WELCOME, Dames Nationals!!! Sophie has had a gruelling week, so our Top Tier #damespal Christina has stepped in to edit the newsletter with Margaret this week.
Hoda & Kathie Lee: The final form that CT & Margaret would take were they Pokemons one evolved.
Margaret: CHRISTINA!!!! Thank you for helping me entertain our readers this week. CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE TRAILER FOR HBO’S NEW SHOW, GENTLEMAN JACK?
Christina: Yes. But only if you STOP SHOUTING AT ME, EVEN IN PRINT IT’S PRETTY UNPLEASANT.
MW: So, while this is rather different that the last TV show you and I got together to discuss, when I was trying to think of something to which we would both likely have a STRONG POSITIVE REACTION, this trailer and getting absolutely railed by Rachel Weisz both came to mind. As my mother reads every issue of this newsletter, I felt a little more comfortable expanding on our mutual enthusiasm for the former. (Hi mom!) So:
CT: Two upfront caveats: 1. Period dramas are not typically my go to fiction experience, I’m truly a fantasy gal at heart. 2. Usually the “brash woman tries to invent gay shit and feminism in a time period where it is unwelcome” trope bugs me. Not for reasons I’m proud of, but because I am forced to deal with the fact that I would have been the right hand woman of some terrible man because my morals are very suspect, when it comes down to it.
MW: I get it. I am far too invested in being best friends with everyone to have ever been much good at overturning literally any cultural norm. My role in LGBTQIA+ history, had I been born at TRULY ANY POINT before 1985, would have been marrying a closeted gay man and being just mystified when other women talked about their husband’s tiresomely rapacious sexual appetites. “Oh, my Reginald never bothers me! He always comes home bone-tired from overseeing our farm hands— the most he ever seems to want in way of physical touch is a bath from his valet!”
CT: And yet I found myself so charmed by this! Is it the punchy, fun music? The truly excellent charisma literally dripping off Suranne Jones, playing Anne Lister? The magnetic chemistry between Anne and Ann? (My god England, find some new names.) Maybe it’s just the fact that Anne Lister really existed! She was really out there, inventing gay shit and feminism at a time where it was unwelcome! She (kinda) married Ann Walker! The ball is in your court HBO, don’t fuck it up!
MW: Let me tell you, I was extremely tickled to find that Town & Country provided such a helpful introduction to the series? I guess as long as you’re a landlord, Town & Country Magazine is here for you— even if you’re also a gender-bending lesbian badass. Regardless, I am quite excited for this show, which basically seems like Lesbian Poldark, and I am glad you share my eagerness.
Dame Margaret’s Train of Thought
You: It’s the Hogwarts Express!
Me, an Intellectual: It’s the Jacobite Steam Train running across the Glenfinnan Viaduct on Scotland’s West Highland Line!
As someone who has spent many hours googling “prettiest Amtrak routes” and “scenic train honeymoon,” who has been known to bounce with enthusiasm at the mere IDEA of drinking a beer in Amtrak’s dining car at sunset, whose most treasured memento from her year studying in England is a National Rail Youth Pass, I was obviously undone with excitement when Christina informed me that Caity Weaver-- one of our very favorite writers-- had travelled across the U.S. by train and written it up for The New York Times’ Magazine’s Voyages issue. And, as with basically every train trip I have ever eagerly anticipated, my absurdly high hopes were NOT disappointed, because this piece is perfect-- wildly funny, but also unexpectedly beautiful? Like, to wit:
After reading the above paragraph, did I have to google for a map of the U.S. to make sure it was TRUE and not just Caity Weaver doing a bit? MAYBE. But honestly, that just made me feel even more SEEN.
And speaking of feeling SEEN, and also of feeling READ, can we talk about Hulu’s terrific new show, Shrill, starring the gorgeous Aidy Bryant, based on the memoir of the same name by Lindy West? Because WOW WOW WOW, did all my worst romantic choices as a 25-year-old come right back to me as I binged it last weekend-- something which MAY JUST come through in my discussion of the show on WBUR’s Radio Boston. It also lead to me checking back in with Lindy West, whose writing has had a profound impact on me. Even when all she’s doing is sharing her beauty uniform, she can really move me, and also leave me pretty convinced (inadvertently! She may be shrill but she’s no shill!) that I need a metallic jersey jumpsuit.
Which maybe I could afford to get if I cashed in a bit more on my white privilege and took up babysitting for the super wealthy, as described in this fascinating piece from New York Magazine.
Although even that would not be enough to allow me to afford any of the products recommended in Buzz Bissinger’s new series on the cosmetics and face creams he favors-- something I share not because I imagine they’ll be significantly more affordable for any of you, but because I appreciate that we’ve reached a point in our war on traditional masculinity where a middle-aged white male sportswriter can have a skincare column that’s not about how weird it is that a middle-aged white man to know about skincare. As charming as I sometimes find those pieces, this series is a welcome change, and I look forward to seeing where it goes.
For many reasons, I am glad that Nichole Perkins (of the late, lamented podcast Thirst Aid Kit) has a great partner in her life who’s capably demonstrating that “casual doesn’t have to mean shallow.” Not least among those reasons is that his excellence prompted her to reshare this beautiful piece she wrote about reclaiming her favorite music from the men it became entangled with, a piece that’s sat with me all week. I hope you enjoy it as well.
And finally, I have obviously been following the college admissions bribery scandal that broke last week with almost embarrassing avidity as I love (1) scams involving (2) minor celebrities and (3) higher education. I have two pieces pertaining to that I want to share-- one serious, one silly. On the serious side, I was floored by Clint Smith’s piece on the structural ways elite universities make poor students feel unwelcome. Even as someone who works in academia who imagines her perspective to be jaundiced, I was astonished at how ill-conceived some of “Renowned University”’s policies were. On the lighter side, this piece from McSweeney’s imagining the a Lesser Ivy lamenting their ABSENCE from the scandal just about killed me.
Christina: On Femme Top Spy Barbie and Other Glories
Irina Derevko has nothing to do with anything I will be discussing; I’m just watching Alias and...my god.
Hello and good day to you fine TBD Readers! It is I, CT one half of The Black Hotties, one of many good friends of your very fine Dames, and I am thrilled to be subbing for Dame Sophie this week, an honor I hold in the highest regard.
This has been a bit of an odd week! Not a bad one, not a good one, not even a notable one, really. It’s that inbetween stage; winter is gone and spring isn’t quite here yet. We’re hovering, waiting for the next step, for something to change, for something to begin. It makes me slightly melancholy but hopeful too. It’s that moment when you’ve been holding your breath and you are just about the release it, you know? This is all to say: the bits and bobs of the internet that I am about to present to you are a bit disjointed, a little wistful. Best enjoyed with your favorite beverage and something delightful wrapped around you. Maybe open your windows a little bit, get fresh breeze wafting in. Ready? Let’s go.
Given my aforementioned mood, I put a call out asking for “books that are breezy but maybe also melancholy” and boy did Twitter come through for me! There are tons of books I can’t wait to dig into, but when I went to fire up the ol’ Kindle, the battery was dead. As I dramatically slunk down on my bed, something on my bookshelf caught my eye. Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. I have read this book at least seven times; it the perfect comfort food to curl up with at the tail end of a week like this. Reichl has had a whirlwind career in the food industry, from cookbook writing to holding the (sad) honor of being the last editor in chief of Gourmet magazine. Garlic and Sapphires chronicles the start of tenure as the restaurant critic at The New York Times, a post so renowned that she is just as likely to pick up a call from Gregory Peck as she is the then Secretary of State. (Both call her on the first week of the job.) Ruth realizes that the service you get at Le Cirque as the Times restaurant critic is rather different than the one you’d get as say, a middle aged tourist from Indiana. With the help of a fabulous family friend, she starts going to restaurants in disguise, providing a voice for people who will never hear the words “The King of Spain is waiting at the bar, but your table is ready.” (Again, that really happened!) She is also passionate about giving all kinds of food an honest due, writing about Korean barbecue and Japanese soba noodles in a paper that had primarily focused on well known French food. It’s such a delightful book that it even includes recipes! Go snag a copy, you won’t regret it.
Who would I be if I did not recommend (yet another) podcast? I have no interest in finding out, as I am here to tell you all about Nicole’s Grey’s Anatomy. Nicole Silverberg is a writer for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and is also deeply invested in Grey’s Anatomy. While it is a podcast about one of the most important network dramas ever, it is not a straight up recap podcast, which is why it works so well. Guests join Nicole to talk about something specific— a character or maybe an arc of episodes. It’s brilliant framing for a show that is this long and this constantly evolving. There are only two episodes so far, and I admit that if you are not a person who enjoys silly banter and tangents between two people you don’t know, it might not be for you. BUT! The first episode features the brilliant and hilarious Bowen Yang and it is, of course, all about Cristina Yang and Sandra Oh’s portrayal of her. It’s truly an astonishing look at one of the greatest fictional characters of all time. The best part? Each episode ends both Nicole and her guest performing a “Shondalouge,” a passionate speech set to a randomly selected song from the Grey’s Anatomy playlist. They are all perfect, and they all repeat the thesis at least five times, as is Shonda’s wont. ( Is this recommendation also serving as a thinly veiled plea to guest on an episode and discuss Addison Forbes Montgomery Shepherd and/or Calliope Iphegenia Torres? Yes, of course, what do you take me for?)
Somehow, I had never heard of Rick Steves, travel guru for the average American tourist until this week. This delightful profile of him in The New York Times Magazine by Sam Anderson was SUCH a joy to read. It made me happy and little wistful, ready to spring into action and book a flight to anywhere. His belief that you should see the world you live in, that you should get to know the people and cultures you don’t know about, that loving America only matters when you can criticize it and want more from it, gosh, it made me so emotional? “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.” Come for Steves’ rhapsodic love for the beauty and the power of travel—stay for the charming dispatches from the journal he writes in while high.
Have you ever found yourself wondering, usually between the months of October and February, what Shen Yun is? Do those words cue up a blurry idea of something, but nothing you can actually get a grasp on? You, my friend, are not alone, and over at The New Yorker, perma-fave Jia Tolentino has written a wonderfully reported piece on this spectacle that is...probably not a cult? Funnily enough, my parents went to see Shen Yun with my aunt in January, and my mother, much like Jia, was unable to coherently describe what she saw. What is that cheesy quote about love from that book with dying teens? Like falling asleep, suddenly then all at once? That is how my knowledge of Shen Yun feels, I knew nothing and then it was everywhere. Jia describes it, in its purest form as “essentially, religious-political propaganda—or, more generously, an extremely elaborate commercial for Falun Dafa’s spiritual teachings and its plight vis-à-vis the Chinese Communist regime.” Every second of it is a wild ride, I urge you to dive in.
Okay, so The View has been a television staple for what... 6 million years? Give or take a century? In the current cultural landscape, The View is primarily notable for clips of a rotating blonde, conservative woman saying something that Twitter pundits disagree with. Currently that blonde is Megan McCain, it has been Elizabeth Hasselbeck, Jenny McCarthy, you get my drift. Yet the history is so much richer! The personalities of the hosts alone! Barbara Walters fighting with Whoopi! Rosie O’Donnell fighting with Barbara Walters! Barbara Walters yelling at Jenny McCarthy! (In retrospect, Barbara might not be the best colleague.) Thankfully, Ramin Setoodeh has an upcoming book is going to get inside all this drama, and it has...easily the best title ever. Are you ready? Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of The View. I know right? Thankfully, Buzzfeed and Vulture have two lengthy excerpts to whet your appetite. The former on the rise of Rosie O'Donnell and the megastardom of her beloved talk show, and the latter on Jenny McCarthy, controversy and of course, Barbara Walters.
That’s all my friends and comrades! I was tempted to write a long winded goodbye, but I’ll just Irina, AKA Spy Mommy, AKA Femme Top Spy Barbie, AKA The Love of My Life take it from here:
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