Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate
Swearengen '04 (email@example.com)
Centaurs, the 'Wa,
and the Nass
The Centaur's Smile
January 18 will mark the conclusion of the Princeton Art Museum's
latest exhibit, "The Centaur's Smile," a two-room display
of all things centaur.
In classical mythology the centaurs were the sons of Ketauros
and the wild mares of Magnesia, an implausible union made more so
when one considers that Kentauros himself was the offspring of a
Greek king and a cloud.
The premise of the exhibit is that the physical duality of centaurs
is a reflection of their moral attributes. Their savagery and brutality
sorry, Mr. Ed is reflected in their equine half, while
their bravery and kindness is reflected in their human half. Through
the centaurs, the Greeks were able to explore such institutions
as war, marriage, and guest-friendship; inevitably, the boorish
behavior of the centaurs and their violation of culture reaffirmed
the superiority of humans over their hairy adversaries.
There are of course exceptions to the centaur stereotype
not all of them were loutish, oversexed, and in bicker clubs. For
example, Chiron, a centaur renowned for his wisdom and justice,
was a tutor for such heroes as Achilles and Jason. One vase in the
exhibit shows a tender little scene in which Chiron looks lovingly
at his nymph bride who, evidently overcome at the prospect of imminent
equine love, stares fixedly at the floor. Professor of Near Eastern
Studies Michael Cook, who explores the Greek-women-with-downcast-eyes
phenomenon in his latest book, A Brief History of the Human Race,
concludes that respectable women were not supposed to make eye contact
with men. Making eye contact with centaurs must have been uncouth
Much of the artwork in the exhibit revolves around the archetypical
battle between men and centaurs, the so-called centauromachy. My
favorite centauromachy depicted on a lovely black-figure
winecup was the one that occurred at the marriage of Peirithoos:
The centaurs became so intoxicated by the wine that they assaulted
the women in attendance. The humans managed to drive the centaurs
away but suffered some casualties in the process, among them the
immortal Kaineus, who was vanquished when the centaurs hammered
him into the ground with trees and boulders. From the sound of things
outside my window at night, similar scenes are being enacted in
the Pyne courtyard in this heady period before final exams.
"The Centaur's Smile" has been host to legions of small
children, most of whom seemed to relish the idea of a half-human,
half-horse creature. A few children, however, seemed disturbed at
the violence of the depictions. One little girl, looking at a painted
vase showing Hercules using a club to pound the bejesus out of a
centaur, broke into loud wails and had to be escorted from the exhibit
by her teacher.
In late November, the Wawa known affectionately at Princeton
as the 'Wa and, less frequently, as Forbes Eating Club closed
its doors for a month of remodeling. The impact on campus was such
that the Daily Princeton carried an article in which students bemoaned
the temporary loss of the treasured institution. One student quoted
in the article alleged that the 'Wa had become a popular dating
scene, and that asking a girl out to the convenience store was like
asking her out for coffee.
"If a guy asked me out to the 'Wa, I'd break him in half,"
a student said in response to the Prince article, before admitting
that a newly renovated 'Wa would probably have more charm than Café
The 'Wa now looks twice as large as it did before. The center
of the store is taken up by a large octagonal desk, where checkers
stand like DJs in a Berlin disco. Restrooms have been installed
in the area formerly reserved for the ice cream novelties, and the
floor has been retiled. This is not your father's Wawa, not that
your father had a Wawa.
On January 11 the Nassau Weekly hosted its annual staff party
at Thai Village, where the 20-odd staffers and the two large cardboard
boxes of liquor that accompanied them the restaurant is BYOB
were hastily shunted off to the private room on the second
As is the tradition at all Nass staff parties, certificates were
awarded the categories included "Best Vampire,"
"Most Mustachioed Boyfriend," and "It's Finally Time
for Someone to Tell You That You Have a Lazy Eye" and
were followed by a shot of Bacardi or Stoli. The waiter, a nervous
young man who kept a wary eye on the group and made repeated and
increasingly frantic inquiries as to the nature of the publication,
was persuaded to take a shot for "Best Waiter."
The Nass is a weekly tabloid that its staffers deliver every Thursday,
free of charge, to the doorstep of every graduate student and undergraduate.
At one time the Nass paid people to deliver each issue, but was
forced to discontinue the practice when a former editor-in-chief
blew the publication's funds on a weekend of gambling and sex in
Las Vegas. Whether this story is true is debatable, but it fits
the general character of the publication and has since become part
of its mythology.
In my freshman year the Nass had its headquarters on the third
floor of Aaron Burr Hall, but due to problems with fire violations/drug
sales/the Department of Anthropology, the publication was exiled
to the Armory, where, in the words of one of the outgoing editors-in-chief,
"it joined its ideological brethren: ROTC and the Princeton
The Nass is the most widely read publication on the Princeton
campus, either because it is delivered to everyone, or because of
"Verbatim," a catalogue of raunchy quotes overheard from
students and professors.
David Remnick '81, who helped found the Nass in 1978, is its most
famous alum. Because Remnick has gone on to a thoroughly respectable
career as editor-in-chief of the New Yorker, his name is often invoked
when staffers are forced to defend why they are publishing articles
about handsex instead of dealing with more pressing issues facing
the Princeton campus.
In the spring of 2002, the Nass published a controversial and
highly Maxim-derivative "Top 10 Issue," in which women
at Princeton were ranked on the basis of "hotness." From
the beginning, the staff was divided about the issue, with some
editors criticizing the idea as misogynistic and puerile and others
saying that it should only be published if accompanied by a photo
montage of similarly matched males. On campus, the reaction to the
Top 10 Issue was mixed and expected: Women were angry, and men disagreed
with the choices. A lighthearted write-up of the incident appeared
in the "Talk of the Town" section of the New Yorker, where
writer Nick Paumgarten gave the tabloid a largely favorable assessment,
leading some to conclude that the Nass has possession of a vintage
and possibly naked photograph of Remnick.
You can reach Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org