What I'm Reading

September 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 8:05 pm

Albright’s Pin Diplomacy
by Rebecca Dana
September 27, 2009 | 9:32pm

The former secretary of State, who once telegraphed diplomatic messages by wearing carefully selected pins, talks to Rebecca Dana about her new book on her extraordinary pin collection, Sarah Palin’s pins, and more.

Madeleine Albright was sitting in a corner office on the eighth floor of the Museum of Arts and Design one recent afternoon, enjoying the view of Central Park on a glorious September day. She wore a simple black pantsuit, a light dusting of makeup, and, on her left shoulder, some serious bling: a gleaming golden sunflower, covered in what looked like diamonds, about the size of a human fist.

This was not some ultra-precious heirloom brooch or delicate lapel pin. It was a statement piece worthy of the State Department. “It reflects my mood,” Albright says, cheerfully. “And it’s utilitarian in terms of being able to do carry-on luggage.”

Click Image to View Our Gallery of Albright’s Pins

Article - Dana Albright Pins Gallery Launch

 

The former secretary of State has been traveling a lot lately, facing down airport security with a bag full of colorful pins to brighten up her wardrobe. The accessory came to be her trademark during her years in the Clinton administration, when she developed a habit of wearing carefully selected pins to telegraph messages during diplomatic missions. “When I was in a good mood, I wore flowers and butterflies and suns,” she says, “and when we were about to do something nasty, I had bugs and bees and things like that.”

In association with the Museum of Arts and Design, Albright has a new exhibit and book out this week showcasing about 200 highlights from her vast collection and telling the story of how many were acquired and when they were worn. The project is called Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, a reference to a little quip she used to make to reporters, a callback to the first President Bush’s famous “Read my lips…” line.

Albright has about 300 pins in total, ranging from small, abstract designs to large, gem-encrusted zebras, lions, birds, and bugs. There is all manner of Americana, from “Vote for Jimmy Carter” and “Barack Obama for President” buttons to a bejeweled Mickey Mouse, with a pearl on his head, bells on his feet, and a shiny Uncle Sam top hat in his right hand. There are at least eight spider pins, many dragonflies, frogs, pianos, leopards, wind instruments, bears, and turtles, plus a scorpion, a pink pig, and a big kangaroo (with a baby kangaroo in its pouch). There is a lovely blue pin in the shape of a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a gold UFO with three aliens dangling from hooks.

“When I look at how many I have, I think, ‘Oh my goodness!’” Albright says.

Jewelry has been used in diplomacy at least since ancient Rome, when Cleopatra, no stranger to accessorizing, is said to have dropped a priceless pearl in a vat of acid on a challenge from Marc Antony. What distinguishes Albright’s collection from, say, the British crown jewels is its democratic character. She acquired her pins at flea markets, antique stores, and little boutiques, and chose them not because of their value as collectibles but because “some of them just speak to me and say: ‘Buy me! Buy me!’”

“Most of them are costume jewelry,” she says. “It’s not kind of an elaborate collection with fancy jewels. Most of the pins are replaceable in some form or another.”

Her interest in pins began innocently enough, when as a Wellesley girl she was “pinned” by her beau Joe Albright, a handsome Theta Delta Xi she’d met when both were working summer jobs at The Denver Post. Preferring pins to pearls or other accessories, Albright accumulated others over the course of her married life, including her most cherished one: a ceramic heart made by her daughter Katie at age 5, given to her on Valentine’s Day.

It was only after her divorce, when Albright began her career in government, that the pins took on additional meaning and collecting them became more of an active pursuit. As President Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations, and later as the first female secretary of State, she was “very conscious of being the only woman” and relied on the pins to bring some fun and femininity without drawing unwelcome scrutiny of her wardrobe.

“The hard part here is how to balance not having your clothes talked about and having some fun,” she says. “It’s a no-win. The truth is, I wished I had looked better in pants then. Because there are times that you—getting out of cars is not simple in a skirt. And sitting on a stage is not simple in a skirt. And getting on a helicopter is not simple in a skirt. I remember sitting on stages and pulling down my skirt and trying to figure out how to sit there. It’s a no-win situation. People would either say that my hems were too high or to low or whatever.”

Albright’s “pin diplomacy” began as an accident. During her term as U.N. ambassador, in the period following the first Gulf War, she criticized Saddam Hussein for refusing to fully disclose Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. In response to the criticism, an Iraqi state-run newspaper published a poem calling Albright an “unparalleled serpent.” “I happened to have a snake pin,” Albright says, “so from then on, I wore it when we were doing Iraq things. And I thought, ‘Well, this is fun.’ And so, when I was in New York, the mecca of everything, I went out and bought a bunch of costume jewelry that reflected, I thought, a bunch of what we were going to do.”

She wore a wasp pin to one round of negotiations with Yasser Arafat and a golden “peace dove” given to her by Yitzhak Rabin’s wife, Leah, to visit the victims of genocide in Rwanda. She wore an entire jazz band on her shoulder to a ceremony honoring Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Her staff had a pin made for her in the shape of a small cluster of mushrooms because, during a difficult period in Middle East peace talks, she used to brush off journalists’ questions by saying, “Sometimes diplomatic talks, like mushrooms, grow better in the dark.”

Though an avid pin-wearer herself, Albright says she found the controversy around whether Barack Obama wore a flag pin during his presidential campaign “crazy.” She had no comment on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s elaborate use of pins during the campaign, including the ornate, jeweled American flag she wore to the vice-presidential debate. “I had more problems with being misquoted by her,” Albright says. (The reference is to a quote of Albright’s about there being “a special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other,” which Palin repeated, changing “help” to “support.”)

These days, Albright has become so well-known for her pins, which she stores in a shoe bag in her closet when they’re not on display in a museum, that people come up to her in airports and on the street to talk about them. One of her most treasured pieces came from a man in New Orleans who lost his mother during Hurricane Katrina. The pin, made of amethysts and diamonds, was a gift from his father to his mother on their 50th wedding anniversary.

Now that many are in the exhibit, friends and strangers have been giving her “pity pins” to wear until her own are returned. “Yesterday, for instance, I was walking around and somebody gave me a pin that said, ‘Chicks Rock,’” she says. “So, I think that’s kind of fun.”

Plus: Check out Book Beast, for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Rebecca Dana is a culture correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she has also written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.

For press inquiries, contact this writer at press@thedailybeast.com.

 

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 8:04 pm

For Gilchrest, It’s No Political Wilderness
Teaching Kids Ecology Is Truly in His Nature

By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

 

KENNEDYVILLE, Md. — Wayne Gilchrest had come to the homeless shelter with high ambitions.

The former congressman was to take the shelter’s kids out the next day for hiking and canoeing in a nature preserve. But first, he wanted to give them a refresher on some earlier lessons. He’d keep it simple: “Trees, rocks, bees,” he thought aloud on the way to the shelter.

He pulled up to the cluster of motel-like buildings on the upper Eastern Shore, across the Sassafras River from Gilchrest’s home and the preserve. He lifted from his truck a bucket whose contents included a robin’s nest and a big knobby rock , plus a map of his former district, to show the kids where they’d be going.

The college student overseeing the shelter’s kids, Sam Eklund, was with 10 of them at a jungle gym beside a cornfield. A kid with a blond buzz cut and a blaring radio stared at Gilchrest. Nearby, laundry flapped on a line.

Eklund made her way over. Gilchrest explained what he hoped to accomplish with his visit.

“And I might give the definition of estuary,” he said.

Eklund nodded.

He said quickly, “I might be doing too much.”

But the truth was, Gilchrest was thinking big. After 18 years representing Maryland’s Eastern Shore and parts of its western as an exceedingly independent-minded Republican in a conservative district, Gilchrest was expelled from Congress by a primary challenger last year. Now the 63-year-old has settled on a plan for his post-political life: He wants to create a program under which all children in Kent and Cecil counties would regularly visit the 1,000-acre county and state lands near where Turner’s Creek meets the Sassafras. In exploring the lush area filled wildlife and scattered with several 18th-century buildings and Native American traces, the children would received what Gilchrest likes to call a “PhD in environmental ethics” by the time they graduate from high school.

“These kids would have a deep frame of reference for the ecology and their place in the ecology,” he said, laying out the vision in his truck. “You’d have an understanding of your own niche and how it can be compatible with nature’s design.”

For years, Gilchrest had been taking out disadvantaged or troubled kids who, teachers thought, could benefit from time outdoors. To scale it up, he figures, he needs two state workers and an annual budget of a hundred or two hundred grand. He’s getting encouraging responses from state and federal officials.

Michael Harvey, president of the Kent County Board of Education, said the upper Shore was fortunate that Gilchrest — who won students’ affection as a teacher with tales of his peripatetic young adulthood — was returning to help its kids.

“Wayne takes us back to an earlier idea of the citizen legislator,” said Harvey, a business professor at Washington College. “In one way or another, he always cared about the environment, and for passing things on to the young . . . and now with a bit of help from others, he can establish a legacy.”

For trial runs, Gilchrest is taking out groups like the children from Meeting Ground shelter, whose director he’s known for years.

Eklund called the kids over. Gilchrest unfurled the map and traced the route they would take. He held up the knobby rock and asked what “conglomerate” meant. Destiny Stone, 9, mumbled something. Gilchrest pointed. “Say that again!” “It’s a whole bunch of rocks combined together,” she said.

Gilchrest beamed. At times like these, it was easy to forget what he’d left behind.

In recent weeks, his former colleagues had been facing down town hall crowds. Someone had hung a cardboard effigy of the man who’d succeeded him. And the party whose tag he had carried through 10 elections had, if anything, moved even further from what he’d known it to be when he started out.

In that regard, his retreat to the Shore had nationwide echoes. He was one of a legion of moderate Republicans who fell away from the party as it narrowed around a more orthodox, pugnacious and Southern strain of conservatism. “I can remember sitting and having dinner with the other Republicans,” he said while driving to the shelter, “and thinking, if I was on the outside, I would not be having dinner with these guys.”

After the lesson, Gilchrest carried the bucket back to his truck. The excursion had been shorter than he’d hoped, but he decided it was worth it.

“Brains work in extraordinary ways,” he said. “Now they have in their brains: bees, trees and rocks.”

Walking a Fine Line

What becomes of the ex-congressman after two decades on the job?

Some go back to the old line of work, a law firm or family business. But what would that be in Gilchrest’s case? His r?sum? was a mishmash.

After graduating from high school in New Jersey, he enlisted in the Marines and returned from Vietnam a decorated hero. He bounced around, slaughtering chickens and leading a Boy Scout troop for delinquents before getting a bachelor’s degree at Delaware State. After teaching in Vermont, he moved to the Eastern Shore, where his wife was from, and found work teaching social studies at Kent County High School. Next came a stint in Idaho with the Forest Service before returning to the Shore.

Though he’d always been a social liberal and environmentalist, Gilchrest had once seen things to like in the Republicans — he admired Gerald Ford for getting out of Vietnam and Ronald Reagan for pulling out of Beirut. And when he ran for Congress in 1988, it was easier to challenge the incumbent, a conservative Democrat, as a Republican. He was a long shot, but the incumbent became embroiled in scandals, and Gilchrest won on his second try.

For 18 years he walked a fine line. He voted for gun control and with the environmentalists, but stuck with the party on just enough big votes: to impeach Bill Clinton, for the 2001 tax cuts and for the 2002 Iraq War resolution.

But in 2007, he was one of only two House Republicans to vote for the Iraq supplemental funding bill that included timetables for withdrawal. And in his primary the next year, he lost to a conservative state senator who in turn lost to a moderate Democrat in November.

Now he’s free to express himself. When he started in Congress, Republicans “weren’t yet what they turned out to be,” he said. “It was the last of the WASPy New Englanders, with their sense of public service. . . . But then all of a sudden, they just got taken over. I hate to say this, but ignorance, arrogance and dogma are pervasive in the world, and they certainly are pervasive in the Republican Party.”

A few months ago, he and his wife took into their care his grandnieces, ages 9 and 14. A parent again after raising two sons and a daughter, Gilchrest needed work that would keep him closer to home.

He loved teaching and the outdoors. While in Congress, he got out in his canoe once a week for peace of mind. “You can’t have a society if its people are not happy and confident and if they have no connection to nature,” he said.

As he said this, he was walking down to a beach on the Sassafras to make sure the terrain was safe for the children. Two bald eagles flew overhead as he launched into his pedagogic pitch. “There’s everything in ecology. There’s math in ecology. There’s history in ecology.” He came upon a junk pile against a tree. “And there’s tires in ecology.”

New Constituents

It was 15 minutes past the appointed time, and there was no sign of the kids. Gilchrest fidgeted with his supplies at the pavilion above the Turner’s Creek dock.

Finally, a rumble came down the road and two vans rolled in. Out spilled 19 kids, ages 2 to 14, white and African American, one with an arm cast, another limping with a still-healing broken leg. The walk to the beach was short but still an adventure. Some kids dashed ahead. Some lay down to see if the vultures in a tree above would swoop down at them. And despite Gilchrest’s cautions about the bluffs, a 5-year-old boy briefly swerved toward the edge.

Down on the beach, Gilchrest pointed out the bands of sedimentation in the bluffs, and Dartanion Stone, 11, went off hunting for conglomerates.

But the water captured the most attention. Before their chaperones had even tried to lay down any rules, most of the kids had tumbled in, shoes and all. Then, some drama: Off on the far side of the Chesapeake was the tight whirl of a waterspout extending down from dark clouds. The children lingered, marveling, despite the adults’ urgings to get away. Finally, the crew was back on the trail, squishing along in sopping shoes.

If Gilchrest was disappointed by the beach visit, he didn’t say: “We outdid the tornado, the scratches, the bugs and the cliffs,” he said as he oversaw the uphill clamber.

The chaperones weren’t so sure. “Why did I agree to do this?” said Eklund, lugging one of the kids on her back. Another chaperone chided Gilchrest . “Next time,” she said, “bring towels and toilet paper.”

After lunch , the oldest children went to the creek’s edge to check out the county’s anti-erosion efforts.

Tehya Randall, 11, perched on a rock, blithely asked: “How was that cliff made?”

Gilchrest brightened. “Oh, come here!” he said, and the kids gathered around. With a finger, he drew lines in the wet sand. “Here’s a river, and here’s a river. This is the Susquehanna. Twenty thousand years ago, this was glaciers. Then the ice started to melt, and these two rivers were filled with that melt water. . . . The water rushed down so fast that it piled up dirt and rocks; it made a big trench and brought with it the dirt and sand and rocks, and made those cliffs.”

Later, the eldest eight kids climbed into his four canoes. As they reached some water lilies, Gilchrest encouraged them to paddle in enough to pluck a blossom each. Surprised that this larceny had been approved, they inched in eagerly among the green pads.

At the trip’s end, Gilchrest was dragging the canoes to land when a couple of SUVs pulled up and three well-dressed women piled out to board a pleasure boat.

They greeted their former congressman and then appeared puzzled as they scanned his soaked trousers and glanced at the dripping near-teens around him.

“You got a bit wet,” one of the women said.

September 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 8:30 pm
September 27, 2009
Generation B

No Silk Jammies for Her

By MICHAEL WINERIP

LAST January, when Victor S. Navasky, chairman of the Columbia Journalism Review, was looking to hire a publisher for his magazine, which serves as an arbiter of journalism ethics, he called Christie Hefner.

Ms. Hefner was retiring as chief executive of Playboy Enterprises after 20 years. And while it’s rare to see Playboy and Columbia Journalism Review in the same sentence, it made sense to Mr. Navasky. He had first met Ms. Hefner in 1979. She was heading up promotions for her father’s magazine and recruited Mr. Navasky to serve as a judge — along with Jules Feiffer and Tom Wicker — for Playboy’s new Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards.

Over the years, he has been impressed with her balancing act at Playboy. “She’s certainly a liberal feminist and a liberal Democrat,” said Mr. Navasky, former editor of the liberal Nation. “People would say, ‘so what’s she doing putting out a magazine and running clubs catering to horny men?’ But she found a way to make it work consistent with her values, to serve Playboy and her father and give them an opportunity to do socially useful things.”

Ms. Hefner, 56, and her father, 83, formed a true Boomer/Greatest Generation partnership. While Dad helped usher in the sexual revolution, it fell to her to keep his piece of the revolution afloat. While Hef poses with Playmates a quarter his age, Ms. Hefner is a legendary networker who called Warren E. Buffett when she recapitalized the company. While Dad says, “Picasso had his pink period and blue period, I’m in my blonde period,” Ms. Hefner says, “This is what it looks like from 30,000 feet up,” and, “I don’t want it to look like we’re seeking sizzle and not steak.”

Hugh Hefner created the most successful men’s magazine of all time, but by the 1980s, if his daughter hadn’t stepped in, it’s clear from Steven Watts’s 2008 biography, “Mr. Playboy,” the bunny empire might have collapsed.

A pivotal moment: On Jan. 11, 1982, Mr. Hefner testified before a New Jersey commission considering whether to grant the lucrative Playboy Casino in Atlantic City a permanent license. Accompanied by a Playmate, Hef performed so miserably — he couldn’t remember basic details about his company and later acknowledged he hadn’t read the state report on his casino — that Playboy’s application was rejected. The casino had to be sold.

That’s when, at 29, Ms. Hefner asked her father to name her Playboy president. He was relieved, she said. “Hef said, ‘I felt like I had this incredible birthday party and you had to come in and clean up the day after.’ ”

As a child, she hardly knew him. Her parents divorced when she was 6, and she lived with her mother. She and her brother saw their father a few times a year, at the Playboy mansion. “He’d send a limo for us,” she said.

Perhaps it was the divorce, but Ms. Hefner grew up fast, learning to parent her parents. At 18, when her mother divorced a second time, Ms. Hefner visited her father. “I said: ‘She’s never asked you for anything, but you have to help Mom. You have to buy her a place to live.’ Dad bought her a town house.”

After graduating summa cum laude from Brandeis, she planned to go to law school, when her father suggested she first get some work experience at Playboy.

She stayed 33 years, building a profitable Internet operation and creating a $1 billion brand licensing division that is the company’s biggest profit maker. While Hef bragged about not crossing the line into hard porn, she did, buying Spice TV and Club Jenna and defending the move as business.

Under her direction, Playboy was profitable in good times and has survived in these bad times for print media. As her role grew, he cut back, becoming chief creative officer. “He once said to me, ‘I want you to know I sleep better at night because you’re in this position.’ At the time I wasn’t sleeping because I was worried about all the people whose jobs were threatened if I made the wrong decisions. At least one of us was sleeping.”

Her father lent his support to causes like birth control and abortion rights, but activism was at her core. She campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment and gay rights and was chairwoman of a drive that raised $30 million for an AIDS treatment and research clinic in Chicago. Gloria Steinem, who made sport of attacking Hef (“a woman reading Playboy,” she once said, “feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual”) brought Ms. Hefner onto the board of Voters for Choice.

Ms. Hefner lives in Chicago and is heavily involved in politics. She has donated $201,000 to Democrats and liberal causes over the last 30 years, according to federal data collected by the NewsMeat Web site. “It’s not unusual for someone running for Senate in Illinois to come see me,” she said.

For 25 years she was on the board of the Magazine Publishers of America, and in 2005 arranged for one networking friend, Barack Obama, to speak at its annual conference.

She was always prompt for interviews for this column. Arriving at 4:30 for one, she apologized. “I promised you an hour and a half, but I’m going to have to leave at 5 of 6 — I have an appointment at the Four Seasons.”

In 2006, Forbes named Ms. Hefner 80th on its list of the world’s 100 most powerful women. By 2008, she earned $1.5 million a year in compensation.

Last fall, she decided she had been responsible for Playboy long enough. She had guided the company through several downturns and wasn’t looking forward to another. “Retrenching and cutting and not growing — to say it’s not much fun is an understatement.”

On election night last November, she said, she received a call from Playboy’s head of human resources saying they wanted to put together a celebration to observe her 20th year as chief executive. Instead, she flew to the Playboy mansion in Los Angeles to tell Dad it was time for her to go.

She turned down the publisher’s position at Columbia, but is helping Mr. Navasky create a for-profit arm for the Columbia Journalism Review modeled on the Harvard Business Review, which raises money by selling case studies and sponsoring conferences. She is networking with several executives including Cathy Cranston, the business review’s former publisher. The two first networked when Ms. Hefner was on the magazine association board and Ms. Cranston was with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

To keep her name before the public, she has been appearing as an unpaid economic talking head on CNN, Fox and CNBC cable programs. Though she received $2 million in severance from Playboy, she says she needs to work. Her Playboy stock, at a high of $36 a share a decade ago, now sells for $3.

She recently signed a deal with the Canyon Ranch resorts to build a brand-licensing business for health products modeled on her efforts with the Playboy brand. Asked if it would be a full-time job, Hef’s daughter said, “I expect it will take up approximately 40 percent of my time.”

E-mail: Generationb@nytimes.com

September 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 2:11 pm

My Life As Gwyneth
by Rebecca Dana
September 10, 2009 | 12:19am

SX Top - Dana Goop Eric Ryan / Getty ImagesAs Gwyneth Paltrow mulls turning her web site, GOOP, into a lifestyle empire, The Daily Beast’s Rebecca Dana mulls turning herself into Gwyneth. A story of dieting, detoxing, and dining with a Golden Girl—just like GOOP tells us to.

I started reading Crime and Punishment last month because Gwyneth Paltrow said to. According to the Oscar-winning actress, “the best way to relax before bed is to curl up by the fire with an amazing, transportive [sic] novel.” (Apart from watching a few minutes of a “forensic pathology documentary” on TV.) “I think there was something about the complexity of the protagonist’s psychology that made me feel like I wasn’t the most misunderstood person in the world,” Paltrow says of the Dostoevsky classic, which she first read in high school but has returned to many times since. “It was okay to be figuring out one’s own sense of right and wrong. In fact, it was one of life’s great endeavors.”

I recently embarked on another of life’s great endeavors. For the last three weeks, I’ve strived to follow every single recommendation from GOOP, Gwyneth’s weekly e-mail newsletter, in an effort to understand this complex star.

I found myself intrigued by her recommendation to “take your drinking water to the next level” with a $900 alkaline filtration system. What vegan shoe designer does Cameron Diaz recommend? I suddenly wanted to know.

In the GOOP-iverse, there are six points on the Star of Gwyneth: Make, Go, Get, Do, Be, See— the organizing principles behind her guide to better living, her gift to us. The advice ranges from wonderfully inspiring to hilariously impractical, internally inconsistent and outright absurd. In the name of GOOP, I have now given up white foods (bread, pasta), preserved foods (chips, cookies), toxic foods (candy, ice cream), and foods containing heavy metals (I never quite figured this one out). I have dutifully tried to rid myself of negativity and the inner gunk of past excess by drinking two tablespoons of olive oil every night before bed. I have done butt-lifting exercises in my living room, cultivated my “sticktoitiveness,” cooked enormous feasts one day and subsisted on kale and lemon water the next. I have given myself a five-minute makeover involving a tight drugstore headband and slathered home-made Turbinado sugar and coarsely ground coffee paste on my cheeks, to open up my pores. I have paired slouchy trousers with a shirt that has “some edge.” I have added adaptogenic herbal formulas to my morning routine and tried to eat in accordance with my body’s natural rhythms. I have experimented with four different recipes for chocolate chip cookies. I have practiced the African philosophy of ubuntu. I have purchased leggings.

And I have nourished my inner aspect.

Gwyneth has taken a lot of heat for her GOOP newsletter, with critics accusing her of being dense, illiterate, and out of touch. Then again, how hard is it to mock a Hollywood royal who describes cooking and food as “my main ancillary passions in life” and who turned to an “organic plastic surgeon” in 2007 when she got tired of her “saddlebags and post-pregnancy Shar-Pei-like stomach”? She drops names faster than she does pounds during a liquid cleanse (Wes Anderson, Jon Favreau, Sofia Coppola, Christy Turlington, “my friend Mark Bittman of The New York Times”), and her devotion to alternative medicine is just kind of creepy. She is so preoccupied with bowel movements that if she ever does expand the empire (as she has hinted), there could easily be a spinoff newsletter devoted solely to remedies for gastrointestinal “sluggishness.” No telling the potential web audience for POOP.

There’s a lot to scoff at here, but the three weeks I spent following GOOP were pure joy. Expensive, inconvenient and totally unsustainable—yes, but also full of unexpected pleasures. Instead of taking a vacation this summer, I lived like a world-famous actress obsessed with maple syrup, pseudo-science and Mario Batali. And just as Gwyneth did with Raskolnikov, I too found a special comfort in the complexity of my protagonist’s psychology. She may be tone-deaf and full of wacky ideas about food and religion, but she really just wants everyone to feel as good as she does. On a few occasions, I think I got close. My GOOP plan began with cynicism and failure, and by the end, I was cooking a giant pan-holiday dinner party with recipes from Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Valentine’s Day for my boyfriend, three girlfriends, and Rue McClanahan of The Golden Girls. It was a long, strange journey.

Gwyneth’s first newsletter went out in September 2008 with a simple introduction tracing her evolution from strict macrobiotic to worldly gourmand. On my first day as a GOOP devotee, I planned to follow her first two recipes: for sugar-free banana nut muffins and turkey ragu. Gwyneth makes the ragu, which calls for fennels seeds crushed with a special “spice basher,” on Saturday afternoons while her children are playing in the garden and leaves it simmering on the stove all day. The banana muffins, sweetened with maple and brown rice syrups, require three different kinds of flour (whole spelt, white spelt and barley). I left work at 8 p.m. on Day One, went to three different grocery stores looking for the ingredients, gave up, went home, ate a cold tub of brown rice from the refrigerator and fell asleep.

“Goop?” Rue McClanahan asked, when I tried to explain what we were doing. “Can I find that with Google?”

Day Two was an improvement. The banana nut muffins came out swell, even if they weren’t quite the proof Gwyneth promised that “health food can still taste decadent.” At night, I skipped the ragu and went to Otto, which Gwyneth calls a “busy, happy pizzeria” and recommends alongside every other Batali restaurant. (The two are pals who became travel companions in Spain…On the Road Again, their strangely addicting public TV series sponsored by the government of Spain, Pompeiian olive oil and The New York Times). Over dinner, my companions and I discussed “frenemies.” Gwyneth had a frenemy once and was troubled at the joy she felt when this person suffered a terrible public humiliation. She asked her favorite Kabbalist, Shaikh, Episcopal priest, psychologist and Zen master for their thoughts, and the consensus was that we should all avoid negativity as much as possible. I forgot my credit card at the bar but didn’t let it get me down.

On Day Three, I began Gwyneth’s Seven-Day Detox, a quick way to shed a few pounds and eliminate bodily toxins. Paltrow is never specific about exactly what these toxins are or how not eating soy helps expel them, but I quickly found it’s better not to look for specifics in these newsletters. “Roast the vegetables”—At what temperature? For how long? Gwyneth avoids any hard and fast rules; the point is we should all enjoy some roasted vegetables. A necessary part of the GOOP plan is blind faith that our guru and her advisors, in this case Dr. Alejandro Junger, will provide all the information necessary to make, go, get, do, be and see. On the third day of the detox, about when the hallucinations started, I began imagining Gwyneth in the Julie Andrews role from The Sound of Music, delivering her guidance in song: “Make! A pie! A pumpkin pie! Go! To Paris, London, Spain! Get! A trench! A Burberry trench!….” The end is the end in itself. Why worry too much about the details along the way?

In that spirit, I’ll leave out the details of my detox, which ended shortly after those hallucinations began. Suffice to say, it is difficult to subsist on two liquid meals and one small helping of salmon and kale a day, especially when you have a job. There were some glorious highs, some terrible headaches, and plenty of opportunities to apply GOOP’s relationship advice as I fought off wild-eyed delirium and tried to “cherish small moments of intimacy and laughter” with my very patient, better-fed boyfriend.

And then, like magic, at some point in the middle of week two, I stopped noticing what an unbelievable hassle it was to follow this ridiculous plan. My ear adjusted to Gwyneth’s affect, and rather than guffawing at some of her more outlandish suggestions, I found myself intrigued by the $249 Voltaic Solar Backpack and her recommendation to “take your drinking water to the next level” with a $900 alkaline filtration system. What vegan shoe designer does Cameron Diaz recommend? I suddenly wanted to know. GOOP has been on hiatus for much of the summer while Gwyneth is traveling and spending time with her family, and without being fully conscious of it, I tried to “police my thoughts” for negativity as I impatiently awaited her return.

In the meantime, I filled my evenings with adventures: new yoga poses, goofy home beauty exercises, YouTube videos about how to make a chicken or tone my lower body with simple chair exercises. I also began to plan my GOOP grand finale, an enormous Labor Day banquet with recipes from every major holiday. The menu: Gwyneth’s Christmas mixed greens salad with cranberries, goat cheese and a homemade maple-dijon vinaigrette; her “fun and festive” Hanukkah latkes (which she loves to serve with a whole roasted fish and salsa verde); Thanksgiving turkey burgers with stuffing, ketchup and cranberry chutney; roasted winter vegetables; and a pumpkin ice cream pie.

Exactly how Rue McClanahan got mixed up in all of this remains a mystery. I’d entertained fantasies of asking Gwyneth to come to dinner, but never seriously planned on having a major stage and screen actress at our table. But Rue happens to live next door to the apartment of a friend who agreed to host the party. The 67-year-old Golden Girls star was passing a solitary Sunday night with her sixth husband, Morrow. He stayed in for the night but she agreed to an invitation to join us. “Goop?” she asked, when I tried to explain what we were doing. “Can I find that with Google?”

We spent the night talking about health spas, Haitian voodoo, small-town Oklahoma and what it was like to be a Golden Girl. I completely forgot about the cooking, and my boyfriend had to step in to rescue the latkes from burning oil and grill up the turkey burgers on the stove. Meanwhile, we sat rapt, listening to Rue’s stories about late nights at Sardi’s and her current project, a stage version of her memoir My First Five Husbands…And the Ones Who Got Away. I told her about Gwyneth’s detox, and she said it sounded like a lot of food compared to the raw vegetable diets she’d done in the past. She asked me for the menu and recipes, posed for pictures and left shortly after midnight, taking the other half of her turkey burger home in a Tupperware for lunch the next day. She said it was the first impromptu dinner party she’d ever attended.

GOOP is as much about the unintended consequences of a well-lived life as the intended ones (the elimination of toxins, the clarifying of skin and soul, the virtual necessity of a Chopard necklace and Tod’s boots). Gwyneth doesn’t say anything about the restorative power of gay icons from the 1990s in her newsletter, but if it weren’t for GOOP, we never would have met Rue, never would have sipped coffee with vanilla ice cream while she told stories about Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Betty White.

“What is holiday spirit?” Gwyneth asks in one “Get” newsletter. “For me, it means helping to create that atmosphere where loved ones feel full of cheer, like some happy secret is about to be revealed.” So what if she goes on to suggest creating that atmosphere with a $1,395 Mulberry weekend bag in chocolate natural leather. If you look at the big picture and not the little details, it’s not so hard to understand where Gwyneth’s coming from. “Do whatever you can, on whatever scale you can,” she says. “It’s all about the intention.”

Check out more of the latest entertainment, fashion, and culture coverage on Sexy Beast—photos, videos, features, and Tweets.

Rebecca Dana is a culture correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she has also written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 1:38 pm

The Marriage Divide
Was I too young to get married or too old? Depends on whom you ask

By Monica Hesse
Sunday, September 6, 2009

 

The two responses I received last year when, at 26, I announced I had gotten engaged:

a) Oh, God, finally!

b) Oh, God, already?

Followed by:

a) Have you chosen your canape platter yet?

b) Is this because of a tax break or something?

And then possibly by:

a) Where are you registered?

b) Wait, are you sure you haven’t been drinking?

Whether my friends answered a’s or b’s depended entirely on which time zone — which side of the International Wedding Date Line — they lived in. The IWDL is a complex concept that can be explained only by me (because I just made it up), but it comes down to this: On the East Coast where I live now, at least among most of my friends, getting married is something you do after college, after grad school, after your 30th birthday, after your second solo climb of Mount Everest, after you successfully balance your checkbook for 16 months straight, after, after, after. In other words, getting married at 26 is pretty much like getting married as a fetus.

In the Midwest, at least in the rural Illinois town where I grew up, getting married is something that you do before you begin to think of buying property, before your single-person routines make you stubborn and inflexible, before your metabolism slows enough that a white wedding dress would make you look like a rhinoceros. Optimal marriage age: 20 to 23. Getting married at 26 is like filing your tax returns on April 16.

So the Midwest friends were supportive, as if they were welcoming me into their club, while the D.C., Philadelphia and Boston friends were just dubious, as if the club I wanted to join was for insane people. When I broke the news to my New York buddy Jo, I sheepishly tried to hide it in casual conversation: ” ‘Real Housewives’ was beyond ridiculous; Simon’s pants are horri — I’m-getting-married-do-you-want-to-be-a-bridesmaid — fying, and did you see Alex’s hair?” Then I called my Illinois friend Jeanne and went, “Eeeeeeeeeeee!”

Neither of my deliveries felt completely honest, probably because I still wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I was like the answer to a riddle.

Q: Who is both too old and too young to be married?

A: Someone who doesn’t know where her home is.

As melodramatic as it sounds, all of this kind of felt like admitting some sort of geographical allegiance: East Coast friends? Fooled you! It might seem like I belong out here, but in private I’m talking like a “Fargo” extra and making a wide variety of Campbell’s soup casseroles.

In the end it didn’t matter. You can’t choose the age you are when you meet the person you want to spend your life with; my husband and I ended up getting married last September. My Midwestern friends waited until after the ceremony to ask when we’d be having kids, and my East Coast friends danced until 3, carried all the good booze back to their rooms for a continued after-party, then fell asleep in their clothes.

But it turns out that getting married still left me in a state of between-ness. While I was busy planning a wedding, some of my friends in Illinois had been busy having kids. I would log on to Facebook and see status updates that read something like: “is making cupcakes for her son’s preschool class. No peanuts!” From the friends of the East, it was more like: “is thinking cupcakes and tequila are a good 4 a.m. snack.” No one seemed to be doing what I was doing: “is going to Ikea, then watching three ‘Wire’ DVDs in a row, then considering the big step of getting a plant.”

In the past few months, though, I’ve been feeling better about my placement. It’s nice to have friends who can offer advice in matters marital and domestic, even if that friend is my new sister-in-law, who married my brother at 23 and already owns way more cutting boards than I do.

Recently, one of my most vehemently single friends phoned to tell me that she’d met someone. The romantic pearls of semi-wisdom that I’d saved up during the three years that I was dating my husband and she was occasionally hooking up with a yoga instructor were suddenly, actually, useful.

I’m still the first married friend. And the last married friend. My own time zone on the IWDL.

Which now feels:

a) Weird.

b) Kinda neat.

E-mail: xxfiles@washpost.com.

September 2, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 2:04 pm

Too Many Cooks? No Such Thing.
Online Clubs Share Rises and Falls In Photos and Posts

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 2, 2009

 

Until this spring, Carolyn Jenkins hadn’t given much thought to baking bread. These days, however, the architect spends hours each weekend faithfully stirring, mixing and kneading — all as part of her quest to bake her way through “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” along with about 250 amateur bakers around the world.

Every week, the bakers try out one recipe in the book, a primer on basic breadmaking techniques by Peter Reinhart. They then get on their own blogs, Twitter, Facebook or http://www.pinchmysalt.com, the Web site that first inspired the effort, to post pictures and swap stories of their odysseys.

Think of the phenomenon as a modern-day baking club and support group. Unlike the neighborhood-based cooking groups that proliferated in the 1950s, the new ones involve men as well as women. Many members are professionals who recently turned to cooking as a hobby and say they don’t have local friends who are as enthusiastic as they are about trying new recipes.

A San Francisco lawyer started the Sweet Melissa Sundays group (http://sweetmelissasundays.wordpress.com) in April; it now has a roster of 50 amateur bakers from as far away as Italy and Brazil working through the 43 recipes in “The Sweet Melissa Baking Book.” The Tuesdays With Dorie group (http://tuesdayswithdorie.wordpress.com), 300 strong, is tackling Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours.”

The largest group so far seems to be Daring Bakers/Daring Cooks, www.thedaringkitchen.com, which began with two bakers who met online in late 2006 and now has about 2,300 signed up to try out a new recipe every month. Just this year, the number of participants jumped more than 50 percent.

The clubs’ proliferation coincides with an uptick in cookbook sales. Between January and Aug. 16, 7.5 million cooking and entertaining books were sold in the United States, representing a 5 percent increase compared with the same time period in 2008, according to Nielsen BookScan. (By comparison, the total adult nonfiction category saw a 9 percent decrease in unit sales in the same time period.)

“With the economy the way that it is, this cooking thing has become more important,” said Ivonne Mellozzi, a 35-year-old writer in Toronto who was one of the original two Daring Bakers/Daring Cooks. “It costs almost nothing for people to get together and cook something and gab about it.”

The members of these groups tend to be home cooks who span a broad range of ages. Daring Bakers/Daring Cooks, for example, has members ranging from high schoolers to grandparents. How the groups are structured varies as well. Some, such as Daring Bakers/Daring Cooks, have a different cook pick a recipe each month for everyone to make. Other groups work their way through a particular cookbook; the Bread Baker’s Apprentice group, for example, is baking one bread each week, starting with anadama bread, a New England recipe. Some groups require members to cook along a minimum number of times per month in order to participate. (See “How to Join.”)

The impetus to start a group combines food and social networking. San Diego homemaker Nicole Hamaker was leafing through her cookbooks in early May when the idea to focus on “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” made sense.

“My husband’s deployed in Iraq right now,” she said. “This was something for me to jump into to keep me busy.” That day, she posted a message on Twitter asking whether anyone else would be interested in joining her. Within two weeks, more than 200 people — including a handful from Australia and Sri Lanka — had signed up.

Jenkins, the architect, said she decided to join Hamaker’s group because she had just gotten a copy of the book and found it “intimidating.” By signing on, she said, she thought she would be more likely to crack open the book and bake from it.

“I’ve been so shocked at how supportive everyone is,” said Jenkins, who recently moved from Alexandria to Boston. “It’s great having them along. . . . You feel like no matter what happens it’s fine, because everyone messes up.”

Some cooking club enthusiasts say they were inspired by “Julie & Julia,” the best-selling memoir about a New York blogger cooking her way through Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and the basis of the recent Nora Ephron movie. (Thanks to the movie, Child’s cookbook is now at the top of bestseller lists.) For others, the draw has been having a network of amateurs nudging them to try new things.

A Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge that involved making brioche, for example, had bakers in knots over the extraordinarily gooey dough and occasional stubbornness when it came to rising. “I finally realized my dough was destined for a life of mediocrity; I grudgingly gave it an egg wash and shoved it in the oven,” lamented Jeff Shively, a network administrator in Fort Wayne, Ind., on his blog, http://www.culinarydisaster.com/wordpress. Shively, who had never baked bread before he joined the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge in May, said the exercise has taught him to be more patient. “I’m used to just throwing things on the grill and going. But here, I’m stuck at the mercy of the dough.”

Wendy Betancourt (http://pinkstripes.wordpress.com), a 37-year-old epidemiologist who devotes a big chunk of her free time to baking and cooking along with three online groups, said she has become a little more adventurous. “There were a lot of things I was scared to try. But I’ve learned from these groups that you need to just jump in,” said the Redland, Calif., resident. “Even if you create the biggest disaster, you learn more from your mistakes, and it’s always better the next go-round.”

Bolstered by that new outlook, Betancourt signed up to learn scuba diving in December, something she said she had always wanted to do but was too afraid to try. In April, when she ran a half-marathon for the first time, she had the support of tweets and e-mails from her newfound cooking buddies. They helped carry her to the finish line, she said.

In my case, although I’m an avid baker of cookies, cakes and pies, I had never baked a bread that required kneading, braiding or waiting for dough to rise until I made bagels with the bread bakers. Ten beautiful, homemade “everything” bagels later, I was hooked. I’ve been baking along with them ever since, an experience that has been a confidence-booster both in the kitchen and out, even when the breads don’t turn out so well.

When I felt like a complete failure after my attempt at making ciabatta filled my apartment with smoke and yielded three blackened, rock-hard loaves, for example, the messages that I got from other bakers on Twitter and my own blog (built to support an upcoming food memoir) were instantaneous, sweet and incredibly rah-rah reassuring. “Hey, if you got as far as the couche part and the loaves rose and were perfect just before you put them into the oven then I would say you were 95 percent successful,” fellow baker Daniel Rios wrote from Berlin. “Other than the obvious [burn], the loaves are beautiful.”

Because of the camaraderie that such groups generate, offshoots are springing up. Recently, while I was waxing lyrical about bacon and BLTs on Twitter with Hamaker and a baker in Paris, we formed a mini-group of cooks who would make and blog about BLTs that week for a virtual BLT lunch date.

Reinhart, the author of “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” said he felt flattered when he heard about Hamaker’s group. “But you get a little nervous about it, too,” he told me. “I don’t know what their responses are going to be. One of the first thoughts I had was, ‘Once they find a recipe that doesn’t work, they’re going to gang up on you!’ ” But since exchanging e-mails with Hamaker when the group was formed, the author has not heard from bakers seeking tips or reporting errors in his recipes.

Noting that a movie starring Meryl Streep was made from the “Julie & Julia” book, Reinhart said he has one wish: “If there is a movie made, I want Hugh Jackman to play me. But it’ll probably end up being Jason Alexander.”

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan is a New York food and fashion writer who blogs at http://www.atigerinthekitchen.com.

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