true beauty is curved, indeed

I just saw this ad in a magazine and noticed the tagline: true beauty is curved. I fully concur, since I possess ample curves myself (unfortunately, I have them in both the right and the wrong places). But it annoys me that they’d profess such a statement, and then pick a model with as little curves as they can get away with.

Beauty might lie in curves. If it does, I bet it lies in real ones, not just the ability to suck in your stomach, point your toes, and have every line of your body slimmed down through Photoshop. Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

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on the side effects of heating up and cooling down

Rendering of Sauna at Highgrove

I usually stay on the bottom bench. Sometimes, when I'm feeling really brave (and it's a sauna with dry heat), I'll venture up to the second bench. The third one (not pictured here) is always off-limits though - I wouldn't survive that for five minutes, much less fifteen. (Image via Wikipedia)

I went to the sauna this week. It was heavenly. Imagine heating up in one of the many kinds of saunas available, then stepping out into the snow to cool off, before braving the cold shower and/or the plunge pool. Lovely, quite lovely.

Besides all the health benefits the sauna provides, and the fact that it forces me to relax, I also like it for another reason. This particular sauna facility was mixed-gender, nudity-compulsory (as Wikipedia so convincingly puts it), and although it felt strange, the first time, to disrobe in a co-ed changing room, then sit in a sauna next to both men and women, it soon became natural. You kind of forget that you don’t have any clothes on. (Though I think this only works when you don’t run into an unexpected colleague or classmate or neighbor. For some reason it’s totally fine that strangers see you naked, but it would be very awkward to meet a teacher, for instance. Luckily that hasn’t happened to me yet. That would quite ruin the experience.)

What a visit to the sauna teaches me, every time, is that nobody’s body is perfect. Even the thin girls have something of a belly, a little bit of fat that clothes can conceal but suddenly become visible there. Without bras, breasts sag. Without clothes, lumps appear, and spots, and cellulite. And in the context of the sauna, it seems quite natural and not ugly in the slightest. Bodies aren’t meant to be chiseled out of stone – they’re meant to be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Something I tend to forget under the influence of tv and magazines and ads and my own lack of self-confidence where my body is concerned. I have to say, it felt good to stop obsessing about which clothes make me look fat(ter) and just relax, since I couldn’t hide anything anyway. Even better, I stopped feeling the need to have to hide anything. Lovely, quite lovely, as well.

In this particular sauna, kids 12 and up are welcome. I’d probably take my daughter, if I have one. I think it would be good for her to see what bodies actually look like. It might teach her to be at home in her own – a lesson you can’t start learning early enough. It might save her quite a bit of heartbreak and angst during her teenage years…at the very least, she’ll enjoy the beneficial effects of a visit to the sauna, which, incidentally, include gorgeous hair. My hair was suddenly soft and curly. It’s really too bad that the sauna makes me too tired to actually do anything the rest of the night – I would have quite liked showing that off.

on the inadvisibility of fairy tale romances

I watched about five minutes of The Bachelor tonight, until I couldn’t take it anymore. (Lest you think I regularly watch dating-type reality shows, I was half-watching The Little Couple, which is followed by The Bachelor.) In those five minutes, women talked about the amazing dates they had been on with the current bachelor, dates that ranged from a private concert with fireworks to follow, to a walk on a private beach at sunset, to time spent on a yacht. One woman said it was so romantic, she felt like a fairy-tale princess.

no castles for me. A regular house will be just fine.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve never wanted to be a princess. I was too much of a tomboy growing up to ever grow my hair long enough to be Rapunzel. And you can bet I wouldn’t get locked up in a tower like Cinderella (although talking mice would be cool). I’ve grown into my femininity, learned to love dressing up and feeling pretty and applying makeup. But I enjoy those days spent in jeans and a sweater with only a touch of mascara too much to want to wear dresses and heels all the time. For Pete’s sake, I can’t even get myself to wear contacts part of the time, relying on my glasses even though supposedly ‘guys don’t make passes at girls that wear glasses’. What I mean is that I’m much too practical to want to take part in a fairy tale. (Or it could all just be a defense mechanism. I bet my therapist would have something to say about this. Which is precisely why I won’t ask her.)

Anyway, this aversion to fairy tale transplants into real life is why those dates didn’t seem all that romantic to me. Romance, for me, is not all violins and roses. It’s my boyfriend keeping pace with me run after run, encouraging me to keep going and walking with me when I can’t, even when he can easily outrun me twice over. It’s standing in the kitchen together, making pumpkin lattes and tasting in tandem whether it needs a touch more of various spices before it’s perfect. It’s planning a day trip somewhere and hearing him say how much he’s looking forward to spending the day with me wandering through an unfamiliar city. It’s him watching the Wizard of Oz with me and my sister even though he hates musicals. Romance lies in the small things, not in the big gestures. The candles, the wine, the sunset or helicopter ride or fine jewelry, that’s all just outer trappings. Fine (and fun) for a night, but it’s not love. Not to me at least. And I’m glad I’ve found a guy that feels the same way.

Even if it does mean I’ll have to live my life without having a star named after me. I bet you can imagine my disappointment.

unexpected silence

This week, on a random Tuesday afternoon, I was in Amsterdam. After I had visited a museum and a bookstore (I’ll be posting about both things later on), I walked through Amsterdam’s generic shopping street, the Kalverstraat. And I noticed something I never had before: there’s a church smack dab in the middle of it. It’s called the Papegaai Kerk (the Parrot Church), and it’s beautiful. I only noticed it because there was a sign outside stating “Fifteen Minutes for God”. They do old-fashioned Latin masses on Sundays and everyday masses the rest of the week. And there are hundreds of small candles burning inside to add the feeling of being on holy ground you immediately get when you walk into such a hushed, contemplative space, especially when you just spent the last half hour shopping. Consumerism and religion: it’s a heady mix.

I didn’t stay for fifteen minutes, just long enough to add my candle to the light and say a quick prayer of thankfulness that I could experience this silence in the middle of the city. This picture really doesn’t do it justice: it was dark inside, the stained glass windows were lit, and people were praying in the pews. I’ve already mentioned the devotional candles; they were gorgeous and twinkly and a very physical reminder of community and my need to seek God in sacred spaces.

I could never be Catholic. I’m too rebellious for that, and frankly, transubstantiation is too much for me. (Objective presence in the Eucharist is more than I can deal with, sometimes.) But I do love how Catholic churches tend to be more than spaces to meet, and I make it a habit to light candles and ask for blessings for myself and those around me and say thanksgiving prayers in the churches I come across.

I may not need realis presentia, but I do need that very visible reminder of God that a lighted candle in a church gives me. And I had never expected to get it in the same street that holds three H&Ms.

quick hit on travel

Two things relating to airplane travel from my flight Amsterdam – Newark and Newark – Washington DC:

-first of all, it’s weird to sit next to someone for eight hours straight in cramped quarters without even exchanging names. Although I don’t think the guy next to me spoke any languages I speak (admittedly, that are only two) so it’s not like communication would have been possible in the first place.

-the second flight took place on a tiny plane that seated only 25 passengers, and one yapping dog in a pressurized cabin in back. The women in my aisle had been on the same flight earlier from Israel, and I noticed something: they looked vaguely Jewish, but mostly American. It’s this quality of effortless optimism and selfconfidence – optimism and selfconfidence perhaps born from the sense of American exceptionalism instilled in them from birth. But whatever it is, it’s especially noticeable in girls – and I don’t have it. (in case you haven’t noticed, I’m more the semi-awkward cynical type.) It would be interesting to know if I used to have the kid-sized version or if my Dutch genes have always prevailed..I should ask my parents sometime.

More observations may follow later…

i’ve been analyzing culture for too long

Just now, Comedy Central was showing Driving Miss Daisy (from 1989). It’s a lovely movie in its own way, even to modern standards, but I couldn’t lose myself in it. Not because the acting was bad, or the plot was superficial, or the dialogue sounded scripted. But because I couldn’t get my brain to stop focusing on all kinds of themes and motifs central to the film, the most important one being the reason why it focused on the relationship between a Jewish lady and her black driver (I can offer you several reasons at first glance, the most obvious one being that Jews and blacks are both known for their outsider position in American society). I found myself reaching for an imaginary pad of paper and a pen every three minutes to jot down notes on all the symbols and otherwise significant events I could see on the screen, as if I was going to write a paper on it any day now. (As a side note, it’s too bad I’m not. This would make a wonderful counterpart to a paper I once wrote on black-Jewish relations in The Human Stain by Philip Roth for my Jewish-American Fiction class. And yes, I can remember most of the topics I wrote papers on. I’m sorry. I just really liked doing them all.)

I guess this proves I really earned my MA degree. And I wonder what I’m going to do now that I can’t channel my creative energy into academic papers. Probably make all of you sit through my every thought on American culture..

because here at EAT.SLEEP.READ.LOVE., we aim to please.

(ourselves, if no one else.)