Friday, May 29, 2009

Oh the misogyny

I just finished Paula Hyman's fantastic Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History. Although this was technically orals-lists reading, it ended up having more immediate relevance: helping to understand why all three of the sample Jewish jokes in a NYMag feature on the End of Jewish humor are less about Jewish self-deprecation than about hatred of Jewish women. As someone who's appreciated much of what the Roth-Allen monster has created over the years, that I should be insulted by it doesn't, for me, disqualify a joke. But these particular jokes are not winners. Joke 1: The Jewish wife would rather let her husband die than give him a blow job. Joke 2: Marginally more clever than the previous. The Jewish husband wishes to extend his wife's jail sentence, so as to get rid of her. Joke 3: Makes the previous two look brilliant. The punch line is that an elderly woman has saggy breasts.

As Hyman explains it (and of course I'm oversimplifying), mid-20th-century anti-Semitism led to Jewish men being perceived of as feminine by the dominant culture. Frustrated by this, they turned on the Jewish woman, who by definition represented both the feminine (understood as a flaw) and the Jewish (given the role, considered admirable in earlier generations, of Jewish women as, in some contexts, guardians against assimilation). So the common explanations for the Portnoy-era Jewish male dislike of Jewish women - no man wants a woman like his mother, or, Jewish women were less likely to meet conventional standards of beauty in a 1960 Connecticut-country-club-type setting - tell part of the story, but the fact that anti-Semitism had a gendered dimension is what actually explains the phenomenon.

What this also explains is how radically different images of 'the Jewess' were at times when Jews had negligible influence on popular culture (or the 'popular culture' equivalent in mid-19th century France) than when Jews - men in particular - have been the main ones providing the representations of Jewish women that are available to the general public. This isn't about 'Jews controlling the media', but about the fact that of those in the entertainment industry, it's only natural that Jews should be writing more often than others about their own group.

Anyhow. It would be interesting to analyze what influence 20th century Jewish male depictions of Jewish women have had on the way non-Jewish writers, filmmakers, etc. portray 'the Jewish woman' in their work. Examples that come to mind: 'The Brothers McMullen', or Gilles by Drieu la Rochelle. One might be a 1990s American movie and the other a 1930s French novel, but in both, the Jewish woman is presented exactly as in the internal-Jewish stereotype. Now, one approach would be to say, Jewish women are just like that, and perceived of as such by men, regardless of their backgrounds. But another possibility is that some non-Jewish men - artists or otherwise - have adopted the clichés Jewish men created of 'the Jewish woman.'

Monday, May 25, 2009

Racists, carbon monoxide, and other unpleasantness

The powers that be clearly, clearly do not want me to ever finish up my last semester of coursework. I'm a few edits away from done with my last term project of grad school, so of course the jury duty gods should pick this as the time to drag me to downtown Brooklyn. Which isn't so bad. What is so bad is the mysterious carbon monoxide presence in my apartment. Dashing firefighters aside, not fun.

There was going to be a weekend roundup of crazy racists reported about in the Times - the segregated prom in Georgia (in which white racists worry about whatever might happen if their pure, innocent daughters - some of whom look remarkably like Vegas showgirls - were permitted to attend a formal dance with black male classmates) and the American Girl Jewish doll that has to have light brown rather than dark brown hair because apparently to give a Jewish doll dark brown hair is akin to posing it hunched over, grasping for a coin with a claw-like hand, so harmful and stereotyping it is to depict an Ashkenazi Jew with the coloring they themselves admit is typical of Ashkenazi Jewry... but that's all the roundup I can muster. People=big racists. My apartment=bad news. Jury duty=at least near some good grocery shopping.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Best search leading to this blog, to date:

'phoebe college wild parties', no-quotes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More running do's and don't's

Do: end your run at Bouley Bakery's new, spacious Tribeca café, the one with mysteriously reasonable prices (and pitchers of iced water and cups just sitting there, for your post-run hydration). But beware the no-lock restroom. A blonde Eastern European woman very near caught me trying to extract the cash I'd brought (to pay for my pain au chocolat) from my running shorts' weird inner pocket. I hope she recovers.

Don't: follow up with a trip to the Whole Foods nearby, where summer fruit has just arrived, and where, in your post-run state, buying a checking-account's worth of plumcots, apricots, and whatever other -cots they're selling seems like a good idea. (I want to swim in a sea of these plumcots, so I suppose I don't totally regret the purchase.)

Do: run from one borough to another - it provides a nice, arbitrary sense of accomplishment without the need to run 26.2 miles.

Don't: take the Brooklyn Bridge. It has two lanes, one for elementary school field trips and slow-moving Northern European tourists, the other for racing bicyclists, and only those two. You can try to create a third lane in the middle, but in vain.

Do: get one of those stupid-looking early 1990s fabric headbands to keep your hair back during the run.

Don't: exit the train besides a woman you recognize from your department but don't know well, but know to be French, and whose French well-dressed-ness makes your 1991-aerobics-instructor look appear all the more ridiculous.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

There are no words... describe the amazingness of these photos. (Wait a moment after clicking on the link for the right page to load. You'll know when it has.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Fitness Flâneur

Recently, an unnamed European and I were discussing how it used to be the case that Americans looked upon Europeans as the epitome of unhealthiness - favoring cigarettes over advances in dentistry, wine over Aspartame, meandering from café to café rather than jogging in place in treadmill... and yet now, Americans look to Europe (and not only France, with its famous Paradox) as the health capital of the developed world. Europe! Where food is always local (except when it isn't), and where no one ever has to worry about weight.

While I mock Europhilia, I share in it to some extent. The great flaw of the American approach to health-consciousness is that it is all-or-nothing: you either Care, or you've Given Up. Once an American admits that he does drink/smoke/eat sugar-coated fried dough, these activities might as well be engaged in as continuously as one's job and need for sleep allow. If we Americans don't go for moderation, it's not because we're gleeful, guiltless over-consumers, but because we believe once the line has been crossed, there's no difference between one glass of wine and eight. That is, until New Years, the unofficial start of a Gwyneth Paltrow-inspired regimen of soy-kale smoothies and over-exercising, one that will last for a week at most, except when it succeeds, culminating in one or another of the various eating disorders. But in most cases, it's back to the couch and the sleeve-having blanket.

This is what struck me about Tara Parker-Pope's "Well" post, which reads like just that sort of New Years Resolution. She intends to get herself from completely out-of-shape to running a marathon in under five months. Although her goal is no doubt realistic, in the sense that someone with legs or equivalent can, history has shown, make it 26-plus miles without vehicular assistance, it's unclear what about the plan is a good idea. (Obviously, people should do what they want, but she's explicitly offering her own choice as a model for others looking to get in shape.) If Parker-Pope's goal is fitness, not a tearful 'I did it!' followed by decades on the couch (a bit like 'training' for one's wedding photos), wouldn't a better approach be to, say, run 2 miles at a time, several times a week, and, if this seems to easy, to keep increasing mileage until reaching a reasonable distance for a near-daily run?

While 'marathon' sounds more noble as a goal than 'Gwyneth Paltrow's thighs', both amount to the same thing: possible with sufficient time/money/obsessiveness, but not worth the bother, and detrimental to the goal of getting from where you're at to a similar but improved place. Which is what I like about Mark Bittman's approach to veganism. (Yes, still starstruck.) He acknowledges that for most of us, swearing off animal products is too radical a move, and so suggests simply cutting back on meat and the like. Along those lines, why not run rather than sit, without claiming that that run will take you some epic length we've arbitrarily decided is worthwhile?

All of this interests me as an on-again, off-again runner myself, a former member in good-enough standing of my high school and middle school track teams, who's in an on-again phase since the end of the semester and of an endless winter, and whose longest run ever was 8 or 9 miles, ending where all runs of that length should. It doesn't exactly qualify me to give fitness advice, but they say anything's better than our current national fitness level, so now, without further ado, the tips! (Not medical advice, obvs, lest some poor soul think an MA in French Studies has anything remotely in common with an MD, or confuses me with one of the many Drs. Maltz.)

-A big iced coffee before, a big iced coffee (pastry optional) after. This is key.

-All that advice to run on soft surfaces? Forget it. Soft surfaces are more tiring to run on, and, more importantly, tend to be more boring to run on, because they tend not to correlate with window-shopping, people-watching, and other activities cherished by the fitness flâneur. Whatever marginal benefit on your knees running through a great open field might have, the boredom of running through a great open field surely cancels out.

-However interesting your surroundings (and you want interesting, but not, as I learned today the hard way, a Canal Street level of congestion), you will need a good podcast, preferably one that goes a good hour, but if you're not one of those crazed runners who refuses to stop for two seconds because that will ruin who knows what, you can always stop or slow down a moment to move to a new one. I highly recommend the Savage Love podcast, and guarantee that you will not be thinking about running while a caller is defending pig fetishes or whatever the one I just listened to was about.

-For those who think of running as a time for quiet contemplation in nature, not cable TV if at the gym or podcasts and urban life if outside, you are people I fundamentally don't understand, at least on this issue. Quiet contemplation of paper topics and whatnot is for the shower after the run. The run itself is about not thinking about the run, which is what you will be thinking about if running alone, podcast-free, through an open field.

-Accept that running will not make you lose weight, and may well do the opposite. Just as they say that living in France makes Americans lose weight, yet I spent three months in Paris and left the heaviest I'd ever been thanks to flan with a side order of flan, I have found that running makes food more appealing, and causes me to eat more of it. Running will get your body more 'fit' (whatever that means - varies person to person), and is, within reason, good for your health, but it is primarily a socially-acceptable way to take time off from more productive activities. Accept that, and enjoy.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Is this friendship worth salvaging?"

Lucinda Rosenfeld's friendship advice column looks promising. The tagline: "Boys are easy. Friendships are hard." An oversimplification, but not untrue.

The first letter to the column ends with the question that on some level underlies all that will be sent in in the future: "Is this friendship worth salvaging?" My first thought when seeing that question was that there's really no route to take if it does not. This was something I hoped Rosenfeld's answer would address, but alas, no such luck. What if a friendship isn't worth salvaging? Need this ever be put into words?

The main reason one must end a romantic relationship, firmly and definitively, rather than allow for a drift-apart-over-time, is that one and eventually both parties will want the option of exclusive, romantic relationships with other people. The dumped party knows this, so even if the dumping isn't directly for another person, it's for the idea of other people, which is enough to cause not only hurt but jealousy, and whatever other neuroses apply in that situation.

Since one lousy friendship doesn't prevent other, more solid ones from forming, the obvious answer should be, when a friendship isn't working out, to just see that one friend less and the more appealing ones more. After enough unreturned calls, enough bumping-into's ending abruptly in the phrase, 'We'll do coffee,' and what may have once been a close friendship dies its quiet death, with no assumption that anything but civility will ensue, should the ex-friends find themselves in a room together (office, party) at some point in the future.

And this does, in a sense, work. Outside the realm of Sex and the City, people tend not to be as passionate about their friendships as they are about their romantic ones - in part on account of having more friends than serious beaus at any given time, but also because of hormones and whatnot. While a 'dumped' friend may occasionally stop to think, 'It's been ages since I've seen X,' or, 'Hasn't X been flaky lately?', rejection is far more likely to be met with likewise than with tearful pleading to return to a BFFdom that is no more.

But the ignoring method is, well, rude. The need to free up both parties to date others isn't the only reason romantic ties must be cut in such a way that both exes know they are exes. It seems like the right thing to do is to be upfront, within reason, about when you genuinely don't have time to meet for drinks, and when that's simply not where you want your time to go. Or not. Who knows.

So basically, if this column is to be all I imagine it to be, it will have to address not only what to say to a friend when she does X, but also how to start and end friendships respectfully.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Worst use ever of "empowering" in reference to women

The NYT Style section reports on "a new fad" in wedding photography: "intimate photographs of the bride." I am hoping this is one of those "fads" that exist only in the mind of the journalist looking for something, anything, to fill a word-count with, because...

-Aren't 'intimate photographs' to be taken either by one lover of the other, or by one's self and then handed over to the intended party? Isn't that what makes the images 'intimate'? Wouldn't bringing in a third party (except in cases of 'bringing in a third party') kind of ruin the point?

-Why no intimate shots of the groom? No, not all shirtless men look like this, but nor do all women in lingerie look like Victoria's Secret models, and yet sexual attraction among mere mortals persists. Assuming a given marriage is based at least in part on mutual lust, why is this supposed to be something a husband would want to see, but not a wife?

-"[...] playful shots of a bride, wearing, say, nothing but her fiancé’s favorite sports jersey [...]"

Can people be more clichéd?

And, the bit that speaks for itself:

-"Much of the appeal of the boudoir sessions, [wedding photog] Ms. Swales said, is that the brides want pictures of themselves in the best shape of their lives after the pre-wedding regimens of dieting and exercise. 'It’s empowering for these women,' she said."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ghent is a terrible place to go vegetarian

Mark Bittman's coverage of Ghent and vegetarianism reminded me of my own trip to Ghent, and that the main attraction in that town is an image of a lamb, one whose religious significance I don't fully grasp, but that looked, to a suggestible non-Catholic non-vegetarian such as myself, mighty tasty.

Silly French word of the day

Lepénisation: the influence of far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. Sounds just as silly in French as in English, or would, if it didn't mean the resurgence of quasi-fascism. Although I suppose the double-entendre works in the sense of France being screwed when this man gains power, and less so when he does not.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


-People who use Facebook to promote their (presumably mediocre, but I've never bothered to find out) bands, inviting everyone they ever said hello to in high school to their band's every show: Seriously people. Not that you care, dear musically-inclined acquaintances from high school, but defriending may ensue.

-People who use Evite RSVPs to self-promote: It's already unfortunate that we the (potential) guests must know who is, isn't, or might be coming to a party before the event. But is it really necessary to know that Person A can't come because she has five other parties to attend the same night, or that Person B's job is so important that he has to work Saturday nights, making him a "Maybe"? Or Person C, whose fiancé is in town, or Person D, who will be at Cannes.... It's always something glamorous. No one ever says "Maybe" because "I'm kind of excited about what just arrived on Netflix." Even when you know that's what's behind 99% of Maybes and Nos.

-Token Non-E gripe: My apartment, after a pre-summer preventative extermination, smells horribly of that which is meant to kill any would-be exoskeletal residents. The window's open, the fan is on, and I still think working at home today might not have been the best idea. If there aren't any more posts here, it will be because I'm on my back with my legs and antennae in the air.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bittman, Zola, and the "myths" of slimness (3 unrelated items)

-After Anne Hathaway, I was sure it would be downhill for some time as far as celebrity sightings are concerned. But no! On our way to dinner, Jo and I spotted none other than Mark Bittman, near NYU, which was super exciting. I was starstruck, as Jo can attest, all the way to the falafel place, where everything we ate was vegan, and after 6PM, at that. Bittman would have been so proud. (Granted everything I ate - eggplant, falafel - was fried and drenched in tehina, but to my knowledge, no cows were harmed.)

-In what counts as a busman's study-break if there ever was one: "Au Bonheur des Dames", a movie based on the Zola novel of the same name. It felt so wrong going out on a school night, during finals at that, but this seemed too good to miss. Still, much as I love the book from which the movie was "inspiré", I think to enjoy silent films, you have to be a more sophisticated person than my Apatow-appreciating self, or to live at a time when Apatow was not an option. But the movie must have made some impression, because I woke up to quite the anxiety dream about a paper I'd just turned in (in awake-life) on a different but related Zola novel.

-Today is catch-up-on-email-and-practical-things day, so, though tempted, I will refrain from a full-on take-down of "6 myths about slim people", brought to me by an angry commenter to my post about the utter nonsense that is the expression "naturally thin." (Unsurprisingly, those who take pride in identifying as "naturally thin" are not pleased.)

My favorite of the slimness "myths": "Life is easier for thin people." Will someone explain to me in what way, shape, or form that's a myth, and not merely a blunt way of pointing out that the overweight are discriminated against in our society? And the author of the article really couldn't come up with a better example of someone who's "genetically thin" than a friend of hers who's an "exercise enthusiast"? Really? But whatever. At least some people understood what that post was getting at, and I appreciate it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Not under my roof

-How much do college students 'owe' parents who pay (some or all of) their tuition, room, and board, in terms of acting in accordance with their rules/principles/values/hopes (on issues including but not limited to: what to major in, whether to drink, under what circumstances if any to have sex, whether to go to church, and whether to live in a coed dorm room), even when not literally under their roof? Because that's what parents say, right? 'Not under my roof.' How far does this metaphorical roof extend? PG and I began discussing this in the comments to my post about roommates, and I'd like to continue the discussion in the comments here.

-Related question: why are college programs for students not just out of high school referred to as for "adults"? What does that make 18-22-year-olds? Less mature on average than 35-year-olds married with jobs and kids, fine, but are undergrads children? (No snide comments from grad students, please.)

-Hmm. A commenter claims that Birthright Israel trip leader Momo's promise to pay for the Israeli honeymoon of any couple that meets on one of his trips went unfulfilled. Anyone know anything about this?

-Know how I failed my first driving test? Today was my first lesson after the unfortunate day, and turning the car has started to seem slightly, but slightly, less daunting. After failing the test, I started thinking about my ability to turn corners as a pedestrian. And - as Jo, who's watched me do this, prompted to look for skill or lack thereof, can confirm - I am hopeless at that as well, always overshooting the mark, getting squeezed out of my lane, swerving when utterly sober. If one needed a Walker's License to navigate crowded New York sidewalks, I'd have failed that one as well. Of course, a small woman walking around in ballet flats cannot, like a car, inflict damage by jerking in the wrong direction. That said, I do have hope about the driving, and think it might well exceed the walking, because my main issue as a pedestrian is that 85% of humanity (99.99% in Belgium) is taller and just generally bigger than I am, and can't see me coming, making cars something of an equalizer. Not that it felt like that today in Chinatown, surrounded on all sides by trucks, one of which was, according to the sign, filled with Scandinavian fish. But in normal traffic situations, there is hope.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I'm in love

My eternal quest for the perfect dachshund, led me, indirectly, to the blog of a woman who appears to be an interior designer from the South, whose life is, as I imagine it, a real-life incarnation of the show I watched most during high school. But rather than having a pet pig, ala Suzanne Sugarbaker, she has the absolute cutest dachshund in the history of dachshunds. My escapist fantasy of the moment is that I am no longer a grad student living in a tiny Brooklyn apartment, but instead able to read and write about French Jews and whatnot from somewhere that looks exactly like this.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Against college room-sharing

A scandal has erupted because the mother of a Stanford student (herself bearing degrees from Yale and Harvard, no less) wrote an article in the National Review about how her daughter had been placed, against her will, in a coed living situation. Not a suite, but a dorm room, just one room, with boys. Lo and behold, turns out the young woman, a senior, was happy to be in a coed dorm room, was not placed in one at the whim of Stanfordian PC police, and wants nothing more than for her mother to leave well enough alone:

"This conflict has very little to do with Stanford and gender-neutral housing. Is has everything to do with my parents having a hard time adjusting to the fact that I’m out of the house (I’m the oldest), I’m 3,000 miles away, and -especially- that I’m a liberal agnostic while they are conservative Catholics."

This is an expression I never use, but here it seems about right: Oy.

But you know what? While I feel for the Stanford student now forced to take out loans because her mother's stubbornness overrides her desire for her daughter to get a degree that will help her immeasurably later in life, I don't think putting men and women (or girls and boys - what does one call college students?) in the same rooms is the best idea. I also don't think same-sex room-sharing with strangers who just happen to attend the same college is advisable.

The way out of the gender-neutral housing mess, the one thing that would successfully address the fact that for a not insignificant part of the population, sharing a room with someone of the same sex is in fact the more erotic alternative, while also addressing the fact that most people are straight and not blasé enough to share a room with a member of the opposite sex with no weirdness, would be to challenge the notion that college students must share rooms, period.

After all, why, when space is not an issue, is there the expectation that starting college means sharing a room with a complete stranger? (And is it ever really about space? As anyone who's lived in a typical New York apartment knows, a 'bedroom' need only be a bed with walls around it and enough space to climb in.) I want answers.

If I had to guess, schools' prefer shared rooms over, say, suites, for the same reason as our nation's high school students have to play team sports: It Builds Character. Just as a child who grows up with his own room is often assumed spoiled, a college student wishing to live alone his first year of college is presumed to think that he, a child, deserves to be treated like a king. That, or it's assumed he either has strange personal habits or trouble making friends, choosing a single room so as to avoid all human interaction.

It also, I'm guessing, comes back to this idea of selective colleges as Utopian, intentionally-planned Communities, in which every last student is There For a Reason, hand-picked for his special qualities. On the micro level, this means each roommate situation is imagined not only to involve two or more (but not too many more - it's not an orphanage or a military) members of the Select, but also to be its own intentional community, the street-smart kid from the Bronx and the corn-fed Nebraskan, shoved into a tiny space, learning to Expand Their Horizons. Once grown, these two men will help each other get high-powered jobs, and will be grateful to their alma mater for introducing them to their Best Friend for Life.

And sometimes, that's just how it works. But often, the mere fact that Roommate A's college process brought him to the same place as Roommate B, that their grades and SAT scores were comparable, does not mean the two appreciate sleeping and dressing in the same room. There's a reason most room-sharing occurs between people presumed not just to tolerate but, on some level at least, to love each other - siblings, lovers, spouses. Without that bond, room-sharing is often not the most pleasant of experiences.

Often, the pairings, however well thought out, do not go as planned. The gay roommate meant to teach Life Lessons to someone well-meaning but ignorant gets placed with someone who turns out to be an unrepentant homophobe. (This happens.) The Jew meant to enlighten by her very presence a roommate who'd never met one might turn out to be a disappointment when it's revealed that she fails to live up to stereotypes. (Um. Yes, this too.)

Oh, and the forms students fill out specifying their 'lifestyle preferences' - morning person or not, loud music or not, partying or not - are based on the way adults whose lifestyles are relatively stable choose apartment-mates, but are all but pointless for 17-year-olds yet to live on their own. The National Review-writing Stanford mother wrote with obvious pride that her daughter had "said she wanted a room with no smoking and no sex in the room," as though any college student would tell a parent they'd requested otherwise. But parents aside, who wouldn't want a sex-free room, in the sense of one roommate's sex not happening while the other roommate's two feet away? In fact, I'm not sure at all what a sex-free room even means - assuming the roommates have different beds, what would it matter what happened when one of the roommates was out? The 'no sex room' seems like a way students, when requesting housing, can assure their parents they'll be 'good'. And while a senior requesting a non-smoking room seems reasonable, this question is also asked of entering freshmen, for whom it is not. The chances a freshman-year roommate will start smoking - tobacco or otherwise - in the course of his first year not living at home; even those who were at a pack a day at 15 may have filled the forms out with their parents looking over their shoulder, and may not have been honest in their box-checking. The proximity meant to discourage weird habits, unhealthy habits, and freshman-year sexual activity leads only to roommates witnessing whichever proclivities apply, because for each of the roommates, this is their only personal space on campus.

What all of this ends up meaning is that college bureaucracies have to busy themselves with a roommate version of "Can this Marriage Be Saved?," shuffling students mid-semester to fix everything from 'I just don't like him' to the creepy and criminal. With single rooms, in suites or monastic dorm-rooms, the administration would not have to deal with the inevitable flow of students who simply can't live with their assigned Best Friends For Life.

Ah, one might say, but to capitulate to that demand with single rooms would spoil the undergrads. To which I will respond: and the fancier-than-possibly-necessary gyms, complete with cable TV and lounges, dining halls with more options than many medium-sized American towns, do not? There are endless ways colleges could encourage students to escape the proverbial suburban coddling that do not involve altogether denying students small rooms in which to sleep and do their homework - and whatever else - in peace.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Thoughts of the moment

-It's a library, people! I will come at you soon with my Duane Reade umbrella if it doesn't stop soon. (I kid. But please, stop.)

-Anne Hathaway, star of the nausea-inducing but chic-haircut-inspiring film, "Rachel Getting Married," spotted yesterday in that no man's land between the East Village and the Lower East Side. Looks quite like me (including the frightening pallor) but taller, better, which is reasonable, considering that she's a movie star and I'm a backpack-wielding grad student. (Incidentally, a friend of mine named Rachel is soon to wed, and I cannot refer to this event without that movie's title coming to mind.)

-Wish you were thinner and more productive? So does Judith Warner. So does everyone. Thus the appeal in this day and age of drugs that increase productivity while decreasing appetite. You know what also increases productivity while decreasing appetite? A giant and perhaps too strong iced coffee and a raspberry muffin. Highly recommended.

-Who are these people, and how did they come to be so fabulous? Zana Bayne, whoever you are, you are also American? Around my age, yes? How did this world of minimalist Berliners (or is that the pastry?) come to be your life?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

And he's smart, too!

Yay! Jo just passed his candidacy exam! It's all over the blogosphere! As preparation yesterday, I thought I should ask him some physics-related questions, but all I could come up with was that there is an inclined plane, and a ball rolls down it, and friction and, gosh, who knows. But anyway, congrats!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Another blog post by a New York Jew

Reading Belle's post about the latest in women-shop-the-recession lifestyle articles, I was reminded of this video tour of a sample sale from New York Magazine, in which fashion reporter Aja Mangum has this to say of a decent if uninteresting handbag: "$525. Now it's, like, $125. You could actually, like, buy this in different colors, they're so cheap." Which they aren't, really, but which they are compared with the dresses shown earlier in the clip. Mangum urges us to buy trendy clothes that were once in the four-figures and now 'merely' three, even items we sort of know you'll never wear, because OMG discount! When confronted with a "dress that was $1,325 is now $129.90," a discount of over $1,000, buy up!

Which is truly terrible advice. Sample sales - sales generally - can be fun, but the first rule of them is not to go if you swoon every time you see a tag 'proving' an item once cost five times its 'sale' amount.

Expert advice below*:

1) You don't really know that Item X ever went for the alleged retail price. Or maybe it did, but for five minutes. (See: Banana Republic.) Or maybe there's as much truth to the 'original' price as there is to the 'designer' labels on consignment clothes. The question you ask yourself at the sale should be whether an item is worth the amount for which it's being sold, not the amount once (allegedly) asked. There's often a good reason the asking price is asked no more. But even for items clearly worth $100 ('worth' defined as, looks like the kind of thing that would go for $100, not as in, should cost $100) going for $5 a pop, remember that you are not earning $95 through your purchase, but rather spending $5 that could have otherwise gone to a bagel and a mocha, say, or a beer, or whatever other carb-filled alternative comes to mind. Face it - you're going to wear the once-overpriced delicate-knit cotton t-shirt, not sell it immediately. And once worn, no t-shirt is worth $100, so attempting a resell once your shirt has mocha and beer all over it - which it will, in time - is basically out of the question.

2) Be careful with 'quality.' That an item is expensive, or was once expensive, is no guarantee that it will in fact 'last for years.' Nor do you know, when buying a dress or jeans, that you'll even want the thing years later - when I went nuts buying girls' t-shirts at the Paris Petit Bateau back in 2003, I didn't do so in order to still wear them today, but lo and behold... Whereas what a mistake - the dust layer is now about as thick as that shoe's sole. Where you should consider quality is in the opposite direction - a pair of clearly one-wear earrings at Topshop, $30? Reconsider.

3) Choose brand loyalty (not to be confused with label whority): The best sale is one on items like one(s) you already have and wear all the time. Which means it pays to get off the high horse of 'oh, but I don't want to be that girl who pledges allegiance to J.Crew.' The best guarantee that you'll wear something time and again, and that it's not on the verge of falling apart, is past experience.

* If I were to start (another) group blog, it would be called Cheapness Studies, and would feature strategies of how to not spend any money, ever. Although I fear I'd be readily outdone.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Another novel about New York Jews

Disclaimer: Of all the possible uses of my non-orals-related reading time, I can't say a novel about 20-something Jewish college graduates of a Midwestern liberal arts school who've resettled in Brooklyn is high on my list, simply because no navel is that fascinating. So, this post is about the review of a novel I have not read and don't plan to. But the book itself doesn't really enter into it.


There's something about Liesl Schillinger's review of Joanna Smith ­Rakoff's "A Fortunate Age" that I find a bit strange. In the text version, Schillinger laments the absence of gays among the main characters; in the accompanying podcast, she does the same re: the lack of non-Jewish ones. While I agree with her that it's unlikely a group of Oberlin-to-Williamsburg friends would include neither gays nor gentiles, a novel about a group of friends is just that, a novel about a group of friends, not a perfectly representative cross-section of a segment of society. While my own straight, Jewish post-college existence probably includes more non-straights and non-Jews than vice versa, I don't find it so hard to believe things might arrange themselves otherwise, whether out of intentional insularity or things just falling as they did.

But what I can't tell is if Schillinger's critique is a pro-realism one - that such a group would not exist - or a moral one, that such a group should not be put into a novel In This Day And Age, particularly one selling itself as a modern-day version of one nearly a half-century older. In the podcast review, Schillinger suggests that Rakoff's choice to go the all-Jew route was either for political reasons or because an all-Jewish environment what she (Rakoff) knew. It seems to me that if Schillinger is willing to consider the latter, Rakoff can hardly be accused of painting an unrealistic portrait of the demographics of the social circle in her novel. The monotonous copying of details of one's own life into novel form might be tiresome, but it still counts as a realistic portrait of Life Today. But if Rakoff were making a political statement by making her novel all-Jewish and all-straight, what statement might that be? Is there a Hetero-Judaic Power Movement? No one's invited me to the meetings. I mean by this, if it's not clear, that one could perhaps accuse the novelist of failing to think beyond the obvious in her choice of making characters members of one marginalized group but not another, but not, it seems to me, of motives more involved than that.

My sense is that Schillinger is the one making a political statement. Or, if not a political statement, a politically-charged aesthetic one. An all-straight-and-Jewish novel is by definition provincial, I think is what she's getting at. But is diversity, in the college-admissions sense of a utopian community with representatives of each possible, recognized group, needed for a novel to be interesting? I mean, maybe Rakoff's novel is as dull as Schillinger seems to be implying. But would the addition of some gay ex-Mormons (or ex-gay Mormons) have made all the difference?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Multiple fashion personality

It occurred to me, when thinking about how I shop, that it never comes down to something as simple as, 'Oh, that's cute.' Nor, however, do I try to match the potential clothing with already-owned items, as in, 'this shirt would go with those pants.' I mean, I do that, but it's a bit more involved. I have several visions for what the perfect outfit would be, which are explained, in more detail than needed, below. While in practice, I mix and match according to what's clean and on the top of the pile/drawer, in theory, each time I leave the apartment, it's as one of the following. In no particular order:

1) The Swiss or Northern Italian tourist, from back when European tourists weren't everywhere. She's upper-upper-class, heiress to a mozzarella fortune. Her look is a bit Upper East Side matron, but distinctively European. (No yoga pants or puffy white sneakers.) For this look, I wear white jeans, my green plaid fleece jacket, my (mother's) dark-red elbow-patch blazer, my new flats from the Repetto sample sale (these, but dark brown leather, not blue suede). Items I do not own, but that would fit with this look: a dark green or navy quilted light jacket, a thin tortoise-shell headband.

2) The Marais denizen circa 2003: There was this one street in the Marais, when I studied in Paris way back when, where the color scheme in all the glowingly unaffordable boutique windows was black-gray-neon. Everything was black or gray, mostly black, but with neon-pink, usually, accessories. It made quite the impact: for this look, I wear my H&M (circa 2004) motorcycle jacket (black fabric, not leather) with black or gray pants, zipper-in-front-and-back black leather mini-boots (more boot than bootie, but between the two), hot-pink or bright-blue nails, and my Uniqlo neon-pink jersey scarf. I love the color pink, but am very particular about which shades. (For this look, think Zana Bayne, but with occasional flashes of neon-pink, -blue, or -purple.) And silver-colored jewelry, if any. Of all the looks, this is probably my favorite.

3) The glamorous Woman. Meaning: the pencil skirts, the turtleneck dresses, red nails, black leather boots (the tall ones without weird zippers), and avoiding wearing The Backpack, a huge, fast-disintegrating relic of Eastern Mountain Sports circa 2005, typically filled with library books and papers, half of which I didn't really need to bring to campus. Tights (better yet, Spanx), not leggings.

4) The Minimalist (Mark Bittman, don't sue me): jeans, white t-shirts or tank tops, black t-shirts or tank tops, gray t-shirts or tank tops, and ballet flats or boots, depending the season. This is how I actually dress, 80% of the time.

5) The 2009 conformist: What can I say? I like some of today's trends. Not all, but some. For this category: black leggings (which I wear, yes, but not as pants), my Uniqlo plaid flannel shirt. What I used to wear of this look, but either thought better of or lost track of: gray skinny jeans (realized they were a bit too low-rise, so, so much for that), black-framed St. Marks Place wayfarer sunglasses (congrats to whomever ran off with that $6 pair two summers ago; or, I lost them).

6) The space-age lunatic: This is where Shiny trumps all. In this category: my silver Pumas, my space-age dark blue Japanese Pumas (the one good thing to come of all my visits over the years to Barneys Warehouse Sales - they're probably six years old and still amazing), the silver lamé leggings I wore exactly once, the shiny silver leggings I've worn slightly more than once, silver-glitter nail polish, silver-colored... you get the idea.

7) The High JAP: You know how there's High Femme? Why can't there also be High JAP? If money were no issue, I'm not totally sure I wouldn't get the occasional French manicure and Japanese hair-straightening treatment. However, I'm hard-pressed to think of anything I currently own/do that fits this mold. (Using a hair iron on a DIY haircut doesn't count.)

8) The looks I like but never follow through with: These include: Mod, Japanese pop star, gigantic-pants-wearing Tel-Avivian (and again), and many more I'm now forgetting.

So, um, is this weird?