Monday, June 27, 2016


-In exciting personal-professional news, there's a cover

-And in also-exciting poodle news, "Cooking With Dog" (Chef, that is... or Francis) followed me back on Instagram and, like, knows about Bisou

-Here's something I wrote about stuff vs. experiences, and why the latter aren't necessarily superior. 

-Also from the New Republic: Suki Kim's fascinating/depressing account of her journalistic book getting marketed as a memoir. Fascinating, to me, at least, because of the autobiography angle - everything has to be about the self these days, especially when written by a woman, perhaps especially the more marginalized categories a person falls into. Maybe - I'm now thinking of Dwight Garner's recent review of Nancy Isenberg's book, White Trash:
Ms. Isenberg is a professor of American history at Louisiana State University. Her books include a well-regarded biography of Aaron Burr. Her own class background goes unmentioned in “White Trash.” This study does not require the emotional accelerant of memoir.
And it's unclear, there, whether the implication is that Isenberg is or is not from the background she writes about. Which is sort of the point.

(I now want to read both.)

I was also reminded of Jennifer Weiner's complaint about Princeton not appreciating her enough. There, though, I wasn't entirely convinced - I wasn't clear, that is, exactly what the complaint was, and that it wasn't just a humblebrag about having serious-person credentials and being a massively successful novelist. Put another way: It's the sort of complaint I could imagine sympathizing with - the silly and stereotypically-feminine gets derided! - but... she never quite convinces the reader (or at least, this reader) that she was doing something courageous by attending her own college reunion and having to confess to merely being the famous author of popular fiction.

(Now Weiner I have read, don't remember which, only that this was in a book-having Philadelphia coffee shop.)

With Kim's piece, though, there's something else going on. I suspect that her willingness to call out the marketing of her book relates to that book being, as she notes, a bestseller. A cynical response would be that the book succeeded at least in part because it was marketed as a memoir, but that hardly negates her main point, which is that the book became something different - and opened her as an author up to all kinds of irritating criticism - once it got framed as it did.

What's so interesting here is that this isn't a case - as we're so used to hearing about - of a woman selling her secrets or "identity" for like $5 (or $0), so that a corporation might profit. Instead, there's a different sort of loss: She became an expert in something really impressive (North friggin' Korea!) and sells books, yes, but in her capacity as - in these critics' view - "a memoirist treading on journalistic turf, a Korean schoolteacher who sold out her students for a quick buck." This wasn't - again, according to her take on the matter - a case of a woman getting criticized for choosing a conventionally feminine approach to writing. It was a case of... nothing a woman writes wouldn't sell that much better if it were made personal.

The seriousness credentials are always there, hovering just out of reach. If it feels that way to a journalist who went undercover in North Korea, the hope for those of us who merely wrote dissertations on long-dead French writers, while stuffing our faces with flan, is maybe not that great. Which makes me want to say, so screw seriousness, but it's not as simple as that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Yes, still in Paris UPDATED

Today's the Day of Decadence - my husband's at his conference, it's not raining, and I've given myself permission to at least look at all the food-and-shoes-and-clothes that the city has to offer. Luckily, I don't generally swoon over the super-high-end. Less so: I'm fully capable of lusting after the midrange-for-Paris-but-still-inaccessible. The food bit kind of sorted itself out - Jo and I had maybe too much steak frites the other night, and my stomach now can't handle much more than bread (and, perhaps, flan; I felt well enough to buy it, at least), so the temptation to sit down to a 30 euro meal of confit of canard and a verre of vin is nil. I still like the idea of that, but... no.

But the stuff-and-experiences component - that is, the thing where you walk across Paris and take in the gorgeous scenery and every so often buy something whose gorgeousness you have to hope isn't just a matter of its environment (because it, whatever it is, will need to "spark joy" in Toronto as well) - is very much happening. I went into the heavily guarded Bon Marché and found - because Paris - a perfect bra that I've just currency-converted confirmed costs what I'd pay for a mediocre bra in Canada. And I flâneused around with the vague goal of finding non-Repetto (that is, non-200-euro) ballet flats. The fabulous, rose-gold André ones I found were 49 euros, which, fine, sounds better than $72, but this is still an acceptable price for shoes, and they give every indication of being comfortable, or as comfortable as ballet flats ever are, at any price.

The plan for the afternoon, then, is to visit the also-heavily-guarded Marais, and try to do as many husband-would-find-this-boring things as I can, so basically a mix of clothes-shopping and (more) French-Jewish-bookstore-shopping. (It can't possibly be that two new contemporary French-Jewish novels are enough...)


The Marais happened, but in a roundabout way involving a diverted bus and an inadvertent (but charming!) stroll across the Seine. No clothes-shopping, not for lack of trying. (All the chic Parisian women have these flawless blazers, but where are they buying them?) But what ended up happening was definitely more interesting! I wound up on the Rue des Rosiers, and passed a café that looked out of another era. A man of a certain age (as were all the other customers) beckoned me in, but not in a hitting-on way. In a way that said, yep, you're Jewish too, these are your people. And so I sat, beneath the gaze of a Herzl poster, and had a longish conversation with a woman about how she doesn't eat meat, kosher or otherwise, and a shorter one with a man who was sure he'd seen me that morning at the Marché d'Aligre, where, alas, I hadn't been. After a while there, the more strictly frivolous activities resumed, culminating in the purchase of 6 euro nail polish from a vending machine in the also-bomb-fearing BHV.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Paris, May 2016

It's as I remember it, except for a few things. The first I noticed were the vape shops and juice détox establishments, and the slightly greater presence of donuts and muffins. Not full-on Americanization, but always a notch further in that direction.

Then, the security. Not just at the Jewish museum (which had the usual pre-flight situation, not that I'm complaining), but at every museum. At the larger stores. Not unheard-of globally (see: Israel), but more than I remember from post-9/11 New York. Fewer flags, but more bag checks. And a lot of soldiers with machine guns. More depressing than frightening, I suppose, but I guess it depends where you're coming from and what, on that front, seems normal.

-Other, more personal, and less geopolitical observations: The best bakery is still there, and still has the best croissants (it was closed today, so I was reminded...), and still only hiring male models. Flan, meanwhile, is great everywhere, if not necessarily better than Toronto's Portuguese custard tarts.

-Oh, and chain stores - the French ones have come to the US and maybe Canada as well; the US ones are here if they weren't already; and then there are some international chains from elsewhere. Good in many ways (you can get cool stuff and not need to shell out for flights!), but definitely means there's zero point in going to the Galeries Lafayette if you live near Hudson's Bay/the Eaton Centre.

-And yet! Frenchwomen, super chic. Shouldn't be surprising, but... it had been a while. A cliché for a reason and all that. I'm trying to make a note of exactly why their outfits work (note: me and the rest of the anglophone world, and the answer is partly that they eat less pasta than I do, and I'm not prepared to follow up on that...), although I'm not sure if the necessary shopping will take place in Paris.

-The following two things - one great, one not-so-great - are probably related: So I'd last been to Paris five years ago, and due to various career-shift-type reasons, was unsure when I'd ever have a chance to come back. Things converged to make it possible and I'm beyond thrilled to be here. Like, ogling each and every apartment building and sighing over how beautiful everything is. The full tourist thing, in other words. But! Between my tourist vibe; my unwillingness, in my dotage, to dress as if I'm not American (fleece, jeans); and the fact that my spouse and I do - sorry - tend to speak to each other in English; I've had the very odd experience of speaking to people in what is without a doubt the best French I've ever spoken and getting responses along the lines of (and this was said in French!), would you prefer the English menu?

I don't take it personally, I don't think (these are tourist areas, in the sense that just about everything in central-ish Paris is, and I have French-Canadian friends who've gotten the English-response in Paris in these situations). Except maybe a little, considering that the $$ paying for this was primarily earned teaching French classes. And that one of the places where this happened, I was buying a French novel, and not some sort of leather-bound thing that could plausibly have been for home decor.

I mean, I can summon enough non-neurosis to realize that this is the default way of being welcoming to visitors - not just tourists, and goodness knows not just anglophones. (The Germans at the next table did want to do everything in English.) At any rate, the croissant situation and the sheer gorgeousness of this city make up for it.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Where Would Phoebe Go?: On the jet-setting lifestyle

Normally, to campus and back, and to various Toronto coffee shops. Next week, however, it's off to Paris and Rehovot, via New York. No, I'm not going on some sort of simulated French-Jewish aliyah tour, although I see why it might seem that way. All that's happening is, my husband has some conferences, and - as happens on the rare occasions when doing so is feasible - I'm going to tag along. Speaking of tags, I still need to get a Canadian flag one for my luggage.

I remember, when on research trips to Paris, being really miffed when people thought (or when I thought they thought) I was on vacation. In retrospect, the time I spent living there, where my only work responsibility was writing a dissertation, was a bit vacation-ish, at least compared with this past year, during which I taught full-time at a university; coordinated one of those courses; wrote regularly for a publication; and, aaah, wrote a book manuscript. Yes, all of that happened in the past year. I didn't really have weekends, or much in the way of evenings off. So you know what? I'm going to say, in full, unabashed delight, that this trip to Paris counts as a vacation. Yes, I'll likely do some work, but I'll also do a spot of croissant/shoe/book/clothes-shopping, or as much as the dismal euro-CAD exchange rate permits. And I'll have to see whether I now sound French-Canadian; if I get a chilly reception in shoe-and-croissant emporia, I won't know whether it's the old-new European anti-Semitism or the fact that I now may use the 'wrong' kind of French.

Rehovot, meanwhile, I know next to nothing about. Apparently there's really good hummus, some of which I'd like right now, please. (Maybe there's good Middle Eastern food in Toronto, but ingredient-wise, it doesn't seem possible.) It's also apparently 107 degrees these days, which, with it dipping to 37 today in Toronto, I'm having trouble even imagining. My plan is to go into Tel Aviv a bunch, assuming that's not incredibly complicated, and enjoy that which is non-Canadian (warm weather, a beach, amazing vegetables, and those sweet iced blended coffees...). Also to see Jerusalem, but in the way that doesn't involve swooping in and out, as I did on a tour when I was 8 (which I sadly remember none of) and, at 23, on Birthright (which I remember bits of, including the fact that I spent the group's big night out in Jerusalem in the hotel room, talking on the phone to my non-Birthright-eligible now-husband). Not quite sure what to do there, nor whether I own skirts long enough for it, but it seems ridiculous to be so close by and not have a look.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Urban micro-adventures

I could (and often, in my own head, do) compose tremendous lists of the superiorities of Toronto or New York (and, as much as I remember of it, Chicago) in various areas. But one place where Toronto always wins, and it's entirely subjective, is in the sheer fact that it's new. Walking-around season here only starts in May, both because of the weather and (again, subjective) because the grades are in, the semester finished. In Toronto, I can walk down a street for the first time. Not discovering it, not Columbusing it - I'm well aware that Toronto existed before I arrived, and all this new stuff is what makes it so exciting.

Re: "stuff," I mean... streets, coffee shops, and enormous, spontaneous Korean meals. I just look at Google Maps to see if there's likely to be anything on a particular block (often it's just residential or, more problematically, some kind of quasi-industrial park you have to exit via highway), and then see what's there.

This week alone, I've seen two whole new-to-me bits of the city. The first was Leslieville, which I'd been in part of and passed through by tram, but I had headshots done on one of the bigger side-streets (Carlaw), and then wandered around a bit afterwards. Got coffee at Te Aro, then regretted not leaving room for a further pastry at Bobette & Belle, which smelled amazing as I passed. There were also tacos that looked interesting, as well as a North Vietnamese restaurant that would have been my introduction to region-specific Vietnamese cuisine, if I hadn't already that day spent $90 on a professional necessity that nevertheless felt like vanity.

Today, after eating all the Korean food on Bloor, I decided to see what there is if you go north on Bathurst. And there's a bit, not a ton, but all new-to-me. Then I turned east on Dupont, the next big street. This is driving country (I'm in an incredibly posh coffee shop with ample parking and no listed prices, so I had to ask before ordering...), as well as the Ashkenazi restaurant strip - my people have a neighborhood, who knew? I don't know what this area is called, but would try some of that lox if (there's a pattern here) I hadn't just eaten.

It was between this coffee shop and another down the street. The flaw with that one was that it seemed as if it wouldn't have ice. This is where Toronto scores poorly: ice is a rare commodity, seasonally understandable, but my inner, not-so-hidden entitled American finds this incomprehensible.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A strong contender for most productive day ever:

-Did more grading than I would have thought possible when teaching one section of about 16 students, plus various other teaching duties where applicable. Anything's possible! After an iced cappuccino with two sugars.

-Booked a headshot appointment (finally).

-Set up a spreadsheet (as vs. a bare-bones Google Doc) for freelancing payments.

-Ordered the second Neapolitan novel. Ferrante... It took a while to get into Book 1, but then I couldn't put it down.

-Came up with a grand theory (actually, two) about why the neighborhood where Clinton did best is the good old Upper East Side. (If anyone should know...)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

April 15, 2016

Via John-Paul Pagano on Twitter, what is going on with this article? Why, in 2016, is someone writing this?

According to Federation CJA, only 15%-17% of Jewish Montrealers live in intermarried (or common-law) households. For those under-30 it’s still only a quarter. (In Toronto, where Canada’s largest Jewish community resides, the self-segregation is slightly less extreme.) 
Inward looking and affluent, the Jewish community is quick to claim victimhood. But, like an out of control child, the major Jewish organizations need a time out. Without an intervention of some sort, the Jewish community risks having future dictionaries defining “anti-Semitism” as “a movement for justice and equality.”
Intermarriage! Having written my dissertation on intermarriage and anti-Semitism in 19th C France, I'm well accustomed to treatises condemning Jews for marrying in. But this is something Napoleon was fussing about in the early 1800s, and that had become passé by the end of that century. This is well out of the realm of whether anti-Zionism is/can be/is entirely separate from (and "can be" is the answer you're looking for) anti-Semitism. Dude is basically like, look at my brilliant and unique intervention in today's intellectual landscape! It's as if he thinks he discovered something, but all that he's landed on is... really, really old-school anti-Semitism. Jewish in-marriage is what he picks? Insufficient assimilation? I mean, does the man have views on women riding bicycles or the benefits of railroad over horse and buggy? There's dated, and then there's producing text that could have appeared, with very few tweaks, in 1820.

But it's also really classic anti-Semitism, in that way where there's this smattering of correct observations, but arranged in a way to suggest something sinister. Are there Jews who think Jews have had it the worst of any people, ever, and who fixate on this in such a way as to ignore racism against people who, if nothing else, have it worse in certain areas, in recent years? Yes. Parochialism is a thing - not just among Jews, but not not among Jews. And are Jews overrepresented among the highly educated? Sure, but this is not a plot of some kind. And! Do Jews/Jewish publications sometimes refer to Jews as the "chosen people"? Yup, but this has a religious connotation that flies over the head of this charmer.

What makes the piece really strange, though, is the leap from the so-very-now, as well as the not-unreasonable...
While Canadian Jews faced discriminatory property, university and immigration restrictions into the 1950s, even the history of structural anti-Jewish prejudice should be put into proper context. Blacks, Japanese and other People of Colour (not to mention indigenous peoples) have been subjected to far worse structural racism and abuse. the borderline white-supremacist:
Even compared to some other “white” groups Canadian Jews have fared well. During World War I, 8,500 individuals from countries part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (mostly Ukrainians) were interned while in the mid-1800s thousands of Irish died of typhus at an inspection and quarantine station on Grosse Ile in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Canadian Jewry hasn’t faced any equivalent abuse.
Once you're heading down that road - that is, the Jews-have-it-easier-than-other-white-people boulevard - you've crossed over from extreme-left to extreme-right. There's also the "white"-in-quotes, suggesting, what, that Jews should be hated b/c insufficiently white? (As vs. because white-privileged?) Which... makes sense, in conjunction with the endogamy complaint, but not as a progressive argument.

Pagano, the writer who shared the piece (to condemn it, to be clear!) is, it's my sense, a few notches to my right, and, on Twitter, presented it as an example of left anti-Semitism. Which in a certain sense it is - "Dissident Voice," the publication, has the subtitle - all lowercase, because capital letters are for capitalists? - "a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice." But that particular essay strikes me as branching off entirely, into the realm of ideological ambiguity, where the only consistency is that Jews are to be imagined at the center of all the world's problems. There's nothing particularly left-wing - and lots that's right-wing - about maligning ethnic and religious minorities for not blending into the general (white) population.

Moving beyond that particular article which, while abhorrent, is not necessarily representative of all that much: Left anti-Semitism is certainly a thing, but I'm not convinced it's more of one than the right-wing variety. Or varieties - there's the white-supremacist version (apparently now called alt-right?), which, in its milder moments, seems as if it's merely an isolationist alternative to neoconservatism (see: the mistaken relief over Trump offering neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), but then you scratch the surface... But there's also the hawkish version, which involves being Rah Rah Israel, but hating actual Jews, none of whom will live up to the fantasy version. And then there's stuff like dude, where someone will ostensibly be coming from one or another point on the political spectrum, but this is clearly, if not his one issue, one of them, and he's coming at it from a perspective that's best described as anti-Semitic. Not left- or right-, just... that.

Monday, April 11, 2016

"Happy Valley" and the female gaze

The busiest year has quasi-ended with a mountain of dealing with everything practical that ought to have been dealt with months ago, but the whole three-jobs-ish thing got in the way. Fleeing this, I spent a good chunk of the decadently near-non-work weekend watching Season 2 of "Happy Valley" in its entirety. Spoilers below...

Monday, March 28, 2016

Open thread

Into The Gloss has an "open thread" about aging. As I type - and this is probably for the best, because I'd have trouble not responding to those - there aren't any comments yet.

When I learned of this thread-prompt, via their Twitter, I immediately knew the direction it would go in. Devil-may-care! Like, we all look forward to aging! Wrinkles add character!! From a site that specializes in (very seductively, and with gorgeous photos) explaining why you need to slather your face (and body) in stuff that goes for $100 an ounce at a French pharmacy. And why is that exactly, if not to stave off aging? Self-care, maybe, but isn't that more the thing where, as your big weekend outing, you go to the really nice coffee shop where the matcha lattes are $6 but worth it? No, it means slathering, and just as the unstated purpose of all fashionable dietary alterations is be thinner, so, too, is skincare a great big euphemism for look younger.

But sure enough, the open thread is introduced with a quote from a well-known fashion professional (middle-aged at most), announcing that she "'approach[es] aging with ice cream and a martini.'" Which is not the way any human being has ever approached anything ever, but which sounds relaxing.

There's also a well-lit photo of Jane Birkin and two of her daughters (whose names I'll pretend not to know, but please, I could name at least three Kardashians...), because... Birkin is by definition older than these two women, even though the three of them could pass for 15? More on that photo: The three are sitting in some sort of red-velvet-lined nightclub. There are cigarettes and a lighter on the table - as well there would be, in this martini-and-ice-cream fantasy. The only difference between Jane and her daughters is that whereas one daughter is carrying a very casual-let's-say tote bag, Jane has on her lap what appears to be a Birkin bag. That is, the Hermès one named after her.

How does anyone feel about aging? Some mix of grateful to not be dead, and annoyed at the closing-off of possibilities. For women: Some mix of relieved that the flow of unsolicited male attention has slowed down (from wherever it once was, which of course varies tremendously) and disappointed that the power that comes from being A 20-Something Woman (or 30-something, maybe...) has vanished. For everyone: Maybe you will write that novel, but no one will be in awe of you for doing so. No one will remark at how clever you are for having depicted the stresses of the adult world almost as though you'd actually experienced them.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A handbag post

There's this blogger cliché, or was when there were still bloggers: The apology-for-not-blogging. I've been so busy!, he says, he humblebrags, to the impatient horde... and his three readers (two of whom are immediate family members; the third is a long-forgotten ex) shrug and go about their days.

Well, my three readers, soon to be fewer still: Behold, the story of the least practical purchase ever made:

The backstory:

Long, long ago, when I lived in Frahnce, I spent far too many euros (for a grad student) on a bag. It was - it is! - gorgeous. Valérie Salacroux, you are a genius. And then wear, tear, and then-puppy poodle combined forces to make the bag... not what it once was. I went on to spend far too many dollars (US) on bag repair - in addition to an earlier repair job that added a discreet snap, so that the bag would stay closed. That helped for about five minutes, but now it's about back to where it was.

Slightly less long ago, while visiting my in-laws in the country that's not actually a failed state but never mind about that for the time being, we're talking about handbags... Anyway, in Antwerp, I spent a less-ridiculous number of euros on another bag. It was, I realized in retrospect, probably 'inspired' by a (more?) designer one, but it felt very glamorous to buy a bag in Antwerp. In any case, it had - has - two design flaws. Flaw 1, the easily-ignored: the hardware peeled or something, and looks as if it's rusted, even though I don't think that's it. Flaw 2, the crucial one: It has snaps, all right, but they take forever to align properly, so the bag is always flapping around open. Not ideal.

All of which left me in a place of quasi-needing a bag. A small, non-teaching bag; the big, laptop-and-papers-fitting one I've got covered.

The story:

I looked and looked and looked, which is to say, for however many minutes before realizing I was basically asleep, I scrolled around on the Matt & Nat website. Canada effectively has two bag brands - Matt & Nat for (vegan-leather) purses and such, Herschel for backpacks - so even though I'm still miffed at the former for that ad they had up a while back, looking for an unpaid copywriter, I had to admit that they make nice, reasonably-priced stuff, and... somehow, nothing in their current selection seemed quite right. One had potential, but didn't seem like it would close securely, and more to the point, I just wasn't excited about it. Valérie Salacroux I also considered, but those bags cost a lot more still than they did 100 years ago when I bought mine (but are, I suspect, still a good buy for the quality), plus the specific style I liked is - not surprisingly, given that it isn't 2010 anymore - no longer available.

And then, somehow, I remembered that there was a bag I'd always wanted. A hot pink one from the Cambridge Satchel Company. Or, if not that bag specifically, that brand. And sure enough, their website brought me to a bag that was gorgeous in a totally unanticipated way. Not what I would have said I was looking for, but also exactly what I needed - crossbody and with a definite clasp. Plus, free shipping! And, oh, some extra 10% off, for no apparent reason!

Now, I normally ponder purchases. For a long time. I spent a whole lot of living in suburban NJ unsure of whether it really made sense to get a car, and a lot of my first Canadian winter stubbornly resisting getting a proper winter coat. There's a $9 scarf I contemplated for a good long while as well. But this time, I was just like, this is the bag, and ordered it right away. I mean, what if it sold out???

The I-am-an-idiot part:

No sooner had an exciting email arrived about how the bag would be delivered the following day than... a second email, or maybe a voicemail, telling me that I would owe over $80 (Canadian but still) in duty. Duty! I may think of Canada as basically Britain, but the powers-that-be that handle irresponsibly-international handbag-shopping do not. (The government here is like, you will buy a Matt & Nat purse, or you'll pay.) But I figured, so, be it - if this will last me as long as the French one - both in terms of durability and in terms of Kondo-esque joy-sparking, it's worth it. (So much guilt.)

And then I opened the box, and there it was! Perfection. With a catch: My wallet's too big for it. Worse: it's the wallet I just bought - well, early fall, I think, but that's two minutes ago in wallet-years. I mean, it fits, but it's a challenge, and once you include keys and a phone (which... how to avoid this?), it was far too tight a squeeze.

The guilt. The guilt!

After several unsuccessful attempts in Chinatown (which has a corner on the neat $1 coin purse market - as in, the purses cost $1, although I suppose they'd also hold $1 coins) and the Kensington Market (which sold... a mini version of the Matt & Nat wallet I bought in the fall), I wound up with... a Herschel. A men's model, which a saleswoman warned me against (and which, alas, wasn't the shiny-silver model I thought they might sell, and that is indeed still sold, but that has nowhere to put coins and tokens), but sometimes, to have the conventionally-feminine-presenting handbag of your dreams, the only functional wallet small enough to keep in it is a utilitarian (or let's say minimalist-chic) one aimed at dudes.


Do I know what all this cost, all added up? That is, the bag and duty, plus the new, otherwise-unnecessary wallet? Plus the shame of it all? I do and I don't; I haven't done the $US to $CAD conversion necessary to put that figure in front of me. But the bag? It's gorgeous, and was, I suspect, entirely worth it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Peak shaming

There's online shaming. There's offline shaming. And then, in its own separate, amazing category, is poodle-pants-shaming.

The backstory:

I have a dog, a miniature poodle. Because the results are cute, and because she doesn't at all seem to mind this, and yes, because it gets cold, she has some clothing. Not, like, evening-wear, but a sweater and a jacket. And, fine, a parka.

Well! I was out just now with Bisou (again, a dog), both of us in our parkas. 16 degrees and snowing. I was wearing jeans. She was not. This is important for what follows:

At an intersection, a woman on a bike was saying something to me. I took out the headphone playing a Terry Gross interview with a woman who knows how to get children and adults alike to enjoy vegetables and said, "Sorry?" At which point the woman repeated what I thought she'd said: She was saying that they should include pants (I think she said "chaps"), I think as some sort of extension of the dog-coat, or maybe just that Bisou should be in pants. She was concerned that Bisou was too cold. I tried to explain about why dogs don't wear pants (the obvious), and why they're really OK without any (fur), but then the light changed and that was that.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Hotpot: a recipe

A photo posted by @casa_della_bisou on

I don't know what cuisine this is. But here's how I make hotpot:

-Meat: You'll want a nice cut of beef (ideally ribeye), but not much of it. It needs to be thinly sliced, which is no big deal if there's a supermarket near you that sells this, but if there isn't (or if, as is my situation, there probably is, but it's a choice between the place with Wagyu and the one where even tofu purchased near the butcher section stinks of rotten meat), pay up at whichever other butcher and do the partially-freeze-then-slice method. I have no idea for how long, only that I always get this wrong, and freeze it too little or into a solid block. (Maybe 3 hours would be ideal?)


Put up the rice cooker. If using a regular pot, start on the rice after the broth, I think.


Put chicken stock (packaged is fine) in the pot you'll use for the hotpot itself, but on the burner, so as not to waste hotpot-canister fuel before you're actually having the meal. If you have one of those induction-top situations, put on the burner immediately, as this will take forever.

Spices: Add to the broth one star anise star thingy; a few (not too many! I have done this!) Szechuan peppercorns; and a good number of dried, whole red chilis. (Or maybe fewer if the ones you have are really spicy.) Also: sliced fresh ginger, some less aesthetic-looking (but edible!) bits of shiitake mushroom, scallion, garlic. Let that simmer for... as long as you're preparing everything else.

Ingredient prep: Soak dried tofu skin. That needs to happen first, because it takes forever. Then, in whichever order:

-Chop scallion and chop (or better yet, garlic-press) garlic. Put these aside in dipping-sauce bowls, to be combined with soy sauce and sesame oil.

-Wash a tremendous amount of pea shoots and/or baby bok choy.

-Cut up remaining shiitake mushrooms. "Cooking with Dog"-style (that is, with a little cross in the center), if you're feeling ambitious.

-Tofu? Why not! (I like the one that's silky but not so much so that it completely disintegrates.) But try to get a smaller amount, since leftover raw tofu is complicated.

-Remember to take out anything else of interest (say, the thin mochi designed for hotpot) from whichever pantry.

-The meat! It should probably come out of the freezer by now. Take it out, and try to slice it thinly.

And then it's just time to eat the thing. Which is - apart from the setup itself - kind of self-explanatory.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The when you least expect it approach to shopping UPDATED

About as awake as I could be, post two two-hour classes (and an office hour), and pre-non-teaching-work o'clock, so, a shopping-achievement post.

Way back when, I saw a scarf on Instagram that was just perfect. Also £75, or $75,000,000 CAD. A Kensington Market scarf-bin investigation didn't lead anywhere. (I wasn't expecting the scarf, but something along those lines.) Some halfhearted Googling for polka-dot scarves, also futile.

Well! I was on the tram the other day, and passed by an exclusive boutique you may not be familiar with called the Gap. In the window, a mannequin was wearing... could it be? The scarf! At just under $9 (CAD bien sûr) in the store, thanks to the wonders/evils of inconsistent fast-fashion pricing, it pretty much had to be done. Whether the end result will be more Mary Richards, more Cupcakes and Cashmere, or more why is there a handkerchief around your neck, we shall see.


No less an authority than Garance Doré('s blog) advocates not just scarves of this nature, but scarves just like that one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The shoe-guilt school of criticism

Paulette Perhach's essay about the advisability of a "Fuck Off Fund" is a great read. That much is for sure. As writing, I loved it; read it! As advice? There I'm less convinced.

I mean, as advice, 'save up so you're not dependent on a guy or a specific job' is sound. Sound in the way that a plan for the week that involves jogging at 6 am, a full workday, and socializing over exactly one drink (no more, no less; red wine, for the heart), and then going home and prepping some quinoa, and then not watching any TV at all but actually getting cracking on whichever Great Book might remain on your list, is sound. Do everything right! Who can argue with that? If only it were so simple. If only those pesky desires didn't get in the way. Which reminds me of another Billfold piece, by Nona Willis Aronowitz, about the way that life's tragedies, rather than automatically bringing about perspective, inspire such things as shopping sprees. Can't-take-it-with-you and all that. It isn't just - as Jezebel helpfully YPISes (and I'm not being entirely sarcastic) - that being in a position to save is not universal - if you're impoverished and unemployed, good luck. It's also that... stuff is nice. (Did I recently buy a pair of shoes that are entirely incompatible with Toronto's salted sidewalks, salted until who knows which month but I'm thinking April? Maybe.) As is free time. Perhach advises working full time and having an additional job on weekends, and... while, fine, I do this, I can't fault the people who don't.

It's always the same, right? To lose weight, eat less than you burn. To save money, spend less than you earn. By all means, find new ways to help people with these goals (well, the latter) get there, but at least acknowledge that there are reasons - sensible and less so - why people aren't already doing what they already know they should. It's not generally because the advantages to a different routine haven't occurred to them.

And then there's the more troubling angle, from a feminist perspective - which is sort of the only perspective from which to read something like this. (Other than: as literature. Which I'd recommend.) Are women who, out of financial dependency, put up with sexually harassing bosses and mediocre-turned-abusive boyfriends to be faulted for having not thought to save up enough to get out of whichever situation? The structure of Perhach's essay - two alternate narratives - doesn't outright blame the woman who ends up screwed. It's more, I don't know, that this is an unavoidable conclusion. Of course, how would one offer that same, sound advice without a victim-blamey edge? With disclaimers. And disclaimers are annoying, and pointless, and it's not as if the ideal narrative Perhach offers involves 'win trust fund, have parents who support you until you're elderly.' So maybe just forget my qualms, the qualms of the all-too-fallible (but these are spectacular shoes), and read the thing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The "Even though I didn’t do it for weight loss, I dropped about 10 pounds since the start of the diet" era

When it comes to feminism, I'm admittedly a bit all over the place. I can't get myself to care about wedding symbolism, let alone the question of which female celebrities identify as feminist robots as versus as humanist robots. But I'm deeply, deeply opposed to the thing where, if you're a woman (and this impacts men, too, but so much less), you could always be eating better, and you must forever be reminded of this. This is most awful when applied to women who are heavy (because it's always presented as, that the world will end if a woman is fat, which, no). But you maybe see the phenomenon's full evil the most clearly when it gets applied to women who would in no way - not socially, not medically - even plausibly stand to benefit from losing weight, who might actually be worse off skinnier, but who must nevertheless, because Woman, strive to be more toned or balanced or who even knows.

If this were simply about fatphobia, we could condemn it but call it by that relatively limited definition. Instead, it's fatphobia and woman-phobia. It's not just about getting/staying thin, it's about it never being OK for any woman to not think about what she eats. (And by "think about what she eats," I don't mean, Thai or Vietnamese?)

What somehow gets to me the most is the new Empowered genre, which goes beyond This Is Not A Diet diets, and is only deep, deep between the lines about... how it's not OK to just eat whatever. Because... what? Unclear. It's just not. Because Health, presumably, but what if you're feeling fine to begin with? What if there's no reason whatsoever to believe that introducing tremendous food concern into your life wouldn't make you less healthy? How is this possibility inevitably skipped over?

So yes, I'm thinking partly of Cupcakes and Cashmere featuring a nutritionist who's advocating (seriously) a #KonMari approach to diet, where you get rid of all your good socks and then are like, where are my socks?, and then lose 10 pounds. This nutritionist begins with a whole disclaimer about how she's not about smoothies and bowls (which are now a thing in Toronto, despite the snow and general non-SoCal-ness, which is just odd), but about - and aren't they always? - finding ways to get people (women) to be more thoughtful about (to think more about) what they eat. To be more aware. Which is about weight loss, but not necessarily, so it's not supposed to count.

But mainly I'm thinking about Refinery29 featuring a quack dermatologist's diet plan. "'You'll gain incredible radiance, greater contours, decreased puffiness, and higher cheekbones,'" Dr. Quack tells the author, a slim young woman with no perceivable skin concerns. And note that, apart from "radiance," the alleged skin concerns here are all weight concerns. You eat differently, and your face will look different, because you'll lose weight. And what do you think happens? "I glowed, my cheekbones stood at attention, and my clothes fit me a little bit better. For the first time since I started working out, I saw the beginnings of abs definition — something that had eluded me before." Also, "the contours of my face were more defined," notes the author, but surely this isn't any of it about weight, right? "Even though I didn’t do it for weight loss, I dropped about 10 pounds since the start of the diet." Was this woman ten pounds overweight before? Irrelevant - in this arena, the between-the-lines thinner is better still reigns. And we're somehow supposed to not read all the stuff about contours and cheekbones as being about weight. It's about skin tone, about decreasing euphemistic puffiness.

Which just, ugh. If you want to spend up on skincare products, enjoy. They probably won't do anything other than decrease your shoe-shopping budget (we all have priorities), but they won't involve giving up pasta/cheese/coffee/wine/joy for the sake of imperceptible physical changes. It's the diet thing, with its 24/7 attentiveness requirement, that needs to stop.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Classic elegance via glitter nail polish

Taste is meant to evolve. Personal style, I mean. You're supposed to be able to chart, ala Emily from "Cupcakes and Cashmere," how you arrived (by, say, the magical age of 30) at your look - trend-indifferent, of course, but also mature, without being euphemistically mature, which is to say, old.

I'm not sure where I'd fall on all this. I haven't so much evolved towards greater sophistication as wavered closer and further from that end of the spectrum, depending principally on how much of my workday is spent out in the world and how much could be done from, let us say, a couch. And a lot of what I've realized works for me has wound up consisting of old favorites of one sort or another. Which is to say, I end up returning, again and again, to various looks that I liked at ages when I was far too young to have anything like a personal style.

This is especially true when it comes to nail polish. Inspired by put-together women in New York (and elsewhere, obviously; that's just where I was living at the time), I had a grad-school phase of sheer pinks, beiges, etc. And those are fine. (The best of these: Uslu Airlines in YAP, and yes, I see the irony.) But as far as I'm concerned - and whether or not this does anything for my overall look - the ideal shade is navy with subtle glitter. Inspired both by Chanel's discontinued version (Ciel de nuit) and, less glamorously, by Sparkle Crest toothpaste, a childhood favorite that maybe ruins your teeth, but that looked just gorgeous. This seems to be a common-enough obsession, given the number of blog posts dedicated to comparing every navy-with-sparkles polish around (or, in the case of the discontinued ones, no longer around). Which, fair enough - it is the best shade. Why shouldn't others agree?

The admittedly on-and-off quest ended, in New York, when I happened upon some still-available JINsoon Azurite at ABC Home. It's a bit less glittery than I remember the Chanel one being, and seemingly darker and less sparkly than the Essie (which is now, it seems, fully available once more, at least in the States). These are points in its favor - it's basically a classic (as much as blue nail polish ever is) navy with a hint of shimmer, so that you know you've got glitter nail polish on, even if not everyone else does. And the best part? $10. Usually $18, and I'd braced myself for that, but no! Same price as drugstore polish. The DIY results below:

A photo posted by @casa_della_bisou on

Thursday, December 24, 2015

New York in almost-2016

-The biggest difference between New York and Toronto relates to ease or lack thereof of crossing the street. In Toronto, with the huge streets, the tram tracks, and the right-on-red, as well as just the driver-centric culture, every intersection's a gamble. Here, the gambles are there, but not quite as substantial. And you're more likely to be swept up in a crowd crossing with complete indifference to the light, the cars (not drivers, cars) fully aware that they've been outnumbered.

-The food. The food. Lots going for the cuisine in both places (and I think I'm undecided on the NY vs. Montreal bagel question, and there are no French pastries here even close to Nadège, and custard tarts...), but this is home, so I've had a... few more years to know exactly where to get everything. Pizza. (At Freddie and Pepper's on Amsterdam, to be specific, but any place of the sort frequented by 14-year-old boys will probably sell the right kind.) Chelsea Thai. Dos Toros. Shake Shack. Sobaya. Doughnut Plant. Mozzarella from Murray's Cheese. And more. Everything (with the exception of the pseudo-Ronnybrook milkshake from Chelsea Market) has been even better than I remembered it.

-US money seems so different. I'd almost forgotten what it looked like! And also, knowing the exchange rate (0.72), it's so... euro-like. As much as I know that Uniqlo is cheaper than basically any place in Toronto, and that there's no Strand where I live, it's like... maybe a bit of restraint is in order. (But, but, making mental note of all remaining exciting shops that I vaguely remember liking or being curious about.) The whole Shopping Trip From Canada idea (the ATMs I use in Toronto have ads for this activity) must have made sense a couple years back.

-True to stereotype, I suppose, but I hadn't quite been expecting it: there's so, so much more lively squabbling. People are constantly arguing with strangers, but not in a menacing way. Also just strangers making conversation - about which bread to get at a bakery, about anything and everything to do with dogs, etc. That, or people do this in Toronto as well, but I seem too foreign (or too American) to be included in it.

-Most of the city (that I've been back to) seems about the same as it did six months ago, as one would expect. But Williamsburg! My goodness! I'm not going to say that it just got gentrified, because it was hip when I was there in high school, which was a thousand years ago, and far too expensive for me to rent in when I lived in the city, which was merely 500 years back. But... the handful of stores I'd had fond memories of... browsing? probably not shopping at... are at any rate now not just too expensive but priced out in favor of still-fancier options. Also, the hipster thing seems kaput, there and elsewhere. The Toronto drapey-clothing/man-bun thing seems either never to have happened here, or to have come and gone.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Because #Israel

As came as a tremendous surprise, the pro-gun crowd didn't like my article. In all seriousness: While some aspects of the response were more menacing than I'd anticipated, it was mainly the Twitter usual - variants of 'Can you believe that idiot?!,' including the time-honored technique of quoting my bio with snide commentary. And - because woman, internet - the occasional egg-avatar with very important thoughts about my looks.

But what did surprise me - shouldn't have, but did - was how central Jewish... stuff was to the response. There were - and this, not so surprising - references to me being Jewish. (Best was the person calling me a Jewish American Princess... for arguing in the New Republic that guns should be banned. Because that's the stereotype.) While some came from the usual self-proclaimed-white-supremacist crowd, others came from the (nearly?) as disturbing philo-Semite crowd. Yes, I'd known this was a thing, and had encountered it before, but I'd never been quite so neck-deep in it. Oh, maybe not never, but not recently.

It goes something like this: #2A, as in, the Second Amendment, as in, guns, is often paired, on Twitter, with #Israel. Images of guns intermingle with images of Israeli flags. And oh. so. many. references to the Holocaust, which could have of course been prevented if... I can't even finish that thought, it's too stupid. Oh, and then there's of course the irony that I, a Jew, would support the very Hitlerian idea of banning guns, along with however many references to the inherent fascism of a society without free access to guns. (21st century Britain, Japan, etc.?) There was also someone saying, without explanation, that it was extra strange that a Jewish woman would be against guns. Strange why? Who knows - it takes some kind of advanced-level right-wing intersectionality for that one.

I mean, I have seen variants of this before. Jews in the sense of The Jews are incredibly sympathetic. Yet actual Jews aren't conservative enough to play out the role demanded of us. We - even the Zionists among us - aren't rah-rah-Netanyahu enough, or at all. Too many of us are motivated, in our Zionism, by our sense of ourselves as minorities, and not - as would be so much more convenient for them! - by anti-Islamic sentiment. And we're far too often the cityfolk whose opinions are to be dismissed on that basis alone. But so it goes, so it always goes. Interest in The Jews from the general population subsumes anything actual Jews could possibly come up with.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Adulthood or not: a weekend assessed

-One article edited, one pitched, one completed and sent in, and a chapter part completed.

-One Canada Moose-themed (but not branded) dog parka purchased. One poodle paraded around in the same. 

-One grocery-store trip that somehow did not include juice, eggs, canned tomatoes, or anything useful for the week. Have quite possibly unlearned how to grocery-shop without a car.

-Several trips to several Asian markets (and I do mean much of the continent - Vietnam, China, and Japan were represented, while the ultimate splurge bit came from Korea) for hot-pot materials. 

-One at-home hot-pot of indeterminate cuisine achieved. Used a Japanese cookbook (and a kombu-sake stock) but since it's the Chinese supermarket that sells vegetables (and also because pea shoots are the best food), ended up with something closer to the (Edison) Little Sheep lineup. 

-One bathroom (I mean, there's only the one) cleaned thoroughly. Still feeling pretty damn smug about this.

-Two matcha lattes consumed at two different coffee shops. And two Portuguese custard tarts, at home, in a row, because those things are tiny.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Canadian Thanksgiving

-Read (that is, was vaguely aware of) the guides to dealing with the proverbial conservative uncle.

-Read the Internetfolk pointing out that actually (is this where #actually is needed?) it's kind of condescending as well as ungrateful to approach Thanksgiving in this way, and also, not everyone is a young urban-dweller with conservative small-town family. And remarked (privately? aloud? who even remembers?) that each of the people making this point seemed to think they were either the first or, at the very least, going against the current. Which had shifted, and which is now distinctly pointing towards announcing that one will graciously attend one's conservative uncle's do. Which, why do I even know this? It's a busy time of the semester here, and between teaching and other work, I'd forgotten it even was Thanksgiving. (But also - isn't the whole issue here the difference between being a sanctimonious liberal, and being, say, LGBT, and facing actual, personal backlash from your family?)

-Went to the 7-11 for a Kit Kat and a diet Coke, and once again received the upsell speech about how there's a special on kebabs.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


I've been following the Paris news, and commentary, and social-media response. It's very, very different - even with the on-the-ground feeling of Twitter, and even having spent a lot of time in Paris - to read about this than it was to be in Manhattan on 9/11. 9/11 the symbol is always going to feel secondary, to me, to the event itself. I'm following this story closely in part for personal reasons, but also, in part, for the same reasons as everybody else. I learned about these attacks when a news alert popped up on my phone, as I was sitting in a coffee shop in Canada. Yes, I recognized the streets, and yes, all the more so, I worried about friends. But it's something quite different.

Responses seem to go one of two ways. Either people mention time spent in Paris (even if it was three days 30 years ago), which is (I think) sincerely felt and well-meaning, but which risks the why-are-you-making-it-about-you accusation... or they jump straight into the virtue-signaling approach - also well-meaning, I suppose, but frustrating. By this I mean the comments - in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy that (for all you know, people doing this, has personally-personally impacted your friends) accusing the grieving of racism. Why? Because they haven't shown equal concern (or 1/3 concern, given the current death tolls) regarding a terrorist attack in Beirut.

Cultural affinity - that same thing that people take for granted when people throughout the Muslim world, and many Muslims elsewhere, feel an emotional connection to the Palestinian cause - is suspect the moment it's people in London or Chicago (or Toronto) identifying with Parisians. Cultural affinity isn't quite the same thing as racism, particularly given that the Paris being grieved for at the moment is hardly monolithically white or xenophobic.

But more to the point: this just happened. The first response after a tragedy shouldn't be chastising people who are upset. If chastising is your go-to response, by all means, tsk-tsk away at the dangerous idiots conflating refugees with that which they're fleeing from. It's not that it's too early for politics - everything's political, I get that. But there's enough to be legitimately sad and angry about that it's probably possible to wait a minute before calling out your grieving friends.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Midsomer and ice cream o'clock

Seems fitting to write a blog post about a procrastination article. More time-consuming, at any rate, than just sharing it on Facebook or Twitter (although time can certainly go into deciding which of those is right for which articles). But given that the alternative activity I had lined up for 10ish Tuesday evening was finishing an episode of Midsomer Murders (an amazing one starring the actress who plays Diana Trent on Waiting for God and a whole bunch of llamas), I'm not sure this qualifies.

Anyway. Philippa Perry's advice about procrastination is... I can't decide what it is. Either it's KonMari-like in its brilliant simplicity (oof, she called out pet-Instagramming specifically), or it's akin to the health advice that begins and ends with, maybe don't eat so much ice cream during the evening Midsomer. The central point:

"When I first became a parent and only had 30 minutes of baby’s nap time to complete a chore, I found I could complete it, whereas before baby, the same task may have taken me hours. When I had a finite amount of time I somehow found the extra focus to make that time count."
This is how life should work, and sometimes does, but doesn't always. There's a way in which being a bit too busy can encourage creativity - all work that isn't the usual/daytime work feels like a break, but the mind will be sharp from having not spent the day, I don't know, riding a shuttle to a suburban US supermarket in the middle of the afternoon because you haven't yet learned how to drive, to use a totally theoretical (obscure pun intended) example. But if you only have 30 minutes to spare, and the thing you need to do is (let's stay within the realm of the theoretical) clean the bath? What if the activities that have left you with little time - professional, domestic, whatever - have left you sort of, you know, tired? What if the urge to procrastinate strikes not so much when a task seems daunting as when your body is saying Midsomer and Haagen Daaz, but some part of you thinks it's more productive to still have that computer out?

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Immigrant glamo(u)r

I would like to be better-dressed. Fabulously dressed, even. But there are obstacles. One is the whole new-immigrant credit limit thing, and the thing where Canadian credit cards are confusing (can't the site just say what I've spent???), and just generally the thing where I have a credit card but am wary of using it, and thus never get close to the limit in the first place. The other obstacles are similarly glamorous. (No time!) But the work-in-progress that is moving my look from something Stacy and Clinton would deem intervention-worthy to something Scott Schuman would photograph is underway. Recent and recent-ish (post-move, that is) additions:

-One navy v-neck wool-silk sweater and one indigo-striped button-down shirt, Muji. As far as I can tell, Muji clothing here is basically the same stuff as Uniqlo, but more expensive, but also less expensive because you don't have to first fly to the States.

-Matt & Nat bag (the Tia in Petal). A major improvement over the NYU tote bag/EMS backpack predecessors.

-Same vegan bag company, the Vera wallet in Midnight.

-New heels on the Frye motorcycle boots, from a shoe-repair place that includes a polish. They look new (the woods-mud is gone!), so this counts.

-Two whole, entirely new, pairs of pants: black jeans from Levi's (via the mildly intimidating Aritizia) and perfect '90s-but-better regular ones by Cheap Monday (via the perma-sample-sale Catwalk-2-Closet).

-A gray wool (-looking) skirt from Zara, of a style I always like, and that's always unwearably unflattering on me, except this once, so a style craving I've had since my junior year of college has, at long last, been met.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Not like at home"

In the Monty Python travel agent sketch, Eric Idle's character rants about those other tourists who go on package tours, only to complain about how the "tea" (which I used to think meant tea, but as I type, I'm thinking probably meant dinner) isn't not made "properly." The expression "not like at home" is used. Parochialism, so shameful! I can't say I experience tremendous amounts of this, given that Toronto kind of has everything and them some. (See: Portuguese custard tarts.) And the whole Trump thing isn't really making me homesick. But other things, here and there...

As I understand it, people who move from one country to another under circumstances such as my own are required to list the petty, inconsequential ways that the developed country we live in isn't 100% identical to the one we come from. So, here goes:

-Mozzarella. Not the super-fancy buffalo kind, nor the super-unfancy kind that goes in a meat-and-cheese slicer, but the moderately fancy (cow's milk) kind that's sold in (Northeast) US supermarkets and cheese stores (I'm thinking specifically of Wegmans, Murray's Cheese - sigh! - and the Fairway), in a ball, wrapped in plastic, where the surface is the most delicious part. There's something sold here that looks like mozzarella but is called "bocconcini" and "soft cheese," and that's OK on pizza but otherwise vile, and it was only recently that I noticed the word "mozzarella" isn't used on the packaging. It took me months to find the one cheese at the supermarket that's mozzarella in a recognizable (but not, again, bufala extravaganza) form, and it's passable. Cheese shops - and I've been to quite a few - don't appear to have this product. A very, very petty complaint, especially considering the overall superiority of the cheese situation here, but doubtless at the top of my petty-complaints list.

-Uniqlo. A close second, but there's apparently one on its way. No such luck on the mozzarella front.

-A health care system that makes sense to me. Because yes, that is of course the thing one looks for in a health care system - that I, personally, understand it. In all seriousness: I had an uninsured few months after college, and am in principle thrilled with universal healthcare. In practice, the whole thing of not knowing when or even really how I'll ever be able to see a doctor is somewhat unsettling. (I mean, I filled out some form. After which something gets mailed. After which maybe it'll all become clear. Socialist wheels of some kind are, I think, in motion.)

Life in the age of the micro-era

After a whole lot of working from home (dissertating, Dish-ing, freelancing, etc.), I'm once again working from a mix of home and not-home (teaching French and book-writing in English, and also freelancing, and also, in principle, sleeping). This means I need to be, like, dressed. Not merely in clothing, but in clothing that's a notch or several above what's needed to walk a dog in the woods, with a 5% chance of running into another human being, and a 0% chance of running into one who'd expect me to be dressed professionally, fashionably, or anything along those lines.

This seems so simple, so obvious, and just so doable - I'm well out of college! I have a degree in French! I live in a city with lots of stores! - but is kind of daunting. Part of this is that I hadn't realized quite how dire the situation had become. My 'good' clothes turned out to be very washed-out Breton-striped shirts from several years ago. So a lot needs to be replaced, or just sort of purchased to begin with, but there isn't really any conceivable time to do this in. And I'm not even factoring in the other shopping expedition: Canada-ready winter-wear. My inner stereotypical heterosexual man experiences this with a sense of impending doom. But there's also a part of me that's a stereotypical... my own demographic, let's say, and that was totally all, "There's Intermix/COS/Muji in Toronto?!" I can kind of see getting excited about this.

The more complicated question is what to buy. Again, sounds simple! But I have no idea. It's sort of... been a while? And when I last properly shopped, I was a) younger, and b) living in another era. The era when bangs/fringe, kale, and farm-to-table, and more on this in a moment... were in. While it sounds so pathetic to be like, 'I want to wear what's in!', this is a genuine practical concern if you're dressing like a 2008-era grad student. If you have a sort of implicit sense of this, you can focus on cut and fit and all of this while sneering at those who bother with trends. If you don't - if, that is, you've spent the past four-plus years split between avant-garde or super-now fashion-blog reading and disintegrating skinny-jeans-wearing - this takes a bit more effort. Or maybe it just takes going to Zara and buying whatever more or less fits.

But this isn't so much a fashion post as an era one. I've been thinking recently - and this mainly has implications for how I present various things in the book I'm writing - that times have changed. Since 2008-ish, or even 2011-ish. Trends seem different - noticeably so. Cultural trends, not just clothing. Young People Today, perhaps they're different as well. Still working on putting my finger on what these differences are (and, book-wise, on precisely how this shift has both exaggerated and diminished various "privilege" concerns), but for the time being, this is my point in full: Times have changed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A still-here post

-I have a book contract! I'd say WOOHOOO, but I don't think that covers it. What I had before was a book deal, which is not the same thing, but which is still a publicly-announced thing, which... if you're not me, you almost certainly don't care, but if you're writing a book or thinking about it, this is maybe useful information?

-I wrote about friendship for TNR. Could have written endlessly more on the topic. An alternate, probably unpublishable version would have gone into my various middle-school neuroses (specifically, anxieties centering on not having 'guy friends' or friends from other schools).

-If you spend the day hearing and using only French, and are in a partially Francophone country, it seems very, very odd that people are speaking English on the street. Old news, I suppose, for my many Canadian and Belgian relatives, but a new one for me. Also: It takes only a couple months in Canada (at least for this part-Canadian) for the English here to start sounding default and the US variety, all regions, to start sounding vaguely like a Texas accent.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


The internet being enormous and all, I don't remember where it was I saw this, but somewhere I saw something, once, about how Idris Elba is the actor white women who don't much pay attention to black male beauty (or who don't consume much diverse or black-oriented media) give as the example of a good-looking black man. Like, to the extent that it is, if you are a white woman, borderline racist to say that you find Elba attractive, his name in this context having evolved into a trope of sorts, of the exception.

I have no idea if this is true, but if it is, that would seem like all the more reason he'd be a shoo-in as James Bond. If indeed they still make those movies (I've only ever seen one, years ago, on what was probably my only high school outing with straight 'guy friends'), which apparently they do, because this morning Twitter erupted with the news that Anthony Horowitz, probably the same Anthony Horowitz as is behind some of the better, earlier Midsomer Murders episodes, gave a not particularly borderline but rather straightforwardly racist (if coded) reason why Elba, in his view, shouldn't be Bond. The word "street" is used, which is going to seem particularly odd to anyone introduced to Elba via his role in the US version of The Office.

As tends to happen in these cases, intense, multi-hour research (or, rather, clicking the link from the Independent to the original Daily Mail interview) suggests a bit of outrage-stirring on the part of the press. The "street" remark had, it seems, been immediately preceded by Horowitz naming a different black British actor, Adrian Lester, as a possible Bond. While the thing it seems as if Horowitz said (namely, that Bond can't be black because any black actor, even Elba, is "too 'street'") and the thing he actually said (a sort of casting equivalent of 'some of my best friends are black,' and then the "street" remark) are both racist, the former is so much more so that it might be tempting to cry Misplaced Outrage and dismiss the whole thing, except... the outrage is merited. The "street" remark is still racist!

The trouble is outrage fatigue. After years and years and years of offensiveness going unremarked, there's now this flood of remarks. Justified ones, but the sheer repetitiveness of the 'can you believe X said Y?!' headlines has ended up numbing too many readers to what are, at least in my opinion, real and important concerns about representation, subtle bigotry, and so forth. People then end up sympathizing with the gaffe-maker, who will inevitably have said something a notch or two less offensive than first thought. And so the conversation will get diverted from issue at hand. My question, then, is really one of strategy. If you support the politics of the 'can you believe' headlines, but wonder about their efficacy... what's the alternative? Is there one?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Unsolicited recommendations

Seeing as the plan is to be walled off up north, these are mainly Toronto-specific:

-Every show by Sally Wainwright. Having already watched all of Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley, I was beyond thrilled to come across Scott & Bailey, one I hadn't even known existed. Feminist soap operas set in some part of England that I, as a not-quite-Canadian, can totally relate to.

-Neo Coffee Bar. A gorgeous space, and instead of selling the same (too-often-stale) Toronto coffee shop cookies and the like, there are these amazing Japanese roll cakes. And all shockingly reasonably priced, likely because it's kind of out of the way.

-Baldwin Village. Fine, yes, another Japanese food recommendation (Konnichiwa sukiyaki hot pot specifically...), but it's also just a neat little area.

-Courage My Love. Vintage-and-more in the Kensington Market. I've already bought two necklaces there, and that's restraint, because there's a whole bunch of other stuff as well, and quite different from equivalent stores in the States.

-Am I allowed one more thing that's Japanese food? Sanko, the grocery store nearish my apartment. Went today to get bonito flakes, and was recommended a variety that a man who works in the store told me are the best ones, as well as the ones he feeds his cat. As these were less expensive than the ones I'd been considering, and apparently contribute to pet longevity, why not? Dashi stock and Bisou treats await.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Upper East Side of Toronto

We are, all of us, children of wherever we're from. While I spent my earliest childhood in a neighborhood-name-free part of lower-mid-Manhattan, I mostly grew up on the Upper East Side. Why? For that, you'd have to ask my parents; I, as a 3-year-old, was, quite understandably, not consulted. But anyway, that's where I grew up, and I neither liked nor disliked it - it just sort of was. But it, and things like it, will always feel like home. It will always feel normal to me to be in a neighborhood where, for example, I can't afford anything in 99.99% of the stores. Where 99.99% of the women have had every square inch of their bodies somehow cosmetically attended to. The things that ought to be off-putting read as kind of comforting.

As an adult, I've never been drawn to living in such a neighborhood (although such places can be startlingly affordable, because of the uncoolness factor). But I do always somehow end up wandering around in them. In Chicago, what was it, the Gold Coast? In Paris, Passy.

I just now stumbled across Toronto's version of this. Yorkville, I think, if I got the borders right. Gone were the 20-something men with the undershave slicked-back-ponytail hairstyle and black flowing-robe minimalist clothing. All of a sudden, there were posh women everywhere. Waiting impatiently on line behind me at Zara. (Where, alas, the faux-leather pants didn't fit.) Then - because the ultimate in relaxation is a department store - Holt Renfrew, a palace of sorts, with signs about "privilege" in a positive sense in a shoe department I observed from a distance only because shoes, and where I tried on a discounted (but still, I ended up determining, out-of-budget) and not especially flattering pair of black jeans, while two women of a certain age (but really, aren't we all) assessed how a pair of jeans looked on one of them. Yes, I could tell that the staff had (correctly; is it the Eastern Mountain Sports backpack? or just the fact of a backpack?) decided that I was in the wrong store. I asked where the jeans were, and was told a list of brands of jeans, in a way that conveyed, I promise this is not some sort of neurosis, you are not J. Brand material. As stretchy-flattering as that material might be, I'll live with that.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Latkes in literature

Just read and really liked Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs. Goodreads people were less enthusiastic about it. I'll make the case:

Spoilers below, so click on the post title for the rest...

Friday, August 14, 2015

GAF, revisited

There's an article I've read variants of over the years, and that's currently circulating in Styles article and Jezebel post form. It's the Silver Linings of Aging piece; the specific age anchoring it can vary, but if it's anything much under 30, people will just laugh.

The point will inevitably be that getting older means caring less. It will come from a place of, everything's kind of sorted in life. The 'I'm old and haggard now' will be part self-deprecation, part genuine anxiety, and part humble-brag about having ticked whichever list of personal and professional achievements. Much of Tracy Moore's list on Jezebel amounts to, she's too old to have no money. Which is a great sentiment, if one that relies on upward mobility, or on aging meaning higher earning. The proverbial basement-dwelling millennial will also reach 30, if he hasn't already.

Other aspects, though, are not financial, but follow the same general pattern. For example: Being "too old" for parties and bars and casual friends one doesn't even like is a great big euphemism for having already found a partner. Plenty of people "too old" to be at the bars are there all the same, for the same reason younger adults are, and some who now think they're "too old" will, at 45, post-divorce, wind up back at them, and it won't be because they've gotten any younger.

On the one hand, yes, people do, on average, sort their lives out as they get older. On the other hand, life isn't just this smooth upwards progression of self-improvement. The physical-decline bit is unavoidable, but there's no guarantee of a corresponding raise for each wrinkle.

A too-old-to-care that addresses this, though, I'm OK with. And Dominique Browning's NYT one does:

The key to life is resilience, and I’m old enough to make such a bald statement. We will always be knocked down. It’s the getting up that counts. By the time you reach upper middle age, you have started over, and over again.
This could well be why, like memoir, the too-old-for-this genre works better coming from someone a bit older.

But my initial reason for this post, which I seem to have lost track of, relates to the whole issue of "caring." In an ideal, rational world, getting older would mean caring less about nonsense. And on the whole, it does. But not in the neat, done-with-that-silliness way these articles suggest. The stupid, neurotic sort of caring - the unproductive, time-suck kind of GAF - may wane, only to (what's the non-clichéd version of 'rear its ugly head'?) return unexpectedly. You can go for years without much worrying what you look like, or whether you've been included in some social gathering, and think everything's going great professionally, and then for whatever reason, something internal or external brings those feelings back. Anyone who's been an adult, or who has witnessed adults while "off" (that is, at home) is going to be aware of this phenomenon. OK, not anyone. But enough people that it seems somehow off - or maybe just aspirational? - to declare non-caring an inherent perk of getting older.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Euphemistic sophistication

Whenever a lowest-common-denominator straight male desire gets cast as sophisticated, my thoughts inevitably turn to the Seinfeld where Jerry's sleeping with his maid, and by the end of the episode accepts that he has, in fact, been paying for sex. His defense, when friends call him out on it, is that the arrangement is "sophisticated." This is a standby euphemism in hetero sex work marketing - there are gentlemen's clubs, and the silk robes, and fine European ladies (white women?), and men are going to be escorted, as though hiring a sex worker were akin to being accompanied to a cotillion. It's a way of drawing a connection between whatever Mr. Schlub is up to, and the activities of various French prime ministers. It's all incredibly sophisticated. If it were a movie, yellow subtitles would definitely be involved.

Which brings me to this latest entry, from Dan Savage's letter of the day. A 35-year-old woman is being cheated on by her 50-year-old husband, who was still with an earlier wife when they got together. There's a young child involved. What should she do? Buried in her letter, but crucial, is the following: "I don't care that much that he had sex with these women—in fact, I had brought up the possibility of having an open marriage, but he wasn't into it." Now why do we think this man, who slept with everybody and has no plans to stop, "wasn't into" the very arrangement that allows for such behavior? While the thing we're supposed to say in such a circumstance is that it's surely dude's sexual proclivity to sneak around, the common-sense reason is that there's a double-standard. Not for dude-the-individual. In society. A 'traditional' marriage model allows him, but not her, to have other partners. That's what he wants. For him to have a wife means to have a woman who's fully his, whose children are of course his, because who else?

Savage offers up a precedent for the letter-writer, should she choose to stay in her marriage: an elderly (now-deceased) British duchess married to a serial philanderer. This duchess, it seems, considered divorce a "bore," as well as - sniff - American. (Side note: why do upper-class British people find everything so tiresome? Or is that just on "Upstairs, Downstairs"?) And... I guess I'd be OK with "sophisticated" as a euphemism for that which is adult, that which only adults understand, and that which perplexes the simple, childlike bourgeoisie (of which I - someone who would have borrowed the DTMFA acronym if advising this woman - am probably a part), if it could just be used in a gender-neutral sense.

Monday, August 10, 2015


There was a time when I enjoyed buying clothes, and was good at it, and did it regularly enough that I was always well-dressed. Or maybe there wasn't. Like all golden ages, this is some mix of a conflation of several eras that really did exist, and a rose-colored revisionist history of that which really took place. 

But some time in my life, after the middle-school era of going to stores with friends who had unlimited shopping budgets, but before the time when "shopping" meant getting in the car for an hour, only to arrive at whichever NJ mall and think only of how to get to the closest Asian supermarket, sometime in that window, things were otherwise. If I had to really pin it down, it was this one semester of grad school, the one where I wore pencil skirts and heels, heels purchased at a chic (French?) store on 7th Avenue in Chelsea. I dressed like this because I was both teaching and taking classes, and was still at the age where you're supposed to dress in a way that identifies you as not-an-undergrad. It was around the time whichever French department peer pressure - or just peer learn-by-example - regarding put-together-ness had clicked, and I stopped expecting shapeless gray v-neck t-shirts to really pull together a look. 

I know I do this periodically, but here goes: I'm going to try. I know that DGAF, as the kids say, is the height of chic as attitudes go, and goes really well with those Adidas Superstar sneakers that have, mysteriously, become to the adult world what Sambas were to my fourth grade class. But I GAF. On some level. Despite the gray t-shirt collection, and other sartorial choices inspired by my thinking of how great whichever gray sweatshirt and black jeans-type combo would look on Stop It Right Now blogger Jayne Min. (Should just put a post-it on the mirror: You are not, and in no way resemble, Jayne Min.)

There's the non-trying that's noble, feminist, frugal, intentional. That's about embrace-your-natural-whatever. Then there's the sort that comes from a place of why-bother. It's not the same as the (diagnosable) why-bother that leads to things like not bathing, but it might be enough to merit an intervention at the Stacey and Clinton level. In an attempt to avoid that fate (is that show even still on? and would they cross the border?), I've taken two small but significant steps in the right direction. Am I currently, at this very moment, wearing a gray t-shirt and jeans? That may be, but once the rain stops and the skirt's been hemmed, it is on.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


There's a branch of feminist journalism that involves protesting insecurities that a great many women didn't know they were even supposed to have, thereby introducing new ones into the general population. Exhibit A: "thigh gap," an anxiety I first learned about through articles and blog posts about why women shouldn't be worrying about this. (And yes, how meta, this post is probably adding to the problem.)

Exhibit B: "resting bitch face." This one I had heard of, and that had registered enough that I'd thought, heh, that's me! It seemed like - as Dan Savage might say - a superpower. Yes, it means getting told to smile for years on end, but it probably deflects a whole bunch of irritating interactions. But thanks to the Styles treatment, the idea has now been planted in my insufficiently-grinning head (and who knows how many others'!) that women who don't smile at strangers on the bus for the heck of it are perceived of as older/uglier/masculine, as versus simply... bitchy, which could also be interpreted as snooty or haughty, which, while not ideal, aren't synonyms of unattractive.

To be clear, I don't get the sense at all that the piece's author, Jessica Bennett, is advocating that women go out and get Botox (the cure, apparently). But again, it's this whole planting thing. While squeamishness/cheapness alone would keep me personally from going that route, this is so now going to be a thing, in a way that it probably wasn't and probably didn't need to be.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cooler up north

When I first saw the thing in Vogue about how a Toronto neighborhood near where I live/the one where I live (unclear on borders) was the second-coolest in the world, after one in Tokyo, I was... unconvinced. I hadn't moved here yet, and didn't quite see how a handful of boutiques plus a coffee shop plus an American Apparel amounted to anything of global interest. Really, it was supposed to be cooler than all the ones in north Brooklyn?

Now I think I'm starting to understand. Today I walked west on Queen Street, and west, and west, through an underpass and west some more. And it stayed "cool" or hipster or whatever one might want to call it the entire way, probably longer as well, but at a certain point (here, to be specific) I just could not even, as the cool kids probably don't say in this context; bought myself an iced americano; and sat for a few tired-30-something minutes before back east. Hipster row just keeps on going: third-wave coffee shops, vintage shops, minimalist clothing boutiques, minimalist furniture boutiques, vintage furniture shops, hipsters-make-your-food cafés, bars where you can go see indie bands (if that's still a thing/still the name for it) play, and some galleries, and some gift/objet shops, and the next thing I knew it was just a blur of minimalist space with terrariums and pastel hair and all-black outfits and I just felt very, very old, and very much like someone who'd spent the last four years in Princeton, NJ, the last three of them going around by car.

Anyway, back to the question of second-coolestness: There is no equivalent of this in New York, none, and from my relatively limited experience of equivalent areas in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, none there either. Nor Montreal, now that I think of it. It just keeps going. And it doesn't change. It continues to be geared towards the same milieu, whatever it is, block after block after block. And it's not even just Queen Street! Dundas (parallel) and Ossington (perpendicular) continue along the same lines. So much cool. I don't know why, or how, or what to make of it, other than that Vogue wasn't kidding.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Dress, or close enough

A photo posted by Phoebe Bovy (@phoebe_bovy) on
So I was on my way to buy garlic chives in Chinatown when I passed a store that had, in the window, a dress I'd seen on a woman on the streetcar. When I'd seen it on the woman in the streetcar, I remember thinking, hey, there's that fabulous dress (so similar to the dress) that was in the window of a wholesale store in Chinatown! Also that, seeing as it was on someone near the store in question, it was probably not strictly wholesale, as in, it could be mine. But I promptly forgot about it. Until there it was: that window, and that dress. A maxi dress, which isn't something I'd normally attempt, but this is the rare one that's actually proportioned for a woman my height. (Hemming is also potentially an option, but given that this, unlike The Dress, is sleeveless, maybe it works as is.) It is, if not as close an approximation as exists on this planet, as close as exists within a short walk of my apartment and in the $30 (CAD) range, for sure.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What punches up must punch down

When I started this blog, I was young. At 20, too old to be a runway model, but young all the same. Young, and in the grand scheme of things, a nobody. I had a column in my college paper, but no sense whatsoever of how to make it in the writing world off-campus, a world that, from what I could tell, seemed to require a mix of a trust fund to bolster unpaid internships and family connections to hire you into them. It just didn't seem worth the bother.

But I did enjoy writing, and would do so almost exclusively on WWPD. Whose audience, as best as I could guess, consisted of relatives; family friends curious about what someone they knew as a toddler was up to; ex-boyfriends curious about what someone they knew a few weeks/months/years ago was up to; and... that's about it. I remember being genuinely surprised when friends - friends! people I hung out with in real life! - would tell me they read my blog. It felt like writing into an abyss. I was very clear (note, again, the imagined audience) that I wasn't going to write anything all that confessional, so I wasn't opening myself up to the sort of thing where suddenly a future employer knows that you, I don't know, who even knows what I would have had to confess at 20, but it probably wouldn't have been all that interesting.

But here's where the abyss sense did enter into it: There are things I wrote earlier - and have sometimes found myself considering writing but deciding against more recently - that come pretty directly out of that sense I had that anything properly published was fair game for a wrong-on-the-internet. I remember mocking a NYT health column in a way that I can't see doing today. Not because I read the column any differently, and not because I've grown wary of criticizing lifestyle writing that I think is actually doing something harmful. (Such as, food writers advocating for unattainable locavore purity.) Just because I had no grievance with the column other than finding it smug.

Part of what's changed is that, having published articles myself, I've come to learn that those who do are not all-powerful entities immune to criticism, living it up on the cash their musings receive. I mean, some may be, but the fact that a thing has appeared in a place far from guarantees it. But the bigger issue is that I now have a different sense of where I fit into this system. That I'm not by definition - brace yourselves for the dreaded expression - punching up if I respond to something that's been published in a legit publication. Certainly not if I respond to it in a legit publication.

Which brings me to Mary Elizabeth Williams's Salon piece about Gawker, found via Noah Berlatsky. What Williams describes happening to her - Gawker repeatedly called her (published) writing hack-like, during a time when she was suffering from a serious form of cancer - is of a different nature than those other Gawker posts that involve revealing a random person's secrets, or teasing someone who put something hilarious on social media that they hadn't particularly meant for the world to see. Some of WIlliams's beef with Gawker - "They went full fury over a friend who wrote a lighthearted Styles piece" - seems a bit... I mean, that is so many miles away from, say, outing someone.

Hamilton Nolan, the Gawker writer in question, is standing his ground. Which... technically yes, published means fair game. If the line were simply set there - no more random "outings," no more combing social media for obliviousness - that would be progress, and putting a firm line anywhere beyond that does seem, as Nolan says, like a bad idea. But maybe the missing piece here isn't one of ethics, just one of good taste, or good sense.