Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Not like at home"

In the Monty Python travel agent sketch, Eric Idle's character rants about those other tourists who go on package tours, only to complain about how the "tea" (which I used to think meant tea, but as I type, I'm thinking probably meant dinner) isn't not made "properly." The expression "not like at home" is used. Parochialism, so shameful! I can't say I experience tremendous amounts of this, given that Toronto kind of has everything and them some. (See: Portuguese custard tarts.) And the whole Trump thing isn't really making me homesick. But other things, here and there...

As I understand it, people who move from one country to another under circumstances such as my own are required to list the petty, inconsequential ways that the developed country we live in isn't 100% identical to the one we come from. So, here goes:

-Mozzarella. Not the super-fancy buffalo kind, nor the super-unfancy kind that goes in a meat-and-cheese slicer, but the moderately fancy (cow's milk) kind that's sold in (Northeast) US supermarkets and cheese stores (I'm thinking specifically of Wegmans, Murray's Cheese - sigh! - and the Fairway), in a ball, wrapped in plastic, where the surface is the most delicious part. There's something sold here that looks like mozzarella but is called "bocconcini" and "soft cheese," and that's OK on pizza but otherwise vile, and it was only recently that I noticed the word "mozzarella" isn't used on the packaging. It took me months to find the one cheese at the supermarket that's mozzarella in a recognizable (but not, again, bufala extravaganza) form, and it's passable. Cheese shops - and I've been to quite a few - don't appear to have this product. A very, very petty complaint, especially considering the overall superiority of the cheese situation here, but doubtless at the top of my petty-complaints list.

-Uniqlo. A close second, but there's apparently one on its way. No such luck on the mozzarella front.

-A health care system that makes sense to me. Because yes, that is of course the thing one looks for in a health care system - that I, personally, understand it. In all seriousness: I had an uninsured few months after college, and am in principle thrilled with universal healthcare. In practice, the whole thing of not knowing when or even really how I'll ever be able to see a doctor is somewhat unsettling. (I mean, I filled out some form. After which something gets mailed. After which maybe it'll all become clear. Socialist wheels of some kind are, I think, in motion.)

Life in the age of the micro-era

After a whole lot of working from home (dissertating, Dish-ing, freelancing, etc.), I'm once again working from a mix of home and not-home (teaching French and book-writing in English, and also freelancing, and also, in principle, sleeping). This means I need to be, like, dressed. Not merely in clothing, but in clothing that's a notch or several above what's needed to walk a dog in the woods, with a 5% chance of running into another human being, and a 0% chance of running into one who'd expect me to be dressed professionally, fashionably, or anything along those lines.

This seems so simple, so obvious, and just so doable - I'm well out of college! I have a degree in French! I live in a city with lots of stores! - but is kind of daunting. Part of this is that I hadn't realized quite how dire the situation had become. My 'good' clothes turned out to be very washed-out Breton-striped shirts from several years ago. So a lot needs to be replaced, or just sort of purchased to begin with, but there isn't really any conceivable time to do this in. And I'm not even factoring in the other shopping expedition: Canada-ready winter-wear. My inner stereotypical heterosexual man experiences this with a sense of impending doom. But there's also a part of me that's a stereotypical... my own demographic, let's say, and that was totally all, "There's Intermix/COS/Muji in Toronto?!" I can kind of see getting excited about this.

The more complicated question is what to buy. Again, sounds simple! But I have no idea. It's sort of... been a while? And when I last properly shopped, I was a) younger, and b) living in another era. The era when bangs/fringe, kale, and farm-to-table, and more on this in a moment... were in. While it sounds so pathetic to be like, 'I want to wear what's in!', this is a genuine practical concern if you're dressing like a 2008-era grad student. If you have a sort of implicit sense of this, you can focus on cut and fit and all of this while sneering at those who bother with trends. If you don't - if, that is, you've spent the past four-plus years split between avant-garde or super-now fashion-blog reading and disintegrating skinny-jeans-wearing - this takes a bit more effort. Or maybe it just takes going to Zara and buying whatever more or less fits.

But this isn't so much a fashion post as an era one. I've been thinking recently - and this mainly has implications for how I present various things in the book I'm writing - that times have changed. Since 2008-ish, or even 2011-ish. Trends seem different - noticeably so. Cultural trends, not just clothing. Young People Today, perhaps they're different as well. Still working on putting my finger on what these differences are (and, book-wise, on precisely how this shift has both exaggerated and diminished various "privilege" concerns), but for the time being, this is my point in full: Times have changed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A still-here post

-I have a book contract! I'd say WOOHOOO, but I don't think that covers it. What I had before was a book deal, which is not the same thing, but which is still a publicly-announced thing, which... if you're not me, you almost certainly don't care, but if you're writing a book or thinking about it, this is maybe useful information?

-I wrote about friendship for TNR. Could have written endlessly more on the topic. An alternate, probably unpublishable version would have gone into my various middle-school neuroses (specifically, anxieties centering on not having 'guy friends' or friends from other schools).

-If you spend the day hearing and using only French, and are in a partially Francophone country, it seems very, very odd that people are speaking English on the street. Old news, I suppose, for my many Canadian and Belgian relatives, but a new one for me. Also: It takes only a couple months in Canada (at least for this part-Canadian) for the English here to start sounding default and the US variety, all regions, to start sounding vaguely like a Texas accent.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


The internet being enormous and all, I don't remember where it was I saw this, but somewhere I saw something, once, about how Idris Elba is the actor white women who don't much pay attention to black male beauty (or who don't consume much diverse or black-oriented media) give as the example of a good-looking black man. Like, to the extent that it is, if you are a white woman, borderline racist to say that you find Elba attractive, his name in this context having evolved into a trope of sorts, of the exception.

I have no idea if this is true, but if it is, that would seem like all the more reason he'd be a shoo-in as James Bond. If indeed they still make those movies (I've only ever seen one, years ago, on what was probably my only high school outing with straight 'guy friends'), which apparently they do, because this morning Twitter erupted with the news that Anthony Horowitz, probably the same Anthony Horowitz as is behind some of the better, earlier Midsomer Murders episodes, gave a not particularly borderline but rather straightforwardly racist (if coded) reason why Elba, in his view, shouldn't be Bond. The word "street" is used, which is going to seem particularly odd to anyone introduced to Elba via his role in the US version of The Office.

As tends to happen in these cases, intense, multi-hour research (or, rather, clicking the link from the Independent to the original Daily Mail interview) suggests a bit of outrage-stirring on the part of the press. The "street" remark had, it seems, been immediately preceded by Horowitz naming a different black British actor, Adrian Lester, as a possible Bond. While the thing it seems as if Horowitz said (namely, that Bond can't be black because any black actor, even Elba, is "too 'street'") and the thing he actually said (a sort of casting equivalent of 'some of my best friends are black,' and then the "street" remark) are both racist, the former is so much more so that it might be tempting to cry Misplaced Outrage and dismiss the whole thing, except... the outrage is merited. The "street" remark is still racist!

The trouble is outrage fatigue. After years and years and years of offensiveness going unremarked, there's now this flood of remarks. Justified ones, but the sheer repetitiveness of the 'can you believe X said Y?!' headlines has ended up numbing too many readers to what are, at least in my opinion, real and important concerns about representation, subtle bigotry, and so forth. People then end up sympathizing with the gaffe-maker, who will inevitably have said something a notch or two less offensive than first thought. And so the conversation will get diverted from issue at hand. My question, then, is really one of strategy. If you support the politics of the 'can you believe' headlines, but wonder about their efficacy... what's the alternative? Is there one?