Que Valiente Without Proof

This isn’t a street style blog at all.

In fact, I’m only going to post one, kinda lame, picture from my kitchen floor.  It’s of the skirt I wore today. It’s a Martha Sleeper fiesta skirt I bought in Santa Fe, New Mexico at Doubletake.

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That’s a frog motif!!

But little back story first:

Last month, I was with my mom and my sister outside Colette in Paris. It’s a cool, concept store but it’s such a scene and way too packed. (I did convince my mom to get some expensive, fancy perfume there. ;-))  We were just getting finished taking a selfie outside when I looked across the street and there was Mr. Scott Schulman from the Sartorialist leaning against a building with his camera, waiting for someone to catch his discerning eye. I’m totally starstruck when I see even a D-list celebrity and, ironically, Mr. Schulman actually makes his living photographing others. Of course, only I knew who he was, but it was still exciting for me. I wasn’t quite ready for my street style debut in late January as a tourist: big, black, puffy coat (but with a vintage Dries skirt underneath to redeem it all!) with worn, black boots, and a reasonable, pilled, vinyl bag with a hand sewn strap. I made us unnecessarily cross the street and walk right past him so maybe he caught a glimpse of how cool I was and how cute the three of us were together in Paris after 35 years. (We reenacted a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower!) Well, we weren’t cool/distinct/blog-worthy enough because he didn’t stop and ask, but I imagine if he did it would be out of concern and go something like: “Can I take your picture? You look so tired and average. Have you had any l’eau?”

But now today, in Madrid, I was walking down the street and a senior gentleman with just a cane was walking toward me. As I passed him he stopped me and excitedly said something along the lines of, “What you’re wearing is a very traditional look! ¡Que valiente!!”  I smiled and spun around for him and asked if he liked it. He said yes and nodded his head emphatically. Then I said thank you and went on my way.

I’m a total sucker for sartorial affirmation especially from random, non-fashiony strangers. I asked around and got several translations of “que valiente”  but it seems best to translate to “so brave” or “very bold.”

As it should be. Right?

I think being called brave is a lovely compliment and it’s something I needed to hear these days. Being brave has much more to do with a mentality and taking a risk and going ahead even if you’re not sure.  Admittedly, I was ready for some stares but I didn’t think it was necessarily brave. (Have you met Michele Lamy?)  I knew people would look at me like I was weird but that’s fine since I’m a tall, pale guiri anyway.    

So, gracias señor por sus comentarios.  You made me rethink the possibilities of fashion and I hope you’re not reading this and you don’t care at all. (But I would totally read your blog if you had one.)


El Rastro or What’s All the Fuss About?

I’m obsessed with finding things that I can only get in a single solitary place. It makes me angry when I go all the way to a boutique in another country and they tell me at the register (after paying) that they ship to US.  I’m not necessarily looking for superior quality, or something beautiful.  I just want to be awarded for the effort with exclusivity and authenticism.

So I started my Spanish shopping investigations at the very beginning with El Rastro, the main flea market in Madrid.  It’s cheap, democratic, unrefined, and it’s likely to have artisan designs that I hoped reflected something of what’s going on in the city.

Show me something I can't get online.

After walking up the old hill through a hailstorm (come on, Madrid!), and passing standard flea market merchandise (army surplus, polyester flamenco costumes, kitchen supplies, leather goods, deadhead fashions), I found my first forjador de metal. Señor Manuel Manceras creates cool, one-of-a-kind hair thingies and doodads.  So I got two.  He doesn’t have a website and he’s not on Etsy. You gotta go through a hailstorm to see him.

Manuel manceras
Manuel Manceras called me “una reina.”

Like most flea markets, haggling is part of the process. (NO. PLEASE LORD, DON’T MAKE THE AMERICAN LADY TALK TO PEOPLE WHEN SHE SHOPS.) I was bracing myself for this, but instead I heard and saw very little haggling (and therefore relinquished myself from the task.)  What I did hear a lot of was vendors shouting their hottest deal.  In particular this lady:

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Selfie stick deal of the century.

As awful as it is, I was charmed to see the “Curlz” typeface represented.  In a sea of white tents, most had no signage or distinguishing visual expression. I thought a lot about Margaret Kilgallen and how she said, “Always see the line waver.  That’s where the beauty is.”  I want to see more ad hoc marketing.  I’ll have to go back and look closer.

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Passionate typographers look away!

Another place that stood out to me was “Vintage.”  There were two booths and all they sold were second hand librarian blouses from the seventies.  I thought it was really peculiar that their entire merchandising assortment consisted of such a specific and not-so-classic item and that they had so damn many of them.  This spoke to my exclusivity and authenticism needs so I bought a black and white one.  I wonder if this was the unofficial uniform of Spanish working women in the seventies?  I’m also wondering if older Spanish ladies will look at me and think they’re seeing a ghost?  Will their daughters and sons say I look like their 3rd grade teacher?  Is this something that no one will be caught dead in except an ironically dressed hipster?

Old lady Vintage
“Card Catalog Chic”

At first I was turned off by the messy piles of clothing but then I remembered what the second week of January in H & M in Paris looks like.  Just a different customer.

Who remembers Filene’s Basement?

I saw an African-made leather bag that I wanted and would have easily just paid for.  In a cringeworthy moment, I acted like a hard sell and walked away after the vendor told me the price.  When I sheepishly came back to get it half an hour later, he either didn’t remember or didn’t care (didn’t care) and I gave him the 28 euros and now I have a bag. There’s some fashion communication for you.

My big brave purchase.
My big brave purchase.

It’s refreshing to go to a normal flea market especially after the authoritarian style Les Puces has adopted. Here, you can actually take pictures, get a silly, 10 euro shirt with dogs on it, smell the incense and recreational aromas, and not make such a big fuss out of everything.  Sounds very Spanish to me.

Scary Flamenco girl.
Dangling Flamenco Chica.

And Away We Go

Well, that was hard.  And it’s likely just one of many hard things that I’ll be doing in the next few months.  This man here just set me up like a queen though.  Here, he’s rearranging the dishes in a more sensible way.  Now, he’s far away.  That’s all I’ll say about that.

That's not where you put plates.
“That’s not where you put plates.”

I won’t give you the whole story now but here’s the quick and dirty version: I was in Paris for the month of January as a co-director of a study abroad trip.  That’s done.  Now, I’m in Madrid, Spain for four months because I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship.  I’m a very lucky gal.  I’m sorting things out still.  Namely, how to reframe my beloved blog.  Is this about teaching? Fashion? Spain? Does it matter?

Well, I’m no Rick Steves.  I won’t tell you where to get a churro or why a plaza is named what it is.  I will tell you about fashion and Spain and the sensory things though.  It’s my duty now.  I’m here to research and lecture on fashion and communication these days. One way I like to examine communication is through the five senses so that’s what I’ll do here.

Spain smells good.  Like laundry detergent from long ago when it was okay that it was scented. And that smell is mixed with a neutral, cologne-y smell that I’m guessing CK One was inspired by. There’s fair amount of unapologetic smoking but I get just a whiff here and there and it reminds me of my rebellious days.

Just your average store brand washing detergent mixed with….
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Alvarez Gomez “Agua de Colonia Concentrada” Eau de Cologne

I have “crappy” (you’ll get it in a second) internet but the landlady and I are working on it.  Until then, the bathroom has the best connection so I get a whole new olfactory experience from the old plumbing when I’m checking emails.

Not so great smells.
Not so great smells.

No surprise here but Madrid is yellow to me. All shades of yellow.  From the canary yellow on the flag to a buttery yellow to gold leafed wrought iron.  It’s everywhere.  The buildings are short by American standards but seem to stand up straighter, pose proudly.  They’re all punctuated with a sculpture or spire on top and seem to say, “I am here!” In Paris, they wind around and are creamy and white to me and say “I don’t need you.” In Rome, they have nooks and crannies and are extremes of gray and white and seem to say “Screw you”.

See. Told you.
See. Told you. (Photo collage by me.)

This is stretch in terms of touch, but this is a clever foot thing to open the door to my building.

Sin manos!
Sin manos!

This is the best tasting bubbly water I’ve ever had.  It’s like the bottle is tainted with briny vermouth.

I chug this stuff.
I chug this stuff.

They do have ice.  It’s perfect and it’s shaped like jumbo marshmallows. It comes like this:

Eggs for scale.
Eggs for scale. Isn’t the bedspread cute?

Ham. Ham is plentiful. Yes. Tapas. We all know tapas. Will discuss later.

The old radiators in my apartment are workhorses and have been painted 42,000 times.  I takes a special house call with a special wrench to turn the knob.  (“Either on or off, Señora!!”)  So, I’m a little warm. I’ll figure it out after I figure out everything else.

No clanging though.
No clanging though.

So, sounds.  I love the word “bricolaje.” It sounds just like what it is: a store with household stuff in it. 

It has yellow too.
It has yellow too.

I haven’t witnessed the oft-spoken of lively 10 o’clock dinners yet.  It’s pretty damn quiet here.  I only hear a distant phone ringing or murmuring of Spanish TV or plates being stacked.  The buzzer to my apartment gives me a heart attack though. It sounds like a big, mean bumblebee coughing. 

I'll imitate it for you when I see you again.
I’ll imitate it for you when I see you again.

That’s it for the standard senses.  I’ll have to be here a while longer to get an idea of non-traditional senses and ESP.  There’s a lot to experience and share.  Aside from the gentleman in the first picture, there are many people to thank for their support and encouragement.  I didn’t get here alone and I truly appreciate the advice, positivity, and for shoveling the sidewalk.  I hope to see you soon.  Until then, abrazos!!! xoxoxoxo






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