Archive for May, 2012

In this week’s New Yorker

May 23, 2012

A super-downbeat issue whose highlights include Kelefa Sanneh’s piece about the dysfunctional state of Arizona (though Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona sounds like a pretty good guy); Lorrie Moore’s short story, “Referential,” about the parents of a mysteriously disruptive kid; and Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s horrifying story about the dismayingly widespread phenomenon in South Africa of “corrective rape” of lesbians. Oy.

Quote of the day: ICELANDIC CUISINE

May 22, 2012


Hákarl means shark in Icelandic, but in Iceland it means so much more – almost an edible national medal of honour. The shark in reference is the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus, above), the northernmost shark species in the world. The fish is toxic to eat because its felsh is laced with heavy doses of trimethylamine oxide and urea, a cocktail that works like antifreeze in the shark’s body, allowing it to swim in Arctic waters as cold as -2 degrees C. To render it edible, Icelandic tradition advises burying the shark for at least two months to let it decompose. This releases the urea and the flesh begins to break down, after which the meat is hung up to cure for another four months. The half-year process makes the shark safe to eat, though safe does not mean good. Eating hákarl tastes like a lump of chewy, pungent blue cheese chased with a shot of ammonia….

Iceland’s national liquor is Brennivin which derives from the Icelandic verb “to burn.” Known as svarti dauđi (“black death”), the liquor is distilled from potatoes and caraway seeds, and is utterly repulsive.

— Andrew Evans, Iceland

Iceland’s marketing gurus may enjoy painting the nation’s traditional cuisine as replete with pickled ram’s testicles, sheep’s heads, putrefied shark, and spiced innards, but there is food originating from this little island that is delicious, flavour-packed, and cheap. And I don’t just mean hot dogs. Skyr is the quintessential Iceland dairy product. Some describe it as thick yoghurt, others as sour curds. It is high in protein and calcium and very low in fat (though some add a lot of sugar. Skyr has been mentioned from as early as the 11th century…[and] has found its uses into the 20th century. The last death sentence ever handed down by the Icelandic courts was in 1914 to a woman who was convicted of killing her brother by feeding him poisoned skyr.

— Eliza Reid, ibid.

                                     map by Daniel Freher of


May 21, 2012

No book has rocked my world in recent times more than Sarah Schulman’s “The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination.” Schulman borrows from urban housing development the concept of gentrification — in which complicated, racially and culturally mixed, financially marginal neighborhoods are eradicated and replaced by areas that are more bland, sterile, upscale, and/or culturally homogenous — to explore the impact of AIDS on the gay world and by extension on American life. The book lays out how difficult, messy, tragic truths have been replaced by falsehoods that are convenient or flattering to the dominant culture.

Schulman is the kind of brave writer and thinker who’s not afraid to exaggerate at the risk of going off the rails, so she does sometimes. But I respect her commitment to writing the way she wants others to. Early on, she lets readers know how she’d like us to consume “The Gentrification of the Mind”: “As a reader myself, I have always most enjoyed books that I can be interactive with. I like to fiercely agree with one idea — and fiercely disagree with the next. That kind of dynamic relationship requires a lot of ideas coming at once, from which the reader can pick and choose. Nothing bores me more than the one-long-slow-idea book, and I promise to never write one.” If you’re not arguing with her, you’re not reading the book right.

To read my review in its entirety on, click here.


Quote of the day: YOUR DANCE

May 20, 2012


Harley Swift Deer, a Native American teacher, says that each of us has a survival dance and a sacred dance, but the survival dance must come first. Our survival dance, a foundational component of self-reliance, is what we do for a living – our way of supporting ourselves physically and economically. For most people, this means a paid job. For members of a religious community like a monastery, it means social or spiritual labors that contribute to the community’s well-being. For others, it means creating a home and raising children, finding a patron for one’s art, or living as a hunter or gatherer. Everybody has to have a survival dance. Finding or creating one is our first task upon leaving our parents’ or guardians’ home.

Once you have your survival dance established, you can wander, inwardly and outwardly, searching for clues to your sacred dance, the work you were born to do. This work may have no relation to your job. Your sacred dance sparks your greatest fulfillment and extends your truest service to others. You know you’ve found it when there’s little else you’d rather be doing. Getting paid for it is superfluous. You would gladly pay others, if necessary, for the opportunity.

Hence, the importance of self-reliance, not merely of the economic kind implied by a survival dance but also of the social, psychological, and spiritual kinds. To find your sacred dance, after all, you will need to take significant risks. You might need to move against the grain of your family and friends. By honing psychological self-reliance, you will find it easier to keep focused on your goals in the face of resistance or incomprehension, initial failure or setbacks, or economic or organizational obstacles. And spiritual self-reliance will maintain your connection with deeper truths and what you’ve learned about how the world works.

— Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft

From the deep archives: I FEEL LOVE

May 20, 2012

In 1980, the first year I lived in New York, Stephen Holden gave me this beloved Donna Summer promo T-shirt. Here I’m wearing it in front of my wall of vinyl at my first apartment on Perry Street. I look a lot like my mother in this photo.

Same day, only now with my beloved feline, Catatious Mona Dumonde

In 1992, at a Body Electric workshop at Wildwood in Northern California, I gave the T-shirt as a gift to Javier Regueiro, pictured here with Collin Brown, then-owner of the Body Electric School. Javier is now a shaman in Peru. Collin lives in Port Townsend, Washington. And Donna Summer is dead, R.I.P.

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