Monthly Archives: January 2014

Surviving the polar vortex

parkGreetings from the Arctic North! Or at least, what feels like it to my imagination. We have reach the bleakest of bleak times: the dead of winter. I don’t know how anyone here is faring well with their New Year’s fitness-related resolutions because I’m pretty sure the only thing these continuous weeks of below-freezing temps, snow and icy winds are good for is wrapping up in a blanket and drowning your sorrows in Netflix marathons and hot cocoa.

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snow 1I still find myself enchanted by the utter transformation of Central Park in the snow. It emerges as a miniature Narnia; you can half-expect to see Mr. Tumnus come plodding along the wooded paths, umbrella in hand and invitation to afternoon tea perched on the lips, at any moment. See this bench in the Shakespeare Garden here? On one of the blissful days when I had secured my job but hadn’t yet started working, I spent a whole August afternoon curled up in that exact spot, reveling in the dappled sunlight and the campiness of Valley of the Dolls.

The actual streets and sidewalks one has to navigate each day, however, are an entirely different story — one filled with many lost hopes and dreams and plenty of dirty slush. People only seem to be out and about when absolutely necessary; on the weekends, the sidewalks are eerily deserted, only a brave few navigating the rock salt rubble and goop.

pancakesI am incredibly eager for spring: for the daffodils that seem to peek up from every crack in the sidewalk, to shed my puffy down coat (and hat and gloves and scarf and boots), to breakfast on scones at the Conservatory Boat Pond again. The last two weekends have been so brutal, we’ve cozied up in the apartment and made oatmeal banana pancakes instead of moseying on over to our favorite corner diner. Surprise! Our pancakes are better. (:

I do believe I am starting to develop cabin fever though. I think that has to do with it getting dark by the time I leave work combined with the hurrying extra-fast from Point A to Point B to avoid getting frostbite. The first round of this beast known as the Polar Vortex, I couldn’t feel my thighs by the time I got to the subway station — it was -15 F with the wind chill! I saw people sprinting in the direction of the train station from blocks away, which was an amusing sight, despite the bitterly cold circumstances. To solve the frozen thigh problem, I took to wearing tights under my pants last week, which was effective for the outdoors, but made me feel like I was sweating out all my toxins at a sauna once I got to the office. (On blistering hot summer days when I sweat off all my makeup and deodorant by the time I arrive in the morning, I have to wear a cardigan indoor to prevent goosebumps. You can’t win in that place!)

aliAll this time cooped up indoors has motivated us to explore out-of-the-ordinary hobbies. Sean has started picking up his guitar again, and I’ve busted out both the yoga mat and some French grammar workbooks. There’s the pancake-making, of course, and I’ve decided to finally tackle that intimidating Western epic of a novel, Lonesome Dove. We’ve also started watching The Wire on DVD, which is a crime drama about the street drug trade in Baltimore, and will keep us quite occupied from here until next New Year’s.

And to stay warm, we’ve been exploring all varieties of foods that can warm a person from the inside out. I’ve made taco soup and shepherd’s pie, but on the weekends, we’ve been trying out a world of “chicken noodle soups.”

First off, we decided to visit an authentic ramen-ya to see what all the fuss is about, as we had brushed off ramen as overly salty and reserved for a poor college student’s dinner. We went to Ippudo in the East Village and after waiting for what felt like FOREVER (ramen is very popular in the cold), we were led to a large communal table and all the servers greeted us joyfully in Japanese! We both ordered the “Akamaru Modern,” which is pork soup noodles topped with  “umami dama” miso paste, pork chashu, cabbage, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, and fragrant garlic oil. Not your boring old microwaveable Cup ‘O Noodles! It was a giant bowl of delicious.

ramenBut this past weekend we found a real gem! Cafe Himalaya, a Tibetan/Nepalese hole-in-the-wall, with cheap, piping hot eats. Here we tried the thukpa, a traditional Tibetan noodle soup with lots of veggies and hearty pieces of tofu. Once you mix in the house-made spicy chutney, this stuff will clear out your sinuses really well, I promise. I guess the mountain dwellers would know how to make an incredibly satisfying winter’s meal. For $6.99 and easily over two servings in one order, we will definitely be back before we see the other side of freezing up here. And next time, I’m getting the hot tea! Give me all of the warm.

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How do you keep warm on frigidly cold days?

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Reality check

I was working on a cheery best moments of 2013 post that I started last night, but I guess I never feel so motivated to write anything as when it emotionally affects me seriously.

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Today I learned that one of my long-time very favorite musical artists, Conor Oberst, has been accused of raping a teenage fan when he was in his 20s a decade ago; he has publicly denied the allegations.

I was shocked to see this news, then sickened and saddened.

Immediately, everyone seemed to be picking sides. That seems pointless to me; no one other than the alleged victim and Conor know the truth. Either way, his career as a musician is tarnished. And most likely — because OK, I’m prone to believe her accusations — some poor girl has suffered the worst possible violation of her dignity as a human being short of having her life taken from her.

I have never idolized Conor Oberst in a role model sense. He has clearly suffered from both alcoholism and drug addictions, as well as what seems to be clinical depression. Sadly, at the height of his musical career — what I would peg around 2005 with the double-release of I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and Digital Ash in a Digital Urn — he was quite a mess on stage. The guy clearly needed professional help, and no one was offering it because all of us deluded young fans thought it was “inspiring” or whatever you want to call it to see someone “suffer for their art.”

What I’m saying is that the notion of this guy being capable of rape, especially involving an infatuated 16-year-old fan, does not seem like any kind of impossibility to me.

But it is not fun having to re-imagine one of your musical idols as a monster. All across the Internet (well, OK, the strange indie-fueled hurricane that is tumblr), I keep seeing other 20-somethings sharing similar sentiments.

conorIt sounds soooo cheesy to write down, but Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst’s primary musical project) has been a huge part of life. Loving Bright Eyes in high school shaped my musical taste into what it is today: a fierce devotion to independent labels and artists, with a special soft spot for the folksy alt-country/singer-songwriter revival scene. And the boy’s a poetic genius; I still contend that. I mean, come on, “We must blend into the choir, sing as static with the whole/We must memorize nine numbers and deny we have a soul/And in this endless race for property and privilege to be won, we must run, we must run, we must run”? I think that’s pretty clever.

I discovered Bright Eyes when I was 15, and truthfully, I’d never stopped listening to the albums. My friends and I wrote Bright Eyes lyrics on our school binders, listened to the latest singles on MySpace (MySpace!), and I even cut out a couple photos of Conor from a music magazine as part of a collage on a storage container. That I still have and use!

I have treasured every handwritten “thank you” I’ve received from Saddle Creek Records, the Omaha-based label Conor co-founded, in response to an online order. Bright Eyes songs found their way onto many a mix CD I gave to Sean when we first started dating; we contemplated “First Day of My Life” as our first dance for the wedding. A framed Bright Eyes at Radio City Music Hall poster features prominently in our living room. We must own five of the Bright Eyes album in MP3, CD, and vinyl format…and the whole catalog digitally, at least.

Bright Eyes was the quintessential mopey teenager music: hyper-emotional, hyper-sensitive, and dramatically real compared to the autotuned stuff you heard on the Top 40 radio station. Conor was again and again hyped as a “modern-day Bob Dylan”; I didn’t even know what lavish praise that was, or who Bob Dylan was really, I just knew Conor’s lyrics spoke to me in a way no music has communicated to me previously — about figuring out your own identity, wrestling with the troubling idea of the divine, the delicate balance between loneliness and self-imposed isolation. I did a lot of growing up listening to those albums. They were my companion on cross-country road trips from my hometown to college, during final exam cram sessions, and many a lazy summer afternoon.

And of course, Conor was at my first concert: Monster of Folk, an indie supergroup, at Stubb’s BBQ in Austin. And I saw Monsters of Folk again and later, for my birthday, Bright Eyes … on what was rumored to be their final tour, no less. I have a whole post of Bright Eyes-loving here. I had songs picked out that I would have to share with my future children one day and say nostalgic things like, “This is the song I listened to on repeat on the bus one snowy morning our first winter in New York that made think…” Short of having my favorite lyrics permanently etched into my skin, it’s hard to separate my life from those albums.

Maybe I care too much about music, but I feel betrayed, in some way.

I don’t think that having such allegations surface means that impact the music had on me and so many others is negated. But it is very difficult for me to separate the man fully from the music. The primary reason I was drawn to Bright Eyes is how deeply personal the songs sounded: you could hear Conor’s sighs and emotionally wavering voice (god, he had the sensitive heartbroken thing down).

I think the hardest thing about this whole ordeal for me has been realizing that as cynical as I am about our celebrity-obsessed culture and idol worship, I seem to have fallen a bit for it myself. I fear turning into a crazed, defensive fan, Michael Jackson fandom-style, rejoicing as he exits the courthouse following the “not-guilty” verdict. Apparently my weakness is not the beautiful faces that grace magazine covers, but rather, the comfortingly familiar voice coming through the headphones.

Anyhow, as a logical person and a woman, I think it’s absurd to automatically dismiss the allegations and disgusting to place the blame on a victim or brush it off as a mere cry for attention. I mean, really? Who blames a little-known singer-songwriter who is admittedly past the prime of his “popularity” (in quotes, because I know he only picked up in certain circles) for a crime that allegedly happened a decade ago…for the sake of ATTENTION? Doesn’t it seem much more plausible that a 23-year-old soaking up praise from music critics and listeners alike, visibly struggling with a number of addictions and mental illness, just might unacceptably cross a line?

You see, that’s the trouble.

Maybe I don’t like Conor Oberst so much at all. I mean, if this is all true.

But it is so hard to end a 10-year relationship.

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