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Archive for the ‘History’

Fashion in literature: When Proust is your advertisement

March 30, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Clothing, History No Comments →

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Photographs by Pari Dukovic

A number of years ago, a young painting conservator entered a forgotten storeroom in a fifteenth-century Florentine villa and stumbled on a pile of Louis Vuitton steamer trunks. She opened them and discovered a collection of exquisite dresses, the kind usually seen only in movies, or inside protective vitrines in museums. Closer inspection revealed silk labels, hand-woven with the name “Callot Soeurs.”

In the second volume of “Remembrance of Things Past,” the Narrator asks his beloved, Albertine, “Is there a vast difference between a Callot dress and one from any ordinary shop?” Her response: “Why, an enormous difference, my little man!”

A “Callot dress” is one that was made by the Paris haute-couture house Callot Soeurs—Callot Sisters. The sisters are not much remembered now: there has been no monograph on their work, and no retrospective. Yet, not long after Callot Soeurs opened their atelier, in 1895, they became one of the great names in Belle Époque fashion. Madeleine Vionnet, one of the most influential and radical designers of the twentieth century, was the sisters’ head seamstress. She ranked them higher than the self-proclaimed King of Fashion, Paul Poiret. “Without the example of the Callot Soeurs,” Vionnet said, “I would have continued to make Fords. It is because of them that I have been able to make Rolls-Royces.”

Read 21 Dresses in the New Yorker.

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The exact quote from Proust:

proust on callot

Neal Stephenson’s comic book Cimarronin is set in 17th century Manila

March 23, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, History 2 Comments →

Cimarronin: A Samurai in New Spain

A disgraced outcast samurai living in early seventeenth-century Manila, Kitazume is contemplating ritual suicide when a divine force (of a sort) intervenes: Luis, a rogue Jesuit priest and Kitazume’s longtime friend. At Luis’s insistence, the samurai agrees to help smuggle a Manchu princess to Mexico. But little does he know that he’s really been dragged into an epic struggle for power.

Several forces have their malicious sights set on the New World’s rich silver mines: an insurgent Spanish duke, Chinese political interests, and the escaped African slaves known as the cimarrónes. And working in secret among them is a mysterious, long-lost order that has its own plans for the precious metal.

As politics and greed collide, Kitazume must call upon his deadly skills once more. But he’s not just fighting to save his friends–he’s fighting for the redemption he so desperately craves.

Neal Stephenson’s brilliant novel Cryptonomicon is set partly in the Philippines.

Thanks to Budjette for the alert.

The name of the biscuit

March 17, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Food, History 1 Comment →

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Blue Kitchen was all out of Arrowroot (a.k.a. uraro) cookies. We were a little relieved, because once we start eating them we cannot stop. For snacking carbs, we bought a bag of thin square biscuits called Jacobina. They were a childhood merienda treat, like otap or rosquillos, but we never knew they were called jacobina. We just referred to them as biscuits.

Why are these biscuits called Jacobina? Jacobina, like Jacobin. What did they have to do with the Jacobins, Robespierre, the Terror which followed the French Revolution? Is it because they resemble blades and remind people of guillotines? The jacobina we bought are the exact size of a razor blade. Or were they simply named after a person?

So we asked a historian where Jacobina biscuits got their name. After all, he’s written about local bakeries and we always have a giggle over the bread known as pampam. He was no help at all: he said maybe they had something to do with Jacob’s crackers. But that’s probably why he’s a historian and we write fiction.

Belatedly it occurred to us to google, although we think one should always figure out an answer first before going to the Internet. We learned that Jacobina is a trademark of a bakery in Cavite (so we should’ve asked Ige). Their website doesn’t explain the name, either. For now we will eat our biscuits and imagine the screams of the aristocracy losing their heads.

Vikings: The domestic lives of ancient marauders

February 18, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Television No Comments →

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Photo from the History Channel

Vikings is a production of the History Channel, so we’re inclined to think that this series about the rise of the legendary chief Ragnar Lothbrok is concerned with historical accuracy and authenticity. On the other hand its creator and showrunner is Michael Hirst, whose previous projects The Tudors and The Borgias can hardly be accused of accuracy. The court of King Henry VIII may have been as sexy as depicted in The Tudors, but the famed portrait by Hans Holbein shows that the monarch’s calves were larger than the waist of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who portrayed Henry.

Read our TV column The Binge at BusinessWorld.

Every movie we see #10-13: Whiplash is thrilling and Selma should be Best Picture

January 24, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Movies No Comments →

10. Blackhat by Michael Mann. Many filmmakers have taken a crack at making the writing and execution of computer code look thrilling. A bunch of people typing does not make for compelling cinema, unless you Matrix it. Michael Mann tries to liven up proceedings by showing a visual representation of information flowing, which doesn’t work for us, and by casting People’s Sexiest Man Alive as a genius hacker and surrounding him with hot Chinese actors (Leehom Wang from Lust, Caution, Andy On, Archie Kao of CSI), which does. Whenever we heard ourself thinking, “Chris Hemsworth as a computer genius??” Hemsworth would take off his shirt or something and we would forget our reservations. Yeah, parts of the movie are slow—they’re meant to be slow. Michael Mann will not change his pace to suit your attention span.

Blackhat is terrific, a moody thriller set in the new Wild West: the digital frontier, which laughs at national borders. With Viola Davis and Tang Wei, star of Lust, Caution.

If you liked Miami Vice with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, which we find woefully misunderstood, you’ll love Blackhat. By the way, every Michael Mann movie is about manhood. Deal with it.

11. Selma by Ava DuVernay. In truth we expected to sleep through it. Movies about important historical moments usually feel like a duty, with their tendency to canonize their subjects. (Confession: We haven’t seen Gandhi and Lincoln in their entirety.) But from the first scene, in which Martin Luther King (the commanding David Oyelowo) is dressing up for the Nobel Prize ceremony, we were riveted. Ava DuVernay has made a powerful film that puts you right there on that bridge with the people marching for Civil Rights in 1964 and the policemen waiting to crack their skulls. It makes us ashamed of our ignorance of recent history.

Critics have torn into Selma for portraying President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson—why are the major roles played by Brits?) as the villain. We don’t know what movie they saw, but Johnson wasn’t the bad guy in Selma. He was being what he was: a politician.

Which brings us to the Oscars, which many say have been whitewashed. How many times has the Academy’s Best Picture been unquestionably the best picture? It doesn’t have to be. “Best Picture” is a political message: it’s the Academy saying, “This is how we see ourselves, this is what we aspire to.” Boyhood is a worthy contender, and Birdman, and Grand Budapest Hotel, Inherent Vice and Whiplash, but in the year of Ferguson and “I Can’t Breathe”, Selma is both worthy and timely. It captures a moment that continues to impact on today’s America. Just because Barack Obama is African-American doesn’t mean it’s over.

12. The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum. We are the target audience for this one: Benedict Cumberbatch fans who know how Alan Turing was maltreated by his country and take an interest in the cracking of Enigma. (Polish mathematicians laid the groundwork. They started working on it in the early 30s because they knew the Nazis were coming. Turing built on their work.) And we liked Tyldum’s art crime movie, Headhunters.

We fell asleep at the Merchant-Ivoriness of the first 30 minutes. We’ll take another crack at it next week.

13. Whiplash by Damien Chazelle. Whoa! This is thrilling filmmaking. You know the oft-told story of the teacher who is tough and cranky because he wants his student to be the best he can be, but is really a kind old geezer? J.K. Simmons as the mentor is a monster on the outside, and when you get to know him he’s even more monstrous. Miles Teller is excellent as the aspiring drummer, and their final face-off is so tense we kept forgetting to breathe.

And yet we detect, in the film and in ourselves, a yearning for a mentor who will push us beyond our limits, resulting in either irrepairable breakage or greatness. “But what’s at stake?” some may ask. “No one even listens to jazz anymore. He endures all that torment, and what’s the point?” That IS the point. Greatness is not measured in fame, fortune, or the approbation of award-giving bodies. The public doesn’t care, but you will know.

That said, you do not have the right to be that mentor and condemn mediocrity if you yourself are mediocre. Also, practice is for developing discipline, it’s not a substitute for talent. Without talent, that kind of brutal training will only produce assholes.

Is krungkrung hyphenated?

January 23, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: History, Language, The Workplace 4 Comments →

Our friend Noel sent us a video report that could very well be the definition of krungkrung. Then he asked something that, in our universe, is a vital question: Is krungkrung hyphenated? Krungkrung or krung-krung?

Read our column at InterAksyon.com.