Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Memo to Obama:

Sorry to break it to you pal, but this is what happens when you put too much faith in religion, a line of work where charlatans abound.
I sincerely hope you weather this bitter storm with grace.
Hendrik Herzberg was complaining about the ABC debate. The questions were disgraceful. But then why didn't the candidates refuse to stoop to that level? Why did you answer the questions? Can't you say: I will not answer these ridiculous, irrelevant questions?
I've had it with this circus.

Paul Simon at BAM

I know it's old news, but I have just been too busy.
I bought tickets to the three concerts of the Paul Simon residence at BAM. Why? Because I love his music. I don't understand why people don't like him more. As far as I'm concerned, he is the true heir to the classic American songbook, on a par with the likes of Cole Porter and all those other fabulous songwriters of yore. So the first night was songs from The Capeman, his failed musical about Salvador Agrón, a Puerto Rican youth convicted of murder in the 50s. I was unfamiliar with the music so I was curious. Some of the songs were gorgeous, particularly the doo wop ones. The Puerto Rican artists played and sang and danced their hearts out. The Latin swing was palpable.
The second night, which was supposed to be the African influenced night, with performances by David Byrne, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Milton Nascimento, well, that night I went to the movies, ate popcorn, went for a walk, had a beer, shpatzired up and down, and came home to find the tickets on my desk. AAARGGGGHHHH. Shit happens. I heard it was great. I hope this doesn't happen to me for my Radiohead tickets on August 8th.
The third night (this is starting to sound like a Passover seder), was dedicated to his American music. The artists were a motley mix of the great (Gillian Welch, The Roches, Olu Dara, Amos Lee, Simon's inimitable band) and the not so great (Josh Groban, Grizzly Bear), but the songs, yikes, classics all. So many songs they sang and for every song, I could think of another two great songs of Paul Simon. Some of the artists cheated on the lyrics, which is as heretical as deciding not sing all the lyrics of Cole Porter, in my humble opinion. Simon's melodies are gorgeous, but the lyrics are killer. They counteract the sweetness of the melodies, with wisdom and irony and edge.
The tiny man himself is a slightly ornery performer, but the night I saw him he warmed up to his extremely deserved standing ovations and to the spirited playing of the guest artists. His voice doesn't reach the beautiful top notes it used to, but it is still sweet and he knows how to camouflage it well.
I love his music. He is a giant.

First Hitler...

...then this.
I love it how Austria paints itself as this innocent little country, totally stunned (stunned!) about the creeps that live in its midst. If I'm not mistaken, Austria was not so outraged when native son Adolf Hitler waltzed in to a warm welcome way back when. The only country in Europe that did not put up a fight.
So give me a break about rescuing Austria's image.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Good News!

I am very happy to learn of a new pro Israel lobby in the US that is more to my liberal liking.
It's called J Street and I think it was about time that someone gave voice to many of us who support Israel but who look for real and honest debate about political solutions, and not the typical knee jerk reactions of the existing lobby, who make friends with extremists that don't really have Israel's best interests at heart. I've never felt that those Jewish organizations represent me, because they seem to attack anybody who dares question Israel's policies or anybody who doesn't show blind, unflagging support, no matter what. As I've said many times, I support Israel completely, but with responsibility and sound politics, not just because and not under any and all circumstances.
So I welcome the advent of J Street and I hope it opens up new avenues towards a lasting solution for the region.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Chemise not necessarily a shirt in French. It is also a Mexican popsicle that tastes like heaven.
It is called a Chemise (or Chemis) because it is a cilinder of vanilla icecream surrounded by delicious strawberry ice. These things are still around in Mexico City and I had my proustian moment yesterday as I ate one that tasted exactly like the ones I used to eat as a child.
As my dear friend Mr. Parker (he of the Delicious Circle) says, nothing ever dies in Mexico. Brands don't die, cheesy disco music lives on forever.

Case in point: Bremen brand mini marshmallows that look exactly the same as they did when I was three. Why futz around with something when it is perfect? Thus, the label of the plastic bag is a marvel of retro understatement. Here, only the big multinational purveyors of junk food believe in that relentless American mantra of New and Improved, although I did see new weird flavors of Chamoy, such as Mango and Tamarindo. I really wish we stop emulating Procter and Gamble and leave these things as they are (sans lead, if that is possible).

However, there is a major metaphysical crisis I was not aware of that has to do with some enterprising marketer changing the very metaphysical label of the Paletón Corona. If you must know the Paletón is a lollipop made of marshmallow with a chocolate covering. It tastes exactly the same today as it did in the Pleistocene period when I was born. But they changed the label, and unbeknownst to them, thereby killing metaphysics. More on this when I get to NY, with pictures, I promise.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Mexican Passover... a very good thing. At least the way it is done in my family, with lots of songs, silly jokes ("all those who want to ask the Four Questions, don't all raise your hands at the same time"), a big family and wonderful food such as Gefilte Fish with Veracruzana sauce and yes, a Mole Matzoh Pudding that is freaking brilliant. Tia "Wera" rules.

Gefilte Fish a la Veracruzana. My grandmother's genius invention.

Mole Matzoh Pudding. You better believe it. Yummy.

I took video of the beautiful seder at the home of my uncle Abraham who leads the seder the way my grandpa used to do it, with beautiful, melodic davening and singing the interminable songs until they actually end, with an operatic finale courtesy of my adored aunt Dora. My uncle does some needed shortcuts and the meal is served in the middle, lest hungry Jews rebel.
My darling nephews (2 and 7) had a little too much Manischewitz and they were a little tipsy but extremely happy and extremely freaked out by the invisible appearance of Elijah the Prophet who came and visibly drank the wine and made a mess of the tablecloth and then went on his invisible way to attend all the other seders. As one of my cousins pointed out, he was already plastered when he got to us and still had several to go.
I used to think that for a holiday that symbolizes freedom, Passover was just a long list of restrictions (no bread or yeast for 8 days, no tortillas, etc). But listening to the songs this time (one of them in Arameic), I just thought that Jews have a very long memory. And if to this day we're still remembering our expulsion from ancient Egypt, we're not about to forget all the other crap we've had to endure through the centuries, despite of which, we're still here. A long memory and an even longer life span.
Happy Passover, everybody.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Taxi Cab Confessions Mexico City Version

I've been taking many taxis (from authorized taxi stands) because I am located in the boonies, far from the center of town. All the cab drivers around here are unfailingly polite, well spoken and fabulous so far. It amazes me that I pay about 15 bucks for a ride that in NY would cost three times as much (that's how far I am from the center of town). I'm staying at a suburb for the well-to-do. If you've seen (and you should) the film La Zona, there are similar compounds around here. Yesterday, a cab driver was telling me that he doesn't like the night shift anymore because there are too many accidents, drunk drivers and irresponsible pricks who think they're at Le Mans. He told me that twice already, drunk young entitled wealthy juniors, as we call them here, have rammed down the cab stand late at night. In one instance a cabbie was injured. However, they've walked away scot free because the president of the cab drivers refuses to prosecute or even call the police. He does not want to antagonize the wealthy neighbors.
The cabbie says: those kids should at least see the inside of the police precinct, so they should learn a lesson. This will probably happen when hell freezes over.
Another story from a cabbie: a Mercedes Benz arrives at the entrance of the fancy private hospital around here. The guy leaves his car in the middle of the way, gets out as he talks on the cellphone and as the bewildered valet parking guys are trying to get his keys or tell him to move, he completely ignores them, as if they did not exist and were not talking to him, creating instant chaos. He doesn't surface again for at least 30 minutes. I ask if perhaps he had an emergency, but then he would have taken himself to the emergency area.
I instantly think "well, in this case you call a tow truck, or the police, or both, and you tow the car away, see how happy the guy is when he gets back". I would call a tow truck and thrown the car off one of the many ravines around here, for good measure. Oops, sorry, pal.
Apparently, it did not even cross anyone's mind to do this. There is a kind of paralyzing tolerance of abusive, "powerful" people in this country. There is even a widely used word for the kind of petulant arrogance that such people wield: prepotencia.
You don't have to be actually politically connected or powerful, you just have to look like you have money and act as if the waters of the Red Sea should part wherever your presence is announced, and the rest of the people start behaving like serfs. Then they probably entertain murderous revenge fantasies that may be the reason why some people choose to live in compounds where that kind of interaction between the haves and the have nots is reduced to the minimum. The servants and the served.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mexican Marketing

Greetings from Mexico City! The air is yellowish, the weather balmy and the bouganvilleas are in bloom. The bouganvilleas almost deserve their own post, their colors are so vibrant one thinks one is high on toxic fumes.
Also in bloom, alas, are the odious billboard ads that have made this already aesthetically challenged city (for the most part, let's be honest) into a terrible eyesore. Yesterday, as I inched my way from the airport, I observed the ever growing proliferation of hideously designed billboards. Two of them were deeply scary, though decently designed. A cheese company, whose campaign is directed at longsuffering Mexican mothers, has the following headlines urging the women to buy their dairy products:
1. For your 18 year old baby.
2. For your other son: your husband.
Darlings, my jaw dropped so low and so suddenly it was almost run over by the car behind us.
Indeed, if there ever was Mexican culture in a nutshell, this would have to be it.
Unless I'm mistaken, I did not detect the tiniest hint of irony, sarcasm or humor. The ads are meant to be endearing, full of what advertisers like to call the emotional connection.
Me? I wonder whether Mexicans look at these ads and go: that is exactly right! Men are babies, and mothers and wives treat them as such, and this is not only normal but good and desirable for all concerned. Or they look at this and go, yikes, no wonder we are so fucked up in some departments, such as having mature, sexually healthy lives, for instance.
The 18 year old baby, well we can all live with that, I guess. But the one about your husband being your son, the implications and reverberations are so astoundingly perverse, my jaw is still dropping as we speak.
I wonder how much cheese they're selling. I bet tons.

Monday, April 14, 2008

There is a Rooster in Manhattan

And it apparently suffers from insomnia. It's been shrieking bloody murder since 3 am today. At first I thought it was a female voice asking rather politely for help. It repeated its languid "heeeeeeeelp" consistently like every 90 seconds, so it was most definitely not a damsel in distress. Then I thought maybe it is some newfangled construction contraption that makes a high pitched hissing sound, but it sounded organic rather than mechanical. Then I thought it was a cat in heat, except it didn't sound at all like a cat in heat. And around 6 am, when I was more awake, I could definitely distinguish the crowing sound of a rooster at dawn. (News Flash: I just heard it three times -- it's 10:17 am).
I think it is coming from somewhere in the near West Village. Perhaps the kindergarten on Sullivan St between Bleecker and West 3rd? Who keeps a rooster in a Manhattan apartment?
I have no issues with a pet rooster in Manhattan. In Mexico City at dawn you hear the little birds and lots of street dogs always howling through the night, and roosters sometimes too. However, this particular New York rooster has his clock screwed up or is coked up. I would appreciate if the owners taught him to crow, say from 7 to 9 am only. He could wake the entire Village up in a nice, organic way.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bitter, True.

What Obama said is true. So if the other contenders take candid, honest, smart comments and turn them into a political slugfest, as always, simplistic and stupid, all the more reason I'm voting for Obama come November. What's wrong with bitter? He didn't say they were stupid.

"It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Why is there such a brouhaha over a comment like this? Because politicians like Hillary Clinton demean language by distorting it into sheer sophistry. I find it refreshing that Obama would talk like that. I've had it with this freaking circus. Get someone nominated already, for the love of God.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Talking about spirituality...

Even with my staunchly agnostic outlook, I sometimes go for the esoteric. The other day I went into that East/West store on lower Fifth Ave. I had never set foot in there. I was looking for a book on the school of Tai Chi I am attempting to practice. I went into this emporium of spirituality in search of peace, and I came out feeling as frazzled as if I had just stepped into Mall of America on Thanksgiving weekend. I will tell you why. Everything, including spirituality, is marketed to death. Used to be only my aunt Clara and my Aunt Dora were doing yoga, back in the day when people thought yoga was exclusively for old ladies and/or hippies. My aunts used towels as their mats. Now you can buy a yoga foam brick for 16 bucks and a mandala patterned cover for your ergonomic, non-slip yoga mat. It's an industry. But this is not all. This amply stocked store has everything you could want to soothe your mind to distraction: new age, Buddhism, Kabbalah, stones, Wiccan, gnostic, Eastern philosophies, CDs that will help you cure your cancer and lose weight, ayurvedic deodorants, aromatherapy. Everything. Some of the stuff is serious, most is mumbo jumbo of PT Barnum quality. It is very hard, if not impossible, to distinguish between the two. But every single item is marketed with the zeal of a crusader.
One item that just blew my mind: a set of transparent stickers with the words "peace", "serenity", "mindfulness", "love", "self-acceptance", "bliss", etc, etched in script type. You take one of these stickers and affix it to the glass in which you are drinking water, so the stickers turn your tap water into a fountain of self-healing and you into instant Buddha. I'm going to buy a set for my tequila shot glasses. One good tequila can help you achieve all of the above, if you think about it.

Department of Stomach Ailments + Book Reviews

I'm relegated to stay home with a case of an unwanted guest crashing in my bowels since yesterday, courtesy of a wilted looking Cobb salad at the corner diner. (See? This is what happens for eating healthy). I'm contemplating calling the health department, but I don't want to leave any Mexican cooks and busboys out of a job.
My fever has subsided (and with it the chills and body aches -- Tylenol works!), but the guest is still here, and partying like there is no tomorrow, keeping me by force, close to the loo. Department of too much info, I know, but this pesky little creature does not allow me to concentrate on loftier topics.
You also must know that we Mexicans consider it perfectly normal, socially acceptable and indeed a daily occurrence, to talk in great length about our bowels and their discontents. It's in my blood.
So, instead of basking in the glorious Spring weather, like the rest of you, I have been able to continue reading The Russians' Debutante Handbook, by Gary Shteyngart. I know this book may be old hat to many of you, but I just discovered it ($5 at Strand) and I'm getting such a kick out of it, I think I am in love with Mr. Shteyngart.
1. He is hilarious. The satire is endlessly biting, no one is unscathed. It is cruel and comical, very precisely observed, and beautifully written.
2. He is not fond of Eastern Europe and its barbarities, and so I find a writer after my own heart. He sets the novel in a fictional city called Prava, which is transparently Prague, and his expert skewering of locals and expats alike is delightful. I'm having a ball reading this book. I have read books that make you laugh out loud more times per page, but this one just makes you shake your head and marvel at pretty much every sentence.
Next on my list, I guess, will be his second novel, Absurdistan.
Since we are on the subject of books, what else have I read lately?
Oh, yes. I was given as a birthday present this book called Eat, Pray, Love, a mega bestseller. It's the journey of self discovery of a self-involved, navel gazing woman, who, despite all of her discoveries, seems to be as self-involved and navel-gazing at the end of the book as she was at the beginning. Except before she was miserable, and after pasta in Italy, ashram in India and magic man in Bali, she is happy. (I would have had the pasta in Italy and left it at that). I hope my dear friend Sonia will forgive me for not liking this book. My eyes rolled so many times on every page, I was beginning to feel like that girl from The Exorcist. However, I couldn't put it down. Not because it was suspenseful or I wanted to know what was going to happen, but because it was so fascinatingly appalling, I just had to see it through. The writing seemed to me sloppy and witless and not particularly insightful or well observed (I guess powers of observation must be quite limited when you are gazing at your navel with such focussed concentration). But the book did give me something very useful. It actually gave me a meditation mantra. Readers, do not panic. I have not yet gone out of my spirituality-hating wits. But all of us, and particularly those of us for whom life is a catastrophe waiting to happen, can sometimes benefit from a little peace of mind. I have tried a couple of mantras here and there, mainly to lull myself to sleep, and the one the writer shares in this book is the only one that actually seems to work. So for that, I'm grateful to her.
If you must know, I am also learning Tai Chi. Soon I will be dispensing wisdom from a cave in a mountain.
For the time being, however, I am as grounded as possible, wishing my unwelcome squatter a hasty departure.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Scary Spice

Take a good look now, because this is the only smile you are ever going to see on Victoria Beckham.
Why is this woman always wearing a rictus? What's not to like about her life? She always looks like she was caught with a suppository up her ass.
In any case, the New York Times style section includes an article on the very annoying Marc Jacobs ads by Juergen Teller. To their credit, they look like no one else's and they make you remember the brand. That is good advertising. But still, they're annoying because they want to be so "anti" and because they are deliberately ugly.
If I didn't think that Marc Jacobs' clothes are designed for smart women who want to look both ugly and stupid, I'd probably like the ads more. But every time I go to Bloomie's in Soho and peruse the huge Marc Jacobs store, it seems to me that his muse must be Nurse Ratched. These are the clothes she'd be wearing on her days off. And as much as I admire Nurse Ratched's steely resolve and her no nonsense approach to discipline, I do not want to look like her (but I do find her more attractive than Scary Spice, for sure).

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Another Dispatch from Surrealiland

Certain things can only happen in Latin American countries. To wit:
Venezuelan TV has taken The Simpsons off the air because it considers it not suitable for children. (They were showing it in the morning, like a regular cartoon for kids). Now they are going to show it at a later time slot. Okay, so they didn't get the memo about how The Simpsons is not technically a kiddie show, although frankly, there is nothing in it that wouldn't make a kid smarter.
So what do they replace it with that is wholesome, educational and perfectly suitable for children? Baywatch. BAYWATCH.
Really, words fail me. But such is life in the tropics.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Absolut(ely) Touchy

Ay, Dios mío! Some gringos are touchy, touchy about this Absolut Vodka ad that ran exclusively in Mexico, but they whined so much about it, Absolut agreed to pull it. Such is the power of the internets.
I don't know what all the hoopla is about. It's not as if it isn't true.
Lighten up, Minutemen!
I don't get it. Gringos are always putting the Stars and Stripes in thongs and do rags and I wouldn't be surprised if they put it in a tampon, but this ad, which was made for Mexican consumption in Mexico, they find tasteless. Go figure.
Just as one offended blogger said he was pouring his bottle of Absolut down the drain in protest, well, the next time I order a vodka tonic, I will make sure it's Absolut.
I bet that the three other Mexicans who drink vodka will agree with my support of the brand.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Pregnant Pause

I thought the "pregnant man" was an April Fools' day joke.
He is not a man. She is a chick with or without a dick (I'm very confused) but who clearly has her female reproductive organs in place and working. So if you ask me, she is a chick.
I wonder what parents all over the nation, perhaps the world, are telling their children.
Suddenly the proverbial question, "where do children come from?" has become a whole other ball of wax.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bully Bully

Always at the forefront of last week's news, today we want to talk about bullies in the workplace. An article in the increasingly USA Todayish New York Times had hundreds of people spilling their guts about being bullied in the office. Long, anguished texts describe horrid behavior from bosses, coworkers and underlings alike. Women are found to be terrible, frequent offenders.
I think the word bully does not do justice to who these people are. Bully sounds almost innocuous. I propose: evil, pustulent miscreants.
But since we are in a confessional mode, here are some of my bullying stories.
In my case, they are rather mild. I've been mostly lucky to work with nice, decent people in the best cases, and, in the worst, terribly inept, chaotic bureaucrats, but not too many bullies. When a bully has reared its ugly head, I've never stuck around for too long after that. I can only take so much unhappiness and humiliation in my daily life. Life is too short.
However, I've had very bad bosses. The first one was a shrew, way back when, who was not technically a bully but a singularly undiplomatic, rude, unprofessional, miserable bitch. Imperious, unfair, full of herself, she got a kick of making overqualified people run her petty errands. She ran a pathetic office as if it was the Principality of Monaco.
She was the director, I was the assistant director. She would constantly ask us to do things after work hours. One day she asked me to go pick up her dry cleaning. I refused.
She gave me some sermon about how disappointed she was at my uncooperative attitude. I don't remember how she justified such an inexcusable request, but I still refused. She never asked again.
She got me fired because I refused to lie to other employees about my salary raise. I said I would not volunteer the information, but if someone asked, I would not lie. She flew into a rage, screamed and snapped her fingers at me and fired me. For a couple of years after my departure, former assistant directors and I would sometimes meet at a café and reminisce, exchanging horror stories about her. There were plenty.
I had another boss, one of those secretary-to-CEO types, who was utterly incapable of recognizing a good advertising idea if it bit her in the ass, but would berate you, at 11 o'clock at night, for using staples instead of paper clips. 8 months is all I lasted, and I can't believe it took me so long.
Another time, as a freelancer, I was told to work with a creative team, two women who had been there since the paleolithic era. One of them was a real verbissener bitch, the corners of her mouth permanently contorted into a grimace; the other one was slightly less toxic. It amazes me how instead of happily welcoming someone and looking forward to collaborate, evil, pustulent miscreants expend so much energy and effort in sabotage activities. These two did everything in their power to exclude me from the work. They did not let me know when they were meeting, they did not answer my calls and, at one point, when I proved to be too much of a pest, one of them actually told me that they were used to working on their own. So I went to my little forlorn cubicle and worked on my own too. I was advised to rat them out to their boss, but I really didn't want to be a crybaby. We're supposed to be adults, no? Instead I asked them to involve me. They said yes to my face and then ignored me. Then they had no qualms about using what I wrote and passing it off as theirs. Both really expended all their energy in resisting everything that their boss asked of them. Entrenched, bitter resistance to every single request. As a freelancer, I did not want to be perceived as whiny or contentious, so I did not say anything. But I do think that they made it look as if I was not contributing enough.
I left my job of 15 years when a new chief creative officer was brought in who was indeed a bully. I had two brushes with his Napoleonic, delusional self and realized that it was time to call it quits. In the space of a year, he managed to destroy an advertising agency that had been profitable and well-respected for over 20 years.
When confronted with this kind of people, my consolation (something I learned that first and last time I was ever fired), is that one does not need to wish hell on evil, pustulent miscreants, because they already live in a hell of their own devising every second of their pernicious, dessicated lives. But the more important lesson is that bullies happen because we let them.
Put your foot down, and make it harder for them to make it hard for you.