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Paris was once all it was to be modern, urbane, sophisticated: a gilded temple at once to Enlightenment rationalism and ancien régime splendor. The American in Paris, now a cliché so well-worn that it may actually be coming back around to being counter-hegemonic, became so because it was where the leaders and intellects of that ideal-based nation came to imbibe the ideas that made it possible. Whole generations of American leaders, political, academic and otherwise, regarded the stay in Paris as an essential stepping stone to a well-rounded, mature outlook on the world. This being a time when the other great imperial capital, London, was still stuffy, choked with coal exhaust and deeply provincial despite its centrality to contemporary global order. Perhaps it is that same search for cosmopolitan virtue that still drives the droves of us, the Erasmus kids hastily spending bureaucrat stipends on wine and metro tickets, the Iranian post-docs gazing at stars in newly-built astronomy labs, to here, year after year. In spite of the ever-greater ticking of rent prices and the fact that the Champs-Élysées is now roughly 75% luxury chain stores and two-story McDonald’s franchises, Paris retains a mystique that resists disillusion down to its very essence.

If, indeed, all of Western modernity can be traced to the French Revolution, perhaps it is no coincidence that we who live in its shadow seek to draw something from the paving stones that flew through windows to make it so. Perhaps simply to make sense from gazing at the Nokia-signage-abutted Bastille monument how it could have come to pass, or perhaps more grandly to take on some of that brilliant foresight for ourselves. Those Americans may have felt that their nation was, at the end of the day, the superior one, but they felt a certain tutelage in liberté (if not égalité, nor fraternité) could only be undertaken in the space where it had, in their mind, bloomed the brightest. More… “The Paris Myth”

“The guidebook says there’re two road trips we could do, The Golden Circle or The Ring Road. The Golden Circle covers most of the big tourist spots like the Blue Lagoon, but that route only covers the south-west. I want to drive the Ring Road, which circles the whole country. I want to see all of Iceland.”

I paused. More… “There and Back Again”

Carrie Rickey is a feminist art and film critic, raised in Los Angeles before attending the University of California, San Diego. Rickey’s work history spans from writing art criticism for Artforum and Art in America, to being a columnist for the now-defunct Mademoiselle. She often contributes to publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and The Village Voice. Rickey has been featured on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, MSNBC, and CNN. She also teaches at various institutions, including Drexel University’s Pennoni Honors College, where she recently taught a course called “Mars and Venus at the Movies.” The course offered a perspective to students regarding the differences between male and female directors and the products they create. In this course, Rickey mentioned an exchange she shared with the infamous Harvey Weinstein. Curious for some elaboration, I reached out to Rickey for an interview. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

More… “The Mirror has Two Gazes”

My favorite activity in Sunday School was when our teacher would hand out construction paper and crayons and ask us to illustrate scenes from the Bible. My little sister and I spent hours trading paper colors and trying our hands at depicting famous moments: Moses and the burning bush, Noah and his animals, Mary Magdalene in an empty tomb, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Moses always had a big nose, hairy eyebrows, and a thorny wreath around his head — I still do not know where we got this idea — and Adam and Eve looked a lot like our Ken and Barbie dolls, with shapely bodies that in no way resembled actual human bodies. Every time we colored scenes like these from the Bible, my sister and I bonded over that construction paper, inventing and imagining our own ways into the stories we heard every Sunday while our mom sang in the choir and our dad sat in the audience down the hall in the sanctuary. And after every Sunday school, we proudly pinned our masterpieces to the refrigerator, where they’d sit, lopsided under the magnet, until the next week, when we could pin up a new one.

This was how I learned the stories of the Bible. It was also how I came to understand the land of Israel. For most of my life, this tiny sliver in the Middle East has always been a menagerie of scenes rendered with crayon onto brightly colored construction paper. I preferred this world of crayon and paper, where I could take an ancient story and make it my own, one that usually featured female characters with big blue eyes, straight-up eyelashes, and bow-shaped lips. I was pretty shy, the girl always buried in her coloring books, and I loved being the creator of my characters’ destinies. Sometimes, after Sunday school let out, I’d imagine a different reality for the women, Eve on a horse, riding out of Eden, her hair flowing in the wind; Mary Magdalene as a mermaid princess reigning over the Dead Sea. In this world of ideas, I could make the women independent, adventurous; I could do whatever I wanted with them. More… “When in Jerusalem”

I stand before bland Mid-City storefronts — dry cleaner, computer repair, abandoned — on Pico Boulevard, the early hour keeping traffic light. I’m here, alone, at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, to rendezvous with a vanful of Communists; my goal is to hitch a ride from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in time for a protest scheduled six hours from now. Something about a massive bomb christened “Divine Strake,” which the Department of Defense plans to blow up momentarily out among the flat planes and jagged peaks of the Nevada Test Site — a vast expanse of barren, blistered land about an hour north of Sin City.

I’m no warmonger, but I’m here more out of professional ambition than political outrage, heeding the forwarded email of my editor — a veteran of anti-whaling clashes and cannabis standoffs — whose connections snagged him an invite to this Communist carpool, which he passed along to me because he had better things to do than spend all of a beautiful Saturday in a van. I try the handle of the address in my editor’s email, but the door is locked tight and the lights off. I wait five, ten minutes for someone to show up, wondering if I’m late by just being on time. After all, I’m engaging with a cohesive philosophy here, a worldwide ideology. I should’ve been early, should’ve been smarter, but this is still pretty new to me, covering hard news for LA’s also-ran alt weekly. I’m a cub reporter at age 29, having retarded my professional development with a half dozen years in reality TV, mostly spent compiling written logs of video footage and transcribing interviews and wishing I was somewhere, anywhere else. My big takeaway from those lost years is that people are weird, and fascinating, and pretty terrible — at least the ones willing to be on, and produce, reality TV (an admittedly skewed sample). Perhaps sensing the toll our time together had taken, reality TV gave me a farewell kiss in the form of a coworker sleeping on the couch of the editor who co-chaired the internship program at the aforementioned also-ran alt weekly (it’s all about who you know). More… “Fallout”

As we all gear up for the 2020 Presidential race with candidates from the left volunteering themselves as tributes, we have also hit my favorite time of the year every year: Oscar season. This particular ceremony gets lumped into a lot of conversations about taste and value, which considering the show’s raison d’etre prove futile and often boring. An attempt in the 1930s to rebrand and reinvigorate Hollywood during the 1930s, The Oscars were born as a means to entice people back to the movies. The audience might not have been super interested in a film, but a prize winner or a prestige picture, might gain some interest. The awards were and continue to be a smoke screen.

But I love them. I loved them as a kid. Growing up overseas on military bases, they started late on Sunday night, too late for me to stay up on a school night. This lead to a lot of bemoaning on my part to my mother about the injustices of the world – of the Super Bowl being accessible (I can’t remember if it was live or not), but being unable to view the Awards as they happened. Some might call me an advocate and a hero, but I was just a deeply passionate fan of film. I didn’t know what The Crying Game was, but I wanted to be involved regardless. As I grew up and began actually watching more, I became even more obsessive. I screamed at the television when I thought the incorrect choice was made. I was overwhelmed when the person I wanted to win, won. It was as if we triumphed together. More… “‘Tis the (Oscar) Season”

It begins and ends with the line. You start at one point and follow it along to whatever path it takes you, assuming you can find a way out at all. Sometimes the line is precise, authoritative and angular. Other times it is playful, chaotic and ornate. On one page, it is tightly wound and throbs with tension. Elsewhere, it is loose and light, daring you to make shapes out of the white void that surrounds it. Regardless, there is always the line.

The line in question belongs to none other than Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), the noted cartoonist (to paraphrase my friend Tom Spurgeon, I don’t know a better term that encompasses his considerable talents and rich, varied output). Steinberg is probably best known for his various New Yorker covers and illustrations, especially that one of a Manhattan denizen’s view of the world. You know the one. More… “Line of Sight”

I wound up hiking Mt. Brandon by accident. But it is an accident in the same way a traveler stumbles on ruins he didn’t know he was looking for. On Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula, they say you don’t get lost, you discover. And wherever you go, someone has been there before, walking.

So it was with me. While meandering along Slea Head Drive, stopping to take in the coastal views and ruins, I passed the sign for Mt. Brandon. It was late afternoon, still lots of daylight left. No need to return to Dingle just yet. So I turned around and followed the sign to the foot of the mountain.

All day I saw it looming over the peninsula, snow on its flanks, peak in the clouds, a presence. At the trailhead, the gentle slope looked enticing. I could start walking up the trail right now, I thought, the way people have done for hundreds of years.

I came to Dingle because of a book I read many years ago. Honey from Stone: A Naturalist’s Search for God, by Chet Raymo. In eight essays, named for the canonical hours, the author tries to reconcile the many evidences of historical faith on the peninsula with the findings of modern science. He looks deep into geological time on the Dingle coastline, ponders early Christian and pre-Christian ruins, tells the tales of the land, and goes stargazing. Through it all, he walks and walks, and these meditative hikes stayed with me. More… “Climbing Brandon”

In 2012, a good deal of popular attention greeted a book, translated from the Japanese, entitled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. The book was, as its title announced, about decluttering and organizing the home, but it overlaid these mundane chores with a missionary zeal that somehow spoke to a substantial audience of millennials and their mothers. The book’s popularity was such that it spurred a second book, Spark of Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. The author of both, Marie Kondo, had by now become a celebrity, and her principles for decluttering and organizing had been branded with a formal name: the KonMari method.

As with all products and services that penetrate the fickle consciousness of the consumer, the next step was to extend the merchandise into a new arena. Kondo’s lessons have, accordingly, been adapted for television in the form of a Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The producers understood that the appeal of the books could be amplified by the physical presence of their author, a diminutive figure who looks like she has been neatly folded for maximum efficiency, much the way she teaches her clients to fold their clothes. More… “The Regressive Magic of Tidying Up”

Literature cannot be the business of a women’s life & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it, even as an accomplishment & a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are, you will be less eager for celebrity.

So pontificated the English poet laureate, Robert Southey, in a now infamous letter to one Charlotte Brontë in 1837. And while commentary on this letter has focused, understandably, on the senior male poet’s urging of private domesticity on the emerging female artist, here’s the phrase that captures my attention: “eager for celebrity.” Southey was intently calling upon a relatively recent usage of the word “celebrity;” though the OED tells us that “celebrity” was in use since the 14th century, originally to suggest public esteem or the pomp of sanctified rites, from the mid to late 18th century, connotations of the term “celebrity” bifurcated, and celebrity came to be distinguished from the less evanescent and more socially respectable “fame.” So in using the term, he was quite mindfully connecting a desire for down-market fame with misdirected femininity. There is a long history of what I call the “unseemly woman:” women who disregard Southey’s warning and who are widely understood, whether rightly or not, to be desirous of fame in a way that is considered overly “eager.” Today, those women suffer public denunciation in terms that are just as gendered as they were in 1837: think, for instance, of one of our more repellent current phrases: “fame whores.”

Backing up to the 19th century to consider Brontë’s imputed celebrity whoring might seem anachronistic or inappropos. Dare we conjoin the name of the author of Jane Eyre with that of Miley Cyrus? It’s important that we do. To assist us, we can call upon the burgeoning academic field of celebrity studies that is devoted to analyzing the condition of public visibility. But in spite of the existence of several perceptive studies of celebrity in earlier historical periods, such as Tom Mole’s Byron’s Romantic Celebrity and Julia H. Fawcett’s Spectacular Disappearances: Celebrity and Privacy, 1696-1801, a quick glance at the large, stimulating international conference that the journal Celebrity Studies sponsors every two years show us a discipline that is still, to a great degree, stuck in the present. But our thinking about celebrity must be anchored in a thoroughly historicized frame of reference, and so it follows that any thinking about today’s “unseemly” fame-hungry women needs to ground itself in a rich history of that denunciation. I need to go back much further than Brontë, in fact, to the 17th century, to the scientist and writer Margaret Cavendish (1623-73), jeeringly referred to as “Mad Madge,” who wrote frankly and unapologetically of her desire for fame in her memoir, A True Relation of My Birth, Breeding, and Life. I need to return to her near contemporary, Aphra Behn (1640-1689), playwright, novelist and spy, thought scandalous for her sexual frankness, who wrote, “I value fame as much as if I had been born a Hero; and if you rob me of that, I can retire from the ungrateful world, and scorn its fickle Favours.” In the annals of unseemly, fame-eager women, Behn’s proclamation qualifies as a 17th-century mic drop. More… “Unseemly”