Max's Blog

How Pop Culture Leads and Misleads

Month: March, 2011

Purple Shell Training Bra

I really liked this cover (turns out I’ll take Rihanna with dyed red hair over Gaga in a tired bobbed wig any day) until I noticed the resemblence to a certain flippered Disney princess. Now, it’s all I can see.

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So How Was India?

Oh my God, I’m such a tease. I acted like I was about to post everything about my trip and then disappeared for three weeks. My apologies. You see, what had happened was that I started writing about New Delhi (twice, actually) and bogged down in the second paragraph both times, unable to go on. I had wanted to write chronologically, creating impressions for you, the reader, of all the different places we went, cities many of which I had not heard of before our trip.

But it all became too daunting. And I was working on my WORN article. And some other excuses, but they stop now. Having caught a cold after some intense days working out at the Y and a fabulous birthday (cake from the WORN girls; surprise decorated living room; the first Szechwan Chinese food we’ve tried since Peter’s mournful closing). So, curled up on the couch amidst a pile of crumpled Kleenexes, with my laptop keeping me warm like a snoozing kitten, updating my blog is unavoidable.

Well, I have some internships to apply for…

No. No more excuses.

“So how was India?” friends ask when I see them for the first time.

“Great,” I say. “Really great.” What else can one say?  

My friend Alyssa caught the right drift when she asked me increasingly-specific questions, knowing that answers would lead to different stories like branches on a tree.

But many of you don’t even know the basics of my trip, so I will start there.

Dervla and I went on an Intrepid tour of Northern India. There were sixteen of us (we eventually settled on the somewhat-lame nickname ‘the Sweet Sixteen’). The group was comprised of Aussies, Kiwis, a few Brits with us as the only North Americans. We were surrounded by people for whom Queen Victoria’s manner of speaking had left a greater legacy on their tongues than on our own.

Our tour leader was a young Indian man named Kuldeep, which means ‘the light of home’ he told us during our orientation meeting in the chilly basement of our hotel in Delhi. He was charming and Bollywood handsome, with a broad, bright smile, but with an accent which sometimes reminded me of the aliens in ‘Galaxy Quest’.

Intrepid took care of transportation and accommodation, and Kuldeep personally was in charge of getting us from the one to the other. Usually this meant coming around on the train to warn us when our stop was coming up (on night trains, we would be groggy and a bit cranky, especially if we hadn’t been able to buy a five-rupee cup of chai yet), leading us through the station, and making us huddle by the side of the road while he sorted through the crowd of drivers who surrounded him, recognizing a tour leader of a bunch of cash-dispensing white people. He’d miraculously  arrange six tuk-tuks (auto-rickshaws) to take us to our hotel. Often when speaking to other Indians, Kuldeep’s smile would disappear and he would become all business.

With the tour we went to New Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Jaipur, Bharatpur, Agra, Varanasi and Kolkata. We rode trains, buses, taxis, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, paddle boats and camels. Der and I left the tour in Kolkata and flew to the South, staying in Kerala, Goa and ending our trip in Mumbai. I feel like the old lady in ‘Titanic’, presented with the computer animated retelling of the ship’s sinking boiled down to essentials, informing the men “The actual experience was quite different.”

Here are some pictures of New Delhi.

 

Liz

Despite my penchant (a nicer way of saying nerdy obsession) for Hollywood’s Golden Age, I was not a huge fan of Elizabeth Taylor. Partly it comes from my admitted prejudice against the so-called great beauties. I prefer the actresses with interesting faces bursting with talent. Who prefers Grace Kelly’s bored-uppercrust movements to Bette Davis’s idiosyncratic twitching. Who needs Lana Turner’s dead eyes when you could be watching Judy Garland’s luminous ones?

That Liz was beautiful is undeniable, as was her luckiness in growing from a cute child actor to glamorous leading lady (a transformation many child starlets struggle with). If you can look past her famously ‘violet’ eyes to notice her short stature and soft jaw line (no jutting Gwyneth Paltrow/Keira Knightly chin here) you might consider that she may not have been considered one of the most beautiful women in the world during our era of photoshop and fashion endorsements.

I mostly know her work from films in which she was overshadowed by method-acting (and closetedly queer) leading men like Montgomery Clift (in A Place in the Sun and Suddenly, Last Summer) and James Dean (in Giant).  Giant also stared Rock Hudson, who became a close friend.

I don’t think she was a particularly good actress. Her voice, despite being born in England, was weak and a bit nasal. Although one of my favourite things she did was with her voice in two very brief cameos on The Simspons: one lampooning her star persona (after her security guard informs her of kicking out Bart and Lisa, Liz says “Good” and goes back to polishing her Oscar) and the other time as the voice of baby Maggie uttering her first words.

Then there’s Cleopatra, the film that almost broke 20th Century Fox, symbolically ended the studio era and enshrined Liz as an iconic queen of a completely different sort than the one she was playing. Despite the fabulous sequined costumes and technicolour eye shadow, despite the insane sets and thousands of extras, Cleopatra is so long, poorly-paced and dull it can’t even be rescued for its camp potential.

As multiple reporters have written today, Liz Taylor was a transitional figure. She became a star during the last hurrah of Old Hollywood, when the studios still maintained strict control over stars’ careers and public personas, but by the time of her affair with Eddie Fisher, who left good girl Debbie Reynolds for her, and her dropping him for Richard Burton, everyone knew everything about the stars’ private lives. The Burton affair was so talked about that, while filming Cleopatra in Italy, the Vatican denounced her and a United States congressman toyed with the idea of banning her from re-entering the country due to her ‘immorality’.

But, like Angelina Jolie (an actress she shared many similarities to) she repaired her image through charity work and interesting roles, the best one being the boozey, shrill but oddly sympathetic Martha in that dark funhouse mirror of ‘American Gothic’ matrimony, Who’s Afraid of Viginia Woolf?

 When her close friend Rock Hudson died of AIDS in 1984, not only outing him as gay but giving a recognizable face to a disease many still knew nothing about, Liz helped found the American Foundation for AIDS Research, later becoming their National Chair. In 2006, she donated $40,000 dollars for a van specifically to service the AIDS-afflicted and HIV-positive residents of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Like Audrey Hepburn and her humanitarian work, Elizabethan Taylor demonstrated that the most beautiful thing to do with a beautiful face is do what you can to help people.