Friday, April 30, 2010

Life's many mysteries

With very nearly the same application (well, two different proposals for different parts of the same project), I didn't get the fellowship that relates more closely to my research, and that I had a good feeling about, but did get the one that only tangentially relates to it, and that seemed like quite a long shot. I'm trying to look for some greater message here, but coming up short.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Today was what might (?) be my last day of teaching French language ever. End of an era.

"[...] fashion still represents a fairly extraordinary diversity of female beauty."

Yes, yes, men saying nasty things about women's looks is offensive. That's all I can agree with in this bizarre Jezebel post. Defending women's right to be taken seriously regardless of physical allure is a noble goal, but doing so by taking up the cause of some of the world's most beautiful women who some guys on the Internet have dared deem not to their liking is not the path I'd take.* "Modeling is just one of the many areas of the fashion industry that does not give much consideration to men and their alleged needs." Here we go! "[Despite fashion-industry unfairness] I have always felt that fashion still represents a fairly extraordinary diversity of female beauty." What what what?

Imagine for a moment if women of this physical type were what men found most attractive. Where would that leave those of us under 5'10", with curves that range from the Gisele sure-let's-call-her-curvy to the curves-that-are-a-euphemism-for-heft? Do we really want to start a campaign for men to appreciate runway models more than they do currently? Is this what we're going to spend our time on?

It's good for straight women that straight men do not by and large want women as bony as runway models. But it's not as though the runway models (who, let's not forget, are paid because people want to see pictures of them) are considered anything but conventionally attractive. What photographs as 'unusual' is some microscopic tilt of the nose or a teensy freckle, but in person, these women are conventionally stunning, and do not (someone correct me if I'm mistaken) want for male attention in the fashion capitals where they spend their time. (As in: if Lara Stone, one of the models the Jezebel poster sees as unconventional-looking, is not the most conventionally-beautiful woman alive today, then we can safely announce that no such thing as conventional beauty exists.) Sure, no one wanted to date them at 14, but the same was true of a lot of us at 14, for reasons that were not all quite so glamorous as 'I was such a string-bean!' translated into the Slavic language of your choice. Men like models, men like good-looking 'real' women, end of story. If anyone's suffering, it's the truly plain. Not the "unconventional" runway models.

What really gets to me about this, though, is the idea that women (girls) who fit the model mold embody a more sophisticated and refined, chic and avant-garde, aesthetic. As though for a man to find a woman who does not resemble an emaciated preadolescent but rather a woman is somehow evidence that his taste runs to the trashy. Or, to cut to the chase: there is nothing honorable about a straight man being unmoved, as it were, by breasts. Not "breasts" in the sense of post-op Heidi Montag, but in the sense of the typical range of adult female appearance.

That fashion defines the vast majority of women's bodies - including women everyone but a model scout would call thin - as inherently unfashionable is a far greater problem than some men having possibly hurt the feelings of a group of young women who (do I repeat myself?) are paid for being beautiful.

*And really, the no-makeup-as-heroism brigade must stop. Let's say men saw the Louis Vuitton ad featuring the barefaced models and exclaimed how fabulous these women looked in their natural state - better, even, than all done up. This is what we expect would raise the self-esteem of ordinary women?


I come from the last of a generation: the generation young enough to have been on Facebook during college, but too old to have been under 21 when the photo function made its appearance. That's something reassuring for those my age and older - if a future employer finds a picture of us with a beer, and the photo is not identifiably from 1998, and the beer hasn't led us to do anything visibly ridiculous, we're in the clear.

The whole reputation-protection aspect to professional life is everywhere, but apparently it's especially everywhere in the world of law.* (See Amber and Isabel Archer's discussion.) This doesn't surprise me - I've met exactly two people ever who insisted upon not consuming alcohol as minors (as opposed to people who didn't drink for religious reasons), and guess which degree program both were headed off to? And my god, the clothes! Forget the law student who sent that quasi-racist email - what about the lawyer who that one time wore dark gray socks rather than navy! Some things just cannot be forgiven.

*Yes, fine, academia is sanitized and professionalized as versus the bad old days, a phenomenon I've both lamented and praised here before. But if any academic who'd ever said, done, or worn anything inappropriate were doomed... Or maybe it's just that we're doomed regardless, so we may as well dress colorfully.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Assorted academia

-OMG I am an underachiever. This woman is like me but infinitely better. As in, I too ran the 400-meter for a Manhattan high school, I too am more than halfway through a humanities PhD program, and yet. And yet! This being Vogue, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be more impressed by her many scholarly achievements or the fact that she's "whiplash fit." But whatever. If Vogue were coming to take a photo of me with my adviser, perhaps I would go running more than the current once-a-week in preparation.

-"Graduate students who assist professors with teaching and research may not seem like typical workers [...]." Hmm. I'm not weighing in here about the pros and cons of unionization, but I'd like to just point out that in my department, the normal situation is to teach a course - as opposed to a section - of your own. You're not assisting anyone. Aside from the quicker pace and the (relative) lack of discipline issues, what I do teaching-wise is no different from what a high school French teacher does. I mean, no, it's not typical-worker as in, there's no assembly line, but last I checked schoolteachers are, for union purposes, considered workers.

-This is absolutely the most pointless thing I've ever read. I'm officially joining the ranks of those who demand a non-ridiculous conservative academia blog, something that does not contain gems like this one: "If its racism when you dislike or disrespect others simply because of their race, what's the term to use when you dislike and disrespect others simply because of their political views? Politicism?" Um, how about the fact that black isn't a choice, while political affiliation is just that? But wait! "Shouldn't [anti-Tea-Partier discrimination] be just as much reviled as racism is? In fact, I submit that politicism is vastly more prevalent in the U.S. than racism and ought to be more reviled." Oh yes, that makes perfect sense.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

WWPD and the revolution

No, it does not surprise me that Park Slope coffee shop patrons are more concerned with getting good coffee in self-righteous packaging than with getting said coffee from a staff treated decently.* I remember quite well how crappily the workers were treated at the Park Slope coffee shop where I worked (not Gorilla) way back when. Our shifts were basically full days without breaks (or with breaks not long enough to get down the falafel from next door that was the food option for those many hours), and ended when they ended, which could mean having to walk home after 1am, having of course not received any tips from that last hour or so because no one comes by for a cappuccino when the place is closed and the machine's getting cleaned out. We were allowed to drink all the regular coffee we wanted (all the better to keep us upright), but not to try the desserts. (We could, if we wanted, purchase them at a discount.) We were nevertheless expected to be able to describe said desserts in a convincing and mouthwatering-inducing way. At any rate, not so great, but nothing newsworthy as worker-oppression goes.

What was remarkable was the smug obliviousness of the customers. Like the woman who came in, asked which products were organic, deemed the response unsatisfactory, and stormed out. The entire concept of the place was geared towards reassuring those who really care about the world, who want a spiritual connection with the soy plant that contributed to their vanilla chai lattes, that even their smallest indulgences are in sync with their values.

*See especially the preference for the small local blah-blah-blah over Starbucks. I fully agree that aesthetically and coffee-taste-wise, many of the much-hyped independent coffee places are superior. But I thought it was common knowledge that if your concern is, say, that the baristas have health insurance, Starbucks is a safer bet. And that products like coffee and chocolate might be more or less fairly produced, but are not "local" if you're consuming them in New York.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Things that would please me greatly

-For an exterminator to visit the basement where my office is located.

-For this shirt to go on sale.

-To be less of a cliché (this after making a market asparagus-and-ramp stirfry and consuming said dish while listening to an NPR podcast).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weekend recap

-Old age hit with a vengeance when I realized that going out Thursday and Friday nights was simply too much for me to handle. Of course, the Saturday exhaustion owed something to my decision on Friday that the best procrastination was not, say, 15 minutes reading fashion blogs, but an 8-mile run. Not sure what I was thinking there.

-In mourning for Bouley croissants, Jo and I went to the Union Square-area Joe, which is no Bouley, but which did have one of those giant Doughnut Plant cinnamon buns, which almost made up for it. Speaking of which, does anyone understand the meaning of the following sentence in the "Gone" sign (see below) at Bouley Bakery? "We enjoyed our relationship and learned more about you as a customer." Does this not come across as though Bouley got to know its customers and decided we kind of suck, and thus are not worthy of their pastry? I defer to the experts in coffee-shop signage, ahem, for help:

It's a nice touch that they think croissant-patrons are interested in the $36 prix-fixe. Jo and I have, I'm not kidding, discussed going to Bouley-the-restaurant, which apparently still exists, with our full loyalty stamp-card from the now-defunct Bakery, and requesting the coffee that is our due.

-Saturday post-Joe was the dachshund festival in Washington Square Park. Some highlights:

A dachshund in a bag!

The elusive blond(e) dachshund.

A non-dachshund intruder provokes curiosity.

This dachshund seriously thought it was a person.

-Just got back from seeing The Misfortunates: Think L'Enfant, but Flemings rather than Walloons. The camera angles were very "Rachel Getting Married"-like, which is to say, nausea-inducing. (Oddly enough, it wasn't the scenes with vomit that did it.) While it was a fine movie, it has the potential to incite anti-Flemitism.

Ramp and asparagus risotto

It's spring! That means the farmers' markets are no longer merely venues for people who believe in the food movement to take arty shots of the one turnip they've found in the whole place, but actually places to buy more than one ingredient, where people looking to shop for groceries might consider bringing their canvas totes. Excitement!

But I wasn't so sure what to do with ramps, which are, along with asparagus, the available vegetable of the moment. I tried the standard chop it up, saute in olive oil, and put on top of pasta, which worked fine, but decided to go for something more ambitious last night: ramp and asparagus risotto. Since it turned out kind of amazing, here's how I went about it:

First, I used this recipe for asparagus risotto to get a sense of proportions, but strayed in several ways. One, I used sticky rice, because that's what I had. Next, rather than chopping and sauteing shallots in butter, I used the white bulbs and reddish stalks of the ramps and heated those in a mix of butter and olive oil. Then, for chicken stock, I did not heat this ahead of time, and used a good amount less than this recipe indicates (I used a 32-oz box of the Whole Foods variety for a little over a cup of uncooked rice). I just kept the box in the fridge, pouring in a bit more whenever it seemed necessary.

Once I'd gotten the mixture to a consistency that seemed like risotto (a mystery, since I'm not sure if I've ever eaten this in a restaurant), I added in chopped ramp leaves, then the chopped (raw) asparagus, along with some lemon juice that I think made absolutely no difference to the final result. When the whole thing was done, I grated and mixed in a mountain of Parmesan. I did add pepper, but it didn't really need salt or ricotta salata. Anyway, highly recommended!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Assorted first-world problems

-I'll be spending the summer in Paris. (Yes, I suffer for my work.) The question: where to live? I have some good word-of-mouth leads for places, but nothing definite. Someone on the H-France list claims that the housing websites others have recommended are in fact scams. Does anyone have non-scam suggestions?

-Tonight, I made the mistake of making and serving the full recipe for this pizza dough for dinner on a day when neither Jo nor I had really had lunch. We might one day be able to get off the respective couches. Might.

-The doorman strike! Yes, yes, hilllarrrious. I would like to bet that 85% of those mocking the frou-frou sorts affected by this development are themselves paying more in rent for East Village/Lower East Side walk-ups, SoHo or Williamsburg lofts, etc. than I am. (Not unrelated: doormen even pre-strike make more than grad students.) Yes, yes, living in a dishwasher-having Manhattan apartment for what was once my lousy-Brooklyn-apartment rent is mostly as good as it sounds. But not when there are changes to the lifestyle to which I've grown accustomed. It's not the door-opening, which I find awkward and unnecessary, but the ability to get deliveries, to throw trash down the chute, and so forth.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Obviously, it tends to work out."

I'm not sure if Prudie's historically accurate here:

"Over the course of human history, it has been the norm that the young couple gets hitched and then figures out afterward what to do in bed. Obviously, it tends to work out."

There were, I remember reading, times in France when the norm among peasants was to reproduce and then perhaps get married after getting pregnant. And that's not even getting into the altogether frequent Golden Age situation of brides but not grooms arriving untouched at their weddings. This still means "the young couple" first fools around post-wedding, but I don't get the sense that this is what Prudie has in mind.

Of course, there's also the matter of "it tends to work out" - "work out" as in the next generation of humanity gets produced whether couples were love matches or arranged, virgins or experienced at the altar? No doubt that's the case. "Work out" as in, the couple grows to at least mildly enjoy (rather than dread, fear, or altogether abandon) the physical aspect of their relationship? Do we have reason to believe this has been the case for most couples in this situation? I ask this not to pit Tradition against modern-day narcissistic libertines who believe you don't really know you're with the right person until you've had hundreds of partners simultaneously and weighed the pros and cons of each. It's that some relationships truly don't work on a physical level, and the fact that part of taking marriage seriously might, I'd imagine, include wanting to sort this out beforehand, to avoid divorce or, worse, divorce once there are kids. This is, at any rate, the Dan Savage line, and I find it convincing.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Limited-edition lunch

Yesterday I finally visited the Canadian delicatessen everyone's been talking about. It's a nice idea, bringing a bit of Jewish Montreal to Brooklyn. And the matzo ball soup was not half bad. I ought to have a review of the famed smoked-meat sandwich. Is it authentic? Succulent? Vegan-convertin' good? Can't say. Note to prospective diners: when you're told it will be an hour till you get a table, you will not be warned of the slim likelihood that you'll actually get to eat the dish you've come for when time comes around. (Yes, the place had just been written up, but the same is true of my beloved Dos Toros, and there you're guaranteed the tacos of your dreams in five minutes or less, $3.75 a piece, compostable cutlery included.)

While I'd read that the signature sandwich came in limited supply, it was very much still mid-lunch time when they ran out. Is the idea that this makes the dish more highly sought-after? Because there was nothing like watching others polish off their sandwiches and knowing one would not be mine.

The whole limited-supply situation/gimmick/whatever-we're-calling-it appears to be very much tied up with the Slow Food-type ethos of the place. Sure, if they were serving industrial meat, they wouldn't have run out. But see, they care about where the food they serve comes from. Which is why there isn't any of it.

My grievance is not even with this particular place, but with the turn in the food movement towards the fetishization of local-seasonal-sustainable. Rather than seeking out a world in which food that's fresh and from-scratch is a given (either just in yuppie establishments or better yet, further afield), these qualities have become selling points through which some restaurants distinguish themselves from the norm. Perhaps this will eventually spill over to a wider array of places, what with the laws of supply and demand. This would be great.

But the trend of appreciating high-quality ingredients above all else has if anything shifted down expectations, making any place that serves fresh food the latest foodie hot-spot. (Witness the trend of "house"-prepared food in restaurants. What are restaurants if not places that prepare food for scratch and then serve that food to customers?) If there's now a greater concern about local and ethical production than there once was, the popular enthusiasm for a place that gets it together to serve non-disgusting ingredients is now so great that one could very well dump the lightly-rinsed contents of a CSA box onto a table in a room decked out entirely in salvaged wood in certain neighborhoods of the city and the lines would wrap around the block.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Here we go again

This round brought to us by Patricia Cohen, in the NYT's Education Life section: "Law students get a diploma in three years. Medical students receive an M.D. in four. But for graduate students in the humanities, it takes, on average, more than nine years to complete a degree. What some of those Ph.D. recipients may not realize is that they could spend another nine years, or more, looking for a tenure-track teaching job at a college or university — without ever finding one."

This, right here, is the problem with all these articles about the futility of getting a doctoral degree in the humanities. Do we imagine that the morbidly obese chainsmoker simply doesn't know that his lifestyle's unhealthy? As in, we, the humanities doctoral students, we know. That one could perhaps locate one of us living under a rock, convinced that he will graduate from Obscure University in three years and then get handed tenure at Harvard along with a 3,000-square-foot wood-paneled office and a team of beautiful and brilliant acolytes of his preferred gender, does not merit this "What some [...] may not realize..." nonsense. We know!

What we don't know is a) how much it matters if we're in a good program and committed to getting out in well under 9.3 years and at well under age 35, and b) what someone with our particular skills/strengths ought to be doing if not pursuing a Ph.D. in what we're passionate about.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The cave paintings that prefigured the Dreyfus Affair

Lots that I thought was specific to 19th century French Jews, or at least representations of 19th C French Jews, is straight out of the 17th C. I learned this last night from Domna Stanton's excellent talk about how "the Jew" was used to define the limits of French identity long before the French Revolution or even the French Enlightenment. What surprised me the most was that the 19th C convert's son whose writings about "the Jew" I just presented on in Arizona must have not only modeled his work on a particular ethnographic tradition dating to the 1600s if not earlier, but described his mission in writing about the Jews in the exact same words as one of these predecessors. As in, Domna Stanton read a quote and I thought, I've heard this before! Sneaky, sneaky Cerfberr de Medelsheim! While I'd up till now been trying to situate Cerfberr's work in various 19th C literary fields - anti-Rothschild writings, nostalgic literature, descriptions of "types," etc. - I now need to see how influenced he was by a much earlier field I hadn't known existed. Is this where he took his inspiration? Or perhaps entire paragraphs? Obviously the significance of Cerfberr's work was specific to the 1840s, as were the tirades against the Rothschilds and others among his Jewish contemporaries. But what I want to know is how many of the exact same passages can be found across how many years of French writing about Jews. Given that our friend Cerfberr gets quoted by Edouard Drumont in the 1880s and even (this was some interesting research) on the occasional white-supremacist website, we could be looking at nearly half a millennium's worth of oh-so-rational tirades against/explanations of Jewish moeurs.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pastrami rubbed the wrong way

Why does this passage rub me the wrong way?

Matt Neal, with his wife, Sheila, opened Neal’s Deli in 2008, a deli “in the urban and European tradition,” where he makes pastrami in a refrigerator-size smoker, serving it with sides like vinegar-softened coleslaw and local beets spiked with horseradish. Still, “We don’t pretend to be a Jewish deli, or a New York deli,” he said. “This is just the kind of good, real food I decided I wanted to eat for lunch every day.”

Maybe it's just post-Palin paranoia, but any opposition of New-York-Jewish on the one hand and "good" and "real" on the other... But more to the point, what exactly makes a deli both "urban" and "European," if not a combination of New York (or, OK, Montreal) and shtetl roots? Yes, of course, Ashkenazi cuisines have roots in other cuisines, but who are we kidding here? I mean, maybe this particular Southern man's preferred lunch happens to be something out of New York Jewish cuisine. Why is that a problem? These things happen - I can't get enough of Dos Toros, a San Franciscan-Mexican establishment, and I'm not remotely Californian or Mexican.

Upon further reflection, it occurs to me that this chef is merely trying not to take credit for replicating a cuisine to which he doesn't believe he's a rightful heir. If so, I'd say he should claim away. I say this because the only cuisine I'm capable of replicating successfully as a home cook is Italian. (Tonight's pizza was most excellent. Note to Matt: sugar in the dough did wonders.)

My real complaint, however, is that I've been meaning to try Mile End every weekend now for a month or so, and every time it gets written up somewhere more prominent than the last, that's an extra half-hour wait for a table.


My local-ish source for Health Department-condemned but best-in-the-city croissants is about to close. I guess Financier's not that bad...

Dissertation proposal as epic

I just checked the departmental handbook to see if it gave a specific page count for the prospectus. Alas: 20 pages plus bibliography. After all kinds of cutting, editing, etc., I'm at 32 and a half. I'd like to think this means, yay, I've basically started writing my dissertation, but on some level, I realize that there are at best 20 good pages in there, once all the repeated ideas (and, on occasion, sentences) and tangents are removed. The good news is that between grant proposals and this last conference paper, if I've learned anything this year it's how to get to the point already, in half a page if necessary. Next up: dissertation proposal as haiku.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Up is down

Cheapness Studies still exists. My latest post is about the oddity of all oddities: a man who wishes his wife would go clothes-shopping already.

Now, off to buy a shirt at the GAP. At no one's behest, I assure.

Arizona recap

I've just gotten back from what I need to stop referring to as my "first grown-up conference." It was, at any rate, my first time presenting a paper somewhere where grad students were in the minority. Thoughts:

-I'm glad I had presented at a mixed grad-prof conference before, so that this time I knew (I hope?) a bit better how one goes about presenting a paper, how one shoots for a reasonable length of paper, and all that.

-Internal departmental workshops are not necessarily any less intimidating than actual conference presentations. Even if you're ostensibly presenting a "work-in-progress," at the former, the turnout may be greater, and everyone there is someone you know, whose opinion of you you already know matters. Whereas at a conference, there may be someone famous giving a parallel session, and you may not know just how important people are among those watching your panel, so you can at least imagine they're people you'll never see again, who were just looking for a panel with a catchy title. I was, at any rate, far more relaxed presenting and answering questions about my work this time around than I have been at workshops. Or maybe I was just prepared from having gone to these workshops in the first place...

-Academia remains drama-free, no illicit affairs, no nothing. That, or I was too tired because of the time difference and last-minute final paper-editing for either Friday night on Mill Street or the Saturday night DJ party at the hotel, and so slept through the only times when I might have witnessed anything racy. I was too tired even to turn on the room's TV, which is, in retrospect, extraordinary, given that I don't have TV at home.

-All told, I think the trip was a success. I met lots of people whose works I've sited in tons of papers, and there they were, in person, seemingly interested in my research! Amazing! Definitely a high point of grad school.

And on a non-academic note:

-I impressed several historians with my research skills... by leading a group of eight to a convenient and delicious Mexican restaurant I'd looked up using the hotel's so-so internet connection.

-Someone at the conference recognized my name because she reads this blog! I was first flattered, then concerned when I remembered how many of my posts are about things like silver clogs and their utter perfection. I am a serious person, I promise!

-Tempe, Arizona, has no humidity whatsoever. I was thirsty constantly, but my hair has never looked better.

-Bloch ballet flats are officially the sturdiest ballet flats ever made. I brought only one pair of shoes, because I didn't feel like checking luggage, and these survived a great deal of desert-suburb walking, while still looking professional (or so I hope) enough for conference-going. Tempted as I was to present in silver clogs, my impulse to pack light won out in the end.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"Excuse me, ma'am, are you going to the Nascar race?"

I'm in Arizona! See linked album for my attempt to see if Tempe is walkable. Verdict: yes and no. I take the fact that someone asked me the question that is this post's title to mean I stuck out less than I have on previous trips to non-NY America.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Suffer for fashion

Often, when a new look becomes popular - either in theory (runways, fashion blogs) or in practice (seen on every last female with disposable income aged 12-22) - it gets thoroughly denounced. Who would wear that outside? The most vitriol seems to be directed at trends that allow the wearer to be especially comfortable: consider leggings*, harem pants, sweatpants, and now, clogs. (North Face fleeces, Uggs, and Crocs fall into a different category: trends that pretty much bypassed Fashion, with the possible exception of Uggs.) The less you have to suffer to wear a given look, the more the hordes of fashion critics denounce the look in question as something ridiculous that will be worn for five minutes than tossed. Stiletto pumps are a 'classic,' as are skinny jeans in a size that requires maintaining a particular weight give or take one pound. But anything that allows for size fluctuations, that doesn't cut off circulation or have a heel with the potential to get caught in a grate and snap off, these are all fashion don'ts.

Let me be clear. I'm not in favor of the George Costanza, I've-given-up approach to dress, or the sheep-like, brand-conscious, fleece-and-snow-boots year-round combo. Nor do I think we all need to blindly follow what designers are doing, or that sweatpants can be chic if they cost $300 but not $10. What I do endorse is finding ways to look stylish that do not involve a) hobbling around, or b) being forced to ponder your waistline on a micro level.** If high fashion provides the inspiration, so be it, but by all means, find a way on your own to make non-painful attire look amazing. You certainly can dress as though you're about to go buy sprouts in Park Slope and then attend a consciousness-raising women's meeting on the Upper West Side, but it's not as though comfort and chic are even close to zero-sum. Lots of perfectly stylish outfits are, when you think about it, as cozy as George's sweatpants. (Any variation of the t-shirt dress. Etc.)

I've tagged this post "gender studies" because, as I've expressed before on multiple occasions, I think the (hetero) world would be a better place if men cared more about their looks (and if women were more open about the fact that physical attraction matters), on the one hand, and on the other, if women were less concerned about their looks (and if men felt less of an obligation to date only women society deems hot). One step in this direction is embracing - rather than mocking - women's fashion that requires thought and effort but not agony.

*Yes, I see that I'm contradicting myself. But perhaps I've just matured since May 2008.
**At some point, I'll have a post called "Against Jeans."

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

I wasn't kidding

It hit me only after tracking them down, deeming them comfortable ("orthopedic" even, allegedly), and exchanging hard-earned kesef for them that I'd been obsessed with silver clogs on and off for years, beginning with when Triple Happiness, a minimalist store on Atlantic Avenue, opened selling nothing but. I'd pass by and think, if only. Not that this excuses it in any way, as though dreaming of a pair of shoes for years implies wearing them for as long. But I am so excited. Thank you, Swedish shoemakers and apathetic-but-competent Upper West Side shoe-sellers!

In other fashion news-that-isn't, Kei and I clearly share one fashion-brain. Exhibit A. Exhibit B. Kei, I hate to break it to you, but you either already own silver clogs or are about to want some.

Monday, April 05, 2010

"Parents don’t send their kids to Yale to sleep with their professors"

Yale's new ban on faculty-undergrad relationships, even if there's no teacher-student or advisor-advisee conflict, (via) strikes me as... I'm not quite sure. Assorted thoughts:

-Sayeth Yale: "Parents don’t send their kids to Yale to sleep with their professors." True enough, I suppose. But do parents send their kids to Yale or any other residential college with the hopes that their offspring will be having sex with people they meet there, even other undergrads? Or that they'll drink underage and whatever else? Sure, it can be a problem in the long run if students make it through college without any romantic attachments along the way, but I sort of assume most parents take an 'I don't want to know about it' stance towards their young-adult children's social lives, especially during that time.

-In terms of potential for disastrous fallout, it might make more sense for colleges to ban students from dating within the same year and major, because these people aren't going anywhere, than to worry about sociology majors dating middle-aged medievalists. When the latter couple splits, they never have to see each other again!

-In terms of parents, mentioning them in this context does, upon further reflection, kind of make sense. It never entered into my head to want to date any of my profs in part because it is my life's goal to make academia the least dramatic place on earth, but also because the very idea struck me as icky, given that these were people paid by my parents to take an interest in me. It's odd, now I don't much think about the fact that students/parents pay and profs/TAs get paid, but as an undergrad, I did, absolutely. It didn't matter that I worked as well - the dynamic created by parental tuition was what it was. Granted, I suppose this only works for students actually in a given prof's class. I didn't have much occasion to meet professors except in that situation, though, so it's hard to say if I'd have found that icky as well.

-A college is not a government. Yes, 22 would be an awfully old age of consent. But organizational rules can and do go above and beyond reasonable laws. If you think of this in terms of titles, as in, you can only date people whom you could call by a first name, then it's clear why profs are out of bounds, but why an 18-year-old in the workforce could date an older colleague. Even if Professor Smith is from a different department, she's still Professor Smith to your roommate, which means it'll be awfully strange if she swings by the dorm.

-Still, I suppose I fail to see the difference between the art student dating the math prof and two people of the equivalent ranks working in entirely unrelated parts of a business getting involved. Is this just about the further infantilization of college students? Perhaps not - according to the Gawker commentariat, mixed-rank dating can also be against the rules at corporations. Apparently it's all about lawsuits. Now it all makes sense.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Fulfilling gender stereotypes, one at a time UPDATED

-I totally want silver clogs! The problem: not so much the price, as that I can't tell a) if they're available, b) if they'd be even at all comfortable, or c) if there'd be a way to return them if not. These things are true not only of these silver clogs, but of all silver clogs on the internet. The clog craze (if not my personal obsession with shiny shoes) will pass before I track these down.

UPDATE: They exist, but questions remain: Are they worth a) a trip to 72nd Street, and b) $90?

-And this striped shirt that they clearly have in my size somewhere in the back, but will only unpack only when I've already lost interest.

-What I don't want: the new toy Apple's now selling. I don't have an iPhone, don't feel I'm missing anything, and definitely don't want to pay up for any object that sounds like it should be made by Always and sold at Duane Reade, especially when there are silver clogs out there somewhere with my name on them. If I were going to spend on technology of any kind, I'd get TV service, which I was seriously considering until the new library opened up in Battery Park City, offering a limitless-ish supply of junky television DVDs. (Never have you known shame until you sign up for a Manhattan library card with a particularly intellectual-seeming librarian, only to use it to borrow the complete Season One of "Two and a Half Men." It had been a long week.)

Friday, April 02, 2010

Quite the Passover I'm having

Ever since I watched Jamie Oliver attribute widespread childhood obesity to the fact that some West Virginia elementary school kids eat pizza for breakfast, I've had this on-and-off craving for pizza. Jo and I had some Two Boots last weekend, but that pizza wasn't quite right. The cheese doesn't taste very high-quality (I know, what was I expecting? and it's not as if I haven't eaten at that chain every two weeks or so whenever I'm in NY since it opened maybe a decade ago), and what's with all the cornmeal? It doesn't help that the giant 'crayfish' sculpture in the window of the Bleecker Street branch greatly resembles that which you half expect will crawl by while you're eating there.

Then today, realizing I had a mere $3 and change in my wallet, I used this as an excuse to get pizza again, this time at a (new?) place on West Broadway, just south of Canal. $3.45 for a slice of glorified 'plain' - oh, Tribeca - but it kind of did the trick, and made the walk to campus that much more invigorating. Still, it left something to be desired, the way that by-the-slice pizza at places shooting for 'gourmet' often does.

So tonight I decided to make pizza dough from scratch, from an Epicurious recipe I'd bookmarked around the time of the Oliver incident but not gotten around to. I followed the instructions, except for leaving out the sugar. I did add some sugar to the sauce, whose other ingredients were a can of crushed tomatoes and half of a yellow onion, plus oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, you get the idea. The mozzarella was 'local' from Whole Foods, while the basil arrived each individual leaf on its own private jet.

To avoid having exactly the same dinner as lunch, I briefly considered different toppings, but then I realized I don't mind this sort of repetition, and just went ahead with it. Sure, the process set off the smoke detector twice, but with a food processor, it's nearly as effortless a dinner as pasta, and so much more fun! Best of all... best of all is a tie between 'there's still some left over' and 'this might have been the round that finally satisfied that craving once and for all.' It'll be a while till I want pizza again, but it's tomorrow's lunch, regardless.

Below, a photo of the second and prettier of the two pies:

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Is this post too sincere for April 1?

A group of fellow NYU PhD students have a newish blog, and one (going here by "Weiner") has just alerted me to his post about intermarriage.

I'll respond: If we're talking about secular-ish Jews in the US today, which I assume we are, my take is simple: You don't know until you know. In the words of the great philosopher Dan Savage, "Every relationship fails, until one doesn't." Many established Jewish-Jewish couples I can think of owe their relationships to the fact that previous relationships that happened to be with non-Jews happened to fail with reasons that had zilch to do with the cultural or religious background of either partner. Conversely, plenty of Jews in mixed couples had previous relationships with Jewish partners that happened not to work out for reasons that did not have a thing to do with Jewish self-hatred or with finding a partner 'too similar'.

What I'm getting at is that in real life, contrary to Portnoy's Complaint, Jews do not conceive of romantic partners entirely with respect to Jewishness or lack thereof. It's not as though there are the Jews who only date Jews, and then this other set who'll only date non-Jews. The very same Jewish person can be attracted at various points to Jewish and non-Jewish people. It's not like true 50-50 bisexuality, which as we all know is highly uncommon. The difference between Jews and non-Jews is not - and I realize this ought to sound more obvious than it does - as great as that between men and women.

But what I'm also saying is that those who happen to end up in Jewish-Jewish marriages, after a string of ultimately unsuccessful relationships with Jewish and non-Jewish partners, should not present a revisionist history of their own experience, as though they were 'all along' going to marry a Jew, that they, unlike the nasty intermarrieds, really care about the Jewish future. Nor, for that matter, should those who happen to end up intermarried declare that they've 'always' been exceptions to the rule among Jews, that they've always been somehow different, more enlightened, less parochial, provincial, blah blah blah.

So, to my fellow non-pious Jews: The person you end up marrying is not an overarching statement about your understanding of the Jewish Question, but a highly contingent eventuality, far more related to how integrated Jews happen to be in your milieu than to your abstract vision for the Jewish future. Do not retroactively attribute political motivations where there were virtually none.

(And... while this could make this post dissertation-length, I'll add that a good number of Jews, Theodor Herzl among them, have on some level thought that it would be convenient if Jews would just disappear through assimilation, and on another level thought that the Jewish future was the most important thing ever. This is what makes it so easy for Jews to retroactively justify their choice of spouse - Jewish or otherwise - in ideological terms.)

Faux amis

This op-ed, unfortunately, makes sense. My main disagreement is with Gary Bass's argument that De Gaulle's notorious remark about Jews being domineering was "not a sentimental stance." Not only a sentimental stance, fine. And perhaps not sentimental at all, because who knows what's in anyone's heart of hearts, but it was any rate, as I understand it, about more than Middle East policy. De Gaulle, the good guy from World War II, was breaking from France's own Jewish population. He called Jews, not Israelis, domineering. International alliances shift, but what matters at least as much is how things play out domestically. (Best summed up in this documentary.)

I'd imagine that many American Jews don't care much either way about US support - rhetorical or financial - to Israel. Some don't give it much thought, and others might even see advantages to less 'special friendship' between the two countries. But many American Jews would nevertheless feel less secure in the US if a real break were made. Particularly if it came in the form of a "domineering"-style pronouncement (which would, agreed, be unlikely, at least coming from the top), or any remarks that conflated Israelis with American Jews.