Thursday, August 31, 2006

Some things never change

This evening, on Park Avenue in the 60s or 70s, a uniformed maid walked a well-groomed white lap dog.

Is the Soda pareve?

Just got back from a not-quite-Oz-approved dinner of fries and beer with occasional co-blogger Nick, at hipsterific Brooklyn bar Soda. What makes Soda special, other than the occasional Chabad event? Relatedly, in a way, there's the bathroom graffiti, which is in Hebrew! Something about "hamelech," but I'm a bit shaky, so that's all I caught. It might have been "long live the king," but if so, and if yes, then why, I couldn't say. The bathroom was on the filthy side, so I wasn't about to turn the evening into a linguistics research hour. That, and the time has come to move into my new room and otherwise get organized in time for school. Oh yes.

But watermelon is so fattening!

OK, so I'm slightly frightened by this article about Daphne Oz, a "self-described former chubby girl made cute" who's written a book about how not to be fat while in college. Her qualifications include, well, her father's a doctor, she goes to Princeton (where she doesn't study anything health or biology-related), and she wrote a high school research paper on how not to be fat. As one of the huddled masses who wishes she'd written a book on a popular subject, part of me is jealous that I didn't come up with the idea of telling undergrads how to stay slim. How hard could that be? In a sense, I did write such a guide, although not one likely to put me in the Styles section. But so what if the truth is that the skinny kids in college are like that because of a combination of good genes and good drugs, or just a preponderance of bad food on campus? Everyone likes a book that tells you you're just a few baby carrots away from Kate Mossness.

I must say, the book's philosophy doesn't sound all that appealing. Natasha Singer writes:

"Ms. Oz’s own metamorphosis — from an unconscious consumer of white bread, bagels and 'huge plates of pasta' to an alert eater who views food purely as fuel — forms the backbone of the book."

As a consumer of huge plates of pasta, I must protest. And as a Francophile, I of course object to the idea that the best way to get through life is to view food as fuel. (insert gravelly French accent starting now). Shall we view sex purely as a means to reproduce? Shall we view fashion purely as a means to stay warm in winter and shaded in summer? (remove French accent and return to whatever accent you usually have when reading English). It's just a depressing way to go through life.

Singer goes on to tell about more about Oz's diet guide:

"For all its well-intentioned talk of good eating habits, however, the book does occasionally equate fat not only with unhealthiness but also with unattractiveness."

If the main thing qualifying Oz to write this book is that she's gone from fat to attractive, it's safe to assume her book would take as a given that being fat is not... attractive. But this part of the book can't really be faulted-- what else is supposed to be college students' motivation for losing weight?

The good news? Attending NYU is listed as a contributing factor in being thin and fabulous.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Madison and 83rd...

... is the place to go, apparently, if you'd like to pass by Woody Allen. I looked right at him, to verify the sighting, and he did not look my way. I'm 23, after all. Ancient.


Stuyvesant explained.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"But maaaaaam!"

I used to make a habit of reading the "Personal Health" column each week, just because each time, it was some inane detail about Brody or one of her family members' minor health problems, followed by a long, self-righteous lecture about how she, Jane Brody, is more virtuous than you could ever be, you chainsmoking, Frito-eating, PBR-guzzling lout. Or, as Patricia Marx put it in her brilliant TimesSelect blog post about how predicable the newspaper is, "Look! Another photo op for Chuck Schumer. A study has just come out that confirms last week’s study that confirmed that exercise and a low-fat diet are beneficial. Oil costs so much money. In the dining section, there was a new recipe for a root vegetable you’ve never heard of. Jane Brody has a blister."

But then last week, Brody made the obvious but useful point that condoms prevent pregnancy and disease. A point which is impossible to mock. So on the offchance that anyone young, male, and sexually active reads Jane Brody, this was a net gain for public health and happiness.

So I was relieved that this week, the column has returned to the mockable subject of how to help when your child stops wanting to go to school. Forgive me for immediately picturing Eric Cartman in the "homeschooling" South Park episode, when his at-home education entails TV and "cheesy poofs," but that's how it is.

I'm relieved, reading this article, that my parents were of the "you're going anyway" mentality. No such luck for 12-year-old "James," whose refusal to mobilize himself come the morning led to this series of events:

A psychological evaluation led to a diagnosis of a serious anxiety disorder set off by the abrupt change in school environment. Medication and 18 months at a therapeutic school, where James made steady progress, turned the situation around.

And, it continues:

If a psychological evaluation reveals a generalized anxiety disorder or depression, treatment is required, often with medication and professional counseling. Nathan was treated with a combination of sertraline (Zoloft) and anxiety management techniques, his parents received family therapy aimed at limiting the fun he had at home, and school staff members allowed him to gradually return to a full academic schedule.

Emphasis mine. But good grief, making poor Nathan's his home life less "fun"? What did that entail? Were his parents forced to read (reread) Portnoy's Complaint and take cues from poor Alex Portnoy's mom and dad? And I'm sorry, but James's 18 months of theraputic school, because he didn't want to go to regular school? Who in their right mind ever wants to go to middle school? Not to get all categorically imperative about this, but if every kid was James, there'd only be "theraputic" middle schools left.

But the best part of any "Personal Health" column is always the expert advice, the sort of advice that requires calling in the great minds of whichever field the week's dilemma falls under:

Dr. Kearney described four circumstances that may prompt refusal to go to school:

Often in combination with underlying anxiety and depression, the child may be distressed by teachers, students, the bus, the cafeteria, the classrooms and transitions between classes.

The child may be trying to escape from distressing social situations or academic or athletic evaluations, including interacting with others or having to perform before others....

The bus can certainly be distressing. And the classrooms, not the classrooms! Alas, these parts of childhood become the background scenery for nightmares you will have for the rest of your life. And "interacting with others," that should, of course, be avoided at all costs if you ever want to succeed in life.


Unlike college orientation, grad school's opening events involve a whole lot of meeting people you'll never, ever see again. Not even the following morning, on the post-Psi U Bud Lite-fest "walk of shame."

So far, my impression of my fellow grad students is that they are all a) female, b) attractive, c) staunchly heterosexual, and d) in Masters, not PhD, programs. I definitely fall under a) and c), if all goes according to plan not under d), and b) is in the eye of the beholder. That said, no two people (well, women) at the opening grad student "coffeehouse" seemed to study the same thing. There was a girl in drama education, another in biological anthropology, another in social work, another in... who knows, but really no one likely to ever find herself in class with any of the rest of us. Where the other PhD students were I'll never know. I heard that somewhere, there was a male math PhD student, and I'm sure wherever he was, he was enjoying himself.

OK, to be fair, there was a small cluster of boys, divided between the socially-unskilled and thus talking with other boys and the beyond-flaming and thus doing the same... But in any case, aside from those of both sexes I met at the open house last spring, who seemed quite awesome, I have yet to meet any of my actual classmates.

I did have some lovely chats with some other NYU newbies, but not a single number or email address was exchanged among us. This is, perhaps, the sad truth about heterosexuality, it makes it tougher, at a certain point in life, to make new friends of the same sex. For lack of any common academic interests, the one thing that's been known to trump this problem, once the inevitable "gosh it costs a lot to live in NYC" discussion had been dealt with, the subject of boys arose, and it became clear that what facebook refers to as "relationship status" was probably the subject we could all stay on the longest. (My facebook relationship is with "The Italian Soccer Team," and under the category, "It's Complicated," because my relationship with the Italian soccer team is complicated by the fact that they do not, in fact, know who I am.)

I remember, in middle school, at girls' school, getting passionately furious or thrilled about ups and downs in my clique, and my parents told me that one day I'd feel that way about relationships with boys. They guessed right, but what they didn't tell me was the corrollary, that one day I wouldn't care what any girl other than those in a very small subset of close friends (and, were she alive, Hannah Arendt, who probably counted as a "woman" upon birth) thinks of me. That, more than anything, is sexual orientation. One sex is just plain more interesting than the other, not just to sleep with, but to talk to, drink with, whatever. Blessed, then, are the bi. Aside from societal discrimination and all that.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


If you happen to be in NYC and ready to buy huge amounts of drastically discounted designer clothing (and doesn't one imply the other?), head down to West 17th Street immediately. Between 6th and 7th there are not one, not two, but three sample sales. One's Hermes, had a huge line, and I don't think I care if Hermes stuff is $10k rather than $100k, so I skipped that one. The next, walking west, is the Intermix sale. Not too shabby, but a significant amount of very damaged merchandise, I guess because the sale's about to end. Next came this giant sale called Billion Dollar Babe, where according to the website you need an RSVP to get in, but without having even heard of the event beforehand, I was allowed to try on and purchase some fantastic, supersoft t-shirts at Old Navy prices.

I found these sales because I was on my way to look at the Barneys Warehouse Sale, on 18th between 7th and 8th. Don't bother with that one-- as usual, the clothing's still ridiculously expensive, except all the good stuff's gone, leaving only a bunch of ugly clothes that happen to be well-known labels. The only things in my price range, oddly enough, were t-shirts that said things on them such as, "Where do you summer?" Maybe not the shirt I'd wear, say, on the first day of school, if I want to make an even slightly decent impression.

And the shopping continued, but Part II, the search for ways to Franco-Israelize my computer via keyboard stickers and spellcheck (now that I'll be doing work somewhere other than Harper Library's well-equipped USITE), was a complete failure. Where are these things, or do they just need to be ordered online?

Montreal is real

Montreal is awesome and utterly unlike anywhere else I've been. The French language is everywhere, and not nearly as odd as the French would have you believe, but the beautiful food is not quite as easy to come by, and the beautiful clothes are downright rare. There's this one street with two amazing boutiques, both of which sold clothing that, even given that Canadian dollars are pretend dollars,* was far too expensive. Otherwise, Montreal doesn't seem to be a city for the Paris-craver who happens to live in the northeastern United States...


OK, maybe it does. It's pretty amazing that a flight shorter than the one to Chicago leads to something so francophone and just generally foreign-seeming. And the bookstore I went to during the "Frenesie" was so super fabulous that I now have all sorts of new (well, new to me, mainly mid-20th century) Franco-Zionistic reading material, in English, French, and, in the case of this bizarre picture book from the 1950s, English and Hebrew. And for what it's worth, reading a book with a cover that says, in giant letters, "Pour en finir avec l'anti semitisme," is a sure way to guarantee no one will read over your shoulder on the subway. The book's from the 1970s, and if the other book I'm reading, from a colloquium about France, Jews, and Israel up through the 1980s is to be believed, no one en finired about it after all.


I totally saw fellow Stuyvesant grad and damn famous writer Gary Shteyngart, with a woman I believe may have been his girlfriend, entering Wilensky's Light Lunch. At first I was maybe 80% sure it was Shteyngart, but it drew closer to 100% when I remembered a) that Shteyngart has expressed a preference for Korean women (the woman he was with looked potentially Korean), b) that Shteyngart had, as "ck" of Jewlicious mentioned to me, written about the old Jewish delis of Montreal for Slate, and most importantly, c) that he looks not just sort of like the dude I saw, but exactly. I wanted to say something, "Go Stuy!," anything really, but I decided to let him eat in peace.


My own feelings about the traditional Jewish food of Montreal, smoked meat, are mixed. It seems sort of gross in a good way, but overall, eh. I did have some tasty cheese at Atwater Market that might be unavailable at Zabars, but then again all cheeses are probably somewhere behind that counter, but in any case I didn't bring any cheese back from French Canada, although I was tempted, since it would be kind of amazing to be the girl who missed the start of French grad school because the Department of Homeland Security had detained her on charges of illicit raw-milk cheese smuggling.


Baldwin Barmacie, on Laurier in the Mile End neighborhood, is the most beautiful bar I've ever seen. I took some photos before the bartender made it clear that this is not permitted, but they didn't come out well anyway, so you'll just have to take my word for it. And Le P'tit Bar, on St. Denis, had this fantastic singer who sang this not at all obscene song, thus adding one word to my French vocabulary. Always a plus.


*"It's not even a real country anyway." --South Park.

Monday, August 21, 2006

No gel

I'm packing for Canada, and I just realized that--horror!--I had put gel deoderant into my carry-on. And we all know that Secret Platinum is this summer's, uh, secret weapon. Let's just hope that between now and my flight the terrorists don't discover some ingenious method of disguising bombs as French grad school summer reading, leading to the stuff being banned from the airways. No Diet Coke or deoderant's bad enough.


Holy crap, there is a guy who raps under the name "Dreyf," in reference to the Dreyfus. I will of course have to command his album. If he has a freestyle battle with a rapper who goes by "Treyf," it would officially be the coolest thing to ever happen, ever.


My friends know me well-- as I was posting this, I checked my email and my friend was telling me to check out this Dreyfus-inspired rapper. He also sent along this link with some more info.

Part II of the update: I may not need to order this online-- it seems like the sort of thing that might be available in French Canada.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

CHICAGO IS #9!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Makes sense that a school filled with decent-looking people in sweatpants and brilliant people who don't leave their rooms would not know how best to present itself to get rated accurately by the US News and World Report. According to the CNN article now being forwarded amongst University of Chicago alums, our school was ranked all wrong in previous years. We now clock in at #9, tied with Dartmouth and Columbia, and ahead of Cornell, Brown, Northwestern, Berkeley, and various other schools which, unlike UChicago, you may have actually heard of. Chicago, you see, is a large city in the Midwestern United States. In this city, there are several universities, one of which...

But, coolness! Go Chicago, indeed! Our degrees are now that much more valuable in the unfortunate entity known as the "real world" we are all going to have to face sooner or later. Which-- no matter what you say, ratings are lame, ratings mean nothing-- is super.

But the important question remains: are our degrees now valuable enough to allow us to afford drinks at our own young alumni parties? Just asking...

No Canada like French Canada

I absolutely can't wait to be in Montreal. The first cafe listed in the Lonely Planet guide book is one that's named after the owner's dachshund. There are markets that sell raw-milk cheese. There are boutiques that I have not walked by a thousand times already. There are beautiful streets and churches and a giant underground city. It will be very exciting to go on a real vacation, not just a visit to an as-yet-undiscovered-by-me neighborhood in Brooklyn. Yes, it's neat that there are cafes and bars I'd never noticed before on Fulton and Lafayette, within walking distance of my apartment. But this will be another city entirely. In another country entirely. Hurray!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Race at Stuyvesant

Fewer non-Asian minority students are getting into Stuyvesant, etc., according to this NYT article. Since Stuyvesant is, I believe, majority-Asian and not majority-white, it's hard for me to see what makes the school's admissions policy racist. New York is far more black and Latino than Stuyvesant, but it's also far less Asian. This makes a difference--if the school all of a sudden became majority Latino, but still had almost no blacks, would that be evidence of racism? To what extent does the school need to mirror which NYC population? The population that sends its children to public school, or the overall population? Also important, the wealthiest and, uh, whitest in NYC rarely consider any public school for their children. But I agree that the playing field is not level, that much needs to be done so that pre-high school education allows the whole city a fair shot at getting in.

Is there a problem with the racial makeup of these schools, and if so, are the selective high schools themselves responsible for finding the solution? Regardless of what you think, this argument is completely unpersuasive:

Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, called the schools’ racial compositions “absurd,” saying, “I don’t think someone would want to hire somebody just on the basis of a test score, and we don’t admit them to a great college on the basis of a test score, and we shouldn’t admit them to a great high school on that basis.”

On what basis would you hire a 13-year-old for anything? Should the test be one of babysitting ability, or of how much lemonade sold? Students taking this test are simply too young to have accomplished much. Moreover, a gazillion kids take this test each year, and this is in a public, not private, system, so who's going to pore over (let alone send off) multipart application packets? Potential is all that can be measured, and it must be measured efficiently. Are junior high school grades really all that much more telling? I would imagine they say very little about future success. The only way to make Stuyvesant and others "racially balanced" at the entrance level (as opposed to reforming the pre-high school system and expanding opportunities for underprivileged kids, as with the Specialized High School Institute) would be to keep the test but throw some non-Constitutional racial quotas into the mix.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Cross-posted at Jewlicious.

I ran a beyond-3-miler in the park twice this week, which suggests that I'm not quite as out of shape as my blogging activity level would have you believe. The running also means, according to a blog entry found via Gawker, that I am not a "JAP."* JAPs, according to this seemingly reliable if offensive news source, do not exercise, but just show up at the gym and primp or talk on the cellphone.

This is unacceptable. I must do something to correct what could be perceived as an insufficient level of Jappiness. So I will tell you in excruciating detail about the haircut I got this evening:

It had been a while. When my friend Masha saw me recently for the first time in a bit, her remark was not just that it had been some time since we'd seen each other, but that my hair had gotten long. The long hair and bangs look was less Jane Birkin than I'd hoped, which has something to do with me not being a 15-year-old British ingenue, but more to do with my having ten times the amount of hair that style permits. And the once-red ends, now orange, weren't adding much.

So a haircut was in order. But where? As usual, I considered doing it myself (lost some JAP points there as well, but read on!), but remembered that I cannot see the back of my head. I also considered standby chain Biguine, until reading uniformly awful reviews on Citysearch. This left Lotus, which roommate Katherine had recommended, and which I vaguely recall once not-destroying my hair. Long story short(er than it could be), I deemed one branch of Lotus too expensive and the cheaper branch too... closed for the evening. Which meant one of two things. I could go home, hair longer than ever, or I could go to the nearby Mudhoney Hair Salon, which I'd long admired yet always deemed too... something. Too hip, too expensive by maybe $10... but mainly too hip. Everyone inside was always getting some haircut that looked like it came from 2007, just a bit too aesthetically correct to be a regular old hipster haircut. I wanted long, sideswept bangs, and felt that if anyone could do this, it was the good people of Mudhoney.

I entered the salon, and one of several over-the-top hipsters working there, an androgynous woman with a thoroughly modern mohawk, told me there was still time to get a cut, but that it was cash-only. Which meant a trip to a bodega ATM, not something I generally consider, but time was of the essence. I returned, and a tall, extremely skinny, extremely tattooed man with most of his underwear showing, who was carrying a tiny black Pomeranian puppy, asked me what I wanted done to my hair. This was looking like it might be a mistake. This man (who I believe is the same Brendan as interviewed here) was seriously the hipster to end all hipsters. I was dressed, for a change, in a way that vaguely suggested I don't wish it were 1998 (which I do!), but no matter, I was far, far too dorky for this place.

Normally I don't confide in hairdressers. I don't find it any easier to launch into a boys-discussion with a perfect stranger than, say, on a blog. Here, I was intimidated by the guy cutting my hair, so I said just enough to indicate the sort of cut I wanted. He took his time, which, after a disaster at Jean Louis David (sounds French-Jewish, but that's not enough to get my blessing), I understood to be a good sign. Every so often, the Pomeranian would yelp, and sometimes this would coincide with when the scissors were just slightly poking into my neck. But my hairdresser didn't flinch. And when all was said and done, I'd gotten a haircut that pleases me immensely. It's chic, in it's own way, plus, I can now walk into even the divey-ist of dive bars in gentrifying Brooklyn and hold my head up high.

*The term is of course derogatory, but ripe for reclaiming, ala "queer."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The tourism that isn't

Cross-posted at Jewlicious.

If the English-language Israeli news is to be believed,* Israel is turning into one giant patisserie-fromagerie. French Jews are everywhere, arriving either as immigrants or as tourists. But what kind of tourism is this, exactly? French Jews visiting Israel seem to be making several points, none of which have much to do with why most people choose a place to vacation. One, they want to show support for Israel at a time when it needs it most. Two, they consider Israel (as in, not France) to be their home. Three, they want to show their opposition to the French government. One French-Jewish vacationer to Israel was quoted in Haaretz: "When I saw our prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, on TV landing in Beirut to show his support for the Lebanese, I immediately booked an earlier flight to Israel. The French politicians are always supporting the Arabs and opposing Israel, and I have to show the State of Israel that I support it." And four, most tellingly, they are not frightened by what's going on in Israel. Why not? As one woman in this fascinating video from Ynet explains, "Not afraid, not at all, more afraid in France." France is not at war, Israel is. So what does this mean, that they are more afraid in France?

The Haaretz piece, which my father kindly emailed to me yesterday, does a good job in explaining why Israel seems a reasonable place for French Jews to visit or even move to permanently. In Israel, French Jews become Israelis, full citizens, and full members of society; even on vacation, French Jews in Israel seem to feel at home. For a variety of reasons--among them the existence of Israel; Vichy; a new, immigrant French-Jewish population--French Jews today, unlike their pre-WWII, or especially pre-Dreyfus Affair, equivalents, don't appear to be all that interested in putting a French identity before all others. It's not about whether French Jewish visitors to Israel actually feel safer during their stays than they did the previous week in France, but about which place, ultimately, they see as the best, and therefore safest, option.

But here's what makes this story interesting-- can you honestly call these visitors "tourists"? How can it be a "vacation" if you're going to make a point, and a bleak one at that, about your own country at a time of peace being so terrible for your community that you consider a country at war to be relatively safe? They may be staying in hotels, going to cafes and beaches, and taking time off from work, but French Jews in Israel seem more like political demonstrators than like vacationers. This is unfortunate, since the very point they're trying to make is that Israel is a normal country where one ought to want to vacation, but the fact that it's a news story that someone would dare vacation there, well...

*The English-language Israeli press is, on this issue, not to be believed, according to a friend I saw yesterday who is an honest-to-goodness French Jew and thus knows better than I about all this. Yes, there are French people in Israel, but no, France is not the hotbed of anti-Semitism it's made out to be in the U.S., and Israel, my friend argues, has ulterior motives in making it out as if French Jews consider Israel, not France, to be their country. So, uh, never mind.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Least surprising headline award goes to...

"Poll: Jews want to date Portman, Ali G"

Wait, Jewish guys like Natalie Portman? Hadn't noticed.
It is slightly surprising that Ali G would top the list of hot Jewish male celebs, given how many Israeli actors are so much more attractive, but the first part of the headline is so ridiculous that the award has thus been granted.

Shalem Center, hmm?

I realize I know two people from UChicago who are involved with something called the Shalem Center, and it sounded interesting, so I Googled it, and it looks beyond interesting, really super, especially The Institute for Zionist History and Ideas. And their magazine, Azure, which doesn't seem to contain any articles I wouldn't be interested in, is now on the blogroll. So, so much to read.


Above is (a bag the same model as) my new bag. It's the same make as the green one, is thus also vegan and Canadian, but, unlike its emerald cousin, actually holds my summer reading in a form other than rolled-up messiness. Why the sedate color, you ask? Why such a classic look? Or, better yet, why not make that trip to Eastern Mountain Sports that traditionally goes along with starting a new school?

Simple: I've decided to be stylish. If I don't make the effort, I dress exactly as I did in middle school. If I do make the effort, I can put together somewhat understatedly interesting (aka fashionable) outfits. I also recently purchased a pair of white jeans, the "skinny jeans," this season's sillhouette, since they were on mega-sale at Intermix and I figured they'd make me look like maybe my lifestyle's a bit more like that of Donatella Versace than it really is. But no, despite my course of study, I don't plan on "looking French," although if a bit of that rubs off, then so be it. I hope to look some cross between mod, French New Wave, Japanese teenager, and the Israeli version of Eurotrash. It will be fabulous.

Core Curriculum in Cinema

Little Miss Sunshine was surprisingly decent. The family feels real because they're more all-over-the-place than made-for-tv dysfunctional. They clash, but in unpredictable ways. It's more a Rushmore than a Royal Tenenbaums, in that the emphasis is less on stylization (although that's there) than on taking classic themes like death, geekiness, and unrequited love , but in an original way.

I was worried I'd find Sunshine grating, though, since everyone kept saying there was this great movie about Proust and Nietzsche, and that seemed like it could go one of several ways, none too pleasant. It could be a standard-issue indie film, but with names dropped to make an audience educated enough to have heard of these people chuckle and feel good about themselves, like when a few words in French are gratuitously dropped into a movie in English. Just a way for a movie to announce that it's a serious film without having to actually be one. Lame.

Or, it could be a serious treatment of the works of these authors, a movie you could only understand having read them, in which case what, exactly, is the point of charging people in major cities and perhaps elsewhere $10 to see something few would understand? I read Nietzsche in the Core along with the rest of us U of C types, but would I have a clue if a romantic comedy was intended to be Nietzschean? Not so much.

The only possible way for Great Books and great movies to blend is for the films to make sense both to those who've done the reading and those who have not. (Or, to those who remember what they learned in "Philosophical Perspectives" as well as those who do not.) It has to be that what matters is not so much the great works themselves as the characters' relationships to them. What does it say about X that she carries around The Republic? Will people who haven't (argh!) read The Republic totally miss the point of the movie, or is this detail merely add to the character for those who have?

In La Petite Jerusalem, protagonist Laura sees Kant as her link to something other than her family's Orthodox Judaism, just as Dwayne, in Sunshine, sees Nietzsche as an escape from his crazy family. Does it matter why those philosophers in particular? Unclear. I haven't read Kant or Nietzsche enough or recently enough to comment. Proust, on the other hand...

When Frank, the gay Proust expert, runs into the grad student (who inspired the unrequited love that leads, indirectly, to his suicide attempt) at a random roadside convenience store, wrists bandaged, and about to purchase, of all things, a pile of straight porn and a slushee, you feel for him whether or not you see some connection to Swann, to Proust, or any of that. When his grad-student love goes off with the other Proust scholar, who's just won a MacArthur "genius" award--and in doing so really puts Frank over the edge, you feel for Frank whether or not you notice the "LOST TIME" vanity plate on the other professor's convertible. It's an awesome moment in the movie, whether you get the reference or not.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Most emailed

The New York Times list of most-emailed articles is the easiest way to lose hope in humanity. Shit is hitting fans worldwide, such that even if you don't care about the Middle East, Africa, or other far-off but tumultuous parts of the world, you may get yours yet, blown to bits over the Atlantic by a terrorist armed with a bottle of Gatorade or Pantene Pro-V.

But what are we, the New York Times readership, worried about? Several things, but first, did you know that some people are fat and it's not their fault? Second, the thing about fake tans is, they're bad for you, but people still like 'em. And in third place comes a story about how wine is rated, since it's important to know if you're drinking the right stuff.

So we've got two items on the "health" side to personal appearance, and one on the highbrow side to booze. Because, truth be told, Times readers would, if it were socially acceptable, grab a Bud Lite, a bag of Cheetos, and a Teen Vogue, and sunbathe at one of those beach resorts only ever advertised on daytime television.

Let them eat organic muffins

I confess that I don't give a damn either way about Ratner's plans for my neighborhood. I don't own property in Brooklyn (or anywhere, come to think of it), have nothing against tall buildings, yet see the charm in the littler ones.

That said, some evidence of gentrification is so jarring that it merits a mention, even when much bigger things are happening in the world, just because, well, wow. A new cafe opened near me, on Bergen and Nevins, and I'm a fan of coffee and pastries, so I took a look. The Nascent sells the usual upscale Brooklyn coffee-bar things--muffins, scones, cupcakes, organic caffeinated beverages hand-grown by fair-trade laborers paid a full $50 an hour more than the customers freelance-writing in the cafe. The place is different from others, however, for a couple reasons. One: it's gorgeous. Mirrors, glass, tiles, and assorted shiny and clear chairs and objects are used to full effect, such that the place is stunning the way someone's house in Wallpaper* might be stunning, I don't know how else to describe it, and so should just go over there sometime in full hipster regalia and take some pictures.

So that's one thing that makes the place different from the other charming and well-designed local coffee places. The other thing that makes it different is, good grief, things there are expensive. Brownies, espresso drinks, all that fabulousness goes for just a touch more than it would on, say, the Upper East Side. Which feels sort of strange, given that the place is not near a whole lot else, other than townhouses, a small hipster boutique selling (what else?) retro sneakers and keffiyehs, and some rather large housing projects. The housing projects pretty much dominate that stretch of town, to the point that this coffee bar, while aesthetically far less obvious a symbol than the tell-tale green and white logo, stands out and looks sort of ridiculous.

Is it worse, morally, to sip your $4 coffee amidst outer-borough poverty than at a Union Square Starbucks? As moral dilemmas go, this can't be major one, but I recommend the sale on French presses at Bodum in the Meatpacking District to anyone looking to avoid $4 coffee for reasons moral, financial, or as yet unnamed. The barista who was there when Katherine and I checked the place out-- a Caucasian-Hipster-American, if I dare classify him as such-- told us how great it was that everyone who worked there lived nearby, that it's such a good addition to the neighborhood, so that now Boerum Hill residents won't have to walk all the way to Smith Street for a coffee shop. But of course, on nearby, fully gentrified Smith Street (which one "friend of WWPD" referred to as resembling Greenwich, Connecticut), you won't feel nearly so self-conscious spending $10 on a dainty snack.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Still here, but writing regularly for Jewlicious. I'll be cross-posting whenever appropriate.

In other news:

Recent definitive celebrity sightings include Kyan, the exfoliation-obsessed one from Queer Eye and Whoopi Goldberg. These have to be the two celebrities I find the least interesting. I may have seen Adrien Brody, which is a tiny bit cooler, but he looked shorter on Houston Street than he does in the Zegna ads, a huge one of which used to be on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

I have an NYU ID. Which is super. Which means I can enter--and have entered!--the Bobst library in more than a "guest" capacity. It also means NYU student discounts at all sorts of places I've been going to since I was 12, free gym membership, and... drumroll please... I can now (well, starting August 28th) take those super-obnoxious purple trolleys that keep NYU kids safe from the big, bad world of the MTA. Yes, the trolleys. This is fantastic. I will have to devote an entire day to riding them around at some point before school begins.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Herzl-as-Uncle Sam, in French

OK, so perhaps this Tagar would be a bit to my right, but perhaps not, hard to say, and this may not even be an issue of left versus right. This whole Tagar/Betar, French-Jewish self-defense stuff remains fascinating, and is something I intend to look into a whole lot more, not just for this blog. What exactly is the role of a militant/vigorous Zionist organization in the Diaspora? Is it merely a means to knock some sense into those Jews silly enough not yet to be in Israel and to get us on our way, or does this movement also allow for staying put but fighting back? Is Tagar/Betar actually violent, or more of a self-defense, stay-in-shape sort of thing?

I am, of course, stunned to learn that I grew up not far from Betar's NYC chapter, but I can't say I knew anyone involved with potentially violent Zionist youth movements of any kind. What sort of altercations anyone ever had around 218 East 79th Street I can't imagine--a run for the 79th Street crosstown bus gone awry? Oren's was closed? If any stretch of this planet is unlikely to see much action, that would be it.

But the fact remains: would the above not make an amazing t-shirt? My most notorious Halloween costume as a little kid was "Sister Bear (from Berenstain Bears) dressed up as a fairy." Notorious because who on earth would guess the explanation for my costume, that I wasn't just some creature with both fake fur and fake wings? That my costume wouldn't be immediately apparent didn't occur to me. Clearly my thought process hasn't changed all that much.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mossad in the movies

I finally saw Munich, and well, whatever. It is to Walk on Water what Brokeback Mountain is to Yossi and Jagger. An overblown, overly obvious American telling of the same story with the same message, but with more histrionics and fewer cute Israeli actors. ("Jagger" aka Yehuda Levi makes a brief, far too brief, tragically not in briefs... appearance in Munich, proving once and for all that Levi is better-looking than Eric Bana, if not the entire rest of humanity. "Yossi"/Ohad Knoller is in the film as well according to IMDB, but that must have happened during one of the scenes during which I began to doze off).

Walk on Water, like Yossi and Jagger, was directed by Eitan Fox, and is thus immensely moving, pro-peace, and pro-beautiful men. My politics are probably slightly, just slightly, to Fox's right, but I don't hold that against him or his movies. The "why can't we all just get along"-ness is most apparent in Walk on Water, in which Lior Ashkenazi plays a Mossad agent who goes through a transformation not unlike the Eric Bana character's in Munich. But Fox, unlike Spielberg, doesn't try to tell the entire story of the Middle East in one movie, perhaps because he is himself from the region, but perhaps because he's just a different sort of director. Regardless of why this is the case, Fox's narrower politico-historical focus allows him to tell a more interesting story, with surprises, life-like characters, and one amazing scene in the Dead Sea mud.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dual blogging loyalties

At last, people other than my immediate family, a handful of fellow bloggers, and remarkably active commentor "Petey" will now read my thoughts on Jewish nationalism and all that. My first post is up on Jewlicious. Subsequent posts from me on that site will be shorter and less Dreyfus-focused, in case you were concerned. Much shorter, geez. I wanted my debut there to be a more serious post, so that if it all lapses into charming anecdotes about run-ins with violent centegenarian cart-pushers at the Fairway, at least that won't be my entire contribution.

The good thing about writing for Jewlicious is that WWPD readers who'd rather just hear about how I might cut my hair or what I had for lunch will now be spared at least some of that political nonsense. The bad thing about writing for Jewlicious is that people might find out that I'm, well, Jewish. Secrets like that can only be kept for so long.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Can it possibly be?

As I plow through my summer reading with the aid of a trusty French-English dictionary, it hits me that, oh my God, I'm about to start graduate school! How could I possibly be old enough for such a thing? I think this might be in order. But first, time to get a hold of French spellcheck (how exactly did I manage to major in French without that?), keyboard stickers to remind me where to find the accents (hand-writing them in at the last minute isn't the way to go), and time to follow through on my threat to speak to all I know who speak French only in that language. Also, all future trips to Ceci Cela, not to mention French Canada, now count as "educational."


Looks like I'm going to Montreal. Yay! I've been doing some serious research, and decided that, aside from speaking French, eating and drinking French-Canadian, and otherwise enjoying a few days outside of the five (well, two) boroughs, I should go to Montreal's Jewish museum, if one exists. French-Canadian Jews might be sort of like French Jews, right? Not the ones in my family, who are mainly English-speaking, but some, who knows. In any case, it looks like there will be one there eventually, but not until 2007. That year may also bring about a revival of the Montreal Jewish Film Festival. So will my trip to the north be totally free of Francophilic Zionism? Enough Googling, and I've learned that someone named Susan Portnoy (!) teaches more than one class at the Montreal JCC on how to keep your house free of clutter. Presumably she also explains the importance of being kind to one's servants of color.

Anyone with any suggestions of what to do in Montreal should, of course, comment below.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

1980s Friedman

Almost finished From Beirut to Jerusalem. Mostly, I take issue with his constant shock that Israel sometimes does things less picturesque and innocent than yelling angrily at fellow drivers out a car window or yelling angrily at you for taking too long to decide which sort of hummus to order. But I'm also baffled by Friedman's conviction that Israel should ignore the Holocaust and focus on positive, uplifting bits of Zionist history instead. Friedman bemoans the fact that Israelis, who used to learn only of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, now hear the full story of the genocide. "Today-- unfortunately-- the teaching of the Holocaust is an essential element of Israeli high-school education and in the Israeli army officers' course. No one goes to [first kibbutz] Kibbutz Degania anymore." (p. 280). Uplifting as Zionist history often is, Israel exists in a large part because of Jews who may not have felt all that excited about being Jewish, but knew themselves to be such, and needed a place to go. Political Zionism came about before the Holocaust, but was largely a reaction to the proto-fascist anti-Semitic movements that were to become Nazism. Friedman argues that Israel is mistaken in seeing itself as a victim, as having any relation to a history of a notably victimized group. This strikes me as absurd and as a pointless thing to desire. Zionism, and now Israel, are the best answers Jews have come up with to avoid being victims. Calling Israel "Yad Vashem with an air force" (p. 281) makes for a nice sound byte, but misses the point. The idea is that a Jewish air force prevents anything like the Holocaust from happening to the Jews again, in Israel or elsewhere. An air force doesn't prevent Jews from being killed for anti-Semitic reasons, but having our own political state does prevent Jews worldwide from being passive and resource-free victims of external will. Friedman accuses Israel both of fatalistic apathy and of agression whose root is a feeling of always being a victim. But how could it possibly be both? Regardless, it's unreasonable for Israelis--and Jews elsewhere-- not to know both the positive and negative reasons for there being a Jewish state on the world map today.

This article by Ethan Bronner in this week's Week in Review compares today's Israel-Lebanon conflict with the one described by Friedman, in the early 1980s. Bronner offers both a positive and a negative possible outcome from the current conflict. The positive one, if it is in fact a possibility, suggests that Israeli victimhood is by no means fate:

If this war ends with a multinational force taking Israel’s place and Hezbollah significantly weakened, Mr. Olmert may well be able to go on to his grand plan of removing Israelis from large sections of the West Bank, finishing the building of a barrier between Israel and the area, and setting the boundaries of a democratic Jewish state for a generation. This, too, is a Sharon legacy. Mr. Sharon is the one who adopted this plan, late in life, and made withdrawal from land seem less like a concession than an act of Israeli self-assertion and self-definition. When a bulldozer moves, even backwards, it makes a powerful impression.

The above photograph, from the NYT article, reveals that Sharon was once quite nice-looking. This information is useful for no particular reason, but there you have it.

Friday, August 04, 2006


I wanted to like Aroma Espresso Bar, really I did, and while my fellow customers were gorgeous and Israeli, the coffee itself, the Israeli version of a Frappuccino that I ordered, was not the frappe of my dreams. I may have to start hanging out there anyway, since the salads looked decent, and sitting around an air-conditioned coffee shop in the Village has to be the lowest-effort way to keep up what's left of my Hebrew.

A better review goes to the new Hummus Place on the Upper West Side. This new branch is slightly more expensive than I remember the Village branches being, but they've got falafel! They've got beer other than Heineken! The place looks really clean! And it's right across from the JCC, so will probably get more sober Israelophiles than drunken hummus-seekers, for what it's worth.

Why exactly was I not assigned this article? I'm just saying...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

L'antisemitisme est un humanisme

At this point there's no excuse to stay put rather than go to Israel. Not only does America have its own bad-for-the-Jews moments, but now it's a trillion degrees out here in NYC. I don't typically blog about the weather, but it's remarkable when the subway platform in the summer seems at least relatively shady. Tonight, I did the unthinkable and ate in my bedroom. For whatever reason, eating in either a bedroom or a subway offends my delicate sensibilities, but not as much as does eating in a non-airconditioned room.

But back to the Jews.

When I drink, I do at least one of the following: speak French, speak Hebrew, speak a mixture of the two, discuss (in English) my academic interests with people who might care but probably don't but in any case I'm not inhibited enough to bother trying to read them, I just assume everyone finds 19th century French Jews fascinating. It used to be, alcohol made me discuss my blog, blogging in general, and how very wonderful I find the Internet. Before that, the subject of choice was my column in the school paper, the school paper in general, and... this should give you an idea. An idea of why, while I've generally been happy with my social life, random, drunken hookups have never played much of a role.
Mel Gibson, on the other hand, has a different response to spirits. Rather than explain just what it is about Theodor Herzl he finds so intriguing, or grab the nearest hottie or not-so-hottie, he goes off on a Jew-hating rant, which includes the bizarre concern that Malibu police officers are members of the tribe.

Christopher Hitchens, a man who ought to know about such things, remarks, "One does not abruptly decide, between the first and second vodka, or the ticks of the indicator of velocity, that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are valid after all."

Does drinking merely amplify whatever you thought while sober? Is there veritas in vino? That's always been my assumption, along with what would frighten me about the more serious mind-altering substances--it's one thing to kill a few brain cells, but another to warp the way you think about things in general.

But that's not what interests me about the Mel Gibson story. What's amazing about it is how it highlights the tension between the idea that Jews cry "anti-Semitism" and thus stifle free speech at the slightest perceived insult, and the remarkable refusal of many these days to admit that anything anyone does actually fits the definition of anti-Semitism.

When Ilan Halimi was tortured and killed by a gang in France, the leader made it clear that Halimi was targeted because he was a Jew, but not because this gang hated Jews, but because Jews are supposed to have money. Many argued that this was not in fact anti-Semitism, because where's the Jew-hatred there? It was just an honest miscalculation, as if someone picked the only black kid for their basketball team in a high school gym class, only to find out that he was frightened of the ball.

When Walt and Mearsheimer used academic jargon to make Mel Gibson's point, about the Jews being behind all the wars, this was not anti-Semitism, but scholarly analysis, courageous scholarship, at that.

And now, Mel Gibson, poor soul, has a disease. He's an alcoholic. While liquor can make otherwise moderate drinkers belligerent, an alcoholic surely experiences something different, say, a need to speak words he himself doesn't have any control over or even believe.

But enough of this already. Anti-Semitism is real, and cannot be fought if it is not understood. All manner of people--Herzl included, and anyone walking through Bloomingdales against their will--have felt inklings of anti-Semitism. Every Jew relieved to be told he doesn't "look" or "seem" Jewish, every non-Jew relieved that a new Jewish co-worker has a Christmas tree, these folks are all, in some sense, anti-Semitic. But these are the symptoms, or at any rate not the driving force. That remains classic anti-Semitism, the belief that no matter what evidence otherwise, Jews have it better, and thus deserve to be punished. In the strange world we live in, the only anti-Semitism not called just that is that which is the most forceful.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"With all due respect..."

"Scoop," like "Match Point," involves Scarlett Johansson bounding around London, attracting dashing British men who refer to her or her body parts as "sensual." But it's a far, far better film, largely because of Woody Allen being in it, as stale and dated as many of his jokes may be. Allen's character, Waterman/"Splendini", has a non-sexual but nevertheless odd relationship to that of Scarlett Johansson's character, Sondra Pransky. Which is, he pretends, for reasons relevant to the plot, to be her father. He later decides that, in this ruse, she is his adopted daughter. Get it? Get it? The jokes about Woody Allen the man in a movie in which he as an actor has a relatively minor role for whatever reason make the whole thing work. I'm sure others would disagree, but there's something about throwing the Woody Allen Story into the mix that saves this movie from, well, romantic comedy.

While the movie is not explicity named after NYC's most unabashedly "Jappy" (I say that, of course, with all due respect) clothing chain, there are some undeniable gems for Woody's old audience, those of us whose city he abandoned. Sondra Pransky picks as her alias "Jade Julliard Spence," an obvious reference to the city's foremost music and finishing schools, respectively. And Pransky, a Brooklynite, delighted the audience at BAM whenever the character mentioned this affiliation. Not only because the sexiest woman in Hollywood was portraying one of our own, but because the ending is perhaps the greatest moment in Brooklyn power ever to hit the theaters. I will say no more, but if you have any association whatsoever with Brooklyn, you'll appreciate it.

Why did Woody make Scarlett a Brooklyn Jew? It's not an implausible identity for the actress, one who Jewlicious keeps reminding us is technically Jewish, but she could be so many things, why that? Since when are Brooklyn Jews seducing sons of men named "Lord Lyman"? It's a reverse Annie Hall, but with a twist: Johansson is, to put it mildly, not repulsive. What happened to the nebbish who grew up under the Cyclone in Coney Island? Woody Allen is the patron saint of Old Brooklyn, but why does he make his all-American girl a Brooklynite, not an Annie Hall? Sondra Pransky is to Alvy Singer what Israel is to the shtetl, or, in less political terms... can't quite think how to put it in less political terms, but this was "Annie Hall" with better politics but maybe not so much brilliance. An odd choice for Allen, who in all likelihood just thought making his bombshell a Brooklynite would be amusing. Which, for whatever reason, as lovely as my fellow Kings County residents may be, it is.