drinking smoothies with norman finkelstein

by erinohsays

Yesterday the Graduate Students’ Union at University of Toronto hosted a keynote speech with Norman Finkelstein, NYC-based author, professor, and long-time scholar on the Israel-Palestine conflict. 


I drove to the airport with Kevin to pick Norman up at 4pm and although he wasn’t held up at customs as he had expected, he seemed a bit irritated. For most of the drive into the city from the airport, he complained that he was increasingly having difficulty reading because of “floaters” in his eyes. I told him that I too have floaters, though not as many as he, and that my dad also has many floaters in his vision.

“Is there a cure for it?” He asked me. 

“I don’t think so.” I said. “My dad has had them for most of his life and I’ve had mine for almost 10 years now.”

“What do your floaters look like?” He asked.

“Like fuzzy commas.”

Our conversation during our drive into the city focused mainly on our floaters, until I asked him if he was hungry or thirsty. 

“You know, I could really go for a smoothie.” He said, his demeanour lightening.

“I know the best smoothie place in Toronto.” I said. “And it’s just down the street from where you’re giving your talk.”

The three of us walked to the Annex neighbourhood and into Yo-Yo’s, one of the many trendy frozen yogurt places that’s recently popped up in Toronto. Yo-Yo’s is a self-serve fro-yo place and there are a lot of options for yogurt flavours and toppings. Norman seemed immediately overwhelmed.

“I’m incredibly indecisive.” He said to me. “Will you just make one for me?”

I laughed at the idea of Norman Finkelstein being too indecisive to make his own smoothie, but I agreed to help him out. I grabbed a cup and asked him if he liked chocolate yogurt. 

“No, vanilla.” 

I filled up the cup with vanilla yogurt and we moved to toppings, where we selected coconut, pineapple, and mango, all of which I advised him against because I only like chocolate.

On our way out of Yo-Yo’s, each of us with a cold smoothie in hand on a well-below freezing day, we laughed at the absurdity of walking around outside with our frozen desserts. 

“CBC breaking news!” Norman joked, “Three idiots have been spotted drinking smoothies outside in the freezing cold.”

Our smoothie-drinking outing proved to break the ice in more than one way. It temporarily allowed Norman to forget about his eye floaters, and it allowed Kevin and I to view one of the most controversial and well-known political scholars in an ridiculously endearing and vulnerable light.

The auditorium in which Norman spoke was packed, with nearly 300 people in attendance, and line-ups of people afterward waiting to get autographs on their copies of his books. Several video cameras captured the 3-hour event and over 20 people asked questions afterward. It was one of the most well-attended and engaging speeches I have ever been a part of and I’m seriously humbled that I got to drink smoothies with him beforehand. 

Today I received an email from Norman thanking us for having him in Toronto. He wrote:

Thanks for the hospitality.  I tried out some new material at UT, so the delivery wasn’t as smooth as…a smoothie.  Regards to everyone.