Monday, 25 February 2019

Writing in a language that is not your own

I recently decided to learn Persian. I have always been fascinated by it so I enrolled in Persian classes, after figuring that Rosetta, Duolingo and such like would not really help me. I wanted  to learn the script and do it properly, the old fashioned way. I have an old Persian grammar that belonged to my father, who travelled to Iran  in the 1930s. Finding it among my books together with a primer of  Sumerian, also my father's - ok, he had unusual interests- gave me the stimulus to get started (only on the Persian, not on the  Sumerian). The grammar, with its Key to the Exercises vol.2, is an antique of sort, published in 1923 and authored by the Rev. W. St. Clair-Tisdall. The prose is rather quaint, I have to say. I like the Preface written by the Reverend which introduces Persian as the "Italian of the East" and  "the most euphonious, expressive and important of the Oriental languages". Amen.
 Of course Persian (Farsi) is not easy to learn and the first hurdle (for me) is indeed the script, which is borrowed from Arabic. I feel totally illiterate, not being able to read, an occurrence which  gives me much anxiety. In my time I studied ancient Greek  then Russian, even attempted some Sanskrit, so I have experience of learning a different way of writing, but the Arabic script is  very challenging. So many squiggles, I am really struggling. I realised in no time that I  had to practise letter recognition from day one,  so now I am doing a little everyday, using flashcards to write my letters while watching YouTube tutorials  and attempting to read simple words.  You must write on the line  is the constant exhortation.  I even use an old fashioned fountain pen. It brings back memories of elementary school and joined up writing. I am failing miserably.
Being a beginner always sucks. But the good news is that I don't have to take exams or pass tests or anything of the sort. Just learn for the sake of learning. Which does not mean I nurture no ambition of great fluency... As we know the latter is achieved by commitment, tenacity and practice - as I write  I can hear my teacher from my high school days telling me 'practise, practise, practise' (I used to struggle with Greek verbs paradigms).
I am fascinated by languages and even more by the process of language learning. I speak a few languages already and studied more than I can actually speak - languages have to be used frequently, or you just forget them. I tested myself on my French just the other day by doing an AS paper - you can download them for practice. I thought I would sail through it but no, my grammar has become  rather shaky and those French words which I was once able to speak so fluently now mix themselves with English.  Damn, I hate losing a language.

My attempts at writing

I need to do translation exercises. I am actually  a bad translator  this is another area needing improvement and plenty of practice. I have started by simply picking up books at random  and translating them. I translate from Italian to English which is my dominant language, but will move on to others, like the aforementioned French.  One thing I know: if you wish to master a language you have to write it. You know - compose letters, write a journal, translate into it. Not just sentences like 'I went to the market and bought apples'. Challenge yourself, translate a paragraph from a newspaper, anything. Translation is an art.  There is always more than one possible translation, it's all in the nuances. As Umberto Eco wrote, a translation is a cultural interpretation, not a comparison of languages. Still, how do I apply the art to apples I went to the market to buy?
I dream of the day when I will be translating from literary Persian  - I aim high, obviously. Dreams such as this cannot hurt anyone, though it will be some time before I can accomplish this feat.
And while talking of translation and language learning I have something very relevant to add to the discussion. Over the weekend I discovered the work of Pulitzer prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, an American writer of Bengali origin.  I knew about her, I just had not read her work before - though I was strangely convinced I had one of her books at home and spent nearly two hours taking all my books off the shelves, only to realise I had confused Jhumpa Lahiri with another writer. Never mind.
In 2011, at the height of her success, Jhumpa  embarked on an unusual experiment. Already a prize-winning author,  she went to Italy and decided to write her next novel in Italian. The result is a book which has now been translated into English, not by her,  but by the amazing Ann Goldstein who among others has translated  Leopardi, Pavese and more recently Elena Ferrante -  Jhumpa Lahiri. you are in great company. The book, entitled 'In Other Words' is available in a bi-lingual edition, the English text alongside the Italian.
 I love it. Lahiri's Italian is beautifully terse, devoid of 'the dilated rhythms of a baroque and sensual narration' (I am here borrowing writer Dacia Maraini's words) more commonly found among a great many Italian writers. Lahiri's Italian writing is honest. It also reveals the painful  process of being reborn as a writer through a language that is not one's own.
Lahiri is not alone in this endeavour. There have been other writers who have made a foreign language their own and created extraordinary works of fiction in their adopted tongue - Nabokov and Conrad come to mind. But Lahiri's is a declaration of love for the Italian language. Writing in Italian, for her,  is cathartic in a way that writing in English, for Nabokov and Conrad, was not.
As I read Lahiri's book I have the audacity to wonder if I will  ever be able to do this in Persian.
Long pause. Realistically, I may need more than a lifetime to make this dream come true.
But what's the point of dreaming if you do not dream big?

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Ageism and no pay

London Fashion Week 2019. Image from LFW19 website.

London Fashion Week is upon us, with several high profile shows scheduled for today (I am delighted to announce that I will be walking for IA on Tuesday 19th as part of ON/OFF).  There are a number of initiatives taking place aimed at highlighting the need for diversity in fashion, even though there is a general consensus that diversity has now been achieved.
But no, I would not say it has. There are also other issues that need to be more openly discussed, such as financial exploitation.  A recent article by Lucy Hooker highlights the plight of fashion models who run up debts with their agency. In France Model Law was founded last year, along the lines of Model Alliance in New York to discuss the problems surrounding exploitation of models, including low pay. In the UK we have Equity Models though not everyone seems to be aware of it.
Whereas the subject of sexual harassment and modelling has been widely debated, that of low pay and /or no pay has not received the same attention.  I believe it should.
Older models are particularly vulnerable, especially those who are just beginning  a modelling career.  Who would have thought? Older models are usually experienced professionals in other fields and yet when it comes to modelling they can be utterly naive.  Many older models choose not be agency represented, believing that what they do is just a sideline, that it is mainly for fun and that it is a privilege to be asked to model. Wrong. Some decide that being with more than one agency is the answer to getting more work. Wrong again. But let's deal with these issues one at a time. Let's first discuss no pay.
There are several magazines and commercial enterprises that purport to fight ageism and yet, when they ask older women to model they do not pay. Why would they? As someone said, off the record, they would never pay any model for editorials since they are  inundated with requests from women who want to model, or models who desperately want to be seen.
Several  people are out there to profit from the lack of visibility of older women, by promising a more equal fashion, aimed at providing fashionable choices for older women, in the common fight against ageism.  They would regularly do 'street casting' using older unknowns who are keen to see themselves in print and not paying them a penny, offering a fun day out. Their products of course bear a high price tag.
 I have been through all this myself, at various stages in my career. I have modelled for free countless times and often never even got images.
It's all done in the name of 'fighting ageism'  or 'promoting diversity'.
Here I should hasten to clarify that there are people out there who are campaigning seriously for changes in the industry.
Models of Diversity has been  at the forefront of such a fight for a number of years.  There is also Age of No Retirement whose goal is to "create a world where our age does not define us".  I have to say that whenever MoD asked me to model, aside from campaigning,  I was always compensated - not millions, obviously, but a fair wage for a day's work.

From a 2017 lookbook shoot for Robyn of Bernini Group, Shanghai, courtesy of Models of Diversity. 
As I said earlier, it seems that the idea of diversity in the fashion industry is now a non-issue, everyone is convinced that we have achieved everything.  All Walks used to be very active campaigning in colleges but has now  taken a break Yet we need such organisations a lot more than we need  business minded individuals who are there to make a profit out of diversity and ageism in particular, on the skin of models. 
I would like to tell older models to hang on in there and please, request a payment or some form of compensation whenever you are asked to do a job. Beware of those who fight ageism and sell their wares using your image, for free. Think ahead of rights and permissions. Are you giving your image away in perpetuity? Are you being compensated?
When you model you do a job. It might be fun, it might be a boost to your ego to see yourself in print or even in an ad, but remember, it is work. At the very least you should be paid expenses and the NMW.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Beware of Instagram

Photo by David Green

I have an Instagram account. For someone who models it is useful to have social media presence and Instagram allows you to post images from  campaigns and behind the scenes.  The use of hashtags can help you to build up followers and you may end  as a model- influencer. At least this is what  I thought when I joined Instagram some time in 2013. Six years down the line Instagram is getting very tedious and I am contemplating closing my account.  Looking at your Instagram feed can  actually engender a lot of anxiety and envy, plenty of it.  Instagram is toxic. You find yourself unwittingly comparing your lifestyle with that of others, your opportunities and assets with those of others and you need to remind yourself, all the time,  that all that glitters is not gold - because Instagram offers  plenty of lies, plenty of filters, plenty of photoshopping. There is also  the well known issue of bought followers and  there are also the fake influencers who pretend to have been sponsored  in a bid to get followers and then be sponsored for real.
 Like Facebook, which I also dislike and of which Instagram is an offshoot,  Instagram  is the stomping ground of people who want to give you plenty of advice. The world seems to be full of  pompous and sententious individuals. Every time I look at my Instagram feed  I feel like throwing my phone in the dustbin.
The same old clich├ęs -  be positive, be grateful, be this, be that and a multitude of  hurriedly googled quotes photographed and posted to show how high minded the people posting them are.  Affirmations and such like are commonly found on Instagram, again in a bid to get followers.
But the worst thing is  the ads and the people who are trying to con you and get you to part with your hard earned cash. They seem to grow  in number everyday. More than half of the ads on Instagram are not genuine ads, they are not-so-elaborate scams and you may find yourself buying something for just a tenner believing you have got a bargain  and ending up paying hundreds in subscription fees as you give the seller permission to charge your credit card on a regular basis. It takes a while to withdraw that permission and plenty of calls to your card issuer.
Does Instagram take any responsibility for this? Of course not. The whole system is automated. Ads are not vetted. The problem  with Insta-scams has been  highlighted in several articles and TV news items . Scammers are free to advertise on Instagram. To give you an example, there is a company that sells you a t-shirt which apparently helps you to keep your posture in check. Although the company has been blacklisted and credit card companies might block your card if you try to use the card to pay for this product, Instagram continues to allow this company to advertise. What is the problem, why has this seller been blacklisted by credit card companies? Because when you buy from them you have to accept their terms and conditions by which you give them permission to charge your credit card as many times as they wish. Thousands of people have been scammed, banks and credit cards are aware of this company yet Instagram still allows them to advertise.
Instagram is also a haven for counterfeit goods. offered as the real thing but at a discount. The number of people that have fallen for it is unbelievable.
If this is what Instagram offers what's the point of being on it?

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Dior forever

The Dior exhibition at the V&A opened yesterday and I was really excited about it. I went in the afternoon even though some domestic crisis nearly stopped me from getting to the museum.  Of course it was the worst possible day to go  because  it was the first day and it was packed but I am a member of V&A and will go again, several times in fact. My priority was to get the catalogue and get a first glance. I ended up buying the wrong book, mistaking it for the catalogue - which is now coming in the post - but overall the exhibition did not disappoint and I am so pleased that photography is, for once, allowed.
The curators were keen   to emphasise the Britishness of Dior, a self-avowed Anglophile.  He dressed the late Princess Margaret  - there is a huge photograph of the late HRH in one of his inimitable gowns,  wore Savile Row suits and had a branch of his maison in London. Plus, Galliano, one of Dior's past creative directors is British.  Incidentally, Galliano's exquisitely weird  designs are arresting, they are quite central to the exhibition, though his ignominious downfall is tactfully brushed aside.
I am not sure about this claim to Britishness made on Dior - I put it down to Brexit anxiety. 
Dior, to me, is quintessentially French  even though he may have worn Savile Row suits and may have dressed HRH Princess Margaret and may have admired Gainsborough paintings. He also dressed Princess Grace of Monaco , - would this make him an honorary Monegasque? - and a host of celebrities and divas, including the wonderful Maria Callas.  He may have said he admired English women's style but it could have been tongue-in-cheek or perhaps he meant he approved of the fact  upper class English women wore his designs. Dior has never been affordable, his is haute couture par excellence, so middle class and working class English women could only dream of wearing Dior (or if they were skilled at dressmaking could copy a Dior outfit). 
Anyway, this is a bit of a red herring. 

There is no doubt that Dior was a fashion great - I dislike the overused term 'genius'. But following his passing the  creative directors of Maison Dior have been amazing, talented designers in their own right.  Now it is the Italian Maria Grazia Chiuri who heads the Maison. Hailing from Rome, and a former Valentino's creative director she is the very first woman leading Dior and she has already made her stance clear, dealing with issues like feminism as also  cultural appropriation, which is rampant in fashion and of which past directors of Maison Dior were unabashedly guilty of, Galliano included.

But among all the gorgeous dresses - and there are so many - it is Dior's New Look that really resonates. It's that super elegant look, yet disarmingly simple,  that defined the 1950s. 
So very  contemporary too. 

It's an exhibition worth seeing but please avoid weekends, unless you are happy with pushing and shoving and overhearing the most inane comments.

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams on until 14th July 2019 at the Victoria and Albert Museum

All photos my own, from the exhibition.