Celebrity-in-Chief

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America–WTF?

Trumpocalypse, Day 3: I still feel like my whole body is bruised from the inside out; like my soul swallowed glass. I have however, been able to start reading a bit about the election, and I have some initial thoughts.

One thing I feel is missing from the post-election analysis – something I think we all missed – is the power of Donald Trump’s celebrity. For years he was in millions of living rooms on a weekly basis, filling the role of commander-in-chief in his own little universe. He was what most Americans aspire to be: a rich, powerful businessperson making decisions and imposing his will, with his attractive spouse at his side. That’s the kind of image-making even the best political ad can’t achieve.

Look at the primaries. Four years ago, with a similar clown-car lineup of Republicans, everyone got their moment in the sun. Newt Gingrich was the leader for a nanosecond. Rick Santorum ascended to the top spot for an eye-blink. But this time, Trump simply sprinted to first place and stayed. Nobody could touch him. He has always been a special candidate in more ways than one, and it’s clear to me that I underestimated him from the start. I think he excited people who don’t usually turn out to vote, and that’s one reason the pollsters didn’t see this coming.

The second thing that killed Hillary Clinton’s chances was the most prolonged and effective propaganda campaign in modern American history. The right wing has been invested heavily in myth-making against Hillary since Bill Clinton first won office. Whitewater, Vince Foster, Benghazi: time after time, official probes have cleared her, but her enemies understood that the mere fact of allegations and investigations was enough. Yes, Hillary has made mistakes, and on occasion she has lied. Every politician does. But the air of untrustworthiness that hangs around her is largely the result of this incredibly dogged and effective smear campaign.

Thirdly: I believe racism is a disqualifying attribute. I do not feel it is morally correct to support a racist, even if you agree with their political positions. I have voted for Republicans over Democratic racists, and I will continue to do so.

I think the Clinton campaign relied too much on the assumption that most Americans feel the same way. They hammered Trump – very effectively – with ads showing just how toxic his prejudices were. But they guessed wrong. Many, many of my fellow white Americans were willing to look at his racism and misogyny, shrug, and pull the lever.

The Clinton camp made the wrong political gamble. But they believed Americans would do the right thing, and I have to love them a little for that. The Trump campaign believed all the worst things about our country, and they were right. That’s part of the soul-shredding agony of this election.

Now there is a general movement to forgive the voters who winked at bigotry – or embraced it outright. As Jamelle Bouie tweeted:

We should resist that narrative. Forgiveness is always possible; however, we must understand and acknowledge the transgression first. It is a transgression that may literally kill the planet, since the Trump administration is shaping up to wreak devastation on the climate. It is a transgression that’s already making life more difficult and dangerous for women, people of color, LGBTQ Americans, and others who don’t fit into Trump’s vision of a “Great” America.

Trump’s stardom and the anti-Clinton propaganda campaign helped make a President Trump possible. But our readiness – even eagerness – to put a bigot in the Oval Office sealed the deal. From the very founding of our nation, racism has been our central tragedy. As Trump’s election confirms, it still is today.

Turtletinis

limes

Chad and I belong to a boathouse in the neighborhood — the Inwood Canoe Club — which has had a big impact on the way we experience New York. First of all, it’s given us the opportunity to get outdoors whenever we want, since we can walk down the street, grab a kayak and get on the water. Secondly, it’s introduced us to a lot of great people. Since we roamed around so much before coming to New York, it makes me inordinately happy to run into somebody I know on the street; it makes me feel like I have roots in the community. This happens fairly often because of paddling, and that means a lot to me.

A couple of summers ago the club had a cocktail contest. I had never invented a cocktail before but I thought it would be interesting to try to come up with something plant-y and outdoorsy, something that reflected the experience of being on the Hudson River. For a couple of weeks I brought home all kinds of strange ingredients and we came up with numerous disgusting concoctions. I remember a bargain-basement elderflower liqueur that was especially repugnant, with a strong bubblegum flavor. Also, my attempts to use coconut water as a mixer — I thought it would be fun to have a cocktail that actually rehydrates you — were a total fail.

Then, somehow, we landed on a sparkling vodka limeade with fresh basil. We tried adding a little Jaegermeister, the German digestif, to bring out the herb-y side. And it was pretty good! We’d actually created something we could imagine making and drinking at home. As a bonus, the greeny-brown color reminded me of our beloved brackish Hudson.

We won the contest and the drink was dubbed the Turtletini, after the club mascot. Over the course of another two summers, I’ve nailed down the ratios so that I can consistently produce batches of the cocktail for up to 100 people without major variations in quality. Here is the recipe.

Turtletinis for a Crowd
Makes 26 5-ounce drinks

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice, about 8 limes total (for large batches I will also use some Nellie and Joe’s bottled Key Lime juice)
1 cup vodka
1/12 cup Jaegermeister (1.5 TB/1.5 jiggers)
A bunch of fresh basil
Seltzer or club soda
lime wedges (optional)

1. Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water and heating until the sugar has thoroughly dissolved. Allow it to cool for a few minutes

2. Combine the simple syrup, lime juice, vodka and Jaegermeister.

3. Muddle (gently crush and tear) the basil leaves to release the flavor.

4. Combine one part lime juice mixture with four parts seltzer. A cup measure marked with ounces is good for this, or you can eyeball it.

5. Fill a cup with ice. Add some basil. Pour the drink over it. Add a lime slice if you’d like. Enjoy!

For smaller batches, the basic idea is to mix 1 part lime juice, 1 part vodka, simple syrup to taste, and a splash of jaeger. Then add about four times as much seltzer as mix, and drop in some basil.

Lastly, if you need a lime squeezer, I recommend the Chef’n Lime Juicer. It has a gear mechanism that really helps you get the juice out with less effort, and it’s a joy to use.

 

 

 

 

Orlando Vigil, Stonewall Inn

20160613_202206.pngThe West Village streets are packed. After several minutes of squeezing my way through non-existent spaces in the throng, I pop out at the far end of the vigil, on Seventh Ave. across from the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.

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You can’t see the stage. The speeches on the PA system sound like the squawk of distant seagulls wheeling over an unruly ocean.

The crowd is prickly. They don’t like the speakers, who are too white, too straight, too cisgender. (I know this by following the vigil on Twitter even while I’m at the vigil. And seriously, who thought it was a good idea to give Police Commissioner Bill Bratton a microphone?)

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A chant of “Say their names!” goes up and gets louder, drowning out the speeches. This happens a few times. Then the politicians onstage begin, in fact, reading the names and ages of the dead.

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25. Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25. Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19.

Most people quiet down but the loudest Say Their Names proponents start arguing amongst themselves about race and gender. They get shushed in their turn by the crowd. The names go on and on.

Luis S. Vielma, 22. Kimberly Morris, 37. Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30.

It is a fractious, uncomfortable, even angry scene. Perhaps I have been secretly hoping for closure. There is no closure here. And that’s okay. Because, really, nothing about any of this is okay.

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Jury Duty Food, Part 2: Thai Son, Pasteur, Pho Bang

A block east of the courthouse there’s a street where half the storefronts are bail bond shops, and the other half are Vietnamese joints. That’s the kind of street I love, so it’s where I started my pho explorations.

ThaiSon

I’m lumping all of these places together because they ended up being fairly similar. I ordered pho tai at all three, which is pho with rare-cooked sliced beef. Thai Son, the first place I tried, had the most thinly-sliced beef; it arrived raw and got cooked in the broth. It came with bean sprouts, good-quality fresh basil, noodles, and various sauces. The meat and accompaniments were all excellent but the broth seemed lacking. It was pale, salty and chicken-y, not the nuanced, flavorful stuff I remembered.

The next day I checked out a neighboring joint called Pasteur. This was a sentimental favorite because it reminded me of the venerable Pho Pasteur in Boston, where my love affair with Vietnamese food – and in particular with green bean shake – began many years ago. The beef at Pasteur was thicker, but otherwise this pho closely resembled the first one: good-quality ingredients, but a broth that seemed like a too-close cousin of College Inn chicken stock.

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Pho Tai at Pho Bang. In the background is the hot-water thermos for my Vietnamese-style coffee, a half-cup of which made me deliriously jittery for the rest of the day.

On day 3 I turned to the internet to search for a highly-regarded pho joint. I ended up at Pho Bang, a few blocks north. Once again, the solid components were great but the liquid was disappointing.

I began to wonder if my memory was faulty, so I googled “pho broth.” Yep: America’s Test Kitchen describes a stock with “flavor and complexity,” including ginger, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and pepper. That’s what I was missing.

My hunt for a great pho in Manhattan continues (Queens is a totally different story, but Queens is also a long slog on the train from Inwood). Oddly enough, there’s a well-respected place called Saiguette on the Upper West Side, not far from my office. Hope springs eternal! I’ll hit it and report back soon.

 

Jury Duty Food, Part 1: Sau Voi

I had jury duty for half of last week and half of this week. I went in on a Wednesday, sat down in the waiting room, got called in to a case within an hour, and got put on a jury. I’ll have more thoughts on that later – but first, the food.

The great thing about jury duty is it happens at the courthouse on Centre Street, right in the most Vietnamese-y part of Chinatown. I seized the opportunity to start exploring all those pho and banh mi joints in a systematic way. 

I started on Day 1 with lunch at Sau Voi, a sandwich shop I’d been to once before. I had been impressed by the freshness of the bread and the authenticity of the ingredients, so I figured I would go see if that was all a fluke.

SauVoi
Sau Voi’s appeal definitely doesn’t involve a flashy exterior.

Happily, it wasn’t. I got a banh mi with pork pate and ham, and it was like a party in Vietnam in my mouth. The ham was weirdly pink and didn’t look American at all. Actually, it didn’t even look like it should be legal to sell in the U.S. It transported me magically back to the many banh mi I devoured in Ho Chi Minh City and all up the coast of southern Vietnam. The pate, too, just tasted right, and the French bread was perfect. The sandwich also had the classic carrot-daikon slaw, lightly dressed, and some fresh cilantro and chopped jalapenos.

One of the mystery meats involved Szechuan peppercorns – those devilish little guys that make your tongue simultaneously numb and tingly. Szechuan peppercorns in banh mi! I don’t know if that’s authentic, but I don’t care, because it makes me happy.

Unfortunately, the ham turned out to be fatty and parts of it were kind of chewy and gross. I ended up throwing some of it out and settling for the pate, so I resolved to try something not involving ham the next time. More in a future post!

Lemonade

When critics started falling all over each other to praise Beyoncé’s Lemonade, I figured it was just another mass frenzy – everyone  competing to pay the cleverest and most extreme compliment to this decade’s acknowledged Queen of Pop. But now, having finally watched the full hour-long “visual album,” I have to get in formation with all the other worshipful commentators: Lemonade is not only beautiful, but important.

The expression of rage requires courage. You have to know you were wronged, and you have to be firm in your right to express your anger without apology or equivocation. The first 20 minutes of Lemonade are a mesmerizing, liberating expression of pure rage. It’s ostensibly aimed at her cheatin’ man, but as we work our way deeper into the album, more sources of anger arise: the whitewashing of black histories; the oppression of black women; police killings of black youth; the will to genocide expressed in the criminally negligent response to Hurricane Katrina.

Throughout it all, Beyoncé glides, twirls, slinks, shakes her booty, and occasionally explodes in lashings of fire or torrents of floodwater.

The opening strains of “Formation,” the first single from the album, find her speak-singing in a low, strained voice. Singing doesn’t have to be ugly to capture hideous realities – consider Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” But ugliness does telegraph danger, grief and horror. Like rage, it requires confidence. And the result, coming from someone we know can sing the hell out of a melody, is oddly compelling.

“Formation” is supposed to be the final step on a journey to forgiveness and hope, but by the time we get there it’s clear Bey still has plenty of anger to express. And it’s also clear where she finds her redemption: black women. When she sings “OK ladies now let’s get in formation,” it seems to me not just a call to mass political action, but a command to know your collective history – “let’s get INFORMATION.” Once educated, the next step is to get organized: “Prove to me you have some coordination.” Self-education followed by organization is how women have always won our battles, from voting rights to abortion rights. Watching her demonstrate this message in dance at the Super Bowl – THE FREAKING SUPER BOWL – was deliriously fun.

This album has been dismissed as merely commercial. I have to wonder if anyone making this charge has actually watched/listened to it. If her marketing team is telling her to channel pure hellfire, croak like a frog, and depict herself sinking in the waters of Katrina atop a police car, then she needs a new marketing team. Beyoncé could obviously have made more money and sold more clothes from her fashion line by putting out a bunch of peppy dance tunes with peppy dance videos like “Single Ladies.” She could have saved the time, money and effort that went into shooting this gorgeous, layered, haunting and haunted video. But she chose to go the artistic route – because she’s an artist, and she has something to say.

I’m hardly a credentialed member of the Beyhive. I couldn’t even sing you the chorus of “Love on Top.” Political Beyoncé is the Beyoncé who interests me. And with Lemonade, she’s given us a work we can delve into, ruminate on – and, I hope, ACT on – for a good long while.

Farewell Dublin

On our last day we returned the rental car and got dropped off at the Tesco Extra, which is basically like a Target superstore, where we looked around for gifts and were amused by items like Eat Me Bananas.

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Then we went to the station with a profound sense of sadness about our last train ride in Ireland. Last chance to look out the window at the green green fields. Last chance to get Barry’s tea and oatie biscuits from the tea trolley.

We had theatre tickets that night in Dublin for “Juno and the Paycock,” a play about the Irish Civil War by Sean O’Casey — a lovely production with stellar acting.

Juno-and-the-Paycock
Photo stolen from gatetheatre.ie

In the morning we yawned our way into a 4:30 AM taxi. We got through airport security super early for our 7 AM flight and enjoyed a free sample of 15-year Red Breast whiskey at the duty-free. (It was phenomenal, but for everyday drinking I would actually rather have the less intense 12-year version.) Then we wandered around and forgot to go through customs pre-clearance so we were late for our flight and had to do the walk of shame down the aisle of our full-and-waiting airplane. Oops!

airport

I had no regrets. Why leave Ireland a minute earlier than you have to?