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Author Archive

Mental Vacation

April 17, 2015 | by

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Photo: Olivia Alcock

Early in Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea, the narrator, Charles Arrowby, explains why he never learned to drive and prefers to be a passenger. “Why keep bitches and bark yourself?” he asks, with impeachable logic. 

In the course of the novel, his veneer of self-assurance crumbles. Arrowby discovers the limits of control, even in isolation. But he also begins to see the lengths we go to in seeking that most elusive pleasure: an escape from ourselves.

For the overthinkers of the world, there’s maybe no greater luxury than shutting off your mind. It happens so rarely that you tend to notice it, if you notice it at all, more as a state of absence than anything else. It can happen during a movie, or listening to music, or, perhaps, in the presence of a great cook. And most especially when reading. Read More »

Cookie Summit 2015

April 16, 2015 | by

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Macaroon vs Macaron. Photos: Roxana Salceda, Alpha

Today I witnessed something special: a rare meeting of macaron and macaroon. Appropriately enough, the summit took place over international waters, between Paris and New York. The tension on the plane was palpable.

The macaron was raspberry; it carried with it centuries of culture. Looking at that deceptively simple puff of almond and air, one could detect pride in its ancient pedigree, an easy elegance borne of endless refinement. Its palette was subdued, its flavor subtle, but its presence powerful. Read More »

Nailed

April 15, 2015 | by

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Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life. ―Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I’m very prone to cuts and bruises and scrapes of all kinds—seeing my profusion of scars and Band-Aids and burns, you’d be forgiven for assuming I’m clumsy. I think it’s the certainty of my own nimbleness that leads me to take all kinds of stupid chances. In fact, I average far fewer injuries than I should, given my recklessness. 

No one was exactly shocked, then, when I showed up at a party not long ago with a bruised fingernail. I’d banged my right hand on the heavy metal door of my apartment while trying to snap back and grab a sock that was falling out of the laundry basket; I almost got away with it. It hurt so much that I ran outside and buried my finger in the snow. The pain abated after a few days, but then the nail turned pitch black.

The black fingernail became a source of great fascination for me. I was extravagantly proud of it. “This fingernail is the most exciting thing to happen to me in years,” I said one night, admiring it by the light of the bedside lamp. “Thanks a lot,” said my boyfriend. Read More »

Leavened by Absurdity

April 14, 2015 | by

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Innocuous leavening agent, or terrorist threat?

Before today, I’d never done my citizen’s duty by reporting a suspicious package to authorities. I guess I’d never seen anything suspicious enough. And in a place like New York, the bystander effect sometimes doesn’t seem to obtain—even if you did see, say, a smoking suitcase riding the subway, three hundred people would have already called it in by the time you managed to get your phone out, each one of them surely going home to announce to friends and family that he, personally, had averted a bombing. 

But today, I acted. I was in the security line at JFK when I spotted it: an orange can of Davis baking powder. It was unmistakable to anyone who’s done any baking, even if you sometimes buy Clabber Girl because you like the packaging. There it was, standing on the floor, right next to a security cordon and looking, to my eyes, very suspicious indeed. Read More »

Testimony of Simplicity

April 13, 2015 | by

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Quaker in disguise?

“Personal pride does not end with noble blood. It leads people to a fond value of their persons, especially if they have any pretense to shape or beauty. Some are so taken with themselves it would seem that nothing else deserved their attention.” —William Penn

Upside Down” was the lead single on Diana Ross’s 1980 disco record Diana. The song, written by Chic’s Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, topped the charts for a month, and it’s one of the great late-era disco dance hits: catchy, unexpected, propulsive, feisty. 

The plot is simple. A boy is turning her upside down, inside out, round and round, et cetera. And then: Read More »

A New Coat

April 10, 2015 | by

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Lanpher Furs ad, 1906.

At what age does one outgrow the belief that a new coat will change one’s life? The belief that somehow, the you who wears this costume will grow worthy of it, will stride around a rosy future with a different sound track entirely? Plenty of garments can acquire this magical allure, but because a coat is something one wears every day—something everyone sees, something that has to serve a function and therefore has moral fiber as well as fabric—gives it extra importance.

And they’re expensive. Read More »