Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Siam

I'm not going to find out what they actually serve in the restaurant above.
Talk about sensory overload! Just looking at all the Bangkok street food makes your head spin. There is so much food that looks so good, and some that looks so beautiful and strange, and some that just looks strange, that I actually believe I'm going to lose weight because I get sated just by looking at it.

Beautiful and strange food.
Just strange.
There are hordes of people out here, in certain places, less Thais than all kinds of foreigners, most of whom I have nothing to do with except for the fact that we are tourists. There are certain male specimens that exemplify European colonialist degradation to such an extent that someone should embalm them (alive, if possible) and put them in The Museum of the Appalling.  Have you ever seen Diego Rivera's depictions of deformed, depraved, syphilitic Spanish conquerors? Like that, but three dimensional, alive and thoroughly repulsive. Then there are their more enlightened brethren, who come here looking for Nirvana and they seem to be solemnly serious about it (they also seem to be following my diet of looking at food only). Then there are the backpackers. I backpacked back in the Pleistocene period, and it is amazing to me that people still have not figured out it's a royal pain in the ass. But there is an entire street dedicated to backpackers and their cheap ways and it is one of the tackiest streets I have ever seen, so their sense of superiority somehow seems misguided.
Among the backpackers of both sexes are those that distinguish themselves by dreadlocking their hair into massive, impenetrable beehives. They walk around with elongated necks, like Nefertiti, super proud of their updos, which I'm afraid serve as youth hostels for bats and other creatures.
Instead of their pictures, here are some pictures of beautiful places in Bangkok:

There are many Israeli travel agencies that advertise themselves with huge signs in Hebrew, and this somehow feels perfectly at home with the surrounding alphabets: Thai, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese. Latin script is not the be all and end all, you know. As for the Thais, they are mostly very gracious and pleasant, if rather inscrutable.

As in any underdeveloped country, there is no shortage of polite misinformation, taxis whose meters  decide to stop cooperating, in cahoots with the driver, etc. You would have to be a virgin tourist to confuse a tout with a friendly host, but here they take touting to another level. In fact, in the Olympics of touts, Thai touts would be gold medalists because they make the extra effort: they tell elaborate and quite convincing lies. To be honest, if it wasn't for our detestable Lonely Planet guide, I probably would have behaved like a virgin myself. (My gripes with Lonely Planet are legion, but just to name a couple: 1. They send you to places that are not there. 2. I defy anyone to make sense of the way they number their maps. If you find number 24, or number 85, which is right next to number 13, for instance, I'll erect a statue in your honor).
Bangkok is huge and spread out and doesn't make a lot of sense, with incredible temples and humongous shopping malls, but a river runs through it and I keep imagining what it must have been like in the 30s, when there were no eyesores, and you could run into Sam Spade, or Mata Hari, as you shivered from malaria and typhoid, at the veranda of the Hotel Colonial.

Mata Hari would not be caught dead in this modern monstrosity
They did not preserve much of the old buildings, which is a shame.  But what Bangkok lacks on finesse, it makes up with moxie.  What you see on the street can take an almost hallucinatory character, and I mean that as the highest praise.

Amulet market.
Someone else's dentures for sale.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Greetings from Bangkok!

Well, we finally made it after a cancelled flight, that was actually a non ordeal, as Delta rebooked us for the next day on a better, shorter flight and on a Tokyo-Bangkok segment on business class, (which came on really handy after seating for 12 hours on coach). So no kvetching from me on the weather delays. Plenty of kvetching is to be had on the discombobulating effects of a 12 hour time change, though. But were it not for the fact that yesterday night at 3 am I had lunch cravings, I wouldn't have had a very good pad thai and fried rice with seafood on the street. Yes, I admit, I was chicken and did not go for a mysterious boiling clay pot everyone else was eating, but I did not want to court fate so soon into our arrival. The Chang beer, however, tasted like heaven in a bottle.
At first glance, Bangkok seems to me like a crazy amalgam of Acapulco, China, Caracas, Pino Suarez street in Mexico City, and Blade Runner except with whores and little bars on the sidewalk, and taxis in shocking pink hues. Granted, we've only seen the immediacy of our lovely hotel in Sukhumvit, but that's what it looks like. Acapulco in it's heyday never saw these many tourists from really every corner of the globe (that's the Blade Runner part). Lots of the requisite fat, old and ugly Western guys trolling for beautiful Thai women (and they are beautiful, even when they are men).  So today we are venturing out and about and we will keep you posted. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm Tired of This Topic...

...but keep coming back to it, since there is nothing more stimulating to a blogger than ranting on deaf ears. Very interesting and important article by Roger Cohen on AIPAC vs. J Street:
The view that American Jews supportive of Israel but critical of its policies are not “real Jews” is, however, widespread. Israel-right-or-wrong continues to be the core approach of major U.S. Jewish organizations, from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
To oppose the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank (“Zionists are not settlers”), or question growing anti-Arab bigotry as personified by Israel’s rightist foreign minister and illustrated by the “loyalty oath” debate, or ask whether the “de-legitimization” of Israel might not have something to do with its own actions is to incur these organizations’ steady ire.
Debate remains stifled, despite Peter Beinart’s important piece this year in the New York Review of Books describing growing alienation among young American Jews asked to “check their liberalism at Zionism’s door.” Oh, sure, you can find all sorts of opinions about Israel all over the place; America remains an open society. But Aipac has systematically shunned a debate with J Street, the upstart Jewish organization that supports Israel, opposes the settlements and attempts to reclaim the progressive ideals of Zionism by saying that the systematic oppression of the Palestinians undermines Israel.
“These organizations’ view remains essentially that any time you engage in an activity critical of Israel you are trying to destroy the state of Israel,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, told me. “Here are all these Jewish kids being raised on great liberal values at Hebrew schools — walks for the homeless, Darfur, AIDS — but God forbid we talk about what’s happening in Israel! It’s a dynamic that cuts off discourse.” 
This doesn't happen only in the US. This happens in Jewish communities across the world. A Jew cannot utter one word criticizing Israel's policies without being suspected of self-hatred or antisemitism or both. I find this repulsive, offensive and untenable. And this is because (and it galls me to have to repeat it) I love and care for Israel very much and I want it to thrive in peace and stability with its neighbors and with the world. I want it not only to survive, which seems to be the basic goalpost of the "Israel Can Do No Wrong" camp, but to be the great nation it is meant to be: just, democratic, progressive, evolved, in keeping with the highest moral values of the Jewish people. Simple survival is not enough.
The monolithic, unquestioning, cossacks-are-setting-fire-to-the-shtetl approach of the major Jewish organizations is not helping Israel in the least. It leads to increasing international isolation, to Israel's worrisome radicalization and I am convinced that instead of helping assure Israel's continued and hopefully peaceful existence, it leads to more violence and more strife, both inside and outside of Israel's borders.
Israelis are perfectly capable of ruining their own lives, as they have been demonstrating in the recent past. It is their prerogative to democratically decide if they want to continue fighting with their neighbors and building more settlements, giving more and more power to intransigent and obscurantist religious forces, or if they are going to get tired of the endless aggravation and try to look for a solution that secures their borders while it allows for Palestinian life to evolve as well.
But I'll be damned if I am asked to withhold my critical faculties and my sense of values in order to help Israel no matter what. Israelis don't have this problem. They scream at each other with gusto from all sides of the political and ideological spectrum. So why can't Jews in the Diaspora do the the same?
I refuse to help Israel become a theocracy. I refuse to help Israel become a right wing state. I refuse to help Israelis self-destruct. And those of you Jews that think that you are doing great by Israel by doing that should open your eyes, and smell the coming devastation. You are helping to make things worse.
I think Jews of a similar persuasion to mine would do well to leave our nagging fears of betrayal behind (you know you have them), to stop thinking that somehow if we criticize or question, we are undermining, and help a more rational, more forward thinking point of view that supports Israel gain a stronger voice.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

La Gran Tenochtitlán II

Best roast chicken in town they claim, at Gili Pollos. 
The famous strawberries and cream birthday cake from La Gran Vía.
They sell tomato pulque in there!
Candied fruit at lovely Dulcería de Celaya 
An anafre, perfect for cooking marvels on the street. 
Piloncillo: packed brown sugar for traditional sweets, café de olla and more. 
Traditional ice cream vendor. These are new. 
A new invention: jícama on a stick with chili or sprinkles
Conchas: best pan dulce for breakfast.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


I am incensed. First, as you all know, single people, particularly single women and single women with children, proportionally pay more taxes than families. This is wrong.
Now, this is how the cookie crumbles with the new Obama deal, taken from the NYT:
The wealthiest Americans will also reap tax savings from the proposal’s plan to keep the cap on dividend and capital gains taxes at 15 percent, well below the highest rates on ordinary income.
And negotiators have agreed that the estimated $900 billion cost of the cuts will simply be added to the deficit — not covered by reductions in spending or increases in other taxes. That is good news for hedge fund managers and private equity investors, who appear to have withstood an effort to get them to pay more by eliminating a quirk in the tax code that allows most of their income to be taxed at just 15 percent.

In fact, the only groups likely to face a tax increase are those near the bottom of the income scale — individuals who make less than $20,000 and families with earnings below $40,000.
Although the $120 billion payroll tax reduction offers nearly twice the tax savings of the credit it replaces, it will nonetheless lead to higher tax bills for individuals with incomes below $20,000 and families that make less than $40,000.
To the wealthiest Americans, however, an assortment of breaks is available.
The plan includes a two-year “patch” for the alternative minimum tax, which is now paid by about 4 million taxpayers with income in the mid- to high six figures. Without the patch, more than 20 million additional taxpayers would have been liable for that tax.
The estate tax — which was allowed to lapse this year and was scheduled to resume at a rate of 55 percent on most assets above $1 million — will be reinstated under less onerous terms. Estates over $5 million will be subject to a 35 percent tax. (NOT FAIR!)
The proposal will also maintain the current rates on dividends and capital gains, averting scheduled increases to ordinary income and 20 percent, respectively.
The marginal tax rate on high incomes will also remain unchanged. The top brackets had been scheduled to increase to 36 percent and 39.6 percent, from 33 percent and 35 percent.
Under Mr. Obama’s failed proposal, which would have raised the rates on income over $250,000 for families and $200,000 for individuals, the taxpayers at the top 1 percent of the income scale — those with incomes above $564,000 — would have received an average tax break of $28,000. Under the agreement reached with Republicans, the top 1 percent will receive breaks of about $70,000.
What the flying fuck? Those at the bottom pay too much taxes, while those who can afford to, don't. We don't pay enough taxes in this country, and beats me where the taxes we pay all go. Because I just don't see them really covering infrastructure, education or social services. So what are we paying for? Misadventures against fundamentalist shepherds? Subway stations that are dirty and in disrepair? Insufficient public transportation? Bad schools? Bankrupt hospitals?
We are becoming a fucking third world country. I didn't move all the way from one to end up in one.


How come I pay more than half the amount of taxes as this guy, while I make 4.5 times less money than he does? What the fuck?

Today On I've Had It With Hollywood

My thoughts on Black Swan. A horror ballet movie.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

La Gran Tenochtitlán

La Diana from the terrace of the King Cole Bar, St. Regis, Mexico City. 
It's a nice terrace, but the hotel feels way too corporate and generic for my taste. However, a michelada and a blanket hit the spot just right.

Pulquería La Hermosa Hortencia in Plaza Garibaldi
From the upper echelons of the posh St. Regis, to the lower depths of the now swanky pulquería, which boasts outdoor sitting. Of course, there had to be the one drunk ambassador to Garibaldi who saw us and slurred a welcome in Inglish. There is always one.

At the humongous Mercado de Dulces at La Merced
This is one place where it is entirely possible to walk in and never be seen again. Not because anything bad will happen to you, but because it is an infinte maze of stalls that never end. The biggest sweets and candy market in Mexico City. Here is where all the candy vendors and hawkers, from the guys selling on the street, to the mom and pop stores, come to buy their candy. There are endless stalls of traditional Mexican sweets, like alegrías and pepitorias and candied fruit, and then more endless stalls of fabulous Mexican chazerai. A Borgian (as in Jorge Luis) infinity of sugar, salt and chili.

Then right next to it is the humongous Merced food market, with rows and rows of amazing dried chilies and spices, fruits and vegetables... and even a forbidding aisle of the infamous Catemaco witches, who have these elegant and creepy looking mahogany cabins where they perform limpias (they clean up your bad luck and/or bad vibe) or tell you the future. To be honest, I was scared to take a picture. They are all sinister cons.

A woman performing a cleanse right on the Zócalo.

The Mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, has been doing lots of stuff to turn the city into a more urbane place. There is a limited bicycle program in the colonia Condesa like the one in Paris, with the difference, as a Mexican proudly pointed out, that no one has yet stolen a bike. Half the city is under construction of more bus lanes and on Sundays a big chunk of Reforma Avenue is closed to cars and open to people on foot, bikes or skates. Of course, the motorists nag and complain, but I think it is great that Ebrard insists on showing the citizens of el D.F. that the city is more than a hell of pollution and traffic but a magnificent place they can enjoy together.

La Lupita in the restroom of La Botica. Times have changed.

And Then There's This:

The headline: Headache.
Note the photo of pregnant woman next to decapitation. That's Mexico for you.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Mexican Feeding Frenzy

Tuna Sashimi Tostadas at Contramar

Crepas de Flor de Calabaza at Casa de las Sirenas

Mezcal Variety at La Botica

Apple with Tamarind and Chili. Best Chazerai ever. 

Orange with chili, fava beans with lime and chili to go with the michelada and the mezcalito.
The best tacos de carnitas ever, only Saturdays and Sundays at the Mercado de Medellín

El Cardenal and their huevos. Best Mexican breakfast in the world.

I ordered poached eggs in black bean broth with queso fresco. Divine.
Huevos Hacienda de Puebla. Yum, whatever that means.
Pilgrimage to the Pozole at the small food market in Coyoacán. Best Pozole in the Universe.
The classic Margarita from 1945 at swanky San Angel Inn.

Salsas and limes for the tacos
Amazing tacos al pastor at El Califa
The tacos al pastor at El Huequito. Some say best in town. Different and delish.
Quesadillas de queso Oaxaca y flor de calabaza at El Cardenal.
Someone should write an illustrated encyclopedia of Mexican food. It would have to be like 500 tomes. In the interest of science, I volunteer to sample every dish.