Documentaries and Bill Cunningham: What’s Not to Love?

Right now I’m obsessed with documentaries. Recently, I’ve watched three ballet documentaries, a sailing documentary, and the most recent flick was a fashion documentary about The New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham.

I’m kind of in love with high fashion. (Not that I use fashion to express myself, but I’m intensely interested by those who do.)


I mean, who can get away with wearing these things? What does wearing a wooden plank over your face even mean? What was the fashion designer trying to communicate with a rhapsody in blue? With a sad giraffe? With middle eastern military grunge?

What is meant by a balls of fruit necklace or Snoopy and lace?

I love high fashion’s oddities, its lack of boundaries.

And even its parodies.

I love the colors and textures. The body as canvas.
And the street style photography is some of the most interesting. It’s like a coloring book that refuses to behave.

Back to documentaries, I loved watching recently the documentary of Bill Cunningham, an 86 year old fashion photographer who cycles the streets of New York City, intent on shooting the most colorful of the city’s residents. A couple of surprises from the documentary include:

-his years long love of fashion (he began fashion photography in 1970s)

-his tiny, sparse, bathroom-less, kitchen-less apartment crowded with metal filing cabinets full of developed film

-his being well-spoken of by the likes of fashion editors (Vogue) and fashion icons (like 94 year old Iris Apfel)

-his love of fashion not making sense to his conservative family

-his going to church every Sunday

-his never having a romantic relationship

-his impassioned quote, when awarded the “Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (Order of Arts and Letters) by the French Ministry of Culture, as he succumbed to tears: “If you seek beauty, you shall find it.”

In the past, I’ve enjoyed browsing Bill Cunningham’s work on The New York Times website, without knowing anything about the man behind the photographs.

Life is colorful.
Find a canvas.

Chandeliers, Tolstoy, and Mennonites

Armed with a gift card and a ferocious excitement for my summer classic choice (Tostoy’s War and Peace) I trotted into Barnes and Noble to pick out the classiest-looking version I could find.

Yes, I’m a print girl. No Kindle yet for me.

We print people get to be choosy when buying classics. That is, on those occasions when we’re actually buying new books, rather than sniffing out old, bargain-priced copies at garage sales or Goodwill. Amongst booksellers, Barnes and Noble stocks the largest variety of versions, printings, and editions. Barnes & Noble, then, is a great stop for a picky book buyer. And we print people are especially picky concerning cover art.

I’ve been interested in cover art since I first noticed it in my parent’s little home library. (I get my book buying honestly.) While not exceedingly broad, my parents’ reading preferences (from Christian fiction to forty-year-old Bible college texts to my father’s current affinity for Jewish studies) exhibit the phenomenon that pop-culture inspires cover art. Digging through my parents’ books in the basement, I was never really quite sure what groovy font, bell bottoms, or afros had to do with the subject of prayer, but it certainly made sense to book cover illustrators in the 1970s. Cover art becomes so quickly dated but can, nevertheless, remind book buyers of the period or decade in which they buy a book.

Hoping to make a simple choice between a classic hardcover with gold edge gilding and a 2014 pop art cover, I wasn’t prepared for a heavier decision: choosing translations. I had not done my homework before buying War and Peace, and I wasn’t prepared to choose between various English translations of Tolstoy’s Russian text.

So I was reduced to judging a book by its cover. (And the little reviews on the back.) For example, did I want the most-read English translation? Or did I want a brand-new twenty-first century English translation? (There were two: a 2005 Briggs translation and a 2007 Pevear and Volokhonsky translation with the French sections still intact) Would I rather be familiar with the versions most English speakers my age have read, or would I rather read the newer translations? Would I gain something from reading a classic version of a classic? Or should I cheerfully accept a highly-readable modern translation with modern grammar, vocabulary, and syntax? Or would that be jolting, since War and Peace is classic-y? Would the contemporary language take something away from the historicity of the text?


I reminded myself, though, that Tolstoy’s original audiences would have read War and Peace in a Russian text that to them would not have sounded antiquated. The same for English audiences soon after the 1904, 1923, and 1957 translations. I fingered the 2005 and 2007 translations. (Which incidentally had two cover choices: a heavy colorful volume with eastern-inspired art, and a bulky, rough-edge gilding little beauty, sporting a bronze chandelier, which I’m sure has nothing to do with War and Peace but has everything to do with fashion design trends of the 2000s.)

The point is, War and Peace is in modern, global English for the first time in 80 years. (The ’57 version used exclusively British English.) English audiences today (and in the next decade or so) get to have an experience with the text that will not happen for another fifty years. We get to read it in our contemporary language. Picture this: it’s 2074 and a professor of English soon realizes that her students, or her grandchildren, struggle through War and Peace. The diction and vocabulary are complicated and outdated. A re-translation will occur. Language changes over time.

Since I did not have a smartphone with me at the bookstore to google which translation I should choose, I went with the Briggs. Later, I learned there is a quite a controversy between the 2005 Briggs translation and 2007 Pevear and Volokhonsky, some of it having to do with class (intellectual snobs arguing that Tolstoy’s book wouldn’t have been easily accessible to all social classes, since he wrote portions in French and not all 1860s Russians were bilingual, so modern English translations should also keep the French portions original to maintain the inaccessibility), some of it having to do with style (Tolstoy’s Russian was choppy, so English translations should be choppy), and some of it having to do with Britishisms (can we really handle Russian soldiers popping out in lower-class British dialects). But you can read all this scholarship for yourself. By googling it.

Or. You could simply sit down and read for yourself for the first time a very accessible classic. I went with the Briggs, which leaves out the original French. It proves to be highly accessible, and I am devouring it more voraciously than even this winter’s A Tale of Two Cities.

Reader, you have raised your hand, I see.

“Why do we read Tolstoy?”

We read Tolstoy because he became convinced of the relevance of the teachings of Jesus Christ for everyday living. Fifteen years after publishing War and Peace, Tolstoy announced himself a pacifist, inspired by Jesus’ Sermon the Mount. (This fact alone drove this twenty-first century Anabaptist to read his earlier work. What could I learn, I asked myself, from his early questioning?) In fact, Tolstoy’s rejection of government involvement due to his pacifist leanings got him kicked out of the Russian Orthodox church. Interestingly, Tolstoy’s writings on nonviolence went on to inspire the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. These reasons, dear reader, are why we read Tolstoy.

Nonetheless, to first-time readers of Tolstoy’s amazing work, choose for yourself between the twenty-first century Briggs and the Pevear and Volokhonsky. But do it sometime in the next decade. The freshness of the dialogue will not occur again for another fifty years.

Great Aunt Edna Revisited

It’s that time of year, you know. For traveling. Visiting relatives. Spending your whole Christmas vacation with family and friends. Whether you’ll celebrate close to home, or travel far away, you’ll stay at Great Aunt Edna’s. You know you will.

Let’s start in your sleeping quarters.

The first indication that you are at Great Aunt Edna’s is the inappropriately fuzzy cat on your bed.

Or the feline icon staring down at you while you sleep.

Perhaps your favorite piece of art, bringing you many hours of personal happiness, is the glittery, golden, sequined cat tapestry.

Great Aunt Edna has an affinity for cats, you see.

And monkeys?

Surprisingly, Great Aunt Edna affords several unique (random) holiday touches.

There’s also a china doll on your bed. One that you can’t wait to sell on ebay.

Anyone, though, can appreciate her anti-Barbie, genetically-appropriate body sizing.

Check out those gams.

The bedroom gallery includes a street chalk drawing of a vague ancestor.

There remains, though, several artifacts worth rummaging for…

Big Ben, West Clox. This clock is older than me. No batteries, no electricity, you wind it. Why don’t they make stuff like this today?

Found these in their original packaging in the closet. I probably wouldn’t pair them with a housecoat (as originally intentioned), but I LOVE THEM! (I am honest, though. I did not sneak them out of the house.)

Other random items include… decorated hangers…

“Hey, Edna, want to hang out this Friday night?”

“No, I’m decorating my closet hangers, and I just haven’t quite finished them all yet. Maybe another time?”


Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Things That Cost Forty Dollars

An Innocent List of Things to Buy that Cost $40:

1. Fergalicious “Blossom” Pumps

(…not that I’m really good at walking in high heels.)

2. Burberry Sport 1 oz.

(Who can resist the blend of mandarin, sea salt, magnolia, honeysuckle, petit grain, solar notes, musk, and cedar?)

3.Herringbone fabric gloves with leather palms

(Rather cheeky.)

4. one King’s Singers ticket, Southern Theatre

(of course, it might snow.)

5. Coach Op Art sateen skinny mini

(He’s so small. For cards and coins.)

6. J. Crew patent leather belt

(but then I’d have to get a sweater to go with it.)

7. Mossimo cowl neck sweater dress

(It’s rather green, eh?)

8. Two Lips Nile rain boots

(These are serious, now.)

9. Skullcandy Agent Throwback headphones

(If that’s just not vintage enough for you…)

10. Jansjo floor/reading lamp, black (IKEA)

(Sleek, yes…)

11.HOL side table, acacia (IKEA)

(Squared away!)

12. Green Pumpkin, blown glass

(For my little table, you understand.)

13. a 7 in. Cheesecake Factory Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake

(I’d rather have the 10 inch.)

14. ten Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes





things that cost $40 winter clothing packet for Gospel for Asia missionaries


“I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” 2 Corinthians 11:27 (NIV)

“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” I Timothy 6:8

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6: 28-33

“How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7

If you’re interested in Gospel for Asia, here’s a link:

Great Aunt Edna

I’m sure most of you have heard of her: Great Aunt Edna. She’s very famous. A lot of you probably have your own Great Aunt Edna. If not, then you’ve surely visited someone else’s Great Aunt Edna and have therefore been inside her home. There are several things about Great Aunt Edna’s home that make her so memorable (and endearing?). While I would never want to pick on Great Aunt Edna (because she surely has more wisdom than I can imagine) (or personally hope for), there is something interesting about the “Great Aunt Edna’s” residences world-wide: they’re predictable. From the house cats to the rusty tub to dusty houseplants in yarn ceiling hangers, it’s been done before. In the kitchen, copper cookware is artfully arranged on the wall. There’s a plastic table-cloth in the dining room. Too-small calendars (flipped to the right month, of course) hang in prominent locations. The bedrooms have metal bed frames and crocheted bed covers and touch lamps that were hip in the 90s. And there’s a funny smell that only young children have enough courage to mention. On the windowsill is a collection of green bottles; two of them are in the shape of maple leaves, one smaller than the other. Probably from a bus tour to the New England states in 1983.

Here’s a little photo diary depicting “Great Aunt Edna”:

1. The Kitchen. Notice the mini-grill holding the ketchup and mustard. Kitsch.

2. “Great Aunt Edna” homes regularly have tacky conversation pieces. This particular little gem has hidden magnets in the spinner and the back of the plaque so that the spinner (normally) only stops on “Go Hunting.” Hilarious, right?

3. Right next to that tub is this bathroom joke book “for people on the go”… (?)

4. One of the best things about Great Aunt Edna’s is some of the amazing furniture pieces that seem to materialize straight out of the 50s. This particular chair I’ve entitled “the Man Chair.” By opening the seat, one discovers a place to store one’s shoes. A shirt and pair of pants can neatly be stored on the back, and the top is reserved for spare change and a billfold. Clearly this chair does not disappoint. (Unless you’re a girl.) Go to your local Sear’s store to make your special Father’s Day purchase today.

5. Were we talking about plant hangers?

6. Great Aunt Edna might even serve you some soup… curiously yellow soup. (Hotel Alpina, Murren, Switzerland)

7. Deceased vermin in Great Aunt Edna’s basement window wells.

8. Great Aunt Edna herself! (Woman, Luxembourg)

9. Or is this Great Aunt Edna?

10. The hallway. (forgivable, because it’s 400 years old, and in France)

11. My sister, Abigail, wondering how she got conned into staying at Great Aunt Edna’s house on yet another choir tour. Here the pictures are hung too high. And there are funny window clings. And a stuf-fed animal.

12. The most recent addition to the photo diary: legit antique earbuds (circa 1970s) found in an old drawer. We’re assuming that’s Uncle Humphrey’s ear wax.

So there you have Great Aunt Edna. She’s so predictable. Now that we’ve explored and labeled her domain, we must ask the question: is she inspiring today’s designers? Take a look and see!

13. The “Great Aunt Edna” inspired sitting room.

14. Would she have worn these shoes? Cuz I totally just bought them.

15. Notecards, [Series No. 4]. Evoke a mid-century minimalism, complemented by vintage envelopes reminiscent of Great Aunt Edna’s sheets. Ironically, the black-and-white Florida memory cards depict various locations in Sarasota.

Now you tell me: what is YOUR favorite Great Aunt Edna memory?