Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Soundcheck's Critic's Week: The Decade in Rock

Now that I drive into work, I find myself listening to a lot of NPR, a station which used to be reserved for special road trips upstate. When I was able to leave work a little early last week, I managed to catch Soundcheck, while they were having a week where they reviewed the best music of the decade. I caught Critic's Week: The Decade in Rock, which was really interesting, and made me think much harder about a decade when I felt like music really wasn't at it's peak. I guess there was so much Britney Spears and Good Charlotte that it sort of blocked out The Arcade Fire and The Strokes and Regina Spektor and Muse and all the other great artists from the 2000s in my mind.

Ryan Schreiber, the featured critic, also noted the way that music became more and more individualized in the 2000s, citing the fact that you could look on anyone's iPod and find music that almost no one but them would know. I didn't finish the program, but I hope he expounded on the fact that having an iPod at all helps to create a sort of cult of music as personality. The collectivity of music (starting out at the basics, as most of music being created by a band, and moving toward collective music experiences like massive concerts which are then aired on television to an even more massive group of people) is starting to disintegrate just a little in the face of such individualizing technology.

Anyway, the small review is this: it was a very interesting program, and you should go listen to it. I'm planning to listen to the whole thing, and then hopefully check out the rest of the week's episodes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Outlet Shopping

Since starting a new, higher-paying job a few months ago, I have (hesitantly, perhaps even unwillingly) started shopping again. The most immediate and pressing thing that I noticed is that prices are higher now than they were when I more or less stopped shopping five years ago. The next thing that I noticed is that it is pretty addictive. I'm vowing to slow down after the holidays and a trip to Iceland in late January. This may well coincide with the end of my higher-paying job, so it's probably good that I plan ahead.

Regardless, I've recently been shopping primarily at outlets and online, and have yet to make one stop at a proper indoor mall. Outlets, for the most part, are different than they were when I was younger, and from what I think they were intended to be. I remember going to Woodbury Commons (our closest outlet mall, and the primary one for New York City dwellers) and finding lots of clothes missing buttons or with the wrong tags or slight damage. It was a place for cast-off items at pretty low prices. You could sew on a new button or try to remove a stain or what have you, and you were making sure that well-made clothes didn't go to waste.

It seems to be a little different now, and while we did find some stores that had last year's styles (The North Face, Kate Spade, Williams-Sonoma) or slightly damaged goods (Fossil, Crate & Barrel [and LL Bean, apparently]), many simply had cheaper versions of the clothes currently in stores (Gap, J. Crew were both big on that, although I did see some of last year's clothes at Gap). Although I'm always a fan of affordable things, the point of most high-end retail stores is to have well-made clothes that will last a long time, and a cheaper version of those clothes isn't any better than the clothes that start out cheaper. Additionally, outlets are usually outdoor malls, which can get cold, or, if you were at Woodbury Commons on Sunday, icy. Very, very icy and actually a little dangerous. Although most of the stores were very calm, there were long lines outside Coach and Ugg.

One benefit to shopping at an outlet mall is that they are really meant to be for smart shoppers, so there are plenty of coupons online, as well as a large book of them that can be found at the information booth (with a coupon online). Also, being outside allowed for more movement space, and also meant that they weren't blasting Christmas carols, so it never felt overwhelming, the way being inside a normal mall or on Fifth Avenue or in SoHo can. Overall, I would say that the experience was more enjoyable than it would have been at an indoor mall, and I'd like to check out an LL Bean and an Under Armour outlet sometime in the future, after the holidays but before going to Iceland.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Allan Tannenbaum's Portraits of John & Yoko

I'm not sure if I really like Allan Tannenbaum as a photographer. Photos of celebrities and 1970s-era New York tend to feel a little cliched to me, and his website looks more like an ad for a bad nightclub than a photographer's portfolio. He has a LinkedIn account, which I find cool, but I don't know if that can make up for poor web layout.

Having said, that, however, he took some really lovely images of John Lennon and Yoko Ono a few weeks before Lennon was murdered, and compiled a book of them about two years ago. I haven't seen the book, John and Yoko: A New York Love Story, but I did see some images from it, and they were quite lovely, so I figured I'd share them with you. My two favorites are below, and you can see the rest in Vanity Fair.

I'm not sure why, but I really love images of John and Yoko, and these are no exception. Although I think it's impossible to tell the truth about anyone or any relationship from a picture, almost all photographs of the couple are beautiful or interesting in some way. I like the two I've included here because the first is lovely and composed, and the second feels spontaneous and, to me, very happy.



Thursday, December 3, 2009

Amazon.com Wishlists


I really love Amazon's wishlist feature, particularly now that it has the "universal wishlist button" that lets you put items from other stores (including local shops and etsy, yay for taking down big business while using big business!) onto your list. Essentially, the wishlist is a registry that you can start without having a reason to have a registry (I know registries are becoming more popular for housewarmings, but most people still only use them for weddings and babyshowers, and damn it, everyone deserves a present now and again, big life event or not).

I'm a big fan of gifts, both giving and receiving them, and having a list of things a person wants comes in handy around the holidays and at birthdays. Particularly if you live far away from someone, the fact that you can ship directly to their house can be helpful. I've also found that I'm a particularly difficult person to buy for, and so having a wishlist is an easy way to let people know exactly what I want without looking like a jerk.

It's particularly easy to set up and use, and I'd definitely recommend starting one of your own. I've been searching for a lot of my friends, and so far, have only found two who have them, and one who actually uses it, so do yourself and your loved ones a favor and start one today!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Carhartt.com

Simply put, this website is poorly designed and difficult to use. There are five options for women's pants, each with at least three sub-options, and one cannot navigate between the pages easily. Obviously it's difficult to remember whether you've just looked at Traditional Fit Boot-Cut Canvas Jean or Modern Fit Straight-Leg Canvas Workpant or Curvy Canvas Jean because the names are similar in their banal un-description and also because the photographs all look exactly the same. Duck canvas workpants, whether Traditional or Modern or Curvy or Boot-Cut, all look exactly the same in a low-resolution photograph. The written description doesn't help much, either; the pants are generally either 8.5 or 12 or 12.5 weight canvas with or without hammer/ruler/scythe accoutrements. They need to have some Lands' End bathing suit full-body 3D CGI SFX TMI ASAP KTM viewer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Johnnie Walker Keep Walking Commercial

As we all know, I really like commercials that use history to sell me something. (See here. I also really love this one very much.) If it has a good song, even better. Here's a commercial I just saw that I found very effective because of its combination of powerful music and use of historic images.

However, I wonder, did it go too far by bringing up the Civil Rights Movement and the Unification of Berlin? Any opinions would be most appreciated.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Where the Wild Things Aren't

I don't know how else to say this, so I am just going to come out and say it. I did not like Where the Wild Things Are. Whew. That feels like a confession. Now I can get on this this review without pussyfooting around the idea.

WTWTA opens up on a lonely boy named Max whose sister has out grown him, his mother is too busy for him, and his father is MIA. He has no friends, an overactive imagination, and is frustrated with everything in his life. In fact we continue to see how frustrated he is for about 20 minutes. So, he runs of to where the wild things are. For those of you who have read the book, you know what comes next. He becomes king of the wild things, runs around a lot, appreciates his old life, then decides to go home. Right? Wrong. This is a feature length movie, people. We have to have character development and a way to stretch out those CGI skills. So instead of a pack of monters to rule, Max instead gains a pack of insecurities to rule. In fact, the moneters' insecurities and fears seem to match pretty closely to Max's own. Max spends most of his time trying to placate the pack instead of having just a good old-fashioned rumpus before giving up and heading home.

Ok, so maybe he doesn't just give up. But when he realizes that he's messed things up worse than he's made them better, he abandons the pack without trying to rectify it all. We as an audience are left to believe that life for the monsters either goes on as it has before or that they figure things out on their own. If this movie is about growing up, I don't see much of a lesson there.

Plot points aside, the movie was boring. As I mentioned, the sequences when Max was at home ran too long and pretty much all of the character insteractions were damn right depressing. I was never properly pulled into the movie and kept waiting for it to end. This child next to me became fidgity half-way through the movie, and I can't say that I blamed him. I too wish I could have played in the aisles. If you're going to make a movie based on a children's book, make it appeal to children. For every action/fun scene, there were 5 argument/discussion scenes. The book is such a simple story and Jonze and Eggers had to ruin it by complicating it. The "touching" ending even failed to make me cry, and I cry at everything.

Two good things I will say about this movie is that it's beautifully shot and the costumes/CGI were fantastic. Other than that, save yourself the time and money and go rent to book from the library. It will be far more entertaining.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Little Birds by Anaïs Nin

Since we've been a bit slow with posts recently, so I'm going to cross-post a very short review I just wrote on GoodReads of Anaïs Nin's Little Birds.

An interesting collection of very short erotic stories. I don't read very much erotica, so I can't compare this to anything, really, but it did certainly remind me of Memoirs of a Beatnik in many ways. Some of the writing is lovely, some is awful. The characters are mostly caricatures, but overall I liked it alright and was able to read the whole thing in just two hours. I suspect that if the stories individually and the book as a whole weren't so short, I might have grown bored. I'd really like to read Nin's journals now, because I suspect those will be a bit more substantive.

My recommendation to IttyBittyReaders: If you're in the mood for some very quick erotica, this might be a good place to start. If you're in the mood for a brilliant work of epic fiction, don't bother.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ceres' Secrets of the Valley juice

Kathmandu has been hot and humid lately, more so than usual for October. Two hundred rupees in hand, I venture to Bhat Bhateni in search of a thirst-quencher. I pass by Mirage Fashion Tailors on the way, and I envision a maenad or satyr in some misty Bacchanalian lair imparting to me the Secrets of Kathmandu Valley via an intoxicating libation. What do I find upon entrance to BB but a whole aisle of fruit juices crafted by Ceres herself!

I am not surprised to be confronted with goddess-produced juice, because in Kathmandu one sees gods among mortals, according to a guide book in the tourist district.

I chose Secrets of the Valley juice over Youngberry or Medley of Fruits, say, and I am pleased with how the goddess of agriculture conjoined apple, berry, and cherry to produce a unified beverage. Not one particular fruit flavor can be distinguished from any other. The juice’s sweetness—not understated at all—means that if you don’t rinse the glass before you go to bed, in the morning it will be covered in ants. This ambrosia is irresistible, especially on a hot day.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Peppermint

Peppermint is just wonderful. Although I've heard sometimes that peppermint can be bad for you, it's also apparently one of the oldest medicinal herbs in the world. I don't care much about this either way, but I think it's just perfect in tea or candy (although I don't love the hard peppermint candies, for those I prefer spearmint), a little sweetened. Today, I had some lovely peppermint saltwater taffy, which is lovely and reminds me of the beach. It's nice to have a flavor that can simultaneously remind you of both the beach and the holidays, and peppermint manages to strike just the right balance.

One of my all-time favorite peppermint dishes is peppermint ice cream. A recipe for you to make it at home can be found here: http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/peppermint_ice_cream/. My friends and I made it one Christmas, and I remember a lot of laughing and whacking of the candies. Overall, it's a fun group recipe, with a delicious product. It makes for the perfect holiday dessert.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Beverages in Italy


All around Rome there are water fountains for drinking. The water pours from the sides of buildings, pillars, lions’ mouths, and falls into stone drains in the ancient cobblestones. The two in Piazza San Pietro (the Vatican) were busier, maybe because the sun was shining so hotly, but the water wasn’t as tasty there as the one we first encountered on Via della Conciliazione. At that one, a small boy protested in fear as his mother picked him up to drink directly from the lion’s mouth. According to Manuela, she told him, Come on! It’s just a puppet. The water was cool, fresh-tasting, and flowed smoothly. It might have also been my favorite because it was the first one I saw.
These water fountains are interesting because at no establishment can one be served simply water from the tap. Manu said she was always afraid to ask for tap water because to ask for tap water sends a strong message, having to do with authority and government and culture and environmentalism. One time on Via San Rocco in Bologna she did ask for tap water, and the bartender said it was against Italian law to serve it to customers. But he gave us two glasses of mineral water for free.
The signature drink of Venice is Spritz, a cocktail made with wine, Aperol (a bitter Italian liquer; you can substitute Campari), seltzer sometimes, and a slice of orange and an olive. The color of the drink is a deep neon orange. The salty green olive on the wooden skewer was the best part for me. We had two Spritzes in Venice, one in Gheto Vechio (a Jewish quarter) and the other in a piazza right across the Grand Canal from the train station, take a right and a left and a right, keep walking until you are in a big open piazza with a few trees near a sandwich shop whose owner is named Renato.
Espresso! Drunk from a tiny ceramic teacup and saucer while standing up. Manu puts sugar in hers so I did too, and it comes with tiny spoon for stirring. An expensive espresso will run you about 1,40 euro. I mostly had espresso—at various caffés, on the train to Venice, with brioche, at Manu’s house—but had a cappuccino at the airport. Only whole milk produces such good foam. It really is a perfect mix of strong bitter dark sweet linger enveloping your mouth.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Stroopwafels


Today, for the first time in more than two years, I had a stroopwafel, a cookie-like creation that I love. Of Dutch origin, each one consists of two thin waffles with a layer of a sweet (but not maple) syrup in the middle, and is usually sold at open-air markets. I wish I was better at describing these, because I'm not doing them justice. The texture, a little grainy, but soft, is perfect, and while they are very sweet, they aren't too sweet. I'd definitely recommend getting some, and if you can get them fresh, all the better.

Although I'm sure you can find them here (a friend says they sell them at the Park Slope co-op, and I bought mine at the New Amsterdam Village they have set up in Bowling Green Park until tomorrow), for me, they are entirely European. I had my first one in Oxford, and my first fresh one (oh my lord, my first fresh one) in Prague. They're tiny, perfect circles, and biting into one today made me feel like I was backpacking all over again. Quite the lovely feeling.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pursuit of Dreams: The Historic Public Schools of Charles B. J. Snyder

Last night, I went to a lecture on Charles B.J. Snyder at the MidManhattan Library. The lecture itself was interesting, and the speaker, Jean Arrington, was well-versed in his architecture and seemed like a genuinely nice person (at one point, she put up a picture of her high school, the design of which was inspired by one of Snyder's buildings). Snyder was the Superintendent of School Buildings in New York City from 1891 to 1923, and he built more than 400 public schools in this time.

His designs were the first to focus on the comfort of children and work around new pedagogies, and they let in more light and air than typical schools of the time, as well as giving outside spaces like courtyards and rooftop playgrounds. His buildings were also the first schools to be completely fireproofed. There were some lovely pictures of the buildings, including one particularly charming 8-room schoolhouse on Statan Island that has been demolished. Of his buildings still extant, a large number are still being used as schools, and the buildings brought in a new era of school design.

One thing I would have liked Arrington to have focused on a little more in depth was the effect of the buildings on pedagogy, and vice versa. I don't often think of space as it relates to theory, but really, what has more of an effect on us than our environment? The lecture did inspire me to check out Jacob Riis's books, which I read an awful lot about in high school, but have never truly inspected. I'll be heading back to the MidManhattan Library after work to do so.

A brief note on that: It's not my favorite library, because the building looks like it's stuck in the 1970s and the lectures there are always filled with crazies who use the Q&A time to discuss their own "political agendas" or do annoying things like smack their lips over and over through the hour-long presentation (seriously, I almost killed that guy last night) and the lines are enormous. I much prefer the main library, because the architecture is gorgeous and reading room is quiet and they have interesting exhibits that somehow don't attract the same crazies that frequent the MidManhattan. However, they do have circulating books that cover the topics I enjoy, and much more frequent evening lectures, so I seem to end up there time and time again.

Mostly about Michael from The Office

The Office is charming for so many reasons. From the first bars of the theme song (doo-weeeeeeee, doo-wee doo-wee doo, wee, do do doo-wee doo-wee…), I am hooked into a loop of feelings ranging from empathy to disgust for Michael, Pam, Dwight, Angela, and all the other Dunder Mifflin employees at the Scranton branch. Though I’ve only seen about a dozen episodes, I’ve gathered that Pam has passive and sweet and ambitious sides of her; Michael is relentlessly hopeful even as he digs his own grave; Jim can be a jerky bro but has rivers of feelings within him; and Dwight is just trying to find a place where he is honored for the particular things he contributes to the world. This is also why I find Dwight’s friendship with Rolf so sweet. They understand and affirm each other in a way that other people can’t for them.

Here aboard Delta flight 70 I just watched the episode about the company picnic, when Michael and his ex Holly put on a skit about the origin of Dunder Mifflin. (This is the most recent episode I’ve seen.) At the end of the day, Michael tells the camera that he and Holly are just one of those couples with a long story: someday they’ll end up together, but the path to that destiny will include times when each person is dating someone else. But Michael is willing to wait, he tells us, and he glows happy, he glows content, probably feeling the deepest connection to another person that he’s ever felt. And in the background, we see Holly walking away holding hands with her new boyfriend. They have plans to build a house together. One can’t help but feel for Michael, especially because the “SlumDunder Mifflinaire” skit he and Holly put on was such a DISASTER.

I pick up on messages about propriety from The Office. Holly’s utmost responsibility to Michael is respect and awareness of his feelings for her. Lying on her side provocatively maybe signifies meanings for Michael that she doesn’t want to imply. Michael’s optimism about a future with Holly is either thoroughly out of touch or the producers have something up their sleeves.

Another lesson from The Office is that each person lives in their own world. One time when I was talking with a friend about peoples’ varying realities, we came to a site of dissonance (which nicely illustrated this larger point of the discussion): I saw it as each person having their own truth or multiple truths while she saw it as each person telling lies. Jim’s almost backstabbyness appeals to the watcher of the documentary because he and the viewer are on the same side; they laugh at the people who work in the office, the people for whom the office is their entire life and meaning. But one man’s office parody is another’s daily hell, just as one man’s dream of a relationship is another’s nightmare.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Behr Paint Color 710C-3: Gobi Desert

When I moved into my apartment in Brooklyn, I was terribly excited to be able to fully decorate a room just as I wanted it. And, in October 2008, I wanted ultra-traditional. To go with my cherry wood bedroom set and my olive-green bookshelf (handmade by my father, hand-repainted by me), I decided I wanted a rich color that wouldn't be too obtrusive. I have a tendency to go for colors like Behr 410D-4 ("Asparagus"), either very deep or very bright colors. But, with my very high ceilings (and a mother who hates color and helped pick out the paint), these seemed like they'd be overwhelming, so I decided on 710C-3, "Gobi Desert." I soon discovered that this is both the best and the worst color in the world.

710C-3 is a rich, deep color, without being too dark. It makes a room warm without looking too much like a country home, and it looks pretty sophisticated with white crown molding. I even like the color shade just below it ("Raffia Cream), although it's a little too close to the white version of colors that my mother likes so much. The name, Gobi Desert, isn't the one I would have chosen (I like my paint names to be a little closer to home, like raffia and asparagus), but the color is lovely and matches everything. It worked so well in my bedroom that I decided to paint my new living room the same color. With much lower ceilings and much less light, it still looks nice, although decidedly warmer. I think I'm more fond of it there, because I'll have cherry floors and green couches (sensing a pattern here?), and I have an extremely bright kitchen and nook (dining nook? book nook? craft nook? I don't know yet...), so it won't be so hyper-traditional. Ah, I love Gobi Desert. Alas, I also hate it.

It is beige, after all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Living Sea of Memory

I went to see a puppet show by Paperhand Puppet Intervention this weekend at the Forest Theater in Chapel Hill. It was incredibly crowded! Definitely a big change from when I performed some selections from Shakespeare plays on that stage one summer at drama camp.

The theme of the show was collective storytelling, specifically looking at how storytelling has been used to oppress, and trying to broaden and explain some of the things we have grown up with. For example, the whole thing begins with a piece that aims to explain how patriarchy got to be such a dominating structure in most of the world's cultures. The show also includes a section compiled from the experiences of members of the company that includes memories of their grandparents, giving pause to how the wisdom and experience older folks is not honored in our society these days.

The thing is, the themes were pulled off through the story and through the spectacular puppets made the thing a joy to watch. There was live music (including 3 drummers) and these huge, colorful puppets that the audience clapped and whooped for every time they entered the stage.

Here is a scene from the very beginning:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Graziella's


I had a great meal from Graziella's last weekend. We had it delivered, so I can't say much about the restaurant, except that I pass it many mornings, and it has an open roof, which is always great. I can, however, say a bit about the food, which was fantastic, and definitely some of the best food I've had in a while.

We ordered potato gnocchi with gorgonzola, and an arugula and parmesan pizza. The gnocchi was very similar to a normal gnocchi alfredo, but with the extra tang of gorgonzola cheese, and was really a nice twist on a typical dish. The pizza followed this same pattern, and I absolutely loved these toppings I'd never tried before. The Italian style pizza is a great base for the spicy leaf and the fresh parmesan, and while I don't think it would work well on a New York style pizza, it would be really easy for someone to get or make a pizza and throw on some really fresh arugula and parmesan. I think the freshness was what mattered most here, and the meal could definitely be replicated pretty easily. I'm definitely going to try to make it at some point.

The combination on both dishes was just amazing, and it was nice to have some surprising takes on classic dishes. Also, their sodas (coke in a glass bottle and pellegrino limonada) are a cute little touch. I'd definitely recommend it if you're looking for a nice, different pizza in Clinton Hill, or anywhere, if you're making it yourself.

Julie & Julia & Me


Classes started last week and already I feel like it is Semester: Impossible. I have three math classes. That’s right, three. Well, three classes where I have to use math. Which to a math-phobic person like myself, is pretty much a nightmare. Also, I am not allowed to use a calculator for algebra.


On Saturday, I was trying to do metric conversions for my biology lab when I had a slight meltdown. How am I going to do all of this? I wondered. I was stuck in a downward spiral of negative thinking.


So, I decided to take my mind off of things, and I went to see Julie & Julia. I love food, and I love watching shows about food, so I figured it would be a win. Which in my opinion, it was. I really liked Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell, a woman who decides to write a blog about cooking her way through Julia Child’s cookbook. Both Julie and Julia were very likable characters. Overall, it was a cute movie. It probably won’t win any awards, but it’s something fun to go see on a Saturday afternoon. I left the theater feeling uplifted, because, as Julie’s husband reassures her: “Julia Child wasn’t always Julia Child”. Meaning, we all have to start somewhere. It turns out that Julia Child could not even chop an onion when she first entered culinary school, but that didn’t stop her from becoming one of the most influential chefs of our time. If Julia Child went from not being able to chop an onion, to “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, then I can certainly learn to do math without a calculator.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Meredith's Bread

Meredith's Bread is a New York farmer's market staple, and I took it for granted as our bread supplier. They've been around since 1987, and use only New York State ingredients whenever possible. Overall, their products are great, and they've just recently started allowing orders online, so if you can't get to one of their booths (they're all over the city and the counties between NYC and Albany), you can still have fresh bread shipped.

I usually get their andama, which is a cornmeal-based bread, because it tastes so fantastic as toast. Unfortunately, it can be a little crumbly, so while it's amazing on sandwiches that you eat right after you make them, it doesn't take well to being packed in a lunch. For that, we've used their whole wheat, spelt, and multi-grain, all with good results.

However, today, while searching for that andama, I popped a sample of chocolate biscotti into my mouth absentmindedly. It set off about a million happiness receptors in my brain, and I had to buy a pack. I'm not a huge cookie fan, but these have a perfect, light and spongy texture, and a flavoring that is sweet without being overpowering. I had one this afternoon with some Ronnybrook milk and it was the perfect snack.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An A+ Blog for a Mixed Up World

It's been a while since I posted a review, and since I have been busy studying lately, I give you a review I posted on my LJ back in April with some small changes:

So I've (fairly) recently discovered the blog Sociological Images.

I really enjoy it, for several reasons. On an intellectual level, it presents a lot of interesting ideas that tend to be on my mind often. I often find myself checking the blog to find an video or an article relating to something I had just been speaking to my friend Drew about. Also, a lot of the time the posters just post the video/image/article and either leave it at that or write a sentence or two to give you some background. Their opinions usually aren't plastered all over the place (unless you count the subject matter of the media, in which case the opinions are kind of clear). You can just view the item and think about it. I like it a lot.

The subject matter of the blog varies from post to post. Some posts are devoted to the depiction of gender in the media while others focus on society's misconceptions about race. One recent post put up pictures of billboards with contradicting ads juxtaposed next to each other (e.g. an underage drinking PSA next to a Bud Lite ad). While on any other blog, posts like this would be funny, Sociological Images makes one reassess the use of mixed messages in American society.

On a more shallow level, I really like the layout of the blog. I have a weird phobia of opening up new pages. I think it's a leftover from the many years my parents continued to have dial-up internet long after DSL made its appearance. I don't like having to navigate away from the page I'm on. I usually have 5 or so tabs open at the top of my Firefox window so that I don't have to constantly be pressing the back button. That being said, a lot of the videos are right there on the page, and even when there are links, they usually lead to another part of the same website, making it very easy for a freak like me to navigate their way back to the original page. I make this point because Feministing, which I'm a very big fan of, is usually riddled with links to other pages and the whole thing makes me anxious.

So if you have some time on your hands and you need something to think on, visit the blog. I like what they're trying to do and it will spark some interesting conversations with your coworkers. Unless you're coworker is Tim the Pharmacist, whom I beginning to suspect is actually a Republican. But that's another story for another time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

88.1, non-corporate radio

There is such a thrill on hearing a song you like on the radio. It's totally different then playing it yourself. And that is what I like about the radio -- the element of synchronicity. If you hear something good, or something familiar, it feels important, like you are part of something larger than yourself.

That's why I got such a big kick out of listening to the radio as I entered adolescence, but I think we all know the limitations of corporate-run radio with constant advertising and limited music selection. I discovered 88.1 WKNC in high school when we used to (illegally) eat lunch in the parking lot with the radio on, and often heard the most ridiculous songs like one about T-rexes and their T-friends, and that one Streets song that has an alcoholic and pothead arguing about who is tougher.

I discovered other charms of this station, which is actually the college station of NC State University out of Raleigh. (They apparently have an unusually strong radio transmitting power for a college station so I can hear it almost everywhere in Durham, except for [infuriatingly] my childhood bedroom where it is a little fuzzy.) Late at night, driving in the car in summer, the station plays strange ambient techno that made midnight excursions around deserted downtown Durham extra weird.

Another charming thing are the PSAs that replace ads. You can hear a rap about not drinking and driving, an invitation to host international students in your home, and energy saving tips. You can look up their playlists, archived by time, on their website and so most people I know have these scraps of paper in the car with all these different times scralled in while-driving handwriting to look up when they get home.

Burgers in Los Angeles

Over the past week in the Golden State, I sampled several beef products.

At the In-N-Out Burger on Sepulveda Westway by the airport: This legendary "joint" only operates on the near West Coast and never serves food that was frozen. I got a cheeseburger "animal style" and a chocolate shake. BEST BURGER HANDS DOWN. The meat was juicy, the bun was not soggy, the cheese was not overpowering, and the sauce and onions (the "animal style" additions that are not on the main menu) really set this meal over the top. There was also fresh lettuce and tomato. It came in a little paper package and was very tidy. The shake was good, but not as good as I had remembered, and incredibly difficult to drink through a straw. It produced real Puckery Fish Face. I thought I'd be getting vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup, but it appeared to just be chocolate ice cream. The intense thickness meant that we had to wait for it to melt before we could really drink it, and by that time it was kind of like tepid soup. We also shared fries, which were crispy and hot (and delicious when dipped in the milkshake!). Overall: 9.5

At the Getty Villa Center in Malibu: Laura and Mom ordered the Turkey Burger (ok, this one's not beef). This item was cooked rare and came with sauce (similar to In-N-Out's sauce, which is kind of like ketchup and mayo mixed together), lettuce & tomato, and some superb fries that were covered in parsely and garlic. Really garlicky, yum. The rareness of the turkey burger itself was a tad off-putting--it was bright pink in the middle and not very hot--but the soft ciabatta bun and the saucy goodness accompanying it were tasty. Plus, those fries! Overall: 9

At the Fatburger on Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica: Normally I would not be caught dead in a place with a name like "Fatburger," but Dad told Laura it was really good. (He also recommended Carl's Jr. but we did not go there.) I got a Small Baby Fat burger, which weighs in at 2.5 ounces. (They get as big as XXXL Triple King, which is almost ten times as large: 24 ounces. You get your photo on the wall and a t-shirt if you finish it.) Like In-N-Out burger, the Baby Fat comes in a paper package. This endears me to the burger. It came with the standard accoutrements of mayo, mustard, relish, lettuce, and tomato. The relish was too sweet. The fries were absolutely cold. The burger itself was rare, which is nice. They did not have cherry coke on tap. Overall: 6.5

At Billingsley's on Pico by the 405: This old steakhouse (est. 1946) has been a Dechter/Schaffer family favorite for years. They have daily specials (Monday is prime rib and Tuesday is BBQ ribs) that come with soup or salad, potato, and dish of ice cream. On the walls are old or fake-old bizarre signs, with sayings like "This is a good place; act respectable" or "Hookers and drunks enter through the back. Front door's broken" or other mock-classy warnings. One must get the green goddess dressing with the salad. It was herby mayonnaisey and a little sour and absolutely delicious. (Here's a recipe from Molly Wizenberg, of Leah's beloved Orangette blog, from Bon Appetit.) I ordered my prime rib rare, and it was evenly pink and hardly fatty at all and sweet. Went down like butter. It could have been hotter, though. Laura's BBQ ribs were absolutely falling off the bone and came drenched in cloying BBQ sauce. All of it was yummy. And the spumoni ice cream at the end was quaint. Overall: 8

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

LUSH Cosmetics Massage Bars

I really enjoy LUSH Cosmetics. Their products are all handmade in Canada from natural products, and they have a wide selection of vegan products also. It was LUSH that introduced me to my favorite travel buddy items: solid shampoo and conditioner. I use the Godiva Solid Shampoo and the Jungle Conditioner every time I go on vacation because it doesn't leak and you can carry it on planes. Plus, whenever I smell it, I remember all the fantastic places I've used it. For home, I really enjoy Big Shampoo, which you can only use once or twice a week, because a big ingredient in it is salt, but which lathers incredibly well and creates real volume.

By far, though, my favorite items at LUSH are their massage bars. These bars are absolutely perfect for any massage you may want. They come in a huge variety of scents and textures, and are less messy than any other massage oil. You just rub them on your hands and the oil melts away. My favorite is the Fever Massage Bar, which must be pretty popular, since it's gone up in price since I bought mine, and is now more expensive than any other one, at $11.25. It's scented with sandalwood and rose, and it has lips.

They also have a variety of other bars that I'd like to try, including the Cosmic Dreamcatcher Bar, which is scented with sage and frankincense, and the Wiccy Magic Muscles, which has peppermint for a little tingle.

If you're planning on buying one of these, though, I'd recommend you store it in a cool place. They melt when left in, say, a suitcase in West Africa or your nightstand in the sun. Plus, when it's sweltering like it has been in New York, who wouldn't want to take it out of the fridge for a cool treat?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Seal of Approval


The following items have my approval:

Grey Gardens for HBO: I'm a big fan of Grey Gardens and I was skeptical about the HBO film however, I was very impressed. Everything about it was so perfectly executed.


The Stuff You Should Know and Stuff You Missed in History Class Podcasts: If you like Mythbusters but can't stand that woman with red hair, you'll love these podcasts. Miraculously they provide you with everything you would ever want to know about topics you've always wondered about such as spontaneous human combustion, the unsavory combination of orange juice and toothpaste, Rasputin's mysterious death and the Pied Piper (all of these episodes are especially good) in a mere 15 minutes.



William Finnegan's profile of Joe Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff, entitled "Sheriff Joe" from July 20th's New Yorker:
Once you read this you will be shocked and want to talk about it with everyone. I read it about 3 weeks ago and I still can't stop thinking about it.


d

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Some Thoughts on Moving, and Madison

Moving sucks. I hate moving. Shit! Right now I am moving from Madison to Nepal (via New York) and my mom is moving from New York to LA. What this means is a hassle. Like, Where will I put the stuff I don't need in Nepal but I want to keep? And, What about if I'm coming back to Madison--should I keep some things here? Like, my speakers or my bike? Also, moving makes you reprioritize and get frustrated and so my Sensibility Meter is all out of whack.

My small room is full of stuff I can't keep. These fall into the following categories: things I brought with me from New York and didn't use (after not having used them in New York), like a harmonica and three pairs of flats; things I accumulated in Madison and didn't use, like a purple lurex top and some nice tins for holding tea; things I had in New York and Madison
and seem too useful to get rid of, like a harmonica & flats & India ink & a humidifier & an old dish shift sign-up sheet & a biography of Grace Paley & two corkboards & several short coats. One solution is to sell things to local people. I sold the iPod Touch I got by rebate with my new computer to Syrym (room 27), who took it to Kazakhstan today and will bring me $$$ after he sells it there. I sold my speakers to Jacquie and my bike to Kate (room 5). I gave a photo of Obama to Katie (room 32) and shells to Julia T (room 2). I gave coop-related drawings and emotional ephemera to Elise (room 28).

Moving also fucking sucks because it means you have to say goodbye to people. In this case, I also have to say goodbye to a community that I've helped build and maintain. I'm frequently involved with some contained community that has clearly articulated roles and responsibilities--probably less clearly defined boundaries--so I have a lot of experience with being part of something and having to leave it. Each time it's heartbreaking. In response to saying goodbye to each other, people have different reactions. Some get mushy, some get angry, some get distant, some put it all behind us, some bring it to the fore. Some plan to stay in touch and some say they will but don't mean it. The easiest goodbyes are when you know the relationship is mostly done but still remember each other fondly. Relationships that allow this kind of warm but easy separation are few for me, because I am needy. So right now I'm dealing with being realistic: the current incarnation of my most meaningful relationships is about to be over, but this doesn't mean something different and equally sustaining can't emerge. That Sensibility Meter has been telling me to pull away for the past two weeks, but house meetings and writing policy and making video tours and doing dishes and loving this place are unavoidable. Leaving this place is unavoidable. I am a part of this. I am apart of this.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Boston

This will likely be the most succinct post I will ever write (because I already have biochemistry reading to do).

On August 1st, I moved to Boston, MA for medical school (more on that at a later date). Here are some things I have noticed about the city so far, especially my neighborhood, the South End:

-Friendly traffic enforcement agents...!
-Lots of one-way streets, many of which inexplicably switch direction midway.
-Lots of BAKERIES of all sorts
-Many rats (thankfully, not spotted inside any building)
-Luckily, the city is very walkable, because in comparison to good 'ole NYC, the public transportation sucks.
-Street names in New England are very literal (ie there's a playground on "playground street," a school on "school street"...you get the idea)
-Cape Cod is CLOSE.
-Everyone went to Harvard.
Just kidding.

To be continued...


College Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

There are two main libraries here at this 40,000 person university: Memorial Library and College Library. I've spent more time at College because I've had to make some movies (about a Yeti and about the International Coop), and that's where the computer lab and technology check-out is. They are always quite friendly! This morning I had to return an external hard drive and take out a video camera. Jake helped me get a camera off reserve and then told me, Good luck with your shoot! He helped me before too, when I was editing some Yeti footage and then scanning images of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The people behind the desk are always approachable and willing to help. They will drop whatever they're doing to teach you how to edit or explain what you need to know about the DV Station or help you scan large pieces of paper and then teach you about your online storage cache. When the library was closing today they let us stay until our data finished uploading. Also, other people in the computer lab will watch your stuff if you need to make copies or get some food from downstairs.

The downstairs is undergoing some massive renovation, like frikkin everything else in this city these days, so this may contribute to the relative lack of air conditioning. (By the way, no buildings at the UW are cooled to below about 70, it seems.) But the circulation people are still cheery and abiding! I had several overdue books and it turns out there's no charge at all! You can just return them whenever you want!

One weird thing is that there was a copy of the Onion in the computer lab desk of the people who were helping me this morning, and when I came back this afternoon someone had written my full name on the front page. There was also a 608 phone number--not mine, obviously. There are no "Julia Gruberg"s at the UW. Strange.

Being a Pedestrian in Durham

The other day, carless, and baffled by the DATA bus schedule, I decided to walk from my house to 9th Street (a little cultural center near Duke's East campus.) I have walked comparable distances and farther in other places in the world like New York -- three miles. But Durham is different!

For one thing, there are hardly any sidewalks. If you live downtown, then all is well. Things are walking distance and you only really have to deal with the heat. My walk, though, required walking on some pretty car-centric roads, not even that accommodating of things like bicycles. Try crossing two lanes of cars turning onto the entrance ramp of the highway!

In some places, once you are safely across the street, there are little footpaths worn into the grassy shoulder. Here you can see evidence of the foot traffic, but the thing is that you don't really see many people walking. It's just you, and the cars. And it definitely feels different to be the lone walker during rush hour! If you do pass someone walking in the other direction, someone is going to have to move to the side so that the other can pass, but it's okay because you understand each other, both being part of the fellowship of Durham pedestrians.

Actually the main thing that walking around in Durham makes clear are the strict class levels of transportation. Not having a car to get around, definitely sets you in a certain economic and societal level for the most part. You can see it in the way people act about the bus system here, and the fact that the majority of people you do see riding buses or walking around are non-white, and unlike me, routinely get around Durham carless. For me, as someone who can borrow a car pretty much whenever I need to (with some advanced notice), it is illuminating to remember that the city is way more than my daily experience and routine.

Margaret's Cantina in Chapel Hill

Okay the tag line for this place is "local, seasonal, genuine": love it! This place may be located in a strip mall which may seem bad, but it is actually conveniently right next to the Chelsea movie theater which may be less comfortable then other independent movie theaters in the area, but I still like it.

Anyway, I am not sure why anyone would go to Blue Corn Cafe which has a similar menu (Mexican/Latin American fushion whatever) -- IN THEORY ONLY. I don't get why everyone raves about BCC, because Margaret's is so much better, has actual good vegetarian options (tempeh tacos and tofu that is not sick!), is very busy and vibrant, and also is cheaper. Also, you can tell stuff was made that day and hasn't been sitting around for awhile, which is nice. I also like how the clientel here all kinds of people -- families, students, young professionals, soccer teams etc.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Libation: Cherry Coke

Leah said, I wish you'd write a review of Cherry Coke. So ok. First let me go to the personal fridge and grab a can (thanks to Lindsay room 7) to inform my reviewing.

Ok, (diet canned) Cherry Coke in hand:
It's bubbly. Fruity, but dark. The cherry flavor itself is pretty good, especially because it's subtle. I just like it.

Something about Cherry Coke harkens* back to the 50s. I don't know why I was recently siezed with the desire to drink this particular drink, but there it was. What to do but submit? Leah and I searched up and down State St but Cherry Coke "from the tap" wasn't to be found. Eventually we settled on Coke + grenadine (see Leah's review) from Nick's (closest thing to a diner in 53703).

A few days later, with Chelsea & Julia (room 2), I had my first experience at Jimmy John's. That place is ok. I really like shredded lettuce, but there was too much mayo. Anyway, it was a surprise relief from the usual pain that comes from drinking Cherry Coke from the can. The crux of my Cherry Coke experience lies in the chest-tightening that inevitably comes--with increasing intensity--with every swallow. This is a special treat that only comes when I have Cherry Coke from a can, hence the search for Cherry Coke from a fountain.

Because of the chest-tightening, I can't drink a whole can in one go. So I find a suitable jar in the kitchen and pour the remaining 3/4 of the can into that jar. Then ensues the search for a matching lid. Though most glass jars look exactly like other glass jars, they are not threaded the same, so they require different lids. At this point in my co-opping experience I can tell which kind of lid a certain jar requires: Ball/Kerr mason jars take that two-pieced doo-hickey, with the flat lid part and the collar. These are the kinds of jars I like to store my Cherry Coke in. The contrast between the ornate Cornucopia molded onto the glass and that dark liquid may inspire deep thinking in some: what other things can be stored in a glass jar? McDonald's food, granola to take to class for eating during the breaks (as Emma room 28, Elise room 29, and I room 4 do), jam, small religious artifacts. But I digress. The point is that my mason jar holds the Cherry Coke until my heart palpitations subside, at which point I can resume drinking it, and by which time it has mostly gone flat.

*child's name alert

Infinite Jest


Okay so I finished IJ, and I don’t really want to get into it, but I am really glad I read it and am really into trying to get other people to read it. You can borrow my copy which originally came from Sarah. In fact, Sarah, I think you would like it, so do you want it back?

Since my original review, I moved away from the NY area and the activity of reading on public transit. This was the right condition to continue reading IJ! I made a lot of progress after I stopped lugging it around all the time. Though I did lug it through some airports and during my many mile (seemed like) walk that day in Madison round trip from W. Gilman to the end of Willy St., ending with many blisters and that familiar old sore shoulder.

There are so many little things I could mention about reading this book! Just doing a brief google search makes me want to re-read the whole thing. I think that’s an important point though – that you can read it as a Hamlet expert or a grammar/syntax expert, or maybe someone who has gone through AA or whatever, or you can just read it as someone whose friend gave them a copy one day without any prior knowledge about what is about to happen.

here are some interesting tips to prepare for reading -- not sure if this will encourage or discourage. The forward by Dave Eggers is also quite motivating -- it will make you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself by taking on this book.

"The older Mario gets, the more confused he gets about the fact that everyone at E.T.A. over the age of about Kent Blott finds stuff that's really real uncomfortable and they get embarrassed. It's like there's some rule that real stuff can only get mentioned if everybody rolls their eyes or laughs in a way that isn't happy." -- 529

cherry coke

While in Madison, Julia and I got really into cherry coke. But not just regular cherry coke – from the fountain! So the first part of this review is that we discovered that it’s not common to find it “on tap.” Misleading, since we had access to it every second of our college experience in the soda fountain in Bates. Who knew Bates had such a rare offering!

So we compromised and found that regular coke from the fountain with grenadine was a suitable replacement. Though apparently Jimmy John’s has the real thing, and the new-McDonald’s Drugstore (Ox and Rabbit) in Durham has an old-fashioned soda shop set up where you can make up any flavor you want. Plus they have crushed ice which I love and compostable cups.

144 hours in Madison, WI

I knew very little about Madison before I visited, other than what I’d heard from the three friends who live there, and from other people who always say “I’ve heard it is very nice.”

I agree that it is very nice, especially during the last week of July, especially when coming from southern East Coast humidity.

Lots of things pleasantly surprised me. Julia (who I went to visit) had told me about the Capitol building in the center of town, but I didn’t really understand how central it is in the downtown area where she lives. Hopefully Julia or someone will read this and correct me if I am wrong, but to me it seemed the Capitol building and four main streets radiating from it orient the whole downtown area. You can look down State Street (a bike/bus/pedestrian only mall) and see the dome looming, reminding me of cathedrals of small European cities like Seville. Julia and I enjoyed going to the Capitol most days, for the air conditioning, the superb water fountain selection, and to see all the architectural treasures.

Other things of note include the farmers market every Saturday which takes place on the sidewalk around the square block of the Capitol. They sell cheese curds there and cheesy bread and everyone walks around it in one direction very slowly like cattle. Also everyone loves it. All of Julia’s housemates we saw that day had to reference having just been to the FM or asking if we had been to the FM or saying “we are going to go to the FM” with such excitement!

The general water fountain quality and quantity of the whole city is really quite superb. I really appreciated the water quality of city water.

Also, Madison is on the isthmus between two lakes. Who knew? I enjoyed James Madison Park, a grassy knoll on the water, and the Union Terrace at the university where you can sit and watch the sailboats.

I also enjoyed my walk down Willy St. including the food co-op and the lovely flowers growing and in everyone’s yard, and cherry coke at Nick’s, Julia’s new favorite place. Also, I think if you were to look into the city’s history of co-operative housing (and co-operative other things), like the International Co-op where Julia lives and I stayed, you would be intrigued.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shopsins

About a month ago, Leah and I went to Shopsin's, a delicious tiny restaurant in the Essex Street Market. Although there are only about 10 seats in the whole place, the menu is enormous, and everything on it looks fantastic.

When you walk in, you are welcomed by the dirty (and sometimes unwelcoming) mouth of Kenny Shopsin (restaurant owner and author of Eat Me). While we were there, he used several sexual slurs, a ton of curses, and explained that he recently cut seating in Shopsin's in half so that he didn't "have to go home and snort a half of coke every night." He also seemed to know most of the patrons by name, and had no problem telling some others there was no room for them. Though he was definitely entertaining, he was really rude and Leah and I basically couldn't hold a conversation because he was so loud and we just had to keep listening (he sat directly behind Leah). The atmosphere, then, was an experience in and of itself.

But then there was the food. I paid $14 for my sandwich, and it was worth every penny. I had a Luke's Lunch I (pulled pork and chili-cheese fries on a ciabatta), and it was huge and greasy and those fries made me feel like I was going to heaven. If I went back, I would probably order just the chili-cheese fries on their own ($12). Leah had the Indian Girl (fried potato, cabbage, onion curry, and lentil slaw on naan, $14), and that was also really good. Although the prices are steep, I'd say that the food was worth it, and the staff was entertaining in a certain kind of way, so I'd recommend at least trying it, if you like sandwiches. Just be warned: it can be really hard to get a table. We went on a Friday at 2pm, and it seemed to be pretty calm, but Leah had gone once for brunch (before they got rid of half the seating), and it was still very crowded.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Barbara Kingsolver


I don't know how I ended up in love with Barbara Kingsolver. I distinctly remember telling someone that I wouldn't read The Poisonwood Bible because it was too commercial (it might have been the Oprah sticker, before I realized that Oprah's Book Club can be damn good). I really thought she was someone like Lauren Weisberger. Yet, somewhere along the line, I did read it, and I loved it. Loved it in a way that I could never have expected, and in a way I haven't loved very many books. It is one of those rare books that was both deeply moving and informational, and every moment of it was beautiful. If you haven't read it yet, please do. It's lovely.

So, finally realizing that Kingsolver wasn't quite as painfully commercial as I'd originally thought, I put her aside and didn't do much about it. Until I saw Animal, Vegetable, Miracle had come out. As you have probably guessed by reading this blog, I love food. In particular, I love ethical food. Though I was leaning more and more this way, reading this book just pushed me over the edge. Although I'm sure if I read Coming Home to Eat or In Defense of Food now, I'd love them and be inspired and moved, when I first read them, they didn't quite hit home. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did, and I think I'd have to credit Kingsolver with most of my trips to the farmers' market and my whole garden experiment this year. It's a lovingly written, funny, and again, informational book. It also has some really good recipes, all of which you can check out on the website.

Several months later, bored and not sure what to read, I scanned my roommate's bookshelf and discovered The Bean Trees. Though I wouldn't say that Kingsolver's first novel is as good as The Poisonwood Bible, it was a very fast, moving read. It tells the story of a woman escaping her rural roots by moving out west. Along the way, she picks up a baby and meets some fascinating people. Again, it was less sophisticated than The Poisonwood Bible, both in style and content, but it was a good read, especially for the summer.

Then, two weeks ago, I passed a box of free books while walking down my block and, of course, grabbed a ton. Prodigal Summer was one of them, nestled among six Toni Morrisons and a Dave Eggers. I started reading it late last night, so I'm only a few pages in, but I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I hope you grab one and let me know how you like it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bobby Flay Chicken Parm

I had a real hankering for some chicken parm last night, so I googled for a recipe. What a luck-game to be presented with one from Bobby Flay! Knowing him to have great accountability from a show that I have been willfully dragged into watching every Sunday, I decided to give it a try.

This recipe was easy to make, though the larger chicken breasts that I bought called for closer to thirty minutes in the oven, and I opted for store bought sauce in the interest of time. Like most of the comments posted, my chicken came out very soft and tender, and was probably the first time I remember strips of chicken to actually flake off onto the fork. I had never heard of panko bread crumbs before, but they created a more interesting, layered texture. They would probably make a great chicken cutlet dinner.

Next time I think I will try a combination of panko and traditional bread crumbs, and also look to use less ingredients. The egg and flour could have been cut in half to be less wasteful.

The chicken parm was served on a bed of pasta with a salad. I would have liked to try Flay's garlic bread recipe.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Book Review and an Apology


I want to take back my earlier invectives against the short story and recommend to you the book I finished most recently, Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. It’s a pretty compact (approximately 150 pages) collection of short stories--12 in all. These are stories about the extinction of the dinosaur, the movement of the earth around the moon, the mollusk's shell, stories about atoms, matter, and the expansion of the universe. They are also stories about love, desire, embarrassment, longing. Each one is fiction, fiction grown out of a scientific fact or, perhaps, it is the other way around--perhaps it is the fiction-- the characters, the art--which give birth to the science and to the fact. Or maybe it is just that the two mingle and coil (so beautifully! so fantastically!) until it is impossible to distinguish one from the other. But, should they be distinguishable? Is it important to separate fact from fiction, science from art? Is it even possible?

This is something I think about a lot and I really don't know. I DO know, however, that this book is a real treat but if you’re looking to collect a lot of literary capital you might want to try Leah’s current friend: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

P.S. I just remembered another collection of short stories I love: Invisible Cities, also by Calvino.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Getting Inked


On Friday, Roger and I got matching tattoos in celebration of our fifth anniversary. We both got smallish ampersands on our wrists. Mine is white, in Baskerville Old Style, and on my right wrist. His is black, in Times New Roman, and on his left wrist. We both had very different experiences, so I'm going to review my own here for you.

We decided to go to Iron Butterfly, a tattoo parlor in our hometown. The website makes it look really creepy, but J.J. had recommended his artist, Chuk Hognell, and since Chuk had done an amazing job on J.J.'s, we decided we trusted him and came home. I'm glad we did, because he was very friendly, although he really, really didn't want to do my tattoo in white, and also hated that we were putting them on "upside down" on the wrists. I did really appreciate that he told me not to get it on my foot, because apparently it wears away in the spot I wanted it. To illustrate this, he showed me a picture of a worn away tattoo on a foot. He spelled everything out for me, was really easily accessible via email beforehand, and was generally a really great guy who obviously cares about what he's doing. If you're planning on having anything done, I'd definitely recommend him, although I believe he specializes in black, white, and grey tattoos.

Overall, the process was fairly painless, although some parts did sting a lot, and it lasted precisely six minutes. The feeling was definitely one of hot scratching, which I've heard a lot, and which was very true for me. Today, it's still a little swollen, and there's still some purple from the transfer on it, but it seems to be in pretty good shape. I told Chuk I'd go back to him if it fades completely and I decide to go over in a darker color, but I really wanted something very faint and personal, so we'll see how it goes.

I can't really attest to having anything large done, and we'd been talking about getting this tattoo for three years, so I'm pretty comfortable with having it be so permanent, but I'd say, if you're considering a tattoo, and are sure it's something that you want, go for it. The pain isn't so bad that I wouldn't do it again, and I'm actually really into having this permanent design on my skin. One day, I'm considering going back to get the outline of a flying pig, which is a symbol of hope in the face of impossibility to me, so obviously the experience was good enough to be thinking about repeating it sometime. The ampersand is, of course, a symbol of unity, and a reminder that we're all part of something larger than ourselves.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Yinka Shonibare Retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum




I was fortunate enough to attend the member preview of the Brooklyn Museum's Yinka Shonibare retrospective back at the end of June. I was not sure what I thought then, and I left with questions and fortunate feelings that I was able to escape with only five or so mentionings of the ever so mythic and malleable word "identity." After seeing the show for a second time this past weekend, I think I am more settled on my thoughts. maybe. It may be pretentious. Sorry. Maybe.


I think the New York Times review is cogent in mentioning the fashioning of the mannequins with “African” textiles overdone in his œuvre. It is obvious or, as the Times says, literal, in pieces like “Gallantry and Criminal Conversation” where the mannequins are bent over in small groups in sexual positions. Additionally, if there is an idea beyond the overwrought trope of “questioning identity and authenticity,” it was certainly not present in the catalog and write-ups. In fact, they only served to reiterate a conversation of “luxurious white 18th century vs. postcolonial black 21st century.” Most frustrating were the implications of Shonibare himself in the exhibition’s concluding documentary, where in speaking on the Fragonard re-appropriation, he (rather problematically) refers to the piece as a contrast between the luxury of the west/poverty of Africa. How deeply he feels this to be true can’t be for certain, but statements such as that are unfortunately the kinds of golden nuggets that the curators of the show seemed to latch onto.


I think there are strong undercurrents that were missed. Shonibare’s work presents interactions before inequalities. Rather than “African authenticity” (whatever that really means anyway), I think the fabrics dressed on headless mannequins are symbols for the past and the implications for history's future generations. Of course interactions must include ones that are racial and economic, but there is an unmentioned labor-intensive application that needs to be performed in this installation work.


The Fragonard piece is that application, I thought, for the viewer is forced to reconsider, among other things, the idea of voyeurism inherent in the original. The priest and husband figures are absent from the composition, with perhaps the viewer of Shonibare’s installation left to take their place. The piece is three dimensional, here, and a spectator is offered the unique opportunity to move from all angles. There is irony in some way, for we, like the male participants, are given a peeping gaze up the headless mannequin’s skirt. The entire original absorption of the piece is altered, and if anything, the interaction around “leisure” is assigned onto the person who is gazing upon it. It is in this way that we are able to place ourselves in history, understand ways to see the past, construct the otherwise class-less, race-less, headless.


The curators and writers of the exhibition catalog needed to press further into what lies behind the appearance of these brightly colored fabrics. Hierarchies may or may not be revealed through the fabric, and yes, cultural barriers may be stretched, but art criticism on Shonibare in general needs to ask for more, because in this show we were force fed a bit of the same sentiments over and over.


The piece (“Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play”) installed in the museum’s period rooms was sure nifty, though.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Typical Tuesday

At Roger and Kristin’s suggestion, I’ve decided to review a typical Tuesday at my office except today really isn’t a Typical Tuesday, any ol’ run-of-the-mill Tuesday. You might be wondering how this Tuesday differs from all the Tuesdays that came before it—from the coffee, the gchat, the bbm, the furtive online-article reading. I will tell you.

This morning started out a little different from most. I felt a cognizance at breakfast this morning—which fair, fair! was brought on by Kristin and Roger—of that fact that it’s my last Tuesday EVER here, at my very first job, at this office I’ve been coming to for five days a week since October first. (I understand that for some of you full-timers this probably doesn’t mean much but for me, it does.) Then there was lunch which was uncommonly good—a vegetable quesadilla and a cup of exquisite fresh-squeezed watermelonade from Butterfield Market (Lex. Between E. 77th and 78th.) And, perhaps, the most extraordinary thing to happen today was the secret email my boss sent to my coworkers, encouraging them to buy me some going-away gifts, which I will receive at my very own going-away party, this Thursday, July 14. As if all this wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary enough, at this precise moment, a meeting of our Board of Directors is beginning, which means a lot of Italian men (+ one woman) in suits are coming to the office. This also means that they are drinking Pellegrino and staring at some fresh-cut flowers.

So now I think you must be wondering how I feel on this not-so-typical Tuesday. Maybe you are expecting me to tell you that I feel a sense of excitement and possibility as I am almost three days away from never coming back to this box-with-not-enough-natural light, this box which I have felt entrapped by for 10 months. But, today, on this not-so-typical Tuesday I can’t say I feel those things. I am mostly just serene.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Abistro


From the outside, Abistro doesn't look like much. But inside the inauspicious 154 Carlton Avenue entrance is a tiny, hip restaurant. We went on Saturday, and at a friend's suggestion, ordered Senegalese Fried Chicken.

This little dish had about a million flavors, and was perfectly cooked and spiced. The chicken comes layered on top of a pineapple-jasmine rice and kale, and is topped with "Senegalese salsa," which is, I think, a deconstruction of yassa, because it's a cold, limey onion sauce. The chicken isn't exactly what you'd expect fried chicken to be, but it is lightly breaded and fried, and while it was a tiny bit dry, the sauce (a creamy dijon) and "side dishes" more than made up for that. The salsa was a little spicey, which played perfectly off the very sweet rice and the perfectly cooked, perfectly flavored, perfectly perfect kale.

It is pricey ($23 for the fried chicken), but it is BYOB, so you can save some money there. I've heard that the (nonalcoholic) mixed drinks are fantastic, but we were trying to save a little money, so we didn't get any. The service was very good and everyone was very friendly, and the decor was stark. They played good, if loud, music and the whole thing made for a nice date.

The complexity of flavors was amazing, and I might list this as one of my Top Ten Meals, if I didn't have such a hard time with that sort of thing. I honestly believe that when I die, I will be greeted with a bowl of that kale in heaven.

A little nota bene: this isn't traditional Senegalese food in the least, and if you're searching for that, your best bets are Joloff or Africa Kine, both of which are fantastic if you like Senegalese cooking. Le Grand Dakar is also good, but slightly more fusion-y than Joloff or Africa Kine.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Grimaldi's Pizzeria


I've been waiting to try Grimaldi's pizza for about three years, so yesterday, when Roger and I happened to find ourselves in Dumbo for a gallery opening, we decided to finally try it. After waiting on line outside for about 40 minutes, we finally entered the building, which is decorated with a lot of Frank Sinatra pictures and red-checkered tablecloths. It was crowded and we sat between two other couples, which was fine. We ordered two cokes and a pizza.

Let me preface the rest of the review by saying that I firmly believe that New York's Best Pizza should be New York-style pizza.

The pizza, coal-cooked, arrived very hot, and legitimately tasted pretty good. However (and perhaps this is my fault, for not fully understanding what I was getting myself into), it is very much Italian-style pizza. In case you've never been to Italy, this means a very thin crust, a somewhat chunkier tomato sauce, and slices of mozzarella strewn about, with some basil leaves. It's good. This pizza is also good (although, not as good as it is in Italy; the burnt bit on the bottom was a little too charcoal-y for me). It's also healthier than New York style pizza. But honestly? Is it the best pizza in the city? No, of course not. To say that it is the best is to deny all that pizza in New York stands for.

Pizza in New York is a horse of another color, and damn it, I like it better than Italian-style. For example, see the two images below. They both have their charms, but the pizza on the right is better. Why? Because it is New York style. Notice that the sauce and cheese is mixed together in a fusion of happiness. This is true pizza, and it is a pizza of this sort that should be rated New York's best. I will continue my search for this elusive morsel, for the unicorn of food, The Best New York pizza, and I will report back.

For now, visit Grimaldi's, but only with the right expectations: a long line for okay Italian style pizza. And then head over to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, where they will help to make it all better with their sweet, creamy cones.