Monday, March 28, 2016

UTAH

Garbo Hat. Utah, 2016
If aliens landed at the base of this ski slope and saw the goggle-wearing crowd they'd have the impression humans are creatures with grey protruding eyes almost like houseflies. When the skiers take a break to refuel, removing their skis, they clomp in bulky ski boots to the nearby bar or restaurant.

I wish you could see what I saw. (I wasn't carrying a phone/camera. Drat.)

I was approaching the path to the restaurant when I saw emerge from the slope a figure that stood out to an extreme. Against the snowy white background dotted with skiers of all ages dressed in vibrant shades of magenta, pink, orange and blue and the occasional more subdued black or white ski pant, there appeared the silhouette of a man in somber grey and black, his body wide and round. He was pulling a large white plastic rectangular box twice the bulk of a full size cooler, hauling it behind him with a rope as though it were a child’s sled with heavy passengers. On the snowy terrain he was not wearing boots, but nondescript grey rubber soled work shoes. In contrast to the skiers and snowboarders gliding past, his steps were slow and deliberate. It looked as though he was wearing a black calf-length kurta over grey pants. Here was an anomaly.

He neared the bottom of the slope where I stood. The rope with which he was dragging the cooler was in fact made of clear packing tape. It had been wrapped multiple times around the belly of the container to seal it, then extended to form a long loop to use as a tow line. (How far he had been pulling it? He couldn't have walked from the top of the mountain; the evidently heavy plastic cooler would have pulled him down any steeper incline. I wondered where he had come from.)

I had rented a ski jacket in which I felt entirely conspicuous although I probably blended into the crowd better than earlier in the day when I wore a dove grey ten gallon hat, a long floral dress and overcoat. That attire, however, is more natural to me. While I love being outdoors in winter, I find Jello colored ski clothing even in muted tones, disorienting to wear--disorienting not from my surroundings but from myself. Because of this I watched him with curiosity as he descended the slope. He looked as alien on the slope as I felt in the electric raspberry ski jacket.

Up close I saw he was wearing a kitchen apron, not a kurta. It was faded from black to charcoal grey, splotched and grimy. It wasn’t a waiter’s crisply starched apron but that of a cook or dishwasher. An acrylic yarn knitted hat with a wide stripe of blue, orange and white (a sports fan’s team colors) was practically perched on the top of his head. It reached only to the top of his ears, stretched and pulled down slightly as though it were made for a child and straining to fit an adult size head.

As our paths crossed, I smiled and inquired about the load he was hauling. He explained the container held dishes he was transporting from a restaurant in which he worked, located higher up the ski slope. His name was Euro, “like the money.” He was from Venezuela where he had worked in oil fields as a supervisor. When he came to the US he worked as a laborer on oil fields and now had a position in a kitchen.

I am engaging in conversations about dress and style while working on a book. As we spoke, Euro quoted an expression I'd heard earlier that day. The first person who used it was a fellow in his twenties who, when I asked about the clothing he liked to wear, said in French, "L'habit ne fait pas le moine." Euro recited it English then repeated the phrase in Spanish: "The froth doesn’t make the monk,” he said. (I was momentarily baffled: froth? I realized he meant “frock” or “habit”.)

When he was growing up Euro’s family went to church every week. He had to dress formally for the occasion. One day, when he was about eleven years old, he determined to go to church in comfortable clothing. His father objected when he saw what Euro was wearing.

Defending his choice, Euro proudly proclaimed,  “El hábito non hace al monje!” (The frock doesn’t make the monk.)

His father’s rejoinder? “Pero lo indentifica.” (But it identifies him.)

Euro smiled telling me this story. I wanted to know more. “So what did you end up wearing to church?” I asked.

As though seeing it in his mind’s eye he said with humor and resignation, “A black tie. A white collared shirt. Black pants and dress shoes.”

I laughed. “Your father won!”

The habit doesn't make the monk. In English the expression is, "the clothing doesn’t make the man." Yet attire matters. It is a signal to the outer world and/or a reflection of one’s sense of self. It is the eighth year of making all that I wear--of not buying clothing. At this juncture many of the clothes I have [made] belong to a former expression of myself. Seven years is the point when a sabbatical is declared. What would a sabbatical from this project, Slow Style, look like?

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