Monday, August 31, 2009

Larger Than Death

(The hearse bearing the body of Senator Edward M. Kennedy passes through downtown Washington on its way to Arlington National Cemetery, 8/29/09. Photo Credit: Toni L. Sandys, Washington Post)

Admit it: When you go, you want to go like a Kennedy, don’t you? I mean, really, does anybody put on a funeral like the Kennedys do? Shouldn’t we just anoint them the First Family of American Death and be done with it? And, seriously, if Ted Kennedy had to pack it in, isn’t there something swell about his getting to be the grand finale in the summer of 2009’s Cavalcade of Dying Stars?

The mother of the Moosians, a lifelong Republican, seems to think the Kennedys are worth emulating in this respect. She sent her children an e-mail on Saturday, during the mid-day break in Day 3 of Ted’s Deathapalooza, making it clear that she, too, expects to be sent off into eternity with a full-on spectacle of eloquence and elegance. The part of Yo Yo Ma is to be played by the Older Sister of the Moosians; that of Placido Domingo to be played by the Younger. Moose and her brother are charged with crafting eulogies that will make the audience laugh, cry, and resolve to be nobler, nicer people, regardless of party affiliation, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Perhaps now you see where Moose gets her tendency toward morbidness as well as her skill in event planning. Moose is already racking her brain trying to come up with some inspirational Midwestern substitute for all those sailing metaphors the Kennedy eulogists are constantly invoking. Not that her mom is planning to check out anytime soon, but, hey, a girl’s got to plan ahead if she’s going to turn that wrist she broke in a first-grade roller-skating accident into the heart-warming story of a child saved by a mother’s unwavering faith and love. Well, her mom did drive her to the doctor. And she probably told her that having a cast on her writing hand was no excuse for not doing her homework for four weeks. You’ll finish that assignment if it takes you all day, she probably thundered, over encouraging plates of Rice Krispies Treats.

Anyway, there’s been a lot of speculation in the past few days about whether Ted’s passing signals the end of an era in politics, the end of particular formations of Irish-American familyness, or the end of the Kennedy clan’s unique hold on the American imagination. The aging bitches of Roxie’s World fervently hope that none of these end games plays out. We do hereby call upon the younger generations of Kennedys to step up to the plate and make themselves larger than life so that they can go right on being, you know, larger than death. Why?

We need a steady supply of Kennedys to continue the vital pedagogical work of teaching Americans how to act, speak, and feel in public when the Grim Reaper comes to call. Even President Obama seems to have needed a little guidance from the experts in the house at Boston’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, or so we surmise from this photo of him looking over at Kennedy’s widow Victoria Reggie Kennedy and his son Teddy Jr. during the funeral mass:

(Photo Credit: Brian Snyder/European Pressphoto Agency, via NYT)

(By the way, we totally approved of the prez’s low-key eulogy for Senator Kennedy. We thought its plainness was lovely and that it conveyed a genuine, appropriate humility toward a man whose claim upon history is likely to be nearly as large Obama’s own.)

The Department of Affect Management here in Roxie’s World is concerned that you may miss the serious point of this post, obscured as it by our death-defying snarky tone, so let me pause for a moment to say it to you plain:

For nearly half a century, the Kennedy family’s tragedies have played out on the most public of stages. Those of us who have been watching have seen the blood on their clothes, the anguish in their eyes, the consoling arm extended toward a widow or a child. We have heard their voices choked off by sorrow and rising up in sublime poetry. Through them we have witnessed the horror of death but also its pageantry: the slow procession of mourners in the street, the solemn gesture of a little boy acknowledging his father’s coffin, the gentle swinging of the censer, the precise folding of a flag, the fading notes of a bugle as day gives way to night.

Of course we don’t mean to suggest that any lesson any of us might have learned from the family’s terrible losses can mitigate or justify the Kennedys’ pain. The powerful examples they have afforded us of giving death its due and finding ways to go on embracing life are just one more public service this extraordinary family – for all its flaws and with all its privileges – has performed for a fascinated nation. In hoping Teddy’s end does not spell the end of his family's role in public life, we mean only to express gratitude and our faith that those he leaves behind will devote themselves to the unfinished work of realizing the undying dream he helped us all to glimpse – in their own time and in the manner that feels appropriate to them.

That is all, darlings. You may now return to your regularly scheduled snarking. Peace out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Presence of Compassion?

And then there were none --

(Photo Credit: Associated Press, via Wa Po photo gallery)

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, you may have heard, has died. Let the exploitation of his and his family's legacy begin.

(NB: Roxie's World sincerely mourns Sen. Kennedy's passing, but that isn't really what this post is about. If you need to immerse yourself in the first efforts to plumb the meanings of his life and death, his triumphs and his tragedies, then go here, here, or here. Ready for an honest, warts-and-all assessment from a feminist perspective? Go here or here.)

As we were saying, the (brazen, cynical, fauxgressive) exploitation of Kennedy's legacy didn't take long. Local case in point:

At 1:12 this afternoon, Moose received an e-mail from Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, himself a telegenic Irish pol with large ambitions, honoring the late senator as "a great champion of progress." O'Malley invoked the Irish poet John O'Donohue, who, says the gov, "taught us that the most powerful type of presence that any person can bring to this world is the presence of compassion." Kennedy, he notes, no doubt with a tear in his Irish eye, "had that presence of compassion." So, he seems to imply, does Martin O'Malley: "Senator Kennedy believed that each of us can make a difference in this world. By carrying forward his compassionate spirit and his causes, we can honor that belief -- and all he did in his own life to make a difference."

Incredibly, just nine minutes earlier, Moose received another message from Gov. O'Malley announcing that the state's Board of Public Works had approved his plan for $454 million in budget cuts, cuts that will be achieved in part through layoffs and furloughs -- of up to 10 days -- for most of the state's 70,000 employees and "slash more than $210 million in funding for road maintenance, health care, community colleges and police funding in Baltimore and the 23 counties," according to the Baltimore Sun.

Furloughs of up to 10 days -- for a work force of 70,000 -- in a state with more than 5.6 million residents. "We are all in this together," Gov. Compassion claims in his chirpy message about the cuts, in which he invokes the specious analogy between family budgets and government budgets ("Just as our families have had to find a way to do more with less," blah de blah de blah) and touts his administration's progress in increasing the efficiency of state agencies.

We are all in this together? 'Scuse me, Gov, but what are the 5+ million citizens of Maryland who are not state employees contributing to the cause of budget reduction? Where is their sacrifice? I mean, sure, they'll get to drive on the crappy roads that aren't being fixed, and they will likely face tuition increases at community colleges (though probably not at Queer the Turtle U, since you seem determined to keep a tuition freeze in place until after next year's election). They might face a few minor inconveniences and perhaps some decline in the overall quality of life (expect rising crime rates and some difficulty managing the coming Swine flu pandemic, for example), but state employees will have money literally picked from their pockets. Thousands of dollars in some cases. Um, in our cases, actually. (The English profs of Roxie's World have already endured one costly round of furloughs, you may recall.)

I am sorry, Gov. O'Malley and fellow citizens, but state employees find it hard to detect "the presence of compassion" in this plan. And, please, don't tell us that furloughs are better than permanent salary reductions or broader layoffs. That is true but beside the point. If the state is in a revenue crisis because of the recession -- and obviously it is -- then the state should find a way to raise emergency revenue in order to fulfill its obligations to its employees and all its citizens. If "we are all in this together," then all of us should be called upon to share in the sacrifices necessary to weather the storm. Instead, a handful of citizens is being asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden because a Democratic governor with one of the most heavily Democratic state legislatures in the country doesn't have the political guts to call for a tax hike to help get the state through the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

A profile in courage, you are not, Gov. O'Malley. And neither are you, President Obama, even if Ted Kennedy did personally hand you the mantle of Camelot in the past election. Don't think you can walk away from the public option for the sake of a deal -- any deal -- and pretend that you have fulfilled Kennedy's dream of health care for all. Don't think you can put lipstick on the pig of a weaselly health insurance reform bill by naming it after Kennedy and fool us into believing you've really accomplished anything. That is not "the presence of compassion," Mr. President. That is the absence of compassion and the triumph of cynicism, and if that's what we end up with the ornery old bitches of Roxie's World will call you out on it, loud and clear.

The dream may never die, Ted, but tonight it feels as if it's on life support. We need leaders whose actions match their rhetoric. From time to time in the course of your epic life and career you managed to achieve that elusive balance. We'll play you off with the sound of your own beautiful voice paying tribute to your fallen brother Robert and the truly democratic values he gave his life fighting to realize. Godspeed, Senator. May you sail on tranquil seas to a place beyond pain and sorrow.

(H/T to my Aunt Margie, fighter for justice, who passed this vid along earlier today.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Julie & Julia: Take Two

In Which We Aim to Dispel the Post-Vacation Blog Fog by Re-Watching a Film and Writing About It Again, Because Summer Repeats Are Good

Julia Child made the front page of The New York Times this morning because the book she co-authored with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle and first published in 1961, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is selling better than it ever has, boosted to the top of the Times best-seller list (in the advice and how-to category) by the film Julie & Julia. Directed by Nora Ephron, the film tells the parallel stories of Child's emergence as a culinary translator and pedagogue and of Julie Powell's year-long adventure cooking and blogging her way through the massive Mastering. Julie & Julia has done well with critics and at the box office and has also boosted sales of Powell's memoir, which has the same title as the film.

The gyno-critics of Roxie's World raise their paws, their whisks, and their specula to this I Am Woman Hear Me Shopping tale of female triumph in the cultural marketplace. As we noted in our original review of the film, "If Julie & Julia -- as blog, book, and film -- reconnects us to that history [of American cooking] and introduces Child to another generation of cooks, then it is worthy of our applause." We stand by that assessment but return to the film because my typist spent part of her vacation reading Powell's book and then insisted on seeing the movie again. It's all because she has been ruminating on a comment that a new reader, RachelB, left on that original review. Rachel liked the flick, too, but she astutely noted a troubling aspect of its gender politics:
Female friendship was portrayed as necessarily competitive in Julie's part of the story. Julie's college "friends" are mostly people she feels obligated to socialize with. When Julie and Sarah, the one woman she has regular honest conversations with, discuss how frustrated they are by social dynamics among women, one of them flat-out states that women don't like their friends.

Julia's success and ambition, on the other hand, is never portrayed as if it's at someone else's expense. Her scenes with her sister, her collaborator Simka, and her editor are all convivial and supportive. What's the implication-- that female camaraderie used to be possible, but isn't now?
Having read Powell's book and seen the film again, we would like to take up RachelB's question in light of significant differences between the two versions of Powell's story on exactly the point of female friendship. In some ways, it is neither fair nor especially interesting to compare a book to a screen adaptation and complain about changes made and liberties taken. The screenwriter must be a brutal editor, condensing, distilling, and cutting some aspects of a story while punching up others for dramatic effect. For the most part, this distillation process serves Julie & Julia well, for Powell's book, though affecting and amusing, is rather longer than it needed to be. Ephron's screenplay is more tightly constructed, more sharply focused, and more adept at pivoting back and forth between the two plots than Powell's memoir is, though it is generally true to the dramatic and affective core of Powell's story.

In its depiction of Julie's friendships with other women, however, Ephron's screenplay departs significantly from its source. In the book as in the film, Julie Powell is an insecure young woman who faces her thirtieth birthday with a sense of uncertainty and under-achievement. In Powell's telling of the story, though, that insecurity doesn't result in relationships with other women that bristle with competitive tension and only make the protagonist feel more inadequate. Far from it. Without sentimentalizing her female friendships, Powell depicts a core group of women friends who are loyal to her and invested in her project. They eat her food, read her blog, and are present when Powell gets the devastating news that Julia Child had spoken contemptuously of what she was doing. Powell takes in the disappointment as she is preparing to serve Paté de Canard en Croute, one of the more intimidating recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Once Powell, her husband, and friends have feasted on Julie's perfectly made version of the dish, her friend Gwen delivers this pièce de résistance: "Well, if Julia isn't happy with this, then there's just no pleasing the bitch." That, my friends, is friendship. (NB: Powell seems to exercise some dramatic license of her own in telling this story in her book. In the blog version of Paté de Canard en Croute, Gwen isn't present, and the duck isn't mixed up with the reporter's phone call about Child's snooty response to Powell's project. It's interesting that in the memoir Powell conflates the two in order to highlight her girlfriend's strong support. The film gives husband Eric sole credit for helping Julie to weather this disappointment.)

In the film, as RachelB's comment suggests, same-sex friendships leave a bitter aftertaste for the women of Julie's generation, while Julia Child inhabits an idyllic post-war world of female love and ritual. The difference is made most dramatic in a scene that Ephron seems to have whipped up out of thin air -- the scene, early in the film, of Julie enduring an obligatory "Cobb salad lunch" with three friends who are shallow, self-absorbed, and condescending toward her. One of them proves to be downright duplicitous toward Julie, as she interviews her for a magazine story she is writing that ends up depicting her as the poster girl for a lost generation of New Yorkers approaching thirty. There is nothing comparable to this betrayal in the book.

What to make of this manufactured contrast? Perhaps Ephron felt she needed it for dramatic purposes or to avoid the charge of looking at her characters through rose-colored glasses. Even if we grant her that leeway and acknowledge the deep pleasures of the film -- which we experienced fully on our second viewing -- we have to acknowledge that its depiction of relationships between and among younger women marks a troubling lapse in the generosity that otherwise characterizes its vision. The scene of the Cobb salad lunch traffics in numerous stereotypes about the politics of the post-civil rights generation of white, middle-class, American women. It assumes that this generation has no self-conscious politics, that it has replaced lofty radical dreams with mindless careerism and gender solidarity with catty competitiveness. On first glance, the Cobb salad lunch looks like an homage to Sex and the City, but the scene merely borrows the look of that show while sardonically misreading both its feminist politics and its queer sensibility. The book version of Julie & Julia comes closer to understanding both. As we continue to savor the delights of this story in its several incarnations, it is important to note that not all of them depict female camaraderie as a lost possibility for GenX women. In Julie Powell's telling, the girl with the spatula is backed up by a posse of women with big hearts and bigger appetites. One wonders why Nora Ephron relegated them to the cutting room floor.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Vacay Photo Essay

The moms are deep into the happy stupor that results from salt air, excellent company, cold beer, and fried clams, which means a proper post is out of the question today, but here's a bit of vacation eye candy for those of you who just can't live without an update from America's favorite dog blog devoted to politics, pop culture, basketball -- and the joys of summer.

All photos by Moose. Where are my wandering companions? We won't say, though Moose's 254 Facebook friends can probably figure it out. They are staying in the quite extraordinary house pictured below, thanks to the generosity of dear old friends. It is a house with a history and a name, and it is done in the prairie style the moms adore, so they are doing their very best not to make messes or break things. Meanwhile, I am being cared for by a skilled platoon of dog lovers who love me enough to endure my nocturnal serenades and the assorted indignities of my advanced age.

Dog loves those who love dogs, kids, which means, of course, that dog loves YOU. Peace out, and we'll see you soon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Beach Blanket Bingo

Angel has given her blessing, and a platoon of exceptionally caring caretakers has been lined up to keep watch o'er America's favorite dog blogger devoted to politics, pop culture, and basketball, so the moms are preparing to head out for a few days away at an undisclosed beach location. Posting may be light, as my portly dykes get in some much deserved down time and comb the beach looking for dead Kennedys, vacationing Obamas, and possibly marrying Clintons. (Think, think, think, close readers -- Where could they be going?)

We'll weigh in as we can, but if you're jonesing to know how totally effed-up the health-care debate is, keep your eye on this guy. Ready to contemplate the moral complexities of Afghanistan? Click here. Worried that somebody somewhere is disrespecting a woman or a fat person? Then you know you've got to go here. Overwhelmed by the gender politics of academe or craving some really cute cowgirl images? Then saddle up and get yourself right over here.

If, on the other hand, you're ready to check out, party down, liquor up, and fade away, then follow us over where these guys are going, dudes.

It's time to WIPE OUT!

We'll see you soon, kids. Peace out.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In Praise of Peaches

A Food Rhapsody, With Some Modest Reflections on the Culinary History of the United States (of Moose and Goose)

Prelude: This post follows up in some ways on our review the other day of the new Nora Ephron film, Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams and based on Julia Child's memoir of her years in France and Julie Powell's memoir (which has the same name as the film) about cooking and blogging her way through all 524 recipes of Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (That post, by the way, has brought more than 700 readers to Roxie's World in the past two days, smashing all previous traffic records to smithereens. Thanks for visiting, everybody, and thanks again to Shakesville for putting us in a "Blogaround.") The post also cogitates on issues raised in two wonderful posts and discussion threads over at the always fascinating Historiann. In advance of the release of Julie & Julia, Historiann took issue with a history of American cuisine that sees everything as before and after Julia, perhaps giving too much credit to Child for transforming American taste and foodways. The posts are here and here. Go read them. Food will never look the same once you've seen how Historiann and her history geek squad look at it.

(Photo Credit: Picked up here.)

Do I dare to eat a peach? Why, yes, I do -- Well, or, the moms do. Many, in fact, over the course of the long, bounteous, stay-at-home-to-save-money-and-see-if-the-dog-is-going-to-die summer of 2009. Moose returns from the farmer's market every Sunday loaded down with the most luscious yellow red orbs of glory on dog's earth, and she has spent much of the summer trying to make sure that all of one week's peaches get eaten before the next week's supply arrives. And so the moms have had peaches on breakfast cereal, peaches with ice cream, cute little donut peaches with truffles, peaches with nothing at all, and finally -- inevitably, and accompanied by vocalizations that recall Meg Ryan's famous scene in When Harry Met Sally -- peach cobbler, made from the recipe in The Silver Palate Cookbook.

The Silver Palate, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, came out in 1982. The moms think of it (and, to a lesser extent, its sequel, The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, published in 1985) as having taught them how English profs and other cool cultural types ought to cook and live. They got together in 1984, and The Silver Palate was an essential part of their transition from starving grad students who had grown up in the provinces to the high falutin' Eastern sophisticates they are today. (I am certain that those who know the moms in the real world will rush to verify the truth of that statement in comments. Right? Hell0000000? Anybody there?) The moms had separately learned to be perfectly respectable cooks in the course of their Texas (Goose) and Indiana (Moose) girlhoods. Goose had earned her stripes as a saucier by making a flawless white sauce in a home economics class she was forced to take at a religious college she was forced briefly to attend. Moose had discovered her knack for culinary resourcefulness when she cooked her first Thanksgiving dinner in a basement apartment so small and dark she could barely see the cans of sweet potatoes her mother had mailed to her (which was just one of the reasons she didn't end up serving them).

Interestingly, neither of the moms can credit Julia Child for much of their early culinary education, though Goose recalls watching repeats of The French Chef late at night in her early years of grad school. Irma and Marion Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking was the Bible of the mother of the Goosians, while Moose's childhood kitchen relied on the red-and-white checked Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Both households also had an assortment of local cookbooks, mostly published by churches or women's civic organizations. The moms' cookbook collection still contains volumes produced by the junior leagues of Houston and San Angelo, Texas and Kalamazoo, Michigan. Indeed, when Moose feels like shocking snooty friends, she'll whip up a batch of spinach balls from the I've Got a Cook in Kalamazoo cookbook, and wait until the guests are oohing and aahing over them to reveal the source of the recipe. Their stories underscore a point made in Historiann's discussions on the topic of Child's influence over American cooks -- i.e., that it was inflected by both class and geography. The San Angelo junior league's cookbook opens with a preface noting that "On a cattle drive . . . the most important person in the world to the average cowboy was the cook." You get the impression the cowboy wasn't looking to tuck into a Boeuf à la Bourguignonne at the end of a long day on the range, and the junior league's collection of recipes reflected that regional history.

In any case, if the moms were decent cooks by the mid-80s, The Silver Palate helped to make them more adventurous and ambitious ones. They still recall the Thanksgiving of 1987, when the parents of the Moosians and the Goosians were brought together for the first (and, as it turned out, the only) time -- and were treated to a menu that included purées of broccoli and sweet potatoes with carrots instead of the usual side dishes. Moose thinks of this as the Crème Fraiche stage of her life as a cook, which didn't last long, but she still consults The Silver Palate every year for holiday menu ideas and still relies on a variation of its recipe for roasted turkey. There are a few other recipes that have become household staples, including "Our Favorite Vinaigrette" and a rich green lasagna that is the most delectable argument for vegetarianism we have ever eaten. But still, the recipe that takes us back to The Silver Palate season after season, the page we lovingly marked with a torn-out recipe for a lemon tart we never got around to making, the reason, we are sure, that God invented peaches, is the recipe for peach cobbler that appears on p. 308.

Here is the recipe:

Peach Cobbler

From The Silver Palate Cookbook (parenthetical remarks by Moose)

4 cups peeled and sliced ripe peaches (we always use more than that)
2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (crucial -- don't leave it out)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (Moose boosts it to 1/2 t., at least)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk

For a decadent topping:
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
3-4 tablespoons peach brandy or peach cordial

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

2. Arrange peaches in baking dish. Sprinkle with 2/3 cup sugar, the lemon zest and juice, and almond extract.

3. Bake for 20 minutes.

4. While peaches are baking, sift flour, 1 tablespoon of the remaining sugar, the baking powder, and salt together into a bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles cornmeal. Combine beaten egg and milk and mix into dry ingredients until just combined.

5. Remove peaches from oven and quickly drop dough by large spoonfuls over surface. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Return to the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until top is firm and golden brown.

6. Whip cream to soft peaks. Flavor with peach brandy to taste.

7. Serve cobbler warm, accompanied by whipped cream.

The photo below shows Moose's most recent iteration of this perfect recipe, which she has dared to tamper with by adding a few blackberries. (Moose has gone rogue as a cook this summer, after decades of slavish fidelity to recipes. We don't know how to explain this shocking transformation, but so far the results have been delicious.) Voila le cobbler:

(Cooked, styled, and photographed by Moose. Hell, she even bought the peaches.)

Go. Make. Eat. Have your own food-induced orgasm. Then come back here and tell us stories about your culinary education. We'd be especially interested to hear from some kids who actually did have East Coast upbringings. Was Julia Child a big influence on the cooking done in your home? Also, for our pretty boys who are such excellent cooks: We are fully aware of how gendered the whole business of a culinary education is. Learning to cook was a huge part of growing up female for the women of Moose and Goose's generation. We'd love to hear when and how men obtained such knowledge and how they experienced it as a part of growing up (queer?). So go eat and then get back to us, you hungry hounds. Bone Appétit encore, mes amis!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Roxie's Watching: Julie & Julia

Or, the Blogger, the Cook, and the Critics

Y'all might have expected that the moms would have been first in line Friday to catch the opening of Nora Ephron's new flick, Julie & Julia, at the glorious AFI Silver Theatre. It is, after all, an estrogen-fueled, butter-enriched spectacle of female ambition and ingenuity anchored by Meryl Streep as the indomitable Julia Child. This time last year, when Mama Mia! was released, Goose declared on this very blog that she "could watch Meryl Streep playing poop on toast and be utterly mesmerized. And happy." Moose concurred in that judgment. So, yeah, it's a safe bet they'll knock off early on a summer afternoon to see whether Ephron has whipped up a fine soufflé or a flat, hot mess in linking the story of Child's rise to greatness as a translator of French cuisine for American cooks with the story of Julie Powell, a young writer who achieved quick fame by spending a year cooking her way through Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking -- and blogging about it. The blog caught on, became a book, and the book, with Ephron's significant contribution as screenwriter and director, became a film. So?

Short answer: Julie & Julia is delightful. Streep is, as always, superb and riveting. She beautifully conveys the energy, the joie de vivre, and the physical presence of the 6'3" Child without seeming to strain or ever slipping into parody. (She comes close, especially in mimicking Child's lilting voice, but one could argue that Child herself came close to parody, once she came into her own on television.) The supporting cast is uniformly terrific, especially Stanley Tucci as Child's adoring husband Paul, a diplomat whose career fortuitously took the couple to France in 1948. Jane Lynch makes a brief, wonderful appearance as Child's sister Dorothy, which gives viewers a sense of the stuffy provincial world Child escaped when she left Pasadena to attend Smith College in the early 30s.

In the Julie plot, Amy Adams plays a character who is, as Child herself was before she started studying at Le Cordon Bleu, a young woman adrift and insecure who finds herself in the discipline of cooking. In the beginning of the story, Julie is smart but unfocused. She is a writer with an unfinished novel stuck in a job she hates. One can't help but be charmed by the determination and chutzpah that emerge through her passionate engagement not only with Child's cookbook but with the person(a) of Child, who becomes an imaginary friend and mentor as she plows her way through the 524 recipes. Julie, too, has an adoring spouse, Eric, winningly played by Chris Messina, who encourages Julie through the inevitable culinary disasters and disappointments that occur along the way. Most devastating is the news, which Julie receives late in the film, when her blog has catapulted her onto the pages of the New York Times, that Child herself disapproved of The Julie/Julia Project. Eric bolsters her shaken confidence, reminding Julie that what really matters is the Julia she has conjured for and within herself.

This detail, about Child's snooty dismissal of Powell's project, is apparently true and has been circulated by Judith Jones, Child's editor at Alfred Knopf. In response to suggestions that Child thought Powell was disrespectful or exploitative, Nora Ephron has diplomatically remarked that she believes if Child had lived longer (she died in 2004, a year after Powell's blog project ended), she would have come to recognize that Powell "was popularizing and paying homage to her." Some of the film's critics, though generally kind to Julie & Julia, have taken a position closer to Child's than Ephron's and dismissed the Julie half of the film as wan, insipid, and overwhelmed by the Julia half. A. O. Scott in the Times blames the imbalance on a flaw in the film's premise: "Julie is an insecure, enterprising young woman who found a gimmick and scored a book contract. Julia is a figure of such imposing cultural stature that her pots and pans are displayed at the Smithsonian." Ann Hornaday in WaPo is even tougher on Julie, arguing that she is a whiny sad-sack whose cooking is only another sign of her self-absorption. "As for Powell," Hornaday sniffs at the end of her review, "her project resulted in everything she wanted in the first place: fame, a book contract and a movie deal. That's it. No matter how strenuously Ephron tries to draw parallels between her protagonists' friendships, marriages, struggles and triumphs, it's no use. In pure style and strength of character, Child reigns supreme. And Powell's arms are too short to blog with God."

The blogging bitches of Roxie's World are here to tell you that such readings of Julie & Julia are as wrong as margarine, nonstick cookware, and frozen TV dinners. Moreover, they smack of ageism, elitism, don't-touch-the-hem-of-the-iconism, and the print journalist's fear and loathing of anything that has its origins in the blogosphere. We haven't read Julie Powell's original blog (you can check out her current one here) or the book that grew out of it (though it is on order, for research purposes). We are grateful, however, that the writerly fantasy that impels Ephron's film is far more generous to Powell than critics like Scott and Hornaday have been. The film doesn't have to convince viewers that Julie Powell is destined for the kind of greatness Julia Child achieved in order for us to root for the young writer/cook and accept the intertwining of the two women's stories. All it has to do is get us to see the brilliance of Powell's conceit for her blog and the strenuous discipline that was required to follow through on the commitment she made to herself and her growing group of readers.

In this, in our judgment, the film entirely succeeds. Granted we have our own biases in favor of the struggling solo blogger, quietly tapping the keys in the still of the night, wondering who, if anyone, is reading, enduring the condescension of friends and the cluelessness of family (hilariously depicted in Julie & Julia in a series of phone conversations between Julie and her mother, who is voiced by Mary Kay Place), and finally hitting the jackpot of public success. (Where, oh where, is the literary agent who will recognize the billions of dollars waiting to be made off America's favorite dog blog devoted to politics, pop culture, and basketball? Sigh.)

Mastering the Art of French Cooking
was a monumental feat of writing -- a work of scholarship, an act of translation that mattered tremendously to a generation of American cooks. If Julie & Julia -- as blog, book, and film -- reconnects us to that history and introduces Child to another generation of cooks, then it is worthy of our applause, not our contempt. Michael Cunningham offered a similar act of homage for Virgina Woolf in his 2000 novel, The Hours, and earned both a Pulitzer Prize and another film starring Meryl Streep for his efforts. We don't need to imagine that Powell's laptop will end up in the Smithsonian in order to appreciate what she launched when she bravely pressed "publish" for the first time. We just need to recognize that youth must begin somewhere and that the present is always reinventing the past. Thank dog Nora Ephron figured that out and conveys such an appreciation in every frame of this deftly constructed, deeply generous, utterly absorbing film.

Go see Julie & Julia. Roxie's World gives it an enthusiastic Five-Paw Rating, with a couple pats of butter on the side for good measure. And because the immature dudes in our Department of Exceptionally Bad Puns insisted, we will sign off with our own unique homage to Julia Child. Yep, you knew it was coming: Bone Appétit!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Die Another Day

I believe I will, thank you -- die another day, if you don't mind.

(Post title offered without apology or further reference to this epic motion picture of 2002. But here is the image credit.)

It's been awhile since we updated you on the progress of my dying. In this long, corpse-strewn summer, when celebrities, dogs, celebrities' dogs, and celebrity dogs have been dropping like flies, America's favorite dog blogger devoted to politics, pop culture, and basketball, whose demise was confidently predicted for mid-June, endures. Indeed, the summer of 2009 has been such a deadly season that the Office of Death Commemoration here in Roxie's World, directed by the highly capable and experienced Emmeline Grangerford, has fallen behind in its work, failing to note the passing last week of Homer, a sweet shaggy beast of a fellow who succumbed to lymphoma. Ms. Grangerford extends apologies as well as sympathies to Homer's humans, Julie and Kim, who deserve a better poem than they are likely to get out of the overworked scribes of ODC right now. Fortunately, Julie knows that a good poem cannot be rushed. Our thoughts are with you, friends.

Back to me the living, the not yet dead, the mighty dog who looked the Grim Reaper right in the eye and said, "Put down that scythe, a$$hole. I ain't going anywhere!" How's that whole showdown going? you may be wondering.

Close readers -- and I know that you are all close, even professionally trained, readers! -- may have gathered that the Reaper seemed to have gained some momentum in our battle recently. I have continued to eat, drink, and poop normally, which is good because people keep telling the moms, "If she stops eating you'll know it's time." Their tones are so somber when they say this that I have a hunch that if I skip a meal it may be my last, so I greet the food bowl with great enthusiasm whenever it is presented to me. "No, no, Nurse Jackie," I imagine screaming, "it's not time for your special champagne cocktail!" In the past week or so, though, I have had some difficulties, including a high degree of what geriatric dog experts call "nocturnal restlessness." I am wakeful. I whine. I twirl, as the moms call my efforts to pull myself around on my front legs. Eventually, I bark, and I keep it up until a poor sleepy mom comes to check on me. At which point I stop. For awhile. One never knows for how long, and the torment of that uncertainty -- If I close my eyes will it start again? -- has kept at least one mom wide awake for much of the past week. Not good, kids. Hell hath no fury like a sleep-deprived Moose.

Yesterday, we decided to take action against the encroachments of the Reaper. The moms took me to my groomer. Don't laugh! Even a tough girl appreciates the restorative powers of a spa day, and I have to admit I was one scruffy pup before Marie laid her gentle yet masterful hands on me. I am pleased to report that the strenuous effort to make myself beautiful so wore me out that I slept through the night last night -- and so did Moose! Which means we were all bright and shiny this morning for phase 2 of our action plan, an appointment with the vet. We've avoided the vet this summer, since I've been on hospice care, but the moms felt we'd reached a point where we needed an assessment as well as some advice on how to handle my night-time Restless Dog Syndrome.

Happily, we were able to get an appointment not with the doctor who is known in these precincts as Kevorkavet (because she has twice proposed killing me) but with the doctor whom I have long considered to be my primary care physician. Let's call her Angel. Moose had prepared very carefully for the appointment and so was able to offer the doctor a precise account of everything that had happened since late May, when my cardiologist had put me on a new medication for my heart murmur. Condensed version: A week later, I was in liver failure. I had also by then lost the use of my back legs, which probably isn't related to the liver failure, but is nonetheless an important part of my health story. The moms decided not to subject me to further tests or heroic treatments and took me off all medications (I was on 7 at the time). Kevorkavet said I would probably die in two weeks without treatment. Here I am, biyatch.

Angel spent about 45 minutes with us. She was amazed at how well I was doing without medication. The moms beamed with pride at this declaration. Moose looked down at me and whispered, "El milagro." She does not speak Spanish, but for some reason she likes this particular endearment when I have done something that both moves and impresses her. The doctor understood and respected the moms' desire to let nature take its course and assured them there was no reason to consider doing anything else (i.e., KILLING ME!) at this point. She gave me a shot of B12, took a blood test, cleaned out my eyes, and sent us home with a bag of new things to try to keep the eye gunk at bay. She recommended going back on small, twice-daily doses of Tramadol to see if it would help me sleep better at night. If that doesn't work, we may try Benadryl. She hugged the moms and gave them her cell phone number. "She's not ready to go yet," she told them.

Oh, Angel, Angel, Angel, the tired old bitches of Roxie's World thank you for your wise and compassionate care. Thank you for listening closely, thank you for not trying to substitute your judgment for ours, and thank you for recognizing that love, if it doesn't create miracles, is itself a miracle that can make life worthwhile under challenging circumstances. Thank you for recognizing that an underdog can be a superhero if she has a couple of deeply devoted sidekicks to help her over the rough patches. (We say this recognizing that some rough patches are too rough for even the superest of superheros and the most deeply devoted sidekicks to manage. This is simply where we are now.)

But, really, Angel, thanks a bunch for that cell phone number. We know some hot chicks down in the dog park who are going to be insanely jealous when we drop that little tidbit into conversation. And drop it we will, girlfriend. We are definitely not above that.

Insert icon of dog rolling eyes here.

We'll sign off with a music vid for all the baby boomers, all the punk rockers, and all the crime fighters out there who are committed to righting wrongs with blinding speed. (Need to hear the original Underdog theme song? Go here.) Yeah, it's the Butthole Surfers rocking out to a mashup of clips from the classic cartoon of the early 60s. Watch it, kids, and know that you are the cape that lifts me into the air, the object of all my noble quests, the true-blue spectacle in every miracle I perform. Fight on, darlings, fight on. Tomorrow is another day -- and I'll be here to share it with you.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Hard to Say Good-Bye

Question of the Day (or, Technically, Question of the Extremely Early Morning, On Account of My Typist and I Have Given Up Sleeping at Night, It Seems):

How do you sign off your e-mails?

Related and more to the point:

How do you negotiate the often mixed nature of your relationships (professional and personal) in the also mixed and constantly shifting mode of e-mail?

By “mixed,” we mean that e-mail has always been a hybrid mode of communication – kinda (or sometimes) formal and kinda (or often) informal; a little bit like letters, a little bit like memos; a way of conducting official business, a primary means of reaching out and touching everyone in nearly aspect of our lives. Sometimes all in the same message. By “shifting,” we mean that e-mail has evolved in the last decade or so as it has taken over our communications lives and as other platforms (such as texting and Twittering) have emerged and influenced its style and grammar.

Why does this question pop out in the middle of the night as the lassitude of August takes hold of Roxie’s World and other places in the northern hemisphere? WaPo ran a story yesterday, a very August kind of story, the kind that runs when Congress and all the Villagers are fleeing the city to be liberated from even having to pretend to know what to do about health care, climate change, or Afghanistan. It was kind of an etiquette story on how vexing it can be to figure out how to sign off an e-mail message, given that e-mail, unlike earlier epistolary modes, doesn’t come equipped with “time-tested formal guidance on the correct way to sign off.” And so we sit in our cubicles torturing ourselves as to whether “best” conveys sufficient warmth or “XOXO” conveys an embarrassing excess of it. We wear out our backspace keys and waste billions of dollars in person hours trying to figure out whether and how to say good-bye.

Goodness, people, you really don’t want to think about Afghanistan, do you?

My typist, who grapples with the mind-boggling dilemma of how to close an e-mail dozens of times a day, would like to point out that it might not have been that much easier in the olden days of letter-writing. Despite all those conduct books and established rules of epistolary etiquette, a girl could find herself caught up on the horns of precisely this dilemma. One of Moose’s favorite moments in all of Western literature occurs early in Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country (1913), when Undine Spragg, a spectacularly ambitious social climber trying to penetrate the impenetrable social world of Old New York, wrestles with how to close a response to a dinner invitation from one of the elite. Writing as her mother, to whom the invitation is addressed, Undine labors over her pigeon-blood notepaper with white ink, trying to decide how to close out her reply. The letter of invitation had been signed simply, “Laura Fairford,” but Undine thinks that seems schoolgirlish and beneath her mother. She first signs her reply with a dignified, “Sincerely, Mrs. Abner E. Spragg,” but then caves into insecurity and copies the formula used by her would-be hostess, “Yours sincerely, Leota B. Spragg.” It gets better:
But this struck her as an odd juxtaposition of formality and freedom, and she made a third attempt: “Yours with love, Leota B. Spragg.” This, however, seemed excessive, as the ladies had never met; and after several other experiments she finally decided on a compromise, and ended the note: “Yours sincerely, Mrs. Leota B. Spragg.” That might be conventional, Undine reflected, but it was certainly correct.
Moose regrets that the computer age has tragically reduced the demand for pigeon-blood notepaper with white ink, but she is pleased to realize that Undine Spragg remains a heroine for our manner-impaired time.

Back to the article, though. Unfortunately, it isn’t likely to rescue many latter-day Undines from the social challenge of how to make a graceful e-mail exit, since the piece is entirely anecdotal and full of contradictory advice from people who seem as puzzled by the whole matter as the baffled barbarian ensconced in her suite at the Hotel Stentorian. The article cites a book on the etiquette of e-mail by a couple of guys who advocate “best” as a safe, all-purpose close, but it also notes a (non-random and therefore probably useless) poll indicating that 25% of participants “close their professional e-mails with ‘Sincerely,’ while 20 percent use some variant of ‘Thank you,’ and 17 percent use no closing at all. ‘Love’ is the most common personal e-mail closing, followed by no closing.”

To which Moose replied, “On what planet was this poll taken?” Moose would only use “sincerely” to close a letter of recommendation she was sending by e-mail because she had missed the deadline and was begging some admissions committee to let her student into grad school anyway. She rarely uses “love” in e-mail, not even to Goose or to her aging mother, because it just seems too warm for the cool medium. Family and close friends get an “xo” (not an “XO” because Moose, as her regular correspondents know, isn’t big on capital letters in e-mail), though she is fond of “fondly” and “take care” and “hugs,” depending on her mood, the occasion, and the overall tone of the missive. With certain very special correspondents, her messages are written in a (she thinks) wickedly funny camp mode and sprinkled with bad French and vulgar innuendos. Such messages might conclude with declarations of undying love or cheesy song references.

For messages that are strictly business, Moose is a “best” girl all the way, “all best” if the occasion is formal or the correspondent not well known to her. One of the co-authors of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better adds oomph to “best” by following it with an exclamation mark, but Moose frowns on promiscuous uses of exclamation marks in business communication. She’ll close with “thanks” if the exchange is a request for assistance or information. She finds it physically painful to close a message without a closing and believes doing so is a crime that deserves a trip to Gitmo. But “sincerely”? Srsly? When was the last time you closed a message with “sincerely” and intended to convey anything other than, “You are an insufferable ass, but you have power over me and so I am going to pretend to defer to you?” Is this a cultural difference between academic and corporate work places, the difference between a collegial model of work and a more hierarchical one? Or is it just the fluke of a bad poll? Most of the folks featured in the story, including Arianna Huffington, weren’t big on “sincerely,” though Moose was surprised by the fondness for “XOXO” among younger professional women, including MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell. (Really, wimmin? You don’t think that second “XO” undermines your seriousness in other people’s eyes?)

What’s the custom of your country, kids? Now that you’ve reluctantly abandoned your pigeon-blood notepaper and moved away from fabulous names like “Leota” and “Undine,” how are you handling these delicate social/professional questions? Are you a “best” boy? A “love” muffin? Or are you one of the cool kids with one of those quirky sign-offs that is supposed to reveal your hipness and originality but in fact proves that you are an immature loser who spends way too much time trying to figure out what's cool? “That’s me yo.” Of course it is, dear.

Thanks in advance for your attention to our question. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Very truly yours,

(Photo: Edith Wharton, 1915 [Wikimedia Commons])

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Father of the Moosians
Feb. 13, 1931 - Aug. 1, 1991

High in some silent sky
Love sings a silver song . . . .

(Listen here.)