Saturday, November 28, 2009

Spectacle, Security, and Dinner Manners

Old news now, but after reading the NYT's report on Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the two uninvited guests at the White House Indian state dinner, I remembered hostis, the Latin word that can mean stranger or enemy (which, indeed, they were). All for celebrity, most say, downplaying the very real threat any guest poses to a host.

Doesn't their intrusion seem almost literary? Two uninvited guests turn up in the house that represents national ipseity (our home, our place) two days before the national holiday that celebrates England's New-world occupation. Hostility in disguise.

The final words of another NYT commentary by Alessandra Stanley are even more provocative:
The Secret Service is a security force entirely devoted to protecting the president and his family from assault and assassins; it is not trained to screen for people who will risk arrest and breach every safety barrier — and sense of social decorum — for something as mundane and flimsy as media attention.
But how flimsy is the desire to become an overnight celebrity? Isn't a state dinner also mundane? I know there's a larger moral question beneath all these details, but I haven't quite reached it. I just love how a simple dinner party faux pas foregrounds all the problems of hospitality.

The Salahi's have earned their clout, though who knows at what cost? We'll see what happens after their 20 January subpoenas.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Is there any truly smile?"

Eve of Thanksgiving, and I'm thinking on a phrase a student wrote on a paper last week. "The blue gang beats the red gang and violence stops, but there will be no peace when the red gang fights back," he wrote, "Is there any truly smile?"

"Truly smile"--an 18-year-old Japanese student, fresh to American college, translates every thought on paper.

His phrase glimmers near the old, impossible claim of Aristotle: "My friends, there are no friends."

We seek friendship beyond revenge--the bloods and crypts, Israelis and Palestinians, Angles and Algonquian--but does any friendship exist beyond gratitude? My student hopes for an end to reciprocal violence, which we rightly denounce, but how often we dismiss the violence that hides under thanks, under reciprocal gratitude? My obligations to you outweigh my will. My love for you breaks my self into parts. My face seeing yours will match it, leaping into place with a grin.

Beyond reciprocity, "is there any truly smile?"

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Radical Food Politics: Beyond Diet

At the NASCO Conference in Ann Arbor last week, I was supposed to be attending a series on how to start your own co-op, but I managed to sneak out for a session on radical food politics. It's an interestingly baggy term, but associated, of late, with the locavore movement, Michael Pollen, organic, Gentically Modified Foods, lactofermentation, Vandana Shiva, etc. (See Grist magazine for a weekly food politics update).

The room was packed. If you dangle the word "radical" in front of a co-oper, she's going to bite. Actually, the people in the room already knew a lot about food, and most of them wanted to push it further with the group, in the moment, since that seems to make the best conference sessions.

Unfortunately, the level of proficiency in the room seemed to overwhelm the discussion leaders, so the initial set up was a bit shaky. The most important question I took was this:

How do we take food politics and apply it against other oppressive structures (race, class, gender, et cetera)? How do we move beyond diet prohibitions or prescriptions into something more radical?

It hit me this morning that the presenters were on to something: how do our politics change when the question "what are we eating?" develops into "yeah, but who are we eating with?"?

Any thoughts?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quatrain for Emily

a gift--the cost to get,
and gotten, hard to hold,
and held, the very rift--
could we--imagine--weld

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bread Day!

Scott makes bread for the co-ops every Friday. I think she usually turns out 20 loaves, though her ultimate goal is to provide one loaf per person per week (and there's nearly 70 of us!). Today's loaves had a flaky crust that shed small pieces when you brought a knife to it--the best any of us had ever tasted.

Four weeks ago, Scott invited me over to talk about fermentation. We had a lengthy conversation in the kitchen, her elbows dusted with flour while a mass of dough rose, continually threatening to drip off the counter (in the slothful way that dough drips, I suppose).

The counter couldn't hold it all.