Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chinese Tequila: The Red Menace

I am as alarmed as any self-respecting Mexican at the prospect of Chinese tequila. Say it isn't so!
Can you imagine? My national pride is wounded just to think about it. And I have nothing against the Chinese. Some of my favorite food is Chinese. But tequila is from Mexico and should not be from anywhere else. Not China, not Canada, nowhere but MEX. But I am even more upset at this paragraph from the clueless BBC:

Marketing experts have tried to change its reputation from a cheap peasant drink to a sophisticated international spirit like whisky.

Excuse me, but tequila is not and never has been a cheap peasant drink. It is true that it has been a humble and, until recently, when it got fancy, a democratic spirit, imbibed by both peasants and presidents. It has always been the nectar of the gods. It will cure (in moderation) all your ills. Or at least it will make you feel that way for a while.
The misinformation about our esteemed national drink is staggering. Here are some useful clarifications:
No, it doesn't have a worm (that's mezcal).
No, you can't chug it like it's spring break. It is a sophisticated beverage, meant to be sipped and savored.
Yes, it will make you regret the day you were born if you overdo it and if you don't make sure it's made of 100% agave.
There is nothing better than a shot of good tequila with a Mexican beer chaser (do not attempt on an empty stomach)
Tequila is a jealous master. It does not agree with anything but beer. Do not mix.
Margaritas are lethal because of the high sugar content. The higher the sugar, the worse the hangover.
Better to have a clean shot of tequila with lime and salt on the side.
In my ultraorthodox view, if a Margarita comes from a blender, it is heresy. If it comes in flavors, it is blasphemy. If it comes without salt and on the rocks, it is apostasy. If it is not made with fresh squeezed lime juice, good tequila and triple sec, what is the point?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Air Rage

In 24 hours I have been in Caracas, San Juan, Puerto Rico, New York and now Mexico City.
In San Juan, the first point of entry to the US, I caught a bad case of air rage, or rather of mindless security screening rage. I don't know how making people take their shoes off or leave their toothpaste behind is a deterrent to someone blowing up a plane. The taking off of shoes and the half-undressing make me crazy. I am a seasoned traveler and usually I don't carry such dangerous items as a tube of Colgate and anti-frizz hair cream in my carry on bag, but this time I freaking forgot that these are considered terrorist devices. I threw a mini tantrum (in no small part because I had not eaten for several hours and we almost missed the plane), not because of the money wasted in the toiletries but because of being subjected to such a degree of human stupidity. I do not blame the guard, who was nice and patient and "just following orders". I blame whoever genius at Homeland Security decided that all of us are potential terrorists and our toiletries are all suspect. It is fucking impossible to travel like this. I am willing to pay, even though I find the concept obscene, a sum of money to not have to go through the stupid screening process.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Zero Paranoia

We shot our commercials in a zone of Caracas that has an evil reputation. For the tech scout (the visit to the location before the shoot), we had to bring a policeman. For the shoot itself we had about four guards posted about. We closed off a couple of streets. It seemed like a very quiet lower class neighborhood. It's walls had layers and layers of paint, creating instant works of modern art. We spent a sunny day there in full view of nosy but friendly neighbors, who were very happy and curious we were shooting there. At no time did I ever feel threatened or unsafe. So our wonderful director of photography, Gonzalo Amat, and I, both natives of Mexico City, were wondering if the tales one hears about the dangers of Caracas are indeed true, or are, as is sometimes the case in the improved Mexico City crime situation, the result of social paranoia.
The Magnificent Arepa informed us that she spoke to our security guards and they told her they saw members of motorcycle gangs trying to get close to the shoot, but since they were there, they were not able to come in. Had they done so, it is agreed they would have stolen absolutely everything, including the camera. Then later we heard about a couple who left a wedding party and they were accosted by thieves trying to steal their car. They stupidly resisted and lost both their lives in the process. As the thieves couldn't abscond with the car in question, they left that one there and stole another one. Magnificent Arepa, who is a fearless traveler, said there is zero paranoia in Caracas. The fears are all well founded.
In the meantime, Chavez does lots for the poor (who live in the most dangerous neighborhoods). He gives them cheaper food and free eyeglasses, and Cuban doctors, and plenty of tired sloganeering. But he seems unwilling to change the crime situation in the city, which typically affects not the ultra wealthy, (who close off streets and hire private security) but the hard working people.

Postcards from the edge

This is a monumental ad for cotton underwear. The shirt is indeed made of fabric.

There is a kind of lefty, long-haired bohemian you see in Latin American countries selling cheap earrings and incense and Che parafernalia on the streets. They are as ubiquitous and as corny, cliched and anachronistic as any telenovela. I wonder if they are ever going to become extinct.

Saturday afternoon. The Central park of Caracas, almost entirely bereft of people. However, I'm told the government has rescued it back from rampant crime and so it is wondrous to see a couple of kids on bikes and a couple holding hands where nobody used to dare.

The Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art is open until midnight. Like all museums in Caracas it is free of charge. However, at 4 pm on a Saturday, we were the only visitors there. However, later on we saw throngs walking down the streets going to the mall.

Sunday on the Beach with Chavez

Hello, Comrades:
Dispatching here from the capital of the Bolivarian Revolution, where the incongruous rules.
Cliched slogans like "Fatherland, Socialism or Death" (it's apparently a multiple choice question) compete for your attention with ugly ads for beer, Pepsi, Avon, Smirnoff, etc. All of it is visual pollution of the worst order in a city so ugly, a monstrosity nestled in the middle of spectacular nature, I fantasize an extreme makeover for it.
Yesterday, after a grueling and exciting week of shooting my first TV commercials as a director (with the help of the Magnificent Arepa, my codirector), we packed it in and drove to the beach.
As easy breezy as this sounds, you must know that it is an adventure with the highest degree of peril. Not because of dengue fever, or malaria, but because of something even more insidious and intractable: the roads and the drivers.
1. There are no speed limits posted anywhere. This is interpreted by one and all as let's see who gets killed faster. There are drivers with cars put together with dental floss, very flimsy but nevertheless suicidal compact cars, as well as your garden variety SUV wielding asshole, truck drivers and bus drivers, all hurling themselves at one another in what can only be described as an urgent death wish. We witnessed two accidents in one day and in both not only did nobody stop to help (as people were crawling out of an upturned car through the broken windshield), but there was no police, no ambulance, no authorities in sight.
2. The roads would be a hoot if they weren't so damned dangerous. No signals, no warnings, no lights, no lanes sometimes, but yes a huge Smirnoff vodka ad right as you emerge from a tunnel in the middle of the mountains. There is a new autopista, a new six lane freeway that has not been completed yet, but even a roadblock and a huge sign saying ROAD CLOSED, does not deter the SUV wielding assholes from getting on it. I come from the Land of the Enchilada, where the absurd is king and the driving is maniacal, but this here country takes the cake.

However, if you happen to be blessed by a the protection of either fate or a higher power, once you get to the beach, then you can relax, or spend your hours thinking you better enjoy your last day on Earth, before you get killed on the way back.
This is a beautiful country, tropical and lush, and the beaches are gorgeous. They are not overdeveloped and ruined forever, as it happens where I come from, for Venezuela lives from oil and not from tourism. Thus, all tourism is local, and it is all quite rustic.
We went to a little beach called San Francisquito, about two hours from Caracas. It was packed with families. Because we are traumatized by what passes for a beach in NY state, we asked the guy who rents the chairs and the shades if there is food. "Tons of it", he replied. And sure enough, soon someone comes over with fresh red snappers to show off, and we breathe in the good sea breeze. The sea is warm and refreshing, the sun is blinding and killer, and you can't have one beer, because they don't sell them by the bottle, but by the case. When you ask to buy only two beers people look at you like you are demented.
People park their cars right next to the beach, they open the backs and they broadcast, at the highest volume possible, their choice of music, which runs the gamut from reggaeton to salsa.
This means every car is blasting something out, so there is a fierce competition for the noisiest. I fantasized blasting some Mahler, and Magnificent Arepa said that people would probably ask us to kindly turn our volume down (or lynch us for killing the mood). So the atmosphere is beyond festive, colorful and rich.
This is the Caribbean, which means body inhibitions are relatively absent. Nobody goes topless, God forbid, but they almost go bottomless. People were gawking at me, probably blinded by my preternatural whiteness or by the fact I was the only person wearing a one piece. Women wear g-strings despite the fact that most of them have what I call Arepa body (like the Mexican Tamale body, but much curvier and meatier -- huge tits, huger asses). They ooze flesh on all sides. They make the Michelin Man look svelte. They are also all tanned to a cinnamon crisp and they shake their booties to the wind, with not a care in the world.

Then the food comes: incredibly delicious fried red snapper with fresh limes. Mashed fried plantains with white cheese and ketchup (delish), and shrimp drowning in garlic and oil.
After this, going to the beach in Long Island or anywhere in the US, is safe and quiet but pathetic.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Viva el Dude Dudamel!

Greetings from Caracas, Venezuela, where yours truly is momentarily turned from a Big Enchilada into a Humble Arepa, since she is about to shoot her first TV commercial as a director tomorrow, if all goes according to plan.
But in an interesting case of synchronicity, one day before our trip, we had the opportunity to witness Gustavo Dudamel, the 26 year old conducting dynamo, with the fantastic Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, at Carnegie Hall.
In three words: I'm in love.
The Dude, as we will affectionately call him from now on, is a very charismatic, exciting young conductor. I was expecting an orchestra that because of age and inexperience would be forgiven for lack of discipline and clarity and I was blown away by the sound of it. Powerful, clear, beautiful sound. I've seen more mature orchestras (like in Mexico) that don't play as powerfully and soundly as this one.
Obviously, the national music system in Venezuela is working wonders and it is something other countries would do well to imitate. And the Dude conducts with great energy and character.
The frist part of the program was Bartok's Roman Carnival, A Piano Concerto by Chopin (with the great Emanuel Ax) and then Beethoven's Fifth, which is so great live. It's pure rock-n-roll. I think my darling Dude excelled himself in all, but the Fifth was gorgeous.
After that, there was a bit of showoffy Venezuelan hanky panky. with the orchestra and conductor donning sports training jackets with the colors of the national flag, and doing some latin numbers while dancing and screaming Mambo and twriling the contrabasses. I do not suffer showboating gladly, but to their credit, they played those things magnificently as well, and ther had the youth, the verve and the exuberance to pull it off.
Dude, you rock.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Department of Newfangled Fears

O, Brave New World that has spawned things like facebook and DNA decoding.
Somebody was telling me she has a friend who is afraid of facebook because anyone can post a picture of you vomiting in the taxi cab and then prospective employers will see that picture and not hire you. The woman in question checks identities for a living. Corporations pay her to find out everything she possibly can about potential hires. Hey, is that legal?
Me, I'm afraid of facebook because it is such an intrusion, not so much by my friends or prospective employers, but by corporations. I'm also afraid of facebook because I don't want to be slapped, hi-fived, kissed, hugged, or bitten. Please leave me alone with those damn things! I am afraid of facebook because the interface is fucking chaotic and drives me crazy.
Listen, I write this blog. My opinions may not be amenable to lots of people. My blog address is in my business cards, and I certainly hope that prospective employers will be kind and smart enough not to use the blog against me. In fact, I'm looking for those who will use it for them, for those are the people it would be cool to work for. I can see I have readers in all corners of the world. It is thrilling and it is also a little scary. Who are they? I realize my posts live forever in the internets. I have people from Albania still complaining about me making fun of Fushe Kruje. This is a new world where we have chosen to open up our identities to millions. And yet, I hope it is all rather banal.

DNA decoding. If you didn't see it coming, I don't know what planet you live in. Now that you can buy sperm or ovules, guess what happens? The buyers tend to pick from people they think are going to be either super smart or super good looking or super athletic. I know someone who had a dilemma whether to pick ivy league egg donors for their brains or California donors for their already genetic Hollywoody looks. People want to know if you have the gene for alcoholism, or homosexuality or, in the case of a despicable white woman from Germany, she wanted to buy somebody with black genes because she loved tanning and she didn't want her baby to have skin cancer. Another idiot wanted a man who had no genes for hair loss in his family, and good eyes so her child wouldn't look like a nerd. Certainly, oversimplified DNA discourse can lead to Nazi sounding shit.
But what if you find an ivy league genius and you don't know that he may have the gene for schizophrenia? Used to be, when you had a kid or you adopted a baby, you could not control the genetic baggage. This randomness is part of life, and as much as genetic science can help us fight disease, we should be very careful on trying to control and change this randomness. The Nazis hated random and look what happened.

This is my brain on politics

Scientists did some brain scans of people as they showed them photos and videos of the presidential candidates. You can read the results here.
As for me, I don't need no brain scan. I can tell you that my brain on politics hovers between anxiety and mild disgust (the Democrats) and sheer disgust (the Republicans). It feels contempt for the entire process and it's wishing the whole thing happens soon because the suspense is killing me.
I feel no empathy for any of them, although Obama somehow makes my heart flutter.

King to Chavez: Drop Dead

Who knows, maybe now all the Spaniards are personae non grata in Venezuela since King Juan Carlos I of Spain told Hugo Chavez to zip it. The circumstances are not really important. Okay: a summit of socialist-leaning Latin American countries (something that was hard to believe could actually happen not too long ago, when the continent was peppered by horrendous fascist military dictatorships; but this is in no small part thanks to the idiotic American policy in the region).
Chavez has achieved the monumental task of making the already impoverished, inane and immature political discourse in Latin America hit even lower standards with his ridiculous rhetoric (the alliteration is unintentional). I think he is a hoot, but he is certainly no laughing matter to his countrymen, who excepting the poor who adore him, just die of shame every time he opens his yap.
In this respect, he is like our own clown at the White House, fishing for sympathy among the non-articulate, fiercely proud of seeming (in the case of Chavez) or being (in the case of Bush) ignorant.
For the life of me, I don't understand how people in Latin America haven't tired yet of the stale, moldy lefty demagoguery which is as immutable as the effigy of Che on any t-shirt. The wholesale adoration of a petty bastard like Fidel and the clichéd anti-US rhetoric are so anachronistic that I wonder how people in Latin America can still swallow it without gagging. It hasn't changed since I was in college a century ago, and even then it hadn't changed since the sixties. Yawwwwwnnnnn....
As for Hugo's response to the shushing, of course he took it in the broadest possible way:
"The one who looked bad there was the one who lost control, who told us to shut up as if we were still subjects from the 17th, 18th centuries," he told reporters".
To Chavez, those "who looked bad" (as in a schoolyard brawl) were the former Colonial empire (meaning Spain), like they are sore losers for having lost the gift to the world that is Latin America. Latin America is indeed a gift to the world in terms of culture and natural riches and history, but not in terms of civic life or politics. It is rife with poverty, ignorance, injustice, and rampant corruption. Meanwhile, Spain has become a better country than it's ever been, a real democracy with an enviable standard of living (and of course, the problems endemic to all other European countries). Instead, here you have Chavez extolling horrible regimes like Iran and Cuba.
But Chavez understands the frustration his more elitist political colleagues feel when dealing with him and he plays them like a violin: he is an upstart, a scrappy soldier; yet he has been able to wreak a certain amount of interesting havoc by his cunning and his chutzpah. That's what the poor love about him: he is one of them, finally having the balls (the oil) to tell the master off, whether it's Bush or the King of Spain.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Irish & Yiddish

I am currently reading Just Say Nu, a very funny book by Michael Wex where he teaches non-Yiddish speakers that any word in Yiddish can be made into a very useful insult instantaneously. Yiddish is a language that relies heavily on irony and you can almost pick any word and turn it into a sharp object with the right context and the right amount of impatience and contempt.
I'm having a ball because I recognize many phrases my Mom and her side of the family used to say (for instance: gay kakn afn yam, "go shit on the sea", and other lovely turns of phrase). My only kvetch about the book is that Mr. Wex has chosen to transcribe a dialect of Yiddish that is not how my family spoke it, and therefore it sounds horrible to me. But I still laugh at some of the expressions. And I love that we even have a word for email! Blitz-post. I think it is possible that the internet, to judge from some sites I've been consulting, may help avert the death of Yiddish, a language that as any good kvetch, has been dying forever, but is still hanging in there.
English has adopted some very useful Yiddish words that are now part of the language, at least here in the States. Putz, Schmuck, Mensch, Shlep, etc.
I'm delighted to read that many wonderful words we have in English actually come from the Gaelic. Like dork, or jerk or "cry uncle". It is these foreign words that help give English its wonderful snap.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Right on Writers!

I'm with the writers. Why should they not get one red cent from all that new media exposure their work is going to get? Writers are like illegal Mexicans: without them the show does not exist. Period. They are like Rodney Dangerfield, they get no respect.
I hope they tough it out and I hope they come to a fair agreement. And maybe with all this downtime, they will come up with better stuff.

Rocket Science of Sleep

I swear. Sometimes it takes actual scientists to convince people of stuff that nobody needs to be a neurosurgeon to figure out. If I tell it to you, you will tell me it's old wives tales, but if the scientists in the Mogo in the Gogogo Journal of Medicine tell you, I bet you listen to them.
So here it is, what I do every night in order to be able to sleep, (I am easily overstimulated) from exhaustive scientific studies in at least two journals:
The behavioral strategies for better sleep are deceptively simple, and that’s one reason why many people don’t believe they can make a difference. One of the most effective methods is stimulus control. This means not watching television, eating or reading in bed. Don’t go to bed until you are sleepy. Get up at the same time every day, and don’t nap during the day. If you are unable to sleep, get out of bed after 15 minutes and do something relaxing, but avoid stimulating activity and thoughts.

So-called sleep hygiene is also part of sleep therapy. This includes regular exercise, adding light-proof blinds to your bedroom to keep it dark and making sure the bed and room temperatures are comfortable. Eat regular meals, don’t go to bed hungry and limit beverages, particularly alcohol and caffeinated drinks, around bedtime.

I deserve a Nobel prize.

Facebook can kiss my ass

I open the NY Times to find out that Facebook is planning to use me as a product endorser.

Facebook now will give advertisers the ability to create their own profile pages on its system that will let users identify themselves as fans of a product. Each user’s news feed will contain items like “Bobby Smith is now a fan of Toyota Prius.”

News feeds can be linked to outside Web sites as well, so users can tell friends about what they rented at Blockbuster or are auctioning on eBay.

Facebook will offer all of those features to advertisers free.
How disgusting. Well, they should certainly pay me to endorse anything. I have always felt that Facebook is sinister and it is getting more and more so by the minute. However, the minute the IPO comes out, I'm buying stock.
Facebook users should boycott this hideous shit and not fall into the trap of hawking stuff for companies. I'm not a living ad for some fucking product. The gall.
But I seem to be the only person I know that when confronted with the wet dreams of marketers and advertisers about new brand paradigms, such as this one, wants to basically run for cover and hide in a hole on the ground. It's all way too Orwellian for my taste. It is actually creepy and scary in ways I don't think people understand.
Marketers want the world to be a humongous ad that never ends. The world is bad enough as it is, and now we can't even recognize the difference between life and marketing. I think it is horrifying, but I find people looking at me funny when I fail to share their unbridled joy about it.

Nazis are more popular than Britney

...and than Futalognkosaurus and much more than poor King Tut. At least on the internets. I know because plenty of my darling readers seem to have a keen interest on them, which I hope is fueled by antipathy and hatred. Otherwise, we are in trouble.
In any case, what's with the dictators acting up recently? Pervez basically dissolving the constitution and behaving quite perversely. I wouldn't be surprised if he was acting on the friendly advice of our very own VEEP, (aka Satan), who may want somebody to do somewhere else what he has not been able to do here, and not for lack of trying. And Hugo, who wants to change the constitution to reelect himself over and over and over. And then Fidel, who just won't die.
Isn't dictatorship really old fashioned? Doesn't it seem utterly anachronistic for our virtual, globalized times?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tut your own horn

That's Young Tut as he supposedly looked like (pretty, pretty good, eyeliner and all) and that's him today. He looks rather well for his age, no? Doesn't look a day over 3000.

Photos courtesy of the BBC.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Two very different swamps

It is interesting that the main news story in the BBC today are the floods that have put 70% of the Mexican state of Tabasco underwater, while the main story in the New York Times is about overdevelopment in the Everglades in Florida. They even have a beautiful spread with pictures.

Meanwhile, 300,000 people are trapped by the floods south of the border, in the worst natural catastrophe that has befallen Mexico in years. One would think this is big enough news, no?
I had to find two tiny items posted by press agencies to learn about the news in the New York Times.

Prostrate problems

Rudy Giuliani is such a transparent asshole, it's hard to see whether anybody, even those who have been living in a cave since 9/11, could possibly vote for him. Only a complete moron would not be aware of the cheap, self-interested way in which he exploits that date. And then it's impossible to overlook his pathetic pandering to the extreme right, his dramatic changes of mind in terms of guns, his utterly stupid and false comparison between healthcare in Britain and here, and the fact that his two children loathe him, among other things. If you still vote for him after all that, you are a turd.
Given that he is the "best" the Republican party can offer, I'm hoping that people will see the dire consequences of voting for such a ruthless hypocrite, and such a belligerent bully, and choose the more moderate ruthless hypocrite that is Hillary Clinton.

Torre goes to LA

And I hope there is a world series where the Dodgers beat the crap out of the Yankees.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Blog backlog

Dahlings! I have been trying to blog this past couple of days, but since I have to make a living, I was stuck at a couple of advertising conferences, where people pay money to get the shit scared out of them and to exchange business cards with one another. But this is not a topic that interests you (it barely interests me). So yesterday was Halloween in New York City and unfortunately the weather was the balmiest in 70 years, which meant hordes of murgatroids congregating on the corner of ma maison, screaming like banshees all night. I put on the air conditioning to muffle their drunken screeching. It almost worked.
I was going to dress up like Marilyn Monroe, and not like Anna Nicole, who was a popular choice this year. But after all day listening about future trends in advertising, my head was exploding with a combo of interesting info and utter bullshit so I didn't even make it to the party. Plus, I saw a homeless woman on the subway in the morning who apparently got the Halloween memo and she was truly the scariest living thing I've seen on a New York Subway, probably ever. Why she decided to venture out pinkt yesterday is just poetic license.
I am so addled that I don't even know what to write about, y'all. I'm about to say the world is a cruel place, echoing that bard of ours, Britney, who doesn't even understand the meaning of the word "overwhelming", according to the very august New York Times, which does report on such momentous matters.
(Ryan) Seacrest (our new Edward Murrow -- parenthesis mine) apparently woke Spears up when he called her for the interview, and at times she didn't seem to understand his questions. When Seacrest asked Spears whether the intense coverage of her recent troubles has been ''overwhelming,'' she said, ''Wait, what?''

However, she then said: ''People talk and they say what they want at the end of the day, you know in the tabloids and in the magazines,'' she said. ''But you just try to keep on doing what you do, like, you know, and as long as you know what's up and you know what's true, that's all that really matters, you know?''

In a knowing flurry of articulation and eloquence.