Thursday, May 31, 2007

Meet the Beatles, Again

I was very moved by John Colapinto's admiring and sensitive interview with Paul McCartney in the New Yorker. It's not online but an audio tape of Colapinto is, talking about the interview.
I have not read the biography of the Beatles, and though they were huge in my childhood and adolescence, I had forgotten them lately. But as I read about some of the songs this man wrote, and his relationship with John Lennon and the fact that neither of them could actually read or write music, I had a strong desire to revisit their amazing output again.

My mother used to boast that I made her buy me my first Beatles record at the tender age of 3. It was Meet the Beatles and I had her playing it over and over, scratched out of recognition, until it occurred to her that she could buy another one and defer going crazy until the next one came out. The last Beatles record my parents chose for me was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. By then I was 7 and after that I picked my own. The Beatles were my religion for a while. I experienced prolonged spiritual ecstasies as I bought, opened, danced and made up words to their records. I was moved by the playful energy of the music, by the urgent vibrancy of the young male voices. When songs were sad I knew their sadness was honest and simple, not hokey and twisted like Mexican telenovelas. I also bonded with my parents over the Beatles. My mom told me that when they first came out, they were really shocking, at least to her. She didn’t like them. They were too rebellious. They looked weird with those mops of long hair and the skinny jackets and skinnier ties. My dad liked them from the very start. He once informed me that he could not abide Paul McCartney. He much preferred Lennon, despite his self-important antics and the hideous, talentless wife. I was surprised because McCartney seemed to me to be the goody two shoes of the pair and thus, a better role model for me. I thought it was very cool that my dad liked the less saccharine Beatle. My dad had a way of revealing what little of his rebellious soul he had left in him with comments like that. For instance, when I asked him about marihuana some years later he said, “Don’t try it. It’s too good.”
“Love”, “girl”, “you”, “dance” “happy”: I could understand most of what the first Beatles’ records said, but Sgt. Pepper was like the Rosetta stone. I went from Meet the Beatles to Sgt. Pepper with only the benefit of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! in between, but no Revolver or Rubber Soul, so it was a major shock. Something had changed that made my spine tingle. For starters, that album cover looked like an altar for the Mexican Day of the Dead. My dad tried to explain who some of those in attendance were at the funeral of the electric guitar. I recognized Marilyn Monroe and Chaplin, but that little kid slumped in the corner looking right at you in his striped pullover gave me the creeps. There were people even my dad didn’t recognize, and he knew everything and everybody. I had no idea of what the songs of the Beatles meant and that made Sgt. Pepper all the more esoteric. A song like “For the benefit of Mr. Kite” ignited my imagination with strange, almost apocalyptic images, perhaps because the only words I understood were “fire” and “horses”. The word “handkerchief”: in “She’s Leaving Home” was the object of almost Talmudic speculation. Some years later I was slightly disappointed to learn that it is something to wipe your nose with. There were lyrics in the inside jacket. That was new. And why were the Beatles wearing those lollipop-colored satin jackets and alarming facial hair?
“What happened to them?” I asked my dad. “Drugs”, he said. Both my parents blamed it on the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom they viewed with distrust, just as they blamed the Beatles’ later demise on the wives – Linda and Yoko. My mom hated the wives. Linda was the bland, charmless, shiksa heiress to the Kodak empire, and Yoko was Japanese, ugly, unkempt and obnoxious. They were both singularly untalented but were bent on making art and music as if they were gifted by association (this was the received wisdom at home. Don't shoot the messenger).
Until fairly recently, listening to the opening chords of any song of those first records -- “Anytime at all”, or “I’ll cry instead”, made me feel what can only be described as instant joy. Not the memory of joy, but joy itself, bubbling up from a hidden recess in my self, concrete in the quickening of my heartbeat, the swift appearance of a smile in my face, the lifting of burdens off my back.
Then, not too long ago, as I copied them into my ipod, I found their eagerness to please irritating, which disturbed me greatly. They seemed too bubbly, too easy, and they didn't uplift me anymore. What happened to me? Better not think about it too much. I stopped listening. Yet after reading Colapinto's piece I'm ready to open my heart to The Beatles once more. I'm pretty sure they will not disappoint me and I will not disappoint them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Notes from a curmudgeon

I was telling my theater-loving friend Don that American audiences on Broadway need to learn to curb their enthusiasm. First, they clap when a famous actor enters the stage, which is wrong. They interrupt the flow of the play and it must be awful for the not so famous actors on the boards. Then they give standing ovations to a fart, a cable, a backdrop, a cough drop. They have learned to ape this horrid behavior from the audiences in talk shows on TV. Take a look at the Tonight Show or Oprah or The Price is Right and then check out the Broadway audience. They think it's the same thing. They also hoot and holler and whistle as if they were in a rodeo or at a baseball game. It drives me crazy.
I think standing ovations should really be reserved for the apex of genius. and those instances come along very rarely. One can express one's appreciation for a performer by clapping really hard and screaming Bravo or Brava, as is the case, but one only stands up at the sight of absolute greatness.
I just hate when the inevitable moron in one of the first rows stands up in order to be acknowledged by those on the stage, not the other way around, and then the rest of the sheep feel compelled to do the same, so the entire theater stands whether they feel the ovation is deserved or not. Thank God, here in NY the theater people still have their wits about them and they do not fabricate curtain calls when few are deserved. If it was up to the audience, we'd be there all night, screaming like teenyboppers at the sight of their idols over and over and over. It's vulgar.
One of the nice things about the opera crowd is that it is a highly opinionated crowd, and operagoers do not stand for communal cheerleading. If they don't like someone, either they mute the applause, or they hiss or they even boo. And the screams of Bravo and Brava are well earned and well deserved, highly idiosyncratic. The theater should be the same.

Looking for a subject

I spent most of the morning scanning the headlines, looking for a suitable subject to share with you, my darling readers. Couldn't find one. I don't want to talk about anything. Not about Lindsay Lohan's rehab redux, not about Hugo Chavez strongarming the soap opera and dreck purveyors in his country, not about the fact that American soldiers in Iraq are being killed by the same people they are training and they are starting to be very fed up (what's taking them so long?); not about that weird David Remnick assertion in the New Yorker that The Sopranos is a comedy. That really is news to me. I thought and hoped it is a tragedy. But maybe Remnick has seen the last episode, where Carmela and Tony live happily ever after, without punishment or legal persecution. It seems rather unlikely, no?
Not about the fact that Miss USA fell on her ass and was loudly booed by the Mexico City audience at the Miss Universe Pageant (another strong indication that there is no God, only Donald Trump). The reason for the booing: the appalling immigration debacle here in the States. The reason for falling on her ass: a perfectly good example of an apt metaphor. That's how we are these days. Falling on our ass, everybody in the world hurling scorn and derision at us (more than the usual, I mean).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I'm thinking Obama

The Democratic competitors this year are quite interesting. It is a solid year with Hillary and Barack and John Edwards. I somehow gravitate towards Obama. Like many others, I'm not floored by Hillary Clinton. I despise her stance about Iraq. The fact that I am a woman doesn't mean that I have to vote for her. It would be cool to have a woman president, but it would be much cooler if she stuck to her principles. I hated how she supported Bush after 9/11. You can see the insincerity a thousand miles away. I remember some years ago she had a meeting with Yassir Arafat. The Jews of New York had a conniption. My problem with her is that instead of holding her ground and saying, "listen, this is a free country and I talk to whomever I very well please if I deem it important to do something about the hellhole that is the Middle East; she backtracked and pussyfooted and apologized. She should not have apologized. She should have thought twice of talking to that creep, but come on, even the Israelis were talking to him at that point. So I don't trust her.
Obama, in contrast, I like. I like that he was against the war from the get go. I like he is handsome and intelligent and seems to relate to reality, not only to politics. I'm not happy with his religious bent, but geez, that's the cross we atheists have to bear in this country. Everybody is chums with God, for crying out loud.
John Edwards I like too, but he looks like Ken, Barbie's boyfriend. Maybe we should have voted for him instead of creepy Kerry. Too late. Still, it would be way cooler to have a Black liberal president in the US of A, for a change.

I have to chime in

Somebody sent me a really offensive email the other day. It was this fake letter from an Iowan asking his governor that he wants to become an illegal alien. The letter is despicable, selective in the information it presents, misinformed and racist.
As much as I loathe to reprint these lies, I do it so you can see what people with a diminished capacity in their brains do with their time. I'm sure all those All-American right wing assholes are congratulating themselves for such an example of what passes for wit in their moronic circles.

Dear Senator Harkin,
As a native Iowan and excellent customer of the Internal Revenue Service, I am writing to ask for your assistance.
I have contacted the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to determine the process for becoming an illegal alien and they referred me to you. My primary reason for wishing to change my status from U.S. Citizen to illegal Alien stems from the bill which was recently passed by the Senate and for which you voted.
If my understanding of this bill's provisions is accurate, as an illegal alien who has been in the United States for five years, all I need to do to become a citizen is to pay a $2,000 fine and income taxes for three of the last five years. I know a good deal when I see one and I am anxious to get the process started before everyone figures it out.
Simply put, those of us who have been here legally have had to pay taxes every year so I'm excited about the prospect of avoiding two years of taxes in return for paying a $2,000 fine. Is there any way that I can apply to be illegal retroactively? This would yield an excellent result for me and my family because we paid heavy taxes in 2004 and 2005.
Additionally, as an illegal alien I could begin using the local emergency room as my primary health care provider. Once I have stopped paying premiums for medical insurance, my accountant figures I could save almost $10,000 a year.
Another benefit in gaining illegal status would be that my daughter would receive preferential treatment relative to her law school applications, as well as "in-state" tuition rates for many colleges throughout the United States for my son.
Lastly, I understand that illegal status would relieve me of the burden of renewing my driver's license and making those burdensome car insurance premiums. This is very important to me given that I still have college age children driving my car.
If you would provide me with an outline of the process to become illegal (retroactively, if possible) and copies of the necessary forms, I would be most appreciative. Thank you for your assistance.

Your Loyal Constituent,
Donald Ruppert Burlington

Get Your Forms NOW!! Call your Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-289-1040.
Please pass this onto your friends so they can save on this great offer!!!!

Here is my response:

Ask this asshole if once he becomes an illegal alien he will be willing to cut his own grass, care for his own children, clean his own house and pick his own food, without health insurance and for less than the minimum wage.
Then he can become an illegal alien.

The immigration bill is extremely complicated and nobody really understands it, but it is not a good bill. It is a political bill, not a practical bill, and therefore it sucks. It is a bill that appeases the assholes who are against amnesty, but it doesn't really do that much for the millions of illegal families that work hard in this country, doing the jobs that no one else wants.
This editorial from the NY Times explains why the bill is mean-spirited.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


If it's three o clock in the morning, and after a night of barhopping in Manhattan, your entrails are screaming for food, you lucky New Yorker have one recourse so fantastic, that I bet that you won't ever be happier at 3 in the morning anywhere else.
Praise the Lord for Great New York Noodletown, on the corner of Bowery and Bayard.
It used to be just Noodletown, then it was NY Noodletown and now it's Great NY Noodletown.
I think it should be called: Most Magnificent Shrine of Wonders and Divine Pleasures Great New York Noodletown, O Happy Day.
You possibly won't be happier doing anything else, anytime else, but at that late hour, the food of the Noodletown is even better, like manna from Heaven.
So you walk in and almost all the tables are taken. I saw a guy eating not one but two platters of noodles. Why not? If your entrails are rioting for food, order the half roast duck, which to my knowledge is probably the best in New York, and the salt baked squid, a fried marvel of salty crunch, and anything else on the menu; you will be forever grateful you went there, and so will your entrails.
We were on our way to the karaoke in Chinatown, but we had to eat first, so my adventurous friends Marta and Berta lit up the night sky when I remembered that Noodletown was open late. We forgot all about the karaoke. We were so happy. I was so happy I just wanted to stay there for the night, then wake up and order some more food. The chow fun with roast pork. Yum.
It was very cool too because Marta recognized a guy who used to dj at some parties, so we invited him to join us and had not only a fantastic dinner, but also a wonderful time with an almost stranger.
These kinds of things should happen more often.
We had been dancing at the Sapphire Lounge, which plays predictable but unoffensive disco and hip hop and nowadays, sadly, reggaeton (at which strains we packed up and left). Then we tried a bar called 205, where you are supposed to give a password or be in the guest list or who knows what. My mantra is Never Beg. We tried our luck. We said we just spontaneously sauntered by. This line has allowed me in twice this weekend, and I think it is more because everybody left town than anything else, but what is always surprising is that once you have been given the keys to the kingdom, you walk into a practically empty space. Meanwhile, hordes outside are begging for entry. It's such bullshit. The music there was very good too, and it took us like two hours to realize that they had space downstairs where hordes were dancing to house music. Bertha, our envoy, came back with reports that it was jammed and the music sucked. Hence, to Les Enfants Terribles, where in a spirit of Gallic rebeliousness, at late times, people are allowed to smoke. There is always a more interesting crowd in that place (read older and foreign) so we walked to that no man's land that is Ludlow and Canal, but the kitchen was closed and our entrails were roaring.
Noodletown beckoned. Total Happiness.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I'm gonna sue yo ass!

A woman is suing the courts in some state because she wants to be able to swear her oaths placing her hand over the Koran, according to her beliefs. Since I saw this in mute at the gym, I don't know what the guys from the ACLU had to say, although I can guess, but here is my suggestion: as this is, supposedly, a country where there is separation of church and state, there really is no reason to be swearing on any religious text whatsoever. Let's swear on the Constitution and everybody will live happily ever after. If I ever were required to place my hand upon a book and swear, I wouldn't choose the Bible. As good a book as it is, it doesn't hold any coercive effect on me. I would choose the Constitution, because it makes sense to swear to uphold the laws, by placing your hand on the laws. Or if given a chance by this increasingly anything-goes-society, I could choose Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, or King Lear or Libra by Don De Lillo (lots of truth in all three).
But the question is, why do we atheists and agnostics have to say "so help me God?" Why do we have to swear upon a book we may respect, but which does not compel us to be honest more than other books? We are very discriminated against in this society. This is not good.

A guy is suing IBM because they fired him for looking at porn sites at work. He comes back with the excuse that he is a Vietnam Vet that suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and this is how he self-medicates, and instead of IBM firing him, they should offer him sympathy and counseling.
Okay. Maybe it is all true. Maybe we should be grateful that he self-medicates by watching porn instead of sniffing crack or taking a gun to a park and blasting away innocents. BUT, this story points to the very American habit of invoking all kinds of lame excuses for all kinds of unsavory behaviors and never ever taking personal responsibility for your adult actions. If you survived both Vietnam and IBM, as affected as you are, you are an adult and you know full well that what you are doing is wrong. A nicotine fiend could say the same thing: please allow me to smoke because I had a miserable childhood. Please let me do my coke in peace at my desk, because I've had such a rough life. THERE ARE STANDARDS, people. It's hard to have sympathy for people who are so aggressive about getting it.
I had a colleague once, a very talented guy, who decided to get another job and I had to search for some stuff in his internet bookmarks after he left. I found most of his bookmarks were of women bathing and undressing and who knows what else. I had a real icky feeling, not only of not really knowing what kind of person I had been working with so far (and what kind of person goes away and doesn't erase it?), but also of a very unwelcome transgression. You can watch all the porn you want in the privacy of your house, but don't do it in the office. It violates the unspoken rules of civilized, respectful behavior. Still, my colleague, being European, if caught would have probably shrugged it off instead of coming up with some excuse to justify his unacceptable behavior.

A couple is suing McDonald's because their kid got super sick by eating McD's French fries and hash browns which contained traces of milk. If you are so concerned by the health of your kid, maybe don't take him to McDonald's; not exactly the paragon of healthy eating to begin with. Is McDonald's responsible because your child has an extreme susceptibility to milk? I don't think so.

You know, where I come from, in the land of the Enchilada, we are not that careful with anything. We also don't have recourse to sue people when things happen to us. There is no such thing as suing because somebody left an unattended hole in the street and you fell to your death. We live with the knowledge that we better watch out, because peril is always lurking somewhere. There are never any caution signs; people do reckless things all the time. Nobody compels companies to watch out for your safety, you have to do that yourself. I'm not saying this is good. In Mexico, sexual harassment is the norm, for instance, and until recently, there was no medical malpractice law to speak of. But we still believe in the concept of accidents. Or personal responsibility or sheer bad luck. Not everything can be blamed on someone other than yourself, and not everything has a price.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I read somewhere that the MTA is going to ask people to rate the subway service in NY. They want suggestions. Here are some:

1. The public announcement services would be a joke if they weren't so annoying. Nobody ever knows what these people are garbling over the screechy, hair-raising speakers. Have you been to Berlin? There are clocks telling you how soon the train will be at the station and the announcements are delivered in a pristine voice with clear sound that everybody can understand. Particularly lately, when there have been so many service changes it is actually astounding if your train actually goes to its usual destinations, the public announcements need to be improved.
2. What good is it to announce the next station inside the train when the train has actually left the current station? Can somebody explain to me what is the logic of this? The next station should be announced when the doors of the train are still open at the station, so people can decide whether they need to board or leave. Not when the train is moving and you don't know what station is about to befall you. Go to Berlin. The Germans know how to run trains.
3. Do something about the smells.
4. Do something about the rats.
5. Some stations are pretty and others are in terrible shape. Be consistent.
6. The turnstiles against farebeaters are security hazards. If anything ever happens in the train or on the platform, how are people going to get out?
The subway rules. I love the subway. It's the only way to get around town fast.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Review of a book that I haven't read

Here is a very interesting excerpt of God is Not Great by polemicist Christopher Hitchens.
I have noticed that there are several books that defend atheism lately. This is obviously connected to the fact that religion nowadays has become not only monstrously perverted in some cases, but in most cases hugely irrelevant to human reality. However, I think that being an atheist and hating religion can be two separate things, though they are not easy to detach from one another.
The first one concerns a simple question: is there a God? Frankly, at this point I think we can all agree that nobody knows for sure. Faith is no proof of anything.
I am reading a book called The Essential Kabbalah, which is a collection of actual kabbalistic sources and has nothing to do with Madonna or red thread bracelets. The way the Kabbalists depict God and his emanations, sounds remarkably similar to the theory of the Big Bang and the Black Holes.
The Kabbalists say that God is better described by what it isn't, than by what it is. It is not a man, nor a woman, nor a human, nor anything. It is anywhere and everywhere. It is total absence and total presence, and too complex for us to grasp or describe. They describe how at one point its immense darkness exploded into an emanation, in a way that sounds very similar to the theories of the beginning of the universe by modern scientists. This makes sense to me. In their philosophical and mystical wanderings, the kabbalists tried to explain the nature of the universe, just as physicists do but without the math.
To me, this means that perhaps God is Nature. God is Creation itself, in all its complexity and paradox. I think this is what science says that God is. So we come full circle and everybody lives happily ever after. This I can buy. The angry God with antropomorphic tantrums, petty grievances, authoritarian pronouncements, total apathy to human suffering and terrible manners, no dice.
Now, apparently Hitchens berates all the world's religions. This is where he and I differ (and in the Iraq war, and in thinking that women are not funny). Certain parts of religion have been civilizing forces. The concept of the Sabbath, or the Ten Commandments, for instance. But obviously these are man made laws and have little or nothing to do with God. People who think the Bible is divinely written can think whatever they want, but it is like lunatics enforcing their loony beliefs on the sane part of the population. It's as if we were all forced to lead our lives by the daily horoscope. Can't be done. And for all his protestations about art and literature, I think it is safe to say that without the Bible or the Greek religious myths there would be no Shakespeare, no Cervantes, no Western art or literature, no nada. So let's give credit where it is due. Hitchens says atheists hate ritual. He should speak for himself. Ritual can be magnificent and nurturing to the soul, even the soul of an atheist.
It is unfair and reductive to compare Moses' puny burning bush to what you can see through the Hubble telescope, or to the DNA ladder, like Hitchens does. The Bible is a stunning work of literature and a pretty amazing law tract, among other things. And in contrast to pure science, it offers psychological insight into the human condition.
So we cannot say everything about religion is evil. What we can say is that religion, because of its absolute pieties and its zealous, simplistic grip on morality, is very easy to abuse. Like political power. When abused (most of the time), religion simply becomes superstition and snake oil marketing, which clerics use to further their power and influence in the world. The worst abuse of power can come from clerics from every persuasion everywhere who exploit the blind faith of other mortals. I have seen this with my own eyes: people think that a cleric has some special communication channel with God and even perhaps some whiff of infallibility or sainthood because of his proximity to God. Armed with this arrogant knowledge, the cleric then spins these poor, gullible innocents like a top.
I don't need to get into the kinds of unfathomable evil this has unleashed in the world. From inquisitions and pogroms and ethnic cleansing and civil wars, and endless murder and persecution, to the molesting of young children with impunity, and the enforced ignorance of the impoverished masses. Marx was being polite, I tell you. The poison of the people is more like it.
Of course, there are clerics here and there who are truly decent and pious and who became clerics in order to do good. They can probably be counted with the fingers of two hands and the toes of two feet.
It's the people who appropriate and institutionalize and misinterpret the sources of religion that deserve hanging.

He does ride the subway!

...with an impressive security detail, but still. Today I saw Mayor Mike on the 4 train at City Hall station. This kind of thing makes me feel like we live in a Marvel Comic and I think it is super, duper cool.
I wanted to say hi and tell him he needs to do the congestion tax asap and we're with him and do something about the rats and the cabs and the banks and the duane reades and the prices of condos, and we still love you, you are doing great, but I figured that if I tried to talk to him maybe the beefy security agents would tackle me to the ground and break my bones, cause I was in the possession of a hefty computer case carrying the Final Cut Pro I need for my film, so I didn't.
I wouldn't have noticed the Mayor if it wasn't for a French tourist who exclaimed, "Ces't Bloomberrrg"! And then of course, 6 humongous guys in suits and NYPD officers, but all and all, quite a discreet boarding of the subway. Even though he has sold out the city to the rich, I like Mayor Mike.

In other news, right now New York City seems to be in the throes of a mini-tornado. The wind is whipping all kinds of things up and I can see people leaning against it, from my window, which is shaking and creaking violently. A dark cloud is rapidly heading downtown. Marvel Comic.

Mexican Maid

The White House has a Mexican live-in maid. Her name is Alberto Gonzales. Once you read this, the business of firing 8 attorney generals because Karl Rove doesn't like them or they are not Republican enough or they did not do the illegal stuff that was being coerced on them, is going to seem like small potatoes.
Now, how much evidence of incompetence and malfeasance is needed to make the stubborn Gonzales understand he needs to vacate the premises pronto? Apparently, he has no sense of personal honor, or even of ridicule. Even if he were to finally get the memo, by now he has sunk to the lowest form of mindless servitude and stupidity. What an asslicker. Beware of those who blindly follow orders.
But he is only a reflection of his bosses. He acts with arrogance and stupidity just like them. I'm sure this country has never seen anything so tarnished, so debased, as the behavior of this administration.
When will this be finally over????
I think the country should mark the end of the Bush disaster with a national holiday on the scale of Independence Day. Fireworks, concerts, general misrule and cavorting. Nothing short of that could possibly express the joy and relief and liberation we're going to feel when these vermin finally let go.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


For every single person who gives me shit about how Israel is the villain in the Middle East, I have three words: Hamas Mickey Mouse.
I can already hear the lame excuses from the camp that likes to believe that Israel is the devil incarnate. "Those people are so desperate, they are the victims, the underdogs, bla bla bla". These are people who attack each other in front of a school full of children.
I've had it with these assholes and their apologists. I've had it with Jihad and with their bloody ways.
Hamas are fucking creeps who indoctrinate children with murderous thoughts. They are pornographers of violence. They get off on bloodletting. They wouldn't know human dignity if it bit them in the ass. They have no respect for human life. They have no respect for the lives of their own children, whom they brainwash with religious dreck and then send them to their pointless, obscene deaths. Their ideology is disgusting. It makes me want to vomit.
And this is who Israel is supposed to live in peace with?

Little Toby

My friend Toby is three years old and he has a very aggressive form of cancer, recently diagnosed. I baked a chocolate cake for his parents and his brother and brought it to his house. I didn't expect to find him and his parents at home. They were told by doctors that they cannot stay there because the environment can be toxic for Toby, who is extremely weakened by chemotherapy. But to my surprise, they were there and Toby was awake and feeling better. He was arguing, refusing (with good reason) to take his horrible, disgusting pink medicine (who do the medicine people think they are fooling with the pink color?) and demanding cookies and orange juice.
Toby is a beautiful, gorgeous little boy. His skin is the color of caramel. His lovely soft brown curls are starting to fall, and he has lost 8 pounds, but he still is very, very handsome. He is also strikingly articulate for a boy his age. He talks beautifully. He is very smart. His mother told him I had baked a chocolate cake, a feat that left him unimpressed. He told me he likes vanilla better. He has very definite opinions, and not only about cake. I gather he has strong opinions about subway lines as well. I'd love to talk to him about this topic in more detail when he gets better.
Toby got a video made by his teacher at school, with all his classmates greeting him through the camera and listening to wonderful, silly songs that the teacher made up. I don't know if I can describe Toby's face as he watched his friends. A smile appeared that belonged to someone much older, someone like a very wise adult. A skeptical smile. A knowing smile. What was he thinking, this brave little boy, whose life has become an inexplicable nightmare? There are my friends, their normal selves in their normal, relatively carefree lives, and here I am. My world turned upside down. My life completely changed, my days and nights plagued with sufferings of all shapes and sizes. For no rhyme or reason. How unfair it must seem. How incomprehensible.
Toby's parents are heroic. I have only seen them twice, but they seem to have a steady, defiant calm I don't think most people could muster under the circumstances. I hope with all my might that they will soon see better days, and they will play with Toby in the sunlight.

Cuerpo de Tamal

As I've said before, Mexico City is fast becoming the coolest city on the planet. It now boasts gay unions, abortions and 18,000 brave souls getting naked for photographer Spencer Tunick's largest massive nude photo yet, in no less than Mexico City's central square, el Zócalo.
Check out some stunning pictures here.
This is quite astounding for a number of reasons:
1. Mexicans tend to be rather modest and discreet about their bodies, which as the headline points out, are often the shape of tamales. No beauteous curves or chiseled bodies for us. Because of it being a staunchly Catholic and sexually repressed country, and because of the tamal body phenomenon, we don't run around in tangas and show our tits and asses without much coaxing, like in other places in Latin America.
2. As Mr. Ex-Enchilada points out, there is now a growing epidemic of obesity thanks to our enormous capacity for snacking, which is increasingly replaced by evil manufactured junk food, rather than our traditional yummy antojitos. So that means a lot of human tamales in not the very best shape. When queried about who got naked, Mr. Ex-Enchilada reports that 75% of the models were males. Feel free to draw your own conclusions, but I rest my case: female modesty is still very much the norm, and the bane of many a frustrated male. The female ogling that goes on in Mexico is a topic for an encyclopedia. No one is safe. I can only imagine that this was the dream come true of every construction worker, hell, any male pedestrian that ever trod asphalt in the D.F. Except that 75% were machos. Hhhmmm...
3. "Es mucho trabajo". I bet getting 18,000 Mexicans naked and organized must have been a crowning feat for Mr. Tunick. Too much work, like a compatriot of mine would say.
4. For years the government would not even allow rock concerts in Mexico, (although this has not been the case already many years), but it seems that after allowing abortion, and even more shockingly, gay unions, letting 18, 000 citizens bare all is chump change for the authorities.
It's all good, by the way. Right on, chilangos!

Trembling before God

So now the Pope has threatened with excommunication and eternal damnation to all politicians who support abortion. That obviously goes straight to all those sensible, concerned Mexico City pols (I can't believe I'm saying this) who voted to allow abortions in Mexico City. I'm sure they are shitting in their pants over the prospect of going to hell. How they must tremble... But I think that it will be quite the opposite. Mexico City politicians, who have never been known to do anything for the good of their constituents, have won a place in my heaven, by looking at reality straight in the eye and saving the lives of countless women who have no recourse when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. If the Catholic church would rather see poor women bleed to death or die from infections or become barren after unsafe and harrowing abortions, that is their own ticket to hell.
And there is certainly something chilling and unseemly about the church threatening people in secular life. It not only seems anachronistic but unsolicited, plain wrong.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Tristan Project

Since I had never seen a full Wagner opera and since this promised to be something different, I bought tickets to the LA Philharmonic's production of Tristan and Isolde like four months ago. The reason I was curious was that it includes videos by Bill Viola. The opera lasted 5 hours with two half and hour intermissions. This being NY, after leaving downtown 45 minutes ahead of time, I still barely made it. There was no late seating so I ran, and so did everybody else, trying to make a 6 pm curtain. I had to take a cab because I'd waste too long getting to the subway. This was a perfect example of why we need that congestion pricing NOW. It is simply not acceptable that a car cannot go from Lafayette and Astor Place to Lincoln Center, which is really not that far, in less than 45 minutes. It's a drive that should take no more than 20. Even in Mexico City half an hour in traffic gets you farther. Manhattan is too small and narrow for each and every lonely asshole behind a steering wheel. Drivers can kiss my ass. Leave your fucking cars at home.
Back to the screaming:
So Wagner. Bastard Jew hater, wrote some of the most romantic music ever. Tristan and Isolde is basically an extended orgasm, punctuated by spurts of storytelling about a love potion that provokes love or death or both. It is the height of Romanticism, but like all operas it combines the sublime with the ridiculous. It has one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written and then it also has people screaming like banshees for hours about whether someone drank a potion or not. It doesn't help matters that Christiane Brewer, the soprano, who is the size of a monster truck, wanted the audience to let it be known that she was recuperating from a stomach flu (in a leaflet inside the program), so that her heroic efforts would be duly appreciated. I would file this under Dept. of Too Much Information, because, as she reached her high C's with full Wagnerian orchestra playing behind her, I kept hoping she didn't rip one.

Still, this production belonged more to the sublime than to the ridiculous. No helmets with horns on this one. No props. The orchestra is on stage. The characters are dressed in black, and the orchestra and chorus use other parts of the theater too, so that some trumpets were stationed next to us in the nosebleed section. This created some beautiful sound effects. Hovering over the orchestra is a giant screen that plays Bill Viola's videos. They do add a spiritual, mythical dimension to the work.
But back to the ridiculous: there you are, having ran to within an inch of your life to make it on time, and after about 2 hours, first intermission. You are sorely in need of bladder relief so you spend 90% of the half hour allotted standing in line for the women's bathroom that has THREE measly stalls. I hate Avery Fisher Hall. It was designed by a sadist. The five percent you have left you run down three flights of stairs in search of something to eat in order not to starve to death together with Isolde. And then you cram a lox and cream cheese sandwich into your mouth as you run up the stairs because you may not make it to the third act. Very relaxing, opera.
Esa-Pekka Salonen is my new love. He is young and handsome and directs with elegance and passion. I could see the man has class, even from the heights where I was perched. It musn't be easy to direct this huge, hodge podgy work. I mean, does it really have to take 5 hours to tell this tale? It takes Tristan two full acts to kick the bucket. There is a lot of boring exposition. I would cut to the chase and just hear the Liebestod and the gorgeous beginning of the act in which Tristan is recovering and then decides to tell us his life story. I lost count of what act it was.

The Viola videos: some of them are truly mesmerizing, simple and meditative, absolutely beautiful and a great counterpoint to the teutonic upheavals going on on stage. They made the work spiritual and poignant, although at some point in the proceedings it seemed Mr. Viola ran out of ideas. Some of the videos are beautifully lit, and stunningly made, probably in high-def, and look gorgeous. Others seemed to have been shot with a camcorder and were not that impressive. But in general they created an archetypal mood, a transcendent, serene, beautiful place that did not distract from the music, but enhanced it.
Tristan and Isolde is such an ironic, dramatic, romantic tale that it is quite moving, especially in this production. The stage director, Peter Sellars, understands that the music doesn't really need but the minimum of stagecraft and illusion. All the emotion, oceans of it, is contained within it. It was a great production, as far as I can tell.

Back from San Pancho

My darlings! I can't bear to be without you for this long. I had every intention to write to you from chilly, sunny San Francisco, but my whirlwind activities denied me the pleasure. I had forgotten what an interesting, lovely city it is. Lots of character and lots of characters. People in San Fransisco look at you in the eye and they talk to you. Waiters expound on every topic. Being from NY one is not used to such personable garrulousness. And it is not the ditzy kind, like in LA. It has bite.
A seasoned waitress at Washington Square Cafe in North Beach warned me that I was about to eat the best spaghetti carbonara I've ever had. I was skeptical, because I've had very good. It was good, but not the best. It was authentic -- no cream and real pancetta, and lots of egg. However, she was fearsome and I was afraid to contradict her. From what she told the other table I gathered that she used to be a hard drinker but she stopped. Then she told me that she should live in NY because San Francisco is boring and there is really nothing to do and if she lived in NY she would never have enough years to do all she wanted to do. She also swore with utter conviction that the next couple of days the weather would be in the eighties, even though at the moment it was cold and drizzling. I imagine that Calamity Jane was something like her.
First stop in my pilgrimage agenda, the legendary Swan Oyster Depot, where after a long wait we were finally able to sit at the marble counter and order a bowl of the Best Clam Chowder Known to Man, bar none. I defy anyone to show me better. After that, one of the always charming and flirtatious owners chose the most delicate kumamoto and miyagi oysters for us, because we asked for small ones. They were superb, so we had two dozen and then we had some regal crabmeat just with lemon. It was so good and fresh it didn't need smothering with anything else. A tall Anchor Steam ale and, really, it only takes this much to make me extremely happy.
Second stop: Tosca. To have one of their chocolate hot drinks that look innocent but are spiked with brandy and not daintily. I love Tosca.
Third stop: dim sum at Yank Sing. The best ever. Way more expensive than anything in NY's Chinatown, but also more luxurious and delicate. Shrimp wrapped with bacon and chives was unbelievable, as were the crabmeat dumplings, the shanghai soup dumplings fragrant of ginger and the crabmeat dumplings, and the scallop dumplings and the sticky rice, and the barbecued pork flat noodles and I wish I had more room inside. I didn't want to leave. Those pesky hills are great for digestion.
The nice thing about San Francisco is that compared to NY it doesn't seem to have changed that much. I think, however, that it is more expensive than NY. It's very expensive, but I found a great deal at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, where we paid Motel 6 prices for a perfectly swanky room (Orbitz, people). Frisco still has their old fashioned signs and the one neighborhood in America that heroically resists gentrification: the unbelievable Tenderloin. Since I hadn't been back in at least five years, I expected to find the Tenderloin yuppified, like our own very Bowery and our Lower East Side, painfully unrecognizable with insufferable hotels and expensive bars. Hell, no. Not the Tenderloin.

The Tenderloin is basically one block away from Union Square and from Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Saks, etc. From fancy hotels, and expensive restaurants and theaters and retail. But it is still a most honorable dump. How it is possible that given the market forces, the real estate value, the money, etc, the bums and addicts still make it their fiefdom? How come market forces disarm and flee at the unseemly sight of the Tenderloin? Who knows, but there it is, full of dubious transient hotels and a lot of ragged junkies sprawled on the streets and drug dealers and lost souls and rowdy addicts. Just baaaaaad to the bone, God love it.
In NY our lost citizens do not congregate in one place and they don't seem to have a neighborhood to call home. They are staunchly individualistic, but also, I don't think we have as many addicts or as many crazies. Perhaps because in NY the weather and the city are less forgiving, but our homeless look like Emily Post compared to the ones in Frisco.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The End of Utopia

When I was 18, I lived in a kibbutz for nine months. It was a great experience. Kibbutz Yakum was conveniently located in the main road from Tel Aviv to Netanya (which is why we chose it, we didn't want to have to schlep through the desert for a night out on the town). If you crossed the main road, you crossed some big avocado and peanut fields that belonged to the Kibbutz, you'd go down some steep dunes and meet the sea. People used to sunbathe in the nude there.
I haven't been to Israel since 1988. When I say that, those who have tell me "you are not going to recognize it". Gone, for instance, is that ridiculous international airport that looked like a seedy supermarket. Now apparently it is not only state of the art, but a mall.
It's funny how the mind expects everything to remain exactly the same as one left it. Yakum was surrounded by fields, and you really felt that you were in the country, even if it was really close to Tel-Aviv. Now, some friends who were there with me report that there is an Office Depot on the other side of the road, that you have to really look for the entrance because everything around it is totally built up, and that the little road that took us from the entrance of the Kibbutz to the dining hall is now surrounded with an office park. The houses in which we used to live are now rented as office space. The value of the land of this kibbutz is astronomical on both sides of the road, and its members sold some of it, split the proceeds, in true socialist fashion, and became millionaires. All those years of milking cows and driving tractors and picking cotton and working in their plastic factory paid off.
I was listening to this in disbelief. It makes perfect sense but somehow it hurts.
Of coursethe kibbutz was not utopia by any stretch of the imagination, but of every other socialist dream put into practice I think it was the closest to not bad at all. It was a functioning cooperative society where everyone had exactly the same things as everybody else. Now some of the members apparently have their own businesses outside the kibbutz (in my day they had to sign up to borrow a car, or for vacations). I asked if there were still cows. There are. The people who now tend the fields and milk the cows are hired hands. The kibbutz closed its admissions to people once it was clear they were going to be raking it in. Totally understandably. In 1981, when I was there, they were happy to take people in, after a thorough screening process. On one hand, they had a huge risk of losing their younger members because the placidity could be stifling. On the other even then life at a kibbutz had its advantages. You worked eight hours a day either on the fields, the farm or the factory and everything else was taken care of. You didn't have to worry about taxes, education, healthcare, food, clothing, profits. And it was a beautiful, placid place, like a country club but with cows and chickens and tractors (and a great swimming pool). Now I guess, whoever lucked in at the time, made out like a bandit. And I wonder if all of those who left have changed their minds all of a sudden.
I think it's fair for the kibbutz to adapt to a mercenary world. God knows it was a swamp when they built it and a lot of effort and hard work and principle and ideology went into it. It was the classic story of socialist idealism. Educated people working the land, sharing the burden, reaping the rewards equally. Yakum was one of the truly lefty kibbutzim. It resisted change for longer than most, as I understand.
So it isn't only fair, it is probably imperative to change in order for it not to die. But man, knowing that the idea of the kibbutz, and it is astonishingly successful implementation, are now almost an archaeological thing of the past, saddens me to no end, (despite the fact that I for one, wouldn't want to live in one except probably in my retirement years). But it was an admirable undertaking and as painful as it is to imagine an Office Depot across the road, I hope the members are enjoying their newfound wealth in peace.