Saturday, February 27, 2010

One more thought on Avatar

You know how the Na'vi are these poor evolved underdogs that have to fight a massive empire intent on crushing them?
And you know how everybody thinks the Na'vi is them (Palestinians, Jews, minorities, Evo Morales?)
Well, in a film industry analogy, the Na'vi are the struggling film industries of the entire world, threatened by extinction because of the monopolistic, gargantuan, massive, unstoppable, omnipotent, crushing power and influence of Hollywood, and particularly Avatar, which would be the big bad meanies invading Pandora.
So James Cameron: fuck you and your bloated billion dollar fable about the noble weak vs. the evil strong. Fucking bunch of hypocrites.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Behanding in Spokane

No snow, sleet or icy rain was going to prevent me from seeing the venerable Christopher Walken in a new play by Martin McDonagh (on whom I confess I have a huge crush). It was much fun.
A Behanding in Spokane is the first of McDonagh's plays that takes place in the United States. A seedy motel room represents the sorry state of affairs of our fair Republic. Walken plays Mr. Carmichael, a man who was robbed of his hand when he was a child, and has spent the last 47 years looking for it. 
The play is a bracing combo of Beckettian absurdity, lots of Mametesque profanity and McDonagh's intriguing mix of humor and violence, very similar to his excellent The Lieutenant of Inishmore. He goes to town making fun of some of our most cherished indigenous passions, like racism, political correctness, revenge fantasies and our unquenchable thirst for violence. With four characters in a hotel room he creates a pretty accurate snapshot of our quintessentially American surrealism.
America didn't use to be a surrealist country, but now it is actually going towards the certifiably insane. Unfortunately, our brand of surrealism is not of the poetic variety (like Mexico's); it's more of the frighteningly ridiculous (Sarah Palin, the healthcare fiasco, teabaggers, reality shows, the TSA, banks, you name it).  Outsiders like McDonagh can see this insanity perhaps a little more clearly than us who are mired in it. And he lets it rip, but in a subtle way, never lecturing or being topical or political. I think he is saying it is the violence and our almost innocent attachment to selfishness that are making us crazy. 
McDonagh uses the n-word, the c-word, the f-word and all its permutations with hilarious abandon. I think these words somehow have ceased to be shocking and he knows it. But there are very clever shocks in two amazing monologues. One is by Mervyn, (Sam Rockwell, terrific) free associating on his burning desire to be a hero, in a totally wrong way. He is completely inured to violence, but he has a sensitive ego.
The other one is a phone conversation between Carmichael and his mother which is all at once appalling, tender, absurd, hilarious, full of venom, rage and love. 

The way Walken speaks, it's like listening to Jazz. He riffs, he scats, he swings and I adore the way he sounds, with his creamy Noo Yawk accent. His unique rhythms are totally artificial and at the same time, naturally colloquial. It may be shtick, but it works beautifully. And he has gotten even better at putting delicious emphases in surprising places with impeccable timing. We were at the back of the orchestra and we understood every word he said, but sometimes he spoke a little too softly (on purpose, I'm sure).
Sam Rockwell is excellent as Mervyn, the nosy, weirdo receptionist. He seems very much at home on the stage, just like he is on film, but here he seems more disciplined, less quirky. Anthony Mackie is also very funny as Toby, a young pot dealer who is rather sensitive and prone to fits of tears. The one disappointment is Zoe Kazan, as Marilyn, Toby's girlfriend and dealer sidekick with a penchant for political correctness. Her voice is tinny and grating and this distracts from her performance. I didn't get a clear sense of character from her. I have been far more impressed with her in film than when I've seen her onstage.
Still, a lot of fun it was. I'm very happy I saw it.

My Olympic Commentary

I watched the skating on the internet because I canceled cable and now I can't even see regular channels. When did I become an old lady?
Here's my take on the figure skating (the only sport I saw, except for that awesome snowboarding dude who took the gold).

• Why don't they announce the music the skaters skate to? This drives me crazy. It takes nothing to write a super with the music info below the name of the skater. Educate the world while they are being Olympic couch potatoes! It would do a world of good.

• Here's my medal ceremony for the lady figure skaters:
Gold: Mao Asada (Japan). She is totally right to be pissed off. She is the first woman to do I don't know how many triple axles in Olympic history, does a magnificent program and gets second place, way too many points behind Yu Na Kim. She skated to the powerful Prelude in C Minor by Rachmaninoff, a gutsy piece of music. She was awesome.
Silver: Yu Na Kim (S. Korea). She is flawless and gorgeous, and perfect, but I find her very cold and I thought Asada's program was superior. She skated to Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F. Very cool.
Bronze: Mirai Nagasu (USA). This girl is going to be the shit four years from now, just you wait. She is amazing. She skated to music from Carmen, by Bizet. And with all due respect, skated far better than sentimental favorite Joannie Rochette from Canada who lost her mom 2 days before the competition. She skated well, and is very admirable, and chapeau to her, but she wasn't better than Nagasu.
So sue me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

¡Ándale, ándale, ándale!

Yepa! Yepa! Yeeeepaaaa!!!!
Speedy Gonzales was one of my favorite Warner Brothers' characters. He appeared on Mexican TV my entire childhood. Maybe he still does. I don't think anybody in Mexico ever thought there was anything remotely racist about Speedy Gonzales (but then again, nobody in Mexico ever thinks there is anything remotely racist about Mexico).
I think the racist claim is one made by Mexican Americans here, who are far more attuned both to the realities of diversity and to political correctness. Both are rare in Mexico.
Speedy was fast, he was smart and he had a good heart. He always outwitted Silvestre, the cat. He was the underdog, and he always saved the day. What's wrong with that? And don't forget he lived in some sort of Mexican town in the Wild West that had cantinas and señoritas and fiestas and looked like it was in the middle of the Grand Canyon. Plus, he was a mouse. Not a person. I think this makes a huge difference.
So I don't get why George López, who is about to provide Speedy's voice (God, I miss Mel Blanc), says Speedy was a racist cartoon.
I remember some really old Max Fleischer cartoons (which I also saw as a child in Mexico) of dark, ugly Mexicans sleeping with serapes, sombreros, moustaches, and burros. All they did was sleep and snore. So yes, that was a nasty stereotype (as were all the big lipped Black characters with bones sticking out of their kinky hair and the yellow Chinese people with long fingernails, etc).  That was racist.
I believe that Speedy is not a racist depiction of Mexicans. If you want racist depictions of Mexicans, go to Mexico. Try to find someone on TV that isn't white, or blond or blue eyed.

Reverse Racism

Speaking of which, I went to Ave. D in search of Mexican tostadas for dinner. Deep in the barrio. I spoke Spanish, which given my Nordic looks never ceases to amaze my Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban or Mexican homies, or any cab driver that asks about my provenance. It never ceases to amaze anybody that someone pale, with blond hair and green eyes should be Mexican. I'm way past the stage of explaining to people that my family came from Europe. This should be beside the point. The point is I speak Spanish and I'm from Mexico, born and bred. You can all pick your jaw off the floor now. In this day and age, why is this still surprising? This exhausts me.

But I bought some ripe plantains to fry for dinner and I asked the bodega owner whether I should get the very black ones or the not so ripe ones and he tells me, (after marvelling as if he was Darwin himself and had just found a new species of Blondifera Mexicana), "You are an expert on plátanos, mami".
If I were a gringa, I would be appalled and considering whether to file suit (basically he's telling me I am an expert on dicks). But he made me laugh. Gotta love the suave vulgarity of the double entendre.

From the Enchilada Files: The End of Metaphysics

The Paletón Corona (a chocolate covered marshmallow lollipop) used to be an inquisitive child's first introduction to the wonderful world of philosophy and metaphysics.
Here is why:

Used to be, until recently, that the label of the Paletón showed a kid holding in his hand a Paletón, which inside had a kid who held in his hand a Paletón, which in its label had a kid holding in his hand a Paletón, ad infinitum. But more amazingly, this lead your young little kepaleh to think that you yourself were holding in your hand your Paletón, which could very possibly mean that you were just another kid inside the Paletón of a kid bigger than you, who was held in their hand by an even bigger kid and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. This begat enormous questions about our place in the universe and the very nature of our identity. Now all we have is this:

You can see the tragedy. Gone is the kid inside the kid inside the kid. Gone are speculation, awe and wonder. I want to personally murder the marketing genius who thought that taking the label off the inside paletón would create "appetite appeal". But such is the power of destruction, the stupid tunnel vision, of marketing.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Weekly Schedule in Hell

...according to our first guest blogger ever, friendly curmudgeon J.A. Prat:
(Comments on all caps by G.E., editor)

Unless otherwise noted, Coldplay is on 24/7 on the public sound system. All activities are compulsory.

6 AM: Screening of the Star Wars trilogy.
12 Noon: Spinning class with Bjork.
1 PM: Lunch with Yoko. Choice of Swiss empanada or baked liver omelette.
2.30 PM:  “Paris is cool” a lecture by Wes Anderson (In French with English subtitles). 3.30 PM: “Wes is Cool”, a lecture by Jason Schwartzman (In French with no subtitles).
6.30 PM: Gallery Opening of “ Je m’appelle Jason”, a show of 77 large scale portraits of Jason Schwartzman.
7.45 PM: Cooking class with Gwyneth Paltrow, featuring a selection of poultry dishes, with special guest Chris Martin from Coldplay.
9.00 PM: Loop screening of Wes Anderson’s American Express commercial. 
11.30 PM: Phone charity drive with Bono.
12.30 PM: Lights out.

6 AM: Screening of Matthew Barney’s epic “Cremaster Cycle”, presented by Bjork.
11 AM: The Plastic Ono band performs live, with guest stars Bono, and Chris Martin from Coldplay.
12 Noon: Brunch with The Edge and Yoko. Choice of Cod Macaroni or stuffed blue cheese chicken.
12.45 PM: A replay of The Who’s Superbowl Half-Time show.
1 PM: Bjork rehearsal and sound check.
3 PM: Screening of the Lord of The Rings Trilogy.
10 PM: Live reading of selected New York Times film reviews by  Manohla and A.O.
12 AM: Lights out.

6 AM: Screening: a retrospective of Jason Schwartzman films.
4 PM: Coldplay live, featuring a selection of U2 classics.
7 PM: Avatar.
10 PM: Lights out.

6 AM:  “Wes and Sophia’s Paris”: a slideshow featuring the directors’ fave spots in the city of lights. In French, with simultaneous English translation by Jason Schwartzman.
10 AM: Meet and greet with Bjork.
12 Noon: Lunch with Celine Dion. Choice of chilly* fries with vinegar, or halibut seared steak with white pepper sauce. (*I'M NOT SURE IF THESE ARE GELID FRIES OR PLAIN CHILI FRIES WITH VINEGAR. HELLISH, EITHER WAY)
2 PM: Screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”, with a live soundtrack performed by Bjork.
5 PM: Phone charity drive with Bono.
7 PM: A lecture by Jason Schwartzman on his role in Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. 
9 PM: New York Times film critic’s round table: Manohla, A.O., and guest David Denby.
12 AM: Lights out.

7 AM: Double-feature screening: “Japón” by Carlos Reygadas, and Lars Von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark”.
1 PM: Lunch with Lars. Choice of herring fillet or pulled pork danish.
3 PM: Pilates with Bjork.
4 PM: Wes Anderson design lecture. The director talks about his favorite objects.
8 PM: Roundtable:  Notable Parisians discuss Paris.
2 AM: Lights out.

7 AM: Screening of Roman Coppola’s “CQ”.
9 AM: Royal Tenenbaums, The Broadway Musical.
11 AM: Live poetry reading by Chris Martin, from Coldplay.
1 PM: Yoko Ono lifetime achievement award ceremony.
5 PM: Karaoke with Bjork.
11 PM: Dinner with Hitler. Choice of creamed baked potato or horse sausage.
1 AM: Open house at the Ceaucescus.
2 AM: Lights out.

7 AM: A lecture by David Denby on his all-time favorite actresses.
10 AM: Sunday mass with gospel standards by Chris Martin from Coldplay.
12 PM: Guided tour with Yoko Ono: the parks of Bucharest.
12.30 PM: Romanian brunch with Bjork. Fixed menu.
2.30 PM: Avatar.
5.30 PM: Dances With Wolves.
8.00 PM: Avatar.
11.30 PM: Lights out.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Department of Mexican Epiphanies II

It is the Mexican national sport to viciously berate ourselves.
I got a Powerpoint document from two Mexican friends, disparaging the 200th Mexican Bicentennial, which happens next year. Basically, this document repeats ad nauseam that Mexicans have absolutely nothing to be proud of. The tone is vile and bitter, and I suspect, full of the racial and economic contempt that certain people with access to Powerpoint have for those without.
This may be how some Mexicans are counteracting the government's PR campaign for the Bicentennial, but still, the virulence of the self-recrimination is striking. It smacks of deep, pervasive self-disgust.
I had a couple of conversations with Mexico City cab drivers who told me that they were not proud to be Mexican and then went into a litany of grievances, most of them valid; the venting of people who have developed a deeply passive aggressive tolerance for social and political abuse. I was struck by their refusal to concede that there may be good things about Mexico, that in some aspects, either progress has been made (compared to other places lower in the continent, Mexico is like Switzerland); or that, with all its problems, Mexico is a magnificent country, with an amazing history, incredible culture, the best food on Earth, a certain magnificent greatness. That not everything is rotten to the core. They would have none of that. Mexicans are in the dumps right now, their 200th birthday notwithstanding.

We are among the 40 most corrupt countries on Earth. Proud to be Mexican.

 Very first place in: Proud to be Mexican (this, whatever it is, is not true)

But it's always been like this. Our soccer team tends to be the repository of our dreams of national pride until they lose (which happens quite often). Then it is viciously excoriated by absolutely everyone. "They played like never before, and lost like they always do", was the general opinion in the last World Cup. This pretty much sums up the attitude: Mexicans have no faith in themselves. They don't trust themselves to achieve anything. They hate themselves.

 For those who like sports: all these countries have been Soccer World Cup champions, except, obviously, us. Proud to be Mexican.

Don't share this email or do anything, in the end, Mexico is also among the first countries in Population Passivity. Proud to be Mexican.

These are 4 slides, out of 19. None of the slides actually show the sources for these numbers and some of them seem plainly made up (see slide 2).
If instead of bitching and moaning Mexicans would take a serious look at their basic problems and actively, dynamically, progressively, tried to find solutions, perhaps they would find they have much to celebrate. If instead of such bilious self-hatred, they would try to find positive things to acknowledge, they would have much to celebrate.

Department of Mexican Epiphanies

Having recently been in Mexico City, a place where I try to gauge the extent of actual crime insecurity vs. paranoia every time I go back, I had the following epiphany:

The level of perception of crime and insecurity is directly proportional to the level of social inequality. I think this is true, not only of Mexico City, but of cities like Sao Paulo, and Caracas and the like.

Let me explain. If you are moderately wealthy in Mexico City and you think it is perfectly average to have two swimming pools in your condo, or a jacuzzi in your living room, your level of perception of how vulnerable you are to crime and insecurity is as high as the difference between your standard of living, which borders on the ostentatious, and that of the people you employ, which is almost nil. 
Basically, the rich live in fear.  This is not to say that they are simply paranoid. There is a lot of crime in Mexico City. But I think there are also subconscious guilt and fear factors that make wealthy people perceive themselves as potential victims of crime at all times. The gulf between the haves and have nots is enormous, yet they live and work in very close quarters, interacting intimately in daily life. This makes wealthy people feel particularly vulnerable to class hatred, even though I'd venture to say that most victims of crime in Mexico are not the wealthy, but those who can't afford to have cars, security guards or alarms in their homes.
A potential, long term solution for this (I advise you not to hold your breath), is to raise the standard of living and the educational opportunities of the working class, so that eventually there can be more upward mobility and hopefully, a more balanced society with less social inequality.
For Mexico is predicated on the exploitation of the working masses, and lubricated by corruption. Which is why we happen to boast the richest man in the world. Nothing to be proud of.
It seems to me that there is a steep price to pay for the levels of fabulous wealth that social inequality can buy you in places like Mexico City, Caracas or Karachi, and that is feeling that you are unprotected, you have no recourse (no one does) and that anybody at any time can violently harm you and your family. So the rich almost barricade themselves into their homes and their malls, and the poor and not so poor have violent entitlement fantasies. Which they act out sometimes.
I'd rather live in a place where the economic differences between people are less dramatic. One sleeps better at night.

16 Tons

According to NPR, the average American woman is a size 14. In which case, I am Kate Moss. In which case, I'm anorexic, hovering around size 6 or 8 depending on whether I'm fressing ravenously, or just desperately.
This average size 14 may be true outside NYC, where the average size of women around me seems to be 4-6. I used to fit into size 4. Ah, those were the days...
But the sample clothes that models wear in the runways are size 0 or 00 (there is such a thing). Nobody else will fit in those clothes. That's why they look emaciated. They are close to starvation.  If you saw them in Africa, you would send the UN to help them.
I remember the time when size zero did not exist.
Fashion stubbornly clings to this impossible, dangerous, and disgusting body type, despite the fact that every time I walk into The Gap, or other purveyors of generic wearable clothes, the sizes keep getting bigger. I can assure you, a size 6 in The Gap is what an 8 used to be. It's like food portions, the bigger the portion, the more you eat; the bigger the clothes, the more compelled you feel to fill them in.
Americans are ballooning (and thanks to transnational American junk food, other nationalities are too, with growing rates of diabetes and obesity), yet American fashion keeps shrinking models, giving them eating disorders, and making them look like concentration camp inmates. Anna Wintour and those fashion bitches should be arrested for the damage they do to women.
Why would anybody want to make us look like toothpicks? Why would anybody try to take the sensual pleasure of eating away from us?
Mind you, obesity is just as disturbing and just as unhealthy.
So this is the point of this confusing post:
Rail thin = disgusting
Obese = disgusting
Somewhere in between, depending on our height and body type, we should be happy and healthy and sexy and feeling good about ourselves without either starving or stuffing ourselves to death.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Texas can kiss my ass

Read this article on the Christian right trying to influence the Texas Board of Education, the most influential in the country, and be ready to tear your hair out.
A fundamentalist Christian dentist and an insurance salesman are deciding the kind of changes that will get put into textbooks in this increasingly idiotic country. And the spineless publishers just want to make it on the lists of the boards of ed, because there is nothing more sacred to them than business. So they comply.

It turns out that this is a Christian nation founded on Biblical values. Who knew? 
Forgive my ignorance, but I thought it was a secular nation, founded on humanistic and enlightenment values, with a solid separation of church and state, which is absolutely essential to the wellbeing of democracy and the mental health of the citizenry.
But what do I know? I only came here thinking that it was a forward looking, progress embracing democracy, not a theocracy waiting to happen.
We are behind in science, we are behind in learning, but we are way ahead in reality shows and human abominations like Sarah Palin; soon we will all be ruled by the American Taliban, because of the levels of bureaucratic and political absurdity we tolerate. And because, let's face it, liberals don't know how to put up a fight. They are too busy worrying about who feels offended (something the other camp is completely cavalier about).
These people will not be happy unless they achieve total mind control (as fundamentalist religion is wont to do. It is nothing but fascism).
Stop being respectful of religious people who are not respectful of you.
Stop thinking they have some sort of dispensation to run over your basic rights and to impose their stupid ideas on your children. Their faith is worthless to anyone but them. But their politicking is extremely dangerous.
Don't come whining to me when you open an American textbook and it says the world was created in 7 days and you wake up one morning and you are living in Iran.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

China Chalet

Yesterday night, out on the town with my favorite party peeps, I keep hearing we're going to a party at a place called China Shelly, that I've never heard from before. After many a frantic iphone call, it is determined that this thing, whatever it is, is on Broadway and Broad St, down at the tip of our magnificent island, where fortunes are made by few and lost by many, every day.
So a most fearless and enterprising friend gets the nine of us into a limo waiting outside Balthazar.
Driver: You called for me?
Fearless and enterprising friend (lying): Yes.
Eight bucks a pop to ride to our destination in style, yet with a delicious frisson of embarrassment (are we a little long in the tooth for this?), and for some, bittersweet prom memories, but, admit it, pretty much everybody having a ball. Some riders demand the limo stop at the corner before, to avoid looking like douches (needless to say there isn't a certified douche in this group, so I don't understand their concern). They can cover their faces a la Lindsay Lohan when she steps out of cars without her panties, for all I care, but we rode a tacky limo and by tacky limo shall we arrive.
So it turns out that the mysterious China Shelly is something called China Chalet (am I going deaf?), which makes more sense, if not decor-wise, for China Chalet is one of those Chinese restaurants where the idea of elegance seems to have sprung from the mind of a Beijing bureaucrat, circa 1975. 
We are greeted by a longish line of mellowish arty type supplicants at a carpeted staircase. The two-headed Cerberus at the top of the stairs is comprised by a young stairmistress wearing some sort of one-armed fur a la Fred Flinstone, and by the best bouncer out of Central Casting I have ever come across.  He has to be Eye-talian. He wears his jet black hair with a black suit and a black shirt and a yellow satin tie. His face is lined with deep creases, I'd like to venture as a result to dumping way too many bodies in the East River. But he is suave. He cracks wise. He means business. His idea of humor is to tell someone they can proceed, and then say, "just kidding". He tells a group of nine that only five can make it in (why do they do this shit, bouncers?) But in the end we all get in without waiting too long or supplicating too much, once again through the ministrations of our fearless and enterprising friend, who seduces Yellow Tie with her wily charms.
The moment we step into the place, number one, and as is usually the case, it's not as full as the guards outside would have it, and number two, it looks like a Bar Mitzvah. Not because of the age of the people (although a lot do look like tweens), but because of the space, which is a generic banquet space with tables covered in white cloths. Relaxed arty types sit and talk quietly; a most urbane and well behaved crowd.
There is a bar space, where an endless loop of Billy Joel's greatest hits is playing (highlight: New York State of Mind), and when that is not happening, some old fashioned Cuban music I suspect is the province of the old bartender, also out of Central Casting, who moves at the speed of silence. For some unexplained reason, the bar is not chock full of thirsty types, and ordering and drinking is a leisurely and enjoyable affair. Way in the back, a carpeted room has been made into a dance floor, (not only comfy, but not as noisy), and a dj is spinning solidly good dance music. It's a great place to have a party and the only Chinese restaurant I've ever been to with nary an egg roll in sight. No semblance of food whatsoever, which, to judge from the look of things at China Chalet, may not necessarily be a bad thing.

Portrait of My Dad... Diego Rivera. You can read the story of how this happened here.

Thanks to my Small Enchilado Brother in Law for sending me the picture.

Friday, February 12, 2010

From the Enchilada Files: Emperador Elías

Darlings, not that I have become lazy, but this is one of my favorites, and for some happily obscure reason, even though it hails from 2006, it still gets queries once in a while.

Until recently, as you got off the J train in Marcy Ave (yes, the J, get over it) and walked towards Peter Luger on Broadway, you walked by a pretty crummy storefront where you saw the usual yummy stuff swimming in grease. As you entered, mesmerized by the very good looking roast chicken and its attendant aromas, you realized you were in some sort of Mesopotamian temple with Greek influences that happens to serve Dominican food. The decor of the place is worth the stop, even if you are a vegan. This is one greasy spoon with imperial pretensions. Hence the name.
Well, they have spiffed up the storefront with a shiny new display case, meticulously Windexed, showing yummy stuff still swimming in grease.
Luckily, they have left the Mesopotamian-Egyptian-Nero's-Rome-by-way-of-the-Flintstones decor quite intact.
There are several worthy reasons to patronize Emperador Elias:
• The roast chicken is moist and delicious, the rice and beans are great and the rest of the food looks really good too.
• The waitresses call you "mami" (or papi), "corazón" or "mi amor".
• They have mofongo, the gastronomic plutonium bomb.
• For $16 you get a whole roast chicken, a huge container of excellent rice (white or yellow), a big container of fantastic red beans (miraculously non-flatulent, I might add), a generous side order of sweet plantains, aka "maduros " and a 2 liter bottle of Pepsi. Screw Peter Luger.
Also, because everything is ready in 2 minutes but for some reason you have to wait for the maduros like three hours, the man behind the counter, who I assume is Emperor Elias Jr., gave me a freebie (Greek coffee) cup of chicken noodle soup while I waited. He also hit on me big time. I noticed he didn't offer no freebie to the guy before me.
In any case, here's our seductive repartee, conducted in Spanish, and translated for your enjoyment:

- What is the lovely girl from el DF gonna want tonight?
- How did you know I'm from el DF?
- I hear the accent, mami.
I place my order.
- And your husband, he from Mexico?, he asks, utterly certain about my marital status. I realize now that this is a ploy to make me think he respects me so much, I must be married.
In the interest of self-preservation, I answer:
- No, he's from here.
He makes a disappointed face. Like a sad clown in a velvet painting.
- White or "moreno"? (meaning Black).
- White.
- You don't like morenos?
- I like everything, but I just happened to like him.
- And how long you been married?
- 14 years.
- How many children?
- Not a one.
- Your husband is lazy. Does he have children?
- No. None that I know of.
This makes him laugh.
- And what do you do here, mami?
- I write commercials.
- Oh, you are a very intelligent young woman.
To the waitress:
- So where are the maduros for this child from Guadalajara?
- I'm not from Guadalajara, I'm from el DF.
- Oh. They're not the same?

Emperador Elias has something called Mexican Corner on the menu. Don't go there.
Otherwise, Emperador Elias is on Broadway and Marcy. Williamsburg.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

From the Enchilada Files: Burrito Rage

You've heard of road rage and airplane rage. Well, there is another kind of rage in town.
Saturday, around 9:30 pm. Matamoros Grocery, Bedford Ave, Williamsburg.

A young, waifish woman with what my mother would call a fart-smeller's face is ordering food at the back counter where two Mexican girls make tacos, sopes, quesadillas, burritos etc. The woman is munching authoritatively on an apple, as if making a point about her healthy food choices. I am starving. Behind me, another couple wants food. The woman needs everything explained to her, as if she's just landed from her own royal planet and does not know how to read a menu. She has endless questions about everything. She finally decides and commands in a nasal drone:
I don't want rice. No rice. I want chicken, avocado, lettuce. What other vegetables do you have? Do you have any other vegetables?
Server: Silence.
The server is not dumb. Her English is limited but enough for doing her job. What she doesn't understand is what part of the menu that lists the ingredients this idiot doesn't get.
The idiot steals a look at the ingredients behind the counter, and still unsatisfied, as if Matamoros is hiding a secret cache of mystery vegetables expressly for her, attempts to ask the same question in Spanish, assuming the server did not understand her the first time. Two mangled syllables come out: Tous ba...
The ever patient server starts reciting what there is behind the counter:
Lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapeños.
Jalapeños!? I don't want jalapeños.
They are in the pico de gallo.
Is it very spicy?
No, not too spicy.
Okay. You don't have any other vegetables?
This fucking ritual takes the better part of ten minutes. Finally, this mutant allows the rest of us to order our food. I order in Spanish: Three chicken sopes with green sauce to go. The couple orders two chicken quesadillas and two tamales. No special treatment, no substitutions.
As the other server is preparing the food, the mutant (I'm trying to avoid at all costs using the c word, which would describe her to a t) raises her nasal voice in alarm:
Is that for me!? I said no rice!
The cook shoots her as murderous a look as a Mexican underpaid laborer can under the circumstances.
Server: Quítale el arroz (take the rice out).
Yes, I want lots of avocado, and the lettuce, everything inside. Can I have green sauce also? With the pico de gallo? Why is the lettuce not inside? I said everything inside.
The cook starts putting the lettuce inside.
Oh, it's ok, you can leave it out. Forget it, she says with a dismissive sigh, this is all too confusing.
At this point I am trying to restrain myself from bashing her teeth with what remains of her apple. I feel like saying: you know, you entitled little snotnosed bitch, this is not your kitchen where you can nitpick your own food for hours until you are satisfied with the contents. These people are not here to customize your food, goddamit. But I bite my tongue, because if I open my mouth, it will be ugly.
Finally, after all the grief she gives the two women, who have been nothing but patient and kind, she takes her food and doesn't even leave a tip.
I wish she chokes on a particularly fiery piece of jalapeño.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Snow Effect

 1. New York is QUIET. In the Park it's even QUIETER (except for the lovely shrieks of joy of sledding kiddies).
2. People in the park say hi and smile at one another (in the city slush, not so much).
3. Central Park is too beautiful. Too spectacularly, gorgeously, magnificently, awesomely beautiful.

4. We ran into a fashion shoot wherein a model was wearing like 6 inch heel sandals with BARE feet. And a straw hat. And a Summer dress. Neither rain, nor hail, nor wind nor sleet, nor snow will prevent fashion from being ridiculously idiotic at all times. Her handlers were pretending to be concerned for the wellbeing of the model, but we know better. "Screw her frostbitten little toes, let's get the shot".
5. After walking in the snow, we were ravenous. And I feel like I've been tumbled around by an avalanche.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Let me Vent

How does this country infuriate me? Let me count the ways:

1. The fucking bankers (sorry, Joe!) don't like that Obama wants to regulate them so that they won't be able to destroy the American people again, so now they are withholding their contributions to Democratic coffers, and giving money to Republicans. Even those who have been traditionally Democrat and are friends with Obama are behaving like spoiled brats in a sandbox. Have these people no sense of civic responsibility? Have they no integrity? Have they no principles? Is their greed so monstrous that it overrides common sense and decency?
Enough with the rhetorical questions.
Yet who can blame them when our own Supreme Court decides that corporations are as moody and petty as humans and have the right to give unlimited money to candidates that will henceforth and forever suck their dick, thereby destroying democracy as we know it?
2. I was reading the always excellent Jane Mayer about Justice Department chief Eric Holder in The New Yorker and how the Republicans and right wingers are opposing his wanting to try Sheik Khalid Muhammad in a civil court, and everybody is doing their utmost to thwart him, which is way beyond the pale.
Nobody said anything as Satan and Bush ran roughshod over the laws of this country and now they are all but accusing Holder of treason. The article makes the argument that trials in military court are problematic because of little details like torture and illegal proceedings that were legally challenged in some cases all the way up to the Supreme Court. Not only that, but some of those accused terrorists are out scot free, whereas the ones tried according to the laws of this country were given stiffer sentences and are festering in jail. But the opposition wants to destroy this guy for upholding the laws and principles that guarantee that we are not yet a benighted country like Iran.  Feels like we are getting there fast.
3. I have a nagging feeling that the Obama administration, with all its blunders, which are many, is not allowed to govern the way that former incompetent and malevolent administrations were allowed to govern. And call me crazy, but I think it has to do with white shit. To me, the subtext is: yeah you won the election but don't think for a minute we're not going to make your life a living hell if you actually try to rule. With the pretext of partisanship or patriotism or whatever, we are going to undermine you and show you that we actually cannot stop mistrusting and second-guessing you and deep inside we resent that you are ruling us and we're gonna show you who's boss. Call me crazy.
4. Problem is, the administration does not help matters by playing dirty, petty politics and behaving as if they were still campaigning instead of governing. All those supposedly brilliant people like Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod and the bunch, they need to start fucking governing this country, not letting the unspeakable leeches of Congress hold this country hostage to their pathetic posturing that doesn't fool anyone. Whores, one and all.
5. That Sarah Palin is classy enough to write a cheat sheet in the palm of her hand is proof of the debasement of standards and the general moronization of this country. I'm sure that her fans think this is endearing, the same old aw shucks shtick that they swallow because they are just as ignorant and vulgar as her.
This reminds me of the time I spent in Killeen, Texas, staying in a hotel near Fort Hood, where I was shooting a commercial for the Army. This hotel did not have a kitchen but it had a dining room (?) and a waitress would take your order and then phone it in for delivery. The first morning we come down for breakfast, we start giving her the order and she has no pen or paper to write it down. She borrows a pen from one of us and proceeds to write the orders on her naked palm. We were flabbergasted. This is the same woman that when I told her I was from Mexico, she told me she had been once in Albuquerque. This kind of hillbilly, illiterate behavior is barely excusable in a regular person who happens to live in the richest, most powerful country on Earth, let alone a crazy ho some people think should run for president.
But if Palin ends up winning, and to judge by the Tea Party nutjobs, and the proverbial incompetence and stupidity of the Democratic party this is entirely possible, this country will completely deserve her. And I hope we get 8 years of her, see if we learn the lesson that ignorance and stupidity are not badges of honor.

Why is Israel the only one expected to solve the problem?

Thanks to my friend Elliot for pointing me towards this interesting piece in the HuffPo.
I was reading in the New Yorker that Abu Dhabi just gave Dubai fuckzillions of dollars to fish it out from the horrible crisis it's in. It paid for the completion of the highest tower in the world, which is now named over one of Abu Dhabi's Emirs.
Imagine if these Arab states gave part of their money to help create a Palestinian infrastructure, jobs and education, and the de facto beginnings of a functioning state, or at least for a feasible, peaceful solution to the problem, instead of funding pointless ecological disasters like Dubai and, what's worse, terrorist groups who sow terror and destabilize not only the region but the entire world. Imagine that.
But everyone's too busy screaming bloody murder about Israel to notice that they are not at all interested in peace.
It is in their interest to help keep the Israeli occupation alive, and the Palestinians violent and oppressed so that their petty dictatorships, their lack of democracy, their shitty governments can be distracted by Israel.
Perhaps all the people who love to scream against Israel want to take a look at what Arab countries are doing to Palestinian citizens, like Jordan and Lebanon, and at what they are not doing for them.
If they were smart, and not hypocritical haters, the Arab states could realize that the best that could happen for all involved (i.e: the world) is to help fund a self-sufficient, peaceful Palestinian state, whether Israel likes it or not. What recourse would Israel have? None (provided they stopped wanting to throw the Jews into the sea). Economic development, potential prosperity, a peaceful coexistence between neighbors. It is entirely possible but is it Israel's sole responsibility? I don't think so.
Certainly, Israel needs to cooperate. It needs to stop expanding settlements. But as long as it remains the convenient scapegoat of these regimes, who also exploit Palestinian suffering for their own ends, it should not carry the entire burden.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Super Bowl Ads

Most of them seemed to have been written by Sarah Palin, they were so dumb. Most of the ads were surprisingly lame, or had good premises and stupid endings. Many were quite hostile to women or suspiciously self-deprecating to men. I know it's the Super Bowl but guys, get over your hangups with women already. You are starting to sound like whiners.
I hated all the Bud Light ads except the one with the guys with the vocoder, the only funny one. The asteroid one is a total ripoff and not half as funny as an old Argentinian spot about an asteroid that's going to hit Earth and a guy decides to live it up big time (orgies included) and then the asteroid misses and he is in deep doodoo. That spot was brilliant; this one's retarded.
The one about that weird looking woman surreptitiously extolling the virtues of not having aborted her son was so weirdly creepy -- right to lifers trying to have a sense of humor -- that I had trouble wrapping my head around it. That woman was very distracting. She was like a spawn of Sarah Palin and one of the shrimps in District 9.

Here are my favorites:

• Kia: Big Game. Loved the toys getting down in Vegas, and it had a nice twist.
• Coke: Sleepwalker.  Does not beat the Thanksgiving balloon spot which is one of my all time favorites, but it was among the few entertaining ads this year, plus it uses Ravel's Bolero nicely.
The Simpsons ad was funny and had some nice details (like the Warhol portrait of Mr. Burns) but we are in no mood to be nice to Mr. Burns. The Burnses of the world are not being nice to us. And as far as I can tell they are not getting any poorer. Can't make the Simpsons cloying. So can it, Coke.
• E-Trade. Although not as funny as other years, the jaded talking babies always crack me up. Milkoholic!
• Dove for men: loved the execution.
• Dr. Pepper: Little Kiss. So tacky you gotta love it.
• HomeAway: I saw the full version of the Chevy Chase/Bev D'Angelo spot in Hulu. Very funny, stupendous acting, but way too long, even for the internet.
• Career Builder: Casual Fridays. Not as good as last year's but still good, absurd deadpan. I miss FedEx.
• Monster: The beaver fiddler was sweet and funny.
• VW: Punchdub. Great execution, fun and fresh, if a tad aggressive. And the Stevie Wonder double punchline: overkill.
• Snickers. I like poor Abe Vigoda.
• Motorola with Megan Fox. I hate her but I liked the ad. A fun way to demonstrate product velocity.
• I am truly torn about the Google ad. It seems to me it inadvertently points out everything that is inhuman and intrusive about Google and everything that is bad about our interaction with computers, namely, that we don't ever see a human face interacting back with us. It does demonstrate the actual personal usefulness and potential of Google simply and powerfully, but even as it tries to tell a human story, it seemed rather cold to me. 
In general, it was pretty underwhelming. But so happy that the Saints won.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Diego Rivera and My Dad

Family lore has it that Diego Rivera asked my dad about how to write Hebrew letters for his mural Man Controlling The Universe which is on the second floor of the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. Apparently, my dad, all of 9 years old, would come and watch him paint. They became friends.

The mural is from 1934. If you look on the right bottom side of the mural, where the red banner is, this is what you'll see, sadly fading today:

Trotsky, Marx and Engels with the banner of the IV International Socialist Congress.
I took this photo last Friday.  Look closer:

In Yiddish:  Arbeter fun ale lender fareinikt aich in Fertn Internatzionale Sotzializt.
Workers of the world unite in the Fourth International Socialist.
Makes sense, cause my Dad didn't speak Hebrew but he spoke Yiddish.
Diego gave my dad a pencil portrait sketch of his young likeness. It is signed and dedicated, "a mi amigo Aarón Maam, Diego Rivera". That's not how we spell our last name, but never mind. Apparently my dad folded it and put it in his pocket. Years later my mom ironed it and they had it framed. It's the head of a smiling boy, with thin hair, and almond shaped clear eyes. It doesn't look anything like my dad, but it does look a lot like my nephew Daniel. Go figure. 

My dad was friends with Diego until the fifties, when he got very disenchanted with Stalin and his murderous anti-intellectual, anti-Semitic and inhuman politics. Diego adored Stalin regardless, and he and my Dad never spoke again.

Pedro Friedeberg

At the Camino Real Hotel in Mexico city there is a mural by this Mexican artist (born in Italy, he escaped Mussolini with his mother when he was a child), that always fascinated me when I was a little girl. It was kinda of psychedelic but very geometric. Fun and gorgeous. Super extra groovy. Friedeberg was mostly known for the invention of this:

The hand chair, which according to the current retrospective of his art at Bellas Artes, was coveted by hip seventies icons such as Yul Brynner and Roman Polanski. Friedeberg was not only a late surrealist but a mischievous wit and he said (and I paraphrase) that it was amazing to him that he became famous for a lazy, vulgar piece of work that was actually built by a carpenter, but his other work which consumed hours of his time, nobody paid any mind to. Well, here is some of it:

Project for the Remodeling of Toluca (he originally studied architecture)

This one is called Vagina Dentata

And these are his interpretations of the Kabbalah tree. 

As you can see, he combines esoteric influences with op art and surrealism. Back in the day when there was no Adobe Illustrator. The titles of his works are very funny.


He was much a product of his time, but I think his art is still extremely cool today. 
The guy is still around and looks like he's having fun. 



What's wrong with people?

Today, I'm walking down Broadway when two fat black teenage girls bursting out of their jeans like lard exploding from a casing, (and not on the young side of teen either) throw an empty bottle of juice on the sidewalk, right by a Halal food vendor. Totally willfully. Just like that. So I say to them, "excuse me guys, you dropped something".
To which one replies, "we know".
I say, "it's garbage, pick it up".
She says, "you pick it up".
I say "pigs", and continue on my way. Halal vendor picks it up (I think).
I don't have the energy (nor the balls perhaps) to start a pissing match with two hippos with attitude. For the next five minutes I feel like running after them and getting into an all out fight, which would probably leave me the consistency of pureed squash.
So here is my fantasy: I take out a gun, point it at the temple of one of them and make them kneel and pick up not only the bottle but any trash that is lying on that block of Broadway. I put the gun all the way inside the mouth of the one with the lip. Cock the gun. Then I make them apologize and promise not to litter ever again.

Dirty Judy. City Avenger.
C'mon, punks. Make my day.

Mexican Art

I went to el Centro one morning and in the space of only 4 hours I saw so much good art, I couldn't believe it. First, I ran into a free exhibition of 100 years of Mexican design at the Palacio de Iturbide. It was amazing. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed, I don't understand why. It's not like I am going to copy a chair and make it myself. But it was a small but splendid collection of furniture, jewelry and objects by Mexican designers spanning a century. I wanted almost all the furniture, modern but with indigenous materials. Amazing. This was the only photo I could sneak. In the back, the only Mexican car ever made.

Then I went to San Ildefonso, thinking that another expo was there. I was not that impressed by British artist Antony Gormley, which was very nice, but not very challenging. However, there was another exhibit there by a Mexican artist called Betsabé Romero, which was much more fun. There was also a good show of German photographers. All of this in a magnificent colonial convent and for like $3 dollars.



Then I went to Bellas Artes and saw two great shows. One by Manuel Felguérez, a Mexican abstract artist, and another one by Mexican surrealist and enfant terrible Pedro Friedeberg. Felguérez is still going strong and he now is less geometric, painting on big canvases with gorgeous color, but I kinda like his old stuff better. 

More on Friedeberg next.

Classic Mexico

This is the suggestions box at the wonderful Museum of San Ildefonso.
Because of a dropped "s" it now reads "your opinion is of no interest to us".
Here I saw an exhibit by a sculptor called Anthony Gormley.
Part of it happens in a couple of very dark rooms. A museum attendant helps people navigate in the darkness.
He says to me:
"Be careful to not hit the walls. See where that young man just bumped his head? Not that way".

Mexican Food, Inc.


Conchas are sweet Mexican rolls. The word means seashells. With a cup of El Cardenal's famous bitter hot chocolate, redolent of cinammon and almond.


This is nata, which is fresh cream. Creamy cream that you slather on a bun called a bolillo, which has just arrived piping hot from the oven. You sprinkle sugar on top and then you die of happiness. 

I don't think there is another country on Earth that prepares eggs in more ways than Mexico. These are scrambled eggs with ham en cazuela swimming in a hot red salsa made in the molcajete, with bits of fried tortillas and two slices of Panela cheese. It was pretty spicy but sublime. 

I'll take Manhattan. The poor owner would never get the irony of naming his fruit cocktail stand after an island where the fruit SUCKS.

At La Capital, a fantastic newfangled cantina in the Condesa neighborhood, where yours truly was born and raised, this classic staple of Mexican home cooking, fideo seco (vermicelli in reduced chicken and tomato based broth), is presented in a very fancy way with delicious ripe avocados and dots of cream. On top, shredded dry chile guajillo. 


La piece de resistance: pescado zarandeado, for which I don't have a suitable translation, a whole fish rubbed with achiote (I assume) and gentle spices, with a fantastic chipotle mayo on the side, served with red rice and beans. 
We also had extremely colorful and delicious shrimp escabeche tostadas and tuna tiradito, but I was so busy eating I forgot to snap pictures.


It was my friend Lani's birthday and he couldn't decide if he wanted humble tacos or a more celebratory experience. He opted for the latter, so we went to Pujol, a most renowned nouvelle Mexican food restaurant, where you can eat the tacos in the form of liquid foam, as in this surprising "gringa". The gringa is usually a taco al pastor (pork in a spit) with melted cheese (and garnish of cilantro, onion and pineapple, plus your choice of salsa). At Pujol it's a foam of cilantro on top and and below it the exact essence of the flavor of the gringa in a shot glass. Lots of fun and I bet much less caloric than the actual gringa. As you can see, we also had martinis. 

My appetizer was a tamal de cuitlacoche, which is the corn fungus also known as Mexican truffle. It was covered with a foam of Oaxaca cheese, which is like the Mexican version of mozzarella. To be honest, the tamal itself was subtle and delicious but the foam was not very successful.  Quite frankly, authentic Mexican food is more amazing and sophisticated than anything anybody can ever invent, but chef Enrique Olvera gets brownie points for trying. 

This was fish Pastor style, with a delicious coat of adobo, puree of pineapple and chunks of pineapple with onion, cilantro and chili. It tasted like tacos al pastor (which, if you must know, is what Anthony Bourdain loved best when he was in Mexico City) and it came with house made tortillas, which were plump and fabulous. The next two days I had actual tacos al pastor, the original pork, chicken and a new version made with beef that was pretty awesome. I am sticking with the tacos. I don't know how I have managed to live in New York for 18 years without decent tacos al pastor. I honestly don't. 
After my visit to Pujol I now understand why restaurants in Mexico are usually flooded with light, even at dinner: you have to see the colors of the food. They are part of the deal. Pujol is in semi darkness, which is unfortunate, because my pictures suck and because that is not the point.   

My friends also had: Aguachile de pulpo. Olvera's version of an octopus dish.

Beef tongue in an olive sauce. This was excellent. 

Lani had this amazing red snapper in some sort of mild chile sauce. For dessert, I ordered 3 leches sponge (cake), again a pretty pedestrian dish deconstructed. The best part was the specks of intense raspberry jelly.