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.