On a visit to Jerusalem, Taffy Brodesser-Akner went back to a beloved restaurant for a bowl of soup that was transcendent for her college-age self and found… a bowl of soup. It’s still no ordinary bowl of soup, though; it’s a vehicle for exploring the way our capacity for joy can contract even as our lives expand. She writes in Saveur:
God, I’ve made it all too complicated. That’s what I thought when I stared down at that soup, devastated by its regularness—by its very soupness. These days, the conditions for me to enjoy a hamburger are contingent on the bun having sesame seeds and astrological order and my menstrual cycle so that I won’t spit it into the sink or sneer at the person who made it for me. These days, I can’t put butter on bread without the bread having a texture to it, and I can’t eat vanilla ice cream unless there is something to bite like a chip or an almond in it. These days, if I am going to eat a vegetable soup, it has to be a vegetable soup that defeats ISIS and fades liver spots and cures belly fat, a vegetable soup that will send people screaming into streets like a postwar victory parade, grabbing women and kissing them and throwing babies in the air and catching them with big whoops. I will never enjoy simplicity again; it will never be good enough for me. I require so many more ingredients; I require so much more technique. I need to be danced for and entertained. I have made the region of my delight a tiny head of a pin. Did anyone tell me that it would be this exhausting to get older?
Even if you were more partial to the taste of purple Dimetapp cough syrup or the fake banana flavor of some prescription whose name I can no longer remember, you know the flavor of pediatric amoxicillin. Everyone loved that pink medicine. Its chalky, anonymous fruit flavor has generated loving blog posts and subreddits of impressive lengths. One writer loved it so much as a kid she went on a quest to taste it one more time. At The Atlantic, Julie Beck searches for that peculiar pink flavor of childhood to learn where it came from and how taste shapes a child’s experience of illness.
Taste is a factor in children’s medicine in a way that it’s just not for adults, who are prescribed pills for most things. And children often need the extra enticement of a familiar flavor to be coaxed into taking their medicine. But flavor used to be considered a more integral part of medicine for all ages—more than just something added to make it palatable.
Under the humoral theory of medicine, Berenstein says, “tastes themselves were correlated with the body’s humors.” So if someone’s four humors—black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm—were seen to be out of balance, they’d likely be advised to avoid certain tastes, and eat more of others. A melancholic person, for example, might want to avoid vinegar (sour—just like them), and eat more sugar to balance themselves out. “It wasn’t about a spoonful of sugar making the medicine go down,” Berenstein says. “A spoonful of sugar was the medicine.”
And for bitter herbal preparations that served as medicine, Greene adds, the bitter taste was “proof of efficacy”: If it tastes gross, it must be working. But in the 20th and 21st centuries, the Western understanding of medicine came to focus on active ingredients. What Greene calls “the sensuous dimensions of medicine” got “systematically written out of the stories we tell ourselves about pharmaceuticals and the way they work.” But medicines “nonetheless have physical properties,” he says, “and those physical properties certainly influence our experience of them.”
The return of Twin Peaks fills me with dread. It’s an excited dread — I can’t imagine not watching the third season of a show that has shaped my teenage years, and which I never expected to see brought back to life. But the unease is real. If it stinks, can its failure leave the original wholly intact? (I doubt it.) If I think it’s great, can I trust my own reaction? To what extent can I decouple aesthetic judgment from the thick ropes of nostalgia that bind the mythology of the show to my carefully constructed narrative of coming of age?
I watched the original two seasons of Twin Peaks as a ninth-grader in suburban Tel Aviv. The world it depicted was not simply foreign; beyond the sheer power of narrative and emotion this was a largely hermetic surface. It invited obsessed, but mostly context-less, fandom. U.S. viewers have always seen in Lynch’s work a dark distortion of ’50s Americana; I observed it like a creepy diorama in a natural-history museum.
For better or for worse, this won’t be the case with the third season. I’ve now lived in British Columbia for six years. Those douglas firs, those clouds, that delicate balance of extreme beauty and extreme dreariness are no longer exotic. Strip away the otherworldly elements of the show, and you’re left with development, poverty, sexual violence, immigration, drug and human trafficking: the very same issues facing the Pacific Northwest / Lower Mainland I call home. What will this proximity do to the way I absorb the new season? I don’t know. For now it’s just adding another layer to the dread.
To help me process this feeling of cultural malaise, I’ve been reading a lot about the show in recent months: from its problematic representation of Native Americans and Indigenous culture to the making of Angelo Badalamenti’s matchless score. I stumbled on some contemporaryfeatures from 1990, which capture the show’s initial reception in the U.S. — something I couldn’t have experienced firsthand. But the pieces that I’ve enjoyed the most (maybe it’s the relief of seeing my narcissism refracted through others’ experiences?) are personal essays about the show and its place in the writer’s life. I belatedly discovered the Twin Peaks Project, a curated selection of writing on the show by author Shya Scanlon, and scoured its archives at length. Below are three pieces that stayed with me.
Huffstutter spent his childhood as a Pacific Northwest transplant — his family had moved from Southern California to Bend, Oregon, in the late 1970s (he has since returned to San Diego). This essay weaves together memories of teenage angst — in 1990 he wasn’t watching Twin Peaks but rather listening to Sonic Youth and the Pixies — with an exploration of the unspoken acts of violence that lurk under the surface in small towns both fictional and real. It’s a rich mix (Martin Heidegger and Michel Houellebecq make important cameo appearances) and it’s deeply satisfying and troubling.
“In the first summer of my adulthood, after graduation, I would insert a VHS tape, already vintage, and inhale Twin Peaks like life support, transfixed and terrified.” Greene recounts a tumultuous period in her life — it included depression, an abusive relationship, and sexual assault — and how watching the show gave her a new, more sobering perspective on her position (and her limitations) as a young adult.
The endless forests of the Pacific Northwest are a key character in Twin Peaks; decades later, some establishing shots are still seared into my memory. In this piece, Briggs — who grew up in the Snoqualmie Valley, where many of the show’s outdoor scenes were filmed — focuses on the abrupt transitions between old-growth forest and human-built areas. He lingers on the ever-present threat of development, and how it plays out not just in the show’s narrative, but also in the region it depicts: “The fictional town is a location that reflects the tension between the fecundity of the ancient forests and the constant change of the new. The landscape of Twin Peaks represents loss inside of loss of loss.”
Tiffany-style lamps. Candy-striped uniforms and/or candy-striped tablecloths. And tchotchkes: tchotchkes as far as the eye can see. The 20th-century chain-restaurant aesthetic is immediately recognizable — but where did it come from? At Collectors Weekly, Lisa Hix digs into the history of restaurant kitsch right at the moment where its earliest proponent, T.G.I. Friday’s, is beginning to impose a minimalist, clutter-free look on its locations. Along the way, she unearths the surprising origins of Friday’s as a hip singles’ bar chain, closely aligned with ’70s sexual liberation movements and a new taste for cocktails:
The Commercial Appeal newspaper called it “a place with so much atmosphere you have to push it aside to get in.” Again, 20-somethings lined up for a table, and patrons mobbed the bar. This Friday’s became a hotspot for the Memphis counterculture, known for its boozy adventures, drug experimentation, and sexual subversion—including an underground queer scene. Bands played on a stage in back, while local rock stars like Big Star lingered at candy-striped tables under leaded-glass lamps.
“Friday’s was the first place in Memphis where you could actually go in and buy a mixed drink,” Rush Bowman, who took a job there as a bar-back before becoming a bartender, tells me over the phone from his home in the Dallas metro. “Before that, you’d had to take your own bottle to a bar, and the bar would hold on to it for you. They’d make your drinks with your own bottle and charge you a setup fee. Friday’s was first real bar in town, and the employees were young people with long hair, so they looked like the customers they were trying to attract.”
Motivated by a potent mix of seller’s regret and old-dude nostalgia, a journalist sets off in search of the vinyl of his youth. And not just copies of albums he loved—Eric Spitznagel wants the exact records he owned and sold. It’s a premise that musician Jeff Tweedy describes as “not… entirely insane” in his preface to the book. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of Old Records Never Die. You decide. Read more…
It’s not uncommon for artists to be associated with a particular cultural moment: think Hemingway and interwar Europe or vintage Lady Gaga and the onset of the age of virality. What is rare is for a cultural moment to be so strongly linked to a specific artist like the `90s — specifically the first, pre-internet half — are with Winona Ryder.
At Hazlitt, Soraya Roberts digs deep into Ryder’s career to find out why we (or at least a certain subset of “we,” mostly born between the mid-seventies and mid-eighties) struggle to decouple the artist from the period in which she got lodged in our collective psyche.
We cannot see Ryder without seeing the grunge era. In the New York Times Magazine in 2011, Carl Wilson riffed on the “20-year cycle of resuscitation” that had finally turned to Gen-X nostalgia. “In intimate terms, nostalgia is a glue that reinforces bonds of solidarity and shared experience,” he wrote. “And it’s a reminder that it matters not only that an idea or an image was created, but when — that things speak most fully in chorus and counterpoint to other events and concepts of the same era.” As Tavi Gevinson told Entertainment Weekly in 2014, “how I feel when I see pictures of teen Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp holding hands in leather jackets, like, nobody can match that.”
The only person that can come close is Winona Ryder now, because embedded in Winona Ryder now is Winona Ryder then. She carries her past with her. The teen actress who sought to make her own life nostalgic before it had even passed her by peeks out from within the woman Marc Jacobs now imbues with nostalgia — she is a Russian nesting doll of reminiscence. That Winona Ryder’s image makes more of an impression than her current performances — in The Ten, The Last Word, Stay Cool — confirms our culture’s chronic desire to preserve the past rather than accept the present.
Svetlana Boym, an eminent Leningrad-born literary scholar, died earlier this month in Boston. She was a versatile and eloquent critic, novelist, and photographer, but is perhaps best known for her work on nostalgia, a cultural and psychological phenomenon that she described as “a strategy of survival, a way of making sense of the impossibility of homecoming.”
Boym left the USSR in the early 1980s. Since then, her country of birth has formally disintegrated, but has also become one of the most fetishized nostalgic objects of our post-Cold War imagination, a political entity that continues to cast spectral shadows in unexpected places — in Russia, in the former Communist Bloc, and in the West.
Writing about post-Soviet Kaliningrad/Königsberg, Boym described the city, and by extension contemporary Russia as a whole, as a “theme park of lost illusions.” The stories in this reading list — from a haunting travelogue through an abandoned Soviet mining town in the Arctic to Boym’s account of Moscow’s 850th anniversary celebrations in 1997 — take us on a ride through the park’s gaudily uncanny landscapes. Read more…
Ice cream is Proustian. One bite can send you time-traveling decades back, to a hot summer day, when you walked barefoot on shell-dappled Gulf sands, vanilla ice cream dripping over the sides of a cone and onto your fingers. Maybe it was a reward for the first time you lost a tooth, a sweet, cold dish of mint chocolate chip as balm for the pain. A bite of blackberry gelato might conjure up a stroll down a sunny Roman street with a long-lost love. More recently, ice cream has become associated with being a good person and doing good works, even though the product really isn’t all that good for you. Honesty matters. Trust matters. We feed it to our children, after all. This is why Ben & Jerry’s, on its website, stresses its commitment to “progressive values across our business,” “climate justice,” and mandatory GMO labeling. This is why Häagen-Dazs wants you to know that the company has devoted more than $1 million to honeybee survival (“We want to keep those little heroes buzzing”). This is why Breyers pledges to use “sustainably farmed vanilla and fruit” and milk and cream from cows “not treated with artificial growth hormones.” Keeping up with modern times, Breyers also features lactose-free, no-sugar-added, fat-free, half-the-fat, carb-smart, and gluten-free ice cream.
—Mimi Swartz writing in Texas Monthly about Blue Bell, a much-loved Texas company that has recently been plagued by a series of recalls and deaths linked to listeria-tainted ice cream.
Sigmund Freud called dreams ”the royal road to the unconscious” and theorized that they reflected highly individual unconscious wishes. His student Carl Jung, who later broke with him, thought the recurring use of enduring symbols in dreams, like mazes, mirrors and snakes, reflected something more collective and universal.
Many people interviewed said they dreamed about their childhood homes, especially if they were from neighborhoods that had changed radically over the years. ”It’s like a lost civilization,” said Professor Marcus of Columbia, who grew up in the Bronx and often dreams about it. And since living space might be described as the sex of the 90’s — everyone wants it and nobody can seem to get enough — it is fitting that such space was the subject of several city dwellers’ dreams.
To understand why Urban Outfitters and American Apparel have declined so spectacularly, it’s helpful to remember what it was that made them so successful in the first place. In their heyday, each made a science of identifying exactly what it was that made hipsters so attractive, then recreated that aesthetic in their stores.
They mass-marketed the counterculture by honoring art, music, and fashion of the past; rejecting traditional lifestyles and careers; and appreciating irony. “You would flip through one of their lookbooks or walk into their stores and think, I am in this world,” Brandes recalls. They made a hard-to-define bohemian lifestyle accessible to an entire generation of young people growing up in the cookie-cutter suburbs.
Urban Outfitters and American Apparel identified their target audiences, moving into neighborhoods with a high density of 18 to 25 year olds who were beginning to experiment with their personal style and values. In college towns, students looking to express their newfound interest in indie rock or ’80s nostalgia could put together an entire look in a matter of minutes at one of these stores; they didn’t need to dig through bins of old T-shirts at Goodwill anymore. Even though you weren’t technically thrift shopping, the ambiance and layout inside these stores mimicked the experience, making you feel like you were stumbling across rare, special objects.