Canada, week 4

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Hello again!  It’s so weird that this is the fourth Canada post already.  Where is the time going?

Anyway, here are the highlights from this week!

More Toronto adventures:  I just can’t get enough of this city, clearly.  Here are some of the particular high points from Friday’s day trip.

  • Kensington Market.  Even though it was misting a little when I first walked through here, there were plenty of people milling about.  The streets were lined with shops that either had their doors thrown wide open or didn’t have doors at all.  I saw cafes, coffee shops, a farmer’s market, and more vintage clothing stores operating out of repurposed houses than I could shake a stick at.  I heard probably six different languages, if not more.  It was so colorful and vibrant.
  • College Street in general.  I wandered from Kensington Avenue all the way down to Grace Street and back, through Little Italy, past record stores and coffee shops and some gorgeous little churches.
  • Balfour Books, on College Street.  Y’all, this place is literally perfect.  Look at it.

    I don’t know how I managed to restrain myself.  I came away with three books–Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a teensy edition of Mrs. Dalloway and an equally teensy book of short stories by New Zealand authors.
  • The University of Toronto campus.  It’s unreal.
  • Prince Arthur Avenue, slightly north of U of T.  Honestly, I was so entranced that I completely forgot to take pictures.  Whoops.
  • That moment when you accidentally find the Royal Ontario Museum and the Royal Conservatory.
  • Remenyi, AKA the sleekest music store I have ever been in.

    I’ve seen diagrams of how piano keys work before, but it never really hit me till I saw the one above just how intricate everything was.  I pressed the key and watched the pieces tip and tilt over and over.  The setup reminded me first of a particular jumping-jack Santa Claus ornament that’s somehow made it into our motley menagerie of Christmas decorations, and then of marionettes, of the people-shaped contraptions my grandmother on my dad’s side makes.  It’s a beautiful thought–the pianist as puppetmaster, every piece a delicate, elaborate dance.

Theatah:  I auditioned for the fall major production through the School of the Arts, and on Tuesday night we had a physical theater workshop as part of callbacks.  It was a fantastic two hours, honestly.  I’d been feeling kind of sluggish the whole day, kind of half-checked-in, not really paying much attention to anything, but that workshop flipped a switch in me.  I can’t remember the last time I felt that alive.

What I’m watching:  Because I totally need another TV show in my life right now, I started watching Luther.  Ruth Wilson is absolutely terrifying as Alice, and dear lord, Idris Elba.  I’m hooked.  Need I say more?

Coffee:  FIKA, in the middle of Kensington Market in Toronto.

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The vibe is a lot like that of Cafe Augusta–similar color schemes, a lot of white and light turquoise and gray in the interior–but it’s a little more rustic, more artfully rough-hewn.  I got a cardamom spiced latte, and side note, why haven’t I been talking more about the coffee I’ve gotten at each coffee shop?  Travel writing fail.  At any rate, the cardamom spiced latte is like no latte I’ve ever had.  It tastes like autumn, like crunching burnt-orange leaves under boots and the faint chatter of squirrels.  Pumpkin spice, move aside.

Also, I have to give a shoutout to Cafe Augusta again, because I’m writing a lot of this post from a table there while drinking coconut almond tea.  It’s a rare kind of tea that tastes just as good after it gets cold, in my opinion, and this stuff is still perfect.

Food:  You get two spotlights this week!

One: I grabbed dinner at Pinks, a burger and gyro place right across from campus, on Tuesday night.  The gyro I got was basically the size of my forearm.

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Delish.

Two:  When I was in Toronto, on a complete whim I stopped for lunch at Art Square Gallery and Cafe, across from the Art Gallery of Ontario.  I’d never heard of this place, but it’s my new fave thing ever.  I don’t know how on earth they managed to give me just enough cream to perfectly balance out my coffee, but they did and it was wonderful.

For my lunch itself, I had a fantastic omelette, served with a side of some sort of multigrain toast and homemade jam.

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(“Oh, right, I should probably take a picture of this for the blog before I inhale it.”)

This thing came piping-hot and chock full of veggies.  There must have been half a tomato in it.  I also asked for green peppers and mushrooms, and they topped it with a few sprinkles of paprika (I think).  Normally I like my omelettes with cheese, but this didn’t need cheese to be delicious.

The gallery itself was also beautimous.  I sat right by several gorgeously textured little landscape paintings, by a guy named Art Rosbottom, and let me tell you, my writer brain was going wild.  All the other paintings in the gallery were gorgeous as well.

Music:

That’s it for this week!  Till next time!

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Canada, week 3

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Me surfacing from the swamp of readings and other work to bring you this update.  Without any further ado, here are the highlights:

TFW it’s your first day of grad school:

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This campus is so pretty:

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Whitney Snapchats the McMaster Museum of Art:

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What I’m reading:  The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker, for my new media methods class.

Coffee of the week:  Cafe Augusta, aka my new second home.  This place is Pinterest-perfect and I love it.  The vanilla latte I got tasted like a hug, especially welcome after the slightly rain-soaked walk I took to get there.

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Food of the week:  Now that I think about it, I really didn’t go anywhere super special this week, so I’ll just give a shoutout to Taro, in the basement of the student union.  Smoothies and samosas.  These people know my heart.  (I’ve been told, though, that I can get samosas for far cheaper in Brampton.  I’ll investigate and bring you the scoop in a later post.)

Music of the week:  I’ve been on a major punk rock kick this week (she says, as if there are times when she isn’t on a major punk rock kick).

Now, alas, I have to go back into the Upside Down aka my to-do list.  Till next week!

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Me conquering my to-do list, hopefully.

Radiant as the Sun: Beauty in The Hunger Games

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Look at me blogging two times in one week…

This semester is pretty much going to kill me–in a fun, I’m actually-doing-what-I-want-with-my-life kind of way, but still–so I’m finally starting this thing where I adapt old college papers into blog posts.  This analysis of beauty culture in The Hunger Games is about half of a paper I wrote for Dr. Ehrhardt’s Beauty in American Literature and Culture class my junior year of college.  I’ve mucked about with quite a bit of the phrasing and tossed the MLA citations to make it sound less stilted and formal, as well as adding a few observations I really wish I’d thought of back when I was writing the paper.  I’ll post the second part, on Divergent‘s surprisingly cool body positivity arc, next week.

So:  The Hunger Games.  Is it a super rad critique of reality TV and what could be called schadenfreude culture?  Definitely.  I’m sure other people have written beautifully about those subjects.  The scope of this half-paper, though, is pretty narrow, so today I’ll just be talking about how beauty and body image are presented and treated in THG.  The basic idea is that ultimately, THG doesn’t present a particularly healthy view of beauty, casting beautification as solely the domain of the shallow upper-class.  A few more social factors play into the beauty culture of THG, though, most prominently class/wealth but also race.  I’ll analyze all of that in depth here.

First off, I’ll tackle the link between beauty and class.  Beauty as defined by the Capitol is the clearest marker of social class.  Suzanne Collins makes this clear within the first few pages of the book, when Katniss encounters the mayor’s daughter, Madge Undersee.  Madge wears a pin that Katniss describes as “real gold. Beautifully crafted. It could keep a family in bread for months.”  Unlike Madge, Katniss comes from a poor working-class family, so she naturally thinks of anything luxurious in terms of utility.  It’s extra telling that she compares Madge’s riches to food, given that she also mentioned three pages ago that her family still goes to bed hungry.

On the other extreme of Panem’s class spectrum, you’ve got the people of the Capitol.  When they aren’t watching teenagers murder each other, these people chase beauty in all its Technicolor glory.  Effie Trinket is perhaps the most memorable Capitol citizen, thanks to the movies*:

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But let’s not forget Katniss’s team of stylists, either.  A quick rundown:

  • Venia, who has “aqua hair and gold tattoos above her eyebrows”
  • Octavia, “a plump woman whose entire body has been dyed a pale shade of pea green”
  • Flavius, who has “orange corkscrew locks” and wears purple lipstick

These are the people in whose hands Katniss moves from simply ogling wealth to embodying it.  They “[turn] my skin to glowing satin” and “[paint] flame designs on my twenty perfect nails,” for starters.  An obvious connotation of both “glowing” and fire is light, and electricity by association.  Katniss mentions earlier that in her home district, the citizens get very little electricity, if any.  Light of any sort is a luxury for her–as is satin, for that matter. Even her fingernails and toenails become art, something for which someone as poor as Katniss normally has no time.  By far her most literal embodiment of wealth and luxury, though, comes when her stylists “cover my entire body in a powder that makes me shimmer in gold dust.”

It’s also worth mentioning at this juncture that Peeta Mellark serves as a sort of social stepping-stone between Katniss and the people of the Capitol.  He’s a member of District 12’s merchant class, as opposed to the mining class.  He admits to Katniss at one point that he frosts the cakes for his family’s bakery–“fancy cakes with flowers and pretty things painted in frosting.”  **He’s the middle of the seesaw, in a sense; he works, but his work is art.  Furthermore, his art is not just impermanent but also somewhat necessary for others’ sustenance, unlike Octavia’s skin dye or Venia’s tattoos.  The fact that his art can disappear spurs the creation of more art on his part, and necessitates that he continue working.  He may be a rung above Katniss on the social ladder, but he’s still kind of stuck where he is.  He’s still forced to fight for his life in the book’s eponymous Hunger Games.**

In response to all the Capitol’s excesses, Katniss embraces simplicity wherever she can find it.  At the beginning of the novel, Katniss admires the dress her mother gives her for Reaping Day, “a soft blue thing with matching shoes.”  This dress can be nothing fancy, given her family’s socioeconomic status, but she calls it “lovely” anyway. Later, when she meets her primary stylist Cinna in the Capitol, Katniss is “taken aback by how normal he looks,” because the other stylists she remembers from previous Hunger Games are “so dyed, stenciled, and surgically altered they’re grotesque.”  Cinna does wear “metallic gold eyeliner,” in an intriguing connection to Katniss’s later gold-powder-bath.  It’s scant at best, though, and Katniss subsequently singles that look out for praise.  Cinna takes a similarly minimalist approach with Katniss when he prettifies her for the Games’ opening ceremonies, and she acknowledges that she looks “more attractive but utterly recognizable.”  Peeta is the one who says outright that he doesn’t want the Games to “turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not,” but Katniss demonstrates a similar desire through her rejection of the Capitol’s beauty norms.

Speaking of monsters, the connections between notions of beauty and notions of humanity run deep in the novel.  The denizens of the Capitol view beautification as an integral part of being human. Before Katniss gets to see Cinna, her stylists have to fix what they call “obvious problems,” i.e. “ridding my body of hair.”  The process of being “stripped of the stuff” makes Katniss feel “like a plucked bird, ready for roasting.”  The way she phrases all of this indicates she is acted upon rather than acting of her own accord. She is powerless in this situation, a fact further reinforced when she compares herself to a bird, a nonhuman entity treated as prey.  Flavius unwittingly feeds into this when he tries to give Katniss a compliment, telling her that she “almost look[s] like a human being now!” and thereby implying that she was less than human before they stripped her of her body hair, before they forced their ideals of beauty on her.  (Also, side note, this scene is highly worth considering alongside American ideals of hairless women.  It’s no accident that Collins is lumping this in with the dystopian aspects of Panem.)

However, Katniss sees beautification as a dehumanizing and undignified act, one that suppresses her individuality and replaces her with someone she can’t recognize as herself.  In preparation for her TV interview, “they erase my face” and erase her by extension. When Katniss finally sees the results of her extensive makeover in the mirror, she calls herself a “creature”–not even a person, but a creature, a beast–and says the bedazzled humanoid she sees must be from “another world.”  Upon rewatching her interview, she denounces the girl she sees on television, “a silly girl spinning in a sparkling dress,” as “frilly and shallow, twirling and giggling.” The prep team has transformed her outwardly into a walking display case for all manner of gems and sparkles and other indulgences.  At the novel’s end, when Katniss takes off one last coating of makeup, she sees it as “transforming back into myself.”  She views cosmetics, and in a larger sense everything else she had to don in the Capitol, as ultimately disingenuous.

No analysis of beauty in The Hunger Games, though, would be complete without addressing the racial issues brought up in the book.  Katniss idealizes her sister and mother, saying that “Prim’s face is fresh as a raindrop” and “my mother was very beautiful once, too.”  She reveals later that her mother and Prim have “light hair and blue eyes” and “always look out of place” in their part of District 12. Katniss, in contrast, has “straight black hair, olive skin,” and gray eyes, much like the majority of families in this part of the district. Her mother, she explains, was a member of the same merchant class as Peeta and his family before she got married, as opposed to the coal-miner class.  The unmistakable implication is that Katniss’s mother is white and Prim is white-passing, and that Katniss is a woman of color, or at the very least racialized as nonwhite.  Katniss consistently denies that she is beautiful, even when Cinna is through with her.  She characterizes herself as “radiant as the sun,” but she prefaces that statement with a disclaimer that “I am not pretty. I am not beautiful.”  Furthermore, the astronomical implications of the sun tie into her comment about her reflection seeming to come from “another world.”  Though Katniss disavows the cosmetics culture she encounters in the Capitol, she seems unable to find beauty in herself even in her most natural state, which points to a strong, ingrained link in Katniss’s mind between light skin and beauty.

With all that said, there is one really cool thing about the beauty culture of Panem:  in the Capitol, makeup isn’t gendered.  Flavius wears purple lipstick, Cinna wears the aforementioned gold eyeliner, and Caesar Flickerman matches his eyeshadow and lipstick to his hair color, whatever wild hue that may be.  Peeta has his own stylist as well, as do all the other tributes.  That’s not something you see every day, in our Western society or in other books.  It’s a shame, then, that Katniss dismisses all makeup and beautification wholesale, because that’s one aspect of a dystopian society that our world would actually do well to emulate.

That about covers it!  I’ll be back next week with another update from Canada and the second part of this series, on Divergent.  Stay tuned!

~~~

*And in today’s example of Boy Howdy Did People Ever Miss the Point of These Books, here’s a screenshot of the Google image result that gave me this particular picture:

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Of course we’ve turned Effie into Pinterest fodder.  Of course.

**Man, I wish I’d thought of this back when I wrote the paper, because that is a cool thought and now I want to explore it further.  Maybe after I take this class on neoliberal capitalism?

Canada, week 2

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Adventures!  Adventures everywhere!  Let’s just get right into it:

Wednesday’s day trip to Toronto:  My feet were so sore by the end of the day, but oh my god do I ever love this place already.  I took loads of pictures, so here, have a slideshow.

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Also, I purposely ran through some sprinklers on the U of T campus because I am actually three years old.

Hiking:  I explored the Ravine Road Trail and the Sassafras Point Trail on Friday morning.

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I’m definitely having a picnic here before it gets too cold.

Supercrawl:  Tulsa folks, think of it as First Friday meets the Tulsa State Fair.  Food trucks, artists’ tents, street musicians, actual musicians on stages (The Strumbellas and Four Tet were among the bigger names).  Also, there was a completely mind-blowing performance group called Circus Orange–I was too enthralled with their performance to get a good video–and a game of giant flaming skee-ball.  Not kidding.  The whole thing was chaotic and noisy and a little rainy and a lot wonderful.

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The festivities.

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A giant art installation in the middle of the street.

Miscellaneous weird/different things I’ve noticed:

  • No pennies!  Canada got rid of the penny a couple years ago, as it turns out.
  • Bills are plasticky here instead of papery.  More durable that way, I suppose.
  • I got a bottle of water at Supercrawl and it tasted just weird enough to freak me out.  Turns out it had about 550 ppm of mineral salt in it.
  • Hot dog stands are a big thing here.  Especially on Queen St. in Toronto, my god, so many of them.

Coffee of the week:  I took a much-needed break from walking at Mövenpick Café on Yonge Street in Toronto.  The place was expensive but beyond cute.

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And also small enough that I would have felt weird just whipping out my phone and taking beaucoup pictures.  Hence the subtly-sneaking-a-picture-over-my-shoulder thing.

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Food of the week:  I TRIED POUTIIIIIIIIINE I’M IN LOOOOOOOOOOVE

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Fun fact, I actually forgot to get a pic for the blog until I was more than halfway through the stuff.  I went from zero to inhaling it in about 0.2 seconds.  Where has it been all my life?

Also, this week I’ve got a recipe for you!  I’m not quite sure what to call it, honestly (any suggestions are welcome), but I’ve eaten it for dinner at least three nights this week and it’s delish:

  1. Make a serving of couscous according to package directions.
  2. Mix shredded cheese with about a cup and a half of roasted red pepper and tomato soup (I just eyeball this part, really).  Nuke the lot for a minute or so.
  3. Combine couscous with the nuked soup.  Serve with milk and pita chips.

Music of the week:  I saw The Strumbellas live at Supercrawl.

And this one’s just been stuck in my head constantly.

That’s about it for this week!  I’ve only had one class so far, so any reflections on this big scary thing called grad school will have to wait till future posts.  Also, hopefully I’ll have time this weekend to explore all over campus, so look for photos from that in next week’s post!

Canada, week 1

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Subtitle:  Holy Crap, This Is Actually Happening

Hello from Hamilton!

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I’ve only been here a week, but it feels like longer than that.  So much has happened already.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to sum up this week in a blog post, but here are some highlights:

The moment I landed in Toronto:

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This is the face of someone who has no idea how frickin’ long she’ll spend getting past immigration and customs at Pearson…

Super cushy hotel room:

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Shoutout to my parents for putting me up here until I moved into my apartment.

The best pillow ever, which is a throw pillow rather than a proper bed pillow but see if I care:

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Sights of the week: there are a lot of beautiful little churches in my neighborhood. Weirdly, that more than anything makes this place feel like home. I live across the street from this one:

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And these two are just up Cline Ave.

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There are two Jewish temples near my apartment as well. This is one of them, Temple Anshe Sholom.

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Also, another thing I’ve noticed while out and about:  black-furred squirrels!  What’s with that?

Coffee of the week:  My Dog Joe.  One of two coffee shops in Westdale Village, an easy walk from my apartment.  I hung out there briefly this morning and did some reading.

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You know, just a little light reading.

Food of the week:  Williams Fresh Cafe, five minutes from my apartment, across from the McMaster Children’s Hospital.  It has the vibe of a First Watch but the menu selection of a Whole Foods deli.  I’m in love.

Music of the week:

I also stumbled on a concert during WestFest (again, in Westdale Village) on Saturday night, and I pretty much discovered my new favorite band.  Busty and the Bass, a nine-piece act from Montreal, reminds me a lot of Deluxe.  Here’s just one track they played at WestFest…

Tomorrow is the first day of classes for undergrads, but I don’t start classes till the 12th.  I have to get some pretty crucial errands done, but I plan to cram as much adventure as I possibly can into the next week.  At least one art museum, the McMaster campus itself, probably Toronto on Wednesday, Supercrawl on Friday… it’s going to be a jam-packed week.  Till next time!