Friday, 30 November 2012

Part XVI - The Purpose of Uniforms

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen.  His fourth chapter is Conspicuous Consumption. 

In the last post we were considering the wealthy gentleman's burden of demonstrating fine discrimination and impeccable manners.  To maintain a really good reputation, he need the help of others in the form of their performing vicarious consumption.  

As wealth accumulates, the leisure class develops further in structure, and there arises an elaborate system of rank and grades according to the inheritance of wealth and the consequent inheritance of gentility.  Sadly, money doesn’t always accompany gentility, so we have ‘impecunious gentlemen’, mentioned in an earlier post.  These gentlemen affiliate themselves to wealthier men by a system of dependence or fealty in order to gain enough money with which to lead a life of leisure.  It is curious, isn't it, that going out to work might be considered more shameful than being a hanger-on, but there it is.  However, the arrangement is not without reciprocity.  In return for money  they become his courtiers, retainers, servants and, being fed and countenanced by their patron, they are indices of his rank. 

The consumption and leisure undertaken by these hangers-on for their master or the patron represent an investment on his part in the increase of his good fame.  The results of, say, a ball or a feast are immediate for the host.  However, where his retinue perform vicarious consumption on his behalf, they must be residing near his person for him to receive due credit, which isn't always possible in a growing society.  So a more obvious means are needed in order to direct and assign the admiration they earn appropriately to him and not some other noble.  To this end, uniforms, badges, and liveries come into vogue.

The wearing of uniforms or liveries implies dependence and may even be said to be a mark of servitude.  There are two classes who wear uniforms and liveries and their services are characterised in the same way:  the free and noble  or the servile and ignoble.   It’s not very straightforward in practice, according to Veblen, which services are noble or ignoble, but it has much to do with the rank of the person for whom the service is performed, ie whose livery is worn.

Again we return to those proper, predatory employments of the leisure class, occupations that confer honour:  government, fighting, hunting, etc, and to a slightly lesser extent, the handling of arms and the accoutrements of war.  Base employments are productive labor, handicraft or menial services and the like.  However, a base service performed for a person of very high degree may become honourific, ie a Lady in Waiting to the Queen.  The title of the King’s Master of the Horse or his Keeper of the Hounds is doubly honourific owing to the high office of the king and the association with predatory occupations.

With the development of peaceable society, the employment of an idle corps of uniformed men-at-arms gradually lapses into vicarious consumption by dependents and narrows down to a corps of liveried menials.  Where the livery of an armed retainer has an honorific character, the livery of the menial is a badge of servility, obnoxious to those who wear it. 

Veblen says we are
" little removed from a state of effective slavery as still to be fully sensitive to the sting of any imputation of servility. This antipathy asserts itself even in the case of the liveries or uniforms which some corporations prescribe as the distinctive dress of their employees’.  In this country (the US) the aversion even goes the length of discrediting - in a mild and uncertain way - those government employments, military and civil, which require the wearing of a livery or uniform.” 
I know I was really excited about my first office job, being heartily sick of my Pizza Hut uniform.   I’m not certain how this perception of uniforms applies to schools here in Britain, where most schools require pupils to wear a uniform.  This practice was apparently instigated under the reign of Henry the VIIIth. 

In our next post, we'll talk about the middle class wife.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Jacques Doucet

I'd never heard of this man (have you?), but his heirs share his talents and his passions with the public at the  Musee Angladon in Avignon.  I gather the big thing about Doucet is supposed to be that he collected art and some very famous paintings are on show there.   Even I recognised The Pink Blouse, and a few others by Sisley and Manet.  The paintings could be photographed, amazingly;  someone else kindly did this a lot better than I.  However, It wasn't really the paintings that interested me.

Jacques Doucet was a fashion designer.  This link should show you most of what fascinated me about him, but very little of this aspect of his work was available in the museum.   There is a very satisfying amount of background and pictures about Doucet at this website.

See those wavy stripes? They must have been sewn individually,
as you can see the seams between each.

Some of the rooms were spectacular, particularly the wall paper fabrics. 

A chair intended for sitting backwards...

Never mind the many objets d'art, I thought the walls were art all by themselves. 

There were photographs of Doucet's art deco home which must have been spectacular. 

It reminded me a bit of the art nouveau home of Victor Horta. 

There was a collection of pictures taken by a photographer who called himself Nadar.  It was full of famous people like Sarah Bernhardt, Victor Hugo, Colette and Mistinguett.  I have seen any number of photos of Bernhardt (not to mention Mucha's posters), but some of the others gave the satisfaction of putting a face with a name long recognised.

Now that is a hat!

If I had to chose between Louis Voland's collection and that of Jacques Doucet, the latter wins by a mile (or should that be kilometre?).

Monday, 26 November 2012

A Wedding

Bill's cousin Michael married his fiance Chris last month.  We've enjoyed their company since they moved up from Norfolk a couple of years ago.  I understood this to be so Mike could be nearer his elderly mother who passed away in June.  It turns out that Chris had lived in Newcastle before and her daughter lives less than a mile away from us.  I've showed you their amazing house.  I had no doubt the wedding would be awesome as well.

One of Chris's sisters manages a small B&B at Meathop Fell

The wedding filled the hotel, including the cabins but fortunately there was a caravan park within a few hundred yards of the hotel.  We got a lift to Kendal with Chris's best friend (whose name I was always going to remember, but  {poof!} it's gone). 

Chris's best friend, from Sheffield.

I thought she looked amazing; I fell in love with her shawl.   Though Chris and this lady apparently go back a long way, we learned that Chris seemingly makes friends at the drop of a hat and keeps them for years.  How many people do you know who are good friends with the folks they sold their house to? 

Mike and Chris were married in the Kendal Register Office.  This is a second marriage for them both and I've never seen a happier couple.

Like many weddings, it was a veritable fashion show. 

Everyone was decked out in their best frocks and suits except for me, I wore slacks.  Always the odd one out... 

Never mind, I'm American, so what can you expect? 

I love the custom of the speeches at the wedding dinner; one learns so much about the bride and groom! 

Chris's handsome son gave a speech in which he claimed that Mike 'had the patience of a saint'. 

The room where we had dinner was exquisite.

In addition to being a lovely sight to behold, Stephen turned out to be a really gifted speaker and we all had loads of laughs. 

A corner of the cake: made by Chris, decorated by Mike.

Mike followed up with his own speech which was also hilarious. 

Turns out they met through a computerised dating agency.  Mike, who has worked in computing in the past, said he wasn't much impressed with their software:  he asked for a woman who liked books, cars, quiet evenings at home, no children or pets. 

Chris's dress was cream coloured silk with embroidery down
the front, worn with a little chiffon shrug. Beautiful.

What he got was Chris, a major extrovert who loves to cook, drink wine and entertain; with two grown children, two (now one) very large, elderly dogs and a big black cat (black cats are considered good luck in England, by the way).   Mike said his alcohol consumption has definitely increased and he's developed a lot of patience with children and pets.  One can see he's got more than he bargained for, but sometimes that's a very good thing.  He has a rather busy, chaotic (except that Chris is incredibly organised) home life and he seems really content.

Some lovely friends of Michael, our dinner companions.   Her jacket
was hand woven to specification in India.  She asked for peacock colours
and it suits her perfectly.

Bill's other cousin Kathleen and her husband Bobby were keen to see our motor home. 

We've since all met up at Michael's 60th birthday party and they will all be here for Thanksgiving, so in some measure Chris has rather enlivened all our lives. 

The happy couple.  Even the weather was glorious!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Part XV – The Purpose of Parties

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen.  His fourth chapter is Conspicuous Consumption. 

Veblen acknowledges that a great deal of change has occurred over time.  However, he maintains that in the quasi-peaceable period, the gentleman of leisure may no longer just be successful, aggressive, strong and resourceful.  He must cultivate his tastes and develop a nice discrimination in consumable goods:  beverages, trinkets, apparel, architecture, weapons, games, dancers and narcotics.  The cultivation of this aesthetic faculty requires time and application, making it an arduous business to live a life of ‘ostensible leisure in a becoming way.’
Of course, consumption must be done in good form, hence the need for all those good manners we discussed earlier.  High-bred manners conform to the norm of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption.

As a gentleman’s wealth accumulates, he will be unable to sufficiently put his opulence in evidence.  He will need the help of friends and competitors.  They rescue him by receiving valuable gifts and attending expensive feasts and entertainments, such as a potlatch (a new word for me) or a ball.  The competitor – the person whom the gentleman wishes to impress or show up – thus becomes a means to the end by consuming vicariously for his host at the same time he serves to witness the excessive consumption of goods provided by the host, who is also busy demonstrating his facility in etiquette.  Veblen concedes that such festivities probably originated with the motive of congeniality or religious purposes (or to raise money for charity), but maintains that they also serve an invidious purpose.

If all this sounds too cynical to countenance, I recommend the book Fortune's Children:  The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt (by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II). 
In the next post, we’ll consider the utility of wearing uniforms.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Musee Louis Voland

Google Translate doesn't quite accomplish what I wanted, but I'm sure you get the general drift:

Revolution and the years to follow were because of that vast convent of Dominicans who occupied the whole district. From 1840 on grounds cleared, nobles and bourgeois edify spacious mansions. The museum occupies Vouland for its part of the hotel Villeneuve Esclapon, edified in 1885, the most elegant façade overlooks a pleasant garden to the south. 

In 1927 the hotel was bought by a wealthy industrialist power, Louis Vouland, to make his principal residence. This brings enlightened amateur beautiful collection of furniture and objects, privileging the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 

At his death in 1973, following his wills, a museum managed by a foundation bearing his name is installed in his home to make its collections accessible to the public, rare set of decorative arts in the South of France.

This was on a sign outside the Musee Louis Voland.  I can't say I had a huge appreciation for the man's collection but his home was spectacular.  You can see a couple of interior photos at their website.  (Click on the British flag to enter, then on the left, select 'collections').

In addition to the usual collection on display at this museum, there was also an exhibit by the SPH.  I looked at that and thought 'School of Public Health'?  but instead it is Société Protectrice de l'Humour.  Does any other country have a Society for the Protection of Humour?  Apparently they exhibit at the Louis Voland museum every year at the Theatre Festival of Avignon. 

My French wasn't sufficient to interpret most of the cartoons, but I still spent a great deal of time looking at the displays because with a little effort I could understand a fair amount of them.  I came away with the distinct understanding that French humour is largely about politics or sex and is often painfully black; at least it was during the period 1967-1976.  Bill was - as he often is - incredulous that I would find so much of interest there, but I felt I learned a lot about French culture and history.  

Sadly, no photos were allowed in the museum or in the SPH exhibit.

Afterwards, we paused for a rest in the gorgeous garden behind the museum.  It, too, seemed somehow very inspiring.  I kept thinking that if I studied how things were done I might come back and incorporate some ideas to make our house more attractive. 

There are currently some projects underway in preparation for our Thanksgiving Party, but those are another post...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Out to Dinner

The Frugal Scholar recently wrote about going out to eat more often and the risk of being disappointed.  We went to an acclaimed new restaurant down on the Fish Quay for our anniversary (all of two years now) and though Bill was quite happy, I didn't feel it was good value.

The trouble with living frugally is that sometimes when you stick your head out of the tightwad world you get bitten by sticker shock.  I made the mistake of ordering a steak.  It tasted fine, but I thought it was so small that it couldn't justify the £14 price tag. 

Bill started with scampi wrapped in bacon.

I see they have since changed their menu and were we to go again, I'd get the duck; I was disappointed there was none on the menu the night we went. 

My goat's cheese was delicious.

It is more of a fish restaurant as it turns out, which given the location seems natural.

I did like the decor, however, and they did a roaring trade in spite of it being a Thursday night. 

When we came out, the riverside was amazing with all the lights twinkling and the glow of an enormous moon.

Our next night out will be with Vivien and her husband next month.  We're going for a Christmas dinner at a place called Twin Farms.  I'll let you know how it goes!

What is most likely to disappoint you about a meal out?

Friday, 16 November 2012

Part XIV – Unproductive Consumption

This is part of a series discussing The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen.  His fourth chapter is Conspicuous Consumption. 

In my last post I talked about Veblen’s notions of vicarious leisure.  This term applies to the upper class of servants (including wives) whose main job is to be at the ready to provide personal service to the master.  Another part of their duties is the vicarious consumption of goods:  wearing livery, consumption of food, clothing, dwelling and furniture “by the lady and the rest of the domestic establishment.”

One of the earliest rules about conspicuous consumption was about who could do it.  Initially this privilege was assigned simply on the basis of gender:  able-bodied men vs. labouring women.  Men consumed what women produced.  Women’s consumption was to enable their continued labour, not for comfort or pleasure.  Unproductive consumption was a mark of prowess and was required for human dignity; this consumption became honourable in itself, particularly in respect to more choice articles of food or adornment. 

Consumption of these special items were tabu for women, children or servile men.  When the quasi-peaceable stage is reached, the base class should consume only what may be necessary to their subsistence.   This sounds harsh, but consider the standard of living of the poor throughout most of history.  There were even laws in Elizabethan times limiting how sumptuously the working class might dress, thus ensuring that stolen clothes were useless. 

Luxuries in the way of food, drink and drugs belong to the leisure class.  The best example of this ceremonial differentiation is in the use of intoxicating beverages and narcotics.  If they were costly they were felt to be honorific and therefore the base classes, particularly the women, practiced ‘an enforced continence with respect to these stimulants’, except where they were inexpensive.  From archaic times through all the patriarchal regime it has the women’s job to prepare and present these luxuries, and the men’s job men to consume them. 

I remember hearing that among the Anazazi Indians of the southwestern US, the women were the financial managers, but the men were spiritual leaders whose duties involved retiring to a special lodging with other men to take narcotics and commune with the spirits.  On Tish Jett’s blog, she reports that in France, the man pours the wine and it is his decision when or whether a woman’s wine glass is re-filled; it is not appropriate for her to help herself.  Luxuries aside, I remember it was my mother's role to prepare food and my father's to consume it.  I never once saw him wash dishes or prepare a meal for her consumption.  I didn't think a thing of it at the time, except that I didn't want to learn to cook.
Intoxication is considered honorific, the mark of status for those able to afford the indulgence and infirmities resulting from over-indulgence considered manly attributes.  Veblen claims that even certain diseases in the early part of this stage of culture were synonymous with being ‘noble’ or ‘gentle’, though he gives no examples.  The reputability attached to expensive vices outweighs disapproval of over-indulgence by the wealthy.  Whether or not that remains true, it is within recent memory that the same indulgence amongst minors, women or the poor would be heartily disapproved.  Veblen observes that women still (in 1899) practiced traditional continence in respect of stimulants and that this convention was strongest where the patriarchal tradition continued.  The consumption of luxuries is for the pleasure of the consumer and is a mark of the master.  Any such consumption by others can take place only on the basis of sufferance. 

In the next post, we'll talk about the purpose of parties.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ferme la Reboul Cappeau

For all that I pretty much despised our campsite at Avignon,  its proximity to an excellent farm nearly made up for the noisy hotel. 

Only about half a mile away was a little bit of paradise. 

I sent Bill exploring on his bike.

He came back with such lush food and picturesque descriptions that I had to go see for myself.

Initially all I saw was gorgeous fruit and veg, cheeses and sausages - and the lovely dog. 

On our next trip I noticed the farm house, the proprietary cat (is there any other kind?), 

the view of Avignon just over the river.


I decided I didn't just want their produce, I probably wanted their whole life. 

Those are chickens out there beyond that bicycle.

I'm sure it is far more work than I would be prepared to take on at this stage,

but it all looks so appealing, so incredibly ... French.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Skipping Through

Life has been busier than I realised, looking back at my photos and thinking of what I might share.  There are many other textile works to show you but I'm going to put those aside for another time.  My goal now is to blog ahead a bit because I know the next weeks are going to be even more hectic; also, to get caught up with some of the goings-on before the news is months and months old!  None of it is particularly momentous, but just part of my very pleasant life.

After leaving the art gallery we went down to Low Fell, the posh end of Gateshead, to explore.  One of the places Vivien had heard about was a shop called Green Ginger.  It was full of lovely, girly things that were really tempting, only I couldn't quite figure out how they would fit into my decor.  I'm trying to get rid of stuff, not collect more, so we just had an enjoyable half hour admiring the creative ideas.   I've promised myself that once I get the East Wing redecorated I'll go back and find something lovely to put on my wall.

We wondered into a shop that obviously sold used items, but the quality of those items was such that we wondered if it was in fact a charity shop.  It is called Follow Me and is part of Emmaus North East, to do with serving the homeless population. 

The British definition of homeless is different to that in the US; you don't have to be sleeping rough here to be considered homeless.  Emmaus is apparently a Social Enterprise.  I had to admit this isn't a phrase I'd encountered before, but on our next outing we happened onto yet another one in a slightly different guise. 

We left Low Fell and travelled back up to Gosforth.  Vivien wanted to show me Rosie's.  

With that name and specialising in exotic teas, I expect it is rather a feminine place but I did think it hilarious that Vivien's husband didn't think it a suitable place for him to be seen.  Perhaps men just don't appreciate things like real roses and up-cycled church chairs. 

I'm sad that their website doesn't list the incredible varieties of tea they serve because I can't actually remember what we had, other than we split a cookie called 'Orange Polenta' (polenta is Italian for a fine cornmeal).  I want to say that my tea had something to do with rose petals and honey.  I remember Vivien's turned out not to be tea but a tisane made from a South African bush, called Rooibos. 

It was a relaxing way to end our very special day.