Friday, April 30, 2010

Not as glamorous... Tony Soprano would have it.
A great little piece on life after squealing against the Mob. It's very sad, but you reap what you sow. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Department of Unappetizing Restaurants

This thing has just opened a block away.
Otarian. Reminds me of Alan Arkin (Yossarian, Catch-22?)
It sounds like a plastic surgery clinic but it's actually a restaurant that prides itself not on the yumminess of its food but on low carbon emissions.
Everything about it seems thoroughly clinical and unappetizing. The logo looks Orwellian. The premises look like a dental office for children. Who are they kidding?
You know what is my recipe for the lowest carbon emissions of any restaurant ever?
No restaurant at all!

                         Those tacos look lethal.

                         This makes me think of fluoride.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fuck Arizona

Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law whereby Arizona police can demand immigration papers from people that look to them like they could be illegal. That is, anyone brown. Perhaps Paddy Moloney, a recent illegal immigrant from Ireland is in Arizona illegally, but no one is going to stop him, because he doesn't look like he could be illegal.
What asshat law is this?
As Chief Justice of my own Fantasy Supreme Court, here's my beef. Fair enough if a state wants to curtail the presence of illegal immigrants. They have every right to do so. There are surely ways to do it, however, without restoring to racist discrimination.
My ruling is: if immigrants are forced to carry immigration documents at all times, then so should everyone else.
But because of this law, American citizens of Mexican or Latin American descent, or legal immigrants are going to be discriminated on the basis of the way they look. Mind you, long before the first paleface arrived, the first inhabitants of Arizona were Native Americans, followed by Mexicans. There must be American citizens in Arizona whose brown ancestors have been there for hundreds of years, but who could now be mistaken for a wetback.
I read somewhere that the Arizona police are not happy about this law, because it's none of their business and it puts them in a terrible position. And they are right. But there is a minority of racist cranks that makes a lot of noise. And Gov. Brewer and John McCain are having primary challenges soon, so there you have it: Republicans caving in to their basest instincts once again.
In many countries in Europe people have a national id and you are supposed to carry it with you. Let's see if all Americans are willing to be forced to carry and present a national id that is not a drivers' license. But to demand of only one group to carry papers, there is something highly disturbing, undemocratic and un-American about it. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I'm Suing Susan Miller

She goes on and on about Mercury retrograde this month and no mention whatsoever that I was going to break my foot today, dancing a stupid Tarantella at my ballet class. I've always hated that stupid Tarantella. George Balanchine, my ass. Or I should say, my foot. It's not like I was doing a triple axle combination pirouette a la Nureyev. I was just doing these stupid little jumps.
It hurts like a mother, mind you. It's sapphire blue. And swollen like a blue corn tamale. Can't walk too well.
I saw the X-rays (I must say, my bones are gorgeous. Very dainty.)  I can clearly see the fifth metatarsal bone is broken, snapped like one of those Italian grisini bread sticks.
I've heard reports of other sundry accidents today: someone falling down the stairs, someone falling on the street. And as I write this, the light bulb of my desk lamp just gave out. Looks like there must be an eclipse on Planet Pish, or a conjunction of the two most evil planets (one of them has got to be Uranus). As you can see, this foot breakage has also rendered me incredibly puerile.
I don't care. I've decided I'm gonna spoil myself rotten (which in my case means unlimited guzzling of comfort food). But then, who knows when I will be able to exercise again.
I'm no Susan Miller, but I can tell you exactly what my future looks like: It looks like I'm gonna become the size of Moby Dick just in time for the Summer. 
So much for ballet!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What fresh hell is this?

Ostrich or Emu (from New Jersey, no less) egg omelette, anyone?
This kind of ridiculous food snobbery, seen at Whole Foods on East Houston St, works my last nerve. And look at the prices! Who are we, the Flintstones?

The New York Times reports today that a lot of people hate cilantro. Apparently, it's a chemical thing. I love cilantro. If you are Mexican and hate cilantro, you are in trouble.
It also reports that some Jewish delis are becoming "sustainable" and banning salami, whatever. Gringos always tend to go too far with their puritanical enthusiasms. 
I'm all for the improvement of Jewish Deli food in New York. The old delis in NY, with the exception of the pastrami at Katz's, are overpriced and they uniformly suck. If someone can cook like my Bobe, I'm all for it. But deli food is not supposed to be precious. 

By the way, this Saturday I'm meeting my estimado Tizoc Schwartz to go on a brief tour of New York taco trucks. Can't wait to meet Tizoc and to eat taquitos with lots of cilantro.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In Other News...

Here's a digest of stuff currently running through my brain.

• Crisis? What Crisis?
Last week I somehow ended up in Times Square 3 times. I saw two Broadway shows (both meh) and took visiting friends to a Jazz gig at Iridium. To judge from the stampedes of tourists, most of them evidently American, running around Times Square like the bulls in Pamplona, I can announce to you that the economy, both national and foreign, has recovered. Otherwise, how do we explain the hordes of tourists that have descended upon our fair megalopolis? I've been living in this city for almost 20 years and I have never seen so many tourists. And so many American tourists. They are going to Broadway shows in droves, which ain't cheap, even if they're buying tickets in bulk. They are staying in overpriced hotels and they are being happily ripped off at  tourist traps. New York is expensive.
So stop the economic whining, Red Staters, cause I'm on to you. You are not so bad off, and you secretly love New York and wish with all your might you could be so cool as to live here. Alas, you are not.
I am an unapologetic New York snob, (and with good reason: I live here!) but do not misunderstand me. I do not dislike tourists. I love helping them find their way. And telling them what to order at Joe's Shanghai. And steering them away from eating in Little Italy. And trying not to strangle them when they walk 5 deep in slow motion on the street.

Don't get me wrong, but Sarah Palin reminds me of Hitler. Wait! Let me explain why. Because I'm deathly afraid of her, that's why. Because I cannot fathom how there could possibly be people who don't see her for what she is: a dangerous, ignorant arriviste, resentful, mean-spirited, provincial, petty, arrogant and hungry for power.  That there are people out there who are still drinking her Kool-Aid (with bendy straws!) is very worrisome to me. This latest fracas is a gift for those of us people of sense who can tell a psycho-hypocrite-demagogue when we see one. Turns out that her "public speaking" demands (as if what comes out of her mouth is speech) outstrip any entertainment diva's.  Suffer the little people. It is not in her interest that the "folks" who so adore her find out how craven and two-faced she is. So people have to fish out the details of her speaking contracts from the garbage, which, if you think about it, is where they rightfully belong.

Bienvenida a México, Señora Obama

Now someone take her to eat fabulous Mexican food immediately!
I should have come on the trip with her. Should have volunteered. 
One bite of real Mexican food and she will open the borders for all Mexicans to take over and improve our culinary lot.
Take her to El Cardenal in el Centro for breakfast for bolillitos con nata. The woman is going to swoon.
For lunch I recommend carnitas (La Reina de la Roma, or my favorite, Contreras, in Ejército Nacional) or pozole at the food market in Coyoacán. She has to try at least one taco al pastor (con todo)! For desert, someone give her an alegría (amaranth brittle, very good for you). Slake her thirst with a Michelada. Toast our wonderful gringo neighbors with a tequilita.
As long as nobody says things like "Mexicans work like blacks", or she is a very good looking "negrita", we'll be okay. Just breath deep and hope for the best...

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Eat Lard!

I read in The New Yorker that:
In February, the city’s Department of Education amended Regulation A-812—“to improve the nutritional quality of food and beverages available for sale to students at school”—mandating that only twenty-seven snack items, all of them prepackaged and approved by the Office of School Food, could be sold during school hours. The target is childhood obesity, but the effect is that pupils hoping to fund the pep squad or the eighth-grade wilderness trip can now do so only by peddling Whole Grain Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts (No. 12 on the list) and Reduced Fat Cool Ranch Doritos (No. 7) and not, say, their mothers’ brownies or carrot muffins. Anything homemade is forbidden.
This is the height not only of idiocy, but of perverse unintended consequences. What I would like to know is how come unintended consequences always seem to benefit the evildoers? More sales for Frito-Lay, yay! As always on every new chapter of the ongoing saga "The Road To Hell is Paved With Good Intentions", the authorities, in their zeal to protect children from obesity, are contributing to their further ingestion of junk. I can assure you that anything homemade, be it fried in lard, covered with bacon, basted in butter, and smothered in cream (or all of the above, like a gratin dauphinois, oh, yum) is healthier than anything that comes in a bag sprinkled with fluorescent orange dust. But corporations always seem to have the last word. All parents can do is stage a cute little protest. If I were a parent, I would fucking sue the Dept. of Education over this.

In another example of pernicious brainwashing brought to you by your friendly neighborhood advertiser, NBC is going to institute behavior placement, in order for couch potatoes to subconsciously adopt supposedly good habits as they fester in front of the TV set. This is supposed to be for the common good, but it is actually the height of evil. (George Orwell, eat your heart out). 
Behavior placement gives marketers extra incentive to advertise at a time when digital video recorders equip viewers with an unprecedented ability to skip commercials, says Jason Kanefsky, a media buyer at Havas's MPG. "You're not forcing your way into a program in any shape or form," he says. "You're just nodding your head at a program."
Jason, I hope you have a spot reserved (right next to me) in the circle of hell allotted for marketers and advertisers. These people's confidence in our collective gullibility, stupidity and inertia knows no bounds. And for once, they may be right.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Parade

               Great idea for an Easter bonnet. Mexicans Represent!

I'm no Bill Cunningham, but considering these were taken with the iPhone camera, not too shabby.

Tourist: "This is the greatest city in the world!"  You said it, sister.

They were also in attendance. 

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Department of Really Bad P.R.

Did you hear the new one? First, it turns out that the abused Catholic children were post-pubescent, as if this makes it okay for priests to sexually molest underage children. Then it's that the abusing priests are deviant homosexuals just practicing their homosexuality (blame it on the gays). And now Father Cantalamessa's Good Friday Homily is the height of revolting sophistry. First he tries to deflect the topic he should be addressing. And I quote (bold letters are mine):

I am not speaking here of violence against children, of which unfortunately also elements of the clergy are stained; of that there is sufficient talk outside of here. I am speaking of violence to women. This is an occasion to make persons and institutions that fight against it understand that Christ is their best ally.
Huh? Wouldn't the Good Friday Homily be an excellent place to admit wrongdoing and promise change and justice? I guess not. Then comes the part that has everyone in a tizzy:
By a rare coincidence, this year our Easter falls on the same week of the Jewish Passover which is the ancestor and matrix within which it was formed. This pushes us to direct a thought to our Jewish brothers. They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms. I received in this week the letter of a Jewish friend and, with his permission, I share here a part of it. He said: "I am following with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the Pope and all the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism. Therefore I desire to express to you personally, to the Pope and to the whole Church my solidarity as a Jew of dialogue and of all those that in the Jewish world (and there are many) share these sentiments of brotherhood. Our Passover and yours undoubtedly have different elements, but we both live with Messianic hope that surely will reunite us in the love of our common Father. I wish you and all Catholics a Good Easter."
With all due respect, unless this anonymous, mysterious Jew is a Jew for Jesus, no self-respecting Jew would ever say anything of the sort. For Jews, the abuses of the Catholic Church are an instance of "so what else is new?". Father Cantalamessa, no doubt versed in the arts of rhetoric, is being rather elliptical by neglecting to mention that most of the collective violence against the Jews and the antisemitism he is eager to quote was instigated directly by the Catholic Church through the centuries. 
Two, nobody is collectively blaming all Catholics. People for once are blaming the people who need to be blamed, but this is a device that intends to conflate and confuse the innocent people of Catholic faith with the perpetrators and with the people in power who have aided and abetted them.
If indeed a real Jew wrote this despicable letter, which nauseatingly sides with the perpetrators and further denigrates the victims, and which to my ears sounds like an arcane rhetorical conceit, it would be nifty to know who it was so we could excommunicate him or her. Indignation should not be misdirected against the victims, or other minorities (as Church spokesmen have attempted), but squarely against the perpetrators. That a Jew is indignant over the mistreatment of the poor Catholic Church by a justly outraged world is so twisted, so wrong, so perverse, and sounds so utterly false, that my brain is becoming a pretzel just trying to articulate why this homily is so insidious, revolting and destructive.
To compare the people who have a genuine grievance against child rapists and their apologists with antisemites is beyond false. To compare the persecution and hatred of the Jews to the cries for justice in the cases of child abuse by priests is beyond reprehensible. It is obscene.
But then again, what else is new?

Friday, April 02, 2010

Thursday in the Park with Moi

Everybody was out catching sunshine today in the afternoon in Washington Square Park, a place where the crazy, loony, eccentric, bohemian, neurotic, rich, poor and middle class villagers still converge, the Universe bless this park.
You can sit for three hours on a bench and just watch shit unfold in front of your eyes. It never gets boring. I saw a burly Black guy happily give a foot massage to his girlfriend, who lay prostrate and with the sense of entitlement of the Queen of Sheba. Good for them.
I saw a chorus of extremely white kids that looked way too wholesome for New York and who were clearly influenced by Glee. Their shtick was to sing unsingable pop songs a cappella, such as Beyonce's Crazy In Love, a song I hate even with full orchestration. Their wholesomeness was very disturbing, but I'm not sure that they were Christian evangelists, as I always suspect of people who are too wholesome, too happy and too white.
I made friends with Henriette, a totally lucid and charming 100 year old Belgian woman, who will be 101 in July and who recently had a stroke and was a bit frustrated she couldn't walk anymore. She didn't look a day over 90, wheelchair notwithstanding. Usually I don't speak to anyone, because I am a New York crank of the sullen variety,  but she complimented me on my green sneakers and we struck up a conversation. She was lovely.
It looks like the fashion among the young is an exhumation of the worst of Eighties style, sans shoulder pads. Apparently it is the height of chic to walk around with shredded pantyhose, ugly booties and uglier skorts, looking pasty and wearing hideous colors and shoes the color of dogshit.
As is usual, the eternal hippies with their jam sessions were in attendance.

This dude slept so profoundly and in such an uncomfortable position, that for a moment I thought he was dead. A homeless-looking Black guy, one of those pesky nutcases who love to engage with people, seemingly unaware (or perhaps much too aware) that his sociability is totally unrequited, looked at him sleeping and poked him hard in the chest a couple of times, yet the dude didn't budge. When he finally woke up, it took him like 20 minutes to discern he was on Earth, then he smoked a cigarette and fell asleep again. I wonder if he is a junkie, a narcoleptic or a very exhausted man.
The same Black crazy guy then decided to participate with the Wholesome Wonder Bread Choir. He didn't sing; he imitated their dance movements with absolute precision and in total synch with them. It was hilarious. They paid him no mind, which gives them New York brownie points for a good display of indifference. Perhaps not so wholesome after all.
Speaking of dance, there was a really obnoxious troupe of what I assume are modern dance students from Tisch, showing off their tacky moves and wanting to be far more interesting than they were. They really annoyed me, with their studied pretense of unselfconsciousness and their jerky, ungraceful movements. In this park it's hard to say the next sentence about anyone, but these people were embarrassing.
What else did I see? Three neurotic Schnaussers barking like madmen at any dog that went by.  A guy who also looked homeless sat next to me and started fishing out something from his pocket. It crossed my mind that he might be engaging in some happy time with his dick, to judge from the urgent way he burrowed in there. But it turns out that once he found this little stub of a pencil, he started drawing in a pad, copying from nature, and pretty well. He gave a gummi bear to one of the schnaussers, who almost choked while trying to eat it, but came back for seconds anyway.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

No Habla Español

There is a mini-brouhaha raging because of a slogan used by a Pepsi campaign for the Hispanic market that a lot of people, including me, feel uses incorrect Spanish. You can read about it here.
This incident allows me to vent about a routine problem in Hispanic advertising, which is that the Spanish that is sometimes used runs the gamut from the pathetic to the blatantly incorrect. This is my theory of why this happens:
This is not a Spanish speaking country (yet). The Spanish spoken in the US is an impoverished version of what is spoken in any other Spanish speaking country,  basically because Spanish is not the main language. It lacks a local literature, and it lacks outlets. We don't really have serious newspapers or magazines. People don't read in Spanish. We are not surrounded by the language. This makes our language poor. Add to this that we have different national groups with different accents and expressions unevenly scattered across the country, and we have a bit of a mess.
I have nothing against Spanglish, but nobody can tell me that Spanish in the US is a beautiful living organism. It's not.
Because of this unique circumstance, those of us who make a living communicating in Spanish need to be particularly meticulous with our language. This doesn't mean that we all have to sound like Cervantes, or that our Spanish should be stiff and archaic, but we need to know it and use it well. We are its custodians.
In the case of advertising, the problem gets compounded because people forget that Spanish and English have different grammatical structures. The products we shill have been dreamed up in English. The marketing lingo used to describe them barely resembles English to begin with, but clients and their legal departments expect the Spanish versions to be as close to the English as possible. This is why many agency creatives and executives pretend that Spanish should behave like English. For the most part, it doesn't. A classic example is that necessary articles (el, la, los, las) disappear from our sentences. English can do this, but Spanish needs articles. Stuff like this and worse happens all the time. It sounds dreadful.
The other problem, and this has happened to me countless times, is that clients trust some half illiterate Hispanic consumer more than they trust a professional copywriter or their agency. This is because of their reliance on research and focus groups. I will give you an example. We mentioned the word "college" in an ad. In Spanish it translates as universidad (university). However, in a focus group, some moron with a limited command of Spanish, whose only credentials were that he was a potential consumer, insisted that the word in Spanish for college was colegio. However, colegio in Spanish means grade school, and I can assure you we did not intend to recruit 7 year olds to the Army. It took way longer than should have been necessary to persuade our clients that the guy was talking out of his ass.
The standards of our industry are very low. When I moved here in 1992, pretty much anybody with a Hispanic sounding last name was considered the ultimate expert in the Hispanic market. You had people leading creative departments that were incapable of writing a sentence in Spanish. But nobody thought that the fact that they spoke three words of Spanish with their abuela on Sundays meant they could not write in Spanish or give grammatical opinions. Today, things have changed and most serious Hispanic agencies have very qualified people, most of whom are native speakers of Spanish, and actual writers who can write in Spanish. But bad habits and uncomprehending clients still wreak havoc.

People who defend the Pepsi phrase use the excuse that language is flexible. What are they, Noam Chomsky? I think the unspoken rule is that language is only flexible when it works; that is, when most people understand the meaning intended by an unusual turn of phrase. If most people are flummoxed and annoyed, and uncomprehending of a turn of phrase that seems unidiomatic, incorrect and weird, then language is not flexible. Also, language may be pliable, but we don't go around inventing meanings for words at our convenience, to please a marketing client. We don't say that now the word "tree" really means "cloud". Language seems to work as an unspoken collective contract in which we all agree with certain pre-assigned meanings. When new expressions are born, we all collectively, instinctively agree to accept them or not, use them or not, according to how much they resonate, and make sense to us. So don't tell me that in the Pepsi case they were being flexible with the language. They were sloppy, which is another story.
I'm fascinated with this case because it seems like an instance of groupthink, surprisingly coming from a good, reliable agency, which has consistently done dignified work. However, in advertising, and particularly in marketing, it is not unusual for common sense to leave the building. I can almost bet that they were trying to find a more original way of saying "I count" because that verb has been used copiously and frequently in connection to the Census, which is related to the campaign. What is a mystery is if anybody cautioned there was something wrong with the phrase or what processes of massive self-convincing took place in order for this to happen.