Sunday, August 31, 2008

New York with blinders on

You know you've made it in New York if you can, without leaving city boundaries, lead a life that in no way resembles... life in New York. If things go well, you can mow your own lawn in Manhattan or park your very own car in a garage. Next, the elite of our city will have their very own personal Walmart, a members-only megachurch, and other exurban delights that the less well-to-do among New Yorkers think of as things no one in New York would even want. This may seem absurd, but the new fetishization of farming--tied to the organic-foods movement, and popular especially with the wealthy--is just one more way New Yorkers fantasize about life anywhere else while paying massive sums to stay put.

Obviously, there are certain New York experiences we'd all (or most) gladly pay our ways out of. The subway, for one, although I'd sooner trade it for a walk than a drive to work. The walk-up apartments. The impossibility--due both to the size of apartments and the necessity of cars outside the city--of purchasing anything in bulk.

In a sense, these elites just want the best of both worlds, a chance to live close to interesting job opportunities and museums, without an accompanying need to bring laundry to a laundromat. The people who use their wealth to recreate fantasy versions of poverty, who pay tons to live in pseudosqualor in Williamsburg, are the city's most-mocked demographic. But this approach is both less popular and, at any rate, ceases to have much appeal to those over 23. The common goal to which most now strive is to be as sheltered as possible from all that is urban. To an extent this is nothing new, but I get the sense that today, with the city much safer and wealthier, with more people living here to work in banking and fewer doing so to escape what they perceive of as the suburban conformism of their childhoods, there's now this significant population of New Yorkers who all-out hate city life.

I find this depressing. Not as someone who love-love-loves New York, but as someone who's from here and who, like anyone from anywhere, sees my hometown as normal and everywhere else as odd. It's parochial pride more than anything making me ask, is it really that bad to live in New York? Is Wall Street really the only reason to live in this town? Just as we forget the reasons we as a species first abandoned the 'organic' lifestyle, many New Yorkers forget why they left home for this place.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

In further jet-lagged bloggery

(Woke up at 6:40am, a two-hour improvement on yesterday!)

Being out of the country for over two weeks made it more difficult to follow American politics. You put on the TV, and that's not on. The only story reported in much detail was the one about Texan schoolteachers coming to class armed. (I could, however, tell you things I bet you never knew about the Belgian Olympic team; soap operas in Flemish dialects that are subtitled for other Flemings; and the pseudopornographic strangeness that is Dutch television). So now I'm catching up.

I was super excited to see that Michael Palin was McCain's pick for VP. It seemed a good choice--Palin, born in 1943, is a toddler compared to the candidate, and was one of the better Pythons. A millisecond later I realized my mistake.

The problem with the Palin he did pick is, I think, straightforward. Her pro-life stance is central to her image--all many know about her at this point. That's not the problem, though, since many people, including John McCain, think that's a good thing. It's that we're supposed to be sympathetic to Palin's views, even if we are ourselves pro-choice, because she 'walks the walk,' that is, because she knew her fifth child would be born with Down Syndrome, but had the baby anyway. She isn't just pro-life, she lives pro-life.

So here's the problem: Palin's decision not to abort has been presented as heroic. Who, in her shoes, would have been so brave, so compassionate? Well, that's half of the story. Pro-lifers see it as heroic, while pro-choicers, deep down, see it as of course her choice to have made, but nevertheless not the one they (we) would probably make in that situation. Which is to say that no one, not pro-lifers or pro-choicers, thinks her decision was normal. If having not terminated her pregnancy is a part of what makes her stand out as a candidate, part of her compelling biography, then we all acknowledge that having an abortion would have been the default option. And if only the exceptional woman would act as Palin did, then that's devastating to the case for making abortion illegal across the board. The law does not typically obligate acts of unusual selflessness, which is precisely how pro-lifers understand Palin's choice.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Yes, that's what my new shoes look like. I'm very excited. And in searching for this photo, I see that they were originally a whopping $249, which might explain why I was not the only woman oohing and ahhing over all the steeply discounted shoes at Giraudon. The website also informs me that the shoes have 3" heels, which means I will get to experience life from the perspective of a giantess of 5'5". I must remember to pack them for my next trip to Belgium.

The summer that was

The great thing about waking up before 5am is that I had plenty of time, before my first meeting of the semester, to upload and provide captions for many photos from the trip. As you'll see, we--Jo and I--went first to Cologne, then to Belgium (by which I mean all over Belgium), then to Cologne once more. Why Cologne? Because a flight there was $400 a person cheaper than the cheapest flight to Brussels. That said, Cologne was not bad at all. Granted it has what might well be the worst coffee in the Western world, but it also has huge streets that go bookshop-shoe store-bookshop; an impressive modern art museum; and a Nolita-esque boutique district, where I got fabulous earrings from a woman who clearly hated selling anything to an American. (And no, a German reading class did not allow me to make myself understood in spoken German). The truly undrinkable coffee might explain why, when we left our hotel not long after 9am, we saw a man drinking a beer as though it were coffee. We didn't quite join the 9am bandwagon, but Gaffel Kolsch is indeed the way to go when you find yourself in that part of the world.

So that was Germany, or a day and a half's worth (36 hours, as Jo pointed out) of one German city. Before Germany we spent two fabulous, pastry-filled weeks with Jo's family in Belgium. I tried new Belgian cheeses and discovered that the ones that are sort of eh in America are sort of amazing when purchased near the source. When not eating, we went to Knokke--a Belgian Hamptons--as well as Brussels, Antwerp, and Liege. I became obsessed, to put it mildly, with the HEMA, a Belgian (Dutch?) Monoprix/Kmart-type store where everything is cheap (given the exchange rate, less so) and beautifully designed. For the most part, Belgians--and perhaps Europeans in general--seem to value quality over quantity, or at least to buy only a few things and, whatever their quality, to treat them with care, making silly purchases (silver pencil cases, say) all the more surprising to find. Other highlights: I finally got to see the Flemish Primitives paintings I was unable to see last time. And... did I mention the cheese?

More later, when the jet-lag subsides.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tired and full

Over two weeks and I won't say how many pastries later, I'm back in America. And, remarkably, awake. Not for long, though, so a more detailed account will have to follow. And there will be pictures.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Signs may say back to school, but I'm about to go on summer vacation. Finally! Not that staring at an exposed-brick wall in Brooklyn, contemplating the major questions of our age, hasn't been fun. What started as a very productive May (teaching, coursework, and research) turned into a mildly productive June (teaching, 'serious' reading) and July (German class, browsing the racks at Old Navy), and petered out with me congratulating myself for having learned to recognize verbs in German--not really the accomplishment of the century, but miraculous when you factor in the flaneur-to-student ratio of my time spent during last couple weeks in the class. The great achievement was my new inability to form sentences in English that don't come out sounding just a bit... translated. But now, off to Belgium, a place that resembles Park Slope only, thank god, in its commitment to recycling.

Given how delighted the European tourists I see in New York appear with their countless shopping bags, I'm guessing the exchange-rate situation has not improved. Still, I plan on doing a bit of shopping, and by a bit of shopping I mean rolling back to New York on account of pastry consumption. And... a new bookshelf means maybe a few more books. After all, I can now allegedly read two of the three official Belgian languages. And... last May I went to an amazing store in Brussels, filled with clothes that do not exist in New York (I know, hard to imagine, I may have dreamed this), where I saw but did not buy a pleated skirt with zippers holding together the pleats. My restraint was due to the fact that I did buy a dress. I'm thinking one piece of clothing purchased per visit to Belgium is reasonable, that is, until the market decides French grad students are as vital as hedge-fund managers. Alas, it's been over a year, so I'm thinking the skirt is gone, but I will find something similarly avant-garde, that much is for sure.

I will not be online while away. This means no Jezebel, no Sitemeter, no Gmail, and of course no posts here. Whee!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sartorial Natalism (and more!)

Is it possible to find a dress for sale in NYC that does not appear to be maternity-wear, and that does not make the wearer look eight months pregnant? I tried on this and this, but ended up getting neither because I do not want chivalrous fellow subway riders giving me a seat. Old Navy's dresses are not wide because of Old Navy's shall we say generous sizing, but because this sort of dress is apparently in style, in the windows of exclusive boutiques for months now. It's not that these dresses are unflattering--in a sense they're slimming, because they make one's arms and legs look tiny--but somewhere around the midsection they suggest a fetus that may or may not exist. It can be confusing in Park Slope, where most women either are or just were pregnant, to see one woman after the next looking like she needs to be rushed to the delivery room. Is the cabal that determines women's fashions of a natalist bent? Should we be concerned?

In other news, one-time prettiest presidential contender (an award that Obama would now win by such a margin who knows where to begin) John Edwards is totally paying this Rielle not to get a DNA test for her/their kid. No link, because you've read about this already. Somewhere, I've forgotten now, I found a comment about this latest affair-to-remember, claiming that the problem is that our good ol' American politicians keep falling for Jewish temptresses--Monica Lewinsky, Chandra Levy, and now the lady once known as Lisa Druck. I don't know what made this commenter think Druck is in any way, shape, or form a Jew, but it's interesting to see that the myth of Jewess-as-seductress has returned.

In still other news, a mouse just ran across the floor. The first in this apartment, and it's been over a year. Fun!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Street Harassment and (More) Anti-Flemitism

After thinking being 25 made me invisible to the sort of unpleasant street attention I remember from being 15, tonight changed all that. First there was an ass-pinching in SoHo, followed by a drunk on the subway asking me if I was a ballerina. I said no, and he said he was looking at my--I was expecting "ballet flats"--but no, it was "leggings." (Under a dress, for the record.) Apparently being accompanied by an intimidating Flemish man was not enough; I'll start looking into burkinis.

At dinner, pre-pinching, the couple next to us were discussing a friend of theirs, a woman from New York who had (horrors!) married a Belgian and moved with him back to Flanders, where this woman had been forced to learn Flemish. The man in the couple (the Village-restaurant couple, not the one in Flanders) disparagingly called Flemish a "dialect." As is typical of anti-Flemites, this man did not think to consider that he was sitting diagonally across from a native speaker of the language he found oh so amusing.

What an evening. It's a good thing we're no longer living in the age of the duel, or Jo'd have had his hands full! So many insults to honor!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Make that a Doppel

People, at least famous people, come in doubles. Meg Ryan and Melanie Griffith. Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. Jude Law and Ryan Philippe. And that's just movie stars. (And, thanks to Google, I see I'm not the first person to have thought of this. Oh well.) Another pair I believe are in fact just one person are Woody Allen and Philip Roth. Aside from the difference in medium, how is the one different from the other? Sure, they don't look alike, but reading Roth I always picture the character of Roth alter ego as looking and acting a bit Allen-esque. The brilliant Jewish male, son of not-quite-assimilated parents, feels a bit apart from society, but not too much so to get whichever shiksa he wants. Not only are the two from the same moment in American-Jewish history, but their approach to this moment is identical. The Roth-Allen male has found many imitators--George Costanza, the Ben Stiller character in "Meet the Parents," Adam Goldberg in "Two Days in Paris"--but it doesn't seem as though Roth imitated Allen or vice versa. They are in fact one entity.

Which is why I was mystified by the New Yorker's choice to juxtapose a review of a Woody Allen movie with one of a Roth book that's been turned into a movie. You can't have a Roth-Allen ticket, it would be imbalanced! Not because they're both (or both symbolize) neurotic Jews of a certain age, but because they are one and the same being. Whoever writes those NYT obits years ahead of time is preparing just one for the both of them.

Red Hook, Brooklyn:

A bucolic wonderland, all-Caucasian, and with no housing projects whatsoever.

“After East Harlem,” he said, “this is the final frontier.”

Gaaaaaaah, can people not hear themselves? Does this man not realize he's supposed to complain about gentrification?

As for the slide show itself, I was under the impression that that it was no longer done to talk about land up till now inhabited only by non-whites as a recently-discovered "prairie," and to call the new white inhabitants "pioneers." Well, it shouldn't be acceptable (legal, but not acceptable), so now's as good a time as any to point out that political correctness can be a good thing.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


In one of my favorite moments on "Seinfeld" (not the best way to begin a post, but bear with me) Estelle Costanza learns that Donna Cheng, the Chinese woman who'd given her marital counseling over the phone, is in fact not Chinese, but a white, American woman whose family name was shortened from Chengstein. Estelle decides upon learning this to get a divorce after all, screaming, "I'm not taking advice from some girl from Long Island."

This scene came to mind while I was reading the comments to a Sartorialist shot featuring two pretty young French girls in Paris. Photos on this site often garner comments about how much more chic Europeans are than Americans. Here, we have: "Oh, the allure of the French woman. So relaxed yet so put-together," as well as, "So unfussy, you don't see American girls look that effortless." Oh, and, "American young women need to take more pride in being girly without trying too hard."

Until finally someone comments that she went to high school with one of the girls... in the States. One if not both of the girls is from L.A.

Looking at the picture knowing that the girls are probably from the States, what does this change? Can we now admit that their clothing is pleasant but nothing special? I, at least, noticed, but only after their Americanness was pointed out, that the brunette in particular looks like she plays some kind of sport, or did not long ago. That's not very French. The blonde's necklace strikes me as American--Tiffany's or that look, at any rate. They start to look really American, both of them, once you consider the possibility. To be fashionable, don't change your clothes, just put a caption under photos of yourself that suggest you might be French.

I think I've located the root of this confusion. In Paris, you see three types of young women: French, American, and ambiguous. The ambiguous are well-off or at the very least abroad-studying American college girls who would rather die than be caught wearing white sneakers and a fanny pack while abroad (although now that hipster is in, perhaps these can be worn ironically). These young ladies are always thin, always with the requisite disheveled hair (blown-dry at home, but not in Europe!), and often with a scarf and cigarette (because it's France!). When I studied abroad, this look was so well-represented in my UChicago group that everyone assumed we were British. To me, the girls in the Sartorialist shot are the very definition of this type of ambiguity.

Every last one of New York's let-me-see-how-many-knick-knacks-I-can-buy-with-your-silly-play-money tourists looks noticeably European (or Israeli, Japanese...), an amazing feat when you consider that at this point, the closets of the whole First World are filled entirely with purchases made on lower Broadway. It's safe to say that not one of our tourists from abroad is trying to look American. As an American, I find this all a bit upsetting. Is this all about Bush? Would an Obama presidency make America chic again? Was America ever chic? I'm now picturing an image from the textbook I taught from last year of French schoolchildren in 'American-style' clothes, meant I'd imagine as a point about American cultural hegemony. The kids were indeed in jeans, but did they ever look French. No caption could have told me otherwise.

Tits and class

Amber got to this first, but flat-chested pride is in the news. This Jezebel post got me thinking: why are flat chests associated with classiness? One possibility would be that the rich are thin. But that's a new phenomenon--didn't the Audrey Hepburn vs. Jayne Mansfield divide predate questions of fast-food and the inner city? Either way, 'class' here is more about sophistication than wealth, more about a refusal to sleep with just anyone than an income above $100k. Furthermore, as over 200 Jezebel commenters will tell you, chest size does not always correlate with overall size, so it's not really about weight.

So what's going on? Is it that men are too distracted by large chests to hear what all but the AAA-cupped are saying? Or is the problem that some women, intending to look trashy, pad or inflate whatever it is they were born with, and thereby make those women who just happen to be top-heavy seem as though they are intentionally trying to send some kind of trashy message about their plans for the evening?

Something like this goes on with blondes--some women dye their hair to make a point, making even natural blondes symbolize blondness in all its complexity (simplicity?). But that's easier to understand--children are blond more often than adults, so blondness represents innocence, naiveté, and thus (in the lowest-common-denominator male mind) a willingness to go home with you and look at your record collection without suspecting what you might be after. But between flat chests and D-cups, surely the former are the chest equivalent to blond hair, the look associated with youth. A big-chested woman will, our straw sleazy man should imagine, hold the upper hand. Yet our straw sleazy man will expect her to go home with him, because she's stacked. I don't get it.

Speaking freely

One last thing about the whole Roger Cohen-free speech debacle. The problem seems to be, as a commenter here points out, a confusion over what's "free speech" and what's the advisability of offering the public a wide range of viewpoints. The New York Times offers an op-ed page with columnists who span the political spectrum, not because the First Amendment requires it, and not even because the abstract principle of free speech advises it, but because it keeps readers informed/interested/reading the newspaper. What results, however ideologically-diverse it appears, is a carefully crafted set of viewpoints, meant to look like it represents the whole spectrum, but really just whatever the newspaper felt it should have. Not every reader has a column in each newspaper, so not all voices are heard. That having some semblance of balance is a good thing does not mean a NYT with only Paul Krugman clones would violate free speech.

The confusion goes even further. Some seem to think that free speech is infringed upon not only when those who want a platform are denied one, but when others denounce the speaker's ideas. Apparently freedom to speak out against a bigot is not freedom of speech, because bigots are courageous and it's really their speech that we need to protect, not that of bigots' detractors. Some say it violates Ahmedinejad's free speech to protest his having been invited to Columbia. On account of free speech, you owe it to him to listen to his every word with the benefit of the doubt. Or, if you read The Israel Lobby start to finish and conclude it's an anti-Semitic book (which it is, and I have read it, and can direct you to specific passages if you're interested: for example, did you know that while Jews per se are not the problem, we should be concerned that Jews come out to vote in disproportionately high numbers?), and you in turn write that you think this, then you've violated Walt and Mearsheimer's freedom to speak, that is, their freedom to speak and receive nothing but adulation.

In other words, just because you don't like X doesn't mean X violates free speech, constitutionally or otherwise. Declaring it does makes you look like a fool. The end.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Oh happy day!

"It would be a horrid shame to see President Sarkozy’s son intermix."

As commenters have pointed out here and at Roger Cohen's piece, free speech is not some kind of tenure for racist entertainers. It's about limiting the government's right to intervene, not about a constitutional right (extending, strangely, to France--don't they get to have their own laws?) of bigots to be paid large sums of money to broadcast what they really think.

Now that that's settled, it's worth revisiting what, exactly, Cohen thinks constitutes freedom of speech, if it's something other than the First Amendment, and if it, whatever it is, does not protect Imus. Given his heroic non-deleting of comments to his article, it appears free speech means the freedom to have your say about the Jews before a wide audience.

So, a look at those comments, beginning with the most bizarre...

"I am really offended by this article. Paris is based upon a Catholic faith, as are numerous cities in America. It’s very disturbing to see outside religions mix, particularly when it comes to history and prominent families. It would be a horrid shame to see President Sarkozy’s son intermix. He can love whomever he wishes, but for God’s sake, do not change the purity of religious basis in France. Remember WW2. Please remember that the Jews financed and provoked every war in history. This information is according to numerous men that fought in WW2. It’s not a matter of being anti-semitic, it is a matter of preserving other religions and higher moral standards in which many people believe and live by everyday."

Wow, every war in history! Even in places without any Jews! This comment appears just a bit ignorant of the history of French secularism, not to mention of Sarkozy's own lineage, but I'm not totally sure the comment itself isn't a joke. So, moving on, this time from a longer comment about how anti-Semitism is justified because Jews are so Jewy...

"An unregulated wall street (read cdo s and sivs and morgage sausage) is bringing this country to it’s knees. Read the names. The Jewish neocons at DOD and the WH, particularly the vice president’s office…and AIPAC in congress got their war. Has no one noticed?"

OMG yes! Indeed, this commenter is the first person ever to notice that the Jews control everything. So it's a good thing he pointed that out. The "read the names" comment brings us back, of course, to the name of the columnist. I don't know if he's Jewish, but sounds like the commenters have it figured out. Now, onto a comment that hits upon a theme in a bunch of them...

"Jews today do not suffer from anti-Semitism, at least not the anti-Semitism that sent them to the gas chambers in Europe."

Right, this is true: if bigotry fails to lead to a sufficiently gruesome genocide, it's not bigotry at all. I mean, I could live with the anti-Semitism that leads to execution-style shootings, or the anti-Semitism that leads to torture in a warehouse, but the variant that leads to gassing, that I will not stand for! As always, denials that anti-Semitism still exists sit alongside some of the most openly anti-Semitic comments. Why? Because the anti-Semitism of today never lives up to the sort we saw images of on our school trip to a Holocaust museum.

There were some other good ones, including, "In the USA, the Jews own and control most of the media. I see now the Jews trying to do same thing here in Europe," and, "I suggest that all Zionists move from Europe to Israel. We don’t need your poison here." The latter is interesting, since ostensibly the anti-Zionists care about the plight of the Palestinians, and thus would want fewer Zionists in Israel. Or might "Zionists" be code for something else? There was also some man from Germany, with one of those names (a German one) exercising his freedom of speech admirably.

The Zionist left is struggling to grapple with the fact that the way to show your courage on the left (or on the isolationist right) these days (as always) is by daring to speak out against the cabal. What strength it must take, given that the Jews control everything, to shout from the rooftops how much you hate them! It's like some kind of triumph of the will.

Monday, August 04, 2008


Not long ago, I suggested that a heart-shaped face is impossible, but that if it were possible, no one would want one anyway. Well, not only are such faces real, but people apparently pay a lot for them.

Roger Cohen on free speech:

On the firing of an old bigot for slandering Jews in France, a country whose greatest crime was arguably against Jews:

"Curtailing speech is generally far more dangerous than allowing even vile views to be aired, not least by a cantankerous has-been like Siné."

On the firing of an old bigot for slandering blacks in America, a country whose greatest crime was arguably against blacks:

"Over a week went by between the insult, at once racist and sexual in its evocation of crinkle-haired whores, and the ouster. Time enough for a number of middle-aged white guys to opine that Imus had been a careless idiot, was contrite and should keep his job. [...] Some people never get it."

I doubt if Roger Cohen sees a difference between references to "nappy-headed 'hos" and ones to "shaved Jewesses"--both are follicular insults against women who come from ethnic groups not known for having fine, blond hair. The insults were not about basketball players or heiresses, per se, but about the groups they represent to the bigots in question.

No, the difference here can be attributed to the fear among Jews (or those named Cohen and thus perceived of as such--I don't know if the columnist is Jewish) of seeming too concerned with Jews and not focused on Humanity. To get all in a huff because of anti-Semitism is to be one of those whiny Jews. Better to have that noble distance when discussions turn to anti-Semitism, and to reserve one's visible fury for bigotry directed at any group other than one's own.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Ultimate Saturday-Night Blog Post

Jo and I got a bookcase! Well, another bookcase, but the current crop are at capacity. The bookcase, which is huge and usually in the $200-300 range, was $50. Even with schlepping and assembly charges, this came to less than the Ikea equivalent, which would, of course, not be assembled. After a dachshund and a dishwasher, in that order, a bookcase was what the apartment needed most. Now, we will not only be able to clear off the book-mountain that is our coffee table, but we might even be able to get a few more books. Which is good, because I'm not getting shoes any time soon.

I should note that Jo and I both recently turned 25. We're old, allow us these simple pleasures.