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�e magazine of the Columbia Spectator 26 February 2009 / vol. 6 issue 5

the eye

Sexless in the City inside columbia’s lackluster dating scene by Shane Ferro

analyzing disney dance scenes \\\ two takes on fashion week \\\ jeff lewis, singer-songwriter-artist

Editor-in-Chief �omas Rhiel Managing Editor, Features Melanie Jones Managing Editor, A & E Hillary Busis Deputy Editor, Features Raphael Pope-Sussman Senior Design Editor Meredith Perry Photo Editor Kristina Budelis Online Editor Ryan Bubinski Eyesites Editor Carla Vass Interview Editor Zach Dyer Film Editor Peter Labuza Music Editor Rebecca Pattiz Books Editor Yin Yin Lu


Art Editor Hannah Yudkin

Shane Ferro examines why some Columbia students must look outside Morningside Heights for love, and why most don’t bother looking at all, pg. 11.

�eater Editor Ruthie Fierberg

cover photo by Kenneth Jackson

Food Editor Devin Briski

Dance Editor Catherine Rice TV Editor Christine Jordan Style Editor Helen Werbe Production Associates Samantha Ainsley Alexander Ivey Shaowei Wang Associate Photo Editor Rachel Valinsky Copy Editors Wesley Birdsall Katrin Nusshold Spectator Editor-in-Chief Melissa Repko Spectator Managing Editor Elizabeth Simins Spectator Publisher Julia Feldberg

Contact Us: Editorial: (212) 854-9547 Advertising: (212) 854-9558 © 2009 �e Eye, Spectator Publishing Company, Inc.

FEATURES \\\ EYESITES 03 Football in Jordan Rajiv Lalla 04 Translating Gender Studies Jia Ahmad 05 Love and Life Evam Omi and Tony Gong \\\ EYE TO EYE 06 Dancing Disney Zach Dyer

ARTS \\\ MUSIC 7 Drawing Inspiration Jennie Rose Halperin \\\ STYLE 8 Fashion Week Alexandra Owens and James DeWille \\\ BOOKS 10 Questioning Conventions Joseph Cross \\\ FOOD 15 Culture Shock Storm Garner

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR After a month of tossing a PDF of each week’s Eye onto an apologetic online placeholder, today the Eye launches a real Web site, Previous incarnations of the magazine’s Web presence have been buggy, temperamental creatures, and so we’ve striven for simplicity this time. Dieter Rams, whose minimalist creations for Braun in the ’80s made him a sort of legend among designers, said famously that “good design is as little design as possible,” but he also said that “good design is durable.” A school like ours, which festers with technological dereliction (off-campus Flex, anyone?), doesn’t need another well-intentioned, but short-lived, high-tech enterprise. And so we’ve tried to put together a Web site that’s straightforward and functional. �e “we” in this case is really two people, both of whom deserve their names in print (and now, of course, online). First, it was Cindy Zhang, who industriously built from scratch a working version of the Web site,

and did so under an ambitious deadline. Coaxing these finicky things to cooperate requires unflagging patience, and Cindy, who among other difficulties struggled to suppress the whims of a disappearing search bar, performed admirably. Second, it was Ryan Bubinski, who created the site’s back-end structure and polished the final design, who made today’s launch possible. Over the past week, I met with Ryan a few times to make some final tweaks, and I think I made eye contact with him only twice, so focused was he on his enormous monitor spanned by lines of code. Our new Web site probably doesn’t represent the future of online journalism (we don’t have a blog, let alone a practicable online-only business model), and it certainly doesn’t represent the future of the Internet (that would be thisiswhyyourefat. com). But for now, a modest, working site for the Eye—as little site as possible—is all we, and this world, really need. —�omas Rhiel

Submit your creative writing to the Eye. We are now accepting short stories, narrative non-fiction, and humorous essays. For more information, e-mail



What We’re Into �is Week


2. Gwyneth Paltrow’s random blog. Includes a mix of new age advice, recipes, and overpriced nick-nacks one can purchase. Makes no sense, but kinda fabulous. —Carla Vass, Eyesites Editor

People like to make the joke that Jordan is between “Iraq and a hard place”—not all that funny. But Jordan is a pro-American country squished between a lot of U.S. State Department travel warnings: Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and, of course, Iraq. Being in such a central location in the region lends Jordanians a lot of the flavor from these other countries, as well as some of the politics. On Jan. 30, I traveled to Amman, Jordan, to begin my four-month study abroad experience. I’m currently taking classes in Arabic and middle eastern studies at the University of Jordan in Amman. I’m living in and commuting from an apartment I share with another American from South Dakota, in a small district of the city called Jabal Amman. I recently took a trip to the center of Jordanian athletics, a sprawling sports complex in Amman called “al-Medina al-Riyadhiya” (roughly translated as “Sports City”), to watch Wihdat, a football team—that’s soccer team, if you speak American—with a following from the Palestinian refugee camps outside Amman. Wihdat was going to play a Jordanian team, Faisaly; the two teams have the biggest rivalry in the Jordanian Football Association. Upon our arrival, each of us was patted down and our bags searched by a contingent of police in full riot gear. They soon decided that it would be too disruptive to have a line of Americans in the stands, and directed us to our own special seating section, away from the crowds. On a side note, the reasons Jordan has not been afflicted with some of the security problems of its neighbors are its extremely efficient police, intelligence, and security services. The day after we arrived in Jordan, the other students in the program and I went on a train tour of part of the desert outside Amman. We were told after the fact that the white-haired woman wearing a hijab on the train was an intelligence officer, and that her suitcase contained an automatic weapon and a satellite radio. After some finagling for seats, we managed to use “wasta,” a term Jordanians like to use for name-dropping or pulling rank, to negotiate our way into the Jordanian section of the stands. There, each girl in our group was promptly surrounded, photographed, and given free merchandise by a fascinated crowd. Once the game began, the attention shifted from the six Americans in the stands to the players. Despite cultural differences, like being in a group with the only two girls in the entire stadium, or


Football in Jordan: A Study in Similarity

1. Antifolk: �ere’s a festival going on at the Sidewalk Café—where Regina Spektor and Jeff Buckley got their start—till the 27th. —Devin Briski, Food & Drink Editor

3. �e First Annual Texas Independance Day Concert: On Saturday night, I’m going to see Robert Earl Keen, along with Cross Canadian Ragweed, Charlie Robison, and Ray Wiley Hubbard at Terminal 5. I can’t wait to wear my cowgirl boots and two-step. —Meredith Perry, Senior Design Editor 4. Being creative with my wardrobe: Since I don’t have the time to shop but crave new looks, I’ve been mix-and-matching what I already own in ways I haven’t before. Last weekend, I wore a large scarf as a dress with a cinched belt I found at home over winter break. —Helen Werbe, Style Editor 5. Slumdog Millionaire: Final Answer—D. It is written. —Peter Labuza, Film Editor

having the guy next to you grab your hand and kiss you on the cheek, many aspects of Jordanian and western football traditions are the same. Chants were as obscene as football chants anywhere else in the world, despite the fact that the crowd was completely sober, and they largely carried racial overtones—political correctness be damned—as both the game’s participants and fans were split along racial lines. The crowd demonstrated their team preferences by wearing the “keffiyeh.” The checked scarf, used in the west as a hipster fashion statement, is here a declaration of allegiance: a red checked keffiyeh is a declaration of “East Bank,” or Jordanian allegiance, whereas a black checked one shows support for the West Bank, and more generally the Palestinians. So, while Jordan may be a peaceful abode between “Iraq and a hard place,” it is faced with a twist on the challenges of your average American city—rivalries based on such factors as tribalism, family affiliation, and Bedouin, peasant, or urban lineage, as well as the constant threat of terrorism or domestic disruption. As a visitor to Jordan, I found that a football game is the perfect arena to witness these challenges.

Rajiv Lalla, a Columbia College junior, has also traveled through Uganda and Kenya as part of his study abroad program.

6. �e Magic Bullet: What other contraption can make you guacamole, salsa, pesto, smoothies, grated cheese, omelets, AND margaritas? Oh right, a blender. But does a blender have color-coded individual rims? I think not. —Zach Dyer, Interview Editor 7. Kate Winslet’s and Sean Penn’s Oscar acceptance speeches: I put Kate first because shampoo bottles beat communists every time (if you don’t get this, you should have watched them Sunday night). —Melanie Jones, Managing Features Editor 8. Playing with my Tickle-Me-Elmo Xtreme: Honestly, he is just hilarious when he starts rolling on the floor, slapping his knee, and giggling. Elmo always puts a smile on my face. If you’ve never seen one, youtube him. —Ruthie Fierberg, �eater Editor 9. What could be better than expanding your vocabulary and helping to ameliorate world poverty at the same time? —Yin Yin Lu, Books Editor 10. People write in with stories about horrible things that happened to them. For me, it’s a daily dose of life-giving schadenfreude. -�omas Rhiel, Editor-in-Chief








Translating Gender Studies the expansion of feminism at columbia university BY JIA AHMAD PHOTO COURTESY OF HUFFINGTON POST

Asked to picture a feminist, the average Columbia student might think of the images of Wollstonecraft or Beauvoir adorning Contemporary Civilizations’ canonical texts, or scour his memory for grainy photographs of early women suffragists hidden in high school history books. He might think of hordes of enthused hippies with waist-length hair burning bras, or lipsticked women of the ’90s reappropriating short skirts and high heels. It’s likely that for many students at Columbia, the notion of feminism is still deeply embedded in a historical narrative addressing the economic, legal, and political inequality of women in society. But this vein of feminism—one which is organized around essentialist divisions between women and men—is only one of a multiplicity of perspectives represented in the field of women and gender studies today. Professor Janet Jakobsen, director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW), argues that feminism is anything but straightforward. “�e version of feminism popularized by the media becomes a moniker,” she says. “One of the questions we have to ask is ‘why does one strand of thought stand in for feminism as a whole?’” Challenging gender norms and gender expression is a natural undertaking for Barnard College, which has been a pioneer of feminist inquiry since the ’60s. Today, it explores a critique of


feminist theory and activism through a particularly interesting lens: transgender studies. Transgender studies have been a part of LGBT studies since the inception of the discipline in the late ’70s, but recently a new wealth of scholarship has emerged. Since the 2006 publication of Susan Stryker’s seminal text, �e Transgender Studies Reader, trans studies have come far to carve out their niche in gender studies departments across the country. This semester, visiting professor Paisley Currah is offering a seminar entitled “Sex, Gender, and Transgender Queries.” The class examines “trans” both as a particular kind of claim for gender recognition and as a move away from norms organized around the gender binary. An expert on gender identity and the law, Currah will publish an article in the Journal of Feminist Philosophy this summer entitled “‘We Won’t Know Who You Are’: Contesting Sex Designations on New York City Birth Certificates.” This study, conducted with sociologist Lisa Jean Moore, examines the way in which the state reinforces traditional gender/sex binaries by regulating gender identity on the basis of physical characteristics. His upcoming book, slated for publication in the fall of 2010, furthers the examination of the relationship between the state and the individual, exploring how the state categorizes gender and sex in relation to its larger project of distributing resources. But Currah’s work isn’t always confined within the walls of the classroom, he often collaborates with fellow law professors and activists on matters of transgender advocacy. �is should come as no

surprise; as a discipline borne from the labors of a powerful social justice movement, gender studies still blurs the line between academia and activism today. Barnard alumnus Dean Spade (BC ’97), an exemplar of the kind of activist who combines public and academic spheres, was recently sponsored by the BCRW to speak on campus. A professor at the Seattle University School of Law and active figure in the transgender rights movement, Spade provided an insightful critique of the contemporary liberal landscape and the gay rights movement in his lecture “Trans Rights in a Neoliberal Landscape.” For over an hour, in the James Room of Barnard Hall, Spade enthralled his audience with his conceptualization of the current neoliberal mindset, in which social justice movements are normalized to serve the interests of their most privileged members. A minority within an already marginalized population, he argued that transgender activists have a unique opportunity to challenge the values and goals of well-funded LGBT non-profit organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign. Social justice, Spade argued, doesn’t trickle down—it trickles up. For social justice movements to maintain their integrity and maximize their efficacy, they must take on the issues of the most oppressed in a given population. Spade’s own organization, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, takes this very approach to activism. It provides a venue for non gender-conforming individuals from exceptionally marginalized backgrounds (low income, homeless, minorities) to access political agency and fundamental human rights. a

As we’ve all been told, Columbia sucks for dating. Someday, we’ll graduate and leave this romantically challenged institution behind for a brighter, more passionate future—one that resembles more closely the ending to a Disney Channel Original Movie. OR WILL WE? What’s really next? A junior-level entry position at a midtown office? A sublet in suburban Chicago? Sundays at IKEA? Like it or not, most of us face immediate futures in dull, corporate work environments. So it comes down to this: a face-off between the now and the later. Evan holds on to his faith in Columbia’s emotional vacancy, while Tony believes the worst is yet to come. People Evan: Hook-ups aside, when it comes to picking boyfriends and girlfriends, Columbia kids can be a little too calculating. Below, the “should I try to talk to her a little bit but not too much to see if she is like cool and might want to go out sometime in the future?” calculator (data provided by Facebook): - 5.39 (Really likes Coldplay. Ironically?) + 8.46 (Looks good in sweaters + slight ghetto booty.) - 7.21 (Too hot? Not exotic enough?) + 2.89 (Totally “gets” Synecdoche, New York.) - 9.13 (Enjoys theme parties.) + 6.37 (Bangs!) - 5.45 (Quotes a lot of blog articles I’ve already read.) + 12.45 (Has a single.) = 2.99 (Good luck figuring out what this number even means.) Tony: �e types of people you’ll find post-Columbia quickly deteriorate in quality. Cinematic evidence suggests that only three types of people exist in the working world: chauvinist male executives, like Christian Bale in American Psycho, anxious female professionals who will likely crack under the pressure and have you killed scandalously, like Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton, and employees who are actually 13-year-olds trapped in 35-year-old men’s bodies, like Tom Hanks in Big. Communication Evan: When talking to people you don’t know at Columbia, conversations generally have bleak starts. Freshman year: “Where are you from?” Sophomore year: “What are you thinking of majoring in?” Junior year: “Where are you thinking of interning over the summer?”

Senior year: “What are you doing after graduation?” Fifth year (super senior): “Damn girl, you rockin’ that ghetto booty! You got a MySpace?” Tony: �e truth is that once you hit work, your options go downhill rapidly. Age 22: “Hi, what’s your name?” Age 32: “What department are you in?” Age 42: “What department are you in?” Age 52: “What’s my name?” And from then on you kind of stop speaking in coherent syllables. Dating Evan: While formal dates at Columbia are rare, they often transpire as follows: 1. Finish burning mixtape of forlorn acoustic music because Bon Iver songs are the only way you know to express your love. 2. Meet at the sundial. So awkward. 3. Eat at random so-so Morningside Heights sitdown restaurant. Downtown, if you’re feeling classy, but train ride—so awkward. 4. Watch quirky romantic comedy or intellectually stimulating drama. Why can’t your date be more like Natalie Portman in Garden State? 5. Go back to dorm and share favorite YouTube videos. Kid high after the dentist somehow still funny. Is anything going to happen? 6. Something about a paper or getting up early tomorrow muttered. Brief kisses or hugs exchanged. 7. Feel bad about the whole thing in the morning. 8. Repeat in a week. Tony: While formal dates at Columbia are rare and not fulfilling, and you’ll probably end up watching a YouTube video at some point, at least they happen to some capacity. After watching hours upon hours of pornographic films set in the corporate workplace, I am forced to conclude that a) dating is ignored by co-workers in every major industry, and b) office porn is not really a turn-on at all. a

Overheard EYESITES

Love Beyond Life Beyond College

“I’d like to pour hot acid on the bus dispatcher’s face! I’d like to punch his head in! �ose assholes! �ey’re lucky I’m not a terrorist... And I try and stay away from violence, you know.” -Little old lady on the M4


�e Wi-Finest In no particular order, the most creative, ridiculous, and stupid wireless Internet names at Columbia. See if you can find yours. Wallach: Dane Cook is a Douche Wallach 3B Wallach 3B is a Douche Butler: 12 Sesame St 48 Hr Detox homebase 01 Broadway (between 111th and 116th Streets): AngryIrishman akaloid eekamouse evil dentist welovemathandscience hades Al Gore Jr. Nussbaum: �e McBaininator Living Large DragonSlayer Oren’s: miles is a good boy skuggaRouter Deluxe: Winnie�ePooh yellowbear Jschool: Scarcity Café 212: CherryBloom! spacemonkey iloveyoukraus Quad: IfUSeekAmy 616: Loveshack harold FlyByNight




Dancing Disney zach dyer interviews mindy aloff BY ZACH DYER PHOTO COURTESY OF DISNEY Mindy Aloff is a dedicated member of Barnard’s dance faculty, and a published writer. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New Yorker, �e Nation, the Dance View Times, and Voice of Dance, among other publications. She has published several books related to dance, and her most recent, Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation, explores the intricate relationship between Disney animation and choreography. From Disney shorts to full-length, modern movies, Aloff examines the way dance is used by Disney and what it means for the viewer. Zach Dyer talks with Aloff about the hippos, ducks, and implications of Disney’s choreographed animation. Where did the concept for this book come from? Christopher Caines—then an editor at Disney Editions [the publisher of Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation] and, as I note in the acknowledgments, the author of the book’s title—had been thinking about the idea of such a study for several years. As it happened, I’d also been thinking about the topic, and for well over a decade. When I wrote a small weekly, unsigned column on dance for the New Yorker in the early 1990s, one of those little essays was devoted to a discussion of dancing in animation, with an emphasis on Disney. Christopher knew about my column, and he recommended me to Wendy Lefkon, the editorial director at Disney Editions. I wrote a proposal and then met with Wendy and her staff. They liked what I suggested, and felt that even though I was a dance person and not an animation expert, I was capable of learning enough about animation on the job to produce a useful book. How long did this project take you? Around five years, including three trips of a full week each to Disney archives in California. Is this a topic that has always interested you? Yes! That’s what the book’s introduction is mostly about. Disney’s feature-length animated film Peter Pan was the second movie I ever saw. I grew up with many of the shorts and features, including the ones from the 1930s and ’40s in their theatrical re-releases, as well as the TV programs and the live-action films. At the same time, I saw many animated shorts from the Fleischer and Warner Bros. studios. I found them all enchanting; they were funny, and strange— even haunting, sometimes, in the case of the Fleischer films—and I was enraptured by the idea that lines and patches of color could, when moved around by craftsmen who knew what they were doing, be so magical and entertaining.


However, the Disney animated films were something more; perhaps the word is “thoughtful.” �ey were driven by story and character, and their narratives unfolded both patiently and logically. Also, so many of the Disney films in particular were musical. Music and movement lead irresistibly to dancing in Disney pictures; and since I not only studied dance from an early age, but was also encouraged by my family to read about dance history, and was taken to see all kinds of dance in the theater from the time I was in elementary school, my love of animation and my love of dance converged in the Disney films.

animation, and that stimulates them to seek out the films. There was obviously a lot of research involved in the writing of this book. How was it, working so closely with the people at Disney? Heaven. I’ve tried to name everyone I worked with at Disney in Hippo’s acknowledgments. From the top animator Andreas Deja to a student intern named Steve Vagnini, they kindly and patiently tutored me. I learned a lot there about devotion, as well as about animation. Why is there so much choreography in Disney animated films? The mission of Disney animation is to give the “illusion of life.” As a variety of motion, dancing is useful in pursuit of such a mission. However, it’s important to remember, too, that Walt Disney was committed to the best in music, and music plus movement equals dance. Furthermore, the top priority for a Disney animated picture is to tell a story, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and to tell it through visual art, whose principles are based on the art of older masters. You can’t speak of such art without speaking of design, patterning, in time as well as space, in the case of animation. Choreography is the design of bodies in space and time. It furthers the key mission of the entire enterprise.

CHOREOGRAPHY IS THE DESIGN OF BODIES IN SPACE AND TIME. What do you want people to get out of this book? I’d like readers to get an inkling of how complex and difficult it is to choreograph, and to dance, and to compose, and to produce an animated film, so that they will have respect for animation that even attempts to combine them. I’d like for readers today, many of whom write off animation in general as “kiddie stuff,” to think again about the value of films that are made for general audiences. I’d very much like people who dismiss Disney pictures for various political reasons to be made aware of how decisions were actually made on some of the historical films, especially the ones where Walt Disney himself had tremendous input. And I’d like intellectuals who routinely dismiss both dancing and animation as not worth their time to take a moment before they project their preconceptions on these arts. But the thing I’d most like readers to find in this book is pleasure that perhaps makes them want to learn more about dancing and

What was it about the Hyacinth Hippo that made you want her as the representation of your book as a whole? She has the most complex choreography of any animated character in the Disney canon, she’s a star personality, and her character—now flirtatious, now vulnerable, now assertive, now meek—is quite complex as well. And we know everything we know about her entirely through her dancing. What is your favorite choreographed number from a Disney film? I have three favorites: the “Dance of the Hours” in Fantasia, the Carioca in the Silly Symphonies’ Cock o’ the Walk, and the jitterbug-truckin’ number in the short Mr. Duck Steps Out. I name them because the music and the dancing are two aspects of the same energy, because the dancing figures are presented with fantastical sensitivity and nuance, and because the choreography is very fine. Close to them in my affections are the minuet-jitterbug for Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassle in the featurette The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the “Nutcracker Suite” in Fantasia, and the utterly magical construction by forest animals of the heroine’s dress in Cinderella. That scene, and not the ballroom scene, contains the picture’s true dance number, and it’s enchanting. a

Drawing Inspiration MUSIC

singer-songwriter jeffrey lewis gets sketchy BY JENNIE ROSE HALPERIN PHOTO BY JOEY SHEMUEL

Looking through Jeff Lewis’ sketchbooks, I realize why he compels me. �e almost impossibly talented comic artist and singer-songwriter is simultaneously self-deprecating and eloquent, nerdy and too cool. A large, inked page that shows Jeff meeting his favorite comic book character—Rom from Rom Spaceknight—opens every sketchbook. �e walls of his Williamsburg apartment are lined with Lou Reed records, and when he plays Biff Rose for me and gets excited about Woody Guthrie, I can barely contain my enthusiasm. Lewis surrounds himself with his influences, materially and musically, precisely because he is so cognizant of them. “It’s always horrifying to realize after the fact the roots of your own ideas,” he says. “Sometimes it’s years later that you realize where these inspirations come from.” �is awareness is the subject of one of Lewis’ well-received New York Times blog posts, which came in the wake of 12 Crass Songs, his critically acclaimed cover album. �e tracks feature catchy, elaborately arranged covers of songs by Crass, a seminal anarchist punk band. “It’s interesting that the album that’s gotten the most press has been the one that has the least to do with what I’m known for, which is a very lo-fi, simple recordings of my own songs,” he says. Em Are I, his new album with his current band, Jeff Lewis and the Junkyard, will be released on May 12th.

“TRUE LIFE IS FASCINATING AND HAS A CERTAIN POWER TO IT JUST BECAUSE IT’S TRUE.” �e album reflects Lewis’ changing relationship with production. He believed for many years that arrangements and production were insignificant, and that live performance and audience connection were what really mattered. Lewis’ lo-fi, anti-folk, home-recorded songs gave him a cult following, and he was signed by Rough Trade Records in 2001. For Lewis, songwriting is a “desperate” act—he claims he writes most songs when he’s procrastinating on writing a comic. His comics often complement his music, both as visual representations of songs and as full comic books. �irty of his illustrated songs can be seen only in concert. �e songs are impossible to find outside of YouTube—which may augment Lewis’s

cult status, but ultimately frustrates the artist. His label hopes to release new videos as a collector’s edition, but Lewis is wary: “I wanted something that would be more widespread and accessed by people who may not know those songs.” To bring his art to every fan, Lewis’s new album’s cover is, like previous covers, handdrawn with a full comic insert. “I’ve been trying to design these album covers that are weird and unique and theoretically still cheap to produce,” he says. Lewis, who once wrote a song called “Don’t Let the Record Company Take You Out to Lunch,” says his label often opposes his hands-on approach to his liner notes because of the rising cost of CD production. Lewis’ comics are, much like his songs, brutally honest, self-consciously critical, and filled with unexpected rhymes and turns. “I’m sort of traditional in the way I approach it. I’m not abstract. My comics are all functional for the sake of telling a story,” he says. Lewis uses his sketchbook to outline both his songs and his comics, explaining, “Some of the comics that I do rhyme, and sometimes rhymes or lines that I jot down could still end up being comics.” Literacy and self-reference come easily to Lewis. His songs conflate the personal with the political and historical—sometimes with startling results. In “�e Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song,” he writes about discussing Leonard Cohen with a stranger, and the experience becomes a parable for human relationships. “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror,” a song about seeing Will Oldham on the subway, is ultimately about artists’ own influences and music history. “History is so much more amazing and interesting ... Even if it’s my own personal history,” he says. “True life is fascinating and has a certain power to it just because it’s true.” �is predilection for honesty can endear and enrage Lewis’ friends and fans. Asserts the artist, “If you say something, there’s a certain amount of responsibility to feel like you’re saying something true, or not deceptive. Especially when it involves other people.” Seeking the truth, Lewis is hyper-conscious of his audience and admirers. He compares himself to a translator, claiming, “It’s knowing what’s going on inside you and knowing how to translate that into a language that other people will understand.” After sitting on Lewis’ couch for about two hours, I have the distinct feeling that there is someone else in the apartment. Unsure if I should ask, I drink my tea and we continue talking and playing records. We get ready to go outside, and he pokes his head into another room. Sure enough, there had been someone there the entire time, reading a book and waiting for me to leave, which makes me as self-conscious as he was during the interview. Unfazed, he turns to the door in his blue puffy coat and we walk out under the Williamsburg Bridge. a

Jeffrey Lewis surrounds himself with his musical and artistic inspirations in his Brooklyn apartment.



A Surge of Creativity

form and function are both features of new york fashion week’s fall 2009 shows

menswear designers demonstrate strong personality in their fall 2009 collections

BY ALEXANDRA OWENS New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which wrapped up last weekend, was fighting against the odds this season. With a rapidly deteriorating economy, bombing magazine ad sales and designers skipping out for less costly presentations—not to mention that shows began on Friday the 13th—it didn’t seem like this was going to be style’s year. But as Fern Mallis, the senior vice president of IMG Fashion, points out in an interview, functions like these are needed more than ever when times are rough. As Mallis reflects, “I believe Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week will bring some positive energy and activity to the industry. It’s the creativity that we now need to celebrate more than ever. Our schedule is full and despite the constant focus of the economy, we will be back to business almost as usual.” While, as Mallis alluded, artistic encouragement is a significant motive, running fashion week smoothly is also imperative for more practical reasons. Never were these two sides more evident than at this Fashion Week. Designers had to tailor their visions to financial reality. As even the richest of clients are prioritizing their purchases these days, brands demonstrated smart marketing by falling into one of two categories—irresistible statement pieces and investment basics. Luckily, this means shoppers will have a choice between 3.1 Phillip Lim’s exotic goat hair shrug and Ralph Lauren’s luxurious tweed coat, or maybe Alexandre Herchcovitch’s unusual bi-silhouette bedazzled frock and Hervé Léger’s classic bandage dress. �ough all of these clothes are highly creative, in order to be successful, designers must also bow to commercial pressures, including an extremely rapid turnover cycle. �e fashion world works on a unique calendar—these fall/winter collections were presented about six months ahead, just like the spring/summer collections were presented in September—allowing the press and buyers ample time to preview designs and incorporate them into their media, marketing, or store’s stock. Because of this scheduling trick, consumers can incorporate trends into their wardrobes in time for the appropriate season, and designers get a chance to publicize their latest work, potentially making or breaking their careers. Beginning in 1943, New York held the first formal Fashion Week in order to give new American designers exposure when the collections of popular French brands were held overseas. Since then, shows have evolved into major prêt-a-porter (ready-to-wear) events that are watched, covered, and coveted in the fashion capitals of New York, London, Milan, and Paris. New functions continue to emerge every year, much to the advantage of young, fresh designers who can’t make it to one of the “big four.” Today, there are nearly a hundred fashion weeks taking place everywhere from


Scottsdale, Arizona to Zagreb, Croatia. �ough native designers typically dominate each city, fashion weeks are international affairs that allow industry members to sample what‘s new in a variety of places. Editors and buyers globe-trot for a month in order to cover and take in all of the major shows. Of all of these, New York Fashion Week is a highlight, and this season was no exception. �e panicked rumors that events and collections were going to be dramatically downsized due to the economy were far worse in the pre-Fashion Week gossip than in reality. Despite the doom and gloom of some telltale signs, such as smaller guest lists and a tragic lack of orgy-like parties, the shows were just as—if not more—fabulous than ever. Maybe it was overcompensation, but it felt more like determination: �e fashion industry took the opportunity to band together and turn a potential disaster into an Obama-esque moment of audacious, gold sequin-clad hope. What better way to express optimism than by bringing back the over-the-top exuberance of the 80’s? It was the unanimous look of the season, channeled in the clothing of almost every major designer. Legging pants popped up in the collections of Yigal Azrouël, Rag & Bone and Peter Som, to name a few. Elbow-length gloves also made a comeback as the new accessory, thanks to designers Charlotte Ronson, Anna Sui and Zac Posen. Erin Fetherston’s lacy confections, with their distinct Madonna vibe, stuck closest to the theme. And then there were the Joan Collins shoulders. Max Azria put pronounced, squared ones on his dresses at Hervé Léger, Miss Sixty’s blouses featured pouffed sleeves and Marc Jacobs’ outrageous padding stole the show. Although neutrals usually dominate fall collections, color palettes at Fashion Week were the brightest they’ve been in years. “What? Is all black going to help the economy?” Marc Jacobs reportedly joked backstage. Jacobs’ pink, yellow and green neons, complemented by his new Stephen Sprouse bags, blinded. Keeping up with the movement of offering investments as well as statement pieces, traditionalists like Oscar de la Renta and Michael Kors also featured neon frocks and suits, praising their refreshing urbanity. But don’t stow your black suede boots just yet—the bad-girl chic trend isn’t going anywhere. Alexander Wang, who has found his niche in tough but sexy pieces, showed crocodile shorts alongside skintight cutout-laden dresses. Even softer brands, such as Charlotte Ronson and Cynthia Steffe, are joining the pack, offering fringed biker jackets and leather leggings. Matthew Williamson had a more playful take on the look, featuring leather trousers in punchy colors like red and blue. No matter what you end up wearing next fall, all of these collections were designed for a good time. �ough today might have its problems, thanks to designers, we have something beautiful to look forward to in the future. a


Kristina Budelis

Kristina Budelis

Mary Ye

Asiya Khaki

Lauren Weiss

Angela Radulescu

“Life must be a straight line of motion from goal to further goal.” �is quote, from the Objectivist author and philosopher Ayn Rand, was printed across the invitation for designer Shipley and Halmos’ fall 2009 presentation. �ose words seemed a bizarre muse, but as fashion week went on and I attended more shows, it became clear that Rand could be an apt, though perhaps absurd, paradigm through which to view the seemingly disparate, even schizophrenic fall menswear collections. Across runways this year, young menswear designers showed styles that ranged from sartorially serious to casual versions of vintage finds or work wear. Rag & Bone showed off black ninja pants and collarless jackets that came with dramatically angular cuts. Robert Geller, winner of the second annual GQ/CFDA Best New Menswear Designer award, offered a morbidly Victorian elegance. Meanwhile, Yigal Azrouël (another contender for the GQ prize) rolled out comfy, chunky knits and deconstructed garments. Still, not everyone managed to settle into the either/or of dumpy comfort or sleek severity. Band of Outsiders, Loden Dager and Trovata showed off absolutely wearable, if a bit predictable, lines with mixes of Francophile, nautical, and uptown casual in each. Patrik Ervell seemed torn between manly outerwear and daintier sweaters with skinny schoolboy pants cropped at the ankle, while Justin Timberlake’s William Rast eschewed all of the above to go with shredded jeans and leather biker vests. With so many possible directions for menswear, it seems fashion is certainly no “straight line


�e Shows Must Go On

of motion.” Where does this diversity come from? What is it reacting to? It seems too convenient to decisively pinpoint the recession as inspiration when Patrik Ervell’s powder blue denim jacket goes by, or when Depression references from bowler caps to suspenders pop up at Diesel Black Gold or Gilded Age. It seems too simplistic to deem the brooding ninjas at Rag & Bone as decked out for more dire times. Is men’s fashion just an illustration of context? We’ve certainly seen sharply structured, slimcut garments before, and men’s luxury work wear has been making a home for itself for a number of seasons. �eir most recent appearance on the runway cannot simply evoke the economic downturn. Instead, this greatly contrasting assortment suggests Rand more than random: it represents the empowering of the individual as designer and consumer. In recent years, young menswear designers have been offering increasingly diverse ideas for the future of menswear, and its place in a world where fashion for women gets a good deal of the limelight. �ey’ve revitalized interest in menswear, and demonstrated a new confidence in shaping their own collections. �e clothes don’t reflect singular, sweeping trends, but reveal a wide variety of sources and inspirations. �ese looks become the concrete (or wool, leather, even alpaca) forms of a designer’s vision. Meanwhile, this fall, men looking to pursue their own aesthetic happiness will be offered a smorgasbord of suiting and sweaters, be it Yigal Azrouël boho baggy or Tim Hamilton’s slim and structured. With fashion as one of the most capitalist of industries, the only question remaining is why Rand herself didn’t throw her hat into the menswear ring for fall ’49. On second thought, maybe Atlas Shrugged instead of Atlas in a Fencing Coat and Twill Trouser was the right choice. a

Angela Radulescu

Kristina Budelis



Questioning Narrative Conventions in his second novel, jesse ball blurs the contours between poetry and prose BY JOSEPH CROSS PHOTO COURTESY OF BJÖRN SIGURJÓNSSON

Most readers feel comfortable distinguishing poetry from prose—we often unthinkingly accept that there is an essential difference between the two. When I look at a sonnet, I know it’s a poem. When I look at Ulysses, I know it’s a novel. But if you asked me to defend those classifications, I would probably resort to citing popular conventions: Poetry has stanzas! Prose has no meter! Novels are prose! Poet and novelist Jesse Ball, who earned his MFA from Columbia, encourages readers to think critically about these questionable distinctions in The Way Through Doors, his second novel, published in February 2009 by Vintage Books. �e Way �rough Doors begins when pamphleteer Selah Morse sees a young woman get hit by a taxicab. She is badly hurt, and has no identification on her. Selah brings her to the hospital, poses as her boyfriend, and receives bizarre instructions from her doctor: He must keep the young woman awake for 18 hours, telling her everything he can remember about her life, or the memory loss that she suffered from the accident will become permanent. Despite knowing nothing about the woman’s life, he keeps her awake by telling her stories, hoping that she will recognize bits of herself in his fictions. At this point, the frame story melts away. Selah’s stories intertwine, characters within

stories tell their own stories, and the role of narrator constantly shifts. �e resulting web of fragmentary myths and fairy tales is the heart of Ball’s novel. But to call �e Way �rough Doors a novel is really a contentious claim—from some angles the book looks more like a collection of thematically related poems. Ball even substitutes traditional pagination for a system of line numbering reminiscent of epic poetry (the book closes after “line” 1905). “A page in one of my novels could have been a poem,” he admits. “But I think the decision to write fiction is a good one at this point, because a lot of people are not interested in poetry, or they’re afraid of it, and yet that same person will take great pleasure in a novel.”

“A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE NOT INTERESTED IN POETRY, OR THEY’RE AFRAID OF IT.” Are readers really afraid of poetry? Do we feel safer reading prose? Do we need to be tricked into reading poems? Novelists like John Grisham, James Patterson, and Danielle Steel consistently fill the New York Times Bestseller list, while poets almost never make the cut. This sad discrepancy in popularity could be due to a natural human obsession with predictability— mass-market fiction writers understand that

most people love reliable formulas. In a mystery novel, predictability is guaranteed: you know the detective will solve the crime. Similarly predictable formulas are crucial in all popular media: a 30-minute sitcom will have several jokes before each commercial break, a three-minute pop song will have verses and choruses, and a two-hour blockbuster will adhere to the threeact structure. In each case, the consumer knows what to expect, which makes him feel safe. But the rules for poetry are less clear-cut, which might explain why some readers fear or avoid the medium. Ball affirms that “a book of poems doesn’t have the narrative burden of a novel” because it doesn’t need a clear narrative arc or a central character. Lacking these conventions, poetry is never as predictable as mass-market fiction or Hollywood films. In fact, because the conventions of popular fiction, music, and film are so embedded in our culture, poetry, a lawless medium in comparison, can be terrifying. So how should The Way Through Doors be approached? Should readers bring novelistic expectations along for the ride, or should they discard them at the door? The latter choice would be best, for Ball’s delightful and fascinating book strikes a powerful balance between the traditions of poetry and prose—demonstrating that a piece of writing doesn’t have to be branded as one or the other. a Jesse Ball will be speaking about �e Way �rough Doors at KGB Bar on March 22nd at 7 PM, and at Book Court on March 23rd at 7 PM.

POETIC MEMORIES Readers like it when they can relate to a text. They often break a work’s obscurities apart by searching for the familiar, the understood. Yusef Komunyakaa, an American poet and professor, and Jesse Ball deliberately make this pursuit a challenge. The incorporation of memory in their work, an unreliable and hazy theme by nature, enhances the unpredictable patterns in their language. Ball’s ambiguous narrative, which mingles poetry with prose, makes it harder for the reader to fully relate to his novel. To Ball, the confusion born from this style delivers realism, an opinion that Komunyakaa shares in his own poetry. As Komunyakaa claims, poetry “is a way of expanding and talking around an idea or question. Sometimes, more actually gets said through such a technique than a full frontal assault.” Both authors channel this realism through their descriptions of memory. Komunyakaa’s “A Good Memory” describes memories that are not necessarily connected, but are placed together to emphasize their random, nonsensical pattern. Some of Komunyakaa’s titles, such as “Translating Footsteps” and “At the Screen Door,” express the same idea as Ball’s The Way Through Doors—that of moving in and out of spaces. Memory, like poetry, has no clear explanation or destination, but is what remains. —Elisa de Souza




inside columbia’s lackluster dating scene by Shane Ferro photos by Kristina Budelis, Kenneth Jackson, and Mira John

It’s Saturday morning, 10 a.m. I roll out from underneath the guy sharing my twin extra long, careful not to wake him. I’m sitting at my desk, checking my email, 15 minutes later when I get a call. “Shane, where are you? Weren’t you going to let me in the office at ten?” I’m late.


Location, Location, Location

Apologizing to the guy now awake but still in my bed, I stuff myself into some trainers and a jacket and run for the door. As I am returning to my suite 20 minutes later, I bump into him letting himself out. His roommate locked himself out, he says. He’s got to go let him in. He left his number on a Post-it. I should call him sometime. We should hang out. �at was two days before the semester started. I haven’t had the time to call since. And I’m not the only one. In the course of writing this article, I spoke to dozens of students about their love lives at Columbia, and I kept hearing the same complaint—that Columbians struggle mightily to find romantic success (even of the single-night variety) here in Morningside. This is a campus where ambition thrives, and relationships can take a backseat to networking and GPAs. In order for individuals to distinguish themselves academically and professionally, they may need to make sacrifices in their social and emotional lives. Columbia produces Nobel Prize winners and captains of industry. But these best and brightest are still college kids. Are they sacrificing love (or lust) in lieu of more professional concerns? Between Columbia’s location, its decentralized atmosphere, and the perfectionist students that it draws, we sometimes seem destined for lonely lives of academic and professional obsession. Whether because of fear of rejection, or just because of strings of bad luck, it seems that the majority of Columbia students fall into one of two categories: those who forgo romance in the name of class work, and those who look for love beyond the borders of Morningside Heights.


Too Involved to Get Involved �ere is a constant struggle at Columbia to keep up good grades and pursue extracurriculars in order to pad resumes. When ambition is the focal point of college life, it’s difficult to devote yourself to another person. “People aren’t really looking to get together,” says Nora Hirshman, a sophomore at Barnard. “�ey are in their own little world.” For most, it is a world whose center moves from papers to exams to applications for internships and fellowships—there’s rarely time to build intimate relationships.

“PEOPLE AREN’T REALLY LOOKING TO GET TOGETHER. THEY ARE IN THEIR OWN LITTLE WORLD.” �is work-till-you-drop mentality, a defining characteristic of life in New York, is a pervasive malady at pressure-cooking Columbia. Time to develop romantic relationships must be fit in amid class time, work time, club meeting time, dinner time, sleep time, and more work time. If the population at large participates in this workaholic culture, even those who would rather play find the surroundings hostile. “�e environment does not really promote it [dating] with busy schedules and all the work we have,” speculates Charlie Gillihan, a Columbia College first-year. Gillihan describes his environment—the glori-

Students at all elite colleges are driven, but Columbians—who choose to go to school in New York City—are immediately immersed in the breakneck pace of the metropolis. According to an article published last November in New York magazine, single-individual households make up 51 percent of all Manhattan dwellings—by far the largest number of singles in any county in the United States. Perhaps New York attracts solitary individuals in choice of college as well as home and career, and by coming to Columbia we willingly submit to that same rhythm, that solitary lifestyle. When they do venture out of Butler, many students bypass the bars and frats of Morningside to take in downtown’s vibrant nightlife. �ey chose to come to Columbia because of its location in the big city, not for a social scene that they could find at any college in America. Bianca Perta, a Barnard sophomore, isn’t interested in finding romance on campus. “I haven’t even really found people that I would consider dating,” she says. “I don’t really look, I’ve met a lot of people elsewhere.” For Perta and students like her, all it takes is a swipe of the MetroCard to remove themselves from the equation. Instead of hanging out at a campus party, they head downtown, to bars and clubs much closer to “that other school” in New York—NYU. “I have been with a few NYU boys,” says Perta. “You meet them in cool environments—it shows a better side of them.” “I like going downtown,” says Elizabeth Bibi, also a sophomore at Barnard and a friend of Perta’s. “I think that is one of the draws to living in the city.”

Small Spaces, Familiar Faces Morningside Heights is a comfortable, student-friendly neighborhood, but it’s no Greenwich Village. Students at NYU have an endless selection of bars, clubs, and eateries at which to rendezvous. And when they do meet someone, NYU students—whose housing is flung all across lower Manhattan—can walk away the next morning, no strings attached. Columbians aren’t afforded that sense of privacy. Columbia is a little bubble—which University Provost Alan Brinkley once described as a “postage stamp” campus. �e fact that most students live within a 0.5 mile radius from College Walk means there’s really no way to escape awkward run-ins. Hirshman says this awkwardness is her no. 1 reason for not dating Columbia men anymore.

“I went on a few dates with some people,” she says, “It was short and intense—I won’t be too graphic.” But for Hirshman, this “intensity” refers to both emotions and sex, especially after the flings ended. Morningside Heights is a compact area, and avoiding specific people is difficult, even if you don’t share classes or live in the same building. “Even though we feel like we’re in a big city, I would constantly run into people and it would constantly be awkward,” Hirshman says. Despite the weekday bubble consuming Columbia, weekends tend to be decentralized, with the campus being deserted. Bars seem to get plenty of business, but the crowds are unchanging. Beyond EC and clusters of underclassmen nestled in their respective dorms and suites, dorms are generally quiet on the weekends. Even at midnight on a Friday evening, the streets of Morningside are largely dead, with only a few stragglers spilling out onto the street in front of open bars. “I think this is a common criticism of Columbia,” Hirshman said, “We don’t have a campus culture, and maybe if we did, people would be more into relationships.” Weekend after weekend, the same faces show up at the same places. If you didn’t hit it off with someone the first 20 times you saw each other, it’s probably not going to happen. So random hook-ups become less and less likely as the semesters progress. By the end of sophomore year, before students are even legal, who is really excited about the prospects of meeting someone new at a bar in Morningside Heights? You’re more likely to meet a stranger at Butler’s Blue Java—which is hopping on a Friday night—or on

the platform of the 116th Street subway station. For those expecting Greek life to provide anything beyond the occasional fling, Columbia’s frats disappoint. �e fraternity scene is certainly no Animal House—frat row does not have the social magnetism here that it does at more rural schools. �e parties are tame, and the sexual activities, which most schools’ frats are infamous for promoting, are tamer. After all, even brothers are still Columbia students, with the same Columbia problems. “I’ve seen less hooking-up in Greek life,” says Randy Subramany, a Columbia College first-year and a Sigma Phi Epsilon brother. His fraternity and others have their share of hook-ups, but random sex is less common here than it might be at other schools. As for serious relationships, Subramany defies the frat-boy stereotype. He had a girlfriend for several months last semester; but they have since broken up, because of that perennial obstacle— workload. “I really wanted to date,” he says, “But sometimes I could tell that if she had a lot to do she would pick the work over dating.”

Getting Scientific Even for those who might seek companionship on campus, the fear of rejection can prove an insuperable obstacle. We are a school of type-A personalities, the sort of perfectionists not likely to relish the risk of being turned down by the person who lives down the hall. And what we cannot explain, we analyze. Chris Crew, a doctoral student in psychology at Columbia, is eager to explain how rejection sensitivity affects Columbians. It “negatively

impacts their desire to go seek relationships.” He concludes, “Individuals that are sensitive to rejection have a lower probability of starting a relationship.”


ous John Jay 12—as a sexless locale. What happens when you house 19-year-olds in co-ed dorms without even the hindrance of roommates? Apparently not much. “Almost everybody is completely abstinent. �ey are too wrapped up in their own work to venture out.” What does this say about our futures? �e pressures surrounding us are not likely to lessen until retirement. If students are too busy for romantic exploration at 20, is there any reason to expect more free time five years from now?

EVEN AT MIDNIGHT ON A FRIDAY EVENING, THE STREETS OF MORNINGSIDE ARE LARGELY DEAD, WITH ONLY A FEW STRAGGLERS SPILLING OUT ONTO THE STREET IN FRONT OF OPEN BARS. For most Columbia students, this explanation yields a sigh of relief. Finally, something they can understand logically. But romance can’t be solved with an equation. Hence, we have our workaholics, the abstinent John Jay 12. We have the group of people who are still dating their high school sweethearts long-distance, and what is rumored to be a substantial population of online daters at sites like OkCupid and JDate—where rejection is far less personal.

Are We Alone? Of course, Columbia students aren’t alone. Other competitive schools are nerdy, too. “I’m not sure if this is exclusively a Columbia phenomenon but at Harvard, we do too much work,” writes Lena Chen, a senior at Harvard and author of the popular blog “Sex and the Ivy,” in an e-mail. “And that’s on top of already being handicapped by lack of exposure to the socialized world (which I’m pretty sure is a prerequisite for admission).” Chen, of course, is the exception, and because of it she has captured the imagination of mainstream and campus media. Her blog details her most intimate college moments and has earned her notoriety from the Ivy League circuit, as well as Gawker, New York magazine, and the New York Times. Even at Brown, a school known for its sexual liberation movement and the SexPowerGod dance, which promotes dance floor promiscuity, students don’t seem to be having all that much physical or emotional intimacy. Arthur Matuszewski, an editor at Post-, Brown’s weekly features magazine, writes, “In terms of perception, Brown students, when hooking up, dating etc. are typically at the far extremes of the spectrum.... �is leads to an inflated perception on campus of how much sexing is actually going on.” In a poll released in December 2007, 43 percent of Brown students reported not having had sex in the past semester. In colleges nationwide, that statistic is about 31 percent, according to the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment from 2008. Rejection sensitivity is not just a Columbia thing. Maybe it’s a college thing. Maybe it’s an


Looking to the Future

and his girlfriend, who both live on John Jay 12, succumbed to floor-cest. “We met bumping into each other in the hall,” says Gillihan. Living next door to your significant other can be risky—especially if you break up—but at Columbia, these

But there has to be hope somewhere. Relationships and social situations are constantly evolving entities. �ey also go beyond the people interviewed for this article and the observations I make as a lone reporter. Relationships beyond long-distance ones, though rare, do exist on campus. Gillihan, for example, has a girlfriend, a stroke of fortune he never saw coming. “It just kind of happened—before that definitely I wasn’t searching. I was anti-searching,” he says. He



ambition thing. Whatever type of thing it is, it’s there, driving a wedge between the X and Y chromosomes of our student body.

relationships tend to be the ones that stick. For Gillihan, one of the disadvantages of our claustrophobic campus—not being able to escape the confines of a floormate booty call—has become a blessing of sorts, making the relationship convenient enough to work. No matter how grim things may seem on campus, the mentality that dating someone here is hopeless is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of dwelling on all the reasons for dating or hooking up being impossible, Columbians would do well to take a chance. Go beyond your suite and Café 212. Talk to the girl in line at the deli. Call that guy back. Sometimes, like Gillihan, the pieces fit in spite of the odds. Sometimes, you have to make your own luck. a

THE PERFECT DATE: TIPS AND TRICKS FOR DEFYING THE ODDS Make Sparks Fly �e Situation: You don’t know her well �e Solution: Find out what kind of music she likes and take her to a concert at some random, hole-in-the-wall downtown venue. In this city, music is cheap and loud, meaning you will have at least an hour or two to figure out what to say next. If you can’t think of anything, talking about the music is always a good ice breaker.


Keep �em flying �e Situation: You’re broke, it’s cold, you don’t want to walk very far. �e Solution: Make dinner together. Choose whoever has the nicest/least occupied kitchen. Either collaborate on the menu or each pick one dish to make. �e possibilities are endless—it can be casual, it can be romantic, and you will both have the opportunity to be open, funny, and endearing. Make Love Blossom �e Situation: You really like her. �e Solution: Ask her friends. If they don’t know, go Broadway, pre- or post-dinner and drinks, and bring flowers. Everyone loves flowers. Walk It Out �e Situation: It’s been a long week. You want to get out, but you don’t have any specific plans. �e Solution: Take a walk. Walks are spontaneous, low-pressure, and in New York, easily scenic. Walking gives you the opportunity to think up what to do next, and may lead you to unexpected places. In Manhattan, you have the bonus of having a subway station somewhere within the next half mile if you get tired. Good places for a walk at night are Battery Park, any of the Villages, or down 8th Avenue from Hell’s Kitchen to the Meatpacking district.


Culture Shock FOOD

a kombucha-drinker questions the appeal of this traditional tea-turned-cultural phenomenon TEXT AND PHOTO BY STORM GARNER

It was a hot, humid, July day in 2006, halfway through the second Bush administration. Every Democrat in DC was gasping for fresh air, enduring an unquenchable thirst for something pure, something true, something made of pronounceable ingredients. I happened by a Whole Foods, wandered in, beelined to the refrigerated-bottled-beverage section, and spotted a newcomer amid the iced teas: “Organic Raw Kombucha.” Organic is good, I thought. Raw is good. But what on earth is Kombucha? Moreover: is it really pronounceable? I picked it up and read the label: “KOMBUCHA (pronounced kom-BOOcha) is a handmade Chinese tea that is delicately cultured for 30 days. During this time, essential nutrients form like: Active Enzymes, Viable Probiotics, Amino Acids, Antioxidants, and Polyphenols. All of these combine to create an elixir that immediately works with the body to restore balance and vitality.” I checked the ingredients: “100% G.T.’s organic raw kombucha, and 100% pure love!!!” Pure love, huh? Great, just what I needed. I bought it without a second thought and opened it as soon as I had exited the overly air-conditioned store, taking a sip. I immediately felt betrayed by the label. “Gross!” I yelled telepathically. “I wasted almost four dollars on this!” �en I chugged the rest of the 16 oz. bottle.

My unsettlingly emotional initial reaction to this queer brew made me question my sanity. I then experienced what many first time kombucha-drinkers do: I found myself sneaking it regularly, questioning and simultaneously trusting my newfound addiction. And then I learned, to my great relief, that I was not alone. There is something about kombucha that does this to people, that lures them into these love/hate, addictive/secretive relationships. What, though? What could possibly compel people to allot a disproportionate fraction of their food budget to buying expensive bottled kombucha on a daily basis, to renovate their kitchen to allow for perpetual kombucha home-brewing, to pare down their social lives to include only fellow kombucha-lovers, or to spend all their free time perusing online kombucha-making discussion forums? Could it really be its scientifically unsubstantiated “health benefits”? I don’t see people joining cod liver oil groups. Two and a half years later, although I’m still just coming out of the kombucha closet, I am at least now a slightly more informed consumer. Kombucha does contain sugar, even though the G. T. Dave’s brand doesn’t list sugar as an ingredient on their bottle. �e substance is what you get when you put a pancake-shaped living kombucha SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) in a gallon of sugar and black tea and wait 15 to 30 days. Most but not all of the sugar is consumed in the fermentation process. One of the many end products of the kombucha-

As bottled kombucha becomes more expensive, drinkers turn to fermenting the raw tea at home.

making procedure is alcohol. G.T. Dave’s (the most heavily fermented, and therefore the most alcoholic of the bottled kombucha brands available in New York) claims its alcohol content is less than 1%, which is (conveniently) the legal limit for “non-alcoholic beverages.” Another product is a leftover piece of the “mother” culture, the slimy, oyster-like object that rests at the bottom of each kombucha bottle. As kombucha ropes in more addicts, people are turning to cheaper methods to get their SCOBY-fix. “It’s definitely becoming more popular,” says Josh Garcia, a kombucha fan that ferments SCOBYs in his kitchen and sells them on Craigslist. “A few months ago, I had a waiting list going for people wanting to buy SCOBYs that I hadn’t even made yet.”

“GROSS,” I THOUGHT. THEN I CHUGGED THE REST OF THE BOTTLE. Making kombucha in your own kitchen is now not just for the hardcore enthusiasts. As Garcia says, “It was an economic choice. I realized how much I was spending on kombucha, and I knew I wasn’t going to stop drinking kombucha, so the only choice left was to get it cheaper. Which meant I had to start making it myself.” With the online SCOBY market thriving, homemade kombucha is easier to access than ever. If you prefer your kombucha pre-packaged, though, High Country brand’s Wild Root flavor is by far the best-tasting bottled variety: it contains sasparilla and is reminiscent of home-brewed root-beer. For a cheaper fix, head to Barzini’s (at Broadway and 91st), which sells Wild Root cheaper than anywhere else in Manhattan—$2.99, versus up to $8 elsewhere. Still, knowing more about kombucha doesn’t explain the strangely personal relationship that I, along with the numerous other NYC and Columbia addicts, have developed with the drink. I will inevitably sound New Agey as I try to explain my hypothesis: Kombucha is tangibly alive. Not only that, it’s a whole world-in-a-bottle, billions of diverse populations living together in symbiotic harmony. It conjures up images of “the galaxy is on Orion’s belt!” from Men in Black. As students of heady stuff at a heady, stuffy Ivy League university, it’s easy for us to forget that we inhabit bodies. On a healthy day, for every trillion cells in our bodies, we host ten times as many microorganisms in our guts. Drinking kombucha—welcoming more microorganism into our macro-organisms—reminds us of both our mortality and our multiplicity. a


�e magazine of the Columbia Spectator 26 February  

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