13: angella d'avignon, chinese mystery seeds, edible toiletries, sexy willy wonka, snacking bleakly
Yesterday I lost my last nose ring, an oversized affair with a little row of faux pearls whose nacre has since brushed off to reveal them as translucent plasticky beads. Labour day, and everything closed, so I currently have a gilded paperclip in. Yesterday, I put in a huge order for things my mother wants me to bring back to Dubai, a kind of inverted Gulf Return: a six month supply of Juicy Fruit gum, caramel Milky Way funsize bars, vitamin C tablets, and a very gingery lip mask.
Now, I’m going to go acquire a new nose ring at the nearest tattoo and piercing joint and find myself inevitably fantasising about all the tattoos I would like. One of Ellsworth Kelly’s plant drawings, certainly, but perhaps also these quietly lovely Kumataro Ito illustrations of nudibranches. This week’s diary comes from journalist and critic Angella d’Avignon.
Professor dies of coronavirus during zoom lecture. The privileged have entered their escape pods. Social workers are rejecting calls for them to replace police. Big oil is in trouble. Its plan: flood Africa with plastic. Amazon drivers are hanging smartphones in trees to get more work. New York will test the dead more often for coronavirus and flu. Extreme heat is here, and it’s deadly. What Jessica Krug’s students think about her now. Italy’s Sikh slaves. Senegal’s quiet Covid success. Covid-19 turned my anxieties about having a baby into reality. The loan company that sued thousands of Latinos during the pandemic. Arundhati Roy joins list of ‘casteless’ upper class Indians. Even in the US, South Asians say caste is hard to escape. For the love of mail: letter writing in the pandemic. How my depression ruined Animal Crossing: New Horizons. One day Black mothers will let you see our anger. Self exposure: therapy and a pandemic. Sent home to die.
glouglou and snackchat
Shades of the Grey. The memory chaser. When did snacking become so…bleak? Through India’s long history, the betel leaf remains a constant. The oldest cookbook in Korean was written by a genius nobelwoman. The beautiful chaos of messy Instagram cakes. French Laundry launches $850-per-person indoor dining experience fit for a Bond villain. Official ‘Mean Girls’ Toaster Strudels are here and they’re so fetch. How do you decolonise the taco? The Turkish craft brewery that was born in Bangladesh. The long history of Sri Lanka’s short eats. TikTok teens are dressing up as face masked old people to buy booze. Cooking with Octavia Butler. Riverside’s newly legal home restaurants look to revolutionise California’s food scene. The sweat, stench and staggering logistics of the American supermarket. Cooking from memory.
Real work. How the Met was made. The Harvard colour detectives. We will bring change: the Indian band shaking a cruel caste system. Fight and flight. Clinging to a zine. Miz Cracker visits: Meriem Bennani. Dance during the pandemic: a roundtable conversation. The African Gaze. Rip Tides. Monsters made, not begotten. The remarkable life and work of guitar maker Freeman Vines. Shelf worth: how shelving became the status symbol of 2020. A second life for socialist realism. Sincerely, a Pakistani emo. My Transnistria: the photographer who grew up alongside a breakaway state. Why art workers must demand the impossible.
Big fish: the aquacultural revolution. The breaking point. Why Karachi floods. The sonic craft of Granî, the evolution of turbocharged, transnational Kurdish music. “We are part of the tapestry:” Black Iranians launch collective. History, historians, and a desire named India. Sufism as a product of collective imagination. Exactly like the mafia: tangled inner workings of Beirut port could trip up rebuilding effort. XQs XXI—A Conversation with Sebastian Prange. Art deco by the sea: coastal culture and the architecture of escapism. The balancing powers: a new approach to Kuwait’s modern history. Parts of the ocean floor are disintegrating—and it’s our fault. The last of the Zoroastrians. Thirteen ways of seeing nature in LA.
☞\( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)☞ yeehaw
Gram by gram. Inside Cameo, the celebrity shoutout app hungry for fame. Instagram’s most fascinating subculture? Woman hunters. Remember Jessica Simpson’s edible toiletries? Against the grain. The stowaway. The secret economics of a VIP party. Letter from a kok boru match in Kyrgyzstan, where an ancient sport meets modern times. The Margiela fusion sneaker is not what it looks like. Hundreds of Americans planted '“Chinese mystery seeds.” Colonising Mars could be dangerous and ridiculously expensive. Elon Musk wants to do it anyway. The improbably journey of Dorothy Parker’s ashes. You don’t know her. How sexy Willy Wonka took over TikTok, as told by the man himself. The little cards that tell police '“let’s forget this ever happened.”
culture diary: angella d’avignon
Listen, there are only so much of the Turner Classic Movies channel you can binge until you see something problematic with no explanation. I live with my parents for the time being and my mom leaves the television on for the dogs who sit on her taupe leather couch and pant at the screen. Today a Confederate soldier is slapping a blonde in Technicolor while I make weak coffee with my parents’ K-cup thingy. I change the channel to the Home and Garden channel where a hetero couple is in the process of flipping a house for another hetero couple — it’s for the dogs.
I’ll admit I’ve never read Slouching Towards Bethlehem by J*an D*dion all the way through. My copy sports a blinding orange cover that pulsates in the sunlight. I flip my lid when I get to “Notes From a Native Daughter.” Why write about California any more after this? Although I am not from Sacramento or Los Angeles, San Diego is still more lush than the former but lives in the shadow of the latter. Anyone could describe their home town as “purgatorial” but if you understood how where I grew up is like a temperate waiting room whose air hovers as much as Sacramento’s, a suburb as still as the “sunlit mortuary” that is LA, a place so pleasant it neutralizes your ambition, you would understand why I am constantly trying to leave or go back. My home town is a sleepy magnet and I am a lazy piece of metal.
My 84 year-old Grandmama comes over in her wedge-heeled sandals to teach me what she knows about rhubarb pie. The authority with which she eyes a teaspoon of nutmeg thrills me to my core. How casually she rolls out the pie dough with a cold half-empty Pimm’s bottle widens my eyes. The strap of her pinafore-style apron keeps slipping off her shoulder and she couldn’t care less. Her rings clink together while she arranges knobs of rhubarb in the pan: a fucking symphony.
While we wait for the pie to bake we sit across from each other and read our emails. Grandmama remarks on the media’s ableism. “I’ve had mini strokes and I can bake a whole pie!” she says. “I can hold a water glass with one hand but many others can’t!” I’m laughing at how insightful this is but also confirm that the president is unfit in every way. His being fat has little to do with it. Whatever. Meanwhile Grandmama continues to thrive. The woman wears heels when she has vertigo.
A day that doesn’t quite exist to me. I get up at 4pm and answer emails too late in the day. I zombie-stare at the TV next to the dogs and watch Marlon Brando’s bonkers eyebrows bop around in On the Waterfront.
I sit in the park with pod-friends K, L, MM, and M in alternation. We’re meant to read but we chat instead. In the span of a week the eucalyptus tree we usually sit under is shedding its leaves and bark. I pass a sheet of dusty bark with a ring of white fluff inside of it. I say something stupid like, “Look at this beautiful nature,” which makes M spit out her seltzer. I pretend to be a detective while I inspect the half-circles some bug bit out of the leaves. So elliptical. What type of insect eats like this? How long have these trees been here? When did they pave the park? Who sleeps here at night? When did they replace the orange grove up the hill with bungalows that only couples with disposable income, rich parents, and one baby can afford? We talk about silhouettes and estate sales. We eat watermelon. M teaches us about the evil eye and instructs us on how and when to spit in order to preserve ourselves and others. We spend the rest of the conversation intermittently spitting when we mention the future.
Spent the day thinking it was Thursday. Over texts, the repeated phrase: Stage 4. On Twitter, the same phrase: Stage 4. Both abstract and confusing. I bury my brain in episodes of Schitt’s Creek. I stay in bed. Sometimes you don’t know you’re in a mood until you try to move.
The Christian theater kid in me (I’ve outed myself!) is compelled to confess; I maybe said too much to my editor about why I didn’t turn my piece in on time. There’s no proper way to say “Sorry, I was devastated and unable to lift my body from the floor and I couldn’t even cry, let alone write.” Instead I type “Apologies!” into the message box.
The climate in southern California where my parents live, where I spent high school and now quarantine is static. The weather never matches a gloomy mood because the weather moves between a very narrow spectrum of Breezy with No Humidity and Breezy with Slight Humidity. Today a wildfire ignites 15 miles away and smoke blocks the sun until the sky turns orange. We’re just grateful it’s so far away.
I wake up shocked to discover it’s Saturday. Pod friends come over and we watch TCM for a second before we realize it’s a Woody Allen movie and wince. The shot of New York City in the background also makes me wince even though it’s a New York City I’ve never really known at all. I miss it without knowing it which strikes me as cliche. I don’t care. I only lived in New York for two years. But I still can’t watch any movies with New York in it for the time being, save for the day I watched Dog Day Afternoon for the first time and fell in love with Al Pacino and John Cazale who I previously only knew as Meryl Streep’s boyfriend. RIP John.
Raised Christian and sheltered in suburbia, I was kept from certain cultural content that I’ve only half caught up on. One of my party tricks included bragging that I’ve never seen an episode of The Simpsons (still true!) and watching people’s faces glaze over with shock and awe. This is my only exoticism other than being from California which only works on the Eastern Seaboard and occasionally in the Midwest.
The heatwave continues to roast the dry brush in the mountains. The sky is an ominous pink, the color of overcooked salmon, silvery and sulfurous. My throat becomes sore if I stand outside for longer than twenty minutes. I’m thankful to be inside. The doves seem to be panicking, flashing from the trees with branches bouncing. A spray of feathers covers the patio furniture. What happened?
There’s ash in the pool. The bottom of my feet turn black. We stare up at the smoke drifting heavy over the backyard. I’ve been describing the national mood as a “Don DeLillo book plot” the way other people describe every news story as a “Cohen Brothers movie” or a chaotic photo as a “Renaissance painting.” In White Noise, DeLillo describes the ominous “Airborne Toxic Event” as a dark cloud on the horizon while suburbia scrambles to leave. It reminds me of evacuating which we haven’t had to do since 2003 when I was still in high school. Evacuation requires an organization I lack. I am the typical Californian that Mike Davis describes: my interior space replicates the sprawl of the towns I lived in. Disasters like earthquakes or wildfires have become so regular to me that I forget to plan. Sometimes I remember to put an extra pair of shoes at the end of the bed in earthquake swarms. In New York, I relished bolting things to the walls “because they’d never fall off in an earthquake” only to discover most walls were loose with bad plaster.
A tweet from the San Diego Fire Department makes me laugh: “The sun's up in San Diego. The predicted high is 106. Current conditions are Smoke. Enjoy the day -- safely.”
Current conditions are Smoke. The scene outside the back door is tinted orange. My mom is busy pitching blue rain umbrellas over the plants. The heat outside makes the wild mint in the yard aromatic. Looking up, one side of the sky is perfect blue with puffy white clouds while another is sooty and brown. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is 97, so it could be worse. I attempt to Enjoy the day — safely.
I can barely keep a diary any more; I’m always worried about my grammar. I worry about this in texts, too. I forget where the commas go and what participles even are? Feeling surveilled used to be called “feeling self-conscious” until I wisened up. I call it Twitter brain when I feel as if everyone’s looking when no one is at all — maybe some coders or engineers or whoever else is on the other end of the Simple Note app which I’ve used recently instead of Evernote. No screen feels like a closed door anymore when I write.
Going outside isn’t an option today so I wander my parents' house which is like wandering a beige-carpeted tomb. The dogs are watching the Hallmark channel today. I count the hours by emptied cans of seltzer. The light pouring in from the windows coats each room with an amber light like the Night Shift setting on an iPhone. At least I am protected from blue light. I refresh the evacuation map on CalFire. Should I pack a bag? The fire rarely crawls through the valley and up the hill, but the temperature is rarely this high or this far west. This is desert weather not inland weather. I take out the cat’s carrier and an extra pair of sneakers. I put on socks, just in case. I stare out the window and watch the ivy curl up in the heat.
featured creature: harp or lyre sponge
Beautiful and also extremely carnivorous, it “dismantles its victims cell by cell.”