Friday, August 31, 2007
"There is an obsession with nails in this town!", exclaims Marcus, and I am quick to point out that more than an obsession with nails, we have been invaded without prior consultation, as is usually the case with invasions.
Two people have patiently explained to me (when I threatened to write Mayor Bloomberg a letter) that this is capitalism: "it's what the market wants". Well, I do not buy this explanation. And frankly I am tired of hearing that endless amounts of unnecessary crap exist because the customers demand it. When did we all raise our collective voices and started demanding nail salons? I wasn't there that day. Everybody blames the customer. It is simply not true. Endless amounts of crap exist because companies make it in order the increase market share and then try to persuade us that we need it, not because we ask for it and can't live without it.
We do need some nail salons in NY, but certainly we do not need 2 nail salons in every block, just as we don't need five banks and two Subway sandwich stores in a two block radius or eleven Duane Reades in one neighborhood. Who says that this is what we want? This is what the high rents bring. In the case of banks, uglyass pharmacy chains or franchises, they are all big businesses that can afford to pay the steep rents. In the case of nail salons, ah, that is more mysterious.
True, the New York walking culture requires more pedicures. I didn't see that many women in Paris sporting nail polish on their toes. Here it looks bad if you don't. Men here are also increasingly prone to taking care of their nails. But this cannot account for the infestation of nail salons everywhere. We cannot all be clamoring for manicures and pedicures at such an alarming rate. So what is it?
My instinct, which is based on absolutely no proof, as instinct usually is, is money laundering operations. Of course, not every nail salon is sinister. The reason why they may be profitable is probably because they rely on very cheap labor. I bet the poor men and women that paint your nails and massage your calves are not getting richly compensated. In some places they barely speak English. But how many treatments do you need to sell to pay a Manhattan commercial rent? Who are the owners of these proliferating nail emporia? Something smells like smelly feet to me, that's all I'm saying.
Or: how much is that doggie on the window?
People like her (the bitch, not the dog) are not just selfish egomaniac control freaks from hell, they are mentally deranged. Such a high degree of nastiness is nothing but sick in the head. As far as I'm concerned it is more sick in the head from all of us to put up with these human turds. But it happens. The shit that ruined my former ad agency, par example, has been, unfathomably to me, hired somewhere else. Does nobody ask for references? Apparently not. But the poor schmucks will soon find out.
It was the beginning of the label fad in the seventies and there was no way I could convince her to spring for any garment with a name visibly on the outside, no matter how socially important it was for me as a teenager. She had a fearsome aversion to logos and brand names, yet she was a woman of style. At the time, I loathed that attitude but now I see how right she was. Logos, no matter how expensive, are vulgar. The more logos you count on a person, the tackier they are.
Luxury brands which used to stand for elegance are now connected to vulgarity.
Allow me to be a snob for a moment, but where is the exclusivity if virtually any plebeian can stroll around with a fake Louis Vuitton or insert name of brand here bag.
And as you can find their reasonable facsimiles in the alleys in Chinatown, it seems to me that the whole idea of exclusive luxury is subverted. One may think it is a noble democratizing thing to afford a fake so that we can all can parade it with our crocs (the con of the century, 30 bucks for plastic clogs that probably cost 25 cents to manufacture), but in reality, people who buy counterfeit luxury schmattes are like people who buy cocaine. They are buying evil products from very evil people. I don't care whether the big fashion houses lose a single penny. I don't feel sorry for them. But as this piece in the Times points out, the counterfeit industry is sinister and exploitative, and totally unnecessary. Nobody is going to die of nakedness if they don't have the latest stupid fake bag.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
You know what? People wearing their pants below their ass should be punished, not on the grounds of indecency but on the grounds of buttugliness. I don't give a fuck if it so happens that most of the men who wear their pants below their ass, showing their stupid underwear and looking like retards, are black. Anybody wearing that shit should be fined for buttugliness. It is an affront to the eye to see people dressed like that, no matter what the skin tone. And while we're at it, I would also fine fat-assed women who show their rolls in public, and anybody wearing a thong outside her pants. Women who wear flipflops with anything but Summery beach clothes should spend a night in fashion jail (of which I am the Sheriff). And so do adults older than 8 and younger than 80 who wear Crocs. UGG boots get life without the possibility of parole.
I was watching snippets of the US Open today. Whatever happened to tennis whites? Roger Federer looked like a parking attendant, while Serena Williams looked like a hostess in a brothel in Nevada. Who shows up to play wearing long diamond earrings and jewelry?
Should he resign just because he is a closeted faygele?
The moral cowardice of the Republicans and their despicable hypocrisy are beyond belief. They call a presidential blow job reason for impeachment but stand by while a war is enacted with terrible, lasting consequences, through practiced deception. What gives?
The only thing that makes me happy is to see them all implode, as they are right doing right now, the self-righteous, spineless vermin.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I'm very concerned that the news that Mississippi is the fattest state will do nothing to discourage the consumption of truly evil foods (pretty much everything that comes frozen, in a box or in a can) but will undermine the culinary culture of the South. Because frankly, the fried chicken and the oxtail and the collard greens and the biscuits and gravy and the shrimp and grits cannot possibly be worse for anybody's health than the overprocessed and cynically cheap and misleading foods poor people buy at their supermarket aisles.
Soul food is fattening, for sure, but it also is nutritious and, even better, it is delicious, thereby making people happy. It is also culturally essential, but people in this country act as if food wasn't culture. They act as if its either oil or ethanol -- just fuel. As long as this is the approach, whereby a thoroughly inedible protein bar is considered more virtuous than fried chicken and waffles, we're doomed to failure. The protein bar is food made in hell, with evil designs in mind disguised as concern for your health. The fried chicken and waffles is heavenly food, it's grandma's food, it's love food, but you just can't be eating it every day. It's a treat.
And if you do eat lots of soul food, well, you do have to get off your fat ass and move around. Alas, life in the US is mostly designed around cars, not sidewalks. The fat don't move enough.
Evil foods are engineered to lie to you. The first taste is always good, but once you finish your supersized combo, you are always left craving more, because it isn't truly satisfying food. It's way overprocessed to really sate you.
The real nourishment from food does not come only through nutrients, it comes through taste and flavor and preparation and freshness.
So I say to my friends in Mississippi: don't stop eating all that good stuff. Don't let anybody tell you that your soul food isn't righteous. Just lay off the junk.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
In other news, this was my lunch today:
The remnants of a bag of crunchy Cheetos sprinkled with lime juice and Miguelito powder. Yum.
The contents of a packet of Mexican Japanese Peanuts with a Miguelito and lime juice dressing.
Don't try this at home.
Monday, August 27, 2007
I know I must be in a small minority of one. But quaint B&Bs and small country inns give me the absolute creeps.
1. I'm not in love with chintz. And in these places, for the most part, everything is chintz. Everything is too precious, too Laura Ashley. Makes me uncomfortable. I truly despise quaint.
2. There is no sense of privacy. You are basically living in the house of some strangers. They look at you funny. They wonder if you are going to smoke crack on their beds and set them on fire or leave your chewing gum or snot under it.
3. Everybody feels compelled to whisper at all hours. As if not to disturb the corpse in the next room?
4. You have to meet other strangers for breakfast. Eew.
Give me an anonymous, clean motel any day. Or, if you can afford it, a fabulous luxury resort. That, I could love.
A six hour drive turned into a 9 hour affair after a cement mixer brushed our rental car and basically totalled the rear right hand side of the car. Nothing happened to us, except mild bureaucracy.
I was amazed at the speed with which the State Police towed the car. The officer who wrote the accident report was super helpful. And I'm amazed at the fact that we were given another car by the car rental company and they even paid for our cab fare. I was able to fill out an insurance claim over the phone with my credit card company, which was tortuous and slow, but doable.
This is American can-do at its best. To my endless surprise, the vacation continued more or less unhindered.
Now I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The roads up to Vermont are gorgeous. This is a gorgeous country. Right now, the corn is high, the meadows a myriad shades of green, the hills are alive with the sound of music. There is a lot of roadkill. In fact, unfortunately, and for the first time in my life I contributed to it by hitting a poor squirrel. Maybe a chipmunk, alas. :(
We drove on the smaller roads, to see the views. They were largely empty. I hate the interstates (they are soporific), but the American road system is a true marvel. You people probably take it for granted, but you shouldn't. The roads are good, mostly excellently signalized and they are everywhere. The only problem I see is the speed limit, which is for turtles.
So we arrived in Burlington in the dark. In the morning, it became clear we were in some sort of alternative universe of almost total hippieness. By hippieness I mean everything is organic and recycled and composted and liberal and some of it is tie dyed. The fashion color scheme tends towards the lilacs and mauves. There is no shortage of motel chains and other staples or corporate Americana, but people in Burlington seem to be on the side of independence of mind, even if that means that almost everybody is uniformly ecological, liberal etc. I guess in a place like that it must be very rebellious and even hip to be a Republican.
Lake Champlain is very gorgeous. We sat on the pebbly sand and were soaked by a flash storm that was very refreshing. We were treated super nicely by some New York friends who have recently relocated, who literally gave us their house to stay in and also by Vicky who took us to a great place for brunch and showed us around. We realized that outside of New York City people talk to you. They make small talk even if they don't know you. Sometimes the talk is not so small, and it takes a moment to adjust to the fact that, no, these people are not crazies, they are just friendly.
What took you so long? All the lead in the Miguelitos, perhaps?
I tried to listen to his resignation speech but had to turn it off when he started blabbing about how citizens' rights are safe and protected. I almost ran to the toilet to puke. The gall is beyond belief.
AMERICAN PEOPLE: If you still believe we are safe and protected, because you hear this sloganeering over and over from the mouthpieces of the Bush administration, you are a dumbass.
We should seek safety and protection FROM the Bush administration and its attendant toadies.
Still. This means that Mexican children have been consuming heaping amounts of lead forever, and that to judge from my own consumption of Miguelitos, I must have a 2 pound barbell lodged somewhere inside my brain. Lead is part of the food pyramid in Mexico. Everybody knows that.
In any case, this is very upsetting because I'd hate for these uniquely Mexican snacks to disappear from the Mexican diet. I'm sure it is possible to manufacture them without lead, but that is probably prohibitive to whoever is responsible for them.
Also, I wonder if this is not a typical overreaction and a consipracy from the US powers that be, who monitor our food like Alexander Portnoy's own mother. And still, we are the fattest people in the planet.
So in the meantime, my dear readers, if you must, as I will, consume Miguelito, do it with caution and at your own risk.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
My duty as a blooger, requires that I tell you about Mexican Japanese peanuts, despite my ennui.
The first thing you need to know is that if you ever want to buy Mexican Japanese peanuts, there is only one brand that does the trick, and no other.The original Nishikawa brand, in the cellophane bag with blue lettering and the bust of a Geisha that hasn't changed since the sixties (except for the nutritional info label). The others just don't cut the mustard.
Now, Mexican Japanese peanuts are a mystery to me. Apparently there were Japanese and Chinese inmigrants to Mexico in the early 20th century that brought some stuff with them that has become a Mexican snack staple. One is the peanuts and the other is Chamoy, which is the Mexican version of preserved plums.
The peanuts are simply coated with a hard crunchy coat of wheat flour and soy. Mexican kids open the bag, sprinkle some chili powder or sauce and then smother them with squeezed lime juice. Shake the bag and eat. When you finish the peanuts, you suck the remaining lime and chili juice out of the bag, then you lick the inner part of the bag. Yes.
Chamoy, now also known as Miguelito, comes in two main varieties, wet and dry. Also in little plastic pouches. Wet it is made of dried, preserved apricot or plum with salt, sugar and citric acid and it's very red and people other than Mexicans find it unfathomable. Dry, it is the powder I described above, which you pour into the palm of your hand and you lick, or pour directly into your mouth, or pour on top of everything that goes well with lime and chili, such as potato chips, jicama or other cut fruits and vegetables (carrots, cucumbers,mango, pineapple).
Together with the shipment of the peanuts I got, from the Estimable Ruth Munguia (gracias, mana!) a big bottle (new packaging!) of powdered Miguelito, which alas, has egregious spelling errors both in English and Spanish.
Consider this community service on my part. Even though I rotated the images in my photo application, for some stubborn reason they will not rotate when I upload them, but it's just as well. It's the nature of the beast.
I'm running out of kvetching. Not that the world has suddenly changed for the better. Quite the contrary. There is so much evil going on, I'm overwhelmed. Paralyzed. I don't know what to write about.
Iraq? You know how I feel about it. We've been saying the same things for four years. YOU must be bored.
Hurricane Dean? All I can tell you is at CNN they use him to lure unsuspecting viewers: he's weaker, but he may strengthen, he made landfall but he is a category 2. He farted, then he coughed. Enough already.
The politics of God? That article in the NYT magazine? I'm afraid to even open it. My rage against religion in the political sphere is all consuming. I can't deal anymore.
Good things to say?
Only that the Mexican lady with the mangoes cut like tulips with chile is back at her accustomed corner in Union Square. That is a good thing. Until they deport her, that is.
And I recently got a shipment of Mexican Japanese peanuts that is making me very happy. With Miguelito, which is sugar, chili powder and citric acid and only Mexicans like this stuff.
One day, when I'm less depressed I will tell you about Mexican Japanese peanuts.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
''I just get sleepy when I read,'' said Richard Bustos of Dallas, a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify.Mr. Bustos, I know people who claim to get horny when they read (particularly philosophy). This may pique your interest. On the other hand, I once saw Bertrand Russell's Principia Mathematica at my dad's bedside table. It was his cure for insomnia.
Whites read more than blacks and Hispanics, and those who said they never attend religious services read nearly twice as many as those who attend frequently.
There was even some political variety evident, with Democrats and liberals typically reading slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives.
The Bible and religious works were read by two-thirds in the survey, more than all other categories. Popular fiction, histories, biographies and mysteries were all cited by about half, while one in five read romance novels. Every other genre -- including politics, poetry and classical literature -- were named by fewer than five percent of readers.This is why we have the leaders we have and the culture we have.
I do not know what possessed me to retain composure and ignore them, when inside I really felt like taking this guy's puny, developing testes and twisting them into a braid.
I just thought I'd share this with you.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Saturday we went to Arthur Ave in the Bronx, for a nice excursion. It is, indeed, like a little little Italy, with pastry shops (I don't think much of Italian pastries), bakeries (better) and restaurants that at 2:30 pm were either empty or closed. We settled on Emilia's for it was the only one with people in it. I had clams oreganata, remember those? They were swimming in oil, garlic and breadcrumbs and were decent. And then I had a pasta al forno, which was good. Nothing better than anything in Manhattan, but fun. The bread though, was great.
Then we took the bus to Orchard Beach, which would have been a pretty oasis of quiet if it weren't from some infernal disco music blasting from somewhere. The farther away you tried to get from it, the louder it got. The beach was not crowded, so I fail to see the reason for such an offensive, obnoxious and hostile racket. The people who patrolled the beach were all fat, as most of the beachbums.
We wanted to sit on the rocks in a jetty but that was not to be. It is forbidden. Three fat security beach people kept screaming at us to get off the rocks, but none could muster the energy to move their ass and come tell us. We got off the rocks and sat on the sand next to the rocks. On the rocks which are on the sand, on the side of the beach. but that wasn't good enough either. The screams kept coming in our direction. They finally radioed a park guard, who told us very politely that it is forbidden to sit on the rocks, even for two conscientious adults, because the rocks are slippery and we may fall. Oh well, I'm happy to see that the powers that be care so much about my well being. We may not have health care, but we sure are well policed at the beach.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The reason why Cheney was against invasion in 1994, when he was Secretary of Defense, and his change of heart today can be summarized in one word: Halliburton. He became president of Halliburton and then he became VP of the US. As someone points out in the film, this is our system of legal corruption. The country is run by a defense contractor. This is the answer.
Greed is just a simplistic explanation. It is the unstopabble machinery of American business that has created such havoc.
The film also explains the otherwise mindboggling refusal of Congress to oppose the war: it's called the military-industrial complex, to which every member of Congress is beholden because this industry provides jobs to their state.
So now you know. Do not expect anything yo change anytime soon. As long as we collude with these people, as long as no one demands accountability, nothing will change. It's just business.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Gotta thank the skank.
Somebody told me her grandpa cut her out of his will. As if that is going to leave her destitute. She is a shrewd self-marketer. Go to any third world country and you will see her unbelievably disturbing giant mug plastered all over town selling cheap perfume and handbags and who knows what else. Too late, gramps. She is probably richer than you.
So the experiment is, I want to see how many more hits I get just by inserting those two words into my blog. Also, I'll add a sprinkling of Britney Spears, Linsday Lohan and Nicole Ritchie, see if I can break any records.
Results to be posted as soon as they are available.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
I think this is very unfortunate. The article is painful reading, but it is useful reading. People, and particularly Jews outside of Israel, who don't usually hear conflicting sides of the story without thinking the sky is falling and the nazis are back, should be able to make up their own minds. They should hear the criticism and using their seichl (their brains), decide if they agree or not.
The knee jerk reaction that everything that Israel does is good and everybody who criticizes it is bad will not cut the mustard in this day and age, which is basically what these guys are saying.
We live in very complex times in which almost the entire Arab world is against Israel and against the Jews, in a way that makes the recent past look like a bed of roses (not according to the writers of the article, but that is one of several things we don't agree on). Instead of reverting to our shtetl mentality, it is precisely an opportunity, not for hysterical overprotection and censorship, but for open, creative, profoundly different and intelligent thinking. It's not "they want to throw us all into the sea", but rather "what can we do, in politics, diplomacy, strategy, philosophy, ethics, society" to change and improve this nightmarish situation? It looks like for years, we have done nothing but radicalize it. So something in this approach is clearly not working.
Giving the cold shoulder to what seems a legitimate, if unsympathetic, complaint is narrowminded at best. It doesn't help the cause of Israel one bit. Quite the contrary. We have to be smarter than that. I think we Jews know when someone is a real Israel hater and when someone is just positing a contrary opinion. If we don't, we have to learn to make the distinction NOW. These two guys don't seem to be particularly fond of Israel, but they do not wish its disappearance. Furthermore, they have a point with which I agree on: The lack of debate does not help Israel nor the US.
Not everybody has to like Israel. I don't like a lot of countries. That doesn't mean I want them out.
As usual, I refer back to Israel itself, where people have very divergent political ideas, some of them quite extreme on either side. Israelis don't all think that for their sake they should all stop thinking or they should always think they are always right. Neither should we.
A highly enlightening example was last week's piece by David Remnick in the New Yorker about Avrum Burg, who is scandalously, but legitimately questioning what he considers Israel's persecuted, victimized mentality. He has some very tough truths to say. Coming from him, they are very provocative ways to open up debate. If someone not Jewish or Israeli were to say the same thing, they'd probably be accused of antisemitism. It's a thin line, and one we have to learn to parse as well as we do the Talmud. Censorship and hysterical overreaction are not the answer. I've also heard David Grossman speak of wishing Israel to be a normal country. There is definitely a sense that Israel lives isolated from the rest of the world, and not only because the world won't come out and play with it, not only because it is geographically cloistered by hostile, undemocratic nations, but because it has also painted itself into a lonely, ugly corner. This is terrible. Israel still is a civilized, democratic, free society. Perhaps it's time to change its mentality and its strategy. It is in its best interest to start living as a modern, democratic, secular nation like all the other civilized nations on Earth, with everything that entails.
We need to listen to the dissenters (which is not the same as the haters), from within and without. We need to allow ourselves the possibility of reflection and dissent. Otherwise, we are dooming ourselves.
- Removing term limits for the presidency, and extending the term of office from six years to seven
- Bringing in a maximum six-hour working day
- Increasing presidential control over the central bank
- Strengthening state economic powers, allowing the government to control assets of private companies before a court grants an expropriation order.
I certainly hope the Venezuelan people who love him, as poor and benighted as they may be, are smart enough (and they are) to understand that giving him this unlimited power will get them a dictatorship and endless misery of a different kind. Unless he intends to extricate them from their ignorance and poverty so they can survive without a middle class or the rich, it will be a disaster.
This serves as a perfect example of why keeping the poor uneducated is ultimately a very bad idea all around the world (Mexico, take heed).
1. Because they remain eternally poor, they are the albatross around everybody's neck and resentful of the middle class. People think the poor are cheap but I think that they are very costly, not to mention unsightly.
2. Because they swallow the bullshit from a charismatic populist such as Chavez and are loyal to him forever, whether he throws the country to the dogs or not. Same almost happened with AMLO in Mexico.
With an education they simply may not be as gullible, or as poor.
So now the Venezuelan well to do are going to probably abscond to Miami with all the money and the know how and they will leave the poor to live off Chavez's demagogic largesse, which he owes entirely to oil and the gift of gab.
But you can never get news from his quarters without something hilarious, and this was no exception:
He is going to institute a 6 hour workday. This is hysterical in a country where I'm told people show up almost two hours late and they think you are batshit insane to expect an apology.
I personally know someone who had an employee who arrived two hours late and when she complained, he calmly told her she was a stuck up brat. She fired him on the spot. There was talk of an overreaction on her part. I would have gone straight for his neck, set him on fire and thrown him out the window.
I know that many Venezuelans work very hard, but come on, a six hour day? Not even the French have such gall.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Little Machiavelli is leaving the White House with tears in his eyes. Not a moment too soon, if you ask me. And he ain't fooling no one. It turns out that now "spending time with family" means "not wanting to answer subpoenas".
Karl Rove has debased the Presidency and imperiled the separation of powers with his dirty tactics, but that doesn't seem to bother his conscience, nor the two neurons lodged in his friend Bush's craneal cavity. I wonder if Bush knows that his friend's tactics have actually done him in.
Monday, August 13, 2007
So one more thing to add to our list of really obnoxious and totally unnecessary environmental pollutants: light pollution. Is there really a need to keep all the midtown office buildings lights on when no one's there?
My list of environmental peeves:
Junk snail mail. This makes me murderous with rage.
Noise. (Cabdrivers and Harley drivers are first on my execution list, followed by restaurants who think they are discos)
Outdoor ad pollution. On top of everything, most ads are ugly.
Electric energy wastefulness.
Siberia-like conditions in movie theaters and office buildings. If you have to bring a sweater, it's wrong.
Water bottles. I recycle them.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
The last meteor shower I saw (in Chinatown, no less), was spectacular. I'm not missing this one.
Wouldn't it be great if everybody turned off their lights so we could better watch the Perseids?
Sunday after midnight, who needs lights on anyway?
Enjoy the show.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Yeah, we are all so scared. You like to keep the citizenry trembling. That much is clear.
The new law requires businesses, who could not possibly thrive the way they do without their trusted illegal workers, to reconcile the Social Security information of their employees with official records. If a worker has a fake number, they need to be fired. To be replaced by whom, exactly? That's one of the many questions raised by this incredibly nearsighted approach, which in the end is simply fanned by nothing but racism. I don't believe for a second the holier than thou argument that it's the illegality that irks people. What irks people is that the immigrants are brown and poor and different.
People are afraid of the brown wave. It's that simple. If instead of Mexicans and Central Americans you had Irish or Germans or Scandinavians doing all the work, I bet we wouldn't be hearing the same song. There would be no song. Period.
I agree that illegal immigration needs to stop. As I've said countless times, that requires a concerted effort between countries. Mexico needs to offer a better standard of living to its own people, more education and real opportunities for progress. Now that it has the world's richest man, perhaps he could think of something. Like every other wealthy Mexican, he has made his millions in no small part thanks to paying low wages. Mexico needs to narrow the abyss between the rich and the poor.
The US needs to find a way to curb the entrance of more people. They want to build a wall, please, by all means. But those who have lived here peacefully, paid taxes, worked hard and contributed to the economy, those who the Army has no qualms in ignoring the illegality of their status in order to recruit them for Iraq, they should not be punished and humiliated as if they were common criminals. The immigration madness is nothing but pure hypocrisy. It shows the meanspiritedness that still lurks in the heart of America. There is something really nasty about going after people who for the most part not only do no harm, but actually help. Hopefully, and you won't hear me saying this too often, business will prevail. Certain sectors are not going to be happy to comply with the manhunt. It hurts business.
We should be grateful to these people not only their hard work and their quiet endurance, but I would build them monuments just for making it possible to have better Mexican food in this country. Because of them you now know the glories of corn on the cob with chili and lime (or cream and white cheese, or mayo and chili powder, of mangoes with chili, of micheladas and of antojitos. If nothing else, that should be cause for your undying gratitude.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Alas, it would be impossible. Too much of a fantastical, wholly unreasonable conceit around these parts. Among other reasons, because here in the US we are sorely lacking in the concept of personal adult responsibility. Here in NY they are banning the fat that goes in our food. You do that to the French and see how fast they bring back the guillotine.
So fear of lawsuits would probably be the first reason. In order to rent you a bike, you'd probably have to bring your own lawyer, who would attest to the fact that you know how to ride it, and have no prior criminal record, etc. Then after submitting yourself for fingerprinting or iris scanning, you'd probably be made to wear a non-negotiable helmet if not more safety contraptions. The bike would probably be rigged not to go above a certain speed. You'd have to sign with blood the 5000 rules and limitations of where and when and how to use it. By the time you'd put the foot on the pedal, they would have taken all the fun out of it.
In Paris, where adults are treated as such and therefore go through life knowing that if something happens to them it's probably their own fault, (which is why you are allowed to bring a bottle of wine or beer to the picnic, for instance) you had to read a very discreet and inobtrusive fine print, and off you went into the Paris traffic, sans helmet, sans any kind of safeguard whatsoever except your own personal common sense. The bikes were available 24 hours. You could, and it was actually very clever, go out late at night and take a bike home after the metro shuts down (at a ridiculous 1 am on weekdays and 2 am on weekends), provided you weren't sloshed out of your wits, and that was at your discretion. More importantly, you could pay 29 euros for the YEAR and have access to the bikes 365/24/7. That was the point of the program, to encourage people to leave their car at home.
Was the mayor concerned over accidents and traffic fatalities and stuff like that? Peut etre un peu. But not enough not to trust his own citizenry to act responsibly and in a civilized manner for the common good and the joy of all.
If I didn't want to wring their necks on the spot, I'd feel really sorry for them.
They spend a million dollars buying a home that they gut out and spend another million dollars rebuilding from scratch because they want their "dream home". This "dream home" concept has always given me a rash. People spend money they don't have to pursue a useless dream of a humongous home that looks just like all the other homes and whose furniture and trash will survive way after the owners have bitten the dust and turned into fine dust themselves.
But luckily for us, hell is a place of our own devising, so I really couldn't be happier for them. They have worked so hard and been lucky enough to cash out so much and they can't enjoy it.
I guess you can't teach an American to stop and smell the roses. It's just not in their system.
Where I come from, in the land of the Enchilada, it is exactly the opposite. Here time is money.
There, time is far more valuable than money.
Now, don't get me wrong. For those of us who have had to deal with the surreal and byzantine everyday workings of not so developed countries, where time is actually an abstract, fluid, wholly subjective entity entirely dependent on the mind and mood of the beholder, the American standard of punctuality, professionalism and efficiency is something short of a miracle. What boggles the mind is the inability to enjoy the flip side. There is something to be said about Latin countries, for all their backwardness in certain aspects, they certainly know how to enjoy life.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Perhaps I've been unlucky and have not chosen well.
My primary care physician gave me the feeling of a used car salesman. I get the feeling these doctors make you have tests so they can charge the insurance company. Or maybe I am paranoid.
Yesterday I went to see the gynecologist. I was there for a "minor" inpatient procedure. My appointment was at 2:30 pm and I arrived on time. By 4:30 pm I was still waiting to see the doctor. I had been stuck in the examining room and told to undress and I could hear him talking to a patient for about 20 minutes. I was tempted obviously, to leave, but I also thought, let's get this over with. Another appointment could mean another two hours. When he came in, I complained that my appointment was at 2:30. This guy apologized not very sincerely and then started telling me that I was berating him and that if I didn't like it I could go to a clinic, that I didn't have to stay and that if I wanted to tell him how to run his office etc, etc, by which time I told him I didn't like his tone of voice and I got out of there. This man is a bully and an asshole and I will never return.
Then I called my former doctor, even if I have to pay for the appointment ($250), for I want her opinion on the procedure. They make you feel like you are a fugitive from a chain gang. No insurance, no doctor. After I explained that I had been a patient for 15 years, the person finally let me make an appointment, for September 19. I'm not going to go into the whole megillah, but it seems to me that something is not working. And I haven't seen Sicko yet.
I went to a new ophtalmologist. The new one has a cramped office somewhere on the East Side the size of a taco stand, where there is not enough room to sit. I waited there also for two hours before he saw me. This apparently is normal.
If doctors are disgruntled with the insurance companies, they are taking it out on the patients. The patients are paying 400 dollars a month to get healthcare and are treated like cattle. It is unbelievable disrespect to have a patient wait for more than 1 hour, let alone two. And if it wasn't because we are talking about our health, and we really don't have much choice, we wouldn't stand for it.
The world richest man is a Mexican. That is not surprising, but it certainly sounds very wrong. I think I have ranted about this in this blog before. I want to know what Carlos Slim does or has done to give back to the country that allowed him to amass such a fortune. I don't think he's done enough. And I don't think he gives a shit.
The Democrats have once more allowed more unchecked power to the President, this time on the issue of wiretapping. Memo to the Democrats: stop sending me your stupid letters asking for money. You are not getting one red cent from me you spineless, ball-less, disgraceful, inept, incompetent, bastards. I hope you lose the election. You don't deserve to win. I'm gonna vote for Nader.
The shrieking is by turns deafening, haunting, primeval, gothic, insane. She makes you experience something deeply unsettling from song.
The voice will remind you of a thousand muezzin calls (in a fantastic Greek song with middle eastern stylings) or of air raid sirens or of the wailing of the insane at an asylum, or of forest animals howling or of inhuman creatures of the night. I much preferred her quiet, brooding take on gorgeous French love songs and blues songs, for she is a great stylist and her idiosyncratic, darkly romantic interpretations are fantastic. She plays the piano as idiosyncratically as she sings, with a deliberate lack of finesse, although you can tell she's got plenty of technique. She makes everything into something eerie and gothic and scary, and to me it feels as if it's about time she outgrew it, for she certainly has the talent and the pipes to transcend that. Her whole gothic, punkish, very eighties glam thing seems like a true blast from the past, and almost self-parodic. It's not only the 1980's it recalls, but really more like the 1880's.
She adds way too much echo and amplification at the heights of her screaming. I understand she is going for a powerful, disturbing effect, but I wonder if it's necessary. The prodigious quality and range of her voice come through loud and clear. Very loud noise can be bracing and exhilarating, ear splitting noise proves exhausting.
I expected to find an audience composed exclusively of goths and eighties nostalgics, but the crowd was the most mixed bunch of people I have ever seen outside of Coney Island. There were the requisite die hard fans, gays who love divas, people her age, etc, but there were also people who looked like they were from Kansas and they think Dick Cheney's great and others who looked like dentists or regular nerds. Most of the audience knew what they came to see. Those who didn't were suffering the ecstasies of martyrdom, not very gladly.
I am a big fan of undisturbed, harmonic melody. I may be a philistine when it comes to dissonance. Also, I'm decidedly not a fan of Camp. Thus, one hour of her singing will be enough to last me a lifetime. But again, it was great to see someone so fiercely committed to her unique talent, someone who in this day and age where everyone is a whore, is so not selling out to The Man.
Now let's get us some tickets to the next Barry Manilow show*.
Monday, August 06, 2007
I used to dislike the editing part of the process precisely for that reason. First you see someone typing and pushing mysterious buttons, and you are completely disconnected from the crafting of the story, which is something very tactile; then you have to explain what you want to achieve, and then watch as the editor interprets what you just told him. If you are lucky, you will get a fantastic editor with great sensibility who will breathe life and art into the film. But you may also get someone who just does what they are told, like a bricklayer. Now that it is in my hands, editing is challenging and unnerving, but far more interesting. I'm saving one step, which is the interpreting of wishes. And I figure, if I intend to continue writing screenplays and directing films, I need to learn how to edit. (So far, it is easier than French).
They are mistaken if they think we have good quality of life. Our quality of life, compared to that of the Spaniards or the French or the Germans, absolutely sucks. SUCKS. And guess what? Look at the freaking Euro, getting stronger by the minute. People in countries like Spain and France, and I'm talking the middle class, not the rich, live like kings. They enjoy life, they eat well, they chill out, they party, they have maids, they take time off, they don't feel retarded guilt about missing time from work. Then take a good look at us: either obese or stressed out or dealing with frustrating automated machines every time something goes wrong, which is quite frequently. If Americans work so much, where are the humans at the other end of the line is what I'd like to know.
Oooh, so proud you work so hard. For what the CEO of your company makes, which is probably a trillion times your salary, you should be demanding some respect in the form at least of some paid downtime. You are being taken for a ride, you pathetic bunch of slaves.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Suite Française is a very disturbing book. Not because it's that great, but because of the circumstances in which it was written. Irene Nemirovsky was a wealthy Jewish Russian exile, whose family of bankers lost everything during the Russian Revolution. She emigrated to France and became quite famous as a novelist.
Suite Française narrates events during the Nazi occupation of France. More precisely, it describes how the French reacted. Nemirovsky has a real jaundiced eye for the French bourgeoisie; in fact, for pretty much everybody. Only someone who really knows wealth and the wealthy can write about them with such contempt. After a while, her contempt stops being interesting and just feels cruel and haughty, with characters so vain and mean spirited, they are almost caricatures. Flaubert skewers provincial life in Madame Bovary and he is poisonous, but somehow not contemptuous of his characters. I guess that's part of his genius. Nemirovsky, on the other hand, seems to loathe everyone, and those characters she doesn't loathe are not as interesting to her. To be fair, she did not finish the novel and it is possible to extrapolate from her copious notes that she intended to balance that out. Parts of the novel are very well written, with merciless clarity and power. But others seem like a Harlequin romance.
I came to this novel from friends' recommendations and because it was being marketed as the last work of a talented writer who lost her life to the Nazis. I think it was even in Oprah's book club. So from what I've heard, here I am, thinking I'm reading the work of an adult Anne Frank. But something in the novel is very strange and disquieting. After a while, one wonders why there is no mention anywhere of a single Jew. There seems to be a stubborn avoidance to this aspect of the story, which is very flummoxing, to say the least. After all, this is a novel about the Nazi occupation of France. These Nazi guys, first thing they did everywhere they went was let everybody know that the Jews were to be ostracized and humiliated. But not a word from her on the subject.
One gives her the benefit of the doubt because this kind of omission can be a perfectly valid and even powerful artistic choice. As in the case of the great German movie Downfall, you can emphatically communicate the bestial evil of the Nazis without showing a single Jew, the point being that Hitler destroyed the Germans as well as everybody else. But that is not the case in Suite Française. The book is an indictment of the French and their petty ways come occupation time. Most of the characters are greedy, prejudiced, cowardly, etc. I've read accounts of life in wartime and that seems to be the human modus operandi, so no surprise there, except for the unabashed vitriol. But then there is a huge chapter devoted to the impossible romance between a married Frenchwoman and a dashingly handsome, noble and cultivated Nazi officer, who plays the piano and loves her deeply. The whole thing reads like a bodice ripper or a bucolic pastoral scene but with Nazis carousing among the sheep and the peasants. For obvious reasons, the novel ends abruptly. It left an acrid taste in my mouth. Why the avoidance of the Jews? Why the infatuation with the Nazis? (It's not that she loves them, but she seems to have more compassion for them than for the French). Well, I didn't know the half of it.
At the end of the novel there are two fascinating appendixes. One is composed of Nemirovsky's notes on her work in progress. They shed some light into her process, but far more light into how selfconscious she was about her own work. I think there is a reason why personal jottings by writers should not be made available to the public, for the most part. They are not that enlightening, at least in her case, and they show too much of the writer's ego, which is tiresome. At one point she says something like "describe the houses of the wealthy to the readers. The masses love that".
The second appendix makes for truly harrowing reading, for it is composed of the frantic letters her husband wrote to everybody he thought could help save her when she was arrested by the Nazis. After all, she was a very successful novelist. Two of her books had been adapted into movies. More importantly, she had converted to Catholicism. She hated the communists, for they had destroyed her family. And a number of other fascinating details (she hated her mother, a hateful, vain woman and she hated, according to the editor, "her Jewish family).
It turns out that Irene Nemirovsky had deep conflicts about her Judaism. The editor writes she had her family converted to Catholicism because of fear (some Jewish artists, like her and Gustav Mahler in his time, did anything they could to be taken seriously and, because they suffered the poison of antisemitism, they thought that by renouncing their Judaism publicly they would help their work. They were wrong. Those who hated them for being Jewish continued doing so after their conversion). Not only that, but Nemirovsky had published some of her work in an antisemitic magazine, a fact her desperate husband, a man called Michel Epstein, pointed out to the collaborationist authorities in order to save her. His letters are frantic (I paraphrase): yes, we're from Jewish descent, but we both hate Bolsheviks, and you can see in my wife's work no evidence of any sympathy for the Jews. YIKES. He writes to everybody who is anybody in France, counts, editors, Marechal Petain himself, all those eminent Christians that he knows from his privileged life. At one point, after having exhausted all his important connections to no avail, the husband gets a letter from a woman who works in the Red Cross. She says to him: the only people who may know anything about your wife are the Jewish Union. You should be talking to them. This, to me is revelatory and bloodcurling, and in a way evidence that the Jewish self-loathing this couple felt was much deeper than a mere conversion meant to save their lives.
Some people, like her editors, helped immensely, and even they were tactfully alarmed by the betraying tone of the most desperate letters. The Count Whatever never answers, which is somehow expected, and in the end Petain himself has Epstein arrested and sent to Auschwitz as well, for all his trouble. Both of them died there. Then the French police, as they have nothing better to do, search all over France for the two young daughters of the couple, ages 9 and 5, to send them to their deaths as well. Their babysitter, a truly righteous woman, hid them through the war and saved them with the help of Nemirovsky's editors. The manuscripts happened to survive because the older girl took them with her in her valise. This is far more interesting reading than the novel and it would make an incredible movie, as would the novel itself, but I wonder if the French are ready to examine so brutally the fact of their collaboration. There are plenty of movies about the heroic French resistance, to my knowledge, but I don't know of any that confront the phenomenon of collaboration directly. Feel free to disabuse me if I'm wrong.
So what I want to know is, are readers of Suite Française understanding that this woman had deep reserves of Jewish self-loathing and are they reading the novel in this context? Or is it just an adventurous romp in the woods while the Fritzes are in town?
But I am obsessed. I cannot stop thinking what this poor snobbish woman must have felt as she was stripped of all human dignity and led to a horrible death because of the Jewish origins she took such pains to deny. No amount of fame, of talent, of swearing on the holy cross would have helped and it didn't.
And the immortal words of ELO: "...and what can I do?"
And to follow with the pop music theme,
"I'm back, back in the New York groove".
C'est trés triste, mais c'est la vie.
I got my little green diploma from la Sorbonne, who are not very generous with marks. Quite mediocre, mine. Got a good mark for oral, but a soso one for written. My teacher, who seemed to be far more patient with the utterly lost and irresponsible than with the reasonably capable and diligent, kept bearing down on me because of the blasted "conjugaisons". She thought I knew them; I thought she was there to teach them to me. Alas, we never got that straightened out. Thus, these are the worst grades I ever had since math grades in high school. I feel icky about it. Not used to bad grades, moi.