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Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day 

Bay Blanket

As is traditional, we went to midnight mass, followed by a gift exchange with the in-laws.

This year, I'm sending The Lovely One off for a spa day, but she pulled off that rarest of tricks: giving me a gift I had forgot to ask for, that I would never buy for myself (too extravagant) and that I really wanted.

It's the blanket in the photo above. That is a genuine Hudson's Bay "Caribou" throw, made of pure wool, thick, dense, and fiercely warm. It doesn't even remotely qualify as a "gift for us": TLO finds it so itchy she can't come in contact with it.

The question is, of course, what a technophilic 30-something guy whose idea of thematic interior decorating would be a toolchest in every room is doing lusting after Bay blankets.

I can only put it down to "authenticity."

However madly, badly, and occasionally ignorantly, I have very specific, well-formed aesthetic ideas in my tiny skull about what constitutes the real, the proper, and the pleasing. A glib reference would be to say it's like Restoration Hardware's aesthetic, except for the goods in question not being completely shoddy crap.

Okay, so Restoration Hardware isn't the best example. Actually, it's about the worst. But I shall pass by.

Understand that this is a very personal and probably irrational definition of authenticity, which might be more properly described as "things I like."

The first element of authenticity is that the item be good. In a blanket, durability and warmth are the basic requirements. In a bicycle, reasonably light weight, functionality, and reliability are key. Well, let's just say that very few disposable things are authentic. Corn broom? Authentic. Push broom? Authentic. Swiffer? Inauthentic.

Where was I going? I like stuff that works well, lasts well, looks good (but always in a way subservient to function), and if it has a history, a story, or a particularly clever or novel design, so much the better.

I am not always a follower of my own aesthetic. I buy cheap crap too often, but I try to do it only once. I sublimate my cheapness by haunting used markets and other sources of unloved but authentic equipment. No object is more authentic, in my mind, than an alloy-rimmed early-80s steel road bicycle with mid-range Suntour components, bought for $10 and upgraded with modern brakes and calipers if necessary, and a modern Hyperglide cogset just for fun. Such bikes are utterly unvalued, but so gloriously competent that I could ride one to work, in a bike race, or across the continent, and it would do any of those things at least 90% as well as a brand new, utterly specific bike costing $1000-3000+.

Other places where I follow this aesthetic? I have a used Yamaha receiver (RX-V795B) that decodes Dolby and DTS digital signals, but doesn't switch HD-quality video. Modern HDMI/component converting/switching receivers start at about five times the price. I bought a $50 component video switch box and am still several hundred dollars ahead of the game. It is a fair trade for having to walk over to the box every time I want to change inputs.

Authenticity is outside of price, but that doesn't mean the authentic is always cheap, or even a good deal. But $200 on omakase at Tojo's is an authentic experience.

But $200 worth of Noka chocolates? A very, very inauthentic experience (þ: Daniel Rutter)

Looks like a World Championship blanket to me ;)

I actually have the same deep dark lust for a Bay blanket. I've had it for over a decade, but never have actually bought one.

- Jeffery Simpson
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