What’s Wrong with AOC’s Vanity Fair Cover? It’s Not What You Think

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is on the cover of Vanity Fair. She’s become a progressive and fashion icon, and VF’s choice to feature her is in keeping with other politically bent covers (see Breonna Taylor) this year.

As a rule, she puts a lot of care into her appearance, and it shows. Something that has struck me about The Squad in general is that they all dress well, especially Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and AOC. As a feminist who loves clothes, it’s exciting to me to see legislators looking so good. I have often dreamed of running for office and bringing my sense of style with me–something these women are doing and doing well. Women in politics often read as frumpy, even when polished, communicating that clothing is secondary to their jobs as civil servants. The Squad takes the angle that their clothes are integral to their roles as legislators.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been the subject of scrutiny because of her clothes. Her Republican colleagues have been quick to comment on her clothing, calling into question her position as a member of the working class or conversely her role as a congresswoman. Before AOC became a legislator, she was a bartender and probably only dreamed of wearing the kind of designer clothes she sports in the Vanity Fair spread. Once again, though, conservative pundits have been quick to call into question her socialist bona fides after an accounting of the retail price of her outfits came out.

Here’s the list of what she wore and its retail price according to the Daily Mail:
$2,850 Loewe suit
$1,000 Aliette suit (approx)
$3,000 Carolina Herrera suit
$2,500 Christopher John Rogers suit
$815 Wales Bonner dress
$695 Christian Louboutin slingbacks
$1,450 Diamond, gold and floating pearl Mateo earrings
$2,000 Bulgari earrings (approx) 
TOTAL:  $14,310

Right-wingers are excited to condemn the AOC spread as anti-socialist because they police women’s bodies with enthusiasm, and they want to run a negative press campaign to discredit her. They are themselves hypocrites and need to accuse others of hypocrisy to distract from their own. But what if you’re a leftist (and you are committed to not policing women’s bodies or discrediting left-leaning politicians) and working person to whom $14,000 on a handful of clothes sounds utterly outrageous? Should you too be angry with AOC? Is this a slap in the face of socialism?

This is a lot of money–95% of the annual income of anyone working full time and making minimum wage. It would even be a big chunk of AOC’s annual salary at 8%. It is also money AOC didn’t spend. It’s not even clear whether Vanity Fair paid anything for these items. I am not sure what their procurement process was, but it’s more than likely that they didn’t pay for it either.

First, let’s understand a couple things about fashion. To start, pricing, especially designer pricing, is arbitrary to the nth degree. Yes, there are some basic material and labor costs, but individual fashion houses set their profit margin, which varies and is in no way reflective of the value of the materials or working conditions. Further, market price for comparable clothing is all over the map.

Second, when we are talking about designer clothing, $2-3k for a suit is normal. Gal Gadot wore a Givenchy suit in Vantiy Fair this month, and those easily retail at $3.5K. In March, Ana De Armas was photographed in Valentino for Vanity Fair. Their dresses range from $2300 to $7900.

There’s a lot to say about high-end fashion being ridiculously priced these days. There have been some excellent critiques on pricing scales, noting that as wages have stagnated, designer clothing has increased in price, becoming less and less accessible, all while designers are also putting out ready-to-wear lines at lower price points to compensate for their flagging runway sales. Meanwhile, the rise of fast fashion is breaking down class barriers, which is a poor payoff for the environmental devastation it’s causing.

What does this mean for Representative AOC’s socialist status? First, she is a democratic socialist. This means she wants to limit capitalism, not necessarily destroy it (which isn’t pure socialism). She wants to limit it a lot, though, and she’s further left than just about anyone else in congress. That’s good! If you’re a leftist, that means she wants to pass legislation that will move your leftist agenda forward. A $2.8k suit gifted by a fashion magazine isn’t going to prevent her from doing that. Her goal isn’t to make congress poorer (at least not in their base salary), but to elevate everyone else. She hasn’t achieved that goal yet.

Another angle to this is fashion as art. I don’t think it’s difficult to argue that the folks at Vanity Fair are creating art or, at least, curating it. Clothing is at the intersection of time, geography, class, culture, gender, and personal psychology. It is layered with artistic talent and in conversation with other works and society. AOC as art makes $14K seem more reasonable. We know what socialism has to say about fashion as function here. It’s easy to recognize the classism fundamental to the fashion industry’s framework. What does socialism have to say about fashion as art? In one sense, a $15 magazine filled with high fashion is highly accessible art, democratized. You don’t even need to buy the magazine to see the images shot by Tyler Mitchell. We might not be wearing the clothes, but maybe they are meant to be seen and not worn. What does public art mean for clothing? I don’t know entirely. I don’t want to get rid of high-end fashion, even as a leftist, because I think it is art. I don’t think equality means very much if we don’t also make the world beautiful.

All of that said, I think this may have been a misstep. This spread doesn’t give rise to a stirring rendition of “Solidarity Forever,” despite the white suit AOC wears on the cover, referencing Suffragette fashion of yesteryear. Unfortunately, the price point is inconsistent with her image of connecting to the people. Most of us will never even touch clothes this expensive. It’s what we hate about Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer: being out of touch.

AOC is not wealthy compared to her fellow congresspeople. She is wealthy compared to the American people, and that scale matters. Trump cheated on his taxes. Pelosi orders expensive ice cream by the freezer-full. AOC now has been gifted a designer suit.

In contrast, this last week, Ilhan Omar was featured on the cover of Teen Vogue with her daughter Isri. Both of them opted to wear items from their own wardrobe. Omar looked regal without labels. I think this is a move AOC could have made as well.

Another option would have been to select from designers working on transparency in supply chain, paying a living wage at every stage of the garment production process, ensuring safe working environments, and moving toward carbon neutral production. A $2800 suit seems less alarming with that kind of dedication to improving some of fashion’s worst features, even if the price point is still unattainable for most of us. She also could have exclusively worn American or Latinx designers. This indulgence ultimately feels like a lost opportunity.

Fashion has long been used to delineate class. From sumptuary laws to conspicuous consumption, there is a lot of status baked into clothing. Ocasio-Cortez has taken a huge leap up into the governing class, and this spread shows that. She’s unquestionably a sitting U.S. Congressperson and no longer a bartender.

Ultimately, if you are a leftist, I think thoughtful critique of the spread in Vanity Fair is warranted, which is different from shaming her for wearing nice clothes or accepting an expensive gift. AOC is as far left as congress gets. To maintain her image as a congressperson of the people, she needs to make choices in her dress, even editorialized items she doesn’t own, that reflect that.

This Morning, I Saw a Man Get Tased

(CW: police violence)

This morning, I saw a man get tased.

I saw a Black man get tased.

I saw a Black man wearing red get tased.

I saw a Black man wearing red get tased by the Minneapolis Police Department.

I saw a Black man wearing red get tased by the Minneapolis Police department for shoplifting groceries.

I saw a Black man wearing red get tased by the Minneapolis Police Department for shoplifting groceries during a global pandemic.

I saw a Black man wearing red get tased by the Minneapolis Police Department for shoplifting groceries during a global pandemic, during which the government has only provided $1,200 in 6 months.

I saw a Black man wearing red get tased by the Minneapolis Police Department for shoplifting groceries during a global pandemic, during which the government has only provided $1,200 in 6 months, which amounts to less than $7 per day.

This happened next door to my 3-month-old son’s daycare.
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I am one block away, I see a Black man get up from sitting on the curb, surrounded by police. He pulls away. I hear a pop. He crumples. Then 5 or 6 officers are on him, cuffing him. Kneeling and pressing on limbs, putting him on a gurney, strapping him down, pressing his head down. I don’t hear him make a sound. I see the wires from the taser. I know the pop was too quiet to be a gunshot, but the visual is jarringly similar.

I only film a minute of it, after the tasing, after he is already on the gurney. Because I don’t press record correctly in my hurry to get my phone out.

I hold my son in my arms while I film. I say we live in a police state to him. I say we need other people, not police to respond when someone is having a mental health crisis. When someone is unarmed and has committed a nonviolent crime. When someone is trying to feed themselves.

I count the squad cars. It takes me too long, because I am shaking. I stop at 5. Pause. There are 6.

They put him in an ambulance. I stop filming. I put my son in his stroller. He cries. I say, now we will pray.  I wish I knew the man’s name. I walk to the grocery store.

The employees are talking about the man. He pretends to be crazy they say, to get away with it. He got tased they say in grimly satisfied tones. The white store managers had been standing at the end of the block where he got tased. When I leave the store, they are standing by the entrance, talking to another white store manager.

No one making decisions about any of this is Black. This man probably had white teachers in school. And now, when he’s trying to figure out how to feed himself, it’s white store managers and white cops. And his community can’t build social, political, or economic power, such that, when he’s out of food, someone sees him and sees his humanity, and says, what do you need to be able to eat with dignity?

I find somewhere to sit and nurse my son before daycare, across from an apartment building. Several tenants go in and out while he eats. They are all Black. Why aren’t the store managers Black? Do they live within a block of the store? A mile? Two miles? I don’t think so.

My son is done eating. I walk us back to the daycare. All the squad cars are gone. On the stoop, there are two packages of fish from the grocery store. They tased a man and didn’t return the stolen goods to the store. They left them to spoil in the sun.

In this police state, nobody wins.

I drop my son off at daycare. I walk home. I see the man wearing red seize and crumple over and over in my mind. I cry. Seize. Crumple. Cry. Seize. Crumple. Cry.

My rage starts to boil. We’re lucky it’s only protests and looting.
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A few weeks ago, my city council member, Lisa Goodman, sent out a newsletter saying that people feel unsafe downtown, condemning the looting that occurred after a man’s public suicide was mistaken for another police killing, and not condemning the MPD for eroding trust to the point that it was reasonable to believe they had shot and killed another Black man.

The only violence I saw today was perpetrated by the police. One of the only times I feel unsafe downtown is when I see the police interacting with citizens. I don’t like all my neighbors. Some of them are rude and stinky and sexist. Some of them walk three-wide on the sidewalk and don’t make room for anyone else. It’s annoying, but not unsafe.

Cars that don’t yield for pedestrians are unsafe. Cyclists and scooterists who use the sidewalk are unsafe. Police are unsafe.
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A friend encouraged me to write down how I imagine this should have gone differently. So here are my what ifs:

What if the store manager had a conversation with the man and said, ”I know it’s tough. I know you need food. How can I help you get the food you need and not steal it?”

What if the city had unarmed civil servants and social workers who could be called, instead of armed police, who would connect this man with services to get his needs met?

What if the store managers were Black and lived in the community, so that they recognized that they were investing in the whole community, not just paying customers?

What if food was a public good and decommodified?

What if this was a production of Les Miserables? What if this man was Jean Valjean?

What if society took its metaphorical and physical boot off of the necks of Black people?

For the One Who is Brave

This is a poem I wrote for my wedding, and hid in plain sight. When an unsuspecting guest picked it up, she was instructed to stop everything to read it, which she did. My husband had not read the poem yet, and it was a joy to watch his face as he took it in for the first time.

I wrote this for my wedding, but it applies to this moment of turmoil and uncertainty, and I hope you enjoy it and take courage.

For the One Who is Brave
(a comprehensive exposition of what bravery is)

The first time you are brave,
you probably won’t know it
until it is too late
and your only choice is to keep being brave
or lose—maybe everything.
Later you will learn to know in advance,
so you can opt out early
and not be confronted with the concept of brave to begin with,
Because you will also learn in exactly which ways it is hard
to be brave.
You will know it is lonely, solitary, and scary,
It is lights and eyes pointed at you,
It is interrupting a wedding.
You will know the difference between brave
and the comfort of your bed, a dark room,
and an “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
But what’s important, once you have learned the difference—
when being brave is love taking a risk,
not lightning taking the shortest route to the ground—
is to do it anyway,
to say yes to living,
yes to trusting your gut,
yes to distrusting your depression,
yes to going on a first date,
when you thought first dates were done.
It is naked, standing three feet apart,
and holding off on the impulse to dim the lights,
or move together to touch, instead of
look—holding each other’s gaze,
for seconds then minutes.
It is sharing the parts of you that you’d rather
weren’t there, that you wished were better,
but aren’t yet.
It is “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry.”
Sometimes, even, it’s fighting monsters,
casual and grandiose.
But it is mostly glamorless,
mostly the hard stuff,
mostly the what’s next stuff,
but we still write songs about it,
and read poems under the glare of stage lights,
and perform plays,
and go to movies about all of this
ordinary bravery.
And this is no different,
Except that this is for us,
for future yeses,
for we do,
we will,
we can,
we must,
yes,
yes.

Bougie Career Advice

I just spent 6 months job hunting. A lot of that time was spent on the popular job networking site, LinkedIn. It’s basically Facebook for working professionals. It is somehow not less political. It is full of career advice. Most of this advice isn’t from people I actually know, but I see it because people in my network like or comment.

I’ve compiled all the advice I’ve read over the last 6 months, and I’ve come up with the perfect formula for success: be as privileged as the person giving the advice, and do what you love; lean in; lean out; find a balance; work smarter; work harder; say no; say yes; network; build a brand; be authentic.

If this sounds hollow, it’s because it is, and that is most of the advice LinkedIn has to offer people who are job hunting or seeking career development.

Here is my real advice: form a union in your field to demand better wages and benefits. Advocate for universal healthcare, a wage ratio, high taxes on the rich, a 32-hour work week, and adequate paid family leave for all genders.

Barring that, you will probably spend your life doing jobs that allow you to select only a couple of the above items and making trade-offs on everything else that will be somewhat unsatisfying in a variety of ways. Even if you find a way to do a job you love, you will probably struggle with medical debt, saving for retirement, and having enough money to grow your family. If you are a woman, gender-non-conforming, disabled, or a person of color, you will deal with the added tribulations of workplace and lifeplace discrimination at just about every point, so you might not even have time to think about retirement or a promotion. Instead, you’ll repeatedly prove yourself while someone else takes credit or your contribution goes totally unnoticed. Or you will spend most of your life with no idea how to get past service industry jobs because of sub-par or incomplete education, red-lining, and diminished opportunity for everyone in your professional and social sphere.

These things aren’t about being more hard-working or cracking a secret code; they are about human dignity and social good. When we live in a society where wealth isn’t consolidated into a few billionaires and millionaires, when race, sex, and gender presentation isn’t a deciding factor to career success (let alone life expectancy), then you can talk to me about how I need to work harder or smarter or be more balanced or lean in or out.

Until then, the only code I’m interested in cracking is how to actually level the playing field so everyone has a chance to think about what brings them joy and then go do it.

Housing Court, Yes I Went There

I was hoping this post would be about my unopposed triumph at housing court last week, but court isn’t about winning. As one friend put it, court reliably makes everyone a little happy and a little disappointed.

Why did I got to court?

I was trying to get out of my lease, because my next door neighbor is an AirBnB with a revolving door of late-night parties on the weekends. My building management virtually refused to get involved. I contested that this is a breech of my lease, which has an implied covenant of habitability and quiet enjoyment. In other words, loud parties have kept me from using my apartment as intended (for sleep), so I told my landlords (via the court) they were in breech of the terms of my lease.

After 6 months of this absolute circus, relief is on its way. I will be living elsewhere by March 14th.

Basically, this involved sending a letter citing the specific law I thought they were breaking at least 14 days before rent was due. Then, when property management failed to respond in any way to the letter, I filed an affidavit and paid my rent to the court instead of to my building. It cost $70 to file. My court date was set when I filed for just 2 weeks later.

I represented myself. Lawyers are expensive, and most people file pro se (without a lawyer) for this type of case. I gathered every piece of documentation I could think of from floor plans to emails to phone records. I even included an ultrasound of my unborn child and doctor’s notes from Kevin’s sleep doctor. It was a lot of work, but I knew I needed all of it to make my case.

I wore my most fitted dress, to show off my six-month pregnant belly. I didn’t have to fake my waddle, and I brought a pillow to sit on.

I got nervous. I reviewed my material and talked over every possible angle we’d need to anticipate from the apartment’s lawyers.

Then, it turned out that before appearing before the judge, I’d have to sit down and negotiate with the apartment’s lawyer. If we couldn’t reach a settlement after that, I would present all my documentation and the court referee would decide if it merited a trial. This being my first time in court, I didn’t know that at all and had come prepared to present an argument to a judge.

The negotiation took place in a little room with me, the lawyer, the property manager, and Kevin. The lawyer and I did 99% of the talking. Kevin graciously carried my things. The lawyer started by saying there’s no way a noise complaint case would win in a trial and that the tenant legal hotline (Home Line) we used should stop telling tenants to file Rent Escrow over noise problems. This was gratuitous, and he shouldn’t have said that, knowing I didn’t have counsel. Further, he was lying, but I’ll get to that later. Next, he hammered at my request of 2 months rent abatement. According him, there was no way the property company would agree to return 2 months worth of rent to us. When I held my ground and asked why the property manager’s written promises for fines and eviction had gone nowhere, we moved on to the actual offer.

The offer: Get out of of the lease at no cost. Pay rent for the remaining time we live there with a move out date of March 31.

Everything prior to this offer was intended to make me feel uncertain about my course of action and grateful for the offer once it came. Moving out was always going to be more important than getting money. The lawyer knew that. Also, moving out was the most likely outcome if we had gone to trial. The money was always a long shot. I knew that.

At this point, Kevin and I spoke privately, decided to take the rent abatement off the table for a move out date of March 1.  I knew they’d say no, so I was prepared to accept March 14, the date I requested in the affidavit.

After this, the lawyer and property manger spoke privately. When they came back, they agreed to a March 14 move out date. We filled out some paperwork, submitted it to the court clerk, and waited for our case to be called again.

When it was called, the lawyer and I stood before the judge, who read our settlement agreement, made sure those terms were what both parties agreed to, and dismissed us. I waited in the lobby until the court order was printed. The lawyer went to deal with his other cases that day.

Back to the lawyer lies: Minnesota courts have ruled in favor of tenants regarding noise disturbances. Those cases had documented complaints with failed intervention on the part of the landlord, usually over a the course of many months. While our case didn’t meet every detail of the cases I read about, it fit a lot of them. The main difference was the amount of time a tenant went before filing rent escrow. I couldn’t afford to wait longer as a pregnant person, and I couldn’t deal directly with the problem tenant. Plus courts generally don’t really like AirBnB. All this is to say that trial would have been a bit of a gamble, but probably not to the degree that the lawyer wanted me to think it was.

Additionally, Home Line’s advice to file Rent Escrow was extremely effective insofar as, prior to filing, my landlords were offering terrible solutions that would have required us to downsize while expecting a baby or pay them more money to fix a problem they created. Once I filed, we got what we wanted. They had to pay an expensive lawyer. We had to pay $70. At the end of the day, we are only paying for half a month more in rent than we had originally planned when we started negotiating in January. But the property company paid a lawyer more than we pay in half a month’s rent. They also have to list the apartment, show it, and they still have a disruptive AirBnB to deal with, regardless of who is in our unit.

Maybe there aren’t winners in court, but this time there was definitely a loser, and it wasn’t me.

If you care about tenants rights and access to safe, habitable housing for all, please consider donating to Home Line. Most of the tenants taking on their landlords were dealing with unattended repairs. Home Line operates in Minnesota to help these folks who have fewer resources and worse living conditions.

If you are a tenant with a problem landlord, call Home Line. It is free.

Kevin Forbid!

This is a list of Kevin/Heaven puns. This list is neither exhaustive, nor does it reflect the personality, desires, or sensibilities of all Kevins, namely, my Kevin. It has been a delight to other Kevins and friends to Kevins, so much so, that I hope to one day develop a line of men’s dress shirts with these phrases embroidered on their pockets. In the meantime, enjoy.

  1. Seven Minutes in Kevin
  2. Kevin must be missing an angel
  3. Kevin and Hell
  4. Kevin is for real
  5. All dogs go to Kevin
  6. Just like Kevin
  7. Between Kevin and Earth
  8. Good Kevins!
  9. Kevin on Earth
  10. Thank Kevins!
  11. Kevins to Betsy
  12. Knocking on Kevin’s door
  13. Match made in Kevin
  14. Died and gone to Kevin
  15. Oh, for Kevin’s sake!
  16. Kevin can wait
  17. Kevin-sent
  18. Kevin Help Us
  19. Kevin Forbid
  20. Stairway to Kevin
  21. Pennies from Kevin

Employment Gaps

Employers are not allowed to ask prospective employees an entire myriad of questions in interviews. This includes asking you for your race, religion, genetic information, pregnancy status, marital status or whether you have children. In at will states, employers also cannot ask candidates for a term of commitment (aka–“Are you willing to be in this role for at least two years?”–an absurd question, because, even if you answer in the affirmative, they are under no obligation to employ you for at least two years).

If you get asked these questions in a interview, politely inform the interviewer that such a question is illegal. I am not speaking out of experience, because the only time this has happened to me, I didn’t know I was being asked an illegal question. Ideally, employers don’t ask these questions, but being prepared for if they do is a good idea, especially if you are not white, straight, cis, male, and able bodied. If you have experience calling out illegal questions in an interview, I want to hear about it!

Employers can ask you to explain employment gaps. That means if you were out of work for 6 months or more to care for a child or due to a chronic health issue or other disability, you are asked to disclose that either in an interview or on an application–before you even get in the room.

Should employers be allowed to require you to explain employment gaps? Is it any of their business?

I think the answer is no. Just like the sound of high-heels on the wood floor when orchestras started doing blind auditions, questions about employment gaps surreptitiously disadvantage groups that are already disadvantaged. Mothers (who take a disproportionate amount of time off to raise children) the disabled, and people who have been in prison suffer the most from these questions. So, people who already have a harder time finding and keeping work are being asked in a round-about fashion whether they are par. This does not lead to a fair hiring process, but a deeply biased one.

I know that whether someone has been in prison sounds like it may be of some interest to an employer, and in many states employers can ask about it as early as a job application. This is its own issue, and I know that I cannot fully do it justice here. The long and short of it is that, with rare exception, someone’s completed sentence ought not determine whether they are fit for a job.

Requiring applicants to explain gaps in employment on a job application immediately signals to me that your company is not aware of how various groups are discriminated against in the workplace or are not willing to be part of making a difference.

This practice has proven to be prevalent in my current job search, making me nervous for my future, should I ever develop a disability or take time off to be a parent (I don’t currently think prison is on the table).

Croissants are a Sham and Other Things I Believe Without Evidence

When I moved to France for a year, I had a splendid going away party, for which I attempted to order a large number of croissants from a local bakery. The baker was lovely, but he said he didn’t make croissants in his bakery, because they are hard; they require a lot of time and energy, and don’t always come out very well. Since he was not going to make his own, he didn’t want to sell them. He said the bakeries in the area that did serve croissants almost all purchased their dough from a single source and passed it off as their own–in other words, I’d do just as well buying grocery store croissants as going to any bakery in the area. An industrial bakery was making pretty good (or, at least, extremely consistent) puff pastry, selling it to smaller bakeries, and we all got to eat pretty good croissants as a result.

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A photo of me at my Bon Voyage. Croissants not pictured. I believe they came from our local Rainbow, RIP.

I can’t say I have a reason to disbelieve this information, but it was passed off to me twelve years ago (and memory is finicky), and I have not done any research whatsoever to verify this claim. However, every time I have a sub-par croissant in the Twin Cities, I say to myself, “They must make their own dough.” Also, every time I have a perfect, to a T, honest to goodness, French croissant in the Twin Cities (I have only ever had one at Patisserie 46), I say to myself, “They must make their own dough.”

I sometimes make similar assumptions based on the quality of croissants in other cities, guessing that the croissant racket it more or less the same throughout the country.

I did defer to an expert on this subject for the purpose of this post, and a former Patisserie 46 employee says that they do make their own croissant dough, further enforcing my bias.

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In preparation for my honeymoon, I messaged my host families that I would be visiting, and they asked me what food I wanted to eat. I told them I wanted Belcastel bread, Marcillac wine, and Aligot.

I have a very clear idea of this bread. It comes from a gigantic, round loaf, maybe 2 feet in diameter. I remember my host dad, Pascal, sending me into a bakery to order it on more than one occasion–instructing me on how to order just a section of it, instead of the entire, giant loaf. The crust is so dark, it is nearly black, and thick; thicker than any crust you’d see in the United States. The middle is spongy and nutty in scent and flavor. I imagined its size was due the medieval practice of villages having one communal oven. If you have to share the oven, why not just make one loaf and share it?

The bread Belcastel does not exist. There may be such a bread, as I have described, but it is not called Belcastel. There is no bread, nor any other food (not even wine), in France (or anywhere else) called Belcastel. There is a town by that name, in France, near where I lived.

Memory is finicky.

It appears I may have to abandon my belief that my favorite French bread is called Belcastel. Then again, the bread my host sister found, while similar, was not two feet in diameter and didn’t taste as good as I had remembered. So maybe my favorite French bread is but a memory, and I can accurately say, that Belcastel is still my favorite.

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At summer camp, a counselor once said that mosquitoes are attracted to people who eat bananas more than people who don’t. Friends, I no longer eat bananas. Also, I don’t like bananas, but like, what if she was right? I’m really avoiding two evils, the taste and texture of bananas and mosquito bites. If I do eat a banana, I eat it only when the last mosquito of the summer is dead, and the first mosquito of spring has yet to hatch.

This is convenient-to-believe pseudo-science, rather than something I wholeheartedly believe, but that doesn’t prevent me from acting on it and, occasionally, sharing it with others, despite doing so with caveats, like this.

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We make assumptions and believe things all the time with little to no evidence. While the word of the baker (someone who is probably an authority on the industry he works in) can be presumed to be reasonably correct, my memory of it, or even initial understanding, may be flawed to the point of misrepresenting it to myself and others over the course of more than a decade now. How many people have I told that Belcastel is my favorite French bread? Dozens. While I now understand why, even 12 years ago, my host brother Julien gave me a quizzical look when I told him that was the best bread, I never investigated further at the time. I told myself that I had pronounced it wrong or that it was not very common, but never-ever had I imagined that I simply got the name wrong. Had I never returned to France, I could have gone on wrongly telling everyone about a bread that didn’t exist.

These are inconsequential examples, amusing, even. At worst, they misattribute the work of a few dedicated bakers in the Twin Cities Metro Area, deprive me of a source of potassium, and make me look silly in front of my friends. There are a lot of other things we believe, spread, and act on that are of greater consequence. They might malign entire continents, races, genders, etc. They lead to job discrimination, alienation, and even cruelty from others.

I was able to challenge my belief about Belcastel, because I talked to some of the only people on the planet who would know for sure, a few people in France who live near the town of Belcastel. It’s a lot easier to tell if your socio-political convictions are true–things that are measured regularly, to a great depth. Use google. Read broadly. Meet new people. Ask yourself “does this opinion hurt someone in power or someone disenfranchised?” The answer will tell you a lot about how true it is as well as how harmful or harmless it could be.

Also, eat your bananas.

Things to Watch on TV

I watch too much television, but, lucky for you, I can tell you what’s good.

The Magicians

The Magicians is a Sci-Fi Channel (you can watch it on Netflix or Amazon Prime) series based on a trilogy by Lev Grossman. Some book people will hate me for this, but the show is better. Grossman’s original concept–a world in which magic is real, and so is Narnia, but it’s darker than the children’s books make it out to be–is superb, but it focuses an in ordinate amount of time on one of the least interesting characters, Quentin Coldwater, and is vaguely sexist, homophobic (the gay characters and relationships are portrayed as very sad or embarrassing), and whitewashed. The TV show brings the supporting characters into a new life, making some of the most lovable characters I’ve ever seen on TV. I may have to name a child after Elliott and dress up as Margot for Halloween for the rest of my life. But seriously, can I please be Elliott’s mom, so I can tell him how proud of him I am and mean it?

One Day at a Time

You know how sometimes you are scrolling Netflix, and you are like, “I just need a laugh track sitcom about a Cuban family in LA!” Ok, so you probably have never thought that, and I am 99% grateful that laugh track sitcoms are a thing of the past, but One Day at a Time, a Netflix original, tackles big social issues in a new, yet familiar way. There is plenty of mugging from the indomitable Rita Moreno (best known for her role as Anita in West Side Story) the unflappable abuelita, who dances and talks to her dead husband, and the intrusive landlord has a catch phrase. It makes me think of my childhood TV experiences and how sitcoms were about the typical American family. I just imagine the creators of this saying “what would tv look like if we had had representation 20 years ago?” Anyway, it’s charming, sincere, and there’s a fair amount of Spanish spoken without subtitles, if you want to test yourself or see yourself represented without explanation or excuse. You’ll also recognize a lot of actors from Jane the Virgin.

Sense8

This is a masterful series by the Wachowskis (The Matrix). What if, one day, you became telepathically linked with 7 other individuals around the world. You could understand each other speak, feel each other’s feelings (all of them) and see what they see. The Wachowskis weave a thrilling tale of love, romance, and empathy through this exceptional show, shot on location world wide. I cannot recommend it enough. Also Daryl Hannah. Need I say more? It was cancelled after just two seasons, but Netflix brought it back for a two-hour finale to appease fan outcry about the show ending on a cliffhanger.  I am sad the show was cancelled, but I’m also glad that it didn’t get 5 more seasons and lose the plot.

Midsomer Murders

What? Why? Well, it’s just so…reliable. You know exactly what you are getting, and Hot Fuzz will make more sense to you once you watch all 120 episodes (and counting) of this process crime drama.

Fleabag

I cannot get enough of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator of Fleabag (and Crashing–watch that too). So far, it has two seasons on Netflix. The unnamed main character, aka Fleabag, is a wreck, but not in a women’s empowerment romcom circa 2012 kind of way, like, she’s unapologetically horny (sex positive!), but all of her relationships are deeply unhealthy. She is a compulsive liar and thief, and socially awkward to an extreme. But you somehow love her. She vulnerable in a way that makes you root for her. It’s crass, funny, sad, and winning.

 

That’s all for now. You have hours of entertainment ahead of you. Go and enjoy these stories.

I Like Your Body

I like your body;
it’s a good body
,
you said as if in defiance of
years of bad theology too apt to cling
to my skin, acting as filter through which
I made too many decisions,
telling girls too young to know
how to put on a bra or wear a tampon
that they are never subjects, only objects,
so stay atop the tree, and never let yourself become low-hanging fruit.

These conversations turned the air stale
until the implication had insinuated itself into every hallway
and after-church donut:

If you have a body, maybe God doesn’t want you.
Don’t like your body;
it’s a bad body.

And knowing what a lie it is
doesn’t matter as much
as hearing the truth,
the liberating syllables,
of seeing creation
and saying, it is good.