Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Go Preach To The Choir

iWarning: This is a major rant. If you are sensitive to religion, God, atheists, etc, stop reading now. 

Friday, August 24, 2001: A beautiful afternoon to venture out to Coney Island and eat cold borscht on the Brighton Beach boardwalk. We get on the B train. It is quiet, almost empty and very pleasant.
All of a sudden, a young black man starts preaching at the top of his lungs, even though there are only about 10 people in the car. He hollers about how Jesus saved him, and how we all need to follow Jesus, and every two words it's Jesus this and Jesus that. We are with our dog Petra and we're not about to try to change cars in the middle of the Manhattan Bridge, which is the strategic location where this young man chooses to assault us and take us hostage with his extremely loud spiel.
Imagine that I get on a subway car, and in the loudest voice possible, perhaps even with a sound system to back me up, I start screaming at the top of my lungs that God doesn't exist, and that belief in Him has brought humanity extreme cruelty, human imbecility and suffering, etc. I bet a lot of people wouldn't like it. I bet someone may find this really offensive and tell me to shut up. In olden days, much milder stuff would get you burned at the stake. But when it comes to God and religion, even today, we are all hostages, because nobody has the guts to find this religious blather the most aggressive, obnoxious, offensive, insulting form of imposition. People are afraid to speak up against it, because they know it's a lost battle. It's reason versus obsession. You can't engage, because you will never be right. They also live under the misguided notion that somehow God is off limits. God freaks can attack us mercilessly with their certainties but we can't even ask them politely to zip it. It's a taboo to be against God, and by extension the morons who claim to be His messengers.
God freaks, by the way, are so demonically insane that they are willing to change the definition of female rape ("legitimate", "forcible") in order to outlaw abortion. This is the grossest, vilest form of human perversion. But someone screaming about God in your ear? You have to grin and bear it.
What about Jews? Buddhists? Members of the Church of Elvis? Why do they need to listen to this Jesus crap? It's offensive to anyone who happens to believe in something other than Jesus.
I have no doubt that this enraptured young man may be an effective preacher one day. That is, if he actually finds something interesting to say. Demanding that we must all follow Jesus just because he did does not cut the mustard. It is fucking annoying, and it sounds like a broken record. I once went to the Abyssinian Church in Harlem and heard a smart, compelling preacher. I did not agree with everything he said, but he was thrilling. He had interesting stuff to say. If you are going to force me to listen to this bullshit, at least have the courtesy to make it worth my while. Otherwise, shut the fuck up. I don't want to hear it. Freedom of religion doesn't mean you have the right to force me to listen to your bullshit. The subway is not the place to preach. That's what church is for.

The clown from Hell 
We had a wonderful time by the beautiful sea. We got on the D train at dusk. Again, a few people, tired from a day of sun and noise on Coney Island. A dude half dressed like a clown stands in the middle of the car and starts bleating grotesquely and shaking a pair of very loud maracas. He is appalling. He is the exact opposite of funny; a black hole of pathetic, insane cluelessness. He is so bad, he is scary. He bleats like a tortured animal, screeching "I love you" and shaking the maracas in our faces. Even Petra, who is an expert subway traveller, is rattled by this idiot. A French family of three gapes at him like he is the Antichrist, their teenage son beseeching them in French to move to another car*. But nobody says anything. Understandably, since he may be deranged. We gesture to him gently to tone it down, but he keeps screaming.

Appalled French Family
But then comes the clincher. Turns out he's a Christian, and God and Jesus and all that fucking unholy crap from utter HELL. Of course he is a Christian: he knows that's how he gets away with murder. One could call the police on him and get him busted for being a public nuisance. And that's what I should have done. Call 311. But they might give him a pass. Why? 'Cause he's a Christian.
A young black woman eggs him on, obviously making fun of him. He latches on to her, but it turns ugly the minute he finds out that she thinks he's crazy, not funny. He starts hurling abuse at her. The Christian clown that one second ago was boasting that he never curses and he just wants to "entertain and give joy", has a mouth like a sewer, even in the presence of young, scared children. And still, the parents keep quiet. He and the girl start having a ferocious argument. He mentions the word "Christian" once again and that's where I lose it. I scream at them both to shut up. I ask him to please pipe down. We want quiet, I demand. This fat moron comes right at me, and starts insulting me. I tell him what he is doing is aggressive. The crazy black girl actually stands on her seat and looks like she is about to jump on him. Finally he gets off the train, still complaining loudly that he's a Christian. Like he can't believe that we are all evil for not letting him assault us with his deranged screaming.
This is New York. The reason why people do shit like this on subways is because they know we are all afraid to engage with them and put them in their place. I can ignore and tolerate all kinds of annoyances, but religious people trying to impose their beliefs on me, that makes me righteous angry, regardless of faith. Using Jesus as an excuse to pester people is even worse.
I don't go around trying to convert people to atheism. Your faith is your own damn business and you have no right to hoist it up on me in a public place, unless it is a temple and I'm walking through its doors of my own accord. Goddammit.




*Moving to another car is pointless. They may follow suit.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Señora Cecilia: Art Restorer to The World!


By now, you must live under a rock if you haven't heard about the poor Spanish elderly lady who took it upon herself to restore a badly damaged 19th century portrait of Jesus in a church in Borja, Spain. You probably have seen the appallingly funny before and after pictures.
The story is very touching. She did it with the permission of the priest. According to her, people would walk into church and watch her at work and no one said a peep until she finished her masterpiece, which is now her gift to the world. While it is true that the poor soul became a laughingstock worldwide, something more interesting happened. Had we not lived in the day of internet and memes, we would have seen her in the evening news, shaken our heads, and moved on. But Señora Cecilia's good intentions have unleashed a wave of memes that are not only very funny, but that put art where it hasn't been in ages, at the forefront of popular culture EVERYWHERE.


While funny memes are born every day, memes about art are rare, and the ones inspired by Señora Cecilia's artistic inclinations help people remember how difficult it is to achieve good art. The idea that anybody can sidle up to an old fresco and retouch it is surreal. Who walks into a church, looks at a peeling antique and thinks they can fix it? She singlehandedly has made people appreciate how challenging it is to make art. Even unprepossessing art, like the one she fixed. It's not like she defaced a Velázquez. Her masterpiece is also now gracing some of the most iconic art in the history of Western civilization.


There are many people, including me, who feel sorry for her. But I don't feel so sorry that I'm not  enjoying immensely some of the viral things people are coming up with. The purity of her intentions have made her a hero to many. I'm not ready to give her such a pass. Such epic cluelessness has to be addressed. But her touching desire to help is just as epic. I hope she takes it all in stride and people forgive her. She should be proud of how inspiring she has been to the world!


I don't think the memes are personal affronts to her. At this point they transcend laughing at her. A lot has to do with Spanish culture, where already there is talk of squadrons of señoras that are itching to restore stuff. Check any Almodóvar movie. There is always one such essential, folkloric Spanish old lady. She is usually played by the genius actress Chus Lampreave (who should play Señora Cecilia whenever Hollywood options the rights). These Spanish small town señoras are miraculously untainted by malice, they are enterprising and well-meaning and a little dim, and they are all a hoot, because they live with one foot in the modern world and the other one in the 18th century. Beyond Spain, the memes are a comment on the nature of art itself. Take a masterpiece and try to make it better. Jesus ends up looking like a monkey.
Señora Cecilia has unleashed a global wave of creativity where art is at the forefront of the popular buzz, so we have much to thank her for. For one, the restored painting is far more interesting now. It has a sweet art naif quality and it certainly doesn't look like the trillion other suffering Christs that exist in abundance in every church in every Catholic country and are virtually undistinguishable from one another. The town of Borja should be grateful: she just put it on the map. There should be busloads of tourists flocking to that church like pilgrims going to Lourdes in search of miracles.
Imagine the headlines: "New Face of Christ Discovered on Old Face of Christ". In this case, it's worth trying to emulate the saintly goodness of Señora Cecilia, the lady who wanted to make Jesus look better.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The New York Tapas Scam

I submitted these comments on this article in the New York Times that prompted the food critic (who doesn't even have to shell out for his meals) to wonder about the sanity of the small food craze in this rapacious town. It is a subject that has long been simmering in my bile. Here is my beef:

This small plates craze is the biggest New York ripoff since the financial crisis. Certain clarification is in order.
I spent 10 days in Barcelona recently. The tapas there are the size of Wyoming. 
The first time we ordered tapas we were thinking skimpy NY portions so we let it rip: pimientos de padrón, serrano ham, croquettes, tortilla, gambas al ajillo, what have you. It was a meal that could have easily been shared by six people, or more.The tapas in NY are as overpriced as they are undernourishing.
Rajj and Montero are particularly notorious at this scam. I have been to their restaurant Pintxtos, where a montadito is a puny slice of bread with a Spanish schmear. The bill for 3 small plates and two beers came to over $60.00. Any tapa you have at a bar in Spain is generously served and you can see it without magnifying glasses. As the writer points out, the entire concept and philosophy of the tapa has been perverted into culinary armed robbery here in New York. It's time to revolt against it. 
It is the generosity of spirit of those local culinary traditions that doesn't translate in New York. That generosity is an essential part of the cuisine, and if it is not there, no matter how good the food, as far as I'm concerned, the meal is bogus. 


I rest my case

To make matters worse, recently I read something somewhere by some American genius who discovered the virtues of small glasses of beer (as opposed to the disgusting buckets they give you here for draft beers) as if they themselves had found the Higgs Boson under the carpet. Dude, anybody who has ever been to Spain knows that there is no fresher, cooler or better glass of beer than what the Spanish call a "caña". A small little glass, perhaps 8 ounces, of crisp, ice-cold beer that never warms up or loses its fizz.  I have never understood the benefits of drinking flat, stale, tepid beer from a huge glass, like they do here.  

He dicho. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Immortal Chavela Vargas



Mexico will honor the passing of the great singer Chavela Vargas with an open casket viewing in the Palace of Fine Arts today. If I could go pay my respects, I would. Gone is one of the greatest singers in the Spanish speaking world.
I first met Chavela Vargas when I was a child. She was a neighbor of my uncle, who had a house near Cuernavaca in Ahuatepec, a place she wrote a beautiful song about.
At the time, by ten in the morning she already had several tequilas on her. She liked to come over to sing and eat and drink some more. She was always warm and funny. She used to call my cousin Carlos, who was a big boy, her "sietemesino de oro": her golden seven-months preemie. Sometimes she brought her guitar and she sang for us, with that torrential voice of hers, which at the time was still unbroken. My uncle eventually sold the house and I never heard from Chavela again. In fact, many people thought she had died, given her penchant for hard drinking.  It wasn't until the 1990s, when she was in her seventies, that she resurfaced in Mexico, after going through a scare with tongue cancer (she also smoked cigars). She was brought out from semi-obscurity by the owners of a bohemian nightclub in Mexico City, where she used to hold court to packed, adoring audiences. I saw her sing in that intimate space many times. Not once did I ever manage to make it through one of her performances without dissolving in hot tears of pain, joy and gratitude. She was one of the most powerful performers I have ever seen. She seemed to tower onstage, wearing her very elegant ponchos, accompanied only by a guitar player. I remember meeting her backstage after one of her shows and being shocked at how tiny and almost frail she seemed offstage. But when that raspy voice of hers boomed out, she made your heart quake. She used to have more or less the same repertoire of great Mexican ranchera songs every night, but each time she sang one of those torch songs (we call them slash-your-wrists songs) it was as if it was coming out of her guts for the first time. She gave her soul in every song. And the feeling was not maudlin, self-pitying, or forced. It was brutal. It was tough. It was raw. As real and as strong as an earthquake. But then after each song she would make funny jokes about her now sadly abstemious life or engage the audience in puckish repartee.
I remember a very funny story she told one night about going to the Royal Palace in Madrid to sing for the Spanish royal family. King Juan Carlos was her friend. They invited her over for dinner, she had a great time. When it was time to leave, she put on her raincoat and left. It felt a little big on her. When she got to the hotel, she realized that she had taken the King's raincoat, and she found the King's wallet, with the King's credit cards in it. She then imagined King Juan Carlos trying to fit into her raincoat. Whether this is made up or not, it was such a lovely way to conveying to us her own royalty and humility. For those of us who were transformed (mostly into helpless pools of tears) by her power, she was regal. She was a goddess, which is what fans in the audience screamed at her at the end of each song. I am extremely sad to see her go, but I'm glad to know she lasted with power, grace and humor until the end. She had one of the greatest second acts in life. We have been bestowed with the extraordinary luck to have heard her sing her heart out.


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

National Bullshitting Company

I have been too busy to post lately (working on a fabulous project that does not allow me to devote myself to this). But I'm still very upset about two things that have already happened in this internet age where everything dies as soon as it lives.
1. 
My hatred for NBC continues unabated. A lot has been said about their moronic coverage of the Olympics, but I still need to get this off my chest. When people in Afghanistan and Mexico and the rest of the world can watch the Olympic opening ceremonies live but we in the United States of Farkakteness can't, it is very bad. To be fair, I realized that reading the tweets and facebook updates of the lucky twitterverse was far more fun than watching the unwieldy, ridiculous spectacle itself. But that is not the point. The point is that corporations like NBC are turning the United States into a third world dump with their sheer moronic corporate groupthink. NBC, acting as if this is still 1953 and television is the only broadcasting miracle around, is pandering to their advertisers and what they guess is their idea of what the American people want. They apparently have not read the memo that the entire world is now talking via social media (and not necessarily to "like" Pampers on facebook). It makes us feel like idiots. It makes us feel like we live in a hole in the ground, swamped in human shit trickling from the corporate boardroom above our heads. They are so stupid that they were tweeting the ceremony without broadcasting it or streaming it live, inviting the ire of millions of Americans who would otherwise have been happy as clams. 
Instead of using the billions they spent on the broadcasting rights to create an amazing live conversation with THE ENTIRE FUCKING WORLD, amassing good faith, loyalty and great p.r. among the viewers, NBC managed to alienate everyone with their greed, pettiness and their close-minded, provincial, antiquated, revolting "all-American" narrative, where there is barely room for athletes of other countries. So retarded are they that they cut out a tribute to the victims of the London bombings at the ceremony in order to show Ryan Seacrest interviewing Michael Phelps. 
If I were one of their advertisers, I'd be furious at NBC for deviating the attention and monopolizing the conversation in all the wrong ways. Making people hate their million-dollar commercials in advance. 
I wish NBC Comcast, or whatever corporate clusterfuck they are, death and destruction. 
2. 
That idiot who shot the people at the Batman movie in Colorado. Every time something like this happens, it's the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and tearing of garments, but nobody does anything to change the murderous laws that allow Americans to buy assault weapons without even showing an ID. It has been widely pointed out that we cannot buy kiddie chocolates Kinder Bueno in the US because they have plastic toys inside that may make kids choke, but in certain states people can acquire 6000 rounds of ammo as if they were buying Skittles. This is patently insane, but we live in a patently insane country. What will it take to repeal the Second Amendment? Why is this so difficult? When is candidate Obama going to show some balls and talk about the issue? 
Of all the ideological battles in this crazy country, gun control takes the cake (above abortion, gay rights, taxes and everything else that makes no sense). 
Maybe a freaking shootout in the halls of Congress is what's needed. 
The other thing I want to happen is for this idiot to lose his orange hair. Why have the prison authorities not given him a haircut? He's in jail, not at the circus. 


Off with his hair!

Favorite Vidalisms

Goodbye, Gore Vidal, and thanks for these remarks:


"A good deed never goes unpunished."


"The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven't seen them since."


"The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along, paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return."


"The more money an American accumulates, the less interesting he becomes."


"Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little."


"It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."


"The four most beautiful words in our common language: "I told you so."


"There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise." 
(My sentiments exactly) 

Clerk: "Have a nice day". Vidal: "I have other plans".