Many years ago, I had dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown in Boston — the sort of city where most non-Chinese people seeking Chinese food are in fact seeking what might better be described as American Chinese food: General Tso’s chicken, fried pork dumplings, “house special” lo mein; mild, comforting Cantonese dishes slick with sauce and loud with sugar, salt and the intense umami buzz of MSG. In an attempt to be adventurous, I ordered instead the most unusual thing I could find on the menu: beef with bitter melon. The waitress looked at me, her brow furrowed. “You don’t want that,” she declared. “You won’t like it.”
“I do!” I insisted. “I’ve had it before.” A little while later, she returned with a dish of beef strewn with crescents of a jade-hued, scallop-ridged, firm-textured fruit that looked not unlike oversize celery. The truth was, I’d never had it before. As advertised, it was bitter, in a distinctly vegetal way, with none of the fruity sweetness that the word “melon” would imply. I took a bite, then another, and another — in a different context I might have stopped, but my reputation was on the line. By the time I was finished, the melon hadn’t become more palatable, exactly, but my palate had changed. What had tasted like bitterness now tasted like pride.
The curbside has always been a a place for walking and loitering. But in just the past decade, smartphone technology has enabled new transportation services, all of them looking for their own bit of the terrain. The curb is home to bike share programs and the cycling lanes that help their users get around safely. It’s a spot to pick up and drop off passengers (Uber, Lyft, Chariot, Via, public buses and streetcars, paratransit) and things (UPS, FedEx, Instacart, Postmates). Some cities have set aside space for carshare services (Zipcar, Maven), or scooter-shares (Scoot). Others have found new and creative ways to charge for parking spots, experimenting with tech that adjusts prices based on demand.
“Cities have started to rethink how their streets are designed from curb from curb,” says Matthew Roe, who directs street design initiatives for the National Association of City Transportation Officials and authored a new curbside management white paper released this week. “They’ve started to realize they need more tools to manage that valuable curbside space. It’s the most valuable space that a city owns and one of the most underutilized.”
Dividing what’s indivisible leads to heartache. That’s true for people, and it’s true for books.
At their best, categories in literature function as identities authors appreciate, as badges of honor they’re seeking or creating, or as marketing tools for publishers. But at their worst, they’re shorthand for critical dismissal, dog whistles used to hold a work apart from white ideas about “the universal human experience,” or instruments of systemic oppression and cultural fetishism.
Spring sets out to prove that the six writers he chronicles — Julia Child, M. F. K. Fisher, Alexis Lichine, A. J. Liebling, Richard Olney and Alice B. Toklas — were responsible for making “the age-old French dialogue surrounding food, wine and the table” part of the American dialogue. I’m not convinced he’s done that, but he has achieved something much more interesting: offered us an entirely new perspective on a group of people we thought we knew.
Most writers, going to the well of inspiration and coming up empty, find themselves staring for hours at a blank computer screen. Not Jane Kramer. She heads for the kitchen: “My stove is where my head clears, my impressions settle, my reporter’s life gets folded into my life, and whatever I’ve just learned, or think I’ve learned — whatever it was, out there in the world, that had seemed so different and surprising — bubbles away in the very small pot of what I think I know and, if I’m lucky, produces something like perspective.” And if she’s not lucky, at least dinner is taken care of.
Times do change. Compared with women in most parts of ancient Greece and the near east, Roman women, we are told, enjoyed relative freedom – they could own property, buy and sell, inherit and free slaves and were not expected to be publicly invisible. But in Women and Power this is not the main tune. For the most part, Beard is offering a worst-case reading, showing us that this has gone on for ever. She is issuing a clarion call – hence the “Manifesto” of the title – which at moments left me gasping for air.
Once you’ve read an excellent book about climate change, which Jeff Goodell’s “The Water Will Come” most certainly is, you can never unremember the facts. Elected officials may be busy arguing about whether global warming is real. But most scientists are having other arguments entirely — about whether danger is imminent or a few decades off; about whether our prospects are dire or merely grim.