Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Now Showing At A Theater Near You

David Fincher's stylish The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
The fog of war: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. 

Jewish Aztec Cuisine

My friend Cathy alerted me to this story on NPR about Jewish Mexican Cooking. This is what I commented on the NPR page, expanded here for your enjoyment:

When I read the headline of this story, my heart stopped. I thought it was about my grandfather Samuel Gmora, who used to be the caterer at Temple Bet El, and also had a Jewish food restaurant in the Condesa neighborhood, called Taam Tov Kosher, when I was a little girl. Of course, the Shlejters preceded him for many years, because by the time he catered in Bet-El nobody ever went to Justo Sierra anymore. My bobe taught my zeide how to cook Jewish food and many Mexican Jews, including myself, still remember his delicious banquets. In my family, we still have Gefilte Fish Veracruzana, which is the greatest fusion food ever: Gefilte Fish with a sauce of tomatoes, onions, olives, capers and blond chiles.


There is also a Mole-Matzoh Gratin at the Passover Seder. And according to legend, my bobe made the meanest kosher mole in Mexico City.



I remember Sra. Dora Schmidt from when we all used to live in la Condesa. She and my mom, and other Jewish ladies used to have coffee at the undulating counter at Woolworth's! I'm happy to see she is healthy and well and glad to see these delicious traditions getting the attention they deserve.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Shoshana Parks

A lot has been made in the US about Tanya Rosenblitt, a young Israeli who refused to sit in the back of a public bus as demanded by some Ultraorthodox men. It is a harpe un a shande, a disgrace, that the bus driver took their side and a police officer tried to placate them by attempting to convince her to comply, instead of reading them the riot act. But she stood her ground.
This is not only about women's rights, this is about the very essence of the State of Israel. Is it going to be a modern democracy with equal rights and civil laws, or a theocracy ruled by maniacs? Rosenblitt has been labeled the Israeli Rosa Parks and her sensible defiance has sparked other secular Israelis to demand a stop to the Orthodox lunacy. I don't know what has taken Israeli secular society (the majority, still) so long to fight the encroachment of insane religious dogma into daily life. The problem with religious fanatics is that they don't listen to reason. So as far as I'm concerned, they need to start listening to the law of the land, and that law has to be secular.
If they want segregated buses, they should own them privately and behave like Stone Age troglodytes all they want on their own buses and their own dime. They cannot expect to behave like that on state buses. They cannot coerce others to behave like them. They cannot continue holding Israeli society hostage with their unreasonable demands. Israel is a modern society which should be governed by secular laws. It's about time that Israel institutes civil marriage and divorce. As long as this doesn't happen, it will be still mired in the Middle Ages, all its modern achievements notwithstanding.
As for those who worry that if Israel secularizes all its laws it will cease being a Jewish state, I guess they prefer Israel to be a Stone Age theocracy rather than a modern democracy with secular laws for all. Let the religious nutcases run rampant and soon there may be no Jewish state either.
Unfortunately, Orthodox Jews do not use family planning, so they may end up calling the shots. But as long as they are not a majority, they need to respect democratic rule. Enough with their special treatment, which is an insult to those Israelis who do pay taxes, serve in the Army and contribute to the progress of the country. Enough with their parasitical abuse of the state and their contempt for their fellow citizens. I'm happy to see Tanya's stance galvanized others into a movement to ensure that Israel is defined as a modern state with equal rights and responsibilities for all its citizens.

On Christmas Day, as we waited to go to a movie in Union Square, everything was closed, but music was coming out of speakers. Turns out young Hassids were celebrating Hannukah. They were dancing to some modern sounding music in Hebrew, in what seemed to me a bit of enforced merriment. Six measly young males pretending to have more fun than what they could possibly be having. I think there was a little cluster of orthodox women standing around watching them. Because God forbid men and women should sing and dance together. This ridiculous, offensive, abusive form of segregation by the Orthodox is called, in a fit of Orwellian euphemism, tzniut; modesty. But this is not about modesty, this is about the control of women. Why do women have to be modest and not men? What does that say about women: that if they don't dress like circus tents they are what? Immodest, whores, the devil? Why do women put up with this contemptuous crap?




Monday, December 26, 2011

DSK: The Potage Thickens

Thanks to Mr. Ex-Enchilada for sharing a very interesting article in the New York Review of Books about some new discoveries in the DSK rape case in New York. The writer, Edward Jay Epstein, brings to light some interesting facts that may hint to the theory, which many in the French Left had at the time, that DSK had been framed by Sarkozy because he was surging ahead in the polls. It is fun detective reading:  DSK's Blackberry (one of many), the reason why he called the Sofitel and let them know where he was, so they would return it to him, appears to have been disabled -- not just turned off -- but its GPS capabilities disabled, at 12:51 pm, about half an hour after the alleged rape occurred. DSK was not just simply concerned about his lost phone. As head of the IMF and very important VIP person, he has lots of phones. He was greatly concerned about this one phone, which he used only for IMF business, because somebody in his staff had alerted him to the possibility that it had been hacked. Hmmm...
His accusers' inconsistencies, which are the reason the prosecution dropped the case, include her lies about having visited the adjoining room after the rape, but not before it. However, the electronic key records show that she was in that room twice but did not confess to the second time, which is why the police did not search that room and treat it as a crime scene. There's more: a room service employee was also in DSK's room at a certain point around the time of the crime but he refuses to talk to anyone. The hotel refused to tell the police who was staying in that room for privacy reasons (couldn't the police get a search warrant or something? Hmmm...). Also, a long time elapsed between Diallo's alleged rape and how long she took to disclose it, but more importantly, Sofitel management placed several suspicious phone calls and took its sweet time to finally call the police (kind of understandable, if not justifiable, since they are a French chain dealing with a very important French VIP).  Diallo was allegedly raped between 12:07 and 12:15 pm and ended up at the hospital about 4 pm. There's even more: the head of security operations for the Accor hotel chain, which owns Sofitel, "had worked closely in the police with Ange Mancini, who is now coordinator for intelligence for President Sarkozy", and that very day he happened to be sharing Sarko's box at a soccer match in France. Hmmm...
There is too, a bizarre little dance of celebration between two high ranking employees of the hotel after Diallo speaks to them, and many other loose ends that hint to a web of conspiracy. What is a little befuddling is that Epstein wrote that the dance lasted 3 minutes, when as you can see above, it lasts less than 15 seconds. In any case, the little dance is explainable in a different way from "Yay! Conspiracy successful -- mission accomplished!": if it is true that since his arrival to the hotel, DSK had been hounding every female employee that crossed his path, they may have harbored some antipathy to such a guest and were happy to see him nailed. Still, such victorious joyousness aprés a rape is a bit hard to fathom from usually stone faced security staff, nes't pas?
Harder to understand, in the light of these discoveries, however, is the fact that if indeed DSK committed a violent rape, why would he be calling the scene of his crime and letting Sofitel know exactly where he was so that they could bring him his phone? Even as coddled by power as he is, if he had committed a violent rape, he'd have thunk "screw the phone and the IMF, I'm outta here!" It turns out he was preoccupied by what turned out to be a prostitution ring scandal in which he is also involved as head of the IMF, among other things. This may explain why he was so hysterical about losing that phone. But if the phone was so important to him, how come he lost it? Hmmm....
I feel an irresistible urge to write the following sentence in the voice of Inspecteur Closeau: The pheune was never recovered. Hmmm...
If you think about it, would DSK even have had lunch with his daughter before leaving for the airport? We all knew this is what he did, and many of us still thought he was such an entitled bully, he was just brazen about it. He had acted with impunity before, why not this time? I must admit, knowing this string of strange facts makes him look like indeed he had nothing to hide. There is incontrovertible evidence that sex took place, (his semen mixed with her saliva on the carpet), but as far as he was concerned, it was kosher. We will never know if it was consensual or not. There is no point on taking sides. One thing is clear: he's still disgusting.
After reading Philip Gourevitch's profile of Sarko in the New Yorker, and given the nastiness and corruption of French politics, a conspiracy, although farfetched, bizarre and unseemly, is not inconceivable. Still, this does not disprove that DSK is a gros cochon. If indeed this was a conspiracy, it was brilliant: they used his Achilles heel, his uncontrollable sexual addiction, to nail him. They made him an offer he could not refuse, and he took the bait.



Thursday, December 08, 2011

Mexican Memes

Mexicans have always been known for their sense of humor. Mexican culture is awash with jokes, puns, double entendres and what we call ingenio, which is something as funny as wit, but less dry. Yet I don't think anyone foresaw how much mileage Mexican humor was going to get out of new technologies like Photoshop, You Tube and social media, which are starting to make Mexico look like the capital of memes. 

About a week after 9/11, if not sooner, I get an urgent email from my friend Pancho, with the following subject: "They found Osama Bin Laden". I open it, my heart racing, and I see a picture of Osama sitting placidly in a gondola in Xochimilco, a place where Mexican families go to have Sunday picnics on the water. To this day, it's the best thing I ever saw.
Apparently, it's the gift that keeps on giving:


Same when they couldn't find Ghadaffi:


Looks like the taquero from hell to me, even though, true to his Middle Eastern roots, he is hiding behind a spit of shwarma.
Any time a Mexican public figure makes a gigantic blunder, Mexicans and their ingenio take over cyberspace. A meme was created when newsanchor Joaquín López Dóriga attempted to interview Sir Anthony Hopkins and asked him "Juay De Rito" (Why The Rite?).
More recently, the PRI's candidate for president, a pompadoured calamity called Enrique Peña Nieto, was taken to task for not being able to answer correctly what three books have most influenced him, as he made an appearance at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, the most important event of its kind in the Spanish-speaking world. You would think he'd brush up on his reading, given the nature of the event, but true to the caste of patronizing demagogues of his party, who are used to blathering from above and are completely unable to speak off the cuff, he was taken aback by the question and proceeded to pontificate without saying absolutely anything or remembering correctly the title of at least one book (not counting the Bible, which he said he had read parts of).
The barrage of tweets and doctored photos that invaded the net show no sign of abating.
His daughter then posted a tweet saying "a greeting to the bunch of fuckheads that are part of the prole (tariat) and who only criticize who they envy".
Now all of Mexico is claiming prolehood.
Gandhi, a chain of bookstores, famous for their clever ads, did not waste any time coming up with some funny print ads. Because their ads are easy to copy, Mexicans went to work on dozens of alternate versions:


There are pictures of Peña Nieto conferring with the actual Gandhi, with the Pope, and one of him as the swaddled baby of two of the most notoriously corrupt and sinister members of the PRI, ex-president Carlos Salinas and undying PRI fixture Elba Esther Gordillo.
Among the tweets:
"Let's read something by Martin Burger King #PeñaNietoBookstore"
"What is your favorite Benedetti? The pepperoni one, of course". #PeñaNietoBookstore"

"Three books that marked me for life: 1) Los Reebook, 2) La Notebook, y 3) El Facebook. #PeñaNietoBookstore"
 There are also many hashtags for the "prole" comment.

Apparently, at the PRI's behest, which is revolting business as usual, Twitter tried to censor the PeñaNietoBookstore# hashtag after it started trending with over 60,000 tweets. There was a huge outcry and they allowed it again. One thing these lamentable politicos do not appreciate is freedom of expression. They are used to despotism, but Mexico is changing. There is no more delicious schadenfreude than to see these corrupt bozos exposed by the citizenry for the frauds they are. It may not be funny to them, but it is seriously funny for us.
Social media can change things. Hopefully this idiot will not become the President of Mexico after this.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Auxilio! The Mexican Dropout Rate

The New York Times published an article about the appalling dropout rate of Mexican high school students in New York City, which is the worst among Mexicans in the country. The numbers are horrible:


If the article is sad and shocking, the comments section is terrifying. So many hostile comments comparing the ignorant Mexicans with the progress-driven Asians, classic comments about sending everybody back, and Americans getting "the dregs", instead, I guess, of Nobel Prize winners.
Anybody who thinks that the NYT is only read by bleeding-heart liberals is in for a rude awakening. I was so offended by the hatred and hostility of the majority of the comments, that I chimed in:
If you come from a country where poverty makes work, not education, the most significant social value, and you yourself had nothing but an elementary school education, if at all, it is hard for you to understand why education is so important. You place a much higher value on work, so that the family can survive. Unfortunately, many of the hardworking Mexican parents who come here are victims of these circumstances. If they barely had an education in their native language, how can they be expected to master two? How can they really comprehend what education means?
If Mexico better educated its people and gave them more opportunities, there wouldn't be millions of Mexicans trying to make a better life for their families in this country. But it is in the interest of the ruling Mexican elites to keep Mexicans poor and ignorant. The government has to deal with millions less people, and wages can be kept miserly, all because the majority of Mexicans can't really afford to have an education.
Don't blame the immigrants. And don't blame bilingualism. Bilingualism can be a solution if it helps Mexican parents learn English, so they can participate in the education of their children.
John, 23: these people are not the dregs. Without their hard work and cheap labor, who else would Americans like you exploit? 

John is a commenter who thinks that Americans are getting the dregs (that is, Mexicans) of the cream of the crop of immigrants.
Let me add that Mexico has a free education system ranging from elementary school to a postgraduate degree, but even a free education is something that many Mexicans cannot afford.
Twenty years ago, as I started my career in Hispanic advertising in New York, our agency was commissioned to create a public service campaign to address the issue of the Hispanic dropout rate in the city. In those days it wasn't yet about Mexicans, but still more than 50% of Hispanic students did not finish high school. We created a powerful campaign (TV, subway and bus shelter posters, radio) based on the poor prospects that young Hispanics faced if they did not continue their high school studies onto college. It was meant to shock them and their parents into thinking seriously about finishing school. It never saw the light of day because of squabbling between the different well-intentioned but politically correct social agencies that were supporting it, among them the United Federation of Teachers and I don't remember which Hispanic groups. We were heartbroken. We all thought it would have made a big splash.
The numbers among other graduating Hispanics seem to have risen since then, but the Mexican immigrants to the city are relative latecomers and something must be done to shake them out of their belief that work, not studying, is the most important value they can instill in their children.
The reasons for dropping out of high school here are many, but key are: an illegal status and fear by parents of deportation plus lack of serious opportunities for illegals, and lack of education and English skills by parents, who do not participate in the education of their children simply because they can't. I have always maintained that Hispanics who come to this country need to learn English. In fact, the big Spanish TV and radio channels, which have absolutely no educational or cultural programming, could include bilingual or English literacy programs for adults, if, as they claim, they are so invested in the well-being of the community. Hispanics are not going to desert them the minute they learn English. Why wouldn't they keep enjoying their favorite programs in Spanish?
Many of the NYT's commenters have a very negative perception of bilingualism. I don't think that having Spanish media or bilingual communications in Spanish is the only thing that keeps immigrants from learning the language. It helps of course, but bilingualism is something to be desired by everyone. In the anti-immigrant hysteria currently sweeping this country, defending bilingualism has become tantamount to invoking Satan, but speaking more than one language is always an advantage to anyone, including Americans who rely on the fact that their language dominates the world, and thus can't see why it is desirable to speak something other than English.
Bilingualism is a two way street, and just as Spanish speakers are aided by communications in Spanish, by the same token they can learn English through bilingual education and immersion. What keeps Mexican parents, who are key figures in their children's educational attainment, from learning English is their inexperience with learning in general. Learning a new language is already very hard for adults, and many Mexicans are at an even bigger disadvantage because of their extremely deficient educational level, which is a national disgrace. This, unfortunately, is the perfect storm that the article speaks about. Their neglect of education needs to be changed into an appreciation of education as a value of the highest priority.
Education makes you smarter. Let's say things are so bad that you may still only find a job washing dishes: if you speak two languages and you are educated, you will rise faster than someone who doesn't. This is not a hard message to understand. A strong work ethic is a great value to have, but education provides a wider net of opportunities and a true chance at progress. Imagine: with their hardworking ethos, plus a strong value in education, there is no limit to what Mexicans (as well as anybody else) can do.




Friday, November 18, 2011

Now Showing at a Theater Near You

Here are some films you could watch this weekend:

Melancholia
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Descendants
Into The Abyss
Le Havre

You are welcome!

This is The Last Straw

Arrests, pepper spray, evicting protesters from Zuccotti Park and now they're banning the cheese and crackers from Sardi's (and the mini pretzels too!).
This has gone too far. This is a fascist state.
I've had it with Bloomberg and his obsession with hygiene. If he wants this city to be so squeaky clean, he should get rid of the mountains of rats and garbage on the streets, not the radioactive orange cheese and mini Ritz crackers from Sardi's, which, as the article points out, constitute dinner, with the olive in the martini as an appetizer, for many theatergoers. It is a much more satisfying dinner than if you order from the menu, believe me. Now you have to pay three dollars for hardened, congealed cheese?
The end of civilization.
I say let's firebomb everything!


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Today On I've Had It With Hollywood

My review of Into The Abyss, a Tale of Death, A Tale of Life, by Werner Herzog.

Yet one more movie which should encourage the national debate about the death penalty in the US. We are after all, the only civilized, industrialized nation that has it, to our enduring shame. We are in the company of evil, rogue, and backward regimes. Just to be in that list should make us strike it down.
It is a complicated issue. True, there are certain people one wishes they die a painful death. If someone killed someone I loved, I'm sure I would feel a burning desire for revenge, but that doesn't mean that this is what a civilized democracy in the 21st century needs to do for me. To put them away for life should be punishment enough.
It's hard to fathom how all those ghastly Republicans bitch and moan about big government, but they conveniently forget to factor in that the death penalty is the most humongous, egregious intrusion of government into the lives of citizens. All they want is to shirk their responsibilities to their fellow citizens and not pay taxes, but government is suddenly not big enough when it comes to the death penalty or to telling women what to do with their reproductive health, or to terrorize hardworking illegal immigrants, or put mostly people of color in jail and profit from it.
Hardly anything that their beloved Jesus Christ would have ever approved of.
In fact, Jesus was a victim of the death penalty. It is beyond human reason how they can reconcile his suffering and his teachings, to which the notion of revenge is anathema, to their cheering a candidate under whose watch more people get executed by the state than anywhere in the world, except perhaps for Ghadaffi's Libya, or Syria. This brand of American Christianity can only be described at bat-shit lunatic crazy, and evil. And the sane citizens of this country need to fight it with all their might, if they want to live in a free democracy.


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Real Chamoy

Every time an unsuspecting tourist lands on this fair island, we take them to eat soup dumplings at Joe's Shanghai and then walk them around the tea stores, Chinese pharmacies, and weird foodstuffs purveyors of the cabinet of wonders that is Chinatown.
I like to go into candy store Aji Ichiban because they have free samples of candied and preserved fruits, which I gobble right after I've had a sumptuous Chinese meal and my gut is about to explode, like that guy's in The Meaning of Life.
So I'm there, speaking in Spanish, explaining that in Mexico we have something similar called chamoy, and the employees brighten up at the name and point me to two samples of preserved plums: the real Chinese chamoy, one version sweet, and the other sweet and salty.

Original Chinese Chamoy
I was ecstatic to confirm that indeed, there is something in China called chamoy and some enterprising Chinese person must have decided that Mexicans had to have it too. Another theory could be that Mexican tourists came by Aji Ichiban, screamed chamoy, and the employees just decided to go along. I subscribe to the first theory because I was told by the employees at Aji Ichiban that the word chamoy only describes preserved plums and no other fruit. They sounded authoritative. 
Now, I love Mexican chamoy faithfully, as any true Mexican should, but I have to say that our version is chazerai* compared to the Chinese one. I'm not talking about powdered Chamoy, which I think would make Chairman Mao spin in his grave, and which Mexicans are starting to put on everything, but about the dried plums. In Mexico, the dried plums are super salty and tart, and they are actually apricots. There are red apricots in red brine that make your soul pucker, and give you instant high blood pressure, they are so salty and acid. Mexicans add chili powder to chamoy, making it sweet, salty, acid and spicy. We all know it's the best kind of junk candy there is.

Mexican powdered Chamoy, now in several artificial flavors.
Mexicans love chamoy, although our chamoy is as authentic as our Philadelphia sushi rolls with lox and cream cheese. In fact, chamoy has kind of had a renaissance, as there are chamoy stores at malls where you can have a chamoyada (shaved fruit flavored ice with chamoy), or chamoy covered popsicles, or bars where martinis, micheladas or margaritas are garnished with chamoy. The original brand was always Miguelito but now everybody and their mother has a version of chamoy. Chamoy has exploded. On Google I found images of something called a Rosca de Chamoy, like a chamoy Bundt cake. I can't even fathom what it's made with.

Google image search of chamoy.

Alas, I could not find a picture of the preserved fruit chamoys. I'm afraid they may have disappeared from the Mexican candy repertoire, which would be tragic.
The Japanese have a version of preserved plum paste called umeboshi, which is supposed to be a digestive. I love it too.
And because it is supposed to be a digestive I just gobbled an entire bag of the two Chinese chamoys as I wrote this post.

*horrible junk.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Today On I've Had It With Hollywood

A Halloween film guide for your consideration.

Kimchi Taco Vs. Tacos El Idolo


After my French class (oui, mesdames et messieurs, I continue to grapple with this sadistic language), I could not resist stopping at the Kimchee Taco truck parked on Astor Place. Just so you know, Korean tacos are pretty much the only fusion taco I'm willing to accept, except for tacos árabes, Arab tacos, which are a Mexican invention. Why Korean? Because their barbecued beef and pork work well inside a tortilla, and some of the Korean flavors overlap with the Mexican palate.
The Kimchee Taco truck offers three assorted tacos for $7. I chose BBQ beef and shredded pork. The pork filling was excellent. The beef filling was tasty but ice cold. I told as much to the nice owner guy and he chose not to believe me. The tortillas were tiny, which is okay, but what is not okay is that they were cold and stiff and tasted like corrugated cardboard. Non-Mexicans still do not understand how to serve a tortilla soft and warm. The day they do may be the day the world finally comes to an end.
Kimchi Taco serves the tacos with something they call pico de gallo which is super spicy and tangy and not bad, I surmise made with radishes and scallions. Luckily I ordered the kimchi on the side because both salsas would have completely seared my mouth and overpowered the taco itself. The problem with the Korean pico de gallo is that it also comes straight from the fridge so dudes, (and this goes for Chipotle too) please understand that you can't put frigid stuff on top of a hot taco.
I had an epiphany last night which may help explain why most gringo taco concepts will never work here: hygiene laws. If the city demands that the food be kept in the fridge until the last possible minute, you are never going to get a decent taco experience. That is the only explanation I can find for tacos being cold. This can be easily circumvented by making the fixings less vulnerable to spoiling and appropriate for room temperature. Whatever you put on top of a taco has to be room temperature, otherwise you completely ruin the taco, no matter how tasty.


I felt guilty as I passed by the Tacos El Idolo truck, which is parked right on the corner. So I ordered an agua de horchata because of the Korean lingering spiciness, and then stayed for a taco de carnitas. This taco was $2.50, but it was at least twice as big and plump and had two much better, warm slightly greased tortillas. It was dressed with chopped onions and cilantro as it should be, and was served with a slice of unfortunately dessicated lime and radish (which I find unnecessary). It was pretty tasty. If you do the math, El Idolo is a much better deal because it is much more food and more satisfying. You can't possibly have room for three such tacos, and you will only be paying 50 cents more. The tortillas are warm, so is the filling and all is good with the world.
Now that going to restaurants in New York has become an activity that only the 1% can afford, food trucks provide excellent cheap alternatives. The taco trucks make New York an even better city, if that is even possible.




Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lost in Detention

Yesterday I was flippantly flipping TV channels when I landed on this devastating Frontline documentary about the horrible policies of the Obama administration re the deportation and incarceration of illegal immigrants in this country. This dismal state of human rights abuses is going on in this country every day, and gets reported regularly by the Spanish broadcast media in the US, but it is as if it did not exist at all on the mainstream media. It is a hidden shameful secret, sort of like the Japanese internment camps in WWII. Particularly shameful, since it is happening on the watch of Barack Obama, who should have the decency to know better.
Because of the unwillingness and the inability of Congress and this hypocritical president to enact immigration law reform, what is happening right now is sheer enforcement without legal reform; that is, a police state nightmare. The amount of human rights abuses committed against illegal immigrants has soared. The Bush administration privatized immigrant detention centers, and currently there are 250 of them, some of which are notorious for having housed hardcore criminals in the past. These centers are not under public scrutiny, nor are immigration detainees guaranteed the right to a lawyer. The documentary focuses on one specific center in Texas (hellhole of the Western world, it seems), where scores of sexual abuses of female inmates as well as beatings and racist taunts have been denounced.
A program called Secure Communities is supposed to deport criminal illegal aliens exclusively, but instead stops people because they had a broken taillight or did not signal a turn, and if they find they are undocumented, it sends them to detention centers that treat them as hard core criminals.  The Obama administration has made this program mandatory in every state and it requires the cooperation of local law enforcement, which basically turns the local police force into informers for the immigration authorities. There is something about this entire exercise that seems a violation of human rights. If a cop stops you for a broken taillight, and finds you are undocumented, is that his job, to rat you out to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the cynically named ICE) so that they can detain or deport you?  There are many hardworking men and women who get separated from their families in this way. If you see this movie without sound, you'd think it takes place in China or the former Soviet Union or some such totalitarian nightmare.
The Obama administration has not only ignored the promises it made to the Hispanic community about immigration reform, it has hardened its stance on illegal immigrants, surpassing the number of deportees and detainees of the Bush years. ICE needs to fill a quota of 400,000 deportees a year, so innocent people get swept into this nightmare. This may include people who entered the country legally but let their visas expire, or simply good people without papers. 46% of illegal immigrants now have families in the US, many of which are comprised of American born children. Mothers and fathers are being deported and held in detention indefinitely, never told when they are going to be deported or released. Families are destroyed, and all this is because Congress and the White House refuse to deal with this dire national policy crisis.
Now, those on the right say that illegal immigrants are criminals and are breaking the law. But as Anthony Romero of the ACLU points out, immigration enforcement is an administrative matter, not a criminal matter. Coming into a country illegally cannot be treated in the same scale as other more heinous crimes. There are degrees of malfeasance; anti-immigration hysterics have got to stop pretending that coming here illegally is tantamount to murder, rape, or other hard crimes.
And why are only the workers penalized for illegality and not the businesses who hire them and encourage them to stay? The people who give illegals jobs are also breaking the law and should also be punished. But Americans want to have their cake and eat it too. They want cheap, unregulated labor for their businesses but at the same time they want to criminalize the workers who are trying to make a living. The sheer hypocrisy is revolting.
I am disgusted with Obama for many other reasons, but this is more than a disappointment; it feels like a huge betrayal. Democrats think that liberals don't have a choice in this coming election, and are scared of a Republican victory so they are going to vote Obama whether they are disenchanted or not. This should not be the case. Hispanics, as one expert said, are not going to vote Republican, since that would continue the same inhumane policy, but they can certainly threaten to withhold their very significant vote until something gets done to correct this situation.
I will not vote for this president unless I see real change, and from what I've seen so far, this is very unlikely. So what if the Republicans win? A Republican administration could not be much worse than what we already have.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Today On I've Had It With Hollywood

A love letter to the movies, the lovely The Artist.

Vini Vidi Video: OWS @ Times Square



The fearless Magnificent Arepa brandished her camera to shoot these images of Saturday's OWS protest at Times Square.
You can see how a festive and peaceful demonstration was soured and endangered by the crowd control tactics of the NYPD.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Ain't No Revolutionary


...and usually I excuse myself from protests. I have zero patience with flower children, people who do not understand the concept of being on message, and people who take the opportunity to act out their authority issues. However, I gotta say, Saturday night's crowd at Times Square in support of Occupy Wall Street was much better than that. There were people of all ages, neighborhoods, incomes.
It felt like a party until the NYPD arrived to squash the fun out of it.
Their crowd control methods, like barricading people into separate pens, so as to impede the concentration to be unified in one large mass, is really frustrating, and since Americans are the best behaved crowds in the world, and New Yorkers so far the paragon of a smart crowd, the police's shtick is redundant, unnecessary and particularly offensive when the crowd exhibits stellar behavior. 
The crowd was demonstrating happily and peacefully until a completely over the top show of macho force arrived in the shape of police in motorcycles, followed by officers brandishing the infamous orange netting, mounted police and even riot police. This was an overreaction, given the fact that the crowd was as chill as it is humanly possible to be as a crowd. I was right at the barricade in front of a line of police officers. Most of them were cool and restrained. One asshole policeman, a senior guy, pushed a protester quite violently for no apparent reason and everybody started screaming at him.


Absolutely everybody had some sort of camera, which made the histrionic and absurd police charade of videotaping the crowd, this pantomime of intimidation, seem even more ridiculous. I thought, if they videotape me, I'll blow them a kiss. The police pantomime is pure pageantry: at one point the officers deployed the white plastic handcuffs, in a sort of silent threat to the crowd. But every time I turned back to look at the crowd behind me, all I saw were the kind of people, like me, who could not get arrested if their life depended on it. Nobody was doing anything to provoke any sort of police response, except for a drunk, lice-infested Belgian hooliganette I kept wishing the police would arrest, beat the crap out of and send to some CIA prison abroad for more of the same.


What's with the police videotaping the protesters and the forbidding of megaphones or amplification? This last one has spawned that chanting method where the crowd repeats what someone says in lieu of amplification, that everyone but me seems to be enamored of. I find it corny and too self-ingratiating, even if it is effective. I guess I just really hate crowds. Luckily, I was standing on the west side of the plaza, where there was more space and we didn't feel so penned in. But the people across us who wanted to join us, had to deal with horses and police pushing the barricades and quite a bit of unpleasantness. If the police would allow the crowd to spill over Times Square instead of forcing it on the sidewalks, there would have been no tension. After about 15 minutes of the mood souring very fast, somehow the tension subsided. I assume the police wisely decided to push back their ball breaking tactics. I tell you, had this happened in a more hot blooded, less orderly country, there would have been severe abuses on both sides. Americans are way too well behaved, and the police, assholes that they are, could actually be much worse. I read that in Rome, where there were violent riots, there were 20 arrests. In NYC yesterday, between Times Square and Washington Square Park, where there was no real violence whatsoever, according to the New York Times, "at least 88 people were arrested". A bit too much, the NYPD, creating drama where there's no need for it.
It was very cool to see how many people showed up to support the OWS movement and the ideas behind it. And it was particularly cool that it happened in Times Square, a much more dramatically symbolic place than puny Zuccotti Park. Even though I understand the symbolism of camping out at Zuccotti Park, that place is too small and too insignificant, even if it is across the street from Wall Street. There is something about the camping that may quickly create public opinion fatigue, but if the movement can somehow continue to bring the support of a lot more people, as it did on Saturday, willing to concentrate in different significant public spaces; for instance, Battery Park, across the river from the Statue of Liberty; Central Park, where it is possible to bring together a lot of people, and in front of the White House in Washington, it may grow and resonate more. I'm not advocating that people go camp on Times Square, but that space was truly powerful, it was spectacular and dramatic, for the visual ironies were rich: below was a sea of flesh and blood protesters, and above them all the blazing neon logos of the American corporations who effectively rule this country.
In the end, protests are for nothing if there is no effective public pressure to really effect concrete change. The grievances of OWS are pretty clear: pursue accountability for those responsible for the financial debacle, bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, tax the rich more fairly, abolish the corporations are people law, reform campaign finance laws. All of these are rational and doable. There should be at least a third party or independent candidate, the American people should fire every sitting member of Congress regardless of party affiliation, and this popular discontent should leave the realm of the quaint sloganeering and somehow coalesce into concrete results in realpolitik. If you know how to do that, you may want to be the leader of this movement.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Apple of my Eye

I am more sad about Steve Jobs than I expected to be.
Maybe it's because I'm writing this on a Mac; I text, tweet, read email and send photos from an iPhone, I listen to new and old music on an iPod, and I'm pondering whether I should buy an iPad.
I have always been a devoted Apple fan, the kind who doesn't understand why anyone would want to use anything else, even despite the high prices and the planned obsolescence. At one point I had to buy a laptop just so I could upgrade my iPod, but you know what? I was happy to do it. How many companies can boast of having so many people in love with their products? Every Apple device that I own makes my life easier and more creative and is a thing of beauty.
I am sad to learn that Steve Jobs was only 56, so very young, and so ill for a long time. But it feels good to see that the world deeply mourns an innovator.



Monday, October 03, 2011

Today On I've Had It With Hollywood

An absolute must see: A Separation.

Today on I've Had It With Hollywood

Dear readers, it's that time of year again when yours truly willingly enters a movie marathon (20 movies in 15 days and one talk with Alexander Payne) with the hopes of finding awesome movies worth talking about. You can find the reviews of most of those 20 movies at the New York Film Festival in my film blog I've Had It With Hollywood.

Here's my review of Miss Bala, Mexico's official entry to the Academy Awards.



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Happy New Year

Sunrise
May this New Year 5772 be a year where people become smarter, common sense reigns, people renounce violence, we edge closer to social justice, war ends, evil bankers are prosecuted, the middle class thrives, poverty shrinks, government works, the rich are taxed, our politicians lose the stupid and craven gene, corporations stop being people, all the nasties in the Supreme Court magically retire while all the liberals stay, drugs are legalized, the mayhem in the Middle East is finally put to rest, hatred calls it a day, Republicans implode, Obama grows a pair, reality shows collapse, global warming chills, people find jobs, capital punishment is barred in the US, street fairs are banned, and I get a date with Michael Fassbender.
Not asking for much, are we? 

Eat a lot of apples and honey just in case. It can't hurt.






Monday, September 26, 2011

Petra's Diary

Busy, busy, busy.

Occupy Wall St.

I am not participating in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations because I don't like crowds and cheesy slogans. But they have provided me with an opportunity to express my revulsion with the New York Police Department's crowd control tactics, which are excessive and totally unnecessary, as these protesters are generally a model of good behavior. No one is throwing molotov cocktails, rocks or creating mayhem, but for the NYPD, spilling off the sidewalks is the only pretext it needs to overpower the protesters by netting them into pens, which is quite humiliating, confining them to the sidewalks, which is immensely frustrating, arresting people for resisting arrest, and even spraying them with mace, which is ridiculous. It's almost as if the police is egging on the protesters into getting violent.
Last I heard, the nature and purpose of a demonstration is precisely for people to spill out into the streets. What the hell is the purpose of hundreds of people coming together if they are going to be relegated to the sidewalks? It's a protest, not shopping day after Thanksgiving.
Before I knew any better, I participated in a couple of the protests against the Iraq war and in the first one, the NYPD prevented the swelling crowds from reaching the meeting point, did not allow the demonstrators to march and congregate in front of the UN and used mounted police to disperse the crowd, which was mostly comprised of perfectly peaceful students, families with children, old pinko hippies, and the occasional Trotskyite.
Even their crowd control on innocuous parades like the Halloween or the Gay Pride parade is reminiscent of a police state.
These current protests are disheartening because they seem to have no impact. The media barely covers them, people like me and many others can't be bothered to attend, and nobody understands the message they are sending, since it tends to be diluted by cute slogans and obnoxious chants but no discernible focus, like "tax the rich".
In the end it's a lot of progressive young people plus the old pinko hippies and the occassional Trotskyite, taking the mantle for a battered middle class and the jobless who should be out in force, but perhaps are too busy making ends meet and looking for employment. If there was someone charismatic and righteous at the helm, like a Martin Luther King, who could galvanize people to mobilize, it would be a different story.
This video sadly sums up the reality of the situation.

Monday, September 19, 2011

My Response To Reed Hastings of Netflix

He wrote me a letter, so I wrote him back:

Hi Reed!
I was one of those customers who did not care about the increase. I thought it was understandable. Having both streaming and delivery for the same price was too good to be true. 
You may have made mistakes in the way you communicated the increase to your consumers, but that is nothing compared to the branding and marketing mistake you are making now.
I'm sure you will find that your letter, far from appeasing your customer base, is going to have the opposite effect. 
The name Netflix is such a powerful, unique brand that it has become a verb. But besides misadventures in marketing, which customers care absolutely nothing for, (all we want is quality, convenience and value), why would your customers who would like to enjoy both services want have to deal with two separate sites, under two different names? The refusal to integrate both services under the Netflix brand is incomprehensible to us run of the mill humans; only marketing mutants can understand such absurd decisions. Why would we want to have two separate charges in our monthly credit card bill?  As if people don't have enough saturation on the internet already. Why not leave both under the Netflix name and figure out a way to bill customers without inconveniencing us? Nobody needs yet another brand in this world.
I was one of the first users of Netflix and I evangelized about it to anyone who would listen. It pains me to deal with these issues after so many years of being a very happy customer. 


Sincerely,

The Grande Enchilada.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pobre México...



Poor Mexico: so far from God, so close to the United States.
Porfirio Díaz.

If he only knew how prescient his words would become...
Today is Mexico's birthday and the country is in a drug violence-infested funk. I heard that people were trying to organize a boycott of the traditional festivities at the Zócalo, as if Mexicans are going to obey an injunction not to party. It's a meaningful gesture, but I doubt it's going to work. The people who go to the Zócalo tend to be the ones with less reason to celebrate. It's not Carlos Slim and his family, it's the eternally penurious working-class Mexican who is super proud of his country even if it keeps him forever relegated to the dumps.
Believe me, today I'd like to say Viva Mexico! as much as anybody. But it rings bitter and hollow when my sister tells me that a corpse appeared hanging from a bridge in her neighborhood and two more have been found in the trés chic Santa Fe business district; meaning, nothing is sacred any more.
It really hurts to hear about decapitated heads bobbing about in the sandy beaches of Acapulco. Or of the horrifying arson in a casino in Monterrey. This kind of histrionic, revolting violence is gross and depraved and I wonder about Mexican children and their fragile little psyches. How do parents deal with this, I don't know.
I remember the time when we Mexicans used to look at Colombia and feel superior to it. We were convinced no such thing would ever happen to our country and it was okay with us if our drug dealers just wanted to do business outside our borders. They were not that interested in the local market, or so we thought. Oh, well.
Mexico has much to be proud of, but what it has to be ashamed of ends up strangling all the progress, the achievements, the painfully slow road to prosperity. It makes us look like a backwater, instead of the phenomenal country we are.
We can blame the gringos all we want about their insatiable appetite for drugs, their hypocritical puritanism, and their firearms export business, but it is Mexico who does not have a legal and judicial system that belongs in the modern era. Corruption is the oil that greases the wheels of society, and as long as these two things remain, we cannot expect the war against drugs to be won. I'm sure I am not the only one who thinks this war would be better waged non-violently instead of in a who is más macho contest. The way to cripple the cartels is cybernetic: by freezing assets, hacking internet accounts, disrupting communications, using intelligence and arresting everybody and their mother, including those in the high reaches of power who are abetting the cartels (that will be the day). Because Mexican jails and the legal system are not to be trusted, I propose that every drug dealer arrested, from the biggest capo to the pettiest ones, be extradited to be tried, sentenced and put away in the US. I don't believe in capital punishment, but for these savages I think it is warranted. Send them all to Rick Perry in Texas. And let the U.S. foot the bill.
Mexico should eventually get fed up of fighting this costly proxy war for the United States, and what do we get in return? Ni las gracias. Not even a thank you note. Compared to the billions of dollars other countries get, Pakistan for instance, who seems to spend it all in aiding and abetting Islamic fundamentalists, Mexico, the next door neighbor, gets bubkes from the US. This is a stupid policy, and it's Mexico that is paying for it with flowing rivers of blood.
So this Mexican Independence Day I hope that the violence abates, that laws are reformed, and that the country heals.

And by the way, while we are at it, let's scuttle stupid Cinco de Mayo in the US, an American marketing ploy, which to add insult to injury is not even the right Mexican holiday, and from now on celebrate September 15 as the real Mexican fiesta.

(¡Viva México!)








Monday, September 12, 2011

Más Respeto, Por Favor.

The new, astonishing figures for the Hispanic population in the US:


I find this very interesting. There are almost 32 million Mexicans in the US. The next large group is Puerto Ricans, with almost 5 million people, and the next, Cubans, with almost 2 million.  Although Mexicans are six times as many as the next big group, for some reason they seem to be under served and under represented.  Other groups, like the Cubans in Miami, make much more noise and seem to have far more political clout, even though they are actually less relevant. Here in the East Coast, Mexicans are almost invisible. We see them cooking and delivering our food, but otherwise, they don't make a political racket. They barely have political representation. My guess is that recent arrivals come from poverty and are severely undereducated. They are concerned about surviving, sending money to their families, and they are not used to having a political voice. They have been abandoned by their own government at home and they are not about to trust the one here. I hope that with new generations of Mexican kids born in America this will change. I'm hoping that they will integrate better and get to be Supreme Court judges, mayors, presidents of this country. They need to get out of the ghetto. And for this, they all need to learn English.
When I arrived in New York in 1992, the Hispanic advertising business in the East Coast was run by people from Cuban or Puerto Rican origin. There were a only a handful of Mexicans working in this industry and being Mexican turned out to be a huge asset for my career. I always resented, and still do, that every time I wrote copy, someone would ask if a person who wasn't Mexican would understand it. Not that I was writing Mexican slang, but once in a while, a legitimate Spanish word that was perfectly commonplace in Mexico would jump out at people. Some thought that Mexicans were too uneducated to understand perfectly commonplace words (there was a lot of ignorant prejudice from some quarters and there still is. Some people like to feel superior to Mexicans, because of race, economic status and education levels). In my mind, I was writing for the majority even then, and the majority rules. I still feel the same way. If the communication is national, it should speak to the majority. If it is regional; that is, if it's only going to air in Miami, then do it in Cuban and let the minority get used to it. Native speakers, whatever their country of origin, are deeply sensitive to regional accents. So in Miami they are used to Cuban, as in the Southwest and California they are used to Mexican, and here in the East Coast, to the Spanish spoken in the Caribbean islands. I believe that there is a neutral Spanish accent that is perfectly fine, and this is the neutral Mexican accent, which pronounces all the consonants, and which, without the melody, is as neutral as the Colombian accent from Bogotá, without the singsong. And whoever doesn't like this, should take a look at the numbers above and zip it. 
One of the problems I have with the "Hispanic" market, is that because we strive to include everybody, the Spanish language that we use in mass communications has become impoverished. It is hard to write ads with humor, not because it is impossible, but because someone will always question whether the others will understand it. Advertising and marketing categorize people into targets until it dehumanizes them, as if people from different national origins are inscrutable aliens from a different galaxy that have no connection either to one another or to the rest of humanity. This results in people looking at every word in a sentence as if it was devoid of context. As if the way we speak is by understanding every single word in a sentence separately, without connection to what precedes it or what follows. In short, common sense leaves the building.
Let me give an example: popular idioms and expressions enrich communication. They are part of our culture. So if I want to use an expression like "sale más caro el caldo que las albóndigas", "the broth ends up costing more than the meatballs", which means something similar to "pound wise and penny foolish", everybody understands the gist of it, but it will have to go through a gauntlet of people who will admit they understand it, and even like it, but they are afraid that someone from the Dominican Republic might not. You can rest assured that it will never go on air. This is, among other reasons, why you can barely find good commercials in Spanish in the US.
The Spanish now used in mass communications in the US is for the most part an insipid, generic language that has no personality, no bite, no irony. Often times, it is sloppy and grammatically incorrect, or it is a lazy, literal translation of English idioms. As I was trapped in Cancún by hurricane Irene, I was watching the coverage on CNN en Español. I was appalled at the poverty of the Spanish of the newscasters and reporters. They sounded like nothing recognizable because for the most part they were speaking in some sort of awkward, literal Spanish translation of English; whenever they didn't know a word in Spanish, which was very often, they just said it in English. I cannot understand how a network with the resources of CNN can't hire good journalists, reporters and anchors who are native speakers of Spanish, and are fully bilingual and know the structural differences between the two languages. They can't be that hard to find.
The problem is bigger than advertising. Since this is not a Hispanic country, we don't have a solid literary and verbal culture. Our Spanish is poor. Children at school do not learn poems, songs, expressions, games, and literature in Spanish. We don't have good Hispanic-American literary writers who write in Spanish. We barely have a handful of good Hispanic-American writers who write in English. Our TV channels are a disgrace in terms of content. There is no cultural content. Newspapers and magazines leave much to be desired. And advertising, which in its best form should contribute to pop culture, is for the most part lame, artificial, generic and it belongs to no one. By trying to include everyone, it really speaks to no one.
So I have two points to make:
1. Our Spanish sucks, and we should do something to improve it. Making it generic makes it poorer.
2. Because there are almost six times as many Mexicans as any other Latins in this country, Mexican-influenced Spanish should be the language used to speak to the majority of Hispanics in the US.*


*By the way, if there was a Spanish-speaking majority from another country, I would stand by this, as much as it may pain me. It's only fair.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Aftermath of Disaster

This was published in Spanish by Reforma exactly one year after the attacks.
After the initial shock, apparently I went back to my normal, ornery self:
Tuesday, September 11. Night.
South of 14th Street, the island is cordoned off. Nobody can go below 14th Street unless they show proof of residence in the area or are joining the rescue mission. Phones don’t work very well. I have less trouble calling my family in Mexico than making a local call. I feel relatively quiet, but I know my emotional distance comes from some automatic defense mechanism and not from my own volition.
The silence on the street is total, except for the sound of police sirens, helicopters and fire trucks, which is rather sparse given the magnitude of the disaster. I get international calls from some concerned friends. They know I live nearby. I watch TV and have internet on at the same time. On TV they regurgitate the horrible images of the explosions and collapses over and over, ad nauseam.
I have never heard such silence in my block, a spot full of usually crowded bars. A city in which people go out to eat, to drink, to dance seven days a week, has been completely silenced. A permanent hum scares sleep away. I don’t understand where it comes from. I open the windows to better listen to it. The smell of burnt rubber invades my apartment. I realize that what I’m hearing is the labored breathing of the buildings. 
Wednesday, September 12.
Today it smells worse. Giuliani has said that we should stay at home and we obey him. Giuliani, resented by many in this liberal city because of his abrasive personality and his puritanical and paternalist tendencies, behaves compassionately, intelligently and prudently, and he inspires trust. I have been cooped up at home all day. The phone rings every 15 minutes. Friends from all over the world call to comfort themselves that we are fine. Their calls make more bearable the loneliness and terror that have settled in the pit of my stomach. My intuition is that they are just as scared of the new world disorder that threatens to engulf us all. The calls are of mutual support. My friend Delia writes that her young daughter dreams at night of people jumping out of windows.
Between the acrid ashes and the media coverage, I’m disgusted. I decide to go outside and sniff around. Kids play under the cloud of dust and ash, followed closely by their parents. Some bars, restaurants and cafes are open. I see clusters of people standing on the corners that look south. I don’t understand what they are looking at. People wander around aimlessly from one corner to the next, shooting pictures and videos.
In this town of screamers, few people talk. At the corner of Houston and Sixth Ave, next to the fire station, a crowd gathers. People cheer every time rescuers or ash-covered firefighters go by. A young woman scrutinizes a lamppost and I decide she is crazy until I focus my eyes on the post and see the flyers with the pictures and names of the missing and the desperate messages imploring for news of their whereabouts.
I cry because these bastards have paralyzed my unstoppable city. But not completely. On the opposite corner, two Italian restaurants have opened their doors and the beautiful people eat pasta and drink wine au plein air, air rife with traces of asbestos, pulverized concrete and what in my view have got to be the human ashes of at least five thousand souls. However, I’m not surprised. I always knew that New Yorkers would never relinquish their inalienable right to go out for dinner, regardless of whatever catastrophe the future may bring. With this logic, I tell my husband, who is safe and sound in Panama, that this is the best week to make reservations at the hottest New York restaurants. But who has the appetite?
Since there is no traffic south of 14thSt., some people make their dreams come true and glide through the empty streets on their rollerblades and bicycles.
Something never before seen: people look you in the eye as they pass you by. Men see me walking alone and look like they are ready to comfort me (and look like they are ready to be comforted back). The way things are, it seems that this week all the single girls may find a beau.
A guy gives me a small comic book. The doodles are very modern, but the content turns out to be an exhortation to return to the lap of our lord Jesus Christ, sponsored by one of those sects there’s no shortage of in this country, of loony evangelicals who are way too eager for the end of the world. Of course, they could not take long to materialize. How did they get to New York is beyond me, Greenwich Village even more so. Or were they already here?
At night there is thunder and lightning and military planes zoom by. I’m not scared. I have the air conditioner on to avoid hearing the silence. 
Thursday, September 13. 
North of 14th Street, Manhattan seems perfectly normal, except taxis refrain from honking their insane horns. In the advertising agency I work at, I learn that one of our colleagues has lost his niece. My eyes tear up with indignation constantly.
Some of our clients have asked us to take a look at our commercials currently on air to make sure they don’t say things like “ A delicious explosion of flavor” or “A bomb of refreshment”. We make jokes in bad taste: “The Osama of sodas”, “A Jihad of nutrition for your family”.
Bush has declared that we all should go out at noon and pray at the worship place of our choice, which seems to me the stupidest idea that can occur to the president of a country in crisis, in a city which may still harbor extremists strapped with explosives. Besides, as an agnostic, I feel frankly discriminated against. In fact, I feel very alone in my distaste for these government-sponsored paroxisms of spirituality.
To judge from the tone that the media here have adopted, from now on we will be exposed to an indiscriminate barrage of sentimentalism and cheap patriotism. I have already started getting despicable chain letters with feelings of unity, prayer and revenge. The news are no longer news. They are lachrymose testimonies of the poor people who are desperately looking for their dead ones. I wonder what they are saying in the Middle East. What does Saddam think, for instance, what has Muammar declared, what’s the story in Kabul. If I watch the local news, I’m never going to find out. Here they are showing a paramedic that found a doll amid the rubble (there’s always one) and he intends to erect a monument with it if no one claims it.
The cloud of acrid dust has spread beyond 14th street. I search for mouth masks at the drugstores. They are all out.
Bush, who since the incident, has the mien of a kid lost in the supermarket, uses an inflammatory and reductive rhetoric that seems taken straight out of a Hollywood action flick. We’re gonna smoke them, he says, Wanted, dead or alive. I haven’t the slightest doubt that this helps incite the incidents of harassment against members of the Arab-American community, and what is worse, against anybody who wears a beard and/or a turban. An idiot screams at the owner of a falafel joint nearby, “you make money here, but this is my country”, followed by a string of invective. Even though there are four Arabs and one aggressor, they remain silent. Standing half a block away, I can feel their fear. I don’t dare intervene.
Between testimonies, I read in the CNN news ticker the following item: an Islamic extremist in a German jail called the American authorities and warned them that there would be an attack on the WTC. Nobody talks about that. Nobody talks about the fact that Osama was trained by the CIA and that the Taliban is the result of American intervention in Afghan affairs. Nobody mentions these details, except some liberal friends that send me emails with such information. But, like Seamus Milne of The Guardian said, Americans react as if this instance of terror is a sheer impulse of evil that came out of nowhere, random and incomprehensible. They can't conceive that they may have done something to provoke it. They don’t know how much and why they are hated. It’s true. Information exists in this country and it is available to anybody, but few are interested. In general, the lack of American curiosity about the world is alarming.
 Union Square has become a spontaneous meeting ground to write thoughts, leave votive candles, hang pictures, play the congas. A group of young people sing and dance Give Peace A Chance, a song I’ve always found intolerably kitschy. A vigil has been organized at 7 pm. People are asked to light a candle in memory of the victims. A big crowd has gathered. A couple appears dressed as the Twin Towers. They are on stilts, dressed in black velvet leggings covered with shards of mirrors. They dance among the people, who are taking pictures. Why do these expressions of solidarity disgust me so much? Because they are vulgar, childish and innocent. Everything becomes a circus. I go to a movie and spend the entire screening thinking that an extremist is going to blow us all to pieces. 
Friday, September 14.
A regular day. North of 14th St. it looks like nothing ever happened. Taxis blare and create jams, people eat in restaurants.  New York, as usual.  
Saturday, September 15.
A friend who was upstate at the time of the catastrophe wants me to go with him to Canal St., which is now the border of the city. He wants to see something concrete. The only concrete thing to see are hordes of people with little American flags and tourists. People are snapping up postcards with pictures of the towers. The only concrete thing there is to see is a smoking crater at the end of the city’s canyons.
We have lunch at a restaurant where we are treated as if we had descended straight from heaven. Every two minutes they ask us if the food is to our liking. In fact, it is excellent. It is the first decent meal I’ve had since Tuesday. I feel it has been prepared with an intense desire to forget everything and come back to our banal normalcy. It tastes like glory.
A group of friends and I go to the movies. We need to get out of this funk. We pick Barbet Schroeder's Our Lady of The Assassins, based on the book by Fernando Vallejo. The film is in Spanish, which is delicious. And it turns out to have plenty of resonance. It’s about a different kind of terror (drug violence in Colombia), but it is hilarious, blasphemous, violent, and we enjoy it. A lot of its dark humor escapes the small audience. One of us says that when you live with the social injustice that causes this kind of savagery, you have a much more refined sense of irony. A phrase in the film is burnished in my mind. I paraphrase: 
“But child, don't you know that the difference between thought and action is civilization?"
My friends go home but I don't want to go to sleep. I go back to Union Square. The candles and the congas are still there. There’s a group of pale bearded guys and skeletal women with long skirts that sing songs only they know. Another sect. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of lit votive candles, bouquets of flowers, poems, exhortations for moderation, prudence and sanity. The catch phrase of the day is "An eye for an eye and we all go blind". People, respectful, are silent.
I find a Mexican flag. Someone has written on it 500 mexican ilegals (sic) unnamed. I find it an exaggerated number, but I don't doubt it. They are the kitchen helpers, the pizza delivery guys, the bathroom cleaners. I have not seen photocopies of their portraits, nor their names, or faces or teary relatives on TV. 
I can’t say I’m praying for them and their families, but my mind finally becomes silent.

In the Apocalyptic City


I wrote this text in Spanish on September 11, 2001. It was published in Reforma on September of that year.

I have lived, for almost 10 years, about 20 blocks north of the Twin Towers. If you take my street and walk south, you arrive directly at their doors. Today, Tuesday, September 11, a splendid day, I left my house at 8:35 am, earlier than usual. I walked, as I do every day, on the east side of Washington Square Park. Suddenly, something made me look up. I saw the belly of a plane flying among the buildings, right above me. I was alarmed at how low it was flying. It was a commercial passenger airplane. I could clearly see the details on the fuselage. I feared it was going to crash against the thirty-story building I live in. It seemed to be heading straight towards it. I saw it tilt and correct course and I thought it probably had a mechanical failure and it would never make it to La Guardia or Newark, the nearest airports. 
I had a feeling something was very wrong.

I felt like making sure nothing had happened to my building, so I turned around and started walking towards it. To judge from the oblivious people on the street, I decided I was paranoid. No more than two minutes later, I heard a loud metallic noise. My heart skipped a beat when I saw people looking up and south. I approached the growing crowd and saw that the plane had caved a giant hole in the upper floors of one of the towers. People on the street were talking frantically on cell phones and on public phones and we were all asking each other what had happened, who had seen it happen. I decided to go home, because the Polish lady who cleans my house speaks almost no English, and I wanted to make sure she was fine. She hadn’t even noticed.
I decided to walk back to work. As all of us on the street gaped in amazement at the burning tower, an enormous ball of fire bloomed and exploded on the side of the second tower. At first we thought it had been caused by the fire on the first tower. Someone, with a cell phone on one hand and a Walkman radio on the other, said it was a second plane that crashed against the second tower. Up until then I assumed it had all been an accident, but now the possibility that it had been a terrorist act made me nauseous. I felt terror.

I don’t know why I went to my office. Perhaps to get as far as I could from there. People were clustering on the streets that had a view towards the World Trade Center. There were no screams nor panic, just incredulity, anxiety and a certain citizen solidarity. Some people turned on their car radios at full volume so we could all hear the news. People who probably don’t look at each other at the subway: office workers, homeless people, Blacks, whites, were sharing rumors and impressions. It was like being in a Godzilla or Hollywood disaster movie, with particularly spectacular special effects.

I stopped to greet my friendly Bangladeshi fruit vendor. He reminds me of the market vendors in Mexico because he always gives me a piece of fruit to taste. He told me he had seen the plane crash against the tower with his own eyes. He was devastated next to his fruit cart.
At the office, many of my colleagues were at the cubicle next to mine, which had a view of the conflagration. Everyone was somber and scared, although someone joked that “they” had made a mistake, the attack should have been meant for our building. Rumors were flying: a fire in the Pentagon, other hijacked planes, people are jumping out the windows of the towers. Then I heard my colleagues scream, and in a matter of seconds, only one tower was standing. Thick clouds of gray ash rose with a magnitude similar only to scenes of bombardments at war. To see only one Twin Tower in the New York skyline is almost like seeing someone lose a limb in front of you. An amputated city. More radio reports: closed airports, closed subways, closed bridges; the island, incommunicado. My stomach ached. From the bathroom I heard people running. When I came out, there were no more Twin Towers. Only a giant crater, from which rose monstrous clouds of ash and thick black smoke.
The accuracy of the destruction and its sadistic progression were unreal. Like people don’t tire of repeating, it was a situation comparable, at least visually, to the moronic, improbable things that happen in action movies. My friends conjectured even worse scenarios: panic on the streets, bombs in the tunnels that connect the island, biological warfare. But the great majority tried to articulate their shock and find a coherent motivation to explain an evil of such magnitude.
 We were sent home. Most people who work in Manhattan, come from outside the island: Brooklyn, or Queens, or New Jersey. Many were stranded in their offices or on the streets. Others crossed some of the bridges that were open only for pedestrians. From Brooklyn, my boss told me that his neighborhood was covered in ash and scraps of printing paper.
Walking back home, I had never seen so many people on the streets of New York. From the tip of the island masses of people advanced north. I was struck by the silence. By the absence of cars. The absence of horns, engines, the daily insults that make this one of the world’s noisiest cities. I went by an ATM and I was the only one there. The machines worked and they were loaded with money. I was comforted by the citizens’ absolute lack of hysteria. Supermarkets and delis were full of people, but they were calmly buying their lunch or groceries. I stopped by my Bangladeshi pal. People were buying fruit from him. I bought figs, strawberries and bananas. He gave me a discount and a free plum. The only thing he said to me was: “War”.
I refused to participate in the massive consumption of groceries, until a friend insisted I should at least buy bottled water, cans of food and candles. At the supermarket there was no bottled water or powdered milk left, but there was plenty of everything else. People whispered, as if we were ashamed of being alive and shopping. A guy used the opportunity to buy four tubs of ice cream. I also thought that the apocalypse is a good pretext to stuff yourself on potato chips, which is what I felt like doing, although I restrained myself and only bought water, basic staples and a ridiculous packet of instant ramen.
It’s now 6 pm, and the streets belong to the pedestrians and to the trucks and cranes at the ready to clean up the extensive wreckage. Some people use the unheard of circumstances to live their fantasy: they glide on their rollerblades or bicycles on the empty streets. Others take pictures and videos for posterity. Below my apartment, kids play ball just like in any other Summer afternoon, and the coffee shop in the corner is open. Some minutes ago, people on the corner watched one more building of the WTC complex collapse. 
Like Mayor Giuliani’s, the common sense of New Yorkers greatly moved me. This is the capital of the world. Not because it hosts Wall Street or because it concentrates some of the most important multinational corporations, but because of the people who live and work here. We come from every corner of the globe, we speak every language, we come in every color and have every religious belief. This magnificent city has adopted us all. To attack New York is not to attack the United States, it is to attack the entire world.