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Archive for April, 2008

One of the great things about vocally, perhaps pathologically hating cilantro is people are constantly offering cilantro anecdotes, testimonies, periodical features of interest. Many of these tidbits aren’t SO interesting after all, but some of them are.

My dear friend (I was going to call her “best friend” but didn’t want to step on any toes cuz for real I have several “best” friends. Then I thought “BFF” because it’s amusing as hell to me but I thought something in the intended tone might be lost on my audience: many of you I know like cilantro, and we all know what that means about your IQ.) and roommate has just moved to Rome/Cairo. She’s been in Cairo a few weeks now and one of the first things she tells me is she is surrounded by Cilantro. No, not the herb, the fucking cafe.

I know. As if. Well, apparently this chain of cafes is as ubiquitous in Cairo as suicidal cab drivers. The cafes, Dear Friend tells me, have internet connections, nice amenities, a quiet, relaxed ambiance and, you know, allow women. In other words, this is a Western-style chain standing in direct opposition to the segregated, loud, cheap and dirty ahwas, traditional Egyptian coffee shops.


It goes without saying that this is an outrage, but alas, Cilantro Cafe is but one of many businesses masquerading as restaurants with the audacity (or I’m sure what they all think of as hip, or edgy or just plain clever idea) to bear the name “Cilantro.” It’s not surprising with all the restaurants in the world some are bound to be named Cilantro; naming restaurants after food is pretty common (and stupid, if you ask me — thanks for asking) and cilantro, as we’ve established many times over, is everywhere.

What’s upsetting is that the biggest chain of coffee shops in all of Cairo is named after my nemesis. Or is it? I mean, is it really a term of distinction to be a coffee shop chain? Is it really so awesome to be the very Egyptian icon of Westernization and cultural atrophy? Dear Friend tells me she’d never spend any time there, that she’d really prefer to hang at the ahwas, but damnit, honky needs her wireless connection and the ice cubes next door might make her sick. Then there’s also the issue that she isn’t really allowed in those “realer” places, having tits and all. So, on that front Cilantro represents progress, of the good sort that creates the eponymous noun liberals prefer to call themselves; they allow women.

I have a tremendous amount of patience for other cultures, mostly because I recognize after 25 years in the US of America one I don’t know that culture is the kind of thing one can ever understand, but more to the point, I don’t like to be too judgmental — do whatever you want, please don’t kill my dog (I don’t have a dog). I have serious problems with religion, but, that’s with all of them, not a particular one. Most of my problems are rooted in the fact that people do irrational things that are objectively bad for themselves and everyone around them in the name of a god or spirit or faith that they don’t know exists. Yeah. That sounds a lot like a judgment to me too. Anyway, some of the worst forms of what I don’t like about religion involve violences and injustices against women, a group I’m (on the whole) pretty fond of. Genital mutilation (ha, you thought you were reading a cilantro blog), anti-birth control policies and a general limitation of that great word W loves to throw around — freedom — are but a few nuisances women have had to endure at the hands of “their” religions. Exclusion from public cafes would be another.

So, while I’m down with dirt and noise and all those authentic things Western travelers like to tell themselves they like so they can have authentic experiences, in the end I value the kind of progress that allows a woman to order a fucking cup of coffee. And if that kind of place goes by the name Cilantro…. Point for cilantro.

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How’s this for a mantra: What would Julia do?


If you’re a fan of Julia Child, you probably don’t need me to ex
plain to you why you are. You probably like her easy camera presence, her unpretentious instruction of classic French technique, her contagious lust for life, her general bad-assness, and, if your like me, her unapologetic liberal politics and unique brand of feminism. Truly, she was a magical woman so nearly unanimously revered in the culinary and general American communities, I’d have to wonder if you were a heartless freak not liking her.


What you might not know is that Julia Child hated cilantro; an excerpt from a Larry King interview transcript:

KING: A little bit. Any food you hate?
CHILD: Well, badly cooked food…

K
ING: I know that. But any – for example, George Bush and yours truly, I don’t want to couple it together, hate broccoli, hate it, wouldn’t go near it, wouldn’t touch it, what do you hate?
CHILD: I don’t like cilantro.

KING: What is that?

CHILD: It’s an herb that it has a kind of a taste that I don’t like.

KING: Is there an everyday food you hate, like broccoli?

CHILD: No, I don’t think so. I mean, if it’s properly cooked and properly served, I can’t think of anything I hate.

KING
: So you’ll eat…

CHILD: Except cilantro and arugula I don’t like at all.

KING: Arugula?

CHILD: They’re both green herbs, they have kind of a dead taste to me.

KING: So you would never order it.
CHILD: Never, I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.

Arugula, I like, but someone running the I Hate Arugula blog (doesn’t exist) can use that piece of trivia. It’s the cilantro I’m concerned with. I like how she describes the taste of cilantro as “dead.” That’s a much stronger descriptor than say, soapy. “Well, why don’t you like it?” “It tastes dead.” That’s a pretty good reason not to like something in my book. Hilarious. Another reason to love Julia: girlfriend was funny.

I think Julia Child hating cilantro sort of speaks for itself, so I’ll be brief today. But I can tell you this, in the spirit of doing as Julia would do, the next time I encounter unexpected cilantro, I will pick it out, throw it on the floor and smile, thinking of Julia doing the same.

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There’s so much fodder in any given issue of the New York Times, it’s a wonder I ever get around to reading anything else. It’s not that it’s the best publication out there for news or anything else, far from it, but they’ve mastered the ability to hook me with one story or another before the break and it remains my homepage of years despite consistent urges to change it (I’m reading Into the Wild — it’s bound to have some effect).

I think of the New York Times as a website first and newspaper second, not that these are mutually exclusive things, certainly not in this milieu. I think of the [New York Times] magazine as a magazine because I generally read it in print. Anyway, I love the New York Times as website. I look at the slide shows, watch Mark Bittman’s videos and enjoy the “Most Popular” emailed, blogged and searched articles for quick ideas of where to head next. These are all features made possible by the Times as website phenomenon, features I like.

It is through this interface that I read today’s “A House Not for Mere Mortals.” Awkward headline aside, I’ve been transfixed by the text-based article and audio slide show all morning. To sort of summarize, this apparently important couple has built this house in East Hampton. It’s hyper-colorful, very “open,” and, probably most notably, has a strange undulating, bumpy, moon-like floor throughout. The basic idea of the place, as I read and hear it, is to make dwellers uncomfortable. That through discomfort, trying to find our balance, etc., we remain young and vital. Ms. Gins, the woman in the couple, says, “It’s immoral that people have to die.” I think that’s absurd, it’s neither moral nor immoral that people have to die, it is a fact of nature completely detached from any reasonable sense of morality, but I digress. The point is these folks seems to think it is through challenge, discomfort, whatever you want to call it, that we remain young and stay alive.

While I don’t find death immoral I do have a vested interest in staying alive (never argue with Darwin — you will lose). I prefer to be comfortable than uncomfortable, (I like Pumas more than stilettos) but I get what they’re saying, I think, at least in a way that someone who more-or-less accepts that she will die one day can “get” what they’re saying. One of my favorite things — learning stuff — is an inherently uncomfortable process. Few things are more uncomfortable than tackling the unknown, whether that be organic chemistry, Excel spreadsheets, German philosophy or, in the case of Into the Wild‘s Chris McCandless, the Alaskan wilderness. (It is worth noting that he died in his pursuit of the uncomfortable.) But many of these uncomfortable things, challenging things, yield the most intellectually, spiritually or otherwise insightful results. Yes, I suppose many of us thrive on adversity, on difficulty, on trying to find our balance.

This of course got me to thinking about my ever-growing relationship with cilantro. Now I’m not one to draw metaphors, (I have a penchant for the literal) but I’ve never shied away from drawing parallels. As I’ve written through other lenses before, this cilantro hate thing isn’t always bad. Maybe my deep passion for hating cilantro keeps me young and virile — alive even. It’s all-too easy in our culture of convenience, materialism and excess to become, well, comfortable. We ignore the world’s injustices and straight-up outrages, many at the hands of W, but more at the hands of our own unforgivable (yes immoral) selfishness, isolation and indifference. And in doing so we destroy ourselves, slowly but surely. The environment’s shit. Iraq is a quagmire of the finest order. And don’t get me started on our prison system.

I think we have a tendency, as Americans and maybe as people, to avoid conflict (except war, we like that) and to shun criticism. To complain is bad, negative. I agree in a sense. I actually quite hate complaining (of the my life is so hard variety; no, your life is probably not so hard) but a healthy dose of criticism, of questioning as I think of it, maybe I’m alone here, but I think it’s healthy, it’s good and it might just save all our lives in the long-run.

While I don’t pretend that my cilantro hate is going to save anyone’s life or even really perpetuate my own, for me, this passionate hate stirs a spirit of criticism that I like and find good, however ostensibly negative or contrary. Cilantro makes me uncomfortable. It makes me frown. It throws off my balance. Eating it makes me immediately seek homeostasis of some order (water, wine, other food, anything, please, now). In other words, eating it, musing on it, writing about it shakes things up. And shaking things up, to quote Martha Stewart, is a good thing.

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Er, uh, April Fools?

Ok. Back with a real post tomorrow.(+)*


*New thing I’m trying out whereby periods and exclamation points can be nuanced with the addition of (+) or (-) (“+” making it more exclamatory and “-” making it less exclamatory, more period-y) because I really think we need a punctuation between “.” and “!,” even if I’m the only one out there. Maybe eventually the MLA or QWERTY people or whoever decides these things can make a new symbol for me? I’d be ever so grateful.

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