Thursday, June 30, 2011

Romantic notions shattered by moisissure

The end of the dorm era has, at last, arrived. I'm nearly 28 years old, so about time, too. The contents of my room did apparently fit in luggage, save for items it wouldn't have made sense to bring, such as one gigantic if now twice pre-owned mini-fridge I was not entrepreneurial enough to try to sell. I watched as one by one, nice-seeming and nice-looking French 50-year-olds arrived in what I can only guess were nice cars to pick up their intellectually Supérieur 20-ish offspring and their stuff. This immediately brought back for me how it would go at the end of the year in college, when kids from the Midwest would just haul everything into the minivan, when the fools from carless NY families who at 17 had had romantic notions about getting to know other regions of the country had to figure out, at 21, how to get years' worth of stuff (and books!) back via an ATA flight. Where was my pickup? Over by the Gare de l'Est, effectively.

Not back home just yet though. I'm now in German university housing - a guest house and not a dorm - and the contrast between the two establishments could not be greater. Every possible cliché about the value placed on cleanliness in the two countries is supported by the way these two buildings are kept up. Here, there's a mix of near-continuous cleaning service and ubiquitous lists of instructions to keep your room and the common areas clean. (The staff, it seems, will clean but not "tidy.")

Meanwhile, back in Paree, an egg that had been dropped/thrown in the staircase still remained, weeks after the fact. That which is smeared on the walls of the communal bathrooms isn't going anywhere. Two of the most basic facts about keeping a bathroom functional - stocking it regularly with toilet paper and having a sink that actually runs water - were beyond the capacity of the powers that be. (Train restrooms and other public toilets began to seem pristine.) For reasons I will never understand, the janitor responsible for the kitchen would put only one of the two possible jumbo garbage bags in before the weekend, during which time the kitchen trash is not taken out, meaning that when he'd return on (optimistically) Monday, the kitchen would be basically a trash heap, however well-meaning the residents. The ideal of students cleaning up after themselves - always, with college students, an ideal at best - was rendered futile by the fact that so many people were sharing each kitchen that the moment one person/group finished up, the next needed and had already begun using the limited burners and counter-space, leaving a layer of grime beyond what a quick scrub on off-hours might fix. The showers were so moldy that, it was agreed, one left dirtier than one entered.

All came full circle when, when I asked about the check-out procedure, I was told, in the tone of someone scolding a child, to "nettoyez bien" my room - the standard instructions, and ostensibly there's a fee if you don't - and of course what was going through my mind was how, when I arrived, the room I'd been assigned contained the previous resident's (s'?) food and drink containers, towel, assorted other garbage, and, oh, used pad.

Also generally agreed upon by internationals: the dorm was disastrous by Western if not all-but-refugee-camp standards. As in, this was not, as might be suspected, a case of a bunch of entitled Americans, accustomed to air conditioning and cable television, large suites, plush beds, and a coffee shop serving iced soy lattes downstairs. The only Americans - the only grad students, period - who'd think to sign up for this kind of exchange (i.e. at ~30, living in a Parisian college dorm) are quite low-maintenance. Which made for a great group of people, actually, but which also meant that when anyone did complain, the complaints were pretty legit.

Overall, the semester was... a mix. I'd swing back and forth between thinking OMG free room in the center of Paris, with all the glamor that implies, all the proximity to primary sources and primo croissants it came through with... and thinking that the living conditions were a bit much to ask, even by grad-student-in-expensive-city standards. There's this notion - again, romantic - about grad students, held by society at large, as well as those who were once grad students themselves (although with this latter group, there's perhaps a touch of, 'if I had to do it...') that they should live in squalor, that any revulsion the grad student expresses about said squalor is a sign that the person's not cut out for a life of the mind. So I realize that the above description of Parisian dorm life will be met with a giant 'meh', and advice from the Dear Prudences of the world that if I wanted Paris and sanitary living conditions, I ought to have chosen a different career path and taken occasional vacations to hotels where, optimistically, filth would not be such an issue.

Monday, June 27, 2011


When studying Simone de Beauvoir for those qualifying exams, I remember being struck by how much of her feminism seemed to be about allowing female geniuses to flourish just as well as male ones do. As a non-genius reader of Beauvoir, it occurred to me that perhaps this was part of what feminism should be about, but really, most of us, male or female, are not staying up nights wondering if we'll be ranked first, or second after Sartre. The question of whether women will number among the super-duper-elite is important, with crucial trickle-down impact as well, but not everything.

So it goes with the problem of women's weight-think. By "weight-think" I mean the extent to which even women who are not all that worried about weight are worried about their weight, and are on some level, at meal times but other times as well, distracted by calories-in, calories-out calculations, thigh-fixations, etc. Isabel Archer describes it well; all I'll add is that it's a mindset that impacts far more women than those anyone would think to classify as having "a problem" in that area, that it extends beyond the yuppie sort, and that it's a major question feminism-of-the-"first-world" needs to be dealing with. Women are wasting massive amounts of time and energy on this, are not necessarily the healthier for it, and - and this I keep repeating - a good number of the women obsessing, if they "let themselves go," would still be quite slim, perhaps just not as thin. (The obsessing tends to be worst among the women for whom magazine-cover proportions seem at least theoretically attainable, so yes, there are some class variations in this.)

Here, as with feminism generally, one finds several interrelated but ultimately separate issues. One is that weight-think prevents some brilliant women from achieving great heights. This, in turn, is a problem both for those women and for society as a whole, which thus continues to associate "achieving great heights" with maleness. The other is that weight-think prevents average/mediocre women from thinking about other things, from enjoying their lives, etc. It's likely that weight-think keeps some women from reaching the "brilliant" category, but even without weight-think, most women, like most men, would not.

The issue, then, isn't - and here, I suppose, Isabel and I may disagree, but I'm not entirely sure, having never read A Room of One's Own - that women must lose themselves in work. Some should, yes, but neither most men nor most women are doing work they're going to lose themselves in. (This in response to commenter Sarah at Amber's.) It's that, as Isabel explains, "self-acceptance" at whichever weight isn't the whole answer. The goal shouldn't be for all women to look in the mirror and see "beautiful." It's for "beautiful" not to be the main important quality in most women's lives, not even most young women. Most women are sufficiently attractive as to attract a partner if they wish to do so; most, even after extreme dieting, will in no way other than measurements resemble runway models. We don't need to be telling ourselves we're just as hot as Angelina Jolie. We need to remember that objective, all-are-in-awe-of-it physical beauty, being largely fixed as well as temporary in its rare occurrences, is not a good goal towards which to channel 98% of one's mental energy. 5%, perhaps. It's not that attention to appearance should or realistically could be totally disregarded. But it should not come close to 100%. Physical beauty is both less important and less attainable than the woman weighed down by weight-think understands. Better to think about something else.

So it's great if weight-think is replaced by finding a cure for AIDS, or by being a more attentive stay-at-home mom. But even if weight-think just gets swapped for taking a walk, watching TV, reading a book, or doing some mundane task at work and thinking about, say, whether Pippa's single again and what this means for Harry, this, too, counts as progress.

(I could go on, re: the difference between devoting mental energy to one's beauty and the kind of physical adornment that's about self-expression and not OMG-cellulite, re: it being much better to ponder whether the toenails shall be pink or purple than how many calories are in that yogurt, but I think the above is enough for one post.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Oh, Rosedale

I've spent the last few days in semi-vacation (Parisian dorm staycation) pre-Heidelberg Eiskaffe-and-dissertation extravaganza, finishing up the last of the shampoo I don't want to schlep across Europe, and buying as many French books as I'm willing to haul around. English-language-wise, my two latest attempts at non-work reading - Coningsby (done, ugh) and now The House of Mirth, which I'm about midway through so no spoilers please - will both end up sneaking their way into the dissertation. I'm now accepting recommendations for novels in which none of the following topics come up: 19th C/fin-de-siècle Western Europe/U.S., Jews, intermarriage, marriage strategies of the Western upper classes.

Other recent observations:

-Le Boulanger des Invalides Jocteur continues to be the center of the culinary universe.

-What French poodle? Everyone here has a yorkie. If not a yorkie, a Jack Russel.

-Naniwa-Ya might be the best Japanese restaurant I've ever been to, but I'll allow that I was quite hungry by the time we got there, so it might merely be the place with the best (and saltiest, not unrelated) agedashi tofu I've ever tasted. It was at any rate remarkable in that, despite fresh and perfectly-flavored food, the prices were low, not merely by Japanese-restaurant standards, but also by Paris ones. (6 euros for a bowl of soba noodle soup, for example.) This, I figured, was because in Paris, at least on the rue Sainte-Anne, Japanese places can function a bit like Chinatown ones in NY - cheap ethnic food for diners who don't care about decor or mind being rushed out quickly.

-The rue des Rosiers, however, I do not understand. It's not really Paris's Jewish neighborhood these days (that would be in the 9th), and the falafel is kind of standard-issue European-town-big-enough-to-have-falafel. I just relearned this, but seriously, why the lines?

-The place to go for a cold coffee beverage is Le Pain Quotidien. Sorry, purists who don't go to Paris for that kind of Americana, but damn it's hot, and neither the public transportation nor the dorm room have a/c, anything resembling a fan, etc. If you get the regular iced coffee with milk (not the iced "crème"), what arrives (or did today, at least) is what would normally be called an iced cappuccino, the price no higher than that sort of thing is in NY, which is to say reasonable treat-price, which is to say I don't even want to think of what 3.20 or whatever is in dollars because it's depressing. Add a bunch of sugar and you're transported to Tel Aviv, or some more PC Mediterranean locale.

-Friggin' soldes. Why did these have to begin while I'm still here, not in July when I thought they would, and when I'm not especially looking to buy any clothing? I did, however, end up getting somewhat spectacular jeans from what's apparently a very upscale boutique, for 30 euros - Shine's rue Montmartre branch can't seem to get rid of 'em. They do have a certain quality-denim look that I pretend does not exist when the only such items go for $200, but will freely admit does when they fall into my acceptable price range for pants.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"I relied heavily on my Jewish safety net"

Anyone who wondered if perhaps "philo-Semitism" is just a variant of anti-Semitism, look no further. Simon Doonan says he doesn't understand Galliano's anti-Semitism, because Jews - rich Jews - helped him (Doonan) make it in the fashion business, Jews who could hire him, help him with money troubles, find him a lawyer, or buy his clothes (technically the clothes he arranges in store windows). Because obviously if Jews were not so financially helpful to Doonan, despising them would be totally OK.

And for the record, neither the fact that Doonan is gay and as such a member of another marginalized group, nor his marriage to a "nice Jewish boy" (and can we please retire that phrase), makes any of this OK. (Déjà vu).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A feminist triumph

More wedding-talk from Slate writer Jessica Grose, who got married not long ago and has evidently been gazing into the navel of the existential angst the idea of marriage gives her for some time. This latest piece begins in the traditional educated-woman-discovers-self-not-impervious-to-gender-and-age-appropriate-desires manner that all defenses of entering into a heterosexual marriage, as a woman, must:

In most ways, I did not fit the bridezilla stereotype: I did not care about the color of our tablecloths; I haphazardly filled our registry with the things my mom told me we should have (as I type this, dust collects on our Le Creuset mortar and pestle); I let my bridesmaids pick their own dresses; my on-the-cheap bachelorette party involved a stoned viewing of Clueless followed by a sleepover rather than a gaudy, overpriced, forced march through Las Vegas.
To which a skeptic might respond:

-She had bridesmaids.
-She had a bachelorette party.
-She had a registry.
-With fancy stuff on it.

It is entirely possible to be 100% married without any of those. Ergo, no low-maintenance-ness award. But we're to believe that, but for her intense quest for bridal bodily perfection in the months leading up to her wedding, Grose was laid-back about the whole thing. And who's to say if she was or wasn't? All brides compare themselves to a "bridezilla" extreme that basically no bride will meet. Anyone who did not get transformed into a human Barbie, who did not rent the entirety of Monaco for the occasion, is so totally low-key.

The article itself, though, made me cringe. Not because I'm opposed to girliness or wedding extravagance (as I've mentioned here before, I bought wedding-but-also-post-wedding shoes at Repetto that cost more than the dress, and they were/are spectacular), but because... this is just so, so much more of a problem from a feminist perspective (well, my own feminist perspective) than white dresses, name-changes, father-givething-daughter-away, and engagement rings combined. Grose, you see, opted for the bridal diet-and-workout makeover, and defends this in the way that someone who kind of realizes how ridiculous this was, but also kind of doesn't, might.
[My personal trainer] told me that before we would start training that day, he needed to weigh me and assess my body fat with a caliper. I should explain here that I wasn't embarking on this transformation as a total sloth—I ran or attended spin class four or five times a week and my BMI was already in the low end of normal. I was already in reasonably good shape. Or so I thought.

"It's not a complete disaster," the trainer said after looking at the digital read-out on the caliper. "And what are your goals?" he asked. I told him I wanted to lose maybe five pounds, but mostly I just wanted to look really good in my strapless gown. "We can do," he told me, "but you need to come three times a week, and follow the diet."
My then-fiancé looked over my shoulder at the Spartan list of acceptable foods I was allowed to consume. I would come to refer to this as the "squirrel food diet," because nuts and berries seemed to be such a crucial part of it. Otherwise, it was the standard diet that women's magazines encourage month after month after month: Breakfast involved egg whites. Lunch and dinner were 4 ounces of fish or chicken and greens. The nuts and berries were snacks. No booze, no sugar, no fun allowed.

"This is insane," said my fiancé. "You don't need to lose weight." 
"It's not about losing weight," I told him. "We're going to have those photos for the rest of our lives and I refuse to have dinner lady arms in them! I promise to be sane about everything else wedding-related."
Ah yes. The woman who isn't even fat, but who's bought into the idea that women - particularly those about to get married - should be on diets. Annoying to read about from a YPIS angle for women with BMIs north of the writer's, especially for those without fiancés reassuring them that they're tiny, but also for those of any gender or relationship status who think it's kind of important for women to, you know, eat. Yes, yes, even the low-normal BMI sorts should exercise, but there's no pretending it's about "health" if you're already borderline underweight and your goal is, in part, to lose five pounds. (Relevant "Mean Girls" quote coming to mind.)

I'm sure some will say, it's her body, she should do whatever makes her happy, and being five pounds underweight for one's wedding is unlikely to cause permanent damage. (Natalie Portman, she of the temporary tininess for "Black Swan," has just given birth to a Millepied, so this must be true.) To which I'd respond, it's a bit like the whole thing with "ex-gays." If some folks would prefer to view themselves as straight, for religious reasons or whatever, and get more pleasure from that identity than they would from a same-sex relationship, so be it, in theory. But in reality, these things do not occur in a vacuum, and the "ex-gay" is likely contributing to making life worse for those who'd rather be openly gay than closeted and pious, not to mention for the women they play at being "straight" with.

Women who diet unnecessarily are not always evangelists for doing so, but writing an article like this, phrasing it as a "defense" of the pre-wedding body-overhaul, adds up to as much. I'm not sure what the correct language is to describe this kind of writing ("pro-ana"? "pro-orthorexia"? "triggering"? people more up-to-date on Jezebel - which Grose used to write for! - than I am, help me out), but, guaranteed, it will make other already-thin women wonder if maybe they could stand to lose a few.

But! Grose's overall message, the basis for her "defense," is that her exercise routine was about empowerment. Thus the reference to wanting arms like Michelle Obama's - how liberal and liberating! And thus this, the strangest bridal-makeover-as-empowerment story I've ever heard:
That I was willing to keep at it made me realize that this makeover was about more than just vanity. I was getting much, much stronger. After several sessions I could lift the heavy boxes of wedding goodies that were being shipped to us on a near-daily basis without the aid of my fiancé.
A feminist triumph!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A rude Parisian waiter UPDATED

One of my fellow grad students made a truly brilliant observation: the French Paradox isn't eating cream sauces yet remaining thin and healthy. It's the fact that ATM machines distribute only 50s, while nowhere, not even supermarkets, will allow you to pay with one. Granted I get around this by taking out 40 at a time, and by doing the bulk of my spending at Monoprix (aka groceries), which for whatever reason finds cartes acceptable.

But sometimes I do want to pay for something in cash, and I'm then reunited with the French (Parisian?) obsession with exact change. No question about it, wherever you're paying, exact change will be appreciated more than a tip.

Meanwhile, as someone who does not live in Europe permanently or have a European bank account or anything, I do not have a stash in my room of the heaps and heaps of coins that would allow me to pay exact at all times. I clearly have no business being in Paris.

This evening, I met a friend - another grad student, we're everywhere! - for a drink. The total came to four euros for his beer, and a rather steep five for my glass of wine. (Steep because this is France, and, though Paris, not a touristy or upscale neighborhood.) From the get-go, the waiter at the place made it clear that he was not pleased to have to seat two Americans. Maybe my NYU tote bag was a mistake. Maybe my friend and I - he's also American - dared utter a syllable one to the other that gave off a whiff of anglais. Whatever it was, even though it was a beautiful evening, and there were available tables outside, as well as virtually all tables free inside, we were led to a table inside and in the back. I asked if outside was possible, and lo and behold it was. Similar efforts were required to see the list of wines by the glass. Through all of this, our waiter threw in just enough English words to make it clear: he was onto us.

Then came the bill. We each just had a 10, and again, we're both grad students, and with the current exchange rate, these were not exactly happy-hour drinks, so something at least close to paying for our own drinks was ideal. I asked for change. Non. By way of an explanation, our waiter opened what looked like the book from the check some other table had just paid and showed that there was only one five in it. Meanwhile, this was a reasonably large café, reasonably mid-evening. Really, no change at all?

Suspecting that some misogyny on top of the anti-Americanness might be at work, I asked my friend to give it a go when the waiter returned, and he again insisted that there was simply no change at all, not even à l'intérieur. The fact that after this, we were not planning to tip, was not an issue, not because a tip is never given in this situation (it can be, but is by no means expected), but because it was more important for the waiter to make it clear how his little neck of the woods in Paris was positively ruined by having to deal with Americans, those horrible people who not only communicate with one another English but, as residents of a country with another currency and across an ocean, do not keep massive stashes of European change in their pockets.


In keeping with the theme of Franco-American relations, some recent photos. By way of explanation, most are of a pro-French-language protest. Then there's graffiti that might be evidence of Jewish (like, pro-Jewish) terrorism, and possibly something to do with Freemasons, in what's Paris's non-tourist Jewish neighborhood, that is, not the Rue des Rosiers. The driving-school one is a fun double-entendre, the Vietnamese restaurant one evidence of the extent to which Anglophone hegemony has not taken over Paris. The Alsatian latkes are Alsatian latkes, and strike me - good peddler/usurer-descendent I probably am - as rather steep at nearly 19 a kilo. The ad asking French folk to visit America is from a good number of decades before sneaker-shopping on lower Broadway became the Frenchperson's vacation of choice, before the euro changed everything. The dachshund is a rare example of a long-haired miniature in this land of wire-haired standards.

Do Jews hate pie?

I've just begun the second season of "Twin Peaks," which I'd somehow missed when it was new, apparently because it was on the same time as "Cheers," which either I or those who controlled the television when I was a young child preferred. After a touch of disorientation during the pilot (what are Mr. and Mrs. Ross, Susan's parents, doing in the woods?) I've really gotten into it.

So I was struck by the arrival of forensics expert and "city slicker" named Albert Rosenfield, whose job is to help fellow "city slicker" FBI agent Dale Cooper (played by a youngish Kyle MacLachlan, sigh) solve a small-town Washington State murder. Brash, rude, and, if we're going to go by the Sheldon-of-"Big-Bang-Theory" school of mental diagnoses of television characters, somewhere on a spectrum, Albert's favorite thing in the world is telling the good folks of Twin Peaks that they're inept morons, at times comparing them to non-human animals. Dale, meanwhile, has fallen for the town, for its rustic, don't-make-'em-like-they-used-to charms. This, despite the fact that the town's a sordid place, far more violence per capita than a big city, I'd bet, but I suppose this is the whole Lynch/MacLachlan thing where the dark underside adds to the charm. Dale especially likes the town's coffee and pie, which seems reasonable, and no, I'm not being sarcastic.

Anyway, whereas both Dale and Albert are outsiders in Twin Peaks, Albert's the outsider. We certainly can't fault the locals for despising him, given that his attitude towards them is a bit like Benedikt's husband's towards Jews who have not sworn eternal anti-Zionism.* They don't hate him because his name is Rosenfield. They hate him because he's being an ass.

What we can look at critically is the choice to give a Jewish-sounding name to the urbanite who just doesn't get Real America, never has, never will. My question, then, is not whether the show is anti-Semitic, but whether this perhaps tells us something about the extent to which Jews are viewed, in contemporary America (the 1990s weren't that long ago), as the very epitome of Unwholesome America. (Last discussed in the comments here.) It's not that any number of other groups - yuppies, gays, etc. - don't exist in big cities and or not associated with big cities. It's that Jews are shorthand for "big cities" in a way that these other groups are not. Thus explaining why Jews might hear a dog-whistle operating when Palin, etc., hold forth on the Real America.

Granted, "Twin Peaks" is just one show, and a not-so-recent one at that. Nothing has been proven once and for all. Although I will say that my first thought re: the "Seinfeld" connection was that Susan's parents were cast from "Twin Peaks" precisely because they would, for 1990s viewers, have represented precisely the Wholesome America that George's parents, the Costanzas, did not. Oh, and the whole "log cabin" situation.

*See, I told you Benedikt's essay had a Chua-like staying power!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Comes full circle

I intended the title to this post as a humorous list of the key words that go into NYT-reader-bait articles. Due, no doubt, to the title, WWPD is currently #1 on the "Times Topics" page about yoga.

And with that, an end to the day's graphomaniacal extravaganza that, thankfully, extended to the dissertation as well.

Zionist indoctrination assortment

-As someone who managed perfectly well to grow up Jewish, to go to my fair share of Hebrew school, and to miss the part where I was supposed to be indoctrinated in terms of what I was supposed to think about Israel, I never know what to make of the current proliferation of articles like this. I do know that the ridiculous all-caps comment that is at the time of my typing the only comment to the piece, whose author believes "JEWS SHOULD STAY UNITED BEHIND ISRAEL," before moving on to the topic of POGROMS, is not helping matters.

-Huh. (Via.) So maybe some Birthright trips are more about Zionist indoctrination, less about anti-intermarriage intervention. Clearly, as a Herzlophile who had just recently started dating the non-Jewish man who is now my husband, I picked the wrong trip.

-Thanks, David Schraub, for the shout-out in the comments at a Forward blog. As for the post itself, a defense of the Benedikt essay that I will try mightily not to mention any more after this post,* it unfortunately reinforces my impression of Benedikt as a kind of post-Zionist American-Jewish Sarah Palin crossed with Emily Gould-ian New Brooklyn overshare aesthetics. We're supposed to respect her decision to write "in an almost childlike voice," and to nod understandingly when she later explains that the point of the essay was "'definitely not to talk policy or really even politics.'" Why? On what basis are we giving the essay a second chance? Because "Allison is a friend" of the blogger. Well, in that case. Forget 'bad for the Jews.' This is bad for young women in or aspiring to be in opinion writing.

*But no promises, what with its Chua-esque way of sucking you in.

Intermarriage and (anti-) Zionism

In the comments below, Erika Dreifus points us to Jeffrey Goldberg's top-notch post on Allison Benedikt's article, Benedikt having provided a somewhat random and apparently unappreciated shout-out to Goldberg that implies that he's somehow behind her. Which made me think how, while I agree with every bit of Goldberg's response to this, I'd just recently disagreed with another post of his. And yes, there's a connection. Namely: what is the relationship, if any, between Jewish intermarriage and Jewish anti-Zionism? Because we have, on the one hand, Benedikt, who ties together her disillusionment with Israel with her discovery of non-Jewish guys. On the other, Goldberg, who, though by no means a rah-rah Zionist, is more squarely on the friend-of-Israel end of things... and he just got through saying that a Jewish man who dates or marries out probably has messed-up ideas re: Jewish women, and is not manly enough to take them on.

Where to begin, from all the various Gender and Jewish Studies angles. We have the machismo of Zionism, from Nordau's Jewry of Muscle down to the heartthrob IDF soldiers they put on the Birthright buses, just to make the Diaspora dudes look extra-pasty. We have the stereotype of Jewish men as mama's-boys, making the ones with a "shiksa" (because yes, the year is 1959) rebellious real men. But I digress.

Some of the negative responses to Benedikt's essay - but not, to his credit, Goldberg's - have treated her having married out and her disillusionment with Zionism as of a piece, and have condemned both in the same breath. Benedikt herself encourages this, attributing her shift from rah-rah Zionism to anti-Zionism to some Gentile gentlemen who'd courted her, and in doing so, opened her eyes to the fact that OMG Israel isn't perfect.

For the intelligent reader, the questions to ask regarding the "romantic" part of the essay are: 1) why is this woman so dependent on dudes she's romantically involved with to tell her what to think about world affairs? and 2) why does she put up with her husband acting like an ass? And indeed, some responses get at this.

But for the not-so-sharp reader with knee-jerk inclinations in a direction diametrically opposed to Benedikt's, the moral of the story is, here's a nice Jewish girl lost to intermarriage. See, this is what happens when a Jew marries out.

Out-marriers deserve neither the credit nor the blame for having broken free of the confines of the American Jewish Establishment. We ought to think of intermarriage more as the result of assimilation (or, if you prefer, integration, or if you prefer an in-depth discussion of these terms, the introduction to my dissertation) than as an intentional act of assimilation.

But there's a sense among some Jews that marrying out is a kind of political statement, that it's an act undertaken in order to break from the community. By "among some Jews," I mean both some Jews who oppose intermarriage and some who are themselves intermarried. The former think of intermarriage as an act of aggression against the dwindling Jewish people, the latter consider it an extra-nice piece of evidence that one is not some kind of sheep, following everything they were told at Hebrew school, and that, as such, marrying out is of a piece with opposing The Zionist Oppressor.

Historically - as in, from "Portnoy" on - it's been Jewish men who've taken this approach to retroactively ascribing meaning to their inter-ethnic romances. Benedikt's foray into originality is to be a Jewish woman stricken with this neurosis. As Benedikt describes it, dating or better yet, marrying a "goy" comes from the same place as questioning Israel's right to exist. Or, as I suspect this actually went down, Benedikt happened to get together with this one guy Mark, then another, John, and has retroactively attributed this to a coherent (well, coherent-ish) Life Narrative.

Here's how to better reconcile all this: Two things are happening simultaneously. American Jews are interacting far more than ever before with our non-Jews neighbors, and Israel is coming to seem more and more distant to American Jews (who did not happen to have bizarre epiphanies about the Dreyfus Affair their senior years of college). These two things are related, insofar as, if you feel very comfortable in America, if one of your own parents isn't or wasn't brought up Jewish, you're likely to feel less of a connection to the Jewish state. The same factors that, for this population generally, lead to more Jews marrying out are also leading to fewer Jews feeling terribly pro-Israel.

The way these two shifts are not related, however, is that, while individual American Jews (like everyone else) get to decide, on the basis of whichever mix of evidence and emotion, what to think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we (like individuals in all other communities) don't get to decide how integrated a world we're born into, which schools our parents will send us to, and how open members of other communities we meet will be to dating or marrying us. People do not marry who they marry to make a point. Most of us can only stand so many people for so long, and when we find someone we actually want to spend that much time with, and when it's mutual, we do not sneeze at this. Once we're under the you-choose system of spousal selection, as opposed to, here's your second cousin, be fruitful and multiply, it becomes very, very difficult to reject the possibility of a marriage to someone you know you can and want to be with for the rest of your life. (Remember, the yuppies of today aren't divorcing like they used to.) Thus you'll find Jews highly suspicious of Zionism, highly critical of the American-Jewish "establishment," married to other Jews, as well as Jews who are full-on Zionists - critical, perhaps, of Israeli policies, but overall pro-Jewish-state - married to non-Jews. Not because members of either group are hypocrites, but because spousal selection and politics are not the same thing.

Granted, it's not that people just up and wake up married to whomever. Jews who, though super-duper-integrated, care about raising at least nominally religiously-Jewish children, might well encourage their future spouses to convert. Other highly-integrated Jews might care more about Zionism (yes, we're out there), making a potential spouse's views on Israel more of a potential deal-breaker.* Either way, however, we're left with the fact that integrated Jews these days do not, as did those of a previous generation, arrive at young adulthood with a sense of Jews and Gentiles coming from totally different worlds. Whereas it once required extra effort to marry out, it now requires that, if anything, to marry in. The generations before us did not nobly reject the possibility of non-Jewish partners. This simply wasn't done in those days. (With all kinds of historical caveats I won't get into here.)

*Remember - and Benedikt's essay does not hint at this - that there are non-Jews at various points on the neutral-to-Zionist spectrum as well. If anything, because those who did not grow up Jewish don't associate Zionism with that-which-I-was-made-to-believe-as-a-child, if they're less emotional in rejecting Zionism, they're perhaps also less so in accepting it, if that's the route they go down. Which in a sense, even though I grew up plenty ethnically/culturally Jewish, describes my own experience. I was not sent to Zionist indoctrination summer camps, and don't remember having given much thought to Israel before or after my family toured it on a bus with other Americans when I was 8. That is, until I read Herzl, etc., in college. So I don't really associate Zionism with pleasing my family, doing what I'm told. So it's likely that a Jew more pro-Israel than postadolescent Benedikt would be put off by a guy like John's continuous anti-Israel scream-fest, and would have opted instead for someone else, not necessarily for someone Jewish. It's important to remember that this John, going by the essay, is rude, anti-Israel, and non-Jewish, and that these three things are basically unrelated.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Organic yoga arugula Park Slope strollers

It's obviously only a matter of time until the NYT allows comments - and comments there shall be - on this Styles article that hits, oh, just about every possible Styles mark: coastal, upper-middle-class, well-educated, blah blah, couples who divorce, in an era when only the plebs are supposed to do that. Bad parenting, in this post-post-post-"Mad Men"-era society! Where there were Styles clichés left out, author Carrie Bradshaw - no, Pamela Paul - threw them back in, adding "yoga" and "organic" for good measure. Oh, and of course, those profiled come across on a superficial level as saints, but between the lines as privileged fools. You know what? I don't believe there's a "Pamela Paul." I think this was some excellent work on the part of the paper's Style Article Generator.

Anyway, I've taken the bait. (Maybe I'm homesick, who knows. No Park Slope parenting in Paris. Still very much try-not-to-drop-the-cigarette-ashes-onto-the-head-of-the-kid-in-the-stroller in these parts.) So:

-Obviously, you don't know the personal business of the other playgroup parents, so yoga moms, fine, should not be so judgey of the few among them who divorce. Maybe there was nastiness behind the organic-sustainable curtains that you don't know about, and the split really did have to happen. But even if not, even if the parents divorced for no good reason, for god's sake be civil with acquaintances.

-But maybe it is reasonable that people are judgey about divorce when there are young kids involved, in a way that would not have been as reasonable back in the day. It's not just about peer marriage vs. traditional gender roles, as Paul suggests. It's about choice of spouse. If you felt you had to marry in order to have sex, or if there was no effective birth control when you were young and single, then there's a heck of a lot better of a chance that you ended up with someone you were never that thrilled about to begin with. If you go into marriage knowing what else is out there, knowing, even, that you've been happy living with your future spouse for years already, then perhaps it is more embarrassing to divorce, all things equal, than if things don't work out between you and the guy who took you to the soda shop a few times before your wedding.

-The divorced parents quoted say a variant of, 'It's like they think it's bad parenting to divorce when your kids are young.' And the author is on their side. "[S]plitting up with tender, vulnerable children in the mix is seen as a parental infraction." At which point I'm like, yes, all things equal, it is bad parenting to divorce not long after having kids. Divorce should absolutely remain legal, and is sometimes unavoidable - again, with individual cases, best to avoid pronouncements about the avoidability or not of their divorces, exception being if they choose to brag about their infidelity in the Vows, in which case judge away. But without speaking to any individuals' situations, yes, all things equal, it is a nice gesture to your young children to stay with your spouse, if at all possible. Nicer, even, than remembering to get the organic carrot purée from the Co-op.

-"A common belief is that if the divorce is done properly, the children benefit more from the separation than from living in a family with a compromised marriage." Common among... recently divorced parents interviewed for this article. I know, I know, why look for Science in a place like this.

-But wait. Is the article about divorced parents? No, it's about Mommy Wars. How's this for a nice parenthetical? "(Indeed, according to many divorced men, now more involved in their children’s lives than their predecessors, they do not feel the same level of scrutiny.)" Indeed, maybe cutting a few of the superfluous mentions of organic milk would have made room to unpack the gender dynamics of this in the article's three pages.

-Requisite Dan Savage worship: While I think Savage is a bit too optimistic, if we want to call it that, about how easily the typical straight (or gay!) couple might set up an open relationship, while I think he greatly exaggerates the extent to which couples even want such relationships (skewed, perhaps, by political scandals, and by the fact that it's those not happy in their relationships, or who want affirmation in their non-monogamy, who call him), he does have a point about how, if it's a choice between splitting up a family and negotiating some kind of not-quite-monogamous set-up, the latter probably has its advantages.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The French out-French themselves

My phone was buzzing just now, and I realized that, given how hopeless I've been at entering the numbers of the admittedly limited number of people I know in Paris into my phone here, there was a decent chance this was not a wrong number. I said hello, then heard the other end hang up. Then saw I had a text message. An apology for misdialing... and a remark to let me know that I have a nice voice.

(I will not get into the lack of toilet paper - again! - in one of the stalls, with the other one fast running out, or the drunken man yelling, possibly in German, audible even with the window closed. Perhaps one of the goals of this exchange, in which the 30-ish live in dorms, is to make American profs of French happy to live in remote parts of the U.S., where one can have a large house, a general lack of seduction-culture, and all the toilet paper one has ever dreamed of.)

Holding on tight to my 20s UPDATED

I know everyone wants to hear about Zionism, maybe about college admissions, but instead you're getting a hair post. Ombré, at long last. Fading to more to strawberry-blond, more to yellow-blond depending on the light, as the photos indicate. Another hour or so of bleach would have probably been necessary for the effect I'd imagined, the one that would fade to platinum and thus permit blue dye to show up properly over it. Pink, I remember from experience, works fine on this shade. Anyway, I kind of like it as it is, am in the land of no pink hair-dye, and am kind of not up for smelling bleach again any time soon. Two major advantages to this look, for those among my readers who might be craving a change of coiffure: 1) Yes, bleach damages hair, but if you have long hair, or hair you heat-style, or both, your ends are damaged anyway, and you already own whichever gunk is necessary to hide that fact, and 2) however odd it comes out, the great thing about dyeing the tips of long hair is, next haircut and it's gone. This is not an "I need a radical change" kind of D.I.Y., more the risk level of trimming one's own bangs.


For an example of the professional version, on coloring virtually identical to my own, see the Man Repeller here, or post-salon-styling (presumably) here. Damn. I'm thinking I may as well open an ombréing salon in my dorm room. "In the heart of the Latin Quarter, for a mere 75 euros, you too can have the bottom third of your hair bleached for an hour, the bleach washed out, and bleach once again applied to just the tips for another hour, then go wash the whole thing out yourself in one of the moldy showers down the hall."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Another courageous American Jew takes on Zionism

Reader (and writer!) Erika Dreifus sent me a link to this, and all I can say in response to the article is, oh, Allison Benedikt. You are so friggin' cool. You snuck cigarettes with the cool kids before it was cool, you were Zionist when that was cool, and now, now that it's no longer the thing for Jews to be like that, you're ambivalent about Israel. Ms. Benedikt, I don't want your Zionism. I'd rather, with your approach to world affairs, that you not be on any side of anything I'm associated with.

The entire piece - the author's strange and only mildly erotic journey from Zionist summer camp to intermarriage (!) and disillusionment with Israel (!!!) goes a bit overboard with the coming-of-age, loss-of-innocence theme. I mean for goodness sake, look in an encyclopedia or online depending what year this was and bingo, you can find out who Jabotinsky was. Middle school is one thing, but if you reach late high school, let alone college, without learning about the various major contentious issues of the day that most relate to you personally, you have only yourself to blame. Interested in Zionism? Perhaps read a book about Zionism. In college? Take a class. I found it harder and harder, as the article went on and its protagonist grew older and wiser, to sympathize with someone whose political opinions came only from friends and boyfriends. Mainstream newspapers! One publication from the left, one from the right! Otherwise, oh Jewish Palin, I don't give a Mediterranean fig about your sensitive take on the I-P conflict.

It's no great mystery to the careful reader where the author gets her oh-so-informed approach to the news from: "[M]y parents don't do facts on this issue. They do feelings."


"I watch the news in horror and talk to my Mom on the phone every day, whose opinions vacillate wildly depending on who she is speaking with or how attacked she feels by the anchors on TV."

Oh, and this, buried in the article, I'll bury in this post in kind: "Through sheer force of will and also nepotism, I get a magazine job." From her family she got an inability to form informed opinions on world issues, and, right out of college, a journalism job in New York. A winning combination.

(If the point of this piece is to make American Jews more rah-rah Diaspora, bits like this don't help: "Because [the summer camp is] all Jews, I'm considered cute." Yes, yes, Jewish girls are grotesque and can only attract attention if set apart from the strapping Real Americans. But this, though a gratuitous reiteration of an annoying cliché, I can't really criticize, because it's conceivable that this was her experience.)

Overall, my response to this piece was, in part, to desperately wish I hadn't railed on against the expression "your privilege is showing," because oh, it would apply here. Not just lines like, "I tell my sister that when I move to New York in the fall [after college], I'm going to 'do my own thing,'" followed immediately by the convenient journo job. More the notion that someone who has not only not experienced anti-Semitism personally, but someone for whom the idea that Jews might be, in some broader sense, hated, is inconceivable if in her own life is comfortable.

But it's not really about privilege at all, but about ignorance. Yes, as a Jew, you will get some non-Jews who will find it oh so delightful that they can now explain how evil they think Israel is to a real life Israelite. Maybe the non-Jewish boyfriends who told the author how wrong she was not to be horrified by Jewish nationhood were in no place to be lecturing someone from a marginalized group on the justice of its liberation movement. (Requisite disclaimer: the issue isn't that they "criticized Israel," which of course even non-Jews with Jewish significant others are allowed to do, or that they attempted to expand the admittedly narrow horizons of the author, but that, at least as she tells it, they didn't come at this from the perspective of, whatever one thinks of current Israeli policy or even the founding of the state, it was the national movement of a seriously oppressed people.) Just as she readily accepted that Jews were the eternal victim when this was fed to her at summer camp, the author swallows whole the idea that no, no, it's Israel that's in the wrong. So... I'm left, I suppose, where I started, thinking that I wouldn't especially want someone like the author on the pro-Israel end of things, given the kind of rhetorical support she'd be able to provide.

Another Frenchwomen post

Friggin' Frenchwomen (and Frenchgirls, who appear to have no youth-specific style culture), with their emphasis on chic and subtle, do not create sufficient demand for odd hair-dye colors. (Or nail colors, for that matter, but on that front I came prepared.) If there's a store that specializes in this kind of thing, I haven't found it, online or off-. All I did find were several boxes of at-home bleach, but a bleach intended to make women look like natural blondes, not as a first step prior to going pink or blue. None of these looked like the right thing, and the one that claimed to work on dark hair promised to turn it strawberry-blond. Not it, not it at all! That, and "Nordic," really?

But what about gay French women?

At Gawker, Brian Moylan takes on Simon Doonan's new book, one with a title that sounds, in retrospect, inevitable: Gay Men Don't Get Fat, a take on Mireille Giuliano's tome on French Women. Moylan's claim is that we wouldn't all be so rah-rah about gay male svelteness if we knew where it came from. Where it comes from, Moylan explains, is that gay men not only fear remaining single forever if they're not perfectly-built, but need to stay looking good even once coupled off, because,

There are countless committed gay couples out there who like to either play on the side or invite guest stars into their beds. And you're not going to get any A-list guest stars if you're giving D-list torso with a four-star gut. Yes, gay men go to the gym to stay competitive, but since the man-eating marathon doesn't end after marriage, they just keep on competing and competing until death do they part.
Why Moylan claims to be "let[ing Gawker readers] in on a little secret" here is beyond me, given that, if differing norms about monogamy in (some parts of) the gay male community weren't already known, there's "monogamish" Dan Savage out there, making sure that no one's left in the dark on this one.

But what's more to the point is, why, exactly, is Moylan contrasting gay men with French women? He ends his post, "For me, well, I'd much rather be French." But, to remind: the book was about French women. It's not expected that French men will stay slim forever, although they look awfully thin to me. And French women, for better and for worse, are expected to remain hott well into their 80s if not beyond. Slim, hair done, makeup done but not too done, 10,000 euros worth of skin creams piled on one after the next where maybe the result's not visible to the naked eye, but It Is Important To Care About Your Skin. (For an American example of the "French" approach, see here. For my previous tirade on the subject, here.)

Whether the stunning elderly of Passy are in fact leading lives as passionate as (or more passionate than!) the monogamish middle-aged of Chelsea is something I don't know and don't intend to research. What I do know is, the (kind-of) upside to the French insistence that older women be hott is that older women continue to be looked upon as hott. Think of Prudie's remark, one that many an American woman has made, this in response to a letter-writer who doesn't love cat-calls:
When I walk down the street with my lovely teenage daughter, men passing in trucks will honk their horns and make appreciative kissing sounds at her. They apparently think the prune standing next to her is deaf as well as old. Yet, their catcalls spark a vestigial memory in me—a couple of decades ago I used to hear vocal judgments from men. At the time it was annoying. Yet given their absence, I have to admit it wasn't all bad.
Come to Paris, Prudie, and you too can be called a salope for not responding to young men's advances.

Anyway. My point is that the same tradeoff that sexiness into old age demands of gay men, in cliché at least, is demanded of French women, again, at least in cliché.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Good news: There's a hair salon that, according to a French fashion blogger, does ombré. It is right next to the library I'll be at for the rest of my time in Paris. It has good reviews online in general.

Bad news: In the thread following that post, said blogger informs someone that in the provinces, this style could probably be done for a mere 100 euros. Time to figure out what's the Parisian equivalent of Ricky's and DIY this, in a dorm room whose rotting-wood sink area could only benefit from some bleach.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A post-sleep and post-red-meat round-up

-I've been debating with Mr. Athens and Mr. Jerusalem (nah, Alpheus and Withywindle) about the relationship between anti-Semitism and the left in America today. To summarize, and run the risk of conflating what are in fact several different stances - Withywindle and some commenting there are of the anti-Zionism-is-the-new-anti-Semitism school, and thus classify contemporary American anti-Semitism as coming from the left. Another commenter there points out that "Wall Street" and "Coastal Culture" have a history of being heard as code words for "Jews" by certain audiences, and that these views are coming from the right. To which Withywindle, in the comments, counters:

I also think there are substantive reasons to criticize Wall Street bailouts, Coastal Elites, and, indeed, the War on Christmas--and, indeed, I support all these critiques, because I am such a gutte neshumah. So I am very wary of any attempt to avoid the necessity to rebut these critiques by the cheap and nasty resort to, Oo! Oo! You just don't like Jews! I suppose I would keep a weather eye for developments, but in the meantime concentrate on the text, not the possibly Jewish subtext.
Without fully summarizing the thread, my response was - and is - that there are also substantive reasons to criticize Israel.... and that this in no way prevents some from using anti-Zionism as a cover for their anti-Semitism.

Now, I'm coming at this from a Zionist as well as an an anti-anti-Coastal perspective. My fury with Wall Street is, practically speaking, mostly limited to its irritating presence in my day-to-day life when in NY. But as I commented there, the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Coastal Elite-ism is that one, if it's secretly about Jews, is - at least initially - secretly about Israeli Jews and their Jewish supporters abroad. The other, meanwhile, is, if it's about Jews at all, about American Jews. Because "coastal elites" is about culture, it hardly matters if a particular Jew actually comes from Minnesota and has never left that state. The person can still be described as "so New York." It's much more of a threat to American Jews if a movement emerges that doubts a Jew can really be American than it is if the folks getting worked up about American aid to Israel got super-mobilized.

-I had written a long post about the following, but it went off in too many directions, so I'll attempt to rein it in here. Basically, I was struck by part of a comment at Flavia's, re: college admissions: "[T]he true test is not if you can do pretty well with every advantage but if you can do even decently having to fight through obstacles the more privileged can't imagine." Struck, that is, by the idea of there being a "true test," and how this relates to "holistic" admissions, as well as the insistence we have in America (in some parts of the country, that is) with matching students up with colleges that match their unique personalities. Struck also with how this contrasts with Isabel Archer's response, in which she asks, "Isn't it simpler and far more attractive to just have admissions officers focus on [...] picking people who will be good college students?" It strikes me that the way to expand opportunity and reward those who do well in college would be to have everyone just go to a nearby public university, one with as close to open admissions and free tuition as possible, and - in the European manner, sniffs this grad student from her Paris dorm room - allow that a certain (large?) percentage of the matriculating class won't graduate. Sure, kids from upper-class families would probably be better-represented among the "pass" contingent, but there wouldn't be the same initial barriers to getting in, namely the near-need for wealthy and-or with-it parents. There should be a way of expanding opportunity that doesn't involve intricate moral judgements of who has overcome precisely how much suffering - this in part because some types of suffering are neither financial nor racial, and are the kinds of things students might prefer not to - or not think to - put in their application packages. And... there's more, but I'll see if there are comments on this, and maybe the side-tracked-ness of my mind on this issue will cease.

-While I have no trouble calling Valentijn de Hingh a woman, and am glad that someone from a very marginalized group has found a way to make a living, I'm not sure what to make of the apparent mini-trend of biologically male women's-fashion models. It seems hand in hand with the popularity of preadolescent (i.e. a young-looking 12, not an emaciated 16) mannequins. The concern, as far as I'm concerned, is not that a MTF woman or a 12-year-old girl is in some way taking the rightful place of a deserving 18-year-old biological-female model, or that it's confronting heterosexual men with images of female beauty that they perhaps wouldn't (or, in the case of young girls, absolutely shouldn't) pursue sexually. Rather, it's that the fact that these demographics are now "in" is merely the obvious result of a beauty standard that equates adult female appearance with ugliness. The born-male and the not-yet-14 don't have a heck of a lot in the way of cellulite.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pavé de don't mind me

I have a knack for timing my rare (both senses) steak preparations for times when my vegetarian friends are in the communal kitchen. Pasta with arugula and mozzarella, this they miss, but steak... The response is a mix of horror and temptation (hey, not my fault I make a mean steak even in a saucepan, even in a communal kitchen). I will soon join them downstairs, for some wine and some what, me?, I had a late lunch, but not before I've made sure this cow didn't die in vain, and not before I've wiped the bloody mess my dinner made off the counter.

Paris redeems itself

After a coffee and croissant at the High Temple of Invalides with some fellow fire-alarm recipients (and of course I bought more pastry à emporter), then another coffee to go from Anglo-y Coutume (where they do the latte art on a 2-euro macchiato!), then a bunch of grocery shopping at Bon Marché, I'm remembering why Paris is not, in fact, horrible. Even with the crap exchange rate requiring me to remember that all prices are nearly x 1.5, amazing food here is strangely affordable, certainly compared with the options I had in NY. I will drown my exhausted fury at my juvenile-delinquent dorm-mates in Passendale and coeur de rumsteck. I will stay away from sprouts. (Is this a food anyone actively seeks out, as opposed to a disappointing garnish?)

And we even saw a leaping dachshund! As in, a long-haired dachshund that saw a puddle and jumped really high to get over it, then jumped some more adorably for good measure at the other curb. And I'm sufficiently exhausted post-last-night (post-this-morning, really, given that it was light out by the end of it) that I might just be able to return to a normal sleep and thus work schedule.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Paris in June, jealous?

After waking up today around 1pm, following a much-needed 13 hours of sleep, I decided, this evening, that I would kick the jetlag for good. A glass of wine, some Coningsby, and some NPR later, it was nearly 3am, I was at the cusp of falling grad-studentishly asleep, and, just as the screaming of drunken undergrads in the hall had subsided, there was some beeping. I wasn't sure what it was, got my rings, bag, and keys sleepily, and went into the hall.

A fire alarm! Not a terribly loud one, from the room at least, but an alarm all the same. Like the rest, I headed down the (many) stairs and went outside. It stopped, I went back upstairs. And, it started again. I went back downstairs. After this, I lose count, but it was definitely at least five or six distinct rounds of this, lasting till past 4.

During this time, the outside part of the dorm had turned into a real college party, complete with the odd stiletto-wearing girl, but with more cigarettes and fewer guys over 150 lbs. This is, after all, Frahnce. (What calories it must burn to run up and down stairs that many times in one night! Trying to fix this now with delicious Whole Foods tortilla chips, a taste of home. My jetlagged stomach missed dinner and would like some guacamole to go with.)

I attempted to text and then call a night-owl grad student friend here, in all likelihood also roaming the "campus," only to learn that my phone was out of funds. I did eventually find her, but not before I'd paced back and forth through a frat party of sorts in my slippers and Old Navy "lounge" finery. Of course, once we met up, we got snooty looks up-and-down from some revelers (she in Crocs-as-slippers, me in slippers-as-slippers and, god forbid, a fleece) - the gall of the American exchange students, looking so sloppy for a middle-of-the-night fire drill or whatever it was! Where was our couture? We also got some cat-call action that seemed designed to flatter Patsy Stone - we're not "les filles," certainly not from the perspective of 19-year-olds, but it was dark and they were drunk. Our ignoring them led to our being called "salopes." Le pays de DSK, its educational elite, at that. And some others who, when we denied their request in French and English for cigarettes as they passed, decided that we were Spanish. Because, as my friend noted, it was inconceivable to them that people might just not carry cigarettes. It had to be a language issue.

I asked one of the security guards what was going on, and he said I could go back to sleep. Not with these alarms, but at least it wasn't an actual fire. Then, later, when I asked him if it was done for good, he said yes, and that my "colleagues" had set off the alarm. I wanted to be all, no, I don't think a bunch of pushing-30 grad students were the people screaming in the halls, dropping heavy objects, and defacing in brown (I want to say paint...) one of the dorm rooms that's being renovated, let alone setting off the fire alarm repeatedly in the middle of the night, but, details. But I didn't like being held responsible, even by association, for this, especially as someone far too old to respond to something like this by partying in heels. The only non-miserable aspect of this was that, thanks to the very jetlag I was fighting, I was (and am) fully awake for the whole of it. That, and knowing that when I wake up at 3pm or who knows tomorrow, I get to head straight to Le Boulanger des Invalides.

Job opening in the humanities UPDATED

Much of the email I receive - list email - is about tutoring jobs. Almost inevitably, the tutor must be a native French speaker, preferably from France. (Poor Africans, Walloons, Canadians.) I've both taught and tutored French, but am not the authentic deal, and so I delete these emails, sometimes wondering why someone who wants a 5-year-old to learn how to conjugate être cares whether the tutor had Nutrageous or pain au chocolat as an after-school snack. Sometimes picturing the scene where Alex and Simon have this French au pair to help them teach François and the other kid with a less memorable name, but it's futile, even though the au pair is by all accounts une vraie Française.

So I've been following the story, such as it is, of the GOOP founder's quest to find a tutor for her kids. "The successful applicant will be able to teach the youngsters Ancient Greek, Latin, French and even Japanese or Mandarin, on top of giving sailing and tennis lessons. They are also required to understand philosophy and enjoy painting, art, drama and chess." Oh, and the tutor must be "'youthful.'" Is that even legal to ask? Maybe in the UK?

All of this leads one to wonder several things, not least of which what's to prevent either parent from preferring the "genius" wonder-tutor (depending the gender) to the spouse. The job description sounds like tasks enough for several tutors, or one incredible BSer. The cultural requirements seem to almost ask for that, especially the way "painting" and "art" are listed separately. I suppose the mix of seemingly unrelated achievements sounds a bit like the CV of a Rhodes Scholar or similar, or at any rate someone who wouldn't have found the time along the way (ahem) to read GOOP or otherwise care who Paltrow is enough to agree to this set-up. However, it is a list of many non-marketable skills (ancient languages! philosophy! sailing!), so to the Daily Mail commenters who think someone with all these qualities already makes more... perhaps not. I'll take on French, Latin (took it in middle school, vaguely remember the teacher mentioning having taught or possibly just college-advised this very actress back in the day), and philosophy (thanks, Philosophical Perspectives!), trade (elementary) Hebrew and (very) basic conversational Flemish for "Japanese or Mandarin," running (it's a sport!) for sailing and tennis. The question is, is this considered post-doc or tenure-track? Guess it depends if they're planning a larger family.

(Meanwhile, what happened to the "Nanny" school of nannying, which involves teaching kids not unlike Gwyneth's basic common sense and how to shop at Loehmann's? Tangentially related, to whom it may concern, one of the bridal consultants on "Say Yes to the Dress" - quite possibly on "Big Bliss" - looks like, sounds like, and has the same mannerisms as one Fran Fine. Too perfect. UPDATE: It's Antonella.)

"[A]n irresistible combination of sexiness, intelligence, ambition, and a deep capacity for love"

Withywindle has requested that this Jeffrey Goldberg post get the WWPD treatment. The relevant passage, Goldberg's response to Weiner's having repeated the cliché about Jewish women and oral sex, below:

On the issue of Weiner and Jewish women. my intuition, plus knowledge of his dating pattern, plus the fact that he married a non-Jew, plus the aforementioned pathetic text, suggest to me that this putz has some problems here. I'm not going near the question of what Jewish women do or don't do in bed, but suffice it to say that Jewish women are terribly, and contradictorily, stereotyped by society, and, often, by Jewish men themselves. Either they're dark, hot-blooded sluts (a common Wasps fantasy, by the way -- some of my best friends are Wasps with Jewish women-fixations) or they are, as Weiner would have it, the frozen chosen. The truth, of course, is that all women are different, but I've noticed a couple of things over the years: 1) A great number of Jewish women possess an irresistible combination of sexiness, intelligence, ambition, and a deep capacity for love; and 2) Many Jewish men, the less manly-men, in particular, are intimidated by these superstar Jewish women. It's hard to say that Weiner didn't go for a strong woman (a woman from another desert-based religion, by the way), but his text suggests a kind of caricaturing I find a little bit disgusting.
There's a lot to unpack here, and unpack I shall.

-Given Weiner's age and background, it's not surprising that, in the context of already-offensive-and-taboo-by-its-very-existence correspondance, the stereotype about Jewish women not giving oral sex would have been at-the-ready. It doesn't seem, from what Goldberg excerpted, at least, that Weiner meant anything particular by it, that he himself really believes that stereotype, that it has impacted his choice of wife, or that we have tapped into something profound in Weiner's unconscious. It's precisely the kind of dumb and un-PC crack I could imagine a man of that demographic making in a real-life conversation, thinking it's somehow OK because the woman in question is Jewish. We don't need WWPD to point out that Weiner was putting far too much online. The issue is, it's not a remark that tells us anything other than, these are the kinds of off-color jokes this guy grew up with.

-Given that Jews make up a tiny percentage of the population, and that Weiner's not a religious Jew, that he ended up marrying a non-Jewish woman in no way suggests the man - for all his issues - has issues with Jewish women. It's not clear how much Goldberg could possibly know about a 46-year-old's entire dating history, but even if Weiner's never has a Jewish girlfriend, this shouldn't be interpreted to mean he's been actively avoiding them. (Maybe they've been avoiding him!)

-Oh, on that parenthetical's note... The assumption that a Jew's marrying out is a Grand Statement about that Jew's negative feelings re: Jews of the opposite sex is virtually never applied to Jewish women. The assumption is inevitably, re: Jewish men, that they have this automatic pool of Jewish women just dying to marry them, whereas Jewish women who marry out are assumed to be just making the best it after having spent ages 18-35 waiting in vain for Jewish Prince Charming to accept their advances. I don't see Goldberg's post as challenging that; if anything, it's perpetuated.

-Goldberg claims that "often" it is "Jewish men themselves" who stereotype Jewish women. Make that virtually always. Not that all Jewish men stereotype Jewish women. Rather, that non-Jews are not really part of this discourse, so of those who stereotype Jewish women, 99.99% are Jewish men. Non-Jews may have notions about Jews, by which they typically mean Jewish men, but are not losing sleep over the question of the "JAP." The exoticized Jewish woman was once a thing, but has not made it into contemporary American popular culture. While it's true that some non-Jewish men (such as Goldberg's WASP friends) have this inclination, the vast majority are not thinking either way about a woman's Jewishness, whereas far more Jewish men are, whatever it is they choose to make of it. Serious anti-Semites aside, few non-Jews are assessing the Jewishness of everyone they meet, whereas many Jews are doing just that.

-Goldberg is not furthering the discussion by adding, "A great number of Jewish women possess an irresistible combination of sexiness, intelligence, ambition, and a deep capacity for love." How seemingly positive, seemingly innocuous, but... Why would we think Jewish women would be any more... any of these things than any other women?

-Or, for that matter: "Many Jewish men, the less manly-men, in particular, are intimidated by these superstar Jewish women." I don't know where to begin with this one, really. I would have thought that we as a society were past the point of insulting men by questioning their masculinity - so what if a guy's more on the feminine side? But if we're just going to go with Goldberg's notion, wouldn't a more-feminine man go well with a more-masculine woman, which, if you read between the lines of Goldberg's strong-Jewish-woman argument, is what he's getting at? Or is his point that Jewish men who lack virility (gosh, where does this leave the fact that DSK's wife-by-his-side is Jewish?) need to go for ultra-feminine women in order to feel masculine, so for such men, lady-Jews are out? Either way, this mix of manly=good, Jewish women=masculine is... ick, along the same ick lines as equivalent patronizing discussions about "strong" black women who are simply too much for black men.

It also fails the official WWPD anecdata test. In my experience, there is indeed a sort of Jewish man who makes a point of not dating Jewish women, one without any real parallel among Jewish women, and one that makes up only a small percentage of Jewish men dating or marrying out. What differentiates these from the majority of hetero Jewish men - who are either with non-Jewish women for non-neurotic reasons or with Jewish women - is that they've gotten wrapped up in the cultural expectations of what they should go for. It's not so much that these men have rejected hordes of Jewish lady-friends, but rather that when they find themselves with non-Jewish women - the likely result of living in a majority-non-Jewish society - they articulate this in a way that retroactively ascribes meaning to it, that makes it sexy. Since, "Dirty Dancing" aside, there's no trope (in our society) about it being extra-erotic for a Jewish woman to be with a non-Jewish man, Jewish women, even neurotic ones, tend not to do this.

This sub-subset of Jewish men - the ones who not only date/marry non-Jewish women, but who also make a big thing of it, have in common either that they were raised to feel like marrying out was the end of the world (something that doesn't necessarily go hand in hand with having been raised religious), or that they've been exposed to the Roth-Allen monster at an impressionable age, and/or just generally identify with (the comedy of) an earlier era, one in which "shiksa" had some kind of cultural significance. I would not say these men are any more or less "manly" than any others. Whatever they are, they're a dying breed.

I suppose, though, that what rubbed me the wrong way about Goldberg's well-meaning post was both that it amounts to the author congratulating himself for having married a Jewish woman, and how it does so. Just as some Jews who marry out describe this retroactively as a choice that was all about open-mindedness rejecting the confines of Judaism, some who marry in present this as some kind of destiny, as though they would never ever ever in a million years have considered marrying out. When - and I don't claim to know anything about Goldberg's dating history - often enough, those who make this claim dated in and out alike, and merely happened to find the right person "in." People - Jews and not, on this topic and on others - like to justify their life choices. In this particular context, it's especially irritating. Assuming we have choice in the matter, we marry who we want to marry, not to make declarations of universalist tolerance or particularist loyalties.

So that's the that. The "why" is, doing so implies that for a Jewish man to marry in is to make some kind of sacrifice for the greater good, or to have come to the conclusion, rationally, that Jewish women gosh darn it are sexy, no matter what anyone says to the contrary. It's like when my Birthright trip organizer announced, to the guys, that Jewish girls are beautiful. It reinforces the notion that we all come at the topic thinking that Jewish women are repulsive. Basically, by attempting to pathologize out-marriage - rather low, one might think, on Weiner's list of sins - Goldberg ends up supporting the ideas he's ostensibly out to challenge.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

A Continental hour

Air travel, for me, is usually pretty painless. For someone of my height and my ability, if need be, to watch hours upon hours of television - even if it's bad, even if it's good but an episode I've seen before - being cramped into a tight space for eight hours with "The New Adventures of the Old Christine" isn't the torture it sounds like.

This trip, however, was a failure on both counts. First, the latter: TV. Whereas on the flight to NY, when the entertainment system crashed, it was eventually fixed, on the one back to Paris, the flight attendant assigned to this task was just plain pissed that anyone was asking him to deal with it, told us it wasn't in his power to fix it (not true!), and that it was our own faults the system broke, because this is what happens if you try to change what you're watching too quickly (!). A few people seemed to have working screens, but most not. Some decided to read a tragic article in the New Yorker about a terminally ill baby, got teary, and eventually fell asleep for several intervals of a few minutes each, in whichever positions the bag-under-seat-in-front situation allowed.

Now, height's a stranger problem. Normally being short on a flight is a plus. Not so on this one. On the line to check luggage, there were two couples ahead of me, on what seemed to be a just-retired vacation to Paree. One of the men was returning to his party, and, adorably, asked if I minded if he joined "that short lady over there," that is, his wife. He then looked at me and said, "You're a short lady, too!"

Monday, June 06, 2011

Every possible advantage

The letter Flavia responds to here stuck out to me when I saw it in the NYT as well, although my own reaction to it was more fish, barrel. A more intelligent/successful/tuned-in child of that level of privilege (significant but not extreme, straightforwardly-UMC) would never write a letter like that, would be well aware that having parents who can and will pay in fact does make it easier to get into college, that 1300 on the SATs is not the achievement of the millenium, and that, if you've got three elite colleges and universities on your resume, the System hasn't exactly screwed you over. It is precisely the forms of privilege the letter-writer lacks - the ability to do well enough to get a spot regardless of affirmative action, the noblesse oblige or whatever we're calling manners it takes to not complain in this way, the self-awareness necessary to realize that if you've since been at UPenn and Oxford, maybe you don't want to draw attention to your high-school era mediocrity-despite-privilege (let alone to your continued preoccupation with this sort of ancient history) in a national publication - that makes her such an easy target. Nobody likes entitled.

After reading the interested thread at Flavia's, however, I'm moved to respond to a few aspects of this discussion.

Without delving into this too deeply, it seems possible that scores are higher among children of parents who were high scorers themselves for reasons other than that said parents pour money into tutoring, prep courses, etc. (Anecdata upon request.) What if this kid's parents had a college account for her from family money or a lucky investment or something, but were not super-meritocratic-high-achievers themselves? We don't know the nature of the letter-writer's privilege, other than that her parents footed the bill for college.

Society looks least favorably on kids who fail to parlay every conceivable advantage into results. Much is made at Flavia's of the fact that 1300 is not a fantastic score for a child of privilege. This, presumably, because SAT scores go up according to household income, and because common sense has it that if you're wiped out from supporting your family at 17, you arrive at the testing site at a disadvantage. As Flavia herself puts it, "a person with all her time, money, and alleged talent should do better than 1300 on the SAT [...]" Setting aside the "alleged talent," which we can interpret as a sign that the letter-writer's, uh, privileged with healthy self-esteem, let's focus on the time and money. What do these alone do for a kid's SAT score?

One way to look at it that would be less condemnatory is to compare the letter-writer not with the less-advantaged, as she herself does, to the detriment of her cause, but rather with those who are more so. What separates a given privileged 1300 kid from a 1500 one may be that the latter was more privileged in ways relevant to this kind of test - more tutoring, more Chuaing of the artificial or real-immigrant variety, more of a tendency via nature or nurture or both to have the focus and sort of thinking required to do well on these things.

In other words, we tend to look at 18-year-olds (and everyone, really) as falling into fairly set categories of privileged and not. Which is really the only way to assess advantage on a large scale, but which leaves us with, a kid from suburban PA whose parents paid for her college probably isn't privileged in the Chua's-daughters' sense. (This is leaving aside all the unknowables - whether there were non-financial obstacles this woman had to overcome - but the entitled tone of the letter, combined with the fact that the letter-writer doesn't mention that her parents paid her way but such-and-such happened, suggests this was not an issue here.)

So on the one hand, lack of disadvantage =/= every advantage in the world, yet the super-privileged end up getting judged in the same heap as the regular-privileged, putting the regular-privileged, who are still, of course, snottily privileged overall, at a relative disadvantage. If the letter-writer was that determined to be hung-up on long-ago rejection, this would have been a more productive angle for her to take.

On the other, the more interesting issue it brings up is the mediocrity question - that we as a society have no way of discussing the kids who, despite privilege, do poorly, but not so poorly as to suggest a particular disability is causing the poor performance. We somehow know what to make of kids like Chua's older daughter, of the children of successful parents who, in turn, excel. We don't admire their 1600s the way we do those of kids who had it tough, but we figure, given everything they'd gotten, this is the least they can do.

I've attempted, above, to come up with a less-insulting way to look at such trajectories, but am finding that, too, unsatisfactory. Sometimes those who have had every possible advantage still get Cs for no special reason, or those who've had many but not all advantages manage to do poorly, considering. In a sense, the NYT letter isn't really the best springboard for this discussion, because the mediocre-child-of-privilege doesn't by definition have a massive sense of entitlement. But is it (just) the entitlement we're responding to when we read this letter, or a genuine sense of disgust that someone could have so much and score so low with it?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Culinary complaints

-Dream come true: my neighborhood has its very own Shake Shack. Less dreamy: it opens now, when I'll be here for about a month total till the lease is up. However to make the most of this without "Supersize Me" results?

-Still no garlic scapes at the market. I asked a farmer if there will be scapes and he said yes, in two weeks. At which point I'll be back in the dorm. Yes, yes, Paris food is adequate, and while dorm life is a kind of suffering, culinarily it couldn't be better-located... but scapes are my favorite vegetable if not my favorite food, and they're only in season for five minutes, and I've been craving them especially ever since green garlic - close but not quite - hit the stands. As soon as I'm living somewhere with even a tiny bit of outdoor space - I mean even a windowsill - I'm going to attempt to grow these myself.

-Food out has gotten expensive. As in, noticeable changes since I was last in NY, in January. Whereas I used to grudgingly pay $2.50 for iced coffee if I knew a place to have the good stuff, now over $3 is standard for places that promise cold-brewed. Granted, the plus side is that more places now offer this. I've made my own cold-brewed at home, but it suffered from the fact that the coffee we've been getting for ages is now a whopping $16 a pound, which led me to be stingy with the proportions, leaving me with a pitcher full of what looks like iced tea. And, and! The apple strudel at the Neue Galerie café, always an expensive treat but worth it for special occasions and such because Café Sabarsky is gorgeous, is now $9 a slice. A recent tofu-with-broccoli stirfry at a place that's by no means haute was, I believe, $13. Luckily I'm still in OMG-no-more-dorm-kitchen-for-now mode and excited to cook all the time. Otherwise, ick.

The ghost is clear

In the post below, I referred to a "co-authored" novel by a famous person, written about in the Times. And lo and behold! Today, the NYT reports on the trend of ghost-written novels by celebrities. Yet Georgina Bloomberg is not mentioned in the later piece, which is much snarkier - or at least more cynical - about the phenomenon, and which focuses on books "by" various reality-television stars:

Like a branded fragrance or clothing line, the novel — once quaintly considered an artistic endeavor sprung from a single creative voice — has become another piece of merchandise stamped with the name of celebrities, who often pass off the book as their work alone despite the nearly universal involvement of ghostwriters.
And, "What celebrities do contribute are storylines thinly based on their own lives [...]"

Meanwhile, from the Bloomberg article:
In “The A Circuit,” a young-adult novel by Ms. Bloomberg that just arrived in bookstores, the father figure, Rick Aaronson, is a blunt-talking Wall Street billionaire who lives in a Manhattan town house and “owns half of New York.” His older daughter, Callie, is an Ivy League graduate with a passion for politics. And his younger daughter, Thomasina, or Tommi, is an award-winning equestrian who chafes at her father’s expectations of a traditional career.
Doesn't take much of a clef to sort that one out.

The word "author" appears twice in the earlier piece, in reference to Bloomberg, not counting the time she uses it in reference to herself. Not once in the piece about Snooki & Co. It's buried, really, that a publisher "offered Ms. Bloomberg a two-book contract and put her with a co-writer, Catherine Hapka." The story here is, Bloomberg's gone and written a book, breaking out on her own, emerging from her father's shadow, etc, etc. "Writing has never come easily to Ms. Bloomberg," we learn, the implication being that she overcame this challenge.

Perhaps this is just a coincidence - it's a big paper, and different journalists may have different feelings about the same phenomenon. Yet the writer of the Snooki piece, Julie Bosman, was also one of the co-authors (in the non-euphemistic sense, I'd assume, given it's a newspaper) of the Georgina Bloomberg profile.

Clearly a choice was made - by Bosman, by co-author Michael Barbaro, by the paper, who knows, to place the Kardashians in one category, Bloomberg in another, even if all are, in publishing terms, part of the same phenomenon. What I'm now wondering is, was this out of some pressure - political? personal? - to portray Bloomberg in a flattering light? Because it's not obvious to me why a silly but at least self-made celeb (that's you, Snookums) would be more of an embarrassment as a "novelist" than someone with a famous last name, other than if this is a question of class, dahling, and no one that faux-bronzed could possibly be deep.

Or was it more in the Styles Section vein, where on the surface, it's all rah-rah this new novel, rah rah its brave author, but where conveniently enough, comments are opened, and class warfare ensues? Or is this not really the question - Styles style is precisely about writing a piece that will make the subject feel warm and fuzzy, while making sure enough ridiculousness shows between the lines that even a dense and/or conservative reader will, by the end of it, be storming the Bastille.

As for the phenomenon itself, predictably enough given that I'm a grad student in literature, I'm not thrilled about it. While the peak of my fiction-writing abilities was back in high school, I'm plenty annoyed on behalf of all the people who are actually trying to publish novels that these are what get published, and on behalf of anyone concerned with the future of fiction, where the pickings will be slimmer than otherwise, as the definition of "novel" shifts to be a genre welcoming of, and perhaps in time dominated by, this kind of thing. It's frustrating that only those in-the-know get that these books were ghost-written, and that the purported authors' egos are now inflated by a sense of themselves as Writer.

But there's also the question of privilege - to publish a novel at all, it helps to have spare time and connections, to have received a good education and thus to have writing skills, etc. It was never and was never going to be fair who would get their stories told, but at least there was some presumption of, this is someone capable of conveying that story in writing. This, however, is another level entirely. Whatever happened to "as told to"?