Web Exclusives: Raising Kate

a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)


January 28, 2004:

Old and new
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 as well.

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 Vivian.

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.

Nassau Weekly

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 floor.

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 Credit Union."

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 kswearen@princeton.edu