Less May Very Well Be More

Mies van der Rohe was thinking of architecture when he used a variation of the phrase that heads this column. It has since been adopted by minimalists all over the world to cut away the dross in many aspects of life.

I’ve been looking at the lives of some of the people I know to see if they use the philosophy. In a lot of cases I can be forgiven for thinking that they don’t – they have vast collections of weapons, armour, sewing materials, toy cars, and books…their lives have more more than most. How can they be minimalists?

Well, if look really carefully I can see the tiny little sections of their milieu that are clean, bare, and soothing. One person does not keep credit cards. Another eschews all interest in Facebook and social media. A third edits out all unused hobby items and gives or sells them away. No-one does it all at once, and no-one lives in a clean white space…or even a beige one. But they have all made a start.

Some are started on the road by chance…they have changed their life circumstances and do not have possessions they once owned. They may pine for them or not – in some cases I think they came to regard the possessions as owning them, and the separation has more freedom than deprivation in it.

Some have looked ahead and seen the entanglements…and have been strong enough to avoid them. There’s a degree of discipline and sensibility in this if a person knows their own limitations and is determined to stay within them.

Some have been attracted by a growing movement in the world for simplicity. This isn’t even religious in some instances – just people wanting to free some part of their psyche from the entanglements of possessions and relationship and acquaintance.

Of course there are detractors. Anything that you do or feel or think will be a target for someone’s disapproval. You have only to set outside a café on a busy street with a bag of Maltesers and pick off passers-by with a slingshot to find that out. You’d think people would be grateful to get free chocolate candy, but No…However, every individual can design their life and surroundings to some small extent, and the incipient minimalist can make those tiny little islands of simplicity in the hope that they will one day coalesce into a haven of calm.

Me? I am going to go through my shed and discard all that I derive no good from. It’s started already and the floor is getting less crowded already. That this will make room for more model building is inevitable, but then model building does me good.

And then I shall start on the clothes closet. The time has come to admit to myself that I shall never wear the historical costumes again. I must find someone who will.

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A Very Slightly Grand Tour – Part One

We have all read of the Grand Tour – the coming-of-age tradition for those of the wealthy classes from Western Europe in the 18th and 19th century. France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and then back again over several months. Sometimes it extended to years if side trips could be made to the Ottoman empire or to eastern Europe. Tourists came back with a wealth of art, impressions, and diseases.

Of course it can all be done very much more rapidly these days, and from anywhere in the world. A quick whisk through all the capitals is no more than a Eurail pass away, and you can cram several cathedrals and palazzi in a day – with time to spare for the bar and the duty-free on the way home. If I wish to meet foreigners and hear the exotic patois of their languages I need not leave the comfort of my own city – they’ve come here these days. A smart-card bus ticket and a day will let me see Europe, Asia, Africa, and parts of South America all spread out over Perth.

But where can I go to tour grandly? If not in culture, and not in pure distance travelled, I think the southwest of my own state is a very good place to start.

It is possible, by dint of grind and caffeine, to use the modern freeway and highway system to circle the southwest from Perth to Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough, Augusta, Walpole, Albany, then back to Perth in a day. You won’t get to see all the sights and you won’t have fun, but you can do it. But if you add a few days to experience all the stops the tension goes and the fun seeps back in. Food, drink, trinkets, art, scenery, yokels, it’s all there. And I am looking very hard at adding another factor to the equation: theatre…the theatre of living history.

It won’t be public theatre – so much of the best living history is played to an audience of the actors alone. It won’t be dramatic theatre – because the WA southwest is not the cockpit of anything. But if it can be done right, it may prove to be as delightful an experience as anything that 18th century Europe could throw up. More plans to come…

Mummy? Why Is That Man Dressed Like That?

Hush, child. He is a re-enactor. It takes some of them that way. Try not to stare.

Yes, I know it looks funny, but that is how it is meant to look. Yes, I know it looks uncomfortable. I’m sure it is. But at the price he has had to pay for it, he is bound to wear it anyway.

No, I’ve no idea what it has to do with us. It is from the olden days and from far, far away. From the land of Osprey. No. 138, I think. The lady standing next to him is from No. 94. That is a completely authentic outfit of the olden days. No, I don’t know how she goes wee wee in it. I don’t think she does – perhaps they didn’t go wee wee in the olden days – perhaps they just died young with desperate looks on their faces. She’s practising hers now.

Yes, it is a funny hat. But I’m sure it’s a very nice one. That’s why he has it tied on under his chin. He doesn’t want to lose it, and if it blew off I doubt he could bend over to pick it up. Not in those trousers. Not in mixed company.

Well, go and ask him. I’m sure he’ll let you feel it if you ask nicely. Offer him some of your fairy floss. Just push it right in there in the eye-slits.

That’s just how they talked in the olden days. And down on the docks. Perhaps he is a sailor or a pirate. Go ask him to show you his RRRRR’s. In those trousers it will be a memorable event.

 

The Costumed Society – Everyday Re-enacting

If you’re bored and want to start a fruitless argument, ask a group of re-enactors to justify what they do. You’ll get a variety of responses – angry, scholarly, theatrical, comical, righteous, etc. The only other topic that will set them off quite as violently is a discussion about correct period shoes.

People who re-enact dress up and play up on a regular basis. They’ll have something to do on a weekly, fortnightly, monthly, or yearly basis, and the amount of effort put into it increases as the interval lengthens. An annual trek to a medieval fair or a famous battle recreation can take far more than a year to prepare for and recover from.

Most re-enactors have daily jobs, uncostumed lives, modern connections. Few can live in a historical location, dressed in authentic garb, doing period activities. None of them wish to be doing this when it comes to sanitation, hygiene, and health emergencies. It is analogous to choosing where you want your horse to throw a shoe – outside the blacksmith’s or 130 miles away. You decide…

But there are facets of re-enacting that can be incorporated into daily life, and at a very modest price. Unlike buying the authentic, hand-last, organic died, battle-axe that you lusted over in the Pakistani catalog, there are things you can do for free.

a. Read about your chosen period. Libraries. Internet. Other people’s collections. There is never any dearth of new history written about old history.

b. Read in your chosen period. This is different from (a.) above. This time you don’t read other people’s reports – you read the literature of the day that was… not today. If you can’t read it because you can’t read Greek, or Persian, or Aztec, well you have your work cut out for you. Off you go. Start from the basics. Your goal is to see what the people said when they said it.

c. Consider the manners of the chosen period. If it is a time when there were no manners, you will have to bear that in mind for the next section…

d. Reproduce the manners of your chosen target time – and your chosen persona. You see – if you think being a Viking berserker is the finest weekend activity you can engage in, you may not be able to stretch this forward to Tuesday when you actually have to go to work at the local Beaurepaire’s or meet a professional client. You might have boxed yourself into a circumstance where you cannot play all the time.

Think again. If you are old and grey and slow, perhaps choosing a different pattern to model yourself upon is a good idea. A gentleman or lady of whatever period should usually have enough manners to be acceptable in any company. Likewise a philosopher, a literate, a scientist. If you local law prevents you from swinging an axe and howling  in the Coles checkout on a regular basis, try for re-enacting of a different sort.

e. Live your life in the rhythm of the day – as it was lived back then. If your period of time saw people getting up at daybreak and subsiding after dark for want of light and warmth…do so yourself. Readjust your clock – you can still wash clothes in a washing machine and use a refrigerator and poop in a flushing toilet – no need to go primitive and dangerous – but do it in the daytime.

Carouse at night if you must, but even here make sure that you do it within the economics and time frame of your target. You’ll save money and make less of a goog of yourself.

f. Readjust your speech. Here is where your early researches pay off. Use old words and eschew new ones. Use period phrasing and punctuation in your written communications. Write letters and post them. When you write an email to someone put the equivalent amount of postage that you would have used had the letter been a physical one into a jar with a narrow opening. When the jar is full, break it and use the money to buy your next physical accessory or costume item. If you have not got the price of the postage on you, consider well whether your communication need be written at all.

See? You can start to live the life with no big outlay, and if you continue steadily, you may find that you are having the most authentic of experiences.

As for myself, I have stopped cursing people, as it is not genteel. Or terribly effective. I now tell them that they may go to another place and do another thing…an authentic Victorian bowdlerization of telling them to go to hell and be damned. I do offer the occasional handbasket…

 

Returning To Somebody’s Roots

I am prompted to write today’s column by an advertisement that appeared on a Facebook timeline. It touted some form of cultural cringe session entitled ” Return To Roots “. The images fronting it suggested that the participants would be from Central American jungles, but I suspect that this was nothing more than graphic designer’s code for ” Come along and get drunk on expensive beer. ”

Nothing wrong with that, as many of my friends will attest, but using it as a catchphrase was damnable. If you REALLY want people to return to their roots, you are going to have to accept that the roots that they return to are neither exotic, erotic, or interesting. The crowd you are going to get is going to have to revert to being teenagers in the 1980’s in outer city suburbs…and you can get fresher versions of that at any servo on the Albany Highway right now.

No – what the advertisement was calling for was for a to return to someone else’s roots. What exactly it wanted us to do there is questionable. Root around? Dress up? Play act? I can do that in the traditional garb of my forefathers – a shirt and trousers – while drinking the mystical potion of the tribe – the highball. I do not need to put warpaint on my cheeks and shake a spear to be warlike. Our tribe put on khaki clothing and shook rifles…and it worked.

I’m as guilty as the next re-enactor of aping something that none of my family ever remotely enacted in the first place. As far as I can tell, none of the Steins or Sheedys were ever at Waterloo – except me – and I was 180 years late, thank goodness. What I did then and others do now is not re-enacting…it is acting. If we were better at it we would be paid money and solicited to give our political opinion on CNN.

But as far as returning to roots? I hardly remember some of their names, let alone addresses or faces…I still have a rash, however…

Featured Image: Fake Petzval lens effect. Real geezer.

Real History – For Yourself

I used to belong to a number of clubs that dealt with living history. I took it seriously and played as hard as I could…dressed up in medieval clothing, renaissance clothing, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th century clothing. I had a very good time doing so and would recommend it to all.

But I never had a better time than last Saturday in any of those clothes.

Last Saturday was exceedingly cold and wet here in Perth. People in Siberia and Alaska might laugh at our discomfort here in Western Australia at temperatures that seem normal to them, but be that as it may, we were cold and wet and sad. I was until I remembered the Siwash sweater in my closet.

It had been made by my mother for my father some 40 or 50 years ago. In Canada, of course, and carefully preserved when we moved to Australia. Of little use when the temperature is 38º+…

But when Saturday started to be horrible, it proved to be the best thing I own. And it is a tie to my own history and the history of my family – not some imaginary costume bought from a sutler or sewn from an Osprey illustration. A real garment in a real situation.

I am going to dive back down into the family heirlooms and see what other real history is there that might be resurrected to help with life now. If I still use it, it is not dead.

The Little World – Modelling Yourself A Story

The featured image is where I lived in 1959. This house still stands and is seemingly occupied by people no different from who we were. Google Earth has revealed their choice in cars and vinyl siding, and the prodigious growth of the tree out front of the place in the intervening years. The rest of the landscape – mostly volcanic rock – is unchanged. Apart from Mt St. Helens, not a lot can change in the rocks around there.

In making the model I have surprised myself. I was able to locate models of the cars that my Grandfather, Father, and Uncle owned at the time. I was able to fill the garage with the tea chests and Bekins barrels that were the common receptacles of our nomadic life. All that is needed now is a red Raleigh bicycle to complete the picture.

It has been the work of a month, and encourages me to think that I can tackle much more complex structures…if only I can think of them. As we lived many places there are lots of possibilities – but in the future I am going to be guided by the principle of modelling my own experiences rather than those of others. This is not to decry other people’s work or interests, but to tell my story rather than repeat that of others. We get enough second-hand and third-hand political, religious, and moral instruction as it is.

Or rather, we are enriched by other’s visions in art, and can be enriched by the same in modelling…but we are far better showing our own art rather than repeating that of others.

I am encouraged to think that I do not need to restrict myself to just the cars of the 50’s and 60’s…I’ve been driving since then and I’ve gotten to see some pretty exotic vehicles. It is as valid for me to stage modern car shows as it is to make models of old houses – I am still telling my own tale.