When I was but a wee thing, one of my all-time favourite foods was the latke—or, as I knew it then, the potato pancake. My father would make them for me on weekends when I pleaded with him, and on sunny days we would crowd ‘round the giant utility spool in the side yard we’d set up as a table for latke festivities. The potato pancake represented, for me, the pinnacle of food deliciousness, featuring not only the potato, which is one of nature’s finest foods, but also frying, which enhances almost every food imaginable. The sour cream and applesauce on top (yes, we were a two topping family) were just icing on the already deliriously delightful cake.
I’m fairly neutral on the subject of Starbucks, because I don’t care about coffee. Coffee generally reminds me of dirty, boiling water that has been poured through a rusty grating and into a cup by somebody who hates me.
I address the issue by adding a ton of cream or milk, and then enough sugar to create something that has been referred to as both a “diabetic Chernobyl” and “liquid renal failure.” But since I generally don’t care for coffee, I leave Starbucks alone for the most part, and Starbucks returns the courtesy.
That isn’t to say I haven’t given the whole enterprise some thought. Yes, Starbucks is a soulless, lumbering, obese corporate entity that sweats overpriced, fancy-named coffee into the mouths of the public. And yes, I’m unwaveringly annoyed by the way they try to sell me CD’s of music fresh from the rainforest when all I really want is to pay too much for an overly complex milkshake.
However, as a business distributing a product that isn’t definitively proven to harm us, they are legally protected in their pursuit of profit, no matter how aggravating it gets. Apparently, the upper-middle class can only drink coffee brewed by an ancient sect of Brazilian coffee monks in a remote bean-temple. And if this is the case – if there really is a population that needs the bland, heavy-handed illusion of worldliness and “alternatude” along with their income-accino – then so be it*.
I wouldn’t say that I choke on the atmosphere misdirected liberal guilt when I enter a Starbucks, but I do sometimes gag a little. Of course, this same atmosphere plays a large indirect part in Starbucks’ astronomical profit margins, so it’s not like they’re putting on the whole show just so that my gorge starts to rise.
Finally, we must remember that most dyed-in-the-tight-jeans hipsters tend to despise Starbucks for being mainstream, capitalist, and lame. And since the hipster view of just about everything is factually wrong, I can’t dislike Starbucks. Neutrality is about as hostile as I can get.
Now, I don’t know if many of you have heard, but Starbucks is selling the movie “Juno” on DVD. This is a case where two things that are blindingly alike have come together – it is both disorienting and inevitable. Continue reading
I was excited to explore this city after having heard so much about Budapest from my Grandmother, Pempe Aitken, who once joined Queen Juliana of Holland on her honeymoon here.
It was the celebratory weekend of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. All weekend long fireworks lit up the city which consists of two sides: the Buda side and the Pest side.
Buda is the mountainous side with all the castles. The Pest side is flat, newer, and more industrial. On the plane, I had finished Michael Kaufman’s biography of George Soros and discovered what Budapest was like during Soros’ childhood (miserable). Yet communism has long since died, and I was hoping for a friendly welcome. I was not disappointed, to say the least.
First, I headed toward the famous green cupola of the Gellert Hotel to experience Hungary’s spa culture. Hungary is famous for its medicinal waters and there are roughly 1,300 thermal springs that have been discovered so far. The mineral composition of the waters at each spa varies, resulting in different spas specializing in curing different ailments.
Even if you are totally healthy you can benefit, because we all need a bit of tuning up. Budapest spas offer very cheaply priced beauty treatments. It’s no mistake that Estée Lauder had Hungarian blood – Hungary is not only beautiful but its spas will keep you beautiful too!
There are drawbacks for heading to the most famous spa in town, because tout le monde was at the Gellert. One could hardly move, it was like Fulham Pool on a Saturday. I promptly checked out and moved from the Buda side to the low-key Mercure hotel on the Pest side.
After finding a less famous (i.e. quieter) spa, I soaked up the thermal waters and enjoyed the best massage I have ever experienced. My masseuse did not have Western European training – which teaches one to follow a formal massage pattern that can end up feeling mechanical. Here, masseuses follow their instincts and find knots you never knew existed.
Finally, I was relaxed and ready to experience the festivities. The biggest socialite in Budapest, Elena Ernst (she runs the Ernst gallery), was throwing a party. Continue reading
The fifth most visited city in Europe is the dragon city, otherwise known as beautiful Krakow.
Its name dates back to a legend of a terrible dragon, defeated when a simple shoemaker named Krak ingeniously fed it a sulfur-filled sheep. Krak’s next success was to marry the ruler’s daughter and become Prince Krak. Modestly, he re-named the surrounding area after himself (the “ow” tacked on at the end means “village”).
In the morning, I woke up to the sound of horse-hooves on cobblestones, folk music, and the clinking of coffee cups. My renaissance windows overlooked Rynek Glowny, Krakow’s main square. Last night, I attended my friend Natalia’s 30th birthday party. Three months ago, a brown, communist-style envelope had landed on my doorstep. The invitation announced an “official and obligatory celebration” – a communist chic birthday – at Klub Feniks in Krakow. Socialist 1980’s outfits were requested. If you volunteered to stay longer, you would receive a special mention that may lead to promotion.
The décor at the club had been appropriately red, including red leather-padded walls that looked like something out of an interrogation suite. Guests were served stake tartar, complete with raw egg; others ate the polish specialty of herring in onions and heavy cream. The main course made me disavow all preconceptions about eastern bloc stews: they are delicious, not to mention the various types of pirogies that follow.
Afterward, men danced in army outfits, while women took the dancefloor in puffy skirts with shoulder-padded shirts, all under a disco ball, accompanied by Wham! and old Madonna songs. The different varieties of flavoured vodka came with ration tickets.
Feeling a bit dragon after the celebration (drank too much, those ration tickets were not enough), I strolled down to the big square. Continue reading
Having spent our glorious university years in Washington D.C., my friends and I recently decided to reconvene in the U.S. capital for a walk down memory lane.
We met at the newest Kimpton Hotel: the thirty-two million dollar, recently renovated Hotel Palomar which is modeled after the original in San Francisco.
This place is a home-away-from-home to visiting celebrities such as Mötley Crüe and blast-from-our-past diva Chaka Khan – who, we’re told, had gotten an elevator locked down just for her and her huge entourage.
The hotel is unique in many ways; the waiters here undergo rigorous training with a ballet company, a terrific concept to ensure both regular guests and celebrities are served with grace. What’s more, the boutique property’s décor, inspired by the modern elegance of 1930’s French Moderne designers, provides its visitors with a sophisticated, artful sanctuary. The place is conveniently located just off D.C.’s colorful Dupont Circle and is therefore a mere hop, skip and a jump from Georgetown’s quaint shops, restaurants, and million dollar mansions, and only a short cab drive away from the seats of power on Capitol Hill. We were set to have a good time.
We visited one of the newest and most expensive memorials in the nation, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial, unveiled in May 1997. In our collective opinion, it’s the most beautiful as well. Commemorating the 32nd President, the memorial sits alongside the Potomac River, with statues, waterfalls, shade trees, quiet alcoves and reflection pools, each one symbolizing one of his four terms as President. As we walked along the stretch of grass called the mall, I reminisced about my first visit to the site during my “Explorers, Warriors, and Statesmen” class at university.
Off we went to the nearby Lincoln Memorial, located on the far bank of the Tidal Basin where many spend their late-March and April days walking on the promenade, admiring the momentous cherry blossoms. My friend Dana, incidentally, insists that a late night visit is the ideal time to walk under the enormous stone President. We also visited the Titanic Memorial, built in 1931 and located on Maine Avenue waterfront in Southwest Washington. Despite its tragic aura, this place always educes a bit of a giggle nowadays; Continue reading
In this Southern North American region, it is expected of the women to make impassioned New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and look younger. Some of us are sincere in our resolve, others make the proper noises because it is expected of them. Some of us make a plan of action, others just go buy a low-fat-low-carb-low-flavor cookbook and leave it out for people to notice. Society has trained us to believe we must behave so.
Then, I see on TV that Valerie Bertinelli has lost nearly all of her extra forty pounds (and she looks marvelous, too!), since she has done it already she won’t have to resolve to do it next year! She gets weepy and flaps her hand, and tells us all to sign up. I am happy for Valerie, because she’s happy enough to get teary-eyed and hand-flappy. I’m happy that she lost unwanted weight. Truthfully, though, ah…she really doesn’t look all that different. To me.
I do not intend to lose weight. I’ve tried, with varying degrees of commitment, to be rid of the fifty pounds that have been dogging me for the last six years. I have learned that the weight does not wish to be lost, and all the New Year’s promises to self that self will work out and eat spinach every day simply don’t work. My body is steadfastly determined to remain prepared for a famine, and all the salads and glasses of water won’t change that.
I also have a deep and abiding love affair with food. I absolutely love to eat, eat many and varied things, at all times of day. My latest discovery (I’d heard of them but didn’t know how to go about making them) are fish tacos. Oh dear Gussie. I used talapia, and a fresh lemony cabbage slaw and a horseradishy sauce….mmm. I had been told by people as far away as San Diego that fish tacos were a wonder, and yet I was dubious. No longer.
I also love Thai food, with it’s peppers and peanuts and vinegary sauces, and Ethiopean cuisine with its heat and nutty breads, a delicious rare steak with an Argentinean chimmichurri sauce, the list goes on. How on Earth am I to keep the required Southern White Lady resolution to lose weight if people keep introducing me to the pleasures of diverse cuisine?
So, I have decided to break with custom and forget the weight issue. I’m going to eat what I like, when I want, and however much I want. Begone guilt, pass me a doughnut. Instead, I am resolving something else. Continue reading