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Monthly Archives: July 2010

YMCA of Greater New York: Association Home

YMCA of Greater New York: Association Home.Home

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Cultural Studies – Creating Sabbath Peace in a Beeping World –

Cultural Studies – Creating Sabbath Peace in a Beeping World –

Op-Ed Guest Columnist – In Ireland, Tuesday’s Grace –

Op-Ed Guest Columnist – In Ireland, Tuesday’s Grace –


In Ireland, Tuesday’s Grace


Deirdre O’Callaghan



ONE of the most extraordinary days in the mottled history of the island of Ireland was witnessed on both sides of the border last Tuesday.

The much-anticipated and costly Saville report … the 12-years-in-the-making inquiry into “Bloody Sunday,”a day never to be forgotten in Irish politics … was finally published.

On that day, Jan. 30, 1972, British soldiers fired on a civil rights march in the majority Catholic area of the Bogside in Derry, killing 14 protesters.

It was a day that caused the conflict between the two communities in Northern Ireland — Catholic nationalist and Protestant unionist — to spiral into another dimension: every Irish person conscious on that day has a mental picture of Edward Daly, later the bishop of Derry, holding a blood-stained handkerchief aloft as he valiantly tended to the wounded and the dying.

It was a day when paramilitaries on both sides became the loudest voices in the conflict, a day that saw people queuing to give up on peace … mostly young men but also women who had had enough of empire and would now consider every means necessary — however violent or ugly — to drive it from their corner.

It was a day when my father stopped taking our family across the border to Ulster because, as he said, the “Nordies have lost their marbles.” And we were a Catholic-Protestant household.

Contrast all this with last Tuesday … a bright day on our small rock in the North Atlantic. Clouds that had hung overhead for 38 years were oddly missing … the sharp daylight of justice seemed to chase away the shadows and the stereotypes of the past. No one behaved as expected. The world broke rhyme.

A brand-new British prime minister, still in his wrapping paper, said things no one had imagined he would … could … utter ….

“On behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

And there was more ….

“What happened should never ever have happened,” said the new prime minister, David Cameron. “Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the government, indeed on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”

It was inconceivable to many that a Tory prime minister could manage to get these words out of his mouth. It was also inconceivable — before he uttered the carefully minted phrasing — that he would be listened to by a hushed crowd gathered in Guildhall Square in Derry, a place not famous for its love of British leaders of any stripe, and that he would be cheered while speaking on specially erected screens that earlier had been used to relay images from the World Cup.

Thirty-eight years did not disappear in an 11-minute speech — how could they, no matter how eloquent or heartfelt the words? But they changed and morphed, as did David Cameron, who suddenly looked like the leader he believed he would be. From prime minister to statesman.

Joy was the mood in the crowd. A group of women sang “We Shall Overcome.” There was a surprising absence of spleen — this was a community that had been through more than most anyone could understand, showing a restraint no one could imagine. This was a dignified joy, with some well-rehearsed theatrics to underscore the moment.

As well as punching the sky and tearing up the first “Bloody Sunday” inquiry — a whitewash by a judge named Lord Widgery who said the British troops had been provoked — these people were redrawing their own faces from the expected images: from stoic, tight-lipped and vengeful to broad, unpolished, unqualified smiles, unburdened by the bile the world often expects from this geography.

Derry is a community and these Derry people looked like guests at a wedding — formal only for as long as they had to be, careful of their dead but not at all pious. Some began to speak of trials and prosecutions but most wanted to leave that talk for another day.

Figures I had learned to loathe as a self-righteous student of nonviolence in the ’70s and ’80s behaved with a grace that left me embarrassed over my vitriol. For a moment, the other life that Martin McGuinness could have had seemed to appear in his face: a commander of the Irish Republican Army that day in 1972, he looked last week like the fly fisherman he is, not the gunman he became … a school teacher, not a terrorist … a first-class deputy first minister.

Both Mr. McGuinness and Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, seemed deliberately to avoid contentious language and to try to include the dead of other communities in the reverence of the occasion. Though a few on the unionist side complained that the $280 million spent on the inquiry, commissioned by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998 and led by Lord Saville, a top judge, could have been used to improve Northern Ireland’s schools or investigate unionist losses, they mostly accepted the wording of the report that the deaths were “wrong” and “unjustified”; Protestant clergymen spoke of “healing” and held meetings with families of the victims.

Healing is kind of a corny word but it’s peculiarly appropriate here; wounds don’t easily heal if they are not out in the open. The Saville report brought openness — clarity — because at its core, it accorded all the people involved in the calamity their proper role.

The lost lives rose up from being statistics in documents in the Foreign Office to live once again. On the television news, we saw them … the exact time, the place, the commonplace things they were doing … William Nash, age 19, shot in the chest at close range, his father wounded trying to reach him … William McKinney, age 26, shot in the back while tending the wounded … Jim Wray, age 22, shot twice, the second round fired into his back while he was lying on the ground outside his grandparents’ house. We saw their faces in old photographs, smiles from 38 years ago … the ordinary details of their ordinary and, as Lord Saville repeatedly pointed out, entirely innocent lives.

It’s not just the Devil who’s in the details … God, it turns out, is in there too. Daylight …

Even the soldiers seemed to want the truth to be out. In the new report, some contradicted statements they had been ordered to make for the Widgery report.

It is easily forgotten that the British Army arrived in Northern Ireland ostensibly to protect the Catholic minority.

How quickly things can change.

In just a couple of years, the scenes of soldiers playing soccer with local youths or sharing ice creams and flirting with the colleens had been replaced by slammed doors on house-to-house raids … the protectors had become the enemy … it was that quick in Derry.

In fact, it can be that quick everywhere. If there are any lessons for the world from this piece of Irish history … for Baghdad … for Kandahar … it’s this: things are quick to change for the worse and slow to change for the better, but they can. They really can. It takes years of false starts, heartbreaks and backslides and, most tragically, more killings. But visionaries and risk-takers and, let’s just say it, heroes on all sides can bring us back to the point where change becomes not only possible again, but inevitable.

A footnote (some light relief), November 1983:

U2 is in a studio in Dublin, playing its new song, “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” to the record company. The melody is a good one but the lyric is, in hindsight, an inarticulate speech of the heart. It’s a small song that tries but fails to contrast big ideas … atonement with forgiveness … “Bloody Sunday” with Easter Sunday. The song will be sung wherever there are rock fans with mullets and rage, from Sarajevo to Tehran. Over time, the lyric will change and grow. But here, with the Cockneyed record company boss at the song’s birth, the maternity ward goes quiet when the man announces that the baby is “a hit”… with one caveat: “Drop the ‘bloody.’ ‘Bloody’ won’t bloody work on the radio.”

Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 and a co-founder of the advocacy group ONE and (Product)RED, is a contributing columnist for The Times.

How are sadness and happiness like diseases? They’re infectious, study finds | Booster Shots | Los Angeles Times

How to beat depression – without drugs | Life and style | The Guardian

How to beat depression – without drugs | Life and style | The Guardian.

How to beat depression – without drugs

A healthier lifestyle could banish the blues, says a new book

Beating depression – without drugsUp to 20% of the UK population will suffer from depression – twice as many as 30 years ago, says Steve Ilardi. Photograph: Rob Lewine/Getty/Tetra

Dr Steve Ilardi is slim and enthusiastic, with intense eyes. The clinical psychologist is 4,400 miles away, in Kansas, and we are chatting about his new book via Skype, the online videophone service. “I’ve spent a lot of time pondering Skype,” he says. “On the one hand it provides a degree of social connectedness. On the other, you’re still essentially by yourself.” But, he concludes, “a large part of the human cortex is devoted to the processing of visual information, so I guess Skype is less alienating than voice calls.”

Social connectedness is important to Ilardi. In The Depression Cure, he argues that the brain mistakenly interprets the pain of depression as an infection. Thinking that isolation is needed, it sends messages to the sufferer to “crawl into a hole and wait for it all to go away”. This can be disastrous because what depressed people really need is the opposite: more human contact.

Which is why social connectedness forms one-sixth of his “lifestyle based” cure for depression. The other five elements are meaningful activity (to prevent “ruminating” on negative thoughts); regular exercise; a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids; daily exposure to sunlight; and good quality, restorative sleep.

The programme has one glaring omission: anti-depressant medication. Because according to Ilardi, the drugs simply don’t work. “Meds have only around a 50% success rate,” he says. “Moreover, of the people who do improve, half experience a relapse. This lowers the recovery rate to only 25%. To make matters worse, the side effects often include emotional numbing, sexual dysfunction and weight gain.”

As a respected clinical psychologist and university professor, Ilardi’s views are hard to dismiss. A research team at his workplace, the University of Kansas, has been testing his system – known as TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Change) – in clinical trials. The preliminary results show, he says, that every patient who put the full programme into practice got better.

Ilardi is convinced that the medical profession’s readiness to prescribe anti-depression medication is obscuring an important debate. Up to 20% of the UK population will have clinical depression at some point, he says – twice as many as 30 years ago. Where has this depression epidemic come from?

The answer, he suggests, lies in our lifestyle. “Our standard of living is better now than ever before, but technological progress comes with a dark underbelly. Human beings were not designed for this poorly nourished, sedentary, indoor, sleep-deprived, socially isolated, frenzied pace of life. So depression continues its relentless march.”

Our environment may have evolved rapidly but our physical evolution hasn’t kept up. “Our genome hasn’t moved on since 12,000 years ago, when everyone on the planet were hunter- gatherers,” he says. “Biologically, we still have Stone Age bodies. And when Stone Age body meets modern environment, the health consequences can be disastrous.”

To counteract this Ilardi focuses on the aspects of a primitive lifestyle that militate against depression. “Hunter- gatherer tribes still exist today in some parts of the world,” he says, “and their level of depression is almost zero. The reasons? They’re too busy to sit around brooding. They get lots of physical activity and sunlight. Their diet is rich in omega-3, their level of social connection is extraordinary, and they regularly have as much as 10 hours of sleep.” Ten hours? “We need eight. At the moment we average 6.7.”

So we should all burn our possessions and head out into the forest? “Of course not,” Iladi shudders. “That would be like a lifelong camping trip with 30 close relatives for company. Nobody would recommend that.”

Instead we can adapt our modern lifestyle to match our genome by harnessing modern technology, such as fish oil supplements to increase our intake of omega-3. All well and good. But I can’t escape the feeling that the six-step programme seems like common sense. Isn’t it obvious that more sleep, exercise and social connectedness are good for you?

“The devil is in the detail,” replies Ilardi. “People need to know how much sunlight is most effective, and at which time of day. And taking supplements, for example, is a complex business. You need anti-oxidants to ensure that the fish oil is effective, as well as a multivitamin. Without someone spelling it out, most people would never do it.” Ilardi practises the programme himself. He’s never been depressed, he tells me, but it increases his sense of wellbeing and reduces his absentmindedness (his college nickname was “Spaced”).

It all makes sense, but will I try it myself? I don’t suffer from depression, but wellbeing sounds nice. I’m not so sure about the fish oil, but I might just give it a go.

Enjoy the sunshine, get plenty of sleep – and be sociable

▶ Take 1,500mg of omega-3 daily (in the form of fish oil capsules), with a multivitamin and 500mg vitamin C.

▶ Don’t dwell on negative thoughts – instead of ruminating start an activity; even conversation counts.

▶ Exercise for 90 minutes a week.

▶ Get 15-30 minutes of sunlight each morning in the summer. In the winter, consider using a lightbox.

▶ Be sociable.

▶ Get eight hours of sleep

Cultural Studies – Creating Sabbath Peace in a Beeping World –

Cultural Studies – Creating Sabbath Peace in a Beeping World –


Creating Sabbath Peace Amid the Noise

Gracia Lam

THERE are people for whom the Sabbath never went away — Seventh-day Adventists, Hutterites, Jews whose fathers and mothers never stopped walking in the ways of their fathers and mothers.

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And then there are the rest of us. The Sabbath, Jewish or Christian, is a distant memory for many Americans, the recollection of a quaintly tranquil day when stores were closed, streets were quiet and festive dinners were had. The Sabbath would seem to have no place in our busy, beeping world. The very word tastes musty in the mouth, as if it were a relic from another place and time.

But what if you wanted to revive something like the Sabbath today? What if you coveted some of that sweetness and slowness and went looking for ways to get it? What would you do? Would you commit yourself to the Sabbath’s rituals and laws? Would you transform yourself into an Orthodox Jew or latter-day Puritan? How much would you be willing to change?

If you’re like me and like some friends of mine, as secular as you are Jewish or Christian but nonetheless drawn to your religious traditions, the answer is, you wouldn’t change all that much. You’d take from the Sabbath the things that were useful to you. An organization of brash young Jews called Reboot, for instance, recently published a “Sabbath Manifesto.” Its Ten Commandments feature suggestions like: “Avoid technology.” “Connect with your loved ones.” “Get outside.” “Avoid commerce.” “Drink wine.” There is no mention of prayer or religious law or God.

“Sometimes doing things halfway is exactly what we need to do,” said Amanda Clayman, a therapist who lives in Brooklyn Heights. Ms. Clayman, who recently converted to Judaism, and her husband, Greg, an executive vice president at MTV Networks who was born Jewish but grew up nonobservant, select from the panoply of Sabbath rituals the customs that seem most meaningful to them. At the moment, these are the ones that involve making and partaking of a traditional Friday night dinner.

“Our Shabbat starts on Friday morning, like in the old days,” said Ms. Clayman, who takes Fridays off to be with her 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Alexandra. “Alex and I get up, we talk about what we’re going to make for dinner, we go to the butcher shop, we get a chicken, we roast the chicken.”

Another ritual has Mr. Clayman blessing his wife and Alexandra just before the meal. Ms. Clayman loves play-acting the parts of the old-fashioned Jewish family: “When Daddy gets home and the house looks nice and Daddy gets to put his hands on us and bless us, it’s very masculine in a way that men don’t often have the opportunity to be in this enlightened society, and we talk about what’s something great that Mommy did for us this week. This is a time in which we get to inhabit these timeless, traditional family roles.”

This traditionalism works for her, she said, because it differs from ordinary life, in which neither she nor her husband feels restricted to particular gender roles.

REUBEN NAMDAR, an Israeli novelist of Iranian-Jewish background who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (his award-winning collection of short stories, “Haviv,” published in 2000, has not yet been translated into English), follows Jewish law by avoiding cooking once the sun has set on Friday night. But he will drive a car and buy his children ice cream cones once the Sabbath services are over on Saturday afternoon, even though driving and spending money are prohibited by the Jewish law of the Sabbath.

“The bottom line with me is, it’s very personal. It’s not a theology,” Mr. Namdar said. “That’s what my parents did, and not just my parents, the Sephardic community. Maybe they didn’t want to know that there was a fire inside the engine,” referring to the idea that driving violates the ban on igniting a fire during the Sabbath. Or they knew but didn’t care, because it was their custom to drive.

In any case, he said: “Why do you assume that the Orthodox Shabbat is the Sabbath? I don’t agree with that. Minhag Yisrael, the custom of Israel, is what matters.” Mr. Namdar rejects “all this crazy stuff the Orthodox rabbis added, the stuff with tearing toilet paper and cracking open soda cans before Shabbat” lest you violate laws against tearing and making new vessels, part of a complex body of law to prevent anything that could be construed as work. The Sabbath, Mr. Namdar said, is not a theory but a practice, or rather a set of practices, living, evolving and human, handed down from parents to children, not inscribed in a book in heaven.

“The second you write down the rules, it doesn’t work for me,” he said. He believes that the Sabbath of everyday Jews, rather than the Sabbath of the disputers and the thinkers, was never as strenuous or elaborately thought-through as the Orthodox Sabbath is today: “You ate well, you slept well, you had sex, you were in a special state of mind, you did not chastise the kids. It was organic.”

Those who want to keep the Christian Sabbath face the opposite problem — not an excess of law, but the absence of customs and a community that observes them. Though Sabbath-keeping was once ubiquitous throughout the Christian world, Sabbath rituals other than church-going have mostly vanished.

What would an organic Christian Sabbath look like today? For James Carroll, an ex-priest and dissenting Catholic in Boston (he is the author of “Practicing Catholic,” published in 2009), it would look like the Sunday dinners of his childhood. These were big formal meals, held at 2 p.m. every Sunday (and on Christmas and Thanksgiving), which were sometimes the only meals at which he and his mother and brothers would be joined by his father.

Mr. Carroll’s father, who worked at the Pentagon, was “a typical absent father,” he said. “He was never home at 5:30 on a weeknight when we had dinner. There were five of us boys, and mealtimes were chaotic. But Sunday dinner was a realm apart. There were tablecloths, the good dishes, roast beef.” Mr. Carroll’s father’s presence at the dinner table was “how we knew it was Sunday,” he said. “That began a kind of family time that would extend into the evening, when we would all watch ‘Disneyland’ or ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ ”

Mr. Carroll went to Mass in the morning, as did his father. He thought of that as the religious part of the day. Looking back, though, he now thinks the Sabbatarian part of Sunday was dinner. “Its roots are religious,” he said. “As Christians, we have completely lost the sense of the origin of the Mass, which is the Eucharist, which is a meal. If Jesus were to visit us, it would have been the Sunday dinner he would have insisted on being a part of, not the worship service at the church.”

SO what does Mr. Carroll do now to keep the Sabbath? He walks to church, which takes him through Boston Common, where his children grew up playing Little League and wading in the pond, and as he walks, he feels “a certain tug of melancholy. I feel alone.”

He and his wife and children used to have Sunday dinner, but stopped when the children became teenagers. He wonders if his parents would have had Sunday dinners today, given that his mother was a “compulsive shopper” and might have preferred to frequent the mall, had it been open back then.

To judge from what Lauren Winner calls “a bumper crop” of books on the Christian Sabbath published in the last decade, you’d think that the day was making a comeback. But, said Ms. Winner, an assistant professor at the Duke University divinity school who wrote one of these books (“Mudhouse Sabbath,” 2003), “it’s unclear to me that many people are implementing them.” The problem for Christians is that if they want to keep the Sabbath, they do so alone. “There’s just no communal framework,” Ms. Winner said. The talk of Sabbath among Christians tends to be about incorporating spots of mindfulness and quiet into everyday life, she added, not with recreating a collective Sunday experience.

Ms. Winner herself stopped shopping on Sunday a long time ago, and recently began keeping a sort of electronic Sabbath as well — she tries to stay off e-mail and to keep her cellphone turned off. She doesn’t eat out on Sunday, either, because she doesn’t want to benefit from what she considers the exploitation of the labor of the underpaid immigrants who staff the local restaurants. And, she said, “I make a pain of myself at church” by pestering her pastor not to schedule committee meetings on Sunday.

But she is not optimistic about the future of Sabbath-keeping in America. “There is this enormous hunger,” she said, “but it is like a collective action problem. The barriers feel so high and people feel so overwhelmed. There isn’t, in North American Protestantism, any sense of an imperative about this.”

Judith Shulevitz is the author of “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time” (Random House).

Abandoning mastery | Faith & Leadership

Abandoning mastery | Faith & Leadership.

Abandoning mastery

A new teacher learns that vocation is not something to claim, but rather something to grow into.


July 13, 2010 | The day I interviewed at my city’s community college, I looked flustered and sloppy. My hair was a frizzy mane and my sweater hung crooked on my shoulders. I had called the dean’s office to set up an interview, and when our schedules didn’t work, the dean’s secretary paused.

“Can you make it in at 4 o’clock this afternoon?”

I had only an hour to get ready, and I felt frazzled beyond belief. The interview was for an adjunct position in the English department, teaching composition and beginning writing. The dean, whose sleek slacks and cropped hair marked her as a seasoned professional, smiled at me from across her desk. I tried to smooth my hair; I smiled back.

“Tell me about your experience teaching,” the dean said. “You are, of course, very young.”

Like many people, I used to assume that the signs of vocation were absolute joy and instant mastery of whatever you were called to: parenthood, scholarship, ministry. Being in a classroom sharpened my senses in a way that I had not felt before college: I was vocal in class, spent hours writing papers, and worked as a teaching assistant, grading and researching for my professors. When one of my professors pulled me aside to say that I would be a good professor someday, I took that as divine intervention: this was what I was supposed to do. This was the voice of calling. And it sent my blood racing.

One of the metanarratives that permeates contemporary Christian life is that vocation is all thrills and affirmation, that we must be perfect at what we do in order for it to be our primary calling. For me, the term vocation evoked images of a classroom, chalk in my hand and students’ faces lit by the fire of learning. For others, the picture might expand to a packed sanctuary, to rows of parishioners’ faces lit with a similar expectancy. These are images of success, pictures that reflect our gifts in action, working for the good for which they were intended.

Often we see vocation as something to claim, not something to grow into. We do this, I think, because vocation identifies us, not only to the world, but to ourselves; carrying a label wards off fear, insecurity and mystery. And we label ourselves as “masters,” our insecurities hidden, the future predictable and bright.

The first time I led a class by myself, I was a senior in college. I taught a freshman writing course to fulfill an internship, and worked with one of my favorite professors, a man I greatly admired. One day, when it was my turn to lead class discussion, I was overtired and had arrived late. With the students’ eyes watching me, I opened the textbook and began to speak. Nothing came out. Nothing. My gut heaved, my hands shook, and the next thing I knew, I was weeping with my head in my hands, whimpering, “I’m sorry, I am so sorry.”

My professor, in his wisdom, reassured me after class. “There is not one teacher who, in their first year of teaching, does not have these moments,” he said. My first boss, the program manager at a charter school in Chicago, told me the same thing while I taught high-schoolers reading and writing skills. I had to give detentions and plan classes for teenagers who read like first-graders, and whose life circumstances taught them to see me as both a target and an enemy.

“You just have to assert yourself,” my boss told me, patient and repetitive. “You are the boss. This is your classroom. And you will learn how to believe that.”

In that community college interview, I had more failures to mark my teaching experience than anything else — moments of indecision, poor insight, bad planning and plain laziness. The rush of claiming teaching as a vocation had been replaced by a history of weakness, of experiences that proved how little mastery I actually held.

Despite my crooked sweater and lack of preparation, I was still excited to be in the dean’s office for that job interview. I was excited to talk about writing, and about those experiences, because they were what I had, and because (as the saying goes) I had a lot to learn.

“I want to come into my own as a teacher,” I told the dean, “and I want to learn how to serve my students in whatever capacity that may be.”

Those words were a gift to me; I did not think them up on my way to the interview. They testified, I think, to what vocation truly is: an unfolding of gifts that match particular needs in the world, the acceptance of those gifts, and the long reshaping of self that those gifts require in order to be of use.

My weaknesses as a teacher, and as a daughter and a friend, have forced me to look beyond myself to what is needed in a given moment: What is this student thinking about? What does she need to know in order to put together a paragraph, a thesis, a response? How can I give that to her, and what do I need to do to make sure that she gets it?

I got the adjunct position, and spent another nine months seeing the depths of those earlier weaknesses. But I did it with a greater sense of how to see myself, and how to see what I needed to do, in a way that served my students with increasingly better attention and direction. Vocation, as I now know it, is less about a named position than it is about serving the present moment, mastery abandoned, every missed attempt uncovering more of the gift that places you in the world, ready to serve and receive.

Who Wants Prosciutto Ice Cream? –

Who Wants Prosciutto Ice Cream? –

The New York Times

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    June 29, 2010

    I’ll Take a Scoop of Prosciutto, Please

    The heavily tattooed woman walking the Shih Tzu ordered Secret Breakfast, the most popular ice cream flavor at Humphry Slocombe. The proprietor, Jake Godby — a man so shy and socially awkward that it never occurred to him when he opened an ice cream parlor that such an establishment might attract children — makes the ice cream with bourbon and toasted cornflakes, including so much Jim Beam that the scoops always run soft. The day was a sunny Friday, ice cream weather. Just before noon customers started lining up near the corner of Harrison and 24th Streets, an unrehabilitated crossroads in San Francisco’s Mission district: first, a gold-chained Latino laborer who ordered Chocolate Smoked Sea Salt; then three 20-something guys — each part hipster, part geek — who stared anxiously at the flavor board, as if they had come in on a dare.

    Godby’s intention when he opened Humphry Slocombe in December 2008 was to create a challenging ice cream store. He has succeeded. The physical plant is straight-up soda-fountain retro: black-and-white tile floor, chrome-and-red-leather stools, simple Formica bar. Then there is the art, which tends toward food punk. Across from the front door hang four knockoff Warhol paintings, Campbell’s soup cans labeled Secret Breakfast, Salt & Pepper, Hibiscus Beet and Fetal Kitten. (The first three are Humphry Slocombe ice cream flavors; the fourth is Godby’s stock response to the question “What crazy new flavor are you making next?”) A mount of a taxidermied two-headed calf protrudes above the bar.

    The three hipster-geeks started squirming and making frat-house jokes. “Dude, you need to eat that!” one said to another, picking a lard caramel off the counter. Godby’s palate favors salt, booze and meat. Each day he scoops 10 to 12 of his hundred-plus ice cream flavors, favorites including Jesus Juice (red wine and Coke) and Boccalone Prosciutto. Godby also produces novelties in the what might be called the nose-to-tail dessert paradigm: duck-fat pecan pies, foie-gras ginger-snap ice cream sandwiches, treats that incorporate odd animal parts. On occasion, next to the register (cash only), he sets out a glass-covered cake stand filled with brownies. Nobody buys them. As Godby, in his uniform of long green shorts, blue apron and white Chuck Taylors, explains, “I can’t sell cupcakes to save my life.”

    Before starting Humphry Slocombe, Godby, who is 41, worked his way up through San Francisco’s fine-dining restaurant ranks: Boulevard, Zuni, Fifth Floor and Coi. Then, in 2006, his father died, leaving him a little money. By that point Godby had some experience making incendiary desserts. As the pastry chef at Coi, recently short-listed by Thomas Keller, the acknowledged master of American cooking, as one of the world’s best restaurants, Godby served a chocolate tart with smoked yogurt that, says Coi’s head chef, Daniel Patterson, made some diners so upset they wanted “to firebomb the place.” With Humphry Slocombe, Godby continued pressing food buttons, beginning with the name, which is aggressively obtuse. (Mr. Humphries and Mrs. Slocombe were characters on the bawdy old British sitcom “Are You Being Served?” Godby insists that if Alice Waters could name her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, after a highbrow French film, he could name his ice cream store after a lowbrow British farce.) Godby’s ice cream can be alienating, too. When I first took my kids, they ordered Salted Licorice, took three licks and then threw their cones on the sidewalk. This is a familiar San Francisco parents’ tale.

    Still, Godby has drawn a loyal following from the start. His ice cream addresses two major grievances in the contemporary culinary scene: boredom with menus that all look the same, and irritation with the orthodoxy governing how we’re all supposed to eat (local, sustainable, organic, etc.). At $2.75 for a single scoop, $3.75 for a double, Humphry Slocombe solved both problems. As a result, its fan base swelled with the kind of jaded cooks and eaters who dream of never seeing another chicken Caesar or tuna au poivre again. Mark Sullivan, chef of the San Francisco restaurant Spruce, calls the Secret Breakfast flavor “an obsession.” Leah Rosenberg, an artist and a pastry chef, says, “The first time I tasted Jesus Juice sorbet, I felt like someone, at long last, understood me.” In the store’s first few months, Godby and his business partner, Sean Vahey, scooped from noon to 9 each night, ate nothing but ice cream, traded the leftover brownies for cocktails at a dive bar called Dirty Thieves and still lost weight. Since then they’ve hired eight employees and — hazard of the job — each gained back the 10 pounds they’d lost. Godby speaks for many colleagues and patrons when he says, “I just got to the point that I felt I’d have to kill myself if I ever made another crème brûlée or warm chocolate cake again.”

    SERVING CUSTOMERS is not Godby’s favorite part of his job. Creating desserts for restaurants is. Later that Friday afternoon, Godby and Vahey drove a few blocks down Harrison Street to Flour + Water, an upscale eatery that opened around the same time as Humphry Slocombe and has also been busy every day since. Thomas McNaughton, the chef and owner, unlocked the door. McNaughton doesn’t have a pastry chef; he consults with Godby instead. “What about rhubarb and peas?” Godby suggested as two white-coated cooks butchered a whole lamb at the nearby communal table. “We could do a swirl,” Godby said. “Or we could do candied peas as a topping for rhubarb frozen yogurt.”

    McNaughton liked the yogurt-with-pea-topping idea. Techniques were discussed. Godby recommended adding beet juice to the rhubarb to give the yogurt a “pretty pink” color. (Godby refuses to use strawberry with rhubarb.) He proposed blanching the peas in simple syrup, draining them, then rolling them in sugar. Of course McNaughton also always serves a chocolate budino, or pudding, with espresso-caramel cream. But he called offering that dessert “almost shameful” and seems to wish he had the gumption to take it off the menu. “Menus here have to play it very safe,” McNaughton griped about San Francisco. “It’s that whole farm-to-table thing. People are afraid to step out from under that umbrella.”

    That farm-to-table thing to which McNaughton refers was pioneered by Alice Waters. A great number of San Francisco chefs have worked at Chez Panisse, or trained with someone who did, and as a result, Queen Alice, as she’s also known, retains a firm grasp on the cuisine of the city. Her bucolic message is that food is about pleasure, purity and continuity. And in the Bay Area, at least, this remains the received wisdom. Few venture into molecular gastronomy, a food philosophy at the other end of the spectrum, the advocates for which argue, with their liquefied shrimp cocktails served in atomizers, that food is about innovation, technique and novel experience. Each meal is a chance to view the world anew.

    Godby tries to play both sides. “It’s not like this is WD-50,” the food blogger Jesse Friedman explains, referring to the New York restaurant that serves its eggs Benedict with cylinders of poached yolk, tidy as batteries, and cubes of deep-fried hollandaise sauce, coated in English muffin crumbs. “What Jake makes is clearly recognizable as ice cream. It’s even ice cream that’s churned.” Godby, you could argue, is even of Waters’s pastoral San Francisco, making flavors, like Huckleberry Crème Fraîche, that showcase fetishistically selected ingredients. But he does not always choose the sanctioned taste profiles. For instance, he also makes Peanut Butter Curry — which includes house-made peanut butter and Vadouvan Golden Mix, a top-of-the-line blend of garlic, shallots, onions and spices. Godby does this under ice cream’s cloak of innocence and with a straight face, in the same spirit that Sarah Silverman dresses like a 12-year-old and tells bigoted jokes. “I only make ice cream I think tastes good,” he claims. Why do you not want to eat a foie gras ice cream sandwich? Or, why do you? The effect is disorienting. The joke might be on us.

    According to Vahey, the store’s frontman, Godby is an artist who uses food as his medium: “He’s wielding his paintbrush in ice cream, and Jake would never tell you that.” That might seem like a slight overreach, pretentious even, but Vahey does have a point. Godby has painted or made prints, as a hobby, throughout his adult life. The only exception being the two years that just ended, the two years during which he conceived and opened Humphry Slocombe. Currently he’s working on a portrait series of Isabella Blow, the British eccentric and magazine editor who killed herself by drinking weed killer. Godby says of his attraction to her, “I like people who live their lives as art.”

    A WEEK LATER, in the back of the shop, Godby was again in his Chuck Taylors and apron, making Coconut Candy Cap Caramel sorbet. Because he doesn’t want to spend $100,000 on a commercial stove, hood and ventilation system, he uses a Bunsen burner to melt the sugar for caramel. (The hot plate he uses for most cooking jobs doesn’t get hot enough.) Godby opened a Ziploc bag of dried candy cap mushrooms and offered me a smell. “A little goes a long way,” he said of the horsy aroma. Godby once tried making porcini ice cream. That and harissa are his only acknowledged busts.

    Godby dumped a half-cup of the mushrooms into a spice grinder. He then pulled out a 20-liter bucket, poured in two gallons of Straus ice cream base (California code requires anybody selling more than 2,500 gallons of ice cream a year and not pasteurizing on premises to start with a pasteurized “mix”) and set to work on Salt and Pepper, adding Si chuan, pink and cubeb peppercorns and sea salt. Ice cream is simple, but its chemistry is not. Ice cream, according to C. Clarke, the author of “The Science of Ice Cream,” is “just about the most complex food colloid of all.” It’s an emulsion (fat droplets in aqueous solution), a sol (ice crystals suspended in liquid) and a foam. Eventually Godby’s young, bearded assistant returned carrying three plastic bags of bourbon and bananas. “For the first time ever the guy at the liquor store said, ‘Why do you buy so much alcohol?’ ” the assistant told Godby. “I said I put it in ice cream. He said, ‘WHAT?!’ I said he should come by sometime.”

    Godby nodded. He’s not a talker. Vahey describes him as “pathologically shy.” Godby did mention that the previous weekend in Sonoma, he walked by the dead body of a homeless man who’d been hit by a car. He knew this was a dark tale, and entirely out of sync with the expected portrait of the happy ice cream man selling ice cream to the happy children. But that was the point. Godby enjoyed the dissonance. The batch freezer whirred in the background. “That’s the ice cream talking,” he said, then sank into quiet again.

    Godby grew up in Zanesville, Ohio, the only child of a mother who worked 30 years at AT&T and a father who owned a bar. Godby describes Zanesville as “the kind of town where you can’t buy olive oil”; himself as “an odd kid.” “I’d just wander off; I still do,” Godby said, passing the Salt and Pepper to his assistant to freeze and returning to the Coconut Caramel Candy Cap, dumping a large can of congealed coconut milk into the stainless-steel pot. Godby’s mother, Linda, is laconic, like her son. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” she told me when I called. “Jake was always backward. You can tell that yourself.” When I asked what she meant by “backward,” she described Jake as “fearless.” “Jake was never afraid to try anything. At age 5 he had a fit because he wanted to go to a big mall and shop by himself.” One of Godby’s strongest childhood memories is of watching one of his father’s bar regulars shake so hard in the morning that he had to rig a string, as a pulley, around his neck to help raise his shot glass to his mouth. Predictably, Godby hated school — “all weird kids do,” he told me. AtOhio State University, he majored in art, smoked a lot of pot and watched a lot of TV, including “Are You Being Served?” When he committed to open Humphry Slocombe, Godby had 31 ice cream cones tattooed on his arm. Part of the impulse, he said, was to have something to show San Francisco’s fanatical food community, to deflect attention away from more deep-seated aspects of himself.

    A TUESDAY, MIDAFTERNOON: two men in slacks and button-down shirts who looked like Mormon missionaries walked into Humphry Slocombe. They were reps from Sysco, the food service company, and from an insulated shoulder bag they pulled out a kielbasa. People bring Godby food all the time, on the theory he’ll put anything in ice cream. “Thanks for stopping in,” Godby demurred.

    “You betcha!” said one of the reps. “Nice to meet you! We also sell a great pulled pork.”

    Godby is not the first or only chef to make meat-flavored ice cream, but historically this has been a restaurant trick, not a parlor one. In 2000, Heston Blumenthal, chef of the Fat Duck in London — this year No. 3 on S. Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list — started making a crab ice cream to accompany a crab risotto. Customers did not respond favorably. Blumenthal suspected that everyone would have been more comfortable had he changed the name to “frozen crab bisque.” “Ice cream can absorb just about any flavor,” explains Marilyn Powell, author of “Ice Cream: The Delicious History.” “That’s what makes it dangerous. It’s the shape-shifter.” One of Blumenthal’s most famous dishes is scrambled-eggs-and-bacon ice cream, which he has served with tomato jam, French toast and jellied Earl Grey tea.

    The brilliance in such food — if you subscribe to the idea that there is any — lies in upending expectations. Patterson, the head chef of Coi, describes Godby as having “a homey middle-American sensibility wedded to some very weird ideas — and when I say weird I mean a little subversive.” Over lunch at his sandwich shop, Cane Rosso, Patterson went on: “Jake gets the heartland nostalgic element of ice cream, but he’s not afraid. He doesn’t have that extrovert’s quality of needing people to like him. You walk in and you see that Fetal Kitten on the soup can, and that’s everything you need to know. If you like John Waters’s movies, you’ll like Humphry Slocombe.” Patterson is a little weird himself. At Coi he serves a frozen mandarin sour, with satsuma ice and a mandarin vodka gel that he describes to diners, sotto vocce, as “basically a Jell-O shot.” In Patterson’s mind, to succeed as a chef, “you have to say, ‘This is who we are and this is what we do,’ and not worry too much about everybody else. Then you hit your sweet spot.”

    Godby’s willingness to be disliked — and to do so by creating such übertraif as Elvis (the Fat Years), which is banana ice cream with bacon peanut brittle — has indeed created conflict. It started with the vegan collective Vegansaurus, which defines itself as a “definitive/arbitrary” guide to “eating/living” vegan in the Bay Area. Vegansaurus did praise Godby’s sorbets. “Humphry Slocombe has some damn delicious vegan creations,” a reviewer posted on the Web site. “We tried the Carrot Mango. That was THE BEST. It was all super creamy and smooth and carrot and mango?! Who knew!?” But the liver and pork flavors set the vegans off. “This is the place with foie gras ice cream.. . . And that is super duper [expletive] disgusting. I mean, it’s the grossest. . . . Everyone should write Humphry Slocombe and ask nicely for it to be taken off the menu because again, THE GROSSEST. HOWEVER. I will say that dairy is also THE GROSSEST.”

    Godby’s phone started ringing day and night. One message said: “You better watch yourself. Maybe one night you’ll leave work and someone will force-feed you to death.”

    Godby, quiet but not a pushover, responded in his medium of choice: symbolic food. He began leaving meat products around Rainbow Grocery Cooperative, a worker-owned vegetarian store. Then, in February of this year, “Jasper Slobrushe,” who identified himself as a proprietor of a fictitious and eponymous ice cream shop, began harassing Humphry Slocombe on Twitter. “Makin’ poop shakes. Yeah, that’s right — there’s dookie in ’em! And bacon!” Slobrushe posted. “Ever wondered what a burrito would taste like as ice cream? It’s gross. But we made it anyway.”

    Twitter, the microblogging service, is important to Humphry Slocombe. Nearly 300,000 people follow the store, with Vahey announcing flavors through such edgy confections as “That’s right Rosemary’s Baby is back. Toasted pine nuts and fresh Rosemary . . . a ‘killer’ combination. Muwah-ah-ah!”

    Godby and Vahey were furious, especially when Slobrushe upped the ante by creating a Web site that looked exactly like the Humphry Slocombe Website, but with the ice cream cone in the blue-and-white logo upside down. Under FLAVORS Slobrushe listed Tylenol PM and Newsom’s Pomade, a reference to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s hair.

    Godby and Vahey assumed that the culprit was Vegansaurus, but I wanted to know for sure. After many direct messages on Twitter and assurances that he could remain anonymous, Slobrushe agreed to meet me at a downtown bar. I presumed he would fall into one of three camps: 1) vegan, 2) ex-employee or 3) spurned lover. I was wrong on all counts. At the appointed hour, in walked a handsome, seemingly sane 28-year-old who reported that he was not a vegan, or even a vegetarian. He was a tech start-up employee who had neither met Godby nor worked in food. When I asked what about Humphry Slocombe drove him to such extreme measures, he rejected the assumption behind my question. “This is just kind of what I do,” he said, shrugging. “I make fake Twitter accounts” to blow off steam. “I have about 15.” He did allow that he had been irritated by a Humphry Slocombe Twitter post that insulted customers who asked why the Balsamic Caramel tasted like vinegar. But little about his story made sense until his closeted fandom leaked out from the prankster’s facade. He welcomed the idea that the parody might land him in trouble. Apparently he, too, was caught up in the chef reverence expressed by Food Network loyalists and cookbook obsessives: the feeling that cuisine rivals Hollywood and sports as an arena for celebrity. “It’s like when the Beasties were maybe going to get sued by the Beatles,” Jasper Slobrushe told me, “and Mike D said, ‘What could be cooler than getting sued by the Beatles?’ ”

    THE ROLE OF alternative ice cream man involves a surprising number of public appearances. One Saturday I accompanied Godby to Bloomingdale’s in downtown San Francisco. He’d agreed to bring duck-fat pecan pies and to be interviewed in front of a group. The prospect of public speaking was making him panic.

    To distract his partner as we drove downtown, Vahey asked for my benefit, “Should we tell her?”

    Godby said, “No, we can’t tell her.”

    Vahey said, “We have to tell her.”

    As we parked, they disclosed that their friend Chris Cosentino, chef of Incanto and proprietor of Boccalone, had just invented “foie-dka.”


    “It’s foie-infused vodka,” Godby said, confessing, “I love meat and I love booze, and it’s too advanced even for me.”

    A week later we were all driving again, this time to Oakland, for an event at Blue Bottle Coffee in honor of Rose Levy Beranbaum, the grande dame of American baking. Blue Bottle, too, has inspired Godby. Its owner, James Freeman, is, like Godby, an artist-turned-foodie. One day in the winter of 1999, he wrapped up yet another clarinet rehearsal of Gustav Holst’s “Planets” with the Modesto Symphony Orchestra, and he realized he “couldn’t go on.” He now runs six cafes and roasts six tons of coffee a week.

    Godby placed his dessert — sticky toffee pudding, soaked in wort syrup (unfermented beer), served with stout ice cream — in the kitchen, alongside the creations of six other pastry chefs. All had concocted riffs on Beranbaum’s cakes. Then Freeman showed Godby around the place. It was huge, beautifully remodeled and filled with antique Probat coffee roasters and other retro gems. The business office upstairs was outfitted with two long columns of vintage stainless-steel desks. Godby eyed them longingly. “When I was a kid,” he told Freeman, “I measured success by how many keys a person had.”

    Freeman patted him on the back. “You’ll have more metal desks than I do soon enough.”

    Downstairs a crowd had gathered to taste the Beranbaum-inspired desserts. As Patterson told me earlier, explaining Godby’s emotional following, “A lot of people have ideas, but not a lot of people can effectively express those ideas in a quick word or symbol.” Not a lot of people can express them with food. One chef made a chocolate cake topped with raw-milk ice cream; another, a coconut Bavarian with mango-passion fruit gelée. Godby’s gooey, beery concoction stood out, both for its hominess and its impertinence. (Wort syrup? Really?) Still, it was delicious — especially the ice cream. A young man approached Godby to ask if he’d also brought the bourbon-laced “breakfast one.”

    “I’ve created a monster,” Godby muttered under his breath. Then he retreated into the kitchen.

    Elizabeth Weil, a contributing writer, is working on a memoir about marriage.


    Lives: American Buffet

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    The Way We Live Now – Why Is It So Hard to Apologize Well? –

    The Way We Live Now – Why Is It So Hard to Apologize Well? –

    Why Is It So Hard to Apologize Well?

    Everywhere of late, people are saying they are sorry. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for one, after talking ill of his commander in chief. Or the BP chief executive, Tony Hayward, apologizing for the destruction caused by his company’s oil well. Or Representative Joe Barton apologizing to Hayward and then apologizing for that apology.

    And these were but the most recent mea culpas (or, at least, culpas, some with very little mea). There was also the pope’s, for the pain caused to Irish parishioners by pedophile priests; Prime Minister David Cameron’s, for the murder by British soldiers of Irish protesters on Bloody Sunday 38 years ago; a Major League umpire for calling a runner safe when he should have been out in the ninth inning, thus depriving a pitcher of a perfect game; a parade of athletes and politicians for using steroids or breaking their marriage vows; and the occasional carmaker for not acting quickly enough to repair faulty systems.

    All this apologizing should be good for our collective soul, allowing those who are wrong a chance to repent and those who have been wronged a change to forgive, right? Apologies, says Dr. Aaron Lazare, the former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of the book “On Apology,” are “the most profound of human interactions.” When used well, the words can heal humiliation — by lifting anger and guilt and allowing splintered bonds to mend.

    Or at least that’s what they are supposed to do. These days, they more often sound like parodies of their once-powerful selves, and instead of bringing solace, they tend to create more anger.

    Hayward said: “I am very, very sorry that this accident occurred, very sorry. . . . And I do believe that it’s right to investigate it fully and draw the right conclusions.” But we heard this: “I am sorry it happened, sure, but I am not saying that it was anything we could have prevented.” He also said, “This is a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures.” In other words, it wasn’t our fault.

    Jennifer Robbennolt, a professor of law and psychology at the University of Illinois, calls these kinds of statements “nonapology apologies,” and they are worse, she argues, than no apology at all. In a study she has conducted, she presented test subjects with a hypothetical situation — one in which a cyclist injures a pedestrian. She then attributed one of three statements to the cyclist and asked the subjects whether the injured party should accept a proffered settlement. When a full apology was offered (“I am so sorry that you were hurt. The accident was all my fault, I was going too fast and not watching where I was going”), 73 percent of the respondents said the pedestrian should be willing to accept the settlement. When no apology was offered, 52 percent said the pedestrian should settle. And when only a partial apology was offered (“I am so sorry that you were hurt, and I really hope that you feel better soon”), 35 percent opted for a settlement.

    So what does a successful apology sound like? Much like that of Robbennolt’s first cyclist’s — an expression of regret, an assumption of full responsibility. It also helps to put forward a plan for preventing similar mistakes in the future. In business, the Tylenol poisoning case of 1982 is still the gold standard. James Burke, the chief executive of Johnson & Johnson, stepped up and took the blame, promising to recall all Tylenol products and create tamper-resistant packaging. Two years ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia also successfully apologized when he expressed deep regret over past wrongs against the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, specifically the removal of children from their parents. A less well known example was a decision the chief of staff at the Veteran’s Affairs medical center in Lexington, Ky., made a couple of decades ago when postmortem clinical tests showed that an elderly patient died because of a hospital error. The family would never have known but for the fact that the hospital contacted them and admitted its mistake. The family was offered an apology and also compensation and a plan of how internal procedures would change to prevent the same thing from happening to others.

    In short, the hospital took a risk. Apologizing in spite of the fact that it could get you in deeper legal or personal trouble seems to be a key difference between a compelling show of regret and a confounding one. In admitting, “I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Jim Joyce, the umpire, risked added humiliation. Describing the Bloody Sunday massacre as “both unjustified and unjustifiable,” Cameron took the chance that he might reignite the political tinderbox of Northern Ireland.

    The fact that Joyce was forgiven by the pitcher he wronged and that Cameron was cheered on the streets of Derry and that malpractice lawsuits actually decreased under the new full-disclosure-and-apology policy at the V.A. hospital in Kentucky shows the effectiveness of a sincere apology. But these are not magic incantations that you can recite and then be done. Would these words have sounded as sincere in the absence of risk? Or is it the vulnerability entwined with the words that makes an apology ring true?

    That question is being explored now in medicine. A number of states have passed laws making a doctor’s apology inadmissible as evidence in a lawsuit, in keeping with the belief that patients find solace when a doctor admits a mistake, and that doctors are more likely to do so if they are taking part in a conversation and not making a confession. These laws might well free doctors to speak more honestly with patients and families and allow for a chance to truly repair their relationship. Or they might have the opposite effect entirely. With less at stake for the doctors, could apologies become pro forma and, as a result, less powerful?

    When an apology fails, two things are lost — the victims are not asked for forgiveness, nor are they given a chance to grant it. Being asked to forgive restores dignity to the injured. Granting forgiveness is a step toward moving on. A botched apology not only taints the act of apology but the ability to accept an apology as well. And that is unforgivable.