Friday, April 10, 2009

My mom makes fatteh

My mom made this recipe for dinner last night and everyone really liked it. It is layers of toasted pita bread (my mom used sesame pita from this bakery that is out near the airport), of basmati rice, chickpeas and spinach, yogurt with tahini and garlic, parsley, and toasted pine nuts, and more yogurt sauce on top if you want. To me it all looked complicated to put together but she said it was pretty simple. I also liked how the recipe notes that pine nuts are special in Middle Eastern cooking. "The more generous you, as a host, are with pine nuts, the more pampered your guests will feel."

Introduction to Poetry

In honor of National Poetry Month, and because Leah asked me to write her up a mini-course on poetry, I'm putting together one sentence reviews of some of my favorite books poetry. The first three are my absolute favorites, and the rest are just good ones that you ought to pick up, weigh in your hands, and read with relish.

Crow: From the Life and Songs of Crow
(Ted Hughes): One of my all time favorites, Crow takes the mythology that is imprinted on all of our hearts and tears it out into the open, creating a fleshy, gritty masterwork.

Morning in the Burned House
(Margaret Atwood): This, the first book that made me love poetry, is filled with the stark images and language that make Atwood's fiction and poetry simple and gorgeous.

Facts for Visitors
(Srikanth Reddy): Reddy's poems are academic and profound, but still utterly readable; if you can see or hear him read his work outloud, do it at once.

100 Selected Poems (e.e. cummings): e.e. cummings is the Shel Silverstein for adults and his poems are fantastic; read aloud and pay close attention to the parentheses.

The Wasteland and Other Writings (T.S. Eliot): Eliot's work is at once overwhelming and deeply beautiful; read it once through without stopping and then go back and use the annotations.

Collected Poems (Wallace Stevens): A man who knows how to use form and make it invisible, the highest objective of a poet.

The World According to Itzik (Itzik Manger): This collection of moving pieces which draw from biblical sources and experience with the Holocaust is far too little read.

The Complete Poems (Andrew Marvell): Marvell knows what is good in life and how to put it down on the page.

The Pleasures of the Damned (Charles Bukowski): I'm letting you go ahead and skip Ginsberg to read Bukowski, who seems like the next generation of William Carlos Williams, simple and deep.

Dancing in Odessa (Ilya Kaminsky): This is great poetry by a poet who will be around longer than we are.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Urban Adventure

Hip hop. Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. If you’re a white girl from suburban New Jersey, as I am, the mention of either of these cultural institutions may intimidate or even elicit fear. I attended my first hip hop class at the Alvin Ailey Extension, on West 55th street and Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, on a whim. I had always admired those who executed the seemingly effortless urban dance; the artistic significance of which, I feel, is often underestimated. Despite my status and after considerable self-conscious procrastination, I decided to make a go of it.

The first class I attended was held on a Monday evening. On the schedule, it was listed as “Absolute Beginner Hip Hop,” but I very quickly learned that “absolute beginner” was a broad term, indeed. The class was large. Attendees ran the gamut from seasoned backup dancer to a couple of middle-aged white women who looked like they had just stepped out of a Lord and Taylor catalog (this, despite wearing workout gear). I hovered in the back of the room, stretching half-heartedly in my spandex and sneakers and biding my time before the inevitable humiliation. The ice was broken when the teacher, named (or nicknamed?) “Tweetie,” arrived, ten minutes late. She surveyed the room. “When you come to class, you should wear gym sneakers…,” her gaze fixed upon a barely-clothed sixteen year-old, “and some sort of clothing. Girl, that’s disturbing.” The teenager clutched her booty shorts, which were already riding up even though she hadn’t begun to move. “Sorry…I’ll put on pants.” Thank goodness, Tweetie had said what the rest of the class was thinking. We were off to a good start.

The entertainment didn’t end there. Throughout the hour-and-a-half-long class, Tweetie’s sharp, witty comments and her hilarious forays into physical comedy were frequent and well-received. The class was light-hearted and fun, if challenging for a beginner. By the end, I truly felt I had made progress. After all, we had spent practically the entire first half hour before even attempting the dance combination isolating body parts to the hip-hop beats of Tweetie’s iPod, so I had to have gained some rhythm, hadn’t I? In the subsequent weeks, I found myself anxious to return for more of Tweetie, her music and moves. My experience at the Alvin Ailey Extension was markedly different than visits I have made to other dance studios in Manhattan, where I sometimes go for ballet class. At Ailey, the people—students and teachers—are real. There is no pretension or satisfaction taken in intimidating those who have come to learn for fun. If you’re wondering if one can actually gain dance skills in such an environment, you’ll be impressed to know I’ve already moved up to a higher-level hip hop course. Thankfully, Wednesday night “Beginner Hip Hop” is taught by the same instructor.

Airport Review

I really dislike all aspects of air travel. I decided to boycott it last May, but ended up taking a plane home today anyway.

Getting to the airport:
I debated for a long time about the best combination of public transportation to take to Laguardia and almost broke down and took a taxi because my flight was pretty early. I ended up taking the combination of B61 to 7 train at Court Square in Queens to the Q72 bus. It actually was pretty easy considering I left at 5:30 am, even though I felt a little worried about being out and about so early when streets and subway platforms are not so crowded, and me with all my most expensive possessions in one bag. One thing is that the transfer to the Q72 is not free, so the trip costs 4$ and takes about an hour.

The Delta Terminal
I usually don’t take Delta so here I am discovering a whole new wing of the Laguardia airport. It is much worse than the other, main terminal I’ve been to (whatever American is?). There are no food options outside of security, and you probably wouldn’t even have time because the lines were so long, even at 6:30am. A checked bag costs 15$ extra, and they don’t even warn you about this until they want your credit card (I guess that's what I get for my boycott over the past 11 months -- not knowing the new rules. That stupid liquid thing is still in place though.) Security was nuts, with everyone frantically undressing and lining up their little buckets.

Luckily they did not make me throw away my empty $15 water bottle. I thought they would.

Inside security, the food options were bad. Sbarros, Chilis, Burger King, and Starbucks, and a little Dunkin Donuts stand. And some gift shops and a Brooks Brothers. Not even one place to buy a bagel. At the gates, that relentless booming audio from the CNN channel broadcast everywhere. It is deafening. I do not want to hear minute by minute updates about the Somali pirate hostage. I do not want to hear the early morning hosts talk about possible connections to the worldwide terrorist network. At least it is less offensive than the Lou Dobbs immigration tirade I had to hear last time I flew, as they meanwhile canceled my flight.

I still do sort of enjoy the cultureless vacuum of timelessness that is the airport. Other than that, I still hate it and resent it as an industry and will have to resume my boycott. (When you add up all the extra time getting here the waiting and the trip, the train is not that much longer.)

Update: Now that I have arrived, I would like to point out that the Raleigh-Durham airport is downright chic. When did they renovate?

Shoe Stores Along 5th Ave from 34th Street to Union Square

Yesterday, I went shoe shopping with my friend Allison for her wedding. We mapped out a little course from my office to the DSW on Union Square, and trotted along Fifth Avenue in search of the perfect pair of iridescent teal shoes to match the sash on her dress.

I can't remember the name of our first stop, so I'll start with our first planned stop, Nine West. The first pair of "adult" sunglasses I ever purchased was Nine West. They were lime green cat eyes, and a full $30. In 2009 dollars, this would be $40.09 (courtesy of the Inflation Calculator, one of my favorite websites), and so for this reason, I tend to think of them as a higher end shoe store, but judging from our trip yesterday, they're actually quite reasonably priced. The store was also very large and open, which I like. However, they had nothing in iridescent teal, so if you are also searching for bright blue bridal booties, no need to stop here.

Next, we made an unplanned stop at Kenneth Cole, which was extremely crowded with salespeople, but not customers, which meant that we were greeted 5 times in a store that's smaller than my bedroom. We found a pair of painted pumps that might have worked well, but unfortunately, they didn't come in a small enough size. I should have mentioned that Allison's feet are ungodly small.

Sacco was up next on our list, and I liked the amount of flats and sandals they had there, but things were a little pricey for flats and sandals. They had a cute selection of scarves, but unfortunately, only one pair of blue shoes, which were a little bit ugly.

We ended up at DSW, one of my favorite shoe stores, where we found out that Steve Madden once had the hook-up on iridescent teal shoes. We found the perfect pair of flats, called P-Stella Ruffle Vamp PT (what?), which looked like they'd been dyed the same color as the sash. Unfortunately, in flats, Allison needs an even smaller size than in heels, and they didn't have a 5.5 at that DSW.

Finally, we ended up at Shoemania, which the website says is "Manhattan's Largest Shoe Store," but which is actually Manhattan's Scariest Shoe Store. It was packed, had almost no selection, and was blasting extremely loud, extremely bad dance music. The basement "clearance" section also looked like storage for empty boxes. I would not go back, nor recommend it for shoe shopping,

I'd love to show you a picture of what the perfect flats look like, because they are really pretty cool shoes, but I can't find them online. Instead, you can see a picture of the utterly sensible, librarian-style Bandolinos I bought instead of getting the ballet flats I was seeking.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Trivia at Maggie Brown

Maggie Brown is a cute restaurant/bar right near my apartment, with pretty good comfort food, and great velvet flocked wallpaper. I've eaten dinner there a few times, and while it's not my favorite restaurant in Clinton Hill, it's good for a change of pace, and a lot of people I know just adore it.

Last night, Leah, our friends Wendy and Megan, and I went to Quiz Night there. If you haven't played trivia at a bar before, you should, and you could definitely get your start (as I did), at Maggie Brown. There's a game on the first Tuesday of every month, and while they say it starts at 7ish, it really starts around 7:45.

The basic premise is that you and your team (we were the Red Wrigglers) write down the answers to a series of questions over the course of a few rounds. Whoever wins gets a prize. Some of the questions were easy (What is April's birthstone? Diamond) and others were hard (How many tax forms are there in the United States? 480), but most were interesting, and we had a fun time trying to figure them out, so we're definitely planning on going back again, although maybe next time with the goal of meeting people and not coming in last place again.

I'd be really interested to know, also, if anyone has any suggestions for any other Quiz Nights in Brooklyn, Queens or Manhattan, especially ones that take place at really good English-style pubs.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I Heart Gchat

It seems to me that Gmail came into the world in a most auspicious era—precisely in time for my first job. I think that my feelings on this great technological advancement must be akin to everyone else’s feelings on the cell phone, that is: 1) it is a necessity 2) how did people function before it? [And, by people, I mean recent college graduates in entry- level jobs where boredom and tedium reign supreme].

The best thing about gmail is, of course, gchat—a lovely tool that allows you to chat with friends when logged into your email account. Gchat is essential if you’re looking for discretion or if you are so unfortunate as to have your boss sit right behind you—like me. Once on gchat you can blithely gossip away. It’s much more innocuous that other chat tools, like AIM, for example. I wouldn’t recommend using AIM at work unless you have some kind of phantom boss or if you don’t mind one of your co-workers seeing you talking to xoxocutie00 or bigdaddyjl. (I once knew someone who had the latter screen name).

Another great thing about gchat is that people can’t get too personal or emo on it. There’s not really space for creating a profile with things like AXΩ 4eva in pink or R.I.P Uncle Ernie. However, you can update your away message and upload a profile picture.

Don’t get me wrong—there is still opportunity for you to make privy or embarrassing information public on gchat. You can still post that saccharine love song as your away message. And there’s always facebook and twitter if that’s just not enough.

P.S. Here are some prized away messages gathered from my friends on facebook and gchat, mostly from today and a few memorable ones from the past:

“Z-packin’ it”—gchat
“is in a lot of pain… and at least this time it is not emotional! Ha! Ow :(!”— facebook
“is apparently in a kind of cranky mood. Look out, world. Not even I saw this coming”—facebook
“biology is cutting away at my oxygen - ironic right?”—facebook

P.P.S. I, too, am implicated in the voyeuristic, narcissistic internet-world.

Poets House Showcase

I spent a while this summer interning at Poets House working on the Showcase. A compilation of all the poetry and poetry-related books from the year, the Showcase acts as a display not only of poets and poetry, but of underappreciated independent presses. This year, the Showcase is on display at the Jefferson Market Library, because Poets House is in a temporary space until they can move into their new home in Battery Park next fall.

The Showcase itself is very interesting, and definitely worth a quick trip to check out its holdings, which vary from homemade chapbooks to reference biographies. They have chairs set up so you can sit and read if you'd like, or just peruse. It's a great place to get some inspiration for your next read, and since summer's coming up and you should be looking for a new beach read anyway, I'd recommend you stop in. I spent a lot of last summer borrowing and reading these (the perks of being an intern), and I know there are some real gems in there. The Jefferson Market Library is also gorgeous, and also well worth the visit.

The Showcase is open until April 11th, and is located at 425 Avenue of the Americas at 10th Street.

The Moth: Live Storytelling

Last night, Kristin and I went to see a story slam put on by the Moth at Southpaw in Park Slope. This is how it works. Everyone shows up and stands in line outside the place, until 7:30 when you can enter. It costs 7$. Then if you want to tell a story on stage, you write your name down and they put it in a hat. Last night's theme was Scandals, and so we heard 10 six minute stories about scandals that were judged. Then a winner was declared. The whole thing from waiting in line until the winner was declared lasted about 3 hours.

I had wanted to attend a Moth event for awhile, so I was happy when Kristin agreed to go with me. Overall, I thought it was okay but in general, I didn't really like the stories that came out of this theme. First, there weren't many seats for an event that you would expect to be a sit-down affair. Kristin and I found a place by the sound table where I stood (and could barely see) while Kristin just gave up and sat on the floor. Also, the whole event was very stretched out because what felt like a long time would pass between each story while the judges decided on a score. Meanwhile, the MC had to fill the time on stage, and often his jokes entered into the realm of the desperate and disturbing. I didn't really get the point of the judging, or what the criteria they were using.

Finally, the nature of the theme lent itself to stories that reminded me of people at a party all trying to top one another with stories about crazy family members and sexual exploits. As Kristin commented at the end, everyone was laughing at stories that really were just kind of sad and upsetting. However, we both still really like the idea of a story slam, and would be open to going again, especially with a different theme.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Some Not-So-Pithy Musings on: Brevity’s Pull: In Praise of the American Short Story

In this week’s Week In Review, A.O Scott praises the short story, ruminates on its historical significance, hopes for its resurgence, and ponders the necessity of the novel.

I have yet to meet a short story or a collection of short stories I really love. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly why I don’t like it as an art form. I cannot blame brevity since I love the essay. And, I do appreciate pith and terseness in writing. Perhaps it has something to with the difference between fiction and non-fiction and I do think there is a difference—however nebulous and muddled it may be. Fiction and non-fiction seem to play out differently in a shorter form, which I believe works to non-fiction’s advantage and to fiction’s disadvantage. Short stories rarely ever feel complete; rather, they seem wanting, needy, deficient. There’s too much crammed into too tight a space—characters, dialogue, plot, history, politics etc. They’re too rarely deftly realized. However, I can think of one exception—The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is succinct but feels whole. It is chilling as fiction and important in a wider historical context.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to like the short story.

In an American literature class in high school, we read a lot of short stories—by Stephen Crane, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mark Twain et al. To my dismay, our cumbersome textbook was chock full of them. Hardly any do I remember fondly except for Twain’s. I remember laughing out loud at The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

Since then, I’ve mostly evaded the short story, which is not that hard to do at college. The novel, the essay, and the poem seemed to dominate while the short story was relegated to some, less-studied place. But, it was the prevailing form in the workshop.

This summer, I made another attempt to reacquaint myself with the short story and essayed to forget any prejudices and preconceived notions I certainly had. I flipped through a collection of short fiction that I found on my grandparents' bookshelf; I read about half of a Raymond Carver story I didn’t like. I picked up collections of short stories—by Sarah Orne Jewett, Italo Calvino, Grace Paley, and Anne Enright.

This is how it went down:
I wanted to like Grace Paley’s stories because she was a professor at Sarah Lawrence (which is an automatic point in her favor) but I did not. I also wanted to like Sarah Orne Jewett because she had a boston marriage and I was into those for awhile. I did not. Then there was Italo Calvino, who is one of my favorite authors. I read a few of his stories in Difficult Loves; they were alright. The most pleased I felt was while reading Anne Enright’s Yesterday’s Weather, which was rather lovely. Her writing is beautiful and eerie and deals quite a bit with human relationships. I do want to read her essays on motherhood and I have a suspicion that I will prefer them.

My feelings about the short story have not left me completely close-minded. Reader, I welcome any suggestion you may have. Maybe I will take A.O Scott’s advice and read some David Barthelme or Flannery O’Connor…

A Larum

I heard about this cd this summer while listening to NPR (where I hear about most things). I ended up buying it on itunes, after listening to this interview with musician, Johnny Flynn. I was especially charmed during a segment in the radio interview when the journalist asked about his journal and ask him to read a bit from it. He shared some thoughts, written in verse, apparently composed on the bus on the way over to the radio station.

This use of traditional verse to explore contemporary themes is part of what I find most interesting in the songs. The use of old-folky instruments like banjo, fiddle, accordion, and guitar create pretty simple music that I think contrasts well with the words which apparently originated as poetry that Flynn wrote and then decided to set to music -- though I don't think they really come from any kind of first hand experience. Rather, they seem to be ruminations on old stories -- like Shore to Shore which seems to be about a bus crash in London, or Hong Kong Cemetary which I think is about visiting the place where his grandfather is buried in Hong Kong. I can't explain why, but I feel like the songs pull off the slightly melancholic tone and uses of words such as "flotsom" and "ne'er." The title comes a stage direction found in Shakespeare's plays -- reflecting Flynn's background acting in a Shakesperean theatre troupe -- and means, noise or commotion.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Brooklyn Brunch: iCi

iCi is a lovely little restaurant on DeKalb Avenue, the motherland of lovely little restaurants in Fort Greene, and an excellent choice for weekend brunch. Stark in both menu and decor, iCi creates an elegance around simplicity, and the resulting food is a sophisticated take on breakfast comfort food. They strive to use local foods, and while I'm not sure how well it actually works, I appreciate the efforts, and while everything I've had there has been tasty, the grits are heavenly. I'm not from the South, and I'm no expert on them, but I would say that they are the single greatest pleasure I've ever taken from a Brooklyn Brunch. At once creamy-sweet and savory, served in a small but deeply fulfilling portion, they become more than just grits, acting as representative of all that is simple and good in life. A lovely, reasonably priced little place that you should certainly consider for your next weekend brunch.