Friday, January 25, 2008

One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

When I read the above headline, I knew it referred to me: I am a grump, although a well-read grump. The first picture is taken from a slideshow about Lee Miller in the 1/21/2008 issue of the New Yorker which accompanied a very interesting article but it is not available online. The second picture is Weldon Kees reading in San Francisco.

Little reads of the week:

The days get longer. It was a long time ago.
And I have come to that point in the turning of the path
Where peaks are infinite--horn-shaped and scaly, choked with

But even here, I know our work was worth the cost.
What we have brought to pass, no one can take away.
Life offers up no miracles, unfortunately, and needs assistance.
Nothing will be the same as once it was,
I tell myself.--It's dark here on the peak, and keeps on getting
It seems I am experiencing a kind of ecstasy.
Was it sunlight on the waves that day? The night comes down.
And now the water seems remote, unreal, and perhaps it is.
-Weldon Kees A Distance From The Sea

By all accounts, Balenciaga -- severe, uncompromising, taciturn -- is couture's Soup Nazi. As his friend and Vogue's fashion editor, the high-born and high-minded Bettina Ballard, wrote, "His life is his work...It rarely seems to give him a sense of fulfillment, as it never reaches the perfection he desires. Balenciaga's art emerged from his sympathy with women. He knew, for instance, that he had three generations of women to dress, and so always had some older models. Ernestine Carter, fashion editor of The Times of London, was spot-on in her evocation of his favorite model and the muse for many of his early masterpieces, the notoriously unpleasant Colette (not the writer): "her Dracula walk, her big head low like a bull ready to charge, her shoulders hunched down,...and a look of almost violent hatred on her face." She wouldn't have fit in at the House of Dior, where woman was ornament, but she was extremely useful to Balenciaga's customers: "Any woman could wear Colette's clothes -- one of those tricks of proportion."

From the Persian Gulf to the Arctic Circle, Weiner discovers that happiness blooms where we least expect it. Who knew that the long, dark Icelandic winter gives rise to a magical, communal culture that has done away with envy and sobriety? Or that the Thais so prize "fun" that their government has created a Gross Domestic Happiness Index to ensure they get enough of it? Or that Moldovans are miserable because they "derive more pleasure from their neighbor's failure than their own success"? Or that the wealthy citizens of Qatar lead pampered, joyless lives in a "gilded sandbox" while the poor citizens of Bhutan are cheerfully obsessed with archery tournaments, penis statues and feeding marijuana to their fat (and presumably happy) pigs?