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Picture Picture on the Wall

“It takes a certain type of person to have a painting of themselves above the mantel” said my friend Kirk, who at the time was admiring the same great room I was, the walls packed floor to ceiling with minor Picassos, major Modiglianis and candid portraits of our genteel host as a younger, freer man in Paris which would have been beautiful even if they hadn’t been taken by Man Ray.

“Hey! I have a painting of myself on my mantel!” I protested.

“Exactly.”

If I’m being honest, it’s not a terribly good portrait and I can’t even remember who painted it. It’s a little Liechtenstein by way of early Byzantium for me, but although I have a painting, I don’t think I have a single photo of myself displayed anywhere in the house.

Is that weird? That’s probably weird.

It’s not the dreaded Fat Girl Shame, and it’s certainly not out of modesty. I don’t have many photos of myself from my younger days and most of my grand adventures were either solo, or else photo documentation would’ve been an unwise choice. I do have several photos from last year’s trip to Ireland, but most of them are from the budding hours of our last night in town and feature a good-hearted but misguided and exceedingly ungroomed gentleman of our recent acquaintance trying to forcibly tongue bathe me on the dance floor while I shot pleading looks to my BFF who, in the tradition of all BFFs everywhere, laughed at me mercilessly and kept the shutter snapping.

Other than that, no photos.

I have a girlfriend, Penelope (obv not her real name) on the other hand, who is a normal person.

Like normal people, she has photo documentation of her life scattered in little Ikea frames all over her living space. The odd thing to me is that almost all the photos are from her teens and early twenties…a hundred pounds ago. Especially the ones on the refrigerator. I know she’s uncomfortable with her weight. She’s been uncomfortable with it since she was nine, but it’s like size 22 Penelope doesn’t exist, just size 12 who could still fit in her cheerleader uniform.

I just don’t know what to think. It makes me unusually uncomfortable, like the friend who still uses a head shot from when she was 19 as her internet dating profile, even though she’s in her mid-thirties with a totally different body shape. It’s frustrating, because she’s just exactly as beautiful now as she was then. Same thing with my skinny photo girl.

Maybe I don’t know what it’s like since I’ve always been a big girl.

I’ve never had this slender past to look upon with a combination of pride and shame. Sometimes I’m larger and sometimes I’m smaller, but I don’t harbor any belief I could still pass for 19. The last time I passed for 19 I was probably twelve and a half. Still, if I had photos of myself from that period, I’d probably stick them up.

Just not exclusively. It’s the exclusivity that’s weird.

Is it diet motivation? Coincidence? Blanket self-delusion? Intellectual dishonesty in adorable Swedish frames?

Someone help me understand.

The Big Question: What Are You Doing for Halloween?

In just ten days, it will be time for the ghouls and goblins and whatnot to show up at our doors begging for candy. And so the question arises, what will you do? What will you do?

Me, well, I fully intend to put on a tacky, ridiculous horror film (possibly in the Edward D. Wood Jr. catalogue) where it won’t make any difference whatsoever when I lose track of the marginal plot, fill a big bowl with candy, and spend the whole night running to the door handing out miniature candy bars to the kids who arrive on my doorstep.

When the candy starts running out, I’ll shut off the porch light, point and laugh at the television as I consume the last couple peanut butter cups, and then go up and try to calm my cat who will be climbing the walls with horror.

But I know mine is far from the only way to celebrate the holiday. So I’m wondering: what are you going to be up to this All Hallow’s Eve? Tending trick or treaters? Going trick or treating yourself? Boozing it up at an adult party? Ignoring the whole sorry mess? Praying for our immoral immortal souls?

Give it to me straight. I can take it.

Thin Privilege: Movement Without Comment

Okay thin people, help me out here. Is it possible for you to mention partaking in some sort of physical activity without someone mentioning how it’ll make you lose weight? I just want to know if people are universally demented or if it’s just special fat girl treatment.

Case in point:

Hot Latin Boy and I are both mad for the danzón, Cuba’s slow, sinuous answer to the Argentine tango. Although popularity has waned in its native Cuba, every week people gather in plazas or on corners all over Mexico to come together to gossip, flirt and dance the danzón.

We dance three nights a week. Excessive perhaps, but it keeps us off the streets and affords me the opportunity to dress in all white –white outfits are traditional for danzón– without resorting to the equally distasteful options of being a bride or a member of the klan.

And it’s not just fun, but SO fun.

First of all, my fellow dancers are a hoot. There’s Imperious Fruit-Themed Lady, Nose Hair Man, Disappointed Gay Guy, and Confused Teenage Orangutan, among others.

Imperious Fruit-Themed Lady with her cherry-printed skirts is my favorite, closely followed by Confused Teenage Orangutan whose feet are the size of tennis rackets and do not communicate in any meaningful way with the rest of his body. Nose Hair Man is the best dancer, while Disappointed Gay Guy fell hard and fast for HLB and shoots me death glares over his Vivien Leigh half-frames any time he gets the chance.

Although HLB and I generally dance together, we’re more popular separately.

This, of course, has everything to do with our overwhelming natural talent and nothing to do with HLB’s resident dreamboat status or that for a ballroom full of men who stand 5’5″ in their discreetly lifted Cuban heels, dancing with a woman who clocks in at six feet tall in champagne satin Capezios affords them five minutes of uninterrupted visual access to some serious USDA Grade A funbags without getting maced or divorced.

The ballroom is also beautiful, housed in a cultural center that was once a sprawling Spanish Colonial-style casino built in the late 1920′s, reputedly with Al Capone as bankroller-in-chief.

The only trouble, aside the occasional trodden-upon toe, comes when I talk about it to my fellow gringos.

“Oh that’s such good exercise, and what a great way to lose weight!”

And of course it has to be said with that extra-patronizing voice usually reserved for when someone’s two year-old makes poo poo in the big boy potty. It’s also universally followed by some riveting anecdote where someone’s sister’s cousin’s lobotomy surgeon lost seven hundred pounds doing freestyle Himalayan goat clogging.

Why? Because it can’t ever not be about weight.

It’s just so tremendously boorish, like hearing about a friend’s gastronomical tour of France in pornographic, butter-soaked detail and exclaiming “Wow! You must’ve had some really satisfying bowel movements!”

Yes, there are health benefits to dancing eight hours a week. For example, when I’m dancing I’m not out killing people who say stupid stuff, so that’s not bad. Plus good cardio is good cardio, and dancing –especially in heels– is great for your core, assuming your knees and ankles don’t protest. That’s not the point.

The point of dancing isn’t to lose weight, it’s to dance.

It’s to have fun, it’s to get dressed up and salvage a bit of elegance in a world that’s rapidly slouching towards Kardashian. It’s to twirl with men in linen pants and Panama hats who aren’t trying to bring back the hat, because for them, the hat never left. It’s to stare at a young woman’s enthusiastic sweaterpuppies without getting decked by your wife with a cast-iron tortilla press (although I have seen one particularly indiscreet gentleman of about sixty get cracked across the back of the head with a hand fan after staring too intently at the dance instructor’s admittedly magnificent backside.)

So tell me, straighties, does this happen to you, or can you just move without comment?

The Big Question: Greatest Role They Never Played?

The other day I was watching The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge. I love these films dearly, as I have since I saw them when they were first released. The costuming is spectacular, the scripts witty and engaging, the cast amazing, and the spirit of Dumas shines through both films.

The Three Musketeers was, I recall, the first time I saw Michael York, who has remained one of my favorite actors ever since. He was perfect for the passionate – albeit not terribly likely to think things through – D’Artagnan. With his ability to maintain equal amounts of wide-eyed innocence, terrier determination, and kid-in-a-candyshop love of all ladies at the same time, it remains one of his finer performances.

And yet I have firmly maintained for decades that the finest performance he might ever have given is one that, alas!, he never did.

You see, the instant I first read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, I saw Michael York in Wilde’s damned protagonist. As I read of Gray’s descent into hell, I knew that York would be the perfect person to carry both the innocent beauty of the outer shell and the fiendish, decadent cruelty of the man within.

Unfortunately, nobody ever cast him in the role. And, of course, Dorian Gray is a role that may only be played by a man in the first blush of youth. Michael York is still a brilliant actor and a handsome man… but the time has passed. We will never see his Dorian Gray. The world, I think, is a tiny sliver less wonderful for it.

Have you ever just known the perfect role for an actor who never wound up playing it? Who and what? Tell me all about it!

The Big Question: Your Fashion Signature?

Whether or not we are dedicated followers of fashion, we all develop some sort of style. Some craft it carefully, parsing every sartorial message with more vigor than we ever applied to any sentence in English class. Others fall into a style naturally and without much thought. Some find one thing that works forever, while others change their signature as time, whim, or opportunity dictates.

But one thing is certain: somebody out there knows it’s you by one quick glance at an article of clothing or accessory you wear.

Just last night, Mr. Twistie and I were eating out when an old friend came into the restaurant. Why? Because he’d seen my ever-present hat through the window. There are people in the world I’ve known for years who literally don’t recognize me if I go out sans chapeau.  Once a woman who – at the time – I had yet to meet in the too, too solid flesh sent me the gift of a hat she knew was just my style. Funnily enough, she was absolutely right. I wear it all the time, especially in the rainier months when a tweed cap is just right. Particularly one with muted metallic sequins on it. Really, it’s much more tasteful than it sounds.

I’ve been wearing hats almost religiously since I was fifteen. It started as a simple whim one morning, and became a Way of Life quite rapidly. I actually tried to chuck the habit about twenty years ago, but it was far too ingrained in my soul by that point. I came back to hats.

And you know what? I will never turn my back on hats again. I love them. I love how I feel when I’m wearing them. I love how wearing one turns heads in the street. I love how wearing hats seems to make people smile. I don’t even much care if the smile is the first rictus of derisive laughter. Why? Because hats and I belong together. Hats are my signature, and they delight me.

So what about you? What’s your sartorial signature? How did you come by it? How long have you been doing it? Does it make you happy? Let’s dish!

The Big Question: Luxury Tithe Edition

Ah luxury. It’s interesting how the definition changes.

Once upon a time, luxury for me meant a new Hermès or a call to my gal at Barneys in New York to get my hands on the latest and most exclusive Le Labo or Serge Lutens export.

Now luxury is toilet paper with anything resembling structural integrity.

Then vs. Now

 

Yet even in those heady days, I was still just a Career Girl in the newspaper industry.

What the dead tree biz lacked in job security it made up for in low wages, and my attempt to indulge in champagne tastes on a cava budget was not exactly effortless. Each glittering bottle of rarefied perfume, each instantly recognizable square orange box, represented weeks or months of sacrifices –most small, some large– in other parts of my life.

I call it my Luxury Tithe, a phrase I first heard from my friend Amy, author of the brilliant and sadly dormant Style Spy, as she diligently squirreled away a portion of her pay each week to save for a pair of Miu Miu sandals or a trip to her beloved Paris.

The eminently tithe-worthy Alexander McQueen Seasonal Satchel, click picture for link

I’m happier in Scotland than on the Seine and Miu Miu sandals rarely fit my feet (not that it matters since I refuse to support Miuccia Prada anyway after her fatty-firing opera stunt) but aside from the ideas of paying cash and not living beyond your means as just good sense, I had two reasons to start my own luxury tithe.

First, I knew my dream job –the real one, not the designated thigh oiler for Real Madrid (although if anyone’s hiring…)– has even less money in it than the newspaper industry, and believe me, very few things have less money in it than the newspaper industry.

I knew someday the reasonably well-paid party would end, and when it did I wanted to be able to walk away with an accessories wardrobe to last a lifetime and not a penny of credit card debt, which is exactly what I did.

Second, I wanted to learn the joys of living a discriminating life.

It’s painfully simple, but if something’s not extremely good, I don’t want it. I’d rather go without than have my fill of mediocrity or worse. It’s probably why I’ve lost so much weight in Mexico (well, you know, that and the cholera): Mangoes, fish and veggies are good here; pastry, meat and sweets are not, at least not to a palate that prefers butter to lard and thick ribeyes to thin strips of carne asada.

Television isn’t very good in America (it’s worse in Mexico) so I happily gave it a miss and the money I saved by not paying to have Real Housewives of a Culturally Declining Nation piped into Château Gâteau bought me a Paris-only bell jar of the shiveringly dry yet animalic Bois et Musc  (which smells exactly like my lynx coat after a post-prandial walk in the woods) and fuchsia Dolce and Gabbana heels in suede so buttery I want to spread it on toast.

Let’s turn this into a Big Question.

Right now my Luxury Tithe –pathetic as it may be– is dedicated to funding an exploratory trip to Buenos Aires to see whether the so-called Paris of Latin America is destined to be the next stop on the Miss Plumcake Expatriate World Tour.

Today Miss Plumcake wants to know whether you have a Luxury Tithe. If so, what’s the desired result? If not, what’s your preferred method of acquiring what you want?

The Big Question: Be Nice To Mothers Edition

Happy Monday, gang, how’s every little thing?

Me? I’m fab. Signed the lease on the teensy new Plumcake Cottage in my equally teensy new village where my neighbors are the Pacific ocean, a motionless shriveled man who is approximately 300 years old and looks like Voldemort’s granddad (but, you know, in a nice way, although if he doesn’t move soon I’m going to have to check if he’s dead) and about three dozen dusty old trail horses who seem very interested in what’s going on with their new neighbors and ohbytheway was that a bag of apples they saw being loaded into the kitchen?

Nice work if you can get it.

Back in the states several of my friends still act as if I’ve moved into an uncharted, cannibal-filled area of New Guinea instead of a blissfully bucolic seaside village where, okay, the closest gas station is 20 miles away and if you want eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast you find the tree with the hand-painted wooden sign reading “Huevos Aqui” and follow the shakily pointing arrow to your cholesterol-laden destiny; but it’s also a place where you can walk for six miles on a white sand beach without meeting anyone except an escaped horse and and –at low tide– plump old women peeling mejillones (marine mussels) off craggy semi-submerged rocks.

Still, it’s a long way off from the hipster haven of Austin, Texas or the international moving and shaking of Washington, D.C.. So why the drastic move?

Simply put, I never thought I wouldn’t live in other countries, especially developing ones, and that in a large part has to do with my mother.

Born in Hong Kong, her formative years were spent moving all over Asia.

All her brothers and sisters were born in different countries and as a child I would delight in hearing their stories of cobras and monsoons and peasant revolts…a life totally different than anything I could know from the Benneton-diverse (you can be any color you want as long as you’re rich) confines of privileged suburban D.C..

Love and luck took me to Mexico specifically, but I’ve always been jealous of my mother’s experiences and believed a life lived entirely in your native country is something to be mourned, not cherished.

Although she’s no longer a part of my life and the tell-all fodder far outweighs the Hallmark moments, I thought we could take this week to discuss and yes, even appreciate, our mothers.

Since mother-daughter relationships are so complicated, especially when there’s a weight issue involved –raise your hand if your mother put you on a diet as a child because she couldn’t control her own size so she’d at least try to control yours– we’ll get into the deeper stuff later, but I thought it might be nice to start out on a generous foot.

Today Miss Plumcake wants to know:

What’s the most valuable gift your mother gave you, not by being a bad example, but through positive influence or personal inspiration?

 

 

 

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