Culture By Subtraction

Could I get some mayonnaise with these fries?” I asked the garçon in my broken French, imagining I was being a bit chic in eschewing ketchup. “Impossible!” he replied. I tried to rephrase the question in the certain knowledge that I am among the world’s best speakers of broken French. . . . . Continue Reading »

Just One Hello from my Neighbor

I want to tell you a story. Part of it is my story. But the important part isn’t mine. It belongs to a North African woman named Fatima. And to countless others like her.I first met Fatima at Dollar Tree. It was her bright clothing that caught my eye. A colorful piece of cloth called a malhafa was . . . . Continue Reading »

The Moral Universe of Hannibal

A woman lovingly plucks a dead pheasant. A man places a human arm on a cutting board with care, readying his chef’s knife. A woman sinks into a bathtub, seemingly dropping into an abyss. A corpse is lifted on high, framed by wings made of broken glass.All these images (horrific, gorgeous, . . . . Continue Reading »

Is Vice More Interesting than Virtue?

Since at least the age of Milton, whose Satan in Paradise Lost allegedly outmatches the other characters in depth and dynamism, artistic depictions of evil have often been associated with power and interest. So it’s not surprising that many critics approached director Kenneth Branagh’s rococo new version of Disney’s Cinderella on the stepmother’s side. “Bad always sizzles more than good,” Manohla Dargis proclaimed in the New York Times. Other critics noted with genuine puzzlement that the title character manages to be compelling in spite of her moral goodness. Where is the dramatic appeal, they wondered, in a conventionally virtuous character? Continue Reading »

Hitting the Gym

I am not attracted to the men at the gym; I just want to look like them. As for my wife, she’s attracted to me; she just wants me to look like them, too. There they are, pulling and pushing and sweating. Committed, compulsive—lifting in lines, running in rows, spurred on by the programs . . . . Continue Reading »