Archive for July, 2012

On Watching the Olympics

Monday, July 30th, 2012

The opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics was held on Friday, June 27th across the pond in London. I, along with billions of people from around the world, witnessed a bizarre spectacle of British history (mostly all happy stuff, no Spanish Armada destroying the British fleet, or the British invading India). It ranged from coal miners emerging from a cave(?) and then moved on to Mary Poppins and a parody of James Bond. The ending, I thought was quite spectacular, considering that London seemed to embrace the dubstep/grime culture that’s been so central to their youth. The social media thing was clever in a way that did not alienate the majority of viewers—except for men and women hailing from certain countries that limit freedom.

Since the opening ceremony, I (like many others) have been keeping an eye on medal counts, and I felt that there was something a bit amiss between the initial celebrations and the celebrations on the podium.

I took a look at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the current medal standings at London. The New York Times actually has a pretty cool interactive map of the medal winners from previous Olympics that, interestingly, lists the countries by number of medals won, not by the number of gold medals won (which would have put China in first place, not the United States).

Here are the current top 10 medal-winning countries from the 2012 Summer Olympics in London:

Here are the top 10 medal-winning countries from the 2008 Summer Olympics:

…and the 2008 interactive map provided by the New York Times:

Do you see a difference? There are obviously countries that consistently dominate in the Olympics. Although it’s still very early in the Olympics 2012, by an extrapolation of data from previous Olympics, it’s pretty clear which nations will be  in the top 10 at the end of the Olympic games.

Here are the top 10 countries from the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens:

…and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney:

Interesting, isn’t it?

How about one more, from the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta:

Time and time again, you see the same countries place in the top 10. Obviously, the United States hasn’t placed lower than No. 2, and I guarantee that this summer, the US will place first or second (probably second) with China.

But, this isn’t a medals race, no way. The media might focus on the medal count—I mean, we’re all suckers for high numbers—but really, this is a celebration of the achievements these athletes have accomplished.

This is a celebration of the world.

The Olympic Committee has a commission called “The Commission for Culture and Olympic Education” for support and promotion of health, peace, and a better world through cultural exchanges and recognizing cultural diversity.

The Olympic games moved from a competition to an exhibition, successfully incorporating the elements of the arts into the mix. It embraced the presentation of culture through the subjective, the incorporeal attitudes of certain cultures depicted only though the means of sculptures or paintings.

In its very essence, with countries showcasing their best athletes, the participants of the Olympic games are not only competing against one another, they’ve become participants of a global museum; that is, the best athletes are watched and scrutinized and admired, not just as men and women with incredible athleticism, but as part of the cultural exhibit put on show for the world. The athletes become, basically works of art, rather, “sculpture-esque,” and are canonized into the halls of the Olympians.

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Love is on the Air: FOX’s The Choice

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

I turned on FOX television network’s reality TV show Take Me Out one Thursday night after seeing Ingrid Michaelson tweet about it. Having only caught the last half hour (which, factoring in commercial breaks, means I saw maybe about fifteen minutes), I was in that weird, bad-reality-TV mood and threw the remote to the other side of the couch. I proceeded to watch The Choice.

Hosted by Cat Deeley, the English girl with the nice legs who’s also hosted Dancing with the Stars, this episode starred Pauly D from The Jersey Shore, recording artist Romeo, Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom, and actor Jason Cook. The four celebrities sat in chairs facing the audience and away from the stage—if you’ve ever watched The Voice, it’s the same idea (and not coincidentally, because apparently The Choice is a parody of NBC’s more viable show). The concept of the dating show is essentially to give “regular” people the chance to have a dream date with a celebrity, based off of their personality and not their looks.

This latter aim is an ironic one because the show very obviously fails to achieve its don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover facade. First off, the pre-show contestant selection process seems to weed out anything-but-decent looking people, all who have clearly put a lot of effort into their appearances. Secondly, during the show, the “blind” celebrities are allowed, very early on, to see the contestants, and can easily choose according to their physical preferences.

Like any date, The Choice starts off with introductions: all the chairs are turned and a contestant’s name is announced. A large recorded silhouette of her body is displayed (I mean large, like the-wizard’s-face-in-the-Wizard-of-Oz large) while she attempts to show off how much she can shake her hips or grind or flip the hem of her dress. Then the walls of Oz part and she walks out as if auditioning for Toddlers and Tiaras, striking a pose at the end of her catwalk like a supermodel in training. The crowd cheers and often influences the choice of the celebs before anyone hears her speak. When she does open her mouth, she usually shouts as if she wasn’t already hooked up to a microphone. She describes herself in an over-rehearsed speech in terms of her personality and oftentimes also her looks, which is yet another step that makes the dates not-so-blind. Clichés, pick-up lines, and the corniest things you’ve ever heard fly across the stage in attempts to tickle the ears and other body parts of the lucky four celebrities.

Depending on who is in the chairs, there is a varied amount of room for sleaziness—while Pauly loved the girl who just got a stripper pole in her bedroom to exercise, Jeremy Bloom was all about the girl who liked to hang out with her grandma. The celebrity cast seemed to have been carefully chosen to present such a variety, which was a good thing because it left a chance for the small percentage of contestants who didn’t give hints about their love for giving oral sex.

The “blind” portion of the dating show can, from here forward, completely be tossed out the window, since the girls who least appeal to the celebrities physically can simply be eliminated within the next two rounds. Such is the case more often than not, and understandably so.

If more than one celebrity turns their chair for a contestant, then the decision-making power changes hands. It is then the celebrities’ turn to woo, which they are no rookies at, given their just-below-A-list statuses. While Pauly D described himself as “fun, ambitious, and trustworthy,” Romeo attempted to work his magic by remarking that looking at his contestant was “Better than looking at a Picasso.” The ladies were wooed in both cases, though the second girl probably shouldn’t have bought it because the most famous Picassos look like this.

Team Pauly standing beauty-contest style

The first round takes up the first half hour of the show, so after a hefty commercial break, round two commences. Once each celebrity has assembled a steamy team of three, the celebrities take turns asking their dates questions for fifteen seconds at a time—which is, obviously, the perfect amount of time to get an accurate impression of someone. Life or death questions like “Would you rather eat a bag of jalapeños or drink a beer that someone just dropped a cigarette into?” and stress-inducing demands like “Tell me a joke” put the girls on the spot as they stutter over their words. When they find a second of silence, the girls spit questions back at the celebrities which are often answered by another question. This is by far the most chaotic round and it doesn’t seem to achieve much except reveal a contestant’s choice of filler words.

When each girl has been asked two questions, the celebrities then eliminate one girl from their team of three. The last fifteen minutes (with, of course, another five-minute commercial break in the middle) revolve around the third and final round in which Cat Deeley reads a question to the contestants individually. After both girls have answered the question, the celebrity goes up on stage and chooses between the two, carrying her back to his chair on his arm so that he can whisk her off on a celebrity dream date.

This round proved to be very funny in the episode that I watched. When Cat asked Jason’s team, “What would you prescribe Jason if he came to you with a broken heart?,” the darker skinned girl replied “Coffee for your cream” (which doesn’t really make sense, unless cream has healing properties that I don’t know about). Ironically, when the second girl came out from backstage, her answer was “a lot of chocolate.” The crowd laughed and the poor girl was so confused that she almost stopped her answer there.

Pauly's unsurprising choice for a date

Jason, of course, couldn’t not pick the first girl after the chocolate comments, and so the commercial break that preceded his big decision was the least anticipation-filled commercial break ever. Completely unsurprising also was Pauly D’s choice, which anyone who has watched The Jersey Shore could easily predict from the end of round one. Despite the fact that the second girl on his team gave a fuller answer that actually made sense, he claimed, once on stage, that “If you looked up my type in the dictionary, there’s a great big picture of Elyse,” and chose the first girl.

Later episodes have featured female celebrities with male contestants and, from one other episode I regrettably watched, have the potential to be slightly less hectic than this first premier episode. Still, the main rule seems to be that if you want to win a date with a celebrity, your success depends on who the celebrity is. If you want a date with someone who is ambitious and career-focused, show interest in things that are relevant to him, like music. If you’re aiming for a date with someone with a sense of humor, make them laugh, even if the laughs are a result of coincidence. If you want to date someone sweet who cares about their family, show them that you are nice and family-oriented and be someone who he/she would want to take home to Mom. And, if you want to date someone who loves to party, look like someone he would want to take to the club and then, perhaps, home to his bedroom.

Then again, if you want to not blend into the crowd and be like every other date, just be yourself, give specificity in your answers that distinguish you from others, think on your feet, be memorable, and be real.

But perhaps the most valuable lesson from this show can be taken from the contestants that do not “win” the date. The dating world is crowded and competitive, and just because you may not be a particular person’s pick of the litter, doesn’t mean that you should give up. Sometimes you don’t stand a chance against the odds when someone has a “type” that you don’t fit into or when a simple coincidence sways them the opposite way. Most of the time, the reasons for not being “selected” are less obvious; but no matter what, it is important to remember that just as there are a million options out there for the other person, there are many options for you as well. Real life dating is more than a three-step process, but if you keep at it you may find that one day you have a dream date with the Choice of your own.


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Carina, New York University. Read my blog and check out my Twitter! FOLLOW ME!!

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2 Broke Girls: Solidifying Racial Stereotypes

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Created by Michael Patrick King and Whitney Cummings, the nationally-syndicated show on CBS, 2 Broke Girls, manages to transcend the thin line that constitutes political correctness. It wholeheartedly—for cheap laughs, nonetheless—embraces ethnic stereotypes and sexism and, by doing so, further solidifies it in the audience’s consciousness.

King was in a heated debate with the show’s creators in a panel discussion about the racial and sexual overtones used throughout the show:

“The big story about race on our show is that so many are represented,” King said. “The cast is not only multi‑ethnic, including the regulars and the guest stars, but it’s also incredibly not ageist. We represent what New York used to be and what is currently very much still alive in Williamsburg, which is a melting pot.”

On the show’s Asian character, Han Lee, King said:

“I like Han. I like his character. I like the fact he’s an immigrant. I like that he’s trying to fit into America. I like the fact in the last three episodes we haven’t made an Asian joke, we’ve only made short jokes … Would you say the ‘blonde rich bitch’ is a stereotype? Would you say that the tough‑ass, dark, sarcastic‑mouthed waitress is a stereotype? I like all of them.”

King uses his sexuality to try to defend his use of stereotypes, saying, “I’m gay! I’m putting in gay stereotypes every week. I don’t find any of it offensive, any of it. I find it comic to take everybody down.”

King conveniently forgets, however, that Asian stereotypes were extremely hateful up until the 1960s, when both black Americans and Asian Americans were finally given the right to vote and participate in civic duties.

There were a string of riots against the Chinese in the early and late 19th century by Americans. In Los Angeles in 1871, seventeen Chinese were massacred in broad view of public eyes. In fact, the public enthusiastically took up violence along with the perpetrators. “Hang them!” was a common phrase exclaimed by the bystanders and “as the Chinese were hauled up, a man on a porch roof danced a jig and gave voice to the resentment many Americans felt over the Chinese willingness to work for low wages. ‘Come on, boys, patronize home trade,’ the man sang out.” Seventeen Chinese men were lynched in front of men, women, and children. (Scharf, J. Thomas, “The Farce of the Chinese Exclusion Acts,” The North American Review. Jan. 1898. Volume 166, Issue 494, pp. 85-98.)

I’m surprised that the show doesn’t have Lee wear some “traditional” Asian attire and have him speak in a farcical “Chinese” language to further drive him from the realm of the American. When King says, “I like the fact in the last three episodes we haven’t made an Asian joke, we’ve only made short jokes,” he means, Asians are short, so we’re going to run with that. The New Yorker called the show  “so racist it is less offensive than baffling.”

Look at successful comedies out on television now: How I Met Your Mother pokes fun at contemporary social life with complex characters (Barney Stinson is an enigma), New Girl shows character-layering while still allowing Zooey Deschanel be her bubbly self, Modern Family portrays all likable characters who, although they may follow some stereotypes, are able to present complexity, and the cast of the long-cancelled Arrested Development consists of diverse characters all with their own specific personalities, not just a quick scheme to establish what’s already known in our collective consciousness.

Tim Goodman of the Hollywood Reporter probably put it best:

“Every time Han gets to say something on 2 Broke Girls, the undercurrent is that it’s funny because it’s broken English. Plus he’s really short and geeky and non-sexual (there may have been other stereotypes to plop on top of him, but maybe creators Whitney Cummings and Michael Patrick King thought too much was enough, which would certainly stick with the general theme of the show). In any case, what CBS is doing every Monday night is trotting out one of the most regressive and stunning racist devices a network has produced in five or more seasons.”

King does admit that he wants to flesh out the supporting characters, but that’s what stereotypes create—one-dimensional figures for the sake of cheap, unwitty and predictable laughs. Count the number of times you hear the laugh track played throughout the show—you’ll understand what I mean.

I’m surprised the show hasn’t ended up yet as two broke writers. Michael Imato and Michael Anderson call the show “creatively bankrupt” and “just bloody awful.” I also found a comment on Grantland to be very poignant:



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Think About The Big Picture | Victoria Rossi: A Photographer in Motion

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Growing up, I thought the only combo better than peanut butter and jelly was a pen and paper. I have always had an affinity for writing and using it as a tool and an art form. However, I didn’t see my writing as a talent until I started writing poetry, performing in open mics, and participating in talent shows. Once I discovered my immense passion for poetry, I knew I had to reach out and get others involved in their own talents. When I first started writing, I saw poetry as my salvation. It introduced me to new people, new experiences, and taught me that life exists beyond the L train. This post is about how you can use your talent to help others see that their life can change, as well as how to use your talent to help your community.

Looking for people with the same affinity for using their talents to help others, I found Victoria (also known as Vee) Rossi, a 20 year-old photographer/college student.

“I started doing photography after my aunt passed away my senior year of high school. She used to own a photo lab in Barrington, Rhode Island and was the relative who always had her hand attached the camera at any family function. She loved looking through pictures, collecting pictures, taking pictures, and I guess I picked that up from her after she passed away, sort of paying homage to her. I do photography because I love creating things and I especially love creating images and having the capability of manipulating emotions and making people feel one way or another or see something or realize what they haven’t seen. Some of my favorite things or people to photograph are the dancers in my mom’s dance studio in Cranston, Rhode Island. Not only are they brilliantly talented but they’re willing to push limits photographically and also in the areas of dance. It’s always nice to photograph them also because they’re so eager to create something beautiful. I help them and they help me. I also will go to the dance competitions and photograph them while they’re in their prime competing because that’s when you really see the intensity. I not only see photography as an emotional outlet, but also as a possibility to make a career. They always say that you should do something that you love and something that makes you happy, and I think that I may have found that for me.”

Here are some recent photos Victoria has taken of her mother’s students:


Victoria has also done shoots for her school, Simmons College, and some of their drama productions including The Vagina Monologues. From first position to on pointe, the dancers and their art are captured via Victoria’s own art.


Check out Victoria and her Facebook Page and Photography Blog

Now that you’ve seen how Victoria gives back to her community, here are some ways that you can help your community with your talents:


Host an Art Show:

If you are an artist, painter, sculptor, metalworker, etc., go to your local YMCA, community center, or even a friend’s back yard and host an art show. You can sell your art by donation or fixed prices, or you can even just have your art on show for viewing and charge a small admission fee. Then, the proceeds can go to your local YMCA, city program, etc.

Have an Open Mic:

Taking the same idea as the art show, you can find a space to have poets, singers, musicians, and even actors come and perform. You can sell drinks or charge a small admission fee and raise money that way.

Get some friends, and direct a small play in the neighborhood:

Gather your actor, musician, dancer friends, and host a play or opera, or even a concert!

Is a local business or store you frequent looking a little dusty?:

If you have a way with the paintbrushes or even organizing, offer your services in exchange for promotion of your talent!

All of these are inexpensive and help in many ways. They help you meet more talented people, polish skills as well as gain new ones, and most importantly, they help the community.

Now that you’ve read about how to get involved, go out and do it! Here’s a great coupon for art supplies! Click HERE for a printable version!

Joanne, Simmons College ’15. Read my personal blog!

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The Romance Novel: A Most Popular and Best-Kept Secret

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

My first time was in a Kmart. My best friend and I were walking around a shopping center near home, looking to kill time after school before starting our homework. We stumbled across the section of discounted books and could not help but pause to giggle at the shirtless, six-packed Fabios on white horses holding women in flowing white dresses (I’m not sure if any of the books actually had that cover, but I wouldn’t doubt it). Once I saw the “2 / $6” stickers on some of the books, I knew that I would be making a purchase that day.

Beth purchased The Millionaire’s Inexperienced Love-Slave while I went for The Glass Slipper and Pure Temptation, which flaunted a muscly man with medium-length brown hair lounging under satin sheets with his arms thrown back as if he thought that he was posing for a dictionary entry of the novel’s title. When we got to the registers with our books, I found out that the bargain price stickers on my two books were lies, and that I would be making the cheapest purchases of my life: books that cost a penny each. I suspected two things: first, that there was a glitch in the register system, and also that the books were even worse written than originally suspected, with its writing perhaps as cheap as my receipt suggested.

Romance novels have been referred to as “smut” and female pornography due to the sexual content that some books contain. However, while some books certainly do contain explicit scenes, others contain nothing more than hand-holding and church-rated kissing. Happy endings, which usually lead to marriage, are essentially required by the genre (Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous unhappily-ending romances); there are, by definition of the romance novel, requirements concerning plot. If the storyline can only be damaged without the sexual elements, the novel is most likely to be classified as an erotic romance novel (example: Fifty Shades of Grey).

Though I’ve held myself back from reading the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy in public, not as daring as the several women in whose laps the books can be found on the train I take every day (I’m sure there are some with the e-book, too), I have a steadily increasing amount of experience with this division of women’s fiction. Apart from my internship with the Campus Clipper, I work with a literary agency. Having only found a small amount of information about the agency before my interview with the company, I resorted to thinking that the agency specialized mainly in helping authors publish romance novels, since most of the information I found suggested so. It turns out that while the agency does do this, it is by no means a romance-only agency. Regardless, I checked out a few romance novels the library, hoping to familiarize myself with the type of writing that the agency represents before I started working there.

My mother was recently recommended the now-infamous Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and she suggested that I also read it to bone up (no pun intended) on the genre as well as current popular reads. Now done with the first book, she is admittedly a little uncomfortable with this suggestion to her youngest daughter.

Ironically, despite being among the least respected, romance is the most popular North American genre, consisting of almost 55% of paperback books sold in 2004 (e-books are becoming increasingly popular in romance sales, particularly for erotic romance, probably because it allows discretion). About 91% of the consumers are women. While the stigmas that can come with the romance genre seem to be taken lightheartedly by the general public, there are those who are enraged by the books. While some argue for the sake literature, others believe that the books are immoral, degrading, and even dangerous.


What makes these books so appealing and popular? The Fifty Shades trilogy, the first of which was published in June 2011, has gone viral, surpassing the Harry Potter series as the fastest-selling paperbacks. But surrounding the book’s rise on the best-seller charts is a load (I can’t help myself) of controversy. The male protagonist’s appeal to BDSM makes the novel more risqué than the average romance, and the popularity of the trilogy has some worrying about the implications that the book gives about what is okay in the bedroom (or the setting of choice).

One woman wonders, “Do middle-aged women, the main audience for this book, really view the threat of violence as an aphrodisiac? And isn’t it dangerous to turn a BDSM-addict into a romantic hero? Would we want our daughters dating Christian Grey?”

Comments such as these might be related to concerns in the 1860s, when critical attention was focused on romance novels because the female reader was believed to be susceptible and vulnerable to ideas. It was believed during this time and for decades later that women should be reading more wholesome works like those that taught them about a moral society and how to be humble homemakers.

EL James’ books are by no means the first romance or erotic romance novels to be published. Fifty Shades has not invented anything new in either the world of literature or the world of sex, or even BDSM for that matter. People could just as easily get ideas from these books as from another million sources. Also, as critic Caroline Lucas argues, just as in the 1860s, readers can exercise “resistant reading,” choosing which ideas they will and will not adopt from a text. Besides, from what I understand, the trilogy distinguishes between BDSM and abuse, and never implies that abuse is okay.

Romance novels have been around for quite some time. According to RadioLab’s podcast “The Greatest Hits of Ancient Garbage,” the most common finding in a landfill of ten centuries of ancient Egyptian garbage is papers of a romance novel (you can hear snippets of it read at 16:13 on the podcast). Though it took an archaeology expedition to make this discovery, we can more easily find early evidence of romance in print such as in Medieval tales of courtship and chivalry and Renaissance literature such as plays and poems by Shakespeare. The Romantic Period shifted the focus towards courtly relationships ending in marriage, which is where most modern romance novels still end.

One major distinction of these earlier works from the modern ones is that most early works were written by and for men of a patriarchal society and from a male character’s point of view. The first best-seller romance novel was written during this time, in 1740 with Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. Written from the heroine’s viewpoint for a change, it sold like wildfire.

Light, enlightenment, or phallic symbol?

Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë are two well-known Victorian romance writers, and though it can be argued that the sexuality in their romances is more subdued, I ask you to look at the symbolism within their work. I remember being a sophomore in high school and shaking my head in fear every time my English teacher suggested phallic symbolism in Jane Eyre. (Also, I suggest a look at Andrew Marvell’s 1650s poem “To His Coy Mistress” which might be summed up colloquially as “Stop being prude, let’s bang.”)

Such novels, particularly those written by female writers, helped to pave the road for women’s literature, introducing characters that were strong and generated sympathy for the condition of women in society. They often suggested a female quest for freedom and independence. As women outside of the fictional world of novels began to experience freedom for themselves and became literate, more liberated romance novels emerged.

Perhaps the most free expression in romance novels can be found in erotica, where authors have to have a decent set of balls to write without restriction (many just have a decent pseudonym instead). Renowned writer Anaïs Nin, after having drafted an apparently-withheld draft, was once told by her agent to “Leave out the poetry and descriptions of anything but sex.” The result was Delta of Venus, which has apparently been forgotten about in the midst of the Fifty Shades outrage.

Working at the literary agency, I have gained a greater respect for romance writing and those who can write romance well and, yes, for those who can write decent sex scenes (hey, if you’re going to convince me that the character is having the best sex of her life, you better not describe the same thing again and again). Perhaps the most notable feature of modern romance novels is the ease of the read. Unlike an Austen or Brontë romance, the writing of a typical modern romance should be taken plainly and doesn’t feel heavy or make the reader think too much.

But this mindless reading is the reason why literary critics everywhere tend to bash romance novels, saying that they lack merit or do not contribute to the world of literature. Unfortunately, this also paints a bad image of romance readers such that makes them look unintellectual and jaded, ironically bringing the representation of the romance reader back to where it was when women were still generally accepted as the lesser sex.

Some scholars believe that romance novels create submissive readers by showing the female protagonists ignoring issues other than love and marriage. But if we colloquially distinguish our “love life” as a “separate” life, why can’t we have books that also do so? Are mystery novels ignoring everything but unsolved murders? Do fantasy books ignore everything but magic?

Those who argue in favor of romance novels say that they are socially significant because they offer insight into human (usually female) ideals. Whether written on ancient papyrus paper, hidden under a Victorian pillow, or proudly displayed on a Metro North train, it is clear that these ideals, no matter how controversial, have been popular for a long, long time.

While I can’t exactly argue with the assessment of the quality of typical modern romance writing, I will say that not everything that is written strives to contribute to the same world as Hemingway and other literary greats. Sometimes people write and read just for enjoyment. Romance novels are like the flashy sequin shirts worn to a club or the French fries ordered as a side to a salad—not meant to be taken seriously, but meant, instead, to be fun, a sort of escape. In fact, romance novels have experienced a rise in the current recession, just like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind did during the Depression. Lawyer and book-blogger Jennifer Lampe says, “Given the general dismay and gloominess, reading something like a romance with a happy ending is really kind of a relief.” And that’s what modern romance novels are really about. Romance novels are written to be enjoyed, not to enlighten, and they are, simply, about pleasure—the pleasure of reading.


Carina, New York University. Read my blog and check out my Twitter! FOLLOW ME!!

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Balade: Lebanese Food Experience

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

As a restaurant hunter and obsessed foodie, I’ve tried a handful of different ethnic foods. But even in the city where diversity is so great, I still haven’t had the chance to sample all of the different types of food that NYC has to offer. Recently, I had the chance to visit a Lebanese restaurant called Balade to experience a type of food that I never had before. I had, of course, made my journey downtown with my foodie friend Amanda for a night of authentic Lebanese food.

Balade is a small, beautifully decorated restaurant. With a rustic atmosphere, romantically dimmed lighting, and quiet background music, Balade is perfect for a casual date night. We were greeted by Jen, the hostess, who sat us down immediately. What I loved the most about Balade’s visuals was the wall décor. I loved their incorporation of tree stumps hung up alongside the wall in order to give an earthy feel, and also the cultural paintings that they used to emphasize their Lebanese heritage. We were presented with a traditional Lebanese menu and began our dinner with drinks. I ordered the Massaya Classic Blanc, a mixed grape white wine, and Amanda asked for the orange, apple, and carrot juice. The juice is originally three different types of juices, but our waitress had told us that she would combine the three ingredients to Amanda’s liking. The Massaya Classic Blanc had a sweet, yet bitter aftertaste that all wines have, but I loved the fact that I was able to differentiate the distinct taste of the grapes with every sip. The juice that Amanda had gotten had a fresh and sweet taste; the acidity and sweetness of the apple and orange had been perfectly balanced out by the milder taste of the carrot, making a delightful drink.

Mezze: Kebbeh Kras

For our mezze (appetizer in Lebanese), we started off with the Kebbeh Kras. The Kebbeh Kras is Lebanon’s national dish; a mix of lean beef and cracked wheat filled with a mix of ground beef ,diced onions, and pine nuts. Served with a side of a light Lebanese yogurt dip, the Kebbeh Kras was light and seasoned perfectly. While the Kebbeh Kras can easily be mistaken for falafel, its tastes are completely distinctive. We absolutely loved the meaty flavor given off, but even more so because of the fact that this mezze actually tasted like an appetizer. Next came our sampler of the Lebanon pizza. We received three mini Manakeesh: cheese, Lahme Baajin (meat), and Zaatar (Lebanese spices). The pizza dough was made from pita bread prepared in-house, giving it an extra crisp from having been cooked in the oven. The cheese pizza had a taste similar to a traditional white pizza, with the sharp and creamy cheese thickly covering the pita dough. The Lahme Baajin was my personal favorite – it had a hearty serving of meat placed on top of the pita and had a great balance between sweet, sour, and spicy tastes. Zaatar, Lebanese spices, had a unique mix of fresh, zesty, and nutty tastes, but it was certainly light enough to keep us wanting more of this delicious traditional Lebanese food.

Taste of Lebanon

Balade Mixed Grill

Our main dish arrived shortly after we had finished our pizza sampler. We had ordered the Balade mixed grill, consisting of beef kafta, lamb kebab, and chicken tawook with French fries and char-grilled vegetables. All three types of meat have been grilled as kebabs and still had the smoky taste of the grill. The meats had been seasoned perfectly and were served with a garlic aoli and a Lebanese hot sauce to complement the natural taste of the meat. Although the beef kafta and French fries were too salty for my personal taste, I absolutely loved the lamb kebab and chicken tawook. The lamb was cooked so tenderly that it melted in my mouth and required no extra sauce for flavor. The chicken tawook went perfectly with the garlic aoli, combining the succulent chicken with the aromatic taste of the garlic. After we finished our meats and vegetables, we were faced with a slice of pita bread that had soaked up all of the juices from the grilled items, making it a delicious finish to our Lebanese meal.

Everything served at Balade is light, flavorful, and authentic in its heritage. My first Lebanese food experience was far greater than what I had expected and has led me to discover a hot spot for cultural food. I strongly recommend Balade Lebanese Pizza and Grill for people who are in search of great diversity in food, or for people who want a romantic date night with exciting food. I give Balade two thumbs up for great ethnic food.

Use this coupon from the Campus Clipper to take 15% off your entire Lebanese meal!

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