Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mod Gone Wrong: Mod Shaving Kit

This is a product that exists. A Mod shaving cream. Well, a whole kit, actually.

Again, how do you know it's Mod? Because there's a target on there. Oh yeah, and it's actually called 'The Mod Collection.' This whole set consists of an exfoliating face wash, shave cream, daily face balm, and (ooh) eau de toillete. Don't just look Mod, smell Mod too!

I was actually very curious about the cologne. I mean a Mod cologne? What, does it make you smell like the sea and sand of Brighton Beach?

According to the website, it's "masculine, modern and ever so slightly minty." Y'know, MOD! I really don't know what to make of it or its connection to anything Moddish, other than the target. Heck, they're not even using a sixties-ish, modern style font, like Eurostile, on this thing.

What I want to know is, other than Moddish folk, who is their primary market for this collection? Were there that many Mods in England crying out for a shave cream and scent to call their own? And are Mods buying this stuff so that they can truly be Mod from head to toe? I'm very curious...

All questions aside, there are some positive things to say about this attempt at a Mod cash-in. The company does seem to be a solid entrepeneural effort with hard work put in to making these products (instead of affixing a target to an already-made item). Also, they do seem to be very pro-environment in the manufacturing process and they don't test on animals.

But the most positive thing to say about the Mod Collection grooming kit? They're actually getting good reviews from people in the good smell industry! I can rant and rave all day long about a company placing a target on their products and calling them 'Mod', but based on the reviews I've read, if this was a regular non-Mod grooming kit, I might actually consider it! 

QUESTION: Have any Mods actually used this stuff? And if you haven't, are you going to give 'em a try?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sharp Stylings #17: Jeff Beck

We can learn so much from yesterday’s fashion icons.  And living in a post-Mad Men world means we can even enjoy aspects of current male fashions! Every Friday, I’d like to start your weekend off right with a little style inspiration from either then or now. Hopefully, my fellow Mod enthusiasts will find the whole or some detail of the whole to appreciate and maybe even adopt.

Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I'm skippin' out on Mod Gone Wrong this week to bring you some super sharp style.

Say hello to Jeff Beck, guitar stud of such bands as The Yardbirds and (surprise) The Jeff Beck Group.

Yes, before falling madly in love with muscle shirts, this guy used to roll around town dressed like this. And apparently, much like Gabor Szabo, he'd just ride around town on a scooter, stopping every once in a while to lay some sweet guitar licks on people. That's just how Beck works.

Now let's see... what's so great about this photo? Hmm... well for starters:
  • The earth-toned, paisley cravat tied under the collar of his white shirt.
  • Well-heeled black boots with a nice chisel-toe.
  • Dark, striped pants/trousers that look like they're cut with a small flare.
  • Simple, black 3/4 coat which makes the paisley cravat pop out more.
Really? Have you seen a cooler pose?

And with that, I'll wish those in the U.S. a Happy Thanksgiving and for the rest of ya, have a great rest of the week!

By the way, does anyone know what kind of bike Jeff Beck's sitting on?

Monday, November 21, 2011

"...clean living under difficult circumstances."

It's the phrase coined by Pete Meaden that most Mods, I'm sure, say they live by. Some might say it's the simplest definition of 'Mod'. Yeah, I kinda like it myself. It's simple... yet open to interpretation.

When I was younger, I didn't quite understand it. What was meant by 'clean living'? Being drug-free? Being hygienically clean? Being unsloppy? Well, at the young age I was at, I chose to interpret it as being clean (as in taking showers), not sloppy, and fastidious. And I saw the 'difficult circumstances' in a financial sense.

I was a relatively poor kid who saved money to buy cheap, used clothing to have tailored to look as Moddishly hip as possible. I didn't always succeed, but that was what I saw 'Mod' as being about. I used to hear about other guys, around my age, who did have money (usually from wealthy parents) and either went out to buy the best Mod stuff possible or have it tailor-made. I didn't understand the 'difficult circumstances' people like that lived under. If you had the money, it was easy to jump into a certain look. Some of us had to work a little harder, with several mis-steps along the way, towards that end.

I saw guys like us (who didn't have their parents' wallets to supply bespoke threads) more in line with the original 1960s Mods... young guys who were willing to sacrifice what little they had for a better appearance on their own terms. For me, no matter how broke or poor I felt I was, I wanted to look my best. That was probably the biggest attraction the Mod look had (and still has) for me.

Well, thanks to some articles DJ Soft Touch posted recently, I think I've learned what real "clean living under difficult circumstances" is and it's been happening in the Congo for many years. I thought it was tough living as a poor kid in La Puente, CA knowing more about gangs than anyone should (and it wasn't much, really) but I wasn't living in a war-torn Congo.

The Sapeurs are a subculture of immaculately-dressed men in the Congo who can put most Mods to shame with how sharp they look. Despite living with little money, bare resources, and civil wars, these men manage to walk down the streets dressed in beautiful, colorful, dandified clothing as a call for and show of respect. And guess what? They're dressing this way, during the day, with no Mod all-nighters or weekenders to go to!
Photo by Antony Kaminju from
Much like Mods, they pay vast attention to detail. According to the Messy Nessy Chick blog, these details include wearing a maximum of three colors in each outfit and leaving the bottom cuff buttons undone. Also, they stress non-violence through mottos like "Let’s drop the weapons, let us work and dress elegantly." And tell me if this sounds familiar: one of the early sapeurs, Papa Wemba, a famous singer in Zaire, has been quoted as saying, "Don’t give up the clothes. It’s our religion."

Let these guys be an inspiration to you. From the cuts of their suits to the beautiful colors they put on display, these guys truly live clean under difficult circumstances! And remember... for these guys, it's just another Tuesday.

If you wanna read more on the sapeurs, here are some great links for you:

And keep an eye out for the Daniele Tamagni book, Gentlemen Of Bakongo Book: The Dandies Of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sharp Stylings #16: Quadrophenia's Jimmy?!?

We can learn so much from yesterday’s fashion icons.  And living in a post-Mad Men world means we can even enjoy aspects of current male fashions! Every Friday, I’d like to start your weekend off right with a little style inspiration from either then or now. Hopefully, my fellow Mod enthusiasts will find the whole or some detail of the whole to appreciate and maybe even adopt.

Yes, Jimmy.

I can get down on this film a lot, but I reached down to find something positive to say and found one really good outfit in the movie:

It's like Jimmy had an off-day here as he actually looks pretty cool. Striped blazer, grey tab-collar shirt, beautiful horizontally-striped tie (my favorite detail in this ensemble), dark pants, and loafers (not desert boots, for once)! I like this outfit so much that despite how nice his scooter looks, I really wish it wasn't in the way so that we could dig what he's wearing in more detail.

In all honesty, this scene and outfit looks so different from anything worn in the rest of the film! If this was the type of look that was concentrated on in the film, instead of the 'lumpen' Mod look, I wonder how that would affected some post-Quadrophenia Mods.

See, even Steph's happy he left the parka and desert boots at home. Sting who?

Okay, after all this Quadrophenia talk, I promise to lay off the subject for the next few weeks or so.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mod Gone Wrong: Quadrophenia 'Mod' Guy

Yeah, you probably think I'm a one-trick pony when it comes to criticizing Jimmy from Quadrophenia. You probably think I'm going to spend the rest of this post pondering why Jimmy would be wearing chunky, beat-up desert boots with, from what I can remember, a newly bespoke suit.*

But today, I'm letting ol' Jimmy off the hook. Instead I want to talk about the guy marching on his right. Seriously, what's up with that guy? Let's zoom in on him a bit to see what I'm talking about:

Was this a bad costuming choice or did this random dude, taking his lunch break, see some filming going on and run over to join the crowd? Look at the lapels on that 2-button suit! Did Quadrophenia not hire a gaffer to check up on things like this?

And I love just how cocky he looks. He probably has no idea what the movie's about, but he's still just so pumped up thinking about how impressed his friends are gonna be when they see him up on the big screen.

The guy looks totally wrong in this scene, but he's having such a great time, it's hard to hate on him.

*It's been almost 10 years since I've last seen the film (something I plan to rectify if I'm to engage in informed discussions on all things Quad). For those of you with a fresher knowledge of the film, remember the (possibly deleted) scene where Jimmy's getting measured by his tailor and later picks up his new suit? Is this the same suit he's wearing with those desert boots as he goes off to fight rockers? If so, ooh... Mod gone wrong... and a great way to ruin your bespoke suit.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Discovering the 1973 Quadrophenia LP

What's that? You haven't heard the big Mod news this month?

Well, seems the Mod community has been abuzz with news of the release of the1973 Quadrophenia LP 'Director's Cut' happening today. Heck, if I didn't have real-world obligations, I'd have spent the time writing various Quadrophenia-related posts in celebration of the month of Quad-vember! I can spend several posts on Quadrophenia the movie alone ,which will happen in time, but today let's take a look at the original LP.

I'll go ahead and say it: Quadrophenia is probably my favorite Who LP. It's an album that, for me, has really stood the test of time and sounds as great today as it did when I first heard it as a teen... which is weird. Based on the album's sound, I should not have liked this album at all at that time. I was still young, a bit narrow-minded, and put off by anything 'heavy rock'-related. I was into new wave, punk, power-pop, soul and r&b with my taste of jazz limited to a Columbia classic jazz compilation and a cassette tape of Kind of Blue. I HATED strongly disliked anything post-1967 and pre-1976.

My first real exposure to Quadrophenia, aside from my father telling me I had to see it to learn more about Mods, was a purchase of the movie's original soundtrack during a San Francisco visit when I was about 16 years old. We were staying with my uncle and I remember putting the 2-disc album on with headphones (so as not to disturb the adults' conversations) and kind of liking the Who songs. I listened closely for any Mod-related lyrics and got a little excited when I did hear them. But what I loved most about that LP were the actual '60s numbers, especially those by the High Numbers, the Cross Section, James Brown, and Booker T. Those would be the songs I'd play over and over again.
At this point, I still hadn't seen the movie... remember, these were the days before OnDemand, Netflix streaming, and YouTube. But once I did, well... let's save that for another time. Okay, yes, I became obsessed. That obsession grew once I found a copy of the original 1973 Quadrophenia album, which included the booklet, about a year later! Despite the 'hard rock' operatic sound of the album, I played it constantly. (Okay, sure, I probably opened my mind to this album mainly because of the Mod on the cover.) The first song alone, 'The Real Me,' captured all the teen angst I had at the time. But you throw in songs like 'Cut My Hair,' 'Helpless Dancer,' 'Sea and Sand' and 'I've Had Enough,' and WOW-EE! Just the type of album I was needing... an album that was talking about what it was like to be young with the whole world against him. I leafed through the booklet's photos, absorbed the liner notes, and ate up all the lyrics, especially any Mod-related ones.

And yes, Jimmy the Mod became a kind of hero to me. I admit it. We all go through angst in different ways as teens. Those days for me consisted of going to school, not relating to many people, coming home, shutting my door and delving into music. I had no Mod girlfriends, no full-on Mod scene, and no Mod events I was aware of to attend. Heck, I lived in La Puente, CA where many of my neighbors had become full-on cholos. The loneliness and lameness that I thought Jimmy felt... yup, I was there too. (Oh, to be young again.)

I thought Jimmy was the Mod be-all and end-all.  The parka, the short hair, the suit, the sneakers... well, maybe not the sneakers. But he was the guy who I thought represented all Mods, especially me. Yes, friends, I too felt like I bled Quadrophenic. (...groan.)
Age 18, trying to figure out which of my 4 personalities to settle on for the day.
I'm looking through the Quadrophenia booklet now and remembering how those photos made me think about how much I thought our lives were so similiar. We both lived in dreary towns; we both had a hard time relating to our elders; and we both grumbled when taking out the garbage. Of course, we weren't completely alike: Jimmy's parents had to endure the horrors of WWII, he was allowed to have pin-ups of naked ladies on his walls, and... waitaminute, WHAT?!

Jimmy's parents let him put up photos of nude women on his walls? And they let him go out and party and come home late in the night? And he repays this by throwing rocks through car windows before overturning them?
Yeah, it around the time of realizing this stuff that I first grew away from the idea of Jimmy as any kind of 'hero'.

I'm an old man now (my wife disagrees, bless her heart). I don't relate to Jimmy the Mod. And I don't see Jimmy as any sort of Mod icon. Don't get me wrong, he's a great character that teens can identify with, especially if you're a teen who thinks you have troubles. I was there once. Angst... it's a heavy thing. But I look at these Quadrophenia photos and I just see a Mod kid who doesn't dress that well and was allowed to have naked photos of women on his walls. Plus, if you're gonna have a Mod icon, why not shoot for the best?

I just finished reading the Quadrophenia issue of Mojo and paused at how Pete Townsend described Jimmy: "So, Jimmy is one of the children, he's one of the numbers. He's not quite down there with the tickets." Well, let's ignore the Mod terminology Townsend's using here and get to the point... according to Pete Townsend, Jimmy wasn't that slick! He was a troubled kid toward the bottom of the Mod totem pole.

Dude was a 'number.' Straight from his creator's mouth!

Well, what's the point of this whole write-up? I was once an angsty Mod teen, once thought Jimmy was cool, and STILL really dig the original Quadrophenia LP (and not just because it's got a Mod on the cover). Speaking of which, excuse me while I put that album on before ordering the 'Director's Cut'!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Our European Honeymoon, Part 3: Barcelona With A London Epilogue!

Well, after spending the first part of our honeymoon in London and the second part in Paris, I learned 3 very important travel lessons:
  1. Do NOT overpack. Ignore the temptation to cram more suit jackets, shoes, and hats into your suitcases than necessary. In fact, skip the hats altogether.
  2. Do NOT create a trip itinerary that will be impossible to follow. It's okay to skip a museum, site, or restaurant. In fact, try for only one major site a day and enjoy the rest of the day just walking around or sitting at a cafe.
  3. And, the most important lesson of all: AVOID FLYING EASYJET for travel within Europe. Take a train instead!
Things had gone very well in Paris and we arrived at the airport ready to check in to our flight for Barcelona. We had things under control and our luggage packed just right: 2 LARGE suitcases, TWO carry-on pieces of luggage, 1 new piece of luggage for checking in, Irene's purse, and a hat box -- yeah, I know. All was well, though, since I had pre-paid for 2 bags and was prepared to pay a little extra for the new piece of luggage we had. Then, we noticed people at some of the EasyJet check-in kiosks struggling to re-arrange their own luggage. Poor saps... probably amateur travelers who hadn't packed their luggage right.

Well, we became those same saps shortly afterward. The horrible, blonde attendant who was 'helping' us, engaged in a back and forth with me that consisted of these lines:
  1. HER: So, how many bags are you checking in?
  2. ME: Three bags.
  3. HER: But you said here you were checking in only TWO bags.
  4. ME: I know, but we picked up a new one on the way. I'll pay extra for the third.
Well, it got worse. Turns out EasyJet only allows ONE carry-on item per person. So, Irene's purse... that was her carry-on. All of a sudden, we found ourselves with FIVE bags to check in! Well, there we were, shoving 2 smaller carry-ons into an already stuffed third bag. In the end, I had to pay 78 euro for this third, overstuffed bag. And this horrible attendant wasn't done... with a snide smirk, she let us know our plane was boarding and we had 10 minutes to make it. Of course, after hustling, sweating, and stressing, we made it to the gate only to find our flight was delayed an hour! Never again, EasyJet, never again...

After that horrible experience, we made it in to Barcelona and up against yet another heatwave! I thought the London heat was bad, but this felt like Greek heat! Again, we'd be spending the next few days hunting down anything short sleeved. Seriously... does Autumn weather not exist in London and Barcelona? Sheesh...

After checking in to the Hotel Continental, we spent the hot evening exploring La Rambla. LOVED IT! Great eateries, great shopping, and great bars all amidst great architecture. And wow, people out there really seem to be in love with the Vespa brand! Everywhere we looked were Vespa bags, Vespa watches, and people in Vespa t-shirts (with Mod imagery). Didn't see as many actual Vespas as I would have thought, though. Go figure.
The lone '60s Vespa we saw on our trip. Beautiful, huh?
We hit up one restaurant and had cheese, sausage meats, salads, and wine. Oh man... I could eat like this everday! After dinner, we followed up on one of the recommendations from our buddy Dean 'The Jab' Curtis of the Le Continental blog. This guy has studied long and hard to earn his degree in Barology with a minor in Pubonomics, so we knew we were in for something good: the Boadas bar.
Small, little place with bartenders in tuxedos who serve the best drinks! We had a couple of their specials, then died and went to heaven.

And by 'heaven,' I mean our hotel. See, our hotel provided a 24-hour free buffet which included FREE WINE ON TAP!!! Yes, you read that right. Rose and white wine and Spanish beers on tap, free, and available all day and all night long. So, we loaded up some cups, went back to our room, and enjoyed the Barcelona street scene from our balcony.
Oh, this old thing? That's just our awesome view from the balcony.
We spent the following day melting under the sun as we walked through the Parc Güell. I'm sure many of you already know, but, man, the surreal landscape there was something else! Sure it was tough to hike through thanks to the weather and the hordes of tourists, but it was so worth it. We made it back to La Rambla, and decided to spend the evening just digging the night-time scene again. We picked up cheeses, meats, and bread and delved in to the all-you-can-drink wine from the hotel lobby. 

The next day, we took another Fat Tire bike tour, but this time through the streets of Barcelona. In Paris, our bike tour felt romantic as we got wet from the rain. In Barcelona, our bike tour felt gross as we got wet from sweating in the heat. Still, we got to see all the beautiful Gaudi buildings, historic churches, and even the beach. By the time it was over, though, all liquids in our bodies had evaporated so we recharged at a local bar and then searched out a shop we had been hearing about: Smart and Clean.

Remember how you used to feel walking in to Toys'R'Us as a child? That's how I felt walking in to Smart and Clean. Wall-to-wall Mod-related imagery and vintage clothing that was predominantly, if not completely, Mod-related! The clothing was either used or deadstock, yes deadstock! They even had children's Mod stuff... lil' suede shoes for boys and lil' mary-jane style shoes for girls. We couldn't believe what we had walked in to.

Unfortunately, that darn Barcelona heat had defeated us. After a day of sweating on bikes, we felt too uncomfortable to try anything on. We were stuck in an existential hell. Cool clothes everywhere that the heat was keeping us from. But I was still on a mission... I needed short-sleeve shirts to survive this climate. And what did I find at Smart and Clean?

Yup, a whole wall of Britac shirts! I think I felt the Big Man Upstairs wink down at me. After going through the many patterned shirts, I finally picked up a couple and sadly looked upon the rest of their stock, swearing to return some day. Guys, I've never seen a vintage shop like this. These days in the Bay Area, we're stuck with a vintage market where 1980s clothing now dominate the clothing racks. There are a couple of shops that stay away from the '80s look, but even those shops stock only about 20% 1960s stuff with the rest concentrating on 1920s-1950s. Smart and Clean somehow have managed to buck all of that and provide you with 1960s-1970s goodness! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Our final night in Barcelona was spent on a Lonely Planet 'Modernisme Walking Tour' (thank you, Karen!). We saw more of those great visually-stunning buildings and ended with the Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. Oh, you've seen photos of these places countless times... so how about a couple more?

On our final evening in Barcelona, we hooked up with our contact, Jane (thanks to Gabriela!), who showed us a part of La Rambla we had missed out on previously. We sat out enjoying the warm night in a town square, drinking and talking all night long. Her daughter was with us coloring and laughing and her friend joined us later in the evening. A great way to end our stay and only left us wanting to come back soon.

We ended our 2-week honeymoon with a short return to London. We arrived at our hotel, the Mad Hatter, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when we saw their elevator. That evening we met up with our American friend Syd to check out a night of live bossa nova. We were looking forward to mellowing out, having some drinks, and digging on those smooth, soft sounds.

Well, turned out it was at a Brazilian dance club! Meaning, the DJ was blasting these crazy dance beats LOUD. I will tell you, though, this DJ was good. I'm not super tuned in to the Brazilian dance scene, but this music was pretty infectious. In fact, all around us people would spontaneously burst in to dance! Whether they were sitting, waiting for the restroom, or just having a conversation, every so often they'd just start dancing on the spot.

Then, the woman we came to see jumped onstage and, again, we expected those soft bossa nova sounds. Well, this woman (the name escapes me at the moment) rocked it! She was blasting her voice out and the sound coming out of her sparse band was thumping! The whole crowd was dancing, including the DJ and bartenders ON THE BAR. Unfortunately, the music became a bit too thumping for us, so we left and walked back through the London streets with Syd laying down some local history on us.

On our final day in London, we took a nice tour of the Tower of London (which I loved) followed by a sightseeing bus tour ride throughout the entire city.  This was just what we needed after 2 weeks of action. We just sat there learning about Hyde Park, Paddington Station, Big Ben, and the London Eye. Once it was all over, we headed back to our hotel.
Full tourist-mode at the Tower of London.
Our honeymoon ended on a nice note that made us feel that, yup, all was right with the world. As we ate our final meal at the Mad Hatter pub in our hotel, The Mohawks' "The Champ" burst out through the pub's speakers.

We looked at each other and smiled. And grooved in our seats.

London, Paris, and Barcelona... yes, they're all they're cracked up to be!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Our European Honeymoon, Part 2: Paris!

Yesterday, I started talking about the first leg of the European Honeymoon we took at the beginning of October. After those two-and-a-half short days in London, we checked out of our hotel and got ready for the next leg of our trip: Paris! Before that, though, we were able to squeeze in a quick trip to the beautiful Highgate Cemetery, locale for some '60s Hammer horror films. (Yes, we dig cemeteries and no we're not Goths.) This place was really something else, though, and if we had all day, we would have spent it there, pretending that Christopher Lee was chasing us through the tombs. And from what I'm aware of, we didn't even get to visit the more scenic portion of it!

After rushing back to our hotel to grab our extremely HEAVY luggage, we headed off to King's Cross Station and boarded the Eurostar train. WOW! What a ride! Within a short time, we were gazing upon the quiet, relaxing French countryside. I sat in the train, thinking about and practicing the French I had learned from a couple of Rosetta Stone lessons I had taken in preparation for the trip. Armed with these lessons and the French I learned back in college, I knew I'd be alright. That was, until the conducter announced our arrival. Her English was nice and slow for any non-native speakers on board. But her French was 5 times the speed I was used to with Rosetta Stone!

Shaken to the core by that reality, I hauled our bags off the train and walked out into the station. All the French I had learned had completely evaporated into thin air as I struggled to find the French words for 'toilet' and 'ATM'.  After almost an hour of walking around, lost and confused, we finally got our act together and hailed a taxi to our friends' flat in Paris. Now, I'm not used to apartment-living in Paris, so I thought our taxi driver was pulling one over on us as he dropped us off in front of what looked like a closed store-front. But then, we were pleasantly greeted by our friend Gabriela who came down to let us in! And the first thing that came to mind when she opened the large door which opened into the apartment complex: the living space in Truffaut's Bed and Board! Already, I was in love with Paris.
Apartment living in Paris, via Bed and Board.
But then I came face-to-face with the 3-story, winding, narrow stairway in front of us! After my experience hauling our luggage up to our hotel room in London, I wanted to cower away from that stairway. But I gathered up my courage, lest Irene and Gabriela think I was any less of a man, and gathered up my luggage. I huffed, puffed, and whimpered up those 3 flights of stairs and then stopped at the top to catch my breath and wipe the sweat away from my forehead. "I'll be down for Irene's suitcase in a bit," I yelled down. "Don't worry, I got it," I heard Gabriela call back. Sure enough, she grabbed Irene's GIANT suitcase and walked up those stairs with ease and a pleasant smile. People in Paris don't let stairs get in their way!

They also don't let sidewalks get in their way. I always felt pretty proud about the amount of walking we do here in the Bay Area. Heck, I'll admit it... I even get cocky about the amount of walking we do out here. Well, Paris humbled me. That first evening, we walked to Gabriela's friend's restaurant. And when I say we 'walked,' what that really means is we 'walked and walked and walked and walked.' But it was a good thing, because after I filled my belly with all that delicious food and wine, I appreciated the exercise and the scenery. Upon our arrival at the restaurant, we met up with Gabriela's boyfriend Serge, our American friend Scotty, and their friends Jean-Marc and Theirry. It was a fantastic welcome to Paris!
Gabriela and Serge, our hosts for the week, with the French Boutik demo!
The following week was filled with great weather (overcast, cold, rainy... just like San Francisco!), amazing sites, long but enjoyable walks, and perfect food and wine.
Visiting François Truffaut at Montmarte.
Oh, we saw the museums, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Montmartre and Pere-Lachaise cemeteries, and much more!
Including this store front with crocheted Mondrian outfits for the whole family!
One of the highlights of the trips was a 4-hour Fat Tire bike tour through the streets of Paris in the rain. I hadn't ridden a bike in over 10 years and after 5 minutes on one, I was struggling and cursing, telling Irene, "never again." However, after about 15 minutes into the ride, I wanted to spend the whole day on the bike and we decided we'd take the same bike tour in Barcelona.

We also got to know the Metro very well during our trip. By the end of the week, I had that map almost memorized. There was only one problem we found with the Metro: the lightning-speed doors! We thought the Underground train doors closed too fast, but those Metro doors were even worse! Irene commented that you need to be quick otherwise you risk getting splinched. (Yes, because not only is she skilled with Jam references, she also has a talent for Harry Potter ones as well.) Paris, slow them doors down!

I'm speeding through our days in Paris because how many times do you need to hear how beautiful the Seine is or how breathtaking the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is? No, what made our trip one-of-a-kind was what our hosts Gabriela and Serge had in store for us! For our second evening, they reserved us a table for a nice honeymoon dinner at the Restaurant Astier. We took our time through appetizers, a cheese plate, the main courses, dessert, and, oh yes, bottles of wine! Next time you're in Paris, do yourself a favor and make a reservation for Astier!

And as luck would have it, one of our Oakland friends, Bart Davenport, was also in Paris playing a show with his band Honeycut, so we all decided to check it out. Honeycut are hard to describe... part soul, part funk, part electronica, part indie, and all kinds of awesome! For those of you who've purchased Mac computers in the last few years, you probably know Honeycut and didn't even realize it. It's their song, 'Exodus Honey,' which plays during the installation process when you start your computer for the first time. Take it from me, these guys just blew their audience away with a great sound and a energetic stage presence. (See, and you thought 'Mod' music was all I listened to. What can I say? I've got layers.)

The following evening, our hosts invited several of their friends over as a little welcome party for us. Y'know, in the U.S., I think the French get a bad rap. All we hear about is how they don't like Americans or how snobby they are or how Freedom Fries taste better than French Fries. Well, I'm here to set you straight. Everyone we met that evening was extremely kind and warm. I felt horrible since my French was so out of commission, but everyone there let us off the hook by doing their best to speak English. The evening was filled with great soul and ska, spun by Serge, drunken photos, taken by Scotty, and great conversations provided by everyone. We talked about music, politics, literature, the Revolution, Impressionism, and, for some reason, The Specials' "Friday Night, Saturday Morning," which was the song of the week between Serge and Scotty. We couldn't believe the welcome we were given that evening!

Mod style uniting French and American cultures!
Of course, this knocked us out for the next night which was supposed to be the start of the Maximum R&B Mod Weekender. We started the evening having dinner with Gabriela, Serge, and an old friend, Sunny Buick, and her husband Laurent (Ugly Things music reviewer). It was such a great start to the evening as we talked about old club days, common friends in the U.S., and their lives in Paris. Unfortunately, after dinner, our previous day's partying caught up with us hard. By the time we reached the bar where the club night was happening, I felt my head start to pound and my body losing energy. Eventually, all of us called it an early night and made our way back through the streets of Paris.

We were refreshed for Sunday evening, though, in time to catch Gabriela and Serge's band French Boutik as part of the weekender. We met more great people that evening and dug on the French Boutik sounds... a really great mix of '60s soul and pop with a French twist. (See, is it any wonder why I don't write about music or write review records? "With a French Twist?" Sorry guys... best I could come up with.) Despite my lack of music reviewing ability, we loved them! They reminded us a little of Makin' Time, one of our favorite 1980s Mod bands! Want a little taste of what they're about? Dig their site here and click the song links.
French Boutik in action!
More French Boutik! (Photo by Fred Eagle.)
Bart, me, and Irene in Paris! (Photo by Fred Eagle.)
After French Boutik's set, we spent the rest of the evening dancing to great mixes of '60s soul and R&B spun by DJ's Denis Wild and Lord Julian. So many of our favorite tunes were spun that night... if my legs were tired from walking, they were about to fall off after dancing.

Our time in Paris ended with wine, cheese, and meats with our new friends Jean-Marc and Sophie, followed by great drinks at Baron Samedi with Gabriela, Serge, and Scotty. These three people helped make our trip extraordinary. Scotty helped us weave through the Metro system, acted as intermediary when we had trouble communicating, and documented a great week with his fantastic photos. Gabriela and Serge were hosts who went beyond their duty, setting us up with restaurants, figuring out things to do in the evenings, introducing us to great people, and providing us with laughs, good talks, and a fantastic experience overall.

Also, it was great to see how Parisian Mods laid down the cool. There was an elegance to their casual wear that really hit me. Button-down shirts with flat bottoms, slim, colorful trousers, and smooth, narrow shoes. Before this trip, I wasn't much interested in doing Mod stuff in Europe with the thought that Mods in one country were probably the same in all countries. Serge and his friends proved me wrong.  Yes, I took some mental notes and will be paying a visit to my tailor very soon with some ideas.

Oh yeah... and I also have to thank them for introducing me to Adèle Blanc-Sec! Could it be? Am I turning Francophile? Well, I can't be blamed really as our time in Paris was just that great. But now, it was time to say goodbye to our hosts and prepare ourselves for our next stop: Barcelona!
Thank you Gabs and Serge for the fantastic time!
Tomorrow (or the next day), the conclusion of our European (Moddish) Vacation!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Our European Honeymoon, Part 1: London!

At the beginning of October, we took a long-delayed honeymoon to a few places I'd never been before: London, Paris, and Barcelona. Two solid weeks of European travel which blew my mind! Oh, I can spend all day writing about the museums, the food, the people, the sights, and the culture we took in and loved.

But you don't want to read about that. You want to read about Mod stuff!

Well, let me start off by saying that the first thing I told my wife was that I didn't want to do ANY Mod stuff while in Europe. We have Mod people here in the U.S. I want to see stuff I can't get over here! So, no Brighton Beach visits, no Carnaby Street visits, no Mod clubbin'. Let's be 100% tourists!

But then I heard about the 'Reading Steady Go' Mod exhibit which would be closing within days of our arrival. Then, our hosts in Paris let us know that their band would be playing part of a French Mod weekender while we were in town. Then, we discovered that our American friend would be moving to London days before our arrival, just in time to let us know of any Mod nights going on. Well, turns out I'd be needing a larger suitcase to carry more outfits. Of course, this lead to my first mistake in traveling abroad: overpacking! I'll save this for a future post, though.

So obviously, we'd be fitting in some Mod stops into our trip. Still, I protested, no Carnaby Street! All these years, I had heard about it being a grubby alley with cheesy Mod shops and I just didn't care to give in to all that nonsense. (Yup, you guessed it... I ended up changing my mind on that too.)

Well, let's start this thing. We flew in to London in the afternoon, went through the long customs lines, picked up our bags, and hopped on to the Underground. Boy, was I excited... until the train arrived. Hey London, I've got a suggestion for you: instead of 'Mind the Gap', how about "FIX the Gap"?! Seriously... when our first Underground train arrived and I heard the announcement, "Mind the Gap," I snickered and elbowed Irene.
That snickering ended as I tried lifting our OVERPACKED luggage up and over that darn gap within the few seconds allotted to board the train! Oh yeah, and a little air-conditioning on those trains couldn't hurt.

Speaking of which, we hit a heat wave in London! We had packed for nice, Autumn, cool-to-cold weather, and then found out the hard way we should have packed short sleeves. But I'll get back to this in a bit.

We finally hit the end of our tube stop at Euston Square and I am very proud to announce that not ONCE did I make a Jam reference! Unfortunately, I can't say the same for my wife who started to sing a little lyric when we walked out of the station: "Saturday's girls work in Tesco's and Woolworths." I looked at her perplexed. She smiled and pointed at a corner store across the street, Tesco's. Again, I looked at her blankly. "From the Jam song!" she cried. Now, I thought I was a pretty alright Jam aficionado, but apparently not. Turns out it's a lyric from "Saturday's Kids," but unlike me, all of you probably already knew that. (SIDE NOTE: this wouldn't be the last Jam song reference she would make on this trip. When I pointed out Wardour Street to her, she replied, "Oh no! I hope they don't drop any A-bombs on us!" Cue rimshot. And I'm sure at one point she did say, "Hey, we're going underground!" Sigh...)

Now friends, let me tell you about our very first meal in London. After lifting our luggage up 2 narrow flights of stairs in the heat dropping our luggage off at our B&B, we decided to find some good English food to eat. So, we settled on a corner Italian pizza eatery and sat outside. As we were eating our pizza, four women surrounded us, asking for money. Now, here in the Bay Area, we're pretty savvy when it comes to panhandlers. Once you say 'no,' they tend to go away. Not in London! After asking us for money, they then asked for our food. I said 'no' again and thought that was it. I was confused... these women were dressed well, much better than our panhandlers back home. Then we realized they were gypsies! After I declined their request to take our food, one of them actually REACHED OVER AND GRABBED A SLICE! I threatened her with my fork as she looked me in the eyes and smiled a toothy grin. Now, I don't know about you, but I've seen Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell
I pulled my fork back because last thing I needed was to spend the rest of my vacation looking over my shoulder and worrying if I'd be dragged... to hell. Luckily, one of the waiters came out and chased them away, but that right there was my first dining experience.

Well, on our first evening in London, we decided to spend it in Reading instead. We had learned that the final days of the 'Reading Steady Go' exhibit would be celebrated this evening with a performance by The Birds with original lead singer, Ali MacKenzie, The Small Fakers (Small Faces tribute band, in case you couldn't figure it out) and DJs Jim and Paul 'Smiler' Anderson (the man behind the exhibit).
We were into this! Despite the heat (did I mention we were in a London heat wave?), we got all dolled up and ready for action! Little did we realize our only action that evening would be learning how the Underground works.

We spent about 30 minutes perspiring in King's Cross station as we tried to find the Reading tube stop. Guess what we learned? There is no Reading tube stop! But we were, however, directed to Paddington Station which we did get to, but not before jumping on a train that went in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Paddington we realized we would be getting into Reading way too late, not to mention the time we'd need to figure out how to get back to our hotel afterward. So we sat in Paddington, dressed all Mod-like and consoling ourselves with memories of Paddington Bear animated shorts on Romper Room.
We ended up getting back to King's Cross and having a couple of delicious ciders at a pub up the street from our hotel. Then, it was back in the sauna that was our hotel room.

The next day, we continued our trip proper-tourist style: Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, Big Ben, Soho-oh-my god, the London heat! Seriously, guys, we're weather wimps... we admit it! That's why we live in the Bay Area. This heat was too much for us (even though it was probably just in the 80s, or mid-20s, for you Celsius folk). It was so hot, I broke my vow not to go to Carnaby Street. See, I figured that'd be the best place to buy a short-sleeved Fred Perry. After seeing guys all over London in pretty-cool looking FPs, I told my wife I needed one. I'm not even a huge Fred Perry fan, but I needed something to keep cool! (Plus, by this point, it was hitting me: I'm in London. It would be silly to skip Carnaby Street since we're already here!)

Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the street, most everything had closed. However, Carnaby Street was not the alley I had been led to believe it was. Oh no, this place was huge! Several blocks, I'd say, with side streets on top of that. Oh, we'd be coming back alright... but not before taking a couple of photos:

Our 2nd full day in London was spent at the British Museum. Seriously... like the full day was practically spent there! An AMAZING place that is definitely worth a visit (along with the National Gallery)! Afterward, we did a little more shopping in Soho. I was still hunting for a Fred Perry, especially after seeing great-looking vintage-styled ones on random people. We found the 'flagship' Fred Perry store, walked in, and walked right back out after seeing those price tags. We then walked over to another Fred Perry shop and walked out of that one too, seeing as how much worse the quality of those shirts seemed. Gotta tell you, London really loves its Fred Perry brand! We saw this during our hunt for the shirts:

After not buying any Fred Perrys, we met up with our friend Syd at a still-bustling Carnaby Street. Honestly, we skipped so many shops on the main street: Pretty Green, the Merc, Ben Sherman. Sorry guys, but as 'Mod' as these shops claim to be, nothing in the windows looked appealing. And regarding the Merc, I've NEVER been tempted to shop there. I always associated that place with the easy, insta-Mod look. Just not my thing. We did walk in to Sherry's, more as a joke than anything else. For years, I saw this shop as the type of place where insta-Mods might go for their insta-gear. However, I will say this for Sherry's: the people who run it were super nice and welcoming! Sure, they sold a lot of janky, cheap Mod gear, but y'know what? They also sold John Smedleys about 30 pounds cheaper than Fred Perry was selling them for. So, yes, I picked one up! Plus, they carried other current Moddish labels that looked interesting. I always like supporting the small shop owners and for a little mom'n'pop shop, I'd totally recommend them! Stay away from the cookie-cutter 'Mod' suits and hunt down a John Smedley or two.

Hey. Mod enough for ya?
The best shops, however, seemed to be OFF Carnaby Street. As we were walking along, I mentioned that I wished I knew where the Blaqua shop was. Lo and behold, we were walking right in front of it! I ran in, while Irene and Syd looked at the Paul Weller photos in the window. I heard Irene say, "Aw, he looks like such a grandpa..." and put my head down as the shop's proprietor also heard the comment. I told her, "No, no, my wife's a fan..." That started a long conversation on PW between them. I wanted to talk to the shop owner about Carnaby Street fashions and the influences of her clothing styles, but it was hard to interrupt their talk about what Paul Weller was like in person and how his recent shows had been. I did, however, enjoy what she had to say about Carnaby Street and how her shop had been doing. I highly recommend checking Blaqua out, but don't expect a by-the-numbers Mod shop or a Mod shop at all. It's just a small boutique with beautifully patterned shirts and ties, slick jackets, and more. Plus, the items they sell are made in extremely small quantities, so chances are that whatever you get, you'll be one of a few to own it. Dandified clothing that's worth being a part of your wardrobe! (Heck, I bought myself a red/purple floral tie!)

The other shop I dug was Peckham Rye. After Blaqua, I peeked in to this shop to drool over the ties in the window since they had just closed. But the man working in the shop was kind enough to open his door for us!
He shared some of the store's history and probably got a kick out of some American acting like a kid in a candy store in his shop. Ties galore in this place, not to mention pocket squares and scarves! And good news for any of you not near Carnaby Street: these items are sold online!

Well, after a nice Indian dinner and drinks at a pub with our pal Syd, it was back to the hotel to sweat through the evening heat. We had to catch up on rest because the next day, we'd be hitting Highgate Cemetery and then taking a Eurostar to Paris! Up to this point, despite the temperature, London was a hit!

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of our exciting European (Moddish) Vacation!