Paris To Go

Are Zero Waste and Minimalism Practical Today?

Surplus makes people feel safe. We crave abundance, hoarding Facebook and Instagram followers as if they were junk mail or craft supplies. Some consume to save time, feel agency, or as a form of protection. Yet such precautions may have the opposite effect. Just as spreading social capital too thin results in shallower relationships, buying multiples and stocking up for what if events may waste money and resources, undermining the very security we try to create (as Tom Petty says in Crawling Back to You, "Most things I worry about never happen anyway"). Then some people are just greedy. I think we're programmed to get like this, though, because biologically, the impulse is to choose quality. Research suggests a cognitive limit to the number of relationships people can maintain at one time. Reasonably, we can only care for a fixed number of objects as well. 

Socially, economically, and environmentally speaking, there's never been a better time to show where you stand by what you buy- or don't buy- and wear. It's a way to leverage identity and dismantle systemic oppressors (see the price of tampons, Venus razors, women's hair and skincare products, et al. Buy a safety razor, a bar of soap, and a menstrual cup to save money and subvert the patriarchy). Take clothing, for instance. The thin fabrics, lack of linings, and prolific synthetics used in fast fashion are modern marks of disenfranchisement. True, many consumers of fast fashion are chasing trends, but others don't have many alternatives. Sadly, these kinds of clothes are not only manufactured with the blood of abused factory workers, they are often bathed in harsher chemicals, ending up in landfills near consumer homes and polluting water sources near sites of production- all subtler, more pernicious signifiers of social standing. Instead of being complicit in this kind of cultural demarcation, isn't it better to support empowering ethical brands? Or operations that recycle and reclaim existing resources?

Thrifting takes time though, and sourcing ethically produced items can be expensive. Is this a good reason to not shop better? I'm all about minimizing opportunities for human interaction as much as possible, but we can't actually afford to prioritize convenience anymore. Forget Keynes' erroneous prediction of expansive leisure time for a second (I blame smart phones and social networks for this- now people have too many ways to get a hold of you, so you can never get a break from work or school or whatever). Here are some things that are convenient: eating gluten even though you're a celiac, Nazi gassing operations, Ford letting people die because cost benefit analyses revealed that was cheaper than fixing the Pinto's defective fuel system. Here's what's not convenient: whole islands and ecosystems rapidly disappearing, spelling doom for millions of climate refugees and the biomes they depend on.

People like to talk about zero waste as if it's a throwback to the days when women were shackled to their kitchens, scrubbing, canning, and cooking into the wee hours of the night. But zero waste saves me from shopping a lot, taking out the garbage, fussing over myriad beauty products, or maintaining tons of stuff. I don't spend hours or whole days doing laundry because there's not much to do. Lots of people who've never tried zero waste argue this can't be true. Even if it weren't, that's still a weak argument. If your reason for not changing the way you buy or use resources is it's hard, doing the right thing is never easy. Stopping climate change- that's hard. Don't you think sometimes (VERY infrequently, and usually only after I watch Gilmore Girls or something) I just want to microwave a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese? But I don't, because once you know the right way to live, you can't go back (also, I don't own a microwave). No lifestyle is truly effortless, not even one chock full of storebought hummus and spoonulas. Maybe if those people took time out from analyzing strangers' lives on the internet or presumably micromanaging their families, they would find the time to reduce their environmental impact even slightly.

The level of personal responsibility is different for everyone, depending on circumstances. If you're a struggling single mom with a bunch of kids who works full time (like my mom was), nobody expects you to live like Bea Johnson or Lauren Singer. I certainly don't expect you to not wash your hair or use toilet paper or eat vegan and thrift everything, even if you, too, are a restless soon to be divorcée with an insatiable sweet tooth and the ability to recite any line from Die Hard on cue. The most environmentally conscious people are often those who devote the most thought- which does not imply the most time, and certainly not the most money- to their actions. Every budget can be stretched to cover a few basic reusables, where quality represents a long term investment and often means a saving in the end (obvious examples are safety razors, cloth towels, a plastic free water bottle, or even bamboo toothbrushes). We just need to establish our own scale of values. For years we've been told our role in society is to continually buy and consume "cheap" products, to simply accept what we're offered without questioning where it comes from or how it's made. If we replace, just once in a while, the penchant for quantity with a quest for quality, we might find not only our eco effectiveness maximized, but also the enjoyment and confidence we get from the things we own, however few they may be.

Above: Handknit alpaca sweater, hat, and mittens. Madewell t-shirt, American Apparel ribbed dress, Levi's wedgie jeans and shorts, all thrifted. Thrifted H&M lace up shirt, American Apparel ponte foil tank dress, American Apparel crop top and high waist skirt. Thrifted Longchamp bag. Thrifted Louis Vuitton and Brooks Brothers coats, American Apparel Ryder dress. Navy, grey, and black dresses, secondhand Dior. Secondhand Louis Vuitton wool skirt, pants, and v-neck merino sweater. Thrifted Reformation Edison, Piper, and Axel tops. Thrifted cotton moto jacket, Etoile Isabel Marant Tom shirt, and merino turtleneck (all pieces but one are at least 96% natural fibers- I handwash the ones with small synthetic percentages and water indoor plants with the water). Thrifted Stuart Weitzman patent leather ankle boots, Ferragamo shoes, Louboutin Simples, Nike Dunk Sky Hi's, and Flyknit Air Force 1's. Not pictured: Handknit wool hat, mittens, and socks- recycled wool, A Wool Story; three pairs Swedish Stockings (tights, nude, and black), vintage pure wool socks from my grandpa, and Stella McCartney silk lingerie (bra, underwear, and garter belts in nude- Clara Whispering- and black- Isabel Floating). When I left Paris it was in a hurry and I couldn't take all my stuff with me, including some of my beloved pieces and some things that were in the laundry, so if something is missing- that's why. Also idk if this post makes sense or is crazy or not since I wrote it in a highly emotional and discombobulated state. You can always tell my level of instability based on how many Gilmore Girls references I weave into posts and they are in every one lately

Paris to Go

In Which We Are the Brightest Star of the North

This post originally appeared in This Recording 

La Princesse de Babylone
“I would be ready to like my new husband had he been capable of affection or willing to show any. But in the very first days of our marriage,” wrote Catherine II of Peter, “I came to a sad conclusion about him. I said, If you allow yourself to love that man, you will be the unhappiest creature on the earth.”  Alone in St. Petersburg, abandoned to the bed on which she had given birth, Catherine devoured Histoire de l’empire de Russie sous Pierre le Grand; Madame Vladislavova reportedly found her turning pages at dawn.
Where the Grand Duke’s attempts at elucidating Russian history were dismissed (“[Peter] is as discreet as a cannonball,” she decided), Voltaire’s burnished account struck a chord with the affection-starved future empress. “I wanted to be Russian in order that the Russians should love me,” Catherine wrote.  “I just finished reading the Essai sur l’Histoire Générale, and I wish I knew every page by heart.”
So began a correspondence Voltaire flippantly wrote “sustained” him during the last 15 years of his life.  Catherine’s earliest letters to the then-71-year-old writer have a gushy fangirl quality, informing him (through Genevan secretary François Pictet) that she endorsed his books in Russia and committed many of them to memory.  Pictet reported Catherine was producing Zaïre, Alzire, and L’Orphelin de la Chine “not with actors, but with Lords and Ladies of the court” — the 18th century equivalent of a panty-waving Gleetard covering “Edge of Glory” for her YouTube account.  Catherine’s second letter praised Philosophie de l’histoire:
It is nothing to give a little to one's neighbour when one has a superfluitybut it is immortality to be the champion of the human race, the defender of oppressed innocence. You have combated the massed enemies of mankind  superstition, fanaticism, ignorance, intrigue, evil judges, and the abuse of power. But I die of regret not to see deserts changed into proud cities, and 2000 leagues of territory civilised by heroines. World history can show nothing comparable.
It is unlikely Voltaire was fooled by such subterfuge. Operating under the assumption that the empress engineered her husband’s murder, he composed a terse reply, stating, “The truth comes from the North as toys come from the South.” Sir James Campbell wrote, “Voltaire remained affected and spurious; he had, in fact, been spoiled by the too flattering attentions of almost every crowned head in Europe; and after his vanity had been fostered to the highest pitch of extravagance, it was not to be supposed that he could be cured of his preposterous pretensions” by Catherine’s self-serving correspondence.  Apparently ignorant of this, Catherine was greatly encouraged by his response. Campbell recounts:
At Geneva I was invited to assist at the presentation of the Prince Dolgouroukie, who came to Voltaire at the head of a deputation from the Empress Catherine the Second, than whom, perhaps, no one has ever been more anxious as to what should be said of her by the world. The presents were produced in succession. The first was an ivory box, the value of which consisted in its being the work of the empress’s own hands. The next was her imperial majesty’s portrait, brilliantly set in diamonds, of very great value; I could not resist the idea that the eyes of the philosopher sparkled with delight at the splendid setting of the picture, rather than the picture itself. Then followed a collection of books in the Russian language, which Voltaire admitted that he did not understand; but admired, and very justly, as rare specimens of typography, and as being bound in a style of magnificence befitting an imperial gift.  The last of the presents was a robe, the lining of which was of the fur of the black fox, from the Corile Isles. It was certainly of immense value, and such only as the empress of Russia could give. The prince, on producing it, begged to be shown into a darkened room, where on drawing his hand across the fur, it produced so much electrical fire, that it was possible to read by it.
Catherine reminded Voltaire that her crest was a bee flying from plant to plant, gathering honey for the hive, on which l’Utile was inscribed. Such winsomeness deserved a reward, and Voltaire responded in kind:
If your crest is a bee, you have a terrible hive, the biggest in the world. You fill the world with your name and your gifts. For me the most precious are the medallions with your likeness…. I count another blessing: those who are honored by your bounty are my friends. I am grateful for your generosity to Diderot, d’Alembert and the Calas family. Every writer in Europe ought to be at your feet.

“In return for these princely gifts,” Campbell wrote, “Voltaire contributed to foster, at the same time that he gratified, the empress’s passion, by writing a great deal in the empress’s praise.” Bound by their love of filthy lucre, Voltaire resolved to die “a Catherinist.” “My heart is like the lover,” he wrote.  “It turns always towards the North.” 
In 1974, a volume of their correspondence was published; Voltaire’s portrait floats above the empress on the cover, his lips parted in a crinkly smile, twinkling eyes belying the self-assuredness of the writer. Catherine’s smile is demure, the persistent expression she adopted shortly after arriving at Tsarskoye Selo: “Always look serene and display much attentiveness, affability, and politeness all around… try to be as charming as possible to everyone and study every opportunity to win the affection of those whom I suspect of being in the slightest degree ill-disposed towards me.” It’s a less-than-subtle comment on the intellectual disparity between the two luminaries, one Catherine felt keenly. 
That the empress considered herself the academic equal of Voltaire’s contemporaries is no secret. Both Diderot and d’Alembert frequented her court, where she freely discoursed on art, politics, and religion; her letters to them reflect spontaneity absent from correspondence with Voltaire. In fact, Catherine took special care with letters to “Teacher,” writing out of sequence, polishing small fragments until they flowed. Some drafts were never sent. Others differ significantly from the letters in Voltaire’s collection, suggesting she had an editor revise them beforehand.

The selectiveness with which she fed him information is diabolical. In 1774, Voltaire laments a month-long lapse in correspondence; Catherine was busy slaughtering innocent Poles. She couches the situation carefully: “Monsieur Pugachev is a master brigand… no one since Tamerlane has done more harm than he. If it were only I whom he had offended, I should pardon him, but this is a case involving the Empire, which has its laws.” Thusly equipped, Voltaire defended Catherine’s brutality, writing, “Polish intolerance is so odious it deserves a box on the ears. The Empress does good from Kamchatka to Africa, occupied as she is from eve till dawn beating the Turks, giving them peace. She has sent 40,000 Russians to preach tolerance, with bayonets at the end of their muskets; she has set armies on the march, in order to force people to tolerate each other.”
While Catherine’s letters were contrived, Voltaire’s were posted sans editing. Strip them of their salutations, and one might not realize he was addressing an empress, so casual is his mix of prose and verse, metaphors and puns. “A little bird whispers to me that in abating Turkish pride with one hand you will pacify Poland with the other,” he writes.
The arbitrary cruelty hinted at in Candide is at full bloom here: “I am not a murderer, but I think I could become one to serve you.” To him, whole countries are merely “ce gâteau de roi,” frosted specially for “Semiramis du Nord.”  

The two writers could not have been more remote in style.  Throughout the letters, Voltaire’s greatest strength is in his sensuous descriptions — of the pleasures of life, Catherine’s achievements, his own experiences — whereas Catherine cuts everything to the bone. Her admiration of “roi Voltaire” was undeniable, but she had trouble expressing it on paper, a weakness the philosopher did not share: “Do you know where there is earthly paradise? I know: it is everywhere that there is Catherine II. You are not the aurora borealis, you are the brightest star of the North, and there never has been any other luminary so beneficial.” 
Voltaire's letters from 1771-1773 exhibit what Campbell deems “nauseous and fulsome” adulation. “Diderot and I are lay missionaries who preach the cult of Saint Catherine, and we can boast that our church is almost universal,” Voltaire wrote. “You have become my overriding passion… I throw myself at your feet and kiss them with much more respect than the Pope’s.” Veneration is coupled with undying praise of Catherine’s abilities, e.g., “Your project is the most astonishing ever formed: that of Hannibal was nothing to it,” and “Before you no one wrote like you; it is very unlikely that anyone will ever be your equal. After reading you one wishes to re-read and has no taste for other books.” 

There’s a mocking Galahadism in Voltaire’s correspondence, but the mocking doesn’t necessarily imply this knight was insincere. He threw considerable energy into crafting the image of Catherine the Great as a tolerant, enlightened ruler, abandoning his tendency towards self-preservation to defend “d’où vient toute la lumière” even as Europe reproached her oppressiveness. His letters have a distinctly protective air, often expressing concern over her finances and frequent affairs; Voltaire could have turned the empress’ love of flattery to his advantage, yet it appears he ignored the opportunity to promote the ideas of the French Enlightenment. 
Flashes of genuine interest appear primarily after she writes, “I have said I will make Russia known. People will see that she is indefatigable, that she possesses eminent merit, all the qualities which make heroes; that she does not lack resources, is not to be ignored and must be treated with respect, as befits a powerful empire.” Voltaire must have realized — though Catherine did not — that at some point they stopped talking about Russia and started talking about the empress herself.
In his last letter, Voltaire wrote, “I wish someone would propose a prize for the best plan of sending the Turks back to the country whence they came, but I think this is the secret of the first personage of the human race named Catherine II. I prostrate myself at her feet and exclaim on my death-bed, Allah, Allah, Catherine rezoul, Allah.” When he died, a portrait of Catherine was found in his room; the Empress mourned bitterly, chastising a mutual friend, “Why did you not personally take possession of his body, in my name?  You should have sent it to me, and, morbleau!  I can promise you he would have had the most splendid tomb possible.” Years later, she wrote of his death, “I had a feeling of discouragement with everything and grave contempt for all things of this earth.”

Now might be the time to tell you these two never met.  They tossed the idea around in early correspondence— “Peter the Great’s goal of making Constantinople the capital of the Russian Empire may take shape.  In that case I beg permission to pass a few days there at your Court,” Voltaire wrote — but neither decided to call the other’s bluff. Eventually, they had a good game going:

Voltaire, September 1769: I do not see what is to prevent me from starting for St. Petersburg next April.  If I die en route, I should put on my little tomb: ‘Here lies the admirer of the august Catherine, who had the honor to die while journeying to present his profound respects.’
Catherine, October 1769: Nothing is more flattering to me than your project, but I should be ungrateful if I allowed my satisfaction to stifle my anxiety about such a long and painful journey. I know you are in delicate health. I admire your courage, but I should be inconsolable if it were to suffer from the effort. Neither myself nor Europe would forgive me.
Voltaire, June 1771: I should take the liberty to pay court to this astonishing bee if my crushing maladies permitted this poor drone to leave his cell…if God give me health I shall certainly come and place myself at your feet next summer for a few days or a few hours.  If Peter the Great had chosen Kiev or some other more southerly spot, I should now be at your feet, despite my age… if you wish to work miracles, try to make your country less cold.  In view of all you have done, it would be pure malice not to effect this change… If your Majesty makes peace, I beseech you to keep Taganrog, which you say boasts such a fine climate, so that I can end my days there without always seeing the snows of Jura.
”For God’s sake, advise the octogenarian to remain in Paris!” Catherine wrote a mutual acquaintance, only weeks before Voltaire’s death.  “What should he do here?  He would die, here or at the wayside, of cold, weariness, and bad roads.  Tell him Cateau n’est bonne qu’à être vue de loin [is best known at a distance].” Mme du Deffand echoed the empress, advising Voltaire, “Only see your Catherine through the telescope of your imaginations.” From afar, he could ignore her flaws and moral lapses; alternately, Catherine would not be disappointed when fleshly Voltaire failed to live up to her expectations, as happened with Diderot.

This relational quirk leads modern researchers to conclude that their correspondence did not reflect genuine friendship, as if proximity was a determining factor for amity. True, their connection baffles analysts — their lifestyles and personalities were vastly different, and they failed to discuss anything weighty for too long. Still, Catherine and Voltaire connected in a way that can only be described as love.

Perhaps they found solace in the fact that they were both uprooted at an early age; both forsook their given names, preferring instead to construct the identities for which they were famed.  At any rate, there are special joys in illusion, and Voltaire provided something Catherine’s numerous lovers did not — here was a man she would not eclipse, devoted to her, yet allowing her plenty of freedom.
Since meeting would have certainly caused almost unbearable regret, they celebrated their love in immortal verse without ruining it in person. I say “certainly” because at some point, I stopped talking about Catherine and Voltaire and started talking about myself. Trust me when I tell you some of the deepest and most enduring thrills of her lifetime were shared with a man whom she never saw.

How to Start Water Only Hair Washing

I'm getting so conceited about my hair. It's my favorite accessory. I'd rather let my ears freeze off like one of Doug E. Doug's cornrows in Cool Runnings than put a hat over my curls this winter. My life has become a never ending Tresemmé commercial, a series of Cher inspired hair tosses- like, I think I flip my hair more than I blink these days. Lately I even try to steer completely unrelated conversations towards the topic of water only. It doesn't matter if we're talking about shampoo or intersectional feminism or the distribution of permafrost in Kamchatka's western slopes. Water only hair washing applies to all of it!

Think about the way nature works. Everything from the surface of a leaf to feathers, guillemot eggs, butterfly wings, the scales of a fish, and the skin of a whale is self cleaning. Other structures utilize various organisms to remove contaminants or allow droplet flow in a non-exploitative, non-toxic, non-polluting way- take mycoremediation, for instance, or hydrocarbon chewing microbes. And sorry to get all Germaine Greer on you but shampoo and pore strips and foaming cleansers are seriously tools of the patriarchy. You don't need all of those products, and you don't need to spend so much time caring for hair and skin. Water only makes hair less frizzy and more manageable without silicones, parabens, or possible carcinogens, such as cocamide DEA. It also lets skin heal and repair itself naturally.

I went cold turkey with water only, but I had been using natural products (like mayonnaise or baking soda and ACV) for quite some time beforehand. To get started from scratch, wash with gram flour, bar soap, or one egg yolk first (for my face, I just let water drip on it in the shower and scrubbed with a washcloth afterwards). I don't recommend buying clarifying shampoo just for this purpose- nor do I advocate using harsh baking soda and vinegar, which ruined my hair. Thereafter, wash with water one to three times a week, brushing with a wooden or sisal / agave brush or comb beforehand, to remove dust and other contaminants manually. In the shower or in a basin or bucket, soak your hair completely and massage thoroughly, paying special attention to the top back of your scalp, where buildup frequently occurs. Work the sebum down the hair shaft as you go. In the beginning, you will need to dry massage your scalp daily, perhaps even twice a day, and regularly brush to break up dusty or waxy patches and help move oils to the ends.

You want to try and stretch out the time between washings as much as possible, so you may initially need to apply oils, such as jojoba or coconut, in your hair and on scalp for extra moisture, or use cornstarch / cocoa powder as dry shampoo to look presentable. Try avoiding this as much as possible, since oil strips oil and dry shampoos can make hair harder to clean. If you really have a problem with frizz, wear a secondhand / recycled / peace silk scarf to smooth things out, and use rag or pin curl methods to style. Water is enough to make hair smell clean, like nothing at all, but if you're self conscious about it, soak some citrus peels in vodka, or mix essential oils in a spray bottle with water, and mist hair between washes. After a workout, rinsing your hair is sufficient to remove sweat, just tie hair up to get it off your neck first (duh). For troubleshooting, click here. Click here for tips on transitioning to water only in a corporate environment. For my face, I wash it once a day, in the evening, with a washcloth, using oil to remove my eye makeup only- the rest comes off using a hemp washcloth alone (I like hemp because of it's antimicrobial and gentle scrubbing properties). I've had this routine since the beginning, and I saw results for my cystic acne in less than a month. If you have hard water, you have to use distilled or rain water, depending on where you live. Like, if you live in Arizona, rainwater is fine, but if you live in Paris, forget it. I used about a liter of distilled water on my hair once a week when I lived there, and my hair is NOT Asian- it's super thick, and actually eats ponytail holders.

Testosterone levels can affect sebum production, so I recommend eating plantbased if you decide to go water only. Sebum isn't as bad as L'oreal likes us to think- overwashing and stripping hair or skin of sebum makes it dry and disrupts a protective layer known as the acid mantle, a layer of oil and sweat with a slightly acidic pH, which protects us from potential infections, chemical irritants, pollution particles, etc. We need it to protect and maintain the skin’s integrity. Excessive cleansing or astringents degrade our skin's barrier of protection against the environment, further aggravating skin problems like dandruff, acne, and so on. My acne heals so much quicker now that I'm not putting benzoyl peroxide or prescription drugs on it, along with toner, lotion, eye creams, etc. Instead of hydrating externally (I still use olive or coconut oil under my eyes sometimes), drink at least 3L of water a day, eat lots of good fats, and lay off the sugar and alcohol. Dark circles will lessen, wrinkles will plump out, and skin will overall be smoother, healthier looking, clearer- I saw results in two weeks (but I keep forgetting to drink water lately so it's back to my usual haggard appearance).

In April (or March, I forget) it will be two years since I started water only and my hair appears thicker, shinier, naturally more curly, darker for whatever reason, and I lose less of it. I used to have to clean a chunk out of the drain after every shower, always put handfuls of it in the compost, and brushed it off clothing more than my angora cats' fur. "This can't be possible, but, is your hair longer than when I saw you last?" asked my environmental activist friend and ecohero Tori, who'd seen me two days earlier. Actually I think she was right- it does grow faster, sans shark infested Viviscal. My skin is a million times better (I still use soap and coconut or olive oil on my body) and it takes me no time to get ready in the morning, which is great since I'm lazy. I know this because I often let my phone die instead of reaching over in bed to get the charger.

Paris to Go