Pink

When my sister and I were kids, my mom was dismayed that our favorite colors were purple and green, respectively. Isn’t part of the fun of having two little girls dressing them in pink?

Maybe her love of pink sank into my penchants subconsciously, because as an adult I found my wardrobe becoming pink and red.

The first time I realized that I had developed a style was around sophomore year of college. I bought a sleeveless red shirt with a lacy crocheted trim around the neck in a secondhand store. When I got home, in my closet I saw my dark red sleeveless dress with lace for the neckline. Without realizing it, I had bought an item I basically already had.

Since then, I have gone through other color phases—black, gray, navy blue—but I still have a lot of pink and red in my closet.

Naturally, when I heard about the Museum at FIT’s exhibit “Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color,” I emailed several friends I thought would be interested and asked if they’d like to join me. Being the kinds of friends I have, they were enthusiastic, and we planned an outing.

Several of us had been to the museum together for “Fairy Tale Fashion” a few years ago when our friend was visiting from Boston. Since then, I keep the Museum at FIT’s exhibits, which are free, on my radar.

This time I got in the spirit of the exhibit, wearing a pink coat, pink scarf, and pink purse, which wasn’t too far a stretch from my normal outfits.

After viewing the exhibit “Fashion Unraveled” on the ground floor, we went downstairs for pink, pink, pink.

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Does anyone remember this dress? I saw it at Sotheby’s pre-auction exhibit in Paris a few years ago! Now I know who bought this John Galliano. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly knowledgeable of high fashion, but I guess I do get out there. I would not have thought that not only would I see the same dress in Paris and New York, but also that I would remember it.

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Speaking of connections, I was surprised to see a caption featuring the book Pink Sari Revolution, which was sitting at home waiting for me to read it. A few weeks earlier, I had borrowed it from my local library after a quick browse of the nonfiction shelves and finding the book flap summary interesting. When I picked it up, I had no idea whether it was well-known. Now I was even more intrigued to read this book about a women’s movement in India.

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There was also some vintage children’s clothing to illustrate that in the early 1900s, pink was actually seen as masculine, a boy’s color.

I remember that in grammar school, most of my classmates, boys and girls, said their favorite color was blue (or were some of them pretending in order to fit in?). Mine is still green, but from my wardrobe, you’d think it was pink.

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We Traveled to ’80s France

So, I played with a Minitel.

The Mintel, invented by the French in the 1980s, was a precursor to the internet as we know it. Shipped to you by the government, it was a little computer that hooked up to your phone line. You could chat with strangers, play games, search the phone directory, make online purchases…

It also became popular for steamy chatting, referred to as Minitel rose. Not long ago, the podcast Reply All interviewed a man who for a while posed as a girl and instant messaged with men as his job.

There were “racy” images online that were pixelated and hardly very enticing by today’s standards (it makes me think of the how at the Musée de l’Erotisme in Paris my friends and I saw an old black and white video of two women in bathing suits playing volleyball). Apparently there were poster advertisements in France that showed scantily clad women and directed people to the Minitel, whose images on the screen were a far cry from the quality of a photographic image.

Anyway, why was I, an American in the U.S. in 2018, hunched over a Minitel with a platter of charcuterie and cheese in the vicinity?

The author of a recently published book on the Minitel held an event in a hotel bar/café in New York. Three Minitels sat on a coffee table, available for public use. One appeared to be off, but the author explained to me that there was no backlight in the machine and therefore the screen was not visible in the dim light of the hotel lobby. He had asked hotel staff to bring a lamp, which they were now in search of. A young man sat in front of one of the other Minitels, whose chat feature appeared to be working, as my friend and I saw text appear on the third Minitel in front of us. She and I tried to type a response, but every time we hit “envoi” (“send”), the machine rebooted.

After the young man left momentarily, I moved to the working Minitel. With a lamp now shining on the previously dark Minitel, my friend and I were able to write to each other in the chatroom. What was funny is that users were displayed in numbered order of their arrival to the chatroom with what they had typed beneath their name, and the order didn’t change. Therefore, you might see a conversation that appeared thus:

  1. Michel:
    I’m fine.
  2. Jeanne:
    How are you?

If you were more than two people and looked away from the screen for a moment, when you returned it would not be obvious in what order you should read the conversation.

At one point, at the top of the screen appeared, “Les préservatifs préservent de tout, sauf de l’amour.” It seemed funny to see that all of a sudden since it was unrelated to what was on the screen, but the former co-founder and coder of the site Minitel rose 3615 SM who was present explained to me that it was a message from the French government. The Minitel was invented in the 80s, when AIDS was a huge issue, so they included public announcements to promote protection.

There were seven options on the home screen, which included chat, games, humeur, and annonces, but only the chatroom and games seemed to work.

The keyboard was interesting—it had all the letters and numbers and some punctuation options, but I couldn’t find an exclamation point.

The Minitels kept malfunctioning, which was all part of the experience, in my opinion. The organizers of the event were a bit dismayed and would come around and try to fix them, but my friend and I thought it was hilarious. This is why I invite her to weird happenings like this—she is a good sport.

What amazed me is that the Minitel was only officially shut down in 2012. The telephone provider France Télécom no longer wanted to support it. My question was, who was still using the Minitel in 2012?

The coder told me that up till then, there were farmers who checked prices on it and elderly people who used it.

Hunched over the Minitel and typing “Ce truc est marrant,” I thought, my life is weird and wonderful.

The next day, a French friend who is in his mid-40s told me during a phone chat that even he had never used one. He was a kid when his parents had a Minitel at their house. It tickled me to tell him I had spent the previous evening tinkering with this French throwback.

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The guys around me who chose the user names had some kind of sense of humor

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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Going out four to five evenings a week after work and avoiding the computer during the weekend is not conducive to blog writing, in case that is the schedule you were thinking of following. You should follow that schedule if you are looking to write a post two months after you mean to.

Are you familiar with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire? If you’re American, you probably learned about it in grammar school Social Studies class. I’m not sure if it’s taught outside of the United States.

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in a factory in New York City, and because doors were locked, 146 employees, garment workers who were mostly immigrants, couldn’t escape and thus died.

The incident spurred the creation of work safety regulations, hence its appearance in our history books.

On a rainy afternoon almost a week after March 25th this year, I came upon this outside what used to be the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Each carnation was tagged with the name and age of a person who had died. It made the whole tragedy a lot more real to me. Mary Floresta, 26. Ida Pearl, 20. Ross Friedman, 18. Esther Goldstein, 20. Frieda Velakovsky, 20. Over one hundred years later, a group had remembered these individuals. I felt a connection with those long gone, thanks to the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, which advocates for working people and recognizes the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire each year. DSC00313DSC00314DSC00316DSC00317DSC00318There is a balance to be struck between learning about and from the past and living in the present and moving forward. Sometimes it seems there is so much knowledge to be acquired, taking into account everything known and unknown and the necessity of sifting through countless opinions and worldviews to find one’s own truth. I am glad for these everyday moments to learn and relearn and remember moments that led to progress.