Sunday, December 31, 2006

Next year in Jerusalem

I've just streamlined what I'm bringing to Israel. One book on Zionism, not two. One possibly non-working European (aka correct-plug-having, multi-voltage) hair iron rather than one effective American one that would have required some kind of voltage conversion. (Does Israel accept voltage conversion performed by reformed adapters, or only orthodox ones? Why do I even try to be amusing after 4 am?). One dress for "Shabbat and going out," rather than one dress for Shabbat and one for going out, since I had no sense of which would be which, anyway. I eliminated the University of Chicago "butt shorts," because pictures from the program go online, and there's no way to indicate that you are wearing something ironically under such circumstances. These photographs are, needless to say, also my reason for taking a hair-depoufing device to a trip that apparently involves such things as camel-riding and swimming.

And goodness, it's New Years! Next year in Jerusalem, indeed.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

"I'm so worried about what's happening today, in the Middle East, you know." --Monty Python song, "I'm so worried"

Very soon, I will be bli machshev, bli (working) pelephone, and bli gvinah tsarfatit, the mainstays of my life here in the States. Although I do periodically threaten to move to Israel--whenever I read an especially convincing passage in something by Herzl or Hertzberg, whenever I'm expected to take an astrophysics exam, etc.-- this will only be for ten days. I'll be back, studying Zionism from afar, in no time.

I'm excited to go to Israel. As everyone who knows me knows, this trip is a long time coming. However, I'm also scared as hell, mainly because it's a while since I've gone anywhere further away than Montreal, and that many hours on a plane, yikes! Other concerns:

1) I will forget to pack something crucial: A trip to Duane Reade, a stop at Bobst to pick up the requisite Zionistic literature, and a very brief moment in Radio Shack or similar for an adapter should do the trick. Passport: crucial. American pelephone: also crucial, for when I return and want to call people at 5:20 am and let them know I'm back.

2) I will have to go into some kind of underground tunnel: There are photos of this from previous Birthright trips, some kind of adventure that looks a bit too much like how I picture the mines from Germinal. Just as Ladies' Paradise made me fear department stores, Zola's book on miners made me fear narrow enclosed spaces.

3) Given the amount of time I spend on NYC public transportation, I am not especially worried about terrorism for this trip as opposed to on any normal day. Although Saddam Hussein was just killed, which could lead to who knows what, retaliation-wise. Not that Israel killed him, but my sense of how these things work is that Israel, Jews, French Jews, and so forth tend to be held responsible for all actions taken by America specifically or the West in general. So add terrorism to my list of concerns as well.

I know the trip will be amazing. But as a Jew of the Diaspora, forgive me for approaching things a bit more like Woody Allen or George Costanza than would be ideal.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Rules of attraction

I was about to respond to two different posts in two different posts, then realized that they're on much the same topic: should the personal be the political? From a Jewish perspective, should one go out of one's way to date and marry other Jews, and under which circumstances (and from which Jewish perspective)? And from a left-wing, open-minded, American perspective, is it racist to say that there are entire races you do not find sexually attractive?

I will say this up front: I believe Jewish concern over intermarriage in the United States is missing the mark. It is in fact a good thing that secular American Jews feel more American than Jewish and are considered as such by those around them. For observant Jews, it's another matter. But as for the Jews Laya of Jewlicious speaks of, who advocate marrying other Jews "just because," they are the reason the Portnoys and Singers of the world so delight in flaunting the non-Jewishness of their partners.

Jewish continuity is either religious or national in nature, and all the education programs in the world aren't going to reverse Western secularism. So what's left is Israel. If you care enough about Jewish continuity but do not wish to become religious, move to Israel, where you're far more likely to marry a Jew, and where you will not be forced to come up with reasons for why your children should do the same. If you stay in America and are not observant, you have no right to expect either yourself or anyone around you to marry another Jew.

Jewish nationhood should not be dependent upon secular American Jews being made to feel separate from the rest of the country, to think it's lovely when an African-American and an Italian-American couple off, but despicable when a Jew intermarries. No, America and Israel are different things for Jews--in America, we should be allowed to embrace universalism, and in Israel, we should have the option of particularism, of promoting one's own. If Israel did not exist, perhaps I'd suggest something else. But it does, and the burden's on those who care to hop over there, not on those who don't care to all of a sudden see the light, or to pair off with the wrong people out of guilt from years of being told to marry a Jew "just because."

Now, onto race. Pam Spaulding at Pandagon quotes a gay man who on some message board apparently said the following:

"I personally am not racist but I don’t date black people. Nothing against black people, I’m just not attracted to them. The same reason I don’t date woman. I’m not attracted to them."

Spaulding responds as follows:

"Given the range of what 'black' looks like, how can this person make a blanket statement about all black people when it comes to dating? Is it a matter of perceived physical features (many blacks who can pass for some other ethnicity), a perceived cultural difference ('all blacks are poor or into thug culture'), etc."

This response brings up an obvious counterargument: Given the range of what "woman" looks like, how can a gay man make a blanket statement about the features of all women when it comes to dating? A gay man does not want to sleep with a very butch woman any more than a very feminine one, although he may well have female friends across the spectrum.

While sexual orientation is typically framed as a preference for men, women, or both, it is in fact a spectrum of attraction to different degrees of masculinity and femininity within one's preferred sex or sexes, not to mention one's degree of attraction to any number of other traits, many of which are impossible to articulate, but some of which can be easily enumerated. Plus, there's the automatic sorting people do in which they eliminate from the list of potential partners those far less or far more conventionally attractive than themselves. A simple test, for the New Yorkers among you: sit on the subway and look around, and go over the reasons you are not sexually attracted to every last person in the car.

To sum up: we like what we like. Education can do something in making Jews care about dating other Jews (mainly, though, in the realm of making it so that Jews meet other Jews at an age when they're looking to pair off), and education can help to make Americans more racially tolerant, but on an individual level, you cannot possibly be happy unless you are with someone you consider, for whatever reasons, immensely attractive.

Pauvres chiens de race!

Masafumi Yamamoto for The New York Times

Poor dachshunds! It's horrible that the fabulous little dogs of Japan are so inbred that they are often enough "genetically defective sister and brother puppies born with missing paws or faces lacking eyes and a nose." This is a news story that requires a response from the blogosphere's expert in all things Japanese and dachshund-related.

Infrequently Asked Questions about my upcoming trip to Israel:

Does the fact that (hundreds of) trip photos go online for all to see mean that I should, contrary to my impulse, bother purchasing an adapter so I can make sure my hair looks fabulous while I'm away?

Does the fact that (hundreds of) trip photos go online, etcetera, mean that I should be especially careful in the upcoming bathing-suit shopping excursion, or that I should float in the Dead Sea in something more, uh, Orthodox.

Will there be a place to purchase copious amounts of Herzl paraphernalia?

How worried should I be about this?

Can I live for ten days without the Internet?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Maltz, the new Prada

This picture from Gawker is awesome. Who cares about socialite rank--I want a scarf that says Maltz Maltz!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Don't they know it's still Christmas?

And the celebrations continue. The NYUers, ex-Stuyvesantians and company had some Vietnamese food in Chinatown, then drinks on the Lower East Side. I took a picture or two, but mainly of the bizarre Christmas decorations at Max Fish, a bar whose bizarre decorations can't really get much stranger than the usual.

New York on Christmas is not much of an occasion to ask why this day is not like any other.

Don't they know it's Christmas?

Last night I ended up at the "Heeb" festivus party, for lack of a better way of describing it, with Jewlicious, etc. There will be photos, once I'm in the same borough as my camera cord. There may be other photos with me in them, but this I cannot directly control, so we shall see.

The party was surprisingly fun, considering it was a) a singles' event, and b) an attempt to provide Jews with something as meaningful as Christmas Eve, when there's really no way a room full of leering men is ever going to achieve the same status in our society as a family sitting 'round the hearth. (Insert obligatory paper on the remarkably similar role of Jews and gays in Proust and elsewhere in literature). But a gin and tonic beats a hearth any day, and a singles' party is perhaps best enjoyed if you are not, in fact, single, and can thus take a more anthropological approach the the proceedings.

I will say this much: Jewish continuity would not be an issue--and, relatedly, there would be no "Jewish singles' scene"-- if people would just drink, for god's sake! (Or G-d's sake, if you'd prefer.) Ms. "I'll have a diet Coke and a water" is not going to find any of the aforementioned leering men worthy of leering back at. Other communities are not better-looking or more socially capable, they just know which situations call for a drink or ten.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Annie Hall"

Of all places in this huge and rainy world of ours, among the least heterocentric ought to be New York's West Village. And yet... When I got to the Film Forum tonight, as I purchased my ticket to "Annie Hall," I was informed that this was the last one. Knowing that fellow IFSer Charlotte was just down the street, I explained that my friend would be there soon. I kept saying, "My friend, she's just down the street," but the ticket salesmen insisted my friend was a "he" and wanted a description of what "he" looked like. I wouldn't have made a fuss about it, but to get her the ticket, I did need to describe who she was so that she could get in once I'd saved her a seat, and her being a "she" is one of the more ways of describing her, as gender is for the great majority of people. Is it that inconceivable that two women might go to a movie together on a Friday night? Is the "I like boys" sign still as visible as ever?

As for "Annie Hall" itself... it seemed the perfect pre-Israel-trip movie, a look at diaspora Judaism at its most self-loathing before encountering the "Jewry of muscle" Nordau dreamed of and Herzl and so many others gave their lives to provide with a country. But for all the despicable things it may stand for, "Annie Hall" is evidence that Woody Allen is, at times, quite brilliant:

Alvy Singer: I think, I think there's too much burden placed on the orgasm, you know, to make up for empty areas in life.
Pam: Who said that?
Alvy Singer: It may have been Leopold and Loeb.

That, and it's an amazing story about New York. One that makes perfect sense even in 2006.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What am I gonna wear?

In only a matter of time, I will be exercising my birthright. Not the right to return--I intend to return to New York after a ten-day "return" to Israel. Going through the winter packing list, it occurs to me that I do not own several of the items listed. Long skirts pose a problem, as do bathing suits, which I suppose means I can't claim a religious opposition to going swimming.

In also-important news, I'm just about done, need to physically hand one more paper in after reading it over once more, sometime in the next month, and am thus on a television binge this evening. John Cleese is now on "Will and Grace," and just said, "Thank you, Manuel," to Rosario, an inside joke for those who enjoy both "Fawlty Towers" and "Will and Grace," for those whose drug of choice is television. That, and my classmates are moving into Film Forum this vacation, which just showed "Jules et Jim" and is about to start showing Woody Allen movies like there's no tomorrow. If all goes according to plan, I will get to see the "Dissent and Commentary merged and formed Dysentary" joke on the big screen.

Once sufficient time has been spent in front of sitcoms I've already seen and movie's I've already seen, but not quite as many times, more substantive blogging just might begin.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Only simchas, no random play

Who are "singles"? NYU is hosting an event for Jewish "singles," complete with speed-dating, and facebook suggests that the singles in question are college students. Not that college students are generally married or anything, and not that I have anything against the event itself, but I wouldn't say undergrads could possibly count as "singles." To be a single, you have to be old enough that it's not creepy for you to date a grown-up, say, a doctor, lawyer, or accountant. To be a "single," you have to be not just unmarried but anxious to change the situation. You have to earn enough to participate in singles-oriented activities. College, at least at places other than the one I have experience with, is supposed to be about random and regrettable experiences. Which leaves what, exactly? Perhaps a segment of the NYU undergrad population is looking to settle down, mirroring the 30-to-50 set a few miles uptown. Perhaps, relatively speaking, the University of Chicago is debauched.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

French grad students DO get fat

At 9:30 am tomorrow I will handwrite for 2 1/2 hours on 19th century French history. Coffee and similar would help with the studying, but not so much with the sleeping that had better follow. So dinner #2 here I come.

I think the time has come to pray to all the many divinities I do not believe in that the test will be on Hausmannization, Ladies' Paradise, liberalism, and (please, please!) Third Republic Jews. These are among the trillion possible topics. It's just as likely the test will be on non-French-speaking French peasants, about whom I, as a many-generation noble, know little.

Better get back to those peasants...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And then there were three

One final out of four is done, and our professor just assured us that none of us did badly enough on it to be thrown out of the program. That is a good thing. Also good--the wine and cheese event for the French Department, which followed (bien sur!) the Champagne and cookies event at the French Studies Department. I'm not going to say who or in what context, but at one point at the party, someone made reference to wanting to go "drink a cigarette." That's when you know definitively that you're at a French department party. That, or when you see a certain blogger piling her plate high with what was either brie or camembert. Now, it's time to immerse myself in 19th century France, before returning to the 18th and 21st. The time has come. Starting... now!

My first NYU finals-- how very Olsen! Except not at all.

Various factors, not the least of which is finals, have led to a bit of a lapse in blogging. Now the sitemeter informs me my only visitors are those Google-responding to the spam "French porn" comments in the archives. But let me reassure those of my original readers who may still be on board, the cause of Francophilic Zionism does not suffer. Au contraire, nachon? I'm writing two papers on French Jews, one on the 18th century variety, who were just Jews in France, not French Jews, and another on the current set, who are moving away from an "Israelite" French identity and embracing an Israeli one. So, things are coming full circle. History is repeating itself, but it's the first time around that looks a whole lot more like farce.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Faites attention aux mots

My big fuss about Dunkin Donuts's linguistic mishaps brings up the point that Euro McDonalds alternative, despite being Belgian (and Wikipedia doesn't lie), presumably targeted at the anti-America consumer of fast food, yet is called "Quick" and neither "Vite" nor the equivalent in any other non-English European language. I was going to blog about this a few days ago, after the relevant conversation, but here you go.

The moral of the story is that we all want to be what we are not, and we express this desire by ordering our fast food in foreign languages. Or, that coffee sounds better in anything but English, whereas fast food is only recognizable in American.

The other, more relevant moral of the story is the impending explication de texte, the last for some time. Clearly my attention a chaque mot will come in handy!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Oh, the fluidity of gender!

I feel like this was a discussion in the blogosphere I took part in a while ago, but I'm too tired/busy/bored to find it in the archives. But here goes--women aren't as funny as men. There, toss it out for all to see, and sit back and let the angry responses flow in. This time around, it's the esteemed Christopher Hitchens giving it a go. What I've concluded from Hitchens's piece is that I am not a woman. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, nevermind, I'm a dude. Here's the supporting evidence:

"Men will laugh at almost anything, often precisely because it is—or they are—extremely stupid. Women aren't like that."

I not only nearly collapsed laughing watching the "Borat" cheese sketch, in which he asks again and again what different things are in the supermarket, all of which turn out to be cheese, but I watched the YouTube video again and again, with an equally enthusiastic reaction each time.

Hitchens' point is remarkably graphic, and brings about that other popular blogospheric debate: a man says, "Women don't like sex," a woman says, "Yeah we do," and man #2 says, "Shut up, silly woman." Hitchens once more:

"If you can stimulate her to laughter—I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. I shall not elaborate further.

Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. They already appeal to men, if you catch my drift."

I do enjoy the subtlety. This would be lost only on that one girl who, in 5th grade health class, was genuinely distraught to learn that a penis goes into a vagina, or perhaps that such a thing as a penis exists, period. So Hitchens is saying, in case this wasn't clear, that laughter spreads a woman's legs, whereas men require no coaxing whatsoever. Further proof that I am, in fact, a man: I have not once had impure thoughts about George Costanza, who is the funniest entity ever created, and yet Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi, who's not all that amusing, falls more under the category of if you catch my drift. Yeah, for a man-liking, eyeliner-wearing, bra-needing individual, I'm quite the dude.

Is the 18th Century paper ever, ever, going to reach its conclusion so as to allow me to do, I don't know, anything else whatsoever?

Yes it is.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"But first, a glass of this fine Champagne"

The difference between being a French Studies graduate student and whatever it is you do for a living is that I just came back to the building to do some reading, stopped to chat with some classmates, and all of a sudden was handed a glass of Champagne for a reception I wasn't even aware was happening.

In other news, I just got the latest Stuyvesant alumni newsletter, and for some procrastinatory reason, decided to read it more or less cover to cover. Turns out that a member of the class of 1960-something is, in fact, the University of Chicago's new president. GO STUY! GO CHICAGO! Go any institution with which I've ever been affiliated. Go unexpected Champagne at 4pm.

And, back to work.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Francophonic Zionism

Having found a way to make a paper about early 18th century France somehow about Jewish nationalism, it's probably time to call it a night. (So as to get up early and, you know, fix the paper.) That said, here's a fun article that's an open letter from an Israeli, Claude Sitbon, to French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal. Sitbon calls for a new French policy regarding the Middle East, which is all well and good, but more interestingly calls for Israel to be included in something called the "International Francophone Organization (OIF)." Oyf, indeed!

Sitbon notes that Israel is "a country where about 1 million French-speakers live"--does this mean people who can conjugate "faire," or people whose first language is French? Beyond the often-cited numbers on the French aliyah, plus whichever Francophone Jews may have gone directly from North Africa to Israel, I'm almost certain I've heard both French Jews and Israelis comment on how much French you hear these days in Israel, more than Hebrew in some places, it seems. But can Israel be considered a Francophone country? If so, the possibilities for what research I could do under the header of French and French Studies have just expanded exponentially.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


I've got to love any article that begins like this:

"There’s a case to be made that the single most intellectually and politically influential neighborhood in the United States is Chicago’s Hyde Park."

Whee!!! Thank you, Christopher Hayes, of "In These Times." Hayes continues, giving a mostly fair description of the neighborhood:

"Integrated, affluent and quiet, the 1.6 square-mile enclave on the city’s south side is like a tiny company town, where the company happens to be the august, gothic, eminently serious University of Chicago. Students at the U. of C. sell T-shirts that read “Where Fun Goes To Die,” and the same could be said of the neighborhood, which until very recently had a bookstore-to-bar ratio of 5:2."

It turns out, alas, that what makes Hyde Park influential isn't the many, remarkably perceptive French major/blogger/Maroon columnists, but in fact the pro-market school of economics Chicago is known for. The Chicago School. The article comes out against this worldview. So be it. I'm just thrilled to bits by the first sentence.

Friday, December 01, 2006

"The Running of the Jew"

"But the seeds of anti-Semitic sentiment were planted in rural communities where no Jews existed, let alone Jewish usurers, by the Church, whether in cathechism or during the Easter services....At Las and youths executed the striking the stalls and church pavement with sticks. Elsewhere members of the congregation set up a din with rattles and heavy stamping, extinguishing candles (representing Jews), or burned Jews in effigy, in fires lit in the cemetery or (in Alsace) communal pyres. According to Charles Beauquier, in Franche-Comte at the end of the [19th] century the faithful went to Maundy Thursday service armed with a wooden mallet. 'At a certain passage of the service, the priest throws his book to the ground, and then everyone strikes repeated blows on the stalls and on the chairs. This is called tuer les Juifs.'"

--Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen, p. 39-40

L'Academie Anglaise de Dunkin Donuts

There's a problem with the new Dunkin Donuts commercial. It begins with a sort of musical number, all these people are in a coffee bar, confused by all the many options. The song is something like "Chocamochalattacappo...Is it French or is it Italian, maybe it's Fretalian." Then the switch to showing someone drinking a Dunkin Donuts Latte, which, the commercial's voice-over assures us, you can order in English. I guess the point of this commercial is to emphasize the all-American down-to-earth blandness of the Dunkin brand, by purging the coffee vocabulary of all non-English words. But then what's Dunkin doing making a product called a latte?

Thursday, November 30, 2006


It's official. Second only to astrophysics (shout-out to Kei et al!), poetry is beyond my comprehension. Prose of all kinds, fiction, essays, op-eds, you name it, hand it over. But the second there needs to be an art-appreciation-type understanding of where words lie on a page, and what it means in terms of the poet's childhood that the imagery in one stanza differs from the one in the next, my thought processes deteriorate. OK, not exactly deteriorate. It's not quite like angles, stars, equations, and a dark lecture hall on a cold Chicago day, but it does take more time and thought than it should. At least I know where my weaknesses lie.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


NYU versus Chicago. What can I say, I'm a New Yorker. That, and the fact that I'm a reasonable person, mean I prefer New York as a city. I also tend to prefer grad school to undergrad, although it's hard to compare.

That said, this would never happen at Chicago: There is a modelesque girl right in front of me, stretching. Just stretching, right here in the middle of the library. Fully, if hipsterly, clothed. Which makes her one of the few girls in the library not wearing leggings as pants. I'm sure a straight man or a lesbian would find Bobst far more exciting than I ever will. As I recall, the Reg had more cute boys (if geeky's your thing) and fewer beautiful women showing off their rather remarkable flexibility. Then again, what did happen at Chicago, and has yet to happen under my watch around here, is having to deal with fellow students furtively clipping their nails under the tables in the reading rooms, as if this was not completely obvious to those around them.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

French grad students don't get fat

I'm an idiot. This week's French Studies luncheon--typically a scholar comes in to lecture after we all consume a sandwich or pizza lunch-- was instead a chocolate degustation (i.e. slivers of high quality chocolate paired with Evian, as versus, say, Twix and diet Coke), which meant that my not eating before heading to campus was, in retrospect, a poor decision. If there was ever a way to hover between laughing fit and sobs of agony, it's to listen to an hour and a half of description, in French, of the most fin and pur of all chocolates while on an empty stomach. The degustation helped a bit, but the chocolate lacked a certain, I don't know, quality of being a bowl of pasta. The chocolate, though quite tasty and by far more euros per unit than most things I've ever eaten, ended up making me lose my appetite.

I did what I could when pizza appeared after the IFS seminar this evening. But now, the stress of two impending explications de texte. along with finals, is preventing me from making whatever snack I'd make if all that was impending was, say, a "Will and Grace" followed by a "Frasier." For every kilo not gained by French women, three are not gained by those studying their literature, history, politics, and culture.

Borat in France

Monday, November 27, 2006

Restaurant Hagiography: Petite Crevette

Last year at some p, I had an especially bad meal at a Moroccan restaurant overlooking the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. So when I saw that Petite Crevette, the restaurant Katherine suggested meeting at for dinner, was in that very same location, the same tiny space, the same highly visible kitchen, the same exposed-brick walls, not to mention the same view of the highway, I was skeptical, to say the least. But when we entered and saw a display of all sorts of fresh fish behind glass, where the Moroccan food had been, I figured why not?

We started with the mozzarella, string bean, and greens salad. Actually, we started with my trip to a nearby wine shop, as Petite Crevette is BYOB. The salad was most excellent. Lots of herbs and vinegar. I guess that's what made it good. I'm not a food writer for a reason.

The whole red snapper, which we also split (NYC's expensive, even Brooklyn joints overlooking the BQE), was infinitely better than its equivalent at Brooklyn Fish Camp. It came with garlicky tomatoes and green beans, of which there were presumably an abundance in the kitchen this evening. As Mrs. Hall says, on "Fawlty Towers," when she learns that the only thing on the menu on Gourmet Night is duck, "fortunately I love it." Well, them. Green beans are more of a them than an it. As I was saying...

The only drawback, and I'm guessing this has more to do with me rarely B'ing my own B to restaurants than anything else, is that there was a $5 uncorking fee. Is this usual? What if you bring your own corkscrew? What if you stay in and make pasta? I do tend to do that, but Petite Crevette made for a fabulous, if low-starch, change of pace.

A la recherche...

I'm to present an explication de texte on Thursday. In researching the poem's historical background, I discover that, according to at least one scholar, this poem is notable for being one which simply cannot be submitted to the explication de texte. Sorry, but everything can be submitted to the explication de texte, including this very blog post if need be...

I'm going to get a book out of the library one of these days by an author named "Strudel." I might have to combine this with a trip to the cafe at the Neue Gallerie...

I want to know about Jewish Zionist militants in France. Both out of my own curiosity and out of the hopes that this could one day be a paper. Is there some obvious website/person who has this information? Or do I simply have to fly to Paris, eat flan all day, and be a flaneuse in whichever part of town these militants congregate?

The highs and lows of staying up late doing homework

High: Found the dress. Assuming Canadian designers ship to the States, I'm in business.

Low: A mouse just scurried across the living room floor.

High: Getting rather a lot of work done.

Low: Late-night panic attack reminds me how very, very much work remains.

Jewry of muscle

What happens when a Tel Aviv soccer team beats a French one?

a) The French, impressed with this show of athleticism from the Jewish state, discover a newfound respect for Jews. Anti-Semitism the world over disappears forever.

b) The French give up soccer entirely, in favor of petanque.

c) Paris team fans discover their inner Nazis, yell epithets against Jews and blacks, and one ends up getting shot by a black French undercover cop.

This story reminds me of how a panelist at a talk I went to recently, a French Jew, noted that he was raised believing the Dreyfus Affair was a positive, uplifting story for his people, since there's the happy ending, Dreyfus's exoneration, the triumph of the Republic, and all that. Sometimes, a happy ending says a bit less than the unhappy story itself...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

WWPD: Worse and less stylish

"Long long a ago, in an almost forgotten time I was an overburdened student at the University of Chicago. When I wrote a piece about how difficult it was to remain a stylish student at an academically rigorous university a certain blogger named Phoebe Maltz took an inordinate amount of quotes out of context and said all sorts of humorous things about me on her blog. My friend James Liu decided that I should start my own blog to control my identity as I was supposedly a sort of better and more stylish version of Phoebe who James believed fancies herself both intellectual and stylish. What Phoebe actually thinks I can’t really say but the desire to sort of piss Phoebe off by starting a blog was actually a partial impetus behind the birth of Almost Girl. Can you imagine?" --Julie Fredrickson

I don't know what it means that Julie Fredrickson is a better and more stylish version of me, but it's good to know that I fancy myself both intellectual and stylish. I will have you know that, at this very moment, I am wearing (among other things!) black (or are they navy?) socks and Naot sandals.

110-year-old but relevant news item:

Zola on Jews in France, via Arts and Letters Daily.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Child-led learning"

In the bad idea department, "unschooling" has to rank in the top five of all time. Before children have even the slightest idea what's out there, parents isolate their kids from not just the classroom, but the very concept of education. One need not be of the Allan Bloom, "Great Books" school to see how this might be problematic. From the NYT piece: "Adherents say the rigidity of school-type settings and teacher-led instruction tend to stifle children’s natural curiosity, setting them up for life without a true love of learning." And yet, without this rigidity, children (and adults!) would spend all their time lying around in bed, eating cheesy poofs, as does Cartman in the "homeschooling" episode of "South Park."

That said, "Unschoolers of the Ozarks" is in the top five of most amusing organization names of all time.

In my element

Last night I went to something of a mixer. For the first time, there was some serious mingling of the French Studies girls and the rest of NYU. Not the whole rest of the school, but people who study things like biology and computer science. It's a relief to know that that's out there, that the sort of geekiness I grew accustomed to at Stuyvesant and UChicago is not completely absent from my life, just because my own classmates are the most chic and hip of graduate students the world over. Not that any grad students, in any NYU department, lack style, and not that us French-studying ladies aren't geeky in our own way, but nevertheless...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving done-list

Alex and I managed to cook yet not even come close to setting my parents' kitchen on fire, a remarkable improvement over yesterday's attempt. And the the homemade cake turned out better than the bakery-bought pie, not that I didn't eat massive amounts of both, just to make sure. Not that I'm not about to finish off whatever remains of both.

Further evidence that Chicago's "it"

New York Magazine, hardly known for promoting anything on the cutting edge, anything other than that which is considered desirable by all NYC elites, not to mention all New Yorkers, not to mention anyone in the Western world, profiled a bunch of high-school overachievers and asked them where they're applying to college. Four out of the ten profiled are applying to the University of Chicago. Remember, these are students in New York, not in the Midwest, where the school is more likely to be on families' and schools' radars.

This sweep can be interpreted several ways. One, Chicago's getting too normal and fratty. Two, Chicago is awesome and kicking butt, go team! Three--and this is the only one of which I'm certain--it's a good thing for many of us who went to Chicago way back when that we're not applying now.

That said, the article's a brief glimpse of the god-awful stupidity of the admissions process. A student from Hunter who I'd admit to Maltz University any day is reviewed in the following way by "Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, a school-admissions consulting company."

Her perfect SAT score is truly outstanding but not a free ticket. She is applying to many technical colleges, so she will be competing against a lot of other high-achieving math/science kids (and a lot of other Asian students in particular). While she may be admitted to MIT early, I am not convinced she’s a shoo-in—I’d want to see more evidence that she’s giving back to the community.

Oh, good grief. What about the fact that she "[v]olunteered at a Chinese prep school teaching math to eighth-graders for one summer"? In that she's so saliently Asian that this is apparently one of the crucial aspects of how she appears to colleges, "the community" is presumably the world community of Asians. So perhaps she'd better look into a way of permanently dismantling the current regime in North Korea. Then, and only then, maybe she'll have a shot at one of the lesser Ivies.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving to-do list

1) Gratinate potatoes and suspend apples in cake batter. Pick up pumpkin pie. Face Fairway crowds, unless alternative comes to me as part of a late-19th-century-esque Marian apparition, causing me to renounce Judaism and to have my story taught to NYU graduate students over a century later. I.e. face Fairway crowds.

2) Finish Arthur Hertzberg's fantastic book on Jews and the French Enlightenment. Read others I just checked out. Write a 20-page paper on Montesquieu's Lettres persanes.

3) A wee bit of work for those other classes.

4) A massive bit more.

5) Revel in the delight that is my new computer!!!!!! I.e. do my homework, but without computer-crash-related interruptions.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Over the borderline

Heaven forfend! Could it be? 10021 is no longer the creme de la skim cappuccino that it once was. Jay McInerney's piece in New York about how, these days, it costs a lot to live downtown, too, is worth reading if only for the most bizarre bit of name-dropping I've seen, well, ever: "My shrink, a former student of Hannah Arendt’s, lives deep in the Lower East Side, at Houston and Avenue A, in a five-story building that has a stark, army-green, unattended, disinfectant-scented lobby." Hannah Arendt has as much to do with this article as Karl Marx does with socialite Tinsley Mortimer. Aside from the usual New York Magazine oohing and ahhing over the least-interesting of the wealthy ("My fiancée is a post-deb with a venerable surname and a deep, burnished voice that sounds as if it had been passed down through many generations... Many of her friends live within a few blocks of her apartment on East 72nd, and on any given night she will find some of them at Swifty’s or Doubles or La Grenouille. Her children attended Spence and Buckley before they moved on to prep school.") McInerney points out that, these days, the Village and Tribeca are expensive enough for rich people to live in. He makes one decent point, that "the Upper East Side may be the last neighborhood to preserve its signification and its identity, if only as a kind of prewar retirement community, replete with museums and hospitals, encased in amber," but otherwise points out the obvious, that it costs a lot to live downtown.

The real point to be made about the decline of the Upper East Side is that, unlike 2006's West Village, it borders an as-yet ungentrified neighborhood. South of 14th Street is now almost entirely filled with delights for the post-yuppie (David Brooks's "bobos" who never wants to see anyone poor, aside from those working in the back of restaurants, but they're in the back, so you don't have to see much of them if you don't want to. In other words, the Village is a much more comfortable place to live if you want to be obscenely rich but convince yourself that you are, in fact, normal. The Upper East Side defines itself in opposition to East Harlem--the 96th Street "border" was never as much of a thing on the West Side, and is today completely meaningless. The rich who grew up in the age of diversity and political correctness don't want to live in an area of haves and have-nots, they want a world in which the "poor" are those who chose a non-profit job post-Brown, rather than a banking job post-Princeton. I was at the express stop at 86th Street and Lexington for the first time in a while recently, and realized that I had not seen so much racial diversity in a long time--and I commute from gentrifying/ied Brooklyn to NYU, two areas the 59th-96th xenophobic set historically found most unacceptable.

Kate Moss, AB??

I'm a little embarrassed for my alma mater. Apparently a nerd school in the middle of a city known for deep-dish pizza is, despite appearances and defying all likelihood, a hotbed of anorexia. I suggest that before reading this article and worrying about that girl you saw wearing only a size 8, the poor thing, you take a walk around, say, Columbia, Princeton, or NYU, where many a scrawny lass makes her way into the Bobst library in hotpants, come rain or shine.

The point of this Chicago Maroon article is that, among sorority girls at the University of Chicago, there is pressure to be thin. And what percentage of women at the University are in sororities? I can't find an exact number, but it looks like under 1 in 10 is involved in "Greek life", and there are 10 fraternities but only three sororities. In other words, this article applies to about a dozen people. Eventually the piece gets around to mentioning that this is the exception, not the rule, but by then it's too ridiculous.

A 2006 AOPi alum is quoted, complaining that, among sorority sisters, “being thin matters more in regards to being attractive than clothing, having a pretty face, or being a sweet person. If you are not thin, you are not hip.” Just checking--is caring about what people wear or how pretty their faces are less shallow than caring about weight? Oh well.

The problem for sorority girls at the University of Chicago is that they choose to rebel against the dominant culture of geekiness and go out, you know, socially, to places other than Jimmy's and the Pub, so as to post hundreds of thousands of billions of pictures of themselves on Facebook wearing flashy/skimpy outfits, so as to judge and be judged continuously. But from what I gather, sorority membership is voluntary. The appeal of such institutions is apparently quite strong--even my imaginary boyfriend Theodor Herzl was in a fraternity, an anti-Semitic one at that--but it's a force that can be easily resisted, if anywhere, at the U of C. Same goes for the pressure to be a skinny hipster--it's out there as a subculture if you want it, but Chicago remains friendlier to the chubby and be-sweatpants than any other top American liberal arts college.

Has this post seemed harsh or angry? If so, it's because I, like Rita, fear Chicago's impending "fratification," and want to add yet another bloggy voice of resistance to the trend.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Party Socialiste!

This afternoon I had to leave the French Institute library because I could not stop laughing.

Ashkenazi. Lior Ashkenazi.

Just got back from seeing the latest Bond installment. From the get-go, all I could think was that Lior Ashkenazi is James Bond. It's that simple. Israelis--and I say this with all due respect--make much better tough-guy, macho, cold-as-ice good-guys than do the Brits. And Ashkenazi looks quite a bit like Daniel Craig, only not so scary-muscular and, thank god, not blond. A blond Bond, why? But beyond that, Ashkenazi's fight scene in "Walk on Water" is enough to qualify him as not just Bond, but the ultimate Bond, even if, as Alex pointed out, an Israeli Bond would be a bit confusing for an audience who found an Australian Bond a bit too non-British. I'm far from being in the movie business, but if I were, I'd see about making Ashkenazi the next Bond, but as it is, will have to settle for hoping some new Israeli movie comes out soon, as there seem to be about five Israeli actors, so there's a good chance he'd be in it...

Although I'm not in the movie business, I am not entirely business-free. Seeing as I make it my business to figure out all things French-Jewish, I now take a break from official research into such matters to ask a tangentially related question of the WWPD audience, should one still exist: Would French affirmative action end up benefitting the French Jewish population? Not in the sense of gaining from a more fair and diverse society, but in the sense of actually receiving a bit of positive discrimination. In America, much is made--reasonably, most of the time-- of the fact that Jews were quite thoroughly discriminated against by schools and universities, and yet today are considered an overrepresented minority and thus not among affirmative action's direct beneficiaries. However, the few who happen to be both Jewish and something underrepresented count. And so I'd imagine, in France, where so many Jews are North African, and where North African descent is presumably what French affirmative action might concern itself with, for both historical and contemporary reasons... Yeah, so anyone with thoughts on this, comment away.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Francophobic Zionism

A fellow UChicago grad forwarded me this article calling for a Jewish boycott of France from something called the Israel Hasbara Committee. Someone referring to him- or herself as "A Jew Living in France" lists a variety of anti-Semitic incidents, including acts of vandalism, and concludes that, "Nowhere have the flames of antisemitism burned more furiously than in France."

And here's the interesting bit. Time to stop all those visits to Petit Bateau and the Zabars cheese counter:

Second, boycott France and French products. Only the Arab countries are more toxically antisemitic and, unlike them, France exports more than just oil and hatred. So, boycott their wines and their perfumes. Boycott their clothes and their foodstuffs. Boycott their movies. Definitely boycott their shores. If we are resolved we can exert amazing pressure and, whatever else we may know about the French, we most certainly know that they are like a cobweb in a hurricane in the face of well-directed pressure.

But alas, things are not so simple. First off, does suicide bombing count as anti-Semitic violence, and if so, should Israel, too, be subject to boycott? The French government today comes out firmly against anti-Semitism...

But the thing about France, as I emailed my former schoolmate, is that it may have more anti-Semitic incidents per capita than some other places, but it also has many more Jews. 600,000's the estimate usually thrown around, along with "third, after the US and Israel," neither of which can be confirmed, as France (thankfully, I'd say) does not count its Jews.* In other words, Jews appear to consider France more hospitable than all but two other countries on the planet. Countries seen as so "bad for the Jews" that they barely have any must appear incident-free. (Although there's always the odd case of anti-Semitic violence in places with no Jews, where someone non-Jewish is seen as a bit "Jewy" and all hell breaks loose.)

So does this mean that Nazi Germany must have been the most hospitable place for Jews in all of history, what with the unprecedented level of anti-Semitic incidents? No, but it's still fair to say that, of those places where anti-Semitism is a problem, a history of Jews living comfortably usually exists. Not being French, and not (yet) having done the necessary research, I cannot say for sure, but my sense of it is that French Jews are in danger somewhat less than, say, American gays, who also face many an "incident," and who, unlike French Jews, do not have full civil rights.

Of course, things in France are not all fantastic. As one of my Hebrew-class classmates pointed out this evening, and as I suppose I'd mentioned on WWPD before, French Jews are heading east in record numbers, and those who have not actually made aliyah often are either considering it or buying property in Israel, just in case. This might have something to do with much of the current Jewish population in France being, much like the Muslim North African population, relatively new to the "hexagon," or it might be a sign that World War III is about to reach the Marais. I don't know which, but hope to write a paper on this soon, so we shall see. It's probably better to be Jewish in Israel than in France in many cases, and is undeniably better to be Jewish between 72nd and 96th on the West Side than just about anywhere else. But my overall point here is that anti-Semitism can be combatted in France without abandoning proper Camembert for good.

*A tangentially related point, having to do with affirmative action. Last night I attended an intriguing panel discussion at NYU's Maison Francaise on "positive discrimination" in France. Unfortunately, though, one of the most important points about affirmative action was pretty much brushed over. The debate is often seen as those who fear minorities and women gaining unfair advantages (aka conservative white men who already have far too much, etc.) versus those individuals who understand that the playing field needs leveling. But what about those who agree the playing field needs leveling (aka anyone of the liberal-reasonable slant), but who see the very act of asking people to identify themselves racially, the very act of a government collecting such data, as creepy and dangerous enough to merit keeping race, per se, out of affirmative action? In America at this point, people are so used to filling out their race on forms from who knows where that it becomes second nature, like a phone number and a permanent address. That's bad news. Aside from a brief remark from Patrick Weil explaining how, among other things, Vichy makes France today wary of counting its minorities, there wasn't much mention of why people-- Jews especially, in France especially but also American Jews with even the most minimal historical understanding-- might oppose certain forms of affirmative action for not at all reactionary reasons.**

**Had I figured out a way to ask this more succinctly, I'd have done so at the talk. Sometimes I do this in time, but last night it was not to be. Next time...

Is there some such thing as used?

At a diner on the Upper West Side, you can, if you so choose, order a "Tasted Bagel."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Product placement

My Dell's a sad animal, although using a different power cord helps. Today I very nearly got a MacBook, but indecision followed by confusion on the part of a credit card company have postponed this slightly. To compensate, I went to Joe, the coffee place near campus that I'd read in "Time Out" makes a great granita. But while Joe was still open, the granita machine was done for the day. To compensate for this failed attempt at compensation, I headed over to Citarella, the nearest gourmet food store, and bought a lot of completely unnecessary cheese. Insert obligatory "it's a hard life" comment here.

In other news from the vibrant area around West 4th Street, there's a sign up at the Barnes and Noble for Mireille Giuliano's latest oeuvre, French Women for All Seasons, which Will Baude criticizes but is more generous with than I imagine I'd be with the book if I were to read it. Seems Giuliano remains convinced that French women have the secret to thinness, and that this secret lies in their philosophy of eating, not in the fact that Paris is one big smoke-filled boutique where an American "zero" is the largest size available.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Falafel-croissant alliance on the way?

France comes across in Haaretz as kind of reasonable.

This post is really just an excuse for me to mention that a croissant is an insufficient brunch, and that the time has come to leave the library and seek out something else, perhaps falafel.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hello from a well-manicured schlepper:

In one classic "Absolutely Fabulous" episode, though I've forgotten which one, Patsy, ever nostalgic for the '60s, recalls having had her "tits" painted. When asked, "As what?", she responds, "as tits." I kept thinking of this exchange when getting what I believe was my third-ever manicure, the last of which was over a decade ago. This time around, I went for a French manicure. For the uninitiated, it--unlike 90% of the classes I take-- has nothing to do with France, but rather consists of having your nails painted like nails, with extra-white ends painted on. It's kind of tacky but for some reason I spent the whole day thinking how absolutely fabulous it would look--sort of like that rare craving for a food you don't usually like--and gosh, it looks fantastic.

That was the immediate post-French-class activity. A bit later on in the evening, Alex and I went to the PresenTense Magazine launch at NYU's Bronfman Center. This was exciting, and not just because of the free diet Coke. I got to meet a number of fellow bloggers, including Esther of Jewlicious, as well as a "kvetch" blogger named "DK" who, if he reads this post, can give a clearer account of his identity than I just have. There was also an exhibition "Forgotten Heritage: Uncovering New York's Hidden Jewish Past." To be distinguished, presumably, from New York's not-so-hidden Jewish present, which Alex and I encountered just now in front of Zabars, at the Philip Roth bookstand, where I had a chat with the man who sells autographed copies of Roth's books about whether Alex or I counted, in that particular instance, as a "schlepper," based on the number of items each of us was schlepping.

All told, yesterday was Francophilic and Zionistic through and through. And now, a triumphant return to my reading.

Monday, November 06, 2006

"In my country there is problem"

I spent much of this past weekend studying anti-Semitism. I took a meta-interdisciplinary approach: Yesterday I attended a conference at the University of Pennsylvania entitled "Jews in France: Crisis and Continuity"--an interdisciplinary look at all things "Juif," -- and on Friday I saw the new Borat movie. What's remarkable is how easy it was to come away from both events with roughly the same interpretation of where Jews fit in the world today. Or, if not the same take, at least equally complex ones.

Borat midaber a whole lot of ivrit. Kazakhs and Israelis must understand one another with ease, considering that nearly all of Borat's subtitled mumblings in the new movie are in fact Hebrew, intelligible even to those as Hebrew-inept as yours truly.

The fact that Borat speaks Hebrew adds a whole new dimension of mockery and ridiculousness to the film. Not only is "Borat" a British Jew successfully able to convince Americans to reveal their most embarassing bigotries through his own (fictitious) ones, but he is one-upping them on another, particularly Jewish level as well. Modern, spoken Hebrew is perhaps the biggest symbol of Jewish continuity and triumph against all odds in the world today. By having Borat speak that language, Cohen reveals, to those Jews with any sort of national self-awareness, whose side he's on, making any and all charges of anti-Semitism against him seem far off. It may well be that Cohen just happens to know Hebrew, and that Hebrew mumbling comes to him more naturally than would, say, actual Kazakh mumbling, but it hardly matters. The effect is the same.

Now, the conference. In France, since the Middle Ages, there has been problem. The matter at hand was this: if France was the first country in Europe to emancipate its Jews, if France, now and a good part of then, is one of the most Jew-friendly places in the world, then why the Dreyfus Affair, why Vichy, and why the cutting remarks from fellow pro-Israel's-existence, unashamedly-Jewish types whenever I mention that I study French? In other words, why does France get such a bad rap, and is it deserved?

I'll spare the WWPD audience (if there still is such an audience) my thoughts on the discussion of fin-de-siecle French anti-Semitism, since I find this subject fascinating but have yet to come upon a way of making others feel the same. But as for the problem of anti-Semitism today, and leaving France-specific issues (sometimes busmen do take holidays) the conference got me thinking. While anti-Semitism isn't the fault of Jews any more than rape is the fault of women, there are equivalents of teaching boys not to be sociopaths and not walking alone at night.

The David Mamet- Ariel Beery, anti-new-Jew stance (not that Beery and Mamet have the exact same stance) is one I've also espoused for a while now. Hipster Judaism, ironic Jewishness, an embrace of Jewish identity as something embarassing and pathetic, or just a sincere belief that it is embarassing to be Jewish and that any knowledge or interest one has in things Jewish ought not to be mentioned in mixed company. However, it's not helpful to construct an opposition between, on the one hand, hipster Jews, unironically-embarassed Jews, the non-observant, those with no particular interest in their Jewish background, and those with strong interests outside of the specifically Jewish world (say, scientists, artists, gay activists); and on the other hand, the good, observant, proud Zionist Jews. Or, to put this less clumsily, there's a lot of space between being an articulate supporter of the Jewish nation and going out of your way to point out what unathletic nerds Jews are whenever you have a chance. Some people just don't care that they're Jewish, not out of shame, but because it's just not a big deal to their identity. That Hitler would have counted these people is not reason enough for them to care that they are Jewish. An optimal world situation for Jews is one in which we are all free to decide how much we care about that aspect of our identity. And, while the world today is not quite at optimal, things are peaceful enough that the apathetic need not be mobilized.

However, standing quite apart from the apathetic are the ashamed, those who buy into Jewish stereotypes and see only the nebbishes and the neurotics when looking at the Jewish people. The ashamed are those who think of themselves as undeniably Jewish, but would have trouble telling someone, if asked what they are, "I'm Jewish."

Shame is bad news, because it's both caused by and a cause of further anti-Semitism. It's understandable why, in a world that's less than friendly to Jews, embarassment comes naturally. Also, any indication of Jewish interest leads one to be considered a "big Jew" or "very Jewish" and thus by definition unattractive, over-the-top, and obsessed with things Jewish (either victimhood or Zionism) to the exclusion of all else. I hate to say it, but I've been in innumerable situations when it would be much easier to tell someone that I'm in graduate school to study French than to give the full (though brief) explanation of my academic interest, i.e. French Jews. I try not to fall into that trap. If Jews see Jewishness as a big joke, while no other nationality sees things quite like this, we're essentially screwed.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Restaurant Hagiography: Nha Trang

It only makes egocentric sense that I should like a food whose name is the first three letters of my first name. But I had never before tried pho, since every time I get Vietnamese food, I make a point in ordering whichever dish promises to involve the most rice paper, which does kind of rule out noodle soup. But tonight at the fabulous Nha Trang, after deciding on a rice paper-having appetizer, I took a risk, following Katherine's lead and ordering pho. I got the "satay" beef pho, which didn't involve any skewers, but which was very tasty and I want to say suspiciously cheap. As in, a grad student (any grad student) could eat well at this place every night. The vegetarian summer roll, also fantastic.

Dinner was a while ago now, I'm still full, and yet am still pining for dishes I didn't have room to order. Let's just say I plan on doing a lot of back-and-forth between the French building and Chinatown from now on. A lot of rolling back and forth, most likely, but it's so worth it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

(Further) Proof that Rufus=God

"I tried to dance Britney Spears. I guess I'm getting on in years."--Rufus Wainwright.

I'm fascinated by, yet too old for, facebook. This evening, intending to send my boyfriend an event I'd been invited to, I accidentally "shared" the event (hosted by someone from high school whom few of my other friends are likely to know) with the entirety of my facebook friendlist, if not--for all I know--with the entirety of facebook, using the "share" function which, it seems, I do not understand... I guess maybe the aforementioned party will now be especially well-attended? Oh dear.

"Men reading fashion magazines. Oh what a world it seems we live in. Straight men!"

At a recent French-IFS seminar, our guest speaker discussed the phenomenon of men reading women's magazines, but only in secret. I brought up the above lyric, seeing as it's highly relevant, and proves, perhaps, that metrosexuality has shaken this once-truism. And I'm almost positive Our Lord Wainwright wrote this lyric before the advent of metrosexuality.

Make it stop!

Today after class, one of my classmates, who is always very cool and composed, heard me mention that I'm stressed about the impending homework marathon, and told me that I'm fed, well, and that there are bigger problems in the world. Point taken, but problems are relative, right? I have a sense that my classmate is onto something. That said, complain I must. If only this once.

I resolved a while back not to be one of those grad students who complain about undergrads. But the near-death, slight recovery, and now possible full-on demise of the Dell has left me in the computer lab, overhearing, despite headphones, a conversation about some girl who won't stop discussing "how big the monkey's penis is." Think that's conducive to writing an explication de texte on Apollinaire, huh? Well? Maybe these are grad students. Maybe they are professors. I can't resolve not to whine, but perhaps not to make assumptions.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

To do list:


Monday, October 30, 2006

A near-death experience

Today I got to class, plugged in my laptop, attempted to turn it on, and... nothing. Tried with a different outlet later and again, nothing. I was not pleased. The end of both the little Dell that, on occasion, could, and perhaps even this very blog, seemed imminent. But then Pony came to the rescue and told me to remove the battery and plug the thing in battery-free. Which I just did, and let me say, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Furet, etc.

If you're a student at the IFS, or otherwise interested in all things French-political, check out this book review in The Nation. However, if you're a student at the IFS, there's a good chance that you're currently either a) busy reading about French sociology, or b) recovering from a fabulous and IFSer-filled Halloween party. So, when you're ready, take a look. I'll take a closer look at the article, as well as at the book that's reviewed, eventually, and, should there be time between the reading (assigned and not) and the socializing (in costume and not) I just might post a response to the book/article on WWPD.

Friday, October 27, 2006

New, for fans of Rushmore and Hedwig:

Shortbus: In a society in which it's assumed we're all familiar with the various sexual acts that are out there, with what permutations are possible, showing married couples in seperate beds, or even failing to show any sex onscreen, starts to seem a bit dated. That said, John Cameron Mitchell's decision to begin his movie with a one-person sex act that was on the nauseating side didn't so much feel real as feel, well, nauseating. That said, his movie's completely brilliant. What makes both this movie and Hedwig so great is the fact that outrageous sexual exploits are neither celebrated nor judged. Or, more precisely, they're celebrated as freeing in some instances and condemned as detrimental to an ideal of monogamous couplehood in others. While Mitchell is clearly not a partisan of the religious right, his perspective is not so different from the David Brooksian, it's fine to be gay, as long as you couple off all marriage-like. Experimentation is looked at as a means to an end, a way of finding fulfulling partnership, but the orgy is presented as a form of therapy or transition, not as an end in itself. To make this movie, nudity--and them some--only makes sense.

Marie Antoinette: It's a whole lot like bringing your iPod to Barneys. Looking at pretty shoes while listening to hipster music isn't a disaster, but it's not a worthy use of two-plus hours of your life. There's something subversive and interesting about a mainstream movie that's not just not liberal, but so reactionary that it's actually full-on royalist. However, there's something unfortunate about a movie in which a super obnoxious character you know is soon to be beheaded not actually losing her head onscreen. What makes this movie is that Max from Rushmore is Louis XVI. So what if Jason Schwartzman only got the part because he's Sofia Coppola's cousin, or if the Schwartzmen only got emancipated in 1791, thus adding to the movie's anachronism. He is a fantastic Louis, and he makes the movie bearable. His "Obviously!" in this movie rivals his "Oh, are they?" in the other.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I'm still here, kinda. One exam and one paper later, midway through a 700-page novel, and there you have it. That's not including homework for other classes, or various random things that must be accomplished (bills to mail, forms to fax, and the eventual tracking down of a vacuum cleaner).

This is officially the most boring post ever on WWPD.

Friday, October 20, 2006

"Where the real people are"

My roommate and I just watched the season premier of "Trading Spouses." The premise was swapping a Protestant woman from Kentucky with an Orthodox Jewish woman from the Boston suburbs.

This episode could have been called, "The Vast Spectrum of the Republican Electorate." While politics was never mentioned specifically, I'm going to take a leap and guess that neither racoon-hunters nor those who shomer negiah voted for Kerry. It just as easily could have been called, "Further Investigation Into the Mindset of Those Who Sang Along Enthusiastically to 'Throw the Jew Down the Well.'"

Despite rhetoric of Judeo-Christian values, of the faithful of all faiths uniting against sin and fun, the message from this show was that much of the nation still thinks Jews are odd as all get-out. That class, profession, and region are not nearly as salient as Jewishness. The father in the Jewish family a physicist and the mother's an engineering professor. I'm not going to say that looked entirely foreign to me, but that's not quite the typical Jewish home. Or, more to the point, a science/academic family is something quite specific, regardless of religion or lack thereof. This was portrayed as further evidence of a particularly Jewish uptightness or nerdiness. In the Christian family, the mother is a nurse and the father is a prison warden. Which led to perhaps the most amazing identifying caption ever on any television program, ever: "Father/Prison Warden." But while the Massachusetts mother sees differences in terms of region or locality, or attitudes towards education, the Kentucky mother sees this as about Jews versus regular folk.

Keeping kosher--as in, keeping a kosher home, not just saying "hold the bacon"-is certainly a challenge if it's not something you're used to. So it was to be expected that food would be an issue. What was disturbing, though, was the Kentucky mother's insistence that kashrut--and Judaism in general--is not the "American way." That's bad news. While there was a fair dose of intolerance on both sides--the Massachusetts mother's objection to hunting was hard to take, given that she spent ages trying to track down kosher meat (I mean, for crying out loud, anyone who can't just be a vegetarian for a week has no right to claim PETA-level love of raccoons)--the Kentucky family was grounded in a confidence that they belong, that even their flaws are admirable, that a son's refusal to do homework makes him well-balanced, whereas the Jewish family is forever on the defensive. The family's are supposed to consider each other weird, that's the point of the show, but this went further. Both families feel themselves to be American, but one sees the other as anything but. Being of a nerdy/academic Jewish bent myself, I've taken a brief break from homework to read a book by Pierre Birnbaum about "State Jews" in France, about the fused Franco-Jewish identity during the Third Republic. Which is a fantastic book. But the point relevant here is that French Jewish goverment officials kept thinking themselves French (legally, they were full citizens, and the Republic was officially secular), anti-Semites kept repeating that they weren't as French as French Catholics. Long story short, there's now a country where Jews do not have to face that particular issue. And no, that country is not the United States.

But, back to the show, it gets worse.

When the Kentucky mom's stay with The Jews is over, she says the following: "I'm ready to go home. Where real people are."

I've got nothing.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Face facts

What, if anything, makes the full-face veil problematic? According to the BBC, Tony Blair says, "It is a mark of separation and that is why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable." Since the same could clearly be said of everything from blue hair to Hasidic garb to visible thongs--not to mention school uniforms, or this versus last season's jeans--why worry about veils? Isn't all clothing intended as a mark of separation?

Of course it is. The simple answer to why veiling presents a problem is that this particular mark of separation is one used by a community that is, in part, at war with Britain and the West in general. If Islam in general were not seen as a threat, women could presumably go around in opaque bubbles and no one would complain. But, then again, there's a bit more to it.

While both the headscarf and the full-face veil symbolize Islam, and thus set off whichever fear signals those disposed to thinking along such lines will experience, there's something different about a face being entirely covered. Facial expression is such a large part of communication that voluntarily giving it up isn't all that different from voluntarily choosing to gesture and write but not speak. There is modesty intended not to show how sexy you are (everything from a headscarf to a turtleneck to an unflattering pair of slacks), and there is modesty intended not to show who you are. I'm not saying this difference means one should be banned and not the other--I also see the arguments for banning neither or both, depending on the context--but just that the arguments against the full-face veil are not the same as those against the basic headscarf.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dumb and dumber

Either the new kids' NYU sweatshirt or the new black "skinny" jeans just dyed the rest of my clothing a little bit purple. Not a lot, all still wearable, but a bit purple all the same.

What preceded my laundry-doing, however, was locking myself out of my apartment, for the first time ever. I left my room, stepped the few feet to the washing machines, and then the door slammed shut, neither propped open nor unlocked (I'd thought both). I did not have keys, a phone, money, a Metrocard, anything. What I do have, however, is a midterm I'd been studying for, with all the materials back in the apartment. After significant kicking and other useful, bobby-pin-related attempts at breaking into my own apartment, I finally broke down and rang a neighbor's bell. He let me borrow his phone to call the super, who does not, for future reference, have the keys. Eventually, two other neighbors showed up, one of whom suggested the credit card technique (didn't work) and the other who, after failed attempts with various screwdrivers, managed to climb in the outside window and open the door to my apartment. Turns out he's an actual rock-climber--this is not by any means a simple task. He is also my hero.

Quote of the day: "I am Costanza, king of the idiots."


Sometimes I look at my blogroll and think, why? As in, how'd that get there? I see that a blog called Towleroad, a well-written site for and about gay men, is on the list. It's not one I generally look at, so I had a look. And, funny thing is, it's coming back to me how that link might have gotten there.

In other link-related news, my classmate Clementine was linked from Gawker. Very cool.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Last night I did the unthinkable--went clubbing. This is sort of an every other year thing, and thus merits photographic evidence. Buddha Bar is as hard to navigate as O'Hare (and this was with a reservation), but not half bad once you get settled. I think the time has come to mention that, gosh darn it, NYU grad students are a fabulous bunch, and I do not include myself in that assessment. I am not fabulous. But everyone else who studies French--as well as plenty of folks in other departments--is pretty damn fabulous.

Also fabulous: the French middle class. About whom I've been reading, and will continue reading once I've published this post.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pas echapper!

On brief breaks from official Frenchifying, I've encountered the following:

A man in the Village telling his adorable Lab puppy, "Pas sauter, pas sauter!"

A man on line at Prospect Heights hotspot Bergen Bagels asking his wife if she wants "cinnamon-raison-beurre."

A NYT Book Review section chock full of information about Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette.

Recent excitement

It's been a busy week/month/whatever. I'm in the midst of writing out everything that happened (not to mention the relevant historiography!) between 1700 and 1800 in France. A lot happened, so this is pretty much my day. That said, some interesting (though not nearly as interesting or earth-shattering) things from the past few days:

1) Unfortunately, I do not know what the matter is with Holland. Aaron Berlin let me know that Andrew Sullivan was going to be at the 82nd and Broadway Barnes and Noble. As I said to Aaron, considering my interest in learning what's wrong with the Netherlands came from reading Sullivan's blog, it only made sense to go see Sullivan. Although I wish, as always, that it were possible to be in two places at once. That said, Sullivan had a lot to say. I'm not sure what to make of his assertion that conservatism is the correct road for those who wish to avoid fundamentalism and nihilism--why not liberalism, libertarianism, or moderation? I raised my hand to ask this, but Sullivan was off to Larry King, so there wasn't time for all the questions. That also said, Andrew Sullivan was the first blogger I can remember reading, which made all of this very thrilling for me.

2) It's entirely probable that I will be going to England, Norway, and Israel this winter. I'm beyond excited. For WWPD readers, this will mean one of the more eclectic Flickr albums ever.

3) You know you're in grad school when your outline for a midterm is the length of a dissertation, and you've barely gotten started.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A plea for a return to horse-and-buggy

The purpose of the University of Chicago's Civilization study abroad programs is that you'll get a better grasp of a place's history if you study it in that place. Civilization in situ, I think was the catchphrase. Depending upon the program, this can mean getting a weaker grasp of a place's history due to a country's drinking age being, say, twelve, but in the case of the program I went on, they meant business, and it worked, got me awfully interested in French history.

So with that principle in mind, I took my sociology readings on the French bourgeoisie--specifically private girls' schools and the French equivalent of that socialite dancing-school some of my Spence classmates did--up to the Upper East Side, not to learn about a culture I know nothing about but to remember full well exactly how that lifestyle looks and feels. (Carnegie Hill and the 16th Arrondissment differ only in that the latter has better cheese, older buildings, and fewer Woody Allen sightings).

Can I just say that I'm dumbfounded by the fact that the subtle yet immensely important differences between how one girl at a girls' school wears her uniform and how another one does form the basis for a field of study, that this is considered worth looking into by sociologists. It's not that I think it's not worth looking into. Hardly. It's just that I spent ages eight through eleven poring over this stuff, overanalyzing what it meant that [insert name of daughter of business scion/well-known politician] wore Adidas Sambas whereas someone from a different clique wore Doc Martens, whereas that girl over there was wearing Airwalks, and came up with all sorts of chartable, quantifiable information on my classmates' choice of accessory and what that had to do with status... and had always looked at this as sort of a lost stage in my life. Yet, had I written it up exactly as I observed it and as I explained it to whomever would listen, it might well have been read by grad students just a few 4-5-6 train stops away. Could have, should have, might of, but didn't, eh?

So yes, I spent part of today back in the illustrious 'hood. But I was downtown before this happened. Still immensely weirded out all the same. During class, a girl mentioned something about a plane crashing into a building, but dismissed the event's importance, saying it was up on 70-something Street. I didn't know the exact coordinates, but this did sound like my neighborhood. Yes, this was scary as all get-out, but my family's fine, and as tragic as the event was, considering it was an airplane flying into a building in the middle of Manhattan, it could certainly have been worse. That said, why exactly can random people fly airplanes above densely populated residential neighborhoods in the first place? I would be happy to see Manhattan free of cars, so it goes without saying I don't see what the hell tiny private airplanes are doing in the air above York Avenue. While it's obviously a relief that this wasn't terrorism, I can't quite understand why, if you're not bent on the destruction of Western Civilization, you'd want to fly your dinky plane around tall buildings in Manhattan.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Equality in all the wrong places

Back in the day, it was all about John Derbyshire, Woody Allen, and little girls. I think we've finally reached a state of gender equality. With male congressmen and female schoolteachers alike chasing the peach-fuzz set, it appears that both boys and girls can now be not just victims of skeeviness, but victims of well-publicized skeeviness. Just as metrosexuality was set forth to permit men to be as vain as women, the new decision to consider underage males the victims of statutory rape, even when no priests are involved, makes boys that much more equal to girls.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The somewhat smaller night

Grad school means that although tonight is not a school night, I'm sitting here in my NYU kids' sweatshirt reading about Napoleon. This might not be everybody's cup of tea (or in my case at the moment, giant mug of coffee), but I happen to like grad school.

I especially like grad school right now, as there's an upcoming talk which, for once, does not conflict with anything else I want to attend. This Thursday at 6, NYUers and I suppose others in the area can go hear what the matter is with Holland. I, for one, would like to know.

The big night!

The thing about a five-year high school reunion, in the age of Facebook, is that it's not quite the surprise-filled event it might be if it were, say, a 20-year reunion in the pre-Internet age. Everyone who came out, got good-looking, or otherwise did something that could count as surprising since high school has already made that known to the rest of us. Plus, because five years really isn't that long, it basically felt as if there had been prom, then a week's vacation, then we returned to school and had another prom, but with fewer people and less voluminous hair.

As for the photos, I give the following disclaimers:

#1: My bangs are parted in the middle for reasons I do not understand, but proper blow-drying should fix that. Maybe.

#2: I do not yet "get" blush, and so look far more intoxicated in some of these photos than was in fact the case.

#3: Apparently people from high school read my blog, which I learned after enough people said they knew exactly what I've been up to, and so we could dispense with the usual pleasantries. This isn't exactly a disclaimer, I was just kind of surprised is all.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The big day!

The Dachshund Oktoberfest was fan-friggin-tastic. Washington Square Park was a sea of dachshunds, of all shapes, coats, and degrees of silliness. Well, all were quite silly. Photos coming soon, obvs. The Stuyvesant reunion is also coming up very, very soon. Two hours of open bar will probably lead to silliness of Dachshund Oktoberfest proportions, but if people are overall more sober than they were at senior prom, I won't be at all surprised. You have to figure college does something for alcohol tolerance.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Since tomorrow night is a chance to drunkenly pretend to care what's happened to everyone from high school since our cuddle-puddle glory days, tonight's all about Diderot. Such is grad school. I've been taking Diderot and his indiscreet euphemistic "jewels" all around town. On so many levels, it was only a matter of time until the following entered my life:

"Hubert Colson owns a pastry shop in Mons, Belgium. Yonatan Israel, a native of Paris, is a filmmaker in New York. Together they have opened Pâtisserie Colson, a trim little pastry shop and cafe at 374 Ninth Street (Sixth Avenue), Park Slope, Brooklyn."

This place may well be the only in New York if not America if not outside Belgium that sells "an almond-scented Belgian rice pudding tart." I wasn't really that up for one today, though, but the raspberry-lemon curd tart wasn't half bad. The bread was apparently stale, but I will nevertheless have to return to find out if the tart is up to the Belgian standard.

$170 on 170th!

Via Gawker, I just found Alex Kuczynski's fascinating article about what happens when a white person risks it all to verify that you can, in fact, overpay for jeans above 96th Street. A Gawker commentor correctly points out that the referring to Harlem's gentrification as "stretching the boundaries of humanity" implies something not so fantastic about what Kuczynski thinks the species is of those who arrived before gentrification. Also worth noting: Kuczynski runs into a group of white women, New Yorkers who are nevertheless in Harlem as tourists, and refers to herself as being, in their eyes, "also clearly from lower Manhattan." What does it mean to be "clearly from lower Manhattan"? Lower as in below 96th Street? Lower Manhattan makes me think of either Canal Street or the Financial District, maybe SoHo, but certainly not the Upper East Side, which is the only neighborhood that could possibly think to send tour buses from one part of the city to the next.

Which brings me to what's annoying about Kuczynski's article. It isn't that she is white, that she's discussing gentrification, or that she dares--as a white person whose primary qualification appears to be writing about luxury shopping--to mention race. It's that she's writing from the classic 57th-96th, 3rd-5th perspective. As in, if something falls outside the bounds of the Upper East Side proper, it's inherently suspect, dingy, or, at best, "funky."

The more gentrified the city overall becomes, the more outdated and frankly confusing such an interpretation of New York becomes. Rich, skinny, well-dressed white people--and the accompaying stores, restaurants, and so on-- are everywhere; of this group, the 57th-96th set is just one category. It's a category that's more America than New York, that embraces a country-club rather than hipster aesthetic, and that doesn't realize it's much cooler to pretend not to be intimidated by going all the way to Avenue C or Williamsburg (Brooklyn, oh no!) than to cringe at the mention of anything more than three blocks from where you went to prep school. Kuczynski's discussion of Harlem could just as easily be about the East Village-- it's not so much about race as about provincialism. Her article is from the perspective of somebody stunned to realize things aren't so different once you walk a couple blocks in the other direction.

Brace yourselves

Soon, on this very website (Weblog, if you will) there will be many, many photos. Tomorrow's the big day. That's right--Dachshund Oktoberfest plus Stuyvesant Reunion. I'm writing this post mainly as a means of reminding myself to charge my camera's battery. It's gonna need it!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Shame on me

A couple years ago, I posted about the grad-undergrad battle playing out on the streets of Hyde Park. Today, I myself am a grad student, at NYU, and will be up all night explicating texts. In other words, much the same as UChicago undergrad. But as I get comments emailed to me, I was able to see that someone named Anonymous has just left the following comment on my post about grads and undergrads:

I am a U of C grad student. The reason I don't like U of C undergrads is not because of the typical undergrad aspects you might share with undergrads at other institutions, but the fact that you are undergrads at the U of C. You are a bunch of masochists who take 4 classes while we take 3, often the same classes, so you have no opportunity to learn something about real life. And you are a masochist for irrelevant "great books" and a core curriculum that stifles your choice of courses. And you all are burying your noses in books either in your dorms or across the street in the Reg but you never get out and see real life north of 55th Street so you are stuck in your immature and often bigoted and racist ways that you have had since high school. Really, the incidents that occurred last year among undergrads were an embarrassment for the entire university. Shame on you. You never have to learn how to shop for yourself, feed yourself or judging from the smell of some of you, clean yourselves, because the university provides it all for you for four years and you think that Medici has good food because you have never eaten in a decent restaurant. Your development is stifled and your ability to socially interact with the greater society is never developed as an undergrad at the U of C. These are the reasons I chose not to even apply here as an undergrad and seeing what undergrad life is like now that I am a grad student here I am assured that I was quite wise in that decision. I did my undergrad at Berkeley and I encountered all sorts of people there and learned how to take care of myself because there was no room in the dorms after first year so we had to live on our own and unlike the U of C, we undergrads were interesting and tolerant enough of different people that surprise surprise, the graduate students actually enjoyed treating us as equals there. We had interactions with the non-university community of all races on a daily basis too. You U of C undergrads just mock those who are different from you.

And please, we don't care about seven jeans. I have no clue what seven jeans are and I don't really care. I stopped wearing jeans when I was 14 and got stuck walking 3 miles in a rainstorm in jeans and decided they were heavy shackles and never put another pair on again.

I love it. It's a joke, right? As for the "Shame on you" in reference to events which took place at the University of Chicago last year, I will take a moment to assure Anonymous that, as a member of the class of 2005, I played no part in whatever is being referred to, nor am I quite sure what exactly went down. I rather enjoy being chastized for being a dumb undergrad now that I am in fact a dumb grad student; it makes me feel young! I will also say that I knew quite well, even as an undergrad, how to shop for myself, and made semi-frequent trips to H&M to do just that. Feeding myself, that was a bit more difficult, as the food in Chicago is atrocious. As for hygiene, it's cold in Chicago, for chrissakes, do you expect us undergrads to walk all the way from Broadview to campus with wet hair?

But in all (well, somewhat more) seriousness, what I don't quite understand about the grad-undergrad divide is that there's not so much of a difference, really. I knew what Seven jeans were as an undergrad, and know enough to know that the new "skinny" jeans have replaced any and all back-pocket-specific designer brands in trendiness. This is a good development for us grad students, as it means that the age of the $200 pair of jeans is over, we can now be ultrachic for a mere $40.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Manic shopping spree of graduate student proportions*

Today I spent so much money it's incredible. By graduate student standards, of course, and without wasting much time at all, but still. The day began respectably enough--had cereal at home, thus saving $2.75 on a muffin and coffee. I have an unlimited metrocard, so again, doing quite well so far. I bought a peach at the Greenmarket, but that obviously wasn't the purchase of the century.

Things began to fall apart after class, once Emi, Chelsea and I made a trip to the NYU bookstore, where I bought a book for class, then headed over to look at the kids' sweatshirts, since they are cheaper and gosh darn it they fit better, too. Near the kids' clothes was a $4 copy of Michael Oren's Six Days of War. Iiinnnteresting! Then, my perfect vision combined with some kind of sixth sense-obsession with French Jews, and all of a sudden, among the remaindered books, I found a copy of the amazing Pierre Birnbaum's book on "state Jews" in France, from Gambetta to Vichy. Huzzah! Somehow this added up to over $50.

Then came the much-deliberated French-girls trip to Sephora. I'd decided that blush might be interesting, but that I didn't know where to begin, so Chelsea, Emi, and soon also Charlotte gave me a hand. Buying blush entailed buying a brush, which entailed spending a bit more than I'd been thinking I would. How much? Too much. But blush seems rather awesome.

At long last, it was time to go home and be productive. But productivity requires food, and the only "supermarket" on the way home was Whole Foods. So I just had to buy especially high-quality groceries, when in retrospect, in the name of both cost and time-efficiency, ordering in might have been the way to go.

* See "jumbo shrimp"

“Mark Foley wants you to know that he is a gay man.”

Mark Foley is fascinating. He is but one man, yet he encompasses the entirety of modern-day, scandal-making problems. Sketchy relations with the barely legal. With the barely legal who also happen to be working for him. Sketchy use of the Internet. Closeted homosexuality. Which is enough, you'd think, but there's more. He was also--how very last season!--molested by a clergyman when he was a kid. And--how very Mel Gibson!--he is, sniff sniff, an alcoholic. Add on Delta Burke as his wronged, bulimic wife, and this is officially the perfect Lifetime movie.

I've enjoyed following the Mark Foley story because it's a return to the America of my youth, the rollicking 1990s, when apologetic fuck-ups, not al-Qaeda, were what made the news. Remember Amy Fisher, the Long Island Lolita? OJ? Monica? Not to discount the sufferings of Mary Joe Buttafucco and the like, but those were better days.