‘Savonarola Preaching Against Prodigality’: A man of the cloth or charismatic cult leader?

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‘Savonarola Preaching Against Prodigality’ by Ludwig von Langenmantel

As I strolled through the Regina Quick Center of the Arts, the first piece I noticed was the giant “Savonarola Preaching Against Prodigality” by Ludwig von Langenmantel, an oil canvas painting looming above the stairs by the gift shop.

I’ve always been interested in Renaissance, Gothic and Romantic art, the latter of which this piece of art was created. Perhaps I was so drawn to it because it reminded me of the works I saw when roaming through the Vatican in the summer of 2016.

The focal point of the piece is Girolamo Savonarola, who the piece is named after, pointing towards the sky as if he is God reaching out to Adam, preaching before a “bonfire of vanities.” His followers (and critics) flock around him to hear what he has to say about the impending doom and the fall of the church.

Now, before analyzing the piece, I had to give myself a little history lesson to truly understand what the painting depicted.

A man with humble beginnings, Savonarola abandoned his family to become a Dominican friar. As a friar, he moved to Florence, where he served as the master of novices in the convent of San Marco.

Savonarola was more austere than his brothers in the convent, whom he often conflicted with, making him move from city to city. When preaching in the 1480s he found evidence of an Apocalypse and called for repentance. In the summer of 1490, Savonarola returned to Florence began to attack powerful factions and leaders of the world, Italy and the city. It was the fear of others that led to Savonarola’s rise, both politically and spiritually, in the merchant city of Firenze.

His sermons of destruction came to Florence during a crucial time. Lorenzo de’Medici, the de facto leader of Florence, was dying. Savonarola blessed Lorenzo on his deathbed, but his blessing could not save the Medicis from being expelled. He prophesied a great flood and a ruler from the north who would try to reform the church. When Charles VIII of France invaded, Savonarola’s prophecies seemed to be proving true.

Lorenzo’s son, Piero, failed to defend Florence, and the Medicis had to leave. Like a charismatic cult leader, Savonarola was Lorenzo’s successor in Florence government and reformed both politics and religion in the city.

Whoever was opposed to creating Florence into his image, Savonarola made them his enemies, condemning them and calling them tiepidi, the “worse.” The pope and Savonarola’s friends ended up denouncing him as a man who bought his office and an atheist.

In the summer of 1497, five men were accused of trying to restore the Medicis in Florence. When they were brought to judgement, Savonarola gave them no real help. The sentence was passed and the men were executed, thus making Savonarola an enemy of the Medicis.

Savonarola burned books and destroyed art, horrifying the Vatican and his own followers. He deceived himself into believing he was a prophet, similar to Moses. This, in the end, led to his own downfall.

Argument raged over Savonarola’s authority, as the pope threatened to excommunicate Florence. The government acted and Savonarola and his main supporters were arrested. Savonarola could not withstand torture and he admitted to never having any visions. In 1498 he was frocked, hanged and burned. His ashes were thrown into the Arno river, but some of his followers collected the ashes, his vestments, hair shirt and pieces of the gallows he died on. Sainthood was not in Savonarola’s future, however. He was no Thomas More by any stretch of the imagination and the fact that he was up for sainthood boggles my mind. Imagine Saint Jim Jones. You can’t, right? Perhaps comparing Savonarola to Jones is a bit of a stretch, but his charismatic appearance and cult following are enough to suggest that he was not a pure man of the cloth, but in fact an ambitious man who found fertile ground in the fearful Florence republic.

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Jim Jones vs. Savonarola….uncanny.

Perhaps not so ironically, after his death, a cult was created under his name.

Langenmantel depicts Savonarola with as much darkness as the friar’s prophecies. Hooded like some type of dark lord, Savonarola’s eyes are rolled upwards, almost giving him the appearance of a man possessed. What’s even more eerie is the skull Savonarola seems to be holding close along with his dangling rosary. One of the first things I wondered when looking at the painting was whose skull it was. The eyes of the skull appear to be looking at Savonarola. Perhaps this is symbolic to the friar’s own death.

The women in the painting appear to be fearful, some from the nobility and others who look like the working class. The men, on the other hand, look skeptical. These depictions could just be a product of the times. Noble women did not necessarily work, so they were thought to have more time to focus on religious beliefs, while men focused more on politics. Noblemen at the time looked at each other with power in their eyes and similarly to Savonarola, they could fall just as quickly as they rose.

Reading about the history of Savonarola and his eventual downfall, I began noticing a lot of foreshadowing within the painting. As the painting was created centuries after the life and death of Savonarola, Langenmantel could easily symbolize his eventual execution.

To the left of him, most of the people appear to be at the will of Savonarola’s words, hanging on to every word. While those on the far right appear to be more skeptical of what he’s saying. If looking at the scene from left to right, it’s almost as if Langenmantel is predicting past, present and future. After all, it would be the critics of Savonarola who would pass his judgement.

Behind Savonarola, to his left, there appears to be someone in the back mimicking him. Could this be Langenmantel’s way of further foreshadowing the friar’s death? Just as Savonarola is pointing to the heavens, speaking of an Apocalyptic downfall, the onlooker in the back could be pointing to the friar’s downfall. Or, perhaps Langenmantel is telling the viewer that there are men like Savonarola everywhere; past, present and future.

One of the other things I found curious was the pile of riches at Savonarola’s feet. Throughout his life, Savonarola refused riches and all earthly pleasures. He prodded his followers to rid of material possessions and live for God. His bonfires of vanities pushed people to minimalism and living lives not defined by property. The way that they are piled at his feet, though, make it appear less holy, and more holier than thou. It’s as if Savonarola is an idol or some type of Firenze rockstar. The items seem to be at his disposal and the effect of their placement make it look like he’s standing above them, as if it were a mountain.

It is this pile of riches the part of the piece that I believe to be the most telling. Instead of getting rid of their possessions, Savonarola’s followers appear to be throwing them at his feet. It is on these riches that he rose and on those riches that he would fall. At the top of the pile appears to be a chalice of sorts knocked over, underneath it a material of red, almost making it look as if wine is being spilt. On the floor, red cloth spreads out, like a pool of blood. Blood of the past and future. The five men who were executed with no help from Savonarola was the blood of the past. The friar was not innocent and some could even argue that their blood was on his hands. As we know, Savonarola would face torture and death, hence, the blood of the future.

One of the women in the painting kneels before Savonarola, holding above her head a crown, as if presenting it to him. If Savonarola preaches about a “bonfire of vanities” why isn’t she tossing it into the pile? Instead, charismatic-cult-leader-esque man he is, is doted upon by his followers. It’s as if giving their livelihoods away to Savonarola will ensure their spot in heaven.

Being a bit of a Renaissance buff, when reading about Savonarola’s life, I found his ties with the Medicis somewhat ironic. He blessed Lorenzo, but helped in expelling the rest of the Medicis in Florence. The Medicis hated him for it, but like many, the Medicis were not exempt from believing in religious prophecies. Catherine de’Medici came to mind. Catherine ended up marrying King Henry II of France after becoming one of the last of the Medicis, an orphan.

Catherine became a fan of Nostradamus, famous for his prophecies. She supported him so much that she made him a Counselor and Physician for the royal household.

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Catherine de’Medici and Nostradamus

The Medicis hated Savonarola and spat on his name along with his prophecies, yet one of their most powerful and notable members heavily believed in a man known for prophecies.

I digress…

Overall, I found Langenmantel’s painting extremely interesting, as it struck me to do hours of research on the life and death of Savonarola, someone I previously knew nothing about. The painting presents the reality of men like Savonarola. They are small and weak, hiding behind their pile of riches and charisma. He was not the first of his kind, though, or the last. History repeats our whole damn lives, in some way or another. The past, present and future are all laid out in the cloth, we just have to look for it.

A soapbox moment

I think a general statement that we can all agree to is that people use social media to benefit no one other than themselves, only presenting what they want others to see. There is a sort of narcissism that comes with using social media. We want to show the world what is going on in our lives that is working well for us, not necessarily the down falls. This ends up with us feeling a sense of gratification when we get social approval via likes and comments on what we post.

There is no selfless good deed, especially in the digital realm. Any money you donate via Facebook or crowdfunding website makes you feel good about yourself. Even if you make your name anonymous for the donation, you still end up feeling good about what you did.

Considering we can all recognize and realize that we appear to be these awesome people with great lives, recently people are calling others out for not being “real” enough. YouTube and Instagram come to mind when I think of this.

Famous YouTuber Shane Dawson used to do comedic skits and random videos on fast food, life hacks and conspiracy theories. In 2018, Dawson became one of the fastest growing YouTubers due to his different docuseries and projects which went into the lives of other famous YouTubers to show his audience the “real” them. The people that were featured in his series in 2018 were YouTubers who were hated or had recent drama/controversy. He pushed them to show their “true” selves to the world and that would make audiences like them more.

Though Shane Dawson’s docuseries are fun and interesting to watch, are they really successful? Many of the YouTubers who are featured on Shane’s channel grow exponentially as they gain millions of subscribers overnight due to the limelight. So although Shane is searching for the “truth” and “realness” behind these YouTubers, he is only helping them gain popularity and stardom, even if it’s unintentional.

The video below is a part of one of Shane Dawson’s docuseries as he goes to the house of Bunny Meyer, known on YouTube as grav3yardgirl. Meyer’s channel was considered ‘dying’ as her viewership went down. Dawson tries to help her remedy that by showing her “real” life.

People on Instagram get called out for using FaceTune to slightly alter how they appear in photos, for “flexing” (showing off one’s wealth) and being too “picture perfect.”

So, on both platforms, people are being called out for not being “real” enough.

But then there are social media stars like Trisha Paytas. She posted a video of her crying on her kitchen floor over her boyfriend’s infidelity and in the comments, people are calling her a nutcase and insinuating her feelings aren’t valid. I personally believe Trisha Paytas’s video was an actual representation of how she felt. For someone who is used to taking her camera out and documenting her life, I didn’t question the validity of the emotions she “portrayed” in her video.

The video has since been deleted from Trisha’s channel, but below is a re-upload..

So, why did people say her feelings weren’t valid? Why did people claim she was being over dramatic? Perhaps not many people would post a video of themselves having an emotional breakdown on their kitchen floor, but I am sure many people would feel the same way as Trisha if they were in her situation. Were they calling her over dramatic because of her large following? Possibly.

The video of her crying on the kitchen floor became a meme and is now a part of Trisha’s “brand.” Though people called her over dramatic and left her other nasty comments, Trisha rose in popularity due to her mental break and eventually was a part of the UK’s version of Big Brother. Within a year, she became international.

So, one could argue that being real on social media allows you to rise in popularity, but is this really being “real” if you’re gaining followers? Or does the popularity negate your realness? Food for thought.

Many people post on sites like Instagram and YouTube to get some sense of gratification. In this day of age, people can make millions (billions, for a few) simply by making a post. Other people watching them become richer and richer fuels behavior to please other.

Sites like Twitter are not exempt from narcissism. In Jim Brown’s article, “Unhealthy Infrastructures,” he takes a look at quote tweeting. This is what I like to call, “Drawing upon your audience to make your arguments for you.” People who are debating something may use quote tweeting to draw their “opponents” responses to their audience. In this way, Twitter has basically become a room where everyone is screaming at each other.

People who quote tweets to their audience is like a bounty hunter letting their dogs take chase. Snarky comments to one another become public and those who quote tweets are basically saying to their audience, “Look at how funny I am” or “I can make sick burns.” Thus, it’s all about self-gratification.

Here is an example of a very intellectual argument made via quote tweeting:

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Now, I’m not disregarding the upsides of quote tweeting, which include richer conversation, context, clarity, etc. People use it to make funny jokes, political statements and voice their disgust on a subject.

Lives and careers have been destroyed by quote tweets in one fellow swoop (Laura Lee and Kezia, for example).

Not only can social media destroy careers, but it allows others to receive some type of gratification by participating in their fall, i.e. “dogpiling.”

Though social media allows us to have conversations with people that we might not have an opportunity to meet in real life, some of these platforms hinder the opportunity as we are not talking to these people face-to-face. We do not know what some people are going through or even look like, thus they have a type of omnipresent veil over them. It’s easier to dehumanize someone when you’ve never seen them before. This makes it easy for people to name-call, bully, threaten and dogpile. An environment that is dehumanizing can lead to a toxic environment where conversation seems impossible.

Now let me step down from my soapbox and stop talking about how social media is the root of evil like your grandma, but I beg you to take a step back before the next time you post something on your social media. Ask yourself, “Why am I posting this? What’s the point?”

Digital Reflection

Ever since I was a kid I have always loved to write. I’ve written creatively for as long as I can remember. When I got into high school, I began writing for my school newspaper as I believed that I probably could not get a job in writing unless it was journalism. I ended up becoming the editor for my school’s paper and then I worked part-time as a journalist for my local paper.

I applied to Bonaventure as a journalism major and then after the first semester I switched to strategic communication. It was at Bonaventure that I realized my true passion, which surprisingly, wasn’t just writing. I loved telling stories creatively, not only through writing, but through design as well.

At Bonaventure I began working as a writer for the radio station’s magazine, The Buzzworthy. Today, I’m the director of the Buzzworthy. Being able to write and design The Buzzworthy myself made me realize that creating a product for others to enjoy and understand was what I loved to do. In this way, writing has really helped contribute to my identity as it’s one of my greatest passions.

Today I do most of my writing digitally, while when I was in elementary and middle school, I always wrote my creative pieces on paper before typing it up on a Word document. One of the biggest differences I noticed between writing digitally and writing traditionally was how I felt while writing.

When writing traditionally, I wrote believing and knowing that the piece was only a first draft and I would go back and revise it later before anyone read it. While writing, I felt more connected to the piece as I put pen (or pencil) to paper. Having something physical to hold can make one feel more connected to whatever it is they’re holding. I find this to be especially true with writing and reading.

On the other hand, I find when writing digitally, I become more distracted by other applications on my computer or phone. Also, while writing I find that I’m thinking more about others reading my work. When writing digitally I write as if what I’m writing will be the final copy. I’m more of a perfectionist with my work when writing digitally and this can be a block for the creative mind.

Throughout my college career I have been producing work digitally not only for personal projects, but also for clubs and businesses. The past two summers I have marketed Oswego Harborfest, one of the largest free music festivals in the state. I’ve designed and created programs and posters for the festival, as well as publish to its social media accounts and website. In this way, creating content digitally is my job. The same goes for the Buzzworthy, which I design and write for. The end product of my labor is then consumed by hundreds of people as it is printed and published online.

By producing these works, not only do I benefit from it (as it’s added to my portfolio), but the people who “consume” it and the organizations that I create for benefit as well. My contributions to Oswego Harborfest and the Buzzworthy give the two businesses advertising, in a way. The work that is printed and published digitally and physically bring awareness to the two brands. Those who view and consume my work also benefit in that their minds become stimulated and they can gain information from what myself and others have written.

When creating digital content, I have used various social media platforms including Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and Facebook. I have also used Microsoft Word and Publisher, Adobe Creative Cloud, Canva, WordPress and more. I have used pretty much all of these digital resources for personal, professional and creative purposes.

Although it seems many people want to jump on the “technology is evil” bandwagon, I personally find the writing platforms I use to enhance my life. Using various tools, I am able to interact with others in ways that I could not if social media and the online didn’t exist. Tumblr and Instagram are probably my two favorite social media platforms in that I can write at length if I wanted to and I am personally inspired by other content creators. Both Tumblr and Instagram have so many different tags that I can find content that I’m interested in easily. In many ways, I use social media as a creative stimulant.

In many ways I am a consumer of digital culture. Heck, pretty much anyone who opens a screen is a consumer of digital culture. I believe I consume the most digitally is when I’m on social media, including YouTube. Those who benefit from my consumption are content creators who receive AdSense and paid partnerships.  Whenever I click on a link that they share or simply scroll past one of their posts, they make money.

So far, digital technologies have played a huge part in my academic discipline and future profession. As I work to become a digital marketer and strategist, I have to use digital technologies every day.

Christmas Throwback

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Christmas for me is about spending time with family and making memories that will be remembered for years to come.  This year, I wanted to look back on old photos of myself and family and reminisce of times past.  At this time of the year, I’m stressed and worried about all of the work I have to do for classes and studying for finals.  Hell week leaves me feeling over my head, but I’m thankful to my mom for sending me these photos.  They remind me of all that I have to look forward to when I return home, which is exactly a week away now.  

When both my brother and I were little I remember laying in bed and whispering about when we thought Santa would come and he would gift us with that year. On Christmas Eve, we usually went to my stepdad’s family’s house, have a huge lobster dinner with fondue and at the end of the night, “Santa” would stop by and give us gifts.  One year, all of the girls received a huge Ulta makeup box, which influenced me getting into makeup and experimenting.  Those Christmas Eves were the ones I would remember the most, as they were so much fun!

On Christmas Eve, my brother and I would both be excited about seeing our first cousins, Madison and Brandon, who we love spending time with. We knew Christmas day would be filled with fun as we played with the toys we received from Santa and family alongside our cousins.  We’d listen to Christmas classics, giggle as we played and pick off bits of the turkey as my grandpa cooked it. When we had white Christmases we’d run outside to play in the snow, one time in bathing suits!

I really hope you are all having a lovely time this holiday season, and remember the important things in life.  Eat lots of cookies, cuddle up and watch as many festive films you can before the season is over, and most importantly, relax and be happy around those important to you.  

If you liked this post, please give a like or follow! Also, if you have any favorite Christmas memories, please share them in the comments below! I’d love to read about them 🙂

Xoxo,

Amber

The Body Shop body butter review

I always hear people rave about The Body Shop’s body butters and always see them in stores, like TJMaxx and Ulta.  So, one day at TJMaxx I picked up a gift set of The Body Shop’s coconut scented product minis, including a body butter.  As you can see from my pictures of the product, I have hit pan and absolutely love the body butter.  It’s so good to put on after a shave or getting out of the shower and leaves the skin super smooth and smelling lovely.

My skin is perpetually dry during the winter, so this is a lovely product I’ve placed in my skin care regimen. It absorbs easily, lasts a long time and according to the packaging, is enriched with community trade coconut oil from Samoa.  I recommend ordering a small one, travel size, so you can throw it in your purse or backpack.  Sign up for The Body Shop’s emails and look out for sales, or shop their body butters at TJMaxx, which sells tons of amazing skin care products at discounted prices.

The smell is perfect for me, as it reminds me of summer and lounging around on a white sand beach. During these cold winter months, it’s nice to be reminded the warm weather actually exists.  Luckily, the scent is not overpowering.  

Please note that this is not part of a promotion and I bought the product with my own money.  I would personally recommend this product to anyone and all opinions are my own.  

Have any body products that you’re obsessed with right now? Let me know in the comments below! If you liked this blog post, please give a like and follow 🙂

Xoxo,

Amber

Lush’s Soft Coeur review

Hello all! Sorry I haven’t been posting as much.  Thanksgiving break was quite literally a break from ALL things for me.  Now that I’m back at college, I’ve been flooded with responsibilities and tasks that I have to complete before the end of the semester.  My last day of classes is the 8th of December and my last final is on the 13th.  Needless to say, I’m totally over my head.  

One luxury I’ve been treating myself to each morning, though, before I rush off to classes, is this little decadent massage bar from Lush.  I’ve never used a massage bar before and was quite intrigued to use it! Each morning, after my workout, shower, hair and makeup, I massage this bar into my arms and spritz my favorite perfume at the moment on my neck and wrists, which is Melanie Martinez’s Cry Baby perfume.  

The massage bar that I’ve been using specifically is Soft Coeur, which makes me smell like a chocolate bar with a hint of honey.  Honey is super moisturizing and since I usually wear long sleeves now with the cold weather, it’s really locked in to my skin and also makes my shirts smell good! Keep in mind massage bar oils tend to be greasy and a bit messy, but the lasting effect and pros of the bar outweigh the cons for me.  

You’re supposed to break the bar in half, according to the Lush website, but I’ve just been applying it to my skin directly.  It’s also noted that the bar can make you (or you’re special someone) taste good, but no one is tasting me so that part doesn’t really concern me!

The bar also has cocoa butter, cocoa powder and almond oil in it, which leaves my skin feeling super smooth and also adds to the already delicious scent.

I would recommend this product to anyone looking to moisten their skin to prevent the drying winter weather.  So cozy!

If you liked this review, please let me know and follow my blog! Have any products you want me to review? Comment and maybe I’ll review them in the future!

Xoxo,

Amber

My Christmas Playlist

E8CF0BCC-8119-48D7-B47D-C094BC6BF4CCFor me personally, I believe playing Christmas playlist while you’re walking, driving or just chilling, during this time of year is perfectly acceptable.  Hell, if I’m gonna be honest, I started playing Christmas music on Halloween.  On one of my local radio stations, Christmas music begins playing nonstop starting on Thanksgiving.  I’ve created a Spotify Christmas playlist which I take requests for from my family members, similar to how I take requests from my uni friends for my “Party Tunes” playlist.  I always put it on shuffle and play it in the morning while I’m getting ready and then during the night time when I’m vegging out. So, with that said, check out the playlist on my Spotify under “Amber Canbek” and let me know if I’m missing any essential Christmas classics!

milk and honey review

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I usually don’t read poetry, but when I saw milk and honey by Rupi Kaur at the bookstore, a book that everyone has seen via Instagram and Tumblr, I decided to purchase it and see what all the fuss was about.  

This might not deem me a good reader of poetry, but I got through the book within a day. The poems were short and sweet (sometimes), simply stating the Kaur’s feelings on paper, alongside minimalistic sketches by the poet. The book itself is divided into four sections: “the hurting,” “the loving,” “the breaking,” and “the healing.”

Earlier this school year, I was saw the book on the bedside table of my dorm’s RA.  I asked her if it was any good and she said, “I only read it when I’m sad.” After reading the poetry book, I could understand why she would. Kaur lays out the highs and lows of her life on the pages and many of the things she describes in her poems, young women can relate to.

In “the hurting”, Kaur wrote about sexual assault, family struggles and things a young girl might face while growing up.  In my opinion, it was the saddest one out of the four chapter and not uplifting in the slightest, which made it all more raw and vulnerable.  My favorite from this section goes as follows:

“She was a rose
In the hands of those
Who had no intention
Of keeping her”

The next section, “the loving”, is more uplifting, but the reader can tell it will take a turn for the worse due to the title of the next chapter.  This section reminded me of my first love and how it made me feel, so this was the chapter I probably related to the most.  This section I believe is the sweetest of them all and the “honey”, so to speak.  Out of all of the sections, the poems from this chapter are the ones I would most likely want to post on social media, due to how idealistic they are.

“You look like you smell of
Honey and no pain
Let me have a taste of that”

“The breaking” was returns the reader to a depressing side of the novel as it Kaur writes about the breaking up with her long-term relationship. I could relate to this chapter as well, after I dealt with a nasty breakup.  Luckily, though, I got over it, and so did Kaur.  

“You mustn’t have to
Make them want you
They must want you themselves”

The last section of Kaur’s book of poems, “the healing,” is probably the most inspirational and empowering.  It tells women to embrace themselves, their femininity and heritage, and to love themselves always before loving another.  This chapter reminds women that we are stronger than we know, to respect ourselves, and not worry about what the boys think.

“You must enter a relationship
With yourself
Before anyone else”

Overall, I thought this book of poems was a good read and I would recommend it to anyone who might have gone through a rough break up.  

Please follow my blog for more book reviews!

Love, Amber

Retail therapy

(Coat – IZ Byer, Scarf – City Streets, Shirt – LA Hearts, Leggings – Maurices, Ring – Maurices, Shoes – East 5th)

October in upstate New York was mild, but as soon as November hit, it turned freaking cold! I didn’t have a winter jacket with me at school, so I decided to do some retail therapy. Taking time for myself to shop for an afternoon before my 2:30 class was something I really needed.  It took my mind off of a lot of things and during the shopping spree I bought a purse, a coat, jacket, gloves, Sweetbitter, and a moisturizer that I’ll be showing you all in a future post. So, with all of these new items I purchased, I thought I’d show you all some pictures of me wearing them in an OOTD-styled post.  These pictures were actually taken yesterday afternoon by my great friend Bobby (follow him on Insta @lynh.photography). I popped into the university’s cafe, which serves Starbucks coffee. #BLESSED. In this photo shoot I was actually sipping on a chestnut praline latte, if you were wondering. It was actually the first time I wore the City Streets scarf and the purse, which is by Colony One, but unfortunately I could not find the same bag online.  

For a college student that is constantly surrounded by basically the same things day-in and day-out, I think going out by yourself and enjoying whatever time you have off is a great way of self-care.  Sure, it left a bit of a dent in my bank account, but it was much needed.  Not only due to the fact that I didn’t have any winter clothes, but also because it helped me out mentally.  With finals around the corner and midterm grades lurking in the back of my mind, getting away from campus really helped me out.  

After I’ve finish posting this blog post, I will begin writing another book review, which you should be looking for within the next day or so.  Once that’s completed, I plan on finishing up a podcast that I’ve been working on for one of my classes.  Who knows? Maybe I’ll post the podcasts here once they’re done.  

Leave me a comment letting me know what you’re up to this weekend, and if you liked this blog post, please follow!

Love, Amber

Sweetbitter review

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Fast paced, dramatic, hard, and true.  Those are the words that I would use to describe Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler.  If you were to mix Beat poetry with Crank and a dash of Gossip Girl, this book would be the byproduct.

This coming-of-age novel gripped me and I read it within three days.  The novel chronicles the life of Tess, a millennial who landed a job at a prestigious restaurant in NYC after running away from home, all by batting her eyes.  The restaurant, which is based on the Union Square Cafe, is filled with secret dramas which the unfortunate heroin stumbles upon and eventually becomes a part of.

Tess falls in love with the bartender, Jake, who has an odd relationship with the senior server, Simone.  Tess tries to develop a taste for wine and learns about the trade through Simone, all the while becoming closer to Jake.  After hours, the staff at the restaurant go to Park Bar, a dive bar, where they drink and snort cocaine into oblivion.  Addiction settles, in more ways than one, and Tess is free falling down in a harsh and cruel rabbit hole that she eventually has to crawl out of.  

The book itself is split up into the four seasons and sweet is turned into bitter.  Poem-styled recollections of lines dropped in conversations between staff members are scattered throughout the book: “It’s true, Chef called him a faggot.” “If one more bitch cuts me off to ask for Chardonnay–.” “And after I took the LSAT, I was like, wait, I don’t want to be a lawyer.” “But it smells like garbage and Fernet in there.”

Working in the “serving” industry, per se, I believe this book is spot on.  Servers in restaurants are no longer lesser-than those they serve, but on the same level, more or less.  They are those going to college, in college, or just graduated.  They know where the food is coming from, they have a system all of their own working behind-the-scenes, and have developed a palate all on their own.  They know what they want in life and still have the gumption and eagerness to get it.  Once a job performed by “degenerates” is now a highly coveted job performed by young white women paving a career path for themselves.  

But there is one thing the so-called “degenerates” and white youth have in common: we still drink and party too hard for our own good. “When I woke up again it was to a sunset I didn’t deserve,” the narrator said.  “I moved my neck first, craned it, looking down.  My jeans were on. My Converse were off, but my ankle socks were on, evidence of an outside presence.  I didn’t remember getting to my bed or to my apartment.  I sat up a bit more…There was a note safety-pinned to my shirt: ‘Please text me so I know you’re alive, Your Roommate, Jesse.’”  

The plot of a coked-out girl falling too hard for a guy that is no good for her may sound like it would become boring at parts, but the fact of the matter is, Danler writes so well and so truthfully, that the basic plot line can be excused.  Her writing doesn’t miss a beatt and can be described as sensory overload.  After the first chapter, I believed this work was Beat poetry in novel format. The sentences are brief, but powerful, with a few descriptive lists that make your mind wander.  For example: “BITTER: always a bit unanticipated. Coffee, chocolate, rosemary, citrus rinds, wine.  Once, when we were wild, it told us about poison. The mouth still hesitates at each new encounter.  We urge it forward, say, Adapt.  Now, enjoy it.”

Although Tess can be a Bella Swan of a character at points, nevertheless, I rooted for her, even in her desperate attempt to win the affections of the bad-boy bartender.  I suppose I knew it would end badly for her, but I rooted for her all the same.  

Before signing off, I have to mention that Sweetbitter is becoming a Starz show, backed by Brad Pitt.  The cast has already been selected and it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing previews for it.  I do not have a Starz account but I think I might cave and purchase one just to watch this series.  Perhaps when the show finally does come out I’ll do a review on that. Let me know what you think in the comments below and if you want more book reviews, please subscribe to my blog!

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