Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When women are refused

"When Women Refuse" is incredibly important and, I suspect, really hits home for most of us. If anything's "triggering," it's that Tumblr, but nevertheless, it's good that this sort of thing is now being made so public.

But another story worth telling alongside that one is that of the young women who are themselves the rejected party, ala "Tiny Furniture." I keep reading about how women just don't get how lonely it is for some men, from men who aren't of course defending violence, but who are empathizing with, I suppose, undateability. This, they're claiming, is a uniquely male experience. But, as it happens, some women, some girls, do get this. Many people of both sexes experience this, some for longer than others. Is the pressure worse for men? Probably not - there's the assumption that "woman"=desired, so women who are not that, but would like to be, aren't exactly thrilled.

Why does this get ignored? Either the assumption is that even unattractive women have their pick of men (the whole 'any woman could get laid at any time' theory), or unattractive women simply don't register in people's minds when the subject is sex or romance. "Women," it can seem, are being defined as that subset of women whose rejection has so saddened lonely men. Even among the not-at-all-murderous, 'nobody loves me' tends to mean 'nobody sufficiently attractive' does.

What's different, though, is that the young woman who fails to get dudes - or the dudes she finds attractive - will at most complain that society unfairly judges women who look the way she does (assuming her looks enter into this), but that's as "entitled" as it gets. She'll rarely direct her fury at the men who've rejected her. She'll aim it at herself, most likely. It's not that girls and women in this situation aren't miserable. It's that they've been socialized to accept rejection as final. There's no narrative saying that a plain-looking woman who persists will eventually get the guy. (Even attractive women who do just fine in the dating world generally are socialized to accept 'not interested,' to round up 'super busy' to 'not interested,' and so forth from individual men who aren't into them, but they're presumably not harboring any broader resentments). While this sort of socialization is kind of crap in other areas of life, in love, it's the only way to go.

Of course, another part of what prevents girls and women from going all rom-com on their futile crushes is that even the plain-looking get harassed, cat-called, intimidated, etc. Even a woman who can't find the sorts of dates, relationships, or hook-ups someone might reasonably seek out may well be subject to creepiness-and-more from random men or even those in her circle. And knowing how awful it is to be on the receiving end of that could well be part of what prevents women who've been repeatedly rejected from entering a whirlwind of entitlement.

A typical WWPD assortment

-Alexa Chung shares her beauty routine. Read it, enjoy it. The thing to remember, though, going in, is that she looks like Alexa Chung and you don't. Remember this (, Phoebe,) when you're tempted to buy whatever it is she recommends.

-The Onion explains anti-Semitism in a brilliant but hard-to-read article. It's what I've been saying since forever - because we so associate "anti-Semitism" with "Nazism," Jews who call out relatively minor anti-Jewish acts are deemed hysterical. "Anti-Semitism" ends up seeming like a misnomer or overreaction unless genocide is involved.

-First-world-problems-sounding, but hear me out: the eggs from the farmers market (different stands) have a tendency to be sort of... broken. The eggs you can pay more for with the implied assurance that the chickens weren't too miserable end up costing more still, once you realize you can't actually use several of them. The explanation's simple enough - the way the farmers market works, it's all about conviviality and, more than that, trusting, honoring, the farmer. Or at any rate the person selling the farm-goods, who's standing in for the farmer. It wouldn't be done to check the eggs for cracks as one would at a supermarket. The dynamic is such that you feel you should shoulder the cost of any eggs that "nature" happened to crack of its own accord. Why should the small-scale farmer, so burdened already, bear that burden as well? Granted, I suspect the answer is just for me to be a bit more assertive at the moment of sale, and that the farmer/farmer-stand-in would be fine with it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Answer me these

-Why did jury duty email me last night to say I "MUST" show up today, only to lead me back to the jury duty website I'd already visited, which continues to inform me that "no jurors" should show up today? Much anxiety and quadruple-checking and Facebook-posting later, it seems like I'm merely on call for jury duty for the rest of the week, that the email was some automated thing reminding me that today's the start of my possible jury duty. The "MUST," I think, referred to the need for me to show up unless otherwise stated. Otherwise was stated. I think.

-I understand the general 'be fully clothed' principle of the thing, but why are "t-shirts" among the items not allowed to be worn at NJ jury duty? If they want office-wear from the general public, maybe they should be prepared to shell out more than $5 a day, which I think even at H&M doesn't go much further than a t-shirt.

-Why didn't I think to do this interview? Or try, at least.

-What, dare I ask, is this?:

Spotted in the sponge (?) section of Sunrise Mart. Is it angry or happy? What makes it German? Why did I not think to take Japanese in high school?

-Will it be possible to recreate this yakitori recipe under non-barbecue circumstances? Charcoal-grilled over the weekend, it was pretty much the best thing I've ever eaten. Would the oven - I'm thinking the broiler - suffice?

"Styles" peak outrage

Women are now getting cosmetic surgery for the express purpose of looking good in their engagement-ring hand-selfies! All women? No. Lots of women? No. A bunch of the author's friends? No. Two women. The Style section tracked down a sum total of two women got their hands altered (presumably both hands - symmetry and all that) so as to show off their rings. Actually, not even two - one is simply planning to do so. The rest is inferred: many women wear engagement rings (true), and of those, a good number take photos and post them to social media (also true). Meanwhile, cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists can be tracked down who'll confirm that hands are part of the human body, and thus that there are people willing to spend money to have these parts somehow improved. It's therefore possible that we've got a hand-selfie-surgery epidemic on our, uh, hands, but not all that likely.

That said, this was - and Miss Self-Important, I want your thoughts - the perfect Styles story. Engagement rings themselves, as a topic, elicit tremendous class-and-gender outrage. The cost! The ethics of diamonds! The problematic sexism of the "tradition" if we can even call it that, invented as it was by DeBeers, which has been written about a ton but which you, foolish woman distracted by shiny objects, probably somehow missed! The resentment of women who want these rings but don't have them! The assumption that all women want one! The lemme-see-the-ring that follows engagement! The implication that this isn't enthusiasm for a friend or colleague's news but rather an attempt to figure out how much money her dude has or is willing to spend on her!

But this latest story brings all that outrage and crosses it with existing fury about cosmetic surgery. The ring-oriented hand-lift - invented though it may be - is like an extreme version of painting the nail of your ring finger to highlight the rock. It's so infuriating that it might even manage to rile women who do wear engagement rings and aren't losing sleep over said rings being problematic. So much outrage! So much that there hardly needs to be a trend of women doing this. I mean, it's nice that they found the one woman who did, but really, it wasn't necessary. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Further thoughts on "off"

There is, on the one hand, mental illness, which is an umbrella term for various illnesses. These are unfairly stigmatized; physical illnesses, too, are unfairly stigmatized, something that seems to get lost in these conversations, but mental ones could well be more so, so the calls to stop the stigmatization of mental illness are reasonable. There's on the other hand "mental illness," which is the retroactive determination that anyone who commits a terrible crime is (or, if the crime, as they so often do, involves their own death, was) suffering from a condition of some kind. I don't even mean the 'to kill a bunch of people, you'd have to be crazy!' line, let alone 'people who do such things are sick', where "crazy" and "sick" aren't used medically/sympathetically. I mean that we're meant to grasp for any trace of a reason (apart from: guns, and yes, I'm aware that this latest incident included knife violence) that any such incident has occurred, and to provide a retroactive rounded-up diagnosis.

So here's my question: Isn't it further stigmatizing mental illness to cry "let's talk about mental illness!" every time someone commits a massacre? As in, further associating mental illness with murderousness or a kind of off-ness that may be exhibited by someone with a diagnosis, but that's altogether its own thing? And in this particular case, not only was the guy from a rich and well-connected family and being thoroughly looked-after psychologically, but the diagnosis they'd come up with was... high-functioning Asperger's and (although this may be redundant) trouble making friends. Gosh. Him and who knows how many millions of other young men, men who aren't particularly violent.

But this is all there is to cling to, right? The other purported non-illness factors floating around are each one more ridiculous than the next: divorced parents, the trauma of being biracial, and having made it to the ripe old age of 19 (he was 22 when he committed this crime, but apparently began planning it three years prior) without finding a girlfriend. These are none of them reasons someone would go and kill a bunch of people. Surely if these are the reasons, his violent reaction to ordinary life circumstances (coupled with what seems to have been extraordinary socioeconomic advantage) suggests insanity of some kind. But insanity-as-in-illness, or insanity in the colloquial sense of "off"? Or have we now decided that these are one and the same, and that everything once thought "evil" is merely an illness same as any other, and our sadness should be as much over the lack of a proper diagnosis as over the tragedy that ensued?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The straw family of privilege

Reading UChicago senior Lynda Lopez's Maroon op-ed about being a first-generation college student, I was struck by two things. First, that before even reading it, I had an intuitive (and anecdotal) sense that her argument would be sound, i.e. that low-income and first-generation students have a tougher time of it, and that, to put bluntly what she put delicately, rich kids can be assholes.

Second, though, was that nearly all of Lopez's examples of things rich kids did effortlessly but that she struggled with are ones that everyone struggles with. Despite my parents' extensive educations, despite going to an elite public high school and a fancy private school K-8, despite all of this copious ambient fanciness (albeit not the tutoring or helicoptering; I'm too old to be of that generation), I, too "didn’t know how to ask professors or TAs for help or how to pick the right classes." My high school workload also wasn't comparable with that of college, nor was it at all the same sort of work expected. I never really figured out how to write a Sosc paper.

Anyway, my point, to be clear, isn't that she and I entered college on a level playing field. Rather, it's that we quite clearly did not, but not for many of the reasons she gives. The more relevant factors - which she also discusses - would be things like the ability to pay for college or figure out financial aid, the sense that you simply must graduate from college, and the feeling that you personally don't belong, something quite different from thinking that college life is overwhelming and new and impossible, which, again, just about everybody experiences.

But I find this often in discussions of privilege, that there's a sort of assumed experience that constitutes "privilege," thought to be shared by all who aren't not privileged. Intellectual discussions at the dinner table. Family connections with which to get a job. In-depth life-planning conversations with parents and other unearned mentors. Everything made easier every step of the way. While this sort of family does - as much as one can ever tell - seem to exist, it's not the uniform experience it's been made out to be. Most of the rich-kids-at-college did not, I suspect, have that childhood.

To re-reiterate, my point certainly isn't that all backgrounds are one, or that everything's subjective so socioeconomic class doesn't matter. Nor is it that I'd expect this particular author to know that this isn't how it goes. Rather, it's that those trying to sort out these issues to find remedies should be clear on exactly what it is that does matter, at where the unfairness does come from.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The personal, the political

Not a good news day. First, the young man in California who killed seven people because hot college women wouldn't go out with him. Then there were the three killed at the Brussels Jewish Museum, killed because, I suppose, anti-Semitism, although exactly which strain of it is yet to be seen. At first I wasn't quite sure what to say about either, beyond the generic, social-media demonstration of finding terrible things terrible. But as a woman who spends lots of time on college campuses (and who's dealt in the past with relatively minor, but still scary, versions of that man's attitude), and a Jew who spends a good amount of time in Belgium (including at that museum!), I may be slightly more unnerved than most by what are, to just about anyone, some awfully, well, awful news stories.

So. Re: the first, and Jezebel's already on the case, there's the bizarre Nice Guy entitlement angle. The women this man happened to be attracted to didn't reciprocate and, rather than, I don't know, pursuing other women, the guy goes and shoots a bunch of people in a college town. He was, it seems, fed up with being a virgin at... 22. So this wasn't even some kind of lifelong frustration at being someone intimacy has passed by - not, of course, that a 52-year-old man in the same situation would be somehow within his rights to respond in this way. Because the man who did this was rich and non-black, and because it's simply not done to talk about gun control, I suppose we're in for another national conversation about mental illness that also won't go anywhere. A crime like this seems as much about misogyny as insanity - clearly most committed misogynists don't do things like this, nor do most who are mentally ill. But we're probably not going to get a national conversation about Nice Guy Syndrome.

Re: the second, we can look at this as a reminder of why Jewish sites, especially in Europe, even the tiny little sites that only people working on their dissertations on obscure topics ever seem to go to, are so heavily guarded. Interesting that the NYT story about Belgian anti-Semitism describes Belgium as terrible, almost as bad as France. France is worse? Argh. I do wish, though, that some of the people I know within the American Jewish community, who have made it their mission to be critics-of-Israel, spent a bit more time recognizing and denouncing the tremendous global anti-Jewish sentiment that's also going around calling itself criticism-of-Israel. Not because these Facebook friends and such don't have legitimate criticisms of Israel - they do, if not all of them criticisms I happen to share. But there's just this sense I get that they're not seeing the wider picture, that "Israel" isn't just this country with some very serious flaws, but that it's also used as a pretext for old-school anti-Semitism, quite possibly including this latest tragic attack.

As for Belgium itself, I guess all I can add, personal-knowledge-wise, is that it would be a mistake to think of it as a uniformly anti-Semitic country. I've always been accepted, and I mean by people who know my background - that a white Jew in secular dress passes by unnoticed in Europe isn't all that interesting. And my impression is that racism and xenophobia in Belgium as in France are directed more at visible minorities at this point. That said, I don't know what it's like to live there - to live there as a Jew, that is - and have no experience with being a visible Jew (i.e. Orthodox) there or anywhere.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In descending order of importance

-I suppose as a not-black American, I'm supposed to have a contrarian take on Ta-Nehisi Coates's "The Case for Reparations." But from what I could tell, reading it quickly late last night, it seems quite reasonable. Yes, other groups in the States, including my own, have faced racism, not just abroad but here. But anti-black racism is the racism in this country; if you doubted this, a good place to begin would be Coates's article. Or N.J. Transit. The only objection I could see having to the overall idea is if, on the whole (as much as this can ever be assessed of any group), African-Americans themselves find the idea off-putting. Anyway, curious to know what WWPD's readers, whatever your origins, thought of the piece.

-Banana Republic is for peasants. This was the not-all-that-between-the-lines message of Alexandra Jacobs's Critical Shopper column. I remember a scandal a while back, when a different Critical Shopper fat- and class-shamed J.C. Penney. Here, it's a bit of a different angle - Banana Republic is, after all, a somewhat expensive store. How expensive I couldn't say - like Jacobs, I haven't shopped there in years, but from what she writes, my guess is, she didn't just switch over to Uniqlo when that cheaper-and-better chain became a possibility. (Actually, we sort of know this.) But Jacobs's grievance seems to be with - for lack of a better term - mall stores:

“The Heritage label: what does that mean?” I asked one associate, who was talking smack about her boyfriend as she listlessly folded a stack of capri pants by the so-called concierge desk. 
“What do you mean?” she said with a blank look.
Horrors! That, and there's vanity-sizing. Of course, the question at this point is, compared to what? At this point, it's all mall stores, many lower-end than BR but others higher-. Basically anywhere you're going to get day-to-day clothing in Manhattan has a branch in at least one New Jersey mall. If you're a bit more fashion-y, maybe you choose J.Crew or Zara over Banana Republic or Ann Taylor, but these are the stores in even the most fashion-y parts of New York (ahem, lower Fifth). So this isn't even a YPIS of Jacobs - I'm genuinely curious where, if not stores like Banana Republic, anyone shops for most items.

-A rabbit has taken up residence on the patch of grass outside the living room. Squirrels are in mating season. I don't think the poodle can handle this.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Small plates to share"

For our anniversary, my husband and I went to a restaurant in town that I won't name. Not because I didn't like the place - I did like it! - but because anything other than 10 out of 10 gushing may lead to angry emails from owners, or eternal banishment (again, I did like it, but more like 9/10), or who even knows. Maybe I'm still reeling from an incident, early in WWPD history, when I blogged (accurately!) that a certain now-defunct Brooklyn coffee shop was pretty but overpriced, only to get furious emails from Mr. Coffee Shop, who'd Googled the name of his coffee shop and somehow imagined that telling me his coffee shop wasn't overpriced would, I don't know, make me remove the post? I checked, and it's still up, so I suppose that didn't happen. But it did have the effect of making me reluctant to ever mention the name of a food establishment other than the handful of old favorites (Chelsea Thai, Dos Toros, Sobaya) that I'm giving a uniformly rave review. 

So. The place - and if you live here, you will soon know which it is - is the newish, less-expensive (but still, Princeton) version of a wildly expensive place just outside of town. It opened shortly after another restaurant also promising farm-to-table, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Central-NJ cuisine. That one, which I was so curious about for however long, turned out to be sort of... bad. A nice bar, but exactly the kind of American-means-bland food that these source-fetishization menus (not uncommon, as I recall, at cheaper places in New York) seem to imply. After that disappointment, it was back to the regular lineup: lots of cooking pseudo-Italian food at home, or if going out, Ajihei for schmancy, Shanghai Bun for not-so-schmancy, Chung Sol Bat in Edison or Nam Phuong in Philadelphia for excursions, and... I'm starting to think that if the cuisine doesn't include soy sauce, chances are I'm less interested. So there wasn't any great rush to try the latest sourced-ingredient establishment. 

That, and everything I'd read about the place - and I'd read a lot! not much new ever opens around here! - said that it would be small portions at entree prices. Under more let's say urban circumstances, with more options, I'd see something like that and be like, forget it, never going there. But it's Princeton. Options are few. And the prices seemed kind of... not that high for this town, even allowing for the apparent need to order more. Our waiter reiterated the "small plates to share" concept, and asked if there was anything we couldn't/wouldn't/shouldn't eat (don't remember how he phrased this), in a friendly way, but one that indicated that small portions and unexpected ingredients were things people were complaining about on Yelp.

Well! The portions were not tiny, which would make me think this was a conspiracy by the place to get people to order more (we really didn't need five dishes for two; three would have been more than enough), except that the people saying this online are telling you not to go there because you'll be ripped off. Anyway, a salad was the same size (and style of dressing) as at the not-tapas-inspired place down the street. Luckily I'm a big fan of that salad. Especially luckily, given that these same greens seemed to come with almost every dish. Everything also seemed to come with dollops of white cream (or was this the famous foam?), each with a different taste. OK, one plate did seem small - the falafel salad my husband got, with falafels that looked quite molecular. 

Then - and here I'm giving away the place, so be it - I had the "stuffing gnocchi," which were my introduction, I suppose, to... is this molecular gastronomy? At any rate, to food more posh-and-now than I'd probably ever come across. It was gnocchi - at least the texture and appearance of gnocchi - but the taste was Thanksgiving stuffing through and through. As gnocchi and stuffing happen to be two of my favorite foods, I couldn't have been more pleased. Plus, I got to enjoy these two starchy kid-foods under the guise of sophistication. There were also mushrooms, which I've relatively recently taught myself to not mind (still not so sure about a giant portobello, though), maybe even enjoy? Maybe. And the foam-cream with this dish was "smoked curd" flavor (maybe? it was the only listed item that made sense) and delicious.

The other not-so-small plate I dug into enough to remark on was smoked arctic char. I was expecting something in the lox family, but pleasantly surprised to find something that - much in the manner of the deceptive-in-a-good-way gnocchi! - looked like cooked salmon but tasted like smoked trout. It came with the very tasty eggs of an unspecified fish, and some potatoes I'd have been more excited about if I hadn't just eaten all that gnocchi. (How will I ever recreate stuffing gnocchi at home?)

The desserts looked a little too... main-course-ish. One included peas and "sable", which either meant whitefish, rabbit, antelope, or a kind of French cookie, according to Wikipedia. It's 50-50, from the context, whether it was the fish or the cookie. There was also an ice cream sandwich with barley and rhubarb - possibly wonderful, but I'm a culinary peasant whose preferred ice cream adornments are cookie dough or rainbow sprinkles. There are many reasons I'd never make it as a restaurant reviewer, but that's got to be one of them.

The search for perfection in an age of online shopping and mass-produced everything

After the Zara dress didn't work out, I was left thinking maybe the clothes-shopping bug would be met some other way. There's always the list of items I want and - increasingly, the longer I live in the woods and refuse to drive to the mall - need. According to that Buzzfeed "privilege" quiz, if you buy new clothes more than once a month, you have, I don't know, shopping privilege.* I think I'm in the clear; the stains and holes of various tank tops confirm. So, the contenders:

-COS has arrived in 'merica, online-only at this point. What is COS? Higher-end H&M - the Banana Republic to H&M's Old Navy. Minimalist, vaguely Scandinavian clothes whose main appeal, I'm starting to think, was that you could only get them abroad. Scarcity and all that. I was so excited! But now that there's all this COS before me, I'm starting to remember why I never bought any of those dresses when in COS in person. Everything looks distinctly intended for a very tall woman. Like the shoulders would be too broad, and, in the case of dresses and skirts, like they'd make me look Orthodox. (There's already a friend pointing out on Facebook that I look Orthodox in my graduation robe. It's unavoidable.) The site's underwear, at least, has potential, but there are just some items (shoes, bras) you need to try on in person.

-I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with this Everlane t-shirt. The doubt isn't exactly over whether it would fit (their v-neck fits fine), so much as whether a navy pocket tee is normcore-fabulous or a terrible look chosen by the boys at my high school who most ostentatiously rejected style. So bad it's good or just... bad? Normally, if I'm thinking about a relatively inexpensive item long enough, this is the sign to buy. But in this case, it seems possible that the item in question would actually make my wardrobe worse.

-I have a love-love relationship, meanwhile, with these sneakers. Nike, fine, how original. But they're what I was looking for, style-wise, and have this bizarre quality of fitting perfectly. These were the winners, and have yet to disintegrate after extensive walking in Philadelphia and New York. That's about all you can ask of a pair of shoes.

*What does this mean, even, in this age of H&M and Forever 21? A black coffee (if pour-over) may well cost more than a new shirt.

You maybe did eat that

NYMag is right, youdidnoteatthat is hilarious. What it is, for the don't-click-on-links brigade: an Instagram that reprints photos of fashion-and-lifestyle bloggers and other fashion sorts posing with food, along with captions such as, "After reviewing several dozen photos of @iza_goulart in various states of undress we are going to go with#youdidnoteatthat."

This is, as followers of the fashionz know well, a longstanding thing - photographing models with food, or, in text, interviews where whichever ingenue of course orders a cheeseburger. Instagram, selfies, and the ever-expanding pool of online fashion celebrities have together made it possible for a parody site to take off.

What the site makes fun of is, among other things, the idea that to be Fashion, a woman must be not only thin, but naturally thin. It's much more chic if you think she's eating a dozen macarons as a mid-morning snack. Predictably enough, there's at least one commenter who's being all, you know some people who are really thin do eat, right? When, eh, that's sort of beside the point. It's not so literal.

And yet, I'm also reminded of the (WWPD-coined) concept of "naturally fat" - the belief that any woman able to fit into a standard-size airline seat has surely not eaten a carb in decades. Not just models, or the visibly emaciated - of whom some are naturally as thin as you see, but not many. Women who are thin in the sense of, they're not fat, but who are what might better be deemed... healthy-looking? Normal-BMI-looking? Neither fat nor thin? I thought this most in conjunction with the photo of the woman from Cupcakes and Cashmere - who has now, it seems, blocked youdidnoteatthat. Is it really inconceivable that this woman (who is, incidentally, built almost exactly like I am) eats bread? Is this really in the same category as Gisele posing with a giant tub of pasta?

To be clear, it's possible that anyone of any size (including someone obese) diets to be that size, and would naturally be heavier. But what's a reasonable assumption of someone very underweight who is, for example, paid to stay that size (thus the criticisms of the fashion industry) doesn't really carry over to the more... to the people who are not all that thin, and are not runway models.

What bothers me about this, to reiterate, is really this idea that every woman, always, is (or ought to be) a physical work-in-progress. Whatever a woman looks like, we're meant to imagine it's the result of tremendous effort. "Naturally fat" is about reinforcing the idea that if any woman eats, well, food, she will (no matter her build or appetite) become fat - fat enough for fat-shaming and doctors' tsk-tsk-ing, not just too fat for a size zero or a runway career. Which is not merely a false assumption, but a dangerous one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Delayed grad-ification

If you defend your dissertation in September, you have two choices: graduate with the others of your calendar year the previous spring, or with those of the next one the following year. Because I was convinced I'd fail my defense (not something I had any reason to fear, if for no other reason than because no one ever fails this), I didn't partake in any of the festivities last spring. So I "graduated" yesterday, which was the soonest I could do so after my defense. 

I felt weird being congratulated for something I did months ago, but then I remembered that the dissertation's only part of the process. That, and when I got there, I learned that, for various reasons, some classmates who defended as far back as spring 2013 would also be marching. I soon realized that one was interested in my impostor-syndrome-ish 'but this isn't really my graduation' disclaimer, nor in the fact that my diploma's been in my apartment for ages. This was graduation, because it was collective. You need to be with the people you went through the experience with, even if it's an experience that ends with a few years writing a project on your own, quite possibly far from the university itself. 

Grad-school graduation was, it turned out, a really big reunion of French-studying sorts from many cohorts. The short version of why: my program used to take 10-plus years, but now, due to various reforms in the department and the university, takes 6; I fell somewhere in the middle. This was the year when everyone sort of converged. It was lively and fun, although chances are I wouldn't have said so at the time. I mean, the pre-ceremony reception was fabulous - again, there were so many of us! - but the ceremony itself involved copious sweating under the robes while all thousand (?) MA students got their degrees, one by one, only to skip out on the thing (evidently; I was too overheated by then to make the necessarily movement to see this) when it was time for the far smaller group of PhDs to go to the stage. Given the relative... schlep of these degrees, this didn't seem right, but the word on the cynical street was that because they pay for their programs, they get priority. (At least they let all of us use the gym!)

The main takeaway, though, was that I remember a time when PhD graduates seemed ancient, and yet, looking around, every traditional-age PhD looked... young. While they are - see above - slightly younger than they once were, at least in the humanities, at least at NYU, this is very much a case of age being relative. We are old. These are people I was at of-legal-drinking-age-and-then-some parties with seven years ago.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

YPIS, final-for-now thoughts

Miss Self-Important asked exactly the right question about YPIS: is the problem privilege-accusation, or the very concept of "privilege"? The short answer is, it's both. In some alternate universe, the altogether sound concept of privilege might have been used primarily for good, but as it stands, it seems to mainly inspire privilege-denial. Part of this, as I mentioned in MSI's comments, is that the term, "privilege," implies membership in some social and financial elite. The 1%, perhaps. But the vast majority of those benefitting from cisgender privilege, say, aren't rich or powerful. They merely benefit from being comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth. A form of relative advantage about which one might be oblivious, absolutely, but privilege still implies... money, or at the very least, cultural capital. What does it mean if you say that someone 'comes from privilege'? That's the generally-understood meaning. Using a term that sounds like it's about wealth to describe all forms of advantage gets confusing, and could be what's inspiring defensive responses. What's wrong with speaking of -isms (racism, sexism, etc.) or -phobias (transphobia, homophobia, etc.)?

Which gets to yet another important point, that came up a bit in some of the Twitter responses to my piece: Yes, the privileged use privilege wrong, but who am I to say how marginalized groups I'm not a part of choose to discuss their plight? (Presumably I get a vote if we're talking male privilege or Gentile privilege.) Am I trying, imperialistically perhaps, to tell members of these groups how to advocate for themselves? Why am I so focused on how the privileged talk about privilege?

To this, I'd say that no, I don't object to the use of "privilege" in the identity-based, educational sense, as in, what Jamelle Bouie did here. If privilege-talk were always about this sort of here's-something-about-my-experience-you'd-have-no-reason-to-have-considered discussion, it would be quite useful. And in those instances, it is useful.

The problem is, privilege being, well, real, we end up hearing much more from those who using "privilege" to obscure their unfair advantages than from those who are silenced by the very disadvantages they'd be well within their rights to complain about with YPIS, if any of that makes sense. (I always think of high school - how I'd hear all about the socioeconomically disadvantaged home lives of kids who turned out to be super-rich, and how the kids who were actually poor or working-class never brought this up.) There's a lot of speaking-for, not much listening-to.

And if the aim of privilege-talk is to educate haves about the plight of have-nots, it kind of does matter if the term has been an overall net loss in terms of furthering awareness. One might say, but can't the privileged just listen to the good kind of YPIS, the kind that comes from the actually-aggrieved, and not from the sanctibully contingent? What makes this complicated is the Internet - how is anyone supposed to know if the out-of-context, pseudonymous "check your privilege" they're getting on Twitter or in some comment thread is from someone of the relevant identity who's genuinely upset, or if it's all just speculation on behalf of a self-appointed representative with no idea what they're talking about? That, and there's just so much of the nonsense sort of privilege-talk that the legitimate sort has a way of getting lost in the mix. Thus why I - speaking for myself! - try (not always successfully) to avoid using the term "privilege" to when discussing... privilege.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Midriff age

A NYT Styles piece recently informed us that crop-tops are back, and that women are doing special workouts and even undergoing cosmetic procedures in order to look good in the latest Fashion. As per usual, Styles-wise, you might say - there are always a handful of people (ideally rich women in NY) doing something ridiculous, who can be cast as representing a trend - but what jumped out at me was that some of these women are kind of... old. One's 33, another 37. Two are 29. I'm 30, so I get to say this: these women are well into ma'am country. (Yes, I read about the troubled 30-something who just successfully convinced a school she was a high school sophomore. Exceptions that prove rules and all that.) Is 29-37 too old to wear midriff-baring shirts? No, although in my subjective opinion, this isn't the best look on anyone, no matter the age or abs. But, I tend to think, it's too old to be changing diet or exercise routines in order to look good in whatever happens to be in the window at H&M.

It's not that most women in their 30s don't want to look nice, or thin, or "toned." Nor that serious concerns like eating disorders or body dysmorphia cease to exist in women past some particular age - unfortunately, these medical issues pop up at any time. But something like crop-top-specific vanity seems very teenage, maybe even tweenage. I can't decide if that makes me think this trend is extra-manufactured, even by Styles standards, or if this is a hint at something really depressing about Not-So-Young People Today.


Oh, NYU. Your French and French Studies, such fine graduate programs. Your location, so near so much excellent cheap food. But your scheduling of graduation, so... how shall I put this?

It's possible they'd sent an email about preregistering for graduation robes and that, feeling indecisive about going, I'd missed it. But when I went yesterday to seek out the robe, I found a tremendous, wrapped-around, hour-plus line's worth of graduates who'd also not figured this out. These are, to be clear, people who presumably managed not only to finish their coursework, but also to sort out the other bureaucratic hurdles needed to make it to graduation. I'm kind of thinking this might have been more clear. That maybe an email with something to do with the robe in the subject would have helped. That, or there was one, and I'm an idiot.

As per usual, this being NYU in its entirety, I didn't recognize a soul, in the line or surrounding crowd. I bonded with a married Orthodox couple, on line right ahead of me, waiting for their college graduation robes. (Their married-ness threw me off - I figured this was just a line for MA and PhD graduates. That this was also the line for undergrads helped explain its length.) I considered the various lunch possibilities for after, possibilities that got more and more practical as the hour-plus proceeded. First I was thinking, a last-time-at-NYU Sobaya splurge? ($9, but with tax and tip...) Then: Dos Toros? Then: Two Boots is so close and oh, how vividly I was picturing their plain slice. Those who were paying cash (still robes, not pizza) could go to the front of the line. Not happening to have $80 cash on me, I figured I'd just wait. Wait, while silently dreaming about this slice of pizza.

And then, finally! I'd made it nearly to the front, and someone came by to ask if anyone was getting a PhD, JD, etc. I thought I was in for some VIP treatment - that is, five minutes shaved off the month I'd been on this line - but no. The news was, they'd run out of these robes, I'd have to come back tomorrow.

On the plus side, Two Boots's plain slice was as good - and as cheap - as I'd remembered.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On wrote-juvenilia-before-things-went-viral privilege

Someone (who may read WWPD, and if so, should feel extra-encouraged to respond) favorably linked on Facebook to Simon Waxman's plea that major publications leave college op-ed writers alone. Waxman - just like yours truly! - knows what it's like to have published less-than-stellar essays while still a student, for an audience of other students, or at most, profs who know full well that you're still learning how to construct an argument, etc. Back in the day, stuff may have gone online, but there wasn't social media, there wasn't this "viral" capacity. You could write nonsense, that nonsense might even make it to physical print, and Time still wouldn't hear about it.

Anyway. This is something I thought about quite a bit before - and after - deciding to respond to the Tal Fortgang debacle. After all, my objection to parental overshare is in part that a young person shouldn't be forever known for his or her most embarrassing moment. Isn't this sort of the same?

No, I ended up concluding, it's not. There wasn't space to get into all these concerns in my earlier article, so, here goes: A 20-year-old who writes and publishes an essay, and consents to its (and his) further promotion, isn't the same as an 11- or 16-year-old whose ostensibly private remarks are put into a major publication by a publicity-minded writer parent. Nor, for that matter, is this the same as the "Apple store lady" viral video, or the other, similar situations, where a low moment in someone's day, week, month, or even - apologies to that crap 1990s sitcom - year ends up surreptitiously recorded and posted online, so that the whole world can tell this person having an off day what an evil, entitled person they surely are. We're talking about adults, who are choosing to present views that are their own. There has to be a cutoff somewhere, and unless we go the whole 'the brain only fully develops at 40' route, most college-student articles are fair game. At least as much so as small-time blogs written by (presumably) adults of unspecified age and education level, blogs that will periodically find themselves ridiculed on Gawker or whatever. At least a writer for a student publication imagined some audience.

Yet, at the same time, it does kind of suck that this is now a thing. Not so much in Fortgang's case - he seems to have more than consented to the publicity - but that other, less confident, if technically adult students can now end up viral at what could well be their intellectual low points, students who may hardly even have a conception of what it means for their classmates to read their article, let alone the world. So? How to deal with this ambiguous category of text?

This, though, seems more an issue of etiquette than - as with parental overshare or turning private moments viral - ethics. Factors like how big of a platform someone has, or, if an item has been published, if it's a student publication, should play at least somewhat into whether or not something oh-so-outrageous gets a take-down, and if so, what form that takes. It's sort of... bad form, if you're someone with a tremendous platform and endless experience, to react to a piece in a college paper as if it were Kristof's latest. You also don't want to be patronizing and assume a student will think otherwise once older - chances are, the student will think the same but be better-able to articulate these thoughts. But maybe, if you are going to respond to one of these items, especially if you're doing so for a large audience, it helps to make it very clear that what you're responding to is by a student, in a student publication? It can't hurt.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The catch

Here's a new one: I found the perfect, most flattering dress at Zara. Fabulous, almost space-age style, yet flattering in shape and color. Under $50. Really, truly, wardrobe-revolutionizing gorgeous. One of those rare mass-market items that might have been tailor-made for the person trying it on.

The problem? From the moment I put it on, I developed a kind of splotchy rash on my neck, right where the fabric touched my skin. Then, the longer I had it on, sort of developing all around that area. It was snug in the neck, but so are turtlenecks, other shirts I own. This has never happened to me before, and isn't something I'd ever heard of happening to anybody. I suppose there are fabric allergies, but my only known allergy is to cats; how would cats make their way into a fast-fashion dress? (If you have to ask this question...) Whatever this condition was, it faded not long after I'd put on my own clothes and left the mall. (Yes, the mall - what, is a Zara on a big city street that much better?)  

So? What was this? Google is not bringing me to stories of others allergic to dresses, Zara or otherwise. This doesn't appear to be a thing. The dress, according to its label (no record of it of any kind online, as far as I can tell), is mostly polyester and part stretch material - nothing bizarre. Could it be the dye? Is there any other possibility?

I could see the temptation of deciding, princess-and-the-pea style, that this means I'm allergic to cheap clothing and simply must wear only the finest, but this item cost more than most of my existing clothes, so whatever it is, it isn't that.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

YPIS 8.0

After obsessing about YPIS since forever, I finally had a chance to bring YPIS 2.0 (more like 8.0, I suppose) to an audience. I'd been wanting to write such a piece for so long that it was getting to be a bit like, in grad school, when I had this project going about a really neurotic 1840s half-Jewish anti-Semite, but it didn't quite fit with what ended up being my dissertation topic. But that earlier project kept fascinating me, so I presented it at a conference as more of a stand-alone, and was pleased to have done something with it, even if it didn't end up being quite as extensive as I'd imagined. So, too, with YPIS - no 10,000 word manifesto (not this week, at least), but something I'm pleased with. I'd been searching for the best angle, and then a privilege controversy fell into my metaphorical lap.

And, in case anyone was losing sleep over this, why didn't I bring up the Jews-and-white-privilege angle, which is a topic I've obviously given a good bit of thought? I left that out because nothing in Tal Fortgang's essay really addressed this. He wasn't saying that being Jewish makes him any less white in America today. He wasn't making any claims about Princeton being a place where, unless you're Mayflower stock, even to this day you're considered lesser-than. He discussed the Holocaust, yes, but put it into a kind of generic struggling-white-immigrant narrative.

And I guess the best I could come up with would be that you can't have it both ways. Either you feel that being Jewish is a form of marginalization, in which case the "white privilege" charge is inappropriate (or less appropriate than it would be for someone white and non-Jewish), or you think (white) Jews are just generic white people these days, in which case your objections to the expression "white privilege" have nothing to do with your family's past encounters with anti-Semitism.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Japan time

Mixed feelings about jet lag. The level of pre-10am productivity was kind of unprecedented; the fog of exhaustion that hits around 3pm (and the awake-for-the-day feeling at 3am) is maybe not the greatest. Since I'm still on Japan time, since my dreams are still set in Japan, some more Japan recommendations:

-Get the rail pass. (Ours was for one week, so once we got to Tokyo, we didn't travel around anymore - a shame, given the interesting places in that area.)

-Accept that if you take one of the trips recommended in Lonely Planet, you'll in effect be on a group tour with the many other Westerners who have what seems to be the only guide book to Japan.

-Go to Kyoto! This part especially.

-Go somewhere in the area (the train trip was so gorgeous), but maybe not Takayama itself. There's a very cool walking path with temples, but the main streets and side streets are touristy-trinkety, and the town's big attraction is a special kind of expensive beef. As in, you'll walk around in search of lunch and there are all these opportunities to spend $50 a person on Hida beef, and end up spending too much of the day wandering around in search of the elusive cheap noodle establishment where you will notice everything on the English-language menu costs more, which you'll know because the Japanese-language one includes photos of the food, but once you've eaten these noodles, what can you do?

-Go to Nara! If only for the deer, and the Buddha, but these two are basically one activity. And be sure to include a spontaneous pre-lunch yakitori skewer. Then get lunch from the train station supermarket.

-In Tokyo, stay in Shibuya. We went with Shinjuku, no recollection why, other than that this was where there was a cheap-enough hotel. From Shibuya, you can walk to Aoyama, Omotesando, Harajuku, maybe even Ebisu or Daikanyama, the Gwyneth-endorsed L.A.-like neighborhood with maybe as many apricot poodles as people. From Shinjuku, you can walk to... other parts of Shinjuku, including an alleged Koreatown less impressive than the one on 32nd Street (or, for that matter, in Edison, NJ), and a nightlife district (the Golden Gai) where you can't actually enter any of the places unless you're a regular. They just look like cafés, not private clubs, so if you're wandering around the hotel looking to get dinner, this can be slightly disconcerting. But wherever you stay, be near a subway or JR line.

-There are (at least) two big fish markets. The famous one, Tsukiji, is kind of complicated - first you read you need to arrive at 4:30am to line up to watch the tuna auction, then that you should really only get there after 9am when they open up more of the market to tourists. Depending where you're at in your jet lag, I suppose, you can take your pick, but if you're not in Tokyo for that long and want to do things other than watch the large-scale selling of fish, you probably want to choose. The market itself (I wasn't up in time for the auction) is quite something (so many types of unusual seafood! so many fish heads to dodge on the ground!), if a weird tourist activity because clearly the men working at the densely-packed space are annoyed at all these tourists getting in the way. I mean, when I shop at a farmers market, I'm annoyed if a tourist is spending an hour taking just the right picture of an asparagus spear I'd like to purchase; these men seemed, rightfully, that much more frustrated.

But the market is clearly meant to draw tourists, given that there's another attached tourist activity, the "outer market" with sushi restaurants (and this random cheese shop, and opportunities to purchase - practical? souvenir? - rainboots like those worn in the market). These you have to line up for, San Francisco-style, to get your "sushi breakfast," which by the time you reach the front of the line will be your sushi lunch. This we did - sashimi-and-rice bowls, technically, and not sushi - but it may not have been worth it. For the same meal but far cheaper and (I'd argue) better, with relatively little wait, you can go to Ameyokocho, which isn't a giant wholesale market, but more like... a Japanese version of Manhattan's Chinatown? Whatever it is, it's fantastic.

-Drink Yebisu, a beer that may or may not be available elsewhere.

-In Kyoto, eat yuba. And just tofu generally.

-Beware the cover charge. Some restaurants have them - or maybe one is to think of these places as bars with food, since this seems to be a thing in bars. This was true in Tokyo and Kyoto, and it can kind of sneak up on you because all it is is, a place tells you, sometimes after you've sat down, ordered, eaten, that oh, by the way, however many yen per person are added to your bill. Not sure how to avoid this, short of buying meals in supermarkets or department-store basements. So, do that, or get someone better-versed in these matters to show you around.

-Buy the pretty skirt you see on the winding Cat Street because you're not going to find anything like it once you're back home. (Oops.)

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Of "The Goldfinch," "Gossip Girl," and "Girls"

And now, the airplane reading: Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Click on the post title for spoilers and more.

Memories of yuba and more

Prior to going to Japan, I'd never been to Asia, unless you count Israel, which I suppose is like saying (also true) that I've never been to the South, unless you count Florida. What I knew about life in Japan came largely from time spent in Japanese pockets of New York and (far more briefly) San Francisco. In other words, all I knew was that I was very keen on seeing the place. I had very little idea what to expect.

My husband and I just spent nearly two weeks in the country, visiting Kyoto, Takayama, and Tokyo. (Also a half-day in Nara and a couple hours in the Nagoya train station.) After sleeping through much of yesterday, I want to record some of what I saw, while the memory is still fresh. Assorted, somewhat food-centric observations from a newly-suburbanized American below:

-Temples, shrines, deer, snow monkeys, gardens, flowers, bamboo, mountains, streams. I'd expected this trip to be more of the bright lights, big city variety - which it was, for the Tokyo part - but maybe life in the woods has taught me to enjoy nature and quiet? That, or this was all of it so different from anywhere I'd ever been that it felt really (pardon the corniness) magical. Tokyo? Also different, but Shibuya Crossing, the subways, etc. are, for someone used to lots of commuting in NYC, not quite as surprising. And the rush-hour subway? If anything slightly less sardine-packed than the rush-hour 6 train. I was pleased to be in a city, but not as overwhelmed by it as The Western Tourist is expected to be.

-The trains. Oh the trains! Getting home involved NJ Transit's worst performance to date, thus highlighting how fabulous they are in Japan. And the train stations! I had one of the best meals of my life in the Tokyo train station - a salmon and salmon roe rice ball followed by a pain au chocolat. (This was breakfast. I'd be surprised if I can still button any of my pants after this trip.)

-The food in Japan - and you notice this most in the train stations, given the contrast with, ahem, Penn Station - seems to be uniformly excellent, in a way it's really not in the States or, for that matter, in Europe (with the exception of Belgium - thinking now of the Liège train station and its waffles...). I mean, you can have a stellar multicourse Japanese meal from basically any convenience store. There may be nowhere convenient to eat the meal in question - Japan isn't too big on benches - but the food itself is plenty accessible. Along the same lines, you can have a cheap meal on a tourist street and even that will be spectacular - high-quality, etc. - and I'm thinking specifically of a particular bowl of udon noodle soup with yuba I had in Kyoto, after seeing the snow monkeys.

-All kinds of random New York places have Tokyo branches. Dean and Deluca, fair enough (if kind of surprising), and Krispy Kreme (that Penn Station favorite), but Sarabeth's? Doughnut Plant? I saw a (Japanese) man in a kind of run-down market area in a Zabar's hat and had to Google and make sure that this, too, didn't have a branch nearby. I saw him, I might note, at a sashimi place where I was tucking into a rice bowl with something on top that wasn't technically lox but tasted quite like it.

-French bakeries as good as or better than Paris, everywhere. One as good as Invalides next to our Tokyo hotel. This was not planned, I swear. And not super-fancy tearooms or something - regular croissant places. Gontran Cherrier, sigh. Branches of Paris-based shops, and seemingly homegrown versions.

-Vegetables, meanwhile, appear to play a very minor role in Japanese cuisine, at least in terms of percentage of the meal. There are noodles, there's rice, there's fish, occasionally a vegetable or two under lots of batter. A tiny bowl of pickles, a few slivers of scallion. That, or vegetables are just eaten at home, and thus unavailable to tourists.

-Two items are really expensive in Japan: coffee and cheese. Cheese, fair enough, two weeks without (save a couple barely-detectable slices in a sandwich chosen for its vegetable content) probably did me good. But coffee! I'd read a post in 2011 about hip coffee in Tokyo and was like, gosh, I will never in my life see these places, but a girl can dream, and so, upon actually being in Tokyo, I sort of thought, I'd better. Sightseeing, not just a caffeine habit! But coffee in Japan - or at least the parts of it I saw - seems to start at $4 a cup. There are exceptions (including a shockingly good iced latte from a convenience store - as in, with actual ice - that was under $2), but if you want to, for example, sit (which you will if you've been walking all day), you have to pay up. Your best bet? Bridge Café and Ice Cream, where, for $5.50, you can combine dessert and coffee cravings in the form of an affogato. Best part was, I hadn't even looked it up, just stumbled upon it at precisely the moment of kitchewares shopping (it's on that street) when it was most appreciated. Omotesando Koffee, which I had read about, was also excellent, but more limited in the seating department. (Two small benches outside in a pretty but also minute garden.)

-Shopping! My plan had been, within budgetary reason, to buy all the clothes in Japan. I didn't quite do this - I got a formal-occasion dress, and that was it. For various financial and size-related reasons (such as, my feet are too big for the women's shoes of Japan; I'm a 7/5/8 U.S., so there's a good chance yours are as well), I think it might be for the best if I take my style inspiration from things I saw in Japan, while doing the actual shopping/styling of existing wardrobe back home. That, and it turns out I do have a limit when it comes to department-store-shopping, even exciting Japanese department stores. Eventually enough is enough, and I kind of don't care to see what's on the seventh floor of yet another building devoted to the sartorial so-very-now. But I very much want to dress like many of the women I saw, who had this kind of ultra-feminine diaphanous sparkly business-wear thing going on. Always with at least a low heel, and accessories. Actually going to Japan changed my idea of what Japanese style consists of. Which is to say, it of course consists of a range of looks, of which I only saw the smallest %, but there's... I guess a Tokyo equivalent of the Passy or St. Germain women of Paris. This is now the goal; I am also, at the moment, wearing Target sweatpants paired with an L.L. Bean fisherman sweater, so, no promises.

-My window-shopping limit does not extend to kitchenware shops (there's a whole street of them!) or drugstores. Or department store food halls. Or - although these were tougher to locate - regular supermarkets. It still frustrates me that I wasn't able to purchase and bring home the entire contents of this one supermarket in a residential area of Kyoto, one that had this huge tofu section. Didn't end up buying anything there (tofu being, after all, tough to bring home) but oh, what a place!

-Plastic food. Many, many restaurants have plastic models of the food in the window. Very realistic ones, although models of for lack of a better word Western food - main courses, at least - tended to look like vomit. (Stew, tomato sauce...) This seems to be Japan's colorful way around the fact that visitors can't read the script, but there's probably a better explanation. You can also buy the plastic food from wholesale markets as a souvenir, but it's wildly expensive. A shame, too, because there were these models of soba noodles with chopsticks suspended in mid-air.

-The bathrooms! Fancy bidet toilets even in public restrooms. Not just department-store public. (Although one upscale department store's included a poster I probably should have photographed, with intricate instructions on "how to wash your buttocks.") Street-facilities public, too, and at least one temple. Buttons next to the toilet that do everything, even play music. Heated toilet seats. Toilet lids that rise when you enter the bathroom. And - moving beyond the toilet - mirrors that don't fog in the shower, but only partially, where your face is reflected, so it looks like some kind of magic. Special bathroom slippers in public restrooms. You half-expect that there will be a 'full head-to-toe makeover' button in one of these bathrooms, complete with a personal stylist from some Bravo show.

-Masks. Why are maybe a third of people in a crowd at any given time wearing a medical mask? Googling offers an array of answers - everything from germophobia to the mask as something akin to a veil or headphones (i.e. a culturally-specific way of staying private in public). All I know is, when I arrived at Newark Penn Station only to confront what had to be the most intense artificial-butter-popcorn smell ever, I started to wish I'd purchased, as vs. wondered at, that "grapefruit mint" scented one.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Friday, May 02, 2014

Japan adventures

In Kyoto, apricot poodles go on temple tours.

The tofu section of a seemingly ordinary, residential-area Kyoto supermarket.

Snow monkeys! As the guidebook promised, the humans, not the monkeys, are in a cage.

How not to be attacked by a deer, Nara.

Yuba hot-pot, Kyoto.

Somewhere between Nagoya and Takayama.

Takayama soba.


Miso beef on magnolia leaf.

"Cooking With Dog"-esque kitchen of Takayama noodle shop.

The only affordable restaurant in Takayama?

Omotesando-area poodle

Shibuya department store.

Mountain vegetables.

Daikanyama-area shiba inu.

Yanaka, Tokyo.

Self-service udon, Tokyo.

On not passing

There are two ways Americans visit France. One is as unapologetic tourists - the proverbial fanny pack and white sneakers, at least until that look was rechristened "normcore." The other involves trying to pass. Who does this? Expats and study-abroad students, fashion types and... I'm thinking of a scene from "Two Days in Paris" where the guy who isn't Ethan Hawke is all cringey at his compatriots. Because for Americans, France is Paris, and because Paris is a big, diverse city, it's really not all that difficult for most of us to pass if dead-set on doing so. Sure, there are always the juniors abroad who, despite the newly-acquired scarves and cigarettes, can't help but look like the robust, athletically-inclined American college students they are. And then there's the question of passing once you've opened your mouth, which even a doctorate in French won't guarantee. But overall? Passing is, at least, conceivable.

So I just got back from Japan. (Which was all kinds of trip-of-a-lifetime fabulous and must be discussed over multiple posts; this is just the beginning.) A country where I am the general dimensions of the average woman (or was when the trip began; then I found the source of better-than-Paris croissants...), where my natural hair color is approximately that of the entire population. Most of my clothing comes from a store with branches all over Japan, that sells many of the same items worldwide. But there was no question of passing. No outfit, no language knowledge, would change this. I am instantly, visibly not Japanese. As are Chinese tourists, for that matter - it's not even about East Asian vs. not East Asian. This is, I suppose, what's meant by ethnic homogeneity, a phenomenon I can't say I'd much encountered anywhere else. The closest, maybe, would be Leiden, or at least this one part of Leiden, where everyone I saw was not merely blond but the same shade of yellow-blond, and where people at a cafe responded to my husband (whose native language, which he was using, is the same as theirs!) in English.

The usual games, then, aren't what they are in Paris. Even in Tokyo, there's no great danger of people addressing you in a language other than Japanese. There's no searching for off-the-beaten-path authenticity. What one is instead searching for are, I don't know, restaurant/bar type places that let in foreigners? (Not the izakayas of Shinjuku, apparently; the cheap noodle places of the other part of Shinjuku have more of a fast-food indifference to clientele, and might have been good to locate sooner.) And, assuming you don't know the script, menus or department store food-hall stands where it's possible to know, perhaps not what's in any particular dish (strict vegetarians, don't even bother), but whether the meal will cost $4 or $400 a person? (A menu item could be anything from a dozen-course meal to a small piece of meat on a skewer. Plastic models of the food - more on those later - do help, though.) As useful as it is to learn to say a few phrases and to arrive knowing the names of many Japanese foods beyond sushi (thank you, "Cooking With Dog"!), not reading Japanese ends up being quite an obstacle. I would redo my youth and have learned it, but I never thought I'd have the opportunity to go, so I'm not exactly beating myself up over this.

Anyway, while the sorts of immigration policies that lead to homogeneity aren't my favorite, as a tourist, there was something relaxing about not dealing with 'do I pass?' anxieties.