2015 Grateful 35

I like my horses. I like a good day at the races. I like a bet or three. And I love the excitement that comes with a race meet, especially one as big as Punchestown, a five-day race meeting worth about €15 million to the local economy. But this year, it wasn’t the horses I was looking at …

People come from all over the country, and not just for the racing. They come for the craic. The pubs in Naas and surrounding towns are heaving with racegoers and party-seekers alike. Taxis from as far away as Limerick come to cash in. B&Bs and hotels are booked up weeks in advance. And on Ladies Day, the Friday, all gloves are off as the style icons take over from the four-legged fillies.

I’d planned to go on Wednesday, but we had rain and hailstones and much and all as I love my racing, I’m not into discomfort. So we went on Friday and it was bitterly cold. Ten degrees. With a biting wind blowing in across the open plains of Kildare. I was frozen. And I was well wrapped up.

IMG_0687 (800x600)IMG_0689 (800x600)As far as the racing went, it was a waste of time. I couldn’t concentrate on the horses. I was far too taken up with watching the young wans and their style. Mind you, I was in the cheap seats, not even in the reserved enclosure, so I was mixing IMG_0688 (800x538)with the teeny-boppers, those who from hours of eavesdropping I determined had pulled together on average about €60 to come to the races. What wasn’t going on bets was going on booze and fair enough – everyone was well mannered and no one seemed to be overdoing it. What teetering that was happening wasn’t drink-induced – it was more to do with the ridiculously high heels they were wearing. I was getting dizzy just looking at them.

They all seemed to be walking at a tilt- upper body leaning forward to keep the balance and battle the breeze. I was  fascinated. The shoes in the photos are not the highest I saw – these were the average. One girl  – a slip of a thing who might have weighed 30 kg soaking wet – was anchored to the ground by shoes with a 12-inch heel. I kid you not. It was painful to watch her attempt to sashay across Bookie Row and even more painful to see how she desperately needed the young lad with her to keep her upright as she climbed the steps into the stands.

IMG_0664 (542x800)There was lots of glamour out around the parade ring, where women one or two age-brackets up were stylishly dressed and not obviously shivering with the cold. Accessorised to within a french-polished nail of their lives, they made for great people watching.  And what amused me most was how they always seemed to be poised and waiting for the photo.  There were some amazing hats – and watching the line-up of finalists for the huge prize of a
€20 000 safari to South Africa plus – wait for it – €1000 in hair extensions (!) I was suitably impressed by the glamour. IMG_0676 (800x600)IMG_0681 (584x800)I loved the outfit that won (second from right) – I’d have picked the same had I been asked to judge. And while these might have been a tad cold, they can’t have been nearly as cold as the teens. I tell you, it was 10 degrees – maybe 12 in the sunshine. It was bloody freezing.

I was very impressed with the men though – wow. Gobsmacked even. From the youngest to the oldest they were impeccably dressed. Coordinated. Shined. Bow-tied. Handkerchiefed. IMG_0693 (600x800)IMG_0698 (600x800)Gorgeous. When did the Irish Male become so fashion conscious? When were suits and shirts and ties the only thing to wear to the races? Bloody amazing if you ask me. And I’d happily wager that most of them spent more time getting ready than I did.

This week was a good one – I caught up with good friends, spent time with my folks, got to see the wonderful Ruby Walsh in action up close and personal, and even managed  to catch up on my sleep.

I am grateful though, ever so grateful, that I’ve never felt the need to sacrifice comfort for style, that fashion is not something I’m a slave to, and that after buying and giving away countless pairs of expensive high heels I’ve finally realised that an inch is as tall as I can go. It’s been years since I’ve had to resort to bare feet and the line ‘these shoes are killing me’ is not one I ever want to utter again.

IMG_0695 (800x528)IMG_0691 (800x600)Elegance doesn’t have to be bare-backed in 12 degrees; there’s nothing attractive about goosepimples; witty conversation can’t be heard through chattering teeth. This has to be the first time that I was actually grateful that I am the age I am and not the age I’d sometimes like to be. My teens have been officially boxed and filed. I’ve acknowledged to myself that comfort will always win out with me. What lies ahead are years of experimentation to find my weather-appropriate style. Just how much fun can a gal have with twinsets and flats? Let’s see.



Upscale street markets

I have a fondness for other people’s junk. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all that. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning than wandering a flea market, picking up and putting down bits and pieces of other people’s lives. Budapest has its fair share of markets and, in fact, most cities have regular market days – perhaps a sign that we’re becoming more thrifty?

I associate markets with bargains. Good deals. Stuff I wouldn’t see elsewhere. Old stuff that has character. I loathe the Chinese and Turkish tat that encroaches on the traditional fare, preferring plain old junk to new junk any day.

IMG_0119 (800x600)IMG_0122 (600x800)I missed out on Milan’s famous flea market: the Fiera di Senigallia and have made a note to book a return trip that include a last Sunday of any month, to catch the 400 or so antique dealers displaying their wares at the Antiquariato sul Naviglio Grande. This canalside market takes up 2 km of city streets and attracts more than 100 000 people each time. But we did stumble across the Via Fauchet which didn’t have much in the line of old stuff (if you don’t count the elderly ladies elbowing their way through the cashmere cardis) but the prices made my eyes water.

IMG_0127 (800x600)IMG_0124 (800x600)I took my life in my hands to get close to the leather bags on offer. Display samples in an array of colours in real leather. I could feel the adrenaline as I started to mentally check people off my Christmas list and visualise the space available in my suitcase. But then I saw the label – Made in China. Written in Italian mind you, but made in China nonetheless. I’m still refusing to buy anything made in China except when I can’t avoid it (It’s hard to find a laptop or a phone that wasn’t made there.) It was hard – and as I found myself trying to justify the bargain, I walked away. It’s a slippery slope.

Milan is famous for its fashion and if you had an ounce of style and the fortitude to battle with the masses, you’d easily fill your wardrobe with classic items at half of what they’d cost in a bricks-and-mortar market.

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A pervasive sense of style

I might have my issues with China but that said, one of my favourite places in the world to have breakfast is in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I love the hustle and bustle. The mania that passes for normalcy. The smells. The noise. Even the windows dressed with dead ducks have their appeal.

Practically every Chinatown I’ve visited has been the same – full of life and vigor: Vancouver BC, Los Angeles, London, New York. And that in itself had created a pattern in my mind, a pattern that has been broken by Chinatown in Milan.

IMG_0136 (800x600)Okay, in fairness, while San Francisco’s Chinatown has its origins in the gold rush of the 1900s and takes up about 22 blocks of the city, the one in Milan is much, much smaller and far more recent.

Chinese immigrants first arrived in the city as far back as the 1920s but it wasn’t until 1979 and onwards that they started to come in earnest. By the turn of the century, there were about 10 000 Chinese immigrants in the city – and probably more today. Located between the streets of Via Paolo Sarpi, Via Bramante, and Via Canonica, Milan’s Chinatown is one with a difference.

IMG_0154 (800x600)And what makes it different? It has style. Milanese style. The Milanese are a stylish people. Enviably so. And, apparently once the Chinese vendors figured out what makes the Milanese tick with regard to shopping preferences, they adapted accordingly. Instead of the noisy chaos, there’s a quite elegance about the place. Duck is still readily available but the window space is given up to parma hams. Chinese ‘stuff’ in all its forms and fancies is to be had, but displayed with a certain panache that San Francisco probably wouldn’t know what to do with. And while many locals moved out when the Chinese retailers first moved in, they’re slowly coming back. The area is prospering.

IMG_0142 (800x592)IMG_0158 (800x598)And yes, there are the money markets, and the tacky shops selling the usual Chinese fare but even those have some class. But there are  expensive designer shops, too – more upmarket – catering to the Milanese pocket and the Asian tourist. It has everything that your usual Chinatown has – in style. I was bemused.

IMG_0147 (574x800)What got me though, was how well the two cultures have blended and how part of the city Milan’s Chinatown is. It seems to have assimilated. Or has it? I read that Chinatown is the target of many prejudices and tension. The fear that many Italians have of China is mainly due to the fact that the very important fashion business suffers from dumping prices and copying.

And apparently moves are afoot to relocate it to another part of town… where it would be ‘less infringing’. Who knows.  If you’re in Milan, it’s definitely worth a visit.

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