Paris: Thoughts


Temperature held low, right for November, with rain falling steady throughout the night. I woke up early, five AM, lay there in bed and listened to the rain. My legs ached, so I got up to stretch them, stepped outside to look around. Big puddles all over the place, lights on inside the church across the street.

Opened my computer to the news. Earlier death tolls now appearing a conservative estimate. Le Parisien: ‘Cette Fois, C’est La Guerre.’ This Time, It’s War.

Food all over the kitchen: leftovers from the night before, when friends gathered for an early Thanksgiving. Nine or ten of us coming together for a big potluck. Food was set on the table, buffet style, and we spread across the living room on couches and fold-out chairs, ferrying back and forth from our seats to the table. The whole evening abustle, so no opportune moment for a prayer or for silence. Plenty of time, though, over red wine, to swap opinions–each with the tinny ring, the thinness, of murder explained. What to make of it? What led to this? “France’s anti-assimilationist culture!” Another: “Like a pressure cooker of ethnic tensions, boom.” Another: “As if this many aren’t killed every day in the Middle East…” Another: “It’s the new normal, this sort of attack.”

Morning coming on fast now. Rain slowing down even as the sun rises. What’s the science behind that? The symbolism?

My uncle writes from Paris: “President Hollande has called for three days of mourning. No need to call for that, except for the formality of it, really; it’s already happening.”

If we’d somehow known, perhaps we’d’ve planned our gathering for another night. But to gather—to share company, food, laughter, to celebrate life and love, to give thanks for friends—was perhaps the best thing we could have done in any case.

Sun up, rain stopped but still dripping from the gutters. How to respond to tragedy when discourse seems so thin? One possibility: tears, rage for the lives lost, yes, but renewed and deepened love for the lives left.

Between Love and Hegemony

In which Daniel bids farewell to the United States of America, as well as his penultimate year of college.


To my dear reader,

The Melancholy of Mechagirl is a collection of short stories and poems by Cathrynne M. Valente, all written during or inspired by her time spent as a Navy wife in Japan. It was the last book I read while in Tacoma, Washington, and was one of the most enjoyable pieces of fiction I’ve read in several months. The intricacies of its cultural reference, alongside the wide array of emotions and topics the stories traverse, paint a colorful and fascinating picture of her conception of the nation. In the book’s afterword, however, the author discussed her trepidation in writing about a culture which was not hers, and to which she held so much respect:

“To write of a country, a culture, a world that is not your own is an act, forever and always balanced between love and hegemony. I have tried to err on the side of love.”

Upon reading this, I was suddenly and forcibly reminded of my freshman year writing seminar. It was a class focused on travel writing the act of “othering” – viewing and altering perceptions of other cultures or groups as alien – and much of the class was spent examining writings Europeans and Americans had done on other places. Over and over again in those writings, Europeans and Americans colored their perspective with their own enculturated values and ideals, condemning different societies, exoticizing foreign women and displaying contempt for other cultures.

Ms. Valente has done, I believe, a marvelous job of treating the Japanese culture with respect. Her use of Japanese folklore and religious ideologies is insightful and meaningful, while still remaining accessible to English-speaking audiences. But this book, and that line in the afterward specifically, has remained with me because in two days, I will be departing to study abroad in Italy.

How much of study abroad is comprised of othering, I wonder? Are students from America usually seen as a form of education hegemony? What will never been mine to hold, no matter how much time I spend there? I will be there to study the intersection of Italian music and literature. What will I miss when I inevitably look at this intersection through American eyes?

I once took a composition class outside of Puget Sound with a teacher that was not a lover of world music. “Many modern composers,” he said, “have taken to using ‘ethnic’ music to spice up their compositions… silly, really.” I was initially shocked and upset that he’d said this. By saying that other culture’s music were “ethnic” he was implying that the compositions of European and American composers were effectively “real” music, and that the music of all other cultures was a tool to be used, or otherwise negligible. At the same time, however, he had a point: many composers today do use other culture’s music as a spice for their own compositions.

I suppose that the difference between doing this with love and doing this with hegemony is a question of attitude. Writing music inspired by or based on another culture’s music – much like writing inspired by or based on another culture’s writing – can be done with respect and admiration for that culture, or it can be done with disdain and disregard for that other culture. I suppose that the difference is that love is creating something on that other culture on its terms, and hegemony is creating something on your culture’s terms. As I study music and literature in Italy this summer, I shall try, as Ms. Valente, to err on the side of the former.

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert

Finger Licking Good

In which Daniel ruminates upon his nibbley nabbley thoughts.

To my dear reader,

If you have been keeping up with my blog posts across the past year and a half, you may notice how frequently food is a subject of my writing. They do say that the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, after all. But food holds a place of special meaning in almost everything I do – I write about food, I compose with food in mind, I compare people to food, and there are few moments in life when I am not eating.   am not a heavy eater, mind you, but a grazer.  I am always nibbling on a little smackrel of something.

My fixation with food has much to do with my eleventh grade creative writing teacher, the delightful Tarn Wilson. Ever wise and magnanimous in her teaching, Ms. Wilson proposed to me that all humans have two general, basic urges: to love and to eat. Needless to say, there is plentiful literature and art explicitly discussing the first, yet little explicitly dealing with the second.

Yet food is a powerful world-building tool, and because the part of the brain in charge of memory and the part in charge of smell are so near one another, even indirect stimulation of the “smell” part – such as reading descriptions of simmering stew or the bitterness of espresso – can conjure powerful mental pictures. Food therefore became a logically powerful tool in my writing, as it can so easily connect to an audience. Yet it is this year especially in which my fixation with food transformed into something a bit more succulent.

Firstly, I decided at the end of the 2014 spring semester to compose a piece for the 2014 fall semester’s musical theater cabaret, which was to be Halloween themed. Intent on expanding my compositional palate, I wrote scraps of dissonant violin lines and food themed lyrics that I wove together into a piece entitled “Good Enough to Eat: An Opera in Miniature”, which can be found on my SoundCloud here:

The self-contained nine minute musical adventure tells the tale of a little girl named Isabella, who lives with her wicked stepfather by the woods. One day, while wandering through the woods, she stumbles upon her fairy godmother, who promises her a world of magic.  Upon discovering the wickedness of Isabella’s stepfather, however, the vengeful godmother hunts down the stepfather and gobbles her up, and that is why the opera is called “Good Enough to Eat”.

But although the cabaret occurred in October, my urge to write about monstrous mothers and delectable daughters was not satiated. For my Magic Realism class, my final writing project became one a story entitled “Pepita’s Daughter”. The short tale speaks of Moschata Russel, a young girl with skin as vividly orange as a pumpkin.  Impressionable as children are prone to be, Moschata begins to idolize her new babysitter and takes her mother’s advice that “you are what you eat” a shade too far. Take a nibble of the first page:

When Moschata Russet stepped into the Halls of Full Harvest Elementary School, whispers followed like a wind in her wake.

“My mommy said that she ate too many carrots.”

“That’s stupid, that would give you big eyes and hers are normal.  My daddy says that her papa must have been a squash or something like that.”

“My mama says she doesn’t have a Papa. Her mama grew her from a seed she found in her pocket one day, and that girl just came from the sprout. Cross my heart, hope to die.”

No student seemed willing to speak to her over the matter directly. Once, however, a small boy in the grade below came to her as she sat alone eating her lunch, asking “Why do you look the way you do?” To this she replied, “For the same reason you look the way you do.”

The boy pondered this for a moment. He nodded and skipped away, back to his friends standing near the playground watching. They hurried away with him, throwing nervous glances back as they walked.  Moschata returned to her lunch of wheat bread and toasted slivers of squash.

After that, no children dared ask her why her skin was so perfectly orange, so cramoisy cardinal, so flavescently flammeous. Pumpkin skin on a plump little body; cheeks blushed with decay.

Why cannibalism, then?  I suppose that it goes back to what Ms. Tarn Wilson taught me: love and food. Food brings people together. It allows cultural boundaries to be crossed, and creates common ground between people that might not otherwise have any. Food builds bridges and sparks imaginations and recalls stories long lost. So, oddly enough, does love. I love my dog to no end, and every time I see her, I tell her “I could just eat you up”.  Why not, therefore, bring them together?

With all due respect,

Daniel Wolfert