Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Uptight hippies

After my fabulous containers finally arrived from The Container Store, I headed over to check out the Park Slope Food Co-op. I told the woman at the checkout that I was thinking of becoming a member and wanted to take a look at the place. She told me to speak to a different woman, who was the squad leader or something like that. So I told the squad leader that I was thinking of becoming a member and wanted to take a look at the place. She told me to come back for one of the tours. I said that a tour wouldn't be necessary, I just wanted to look around for a minute and then leave. Apparently that's not permitted. Not only is it members-only for shopping, but it's also members-only for entering, unless a shopper-worker is around to chaperone. Yikes!

Not far from this Co-op, one can purchase a slice of best-in-the-city Joe's Pizza and a crisp can of diet Coke for $3, no membership necessary.

I tried, in vain, to figure out the rationale behind the members-only-may-enter rule. Aren't hippies and hippie-sympathizers supposed to be laid-back? One guess was that they're worried about shoplifting. But aren't all supermarkets worried about this? Another was that the Co-op is trying to maintain an exclusive environment, one not unlike tiny liberal-arts colleges in the middle of nowhere where an egalatarian feel and anti-materialist, anti-bourgeois sentiment abounds, but where the joys of communal life are nevertheless restricted to a privileged few. After all, hippies, like all other subcultures, want to be surrounded by their own kind, and random newcomers to the neighborhood looking for a good local supermarket might not fit the profile.

My best guess, though, is that the rationale is unknowable. As in a foreign country, where the rules contradict everything one has ever known and thus appear illogical (Why do Parisian bakeries make such a fuss about receiving correct change?), the Park Slope Food Co-op operates on a system entirely incomprehensible to those on the outside. I came to the Co-op to learn if being on the inside was something I'd be interested in pursuing, but I think the idea is, if you have to ask, you don't belong.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Best sentence ever

"Last September, Christian had to be treated at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in nearby Denver, where world-class asthma specialists help children and their families get and keep asthma under control."--Jane Brody, bringing "think Yiddish, act British" to the NYT-reading masses.

Extended childhood

What is the world coming to? Everything is upside down. Working in retail at Crate and Barrel is considered an internship, as is being a doorman on the Upper East Side. Jeans cost upwards of $200. These two seemingly unrelated trends strike me as being somehow connected. What the "how" is in this "somehow" I am not sure, but I think it has something to do with extended childhood. Educated people work for nothing or next to it till their thirties and dress like teenagers (not to mention care about such things as designer jeans) well past middle age.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Babies having babies

Who knew? A legally-married couple in the U.S. may nevertheless be committing statutory rape with each other. The Times story, about a 14-year-old girl married to a 22-year-old man, will not help New Yorkers think more highly of Kansas: "For now, Mr. Koso, out on $5,000 bond, sits in the basement of his parents' home, where the walls are papered with the pink-and-purple, heart-filled love notes that his wife, a ninth-grader, scribbled on notebook paper in class." Aww.

The world is a big place, and I'm sure that somewhere there is a 14-year-old, or even a 12-year-old, at least as prepared to get married as the typical adult. It can't be all that common, and are we as a society ready to protect that minority? It seems in some cases we are, although parental consent seems a poor indication that a 12-year-old is truly old enough to get married.

The obvious question: Why would this couple have been allowed to get married in the first place, while same-sex couples nationwide do not have that right? It would be interesting if things go further, with half the states permitting same-sex marriage but banning all marriages between minors, and the other states permitting minors to marry with parental consent but banning same-sex marriage. At 7 PM, half the states would get "Will and Grace" and the other half "7th Heaven." What some find icky others find perfectly acceptable, or even admirable ("better married gays than promiscuous gays" vs. "better a pregnant 13-year-old with a husband than a pregnant 13-year-old alone").

While I'd personally like to see gay marriage legalized and 14-year-olds untouched by skanky grown-ups, why does what I find icky matter? The best answer I can give is this: Let's say a certain number of things are ambiguously icky, meaning that some find them icky and others do not. Assume a certain number of these things will be outlawed through reasonable, constitutionally-acceptable measures. Now assume some of the things involve minors and others do not. Why not outlaw the ambiguously icky things that involve minors and keep the icky things involving adults legal?

OK, that made no sense, but think of it this way: Let's say a 30-year-old man married a 12-year-old boy, and that this marriage was consummated. Which aspect of the relationship would be more upsetting--the child-molestation element, or the fact that both parties were male?

My 15 minutes of near-fame

A week or so ago, the "Today Show" contacted me, via email and then via phone, and asked me if I wanted to be on a segment about "girl crushes." They'd apparently read my post on the phenomenon and wanted me to appear on the show and provide a young, non-VH1 perspective on straight girls who like girls. Well, I'd almost forgotten about this, but I just emailed the producer to see what was happening, and lo and behold I see that the segment has already aired. I think the producer was put off when I told her I'd never been on television before. She asked, and I suppose I should have mentioned my appearance in a movie by "Beauty and the Geek"'s Joe Hanson, but I wasn't thinking nearly that quickly, so I gave a lame, lame answer: "No." She assured me that my television inexperience didn't matter, but I could tell that it was at that point in the conversation that interest was lost.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Queer Eye-themed weekend

So I was helping my boyfriend walk the dogs he was dog-sitting yesterday, and just as he's picking up after one of them, I look across the street and see Kyan, the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" grooming expert. Right there in Chelsea! I'm not making this up.

Then today, we saw "Grizzly Man." My first thought was, what's Carson doing, living with bears (and not, say, "bears")? My second thought, once the Warner Herzog narration began, was that the whole thing might just be a long-lost Monty Python movie. Why bears? Why did so many (at least three) women go for Timothy Treadwell, a man who not only looked and acted just like the most flamboyant member of the "Queer Eye" team, but who chose to live with (and talk baby-talk to) dangerous wild animals? I will answer my own question: Many say, when asked why even the most ridiculous people inspire romantic interest, that there's someone for everyone. In fact, there are several people for everyone. That--and not a special lure of violence--explains why even serial killers get married. Did women like the combination of toughness and sensitivity? The golden locks? More likely, it's just that everyone--bear-crazed lunatics included--has his share of admirers.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Overheard by my mother, on the crosstown bus:

Woman, speaking loudly into her cellphone: "What time is happy hour?" Pause. "And what do you look like?"

OK, so maybe my pro-cellphone-on-public-transportation stance should change. Yet maybe it shouldn't. I love overhearing things like this while on the bus. I mean, sometimes I remember to have a really captivating book, but other times--and especially now, since running in the rain and thus ruining my discman--other people's chatter is all I've got in the way of entertainment.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Grown-up clothes: My self-inflicted "What Not To Wear"

Way back when, there was no obvious difference between the way people dressed in their teens, 20s, 30s, and so on. Or was there? I really wouldn't know, but period movies set in, say, the 1950s make it look that way. Or maybe the differences are there, but are too subtle for me to pick up on.

That said, today, with my mother's help, I sought out clothing that would make me look older than 18. Who am I kidding: older than 12. In other words, no GAP Kids.

Today we spent as much time in Bloomingdales as either of us could stand, which didn't get us far, since apparently neither of us has an especially high threshold for Bloomingdales-induced-pain. A search for blazers led us smack dab in the middle of the designer jeans section, which seemed to go on forever and which would really go against the goal of finding relatively inexpensive yet adult-looking outfits. That seemed to be the theme of the store: very expensive clothing for 14-year-olds. I suppose there are more respectable clothes on other floors, clothes that don't say "Juicy" or worse across the ass, but our Bloomingdales stamina was not great enough to explore those levels.

I was unwilling to make a fourth (!) trip to the Barneys Warehouse Sale--so promising, yet disappointing, each time--which somehow led us to Ann Taylor, where I tried on the least flattering pair of pants I'd ever encountered, designed for that lucky woman with massive thighs and no butt. They'd have gone great with the sweater I'd tried on at Banana Republic that was the least flattering sweater I'd ever encountered. A member of my grandparents' lodge once famously referred to Ann Taylor as "fancy schmancy," but compared to Bloomingdales it was positively sedate.

Enough of that. So we got on the bus and considered looking at Searle, which was having a sale, until a woman on the bus overheard our conversation and told us that pants there are $600. So we ended up at agnes b., where even if the clothing was too expensive, at the very least it would look good and thus be a pleasant place to spend a few minutes. There was no "sale" sign in the front, but my mother correctly speculated that there would be a sale rack in the back. Indeed there was, but what was most exciting to me was that an awesome pair of shoes, very much on sale... in a 37. Not good at all. But wait! They had them in a 38 as well! No need to explore options at such oh-so-fascinating establishments as Enzo Angiolini (sp?)!

I couldn't quite figure out the clothing sizes, but I think the way agnes b. works is that all clothing comes in sizes "Tiny Frenchwoman" through "Slightly-Less-Tiny-But-Still-Tiny Frenchwoman." All clothing, that is, except this one fabulous but strangely enormous tie-dyed skirt. Much like Ann Taylor, agnes b. sells ill-fitting pants. Yet unlike just about every place I'd been looking, agnes b. had well-cut, interesting-but-not-neon (oh, how I wish grown-ups could wear neon) skirts.

So mission accomplished, more or less. I'm sure the folks at "What Not To Wear" would find something wrong with all of it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Miscellaneous city life: "Metropolitan Diary," WWPD style

1) On the train the other day there were three teenaged boys, obviously the cool kids or at least trying to be, all chatting with each other mainly in Polish. They kept saying, "And he was like...," and then they would continued the sentence in Polish. Needless to say, I don't know what "he was like." I wonder why, of all parts of their conversation, "And he was like" remained in English. Were they quoting things that were said in Polish, or is it just that "And he was like" has no Polish equivalent?

2) What's the deal with the Park Slope Food Co-op? Is the food good? Compared to Fairway? Whole Foods? Politically, I'm not sure what to make of a customer-run supermarket--in a way it's more socially just, in that it's not richer, older shoppers being served by younger, poorer workers... but in another way it's just insular and silly, taking jobs away from people who need them so that middle-class people can feel better about themselves. (Brings to mind this supermarket controversy from last month.) And culturally, I'm not sure if I'm hippie enough for such an endeavor. Not to mention my aversion to the food co-op in the last place I lived. Yet I'm intrigued, have heard good things, and will take a look one of these days...

3) Mandoo Bar's fried tofu appetizer is the most incredible food in the universe, even if it cannot be purchased through communal means. Of course, for all I know it's a North Korean specialty...

To do:

1) (Re)learn French and Hebrew. This will entail watching "Yossi and Jagger" and "Jules et Jim," (seeing if I am still capable of) reading a French novel, as well as spending still more time at Taim.

2) Contemplate, but ultimately reject, various haircolor possibilities.

3) Contemplate, but ultimately reject, various tube-top dresses.

4) Contemplate, and ultimately go ahead with, another one of those 6-mile-loop runs in Central Park.

5) Bake more muffins.

Taim mayod mayod

Somehow I ended up at Taim again today, this time with Katherine, whom I can now offically say is my new roommate (!). I kind of wonder at which point the Taim people will Google their own falafel place and realize that one of their regulars is giving them a whole lot of free publicity... After the sabiches (sabichim?) we went to Joe the Art of Coffee, which makes one taim iced cappuccino. Also taim but in a non-food sense: Beacon's Closet. So, so much better and cheaper than the Barneys Warehouse Sale, and with dressing rooms, no less.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Taim mayod, plus an annual call for sample-sale modesty

Taim, the falafel place I blogged about not long ago, has proven most tasty indeed. Sam got spicy falafel and I, after much deliberation, went for the eggplant-hummus-Israeli salad sandwich. I did not try the fruit smoothies since I'm a traditionalist and I believe diet Coke is the correct beverage to have with a pita-based meal.

In other news, I was about to change either into or out of a t-shirt-material dress I tried on at the Barneys Warehouse Sale, when, just like last year, I saw some male observers over by the women's changing area. This time, though, rather than there being men looking at women's clothing for themselves, men helping girlfriends or wives pick stuff out, or men just kind of hovering, there were three Orthodox Jewish boys, ages maybe eight to eleven, whose parents seemed to have lost track of them for a minute. I never feel right about changing at sample sales where men are roaming around, but somehow this seemed especially bad, not on the part of the kids, but just in general--these kids were so young, at least one of the three far too young to know what standing around watching women changing meant or to think of it as anything other than amusing, and all three from a culture that so values modest dress--so I waited for the boys to leave that area of the sale before switching outfits. Three suggestions: 1) These sales should all have at least a curtained-off area. 2) There should at the very least be an unwritten law keeping anyone male over the age of three away from said area, and 3) If nothing else, women should wear their most dowdy, cover-everything undergarments on days they attend these sales, since I take it women's habit of wearing thongs and no bra to these sales, then changing right smack in the middle of them, might, just might, be attracting members of the opposite sex.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Urban fiction

Today, at a Barnes and Noble in Brooklyn, Katherine and I noted the "urban fiction" table, all of which appeared to be fiction with drawings of black people on the cover. Since many non-blacks also live in urban areas, it seems odd--not to mention overly and unnecessarily sensitive--to use "urban" as a euphemism for "African-American." I'm pretty sure I've seen the same genre referred to as "African-American Fiction" at other bookstores, even other Barnes and Nobles. I don't like to see fiction segregated, but at least, in calling these books "African-American" rather than "urban" there's a bit of honesty in what's being attempted. In any case, I didn't particularly like this false "urban-non-urban" distinction, so I moved a copy of "The Devil Wears Prada" to the "urban fiction" table. While I have not read the book, I understand it's an account of a whole lot of white people working at a magazine like Vogue. That ought to qualify as "urban fiction," and ought to be of interest to those of all races looking to read about life in the big city. I didn't think much of my rearranging, but then, on the subway this evening, Katherine and I spotted an African-American woman on our train reading none other than "The Devil Wears Prada." Could it be? Who knows. Katherine pointed out that the woman in question was already too far into the book to have purchased it after we'd been at the store. Perhaps the lesson that can best be learned from this is that all fiction ought to be presented neutrally to readers of all races.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Rhetoric should match the conflict

Elie Wiesel writes that Palestinians should not celebrate the Israeli pullout from Gaza. Wiesel argues that a better approach would be "to silence their joy and their pride, rather than to organize military parades with masked fighters, machine guns in hand, shooting in the air as though celebrating a great battlefield victory."

Wiesel is right, but not for the reason he gives, which is that Palestinians should show respect for the suffering of the settlers who have lost their homes. I mean, respect never hurt anybody, but if it's not there, it's not there. The problem with Palestinians celebrating a victory, the reason these stories and images of celebration are unsettling even to many who favor the pullout, is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about "victory." The two groups both have been wronged, both seek out sympathy and support by reminding the world of how wronged they've been, and both receive sympathy and support from those who believe they're standing up for the underdog. If either an Israeli or Palestinian leader comes out and says, loudly, clearly, and in English, "I want victory for my side! We're gonna win this, and kick the other guys' asses!," then the international community will look at that side as greedy and as insincere in its claim to just want a little bit of land for its own state and peace in the region. The rhetoric of "winning" just makes no sense for this conflict, even if, every step of the way, there are winners and losers.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Fashion emergency!!! Or, why I was much better-dressed in middle school than I am today

I have not a thing to wear. Not a thing! OK, not quite, but I'm trying to find a dressy outfit for a warm, humid evening (that evening being this evening) and, unless I start digging up the prom dresses (which were slip-dresses, not big, prom-ish productions, and thus maybe not the worst idea...), it's slim pickings, indeed. But I used to have many more dressy outfits, back when I was 10-13. The reasons this is no longer the case are as follows:

1) I no longer attend bar or bat mitzvahs every weekend.
2) I no longer attend interschool dances or brunches at Sarabeth's with my fellow Spence 6th graders, a fashion-conscious set if ever there was.
3) Upon working at my first job, before college, I realized The Value Of A Dollar, and that dollar had far, far better uses than ending up at Bebe.
4) I was not a member of a sorority during college, was not interested in entering the frat scene as an, err, independent contractor, and thus had no reason to purchase the shiny/skanky outfits necessary for attending those sorts of events. I don't judge, it just wasn't (and isn't) my style.
5) I have a habit of buying ill-fitting-but-cheap skirts at places like sample sales (thus the black pleated knit skirt a few sizes too big) or Gap Kids (thus the neon green corduroy skirt that will barely close).

And the search through my closet continues.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Upgrade, downgrade

Today I bought two t-shirts at $8 each. There's nothing extraordinary about this, in theory, but these are special t-shirts. Special because they're neon-colored, yes, but also because they were once $46 a piece. Why $46? Presumably because "nice" jeans now cost upwards of $200, and t-shirts, too, are now considered things worth upgrading.

There's nothing new about warehouse or sample sales, and there's certainly nothing new about sales in general. What's new is that the clothes being sample-sold are in no conceivable way worth what they originally cost. They are neither dressy nor office-appropriate, nor are they things that could, if the situation arose, be used as extreme sports equipment (thus the North Face phenomenon). They are just slightly-better-designed versions of what everybody in the Western or Westernized world wears in their spare time. One could argue that the clothing is by definition more valuable, since it goes for more than other, similar clothes. But clearly enough people aren't prepared to spend that much on basic items, since there are many available, all over NYC if not elsewhere, that cost no more than their chain-store equivalents.

This is one hell of a good marketing scheme: 1) Make people think certain t-shirts and jeans are worth ridiculous amounts. 2) Some people will buy these items at full price, yet many more will not, but will still absorb the notion that these brands are important. 3) What is this? A warehouse sale? With those brands? 4) A whole lot of t-shirts and jeans sold, for normal enough prices, but purchased by super-enthusiastic, fashion-crazed individuals, all of whom are convinced that they are getting a fabulous deal. Basically, everything ends up back where it should have been to start with, but with far more drama.

And yet, this cycle may ultimately lead to the end of the upgrade trend. Combing through the racks at the Intermix warehouse sale, hearing the continual announcements that jeans were only $60 and t-shirts only $10, with %20 taken off at the register, it occurred to me that walking the half-block to the closest Old Navy would mean, if nothing else, trying on clothes in a dressing room more private than a giant, curtained-off area filled with women wearing thongs. (This would thrill some, I suppose, but it's nothing but a nuisance if you're not attracted to women and you're trying to get a look at yourself in one of the mirrors.) There's something to be said for the thrill of the hunt, and the difference between high-, mid-, and low-end clothes, even casual clothes, is not always negligible. But still, there's something about this trend that strikes me as a bit off.

En Vogue

Saul Bellow is kinda-sorta the inspiration for the new Men's Vogue? Oh dear. God only knows which glossy magazines were inspired by Philip Roth, or which writer (Nabokov?) might have been the inspiration for Teen Vogue.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Le Monde's coverage

If you read French, read this.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Franco-Israeli relations at their best

"Taïm means “tasty” in Hebrew, and the shop’s all-vegetarian output—courtesy of Israeli chef Einat Admony and her French husband (and Bouley veteran), Stefan Nafziger—lives up to its billing: unusual bite-size falafel in three flavors (cilantro-parsley-mint, roasted red pepper, and harissa; mushroom is in the works); fries served with saffron aïoli; deftly spiced salads of carrots, beets, and cabbage; and a date-lime-banana smoothie equally suitable for the Arabian desert or New York in August."--New York Magazine online.

I'm so there.

Monday, August 15, 2005

A French Jewish singer's take

Read this article in Haaretz about a French Jewish singer, born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, a convert to Judaism who spends time in both France and Israel, and who received anti-Semitic yells when performing in Lyon. The singer, Shirel, discusses the difficult predicament of French Jews in general:

"It was just one of thousands of incidents of anti-Semitism in France," she says in an interview that took place recently at a Tel Aviv cafe. "Unfortunately, I don't feel that anything has changed since then. Today, calling someone `dirty Jew' is already part of French slang. It's trendy there to say that Jews are Nazis. It's very difficult today to be a Jewish kid in a French school. In general, it's very difficult to be French and also Jewish. We're constantly on the defensive; we have to explain all the time `why [Ariel] Sharon did and why Sharon didn't [do this or that].' Only the French government can be blamed for this, because if it had dealt with the root of the problem, perhaps the situation would be different."

Being a French Jew in France sounds not entirely unlike being an American in France. American students and tourists more or less assume they'll be asked what they think of Bush, the Iraq war, and so on. The difference is that Americans are, well, not French, while French Jews are. It makes sense that Americans would be seen in France as representatives of a foreign government; it just doesn't make sense that French Jews should be seen as representatives of the Israeli government.

Of course, once French Jews become accustomed to being seen as representatives of Israel--not the spiritual people of Israel, but the actual, political state--they may start to believe that maybe they are a bit less French than they'd once thought, and might be better off in Israel, where even if they're looked upon as French, their children would be fully Israeli. But technically, legally, French Jews are officially French and French alone; being Jewish or not is up to them. The whole point of laicite, of the French liberal secular ideal, is lost if French citizens feel they must leave the country because they're not, socially, considered French. Thus the cycle begins. Rather than root for France or Israel, for France keeping its Jews and thus showing itself to be a liberal success or for Israel receiving 600,000 new immigrants, I suppose I'm rooting for the French Jews themselves.

50 Book Challenge # Negative Five

Reading "I Am Charlotte Simmons" (it was being sold at this stoop sale, eh) has taken more points off my IQ than any television I have ever watched, and that includes the Dark Ages of 10th grade, when I'd come home post-school or post-track and do some serious vegging. I find myself saying "like" far too much and ending sentences as if they were questions more than I normally would. Honestly, sitting through the entire Lifetime movie, "Fifteen and Pregnant," would have been more intellectually stimulating, and that's a movie in which the fifteen-year-old says her stomach's upset and you're supposed to wonder why on earth that might be. This, I'm afraid, is part of why I'm not doing the 50 Book Challenge. It's not that I don't read books. It's just that I don't think a book is by definition more worthy or more challenging than any other form of art or entertainment.

Sunday, August 14, 2005


It was finally cool enough outside to go running. The catch? Huge lightning-and-thunderstorm. Actually, running through what began as puddles, and what, as I went down the steps from the Reservoir, turned into a full-fledged waterfall, was lots of fun. Once I started to think about what's probably dissolved in NYC's opaque puddles, and thus swishing around in my sneakers, it started to seem less appealing. I was able to suspend these thoughts long enough to finish the run and head straight for the shower. My discman may not recover.

Old Dreyfus, new weirdness

Not sure, not sure at all, what to make of this parody of attempts at improving Franco-Israeli relations. An excerpt:

Gerard [Depardieu]: Tell me Monsieur Dudu, you have heard of ze famous Tomb of Napoleon in Les Invalides? No more! We have kicked Bonaparte's body out, and now, in honor of ze Jews, it is the Tomb of Dreyfus!

Bracha [an Israeli woman]: The actor? I didn't know he was dead.

Gerard: Non monsieur, not ze actor, zis is Alfred Dreyfus, ze famous French traito , er, war hero. But zat iz not all....

But it gets weirder:

Gerard: Monsieur Dudu, do not be so stupide az to believe ze Americain propaganda. But no matter; We French have already given zo much to your little country; ze Dimona reactor, Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, ze falafel

Bracha: The falafel? I thought we got that from the Arabs.

Gerard: Oh Madame Bracha, pardonnez moi, but it waz ze French colonists who brought ze falafel first to Algeria, and from there it spread across ze Levant. Every French schoolchild knows zis food was invented by a Paris patisserie chef, Pierre Falafel, who ran out of flour one day and used ze chickpea to make les bonbons.

Oh dear. If an equivalent dialogue, complete with faux-Israeli-accented French, ever appeared in a major French paper, you can be sure the backlash would be considerable. I didn't realize francophobia was such a thing. All the references to French women sleeping around and French men being weak, but why? If a French paper called Israeli women overbearing and Israeli men sleazebags, that would count as anti-Semitism, so what's supposed to make this any different? I don't know if France has the best of intentions in improving relations with Israeli, but it beats the alternative. If I were Chirac reading this, though, I might reconsider.

Point taken.

A WWPD reader reminds me, via email, that I did in fact have a "girl-crush." Actually, two of them. There were these two female grad students at UChicago whose style I was obsessed with, and whom I referred to as the "fashion girls." I don't know their names or much about them, other than that I guess they studied in the same places I did. They were inseparable and equally fashionable. One had short, stick-straight black hair, and the other long, wavy, platinum blond hair. Both were tall-ish and slim, not models, but model-ish enough to look model-fabulous in their outfits, all of which were, well, fabulous. The look was sort of European, but sort of American hipster, and also a bit classic/minimalist. I can't describe what they wore. If I could explain it, I'd wear it.

I really wanted to see where they shopped (Milan? Paris? Neiman Marcus?), but as a lowly undergrad I didn't think they'd want to take me along.

What most impressed me was that their put-together, cutting-edge looks carried over throughout the seasons, which in Chicago is most impressive. They didn't try ridiculous things like stiletto mules in January, as might a more typical, misguided, fashion-conscious U of Cer. On certain days I thought I was looking kind of chic, and they'd pass by, and I'd secretly hope they'd notice, but I'm almost certain they never did. (My hot-pink leg warmers from American Apparel were not, in retrospect, the height of chic).

So is that a girl-crush? I admired the way these two women put themselves together and I wanted to look a bit more like them than I did on a typical day. I wouldn't so much say I wanted friendship from them, just a shopping trip or two, sort of a "What Not To Wear" minus the cameras. So what can I say? Point taken.

Misc., life in NYC

Is the NYT's token conservative selling hippie skirts on the UWS? That can't be. Posted by Picasa

Do you think the same person owns both? Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 13, 2005

I'm like Martha Stewart without weird financial entanglements

I made pumpkin muffins yesterday, and today I made a fabulous dress out of an old tank top and tee shirt.

A question about Gaza

This may be a dumb question, but I've heard it asked and never answered: If there are Arabs and Muslims who are Israeli citizens, and who wish to remain Israeli citizens, then why can't those Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories, and who are willing to become Jewish citizens in a future Palestinian state, stay where they are? Or are they free to do so, so long as they renounce their Israeli citizenship? I can't imagine this would happen often, but it's possible. But, to but it more broadly, would Jews be permitted as citizens in an Arab Palestinian state?

Deep thoughts, or why I could never be a food critic

I may never eat Japanese food again. I had some the other night that just really didn't do it for me, neither the rice nor the sashimi nor the seaweed salad nor the agedashi tofu. None of it. This is a shame, since I used to really like Japanese food, but is also a blessing, as much of it is expensive.

Of course, a couple weeks ago, I declared (to myself) that I was entirely off Middle Eastern food, falafel in particular, yet tonight I happily ate a falafel-and-eggplant sandwich at Chickpea. These things change.

In other important news:

-Emeril Lagasse reminds my mother of President Bush. I can see it, sort of. Both like things that go "Bam!," but the most damage Emeril's loud noises inflict is probably indigestion.

-Masha and Katherine were hanging out the other night and who did they see but Natalie Portman! Both Katherine and Masha confirmed the sighting. I was going to meet them that night, but that was the night of the mediocre Japanese food, so I was home, engaging in what the Israelis call "beten-gav," literally "stomach-back," but actually an expression meaning "lying around doing nothing." I use this expression in honor of Ms. Portman's nation of origin. But seriously, that actress is everywhere, a neat trick for someone so small.

-On the dachshundwatch front, here's a picture of what I believe is a dachshund puppy at the UChicago law library, from the University of Chicago Magazine's dogs-on-campus slideshow. As if I didn't already miss the U of C enough...

Friday, August 12, 2005

The bagels of Vienna's Starbucks

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I'd meant to post these earlier, but here they are, in response to Matthew Yglesias's observations about Icelandic bagel-sandwiches...

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(Over-) Analysis of the "Girl-Crush"

Aaron has ordered me to take on the "girl crush," so here goes. But first, look here and here. Indeed, this is "man-date" all over again, and is hardly news.

But as for the NYT article itself, I have the following comments:

1) What are we asking of the Thursday Styles, the Symposium? The categories of relationship "discovered" by the section will never be especially deep, challenging, or creative.

2) If this were the Village Voice, these women would be advised to take their crushes to the next level. Frankly, I, too, would suggest that some of these women who say, "My heart races when she's around, I'm too nervous to talk to her, but oh no, no sexual feelings whatsoever," are probably on the verge of discovering some important things about themselves.

3) No one says "girl crush." While the terms "girlfriend" and "boyfriend" would also sound ridiculous if you'd never heard them before, you have. "Girl-crush" has not, and will not, catch on.

4) For the record, I do not have a "girl-crush" on Amanda Peet. I do, however, have a hair-crush on Debra Messing's hair, a dog-crush on two Great Pyrenees puppies I met yesterday, and a flan-crush on the flan at Bouley Bakery. If crushes can be asexual, why not crushes on hair, dogs, and pastries?

5) What happens when a straight woman with a so-very-now "crush" on another woman discovers that her crush is reciprocated? I don't think a lesbian or bisexual woman who discovers that the woman she's into has a crush on her, but not in that way, would be so pleased. The phenomenon of "girl-crushes" desexualizes women's interest in other women, which is good insofar as it allows for a range of types of attraction, but bad in that it makes things extra confusing for those with honest-to-goodness crushes on other women.

6) Dippy as the "girl-crush" article may be, it's kind of, kind of, onto something. I've seen this behavior, when straight young women get extra-attached to a female friend, preferring this friend to all others, overlooking obvious personality flaws in this friend, and so on. Girls who are "attached at the hip," most frequently until a boy enters the picture. It's crushy behavior, but it doesn't appear to be sexual in the sense of people wishing to have sex with one another.

7) But do all crushes, even the traditional, non-asexual kind, have sex as an end goal? Crushes many people have up through high school (and occasionally beyond) have sex as an end goal in only the most abstract sense. Someone too immature to have any sort of physical relationship may still develop a crush. Someone who truly believes sex is for married people only, who doesn't think of sex as an option, may still have a crush. People who are gay often remember the crushes they used to have on members of the opposite sex, without finding the need to denounce these crushes and claim their inherent impossibility. Crushes happen, and can't be taken back, even if they conflict with a person's overall preferences. So the "girl-crush," while silly-sounding, and while neither new nor worth noting, is nevertheless a somewhat real phenomenon.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

"Blogging us all senseless"

On the bus this morning, a middle-aged man sitting across from me told me it wouldn't take me so much time to smile. The only appropriate--not to mention honest--response to this request is, "I'd smile if you were hot," but I did not say this. I almost wish I had. I made a point not to smile, as amused as I was by the various come-backs I'd come up with.

There are two kinds of women sleazy men take an interest in: the intimidatingly attractive (models, very tall women who are also good-looking, and celebrities) and those who are attractively unintimidating (petite, young-looking, not-skanky looking). I would have to say I fall in the latter category. OK, really sleazy men take an interest in everything that moves, but I'm talking moderate sleaze.

There are also two kinds of people on public transportation: those who see the bus or subway as a chance to get to know the fellow passengers and those who want to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and smoothly as possible.

What happened to me on the bus this morning was that I, an attractively unintimidating woman, attracted the attention of one of those people who thinks he needs to chat with the other people on the bus, the worst possible combination of the aforementioned categories.

What was screwed up about this man asking me to smile, aside from, as has been mentioned elsewhere, the general obnoxiousness of the request, was that he was attempting to make me feel embarassed for not doing something which, had I done it, would have been quite out of the ordinary. No one sitting by him- or herself on a NYC bus smiles. On a bus I took later today, I did a survey of my fellow passengers, and, aside from one who was entertaining small children, the closest I saw to a smiler was a businessman with a pronounced smirk. Asking someone to smile in a small town where people walk around smiling, while still rude, is less of a power grab on the part of the person asking. Had I gotten onto the bus, smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, with a huge grin, I would not have been conforming to societal norms, but rather conforming to the preferences of this one man who, for some bizarre reason, took an interest in my facial expression. The smile wouldn't have been for society, but for him, at him. His request might have made a bit more sense had I looked utterly miserable, but I was very deep in a pre-coffee blank-staring mode, and was transfixed by, I believe, my Metrocard holder.

But back to the fascinating subject of people who see the bus as a mobile social event. Such people may be lonely, or really friendly and outgoing, or just not from New York. Regardless, it is clear that the following letter to the NYT was written by someone who would like to chat with the person across from her on the MTA:

"Alternative to Blogging"

Published: August 9, 2005

To the Editor:

Re your Aug. 5 editorial "Measuring the Blogosphere":

I have a suggestion that would save us all a lot of time and aggravation as we grow increasingly more addicted to modern technology.

It's ridiculously simple really. How about if all those who spend much of their time chattering on their cellphones stow them somewhere, and actually talk to the living, breathing human beings right in front of them? Then maybe they wouldn't have to spend so much time blogging us all senseless.

We'd all be truly communicating, and we'd have more time to truly accomplish something. Or perhaps just enjoy life.

Radical idea? You decide.

Leslie Ruth Hunter
Atlanta, Aug. 5, 2005

What technology has done is allowed us more choice in whom we communicate with and when. Real people and face-to-face contact are not what are threatened by modern technology. The bus-chatters, the random-encounter seekers, have lost out, but the already-existing or intentionally-formed relationships stand to gain. If you're waiting for a bus, you no longer have to chat with the other person at the bus stop about when the bus is coming, what the weather's like, and so on, but have the freedom to call up anyone, anywhere, leaving the "real" person next to you in the dust. This development is Metropolitan Diary's loss, but it's a gain for many others. Of course, for those who wish to speak to their bus-stop cohorts (or to those who happen to be waiting for the bus along with Amanda Peet or Ed Burns or similar), it can be a disappointment that normally out-of-reach types are not, as they were in the pre-cellphone age, easy targets for conversation.

While the NYT letter-writer's tone--not to mention facial-expression-advice from fellow bus passengers--put me off, I'm not sure I think it's so wonderful that people no longer have the random conversations they used to. Just because someone's programmed into your cellphone doesn't mean they're a better conversationalist, or that they have more to offer at that moment, than the strangers right in front of you. I don't really have an answer or an argument here, but maybe one will form in the comments...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A well-known urologist, Jacques Chirac, and mocha-induced blogging

There are a gazillion things I need to be doing now, but the mocha I made myself a couple of hours ago has not worn off, and somehow I find myself reading this:

The Marais is often referred to as the "Jewish neighbourhood." It was never a ghetto but rather a "Pletzl", "little plaza" in Yiddish, located around the "rue des Rosiers", "rue des Ecouffes" and "rue Ferdinand-Duval" (formerly called "rue des Juifs", "street of the Jews").

Visit the Pletzl and get to know its history thanks to this outstanding exhibit organised by the Paris City Hall: "Du refuge au piège, les juifs dans le Marais", which translates to "From the shelter to the trap: The Jews in the Marais".

Most of the exhibit focuses on Jewish immigration and on the arrests and the deportations of the Jews of Paris. Lucien Finel, former mayor of the 4th arrondissement, and Ady Steg, a well known urologist and honorary President of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, recall memories of their childhood at the Hospitalières Saint Gervais School - the extraordinary state (public) school situated in the heart of the Pletzl - and tell us about their life during those dark years. Numerous photos and documents illustrate daily life in the Marais.

We must thank the Hotel de Ville and Mayor Bernard Delanoë for a captivating exhibit, most welcome during this year that commemorates the end of Nazi rule in the concentration camps of Europe.

"Du refuge au piège, les juifs dans le Marais"
Exhibit located in the lobby of the Paris main City Hall
Entrance from the rue de Rivoli
Until August 13th, 2005
Admission free

(emphasis mine.)

Now that sounds like a fascinating exhibit. But Ady Steg, what a bio--famous urologist and honorary president of the Alliance Israélite Universelle! I didn't know that urologists ever became well-known, nor did I know that they might also find the time to be so politically active. A quick Google search provides some more information. Neat stuff.

Next column: too many whole grains?

Jane Brody, in a column that thankfully does not mention her own bowels, does the unimaginable: She warns against too much exercise. I must say that's a problem I've never had, except for the occasional week during which I decide to go for a few six-plus-mile runs, feel dreadful, and return to the occasional two-three miler and a whole lot of walking far to buy muffins, frappes and the like. But this is a good side of Jane Brody, confessing to an unhealthy activity. Sure, I'd have preferred it if she confessed to a late-night Cheetos habit, but this'll have to do. Could it be that the smugness is fading? Of course, confessing to "jogging daily for about 10 years and playing singles tennis for an hour nearly every day for more years than I can remember," and to admitting, "in winter, I went ice-skating most days, and during the warmer months, I cycled 10 miles nearly every morning." Not to mention mentioning "lap swimming, which I did four or five times a week."

See, I think the reason I pick on the "Personal Health" column is that I secretly think I should be the one writing it. Unlike Brody, I believe in moderation. Moderate exercise, moderately healthy eating, moderate exposure to (gasp) television, and moderate personal-health disclosure. If the column were mine I would not once mention my own personal health beyond eating and exercise. What happens behind bathroom doors should stay there.

If Prada made cake

So I was up for a snack, something sweet. My mother and I headed to Sant Ambroeus, which has some incredible ice cream, but it was raining so I took a look at the pastries instead. Eyeing the impeccable, impeccably displayed cakes and cookies, I sarcastically told my mother I was going to bid on a piece of cake. Then we asked how much a slice of cake to go would be. $8.50. The woman who told us said it in such a way that it was clear she agreed that this was a bit much.

So is this normal? I know I lived in Chicago for a while, so should I just accept that this is what cake goes for in NYC? Do I need to teach myself to make things like this? This must be the reason so many people are becoming investment bankers these days.

Monday, August 08, 2005

French Jewish studies... Cancelled

I was totally set to sign up for this evening class at the JCC:

Vive la France et ses Juifs! An Introduction to the History of French Jewry

How much do we really know about the world’s third largest Jewish community? Delphine Horvilleur, a French journalist and rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, whose family dates back to the 17th century in France’s Alsace-Lorraine region, will take you beyond Rashi and Dreyfus. Gain a broad cultural and historical overview, learn how this diverse community evolved through successive waves of immigration, and consider current political issues, traditions of French anti-Semitism and France's ambiguous positions regarding Israel.

But... It's been cancelled? Did the French-Jewish expert find something better to do (say, a Franco-Israeli culinary tour of lower Manhattan, with Ceci Cela and the Hummus Place as focal points, because that might well be better)? Does the New York Jewish community, myself being the exception, not find French Jews all that fascinating? It struck me as odd, when I initially read the listing, that the class was supposed to go beyond Dreyfus, as if everyone already knows so much about the Dreyfus Affair that it's not worth discussing. I'd imagine that most people interested in signing up for a class about French Jews would have at least heard about Dreyfus, but I'd think a full six classes could (should, even) be devoted to the Dreyfus Affair and its impact on French Jews. If for some reason the JCC decides such a class is worth teaching, and doesn't mind someone with just a B.A....

But seriously, this class looked awesome. And it's one of the few things being offered by the JCC, the 92nd Street Y, or similar, other than Hebrew classes, that isn't specifically tailored to picking people up. OK, not one of the few, but the market for these things appears to be much stronger than the market for Dreyfus classes, and that's really too bad. For example, there's this class, with the clever name, "How to Meet the 'Right' Person." I love how the word "right" gets quotes, as if the most this doctor (or should I say "doctor") can offer is a person who's not too terrible. This class just sounds creepy. Then there's the "Deeper Dating" option, which is presumably not as obscene as it sounds. Regardless, these options are plentiful, but there's not as much out there for those who want more Dreyfus and less dating advice. Sparking romance among Jews is part of promoting Jewish life, but it isn't everything.


For the first time ever, today I did the following:

1) Got out at the Smith-9th Street subway station, the most-elevated in the city.
2) Went to a Target.
3) Saw long stretches of yuppified Brooklyn that are not part of Park Slope or Williamsburg.

The results:

1) Not crazy about the Smith-9th Street subway station.
2) The Isaac Mizrahi clothes are eh. The rest doesn't look half bad.
3) Yuppified Brooklyn is a whole lot more laid-back and pleasant than yuppified Manhattan, but with just as frilly pastry shops. What could be better?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Upstate shtetls

There are shtetls in New York State. Who knew? Europe's last/only shtetl is supposedly the Jewish part of Antwerp. Can any grouping in the US really count as a shtetl? Or, for that matter, can any current town, even in Europe, be so named? Like the term "ghetto," shtetl is--fairly or not--used to describe communities all over the voluntary-involuntary spectrum. Is a shtetl no different from a kibbutz or a commune? Or is it more like an American-Indian reservation, with implications that society at large wants to--or at one point wanted to--keep members of a certain group far from everyone else? What does it mean, in terms of the First Amendment, for a village to be officially Hasidic?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

For Peet's sake

Today at City Bakery, my mother and I spotted either Amanda Peet or a woman who has the good fortune to look exactly like Amanda Peet. Peet or not, she was by far the best-looking woman I have ever seen (friends and family excepted, of course). I suppose what divides lesbians or bisexual women from straights is that seeing an attractive woman is a good thing, not merely a chance to feel immense envy. I wish I were just that much over on the great sexuality spectrum that I could feel something other than envy, but no such luck. Had it only been Peet's "She's the One" co-star Ed Burns...


What do you call it when an already gentrified neighborhood gets gentrified? This is happening all over NYC, and has been for some time. My friends and I discussed the phenomenon this evening, but no revelations, I'm afraid.

Gawker bemoans the opening of a Starbucks on the Lower East Side. Well, a Whole Foods is set to open at Bowery and Houston, so Starbucks is nothing, really. I don't quite see why Starbucks, of all places, is a sign of gentrification and not just blandification. Starbucks branches are in parts of Chicago far less upscale, and with far lower rents, than the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Without a doubt, Starbucks will be one of the less expensive cafes (if you could call it a cafe) in the area. If a Gap, or even a J.Crew, were to open on the Lower East Side, it, too, would be one of the cheaper places of its kind around. Tucked-away cafes and boutiques, if they maintain an independent, run-down, and cutting-edge atmosphere, don't seem to count as gentrification, even if they rely on and encourage housing prices to rise. Such places as boutique TG-170 sell clothing that costs as much as what's found in stores in SoHo or on the Upper East Side--clothing by the same designers, even--but somehow their existence doesn't get the gentrification-fearers to worried. $3 lattes, though, are unacceptable.

What's annoying people such as the Gawker folk is that Starbucks makes the Lower East Side more like the rest of the country. Other coffeeshops with more expensive cappuccinos, but without the tell-tale green awning, are encouraged. Yet a common complaint about trendy parts of NYC is that there's no room for the middle class. Starbucks falls somewhere between the real dives of Delancey and the pseudo-dive hot-spots on Ludlow. Is that such a tragedy? Can't a bit of mainstream America add to the area's diversity? The only complaint I find at all justified is that Starbucks takes the place of other, more interesting middle-of-the road establishments. But again, this is a complaint about blandification, not gentrification.

Hipsters: the new Hasids

I just got back from a day/evening hanging out on the Lower East Side and in the East Village with a whole bunch of Stuy kids--sorry, a bunch of grown-up New Yorkers who happen to have attended the same high school as I did. (I also walked around the Lower East Side with my mother, who did not attend Stuyvesant, but who can still get a WWPD mention.)

Today it was in the mid-90s in NYC, yet the hipsters simply could not abandon the cowboy boots. If the word "ubiquitous" ever had to be used, here would be the place. I even saw a woman in leather, western-style boots that just about reached her knees. They also wore far more layers than necessary--was today really the day to sport the whole dress-over-pants combo? Along with hipsters, the Lower East Side still has some Hasidic Jews, who also dress for cooler weather, but who at least have a religious obligation to do so. So does this mean that "hipster" is a religion and should thus be capitalized? (As in, I've heard that many Hipsters live in Williamsburg.) Maybe what makes a group of people with common habits and aspirations a religious group is that they dress in weather-inappropriate ways in order to assert group membership. I, meanwhile, wore sneakers, shorts, and a tank top, thus asserting my membership in neither the Hipster nor the Hasidic congregations.

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Masha, me. Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 05, 2005

More blueberry muffins

This batch was different in the following ways:

1) Larger muffins, but fewer of them.
2) Less butter in the muffins, but a better-greased muffin tin.
3) Cooked through.

Seinfeld misleads: the most important part of the muffin isn't the muffin top, but rather the crunchy sugar on the muffin top. Forget this, and you can forget about muffins.

The next project will be pumpkin muffins. These do not require sugar sprinkled on top, thus contradicting my assertion above. Nor, I should add, do they require frosting or pumpkin seeds, and are, in my opinion, better off without them. The pumkpin muffins I aspire to create would resemble the ones distributed by the Corner Bakery and sold at the Smart Museum coffee shop. These muffins were totally identical to the banana-nut muffins sold at the same place, so only tasting them (or opening them up, which can only, of course, be done upon purchase) could reveal whether a muffin was a delicious pumpkin or a vile banana-nut. In any case, now that I am no longer dependent on a nearby art museum for muffins, it's time to take matters into my own hands.

More Dachshundwatch

Kei is awesome. Not only did she make astrophysics lab bearable, but she has posted a picture of Sakura, a stunning blond dachshund. Kei also advocates that scientists "prolong (big) dog's lives before cloning them." True enough. Bernese mountain dogs have many health problems and a tragically short lifespan.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

French women don't get fleeces

Claim: Americans--in particular American women--have no style. Someone, I think it was Diana Vreeland, was quoted as saying that Nan Kempner (!) was the only American woman with style. A recent article in Vogue about socialite-fashionista Coco Brandolini claims that she started the disheveled, rich-hippie look that's so popular in NYC these days. I'd always assumed this style had been around for a while, with waves raising especially high maybe every three years, and that this latest wave had been set off by the Olsen twins. Well, no. Vogue gives the credit to Brandolini, and even goes so far as to print a quote about how she knows how to put this look together better than New York's young women.

Brandolini's Parisian, which means, as goes the cliche, that she knows how to messily tie scarves and not brush her hair in such a way that Americans who see her sigh enviously and muse on how darn fashionable Europeans--in particular French women--are. Every last one of them.

Here's what happens: American women, coming from well-off pockets of the nation and accustomed to seeing the same old combination of North Face, quilted Lands End jackets and Seven Jeans, all of a sudden find themselves face-to-face with a look entirely different from their own. To them (and I include myself in this "them"), France is a crazy place where people who are quite concerned about their appearance nevertheless have unbleached teeth and non-blown-dry hair. French women look so... different, so refreshing. So American women decide that their French counterparts have style.

Reality: What American women are missing is that just as there's a look common to most appearence-conscious women in NYC's SoHo or in Chicago's Lincoln Park, the women of Paris also tend to have the same look as one another. The tousled hair and just-so scarves are no less ubiquitous in Paris than are North Face fleeces in Chicago or the cowboy boot-miniskirt combo in NYC. It's a good look, an attractive look, but it's everywhere, and the only thing that makes the look interesting to Americans is that we don't see so much of it over here.

The few American women who do try to look this way end up seeming either pretentious or just plain disheveled. Minus the context of a Marais cafe--and the assumption that the woman in question is legitimately French--the look loses its power.

But what American women need to understand is that there's nothing inherently less interesting or attractive about the way we put ourselves together. While cosmetic surgery is probably more common here than there, otherwise we don't have so much to be ashamed of. Mainstream, upscale American style (think shiny hair, designer jeans, and hair color lighter than skin color) is no less pleasing to the eye, no less creative, than mainstream, upscale French style. Neither look is creative--creativity requires transcending your country's current fads. Neither look is inherently unattractive, either. I happen to like bits of both, and wear a combination, along with various things that are shiny or neon-colored...

There is a point to all this, and here goes: These oh-so-witty remarks about how chic people are the second you leave America are, in effect, revelations that the wit in question has no idea what it means to be chic. It's knee-jerk anti-Americanism, but need not be replaced by knee-jerk pro-Americanism, by an all-out denial that the women in Parisian cafes look good. What's needed here is a bit of good, old-fashioned cultural relativism. We think they look good because it's not what we're used to, but when it comes down to it we'd rather dress as we do. We think that the 14-year-old Parisian girls clustered around their schools are fabulous, but that their American equivalents filing out of Spence or a well-funded suburban public school look bitchy and conformist. They, in turn, scoff at our lack of style, all the while appropriating large chunks of it. And good-looking, stylish women everywhere--whether in scarves or in Intermix--will turn heads, male and female alike.


There are now tons of cops, including undercover officers, in London's Underground, part of whose role is to be a reassuring presence. This reminds me of the Monty Python sketch from "The Meaning of Life" in which a man's leg has been bitten off by a tiger, and a doctor comes by to reassure the man. The patient thanks the doctor for reassuring him, the doctor asks if there's anything else he could reassure the patient about, and then the patient asks if his leg will grow back. And then, the moment of truth.

Make your own study-abroad immersion program

I want to keep learning Hebrew, but this isn't so much the moment to run off and join a kibbutz (or become an Israeli Air Force pilot, as Matthew Yglesias suggests I do, what with my perfect vision and, well, right of return). So I'm taking an Ulpan here in NYC, and today did my homework at an Israeli coffee bar on the Upper East Side. Yes, such a thing exists. Everyone's speaking Hebrew, which made for useful background noise. Plus, the iced coffee there is most excellent. The place also sells some kind of pre-made s'mores, which certainly looked intriguing, but which most likely would have gotten stuck in my notebook.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Well, they cloned a dog. I'm thinking the two longhaired chocolate-colored dachshunds I saw walking together today were just the result of traditional genetic engineering, aka breeding.

Speaking of chocolate-but-not chocolate, and of creepy takes on inter-group dating, I've been hearing a lot about this show, "Date My Mom," so I watched an episode. This one girl and her mother, both white, are competing with two other mother-daughter pairs to get the daughter a date (several dates?) with a young man who's black. The mother and daughter keep saying how the daughter "loves chocolate," meaning that she likes to date black men. The mother tells the guy this, the mother discusses this with her daughter, and at the end of the episode, the mother once more discusses her daughter's love of "chocolate." I mean, eww. He's not a flavor, any more than the mother and daughter are "wonder bread," or "mayonnaise." Wouldn't it have been enough to say that she's open to dating guys of all races, or better yet not saying anything about race to begin with? The guy didn't end up picking the "chocolate"-lover and her mother, in case you were concerned, but he himself referred to another contender who was multiracial as being many "flavors," so maybe that's the acceptable rhetoric of race in America these days. I guess that makes me an undercooked plain bagel.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


I think Natalie Portman's stalking me. I mean, I can understand, I'm something of a celebrity, especially on days when Matthew Yglesias links to my blog. This evening I saw the divine Miss P. walking down the street with a middle-aged woman (her mother?) on the same stretch of the Upper East Side I'd seen her on once before, a few years back. She totally shot me a look, perhaps because I'm now wearing my hair in an approximation of her bob from "Closer" (minus the bangs because, on my non-Natalie self, the bangs didn't look quite right), perhaps because she noticed me looking at her. Or maybe she's the one who keeps getting to this blog by Googling "natalie portman g-string," and she recognized me from the hat picture. In any case, for those fans who may be interested, the buzz cut has grown out slightly. This makes three times I've seen the actress in person, not counting the time I saw her perform in Chekhov in the Park.

Other things I've seen today include a man on the bus acting suspiciously, a number of preppy boys who should probably be in the Hamptons but are maybe a bit disoriented, and, on the Spring Street subway platform, an especially large piece of evidence that the platform now functions as a toilet.

Monday, August 01, 2005


Seemingly taking cues from early Woody Allen movies, professional "shiksa" Kristina Grish has written a book, Boy Vey! The Shiksa's Guide for Dating Jewish Men, which, if this Haaretz interview is any indication, is likely to spread all sorts of outdated stereotypes and, more importantly, to lack any relevance whatsoever for people living in the year 2005. Her claims:

Claim: "Jewish women have specific demands of their boyfriend. It's not enough for them that he's a lawyer, he has to be a lawyer in a specific field, and not just a doctor, but a surgeon."

Reality: Jewish women do not demand this. Yikes. I mean, I'm sure some women of all backgrounds do this, but I've never encountered it, and I've met plenty of Jewish women in my day. Of course, such women must exist--and not only exist, but appeal to some men-- since there are men who choose their professions on the basis of which will attract the women they're after.

Claim: "I have never heard a Jewish man say that he likes dating a Jap [Jewish American Princess]."

Reality: That's like saying, "I have never heard a gay man say he likes dating a limp-wristed fag." Except for when they get appropriated as acceptable terms, derogatory names tend not to be listed under sought-after qualities in a mate. But even so, plenty of men of all stripes do like high-maintenance women, so even the model of a Jap would have her share of admirers.

Claim: Jewish men have hairy backs.

Reality: This is not always the case.

Claim: "Shiksas" don't care much about food, and thus can feel uncomfortable in Jewish homes.

Reality: See here and here. Oh, and here.

The article itself is quite creepy. While no one can control his or her preferences, to actively seek out people from a group part of whose mission is to continue itself through its members marrying one another is a bit off. And to seek these people out because of stereotypical traits you'd imagine them having adds a new level of ickiness. No matter what one's views of intermarriage, there's nothing creepy about two people from different backgrounds who happen to fall in love. But to really go out of your way to find men--and families--who care enough about being Jewish to identify as such strikes me as, at the very least, unsettling.

But what is most off about Grish's project is that it's relying on aspects of "cultural Judaism" which have largely faded from American life over the last few generations. Assimilated American Jews are less likely to fit Jewish stereotypes than were those Jews who came of age when those stereotypes first arose. Assertions such as, "Jews don't drink," or, "Jewish mothers make huge amounts of food," are not so much offensive as obsolete.

And finally, as with the "Seinfeld" episode in which Elaine is said to have "shiksappeal," there's something absurd about a petite, dark-haired woman in NYC claiming to be a Jewish man's shiksa fantasy.

How was your weekend?

In language classes, there's almost always discussion of what everyone in the class did over the weekend. These conversations are meant to help students learn how to speak in the language in question; as my Hebrew professor at Chicago assured us, they are not done because anyone cares what the others do in their spare time. When I ran out of French classes to take in high school, I took a course at the Alliance Francaise, and one of the women in the class, probably in her 60s, seemed to have the most fabulous weekends ever, lots of drinking, dancing, and eating at hip restaurants, all far more exciting than the life of a Stuyvesant senior. She's the person I always associate with this pedagogical technique.

Whenever I'm asked the weekend question, I get completely stumped. I can never remember what I've done over the weekend (and no, not because it was "so good" that all memory from Friday to Monday is wiped out). Which people did I see? What did we do? I can't recall these things while searching for vocab in a new language. I could discuss my weekend in French, but only now that I'm past the stage of taking classes in which weekends must be discussed as part of the lesson. But in Hebrew, as it once was in French, it's a disaster. So I keep a few activities in mind that one might do over a weekend, things that I've done, if not over the weekend, then at least in the past week or so, and try to remember how to say these things in Hebrew. "I went to the movies," or, "I saw some friends." If I'm feeling especially ambitious, "I went to a museum." Some activities--"I went to a sample sale," or, "I baked muffins," or, "I saw a documentary about penguins," are just too difficult to keep on store as possibilities.

I'm very put off by lying, so I always feel a bit funny about saying that I went to a movie if I can't remember whether or not that happened. But "I can't remember" is a terrible answer on many levels. And, as Ariela would always say, the exercise is about forming grammatical sentences, nothing more. And as soon as I get comfortable enough in any language, I know I'll be able to effortlessly discuss my weekend as it really was.

Hat's off

Thanks, Nick!

I am so talented at making blueberry muffins, it's incredible

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