Monday, October 30, 2006

More Halloween News: Fidel Walks!

That's the bad news. The good news is: he looks TERRIBLE.
I was on the bike at the gym today when I saw the most recent footage of Fidel in his "recovery". Like we are supposed to believe he's doing great. Right. The guy seems to be on his way out, but we all know that this will never happen. He will live forever but, if the footage is any indication, in a much diminished capacity. The man looks like hell, and I bet he was under lots of makeup, if there wasn't anyone behind him actually holding him up with wires. He walks slower than a snail, and to raise his arm and push an elevator button took him almost as long as one of his speeches. But this cheesy symbolic gesture about his relentless macho papi stamina just shows the world that the guy is a pale shadow of what he used to be. Which is not to say he is leaving us any time soon, unfortunately.

Sunday, October 29, 2006


I used to hate Halloween until it became an adult thing to do.

You want scary? I'll give you scary...

Little murdered Amish girl.

Pensive Luchadora.

Nachas Libres.

Ebony and Ivory... together in perfect harmony.

The Evil One Himself.


This is the best news item I've run across the entire week. Some enterprising guy, a Latino to boot, has invented fried coke.
Not cocaine wrapped in tempura, which in itself is not a bad idea, but actually fried coca-cola.
You got to hand it to this country: no matter how much the Cassandras of obesity make themselves hoarse with dire pronouncements about the evils of fatness, we shall not cease from stuffing ourselves with the most noxious concoctions in the name of gorging ourselves silly. The recipe sounds like you could get an anaphylactic shock just from smelling it, but excess sugar has never stopped anyone in this country from pursuing this particular brand of happiness.

Abel Gonzales, 36, a computer analyst from Dallas, tried about 15 different varieties before coming up with his perfect recipe -- a batter mix made with Coca-Cola syrup, a drizzle of strawberry syrup, and some strawberries.

Balls of the batter are then deep-fried, ending up like ping-pong ball sized doughnuts which are then served in a cup, topped with Coca-Cola syrup, whipped cream, cinnamon sugar and a cherry on the top.

Hell, maybe since people in Texas and other Red states are not really allowed to have sex with whoever they really want, and they are all so burdened by the exacting toll of righteoussness, all they can do to sin (apart from keeping guns at home and voting Republican) is stuff themselves with sweets.
If you want to finish our enemies, ply 'em with fried coke; it will be at least a merciful death.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A no brainer

In an interview, Mr Cheney agreed that "a dunk in the water" for terrorism suspects during questioning in order to save American lives was a "no-brainer".

Dear Dick Cheney:

You know what is a no-brainer for me? A no-brainer for me is "a good, hard pull on your balls".
That may help save the lives of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians who may die in the name of Halliburton.


Still Waiting...

I know that Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is one of those plays that you all had to go and get the Cliff notes for. You may have feared and avoided it for years because you heard it was so ponderously important. You may have thought that it was one of those difficult works of art that nobody really understands but everybody has to swallow, like bitter medicine.
The current production by the Gate Theater of Dublin at the Skirball Center at NYU, simply shows that Godot is a beautiful play. A beautiful, beautiful play that also happens to be perhaps the single most influential work of drama of the 2oth century.
I think I had seen the play once, in an awful production at some black box theater, that took itself way too seriously and was forced and unfunny. I think I slept through most of it.
Like the greatest plays in the Western canon (Shakespeare, Chekhov), Godot is not easy to pull off. It's hard to find the right tone and balance for both the comedy and the despairing darkness, but luckily for us, the good people of the Gate Theater of Dublin know how to do it. I think it has to do with the fact that they are Irish and they bring a sweet musicality, a warm humor and a wistfulness to the language, that is very moving. My one beef, which I share with Charles Isherwood, in his dead-on review, is that the production needs more darkness.
Because of how lovely it is, this production feels almost quaint. One, because by now we are inured to the shock of the spare and to the wonderful, poetic, concise, magnificent use of language (thanks to Pinter and Mamet, so strongly influenced by Beckett). And two, because the surrounding darkness is not as vividly felt, it is not really threatening. I don't think Godot should ever become quaint, and I believe it is one of those plays that won't, as long as the right resonances are underscored. You can bring out the charm in Godot all you want but I don't think anybody is ever going to be inured to the power of Beckett's godless, futile view of life.
The whole of human life and its gaping absences are in this play. It reminded me not only of Hamlet, which it quotes, but more of that great nihilistic play, King Lear. It made me want to go out and buy the text, for its sheer magnificent poetry and its timeliness.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The man from UNCLE

Yesterday night, 6:45 pm. I'm walking down LaGuardia Place and I see two men, in their sixties I would say, coming toward me. They look like they could be anybody's uncle. Just two older guys talking maybe a little loud. Not shabbily dressed, not wearing track suits or looking drunk or signifiying anything threatening. But one of them, a short, round, bald, uncle-looking kind of guy, just starts throwing garbage on the street, littering to his heart's content as he walks along. Now, had he looked like he belonged to the Yakuza or the Russian Mafia or Tony Soprano's entourage, I'd kept my mouth shut. But he looked like an uncle and I was in no mood to see him blight my neighborhood. So I say to him: "hey, don't throw stuff on the floor" (my English fails me when I most need it). He says to me: "It's for you". So then I say, as I continue walking by: "I live in this neighborhood, you fucking pig". And then Uncle turns around menacingly towards me and screams at the top of his lungs something to the effect that he's going to fucking rip me apart if I don't like it. Luckily, my sense of self-preservation kicked in and I continued walking in the opposite direction, a tad more briskly, not waiting to find out if he meant to deliver on his promise.
As my blood boiled and my adrenaline rushed, something made me not turn around and taunt him further, and I guess it was the fleeting impression that he may just take out a gun and shoot me, or knife me or hit me. I thought of getting the license plates of the car they were getting into and file a complaint, but I didn't dare look back.
I find it shocking that, for Uncle, the fact that I was a woman made no difference to his boorishness. He seemed pretty sincere about fucking me up. Obviously, a guy who throws garbage on the street as if he was throwing himself a ticker tape parade has not been schooled on the finer points of civilized behavior. But still. What animals do we have in our midst.

Party Poopers

There are two things that can kill a party. A bad dj and bouncers from hell. Both were in supply yesterday at some of the Boards Summit parties.
Entry to the Summit Closing Party at the Knitting Factory was a breeze. No nazi bouncers there, at least as I went in, early. However, the dj singlehandedly managed to keep everybody away from the dance floor by choosing music that seemed designed to alienate the very thought of dancing. Let's face it, you may like techno and trance and house all you want, but there is nothing better to make a room boogie than tried and true funk, or soul, or something with some human dna in it.
The party at Sugar, which I snuck into after being stopped by the pair of rudest, most obnoxious, awful, powertrip asshole bouncers since the guy who killed Imette St Guillen, benefited from a great dj, who, perish the thought, was actually pleasing the audience with songs one can dance to. And that party was smoking. However, the bouncers outside, whose behavior was close to what one expects from maximum security convicts, would not have the few people who were not on the list from enjoying the music. This despite the fact that there was ample room for more people inside the place. They used profanity, they screamed, they were close to assault. I understand you may not want crashers, but I think it is possible to have civilized bouncers at the door. So bottom line is: the company that threw that party spent a lot of money to benefit from the pr and create good faith. However, if the bouncers you hire remind you of Idi Amin or particularly rabid pit bulls, this may strongly undermine your best efforts to be liked.

Don't Fence Me In

You can erect as many fences as you like, the Mexicans are not going to stop coming until their own country gives them a better break, or until there are no more opportunities for them here. That is, when the people that employ them here pay higher salaries to Americans to do the same jobs they won't do now for cheap. Or when somehow and at long last, the standard of living in Mexico rises for the poor.
In either case, please don't hold your breath. Until these very long term issues are dealt with in a less cosmetic, obnoxious, obviously vote-seeking manner than a wall, the Mexicans will continue sneaking in. You build a wall, they will find ways to get through it. They are nothing if not committed.
Now, the wall is not a bright idea but I do think that if people want immigrants to stop coming, the laws need to be enforced better. And enforcement needs to happen on both sides. On the Mexico side, nobody ever stops anyone from crossing; if anything they probably give them their box lunch and send them happily on their way. After all, they are the second source of national revenue after oil sales.
Instead of making broad and stupid gestures like a wall (but what do you expext from Bush), the US should be sitting very seriously at the table with the Mexican government and reading it the riot act. It takes two to tango, and so far it seems to me that the immigrants get penalized, while the fat cats on the other side of the border who allow this situation to thrive get away with it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Top Hat

I know I have been neglecting you my dears, but I really kind of blanked out on what to write about. I'm tired of the circus otherwise known as politics, tired of ranting about the general imbecility of daily life, I was just exhausted and demoralized. But lo and behold, today, JJ Hat Center came to the rescue. Please take a look at the link so you can see what a cool place this is.
JJ Hat Center is a fabulous, old fashioned hat store on 5th ave and 32 st. I was the only girl there, which was duly noticed upon my arrival. The many salesmen all wear different fabulous chapeaus on their heads, from checkered newsboy caps to fedoras, so it feels kind of funny when you walk in because you feel you just walked into a time warp, circa 1930. I came in looking for a Hoquy French beret that I bought like 15 years ago in a store on Delancey which has sadly disappeared. I loved my French beret, which I appear to have misplaced. I bet it will reappear now that I got me a new one.
The point is that today, as I walked among the Subway Sandwich stores, which are an urban blight, the Gaps and Duane Reades and the generic places without any kind of New York charm, I was elated to find a place that still has that old gruff, but warm and knowledgeable charm. I asked the old guy how to take care of the beret and he told me to stick some tape to it to peel the dust off. He then proceeded to steam my new cap with a very old contraption and he brushed it with a huge brush, telling me to let it cool off before I wore it.
He told me to come in to get the beret cleaned or fixed whenever I need. He told me not to buy the cheap all-purpose berets made in China (he said this as if he was saying "made in the ninth circle of hell"), but to find the ones from the Czech Republic, which are sturdier.
All in all, a miraculous shopping experience. You must all go to JJ and get a hat. If this place runs out of business, I will be very upset.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Beware the Bearded Eunuch

Where does the piss-ant, malevolent, thuggish and personal-grooming-challenged President of Iran get off threatening Europe like that?
Forget about his obsession with denying the Holocaust, which as I have explained before is not lunacy but serves him a sinister political purpose (to confirm that Israel has no right to exist). Forget about his insistence on the destruction of Israel. Just focus on the threats to Europe, (because America is too far away for him to mess with). It is inexcusable for the leader of a country to try to instill fear in an entire continent in such a way, even if it's an empty threat. I wonder if in olden times when people spoke like that about other countries the tendency was to bring out the catapults and the flaming arrows. How can the world deal with this bastard, I'm still trying to figure out. How can there be room for diplomacy with the use of such language? He is obviously aiming to provoke sanctions at the very least. Without resorting to violence, I think the rest of the world should squeeze his balls as hard as is humanly possible. That the innocent citizens of Iran are going to have to pay the price is horrible, but just when is enough enough?
I think I have written here before that in my lifetime I never felt fear for the destruction of Israel. Well, now I do. And it is a serious anxiety. I have no doubt that Israel can defend itself against Iran, but we don't want it to be put in that position to begin with.
A political long-term and best solution is for Israel, Europe, the US and the inexcusable Arab gazillionaire oil-dictatorships who are supposed to be friends with Bush to push for a Palestinian nation ASAP. It will not solve everything, but it will take away the one excuse everybody has for their ongoing hatred. As I can almost bet you, even if Israel were to show 100% political will and retire from the West Bank and make big concessions, still it is not in the interest of the Arab world to solve the Palestinian problem. The Palestinian issue is their escape valve, their scapegoat, their distraction against their own godawful failings to their own nations. But it is one of the only avenues that can be taken as soon as possible without resorting to violence. I'm not a naive peace loving hippie, but war and invasions should always be the last resort; although the first impulse is to hope someone takes out this bastard with a clean shot to the head.
Here, to make things slightly more complicated, an interesting article about the Jews of Iran.

Storm the barricades

I have been long shocked and appalled at the rising, ridiculous prices at New York restaurants. Things have been going out of hand for a while now. What used to be a $15 simple plate of pasta is now at least $22. And nothing animal is now less than $29.99, even if it's boiled chicken.
And I don't even go to the really fancy places. Now it seems, a $4o entree is going to become a fact of life. And I say, only if you let it happen. The consumers are being totally ripped off by restaurants, and like suckers, they go for it:

A new breed of menu “engineers” (puhleeze!) have proved that highly priced entrees increase revenue even if no one orders them. A $43 entree makes a $36 one look like a deal.

“Just putting one high price on the menu will take your average check up,” said Gregg Rapp, one such consultant. “My mom taught me to never order the most expensive thing on the menu, but you’ll order the second.”

I think this is appalling, but it's your own stupid fault if you fall for it.

Fortunately in New York we still have a lot of very decent eating choices that are not armed robbery, yet. The problem is that when you go to a middling restaurant which now has the audacity to charge you at least $25 for entrees, you most of the time get mediocre food, bad attitude and sloppy service. You are the paying customer, but even as you make a reservation, they treat you like an orphan friend of Oliver Twist: you get warned that you have to call and confirm you are coming or else your credit card will be charged, when you get there on time you still have to wait at the bar for your table, if your "party" is not all there, they won't sit you down, which makes me want to brandish a kalashnikov and rip the place apart right then and there; you get snooty, rude people at the door -- the list is endless. The customer is made to pay for the restaurateur's headaches. I am supposed to feel sorry because their rent is huge and their overage is high, and Miguel from Puebla called in sick. Is there any other business that behaves so spectacularly ungraciously in this city? I doubt it.
Forget about $40, even if I am to pay $25 for an entree, I expect the experience to be nothing short of magnificent. And I have terrible news for you: yesterday I went to Shanghai Joe's for soup dumplings (my very own hangover cure) to find the dumplings greatly diminished in size and plumpness and rather lacking in their special magic broth. I don't know if it was an off day for the kitchen, because the pea shoots were also dryish, and I hope it was, because if even this place is going to start skimping out on quality, I am going to tear my hair out. Well, not really, but it just can't be.

Restaurateurs say rising rents, ever more elaborate interior-decoration schemes and the increasing cost of premium ingredients — especially beef and fish — leave them little choice.

And I say BULL-SHIT. Everybody knows that the profit margins of food are quite healthy, let alone what they make up on what they charge you for drinks. So I don't want to hear their boo-hoo stories. I know there is a lot of overage in restaurants and it is not a cheap business, but I can tell a rip off when I see it.
This is one of the few cities in America where you can eat well, and I like to try out new places. But one needs to be extremely careful with the hype, because most of the times places that are hailed as the cat's pajamas, disappoint.
In the end, I am willing to pay extraordinary prices for an extraordinary meal. When you get fantastic food and service you don't feel cheated, no matter what you've paid. I go to Jewel Bako and I know I will spend a pretty penny on sushi, but the experience and the food at the sushi bar are worth it, and the attention is always gracious. In contrast, the other night I went to this place aoc bedford and it was horribly disappointing. The service was very charming but the food was just not good enough, and we paid over $65 a person for just one entree and a glass of wine. Outrageous.

So I think restaurant customers have to start demanding some respect.
Don't be an ass and pay $40 for a roast chicken or worse, dover freaking sole. You are making it tougher for the rest of us.


• Bellavitae: rude service and impossibly greasy pasta. A horrendous rip-off.
• Mercadito on 7th Ave: Outrageously expensive bad tacos and they don't even bring you a decent lime.
• Tia Pol: I have never been ignored more rudely at the door anywhere. I don't care if their tapas were made by El Greco himself. I will not take arrogance from restaurants.
• Corner Shop on Bleecker and Bway: The hostess is both evil and stupid, the waiters are the epitome of obnoxiousness and the food gives me the runs.
• Village, on 10th St. The food is not good enough. It is hard to fuck up a potato leek soup, but they were able to do it here.

Not terribly impressed:

• Dressler in Williamsburg: Not that great for the prices.
• aoc bedford: same, too expensive for mediocre food.
• The Modern: even at the bar, outrageously expensive and highly uneven quality.
• Barça. Big, obnoxious, noisy, mediocre, and expensive.


• Five Points. Consistently good, nice service.
• Bar Pitti. Service is eccentric, but the food is still great and affordable.
• Lupa. The best ricotta gnocchi ever.
• Blue Ribbon Bakery. Pricey but consistently good.
• Jewel Bako.
• Pho Pasteur vietnamese on Baxter St.
• Do Hwa korean. Great food, soso service.
• Virgil's BBQ. Whatever you think, this place is still excellent. Just try to steer clear from the Broadway throngs.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Horrid Entertainment News

Because it's Friday:
I don't know about you, but I sometimes amuse myself by reading WENN Celebrity news at imdb. Here's a digest of today's queasy making items:

1. Malawi Orphans are the new Black.

I think Madonna is full of shit. I don't care about her new Malawi Orphan, little David. I just wonder if his father is set for life, as I assume he is. I somehow don't think the father of little David will remain mired in poverty as his little child grows up bickering with Lourdes and Mini Guy Ritchie. And he certainly shouldn't. I'm not one of those who thinks, like some human rights organizations, that the kid should be sent back to the freaking orphanage. But I do wonder why she couldn't have picked a totally parentless kid. Little David sure is cute. I wish him and both his old and new family the best.
Now I think Madge is full of shit for allowing NBC to air her stupid show without the stupid crucifixion scene. I don't particularly care for her stupid p.r. antics, or for her stale need to shock with easy targets, but she should show some spine and not censor herself for primetime.
As soon as plans to broadcast the concert were made public, the network began receiving criticism from several family and religious groups. The American Family Association has been one of the most vocal groups against airing the special and even threatened to have its members boycott companies that ran commercials during the show.
Just the perfect reason for including the scene, with a cherry on top. If Madonna starts giving in to these bastards, then truly really, nothing is sacred any more. So let the four members of the AFA who live in Kansas boycott Velveeta. Like we give a fuck.

2. Department of the Grotesque
Anna Nicole Smith paid her last respects to her son Daniel Smith in the Bahamas yesterday, a month after the 20-year-old died in his mother's hospital room.

But first, the wedding! This I don't understand. Is it legal to keep someone unburied for a month? Everything about this woman is really in the worst possible taste.

A private memorial service was held at Lakeview Memorial Gardens and Mausoleums cemetery on Nassau with 25 mourners in attendance. Insiders claim Daniel, who died of a lethal combination of drugs on 10 September, was buried in an open casket, wearing his favorite clothing - jeans, a T-shirt and a trucker cap.

What do you mean buried in an open casket? Eeeewwww!!!!! That is so goyish, to say the least. Never mind the unfortunate sartorial choices of the deceased.

According to sources, Smith was escorted from her home in the Bahamas to Butler's Funeral Home, where her son's body has been lying since his autopsy.

While she's busy having a wedding and no doubt breastfeeding around the clock (silicone milk, yum).

Island police were assigned to escort the grieving mother, partner Howard K. Stern and local dignitaries (I shudder to think) to the gravesite nearby. Daniel's body was transported to his final resting place in a gold hearse. Island Baptist Bishop Neil Ellis conducted the service. In a eulogy delivered by Stern, the attorney who was set to become the dead boy's stepfather, said, "Anna Nicole Smith laid her son to rest today. It was the most difficult day of her entire life."
3. Magical Mystery Tour. NOT!

I never really liked Paul McCartney. Of the Beatles, he was not my favorite. That special place was reserved for George, pre-Swami vegetarian yogic mishegoss. Paul seemed a little sappy for my taste. But.
Do we really believe he hit and abused that terrible young shrew he married WITHOUT A PRENUP, because it was UNROMANTIC? I do believe he may have consumed drugs, and I would almost be offended if he didn't, what with the Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper and such, but that he hit her?
The accusations include allegations that McCartney shoved Mills over a coffee table, stabbed her with a broken wine glass stem and verbally humiliated her in front of business associates, family and staff.

The documents also alleged that the musician used illegal drugs and consumed "alcohol to excess."

If I, who don't even like him, have trouble believing these claims, I bet she's going to have a very tough time trying to convince public opinion in England and the rest of the world that all of a sudden, a man who was happily married and had what seems a happy and healthy family for many years, suddenly became a completely different type of person. I know feminists are going to put a bounty on my head, but if he did indeed hit her, perhaps she was asking for it. She seems like a total opportunistic bitch, missing leg notwithstanding.

People Magazine has estimated McCartney's worth at more than $1.6 billion. There are reports that he offered Mills a quick divorce settlement of $60 million in September, but that she rejected it.
Maybe 60 mil is chump change and a tad tightfisted for someone with a 1.6 billion fortune. But for four measly years of marriage, I would not say no to 60 million. Bitch.

4. It Could Happen to You.

Here's an item that will cheer up all my single girlfriends in NY: You can still get married at the age of 79! Having dated a guy 34 years your junior for 22 years of dating bliss:
Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida is set to marry a man who is 34 years her junior. The 79-year-old star, referred to as the most beautiful woman in the world in her youth, met Spanish husband-to-be Javier Rigau y Rafols at a party in Monte Carlo and the two have been dating for 22 years. The star, who is affectionately known as "La Lollo" in Italy, says, "We wanted for this to happen sooner, but it just wasn't possible." The couple will tie the knot in New York City before the end of the year.
What could have possibly prevented them from getting married over 22 years, only they know.
But the wedding is here in our very own NYC, and I think we should all crash it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dance of the Seven Veils

I was walking down Bleecker St around Christopher a couple of weeks ago and I saw a Muslim woman wearing one of those black things that cover them altoghether, leaving only a slit of mesh for the eyes. So not only does she have to hide under a black tent in public, she has to look at the world through mesh. She was with a man, perhaps her husband, who was dressed in jeans and a shirt, as normal as any other human being. The sight of her shocked me, one, because it was quite unexpected, and two, because it looks really creepy. The first time I saw someone dressed like that, I was in a restaurant in Istanbul and even there, it was shocking. It's as if there is a mound of negative space, a black hole, where a human form should be. I think that to force women to do that to themselves is brutal and evil, but if that's what they believe in, do we have a right to stop them?
As long as they don't expect us to follow suit...
In Europe, some important leaders like Tony Blair are saying that the veil has to go. You know, I have tons of objections about the way Islam treats women, but somehow it seems to me that if they want to wear a black silo over their bodies, that's their problem. Nobody would tell a person full of piercings and tatoos, or the people who insist on wearing Ugg boots not to do that to themselves, so why the furor? Here, the ultraorthodox Jews wear whatever they want, the Muslims wear whatever they want and the punks in the East Village wear whatever they want. I think this is the way it should be. And as much as I admire the French obsession with secularism, I'm not sure if I agree with the fact that students cannot wear a kippah or a cross or a burka to public school.
The question is not whether Muslims should not wear the veil but whether their religious obligations are compatible with Western society. As long as they abide by the rules of the land, let them wear whatever they want.
So if their rule is to kill the woman who is suspected of dishonoring the family, no they can't do that here. They can do that in countries where there are Muslim laws.
And if phys ed at school requires girls to swim, they should swim or not go to public school, but to a religious school, where they don't have to.
Am I being overly simplistic?

Meanwhile, in Israel...

Funny how what something is considered par for the course in France, (big machers displaying their amatory prowess), in Israel it's manifested as sexual harassment. Right now, people are calling for the resignation of the Israeli President, who has been accused of raping two women.
The difference between the French politicos and the Israeli ones is simple and extremely meaningful: the French seduce and don't coerce. They do not intimidate anybody into having sex. As far as anyone can tell, their affairs are between two consenting adults. The Israelis, on the other hand, expect sex from women as a God-given right and they harass them. Two very different attitudes with two very different end results. Also, I think there is a big difference between being a Don Juan, and being a sexual bully.
While the mildly interesting article in the New York Times reports on the changing of societal attitudes about women and sex, it bases its entire explanation on the fact that Israel was conceived as a macho society to show the world that Jews are not weak. I think there are deeper reasons within the culture. Judaism has always been patriarchal and its attitudes towards women leave a lot to be desired. In traditional Judaism women are not allowed to study the Torah, to become rabbis, etc. They are basically supposed to have as many children as they can and stay home and take care of them. Of course, Israel is a modern democracy with Western attitudes. But when I lived there (1983-1986 a.c), there was no civil divorce in Israel. Jewish divorce is basically the woman asking the man for a divorce. He has to grant it, and if he doesn't then it's not easy for the woman to get it.
Coming from as macho a country as Mexico, I was appalled at the aggressiveness against women.
It was not generalized, but you could feel it on the street. In Mexico there is a lot of ogling and whispering dirty things and looking at female legs as if they had just arrived from outer space and nobody has seen them ever before, but it is usually kind of cowardly-shy, muttered under the breath. In Israel it is in your face and extremely aggressive.
One day we went to the beach in Tel Aviv. We were two women and my then boyfriend. Next to us were two women by themselves. They were Scandinavian, but they were not topless. They were sunbathing, minding their own business. These two guys appeared out of the blue and started harrassing them. They tried to make conversation without the slightest charm or respect. The women spoke to them but it was obvious they wanted to be left alone. These guys just sat down and pestered them, their bullying increasing by the minute. Not being Israelis, the girls did not know how to assert themselves and tell them to fuck off. I think at one point we told them to leave them alone. Since we were with a guy, they cursed us and screamed at us, but they didn't bother us further. Finally, the guys left, after throwing sand on the girls, I kid you not. The girls were on the verge of tears. We told them to come over and sit next to us. It seemed the difference between being able to have a nice day at the beach and a nightmare, was that you had to bring a man with you.
In the Middle East nobody is known for their progressive stance about women, not the Jews and not the Arabs, and that seeps into the culture. You can expect attitudes towards women to be quite horrible, and so, in my view, this is a big part of the picture, not just the fact that Jews are supposed to be tough.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Just so I don't forget

And as a free service to my three New York readers, here is a list of places that are open late for dinner. I'm sure it has happened to you that you come out of somewhere after midnight and you are starving but when it's time to think of options, your mind draws a complete blank, no doubt fueled by your reckless consumption of alcohol, etc. So I think this list will come in handy. If I was smart, I'd print it out and keep it in my bag at all times. Or I'd memorize it.

This here list is courtesy of the New York Times:


DITCH PLAINS 29 Bedford Street (Downing Street); (212) 633-0202. Try the lobster roll.

LA ESQUINA 106 Kenmare Street (Cleveland Place); (646) 613-7100. The taqueria is open until 5 a.m. daily; the restaurant is open until 2 a.m., but the last reservation for the restaurant is at 11:30 p.m.

The sopa de tortilla at La Esquina is surprisingly good. So are the Quesadillas de Huitlacoche. Have a Jarrito de mandarina with it and you will feel blessed.

LANDMARC 179 West Broadway (Worth Street); (212) 343-3883. Try the hanger steak, bloody.

MARU 11 West 32nd Street; (212) 273-3413; open until 2 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 3 a.m. Thursday and 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

MOMOFUKU SSAM BAR 207 Second Avenue (13th Street); (212) 254-3500. Late-night menu from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Try rice cakes with pork sauce, an Asian answer to pasta bolognese.

PASTIS 9 Ninth Avenue (Little West 12th Street); (212) 929-4844; Friday and Saturday until 2:45 a.m.

If I am not mistaken, the always reliable Odeon in Tribeca is also open late. We once were the last table and the Mexican staff brought out the boombox and asked us to dance.

SPOTTED PIG 314 West 11th Street (Greenwich Street); (212) 620-0393. Try the pickle plate if you’re nibbling, the burger for a bit more.


’INOTECA 98 Rivington Street (Ludlow Street); (212) 614-0473. Try the Italian tea sandwiches called tramezzini.

And at that hour you will finally be able to get a table! I had a very good potato leek soup in that place.

SAKE BAR HAGI 152 West 49th Street, lower level; (212) 764-8549.

SUSHI SEKI 1143 First Avenue (62nd Street); (212) 371-0238. Closed Saturdays and Sundays. Try the omakase, and eat whatever you’re served.

THOR 107 Rivington Street (Essex Street); (212) 796-8040. Open until 3 Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Try crispy cod sticks with malt vinegar foam.


BLUE RIBBON 97 Sullivan Street (Spring Street); (212) 274-0404. Try beef marrow and oxtail marmalade.

They also have Matzoh Ball soup, which may come in handy at 3 am. Blue Ribbon Bakery on Bedford St is also open late. They have the best French onion soup and a very good ceasar salad and excellent steak tartare.

EMPLOYEES ONLY 510 Hudson Street (Christopher Street); (212) 242-3021. Try the “Staff Meal,” a special that may be goulash one night and a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup the next.

FATTY CRAB 643 Hudson Street (Gansevoort Street); (212) 352-3590. Open until 4 Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Try watermelon pickle and crispy pork salad.

MAS (FARMHOUSE) 39 Downing Street (Bedford Street); (212) 255-1790. Try as much American hackleback caviar as you can afford.

NEW YORK NOODLETOWN 28½ Bowery (Bayard Street), (212) 349-0923. Open until 4 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

This is the best place ever. Have the half roast duck. Have the fried soft shell crabs in season. Have any of their soups. Have their Singapore style noodles. It's a bit of a schlep to be in rat infested Chinatown so late but it's the best food you are going to have at that hour, and it's cheaper than the fancy schmancy places above.

RESTAURANT FORTE BADEN BADEN 28 West 32nd Street, second floor; (212) 714-2266. Open until 3 Monday through Thursday nights; to 4 Friday and Saturday nights; to 1 Sunday night. Try sautéed pig’s feet with vegetables.

FYI: I once had a whole bottle of soju somewhere in Koreatown.


SAM TALBOT’S PUSHCART Southeast corner of Stanton and Ludlow Streets, Lower East Side, 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Try the kalbi burger with kimchi.


I really don't think it is the State's business who you want to leave your pension money to. If you want to leave it to your cats, or your wife or your best friend or your gay partner, you should be able to do so. But apparently, you can leave it to the cats more easily than you can leave it to your gay spouse and that is very wrong. The laws need to change in this country so same sex couples are not discriminated against. This kind of thing would be intolerable if it was done against any other kind of people. Just fill in the blank: Blacks, Jews, women, Muslims, Japanese, whatever. Society would not stand for it. But when it comes to gays, people think it is okay to discriminate and ostracize. I don't know how the US can call itself a democracy and a free society when an entire group of people is discriminated against by its own laws simply because of their sexual orientation. It is barbaric.

BOSTON - Former Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, was married to another man in Massachusetts at the time of his death, but the federal government will not pay death benefits to his spouse.

Studds married Dean Hara in 2004 after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. But Hara will not be eligible to receive any portion of Studds' estimated $114,337 annual pension because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act bars the federal government from recognizing Studds' marriage.

Under federal law, pensions can be denied only to lawmakers' same-sex partners and people convicted of espionage or treason.

This is despicable.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Department of Paranoia

The NYT reports there are clusters of premature puberty in preschool children. Now, that is a scary prospect. As scientists investigate the reasons why, they come up with environmental and cosmetic factors. Nowadays many creams and shampoos contain hormones like testosterone and estrogen that are easily absorbed by the skin. So if a father uses a topical cream to enhance his masculinity, this can seep through the skin to his children, who then start sprouting pubic hair and, in the case of testosterone, exhibiting aggressive behavior. There are also other environmental pollutants, like certain plastifiers, that have created a high incidence of early puberty in places like Puerto Rico. And we all thought it was the balmy weather and the sultry rhythms that made girls develop faster in the Caribbean...
I can't think of anything more nightmarish for a child than to go into very early puberty. If it's a nightmare for teens, just imagine the fear and the chaos. I started imagining legions of five year olds with pubic hair. Horrific.
But as I read this fascinating article, it turns out that human sexual hormones are created by cholesterol:

Sex hormones are potent because they are easily absorbed through the skin and resist degradation better than many other hormones. Unlike protein-based hormones like insulin, sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen are technically steroids, meaning they are derived from cholesterol.

Through further processing, primarily in the gonads and adrenal glands, cholesterol is converted into sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone.
This simple fact sent my mind reeling in all kind of conspiracy theories and questions. For instance:

• If human sexual hormones come from cholesterol, does that mean that the generalized persecution of cholesterol has the hidden agenda of diminishing our sexuality?
• Is someone diagnosed with high cholesterol by corollary more sexualized?
• Or more to the point: I have borderline high cholesterol, is that why I'm that horny?
How about my aunt Clara, she had high cholesterol too? So did my grandfather. Are they trying to desexualize the Jews?
• Are you thinking right now that I have way too much time in my hands?
• Are you?
• Can the fact that my boobs seem slightly fuller today be attributed to the shampoo I use? (if so, bring it on!)

For many years I was convinced that high cholesterol was an invented disease, created by American puritans to stop other people who know better from enjoying their delicious food. But this scenario is even creepier... what if by reducing cholesterol so much we also reduce our sexual hormones?
Are they trying to make us all into Stepfordian sexless bots?

Vive la France!

Sacre Bleu! The French really know their priorities. According to the NYT, Sexus Politicus, a bestseller in France about the very busy sex lives of French politicos reveals that the more seductive the candidate, the more beloved and more voted for. In France, instead of launching hysterical inquisitions and burnings at the stake as we do here, they actually like their politicos feisty and sexually sated. Ah, c'est la joie de vivre!

The book’s central premise is that in France, a successful politician is also a seductive politician. Sex, the authors say, is a civic imperative. “Far from being a flaw, to cast yourself in the role of seducer is without doubt an important quality in our political life,” the book claims.

The authors claim that only De Gaulle either did not commit any peccadilloes or he was extremely tightlipped about them. They neglect to mention he was so ugly, only his maman could love him.

“When I was president of the republic, I was in love with 17 million French women,” Mr. Giscard d’Estaing said in an interview taped for the television show “Private Life, Public Life” to be broadcast Wednesday. He added, “When I saw them in the crowd, they felt it and then they voted for me.”

Tres charmant! Now, what French women consider a smoldering Pepe le Pew is another story.
If I had to choose between Chirac, who despite the helmet of gel in his head and his general pomposity, is considered a stud, Mitterand or Giscard, I'd move to another country altogether, but power must indeed be an afrodisiac.

The authors speculate that one reason the Socialist former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin was not a more attractive presidential candidate was that he “was too lacking” in seduction.

Mr. Chirac, by contrast, apparently had such power over women that his wife, Bernadette, confessed in a book in 2001 that she suffered from terrible jealousy. “The day Napoleon abandoned Josephine, he lost everything,” she warned him several times.

If only our leaders here had the same healthy approach... We had one, William Jefferson Clinton, and see what happened to him.

And apparently it's not only the men who do all the cheating. Nicolas Sarkozy's wife also had a paramour.

The book speculates that at first Mr. Sarkozy presented himself as lonely and long-suffering, but then thought better of it, letting it be known through supporters that he was happy.

“If I have a free evening, I know with whom I want to spend it,” the weekly magazine Le Point quoted Mr. Sarkozy as saying last fall. (He was reported to have been involved for several months with a prominent newspaper reporter.) He and his wife have since reconciled.

Voila! Way to go, mon French amis. And bravo to the people of France, who know the real issues when they see them:

Indeed, the reaction of the French people is starkly different from that in the United States, where a sex scandal can threaten to bring down a government.

A January poll by TNS Sofres for the newspaper Le Figaro found that most French voters wanted their next president to be around 50, multilingual*, honest and willing to listen. Only 17 percent said they would not vote for those who had extramarital affairs.

Not the endless spilling of blood, not a war conducted under falsehood, not the worst intervention by the government in response to a murderous natural disaster, not the erosion of the moral and political standing of a country in the world, not the destruction of the environment, the trampling all over the constitution and international law. Mais non, these crimes will keep our government firmly in place. But if only that God-fearing moron had an affair... oh wouldn't that be grand...

*Multilingual???? Quelle scandale! I find that shocking coming from the French. The rest seems to me plain common sense.
The only question I have is, would that be true if we were talking about a woman.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Little Children

A very smart, literary movie based on the novel by Tom Perotta, Little Children surprised me by how dark and disturbing it is, how eager to make the audience feel uncomfortable; a welcome change from the usual lightheaded American fare. Its almost sadistic dissection of suburban hypocrisy seems to me a parable of a current greater national malaise, of the state of things under Bush. From the very beginning, the film sets up a toxic environment of frustrated housewives with fascistic inclinations, a wealthy suburban milieu rife with prejudice and barely repressed discontent. Nobody is capable of intimacy or connection, families are all surface, a sham. Gone are the days of decent neighbors and wholesome apple pies a la Lassie or My Three Sons. Now, the movie seems to say, America is a place of unfettered nastiness and sexual hysteria, and a place where people hide behind holier-than-thou attitudes that have nothing to do with being actually moral or humane. I was delighted to see such a savage skewering of closemindedness and hypocrisy. There are many uncanny parallels between the behaviors of some of the characters and the unholy mess of the Bush Administration.
A former disgraced cop, excellently portrayed by Noah Emmerich, is the town bully, going beyond the call of duty and common sense, to harass and persecute a pedophile freshly released from jail. His over the top zeal is immediately suspect, an outlet for almost criminal behavior and misdirected wrath (ring any bells yet?) Of course one should loathe a pedophile, but it is so convenient to find a bogeyman, isn't it, and use him (Saddam Hussein, the War on Terror) to excuse all kinds of crap.
The pedophile, creepily and wonderfully portrayed by Jackie Earle Haley (blast form the past: Moocher from Breaking Away -- I kept trying to place his very intense strangeness), is truly sick in the head and his behavior is disgusting and pathetic at the same time. You have to give credit to a movie that showers its greatest reserves of sympathy on such a terrible character. He seems (at times) more vulnerable and human than the monsters of self-involvement that people this community. The plot centers on the love affair between two frustrated married people, Kate Winslet, tightly wound up, and the very solid and very handsome Patrick Wilson. Although one can understand and even cheer on the reasons for their romance (she has a dull husband who prowls for internet porn, his wife coldly brings home the bacon and makes him feel like a failure), they are people with some unseemly traits. Again, this is evidence of a refreshing complexity and good writing rarely seen in American movies today. So all is coming up roses as I follow this movie's seemingly inexorable collision course with the destruction of lives. At last, I think, somebody is calling it like it is: America has become a monster. A bully. A liar. A place of deception and hypocrisy (not for the first time, but now it's worse than ever), where the most salient trait is hysterical smugness. So it came as an utter shock to me, almost as bitter as betrayal, that the writers, Perrotta adapting his own novel (which I haven't read) and the director Todd Field, decide to regale this tale with a huge dose of redemption at the end. Yes, hope is supposed to be a wonderful thing, yadda yadda, but I think it lets the audience and America off way easy.
The ending killed me; one, because all the loose ends are tied way too neatly, thereby dispensing with the illusion that for once we are witnessing something that does not smell of movie cliches; and two, because this redemption strikes me as a false note. How can we believe in redemption when given the overwhelming evidence of malfeasance against them our leaders are not only unrepentant but doggedly staying the wrong course? Yet life goes on, the stock market soars, blood is spilled in Iraq every day and nobody seems to care enough. In reality, right now there is no redemption in America, no enlightenment, so why should there be easy absolution? While the movie nails the tone of the society in which we live today, the speedy turnaround of the characters and their unearned redemption are a copout.


I never set foot in the place, even though I live three blocks away. Still, I think it's very sad it's gone and I think it's even sadder that there are plans to open one in Vegas.

Visas: They're Nowhere Where They Need to Be

In last week's New Yorker, the estimable George Packer laments the fact that some Islamist was denied a visa by the US government, even though he'd been invited to teach at Notre Dame.
Since 9/11, both regular citizens from other countries and more importantly, singularly talented individuals in every field of the arts and sciences have routinely been denied visas to come here.
I'm not the first one to complain about this, but it is outrageous. In order for someone to get a visa they must jump through hoops of fire. I have friends who want to bring their mom for a visit and it's as if they were trying to bring in enriched Uranium. The attitude at the American Embassies everywhere is one of abuse of power and the routine exasperation, bordering in the humiliation, of regular, law abiding people.
Just yesterday, as we came back from Berlin, my friend who is not a US national and holds a special visa, and who has been living here, spending money, paying taxes and giving people work for 10 years, was told by the "Homeland Security" agent that processed her that she is actually not living in this country, and that she should never say she is living in this country because for all bureaucratic intents it is not so. I think this is horribly insulting, but that's the way the cookie is crumbling nowadays. This has ceased to be a haven for people who look for freedom and opportunity. In essence, everything great this country has ever stood for is disappearing, if it's not already half dead. You should be scared shitless, my friends.
It is well known that many gifted artists and scientists have been denied entry even though they are invited by reputable institutions. This is a disgrace and a terrible danger, because the isolation which the Bush Administration is fostering and imposing on this country will have dire consequences for progress in every realm. We are already lagging behind in science and this country is no longer the first in everything. Used to be, people all over the world looked to whatever happened here because it was at the forefront of progress, creative expression and experimentation. Not anymore.
We are slowly becoming a one horse nation, with an ignorant cowboy at the helm.
However, it is not a bad thing that the US has lost its perceived cultural supremacy. Just now, at Pictoplasma in Berlin, I realized that the US no longer holds the prime spot on what is the newest and the hippest. People from unlikely places like Argentina, South Africa, Israel, and many other countries are doing amazing, original things that seem fresher and more genuine than anything we see in our shores.
The same has happened in advertising for years. Most anything coming from other parts of the world is smarter and edgier than the lame stuff we see here. It is a shame, because we are undergoing a massive, rapidly expanding process of moronization. Just don't start moaning when you realize that we've become a land of retards.


Pictoplasma is a conference on "Contemporary Character Design and Street Art", which was held in Berlin. You figure it out:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Some generalizations

Now that I'm back, I can freely generalize about my experience in Berlin:

1. German men are very gruff with women, for the most part. They refuse to be charmed and they steadfastly refuse to be charming. They are mostly unpolite, although I came across some shining exceptions (the guy at the Film museum and the guy who sold me the Orangina at the Philharmonic). However, German women tend to be nicer. Also, exceptions apply. For instance, the personnel at our extremely homely hotel could not be bothered to be nice, regardless of gender. Efficient yes, nice no. So I ask one of the receptionists in my best German accent about a theater that is supposed to be nearby: the Haus of the Berliner Festspiele, but you know how it is, if you don't enunciate like Goethe, you might as well be speaking Mandarin. In any case, she sends us to the Berlin Philharmonic, which is not where we need to go, is nowhere near the hotel and is ridiculous.

The yellow building is the Philarmonie concert hall near Postdamer Platz.

I explain that we were told the theater in question was a couple of blocks from the hotel and she basically tells us that this is the answer and there is no other. How dare we contradict her? (she was in her thirties, so there is no excuse). Nazi. Sure enough, the place was a block and a half away from us and I really felt like coming back and setting her straight, but somehow I was afraid she would send me into a holding cell if I did.

The theater that's a block and a half from the hotel. See?

2. Many Germans speak perfect English but they pretend they don't, sort of like the French in France. I find that appalling in its stupid loser pride. You lost the war, get over it.
Others though, like the woman who sold pretzels on the street, was happy to oblige me with her meticulously correct English. A most gemutlich street vendor.
3. The bread in Germany rocks. They have every shade of dark, and rye and with grains and it's incredible. So are the sausages and the beer, but it is not that easy to eat well. We ate a fantastic Turkish meal with beer for 5 euros at a Turkish joint in Prenzlauer Berg, which is like the Williamsburg of Berlin, with hipsters and bad restaurants, but way more interesting.

"Street Art" in Prenslauer Berg.

4. At the Film Museum they had a room about film in the Nazi era, and it of course included Leni Riefenstahl, who directed movies for Hitler, but they didn't show any footage of her films, as if they were afraid that they glamorize Nazism too much. They had no compunction showing footage of other horrors of the Goebbels machinery of propaganda, films rife with antisemitism and obviously terrible films, but not hers. Things that make you go... hmmmm.
I learned that Emil Jannings, the greatest actor of his time, and the first actor ever to win an Oscar, left Hollywood when the talkies arrived for he feared his heavy accent would destroy his career in America. He then made many films for the Nazis, the bastard.
5. I said in one of my posts that no one in Germany dies of passionate enthusiasm. Except for one thing: soccer. They are obsessed.
6. I saw some school kids on an outing. There were some who were black, or Latino or from other non-white exotic descent. Running the risk of being maudlin, I can say I felt something akin to what hope must feel, thinking that perhaps by the time they grow up, they will be more used to different people and they will make a more heterogeneous society.
7. I went to a concert on Saturday at 4 pm at the Philharmonie. It was a concert for families and the place was full of very young children. They were all dying of boredom, even though the program included the fun Lone Ranger theme by Rossini, a Mozart violin concerto, and (yikes!) Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15, which is hard for adults, let alone children. I was amazed by the tenacity of the parents trying to instill the love of music at such an early age and extremely amused by the faces, grimaces and squirming of the poor kids in the concert hall. Culture is far more affordable in Berlin than here. And you can hear the Berlin Philharmonic for almost half the price of any classical music concert here.
8. Travelling to Berlin on a plane is a singularly quiet experience. The passengers are super quiet and well behaved. I like that.


The neon sign reads something like: All art has been contemporary. Which is true.


The Brandenburg Gate.

Postdamer Platz.

Ach... always in good taste.
This was a huge billboard plastered on the side of a 19th Century building undergoing renovation.

I went to check out Checkpoint Charlie and was disappointed to find out that the famous checkpoint is a replica of the original, which the Germans must have torn to shreds once the wall came down. As is customary, there was a prodigious, lengthy explanation about the history of the division of Germany, the horrors of the Communist state, the people who died or were apprehended trying to escape to the West. It dawned on me that for those Germans who had to live under communism right after living under war and Nazism, it could be fitting punishment for their misdeeds, but maybe not enough. Today, Checkpoint Charlie is also a tacky tourist attraction where enterprising buxom blondes dressed in Soviet uniforms get their pictures taken with clueless tourists. Still, the place is super interesting, the flimsy-looking border between freedom and repression, in the middle of a busy street in downtown Berlin.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Travel Hazards

My dear readers, I hope you have not decamped for greener pastures while I am too busy having a ball in Berlin and trying to find the letters and apostrophes in the German keyboard.
Lots of adventures to tell you about. I've been walking like there is no tomorrow, and today I rode a bike pretty much over half of East Berlin for about five hours, which for those of you who know me, may come as a shock.

But I have to say, renting a bike is a great way to see this city, because you cover so much more ground in this bigass town. So we went first to Karl Marx Allee which was the monumental main avenue of the communist era. A sight to behold: it is lined up with the requisite Soviet-style humongous monstrosities; imposing edifices with greek columns and reliefs of the workers working, buildings that make the human being feel extremely small.

I was thrilled to see this part of Berlin, that still feels a bit ghastly, because on foot it would be too much of a schlep. Then we went down towards what remains of the wall, near the river, which is covered with stupid graffitti asking for world peace and such and then down to Kreutzberg which is a funky neighborhood with a big Turkish and foreign community and where you can actually see how people live. Berlin seems extremely livable, and word is that the rents are very cheap, which is why it attracts many artists and bohemians. There is so much space here! The transportation system is a miracle, there are bike paths everywhere and it is clean and quiet. BUT. It is Germany. Some people are nice, in a discreet kind of way, and some are very gruff. Nobody here dies of passionate enthusiasm. To wit, today, after my heroic biking adventure, I was so tired coming back to the hotel in the train, that as the train stopped ever so gently at the station, I thought I would lean on one of the support posts and I guess the post must have moved (Nazi!) because I fell down quite dramatically. Yet I didnt hear a peep, not a hum, not a breath, from any of the passengers in the car. I asked my friend if people laughed, or smiled or grimaced or something but she reports they were dead serious. People here are quiet. Restaurants and bars for the most part are so quiet that you can have a conversation without screaming your head off, a reason compelling enough to consider moving here. I assume the quality of life is fantastic, the public services amazing. Just the pristine state of any public bathroom and the fact that there are so many is another reason to think about it. However, they should revise their penchant for sandpaper grade toilet paper, also available everywhere, (maybe they havent noticed, but the war is over).
Mayor Bloomberg seriously needs to come to Berlin and check it out. Clean public restrooms everywhere, bike lanes, public internet spaces, clean trains that run on a schedule like clockwork, etc. Note to Americans: Whatever the Germans are paying in taxes seems to be working for them, ok? Amazing that a place where such barbarism happened is so damn civilized now. And in fact, Europe nowadays seems more civilized than the US. When that happens, it is really time for us to worry. It is not only that the standard of living is better and every service is better. Its that it doesnt seem to be overrun by stupidity.

For instance, yesterday I went to the Film Museum. It is about the history of German film and it is fantastic fun (with lengthy, methodical overexplanations). There is a whole area dedicated to Marlene Dietrich, who is like the German Elvis, except less stupid. The point is that they talk about her work and her personal life and never do they shy away of explaining to the public that she basically fucked everything that moved, be it male or female. They dont say it in these exact words, but they say it, admiringly even. This, of course, would never happen in the States. Because people there prefer to see someones head blown away by a Howitzer, than a female nipple in a football stadium.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ich bin in Berlin!

For the second time around... First thing in the morning, at 8 am Berlin time, as I'm walking towards my hotel, utterly jetlagged and schlepping my luggage, a burly German man starts talking to me in German, oodles of talk. I don't even know that he is actually talking to me, since I don't know him from Adam and he is standing on the street seemingly yapping at the street in general. When I finally ascertain he is indeed addressing me, I say simply " I don't speak German." And he says, in perfect English and really pissed off: "the arrogance of the English speaking people". To which I respond, "I'm sorry, I don't speak German, but you are very kind, thank you" and then I add under my breath, and just for my own benefit, "fuck you, motherfucker".
1. What kind of reception is that?
2. My friend and I were walking down the street minding our own business, not looking distressed or lost or unable to take two steps without the aid of a male at all, so I don't know what this guy wants from me.
3. One would think that at this historical juncture in time, some Germans would stop having perceived notions about other people's arrogance. Yikes!
But I'm happy to be here, in beautiful fall weather, taking in the sights. I'm really looking forward to visit the Topography of Terrors, a really creepy exhibit about the Gestapo, and also the museum of the Stasi, the notorious East German Secret Police.

The Topography of Terrors. An outdoor exhibit in the wasteland that used to be the Nazi Headquarters in Berlin. Behind it, a part of the wall that separated the city.

Nazi hatred. Meticulously codified.

To be fair, there are also many fantastic and more benign museums I didn't have a chance to see the last time around, like the Neue Gallerie, in a stunning building by Mies Van der Rohe, and the Egyptian Museum, and the Film Museum. This is a city with too many things to see and do, which is fine by me.
The Neue National Gallerie, unfortunately closed for renovations...

The last time I was here, the Memorial to the Jewish Holocaust had recently opened. It is a sobering open air monument, with granite slabs forming a kind of labrynth. Below the monument is an excellent and harrowing exhibit detailing with great precision the Nazi program and implementation of the plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. I defy people to go in there, even the most callous, even Ahmadinejad, and not copiously use the kleenex.

Well, this time around, and I'm guessing because of the recent World Cup and the influx of hordes of tourists, now there are a bunch of little tacky souvenir shops and refreshment stands with small open air seating right across from the monument, in what seems to me a monumental display of bad taste.

So you can look at the slabs while you gulp your beer and eat your sausage and ponder the fate of the Jews. Hey, in Prague it was the same. Exterminate them, drive them away or both, then open as tourist attractions the forlorn, almost abandoned Jewish places and of course sell every farkakte tchotcke you can right then and there.

Oranienburger Strasse is a lively street with bars and restaurants and a beautiful Moorish synagogue from the turn of the century. It also is prostitute central. They are all very young, quite fetching and they wear a rather ridiculous sort of uniform:
Heavy makeup, peroxide blond hair (this you know) and a fluffy down jacket, usually pastel colored, over which they wear a waist cinching black corset, plus Frankenstein kind of shoes, (you know those that the goths like to wear with huge, unwieldy platforms). Every whore wears this get up. It seems clearly stolen from Japanese anime, some sort of futuristic, slightly infantilized, fetishized idea of what the whore of the future looks like.
So much for individual taste.
I have this to say about the transportation system, which includes the U Bahn (subway) , fabulous double decker buses, trams and suburban line trains: it works like a charm, everything is clean and on time, and you know the drill about German efficiency. As I wrote the last time I was here, it runs on the honor system, which astounds me.

Coming from New York there is one thing we find really shocking, and really welcome: the silence. The refreshing absence of relentless noise. In restaurants music does nor blast at ear splitting levels, nobody honks their car horns, it is a busy city, but it is quiet. And that feels good.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Brief Encounter

What a delightful, beautiful movie by David Lean, spectacularly well written by Noel Coward and beautifully acted by Trevor Howard (they don't make them like that no more), Celia Johnson and the magnificent Stanley Holloway. We saw it yesterday at our movie club after a couple of dismal failures at the NY Film Festival, so the mandate was: it better be good. Well, it's better than good.
Brief Encounter is not only a classic, but a smart, modern, unabashedly romantic and extremely intelligent film. The script by Noel Coward is peerless, but then the elegant and empathetic touch of David Lean brings it all home.
The premise is an illicit love affair between a married woman and a married doctor. And to me, for all of the lovely Celia Johnson's protestations, there is no way you can say no to Trevor Howard. No way. You might as well surrender without the slightest and, if or but.
Go rent this movie, get some wine or some icecream or some chocolate and ravish yourself with it. It's an order.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Automat is back!

Yesterday I'm walking on St. Marks Pl. and lo and behold, there is a brand new, shiny pink metallic, Japanese-looking, supercool automat! I'm very happy that we have an automat back in NYC. The last one was somewhere around Times Sq and it died a long, long time ago.

Some notes on our new Automat:
• There are Mexican guys behind our new automat. What did you think, the food cooks itself?
They were smiling and waving as I took pictures.

• The automat serves some nifty junk food at very good prices. We bought a perfectly decent grilled cheese sandwich for 2 buckaroos. It comes in four cute little triangles, perfect for a midnight snack. There is something called a chicken teriyaki burger, there is a mac and cheese rolled into some kind of deep fried cylinder, perfect for a midnight heartburn. There are hamburgers, but I don't know about them.

There are some modern modifications as well:

Yesterday there was also a homeless guy dancing to the disco music emanating from our updated Automat.

• You can also get an automat t-shirt for 10 bucks at the automat. Probably less fattening than the rest of the offerings.

The Forest for the Trees

I have always loved Forest Whittaker. He has a remarkable presence and he is a subtle, powerful actor.
Now he plays Idi Amin in the movie The Last King of Scotland, also co-written by Peter Morgan, of The Queen. Sure enough, Forest Whittaker gives a subtle, powerful performance as the Ugandan maniac who killed 300,000 of his countrymen, who is a textbook case of dictator madness and who ended his life without paying for his crimes, sheltered first by Libya and then by Saudi Arabia.
The movie disappointed me. I think some of the creative choices got in the way of the incredible story it tells. It seems that nowadays every movie about Africa has to be shot with a handheld camera that feels as if it has Parkinson's, grainy textures, manic editing and everything looking either yellow or green (The Constant Gardener suffered from the same malady). I can understand these devices are meant to express turmoil and lack of stability and all that, but I wish the filmmakers had more faith in telling the story straight. The turmoil is there, no need to shake it up.
The Last King of Scotland
is the story of a young Scottish doctor, played by the wonderful James McAvoy, who ends up being Amin's personal physician and advisor. His Dr. Garrigan is a young kid who craves adventure, sort of a slightly amoral cad who loves seducing women and who is charmed by Amin, apparently a big charmer himself. Garrigan wears his conscience lightly and goes to Uganda, more to escape his fate as a country doctor in Scotland than because of humanitarian concerns.
I hate to give the story away, so I won't tell you everything that happens, but suffice it to say that it's clear that Garrigan is given plenty of evidence of Amin's dark places from the start but he insists on ignoring it. He prefers to be seduced by the charms and luxuries of absolute power. As my brilliant companion points out, it's rather hard to believe one could be so naive and so brazen at the same time. I mean, who has ever met a dictator and not known that something must be very wrong with him? What dictator on Earth doesn't send shivers down people's spines? You have to live in Jupiter, or perhaps the Scottish countryside, not to guess than an African army general who just came to power through a bloody coup is not quite Florence Nightingale. This film is the story of two charmers, one who may have begun with some sort of a conscience (though I find that hard to believe from Amin) and ends up in utter satanic madness, and one who starts out with none and painfully gets one, as he grapples with the fact that being loyal to a murderous despot is evil.
This movie should be seen for several reasons: 1. To appreciate fantastic acting all around. Whittaker and McAvoy are a wonderful pair of cads. Whittaker is mercurial, his moods change in a split second and it is a very contained performance. He makes the guy extremely likable, manipulative and very comfortable with his own power. Then there is the surprisingly touching Gillian Anderson as the frustrated wife of a saintly doctor and the fantastically creepy Simon McBurney as some sort of a horrible British spy. He rocks.
2. There were a lot of people at the theater that seemed to me to be African, perhaps they were from Uganda. There was some clapping at the end, so it seems that this terrible story was more meaningful to some audience members. It's always good to see stories about real evil human montrosities, lest we forget. We have a bumper crop of them right now, what with Mahmoud and the little North Korean guy and Fidel and some of the crazies who are now leading some former Soviet republics and Chavez, who is a potential lunatic, and Mugabe and who knows who else, and Bush and Cheney, who wish they could just be like that. The more vigilant and intolerant we are of this kind of creeps, the better for us.
There is a lot of interest in this story, and the movie builds up from a fun romp through a beautiful African country to a descent into hell. By the time Garrigan realizes he's aiding and abetting the devil, it is too late. There are many powerful moments in the movie but somehow it operates too much like a movie, with a relentless barrage of music, with certain movie conventions that amp up the excitement, but fail to work as a convincing recreation of what happened in reality.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Viva la Queen!

Oscar pool tip: It's Helen Mirren, all the way. I'll be surprised (and will rise up in arms) if she doesn't get it. Every acting prize this year, in fact, belongs to her miraculous perfomance as Elizabeth II.
The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears, and expertly written by Peter Morgan, is a delightfully elegant satire, a surprisingly complex film. I was expecting a fun, broad skewering of the royals; and it is certainly fun, but it isn't broad. I did not expect such grace and humanity from a satire, and such intelligent restraint.
The movie is as much about the crisis of the British monarchy because of their tone deaf handling of the death of Diana, as it is about the disappointment of Blair's promise, the increasing irrelevance of the monarchy, the nature of duty and power, protocol and politics, and about the transformation of this world into a vulgar media spectacle. It is a highly satisfying movie with many levels to parse. And if you just want to have a good time peering into the private lives of the royals, you can too.
The Queen is less about what happened ten years ago, than about the state of England now. And as such, it strikes a somewhat elegiac, bitter tone for what should have been. It shows a bright, eager and naturally attuned Tony Blair (fabulously portrayed by Michael Sheen), who started out his mandate by doing a most extraordinary bit of public relations. Basically, because of his intuitive, compassionate handling of the death of that insufferable pest, he had all of England eating from his hand. One cannot help but sigh as you see him handle this crisis so well, (which today seems utterly banal, as crises go), being so attuned to the mood of his people, almost singlehandedly saving the monarchy from imploding, and then realize that he wasted all the good faith of his country through a misguided, hubristic allegiance to George Bush. He seems to be as tone deaf to the will of his people about the war in Iraq, as the Queen was about the death of Diana. Except that the war in Iraq is a far more serious matter. The parallel is brilliant and it stings. There is a wonderful scene where he defends the Queen from the scathing sarcasm of his colleagues. Evidently, as the man in charge he identifies with the woman in charge. He is mesmerized by the allure of the monarchy, the mystique of such ritualistic, almost God-given power. Such is the seductive nature of power, which must be why some of those who are in power are also in bed with others in power they shouldn't be touching with a ten foot pole.
In the end, the movie is not that kind to him. Just to look at him then and to see him now is rather sad.
About Diana, I think the film gets it quite right. If anybody was a selfmade creature born of the constant necessity of media attention, it was her. I never swallowed her beatific little act. I don't begrudge her her many acts of charity, but it always seemed to me they were narcissistic, selfserving. In the film they show that famous interview where she bats her eyelashes innocently and claims she wants to be the queen of the hearts of the people, or some such patently manipulative rubbish like that. Today the footage looks like a performance, calculated and maudlin. It's hard to believe people fell for it. Fittingly, of all the historical people in her saga, she is the only one in the movie who appears as herself always through the eye of a camera. She is only real when scrutinized by the media. Obviously, what made her death so fascinating was that her end was so apt to her story. She lived by the cameras and she died by them. The film posits the idea that Diana actually usurped the role of the Queen. While the Queen was mired in dusty protocol, and chose to live her very public life in as much privacy as possible, with a just disdain for the media circus that her daughter in law craved, Diana basically took it upon herself to act like a fairy tale princess for this age, with spectacular results. She stole the love of the Queen's subjects. The disenchantment and disappointment in the Queen's face when she registers this fact not only moved me deeply, but it is one of the many beautiful moments of Helen Mirren's incredibly human, funny, precise performance.

Republican Faygeleh Follies

Forget the loss of life in Iraq, the war conducted under false pretenses, the incompetence and corruption in the face of Katrina, the unconstitutionality of the Bush administration's handling of "enemy combatants", the fact that Dick Cheney is Satan, etc. What may help bring the assholes down is none other than a gay congressman with a soft spot for tender male flesh. This is what constitutes an outrage in this country.
What is an outrage is not that Foley is gay, but that he belongs to a party that has done everything in its power to demonize and discriminate against homosexuals, which should be against the law. I have never understood gay Republicans. Like black Republicans, it's beyond me.
And in a most cheap, whiny and unconvincing way, Foley now claims he was abused by a clergyman when he was a child. As if this is the sole reason for him being gay, God forbid he was born that way. A tenth circle of hell needs to be invented for these people.

What is outrageous is that when it comes to American politics, sexual brouhahas are more damaging than actual criminal, irresponsible behavior that kills people. (See above list).
Getting a blowjob at the Oval Office cannot be cause for impeachment while every disaster Bush has unleashed upon the world is not. I wish Bush, Cheney and Rummy and Condi were judged with the same holier-than-thou stick, and with the same hunger for hysterical scandal for their reckless behavior, which is far more dangerous and damaging to the whole country than sending love letters to underage pages via email.
So while they are all running like headless chickens, let's enjoy the show and call for impeachment once more.

Red State Violence

Why is it that when some crazy bastard decides to go on a shooting rampage in a school, it usually happens in those states that are chock-full of God-fearing people? What's with Colorado? Pennsylvania? Are God fearing and firearm wielding mutually inclusive verbs?
Just asking.
I have never understood why bearing arms is a right. If it was up to me, nobody would have a right to bear an arm unless they were in the Army or the Police. Bearing an arm is not a right. If it is a choice, then it needs to be strongly curtailed in the civilian population, just like they try to do with smoking and trans fats. When you see this kind of incongruences (great initiatives to stop the fat and the smoke but not the guns), it's no wonder that people who do not live in America think we are all batshit crazy.
By the way, when I became a citizen, I recited the oath of allegiance, which among other things mentions that I will be ready to bear arms and defend this country if I'm asked to. Some people, like Jehova's Witnesses, are excused from this part of the oath because of their beliefs.
I had no objection with that part whatsoever, you give me an arm and I will easily find a target. But I did have a huge objection with the part that says: "So help me God".
What does God have to do with my citizenship? However, I was not allowed to object to this part of the oath under any circumstance. It's as if you are not allowed to be an atheist or an agnostic in this country and that drives me nuts.
So what I did was, I said "so help me Gortz".

Monday, October 02, 2006

Never mind the Taliban

You can go to Frisco, Texas and you'll find similar attitudes. Puritanical imbecility is alive and well over there. In fact, so alive and well that an elementary school teacher got fired for taking her class to the Dallas Museum of Art, where they saw "nude sculptures". A parent complained, and soon the teacher was out of a job.

To add insult to injury:

The uproar has swamped Frisco school switchboards and prompted some Dallas-area television stations to broadcast images of statues from the museum with areas of the anatomy blacked out.

Once stupidity is unleashed, there is no stopping it.

Retracing her route this week through the museum’s European and contemporary galleries, Ms. McGee passed the marble torso of a Greek youth from a funerary relief, circa 330 B.C.; its label reads, “his nude body has the radiant purity of an athlete in his prime.” She passed sculptor Auguste Rodin’s tormented “Shade;” Aristide Maillol’s “Flora,” with her clingy sheer garment; and Jean Arp’s “Star in a Dream.”
All I can say is oy.