Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jerry Springer: The Opera

...or don't get your pants all in a bunch, as Ben Brantley did in his review of the show. I got tickets only because I love Harvey Keitel. And the thought of seeing him live on stage was enough for me to withstand several hours of camp (which I am not fond of). Unfortunately, my seat was rather in the Himalayan heights of Carnegie Hall's balcony and I think that the distance and the very uneven miked sound made me like the show less than Ben, who probably had the best seat in the house.
Still, the show is a hoot. It is extraordinarily vulgar and meant to epater the most stoic, puritanical American constitutions with generous heaps of vulgarity and blasphemy. It makes sense: the original TV show is as low as it gets, so no need to get all prissy. It is certainly a lot of fun to see it turned into an opera where every part, except that of Jerry, is sung by people with operatic voices. At the beginning, when one of the guests confesses he's cheating on his wife with two others, the joke works well: the drama is operatic allright, even if one of the lovers is a crack whore and the other one a transsexual. And the combination of raunchy language and operatic music is very funny. But it does get a little thin after a while, in my opinion, because the score is not that great. There are a number of really good "arias", but a lot of it is repetitive. And the bad sound didn't help at all. I also differ from -- let's call him Ben for the sake of brevity-- in that by the end of Act I the conceit of the TV show was starting to grate, and I was grateful for Act II, which takes place in hell and the guests of the show happen to be God and Jesus and Satan. Taking the talk show to this extreme is facile but fun and there is a gorgeous showstopper sung by Jesus and Satan that's probably the only aria ever written with only the words "fuck you" as lyrics.
God shows up with a sweater tied around his shoulders, like a perfectly oblivious nerd, and he sings a fabulous song called "It's not easy being me". I loved him. Though the humor is uneven, it is right that this show was written by a British subject, since it skewers the American penchant for self-dramatization in a way that would probably escape a native. It's not that everybody wants to be famous. It's that everything is about ME. It's that there is always a cheap psychological excuse for the inexcusable. Its' all about recrimination and the parceling out of blame. ME ME ME ME . Even God is a kvetch.
Watching the show I thought of how, lately, when faced with public tragedies, Americans have embraced a completely undignified form of mourning, what I call the Princess Diana syndrome, with outward protestations of grief like leaving teddy bears and flowers and the candles in lieu of discretion and quiet reflection and respect for the dead and their families. Apparently, somebody has decided that corny sentiment is OKAY. (I was not consulted). This week some idiot in New York Magazine writes about how Heath Ledger lived in HER neighborhood, Park Slope, Brooklyn, and walked down HER street and used HER dry cleaners and was left alone by HER. And we're supposed to applaud this. And everything becomes not about him, but about her and her stupid Park Slope I feel like firebombing to ashes (with my apologies to Cynthia and other Brooklynite friends).
And that is part of what the show makes fun of. Our seemingly inexhaustible capacity for self-indulgence which translates into putrid taste.
Now, a word of advice to potential investors in Jerry Springer: the Opera. Unlike Ben, I don't care if there are biblical amounts of protesters outside the theater; this should only sell more tickets. And I do think the show should find a home in NY, but not on Broadway. Although, on second thought, it should be on Broadway just to scare the bejesus of our esteemed guests from Peoria. They can all run crying to see Mamma Mia!
Still, this play would probably be better served by a smaller stage, and not made into a million dollar Broadway extravaganza. Much of its wayward charm is that is fringe, and trying to translate it into a shiny Broadway endeavor may doom it. Whatever its fate, here is a kvetch about the sound: either it is operatic or it is Ethel Mermany. Either you mike everybody, or you don't. Some belters were way too loud, yet the choir was unintelligible. I think it works better if the voices are operatic, but some of the singers need to work on their diction. It's not fun if the audience can't make out the jokes.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Collective Sigh Of Relief

Now we can all sleep at night. There is no more need to fear. Rudolph Giuliani is not going to be president of this nation. For a moment there, I thought we were in deep doodoo.
Here's my prediction, based not on punditry but on a simple fact.
No self-respecting nation wants a president who goes by "Mitt".
President Mitt Romney? President Mike Huckabeee? I don't think so.
So John McCain it is, for the Republican nomination.
As for the Dems, the suspense is killing me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Department of Questionable Taste

Only in Brazil. A school of Samba is planning to have a carnival float commemorating the Holocaust, of all subjects, with piles of dead bodies and all. The theme is "shockers":

"The float is extremely respectful, it's a warning, it's something shocking that we don't want to happen ever again," said Paulo Barros, Viradouro's artistic director. Viradouro's parade theme is "Shockers" and it includes floats depicting the shock of birth, the shock of horror and the shock of cold. Barros said the Holocaust float would be the only one without dancers on top."If we had people dancing on top of dead bodies that would indeed be disrespectful," he told Reuters.

Right. But only if they were dancing on top. Perhaps indeed it is not meant as disrespect, but it is in terrible, terrible taste. Besides being a total killjoy.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Good Scrabulous PR

If I were Mattel or Hasbro, the people who control the Scrabble trademark, instead of asking the creators of Scrabulous to cease and desist, I would be forever grateful that they revitalized the brand and created millions of new fans, many of which may buy a real board so they can play with people instead of a computer screen.
Yes the genius brothers who created it certainly took Scrabble as a model, but how many cases of real Scrabble are sold each year to wonks like me? It's nobody's but their own fault that these companies did not develop a virtual Scrabble, which is a genius idea, with all the resources they have. Their bad.
I have one board game, untouched, I bought like ten years ago. But now, I'm playing transatlantic Scrabulous with my friend Mimosa who is creaming me from Paris, and if it was up to me I'd be playing all day.
I just have one beef. The game won't let me do (or I am too stupid to figure out how to do) a multiple word in one play, like Mimosa does all the time, thereby creaming me.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chavez Time

One can forgive many things to Hugo Chavez, but changing the time in Venezuela for HALF AN HOUR has got to be one of those stupid dictator tricks meant for the books.
Venezuela now has a 30 minute difference with the rest of the world. If I were a citizen of that country, this would be the straw to break my back. Revolt against the revolution of the fickle, moronic, and self-aggrandizing!

Friday, January 25, 2008

To Hillary or not to Hillary? That is the question

I know that in a fit of pique caused by Britney Spears and her media troubles, I declared that I was voting for Hillary Clinton and that every woman should do so as well. It seems like a tenuous connection but it isn't. Women simply have it tougher than men in the public arena. And I'm sick of it.
But I'm still torn, and even more so after reading this enlightening, yet not very helpful article by the wonderful George Packer in the New Yorker. It's a tough choice between someone who inspires (Obama) and who claims change (whatever that means) and who is fresh, and someone who is perhaps more experienced, but maybe also unfortunately more vulnerable to attack, like Hillary.
The portrait that emerges from Packer's article tries to be even handed, but in essence he is saying her major Achilles heel is she comes across as more duplicitous that she actually is, more hungry for power, less candid and charming and human than she is in person. Her tendency towards personal paranoia and control has not helped her in the past. I certainly hope her aides read the article and tinker accordingly.
This is what I wonder: will the Republicans hold their punches in either case, because one is a Black man and the other one is a woman? Or does it not matter to them one way or another? With her it seems they have not only not been holding their punches, but quite the contrary. She seems to bring out the worst in them. They loathe her. (And they loathe her husband).
Will it be harder to try to destroy Obama? Not only for the obvious reason of his race, let's face it, but because he has young children, he is young, and he seems undestroyable right now.
I think Obama is great presidential material, but my dilemma is, will he be a great president now? Perhaps now is the best time, after the worst presidency in the history of this country, someone like him could be just what we need to pick our beleaguered souls off the floor. But he needs to come up with the goods. Great oratorial prowess and fantastic rhetoric and endless charisma are very helpful, but they can only go so far. This country is in deep shit. We need someone who will clean it up a bit.
In short: I don't know what to do. Eeny meeny miny mo...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

David Mamet's November

The most delightful thing about David Mamet's sprightly political satire now showing on Broadway is his gift of language. I want to buy the print edition of the play to be able to relish, not so much the one liners, but his verbal panache, his exquisite gift as a superb renderer of incredibly funny politically incorrect slurs, among other things. The evening - and the dialogue - goes real fast in Joe Mantello's energetic direction, and thankfully the torrent of words does not sound like a typically stilted Mamet telegram, although there is a great abundance of wonderfully placed "fucks" and all its permutations. If Pinter is the master of the pause, then Mamet is the undisputed genius of the "fuck" and I say this with unending admiration.
The cast is a bunch of fabulous pros: the irrepressible Nathan Lane (doing an impersonation of the irrepressible Nathan Lane pretending to be the President of the US), the great Dylan Baker, as his loyal and crafty Karlrovian attorney, and the great Laurie Metcalf as his Jewish Lesbian speechwriter. She does deliver the most convincing portrayal of a woman with a terrible cold ever seen.
Nathan Lane, is as always, a hoot, doing what he does best, which is to be a human paragon of perfect comic timing, plus some shticky scenery chewing that is hilarious, nonetheless. My main concern was that not in a million years could anybody believe Nathan Lane as the President of the United States. And you don't, but it helps that the tone of the staging is not one that strives for meticulous realism, and Lane goes to town in his Oval Office, which by the way, looks great.
As I was listening to the words I was thinking what other more presidential actor could play this role. I am convinced that with someone else in the title role; someone more ominous, less sunny, more darkly stupid (kind of like who is occupying the White House right now) the play could be a more bitter satire. The discontent is certainly there. But this production is intended to elicit big laughter, and that is a job for Nathan Lane.
The play is barbed, but slight, and it merrily shows the venality and corruption of politics in American with great gusto. I knew Mr. Mamet is funny because even in his serious plays the humor is very sharp, but I didn't know he had it in him to do farce with such flair.

News to Nation: Giuliani is an Asshole

Tis the season for reading spine-curdling accounts of the pettiness and vindictiveness of the former mayor of New York City. See also: here.
Listen people: nobody in New York likes him. This should tell you something. Almost nobody here feels that he is a hero. The firefighters are pissed at him, the police are pissed at him. He has a talent for making enemies, for casting out talented public servants and rewarding skeezeballs (Bernie Kerik, anyone?) The city spent millions of dollars fighting suits against his operatic tantrums.
But you can't sue a President, so think twice before voting for who could be a bellicose nightmare.

What is this?

Star Wars?

Call 911...

...before you call the Olsen twin, is all I can say.

Lesson learned for everybody: call 911 first, even if you are dealing with a celebrity.
They have as much a right have their lives saved as anyone else.

Pity the athletes

If I were an Olympic athlete ready to compete in Beijing, either I would go there months in advance to get used to the pollution, or I would stay at home and breathe. Fuck the medals.
When I was there, it did not feel so bad because there were strong winds sweeping everything away. Still, if there are any sports scheduled for Shanghai, I advise the athletes to run with oxygen tanks strapped to their bodies. It is very bad.
All of China seems polluted. You go to Taishan sacred mountain and in the middle of the wilderness you can see the layer of smog, and we had a lucky, clear day, according to the tour guide. You go to the Yellow River near Jinan, it's a film of putrid yellow smoke hanging over you.
I don't think it is only the cars that pollute, but also the industry, the coal people use to keep warm. Luckily for the athletes that will not be the case in the Summer.
There is way too much unchecked development in this country. You can see it and breathe it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Chinese Monuments

The Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium, Beijing.

The amazing Olympic Pool Center, Beijing.

Peking Duck.

The Confucius Mansion, Qufu.

The Confucius' Telephone, Qufu.

Carved Pineapple, Qufu.

The Great Mall of China

China has not yet left my consciousness. However, you must know that we have not eaten Chinese yet (it's been 11 days).
The Great Wall. It's like going to the Pyramids of Teotihuacan near Mexico City, but much harder to climb. If it was tough for the invaders to deal with it, I think it was tougher for the slaves who built it and for the poor soldiers who had to patrol it. They say that the mortar that holds together its bricks is mixed with the bones of the slaves that died building it. I can see how that would happen.
Of course, the minute you get there all you see is tour buses, and the people who comprise them are all going up and down the wall like ants, so your mind image of you standing atop the wall like Sir Edmund Hillary on Everest, is not to be. The worst part of the climb is actually at the beginning, which is inordinately steep and each step is like two feet high. I bitched and moaned all the way to the top, and the only reason I made it was the encouragement of my fellow tour members (those who didn't fold after the first ten steps) and that there was a sprightly English woman who must have been at least 70 years old bouncing up the wall as if it was a stroll in the park). So for reasons of amour propre to save face, and that great human motivator: " WTF do you see up there?", I went all the way to the top of that particular chunk of surviving wall. If it wasn't for all the tourists like me, it would be pretty amazing.
More amazing still, on the way down, which is not easy either, was to see a young Russian tourist coming down wearing 4 inch stilettos, tight jeans and an oversized leather bag. What on Earth could she have possibly been thinking? Was it, and while we're here, why don't we spontaneously swing by the Great Wall? Or maybe she heard wrong. Whatever the case, I now nominate the newly rich Russians for the Tackiest People on Earth Award (and believe me, the competition in this planet is fierce).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Go, Chris Martin!

While on the treadmill I also witnessed, about 687 times, the video of Chris Martin defending himself from the uncouth attentions of a paparazzo. It's on You Tube if your curiosity is killing you.
Martin pushes the guy into the ground and then, in a lovely coup de grace, takes his camera. All the time while saying something like "have some respect". He is totally right. Me, I would have taken the camera and smashed it (with my fiery Enchilada blood). The woman is just coming out of the hospital, for crying out loud. We don't know what her malady is or what she was told while she was in there. She deserves some privacy. Meanwhile you stand to make a bundle of money just for taking her picture. It is despicable. The guy was even asking her, like "is everything allright", to get her to look up, as if he gave a shit. Then one moron paparazzo accuses Martin of being a jerk. Have some respect is right.

Bipolar Britney

I went back to the gym today, after months of not setting foot in it with all kinds of excuses (back pain, China, jet lag from China, being fat, etc).
And you know what happens when I go to the gym: I watch The Insider on TV and I read trashy magazines, even if there is a cute guy in the treadmill right next to mine, who is probably thinking, look at this trailer trash imported to Manhattan (if he only knew I've read Proust and Dostoevsky, both of which are not unlike People magazine, if you think about it).
In any case, there I am watching The Insider broadcast Danielynn's "first" steps (she seems already much more with it than her mom), while I'm reading at the same time, and this is a first, because I never read People, I only look at the pictures, the article that details Britney's descent into "mental illness".
As People informs us, doctors who have not treated Brits have nevertheless decided that she sounds bipolar. Apparently all this convoluted behavior of hers is symptomatic of bipolarity, or what used to be called manic depression, I believe. It turns out that there is a history of mental illness in the family somewhere. So there you have it, she was nuts from the get go.
I have never felt sympathy for Britney. I can't stand her vulgarity. (So sue me). But today, my friends, I do. I pity her. She has become the national punching bag, as Ayelet Waldman smartly points out here. Because she is a woman and because she is a mother and because she is talented (albeit trashy) and because she is rich, the derision and the criticism are relentless. She is also morbidly fascinating, like watching a car wreck, but it is actually rather sad. With all that money, and all those resources at her disposal to become a better person, a better artist, and she is just lost and bonkers.
Is it not possible that this "bipolarity" being proclaimed with such wild abandon, (as if this is the excuse we have not to think anymore about the nasty side effects of our celebrity culture), may be a result of her extreme circumstances? A young talent, marketed and taken advantage of to no end, too young and too ignorant to lead a more examined life, or at least to be more savvy, have more backbone, be more cabrona, can barely deal with the sinister demands of her fame and fortune. I think it must be incredibly difficult for people with working brains and a solid sense of self to deal with such issues, now imagine this poor girl. A hillbilly who can't cope with the tzuris of fame.
And this is why I'm voting for Hillary. Because women always have it tougher and I've had it with the double standards and the lesser pay and the endless derision. Bring a bitch to the White House for a change. Let her turn into Lady Macbeth for all I care.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I'm moving to China

In China, my curly blond locks and blue/green orbs were the subject of great admiration. I was asked to pose for pictures with a group of Chinese tourists at the Confucius Mansion. I thought they wanted a group picture, but no, every single one of them wanted a picture alone with moi. I was told in several occasions that I was very beautiful. So despite the fact that the pollution over there makes the Mexico City air seem as fresh as gales from the Swiss Alps, I am seriously considering moving to China, a place where my unique beauty is truly appreciated.
Look me up in Shanghai, wearing a surgical mask.


First they ridicule her laugh; then they ridicule that she cries. I don't necessarily love her, but I bet she has it harder than any of the male candidates for president. I'm starting to think I will vote for her.
I've had it with the guys.

Rent Control

Rent, the cheesy, fake, maudlin, insufferable Broadway musical, is closing after 12 years.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Tiananmen Square is so enormous, you just can't imagine the scope of it. It is like twice the size at least of the Zócalo in Mexico City.

At the north end of the square is the entrance to the Forbidden City. With a portrait of Chairman Meow still presiding.

Remember The Last Emperor? It was shot here in the Forbidden City.
Before the trip I knew it was going to be very cold in Beijing, for the forecasts said a low in the teens. I packed accordingly, but I did not count on the Siberian winds. The Siberian winds were very bad in Beijing.

At the entrance of the Temple of Heaven, which is not in the Forbidden City, a man writes poems with a big brush and water. It is so cold, the letters become ice on the stone tiles.

The Temple of Heaven. Beijing. A park surrounds it, where Chinese people exercise in the freezing cold doing Tai Chi, singing Communist anthems, spinning Chinese yo-yos, playing a Chinese racquet sport that demands not force but elegance and grace. The Chinese notion of exercise is not devoid of beauty. And they've been doing it for thousands of years. It's hard, even with the quite greasy Chinese diet, to see fat people on the street. They say it's the green tea.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ancient Chinglish Wisdom

In other words, don't litter. Or don't set the place on fire.

This is my all time favorite. Translation: instructions on how to pee in a Chinese toilet.

For those of you not yet acquainted with the ways of the Chinese, they eschew our sitting toilets for latrines. As far as I could tell, there are 3 kinds of latrines in China.
1. Seldom seen spiffy ones, shiny and clean. These may actually make you into a latrine convert. You just squat, without touching any surfaces and then you flush, just like any other toilet. Seems quite hygienic and easy.
2. Not so squeaky clean, smelly of ammonia and festering human refuse but tolerable, usually found in most public places like department stores or restaurants.
3. Unspeakably foul, unforgettable miasmas of shit not even Dante could have dreamed of. I ran into one (or rather ran away from one at supersonic speed) at the holy mountain of Taishan. I have a pretty strong constitution when it comes to grossout stuff but this one latrine is forever lodged in my olfactory memory as the foulest place I've ever seen or smelled, gag reflex and all.

This wall in Beijing was rather puzzling, for the patterns inside the vases depict naked women. Could this be a sign for a porn store?

At the Yellow River: Monument to the Laptop. Carved in stone. Words escape me.

All is well and good. But why is this sign displayed in the lobby of a hotel? We entertained ourselves a good while trying to discern the logic of this. It shall remain a mystery.

Kings of Neon

East Nanjing Rd. Pedestrian Mall. Shanghai.

You have to love the picture of the roast duck...

More funky foods

Thousand year old eggs.

Ancient looking soft shell turtle.

Green eggs, no ham.

Dried rabbit, duck and fish and unidentifiable beast.

Sauteed silkworms.

You may not believe me, but most of the food we had in the tour was really good (none of the funky stuff above for us tourists). They took us to group restaurants for the most part, but the food was very diverse, and very tasty. Yummy Chinese food like kung pao chicken, lots of really fresh sauteed vegetables, nothing to complain about. In several occasions I got headaches after lunch but I can't decide if it was MSG or the pollution or both. But for one Peking duck dinner we had in a real restaurant, however, we missed the experience of eating with other people that weren't tourists. The Peking duck dinner place in Beijing was full of Chinese people having a ball and the table next to us were getting joyously smashed, making lots of noise. That was fun.

Eat your Chinese Veggies

The amazing indoor market in Old Town Shanghai. Not everything looks like "Alien".
The highlight of my trip were the markets. In Jinan we went to a "free market" that is, a place where vendors can quote a market price rather than the government controlled prices. In Qufu, instead of going to buy souvenirs, we went the other way and found ourselves looking at men making noodles on the street, selling stuffed buns, pineapples, candied fruit, you name it. Like yours truly, the Chinese are obsessed with food, bless them, and there is so much strange food to look at.

Lots of citrus fruits, but no fresh orange juice anywhere (or at least anywhere we went). Fruit vendors tend to display plastic bananas as a sign. Cute.

Cherry tomatoes. The best apples I've ever tasted, I tasted in China. Crisp and intense.

Water chestnuts.

Pickled everything.

A stunning radish.

Chinese markets

Live frogs. For you to eat.
In Shanghai you can choose to spend your days shopping in an outdoor mall that would not look out of place in LA or Miami with all the brands you've come to know and love. Or your tour guide can take you to the "Chinatown" in China which is a huge trinkets mall for tourists that feel the urge to part with their hard earned money buying Chinese tchotchkes. You cannot take one step in Shanghai without someone telling you "Watch/Bag". At first I thought they were kindly telling me to watch my bag, but then I realized they were hawking fake bags and fake rolexes (5 bucks each). A guy who looked like a public accountant looked at me and whispered "hashish, marijuana" as if I was the poster child for Western drug dependence. He looked so square that I told him, "are you kidding me?" and he burst out laughing. Our wonderful tour guide did remind us on more than one occasion that the penalty for drug dealing is death.
The biggest "Chinatown" in the world is in the Old Town, which is being torn to shreds to make way for more condos. But if you walk a block away from the very nicely designed tourist trap, you will come across a hardcore street market where most of your nightmares about what is really in Chinese food (except cats and dogs) will come alive.

Giant eel. There are also many other kinds of eel, all alive and slithering in plastic containers. They will be freshly killed in front of your very eyes, as is every kind of fish known to man. The fish is so fresh, alive, that it doesn't even smell like fish. They kill the fish and spill the guts on the sidewalk and someone scoops them up with a bag, no doubt to turn them into something edible or medicinal. You can also get still breathing fish heads to go, their detached bodies still wriggling next to them. This market was a marvel, but not for those with weak constitutions.

Look up and you will see dried chickens and skinned fish hanging from windows, many times right next to the family's drying underwear.

There are razor clams and manila clams and giant clams and these clams that seem to be marinating in some kind of blood. Yum.

But there are also the freshest, most fragrant vegetables. I could smell this cilantro from half a block away.

Shanghai Surprise

The fresh, crisp smog of Shanghai at 8 am.

Same view at night.
Shanghai is the closest thing to Blade Runner on Earth. It makes New York City look positively modest, quaint and dainty. I loved it. But the air was so foul that after walking its streets for four hours I felt dizzy and short of air. In China, you blow your nose and black soot comes out.
Beijing is to Washington DC as Shanghai is to New York: government vs commerce. Beijing is vast and grandiose, gray and sober. Shanghai teems with activity. There are street markets and luxury malls and the best neon signs ever.

The Bund. Shanghai still sports the monuments to its recent colonial past in a series of European buildings that were the sites for great banks, insurance companies and hotels. Some of them you peek inside to see banks of magnificent grandeur, lovingly preserved, but no photos allowed. The Bund is what remains of the foreign concessions and it is a marvel to walk in. On the other side is Pudong, the new development with the futuristic buildings. Shanghai is ruined forever but it is still one of the great cities on Earth.