Rulings on Dress Surprise The Courtier

Much as The Courtier loves Catalonia, it must be said that over the past century it has become unique among the formerly independent principalities which now constitute the Kingdom of Spain in having the most schizophrenic attitude toward modernity. Puig i Caldafach, one of Catalonia’s most important architects, was a conservative politician and a practicing Catholic, while his contemporary and another important architect of Barcelona’s revival, Domènech i Montaner, was a leader of one of the Leftist parties. Not long after the great Catalan sculptor Llimona founded the Artistic Circle of St. Luke as a place for conservative Catalan artists to gather, Picasso began to make his reputation at the Barcelona School of Fine Arts. Catalonia is filled with glorious churches stretching from the early centuries of Christianity up to the present, and yet during the Civil War of 1936-1939, Leftist Catalan fury against the Church knew no bounds, as documented in the recent “The Martyrology of the Temples”.

So it came as something of a surprise today to learn that the beach town of Salou, south of Barcelona, is starting to crack down on perceived immodesty in dress, among other things. The town council has imposed strict penalties on those who are found wearing swimsuits away from the beaches and seafront bars/restaurants, in an effort to discourage libertine behavior on the streets of the town proper. Barcelona, while not going as far as its neighbor in assessing fines against those who break such laws, is also attempting to dissuade users of the municipal beaches from wearing bikinis and the like when wandering around the city. It is believed that other Catalan beach resorts will quickly follow suit (so to speak.)

At the same time as they are moving against the display of too much skin, the Catalans are also taking steps against those going in the opposite direction; interestingly enough, they are the first region in Spain to do so. Barcelona, which currently has a Socialist Mayor, and the provincial capital city of Lleida recently banned the wearing of full Moslem veils in public places such as museums, schools and hospitals, while the burka has been banned for some time now in all government buildings throughout Catalonia. A recent attempt to ban the burka generally, throughout Catalonia, failed on technical grounds, but may be presented again in the Catalan Parliament.

Despite its well-deserved reputation for anarchy and unrest over the past century, there is still a broad element of Catalan society which does not appreciate extremism in public behavior. Such attitudes are more strongly concentrated in the countryside, but even in the supposedly more cosmopolitan city centers there is a definite distaste for what has happened to Catalan society over the last several decades in particular. Anyone who has been to Barcelona within the last ten years knows that the historic center of the city is overrun with a kind of extremism vacillating between the trashy to the frightening, and which is becoming truly off-putting. Perhaps the people of Catalonia are finally starting to wake up and realize what happens when they sit back and do nothing while their urban centers collapse.

The beach resort of Salou, just south of Barcelona on the Costa Daurada
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>The Courtier Salutes…

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A great piece in The Atlanta Journal Constitution tells us about George Carley, Presiding Judge of the Supreme Court of Georgia, in a way which not only reveals much about the man, but also gives us quite an example of how a courtier should behave:

George Carley knew he was having a heart attack.

It was 4 a.m. and the intense pressure on his chest could mean only one thing. But before telling his wife, Sandy, the Georgia jurist took care of some urgent business. First, he smoked what he thought might be his last cigarette. Then he shaved.

Only then did he tell his wife he was having a coronary, and she ordered him out to the car. But wait: He’d forgotten one other thing, he told Sandy. Would she go back into the house and get his coat and tie? Carley might have been about to die, but he wasn’t about to die out of uniform.

Forget it, Sandy said.

In this case, Mrs. Carley was right to refuse to go back for a coat and tie, but one has to admire Justice Carley for managing to get himself reasonably put together before heading to hospital.

In a very small way it reminded me of when I was struck by a car last year while crossing Pennsylvania Avenue. After the impact I hobbled over to the side of the road, blood pouring from the gash in my knee and from my hands, my poor suit from Paris completely ruined, to await the arrival of my boss, who was nearby. I sat on a low stone wall and smoked a cigarette more or less calmly until she arrived, trying to brush the road bits out of my hair and tidy up as best I could so that I wouldn’t make a big dripping mess on the pavement.

This is not to say, of course, that a gentleman should act like an automaton, or a lady like a Stepford Wife, in times of injury or emergency. However, there is something to be said for taking the time to consider whether there are a few minutes to put things together before heading into public territory. Justice Carley will be retiring in 2012, but apart from his remarkable legal legacy (dealt with extensively in the article) he is also an excellent example for younger people to keep in mind with respect to how to behave and present oneself, if one wants to build a good public reputation.

Justice & Mrs. Carley

>The Public Spectacle

>Yesterday local news covered the case of a man who was denied an upgrade to first class on a flight because he was wearing a track suit. The man claimed that he was “humiliated and embarrassed” – not for wearing a track suit to the airport, but because of his being denied a first-class seat for being improperly dressed. Perhaps United Airlines should have handled the situation better, but I applaud them for at least attempting to hold on to some standards.

Some months ago I attended André Previn’s birthday concert at the Kennedy Center, with Sir André conducting the National Symphony Orchestra and the great Anne-Sophie Mutter performing. As I arrived I worried that I was underdressed for the occasion, wearing a dark business suit rather than evening dress. From my box seat near the stage, I was stunned at the number of sweatshirts, jeans, and fanny packs I saw scattered in the orchestra section below me.

Meantime, environmental talks have been going on in my home-away-from-home of Barcelona, and where such things occur naturally there are plenty of acts of showmanship from Greenpeace. Earlier they hoisted banners at a crane at the Sagrada Familia, and later at the Sagrada Familia itself. Today a group of Greenpeacers held watch at the base of the Monument to Columbus, in the city harbor, while two others climbed the monument to draw attention to their issue.

The Courtier is certainly in favor of comfort in dress, when appropriate. The Courtier is also in favor of peaceful protest and the airing of different points of view. However the loss of decorum and standards in society appears nowadays to know no bounds.

There is a time to wear a track suit, and that time is when one is on the track or at the gym. There is also a time to climb public structures or monuments, and that time is when one is a maintenance or construction worker performing one’s appointed task. Have we really fallen so far as a society into self-obsessive narcissism that we no longer perceive these important rules of decorum?

There is much to be said for a greater casualness and friendliness in certain aspects of contemporary life, removing restrictions on individual freedoms that were silly at best. Sometimes those who deplore a lack of graciousness and manners simply go too far backward toward something approaching costume rather than dress, or affectedness rather than politeness. However, there is also a tipping point of casualness beyond which we must not be too careful to go. Ultimately a lack of respect for our fellow citizens in the way we dress or behave when going out in public is really a manifestation of selfishness, and should be avoided.

Eartha Kitt, Micheál Mac Liammhóir, Orson Welles and friend,
at a sidewalk cafe in Frankfurt, August 6, 1950