Thursday, February 28, 2008

Willing to be Lucky

Yesterday, a New York-D.C. joust transpired on the internets thanks to a City Room blog post by Jenny 8. Lee bashing the Metro for its derogatory allusion to the rats that thrive in the Subway. (I've always wondered if the rats scurrying on the subway tracks are deaf; the wheels screech as they slow, and it can be excruciating on the platform. It must be worse alongside the wheels.) The comments on Lee's post are New York-centric, but commenters link to sites where the other side has its say.

Consensus: New York, by a landslide. Our food, culture, aesthetics, magazines, quirkiness, grit and ability to conduct life with one hand holding a coffee cup in the other have unquestionable superiority. Even their retorts are square. My favorite exchange on a D.C.-centric blog:

Comment A: I came down here for a job, and between the khaki-ness of DC, the shitty metro system (I get to pay $5 to commute to NoVa! Yipee!) and the craptacular night life (no, three bars do not a good scene make) I can't wait to go back home.
Comment B: Three bars? Have you HEARD of Adams Morgan, U Street, or Chinatown? To name just a few areas of this city that have more than 3 BLOCKS dedicated to bars/night life.

Three blocks? You schooled me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Autumn Redux

Remember when I interned at that science magazine that time and got exactly one clip out of the deal?

Me neither.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New York much?

I finally did laundry last night. It was more than I could carry sans granny cart. There are clothes draped on most every spoke of my drying rack. All of them are brown or black.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sometimes, I miss academia.

"There can be no more cubists after cubism is over. You can only be a post-cubist. Or a sad cubist."

-Lydia Goehr, about a year ago in her Philosophy of History lecture, God bless her

How to be happy

A few weeks ago, Deborah Solomon printed an exchange in her weekly New York Times Magazine interview that lingered in my mind. She asked poet laureate Charles Simic what advice he'd offer to people "who are looking to be happy."

"For starters, learn how to cook," he said.

It looked like Simic voiced his first thought, and it's simple, unexpected and profound all at once. I wondered how others would reply to the same question. So, seeing as I was covering an art opening and had the opportunity, I asked Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi.

“I think he’s right,” she said with dynamic intelligence, adding that she remembered reading the item. Her eyes filled with mischief. “They didn’t laureate him for nothing,” she said.

When I grinned, she grew alarmed. She leaned toward me, tapping me on the shoulder for emphasis as she spoke. She asked me not to use the quote, concerned that her playfulness would be removed from context, and people would assume she spoke with sincerity. She always forgets, she told me, that it's trouble to joke in interviews. Her amended answer was generic drivel about creativity and nurturing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Can't resist any longer

I keep intending to explore my thoughts on that "weird human sport," Britney Spears, and I compiled links to pepper my addition to the analytic chorus. But the need to procrastinate forces my hand; here are (relatively) recent, quirky online takes on an unfolding tragedy.

-Britney makes other people rich (Portfolio)
-Here's her January schedule (Gawker)
-"No one inspires Explainer readers quite like Britney Spears" (Slate)
-Maybe she'd be saner if she went vegan (PETA)
-Writer writes about how Britney's ill so we shouldn't write about her (LA Times)

Special Bonus Jamie Lynne Section! (Pregnant, 16, looks just like her older sister)

-"Miley Cyrus is proud of how Jamie Lynn Spears is handling her controversial teen pregnancy" (US Weekly)
-The Onion weighs in (Onion)

Did I miss anything good?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Not Otherwise Specified

I disovered Harriet Brown because she writes in moving installments about her elder daughter’s struggles with anorexia for The New York Times science section. She is straightforward about the views she promotes in her print work and on her blog, Feed Me – anti-fat discrimination and pro-Maudsley method, an anorexia treatment that hinges on parental involvement.

Whether or not one agrees with its biases, Feed Me is a great resource for keeping abreast of food and weight issues from legal, cultural, academic, and media angles. (And if Harriet’s views bug you, she’s open to intelligent debate. I once e-mailed to thank her for her eloquent Times pieces, adding that I often disagree with her opinions – I’m not such a Maudsley fan. She replied, “I'm always happy to hear from people who *don't* agree with me. From dialogue comes knowledge. At least that's the idea.”)

Brown, based in Wisconsin, wrote a recent post about ED-NOS. I recommend reading both the post and the smart comments it elicited.

ED-NOS – “eating disorder not otherwise specified” – is the DSM-IV’s catchall diagnosis for anyone that does not fit all clinical requirements for diagnoses of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. If you binge and purge, but less than twice a week for three straight months then you’re not bulimic, you’re NOS. If you consider bubble tea an intimidating meal and nap daily because your body lacks fuel to stay awake but somehow continue menstruating, you’re NOS. There are people who restrict calories but stay in a normal BMI range and others who purge without binging first. All these behaviors are physically and psychologically excruciating.

I was the bubble tea example some three-plus years ago. Bubble tea was a reasonable – nay, grossly large – food choice. Tapioca balls, cream, caffeine … meal! I was shouldering Proust and Eliot for a modernism course at the time too. I was pale, withdrawn, dizzy, drained, losing hair, and perpetually panicked. (I got an A in the class.) But Auntie Flo visited on schedule, so I was not anorexic. For a cohort that never feels good enough, it’s not uncommon to feel frustrated at not being “anorexic enough” to merit a legitimate diagnosis.

But an even more insidious effect of shoddy diagnostic criteria is it can deny recovering patients treatment at the tipping point of a struggle. The moment an anorexic regains some weight, she becomes NOS. This translates into fewer covered treatment options and a widespread lack of understanding outside the community educated about EDs.

But as Brown notes in her post's comments, folks in recovery can be eating normal amounts for months and still FEEL as anorexic as ever. Normal nutrition starts out feeling anomalous, and the body acts accordingly, slowly readjusting. It took me at least six months of deliberate effort to eat substantial meals and snacks five times a day. It was exhausting, especially when I had to pretend all was OK in front of friends and family. Only when the body feels more secure will the brain tentatively follow. It took over another half year before I wasn’t feeling trapped in a fat suit all the time. When I’m stressed, I still do.

Rell and the US Senate

Take note: Connecticut's Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell, potentially has the power (and it's not unreasonable to think she may have the opportunity) to flip the majority in the US Senate. If Dodd (D) or Lieberman ("D") are pulled into a presidential cabinet, Rell would pick their replacement. There aren't enough Dems in the state senate to override her veto should lawmakers attempt to rescind the privilege.

**"Rell's Right Called Wrong" (Hartford Courant 2/16/08)**

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Oh, NYT, you and your silly gimmicks!

Lest anyone missed it (I read it in the print edition this morning, old fart that I am), Frank Bruni "reviewed" the newly reopened Second Avenue Deli. Except instead of critiquing the food, he invited Ed Koch, Nora Ephron, and a writer named Laura Shapiro out to eat with him.

In other words, Bruni assembled the Times' target demographic -- affluent, intellectual (often Jewish) New York Baby Boomers who are prominent in something -- in a site of collective nostalgia, then waited for the witticisms to spark. Way to pen some useful analysis, Frank!

He concluded that "we weren’t so much eating in a specific restaurant as passing through a communal storehouse of memories, on a bridge of babkas from the past to the future."

Readers ate the whole thing up, if you will. At 10:30 p.m. Wednesday night, the piece was sixth on the site's most e-mailed list. (The five before it were about old people dating, couples with disparate eating habits, the dog show, Dowd, and the recession. The lead story on the homepage was about Obama, who lost the New York primary.)

Bruni was stuffed in a section whose cover story was about the resurgence of milk chocolate. (See its sexy photo illustration above.) The reporter did a rather dry, researched piece that included a small box discussing the types of "dark milk chocolate" the Dining section liked best. Translation: the whole staff repeatedly nixed work duties to eat chocolate. I used to work in a features section. People there would taste anything for a few minutes away from their desks.

Keep up the hard work, folks.

As in Life, in Art

In early February, Lebanese diva Fayrouz performed in Syria for the first time in 30 years. Times coverage notes that folks from all political persuasions in both countries scrutinized all details of the enterprise, from her timing to her piece selection. Some Lebanese thought the singer betrayed her home country by performing in a neighbor widely thought to be at fault for much of Lebanon's current political turmoil. Syrians said her appearance signified a call to cool tensions. Political dissidents there said this performance was a political critique aimed at prominent government audience members, while others noted that her work is often co-opted as a nationalist soundtrack across the Arab world.

Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow, which I'm still reading, sketches a parallel situation. A Turkish poet named Ka returned from political exile in Frankfort to travel to Kars, a backwater village whose crumbling architecture attests to all the groups who have come -- and gone -- from power in Turkey, to write about a rash of devout young women committing suicide after being banished from school for refusing to remove their head scarves. (The issue remains a political spark in Turkey; last week, Turkish parliament moved ever closer to lifting the head scarf ban.)

Ongoing power struggles between Islamic fundamentalists and ardent secularists make Kars a discursive minefield. People balance on small, safe spaces while what remains unspoken makes each pleasantry fraught with over-thought meaning.

Ka arrives as Kars prepares for a performance by a legendary acting duo, who perform an old work, "My Fatherland or My Head Scarf," glorifying secularism in front of an audience including military officials and religious high school students. Pamuk sets the scene by writing, "this desperately old-fashioned, primitive, twenty-minute play had such a sound dramatic structure that even a deaf-mute would have no trouble following it."

After the main character removes her head scarf, a gesture that frightens secularists fearing conflict and offends the religious, she prepares to burn it.

By now Funda Eser had removed her scarf and tossed it like so much laundry into a copper basin.... By a strange coincidence, they'd put the gasoline into an emptied bottle of Akif liquid detergent, a brand much favored by Kars housewives at the time, and this was why everyone in the auditorium ... took it that the freedom fighter girl had changed her mind: seeing her plunge her hands into the washbasin, they all relaxed.

Then she sets it on fire and differing perspectives parade by faster and faster, a dizzying array for a reader new to Pamuk's literary world to keep disentangled. In the end, the male lead, playing a soldier, parades down the aisles with a military entourage. They turn, face the audience, and shoot rounds of live bullets into the crowd.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Someone I respect told me that, in life, I'm doing better than I tend to think. That I'll be a writer before I know it.

I'm tempted to believe her.


...activated. Be thoughtful, or they'll disappear again.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Fashion Week!

Anna Wintour walked by me today on Sixth Avenue outside the entrance to the Fashion Week tent. I was taking in the scene, preparing myself to not mess up reporting on my first two fashion shows ever, when I heard the click of cameras. Wintour and her entourage breezed by. She slouched into her brown fur stole and sunglasses, curling away from the cameras -- though I find it hard to believe that the Vogue folks totally eschewed the attention they pretended wasn't there, because they chose to walk around a busy street corner instead of hopping between cars and entrances. For the record, she is tiny and thin -- birdlike. I was surprised, because she looks New York normal in photos, but she's smaller than that.

A few minutes later, I passed the Hartford Courant's diva fashion reporter, Greg Morago. I entered the tent as he left it. He didn't notice me, but that's really not all that different from the, uh, four months we worked in the same room.

Funny things about fashion shows: for all that there's a lot of hype, and a lot of people wearing a lot of expensive clothing, there's very little security, and normal boundaries disappear. At the Reem Acra show, I left my laptop and purse leaning against my chair while I wandered around.

Celebrities, fashion magazine editors, journalists, and goodness knows who else mingle and chat from the show's posted starting time to about 45 minutes later, when it actually starts. (Apparently Marc Jacobs started his show some two hours late last year, and that was pushing things too far.) The front-row celebs, for the most part, are there to gain media attention. People in prime seats are wearing couture and have full faces of photo-friendly makeup. I figured out who was famous at Reem Acra by looking at the makeup jobs and watching clusters of photographers surround them and unleash an onslaught of flashbulbs. They were blinding from behind the cameras. If that's what Britney Spears puts up with all of every day, it's no wonder that she's constantly derailing. Between photo clusters, the celebrities talk to the print journalists or turn away to play with their iphones and blackberries.

At the other show I attended, Cynthia Rowley, I bumbled my way backstage before the show and allowed the PR flacks to explain their hair and makeup vision so I could watch the models being prepared. I talked to one model, a 16 year old from New Zealand, who said the most annoying thing about fashion week are the castings, because the girls have to rush around the city and they all get lost in the subway system. I watched Rowley oversee a quick pre-show run-through, which was the source of why Parker Posey probably thinks I'm an idiot, if she bothered to give our exchange any thought the moment it ended.

Because she was there (and, speaking of Britney, Posey said she would chat with me as long as I didn't ask her opinion on things like that. I admitted to being fascinated by the Spears soap opera, and she said of the celebrity gossip cycle "it's like a weird human sport"). I was asking her why she liked Rowley's clothes (which I had never knowingly seen), and she mentioned that they had unique, fairytale qualities.

"Did you see the collection yet?" I asked, confused. "The hairdressers kept talking about fairy tales, but I thought it all looked kind of urban."

That would be because the models were wearing their own clothes during the run-through. They all looked so similar, though, and so trendy, that I thought I was watching a full-fledged dress rehearsal.

Another age-old question settled

Father to three year old after she showed him that a huge painting fell at some point while all were out that day, whose frame left a gash in the wall:

"Since that painting fell off the wall and you weren't here to hear it, did it make a noise?"

She thought not.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My grandfather's view of the world is 50 years old

Scene: The dining room table, 8 a.m.-ish. I'm at my half (covered with newspapers and half-read magazines), and he's at his (covered with a binder-sized checkbook and various financial-looking things, because that's what he's playing with these days)

Grandfather: So, are you voting today?
Me: I voted absentee in CT last week. Who are you voting for?
G: Clinton, but I'm voting Republican in the election.
Me: (choking on my coffee gulp) Why?!
G: Because I'm a businessman, and Republicans are better for business.
Me: What are you talking about? Why bother voting in the primary at all?
G: I'd rather Hillary than that other guy.
Me: How can you vote Republican? Look what Bush has done to our country!
G: He kept terrorism away.
Me: Ummm... September 11?
G: That was the only one
Me: Ummm... two wars? Rising sectarian violence? The entire world hates us?
G: Oh, they've always hated us, because they're jealous of our wealth.
Me: (increasingly incredulous, with all sorts of anthropological theory whizzing around with my neurons) The dollar is down against almost every currency in the world!
G: It went up a little this morning.