Everywhere at home??

The entrance to hell?

One of these days, I’m going to visit the strange Park of the Monsters at Bomarzo, Italy. If I go, will I be greeted and led to the Hell’s Mouth by a sultry nymph with delightful long legs like this one?  Will my wife, and all my family obligations and history melt away, my middle age fly off to leave me youthful and desirable, my heightened emotions and vigor to be quenched in a unique, bizarre, erotic embrace within some weird grotto?

Not likely…This renaissance (Mannerist) oddity is nicely photographed and discussed in this fine book which I own.  I’ve known about the park for a very long time, but it seems that it was forgotten by Europe for centuries, until being rediscovered and somewhat restored by the efforts of Salvidor Dali and Mario Praz.  Popularity followed, and now it’s a “family destination” for tourists.

The image is from a catalog for Schneider’s of Austria, a clothing manufacturer, that was all shot in the garden.  What is going on here?  Their slogan is “Everywhere at home.”  This reminds me of the classic formulations of kitsch consciousness, i.e., that everywhere kitsch-man goes, everywhere he looks, he sees himself.  Thus, he is never open to new, genuine, experience.  Do I believe this?  Ich bin ein kitschmensch!

Fashion advertisement, and in this case, a pretty high-end, classy example of it, trades on all sorts of moods, half-understood cultural allusions, snobbisms, innovations, cultural quotes, etc. to endow the product, the look, with a feeling, a cachet.  Moody, hip, sophisticated, mannered, mysterious, cultured, refined and esoteric, sooo European…These are a few of the things this catalog has to say about Schneider’s clothes.  And you know what?  I buy it, all of it!  I want that raincoat I saw in Century 21!!  I’m a pretty unremarkable dresser, and I don’t think my appearance turns any heads, but I look at other people’s looks a lot.  Sometimes I become fixated on a woman’s coat, a man’s shoes, a purse, a pair of glasses…okay, it’s probably 80/20 when it comes to the time I spend on women/men – it’s not just fashion that catches my eye.

I’ve never been able to figure out or come to terms with exactly what is going on here.  It feels dreadfully superficial, even childish or stupid in a way.  On the other hand, it feels totally human and natural.  Does there have to be a moral evaluation involved?

I told my wife once about an incident when I was twenty years old, and I saw a Panama hat in a window of a shop in Europe during my summer travels there.  The “vision” of that hat stayed with me for days.  On the long train ride, I imagined myself wearing it in all sorts of situations – how it would make me feel all sorts of ways just by being on my head.  (Hats – the mediator of the man-sky interface.) She rolled her eyes.  That’s one reason I married her.  She keeps me somewhat tethered to reality.

Bring on La Maniera. Hail to La dolce vita!


8 Responses to Everywhere at home??

  1. Man of Roma says:

    Moody, hip, sophisticated, mannered, mysterious, cultured, refined and esoteric, sooo European…These are a few of the things this catalog has to say about Schneider’s clothes. And you know what? I buy it, all of it! I want that raincoat …

    That’s one reason I married her. She keeps me somewhat tethered to reality. Bring on ‘La Maniera’. Hail to ‘La dolce vita’!

    Watching, if you don’t mind, how your mind works, its ideas and their connection with the American culture you’re in. It is interesting for example what you consider ‘European’ – as the masses can perceive it. I mean, you both ‘ criticize’ and are ‘under the spell’ of it (so hard to express oneself in a foreign language.)

    Your posting speed is unfortunately too great for me to post comments sometimes. But I’m a good reader. I found interesting your comparison of that Italian movie on the Mafia and the Coppola one. I saw that Italian movie long ago and I liked it too. But Coppola, to me, is an object of study regarding Italian-Americans, who are a great bridge, for me, to understand your New – and very different – world. Of course, Il Padrino (The Godfather) is more like a feuilleton. But (pardon for insisting), what’s so terrible about feuilletons? Proust wrote, more or less: let us not deride the simple songs of the people, since in them we find the tears and the emotions of humankind.

  2. Man of Roma says:

    As you may have noticed, the second paragraph was not entirely offtopic.

  3. lichanos says:


    Re The Godfather: Yes, a feuilleton. Nothing wrong with that, but not my cup of tea. But I don’t think you can imagine how that film is regarded here. You would think it’s the greatest piece of art since the Renaissance. Just makes me cranky…

    Critic and slave…yes, I don’t claim to be exempt from the siren calls of pop culture. I rather like some of it. Over here, “Euro” is a popular prefix connoting sophistication: euro-fashion, euro-cafe, euro this and that…

    A lot of it is just me. I have a particular thing about certain types of clothes. That, and buying lots of books are my only “vices.”

  4. Man of Roma says:

    The Godfather … You would think it’s the greatest piece of art since the Renaissance. Just makes me cranky…

    As far as I understood, Americans – there including many intellectuals – have this crush on pop culture. Nothing so bad about it, it is part of the exuberant and young picture I have of many people from the US (better than being inert mummies.) Here it took Roland Barthes, Umberto Eco and other semioticians for the European intellectuals to become slightly aware of it. And of course they did it in such a sophisticated way, similar to the way jazz is considered here: mindless of its origins, like the gift of a supercilious God. I think only the UK escaped (escapes) this disdain bit, but not too much after all, plus it remains to be seen whether they are really Europeans lol.

    I think one trait common to many, no matter the place they live on earth, is to become impatient about one’s own culture. The Gods gave us a brain to be able to escape a bit, don’t you think?

    And being both critic and ‘under the spell’ is utter perfection. One doesn’t renounce neither to intelligence nor to fascination.

    • lichanos says:

      I think one trait common to many, no matter the place they live on earth, is to become impatient about one’s own culture.

      So true – excellent point! Maybe that’s also the appeal for some of being an expatriot. You are still just enough outside of the culture that you find it entertaining rather than annoying like the natives.

      Americans – there including many intellectuals – have this crush on pop culture…

      Here, there is only pop culture. The notion of “high” culture has been thoroughly discredited, if not intellectually, then in fact, by the marketplace. Everyone wants to go to Disneyworld, and not just for supercilious thrills. In fact, the notion of “culture” is pretty much dead – there’s only entertainment. (A form of culture, to be sure, but you take my point…) More and more, entertainment values invade all realms; journalism, for example.

      It’s interesting that you point out the downside of high culture, the snobbism and rigidity of it. That’s one extreme. We tend towards the other side in America. Neither is very appealing, but if I have to choose, I’d take our way. I detest snobbism, whereas mindless entertainment is a least harmless, fun, and sincere in a way. More important, it’s not hard to pursue the challenges of intellect in a culture of superficiality if you want to. But in a culture where intellectuals were all snobs and elitists, I might get disgusted and join the Red Brigades.

      I grew up in a family of educated professionals with little engagement in high culture. I told a friend of mine that I envied him a little for his family, WWII emmigrants from Vienna, all intellectuals and refined. He remarked, “Oh yes, well you might not feel that way if you had to eat dinner with them. If you venture a view about politics, they immediately demand to know if you’ve read all of Leon Blum and Karl Marx’s works!” I think it screwed him up, among other things…

  5. lichanos says:

    BTW, your comment on jazz is funny. Believe me, there are people here like that. There’s one fellow on the radio, very famous, he talks more than he plays music. “Just play the @*?/!% music, will ya!!”
    You feel like maybe you should be on your knees while you’re listening.

  6. Man of Roma says:

    You are right: supercilious culture and pop culture are only extremes. In Europe we don’t have only the snobbish culture, mine was a rant on what I dislike about European snobbishness. The notion of ‘culture’ opposed to entertainment is not dead in Europe. Not that it benefits us that much. We are a bit inert in any case.

    Allow me now an apocalyptic rant (though not anti American, pls consider it). I think some solid culture circulating in a society is necessary, or the young will become only dull specialists. One cannot have excellent universities for the happy few and then just crap circulating for 80% of the population. It’s more than unfair, it is suicidal in the long run vis-à-vis world competition.

    A young mind needs ‘complexity’, ‘subtleness’, to develop its powers. Such complexity must circulate everywhere , must become fashionable, desirable [not in a snobbish way], and must not be just the privilege of top class Academias [during European 68 solid culture was fashionable, but 68 was an abortion].

    A young mind needs for example the classics of today and of the past (music included], high math, tons of other stuff. A young mind certainly doesn’t need blockbuster stuff for example: too simplistic, black and white etc.

    Other once not developed countries are advancing, with brains of increasing power, it suffices to read their blogs. If America – European testicles are not that firm – falls in the trap of its capitalistic religion – giving to the people what is more profitable and not what the people need – her decline is around the corner.
    I think Obama has understood that serious reform of education is crucial, but I wonder what he can really do about it.

    I am not a communist. Nor even a socialist.
    I am an old Roman gladiator though.

  7. lichanos says:

    To the old gladiator, I offer this classical sign-off:

    Live long and prosper!

    …er..or is that from Star Trek?

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