Monday, September 1, 2014

Friday Sound: Babe Alert



I'm going to write an actual post about Barf Troop soonish because they're great.



Lady got moves.



Robyn robyn robyn robyn. Also, Busiswa.



Man, LP1 is a great album and Two Weeks is the entry point. I have been looking forward to Twigs' full album fo'eva and I don't think it disappoints. She is weird perfection. Molly Lambert has written my favourite FKA Twigs piece so far. Go forth and read Smooth Operator: FKA Twigs’ Brilliantly Unclassifiable Debut Album. I group Twigs with the recent wave of nu-rnb female singers and Lambert questions whether that is racist and reductive. I agree that post-internet music generally and Twigs particularly resist simplistic genre classification but there is a group of young, black girls who are creating a new, if not similar then perhaps adjacent, sound and I think that it has strong rnb/hip hop elements. I dunno, I have neither the historical knowledge nor the technical ear to argue persuasively about music but it is definitely something to consider. Follow up link: You Say Hipster R&B, I Say Nappy-Headed Pop. Either Way, It's Offensive.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Begrudgingly Admitting to Autumn





Daria Werbowy for Mango AW/14 via Because I'm Addicted

I have been trying to ignore autumn. It is August. It is ridiculous to be considering coats and jumpers and nine plus months of cold, damp misery. Admittedly, autumn clothes are more compelling than summer clothes but I have been resolutely ignoring September issues. I am nowhere near ready for summer to be over.

British weather is pissing on my denial though. Quite literally. It's cold and grey and wet and awful. It's like sunshine never happened. It annoys me that, like sleep, you can build up a sleep deficit or suffer from SAD but you can't build up a sleep surplus or ration out the sunshine like a solar power battery. Once it starts raining for real everything good and golden is wiped out instantly... Sad times.

A small compensation? Daria. She is the most beautiful, perfect creature and she makes even autumn, with its wet towel skies and cold hands, seem seductive and desirable. The answer, as ever, lies in the knitwear. Textured knits in muted colours, grey marl and scruffy denim. Tousled hair and sharp cheekbones. Soft fabrics and rugged eyes. As I said, perfect. I guess I'll take it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Hysterical Girls: Done and To Do

I saw Richard Armitage (Babe Alert) in The Crucible last week. The play is on at the Old Vic until 13th September and if you live in/around London I would highly recommend catching it. Important Thing I Didn’t Know: the Old Vic does £12 tickets for those 25 and under. It makes the theatre accessible! I wish I had known sooner. London has some amazing theatre but I rarely go because a) I’m not a massive theatre-head and b) it’s normally ridiculously expensive. I have to be enormously invested in a production before I’m going to seriously consider shelling out £50+ for crap seats. I mean, the Old Vic has 360° seating and we were at the back so we saw a lot of bald spots but you’re actually pretty close to the stage and the view is excellent and they do choreograph the play to the space so it wasn’t really a problem.

Anyway, the tickets were a bday present from VB and they were an excellent present because I got to see Richard Armitage shirtless and gnawing the minimalist scenery (I’m very fond of him but I am willing to admit that there were a few points where the overacting achieved comic proportions – aggressive arm flinging and bewailing) and I got to see a very interesting play about which, previously, I knew pretty much nothing. I studied Death of a Salesman at school, no American theatre at all at university and I don’t read plays for fun so The Crucible had passed me by. Pretty much all I knew going in was ‘Salem witch trials’ + ‘Miller theme: the failure of the American dream.’ It was very refreshing. I was not at all prepared for how insane it was going to be.


I’m not going to attempt to analyse the play because lots of people read it at school and even if you didn’t there are 51 years of actual literary criticism at your fingertips but I will say, to quote Mr. West, that shit CRAY. Having not yet read any of the aforementioned criticism I feel far from qualified to talk about the racial weirdness and I am not interested in the religious angsting over whether John Proctor is or is not a good man. Tear your hair all you like, sir, but good men don’t screw their teenage help, make promises and then collude to have them thrown out on the street. I mostly stand with Abigail. What did really excite me and what I think this production portrayed really well was teen hysteria and manic girl power.

As working class (such as it existed in 1690s America) teenagers the girls were disadvantaged by class, education, age and gender but as jury members and apparent ‘innocents’, arbiters of god and the devil, they could condemn anyone to death. They dance naked in the woods and send their fellow townspeople to the scaffold. They writhe and twitch in beautiful synchronisation under the influence of strange spirits and this production, at least, resisted assigning causes. (Obv I need to read the original.) The girls have their individual motivations but as a collective they are opaque. Are their spasms the devil, a sincere belief in the devil or something different? Are they all caught up in the moment or is this vindictive? Are they sensitive and susceptible or are they all contriving to play the system? It’s great.

Hysteria is a loaded term and has been used as both a diagnosis and a criticism to repress women approximately fo’eva but I wonder if it could be reclaimed. There is something so amazing and powerful and excessive about a particular state of teenage girlhood. Own your ὑστέρα (hystera "uterus")! There was an amazing article ages ago about the unique mental state of being a teenager and obsession and fan culture …*Cue extensive internet search – I wish I was the kind of person who remembered names and quotes rather than vague ideas of names and quotes. Is this the internet destroying my memory? Could I once have quoted entire hours of conversation verbatim like Fanny Burney and recited vast swathes of poetry a la all ye olde folkes of yore? My mother’s memory suggests not but I’ve found the article so crisis averted* …  The Killer Crush: The Horror Of Teen Girls, From Columbiners To Beliebers – Rachel Monroe. I’ve linked to it before – SO good.

I love the trope of teenage girls as secret and violent and proto-sexual and obsessive and potent and slightly unhinged. Teenage girls, like any other type of human being, are obviously varied and wondrous things and cannot be reduced to a single idea but this is a fun one and it rings true to me. I had a pleasant and staid adolescence but I still burned viciously inside. I don’t miss that, as such, I am enjoying the (relative) emotional stability of my twenties but I do value the experience. Tumblr, Rookie, the 1D fandom (all fandoms to a greater or lesser extent), Megan Abbott’s novels – they all capture something of the passionate obsession of girls, first hand or reflected in art.


I have written about Abbott’s novels before. I have read Dare Me and The End of Everything. They are intense. She writes the best teenage girls. I would kill for her take on the Salem witch trials but I don’t think she writes historical fiction. [Cue research: Omg, she does! She has five 1930s-50s pulp/noir novels that I had never heard of that predate her current oeuvre. How funny. I’m going to have to look into these.] However, her latest novel, The Fever, looks like it might be an excellent thematic match. Teenage girls in a small community begin to have unexplained seizures and chaos ensues. “As hysteria swells and more girls succumb, a series of tightly held secrets emerge, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security.” Juicy. This has been on my To Read list for a while but The Crucible is officially bumping it up.

In further tangentially related topics:

Louise Bourgeois, Arch of Hysteria – One of my favourite sculptures. It’s beautiful and terrifying. I saw it at a Bourgeois exhib at the Guggenheim a few years ago but I think there are a couple of versions so keep an eye out for it.



Hysteria (2011) – Man, this film about the invention of the vibrator is proper silly but it’s also kind of watchable in a lobotomised kind of a way. And it's streaming on everything. Maggie Gyllenhaal is delightful.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Article Reading Group: The Struggles of Ladydom

I had ambitions to write a grand, overarching narrative for these links or, at least, a piece of semi-coherent, interconnected prose à la my last Article Reading Group post. Buuuuut… I haven't got round to it and if I don't post them now I'm going to forget everything about them.

I was gonna be all ‘I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR’ or rather ‘I AM A WOMAN AND THAT IS EXHAUSTING AND SHITTY A LOT OF THE TIME IN OUR SOCIETIES BUT I’M TRYING TO POWER THROUGH’. Less catchy though, I’ll grant you. These links capture just some of the many and varied ways in which ladyhood can be crappy. Some of these seem (are) more obvious and horrendous than others but they are all contributing factors. Ultimately/ideally we need to fight domestic abuse and the crippled self-esteem of teen girls and unfair pay and restrictions on abortion access and the exploitation of women’s bodies from the sex trade to pop culture and the lack of women in positions of power and and and ad nauseam. None of these problems invalidate each other. The patriarchy must be crushed on all fronts, yo.

Miss American Dream - Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Case in point. This is an extended piece about Britney Spears in Vegas. It’s amazing. It is about both Mz. Spears, herself, her strange life and our obsession with it, and the weird world of long haul Las Vegas shows. Celine! Shania! Bizarre. It is pure pop culture and it’s fascinating. But it’s also about Britney the single mum with alimony cheques to pay and children to fly home to. About the physical demands of a big show and our expectations of women’s bodies. About how we have all fixated upon and judged this woman’s decisions for the last fifteen years and how absolute the scrutiny of women in the public eye can be.

I Don't Care If You Like It - Rebecca Traister. This blew up on the interwebz a couple of weeks ago but I think the original rebuttal is still worth reading. If you missed it, some moron at Esquire (srsly, Esquire, you are all over the place – amazing link coming later. Get your shit together) wrote a piece celebrating how a glorious new age has dawned in which women in their 40s can be attractive and that he’d totally fuck some of them, you know, the hot ones. *Take a time out here to slam your head against the nearest hard surface until you pass out* Obviously this is super dumb and doesn’t even need a takedown but Traister expands the immediate ‘STFU, A-HAT’ response in important ways. She writes about how constantly women are judged - their appearance, their behaviour, their lives - and details a tasteful selection of examples. The endless conversations about Hillary Clinton's appearance, the media and the authority's responses to date rape and assault on campus, the American crackdown on the availability of contraception. She argues that the "very barometer by which female worth is measured—from the superficial to the life-altering, the appreciative to the punitive—has long been calibrated to “dude,” whether or not those measurements are actually being taken by dudes. Men still run, or at bare minimum have shaped and codified the attitudes of, the churches, the courts, the universities, the police departments, the corporations that so freely determine women’s worth."

Prey - Kathleen Hale. This Hazlitt essay was published whole sale in the Guardian weekend mag a few weeks ago so some people might have caught it there. It’s beautifully written if, unsurprisingly, grim. Hale was raped on her first day of college and in the aftermath of the assault became obsessed with dangerous animals. It says awful things about our world that I initially put off reading this because I couldn’t face ‘another rape story’ but I would recommend powering through if you feel a similar depressed twisting in your stomach. Hale is philosophical and discursive and the American legal system + the minds attempts to protect itself are very interesting. Obv trigger warnings abound.

Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain - Leslie Jamison. This is an amazing, slightly bonkers, looong essay. It is quite academic but also aggressively personal. Speaking of trigger warnings – anorexia and cutting off the top of my head. Jamison sprawls magnificently through female pain in art and literature and her own experiences. She differentiates between pain, hurt, suffering and trauma. She tries to reconcile the way in which female pain has been fetishized, manipulated, turned into a motif and a cliché, and the simultaneous truth of that pain – if she can find a truthful way to express her own, real pain. She talks about The Glass Essay, which I love, and is very interesting about Plath, who I liked as a teenager but struggle with today. It’s all very smart and intense and thought provoking.

The Abortion Ministry of Dr Willie Parker – John H. Richardson. See, Esquire? You can do great gender friendly journalism. I mean, it’s a pity that at my time of reading the header for this excellent article included large colour links to ‘Chrissy Teigen Does a Little Yard Work (and Goes for a Swim)’ *sigh* but let’s focus on the positives. Dr Willie Parker is a full time, travelling abortionist who, among other clinics, works at the Pink House, the last abortion provider in Mississippi. The state is trying to close the clinic and it faces daily harassment from pro-choice protesters. He puts his life in danger to help women exert control over their bodies. He has dedicated himself to reproductive rights and his commitment and stories, questions and concerns of the women he helps made me feel pretty weepy. I do not understand America. The profile is totally supportive of Parker and, I felt, non-critical of the women involved. It details the legal development and is very open about the abortion process. Excellent. Read it.

Man, those are such great articles… High fives all round.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Internet Food

I am rubbish at photographically recording the food I cook and eat. In fact, I'm pretty confident that there are more examples of my bemoaning this failing  than there are actual, passable pictures on this blog. I can live with that. I'd rather eat my food when it is perfect than photograph it. I was going to say something grandiose about valuing pleasure over beauty but I'm not sure if that it true/applicable...

Still, I made a quick meal the other night that was really aesthetically pleasing and right up the interwebz' street. I don't live and die by my food being pretty, I'd rather it tasted great, but would you look at that:


Isn't it lovely?? It has everything the internet loves - vegetables on toast, vegetables that have been artfully griddled, fresh herbs, clean colours... The works. This would totally fly on Instagram. Not that I have Instagram (is that something we need to discuss? I don't think my life needs Instagram. My smartphone isn't very smart and I think one image-based app is enough and I'm always going to go Tumblr over Instagram because Tumblr is hilarious and overflowing with cat gifs and smart people and interesting debates as well as the nice pictures) but I know my avocado-on-toast.

Anyway, dinner was as fast and delicious as it was attractive so I thought I'd share. Obviously this isn't very complicated but god knows when I last put up any kind of recipe so here goes.

Ingredients:

  • An amount of good broccoli: tenderstem, purple sprouting, young tips, whatever. Enough to cover as many pieces of toast as you want to make as thickly as you like. V scientific, I know.
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh red chilli for seasoning your greenery.
  • Ricotta: I used two parts ricotta to one part goats' cheese. This was light and springy. I arguably could have taken more goats' cheese (100% for example) but I am a bottomless pit for goats' cheese and I appreciate that it would have overbalanced the fressh flavourz.
  • Goats' cheese: a soft, easily crumble-able one.
  • Lemon: juice and zest.
  • Sourdough: N.B. I actually didn't have any sourdough because my life is hard. *sniff*
  • Basil oil: I made some basil oil for another recipe earlier in the week and this stuff is hardcore. It was, I think, 80g basil, three garlic cloves and 200ml olive oil. I was just absently following the recipe and I didn't question the ratios. Man, this is the kind of garlicky that tastes spicy and will not be removed with toothpaste. It is intense but it's also basically amazing and it will kick whatever you dress it with up a whole other level.
  • An 'erb to dress: I used parsley because at some point in the process of becoming an adult and realising I adored coriander I noticed that I also liked parsley. It's no coriander but it's pretty good.
Recipe: (15 mins?)
  1. Season your broccoli.
  2. Griddle your broccoli. I mean, you could grill it instead but I have a beautiful new griddle pan and I just want to griddle all of my foods. Griddled broccoli is GOOD. Make sure that any woody bits get most of the heat. Cook until your thickest stalks are tender and you have some delicious burnt stripes.
  3. While your broccoli is a-griddling, mash together your ricotta, goats' cheese, lemon zest and juice (so I got five servings and a good balance of flavour out of 250g ricotta, 125g goats' cheese, the zest of one lemon and the juice of half a lemon) and salt/pepper to taste.
  4. Toast in the toaster.
  5. Toast > dairy confection > griddled vegetroubles > basil oil > herb.
  6. Eat.
It's good shit, man. Also, after six months or so of reading Bitches Gotta Eat (I know, I know, late to the party but think of the archives!) I feel like I should quit writing anything about food ever. I cannot compete. Ms Irby wins at everything.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Sunday Book: Summer Holiday Reading (of a sort)

As per usual, my suitcase travelling to Italy was 75% Book. Sure, there are these new-fangled gizmos called “e-readers” and tablets and what-have-you but I like a clear, physical statement of priority. I want my holiday to be 75% Book too. I don’t need extra clothes or spare shoes or fancy makeup – when all you’re carrying is two t-shirts, a pair of shorts, a pair of plimsolls, your basic toiletries and a supply of clean pants you have room for a travelling library. (Wheels are the key.) And holidays over the last few years have repeatedly proved the superiority of paper books over tablets. No matter how great the battery on your device eventually you will forget to charge it/it will run out at the most inopportune moment. Bright sunshine? No problem. Maybe the Paperwhite has that covered but what about reading on a lilo? Epic gin & tonic spillages? Pickpockets? I think not…

I don’t tend to go for This Summer’s Big Beach Reads but I think I managed to pull off a particularly unlikely combination of books this year. Nothing says poolside reading like essays and violent rape, right? These felt like a very disparate selection of books as I read them, the styles vary wildly, but taken as a whole there are actually some strong connecting themes – race and womanness particularly. Man, it is just such a pleasure to gorge yourself on books in that uniquely holidayish way.


Boy, Snow, Bird – I am on a major Helen Oyemi hit. I read BSB and the impressively weird Mr Fox back to back and White is for Witching is on my To Read list. She’s just great. Lyrical, unpredictable and deeply odd. I love how she plays with folklore and fairytales. BSB twists the Snow White story in small town 1950s America. Boy is the daughter of an abusive rat catcher, Snow is the daughter of the distant man she starts seeing, Bird is Boy's own daughter. There are lots of daughters and strained parental relationships. There is the weight of American racial history and politics and the emotional effects of passing. It is beautiful and slightly surreal and it felt very fresh. More here: the Rumpus review by Anita Felicelli.

Signifying Rappers - The first of many DFW essay collections on my To Read List. I still haven't got around to reading any of his fiction but he is a perfect essayist. I hadn't realised before I picked this up that it was effectively juvenilia - written by DFW with his room-mate when he was still a PhD student in 1989 - and the slim book is scruffy and imperfect but it has its own charms. I mean, it's about rap for one thing and I love me some rap or, rather, I love some rap and I'm interested in its history. The artists and events in the book pre-date by birth! A lot of them were alien to me but I quite liked that. White boys talking about rap is always/almost always kind of ridiculous and at this point DFW still had a tendency towards awkward academic idioms, long words and clumsy ideas, but despite all that the earnestness and enthusiasm is sweet. Ok, so you need to be keen on both rap and DFW to get much out of this but I suspect there's a decent overlap there. Also, it's very short. More here: the Guardian review by Nikesh Shukla.

The Newlyweds - This is closer to "tea towel fiction" than I would generally go for but I had A Reason to read it. Bangladeshi Amina wants to move to the States but can't afford college, even on a scholarship, and American George wants a docile wife. They meet online and the novel chronicles their courtship, Amina's hopes and expectations, the pressures of immigration and the tensions between Amina and both her new husband and her parents in Bangladesh. George is dead weight, he is a boring character and my personal interest in straight white male angst is remarkably low, but luckily we don't spend much time with him. Although it would be easy to do so, the novel rarely veers towards cliché and the characters and the decisions they make feel very human. Of course, this means that most of the decisions are shitty and I spent at least the last third of the book restraining myself from knocking my head against a wall but that's people for you... More here: the NYT review by Mohsin Hamid.

An Untamed State - Roxane! Roxane! Roxane! I pre-ordered this book forever ago and it sat on my coffee table waiting for an opportune reading time. Everything I knew about it suggested that it would need some dedicated time and that it would be ill-suited to Tube reading. This impression was correct and then some! Man, this book is gruelling and traumatic and tragic. Perfect holiday fun really. I doubt there is anyone left on the internet who needs a plot summary but Miami lawyer Mireille is visiting her parents in Haiti with her American husband and toddler when she is kidnapped for ransom. Her father refuses to pay and she is brutally and repeatedly assaulted. That sounds pretty grim and it is but the pacing is excellent and Mireille is very compelling. You know from the first sentence that she survives and, for me, the most moving section was after her return to America and her attempts and failures to respond to her experience. It is a page turner and I cried solidly for at least 25% of the book. That might not sound like much of a recommendation but it's an impressive book.

Broken Homes - No. 4 in the Peter Grant series that I have written enthusiastically about before. I just think they're great. Funny, sharp, quick. London and magic. Actual holiday reading. And, bonus, an impressively realistic, casual depiction of this city's racial makeup. Literary London is so often either White or very tightly focused on a single ethnic community whereas these books look far more like any given bus. My only criticism of this particular title in the series is that it ends on a cliff hanger which bugs me. I have really enjoyed the procedural + development model of the series so far, a discrete adventure/mystery with ongoing character development and long view relationships, and I like to get a clean narrative hit off a quick book. Still, the next one is already out so I just need to track it down.

Treasure Island!!! - Well, this was bat shit crazy. Nice to have an indie press on the list though. This actually came to me via Roxane and the excellent article she wrote on unlikeable heroines (which also yielded the more enjoyable Dare Me). I'll let her summarise... "In TI!!!, an unnamed narrator becomes obsessed with Treasure Island and decides to live by the book’s core values as she sees them: BOLDNESS, RESOLUTION, INDEPENDENCE, HORN-BLOWING. She is completely self-obsessed and never considers the consequences of her actions as she selfishly moves through the world and tries be more like Jim Hawkins—as she ultimately tries to create her own adventure. [...] The wit is sharp, perfectly executed, and the tone is relentless and consistent from the beginning of the novel until the end. Levine is as committed to the narrator and the depths of her narcissism as the narrator is to Treasure Island. Each time you think the narrator has reached the apex of self-absorption and narcissism, she discovers new heights. Each time you think she might show her family or Lars a little compassion, a little tenderness, she stays the course. There is no redemptive arc here." I can't say that I enjoyed the narrator's psychotic behaviour or her disregard for others in the same way that Gay did but there is a gender imbalance in representations of obsessive destructive arseholes in fiction so bring it. More here: the HTMLGiant review by Roxane Gay.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Issue 21: Garden Heart

Oh Comely - Issue 21

The latest issue of Oh Comely is out now and somehow it's Issue 21. Time Flies. The issue is garden themed and I wrote a piece about my childhood garden, rural upbringings, nostalgia and green pastures, the claustrophobia of cities, all of these things. There are interviews about rooftop gardens and bonsai trees and allotments. There's a piece about Lady Charlotte Guest and a great interview with Dan-Rad. He's so tiny and delightful. I am very fond of him.

There are also a couple of my older pieces up online if you can't get hold of Issue 21. I hadn't re-read them since they were published and it was interesting (admittedly, probably only to me) to see how my writing has developed over the past few years. It doesn't feel like it most of the time but progress happens slowly.

Butter Chicken - This remains one of my favourites. Who needs dignity??

Tantric Dance

Irrational Crushes

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Sound



"Stevie Nicks was the first woman I ever heard say she had chosen not to have children because she cared more about her career. The first that ever warned me men might not like it if there are things more important to me than they are. The first that ever said that that was fine: sometimes, you have to leave them behind. Wherever she goes, she surrounds herself with girls. “I can’t imagine you in a bathing suit,” someone says in an interview for Rolling Stone, when Stevie says she likes to play in the pool in her backyard. “Yeah, well, you never will,” Stevie says. “There is never - ever - a man in the backyard. If there is, he is banished to the front of the house.” Men don’t get to look at Stevie Nicks unless Stevie Nicks wants men to look at Stevie Nicks. In her songs, even when she’s talking about how she has to change, she proclaims her power, her ability, her worth. She is a queen, she is a witch, she is a dragon, she is in control. She isn’t polite. She’s competitive. She’s bossy. She claimed all the things the men around her claimed — she spent as much money as they spent, had as much sex as they had, was as reckless as they were, stood at the front of the same stage — and never questioned that that was her right. The world tells us women are there for men, but despite all the boyfriends and the jokes about how she’s so easy and the sex-symbol status, she isn’t there for men at all. She does it without ever giving in to the men that dismiss her. She’s emotional. She’s dramatic. She raises her voice as much as she can. She thinks she’s pretty, she thinks she’s a star, and when her fans crowd up to the edge of the stage, crazy, she welcomes them, with open arms. She revels in it. She’s too much of a girl for you? She revels in it."

Stevie Nicks is a queen, a witch, a dragon



To Do List: Learn this dance.



Melancholy goddess of forever.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Summer Don't Last Forever

So I'm back from a blissful fortnight in Italy. I may or may not have had to be dragged onto the plane kicking and screaming. It is hard to say goodbye to blue skies and empty days and exemplary food. I read a ton and caught up on some much needed sleep and wallowed in the sun from sensibly shaded coves. There were olive groves and medieval cities. Real life struggles to compete.


The Duomo in Siena. 100% excellent Catholic insanity. I didn't take any photos inside but, man, it is great.

Obviously I didn't schedule any posts during my absence. Partially because I was (am) busy and lazy, partially because I am struggling to maintain my enthusiasm for blogging. The blog is dead, long live the (micro) blog? I mean, I think it is fair to say that blogging is over or, at least, that blogging has peaked. The age of the blog has passed. Email newsletters are pretty good. I am still online but it is becoming harder and harder to find the time to blog and follow individual blogs. Feedly, as much as I like it, is no Google Reader. The death of Google Reader killed the blogging star, or was is dead before then? Perhaps it is just my personal apathy. It is a hot night. I hope it is just me. I like the blogging community and I like the space and flexibility blogs. I don't want to blog for the blind sake of it but occasionally there are things I want to write but blogging is about being actively engaged and is there any point in blogging sporadically? I don't know, I don't know. This is no kind of retirement but it has been concerning me.

On a more positive note, some Italian recommendations:

  • Oltrarno: I have been to Florence many times but somehow I have never stayed south of the river. This was a hideous mistake! I never want to stay anywhere else. Bloody hell, Florence is packed with tourists in July but the Oltrarno is a (relative) relief. It is quieter, there are silent shaded streets and beautiful piazzas and there are many excellent places to eat.
  • Piazza della Passera: This little piazza has everything you could possibly need. 5 e Cinque is a lovely, predominantly vegetarian restaurant with good wine, excellent melanzane alla parmigiana and hummus (!! in Italy, I KNOW). Caffe degli Artigiani does perfectly serviceable tap wine and nibbles for aperetivo in the evening sun, Gelateria della Passera has great ice cream in a decent range of flavours (although, it was particularly noticeable on this trip how generally conservative the ice cream choices are in Florence - delicious but safe. I will try to do a full report for Repeat Scoop but I didn't take photos or notes so it isn't going to be my most accurate offering) for after dinner. You never have to leave...
  • Il Santo Bevitore: My favourite restaurant in Florence (not including pizza, man, we had some excellent pizza in Florence). I have come back here on two consecutive trips and I can say that the quality remains excellent. Busy but not raucous, great design, very friendly and helpful staff, excellent wine, excellent food. Book ahead. The cured meat is exemplary, the 'nduja pasta is a menu staple and is hot (spicy) and delicious, there was a slight delay with our bill (that we barely noticed being more than one sheet to the wind) and they gave us complimentary dessert wine. If money was no object I would have come here pretty much every night. As it was, a perfect special treat. 
  • This rabbit ragu: Not strictly Italian but rabbit is so so available in Italy, in all butchers, supermarkets and restaurants, that I always associate it with the country. R cooked this recipe one night and it knocked my socks off. 10/10, would eat every day.
And now I have cheered myself up. Excellent. Thanks, Italy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Article Reading Group: Merits, Privileges and None of the Above

I have been reading a lot recently about meritocracy. About the tech industry, about smart people and superiority and the myth of specialness. Janet Frame, who I had never come across before, wrote a perfect, perfect short story called Prizes in 1962 that feels like the most fitting response/clarification/conclusion to my reading material and my own reactions. Nothing is ever new. Well, I suppose the current financial success of technocrats is new but the privilege of the few is old indeed. Miranda July, who I admire as an artist even if I do not enjoy all of her work, read Frame’s story aloud for the latest New Yorker Fiction podcast and I would highly recommend listening to it, even if you read none of the other links.

I should preface the following by acknowledging that my familiarity with the tech industry, its figureheads, culture and history, plus pretty much all of the technical details behind the technology of ‘tech’, is limited at best. Still, you don’t need to be a genius or an insider to know that Marc Andreessen is basically (technically) a butthead. You just need to browse his Twitter feed. An introduction: this man has made huge amount of money in the tech industry but it’s fine because he’s smart and he deserves it and tech innovation totally helps The Poor™. Maria Bustillos calls bullshit pretty eloquently for the Awl. The price of fridges may be down but cheap fridges won’t help people to escape poverty (Andreesson also fails to acknowledge the human cost of cheap goods). To succeed like Andreessen you need education, extended access to technology beyond fridges, free time, self-belief, the support of the people around you (be it teachers, family or industry connections) and probably a plethora of other basic requirements that I (unfortunately matched with Andreessen by my skin colour and privilege if, hopefully, nothing else) can’t even imagine/don’t think to name. To believe that you have earned your success when the odds are stacked so heavily in your favour is insane. Bustillos quotes from a 2001 Guardian article by Michael Young (on my To Read List) that almost, ha, almost, makes you nostalgic for the aristocracy:
If meritocrats believe, as more and more of them are encouraged to, that their advancement comes from their own merits, they can feel they deserve whatever they can get.
They can be insufferably smug, much more so than the people who knew they had achieved advancement not on their own merit but because they were, as somebody's son or daughter, the beneficiaries of nepotism. The newcomers can actually believe they have morality on their side.
So assured have the elite become that there is almost no block on the rewards they arrogate to themselves.
Perhaps it is incongruous to introduce The Case for Reparations alongside a (pseudo) profile of a rich, white tech dude. Or perhaps not. Everyone who is likely to read Ta-nehisi Stoatss extended essay (feature? Article?) for the Atlantic has already read it, I’m not going to change any minds, but I would be remiss in my duty as a blogger, internet user and human being if I didn’t add my voice to the chorus of recommenders. Also, I think it is relevant and arguably parallel to the Andreesson takedown. Poverty is not a choice and African Americans are disproportionately affected by all the barriers to entry that prevent America from being a truly meritocratic land of opportunity. We are our history and Coates traces the many oppressions that have culminated in the violent, impoverished ghettos of Baltimore. Andreesson’s wealth and success exist within the context of sharecropping and redlining and gang violence. It exists in a mirrortocracy, a financially successful industry (like other financially successful industries) that disavows prejudice but demands a secret handshake, while a whole race struggles against the restrictions instigated and maintained by the (white) privileged.

The specifics of Coates’s essay are American, I don’t think there has ever been mandated redlining in the UK (let me know if I’m wrong!), but we pioneered the Atlantic slave trade and profited from the plantations. Besides, privilege is hardly an American phenomenon. Britain has a world of class and race issues of its own (among other things) nurtured in the fine historical pastures of feudalism and colonialism. As a white girl from a moderately affluent family I have benefitted from these privileges and I must strive to remember that. It is difficult because when life feels like crap these benefits don’t seem meaningful or even noticeable but they are real and these articles are important aides memoire for when I am being stroppy about my own displeasures.

Like Janet Frame’s narrator I won prizes at school. Well, I didn’t actually, I never win prizes, but I did get good grades and positive reports and a sense of promise. It is the same mind-set; work hard, be rewarded, feel good about yourself. School was neither a particular pleasure nor a walk in the park but I left it with the expectation that hard work was rewarded. Never a more privileged belief, I suppose. Adulthood has, so far, proven more complicated and success more elusive than I was lead to expect. This shit is nebulous. The prizes were empty but I don’t want some glossy domestication either.  I don’t know how you escape the pit or if it is somehow presumptuous and entitled to even try. There are times when my twenties have felt like a series of disappointments and that’s rough but then I feel guilty because most of those disappointments are still privileges. They are luxury disappointments. The guilt is probably good and my life is basically pretty sweet.

I don’t know. I don’t know. Being a person is hard. I should probably read more.