3/04/2021

A question that requires thoughtful consideration




Question: GFT, I've enjoyed your thoughtful posts over the years, esp. on literary matters.  Thought I'd tee something up to get your thoughts.  You've read about the Dr. Seuss estate ceasing publication of some books b/c of outdated, bigoted depictions of some characters.  For example, drawings and wording around an Asian character in one book.  The estate presumably controls the right to the IP.  If so, why not do a new edition cleaning up the bad parts and republishing the sanitized version?  Is it an "artistic purity" thing?

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/books/dr-seuss-books.html

Hhhmmmm.....I have no idea what the members of the Seuss estate who made this choice were thinking, or why. Neither you nor I can influence the individuals involved w the Seuss estate, nor the current tide of PC-ism running through our culture. I hope it’s not due to Dr Seuss’ political cartoons drawn before he wrote children’s books.....Not that they are great, they’re pretty awful actually, they have not withstood the test of time, but must be analyzed in the context of their historical moment. It seems obvious to me that Seuss’ greatest works indicate he moved on to imaginary animals and thus, beyond drawing specific ethnically imagined humans, grew in his personal sensibilities......But the entire issue requires more than just a “sound bite” answer. It is of course ironic that early 20th century books and toys, full of stereotypical depictions of assorted ethnicities spanning the globe, were in themselves an awkward attempt at being pan cultural.....the thought of inclusivity was there - just flawed execution. 

https://www.businessinsider.com/before-dr-seuss-was-famous-he-drew-these-sad-racist-ads-2012-3

Also, Idk what you mean by “artistic purity” thing. (Once you figure that out, let’s find another name for it, bc as you say it, it sounds kinda Nazi-ish.) Do you mean : Changing the author’s original text? Or illustrations? Maybe the editors etc realized that doing so just keeps the dialogue going - on the wrong topics.

https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2021/03/02/publication-ceases-6-dr-seuss-books-hurtful-wrong-portrayals-minorities/

But here’s what I do know: 

I “get” that these are children’s books, and we want our children to grow up without the racist genderist views of the past. 

I “get” that white privilege makes you and I oblivious to slights others see and feel. (As a woman though, I can share many interesting anecdotes on bs I have had to put up within my own life.) These slights are legit, and should be examined, discussed, and brought into the cultural dialogue as “not okay” any more. We need to use this moment as an opportunity to discuss civilly and teach others about the harm exclusion, stereotyping or over simplification, and hate speech (ideas, illustrations) can bring.



But rather than see a revisionist cancel culture take over, I’d rather see more open dialogue and learning take over. I’m generally against banning any books - even horrible evil wretched ones. Because once you start cancelling one author, artist, book - where does it stop? The vaguely Chinese dancing mushrooms in the 1939 cartoon “Fantasia”? Stereotypical costumed dancers, Russian, Chinese, African and more - in Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker”? The Madame Alexander collection of dolls from around the world? The “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland? 

And of course : No one is asking unrealistic images of the female body that cause women to hate their own natural flawed human beauty be removed from pop culture. No one is asking misogynistic novels, movies, video games to be banned.

Three examples as food for thought : 

“Huckleberry Finn”, the 1880’s novel by Mark Twain, contains the “n word”. It is a novel that has always sparked controversy : on one side, for use of the “n word”, on the other side, bc Huck (who’s white daddy is a cruel belligerent abusive drunk) turns to his runaway slave friend Jim as a surrogate father figure, instead. Huck has a chance to turn Jim in as a runaway slave, and doesn’t - and feels bad about it, bc his 1840’s southern USA world has told him that Jim is someone else’s property. So Huck feels bad for doing the “right” wrong thing. It’s a nuanced point that 99% of people on either side of the issue can’t process. So the novel remains controversial bc of its use of the “n word”, bc that is inflammatory and riles people up. They never look beyond that to what Twain is trying to tell us - or even to accepting the historical setting and verisimilitude of the word choice. So a parable, trying to teach us about deeper human relationships, is unacceptable bc of one word. 

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/07/books/07huck.html?referringSource=articleShare


“Gone With the Wind”, a novel by Margarette Mitchell written in the 1920’s (as the generation of individuals who had lived through the Civil War were dying off), and published in the 1930’s (bc the research took her 10 years to complete), was written by a young southern woman about her grandmother, who lived in Georgia in the 1860’s. MM grew up hearing all her grandmother’s stories, and along with a ton of research about that period in Ga history (Civil War battle specifics, economic forces, train schedules, farming practices, cost of goods, what people ate-wore-did), wrote it all up in a “fictional” memoir. The only thing MM ever intended was to tell her grandmother’s biography. Publication of the novel brought it to the attention, made it a cause celebre of pop cultural forces during the 1930’s Jim Crow era. MGM turned the novel from a tale of how a dozen different female characters survived the Civil War, into a movie about a sexy bitchy she-vixen. Over 2/3 of the novel’s characters / events were cut from the film. Now both book and movie are deemed politically unacceptable - even though Margaret Mitchell took the “n word” out, at her publisher’s request - bc no one ever reads the book any more, only watches the movie - and the movie has characters in it that are stereotypes (even if true to MMs account of her grandmother’s stories.) So personal experiences, white southern people’s memoirs, are unacceptable, bc not currently “woke.” (But Hillbilly Eulogy” is “woke” so it’s ok.) 


https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/10/movies/gone-with-the-wind-controversy.html?referringSource=articleShare


What about Steinbeck’s simplistic depiction of lower class caucasian migrant farm workers in “Of Mice and Men”? Conrad’s depiction of natives in “Lord Jim”? Pearl S. Buck’s overly archetypal peasants in “The Good Earth” ? Hemingway’s depiction of nobly suffering Cuban fishermen? Any story where Nazis, Communists, etc are bad guys? Complex analysis and discussion is required for consideration of each of these.

And yet, no one is talking about this at all:


https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/07/arts/blackface-american-pop-culture.html?referringSource=articleShare




But the third example is my personal beef du jour: My alma mater, Rice U, was founded by a man who made a fortune on cotton and sugarcane plantations in the 1800’s. Just like so many American universities, from UVA to Brown to UT and more.....the wealth that financially underwrote their creation was achieved via the exploitation of others. Slaves and migrant workers and native Americans whose land was taken, who were worked to death or just killed off in an intentional racial genocide - all suffered a loss as white European men did whatever they did to earn money. Britain and other European nations did it too - out of sight in the colonies. Yes, it’s horrible - akin to the Old Testament story of pharaoh subjugating Moses and the Hebrews, or Nazis exterminating Jews, Poles, gypsies, gays, etc in the Third Reich. But recent student protests at Rice prompted a meltdown on an alumni FB page, with younger alumni wanting a statue of the founder of Rice removed bc he had slaves. Apparently irony impaired, these same people felt it was ok though to continue to enjoy the “white privilege” of a super posh campus, lifestyle, and degree - all available from that money. My point in all this was that merely removing the statue (a special revered feature on campus, one that represents the esprit de corps of its denizens, much like the Statue of Liberty, or the Vietnam Wall) continues to “whitewash” history, literally, and does nothing to make amends or raise awareness for those who were exploited over 150 years ago. Demands to remove Willy’s statue offer a momentary “feel good we achieved something” moment, without bothering to explore the issue at all. What then? Go about yer business of getting an education on a campus, without the troublesome statue to remind you where it all originated? How does that solve anything? Better to turn the statue into a teachable moment, with some additional historical contextual information next to it. 

https://www.houstonpress.com/news/rice-asked-to-remove-statue-of-slave-owner-namesake-11479143

I am sure you did not expect such a long winded answer, but my point is this : None of these issues can be resolved with a sound bite or knee jerk response. To truly move forward, we must preserve the old, so it is never forgotten, and offer tours or paratextual material that explains historical context - Just like touring Auschwitz, or slave auction buildings in the south. So history won’t forget, but will learn from it and grow. 


What are your thoughts on the subject?

2/13/2021

If a clod falls off the continent, Europe is the lesser for it

 


One of my oldest, dearest friends has shuffled off this mortal coil.....Dirk was one of the smartest, most charming, funniest men I ever knew....a fellow lover of the arts, he and I shared many a happy moment listening to music, at an art gallery, or watching a play.....trying exotic new foods.....in our cups.....and he helped me out immeasurably at various dark points in my life. 

Dirk and I met in high school through Latin Club and various AP courses. He was not my lover but did date a girlfriend of mine. I have many happy memories of toga parties and late night shenanigans....We reconnected after college, when Dirk moved to Houston to work at Vinson / Elkins. He befriended my first husband, Greg, and dated my good friend, Gretchen. It was a natural fit and the 4 of us socialized often. When I moved to Plano, early 1990’s, he had moved back to DFW area as well. He squired me around town even as I was visibly pregnant with another man’s baby, distracting me from “my husband is divorcing me while 4 months pregnant with his child “ woes. Dirk was always there with a kind word, thoughtful advice, and a jovial kindness. I don’t think I ever saw him have a bad day.

One of my happiest memories of Dirk comes from our late 20’s : We were walking through the quad at Rice University late one night, in the moonlight, when no one else was around. All was dark and quiet. Ever so faintly, we heard a sound - music, and as we approached, saw a lone student playing “Danny Boy” on a wooden pan pipe. It was one of those strangely delightful, magical moments that happened only with Dirk.....

We continued to do fun things together throughout our lives, whenever our paths crossed.....and promised ourselves that one day, he’d take me sailing on the Bosphorus. Still in my top 10 bucket list items.....


'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee

Too many people I have loved have passed away, and this is only the beginning, I know.....My grandmother once said to me that the worst thing about growing old was outliving all your friends. Amen to that.

Dirk : I wait to join you in the Elysian Fields, where we will raise a glass together once again. 

2/11/2021

GFT Winter lifestyle recommendations

 


Note: I receive no money for any of my recommendations or shameless plugs. Rather, think of this like an “Oprah’s Favorites” sort of list.....items I enjoy, mostly from small indie businesses, and I want to share my discoveries with you, while supporting small businesses through these hard times. 

Yes, it’s winter in Texas, and while most of our days are sunny and in the 50’s-60’s F, with cooler nights, we’re in the middle of an artic blast right now, straight from Canada, and the high’s are in the 20’s F, with lows and wind chill temps below 0. No one has the proper clothes for this.....fortunately, all we get in terms of precipitation is thin black ice on the highways, bc no one in Texas has snow shovels, boots, tire chains, snow blowers, or heavy coats. You see folk walking around in blankets, without even a hat.....

1) Portable hot tub - Approx $400-600 on amazon. /\  I really needed a muscle relaxing soak, but was unable / unwilling to spend 10k on a hot tub. (Just like my above ground pool, I am unwilling to commit....as everyone I know with an in ground pool wishes they hadn’t.) I have to say, this “portable” one is pretty sturdy and gets the job done. It easily sets up in a small space and could work on a patio balcony or even indoors. I fully expect to get my $500 worth. It’ll last me a decade or so.....at which point I’ll go into a nursing home and use theirs! 


2) Blue Fish Clothing - Prices vary, as they often have sales - get on their email list and they’ll send you discount codes. $100-$300 per item. My “go to” comfy loungewear, better than pajamas : artsy, warm, hip.  I have been wearing Blue Fish since I first discovered their Taos store back in the 1980s. Organic lagenlook cotton is the softest thing next to your skin, all winter long. BFC makes long sleeves, short sleeves, tees, dresses, sweaters, jackets, and pants - clothes for every season. I have many different pieces I mix and match all winter long, over leggings. Layer up or down as needed. 




3) Espresso / cappuccino machine - This year’s big treat, since I’m stuck at home, was an upgraded cappuccino machine. (I had a cheap one back in the ‘80s that didn’t last long.) I did some research and decided the Breville Barista Touch, approx $1000, was the best option for me - but there are plenty of others out there, at a wide variety of price points. If you don’t need an automatic touch drink button, save $300-400 right off the bat and get a model without the computer chip.

https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/the-best-home-espresso-machine-article

Then I did some research on best espresso beans, and settled on Lavazzo Super Crema, which to me has the advantage of not tasting like cigarette butts, so that’s a win. I have already covered the cost of this set up in the number of cappuccinos, flat whites, espressos, and americanos I routinely make and drank at home. When the weather gets really cold, I am especially fond of artisanal hot chocolate with an espresso shot. 




4) Ugg slippers and boots - $100-$200 ish but you can find them on sale. Other brands make nice versions, too - especially LLBean. There is nothing in the world as pleasurable as coming home and slipping your feet into a pair of shearling lined shoes. I wear mine 24/7, till they fall apart, and then buy another. Aaaahhhh....total hygge.

Indoors.....

Outdoors......


5) Down comforter - Prices vary from several $100s to $1000s. Europeans have known about the bliss of snuggling under a down comforter for hundreds of years. We are coming up on the end of “the season”, so look for them on sale and stock up for next year. I see lots of new w tags “Canadian goose down” comforters on ebay......


6) Smart wool socks - $15-35 ish. Smart wool socks don’t itch, let your feet breathe while keeping them warm. They are magical. I look for them on sale and stock up.....My current faves come from an etsy store called “Foot Fetish”. Most brands you can wash and dry like any other sock. Also a fan of Maggies cotton socks. 


7) Bath and beauty products - Prices vary. I was once attacked, in a friendly way, by a beauty consultant at a Sephora, and told I needed a moisturizing facial cleanser. That whatever I was using wasn’t working. I told her about my psoriasis skin sensitivities and even though she was a rep for brand X, she began pulling brand Y off the shelves and told me that’s what I needed. She was right. I hadn’t yet transitioned from the mindset of young woman with oily skin to that of older woman with dry skin. In many ways, that moment changed my life, bc I got a total make-over, not of foundation and eyeshadow, but of cleansers and lotions. Here are some of the products that have worked for me : 

L’Occetane shea butter hand cream. The. Best. Ever. Their website says something like, “One is sold every second around the world” but the hype is true. Pricey but worth it. 
                                                           
L’Occetane Almond Shower Gel. One of the few that doesn’t make me itch. Goes on like oil but lathers up and rinses like shower gel. Divine scent.



Korres Greek Yogurt cleansing products. The brand that changed my life. 
                                                     
Korres Shower Gel. Sophisticated, natural, subtle fresh scents ..... in a lovely gentle formulation. I can’t stand the over-cloying American mass produced soap, shampoo, and gel smells. They make my eyes water like VOCs coming off Chinese drywall. 



Ahava Dead Sea Salts - For a good hot soak. I like their shower gels and lotions, too. 


                                                                               


                       Tree to Tub - Another great brand for dry winter skin. Available on amazon. 


Lord Jones Bath Salts and Gummies - My fave go to brand for CBD. There are many other brands, but this is the Lexus amongst Chevys. Also a big fan of Beboe. 


2/04/2021

What have you been pandemic cooking?

 


News stories are full of lifestyle pieces about how an extended pandemic quarantine, with food shortages in the early months of 2020 due to a disrupted supply chain, people sheltering in place at home with an inability to dine out have all combined to change the landscape of cooking. TG I remodeled my kitchen in 2018! While I always cooked for my family - and am getting pretty tired of it, as I’ve been doing it for 50 years now - my kids are grown and I can have pleasure taking it up a notch..... away from the “kid friendly” meals of yore. 


                                            Southwest veggie quiche - to be eaten with salsa


                                    Bratwurst, sauerkraut, red cabbage, German potato salad


Traditional southern Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce
                                      Greek style potatoes and gemistas (stuffed vegetables)


                                                  Shrimp pasta in vodka sauce and salad 


                                                        Potato soup and ham and Swiss 


                                                      Seafood stirfry, potstickers, salad

                                                  Grilled salmon, mac and cheese, asparagus

                                                              Breakfast sandwich

                                                                    Moussaka  

                                                                      Tacos 

                                                  Kebabs, rice pilaf, tomato  cucumber salad

                                   Fried chicken, elotes, potato salad, green beans, cornbread

                                                                          Pizza

                                                                     Thai beef salad

                                        Salmon croquette with bĂ©arnaise, mac n cheese, salad 
                                                              Grilled salmon, rice 

                                                                               

Chicken, pesto, tomato and cheese sandwich on toasted wheat-nut bread and a banana berry Greek yogurt smoothie with Manuka honey 

                                                          Maryland style crabcakes 


                                                       Hatch chile bean and beef burrito


                                                           Chicken marsala, spinach salad


                                                Ham, cheesy potatoes, broccoli, and salad


                               Lobster with truffle oil gnocchi, crabcakes, and Caesar salad


                                                                 Bulgogi meatballs 


                                                Wagyu beef steak, baked potato, asparagus


                                                   Made from scratch minestrone soup


                                                                        Fondu night


                                      Lentil soup, spanokopitas, and tomato cucumber salad


                                                  Chicken marsala with mushrooms