Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity by Virginia Smith

I am a picker. I run my hands over my body all day feeling for lumps, bumps and zits to prod and scratch. Ingrown hairs get me excited and the release of pus in any form is a high priority. If I happen to love you, or at least like you enough, it is very possible I’ll want to grab my tweezers and crawl all over you too.

Don’t be alarmed; it’s natural according to Virginia Smith. Her examination of cleanliness, hygiene and purity begins with our buddies the chimps. Turns out that all that bug picking creates alliances, soothes over tensions and keeps simian relationships strong, besides keeping the skin and body healthy. And it is no surprise—only when humans come into the picture things get weird.

From Neolitithic body painting to Christian mystics’ radically foul stench to Locke’s 18th century cold bathing plan for kids (“Plenty of exercise and sleep, plain diet, no wine or strong drink, very little or no physick, not too warm or straight clothing, especially the head and feet kept cold, and the feet often used to cold water, and exposed to wet”. Whoa!), Smith tells us how arrived at today’s constant worry about pollution, contamination and age.

I was most attracted to the early stuff, Aztec tooth art, an ancient Roman physician’s mostly-lost 4-volume work on cosmetics (including entries on tongue scraping and false hair) and those ever influential Greeks—from the goddess of hygiene to the use of slaves to maintain “white armed” female beauty, but found that as the time line unwound, there was much to be found in the stinky and plague-ridden arms of Europe, including America’s damply stern momma—England on which the latter part of the book focuses. Another subject that appeared over and over in the book, public baths, are revealed to have an extensive and fascinating history. Who knew? Thanks to the extensive chapter notes and adequate index, even the tantalizing one sentence examples could lead to a world of reading guaranteed to stop any casual conversation in its tracks.

For a non-academic, non-nonfiction-lover a book like Clean could have ended up being intimidating or at worst, boring. Instead, I read it twice. The only thing not to like is the stupid cover image of a white lady's almost-boob, where the publisher uses the same techniques to draw readers to the book that the author half-heartedly decries in the final chapter. To me, the cover looks like an Ivy League anorexia n' booze memoir-- incredibly unappealing.


Only 2 more novels to review to complete 2007. What? Gonna slap me with a tardy?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Can I tell you about the joy of making stuff grow?
A little viola patch for B, planted around some newish clematis:

Some lady fern fronds:

A red begonia in my lonely hanging basket:

Some bleeding heart buds:

The first flowering vinca vine:

Mini-hyacinth village:

Gah! More reading stuff once I wash the dirt from my hands.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The long lost Prog Lady is back on the scene with a new radio program called No Pussyfooting out of East Village radio. As she says:

"It's mostly prog rock. Tune in if you're
interested! If you like the show, it'd be great if you could subscribe
to my podcast. To do so, you'll probably have to set up an account on
the station website (it's no big deal) then click on the podcast
button on my page. It'll give you a code for you to copy. If you use
itunes, go to "Advanced" then "subscribe to podcast" and just paste in
the code. OR you can just stream the show by clicking on "listen to
the most recent show." I hope that this makes sense. Please let your
friends know too!"

Go to it and let my favorite lady make your ears happy.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

In the middle

I am in the middle of at least 3 books right now and nothing is really holding my attention. Maybe I have reader's fatigue. Doing best is A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain, but it is so episodic that I can't quite get sucked in. I am, however, enjoying the many 100-year-old ethnic jokes buried within. I'd write one out for you except that each is almost an entire chapter long and no less enjoyable for it.

I found this book in a stash of my old library (now scattered across the quad-state area) at my parents' house after living through the horror of forgetting a book for my trip. Luckily, among the King and Kingston there were a few books I never got around to. From the orange dot on the front page and the general good condition, I believe this copy was from a PPL sale maybe eight or nine years ago. Besides the desire to reorganize all those books next time I return to the Rox, I am left with one question: Why did I rebuy all that Evelyn Waugh?

The library is beckoning. I paid the $40 fine and now I am ready to search and click my way to a ridculous list of choices. Any suggestions? Nothing over 40 years old please. In fact, how about nothing over 5 years old.

Edited to Add: Extra points if I can get it from the library.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Let's pretend it is nice out...

The only daffodil that bloomed, much to B's disappointment:

The first little sprig of cat mint, which does indeed attract cats, but none that can't be scared away (yet):

Some pretty primroses from the Greenmarket. I became obsessed with these while in London. They are everywhere there in the early Spring:

Some clematis bravely trying to scale first the stick and then the chain link in order to get to the delicious, delicious sun:

And watching over it all (including my neighbor's mess) is the freecycled owl lantern:

Who wants to have a garden party?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dear Brother Man,

A few days ago you would have turned 24, but I think you may have liked April Fool’s better. Also, since I was hanging at our parents’ house on your actual birthday there was no way I would have been able to compose a letter to you and keep my own sanity. Posting it here would have been impossible as well with the dial-up and all. They still keep the computer you built downstairs, even though the insides have been redone a few times and the monitor is the one you brought back from college. Everything went out of date so fast and you aren’t here to keep us current; I hate having part of my heart stuck in the heat of that August night forever.

I still feel part of myself pulling away to find that piece, always searching for you. It feels like my rib cage is cracked, hanging open and my guts are straining to get out and smack you in the face. All that love has turned into something heavy and black. That makes me so tired.

Still angry,
Your sister