Bad and Good

God, folks, these cigar men and their obnoxious music. This has been going on since 2 pm and it’s torture. I had to open the windows in my room because I’m drowning in clouds of cigar smoke. People at the conference who are staying elsewhere will think tomorrow that I went out partying because my clothes will reek of cigars. I’m lucky I have a trusting husband because I don’t know how a less trusting man would react to a wife coming home stinking of somebody else’s cigars 

On the positive side, N taught Klara to say “feminist.” Of course, my talk ended up being not in the least feminist. I think it will be the most Marxist talk here. It’s all capital, financial machinations, austerity, class struggle, precarious working conditions, erosion of the welfare state. It’s not my fault that feminist theory hasn’t evolved one bit in the last 30 years. The freshest feminist theorist anybody here managed to quote is from 1993. And I don’t do well with stale ideas. 


Somebody decided it would be a good idea to host at the same time and in the same hotel a feminist literature conference and a cigar factory party with crowds of paunchy, cigar-smoking older men and a few very young half-naked women. 

I’m glad I’m not scheduled to speak today because people said that several sessions were completely drowned out by the loud and obnoxious music of the cigar men. 

Still, I was hoping to read my book, watch some news, talk to my husband and sleep. And now it looks like the cigar party is set to go on for at least a few more hours. They just rolled in several crates of champagne bottles. 

Of course, it’s kind of funny that there is simultaneously a bunch of women here to work and a bunch of men to drink and smoke. 

The Dominican Fur Coat

One of the things I bought at the Dominican supermarket is called “Russian salad.” I buy these Russian salads everywhere I go because I’m curious how other cultures see Russianness. 

The salad turned out to be a light version of what we call “herring in a fur coat” or simply “the fur coat.” It was quite good although they should have cooked the beets for at least another hour. When I make this fur coat, you crawl away from the table because it’s so hard-core. And the Dominican version is what the fur coat is when you are extremely health conscious.

Cultural Miscommunication

At a tiny currency exchange in a dark little cul-de-sac, an older gentleman asked me where I was from. 

“Ah, the United States!” he exclaimed. “People are so afraid in your country. They are terrified!”

“Of what?” I asked. 

“I don’t know. Everything. Bad things are happening and people are afraid.”

“Huh,” I said. 

“I have no desire to leave my country,” the gentleman said decisively. “We are very safe here. We don’t need to be afraid!”

“That’s very good,” I said. 

What this was all about remained a mystery. But at least I finally have pesos. The people at the hotel have been refusing to exchange my money since yesterday. They are the nicest, most helpful hotel workers I’ve ever met but the idea of buying dollars seems to fill them with existential sadness. 

After I had my pesos, I went to a local supermarket and bought food. At the hotel, I spent 15 minutes converting the price of each item to USD and feeling shocked that such good food can cost so little. 

I’m eating something called arepa with jamón serrano. I know they aren’t eaten together but since I’m breaking the diet anyway, I decided to eat the combinations of foods that will make me happy. 


People keep saying (to me, people have said it to me many times) that literary criticism is not a valuable discipline because it can’t predict anything. I fail to see the huge value of predictions – what am I, a pythia? – but it’s not true, either. Just now at the session I attended somebody told me that the trends in the female Bildungsroman that I said in my first book were going to appear did, in fact, begin to appear recently. And another person confirmed. Not that it’s that big of a deal (it’s a much bigger deal that people are reading my books) but still. 

The Inauguration

The conference so far rules. At the opening ceremony, the representative of the Ministry of Culture said that the DR is the home of people who worship the only true God. American academics quietly died inside in a paroxysm of political correctness.

Then the organizer of the conference, whom everybody loves because she worked extremely hard to make the event happen, gave an opening talk and, in a broken voice, shaking with tears of rage, talked about the trauma of 9\11 and the irruption of barbarity into the civilized world. American academics died quietly inside all over again because not only are you supposed to do an eye-roll whenever 9/11 is mentioned but you are also supposed to believe that there is no barbarity, just different kinds of equally valuable civilizations. 

Then very non-white Dominicans spoke with pride and admiration of their colonial cultural legacy, and American academics started dying quietly inside yet again.

And this is just the inauguration. I’m digging this.