BEST CULTURAL CONVERSATION
by Alison Herman, Managing Editor for Features
I’ve never bought the idea that technology killed the public spectacle. It’s true that thanks to hundreds of TV channels and millions of websites, audiences are fragmented into niches so micro they’re almost inconceivable to survivors of the four-channels-no-Internet era. But that doesn’t mean the common cultural experience is dead; it’s simply moved. And as of 2013, it’s transformed from a passive viewing, listening, or reading experience into an active dialogue—one that puts more voices in contact with one another than ever.
All of which is a fancy way of saying that Twitter was a very, very interesting place to be on Aug. 25.
Had coverage of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s duet heard ’round the Web been limited to traditional media, the fallout would likely have been both short-lived and predictable: a few headlines calling the performance “controversial” without actually explaining what was controversial about it, some salacious tabloid covers and scandalized op-eds, curtain, exit stage left. What happened instead was a conversation dominated by buzzwords like “cultural appropriation,” “slut-shaming,” and “intersectionality,” terms that had rarely strayed outside of college classrooms and feminist zines before sites like Tumblr unleashed them on the masses.
A few months later, the same process repeated itself with Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here” video release. This time, a track that otherwise might have been remembered as a one-note female empowerment anthem came under fire for placing the blame for music industry sexism squarely on the shoulders of rap, hip-hop, and the artists that make them, who just so happen to predominantly be people of color. The backlash began on social media, spread to sites like Noisey and the Hairpin, and kept going from there—all the way to the pages of this magazine.
The issues at play in Cyrus’ Bangerz-era image overhaul or Allen’s misguided girl power aren’t going away anytime soon. If Katy Perry’s jaw-droppingly awful AMAs performance is anything to judge by, it’ll take far more than think-pieces and tweets to change the status quo in pop music. But as of this weekend, Jezebel’s “On Miley Cyrus, Ratchet Culture, and Accessorizing With Black People” currently boasts nearly 2,000 comments, and Noisey’s “Lily Allen’s Anti-Black Feminism” has been shared as many times on Facebook. That’s many, many more eyeballs than those arguments would have gotten had Miley taken the stage five years ago.
This was a year in which conversations about systemic prejudices and conversations about MTV awards shows became one and the same. And considering how important pop culture is in both reflecting and shaping our beliefs, that’s exactly how it should be. It’s also not a coincidence that this conversation tends to play out online, where sharing sites and web publications serve as platforms with audiences in the millions and have few barriers to entry. The Internet has become, among other things, a space for voices outside of, and often excluded from, mainstream culture and criticism to have their say. Right now, they’re saying enough.
BEST MIDLIFE CRISIS
by Hannah Sotnick, Visuals Editor
My mom recently rediscovered her teenage dream of becoming a hairstylist and enrolled in dog-grooming school. Pointing out the expense racked up by our dogs’ grooming appointments and convincing my family it would be both fun and economical, she committed to a 12-week, eight- hour-per-day course.
During her second week of class, my mom returned home outraged at the behavior of the instructor. Although the woman had piqued my mom’s annoyance by scolding her for stepping outside to eat a sandwich, my mom’s main grievance was this overgrown bully’s forceful handling of her long-haired canine clientele. This even included one frustrated kick, causing a half-styled dog to defecate on the grooming table.
My mom, as she is wont to do when dealing with such a moral dilemma, channeled serious attention into handling the problem. She emphatically described the situation to her sister; her best friend, Eve; her childhood best friend, Felice; her best friend from college, Christine; several synagogue committee-mates; our electrician; and the lady standing behind her in line at Trader Joe’s. With her usual sense of conviction after the critical period of consultation and deliberation, my mom resolved to act.
She returned to class later that week and confronted her instructor, explaining the proper way to behave toward both humans and animals. In a show of chagrin and upheld ideals, my mom quit dog-grooming school. A couple of months later, her instructor mysteriously disappeared from the institution.
Dog groomer, social worker for geriatric patients, synagogue president, aspiring owner of a tea shop, disaster relief counselor, and Hebrew student—all of these describe my mom over the past five years. As my parents debate spending a year in Alaska or opening a chain of laundromats (“All the research says it’s a great investment!”), I often find myself drawn from my own existential mid-college crises into bemusement with the midlife erraticism and far-reaching passions of my parents.
So, whenever I’m agonizing over which life path to pursue, I consult my mom, the dog-grooming school dropout, and am reminded that change and a zeal for new experiences extend far past age 20.
by Kelly Lane, Social Media Deputy
One October Friday, my friend Carolina and I decided to rush standby tickets for Saturday Night Live. To have a shot at getting into SNL, you have to camp out at Rockefeller Center on Friday night, get one of the standby tickets NBC distributes early Saturday morning, and come back on Saturday night to find out if you can get into the show. It was a gamble of a weekend, but we had heard that Edward Norton was hosting and were kind of hoping that whole thing about him actually being Brad Pitt might also apply in real life. So, we bundled up and headed downtown for a long night.
I was prepared to doze on the sidewalk and maybe chat a bit with the people around us in line. However, my best-laid plans were foiled by the unfortunate reality that we were flanked by two groups of people who were apparently unfamiliar with basic social skills. These people proceeded to shout over our heads for the duration of the night. One guy had gotten into SNL over 90 times and talked about Paul Rudd as if they were dear friends. Another dude was at least 30 but kept hitting on some freshman girls from Pace. Together, this motley crew debated the merits of cat videos versus dog videos for quite some time.
Finally, blessed morning came. We rose gingerly from the pavement, beaten but not broken, and got our tickets. As we were about to leave, though, I noticed my wallet was missing. I searched frantically, but it didn’t turn up. With a sinking feeling, I concluded that one of our neighbors had probably snagged it. As we gave up our search and headed for the subway, I looked up at the harsh morning sun glinting off the Midtown skyscrapers. I’d never felt so cold in New York.
As it turned out, we went back to NBC that night, and we did get into SNL. We acted natural (read: shrieked) when we noticed Kristen Bell seated a few rows away. We saw Ed Norton. We even saw a surprise appearance from Miley (she stuck out her tongue). Despite its challenges, New York can still be fun sometimes, especially when you have the kind of friend who will sleep on a sidewalk with you for the chance to see a movie star who peaked in the ’90s.
BEST “PRUFROCK” IMPRESSION
by PJ Sauerteig, Eyesites Editor
In many ways, T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock was the poster-child of the Modernist movement: a shuffling antihero full of awkwardness and hesitation. Urban ennui, romantic frustration, isolation—it’s all there. For better or for worse, music and literature have largely moved out from under the bleak cloud of modernism, paying their dues to Pound and Joyce, yet eager to pursue different avenues. But one band has stayed behind, or rather carried the modernist banner forward: the Brooklyn-based five-piece, The National.
Each National record spins its own seriously elegant pity-party, and the band’s 2013 release, Trouble Will Find Me, is no exception. Almost 100 years after Eliot penned “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” The National continues to pursue the same glum themes. It is, in many ways, indie’s last descendant of a once-great movement and its most famous antihero. But don’t take my word for it: Look at the lyrics.
In “Demons,” frontman Matt Berninger talk-sings, “I can’t fight it anymore, / I’m going through an awkward phase… When I walk into a room, / I do not light it up.”
On “Don’t Swallow the Cap,” the ghost of Prufrock flares up again: “I have only two emotions, / Careful fear and dead devotion.” Not convinced yet? Try these: “There’s a time to leave, there’s a time to think about / What I wanna say to the girls at the door.” Sound a little familiar to Eliot’s “And indeed there will be time … To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet”?
Even Prufrock’s apparent fear of mealtimes comes through in Berninger’s crooning: “I survived the dinner / And the air went thinner / I retired to the briars by the pool.” “As the free-fall advances / I’m the moron who dances” echoes Prufrock’s famous identification with the “Fool.” Urban alienation? Check: “Somebody said you disappeared in a crowd” (from “Pink Rabbits”). OK, last one: Remember Prufrock’s refrain, “That is not it at all”? So did The National when they wrote, “You said it would be painless / It wasn’t that at all.”
The resemblances certainly are haunting. The album’s eternal glumness aside, though, it is wonderfully arranged and deeply compelling stuff. Take a listen, and remember to wear your trousers rolled.
by Annie Wang, Senior Design Editor
This year was the first time I spent my summer interning in the city. In that three-month span I managed to accomplish three things during my free time: I learned how to cook, I watched all nine seasons of The West Wing, and I downloaded Candy Crush Saga onto my smartphone.
Before tapping the ‘download’ button, I was vaguely aware of the overly enthusiastic Facebook invitations from friends and not-really-friends to join the game, which I dismissively ignored. Foreseeing the inevitable hours of summer boredom ahead of me, I decided to take the plunge, but cautiously hid my tracks: ”Candy Crush Saga would like permission to post on your behalf. Who can see these posts?” Selection: Only me. Candy Crush was my dirty little secret of the summer, and this is my confession.
As I covertly crushed candy, refused to invite friends on Facebook, and slowly became Candy Crush-obsessed, I began to see the multicolored candies everywhere. I was soon convinced that Candy Crush on the subway was akin to dogs in Central Park— a mutual interest about which it is perfectly appropriate to strike up a conversation with complete strangers: “Man, that level sucks. It took forever for me to get past, too!” Candyland became a fond, hypothetical talking point for all of the potential friends I could suddenly have. And everyone on the subway plays Candy Crush.
As much as the game separated me from reality (20 minutes at a time, as I would lose five lives in quick succession), it made the city feel a little smaller when I looked up and noticed how many other screens were lit up with the fluorescent candies and never-ending chocolate. Because really, whether we admit it or not, we all relate to Candy Crush in some way. It’s a lot like life. You need some persistence, but sometimes you get lucky as you navigate the indeterminate number of levels ahead.
MAN OF THE YEAR
by Zoe Camp, Lead Story Editor
OK, maybe the title “Man of the Year” is a bit much. Typically, that laurel is reserved for Nobel Prize winners, entrepreneurs, politicians—you know, people who get important stuff done. So yes, I totally understand—and expect—that my categorization of Aubrey Drake Graham will probably fall on deaf ears. It’s all good—#YOLO and all, right?
The fact of the matter is this: Drizzy isn’t just a man. He’s a movement. He’s a terrifying, tearful force of creative energy that creeps into your mind while you sleep, infiltrating your thoughts and stirring up feelings you never knew existed: love, hate, laughter, regret for the missed connection at the Hooters on Peachtree. This profound sensitivity doesn’t exactly fit into the macho culture of hip-hop, and that’s probably why there are so many Drake memes out there—jokey insults that, ironically, just make the Canadian rapper’s fame grow more swiftly.
Let me give a brief survey of the Drake memes that took the Internet by storm this year—there’s “Drake’s the Type of Dude” (as in, “Drake’s the type of dude who’d dance with a chick at the club and then text her... ‘So what are we?’”), the awkward still from the “No New Friends” video, and, of course, “Crying Drake.” All of these focus on and mock the one central truth of the Drizzy Creed: Just let it all out.
You could probably argue that Kanye West and Miley Cyrus have carried out similar subterfuges with their own controversies. Riding the wind of their own self-created scandals to dizzying heights by way of—what else?—the all-mighty meme, the aforementioned stars have transcended the ephemerality of album release cycles and television performances, embedding themselves into our culture with an enigmatic flip of the bird. But where’s the catharsis in Miley’s foam finger? Where are the feels in Yeezus, aside from the frustration with not getting one’s croissant in due time?
Man, myth, meme, moper, musician: This year, Drake played them all, and he played them well.
BEST AIRPORT DELAY
by Dunni Oduyemi, Associate Features Editor
I was aimlessly wandering around the JFK food court, recovering from a flustered check-in, during which I had to rifle through my already haphazardly packed suitcase and take out the heaviest items (including a 1-pound bag of Reese’s Pieces) to avoid an exorbitant heavy-baggage fee. After checking to see if my flight was delayed and finding out, annoyingly enough, that it would be a couple of hours late, I plonked down at a cool metal table. I shifted my mango fro-yo around until it was perfectly Instagram worthy, and sat there tugging my thumb across my phone screen to unlock it, check for updates, then lock it again. And so I would have continued for two hours, until—
“Excuse me, do you mind if we sit here?” a silver-haired Australian woman asked me, gesturing to the end of the table at which I was sitting. I told her to go right ahead. She quickly brought her husband over and sat him down while she went to get some food. He looked like he was in his 70s, and I gave him a polite smile. “You’re the poor girl they made unpack her suitcase. My wife and I sure felt sorry for you. Such a shame, I don’t know why they have to do that,” he said earnestly. I shrugged it off, and laughed a little—had I been that awkward about it?—but he continued watching me like I was some kind of wounded bird. I wondered if I looked particularly childlike or upset, but a quick check on my phone camera informed me that I didn’t.
He started asking me questions, and, as do a lot of elderly people with a lot of experience in their wake, used my answers as an opportunity to reflect on his life. When I told him I was flying home to Geneva: “Oooh. Long flight. Expensive city. My son lived there for a year. We visited once but I don’t reckon we’ll ever go back.” When I told him my parents work for the U.N.: “Aaah, I’m not sure how I feel about the U.N. myself. Our daughter worked at the headquarters here, said it was very bureaucratic.” And so our conversation continued—I threw out tidbits about my life and he explained how one of his children, or he, had been disappointed with a related experience, all with an encouraging smile on his face—it was like a game of conversational pingpong, except that I was totally letting him win.
Eventually his wife wandered back over with bottles of overpriced water and a pizza, and he introduced me to her: “This is Dunni, she’s a student traveling to see her parents in Geneva,” he said, pronouncing my name like an exotic flower. While he and his wife started eating, I texted my friend: “An old Australian couple has taken pity on me at JFK, does this mean I can ask them for pizza?” As it turned out, I didn’t even need to ask.
BEST NON-NEWS SOURCE
by Rikki Novetsky, Editor in Chief
We have long left behind the days of being embarrassed about reading dumb things on the Internet. In 2013, my Facebook Newsfeed and my browser’s tabs became entirely saturated with BuzzFeed listicles. Some notable examples of these “journalistic” endeavors included a Geico-sponsored article titled “15 Reasons It’s Delightful to be a Tiny Animal” (a level of delight I will unfortunately never achieve), “Why Candy Corn Is Actually Awesome” (although I never really doubted my tricolored confectionary friends), and “The Definitive Ranking of Dinosaurs, From Worst to Best” (I’ve since upped Stegosaurus from No. 6 to No. 1—I admire its veganism).
The truth is, I did shed tears while scrolling through “The 35 Most Touching Photos Ever Taken,” an Internet indulgence I granted myself while enjoying a study break. But the harder truth is that these photos pulled my heartstrings without prompting any thought whatsoever. The photos made me feel something, and something strong. But I felt with no thought; I never questioned why there were 35 photos, specifically, on this list, or why a photo of a surprise marriage proposal was paired with a photo of a young cancer patient, a photo of a soldier reuniting with his father, and a photo of a football player crying after being drafted by the Bruins. And why can these photos be definitively categorized as “the most touching photos ever taken”?
It’s not that I’m against lightheartedness. But I am against media that deactivates our brains by bombarding us with visual images. And I am against sites that take advantage of our visceral emotions rather than our unique ability as humans to curate and control these feelings through intellect and critical thinking.
BuzzFeed describes itself as “intensely focused on delivering high-quality original reporting, insight, and viral content across a rapidly expanding array of subject areas.” In my experience, 2013 was the year that BuzzFeed accomplished exactly the opposite. By posting thousands of listicles of things we hate and things we love and ’90s memories we all share, BuzzFeed makes us feel like we are part of something larger than ourselves. But if BuzzFeed primarily accomplishes this goal by turning off the brains of millennials across the world, I’d rather we get that feeling from somewhere else.
BEST TRAIN RIDE
by Parul Guliani, Associate Features Editor
It was a little past 1 p.m. on the Fourth of July. I was in Brooklyn or Queens or something, though I wasn’t too bothered to figure out where precisely or even which borough it actually was. It was possibly the most residential New York had ever felt—with trees dotting the streets, a corner gas station, and the occasional minivan cruising along the single, narrow road. It was quaint, but all I needed was an escape route. Of course, New York’s ultimate paradox is that the streets are always peppered with flashes of yellow whizzing around until you’re actually stranded somewhere—in which case, there isn’t a cab in sight.
I was supposed to have met a friend at Rockaway Beach more than an hour earlier. But according to my trusty HopStop app, it would take me more than two hours to get to the beach from where I was—and a whopping hour and a half to get back to where I had started. I sighed, wandered around for a bit until I could no longer handle the suburban scenery, and then retraced my footsteps back to the stop I’d just gotten off at.
In a rush to start my day of relaxation at the beach, I’d jumped onto the first train I saw skidding into the 59th Street stop that morning. I had comfortably settled into my seat with my headphones in and my summer playlist turned up, not bothering for the next hour and a half—even after noticing that not a single stop sounded familiar—to look over at the side of the train and confirm that I had, indeed, gotten onto the right one.
Of course, I managed to choose my wrong train so spectacularly that when I finally realized—almost two hours too late—that there was no way I was headed to the Rockaways, it turned out that the only way to get to the train I was supposed to be on was to ride the same train in the opposite direction for an hour, transfer, transfer again, and only then head in the correct direction.
To be fair, my ego probably deserved that little kick in the shin. I was interning in Midtown over the summer and, by the beginning of July—after maybe just two full weeks of city living—I’d already started to feel disdain for tourists and anyone who wasn’t “real” New York. I’d actually rolled my eyes and nearly snickered aloud at the sight of confused tourists discussing possible train routes just a week before my own subway fiasco.
And while I’m mortified it happened, my mishap and consequent four-hour detour certainly made for a funny dinnertime story once it was all over. And really, the day at the beach was oh so worth it.
BEST YOGA CLASS
by Kierstin Utter, Associate Features Editor
Go ahead—roll your eyes. It’s another white girl writing about yoga, after all. Yoga stories, I fear, fall into the same category as the European study abroad narrative. If you know what I’m talking about and it makes your skin crawl, you will likely find this story very satisfying.
It began as any other yoga class. We sat, we breathed, we chanted “om.” Our instructor led us through a couple of Sun Salutations as dusk fell outside the open window. We blissfully caught a whiff of the 106th Street KFC, mindfully acknowledged a passing siren. A baby screamed, and we honored it. A dog took a dump across the street. We felt its spirit.
We rose to Warrior One, a power pose. That’s when it happened—a disturbance in the room’s energy. A student in the middle of the room shrieked and jumped out of her pose, proceeding to run as if from a tidal wave to the back of the studio. Around her empty mat, others gasped in horror, jumping onto their neighbors’ mats for refuge—but from what?
“Oh my god it’s a cockroach!” someone yelled over the studio’s gentle sitar soundtrack. At this, we instinctively ran (really, ran) to the far wall.
Our instructor had not been trained for this. Conflicted between her own horror and a desire to respect all living creatures, she simply stood, breathing, nodding, chanting, “Oh my, oh my, my goodness.” The cockroach remained still in the middle of the room, wiggling its feelers.
Suddenly emerging from the crowd of terrified yogis, the lone male in the class charged the perpetrator, foam yoga block in hand. Before anyone could offer an alternate (or more meditative) suggestion, the cockroach was history—flattened by the yogi’s quiet intensity.
Solemnly, the man used a tissue to scoop up and dispose of the corpse. Everyone returned to his or her mat, breathing, meditating on what had just occurred.
“Now,” the instructor cleared her throat, “let us lean back into Humble Warrior, in honor of our fallen bug friend.”
So we paid our respects, and the dust settled. But just like the goddess Shiva, the bug had many bodies. And they would come.
It was only about 10 minutes later that we noticed the second cockroach. Again, it was quickly annihilated. But then there was another, and another, and somebody asked if we could “please skip Savasana.”
It turns out we would skip a lot. Class was let out about halfway through, and as we left, more roaches entered; there were probably a dozen in view by the end. Women hurriedly rolled up their mats, running out of the room with a messy bundle of blankets and straps and clothes in hand.
“Sorry!” the instructor shouted over the hubbub. “Please come back! It won’t happen again!” And, as an afterthought: “Namaste!”
BEST ALMOST-NOBEL WRITERS
by Eric Wohlstadter, Fiction Editor
Among the favorites for this year’s Nobel in literature were Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, two writers who have almost nothing in common besides their nationality: American. Roth, whose retirement from writing last year caused shock and disbelief to ripple across the literary heartlands, is the artist as human; at the age of 79, he simply felt he was getting too old, too forgetful, so he stopped. Oates, who is 75, continues to produce more and more work at an ever-increasing rate. In 2013 alone, she’s published three novels—Carthage, Daddy Love, and The Accursed—a feat that is astonishing not only because of the writing speed required, but because she is somehow able to find time to teach at Princeton and tweet obsessively, as well. Her work ethic is so hard to believe that she almost doesn’t seem real, which makes it interesting to note that several of her recent books have been forays into the supernatural. If Roth is the artist as human, Oates is the artist as, well, alien.
That dichotomy seems to provide a good backdrop for the ongoing lament that an American author hasn’t been awarded the Nobel since 1993, when Toni Morrison took the prize. For if Roth and Oates have one more thing in common, it’s that they are both extremists. Google either of their names and you’re likely to come across article after article complaining that Roth is “too” Jewish and Oates is “too” prolific, how Roth is “too” narcissistic and Oates is “too” blank-faced. Roth’s writing is “too” literary; Oates’ is “too” nonliterary. Roth only writes for old men; Oates only writes for high schoolers. You get the point.
The Nobel committee, of course, is not known for choosing extremes or for being that controversial. This year’s winner, Alice Munro, is the Goldilocks of contemporary writers: She’s not too hot, not too cold, but just right. There’s a reason everyone loves her. Roth and Oates, conversely, are not afraid of being too much of anything. They don’t write to please, which perhaps makes them both perfectly representative of American fiction. I’m not confident either of them will ever win a Nobel, but who really cares anyway?
BEST YEAR FOR SHAKESPEARE
by Carolina Gerlach, Associate Features Editor
As an avid theatergoer, I’m constantly searching for the show that will be my next great recommendation. As Broadway and off-Broadway become the playground for celebrities in between movies, the options for great theatergoing seem to be dwindling (with exceptions, of course), making a $30 student ticket often seem like a poor investment. Other times, I leave the theater grinning like an idiot on a Dionysian high.
This year, an unprecedented amount of Shakespeare took the New York theater scene by storm (or tempest, if you will). Aside from the usual Shakespeare in the Park, there were two Macbeth productions, Twelfth Night, and Richard III in repertory, Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom (yes, he still exists), an all-female Julius Caesar, Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and many more. While not all of these were stellar (sorry, Orlando), some of the standouts this year added a new (or very old) twist to the plays we’ve all read—or maybe didn’t—for that Shakespeare class.
The theater gods smiled on New York when Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry decided to bring Twelfth Night (in repertory with Richard III) to Broadway. Featuring an all-male cast and authentic Shakespearean costumes and sets, this Twelfth Night was the most joyous experience I’ve had at the theater in years. Whether Mark Rylance was gliding across the stage in a dress or falling over in a fit of passion, I was laughing hysterically. While the feminist in me was hesitant to see an all-male Shakespeare, the humor and the period-specificity overcame my reluctance.
Over at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, an all-female Julius Caesar wowed and awed critics and audiences. Set in a prison, this depiction of Julius Caesar impressed even the sternest critics I know. I never thought that the works of Shakespeare and live thrash metal would work together, but this show renewed my faith in what theater can be. That is, unless Miley Cyrus shows up on Broadway.
BEST FALL BREAK
by Amy Zimmerman, Social Media Deputy
I woke up three hours later in a van on the way to LaGuardia. It was the tail end of Halloween, and we had all packed our bags in a drunk, exhausted stupor. With two hairbrushes, a few dresses, and a pair of cat ears, we flew across the country. Frantically switching our phones from airplane mode, we felt our cool electronic squares begin to sweat. The air was still and thin, lounging on the tarmac. Straight past the airport were the first levees, nothing more than little mountains. Thick green when the water broke—welcome to New Orleans.
New Orleans is a town of functioning alcoholics. Walking down Bourbon Street at night, one is reminded of the absolute futility of open container laws. Everything is too decadent, too sensory, like grains of sugar that stick between your teeth and under your tongue. Strippers dance in red-light booths, taking smoke breaks in lamé body suits like retired video girls. Homeless kids sell fortunes and jelly shots. There is vomit on the street and you can’t go an inch without crushing Mardi Gras beads under your heel. We find our way up the stairs onto a rooftop bar. A band is playing in a foggy corner, the lead singer in a black mourning dress and skeletal makeup. With war feathers in her hair she screams and aches. She smiles as if we’re not the only ones watching her; she is holding the gaze of every ghost in the empty bar.
In the French Quarter we buy voodoo candles to bring back to McBain: “Love,” the “Virgin Mary,” the “Art of Writing.” We go to Tulane’s frat row, where my friend falls in love with a virgin Baptist from deep Louisiana. They text a little. I fall into a malaise—it’s not contagious, but I want to be alone. We pass the Superdome, where they televised during Katrina.
On our last day, I wander off to the park, lie in the grass, and play dead. The trees are blushing and swooning like Southern belles. It’s a beautiful day. I wonder what’s really so dark about New Orleans after all. I’m probably just dehydrated. After all, we’ve been drinking a lot, and it’s so much hotter here. Three hours later I am preparing for takeoff. I put my iPhone on airplane mode and take a deep breath. I watch the levees disappear, the brightest, hardest green I have ever seen.
BEST SPECIES DISCOVERY
by Laura Booth, Managing Editor for Optics
Maintaining a sense of discovery at Columbia is far harder than I ever expected it to be. So, in something of a quest to regain the feeling of awe that buoyed me up on my first campus visit, I switched my major this summer to environmental biology and enrolled in Ichthyology—the study of fish, that is. I entered class on the first day with a sense of relief—I would be learning, finally, about things that exist tangibly in the world (well, for now, at least). Spare me Plato’s cave. I’ll take the 27,000 species of extant fishes any day of the week.
Of course, studying things that, theoretically, I could reach out and touch made little difference to my lived experience at Columbia. For all the fish I saw “in the flesh,” I may as well still have continued studying the radical tradition in America or Pride and Prejudice.
It seemed to be yet another year in which I, like everyone else, had told myself that this semester would be better; this semester, I would be able to foreground the macroscopic themes—the privilege of studying the liberal arts, the new ideas, the broadening of my perspective—over the microscopic worries. But, much to my chagrin, I nearly drowned under the weight of assignments. I was barely keeping afloat, let alone remembering how exceedingly lucky I was to be studying at Columbia at all.
And then the time came to write my “Best Of 2013” piece. Well, I was strapped for ideas—it hadn’t seemed like a Best Of anything sort of year—until I thought to search for new species discovered.
I bestow upon you, “Best of 2013” readers, the olinguito, a smallish carnivorous mammal most closely related to the coati—the Brazilian aardvark (duh)—and in the same family as raccoons. Olinguitos live in cloud forests in the Andes and are members of the genus Bassaricyon, commonly called the olingos, first described in 1876. Despite being charismatic mammals (one of the types of organisms most interesting to conservationists worldwide because of their appeal to people), olinguitos’ first description came only this year.
This little creature—the best species discovery of 2013—has existed for far longer than we have known of it. If we are careful, the olinguito may continue to exist for many years yet. It is a symbol of what is left to be discovered—if we can only remain open to looking.
BEST OKCUPID PROFILE
by Adina Applebaum, View From Here Editor
He was 23 years old and from New York City. His profile picture was a close-up of a man wearing sunglasses and sitting in what looked like a maroon Ford minivan. His username was Cashmoney135 and he was my top match on OkCupid.
It was on a bus ride to Rhode Island that I took the plunge into the world of OkCupid. After spending the entire month of June drowning in the despair of singledom (and the nights of Trader Joe’s wine drinking that come with it), online dating seemed like the only choice left. While my parents would have likely preferred I use the digital matchmaking services of SawYouAtSinai—an Orthodox Jewish dating service that boasts Rabbinic approval on its home page—I decided that OkCupid was the way to go. After eagerly filling out my profile, I waited for the matches to come rolling in.
And roll in they did. Before Cashmoney, there was an overweight guy in his 50s wearing a beer can hat who messaged me, “I’m very good at cuddling.” There was a man who listed only two items on his list of life’s necessities: “Weed and my kids.”
Unlike the other users—mostly balding, middle aged men whose profile pictures featured the types of pets you don’t think anyone actually owns—Cashmoney didn’t feel the need to message me. His profile boasted almost no information; all he listed were two things he was good at: basketball and something called “spraying.” I waited for him to message me commenting on our 92 percent compatibility, but he never did. He was probably too busy spraying.
Maybe Cashmoney was just a lonely minivan driver who got bored halfway through making his profile and was too nervous to message anyone. I like to think, though, that he was simply smarter than the rest of us. While every other user was filling their profile with useless information, like their dreams for the future, Cashmoney played it cool. He didn’t message anyone because he didn’t have to. Cashmoney waited for people to message him.
I deleted my profile a mere three hours after making it. I still can’t figure out what spraying is or why a man whose only interest is basketball was matched with a girl whose entire profile was an ode to baked goods. And yet, for some reason, I have the feeling that I may have missed out on the greatest love I ever could have experienced.
BEST BOAT RIDE
by Natan Belchikov, Head Copy Editor
The smooth-sloped, irregularly shaped Hudson Highlands radiated their reds, oranges, yellows, and greens. The wind sometimes rose up in frosty gusts as we rushed downstream, but it always seemed refreshing in combination with the exquisite abundance of space that the river afforded. Later on, the Palisades, with their sheer wall of densely packed, multicolored trees, looked stunning. I avoided glancing at the occasional houses, power lines, and train tracks, trying to catch every instant that allowed me to momentarily forget civilization.
But soon the mountains were subsiding, and the towns were less shy about revealing themselves to the river. The suburbs had undeniably arrived. Like a towering gateway, the George Washington Bridge grew taller, admitting the river that had recently been snaking past woods and hillsides into the city’s heart. The slanted, reddening evening light endowed the structure with an air of weighty majesty as we floated beneath it; the wilderness instantly became a distant memory. Beyond, the tangled concrete-and-glass mass of Midtown was taking center stage (up above, NoCo drifted past, unexpectedly, gleaming grayly). The skyline’s magnificence grew gradually but conspicuously. The crescendo reached its peak as the narrow canyon of 34th Street swept past, leveling us with the Empire State Building’s singularly elegant bulk, its lights competing with the sun’s last rays.
I’ve spent (too) many hours staring at Manhattan—but always from a window, a highway, or a bridge. This time, I looked up from a stream whose water has been following the same course for thousands of years, still bringing bubbles of mountain air with it. The Hudson, unlike anything else, seamlessly connects the city to those mountains. Without stations or exit signs, it’s impossible to draw boundaries. You’re left with just the view, whether it’s the tranquil peak of Bear Mountain or the grand finale of Lower Manhattan: Another glistening horde of skyscrapers rises, the poignant sight of the new World Trade Center in its midst, as a sharp leftward turn reveals the Brooklyn Bridge’s stately arches; behind you, a solitary figure stands in the harbor, silhouetted against the orange sky.