Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Prairie Gnome Companion: From Highbrow to Lowbrow and Every Hair in Between

Tank: Marshalls
Cami: Worthington, J. C. Penney's
Skirt: Lily Star, Kohl's
Shoes: Modcloth
Bag: Etsy, Glamour Damaged
Belt: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Sunglasses: Michaels 

Sweater: Arizona Jean Company, J. C. Penney's
Cami: Worthington, J. C. Penney's
Skirt: H&M
Shoes: Payless
Bags: Charming Charlie
Belt: Candie's, Kohl's
Jacket: Decree, J. C. Penney's
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's

Dress: Ruby Rox, J. C. Penney's
Cami: Worthington, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Call it Spring, J. C. Penney's
Sunglasses: Michaels

Finally, I've gotten around to doing a post about the magic of mushrooms.  (No, not those mushrooms.)  You know.  The crayon box-colored, cartoonish kind often flanking smiling garden gnomes.  This week's pieces reflect the young-at-heart and enchanted spirit of these fanciful forest dwellers.  They make me think of Super Mario Brothers, Alice in Wonderland (although in that case the mushrooms were paired with a caterpillar as opposed to a gnome, one most certainly smoking something suspect), and the more imaginative photographs in my grade school science textbooks.  But this post is about none of those things.  It's about two women (characters, if we must), two mediums (books and movies), and two sets of dark, unruly eyebrows.  Such begins my compare and contrast of two stories I recently consumed, namely the now-classic French film Amelie and the memoir Unabrow by journalist and young adult fiction writer Una LaMarche.

We'll start with Unabrow (even if it does appear second in my list).  It was a gift from the husband, and I'd never heard of it, but as soon as I read the back cover, I knew that it was something I wanted to read.  Part coming-of-age saga, part feminist rant (which I mean in the very best way possible, being a regular espouser of rants) and part 1990s pop culture primer ("Melrose Place", "90210", "Friends", New Kids on the Block, and Salt n' Pepa references abound), LaMarche's memoir is edgy and funny as it follows one woman's quest for self acceptance -- and more manageable facial hair.   I like to think that one Una LaMarche (who is only two years older than I am) and I would have been fast friends had I grown up in Brooklyn instead of southern New Jersey.  But then, I'm sure most readers think that, which is a testament to LaMarche's craft.  She gamely reveals the kinds of memories experienced routinely by the precocious and geeky, one of which is her inexplicable crush on "A Prairie Home Companion's" Garrison Keillor.  Another is her collection of hand-written Christmas and birthday wish lists, one of which demands, "TROLLS!!!!! -- Big trolls, little trolls, every kind of troll!!!!!!  LOVE Trolls!!  I Want Lots!!!!" (122)  LaMarche moves easily from childhood embarrassments to teenage misadventures to awful first jobs to marriage to motherhood, and even, whimsically, to a segment on bathroom stall protocol, complete with diagrams (LaMarche subscribes to the get-in-and-get-out philosophy but not to the use of paper toilet seat covers).  Upon finishing this book, I promptly looked it, and LaMarche, up on Amazon, which led me to LaMarche's blog.  I can't tell you how weird it is to read a book and then be able to immediately communicate with its author, albeit via cyberspace.  It made me feel (just a wee bit) like a stalker.  Although I suppose an innocuous one-line comment expressing appreciation for indie bookstores and a bolo-wearing, dancing .gif of Paul Rudd doesn't necessarily scream restraining order (even if the image of Mr. Rudd getting jiggy with it only reinforced my hunch about LaMarche and I being kindred spirits).

As for Amelie, I bought it on clearance at Target years ago without ever having seen it and tore off the cellophane only last weekend.  My reluctance, I think, stemmed from the whole subtitle thing.  But I needn't have worried.  Amelie has enough brooding silences and wordless scenic shots that I could catch every line, even while crafting.  It's about (for anyone out there still scared of subtitles), a sensitive only child (Amelie, played by Audrey Tautou) raised by neurotic, over-protective parents.  Her father insists on home-schooling her because he believes she has a heart defect (she doesn't; it's only that her heart beats faster during the monthly medical exams that he, in his hyper-paranoid way, insists on administering).  Her mom, who has a bit of OCD, is crushed by a suicide jumper coming out of church, ironically after having prayed for a second child.  So Amelie grows up alone with her father, stretching the limits of her considerable imagination and eventually getting an apartment of her own and a job as waitress.  Things are fine but not exciting.  Until one night when she discovers a box of tiny treasures hidden behind the wall of her bathroom.  Transfixed, she decides to track down its owner.  She finds him and is touched by his happiness in being reunited with his childhood mementos.  Her success inspires her to perform random acts of kindness for strangers, coworkers, an enigmatic young man, and even her own father.  He has always wanted to travel but didn't on account of Amelie's (imagined) heart defect, so Amelie sends his beloved gnome around the world and arranges for her father to receive pictures of his ceramic pal in exotic locales (a slice of cinema that lives on even to this day in Travelocity ads).  Before long, Amelie's world expands, and she forges a friendship with a housebound artist who challenges her to change her life as she's changed the lives of so many others.  In its shy, unassuming, and very French way, Amelie reminds us that we have the power to chart our own destinies, whatever the obstacles, and that happiness is always worth the risk.  
So, what do Una and Amelie have in common? Both are still-waters-run-deep sort of types, subversive beneath layers of seeming submission (unless I'm reading too much into both of them, which is entirely possible but somehow works for the purposes of this post).  Both are thin despite eating tons of bread and pasta.  Both are odd.  And both are just trying, despite all of this, to get what they want out of life.  So, how are they different? (Because, to be fair, I promised a compare and contrast.)  One is American, one is French (although even the American one has a French-sounding last name)  And that's about all I've got.  As arguments go, it's a little lopsided, but then this post is about finding common ground as opposed to dividing and conquering.

Much like the ground where our fungi friends grow and prosper.