Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cooler up north

When I first saw the thing in Vogue about how a Toronto neighborhood near where I live/the one where I live (unclear on borders) was the second-coolest in the world, after one in Tokyo, I was... unconvinced. I hadn't moved here yet, and didn't quite see how a handful of boutiques plus a coffee shop plus an American Apparel amounted to anything of global interest. Really, it was supposed to be cooler than all the ones in north Brooklyn?

Now I think I'm starting to understand. Today I walked west on Queen Street, and west, and west, through an underpass and west some more. And it stayed "cool" or hipster or whatever one might want to call it the entire way, probably longer as well, but at a certain point (here, to be specific) I just could not even, as the cool kids probably don't say in this context; bought myself an iced americano; and sat for a few tired-30-something minutes before back east. Hipster row just keeps on going: third-wave coffee shops, vintage shops, minimalist clothing boutiques, minimalist furniture boutiques, vintage furniture shops, hipsters-make-your-food cafés, bars where you can go see indie bands (if that's still a thing/still the name for it) play, and some galleries, and some gift/objet shops, and the next thing I knew it was just a blur of minimalist space with terrariums and pastel hair and all-black outfits and I just felt very, very old, and very much like someone who'd spent the last four years in Princeton, NJ, the last three of them going around by car.

Anyway, back to the question of second-coolestness: There is no equivalent of this in New York, none, and from my relatively limited experience of equivalent areas in Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, none there either. Nor Montreal, now that I think of it. It just keeps going. And it doesn't change. It continues to be geared towards the same milieu, whatever it is, block after block after block. And it's not even just Queen Street! Dundas (parallel) and Ossington (perpendicular) continue along the same lines. So much cool. I don't know why, or how, or what to make of it, other than that Vogue wasn't kidding.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Dress, or close enough

A photo posted by Phoebe Bovy (@phoebe_bovy) on
So I was on my way to buy garlic chives in Chinatown when I passed a store that had, in the window, a dress I'd seen on a woman on the streetcar. When I'd seen it on the woman in the streetcar, I remember thinking, hey, there's that fabulous dress (so similar to the dress) that was in the window of a wholesale store in Chinatown! Also that, seeing as it was on someone near the store in question, it was probably not strictly wholesale, as in, it could be mine. But I promptly forgot about it. Until there it was: that window, and that dress. A maxi dress, which isn't something I'd normally attempt, but this is the rare one that's actually proportioned for a woman my height. (Hemming is also potentially an option, but given that this, unlike The Dress, is sleeveless, maybe it works as is.) It is, if not as close an approximation as exists on this planet, as close as exists within a short walk of my apartment and in the $30 (CAD) range, for sure.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What punches up must punch down

When I started this blog, I was young. At 20, too old to be a runway model, but young all the same. Young, and in the grand scheme of things, a nobody. I had a column in my college paper, but no sense whatsoever of how to make it in the writing world off-campus, a world that, from what I could tell, seemed to require a mix of a trust fund to bolster unpaid internships and family connections to hire you into them. It just didn't seem worth the bother.

But I did enjoy writing, and would do so almost exclusively on WWPD. Whose audience, as best as I could guess, consisted of relatives; family friends curious about what someone they knew as a toddler was up to; ex-boyfriends curious about what someone they knew a few weeks/months/years ago was up to; and... that's about it. I remember being genuinely surprised when friends - friends! people I hung out with in real life! - would tell me they read my blog. It felt like writing into an abyss. I was very clear (note, again, the imagined audience) that I wasn't going to write anything all that confessional, so I wasn't opening myself up to the sort of thing where suddenly a future employer knows that you, I don't know, who even knows what I would have had to confess at 20, but it probably wouldn't have been all that interesting.

But here's where the abyss sense did enter into it: There are things I wrote earlier - and have sometimes found myself considering writing but deciding against more recently - that come pretty directly out of that sense I had that anything properly published was fair game for a wrong-on-the-internet. I remember mocking a NYT health column in a way that I can't see doing today. Not because I read the column any differently, and not because I've grown wary of criticizing lifestyle writing that I think is actually doing something harmful. (Such as, food writers advocating for unattainable locavore purity.) Just because I had no grievance with the column other than finding it smug.

Part of what's changed is that, having published articles myself, I've come to learn that those who do are not all-powerful entities immune to criticism, living it up on the cash their musings receive. I mean, some may be, but the fact that a thing has appeared in a place far from guarantees it. But the bigger issue is that I now have a different sense of where I fit into this system. That I'm not by definition - brace yourselves for the dreaded expression - punching up if I respond to something that's been published in a legit publication. Certainly not if I respond to it in a legit publication.

Which brings me to Mary Elizabeth Williams's Salon piece about Gawker, found via Noah Berlatsky. What Williams describes happening to her - Gawker repeatedly called her (published) writing hack-like, during a time when she was suffering from a serious form of cancer - is of a different nature than those other Gawker posts that involve revealing a random person's secrets, or teasing someone who put something hilarious on social media that they hadn't particularly meant for the world to see. Some of WIlliams's beef with Gawker - "They went full fury over a friend who wrote a lighthearted Styles piece" - seems a bit... I mean, that is so many miles away from, say, outing someone.

Hamilton Nolan, the Gawker writer in question, is standing his ground. Which... technically yes, published means fair game. If the line were simply set there - no more random "outings," no more combing social media for obliviousness - that would be progress, and putting a firm line anywhere beyond that does seem, as Nolan says, like a bad idea. But maybe the missing piece here isn't one of ethics, just one of good taste, or good sense.

Monday, July 20, 2015

To age out of Slutwalk feminism

Predictably, the Internet is denouncing Jessica Valenti's column about her feminist qualms with missing getting catcalled. Predictably, because for the tell-it-like-it-is pop-evo-psych crowd, it's too easy: Aha!, they exclaim, Women do like getting catcalled! And extra-aha, even professional feminists realize 36 is over the hill!

But allow me, a woman who will - knock on wood against streetcar derailment - see my mid-30s sooner rather than later, to come to the piece's defense. Online feminism has long tilted maybe a bit too much to a very specific plight: that of the pretty young woman. I'm not talking about issues like assault and domestic violence, whose disproportionate impact is on women, period. Nor am I talking about the sort of street harassment that's about intimidation (generally of young girls). When I, someone to whom the 'if you look 25 or under, you'll be carded' signs don't apply, opt not to go deep into a city park at night, this despite that being my country dog's preferred toilet, it's not because I'm concerned that someone in the park will find me spectacularly good-looking.

What I'm referring to are cases like... the plight that is getting ogled and hit on constantly even though you're engaged. This is quite simply not an issue for all women.* I point this out not to hurl a YPIS (your privilege is showing) at online feminism (it's awfully contextual whether male attention is even "privilege"), but because of the "all women" meme, hashtag, etc., that's developed around these topics. As comes through clearly in the comments threat to that post, quite a few women get why constant attention would be annoying, but who haven't been harassed and can't personally relate, and aren't entirely pleased that this isn't something they experience. (And then there are the women with "resting bitch face," who fall somewhere in between; we're the ones who know our day is up when men stop asking us to smile.)

So yes, there is some value in an online feminism that recognizes female ambivalence to male street-attention. Is this, as topics go, a little slow-news-day? Yes. Might Valenti have pointed out that "lascivious stares" can be an ego boost to those of all genders, and, at that, even if the admirers aren't of the gender you yourself admire? Yes, that too, but the fact that she did not doesn't negate the rest.

Anyway, something I've found, as I've become moderately ancient, is that my personal style has shifted more towards looks that are... conventionally attractive? flattering?, and away from more eccentric styles. Not for would-be street harassers, who I'm quite confident won't confuse me with Gisele no matter how I dress or do my hair. Just for, I don't know, what was referred to, in my distant childhood, as "self-esteem." It's as if I have some subconscious desire to balance things out - whereas I used to be able to rely on youth as an accessory, and to wear (or buy with intent to wear**) sillier outfits, not to deflect the Male Gaze, but because I liked the looks, I now think, hmm, that dress from the cool Korean store may be $29 (CAD), and have a floral, Elaine Benes quality, but it also fits like a potato sack... and then end up down the street at the yoga store that shall not be named (cheaper in Canada, but still not cheap), where I instead buy a fitted tank top. Not an adventurous choice or an interesting one, but it has the potential to make me look, if nothing else, non-sloppy. And (not to get too practical, weather- and appropriateness-wise) to be worn as a base layer under other things. It's not a mutton-dressed-as-lamb (to use an awful expression) thing, exactly, since neither the Before look nor the After one is particularly va-va-voom. It's just... the dress was so fun! And so clearly not the right choice. To me, this - more than the absence of street harassers/street admirers - is the real disappointment.

*OK, a caveat - according to BBC Woman's Hour, which I take as infallible, "100%" of women who ride the Paris Metro report harassment, which, having spent the summer when I started getting called ma'am/madame in Paris and deflecting street harassment beyond what I'd experienced in New York since my early teens, I don't find particularly hard to believe. A lot does come down to where you live, and my anecdotal (and thus probably way off) impression is that in Paris/France/Europe/not-America (and fictional Midsomer, especially), women of a certain age keep on getting attention from men, of the good-attention and bad-attention varieties.

**It's entirely possible that these clothing-related reflections are actually more about some recent KonMari-ing of my wardrobe, and the reckoning that can encourage. That dress had "going, barely worn, to thrift store" written all over it.

Monday, July 06, 2015

On eating all of Toronto

-It's a very good thing that the Dollarama (a store that sells absolutely everything, for usually just over a dollar; extra useful if you've just moved) is next to the expensive but excellent coffee place. Or, perhaps, that the expensive but excellent coffee place is next to the Dollarama.

-It took me longer than it should have to realize that a corner of the University of Toronto campus was dressed up as the Upper East Side for a movie, and not just oddly New York-themed. There were "schoolchildren" in "uniforms" and everything. As someone whose dreams are very often still set in that neighborhood, at one of its private elementary schools, if this is going to be a regular thing in this city, I'm going to be very, very disoriented.

-The problem with cities - or maybe the great thing about them - is that there are distractions. On an otherwise strictly practical outing this morning, I somehow ended up stopping one place for a hipster-bakery cream puff (which wasn't great; next time will stick with the Portuguese custard tarts) and another to impulse-buy some camembert. And now I'm thinking, I could eat lunch at home, and almost certainly will, but I could also, in principle, go to any number of Chinatown hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Some of which serve dumplings. Of course, there are also the street sausage stands, one of which I may just happen to pass while walking Bisou... In my tepid defense, it's not just that walking allows for more spontaneity (for me) than driving. It's also that, if you're walking all day long, you get a lot hungrier. While the goth-minimalist Canadian clothes are also kind of interesting, this is, thus far, mainly about food.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

"Then I think I might go to Canada" - Basil Fawlty

I love where I live. Everything about it. Everything I'd ever want to do (or, ahem, eat) is within walking distance, tram distance at most. As anyone tethered, in whichever way, to the academic job market knows, you move where you move. That it turns out to be amazing where we've landed is, well, amazing. It seems like a vacation-destination city, and I can't believe I actually live here. Probably not for people who don't like cities, or the cold, but as someone who actively sought out college in Chicago, these are not my concerns.

Moving itself, however? Slightly less fabulous. There was (and still is) a bunch of new-country bureaucratic stuff to address, but all expected, and if you hum to yourself about how you're off to see the prime minister, the prime minister of Canada while waiting on line at Service Ontario, it can go quite smoothly.

No, the complicated thing has been the actual moving of stuff - some from our last place, and some from the Ikea where we'd done a spot of very elegant shopping last weekend. Our building has - understandably - limits on when such deliveries can happen. Also understandable - entities like movers and Ikea have their own restrictions. I think you can see where this is heading. After a week's worth of phone pleading with various powers-that-be, I'd started to kind of despair, and then to reconcile myself to a future in which "furniture" would be limited to two folding chairs and an air mattress.

That everything eventually lined up - that is, that everything actually arrived within the prearranged time blocks we'd signed up for in our building - still seems like a miracle. I mean, that I'm typing this using a table is just the very height of decadence. When I'd thought before, in the abstract, about life beyond the furnished apartment, I'd thought in terms of decor choices. Now I truly can't imagine caring. As long as whatever we've got enough surface area to store the entire contents of several Chinatown grocery stores plus the St. Lawrence Market, this works.