concern about historical and economic pressures that threaten to create a kind of flatness and depthlessness in our cultural experiences. He argues that opera struggles against those pressures because “A mysterious force within the opera house—the will to style—keeps the art form vital and alive.”

Even comic operas include displays of vocal virtuosity that remove the means of expression from that of the everyday world. From its beginnings in Florence at the end of the 16th century, opera has centered on characters that voice their feelings with passionate expressiveness. People go the opera hoping to experience expressive power, theatrical illusions, and enchanting productions. And they often dress so that they too become part of the glamorous ambiance.

Don-giovanni On July 31 we saw a wonderfully enchanting performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (photo at right). (Da Ponte’s libretto creates a marvelous tragicomic mix of peasants, servants, nobles, and a living statue. Mozart’s ability to embody this in music is uncanny.) The cast was exceptionally strong and well balanced, a notable achievement for an opera with several challenging roles. The sets and costumes contributed handsomely, the orchestra played brilliantly, and the performance was a delight from beginning to end. 

Santa Fe Opera has a long, laudable history of commissioning new operas, and on July 29 we saw this summer’s premiere, The Letter, based on Somerset Maughan’s 1927 play. The play has been the basis of two films, the second one starring Bette Davis.

The plot in a nutshell is that Leslie murders her lover Geoff when he tries to end their relationship. Leslie then claims Geoff tried to rape her, and that she shot him (six times) in self-defense. Unfortunately, Geoff’s mistress (he must have been busy) has a letter from Leslie asking Geoff to meet him on the day she shot him, a letter which makes it clear they had had a ongoing relationship. Howard, a lawyer friend of Leslie and her husband, bribes the mistress to obtain the letter, and, without this incriminating evidence, she is found not guilty. A good operatic setup.

The-letter The sets by Hildegard Bechtler were beautiful and evocative, especially her use of billowing curtains and a gap in the set that revealed the mountains to the west. Fashion designer Tom Ford’s costumes created a wonderful 1930s feel, and looked more like fine clothes than costumes. The performance presented the opera well. Soprano Patricia Racette was a powerful presence as Leslie Crosbie. I was somewhat disappointed with the voice of Mika Shigematsu as the mistress, but she was nonetheless convincing in the role.

The libretto was adapted by Terry Teachout and the music was written by Paul Marovec. It was the first opera for both, and on the whole it was successful. The audience response was enthusiastic, and the evening enjoyable. Nonetheless, the opera has weaknesses.

The Letter was advertised as an “opera noir.” Unfortunately, there were unintended comic laughs in the first scene. For example, just after we witness Leslie shoot Geoff six times (he was dead after the first two), she tells her Head Man, “It was an accident.” After that it took the audience several minutes to realize that this was a dark, rather than comic, opera.

The-letter-2 Because words usually take longer to sing than to speak, librettist Terry Teachout had to condense Maugham’s play considerably to have the opera run 100 minutes. Perhaps a slightly longer opera would have been better. Our experience of film noir causes us to anticipate some witty repartee, while the condensed lines sometimes felt generic and abstract. One sequence ran: “I love you!” “You must die!” “What is truth?” “What is right?” “And where is the light?” “What is love?” Late in the opera, one of the opera’s most memorable lines, “I have murdered my heart,” occurred at the end of an aria for Leslie that otherwise did little more than recap her situation.

Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Moravec is a fine composer, and he sets text well. The music moved along at a brisk pace, though at times the construction seemed almost phrase by phrase. The orchestration was generally good, but it occasionally overwhelmed the singers, especially his use of loud brass. On the whole, I agree with the cute twenty-something sales woman, who expressed her reaction to me in a shoe store the next day: “I was entertained, but never deeply moved.”

The opera lacked big moments of sufficient impact, places where the main characters express their emotions so eloquently that the language becomes instantly memorable, as is the case with countless arias from the “standard” operatic repertoire (as well as with Shakespeare’s soliloquies). Such moments are a crucial aspect of why we go to live performances of operas. We look forward to hearing how great performers will interpret such over-the-top passages. I would have been glad to have this opera run a few minutes longer in order to have heard a character or two engage in some shamelessly eloquent soul-searching. That’s part of the magic we hope to hear.

[Photo of Santa Fe Opera house by Robert Godwin. Performance photographs by Ken Howard.]