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Comments: Week of December 8, 2008


1. There was deep appreciation for Jennifer Senior’s story about how, contrary to popular myth, New Yorkers tend to suffer less from loneliness than those who live elsewhere (Alone Together,” December 1). But a point made by a few commenters on is that it might matter less where you live than what kind of person you are. “With a certain frame of mind you can see the connections between people in Grand Central or in a club, and your friends can give you a sense of connection just as strong as being married,” said one reader. “But in another frame of mind you can feel terribly lonely even if someone sleeps right next to you every night … ” Another reader remarked that “if you like yourself and have a vivid imagination, you are never lonely,” but then added: “You want to be lonely? Sit in the backyard of your small home on the South Dakota prairie at night. Vast nothingness in the distance, and no sound. That, my friend, is the definition of alone.” Speaking of small towns, an expatriate New Yorker spoke up for the social isolation of urban life: “When my husband and I registered to vote earlier this fall in our new, tiny Vermont town, the town clerk looked at me and said, ‘You’re the lady on the bike—how come you weren’t wearing your helmet this morning?’ Oh, that made me ache for the anonymity of New York.”

2. Mark Harris’s story about the potential conversion of Bellevue, the legendary mental hospital, into a hotel (Checkout Time at the Asylum,” November 24) conjured up some long-lost memories. A relative of the late chess master William Steinitz wrote in to say that although Steinitz did spend a few days at Bellevue, as Harris noted, his friends in the chess world managed to have him transferred to a gentler private facility. Apparently, the writer added, Steinitz suffered his lowest moment after losing a bid for the world title and ending up in an institution in Moscow. A current employee of Bellevue wrote in to say that the description of the building as “mostly empty” is inaccurate, as there are 700 homeless men who live there, with no known relocation plans for them should the building be converted. And a former mental patient, though never a Bellevue resident, wished to thank Harris for “an honest and compassionate article.”

3. Gael Greene began her relationship with New York in 1968 and concluded her tenure here with her final Insatiable Criticcolumn last week. In between, she served at the front lines of every food revolution and trend, as New York chefs moved from fussy French to nouvelle cuisine to tall food to all-pork-all-the-time. Though she had no official background as a food critic when founding editor Clay Felker tapped her for the job, Gael immediately distinguished herself as a fearless advocate of good, sensuous living (and great food). She wrote about dinner as sex and sex as dinner, lending the world of food criticism a voice like nobody else (the jacket bio on one of her books begins: “Gael Greene, born a true sensualist … ”). Her copy was original, passionate, and persuasive. If we had to pinpoint her most memorable work, we might vote for Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Ice Cream But Were Too Fat to Ask,” the obsessive, authoritative cover story she published in 1970, right around the time Häagen-Dazs was remaking the market. On the cover, a model peeps out from behind two strategically placed scoops; inside, Gael goes into loop-de-loops of frozen delight: “Grown-ups who never eat ice cream are instantly suspect. They probably hate sand, sleep in pajamas, never eat spareribs, and kiss with their mouths closed. What are they trying to hide?”

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