Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fashioning a Gun

Toronto ladies, you make me laugh. Your taste in clothes is hilariously strange, as if solely inspired by Sienna Miller, who is not a style icon. Even if she is - supported by the unerring eye of Nuclear Wintour - a presence in the fashion pages, she's spawned several consecutive summer's worth of Bad Idea Accessories. I'll allow that she has wonderful skin and a trim figure, but when she plops a straw fedora on her noggin and calls it a day, I'm not impressed.

If you're going to take sartorial cues from someone, may I suggest Sheena Matheiken? She's the brains behind The Uniform Project, a very cool endeavor to raise cash for schools in India, and she's been wearing the same dress every single day since the first of May. Well, sort of - she had seven identical dresses made, and she's been rotating through. Still, the smock, with pleats in the front and buttons in the back, is worn with consistent élan and style. In addition to layering the hell out of it, Matheiken loads up on the accessories: belts, socks, shoes, tights, hats, gloves, and jewelery of all shapes and sizes. Here's the kicker: she looks great. Every day. Even though there's a challenge element to her project, her "impediment" to style has produced some great outfits.

So, city women, it's possible. I'm not proposing that we all run out and acquire our very own dress-smocks (although it's damn cute), but that we start blazing a trail. I'm so tired of the slouchy boho-chic that's running all over the 416. First of all, that's so ancient. I get it: the flat boots, floaty tops and skinny jeans are easy. They're easy to purchase, they're easy to throw together, and they're easy to spy on others. Still. Even less charming is the neon hipster, who tends to wear annoying sunglasses and spends social gatherings ruthlessly posing for Facebook pictures.

There are so many tribes of fashionistas out there. You have your colourful peeps, and those who traffic in less cheerfully hued garb. Like your clothes to be a little more structured? Fine. Want to wear duds that reflect your desire to live in 1926? Okay. Or the future? No problem.

So why, in a sea of possible looks, do I keep running into these little fashion clones? It's not just women - take a stroll through a university campus and count how many polo-shirted, flip-flop-sporting dudes you see. It's like there are only two stores in Toronto (Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, specifically), and it's a total coup when someone in a "vintage"store in Kensington manages to find something like this moldy-looking jumpsuit.

I know fashion isn't comparable to, like, curing diabetes or something, but it's nice when people think critically about their styles. Who influences how you look? I like to imagine myself as a post-apocalyptic farmgirl, which leads to long black dresses worn with gigantic necklines and bike caps. I love structure, I rarely wear colour, and I weirdly hate clothes that touch my wrists, ankles, or neck. I have a large collection of wide-legged pants for that very reason, and it's more than a small part of my disdain for skinny jeans. I manage to find clothes that allow me to pretend I'm tending a vegetable garden in the burned-out Skydome, and it brings me great pleasure.

The fashion industry rakes in about 300 billion dollars a year, and while I'm sure some of it is reflected in the most expensive dress in the world, which is shockingly ugly, some of it has to come from the coffers of the identically-dressed women roaming the Toronto streets. It needs to stop: winter usually hides our light under a bushel made of parkas and hats, but summer shows off our leggier, bandeau-wearing side. Thank god my own fashion preferences has already taken zombies into the equation. It's like Night of Living Dead, but with leggings and stupid hats.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tip-Top Gear

"If you told someone that you had a dream that you were going to race a supercar against a jet-powered man on rollerskates, they'd tell you to lay off the strong cheese at night."
- Richard Hammond

Top Gear is...what is that word?...amazing. No, seriously. Yes, it's a car show, and a British car show at that, which is a bit poncey and ridiculous when you consider that the Americans invented car culture and the Japanese perfected the drive. But Top Gear is the only place on television that features races between the Bugatti Veyron and an RAF fighter jet, so it's worth watching. It's funny, and very, very loud.

The show is a blend of news, reviews, interviews and (no finishing rhyme? Damn) challenges. "News" takes the form of the three hosts sitting around discussing emerging car information - redesigns, new models, and cracking wise at each other's expense. "Reviews" finds our engaging guides testing new cars - and they're the fastest, loudest, shiniest and priciest models money can buy. Richard, Jeremy or James usually tools around the splendid European countryside or some apocalyptic-looking track, pointing out flaws and features in cars like the Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead Coupé, or the Aston Martin DBS. It's terrific fantasy, especially for non-drivers or the urban poor (ahem). "Interviews" is the segment "Star in a Resonably Priced Car," which places some Brit in a Daewoo Lacetti (a Chevy Optra for us Canucks), and times a lap. The car is, admittedly, a total box of crap, but folks as diverse as Ewan McGregor, Simon Cowell (who came off as a little bit gay in his interview), Ronnie "Rolling Stones" Wood and, um, Dame Helen Mirren have all taken 'er for a spin. Some of them are fascinating: did you know that wiener James Blunt knows how to drive a tank?

That's all well and good, but the real fun starts with the challenges. Going above and beyond the usual drag racing, the Top Gear production team has dreamed up some devilish tasks for J, J and R. They've been asked to turn automobiles into amphibious cars and then pilot them across the English Channel - for the uninformed, that's the busiest shipping lane in the world. They've driven across Botswana in cars from the 1980s, threatened with death if their cars broke down on the Makgadikgadi Salt Plains. They've raced against every mode of transportation, including bikes, dogs, trains, jets, bulls, runners, and some guy who strapped on high-waders and walked across a river. Oh - they've also sent a Reliant Robin into space. Sort of.

The show is brilliant. Taking power and speed seriously, without turning into the droning, hair-gelled morons that car enthusiasts often are, the hosts managed to make cars fun for people who get glazed of eye when RPMs and spoilers are brought up. James May, one of the alleged car experts, drives a Fiat Panda, for God's sake. Jeremy Clarkson is hilarious; in telling his audience that the Honda Civic Type R has a less that smooth ride, he quips, "Even if you're a teenager, even if you're used to sleeping on the floor and getting stabbed, this is intolerable." And Richard Hammond, the pixie-like third host, is just flat-out adorable.

The show succeeds because the passion these guys feel for cars doesn't sap them of a sense of humour or the ability to live in the real world. For non-car people, the hour is still enjoyable, due largely to the three hosts and their inability to interact without making fun of each other. Dude energy? These men have it coming out their ears. They act unabashedly like little boys, and both the shouty cars and the asinine challenges are designed for little boys and the men they grew into. Sure, some of the technical specs get a little dull, and endless out-of-focus shots of shiny cars can get a bit tedious, but it's a small price to pay when the whole thing is just so much fun. The show is fun the way a car should be fun: full of testosterone and loud noises, and always getting you to somewhere exciting.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

House of Stone and Light

Raise your hand if you agree with this statement: When I was kid, I was terrifically, catatonically bored by church.

I think most people were - I've yet to stumble across anyone who was a huge fan of the Holy Day when they were in elementary school. My priorities when I was eight didn't include The Word; they ran more along the lines of Full House, Oreo cookies, and avoiding my siblings. Sunday school was a total nightmare: as a shy child, I had a hard enough time integrating into my weekday school. Trying to fit myself into a sporadically-attended class, especially one that revolved around beliefs instead of multiplication tables, made taffy of me. My memories of church aren't great. It's not like I was, like, molested or anything (we're United, not Catholic, for Christ's sake). Church, instead of being a sanctuary, gave me hives.

Like most people I know, church was a Christmas-and-Easter kind of deal; we had to put up with a boring lecture in order to receive treats, eventually. Our years in Calgary were a little different, since my parents found a minister with whom they connected, but for the most part, it's been a lot of heel-dragging through the snow. There was one memorable year when my mother decreed that we'd be going to church for the Advent. We encountered the recently-fired priest who preached a fire-and-brimstone sermon two weeks before the birth of Christ, along with the exhausted minister who informed his half-asleep congregation that Jesus came to "destroy the Earth" before catching himself and correcting it to "destroy death." The edit came too late, however; my sister and I, never the most reverent of human being, were laughing so hard we had to leave.

My parents were raised with faith, but only a little. My dad went to Catholic school, which apparently scared the crap out him, since he now refuses to go into any building with a flying buttress. My mother had a more positive experience, or at least feels a little guilty about not pushing the church issue harder, because she's the parent who prompted the church-going when I was kid. But, like Full House, church sort of fell by the wayside as our family got older.

Religion and church aren't always the same thing, though. The drive for one doesn't have much to do with the other. When I was in high school, I read a little on Buddhism; university brought a lot of Jew-interest. I think what I was really looking for was community.

Two or three generations ago, church was a major social and religious force. These days, it's mostly seen by people of my bracket as either terribly backward and boring, or as the place that hosts all the AA meetings. Canada, thankfully, has a dearth of those offensive mega-churches that seem to be infesting America - while we're not total heathens, we mostly seem to be coming up short in the "fucking crazy" category of churchiness. Thank God. But it still gets a little lonely. Religion isn't just a place of worship: it's a home for volunteers, for immigrants, for the poor, the hungry, the bereft of family, the bored, the drunk, and those who are curious about God and his/her/whatever's infinite nature.

As I get older, I become more curious about religion and the place it'll play in my life. It's a stretch to say I'm all that pious (hello, drinks on Tuesday!), and I'm in a tough spot, given that I believe in God but am a little tetchy on the whole divinity-of-Jesus thing. As far as I can tell, Christians are generally required to believe in Jesus. (Thoughts on The Jesus are strictly personal, however.) But, given that this process, whatever shape or form it takes, is a personal exploration, I can promise on thing: I'm not going to inflict it on my future partner/unborn children. Mom. Jeez.