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Professional writer, editor, napper, and dog-snorgler. Knows you are, but what is she?

If Following McMillan Cottom and Gay on Twitter Isn’t Enough, Here You Go

Photo by Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Tressie McMillan Cottom is brilliant, funny, scathing, important. Roxane Gay is brilliant, funny, scathing, important. And the editors at Guernica are brilliant for commissioning the latter to interview the former.

Guernica: One of the things I noticed in all of these essays in Thick is that you take blackness, and black women in particular, very seriously, which is not something we see a lot of in academic writing—or in, essentially, any writing. How did you learn to take yourself seriously?

McMillan Cottom: Damn. That’s a good question. It is probably extremely revealing to try to answer, because I don’t know that anybody has ever modeled taking myself seriously for me. I suspect that’s true for a lot of black women. I don’t know how I did it. I think the moment I learned it was probably trauma-induced. I write a little bit about this, my major life trauma, in Thick, which I had never planned on doing, ever. But I think when you come out on the other side of trauma, one of two things can happen: You can be more of who you were before it happened, sometimes in the worst ways. You can double down on your fears and anxieties. Or you can come out different, and you’re never that same person. That’s what happened to me. For the first time, I was asking questions of myself rather than responding to how people wanted me to behave. For the first time, I was making affirmative decisions about what I wanted. In a real way, the trauma wiped the slate clean for me mentally. And that’s when I started the process of teaching myself to take myself seriously. By extension, I could start to take other black women seriously.

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How Do You Move a Warhol? Really, Really Carefully

Emalee Beddoes-Davis, museum curator, adjusts a Warhol at the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, 2017. (Aaron Chown/PA Wire URN:33563052)

You don’t always have to fly to Paris to see the Mona Lisa; art, even priceless art, constantly moves around the world for specific exhibitions. And that means logistics! For The Guardian, Andrew Dickson goes deep into the world of fine art transportation, where the objects are precious and singular, the stakes are high, and a damaged shipment means a piece of art is forever lost to us.

None of this comes cheap, needless to say: getting a single object to the UK from Australia and back might cost £60,000, while trucking works from France might cost £25,000. Shippers request “must-ride” status for their artworks to avoid the risk of them hanging around in airports, but it can still be trumped by higher-priority cargo. The registrar told me: “Horses tend to win, because they have to travel same-day, and no one worries about the cost. I had a case recently where they’d lost the forms at the airport and were going to bump my shipment. I nearly lost out to some fresh fish.”

The registrar recalled one courier who watched his crate go on, signed the paperwork – and then missed the flight. “He called me from the departure lounge, saying that the work he was meant to be couriering had just taken off. I was like: ‘You had one fucking job … ’” (In 2010, a courier lost a portrait by the 19th-century French artist Corot worth some £850,000 while drunk in a New York hotel bar. It turned up a few weeks later.)

Assuming they have both made it to the destination, the courier watches the crate leave the plane, before joining it in another climate-controlled truck for transit to the host museum. If an overnight stop is required, either a secure, climate-controlled fine art warehouse must be booked en route – there is a network of these across Europe, owned by different shipping firms – or, more likely, someone stays in the truck at all times, to the extent of sleeping in it.

Even a medium-sized exhibition may contain 80 artefacts, each of which needs to reach its destination at exactly the right moment (installations for a major show are so tight that courier arrivals are booked on an hour-by-hour schedule). Multiply that by the number of touring exhibitions – the V&A currently has 12 on the road – and you can see why a registrar might be in need of a mindfulness poster or two.

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If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium

Rick Steves: beloved travel guru, and total pothead. (In this Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 photo, Rick Steves holds a plastic marijuana leaf necklace as he sits with a poster used to advertise his business in Edmonds, Wash. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Rick Steves wants to help you travel the world, no matter your budget. Not just because travel is fun, but because travel expands your horizons and changes your worldview. Steves is about a lot more than making sure you maximize your 3-day museum pass — did you know that the first time he traveled to Central America, “he came back so outraged that he wrote a fiery tract called ‘There’s Blood on Your Banana,’ then flew to Washington and hand-delivered a copy to the office of every member of Congress”? Sam Anderson‘s New York Times profile of Steves is a loving, rollicking, educational tribute to the man who launched a thousand backpackers.

Sometimes, fans urge Steves to run for office. When I asked him if he would ever get into politics, he had an answer ready: “I already am.” Good travel teaching, in his eyes, is inherently political. To stay in a family-owned hotel in Bulgaria is to strengthen global democracy; to pack light is to break the iron logic of consumerism; to ride a train across Europe is to challenge the fossil-fuel industry. Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury — it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet. When people tell Steves to stay out of politics, to stick to travel, he can only laugh.

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Welcome to Sinaloa, Home of Chiltepín

Photo by Jose Nicdao via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Aguachile is all over Mexican restaurant menus, a ceviche-adjacent seafood dish. But “aguachile” literally means “chile water,” and the oldest version of the dish had nothing to do with shrimp and everything to do with chiltepín: a small, round chile that grows wild in Sinaloa state. For Eater, Michael Snyder travels through Sinaloa with Mexico City chef Luis Valle in search of the “original-original” aguachile.

Really, aguachile is a roadmap to Sinaloa, a state whose name is often tied to the drug war and the larger-than-life dons who have become its bombastic, public face. Aguachile, Valle explained to me on my first visit to Don Vergas, began in the hills, where chiltepín still grows wild between plantations of poppy and cannabis, then drifted west toward the sea. Along the way, it touched Sinaloa’s disappearing indigenous traditions, centuries of mestizaje, cultural and economic ties to the United States, and two of the major industries — shrimp and agriculture — that drive the Sinaloan economy.

On my first visit to Don Vergas, in April 2018, Valle told me that if I wanted to try the “original-original” aguachile, we could go look for it together in Sinaloa — on what he would later call our “super mega mission.” I told him I would love to go, only half expecting it to happen, as he slid a plate of aguachile across the counter. Crystals of Maldon salt cracked between my molars. The chiltepín blazed a trail of heat across my tongue. I’d eaten plenty of aguachile before, I told him, but nothing quite like this.

“Verga,” he exhaled with a Cheshire smile, using the word that gives his restaurant its name. Translated literally, it means “mast” (as in a boat). In this context, it meant something more like “dude” or “no way”’ Sometimes, it means “cool” or “good;” sometimes it means “shitty.” Mostly, though, verga means “dick.”

“That’s because you’ve never been to Sinaloa.”

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The Terror of Being Awake

Photo by Pfree2014 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When you’re under general anaesthesia, a good anaesthesiologist uses a combo of consciousness-dulling agents and neuromuscular blockers — one to put you to sleep and block pain sensations, one to paralyze you. What if the latter works but the former doesn’t? The stuff of horror movies. At Mosaic, David Robson explores research suggesting that up to 5 percent of surgical patients could experience pain during their procedures but be unable to communicate that to hospital staff, or even to remember the experience afterward.

This all makes anaesthesia as much art as science, and in the vast majority of cases, it works astonishingly well. More than 170 years after Morton’s public demonstration, anaesthetists across the world plunge millions of people each year into comas and then bring them out safely. This doesn’t just reduce patients’ immediate suffering; many of the most invasive lifesaving procedures would simply not be possible without good general anaesthesia.

But as with any medical procedure, there can be complicating factors. Some people may have a naturally higher threshold for anaesthesia, meaning that the drugs don’t reduce the brain’s activity enough to dim the light of consciousness.

In some cases, such as injuries involving heavy bleeding, an anaesthetist may be forced to use a lower dose of the anaesthetic for the patient’s own safety.

It may also be difficult to time the effects of the different drugs, to ensure that the so-called induction dose – which gets you to sleep – doesn’t fade before the maintenance dose – to keep you unconscious – kicks in.

In some situations, you might be able to raise or lower your limb, or even speak, to show the anaesthetic is not working before the surgeon picks up their scalpel. But if you have also been given neuromuscular blockers, that won’t be possible. The unfortunate result is that a small proportion of people may lie awake for part or all of their surgery without any ability to signal their distress.

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The Tyranny of Chairs

Photo by Don Harder via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

To eat in public while fat is to invite stares, judgement, and commentary — and that’s assuming you can be comfortably seated at your restaurant of choice. For larger people, picking a place to eat doesn’t just involve looking online for menus or reviews, but for pictures of the chairs. In the New York Times, Kim Severson explores the pains (often physical) and challenges of trying to spend an evening in a place that was not built to accommodate you, in an industry where even the king of hospitality has a fat-person sized blind spot.

Danny Meyer, 60, whose restaurants include the Shake Shack chain and high-end destinations like Union Square Cafe, said customers’ size is a new consideration. “I don’t believe we have ever designed a restaurant saying, ‘Let’s make sure there are two tables that can accommodate someone who is larger,’” he said.

And when you don’t? This happens.

Traci Armstrong, 46, who runs Specialty Catering in Bluffton, S.C., travels to eat at the nation’s best restaurants as a hobby. She is 5-foot-4 and about 335 pounds. She always books two airline seats.

She flew to Washington, D.C., over a holiday weekend to eat at Pineapple and Pearls, which has two Michelin stars. When she got there, her reserved seat was at a stationary bar stool at the chef’s counter. She didn’t fit. The staff offered to seat her outside or accommodate her at a sister restaurant, but she declined and left.

“I was mortified,” she said.

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An American City, Inhabited Yet Abandoned

BALTIMORE, MD - January 19: Empty buildings display graffiti on January 19, 2018, around the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in West Baltimore, Maryland. With 343 homicides last year, Baltimore hit the record for killings per capita. (AP Photo/The Christian Science Monitor, Ann Hermes)

Until 2015, Baltimore seemed to be on an upswing — population growth, investment, development, rising income, lowered crime rates. Then Freddie Gray died in police custody. But it wasn’t the community uprisings that marked the start of decline, it was the the reaction of the police when six of their own were charged in connected with Gray’s death.

“Cops don’t necessarily stop in their tracks because another cop is charged in a crime,” Kevin Davis, one of Batts’s deputies at the time, told me. “Typically it’s a bad cop, a crook, a drug dealer or a drunk or someone who abuses his wife. But when these cops got charged criminally and the probable cause was not easily understood by the rank and file — that gave them a sense of dread.”

The department’s officers responded swiftly, by doing nothing. In Baltimore it came to be known as “the pullback”: a monthslong retreat from policing, a protest that was at once undeclared and unmistakably deliberate — encouraged, some top officials in the department at the time believe, by the local police union. Many officers responded to calls for service but refused to undertake any “officer-initiated” action. Cruisers rolled by trouble spots without stopping or didn’t roll by at all. Compounding the situation, some of the officers hospitalized in the riot remained out on medical leave. Arrests plunged by more than half from the same month a year before. The head of the police union, Lt. Gene Ryan, called the pullback justifiable: “Officers may be second-guessing themselves,” he told The Sun. “Questioning, if I make this stop or this arrest, will I be prosecuted?”

Ray Kelly, a West Baltimore community activist, had achieved measured success in building relationships with officers along the drug-riddled Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, where his organization had an office. Suddenly, those officers were gone. “We saw a pullback in this community for over a month where it was up to the community to police the community,” Kelly told me. “And quite frankly, we were outgunned.” In the vacuum, crews took new corners and people settled old scores. Not a single person was killed on the day of the rioting. But the following month, May, would conclude with 41 homicides — the most the city had experienced in a month since the 1970s, and more than the city of Boston would have for the entire year.

The trials led to three acquittals and one hung jury, and the remaining cases were dropped. But then something else dropped: a 160+ page report from the U.S. Department of Justice finding that Baltimore police had engaged in “a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law.” The aftermath, coupled with ever-dropping numbers of police officers, exacerbated the existing chaos and poor community/cop relations.

The Justice Department’s report, meanwhile, had led to the federal “consent decree” that the city negotiated with the department — a sweeping set of reforms of the Police Department that set out new rules governing stops and searches, internal discipline and much more. Gene Ryan, the leader of the police union, complained that his organization had been shut out of the process of drafting it. Tony Barksdale, who had been retired for three years and now spent his days trading stocks online, attacked it incessantly on Twitter, accusing city leaders of “handcuffing your own cops while turning the city over to criminals.”

One afternoon not long after Guy began her job as the consent-decree monitoring team’s community liaison, she strapped on a bulletproof vest and rode along with a city police officer to see the realities he and his colleagues faced. The officer started his shift at 9 a.m. and, because of the department’s shortage of officers, would work until 2:30 the next morning.

They cruised block after block of rowhouses in an especially drug-plagued area. The officer received a text message to disperse a cluster of young men — a frequent point of confrontation in the city. Young men often congregate in front of corner stores or liquor stores, sometimes just hanging out, other times selling drugs; the city would have a record 692 fatal opioid overdoses in 2017.

“I’m supposed to clear this corner,” the officer told Guy, showing her the address on the screen.

“Can you do that?” she asked.

“No,” he said. As he understood it, the consent decree barred him from dispersing the young men. So he didn’t. But then his phone rang. “I guess when I ignore a call, then I get a phone call telling me I need to do my [expletive] job,” he said. Which was indeed what the call was.

In a complex but comprehensive story in the New York Times MagazineAlec MacGillis takes us through the causes and consequences of Baltimore’s rising violent crime rates, the result of “a failure of order and governance the likes of which few American cities have seen in years.”

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“The Glitter-scurfed Frappuccinos” Is Totally the Name of My New Band

Mmm, scurfy. (A Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

John Birdsall’s essay for Topic on crimes against taste deserves kudos for bringing us the beautifully evocative words “glitter-scurfed,” but also for being a fun and funny way of getting us all to realize when we’re being judgy assholes about peoples’s food (#ChideReads?). Is the line between “good taste” and “food crime” completely relative? Maybe. But even if it’s not, it’s a lot fuzzier than most of us think.

Some days my Instagram serves up a scroll of atrocities: cake-topped #freakshakes, Bloody Marys bristling with bacon swizzles and sliders on skewers, Luther Burgers with glazed doughnuts stunting for the bun, brownie-batter “hummus,” glitter-scurfed pink-and-blue unicorn Frappuccinos, and activated charcoal soft-serve so black and glossy it resembles roof-patch polymer. Social media is a major enabler of crimes against taste (their visual representations anyway; see the new popularity of “dark cuisine,” or hei an liao li—fantastical, thrillingly transgressive dishes trending on Chinese social media), but it is, after all, only food porn.

Let’s pause to consider the definition of “crime,” or at least to say what it is not. There are plenty of dishes that appear brutal, bizarre, or disgusting through the lens of culture. My introduction to Filipino food was the murky bowl of dinuguan (a stew of mixed pork innards in a sauce of vinegar and blood) my future mother-in-law served me for breakfast one morning nearly 30 years ago. As I slurped politely, I gazed longingly at the box of Cheerios on top of the fridge. If I’d stopped there, rejected a cuisine I didn’t understand and that seemed intent on assault (especially so early in the morning), my brush with the food of the Philippines might have gone down in dinner-party stories as a tale of staring down evil in a bowl and living to talk about it, or at least of shuddering in the face of grossness. Thanks to love for my husband-to-be, I suppose, I persisted. I came to see beauty in a bowl of blood and offal stew—the way a handful of economical cuts from a butcher’s market stall can transcend utility, honor an animal gone to slaughter by elevating its twistiest parts, and express an immigrant’s longing for a place on the other side of the world. A dish that looks, smells, and tastes like a crime can merely be misunderstood, evidence of an accusing prosecutor’s failure at grasping meaning or context.

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“White” Isn’t Even Neutral When You’re Talking About Paint Colors

The March 2018 Esquire cover story “The Life of an American Boy at 17”  brought no end of critique upon itself. Was it justified, necessary critique, or was it evidence of what Esquire‘s editor called a “Kafkaesque thought-police nightmare of paranoia and nausea”? Writing in Pacific Standard, Patrick Nathan takes advantage of time and reflection to pen a thoughtful, pointed essay on what it means to be “neutral” when you work in systems — of politics, of journalism, of culture — that are themselves seeped in racism and misogyny.

The piece is written as if Ryan is an unfamiliar or exotic subject for profiling. In fact, he is the institutionally approved median, or neutral, of young masculinity in America, at the center of two centuries of culture, entertainment, law, education, art, and politics. America was built, mostly by slaves, for boys like Ryan.

I’ve always known who he is, because Ryan is the model I was supposed to imitate—at least until my queerness got in the way. So it’s not only insulting that Esquire assumes I can’t see him—that any queer, or any person of color, any girl or woman, can’t see him. It’s cruel. And it seems a deliberate cruelty, because all Esquire has done is to re-emphasize this neutrality, this apparent normative ideal, which makes the rest of us un-American.

Clinging to this false neutrality, Esquire has only strengthened the ideologies of whiteness and toxic masculinity. Percy may not have done this on purpose, but neither is Ryan, on purpose, a bigot whose unchallenged ignorance can and will harm other people. This is what people mean when they lament the inevitability of “the system”: Percy is doing what the system asks of her—recording what happened and who said what—and doing it well. Ryan is behaving like the boy the system wants him to be. Jay Fielden, Esquire‘s editor, is equally faithful to this system, where words are transparent and self-propagating tools of something called civilization.

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Make Way for Meera

The Himalaya as seen from Mera Peak.

Sometimes you need to gird your loins wade thigh-deep into the news of the day, and sometimes you need to take a break and read about an awesome dog who climbed a 23,000-foot mountain in the Himalaya. Thank you, Outside and Anna Callaghan, for giving some of us the mountain-climbing dog story we need.

At first it seemed like the Sherpas only tolerated Mera because Wargowsky liked her so much, but as they witnessed her climbing prowess, they began to treat her with reverence. “They’d never seen anything like this happen. They said she was a special dog, that she brought luck to the expedition,” Wargowsky says. “Some even thought she was blessed.”

The next day, Wargowsky took his team up to camp one to start the summit bid. The route features steep ridgelines that drop thousands of feet off either side. There are sections of vertical snow. To get down, climbers have to do a number of rappels. Wargowsky tied Mera up at camp so she couldn’t follow them back up the mountain, but the dog chewed through the rope and caught up with the team less than an hour after it had left. “She just tucked in right behind me,” he says. “And it’s not like I could leave the clients to take her back, so it meant she was going with us.”

She’s a good dog, Brant.

Mera became an instant celebrity. People came over from other camps to meet the dog who’d summited Baruntse. Some tried to discredit her, saying it was impossible. Luckily, the team had plenty of photographic evidence. Mera declined to comment for this piece, preferring instead that her accomplishment speak for itself. And to be clear, no one forced Mera to climb this mountain. In fact, Mera’s feat made the climbers very anxious.

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