Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognizable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data.
A weekday afternoon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I’m sitting outside a coffee shop when Leonora Russo, Read Queen of Williamsburg), approaches me with some life tips.
According to Leonora, I have all the right qualities to hook myself a rich man. Also: I need to hurry up and do it because my looks will fade. His looks don’t matter. He must just be rich. Bonus points if he is rich AND travels a lot so I don’t have to see him very much.
Then she leans into my ear and whispers, “Even better if he’s gay. Then he’ll leave you to your own business. You just keep quiet and pretend to know nothing. You’ll be the happiest that way. Rich and happy.”
More from Leonora: “Is that a man or a woman? I can’t tell.”
None of us really understand ourselves, but it is a mystery we find hard to accept. We may want to be mysterious to the world, but we don’t want to be mysterious to ourselves. I’ve spent much of my life trying to manipulate the world inside into becoming more like the one that the outside demands. In time I’ve come to realize how much of the outside world is an illusion. I always felt it, but it took time to “know” it. Once you know it’s easy to stop caring, but it is what comes next, the confrontation with the inside self after years of disconnect, which is the hard part.
Annemarie Roeper, author of The “I” of the Beholder, calls that “inner words” the “Self”, and argues that it is the missing link in an age-old quest to understand what it really means to be human. She illustrates this with a poetic role-play parable wherein she has a conversation with the Self.
It says: “Stop judging me, evaluating me, categorizing me. I am an enigma and will remain one. If you include me, we can dance together. If not, I will shrink and be crippled and cower in the corner. The strength of my feelings will be undiminished, but if they have no outlet, they might burst out in destructive ways.
I am wondering how words could describe my complexity and mystery. How can cognitive terms explain what you see in the trusting, eager eyes of children who look at you expecting safety and comfort, unconditional love, and true empathy? In their eyes, you can see such depth of feeling, such thirst for growth, such creativity, and a passion for learning. Continue reading
“Without sex, we would be dangerously invulnerable. We might believe we were not ridiculous. We wouldn’t know rejection and humiliation so intimately. We could age respectably, get used to our privileges and think we understood what was going on. We might disappear into numbers and words alone. It is sex that creates a necessary havoc in the ordinary hierarchies of power, status, money and intelligence.”
-Alain de Botton, How To Think More About Sex
Maria Popova, creator of my favorite website, Brain Pickings, wrote a review on Sara Maitland’s book, How To Be Alone. Here are a few of the beautiful meditations from the book, but be kind to yourself and read the full article.
“I got fascinated by silence; by what happens to the human spirit, to identity and personality when the talking stops, when you press the off button, when you venture out into that enormous emptiness. I was interested in silence as a lost cultural phenomenon, as a thing of beauty and as a space that had been explored and used over and over again by different individuals, for different reasons and with wildly differing results. I began to use my own life as a sort of laboratory to test some ideas and to find out what it felt like. Almost to my surprise, I found I loved silence. It suited me. I got greedy for more. In my hunt for more silence, I found this valley and built a house here, on the ruins of an old shepherd’s cottage.”
“Being alone in our present society raises an important question about identity and well-being.
How have we arrived, in the relatively prosperous developed world, at least, at a cultural moment which values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfillment and human rights, and above all individualism, more highly than they have ever been valued before in human history, but at the same time these autonomous, free, self-fulfilling individuals are terrified of being alone with themselves?
We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.
We see moral and social conventions as inhibitions on our personal freedoms, and yet we are frightened of anyone who goes away from the crowd and develops “eccentric” habits.
We believe that everyone has a singular personal “voice” and is, moreover, unquestionably creative, but we treat with dark suspicion (at best) anyone who uses one of the most clearly established methods of developing that creativity — solitude.
We think we are unique, special and deserving of happiness, but we are terrified of being alone.
We are supposed now to seek our own fulfillment, to act on our feelings, to achieve authenticity and personal happiness — but mysteriously not do it on our own.
Today, more than ever, the charge carries both moral judgement and weak logic.”
Whenever in Paris I devote a significant chunk of time to one of my favorite inventions, the crêpe. Who could blame me? The city has a crêperie on every corner and there is bound to be one to suit my mood at any given time. The variety is endless, from the sinful 4AM pit stop when I’m too drunk to care that an entire jar of Nutella lies between the folds of my delight, to the showy suzette I might order at a more upscale establishment, to the classic caramel and sea salt they do so well at a trendy little café in the Marais. And let’s not forget the savory galette, traditional served with a bottle of cider from Brittany, comforting made extra thick with extra cheese, or trendy, deconstructed and layered with unexpected, fashionable ingredients. I discriminate a lot when it comes to food and drink, but when it comes to the crepe I’m all about love and acceptance, wide hearted, wide armed, wide eyed, and wide mouthed. In fact, my recent trip to Paris left me so wide with love for the crepe that it fueled the week-long nerd splurge behind this piece, The Brief History of the Crêpe.
Many of the countries that have a version of the “skinny pancake” have something else in common: they were all a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at one point or other, which means that the crêpe is probably as French as the croissant is-not as French as you might think. Like the croissant, which was introduced to France by the Austrian Queen, Marie Antoinette, the origin of the crêpe seems to lie in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austrians call their skinny pancake “palatschinken.” Having grown up in Yugoslavia (a former territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), I grew up eating skinny pancakes called ‘palačinke.’ It was my mom’s favorite desert, an after dinner treat. She ate them with apricot jam, my dad and sister preferred chocolate sauce, and I had mine buttered and drizzled with sugar.
But maybe I’m not giving enough credit to France. Maybe both France and Austria invented the crêpe and its only a coincidence that the two countries are neighbors with the same invention. After all, whereas the Yugoslav name “palačinka” stems directly from the Austrian name for the skinny pancake, “palatschinken,” the French word “crêpe” has its own origin. It comes from the Latin “crispus,” meaning “curled.” I don’t think that the exact root of the delicacy is as important as the way in which it was shared by neighbors who all put their own touches on it. However, it mostly due to the French that it has become one of the worlds most beloved dishes. The French may not be the best cooks or bakers or inventors, but they certainly can’t be topped when it comes to starting trends and turning the ordinary into the fashionable.
The French crêpe has its origins in Brittany, also famous for it’s cider, hence the classic crêpe and cider combination. It all began with the galette, which made its appearance in the 12th century when buckwheat was introduced into Brittany from the east. Buckwheat was easy to grow and cheap, whereas white flour was expensive and hard to come across. It was due to this that the galette first became popular in the countryside amongst common people and farmers who enjoyed it as a desert or a morning accompaniment to their coffee. The white flour crêpe most of us are familiar with today surfaced at the turn of the 20th century when wheat flour became more affordable. Today in France a crêpe usually refers to a sweet version of the delicacy made with wheat flour, while a galette refers to a savory version made from buckwheat. These associations came about somewhat naturally, perhaps partly because wheat flour crêpe are softer and well paired with sweet toppings. My opinion is that it evolved this way because of class. It seems likely that the poorer people who had better access to buckwheat ate their pancakes as meals, and therefore, savory. Sweet pancakes are more likely to be eaten as deserts, a luxury perhaps only afforded by those who could also afford wheat flour.
Crêpes became popular in Paris much later. Rumor has it that it that the city’s love affair with the delicacy started one evening in 1895 when a country boy called Henri Charpentier prepared a crêpe with an orange sauce flambé for the Prince of Whales. He named the crêpe after the young lady, Suzette, who had accompanied the Prince that evening. The Crêpe Suzette is now one of the most popular French deserts, a personal favorite of mine, eaten all over the world. I’m not exactly sure if I believe the story of its origins, but did decide to put an end to my research because I want to believe it. Sometimes information that could or could not be true is as over rated in our society as Paris Hilton once was. “Overeating is never a good thing” is a rule that applies with information just as much as it does with a french desert.
I know what you’re thinking, so don’t even say it. Buying that thing won’t make you happy, is what you’re thinking. Buying things never makes you happy, so why would you buy this thing? It won’t make you happy.
But you haven’t seen this thing.
It’s really cool. They just started making it and not many people have one yet. It does all sorts of stuff and can fit in my pocket, but it can also get bigger than that if I want it to. Plus it’s made by a company I trust to put out things that will make me happy.
(Not that I wouldn’t consider buying this thing even if it weren’t made by a familiar company—that’s how cool this thing is—but the fact that I know and trust the company makes it even better.)
It comes in both black and white, but I can also buy an affordable cover for it in a different color if I want. For example, if I buy it in black but decide I want it to be red today, I just buy the red cover and slide it on. Now it’s red—until I want it to be black again, that is. (I can do that for any other color too, not just red.)
This thing will make me happier during my commute. Whether I take the train or ride my bike, it will be there for me, and since it’s waterproof, I don’t even need to worry if it’s raining out. Making my commute stress-free will go a long way towards making me happy.
Other people will look up to me because I own this thing and use it frequently, which will make me very happy. When I’m at a party, for instance, I can wait for a moment when people start talking about how cool it looks from the latest advertisement. Then I can stroll over and take it out and start using it, pretending that I hadn’t heard their conversation, and I can look up casually and wink at them. They’re sure to be impressed. Only I haven’t decided about the wink yet, because maybe it would make it obvious that I had heard their conversation. The wink may have to be something I decide in the moment.
Some of my favorite TV and movie personalities already own this thing and they are all happy.
Often I get surprised at the shitty, average, bleh work that literary magazines choose to publish, but, every now and then, something gorgeous, something like Nick Mulgrew’s short story, Gala Day, takes my breath away.
Gala Day was first published in Prufrock magazine, Volume 2, Issue 1. Prufrock is available at bookstores nationwide and can be ordered as an e-magazine. It’s a knockout publication and I suggest you subscribe! Continue reading