Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Maybe I'm a luddite

Somebody recommended to me that I check out that virtual reality site, Second Life. I hate to give them any kind of mention. Wasn't it Goebbels who said that bad publicity is better than no publicity? But I need to share with you my utter disappointment at this thing. When my friend, who had not been to Second Life, told me about it, it sounded like you could create a fun, imaginative character and dream of an interesting life in the web. I imagined myself being a fabulous film director, winning Oscars, living a life of creativity and glamour. So I downloaded the software and somehow became an anime character standing in the middle of a horrid snowy field. 1. I do not wish to join a community located in the woods. I imagined in my head it would be a really cool city, with all the best of Paris, NY and LA, rolled into one, not something that looked like a summer camp in the Ukraine. 2. It was incredibly time consuming and not really fun to choose and change the avatar -- which is why I ended being a stupid Japanese girl with weird hair. I was psyched by the fact that most of the available last names belong to film directors. I chose Pietro Germi's, but if I was a dead director, I'd come back from the grave and sue these people's ass for misusing my last name.
So there I am, trying to walk in the snow towards a cabin, which is not my idea of improved reality, let alone virtual reality. And I see some chats appear in my window that make the language of Borat and Ali G seem like Shakespearean English. That is, it wasn't anything you could recognize as language. It was like grunting.
After like one hour of flying back and forth and getting nowhere, except casinos and places deemed "mature", and private properties where I was not welcome, I decided to dump the entire thing in the trash. The place looks and feels and is horrible. And here I was thinking that there would be great movie palaces and museums and gardens and libraries where you could learn cool things.
I'd rather live in Knott's Berry Farm.
So I don't see the point of joining a virtual world that is actually much uglier, stupider and coarser than the real one. Perhaps the best thing about Second Life is that it makes you appreciate the world you live in, warts and all.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Angry Enchilada

Man, if something makes my blood boil is when people write about subjects they are supposed to illuminate for readers and they get it all wrong. To wit, the appalling Mark Bittman from The New York Times, who made me so angry, I wrote a letter to the editor. It appears here below as an exclusive for the readers of this distinguished blog.
Dear Sir:

It is beyond me how Mark Bittman got a job at your esteemed newspaper writing about food. He has got to be the most ignorant and sloppy food commentator to ever write in your paper. He already unleashed a storm of internet protests for his treatment of tacos a few months ago. His ignorance about Mexican food is appalling.
In just one article, I detected the following mistakes:
• He claims he ate tacos de carbon, which means he ate charcoal tacos (I wish). He surely meant tacos AL carbon: grilled tacos. Tacos al carbon are quite common in the US, so there is really no excuse.
• It's not tostados, it's tostadas.
• It's not chapilines, it's chapulines and they are not merely insects, they are grasshoppers. I'm sure people care to know what kind of insect they are putting into their mouths.
• Chilaquiles are not made with taco chips, but with tortilla chips.
• Panuchos de cazón, not panuchos cazón, deserve a bit more explanation than "essentially a shark sandwich". It's not like it's a tuna fish salad sandwich.
• El Cardenal didn't use to be in a poor neighborhood in Mexico City, it was and the original still is, right in the historic center of the city.
If you are going to let Mr. Bittman loose, you would do well to have a good fact checker and a spell checker to pick up after his mess.
Still the worst offense is the lazy writing, which seems to have been produced under what in Spanish we call the law of least effort, and which no fact checker, though perhaps a working editor, may be able to improve.


Not my nom de plume.

Mark Bittman is so dreadful: consider this opening sentence:

THOUGH the regions of Mexico retain their very distinct cuisines, Mexico City acts like a food processor, puréeing ingredients until you can't tell what went into the final mix.

WHAT? What kind of idiotic metaphor is this? What does this sentence mean, besides being completely untrue? You will never find more regional specificity in Mexican cooking than in Mexico City, unless you decide to visit each Mexican state. And while it is true that most Mexican restaurants in DF offer foods from several regions, nobody complains, because they do it well.

For the life of me, I don't understand how publications like the Times, and other local reputable pubs, always get the Mexican names of things wrong. It's not like they can't possibly find one Mexican person (and I once wrote to Mr. Remnick of the New Yorker to volunteer my services) that can tell them how to spell tostadas, for fuck's sake. The sloppiness belies a certain disrespect, or a comfortable kind of ignorance that drives me nuts (as you can tell). I bet they triple check the spelling when it comes to French or Italian food.

Thanks, Mr. Pollan

Finally, an article about food by Michael Pollan in the NYT that tells it like it is:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That, more or less, is the short answer to the supposedly incredibly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.... A little meat won’t kill you, though it’s better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re much better off eating whole fresh foods than processed food products. That’s what I mean by the recommendation to eat “food.” Once, food was all you could eat, but today there are lots of other edible foodlike substances in the supermarket. These novel products of food science often come in packages festooned with health claims, which brings me to a related rule of thumb: if you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid food products that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a good indication that it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.

Exactly. I have never understood why Americans think that food is some sort of gasoline that you chug down in order to function, when food is one of the most glorious pleasures in the world. Having written copy for a major processed foods company, I will tell you that the American cheese you and I love is not actually cheese but a "pasteurized cheese product" that contains (and this is marketed as an actual beneficial claim) 5% real cheese. I love American cheese on top of a Dumont burger, but I have never been under the impression that it is actually cheese, like Brie or Idiazabal are cheese.
This processed food company actually didn't sell one single item that could be categorized as food. They sold powdered drinks for kids that claimed to have 10% vitamin C and with which you could dye your hair for Halloween, they sold packaged simulacra of food that is consumed on a daily basis by everybody in this country. If they cared about nutrition and the scary fattening of our young, it was only in order to look good and keep selling more crappy products. And every time we went to meetings there, there was never any food on the conference room table. Not even bottles of water. They were cheap, yes, but also I think they just didn't relate to food.
Americans just don't know how to eat. I'll give you an example: Yesterday I bought a sandwich at Midway airport in Chicago. It was a prosciutto and mozzarella focaccia sandwich. It turned out to be impossible to eat because somebody had put half a pound of prosciutto inside. Prosciutto is an incredibly flavorful ham that does the trick with one or two slices. There's no need to put the whole hog in there. Because it is chewy, it's not easy to bite off in big amounts. So something that on paper sounded like a good meal, ended up being an ordeal. Also, it had lettuce in it, which was completely unnecessary. If you think food is fuel, it stands to reason that you will think you need to fill up the tank, hence the obscene portion amounts in this country and the fact that you wouldn't know the secret of a good sandwich (the skillful layering of discreet amounts of several yummy ingredients) if it hit you in the mouth. Cf. the Mexican torta: Mexican food's gift to the sandwich world.

Of course it’s also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness.
Exactly. I highly recommend everybody in America reads this very smart, entertaining article. Maybe the sandwiches in this country will finally improve after this.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I hate PETA

I have nothing but contempt for their shrill, hysterical tactics and for their animal monomania. As this article in the Times shows, PETA people are idiots. There's a scientist researching the fact that 8% of rams like to have sex with other rams, as opposed to ewes (the females, in case you don't know). PETA is all in a tizzy because the guy is killing sheep to find out about homosexual behavior in animals. They claim he means to change it and control it and that this has human implications. But what it is, is they are pissed because he kills the rams in order to study their brains.
But since last fall, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals started a campaign against the research, it has drawn a torrent of outrage from animal rights activists, gay advocates and ordinary citizens around the world — all of it based, Dr. Roselli and colleagues say, on a bizarre misinterpretation of what the work is about.
Martina Navratilova, a woman I otherwise admire, is a PETA friend and against the research.
“The more we play God or try to improve on Mother Nature, the more damage we are doing with all kinds of experiments that either have already turned or will turn into nightmares,” she wrote in an e-mail reply to a reporter’s query. “How in the world could straight or gay sheep help humanity?”
Plenty, the way I see it. The fact that there are animals in nature who prefer the company of their own sex actually helps in the fight against the obscurantist, retarded, utterly medieval human panic about homosexuality. It means that homosexuality exists in nature just like any other natural phenomenon. And the sooner we all realize it is neither a sin nor abnormal, the better. So what the fuck is PETA's beef? Research like this scares people because they think someone will implant a chip on somebody else's brain to "cure" them from their homosexuality. However, just as there can be potentially nefarious uses for pretty much any kind of scientific research, there are also beneficial uses. Just take a look at the two handsome rams pictured in the article. What's not to like?

Besides, as the researcher says:
As for whether the deaths of the sheep are justified, he said, “why would you pick on a guy who’s killing maybe 18 sheep a year, when there’s maybe four million killed for food and clothing in this country?”
I love lamb, by the way.

I bet someone's blaming Israel for this too

I was watching CNN and the sight of grown men bent on destroying a car in Beirut, like Neanderthals, I don't care which freaking faction they belong to, was so utterly pointless and absurd, that it made me want to stop the world, and get off the premises.
I am rather fed up with the Sunnis and the Shias. Now students are clashing in Lebanon, because major destabilizers Iran and Syria, who back Hezbollah, are provoking unrest. If Hezbollah wants control of the country, it should get it through a democratic vote, instead of through violence. A lot of people support them -- maybe they would win fair and square, like Hamas did in the Palestinian territories. Not that this is necessarily good, but at least it's democracy.
I wonder if they will ever get tired of killing each other. Perhaps they could take a look at the bloody mayhem they are unleashing in their own countries, on their own streets, and call it a day? Am I being too naive?

Going... going... going...

I told you people, Castro is never going to die. Never.
Some people don't know when to leave well enough alone, don't you think?
The guy is super sick, can't even push a button in an elevator, I don't care if Castro wannabe Hugo Chavez shows typewritten letters that are supposed to be irrefutable proof that the Comandante Supremo is still alive and kicking. The problem with dictators is that they think we are all retarded children, and they address us as such.
Castro should have abdicated his power already to his bro Raulito, so that all the Cubans in Miami can start planning their invasion, keys to their houses in hand.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pathetic Good News

Well, at least we don't have to worry about this one: John Kerry has taken a good look at himself and decided not to run for office. Gosh, it must have been such a hard decision, especially since he seems to be the only one that didn't get the memo that nobody in their right mind would vote for him ever again.
Actually, I don't blame him. I blame the idiot Democrats for foisting him upon us. And since they're at it, John Edwards would do well to drop out now. Let Hil and Barack duke it out. At least they are both leadery.
So now, what shall it be? Hillary v. Giuliani? (what a blood bath). But I have hope, since I feel that elections in this country are actually determined by whether the candidate has a full head of hair (or by whether Republicans tamper with the ballots). The more anchormanlike the hair, the more moussefied, the better. In which case, Hil has a serious advantage over Giuliani, but also over Barack Obama. I think this nation is ready to have a black president, but it's not ready to have a president with a weird name, just as it may not be ready to have a president without a full head of hair or a really scary mien (see Rudy). I am ready for Barack, who, barring some horrid faux pas or ridiculous skeleton in the closet, seems like a very presidential candidate (not for now, for 2012), and I am even ready for Hil, as long as she stops being an opportunist and starts showing some principle. And as long as the Democrats do what we put them there for and give this unspeakable moron and his disgraceful party hell for the next two years.
Now, the other day, at the gym, (which is where I get my news, through the CNN ticker, on mute), I read an appalling phrase that clarified that Barack Obama attended a madrassah, which was described as a radical Muslim school. I am under the impression that a madrassah is sort of an Islamic yeshiva and not necessarily radical by definition. It is a theological school for Islam. Now, how this came about, I don't know, but I can smell despicable tactics, trying to connect Obama to Osama. Apparently, his middle name is Hussein, which does not bode well, but it would be healthily perverse if our next president were to contain that name in his name. I would vote for him in a second. Faster than I would vote for Hil. However, as I read somewhere or other, Hil has had 12 years experience already in the White House, discussing policy in bed with the prez (when he wasn't being serviced elsewhere), which is strongly in her favor. I say let's have 8 years of Hil and then 8 of Obama. The Age of Aquarius at last.
Look at it this way, Bush is so magnificently unpopular right now, that they've been bandying about the name Nixon in the same sentence with Bush for the last week, (28% approval rate, still too high). After him, even the most retarded morons may be willing to concede that a woman or a black man would do a far better job. People may switch sides.
Note to the Democrats: the next election is going to be determined by women voters. Drill that thought into your befuddled heads. Women will vote for Hillary because she is a woman, even if they don't love her. They will vote for Barack because he is hot. The Republican candidates don't stand a chance (I pray).

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Paris Syndrome

An item on this week's Talk of the Town tells of the Paris Syndrome, an illness that affects young Japanese tourists upon hitting the City of Light.

Each year, according to Dr. Hiroaki Ota, about a dozen vacationers suffer from “irritability, a feeling of fear, obsession, depressed mood, insomnia, and an impression of persecution by the French”; their mental breakdowns, as the BBC reported last month, are brought on by a buildup of excitement, followed by such Gallic letdowns as insufficiently picturesque sights and rude waiters.
Well, I ain't Japanese and the same exact thing happens to me when I'm in Paris. Except that Paris is never insufficiently picturesque to me, except when a McDonald's or a Haagen Dazs spring into view (more often than you'd like).

1. Irritability:
a. Not only do you have to brave a minefield of poop de chien every step you take, you go into a restaurant and voilá, the chiens are allowed to eat at the tables with their masters or, in the case of a funky gay place called the Mauvais Garcons, the owner's dog, a bulldog called Indira, slobbers all over your feet as she waits for a scrap of your blanquette de veau. Indira, I admit, is quite adorable, but I do not wish to have my shoes and ankles covered in dog saliva while I eat.
b. The metro. Why does everybody look utterly morose and sullen and miserable? They live in the most beautiful city in the world. Lighten up! It's quite irritating.
2. A feeling of fear:
In line to buy ice cream at the justly renowned Berthillon store at the very picturesque Ile St Louis, the woman who sells the ice cream is like a combination Cruella de Vil and the gatekeeper to Hell. She is, improbably, for an ice cream vendor, tall, statuesque, and as elegant as Isabelle Huppert, with a sneer of snobbery etched permanently on her face. She stares down the silent line of mostly tourists with heavily advertised, as opposed to thinly veiled, contempt. It seems to me that you have to know what flavors you want, you have to be able to articulate them in a French fit for Voltaire and you have to pick the correct flavors or else you will be banished to the 10th circle of hell, which for her, must be drowning on a lake of molten Dairy Queen sundae for eternity. I approach the counter with trepidation, and I humbly mumble my flavor combination: poire et chocolat, si vous plait. Her minutely raised eyebrow indicates that I have made the correct choice, not strawberry and vanilla, or some such pedestrian inanity, but a brash and bracing melange. Needless to say, after the ordeal, it's the best freaking ice cream cone I've ever had.
3. Obsession:
a. I do not speak French, but I speak Menu. I know a crevette from a quenelle and a riz de veau from just plain riz and when in Paris all I think about is food. Food. food. FOOD. Food. Food.
After having the best croissant known to man almost bring tears to my eyes so buttery and light and magnificent, I think about lunch next, and the ordeal of ordering at lunch and the pain when the gratin dauphinois that you have been dreaming of every minute of your waking day is not quite what you imagined, nor is the wine that great, etc. You eat enormous quantities of animal fat in many clever guises and vegetables that have been nuked to death and then you think about dinner.
b. French women know how to tie a scarf around their necks or wear their tousled hair with a studied nonchalance that kills me.
4. Depressed mood:
The French eat fat and they don't get fat. They are a pain, but they look great. It's enough to depress anyone.
5. Insomnia:
See: enormous quantities of animal fat in many clever guises. Multiply by three times a day for five days. Also known as crise de foie.
6. An impression of persecution by the French:
See: waiters, pretty much anyone behind a desk, sullen people at the metro, newsstand owners, French people who speak perfect English but pretend not to understand when you address them, people who correct you when you speak, the impenetrability of French conjugations, the gleeful sadism of French pronunciation. Voilá.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Just Don't Go!

Since I refuse to watch the POTUS on TV on the fear of breaking into cold sweats, a massive rash or worse, I didn't hear his address where he made caca of the Iraq Study Group and told the nation he is sending more cannon fodder over to die over there. To die for his costly, inexcusable, horrendous, retarded mistakes.
I say to the soldiers: refuse to serve. Don't go.
I know it's probably really bad advice to give an enlisted soldier, but wouldn't it be great if big numbers of soldiers, batallions, platoons, etc, refused to serve in Iraq?
I am with Charlie Rangel on this one: if Bush wants to send more people over there, he should bring back the draft and have the other more fortunate sons and daughters of America, the stupid idiots who are currently too busy manning the playstation and obssessing over Britney Spears, to share the burden with our current, overtaxed, undervalued soldiers. This stupid war would be over in an instant.

Difficult Enchilada

Do you, my dears, get the feeling that the New York Times is getting stupider? It's been irking me for a while now, the cutesy tone of the articles, the lack of snap, of edge and of nerve. In any case, here's an article about difficult people that I think exemplifies the situation. It is mildly amusing, but they manage to make a potentially fun subject into a yawn-inducing screed. Not that we want all media to be snarky and smarmy like us in the Internet, but the NY Times should show some NY edge. We're not in Peoria yet, but with the condo infestation currently in progress, getting dangerously close to something like Florida or San Diego. Ick.
In any case, apparently there is a cottage industry of books on how to deal with difficult people.
My advice is:
1. Don't deal with difficult people. Instead, let them make your life utterly miserable for they are the best topic of conversation and they add plenty of spice to life. Bile is good.
2. Dream, like I do, of acquiring a baseball bat for bashing their heads in, or a high powered submachine gun, and put it to good use, in the dream. That will help you relax.
3. If you go out and get one of those self-help books that imply that it is you that has the problem because you don't know how to deal with difficult people, you deserve all the misery they give you and you are a putz.
4. The best and most difficult thing to do to "difficult people", a fangless euphemism if there ever was one, is to IGNORE them. Super hard to achieve, but always the best revenge.

Dr. Bramson lists seven difficult behavior types: Hostile-Aggressives, Complainers, Silent and Unresponsives, Super-Agreeables, Know-It-All Experts, Negativists and Indecisives.... and Whiners.
Hey, welcome to New York, Dr. Bramson! However, I must confess, a part of me identifies with some of these types.
• I am hostile-aggressive, at least in my fantasies, where I walk around the city wielding an invisible firearm and shooting anything and anybody that rubs me the wrong way, and boy is there plenty of that. However, truly hostile-aggressives act out their anger. Me, I just complain about it. Which leads to the second category. I am not so much a complainer but a ranter. That, you must have surmised from reading this blog.
• Silent and unresponsive, also known as passive-aggressive, no. I can't really keep silent for long.
• I am super agreeable, and who knew that was a bad thing, but I've learned to curb my tendency to be easy going and agree to everybody else's horrible restaurant choice. I give in. Life is too short. Seriously, I learned along the way that people like you to have some modicum of gumption. People who leave everything to be decided by others lose brownie points fast.
• Know it all experts, a mild case, but not pathological. Those people really are annoying because most of the time they really don't know squat and they look down on the rest of us thinking they can fool us all (extraspecial submachine gun for the likes of them).
I am not usually an indecisive, nor a Positivist, being reared in my own philosophy of Catastrophic Thinking which always assumes that the worst will happen (so that when it doesn't, it's a nice turn of events). I don't see what's so wrong in being slightly negative. I hate people who think everything is coming up roses.
But I bet that if you read the list, as I did, you will find a little bit of all those categories inside you (or is it only me?). It's just the horribly neurotic, massively narcissistic, majorly fucked up that truly make the grade.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A new concept

Accountability. Ever heard of it? Apparently it is a word that has lost its meaning and its practical applications in the United States. Our president certainly doesn't seem to grasp it. But in a country like Israel it still has value. The head of the Israeli army just resigned over the disaster that was the latest incursion into Lebanon, which only managed to make Hezbollah stronger. People are demanding that Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, and Amir Peretz, the Defense Minister, resign too. Whether that happens or not, Israel is a society, regardless of what its enemies think, that holds its leaders accountable. Perhaps it's because their enemies (and you will never ever in a million years see any of them be accountable for anything) are in their own backyard, or perhaps because it is more of an active democracy than ours. The recent Lebanon conflict lasted 34 days. According to the BBC:

About 1,000 Lebanese were killed in the conflict, The Israeli army lost 116 soldiers. 43 Israeli civilians were also killed by more than 4,000 Hezbollah rocket attacks.

Now compare, if you will, to our present situation in Iraq. For shame.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Your ad here

Always ahead of its time, the Times also reports that advertising is now everywhere, including eggshells.
“We never know where the consumer is going to be at any point in time, so we have to find a way to be everywhere,” said Linda Kaplan Thaler, chief executive at the Kaplan Thaler Group, a New York ad agency. “Ubiquity is the new exclusivity.”

Well, I beg to differ. Unrestrained ubiquity is actually the new obliviousness, because we tune the ads out. Not only do we tune the ads out, we fucking loathe them and I at least will boycott any egg that has an ad on it. I refuse to be attacked by advertising like we're living in Brave New World. One thing I loved about Children of Men: no ads and no product placement, at least none I could surmise. Yay!
One of the wonders of visiting less economically fortunate countries is that you notice the absence of ads. Cuba is an extreme example. There is only state propaganda and it is mostly quaint, like the kind of irrelevant, inadequate and archaic communist sloganeering that makes absolutely no sense. Some of it is even perverse. Sayings by José Marti about the last thing the people lose is their dignity. Yeah, right. Yet, it is actually refreshing to walk the streets of Havana and not run into a single ad for entire stretches of blocks. I remember seeing a Nestlé ad and it jumped at me. giving me quite a scare, because its mere existence was so unusual. Same thing in Marrakech. I don't remember seeing any ads at all, except for one ad asking drivers to respect the pedestrian zebra lines (try to cross a street in that city and you'll be forever thankful for that ad). That was about it. Perhaps Muslim countries have restrictions about imagery, but the result is a deliciously ad free zone. You feel you are indeed in a different country and not more of the same but in French, if you are not bombarded by a barrage of the usual global brands.
Meanwhile, places like Mexico City and Caracas, with their anything goes corruption, have papered themselves over aggressively and are overrun with ads everywhere; shocking examples of urban blight by advertising. But I guess in such countries there are other more pressing issues, such as worrying whether you will die of kidnapping as you leave for work every morning. The ad problem is not a priority for people and so it grows unchecked, like a visual cancer.
And I work in advertising.

Time to change the rules

The Times reports today that 51% of American women are now living without a spouse. That includes yours truly, who has been wondering when the fuck is the government going to take these statistics into account for among other things, tax purposes. Because as of now, married couples get far more tax breaks than unmarried people, particularly unmarried women with children. America, particularly in the age of Bush, is still living in the fantasyland that everyone wants to and should be married, where all evidence in reality points to the contrary. For whatever reasons, it's not happening, and I only ask that the tax burden gets adjusted accordingly. But my intuition tells me, that this being the era of stupidity, closemindedness and idiotic "moral" values, this administration will do everything in its power to punish the marriage infidels. Wanna bet?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Buyer Beware

The Pizza Patrón topic leads me to a paradox I have been pondering since I came back from haggling in Morocco, about the nature of commerce.
In Morocco, in order to buy something at the souk, you have to go through an elaborate, sometimes theatrical ritual in which the vendor quotes you an outrageously inflated price and you start whittling him down until both of you reach an agreement. Some vendors try to apply pressure, some buyers pretend to walk away, but whatever the outcome, it is a complex, invigorating experience. With good negotiating skills both will be satisfied: the vendor will make a profit and you will go home thinking you got a bargain or that at least you paid a fair price. Pricing is completely relative: it hinges on the buyers making a decision of how much something is worth to them. A lot of people get ripped off with this system, but there is something intrinsically fair about it: you are certainly given the chance to negotiate and defend yourself. If you don't know how to do it, that's your problem.
Here in America, commerce has evolved into an intricate system of deception with the aid of that cardinal sin, marketing, and we're not really given much of a chance to defend ourselves, let alone negotiate. Just think about your phone/cable/internet company bill, your cellphone bill with its armed robbery charges you can do nothing about, airfares, hidden charges, the fine print, deceptive advertising, etc. You know they are killing you, but you are hung out to dry. There is nothing anybody at customer service can do about it. You pay what they decide and what they decide is usually usurious. To add insult to injury, try calling them and complain, only to speak to a robot for the first 10 minutes and to be put on hold for the next 40 and then speak to a moron who can't help you. Only very few companies have truly outstanding customer service and most of the time you are paying for it anyway.
The deception is far and wide ranging: certain food companies claim that their sugary products for children, which will cost you thousands of dollars at the dentist, are healthy because they have some added vitamin or mineral. Those products will make your children fat, diabetic and will make their teeth fall out. Some juices claim to be made with 10% juice (gee, thanks), some cheeses claim to be made with 10% real cheese (what the fuck is the rest, you wonder, the "lite" products have tons of added goo, the non-fat have tons of sugar. Everything is a lie disguised as a half-truth. Or think of planned obsolescence for every gizmo you buy. You get the newest mishegoss and two years later it fizzles and you need to "upgrade" to a still newer one. But everybody pretends that we have fairness in commerce. It is just not so. The way it works in the US of A may be the biggest ripoff of all.

Pizza Patrón

An unholy brouhaha has erupted over the decision of the Pizza Patrón Company in Texas to accept Mexican pesos for pizzas. The company has even received death threats.
As someone pointed out in the comments section of the Times, whatever it is, it's great marketing. This commenter was speaking from Australia, where nobody had ever heard of Pizza Patrón, (and in fact neither had anyone outside of the block in Dallas where there's a Pizza Patrón).
1. The conversion of pesos into dollars is a losing proposition, so the promotion depends on big sales to make up for the loss. Obviously the company is wisely banking on creating loyal customers and good faith, which is always good business, and which so many American companies are allergic to, even as they pay loathsome, hypocritical lip service to it.
2. The owner of Pizza Patrón is an Italian-Lebanese guy from Ohio (only in America) who, in contrast to most business owners in the US that still refuse to read the memo about the exploding Hispanic market, looked around and saw a great business opportunity with his constituents. Good for him.
Those people who love capitalism and free markets and unfettered competition and not paying taxes are the same people who are deeply offended by the pesos for pizza thing. Isn't it ironic? Somehow they seem to champion capitalism only when it goes their way. As another commenter pointed out, they probably wouldn't be screaming if it was a fancy restaurant in NY accepting Euros.
The mighty dollar is pretty much accepted everywhere outside these borders. But that's only because it's mighty. I frankly don't know if accepting other currencies is good or not. Unpatriotic? I don't think so. It seems to be the owner's decision, to lose money on the exchange, so what is the freaking problem?

MLK would not have liked it

So what is there to kvetch about today? Oh, plenty and most of it coming from the general direction of Iraq, where two other bad guys and Saddam relatives were hanged, one of which was decapitated in the process. Again somebody had the good taste of filming this incident as well. These people may be barbaric, but they really understand the power and immediacy of our new media age, something that our leaders still seem unable to understand. This Iraq thing cannot possibly get more revolting (well, it can and it will; this is only a rhetorical flourish). My indignant objection is that the United States is directly responsible for these grizzly proceedings, whether we like it or not, whether the Bush administration pretends to wash its filthy hands of the whole deal or not. As I've said before, I don't think this country has ever sunk this low, to be associated with these revolting hangings and decapitations and medieval stuff that has no business with anything that the US is supposed to stand for, much less the so touted freedom and democracy that Bush expels from his mouth every two seconds like a pestilent cough, and that we're supposed to be ramming down the throats of these barbaric people.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Busy, busy, busy

My darlings. I can't go one day without posting, for I feel bereft of your company and super-guilty, but I have been abducted by forces beyond my control. It is the beginning of the year and with it comes the reckoning. Looking at taxes, looking for work, doing a preemptive spring cleaning (given our recent scary balmy weather, you can't blame me).
This is what dawned on me as I upended the contents of my office in order to effect the spring cleaning: In order to organize, you have to disorganize first. You take one thing and you put it in another place until you find a new place for it (out of sight, out of mind), or you throw it out -- except if you are like me, you are constitutionally incapable of throwing shit out.
Or, you become reckless, like I did yesterday and suddenly had a powerful impulse to get rid of everything. Do I need my elementary school grades? As we age, certain things that seem quaint become rather irrelevant. But did I throw the grades out? No. Why? Because I thought that when I am old and alone in the world, I may want to be reminded of who I used to be. Of what was in my past, because I may not remember anything. So the grades stayed.
However, I started shredding tax returns older than 10 years. I was shredding paper dating to 1992. Shredding is a miserable occupation that robs you of your soul, your wit and your sense of humor. I filled up two big garbage bags with shredding and there is a ton of paper (bills, crap) still untouched. It is discouraging. This house gets this cleansing periodically. So how come I am up to my neck in stuff?
I will tell you this. I hate things. Hate them. Decorative items give me panic attacks. When you die, you can't take them with you. You will leave the mess for your poor surviving next of kin to sort out, and that is a thankless job, so if you can, chuck the stuff nobody'll want before you exit. It's the polite thing to do.

Monday, January 08, 2007

No need to panic...

...yet! The Grande Enchilada is happy to report that even though the giant gas leak is allegedly coming from very close to her lair, she, who is extraordinarily sensitive to smells, has been unable to smell anything funny today except for her own rank emissions (went to the gym, has not showered yet, because providing her readers with up to the minute info is her first priority).
According to CNN, it looked like New York City was about to be engulfed in a giant, malignant fart designed to scare the hell out of us, if not kill us all. For about two seconds, I panicked mildly. But then a) I could not smell anything b) nobody at the gym seemed to give a fuck 3) life went on.
I hate it when CNN does that! They scare people needlessly and they repeat the same wrong information over and over. It comes from Jersey (nah, really?); no it's on Bleecker and 4th; nah, it's Bleecker and 6th.
It's kinda nice when something scary happens near you because you can be heroic about it and recount your exploits to your friends later (I was there when the giant fart, etc...). As long as you are not blown up yourself, that is. I'd rather live an unheroic long life than enjoy my proximity to potential explosions.
In any case, Mayor Bloomberg came on TV and brushed everything off with the kind of reassuring protestations of ignorance that should calm people down but instead make me more fearful, such as:
"We don't know where it's coming from"; "We don't really know what it is", etc. Gee, that makes us feel way better, Mayor, thanks a lot.
With the disbursement of information it's always feast or famine, it seems.
On airplanes (sadistic) pilots sometimes decide to confide in their passengers that an engine is being fixed prior to departure because it has a short circuit or the control panel or landing gear are not working correctly. Such information, my dear Captain, I do not care to get as I pray to be delivered from the skies by you in one piece and as I wonder what the hell am I doing sitting on a potentially crashing plane, when I could be safely at home, eating ice cream and watching Netflix.
To be fair, it was reassuring that Bloomberg showed up so soon and so totally relaxed. It turned out he was there anyway for his weekly press conference, where he enthusiastically toots his own horn.
Which leads me to this:
Perhaps the foul smell of gas, Mayor, is due to the bloated infestation of banks and chain pharmacies in this city. Yesterday I went to the Met Museum, and on 86th St everything is a bank, and what is not a bank is a Duane Reade. And I thought we downtowners had it bad. Like Adam Gopnik pointed out in last week's New Yorker, we are very happy that the city is safe and livable but thanks to our current prosperity and unchecked market forces, we are becoming a giant, generic mall, we are losing the small businesses that gave us character and soon, if prices keep rising for everything, from food to housing, we are going to lose the middle class as well. The city will be overrun by those detestable people who get billions of dollars in bonuses from Wall Street. I think they should get their bonuses, but does the money have to be so utterly obscene? Couldn't the financial houses give half the billions away to good causes and the rest to their employees?
I read somewhere that in the US CEO's make like 700 times more money than us, the idiots who work for them. In Europe it's 11 times.
This is NOT right. I think the Masses should rise or something.
Plus, why are most of the new buildings sprouting all over town so hideous?

This has been a free-form Monday morning rant, as free form as the smell of gas, live from New York, where we never stop kvetching. Have a wonderful day.

Friday, January 05, 2007

At the Atlas Mountains

In contrast to Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, yours truly did not bother with a busload of tacky Eurotrash touristes on my sojourn through the Moroccan countryside (actually, a day trip). Moi, I travelled by Mercedes, with a private chauffeur. Thus, I didn't create any international incidents that sparked consecuences all around the world. The worst that happened was we did not know quite how to use the public latrines at a rest stop (you had to bring your own little bucket with water if you wanted to flush). We got some mean looks after that. Ces't tout.

This is the Kasbah of Telouet, which used to belong to a sinister character called the Glaoui, who collaborated with the French, ruled Morocco brutally for a while and had 5 official wives and 85 concubines. There are three Kasbahs, the oldest, though it looks as it was build in the age of the Flintstones, is from the 18th Century. The newest was built in the 40's.

This is a Berber lunch at the Lion D' Or next to the Kasbah. Almond milk and salads, delicately condimented. I had what they call a Berber pizza, which was a delicious round dough filled with chicken and olives and spices. My friends had this baked egg and meatball dish which was also very yummy.

And this is Mohammed, Berber owner of the Lion D'Or. He spoke every language, had a mean sense of humor and he asked us, seriously, and quite inappropriately, if it was true that Western women had their hymens surgically removed at the age of 2. Nope, we answered.
The pink boa he is wearing was on loan from me.

Rashid, our guide through the Kasbah, was contrary to Mohammed, a very proper, well spoken, elegant guy, who showed us an album of pictures of him with sundry tourists on camels in the desert, for he is a desert guide as well and offers to take you on a hike of the surrounding countryside of Telouet (pop 12,000) but not in the Summer, when the snakes and scorpions come out.

More Morocco Pictures

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Death by Thugs

People are having conniptions over the handling of the execution of Saddam Hussein NOW. I remember when it was announced that he was to hang, many of my friends expressed revulsion at the method and I myself thought it unseemly that the US would preside over such a thing, even though Hussein was a monster who never afforded his "enemies" the dignity that he himself should have had on his way to hell.
If the US is already there, I thought, why not kill him in a "more civilized" way? By lethal injection, like they do here. Set an example for less barbaric barbarism.
The death penalty in cases of genocidal cruelty is meant to be a "too little, too late" way to redress massive injustice. It is barbaric, but if applied with a measure of control, it can be a symbolic gesture with some pertinent historical meaning. I'm thinking of the hanging of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann by Israel in the sixties. This was a unique occasion in a country that has no death penalty. It was done after a serious trial and with as much dignity as revenge can muster.
With people like Eichmann or Saddam, or other such monsters, there is no conceivable torture fit enough for their depravity. Still, they have to be punished, but obviously not exactly as they did to others because that would just debase the rest of us. Unfortunately, the very human feeling of revenge is not a hallmark of civilization, but of the opposite. We have all felt the indignation of revenge but all it begets is more bad faith, more bad blood. Which is exactly what happened at the gallows last week. Turning the other cheek, as Jesus counselled, is almost inhumanly hard, but it is more civilized.
Now look at Iraq. It is disgraceful, not only what happened at the gallows, but what happens on the streets: Muslim neighbors killing each other brutally every day, over infinite, exponentially compounding grudges. And the US is to blame for it.
It is the US which is regressing to savagery through its unfortunate involvement in Iraq. It is the US who, by shunning the Geneva convention, circumventing the Constitution and using torture and other despicable methods, cannot pretend to be today the beacon of democracy and civilization it once was. Because of President Bush and his ghastly administration, this country has fallen to its one of the basest moral levels ever (I can think only of segregation and slavery as worse).
This thought ocurred to me today: it is the leader who leads by example. An immaculate CEO, a decent father, an admirable teacher, inspire the same in those who follow them. We, on the other hand, have a morally debased leader. A man, who for all his religious protestations, seems utterly incapable of doing the moral thing, which is, at the very least, accepting responsibility for his very costly arrogant mistakes. Is it any surprise that during his tenure our Congress felt free to be as corrupt as it could? Is it any wonder we have lost the respect of the entire world? People feel no one is really minding the store and this gives them leeway for the most abject mischief (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Halliburton, FEMA, Katrina, you name it).
After all, Bush stole the presidency to begin with. This illegitimacy taints everything he touches. Plus, everybody knows he is an idiot.
The shit rains down from the top.
So don't all rend your garments because of the undignified death of Saddam. It should not surprise you in the least.

ps: what to do? Leave the Iraqis to sort their mess out. At this point the American presence holds zero credibility and thus zero chances of impressing upon these people the most basic notions of democracy. Let them figure it out for themselves.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A feast for the senses

Me, I always bitch before I go somewhere. I love traveling but I'm anxious about where I'm going.
My friends wanted to go to Morocco. I wasn't that thrilled. I had heard women get harassed and the hustling of tourists is heavy. I asked around. Some people said the hustling was a pain, others said the place rocks. So after indulging my customary kvetch, I let myself go to Marrakech.
I loved it the minute I set foot in it.
On the way to the old city from the airport (5 minutes) there are olive and orange groves and the streets are lined with rose bushes. I hate to use this line, but Marrakech had me at hello.
The taxi leaves you on one of the gates to the walled city and a guy with a cart lugs your bags through the winding alleyways to your little riad, your little boutique hotel. You seem to enter a bit of a time warp all of a sudden. It all looks ancient, every wall is painted in terracotta, and life unfolds on the streets with a vibrancy and passion that is foreign to us.

I come from Mexico, where you can see sort of the same colorful liveliness, but Marrakech is extraordinarily exotic and atavistic, even when it is being shamelessly touristy. It is Mediterranean, it is Oriental, Levantine, Arabic, Berber, French. It requires complete engagement of the senses. All you can do is venture out, get lost and wander around the markets, most of them transparently designed with tourists in mind, but to its credit, even the touristy stuff is lovely and beautifully crafted.

They sell an enormous amount of crafts, but the difference is that in the markets you can still see how the crafts are made because they are made in front of your very eyes. The markets are divided by trade so you can go to see how people dye the fabrics, the looms they use to knit them, you can see the smiths hammering their delicate motifs on the iron, you can see the old way of sculpting cedarwood into skewer or knife handles, (by foot), you can see and smell how they dye the leather.

It all feels slightly medieval. If you leave the tourist shops behind, you will bump into the Medina not of tourists, the markets not of trinkets, the houses and the stores and the people of this extraordinary place.
It helps the atmosphere a lot that the locals still proudly wear their local dress, djellabas and burkas and hooded robes over their jeans and nikes. Some women are completely covered, others just cover their head, others look totally Western, others do a combo. We could not figure out the rules, but one of us thought that perhaps they wear the burka on a bad hair day, when you just don't want anyone to see you.
For pictures of people, you will have to wait until I get them from my friends. I didn't take pictures of people out of respect and because it was intimidating. In Morocco people really look back at you and you don't want to be snapping pictures of them as if they were exotic specimens.
I expected really pushy vendors and aggressive men. Some are still that way, few and easy to brush off, people with the proverbial chip on their shoulder (tourism begets plenty of those); but most people were warm and charming and had a great sense of humor. You could engage in conversation (they speak every language) not only for the purpose of buying or haggling but also for learning and exchanging information, which is what makes the shopping experience such fun.

This guy had a spice store, way out of the tourist traps near the big square. He was elegant, honest and gave us Arabic and Berber lessons. We bought rosewater, musk, scents for the home (orange peel, clove, cinnamon, cedarwood).

A young guy at one of the food stalls in the main square told me to eat in his establishment because it was better than Ferran Adria's, a patently studied line, but delivered with great moxie. He also said it was climatiseé, air conditioned. I had to go. The food was actually great.
In the markets people take one look at you and without hearing you speak, they already know where you are from. They beckon you in Italian, French, Spanish, English. One of them even spoke to me in Hebrew. I turned around but pretended I didn't understand. He asked me where I was from. I said Mexico. He said: you changed your nationality. How did he know?
Saying I was from Mexico, I was heartily welcomed, they all knew the name Guadalajara from the soccer club of the same name. When I said I lived in NY, I could perceive a discreet flicker of surprise, a minuscule raising of eyebrows, and not necessarily bad. The town was teeming with tourists, but no Americans in sight.

Come with me to the kasbah...

Marrakech is a contradictory place. On the one hand, it is like going back to the middle ages. In the Medina, the walled city, there are donkeys and horses and sheep on the streets. The poultry stores sell the birds alive and flapping their wings in desperation. You almost expect the vendor to wring the neck of the chicken right in front of your face. You can hear the hypnotic wail of the muezzin's call to prayer five times a day. They don't seem to have learned yet of the existence of garbage cans, preferring to leave it in little mounds on the street, for gangs of scrawny street cats to take care of.

On the other hand, in the "new " part of town, development spreads like a rash. Villas and condos and apartments for the affluent. Traffic, that infectious global disease, is rampant, chaotic and unnerving (like wanton flies are pedestrians to the Marrakchi drivers. They want to kill them for their sport). You can also see the occasional horse cart, donkey and two guys transporting a huge, fat sheep on a vespa. That other infectious disease of modernity is also present: sleek restaurants, third world farts by Phillipe Starck wannabes, with the food as badly rendered as the decor. However, you know modernity is not quite winning the battle when you go to one of the swankier boites in town. The place tries to resemble a Pasha's palace but it looks kind of like a Mexican Jewish Bar Mitzvah to me. The patrons are well to do Moroccans (hence the Mexican Bar Mitzvah look) and Eurotrash for the most part. We order drinks, (finally!) outrageously overpriced and badly served. Casablanca beer is not half bad and it has a cool label.

But a red vermouth is ruined (see picture above), served in a small martini glass at room temperature and at 8 euros, which is really insulting. But the evidence that Marrakech, for all its touted celebrity visits, is still firmly ensconced in cheesyland, is there is a relatively decent dj who looks about as hip as an actuary professor, and following him the worst cover band that ever graced this Earth. Believe me, I have been the victim of unspeakeable cover bands in hotel lobbies and Mexican Bar Mitzvahs and this one takes the cake.

The band sings covers of eighties songs, from Sting to Shania Twain (why?), all done in a faux heavy metal style. The lead singer, as is wont to happen in any third world country worth its salt, is a woman of indeterminate origin who garbles incomprehensibly and utterly out of tune and who seems to be desperately trying to channel Tina Turner, to no avail. She shows her rock and roll credentials by jumping around and clapping like the spunky hostess of a children's show, like a female version of Barney the dinosaur, but she is convinced she rocks. She's a good girl living the fantasy that she is a badass chick. The band leader is some French guy who thinks he's Sting before he lost his hair, down to the flak jacket. The audience responds with the most halfhearted, absent, uncomfortable, embarrassed applause it can muster. Still, the band plays a set that goes on for what seems 20 hours. The last straw comes when they play a song it takes us several bars to decipher: Cream by Prince, with not a speck of funk, or a breath of soul. It is criminal. Criminal.
Then, as we are about to call it a night, two young, handsome Moroccan guys leap to the stage and start singing rousing pop songs in Arabic and all hell breaks loose. 1. They can actually sing. 2. The songs are fun. 3. A group of men takes the dance floor and dances joyously, with great verve and style. Where are the girls? Beats me. Two of them seem to be doing a routine of mild sapphic cockteasing (that other disease of our times), but they will not dance with the guys, who seem utterly oblivious to them. The audience goes wild and the band, for a moment, picks up and forgets how bad it is. Then all of a sudden they start playing Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long" and before we have time to gasp, a group of male and female "samba" dancers takes the dance floor.
We are so glad we stayed!


Monday, January 01, 2007

Terrorists are scum

Even if they call to let you know in advance that they have planted a bomb in the parking lot of an airport and you have half an hour to evacuate. Those terrorists not only are still scum, but I fail to see the point. What the fuck, can somebody tell me, is the point of such idiotic, mindless destruction, (two people were killed, asleep in their cars). Haven't the ETA idiots gotten the memo that wanton acts of violence and destruction will not get them anything? Are we supposed to think they are really nice because they let us know in advance?
We were on our flight back from Marrakech, via Casablanca but the plane left on time and arrived on time and although we had heard some Spanish guys talk about something that had happened at the airport in Madrid, nothing seemed amiss (except that the flight was empty). That is, until we got off the plane and smelled that smell of burnt metal and smoke that New Yorkers recognize from 9/11 and we saw a deserted airport, people wearing face masks, lots of police and Guardia Nacional. It took about two hours to get out of the airport, but considering the seriousness of the attack, I was surprised that we were able to travel on time. The fact is that the very beautiful new terminal by Richard Rodgers is a total pain in the ass for passengers anyway. Utterly inconvenient, huge, unmanageable, badly signalized, exhausting. It takes like ages to get from one point to another, so this terrorist incident only made things worse by a little. The line for cabs was no worse than the lines at JFK or La Guardia every day. In fact, it moved faster.
Still, I do despise the proximity of terror in my life. I despise asinine assholes that plant bombs one day before New Years Eve on one of the busiest traveling periods of the year. I despise assholes that plant bombs. Period.

New Years Eve is Stupid

Happy New Year, y'all!
Well, I must qualify that. I had a most lovely New Year's Eve dinner in Madrid last night at the Marcos' family home, where I was welcomed with such warmth and delight and I had the best Basque dinner (and my first one ever) with my lovely friends. That was the high point of the evening, and indeed a high point of the year.
The stupidity comes later.
I have never been a fan of New Year's Eve. When younger, because I was a total miserable nerd and felt excluded from the great time everyone else was supposed to be having. I guess you mature when you know that everybody else is having as terrible a time as you or worse, except they work really hard at making it seem like they're having a ball. The obligatory nature of partying like crazy on the last night of the year has always struck me as stubbornly idiotic and the best New Years' I've had have been, few and far between, low key affairs with those very close to me.
Yesterday, after the lovely dinner, we decamped for a party that promised to be very happening, but that for reasons we couldn't really fathom, was less spirited than a wake.
Madrid is a city where they take these Xmas and New Year's traditions way too seriously. God forbid you don't have a dinner invitation or reservation that day because you will starve to death. It is that serious (except now, thanks to the Chinese immigrants selling serrano ham sandwiches on corners you may not starve that much). It is something to behold, but I'm not sure it's good. The streets are full of drunken revelers at 4 am... people in the MIDST of partying at that ungodly hour. Drunk people having screaming matches (in German, no less) with their significant others, drunk people being either raucously or miserably drunk.
Then today in the morning, at 8:30 am, a scene out of Goya's dark paintings. The last drunken dregs of humanity staggering home after a hellish night of partying. People too drunk to stand up, too drunk to fall down, the streets peppered with puke, and no trace of joy to be found anywhere. So there. Happy New Year, morons.
However, I know you want to hear more about Marrakech and my day trip to the Atlas Mountains. And if you are not particularly interested, I'm still going to tell you. I promise to oblige as soon as I shake the coming back to New York and junk mail, bills to pay, invoices to persecute, bags to unpack, chores to do blues.