One of the good things about Wilmington is that being here forces me to read. I don’t have regular access to internet here, I don’t have very many friends here (awww), and I don’t have a car. All those mean that my joys here are eating lunch, working out, drinking (usually by myself–awww), and reading magazines that I purchase from the Amtrak newsstand.
One of the bad things about Wilmington is that I’m pretty much limited to purchasing my magazines at that newsstand, which is small. Thus, I’ve already read this month’s Esquire, GQ, Atlantic, Men’s Health, and Details magazines. Unless I want to delve into, say, Cosmopolitan or People, I’ve pretty much gone through all my options.
Merits of Wilmington aside, Details had an interesting spread on the artisanal movement and how ubiquitous it’s become. As stated by the author:
What’s new is the astonishing ubiquity of the aesthetic. Small-scale has hit it big. Farmer’s markets sell artisanal cheeses— and so does Costco. Suits available in midwestern malls have machine-made details that mimic the hand stitching once found only on a Neapolitan tailor’s eccentrically rolled lapel.
Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong per se with this newfound appreciation for craftsmanship. Indeed, I think it’s great that we can purchase exceptional items made by small producers. I recognize, however, that just as with “biodynamic” and “organic”, “artisanal” can be co-opted by large corporations (or even by small producers who don’t necessarily use the best ingredients, components, or methods and are simply coattailing on the efforts of others) for their own benefit.
But even more disturbing than the above is the realization that I have become defined not by my interests, passions, activities, or abilities, but by how I spend my dollar. My consumer preferences have become my most salient feature, the one around which most of my conversations and waking moments revolve.
Sure, I love wine. But wine is as much about the commodity as it is about the art, or the experience. Indeed, I couldn’t enjoy wine without money; I couldn’t write a wine blog without buying wine. I couldn’t learn about wine without buying wine. As far as hobbies go, wine is less about what you know or can do than how much you spend.
Obviously, this is a broad statement. Many people spend a lot of money on wine and never develop a fine appreciation for it, and many people simply want the next 99 pointer from Robert Parker. But these exceptions do not disprove the rule.
I write on Crane Paper and Kate Spade paper stationery. I can differentiate between different varietals of coffee. I like caramels but especially love fleur-de-sel caramels from Little Flower Candy Company. I think nothing of spending $8 or $10 on a bar of Mast Brothers Chocolate. I love critiquing restaurants on minutiae of service, presentation, and flavor; I desperately want to be part of an underground supper club.
There is nothing wrong with craving quality, or rarity. But what we buy has become a proxy for who we are, and to me that is a problem.