Sunday, October 12, 2008

La Vie en Beige

Memories of memories. It's back in 1996 and it's winter. I'm sitting next to the Aga stove in the house of my earliest friend. Buxton, UK 1997. Two women of a certain age. Once state-school friends, then Mac Rob girls. Working class. Academic. Innocent. Now mothers.

"Remember," my old friend said, "when you taught my mother the word 'beige'? She was describing some TV person's outfit and called it fawn. And you said, 'It is beige!'".

I didn't remember but her memory struck me as true. The 1960's Australia, when fawn became beige, dissent became protest and for the first time in its history, the women of Australia aspired to equality.

Yes Di and I were both working class girls with ambition. Not ambition in terms of high-paying jobs - that would have been beyond our comprehension. But an ambition and determination to leave the world of fawn.

Deeply competitive, we spent our high school years waiting with anticipation for our exam results. I just had to beat Di, and she me. We both did well.

Then university and beyond. And Di and I both left the fawn-beige world behind. Between the two of us we added 10 children to the world. Di definitely won that count - eight to two! We are both now expats.

Looking back we've both done well. And we both still remember the coming of beige - Melbourne circa 1963.

Beige - a non-colour, but always either in, or almost in - fashion.

I once lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. a city exactly two miles square where the buildings cannot exceed a certain height. Giving the city a look of uniformity, only outdone by its citizenry - 28 year olds who uniformly wear beige shorts and white tee-shirts. I found it most disturbing and as soon as I could, moved back to Manhattan where there's black, white and gray, and where the skyline is jagged, and gap-toothed, post 9/11.

I've moved beyond beige. Or so I thought.

Ten year's on from the Aga stove and the memories - it was with surprise that I read in an essay written by my daughter,

"All my heroes had been complete junkies. I relate to the 12 year-old Dando’s vicarious drug use. I too [in my early teens] sought out such literature and music but given the eclectic array of such at my disposal, the only reason I hunted out Jim Carroll’s 'The Basketball Diaries' as opposed to the shelf devoted to Lessing [...] was due to a pre-existing intrigue with drugs and a na├»ve but unwavering inclination if not determination to escape the beige nightmare that was my middle class reality"

"Beige nightmare"? Sure. How about a fawn one? And since when did beige couples with shag-pile beige carpet have bookshelves of books by Doris Lessing? The "Basketball Diaries" - must have been my first husband's choice. He was always into sport.

One woman's beige is another woman's fawn.It just goes to show though - there you go through your life - a rebel at heart - defying the values of your parent's generation. Fighting against war, inequality, racism and injustice.

And after all that - you are beige.

I suppose there are worse outcomes. The Beatles, Warhol, Woodstock, Joplin, Woody Allen, Polanski, Scorsese, the Stones. All beige. Joni Mitchel - beige. Hendrix - beige. The Fugs - beige. Dylan - beige. Velvet Underground - beige, Martin Luther King - a darker beige. Moon Landing - beige. Neal Young - beige. Ingmar Bergman Beige, Robert A. Heinlein - Beige, A Whiter Shade of Pale - very beige.

We boomers are in good company. And so dear friends, I'm left with one thought - "Fellow Baby Boomers - Maintain Your Beige!"

No comments:

Post a Comment