We sneak in at the very end for what we loved in May.
I recently rewatched Cabaret (1972), and it was a really good decision. I first saw it at age twelve and again in my teens, but it’s easily been a decade since I watched the film. I loved it even more than I did ten years ago, possibly due to the fascination with Weimar Germany that I nursed throughout college. A lot of movie musicals age terribly but Cabaret remains exciting due to the brilliant use of diegetic music, the dark and stylized costume and set design, and the poignant yet energetic performance of Liza Minelli. The movie is so enticing that you only notice how bleak and chilling it is until the breathtaking spectacle ends.
Please enjoy the opening number:
Our very own Maddy mailed me a copy of Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey in the winter, but I only got around to reading it in the last two weeks. I finished it a few days ago, and I’m still pretty speechless. Nobody Is Ever Missing reminds me a lot of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays. The reasons for that are hard to articulate, though they share a violently disaffected female narrator, which sets the tenor of both books. One of the most wonderfully unsettling things about reading it was narrator Elyria’s idea of her “wildebeest,” a dark and unsettled presence inside her. The notion puts words to something that I am beginning to suspect is present in most women.
I’ve had two lovely cocktails with Pimm’s No. 1 this May. One of these cocktails was an exceptionally gingery and cucumbery Pimm’s Cup. I don’t need to discuss it, except to say that it convinced me to invest in a bottle – even after an astounding number of mediocre Pimm’s cocktails. The other cocktail was a punch called “God Save the Queen” that was dreamed up and served at the incomparable Jimgermanbar in Waitsburg, WA. I had two cups of it on my birthday, and I can’t stop thinking about it! The punch was composed of black tea, gin, simple syrup, citrus juice and peel, cucumber, and Pimm’s, garnished with lovage and pomegranate seeds. I haven’t yet experimented with making my own version, but I do have huge lovage bush in the yard and cocktail-making always seems like a worthy summer project.
1. Mul naengmyeon was my last “scared to try” Korean food, which is weird considering how tame it is even from a non-Korean perspective. Something about the concept of tart, icy beef soup, esophagus-searing gyeoja (Korean mustard) and buckwheat noodles seemed like I wasn’t going to like it. Maybe it was just the word “buckwheat”. I tried it for the first time last summer at Hwang Kum in Montreal, and I’ve been obsessed ever since, even more now that the weather in Canada is finally appropriate for it again. Of course, the weather doesn’t matter — I even ordered this in the winter once. (My mom: “And they let you?!”)
2. Contouring my cheeks. Over the past month I’ve devoured four out of seven seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and it’s finally turned me on to the idea of contouring makeup. Not the careful Sephora-presented shapes tailored to my generic face shape; I tried that for a bit (I think I’m a square), but then I realized that I didn’t want to use it to look normal, but to look abnormal. Lately I’ve enjoyed taking a break during work to draw on some giant sunken cheeks and blend them in. On the recommendation of the internet, I use a CoverGirl TruBlend FixStick in D1-4. It’s not really dark enough, certainly not enough for the dramatic shadowing used by the queens of Drag Race, and if I get into this enough I might switch to powder or something more professional, but for now it’s like drawing with a very soft crayon, and it feels soothing for both my face and for any nervous tension I may have built up during the work day.
3. James St. James’s “Transformation” videos, another gift to me via Drag Race. My mom always used the expression “putting on my face” for putting on makeup to go outside, and this is what the “Transformation” videos are about, too, only in a more literal way. Each video opens with James St. James greeting the viewer: “Welcome to my face!” Hairless and pasty, with an angled bone structure underneath, his head is basically a dummy’s head, the ideal blank surface for the drag queens and makeup artists that come by to do him up; that said, the whiteness-as-default of his face is deemphasized in the videos in favour of the democratic magic of makeup. He’s been made into Divine, Jessica Rabbit, and an evil scarecrow, but my favourite videos are when drag queens come by and do their own signature makeup on him, like Bianca Del Rio and her “40 pairs of eyelashes”. James St. James is also a charming interviewer, and the conversations he has with each guest are as nice to listen to as the transformations are amazing to watch.
Last weekend I was in Kingston, Ontario to dogsit a very particular dog. Though at his beck and call for his various needs, we did briefly go out on Sunday to Kingston’s antique fair. The military stuff wasn’t really my jam (and I don’t know why I was surprised to see it there) but I did manage to find one of my best postcard hauls in a while. I never want to spend too much (my rule is that the postage should cost more than the card unless the card is amazing) so finding so many for so little was exactly what I needed. The man at the booth asked what kinds of postcards I collected, and realizing that the inside of churches, blues and greens, and rocks were too weird an answer, I mumbled something about a certain kind of technicolor, where they almost bleed into each other. I get a lot of slack from friends about sending postcards from places I haven’t been, but I picked up a bunch of Scenic Northern Ontario ones, which I’d not only been to, but was pretty perturbed to find on a postcard. Hopefully my parents appreciate those, and everyone else likes pictures of trees.
On that same weekend I read Jane Unrue’s Love Hotel. I give things the term “favourite” when they’re something I wish I’d made, but also makes me want to create. Unrue’s book felt like something pulled out of a long forgotten nightmare that’s been chewing on the edges of me for years. The book has a few vague plots, searching for someone missing, investigating a hotel, piecing together what happens, but each one is undermined and tangled up in each other. A bit like House of Leaves, the sparse text and use of spacing on each page reflects what is happening to the characters, causing the reader to read the book as if they too were fleeing through these hallways. Unrue’s book has sunk into me and I’m trying to think of the best way I can honour it.
A few weeks before dogsitting I read The Place of Scraps by Jordan Abel which was brilliant & devastating. Erasure poetry is a field that is often a better concept than practice, but Abel knows exactly what he’s doing. Mixing personal history and Marius Barbeau’s writings on Nisga’a Nation, of which Abel is a descendant of, Abel weaves together the burden of a history placed on a people, and the difficulty of building from it. The history of First Nations since colonization has been a genocide, and Abel’s work takes the personal in contrast to the ethnographic, and all that remains are empty spaces. Abel turns Barbeau’s ethnography into a kind of violence, whose only result are the spaces where the people once were, and a totem pole on the wrong side of the country.