Participation in activism during the ’60s rendered chaos in any individuals’ lives. People sacrificed sanity, well being, life. Nina Simone was a free spirit in an era that didn’t really appreciate a woman’s genius. So what does that do to a household, and a family? Not because of income, but because of your soul not being able to do what you need to do.
One of many striking things about What Happened, Miss Simone?, the documentary now available through Netflix, is how it doesn’t impose itself. The story is told through interviews and footage: as a girl, Nina Simone wanted to play Bach at Carnegie Hall. She was rejected from the Curtis Institute because she was Black, and began singing in a nightclub because she had to. She married a man she loved, who beat her and worked her “like a dog,” and under his management she built a career. After all she had to bear, and all she had to bear being Nina Simone, she had to leave America, and she talks about the joy she experienced living in Liberia. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, who went to live with her for a time, talks about her mother’s abuse. Kelly executive produced the film.
On a gut level, I think many if not most of us do believe in story tropes, which we absorb like basic shapes: things improve through hard work and suffering, and people act for one reason or another, and in all cases people do harm because they choose to. And I think it’s very easy, especially for those of us who see the narratives of struggle without having to live it, to believe that honor yields its own rewards.
“I want to shake people up so bad that when they leave a nightclub where I performed, I just want them to be in pieces.”
“I’m sorry that I didn’t become the world’s first Black classic pianist. I think I would have been happier. I’m not very happy now.”
“The next day I phone a friend who’s both Neapolitan and a psychoanalyst to see what she thinks. ‘The pizzaiola is right,’ she says. ‘A marinara is not a marinara if you add mozzarella. But,’ she adds, ‘she was wrong to say she would make you a margherita with garlic because margherita with garlic doesn’t exist.’”
—“Pizza has taught me that logic can be subjective and that subjective logic can be cultural.”
The Caesar is the most popular; the Cobb has its devotees; and I’m sure somebody must love a Waldorf, but the Greek is my favorite in the pantheon of classic American salads. Crunchy raw vegetables, theoretically juicy tomatoes, raw onion, dried oregano, and the salty/sour punch of feta cheese, olives, and maybe capers or pickled peppers—it’s a powerful, flavor-forward salad that’s hard to mess up.
Like many other classic American dishes (ground beef tacos, spaghetti and meatballs, General Tso’s chicken), the Greek salad is a domestic creation with a vague reference to some other country. It is common to find excoriations of the American Greek salad that claim that a dish called horiatiki (pronunciation is close to whore-YA-tee-kee) is the truly authentic Greek salad, the one Greeks love, the reason that any real, authentic, Greek person from Greece and not America would look at an American Greek salad and think, “Pah! This is not authentic!” (Horiatiki is a salad of roughly chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, and sometimes sweet green pepper, with feta cheese, olive oil, olives, and oregano. It has no lettuce.) Ahhhh, authenticity.
On the other hand, there is no such thing as authentic food. The concept requires that all cuisines from primarily non-immigrant countries be thought of as static and unchanging, which of course they are not. Dishes are created all the time, even in countries with much longer culinary histories than ours. Existing dishes are modified. New influences change the way people eat. Regional specialties overlap, mingle with each other.
When you talk about traditional or authentic food, it’s also important to remember that basically zero world cuisines were unchanged by the introduction of New World ingredients in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It took some cuisines an extra couple centuries to figure out how great corn, squash, chiles, potatoes, and, especially, tomatoes are. Greece was one of those. Tomatoes weren’t introduced to Greece until the beginning of the nineteenth century, and then a civil war further postponed widespread adoption, so it wasn’t until the late nineteenth and even early twentieth centuries that tomatoes became really popular in Greece, despite the fact that they grow readily in the sunny Mediterranean climate.
“We always have a salad, this is a thing you always have at the table,” Aglaia Kremezi, a cookbook author, cooking school instructor, and one of the world’s foremost authorities on Greek cuisine, told me. There are many ancient Greek dishes that we would recognize today as salads, one in particular taking shape thanks to the needs of farmhands. “In the original village kind of salad, it was a lunch you could take in a box and eat in the fields,” Kremezi says. You’d have a pepper, a cucumber, some cheese, some onion, and, importantly, some bread. You’d chop it all up and have a meal, right there in the field. The farmhand salad, which does not really have a name, is fairly similar to a Lebanese salad called fattoush and an Italian salad called panzanella. They all use some form of stale bread-like product (the Greek version uses paximadi, twice-baked barley bread that has a texture similar to a biscotti) to soak up liquid from a fresh vegetable salad.
Greek cuisine shares some similarities with western European cuisines like Provencal and Italian, but in many ways it’s more similar to the cuisine of Turkey, with which it shares a short border. As in Turkish cuisine, Greeks often start a meal with an array of small salads and plates—you’d have some cheese, some savory pastries, some salads, each one a separately prepared mini-dish that’s served all at the same time for you to pick and choose. These mini-dishes, when served in this way, are sometimes called meze, like the Turkish version, and sometimes called orektiko.
Horiatiki was not one of the salads Kremezi grew up eating, because it didn’t exist until the mid-nineteen sixties. “When you sat down at the tavern, you ordered tomato salad and feta cheese, and then whatever else you wanted to order,” Kremezi says. Tomato salad, sometimes with cucumber or onion, sometimes not, was its own dish. A big slab of feta cheese (sheep’s milk only, or if you must, a tiny bit of goat’s milk, says Kremezi), covered in olive oil and dried oregano, was its own dish. Olives, too, were separate. Horiatiki takes all of those disparate meze dishes and combines them into one big salad.
Horiatiki was created, and then adopted throughout the country, in response to Greece’s desire in the sixties to be considered a real urban power—a European country, not a Middle Eastern country, like Turkey. Horiatiki is a salad to compete with niçoise. And it showed off so many of Greece’s strengths: phenomenally powerful herbs, strengthened in flavor by having to struggle in the dry, hot climate; truly world-class cheese; incredible fruits and vegetables; and some of the best, strongest, fruitiest, most flavorful olive oil anywhere. If you were an American tourist in 1968 and you had horiatiki at a seaside tavern, your mind was blown. This was some good shit.
To Greeks, it was kind of silly. “My parents were snubbing it, saying this is an overpriced way of serving,” says Kremezi. “And the whole thing backfired, because tourists would order the horiatiki and nothing else. They would call them horiatiki tourists, cheap tourists.” The name is curious as well. In Greek, “horiatiki” means “village,” a term and concept that was anathema in the sixties as Greece tried to appear modern and European. “If you wanted to dismiss something, you would say ‘this is horiatiki,’ to mean, this is not good,” says Kremezi. “So for a salad to succeed with that name, it must have been a great salad!” It was, and is, a great salad, and soon it exploded in popularity all over the country. Now it’s found in any tavern, any resort, or any seaside fish shack in Greece. It’s also found year-round, though to Kremezi, ordering a horiatiki off-season is a clear giveaway that a diner doesn’t know what he or she is doing. “Horiatiki is a summer salad,” she says. “Now, of course, they make it all year round, but if people know their food, they don’t order horiatiki in the winter. In the winter we have the greens salad, mixed greens.”
In the US, Greek salad is a little different. It’s commonly found in diners, in pizza joints, and at any “American food” type chain. It’ll have a base of iceberg or romaine lettuce, feta cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes (sometimes cherry, sometimes sliced), onions (usually red), and a dressing of olive oil, vinegar (usually red wine), and oregano.
This Greek salad, not to be confused with the horiatiki, emerged at around the same time, in the sixties. (There are references to “Greek salad” before then, as early as the nineteen thirties, but these were bizarre concoctions of mayonnaise and cabbage and it’s unclear what, if anything, made them the least bit Greek.) Greek immigrants flowed into the US in their biggest numbers from around 1890 to 1923, when a law put a cap on immigrants; hundreds of thousands came to avoid the chaos of the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and World War I. Many of those found work, as immigrants tend to do, in restaurants. But Greeks, for whatever reason, managed to connect with Americans by creating or co-opting two very important American restaurant types: the diner, and the pizza joint.
Greek immigrants disproportionately ran both; most New York City diners, for example, are owned by people of Greek descent. Greek immigrants also found notable success in the pizza world. The inventor of Hawaiian pizza is a Greek guy who immigrated to Ontario, and the owner of the famous Mystic Pizza hails from Greece as well. Greek restaurant owners, while catering to the tastes of their new home, also inserted a few elements from home onto their menus, most notably in the Greek salad, an American riff on the concept of combining a whole bunch of Greek classic items onto one plate. With the success of both diners and pizza joints, generations of Americans have grown up with the Greek salad as a nostalgic touchstone.
There is no true Greek salad; horiatiki, aside from being only a few decades old, is also as fluid as any other dish. Some versions, says Kremezi, include herbs like purslane, a lemony succulent that’s also common in the northeast US, or rock samphire, an herb which grows out the sides of cliffs above the Mediterranean. Some might include sweet green peppers. She always includes capers. But what I found most interesting is what she doesn’t include: vinegar, and olives.
“In Greece we never add vinegar. Why do people add vinegar? Tomato is quite sour,” Kremezi says. “Why do they add vinegar, balsamic vinegar, these things? It’s beyond me.” She finds, as well, that olives, being very salty, throw off the balance of the salad. “Feta is already quite salty,” she says. She’s right; I never thought about it, seeing the Greek salad mostly as a salty and acidic kick in the teeth to balance out some greasy pizza, but it is not a particularly well-balanced salad. Kremezi’s version, though, is.
The basic elements of a good Greek salad are fairly uncomplicated. You need good tomatoes, in season. Heirlooms are perfect. This is a limited-edition salad, only ideal for a few short weeks in the summer, because you need top-quality tomatoes: they’re going to be supplying both acid and sugar. Get nice cucumbers (Kremezi likes either English or the curved, ridged Armenian type). Good quality fancy olive oil, preferably a heavy, fruity one. Good feta cheese—Greek, or Bulgarian, made of sheep’s milk, packed in brine. God help you if you buy pre-crumbled grocery store feta.
An underrated key to the Greek salad, whether American or horiatiki, is in the herbs. In Greece, most herbs and greens are gathered wild, and are powerful and unusual because of it. A jar of McCormick dried oregano is not really a good substitute. But fresh oregano is very easy to grow in pots, and absolutely delicious. Oregano is a key ingredient in Greek cuisine; Kremezi says there are more than twelve different varieties, all used for different things in different parts of the country, and that the best stuff is the wild type that’s never watered and is all the more potent for it. “But the fresh one,” like you would grow in pots, “I like the fresh one,” she says. “And I think it adds a very interesting touch to the salad. With the feta it’s very ideal.”
And with that, we’re ready to do the recipe. It’s simple, direct, all about the ingredients. This is my recipe, not Kremezi’s—you can find hers here, and I’d highly recommend reading more of her recipes over on her site (or buying her books on Amazon). But it’s influenced by what I learned from her.
Shopping list: Heirloom tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, red onion, fresh oregano, olive oil, black Russian bread or pumpernickel, purslane, sheep’s milk feta
Slice bread into cubes, about an inch on each side, and put in the toaster oven to toast. When they’re done, let them cool and dry out—we want to simulate stale bread here. Put into a big bowl. Carefully slice tomatoes into large chunks—irregular if you want, this is a rustic salad, go nuts—but do it over the bowl, so as not to lose any juice from the tomatoes. Slice cucumbers in half lengthwise, then chop into fairly chunky half-moons. Slice red onion thinly, and mince a lot of fresh oregano. There is no substitute. Get fresh oregano. Do the same with about as much purslane leaves—it’s not quite as strong as oregano, but you want its flavor to be less dominant.
Toss all this in the bowl, and carefully crumble a lot of feta in there. Pour on more olive oil than you think you need. Toss gently and let sit for about half an hour, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with olives on the side.
I will continue to get a Greek salad, with shitty hothouse tomatoes, olives, maybe anchovies, maybe hot peppers, and definitely lettuce, with my pizza, because I love it. But Kremezi’s version is a different type of salad, one that for me is as exciting as any new recipe I’ve tried. It’s not authentic, but it is delicious.
Photo by Alpha
I collect songs about shipwrecks and other maritime disasters, including mutinies, desertions, ghost ships, naval battles, pirate attacks, and as in one prototypical Decemberists song, murdering your nemesis after being swallowed by a whale. So far, I’ve compiled a list of more than fifty songs (with many variations on each). The best shipwreck songs contain some universal elements, which you would do well to include in your own maritime disaster tune.
1. Select a maritime disaster. The most popular era for singable shipwrecks is 1830-1910. The most recent wreck on my list is the Captain Torres, which went down in 1989. James Keelaghan’s song of the same name is tremendous, yet the fact that the grieving families are still alive today compromises the guiltless thrill of romanticizing the distant dead.
2. Your song should be named “The Wreck of” followed by the name of the ship. Don’t get creative.
3. Take the name of the place the ship is heading, then add the suffix -town. The Bay Rupert was on course for Melbourne-town; in “The Wreck of the Caspian,” Boston-town. In “The Wreck of the Ellan Vannin,” one of the very greatest disaster songs, “Her hold was full and battened down/As she sailed towards far Liverpool-town.”
4. But aren’t you really going—to hell? In “The Wreck of the C.P. Yorke,” “though ’twas the mate stood watch at her wheel/’Twas the devil that guided her way.” In “Whaler’s Cove,” an otherworldly whale conspires “to send us whalers straight to hell.” In “The Wreck of the Ellan Vannin,” the line “this little ship was bound for hell” is absolutely thrilling, and Richard Hawley really nails it on the delivery, too.
5. What is the ship’s mission? Be very specific here. The Edmund Fitzgerald was “coming back from some mill in Wisconsin” and “concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms/When they left fully loaded for Cleveland”—“with a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more/than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty.” The Ellan Vannin was delivering the mail. Other doomed ships were carrying cargo, exploring the poles, or ferrying emigrants. But the absolute best reason to go a-sea is to hunt whales, because now your song has whales in it.
6. A single misstep leads to tragedy. In “The Wreck of the Brother Jonathan,” the ship was overloaded. On the C.P. Yorke, “the mate was alert/for sight of the marker ahead/But he cut ‘er too short coming out of the Pass/And grounded on Tattenham Ledge.” “The skipper he was reading Climax,” a pornographic magazine, when he “missed the channel in the dark” and sank The Green Cove.
Other times, the captain ignores fair warning. In “The Wreck Of The Isidore,” a sailor named Thomas King said “‘Captain, hear my tale/I have had a terrible dream, I fear that we should not sail.’” He continues, “In my dream our ship was wrecked, and all aboard were lost/Then another sailor he spoke up loud said I too have had such a dream/Of seven coffins on the shore, my own dead face I have seen.”
7. The cook cannot be lucky. He may predict disaster, as in “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” or struggle to accept it, as in “The Mermaid.” In “The John B. Sails” (recorded by The Beach Boys as “Sloop John B”), he goes mad. “The poor cook he caught the fits/and threw away all my grits/and then he took and he ate up all of my corn,” which is excellent, even if the chorus (“this is the worst trip/I’ve ever been on”) sounds like a bad Expedia review of a Carnival cruise. “Our cook in the fore-rigging froze by the fiercest wind that blew,” the first fatality in “The Loss of the Antelope.” Six months after the wreck of the Maggie Hunter, “the cook was found floating near the shore . . . A hatch, a boom, a broken spar, the drowned woman’s pale dead face,/of that stout craft and gallant crew remained the only trace.”
8. Include a lot of technical detail about the wreck. The best shipwreck songs could double as formal incident reports. At minimum, every shipwreck song must mention the exact date of the wreck, as well as the time of day, a rough time line of the incident, and the number of men and women who died. The men and women must all be referred to as “souls.”
In “When the Willie Went Down,” “The pilot stood upon the bridge,/but how was he to know,/the Sinclair tug that crossed her bow held a barge in tow, and the cable cut the Willie, and it opened up the hull, on the night when the Willie went down.”
Here you can remind your land-bound listeners just how long it takes to die at sea. In “The Wreck of the Mary Somers,” “the Somers meets with a heavy gale/and springs a leak under close-reefed sail/with her bowsprit gone and her rudder too.” For six days her crew tried to pump the water out, but “On the seventh morn, our pumps did sound,/nine feet of water in the hold was found.”
9. One way to inject pathos is by suggesting the ship was just a few miles from safety when the disaster struck. This is the nautical version of the cop on his last day before retirement. “Less than a mile from the Bar lightship/by a mighty wave Ellan Vannin was hit.” In “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay/If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.” On the Powhatan, the passengers could see the lights on the shore. “Isaac Lewis” is about a young man who sailed the world only to die ten yards from the shores of his home and in view of his beloved father: “And I drowned where as a child I’d fished on the rocks of northern Wales/And in three days’ time I washed upon the whitened sandy shore/100 yards from Moelfre, my father’s wide oak door.” The coast guard was close enough to let the dying men on the Captain Torres place goodbye calls to their families, but not close enough to save them.
10. Use the phrase “watery grave.” If not now, when?
11. You can include a moral, but don’t be a dick about it. The worst maritime disaster songs are the ones about the Titanic, because they are both boring and smug. In Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Moves on the Water,” he incorrectly names the Titanic’s builder as A. G. Smith, singing, “A.G. Smith, mighty man, built a boat that he couldn’t understand,” which seems neither fair nor accurate for someone who did build a giant damn boat, after all. “Old Canoe” asserts, “This great ship was built by man, that is why she could not stand;/’She could not sink’ was the cry from one and all./But an iceberg ripped her side and it cut down all her pride; They found the hand of God was in it all,” which is a hell of a thing to say.
12. The best morals are populist ones. Less preachy than most of its kind, “When that Great Ship Went Down” adds a line about the mistreatment of the poorest among the Titanic. Other songs intimate that the cargo they were carrying was not worth dying for, like the coconuts, spices, perfume, and silk dresses carried by the ill-fated Anna Marie. “The Wreck of the Lucy Walker” concerns itself with a wealthy, prideful captain and his crew of consigned slaves. “Now the boilerman named Jim/knew exactly how much steam/that it took to keep Lucy running smooth.” The captain insists they go faster to impress his fellow steamboat tycoons. When Jim refuses, the captain pulls a gun on him. Jim leaps off the boat, saving himself, before a boiler explosion sinks the ship: “With all those dollar bills, Rich Joe couldn’t escape the mighty river’s jaw.”
13. But sometimes, there’s nothing to blame but the the endless, indifferent sea. The “Isaac Lewis” declares, “Man has tamed and shaped the land, he’ll never tame the sea.” For “The Wreck of the Julie Plante,” the lesson is, “You can’t get drowned on Lake St. Claire so long as you stay on shore.”
14. Add a little mystery. “They might have split up or they might have capsized/They may have broke deep and took water,” sings Gordon Lightfoot. In “Lady Franklin’s Lament,” the narrator says, “In Baffin’s Bay where the whale fish blow/The fate of Franklin no man may know/The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell/Lord Franklin alone with his sailors do dwell.” In “The Schooner Persian’s Crew,” “In mystery their dooms are sealed; they did collide, some say,/And that is all that will be revealed until the judgment day.”
15. Don’t try to be funny. While there are a few notable shipwreck songs with humorous elements, including “The Wreck of the Athens Queen” and the parody song “The Wreck of the Mary Jane,” a true folk disaster song should be delivered in utmost sincerity and sobriety. The sea is not the place for sarcasm, my friends. It’s a shipwreck, show some respect.
16. Bitter irony is acceptable, however.
In “Captain Torres,” the narrator, a sailor’s wife, muses: “How strange this world of wonder:/ships sailing, planes flying,/sound sent at speed of light/phone calls from young men dying.” In “The Wreck of the Bay Rupert,” they set off with a load of goods including “a dozen score of Bibles.” She goes down on a Sunday morning, “And the town was all at prayer,/but no missionary minister or the word of God,/Could have kept them there.” Eventually the “Eskimos” [sic] salvage anything of value, saying “to hell with all them Bibles.”
17. The best shipwreck—the best folk songs in general—conclude with the protagonist explaining that though he may die, his spirit will live on, as long as he is remembered/avenged. I include “The Highwayman” on my maritime playlist even though only one of its verses concerns the sea, because in only seven lines, Kris Kristofferson hits upon nearly every key element of a good maritime disaster song, concluding triumphantly, “when the yards broke off they said that I got killed/But I am living still.”
18. Though it contains no maritime tragedy, I would be remiss not to mention “Willie Taylor,” the keystone entry of my forthcoming play list Songs of Maritime Triumph. Briefly: a young woman and her lover are engaged, but before they can be married he is pressed into service and shipped off to sea. She disguises herself as a sailor (by lightly dabbing her fingertips with tar) and goes to find him, when a single button accidentally pops off her jacket, baring her breasts to all assembled. Unfazed, she asks to see her man. The captain informs her, “If you’ll get up tomorrow morning/Early as the break of day/There you’ll spy your Willie Taylor/Walking along with a lady gay.” She follows his advice, returns the next morning, sees Willie with his new bride, and immediately shoots him dead. Impressed by her decisiveness, the captain proclaims her the new ship’s commander.
Everything about this song is perfect.
Crudités—raw vegetables for dipping—are, I think, a good example of the typical American meal’s grudging inclusion of vegetables. “Well, we have all the food we actually want to eat, but it feels like we should have some vegetables. How about some, I don’t know…celery. With ranch dressing to make it tolerable.” There’s nothing exactly wrong with celery dipped in ranch dressing—actually, it’s pretty good—but the usual array of carrots, celery, maybe some broccoli, and cherry tomatoes, pre-sliced and brought home from the grocery store in its own sectioned plastic container, has some serious room to grow.
Because, really, there’s nothing about crudités that would stop them from being delicious and impressive, especially now, in the peak of summer produce (“peak peach,” I call it), when crisp summer fruits and vegetables are so good that sometimes you just want to eat them raw, or prepared as simply as possible.
Many, many cultures have their own variations on the vegetable platter; some, especially in northern climes like Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, lean heavily on pickled vegetables. In the Middle East, especially Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, and Syria, the mezze platter is an intensely laborious, complex collection of mini-dishes, from salads and stuffed vegetables to breads, cheeses, and dips.
But because American cuisine is so indebted to western European cuisine, especially that of France and Italy, our conception of the vegetable platter tends to be very French, and come with a French name: Crudités. There are basically no recipes for crudités in any classic French or Franco-American cookbook; neither Escoffier nor Julia Child saw fit to write down instructions for serving raw vegetables, though Julia was known to serve it. I do see fit, though. In this way I am better than Escoffier.
For the purposes of this column, I’m going to restrict the concept of the vegetable platter to the very simple “raw vegetables with a dip.” Partly that’s so I don’t run out of things to write about, and partly because there’s plenty to deal with right there.
The most important step in constructing a crudités platter is choosing the vegetables. Summer, especially here in the Northeast, is entirely too brief, and the seasons of individual items of produce is sometimes limited to mere weeks. Given that we’re going to be eating these items raw, unassisted by the powers of heat and acid and oil, we have no choice but to get the highest quality produce available. That means that you should never, ever make a shopping list of vegetables; the entire game here is to buy the absolute best stuff you can find that day, and eat it as quickly as possible.
But there are also many fruits and vegetables that are not, in my opinion, really suitable for crudités. This is a dipping dish, so we have to think of structural integrity: we will be looking for produce that can stand up to being dragged through a thick dip without breaking. Tomatoes are wholly unsuitable for crudités. Members of the cucurbit family (including cucumbers, melons, squash, and gourds) must be chosen exceedingly carefully; many are too delicate.
My favorites are tougher vegetables and fruits. Carrots are perfect. Radishes. Green beans. Sugar snap peas. Mild sweet peppers like bells (which I do not really like in any other context). Jicama. Fennel. Root vegetables like kohlrabi, turnips, and raw beets (opt for golden or chioggia/candy cane, so they won’t bleed into your dip). Cauliflower is nice. And some of the best, oddly, are leaves, provided they have a thick backbone: romaine, endive, radicchio.
Some vegetables are suitable only in very few forms. I don’t much like raw broccoli; I find the florets kind of dry and crumbly. But broccoli stalks are perfect for this. Summer squash is fantastic raw, but there are only a few kinds that are really dippable. Opt for either baby versions that can be eaten whole (they’re a little less fragile whole than cut up) or the tougher gourd-like varieties, which are usually ridged. Cucumbers, same thing: If you can find really small ones that can be eaten whole, great. The problem with cucumbers is that the insides, where the seeds are, are very watery and tend to fall apart. But some varieties have minimal seeds and work well for this. If you can find an Armenian (ridged, curved, weird-looking) or Persian (small, slender, cute) cucumber, grab it.
As far as preparation, you want to make it as easy as possible to dip, which means, frankly, you want something that’s shaped vaguely like a french fry. That’s easy to do for green beans, sugar snap peas, and carrots, which are already kind of shaped the right way. Peppers are pretty easy, too—just slice into narrow strips. For radishes, try to get oblong varieties like French breakfast radishes, which you can either serve whole or, if they seem too big, slice in half length-wise, right through the root. Other root vegetables will take more preparation. Jicama needs to be peeled, and kohlrabi does too, sometimes (though it may not, given that we’re eating them in the summer when the plants are young and tender). Otherwise you want to slice into thick slices, and then laterally into french-fry-like batons.
Storage is another element that people tend to take for granted. Ideally, your crudités should be purchased, prepared, and served within no more than a few hours. Certainly they should not be cut and left overnight; this will cause them to wilt, which will make them both less tasty and harder to dip. If you have to store them, use a ziploc bag with a lightly damp paper towel inside, and press as much of the air as possible out of the bag before sealing it. They’ll last for a good half day like that, maybe even as long as a day.
The other important element for crudités is, obviously, the dip. French crudités are sometimes served with a vinaigrette, which I like in theory but not in practice, because I am a tremendously sloppy eater and it is, like, really hard to get olive oil stains out of clothes. I like thick dips for crudités, because they stick to the vegetable and can be safely transported from dip container to mouth. There’s an infinite number of dips that fulfill this requirement, but my go-to dips are either yogurt-based or some sort of puree. Here are a couple.
Shopping list: Greek yogurt, garlic, lemon, cucumber, olive oil, fresh herbs (dill, parsley, mint, and/or oregano)
Using a microplane, grate one small clove of garlic. Chop up a cucumber into cubes about a centimeter on each side. Chop herbs finely, and use a lot of them. In a big mixing bowl, mix one of the large containers of Fage yogurt, herbs, garlic, cucumber. Squeeze half a lemon’s worth of lemon juice in, and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Mix thoroughly and (this is very important) let sit for a few hours. If you don’t, the garlic will taste overpoweringly spicy and raw. If you don’t have a few hours, skip the garlic. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Yucatecan Pepita Thing
Shopping list: Pumpkin seeds, orange, lime, cherry tomatoes, garlic, jalapeno or serrano, scallions, cilantro
In a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, throw in ten cherry tomatoes, a few cloves of garlic (separated but not peeled; you want each individual clove to still be in its papery husk), a scallion (chopped into inch-long pieces), and a chile pepper to taste (I usually use about half a jalapeno or a whole serrano). Turn occasionally until each item is a little charred and soft—the tomatoes, scallions, and pepper will be done fairly quickly, the garlic may take fifteen minutes—and remove when done. Peel garlic and toss, along with pepper and tomatoes, into a food processor.
In the same skillet, throw in about a cup of pumpkin seeds and let toast, tossing occasionally, until fragrant and a little bit browned, which will take about five minutes. Toss those in the food processor as well, and add a squeeze of orange, a squeeze of lime, and a lot of cilantro. Blend thoroughly and season to taste with salt and pepper. It may need more lime.
Shopping list: Can of chickpeas, lemon, olive oil, garlic, parsley
Drain can of chickpeas. With a microplane, finely grate one small clove of garlic. Throw chickpeas, garlic, and chopped parsley into food processor; add a couple glugs of olive oil and a lot of lemon juice, probably a whole lemon. Blend, adding water as needed to smooth things out. Chill immediately.
A really good platter of crudités is one of my favorite party tricks; it’s something everyone is familiar with and nobody is really scared of, but if you put in a little bit of extra work in selecting your vegetables and making a nice dip, it’s something people will keep going back to. It also happens to be my favorite thing to bring to a park picnic: a ziploc bag of vegetables, a container of dip, and you have one of the best ways to taste the real freshness of summer produce.
Photo by krista
I might tell you that I speak German, but I won’t say that I’m fluent. I can read a newspaper article and hold a conversation on your day, the weather, your opinion on Angela Merkel. But a bureaucratic form or a passage from Schiller will stymie me. I moved to Berlin having only taken German 101 and 102, and so I can also never tell you when I’m using a modal verb or the Präteritum, the simple past tense. I first learned German while living there, mainly from parties and conversations with stoned flatmates, an internship at a magazine where I cold-called business owners and mostly got shouted at. But I would not call myself fluent. I can’t understand a parliamentary debate and anything written before 1930 requires a dictionary.
Still, my German comes out in strange places. I dream often in German, phrases and conversations. I dream that I am looking for the German word for something.
We say “there must be a German word for that” when we land on a particularly nuanced, but universal feeling — arriving at your car to realize you’ve left your keys in your apartment; the half-dreaming moment before you fall asleep when your stomach suddenly drops as if you’ve fallen, and you startle awake. But in fact English has tens of thousands more words than German does; a student I lived with in Berlin was shocked when I told him about the English-speaker’s assumption that German was the language with all the most perfect words that our own language lacks. German doesn’t have many words, to be truthful, it just allows for mash-ups. Thus, the wildly bereft sensation of being alone in the forest, which we must capture in that lengthy phrase, is expressed in a single word: Waldeinsamkeit — Wald, forest, and einsamkeit, loneliness. The concept arises from the tradition of German Romanticism, and therefore Waldeinsamkeit not only alludes to what it’s like to be alone in the German woods, sun-dappled leaves gleaming in the silence of the Black Forest, but also evokes Beethoven’s 9th, Rilke’s appeal to the angels. A culture’s history and its literature are tightly bound within its words.
Be the hare! Or, wait, be the snowboarder? The drone? Be……. the avalanche?
This has been Friday Inspirations.
“One account was called ‘I Am Ass.’ Ass had a Twitter account, an Instagram account, multiple Facebook accounts and his own website. In his avatars, Ass was depicted as a pair of cartoon buttocks with an ugly, smirking face. He filled his social-media presences with links to news articles, along with his own commentary. Ass had a puerile sense of humor and only a rudimentary grasp of the English language. He also really hated Barack Obama. Ass denounced Obama in posts strewn with all-caps rants and scatological puns. One characteristic post linked to a news article about an ISIS massacre in Iraq, which Ass shared on Facebook with the comment: ‘I’m scared and farting! ISIS is a monster awakened by Obama when he unleashed this disastrous Iraq war!'” —Read Adrian Chen on the professional nightmare mercenaries of Russia’s Internet Research Agency.
Any given website has, approximately, a whole bunch of dependencies. Take CodePen. The site is Ruby on Rails. Both Ruby and Rails are actively developed, versioned dependencies. There are a good 30+ gems in the project that help us do different internal things (e.g. process Sass into CSS) and user-facing things (e.g. process user-generated Markdown). Those gems are versioned dependencies. Not to mention front-end libraries we use. Not to mention Not to mention server-level software. Not to mention Node stuff.
It's a good idea to keep those things up-to-date (new features! security updates!), but also to do it on your own terms so you know what's changing and can test accordingly. But how do you know a new version of a dependency has been released? Let us count the ways.
You can always just, you know, look. Perhaps not super efficient, but it does the trick.
In the case of gems, you can run
gem outdated (or
bundle outdated) to see a list of all the gems you have that are behind.
gem update will update all of them (probably a bit heavy-handed for most apps), so
gem update gemname is useful for hitting just the ones you want to update.
In the case of node, there is also a
npm outdated command to see what is old. Then there is a trick where you can change the dependency version in the `package.json` file to "*" then running
npm update --save. Probably even better, there is a package, npm-check-updates, specifically for helping with this process.
If you're using Bower, there is
bower-list which can help you see which of your dependencies are outdated, but it lists everything, not just the outdated ones. Looks like they are discussing improving that.
Sometimes the software you are using has a system for updates already. For instance in WordPress, they are very clear in the admin area when plugins, themes, or WordPress itself needs an update and allows you to do that right from the admin area itself. But WordPress won't tell you if the version of PHP your server runs is out of date, or if your OpenSSL software is old, or if the grid framework you used to build your theme has a new version out.
GitHub repos have a releases section (example). You can get a feed of those releases at a URL like this:
Subscribe to that in your feed reader of choice for notifications.
A feed reader isn't the only way to consume RSS though. You could, for example, get fancy and use IFTTT to send you an iOS notification or an email when a new RSS entry is published (meaning a new version of a dependency has been published).
Sometimes it makes sense to have one RSS feed for all this too. You can use Yahoo Pipes to combine RSS feeds pretty easily.
If the dependency you use isn't on GitHub, or otherwise has no feed or practical way to watch it, you could rely on scraping the screen of wherever URL it lives at on the web to check for changes. The Chrome extension Page Monitor could help with that.
Sibbell is one that came recommended when I was asking around about this. I can vouch for it. We've been using it at CodePen and it's been working great.
You don't have to change anything, just star or watch the projects that you use on GitHub.
When a new release is published, Sibbell will let you know.
VersionEye is another one that works a slightly different way:
VersionEye shows you all supported project files in all branches for all of your repositories. After parsing your project file you can immediately see which dependencies are outdated.
VersionEye currently supports these 10 package managers: Composer, Bundler, PIP, NPM, Bower, Leiningen, CocoaPods, Maven, SBT and Gradle.
Along those same lines, there is also Gemnasium:
Gemnasium parses your project's dependencies and notifies you when new versions are released or they need to be updated.
You can ... be notified of new releases to keep your applications secure and up to date.
Always be careful granting access to your GitHub account to third parties. If you have private repos, they are probably private for a good reason. Any security breach at those third parties and access to those repos could end up in the wrong hands. In the case of Sibbell, it's easy enough to create a GitHub account just for it and star the stuff you want to watch through that. It's harder with the services that watch your dependency files in your real repos.
I'm not saying don't use these things, I'm saying use good judgement and team communication about stuff like this.
Have a homegrown method? Use one of these? Do nothing?
This song is reliable like a good dog. When we, or our audience, suck, we can play this and it’s like a reset button. It was written in Collingwood over the top of a Karen Dalton banjo tune, then transplanted onto a bunch of other chords. The intro is a fudged Townes Van Zandt riff and the outro is something Rui [Pereira] improvised, and I remembered.
The title is poking fun at pop music's penchant for repeating "baby" over and over all day long. I used one of the verses again later in a song on the next album just to see if anyone noticed and thought I was running out of ideas. Some people did, even though it was parked between a bunch of 10 minute songs with forty thousand verses each.
This has the most straight-forward drum beat, but all I hear in this recording is Chris [Strybosch]'s style. Contrary to popular belief, being a real musician is more style than anything. Substance is for tossers. Style is like handwriting, if anyone remembers that. Some people's handwriting just has a certain something you recognise and you like it for that. Rui’s doing a Jimmy Page with a violin bow and Steve [Hesketh]'s outro is just right for a song as burned out and mean as this. Our early aesthetic was pretty much Mad Max's XB Falcon Interceptor: stripped back, pissed off and fuck you. Max’s XB now resides in a Florida car museum alongside the Bat Mobile, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Kit and the Munster's coach. Wait Long By The River... is available in shops.
We got pretty wasted before we recorded this and then improvised a bunch of weird shit and then forgot the chorus. At the end of the song on the master tapes you can hear Chris saying “we sound like a bunch of pissed idiots” which was an epiphany of sorts. We re-recorded it years later with the missing part back in there but this version still pretty good. It has Shepard scales and synth and violin and is too depressing and strange and real for most people, which is cool. Fi [Kitschin] is playing piano and singing along. The next time she played keys was about eight years later accompanying Patti Smith at the Sydney Opera House during 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. She’s picky.
I used an Octavia pedal in this and there’s a line asking Jimi Hendrix if he would have bothered being radical if he’d known people would have mostly been too frightened and dull to do anything except copy him. That’s a big problem in rock ‘n’ roll, now more than ever. Most big leaps forward in rock ‘n’ roll have been African American and why wouldn’t you leap forward if your past was that bad. White people have a harder time with innovation because there’s always the temptation to be fond of the good ‘ole days and be retro. It’s like an opiate, just pick your favourite era and copy it. I’m not saying we didn’t ever do that but we always got some sausage in the sizzle. Or soysage at least.
This sounds like it was recorded inside somebody’s head. I can actually remember Loki putting the finishing touches on the mix and both of us thinking, "what the fuck is this?". We always could’ve done an Einstürzende Neubauten and gone totally weird with everything but it seemed like a better idea to pervert a form from the inside out and launch a surprise attack. This is a good example of us doing that.
I like this one ‘cause me and Rui channel our best Tony Iommi and Johnny Thunders simultaneously. And it’s about some stupid shit: The two best English words are ‘love’ and ‘fuck.’ One is noble, while the other is always useful anywhere, but their reputations are wildly dissimilar. Arts and sciences are best known for trying to glean the meaning of life. No one knows this but I am the world’s greatest artist and an amateur scientist and I reckon death gives life value by making life finite, while fucking makes it all possible in the first place and gives us something to strive for in the interim. Love just fools you into fucking and nurturing things that eventually fuck or promote being fucked. Love turns what is basically a pretty gross and weird genetic trick into our main reason to live which is one of the universe's best jokes. This song is like not laughing at that joke.
Some people say the second last song is always the dud but this is weird, evil and depressing. 5 stars!
This wraps it all up nicely and yet leaves things open for the sequel.
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when New York and also technology started to feel like such a chore. Maybe it was when I urinated in a slim-fit adult diaper while waiting in line for the iPhone 4 for ninety-three hours and pronounced the experience “worth it,” or when I found myself testing out tweets on my wife during foreplay, or when a rat scurried across my face and into my mouth while I was checking Facebook and waiting for a C train that never arrived. But a few weeks ago, on a gray April day, as I ambled by the Duane Reade where my favorite dive bar McHurlihan’s once stood, while joylessly scrolling through my Twitter feed in between reading a saved Instapaper article about how to live in the moment, I realized I had to leave New York and stop using the Internet for a while.
When I moved to Williamsburg in 2002, scraping by in the center of the universe seemed like a grand adventure. I’d drink until dawn at places like The Station, Whirlybird, and JJ’s Good Time Emporium on the Lower East Side (now closed); I’d do lines off the grimy concrete of McCarren Park Pool (now clean); and then take the L to Bushwick and try not to get mugged on my way to a warehouse party (now safe). Instead of staring at my phone compulsively, I’d smoke a cigarette. Inside. I didn’t yet know what a “meme” was. I became passing acquaintances with the guys from TV on the Radio, but I didn’t feel the irrepressible need to share such information with everyone, because social networking hadn’t yet transformed us all into greedy approval-seekers. When I began face-to-face conversations with “I know the guys from TV on the Radio,” people looked impressed, and that was enough for me.
My neighborhood has changed, too. As I occasionally glanced away from my glowing screen to avoid bumping into the twenty-five-year-old hedge funders moving in, I noticed the local color of the place draining out like an Instagram filter. Bobby’s, the mom-and-pop pharmacy that was frequently out of toilet paper but nonetheless charming, was forced to move to Jersey City after its rapacious landlords jacked up the rent a hundred and thirty thousand percent. (The Walgreens that moved in always has toilet paper.) And Zgliewzki, the Polish diner everyone loved (though nobody I know had ever been there) shuttered to make way for Polski, a modern take on Slavic cuisine featuring a forty-two-dollar ramen kielbasa stuffed with sustainably farmed foie gras.
More importantly, my wife and I wanted a family, and thanks to my crippling addiction to Zillow and the Styles section, I knew all too well that a two-bedroom apartment was way out of reach. Friends who had once shuddered at the thought of leaving the city spoke of a happier, healthier lifestyle elsewhere. Some of them even moved to Los Angeles, which they reported didn’t suck after all. During the fifteen-month winter, I became so consumed with jealousy over California Instagram feeds that I deleted the app for seven minutes. The last straw came in February, when, while waiting in a Trader Joe’s line that snaked around the block twice to buy conflict-free hummus, I learned via Periscope that my co-worker Steve had been selected for Amazon drone-delivery beta testing. I teared up and then stepped directly in a giant slush puddle to get into my one-dollar UberPool ride from Chelsea to Eastern East Williamsburg.
That night, my wife and I began scouring real estate listings, and almost immediately warmed to Satchel-on-Hudson, a lovely village two hours north of the city. For a quarter million, which would have gotten us a bed bug-infested closet in the city, we purchased a ramshackle fourteen-bedroom house with a pool, a tennis court, a bridle path, and even former butler quarters, which we could rent out on Airbnb. We have two Priuses, two washers and dryers, a dishwasher, and total peace of mind. Life out here is placid and wonderful, and has afforded me the time and space for things I could never do in the city, like jarring my own salsa and not living in New York. Our Japanese garden is actually planted with the books I told myself I didn’t have time to read. I’m most proud of the War and Peace cacti, which is flourishing.
The same week we closed the sale on our place in Williamsburg, I announced my plan to leap off the grid to everyone I knew, posting lengthy farewells on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Sina Weibo, WhatsApp, GroupMe, Adult Friend Finder, and John Wick message boards. I explained that I wouldn’t be responding to any electronic communication for an indeterminate period of time, so anyone who wanted to get in touch with me would have to pick up the phone and call, or better yet, send me an old-fashioned letter, since they’re inherently more special than emails.
I thought my craving for instant gratification and the big city would be unbearable. And for the first week, it really was. I desperately missed the convenience of email, the immediacy of Twitter, the diversity of the different kind of white gentrifiers on my block, the pizza. And I admit to relapsing once or twice—one Saturday I just took off for New York with nothing but a selfie stick in my hand and the wind at my back before pulling myself together just ahead of the George Washington Bridge. But something funny happened around ten days into my experiment: I slowed down and stopped caring so much. I began not to miss the pinging and the bleeping and the blooping of life in the twenty-four-hour information cycle. Gradually, I even became more attuned to the rhythms of everyday life. In the old days, I’d automatically reach for my phone as soon as I woke up. Now, I meditate for fifteen minutes, then do some recreational roof-thatching while chipping away at Emoji Dick. I feel in tune with my surroundings in new and unexpected ways. Case in point: as I was writing this, a red bird sat on a tree branch outside my office window (I actually have three offices in this house) and I really looked at it. I think it was a robin.
My friends haven’t abandoned me because I’m offline. Just a day after signing off, I got a phone call from my buddy Nick. I had mostly kept up with his life through social networks, so it was nice to actually hear his voice. He told me that his marriage is on the rocks, and that he feels unappreciated at work. Now that’s the kind of thing you don’t get from a status update. My marriage has changed, too. Instead of arguing about what to watch on Netflix, my wife and I argue about which obscure Italian neorealist film to rent from the adorable local video store (we finally settled on The Rock), or which beautiful hiking trail to conquer, or whether to have kids now that we need to fill up so many rooms in our house.
It’s now been a month since I left New York and quit the Internet, and I don’t regret what I did for a second. In fact, I want people to know everything about my life now, but it’s hard since I lost all my followers and nobody gives a shit what some piece of shit from upstate has to say. That’s why I’m writing this letter on parchment paper, and that’s why I’m having it hand-delivered to every major media outlet in America. Because you can quit the city and you can quit the Internet, but you can never quit telling people how much better you are than them.
Photo by Andy Atzert
In 1921, editor CP Scott wrote an essay to mark the centenary of his newspaper the Manchester Guardian — a publication which would later become known simply as The Guardian. Having then been at the helm for nearly 50 years, Scott used the opportunity to reflect on the nature of journalism and what he viewed as its crucial role in the public sphere.
“It is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community; it may affect even wider destinies. It is, in its way, an instrument of government,” he wrote with staggering wisdom and an even more impressive beard.
Amidst all this sprawling discussion of moral values, ideals and ethics, the essay has become historic for one particular sentiment: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. And today, nearly a full century later, those words live on in the paper’s current form. The ‘Comment is Free’ section houses the arguments of hundreds of talented writers aside a staunch portrait of the legendary CP Scott; a honourable vision carried forth through generations.
Now, internet superhero and A-grade human Dan Nolan has fixed all this. In a fit of white-hot genius, this Australian legend has this week successfully tweaked the Guardian‘s age-old tradition to better fit in to our current era of blistering hot takes.
Please send all of the Walkleys to Mr Nolan c/o commentisweird.tumblr.com.
Here’s a nice appreciation of “Father Ted,” one of the greatest “dumb funny” comedies of all time, to commemorate its twentieth anniversary.
Queanbeyan slam poet, rapper and author Omar Musa has had a good year — his debut novel, ‘Here Come The Dogs’, met with widespread critical acclaim, was nominated for the Miles Franklin Literary Award in March and is getting its own US book tour, and poems like ‘My Generation’ have racked up tens of thousands of views on YouTube.
Now Musa has released a new video of a poem he often performs at poetry slams. ‘The Ranthem’ is an angry, poignant, passionate love/hate letter to a deeply imperfect country, a rail against apathy and wilful ignorance, and a challenge to anyone who professes to want real change: go fight for it.
The National Geographic has a piece on how swarming bats avoid crashing into each other:
A new study finds that the nocturnal creatures follow a few simple "traffic rules" to avoid midair collisions: The bats first home in on the positions of other bats using their built-in sonar, then follow the flight path of a leader bat—or wingman, as it were.
And, oh my god, the idea of little creepy bats following traffic rules is so adorable to me. I am imaging little bats staying in their own little bat lanes and stopping at their little bat four-way intersections to give the other little bats the right of way, and they all have little bat bumper stickers that say things like, "My other vehicle is the Batmobile" and "Bela Lugosi on Board" and "Honk if you love echolocation" and wait a second I think I just invented a kids' TV show.0 Comments
It seems like we’ve mostly been using hologram technology to resurrect dead rappers, and while that’s a noble cause everyone can get behind, Spanish activists decided to move beyond musical entertainment and actually staged a protest in Madrid using holographic images.
The demonstrators were challenging a law that would make it illegal to protest in front of parliament buildings in Spain. The holograms were meant to be symbolic of the fact that once the law goes into effect in July, holograms will be the only legal way people would be able to show their dissent.
To become part of the protest, people had to let their faces be filmed by a webcam so that they could later be turned into the holographic projections.
While I commend the symbolism, I’m much more excited about the idea that in the future I’ll be able to show up to a protest while simultaneously doing other, more fun things thanks to the magic of holograms. The future is now people.
— Samuel (@quilombosfera) April 10, 2015
Hologram protest in Madrid against the Gag Law. "As we can't protest as free citizens, we protest as free holograms." pic.twitter.com/mjE9j4SBNe
— Giedre P. (@GiedreP) April 10, 2015
Between the introduction of drone technology, and today’s laws limiting or banning their use, there was a glorious period when you could fly a camera almost anywhere.
These are the results of two years travel with a quad-copter in my backpack.
More info: amoschapplephoto.com
Octagonal city blocks and spacious street corners create a spectacular view. Al fresco beer & tapas in the town become such a delight.
I can’t see what the camera is seeing. People find that weird but I quite like the suspense of not knowing what I have until I get the camera in hand.
Three centuries after the last cannonball was fired in anger at the fort, it now serves as a museum and center of a sleepy farming village in eastern Holland. The low, thick walls were designed to offset the pounding force of cannon-fire.
In the early days (2013) you could fly drones almost anywhere.
Ethnic cleansing went down here in the 90s and areas like this one (near Gali) are now a twilight zone of empty buildings and overgrown farmland.
With tiny little Christians walking round the base.
Security there is incredibly tight and I got busted.
Known to the locals as a “Hill 3″ this knoll jutting above Mumbai’s northern slums is no more valuable than the land below. Access to running water, which the hill lacks, is more valuable than any view.
The barge in the center of the river is packed full of fireworks. An hour after this pic they were sent booming into the night sky to celebrate the country’s national day.
If you look close you can see the ladder. The terrifying ladder which I eventually had to climb.
Built for the soviet pavilion of the 1937 world fair in Paris, the steel masterwork now stands in the suburbs of northern Moscow.
This picture was taken as the Russian stock markets crashed on “Black Tuesday”. Little whiffs of panic could be felt on the street. Moscow never looked or felt more like Gotham city.
Kauri Cliffs golf course.
This clip, from Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, is a pretty ingenious and hilarious distillation of everything wrong with economic reports on TV news shows. It mocks the cliche format that attempts to make compelling television out of the massive, incomprehensible systems that fuck us all over daily. In other words, it’s pointing out the obvious: Economic reports are bullshit. Fun stuff.
The subtext here, if it even needs to be said, is that the attempt to make stock market figures into good television ultimately removes anything meaningful about them, making an economic report not dissimilar to a sports report, at the expense of, say, actually pointing out that our economic system itself is rigged and corrupt and renders humans worthless. It’s kind of like the Generic Brand Video, except way more depressing and hopeless.
With gifts they shall be sent,
Gifts to the bride to spare their banishment,
Fine robings and a carcanet of gold.
Which raiment let her once but take, and fold
About her, a foul death that girl shall die
And all who touch her in her agony.
Such poison shall they drink, my robe and wreath!
Howbeit, of that no more. I gnash my teeth
Thinking on what a path my feet must tread
Thereafter. I shall lay those children dead—
Mine, whom no hand shall steal from me away!
Then, leaving Jason childless, and the day
As night above him, I will go my road
To exile, flying, flying from the blood
Of these my best-beloved, and having wrought
All horror, so but one thing reach me not,
The laugh of them that hate us.
Let it come!
Is it possible to read Medea without getting chills? Long before Taylor Swift faux-dismissed her haters, who are going to hate, hate, hate, Medea gnashed her teeth and shouted to the fates, “Let it come!” Rather than shake it off or preach a milquetoast revenge of living well, she razed her own precious life to the ground. Medea salted the earth and killed her children. She destroyed her cheating husband. And most importantly for this particular article, she murdered her competition with the trappings of royalty. She sent the princess Glauce a golden dress drenched in poison.
Medea was the first Greek play I ever read the whole way through, and that crazy queen has a special place in my heart. When she speaks, anger permeates every sentence; poison seems to seep from the page. Some of the anger is righteous—after all, she was just kicked out of her own home by her husband, Jason, who returns from war with a new, younger girl in tow. But Glauce doesn’t deserve death by dress any more than Medea’s children deserve to be slaughtered.
Medea is not the earliest mention of a poisoned dress in history, but it remains one of the most powerful in Western literature. Similar myths have shown up in ancient Hebrew, India, and modern Europe. According to one Greek myth, Hercules was killed by a poisoned robe that burned his skin and flayed him alive.
Like other narrative arcs that replay over and over in our fairy tales and myths, the poison dress resonates for a reason. Clothing is intended to shelter us, to provide a firm barrier between the squishy stuff of our personhood and the sharp edges of the outside world. Clothing should protect us and shield our nervous parts from the thorns of Eden.
But despite its intended function, clothing is often harmful—particularly to the women who wear it and the workers who make it. Beauty is pain. And it’s a pain that begins far before Glauce tightens the strings on her golden bodice, long before ladies shimmied into their arsenic-laced gowns, long before we stepped into our Forever 21 high heels and stumbled towards the nearest bar. It’s a pain that begins in production.
In falling down the rabbit hole of research about the myth of the poisoned dress, I came across an etching titled “The Arsenic Waltz” from 1862. The satirical image shows two skeletons dressed to the nines. The gentleman stands, hat in hand, and offers his other hand to the lady. Her bony torso rises from a big pouf of a gown, as fussy as a cupcake. On her head sits a mess of silk flowers. “The New Dance of Death,” reads the caption.
This morbid cartoon perfectly illustrates the arsenic hysteria of the Victorian age and the hazardous green dye. Magazines of the time frequently lampooned the cultural obsession with the vibrant, rich hue that went by many names, including Paris green, Poison green, Schweinfurt green, and Vienna green. An earlier green, called Scheele green, after its inventor Carl Scheele, was developed in 1775 using arsenic as one of the main chemical components. The color was further refined in the following decades. The yellow tones were scaled back, resulting in a brillianpure green that is now often called “Jungle.” This bright emerald color was used to taint everything from fabric to wallpaper to candles. Even William Morris, the great pattern maker and leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, used arsenic in his wares—in fact, his family owned the largest arsenic mine in England, so you could say all his green was poison green.
“Some have called the nineteenth century ‘The Arsenic Century,’” says Alison Matthews David, an associate professor at the School of Fashion at Ryerson University in Toronto. In 2014, David worked alongside Bata Shoe Museum Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack to create the exhibition Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century. According to David, arsenic-laced dyes were used in the production of many goods, not all of them gendered. However, “the rhetoric is always directed against the women wearing these dresses and shoes,” she says. “Why did they persist in wearing it? But if you were a middle-class or upper-class woman, you were expected to wear it.” If you find this double bind completely shocking, then perhaps you haven’t been paying attention to women’s fashion and the conversation surrounding it, like, ever.
Although the Victorian media focused on warning men about the risks of dancing (and other, less vertically inclined things) with these femme fatales, the real danger wasn’t in wearing or touching the fashionable items. Sure, you might get an unsightly rash from wearing a dress dyed with arsenic. You might even wind up inhaling small amounts of it. But this was nothing compared to what the seamstresses suffered. “As they ripped green fabric apart, they would inhale everything that came off it,” explains David. She refers to the case of a 19-year-old silk flower maker in London who was killed by her exposure to the poison. “Arsenic can cause skin cancer, among other problems. The things they were working with had long-term effects. Conditions were just horrific.”
While fine ladies suffered from rashes, the women who made these dresses were in for something much worse. Arsenic poisoning begins with headaches, confusion, and diarrhea, and ends with comas and death. In between, you’re likely to experience a number of unpleasant things, including hair loss, bloody urine, convulsions, cramps, liver disease, and lots and lots of digestive problems. It is not a pretty way to die.
“Girl wears new formal gown to dance. Several times during the evening she feels faint, has escort take her outside for fresh air. Finally she becomes really ill, dies in the restroom. Investigation reveals that the dress has been the cause of her death. It had been used as the funeral dress for a young girl; it had been removed from the corpse before burial and returned to the store. The formaldehyde which the dress has absorbed from the corpse enters the pores of the dancing girl.”
- The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand
While poisoned garments were an actual problem of the Victorian age, the myth of the poisoned dress that kills its wearer is most likely just that—a myth. David and her colleagues haven’t found any solid evidence of death by gown, and yet this idea persists. It appeared in the 1998 movie Elizabeth, in which a handmaiden was killed by a gown intended for the queen (a completely fabricated bit of drama). The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends calls “The Poison Dress” or “Embalmed Alive” one of the earliest urban legends noted by American folklorists. Often, the story would include references to a specific department store where the dead girl supposedly purchased her dress. Some believe that the story was circulated by stores looking to discredit their rivals, an early form of particularly virulent viral marketing.
In researching the case of the poisoned dress, I was struck over and over by the repetitive nature of our fashion woes. It’s been hundreds of years, and yet we’re still blaming the fashion victim for the hurts her clothes cause. We’re still buying clothes that are made by workers in conditions that can be accurately called “horrific.” We’re still consumed by a desire to be pretty. To wear the right colors and own the right things. At least, I am.
I said at the beginning of this piece that the myth persists because the poison dresses betray the very concept of clothing. But perhaps the reason it sticks in my gut is because of something even more threatening than the familiar perverted, because that's what the poison gown is—a familiar object made unfamiliar by unseen forces. Maybe this myth—and occasional reality—doesn’t matter to modern readers because it illuminates a primal fear or despicable betrayal. Maybe the takeaway isn’t that that arsenic is fascinating (though it is) or that Medea is kind of awesome (which she is). Maybe the more important point is this: we can’t have nice things, not really. Not without some consequence. Not without paying a higher price.
Katy Kelleher is a writer living in Portland, Maine. She is currently collecting ghost stories. Have a good one? Email her at email@example.com Comments
Hi there. Would you mind if I followed you around with a notebook for the next two years and recorded the name of everyone you had a conversation with, the time, and the location? I also plan on giving this notebook to the police if they want it. But don’t worry — I’m not going to listen to the conversations. I’ll block my ears and avert my gaze. I wouldn’t want to invade your privacy.
Admittedly, this might be a bit of an overstatement of what the new data retention laws which passed in the Senate yesterday actually are, but at least I have your attention, which is good, because if you’re like me and you use the internet a lot, this issue is something you should know about.
These new laws require Australian telecommunication providers to record and store phone and internet records for two years, and also give security agencies access to these records whenever they want, even if they don’t have a warrant. While Greens Senator Scott Ludlum voiced strong opposition, the legislation had bipartisan support, passing 43 votes to 16. This means that within 18 months, your internet service provider will be storing your metadata — information about where, when and with whom you have your conversations — and potentially passing this information onto the police without your knowledge.
The purpose of this, apparently, is to protect Australia from terrorist threats and child pornography, but this comes at the expense of placing the entire population under implicit surveillance. This is the first time in history such broad and comprehensive surveillance has even be possible, and therefore we really don’t even know what we’re getting ourselves in for, or how this bill will impact the very idea of democracy.
As it stands, there is no definition for the word “metadata” in Australian law, and George Brandis, who spearheaded the legislation, can offer you no explanation either. Tony Abbott has metaphorically described it as the envelope carrying the letter, rather than the content of the letter itself and he is right, in a typically old-fashioned sense. Metadata is the information about a conversation — who, when, where — without divulging what the conversation was about.
But an analogue definition of metadata fails in a digital age, because it is much more complicated to separate the who, when and where from the what in an online environment. This is because when we use the internet we’re constantly leaving traces of previously unimaginable forms of identifiable data, not just a name and address printed on the front of an envelope. For instance, according to the new legislation, metadata is your IP address, but not your browser history. And that’s all well and good, but how many Australian citizens know what an IP address is and what type of information it gives away?
This the heart of the issue. Because internet technology is constantly changing, no one knows exactly what internet metadata is. The whole conversation remains confusing and murky, and what we need with this new legislation is transparency and clarity. It’s a shame that this term causes so much confusion because the conversation around data retention is complex and involves more important questions about the future of privacy and anonymity.
In fact, this legislation is so problematic that the guy who introduced the bill into Parliament, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has practically given us a guide for how to circumvent the scheme.
While discussing the threat this posed to journalists on Sky News, he suggested Australians can use overseas communication services like Whatsapp and Skype, in order to avoid detection. He willingly explained that Australian telcos can only track that you’ve connected with these servers, but not who you’re talking to.
Yes, it’s confusing that he would effectively invalidate a new $188-319 million system, but since Malcolm Turnbull’s clearly on board with the idea, here are four other ways that you can ensure your anonymity online.
This is a really simple one. Just use gmail or some other overseas email service to communicate. Or use Facebook or Twitter direct messaging. You probably already do this anyway. There is no way Google or Facebook or Twitter are going to give up their data to the Australian police because of this new legislation, so say whatever the hell you want.
Tor is a browser that operates by bouncing communications off servers around the world to make it difficult to detect the user’s IP address. An IP address is one of the most telling forms of metadata available online. Using this browser in the right way means that security agencies won’t be able to track where and when you’re using the internet.
Added bonus: their logo includes an onion.
A Virtual Private Network uses the public infrastructure of the internet to provide individual users with secure access. Basically, you subscribe to the VPN via a monthly payment, and then your internet activity becomes reliably anonymous. Your data is automatically encrypted at the sending end and decrypted at the receiving end. There are heaps of VPN-like services available for private use, and most will only set you back about $10 per month.
This is a lifestyle choice rather than a paragraph, but there are a bunch of sites that will teach you how to get started. If this is the life you choose, hit me up with some hot tips. Clearly, you’re not going to have any problems with these new laws.
Last week Tony Abbott’s description of remote Indigenous communities as a “lifestyle choice” became Exhibit #11,705 in the planned National Terrible Things Tony Abbott Has Said Museum (opening date est. 2016), and generated a stack of online insta-outrage, including on this website. But Abbott’s mouth-fart inadvertently had bigger consequences by briefly drawing people’s attention to a series of terrible decisions by both state and federal Liberal governments that will see up to 210 of those communities in Western and South Australia being shut down and their inhabitants forcibly moved away.
Most media attention has since been drawn away by the ongoing spectacle of a Prime Minister visibly imploding like a dwarf star, but opposition to the closures of these communities has rapidly grown into a pretty formidable social movement. The last week alone has seen the campaign gather immense momentum; yesterday saw Close The Gap Day rallies in up to a dozen cities around the country, a petition calling on WA Premier Colin Barnett to abandon the closures has gathered over 30,000 signatures, and on Twitter #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA has seen thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, including actors, politicians and sportspeople, lend their support to remote communities.
— Les Thomas (@les_thomas) March 19, 2015
One of the most eloquent rationales for supporting the campaign came from Indigenous actor Mark Coles Smith, who released a video on Facebook yesterday pointing out the immense flaws in the plan to close communities, savaging the political mindset behind it, and noting that the cost of keeping communities open is a fraction of what Australia gives the mining industry in tax concessions each year. It’s since been viewed almost 60,000 times.
As phrases go, “greedy dickheadyphilis” isn’t a bad one to coin.
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There are scores of brilliant women writers worth spending your precious time on. Here we present just 12 of those authors — along with some of the incredible characters they bring to life — in genres ranging from autobiography to suspense to science fiction. So what are you waiting for? Download an ebook and start educating yourself.
Octavia E. Butler
Octavia E. Butler was a trailblazer for women in the science fiction field. She was also the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the “genius grant.” Butler used the hyperbolic reach of speculative fiction to explore social issues including race, sexuality, gender, religion, social progress, and class. For example, in Bloodchild, an alien race uses human males to bring forth their children; arguably no other science fiction story out there packs such a punch about gender, family, and choice. When she passed at a young age in 2006, the whole science fiction community mourned the loss of this genius.
Before writing her breakthrough Robin Hudson series, Sparkle Hayter worked as a reporter for CNN, WABC and Global Television. During the Afghan civil war, she traveled to Pakistan — following the Mujahedin to Afghanistan as a reporter for The Toronto Star. After returning to the U.S. she got married, wrote her first (less than successful) book, moved to Tokyo, got divorced, and lived in the famous Chelsea Hotel. Only then did she write her breakthrough novel.
In What’s a Girl Gotta Do, Robin Hudson is a third-rate newscaster struggling to find love and solve murders in New York City’s East Village. She’s successful, outspoken, and has an unabashed love for the opposite sex. Part Carrie Bradshaw, part Sherlock Holmes, she's no damsel in distress, which is why we love this vivacious, sassy, and sexy sleuth.Barbara Parker
A successful female lawyer turned author, Barbara Parker's Suspicion of Innocence follows Gail Conner’s success as a fast-rising attorney at a major law firm who is about to make partner, when she becomes the prime suspect in her sister’s murder. Gail fearlessly takes matters into her own hands to fight the system that is trying to bring her down. She proves that she’s not one to be pushed around by the big boys in this legal thriller.
Not only is Ruth Rendell a badass who has been pioneering the modern suspense novel since 1964, she's also a bonafide baroness — technically, the Baroness of Babergh — and sits in the House of Lords for the Labour Party. So, it's no surprise that her book, The Crocodile Bird also features two very badass characters. Liza is a life-long hermit whose mother has been busy murdering men. However, after a visit from the police, Liza gets the chance to start her own life, minus the murderous mother, and with new lover in hand. She gets a rude awakening though, when she realizes just how similar she is to her sinister mother in this tale of an obsessive mother-daughter bond that is very hard to break.Robin McKinley
Robin McKinley has been praised for her contributions to the fantasy genre and noted for her novels featuring strong heroines who appeal to both children and adults. She has won some of the world’s top awards for her writing, including the Newbery Medal for The Hero and the Crown and a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword. Her novel Deerskin, a fairy-tale retelling of Charles Perrault's Donkeyskin, is a remarkably magical, challenging, and important work about surviving rape, and about perseverance and self-love.
One of the most acclaimed and honored authors in science fiction and fantasy, Jane Yolen has been called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America” (Newsweek) for her brilliant reimagining of classic fairy tales. Her accolades include the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Awards, the Kerlan Award, two Christopher Awards, and six honorary doctorate degrees from universities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Cards of Grief is about an alien civilization forever changed by the incursion of human social scientists, and invites us to take a closer look at what humanity means.
Ultra Violet was one of Andy Warhol’s “Superstars.” Born Isabelle Collin Dufresne, she was a muse of Salvador Dali before meeting Warhol in the 1960s and becoming a regular at Warhol’s Silver Factory. Ultra Violet (a name she took on after her hair color of choice) went on to star in many of Warhol’s films in the 1960s and 70s, and eventually left the Factory in the 80s to pursue her own art. Her memoir Famous for Fifteen Minutes details her time as a Warhol superstar.
At age 27, Robyn Davidson walked across the Australian desert, accompanied only by her dog and four camels. In her memoir Tracks (now a major motion picture) Davidson recounts her journey, even more harrowing then Cheryl Strayed’s trek across the PNT.
Award-winning poet, novelist, journalist and feminist leader Robin Morgan first appeared to the public eye at a young age with her own radio show Little Robin Morgan and later with her role in television’s Mama. But Morgan left the life of stardom to become a key figure in the global women’s movement, whose work as an activist spans from the 1960s to today (including leading the first protest against the Miss America Pageant.) In 2005 she co-founded the Women’s Media Center with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda. Her memoir Saturday’s Child chronicles her transition from child star to activist.
Anna — the protagonist in Elsa Lewin's I, Anna (made into a film of the same name) — is as badass as it gets. After splitting from her husband, Anna sets out to find a new man, flirting her way through Manhattan’s single scene. She decides to have a one-night stand, but the next morning, Anna’s lover is dead – and she’s the main suspect. When a handsome lawyer is appointed to her case, Anna can’t help but switch on her powers of manipulation one more time in this sinister novel that has you guessing the outcome.
James Tiptree, Jr.
James Tiptree, Jr. was the pseudonym of the late Alice Bradley Sheldon. She wrote for years in the ‘60s and ‘70s under the male pseudonym in secret, and wrote the male point of view so well that several prominent science fiction authors who’d praised her writing as obviously masculine were a bit embarrassed by the revelation. An ex-CIA employee, Sheldon had the honor of being known as one of the best science fiction writers of the twentieth century. Brightness Falls from the Air is a science fiction tale set far in the future and far away, but the themes of exploitation and complicity have much to say about here and now.
Best know for penning the first lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928, Radclyffe Hall made waves when her publisher was put on trial and the novel was banned under Britain’s Obscene Publications Act. Distinguished author Diana Souhami brings Radclyffe Hall to life in her Lambda Award-winning biography The Trials of Radclyffe Hall. Souhami’s portrait of Hall gives an intimate look into the fascinating personal and professional life of a daring and controversial woman.
YOUR MIND IS BEAUTIFUL, YOUR BODY STRONG, AND I WANT TO BUY YOU A BURRITO, IF YOU'D LIKE. IF NOT, B-).
SORRY IT LOOKED LIKE I WAS WINKING. I HAD DUST IN MY EYE AND I WAS TRYING TO CHOOSE A FAVE BEYONCE SONG. COULDN'T DO IT!!
DO U LIKE SPIRIT ANIMAL QUIZZES? ME TOO! WHAT'S UR FAVE STEVIE SONG? STEVE NICKS, I MEAN.
I’M SURE YOU'RE BUSY. THIS WILL ONLY TAKE A SECOND AS YOU'RE BIKING PAST: I BET YOU HAVE AN INDOMITABLE SPIRIT.
I HOPE YOU'RE EXPERIENCING DEEP, PROFOUND JOY DESPITE ALL THE BAD THINGS HAPPENING IN OUR SHARED WORLD.
I LOVE MULDER'S ONE-LINERS BUT I CAN'T HELP BUT THINK SCULLY'S THE BACKBONE OF THE DUO. SHE KEEPS THINGS AFLOAT.
WOULD YOU LET ME BUY YOU BBQ? IF YOU ARE VEGAN, I ALSO KNOW OF A VEGAN BBQ RESTAURANT.
IT'S REALLY GOOD.
ISN'T IT STUPID HOW OUR CULTURE SHAMES PEOPLE FOR LIKING FAST-PACED EXCITING BOOKS???
I AGREE THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH ENJOYING ROMANCE IN BOOKS AND MOVIES. IT'S FINE!!!
IF I WERE A FROZEN BEVERAGE, I'D BE A SHAMROCK SHAKE. CARE TO SHARE WHAT YOU'D BE? NO? OK, I HOPE YOU HAVE A NICE DAY!
IF YOU SUSTAINED AN INJURY, I'D CALL TIM RIGGINS AND HE'D CARRY YOU TO THE HOSPITAL.
I'M SORRY IF YOU'RE NOT SMILING CUZ THIS WORLD HAS YOU DOWN. IF YOU'RE JUST THINKING, SORRY FOR THE INTERRUPTION!
HERMIONE IS OBVIOUSLY MY FAVORITE CHARACTER. WHAT ABOUT YOU????
WHO ARE YOUR FAVE FEMINIST THINKERS? I'M TRYING TO EDUCATE MYSELF!
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BRAND OF WHISKY? IF YOU DON'T WANT TO ANSWER, I UNDERSTAND.
IF YOU WANT TO BE A RAPPER OR A COMIC OR A GAMER, I SUPPORT THAT AND WON'T THREATEN YOU WITH DEATH AND/OR RAPE!
YOU WILL BE A WONDERFUL CAREERPERSON AND PARENT, IF THAT'S WHAT YOU WANT.
I BET YOU LOVE YOUR JOB.
YOU CAN HAVE THIS BAG OF CAPPUCINO LAYS POTATO CHIPS AS I THINK THEY ARE DISGUSTING. BEST OF LUCK.
I DON'T THINK VAMPIRE DIARIES IS STUPID. IT'S ACTUALLY REALLY SMART WRITING.
IT'S WEIRD HOW HATEFUL EVERYONE IS TOWARD KIM KARDASHIAN, DON'T YOU THINK???
ARE YOU AT ALL INTERESTED IN HEARING ABOUT MY FAVORITE UNDERRATED FEMALE HORROR WRITER??
EXCUSE ME, MS, CARE TO SIGN MY PETITION TO GET ALZHEIMERS-CAUSING INGREDIENTS TAKEN OUT OF WOMEN'S DEODORANT?
Emily Henry is a young, adult writer who is a young-adult writer, and she's wearing the same thing as last time you saw her. Her debut novel, THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD, will be available in 2016 from Razorbill/Penguin. She also tweets.
Illustrations by Hallie Bateman.9 Comments
When I filled out a 30-day tourist visa upon arrival in Ethiopia, the country from which my parents emigrated over 30 years ago, the man behind the immigration counter smiled as he called me Hannah. Not miss or ma’am and especially not Hannah, the limp Western approximation of my name that seems to exist more as prefix to Montana (or in earlier years, Banana) than as its own entity. I heard my name on this stranger’s lips and felt like I belonged, though the irony was not lost on me as I watched my foreign status codified by the visa stamp in his hand. It had been almost 10 years since I’d last visited, but he said my name like I’d never left.
My name is as much an impostor in America as I am. At first glance, it might fool you into thinking it is not out of place here. If you do not hold it in your mouth with the reverence it deserves it will shrink quietly into the Western mold you force it to inhabit. It will sneak past some of your defenses, mask both foreignness and blackness, in its attempt to make itself inviting. “Hannah Giorgis” is as ambivalent about its citizenship as the woman who writes it on both US passport application and Ethiopian Airlines passenger information forms, hoping to make sense of it in the margins between the two.
In Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia and the first language I learned, there is only one way to pronounce my name. The Amharic alphabet is entirely phonetic, composed of letters that correspond to unequivocal syllables rather than circumstantial sounds. In Amharic, my name does not skip out of people’s mouths with reckless abandon. Unyielding hah, solid nah. It can be sweet, but first it is strong. It is not a song. To make my name into a lullaby, you must know me.
Hanni. Hard a, strong n’s, soft i. Short. Lyrical. Familiar. Sweet, like honey. Sweet, like “honey” (the word the untrained ear hears).
Hanniye. Hard a, strong n’s, soft i, warm “ye.” “Ye” which means “mine.” “Ye” which says, “you belong here, you are desired, you are beloved.”
My great aunt calls me Mariye, a derivative of mar, the Amharic word for honey. I am her sweet, she says. Having grown up largely in Southern California, I toss the word around in my head and recall the Spanish word for “sea”—mar. “Mariye” then holds two meanings in my diasporic dictionary: my honey, my sea (the latter accidental but applicable all the same). How appropriate for the niece who loves most often from across the Atlantic, whose sweetness is diluted by both ocean and radio waves.
When my father first immigrated to the US, Social Security wasn’t sure what to make of his name. “Mesmak Teklegiorgis” is a berbere-spiced mouthful, I guess, so they diced it into portions easier to wrap their unseasoned tongues around. Mesmak could stay (“maybe you should ask people to call you Mark instead though”), but Tekle became his middle name and Giorgis his last. “Mesmak” means shelter in Ge’ez, the ancient Semitic language from which Ethiopia’s Amharic takes its roots. The language is now used almost exclusively in Ethiopian/Eritrean Orthodox and Catholic churches. To have a name in Ge’ez is to be associated explicitly with the clergy, to be anointed by God. My father’s name is a holy shelter that crossed the Atlantic and stayed intact through its splintering.
The ambivalence of my father’s broken name takes on new meaning on my American birth certificate. People often ask if it is Greek, Arabic, or (perhaps most uncomfortably) Italian. So I laugh demurely and default to my standard script. “No, it’s Ethiopian. Super duper African, just like me.”
Growing up as an immigrant kid in a country defined by rigid boundaries and strict binaries, I learned to smooth out my name for people. Not correcting classmates or teachers when they pronounced it incorrectly became my white flag of choice, the slow surrender I rarely second-guessed. Outside our home, my parents called me the American version of my name. It was proof that my parents’ journey was worth it, a sign that we could assimilate into American-ness without raising our voices.
But still I longed for a more tangible connection to the country my parents left; I wanted to hear the weight of Ethiopia invoked every time someone said my name. “Hannah” demanded that I actively correct American mispronunciations if I were to have any hope of hearing my heritage spoken back to me. Soft-spoken and scared to ruffle feathers, I wanted a name that spoke of Ethiopia without having to yell—to be Selam or Nazaret or Maaza. I wanted to feel closer to home.
Names are among the first gifts bestowed upon us, ones we often keep with us well past our time on Earth. They can map entire histories, trace lineages, and resist borders. They are powerful and contentious, holding more than we know.
In the northern Ethiopian town of Lalibela, 11 churches were cut from one block of stone each during the 12th and 13th centuries. They are monolithic fortresses, towering and impressive. Each church was carved by hand not from the base of the rock but from the top; there are passageways connecting the churches, gutters to drain the heavy rains that the region experiences during summer months, and a whole host of other functional intricacies. The sight is so spectacular it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, and, like the Pyramids of Giza, often subjected to rumors of “alien” creation (because advanced African architecture is apparently more implausible than extraterrestrial construction). The name Lalibela, which comes from that of the king under whose reign many of the churches were carved, is not an Amharic name. Lalibela, like my father’s first name, is Ge’ez. The closest Amharic translation is mar ye bela—“he eats honey.”
The most famous of the 11 churches is a mammoth structure. It is foreboding and beautiful, the image most commonly associated with the town itself. Connected to the others not by proximity on land but by a series of trenches, it has its own majestic presence. The church, Bete Giyorgis, is stunning. Its name, pronounced the same as my own, means “House of St. George.” When I saw it this January, it took my breath away. By the time I’d regained the ability to speak, my name sounded different coming out of my lips, part of something much grander than my own lineage.
My name is a shape-shifter. It traces my roots across an ocean floor and back even when my body can’t make the journey. I carry it with me and know I am not stranded. It connects me to the country I feel in my chest every time I take a deep breath—Ethiopia is the only place where my name sounds like “welcome home.”
Hannah Giorgis is a writer and organizer based in New York. She likes bad TV, even worse puns, and daydreaming about her future with Andre 3000. You can follow her on Twitter @ethiopienne.1 Comments
Last month we told you about PKN (Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat), the punk band who was completing with 17 other bands in order to represent Finland in the semi-finals of the wildly popular (in Europe) Eurovision Song Contest. The band members, who all have Down syndrome (and a few also have autism), use music to raise awareness about Down syndrome and mental disabilities as a whole. PKN were hoping to bring even more awareness to their cause via the massive exposure their entry into the Eurovision contest would provide.
Well, guess what? The band beat out the competition and will be representing Finland in the semi-finals, which is set to take place on May 19 and 21. The finale is scheduled for May 23.
In addition to being the first band with members with Down syndrome to compete in the contest, PKN is also making history by being the first punk band to grace the Eurovision stage.
“Every person with a disability ought to be braver,” singer Kari Aalto told Finnish broadcaster YLE. “He or she should themselves say what they want and do not want.”
Given how far the band has already come in their pioneering campaign for Eurovision victory, the members of PKN have plenty of bravery to spare.
Here is the qualifying performance of the song “Aina mun pitää” from Saturday night, via Consequence of Sound. The song translates to “I Have To” and is about struggling with the mundanities and chores of every day living.
“We don’t want people to vote for us to feel sorry for us, we are not that different from everybody else — just normal guys with a mental handicap,” bassist Sam Helle told The Guardian.
BBC News reported that at 5:1 odds, the band is the third favorite to take home the top honors, placing PKN behind Italy and Estonia’s entrants. However, not all the countries’ entrants have been selected yet. Plus, a win would be a major coup for Finland, since the country frequently finishes last place and hasn’t won since 2006’s bizarre heavy metal entry Lordi, in which the band performed dressed up like monsters.
Still, even if PKN doesn’t win the contest, what the members have accomplished is already remarkable as far as raising awareness to their cause is concerned.
“We are rebelling against society in different ways, but we are not political,” Helle told The Guardian. “We are changing attitudes somewhat, a lot of people are coming to our gigs and we have a lot of fans.”
If you can’t tune in to Europe’s grand Olympics of pop music, it’s not a bad idea to check out the award-winning 2012 documentary on PKN titled “The Punk Syndrome.”
[h/t Consequence of Sound]
Christoph Niemann is an artist who’s bursting at the seams with creativity. When he’s not drawing clever and insightful cartoons for the New York Times and other prestigious publications, he creates clever illustrations for fun, using everyday objects to enrich and complete his daily creations.
Niemann calls the drawings his “Sunday Sketches” and fits them in between his more serious illustrations, which include both political cartoons and column illustrations for the Times Magazine and the New Yorker.
We’re big fans of using everyday objects to create drawings because it’s such a fun and inclusive art form! Javier Perez and Gilbert Legrand are just two of the many artists we’ve covered who love this artform!
If you like Niemann’s work, check out his books on Amazon as well!
Christopher Niemann has released numerous books with his work, which can be found on Amazon