Strong Ideas and Exclusionary Thinking: Obama, Palin and Greek Food in Minneapolis

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Christos is one of three well-known Greek restaurants in Minneapolis. The other two are It’s Greek to Me and Gardens of Salonica. Which one you like may be a matter of cultural survival.

[This is a slightly revised essay originally posted here.]

It turns out that Greek restaurants in Minneapolis are to the citizens of this area what operating systems (Windows vs Mac), text editors (emacs vs vi), and political candidates are to computer users and activists. You’ve got one you love, and the rest suck. Although I’ve lived here long enough to be mistaken at times for a native, this particular form of Greek love/hate is not one I’ve assimilated. I’ve been to all three of these restaurants a number of times, and in my view, they each have their strengths and weaknesses. Mostly strengths, actually. Even my friend Lizzie, who normally has a solidly rational view of the world, has a somewhat all or nothing view of the Greek Cuisine in the city. (The fact that she waitroned at one of these restaurants for about a year may be a factor in this case. I’m not sure.)

I used to live around the corner from Christos, and as an Eat Street joint, it gains extra Neighborhood Brownie Points for many people, including me. Eat Street is a section of Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis along which a large number of mostly “ethnic” restaurants and grocery stores have sprung up with encouragement and help from the local neighborhood associations and the broader business community, as an effort in socially progressive mixed use development. The very existence of a restaurant on this street is a political statement, a statement of solidarity among thoughtful people trying to make a positive difference in a world of selfish greed.

I’ve had interesting and generally very good experiences at the other two Greek restaurants as well. Memorable experiences. At Salonica, I had dinner with a friend who chose that moment to tell me all about his new inflatable penile insert, and about the joke he played on the nurse in the hospital after the surgery. (Which involved some special sound effects and a balloon, but I’m not going there right now.) One of my first dinners out with Amanda was at It’s Greek to Me, so I have special fond memories of that place as well, although not as funny. (Actually, we were trapped there for a couple of hours during a blizzard.)

Almost every meal I’ve had at Christos was with a large group, because it is the kind of place that handles large groups very well, and the most recent dinner was with a set of visiting relatives from my side of the family. Oddly and unexpectedly, we arrived at Christos to find another large group already seated, consisting of about a dozen of Amanda’s relatives, chowing down on moussaka, spanakopita, and tabouli. I know where these people live, and most of them had to drive past both of the other Greek restaurants to eat here. To Christos, which is the one that they like.

And this is where I encountered my first bona fide Sarah Palin convert.

This was a cousin who has always been active in liberal politics, especially related to GLBT issues, women’s rights and feminism. She supported Clinton during the last primaries. I remember seeing her early in the primary season, when she said, “Minnesota will be irrelevant.” (Oh, I should mention that she lives in a Rocky Mountain state.) “By the time the primaries get to Minnesota, it will be pretty much settled. Hillary will be the candidate.” And so on.

I myself supported Clinton over Obama in the first part of the primaries, but I was reasonably happy to shift into an Obama mode once the turnover happened. But you will recall that this turnover was not simple, easy or gentle in any way. There was a fairly long period of time, of several weeks, during which Obama supporters were inappropriately asserting that the race was over for Clinton, and there were Clinton supporters who were inappropriately asserting that the Obama camp was anti-women because they wanted to claim victory. Neither side was willing to refer to history or basic political realities as a guide to what was happening or as a guide to how one might react to what was happening. Indeed, it turns out that Obama was a sufficiently powerful candidate to overcome this period of infighting and Clinton a sufficiently strong person and powerful politician to join the power structure in the White House as number two or three most powerful official (depending) on the planet. But during those weeks including and following Super Tuesday, things were a bit tense.

So we ordered lunch, and as we were eating various Greekey food items and making plans for a museum visit later in the day, Cousin C. came over and we were for some reason talking politics. This was during the interim between the election and the inauguration, and as far as I knew, most of the deeply disappointed Clinton supporters had made peace with the reality of Obama winning the primary, and in many cases joined Obama’s campaign efforts and were now pretty happy that he had won the general. Cousin C., however, a liberal, Democratic, lesbian, activist, feminist living in a progressive liberal enclave in a Rocky Mountain state, was telling me that the Democrats had treated Sarah Palin badly and unfairly because she was a woman, that Bill Ayers and Barack Obama were in bed with each other, and this makes Obama a terrorist, and that Ayers should be in jail now and forever for what he did to this country, and Sarah Palin was the cat’s pajamas, and so on and so forth.

I kept my mouth shut. I like Cousin C. quite a bit, and I figured she’d need to vent, apparently, for a few more months and I would just let it pass. My sister did not keep her mouth shut, and a low-level shouting match ensued. Gentle, less-political cousins were embarrassed and started apologizing for each other, and of course, Cousin C.’s children were mortified, but those of us more political waved them off. This argument was not a bad thing but, rather, an airing of feelings that probably had to happen. An outsider might have been shocked—people at all of the tables in the restaurant had stopped eating and had turned to watch. But this was East Street in the Whittier Neighborhood of Minneapolis. This was what happens here. People come from all over the country to have Greek Food and shout at each other about politics.

My contribution to the discussion was small. I merely noted during a lull that I went to Bill Ayers’ school when I was a kid, and we never learned any terroristic methodology or anything. My snark was duly ignored by the primary combatants. Something was said about Prop. 8 in California (whence my sister), and I think that was a bit poignant. The gay community and the African American community need to work out some important details here.

The politics are real. These distinctions, between candidates and positions, are important. Progressive communities need to get better organized. And it really is true that Linux Rocks, Windows Sucks, and emacs roolz.

But the big three among the Greek food establishments in Minneapolis are all good, even if different. At the very least, you should try them all before you decide. This is one case where you should not listen to the locals.

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8 thoughts on “Strong Ideas and Exclusionary Thinking: Obama, Palin and Greek Food in Minneapolis

  1. How could you back Clinton? I hate you now. J/k

    I really had thought those PUMA types were purely mythical / Republican wishful thinking.

  2. I backed Clinton because in the field she was the strongest candidate, the most likely to win. I’m a Democrat. We don’t often put up winners. I live in the United States where most people are right wing slack jawed country-western slinging yahoos.

    Also, she is smart. Actually, I admit that a the moment I don’t really remember who else was running … let me go check.

  3. I revise my statement. I backed Clinton because I knew darn well that John Edwards was going to get caught, thought Joe Biden would make a great VP, I didn’t like Chris Dodd’s hair, Never heard of Mike Gravel, and Dennis Kucinich is himselv.

    I liked Bill Richardson (and biden, actually)

    But it did mean a lot that Hillary was the only girl. Plus she campaigned for my local guy.

  4. Regarding Bill Richardson–

    One of my friends once asked him at a “town hall” style meeting, “How much would we have to pay you to be on our side?” This properly summarizes my feelings about Richardson. I agreed with a fair number of his political positions… but he didn’t. He just went for expedience. As governor of a weakly Democratic state, he was a weak Democrat. If he’d been governor of Texas, he’d be the next Perry or Bush. Whatever works.

  5. Interesting to hear. I admit that my feelings about Richardson are based on a very surficial view of him as he came into the spotlight, so I’m certainly not going to defend him.

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