Sunday 23 May 2010
Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music
Maca Root Face Scrub, Maca Root Shave Cream, Wooden Shaving Brush, Maca Root Razor Relief. Pardon? Yes, in a minute, just let me finish. Nivea Shower Gel (Energy), alternatively Shea or Coconut Bath Shower Gel/Cream, Shea or Hemp Body Butter... yes? How long will I be? Hmmm... I was just about to finish, but you keep interrupting me.
All right, then, since you insist. I was busy counting the beauty products in my basket. And I still have not included the Activist Roll Deodorant and the Honey & Oat 3 In 1 Scrub Mask. But I'd better stop now and roll out the theme of this week's column: metrosexuality.
Twenty-five years ago when I was a teenager one of my wishes was to have a thick mustache. Handlebar or Stalinesque, it didn't matter, I wanted to belong to the 'heavily-hirsute' brigade. In my dreams I could even aspire to the Order of the Barbellate. In vain I shaved the isolated hairs on my chin. My whiskers had done a Houdini. The few bristles I got were so separate from each other that I thought of writing alternative versions of 'Robinson Crusoe' based on each of them. With no Friday this time. Occasionally my Shangri-la-like existence brought me benefits. I rarely got ID-ed by coppers on account of looking younger. Teachers trusted me because I conveyed reliability and how could someone with such angelic face be cutting classes? Well, actually, I was. Also, since I was acne-free, I was luckier than some of my peers with the opposite sex.
Still, I thirsted for a mustache. And when the first signs of a real one appeared I let it grow and wished it'd develop into a fully-fledged, professional fellow. A facial companion, one of the boys. I dared not wish for a beard, though, because that'd have been taking a bit too far, but hey, mustache with goatee, anyone? Alas, that initial spurt fell short of what I expected and I was left for many years with what turned out to be a poor imitiation of an electrocardiogram's flatline above my upper lip.
It took me a while to get used to my (almost) hairless face, but accept it I did and with time there came the benefits. Step forward now, David Beckham.
As a Chelsea fan, I'd never had much time for the Manchester United midfielder, but when Mr Posh Spice stepped out with his consort one night whilst wearing a sarong (image here, in case you've forgotten), the hard-fought rights of metrosexuals around the world were instantly vindicated. Because a few years before that historic photograph, I, too, had started my voyage through the grey area of male grooming.
I confess that my wife played a part in that. After picking me up from Gatwick Airport and on the way to her house the first time I came over to the UK she commented on my recently-shaved face: 'Hmmm, it looks nice!' whilst stroking it with her left hand. That was further supported - fortuitously, I swear - by a feature on the radio programme to which we both were listening and where there was a debate about the pros and cons of hirsuteness. When a listener phoned up to say that hairless, smooth faces were a pleasure to touch, my spouse's hand reached out again and slid down my cheeks as if in solidarity with the caller. My only attempt to grow a goatee since then has met defeat. Despite it being so small that I can count the hairs in it (eight at the latest roll call) my consort always reminds me, playfully, that it tickles her when I kiss her. Faced with no-kiss vs pretend-goatee, it's goatee out on the street.
But the phenomenon of metrosexuals is one of those complex issues that demands closer inspection. Is it a riposte against a macho culture that was imposed on us, blokes - although admittedly, one from which we've clearly benefited - and therefore completely natural? Or is it a desire to compete (yet again!) with women, this time in their so-called territory, i.e., beauty products? Or is it an unconscious/conscious blurring between what's straight and what's gay?
What is beyond doubt is that it is a profitable marketing tool. Metrosexuality sells and it sells a lot. Calvin Klein underwear, Giorgio Armani fragrances, Gap jeans, Fcuk T-shirts and Bodyshop shaving paraphernalia (the majority of the products listed at the beginning of this post belong to the latter) all cater to the urban male who is in touch with his feminine side. Beckham blazed the trail but another Manchester United alumnus, Cristiano Ronaldo (currently playing for Real Madrid and Portugal), has inherited the sceptre. Look at his face and body and you're looking at a metrosexual in the last stage of his life cycle: no more caterpillar or pupa, but a butterfly. And how they flutter their wings! Sorry, correction, we flutter our wings.
Another aspect of the metrosexual is that he no longer belongs to an age group. Whereas at the beginning it used to be young single men with high disposable income who splashed out on colognes, shoes and clothes to make a fashion statement, now it can be any bloke from dads to grandparents. In fact, a spin-off of metrosexuality is the rise of the 'yummy dad' phenomenon in recent years. Dad dancing himself silly at daughter's wedding to the horror and embarrassment of relatives and guests? Perish the thought. Rather, papa kitted out in American Apparel and with man-bag from Republic slung on his shoulder.
And women are part of the picture, too. The advertisement that accompanies many of the products flogged to metrosexuals is based on the idea that women have forsaken traditional masculinity - the Charles Bronson type of man - and gone instead for a softer, more effeminate kind. Gillette has surely made a pretty penny out of that concept.
By the way, and let me open a bracket here. I might have given the impression so far that I'm only referring to the hairless fella as the epitome of metrosexuality. No, no, no. There are many metrosexuals who sport beards and goatees galore. But the main difference with their hairy caveman counterparts, is that stuble trimmers make their hirsute displays look like a wild English garden: loads of shrubs, flowers and plants in the middle, yet the demarcations are well defined. Mathematicians are even involved in working out angles and straight edges. Close bracket.
And as if the above was not enough now comes a further twist in this metrosexual vs traditional male type saga: the übersexual. And again, I see myself gravitating to, or rather, being included in another group whose existence was unknown to me before. According to Marian Salzman, co-author of 'The Future of Men', a book about trends, real and imaginary amongst blokes, übersexuals retain some characteristics of the metrosexual world (grooming products mainly), but they are more in tune with politics and social issues than their modern dandy opposites. Übersexuals read 'The Economist', 'The New Statesman' and 'The New Yorker', which, incidentally, are publications commonly found on my coffee table at home. I say, it's just another category for another era, another label for marketing (male!) executives. In the meantime, I'm off to Bodyshop, I just ran out of Warming Mineral Mask.
Although I no longer do the 'award' thingy on my blog, I will make an exception this week. Last time it was Lizzy Frizzfrock who tagged me (read my meme here) and alas, she was gone from this parish not long after. So, I hope the same fate does not await the blogger who gave me the award this time. Whilst I was away in Malaysia, Hema P, from 'Wading Through Words' passed me the Happiness 101 Award. The rules are simple: I have to list ten things that make me happy and then pass the award to five other bloggers. I will comply with the first part and will leave the second one as an option for anyone who would like to take up the challenge.
I'm not into 'happy things', but rather into 'things that make me feel satisfied'. The former, to me, is ephemeral whereas the latter lasts longer and leaves a sweeter taste. Yet, I've been asked to 'do happy' and happy I'll do. Here they go, in no particular order what or who make happy. And many thanks, Hema, for the award:
1- The moment my wife got her current job as teaching assistant at a primary school, supporting an autistic child. I got home and even before I asked her how her interview had gone the smile on her face confirmed what I suspected. She is a very talented and intelligent woman. I'm also happy because she will start doing her M.A. in September (in dance).
2- My children being so clever, articulate and brilliant. My son plays piano and saxophone, wants to become a naturalist (a term that has caused confusion when he says it aloud on account of it sounding pretty much like 'naturist', c'mon, say it quickly in a London accent) and loves school. My daughter plays the piano, too, does ballet and is starting to discover the world of contortion, to my bewilderment and parental angst sometimes.
3-My job. It not only makes happy but it makes feel satisfied (read above). At present I'm managing a project with eleven students from years 4 to 6 who are producing a five-minute short film. Pretty soon I will start a Film Club at my school. I manage the delivery of the Family Learning and Community programmes and it is a pleasure to contribute to my local area.
4-Being back on my bike (a pushbike) after a harsh winter. I've even appropriated Roger Taylor's timeless tune "I'm In Love With My Car" and turned it into "I'm in love with my bike". Even though my ride to and from work is less than ten minutes, I love biking and whenever I'm not behind the wheel I get on my bike instead. Mixed with the nice weather we're having (at the moment of writing) it makes for a wonderful experience.
5- Back in Cuba, I used to say I had four 'vices': theatre, literature, cinema and music. I called them vices, because I was addicted to them. Since my life is hectic nowadays, theatre is a rare pleasure - I mean shows for adults - so the other three remain my sources of solace and therefore a further division is called for. Music never ceases to amaze me. I don't want to have every single record in the world, not just because it's impossible, but also because I wouldn't be able to appreciate them all. Music needs a time and a place. I was playing the Mozart Requiem in the car recently and realised that there were parts to which I'd hardly paid any attention before, specifically the Agnus Dei and the Communio. I've always been keener on the Kyrie, Confutatis and Lacrimosa but the last two movements are the perfect coda to a perfect piece.
6- Cinema. Since signing up to LoveFilms, a DVD rental company, the experience for me has been the equivalent of Friends Reunited. I've been hiring and watching movies that I first saw in my teens or early twenties and for whom I have a special place in my heart. That's probably why my posts have widened up in scope to include films now.
7- Literature. Except for a couple of stinkers, the last ten years or so have been very, very fulfilling in terms of reading good books. I've come across new writers, or old writers of whose existence I was unaware. I've re-read classics that reinforced the idea that they ought to be classics and others that still did not convince me. I have exposed myself to new genres of which I was not too sure before, for instance gender politics. The only downside and I shouldn't mention this because this second part of today's post is all about the things that make me happy, is that I have grown shyer of picking up pen and paper to join the Borges and Ngozis of this world. Occasionally, I dare to delve into the world of creative writing as was the case last year when I posted this short story (here). The novel that I thought I would finish a few years ago is still stuck on page 47 (or is it 48 now?). Recently I went back to it and realised that it was no longer my voice that was calling the shots, but that of Ngugi, Rushdie and Atwood. My solution would be to stop reading all together for some months until I can get my inner voice back, the genuine one, mine one. But when I contemplate the sacrifice I would have to make, I opt to perform a hara-kiri on my own writing. No, that doesn't sound too happy. Reading makes me happy. And blogging. I love sitting at my computer with the blank page of Microsoft Word and playing. Because that's what we do in the end, don't we? We play with words.
8- The sea. I was born by the sea, in downtown Havana, bang in the centre and five minutes away from the biggest show on earth. The sea is a spectacle for which you don't have to pay and you always get front seats. I slept under the stars in my teens with the sea ten feet away from me when my mates and I went camping. I've seen the sea at its wildest and at its most peaceful and it's never, ever, disappointed me. I could watch it for hours. In fact, I've done it. One of my favourite activities when Cuba was going to the dogs in the 90s (did it ever come out of the kennel, I wonder?) was to walk down 23rd Avenue until I reached Malecón (the Seawall) and then go east or west, it didn't matter. I would climb on the wall and as I walked, I would think of the immortal words by the Cuban singer song-writer Carlos Varela: 'Mojas el pan en el plato vacío/Y apagas la televisión/Abres la ventana y miras afuera/La ciudad te espera en algún lugar/Sales a la calle y llegas al muro/Donde acaban todos/Donde empieza el mar'.
9- London. I love its people, its parks, its mind-blowing urban geography (it's so easy to get lost!), its vibrancy and the mix of old and new. I'm lucky to live in such a great city. And since 6pm last Saturday 15th May there's a special reason to love this city, too, and it's linked to sport, because I'm a sports person. Chelsea Football Club (southwest London) won the FA Cup and thus, landed a double for the first time in the club's history (that's Premier League and FA Cup for non-Brits). That happy moment, coupled with the Yankees winning last autumn and Industriales, my hometown baseball team, triumphing in the National Series in Cuba, has made it for a very happy period indeed. Also, whilst on the subject of London as a great place to live in, another thing that makes happy is teaching Afro-Cuban dance here and I've got a workshop lined up at The Place for early June. This is one of my favourite buildings in London because of what it means to the dance world and the shows I've watched in its theatre.
10- Life. And all the components of it. I just praised London in the paragraph above and now it's time to chastise my British chums. Just mildly, though. I know that self-deprecation is this nation's favourite sport. In fact, if self-effacement was an Olympic discipline, you'd probably get a gold medal in it. Correction, if self-deprecation was an Olympic sport, you'd probably get beaten by Germany on penalties in the final. But on a more serious note, love life, my friends, love life because as Janis said (and I'm repeating myself, for I've posted these lyrics before): 'In this world, if you read the papers, darling/You know everybody's fighting with each other/You got no one you can count on, dear/Not even your own brother/So if someone comes along/He gonna give you love and affection/I'd say get it while you can, yeah/Honey, get it while you can, yeah/Honey, grab it while you can/Don't you turn your back on love, no, no, no.'
Next Post: 'Killer Opening Songs', to be published on Tuesday 25th May at 11:59pm (GMT)